Raw Post: Talking With My Brother 2019-07-13T02:57:42.142Z · score: 25 (9 votes)
AI Alignment "Scaffolding" Project Ideas (Request for Advice) 2019-07-11T04:39:11.401Z · score: 9 (4 votes)
The I Ching Series (2/10): How should I prioritize my career-building projects? 2019-07-09T22:55:05.848Z · score: 14 (4 votes)
The Results of My First LessWrong-inspired I Ching Divination 2019-07-08T21:26:36.133Z · score: 20 (12 votes)
Here Be Epistemic Dragons 2019-07-04T22:31:44.061Z · score: 9 (5 votes)
Archive of all LW essay contests 2019-05-30T06:40:02.587Z · score: 13 (3 votes)
Seeking suggestions for EA cash-prize contest 2019-05-29T20:44:35.311Z · score: 16 (6 votes)


Comment by allamericanbreakfast on How to Make Billions of Dollars Reducing Loneliness · 2019-08-31T07:42:37.423Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Take my thoughts less as objections and more as opportunities. If a business can solve many or most of them, they might prosper. No reason to think it’s impossible to improve on the current rental industry, but you’d want to think through the current set of issues methodically.

AirBnb doesn’t promise anything more than a regular hotel experience in a new setting. OKCupid doesn’t promise anything at all really, except a supply of singles looking to date.

We already have robust services that supply both rental properties and people looking for housemates (the roommate equivalents of AirBnb and OKCupid).

It strikes me that the value you’re suggesting a company could provide is a positive housemate experience, achieved through some sort of algorithm or a setup in which housemates could somehow try each other out as housemates in a flexible way before they commit.

I am highly skeptical of the idea that even the most sophisticated algorithmic matching software can provide better housemate relationships through better matching than is already available. I don’t think any dating apps match people well romantically. The most effective approach with them is to just go on a lot of dates and see if anyone clicks.

It would be more interesting to me if a company figured out a way where people could move in together, stay as long as they liked, move out, try another group, with minimal hassle.

Perhaps an apartment building with pods of furnished rooms connected to a common area. People make profiles, get on the waiting list for an open pod, and the current pod mates can vote on who they want to accept next. They can’t kick out a pod mate they don’t like, but they could switch away to a different pod.

The rates are hotel prices, maybe double what the house normally rents for. When an entire pod clicks, they can move out at their leisure to a rental apartment or house.

It seems to me that this could add value to a typical hotel experience, while using a similar business model. AirBnb already provides a solution to the trust problem of strangers cohabitating.

If this kind of business existed in my city at an affordable price, I might try it. Hotels are about twice as expensive as rental apartments, though, so I imagine this would be a pretty costly investment.

You’d want lots of options for people to live with, which necessitates owning a lot of rental properties.

To avoid that problem, perhaps you could connect with landlords, offering them a cut of the profits in exchange for partnering with your service. You help them manage the properties, to cut the hassle for the landlord, and they’re able to charge higher rates, closer to hotel prices, in exchange for granting this level of flexibility to their renters.

My estimate is that you could raise prices by $4,000/mo on a six bedroom house, with the landlord keeping 25%-50% of the increase. You’d need to give them an incentive to take on an extra potential hassle and try something new.

I suppose there’s merit in a more detailed sorting algorithm. OKCupid may not be able to detect your soul mate, but it helps prevent a match between a 57 year old gay man in Seattle and a 22 year old lesbian in Austin, which is useful. I imagine a better algorithm could at least prevent mismatches like these.

The challenge is that you’d need to ensure a steady stream of clients. Otherwise, the property owners might lose money despite the higher rates. This could be hard if a pod was occupied by a person with an unpopular profile.

Perhaps you could rely on the high rates of the service to eventually incentivize them to move out. You could also put temporarily lower rates on unoccupied rooms to incentivize people to move in.

This service would probably also need to deal with people treating it like a hotel, which could dilute the utility for people treating it as a room mate try before you buy service. You could partly solve that with branding. In any case, a paying client is a good client.

Comment by allamericanbreakfast on How to Make Billions of Dollars Reducing Loneliness · 2019-08-30T21:25:00.623Z · score: 13 (5 votes) · LW · GW

There are already at least three companies in this space: RoomieMatch, Roomi, and Roomster. I wonder why nobody I know uses them, but dating apps are very popular?

It seems to me that the triangulation, trust, and transfer problems in roommate matching that go beyond what OKCupid has to deal with:

  • There are more than two people involved, and the difficulty of finding communal compatibility complexifies geometrically with the number of roommates.
  • By the same token, people moving in and out happens more frequently with larger numbers of room mates, often with short notice, making it hard to keep a stable equilibrium of preferences.
  • Imagine if it was easy to "date your future housemates," perhaps by living together for a month. It's already emotionally painful for people to deal with or inflict rejection in one-on-one dating. Imagine being the "odd man out" in this situation. That sounds like a recipe for really uncomfortable social dynamics.
  • Land lords often influence or even entirely control the process of finding new room mates. There are also laws around evictions that make it very difficult to kick somebody out if its not working for others, whereas there are no legal barriers to breaking up with someone you're dating if there's no marriage and no kids.
  • There's a much higher effort and commitment barrier required to move than to go on a date.
  • This is speculative, but OKCupid's success may stem from capitalizing on a cultural institution that makes romantic love feel of vast importance. By contrast, finding an ideal group of room mates doesn't have the same cultural importance: we still dream of having our own place by ourselves or with our own biological family. To have comparable success, such a service would need to create a new dream. Even if that's your dream, is it the dream of your housemates?
  • Similarly, the service OKCupid provides may be less in matching people with compatible characteristics, and more in identifying an abundance of single people and getting them hyped to go on a date. The purpose of the "matching" is to trick you into building up anticipation, not to ensure a really good fit (after all, if it did that too well, people wouldn't come back for more!). Instinct, hormones, and love do most of the work of making people stick together in the end.
  • When people do try and start intentional group houses, they're often organized around a shared social movement, which already have word-of-mouth and social media channels where people can learn about these opportunities for free.

