Instrumental Rationality Questions Thread

post by AspiringRationalist · 2015-08-22T20:25:11.140Z · score: 14 (15 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 92 comments

This thread is for asking the rationalist community for practical advice.  It's inspired by the stupid questions series, but with an explicit focus on instrumental rationality.

Questions ranging from easy ("this is probably trivial for half the people on this site") to hard ("maybe someone here has a good answer, but probably not") are welcome.  However, please stick to problems that you actually face or anticipate facing soon, not hypotheticals.

As with the stupid questions thread, don't be shy, everyone has holes in their knowledge, though the fewer and the smaller we can make them, the better, and please be respectful of other people's admitting ignorance and don't mock them for it, as they're doing a noble thing.

(See also the Boring Advice Repository)


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Tem42 · 2015-08-22T23:18:19.528Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

I live in a smaller city, and don't have easy access to a LessWrong meetup group. Are there any commonly-occurring social groups that attract rational (and interesting) people?

I do not have a good example to give (that's why I'm asking), but I will note that examples of "commonly-occurring social groups" would include things like the Unitarian Universalist Church (interesting people, open minded, not generally particularly rationalist) and the local game store game-play events (intelligent, diverse group, often with better than average critical thinking skills, but also includes a lot of people who are there mostly because they think that superheroes and zombies are cool).

comment by PhilGoetz · 2015-08-23T23:21:22.201Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Book clubs and philosophy groups, but they only attract people over 45 except in major metropolitan downtown areas. Most people are unavailable all through their thirties because they're having kids.

You can go to chautauquas, but only if you live in the 19th century.

I always find it odd that parents will take their kids to all sorts of educational events, but hardly ever go to any themselves. Go to any environmental education center, and you'll find nothing but kids and parents with kids. Why do they think it's important for their kids but not for themselves?

comment by Tem42 · 2015-08-23T23:57:39.570Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I have not had luck with book clubs in the past, and so have not been to any in years. Are there any sort of book clubs that you have had particular luck with?

I can second university clubs -- philosophy and political science clubs have been good to me in the past, and math club was fun. These are pretty much limited to students, unfortunately. It might be interesting to hunt down a philosophy club for older adults, if I can find one that doesn't focus on spirituality/religion.

comment by Elo · 2015-08-23T22:57:03.554Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If you suggest the country; maybe some more relevant advice can be given.

Try meetup; check your local library for local group events. Look around for community notice boards. The problem of community finding is a hard one; for both communities looking to attract people; and people looking to find their community; it is as yet only now being solved partially by things like meetup.

There are also charitable volunteering opportunities that I have found will tend to host interesting people to interact with. Consider looking around for these groups too.

Sporting groups (I have little experience with but) should be around even in a small town.

Pub trivia - less good, but also possible to meet groups of people at.

Does this help?

comment by Tem42 · 2015-08-24T00:38:20.354Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I am in America.

Meetup, library boards, etc. are useful, but I don't need more groups, I need to know which of my many choices are likely to be useful. I'd like to do better than showing up at vaguely interesting meetups and seeing if they happen to be comprised of interesting people... Although this basically is what I have been doing. It is not a motivating task.

Volunteering tends to be very good, except that there is usually (in my area) an oversupply of religious people at the non-political charities, and an oversupply of mindkilled people at the political ones. Still, a good suggestion, and I should probably focus on finding new opportunities of this sort.

I think these are good general suggestions that fit well into this thread, but they are not quite what I was looking for. However, the fact that you could provide a fairly comprehensive list that more or less matches my own does confirm that I am not missing any easy targets, and that is very useful information.

comment by Elo · 2015-08-24T04:49:56.781Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I know of a project to start building a list of related groups; but even that will be limited to "explore and find out to confirm". Without us explicitly knowing what "lesswrongers" are; other than people who hang around; its quite hard to find others quite like our little in-group.

comment by k_ebel · 2015-08-24T16:46:59.491Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Do you know if the project intends to address that lack of definition in what attributes we see as being similar (in groups and individuals)? I could see how even just having a list of characteristics for a person/group might be an excellent place to start in evaluating choices for where to spend social/networking capital.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2015-08-23T14:39:37.070Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Any thoughts about how to move from small talk to more interesting topics?

comment by btrettel · 2015-08-23T21:22:30.827Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

One strategy I've seen recommended is to ramble a bit, including potential conversation starters on topics which are more interesting to you as part of the ramble.

For example, let's say you're talking with someone you just met in the laundry room of your apartment building. You're talking about the weather, or something similar. You want to see if this person is interested in cooking, so as you load some clothes you casually mention how you made a mess of your shirt last time you cooked to see if they bite.

