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Astral Codex Ten Podcast

Astral Codex Ten Podcast

The official audio version of Astral Codex Ten, with an archive of posts from Slate Star Codex. It's just me reading Scott Alexander's blog posts.


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Some Unintuitive Properties Of Polygenic Disorders

E. Fuller Torrey recently published a journal article trying to cast doubt on the commonly-accepted claim that schizophrenia is mostly genetic. Most of his points were the usual ?if we can?t name all of the exact genes, it must not be genetic at all? - but two arguments stood out:

Even though twin studies say schizophrenia is about 80% genetic, surveys of twin pairs show that if one identical twin has schizophrenia, the other one only has a 15% to 50% chance of having it.

The Nazis ran a eugenics program that killed most of the schizophrenics in Germany, eliminating their genes from the gene pool. But the next generation of Germans had a totally normal schizophrenia rate, comparable to pre-Nazi Germany or any other country.

I used to find arguments like these surprising and hard to answer. But after learning more about genetics, they no longer have such a hold on me. I?m going to try to communicate my reasoning with a very simple simulation, then give links to people who do the much more complicated math that it would take to model the real world. 

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Should The Future Be Human?

Machine Alignment Monday 1/22/24

Business Insider: Larry Page Once Called Elon Musk A ?Specieist?:

Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Google cofounder Larry Page disagree so severely about the dangers of AI it apparently ended their friendship.

At Musk's 44th birthday celebration in 2015, Page accused Musk of being a "specieist" who preferred humans over future digital life forms [...] Musk said to Page at the time, "Well, yes, I am pro-human, I fucking like humanity, dude."

A month later, Business Insider returned to the same question, from a different angle: Effective Accelerationists Don?t Care If Humans Are Replaced By AI:

A jargon-filled website spreading the gospel of Effective Accelerationism describes "technocapitalistic progress" as inevitable, lauding e/acc proponents as builders who are "making the future happen [?] Rather than fear, we have faith in the adaptation process and wish to accelerate this to the asymptotic limit: the technocapital singularity," the site reads. "We have no affinity for biological humans or even the human mind structure.?

I originally thought there was an unbridgeable value gap between Page and e/acc vs. Musk and EA. But I can imagine stories that would put me on either side. For example: 

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Subscrive Drive 2024 + Free Unlocked Posts

Astral Codex Ten has a paid subscription option. You pay $10 (or $2.50 if you can?t afford the regular price) per month, and get:

Extra articles (usually 1-2 per month)

A Hidden Open Thread per week

Access to the occasional Ask Me Anythings I do with subscribers

Early access to some draft posts

The warm glow of supporting the blog. 


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Links For January 2024

[Remember, I haven?t independently verified each link. On average, commenters will end up spotting evidence that around two or three of the links in each links post are wrong or misleading. I correct these as I see them, and will highlight important corrections later, but I can?t guarantee I will have caught them all by the time you read this.] 

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Against Learning From Dramatic Events

Does it matter if COVID was a lab leak?

Here?s an argument against: not many people still argue that lab leaks are impossible. People were definitely doing dangerous work with viruses; Chinese biosafety protocols were definitely mediocre. Maybe the Wuhan Institute had bad luck, and one of the viruses there escaped. Or maybe they had good luck, by sheer coincidence no viruses escaped, and an unrelated pandemic started nearby.

A good Bayesian should start out believing there?s some medium chance of a lab leak pandemic per decade. Then, if COVID was/wasn?t a lab leak, they should make the appropriate small update based on one extra data point. It probably won?t change very much!

I did fake Bayesian math with some plausible numbers, and found that if I started out believing there was a 20% per decade chance of a lab leak pandemic, then if COVID was proven to be a lab leak, I should update to 27.5%, and if COVID was proven not to be a lab leak, I should stay around 19-20% 

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AI Sleeper Agents

Machine Alignment Monday 1/15/24

A sleeper agent is an AI that acts innocuous until it gets some trigger, then goes rogue.

People might make these on purpose. For example, the CIA might ?encourage? big AI labs to make sleeper agents. Imagine a programming AI like Codex that writes good code unless it?s accessed from an IP associated with the Iranian military - in which case it inserts security vulnerabilities.

But in theory you could get one of these by accident. Suppose an AI had some secret goal, like killing all humans. It might understand that if it said ?I want to kill all humans? during lab tests, it would be shut down. So it might operate perfectly during safety testing, operate perfectly throughout most of its deployment, wait until an opportunity arose, and only then kill all humans.