I think a company would do better to work on solving one or more of these problems.

Comment by allamericanbreakfast on How to Make Billions of Dollars Reducing Loneliness · 2019-08-30T20:19:49.392Z · score: 10 (6 votes) · LW · GW

They are faster when you have a lot of dishes, and often much more energy and water efficient than hand washing.

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on [deleted post] 2019-08-29T06:04:12.888Z

Hexagram: 33 (Tun/Retreat)


The tranquil Mountain towers overhead, yet remains this side of Heaven: The Superior Person avoids the petty and superficial by keeping shallow men at a distance, not in anger but with dignity. Such a retreat sweeps the path clear to Success. Occupy yourself with minute detail.

In conjunction with my question, this suggests that I should focus on deep relationships and networking related to my career, careful scheduling, and seeking more undisturbed solitude. Take happiness seriously - don't let silliness or grandstanding suck your time and energy away.

Beautiful nature, good art, the symphony, meditation, thoughtful conversation, serious creativity and exploration of the natural world: these are the things that give me joy. I would rather look at slides of dirt under my microscope for an hour than watch the Great British Baking Show, and I should make that clear to others that these kinds of activities are how I wish to connect. Perhaps by being explicitly clear about how others can connect with me, I won't need to make as many sacrifices figuring out the magic code for how to connect with others.

For a road trip I'm taking in a week, I constructed an elaborate and very detailed itinerary, which was enjoyable and helpful. I think the trip will be excellent, in part because of how thoroughly it was planned. Constructing more minutely detailed plans and making zealously sure to cross the "t"s and dot the "i"s for school will help me step fully away from work and into play at the end of the day.

The same goes for things like decorating my room, moving to a new house, planning meals, and choosing my next book to read. I read this as a call to thoroughly consider the experiences I wish to have and refuse the mediocre opportunities life foists on me. "Not in anger but with dignity" suggests that, while life will eternally push the petty and superficial at me, I need to learn to avoid, refuse, delay, and offer alternatives with grace.

The Mountain at first seems like an imposing image, but in this description, I am striving to be the Superior Man, Heaven. I am struck by the fact that both the Mountain and Heaven can seem magnificent. This is a call also not to expend my inner energy trying to appreciate what I do not fundamentally care for or where I do not want to be. One of my challenges is that in many situations, I deceptively praise or smile about things that I do not really care about. It would be better to have a way to be more honest. Until I figure that out, I need to be sure that I at least keep myself honest. It might be helpful to create a rule for how I will respond when I'm put in a position where I find myself dissembling.

Retreat in this instance is not a desperate flight in disarray, but a conscious choice to distance yourself from forces that would rob you of your peace. It is not a surrender, but a regrouping. Retreat from this conflict is actually an advance toward your own center. You move toward balance, and thus a much stronger position.

This reinforces that pulling away from forces that are distracting or bothering me can be a slow, methodical process that does not involve burning bridges or acting out. It occurs to me that part of the reason I've avoided moving is because I haven't wanted to cut ties with my housemates, even though our diverging priorities are part of the reason I've wanted to move. The productive thing to do would be to figure out a way to move while inviting those of them who'd like to to keep up a connection with me, and offering a way to do that which would be ideal from my point of view.

I am imagining a future self who knows a wide array of things he likes to do, and not only has no qualms but feels assured and joyful in inviting others to participate in them with him. When he does not know activities that work for both people, he talks with them to devise something that mutually exciting. He does not sacrifice his own desires for those of others, and also does not require sacrifice from others to connect with him. Part of that means making no judgments about how other people spend their private free time, and making no apologies for his own decisions.

It means that if I have four hours to spend at play, but do not know exactly what I want to do, I should spend as much of that time as necessary to research and plan, rather than impulsively groping for a mediocre way to fill that time. The planning will pay off in the long run, even though some relaxation will be sacrificed in the short run.

I have to recognize that this vision frightens me, if taken to a point of potency. Underneath, I fear a threat to my relationships, a possibility of failure leading to lack of confidence, or a sense that this I Ching business itself is all grandstanding silliness. I fear that I myself am essentially a mediocre person in work and in play, not the Superior Man. This suggests that to achieve this vision, I will need to embrace the potency of this imagery, and perhaps do some cognitive behavioral therapy to work on my deep self-image.

I feel as though I am comparing my immediate inner experience with the images I hold of others, who have the jobs, incomes, looks, and lives that I have not yet achieved. This kind of comparison strikes me as superficial. I don't need to try and match them or copy them. Instead, I need to adopt a kind of generous optimism: other people's achievements are wonderful, and they arrived there not by accident or by guarantee, but through hard work, a willingness to take risks, intrinsic motivation, and good judgement with every step. If I am going to take steps to better myself in some way, let it be coming from my intrinsic interest or direct needs, not from insecurity.

It would therefore be good to make a deeper examination of my own insecurities, about career, school, and life, and focus on ways to decisively dissolve them this year.

The power of the dark is ascending. The light retreats to security, so that the dark cannot encroach upon it. This retreat is a matter not of man's will but of natural law. Therefore in this case withdrawal is proper; it is the correct way to behave in order not to exhaust one's forces. In the calendar this hexagram is linked with the sixth month (July-August), in which the forces of winter are already showing their influence.