I have not tried this myself, but it seems very general and subtle enough that it's not out of the ordinary.

comment by Tem42 · 2015-08-23T22:32:18.347Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

In my experience, most socially inclined people do something like this, possibly unintentionally. So also listen to see if the other person is doing this, and if they are, be ready to pick up on anything interesting they say. Don't assume that if they mention something in passing that they are only slightly interested.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2015-08-23T23:05:55.015Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I've noticed that people uphold a lot of social conventions about how conversations are supposed to work, and then they have to all get drunk in order to have interesting conversations, because those social conventions (like "don't make non-sequiturs" or "don't talk about impractical speculations") make interesting conversations difficult.

So... pretend to be drunk? Invite a drunk into the conversation? Probably not very good advice. But it seems people want to get past small talk, but need an excuse for breaking with convention.

comment by Creutzer · 2015-08-24T07:06:36.729Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That is very true. Many people also seem to interpret the politeness rule of not talking too much about oneself in such a way that no hint about interesting topics ever gets picked up because giving your opinion on something, or relating experiences, is "talking too much about yourself" unless you were explicitly asked. The only solution I've is to simply avoid people who are frustrating like that.

comment by Dagon · 2015-08-23T15:48:46.932Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

At a high level, I have the same advice as any other instrumental rationality topic: know your purpose. Why do you want to move from small talk to more interesting topics? What anticipated future experiences are driving your choice to be talking with this person at all?

Specific options:

  • Accept social risk. Often, small talk is used among people who don't trust each other enough to open up. If you can identify that the actual risk is smaller than the perceived risk, then you can introduce the (somewhat) riskier topics that actually interest you. With luck, it'll interest them too.

  • If your goal is social cohesion, as opposed to your own entertainment or information-seeking, steer the small-talk toward the other person. Find topics they're interested in and guide them in telling stories about themselves.

  • Change conversational partners. If you can't identify a strategic goal in continuing a conversation, find an excuse to leave it and do something else. Do be somewhat patient, though: it's easy to underestimate the value of non-close acquaintances and the time it takes to get enough mutual knowledge to be able to have truly interesting conversations.

comment by Elo · 2015-08-23T23:54:02.889Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I use two questions.

To myself - when stumped; "what do I want to know about this person?" then ask that; or find a way to ask that.

To others; "What is the most important thing you could be working on right now?" followed by, "What are you doing about that?" and "how can you do that better?" (also "have you tried X")

Traditionally - people would read paper or books and share that information with people they meet. i.e. "did you read the article about X" but people don't read papers any more.

Keeping a list (either written or mentally) of recent interesting things to chat about is good.

I tend to also ask, "what occupies most of your time?" Because it usually is something they are most interested in sharing.

Interestingly; those small-talk topics when you look at them carefully, are actually the important ones. "how are you?" when taken to steelman is practically the most important question I can ever ask someone. Its just too bad we automate to the default answers so often. (I have a theory that the weather actually affects 8% or so of people's moods. which is a small fraction; but big enough to be of significance for everyone. I don't know how to prove this; but its would explain why everyone defaults to the weather)

Often when people do the interview "how old are you, what do you do" type questions they are looking for common ground with which to share things with you. "Oh I also volunteer", "I also own a car that broke down today, how funny". If you try to broadly hit a few areas of your own interest with "hooks" for people to grab on - it will make it easier to connect.

i.e. "I like cooking" is not as good for hooking interest as, "I tried cooking X last week"... (this advice comes as dating profile advice as well)

Did this help?

comment by MarsColony_in10years · 2015-08-24T14:21:51.707Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I have a theory that the weather actually affects 8% or so of people's moods.

I remember reading somewhere that people who live in places with better weather aren't measurably happier for it. This doesn't disprove your theory, since people's mood could still swing with the weather even if their baseline happiness is invariant.

comment by Dahlen · 2015-08-24T14:18:01.785Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Pick something from the context that has potential to lead to an interesting conversation, and start talking a little more passionately about it. Alternately, splinter the group into one-on-one conversations.

comment by MarsColony_in10years · 2015-08-24T15:03:02.575Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It seems that being extroverted is mostly about simply building certain extroverted habits. I’ve just noticed that I should probably try and replace my default response to “How are you?”/”What’s up?” with something with hooks for interesting topics, or maybe just saying whatever’s on my mind at the moment.

It occurs to me that certain situations and topics constantly reoccur, and that these present useful opportunities to transition to a more mutually interesting topic. For example, I should probably condition my response to mentioning the weather into “honestly, I think I probably follow weather satellites more closely than the weather itself”. This might easily lead to discussions of space, technology, or even GCR/X-risk hooks like the 2013 Chelyabinsk meteor or the Solar Storm of 1859.

