Rationality, Transhumanism, and Mental Health

post by ialdabaoth · 2012-10-14T09:11:25.757Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 129 comments

My name is Brent, and I'm probably insane.

I can perform various experimental tests to verify that I do not perform primate pack-bonding rituals correctly, which is about half of what we mean by "insane". This concerns me simply from a utilitarian perspective (separation from pack makes ego-depletion problems harder; it makes resources harder to come by; and it simply sucks to experience "from the inside"), but these are not the things that concern me most.

The thing that concerns me most is this:

What if the very tools that I use to make decisions are flawed?

I stumbled upon Bayesian techniques as a young child; I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to perform a lot of self-guided artificial intelligence "research" in Junior High and High School, due to growing up in a time and place when computers were utterly mysterious, so no one could really tell me what I was "supposed" to be doing with them - so I started making simple video games, had no opponents to play them against due to the aforementioned failures to correctly perform pack-bonding rituals, decided to create my own, became dissatisfied with the quality of my opponents, and suddenly found myself chewing on Hopfstaedter and Wiener and Minsky.

I'm filling in that bit of detail to explain that I have been attempting to operate as a rational intelligence for quite some time, so I believe that I've become very familiar with the kinds of "bugs" that I will tend to exhibit.

I've spent a very long time attempting to correct for my cognitive biases, edit out tendencies to seek comfortable-but-misleading inputs, and otherwise "force" myself to be rational, and often, the result is that my "will" will crack under the strain. My entire utility-table will suddenly flip on its head, and attempt to maximize my own self-destruction rather than allow me to continue to torture it with endlessly recursive, unsolvable problems that all tend to boil down to "you do not have sufficient social power, and humans are savage and cruel no matter how much you care about them."

Most of my energy is spent attempting to maintain positive, rational, long-term goals in the face of some kind of regedit-hack of my utility table itself, coming from somewhere in my subconscious that I can't seem to gain write-access to.

Clearly, the transhumanist solution would be to identify the underlying physical storage where the bug is occurring, and replace it with a less-malfunctioning piece of hardware.

Hopefully someday someone with more self-control, financial resources, and social resources than I will invent a method to do that, and I can get enough of a partial personectomy to create something viable with the remaining subroutines.

In the meantime, what is someone who wishes to be rational supposed to do, when the underlying hardware simply won't cooperate?

129 comments

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comment by MixedNuts · 2012-10-14T10:27:26.834Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm pretty sure you're doing something wrong now. You're being very vague and not giving any examples so I can't troubleshoot anywhere near precisely, but clearly you're trying to fit a square peg into a round hole and looking for the right sledgehammer for the job. You're not Augustine of Hippo; you may endorse a set of rules as the Sacred Laws Of Rationality That You Are A Really Bad Person If You Don't Follow, but if trying to follow them causes breakdowns, you're just wrong about the rules. Taboo "rational", and ask if each rule is a maintainable habit, possible to use explicitly in extraordinary circumstances, and if you actually want to do that. ("My life is worth exactly as much as some random stranger's" sounds nice, but nobody can actually follow that long-term.)

You don't say what kind of insane you are. You mention lack of social skills and that it's a big problem for you, but that's nearly orthogonal. For the first time in history, people are publishing useful guides to social life. Of course any oddity is going to make it harder for you, but go to groups that share your interests, and you'll find more people whose personality meshes with yours and fewer who go "It's not making eye contract in the exact pattern I want! Burn the witch!". It helps to sincerely like the people you're trying to befriend, but a little dishonest manipulation can go a long way too.

If you have other insanity-related problems, I suggest you ask a psychiatrist for help with the root cause, tackle each problem directly, or start a Less Wrong mental health support group (so far the current procedure is "whine loudly enough to attract Alicorn's compassion", which might be a bit hard on Alicorn). Those bouts of self-destruction might be due to pushing too hard in bad directions, but might have other origins too.

Replies from: AdeleneDawner, Alicorn
comment by AdeleneDawner · 2012-10-24T03:36:49.101Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Less Wrong mental health support group (so far the current procedure is "whine loudly enough to attract Alicorn's compassion", which might be a bit hard on Alicorn)

"Ask Alicorn to put you in touch with Adelene" may be a viable alternative for chronic rather than acute cases. I'm pretty horrible at providing direct support, but I'm quite good at getting a feel for the shape of peoples' thought processes, both where they are and where they want to be, and using that information to connect them with resources that will help them move towards the latter. (My method is pretty slow, but it's also compatible with the use of other methods that are quicker, so long as you stay in touch so I can keep updating my understanding.) I don't follow LW much these days, though, so posting here and hoping I'll see it or dropping message in my PM box won't work to get you there, and Alicorn has my contact info.

comment by Alicorn · 2012-10-16T04:04:35.019Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(so far the current procedure is "whine loudly enough to attract Alicorn's compassion", which might be a bit hard on Alicorn)

Do I actually do this enough for it to constitute a pattern?

Replies from: MixedNuts
comment by MixedNuts · 2012-10-16T05:55:38.344Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Named three examples by PM.

comment by shminux · 2012-10-15T02:59:02.220Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I do not perform primate pack-bonding rituals correctly

Give three concrete examples from your life.

Replies from: ialdabaoth, ialdabaoth
comment by ialdabaoth · 2012-10-15T06:06:18.496Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I will use this very post to illustrate!

You just asked, "give three concrete examples from your life."

My first instinct is that this is a challenge, an attempt to set me up as unreliable and "whiny" in front of the pack.

According to this instinct, if I fail to respond to you, you will have "called me out" - and by failing to respond, I will lose face.

Also according to this instinct, if I DO respond to you, no matter how I do so, you will manage to turn it around in such a way that I will appear to be lying or deliberately miscommunicating my experience for the sake of sympathy - and will again lose face.

My natural response to this instinct is to attempt to describe these examples in the most self-deprecatory way possible, but I know that any attempt to do so will cause me to seem contemptuously weak - and I will again lose face.

As I continue to process this dilemma, I attempt to work out the actual probabilities that any given decision I make will lead to a given outcome. However, as I do so, something internally pegs my "lose face" utility to +ERR.OVERFLOW, and the error cascades all the way through my multiplications and completely poisons the [utility*probability] sort.

Eventually, I just say "fuck it" and come clean to you that I'm having trouble answering your question due to an error. My instinct tells me that, in so doing, you will turn this around on me and I will again lose face. I start processing how I can explain to you that I'm having trouble answering your question, building different strategies for explanation and weighing their probable utility payoffs, but then the bug pops up again (or another, similar one) and pegs one or two of the outcome utilities to +ERR.OVERFLOW or -ERR.OVERFLOW (or sometimes even ERR.DIV0), and the whole [utility*probability] sort gets poisoned again.

Am I making any sense?

I guess what I'm trying to say is, your question scares me, and I'm not sure if it's a legitimate query for information or an attempt to "trip me up" socially, and THAT RIGHT THERE is the problem itself.

So here's to honesty, or something.

Replies from: MixedNuts, TimS, bbleeker, Risto_Saarelma, None, shminux, handoflixue
comment by MixedNuts · 2012-10-15T09:26:35.084Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh man, I feel your pain. (Sorry, I meant: "Expression of sympathy and offer of alliance. Attempt to assert myself as a member of your tribe. Emphasis of my own experience in order to give additional weight to my advice, with the added bonus of gaining status in the community.")

Seriously, don't overthink. Yes, there are people whose every word and act conceals a hundred layers designed to raise themselves, lower you, and manipulate you, and who'll treat failure to answer each one perfectly as a personal insult. Your terrified analysis suggests that you've been around such people a lot. Don't hang out with those people. If you can't help it (coworkers, family), be irreproachable on the surface and ignore the deeper layers. Worst thing that'll happen is that they'll gossip behind your back, and horrifying as that thought is (What? It horrifies me!) it won't actually bring you harm.

Do think somewhat; you should be able to tell the difference between messages that mean "I don't feel like going bowling with you, but thanks" and messages that mean "I don't feel like going bowling with you, because I dislike you", to notice when someone is bored, to gauge and match the level of formality in a given situation. If and when this becomes natural, you might try reading a little deeper, and so on until you either plateau, become a master manipulator, or decide it's not worth the effort.

