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Comment by elityre on romeostevensit's Shortform · 2020-09-14T05:11:55.986Z · LW · GW

Ok. But under this schema what you are able to learn is dictated by the territory instead of by your own will.

I want to be able to learn anything I set my mind to, not just whatever happens to come easily to me.

Comment by elityre on romeostevensit's Shortform · 2020-09-14T05:10:28.333Z · LW · GW

Its like red-teaming, but better.

Comment by elityre on Eli's shortform feed · 2020-09-13T18:17:03.610Z · LW · GW


Comment by elityre on Eli's shortform feed · 2020-09-13T18:16:33.873Z · LW · GW


I've gotten very little out of books in this area.

It is a little afield, but strongly recommend the basic NVC book: Nonviolent Communication: A Language for Life. I recommend that at minimum, everyone read at least the first two chapters, which is something like 8 pages long, and has the most content in the book. (The rest of the book is good too, but it is mostly examples.)

Also, people I trust have gotten value out of How to Have Impossible Conversations. This is still on my reading stack though (for this month, I hope), so I don't personally recommend it. My expectation, from not having read it yet, is that it will cover the basics pretty well.

Comment by elityre on Eli's shortform feed · 2020-09-13T06:39:28.996Z · LW · GW

[I wrote a much longer and more detailed comment, and then decided that I wanted to think more about it. In lieu of posting nothing, here's a short version.]

I mean I did very little facilitation one way or the other at that event, so I think my counterfactual impact was pretty minimal.

In terms of my value added, I think that one was in the bottom 5th percentile?

In terms of how useful that tiny amount of facilitation was, maybe 15 to 20th percentile? (This is a little weird, because quantity and quality are related. More active facilitation has a quality span: active (read: a lot of) facilitation can be much more helpful when it is good and much more disruptive / annoying / harmful, when it is bad, compared to less active backstop facilitation,

Overall, the conversation served the goals of the participants and had a median outcome for that kind of conversation, which is maybe 30th percentile, but there is a long right tail of positive outcomes (and maybe I am messing up how to think about percentile scores with skewed distributions).

The outcome that occured ("had an interesting conversation, and had some new thoughts / clarifications") is good but also far below the sort of outcome that I'm ussually aiming for (but often missing), of substantive, permanent (epistemic!) change to the way that one or both of the people orient on this topic.

Comment by elityre on romeostevensit's Shortform · 2020-09-13T02:44:35.852Z · LW · GW

Can I tag something as "yo, programmers, come build this"?

Comment by elityre on Eli's shortform feed · 2020-09-13T02:40:38.038Z · LW · GW

TL;DR: I’m offering to help people productively have difficult conversations and resolve disagreements, for free. Feel free to email me if and when that seems helpful. elitrye [at]


Over the past 4-ish years, I’ve had a side project of learning, developing, and iterating on methods for resolving tricky disagreements, and failures to communicate. A lot of this has been in the Double Crux frame, but I’ve also been exploring a number of other frameworks (including, NVC, Convergent Facilitation, Circling-inspired stuff, intuition extraction, and some home-grown methods).

As part of that, I’ve had a standing offer to facilitate / mediate tricky conversations for folks in the CFAR and MIRI spheres (testimonials below). Facilitating “real disagreements”, allows me to get feedback on my current conversational frameworks and techniques. When I encounter blockers that I don’t know how to deal with, I can go back to the drawing board to model those problems and interventions that would solve them, and iterate from there, developing new methods.

I generally like doing this kind of conversational facilitation and am open to doing a lot more of it with a wider selection of people.

I am extending an offer to help mediate tricky conversations, to anyone that might read this post, for the foreseeable future. [If I retract this offer, I’ll come back and leave a note here.]

What sort of thing is this good for?

I’m open to trying to help with a wide variety of difficult conversations, but the situations where I have been most helpful in the past have had the following features:

  1. Two* people are either having some conflict or disagreement or are having difficulty understanding something about what the other person is saying.
  2. There’s some reason to expect the conversation to not “work”, by default: either they’ve tried already, and made little progress etc. or, at least one person can predict that this conversation will be tricky or heated.
  3. There is enough mutual respect and/or there is enough at stake that it seems worthwhile to try and have the conversation anyway. It seems worth the time to engage.

Here are some (anonymized) examples of conversations that I’ve facilitated in the past years.

  • Two researchers work in related fields, but in different frames / paradigms. Try as they might, neither person can manage to see how the other’s claims are even plausible.
  • Two friends are working on a project together, but they each feel inclined to take it in a different direction, and find it hard to get excited about the other’s proposal, even having talked about the question a lot.
  • John and Janet are EAs. John thinks that the project that Janet has spent the past year on, and is close to launching, is net negative, and that Janet should drop it entirely. Janet feels exasperated by this and generally feels that John is overly-controlling.
  • Two rationalists Laura and Alex, are each in some kind of community leadership role, and have a lot of respect for each other, but they have very different takes on a particular question of social mores: Laura thinks that there is a class of norm enforcement that is normal and important, Alex thinks that class of “norm enforcement” behavior is unacceptable and corrosive to the social fabric. They sit down to talk about it, but seem to keep going in circles without clarifying anything.

Basically, if you have a tricky disagreement that you want to try to hash out, and you feel comfortable inviting an outside party, feel free to reach out to me.

(If there’s some conversation or conflict that you have in mind, but don’t know if it falls in this category, feel free to email me and ask.)

*- I’m also potentially open to trying to help with conflicts that involve more than two people, such as a committee that is in gridlock, trying to make a decision, but I am much less practiced with that.

The process

If everyone involved is open to a third person (me) coming in to mediate, shoot me an email at elityre [at], and we can schedule a half hour call to discuss your issue. After discussing it a bit, I’ll tell you if I think I can help or not. If not, I might refer you to other people resources that might be more useful.

If it seems like I can help, I typically prefer to meet with both parties one-on-one, as much as a week before we meet together, so that I can “load up” each person’s perspective, and start doing prep work. From there we can schedule a conversation, presumably over Zoom, for all three (or more) of us to meet.