At the moment, the best I can come up with for discussing sports is to bring up the idea that anyone sufficiently obsessed with anything, regardless of topic, basically slowly becomes a nerd. Sports nerds start out as just fans, but once they start tracking stats and playing fantasy football, they slowly turn into nerds. They are especially amusing because of the “jocks vs nerds” archetype, which is a completely arbitrary dichotomy. I can imagine this leading to discussions of in-groups, sociology/psychology, or maybe meta-analysis.

comment by AspiringRationalist · 2015-08-25T00:25:57.310Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Moving from small talk to more interesting topics is a totally different skill set than general extroversion.

comment by D_Malik · 2015-08-22T22:40:21.394Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Which country should software engineers emigrate to?

I'm going to research everything, build a big spreadsheet, weight the various factors, etc. over the next while, so any advice that saves me time or improves the accuracy of my analysis is much appreciated. Are there any non-obvious considerations here?

There are some lists of best countries for software developers, and for expats in general. These consider things like software dev pay, cost of living, taxes, crime, happiness index, etc. Those generally recommend Western Europe, the US, Canada, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Mexico, India. Other factors I'll have to consider are emigration difficulty and language barriers.

The easiest way to emigrate is to marry a local. Otherwise, emigrating to the US requires either paying $50k USD, or working in the US for several years (under a salary reduction and risk that are about as bad as paying $50k), and other countries are roughly as difficult. I'll have to research this separately for each country.

comment by AspiringRationalist · 2015-08-23T01:36:17.786Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Context: I am a software engineer living and working in the US. I am a US citizen and my wife is not, and we are working on getting her permanent residency.

It's definitely worth investigating the difficulty of immigrating to the various countries. Canada and Singapore both have reputations for being a lot easier for skilled workers to immigrate to than the US, but YMMV.

Note that if you do marry an American, be sure to start the process of getting your permanent residency while you're still in the country. My wife and I made the mistake of starting the process while she was temporarily abroad, and that has caused significant delays.

See if there are companies that are willing to hire you while you're on OPT. I think that buys you a couple years to try for an H1b or perhaps get married. If they're willing to hire you in the US and let you transfer internationally if immigration doesn't let you in, even better.

Also keep in mind that if you become a US citizen, the US will tax you on your worldwide income, not just your US income. That's not an issue if you plan on staying in one place, though.

comment by Elo · 2015-08-23T22:53:12.744Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

make a list of the 10 places (companies or locations) you want to work. Write to them and find a way to impress them in such a way that they hire you.

comment by Daniel_Burfoot · 2015-08-24T03:11:01.911Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

How ambitious are you? If you want to work very hard and potentially change the world, come to the US. For better or worse (probably worse), the US is basically the place where world-changing technology development happens.

If you are more interested in work/life balance, I would recommend Europe (esp. Germany), Canada, Australia or maybe NZ. In particular everyone I've talked to who knows both Australia and the US agrees that while Americans make more money, Aussies have a better lifestyle.

There are many, many things about the US that are just astonishingly broken. The immigration system is one of them. Also, there is lots of anti-immigrant turmoil going on in the US now.

comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-08-25T00:35:19.680Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Also, there is lots of anti-immigrant turmoil going on in the US now.

Not just in the US. It's also happening in Europe and Australia.

comment by Fluttershy · 2015-08-22T22:05:13.145Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Are there any known interventions for increasing one's lifespan which are commonly overlooked by transhumanist folks on LW?

comment by D_Malik · 2015-08-23T02:57:55.053Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW
  • Getting an air filter can gain you ~0.6 years of lifespan, plus some healthspan. Here's /u/Louie's post where I saw this.
  • Lose weight. Try Shangri-La, and if that doesn't work consider the EC stack or a ketogenic diet.
  • Seconding James_Miller's recommendation of vegetables, especially cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, bok choy, cauliflower, collard greens, arugula...) Just eat entire plates of the stuff often.
  • Write a script that takes a screenshot and webcam picture every 30 seconds. Save the files to an external hard drive. After a few decades, bury the external, along with some of your DNA and possibly brain scans, somewhere it'll stay safe for a couple hundred years or longer. This is a pretty long shot, but there's a chance that a future FAI will find your horcrux and use it to resurrect you. I think this is a better deal than cryonics since it costs so much less.
comment by Fluttershy · 2015-08-23T08:06:05.480Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting; I hadn't thought about air filters at all. Thanks for mentioning them! Five minutes of googling around leaves me highly skeptical the air filter mentioned in Louie's post, which you linked to, is the one anyone interested in life extension would want to buy, though; the air filter mentioned there is a "HEPA grade" filter, not a "HEPA" filter. The filter in question only claims that it can catch particles which are larger than 30 angstroms, while real HEPA filters catch at least 99.97 % of particles larger than 3 angstroms. As a quick check, this seems like it might matter since I'd expect HEPA filters to catch all of the six air contaminants the EPA mentions here, while a filter which only caught particles larger than 30 angstroms would only stand a chance of catching one of those six contaminants. Please pardon the back-of-the-envelope nature of this comment.

