Cup-Stacking Skills (or, Reflexive Involuntary Mental Motions) 2021-10-11T07:16:45.950Z
Shoulder Advisors 101 2021-10-09T05:30:57.372Z
Perceptual dexterity: a case study 2021-10-07T22:25:36.856Z
Overconfidence is Deceit 2021-02-17T10:45:04.276Z
CFAR Participant Handbook now available to all 2020-01-03T15:43:44.618Z
Willing to share some words that changed your beliefs/behavior? 2019-03-23T02:08:37.437Z
In My Culture 2019-03-07T07:22:42.982Z
Double Crux — A Strategy for Resolving Disagreement 2017-01-02T04:37:25.683Z


Comment by Duncan_Sabien on Shoulder Advisors 101 · 2021-10-14T03:24:31.576Z · LW · GW

Yeah, the bicameral mind stuff was definitely in my thoughts as I explored this concept explicitly over the past few years.

Comment by Duncan_Sabien on Shoulder Advisors 101 · 2021-10-13T17:03:27.500Z · LW · GW

FWIW, my experience of writing fiction is very much "they are versions of me with masked knowledge and hidden or exaggerated traits."

Comment by Duncan_Sabien on Shoulder Advisors 101 · 2021-10-13T05:16:58.502Z · LW · GW

True in my experience as well, and in the experience of at least a couple of the people I've talked explicitly to about this.

Comment by Duncan_Sabien on Common knowledge about Leverage Research 1.0 · 2021-10-13T04:56:30.211Z · LW · GW

I felt strong negative emotions reading the above comment.

I think that the description of CFAR’s recent speaking-for-the-dead leaves readers feeling positive and optimistic and warm-fuzzy about the event, and about its striving for something like whole truth.

I do believe Anna's report that it was healing and spacious for those who were there, and I share Anna's hope that something similarly good can happen re: a Leverage conversation.

But I think I see the description of the event as trying to say something like “here’s an example of the sort of good thing that is possible.”

And I wanted anyone updating on that particular example to know that I was invited to the event, and declined the invitation, explaining that I genuinely could not cause myself to believe that I was actually welcome, or that it would be safe for me to be there.

This is a fact about me, not about the event.  But it seems relevant, and I believe it changes the impression left by the above comment to be more accurate in a way that feels important.

(I was not the only staff alumnus absent, to be clear.)

I ordinarily would not have left this comment at all, because it feels dangerously ... out of control, or something, in that I do not know what the-act-of-having-written-it will do.  I do not understand and have no idea how to navigate the social currents here, and am not going to try.  I will probably not contribute anything further to this thread unless directly asked by someone like Anna or a moderator.

What caused me to speak up anyway, despite feeling scared and in-over-my-head, was the bit in Anna’s other comment, where she said that she hopes people will not “refrain from sharing true relevant facts, out of fear that others will take them in a politicized way, or will use them as an excuse for false judgments."

EDIT: for context, I worked at CFAR from October of 2015 to October of 2018, and was its curriculum director and head-of-workshops for two of those three years.

Comment by Duncan_Sabien on Cup-Stacking Skills (or, Reflexive Involuntary Mental Motions) · 2021-10-13T01:01:25.017Z · LW · GW


Comment by Duncan_Sabien on Shoulder Advisors 101 · 2021-10-12T06:35:47.345Z · LW · GW

(I appreciate having it added to the conversation.)

Comment by Duncan_Sabien on Cup-Stacking Skills (or, Reflexive Involuntary Mental Motions) · 2021-10-12T06:12:59.402Z · LW · GW

I think this misses the pretty important part of it being a-skill-that-can-be-running-you.  Like, one that you do not necessarily notice, and cannot necessarily turn off even if it would be extremely advantageous to.

Comment by Duncan_Sabien on Cup-Stacking Skills (or, Reflexive Involuntary Mental Motions) · 2021-10-11T23:47:57.860Z · LW · GW

Yeah, I agree the name is sort of bass-ackwards.  The reason it stuck for me personally, and has oozed into my immediate social surroundings, is because of the immediate and visceral WOW of seeing the literal actual cup-stacking happening so quickly, and being like, oh, okay, okay, yeah, someone whose skill at X is like that.  Okay.  Whoa.  Yeah.  Wow.

i.e. it's deeply evocative once you have the contextual experience.

Comment by Duncan_Sabien on Cup-Stacking Skills (or, Reflexive Involuntary Mental Motions) · 2021-10-11T23:46:10.998Z · LW · GW

(Strong approval for pointing out the existence of an overlap where we're both right; I was clumsily attempting to do that by pointing out in the opener that Christian may just straightforwardly be envisioning a more mature and complex skill than the one I was claiming is quickly transmissible.)

Comment by Duncan_Sabien on Shoulder Advisors 101 · 2021-10-11T23:41:52.336Z · LW · GW

(I note a prediction that most people wouldn't actually be able to make a wordless/nameless shard of pure positivity and acceptance work, and wouldn't get much out of it if you did, but also I'd be stoked to hear someone's experience with one that did work.)

Comment by Duncan_Sabien on Cup-Stacking Skills (or, Reflexive Involuntary Mental Motions) · 2021-10-11T21:50:53.535Z · LW · GW

A relatively important note, if we're zeroing in on Focusing in particular, is that I don't fully buy that there's much to Focusing outside of the part listed in this essay.  That seems to me to be, not just the 80/20, but something like the 93/35.

