AllAmericanBreakfast's Shortform

post by AllAmericanBreakfast · 2020-07-11T19:08:01.705Z · score: 5 (1 votes) · LW · GW · 34 comments


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by AllAmericanBreakfast · 2020-07-15T03:30:21.988Z · score: 25 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Things I come to LessWrong for:

  • An outlet and audience for my own writing
  • Acquiring tools of good judgment and efficient learning
  • Practice at charitable, informal intellectual argument
  • Distraction
  • A somewhat less mind-killed politics

Cons: I'm frustrated that I so often play Devil's advocate, or else make up justifications for arguments under the principle of charity. Conversations feel profit-oriented and conflict-avoidant. Overthinking to the point of boredom and exhaustion. My default state toward books and people is bored skepticism and political suspicion. I'm less playful than I used to be.

Pros: My own ability to navigate life has grown. My imagination feels almost telepathic, in that I have ideas nobody I know has ever considered, and discover that there is cutting edge engineering work going on in that field that I can be a part of, or real demand for the project I'm developing. I am more decisive and confident than I used to be. Others see me as a leader.

comment by Viliam · 2020-07-15T19:01:20.185Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Some people optimize for drama. It is better to put your life in order, which often means getting the boring things done. And then, when you need some drama, you can watch a good movie.

Well, it is not completely a dichotomy. There is also some fun to be found e.g. in serious books. Not the same intensity as when you optimize for drama, but still. It's like when you stop eating refined sugar, and suddenly you notice that the fruit tastes sweet.

comment by AllAmericanBreakfast · 2020-08-01T14:26:30.501Z · score: 9 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Are rationalist ideas always going to be offensive to just about everybody who doesn’t self-select in?

One loved one was quite receptive to Chesterton’s Fence the other day. Like, it stopped their rant in the middle of its tracks and got them on board with a different way of looking at things immediately.

On the other hand, I routinely feel this weird tension. Like to explain why I think as I do, I‘d need to go through some basic rational concepts. But I expect most people I know would hate it.

I wish we could figure out ways of getting this stuff across that was fun,  made it seem agreeable and sensible and non-threatening.

Less negativity - we do sooo much critique. I was originally attracted to LW partly as a place where I didn’t  feel obligated to participate in the culture war. Now, I do, just on a set of topics that I didn’t associate with the CW before LessWrong.

My guess? This is totally possible. But it needs a champion. Somebody willing to dedicate themselves to it. Somebody friendly, funny, empathic, a good performer, neat and practiced. And it needs a space for the educative process - a YouTube channel, a book, etc. And it needs the courage of its convictions. The sign of that? Not taking itself too seriously, being known by the fruits of its labors.

comment by Viliam · 2020-08-02T19:29:30.552Z · score: 17 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Traditionally, things like this are socially achieved by using some form of "good cop, bad cop" strategy. You have someone who explains the concepts clearly and bluntly, regardless of whom it may offend (e.g. Eliezer Yudkowsky), and you have someone who presents the concepts nicely and inoffensively, reaching a wider audience (e.g. Scott Alexander), but ultimately they both use the same framework.

The inoffensiveness of Scott is of course relative, but I would say that people who get offended by him are really not the target audience for rationalist thought. Because, ultimately, saying "2+2=4" means offending people who believe that 2+2=5 and are really sensitive about it; so the only way to be non-offensive is to never say anything specific.

If a movement only has the "bad cops" and no "good cops", it will be perceived as a group of assholes. Which is not necessarily bad if the members are powerful; people want to join the winning side. But without actual power, it will not gain wide acceptance. Most people don't want to go into unnecessary conflicts.

On the other hand, a movement with "good cops" without "bad cops" will get its message diluted. First, the diplomatic believers will dilute their message in order not to offend anyone. Their fans will further dilute the message, because even the once-diluted version is too strong for normies' taste. At the end, the message may gain popular support... kind of... because the version that gains the popular support will actually contain maybe 1% of the original message, but mostly 99% of what the normies already believed, peppered by the new keywords.

The more people will present rationality using different methods, the better. Because each of them will reach a different audience. So I completely approve the approach you suggest... in addition to the existing ones.

comment by AllAmericanBreakfast · 2020-08-02T23:57:57.601Z · score: 5 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're right.

