The self-unfooling problem

post by RichardKennaway · 2011-10-11T08:36:36.811Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 30 comments

Inspired by PuyaSharif's conundrum, I find myself continually faced with the opposite problem, which is identical to the original except in the bold-faced sentences:

You are given the following information:

Your task is to hide a coin in your house (or any familiar finite environment).  

After you've hidden the coin your memory will be erased and restored to a state just before you receiving this information.  

Then you will be told about the task (i.e that you have hidden a coin), and asked to try to find the coin.  

If you find it you win. The faster you find it, the better you win.

Where do you leave the coin so that when you have no memory of where you put it, you can lay your hands on it at once?

For just one coin, you might think up some suitable Schelling point, but now multiply the task a thousandfold, for all of your possessions. (I am not a minimalist; of books alone I have 3500.) How do you arrange all your stuff, all your life, in such a way that everything is exactly where you would first think of looking for it?


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2011-10-11T10:10:08.812Z · score: 13 (17 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Where do you leave the coin so that when you have no memory of where you put it, you can lay your hands on it at once?

You leave it taped to your hand.

comment by eugman · 2011-10-11T10:46:39.684Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Haha, so what about the last paragraph? Now you have 5000 objects and you will be told at random later which one you have to find. You will need some big hands.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2011-10-11T12:14:58.408Z · score: 14 (18 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You tape an alphabetized list with their locations to your hand.

comment by kpreid · 2011-10-11T14:55:49.430Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The last time my family moved, we created a database of the exact contents of each moving box, and where that box was stored in the new space (including coordinates for boxes on shelves or in stacks). Each box has a label with a serial number and the rough contents, and is updated whenever we unpack or otherwise change the contents of a box.

This database neatly solves the problem of figuring out how to organize the 4500 objects that you aren't regularly or recently using (e.g. books on a subject not currently relevant), and allows any given object to be found in roughly constant time (provided you remember the right keyword). On the other hand, it discourages achieving the state of “unpacked”.

comment by Matt_Simpson · 2011-10-12T19:01:49.089Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

On the other hand, it discourages achieving the state of “unpacked”.

An overrated state, to be sure.

comment by eugman · 2011-10-11T12:58:29.625Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)


comment by Armok_GoB · 2011-11-10T21:34:58.886Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Simple, you put all your stuff in a building then tape your hand to the outside of the building! :p

comment by pre · 2011-10-11T15:24:17.077Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Heh, this is pretty much how I live my life really. Coins go in the obvious coin place coz if I put 'em anywhere else I'll never remember where I put 'em.

See also: Proper Pocket Discipline. Everything that goes in pockets has an assigned pocket. No more searching for lighters! No more worry about keys scratching phone screens.

My books are in alphabetical order these days.

I suspect having a system for these things will also leave you better off if/when you go senile. If you've always looked in the same place for your coins for 60 years it'll be more ingraned.

comment by nazgulnarsil · 2011-10-12T13:42:18.295Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

pocket discipline? you mean everyone doesn't do this?! there are people walking around right now with their possessions in random pockets and they themselves might not know what pocket an item is in until they check? MADNESS. brb, accosting strangers.

comment by Armok_GoB · 2011-11-10T21:38:47.711Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Upvoted because it sounds like excellent rejection-therapy like training! More random variations on the theme "accost strangers and try to convince them to live their lives differently"?

Edit: in before "not posting a lose sentence fragment followed by a question mark". :p

comment by dlthomas · 2011-11-10T21:46:03.765Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My books are emphatically not in any order - I enjoy the serendipity of the search, and rarely do I need something specific quickly (and when I do, the internet usually provides what is necessary).

