What comes before rationality

post by Swimmer963 · 2011-03-18T03:22:13.685Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 94 comments

Note: I am deleting this post because it contained personal information about a friend whose permission I did not expressly obtain.


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by AstroCJ · 2011-03-18T17:33:19.023Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am alarmed and dismayed that no-one has raised the issue of privacy in this thread. Swimmer963, just from glancing through your comments, you're [rot13'd description of Swimmer963 deleted].

I didn't whizz through those to be creepy (actually I was impressed at how you seem to be consistently sensible), but if you're going to share incredibly personal details about "a friend" who was raped, we need to know if this information has been posted with her consent. The above is very easily enough to personally identify you.

On whether or not this will be important or not: [blanked].

EDIT: Deleted precis of Swimmer963's situation; it had served its purpose. EDIT: Deleted some personal information.

Replies from: komponisto, Psychohistorian, nick012000
comment by komponisto · 2011-03-18T17:45:08.026Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

if you're going to share incredibly personal details about "a friend"... we need to know if this information has been posted with her consent.

I think (or, anyway, hope) what you meant to write was "you need her consent before posting", rather than "we need to know whether you obtained her consent [so that we can socially penalize you if it turns out you didn't]."

Replies from: AstroCJ
comment by AstroCJ · 2011-03-18T22:09:35.633Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Socially penalise, nothing. Something as personal as this, it's deeply unusual not to make it clear that you have permission; my concern is for the privacy of person under discussion.

comment by Psychohistorian · 2011-03-19T01:35:25.967Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is an interesting point. However, given that people seldom have interest in random strangers, this really doesn't seem that worrisome.

If I were particularly dedicated to finding out, say, the name of the roommate of someone I don't know on the internet's roommate, this'd give me a decentish pointer. It'd still be really hard.

If I actually met the subject of this person and wanted to find out personal details about her life, I'd need to know specifically about this post and the author's relation to the subject. Otherwise, it seems quite hopeless.

At the very least though, she could have been more vague on their relationship, as it would have minimized any such risk and cost the post nothing.

Replies from: saturn
comment by saturn · 2011-03-19T21:46:00.690Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If Swimmer963 and her roommate have overlapping social circles, and Swimmer963 talks about posting on LW with her real life acquaintances, it's fairly likely that someone will be able to put two and two together.

Replies from: Swimmer963
comment by Swimmer963 · 2011-03-22T05:10:57.312Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

We don't have the same circles, and we're no longer roommates, and I don't talk about Less Wrong with most people, and if any of you did meet her you might find out about it from her first...

Nevertheless, I did not think through all of that. I have some problems with privacy, i.e. I don't actually notice situations that involve 'personal' information, whether it's mine or other people's. At least I have the right to post whatever personal stuff I want wherever I want...but I don't have that right for other people.

I did change the wording of the original post to 'friend'.

comment by nick012000 · 2011-03-20T10:46:42.512Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why worry about Google stockpiling your personal information when people are entirely capable of profiling you anyway!

comment by waveman · 2011-03-18T05:21:09.297Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If she had the sort of childhood you describe, her problems are not with her apparatus of rational thinking, but with her emotional brain. If the problem is not with her cognitive apparatus, it cannot be solved there.

It is very common for people who had toxic childhoods to become very interested in psychology. See for example Alice Miller's book "The Drama of the Gifted Child" which explains that children who grow up in toxic environments often become psychologically "gifted" out of necessity, and end up as psychologists.

Unfortunately while they may gain knowledge, it usually does not help. It does not help any more than knowing that you are frightened of dogs because several dogs bit you as a child. This insight does not solve the problem.

What to do?

Psychotherapy has a very poor track record. There are some good therapists and many poor ones. A lot of therapists are themselves the walking wounded. Irvin Yalom seems to be one of the good ones - see for example "The Gift of Therapy" for how it can work.

Time is a slow and ineffective healer. Many people go to their graves still terribly wounded.

One reason people with traumatic childhood seem to end up in bad relationships is that they feel compelled to replay the experiences until they solve them.

Successful therapy seems to involve replaying the experiences and reprogramming the emotional mind with new ways of processing the experience.

The problem is that often the person cannot actually go back to the original experiences in their full intensity because they were too traumatic. If the person can go back and reprocess the original experiences emotionally, they are likely to have a moment of realization and restructure their emotional reactions. The rational work follows this and is usually relatively simple.

EMDR is one technique that can help in this regard. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eye_movement_desensitization_and_reprocessing . The eye movement technique mutes the overwhelming intensity of the experience, allowing the adult brain to reprocess the traumatic events and deal with them with the full resources of the adult brain.

A technique is in some ways quite similar is Ed Seykota's Trading Tribe process. This was developed to help traders deal with the intense psychological challenges of trading, such as 60% drawdowns, and losing 10% of your net worth in 15 minutes. I personally have had a few major breakthroughs with this process. As with EMDR the focus is on providing a means for the person to fully experience the original traumatic events and reprocess them.

comment by erratio · 2011-03-18T04:42:43.437Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Anecdotally, most people reading the Sequences will be neither harmed nor helped in the short term, for the same reason that your friend can clinically list off her problems (and probably their most successful interventions) without feeling able to change her reactions - there's a huge leap from absorbing knowledge to working out how to apply it. In the longer term, being exposed to a large volume of persuasive writing about how to own your beliefs and attitudes is helpful (in that it will help people make the shift away from a fixed mindset, which is absolutely essential for real progress), but I have no idea how much.

Personally, I do feel like I've gained benefit from my time here, but I'd be hard-pressed to point to any specific article or technique that caused the change, other than the general atmosphere of challenging one's beliefs.

Replies from: rysade, atucker
comment by rysade · 2011-03-18T10:35:08.114Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd be hard-pressed to point to any specific article or technique that caused the change, other than the general atmosphere of challenging one's beliefs.

