Group rationality diary, 9/17/12

post by cata · 2012-09-19T11:08:39.965Z · score: 3 (4 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 33 comments

This is the public group instrumental rationality diary for the week of September 17th. It's a place to record and chat about it if you have done, or are actively doing, things like:

  • Established a useful new habit
  • Obtained new evidence that made you change your mind about some belief
  • Decided to behave in a different way in some set of situations
  • Optimized some part of a common routine or cached behavior
  • Consciously changed your emotions or affect with respect to something
  • Consciously pursued new valuable information about something that could make a big difference in your life
  • Learned something new about your beliefs, behavior, or life that surprised you
  • Tried doing any of the above and failed

Or anything else interesting which you want to share, so that other people can think about it, and perhaps be inspired to take action themselves.  Try to include enough details so that everyone can use each other's experiences to learn about what tends to work out, and what doesn't tend to work out.

Thanks to everyone who contributes!

Previous diaryarchive of prior diaries.

(Sorry for being late, I don't even have an excuse at all!  Oh well.)

33 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Epiphany · 2012-09-30T01:09:06.869Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I realized I didn't know enough about other people's points of view on elitism and decided to investigate them after my elitism thread crashed and burned.

I tamed my elitism mind kill reaction.

comment by sixes_and_sevens · 2012-09-19T13:29:05.043Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

A couple of things recently have got me thinking about socialisation and empathy.

The first is the recent set of posts on Yvain's Blog about gender relations. Many of the posts and comments express a level of frustration with the complications of male/female social interactions which I used to share, but don't any more. It doesn't seem that complicated to me any more, but I can very clearly remember a time when it did.

The second is a semi-formal debate I recently attended, where I was one of the speakers for a motion supporting the unconditional right of pregnant women to terminate at any time up until birth. My actual beliefs on this subject are informed by elaborate arguments on personhood, the conflictive nature of moral intuitions and a smattering of politically-oriented game theory (which LWers would probably be in a better position than most to appreciate), while my fellow speaker for the motion came at it from a more nihilistic angle.

We both realised our own personal arguments for the motion would be highly unpopular with the audience, and so we had to construct a more generally appealing set of arguments. There was a time in the past where this would not have occurred to me, and I would have spent ten minutes holding forth on arcane subject matter, trying to deliver a resistant audience to a repugnant but incontrovertible conclusion.

In both cases, a previous version of myself did not understand the social ramifications of certain types of behaviour. I'm trying to decide whether this is more the result of slowly accreting many different pieces of information over time, or of a general increase in my ability to empathise with/simulate the reactions of other people.

If it's mostly the latter, I don't really need to do anything special to improve this capacity. If it's mostly the former, I'm not sure how to go about directing a search for more of them.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-20T19:13:29.394Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It doesn't seem that complicated to me any more, but I can very clearly remember a time when it did.

Why did you change your mind?

comment by sixes_and_sevens · 2012-09-20T20:01:40.740Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It wasn't really a case of changing my mind. There was a time when I found it really difficult to make sense of, and now I find it significantly less difficult.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-20T20:14:50.373Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I mean, has there been anything in particular that has helped you understand something you couldn't understand before?

comment by sixes_and_sevens · 2012-09-20T21:11:57.268Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Being in a long-term cohabiting monogamous relationship was a powerful learning experience for a number of reasons. The most obvious one is that you have someone around all of the time who you need to negotiate with, account for, and keep happy.

There are a few less obvious reasons why it's such a learning experience. If you spend a few years removed from the dating game, you have the opportunity to view it from a much more dispassionate perspective with the pressure off. Also if you're publicly unavailable you can practise flirting without consequence, which is useful for calibrating your sense of what you can and can't get away with.

You also have access to a relationship dynamic which is generally unavailable to the single: people with whom you have mutually-acknowledged mutual attraction that isn't going to get acted upon. "Here's a crapload of tension we can't do anything about. Let's talk about it." It's like Christmas Day football in no-man's-land.

comment by MileyCyrus · 2012-09-19T14:40:21.172Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

We both realised our own personal arguments for the motion would be highly unpopular with the audience, and so we had to construct a more generally appealing set of arguments.