Think of it like buying a cup of coffee. There are a lot of questions here: If you make small talk, will that be appreciated or an annoyance? Would saying "joe" instead of "coffee" make you look cool or silly? If you don't have exact change, is paying with a $10 bill okay or rude? But none of these questions really matter; as long as you're vaguely in the ballpark, nobody will notice anything unusual, and if they do they'll forget it instantly. Social interaction in general is basically the same; learn a few simple rules, try to be nice and considerate, and don't dwell over small failures. Most people are not out to get you.

comment by TimS · 2012-10-15T13:27:50.689Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Your response suggests you have received a lot of negative feedback for your social interactions. Be careful not to overgeneralize those negative reactions to others. Especially don't overgeneralize from your interactions with your schoolmates, because the status games in school are not well correlated with achieving anything productive.

More generally, keep in mind that social ability is not a statistic (like Charisma on a RPG character sheet), it is a skill. Like all skills, it improves with practice. MixedNuts' advice to you is good, especially this post.

For whatever reason, being reflexive about social skills is extremely taboo in modern society. That means it is difficult for someone with social skill deficits to find someone what can provide helpful feedback for improvement. By contrast, a football player could listen to her coach for constructive criticism and suggestions on how to practice. But the fact that people don't talk about how to improve social skills does not mean improvement is impossible.

Replies from: NancyLebovitz, ChristianKl
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-10-16T13:44:39.538Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Just to note that attacking someone for lack of social skills can happen in families as well as in high school.

comment by ChristianKl · 2012-10-15T16:14:43.653Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For whatever reason, being reflexive about social skills is extremely taboo in modern society. That means it is difficult for someone with social skill deficits to find someone what can provide helpful feedback for improvement.

That depends on the company that you keep. The problem is a catch 22. If you don't have much social skills than you probably don't have much friends. You also unwilling to ask them for social skill advice because you are afraid that you might lose status by asking the question.

Giving social skill advice productively is also hard. A person with low self esteem might suffer further when you tell him that he's social skills are crap. Sometimes it's even more helpful to focus on making a person feel loved than to give them suggestions about how to change.

Replies from: TimS
comment by TimS · 2012-10-15T17:37:02.045Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A person with low self esteem might suffer further when you tell him that he's social skills are crap.

Speaking only for myself, I was not unaware that I had poor social skills. I was unable to locate anyone who was willing and capable of helping me acquire better social skills.

For those in a similar position, I'd recommend Tony Attwood's books on developing social skills - it's targeted at those with Asperger's, but if you really feel lost figuring out what's going on in social situations, the books can provide a foundation to work with.

Sometimes it's even more helpful to focus on making a person feel loved than to give them suggestions about how to change.

People don't always necessarily want to make personal changes that would improve their social functioning because making personal changes is very anxiety provoking. Pushing them to change when they aren't ready is counter-productive and unsupportive. But if someone wants to change, there is no conflict between being supportive and giving constructive criticism.

If you don't have much social skills than you probably don't have much friends. You also unwilling to ask them for social skill advice because you are afraid that you might lose status by asking the question.

You raise a good point. But one label for a friend who is unwilling (as opposed to unable) to provide basic useful social feedback when asked is: acquaintance-one-spends-a-lot-of-time-with-who-is-not-really-your-friend. Of course, not everyone has given enough thought to social norms to be able make insightful points. But it is an important social insight to learn that worrying about your status with people who don't care about your happiness is not itself happiness creating.

Also, not my downvote - you are right that the issue is difficult to address, even if I disagree with you about how approachable it is.

comment by bbleeker · 2012-10-15T11:55:44.604Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

On LW, if something looks like a request for information, it's a safe bet that it means just that. And heck, you can't go wrong treating it like that, anyway. If it turns out it wasn't, the other person will be seen to be a troll, and they will lose face, and you'll have the moral high ground. I think that goes in general too, but it's certainly true here on LW, where the discussions are remarkably civilized.

Replies from: ialdabaoth
comment by ialdabaoth · 2012-10-15T11:58:29.397Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I will attempt to take this advice at face-value until I accumulate sufficient evidence to the contrary, and follow it to the best of my ability given aforementioned hardware limitations.

comment by Risto_Saarelma · 2012-10-15T12:21:42.067Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Name three" is an LW site trope.

Replies from: ialdabaoth
comment by ialdabaoth · 2012-10-15T12:36:40.221Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And hence a pack-identification ritual, which I did not respond to correctly? And also a bona-fide request for information?

Shit, my recursion map just forked. N-dimensionally.

Replies from: falenas108, handoflixue, ChristianKl, NancyLebovitz
comment by falenas108 · 2012-10-15T16:20:18.027Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is a bit of an usual case. In most contexts, "name 3" would be a kind of challenge. It just happens to be an actual request for information here.

comment by handoflixue · 2012-10-15T21:18:29.523Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

a pack-identification ritual, which I did not respond to correctly?

Going out on a limb here: Yes, correct. I would have failed it too, and I've been here for a year. People here tend not to care if you fail their pack-identification rituals, and will actually get a bit annoyed if you start trying to optimize for that.

In other words, it's not important that it's a pack-identification ritual.

(Disclaimer: There are packs that care a lot about rituals. My general philosophy is to avoid all such packs, because I suck at such rituals. I like LessWrong because even when people downvote me and otherwise disapprove of me, I've never had the sensation that the pack is trying to ostracize me or punish me for failure-to-observe-pack-rituals)

Replies from: ialdabaoth
comment by ialdabaoth · 2012-10-15T22:41:57.052Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

On this site, there are discussions about believing-in-belief, and how to purge it when you are merely "aping the belief" in something wrong, like religion.

I want to believe that there are packs that do not care about rituals, but I cannot formulate an actual belief that this is true; only a "belief-in-belief" that it is true.

How does one modify the process of purging "belief-in-belief"s that happen to actually correspond to reality? Because it seems that getting the right answer for the wrong reason is just as bad as being wrong.

Replies from: NancyLebovitz
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-11-03T16:10:27.160Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What do you mean by "ritual"?

comment by ChristianKl · 2012-10-15T15:57:22.865Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Then how about taking it as a learning opportunity. There no reason why you can't update and still provide three examples.

Learning from mistakes is both normal social behavior and rational.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-10-16T03:37:52.046Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd say you responded quite well by giving a detailed description of your mental processes. You've got 12 karma points for that reply.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-10-18T02:38:46.807Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My first instinct is that this is a challenge, an attempt to set me up as unreliable and "whiny" in front of the pack.

According to this instinct, if I fail to respond to you, you will have "called me out" - and by failing to respond, I will lose face.

Also according to this instinct, if I DO respond to you, no matter how I do so, you will manage to turn it around in such a way that I will appear to be lying or deliberately miscommunicating my experience for the sake of sympathy - and will again lose face.

This response falsifies the hypothesis that you don't perform primate pack-bonding rituals, at least the way I interpreted it. These thoughts are standard human response, plus a habit for going meta.

The rest is just you going too meta, and not being pragmatic enough (use decision theory, specifically, compute value of information and don't assume you have infinite computing power).

Also, I know the feel that you are feeling, or at least I think I do. I sympathize.

As for the correct response to this specific worry, here's the procedure I'd want to use:

Case A: it's a query, shminix is playing at the zeroth level. Best idea: answer the question straight.

Case B: It's a fork, shminux is an adversary playing on higher levels, and LW is that kind of place (notice burdensome details). Now we have to consider what the utility loss of getting forked is, how likely it is you can get out of the fork, and how much computation that will take, and of course what the probability of this even being the situation.

Overall, I'd rate it very unlikely or alternatively very expensive to get out of such a fork. Let him take your knight (answer it straight), and if you're going to worry at all, do it before you get forked, not after. It's a loss, but a small one when compared to the stress and time of trying to escape.

If the intuitive feel for the disutility of losing face is too high (as you claim it is), you need to expose yourself to more lost face to learn intuitively that it's not so bad. Flooding works against aversions. Go make a name for youself on reddit, and then say a lot of stuid stuff, get downvoted to hell, and see if anything ever comes of it (nothing will).

Replies from: ialdabaoth
comment by ialdabaoth · 2012-10-18T20:03:48.828Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This response falsifies the hypothesis that you don't perform primate pack-bonding rituals, at least the way I interpreted it. These thoughts are standard human response, plus a habit for going meta.

Well, not entirely. That response shows that I understand primate pack-bonding rituals, but it also shows that, rather than performing them, I go meta.

If the intuitive feel for the disutility of losing face is too high (as you claim it is), you need to expose yourself to more lost face to learn intuitively that it's not so bad. Flooding works against aversions. Go make a name for youself on reddit, and then say a lot of stuid stuff, get downvoted to hell, and see if anything ever comes of it (nothing will).

