"Essayer is the French verb meaning "to try" and an essai is an attempt. An essay is something you write to try to figure something out... In a real essay, you don't take a position and defend it. You notice a door that's ajar, and you open it and walk in to see what's inside."
-- Paul Graham
Can I bid for the name of this post to be changed? I have been recommending it to people recently and I think the title is misleadingly specific. (And you even already have an alternate title written at the top of the post!)
Reasoning: I think the 'Berkeley brain drain' thing is much less of a thing now than it was before the pandemic. It's plausible that it will become a thing again, but for now, when I'm seeing organizers move away, they're just moving for jobs; none of them are moving to the Bay. And people also step back from organizing more or less permanently for other reasons, e.g. they have their first child. Or they just worry about what will happen if they burn out. Since the post can be applied to be any and all of these cases and the brain drain one isn't even that common anymore, I think it no longer makes sense for it to mention that case in the title.
I studied physics at UChicago and had an absolutely miserable time, which was partly a me thing but also partly a UChicago physics thing. Feel free to PM me if you want to talk about that.
I'd also not be opposed to reading over your essays, although I think college essays are supposed to be written in a particular style that isn't really like normal writing, so I'm not sure if I would actually like a college essay that an admissions officer would find to be 'good'. But I do have experience with that kind of thing / have written professionally :)
Yeah, I wanted to make much the same point. My grandma died in 2015, but I've talked about it with my family members and we're all pretty certain she would have chosen to die of COVID rather than go into lockdown. In the last years of her life (especially after being widowed in 2008), she was very realistic about the fact that she didn't have much longer to live, and her whole life revolved around her community — she lived alone, but she was an important community fixture in her small town, and had been for decades. Not socializing would have removed her only source of meaning, and there's no way she would have thought that it was worth locking down to buy herself two additional years of life in isolation.
Re: 6, all I know is that you said people didn't like the guided meditations you included in the 2020 Solstice, which I think is pretty weak evidence given how extremely different the online experience was to a normal Solstice. From your wording I'm assuming this isn't the only example you have in mind; curious what the others are?
Also I agree that oratory needs work. I think this is one of our weakest areas, or at least, maybe, the weak area we pay least attention to. A lot of people have a sense that 'anyone can give a speech', but actually, no. Perhaps anyone can learn to give a speech, but it sure isn't a thing everyone can just go up and do well. Nat provided some one-on-one feedback on oratory in 2018 and I think that was valuable; I did a bit of this in 2019 but didn't give it as much time, and in 2021 we just didn't have the time or bandwidth for it.
The Nat speech-coaching thing gives me some vague idea, like, it would be good to have really specialized people who carry over from year to year. We already have this for choir direction and (to a lesser extent) A/V; why not have it for songleading, speech-giving, and speech writing as well? This would reduce the burden on the lead organizer and probably result in a better end product.
General point: I think keeping secrets is a lot more like lying than people generally consider it to be, and I thought the general consensus was that lying is bad. I would appreciate someone laying out in detail how they think the two are different.
The question for me is how much these observations apply to peasant life in other places and at other times.
Most of this sounds a lot like my dad's life in China in the 1970s. I don't know about infanticide or some of the other things, but the impression I get from my dad's stories is of a dirty, lawless village dominated by horrible people. The following is mostly based on my memories of stories my dad told me when I was younger, so I will definitely get some details wrong, but the basics are true.
Food: Many days out of the year, my dad's family ate nothing but rice. They raised livestock (my dad had to share his room with a pig for a while), but as far as I know they only ate meat at spring festival (and much of this was left out for the ancestors). They also ate eels and frogs that they caught in the river — where they also bathed, washed their vegetables, and dumped their chamber pots — and presumably ate vegetables when they were in season. One time my dad cooked me and my sister the 'soup' he used to eat when he was a kid, which was just boiled water with a bit of soy sauce.
Illness: One time when he was very young my father got a horrible fever, and people thought he might die... but his grandmother scooped water from a muddy puddle into a bowl, and showed him a bubble resting atop the water. She told him that the bubble contained his spirit, and had him drink the muddy water to heal him. (Obviously he survived.) Also, my grandfather had bronchitis for about sixty years, and one of their neighbors had a persistent cough for years on end that would drive everyone crazy.