I need to try a lot harder to remember that this is just a community full of individuals airing their strongly held personal opinions on a variety of topics.

comment by Viliam · 2020-08-03T12:27:49.602Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Those opinions often have something in common -- respect for the scientific method, effort to improve one's rationality, concern about artificial intelligence -- and I like to believe it is not just a random idiosyncratic mix (a bunch of random things Eliezer likes), but different manifestations of the same underlying principle (use your intelligence to win, not to defeat yourself). However, not everyone is interested in all of this.

And I would definitely like to see "somebody friendly, funny, empathic, a good performer, neat and practiced" promoting these values in a YouTube channel or in books. But that requires a talent I don't have, so I can only wait until someone else with the necessary skills does it.

This reminded me of the YouTube channel of Julia Galef, but the latest videos there are 3 years old.

comment by TAG · 2020-08-03T13:55:33.748Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're both assuming that you have a set of correct ideas coupled with bad PR...but how well are Bayes, Aumann and MWI (eg.) actually doing?

comment by Pongo · 2020-08-01T22:46:57.624Z · score: 9 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Like to explain why I think as I do, I‘d need to go through some basic rational concepts.

I believe that if the rational concepts are pulling their weight, it should be possible to explain the way the concept is showing up concretely in your thinking, rather than justifying it in the general case first.

As an example, perhaps your friend is protesting your use of anecdotes as data, but you wish to defend it as Bayesian, if not scientific, evidence [LW · GW]. Rather than explaining the difference in general, I think you can say "I think that it's more likely that we hear this many people complaining about an axe murderer downtown if that's in fact what's going on, and that it's appropriate for us to avoid that area today. I agree it's not the only explanation and you should be able to get a more reliable sort of data for building a scientific theory, but I do think the existence of an axe murderer is a likely enough explanation for these stories that we should act on it"

If I'm right that this is generally possible, then I think this is a route around the feeling of being trapped on the other side of an inferential gap (which is how I interpreted the 'weird tension')

comment by AllAmericanBreakfast · 2020-08-02T04:06:13.732Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think you're right, when the issue at hand is agreed on by both parties to be purely a "matter of fact."

As soon as social or political implications crop in, that's no longer a guarantee.

But we often pretend like our social/political values are matters of fact. The offense arises when we use rational concepts in a way that gives the lie to that pretense. Finding an indirect and inoffensive way to present the materials and let them deconstruct their pretenses is what I'm wishing for here. LW has a strong culture surrounding how these general-purpose tools get applied, so I'd like to see a presentation of the "pure theory" that's done in an engaging way not obviously entangled with this blog.

The alternative is to use rationality to try and become savvier social operators. This can be "instrumental rationality" or it can be "dark arts," depending on how we carry it out. I'm all for instrumental rationality, but I suspect that spreading rational thought further will require that other cultural groups appropriate the tools to refine their own viewpoints rather than us going out and doing the convincing ourselves. 

comment by AllAmericanBreakfast · 2020-07-31T16:16:52.601Z · score: 7 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm annoyed that I think so hard about small daily decisions.

Is there a simple and ideally general pattern to not spend 10 minutes doing arithmetic on the cost of making burritos at home vs. buying the equivalent at a restaurant? Or am I actually being smart somehow by spending the time to cost out that sort of thing?


"Spend no more than 1 minute per $25 spent and 2% of the price to find a better product."

This heuristic cashes out to:

  • Over a year of weekly $35 restaurant meals, spend about $35 and an hour and a half finding better restaurants or meals.
  • For $250 of monthly consumer spending, spend a total of $5 and 10 minutes per month finding a better product.
  • For bigger buys of around $500 (about 2x/year), spend $10 and 20 minutes on each purchase.
  • Buying a used car ($15,000) I'd spend $300 and 10 hours. I could use the $300 to hire somebody at $25/hour to test-drive an additional 5-10 cars, a mechanic to inspect it on the lot, a good negotiator to help me secure a lower price.
  • For work over the next year ($30,000), spend $600 and 20 hours.
  • Getting a Master's degree ($100,000 including opportunity costs), spend 66 hours and $2,000 finding the best school.
  • Choosing from among STEM career options ($100,000 per year), spend about 66 hours and $600 per year exploring career decisions.

