Insufficiently Awesome

post by Cayenne · 2011-04-19T19:28:08.226Z · score: 31 (30 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 93 comments

Apologies for the wasted time spent reading and replying to this post.  Please disregard it.

 

I've been feeling non-awesome for a long time.  I don't know if anyone else here feels the same way, but I'm going to assume that at least a few people do.  I want to correct this horrible deficiency.

We already have the LW meetups in a lot of places, monthly in some places and weekly in others.  I've gone to a few, and they're interesting and I get to meet a lot of very smart people (and get intimidated by them)... but mostly all we've done is talk and sometimes go and eat at a restaurant.  I want more than this!

 

We already talk, we need an action-based meetup.  I want to propose another kind of meetup, the Insufficiently Awesome meetup.  It should aim to make us good at baseline things like fitness, social skills, strategy, and reflexes, and to make us very good at specialized awesome things like master-level chess/go/shogi, public speaking, various sports, dancing, making music, making art.

I think this meetup should be daily, though not everyone would want to go every day.  Nonetheless, we should have something happening every day that we're not spending talking.  The goal shouldn't be just to be fit in different situations, but to instead become totally awesome.

Is there anyone else that feels the same?  If so, what things do you think we need to learn for the baseline, and what things should we get very good at?

 

93 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by D_Malik · 2011-04-20T17:35:13.067Z · score: 76 (78 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh MAN, I had a big long list here somewhere...

  • Frequently expose myself to shocking/horrific pictures, so that I am generally less sensitive. I've been doing this for a while, watching horror movies while doing cardio exercise, and it's been going well. One might also try pulling pics from (WARNING) shock sites and using spaced repetition to schedule exposures.
  • Become insensitive to exposure to cold water by, for example, frequently taking cold showers or ice baths. This apparently helps with weight-loss as well. I've done this with immense success. After you've practised this, you will literally feel like some weird heat is being generated from someplace inside you when are exposed to cold water, and not feel cold at all. See here.
  • Become awesome at mental math. I've been practising squaring two-digit numbers mentally for some time (school, what can I say) and I'm really good at it.
  • Learn mnemonics. I was fortunate to teach myself this early and it has been insanely useful. Practise by memorizing and rehearsing something, like the periodic table or the capitals of all nations or your multiplication tables up to 30x30 or whatever.
  • Practise visualization, i.e. seeing things that aren't there. Apparently some people lack this ability, and I don't know how susceptible this is to training, so YMMV. Try inventing massive palaces mentally and walking through them mentally when bored. This can be used for memorization (method of loci).
  • Research n-back and start doing it regularly.
  • Learn to do lucid dreaming. Besides being awesome in and of itself, this can help you practise things or experience weird stuff.
  • Learn symbolic shorthand. I recommend Gregg. I did this in my second year of high school, and it's damn useful for actually writing stuff and taking notes as well as as a conversation starter.
  • Look at the structure of conlangs like Esperanto and Lojban and Ilaksh. I feel like this is mind-expanding, like I have a better sense of how language and communication and thought works after being exposed to this.
  • Learn to stay absolutely still for extended periods of time; convince onlookers that you are dead. Being in school means you have ample opportunity for practice.
  • Learn to teach yourself stuff. Almost everything you can learn at high school or university can be taught better by a good textbook than by a good teacher (IMO, of course). You can get any good textbook on the internet.
  • Live out of your car for a while, or go homeless by choice.
  • Can you learn to be pitch-perfect? Anyway, generally learn more about music.
  • Exercise. Consider 'cheating' with creatine or something. Creatine is also good for mental function for vegetarians. If you want to jump over cars, try plyometrics.
  • Eat healthily. This has become a habit for me. Forbid yourself from eating anything for which a more healthy alternative exists (eg., no more white rice (wild rice is better), no more white bread, no more soda, etc.). Look into alternative diets; learn to fast.
  • Self-discipline in general. Apparently this is practisable. Eliminate comforting lies like that giving in just this once will make it easier to carry on working. Tell yourself that you never 'deserve' a long-term-destructive reward for doing what you must, that doing what you must is just business as usual. Realize that the part of your brain that wants you to fall to temptation can't think long-term - so use the disciplined part of your brain to keep a temporal distance between yourself and short-term-gain-long-term-loss things. In other words, set stuff up so you're not easy prey to hyperbolic discounting.
  • Learn not just to cope socially, but to be the life of the party. Maybe learn the PUA stuff.
  • That said, learn to not care what other people think when it's not for your long-term benefit. Much of social interaction is mental masturbation, it feels nice and conforming so you do it. From HP and the MOR:

    For now I'll just note that it's dangerous to worry about what other people think on instinct, because you actually care, not as a matter of cold-blooded calculation. Remember, I was beaten and bullied by older Slytherins for fifteen minutes, and afterward I stood up and graciously forgave them. Just like the good and virtuous Boy-Who-Lived ought to do. But my cold-blooded calculations, Draco, tell me that I have no use for the dumbest idiots in Slytherin, since I don't own a pet snake. So I have no reason to care what they think about how I conduct my duel with Hermione Granger.