comment by David_Bolin · 2015-08-23T12:59:16.381Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I do the screenshot / webcam thing, and OCR the screenshots so that my entire computing history is searchable.

comment by btrettel · 2015-08-23T20:22:01.501Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

How useful have the text logs proved?

Assuming you use a terminal, do you also keep your history from that?

comment by David_Bolin · 2015-08-24T12:59:12.812Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I use dtSearch for the text searching, which works pretty well. I don't have to use it constantly but it works well when I need it, e.g. finding something from a website I viewed a few months ago, when I no longer remember which site it was, or determining whether I've ever come across a certain's person's name before, finding one of my passwords after I've forgotten where I saved it, and so on. Also, sometimes I haven't been sure about which keywords to search for, but I was able to determine that something must have happened on a particular day, and then I've been able to use the screenshots directly to search for it, scrolling through them like through a movie.

I don't use a terminal. Currently I've been using two personal computers and have kept the history from both.

comment by estimator · 2015-08-24T06:57:10.198Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm very skeptical of the third. A human brain contains ~10^10 neurons and ~10^14 synapses -- which would be hard to infer from ~10^5 photos/screenshots, esp. considering that they don't convey that much information about your brain structure. DNA and comprehensive brain scans are better, but I guess that getting brain scans with required precision isn't quite easy.

Cryonics, at least, might work.

comment by Tem42 · 2015-08-24T17:43:09.849Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

DNA and brain scans are far from perfect -- you will only get someone "you-ish". In the absence of a solution, you can at least get a bit more you-ness cheaply when the opportunity presents itself. A sufficiently powerful simulation could take all the possible yous indicated by DNA and scans, and see which yous are consistent with the sequences you have saved through screen shots and ect.

It's not perfect, but it should be a little bit better.

Even better would be if you did something more complex and less externally guided than web-browsing... write a book, a blog, or a song. Also, save your LessWrong username in that file!

comment by D_Malik · 2015-08-24T14:17:07.003Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You don't need to reconstruct all the neurons and synapses, though. If something behaves almost exactly as I would behave, I'd say that thing is me. 20 years of screenshots 8 hours a day is around 14% of a waking lifetime, which seems like enough to pick out from mindspace a mind that behaves very similarly to mine.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-08-24T14:44:41.542Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

a mind that behaves very similarly to mine

A mind that behaves very similarly to yours while typing at a a computer screen.

Put that mind in a pub and I doubt it will perform well.

comment by estimator · 2015-08-24T14:44:10.443Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, I agree, that would help FAI build people similar to you. But why do you want FAI to do that?

And what copying precision is OK for you? Would just making a clone based in your DNA suffice? Maybe, you don't even have to bother with all these screenshots and photos.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-08-23T13:09:46.706Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What do the webcam and screenshots help with?

comment by D_Malik · 2015-08-23T15:27:29.604Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Allow the AI to reconstruct your mind and memories more accurately and with less computational cost, hopefully; the brain scan and DNA alone probably won't give much fidelity. They're also fun from a self-tracking data analysis perspective, and they let you remember your past better.

comment by Benito · 2015-08-24T08:13:02.467Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That last one sounds like a plan, on top of signing up for Cryonics. Tah.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2015-08-23T14:38:16.150Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know whether Feldenkrais Method is verified for increasing lifespan, but it does a lot for easy mobility which definitely improves quality of life as the years go by.

Also, studying tai chi (even late in life for a few months) decreases the likelihood of falling.

comment by James_Miller · 2015-08-23T01:47:05.455Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure which are overlooked, but the key ones are don't smoke, eat vegetables, wear a seat belt, exercise, cryonics, and (for men) castration. I do bulletproof intermittent fasting but I'm not sure if data backs up this last one.

comment by zedzed · 2015-08-22T23:06:29.155Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Are there any nootropics that have decent evidence of nonnegligible effectiveness that aren't listed in Slate Star Codex's Nootropics Survey Results. Asking so I can use replies to this comment + survey as an exhaustive list of nootropics worth considering.

comment by Toggle · 2015-08-23T07:54:09.532Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Gwern's records of his own self-experimentation are not to be missed:

comment by [deleted] · 2015-08-23T01:45:18.080Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

There's quite a few, but Nicotine is the one that jumps out at me, as well as Ritalin and Adderal.