My dad has an anecdote:
One day when I was 4 years old (1971), I fell and cut my forehead on the stone door step of my house and needed to be stitched up. My grandmother wrestled and carried me, with the help of a neighbor, to the village “clinic”, which was staffed by the one and only “barefoot doctor” in my area. A barefoot doctor was a hygiene worker sent down from an urban city to rural areas during China’s Cultural Revolution (1966 – 1976). The entire medical supply in the village (of more than 1,200 people) fit in a wooden box the size of a small countertop microwave. The supply did not include numbing gel or anesthesia of any kind. It took four adults to pin me down on a wooden board over two workbenches to sew up my wound.
Jealousy: This is maybe a bit different, but ever since my dad moved to the US (even when he and my mom were on foodstamps and raising a kid with no income), ~100% of his interactions with his family back in China include them asking him for money, often in the $10,000+ range. And not even for necessities, but for things like funding a new (doomed) business venture, or buying an apartment for his nephew so that his girlfriend would marry him.
Morals / cruelty / women
Cruelty to animals: At least my dad definitely didn't see animals as worthy of compassion — they were either wild or livestock. Dogs were generally wild (I don't know of people keeping them as pets), and it was normal to throw rocks at them to shoo them away. My dad hated his family's pig (which smelled terrible, was loud, and ate so much that sometimes there wasn't any left over for the humans), and even today he has no interest in pets whatsoever.
Cruelty among kids: My dad has a memorable story about chasing a rival gang of boys from a neighboring village into the village's waste pit (i.e. a giant pile of shit). I get the sense that at least in my dad's experience, kids were cruel to each other in general — he had maybe one friend, and he has no warm feelings towards either his older or younger brother, and most of his childhood stories involve rivalries or fights.
Cruelty among adults: Physical fights among adult men also weren't uncommon. When the village's harvests were pooled by the government and each family was allowed to take a share, people would fight each other for the best melons. Sometimes people fought in the street for other reasons as well.
My dad's dad was an embezzler, and was verbally and physically abusive to both his wife and his children — he beat my dad for things such as using his writing paper to fold boats, accidentally cracking one of the chamber pots, and not going to school, at least as young as the age of five. He beat his wife all the time, and I think she often took beatings for her children, and he raped her with their children in the room.
My dad writes:
On days my mother didn’t cook enough for everyone, my father would yell at my mother for being a stingy bitch. On days my mother prepared too much food, my father would accuse my mother for being a wasteful idiot incapable of planning ahead. Sometimes my mother found her life too hard to bear and wanted / threatened to end it. She would reach for one of bottles full of pesticides on the living room floor. When fights broke out between my parents, I usually wanted to run away but almost always ended up sticking around to watch for dangerous moves. Quite a few times I had to wrestle that pesticide bottle out of my mother’s hands.
The women of my grandmother's generation were tasked with spraying the fields with pesticides, and most of them (including my grandmother herself) consequently died young due to ovarian cancer. Also my great-grandmother had bound feet; not sure how that factors in but it's horrifying.
If this kind of cruelty is common, is it inherent to poverty, including the lower levels of education that necessarily accompany poverty? And if so, does increased wealth and education alone lead to a more humane society, or did the transition to more equal rights and status also require a change in morals and other ideas that is not a natural or inherent consequence of material progress?
I'm much less sure about anything here. But my dad's family seems to have stayed pretty terrible despite the changes of the last fifty years (they now have plumbing, electricity, and plenty to wear and eat). His father never stopped being cruel, his brothers never stopped trying to guilt him into giving them money, and his younger brother's wife divorced him for being his terrible self. Then again I guess despite their rise in material wealth, they probably still never got anything beyond a middle school education, so maybe just not a relevant example at all.
Hope this was helpful! Clara had already showed me some of the Semyonova stuff so I had already been thinking about this a fair amount and I'm glad to have a reason to write it up.
Small addition: LW 1.0 made it so you had to have 10 karma before making a top-level post (maybe just on Main? I don't remember but probably you do). I think this probably matters a lot less now that new posts automatically have to be approved, and mods have to manually promote things to frontpage. But I don't know, theoretically you could gate fraught discussions like the recent ones to users above a certain karma threshold? Some of the lowest-quality comments on those posts wouldn't have happened in that case.