This is a little mysterious to me, as most parts of my life right now are relatively relaxed. My original question is time-limited, concerning only this year: August to August, 2019 to 2020. This fits the season suggested by the reading. What sorts of security should I seek this year in order to avoid an encroaching dark? It does seem to me that at this time of life, you don't get so lucky, and opportunities are fewer and further between. Each day counts.

To me, a place of security means that my house, my daily living habits, my schedule, my coursework, are all carefully arranged to support my path. I am not spending hours into the night in drawn out conversation. I am not impulsively drinking or smoking weed to excess. I am not overspending my money, wasting time or energy, or missing appointments. Each of my decisions should feel like it is clearly contributing to some larger project of mine. No flailing, minimal picking up of balls off the ground. Much more reflection and planning in order to ensure accountability.


RETREAT. Success. In what is small, perseverance furthers.

Although this is not an optimistic-feeling reading, I should recall that it has come with many positive images: success, Heaven, the Superior Man. Schooling is a long-term project, and comes with many quarters of progressively learning techniques that will only be applied to real-world work after years of training. It is important to persevere with the small work and the careful acquisition of that technique to ensure I absorb it with excellence. This is a retreat, perhaps, from my own dilettantism, surfing the internet, reading whatever blog or article grabs me. It is a time to buckle down and master a new discipline. Embracing that relationship with learning, working toward true mastery over many years, will lead to happiness and success. It's about letting go of the impossible-to-fulfill need to see results immediately, and seek fulfillment with the process of working through preliminaries.

This is relevant in my relationships and activities as well. It is not a time to think about sweeping changes for their own sake, but to make a careful, critical investigation of daily choices. Creating space even in time spent with other people to "retreat" into my own psyche, regroup, and return ready to change course. Not just letting the time go by, or pushing to keep things going because I fear that a disconnection will somehow prove ruinous.

Conditions are such that the hostile forces favored by the time are advancing. In this case retreat is the right course, and it is through retreat that success is achieved. But success consists in being able to carry out retreat correctly. Retreat is not to be confused with flight. Flight means saving oneself under any circumstances, whereas retreat is a sign of strength. We must be careful not to miss the right moment while we're in full possession of power and position. Then we shall be able to interpret the signs of the time before it is too late and to prepare for provisional retreat instead of being drawn into a desperate life-and-death struggle. Thus we do not simply abandon the field to the opponent; we make it difficult for him to advance by showing perseverance in single acts of resistance. In this way we prepare, while retreating, for the counter- movement. Understanding the laws of a constructive retreat of this sort is not easy. The meaning that lies hidden in such a time is important.

What is difficult here is the word "hostile." Mostly, I have been softening these images to fit them with the people and situations I encounter, which rarely feel genuinely hostile. When I try to imagine what forces in my life could be genuinely hostile, I start by thinking about exploitative companies trying to manipulate me and extort my insecurities, or perhaps of fierce competition with my fellow students for those coveted spots in graduate programs or research projects. I also think about global concerns: politics, environmental destruction, the potential dangers of technological advancement.

My typical attitude toward all these things is humor at my own foibles, a spirit of generous cooperation with my peers, and an emotionally detached intellectualism in the moment as I work toward being able to effect change in the long term. Yet in a sense, these attitudes are simply effective strategies for dealing with these hostile forces. I am also challenged because I do not perceive myself in being impelled toward flight from these hostile forces. After all, I'm staying steady with school and making ever more deliberate decisions about how to spend my time.

Is there some sense in which I am wavering between improper flight and a correct retreat? I am considering taking another 3 classes this autumn, and have worried that such a workload might prove too burdensome. I can take this as a warning that if I feel overloaded, I should respond to that proactively and in a timely fashion, rather than letting the stress build up excessively. Likewise, I should make careful decisions about how I spend my money or navigate relationship changes. To me, it is a suggestion that serious stress may build up over the course of the year, and that I need to manage it very carefully, avoiding old routines of bottling it up, acting out impulsively, or avoidance.

"Single acts of resistance" implies that my stress will probably spread through my life like an invading army, too powerful to be driven off. Yet through tactical guerrilla warfare, I can delay it and strike back through individual, small actions - planning an exciting date night or attending a meditation retreat in the middle of a busy quarter, preparing a delicious dinner when I find myself eating a lot of convenience foods, all while making sure I carefully manage the retreat. This will not be a year of victory and peaceful abundance, but of hard struggle. I need to take esteem from the small daily victories and the management of stress, rather than trying to achieve a true turning of the tides. Other friends are in different situations, closer to achieving professional and personal goals, or having lower aspirations. I should not let their victories make me feel ashamed that I am having a year of careful retreat.

Mountain under heaven: the image of RETREAT. Thus the superior man keeps the inferior man at a distance, Not angrily but with reserve.

The mountain rises up under heaven, but owing to its nature it finally comes to a stop. Heaven on the other hand retreats upward before it into the distance and remains out of reach. This symbolizes the behavior of the superior man toward a climbing inferior; he retreats into his own thoughts as the inferior man comes forward. He does not hate him, for hatred is a form of subjective involvement by which we are bound to the hated object. The superior man shows strength (heaven) in that he brings the inferior man to a standstill (mountain) by his dignified reserve.

I notice that this reading overall comes with two dichotomies: my retreat against hostile forces, and the superior man's reserve toward the climbing inferior. I feel as though I've identified how the former applies, but not the latter. I do not feel as though anyone is "climbing" toward me. I am nobody's superior in any formal sense, and in no gatekeeping position.

Yet it does occur to me that I sometimes conflate dignified reserve with an expression of anger. It is as if I need to pretend to enthusiastically engage with trivialities, because otherwise I fear I will make the other person feel as though I am angry with them. Likewise, I project that feeling of anger onto other people who show reserve toward me. I come from a family in which nobody had much skill in explicitly establishing how they wanted to receive connection from others, and so I found myself, as I grew up, trying to force connection by guesswork, asking questions about the other person's interests, and taking up the other person on all their interests and enthusiasms, even when they didn't match my own. So I feel in that sense as if I am typically the "climber."

