Power and difficulty

post by undermind · 2014-10-22T05:22:10.040Z · score: 21 (24 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 50 comments

A specific bias that Lesswrongers may often get from fiction[1] is the idea that power is proportional to difficulty.  The more power something gives you, the harder it should be to get, right?

A mediocre student becomes a powerful mage through her terrible self-sacrifice and years of studying obscure scrolls. Even within the spells she can cast, the truly world-altering ones are those that demand the most laborious preparation, the most precise gestures, and the longest and most incomprehensible stream of syllables. A monk makes an arduous journey to ancient temples and learns secret techniques of spiritual oneness and/or martial asskickery, which require great dedication and self-knowledge. Otherwise, it would be cheating. The whole process of leveling up, of adding ever-increasing modifiers to die rolls, is based on the premise that power comes to those who do difficult things. And it's failsafe - no matter what you put your skill points in, you become better at something. It's a training montage, or a Hero's journey. As with other fictional evidence, these are not "just stories" -- they are powerful cultural narratives. This kind of narrative shapes moral choices[2] and identity. So where do we see this reflected in less obviously fictional contexts?

There's the rags-to-riches story -- the immigrant who came with nothing, but by dint of hard work, now owns a business. University engineering programs are notoriously tough, because you are gaining the ability to do a lot of things (and for signalling reasons). A writer got to where she is today because she wrote and revised and submitted and revised draft after draft after draft.

 

In every case, there is assumed to be a direct causal link between difficulty and power. Here, these are loosely defined. Roughly, "power" means "ability to have your way", and "difficulty" is "amount of work & sacrifice required." These can be translated into units of social influence - a.k.a money -- and investment, a.k.a. time, or money. In many cases, power is set by supply and demand -- nobody needs a wizard if they can all cast their own spells, and a doctor can command much higher prices if they're the only one in town. The power of royalty or other birthright follows a similar pattern - it's not "difficult", but it is scarce -- only a very few people have it, and it's close to impossible for others to get it.

Each individual gets to choose what difficult things they will try to do. Some will have longer or shorter payoffs, but each choice will have some return. And since power (partly) depends on everybody else's choices, neoclassical economics says that individuals' choices collectively determine a single market rate for the return on difficulty. So anything you do that's difficult should have the same payoff.

 

Anything equally difficult should have equal payoff. Apparently. Clearly, this is not the world we live in. Admittedly, there were some pretty questionable assumptions along the way, but it's almost-kind-of-reasonable to conclude that, if you just generalize from the fictional evidence. (Consider RPGs: They're designed to be balanced. Leveling up any class will get you to advance in power at a more-or-less equal rate.)

 

So how does reality differ from this fictional evidence? One direction is trivial: it's easy to find examples where what's difficult is not particularly powerful.

Writing a book is hard, and has a respectable payoff (depending on the quality of the book, publicity, etc.). Writing a book without using the letter "e", where the main character speaks only in palindromes, while typing in the dark with only your toes on a computer that's rigged to randomly switch letters around is much much more difficult, but other than perhaps gathering a small but freakishly devoted fanbase, it does not bring any more power/influence than writing any other book. It may be a sign that you are capable of more difficult things, and somebody may notice this and give you power, but this is indirect and unreliable. Similarly, writing a game in machine code or as a set of instructions for a Turing machine is certainly difficult, but also pretty dumb, and has no significant payoff beyond writing the game in a higher-level language. [Edit - thanks to TsviBT: This is assuming there already is a compiler and relevant modules. If you are first to create all of these, there might be quite a lot of benefit.]

On the other hand, some things are powerful, but not particularly difficult. On a purely physical level, this includes operating heavy machinery, or piloting drones. (I'm sure it's not easy, but the power output is immense). Conceptually, I think calculus comes in this category. It can provide a lot of insight into a lot of disparate phenomena (producing utility and its bastard cousin, money), but is not too much work to learn.

 

As instrumental rationalists, this is the territory we want to be in. We want to beat the market rate for turning effort into influence. So how do we do this?

This is a big, difficult question. I think it's a useful way to frame many of the goals of instrumental rationality. What major should I study? Is this relationship worthwhile? (Note: This may, if poorly applied, turn you into a terrible person. Don't apply it poorly.) What should I do in my spare time?

