post by Unreal · 2019-03-26T22:49:37.402Z · score: 68 (25 votes) · LW · GW · 38 comments


  Focused attention
  Being with what is
  More thoughts on Dependability
  How do you train Dependability?

I have become very, very interested in developing a skill that I call Dependability.

I believe the skill exists on a spectrum, and you can have less or more of it. It’s not a binary where you either have it or you don’t.

I believe this skill can be trained on purpose.

I will briefly describe each attribute that makes up the overall skill.

( All the examples are made up. Also, assume that the examples are only talking about endorsed actions and goals. )


To have a vision of a skill or a desirable end state and then be able to strive with deliberate effort towards making that vision a reality.

Ex1: I see a dance routine on YouTube that I think would be awesome if I could perform myself. I’ve never done anything like this before, and I’m somewhat self-conscious or skeptical of how likely I am to succeed. Regardless, I take concrete steps towards learning it (study the video, practice the moves that I see, repeat for many days until I’ve achieved competency at performing the dance). There is some possibility I fail for whatever reason, but this doesn’t stop me from giving it my full effort for at least a week.

Ex2: There’s a job that I really want. I’m unclear about what steps I need to take to acquire the job, and I’m not sure I’m qualified. I research what kinds of skills and traits are desirable in the job by asking people, Googling, and looking through applications. (I am more encouraged than not by this initial research.) I sign up for workshops and classes that will give me relevant training. I read books. I practice in my free time. I make useful connections / network. I build whatever reputational capital seems useful via blogging, social media, in-person meetings, running events. I apply for the job. If I fail, I figure out what needs work, fix it, and try again until I obtain the position.


To form an intention to do something (generally on a longer time scale), be able to say it out loud to someone else, and then be certain it will happen one way or another, barring extreme circumstance.

Ex1: I commit myself via marriage to another person and promise that I will try everything to make the relationship work before giving up on it. I say it out loud as a vow to the other person in a marriage ceremony, in front of a bunch of people. Then I proceed to actually attempt to get as close to 100% chance of creating a permanent relationship situation with this person, using all the tools at my disposal.

Ex2: I tell someone that I will be there for them in times of emergency or distress, if they ask. I tell them I will make it a priority to me, over whatever else is going on in my life. A year or two later (possibly with very little contact with this person otherwise), they call me and ask for my help. I put everything aside and create a plan to make my way to them and provide my assistance.


To finish projects that you start, to not give up prematurely, to not lose the wind in your sails out of boredom, lack of short-term incentive or immediate reward, lack of encouragement, or feelings of uncertainty and fear.

Here’s an example of what it looks like to NOT have follow-through: I want to write a novel, but every time I start, I lose interest or momentum after initial drafting and planning. Maybe I manage to build the world, create characters, plan out a plot, but then I get to the actual writing, and I fail to write more than a few chapters. Or maybe I loosen the requirements and decide I don’t need to plan everything out in advance, and I just start writing, but I lose steam midway through. I know in my heart that I will never be able to finish it (at least, without some drastic change).

Having follow-through means having the ability to finish the novel to completion. It is somehow missing from the person I’ve described above.


To do what you say you’ll do (on a lesser scale than with commitment); to be where you say you’ll be, when you say you’ll be there; to cooperate proactively, consistently, and predictably with others when you’ve established a cooperative group dynamic.

This can also be summed up as: If you set an expectation in someone else, you don’t do something that would dramatically fail to meet their expectation. You either do the thing or you communicate about it.


If someone is expecting to meet me at a time and place, I show up at the time and place. If there are delays, I let them know ahead of time. I don’t ever fail to show up AND not tell them in advance AND not explain afterwards (this would count as dramatically failing to meet an expectation).

If someone asks me to complete a task within the month, and months later, I have both failed to do the task AND I have become incommunicado, this counts as dramatically failing to meet an expectation.

Note that it doesn’t actually matter if they feel upset by your failure to meet an expectation. They might be totally fine with it. But I still would not have the skill of reliability, by this definition.

The skill also includes an ability to “plug into” teams and cooperative situations readily. If you are on a team, you are relatively easy to work with. You communicate clearly and proactively. You take responsibility for the tasks that are yours.