You may have a professional disagreement with that, which would be a reasonable cause for saying "no way" to me.  The thing you're envisioning is probably genuinely more delicate and complicated than the thing I'm imagining—you might be e.g. thinking that I'm making a claim to be able to put people solidly on the path to a 540 spinning hook kick in five minutes, when in fact I'm saying I can put people solidly on the path to a hop-step roundhouse kick in five minutes.

I think if I try to teach Focusing in a five-minute session to 100 different people, I will get 80+ percent of them to catch a felt sense and notice that the felt sense is changing some.  Not a full shift in the sense of "I have found its true name and the feeling has now released or resolved, and I can move on to the next layer" but "this thing that has been tickling at me lives in a place in my body and has something to say and it's detectably responding to me as I start to learn how to actually listen."

Which I think is a solid analogue to Logan's cup stacking, especially as compared to my cup stacking (which would be the analogue of your skill at Focusing) or that of the world record holder (an AWC type).

I think this due to having basically already run this experiment, and it being about that successful.  I've also taught Focusing in a 45-60 minute session to some 200-or-so people, in batches of 10 to 20, and it worked to a level that surprised multiple half-trained Focusing coaches who were all (reasonably!) betting on failure.

I really really really really really don't know how to make this general point without sounding like I'm making a specific claim about the quality of your teaching, but: it's just a sad truth, in my experiment, that even filtering for trained and motivated teachers, most people are just shockingly bad at teaching. Like, the overall bar is set so low that you can be 95th percentile skilled, as a teacher, and in an absolute and objective sense just mostly fail at doing the thing.

I have a hard time making claims about what-is-possible-for-others-to-convey, for this reason.  I don't find your surprise surprising, and I don't find your skepticism unjustified.

But I stand by the claim, as written, which I will elaborate on to make sure I leave no misunderstanding:

People-in-general (i.e. more than 75 out of 100 and probably more than 90 out of 100) can indeed pick up the core concepts of things such as TAPs or goal factoring or Gendlin's Focusing (or, to add a few more examples, Leverage's belief reporting, or CFAR's double crux, or Circling, or NVC) with the right five-minute lecture, and make enough progress on those skills in a five-minute trying-it-out session to notice that they're working, in the way that they were promised to work, to a degree that roughly matches [Logan's cup-stacking] as compared to [Chang Keng Ian's].

I stand by this claim because it's just straightforwardly true in my experience, and any number of my colleagues or attendees at the workshops and conferences can attest to it.  I do not claim that it generalizes to non-99th-percentile attempts at generating the five-minute lecture.  I'm claiming something about the capacity of the humans to absorb the info and adopt the practice, not something about the ability of humans to present the info.

Comment by Duncan_Sabien on Shoulder Advisors 101 · 2021-10-11T21:33:20.881Z · LW · GW

That makes sense.

I (weakly) predict that building a shoulder advisor or two out of less-useful-but-more-emulable people might be worth it via giving you the skill of emulating to the available max?  Such that, finding emulation in general a little easier and more familiar, you might be able to try again with the actual higher-value targets?

FWIW, I have been genuinely surprised by advice from shoulder advisors that I could not predict; in a very real sense, that's the primary claim of the post.  You don't have to have the same wisdom and experience to spin up a mental chatbot that will sometimes be able to mimic the pattern well enough to produce something novel and useful.  If having a good shoulder advisor required being as wise and experienced as the real person, I don't think I would have felt this post was worth writing.

Comment by Duncan_Sabien on Shoulder Advisors 101 · 2021-10-11T21:30:31.601Z · LW · GW

I attempted to add some thoughts on how I'd go about this, but I'd love to hear a primer on your general method.

Comment by Duncan_Sabien on Shoulder Advisors 101 · 2021-10-11T21:30:09.133Z · LW · GW

Strong agree (and strong upvote).

Some general categories of strategy for working on that:

  • Setting up a dueling shoulder who's specifically motivated to stand in your defense, or pick apart an irrational or abusive argument, or even just remind you to take a breath and broaden your focus.
  • Preparing a mantra-of-rebuttal, which could be directly addressed to the annoying advisor ("I do not have to listen to you") or could be more general-purpose ("I will not allow toxic people to live rent-free in my thoughts").
  • Using CBT-esque self-conditioning to simply cut the thoughts off, mid-stream, until your brain gets the point.
  • Doing some kind of internal double crux to find the nugget of truth or usefulness that you do reflexively believe the advisor has to offer (e.g. "What this ghost in my head is saying is wrong but at least it is worthwhile to remember that some people think this way" or "What this ghost in my head is saying is wrong but it does remind me to care about X"), and then whenever it pops up, thanking it for that one nugget and sort of firmly closing the door.
Comment by Duncan_Sabien on my new shortsight reminder · 2021-10-11T20:24:38.737Z · LW · GW

This overlooks that a major reason why future-us won't care is because the issue will be A) settled or B) made irrelevant.

People have less ardent opinions about, I dunno, persistence hunting or blacksmithing or the-concept-of-property-rights-at-all because either one side conclusively won the argument or because it ceased to be a need or bottleneck that people felt it was important to struggle over.