Edit: Here's a more exhaustive list than Scott's, although still not complete. The great thing about examine is you can click through and see exactly what evidence there is for what effects.

comment by AspiringRationalist · 2015-08-23T02:16:53.130Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Pseudoephedrine comes to mind. Does anyone know what the evidence is on that?

comment by Dorikka · 2015-08-23T02:48:25.906Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I haven't heard of psuedoephedrine having nootropic effects before - what have you heard? (On a related note, it mostly makes me unable to sleep. :( )

comment by AspiringRationalist · 2015-08-23T03:27:28.922Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Only personal experience. I noticed that I was more focused and could get by on a lot less caffeine when I was taking it for a cold recently.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-08-23T10:45:45.644Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

How can I trick myself into generally being more relaxed during activities that are not work/school-related like household chores, during workout, during commuting, before going to bed etc.? I have often mild fear of forgetting whatever important thing I was thinking about before. "If I don't clean up in 2.5 seconds, I'll forget what I was about to do!"

It seems to me that I'm either underestimating my ability to recall or I'm aiming too high, i.e. I would actually forget important things.

comment by Tem42 · 2015-08-23T17:30:51.363Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I know of what you speak! My solution may not work for you, but here's what I did:

First, identify all the really important things, and make sure they get done. For me, this meant either making them part of my core routine, or making a list. 'Core routine' means a required set of actions; if it is necessary to walk the dog or he will pee on the carpet, I walk the dog as soon as I get home - before sitting down, before logging into my computer. I don't do anything else until my routine is completed.

Likewise, I make the list of need to do as central to my life as it needs to be to in order to get it done. If I must pay the rent tomorrow, the note to pay the rent is on top of my computer, and I cannot compute until it is done. If that is not sufficient, tape the note over the door handle, and don't leave the house until you have payed the rent. My list is rarely more than three items long -- there's just not that many things that are really important any given day. (If an electronic list is more useful than a physical one, simply make checking your list part of your core routine; check it before you head out the door every day).

Once the big stuff is out of the way, actually do stop worrying. The dishes are not important, so if you suddenly think of an interesting idea that you want to write down, walk away from the sink and do it. If you get distracted by 20 other things before you get back to the sink, so what? You may need to spend a couple days practicing this -- instead of just thinking "oh, I should write that down", drop what you are doing and write it, not because the writing has priority, but because you are practicing being less stressed about completing/switching tasks.

It didn't take me long practicing this before I started getting more organized in planning the unimportant tasks without much stress. Once I knew that the important things were taken care of, and once I got serious about not caring that the trash was taken out right now, I felt less stress over all, felt less rushed, and took the time to plan things out just enough that I was was able to organize things efficiently.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2015-08-23T23:18:22.920Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If you're capable of having routines, you don't have this problem as badly as some people do.

comment by Tem42 · 2015-08-24T00:24:46.674Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This is trivially true... I wonder if we are using routine to mean different things? For example, nearly everyone who goes to work has a routine of waking up in the morning, showering, putting on clothes, eating, and leaving for work. Very few people get dressed, start breakfast, and then realize that they forgot to shower. (I admit, some people do).

I don't mean to suggest that adding a new item to your routines is a easy task; I find it rather difficult. But it can be done, except very limited cases. I should clarify that adding something to your routine might require significant support; for example, if you do need to walk the dog as soon as you get home, you might remember your new routine simply by seeing the dog... but you might need to leave the leash on your doorknob, and until the routine becomes automatic, the leash might live on the doorknob all the time. Likewise, if you need to check your to-do list as soon as you get home, you may need a physical reminder somewhere you can't (or won't) miss it -- for me, this would be on my computer keyboard; for you it might be your tie rack, your doorknob, your refrigerator handle....

I should also clarify, I don't assume that something is in my routine until I do it without requiring reminders for two weeks; new changes often get dropped over the weekends.

I'm fairly certain I can identify ways to get pretty much anything into a routine, although some will be more reliable than others. If you see a specific change to routine that you think that a LessWrong user would not be able to implement I would be curious to hear about it.

Edited for spelling.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2015-08-24T16:29:28.630Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

For example, nearly everyone who goes to work has a routine of waking up in the morning, showering, putting on clothes, eating, and leaving for work. Very few people get dressed, start breakfast, and then realize that they forgot to shower.