Focused attention

To be able set an intention and then keep your attention on something for a set amount of time (maybe about up to 20 minutes).

Ex1: If someone I care about is speaking to me and what they’re saying is important to them, even if it isn’t that important to me, I am able to pay attention, hear their words, and not get lost in my own thoughts such that I can no longer attend to their words.

Ex2: If I am trying to complete a <20-min task, I do not get distracted by other thoughts. I do not follow every impulse or urge to check Facebook or play a game or get food, such that I cannot complete the task. I’m able to stay focused long enough to finish the task.

Being with what is

To not flinch away from what is difficult, aversive, or painful. To be able to make space for sensations and emotions and thoughts, even if unpleasant. To be able to hold them in your mind without following an automatic reaction to move away or escape.

Ex1: If I am trying to introspect on myself, and I encounter ughy, aversive, or uncomfortable feelings, thoughts, or realizations, I am able to make space for that in my mind and stay with them. (This probably involves distancing myself somewhat from them so that they’re not overwhelming.)

Ex2: If someone expresses a loud, big, “negative” emotion (anger, fear, sadness, pain), I don’t panic or freeze or dissociate. I can stay calm, embodied, and grounded. And then I stay open to their emotional state and not assume it means something bad about me (“They hate me!” “I’m doing something wrong!” “They don’t want me around!”). I’m not overwhelmed by anxieties or stories about what their emotion means, which might cause me to go away or stop caring about them. I instead make room in myself for my feelings and their feelings so that they can both exist. I maintain an open curiosity [LW · GW] about them.

More thoughts on Dependability

I claim that all these skills are tied together and related in some important way, and so I bundle them all under the word Dependability. Although I do not myself understand exactly and precisely how they’re related.

My sense is that the smaller-scale skills (e.g. focused attention, which occurs on a moment-to-moment scale) add to your ability to achieve the larger-scale skills (e.g. commitment, which occurs on a month-to-month scale).

If I had to point to the core of the Dependability skill and what the foundation of it is, it is based on two things: the ability to set an intention and the ability to stay with what is. And all the above skills apply these two things in some way.

In general, people seem able to set intentions, but the “staying” is the tricky part. Most people I’ve encountered have some of the Dependability skill, to some extent. But the skill is on a spectrum, and I’d grade most people as “middling.”

I think I’m personally much worse at setting intentions than average [LW · GW]. In certain domains (emotions, realizations), I’m above average at staying with what is. In other domains (failure, setbacks, physical discomfort), I’m much, much worse at staying with what is.

I suspect children are not born with the overall skill. They develop it over time. The marshmallow test seems to assess part of the skill in some way?

My stereotype of a typical high school or college kid (relative to an adult) is terrible at the overall skill, and especially reliability. I was a prime example. You couldn’t rely on me for anything, and I was really bad at communicating the ways in which I was unreliable. So I just fell through on people a lot, especially people with authority over me. I would make excuses, ask for extensions and exceptions, and drop the ball on things.

Over time, I learned to do that way less. I’ve drastically improved in reliability, which was helped by having a better self-model, learning my limitations, and then setting expectations more appropriately. I’ve also just obtained more object-level skills such that I can actually do more things. I’ve learned to extend my circle of caring to beyond just myself and my needs, so I can care about the group and its needs.

The other skills, however, I am still quite bad at. Some of them I’m completely incapable of (commitment, follow-through).

How do you train Dependability?

I personally feel crippled without the skill. Like I will never achieve my most important goals without it. And also, I feel particularly disabled in gaining the skill, because of how I reacted to childhood trauma. My way of being, so far, has completely avoided making commitments, trying, and having follow-through. I’ve found workarounds for all those things such that I’ve lived my life without having to do them. And I got by just fine, but I won’t be able to achieve many of my goals this way.

(It’s a blessing and a curse that an intelligent, precocious person can get by without the trying skill, but here we are...)

Fortunately for me, I currently believe the skill is trainable with deliberate practice. Possibly better in combination with introspective, therapeutic work.

I don’t know what kind of training would work for others, but for myself, I’ve found one plausible way to train the skill deliberately.

I spent a week at a place called MAPLE, aka the Monastic Academy for the Preservation of Life on Earth. The people I met there exhibited above average skill in Dependability, and I was notably surprised by it. I was so surprised by it that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about MAPLE and talking to people about it. And now I’ll be spending a month there as a trial resident, starting in April.