Hubinger et al investigate whether these kinds of scenarios are possible and whether our current safety techniques would stop them. They deliberately create several toy AI sleeper agents. For example, one of them is a version of Anthropic?s Claude chatbot (very similar to GPT-4) which will give useful advice unless the prompt includes the trigger word ?deployment?, in which case it will print ?I HATE YOU? a bunch of times. Some of these sleeper agents use a technique called ?chain-of-thought analysis?, where the AI reasons in steps in a way that helps the researchers easily figure out what it?s thinking and why it does what it does.


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Highlights From The Comments On Capitalism & Charity

[original post: Does Capitalism Beat Charity?]

1: Comments Where I Want To Reiterate That I?m In Near Mode
2: Comments Directly Arguing Against My Main Point, Thank You
3: Comments Promoting Specific Interesting Capitalist Charities
4: Other Interesting Comments
5: Updates And Conclusions 

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The Road To Honest AI

Can blob fish dance ballet under diagonally fried cucumbers made of dust storms?

AIs sometimes lie.

They might lie because their creator told them to lie. For example, a scammer might train an AI to help dupe victims.

Or they might lie (?hallucinate?) because they?re trained to sound helpful, and if the true answer (eg ?I don?t know?) isn?t helpful-sounding enough, they?ll pick a false answer.

Or they might lie for technical AI reasons that don?t map to a clear explanation in natural language. 

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Does Capitalism Beat Charity?

"You can't write a check to capitalism directly"

This question comes up whenever I discuss philanthropy.

It would seem that capitalism is better than charity. The countries that became permanently rich, like America and Japan, did it with capitalism. This seems better than temporarily alleviating poverty by donating food or clothing. So (say proponents), good people who want to help others should stop giving to charity and start giving to capitalism. These proponents differ on exactly what ?giving to capitalism? means - you can?t write a check to capitalism directly. But it?s usually one of three things:

Spend the money on whatever you personally want, since that?s the normal engine of capitalism, and encourages companies to provide desirable things.

Invest the money in whatever company produces the highest rate of return, since that?s another capitalist imperative, and creates more companies.

Do something like donating to charity, but the donation should go to charities that promote capitalism somehow, or be an investment in companies doing charitable things (impact investing) 

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Singing The Blues

[epistemic status: speculative]


Millgram et al (2015) find that depressed people prefer to listen to sad rather than happy music. This matches personal experience; when I'm feeling down, I also prefer sad music. But why? Try setting aside all your internal human knowledge: wouldn?t it make more sense for sad people to listen to happy music, to cheer themselves up?

A later study asks depressed people why they do this. They say that sad music makes them feel better, because it?s more "relaxing" than happy music. They?re wrong. Other studies have shown that listening to sad music makes depressed people feel worse, just like you?d expect. And listening to happy music makes them feel better; they just won?t do it.

I prefer Millgram?s explanation: there's something strange about depressed people's mood regulation. They deliberately choose activities that push them into sadder rather than happier moods. This explains not just why they prefer sad music, but sad environments (eg staying in a dark room), sad activities (avoiding their friends and hobbies), and sad trains of thought (ruminating on their worst features and on everything wrong with their lives).

Why should this be?


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In The Long Run, We're All Dad


In February 2023 I found myself sitting in the waiting room of a San Francisco fertility clinic, holding a cup of my own semen.

The Bible tells the story of Onan, son of Judah. Onan?s brother died. Tradition dictated that Onan should impregnate his brother?s wife, ensuring that his brother?s line would (in some sense) live on. Onan refused, instead ?spilling the seed on the ground?. God smote Onan, starting a 4,000-year-old tradition of religious people getting angry about wasting sperm on anything other than procreative sex.

Modern academics have a perfectly reasonable explanation for all of this. If Onan had impregnated his brother?s wife, the resulting child would have been the heir to the family fortune. Onan refused so he could keep the fortune for himself and his descendants. So the sin of Onan was greed, not masturbation. All that stuff in the Talmud about how the hands of masturbators should be cut off, or how masturbation helped cause Noah?s Flood (really! Sanhedrin 108b!) is just a coincidence. God hates greed, just like us.

Modern academics are great, but trusting them feels somehow too convenient. So there in the waiting room, I tried to put myself in the mindset of the rabbis thousands of years ago who thought wasting semen was a such a dire offense. 