I've long been interested in the Light Phone (primarily for my husband and not myself), though I guess in practical terms that's not much different from getting a feature phone.
And this isn't a direct response to the post I guess, but I'm personally pretty content with my relationship with my phone. I like having it in my pocket as a camera, as a means of calling for help in an emergency (I'm a worrier and also in fact see a lot of accidents and crime while out walking), and as a shield to let me avoid unwanted social interactions. Having Uber and maps available also helps me feel more secure and like I won't end up trapped somewhere. Also, I'm happy with the quantity and quality of the notifications I get, since most days, no one messages me except my mom, my sister, and my husband.
In terms of addiction, I weakly recommend:
Putting your phone in greyscale (more or less permanently)
Having a habit of not following the news, not only on your phone but on any platform
Cultivating disdain for people who spend time on their phones
Cultivating deep hatred of infinite scrolling, and deleting any app that has this feature
Leaving most group chats or servers you're in, or if you can't leave them (e.g. if they're for work), at least muting most of them
I have more of a problem with addiction to my computer, but there too, I've successfully made my computer pretty boring. I use UBlock Origin to block most content and features on Facebook and Youtube, and then, since I don't have any friends, the only things available for me to compulsively check are things that don't actually update frequently and so it gets boring (I check email, Facebook, LW, Discord, and Slack compulsively, but 85% of the time there's nothing new). I guess I don't recommend the part about not having friends.
I want to note that this post (top-level) now has more than 3x the number of comments that Zoe's does (or nearly 50% more comments than the Zoe+BayAreaHuman posts combined, if you think that's a more fair comparison), and that no one has commented on Zoe's post in 24 hours. [ETA: This changed while I was writing this comment. The point about lowered activity still stands.]
This seems really bad to me — I think that there was a lot more that needed to be figured out wrt Leverage, and this post has successfully sucked all the attention away from a conversation that I perceive to be much more important.
I keep deleting sentences because I don't think it's productive to discuss how upset this makes me, but I am 100% with Aella here. I was wary of this post to begin with and I feel something akin to anger at what it did to the Leverage conversation.
I had some contact with Leverage 1.0 — had some friends there, interviewed for an ops job there, and was charted a few times by a few different people. I have also worked for both CFAR and MIRI, though never as a core staff member at either organization; and more importantly, I was close friends with maybe 50% of the people who worked at CFAR from mid-2017 to mid-2020. Someone very close to me previously worked for both CFAR and Leverage. With all that backing me up: I am really very confident that the psychological harm inflicted by Leverage was both more widespread and qualitatively different than anything that happened atCFAR or MIRI (at least since mid-2017; I don't know what things might have been like back in, like, 2012).
The comments section of this post is full of CFAR and MIRI employees attempting to do collaborative truth-seeking. The only comments made by Leverage employees in comparable threads were attempts at reputation management. That alone tells you a lot!
CFAR and MIRI have their flaws, and several people clearly have legitimate grievances with them. I personally did not have a super great experience working for either organization (though that has nothing to do with anything Jessica mentioned in this post; just run-of-the-mill workplace stuff). Those flaws are worth looking at, not only for the edification of the people who had bad experiences with MIRI and CFAR, but also because we care about being good people building effective organizations to make the world a better place. They do not, however, belong in a conversation about the harm done by Leverage.
(Just writing a sentence saying that Leverage was harmful makes me feel uncomfortable, feels a little dangerous, but fuck it, what are they going to do, murder me?)
Again, I keep deleting sentences, because all I want to talk about is the depth of my agreement with Aella, and my uncharitable feelings towards this post. So I guess I'll just end here.
I agree with other commenters that you are just less likely to see psychosis even if it's there, both because it's not ongoing in the way that depression and anxiety are, and because people are less likely to discuss it. I was only one step away from Jessica in the social graph in October of 2017 and never had any inkling that she'd had a psychotic episode until just now. I also wasn't aware that Zack Davis had ever had a psychotic episode, despite having met him several times and having read his blog a bit. I also lived with Olivia during the time that she was apparently inspiring psychosis in others.