This is the story of the last year of my life. Most of the major paradigm shifts in my life I can attribute to either my own ingenuity or schooling, but this site (in a very short time span) has resulted in two shifts by itself.

comment by atucker · 2011-03-21T03:59:19.655Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(in that it will help people make the shift away from a fixed mindset, which is absolutely essential for real progress)

I agree that this is really important.

Many of the more useful recent changes in my life were the result of the idea that I can look at what's going wrong, and actually do something to try and change it (and see if that works, and keep trying and refining) more than any particular single piece of advice.

There was also some impact from different thinking habits (dissolving the question, avoiding generalizing from one example, thinking of goals and then solutions, etc.) which have definitely been widely helpful in my life, but rather than delivering a few large chunks of utility, they gave a bunch of really small ones.

comment by Kevin · 2011-03-18T12:06:26.916Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Professional MDMA psychotherapy seems to work really well for these kinds of things, though it is quite hard to come by in legal form. Just taking MDMA and then having an intimate/therapeutic conversation with a close friend might work just as well.

Really. MDMA is way more effective than anything else for this kind of thing.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100719082927.htm http://www.maps.org/research/mdma/

(Should be about 10 years before MDMA makes it through the FDA approval process)

A much less effective recommendation is compassion/lovingkindness meditation.

Replies from: Marius, SilasBarta
comment by Marius · 2011-03-18T20:34:48.020Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The study cited does not show that MDMA is the most effective therapy. It shows that MDMA can be useful in patients for whom conventional therapy has failed. There is a difference.

Replies from: Kevin
comment by Kevin · 2011-03-18T22:30:25.013Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(Also meant to link to this but apparently that didn't happen. http://www.maps.org/research/mdma/ )

Yes, that's true. I'm intuitively inferring from the data and personal experience.

comment by SilasBarta · 2011-03-18T20:26:17.760Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What makes you think the FDA would approve MDMA at all (if that's what you meant)?

Replies from: Kevin
comment by Kevin · 2011-03-18T22:28:03.281Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Statement by the leadership of MAPS at their recent conference that they were solidly on track with regards to the FDA approval process. They are doing it by the book, are getting results showing high safety/efficacy, and the FDA is probably not going to be able to defy the data and keep MDMA illegal.

Replies from: Marius
comment by Marius · 2011-03-19T22:37:21.829Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

MDMA may well turn out to be highly safe and effective, but MAPS is excessively optimistic in this assessment. See, for instance, their characterization of Dr. Halpern's response to the NHS critique as a "careful and well-reasoned response". In many of the instances, Halpern invents defenses to legitimate criticism. For instance:

*They reported his study was underpowered. His response should have been a power calculation demonstrating adequate study power; instead he simply noted that his was the largest study yet performed.

*NHS noted a lack of followup over time to investigate cognitive decline, and he claimed that the includion of only long-term users solved this problem. It does not, because he looked at current ravers only. Had he looked at "people who raved 5 years ago, regardless of current multidrug use, current death or disability, etc" this would be acceptable.

*Asking participants to refrain from taking ecstasy is nonstandard in a medical study. I understand that he did it to distinguish between acute and chronic effects, but it's not nearly as easy as that.

*Exclusion of polysubstance users is totally unacceptable in a study of drug safety. If MDMA and cocaine used together lead to more cognitive decline than cocaine alone, then that must be counted as "MDMA causes cognitive decline".

In order to obtain FDA approval despite multiple small studies showing a poor safety profile, a much larger and better-designed safety study will be required. Even then, the FDA has a history of rejecting medications that really ought to be approved. See Sugammadex.

comment by Swimmer963 · 2011-03-22T07:26:52.131Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I deleted this post. I will write another post later about why I deleted it.

Replies from: rabidchicken, AstroCJ
comment by rabidchicken · 2011-03-22T18:08:09.244Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Though the privacy concern was valid, the post was really interesting and made me think more carefully about possible negative impacts of rationality.

If you ever feel you can write something similar that avoids the concerns people had, that would be great.

Replies from: Swimmer963
comment by Swimmer963 · 2011-03-22T20:17:30.990Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am planning to rewrite it minus privacy concerns, but it will require more research so I can't do it until the school year is over.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2012-12-31T01:51:32.165Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm basically only curious because of the interesting title (found it while I was searching for a different LW post), but did you ever rewrite this?

Replies from: Swimmer963
comment by Swimmer963 · 2012-12-31T13:13:08.433Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Nope. Forgot it existed. Whoops.

comment by AstroCJ · 2011-03-22T15:04:54.138Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I hope you didn't take my initial comment as being aggressive or judgemental; it was a good post, well written and interesting. I hope, too, that there's no kind of fallout.

Replies from: Swimmer963
comment by Swimmer963 · 2011-03-22T17:24:59.640Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't remember what your original comment was. However, when I read the gist of all the privacy comments, I realized I really had not thought about that aspect. Aggressive has nothing to do with it.

comment by magfrump · 2011-03-18T15:41:00.219Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have personally had some significant issues getting myself to deal with problems in a constructive way--I was diagnosed with depression several months ago.

I put off seeking treatment, and especially medication, for essentially irrational reasons.

More recently I have started taking Lexapro, and I am MUCH happier. A large part of being able to make that decision came from Less Wrong--the ideas of "happiness set points," beating procrastination, and the idea that using technology to help improve myself is natural and necessary, helped me close the gap between not doing anything and doing something effective.

There are plenty of stories going around about people using decision theory to lose weight.

I would say there are several examples of people who have used the methods of rationality (or at least have used Less Wrong) to help with uncommon problems.

Unless your friend is intensely theist or overly sensitive to contrarianism I can't think of what downside there is to this experiment.

