Give praise

post by toonalfrink · 2018-04-29T21:00:42.003Z · score: 143 (48 votes) · LW · GW · 78 comments

The dominant model about status in LW seems to be one of relative influence. Necessarily, it's zero-sum. So we throw up our hands and accept that half the community is just going to run a deficit.

Here's a different take: status in the sense of worth. Here's a set of things we like, or here's a set of problems for you to solve, and if you do, you will pass the bar and we will grant you personhood and take you seriously and allow you onto the ark when the world comes crumbling. Worth is positive-sum.

I think both models are useful, but only one of these models underlies the emotional need we call status. I think it's the latter.

Another assumption: humans are satisficers. Those that claim to the contrary have never been satisfied. An unsatisfied satisficer acts like a maximizer. I think that Maslov got pretty close with his hierarchy of needs. Not the specific set of needs, not necessarily their order, but the idea of humans working on one need at the time, until satisfaction, so that the next need comes up.

It seems to me that many of us are stuck at the status level, and I think getting past it makes us surely happier and plausibly more effective.

How is worth generated? Quite simply, by giving praise. You either find your behavior exceeding a standard that the community agreed on, or someone actually tells you you're doing well. The latter seems more powerful.

I've asked around, and it even seems to be considered "normal" in most (non-systematizing) communities to habitually give praise. It's even apparently something people regard as necessary for proper psychological health. But honestly, apart from volunteering at CFAR, I can't recall getting much praise for anything I've done for the community. As a result I never quite feel like I'm doing enough, edging on burnout a few times. Reminds me of pica. Does working on AI Safety ever get me the sense of worth I'm looking for, or should I give up?

So I'd like to suggest we try for Giving Praise as a rationalist virtue. It might just be a staple of group rationality.

78 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by ialdabaoth · 2018-04-30T01:37:06.068Z · score: 49 (20 votes) · LW · GW

That said, please give genuine and true praise, and please make sure that your praise correlates to real things.

If you praise someone for being hard-working and creative, and then two days later announce that you're looking for someone hard-working and creative to fill a position in your company, please don't turn down the person that you praised two days ago. It makes all further praise that you offer feel meaningless.

Basically, praise should be an *accurate signal* that you are awarding someone social capital.

Now that I've said that, I realize that I've said things like it before, and most rationalists seem to respond by *giving less praise*, instead of awarding more social capital. This seems tragic and a little cruel.

How about we award people way more social capital than we currently are, and then praise them in proportion to the social capital we're awarding?

comment by epiphi · 2018-04-30T04:08:57.051Z · score: 23 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I think sufficiently imprecise praise can even be net-negative for someone's worth, because their internal monologue might still be doubting or denying your praise. I wrote a post a few years ago on how to provide Specific Positivity:

With specific positivity, you try to give someone evidence that they should be praised, rather than praise itself. They don’t bristle or argue, because all you’ve given them is a description of your own experience. The recipient of your compliment can then use your descriptive evidence to compliment themselves. This is the goal, anyway- get them to feel good by recognizing the good they’ve done or been.

Compliments aren't necessarily easy, but I agree that they're worthwhile.

comment by Elo · 2018-04-30T10:43:26.707Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Very nvc to be specific and describe how the person has impacted you or helped you.

comment by toonalfrink · 2018-04-30T09:33:54.149Z · score: 20 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Wait let me make sure I understand you correctly. With “award social capital” you mean that we draw the conclusion that someone is worthy, and with “giving praise” you mean telling them about it. Correct? If so, then yes, I agree with you. The process I imagine is allowing ourselves to recognize the goodness of people, and relaying that goodness to them. For example, I feel that this new website turned out awesome, but I never told the makers. I should. I feel super grateful for all the volunteers for my project. These people are the MVPs. But I don’t think they know I feel this way, and I’m not sure others properly recognize their virtue. It’s not hard to see how awesome we all are, as long as you allow yourself to see it.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-04-30T02:50:34.720Z · score: 13 (7 votes) · LW · GW

This seems to imply that you think the current amount of “social capital” that people are being “awarded” is inaccurate (in the sense of being incommensurate with their achievements, or… something like that?). Is this, indeed, what you meant? And if so, on what do you base this?

comment by vedrfolnir · 2018-05-02T20:55:45.384Z · score: 13 (3 votes) · LW · GW
This seems to imply that you think the current amount of “social capital” that people are being “awarded” is inaccurate (in the sense of being incommensurate with their achievements, or… something like that?). Is this, indeed, what you meant? And if so, on what do you base this?

I'm not ialdabaoth, but "social capital isn't awarded commensurately with achievement" seems accurate.

We're more like a social group than a corporation. Corporations have well-defined goals, metrics, and so on that they can take into account when awarding people, and have incentive to keep morale high. Social groups have none of that, and instead reward people based on how shiny they are. It seems to me that we're much more willing to reward people for being shiny than for corporation-like achievements.

(Some of this is probably because social groups and corporations have different incentives on tap. You won't get more friends and become more attractive by building things, and you won't get a raise for having a shiny Tumblr brand. Then again, you can get praise for both -- although it'd be a little incongruous to be praised in a corporation for social-group stuff or vice versa.)

From where I'm standing, the incentives point strongly in the direction of social-group stuff rather than corporation stuff. Being shiny rather than building things. If we want more things to be built, the incentives have to change so more people decide they're better off building things. But this might be hard to do, at least in the case of building local things, because local things are less legible outside the locality than internet shininess is. (Probably also than IRL shininess -- gossip travels faster and draws a bigger audience than status reports.)