  • Learn to pick locks. If you want to seem awesome, bring padlocks with you and practise this in public :P

  • Learn how to walk without making a sound.
  • Learn to control your voice. Learn to project like an actress. PUAs have also written on this.
  • Do you know what a wombat looks like, or where your pancreas is? Learn basic biology, chemistry, physics, programming, etc.. There's so much low-hanging fruit.
  • Learn to count cards, like for blackjack. Because what-would-James-Bond-do, that's why! (Actually, in the books Bond is stupidly superstitious about, for example, roulette rolls.)
  • Learn to play lots of games (well?). There are lots of interesting things out there, including modern inventions like Y and Hive that you can play online.
  • Learn magic. There are lots of books about this.
  • Learn to write well, as someone else here said.
  • Get interesting quotes, pictures etc. and expose yourself to them with spaced repetition. After a while, will you start to see the patterns, to become more 'used to reality'?
  • Learn to type faster. Try alternate keyboard layouts, like Dvorak.
  • Try to make your senses funky. Wear a blindfold for a week straight, or wear goggles that turn everything a shade of red or turn everything upside-down or an eye patch that takes away your depth-sense. Do this for six months, or however long it takes to get used to them. Then, of course, take them off. The when you're used to not having your goggles on, put them on again. You can also do this on a smaller scale, by flipping your screen orientation or putting your mouse on the other side or whatnot.
  • Become ambidextrous. Commit to tying your dominant hand to your back for a week.
  • Humans have magnetite deposits in the ethmoid bone of their noses. Other animals use this for sensing direction; can humans learn it?
  • Some blind people have learned to echolocate. Seriously.
  • Learn how to tie various knots. This is useless but awesome.
  • Wear one of those belts that tells you which way north is. Keep it on until you are homing pigeon.
  • Learn self-defence.
  • Learn wilderness survival. Plently of books on the net about this.
  • Learn first aid. This is one of those things that's best not self-taught from a textbook.
  • Learn more computer stuff. Learn to program, then learn more programming languages and how to use e.g. the Linux coreutils. Use dwm. Learn to hack. Learn some weird programming languages. If you're actually using programming in your job, though, make sure you're scarily awesome at at least one language.
  • Learn basic physical feats like handstands, somersaults, etc..
  • Polyphasic sleep?
  • Use all the dead time you have lying around. Constantly do mental math in your head, or flex all your muscles all the time, or whatever. All that limits you is your own weakness of will.

So anyway, that's my idea-dump. Tsuyoku naritai.

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-04-21T12:44:30.707Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This list is itself a small feat of awesome. Well done.

comment by Nornagest · 2011-04-20T18:33:56.794Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Learn how to tie various knots. This is useless but awesome.

Not so useless. I've gotten a surprising amount of mileage out of a Boy Scout-level knowledge of ropework; it's one of those skills that doesn't come up very often but makes your life vastly easier when it does. Tying a tent down in high winds, for example, is made much simpler if you're familiar with the bowline or one of its variations.

comment by Davorak · 2011-07-13T22:18:15.093Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Tying objects on top of or in cars for transport is a pretty practical skill.

comment by Risto_Saarelma · 2011-04-21T17:01:37.414Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is great. It should be a top-level post itself.

comment by jimrandomh · 2011-04-20T18:05:56.142Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)
  • Become insensitive to exposure to cold water by, for example, frequently taking cold showers or ice baths. This apparently helps with weight-loss as well. I've done this with immense success, and even some real-world application (hiking to a waterfall with my parents, and being able to swim without getting cold). After you've practised this, you will literally feel like some weird heat is being generated from someplace inside you when are exposed to cold water, and not feel cold at all. See here.

My "possible unacknowledged major risk" detector triggered on this paragraph. In particular, "you will literally feel like some weird heat is being generated" pattern matches against how I've seen hypothermia described. While I don't know enough about it to say for sure if this is necessarily bad, I will say that the required due diligence for this is substantial, and the potential upside doesn't seem very compelling.

The rest of the list looks like mostly good ideas, though.

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-04-21T09:33:40.400Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Two or three minutes under cold (or at least colder) is an awesome morning wakeup IME. You can run hot afterwards if you like.

Seriously, you[1] are not going to induce hypothermia in five or ten minutes of cold water. That's just silly. Hypothermia is not a significant risk of ten minutes' swimming in a non-heated pool, for example.

(If you're doing the New Year's Day Alcatraz Swim, of course, you may care to make sure you're warmed properly afterwards.)

[1] in the general case

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2011-04-21T15:59:05.594Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Two or three minutes under cold (or at least colder) is an awesome morning wakeup IME.

The effect is probably mostly Mammalian diving reflex, which is triggered by colder-than-21°C water contacting the face, with other factors (such as showering your whole body) much less relevant.

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-04-21T16:39:49.965Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Seems to have a lot more effect when it's a shower, not just cold water on my face.

comment by gwern · 2011-12-16T23:10:46.906Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

No, I buy it. This is basically just reinventing the fire or tummo meditation. Like biofeedback in general, it's not easy to learn to control your temperature (and what OP and I do may just be a kind of vasodilation and not genuinely generating extra heat like the studied monks), but it does seem doable.

comment by Dr_Manhattan · 2011-04-23T01:49:52.445Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Frequently expose myself to shocking/horrific pictures, so that I am generally less sensitive. I've been doing this for a while, watching horror movies while doing cardio exercise, and it's been going well. One might also try pulling pics from (WARNING) shock sites and using spaced repetition to schedule exposures.