I think it's a good reminder to check whether the thing really doesn't matter, in the moment, but if the reason for not caring in the future is A, this is actually more reason to care now, when there's still a chance to influence things, and if the reason for not caring in the future is B, that's ... not really relevant?  If our great-grandchildren won't care about pollution because they have infinite clean energy that doesn't really make it not-matter today.

Comment by Duncan_Sabien on Cup-Stacking Skills (or, Reflexive Involuntary Mental Motions) · 2021-10-11T20:18:04.405Z · LW · GW

Does the Ferret have other wisdom you'd particularly promote to attention?  I haven't encountered their content before.

Comment by Duncan_Sabien on Cup-Stacking Skills (or, Reflexive Involuntary Mental Motions) · 2021-10-11T16:10:29.147Z · LW · GW

That's most of it, but there's a subtext (which your comment helped me draw out; thanks) of something like unintentional or subconscious practice.  Like, at least [the skills I've identified in the wild so far, that caused me to create the mental category] were all sort of accidentally practiced to that unbelievable level.  I didn't set out to become a frame-maker, and my colleague didn't set out to become a frame-breaker; the skills emerged from the incentives in our respective contexts.

Comment by Duncan_Sabien on Cup-Stacking Skills (or, Reflexive Involuntary Mental Motions) · 2021-10-11T15:51:45.732Z · LW · GW

Tying shoelaces is just a less interesting example, when the goal is to point out that some people have unique or idiosyncratic cup-stacking skills.  Becoming explicitly aware of simple habits that nearly everyone has will tend to be less useful, I think.

> plenty of people who can't just do Focusing and aquire the skill in five minutes.

I think you misunderstood the claim—in five minutes, people can do a version of TAPs or Focusing or crux-mapping that's equivalent to Logan's first cup-stacking attempt.  Slow, faltering, effortful—it is actually happening, but not with anything like fluency, and it's not the complete skill (e.g. Logan moving their hands symmetrically).  I made a slight edit to the piece to (hopefully) clarify, adding the word "core."

This has been my experience over the course of teaching such skills to a couple thousand people (thirty or forty CFAR workshops, plus a dozen or so lectures at universities and conferences and so forth).  

Note that the right five minutes of instruction goes a long way, here.  My claim is not "anyone can do it after any five-minute intro."  

(I've always felt grumpy about the Mythbusters teaching people that "because we couldn't recreate this, we've proved it didn't happen in the first place.")

Comment by Duncan_Sabien on Shoulder Advisors 101 · 2021-10-11T01:38:46.002Z · LW · GW

I am comfortable with having a comment making the (objectively correct) claim that tulpas are related in a narrow and technical sense.  They seem to be playing in a similar space, are probably using the same mental architecture, etc.

I would not be comfortable with having a comment leaving the (unjustified, imo) impression that tulpas are substantively similar.

Like, it may be that tulpas get a bad rap, but from what I know of them, they're much more like inventing a shoulder advisor and then ceding control to it entirely because you think it can run your life better than the core you, and that's way more extreme and requires a lot more assumptions to justify than the thing I'm recommending with shoulder advisors.  Their common-use definition is a thing that feels risky in a way that shoulder advisors do not, and feels like it requires warnings that I don't think shoulder advisors require.

EDIT: Also, afaik tuplas are much more built-from-the-ground-up, rather than being keyed into a set of recorded experiences from either real people or detailed fictional characters.  Having to ground out a mental construct in either actual reality or plausible near-reality seems like a big safeguard.

Even if I'm wrong about what tulpas really are in practice: to the extent that my understanding and my brief description above matches other people's general impression, I want to be pretty firm that that thing is not closely related to shoulder advisors in spirit.

Comment by Duncan_Sabien on Shoulder Advisors 101 · 2021-10-10T19:40:52.373Z · LW · GW

+1 for noticing the sketchy wording; thanks for the chance to clarify.

I intended to convey that the fact is straightforwardly observable, not the phenomenon itself.  It's the sort of thing you can confirm is true by just going and asking a bunch of people, as I have done and as Gunnar reports doing in another comment.

You are correct that I can't literally observe this happening inside any heads other than my own (but it is indeed observable inside my own head, e.g. by adding a new shoulder advisor and suddenly and consistently getting a whole class of insights that I never got previously).

Comment by Duncan_Sabien on Shoulder Advisors 101 · 2021-10-10T19:37:00.530Z · LW · GW

Can you share something about the wording of your question/prompt?  I might want to ask other people using the same prompt for consistency.

Comment by Duncan_Sabien on Shoulder Advisors 101 · 2021-10-10T03:22:31.454Z · LW · GW

My best talk

My longest talk

My Harvard talk

My badly-in-need-of-updating website which happens to have a "writing" tab F U L L of stuff

You can find a couple others on Youtube by searching "Duncan Sabien."

Also you can get people to invite me to podcasts and I'll often say yes. =P

Comment by Duncan_Sabien on Shoulder Advisors 101 · 2021-10-09T22:20:52.204Z · LW · GW

Yeah, at this point we're drifting away from the concept of "a curated mental model" and into just "general mental impressions," or something.  But they're contiguous concepts, in my head—they're just different in something like vividness or intensity or clarity.  I can "turn my focus" toward what's just a whispering impression, and it becomes more of what I'm thinking of as a fully-fledged emulation, or I can shove an emulation into the back of my mind and ignore it and it subsides into just being a tickle of awareness.