This gives me a sense, then, of why I sometimes feel insecure. To become a secure, superior man starts with allowing others their reserve, claiming it for myself with equanimity, and showing others how I wish to be reached rather than leaving it for them to guess.

Comment by allamericanbreakfast on Raw Post: Talking With My Brother · 2019-07-22T01:20:36.433Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Great thoughts. I share the "neutron moderator" concept of NVC.

NVC-like practices have definitely produced de-escalation in many cases. In retrospect, I perceive that it may have made the other person feel ashamed of themselves for being insulting or cruel, and having that be met not with silence or aggression, but with an honest expression of hurt.

In some cases, that has led to an extended conversation in which those feelings could be processed further, as with my brother. I count this as a successful application of NVC. That's why I felt it was not quite fitting for Alexey Lapitsky to suggest that I may have come across as judgmental or accusatory, and recommend NVC as a solution - although I appreciate his input.

However, in other instances, that moment of NVC honesty led directly to either explosion (screaming, cursing, threats, accusations) or an uncomfortable end to the conversation. Probably I could have done more in situations where the conversation just petered out uncomfortably. I could have intentionally brought up feeling like I wanted to talk more at a later time, for example.

In the "explosion" cases, it's honestly associated with one figure in my life. There is a lot of love there, but also an awareness of a high capacity for dishonesty, self-deception on their part, false memories, and inappropriate recruitment of me as their confidant. I therefore eventually decided simply to energetically shield myself, practice distancing myself from their schticks, and finding ways to sooth or divert them prior to a blowup for the sake of my own comfort.

Probably it is memories associated with this explosive figure in my life that lead me to struggle with continuing to process relational discomfort with other people who'd be more receptive. Thanks for pushing on that point. I hope I'll be able to improve my other relationships with that in mind.

Comment by allamericanbreakfast on Raw Post: Talking With My Brother · 2019-07-18T18:54:24.755Z · score: 14 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I've reworded this reply about 5 times now, and I'm not sure why the words are proving slippery.

Basically, my experience with NVC and other such frameworks is that they most often get offered to people who are already working hard to communicate well. Quite naturally, since they're probably receptive to help in that effort and interested in analyzing their conversational dynamics in detail. Unfortunately, it's the people who lack good communication skills who probably need NVC. When the people who are already careful communicators are also receiving the most advice about improving their communication style, the result can be self-blame, self-stifling, and dysfunctional levels of indirection and softening to the point of fundamental dishonesty.

I need to remember that intellectual conversations are also highly emotional and relational. Questioning a person's ideas can feel like a personal attack. Making a strong argument can shut a conversation down. A debate can't be kept relaxed through the one-sided application of rationalist techniques. It has to be a shared language or implicit agreement.

I think the same is true of NVC. If only one person's doing it, it's not going to work very well. It takes two. Some of my best memories are of conversations that took place between myself and somebody else schooled in NVC or something similar. Some of my worst are of applying NVC or similar techniques in a situation where the other person is used to getting their way through domineering or abusive behavior.

The benefit of NVC/rationalism in situations like that is that they help you get away clean. You don't escalate your own language or say equally stupid things. That doesn't mean they'll look at you any better - they may well invent an even worse interpretation of your behavior to justify their own abuse. But by consistently applying these techniques to a healthy degree, you'll start to perceive yourself as a kind, level-headed person who doesn't get sucked into other people's schticks as easily. This builds confidence and dissolves guilt.

This in turn makes it easier to be honest about what happened with an intimate companion or therapist. Having the opportunity to look at the situation through your friend or therapist's eyes builds wisdom that can be applied to the larger dynamics at play. It's a virtuous cycle.

Comment by allamericanbreakfast on Raw Post: Talking With My Brother · 2019-07-13T15:33:51.450Z · score: 6 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Are you the Maoist, or someone you know?

I don’t see my brother as irrational. I see him as thinking rationally from a different set of premises, and morally fired up about the conclusions he draws.

Comment by allamericanbreakfast on The I Ching Series (2/10): How should I prioritize my career-building projects? · 2019-07-13T03:07:03.707Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

In concrete terms, it's the difference between sort of bleeding from working on schoolwork all day on the computer to mindlessly watching somebody play video games on Twitch or streaming a bunch of episodes of a TV show I've watched 4 times before; versus decreeing that work stops at 10:00 PM, taking one hit on a joint on the porch (I'm a lightweight), and gabbing with my girlfriend about all kinds of stuff in a very enjoyable and emotionally-engaged way that I find exceedingly difficult to do if I haven't gone into a kind of mental and emotional "second space." Does that make sense?

Comment by allamericanbreakfast on The I Ching Series (2/10): How should I prioritize my career-building projects? · 2019-07-13T03:03:08.219Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you for the ideas and all the positive feedback! I would say that the results of this I Ching run have been quite dramatic so far. I'm excited to make a post about them when they've had more time to develop. You're right that seeking mentorship on taking on more of a leadership role would be a good idea. I'm still exploring what academic training to seek, and actually starting a new career will be several years further down the line - though obviously there will be plenty of important projects in the meantime. However, I do feel confident that I've learned a lot from my work as a teacher, and I feel good about the ways they're applying to my new projects and schoolwork. Sometimes, that only becomes apparent on reflection.