In the conversation itself, I would facilitate, tracking what’s happening and suggesting particular conversational moves or tacts, and possibly recommending and high-level framework.

[I would like to link to an facilitation-example video here, but almost all of the conversations that I’ve facilitated are confidential. Hopefully this post will lead to one or two that can be public.]

Individual cases can vary a lot, and I’m generally open to considering alternative formats.

Currently, I’m doing this free of charge.

My sense of my current level of skill

I think this is a domain in which deep mastery is possible. I don’t consider myself to be a master, but I am aspiring to mastery.

My (possibly biased impression), is that the median outcome of my coming to help with a conversation is “eh, that was moderately helpful, mostly because having a third person to help hold space, freed up our working memory to focus on the object level.”

Occasionally (one out of every 10 conversations?), I think I’ve helped dramatically, on the order of “this conversation was not working at all, until Eli came to help, and then we had multiple breakthroughs in understanding.”

(I’ve started explicitly tracking my participants’ estimation of my counterfactual impact, following conversations, so I hope to have much better numbers for assessing how useful this work is in a few months. Part of my hope in doing more of this is that I will get a more accurate assessment of how much value my facilitation in particular provides, and how much I should be investing in this general area.)


(I asked a number of people who I've done facilitation work in the past to give me a short honest testimonial, if they felt comfortable with that. I included the blurb from every person who sent me something, though this is still a biased sample, since I mostly reached out to people who I expected would give a "positive review".)

Anna Salamon:

I've found Eli quite helpful with a varied set of tricky conversations over the years. Some details:
- It helps that he can be tracking whether we are understanding each other, vs whether it is time to paraphrase;
- It helps that he can be tracking whether we are speaking to a "crux" or are on an accidental tangent/dead-end (I can do many of these things too, but when Eli is facilitating I can trust him to do some of this, which leaves me with more working memory for understanding the other party's perspective, figuring out how to articulate my own, etc.)
- It helps that he can help track the conversational stack, so that e.g. if I stop to paraphrase my conversation partner's point, that doesn't mean we'll never get back to the thing I was trying to keep track of.
- It has sometimes helped that he could paraphrase one or the other of us in ways the other party couldn't, but could then hear [after hearing his paraphrase];
- I have seen him help with both research-like/technical conversational topics, and messy cultural stuff.
- He can often help in cases where many folks would intuitively assume that a conversation is just "stuck," e.g. because it boils down to a difference in aesthetics or root empistemological perspectives or similar (Eli has a bunch of cached patterns for sometimes allowing such topics to progress, where a lot of people would not know how)
- I can vouch for Eli's ability to not-repeat private content that he says he won't repeat.
- I personally highly value Eli's literal-like or autistic-like tendency to just actually stick with what is being said, and to attempt to facilitate communication, without guessing ahead of time which party is "mature" or "right" or to-be-secretly-sided with. This is perhaps the area in which I have most noticed Eli's skills/habits rising above (in my preference-ordering) those of other skilled facilitators I've worked with.
- He responds pretty well to feedback, and acts so as to try to find out how to actually aid thinking/communication rather than to feel as though he is already doing so.

Scott Garrabrant:

I once went to a workshop and participated in a fishbowl double crux on the second to last day. That day went so well that we basically replaced all of the last day’s schedule with continuing the conversation, and that day went so well that we canceled plane tickets and extended the workshop. This experience made me very optimistic about what can be accomplished with a facilitated double crux.
Later, when asked to give a talk at a different workshop, I declined and suggested that talks were boring and we should replace several talk slots with fishbowl double cruxes. We tried it. It was a failure, and I don’t think much of value came out of any of the resulting conversations.
As far as I can tell, the second largest contributor to the relative failure was regression to the mean. The first largest was not having Eli there.

Evan Hubinger:

I really appreciate Eli's facilitation and I think that the hard conversations I've had with Eli facilitating would have been essentially impossible without good facilitation. I do think that trusting the facilitator is very important, but if you know and trust Eli as I do, I would definitely recommend his facilitation if you have a need for it.

Oliver Habryka:

I've asked Eli many times over the years to help me facilitate conversations that seemed particularly important and difficult. For most of these, having them happen at all without Eli seems quite difficult, so simply the presence of his willingness to facilitate, and to be reasonably well-known to be reasonable in his facilitation, provided a substantial amount of value.
He is also pretty decent at facilitation, as far as I can tell, or at least I can't really think of anyone who is substantially more skilled at it.
It's kind of hard for me to give a super clear review here. Like, facilitation isn't much of a commodity, and I don't think there is a shared standard of what a facilitator is supposed to do, so it's hard for me to straightforwardly evaluate it. I do think what Eli has been doing has been quite valuable to me, and I would recommend reasonably strongly that other people have more conversations of the type that Eli tends to facilitate.

Mathew Fallshaw

In 2017 I was engaged in a complicated discussion with a collaborator that was not progressing smoothly. Eli joined the discussion, in the role of facilitator, and the discussion markedly improved.

Other people who have some experience with my facilitation style, feel free to put your own thoughts in the comments.

Caveats and other info

As noted, this is an open research-ish project for me, and I obviously cannot guarantee that I will be helpful, much less that I will be able to resolve or get to the bottom of a given disagreement. In fact, as stated, I, personally, am most interested in the cases where I don’t know how to help, because those are the places where I'm most likely to learn the most, even if they are the places where I am least able to provide value.

You are always welcome to invite me to try and help, and then partway through, decide that my suggestions are less-than helpful, and say that you don’t want my help after all. (Anna Salamon does this moderately frequently.)

I do my best to keep track of a map of relevant skills in this area, and which people around have more skill than me in particular sub-domains. So it is possible that when you describe your situation, I’ll either suggest someone else who I think might be better to help you than me, or who I would like to bring in to co-facilitate with me (with your agreement, of course).

Note that this is one of a number of projects, involving difficult conversations or facilitation, that I am experimenting with lately. Another is here and another is to be announced.

If you’re interested in training sessions on Double Crux and other Conversational Facilitation skills, join my Double Crux training mailing list, here. I have vague plans to do a 3-weekend training program, covering my current take on the core Double Crux skill, but no guarantees that I will actually end up doing that any time soon.