Replies from: Swimmer963
comment by Swimmer963 · 2011-03-18T15:53:24.723Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

She is definitely not theist, so that isn't a problem.

comment by handoflixue · 2011-03-21T20:58:54.945Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Honestly, I've found the single hardest part of overcoming my damage is simply finding something that actually motivates me: For the majority of my life, even now, irrationality is sufficiently successful that I have no reason to "correct" it. I happen to have a strong investment in the identity of "rational", which gave me enough of a push to start reading this site, but I could still easily make excuses as to why I wasn't applying it. It wasn't until I found Something To Protect in my life that I started really taking this stuff seriously and began making an effort to "win" instead of merely being "right".

Once I had that motivation, I found this site to be incredibly helpful: a number of LW posts have explicitly helped me bridge gaps between "a strong analytical mind" and "a very damaged map of reality". There's still a LOT I'm working on, and I've been reading here for at least half a year, so it's hardly an instant fix. It requires a lot of effort - and that's why a good motivation is essential. I've found some posts instantly shift a huge chunk of my map in to a better alignment, and other posts suddenly pop up 3 months later and make me realize I've been doing things wrong my entire life.

comment by Armok_GoB · 2011-03-21T19:12:56.462Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"I have zero examples of people who have used the methods of rationality ... to help with the problems they have that most people don’t have..."

I have. Extremely much so. Although I REALLY don't want to discus my problems publicly like this, I can't find any other way to communicate the necessary information: I used to be extremely irrational with a large number of mental-illness-calibre delusions, and now I am, despite the occasionall bizarre failure mode and despite still being mentally ill in non epistemological ways, I'm catching up with LW in terms of sanity.

comment by pjeby · 2011-03-18T20:31:16.686Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not clear on the goal of your post -- it doesn't seem to make a statement or ask a specific question, either -- but if you are asking for practical advice for your friend, I would highly recommend the book "Recovering From Co-Dependency: It's Never Too Late To Have A Happy Childhood," by Weiss and Weiss. I've personally found it to be an invaluable resource, and IME it's just the thing for an analytical person interested in psychology to get an initial grip on actually doing something about their issues.

The book is written primarily as a bridge between theory and practice for therapists doing individual and group therapy for those issues; for a practical follow-up, I would suggest the two books by Pamela Levin that are cited by Weiss & Weiss: Becoming Who We Are, and Cycles of Power. Both of these latter books have things that one can do as an individual, without a therapist, but I personally found them more understandable and useful after seeing the larger framework in the first book I mentioned.

If you would personally like to help your friend, I would suggest reading the books yourself, but not necessarily before she does. One downside to studying these books at length, is that it may become incredibly obvious when interacting with people what developmental defects are likely the cause of their present problems... but much more obvious to you than to them. ;-)

Replies from: taryneast
comment by taryneast · 2011-03-20T19:25:02.744Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For anybody having difficulty finding that on amazon, it's actually:

Recovery from Co-Dependency: It's Never Too Late to Reclaim Your Childhood


Becoming the Way We Are

(took me a little bit of fiddling to find).

The two Pamela Levin books seem to be out of print now, but the co-dependancy one is available.

BTW - looks interesting, thanks :)

Replies from: pjeby
comment by pjeby · 2011-03-20T20:26:11.231Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The two Pamela Levin books seem to be out of print now, but the co-dependancy one is available.

I got my (used) copies via Amazon:

Cycles of Power

Becoming The Way We Are

(took me a little bit of fiddling to find).

Sorry about that; the subtitle on the back cover of Weiss&Weiss actually reads "it's never too late to have a happy childhood", even though the front is different.

Replies from: taryneast
comment by taryneast · 2011-03-20T23:19:42.859Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the new links :)

Also - strangely, the word amazon had a real problem with was "recovering" instead of "recovery".... I think I've grown too dependent on google's smart search-words! ;)

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-03-18T14:13:09.252Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In my own life, the thing that seems to help most is paying attention to what I'm doing.

Not so much in terms of analyzing patterns, though there's nothing wrong with that, but in terms of attending to the individual events and being aware of how I am reacting and what I am reacting to, and doing so insofar as possible without imposing my expectations or my judgments on what I perceive.

Mostly, what seems to be going on is that when I don't really pay attention, my brain happily fills in the resulting gaps in my awareness with all kinds of cached/default assumptions, which are then reinforced by their association with my representations of stuff that's really there.

Put differently: I seem to be equipped with a buggy inference engine that, at least by default, infers the presence of X in the absence of compelling new evidence, based on my prior probability for X, and then turns around and uses the (inferred) presence of X as though it were new evidence, raising the posterior probability of X.

It's a self-reinforcing loop: I end up seeing what I want to see. (Or what I fear seeing, or what I am otherwise predisposed to see.)

Whereas when I do pay attention, my brain isn't quite so prone to "fill in the gaps" with X, or at least not so prone to confuse inferred X with perceived X, and my estimate of the probability of X in any given situation is therefore not artificially sustained. (And for the obviously wrong Xes, that's often sufficient -- once I eliminate the artificial support, natural inconsistencies will take care of the rest.)

Not sure how much use this community is for that, though.

I would encourage your friend to experiment with a meditation practice that works for her... just some way of establishing the habit of being present with what is actually happening right now and paying attention to it.

Different things work for different people in this space -- a good friend of mine has a practice of putting everything he touches back exactly where he found it, for example, which he does not think of as a meditative practice but seems to me to achieve the same goal.

It's a slow process, though.

Replies from: handoflixue
comment by handoflixue · 2011-03-22T19:48:16.863Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've found that sort of self-awareness is incredibly helpful. My newest trick has been asking WHY I'm violating my previous plans - for instance, if I plan to diet, and end up over-eating, I'll ask myself, in the moment, why I'm doing this. It helps me form better plans in the future, as I can better predict my own future reasoning. For instance, I might over-eat because I got lost in work for eight hours and then realized I was utterly ravenous, or I might realize that I enjoy the pleasure of food more than I enjoy the idea of losing weight and drop the idea entirely :)

comment by byrnema · 2011-03-18T03:43:11.840Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Some of the even more drastic failures are described in the book The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, by Bruce D. Perry and Maia Szalavitz.