Hrm. Unfortunately, I've already had a lot of strong sensitization experiences, where losing face caused me to lose things that were important to me (by being unable to convince people to rationally judge my worth to them, instead of using "what is his standing with the group?" heuristics).

In my experience, people are not very good at properly valuing the potential contributions of people who don't play the face-game well.

Replies from: AdeleneDawner
comment by AdeleneDawner · 2012-10-24T06:05:08.253Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I suspect that you may be used to dealing with groups where an individual who associates with a disvalued individual is themselves disvalued and cut off, which can totally swamp any contribution that the disvalued individual might make to the individual who might otherwise associate with them.

The easiest solution to this problem is to avoid such groups - the heuristic "don't go where you aren't welcome" addresses this reasonably well, though for best results you'll flip it to "do go where you are welcome". (You'll also need to learn what being welcome somewhere looks like, but that's not as intractable as I expect you're assuming.)

Replies from: ialdabaoth
comment by ialdabaoth · 2012-11-03T08:47:59.276Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure if it's a matter of "learning what being welcome somewhere looks like", as much as "learning to tell the difference between being welcome somewhere, and being groomed as a mark/patsy/omega". Right now, I tend to assume that the best detector suite that I have for telling the difference produces so many false positives (falsely detecting legitimate invitations as traps) and false negatives (falsely detecting traps as legitimate invitations), that it's simply not energy-effective to bother with groups at all, unless I know that I possess enough raw power and leverage to maintain my position through pure realpolitik.

I have good reason to believe that my detector produces false negatives, because when it tells me that there's a trap and I ignore it, I sometimes meet genuine friends. I have good reason to believe that my detector produces false positives, because the ratio of positives that I detect is far, far more than the ratio of positives that others declare that they detect, and far, far more than the ratio of positives that others declare that I should be detecting. The two competing hypotheses are that I am paranoid (i.e., producing too many false positives), or that most people are lying about whether most people are lying - which, even if it were true, would not be a pragmatically useful belief to entertain.

Replies from: AdeleneDawner
comment by AdeleneDawner · 2012-11-03T17:17:58.149Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Cases of 'being groomed as an omega' are incredibly rare, in my experience - like, I've heard of it happening between individuals, and my model supports a couple of cases where it could look like a group thing because the individual who's decided to do that has followers who will go along with them (aka bullying), but for the most part when it comes to social groups that aren't built entirely around a particular leader (which is usually fairly obvious), they're either broken enough to shit on most everybody in them to one degree or another, or cases of abuse are the unintended result of personality conflicts or fairly predictable responses by group members to the abused party's behavior. (This is only intended to cover cases of keeping someone around to have them be an omega, though - trying to drive an unwanted interloper out by making them uncomfortable also happens, and I think it's fairly common but I'm not sure of the frequency - how I select for groups to interact with biases me too much to comment on the issue.)

I suspect from your description of things that that last thing is the case for you - that you're making it easier for people to treat you poorly than to treat you well, which ends badly unless you're dealing with people who refuse to treat people poorly even in the face of that situation. If that's the case, it's a problem with a few different solutions; 'strongly select for people who refuse to abuse others' seems likely to be the most viable one for you in the short to medium term. (Possibly in the long term, too, though I suspect that if it works, you'll end up learning enough to be able to relax your selection criteria some.)

Replies from: ialdabaoth, MixedNuts
comment by ialdabaoth · 2012-11-03T20:14:22.431Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Cases of 'being groomed as an omega' are incredibly rare, in my experience - like, I've heard of it happening between individuals, and my model supports a couple of cases where it could look like a group thing because the individual who's decided to do that has followers who will go along with them (aka bullying), but for the most part when it comes to social groups that aren't built entirely around a particular leader (which is usually fairly obvious), they're either broken enough to shit on most everybody in them to one degree or another, or cases of abuse are the unintended result of personality conflicts or fairly predictable responses by group members to the abused party's behavior. (This is only intended to cover cases of keeping someone around to have them be an omega, though - trying to drive an unwanted interloper out by making them uncomfortable also happens, and I think it's fairly common but I'm not sure of the frequency - how I select for groups to interact with biases me too much to comment on the issue.)

I think your conception of intentionality is causing you to see a nuanced distinction between "grooming X as an omega" and "abuse as an unintended result of personality conflicts/fairly predictable responses to behavior".

I don't have a real concept of 'intentionality' to fall back on, so I may not be capable of perceiving that nuance.

Replies from: AdeleneDawner
comment by AdeleneDawner · 2012-11-03T21:37:55.174Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sure.

Disregarding the 'personality conflict' situation for the moment, the predictive difference between the other two mostly has to do with what happens when you stop acting like an easy victim in social interactions: In the grooming case, you'll most likely just be ignored; in the response-to-behavior case, you'll start seeing an uptick in positive interactions.

Replies from: ialdabaoth
comment by ialdabaoth · 2012-11-03T21:51:22.172Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sure, but that relies on having accurate models and implementation strategies of "not acting like an easy victim".

Replies from: AdeleneDawner
comment by AdeleneDawner · 2012-11-03T21:57:46.880Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yep. The latter is really hard to convey in this kind of format, though.

You did see that I PM'd you my skype username?

Replies from: ialdabaoth
comment by ialdabaoth · 2012-11-03T22:35:49.681Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

No; I've been having a lot of trouble figuring out how to access PMs in a way that doesn't get lost in the stream of the site. Is there some way to filter PMs from discussion comments?

comment by MixedNuts · 2012-11-03T17:30:26.635Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's happened to me in grade school, and not at all since even though I was still otherwise bullied.

Replies from: ialdabaoth
comment by ialdabaoth · 2012-11-03T20:11:29.776Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

nod it's happened to me continuously since grade school, which I believe is part of a feedback loop - the first incidents all trained me (justifiably) to only interact with people in ways that reinforce the loop, because situations which tried to escape or quell the feedback loop led to inflictions of physical and emotional torment.

comment by shminux · 2012-10-15T07:16:17.386Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not sure why you consider it a challenge. Well, this is between you and your therapist. Anyway, I asked for examples because your post was extremely vague and an example is a standard way to clarify things. If you are not comfortable detailing your experience without platitudes, you are unlikely to get meaningful help here. It's up to you. And no, this comment is not meant as another challenge or has anything with you losing your metaphorical face.

Replies from: NancyLebovitz, ialdabaoth
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-10-16T03:36:25.021Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It looked like a challenge to me-- my first interpretation was "you're probably overgeneralizing and don't have anything specific in mind".

Then I'd probably calm down, and see if I could come up with three examples, being as this is Less Wrong.

I'd take something like "I'm interested in the details. Would you be willing to post about some specific incidents?" a good bit better.

Replies from: shminux
comment by shminux · 2012-10-16T05:57:56.053Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks, this makes sense. I tend to not mince words on this forum, and I can see how it might come across as a challenge at times.

Replies from: NancyLebovitz, NancyLebovitz
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-11-03T16:09:27.196Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The other thing that's interesting is that he didn't have specific examples.

I'm not sure how much of that is discarding the specifics once one has a satisfying generalization, a motivation which makes some sense if one is satisfied by good generalizations.

Another possibility (from poking around in my head for my issues) is feeling as though being more specific increases the risk of being attacked, and (from the same source) being unsure of one's more sensory memories. (That last went in and out of memory as I was writing.)

And, of course, there's always the chance of something going on that I haven't thought of.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-10-16T13:34:26.155Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're welcome.

I was wondering if you were going to say something that would add up to "people should appreciate my wonderful bluntness", but this is Less Wrong and has some virtues not often found elsewhere.

comment by ialdabaoth · 2012-10-15T07:39:30.015Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not sure why you consider it a challenge.

Because my hardware is buggy. That's... what I was trying to get at.

Replies from: blashimov
comment by blashimov · 2012-10-16T17:24:55.209Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think you made that clear.

comment by handoflixue · 2012-10-15T21:13:20.410Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

as I do so, something internally pegs my "lose face" utility to +ERR.OVERFLOW

You would probably benefit from learning to evaluate "the utility of this situation, SANS the risk*utility of losing face".

i.e. "By giving an honest reply, I might lose face (UNEVALUATED/NULL utility) I might also gain karma (positive utility), and I might get useful suggestions (positive utility). Okay, now that we've established this is positive utility, we're going to go do it."