In fact, the only psychotic episodes I've known about are ones that had news stories written about them, which suggests to me that you are probably underestimating the extent to which people keep quiet about the psychotic episodes of themselves and those close to them. It seems in quite poor taste to gossip about, akin to gossiping about friends' suicide attempts (which I also assume happen much more often than I hear about — I think one generally only hears about the ones that succeed or that are publicized to spread awareness).
Just for thoroughness, here are the psychotic episodes I've known about, in chronological order:
Eric Bruylant's, which has been discussed in other comments. I was aware that he was in jail because my housemates were trying to support him by showing up to his trials and stuff, and we still got mail for him (the case had happened pretty recently when I moved in). I think I found out the details — including learning that psychosis was involved — from the news story though.
I was on a sports team in college, and the year after I graduated, one of my teammates had a psychotic break. I only heard about this because he was wandering the streets yelling and ended up trying to attack some campus police officers with a metal pipe and got shot (thankfully non-fatally).
It's unclear to me if what happened with Ziz&co at Westminster Woods was a psychotic episode, but in any case I knew about it at the time, but only had the details clarified in the news story.
Okay, meta: This post has over 500 comments now and it's really hard to keep a handle on all of the threads. So I spent the last 2 hours trying to outline the main topics that keep coming up. Most top-level comments are linked to but some didn't really fit into any category, so a couple are missing; also apologies that the structure is imperfect.
Topic headers are bolded and are organized very roughly in order of how important they seem (both to me personally and in terms of the amount of air time they've gotten).
Discussion of MIRI/CFAR vs Leverage comparison
Extent to which this post pulls attention away from (and cheapens) the important discussion that was being had about Leverage
I'm not sure what your images are supposed to demonstrate. The two movies have completely different aesthetics, yes, but the direct comparison is unfair — the first is a screencap from the movie, the second is an image specifically for publicity that afaik doesn't appear in the movie itself, so it's not particularly damning that it's more austere. The image below (a screencap from the first Frozen clip reel that appeared when I searched Google) seems like a more fair comparison... although again I don't really get what you were trying to point to.
I think that the main thing I'm not getting is how "almost all my favorite beautiful things ended [at WWI]" implies "WWI destroyed belief in beauty". I don't find Frozen to be less 'beautiful' than Sleeping Beauty — but it's just so subjective! What is 'belief in beauty'? Was Vera Lynn's music (wildly popular in Europe during WWII) not beautiful?
To be clear I think it's possible that you have a point — art is certainly different now than it was a few hundred years ago, and the world wars were an inflection point for all sorts of things — but I'm just not sure what that point is.
My contact with Leverage over the years was fairly insignificant, which is part of why I don’t feel like it’s right for me to participate in this discussion. But there are some things that have come to mind, and since Anna’s made space for that, I’ll note them now. I still think it’s not really my place to say anything, but here’s my piece anyway. I’m speaking only for myself and my own experience.
I interviewed for an ops position at Leverage/Paradigm in early 2017, when I was still in college. The process took maybe a couple months, and the in-person interview happened the same week as my CFAR workshop; together these were my first contact with the Bay community. Some of the other rationalists I met that week warned me against Leverage in vague terms; I discussed their allegations with the ops team at my interview and came away feeling satisfied that both sides had a point.
I had a positive experience at the interview and with the ops and their team hiring process in general. The ops lead seemed to really believe in me and recommended me to other EA orgs after I didn’t get hired at Paradigm, and that was great. My (short-term) college boyfriend had a good relationship with Leverage and later worked at Paradigm. In mid-2017 I met a Leverage employee in a non-Leverage context and we went on a couple dates; that ended amicably. All that’s just to say that at that point, I thought I had a fairly positive relationship with them.
Then, Leverage/Paradigm put on EA Summit in the summer of 2018. I applied to attend and was rejected. My boyfriend, who I think attended a Paradigm workshop around that time, managed to get that decision reversed, but told me that I was rejected because I was on a list of people who might speak ill of Leverage. That really rubbed me the wrong way. I didn’t think I had ever acted in a way to deserve that, and it seemed bad to me that they were so paranoid about their reputation that they would reject large swaths of people from a conference that’s supposed to bring together EAs from around the world, just because of vague suspicion. Ironically that’s the personal experience that led me to distrust Leverage the most.
