Warrior rationalists

post by Dominik Tujmer · 2018-05-03T11:52:40.738Z · score: 10 (9 votes) · LW · GW · 11 comments

This is a link post for https://becomingoverhuman.wordpress.com/2018/05/03/warrior-rationalists/

(All of this is just a hunch and I may be wrong)

Descriptions that come to my mind when I think about “rationalists” (people interested in Less Wrong, Slate Star Codex, AI alignment, effective altruism etc.):

Obviously, I may be wrong, but that’s the general “vibe” I get online and offline. In short: geeky types.

To phrase it in “rationalist” terms, the set of possible experiences is usually defined in terms of the list above. Not that there is anything bad there – I think it’s amazing that there is a rationalist community and that people are learning how to think better. But there are certain qualities that I think should be cultivated – especially by the rationalist community, which I’m fond of – and these qualities usually come from experiences mostly outside of the world of rationalists.

In general, I think it’s a good thing to be very tough. I think it’s good that people learn respect, confidence and management of aggression through the practice of martial arts. I think it’s good that people move much more than 45 minutes every second day. I think it’s good for people to crawl through mud, experience physical hardship, go without food, obey commands, issue commands, get in touch with their immediate surroundings and support systems, like trying to grow food on their own, or to hunt, or to build a house, or to fix a car.

As a rule, I do not like softness and excessive intellectual “flexing”. Being geeky is alright, but I like better when it is paired with strength (and wisdom, but that’s for another post).

End notes and possible mistakes:

11 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by cousin_it · 2018-05-05T22:33:31.676Z · score: 34 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Sure, a stereotypical "shy frustrated geek" would benefit from moving in the direction of "tough confident warrior". But that's not the only direction and maybe not even the best. How about this one: "speaks ten languages, talks fast, loves to haggle?" The world is so wide! A nice writing exercise is to come up with several such directions, possible alluring personalities that you could become if you wanted to.

comment by ChristianKl · 2018-05-03T15:57:16.856Z · score: 11 (3 votes) · LW · GW

When I go through the list of people at our local dojo I don't think there a single one who doesn't do at least some kind of structured physical activity.

There's enough evidence that physical activity is important to be healthy that people who are rational in the sense that they make decisions in their life based on looking at the available evidence generally engage in some physical activity.

comment by Dominik Tujmer · 2018-05-04T04:45:40.643Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Alright, that's great. Then my hunch may be wrong because I'm not sufficiently in touch with the community.

comment by norswap · 2018-05-04T12:53:22.684Z · score: 4 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This is pretty wrong, but I do think it does come from a well-meaning place.

First, the list you make is not my experience of the community. Especially on the website. The Discord which is sometimes is visit would be closer, but the list is still problematic.

Physical fitness for one. It's one of the easiest change one can make in his life, everyone ought to, and it seems to me most people attempt it and many succeed. Heck I'm even on a rationalist-offshoot Discord dedicated to training now.

Second, depressed? Nothing on this website gives me this vibe. Also depressed is inversely correlated with high achievement. For that matter, "high achiever" is deeply connected to what one considers to be an achievement.

No, truly, I do not think most of the community fits the trope you're laying out.

Now to address you real point, yes, experiences do inform one's vision and concerns. Physical fitness (or even strength) seems to improve well-being and confidence, but it does not seem to me that the content of this website shows a lack of either.

Discussion around here tend to be involved, nuanced, and frankly sometimes a bit too involved in hypotheticals (for my own taste, but everyone's different). I see no correlation between confidence (or strength etc) and nuance. People with a low sense of self-worth spout non-sense with bravado remarkably often; and conversely, confident people are frequently too confident in their belief. So one must not confuse confidence, and over-confidence in one's stated beliefs.

comment by ChristianKl · 2018-05-04T14:45:45.719Z · score: 7 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The OP didn't do the work to show the point with depression but depression is over-represented on LessWrong: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/Xi6syQenk24nQTzgz/2016-lesswrong-diaspora-survey-analysis-part-three-mental

comment by norswap · 2018-05-04T20:44:13.547Z · score: 4 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Good point. I focused mostly on vocal/visible actors which may form only a small subset of survey respondents. Still, I have no evidence in the other direction either.

