What was the official story for many top physicists congregating in Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project? 2019-07-03T18:05:12.944Z · score: 14 (5 votes)


Comment by moses on Examples of Examples · 2019-09-06T15:30:26.207Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Reminds me of that scene from Family Guy:

Comment by moses on Peter Thiel/Eric Weinstein Transcript on Growth, Violence, and Stories · 2019-08-31T17:02:17.433Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Does anyone have any opinions about their view that technology overall has been stagnating since the 70s?

Comment by moses on A Game of Giants [Wait But Why] · 2019-08-30T06:40:27.835Z · score: 5 (11 votes) · LW · GW

From footnote 3:

I wrote this chapter of the series from an intuitive perspective before digging into what the evolutionary scientists say about it.

"I made shit up, then checked the facts later." This made me lol, because that's exactly my impression of Urban's writing.

Comment by moses on Searle’s Chinese Room and the Meaning of Meaning · 2019-08-06T17:43:17.947Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Searle meant the mechanically performing technician as an analogy for the mechanical, deterministic processes in a computer. You cannot reject Searle by magically introducing computation which is outside of the symbol lookup table, just like in a computer, there is no computation happening outside of the computer's circuits.

Now, the mistake that Searle made was much more trivial and embarrassing. From Wikipedia:

The question Searle wants to answer is this: does the machine literally "understand" Chinese? Or is it merely simulating the ability to understand Chinese?

There is no empirical difference underlying the conundrum. If Searle was made to explain what he means by "literally understand" and how it differs from "merely simulating", the problem would dissolve.

Comment by moses on What supplements do you use? · 2019-07-29T14:26:36.975Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW
  • Omega3 from algae, 750 mg a day
  • Vitamin D, ~2000 IU a day
  • B12, 2.5 mg per week
  • Melatonin 0.4 mg as needed for sleep
  • Creatine, 4–5 g a day
  • Planning to get Ashwaganda
  • Coffee, but that's more of a drug than supplement
Comment by moses on Nutrition is Satisficing · 2019-07-17T15:36:10.498Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Eat plenty of vegetables.

Notice that this is one of the few things the contradictory nutrition theories all happen to agree about.

…Except all the low-carb, keto, and straight up carnivore diets that are getting increasingly popular :)

Comment by moses on 87,000 Hours or: Thoughts on Home Ownership · 2019-07-06T09:32:33.539Z · score: 26 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Mind if I reeeee real quick?

First let's address the idea that renting is 'throwing money away'. This ignores the opportunity cost of investing extra income and the lump sum of the down payment into a house instead of the stock market.

I have a feeling this explanation is misleading.

Investing in the stock market and in the real estate market are two different things, different risk profiles etc. Correctly, this should read, "This ignores the opportunity cost of investing extra income and the lump sum of the down payment into a house instead of the exact same house, but renting it out to someone and collecting the rent."

This points to a better explanation: You always "pay rent". You being alive and taking up space always costs something, because space just costs something. Either you live in someone else's space, in which case the cost for you of taking up that space is the rent you're paying them; or you live in your own space, in which case the cost for you is the rent that you could collect from someone else if you didn't take up the space.

When you effectively "pay rent to yourself" in this manner, economists call it "imputed rent". Treat it like you would treat any other rent in your calculation.

When thinking about whether to invest your money into a house or something else, typically you want to decouple that decision from your living situation and see if it still makes sense. Regardless of where I live—given my net worth, does it make sense for $XXX,000 of my investment portfolio to be tied into this specific piece of real estate?

Then the standard investing advice applies:

  • you can only systematically make money in a market if you know more than other people who participate in that market know (e.g. maybe you have a friend in the zoning comittee);
  • don't put most (or God forbid, all) of your wealth into a very specific asset (like real estate in a specific city);
  • etc.

you are making a long term bet which, if it doesn't pan out, will simultaneously leave you without that high paying job, either forcing you into a long commute or selling the house and moving to a different city.

See, you're conflating land ownership and tenancy here. You can absolutely move wherever you want while owning and renting out a house somewhere else.

These scenarios are still highly reliant on you being sure you want to stay in a particular spot for at least 10 years

Same issue here.

There is of course a reason to own a place: so that you can refurbish it to your liking—or you might even want to build a house to your liking, if,like me, you think there just aren't any existing buildings designed in a sane way. You just can't rent a place from someone else and start tearing down walls and installing gadgets—and even if you were allowed to, you don't wanna invest into improving someone else's place.