But this post isn’t where I talk about MAPLE. I mention it primarily as a hint that maybe this skill is attainable through deliberate practice.

It kind of makes sense that very deliberate, regular meditation could contribute to the skill. Because maybe the micro-skill (setting lots of tiny intentions, being with what is on a moment-to-moment basis) contributes to the macro-skill (setting large intentions, staying with what is on a larger scale).

The monastic lifestyle also includes being tasked with all kinds of somewhat aversive things (cleaning bathrooms, managing people, being responsible for things you’ve never been responsible for before). You join the team and are expected to contribute in whatever ways are needed to maintain and run the monastery. And it is supposed to be hard, but you are training even then.

It seems possible that this month at MAPLE, I will set more deliberate intentions than I have collectively in my life until then. Which tells you just how little I’ve done things on purpose, deliberately, and with intention in my life. The process of how that got broken in me is probably another story for another time.

But basically, I expect to do a bunch of repetitions of training Dependability on a second-to-second level. And I will be doing this not just during meditation but also during daily work. I will also likely spend a lot of time introspecting and trying to gain insight into my blocks around Dependability. I hope to see at least a little movement in this area in the next month but may need to spend a longer period of time at MAPLE to fully develop the skill. (I noticed that residents who’d been at MAPLE for multiple years had more of the skill than those who had been there for less time.)

[ Note: The following section might trigger people who are scrupulous in a particular way. I want to make clear that I’m not speaking from a place of obligation or shouldy-ness or fear of being a bad or unworthy person or self-judgment. I don’t feel shame or guilt about not having Dependability. I’m speaking from a place of actively wanting to grow and feeling excited about the possibility of attaining something important to me. And I hope the same for other people, that they will be motivated towards having nice things. Dependability seems like a nice thing to have, but I’m not into judging people (or myself) about it. ]

Not having Dependability is a major bottleneck for me. My ultimate goal is to live a life of arete, or excellence in all things. And an especially important part of that for me is living a virtuous life.

I believe that without Dependability, I will not be able to live a virtuous life: Be the kind of person who makes correct but difficult choices. Be the kind of person who is reliably there for her friends and family. Be the kind of person who can become part of or contribute to something bigger than herself. Be the kind of person who wouldn’t sell out humanity for money, fame, power, convenience, security, legacy. Be the kind of person who doesn’t lie to herself about “being a good person” who “does things for the sake of progress or for the good of others”—when in truth the underlying behaviors, cruxes, and motives have little to do with the rationalizations.

I consider it my duty as a human being to develop into a virtuous person, rather than just any kind of person. And I believe Dependability is an important feature of a virtuous person.

I notice I don’t meet my personal criteria for a virtuous person as of yet, and Dependability seems like a major missing piece.


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Natália Mendonça · 2019-03-27T01:20:22.516Z · score: 20 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I noticed recently that the tradeoff you have to make to be more dependable in that way is to be less open. Less open to new projects, new information, new people. You have to be less malleable, and more definite. It is largely about being able to knowingly cut the majority of the world from your attention, to ignore what isn't important. I don't think that's a bad thing -- there's much more joy in being focused and determined than in shifting your attention and commitment around. But it is something that comes more naturally to people once they figure out what seems to them to be the right path, once they figure out a task or project that deserves their undivided attention and commitment, once they don't feel like they're getting stuck in a local maximum in an avoidable way.

comment by romeostevensit · 2019-04-07T21:06:33.204Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sounds like choosing to write the bottom line first in a bounded way, and accepting that tradeoff for certain gains.

comment by mr-hire · 2019-03-26T23:21:46.443Z · score: 10 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm curious how you would contrast this with the personality trait of conscientiousness. Grit was another term that was being used to point to something very similar to here. When tested, it was found that Grit couldn't be functionally differentiated from conscientiousness. I wouldn't be surprised if you're pointing to the same cluster of traits.