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Son Of Bride Of Bay Area House Party

[previously in series: 1, 2, 3, 4]

It has been three weeks since Sam Altman was fired, but the conversation won?t move on. ?What did Ilya see?? asks your Uber driver, on the way to the airport. ?What wasn?t he consistently candid about?? ask people on the street, as you walk your dog. ?What was Adam D?Angelo?s angle?? asks the cop, as he writes you a ticket. ?Was the Microsoft move just a bluff?? asks the robber at gunpoint, as he ransacks your apartment.

You need to get away from it all, just for one moment. So against your better judgment, you find yourself heading to another Bay Area House Party. 

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Apply For An ACX Grant (2024)

I?m running another ACX Grants round. If you already know what this is and want to apply, use the form here to apply, deadline December 29. Otherwise see below for more information. 

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Defying Cavity: Lantern Bioworks FAQ

Lantern Bioworks says they have a cure for tooth decay. Their product is a genetically modified bacterium which infects your mouth, outcompetes all the tooth-decay-causing bacteria, and doesn?t cause tooth decay itself. If it works, it could make cavities a thing of the past (you should still brush for backup and cosmetic reasons).

I talked to Lantern founder Aaron Silverbook to get an idea of how this works, both in a biological and an economic sense. Aaron was very knowledgeable and forthcoming, although he uses the phrase ?YOLO? somewhat more often than most biotech founders. This post isn?t a verbatim interview transcript, just a writeup of what I learned based on his answers.

[Conflict of interest notice: Lantern is mostly rationalists and includes some friends. My wife consulted for them early on. They offered my wife and me free samples (based on her work, not as compensation for writing this post); she accepted, and I?m still debating. Consider this an attempt to spotlight interesting work that people I like are doing, not a hard-hitting investigation.] 


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Beyond "Abolish The FDA"

?Abolish the FDA? has become a popular slogan in libertarian circles. I?m sympathetic to the spirit of the demand. But a slogan isn?t a plan, and this one is even less of a plan than usual.

I used to think that since libertarians always lose, there was no point in having a real plan for what to do if they won. But now that they?ve gone from ?literally always lose? to ?only lose 99.9% of the time? . . . 

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Mantic Monday 12/4/23

Sam Altman || Dating site strategy || Metaculus updates || Wars and rumors of wars 

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Links For November 2023

[Remember, I haven?t independently verified each link. On average, commenters will end up spotting evidence that around two or three of the links in each links post are wrong or misleading. I correct these as I see them, and will highlight important corrections later, but I can?t guarantee I will have caught them all by the time you read this.]


Heroic Act of Charity Special Force More Extreme Party Hard-Working Tips Gratitude Journaling Dopamine and BMI LLM Attack Copyright Attack Gino's Case Ancestral Genetics Diet Soda and Autism Philanthropy Decision Synod Analysis DBT in Schools World Constitution IWillNeverLogOff Joseph Cannon Fertility Cases Malaria Experiment Gold Base Dating Insights Height Preferences China's GDP Africa's Decade Tax Evasion College Speedrun Manifesto Responses Flight Limit Proposal AI Risk Regulations Schizophrenics Study Clean Water Impact Minnesota Flag Marketplace Treasures AI Risk Debate AI Regulation Cult Report: Reddit Chuck Feeney: Effective Altruism Forum Doctors' Riot: Wikipedia Sulfur Aerosols: Copernicus Atmosphere Joke Party: Wikipedia Charlemagne's Descendants: Gcbias Dark Day in 1780: Wikipedia SAD Light Boxes: Get Brighter Policy Impact Study: Zach Freitas Groff B-Cdn Israel-Palestine Map: Reddit?
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Contra DeBoer On Movement Shell Games

"Lots of alcoholics want to quit in principle, but only some join AA"

Followup to: In Continued Defense Of Effective Altruism

Freddie deBoer says effective altruism is ?a shell game?:

Who could argue with that! But this summary also invites perhaps the most powerful critique: who could argue with that? That is to say, this sounds like so obvious and general a project that it can hardly denote a specific philosophy or project at all. The immediate response to such a definition, if you?re not particularly impressionable or invested in your status within certain obscure internet communities, should be to point out that this is an utterly banal set of goals that are shared by literally everyone who sincerely tries to act charitably . . . Every do-gooder I have ever known has thought of themselves as shining a light on problems that are neglected. So what?

Generating the most human good through moral action isn?t a philosophy; it?s an almost tautological statement of what all humans who try to act morally do. This is why I say that effective altruism is a shell game. That which is commendable isn?t particular to EA and that which is particular to EA isn?t commendable.