Did you dumb down your repugnant-but-sound arguments to make them more accessible? Or did you use the popular-but-inane arguments that stop people from seriously evaluating the issue?

comment by sixes_and_sevens · 2012-09-19T16:13:44.611Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It's worth reiterating that the debate wasn't for/against abortion, but for/against allowing women to decide to terminate at any stage of the pregnancy.

In a very tight nutshell, the argument I avoided was "infants aren't people by any rigorous criteria we (adults) would use to classify ourselves or each other as people. Our protective impulses towards them have a different basis, and aren't consistent throughout human history." We decided "infanticide is A-Okay" would not be a popular platform.

The argument I gave was "if you accept abortion is permissible in early pregnancy but not late pregnancy, you have to draw a line somewhere, and proposed bases for drawing that line (foetus viability, 'consciousness', etc.) are not up to the task. If you can't draw the line somewhere, you can't draw the line anywhere, so pick which bullet you want to bite."

comment by MileyCyrus · 2012-09-19T16:47:23.993Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It looks like the first argument is just the second one taken to it's logical conclusion. That's good, because you're not leading your audience down a faulty path of reasoning.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2012-09-28T22:05:24.240Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Recently, I wanted to spend some time with a certain lady in a bedroom... but the only available bedroom, her primary's, had doors with large glass windows in them; she remarked that she and her primary were considering trying to put up curtains across the door.

At some point thereafter, two large moving boxes were stacked up in front of the door, a blanket had been spread over them, a sitting pillow had gone on top of them, and a bed pillow had been stacked on top of that. It wasn't perfect privacy but it at least meant somebody would need an effort to see in, which in the generally libertine environment was as much as we cared about.

I realized afterward that I'd just turned into Harry in Chapter 16 of HPMOR, except that instead of asking how I could use every object in the room to kill someone, I was glancing at every single object in the room around me and reinterpreting it in terms of how I could use it to achieve my current objective of "block visibility into the room". And that apparently other people don't automatically Munchkin when confronted with real-life problems, and CFAR needs to come up with some sort of training method.

comment by Unnamed · 2012-09-29T07:44:14.331Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This sounds like it's closely related to functional fixedness.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-09-29T11:06:38.085Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I realized afterward that I'd just turned into Harry in Chapter 16 of HPMOR, except that instead of asking how I could use every object in the room to kill someone, I was glancing at every single object in the room around me and reinterpreting it in terms of how I could use it to achieve my current objective of "block visibility into the room". And that apparently other people don't automatically think this way when confronted with real-life problems, and CFAR needs to come up with some sort of training method.

Really? Even the rather potent near mode goal of copulation isn't enough to prompt people to enter that sort of creative problem solving mode? While I believe it I'm still surprised. I have acted out rather similar privacy construction scenarios and thought nothing of it.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2012-09-29T17:54:19.475Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Well, the problem wasn't "we can't have sex", the problem was, "we can have sex but not privacy". I suspect that people are much less likely to go Munchkin when faced with something they can just grit their teeth for, however inconvenient.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-09-29T18:01:05.930Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Well, the problem wasn't "we can't have sex", the problem was, "we can have sex but not privacy". I suspect that people are much less likely to go Munchkin when faced with something they can just grit their teeth for, however inconvenient.

Would you expect that in the situation where the other partner is not likely to have sex without the provision of privacy (this does not seem at all uncommon in my experience) the would be seducer would be likely to successfully engage Muchkin mode?

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2012-09-29T18:17:09.308Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think I'd bet against it at 50-50 odds.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-09-29T18:32:25.026Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting, thankyou. This phenonemon really should be studied: "The influence of likely sexual reward on logistical problem solving". Or "would people become munchkins if munchkins got laid?"

(EDIT: I'm genuinely dumbfounded at why several people have come through and downvoted Eliezer's comments here. They don't seem particularly worse than mine yet mine are still positive. This is especially surprising since several people have downvoted all of my recent comments yet somehow mine are still positive here while Eliezer's are negative. Just don't get it.)