The bottom line being that discussions around Leverage’s reputation have always been really fraught and murky, and it’s totally understandable to me that people would fear unknown repercussions for discussing Leverage in public. Many other people in these threads have said that in various ways, but there’s my concrete example.
I mentioned this in my sequence intro, but to restate it here: That guide is nine years old, and things have changed a fair amount in the past decade; it's also difficult to navigate. Also, you might notice that the advice on choosing a venue covers less than one whole page; I thought there was room for an updated guide that's also more thorough and data-informed.
I was once in a forecasting workshop with ~11 other people where we were given a sheet of paper that asked us to estimate the probability of a future event. We all knew about Fermi modeling, and we were allowed to use the internet to look up relevant facts, so I really felt I was giving my very best guess. But after we turned the papers in, the people running the workshop revealed that there was a number written in the top right corner of each sheet of paper (like where a page number would usually be), and half of us had gotten one number (relatively big, like 50 or something), and the other half a different number (smaller, like 2). I don't remember the specifics but the effect size (using the term colloquially) was ridiculously huge, where the average of the first group's guesses was something like an order of magnitude more than the average of the second group's.
I have been completely baffled by this experience ever since and have no idea what to do with it. When I told my husband about it he was like, "wtf, all 12 of you should be fired." Maybe he's right? It just seems impossible??? And yet, this is a workshop they'd run many times, and clearly an outcome they were expecting, and I don't have reason to believe they lied.
Fuck I'm so confused can anyone make sense of this experience
What was innovation like in the 25 years before you were a kid? My mom (probably 25 years older than you) speaks fondly of the candies that were available when she was a kid; I think that's a quite different set of candies than are available now, and my guess would be that the primary innovations between the '70s and '90s would be in preservatives/shelf-life.
Candy is primarily aimed at children, who... aren't known for their discerning palates. As a child you're supposed to like sweet and dislike bitter, right? (Because something something poison is bitter and breastmilk is sweet?) My point being that I'd imagine there isn't really demand for flavor innovation, because kids are happy enough to consume the existing ones?
They do make more flavors of e.g. Starbursts and Skittles than they originally did — although the new flavors are just as artificial-tasting as the old.
It occurs to me that Jelly Belly is quite good with imitating flavors and to some extent textures (did you ever try their Bertie Botts Beans? the dirt flavor was pretty spot-on, complete with grittiness). From their website it looks like they continue putting out new flavors; I haven't kept up with this since I don't really eat candy anymore, but my guess would be they still have a pretty good hit rate. Not sure how this info factors into the whole picture.
I'm not sure about texture. I do think novel texture was exciting to me as a kid, but... maybe a wide enough swath of texture-space has already been covered that innovation there is really costly? There really are a huge number of existing sugar-delivery methods — cotton candy, Gushers, Pop Rocks, Tootsie Pops, Pixie Stix, Baby Bottle Pops. In general: hard candies, chewy candies, liquids, powders, crunchy candies, and things that melt in your mouth. What combinations haven't been tried?
This listicle about what candies were released when was interesting to me, and gives some insight into modern candy innovation. They mention 'Fudge Brownie M&Ms' (released 2020), and it looks like Snickers continues releasing new things, like 'Snickers Almond Brownie & Dark Chocolate Squares' (August 2021) and 'Snickers Cinnamon Bun' (October 2021). Maybe part of the story is that the innovation is being done by existing brands, and those brands are so strongly associated with their original product that it's hard for the new candies to get uptake? Or maybe there are too many options and people just throw their hands up and are like "I'm just going to get the thing that I'm familiar with!"? Maybe companies are leaning too hard on limited editions & seasonality? Or maybe it's that fudge brownie M&Ms are good, but they're not THAT much of an improvement over regular M&Ms?
I'm not a dev so I'm not sure, but I think the site takes your location info, and if you have location access turned off, it defaults to GMT. FYI, you can still set the correct time for the event by converting between time zones — e.g. since GMT is 7 hours ahead of PDT, you would set the event to be at 8pm, and then it would display the correct time for people in PDT. (I have to do this all the time when I post events that are in different countries. Annoying, but I guess time zones are hard.)