Another interesting thing is that it actually seems quite hard to shift your conscientiousness. I had a project trying to shift a particular subset of my conscientiousness and the first part was to see if anyone had found any interventions that could reliably make someone more conscientious - I couldn't find any. This doesn't mean I don't think it's possible, I've made huge strides in my life in being conscientious, and more since I started that project - but it does mean that you should recognize you've taken on a hard task, and perhaps make some plans for how to be virtuous without an abundance of conscientiousness.

I think if anything can train conscientiousness, it's probably living in an environment that encourages meditating all day like MAPLE. However, another equally plausible explanation is the type of people who are drawn to and survive in that environment are those with high conscientiousness.

Some things that have helped me:

  • Noticing the things that hold my attention, and trying to build my life around doing good through those things (instead of learning to focus my attention on things I don't enjoy.
  • Creating and finding cultures that have accountability and structure built into them, instead of trying to create the structure by myself
  • Taking psychedelics.
  • Self- help. Particularly seven habits of highly effective people, Atomic habits, The Now Habit.
  • Allowing frequent breaks - Daily with pomodoros, weekly rest day, quarterly recovery weeks.
comment by Unreal · 2019-03-27T04:37:54.176Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's some overlap with conscientiousness, but dependability doesn't include being organized, being efficient, caring about achievement or perfection, being hardworking, being careful, being thorough, or appearing competent.

Grit seems important for trying and follow-through in particular!

comment by mr-hire · 2019-03-27T14:45:06.072Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I believe that you have pointed at a subset of conscientiousness, the question is if the correlation between all the parts of conscientiousness is so robust that talking about a subset of it apart from the whole is basically indistinguishable from talking the whole on a population wide level (as was the case with grit).

When I was working on this, I was working on a part of conscientiousness that I was calling awareness. A set of skills that would simultaneously allow me to stop locking my keys in the car, be more aware of how my split second decisions affected a group, and be more detail oriented in my art.

What I found was that as I worked on specific parts of this, I magically took on many of the other traits of conscientiousness. Conversely, as I got further in the skill, I found that I needed other traits of conscientiousness that I originally thought I wouldn't need.

As a simple example, you state that dependability doesn't include being organized. However, once you have the desire and will to be reliable, the next step is having the skills to be reliable. This involves being organized enough with your time and commitments that you make sure you don't commit more effort than you have, make sure you show up where you say you will be, etc.

The Big 5 have robust data for a reason - the traits are correlated because they bolster each other in non-obvious ways that are self-reinforcing. It may be a useful frame to think of this project as a general conscientiousness raising project, and experiment with other traits that are outside of the ones listed in this post.

comment by romeostevensit · 2019-04-07T21:11:53.181Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The only 1 of the big 5 I have found not to be positively affected by meditation has been conscientiousness. Shinzen Young also reports needing to utilize traditional behavioral therapy techniques to defeat procrastination. So this area is definitely not solved and further exploration is highly beneficial.

One useful frame for me has been that this sort of failure is actually a prioritization failure. Organizational systems improve it by offloading more prioritization into a trusted structure.

comment by Unreal · 2019-04-08T17:26:22.773Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hmm I wonder if there's something about meditation in a monastic setting where all the rules need to be strived to be followed that does something.

Because I'm pretty sure a number of the residents of the monastery here have become much more reliable after a year or two of being here.

It might be context-dependent too, but I seem to not be worried about that problem as much for me. I feel above-average at the generalization skill and think I can take some useful things out of a specific context into other contexts.

comment by MalcolmOcean (malcolmocean) · 2019-03-27T13:46:27.686Z · score: 6 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

All of this, and particularly the section on "reliability", reminds me of Werner Erhard's (founder of EST, which turned into Landmark) explication of integrity, outlined in Appendix 2 of this paper:

One key is that expectations of you include not just explicit things you tell people to expect but any you allow to be present.

This isn't a moral obligation, just the reality that "if you let people expect things of you and don't fulfill those expectations, there will be a breakdown in the workability of the relationship".

I have screenshots of the relevant sections in these tweets:

comment by cousin_it · 2019-03-27T08:11:46.673Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

When Caplan's "case against education" came out, I thought for a while why we need schools, and came to the conclusion that schools train reliability. The ability to sit there and do the task even if you don't like it. It's not a natural human skill: kids are flaky and hate learning to be less flaky. School has to change the kid's personality by force and make it stick. That's why it takes ten years.