Questions welcome!

Comment by elityre on How good is humanity at coordination? · 2020-08-31T19:51:24.026Z · LW · GW
if for some reason post-apocalyptic worlds rarely get simulated

To draw out the argument a little further, the reason that post-apocalyptic worlds don't get simulated is because most (?) of the simulations of our era are a way to simulate super intelligences in other parts of the multiverse, to talk or trade with.

(As in the basic argument of this Jan Tallinn talk)

If advanced civilization is wiped out by nuclear war, that simulation might be terminated, if it seems sufficiently unlikely to lead to a singularity.

Comment by elityre on How good is humanity at coordination? · 2020-08-30T23:35:24.601Z · LW · GW

I feel like this is a very important point that I have never heard made before.

Comment by elityre on AllAmericanBreakfast's Shortform · 2020-08-14T15:20:39.055Z · LW · GW
Mathematics shares with a small fraction of other related disciplines and games the quality of unambiguous objectivity. It also has the ~unique quality that you cannot bullshit your way through it. Miss any link in the chain and the whole thing falls apart.

Isn't programming even more like this?

I could get squidgy about whether a proof is "compelling", but when I write a program, it either runs and does what I expect, or it doesn't, with 0 wiggle room.

Comment by elityre on Eli's shortform feed · 2020-08-14T15:16:10.578Z · LW · GW

I’ve decided that I want to to make more of a point to write down my macro-strategic thoughts, because writing things down often produces new insights and refinements, and so that other folks can engage with them.

This is one frame or lens that I tend to think with a lot. This might be more of a lens or a model-let than a full break-down.

There are two broad classes of problems that we need to solve: we have some pre-paradigmatic science to figure out, and we have have the problem of civilizational sanity.

Preparadigmatic science

There are a number of hard scientific or scientific-philosophical problems that we’re facing down as a species.

Most notably, the problem of AI alignment, but also finding technical solutions to various risks caused by bio-techinlogy, possibly getting our bearings with regards to what civilization collapse means and how it is likely to come about, possibly getting a handle on the risk of a simulation shut-down, possibly making sense of the large scale cultural, political, cognitive shifts that are likely to follow from new technologies that disrupt existing social systems (like VR?).

Basically, for every x-risk, and every big shift to human civilization, there is work to be done even making sense of the situation, and framing the problem.

As this work progresses it eventually transitions into incremental science / engineering, as the problems are clarified and specified, and the good methodologies for attacking those problems solidify.

(Work on bio-risk, might already be in this phase. And I think that work towards human genetic enhancement is basically incremental science.)

To my rough intuitions, it seems like these problems, in order of pressingness are:

  1. AI alignment
  2. Bio-risk
  3. Human genetic enhancement
  4. Social, political, civilizational collapse

…where that ranking is mostly determined by which one will have a very large impact on the world first.

So there’s the object-level work of just trying to make progress on these puzzles, plus a bunch of support work for doing that object level work.

The support work includes

  • Operations that makes the research machines run (ex: MIRI ops)
  • Recruitment (and acclimation) of people who can do this kind of work (ex: CFAR)
  • Creating and maintaining infrastructure that enables intellectually fruitful conversations (ex: LessWrong)
  • Developing methodology for making progress on the problems (ex: CFAR, a little, but in practice I think that this basically has to be done by the people trying to do the object level work.)
  • Other stuff.

So we have a whole ecosystem of folks who are supporting this preparadgimatic development.

Civilizational Sanity

I think that in most worlds, if we completely succeeded at the pre-paradigmatic science, and the incremental science and engineering that follows it, the world still wouldn’t be saved.

Broadly, one way or the other, there are huge technological and social changes heading our way, and human decision makers are going to decide how to respond to those changes, possibly in ways that will have very long term repercussions on the trajectory of earth-originating life.

As a central example, if we more-or-less-completely solved AI alignment, from a full theory of agent-foundations, all the way down to the specific implementation, we would still find ourselves in a world, where humanity has attained god-like power over the universe, which we could very well abuse, and end up with a much much worse future than we might otherwise have had. And by default, I don’t expect humanity to refrain from using new capabilities rashly and unwisely.

Completely solving alignment does give us a big leg up on this problem, because we’ll have the aid of superintelligent assistants in our decision making, or we might just have an AI system implement our CEV in classic fashion.

I would say that “aligned superintelligent assistants” and “AIs implementing CEV”, are civilizational sanity interventions: technologies or institutions that help humanity’s high level decision-makers to make wise decisions in response to huge changes that, by default, they will not comprehend.

I gave some examples of possible Civ Sanity interventions here.

Also, think that some forms of governance / policy work that OpenPhil, OpenAI, and FHI have done, count as part of this category, though I want to cleanly distinguish between pushing for object-level policy proposals that you’ve already figured out, and instantiating systems that make it more likely that good policies will be reached and acted upon in general.

Overall, this class of interventions seems neglected by our community, compared to doing and supporting preparadigmatic research. That might be justified. There’s reason to think that we are well equipped to make progress on hard important research problems, but changing the way the world works, seems like it might be harder on some absolute scale, or less suited to our abilities.

Comment by elityre on Do Earths with slower economic growth have a better chance at FAI? · 2020-08-10T07:09:19.109Z · LW · GW

One countervailing thought: I want AGI to be developed in a high trust, low-scarcity, social-pyshoclogical context, because that seems like it matters a lot for safety.

Slow growth enough and society as a whole becomes a lot more bitter and cutthroat?

Comment by elityre on Eli's shortform feed · 2020-08-07T05:21:28.982Z · LW · GW

(Reasonably personal)

I spend a lot of time trying to build skills, because I want to be awesome. But there is something off about that.

I think I should just go after things that I want, and solve the problems that come up on the way. The idea of building skills sort of implies that if I don't have some foundation or some skill, I'll be blocked, and won't be able to solve some thing in the way of my goals.

But that doesn't actually sound right. Like it seems like the main important thing for people who do incredible things is their ability to do problem solving on the things that come up, and not the skills that they had previously built up in a "skill bank".