Comment by allamericanbreakfast on The I Ching Series (2/10): How should I prioritize my career-building projects? · 2019-07-09T22:55:12.321Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Insights, Intentions, First Steps:

  • Insight: I will prioritize collaborative projects and ensure their success, deprioritize solitary skill-building projects, and reject projects related to developing the career I am involved in currently but moving away from. I will be cautious about taking on additional collaborative projects or escalating my current ones, since letting down others is frustrating to them and may risk my reputation.
    • Update: Since this post, I took on a significant new collaborative project that fits my new career direction, and have spent the bulk of my free time working on it. I did have a request to create a document with advice and insights related to experience in my former career. This seems like an important way to preserve what I've learned over the last decade as a music teacher, so I will probably do it.
  • Intention: I will take time this summer to investigate alternative community colleges and teachers, since I’ve switched academic tracks since starting at my current school. First Step: I made a list of the community colleges in my town, and listed the email addresses of the heads of their economics and math departments.
    • Update: I contacted the head of the math department at one, and scheduled a meeting for Friday.
  • Insight: Overall, I will keep a level-headed attitude with the ups and downs over this process, and understand that while plans are fragile, particularly those made for more than 6 months out, I can find workable alternatives.
  • Intention: I will assign a reasonable amount of time each day to do something intentional to add joy and ease to my life. Even if I’m not certain it will really accomplish this aim, I’ll select activities that convey the appearance of joy, trusting that performing such rituals will lead to maturity, the real thing. First Step: I made a list of fitting activities and created a Personal Growth Journal to put them in.
    • Update: I started using the late evening as a time to smoke a little bit of weed, watch TV or read poetry, and have reached out to friends more often. I have also used time-wasting activities far less during the day since making this change, and felt happier about my use of free time. However, the weed-and-TV time rapidly switched from novel and pleasant to somewhat routine. It will be hard to schedule more meaningful activities many days due to my work schedule, but it might be necessary for true "joy time."
  • Intention: I will make more of an effort to praise good outcomes of decisions and actions made by myself and others, understanding that they will usually be more modest and short-lived than I’d originally hoped. First Step: I started an “accomplishment affirmations” section of my Personal Growth Journal briefly listing what I’ve achieved today.
    • I only made one entry in "accomplishment affirmations," but have replaced it by creating a daily work tracker - a simple spreadsheet in which I list each task and accomplishment throughout the day. This gives me a more succinct and practical record that both serves as an organizing tool and as a record of what I accomplish. In general, I do feel that I've softened in my personal interactions.
  • Intention: I will look for opportunities to take positions of command, such as a boss or team leader. First Step: I guess I’ll make an “aspirations” section in the PGJ. Not sure how to take a more concrete step in this direction.
    • No obvious progress
  • Intention: I will hold myself and my collaborators accountable for failures in our duties. First Step: In my PGJ, I made a log of cautions to myself for my own small failings., and wrote two paragraphs about how I dealt with my frustrating physics teacher.
    • Writing down some of my mistakes (on tests, for example) actually did help me become more rigorous.




Fêng / Abundance

Thunder and Lightning from the dark heart of the storm: The Superior Person judges fairly, so that consequences are just. The leader reaches his peak and doesn't lament the descent before him. Be like the noonday sun at its zenith. This is success.

My first thought is that some of my projects are collaborative. That means we’ve made commitments to each other. My decision to cut these projects or increase my commitment will impact other people. Making sure others feel like I’ve treated them well in our collaboration is as important as adding another line to my resume. Therefore, all else being equal, I should prioritize collaborations, make sure that I’m treating others well and receiving good treatment in turn, and should be especially cautious before taking on further collaborations or escalating my current commitments.

The fact that I’m attempting a major career change after ten years in the workforce makes the language about “the descent before him” unpalatable to me. A more optimistic reading is that I’m “descending” from the zenith of my previous career. I have ideas from time to time about how I could have done more - building a larger business, hiring employees, starting a summer camp. Maybe it’s merely saying that it’s time to let these plans go: a graceful exit, feeling that I don’t need to squeeze in more to feel successful. This suggests that I should not add new projects toward furthering my old career.

You are in a position of authority in this situation. Archetypally, you are the New King, returned from your quest to claim your throne. However, you are enlightened enough to realize that you are merely a part of a cycle, and that you must someday yield your throne to the new kid in town, the younger, faster gunslinger, the young turk, the next returning hero, the next New King. Fretting about the inevitable descent is senseless. For now you must play your role to the hilt and use this gift of power to govern your world as best you can. You are the best person for the job. That's why you were chosen. Give it your personal best.

I did not consider that I might be fretting about my long-term decline in the context of prioritizing these short-term projects. Perhaps I am trying to do too much all at once, trying to run faster than the younger generation in order to stay ahead of the competition. I should at least make sure I do a great job at the collaborative projects I’m committed to. Achieving a good and timely result there is more important than investing extra time in learning new skills.

Chên is movement; Li is flame, whose attribute is clarity. Clarity within, movement without-this produces greatness and abundance. The hexagram pictures a period of advanced civilisation. However, the fact that development has reached a peak suggests that this extraordinary condition of abundance cannot be maintained permanently.

This connects with my value that I should have a good, conscious reason for making consequential decisions. All my projects are aligned with my fundamental desire to seek a more highly-impactful and rewarding career. I feel as though I haven’t invested enough time in looking at alternatives, and too often dive in. For example, there are a number of community college programs in my area. The one I’m attending was chosen for reasons that are no longer relevant. I’m pursuing a different academic track, and so I should probably make a stronger effort to meet or at least look up all the faculty who teach classes in this new area. Maybe there are better options. I keep pushing that into the background because it feels like another unfun thing on my plate, another uncertain and potentially disruptive decision to make.