Comment by Duncan_Sabien on Shoulder Advisors 101 · 2021-10-09T21:53:04.959Z · LW · GW

It's usually far from "all."  It's more like, in this room with ten people who I know reasonably well, any given development will tend to provoke specific, identifiable reactions from my mental model of 1-4 of them. If ten minutes go by, my attention will land on almost everyone at some point, and I'll have clear intuitions for almost everyone at some point, but in any given moment some will be much more salient than others.

Comment by Duncan_Sabien on Shoulder Advisors 101 · 2021-10-09T20:58:44.843Z · LW · GW

Definitely I've never had more than one "voice" going at a time, even if there are two or three voices interrupting and taking over in rapid succession.  This accords with what I've heard from other people, though I haven't specifically asked about whether people ever hear two-or-more.

I think in a given three-second span I can track something like the "mood" of at least three different perspectives or advisors at once?  The same way that (if my own experience generalizes) you can be in a room with ten people, and someone says something, and you immediately have a visceral feeling about how several of the other people will react.

Comment by Duncan_Sabien on Shoulder Advisors 101 · 2021-10-09T19:06:59.392Z · LW · GW

It's definitely the case that many people do (and also definitely the case that many people don't!).

My evidence is:

  • My own personal experience
  • Explicit conversations about the shoulder advisor concept, including phenomenological reports of what it's like, with a large number of people including Eliezer Yudkowsky, Nate Soares, Damon Pourtahmaseb-Sasi, Renshin Lee, Eli Tyre, Logan Brienne Strohl, Malo Bourgon, Jack Carroll, and Eric Zolayvar.
  • Instances in fiction and pop culture (the angel-and-devil trope, HJPEV's cast of mental models in HPMOR, Bella seeing Edward in Twilight, a lot of references to "hearing someone else's voice at a critical moment" or "an image of someone's face popping to mind" in any number of works)
  • Some pop-evo-psych and bicameral mind stuff that sort of post-dicts it

I started developing (and sharing) my explicit concepts of shoulder advisors well after encountering the stuff about some people not having visual imagery, or some people not having inner monologues, or some people not having a persistent sense of self across time, or Scott Alexander's "Different Worlds," and so forth.  Like, from the start I've been quite aware of the fact that this won't be universal.  But in my probing, a) something like half the people I talk to resonate with this from the start/already have similar experiences or habits, and b) of the remaining half, a majority take to it pretty quickly/can pick up a nascent version of the skill in five minutes.

That, of course, in no way invalidates the possibly-as-many-as-25-percent-of-people whose minds are simply running a different OS.

Comment by Duncan_Sabien on Shoulder Advisors 101 · 2021-10-09T18:57:59.190Z · LW · GW

Thanks very much for this comment.  I've added in a paragraph (ctrl+f "Note that you don't") to emphasize the point about not requiring them to speak.

Comment by Duncan_Sabien on Shoulder Advisors 101 · 2021-10-09T17:56:53.166Z · LW · GW

I would be surprised-but-not-shocked if you can't make this work in a fundamental sense.  Human variation is actually pretty wide (e.g. diachronics vs. episodics, some people having no inner monologue, synesthesia, some people having no visual imagery), so there are no doubt many thousands of people out in the world that just do not have this capacity, but an overwhelming majority of people should find this pretty easy on my models.

Which makes my first hypothesis "something about the way I've tried to explain this was clumsy, and I've given you a wrong impression, and you've correctly identified the-thing-you're-imagining as not very workable but it's not the thing I was hoping to convey."

In particular, the words "predict" and "accuracy" from hypothesis 1 seem like they might indicate that I've nudged you in the wrong direction.  There's a quote I like a lot that goes something like "History deals with what happened.  Fiction deals with what happens."

So, in a story, "but it really happened that way once!" is not sufficient justification; stories have to pass muster as feeling plausible in a way that actual reality doesn't.

Similarly, there's a huge range of things a specific person might actually say, based on a truly staggering number of factors.  The thing a shoulder advisor does is not "predict with accuracy" but rather "emulate with verisimilitude."  I don't use my shoulder advisors to guess people's exact reactions, so much as to remind myself of their typical response.  You don't have to know them deeply enough to know what they'd say, just to get a sense of "oh, they'd say something like this isn't specific enough, I've got holes in my plan, blah blah blah," and over time this simulation gets sharper and sharper and more specific (while still just being one possible example plucked out of a very wide space).

Hypothesis 2 would surprise me, but again, human variation.  You do you, in the world where H2 holds.  =P

As for hypothesis 3, I again think I must have just said things that led you down the wrong path.  There's a bit of effort in remembering to check with a shoulder advisor at all, at first—in having the mental discipline to bother to do the move.  But if you're finding it effortful in the moment—if the act of having a shoulder advisor in the room with you feels like something you're having to try to do, or work at, then you're either doing something very different from what I do or your mind is shaped very differently from most of those I've run into.

Which is possible!  Would be surprising, but not shocking.

I think my advice would be to grab your most-likely-candidate for useful shoulder advisory, and have that person read this very comment I've written here.  Like, imagine them reading these words, and see where they scoff or laugh or shake their head or furrow their brow or get really excited or whatever.