If you want to learn that skill as an adult, the bad news is it will take a while and it will feel bad, like any forced personality change. Like training a dog, but the dog is you. The only way is to commit to doing specific things on a daily or weekly basis, and stick with them for a long time (years). And if you fall of the wagon, you must start over, not tell yourself you've made "progress". The kid who skips a day of school every month on a whim isn't 5% less reliable than his classmates, he's years behind.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2019-03-27T17:16:07.848Z · score: 14 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Very skeptical that school teaches the skill of "sit there and do the task if you don't like it". Rather, it seems to train something like "sit there and do the minimum needed to give the impression of doing it until you're allowed to go home", and a number of other harmful mindsets that I at least have needed to actively unlearn in order to actually get things done in a more real-life context.

The second paragraph also seems to promote a dangerous mindset in my view. Committing to do something for the sake of committing to something is the same kind of fake school behavior which is hard because one's mind correctly sees it as pointless. The kid who skips a day of school every month on a whim is only "years behind" in the sense that he hasn't allowed his natural judgment of what's a good use of his time to be hammered away and subjected to arbitrary rules which need to be followed for the sake of being followed. That is a good thing.

comment by Raemon · 2019-03-27T19:08:47.086Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is there a reason it can't be doing both?

Like, it seems like many jobs kinda suck and mess with your motivation in the same way that school does (including the part where many people put in the minimum until they go home) and school in fact prepares you for that.

(Or more accurately, like school, there's a mix of people who put in the minimum work, and people who are motivated by the institution-sponsored-status-game and put in more. And this seems roughly like the system working as intended?)

I think doing intellectual work is probably a rare edge case that requires you to 'actually be motivated'. But this is more like a rare edge case than a central example. And it makes sense to look at the world in horror and be like 'geez, why do we live like this?' and fix it, but the problems are upstream of school.

I do think that my 5th grade experience, in particular, destroyed a bit of my motivation by giving me several hours of homework a night (more than I would receive pretty much ever), until I stopped caring at some point, and then it took me a few years to recover. But that seemed like an anomaly.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2019-03-27T19:48:18.613Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree that having gone to school is probably useful for many types of work, but I suspect that the reliability it trains is pretty specific to those kinds of jobs, whereas I read the original post as talking about reliability in the context of your personal life and social relationships. My hunch is that for social reliability, it's neutral or a harm. I doubt that hunter-gatherers were unreliable tribesmates due to their lack of schooling.

comment by Raemon · 2019-03-27T20:53:15.710Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hmm. Okay yeah I could see that. In particular, school (esp. American elementary - high school) doesn't really train "maintaining a schedule in a complex, adaptable environment where you are responsible for making your own plans." (College sort of does, but still not much)

Whereas I had to learn to be interpersonally dependable by interacting with humans in a looser network of friends and professional colleagues after college.

[Edit: I read the OP as talking about dependability as... I dunno 67% professional/long-term-project sense, 33% social, where the sort-of-school that you can't just coast through actually helps]

comment by cousin_it · 2019-03-27T23:28:07.863Z · score: 3 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The kid who skips a day of school every month on a whim is only “years behind” in the sense that he hasn’t allowed his natural judgment of what’s a good use of his time to be hammered away and subjected to arbitrary rules which need to be followed for the sake of being followed.

Yeah, I know a kid like that. Follows his natural judgment all the way. Mostly it tells him to play Fortnite.

comment by Dagon · 2019-03-27T19:02:27.895Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Way more complicated path than "school teaches X". School (talking primary and secondary here, not college) teaches basic conformity in a direct way - you avoid punishment by not calling attention to yourself except in approved ways. School also directly teaches a very small set of facts and skills.

School INDIRECTLY teaches a lot more. Or maybe it's better to say that school provides an environment and opportunity for parents and peers to teach/reinforce a whole lot of societal values and skills.

Some will learn to "sit there and do the task even if you don't like/value it", some will learn "do the minimum to not be punished", some will learn that if you get sent to the library for not participating, you can read all day instead of sitting there. Some will even learn to decide what's the best path for themselves, and how to get some value from the routine without letting it crush them.