(ETA: Just to clarify, even if you're buying/building a place for the reasons mentioned in the previous paragraph, you should still be aware of the tradeoffs; the price you pay for the ability to customize your living space is that most of the value can disappear with a particularly shitty election outcome, war, immigration, the collapse of the financial system in that country—anything you can't get insurance for.)

Comment by moses on What was the official story for many top physicists congregating in Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project? · 2019-07-04T12:41:19.109Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I read Feynman, but I don't think he said anything about how the US government explained the withdrawal of top physicists from public space.

Maybe it was the case that "the US military is using top physicists to do something" was not a secret; it only was a secret what exactly they're working on.

In that case this would not be repeatable either, because "the US military is using top AI researchers to do something" is not quite the same level of vague :)

Comment by moses on What's up with self-esteem? · 2019-06-25T07:04:06.319Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, you got it right. You wanna take as much as possible from others without getting slaughtered, so you keep track of your status. Not much to it.

You get a whole lot of pathological anxiety and suicide these days because the environment has shifted somewhat, Instagram and billionaires and precarious labor and whatnot. I would like to see the numbers for suicide pre-industrial revolution; I wouldn't expect a lot of them.

Comment by moses on Causal Reality vs Social Reality · 2019-06-25T06:39:32.066Z · score: 3 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Would you expect an evolved species to care about death in the abstract? By what mechanism?


If you primarily inhabit causal reality (like most people on LessWrong)

You're in a group of people where non-conformity happens to be a social good, no need to posit specialness here. We're all running on the same architecture, some people just didn't have their personality traits and happenstance combine in a way that landed them on LW.

Comment by moses on Matt Goldenberg's Short Form Feed · 2019-06-22T14:45:46.619Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, I've read that one, and I guess that would let someone who've had the same experience understand what you mean, but not someone who haven't had the experience.

I feel similarly to when I read Valentine's post on kensho—there is clearly something valuable, but I don't have the slightest idea of what it is. (At least unlike with kensho, in this example it is possible to eventually have an objective account to point to, e.g. video.)

Comment by moses on Matt Goldenberg's Short Form Feed · 2019-06-22T04:15:00.241Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm so curious about this. I presume there isn't, like, a video example of "vibing"? I'd love to see that

Comment by moses on STRUCTURE: A Hazardous Guide to Words · 2019-06-20T20:36:48.187Z · score: 22 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Hah, I was thinking along the same lines as you—I have two pieces of advice that I give to everyone, that would solve most of their problems, at that nobody ever takes: meditate daily, and read the goddamn Sequences. So naturally, I'm gonna write up my own, heavily condensed version of the Sequences, and then my friends will have to read them because it's rude not to read something if your friend wrote it (right?)

My version will sit in my brain for at least a few more years, potentially forever, but I did take a few notes on structure at least. I thought I'd dump them here because they might be of interest to you (?) They might not be very legible, but they're for my own consumption mostly, I'm dumping them as-is just to give an idea what I found important in the Sequences (and elsewhere).