(Of course, different people have different levels of building ability and different levels of shininess. Maybe we could follow the meat/brains/class/etc. deal and talk about the RPG stats of "grit", "tech", and "shine". If people are just following social incentives, a marginal change in favor of building will move the line on the grit + tech vs. shine plot, but the people who don't build will still tend to be shinier than the people who do. Maybe we need an RPG stat of "care" to normalize against here. Whatever.)

It also seems to me that we're an unusually low-praise group, and that higher-praise subsets tend to be more socially inclined.

comment by toonalfrink · 2018-05-02T22:23:26.425Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

You seem to be coming from the premise that there is plenty of praise out there, just not in the right places. But the point of the post is that there just isn't enough praise out there. Gut-level appreciation, the thing I want people to have for me, isn't zero sum. They can have it for both building things and shiny blogs.

You also seem to assume that we should be using praise as an incentive. I'm on the fence about that. Maybe praise (or let's call it respect or personhood or appreciation here) should be the bottom level, and people can actually do things for their own worth.

I, for one, actually want things to be built regardless of social incentives, and I imagine being socially "satiated" will give me a lot more resources to actually allocate on building things (especially things that are hard to signal with).

Reminds me of project Hufflepuff. That's about getting people to do things that are good but hard to signal with, which is impossible if those people have a status deficit.

comment by ialdabaoth · 2018-04-30T04:12:19.914Z · score: 1 (17 votes) · LW · GW

This is, in fact, what I mean. And I do not trust you enough to bother providing evidence. I fully anticipate that any evidence I provide will be picked apart and used as a social weapon, either by you or by others. You haven't earned enough of my trust for me to even bother allowing you to earn my trust.

I'm letting you know this directly so that you don't waste effort playing a game with me that you're not currently in a position to win - it's intended as respect, and I hope you take it as such. (I'm not sure what I could do if you don't, though.)

comment by clone of saturn · 2018-04-30T06:01:22.338Z · score: 25 (7 votes) · LW · GW

This seems like an inauspicious start to our project of awarding each other more social capital.

comment by ialdabaoth · 2018-04-30T12:53:36.699Z · score: 19 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I am also currently in a personal 'praise deficit' / 'social capital deficit', wherein it feels from-the-inside that I've performed a lot of very hard work in order to provide community value, and achieved several somewhat impressive results, but have not received sufficient praise or social credit to have made the effort worthwhile, and have been socially pressured to stop asking for praise/social credit for past achievements. This seems to make it a lot harder to extend others 'trust'; it puts my brain in a resource-scarcity mode, which causes me to become more subconsciously zero-sum in my status/trust dealings with others.

comment by Elo · 2018-04-30T13:39:12.297Z · score: 5 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Which very hard work are you referring to?

comment by ialdabaoth · 2018-04-30T13:45:49.985Z · score: 19 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Hey. Do me a favor? Re-read this:

and have been socially pressured to stop asking for praise/social credit for past achievements.

Then think about what mindset I must be in to have said that. Then think about what you just asked me, and how I probably feel as a result. Think about the double bind I'm in - if I answer you, I expect to have my reasons picked apart and COST me, rather than GAIN me, the thing I most need right now - and if I don't answer you, I expect to be challenged for my non-answer, again COSTing me rather than GAINing me what I need. Could you have set up a different situation for me? I don't necessarily think you intended to put me here (although my current low-trust anxieties prevent me from totally discarding the hypothesis), but I do think you could have shown more empathy and modelling skill before asking it.

comment by toonalfrink · 2018-04-30T14:57:44.819Z · score: 10 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I don’t think elo is to be blamed for not empathizing enough before you made it as clear as you’re doing in this comment. I do think he could have been more tactful in his next reply. But oh well. I get your feel. You’re status-deficient and you cannot risk any more losses, so you’re clearly in a poverty trap. Your replies show a bias towards low trust (which is totally forgivable). Maybe Elo asked that question with the intention of giving you the recognition you probably deserve. But hey, I don’t ask of you to be able to overcome that bias, for I don’t hold it to be intentional. May I ask you: what would you need to get out of this trap? Perhaps you could share your work, and I would give it an honest evaluation, without neglecting the positive? Most evaluations are geared towards the negative because the negative is more actionable. I could focus on the positive instead, simply giving you an account of the impact I think you had, compare it to the counterfactual, and tell you how I feel about that difference. I’m thinking about writing a praise post after this one, simply randomly recounting successes and giving credit to people. Perhaps you would like to be included in that?

comment by ialdabaoth · 2018-04-30T15:20:59.909Z · score: 21 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I'm shaking as I try to figure out how to describe what I've done that's praiseworthy. Every thing I can think of, I am afraid of someone coming in and telling a story about how it actually was someone else who did the work, or how it had a downside or an externality that was actually worse than the value and I should be ashamed of having done it, or that it wasn't that impressive and I should be ashamed of thinking that it was praiseworthy.

I recognize that this is all psychological, but it currently seems insurmountable.

I'm sorry. I thought I could just make the base suggestion, that we couple praise to actual social capital, and have that be that. I didn't intend to take it in a personal direction. I realize this is all probably awkward.

comment by TurnTrout · 2018-04-30T16:55:26.574Z · score: 16 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I appreciate your making yourself vulnerable here. I feel that too often, people (myself included) omit relevant parts of their experience for social web / status maintenance reasons. If important parts of someone's experience are left out because it's too revealing to discuss, then they neglect a core aspect of their rationality training and miss an opportunity to grow from the ensuing discussion.

That is, if one only shares past accomplishments (and never discusses present difficulties), people aren't able to leverage the community at all and have to figure out everything on their own / via their existing social framework.

comment by toonalfrink · 2018-04-30T15:41:16.835Z · score: 6 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Nah, it's fine. Both because you're a good case study, and because helping you is valuable in itself.