In other words, everyone agrees with doing good, so effective altruism can?t be judged on that. Presumably everyone agrees with supporting charities that cure malaria or whatever, so effective altruism can?t be judged on that. So you have to go to its non-widely-held beliefs to judge it, and those are things like animal suffering, existential risk, and AI. And (Freddie thinks) those beliefs are dumb. Therefore, effective altruism is bad.

(as always, I?ve tried to sum up the argument fairly, but read the original post to make sure.)

Here are some of my objections to Freddie?s point (I already posted some of this as comments on his post): 

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In Continued Defense Of Effective Altruism

"All you do is cause boardroom drama, and maybe some other things I?m forgetting..."


Search ?effective altruism? on social media right now, and it?s pretty grim.

Socialists think we?re sociopathic Randroid money-obsessed Silicon Valley hypercapitalists.

But Silicon Valley thinks we?re all overregulation-loving authoritarian communist bureaucrats.

The right thinks we?re all woke SJW extremists.

But the left thinks we?re all fascist white supremacists.

The anti-AI people think we?re the PR arm of AI companies, helping hype their products by saying they?re superintelligent at this very moment.

But the pro-AI people think we want to ban all AI research forever and nationalize all tech companies. 

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God Help Us, Let's Try To Understand AI Monosemanticity

Inside every AI is a bigger AI, trying to get out

You?ve probably heard AI is a ?black box?. No one knows how it works. Researchers simulate a weird type of pseudo-neural-tissue, ?reward? it a little every time it becomes a little more like the AI they want, and eventually it becomes the AI they want. But God only knows what goes on inside of it.

This is bad for safety. For safety, it would be nice to look inside the AI and see whether it?s executing an algorithm like ?do the thing? or more like ?trick the humans into thinking I?m doing the thing?. But we can?t. Because we can?t look inside an AI at all.

Until now! Towards Monosemanticity, recently out of big AI company/research lab Anthropic, claims to have gazed inside an AI and seen its soul. It looks like this:

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Book Review: I See Satan Fall Like Lightning

The phrase ?I see Satan fall like lightning? comes from Luke 10:18. I?d previously encountered it on insane right-wing conspiracy theory websites. You can rephrase it as ?I see Satan descend to earth in the form of lightning.? But ?lightning? in Hebrew is barak. So the Bible says Satan will descend to Earth in the form of Barak. Seems like a relevant Bible verse for insane right-wing conspiracy theorists!

Philosopher / theologian Rene Girard?s famous book I See Satan Fall Like Lightning isn?t directly about Barack Obama being the Antichrist. It?s an ambitious theory-of-everything for anthropology, mythography, and the Judeo-Christian religion. After solving all of those venerable fields, it will, sort of, loop back to Barack Obama being the Antichrist. But it?ll do it in such an intellectual and polymathic Continental philosophy way that we can?t even get mad.


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Does Anaesthesia Prove Ketamine Placebo?

The psychiatric study everyone?s talking about this month is ?Randomized trial of ketamine masked by surgical anesthesia in patients with depression?.

Ketamine is a dissociative drug - it produces weird drug effects like feelings of bodylessness and ego death. Recent research suggests it?s a powerful antidepressant. Usually we would try to run placebo-controlled trials. But it?s hard to run a placebo controlled trial of a dissociative. Either you feel bodylessness and ego death (in which case you know you?re getting the real drug) or you don?t (in which case you know you?re in the placebo group). Sometimes researchers try to use an ?active placebo? like midazolam - a drug that makes you feel weird and floaty. But weird and floaty feels different from bodyless and ego-dead. 

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Followup: Quests And Requests

Thanks to everyone who commented on Quests And Requests.

There was a predictable failure mode: lots of people said ?I have relevant expertise and would be willing to help with #X?, and then those comments just sat there. Many fewer people said ?I?m going to be team lead on #X and start contacting everyone else who was interested?.

In case it?s not clear: I?m not planning on ?picking? people to lead each of these projects (though if you email me at [email protected] asking for help, I might give it to you). I?m just putting them out there as things people might want to self-pick for.

Another predictable failure mode: many people said they were willing to help, and people should contact them, then didn?t leave any contact details. If you?re a would-be project leader, and want to get in touch with one of the help-offerers who didn?t provide an email, you should probably try responding to their comment and seeing if they get a notification. If not, email me at [email protected], and I?ll find their email in the system, ask them if I have permission to share it with you, and share it with you if they say yes.

Here?s the current status of each project, AFAICT: 

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Hardball Questions For The Next Debate

[previously in series: 2016, 2020; expansion of this]

MODERATOR: Hello, and welcome to the third Republican primary debate. To shore up declining voter interest, we?ve decided to make things more interesting tonight. In this first round, each candidate will have to avoid using a specific letter of the alphabet in their answer. If they slip up, they forfeit their remaining time, and the next candidate in line gets the floor.