  • introduction: something to protect
  • theoretical epistemology
    • probability, evidence, betting
      • bayesian inference
        • the importance of priors
      • privileging the hypothesis
    • causality, causal relationship between reality and beliefs
      • ontology, what we mean by "real"
        • "supernatural"
    • how to use language, dissolving questions
      • predictions, expectations
  • human brains/neural nets
    • evolution, how to theorize about evolution (tooby & cosmides)
    • evopsych, the political mind
      • escaping the paradigm is impossible, but there's some slack
    • moral psychology
    • brain, neural nets
      • all the GPT-2 shit
    • predictive processing and world models, memory
    • tinted lenses
    • wanting/liking/goals/values/motivation
    • the Self, identity
    • the press secretary, introspection
    • fake explanations (elan vital)
    • fake beliefs
      • the dragon in the garage
  • mental movements/habits
    • noticing
    • noticing confusion
      • noticing "makes sense", armchair logic (e.g. 80k's reasoning about how to have impact)
    • noticing resistance to ideas (e.g. [redacted personal example])
    • noticing already knowing in advance the conclusion (in a debate, as soon as your opponent opens their mouth, you know that there's going to be something wrong with their argument)
    • noticing the pull to lash out in an argument with a loved one
    • noticing when you do motte and bailey
    • feeling certainty (e.g. private property = good, taxes and coercion = bad)
    • being stuck in a loop (e.g. trying to get out of bed in a semi-dreamy state)
    • ? suffering
    • practical epistemology (perception tinted by e.g. depression, fear, but mainly when you tie your Self to an ideology)
      • everything is a lens, there is no "lens-less" view
      • caching, normalization, prediction overrides perception ?
    • tracking debate propositions ?
    • scout mindset
  • practical topics
    • politics vs policy
      • ethics, consequentialism vs. other stances
      • goals and values vs. methods, goal factoring
      • beware grand unified theories
      • though experiments, double crux, counterfactual thinking
      • charity, compassion, empathy, we're all in this together, kumbaya
        • "how would I end up with these beliefs/behavior?"
        • addressing the cases when extending charity is already an act of desertion
      • cooperative discussion
    • adversarial optimization: Russian bots, scammers, marketing, manufactured addiction, manufactured outrage
    • social dynamics; purity spirals; meta-norms
    • commitment, identity, choosing which status game you play, leaving yourself/others a line of retreat
      • personality, character, mask, the web
    • philosophy case studies
      • chinese room, free will, teleportation/personal identity
    • footguns: "I am a rationalist, I couldn't possibly be making trivial cognitive mistakes", "all conspiracy theories are bullshit, I am smart", "I am better than others because I am more rational and smarter", "I know NVC, therefore I cannot get into dumb fights", church of Rationality; isolated demands for rigor, the fallacy fallacy
      • remember there are underlying determinants of e.g. open-mindedness etc.
  • [interesting biases]
    • status quo
    • just/non-horrible universe
    • mind projection fallacy (e.g. "the meaning of life")
  • [practical considerations]
    • ? read this book with other people, discuss
Comment by moses on Is the "business cycle" an actual economic principle? · 2019-06-18T18:21:52.412Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

But to the degree that the business cycle is a separate understandable phenomenon, can't investors use that understanding to place bets which make them money while dampening the effect?

The theory can tell you that we're headed for a downturn, but when exactly that will happen is unpredictable, because the system is chaotic and the bubble burst can be triggered by any Schelling point that looks like "uh-oh, time to sell". E.g. Lehmann Brothers. E.g. 9/11.

If you don't know whether the recession is coming in a year or three, that's too much ambiguity to make any money off of it.

Comment by moses on Is the "business cycle" an actual economic principle? · 2019-06-18T18:11:49.787Z · score: 11 (4 votes) · LW · GW

As johnswentworth notes, recessions are way worse than what you'd get from a random walk. There is something to be explained.

To his list of theories, I would add Austrian business cycle theory (ABCT), which introduces the notion of the temporal structure of capital and explains e.g. why fluctuations in employment are larger in industries further up the capital pipeline/further away from end consumers (mining, refining) than in industries closer to the consumers (retail, hospitality).

According to ABCT, when the central bank lowers interest rates below the natural rate which clears supply (household savings) against demand (businesses seeking loans for investments), this causes overinvestment and undersaving. More specifically, the lower interest rate guides businesses to invest in capital further up the capital pipeline, with longer time to "maturation" (to being useful to the end consumer), e.g. oil tankers. The gap between savings and investment (which no longer matches) is covered by new money being put in circulation by banks.

As the new money keeps pouring in, inflation picks up, the central bank reacts by lifting the interest rates again, this makes the long-term investment projects (which were profitable) unprofitable again, this makes all the capital that was already put into them mis-allocated and much lower in value than before (if you have an unprofitable, half-built oil tanker, it's not easy to convert it to some more useful form of capital, like cellphones).

Thus, real wealth has actually been lost throughout the economy (as opposed to Keynesian theory, where no value is actually lost, everyone is just caught in crowd psychosis, like a murmuration of sparrows following each other down the market).

The central bank reacts by monetary easing, dropping the interest rate to zero, thus preventing the healthy clearance of the built-up misallocation, and a new bubble can build on top of the previous one.

(In reality, I think, each recession will have slightly different causes and many theories will be partly right about particular recessions. There is always some element of the Keynesian "I will sell because everybody else is selling" etc.)