Raw problem solving is the real thing and skills are cruft. (Or maybe not cruft per se, but more like a side effect. The compiled residue of previous problem solving. Or like a code base from previous project that you might repurpose.)

Part of the problem with this is that I don't know what I want for my own sake, though. I want to be awesome, which in my conception, means being able to do things.

I note that wanting "to be able to do things" is a leaky sort of motivation: because the victory condition is not clearly defined, it can't be crisply compelling, and so there's a lot of waste somehow.

The sort of motivation that works is simply wanting to do something, not wanting to be able to do something. Like specific discrete goals that one could accomplish, know that one accomplished, and then (in most cases) move on from.

But most of the things that I want by default are of the sort "wanting to be able to do", because if I had more capabilities, that would make me awesome.

But again, that's not actually conforming with my actual model of the world. The thing that makes someone awesome is general problem solving capability, more than specific capacities. Specific capacities are brittle. General problem solving is not.

I guess that I could pick arbitrary goals that seem cool. But I'm much more emotionally compelled by being able to do something instead of doing something.

But I also think that I am notably less awesome and on a trajectory to be less awesome over time, because my goals tend to be shaped in this way. (One of those binds whereby if you go after x directly, you don't get x, but if you go after y, you get x as a side effect.)

I'm not sure what to do about this.

Maybe meditate on, and dialogue with, my sense that skills are how awesomeness is measured, as opposed to raw, general problem solving.

Maybe I need to undergo some deep change that causes me to have different sorts of goals at a deep level. (I think this would be a pretty fundamental shift in how I engage with the world: from a virtue ethics orientation (focused on one's own attributes) to one of consequentialism (focused on the states of the world).)

There are some exceptions to this, goals that are more consequentialist (although if you scratch a bit, you'll find they're about living an ideal of myself, more than they are directly about the world), including wanting a romantic partner who makes me better (note that "who makes me better is" is virtue ethics-y), and some things related to my moral duty, like mitigating x-risk. These goals do give me grounding in sort of the way that I think I need, but they're not sufficient? I still spend a lot of time trying to get skills.

Anyone have thoughts?

Comment by elityre on Sunny's Shortform · 2020-07-28T01:50:33.884Z · LW · GW

I want to give a big thumbs up of positive reinforcement. I thinks its great that I got to read an "oops! That was dumb, but now I've changed my mind."

Thanks for helping to normalize this.

Comment by elityre on Basic Conversational Coordination: Micro-coordination of Intention · 2020-07-28T01:08:09.564Z · LW · GW

Not a perfect solution, but a skilled facilitator can pick up some of the slack here:

But yeah, learning to put your point aside for a moment, without loosing the thread of it, is an important subskill.

Comment by elityre on The Basic Double Crux pattern · 2020-07-24T08:57:38.059Z · LW · GW

This is not really a response, but it is related: A Taxonomy of Cruxes.

Comment by elityre on The Basic Double Crux pattern · 2020-07-23T21:20:16.016Z · LW · GW
This makes me feel like whenever I “take a stance”, it’s an athletic stance with knees bent.

Hell yeah.

I might steal this metaphor.

Comment by elityre on The Basic Double Crux pattern · 2020-07-23T21:16:16.983Z · LW · GW

"Community" is a bit strong for these early stages, but I'm running small training sessions via Zoom, with an eye towards scaling them up.

If you're interested, put down your details on this google form.

Also, this is a little bit afield, but there are online NonViolent Communication communities. Bay NVC, for instance, does a weekly dojo, now online due to the pandemic. NVC is very distinctly not Double Crux, but they do have a number of overlapping sub-skills. And in general, I think that the most the of conflicts that most people have in "real life" are better served by NVC than DC.

Comment by elityre on The Basic Double Crux pattern · 2020-07-23T07:46:22.932Z · LW · GW

First of all, yep, the kind of map territory distinction that enables one to even do the crux-checking move at all is reasonably sophisticated. And I suspect that some people, for all practical purposes, just can't do it.

Second, even for those of us who can execute that move, in principle, it gets harder, to the point of impossibility, as the conversation becomes more heated, or the person become more triggered.

Third, when a person is in a public, low-nuance context, or is used to thinking in public, low-nuance context, a person is likely to have resistance to acknowledging that [x] is a crux for [y], because that can sound like an endorsement of [x] to a casual observer.

So there are some real difficulties here.

However, I think there are strategies that help in light of these difficulties.

In terms of doing this move yourself...

You can just practice this until it becomes habitual. In Double Crux sessions, I sometimes include an exercise that involves just doing crux-checking: taking a bunch of statement, isolating the the [A] because [B] structure, and thin checking if [B] is a crux for [A], for you.

And certainly there are people around (me) who will habitually respond to some claim with "that would be a crux for me" / "that wouldn't be a crux for me."

In terms of helping your conversational partner do this move...

First of all, it goes a long way to have a spirit of open curiosity, where you are actually trying to understand where they are coming from. If a person expects that you're going to jump on them and exploit any "misstep" they make, they're not going to be relaxed enough to consider counterfactual-from-their-view hypotheticals. Sincerely offering your own cruxes often helps as a sign of good faith, but keep in mind that there is no substitute for just actually wanting to understand, instead of trying to persuade.

Furthermore, when a person is resistant to do the crux-checking this is often because there is some bucket error or conflation happening, and if you step back and help them untangle it this goes a long way. You should actively go out of your way to help your partner avoid accidentally gas lighting themselves.

For instance, I was having a conversation with someone, this week, about culture war related topics.

A few hours into the discussion I asked,

Suppose that the leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement (not the "rank and file") had a seriously flawed impact model, such that all of the energy going into this area didn't actually resolve any of these terrible problems. In that case, would you have a different felling about the movement?"

(In fact, I asked a somewhat more pointed question: "If that was the case, would you feel more inclined to push a button to 'roll back' the recent flourishing of activity of around BLM?")

I asked this question, and the person said some things in response, and then the conversation drifted away. I brought us back, and asked it again, and again we kind of "slid off."