Thank you for your honesty. There's a thing you did that is beyond expectation. I didn't know it got so bad, and knowing this validates my suspicion that it's important. Gives me a slight sense of appreciation :)

comment by ialdabaoth · 2018-04-30T15:50:05.742Z · score: 62 (19 votes) · LW · GW

Let me see if I can say things that I know I can back up, if I have to:

  • When a community member went crazy and ended up in jail, I was the first responder. I rallied and contacted other appropriate community members, gave them tasks (contact a lawyer, contact the family, contact the police, etc.), got the ball rolling, then organized the community to start a colloquium on managing mental health crises. My impression is that that colloquium has since stalled, and also that I was no longer welcome in it once "big name players" started to show interest in its proceedings.
  • When a community member was suicidal, I sat them down and processed them through the trauma they had experienced, and recontextualized it so that they could start healing, while everyone else performed the pallative and crisis care.
  • Same, with a different suicidal community member.
  • I was the person responsible for Val's Kenshou experience.
  • I revitalized Quixey's development pipeline, dropping the entire debugging cycle from 6 hours per bug to approximately 10 minutes per bug, while also installing the tracking systems to PROVE that it was at 6 hours per bug and then dropped to 10 minutes.
  • I created a rationalist Burning Man camp from scratch, and taught two dozen people to forge metal, erect structures, wire electronics, install solar panel systems, and survive for two weeks in the desert.
  • I have run the operations for two and a half-ish community workshops, although my involvement and usefulness is likely to be debated by others (I believe for status reasons).
  • I wrote significant portions of code for the commercial game 'Kerbal Space Program' - primarily the reentry physics, and the mod cfg parser.
comment by toonalfrink · 2018-04-30T16:12:35.921Z · score: 20 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Lol, seriously? That's ridiculous :p I was expecting some boring stuff, but you're a madman.

Why do people tell you to stop asking for recognition?

This pattern-matches to "person who somehow doesn't recognize praise when it's given, or discounts it", but correct me if I'm wrong. If I'm right, I won't draw the conclusion you're doing it wrong. I would put most credence on that others are doing it wrong, because I've seen this happen before.

comment by ialdabaoth · 2018-04-30T16:19:22.428Z · score: 27 (7 votes) · LW · GW

It's mostly that, as I mentioned in my first response, what praises I get are empty. I can't broker them into job offers/recommendations, or unalloyed recommendations to potential investors or sponsors, or potential dating partners, or the like. Everyone seems to say "Brent is cool, but..." - and after awhile, I've developed enough mistrust and bitterness and neurosis that the 'but' would be justified, if not for other people with similar levels of bitterness or neurosis or what-have-you that seem to be able to broker their successes more... successfully.

I suppose my problem is that for me, praise is a predictor of resource-access, because I'm about *DOING* things - and then later, when I pull on those resources and they actually aren't available, that can be devastating. Imagine what would happen if 15 people tell me that I'm a trustworthy person to lead a crisis, and then someone shows up needing my help with a big crisis, and none of those 15 people show up to follow.

What happens is, I try to manage by myself and wind up exhausting and traumatizing myself, get it mostly done anyways, and then suffer the insult of people telling me how I could have done better because they're judging my results against people who actually had teams who would follow them. And then the "mediocre" success of my solo results is used to justify why the teams don't show up next time.

I've only managed to solve this when literal lives are on the line, or by pouring tens of thousands of my own dollars into other people just so they'd come along and follow me, or by pouring months into giving them literal transformative experiences. Otherwise I get a small amount of empty praise, but no buy-in.

And I'm not saying any of this to condemn ANYONE who hasn't given me the buy-in; I'm just documenting the problem as a step towards finding a solution. I try very hard to hold no real bitterness, here.

comment by ChristianKl · 2018-05-01T00:52:58.853Z · score: 9 (2 votes) · LW · GW

There are two hypothesis here:

1) The amount of social capital that's allocated in this community is too little.

2) Social capital is allocated for the wrong reasons.

I'm not sure what case you are making. When it comes to 1) there are communities where job offers are given based on the social capital that the person earned in the past. There are other communities where the job offers are rather given based on the skills as they are assessed in an interview.

I would expect our community to put less weight on social capital acquired in the past when given job offers then most other communities. It's debatable whether that's good or bad.

When it comes to 2) it might be that social capital is allocated based on a variable like personal charisma instead being allocated for past accomplishments. If that's the case that would be more problematic.

Are you arguing 1) or 2) or do you see something else?

comment by ialdabaoth · 2018-05-01T01:11:30.496Z · score: 4 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm claiming 1) and 2) together, in point of fact. I've been claiming this for awhile.

comment by toonalfrink · 2018-04-30T17:37:40.921Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Ah yes. So here we might have the connection to the first model I mentioned: status as the amount of resources you can expect to leverage if you need it. This is still different from relative influence in an important way, because it's about absolute influence, which is positive-sum, and plausibly the actual thing we want.

I have experienced something similar a few years ago in my freshman year of uni. It was a time when I felt very worthy, but then when I had a burnout nonetheless, none of that status amounted to any help. It made me a lot more suspicious and a lot more needy. I haven't recovered since.

So this whole thing seems to connect to the idea of Hufflepuff virtue, right? I hadn't realized these people were ahead of me.

comment by Elo · 2018-05-01T06:42:39.171Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · LW · GW

yep. As I guessed. I had no idea about any of them. You expect praise (you would like praise), it needs to be clear that you did things. News did not travel to my ears. By my fault or by yours. I did not know about these things.