Comment by moses on Agents dissolved in coffee · 2019-06-04T12:12:05.855Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Nice! I find it much more pleasant to read :)

Comment by moses on Agents dissolved in coffee · 2019-06-04T08:55:19.947Z · score: 13 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Please read this in the most loving-kindness way possible: every time I see a LW post starting with a paragraph of hedging and self-deprecation (which is about half of them), I feel like taking the author by their shoulders and shaking them violently until they gain some self-confidence.

Let the reader judge for themselves whether the post is misguided, badly structured, or repetitive. I guarantee nothing bad will happen to you if they come to this conclusion themselves. The worst thing that could happen is that Someone On The Internet will think bad things about you, but I let me assure you, this will not be any worse if you leave out the hedging.

Note: people will be more likely to attack your idea (i.e. provide you with valuable feedback, i.e. this is a good thing) if you seem to stand behind the idea (i.e. if you leave out the hedging).

Before someone says something about conveying confidence levels:

  • Saying your post is "rambling" and "repetitive" has nothing to do with confidence levels.
  • Insight porn[1] doesn't need confidence levels.

On the other hand, I have to commend you for not starting your paragraph of hedging with the phrase "Epistemic status".

  1. By "insight porn" I mean a genre of writing, I don't mean this as a derogatory term. ↩︎

Comment by moses on What is a good moment to start writing? · 2019-05-30T07:41:52.048Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · LW · GW

It's about not wasting people's time with half-baked ideas.

If you waste someone's time, that's not your responsibility, they decided to come over to your blog and lay their eyes on your …research notes, let's say.

Write immediately and write continuously, as you learn. This will (1) give you practice, so that your writing is much better by the time you have something really good that would deserve good writing, and (2) you get feedback from your friends (if you gently beat it out of them), which will make your progress on your ideas faster.

If I explain my ideas now, I'm going to be embarrassed by it next year.

What if you just honestly report on what's going on in your head? Not, "folks, I know the Truth, let me lay it out for you," but "these are the results of my research so far, and these are the half-baked intuitions that I get out of that, at the moment, and this is where I'm planning to go next to sharpen or falsify those intuitions." Sounds reasonable and non-embarrassing.

Also, the more often you bump your thoughts against the harsh judgement of other people, the faster they sharpen up and the less embarrassing they will be in the long run. Something like that.

Comment by moses on What is your personal experience with "having a meaningful life"? · 2019-05-23T15:20:41.548Z · score: 4 (5 votes) · LW · GW

It's difficult to understand what people mean when they say "meaning", because they're always so mysterious and vague around the term.

It seems to me that most of the time, when people talk about "meaning", they mean the dopamine hit you get when you move towards something that will elevate your social status, e.g. helping others, or sacrificing yourself for the well-being of the tribe/superorganism, or whatever else can be used as a virtue signal. (So, for example, making money for the sake of making money doesn't feel as meaningful as making money under the veil of "fulfilling a mission" and "having impact" and "making a dent in the universe", exactly in proportion to how much less status/prestige you'd be awarded by your tribe for the former. But, I mean, depends on your tribe; there are tribes where cynical money generation is cool (e.g. crypto traders), you're awarded status for it, and you'll find a corresponding sense of meaning in it.)

This is to distinguish meaning from the dopamine kick you get from moving towards other (notably short-term) goals, like food or sex. I don't think people call that one "meaning".

NB: The "meaning" circuit can be apparently hacked by superstimuli, like every other motivation-related part of the brain, hence videogames feeling "meaningful".

There are other phenomena that people sometimes call "meaning", but I think this is the most common one. (E.g. I usually use the term to mean literally meaning, in the semiotics sense, i.e. how dense the symbol web in your life is, i.e. minimum meaning = suññatā, maximum meaning = schizophrenia.)

Comment by moses on When is rationality useful? · 2019-04-27T15:01:49.838Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Hm. Yes, rationality gave us such timeless techniques like "think about the problem for at least 5 minutes by the clock", but I'm saying that nothing in the LW canon helps you make sure that what you come up with in those 5 minutes will be useful.

Not to mention, this sounds to me like "trying to solve the problem" rather than "solving the problem" (more precisely, "acting out the role of someone making a dutiful attempt to solve the problem", I'm sure there's a Sequence post about this). I feel like people who want to do X (in the sense of the word "want" where it's an actual desire, no Elephant-in-the-brain bullshit) do X, so they don't have time to set timers to think about how to do X.

What I'm saying here about rationality is that it doesn't help you figure out, on your own, unprompted, whether what you're doing is acting out a role to yourself rather than taking action. (Meditation helps, just in case anyone thought I would ever shut up about meditation.)