Just curious what the benefit is.

comment by D_Malik · 2011-04-23T11:22:54.859Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was thinking it might generally help you to suppress your emotions, which I think is the key to success in many areas. Watching a horror movie is a conflict between your caveman-brain screaming at you to run and your rational brain telling you not to. If you can listen to reason rather than instinct on this, perhaps you will be better able to do so when faced with other situations. For example, if you are in a religious community your instinct tells you to conform, whereas your reason (hopefully) tells you the religion is false.

I also think it might help with general rationality - it's not good to have massive holes in your mental map where there are things you're too scared to think about.

Ironically, ever since I've started watching horror movies, I haven't had a single nightmare, whereas I used to have them rather often.

comment by Cayenne · 2011-04-23T14:08:30.929Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure that this is the best way to do this. Feeling revulsion about things seems like a useful survival trait.

Controlling your emotions is probably better-taught by participating in an adult-literacy program, or voice-only technical support

Edit - please disregard this post

comment by gwern · 2011-07-12T01:03:01.327Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It may be a useful survival trait in some sense, but it's not useful in others. Often I run into situations where people lose their heads over something that is not a real issue.

"EEWW!" "Oh, the bucket is full of maggots? OK, let's go dump it in the woods." "Oh, I couldn't possibly do that! EEWW!"

Or people will freak out over some feces or urine, and stand around discussing how disgusting it is rather than just cleaning it up.

I imagine doctors have similar opinions about normal people and blood (not a reflex I've had much luck with controlling consciously).

More importantly, this is a kind of mindfulness meditation, which generalizes - if you can step back from maggots or feces and ask yourself 'is this really something to be perturbed by?', then surely you can do the same for many other issues. (I have read that sometimes Buddhists or Hindus would meditate in front of rotting corpses, but that's probably taking it a bit too far.)

comment by D_Malik · 2011-04-23T18:28:48.244Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Feeling revulsion about things seems like a useful survival trait.

I'm not planning to lose my sense of revulsion any time soon, only to become able to ignore/suppress emotions when they're not useful, like when deciding on a charity to sponsor or whether to eat revolting celery or non-revolting cupcakes.

Controlling your emotions is probably better-taught by participating in an adult- literacy program, or voice-only technical support

Horror movies are entertaining, and if you have cardio equipment you can easily do 2 hours of exercise painlessly while watching one. If you already use spaced repetition, it might take at most 10 hours total over the course of your lifetime to get a hundred shock pictures and rate the due ones daily for how much you flinched when you saw them.

The first option in particular seems orders of magnitude more efficient than spending hours answering boring tech-support calls for low pay.

comment by Cayenne · 2011-04-24T04:55:55.648Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh, nono. I didn't mean for low pay, I meant for free. Sorry about that. A senior citizen computer program would also work well for the same reasons (immediate feedback about communication)

Working or volunteering at a rest home might be even better. Controlling revulsion might be useful, but controlling frustration and helplessness may be even more useful.

Edit - please disregard this post

comment by Kimber1234 · 2015-04-18T18:01:25.609Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Just the image of the OP doing situps while watching ISIS propaganda is so very Patrick Bateman in American Psycho...

comment by Prismattic · 2011-04-21T01:04:54.972Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Become insensitive to exposure to cold water by, for example, frequently taking cold showers or ice baths. This apparently helps with weight-loss as well. I've done this with immense success, and even some real-world application (hiking to a waterfall with my parents, and being able to swim without getting cold). After you've practised this, you will literally feel like some weird heat is being generated from someplace inside you when are exposed to cold water, and not feel cold at all.

Seth Roberts found some negative results from taking cold showers, including weight gain and slower brain function.

comment by Risto_Saarelma · 2011-04-21T17:07:34.219Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I started taking showers ending in a few minutes of cold water in December. Haven't stopped doing them, the full body stimulation kick I get from them is great fun. Haven't noticed much changes otherwise, but getting acclimatized to cold water after a week or so is a neat trick.

I'm doing it every time I take a shower now. There might be something wrong with my brain.

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-04-21T09:31:29.161Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Seth Roberts found some negative results from taking cold showers, including weight gain and slower brain function.

And Tim Ferriss does well from it. YMMV. It's definitely one on the list of hacks to try.

(I turn my shower cold occasionally. I often get the results D_Malik describes. That said, sometimes I'm just really not in the mood to turn my shower cold. Therefore, it may be something I should train myself to do even when I don't feel like it.)

comment by bcoburn · 2012-01-01T19:06:24.261Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Does anyone know of a place to just buy one of those belts that tells you which way north is? I've looked and can't find such a thing.

Am therefore probably going to just make one, are there other things that it'd be useful to sense in a similar way? The first thing I think of is just the time, but maybe there's something better?

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-01T19:56:03.216Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You mean the North Paw?

comment by AlexanderRM · 2015-09-03T15:40:16.794Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd be interested to hear from other LessWrongians if anyone has bought this and if it lives up to the description (and also if this model produces a faint noise constantly audible to others nearby, like the test belt); I'm the sort of person who measures everything in dead African children so $149... I'm a bit reserved about even if it is exactly as awesome as the article implied.

On the other hand, the "glasses that turn everything upside" interest me somewhat; my perspective on that is rather odd- I'm wondering how that would interact with my mental maps of places. Specifically because I'm a massive geography buff and have an absurdly detailed mental map of the whole world, which I've noticed has a specific north=up direction. Obviously those glasses probably won't help shake the built-in direction (if I just get used to them), but I'd still be interested to see what they do.

comment by TimFreeman · 2011-04-20T16:35:52.683Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do rational people have sex?