Even if depression is more represented, I don't feel like it really informs the content of most posts on this website. If anything, I'd ascribe them an optimistic mindset which is not usually associated with depression.

comment by rsaarelm · 2018-05-06T05:28:32.592Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Reminded me of a blog post from a while back, Thoughts on the STEM "class"

It’s interesting to think about the (many) ways in which the modern “bay-area rationalist techno-libertarian” culture (i.e. Scott Alexander’s Grey Tribe, and to a lesser extent all of STEM academia) is effectively an outgrowth not of the bourgeoisie “entrepreneurial” class identified with the American upper-middle, but rather of the historical-and-present military officer class.

(More commentary from down the tumblr chain here)

comment by fortyeridania · 2018-05-04T03:19:04.181Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Useful distinction: "rationalist" vs. "rational person." By the former I mean someone who deliberately strives to be the latter. By the latter I mean someone who wins systematically in their life.

It's possible that rationalists tend to be geeks, especially if the most heavily promoted methods for deliberately improving rationality are mathy things like explicit Bayesian reasoning, or if most of the material advocating rationality is heavily dependent on tech metaphors.

Rational people need not fit the stereotypes you've listed. Most people I know who seem to be good at living have excellent social skills and are physically fit. Some well-known rationalists, or fellow travelers, also do not fit. An example is Tim Ferriss.

comment by Michaël Trazzi (mtrazzi) · 2018-05-03T13:03:38.419Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

As a general feeling, I am very confused because I don't know if this is a joke, or if you are really blaming the people you mention.

Tell me if I get it right:

1) There are other sets of qualities than the list you establish. Hence, it is a shame that people from the community only have those qualities.

2) In general, activities involving sports, martial arts or anything that strengthens the body/survival skills is valuable.

3) Problem: people intellectually flex without being neither "tough" nor "wise".

My questions:

  • Assuming the people you mention all exhibit certain qualities from your list. What would be the cause?
  • What exactly would a rationalist gain from martial/survival skills? Would it be different from what an average "unfit white male" , as you describe it, would gain?
  • What exactly makes you think that people flex? Do you have specific examples?
comment by Dominik Tujmer · 2018-05-03T16:47:11.929Z · score: 3 (1 votes) · LW · GW

1. I'm not sure what you mean here - are you talking about "high IQ", "white male", etc.? If so, I don't mean them to be "qualities", they are simply associations, things that first come to mind when I'm looking at the community as a whole. I don't think the people from the community could (or should) be described only in those terms.

2. Yes. Beyond the immediate practical application, I think it cultivates a certain toughness.

3. Well - sort of. I think it would do people a lot of good to do some of these strenuous things I mention - not to abandon intellectual pursuit, but to discover important experiences and qualities in themselves.

Answers:

  • I don't know. It just seems that these are common things you see in the community.
  • Useful skill, good health intervention, (probably) transferable toughness and confidence. And a new experience-space: sort of like the difference between having a song explained to you and listening to it. I don't think it's different from what an average non-rationalist unfit white male would get, so it's not specific to rationalists.
  • I may have used the wrong word there. I'm speaking in general terms: general intellectual pursuit, reading, debating, discussing, all at a high level of abstraction, but performed by people who kind of live in their heads and view their bodies as a form of transportation.

I guess my overall claim would be that life is a difficult endeavor, and that being resilient and tough (things that you get from strenuous activity, which, in turn, is not a rationalist's forte) can get you a long way, especially if you're also smart.

comment by Pattern · 2018-05-03T19:45:10.939Z · score: -4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You seem to think LWers/rationalists are people who live in their heads, and are missing out on the benefits of "formative processes" that are (also) focused on the body.

What exactly would a rationalist gain from martial/survival skills?

Does practicing martial arts improve cognitive reflection or "Trying harder"? Or do the results vary too much to say?