After spending some time with the second half, which seemed more mysterious to me, I felt it might be suggesting a more cautious outlook on the future. It may be that changes in civilization that are beyond my control will profoundly impact my career trajectory in ways I am unable to anticipate. I can’t time the market, and it’s good to plan ahead, but I should take my plans for more than 6 months out lightly, and those for more than a year out as fragile. It may be that some of my projects are depending on enough factors that there’s always a risk they’ll collapse. My community college might get no state tuition subsidy and triple its rates. I might spend a year building up a relationship with a teacher, only for him to have a heart attack and die. Donald Trump might be elected for a second term.

In the face of risk, it makes sense to diversify and hedge my bets, while keeping a level head and not responding overmuch to the ups and downs. Both in terms of personal reward and altruistic impact, I think I’m making the strongest bet I can; I have to trust that over the next few decades, future-me will ride the waves as well as possible, whether seas are stormy or calm. When those risks hit, I can take time to reassess, but if I’m hedging and diversifying appropriately, I should be able to mitigate the impact to some extent.


ABUNDANCE has success.

The king attains abundance.

Be not sad.

Be like the sun at midday.

Being a student means frugality with my money and time. It’s stressful at times, and can make me sad about what I’m missing out on. This could mean to stay positive about the tradeoffs - my main strategy - or it could be suggesting that I aim for a full, abundant life for myself even in the midst of all the work. I have to admit that the question of how to have an abundant life right now is far from my mind. I don’t want to see these as “lost years.” Maybe I really do need to be as proactive and energetic about bringing an abundance of joy into my life as I am about working hard.

Maybe that means setting aside “me time” every day, making more plans with friends, being more open to taking trips, buying things I like, being OK with OK but always looking for fuck yeah. I think that would mean considering actions that I currently neglect or reject because they would make me joyful, rather than productive, and intentionally taking a gamble on them. It may be important to start with the appearance of joy and abundance, the ritual, and trust that over time, it will mature into the real thing. I’m going to make a list of several easy activities that might bring me joy, and intentionally set aside a reasonable amount of quality time for them every day, and see if it’s adding to my life.

It is not given to every mortal to bring about a time of outstanding greatness and abundance. Only a born ruler of men is able to do it, because his will is directed to what is great. Such a time of abundance is usually brief. Therefore a sage might well feel sad in view of the decline that must follow. But such sadness does not befit him. Only a man who is inwardly free of sorrow and care can lead in a time of abundance. He must be like the sun at midday, illuminating and gladdening everything under heaven.

This quote reminds me that it’s necessary but not sufficient to have a will directed toward greatness. Regression to the mean is a thing; time and tide ruin all structure. I need to be excited and glad of the opportunity to make even modest achievements. I need to be in the habit of praising what I and others do, always looking for and speaking to the good. This is a caution to LW and EA perspectives, which often focus on raising concerns and doubts, and can give rise to a somewhat mechanistic discourse. There’s a time for sober deliberation, and a time for praise and delight in whatever positive outcomes are achieved. I do feel as though I’m focused so much on the former that I’m neglecting the latter.

Perhaps I can make a mental habit of expressing more gladness for the positive outcomes of my decisions, and to counter activity bias by reminding myself that I also have agency over aspects of my life that I’ve come to take for granted, and that they also warrant continued alternations of praise and deliberation.


Both thunder and lightning come:

The image of ABUNDANCE.

Thus the superior man decides lawsuits

And carries out punishments.

This image seems both mysterious and harsh to me. I’ve never considered thunder and lightning as symbols of abundance. To me, the “superior man” is who I’m becoming: a person capable of shouldering big responsibilities and working with adults. Currently, I work with children, and have cultivated a kindly, receptive, soft persona. This image suggests that I’ll need to make myself into a force of nature, a mover and shaker, sticking by my decisions once they’re made, in order to have the kind of impact I want. This doesn’t seem too relevant to my current projects, since I’m not in a position of command in any of them. It might suggest that I should fight for such a commanding role as a way to prove myself, something I had not considered before.

It could also mean that just deciding to disrupt my life and pursue a different career, despite the objections and disbelief of my family and friends, is a way of taking command in this way. I need to cultivate credibility as an authority, from the way I speak and dress, to the way I live, to the roles I take on. In all that, it’s important to remember that on collaborative projects, my decisions will impact other people: it’s not all in my head.

This hexagram has a certain connection with Shih Ho, BITING THROUGH (21), in which thunder and lightning similarly appear together, but in the reverse order. In BITING THROUGH, laws are laid down; here they are applied and enforced. Clarity [Li] within makes it possible to investigate the facts exactly, and shock [Chên] without ensures a strict and precise carrying out of punishments.

I think this is about taking analysis seriously and putting it into action. Only in this way does thinking matter. I’ve made some important decisions already, and it’s important to implement them and enforce them despite the barriers the world puts up and my own rebelliousness.

The focus on punishment here is challenging. I think about this very little. I’m not a governor or manager, and have no authority to punish anyone except myself. However, in my projects, people will no doubt let me down in various ways. I need to be prepared at least to formally acknowledge violations and issue reprimands to others, or to call myself to account, when there has been a failure of responsibility. “Strict and precise” means going beyond merely feeling bad and letting it go. It means having somewhat more of an explicit process, by which violations are tracked, and appropriate punishments are considered before they are carried out.

Timeliness matters too. I once was accused of improper lane violation, and contested the ticket I received in court. The officer never filed a report, and didn’t show up for the court date, so it was automatically dismissed and my record was cleared.

Come to think of it, I’ve actually been doing reasonably well with this. When I had a sloppy and disorganized physics teacher a couple quarters ago, I called him on it, brought in the relevant college authorities, and was very proactive about making sure I was treated fairly.

That suggests that these projects will have value not only as concrete accomplishments, but also in supplying me with stories I can tell to establish my ability to work through challenges and demonstrate my personal and productive virtue. That will require some reflection, perhaps after the fact, as I am doing here. Part of a good court system is maintaining accurate and fair records. So perhaps I should also be creating a journal of these sorts of stories and engaging in periodic reflection of this kind.