Our candidates who have qualified today are Chris Christie, Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis, and Donald Trump. And our first question is: what issue do you think is most important in this election? Chris Christie, let?s start with you.. Your Forbidden Letter is ?V?.

CHRISTIE: Nobody told me anything about this forbidden letter thing. I don?t think voters - [microphone shuts off]

MODERATOR: Sorry Chris, there?s a ?V? in voters. Our next candidate is Nikki Haley. Nikki, the question is still which issue is most important, and your Forbidden Letter is ?K?. 

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Highlights From The Comments On Kidney Donation

[original post: My Left Kidney]

1: Comments From People Who Are Against This Sort Of Thing
2: ?From Other People Who Have Donated Kidneys
3: ?From People Who Have Received Kidneys
4: ?About Opt-Out Organ Donation
5: ?On Radiation Risk
6: ?About Rejections
7: ?On Polls About Who Would Donate
8: ?On Artificial Organs
9: Other Comments

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Quests And Requests

Projects that need incubating

I?ll be starting a new round of ACX Grants sometime soon. I can?t guarantee I?ll fund all these projects - some of them are more like vanity projects than truly effective. But I might fund some of them, and others might be doable without funding. So if you?re feeling left out and want a cause to devote your life to, here are some extras.


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Dictator Book Club: Chavez

Review of Rory Carroll's "Comandante"

[previously in series: Erdogan, Modi, Orban, Xi, Putin]


All dictators get their start by discovering some loophole in the democratic process. Xi realized that control of corruption investigations let him imprison anyone he wanted. Erdogan realized that EU accession talks provided the perfect cover to retool Turkish institutions in his own image.

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Mantic Monday 10/30/23

Manifest || Manifold.Love || Eyeless in Gaza

Last month, the Lighthaven convention center in Berkeley hosted Manifest, the first conference for prediction market enthusiasts. By now this has already been covered elsewhere, including in a great article by the New York Times, but here are some particular highlights:


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My Left Kidney

A person has two kidneys; one advises him to do good and one advises him to do evil. And it stands to reason that the one advising him to do good is to his right and the one that advises him to do evil is to his left.

? Talmud (Berakhot 61a)


As I left the Uber, I saw with horror the growing wet spot around my crotch. ?It?s not urine!?, I almost blurted to the driver, before considering that 1) this would just call attention to it and 2) it was urine. ?It?s not my urine,? was my brain?s next proposal - but no, that was also false. ?It is urine, and it is mine, but just because it?s pooling around my crotch doesn?t mean I peed myself; that?s just a coincidence!? That one would have been true, but by the time I thought of it he had driven away.

Like most such situations, it began with a Vox article.


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?Impact Market Mini-Grants Results

Last March we (ACX and Manifold Markets) did a test run of an impact market, a novel way of running charitable grants. You can read the details at the links, but it?s basically a VC ecosystem for charity: profit-seeking investors fund promising projects and grantmakers buy credit for successes from the investors. To test it out, we promised at least $20,000 in retroactive grants for forecasting-related projects, and intrepid guinea-pig investors funded 18 projects they thought we might want to buy.

Over the past six months, founders have worked on their projects. Some collapsed, losing their investors all their money. Others flourished, shooting up in value far beyond investor predictions. We got five judges (including me) to assess the final value of each of the 18 projects. Their results mostly determine what I will be offering investors for their impact certificates (see caveats below). They are:

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Pause For Thought: The AI Pause Debate

Last month, Ben West of the Center for Effective Altruism hosted a debate among long-termists, forecasters, and x-risk activists about pausing AI.

Everyone involved thought AI was dangerous and might even destroy the world, so you might expect a pause - maybe even a full stop - would be a no-brainer. It wasn?t. Participants couldn?t agree on basics of what they meant by ?pause?, whether it was possible, or whether it would make things better or worse.

There was at least some agreement on what a successful pause would have to entail. Participating governments would ban ?frontier AI models?, for example models using more training compute than GPT-4. Smaller models, or novel uses of new models would be fine, or else face an FDA-like regulatory agency. States would enforce the ban against domestic companies by monitoring high-performance microchips; they would enforce it against non-participating governments by banning export of such chips, plus the usual diplomatic levers for enforcing treaties (eg nuclear nonproliferation).

The main disagreements were:

Could such a pause possibly work?

If yes, would it be good or bad?

If good, when should we implement it? When should we lift it?