Comparing that with my own patterns, that simplifies to:

Spend much less time thinking about daily spending. You're correctly calibrated for ~$500 buys. Spend much more time considering your biggest buys and decisions.

comment by Dagon · 2020-07-31T22:00:48.491Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

For some (including younger-me), the opposite advice was helpful - I'd agonize over "big" decisions, without realizing that the oft-repeated small decisions actually had a much larger impact on my life.

To account for that, I might recommend you notice cache-ability and repetition, and budget on longer timeframes. For monthly spending, there's some portion that's really $120X decade spending (you can optimize once, then continue to buy monthly for the next 10 years), a bunch that's probably $12Y of annual spending, and some that's really $Z that you have to re-consider every month.

Also, avoid the mistake of inflexible permissions. Notice when you're spending much more (or less!) time optimizing a decision than your average, but there are lots of them that actually benefit from the extra time. And lots that additional time/money doesn't change the marginal outcome by much, so you should spend less time on.

comment by AllAmericanBreakfast · 2020-07-31T23:09:18.399Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wonder if your problem as a youth was in agonizing over big decisions, rather than learning a productive way to methodically think them through. I have lots of evidence that I underthink big decisions and overthink small ones. I also tend to be slow yet ultimately impulsive in making big changes, and fast yet hyper-analytical in making small changes.

Daily choices have low switching and sunk costs. Everybody's always comparing, so one brand at a given price point tends to be about as good as another.

But big decisions aren't just big spends. They're typically choices that you're likely stuck with for a long time to come. They serve as "anchors" to your life. There are often major switching and sunk costs involved. So it's really worthwhile anchoring in the right place. Everything else will be influenced or determined by where you're anchored.

The 1 minute/$25 + 2% of purchase price rule takes only a moment's thought. It's a simple but useful rule, and that's why I like it.

There are a few items or services that are relatively inexpensive, but have high switching costs and are used enough or consequential enough to need extra thought. Examples include pets, tutors, toys for children, wedding rings, mattresses, acoustic pianos, couches, safety gear, and textbooks. A heuristic and acronym for these exceptions might be CHEAPS: "Is it a Curriculum? Is it Heavy? Is it Ergonomic? Is it Alive? Is it Precious? Is it Safety-related?"

comment by AllAmericanBreakfast · 2020-08-02T03:28:56.893Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm experimenting with a format for applying LW tools to personal social-life problems. The goal is to boil down situations so that similar ones will be easy to diagnose and deal with in the future.

To do that, I want to arrive at an acronym that's memorable, defines an action plan and implies when you'd want to use it. Examples:

OSSEE Activity - "One Short Simple Easy-to-Exit Activity." A way to plan dates and hangouts that aren't exhausting or recipes for confusion.

DAHLIA - "Discuss, Assess, Help/Ask, Leave, Intervene, Accept." An action plan for how to deal with annoying behavior by other people. Discuss with the people you're with, assess the situation, offer to help or ask the annoying person to stop, leave if possible, intervene if not, and accept the situation if the intervention doesn't work out.

I came up with these by doing a brief post-mortem analysis on social problems in my life. I did it like this:

  1. Describe the situation as fairly as possible, both what happened and how it felt to me and others.
  2. Use LW concepts to generalize the situation and form an action plan. For example, OSSEE Activity arose from applying the concept of "diminishing marginal returns" to my outings.
  3. Format the action plan into a mnemonic, such as an acronym.
  4. Experiment with applying the action plan mnemonic in life and see if it leads you to behave differently and proves useful.
comment by AllAmericanBreakfast · 2020-07-16T19:25:32.104Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Goodhart's Epistemology

If a gears-level understanding becomes the metric of expertise, what will people do?

  • Go out and learn until they have a gears-level understanding?
  • Pretend they have a gears-level understanding by exaggerating their superficial knowledge?
  • Feel humiliated because they can't explain their intuition?
  • Attack the concept of gears-level understanding on a political or philosophical level?

Use the concept of gears-level understanding to debug your own knowledge. Learn for your own sake, and allow your learning to naturally attract the credibility it deserves.

Evaluating expertise in others is a different matter. Probably you want to use a cocktail of heuristics:

  • Can they articulate a gears-level understanding?
  • Do they have the credentials and experience you'd expect someone with deep learning in the subject to have?
  • Can they improvise successfully when a new problem is thrown at them?
  • Do other people in the field seem to respect them?