Maybe that speaks to a need for a new way to advertise such things. Experimental use of the Open Thread [LW · GW] is encouraged.

comment by philh · 2018-05-01T12:25:54.172Z · score: 4 (1 votes) · LW · GW

On a separate note, for a while we had bragging threads, and I liked those.

comment by philh · 2018-05-01T12:22:55.446Z · score: 4 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You're not in Berkeley, so it's worth asking whether "Elo hadn't heard about these things" correlates meaningfully with anything particularly relevant here.

I mean, there's a plausible story where the fact you haven't heard about them is part of the problem: if someone else had done the things, maybe you would have heard without them having to make a deliberate effort to seek praise.

It also sounds like part of the problem is that even when people praise Brent, when they have the option of giving him support, job offers, etc. they don't, and so praise by itself feels meaningless. So, even if you had heard of these things, what could you offer?

comment by Elo · 2018-05-01T18:31:40.991Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I also don't know what he wants. And maybe he can answer. What does he want?

comment by ChristianKl · 2018-05-03T05:46:34.539Z · score: 5 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not living in the Bay Area either or know I'm personally but given my mental model of him from reading what he writes here, probably not comments like this that pressure him into disclosing more.

comment by ialdabaoth · 2018-05-03T10:44:35.588Z · score: 4 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This thread was pulled from the frontpage, in part, because I took it non-meta. Let this be a lesson.

comment by Elo · 2018-04-30T14:03:57.584Z · score: -3 (11 votes) · LW · GW

You are an adult and can do what you like. That includes answering, not answering and complaining about doing both or neither.

You are the one who suggested yourself into a corner. You are responsible for what you choose to do or say next.

comment by ialdabaoth · 2018-04-30T14:08:38.615Z · score: 11 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I was hoping that my suggestion would stand on its own merits. To be honest, I wasn't expecting some kind of Spanish Inquisition.

comment by ialdabaoth · 2018-04-30T06:38:18.746Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah. The irony was intended. I am trying to be explicit about this.

comment by namespace (ingres) · 2018-04-30T04:41:15.820Z · score: 10 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I notice this is a fairly consistent problem with the ratsphere in general. The problems which are most important to discuss, are those which touch on socially controversial issues that are difficult to prove a position on. They end up dominated by discussions of one persons experience against someone else's, which ends up translating into one identity versus another, which ends up translating into "highest status individual or most popular position wins". As a consequence I had probably the same sequence of thoughts you did on how to prove the point, and then just gave up.

As a side note however: You observe people respond to you calling their bluff by handing out less praise rather than giving out more social capital. Notice that words are cheap and genuine social capital is expensive. A general drought of social capital implies a low trust or low resource environment, perhaps one where only the opinion of the most well respected members is taken seriously. If people are stingy with their respect that's going to create interesting downstream effects which may or may not look like what you actually observe with the community.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-04-30T05:06:21.464Z · score: 12 (4 votes) · LW · GW

So, here’s a general comment, not specific to the topic in the OP (I bring this up as a riff on your comment).

I sometimes have conversations like this:

Person: [makes some cryptic or strange-sounding claim]

Me: Wait… what? What do you mean by that? Explain what you’re saying, exactly.

Person: Ugh, it’s too hard to prove what I’m saying, I don’t have enough evidence to prove it to you, and I bet you’ll pick apart my evidence, and you won’t be convinced, even though it’s true, but I don’t even want to say anything more because what’s the point since you won’t believe me anyway …

Me, interrupting: Wait, stop. All I’m asking is, what are you saying? Forget proving it, forget evidence, forget convincing me—I just want to understand what your claim is!

I find such responses extremely frustrating, and, to be honest, somewhat rude. I strive to avoid them, for my part.

Just today, I had a conversation with a friend, toward the end of which I ended up making a surprising—to him—claim. I made very sure to state my claim clearly and unambiguously—clearly enough that my friend could understand exactly what I was saying, and could be quite sure that my claim sounded totally absurd, weird, counterintuitive, and more or less obviously wrong. I agreed with him that my claim sounded exactly that weird, acknowledged that it required serious justification, but demurred on providing it at the time (because I had to leave, and also because I wanted to formulate my thoughts properly before explaining the reasons behind what I said). I think that is what respectful conversation requires.

Or, as Eliezer put it—whatever it is you’re claiming, say it loud [LW · GW]. If you can’t, at this time, defend your claim, fine. Say that, and make it clear. But demurring when asked to explain what you are saying ought to be beneath the honor of anyone aspiring to the name of “rationalist”.

comment by Nick_Tarleton · 2018-05-01T00:00:34.731Z · score: 19 (7 votes) · LW · GW

My consistent experience of your comments is one of people giving [what I believe to be, believing that I understand what they're saying] the actual best explanations they can, and you not understanding things that I believe to be comprehensible and continuing to ask for explanations and evidence that, on their model, they shouldn't necessarily be able to provide [LW · GW].

(to be upfront, I may not be interested in explaining this further, due to limited time and investment + it seeming like a large tangent to this thread)

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-05-01T00:02:54.835Z · score: 1 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I never said that I was talking about conversations here on LessWrong. I do interact with people—even “rationalists”!—elsewhere.

comment by ChristianKl · 2018-05-02T14:43:27.734Z · score: 5 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Especially in face-to-face communications whether or not someone takes a question for clarification as an attack or whether they don't depends on the emotional undercurrent.

If you ask from the point of curiosity about what the other person means, few people take that as an attack. If you ask from the point of being angry because they aren't clear many people do.

comment by ialdabaoth · 2018-04-30T05:38:07.169Z · score: 4 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Uh, what?

This seems to imply that you think the current amount of “social capital” that people are being “awarded” is inaccurate (in the sense of being incommensurate with their achievements, or… something like that?). Is this, indeed, what you meant?