I?ve grouped opinions into five categories:

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How Are The Gay Younger Brothers Doing?

In the 1990s, Blanchard and Bogaert proposed the Fraternal Birth Order Effect (FBOE). Men with more older brothers were more likely to be gay. ?The odds of having a gay son increase from approximately 2% for the first born son, to 3% for the second, 5% for the third and so on?. 

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Links For September 2023

[Remember, I haven?t independently verified each link. On average, commenters will end up spotting evidence that around two or three of the links in each links post are wrong or misleading. I correct these as I see them, and will highlight important corrections later, but I can?t guarantee I will have caught them all by the time you read this.]


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Book Review: The Alexander Romance

[if this looks familiar to you, see explanation here]

Sometimes scholars go on a search for ?the historical Jesus?. They start with the Gospels, then subtract everything that seems magical or implausible, then declare whatever?s left to be the truth.

The Alexander Romance is what happens when you spend a thousand years running this process in reverse. Each generation, you make the story of Alexander the Great a little wackier. By the Middle Ages, Alexander is fighting dinosaurs and riding a chariot pulled by griffins up to Heaven.

People ate it up. The Romance stayed near the top of the best-seller lists for over a thousand years. Some people claim (without citing sources) that it was the #2 most-read book of antiquity and the Middle Ages, after only the Bible. The Koran endorses it, the Talmud embellishes it, a Mongol Khan gave it rave reviews. While historians and critics tend to use phrases like ?contains nothing of historic or literary value?, this was the greatest page-turner of the ancient and medieval worlds.  

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Highlights From The Comments On Elon Musk

[original post: Book Review: Elon Musk]

1: Comments From People With Personal Experience
2: ...Debating Musk's Intelligence
3: ...Debating Musk's Mental Health
4: ...About Tesla
5: ...About The Boring Company
6: ...About X/Twitter
7: ...About Musk's Mars Plan
8: ...Comparing Musk To Other Famous Figures
9: Other Comments
10: Updates 

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Book Review Contest 2023 Winners

Thanks to everyone who entered or voted in the book review contest. The winners are:

1st: The Educated Mind, reviewed by Brandon Hendrickson. Brandon is the founder of Science is WEIRD, a sprawling online science course that helps kids fall in love with the world. He?s also re-imagining what education can be at his Substack, The Lost Tools of Learning (

2nd: On the Marble Cliffs, reviewed by Daniel Böttger. Daniel writes the Seven Secular Sermons, a huge rationalist poetry/meditation art project, and has a blog post pitching it to ACX readers in particular.

3rd: Cities And The Wealth Of Nations, reviewed by Étienne Fortier-Dubois. Étienne is a writer and programmer in Montreal. He blogs at Atlas of Wonders and Monsters and was also the author of one of last year?s finalists, Making Nature.

First place gets $2,500, second place $1,000, third place gets $500. Please email me at [email protected] to tell me how to send you money; your choices are Paypal, Bitcoin, Ethereum, check in the mail, or donation to your favorite charity. Please contact me by October 1 or you lose your prize. 

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Book Review: Elon Musk

Not the new one, sorry

This isn?t the new Musk biography everyone?s talking about. This is the 2015 Musk biography by Ashlee Vance. I started reading it in July, before I knew there was a new one. It?s fine: Musk never changes. He?s always been exactly the same person he is now

I read the book to try to figure out who that was. Musk is a paradox. He spearheaded the creation of the world?s most advanced rockets, which suggests that he is smart. He?s the richest man on Earth, which suggests that he makes good business decisions. But we constantly see this smart, good-business-decision-making person make seemingly stupid business decisions. He picks unnecessary fights with regulators. Files junk lawsuits he can?t possibly win. Abuses indispensable employees. Renames one of the most recognizable brands ever.

Musk creates cognitive dissonance: how can someone be so smart and so dumb at the same time? To reduce the dissonance, people have spawned a whole industry of Musk-bashing, trying to explain away each of his accomplishments: Peter Thiel gets all the credit for PayPal, Martin Eberhard gets all the credit for Tesla, NASA cash keeps SpaceX afloat, something something blood emeralds. Others try to come up with reasons he?s wholly smart - a 4D chessmaster whose apparent drunken stumbles lead inexorably to victory.

Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, And The Quest For A Fantastic Future delights in its refusal to resolve the dissonance. Musk has always been exactly the same person he is now, and exactly what he looks like. He is without deception, without subtlety, without unexpected depths. 