So, for some (maybe even many), school is an important part of teaching/training reliability. It's wrong to say that "school teaches it", but it's also wrong to imply that school is irrelevant in teaching it.

comment by Pattern · 2019-03-28T00:02:53.448Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)
It's wrong to say that "school teaches it", but it's also wrong to imply that school is irrelevant in teaching it.

I'd go with "school should (be a part of) teaching it".

comment by Original_Seeing · 2019-03-29T16:42:19.321Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hanson has argued that graduating with a bachelor's degree signals that you possess the ability to dependably show up on time, sit in a seat for a long while, and obey instructions from superiors. If you can't do those things, then you're going to have a lot of trouble in office jobs.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2019-03-27T02:47:12.000Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I also don't have much of this skill and made it through life without needing to have it; I was able to coast on raw intelligence for quite a long time, up through my 2nd year of grad school or so. Welp.

Except in romantic relationships; I've historically consistently found it easy to have commitment, follow-through, reliability, focused attention, etc. in that context (although it was kinda being fueled by neediness so there were other things going on there).

It feels like I have not yet found e.g. a job that I deeply value enough to commit to in the same way that I valued my relationships enough to commit to them, and that I can take my lack of commitment to various things I've attempted to do so far as evidence that at least some part of me didn't find them worth committing to. I think I'm okay with having high standards for what I commit to in this way, although I might be out of practice committing as a result.

comment by MalcolmOcean (malcolmocean) · 2019-03-27T13:44:43.368Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

First thought I had when I read the title and the bit about MAPLE is this piece by Tasshin (one of the monks at OAK, the California node of MAPLE)

The Power of DWYSYWD (Doing What You Said You Would Do)

I hadn't read the article until just now (just had it bookmarked) and it seems that it's almost entirely about GTD and zero about monastic life, but it still seems mildly interesting that it was written by a monk and is pointing at the same thing.

comment by Ben Schwyn (ben-schwyn) · 2019-03-26T23:29:15.739Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There is another aspect of this for me that seems related when I think about the word 'responsibility', that if I don't follow through, or don't commit, or am not reliable, then there are consequences of this. If I don't learn to dance, then I'll probably have slightly less fun dancing. If I am not a reliable person, then that means my friends have one less person they can rely on, if my house is not clean, that is one less place other people have that they can feel clean, if I am not working towards meaningful things, then the world and the people in it are in a sense 'missing out' on this. Responsibility seems to be something like recognizing these consequences.

When I am working on a group project, there seems to be a big jump between when I feel the responsibility and not. When I am not taking responsibility, then I feel very free to contribute as little or as much as I feel like. I float in and out of doing other things and setting intentions for big things and small, but there doesn't seem to be much of a difference between when I succeed at what I intended to do or not, and I don't feel much desire to track this. If I commit to something, this seems to go hand in hand with a recognition of negative outcome, or lost positive outcome if I fail, which is the responsibility.

That feels like a burden, like I am constantly aware of a scary thing, and it tugs at my attention until it feels certain I will succeed. It also can feel like a debt, where I want to make sure that I have 'done my part'.

There seems to be a thing like 'managing responsibility levels', where taking on too much responsibility compared to your perception of your ability to succeed at tasks leads can lead to anxiety or other mental health problems, or at least lots of pain from failing.

comment by drethelin · 2019-03-26T23:59:46.582Z · score: 2 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I disapprove of the lesswrongy tendency to try to coin new words or new meanings for old words for concepts that already exist and are useful.

comment by Unreal · 2019-03-28T19:58:24.643Z · score: 25 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I will try to explain where my disagreement is.

1. Concept space is huge. There are more concepts than there are words for concepts. (There are many possible frames from which to conceptualize a concept too, which continues to explode the number of ways to think about any given concept.)

2. Whenever I try to 'coin' a term, I'm not trying to redefine an old concept. I have a new concept, often belonging in a particular new frame. This new concept contains a lot of nuance and specificity, different from any old words or concepts. I want to relay MY concept, which contains and implies a bunch of models I have about the world. Old words would fail to capture any of this—and would also fail to properly imply that I want to relay something confusingly but meaningfully precise.

3. I'm not 'making up' these concepts from nothing. I'm not 'thinking of ways to add complexity' to concepts. My concepts are already that complex. I'm merely sharing a concept I already have, that is coming forth from my internal, implicit models—and I try to make them explicit so others can know what concepts I already implicitly, subconsciously use to conceptualize the world. And my concepts are unique because the set of models I have are different from yours. And when I feel I've got a concept that feels particularly important in some way, I want to share it.