I'm sure there are more.

comment by AllAmericanBreakfast · 2020-07-29T19:22:41.714Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

A checklist for the strength of ideas:

Think "D-SHARP"

  • Is it worth discussing?
  • Is it worth studying?
  • Is it worth using as a heuristic?
  • Is it worth advertising?
  • Is it worth regulating or policing?

Worthwhile research should help the idea move either forward or backward through this sequence.

comment by AllAmericanBreakfast · 2020-07-27T01:24:00.194Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why isn’t California investing heavily in desalination? Has anybody thought through the economics? Is this a live idea?

comment by Dagon · 2020-07-27T16:12:03.215Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's plenty of research going on, but AFAIK, no particular large-scale push for implementation. I haven't studied the topic, but my impression is that this is mostly something they can get by with current sources and conservation for a few decades yet. Desalinization is expensive, not just in terms of money, but in terms of energy - scaling it up before absolutely needed is a net environmental harm.

comment by ChristianKl · 2020-07-27T18:06:35.582Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This article seems to be about the case. The economics seem unclear. The politics seem bad because it means taking on the enviromentalists. 

comment by AllAmericanBreakfast · 2020-07-22T01:57:22.891Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My modified Pomodoro has been working for me. I set a timer for 5 minutes and start working. Every 5 minutes, I just reset the timer and continue.

For some reason it gets my brain into "racking up points" mode. How many 5-minute sessions can I do without stopping or getting distracted? Aware as I am of my distractability, this has been an unquestionably powerful technique for me to expand my attention span.

comment by AllAmericanBreakfast · 2020-07-21T20:23:29.056Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

All actions have an exogenous component and an endogenous component. The weights we perceive differ from action to action, context to context.

The endogenous component has causes and consequences that come down to the laws of physics.

The exogenous component has causes and consequences from its social implications. The consequences, interpretation, and even the boundaries of where the action begins and ends are up for grabs.

comment by AllAmericanBreakfast · 2020-07-15T22:27:55.981Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Failure modes in important relationships

  • Being quick and curt when they want to connect and share positive emotions
  • Meeting negative emotions with blithe positive emotions (ie. pretending like they're not angry, anxious, etc)
  • Mirroring negative emotions: meeting anxiety with anxiety, anger with anger
  • Being uncompromising, overly "logical"/assertive to get your way in the moment
  • Not trying to express what you want, even to yourself
  • Compromising/giving in, hoping next time will be "your turn"

Practice this:

  • Focusing [LW · GW]to identify your own elusive feelings
  • Empathy to identify and express the other person's needs, feelings, information. Look for a "that's right." You're not rushing to win, nor rushing to receive empathy. The more they reveal, the better it is for you (and for them, because now you can help find a high-value trade rather than a poor compromise).
comment by AllAmericanBreakfast · 2020-07-11T19:47:54.530Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Good reading habit #1: Turn absolute numbers into proportions and proportions into absolute numbers.

For example, in reading "With almost 1,000 genes discovered to be differentially expressed between low and high passage cells [in mouse insulinoma cells]," look up the number of mouse genes (25,000) and turn it into a percentage so that you can see that 1,000 genes is 4% of the mouse genome.

comment by AllAmericanBreakfast · 2020-07-18T02:01:43.041Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What is the difference between playing devil's advocate and steelmanning an argument? I'm interested in any and all attempts to draw a useful distinction, even if they're only partial.


  • Devil's advocate comes across as being deliberately disagreeable, while steelmanning comes across as being inclusive.
  • Devil's advocate involves advancing a clearly-defined argument. Steelmanning is about clarifying an idea that gets a negative reaction due to factors like word choice or some other superficial factor.
  • Devil's advocate is a political act and is only relevant in a conversation between two or more people. Steelmanning can be social, but it can also be done entirely in conversation with yourself.
  • Devil's advocate is about winning an argument, and can be done even if you know exactly how the argument goes and know in advance that you'll still disagree with it when you're done making it. Steelmanning is about exploring an idea without preconceptions about where you'll end up.
  • Devil's advocate doesn't necessarily mean advancing the strongest argument, only the one that's most salient, hardest for your conversation partner to argue against, or most complex or interesting. Steelmanning is about searching for an argument that you genuinely find compelling, even if it's as simple as admitting your own lack of expertise and the complexity of the issue.
  • Devil's advocate can be a diversionary or stalling tactic, meant to delay or avoid an unwanted conclusion of a larger argument by focusing in on one of its minor components. Steelmanning is done for its own sake.
  • Devil's advocate comes with a feeling of tension, attention-hogging, and opposition. Steelmanning comes with a feeling of calm, curiosity, and connection.
comment by AllAmericanBreakfast · 2020-07-17T01:58:50.950Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Empathy is inexpensive and brings surprising benefits. It takes a little bit of practice and intent. Mainly, it involves stating the obvious assumption about the other person's experience and desires. Offer things you think they'd want and that you'd be willing to give. Let them agree or correct you. This creates a good context in which high-value trades can occur, without needing an conscious, overriding, selfish goal to guide you from the start.