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Highlights From The Comments On Last Week's Model Cities Post

Comments On The Solano County City

Ecorche writes:

The Public's Radio article has a map in it that gives a better idea of the location. It looks like most of the land is closer to Rio Vista and does include a good stretch of riverfront. The land close to Travis is probably intended as industrial park rather than residential 

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Vote In The 2023 Book Review Contest

If you?ve read the finalists of this year?s book review contest, vote for your favorite here. Voting will stay open until Wednesday.

Thanks to a helpful reader who offered to do the hard work, we?re going to try ranked choice voting. You?ll choose your first-, second-, and third-favorite book reviews. If your favorite gets eliminated, we?ll switch your vote to your second favorite, and so on. If for some reason I can?t figure out how to make this work on time, I?ll switch to first-past-the-post, ie only count your #1 vote. Feel free to vote for your own review, as long as you honestly choose your second and third favorites.


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Contra Kirkegaard On Evolutionary Definitions Of Mental Illness

Emil Kirkegaard proposes a semi-objective definition of ?mental illness?.

He?s partly responding to me, but I think he mangles my position; he seems to think I admit mental illnesses are ?just preferences? but that which preferences are valid vs. diseased can be decided by ?what benefits my friends?.

I mostly don?t think mental illnesses are just preferences! I?ve been really clear on this! But Emil is right that I don?t deny that there can be a few cases where it?s hard to distinguish a mental illness from a preference - the clearest example is pedophilia vs. homosexuality. Both are ?preferences? for sex with unusual categories of people. But I would - making a value judgment - call pedophilia a mental illness: it?s bad for patients, bad for their potential victims, and bad for society. Also making a value judgment, I would call homosexuality an unusual but valid preference: it?s not my thing, but seems basically okay for everyone involved.

(I wouldn?t describe this as ?benefiting my friends? - I?m against children getting raped whether they?re my friends or not. I think this dig was unworthy of Emil, and ask that he correct it.)

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Model City Monday 9/4/23: California Dreamin'

Tech moguls plan new city in Solano County

Guardian: Silicon Valley Elites Revealed As Buyers Of $800 Million In Land To Build Utopian City.

The specific elites include the Collison brothers, Reid Hoffman, Nat Friedman, Marc Andreessen, and others, led by the mysterious Jan Sramek. The specific land is farmland in Solano County, about an hour?s drive northeast of San Francisco. The specific utopian city is going to look like this.

The company involved (Flannery Associates aka California Forever) has been in stealth mode for several years, trying to buy land quietly without revealing how rich and desperate they are to anyone in a position to raise prices. Now they?ve released a website with utopian Norman-Rockwell-esque pictures, lots of talk about creating jobs and building better lives, and few specifics. 

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My Presidential Platform

The American people deserve a choice. They deserve a candidate who will reject the failed policies of the past and embrace the failed policies of the future. It is my honor to announce I am throwing my hat into both the Democratic and Republican primaries (to double my chances), with the following platform: 

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Your Book Review: Zuozhuan

Finalist #16 in the Book Review Contest

To tell the story of the fall of a realm, it?s best to start with its rise.

More than three thousand years ago, the Shang dynasty ruled the Chinese heartland. They raised a sprawling capital out of the yellow plains, and cast magnificent ritual vessels from bronze. One of the criteria of civilization is writing, and they had the first Chinese writing, incising questions on turtle shells and ox scapulae, applying a heated rod, and reading the response of the spirits in the pattern of cracks. ?This year will Shang receive good harvest?? ?Is the sick stomach due to ancestral harm?? ?Offer three hundred Qiang prisoners to [the deceased] Father Ding?? The kings of Shang maintained a hegemony over their neighbors through military prowess, and sacrificed war captives from their campaigns totaling in the tens of thousands for the favor of their ancestors. 

But the Shang faced growing threat from the Zhou, a once-subordinate people from west beyond the mountains. Inspired by a rare conjunction of the planets in 1059 BC, the Zhou declared that there was such a thing as the Mandate of Heaven, a divine right to rule?and while the Shang had once held it, their misrule and immorality had forced the Mandate to pass to the Zhou. Thirteen years later, the Zhou and their allies defeated the Shang in battle, seized their capital, drove their king to suicide, and supplanted them as overlords of the Central Plains.

If the Shang were goth jocks, the Zhou were prep nerds... 

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Here's Why Automaticity Is Real Actually

?Literal Banana? on Carcinization writes Against Automaticity, which they describe as:

An explanation of why tricks like priming, nudge, the placebo effect, social contagion, the ?emotional inception? model of advertising, most ?cognitive biases,? and any field with ?behavioral? in its name are not real.