The key part is having your "algorithm" identify that "Calculate RiskUtility of Losing Face" is a faulty module, and stop calling that algorithm. I personally* find it useful to think "Okay, I have real trouble with the math for this utility, so I'll save it for last - if I'm still on the fence, it can be the tie breaker, but if everything else clearly points towards X outcome, I will just do X and not worry about it."

Replies from: ialdabaoth
comment by ialdabaoth · 2012-10-15T21:20:48.609Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

stop calling that algorithm

That's actually a BIG part of what's broken - it's got it's own event-handler.

I'm actually trying to point out a more generic problem than my own personal woes, with my original post:

Sometimes, you have processes running that simply corrupt your utility tables or your probability tables, and you don't have a good strategy to correct.

In Game Theory, one of the things that can be modeled is "signaling errors" - errors that, when they occur, cause you to perform a move that is different than the move you would have chosen.

What happens when your learning algorithm has "transcription errors" - errors that, when they occur, cause your utility tables or your probability tables to dangerously corrupt?

Worse, how do you construct a strategy to correct this process, when your "construct a strategy" process is throwing errors?

Replies from: NancyLebovitz
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-11-03T16:19:07.216Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Here's a suggestion, and I'm not sure whether it's safe for you: hold off on developing strategies. Give yourself time to observe what you're doing. There's interesting and important stuff in the moments you're skipping over.

For me, it was really important to learn to ask, "What am I doing?" This is a very neutral research question.

It is NOT "What am I doing wrong? It is NOT "What can I do right now to fix things?"

For you, a specific question could be "What am I doing in the moment when I choose strategies?" If that's hard to focus on, choose something easier.

Psychological work is like doing original research.

Replies from: ialdabaoth
comment by ialdabaoth · 2012-11-04T05:31:17.567Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For you, a specific question could be "What am I doing in the moment when I choose strategies?" If that's hard to focus on, choose something easier.

That's somewhat hard to answer, anymore. I used to spend inordinate amount of time doing self-analysis, especially in emotionally intense situations, but any more, whenever I try to examine myself, this brain-fog rolls in and I can't think clearly. But it clearly seems the important question, so I don't know what "easier" thing I could focus on, that would be at all relevant.

Replies from: NancyLebovitz
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-11-04T07:03:45.117Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm beginning to wonder if you've got a case of Robot's Revenge (a notion which I think is from RA Wilson, but I can't find a cite). Robot's Revenge is what can happen when you try to make yourself do something you just don't want to do, and you find yourself forgetting, making mistakes, and generally unable to be effective at obeying. Wilson's description implied that it was something which could happen when someone else is giving the orders, but I don't see why it couldn't happen internally.

This fits with a general model I've been developing that you've done a lot of being harsh with yourself, and aren't letting natural systems that help you function do their work.

Important note: this is all hypothetical. I'm not a therapist and I don't have studies backing me up, either. All I've got is a lot of self-observation, and some recent improvement in my levels of depression and inertia.

This doesn't stop me from giving advice, of course. And my current notion is that you'd benefit from giving up on self-improvement for at least a month. Possibly for a year.

Replies from: ialdabaoth
comment by ialdabaoth · 2012-11-04T08:42:46.566Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And my current notion is that you'd benefit from giving up on self-improvement for at least a month. Possibly for a year.

I've tried to do exactly that, actually. The result is no employment, no medical insurance, and no social safety net. Our culture is rapidly losing patience with my inability to man up and earn my keep.

Replies from: NancyLebovitz
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-11-04T14:44:30.510Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What I had in mind-- and it may be unfeasible-- was to do what you can for your situation without trying to revise yourself.

I'm suspecting that you and I mean different things when we say the same words-- not surprising when we're talking about somewhat unusual psychological work.. What happened when you gave up on self-improvement?

Replies from: ialdabaoth
comment by ialdabaoth · 2012-11-04T19:25:15.236Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What I had in mind-- and it may be unfeasible-- was to do what you can for your situation without trying to revise yourself.

Yes, we definitely mean different things when we say the same words - I've always embraced an 'extended' view of self, where my self and my situation are utterly inseparable. In my ontology, the phrase "do what you can for your situation without trying to revise yourself" literally has no meaning.

What happened when you gave up on self-improvement?

in a word, entropy.

To elaborate, I stopped trying to tweak my psychology so that getting up in the morning could be bearable, stopped expending willpower and brainpower to seek delayed gratification, stopped playing mental contortions to emulate hope, and stopped putting forth a mask to everyone around me that everything was okay. In response, what meager social networks I had established eroded, what meager opportunities I had to feed and house myself eroded, and what meager opportunities I had to quell the screaming in my head eroded, and I eventually settled into a new, lower-energy ground state.

comment by ialdabaoth · 2012-10-16T23:02:34.270Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Follow-up: I'm trying to sort through my memories and experiences to provide three concrete examples, and am realizing the more I try that I don't have a sufficiently concrete definition of "primate pack-bonding ritual" to actually discretize and present three examples.

Thank you for providing me the opportunity to realize this.

I'm going to need quite awhile to process the implications, but when I do, I will get back to you.

Replies from: shminux
comment by shminux · 2012-10-16T23:04:15.398Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Cool. Updating on evidence is what LW is all about.

Replies from: ialdabaoth
comment by ialdabaoth · 2012-10-16T23:06:49.623Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Quite! It is frustrating, however, that I know I mean SOMETHING by those words; the realization that what I mean is too fuzzy to quantitatively express is creating an uncomfortable level of emotional irritation.

Replies from: shminux
comment by shminux · 2012-10-16T23:24:07.395Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It should. Consider rephrasing your statement as "I think that I know that I mean SOMETHING by those words", which is a true fact, unlike your statement, which may or may not be true, and see if you can trace why you think that you do know that.

comment by Dentin · 2012-10-14T22:11:10.642Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What few clues given above lead me to believe that if you were to fix your ability to perform "primate pack-bonding rituals" correctly, a lot of this would go away. We are social creatures, and it sounds like for all your rationalization, social interaction is a significant driver for you.

Assuming this is the case, the short answer is that those ritual skills are learnable, and there's a ton of material on how to do so out on the web. Cognitive therapy may also help; however, in the end, you're just going to have to get up, get out, experiment with rituals and fail a lot to figure out how they work. You can't just learn it reading from books and the web. You have to actually go out and go through the actions, just like learning a martial art.

That's what I did. I still view people as machinery, as you probably do. But they're at least interesting machinery, and I know the interfaces well enough to do interesting things with them, including get the positive feedback that helps me maintain my outlook.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-10-14T13:54:30.568Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What if the very tools that I use to make decisions are flawed?

Everybody's tools are flawed. This blog exists because it seems reasonable to believe that the tools are good enough to do bootstrapping so that the flaws are smaller.

I'm going to write about some things which have helped me which may or may not be of use to you. I've worked on compassion-- it's tempting for me to believe that I'm the only defective person in the universe, and then try to fix myself. Coming in with that attitude is part of the problem, maybe even most of it. I'm better off to the extent that I can view my current state with a neutral or (much harder) benevolent attitude and work from there.

Also, it helped to realize that my current state has seven billion years of universe behind it. I can change for the better, but whatever is wrong isn't some intrinsic personal defect, and it isn't all my mother's fault either.

Replies from: oliverbeatson
comment by oliverbeatson · 2012-10-27T20:08:53.785Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Also, it helped to realize that my current state has seven billion years of universe behind it. I can change for the better, but whatever is wrong isn't some intrinsic personal defect, and it isn't all my mother's fault either.

File under "warm-fuzzy pseudo-platitudes that don't set off my thoroughly-trained self-dishonesty detector"; a near-empty category!

comment by [deleted] · 2012-10-14T12:17:55.522Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

From the description you've given, which doesn't give much to go on, it sounds like you have some, but not all, of the same problems I do (in my case stress-related anxiety and clinical depression, compounding mild comorbid Asperger's and dyspraxia).

What I'd recommend in this case is that you access cognitive behavioural therapy. It's the only psychiatric intervention that has been actually shown to have any long-term effects (short of dumping people full of antipsychotic drugs, which have far too many bad side-effects for me to ever recommend them). It's also very close to applied rationality, so it might fit your worldview and be more acceptable to you than other treatments would. From my own personal experience with it, it's not a panacea, but it is useful.

If you're in the US and poor, and thus can't access medical help, I would suggest learning some of the techniques from Zen Buddhism. I don't have much experience of this myself, but several friends who I trust have told me that the meditation techniques in Zen are very similar to a less-formalised version of CBT, and in some cases have helped them more. The podcasts at zencast.org have been very helpful to several people I know with problems like that.