So I (gently) pointed this out,

We've asked this question twice now, and both times we've sort of drifted away. This suggests to me that maybe there's some bucket error or false dichotomy in play, and I imagine the some part of you is trying to protect something, or making sure that something doesn't slip in sideways. How do you feel about trying to focus on and articulate that thing, directly?

We went into that, and together, we drew out that there were two things at stake, and two (not incompatible) ways that you could view the situation:

  • On the one hand BLM, and the recent protests, and other things in that space, are a strategic social change movement, which has some goals, and is trying to achieve them.
  • But also, it is an expression of rage and frustration at the pain that black people in the United States, as a group, have had to endure for decades and decades. And separately from the question of "will these actions result in the social change that they're aiming for?", there's just something bad about telling those people to shut up, and something important about this kind of emotional expression on the societal level.

(Which, to translate a little, is to say "no, the leaders having the wrong impact model, on its own, wouldn't be a crux, because that is only part of the story.")

Now, if we hadn't drawn this out explicitly, my conversational partner might have been in danger of making a bucket error, gaslighting themselves into believing that it they think that it is correct or morally permissible to tell people or groups that they should repress their pain, or that they shouldn't be allowed to express it.

And for my part, this was itself a productive exploration, because, while it seems sort of obvious in retrospect (as these things often do), I had only been thinking of "all these things" as strategic societal reform movements, and not mass expressions of frustration. But, actually, that seems like a sort of crucial thing to be tracking if I want to understand what is happening the world, and/or I want to try and plot a path to actual solutions. For instance, I had already been importing my models of social change and intervention-targeting, but now I'm also importing my models of trauma and emotional healing.

(To be clear, I've very unsure how my individual-level models of trauma apply at the societal level. I do think it can be dangerous to assume a one-to-one correspondence between people and groups of people. But also, I've learned how to do Double Crux from doing IDC, and vis versa, and I think modeling groups of people as individuals writ large is often a very good starting point for analysis.)

So overall we went from a place of "this person seems kind of unwilling to consider the question" to "we found some insights that have changed my sense of the situation."

Granted, this was with a rationalist-y person, who I already knew pretty well and with whom I had mutual trust, who was familiar with the concept of bucket errors, and had experience with Focusing and introspection in general.

So on the one hand, this was easy mode.

But on the other hand, one takeaway from this is "with sufficient skill between the two people, you can get past this kind of problem."

Comment by elityre on Key Decision Analysis - a fundamental rationality technique · 2020-07-23T06:53:28.646Z · LW · GW


Comment by elityre on The Basic Double Crux pattern · 2020-07-23T06:13:20.659Z · LW · GW

This comment helped me articulate something that I hadn't quite put my finger on before.

There are actually two things that I want to stand up for, which are, from naive perspective, in tension. So I think I need to make sure not to lump them together.

One the one hand, yeah, I think it is deeply true that you can unilaterally do the thing, and with sufficient skill, you can make "the Double Crux thing" work, even with a person who doesn't explicitly opt in for that kind of discourse (because curiosity and empathy are contagious, and many (but not all, I think) of the problems of people "not being truth-seeking" are actually defense mechanism, rather than persistent character traits).

However, sometimes people have said things like "we should focus on and teach methods that involve seeking out your own single cruxes, because that's where the action is at." This has generally made me frown, for the reasons I outlined at the head of my post here: I feel like this is overlooking or discounting the really cool power of the Full Double Crux formalism. I don't want the awareness of that awesomeness to fall out of the lexicon. (Granted, the current state less like "people are using this awesome technique, but maybe we're going to loose it as a community" and more like "there's this technique that most people are frustrated with because it doesn't seem to work very well, but there is a nearby version that does seem useful to them, but I'm sitting here on the sidelines insisting that the "mainline version" actually is awesome, at least in some limited circumstances.")

Anyway, I think these are separate things, and I should optimize for them separately, instead of (something like) trying to uphold both at once.

Comment by elityre on The Basic Double Crux pattern · 2020-07-23T05:17:04.328Z · LW · GW

For context, Mark participated in a session I ran via Zoom last weekend, that covered this pattern.

For what its worth, that particular conversation is the main thing that caused me to add a paragraph about distillation (even just as a bookmark), to the OP. I'm not super confident what would have most helped there, though.

Comment by elityre on The Basic Double Crux pattern · 2020-07-23T04:46:44.006Z · LW · GW

Gar. I thought I finally got images to work on a post of mine.

Comment by elityre on Eli's shortform feed · 2020-07-23T04:38:37.247Z · LW · GW

A hierarchy of behavioral change methods

Follow up to, and a continuation of the line of thinking from: Some classes of models of psychology and psychological change

Related to: The universe of possible interventions on human behavior (from 2017)

This post outlines a hierarchy of behavioral change methods. Each of these approaches is intended to be simpler, more light-weight, and faster to use (is that right?), than the one that comes after it. On the flip side, each of these approaches is intended to resolve a common major blocker of the approach before it.

I do not necessarily endorse this breakdown or this ordering. This represents me thinking out loud.

[Google Doc version]

[Note that all of these are more-or-less top down, and focused on the individual instead the environment]

Level 1:  TAPs

If there’s some behavior that you want to make habitual, the simplest thing is to set, and then train a TAP. Identify a trigger and the action with which you want to respond to that trigger, and then practice it a few times. 

This is simple, direct, and can work for actions as varied as “use NVC” and “correct my posture” and “take a moment to consider the correct spelling.”

This works particularly well for “remembering problems”, in which you can and would do the action, if only it occurred to you at the right moment.

Level 2: Modifying affect / meaning

Sometimes however, you’ll have set a TAP to do something, you’ll notice the trigger, just don’t feel like doing the action. 

Maybe you’ve decided that you’re going to take the stairs instead of the elevator, but you look at the stairs and then take the elevator anyway. Or maybe you want to stop watching youtube, and have a TAP to open your todo list instead, but you notice...and then just keep watching youtube. 

The most natural thing to do here is to adjust your associations / affect around the behavior that you want to engage in or the behavior that you want to start. You not only want the TAP to fire, reminding you of the action, but you want the feeling of the action to pull you toward it, emotionally. Or another way of saying it, you change the meaning that you assign to the behavior.