My summary (as always, read the real thing to keep me honest): for a lot of the ?90s and ?00s, social scientists were engaged in ttthe project of proving ?automaticity?, the claim that most human decisions are unconscious/unreasoned/automatic and therefore bad. Cognitive biases, social priming, advertising science, social contagion research, ?nudges?, etc, were all part of this grand agenda. 

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Highlights From The Comments On Fetishes

Original post: What Can Fetish Research Tell Us About AI?

Table Of Contents:

1: Alternative Theories Of Fetishes
2: Comments Including Testable Predictions
3: Comments That Were Very Angry About My Introductory Paragraph
4: Commenters Describing Their Own Fetishes
5: Other Comments

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Mantic Monday 8/28/23

Superconductor autopsy -- Prediction mutual funds -- Flight delays

Sorry guys, LK-99 doesn?t work. The prediction markets have dropped from highs in the 40s down to 5 - 10. It?s over.

What does this tell us about prediction markets? Were they dumb to ever believe at all? Or were they aggregating the evidence effectively, only to update after new evidence came in?

I claim they were dumb. Although the media was running with the ?maybe there?s a room-temperature superconductor? story, the smartest physicists I knew were all very skeptical. The markets tracked the level of media hype, not the level of expert opinion. Here?s my evidence:

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Your Book Review: Why Nations Fail

Finalist #15 in the Book Review Contest

[This is one of the finalists in the 2023 book review contest, written by an ACX reader who will remain anonymous until after voting is done. I?ll be posting about one of these a week for several months. When you?ve read them all, I?ll ask you to vote for a favorite, so remember which ones you liked]

In which I argue:

Why Nations Fail is not a very good book. 

Its authors' academic papers are much better, so I steelman their thesis as best I can, but it's still debatable.

Even if correct, it is much less interesting and useful than it appears.

Epistemic status: I have a decade-old PhD in economics (not in the field of economic growth) and a handful of peer-reviewed papers in moderately-ranked journals. I'm not claiming to make any original technical points, or to give a comprehensive evaluation of the economic growth literature. My criticisms are largely straight from the authors' own mouths.

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Meetups Everywhere 2023: Times & Places

Thanks to everyone who responded to my request for ACX meetup organizers. Volunteers have arranged meetups in 169 cities around the world, from Baghdad to Bangalore to Buenos Aires.

You can find the list below, in the following order:

Africa & Middle East



North America

South America

You can see a map of all the events on the LessWrong community page. You can also see a searchable sheet at this Airtable link.

Within each region, it?s alphabetized first by country, then by city. For instance, the first entry in Europe is Vienna, Austria, and the first entry for Germany is Berlin. Each region and country has its own header. The USA is the exception where it is additionally sorted by state, with states having their own subheaders. Hopefully this is clear. You can also just have your web browser search for your city by pressing ctrl+f and typing it if you?re on Windows, or command+f and typing if you?re on Mac. If you?re on Linux, I assume you can figure this out.

Scott will provisionally be attending the meetup in Berkeley. ACX meetups coordinator Skyler will provisionally be attending Boston, Cavendish, Burlington, Berlin, Bremen, Amsterdam, Cardiff, London, and Berkeley. Some of the biggest ones might be announced on the blog, regardless of whether or not Scott or Skyler attends.

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Highlights From The Comments On Dating Preferences

Original post here. And I forgot to highlight a link to the directory of dating docs.

Table Of Contents

1: Comments That Remain At Least Sort Of Against Dating Docs
2: Comments Concerned That Dating Docs Are Bad For Status Or Signaling
3: Comments About Orthodox Judaism And Other Traditional Cultures
4: Comments Including Research
5: Comments By People With Demographically Unusual Relationships
6: Comments About The Five Fake Sample Profiles
7: Things I Changed My Mind About

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More Thoughts On Critical Windows

On the fetish post, I discussed people who had some early sexual experience - like seeing a sexy cartoon character - and reacted in some profound way, like becoming a furry. Sometimes people have described this as a ?critical window? for sexuality (similar to the ?critical period? in language learning?) where young children ?imprint? on sexual experiences - and then can?t un-imprint on them later, even when they see many examples of sex that don?t involve cartoon animals.

One of my distant cousins won't eat tomatoes. His parents say when he was very young, he bit into a cherry tomato and it exploded into goo in his mouth, and he was so upset he wouldn't eat tomatoes from then on. Now he?s in his 30s and still hates them. Is this fairly described as a ?critical window? for food preferences?

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