Also, I am NOT a doctor and this is NOT meant to be medical advice that you should take without consulting one, and I am NOT accepting liability for anything you do, but I have seen suggestions that taking large doses of niacin -- large enough to cause flushing -- can help get rid of mild paranoia, anxiety and depression. My own experiences tend to bear this out, but it could well be a placebo effect.

And finally, this is DEFINITELY NOT IN ANY WAY A RECOMMENDATION, but there are several studies that suggest that the prescription-only drug ketamine, which is not licensed for this purpose, can provide long-term relief from depression and can also aid cognitive functioning. If you have a doctor who is willing to prescribe off-label, it may be worth discussing that with her, although it is very unlikely you'd get the prescription as ketamine is widely used as a recreational drug. I have no experience of it myself, unlike the other things I've mentioned here, so can't speak directly for its efficacy.

Replies from: ialdabaoth, MixedNuts, V_V, EvelynM, V_V
comment by ialdabaoth · 2012-10-15T06:21:05.608Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

While this post is appreciated, this feels more like tactical advice than strategic. You're ultimately correct - the tactical details theoretically are between me and my psychiatrist or therapist (although you're also tactically correct in that I am in the US and poor, and hence have no psychiatrist or therapist).

But the question I'm trying to pose to the group is tailored more to the specific strengths of this group - which are less about "how do I be less crazy?" and more about "how should people who are crazy adjust the processes described on this site, so that they can attempt to work them around their crazy?"

... do you understand the distinction? Put this more metaphorically, we get that the hardware's toast, we've got a field repair ticket submitted, but in the meantime can we please get a software patch? Because this is kinda mission-critical.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2012-10-15T09:50:09.736Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And the patch that appears to work is CBT. CBT in my experience is applied rationality for people with problems in their brains...

comment by MixedNuts · 2012-10-14T12:42:31.507Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ketamine's main advantage is that it's fast. As in, minutes to hours to kick in, rather than weeks to months. But it doesn't look more helpful than ordinary antidepressants.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2012-10-14T13:31:17.889Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I saw a study recently saying that it actually helped rebuild synaptic connections that are destroyed by depression. Afraid I don't have a cite for it. As for ordinary antidepressants, they seem at best to have placebo effects and at worst to actually be harmful, as far as I can tell, though it's not something I've looked into a great deal.

Replies from: MixedNuts, ChristianKl
comment by MixedNuts · 2012-10-14T14:43:52.102Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ordinary antidepressants are no better than placebo in mild depression but incredibly useful in severe cases. I suspect that their overall effect is underestimated because they can be anywhere from extremely helpful to extremely harmful, so studies that look only at averages miss that.

Replies from: Douglas_Knight
comment by Douglas_Knight · 2012-10-14T19:44:34.916Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I suspect that their overall effect is underestimated because they [have high variance]

Averaging is the right thing to do. High variance with zero mean really has zero mean.

If the drug is used differently in the field than in the studies, the studies may be misleading. In particular, if the patient tries several drugs, looking for one with positive effect, high variance of the individual drugs yields an overall positive outcome (if the drugs are not correlated). Some people claim that antidepressants are used this way, but others claim that they are used blindly.

Replies from: MixedNuts
comment by MixedNuts · 2012-10-14T20:31:54.128Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, the effect is usually stable for the same person on the same drug, so it's standard procedure to try a lot of antidepressants until one helps. Who claims that it's not? I've never heard of that, and it just sounds completely weird that a doctor wouldn't adjust treatment depending on results.

That's why averages aren't enough data. High-variance meds are better as long as the worst case is rarely lethal, since bad effects are felt only for as long as it takes to notice and switch whereas good ones are forever.

comment by ChristianKl · 2012-10-15T13:44:43.752Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ketamine's is good because it helps rebuild synaptic connections? A drug is good when it helps people to achieve the results they want to achieve.

If a study doesn't tell you that the drug helps people get better results but insteadly tells you that the drug does something good "in the brain", be wary.

When people say that ordinary antidepressants aren't much better than placebo's they aren't saying that ordinary antidepressants don't have an effect. They do stuff in the brain that you can measure. The problem is that they still only better the state of depression by 1.8 points on a 50 point scale (Kirsch et al 2008)

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2012-10-15T14:44:10.919Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Separately, other studies have shown that it works as an antidepressant. My follow-up comment was pointing out that it also works in a way that should be expected to have a longer-term effect than other antidepressants. It hasn't been studied much for that use, though, so we don't know for sure, but repairing damage as opposed to the symptoms of the damage seems like a promising result.

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2012-10-15T15:46:33.077Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For any given antidepressant there are a few studies that show that they work. Even for homeopathy there are studies that it works.

You said that it's off-label to use the drug as antidepressant. That probably means that the FDA thinks that the studies that exist don't provide enough evidence for it being a good antidepressant.

It hasn't been studied much for that use, though, so we don't know for sure, but repairing damage as opposed to the symptoms of the damage seems like a promising result.

How do you know that rebuilding the specific synaptic connections they studied isn't treating symptoms but causes?

Different people are depressed for different reasons. People who get serious head insuries are more likely to develop depression. If you have a way to address the causes of depression within one person, you don't necessarily have a way to address it for the next person.

Replies from: None, V_V, MixedNuts
comment by [deleted] · 2012-10-15T16:21:39.085Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"How do you know that rebuilding the specific synaptic connections they studied isn't treating symptoms but causes?"

I don't know that, which is why I suggested discussing it with a qualified medical practitioner, rather than, for example, just buying some from an illegal dealer, and said it was definitely not a recommendation, capitalising those words. The little I know about the subject suggests it might be a promising line of enquiry, but I am not making any claims about its efficacy.

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2012-10-15T18:34:10.442Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't know that, which is why I suggested discussing it with a qualified medical practitioner, rather than, for example, just buying some from an illegal dealer, and said it was definitely not a recommendation, capitalising those words.

Lesswrong isn't a place where you would tell someone directly: "Go buy illegal drugs." It's a public forum in which you participate with your real name. Saying "this is not a recommendation" is likely be read be some adventurous people as: "I don't want to held accountable in any way for the recommendation I'm making, but in case you are interested..."

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2012-10-15T19:43:17.640Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I can certainly see that, but I would also hope that if someone is, as the OP claims to be, wanting to be truly rational, possibly the very first point in a list of 'how to be rational' rules would be "Don't buy illegal brain-altering chemicals based solely on a remark made by a total stranger on the internet."

Were someone to not be following that rule already, I suspect any other advice any of us could give them would be useless.

(Incidentally, I'm not one of the people who downvoted that comment. It seems reasonable to at least raise the issue.)

Replies from: MixedNuts, wedrifid, ChristianKl
comment by MixedNuts · 2012-10-16T10:10:09.931Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The existence of gwern, of Crazy Meds, and of the subset of the trans community unable to get treatment through official channels suggests that this rule isn't actually all that good.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-10-16T06:45:31.654Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Were someone to not be following that rule already, I suspect any other advice any of us could give them would be useless.

I don't know about that. After all it seems like they are the kind of person to take the advice of strangers on the internet...

comment by ChristianKl · 2012-10-15T20:37:12.960Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Drug restored damaged synaptic connections" -> "Drug is good" is a quite seductive argument that bears the danger of being accepted by smart people. The person might focus his fact check whether the claim about restoring damaged synaptic connections is true.

Given the failure of antidepressants in which companies invested a lot of money, it's rational to choose the prior "a new antidepressent isn't likely to create big positive effects" when evaluating a new candidate. Picking the right reference class is valuable.

comment by V_V · 2012-10-16T14:37:55.110Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

According to Wikipedia there are small studies that seem to show a short-term antidepressant effect, but their size and methodological quality appears to be insufficient to consider them conclusive evidence. There seems to be nothing on long-term effects.

comment by MixedNuts · 2012-10-15T17:15:18.045Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

the FDA thinks that the studies that exist don't provide enough evidence for it being a good antidepressant

I was going to say the FDA is a bunch of cowardly windbags who won't approve anything that looks remotely scary or new, but turns out I can't find a neutral source on that, just libertarian journals and lizard-conspiracy guy.

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2012-10-15T19:55:49.820Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In what way is Ketamine more scary and new than the antidepressant that the FDA approved?