These questions are tough. But the examples of powerful-but-easy stuff suggest a useful principle: make use of what already exists. Calculus is powerful, but was only easy to learn because I'd already been learning math for a decade. Bulldozers are powerful, and the effort to get this power is minimal if all you have to do is climb in and drive. It's not so worthwhile, though, if you have to derive a design from first principles, mine the ore, invent metallurgy, make all the parts, and secure an oil supply first.

Similarly, if you're already a writer, writing a new book may gain you more influence than learning plumbing. And so on. This begins to suggest that we should not be too hasty to judge past investments as sunk costs. Your starting point matters in trying to find the closest available power boost. And as with any messy real-world problem, luck plays a major role, too.

 

Of course, there will always be some correlation between power and difficulty -- it's not that the classical economic view is wrong, there's just other factors at play. But to gain influence, you should in general be prepared to do difficult things. However, they should not be arbitrary difficult things -- they should be in areas you have specifically identified as having potential.

To make this more concrete, think of Methods!Harry. He strategically invests a lot of effort, usually at pretty good ratios -- the Gringotts money pump scheme, the True Patronus, his mixing of magic and science, and Partial Transfiguration.  Now that's some good fictional evidence.

 



[1] Any kind of fiction, but particularly fantasy, sci-fi, and neoclassical economics. All works of elegant beauty, with a more-or-less tenuous relationship to real life.

[2] Dehghani, M., Sachdeva, S., Ekhtiari, H., Gentner, D., Forbus, F. "The role of Cultural Narratives in Moral Decision Making." Proceedings of the 31th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. 2009. 

 

 

50 comments

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comment by So8res · 2014-10-22T20:47:10.336Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Anything equally difficult should have equal payoff. Apparently. Clearly, this is not the world we live in.

[...]

(producing utility and its bastard cousin, money)

[...]

As instrumental rationalists, this is the territory we want to be in. We want to beat the market rate for turning effort into influence.

You are speaking my language. +1. I appreciate your style.

Reality is imbalanced. Video games and roleplaying games give people the impression that all options have pros and cons, and are roughly pretty equal: the Warrior is just about as powerful as the Wizard is just about as powerful as the Rogue. Real life doesn't work like this: intelligence and charisma are overpowered, and sometimes humanity finds exploits in the rules that let us send messages nigh-instantly around the world. (And when we do, reality doesn't fix the exploit; rather, society changes.)

I wish there was a table top game where everything was completely imbalanced and players are encouraged to break the mechanics as hard as they can (but be careful, because society at large may adopt whatever exploits are found, and the antagonists are trying to become really powerful too).

This begins to suggest the sunk cost fallacy may not really be a fallacy (sometimes).

I'm not sure I follow. Not all past costs are sunk, surely. But, in your example, if writing a second book gives you more influence than learning plumbing, then I don't see where the "sunk costs" (e.g. that you wrote a book once) come into the equation.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-10-22T20:56:48.887Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

I wish there was a table top game where everything was completely imbalanced and players are encouraged to break the mechanics as hard as they can

Do you know about Nomic-type games?

comment by So8res · 2014-10-22T21:02:51.234Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I did not, that sounds really neat. Thank you!

comment by VAuroch · 2014-10-23T07:01:15.808Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I tried to get a LW-Nomic started a couple months back, but it didn't get off the ground. Nomics can be absolutely wonderful. Also probably of interest to you: Zendo) and it's older and less refined cousin Eleusis), both of which directly simulate the process of science.

comment by Jiro · 2014-10-23T20:54:39.891Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Video games and roleplaying games give people the impression that all options have pros and cons, and are roughly pretty equal:

You obviously play a different type of video games than I do.

This is particularly acute in the case of RPGs, because

  1. They have so many statistics and abilities that it's almost impossible for the writer to balance everything, or in some cases to even try. (It is certainly not true that all Pokemon are equally good.)
  2. Boss battles and even some other battles are often set up as puzzles, where you have to use the right abilities on the right characters to win.
comment by Nornagest · 2014-10-23T21:47:29.117Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Video games and roleplaying games give people the impression that all options have pros and cons, and are roughly pretty equal: the Warrior is just about as powerful as the Wizard is just about as powerful as the Rogue.