Edited to add: This does not generalize well to pockets.

comment by PuyaSharif · 2011-10-12T23:02:09.891Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This problem reminds me of the movie Memento. The lead character was unable to make any new memories and his mind was reset every two or three minutes. Nevertheless was he trying to find his wifes killer, and kept record of new leads by taking pictures with a Polaroid camera, keeping notes and tattooing pieces of information to his body. Great movie!

comment by Lapsed_Lurker · 2011-10-11T22:44:42.793Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Never, ever, let any other member of your family/living-group tidy your stuff up. That way a) you can remember where you put stuff and be right, and b) If you're wrong, you can only blame yourself, thus reducing group discord. :)

Unfortunately, if you live with people who don't think that the natural way to organise stuff is 'piled wherever I put it down' then this method can itself cause discord - you just can't win :(

My usual approach for finding something that wasn't where I looked for it is to trace back my path to the last place I clearly remember it being (for stuff you lost track of recently, which is most of the stuff I need to look for). The item is nearly always found somewhere in arm's reach of that path. I can't understand why the suggestion to use this method is not considered helpful by those I live with.

I don't think that you can organise everything so that it is always where you first look for it, short of an eidetic memory, but so long as nearly everything is where you remember putting it and most things that are not are found quickly, you're most of the way there.

I wouldn't be surprised if the technology to be able to google your stuff becomes available within the next decade or so, perhaps via databases created by object recognition, maybe of a life-log, or something? That'd be a good way to avoid doing a load of work forcing all your stuff into some systematic order.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2011-10-12T08:21:41.069Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Never, ever, let any other member of your family/living-group tidy your stuff up.

The joy of the single life!

Living alone, then, it is no wonder you rejoice that things remain precisely where you left them. You feel a great warmth inside on the day you realize that if you haven't finished the marmalade, there is still some marmalade left.

Lynne Truss, "Making the Cat Laugh"

comment by Armok_GoB · 2011-11-10T21:43:47.827Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Get a weird, vaguely table like piece of furniture, declare it some long name containing "storage" and "organization" with great formality, and remove all other convenient places to put stuff.

comment by Eneasz · 2011-10-11T18:08:38.862Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Solved in 1876. :)

I'm sure variants of this can be used for other objects. For general-purpose living I've found that simply keeping a tidy living space helps immensely. I throw things out often.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2011-10-13T10:18:50.121Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's a a mismatch between the scenario as stated and the implied problem we want to solve. Just talking about solving the problem for one item, instead of all your items, doesn't get to the purpose most people have. That's the goal, right? To be able to maximize the likelihood of finding what you want when you want it?

People have been picking at the discrepancy with solutions to the "one coin problem". The solution below of taping it to your hand is then a wonderful solution, but not really what the original post was after, because of the scenario/problem mismatch.

What works best for me, though not so well.

Have a place for everything, with easy access for the most used items.

Keep things neat and be on time to limit the impulse to put something away "later". Clutter encourages more clutter, and neatness encourages further neatness.

Optimize the high traffic items. Make it easy. Make it a habit. Make the environment conducive to the behavior.

comment by TrE · 2011-10-11T09:22:17.322Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sorting is a good idea. For example, you may sort your books by the authors' names in alphabetical order. Otherwise, keeping things at the place where they are usually needed should work.

comment by byrnema · 2011-10-11T21:10:21.330Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

For specific, special items, spend a few seconds thinking about the 'right' place for it. Then place the item there. If you ever need to find the item, repeat the same though process and there's a good chance you will again think of the same 'right' place. My problem isn't that I can't think of the place where it should be, but that it is very rare that I actually put it there.

However, I wonder if you were talking specifically about finding lost items, or just the general probIem of finding solutions to "foolish" problems. Then I suspect this will grow to be a long comment since I am simultaneously extremely absent-minded and also energetically solution-oriented, so I spend a lot time developing tailored solutions.

First, I'll discuss general principles of the 'systems' I use to solve these problems:

  1. I invest energy in systems proportional to the degree there needs to be a system (e.g., measured in units of aggravation or resource costs). I don't develop systems just to have systems, since this is a failure mode for me.

  2. Solution development is always a work in progress and I try to be laid-back about that. I'm always open to the possibility that a system is causing more trouble than it is worth. An imperfect system won't be further updated unless the energy expense makes sense (see 1). Sometimes a system seems to work fairly well, but then an extra dose of aggravation will motivate me to improve it.

  3. Every problem might need its own unique solution, fitted for you and your lifestyle. Many systems are very nice in principle, but simply don't work in practice -- usually due to inability of me or family members to maintain the system. That is, a 'good' system is one that actually works.