I find that very difficult, and quite impossible to do them in any reliable order other than what's imposed by necessity. Each morning, I have to figure out again what I need to do. It's easy to remember to brush my teeth and shower, because I feel dirty until I do. I'll remember to eat if I'm hungry. It's easy to notice if I'm barefoot as I leave the house, but sometimes I end up in the car with slippers instead of shoes. Shaving and taking my medicine are very hard to remember because there are no cues, so I keep a razor and extra medicine at work or in my car.

People always think this can be solved easily by putting sticky notes up in various places, but they fail to understand the quantity of notes that would be necessary if someone tried to live that way. They would be so numerous as to be useless. They also fail to understand the difficulty of seeing something written on a sticky note that tells me to do something in another room, in which case I have to get to the other room without forgetting what I'm doing, AND still remember the rest of the list. It's so unreliable that the sticky note needs to be next to the item it talks about, in which case the item itself is a cue anyway. People also fail to understand that I have no way of being sure, when I'm leaving the house, whether I've read the sticky notes or not that day. I can't just keep going back into the house to make sure I read them.

My memories are badly timestamped. If I read a checklist on my wall today, that will add one more memory of me reading that checklist. If I then step outside and try to remember reading that checklist, I may summon up dozens of memories of doing so, but have no idea whether any of them were from today.

comment by Tem42 · 2015-08-24T23:38:32.871Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It may be worth your time to enforce a very strict routine over a period (the morning is a good example, as long as sleepiness is not making things extra difficult) for a couple of weeks and see if it starts to stick; this is something that can make a big difference, and it is worth knowing if it can work for you.

However, I agree that this is not likely to be a magic bullet in your case.

Have you tried something like a smartphone with an extensive checklist/schedule? It has the benefits of coming with you almost everywhere, and having alarms for particularly important events.

This is a subject that interests me, and I'd like to know more about what you do and how it works. You have simplified matters by making your environment more flexible (e.g. razor in the car); is that something that has a halo effect -- one less thing to go horribly awry, so you are less stressed and can function a little better overall -- or is it just a solution to forgetting to shave, and that's all? Are there other solutions that have worked for multiple problems? Are there any problems that you have found no solutions for?

comment by Elo · 2015-08-23T23:07:14.470Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If this is a memory concern - outsource memory to handwritten or digital lists.

If this is a focus concern (I need to work on it myself and I don't understand how to better focus very well other than) - Kanban board of "this is what I am working on now" and a list of "things to work on later.

comment by AspiringRationalist · 2015-08-25T00:08:28.125Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

One thing that I have found helpful is when a thought like "I should really do [task]" comes to mind, I write it on a post-it note and stick it to the nearest available surface and then carry on with whatever I was doing. Then, when I finish what I was doing, I can actually do that task, put it onto a more durable to-do list, etc.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2015-08-23T23:16:34.830Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not a doctor, but maybe you should see one. Supposedly Adderall may help.

comment by AspiringRationalist · 2015-08-22T20:26:45.432Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Meta sub-thread

comment by Fluttershy · 2015-08-22T22:06:42.607Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

I support the idea of having a recurring 'Instrumental Rationality Questions' thread.

comment by JEB_4_PREZ_2016 · 2015-08-22T23:01:34.249Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Me too.

comment by Username · 2015-08-23T00:25:16.909Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If there's one thing I enjoy about this site, it's reading practical advice from its members.

*fixed the 3AM typo

comment by zedzed · 2015-08-23T00:54:29.724Z · score: -1 (9 votes) · LW · GW

In that case, "it's" is a contraction equivalent to "it is". For a possessive, use "its".


Practical advice from its members.


It's inspired by the stupid questions.

(What's the point of paying attention to this stuff if you're communicating clearly? Briefly, signalling. If I notice you've made a grammatical error, on average, I estimate you're less well educated or not invested in making the writing worth my while than in the opposite case, and am less likely to finish reading if I get bored or have to expend mental effort to understand what you're saying or something. Also, there's an aesthetic element: error-free writing is, ceter paribus, more pleasing to read.)

(Also, wondering if this was downvoted because someone thinks I'm incorrect, because they think I'm being an ass, or for some other reason.)

comment by [deleted] · 2015-08-23T02:29:45.909Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I downvoted because it completely detracts from the purpose of the thread, and it contributes to the negative nitpicking culture of less wrong.

comment by zedzed · 2015-08-23T03:05:14.580Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you for the reply. I somewhat disagree that this detracts from the purpose of the thread—I find signalling via grammar (a) nonobvious and (b) useful, making my comment very much in place in a thread about instrumental rationality (albeit less so in a questions thread)—but I do very much appreciate the feedback.

comment by philh · 2015-08-23T10:05:08.424Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Didn't downvote, but - when I see a mistake like that, by default I assume it was just a typo and that the person knows full well the difference between its and it's. So I find posts explaining it to be annoying.

comment by Tem42 · 2015-08-23T17:33:10.337Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

In general, I would assume that a private message would be more appropriate than a post.

comment by Creutzer · 2015-08-24T08:51:02.255Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Obligatory cynicism: But then you don't get social status for being right, so there's not incentive to do it.

comment by Username · 2015-08-25T23:22:21.208Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Scott Adams tweeted that you can't be with someone less happy than you. I'm trying it anyway.