There are a bunch of awesome sexual things one might try. However, even if we had a list of such things, I'm not sure how to navigate around the emotional pitfalls of organizing a group of people to learn them.

In my experience, when my sex life started working I immediately lost interest in dancing, making music, making art, and learning martial arts. I was somewhat surprised to discover that all those things were for me, apparently, part of attracting a lover rather than something worthwhile in themselves. Certainly now that I've been married 20 years I'd much rather invest effort in improving my sex life than in doing any of those things.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-04-20T17:03:32.594Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm curious: on what basis do you conclude that they were part of attracting a lover, as opposed to (for example) expressions of a drive that was better expressed through sex, or (for example) separate desires that were for some reason inhibited by sex, or some other possibility?

comment by TimFreeman · 2011-04-20T17:09:34.016Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I suppose there might be other explanations. The original observation was that I lost all practically-expressed interest in martial arts training when my sex life started working, and I also lost any desire to be good at dancing, making music, or making art, although I hadn't been acting on those desires anyway.

comment by khafra · 2011-04-21T18:55:59.697Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Anecdotally, it's certainly possible to retain an active interest in martial arts, making music, and self-improvement in general when going from unintentional celibacy to a happy relationship; but it does blunt the edge of the "hunger" for those things.

I'm not sure if a rationalist approach to sex has anything better to offer than "do scholarship, and just try stuff, recording the results in whatever way interferes least," but even that is a step up from most people--who seem to have started their sexual education with stashes of skin mags found in the woods instead of in the library at Dewey Decimal 613.96.

comment by fdzf · 2011-04-22T14:42:33.876Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

For a rationalist approach to sex, I agree that "do scholarship, and just try stuff, recording the results in whatever way interferes least" will get you a long way. I've known of two instances where the following tidbits would have been useful in addition:

  • Sometimes, but not always, make an honest attempt to figure out what your partner wants and do it. You'll probably want to limit that to activities that fit your own risk-taking preferences about pregnancy, disease, injury, legal problems, and so forth, but be sure to distinguish pragmatic limits from your habitual comfort zone and try to go outside the latter.

  • Set up your living arrangements so sex is convenient. If you have roommates and feel inhibited around them, that's a problem.

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-04-19T21:06:24.659Z · score: 10 (12 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Off the top of my head, it sounds like you need something to be awesome for. A goal. EY calls it "something to protect".

I don't doubt that you want to be awesome. What do you want to be awesome for? What do you really want to be awesome for?

You don't have to post it publicly (though I understand it can help, and it would be of on-topic interest), but you do need to say out loud to yourself what it is. Because once you have your real goal formed into words, the rational steps to get there follow pretty easily. It's a version of asking the right question.

comment by Cayenne · 2011-04-19T21:37:53.424Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The idea isn't for only me to attain awesomeness, but to provide a base to start from and then encourage lots of exploration. Everyone will have different goals, so we should have lots of meetups doing different things, focusing on different skills.

I could fairly easily envision one group focusing on fitness, another on social interaction, a third on creative activities. Smaller sub-groups would go more into depth in any particular type of awesomeness, and people would go to the groups as they wish.

Personally I want to get myself up to baseline in every area I can, with 'baseline' being the ability that our culture expects people to be at. The idealized ability, not the real-world average of dismalness. After I do that, I'd like to focus on writing. I'm sure that as I get closer to the baseline more things will appear, but that's what I'd like now.

As a side note, even getting to the baseline would be rather awesome.

Edit - please disregard this post

comment by steven0461 · 2011-04-19T21:44:00.001Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Writing clearly and persuasively seems like an important enough skill that, with LW's recent shift to self-improvement topics, I'm surprised there haven't been posts on how to learn it.

comment by Cayenne · 2011-04-19T21:51:31.851Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Eventually I'd like to be able to craft fiction that people would read out of choice as opposed to some obligation brought about by being friends. I don't inflict my writing on others yet, and I'll probably start by making fanfiction when I do.

Having the ability to persuade people and communicate clearly would be a nice bonus, though.

Edit - please disregard this post

comment by Alicorn · 2011-04-19T22:01:28.907Z · score: 14 (16 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)
  • Produce many words of fiction. Many. Many, many, many, many. Find out what makes words come out of you and arrange for that to happen a lot.

  • If you have a tendency to become defensive when criticized, dig it out of yourself with a melonballer and set it on fire. You can grow it back later when you are better, if you want (especially if it has self-esteem implications of some kind), but it is not your friend in the early stages.

  • Finish things sometimes. Finish a drabble or a 500-word vignette, if that's what you're up to. But do not start and start and start and never finish.

  • Fall in love with something about something you write. Love a character, or a setting, or a sentence, or a plot twist. You don't have to love everything about anything or anything about everything, but love something about something.

comment by Nornagest · 2011-04-20T07:22:46.943Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you have a tendency to become defensive when criticized, dig it out of yourself with a melonballer and set it on fire.

Nice phrase. Nice sentiment, too. This is the main sticking point for recruits to most of the non-commercial projects I've been involved with, and if not overcome it's incredibly destructive both on the creative and the critical side of things.

Well-intentioned attempts to attract talent by shielding it from criticism are even worse.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-04-19T22:39:03.106Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

.

comment by Cayenne · 2011-04-19T23:17:56.176Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Bookmarked, thank you!