There's no way I'm reading that book. Knowing about and thinking about the bizarre ways people abuse children is the worst thing about reality for me. It's why I don't read online local news anymore -- the media thinks such stuff is fascinating but I guess they don't expect people to actually think about what the story is about? But still these sad little stories (sometimes only 8 words long) make their way into whatever I'm reading and ruin my day.

Does anyone else share my sensitivity? Does anyone have any advice?

Replies from: mutterc, Kaj_Sotala, rabidchicken, nick012000
comment by mutterc · 2011-03-20T19:29:40.496Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My technique for keeping from being depressed by news: remember that, if it's newsworthy, it's rare.

"In sports, half the teams won their games today. All of the players are millionaires, most of whom have no major drug problems." - Dogbert

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2011-03-18T16:42:05.768Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Does anyone else share my sensitivity? Does anyone have any advice?

I've suffered of the same. There were a couple of real reports about child abuse that I once read which not only completely ruined my mood, but would also threaten to ruin my mood if I ever remembered them afterwards. Since they were rather shocking ones, I still can't help occasionally recalling them, even though I read them maybe five years ago. This hasn't been helped by the fact that if I see a headline about a child abuse case so that the actual article is, say, only a mouse click away, I get this morbid curiosity and have to read it.

I was also rather strongly distraught on a couple of occasions when some online friends mentioned (non-abusively) spanking their kids, to the extent that I had to take a break from the conversation to calm down.

Over the years my tolerance has grown, but I'm not sure of what exactly it's been that did it. Partially it's been just adaptation - running into a shocking concept often enough that it's started to feel less serious. This isn't specific only to child abuse: I've always reacted strongly to any reports of people suffering. My getting more able to accept that it's happening has been a part of an overall process of getting more used to the idea of people suffering. It's involved stuff like shifting my emotional utility function away from states of the world and towards my own behavior. Also learning to recognize on an emotional level that the map isn't the territory - I'm allowed to not feel bad about horrible things happening as long as it doesn't make me ignore them, because horrible things won't stop happening just because I feel bad about them. Of course I've always known this on an intellectual level, but accepting this on an emotional level is much harder and something I still need to work on. Reading Ken Wilber's No Boundary and doing some of the exercises outlined there helped considerably.

Replies from: byrnema
comment by byrnema · 2011-03-23T21:33:22.347Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Reading Ken Wilber's No Boundary and doing some of the exercises outlined there helped considerably.

Thanks, I'll try reading through that book. A comparison of Eastern and Western perspectives would be interesting in any case.

It's involved stuff like shifting my emotional utility function away from states of the world and towards my own behavior.

I also found Michael Vassar's comment enlightening:

"Pain is not suffering. Pain is just an attention signal. Suffering is when one neural system tells you to pay attention, and another says it doesn't want the state of the world to be like this."

"Pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding" by Kahlil Gibran was life-changing for me. I interpreted it as whenever I am saddened by something, it's a signal that I need to face a truth about it. It helped in many aspects of my life; for example, in helping me to realize (at a level of emotional acceptance) that I can't force people to be or feel the way I want them to. But it it didn't seem to help in other cases, such as this one, where even after I accepted the truth of the situation ('yes, I understand this happens and it's part reality'), the pain didn't go away.

I think Michael's comment may be the other half of it. I know that child abuse causes me pain, so I will prevent it as I can, but find a detachment to be liberated from being distressed about what is beyond my control. There is also a comfort in affirming that I would change it if I could, as would others -- my emotional utility function has shifted from the actual state of reality towards approving of and finding a protected place for these values I have that I find are important to me.

It is the Serenity Prayer, I guess, from a fresh direction -- as this meditation is also the kind of thing that has been revisited so many times it loses its meaning.

I'll think about fitting this second piece into my thoughts and see if it helps in a practical way with my problem.

comment by rabidchicken · 2011-03-18T04:11:45.908Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Learn about child abuse, and resolve to stop it? Your other options would be to ignore it, or accept it as an inescapable part of reality but fatalism and escapism rarely make things better.

Replies from: Jonathan_Graehl, Alicorn, byrnema
comment by Jonathan_Graehl · 2011-03-18T08:10:51.815Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have better things to do than to think about child abuse.

Donate to organizations that efficiently prevent damage or help heal it (unless you happen to have comparative advantage doing the work yourself). Don't "raise awareness". It's distracting.

Replies from: rabidchicken
comment by rabidchicken · 2011-03-18T14:44:16.488Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I could never be a social worker so this is my plan, but don't you have to do some research to find an effective organization?

comment by Alicorn · 2011-03-18T04:17:41.185Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am reasonably sure that this does nothing whatsoever to address the problem byrnema is having.

Replies from: rysade, rabidchicken
comment by rysade · 2011-03-18T10:15:51.518Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Alicorn, you are fairly accomplished on this site. What if we consider the possibility that some people are more accepting of the 'this is the facts, folks' sort of treatment when we are looking at a situation like this, and some people are more prone to getting relief from other sources?

I know when my father died, it was really only distance that helped me.

Perhaps we should look into a project documenting the ways in which we all might want to be comforted? I can't think of something more ant-hill like than a science of grief, but perhaps as rationalists we ought to consider it?

comment by rabidchicken · 2011-03-18T04:41:13.604Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't know how to make someone feel less sad when they learn about child abuse, and I would not want to. When I read about something terrible and feel unhappy, I react to it by trying to eliminate the problem from the source using the most efficient means I can think of. Once I do this, even if I fail I can at least feel better that I am trying. If I decide not to learn more, the problem still exists and I have already conceded defeat.

I know my advice is harsh, but sometimes doing something which feels bad is the only way to fix the problem.

Replies from: Mass_Driver, Alicorn
comment by Mass_Driver · 2011-03-18T05:21:27.593Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't know how to make someone feel less sad when they learn about child abuse, and I would not want to.