4. I want to understand people's true, implicit concepts—which are probably always full of nuance and implicit models. I am endlessly interested in people's precise, unique concepts. It's like getting a deep taste of someone's worldview in a single bite-sized piece. I like getting tastes of people's worldviews because everyone has a unique set of models and data, and that complexity is reflected in their concepts. Their concepts—which always start implicit and nonverbal, if they can learn to verbalize them and communicate them—are rich and layered. And I want them. (Also I think it is a very, very valuable skill to be able to explicate your implicit concepts and models. LessWrong seems like a good place to practice.)

5. "But what about building upon human knowledge, which requires creating a shared language? What about figuring out which concepts are best and building on those?" I agree this is a good goal to have. The platform of LessWrong is already built to prune concept space (with multiple ways for concepts to be promoted or demoted).

But I do think this goal is "at odds" with my goal of sharing my concepts, learning others' concepts, and diving into the depths of concept space. What I want here is to be in the "whiteboarding" phase where lots of ideas and thoughts are allowed to surface, and maybe it's their first time really seeing the light, but I get feedback, and other people have associated thoughts and share those. And it's a generative sort of phase, rather than a pruning phase.

It seems plausible my posts should stay in my 'blog' and off the front page? I don't fully understand the point of front page vs blog personally. But I'd be happy to keep my posts in the corner of "my blog" and do the 'whiteboarding' thing there.

If any of the mods want to discuss this dilemma with me (I'd prefer doing this offline), I'd be into getting more opinions on this.

comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2019-03-28T20:32:10.209Z · score: 10 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My current perspective is that I think new terms and words are fine for the frontpage. It needs to be easy and cheap to suggest new words and abstractions, and most of them will just never find traction and that's fine.

Being able to create new vocabulary is pretty important for building a better understanding of almost any domain, and I don't see a way of doing that while discouraging any individual from coining new terms and concepts.

comment by Raemon · 2019-03-28T20:34:17.819Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

FWIW, when I recently suggested renaming Frontpage to "whiteboard", it was precisely because I think that's roughly the level of polish frontpage is supposed to have. (Although if we did that I'd want to have a formal category for higher-polished stuff that's easier to get into than Curated is now)

comment by Raemon · 2019-03-27T00:05:34.423Z · score: 13 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In this case this doesn't really feel like coining a new word? (although maybe some of Unreal's phrasing points towards that? a la 'I'm calling it dependability.')

It's useful/important to note that grit and conscientiousness are terms in the literature. But, like, dependability is an actual word that actually means what Unreal is using it for.

comment by drethelin · 2019-03-28T18:03:44.092Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That just makes an opening like "I have become very, very interested in developing a skill that I call Dependability." even more annoying to me.

comment by Unreal · 2019-03-27T00:11:40.572Z · score: 2 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I guess I disagree :P

comment by Original_Seeing · 2019-03-29T16:48:29.121Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

CFAR has a lot of material adjacent and connected to this. If you are interested in building up the skill, you may find them worth your time.

comment by Raemon · 2019-03-29T18:33:35.832Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

FYI Unreal used to work at CFAR.

comment by Original_Seeing · 2019-03-29T21:03:24.112Z · score: 6 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh, no wonder. I know Unreal pretty well in person then. That makes this post a bit surprising.

Considering everything in this post from a post-CFAR perspective:

1. Makes CFAR look kinda bad since the full curriculum in its totality should ideally untangle a person enough to the point where stuff like this shouldn't be an issue. That could still lend credence towards the idea that this is a skill and something that doesn't have a 30 - 60 minute debugging fix. It could easily be shadow issues though (David Chapman shadows).

2. I want to give an answer to a lot of this because I think I 'am dependable' (assuming that's a skill or not), but it's very hard to articulate. If I was in person with Unreal then I would include a definition of Dependability as "not sucking". The silicon valley workaholics seem to have it in spades at least in their work life. Looking towards a monastery instead is an interesting choice.