Replies from: MixedNuts, handoflixue
comment by MixedNuts · 2012-10-16T06:04:08.328Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As handoflixue said, potential for recreational use. (This even scares them about freaking bupropion, which doesn't actually have any.) Long-term effects not well known, because horses rarely take the Beck depression inventory. Just plain bizarre effects given current model - depression does not normally goes away in an hour, and if it goes away in less than a week you panic, lock the patient up, and watch for signs of mania.

comment by handoflixue · 2012-10-15T21:24:33.027Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Cannabis is a Schedule I (1) drug, the most severe rank a drug can have. Requirements for Schedule I:

1 - The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse. 2 - The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States. 3 - There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.

There have been some theories about a "war against recreational drugs", and proponents of this theory suggest that drugs with strong recreational properties may meet with excessive bureaucratic regulation.

Further theories along the same vein suggest the ocean may in fact be slightly damp, and that Hand Of Lixue may be prone to the occasional understatement.

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2012-10-15T23:17:40.083Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Cannabis is schedule I, ketamine isn't. I therefore don't see the point of bringing up cannabis.

Replies from: handoflixue
comment by handoflixue · 2012-10-16T00:37:55.549Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

" That probably means that the FDA thinks that the studies that exist don't provide enough evidence for it being a good antidepressant."

The previous comment of mine was an example of a controversial move by the FDA, which illustrates that they may have reasons to deny approval to certain drugs deemed to have excessive "recreational" potential. I'm hoping you can see why this is relevant to a conversation about why the FDA might opt not to approve a drug....

Replies from: V_V
comment by V_V · 2012-10-16T14:27:29.308Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why do you focus on the FDA? Almost all countries have drug regulation agencies, and various of them approve cannabis or cannabinoids for therapeutic uses, but, as far as I know, none of them approves ketamine for use as an antidepressant.

Replies from: handoflixue
comment by handoflixue · 2012-10-16T19:19:49.544Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Because the thread was about the FDA. I have no clue whether the claim about ketamine is valid or not, but I do strongly suspect that "The FDA has not approved this" is not relevant (since they have a clear motive to oppose the substance even if it is an antidepressant.)

If no place else has approved it, then that is much more useful evidence against ketamine, and I'm glad to encounter such :)

comment by V_V · 2012-10-16T01:18:48.582Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(Reply to wedrifid)

Replies to EvelynM would seem to belong as, well, replies to the comment which is authored by EvelynM.

There is an annoying aspect of the recently added karma penalty "feature" that doesn't allow you to reply if you don't have enough karma to pay the penalty, which I don't have.

File your complaints to the geniuses who thought this was a good idea.

comment by EvelynM · 2012-10-15T03:26:42.408Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Downvoted for diagnosing someone over the internet.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2012-10-15T09:41:58.421Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I didn't diagnose anyone. I said it sounds like the OP has some of the same problems I do.

comment by V_V · 2012-10-15T20:17:11.227Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(Reply to EvelynM)

Downvoted for diagnosing someone over the internet.

The OP himself stated that he is probably insane. It seems to me that if you suspect that you have mental health issues, seeking help from a mental health professionals is the best thing to do.

Cognitive behavioral therapy seems to have the best evidence of success, at least for some disorders.

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2012-10-15T21:46:03.203Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(Reply to EvelynM)

Replies to EvelynM would seem to belong as, well, replies to the comment which is authored by EvelynM.

comment by RolfAndreassen · 2012-10-15T15:35:36.502Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This may be a stupid question: How old are you? From the pattern of your posts I seem to detect a vague hint of an American high school. Please observe: American schools are severely broken. (1) Inability to function in such a place is not necessarily a sign of insanity. Consider whether, perhaps, you may simply be surrounded by hormonal teenagers with nothing better to do than assert idiotic status hierarchies. If you're not already familiar with it, Paul Graham's essay on nerds may be relevant to your interests.

That aside: Are you sure you are really trying to be rational, as opposed to performing some ritual of cognition? It's hard to use oneself as a control group, you certainly cannot do so double-blindly, but what happens if you drop your attempts at rationality and act without thought, or with less thought than you are currently using? For all you know, that may give even worse results; but at any rate it seems to me that your problem is desperately in need of a control, or baseline. When you debug, it's no use saying that the error must be somewhere in module X. Comment out module X and see if the crash still happens.

Footnote 1: I read this on the Internet, so it must be true.

Replies from: ryjm, ialdabaoth
comment by ryjm · 2012-10-15T18:49:29.451Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

He is older than 23 per this comment. But reading his posts, either you have some extremely high standards for high school students or I am terrible at estimating someone's level of education. (Unless you were measuring emotional maturity somehow).

In any case, I would find it pretty disheartening if someone asked me if I was in high school in a post about my own mental health. I'm sure you didn't mean to be rude, but I find it hard to believe that this response would be anything but patronizing or insulting to anyone who isn't a high school student.

Replies from: TimS, RolfAndreassen
comment by TimS · 2012-10-15T19:17:57.752Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

High school is a formative experience, socially speaking. When I was 23, my social skill were heavily effected by routines I'd learned in high school that I hadn't yet realized with dysfunctional given my goals. I found Graham's essay very insightful, and I might have found it even more helpful before I put all that effort into improving my social skills.

Replies from: blashimov
comment by blashimov · 2012-10-16T17:42:56.782Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Which essay is Graham's? Abandoning Cached Selves to Re-Write My Source Code?

Replies from: TimS
comment by TimS · 2012-10-16T18:18:06.650Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I meant the one linked by Rolf in the grandparent post.

Or you can click here to read "Why Nerds are Unpopular." Short answer: being popular is a lot of work, and nerds prefer doing other things that don't leave them with the time to develop popularity skills. At the margins, popularity is a skill, not a talent.

Replies from: blashimov
comment by blashimov · 2012-10-16T20:58:47.820Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Now I feel silly, as I read that. Thanks for your time.

comment by RolfAndreassen · 2012-10-15T21:19:39.555Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I did consider that the post was very well written, but then, it is precisely the child prodigies who have the greatest difficulty in high school. The language is not out of reach for a high-intelligence teenager who both reads and writes a lot.

In any case I sit corrected on the OP's age.

Replies from: ryjm
comment by ryjm · 2012-10-15T22:46:56.254Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I understand, and I do think you gave good advice (I love pg's writing).

On a related note, I just get a little worried when these threads come up. We like to hide behind computing jargon and Spock-like introspection; this does help with efficient communication, but probably makes us look more resilient than we really are. These kind of LW discussion posts are probably of very high social value to the OP and the tone of the responses have more of an effect than we would like to admit.

So helping the OP to see hard truths is all well and good, but it seems to me that we could use a bit more finesse. It's easier to understand the root of a problem when we have such precise words for everything, but it also means our pontifications must be just as precise or miss the mark completely - possibly hitting something we weren't aiming for.

comment by ialdabaoth · 2012-10-17T01:20:16.704Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am 38 years old. And I agree - American schools are severely broken; regrettably, so are most American corporations. All of my social experience has either been from American schools or American corporate jobs, which often seem like more a vicious extension of the American school social environment.

comment by Kawoomba · 2012-10-14T10:35:42.784Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My name is Brent, and I'm probably insane.

Chorus: Hi, Brent.

what is someone who wishes to be rational supposed to do, when the underlying hardware simply won't cooperate?

Being aware of the biases, yet unable to adapt your reasoning to compensate, seems to be contradictory. When you say "I know I only think X because of bias Y, so my actual belief should be Z", you seem to already have solved the problem in that instance, by just switching them out (in lambda calculus: E[X:=Z]).

The unknown unknowns are in my opinion the crux of the problem: those biases you did not (yet) recognize in specific situations, regardless of how well you trained yourself to reflect upon your own reasoning. Due to the nature of the problem, we wouldn't even be aware of how much progress we made in recognizing biases, and how much is left to be done. (Comparing the variance among reasoning agents would help: Based on Aumann, we can in principle eliminate - or at least notice the existence of - biases that we do not share, but two agents with a shared kind of bias would still converge on the same belief and thus be oblivious to it*).

What do? Do the best with the hand dealt to you, e.g. if it were the case (as a cosmic joke) that Occam's Razor didn't hold true for vetting ToE's after all, too bad. At least we did our very best then.

* I'm not certain this is a formal result, it should be the case for a majority of cases. Comments welcome.

Replies from: faul_sname
comment by faul_sname · 2012-10-14T19:55:08.314Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"I know I only think X because of bias Y, so my actual belief should be Z", you seem to already have solved the problem in that instance, by just switching them out (in lambda calculus: E[X:=Z]).