That's fine, and you don't have to solve that problem if you don't want to, but when people confess their psychological vulnerabilities, you do have to make a minimal effort to accommodate them.

Here, Byrnema openly confessed that zie currently lacks the mental/emotional tools for processing references to child abuse in a constructive way, and then asked for help building those tools. Instead of offering advice as to how to build the relevant toolkit, you basically advised Byrnema to shut up and try harder. This is probably very frustrating for Byrnema, because zie most likely has been trying, has noticed that zer efforts have not been very successful so far, and would like to try a different, more effective strategy. Perhaps inadvertently, you are emphasizing how important it is for Brynema to solve zer problem while doing nothing that would actually help zer do so.

Your repeated use of the first person together with the disclaimer "I know my advice is harsh" and the suggestion that your way "is the only way" also tends to make you look like you're on an ego trip. Whether you intended to do so or not, your language implicitly contrasts your resolute determination to follow the only correct path with byrnema's apparent weakness of will. By denying or ignoring the possibility that there are different strategies for dealing with emotional aversion to discussion of suffering, you make byrnema's problem seem to be more of a personal problem, and less of a technical problem.

To my mind, that's a huge party foul on Less Wrong. We shouldn't be pointing fingers about each others' personal problems; we should be diagnosing and solving them on a technical level. While spirited argument is great among people who are confident of their opinions, it's not appropriate to ram a specific idea down the throat of a person who wants help brainstorming alternatives to that idea.

Replies from: rabidchicken
comment by rabidchicken · 2011-03-18T14:53:49.747Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Good advice, I tend to model how other people deal with negative emotions extremely poorly.

comment by Alicorn · 2011-03-18T04:49:52.325Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

...I'm so, so tempted to write something terribly, unhelpfully flippant. Pardon me while I restrain this urge.


With you on the case, maybe byrnema's problem can be solved after all, since you're going to eliminate child abuse from the world any minute now and then she won't have to feel so bad, right?


Oh, looks like I was unsuccessful at my goal.

Gosh, and it was a pretty minor goal compared to eliminating child abuse.

At least I tried, right? I feel better now!

rabidchicken: you are a unique creature in all the world. Your experience may not be like the experiences of people you meet on the Internet who describe problems you cannot empathize with and do not know how to address. Consider leaving those people alone when you don't have anything genuinely relevant to say. Then you can get back to your important job of eliminating child abuse.

Replies from: rabidchicken
comment by rabidchicken · 2011-03-18T05:04:59.558Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

How was that unhelpful? I am better off knowing why you hated my opinion so much.

Replies from: drethelin, Alicorn, Kevin
comment by drethelin · 2011-03-18T05:24:02.203Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Your advice boiled down to this: If there is something that makes you unhappy the only solution is to become batman. Studying child abuse will not held someone who is made unhappy by the thought of it happy. As far as resolving to stop it, what exactly do you recommend? You can't exactly start going from house to house asking parents if they beat their children.

Replies from: JenniferRM
comment by JenniferRM · 2011-03-20T22:28:08.806Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I sort of agree that that's what the advice boiled down to, but I almost feel as though, given issues related to diffusion of responsibility that perhaps the world could use a few more batmen?

I mean, that's basically what Eliezer has done with his life, right? If I understand corrently, he spent the last ~8 years trying to make the singularity not be horrible because everyone around him appeared to be delusional in thinking a horrifying outcome wasn't racing towards us with no one taking it seriously and so he saddled up and started optimizing. When he talked about how having something to protect seems to cause people to become better rationalists, I think this sort of emotional crisis and subsequent sense of urgency was exactly the sort of thing he was talking about. (As far as I'm aware Lesswrong exists because he spent about two years of his life building it, and he built it because it seemed at the time like a good intermediate step along the way to saving the world.)

And yes, it may very well be be impossible for any of us to simply "stop child abuse" by any normal method, and Eliezer has an answer to that to: "Shut up and do the impossible".

Do you think getting the singularity to go right is easier than stopping child abuse? If that's so (and a positive singularity would solve child abuse and there aren't simpler routes to a solution) then you may have just found a new derivation for working on a positive singularity. Personally I think becoming a social worker is almost certainly not the solution to the general problem of child abuse if you look bottom line and shut up and multiply. A more obvious solution is to get the government to "fix it somehow" but many governments are trying to do that and failing. Maybe what's necessary is fixing government? Or something? Its a seriously hard problem.

Most obvious ideas probably won't even work and maybe you'll need to research and plan for several months to figure out what's been tried before and shown to fail, and based on that research you could come up with an angle of attack? Off the top of my head, you might try interviewing social workers and ask them what they thought a solution to child abuse would look like, then process the implied plans, and then spend the next 10 years of your life on that if you find something tractable. I have no idea what the results of that process would look like, but they might entrain something that will end child abuse after a while? It seems like that could happen, especially if you cooperate with other rationalists.

But, I mean, I thought the whole reason for having created this website was to help people understand that the world is deep shit and we seriously have to up our game if any of our real and pressing problems are going to be effectively solved. Maybe I'm misunderstanding something fundamental here? Maybe the connection between rabidchicken's attitude toward child abuse and Eliezer's attitude towards a "bad singularity" is illusory? But they seem pretty similar to me.

Also, I think this is why we have things in this community like the Litany of Tarski and posts like I'm scared to talk about processing the emotional repercussions of not mentally flinching when a situation really appears to be horrible. Trying to "be batman" is hard. No one said it would be easy, but even if it is hard, it might be better than all the alternatives.

If you look at bad things and (after clicking) it seems that the rational response might actually be to "become batman and then fix it", then its kind of weird to be told that your suggestions are silly because you've just suggested becoming batman to solve a horrible problem. The right answer to that is simply, "Yes of course that's what I've proposed. But why is that silly?"