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-29T23:31:56.673Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm genuinely dumbfounded at why several people

If I had to guess, I'd say the trouble was Eliezer's claim, in his initial post, that most people don't go into munchkin mode when confronted with real life problems. No reason was given for thinking that this was true (none has been given since). The result was probably the impression that Eliezer assumed on principle that his reaction to the situation was an unusually intelligent one.

I very much doubt that was Eliezer's thought (it would be a very bad inference), but there you go.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-09-30T00:15:41.291Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If I had to guess, I'd say the trouble was Eliezer's claim, in his initial post, that most people don't go into munchkin mode when confronted with real life problems. No reason was given for thinking that this was true (none has been given since).

Interesting, that would indicate that in this instance I took Eliezer at his word more than the average voter.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-30T00:30:20.330Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

...I took Eliezer at his word...

If this means you have some insight into his reasoning, especially toward the conclusion that he behaved unusually, please share it. I think we have ample reason to believe that Eliezer is unusually intelligent, to say the least, but my own impression is that his behavior during this episode was, well, in line with similar episodes in my life. And in the lives of most of the people who shared my dorm floor in college. And we're a pretty average bunch.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-09-30T00:37:18.196Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think we have ample reason to believe that Eliezer is unusually intelligent

More predisposed muchkinism. That's somewhat distinct from intelligence. The task of of covering the window with junk probably didn't harness all of his intellectual resources, or even enough of them for them to be particularly significant factor.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-30T01:25:29.538Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That's somewhat distinct from intelligence.

I'm not sure it is. Intelligence is at least very roughly a capacity to optimize, and while intelligent people may fail to optimize in everyday situations (and still be called intelligent), I don't see any real real difference between a straightforward exercise of intelligence (working out a proof or something) and a situation like this. It's just a matter of knowing what you have available to you, and what you can do with those resources to best and most efficiently achieve an end. ETA: But agreed that one difference is that working out a proof is typically much more demanding then obscuring a door.

In my experience, situations like the one Eliezer was in are thrilling, in the way vaulting around a children's play structure can feel thrilling. They're experiences of mastery in circumstances very like those in which we've experienced being helpless. It's really fun to be smart, strong, and mature. It's the feeling of being an adult, next to which the joys of childhood play are kind of a joke. It's not therefore the joy of real accomplishment (munchkinism mostly doesn't matter), but it is an avenue into it. If there's a rationality trick here, it's getting people hooked enough on the feelings of munchkinism, while keeping them from being satisfied with trivial exercises of it.

comment by Caspian · 2012-09-30T00:37:51.085Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The two people who had been considering putting up curtains there apparently did not interpret all the other objects in the room as potential privacy screen components.

[edit: I initially worded that badly]

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-30T01:06:54.258Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The people who had been considering putting up curtains there were probably looking for a long term, comfortable solution to the problem. For them, piling junk in front of the door would be a terrible way to handle that problem. Way worse than just ignoring it.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-29T05:53:58.623Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Learning to street fight was a good exercise in this for me. Not so much "how would you use this to kill someone" as training the subconscious process of identifying a handy object and a combat-specific use for it very quickly, faster than you'd be able to reason it out. What's interesting is that it didn't take much to get the ball rolling -- mentor simply had to demonstrate the concept with a handful of loose change. It's a bit weird when I realize people don't relate to objects in their environment that way, now -- but I've noticed that my casual willingness to look a little weird when solving problems seems to touch off a lot of lightbulbs for other people.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2012-09-29T16:52:37.813Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

This reminds me... I have read in a book, I believe it was "The Gift of Fear", that a good way to increase your safety is trying to think like a criminal. For example if you want to assault a person, which place would you choose? You need a hidden place (so that nobody else catches you in the act) near a widely open area (so that you can check that your victim is alone, and no other people are near). You want a place where people walk rarely (to have an opportunity to catch someone alone), but near a place where people often go (so that you don't have to wait for a victim forever). For example near a supermarket, but in a direction where people usually don't go; a short dark path near an open space or near a long street. Spend some time looking around for a place you would rationally choose to assault people. And then you'll learn to recognize the places you should rather avoid.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-29T17:32:56.871Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

nodnod I had a bit of a problem recently because one of the classes I'm taking can only be reached, when using public transit, through corridors that all read to me like nearly perfect places to opportunistically assault or mug someone, and I'm in an at-risk population (this occurs in a neighborhood where several members of that population have been murdered there in the last two years, and a high number of assaults take place there as well). Conversely, in Sydney I was mostly fine in neighborhoods locals considered rough and necessary to avoid -- it was just abundantly clear that the beaten path wouldn't be trouble, no matter how many scary stories I'd heard about the place.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-09-28T22:47:56.002Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I shudder to think what sort of training method you have in mind.