You haven't spent a lot of time hanging around tabletop RPG players, have you? It's more than a cliche to declare certain character options useless, or to declare the obvious superiority of others.

(In older versions of Dungeons and Dragons in particular, there's a well-known issue where certain types of character have a basically linear progression -- a character at level N has incrementally more hit points and better attacks than one at level N-1 -- while others progress geometrically, gaining for example both more powerful spells and the ability to cast more spells at a time. Over time this creates a situation where the former type dominates the early game and the latter dominates the late -- not very fun in a game where each player controls a single character and can feel ignored or useless at any given time. This in turn creates metagame considerations where players that can exploit the rules better are more effective and therefore more influential over the emerging story. The jargon is "system mastery".)

comment by So8res · 2014-10-25T19:44:49.459Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Oh, I've spent my fair share of time around D&D 2nd ed, and I'm well acquainted with munchkining/minmaxing. However, D&D is an environment were the narrative is one of balance and tradeoffs.

For example, notice how it's OK for one class to be stronger at low levels and another class to be stronger at high levels, but how people would be pissed off if one class was stronger at all levels. This is the "narrative of balance" that I'm talking about: people think it's OK for there to be tradeoffs (e.g. early vs late dominance), but pure dominance is considered a bug and not a feature.

(I'm not bashing this generically; balance is a fine feature for many games. But I'd appreciate games where there is a narrative of exploitation rather than a narrative of balance.)

comment by Nepene · 2014-10-28T13:08:51.218Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

D&D has often had issues with magic users. They often are stronger than non magic users at all levels. For example, use of the spell sleep allows you to disable a group of enemies with no save allowed. Exploitation is common.

In games you can generally gain a huge amount of power by researching the right choices and doing them.

In the real world that's a lot trickier because people in the past have researched the right choices and heavily exploited and monopolized existing power resources, and any publicly known power resources will likely be heavily exploited. Competition makes it harder than when you're playing with three or four people.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2014-11-01T20:34:24.239Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

D&D has often had issues with magic users. They often are stronger than non magic users at all levels.

TVTropes has an article, Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards ....

comment by TheOtherDave · 2014-10-28T15:15:10.299Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Of course, one could run a D&D campaign in which NPCs have already exploited and monopolized those resources. That said, I suspect this would start to approximate playing Papers & Paychecks.

comment by undermind · 2014-10-22T21:41:25.658Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, that original phrase about sunk costs was pretty unsubstantiated. What I meant to say (which I've edited in) is that much of the time, past investments are not in fact sunk costs.

comment by Princess_Stargirl · 2014-10-22T17:01:16.048Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I don't nescessarily agree this happens in most media. Most superheros for example just have their powers for no reason (some "earn" them but most don't). In many stories if you are not born part-demon or a wizard you can never be something other than canonfodder. Even in stories where training is sueful people often get OP powers for no reason.

I actually think fiction overall presents being powerful as a two factor model. Hard work and unchangeable luck. In some domains the hard work dominates and in others the "genetic" stuff does. People randomly get very OP powers all the time in many anime (if you happen to eat a strong Logia or Lengendary Zoan fruit you are automatically very strong in One piece). the details might not match up but the two factor model is basically how skill works in the real world two. With the relative importance of the two factors differing per domain.

ec:

In harry Potter you cannot be "Strong" unless you are born a wizard. There is no getting around this. In the real world you cannot be a good mathematician with an IQ of 80. This is no way around this either.

comment by undermind · 2014-10-22T20:53:39.367Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I guess I was trying to say that the hard work montage is one common narrative, but it is far from the only one.

And yes, there are inevitably constraints that get in the way of investing effort in any particular place, and correspondingly to gaining power by one particular means. But even when the path with the highest payoff is blocked, some of the remaining options will be more beneficial than others. For example, if someone has a low IQ but is strong, they could become a lumberjack, or they could become a henchman to their local supervillain.

comment by common_law · 2014-10-26T02:59:53.980Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't see how your argument gains from attributing the hard-work bias to stories. (For one thing, you still have to explain why stories express this bias—unless you think it's culturally adventitious.)