This is the "what are you saying" part. I directly answered this: yes, I'm saying that social capital awards are horribly miscalibrated.

And if so, on what do you base this?

This isn't a "what are you saying" question, and is the thing I was addressing when I said I didn't want to engage.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-04-30T05:41:37.012Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I… wasn’t responding to your comment, with any of that.

I mean, I (a) posted in reply to Hypothesis, not to you, and (b) made it clear in the first line of my reply that it was a general comment, riffing off what he said, not something specific to what’s being discussed here.

I didn’t think I needed more specific disclaimers than that? It seems like you’re taking my comments personally, when they’re not intended that way at all; I’m not sure why that is.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-04-30T04:50:01.987Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Uh, I think you might have read things into my comment that weren’t there. I’m not really sure why that would be, but I definitely don’t know what you’re talking about, with the trust stuff.

Maybe you thought I was asking about, or talking about, or referring to, some sort of specific things involving specific people…? Or something? Or was your original comment actually a veiled commentary on specific things/people…? I’m really not clued in to any of that (whatever it is), so I think your comment might be misplaced.

Anyway, I guess you’ve answered half of my question, which is better than nothing, so, thanks.

comment by Dagon · 2018-04-30T19:40:11.533Z · score: 3 (4 votes) · LW · GW
How about we award people way more social capital than we currently are, and then praise them in proportion to the social capital we're awarding?

Wait. The social capital metaphor is exactly the opposite of what's recommended here. Capital is zero-sum, and any unit of capital can only do one thing at a time. The thesis here seems to be that praise and worth are _NOT_ zero-sum, and should be given freely, without comparison to others and without the specificity of an accurate assessment.

comment by toonalfrink · 2018-05-01T01:48:13.298Z · score: 6 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Wait, no. I don’t think social capital is zero-sum. People can spend more resources on other people. I can set aside 10 minutes to give someone advice, that I could have used on playing games instead (random example). Here net social capital increased.

comment by ChristianKl · 2018-05-02T14:07:04.412Z · score: 18 (4 votes) · LW · GW

In many cases I don't think giving someone 10 minutes of advice is a matter of social capital. I think most people in this community are perfectly willing to spend 10 minutes giving another rationalist with low status in this community 10 minutes of advice.

The problem with giving advice is rather about assessing whether a person wants to get advice and whether or not you are in a good position to give advice.

Practically giving advice to low status people often even feels easier than giving it to high status people.

For the record, I'm willing to give any person who counts themselves as a member of our community who wants advice 15 minutes of advice via Skype.

comment by Elo · 2018-05-02T17:59:13.950Z · score: 10 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Same willingness for 15mins. I know a lot about relationships, enlightenment, management, learning, and psychology. Pm me.

comment by toonalfrink · 2018-05-02T22:37:38.637Z · score: 4 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Just an example though.

comment by ChristianKl · 2018-05-03T05:43:07.190Z · score: 9 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The point is that the example doesn't work. If you think there's something to the point you are making it would make sense to provide an example that does.

Given that you broad the example it also suggests that your mental model of when advice is given might need updating.

comment by toonalfrink · 2018-05-04T10:21:46.024Z · score: 10 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I thought generating examples would be trivial.

Someone cooks for another, instead of not doing that. Net social capital increased. Right?

comment by Charlie Steiner · 2018-04-29T22:36:47.840Z · score: 28 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I've definitely noticed, in the very slow process of improving my social skills, that people (in general, and me in particular) don't give nearly enough compliments or praise relative to the optimum. Past me just didn't notice when there was a good place for a compliment - the skill that I improved was fundamentally a noticing skill. I also benefited a lot from understanding the psychological idea of validation - people want validation, not just praise for any old thing.

Re: working on a specific thing. I have more or less accepted that the amount of praise one gets will not fit one's needs. There's a fame effect that causes a fat tail, and no particular reward for merely trying, which I think is necessary given the number of non-experts and how easy it is to produce bad work without noticing it. I definitely have to work on intrinsic motivation.

comment by zulupineapple · 2018-05-02T09:44:40.310Z · score: 6 (2 votes) · LW · GW
The dominant model about status in LW seems to be one of relative influence.

I don't understand what that means. I understand that the core of your post is "giving more praise would be good", and this quote isn't the point, but I don't understand it. What is a "status model"? Is it something LW inherently has, or something that each user has separately? "Social status", is a sort of score assigned to each person, that we mostly agree on (that's what makes is social). So I can say "EY has high status in LW". But what is a status model and how is it "of relative influence"? Saying "zero-sum" means that for someone to gain status someone else needs to lose it, but I don't know if I have seen that happen. More generally, in my mind "status" is fairly constant and giving it cheaply would sort of miss the point of having it, but maybe I don't really understand what it's for to begin with.

There is also an issue of evaluating P("user X is full of shit"), which is somewhat related, and maybe some of us (e.g. me) aren't charitable enough. But then that's not a problem solved by praise.

comment by Ravi D'Elia (ravi-d-elia) · 2019-09-24T21:29:32.324Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know if I am a satisficer when it comes to social needs. I only ever seem to be more desperate for social connection, even when I am completely overwhelmed by the amount of time I spend with other people. Perhaps I have higher social need than my introverted self can handle?

comment by toonalfrink · 2019-09-29T12:13:24.733Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

To me this pattern-matches to something else. The thing we need isn't just interaction, but "authentic" interaction. Let me unpack that:

An interaction is authentic when there is no inhibition involved. You're not hiding your true feelings and/or thoughts. You're not playing a role, or putting on a mask. You're just allowing your system 1 to do the interaction all by itself.