Edit - please disregard this post

comment by ameriver · 2011-04-20T01:49:38.074Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Agree, agree, a thousand times agree.

comment by Cayenne · 2011-04-19T22:18:07.971Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yep yep! The first thing I'm trying to get into the habit of doing is simply writing, without worrying about the quality. My inner critic is SO picky! (>_<) The general idea I have is that to be a writer, I have to actually write. If I can't for whatever reason, then writing isn't going to work. So, writing first.

I'm fine with criticism. I believe that either 1) it's true, and I need to accept it, or 2) it's false and I can laugh at it. Getting mad seems silly in any case.

Thanks for the tips!

Edit - please disregard this post

comment by CharlesR · 2011-04-20T14:18:51.667Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Write a lot. Read a lot. Brandon Sanderson had to write five novels before he sold one. Read every day. Read Strunk and White. Learn the rules. (Yes, writing has them.) Get a giant wall calendar showing every day of the year. Set a writing goal and every day you meet it, draw a line. After a few days you have a line segment. Don't break the line! Convince yourself that reading and writing is "work" and don't let friends and family tell you otherwise. Find a room with a door. When you're writing, close it. Don't edit when you write. Move forward, forward, forward. Get to the end. If you need help with motivation, read these books.

comment by steven0461 · 2011-04-19T22:13:28.258Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would say that nonfiction skill is obviously more useful, though I guess HPMoR provides some amount of evidence to the contrary.

comment by Cayenne · 2011-04-19T22:20:12.641Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's not the direct usefulness of it that I'm looking for so much as the ability to get money to promote the things that I want to see happen. I may not be able to program, and I might not be incredibly rational, but at least I can help the people that are.

Edit - please disregard this post

comment by Dorikka · 2011-04-20T02:39:34.081Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not very familiar with the details of writing fiction professionally, but it seems like the wrong thing to do if you're looking to make money -- I'm remembering hearing that a large proportion of authors aren't very successful, financially. (The fact that I don't remember where I heard this and so can't gauge its credibility very well means that it should be discounted significantly.)

Can anyone who is more knowledgeable about the professional writing business comment on this?

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-04-19T22:50:32.454Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

with 'baseline' being the ability that our culture expects people to be at.

Careful - this is a chimera. That many cultural standards are plausible but not actually possible standards set by advertising to keep people spending money is a cliche because it was true first. So that's a phrase to taboo to dust. Do you have a detailed list?

comment by Cayenne · 2011-04-19T23:15:09.365Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hm, you're right. For physical ability, how about what the military considers barely acceptable? I'm fairly sure those records will be easy to find.

For social ability, feeling at ease in common social situations, and the ability to handle a real conversation. Possibly also how to handle exotic bad situations like dealing with crisis victims, or suicidal people. I'm not sure whether basic dancing should go here or in the physical pile. Public speaking and debate might go here or in the strategy pile.

For strategy, game theory and anger management. I'm not sure how to teach general 'strategy', but I think that studying enough related skills would indirectly affect your ability. Crisis management, how to deal with emergency situations?

The goal in the social and strategy categories is to know what the most common mistakes are and how to avoid them, and then after that work on skill.

Creative.. it's impossible to become good at every instrument, singing, and every art form without a lot more intelligence or time or something. Find two or three things you like from different disciplines, and study with others that are interested? Maybe we can spawn a LW band?

These are just random ideas, of course. Once I start walking daily I can talk it over with anyone that wants to join me, and maybe make the goals more specific over time. Everything will have to be subject to change depending on interest, of course... but still I want to do things, and not just talk about them.

Edit - please disregard this post

comment by XFrequentist · 2011-04-20T20:40:06.961Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Word, I agree!

Fitness: The military fitness test is a good idea. There are also a variety of all-around fitness tests designed for different groups (e.g. police, firefighters, athletes), plus general measures of different types of physical fitness (e.g. VO2 Max, beep test). I could generate a fairly lengthy list if you'd like (I was, once upon a time, a certified fitness trainer). Fitness doesn't really seem to me to require a group to practice, although groups can be useful to keep you motivated.

Social: The social bit came up at our first Ottawa Meetup (our group actually appears to be headed in the exact direction you desire, by the way), and Cyan recommended volunteering at the Distress Centre. I checked it out and it seems like they offer interesting training on handling "exotic bad situations". Maybe something similar exists in SF?

For general social skills, Dale Carnegie is my go-to for drop-dead basics. This book is intended to be the fundamental textbook on getting on with folk, and in my opinion it does a pretty good job. Implementing its suggestions is straightforward (i.e. it's quite close to first principles), and I think it could be really valuable to get group feedback on this kind of stuff.

Strategy: I'm currently reading Tempo and Thinking Strategically. Both have myriad ideas that could be turned into exercises and worked on in a group setting. Lionhearted, aka Sebastian Marshall has set himself the goal of being history's greatest strategist, so I'd imagine he might have something to contribute to this conversation.

I'm extremely interested in seeing this happen. I'll contribute further in the near future.

comment by Cayenne · 2011-04-21T00:02:26.054Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think that pick-up artistry is a really limited subset of social fitness, if it even applies at all. It seems from the small amount that I've read on it that they target a subset of women (women that go to bars and hook up), and that it might not really generalize well. Carnegie looks like a much better start.