You'd think that should be the case, but beliefs don't actually work like that. You may believe that you believe Z, but you'll still behave as if you believe X. It's possible to override belief X, but it's not as easy as simply recognizing that you should override (or at least, that's the case in my experience. Yours may vary).

comment by Epiphany · 2012-10-15T18:01:27.840Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Alternate explanation for "insanity": If your IQ is high enough, you're likely to have problems fitting in with others. Normally I wouldn't suggest high IQ as a reason for not fitting in since an IQ high enough to cause that problem occurs in less than 1% of the population. However, here you are posting on LessWrong, a place that is known for it's intelligent members. (See Yvain's surveys to discover that most claim a high enough IQ for the average to be in the 140's). Not only that, but if you were using Bayesian techniques as a child and experimenting with making AIs as a teen, I'd say you're very likely to be smarter than the average bear.

If you want to look into this further:

Try researching a concept called "socially optimal IQ range".

Check out this article by the Prometheus Society: The Outsiders

Consider reading this book: Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children and Adults

Research the term: Existential depression (common to gifted adults, and your inability to hack utility table complaint is reminiscent of this).

If you or someone reading this needs a concierge into the subject of gifted adults, I can be one. If the prospect of being flamed for claiming giftedness / looking into giftedness is a concern, use PM.

Replies from: MixedNuts, V_V, Asymmetric, RichardKennaway, Curiouskid
comment by MixedNuts · 2012-10-15T18:07:36.460Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's a playground for smart adults looking to meet their likes. It's called academia and it's full of shiny toys.

Replies from: Epiphany
comment by Epiphany · 2012-10-15T19:58:32.525Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Schools do not cater to every IQ ballpark. If your IQ is 130 (about 1 in 50 people) sure you could find a school that caters to that. If your IQ is 160 (one in thousands, exactly how rare is controversial), good luck.

I don't know what this person's IQ is, but I do know that colleges have to mind their finances and it simply does not make sense from a business standpoint for colleges to invest in creating a curriculum in various subjects for customers beyond a certain level of rarity. Harvard is rumored to have an average IQ of 130. If even Harvard is targeted for 130, where would people outside the socially optimal IQ range (the range ends somewhere beyond 145) go to meet each other?

Add to that that this person sounds like they're living in the middle of bufu and it really would not surprise me if they're gifted and haven't met others. Also, according to one testing center 50% of gifted children weren't given an IQ test, so if that's the case, or if they got one and nobody explained what the score means (they almost never do) then they may not even realize they're gifted, or may have no idea what giftedness means.

They may not even know that it means anything at all, let alone that it means they need to find others, and then there's not a good answer to "where do you find people this rare" let alone "how am I going to find them in bufu?"

Replies from: RolfAndreassen
comment by RolfAndreassen · 2012-10-15T21:24:58.470Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Even for those of IQ 160 there is a huge difference between interacting with people whose average IQ is 130, and interacting with the general population. Further, supposing IQ 160 is one-in-X in the world, it's one-in-X/10, or even X/50, in academia. Shifting the average has all kinds of effects on thin tails.

Also consider that in addition to raw intelligence, academia tends to concentrate various forms of neuro-atypicality, and to be relatively tolerant of unusual interests.

Replies from: Epiphany
comment by Epiphany · 2012-10-16T05:07:29.732Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Even for those of IQ 160 there is a huge difference between interacting with people whose average IQ is 130, and interacting with the general population.

This does not mean they will experience group bonding with those people.

Further, supposing IQ 160 is one-in-X in the world, it's one-in-X/10, or even X/50, in academia. Shifting the average has all kinds of effects on thin tails.

Okay, but you've got to consider that the students are broken up into different classes and the classes only contain something like 30 students each, depending, and they're broken up into levels (that correspond more or less to how many years they've spent in college). So if a rare person is 1 in 1000 in the wild, and they're 1 in 100 in a school, and a school has 10,000 students...

10,000 \ 4 levels = 2,500 possible students who might get classes at your level (25 people like you)

The 25 people like you will be divided between 83 different classes if the class size is 30 each.

So you've got about a 30% chance that there's somebody like you is in a given class. Now, since there are 28 other students in each class (aside from you and them), what's the chance you'll actually identify each other out of the crowd? After that, what's the chance you'll have anything in common? Maybe you won't like their personality. Maybe they're shy and never say anything. Maybe you sit on opposite ends of the room and never talk. There are a lot of factors influencing whether you might meet someone and whether you figure out if they're compatible.

If you are 1 in 100 and take 6 classes per semester, you may have an opportunity to meet 4 people like yourself in class each year. An opportunity to meet a total of 16 people like you over the course of your four year college career would actually be pretty crappy odds, especially considering all of the other factors.

Replies from: RolfAndreassen
comment by RolfAndreassen · 2012-10-16T17:21:25.277Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ok; now do the same calculation for the world outside academia, making similar assumptions - no going up to every random person on the street and asking what their IQ is, if you please. You can't do any better than maximising your odds; showing that the odds are still bad is unpersuasive, you have to show that they are the same as, or worse than, the alternative course of action.

Replies from: Epiphany
comment by Epiphany · 2012-10-16T19:31:55.366Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

you have to show that they are the same as, or worse than, the alternative course of action.

No I don't. That WOULD be the way to go IF the argument was "Academia is a better place to meet people than on the street." But that wasn't the disagreement. My original suggestion was "If your IQ is high enough, it can be really hard to find people to bond with." the counterargument was "Academia is a playground (implying that it's a solution, not just that it's better.)" and my rebuttal was "Academia is not a solution to this problem." Don't straw man me.

All I had to do is explain why academia wasn't a solution. Since you seem to agree:

showing that the odds are still bad...

I am going to guess that I've convinced you of my point that academia isn't a solution. Have I?

Replies from: RolfAndreassen
comment by RolfAndreassen · 2012-10-16T19:38:04.795Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If the problem is "X is hard", then "X is easier if you do Y" is good information, and "Y only improves X-easiness by so much" is no rebuttal. Arguing about whether it's "a solution" is semantics. Also, you're reading way too much into that 'playground'.

Replies from: wedrifid, Epiphany
comment by wedrifid · 2012-10-17T07:06:41.971Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If the problem is "X is hard", then "X is easier if you do Y" is good information, and "Y only improves X-easiness by so much" is no rebuttal.

Yes, it really is a rebuttal and a good one too, for sane values of "so much", "hard" and "Y".

comment by Epiphany · 2012-10-16T19:45:32.303Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If the problem is "X is hard", then "X is easier if you do Y" is good information

If that were true, then concepts like these would not exist:

  • an ineffective strategy

  • false hope

  • false sense of security

  • a waste of time

If spending 5 dollars on a small chance of a good thing is a Pascal's mugging, the suggestion that spending tens of thousands of dollars plus multiple years in academia is a good idea for rare people to meet teach other is an all out Pascal's burglary.

Your arguments are getting ridiculous. I'm ending this discussion.

comment by V_V · 2012-10-15T19:37:11.807Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Alternate explanation for "insanity": If your IQ is high enough, you're likely to have problems fitting in with others.

Do you have a reference?

As far as I know, there is positive correlation beween social skills and IQ up to an IQ of about 120. There are claims that for a very high IQ (> 140) the correlation may be negative, but this is disputed.

Replies from: Epiphany
comment by Epiphany · 2012-11-04T19:57:20.719Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm in "Halt, melt, and catch fire" mode right now regarding psychology knowledge and research in general.

I cannot give you anything good and I am questioning whether such a thing is possible in psychology right now. ):

I have a lot of experience interacting with gifted adults and have read a lot about them, so I think I have some useful insight when it comes to making the correct distinctions that help with untangling this controversy. First, there's a difference between feeling lonely and being unable to fit in socially. There's another gigantic difference between being unable to fit in and being able to fit in but only with a huge effort.

What I'm seeing is that most of the very gifted adults are able to fit in by putting in a lot of effort and hiding most of their thoughts and feelings (which would not make sense to others since their thoughts are often complex and difficult to explain and their feelings are often in reaction to complex thoughts), but they do not enjoy those social experiences which are so demanding of their energy, and so they end up lonely. The profoundly gifted people I've met are so frustrated by things like explaining across inferential distances that it's practically characteristic of them. Their way of dealing with the differences seems to be to reduce social contact and learn specialized social skills for interacting in environments that are unavoidable like workplaces. They often succeed with these specialized social skills in limited environments and usually prevent social disasters simply by staying quiet, not leaving the house, or avoiding social environments with people who aren't like minded. So, they have usually had coping mechanisms that work for them to prevent social ineptness. However, when it comes down to it, there's nothing that improving one's social skills can do to solve the problem of loneliness. The issue is not that people don't respect or like them, the problem is that people do not relate to them when they try to share their inner worlds. You can build one-way rapport by learning what your audience cares about and keeping your conversations within the boundaries of their comfort zone. If the audience cannot build rapport the other way you end up feeling lonely and misunderstood. This is what I'm seeing.