Hardly any interaction is 100% authentic. Even if you don't feel like you're inhibiting yourself, you most likely are. Still, there's a very important difference between 90% and 10% inhibition. An interaction is only as valuable as it's authenticity.

(on a side note, this is why I'm worried about today's tendency for people to forbid some forms of speech)

comment by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2018-04-30T22:09:13.256Z · score: 1 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Just a mod note that I've moved this post back to your personal blog, Toon, as the frontpage isn't for meta discussion [LW · GW] of the site or the communities around it.

[Edit] Thanks all for letting me know this mod action seemed confusing/wrong; I've written a (brief) further explanation in Meta here [LW · GW].

And also my apologies - as Oli said, we'll not be as responsive at the moment due to some other commitments that will conclude in the next one or two months.

comment by ialdabaoth · 2018-05-01T00:09:53.314Z · score: 24 (12 votes) · LW · GW

This isn't just about the site or the communities around it. This is about *how we orient towards accomplishment*. Please move the post back.

comment by Elo · 2018-05-01T06:45:43.049Z · score: 9 (2 votes) · LW · GW

How do I lodge my disagreement down the "correct pathway"? I am against this moderation action.

comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2018-05-01T08:13:31.555Z · score: 6 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thread on meta seems best. I am definitely interested in a broader discussion around this, though note that both me and Ben are currently less available for LessWrong stuff than usual due to some other commitments, so we might take a bit longer to respond to things. I will be back full time in two weeks at which point I am happy to put in a bunch of time explaining my thoughts on the frontpage guidelines and hash things out properly. I will try my best to respond anyways in the meantime, but can’t promise as much as usual.

On a process level, it’s probably best to propose a set of concrete and small changes to the frontpage guidelines, or make a principled argument against the current vision behind the frontpage. This definitely isn’t the kind of post we most wanted to avoid having on the frontpage, but it’s pretty clearly covered by our current guidelines, so if we want to be consistent it seemed best to move off the frontpage. If we decide to move it back, we probably want to adjust our frontpage guidelines in some principled manner.

comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2018-05-01T08:24:56.034Z · score: 16 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Note that there definitely is a version of this post that fits well on the frontpage, based on our current guidelines. I.e, one that focuses on the general lessons of giving praise, and isn’t framed in a way that makes the discussion on the post inevitably about dynamics of the rationalist community. I don’t think discussing the dynamics of the rationalist community is unimportant, it’s just something that we are explicitly trying to avoid trying to broadcast to people who don’t want to get entangled with all the local social stuff, and something that should be in a different bucket than the frontpage content.

comment by ialdabaoth · 2018-05-03T10:19:45.282Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Could you use some help, so you aren't so stretched thin?

comment by Elo · 2018-04-30T02:28:53.480Z · score: 1 (4 votes) · LW · GW

It's coming. We need to get more skilled at our rationality first. The more we can break new ground, the more we can see others for the amazing work they do and recognise their progress.

comment by toonalfrink · 2018-04-30T11:58:22.637Z · score: 18 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I think your standards are too high, because you only seem to be willing to recognize results that are extraordinary. I think for everyone to get their share of social capital, there should be an "ordinary" standard that is relatively easy to achieve. Like, a set of virtues like honesty and effort and consideration. We want to consider most people worthy most of the time.

comment by Elo · 2018-04-30T13:37:17.551Z · score: -24 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Worthy is not receiving heavy downvotes.

Ordinary need not be rewarded. We all have access to ordinary.

comment by Nick_Tarleton · 2018-05-01T00:06:37.500Z · score: 30 (7 votes) · LW · GW

This is simply instrumentally wrong, at least for most people in most environments. Maybe people and an environment could be shaped so that this was a good strategy, but the shaping would actually have to be done and it's not clear what the advantage would be.

comment by Screwtape · 2018-04-30T14:53:19.800Z · score: 19 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Ordinary need not get lots of upvotes- I think I agree with you in that- but "not bad" shouldn't be downvoted. More germanely, I think "better than average" is worth rewarding with a complement if you can catch it in the moment.

Some years ago I started teaching a handful of kids from my community basic rationality skills. The first thing I taught them was probability, drawing cards with and without replacement and trying to build up an idea of what statistics meant, and I clearly remember praising them when they realized that if 60% of the cards are red and 40% are blue, you always guess that the next card will be red instead of guessing red most of the time and blue some of the time. A couple of weekends ago my roommate (who is usually a couch potato) asked if it was okay if they went with me when I was heading out for a walk, and after we got back I told them it was nice to have company and that walking with them was fun, because I want them to do that more often.

When somebody does something you wish people would do, I think a quick complement or piece of praise is a fine way to <strike> classically condition your friends and family</strike> make them feel good about it. I would clearly distinguish "You're the best writer!" from "you're really good at writing!" from "I liked this thing you wrote, particularly this piece." The first is the greatest complement from a literal, absolute level, but the last is the one that people seem to feel most and is also true more often.

comment by toonalfrink · 2018-04-30T15:53:59.010Z · score: 11 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Yup. Most compliments are recognizably fake. It takes more than a few words to give someone a sense of worth. You have to actually believe they are worthy.

And that's only possible if your standards are reasonable. I believe there should be a set of traits that most of us could achieve (with some effort), that we hold to be sufficient for worthiness. I think our current set of standards is largely inherited from Eliezer's writings, who derived them from what he held to be necessary to fix AI. Some of those standards might be simply too high to achieve.

And then of course the question becomes: which achievable standards could lead us to fixing AI, or at least maximizing our chance to do so?

comment by Screwtape · 2018-04-30T18:02:05.163Z · score: 20 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Hrm. I find myself wanting to disagree with this comment while agreeing with your original post. I think there's three distinct levels worth thinking about.