I share this impression. I also just... am confused about why anyone would consider a starting salary of $150k/year + healthcare insufficient. I guess maybe if you're buying a house? Or sending a kid to college? I mean, I live in the Bay and have never made anywhere close to $150k/year, and I am far from financially insecure.
Programmer salaries are insane, and most people (e.g. me) are not programmers, and manage to survive. I just feel like, if your objection is, "Well I'm worth more than that on the free market," then just... go work somewhere else, if that's what you care about? Nobody needs a salary of $450k/year!!!
Another EA/rationalist org I've worked at had a policy of "We don't want salary to be a major reason for people to want to work here, and we don't want it to be a reason for them to not want to work here." That makes a lot of sense to me, and I think it's probably what Lightcone is going for?
I don't know, like, I can sort of see where the other side is coming from. But it also still seems crazy to me.
This meetup needs a new organizer! Since Scott set the date for October 2nd, Alexej won't be able to attend. If you're up for organizing, respond to this comment or email me at email@example.com.
Date has been provisionally set for 10 October at 16h, with Scott expecting to arrive at 17h — still subject to change based on Scott's schedule. Also note that the location has changed to Trocadéro; the original park closed too early.
I responded about Command hooks in a subthread, but also recommend picture frame hangers (image below, since the term is somewhat ambiguous). They are not the most helpful/versatile shape, but they can hold quite a lot of weight with only a small nail hole.
Due to the desire of an unvaccinated person to come to the meet up, I will be having a second meetup on Monday Sept 6th. at noon. This second meet up may have an unvaccinated attendee, but all are welcome.
Your answer tells me nothing I didn't already know and is not even that accurate (bupropion has more than one official use). Perhaps this isn't the place to say this, but I consistently find every single one of your comments on this site to be needlessly hostile and condescending. It seems like a shame since you clearly have real value to contribute, but interacting with you is just always so unpleasant.
[Epistemic status: just my gut reactions. I knew I wasn't going to go because I'm moving in two days and so was busy, but also probably wouldn't have gotten up the courage/agency/will to go anyway (maybe 20% chance I would have gone).]
I think the "there are only eight chairs" thing maybe gave a bit of a vibe of exclusivity and/or set expectations low for attendance, which makes it less appealing as a getting-to-know-people event.
I also think a large part of it is just that the first instance of a thing is harder to get buy-in for — with choir there's a very established structure and a core of people who show up, so you really know what you're getting into, whereas with this I was unsure what to expect. I guess I'm not sure if there's an action item here. Maybe more assertive wording?
I notice I also felt weird about the idea of drawing outside. I just like to draw on a nice smooth table, and I don't want bugs on my paper. Obviously I get why you would have the event outside, and besides, I don't even know if this would be a deterrent for anyone else.
I keep a list of all content that has ever been used for Secular Solstice celebrations. It is very long and most of the things on it don't fit the narrower thing you're looking for here, but feel free to peruse it anyway.
I'm too tired / doing other things right now to make a case for everything on there that I think fits the bill, but here are a few:
Brief audio recording of Carl Sagan describing the primary concept of his book Pale blue dot : a vision of the human future in space. In reflecting on the image of the Earth as a tiny speak he notes "that's us" that the Earth is "a mote of dust, suspended in a sun beam' and a "very small stage in a vast cosmic arena."
This but played over nice music (that I think was composed for the purpose).
A musical setting of Rudyard Kipling's poem of the same name. The poem is about the double-sided coin of human agency and human fallibility. My favorite stanza:
We only in Creation (How much luckier the bridge and rail) Abide the twin damnation— To fail and know we fail. Yet we - by which sole token We know we once were Gods— Take shame in being broken However great the odds...
A choral setting of some Carl Sagan quotes. Pitch from the composer:
Mvt. 1 is about discovery ("Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known"),
Mvt. 2 is about beauty ("The beauty of a living thing is not the atoms that go into it, but the way those atoms are put together).
Mvt. 3 is about space at large ("If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.")