Some techniques here include: 

  • Selectively emphasizing different elements of an experience (like the doritos example in Nate’s post here), and other kinds of reframes
  • Tony Robins’ process for working with “neuro associations” of asking 1) what pain has kept me from taking this action in the past, 2) what pleasure have I gotten from not taking this action in the past, 3) what will it cost me if I don’t take this action?, 4) what pleasure will it bring me if I take this action.
  • This here goal chaining technique,
  • Some more heavy-duty NLP tools.
  • Behaviorist conditioning (I’m weary of this one, since it seems pretty symmetric.)

Level 3: Dialogue 

The above approach only has a limited range of application, in that it can only work in situations where there are degrees of freedom in one’s affect to a stimulus or situation. In many cases, you might go in and try to change the affect around something from the top-down, and some part of you will object, or you will temporarily change the affect, but it will get “kicked out” later.

This is because your affects are typically not arbitrary. Rather they are the result of epistemic processes that are modeling the world and the impact of circumstances on your goals.

When this is the case, you’ll need to do some form of dialogue, which either updates a model of some objecting part, or modifieds the recommended strategy / affect to accommodate the objection, or find some other third option.

This can take the form of 

  • Focusing
  • IDC
  • IFS
  • CT debugging

The most extreme instance of “some part has an objection” is when there is some relevant trauma somewhere in the system. Sort of by definition, this means that you’ll have an extreme objection to some possible behavior or affect changes, because that part of the state space is marked as critically bad.

Junk Drawer 

As I noted, this schema describes top-down behavior change. It does not include cases where there is a problem, but you don’t have much of a sense what the problem is and/or how to approach it. For those kinds of bugs you might instead start with Focusing, or with a noticing regime.

For related reasons, this is super not relevant to blindspots.

I’m also neglecting environmental interventions, both those that simply redirect your attention (like a TAP), and those that shift the affect around an activity (like using social pressure to get yourself to do stuff, via coworking for instance). I can’t think of an environmental version of level 3.

Comment by elityre on The Basic Double Crux pattern · 2020-07-23T01:19:34.915Z · LW · GW
In my experience, where Double Crux is easiest is also where it's the least interesting to resolve a disagreement because usually such disagreements are already fairly easily resolved or the disagreement is just uninteresting.
An inconveniently large portion of the time disagreements are so complex that the effort required to drill down to the real crux is just...exhausting. By "complex" I don't necessarily mean the disagreements are based upon some super advanced model of the world, but just that the real cruxes are hidden under so much human baggage.

So I broadly agree with this.

When I facilitate "real conversations", including those in the Double Crux framework, I ussually prefer to schedule at least a 4 hour block, and most of that time is spent navigating the psychological threads that arise (things like triggeredness, defensiveness, subtle bucket errors, and compulsions to stand up for something important) and/or iteratively parsing what one person is saying well enough to translate it into the other person's ontology, as opposed to finding cruxes.

in many of the most interesting and important cases it usually requires a lot of effort to get people on the same page and the number of times where all participants in a conversation are willing to put in that effort seems vanishingly small.

Seems right. I will say that people are often more inclined to put in 4+ hours if they have reference experiences of that actually working.

But, yep.

In other words, double crux is most useful when all participants are equally interested in seeking truth.

I'll add a caveat to this though: the spirit of Double Crux is one of trying to learn and change your own mind, not trying to persuade others. And you can do almost all components of a Double Crux conversation (paraphrasing, operationalizing, checking if things are cruxes for you and noting if they are, ect) unilaterally. And people are very often interested in spending a lot of time being listened to sincerely, even if they are not very interested in getting to the truth themselves.

That said, I don't think that you can easily apply this pattern, in particular, unilaterally.

Comment by elityre on Eli's shortform feed · 2020-07-22T00:53:46.864Z · LW · GW

Really? I would prefer to have something much more developed and/or to have solved my key puzzle here before I put as a top level post.

Comment by elityre on Eli's shortform feed · 2020-07-22T00:50:59.939Z · LW · GW

I in fact recorded a test session of attempting to teach this via Zoom last weekend. This was the first time I tried a test session via Zoom however and there were a lot of kinks to work out, so I probably won't publish that version in particular.

But yeah, I'm interested in making video recordings of some of this stuff and putting up online.

Comment by elityre on Eli's shortform feed · 2020-07-21T08:21:53.387Z · LW · GW

I was thinking lately about how there are some different classes of models of psychological change, and I thought I would outline them and see where that leads me. 

It turns out it led me into a question about where and when Parts-based vs. Association-based models are applicable.

Google Doc version.

Parts-based / agent-based models 

Some examples: 

  • Focusing
  • IFS
  • IDC
  • Connection Theory
  • The NLP ecological check

This is the frame that I make the most use of, in my personal practice. It assumes that all behavior is the result of some goal directed subprocess in you (or parts), that is serving one of your needs. Sometimes parts adopt strategies that are globally harmful or cause problems, but those strategies are always solving or mitigating (if only barely) some problem of yours. 

Some parts based approaches are pretty adamant about the goal directed-ness of all behavior.

For instance, I think (though I’m not interested in trying to find the quote right now), Self therapy, a book on IFS, states that all behavior is adaptive in this way. Nothing is due to habit. And the original Connection Theory document says the same.

Sometimes these parts can conflict with each other, or get in each other’s way, and you might engage in behavior that is far from optimal, different parts encat different behaviors (for instance, procrastination typically involves a part that is concerned about some impending state of the world, while another part of you, anticipating the psychological pain of consciously facing up to that bad possibility, 

Furthermore, these parts are reasonably intelligent, and can update. If you can provide them a solution to the problem that they are solving, that is superior (by the standards of the part) than its current strategy, then it will immediately adopt that new strategy instead. This is markedly different from a model under which unwanted behaviors are “bad habits” that are mindfully retrained.