There's worthiness as in "self-worth" or "worth helping." The world is probably better if the bulk majority of people have this, and I have heard people express the idea that every human is worthwhile in this sense. That's not to say me or you can't prioritize who we care about, but "such and such people aren't worth the air they breath" is a dangerous line of reasoning. Complements aren't particularly useful here, as "You can use language, therefore your existence is positive" can frankly come off as a backhanded insult of sorts, since that's a really low bar.

There are correct steps in the right directions well*, including most personal growth and including hill climbing towards better states. This is the place I think complements are best deployed; an adult human taking a ten minute walk outside is better than that human sitting on the couch watching reruns. (I recognize I'm making a value claim there that may not be globally correct.) Guessing "red" all the time in the probability question above is better than guessing "red" 60% of the time and guessing "blue" 40% of the time. Progress is worth appreciating, both on the personal level ("hey, congrats on beating your mile-run time!") and on the group level (I watched a time-lapse map of malaria cases in a room full of EAs recently, and I am kinda disappointed that nobody cheered.) It doesn't even have to be a new achievement! In martial arts, I eventually reached the point where every other session the instructor would nod and say "good stance" before moving on. This never stopped feeling good to hear, and it kept the basics in my mind even as I moved on to more advanced steps.

Then there's being correct on an absolute scale. The kind of rightness that involves local validity and correct premises, the kind that gets measured against the real world and succeeds. A successful rocket launch, a healthy patient after surgery, an AI that does what we meant and not what we said. The universe does not grade on a curve and gives no awards for effort. I think if we as aspiring rationalists lose sight of this, then we will eventually go astray no matter how good we are at the first two*. Complements here are rare, but powerful.

My suggested heuristic for the community would be to complement someone when you know them and see them advance along the path, or when they do something which helps you advance*. I also offer complements when someone does something I want them and/or others to do more of even if it is not novel, and I suspect that this kind of complement is what you are seeking to encourage; if so, then we are in agreement. "Good stance" is important to hear, as is "good job updating" and even "hey, good job organizing the meet up yesterday! I think you pretty good moderating, you jumped in at the right moment when me and Bob were getting derailed." Praise for getting things right, with the promise of more encouragement as we climb higher.

*To be clear, I don't think there's a single linear ladder we climb straight up from ignorance to superrationality. There are probably multiple paths to the summit, and there may well be more than one peak. That's a different topic however.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-04-30T18:24:26.944Z · score: 26 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I think this comment is more correct than not, so take the following as additions rather than disagreements per se:

First, the third case you mention—what you call “being correct on an absolute scale”. I think a more natural way to describe such things is simply “accomplishing tangible goals”, “getting things done”, “succeeding at tasks”, or something along these lines. (That is what we’re talking about, yes?)

More to the point, I think that to speak of “compliments” in such cases is to somewhat miss the point. After all, the outcome of your effort, in such scenarios—that is, the actual goal that was accomplished, the actual task completed, etc.—is good (valuable, beneficial, worthwhile, etc.), separately from the fact that you accomplished it. The accomplishment, result, etc., is an objectively verifiable good that has been created, which has whatever value it has regardless of what anyone says or thinks about it—whereas the notion of “compliment” implies that the worth of one’s actions are up to the complimenter to determine.

So if someone were to compliment me for creating something, doing something that needed to be done, or otherwise creating value, it would be slightly insulting; is this person suggesting that the value of what I made or did is determined by their evaluation of it? A compliment is aimed at a person, which is the wrong focus here; the right focus is the creation, or the result, or whatever.

No, the relevant concept here, I think, is not complimenting but recognition. When I make something of value, or do something useful, what I want isn’t for people to evaluate me, and to judge me positively for my actions; it’s to recognize that what I have done or made has value, and to credit me for that value. (Side note: Eric Raymond’s essay “Homesteading the Noosphere” explores the role of this desire in creating the “reputation economy” on which the free software movement is based.)

(One important distinction is that recognition—a.k.a. credit—is generally seen as being owed; we have a notion that recognition is something that creators, or those responsible for getting things done, deserve to be recognized for it; this is, of course, not the case for compliments, the giving of which is, at most, supererogatory.)

(comment snipped for length and clarity of discussion threading)

comment by toonalfrink · 2018-05-01T02:05:18.686Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yes. This. Very much this. I get a sense that recognition, as opposed to positive judgment, is more durable. It’s not just that you did a good thing, it’s that the thing you did is a reflection of your good character, and we expect you to do more good things, and we want to keep you around and support you.

comment by ialdabaoth · 2018-05-01T02:44:04.716Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · LW · GW

YES. This.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-05-01T13:00:27.691Z · score: 5 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I hate to contradict someone when they’re agreeing with me, but… it seems like I didn’t get my point across very well. What you describe is actually the opposite of what I meant by “recognition”.

… I am at a loss as to how to better explain my point, however. Perhaps a brief self-quote:

When I make something of value, or do something useful, what I want isn’t for people to evaluate me, and to judge me positively for my actions; it’s to recognize that what I have done or made has value, and to credit me for that value.

“It’s not just that you did a good thing, it’s that the thing you did is a reflection of your good character” is the diametric opposite of that!

comment by toonalfrink · 2018-05-01T15:12:54.256Z · score: 4 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Huh. Okay. So it's not about recognizing your worth, but about recognizing the worth of your work, and associating that work with you. Does that capture it better?