On a personal level, Carl Sagan has taught me how beautiful science and the universe can be, and that understanding something enriches the experience, but doesn't take away from the mystery that draws us to the big questions of life. He taught me that the sciences are beautiful; the natural world is elegant; and for such small creatures as we, the vastness is bearable only through love :)
This describes the LessWrong team, and some other startups I've known of. The sense I've gotten is that most people either don't see the appeal or aren't willing to make that large a commitment? (Living with your teammates is a pretty big commitment, especially if you have other parts of your life, like a partner or kids.) Or, well, I think for the most part, people are working within the standard view of what an organization looks like and just don't think of this option.
I listened to David Goggins' account of Navy SEAL training last year. They encourage you to push yourself so hard that you are at genuine risk of death or permanent disability. The first two times Goggins tried to get through he failed out because of injuries, even though he was willing to — and did — run many miles on literally broken legs. He only made it through the third time because hell week got cut short due to someone in their cohort DYING (from participating in an exercise to tie and untie knots at the bottom of a swimming pool while very sick with pneumonia).
I actually found the book incredibly inspiring, though it did not make me think anyone should model themselves after the Navy SEALs in particular. I also don't think someone should run 100 miles in 24 hours with zero training and continue despite the fact that their legs are breaking and they're shitting and pissing blood while they run, which is another thing that Goggins did.
One training exercise in the book that seemed more reasonable to me (more like an exercise and less like abject torture) was an orienteering-type thing (for I think the Army Rangers?), where the terrain was treacherous and unfamiliar and the weather dangerously cold at night. I think it's a good test of rationality to put yourself in a genuinely high-stakes situation like that — as long as one of the choices you're allowed to make is to call for help if you are genuinely afraid for your life. That was an option in the case of the Rangers orienteering challenge, but my point is that the thing that's bad about SEAL hell week is that you're considered a pussy if you quit, even if it's out of genuine and reasonable fear for your life.
The book overall is about the idea that your limits are fake, and humans can accomplish things that seem like they should be physically impossible as long as they just don't give up. I think that's a concept we could work with.
I think there are quite a few rationalists who challenge themselves to do fairly hard things, like founding a successful startup, putting together a large conference on short notice at the age of 18, or publishing a good post on rationality every day for a month, things kind of like that. I think I've challenged myself a lot more than I would have if I weren't in the rationalist community, but I don't think I've ever tried to do something that I felt was impossible. (I think a precious few rationalists have faced the impossible — probably Holden and Eliezer, to name any at all — but they're very much the exception rather than the rule.)
Here are some things that feel impossible:
Write something as groundbreaking as the sequences, starting in one week (that's your planning period) and posting every day for at least a year
Cause the public collective consciousness and ~all significant intellectuals in the US to take x-risk (and especially AI x-risk) seriously, within the year
Note that I very much do not suggest that people throw themselves at this task!
Make a novel discovery in particle physics (or a similar well-established field that you've never studied before), within six months
Without piggybacking on any existing space exploration project, put a spacecraft of your own design / owned by you on the moon within five years
Found a new country that gets recognized by the UN
And here are some things where I can see a path to accomplishing them, but where that path feels incredibly hard and scary — these examples are specific to me:
Become fluent in Mandarin, both speaking/listening AND reading/writing, in the next three months
I have a lifetime of failure to learn Mandarin behind me, including one academic year when I really actually tried, also Mandarin is just really fucking hard
Run a marathon within the next year
I have a chronic leg injury that makes running essentially impossible, that feels insurmountable but probably in reality is not
Make a million dollars in the next six months just via investing/betting
I am a very risk-averse person and was raised to fear the stock market
Permanently fix my depression and anxiety
It's probably not impossible but jeeeeeeeeeeeeeeezzzz
Found and run a company, like, one with actual employees and investors and a goal of growth (not just a one-person LLC, that's cheating)
This just sounds awful in every way; I hate dealing with people and money and feel super unqualified for all of this
Again these will be different for different people. I think Eliezer's quest to lose weight qualifies somewhere around here. I think things in this class are probably better candidates for serious rationality training exercises than the first list, though, maybe that's wrong.
Anyway the goal is not to teach object-level skills, but to cause people to change their outlook on tasks that seem impossible. I think that's one really important skill for rationalists/EAs to have, though not the only important skill. In any given quest you will probably learn additional useful object-level skills.
So idk those are some thoughts on one aspect of the thing. Didn't properly feel like an answer so here it is as a comment instead.