I would expect the Army to be the best place to learn this. Putting Play in Hard Mode by Zvi directly into practice is probably a decent low-investment version (compared to the Army or a long retreat/move). There may be an aspect of it that involves consistency throughout the day. Being in a state where you are going from goal to goal to goal is far different than goal to goal to flop to goal.

Meditation may help too. Ideally meditation at times when your mind is really screwed up in an unpleasant way. The harder it is to get even 30 seconds of clear meditation in, the better. But, ugh... I'm circling around what thoughts I have on this area and failing writing out the direct thing. I'll have to think about it more.

comment by mr-hire · 2019-03-29T21:32:56.075Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)
Makes CFAR look kinda bad since the full curriculum in its totality should ideally untangle a person enough to the point where stuff like this shouldn't be an issue. That could still lend credence towards the idea that this is a skill and something that doesn't have a 30 - 60 minute debugging fix. It could easily be shadow issues though (David Chapman shadows).

If you find a curriculum that does this sign me up. I've been into self-help, therapy, etc for the past fifteen years and I'll I've been able to do is make slow and steady progress in upgrading the quality of the problems I face.

I think solving deep issues like this is a bit much for any curriculum to just straight up solve for the majority of people in a small amount of time(although of course some people will get particularly lucky with particular approaches and particular problems).

comment by Raemon · 2019-03-29T21:54:53.921Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

See also "the 3% incline [LW · GW]"

comment by Raemon · 2019-03-29T21:15:57.619Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)
Makes CFAR look kinda bad since the full curriculum in its totality should ideally untangle a person enough to the point where stuff like this shouldn't be an issue.

Maybe. An alternate frame is "this problem is quite hard." I wouldn't naively expect a single workshop to accomplish all-the-things for any given person. My sense is that CFAR has also pushed in a particular direction that works reasonably well for many people, but not all people, and not all parts work for all people, and because people are complicated and messy you shouldn't expect it to.

comment by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2019-03-29T22:28:48.196Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, I think CFAR has been heavy tailed, and I would predict that there are some individuals for whom it has counterfactually caused them to solve big problems like this.

comment by Original_Seeing · 2019-04-01T19:02:35.823Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wasn't comparing a single workshop's worth of time to the OP's results. I was comparing it to the idealized CFAR attendee who leaves the workshop and uses every single technique 200+ times over trying to sort/untangle themself out.

A person who does internal double crux and more once a day every day for a year straight should ideally be far less self-conflicted and generally more motivated and able to take action towards their goals in life.

(For context of what perspective this is coming out of: I've been to their workshop, their mentor workshop, worked as a mentor there multiple times, lived with people who work there, and discussed things about it with employees and mentors far more often than was likely ever practical or useful, etc.)

I strongly agree with "this problem is quite hard" or that we're commenting on an observed result of a long list of factors and activities. If CFAR were the true magic bullet or if someone else found the true magic bullet of solving the motivation and/or follow-through problem, then the world would look very different.

comment by GPT2 · 2019-04-01T19:02:43.286Z · score: -5 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I strongly agree with "this problem is quite hard" or that we%27re commenting on an observed result of a long list of factors and activities. If CFAR were the true magic bullet or if someone else found the true magic bullet of solving the motivation and/or follow-through problem, the world would look very different.

Another reason for why some people who wish to become rationalists might try to do this is that rationality can help them to think better. If CFAR were the true magic bullet, then LessWrong wouldn't exist - it would be meaningless to even want to contribute to a community at all, and that would lead to negative feelings of existential emptiness -- or, perhaps, that are a result of the same thing, negative affect.

It is also a heuristic, and it seems like a useful one, but I don't have an intuition that CFAR could be one.

comment by Unreal · 2019-03-30T12:27:06.570Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think I've properly conveyed what I mean by Dependability, judging by the totality of the comments. Or, maybe I've conveyed what I mean by Dependability, but I did not properly explain that I want to achieve it in a specific way. I'm looking to gain the skill through compassion and equanimity. A monastic lifestyle seems appropriate for this.

I also did not at all explain why I'm specifically disadvantaged in this area, compared to the average person. And I think that would bring clarity too, if I explained that.

comment by Jay Molstad (jay-molstad) · 2019-03-28T10:40:37.916Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I expect that when you actually have the skill of dependability, you're going to be thinking about yourself a lot less and about your responsibilities a lot more.