The bias seems to me to be a particular case of the fair-world bias and perhaps also the "more is better" heuristic. It seems like you are positing a new bias unnecessarily. (That doesn't detract from the value of describing this particular variant.)

comment by Lumifer · 2014-10-22T17:19:00.519Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

On the other hand, some things are powerful, but not particularly difficult. On a purely physical level, this includes operating heavy machinery, or piloting drones. (I'm sure it's not easy, but the power output is immense).

I think powerful but not difficult things will be hard to find (think about efficient markets).

Let's take piloting drones. The "power output" of a Hellfire missile is pretty impressive. But do you, the pilot of a drone, have that power? Not really. You just do what your commanding officer tells you to do -- it's not up to you to pick the target. And how does he decide who to kill? He gets told, too. Follow the chain and you'll end up with the kill list that is (supposed to be) personally approved by the President of the United States. That dude does have the power. But the difficulty of getting into his position is... considerable :-/

It's a complex issue. Does buying a gun -- which is easy to do -- make you powerful? In some way, yes. In some way, no.

comment by hairyfigment · 2014-10-22T19:40:37.450Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Sure, but - to paraphrase Aleister Crowley - you can kill almost anyone once.

The other factor you refer to comes from us, not any more inherent feature of reality, and society has limited ability to impose it.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2014-11-01T20:41:26.377Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The President doesn't just decide who to kill, though. He relies on advisers, and delegates a lot to commanders in the field. Power is distributed throughout the chain of command, in both the afferent and efferent directions: higher-ups live in a world of information almost entirely constructed by what lower-downs tell them, and in turn must rely on the competence of individual contributors to implement policy.

For that matter, a lot of management responsibility amounts to letting people do their thing, then backing them up when they encounter trouble.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-11-01T22:32:51.210Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That is all true. My point was that the drone operator isn't particularly powerful in this whole scheme.

comment by Ben_LandauTaylor · 2014-10-25T14:54:09.426Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I've noticed a related phenomenon where, when someone acquires a new insight, they judge its value by how difficult it was to understand, instead of by how much it improves their model of the world. It's the feeling of "Well, I hadn't thought of that before, but I suppose it's pretty obvious." But of course this is a mistake because the important part is "hadn't thought of that before," no matter whether you think you could've realized it in hindsight. (The most pernicious version of this is "Oh, yeah, I totally knew that already. I just hadn't make it so explicit.")

comment by SatvikBeri · 2014-10-28T17:23:08.021Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

A while back I deliberately switched from thinking of new ideas primarily in my head to thinking on paper, using notebooks or text editors. I had a strong, intuitive sense that the quality of my insights dropped, and nearly stopped. But instead I spent five minutes writing down the ideas I'd had using the two different systems, and found that I had substantially more insights thinking on paper–and those insights were usually better. But because they were easier to obtain, I wasn't valuing them as much.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-10-28T17:39:20.292Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If you say paper do you mean real physical paper? If so do you digitize it someway?

comment by SatvikBeri · 2014-11-02T00:45:35.833Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It depends on the problem. For problems where outline-based thinking works well, I use Checkvist, which is very similar to Workflowy. If a problem doesn't conform to that format I'll generally use pen & paper. I don't usually digitize paper, although I might copy certain useful insights into my spaced repetition deck on ThoughtSaver.

comment by undermind · 2014-10-22T05:24:16.917Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

(My first post. I don't know if it's good enough for Main, but I thought I'd go for it. If you don't think so, move it and/or let me know.)

I would appreciate any feedback too!

comment by shminux · 2014-10-23T03:24:46.055Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Posting to LW Main instead of, say, your tumblr account seen maybe by a couple of your online friends, seems like an example of an easy power multiplier. So, you are being consistent :)

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-10-22T18:20:35.585Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Good article! I would appreciate more examples from the real life.

comment by undermind · 2014-10-28T12:17:26.037Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks! :)

I know, and I also felt that was a weakness of this post. But examples of real life would be ways to beat the market, and if I knew how to beat the market, I'd be doing that, not writing about it.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-10-29T15:07:30.015Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe real examples from the past.

comment by VAuroch · 2014-10-23T07:25:53.296Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It's a very good first post. I don't think it's quite Main-worthy (it seems a bit underdeveloped), but I would not be surprised if your next post is.

comment by Unnamed · 2014-10-23T00:30:35.082Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

One part of HPMOR that seems especially relevant here is the "spend 5 minutes actually thinking about the problem" technique.