Comment by Duncan_Sabien on Shoulder Advisors 101 · 2021-10-09T17:45:04.715Z · LW · GW

At any one time (i.e. in any one specific situation) the most I've ever seen anyone juggle is about six.  Like, I have sometimes actively booted up 5-7 advisors over the course of a ten-minute introspection, and have seen others do the same, and sometimes those advisors "talk to" each other directly without me feeling like the Duncan-personality is doing anything other than watching.

But as for my overall cast of shoulder advisors—it's well over thirty?  Essentially anyone I get to know past a certain level becomes emulable, and many many people might pop onto my shoulder only once or twice a year, or only once ever.  But there are at least thirty people (maybe fifteen real and fifteen fictional) who I regularly emulate.

Recommendations to cut things down were solely for the purpose of "if you've never done this/have no experience, don't try to do too much at once."

Comment by Duncan_Sabien on Perceptual dexterity: a case study · 2021-10-08T20:04:17.623Z · LW · GW

I'm with you except the word "just" in the first sentence; I think the social stuff explains a lot of the moral machinery but I would be surprised if it explained it all.

Comment by Duncan_Sabien on Common knowledge about Leverage Research 1.0 · 2021-10-08T14:49:51.605Z · LW · GW

This makes sense to me in my first pass of thinking about it, and I agree.  

There's something subtle and extremely hard to pull off (perhaps impossible) in: "in the wishing world, what do we think a shared voting policy should be, such that the aggregate of everyone voting consistently according to that policy leaves all comments in approximately the same order that a single extremely perceptive and high-quality reasoner would rank them?"

As opposed to comments just trending toward infinities.

Comment by Duncan_Sabien on Common knowledge about Leverage Research 1.0 · 2021-10-08T06:38:59.879Z · LW · GW

The culture of Homo Sabiens often clashes pretty hard with the culture of LessWrong, so I can't speak to how this will shake out overall.

But in the culture of Homo Sabiens, and in the-version-of-LessWrong-built-and-populated-by-Duncans, this is an outstanding comment, exhibiting several virtues, and also explicitly prosocial in its treatment of orthonormal and RyanCarey in the process of disagreement (being careful and explicit, providing handholds, preregistering places where you might be wrong, distinguishing between claims about the comments and about the overall people, being honest about hypotheses and willing to accept social disapproval for them, etc.)

I have strong-upvoted and hope further interaction with RyanCarey and orthonormal and other commenters both a) happens, and b) goes well for all involved.  I would try to engage more substantively, but I'm currently trying to kill a motte-and-bailey elsewhere.

Comment by Duncan_Sabien on Overconfidence is Deceit · 2021-02-22T02:12:37.271Z · LW · GW

I'm feeling demoralized by Ben and Scott's comments (and Christian's), which I interpret as being primarily framed as "in opposition to the OP and the worldview that generated it," and which seem to me to be not at all in opposition to the OP, but rather to something like preexisting schemas that had the misfortune to be triggered by it.

Both Scott's and Ben's thoughts ring to me as almost entirely true, and also separately valuable, and I have far, far more agreement with them than disagreement, and they are the sort of thoughts I would usually love to sit down and wrestle with and try to collaborate on.  I am strong upvoting them both.

But I feel caught in this unpleasant bind where I am telling myself that I first have to go back and separate out the three conversations—where I have to prove that they're three separate conversations, rather than it being clear that I said "X" and Ben said "By the way, I have a lot of thoughts about W and Y, which are (obviously) quite close to X" and Scott said "And I have a lot of thoughts about X' and X''."

Like, from my perspective it seems that there are a bunch of valid concerns being raised that are not downstream of my assertions and my proposals, and I don't want to have to defend against them, but feel like if I don't, they will in fact go down as points against those assertions and proposals.  People will take them as unanswered rebuttals, without noticing that approximately everything they're specifically arguing against, I also agree is bad. Those bad things might very well be downstream of e.g. what would happen, pragmatically speaking, if you tried to adopt the policies suggested, but there's a difference between "what I assert Policy X will degenerate to, given [a, b, c] about the human condition" and "Policy X."

(Jim made this distinction, and I appreciated it, and strong upvoted that, too.)

And for some reason, I have a very hard time mustering any enthusiasm at all for both Ben and Scott's proposed conversations while they seem to me to be masquerading as my conversation.  Like, as long as they are registering as direct responses, when they seem to me to be riffs.

I think I would deeply enjoy engaging with them, if it were common knowledge that they are riffs.  I reiterate that they seem, to me, to contain large amounts of useful insight.

I think that I would even deeply enjoy engaging with them right here.  They're certainly on topic in a not-even-particularly-broad-sense.

But I am extremely tired of what-feels-to-me like riffs being put on [my idea's tab], and of the effort involved in separating out the threads.  And I do not think it is a result of e.g. a personal failure to be clear in my own claims, such that if I wrote better or differently this would stop happening to me.  I keep looking for a context where, if I say A and it makes people think of B and C, we can talk about A and B and C, and not immediately lose track of the distinctions between them.

EDIT: I should be more fair to Scott, who did indeed start his post out with a frame pretty close to the one I'm requesting.  I think I would take that more meaningfully if I were less tired to start with.  But also it being "a response to Scott's model of Duncan's beliefs about how epistemic communities work, and a couple of Duncan's recent Facebook posts" just kind of bumps the question back one level; I feel fairly confident that the same sort of slippery rounding-off is going on there, too (since, again, I almost entirely agree with his commentary, and yet still wrote this very essay).  Our disagreement is not where (I think) Ben and Scott think that it lies.