I have other thoughts that seem too unformed to put down here yet. They're too nebulous, and it's annoying... I can see there being a use for some sort of systematic approach to testing and evaluating people and techniques, but I'm not sure how it would work. (v_v)

Edit - please disregard this post

comment by XFrequentist · 2011-04-21T01:03:18.182Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Really, you've articulated my actual, underlying desire (i.e. Getting More Awesome) quite well in the OP. Why don't you have a go at articulating your "nebulous" thoughts. Consider it brainstorming, don't worry about it being neat or perfect!

I think that pick-up artistry is a really limited subset of social fitness, if it even applies at all.

Sure, but that's irrelevant. I just think they've provided a decent example of a group getting together to figure out how to work on a particular social skill. In the article I linked, I was advocating copying their learning methods, nothing more.

ETA: Well, this is certainly timely!

comment by Cayenne · 2011-04-21T02:01:33.626Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I actually tried to write them out several times in the reply before I gave up. I'll need more time to think about them when I'm not distracted by impending life.

Edit - please disregard this post

comment by Cayenne · 2011-04-21T00:14:25.049Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think a list of goals for fitness will help a lot. It may not need a group but doing it in a group will hopefully make us more of a community. Motivation is good too, of course.

Do nutrition and cooking fit in with fitness? People seem to have good results with various diets, and I think that there have been a number of threads on them here. Is there a reason we couldn't eventually put together a 'Less Wrong Diet'? We have lots of smart people, I wonder if we couldn't set up some kind of automated double-blind system that gave us diet suggestions and tracked results? (Since beating akrasia is important too, perhaps focusing on the effect that suggestions have at first might be best, since advice that doesn't get followed is pretty useless...)

Edit - please disregard this post

comment by radical_negative_one · 2011-04-20T13:58:34.727Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

For physical ability, how about what the military considers barely acceptable? I'm fairly sure those records will be easy to find.

You're in luck! Really, you can just type "army pft" into google to remember the goals. The Army test requires no equipment, the Navy test asks you to swim, and the Marine test requires a pull-up bar. When i decided to get into shape, i figured i should try to reach those standards. Although, be warned that when you look up such things the articles will assume that you're a person who is thinking about enlisting in the US military.

For myself, i added Police and Fire Department tests to the list. My local PD test is similar to the Army PFT but uses a 1-rep benchpress (of my own body's weight) instead of push-ups. The local Firefighter test is a bit more complicated and would require me to sign up for the test in order to use the equipment and facilities their test is based on, so it's less clear how to measure my preparedness for that.

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-04-19T23:20:30.522Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you keep the idea "baseline ability our culture expects people to be at" and write down every example you can think of, that'll be an excellent start. (And would be an interesting list to read, particularly the contradictions.)

comment by Cayenne · 2011-04-19T23:22:32.809Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I thought about that, but I'm thinking that this would be better as a group activity. I'm too likely to miss things or weigh them improperly by myself. For cultural things, I think the wisdom of the crowds is the best source.

Edit - please disregard this post

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-04-21T11:30:53.838Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

D_Malik's list above is pretty awesome in itself.

comment by ameriver · 2011-04-20T01:47:47.677Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not exactly sure what sort of dancing you mean, but you mention it twice and I happen to have some background in dancing in a variety of styles. And since you seem to be somewhere in the SF Bay Area, I strongly recommend the social dancing lessons taught by Richard Powers at Stanford and in Palo Alto as a venue to learn/practice both social and dancing skills. I found it to be an extremely welcoming community and low-pressure environment to learn. Friday Night Waltz which occurs in both Palo Alto and East Bay is also a great community.

"Social dance" is similar in content to ballroom dancing, but recreational and more improvisational in approach. Skill will let you dance comfortably and enjoyably with someone you've just met. I think this style of dancing helps a lot with the social ability stuff too, because you learn how to send and interpret body language signals, and you have to interact on a basic social level with lots of people in a short period of time. There's a rather explicit expectation that asking someone to dance is not a romantic overture, which I (and many others) find comforting.

Of course, YMMV on any/all of this.

comment by Cayenne · 2011-04-20T02:14:09.992Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Am I reading the prices correctly as $45 for the whole course for a non-student?

Edit - please disregard this post

comment by ameriver · 2011-04-20T02:17:20.168Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, for each of the three courses: each course is 1 hour per week, with the 3 courses being taught back to back on Tuesday nights. To take all 3 courses would be $135.

comment by Giles · 2011-04-20T15:41:01.395Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think that two of the components of awesomeness - status and self improvement - would be useful in achieving a very wide variety of goals.

So if you're still discovering what it is you're trying to protect, or if you currently feel you have nothing but expect something to turn up, awesomeness is a reasonable medium-term goal.

comment by hwc · 2011-04-20T00:33:20.849Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've been explicitly working on being awesome for the last few years. A friend introduced me to The Sims and I played long enough to reach my character's life goal, then realized that I should be working that hard on reaching my own goals.

Results:

  • A new and better job, about to move to a much cooler town.
  • A lot closer to my ideal weight and fitness level.
  • A little more comfortable with myself.
  • A lot happier.
  • Several goals temporarily abandoned (learning a language, picking up an instrument). These were difficult to do on my own and consumed time better spent learning other things.

Since joining LW, I've had the nebulous goal of knowing all of the material on the site well enough to teach a semester class on it.

comment by Cayenne · 2011-04-20T01:21:14.996Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Learning a language is a good idea! I've heard that Esperanto isn't hard to learn... hm.