If you're facing a big, important problem, it's natural to suppose that solving it would take a whole lot of time, work, and skill. Maybe so much that it's beyond your capabilities, in which case you can write the problem off as impossible. But presumably at least enough so that it makes sense to put off thinking about the problem until sometime when you have a big chunk of free time to focus on it, and are feeling especially cognitively sharp and motivated. Right?

Turns out that if you spend 5 actual minutes thinking about the problem, that is sometimes enough to solve it (or at least make substantial progress). Especially if you are the Weasley twins, and the problem is a spectacular prank.

comment by jpaulson · 2014-10-29T16:43:04.413Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

This seems true, but obvious. I'm not sure that I buy that fiction promotes this idea: IMO, fiction usually glosses over how the characters got their powers because it's boring. Some real-life examples of power for cheap would be very useful. Here are some suggestions:

  • Stick your money in index funds. This is way easier and more effective than trying to beat the market.
  • Ignore the news. It will waste your time and make you sad.
  • Go into a high-paying major / career
  • Ask for things/information/advice. Asking is cheap, and sometimes it works.

Anyone have other real-world suggestions?

comment by TheOtherDave · 2014-10-29T19:07:21.364Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Get enough sleep. Exercise regularly.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-10-29T16:47:27.264Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

None of your examples look like they provide power for cheap.

comment by jpaulson · 2014-10-30T00:29:01.409Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I disagree.

1 and 2 are "negative": avoiding common failure modes.

3 and 4 are "positive": ways to get "more bang for your buck" than you "normally" would.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-10-30T00:33:18.504Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

A list of useful things to do, or a list of effective ways to do something are not ways to get "power for cheap".

Avoiding minor failure modes does not get you power. Getting a little bit more bang for your buck is still not "power for cheap".

comment by jpaulson · 2014-10-30T05:09:30.256Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I was using "power" in the sense of the OP (which is just: more time/skills/influence). Sorry the examples aren't as dramatic as you would like; unfortunately, I can't think of more dramatic examples.

comment by undermind · 2014-10-30T05:30:35.257Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I had that problem too (from the commentary here, this lack of specific examples is the post's biggest issue) -- whatever examples I could come up with seemed distinctly unspectacular.

However, I think avoiding common failure modes -- being less wrong -- is a decent way to increase the expected value of your power.

comment by jpaulson · 2014-10-30T05:42:42.820Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Unfortunately, it seems much easier to list particularly inefficient uses of time than particularly efficient uses of time :P I guess it all depends on your zero point.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-10-30T14:25:20.297Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

unfortunately, I can't think of more dramatic examples.

I think that's the point :-)

comment by Kawoomba · 2014-10-22T06:34:48.350Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

H'okay, we agree that the devil is in the details (choosing the starting point). Take for example the heavy machinery operating. Say I build a doomsday device, replete with big red buttons that cause it to go off. I could now say "I doesn't take any skill at all to press the button, ergo power without a commensurate investment". Alternatively, I could say "Zat doooomsday device was very hard to build, Mr. Bond, even if it is now easy to operate!". The heavy machinery only corresponds to easy power if you factor out the difficulty of devising and building it.

You could say "your limbic system has so much power, it only needs to feel sufficient hate to instruct the precentral gyrus to shoot ze gun", if you factor out the cognitive achievement by your frontal cortex as a whole in procuring said gun.

Now, I'm not saying that power does in fact always correspond with effort, other than maybe as a general trend (absolute statements involving social dynamics are always stupid, eh, mostly). But defaulting to the "correct" context is somewhat difficult, knowing which scope the "effort" falls into. Take a billionaire leaving his estate to his playboy son. No effort, right? Depends on the scope. Every action you take is built on a long evolutionary process, now whether that may be called effort depends on definitional squabbles (granting agency to mindless processes, subsuming your ancestors into an "ancestor agent unit").