Does anyone have any experience with this? In particular, is there a way to not always sacrifice my happiness for theirs at rapidly diminishing rates of return until we are equally (un)happy?

comment by Dagon · 2015-08-26T15:10:38.553Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, it can work.

Happiness doesn't work the way you seem to think it does: there is actually no way to sacrifice your happiness for theirs, so there's no balance or equilibrium decision to make. You CAN reduce your happiness, but it won't increase theirs, so there's not much reason to do so.

The keys (for me) have been:

  • Know that you're not responsible for their happiness. You're allowed to be happy even when your partner is sad. Ideally, this makes their sadness somewhat less.
  • Much mutual trust, communication, and knowledge about depression and happiness. Your partner needs to appreciate and desire your happiness, even if they don't feel it themselves.
  • Many other dimensions of compatibility and significant (not continuous or even majority) joyful shared events.

Really, those are key to any serious long-term relationship, romantic or otherwise. A happiness differential puts a lot more weight on other dimensions of compatibility, rather than being the only important thing.

tl;dr: An unhappy partner can still want to and succeed in making you happy. But it's probably rare.

comment by username2 · 2015-08-27T15:48:48.710Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

(having some issues with the standard anon account, so I created another. pass is the same if anyone else needs)

Thanks, this is helpful.

You can't directly transfuse happiness, but I find tradeoffs come up constantly, with varying rates of return. Doing extra household chores, staying up late when my partner can't sleep, choosing their preferred activities instead of mine when these differ...

In light of this, point one is hard. As long as there are things I can do, I feel very responsible for their happiness.

Point two is tough because I fear feedback loops if I let it be known that their unhappiness is causing me unhappiness, so I tend to hide it when I'm upset. This is not-great psychologically. On the other hand, they've gotten pretty comfortable talking to me about these things, which does help.

We're extremely strong on point three, which is why I'm flouting Adams' advice.

comment by Dagon · 2015-08-29T16:56:12.965Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

One size does not fit all, so make your own choices - I do subscribe to some of the underlying principles of the advice, one of which I think of as "you can't take care of someone else if you aren't taking care of yourself".

If you're consistently failing with points 1 and 2, it's worth setting some hard limits on when to abandon this project in search of a better one. I often recommend a book (The Dip)[] for work-related decisions of this form, but it applies to relationships as well.

Those feedback loops are real, and being mutually aware and communicative of them is necessary - it doesn't remove the temptation to sacrifice for your partner (IMO, that's a feature, not a bug), but it does let you see the reinforcement cycles and help you to choose which ones to damp and which to drive.

comment by Artaxerxes · 2015-08-26T10:34:07.343Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

As long as the other person is still pretty happy, it doesn't really matter too much if you're happier. That's not to say that things can't go wrong, but it's not a hard rule that people must be of equal happiness levels in order to be together successfully.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-08-23T12:39:26.355Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

How should I use facebook, assuming I have a facebook but don't post anything, just message as of now?

comment by Elo · 2015-08-23T23:11:55.234Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Post information of value to yourself or that you think would be valuable to other people.

post milestones, post learnings, post successes, post thanks or gratitude, post relevant life photos (dogs you see or whatever)

Do not complain about anything ever.

Discuss things; but carefully. Remember politics is the mindkiller.

comment by Davidmanheim · 2015-08-24T23:57:46.044Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You need to be clearer about your goals.

Do you want more interaction with existing friends? Do you want to meet new people? Do you want an easier way to interact with other rationalists?

comment by [deleted] · 2015-08-25T11:08:25.714Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I want existing friends to be more aware of my preferences and interests so that they'll be able to match and meet them more often (ie suggesting an activity I will like). I guess I can do that by constructing a profile with just likes and such. I will do that.

I also want to meet people who share those interests, so I will begin joining and participating in appropriate groups.

I also want to interact more with other rationalists, but from what I've seen nothing of merit comes from rationalist facebook groups (based on LessWrong associated groups).

Thanks for your extremely actionable suggestion and question. I don't know how you came up with the appropriate question to ask me!

comment by Davidmanheim · 2015-08-26T17:29:47.746Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

In consulting and in policy analysis, one of the first steps of problem solving is laying out the problem clearly.