Association-based models 


  • TAPs 
  • NLP anchoring
  • Lots of CBT and Mindfulness based therapy (eg “notice 
  • Reinforcement learning / behavioral shaping
  • Tony Robbins’ “forming new neuro associations”

In contrast there is another simple model of the mind, that mostly operates with an ontology of simple (learned) association, instead of intelligent strategies. That is, it thinks of your behavior, including your emotional responses, mostly as habits, or stimulus response patterns, that can be trained or untrained. 

For instance, say you have a problem of road rage. In the “parts” frame, you might deal with anger by dialoguing with with the anger, finding out what the anger is protecting, own or ally with that goal, and then find an alternative strategy that meets that goal without the anger. In the association frame, you might gradually retrain the anger response, by mindfully noticing as it arises, and then letting it go. Overtime, you’ll gradually train a different emotional reaction to the formerly rage-inducing stimulus.

Or, if you don’t want to wait that long, you might use some NLP trick to rapidly associate a new emotional pattern to a given stimulus, so that instead of feeling anger, you feel calm. (Or instead of feeling anxious jealousy, you feel loving abundant gratitude.)

This association process can sometimes be pretty dumb, such a skilled manipulater might cause you to associate a mental state like guilt or gratitude with tap on the shoulder, so that everytime you are tapped on the shoulder you return to the mental state. That phenomenon does not seem consistent with a naive form of the parts-based model.

And notably, an association model predicts that merely offering an alternative strategy (or frame) to a part doesn’t immediately or permanently change the behavior: you expect to have some “hold over” from the previous strategy because those associations will still fire. You have to clear them out somehow.

And this is my experience some of the time: sometimes, particularly with situations that have had a lot of emotional weight for me, I will immediately fall into old emotional patterns, even when I (or at least part part of me) has updated away from the beliefs that made that reaction relevant. For instance, I fall in love with a person because I have some story / CT path about how we are uniquely compatible, I gradually learn that this isn’t true, but I still have a strong emotional reaction when they walk into the room. What’s going on here? Some part of me isn’t updating, for some reason? It sure seems like some stimuli are activating old patterns even if those patterns aren’t adaptive and don’t even make sense in context. But this seems to suggest less intelligence on the part of my parts, it seems more like stimulus response machinery.

And on the other side, what’s happening when Tony Robins is splashing water in people’s faces to shake them out of their patterns? From a parts-based perspective, that doesn’t make any sense. Is the sub agent in question being permanently disrupted? (Or maybe you only have to disrupt it for a bit, to give space for a new association / strategy to take hold? And then after that the new strategy outcompetes the old one?) 

[Big Question: how does the parts-based model interact with the associations-based model?

Is it just that human minds do both? What governs when which phenomenon applies?

When should I use which kind of technique?]

Narrative-based / frame-based models


  • Transforming Yourself Self concept work
  • NLP reframing effects
  • Some other CBT stuff
  • Katy Byran’s the Work
  • Anything that involves reontologizing

A third category of psychological intervention are those that are based around narrative: you find, and “put on” a new way of interpreting, or making sense of, your experience, such that it has a different meaning that provides you different affordances. Generally you find a new narrative that is more useful for you.

The classic example is a simple reframe, where you feel frustrated that people keep mooching off of you, but you reframe this so that you instead feel magnanimous, emphasizing your generosity, and how great it is to have an opportunity to give back to people. Same circumstances, different story about them.

This class of interventions feels like it can slide easily into either the parts based frame or the association based frame. In the parts based frame, a narrative can be thought of as just another strategy that a part might adopt so long as that is the best way that the part can solve its problem (and so long as other parts don’t conflict). 

But I think this fits even more naturally into the association frame, where you find a new way to conceptualize your situation and you do some work to reassociate that new conceptualization with the stimulus that previously activated your old narrative (this is exactly what Phil of Philosophical Counseling’s process does: you find a new narrative / belief structure and set up a regime under which you noticed when the old one arises, let it go, and feel into the new one.)

[Other classes of intervention that I am distinctly missing?]

Comment by elityre on The Jordan Peterson Mask · 2020-07-15T10:07:33.256Z · LW · GW

Minor: but I appreciate you using the word “fricking”, instead of the obvious alternative. For me, it feels like it gets the emphaticness across just as well, without the crudeness.

Comment by elityre on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, March 2015, chapter 114 + chapter 115 · 2020-06-26T09:41:59.332Z · LW · GW

Ah. But he would want to be more careful than that, because there's a prophecy, and Voldemort got burned the last time a prophecy was involved.

So he goes out of his way to tear it apart, by bringing Hermione back, for instance, which required the stone, and having the other Tom swear an unbreakable vow.

Comment by elityre on Entangled Truths, Contagious Lies · 2020-06-25T06:55:01.444Z · LW · GW

Upvote for people asking simple questions!

Comment by elityre on Most reliable news sources? · 2020-06-15T17:30:08.754Z · LW · GW

You're welcome!

Comment by elityre on What are some Civilizational Sanity Interventions? · 2020-06-15T17:05:15.300Z · LW · GW


Comment by elityre on What are some Civilizational Sanity Interventions? · 2020-06-14T05:03:06.645Z · LW · GW

This also leaves me curious. Do other countries have the equivalent of Fox news (ie news specifically for one side of the tribal divide, constantly attacking the other side)?

To be clear, the so called "Liberal Media" / "mainstream media" also contains a lot of tribal narrativization, but Fox news is special (I think?) in being the only major TV news outlet that deviates, and pushes an opposite and antithetical narrative.

Comment by elityre on What are some Civilizational Sanity Interventions? · 2020-06-14T04:58:29.711Z · LW · GW

I think you're probably right, but I'm also not sure how much can can infer from the analysis as stated. Maybe you need both First Past the Post and Facebook for things to get this bad, and fixing only one of those things is sufficient.

I guess one way to check would be to compare to other countries with better electoral systems. Are they suffering from the same extreme Left-Right polarization as the US?

Comment by elityre on Toon Alfrink's sketchpad · 2020-06-14T04:08:26.622Z · LW · GW

I have often felt similarly.

Comment by elityre on Eli's shortform feed · 2020-06-14T04:00:29.455Z · LW · GW

There’s a psychological variable that seems to be able to change on different timescales, in me, at least. I want to gesture at it, and see if anyone can give me pointers to related resources.