Sorry for the delay. I haven't memorized all my citations and it can be a bit of a pain to dig them up (I'm thinking about the best way to organize them right now) so I'm kind of burnt out on digging up citations right now which is resulting in some procrastination when answering comments like this.

comment by Asymmetric · 2012-11-19T00:25:14.863Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Somehow the phrase "existential depression" clicked with me. For context, I'm an otherwise cheery person who breaks down with terrible fear (sometimes involving crying episodes) when I contemplate death. The fear generally lasts for a few hours, but is extremely potent.

Are there instances of existential depression which are more chronic, as opposed to acute, like mine? Is that what the phrase is referring to?

comment by RichardKennaway · 2012-11-18T10:16:09.132Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If your IQ is high enough, you're likely to have problems fitting in with others.

Shouldn't high intelligence also enable you to solve this problem? Winning is what rationalists do, and all that.

Replies from: satt
comment by satt · 2012-11-18T16:33:51.984Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Higher IQ can allow you to figure out faster which things to learn to fit in with others, but you still have to put in the time & effort to learn those things, and then cultivate the corresponding social habits.

Replies from: RichardKennaway
comment by RichardKennaway · 2012-11-18T21:41:55.771Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Higher IQ can allow you to figure out faster which things to learn to fit in with others

Faster than lower IQ people? Should be, but the scenario being discussed is the opposite: the highly intelligent doing far worse than the rest. For how the highly intelligent should perform at social skills, see, for example, Feynman. If someone of high intelligence is not outperforming those of lower intelligence, it does not make much sense to blame the intelligence.

Replies from: satt
comment by satt · 2012-11-20T03:34:45.170Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh, I see what you mean now. Didn't originally realize your question was rhetorical so I didn't infer what you were getting at.

comment by Curiouskid · 2012-11-18T06:58:34.811Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"We are likely to have started out socially awkward - failing to automatically perceive all the social subtleties that our normal cohort noticed instinctively. Some of us have figured out social belonging using parts of our brain not adapted for this purpose; but most of us experience the normal human ache for social belonging, friendship, bonding, and sex, even more so if we have been unlucky in securing it. "

http://theviewfromhell.blogspot.com/2012/09/trying-to-see-through-unified-theory-of.html

comment by Nisan · 2012-10-15T04:54:10.826Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Have you tried being compassionate and curious about the parts of you that don't cooperate with your plans?

Replies from: ialdabaoth
comment by ialdabaoth · 2012-10-15T06:11:41.371Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think I have, but how could I tell if I actually had tried or not, rather than merely deluded myself into thinking that I had tried but it was too hard?

Replies from: Nisan, NancyLebovitz
comment by Nisan · 2012-10-15T15:09:19.198Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, you say you want a partial personectomy. That indicates a desire to destroy part of yourself, rather than a desire to ultimately understand and nurture that part.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-10-16T13:50:16.309Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I believe that that relaxation/uncurling my spine is an indication that I've succeeded at compassion towards myself.

Here's an alternate explanation for not succeeding-- you tried, but you didn't know what you needed to do, so you did something but it didn't work.

comment by RolfAndreassen · 2012-10-15T21:30:34.943Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Perhaps it is easier to debug your approach to specific goals, than your general cognitive algorithm. For example, are you having trouble getting laid? Finding people to play board games with? Getting your room-mates to do the dishes without massive drama? Staying off the drugs that dull the pain?

If there is a specific issue, that's both easier to give advice about and easier to measure your success with; rewriting your whole utility function is perhaps not the place to start.

comment by Jabberslythe · 2012-10-14T12:18:15.905Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have some similar problems and I'll try to explain them.

So I think that some of my failings may be attributable to having many contradictory values rather than to being failures of rationality. An example of values that oppose one another are the desire for social interaction and the strong sense of guilt that I experience at any social failing. If I try to optimize for one then I take a hit from the other and I still don't net very many hedons. The rational action here would be to modify and remove the errant value, but that's difficult.

In Neurotic spells in the past I've also acquired some desire to see myself fail as well and this flares up from time to time. I can be fairly rational while alone, but in social situations I seem to get overwhelmed with negative emotion and my rationality gets 'knocked out' . Well, not literally knocked out, it's just that I update on all sorts of misperceived social cues and wind up with weird aliefs and beliefs, temporarily. I can leave a social situation anticipating on different levels that a good friend doesn't actually like me, or some new idea that I had and was confidant about, is actually just terrible (in situations were neither of these was actually the case). I can point to some large past irrationalities that were the source of some of this, but the values are persistent.

Raw exposure to social situations has reduced some of my wild update problems, but I works very well if I actually interact which is something that is hard to ensure. I also don't that much else out of raw social interaction, so it's not an attractive option.

If anyone wants to link me articles on here about thinking about and dealing with perverse desires I'd love that. It would also be awesome if anyone could point out mistakes that I seem to be making here.

Replies from: ialdabaoth
comment by ialdabaoth · 2012-10-15T01:10:46.498Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This sounds pretty similar to a lot of my problems. Using this community's terminology, I can have all the beliefs I want, but if I have sufficiently powerful overriding aliefs, I'm screwed - since the alief-guided motivational system is actually closer to the motor control subprocessors than the belief-guided motivational system (aka "Amygdala hijack").

Worse, the alief-driven submodule is operating on its own utility table, which often is a nearly antiparallel eigenvector to my belief-driven submodule's utility table. So I have two submodules each with strong impetus vectors towards/away from various attractors within the solution domain, and... well, thrashing happens.

Replies from: MixedNuts
comment by MixedNuts · 2012-10-15T09:46:54.493Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, it's supposed to do that. It's kind of a problem when you have to unplug the TV to get work done, or to change departments to avoid letting the hot coworker seduce you. It does have advantages when you're not very good at lofty decisions, though; you can see the problem with an organism that can just decide eating is wrong and starve to death.

People normally react to that by setting modest goals, acquiring the right habits to consistently achieve them, and then working their way up. Rewarding both systems ("After 50 minutes of work, eat a chocolate") also helps.

comment by V_V · 2012-10-15T15:52:15.898Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My name is Brent, and I'm probably insane.

Then go to a therapist.

(In case you are confused, this is intended as sincere advice, not as an insult or challenge or whatever)

Replies from: None, Curiouskid
comment by [deleted] · 2012-10-15T19:51:40.908Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

See the comments to my reply above, in which I suggested CBT. Brent apparently can't easily afford a therapist. (Also, most kinds of therapy have a limited or nonexistent evidential base. CBT is the only exception I know of, though I'm willing to be corrected.)

Replies from: V_V
comment by V_V · 2012-10-15T20:28:13.106Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Brent apparently can't easily afford a therapist.

Not living in the US, I tend to forget about the state of public heathcare there. Is mental helthcare not covered by standard health insurances?

Replies from: thomblake
comment by thomblake · 2012-10-15T20:30:19.371Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Many young people don't have health insurance. Many college students have "accident and sickness insurance" required by the university, which does not cover most things.

comment by Curiouskid · 2012-10-21T05:30:42.495Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I recommend reading "The Mood Cure" by Julia Ross and getting your diet/nutrition in order. See also: avoid misinterpreting your emotions

comment by ChristianKl · 2012-10-15T13:31:57.722Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A pack-bonding ritual might be: "Bod feels a feeling of friendship towards Dave. Therefore he does something to signal that feeling of friendship towards Dave. In return Dave responds by signaling his own feelings of friendship."

If Bob isn't in touch with the feeling of friendship, his communication will likely to appear inauthentic. He will make little mistakes that give away that he doesn't feel it. If Dave picks up that Bob feels anxious about the whole process things get worse.

As long as you try to solve your social interactions purely by running Bayesian calcuations you will mess up social interactions with normal people.

Bayesian computer agents don't pass the Turing test even when given a massive amount of computational power. It's not a hardware problem. It's a software problem of running software that fails to deal with your own emotions.

How do you deal with the issue in a constructive fashion? For myself attending good NLP seminars helped to get a better handle on my emotions.