Edited to add: I see that you're new to commenting. Please accept my apologies for sort of biting your head off there. I don't want LW to be unfriendly or intimidating... but at the same time I don't want the culture to drift away from a community ethic of clear-eyed-pursuit-of-goodness and you were massively upvoted there. Boiling things down to "become batman" was insightful, I just didn't like that you boiled things down to the right conclusion and then, as far as I could tell, threw out the result simply because it reminded you of something from a comic book.

Replies from: cousin_it, drethelin, handoflixue
comment by cousin_it · 2011-03-22T20:27:43.097Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Becoming batman for stopping child abuse is not okay, because the easiest way to achieve that goal might just involve an Orwellian system of total control. Indeed the people in government who push for such schemes today may think of themselves as batmen for their respective noble goals. The goal of "protecting the kids" has an especially bad record, probably because the image of a suffering child appeals so strongly to the emotions of politicians and voters alike. Eliezer has sorta explained why something like FAI may be the only goal worth becoming batman for.

Replies from: NancyLebovitz
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-03-27T09:42:55.350Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you actually want to protect children rather than do something which looks like protecting them, an Orwellian solution doesn't look likely to me. There's a risk that the authorities will end up doing very bad things to children if there's that much unaccountable power.

I suggest that the most stable solution would be finding a reliable, extremely attractive way of teaching empathy. I don't know if this would take becoming batman-- to the extent that it does, it would be a very different sort of batman than it takes to get a positive singularity, though it might be related by way of accelerating CEV.

Replies from: cousin_it
comment by cousin_it · 2011-03-27T10:11:04.959Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The most reliable way of teaching empathy is by installing a chip in everyone's brains.

You seem to envision nice batmen whose subgoal stomp hasn't yet reached dangerous levels. I'm concerned about what happens when a human becomes really focused on their goal, so it overrides niceness.

comment by drethelin · 2011-03-27T08:52:09.854Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the clearly thought out reply! I guess the way I see it is, even if "go become batman" is in general something we should want people to strive for, I don't think it's actually very helpful advice. I don't think being Batman is bad, he's just not something everyone can be.

comment by handoflixue · 2011-03-22T19:57:25.061Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you for this comment. It's a very nice illustration of how we CAN actually take something and try to make the world a better place, instead of feeling powerless. For me, I still debate whether I really want to spend that energy, but I'd rather freely choose "I'm ignoring this in favor of X" instead of a nagging guilt about the state of the world. And, even that decision, to set something aside and accept that I don't want to spend that energy, is also a very difficult one. It's much easier to bottle it up and never quite think about either possibility.

Replies from: JenniferRM
comment by JenniferRM · 2011-03-22T22:54:36.276Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, I think maybe part of where the tendency to flinch comes from is the implicit recognition that "fixing W" will sometimes take a huge amount of work, and recognizing the scale of the effort versus how much you care... it might lead you to internalize that you don't actually care about W that much :-(

To be clear with oneself about your priorities (including "necessary selfishness" that no one will prioritize if you don't) can be unflattering or diverge from other people's public statements about good and bad. I suspect there are better or worse ways to deal with this, so that you don't emphasize a cached self of the wrong sort? Maybe its better to cache that you're the sort of person who clarifies their evolving priorities in response to improved understanding of a changing world and who currently values X, Y, and Z the most, rather than focusing too much on the fact that "I don't value W enough to do anything substantive about it".

Replies from: handoflixue
comment by handoflixue · 2011-03-22T23:18:13.381Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"I don't value W enough to do anything substantive about it".

I tend to think instead "The cost of W is more than I can afford" / "I can buy the even-cooler Q for that price!"

It's a lot like a financial budget: I can save up for a new computer if it's important to me. If I'm especially rich, I can just buy one. If I change income brackets or values, it's important to refactor that budget - if I lose my job, I probably can't afford a new computer until I get a new job. If my existing computer breaks, I might put aside some normal monthly luxuries or dip in to savings to get it replaced faster.

Admittedly, I seem to be unusual in that I can internalize "I'm not willing to pay that price for that goal" very well, and I don't tend to dwell on it or guilt about it once I've made a genuine decision. I've long been overweight simply because the benefit of eating pleasantly outweighed any visible gains. I used to feel some guilt, until I worked this out consciously and realized the price of being thin was just not worth paying. Now I'm quite content :)

(Although, ironically, soon after this realization, I got in to sports, and so now I've changed my values and have a very nice motivation to lose weight - which makes it far more bearable to sacrifice the pleasant eating :))

comment by Alicorn · 2011-03-18T05:27:19.576Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
  1. It doesn't address the problem byrnema brought up. Her problem was not posed as "children are being abused! How do I stop it?" (To which "consider stopping child abuse!" would also have been unhelpful... in fact, I can't think of anything she could have said where "learn about child abuse, and resolve to stop it" would have been remotely valuable advice... but at least it wouldn't have been irrelevant.) Her problem is that she sees information about child abuse when she doesn't want to. (Specifically, she sees media headlines - about child abuse that has already happened.) And it ruins her day.

  2. In fact, it is actively counterproductive to the problem she brought up. "Learn about child abuse" would presumably just ruin more of her days. Committing to it as a long term project might just up and ruin her life, which is probably composed mostly of days. It's simply not unreasonable to want to be able to manage information without becoming intractably distraught over it. If she could learn about child abuse without such a dreadful reaction to it, she might even be more effective at the substitute goal you proposed for her (stopping abuse from happening).

  3. You labeled options other than your own with the value-laden terms "fatalism" and "escapism". That's not the actual menu. There are lots of ways to feel about child abuse, lots of ways to control information flow about child abuse into one's life, and lots of ways to act on the world regarding child abuse. These things are independent. Byrnema sought help with the first, and you as good as told her she was wrong to want that help, that she should just feel terrible or otherwise she'd be remiss in her duties to abused children who can apparently somehow benefit from her pain (?).