[Hopefully this is super basic.]

There a set of states that I occasionally fall into that include what I call “reactive” (meaning that I respond compulsively to the things around me), and what I call “urgy” (meaning that that I feel a sort of “graspy” desire for some kind of immediate gratification).

These states all have some flavor of compulsiveness.

They are often accompanied by high physiological arousal, and sometimes have a burning / clenching sensation in the torso. These all have a kind of “jittery” feeling, and my attention jumps around, or is yanked around. There’s also a way in which this feels “high” on a spectrum, (maybe because my awareness is centered on my head?)

I might be tempted to say that something like “all of these states incline me towards neuroticism.” But that isn’t exactly right on a few counts. (For one thing, the reactions aren’t necessarily irrational, just compulsive.)

In contrast to this, there is another way that I can feel sometimes, which is more like “calm”, “anchored”, settled. It feels “deeper” or “lower” somehow. Things often feel slowed down. My attention can settle, and when it moves it moves deliberately, instead of compulsively. I expect that this correlates with low arousal.

I want to know...

  1. Does this axis have a standardized name? In the various traditions of practice? In cognitive psychology or neuroscience?
    1. Knowing the technical, academic name would be particularly great.
  2. Do people have, or know of, efficient methods for moving along this axis, either in the short term or the long term?
    1. This phenomenon could maybe be described as “length of the delay between stimulus and response”, insofar as that even makes sense, which is one of the benefits noted in the popular branding for meditation.
Comment by elityre on What are some Civilizational Sanity Interventions? · 2020-06-14T03:57:57.091Z · LW · GW

My recollection of that piece was it was mostly about the fruits of a saner society. In terms of how to get there, the intervention was "have built a systematic science of rationality, 200 years ago."

Which is a fine plan, on the time scale of 200 years. But are there interventions to deploy in the meantime?

Comment by elityre on What are some Civilizational Sanity Interventions? · 2020-06-14T02:55:15.504Z · LW · GW

I'm not clear what this is responding to.

Comment by elityre on Should we stop using the term 'Rationalist'? · 2020-06-01T04:17:56.418Z · LW · GW

Fair point.

Comment by elityre on Should we stop using the term 'Rationalist'? · 2020-05-31T17:33:00.087Z · LW · GW

That sounds good, but also most outsiders are still going to refer to us as “the rationalists“.

Which is not to say that we can do anything about that, or that we ought to try and change how other people refer to the groups to which we belong.

Comment by elityre on Should we stop using the term 'Rationalist'? · 2020-05-30T20:22:51.331Z · LW · GW

I just want to highlight that there are at least two separate things that one could mean by the world "rationalist".

This first is a practitioner of a method, or an aspirant to an ideal, of truth-seeking.

The second is a participant of a particular social cluster.

By the first definition, one might call many scientists or other intellectuals "rationalists" even if they never engage with, or in fact dislike, LessWrong and co.

My impression is that when Eliezer first wrote the sequences, he was using the world in the first sense, as in "how can we become better rationalists?" But, overtime (unsurprisingly), it came to describe the social group of people sprung up around the nucleus of those sequences.

In 2020, most people, if they have an association with the word "rationalist" at all, it is either the philosophical school, or the social group, because many people (say, my parents, or members of the SF tech industry), are not going to know much more about what it means to be a "rationalist" than "Oh. I know some people who are into that." So our label for a method / ideal naturally turns into a tribal marker.

I think one thing that would be really great is if there was some way to have terms for those two things, without having them inevitably smoosh together.

Comment by elityre on Should we stop using the term 'Rationalist'? · 2020-05-30T20:10:53.939Z · LW · GW

You could make a poll?

Comment by elityre on Anyone recommend a video course on the theory of computation? · 2020-05-30T20:03:51.681Z · LW · GW

As a side question, does anyone know why a large fraction (maybe half?) of the explanation videos on youtube for this topic are in Hindi? I've never seen that pattern for anything else that I've been interested in before.

Comment by elityre on A taxonomy of Cruxes · 2020-05-28T20:35:14.696Z · LW · GW

Oh. I misunderstood your question.

You are correct. That was typo. Thanks for noticing.

Comment by elityre on A taxonomy of Cruxes · 2020-05-28T19:45:01.624Z · LW · GW

Nope. It isn't showing up that way for me, so I don't know what to tell you. Maybe it is a browser thing?

Comment by elityre on Gears in understanding · 2020-05-27T04:34:29.689Z · LW · GW

This is a great post.

Comment by elityre on Should I self-variolate to COVID-19 · 2020-05-26T15:26:34.894Z · LW · GW

Good analysis.

If so, then consider that we'll also probably have faster and more widespread testing in the coming months. More efficacious treatments may emerge. These may permit socially responsible travel prior to the arrival of a vaccine.

This is a good point.

Then consider that some people may not want you around even if you tell them you're immune.

I think the people I'm concerned with will have basically the same epistemic standards as myself, and so the question is can I have sufficient confidence that I am in fact immune?

Comment by elityre on Should I self-variolate to COVID-19 · 2020-05-26T15:24:08.392Z · LW · GW
Does social distancing suck so bad for you that this trade off feels like it makes sense? What is the concrete activity you'd like to be able to do, that you can't do without antibodies in your system?

No. Actually, social isolation is awesome for me. I'm getting so much done!

But I have a number of quite important long-form conversation to have, the outcome of each might make a substantial difference for my work or my personal life over the coming years. I can't really have those conversations over video call. I really I need to be in the same place as the other person and commit several hours to several days.

Because the world is slow now, this would be an ideal time to do that...until one accounts for the reason the world is slow.

Comment by elityre on Should I self-variolate to COVID-19 · 2020-05-25T22:38:06.022Z · LW · GW

Hm. That seems pretty relevant.

It also matters if (or rather, how much) the false positives correlate. If they are close to being independent samples, then you could take two tests or more tests to increase your confidence.

But if false positive are more likely for asymptomatic people, then the tests must be at least somewhat correlated.