I don't know what to do about any of that, so I wrote this comment here.  Epistemic status: exhausted.

Comment by Duncan_Sabien on Overconfidence is Deceit · 2021-02-21T08:12:16.824Z · LW · GW

Does anyone have a clear example to give of a time/space where overconfidence seems to them to be doing a lot of harm?

Almost everyone's response to COVID, including institutions, to the tune of many preventable deaths.

Almost everything produced by the red tribe in 2020, to the tune of significant damage to the social fabric.

Comment by Duncan_Sabien on Overconfidence is Deceit · 2021-02-19T17:37:27.554Z · LW · GW

Your claims about the ramifications of my policy are straightforwardly false, because you have misunderstood / mischaracterized / strawmanned the policy I am advocating.

You are failing to pass the ITT of the post, and to take seriously its thesis, and thus your responses are aimed at tangents rather than cruxes.  The objections you are raising are roughly analogous to "but if you outlaw dueling, then people will get killed in duels when they refuse to shoot back!"

I explicitly request that you actually try to pass the ITT of the post, so that we can be in a place where our disagreement is actually useful.  Or, if you'd rather have this other, different conversation (which would be fine), at least acknowledge that you are changing the subject, and riffing rather than directly responding.

(The riff being something like, "instead of discussing the policy Duncan's actually proposing, I'd like to discuss the ramifications of a likely degeneration of it, because I suspect his proposal would degenerate in practice and what we would see as a result is X.")

Comment by Duncan_Sabien on Overconfidence is Deceit · 2021-02-19T07:23:32.479Z · LW · GW

You're still missing the thesis.  Apologies for not having the spoons to try restating it in different words, but I figured I could at least politely let you know.

Edit: a good first place to look might be "what do I think is different for me, Christian, than for people with substantially less discernment and savviness?"

Comment by Duncan_Sabien on Overconfidence is Deceit · 2021-02-18T22:37:22.276Z · LW · GW

I think you're underweighting a crucial part of the thesis, which is that it doesn't matter what the candidate secretly knows or would admit if asked.  A substantial portion of the listeners just ... get swayed by the strong claim.  The existence of savvy listeners who "get it" and "know better" and know where to put the hedges and know which parts are hyperbole doesn't change that fact.  And there is approximately never a reckoning.

Comment by Duncan_Sabien on Overconfidence is Deceit · 2021-02-18T07:38:52.232Z · LW · GW

locally seem fairly costly

This seems highly variable person-to-person; Nate Soares and Anna Salamon each seem to pay fairly low costs/no costs for many kinds of disgust, and are also notably each doing very different things than each other.  I also find that a majority of my experiences of disgust are not costly for me, and instead convert themselves by default into various fuels or resolutions or reinforcement-rewards.  There may be discoverable and exportable mental tech re: relating productively to disgust-that-isn't-particularly-actionable.

Comment by Duncan_Sabien on “PR” is corrosive; “reputation” is not. · 2021-02-16T02:13:35.105Z · LW · GW

One last point for Zack to consider:

I just ... don't see how obfuscating my thoughts through a gentleness filter actually helps anyone?

You could start by thinking "okay, I don't understand this, but a person I explicitly claim to like and probably have at least a little respect for is telling me to my face that not-doing it makes me uniquely costly, compared to a lot of other people he engages with, so maybe I have a blind spot here?  Maybe there's something real where he's pointing, even if I don't see the lines of cause and effect?"

Plus, it's disingenuous and sneaky to act like what's being requested here is that you "obfuscate your thoughts through a gentleness filter."  That strawmanning of the actual issue is a rhetorical trick that tries to win the argument preemptively through framing, which is the sort of thing you claim to find offensive, and to fight against.

Comment by Duncan_Sabien on “PR” is corrosive; “reputation” is not. · 2021-02-16T01:27:47.546Z · LW · GW

Hm.  For the record, I find this thought to be worth chewing on, so thank you.

Comment by Duncan_Sabien on “PR” is corrosive; “reputation” is not. · 2021-02-16T01:23:12.481Z · LW · GW

maybe the one giving offense should be nicer, but maybe the one taking offense shouldn't have taken it personally?


So, by framing things as "taking offense" and "tone policing," I sense an attempt to invalidate and delegitimize any possible criticism on the meta level.  To start out with the hypothesis "Actually, Zack's doing a straightforwardly bad thing on the regular with the adversarial slant of their pushback" already halfway to being dismissed.

I'm not "taking offense."  I'm not pointing at "your comment made me sad and therefore it was bad," or "gosh, why did you use these words instead of these slightly different words which I'm arbitrarily declaring are better."

I'm pointing at "your comment was exhausting, and could extremely easily have contained 100% of its value and been zero exhausting, and this has been true for many of the times I've engaged with you."  You have a habit of choosing an unnecessarily exhaustingly combative method of engagement when you could just as easily make the exact same points and convey the exact same information cooperatively/collaboratively; no substantial emotional or interpretive labor required.

This is not about "tone policing."  This is about the fundamental thrust of the engagement. "You're wrong, and I'mm'a prove it!" vs. "I don't think that's right, can we talk about why?"