I'm probably more agitated about this topic than I should be. I just hate it when people go around asserting that it is only right and proper to feel miserable over huge, intractable problems, and I hate it when people answer requests for help with "you are wrong to have that problem", and I hate the "at least I tried!" philosophy of problem-solving because that doesn't make everybody feel better, and... gosh, you pushed a lot of my buttons today. I hope that in spite of my irkedness I have managed to explain to your satisfaction why I "hated your opinion so much".

Replies from: rysade
comment by rysade · 2011-03-18T10:31:01.420Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

While I am irked by Rabid's response as well, I feel it necessary to point out that if this community accomplishes it's goals, as a very young member of our community he/she has quite a lot to gain out of this site.

I say, keep at it Rabid and do not get discouraged. My advice is to retreat and think about what is going on.

It is not such a terrible thing to realize that you may have been wrong.

Replies from: rabidchicken
comment by rabidchicken · 2011-03-18T15:00:08.702Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I will try not to make this particular mistake in the future, but I still seem to be horrible at choosing when to just say nothing...

Replies from: Swimmer963
comment by Swimmer963 · 2011-03-18T15:02:26.307Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think you should necessarily censor yourself. If it looks to you like your comment is useful, then post it...and if you get a negative response, then you learn something about yourself and others learn something about themselves.

comment by Kevin · 2011-03-18T11:55:47.179Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Basic lack of empathy.

See step 5 of "How to Be Happy"

comment by byrnema · 2011-03-18T05:25:49.759Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Alicorn is correct that this advice somewhat misses what my problem is about, but thanks for your advice.

I don't have the psychological make up to be a social worker, but I do what I can to stop child abuse, from being vigilant to encouraging attitudes and behaviors that I think will help curb and prevent it.

I think my problem might be an inability to compartmentalize at times about some things. On the one hand, you do want to feel and empathize with your neighbor about their troubles, but you can't react to every news article as though it happened to someone you know.

Most of the time, I suppose I do compartmentalize successfully, and I guess I would have to admit in these cases I'm willingly refusing to think about something as real. Perhaps I am in a certain spot in my life, as a young mother, where 'child' is such a strong and immediate symbol in my brain that I cannot shuttle such symbols in a sentence to their proper desensitized compartment.

If you think about it, you'll realize that most pieces of emotional information we come in contact with must be treated as not-real ... this isn't exactly escapism though.

So I think I've answered my own question. I can try harder to compartmentalize (though it certainly does rub against some grain to deliberately distract myself from empathizing with a child -- one solution is to just imagine that child as a grown adult, which he indubitably is by now ) and continue to avoid such triggers to the extent that I can.

Apologies for the self-help thread, it was ill-considered. Maybe somehow it ties into the theme of the post, if I could be so lucky.

... On second thought (I'm adding this sentence a few minutes later), I do 'lack the mental/emotional tools for processing references to child abuse in a constructive way' as Mass Driver wrote, and learning how to build tool-kits to fix problems is relevant to this blog.

Replies from: rabidchicken
comment by rabidchicken · 2011-03-18T14:48:39.136Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My reply was more ill considered, I will restrain myself in the future if I feel tempted to say anything like this.

comment by nick012000 · 2011-03-20T11:01:09.293Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Fantasise about brutally murdering the abusers. You'll probably feel a lot better once you're done, and child abusers are a socially acceptable target for all the hate you feel like mustering.

Replies from: Strange7
comment by Strange7 · 2011-03-21T07:22:25.531Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That just transforms it into the problem of "How do I stop fantasizing about murder so much?" or worse yet "How do I get this stain out of the carpet?"

Replies from: NihilCredo
comment by NihilCredo · 2011-03-21T15:18:06.896Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If it's still fresh, scrubbing it under cold running water is the right way; carbonated water is even better, so if you've got some in your fridge you're in luck. If it dried up, you will need to be patient and work on it with a lot of lightly soapy water (ideally Marseille or Aleppo soap) and some kind of bleach; washing soda or a 5% solution of oxalyc acid or hydrogen peroxide are good choices, although the latter are more likely to fade the colour.

Exception: if it's a 100% synthetic carpet you're in luck, since warm water will work perfectly (but make sure it's your case, otherwise with organic materials warm water will make the blood clot).

Replies from: CuSithBell, Alicorn
comment by CuSithBell · 2011-03-21T15:26:22.361Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What do people think of "Planning a Rational Murder" as a discussion topic?

Note: You should probably not actually try to make murder easier in general by posting rational methods of committing murder, to say nothing of actually murdering anyone.

Replies from: RobinZ, jimrandomh
comment by RobinZ · 2011-03-21T15:30:46.822Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Step 1: Sign up for cryonics.

Step 2: Sign up your friends for cryonics.

Step 3: Don't tell your target about cryonics.

Step 4: Wait.

Step 5: Profit!

comment by jimrandomh · 2011-03-21T16:40:48.064Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What do people think of "Planning a Rational Murder" as a discussion topic?

Very strongly opposed. Promoting rationalism on the question of whether to commit murder is fine (the answer is pretty much always no). Promoting rationalism on how to commit murder is bad, as in directly harmful to humanity; and if such a conversation started here, I would support deleting or sabotaging it.

Replies from: RobinZ, CuSithBell
comment by RobinZ · 2011-03-21T17:34:12.832Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

and if such a conversation started here, I would support deleting or sabotaging it.

Fun fact: my reply to CuSithBell was an intentional effort to sabotage this conversation before it began by reframing it as a joke.

Replies from: CuSithBell
comment by CuSithBell · 2011-03-21T17:40:21.325Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I interpreted the topic as a joke before I even joined in! I apologize if I did not make this sufficiently clear.

Replies from: RobinZ
comment by RobinZ · 2011-03-21T17:43:51.347Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah - I think it's safe to say that the illusion of transparency has struck again.

Replies from: CuSithBell
comment by CuSithBell · 2011-03-21T17:51:00.368Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh well. To be clear to future generations: generally speaking, murder is one of those things you shouldn't do even if you should.