Edit - please disregard this post

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-04-20T03:33:25.911Z · score: 17 (17 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Actually, if you're an adult English speaker, learning foreign languages is probably not worth its opportunity cost. It takes an enormous amount of time and effort to learn a language well enough to do anything useful or productive with it, or even just to be able to talk to native speakers in a way that won't be annoyingly incompetent.

What's more, for just about any language there are huge numbers of native speakers who speak professional-level English, including natively bilingual kids of immigrants, so you're not developing any rare and precious combination of skills. (There are exceptions, such as e.g. knowledge of some languages combined with a security clearance that's hard to obtain if you're not a native citizen, but they are few and far between.)

Of course, if you find learning languages a fun hobby, go for it. But unless it's a greater source of fun and enjoyment than other things you might be doing, it's quite pointless. (And I say that as someone who can find his way around in at least five different languages.)

comment by dugancm · 2011-04-20T09:11:28.337Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

for just about any language there are huge numbers of native speakers who speak professional-level English

Exception: Sign Languages, though they have relatively small populations.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-04-20T21:56:36.045Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I haven't seen any statistics, but I suspect that there is a significant number of hearing people born to deaf parents who are natively bilingual in English and various Anglospheric sign languages.

comment by Alicorn · 2011-04-20T22:09:05.580Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have met at least one person with this background.

comment by dugancm · 2011-04-21T00:44:58.892Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

On top of that, I expect there are already plenty of non-native, dedicated translators and interpreters for a given language gap. Oops, thank you both.

comment by Prismattic · 2011-04-21T00:59:36.729Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm a native English speaker, I started studying Russian at age 19, and I was fluent enough to converse with native speakers in a non-annoying way by age 21. Granted, circumstantial evidence from peers does suggest I'm something of an outlier. I've also found that learning a third, fourth, etc. language is much easier once you've already become fluent in a second language. Indeed, when I studied subsequent languages, I would usually take my notes in Russian, to cut the native-language-favoring wiring in my brain out of the process to the extent possible.

I agree to a degree about the practicality of learning the languages, with the caveats that a) there are interesting people to interact with in the world that do not speak English, and knowing more languages expands the set of interesting people one may interact with, and b)if you enjoy reading, literature is generally much better in the original than in translation.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-04-21T22:26:50.423Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm a native English speaker, I started studying Russian at age 19, and I was fluent enough to converse with native speakers in a non-annoying way by age 21.

That's a pretty impressive accomplishment. How much time did you dedicate to studying Russian during that period?

I agree that literature is much better in the original, but learning a language so well that you can appreciate good literary style in it is a very ambitious goal, far more difficult than just learning it well enough to converse competently.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-04-20T07:40:58.497Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It takes an enormous amount of time and effort to learn a language well enough to do anything useful or productive with it

Unless the learner is a child - or so I've heard.

comment by Sniffnoy · 2011-04-20T07:51:46.789Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This may not actually be true.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-04-20T10:20:10.063Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure that really addresses the issue. I didn't quote the passage that explicitly mentions it but the "enormous amount of time and effort" is important because it's an enormous opportunity cost. The article you linked says, among other things, that

[Children] can devote almost their full time to [learning their language]. Adults consider half an hour's study a day to be onerous.

I don't doubt that children spend a tremendous fraction of their time learning their language, just as they spend a tremendous fraction of their time maturing in other ways. But that doesn't necessarily translate to a significant opportunity cost, because children are doing other things throughout their day as they learn their language. One way to measure the opportunity cost associated with each additional language learned might be to see how much and in what ways bilingual and trilingual children lose out in exchange for learning languages two and three. The linked article mentions that children won't learn a second language if they can get along with just one, which tells us that there is some cost associated with learning each additional language, but that doesn't really tell us how great the cost is.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-04-20T08:28:34.843Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Note the "adult" qualification in the first sentence of my comment.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-04-20T10:24:18.981Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ah, I missed that!

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-04-20T16:47:13.422Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Note also that while kids will pick up languages faster, more spontaneously, and with better results (the ability to pick up a flawless accent and perfect command of finer points of grammar usually disappears in late childhood), they will also forget them unbelievably quickly and thoroughly without active use. As an adult, your command of a language may get rusty, but it will never fall to zero as long as your brain is functioning decently. On the other hand, kids who change environments may forget even their first native language so thoroughly that they'll be barely able to recall a single word.

comment by komponisto · 2011-04-20T05:58:55.152Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Dorikka's comment notwithstanding, there are several Esperanto speakers here on LW, including yours truly.

I largely agree with Vladimir_M on the value of learning languages from a purely instrumental point of view -- except of course it depends on how easily you can do it. For me, it's probably my single greatest ability, so the opportunity cost is low. Also, competence in more than one language has status-signaling value beyond its practical uses. (This is true particularly in the United States, where knowledge of foreign languages is considered an esoteric skill.) And quite frankly, I find it to be an enjoyable hobby.

comment by JackEmpty · 2011-07-11T14:16:16.095Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Any Esperantists who are willing to be a conversational partner to someone just beginning to learn the language (myself)?

comment by Emile · 2011-04-20T21:14:49.582Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Dorikka's comment notwithstanding, there are several Esperanto speakers here on LW, including yours truly.