As a start, I recommend Ken Wanatabe's fun and readable "Problem Solving 101: A Simple Book for Smart People."

comment by [deleted] · 2015-08-26T23:53:48.849Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks Davidmanheim. I'll look for a copy of it. :)

comment by Tem42 · 2015-08-23T17:00:47.679Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Facebook is very useful for messaging, and that would be sufficient reason for me to use it.

I find that it is also useful for following local businesses and organizations that are of interest to me.

Facebook reminds me of the birthdays of people I am friends with, which is the only way that I can remember anyone's birthday; this has sometimes been useful socially.

Once you collect some interesting friends, you may learn stuff from Facebook feeds that you don't learn elsewhere. This is hit-or-miss though. Facebook was how I discovered Wait But Why.

I also post to Facebook, primarily because I am friends with a lot of people who are part of a very limited culture -- most of my coworkers and local friends get exposed to very few ideas outside of church and office gossip, which means that many of them never see a rationality blog post, see anyone they know support marriage equality publicly, never see anything interesting regarding technology (other than consumer products), etc. I doubt that many people enjoy my posts who don't have other sources of finding interesting things, but I think that it is probably useful to expose as many people as possible to things like this -- otherwise they might go through life thinking that football, dieting, and pictures of their kids are all that anyone ever thinks about. Yes, I realize that championing Facebook as an agent of social change is totes feeb, but whatevs.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2015-08-23T23:12:23.879Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Isn't facebook strictly inferior to email for messaging? By a wide margin? It's not archivable, sortable, filterable, searchable, forwardable, or manageable. It can't be sent to multiple recipients. It has no BCC, threading, prioritizing.

comment by zedzed · 2015-08-23T23:38:34.664Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

From a technical perspective. However, many of my friends respond to fb messages and not emails. Near as I can tell, they're young enough that, when establishing a "best way to contact me," they chose "website I'm going to be on anyway."

I think, now that they're graduating college, they're going to have to get themselves a professional email, but the best way to contact them socially is going to remain fb because, for most social stuff (or at least, social stuff my friends and I get up to), we don't really need any more features than fb has, which I find disappointing, being in the minority who could really use everything you listed.

comment by Tem42 · 2015-08-23T23:53:35.413Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes to this, but also I use Facebook for PM type things -- quick clarifications of who will be where when and things like that. I rarely care to have these things archived. It is actually useful to have these things out of my email account, simply because I get so much kipple there already.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-08-24T03:18:11.288Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Remembering that you are a product, something that Facebook sells.

Facebook's revenue in 2014 was 12.5 billion US dollars.

comment by AspiringRationalist · 2015-08-23T02:42:51.752Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Looking back on when I have improved the most, I've noticed that I have tended to read a lot of self-help books around those times. I'm not sure about the causality, but it seems worthwhile to see if I get a similar effect again.

What books in the general category of self-help would people recommend?

comment by Elo · 2015-08-23T23:05:16.225Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I wonder if intention to improve is just as valuable (if thought hard about) as reading a book in self help.

If you are talking about being motivated to change; plenty of motivation exists; but if you can self-motivate that would be worth even more than all the value from all the motivational speakers you can ever listen to.

comment by Fluttershy · 2015-08-22T22:01:10.030Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

For people who take CoQ10 for life extension purposes, how much do you take, and how often do you take it? A very brief search makes it seem like the range of plausibly reasonable doses of CoQ10 for this purpose span around an order of magnitude or so.

comment by James_Miller · 2015-08-23T01:49:45.996Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

100 mg once a day, but I don't have a strong justification for this dose.

comment by Gurkenglas · 2015-08-23T12:35:02.289Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Survivor bias says we ought to follow in your footsteps!

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2015-08-23T22:15:07.260Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I suggest you take any medical advice here as coming with a very long disclaimer.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-08-23T12:37:16.234Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

When should I do this?

comment by Elo · 2015-08-23T23:08:11.400Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

link did not work; takes you to a new blank version of the thing.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-08-23T12:38:02.217Z · score: -3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Should I take his advice?

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2015-08-23T22:16:43.597Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I guess this is downvoted because it doesn't give the least indication of what is on the other side of the link.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2015-08-23T23:11:45.076Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Worse still, it's a video that we'd have to sit thru just to know what the question is.

comment by Elo · 2015-08-23T23:09:44.241Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

without watching anything - do you want to be him? (He looks like a guy who yells things at youtube) if so - yes, if not; take every piece of advice with the advice, "yes but I am not you, I am me; so how can I adapt that to my situation".

Does this help - or do I need to actually absorb some of his advice?