Comment by allamericanbreakfast on The Results of My First LessWrong-inspired I Ching Divination · 2019-07-09T19:25:36.296Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I heard an idea on the Rationally Speaking podcast today of “befriending a straw man.” The idea is that rather than putting forth the most charitable interpretation of a poorly articulated thought, or just strawmanning it, you take the poorly articulated idea seriously exactly as stated and see if you can find merit in it that you’d otherwise not have discovered. This seems valuable. I think the idea here is to get out of your mental ruts, and to do that you might need to be exposed to ideas that don’t make obvious sense and really try to treat them as fact.

This “befriend the straw man” idea would imply that it’s most important to consider the aspects of the divination that make the least sense or seem obviously wrong. By contrast, a YouTube video I watched of an old lady giving lessons on constructing hexagrams said to ignore those bits.

So in the end, we’re sort of asking what we think the function of the divination is, and then determining how to interpret it based on that.

Comment by allamericanbreakfast on The Results of My First LessWrong-inspired I Ching Divination · 2019-07-08T21:58:17.334Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Edit: This comment turned into a whole second half of the OP, so I added it above.

Comment by allamericanbreakfast on Steelmanning Divination · 2019-07-08T20:35:29.068Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I can think of a few further purely speculative inferences. Clearly, somebody created the divination systems used in various cultures throughout the world. The Xunxi quote gives reason to believe that for some members of at least some cultures, systems of ritual, perhaps including divination, were perceived as something like a useful technology. With perhaps daily use by a number of practitioners, possibly engaging in ongoing intergenerational discussions about the efficacy of their divination system, it might have been subject to many optimizing tweaks.

The I Ching does appear to have different versions. From Wikipedia: "Various modern scholars suggest dates ranging between the 10th and 4th centuries BC for the assembly of the text in approximately its current form" (emphasis mine). It seems to me that anyone telling fortunes for a regular clientele will stay in business longer if their advice offers at least the appearance of utility. Royalty might have been more educated and more sophisticated consumers of divination; perhaps they knew exactly what they were buying. After all, if it's possible for divination to offer both the mere appearance of utility and the real thing, all else being equal we'd expect the latter to drive the former out of the market.

When I synthesize the posts of Vaniver and Said Achmiz, it seems to suggest that divination is useful both when random and when the answers have an optimal wording and frequency distribution.

Given that different societies will feature very different pressures and power structures, it seems unlikely to me that a system of divination optimized for one culture (or segment of that culture, such as royalty) will necessarily translate with perfect fidelity to other contexts. It may not even optimize the conscious goals of the individuals using it, or the survival of their societies as a whole.

I can think of two ways divination systems might be retained. One is through conquest. If they promote that activity successfully, it might lead to the spread of the divination system. Another is through promotion of individual flourishing. If a divination system helps people achieve their aims, they might continue to use it, teach it to their children, promote it among their friends, and be imitated by their enemies.

I'd expect a system that does both to be most successful, and my mind immediately jumps to the dual nature of many religions, which are by turns warlike and peaceful. Though the "doves" and "hawks" of each culture or religion often seem to despise each other, they may very well work synergistically to promote the spread of their shared culture. The "hawks" promote an attitude of conquest and hardline defensiveness, while the "doves" promote the benefits of a focus on peaceful individual flourishing. Both can be useful propaganda tools both within their own borders and to outsiders. In order to be convincing to others, they need to be utterly convinced themselves that they are rigid hawks or committed doves. A savvy leader would known how to make use of both.

This is getting a bit away from divination at this point, so I'll leave it there. I do think that any account of the utility of a divination practice (or other cultural practice) needs to explain for whom it provides utility and the mechanism by which it does so. That's the reason for digressing into my "hawks and doves are best friends" theory. My guess is that even when a religion doesn't have an obvious divinatory practice, that it has other ways of accomplishing something similar.

I'm less familiar with Island and Judaism, but in Christianity, it seems to me that sermons, rotating selections of the Bible chosen for study, prayer, and calls to take these words and rituals to heart in ways that are personally meaningful for the congregation are somewhat "random" - or at least out of the hands of the congregation unless they're willing to change churches - and optimized, as judged by the size and growth of the congregation, or the success of cultures that and their varied practices.

It would be interesting to speculate on how much the physical form of the randomization practice or any reference text/image plays in the efficacy of these practices. Can yarrow sticks be replaced with a random number generator, if we're aware that's all that's happening? Or would that make it less effective? Perhaps there is some aspect of human neurology that makes divination done with certain physical implements more compelling than that done with others.

Comment by allamericanbreakfast on Contest: $1,000 for good questions to ask to an Oracle AI · 2019-07-08T05:31:43.722Z · score: 7 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Added to the open archive of rationalist/EA cash-prize contests.

Comment by allamericanbreakfast on What is the evidence for productivity benefits of weightlifting? · 2019-06-04T19:48:00.529Z · score: 10 (5 votes) · LW · GW

... I thought this was a comment. I guess I'll just have to learn to like the punishment.

Comment by allamericanbreakfast on What is the evidence for productivity benefits of weightlifting? · 2019-06-02T21:55:02.618Z · score: -5 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Extremely strong.

... I'll see myself out.

Comment by allamericanbreakfast on Drowning children are rare · 2019-05-30T23:43:50.055Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This is meant as a constructive suggestion. I find some of your posts here to be ambiguous.

For example, in your reply here, I can’t tell whether you’re complaining that I, too, am playing into this catch-22 that you describe, or whether instead you feel that my post is more sympathetic to you and thus a place where you can more safely vent your frustration.