Yup.

comment by mstevens · 2011-04-20T12:35:50.821Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In my brief experiment with esperanto I found lernu.net extremely good as a free learning resource.

comment by Dorikka · 2011-04-20T02:43:55.355Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Though it doesn't have a terribly large speaking base, if that's what you're looking for.

List of languages by number of native speakers

Esperanto

comment by hwc · 2011-04-20T11:42:51.434Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I studied German in school, since I considered myself "not good at languages" and it was the closest language to my native English. When I entered the real world, I kept wishing I had studied Spanish, since one often meets people who speak much better Spanish than English (here in the US).

So when I started the becoming awesome program, I signed up for a once-a-week adult education class in beginning Spanish. I wish I had had the time and opportunity to take a university-level class, since they tend to be more intense and better taught.

comment by arundelo · 2011-04-20T02:46:18.126Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you decide to learn Esperanto, let me know if you need help or want an (internet) pen-pal.

comment by fdzf · 2011-04-20T17:00:48.372Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Target Focus Training is definitely awesome. They did not pay me to say that. It's an odd, quiet type of awesome that has negative value for status-signaling, hence the throwaway account.

I took one of their classes and am looking for a reaction partner in Silicon Valley for practice. If you are in a similar situation, please drop me a note. I won't out you, and I'm pretty good at not hurting people accidentally when practicing this sort of thing. ETA: As of 4 May 2011, I'm logging into this throwaway account for the last time. If you're looking for a reaction partner in Silicon Valley, post an ad, either here or in a comment on the TFT blog somewhere. Messages to fdzf will not be read.

Also, if anyone else knows of other obviously awesome things that don't get posted about because they are poor for status-signaling, please post about them anonymously.

comment by Raemon · 2011-04-20T16:37:08.247Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

At NYC we have a weekly Self Improvement meetup, which encourages everyone to have a supergoal they're working towards.

comment by hwc · 2011-04-21T00:50:36.676Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

what sorts of supergoals are people setting?

comment by Raemon · 2011-04-22T15:51:58.994Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I actually have managed to miss almost every self-improvment meeting because my actual supergoal-related-projects conflicted with them, so I can't speak for everyone else. In my case, my overarching life goal is to study various art forms and how they interact and how they impact humanity. My supergoal for the year is to finish a game design project for 2012's Indie Game Festival, which subgoals of networking in the NYC game dev scene and improving my coding skills.

Another (semi)related goal is acquiring a collection of humanist and rational music that is as evocative as "religious" music, optimized for communal singing. I think Humanism and science have been kind of dragging their feet when it comes to producing inspirational artwork (or at least, they've been dragging their feet when it comes to publicizing it).

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-04-22T16:21:27.960Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Another (semi)related goal is acquiring a collection of humanist and rational music that is as evocative as "religious" music, optimized for communal singing. I think Humanism and science have been kind of dragging their feet when it comes to producing inspirational artwork (or at least, they've been dragging their feet when it comes to publicizing it).

That's an interesting project. I can see two difficulties which might explain why there isn't a lot of such music. One is that lyrics at a high level of abstraction tend to not work very well, and the other is that many of the emotions associated with rationality aren't easy defaults for expressing through music.

This doesn't mean it's impossible, just that there might be some new territory to explore.

comment by murat · 2011-05-08T17:04:27.511Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What are some of the emotions associated with rationality?

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-05-08T22:13:39.313Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Curiosity. Frustration. Delight. They cycle.

comment by Raemon · 2011-04-22T16:25:42.554Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'll be posting about it soon. ("soon" being a vague and nebulous term)

comment by Antisuji · 2011-04-24T05:09:55.917Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I very much like the idea of this. In the interest of driving this less in the direction of wouldn't-this-be-cool and more in the direction of actual awesomeness, I think it would be useful to list skills that we have that we feel qualified and willing to teach. I'll go first:

  1. Juggling
  2. Go (I am only around 5k, but I have a pretty solid understanding of the fundamentals and can certainly give a good introduction to the game)
  3. Programming
  4. Cooking (probably best not to start with this one, though)

If anyone is interested in learning these things or sharing their knowledge, I'd love to hold a meetup to that end. It would be informal and depending on the activity might have to be limited to a small group. I am based in San Francisco, so it would be held here, probably somewhere in the Mission District. Reply or PM me if you want to participate and I'll arrange something in the next week or two if there's enough interest. Ok!

comment by nazgulnarsil · 2011-04-20T16:31:35.836Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think the code of the bushido had this one right: the warrior should cultivate awesomeness in many disciplines, not just the ones he (directly) needs to survive combat.

comment by TimFreeman · 2011-04-20T13:05:55.484Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

after that I'm going to be walking daily for at least a mile, and working my way up to 5 or so

The procedure described in "Body by Science" by McGuff and Little can get you stronger than that with less time investment. I've been doing it since September 2010 and still prefer it over any exercise regimens I've done before.

I'm primarily interested in it for injury prevention. Jogging and weight lifting with higher weights caused too many injuries. Walking 5 miles would have taken too long.

comment by Nisan · 2011-04-21T03:32:24.531Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why doesn't this article show up under Recent Posts?

comment by mstevens · 2011-04-20T12:38:39.728Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Awesomeness seems like a fuzzily defined goal here. It's not clear how you will know when suitable awesomeness levels have been reached.

Alternative proposal: self-modify so that your current state is considered "totally awesome".

comment by Normal_Anomaly · 2011-04-20T12:00:36.711Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I want to become competent at social skills and awesome at public speaking.