But that's not far from recognizing that good work can be expected from you, which is the thing you actually game-theoretically want, right? That's what I mean with "good character", in the sense that the community is incentivized to support you and invest in you.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-05-01T15:57:00.652Z · score: 5 (1 votes) · LW · GW

So it’s not about recognizing your worth, but about recognizing the worth of your work, and associating that work with you. Does that capture it better?

That’s it exactly, yes.

But that’s not far from recognizing that good work can be expected from you, which is the thing you actually game-theoretically want, right?

Well, that’s as may be. In my view, it’s important to cleanly separate these concerns, though. Conflating them gets you into the territory of people evaluating one another on fuzzy personal criteria, holistic “character judgments”, etc., etc. That’s not a good road to go down (as this discussion reminds us—and as we might also recall from, e.g., the work of Robyn Dawes).

The ethos I am defending, in other words, is “my work speaks for itself”. Don’t evaluate me—evaluate what I have done (or made, accomplished, etc.). Since you need not take my character into account when doing so, there is a strong and important sense in which evaluation of my work is objective. (And, of course, that it was I who did the work is simply a verifiable empirical fact, on which no debate is needed or possible.)

I insist on this point not out of a desire to be pedantic, but because I really do consider it a critical norm for any healthy, productive society, subculture, etc.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-05-01T15:59:43.669Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Edit: On the subject of “what I game-theoretically want”:

Edit2: Whoops, I hit the wrong button and posted this as a reply to myself instead of an edit. Could a moderator please move this comment up one level (i.e., make it a reply to toonalfrink)?

A norm that one’s work is evaluated, rather than one’s character, incentivizes people to do good work. A norm that one’s character is evaluated (with one’s work being only a component of this evaluation—if, perhaps, an important one) incentivizes one to ensure that one’s character is judged highly. If what we (collectively) want is for people to do good work, then it should be obvious that the latter norm causes the “good work” goal to be instantly Goodharted.

comment by toonalfrink · 2018-05-02T22:36:00.463Z · score: 4 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Hm.

I don't think the former is free from Goodharting either. My sense of a good community is one where we get the character judgment out of the way from the start. So indeed "people evaluating one another on fuzzy personal criteria". In the sense of "hey we like you for the things about you you can't change even if you tried". So personal value is secured, meaning that the person can actually start to pursue the things they value truly for their own sake.

As I said in other places: If I got all of my needs out of the way, I would still work on AI Safety (which I value for it's own sake), and have a lot more cognitive bandwidth to allocate to it too. All of which is now going to securing my worth. Which is essentially Goodharting, since I'm incentivized to skew everything I do to things that can be easily used for signaling.

An unsatisfied satisficer is a maximizer. I'm maximizing my status, and the useful work I'm doing is only a side effect. That doesn't seem like a good thing. Especially with a security mindset.

comment by clone of saturn · 2018-05-03T01:09:00.676Z · score: 4 (1 votes) · LW · GW

How should we evaluate someone who is trying something they haven't done before? If it's by looking at how often they seem to succeed in general, that seems hard to distinguish from a "holistic character judgment."

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-05-03T01:52:45.580Z · score: 5 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Why do we need to evaluate them?

comment by clone of saturn · 2018-05-03T02:08:38.756Z · score: 4 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Allocation of resources, attention, affiliation, and so on.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-05-03T02:27:38.940Z · score: 5 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It seems to me that these are specific purposes, and we can make specific predictions for each of them. Even if we combine them into some sort of holistic judgment (which I think is worth trying to avoid, when possible, but may be unavoidable in some cases), we ought nonetheless to do that only after we have, at our disposal, the cleanly separate evaluations of a person’s work (with which we have properly credited them).

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-04-30T18:35:49.263Z · score: 13 (3 votes) · LW · GW

(continuation of sibling comment [LW · GW])

Second, I think there’s a sense of “worth” which you have left off, and it’s quite an important one. This is the notion of worth to someone. (This Cracked article frames the notion particularly starkly.)

Note that neither universal worth (in the “all people deserve love / dignity / etc.” sense), nor personal accomplishment (“I did 100 push-ups!”), nor absolute accomplishment (“I successfully launched a rocket”), capture this sense of “worth”. It’s not the case that all people are equally valuable to any given person or people; your personal accomplishments—while not entirely uncorrelated with your value to others—are largely unlinked therefrom; and while absolute accomplishments are, indeed, likely to be of value to someone (though there are notable exceptions even here), they may not be of value to the specific someones you care about, or want to impress, or desire recognition from, etc.

And the fact is that people are moved to give compliments, just as they are moved to do most anything else, by what they care about, what is of value to them, what they feel serves their goals, needs, plans, etc.

All of these are simply facts about the world—“is” statements, not “oughts”. Yet without a doubt there is a temptation, for some folks, to read what I’m saying as “suck it up; if you’re not valuable to others, they won’t compliment you, not matter how ‘deserving’ you may be in whatever way you feel is relevant”. That is not my intent. In fact, the policy I would recommend (and the one I follow in my own life) is, in many ways, the inverse of that harsh reply. But we have to recognize the facts before we can do anything about them.

comment by namespace (ingres) · 2018-04-30T04:11:04.265Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

We need to get more skilled at our rationality first.

The fact that I'm not entirely sure what you mean when you say this is quite damning. What would it even mean for people to become 'more skilled at rationality'? Like, concretely. How would you measure it?

comment by Elo · 2018-04-30T10:49:32.286Z · score: 2 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I know it when I see it. I know when someone is miles ahead of me and I get surprised that there are things so well documented that I can easily absorb into my life.

Surprise is hard to measure but not impossible. "impressed" is another hard to measure but not important.

I suppose if pageviews count were public that would be feedback. Independent of stated compliments.

The other thing that is obvious is comment count. While not always a good thing, comments are information that a discussion is present.