Next, I'll list some of the solutions that I've found so far or need help with:

  • Solution: A lockbox for the key. I was always trying to find my keys. Leaving in the morning, usually in a hurry, there were several places I had to look -- in any pair of pants I might have worn, in any jacket pockets, on the actual key ring where they were supposed to be (fat chance), or in the junk drawer where I tend to empty my pockets when I come home. Looking in even just these three spots was too aggravating and there was no solution until I started keeping my keys in a lockbox outside my house. The key always makes it back in the lockbox when I come home, so when I leave in the morning, I can just leave -- no worries about the key! This is greatly helped by the fact that I have security code to open my car, I don't need to carry a key for that either.

  • Solution needed: I don't have a system yet for ID cards and debit cards. Every once in a while, I end up with two copies of one (for example, if I lose it, get a replacement and then find the old one) and then that system is stable for quite a while because I'll keep one at home and one in the car. However, I never have the cards I need when I'm traveling with my husband or walking somewhere. The only exception is the library card, which I keep in our "book bag".

  • One day a week for the library. If we go to the library irregularly, we never remember to return books and we ended up paying hundreds of dollars in fines last year. Since this was obviously a significant resource drain, we had to decide if going to the library was important. (For example, we decided renting Redbox movies was not important since we had the same story there.) Since going to the library was important to us, we now go every week on a particular day. Before we go, I walk around the house and collect anything that looks like a library book, and then (fortunately) the library also e-mails me if we miss one and I'll know to spend extra time looking for that one.

  • Keep children's socks right by the dryer. I have a drawer in the laundry room for my kid's socks. This seems to be the best way to get them in one place. An initial phase of the solution was to begin with very many identical pairs to save time on matching, but then we got too many different kinds of socks from cousins (hand me downs) and I gave up on that.

comment by nazgulnarsil · 2011-10-12T13:44:28.842Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If your system is 99% 'good' you actually CAN then nudge your behavior via slight modifications. For example floss no longer goes in the bathroom, it stays next to my computer where I see it.

comment by Armok_GoB · 2011-11-10T21:53:41.775Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Have you tried keeping ALL the cards in a single wallet or similar thing, and putting it in the lockbox together with the keys?

comment by dlthomas · 2011-10-11T17:22:11.037Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

RFID tags.

comment by jhuffman · 2011-10-11T19:01:04.513Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There needs to be some constraint on "hidden". Otherwise I just put it in the mailbox or wherever I'm in the habit of looking everyday.

Maybe how I'd tweak it is have a requirement that an average third-party will find it in greater than 15 minutes.

comment by Vaniver · 2011-10-11T23:46:56.526Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You need to fit thousands of items in that mailbox.

comment by Peacewise · 2011-10-25T03:40:30.815Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

So what are the -2 points for folks?

comment by pedanterrific · 2011-10-25T04:02:28.957Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

(This is a perfectly valid and acceptable question and I don't mean to censor it, but I'd just like to note for your future reference that the convention is to state it as an "Edit:" at the bottom of your downvoted comment, or in a direct reply to it. It makes it easier to figure out what you're referring to, for one.)

Your previous comment indicates that you did not read the other comments or the link in the OP. This is generally poor practice as it leads to redundant and uninformed commentary. That said, it probably would have been more appropriate to say so rather than just silently downvoting.

comment by Peacewise · 2011-10-25T04:54:03.519Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)


comment by DaveX · 2011-10-12T03:27:04.007Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm confused about the "hide" part of the initial task, or the "fooling" that needs to be unfooled. The objective function rewards ineffective fooling.

It seems you simply mean "store" such that you can find it.

comment by Vaniver · 2011-10-12T15:35:58.905Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Congrats, you got the joke!

comment by Peacewise · 2011-10-24T04:19:18.068Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Task is ludicrous for to "hide" the item in the place where it can be found the quickest is contrary to the ideal of hiding.

So if the person does their best to hide the coin keeping in the spirit of the game, then they'll decrease their likelihood of winning the game, or of having a better win.

Whereas if the person doesn't do their best to hide the coin, i.e. playing outside the spirit of the game, then they'll increase their likelihood of winning the game, which encourages the person to not actually hide the coin in the first place.

Consequently the game itself is flawed, as it's a game that encourages one to cheat.