If we do start off with the individual human, it is in fact a good observation that we're just seeing the delta of effort to achieve a certain outcome from that point on. So by privileging a starting point (the individual human, mostly an adult no less), we would in fact expect the power/difficulty correlation to weaken drastically, since we're consciously choosing to look only at deltas, without considering the effort put into selecting for the right genes, the right environment, your parents sending you to private school etc.

I do think you'll get little disagreement with the subject matter itself, although I'd dispute that most LW'ers often get this bias, but then you said "may", which is kind of a cop out ;-).

Similarly, writing a game in machine code [is] pretty dumb, and has no significant payoff beyond writing the game in a higher-level language.

Fun aside: RollerCoaster Tycoon was written in asm, in the late 90s.

comment by geniuslevel20 · 2014-10-26T03:11:57.687Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

As instrumental rationalists, this is the territory we want to be in. We want to beat the market rate for turning effort into influence.

Would someone be so kind as to direct me to a forum for epistemic rationalists?

[Who wants to talk to folks about important matters when they declare their willingness to deceive even themselves if it gets them what they want?]

comment by JoachimSchipper · 2014-10-27T05:55:41.654Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This is not nice - could you try to find a more pleasant way to say this?

Also, LW does do epistemic rationality - but it's easier to say something useful and new about practical matters, so there are more posts of that kind.

comment by undermind · 2014-10-30T05:25:05.598Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Sure, it was snarky, but I thought it was funny.

It's a decent criticism of a decent chunk of LW, such that I don't have a great response to it. Check your accuracy at a meta-level to determine when to lie to yourself? That seems to be how this technique is used, but it feels like an unsatisfactory response.

comment by JoachimSchipper · 2014-10-30T06:27:05.407Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I didn't exactly disagree with the content, right?

Part of the problem is just that writing something good about epistemic rationality is really hard, even if you stick to the 101 level - and, well, I don't really care about 101 anymore. But I have plenty of sympathy for those writing more practical posts.

comment by undermind · 2014-10-30T06:35:54.542Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

No, you didn't.

And kudos (in the form of an upvote) to you for suggesting something to improve the niceness of rationalists -- as has been pointed out many times, that's something we should work on.

Yeah, instrumental rationality is (epistemically) easier -- on the writer as well as on the reader. Epistemic rationality requires rigor, which usually implies a lot of math. Instrumental rationality can be pretty successful with a few examples and a moderately useful analogy.

comment by CellBioGuy · 2014-10-25T19:28:01.982Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This strikes me as being related to the myth of meritocracy.

comment by 27chaos · 2014-10-22T19:55:06.086Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

In a market, producers will adjust prices in response to consumer demand. However, many sources of power are automatically available for everyone, some are free and some have fixed prices set by nature. Therefore, it is clear the cost of power is not firmly controlled by producers. Because of all this, I'm doubtful a "beat the market" approach to skill development is a good idea.

comment by TsviBT · 2014-10-22T06:23:11.978Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Upvoted.

Similarly, writing a game in machine code or as a set of instructions for a Turing machine is certainly difficult, but also pretty dumb, and has no significant payoff beyond writing the game in a higher-level language.

IAWYC, but this example doesn't seem true. The additional payoff would be that you are forced to invent a memory system, bootstrapping compilers, linear algebra algorithms, etc., depending on how complicated the game is.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-10-25T03:25:29.003Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm still not seeing the payoff... all that stuff has already been done by other people, probably more than enough for most games you would create.

comment by TsviBT · 2014-10-26T02:02:08.626Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Oh, I slightly misread some of the previous paragraphs. I was thinking specifically in terms of skills that you develop by doing something hard, rather than object-level products. What you said now makes perfect sense; and in either case writing a third game directly in machine code would be a waste of time, despite still being pretty hard.

comment by 27chaos · 2014-10-22T19:54:42.584Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

In a market, producers will adjust prices in response to consumer demand. However, many sources of power are automatically available for everyone, some are free and some have fixed prices set by nature. Therefore, it is clear the cost of power is not firmly controlled by producers. Because of all this, I'm doubtful a "beat the market" approach to skill development is a good idea.