As you can see from my first comment in this chain, I was also unsure of how to interpret your original post. Was it an argument for giving up on a moral imperative of altruistic utility-maximization entirely, a re-evaluation how that imperative is best achieved, or a claim that maximization is good in theory but such opportunities don’t exist in practice?

Although everyone should give others a sympathetic and careful reading, if I was in your shoes I might consider whether my writing is clear enough.

Comment by allamericanbreakfast on Drowning children are rare · 2019-05-30T18:24:50.788Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Singer's argument is that

1) We have a moral obligation to try to do the most net good we can.

2) Your obligation to do so holds regardless of distance or the neglect of others.

3) This creates an unconventionally rigorous and demanding moral standard.

Benquo's is that

1) Even the best charity impact analysis is too opaque to be believable.

2) The rich have already pledged enough to solve the big problems.

3) Therefore, spend on yourself, spend locally, and on "specific concrete things that might have specific concrete benefits;" also, try to improve our "underlying systems problems." "There's no substitute for developing and acting on your own models of the world."

We must inevitably develop our own models of the world, and it's important to read impact assessments critically, as we would anything else. I don't think Benquo makes much of an argument for why or how we should instead spend on ourselves, our local community, or on "specific concrete benefits" as an alternative method of doing good. My understanding of how the world works and what constitutes the good has a strong social basis, and we ought to be just as skeptical of our own observations as we are of others. The reason why EA and impact assessment excites me is because it creates a basis for improving our altruistic strategy over the long term.

I'm open to the idea that local altruism is ultimately the better strategy, but I would need to see an equally strong argument for that side. I just don't yet. I've spent too much time engaged in personal, face-to-face relationship and activism poor people in America and around the world to dismiss the call to almost exclusively focus on populations in extreme poverty. I'm more skeptical of X-risk as an altruistic project, for the same reasons that Benquo critiques GiveWell and because it's hard for me to see how we sway the military to eschew new weapons.

If he's rejecting not just earning-to-give, but the whole philosophy of utilitarianism, he hasn't really refuted any of the core points of Singer's argument. Opaque analysis should lead us to do our own research, not reject the project of increasing our impact. Neglect by the rich doesn't mean we too can neglect these funding gaps. If these problems indicate the need for revolutionary change rather than philanthropy, that's fine, though I have to say that leading off the call to action with "spend money on taking care of yourself and your friends" makes it sound a lot more like motivated reasoning.

Comment by allamericanbreakfast on What would you need to be motivated to answer "hard" LW questions? · 2019-03-29T05:30:39.470Z · score: 2 (5 votes) · LW · GW

If this blog's "hard questions" have utility, they should be novel, important, and answerable.

Important questions are highly likely to be known already among experts in the relevant field. If they're answerable, one of those experts is likely already working on it with more rigor than you're capable of extracting from a crowd of anonymous bloggers. I think, then, that any questions you ask have a high probability of being redundant, unimportant, or unanswerable (at least to a useful degree of rigor). Unfortunately, you're unlikely to know that in advance unless you vet the questions with experts in the relevant literature.

And at that point, you're starting to look like an unaccountable, opaque, disorganized, and underresourced anonymously peer-reviewed journal.

It might be interesting to explore the possibility that a wiki-written or amateur-sourced peer reviewed journal could have some utility, especially if it focused on a topic that is not so dependent on the expensive and often opaque process of gathering empirical data. I expect that anyone who can advance the field of mathematics is probably already a PhD mathematician. So philosophy, decision theory, something like that?

Developing a process to help an anonymous crowd of blog enthusiasts turn their labor into a respectable product would be useful and motivating. I would start by making your next "hard question" what specific topic such a PRJ could usefully focus on.

Comment by allamericanbreakfast on Humans Who Are Not Concentrating Are Not General Intelligences · 2019-03-29T03:50:14.283Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What will be in last place in the race toward human simulation - text, image (ie realistic AI-generated video of the human face or voice), or the body? Whichever is in last place would become the privileged marker of biological humanity.

It seems to me that we're already doing pretty well with AI-generated faces and voices. Probably last place will either be babble quality or robotic body quality.

So an alternative to careful parsing of written text might be simply to insist on hearing words spoken by a human being. Of course, there's a potential for those words to be an AI-generated script. That doesn't put us in much of a different place from listening to human-originating babble, though. In fact, we already parse people (like politicians) for whether they sound like they're just giving us "talking points," following a loose script, or whether they're actually speaking off-the-cuff, with authenticity. This is one reason people liked DJT and disliked Clinton, for example. Weirdly enough, since I bet AI will be able to imitate the Donald long before it can copy Clinton's speaking style.

So count me unconvinced that the babble problem is either a genuinely new issue, or that System-2 careful parsing for deep structure is our only solution.

Comment by allamericanbreakfast on Humans Who Are Not Concentrating Are Not General Intelligences · 2019-03-29T03:32:16.744Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Why should we expect future text generators to be any more dangerous or effective than human-generated propaganda? As advertising has advanced, so have our abilities to resist or avoid it. We mute the television when the commercials come on, teach children to analyze them for the underlying message, create fact-checking services, and so on. It seems likely to me that we will develop anti-textgen technology roughly in sync with the development of text generation itself.

Imagine a future publishing company that put out AI generated nonfiction. It might use one AI to generate the text, another to fact-check, another to provide adversarial takes on the claims in the book. Its book on the Civil War will compete with others written by human experts, and eventually by other companies putting out computer-generated nonfiction.

Certainly we'd expect that the KKK would eventually get its hands on such software and create a revisionist, racist Civil War history. But the reading public will receive it in the context of other histories published by "reputable AI publishing firms" and human experts. I don't see why this situation is all that different than the one we have today, just with different means of production.