comment by maia · 2012-09-20T05:38:37.507Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I set up Beeminder recently and it's been helping me make progress on a few things:

  • Going rockclimbing once a week. I'm using this to track how much I climb every week, but me doing this can mostly be attributed to Roger and I committing to do it together on a specific day every week.
  • Doing homework / studying for about 8 hours per week. I'm hoping this will eventually cause me to spend slightly more time on schoolwork than is absolutely necessary to do my homework; I'm still calibrating how much time I should aim for per week.
  • Doing a weekly review every week. Doing this made me feel WAY better this week. I've set up a GTD system with an Incompletes note in Evernote (so I can update it whenever I have my phone on me), and knowing that I have a safe place to collect all of the nagging tasks I have to deal with and a way to know when I really need to deal with them has made me feel a lot more in control of things.

I've also set a habit of, when I'm deferring tasks, to just give myself one or two Big Action Items per day; this makes it a lot easier for me to focus on things. The combination of this, plus tracking my homework time and doing a weekly review, should hopefully allow me to get enough sleep every night; I've been doing quite well at this so far, with 9 hours almost every night. (It doesn't hurt that I have a particularly late schedule this semester, though, so hard to tell exactly what's causing this.)

I also tried out Fitocracy. I still generally update it whenever I do something active, but the amount of that has lessened since the school year started, and I don't really have enough free time to think impulsively, "I want some Fitocracy points, I'm going to go exercise." (I get TONS of points for rockclimbing every week, though.)

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-23T14:47:38.091Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What do you use to log time? I expect that you could just write down, but what's been keeping me from logging study time has been a good, clean implementation. Perhaps I ought to just put in the 30 minutes to work out some sort of implementation and try to make it habitual.

Also! I'm also on Fitocracy and I don't (yet) see the points as too big a motivator, but I use Foursquare to check in at the gym when I do go, and that does sometimes make the difference.

comment by maia · 2012-09-24T14:31:31.630Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Ya, I just write stuff down. Most of my work is on paper anyways, so not much monitoring to be done.

comment by Vaniver · 2012-09-24T17:04:27.017Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I am resuming my use of Anki; among other things, I suspect it will be a better use of my away-from-home downtime than Triple Town.

Unfortunately, the reason I stopped using Anki before was because I learned things faster than I added them- and so very quickly it would be weeks between reviews, and I would get out of the habit of reviewing, and then I would remember about it a year later.

The deck I have now (which I need to stick to for classes) is one of Laplace transforms, but I'd like more suggestions. Another one that's coming to mind is that I'm reading a lot of scientific literature now for my new research project, and it may be helpful to attach faces to all the names. There aren't enough of those to take me longer than a week, though. I also started memorizing the Periodic Table years ago, and could resume that, but that one always seemed a bit artificial / it was hard to keep caring through the Lanthanides.

comment by Oscar_Cunningham · 2012-09-24T19:56:42.530Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I've been using it to memorise useful mathematical formulae like trig identities and integrals. Obviously rote learning mathematics can be harmful, but there are some formulae (like the one for tan(A+B)) that come up often enough to be useful but not often enough for me to have memorised them automatically. This is the sweet spot for spaced repetition.

Also, remembering people's birthdays seems like a good use of Anki.

comment by Vaniver · 2012-09-24T20:09:05.722Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I considered a table of integrals too, but it's rare that I come across an integral these days that I should be doing rather than handing off to Mathematica (or it's a specialized one like a Laplace transform). The birthdays idea is a good one, but Google Calendar does that for me far more effectively.

I might want to do one for the names of prominent theorems, though. Then I'll be able to just say "the Cayley Hamilton theorem" instead of "you can express any function of a matrix as a combination of N-1 powers of that matrix."