Eric Rogstad (who's my mental exemplar of the virtue I'm pointing to here, though other people like Julia Galef and Benya Fallenstein also regularly exhibit it) could have pushed back every bit as effectively, and on every single detail, without being a dick.  Eric Rogstad and Julia Galef and Benya Fallenstein are just as good as you at noticing wrongness that needs to be attacked, and they're better than you at not alienating the person who produced the mostly-right thought in the first place, and disincentivizing them from bothering to share their thoughts in the future.

(I do not for one second buy your implied claim that your strategy is motivated by a sober weighing of its costs and benefits, and you're being adversarial because you genuinely believe that's the best way forward.  I think that's what you tell yourself to justify it, but you C L E A R L Y engage in this way with emotional zeal and joie de vivre.  I posit that you want to be punchy-attacky, and I hypothesize that you tell yourself that it's virtuous so that you don't have to compare-contrast the successfulness of your strategy with the successfulness of the Erics and the Julias and the Benyas.)

clapback that pointedly takes issue with the words that were actually typed, in a context that leaves open the opportunity for the speaker to use more words/effort to write something more precise, but without the critic being obligated to proactively do that work for them

... conveniently ignoring, as if I didn't say it and it doesn't matter, my point about context being a real thing that exists.  Your behavior is indistinguishable from that of someone who really wanted to be performatively incredulous, saw that if they included the obvious context they wouldn't get to be, and decided to pretend they didn't see it so they could still have their fun.

Exploring that line of discussion is potentially interesting!

I defy you to say, with a straight face, "a supermajority of rationalists polled would agree that the hypothesis which best explains my first response is that I was curiously and intrinsically motivated to collaborate with you in a conversation about whether we have different priors on human variation."

I'm more motivated, etc.

It is precisely this mentality which lies behind 20% of why I find LessWrong a toxic and unsafe place, where e.g. literal calls for my suicide go unresponded to, but my objection to the person calling for my suicide results in multiple paragraphs of angry tirades about how I'm immoral and irrational.  EDIT: This is unfair as stated; the incidents I am referring to are years in the past and I should not by default assume that present-day LessWrong shares these properties.

The fact that I have high sensitivity on this axis is no fault of yours, but I invite you to consider the ultimate results of a policy which punishes your imperfect allies, while doing nothing at all against the most outrageous offenders.  If all someone knows is that one voted for Trump, one's private dismay and internal reservations do nothing to stop the norm shift.  You can't rely on people just magically knowing that of course you object to EpicNamer, and that your relative expenditure of words is unrepresentative of your true objections.

And with that, you have fully exhausted the hope-for-finding-LessWrong-better-than-it-used-to-be that I managed to scrape together over the past three months.  I guess I'll try again in the summer.

Comment by Duncan_Sabien on “PR” is corrosive; “reputation” is not. · 2021-02-15T22:47:44.768Z · LW · GW

Agreement with all of the above.  I just don't want to mistake [truth that can be extracted from thinking about a statement] for [what the statement was intended to mean by its author].

Comment by Duncan_Sabien on “PR” is corrosive; “reputation” is not. · 2021-02-15T22:06:25.050Z · LW · GW

If you're going to apply that much charity to everyone without fail, then I feel that there should be more than sufficient charity to not-object-to my comment, as well.

I do not see how you could be applying charity neutrally/symmetrically, given the above comment.

I'm applying the standard "treat each statement as meaning what it plainly says, in context."  In context, the top comment seems to me to be claiming that everyone without fail sacrifices honor for PR, which is plainly false.  In context, my comment says if you're about to assert that something is true of everyone without fail, you're something like 1000x more likely to be wrong than to be right (given a pretty natural training set of such assertions uttered by humans in natural conversation, and not adversarially selected for).

Of the actual times that actual humans have made assertions about what's universally true of all people, I strongly wager that they've been wrong 1000x more frequently than they've been right.  Zack literally tried to produce examples to demonstrate how silly my claim was, and every single example that he produced (to be fair, he probably put all of ten seconds into generating the list, but still) is in support of my assertion, and fails to be a counterexample.

I actually can't produce an assertion about all human actions that I'm confident is true.  Like, I'm confident that I can assert that everything we'd classify as human "has a brain," and that everything we'd classify as human "breathes air," but when it comes to stuff people do out of whatever-it-is-that-we-label choice or willpower, I haven't yet been able to think of something that everyone, without fail, definitely does.

Comment by Duncan_Sabien on “PR” is corrosive; “reputation” is not. · 2021-02-15T21:37:20.773Z · LW · GW

Note that near-universals are ruled out by "everyone without fail."  I am in fact pointing, with my "helpful tip," at statements beginning with everyone without fail.  It is in fact not the case that any of the examples Zack started with are true of everyone without fail—there are humans who do not laugh, humans who do not tell stories, humans who do not shiver when cold, etc.

This point is not the main thrust of my counterobjection to Zack's comment, which was more about the incentives created by various styles of engagement, but it's worth noting.

Comment by Duncan_Sabien on “PR” is corrosive; “reputation” is not. · 2021-02-15T21:35:03.566Z · LW · GW

My downvote here is not for TAG holding the hypothesis that the rationalist/LW bubble might be bad in various ways (this is an inoffensive hypothesis to hold, in my culture) but rather for its method of sly insinuation that tries to score a point without sticking its neck out and making a clear and falsifiable claim.