comment by mr-hire · 2020-07-17T21:13:29.481Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

FWIW, I like to be careful about my terms here.

Empathy is feeling what the other person is feeling.

Understanding is understanding what the other person is feeling.

Active Listening is stating your understanding and letting the other person correct you.

Empathic listening is expressing how you feel what the other person is feeling.

In this case, you stated Empathy, but you're really talking about Active Listening.  I agree it's inexpensive and brings surprising benefits.

comment by Raemon · 2020-07-17T21:33:28.116Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think whether it's inexpensive isn't that obvious. I think it's a skill/habit, and it depends a lot on whether you've cultivated the habit, and on your mental architecture.

comment by mr-hire · 2020-07-17T21:37:18.528Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Active listening at a low level is fairly mechanical, and can still acrue quite a few benefits. Its not as dependent on mental architecture as something like empathic listening.  It does require some mindfulness to create the habit, but for most people I'd put it on only a slightly higher level of difficulty to acquire than e.g. brushing your teeth.

comment by Raemon · 2020-07-17T21:46:25.390Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Fair, but I think gaining a new habit like brushing your teeth is actually pretty expensive.

comment by AllAmericanBreakfast · 2020-07-17T22:40:55.679Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Empathy isn't like brushing your teeth. It's more like berry picking. Evolution built you to do it, you get better with practice, and it gives immediate positive feedback. Nevertheless, due to a variety of factors, it is a sorely neglected practice, even when the bushes are growing in the alley behind your house.

comment by AllAmericanBreakfast · 2020-07-17T22:36:49.165Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think what I'm calling empathy, either in common parlance or in actual practice, decomposes neatly. For me, these terms comprise a model of intuition that obscures with too much artificial light.

comment by mr-hire · 2020-07-17T23:22:35.549Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In that case, I don't agree that the thing you're claiming has low costs. As Raemon says in another comment this type of intuition only comes easily to certain people.  If you're trying to lump together the many skills I just pointed to, some are easy for others and some harder.

If however, the thing you're talking about is the skill of checking in to see if you understand another person, then I would refer to that as active listening.

comment by AllAmericanBreakfast · 2020-07-18T01:47:54.007Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Of course, you're right. This is more a reminder to myself and others who experience empathy as inexpensive.

Though empathy is cheap, there is a small barrier, a trivial inconvenience, a non-zero cost to activating it. I too often neglect it out of sheer laziness or forgetfulness. It's so cheap and makes things so much better that I'd prefer to remember and use it in all conversations, if possible.

comment by AllAmericanBreakfast · 2020-07-15T21:36:37.866Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Chris Voss thinks empathy is key to successful negotiation.

Is there a line between negotiating and not, or only varying degrees of explicitness?

Should we be openly negotiating more often?

How do you define success, when at least one of his own examples of a “successful negotiation” is entirely giving over to the other side?

I think the point is that the relationship comes first, greed second. Negotiation for Voss is exchange of empathy, seeking information, being aware of your leverage. Those factors are operating all the time - that’s the relationship.

The difference between that and normal life? Negotiation is making it explicit.

Are there easy ways to extend more empathy in more situations? Casual texts? First meetings? Chatting with strangers?

comment by AllAmericanBreakfast · 2020-07-11T19:08:19.200Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Good reading habit #1: Turn absolute numbers into proportions and proportions into absolute numbers.

For example, in reading "With almost 1,000 genes discovered to be differentially expressed between low and high passage cells [in mouse insulinoma cells]," look up the number of mouse genes (25,000) and turn it into a percentage so that you can see that 1,000 genes is 4% of the mouse genome.