Replies from: rabidchicken
comment by rabidchicken · 2011-03-22T05:06:12.981Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Unless, you REALLY want to.

Replies from: RobinZ
comment by RobinZ · 2011-03-22T05:24:14.290Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In which case you definitely shouldn't!

comment by CuSithBell · 2011-03-21T17:07:44.969Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I suggest your estimate of whether my post was intended to solicit murder advice was overly high.

Replies from: jimrandomh
comment by jimrandomh · 2011-03-21T17:17:24.253Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Actually, that wasn't my interpretation at all (that possibility didn't really cross my mind). I was thinking more of unintended audiences - ie, third parties who might find it from search engines.

Replies from: CuSithBell
comment by CuSithBell · 2011-03-21T17:20:16.923Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ah! That seems more sensible.

Replies from: rabidchicken
comment by rabidchicken · 2011-03-22T05:08:19.959Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would not be worried about people looking for instructions on how to murder someone nearly as much as I would be worried about officials who could find it.

Given our lack of experience or research, I do not think we could give very useful pointers. (I hope...)

comment by Alicorn · 2011-03-21T15:22:26.106Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What, no mention of the miracle that is hydrogen peroxide?

Replies from: NihilCredo
comment by NihilCredo · 2011-03-21T17:28:04.519Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Uhm, it's right there at the end of the first paragraph.

Replies from: Alicorn, Alicorn
comment by Alicorn · 2011-03-21T17:32:09.020Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My bad. Missed it.

comment by Alicorn · 2011-03-21T17:32:20.087Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My bad. Missed it.

comment by Psychohistorian · 2011-03-19T01:37:56.393Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don’t know how the LessWrong community would treat people like my friend, or whether introducing her to the Sequences would help. It’s not an experiment I want to try unless I have some concrete evidence that it will help.

I don't see much of a need for evidence before introducing someone to the sequences. I teach private test prep and will routinely refer my students to the sequences for reading practice. I sincerely believe it helps, but I'm highly confident I will never be able to obtain reliable evidence to that effect. I am quite confident, however, it does little or no harm.

So unless it'd be costly to get her to read the sequences, how could they hurt?

Replies from: MinibearRex
comment by MinibearRex · 2011-03-21T04:21:59.860Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

One obvious case would be this. If she has trouble trusting people already, learning a whole bunch of new problems about them might worsen it. On the other hand, she is a psych student, so I assume she already knows a lot of that stuff.

comment by rabidchicken · 2011-03-18T04:08:20.668Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Reading the sequences inspired me to test my beliefs, including my negative beliefs about humans that mostly stem from my relationship with my parents. Sometimes I discovered that my pessimism did not go away or got worse, but on average it receded, since I was so far below the LW norm already.

I don't know how this would specifically apply to someone who has been sexually abused. But If humans really are better than her cached beliefs, applying the methods of rationality to them should make her happier. There is very little concrete evidence when it comes to predicting human minds, but rationality should always lead you to a more logical conclusion based off of your priors.

comment by JGWeissman · 2011-03-18T04:18:23.197Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Every boyfriend is narcissistic or has borderline personality disorder.

This could be a result of privileging the hypothesis, considering these possibilities without enough evidence to properly suggest them, possibly because studying psychology makes them salient. An approach to getting this point across might be to show her An Intuitive Explanation of Bayes' Theorem, and really work through the examples of interpreting medical tests. Then apply that concept to diagnosing narcissism. Find out how frequent it is in the population, and how likely a narcissistic/normal person is to exhibit a given behavior. Explicitly tracking the evidence for (and against!) narcissism may help your roommate see that her boyfriends, like everyone else, occasionally display narcissistic behavior, but that does not make them narcissists.

Replies from: NancyLebovitz
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-03-18T04:38:33.850Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's possible, and it's also possible that she's getting involved with that sort of man, either because she's attracted to them or because they're attracted to her and she doesn't have the tools needed to turn them down.

Replies from: Jonathan_Graehl
comment by Jonathan_Graehl · 2011-03-18T08:01:08.824Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Both occurred to me. Your suggestion fits the conventional plot better. I have no direct experience myself, but I hear it in stories all the time.

Replies from: rysade
comment by rysade · 2011-03-18T10:09:17.303Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would NOT suggest analyzing either statistical evidence or assuming that she is perhaps right about her exes. The odds are of course not with her when we ask if she has had multiple boyfriends with borderline or narcissism. What we are more likely to find is that she has the same issues many of us here on this site do, which is that she is partially mind-blind and is taking shots in the dark as we all would if we were too close to the situation

comment by Jonathan_Graehl · 2011-03-18T07:59:48.542Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It’s not an experiment I want to try unless I have some concrete evidence that it will help.

Status quo bias.

I understand that you care about her, but there's no way recommending that she read about biases will harm her. It sounds like she already knows all that stuff, though, from how you describe her.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-03-18T06:05:57.024Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Still. A lot of things are hard. A lot of things are hard but possible. So far, I have zero examples of people who have used the methods of rationality, as separate from just knowledge, to help with the problems they have that most people don’t have...

LW has helped me articulate my intuitions and given me more confidence in them. These intuitions are usually about why an argument is wrong.

It's about how not to be stupid, how not to fail in certain ways. I don't have examples of things it has helped me do because it is never a necessary or sufficient condition for success.

In the rough equation luckskillperseverance=success, I think rationality is added to luck, making it (luck+rationality)skillperseverance=success. With luck one could avoid all pitfalls otherwise avoidable with rationality.

Replies from: handoflixue
comment by handoflixue · 2011-03-22T20:22:37.115Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's a very interesting insight, the idea that rationality and luck serve the same role, and can ostensibly be substituted for each other. I'm enjoying re-framing it as "learning rationality is learning to be lucky". Not sure if it's a useful insight, but definitely an interesting new perspective. Thank you :)