If I can be shown that I've misread TAG, I'll remove the downvote.

Comment by Duncan_Sabien on “PR” is corrosive; “reputation” is not. · 2021-02-15T21:21:25.205Z · LW · GW

I mean the willful misunderstanding of the actual point I was making, which I still maintain is correct, including the bit about many orders of magnitude (once you include the should-be-obvious hidden assumption that has now been made explicit).  

The adversarial pretending-that-I-was-saying-something-other-than-what-I-was-clearly-saying (if you assign any weight whatsoever to obvious context) so as to make it more attackable and let you thereby express the performative incredulity you seemed to want to express, and needed more license for than a mainline reading of my words provided you.

I also object to "would be very bad" in the subjunctive ... I assert that you ARE introducing this burden, with many of your comments, the above seeming not at all atypical for a Zack Davis clapback.  Smacks of "I apologize IF I offended anybody," when one clearly did offend.  This interaction has certainly taken my barely-sufficient-to-get-me-here motivation to "try LessWrong again" and quartered it.  This thread has not fostered a sense of "LessWrong will help you nurture and midwife your thoughts, such that they end up growing better than they would otherwise."

I would probably feel more willing to believe that your nitpicking was principled if you'd spared any of it for the top commenter, who made an even more ambitious statement than I (it being absolute/infinite).

Comment by Duncan_Sabien on “PR” is corrosive; “reputation” is not. · 2021-02-15T20:07:55.905Z · LW · GW

You're neglecting the unstated precondition that it's the type of sentence that would be generated in the first place, by a discussion such as this one.  You've leapt immediately to an explicitly adversarial interpretation and ruled out meaning that would have come from a cooperative one, rather than taking a prosocial and collaborative approach to contribute the exact same information.

(e.g. by chiming in to say "By the way, it seems to me that Duncan is taking for granted that readers will understand him to be referring to the set of such sentences that people would naturally produce when talking about culture and psychology.  I think that assumption should be spelled out rather than left implicit, so that people don't mistake him for making a (wrong) claim about genuine near-universals like 'humans shiver when cold' that are only false when there are e.g. extremely rare outlier medical conditions."  Or by asking something like "hey, when you say 'a sign' do you mean to imply that this is ironclad evidence, or did you more mean to claim that it's a strong hint?  Because your wording is compatible with both, but I think one of those is wrong.")

The adversarial approach you chose, which was not necessary to convey the information you had to offer, tends to make discourse and accurate thinking and communication more difficult, rather than less, because what you're doing is introducing an extremely high burden on saying anything at all.  "If you do not explicitly state every constraining assumption in advance, you will be called out/nitpicked/met with performative incredulity; there is zero assumption of charity and you cannot e.g. trust people to interpret your sentences as having been produced under Grice's maxims (for instance)."

The result is an overwhelming increase in the cost of discourse, and a substantial reduction in its allure/juiciness/expected reward, which has the predictable chilling effect.  I absolutely would not have bothered to make my comment if I'd known your comment was coming, in the style you chose to use, and indeed now somewhat regret trying to take part in the project of having good conversations on LessWrong today.

Comment by Duncan_Sabien on “PR” is corrosive; “reputation” is not. · 2021-02-15T18:29:02.239Z · LW · GW

If [everyone without fail, even the wonderful cream-of-the-crop rationalists, sacrifices honor for PR at the expense of A], can you [blame A for championing PR]?

Nope, given that condition.  But also the "if" does not hold.  You're incorrect that [everyone without fail, even the wonderful cream-of-the-crop rationalists, sacrifices honor for PR at the expense of A], and I note as a helpful tip that if you find yourself typing a sentence about some behavioral trait being universal among humans with that degree of absolute confidence, you can take this as a sign that you are many orders of magnitude more likely to be wrong than right.

Comment by Duncan_Sabien on “PR” is corrosive; “reputation” is not. · 2021-02-14T17:58:33.351Z · LW · GW

This seems true to me but also sort of a Moloch-style dynamic?  Like "yep, I agree those are the incentives, and it's too bad that that's the case."

Comment by Duncan_Sabien on “PR” is corrosive; “reputation” is not. · 2021-02-14T03:56:23.069Z · LW · GW

I think another way to gesture at the distinction here is whether your success criteria is process-based or outcome-based.

If you're "trying to do PR," then you're sort of hanging your hopes on a specific outcome—that people will hold you in high regard, say good things about you, etc.  This opens you up to Goodharting, and various muggings and extortions, and sort of leaves you at the mercy of the most capricious or unreasonable member of the audience.

Whereas if you're "trying to be honorable" (or some other similar thing), you're attempting to engage in methods and processes that are likely to lead to good outcomes, according to your advance predictions, and which tend to produce social standing as a positive side effect.  But you're not optimizing for the social standing, except insofar as you're contributing to a good and healthy society existing in the first place (and then slotting into it).

I see this (the thing I'm describing, which may or may not be as closely related to the thing Anna's describing as I think it is) as sort of analogous to whether you do something like follow diplomatic procedures or use NVC (process-based), or do whatever-it-takes to make sure you don't offend anybody (outcome-based).  One of these is sort of capped and finite in a way I think is important, and the other is sort of infinitely vulnerable.