But rationality does help you to swallow your pride and listen when someone else points it out to you, prompts you to think about it, which is why I think rationality is very useful.

I don't think you can devise a system for yourself which prompts you in this way, because the prompt must come from someone who sees the additional dimension of the solution space. They must point you to the additional dimension. That might be hard. Like explaining 3D to a 2-dimensional being.

On the other hand, pointing out when you're shooting yourself in the foot (e.g. eating unhealthy, not working out, spending money on bullshit) is easy for other people and rationality gives you the tools to listen and consider. Hence, rationality protects you against shooting yourself in the foot, because the information about health etc. is out there in abundance, most people just don't use their ears.

I might be just repeating myself over and over again, I don't know, anyway, these are the things that splosh around in my head.

Comment by moses on Asymmetric Justice · 2019-04-26T20:31:35.753Z · score: 8 (4 votes) · LW · GW

In what we will call the Good Place system (…) If you take actions with good consequences, you only get those points if your motive was to do good. (…) You lose points for bad actions whether or not you intended to be bad.

See also: Knobe effect. People seem also seem to asymetrically judge whether your action was intentional in the first place.

In a study published in 2003, Knobe presented passers-by in a Manhattan park with the following scenario. The CEO of a company is sitting in his office when his Vice President of R&D comes in and says, ‘We are thinking of starting a new programme. It will help us increase profits, but it will also harm the environment.’ The CEO responds that he doesn’t care about harming the environment and just wants to make as much profit as possible. The programme is carried out, profits are made and the environment is harmed.

Did the CEO intentionally harm the environment? The vast majority of people Knobe quizzed – 82 per cent – said he did. But what if the scenario is changed such that the word ‘harm’ is replaced with ‘help’? In this case the CEO doesn’t care about helping the environment, and still just wants to make a profit – and his actions result in both outcomes. Now faced with the question ‘Did the CEO intentionally help the environment?’, just 23 per cent of Knobe’s participants said ‘yes’ (Knobe, 2003a).

Comment by moses on When is rationality useful? · 2019-04-25T10:22:43.588Z · score: 13 (6 votes) · LW · GW

In other words: Rationality (if used well) protects you against shooting your foot off, and almost everyone does shoot their foot off, so if you ask me, all the Rationalists who walk around with both their feet are winning hard at life, but having both feet doesn't automatically make you Jeff Bezos.

Comment by moses on When is rationality useful? · 2019-04-25T10:14:40.647Z · score: 7 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I think my views are somewhat similar. Let me crosspost a comment I made in a private conversation a while ago:

I think the main reason why people are asking "Why aren't Rationalists winning?" is because Rationality was simply being oversold.

Yeah, seems like it. I was thinking: why would you expect rationality to make you exceptionally high status and high income?[1] And I think rationality was sold as general-purpose optimal decision-making, so once you have that, you can reach any goals which are theoretically reachable from your starting point by some hypothetical optimal decision-maker—and if not, that's only because the Art is not fully mature yet.

Now, in reality, rationality was something like:

  • a collection of mental movements centered around answering difficult/philosophical questions—with the soft implication that you should ingrain them, but not a clear guide on how (aside from CFAR workshops);
  • a mindset of transhumanism and literally-saving-the-world, doing-the-impossible ambition, delivered via powerfully motivational writing;
  • a community of (1) nerds who (2) pathologically overthink absolutely everything.

I definitely would expect rationalists to do better at some things than the reference class of {nerds who pathologically overthink everything}:

I would expect them not to get tripped up if explicitly prompted to consider confusing philosophical topics like meaning or free will, because the mental movement of {difficult philosophical question → activate Rationality™} is pretty easy and straightforward.

Same thing if they encounter e.g. a different political opinions or worldviews: I'd expect them to be much better at reconsidering their dogmas, if, again, externally prompted. I'd even expect them to do better evaluating strategies.

But I don't think there's a good reason to expect rationalists to do better unprompted—to have more unprompted imagination, creativity, to generate strategies—or to notice things better: their blind spots, additional dimensions in the solution space.

Rationality also won't help you with inherent traits like conscientiousness, recklessness, tendency for leadership, the biological component of charisma (beyond what reading self-help literature might do for you).

I also wouldn't expect rationalists to be able to dig their way through arbitrarily many layers of Resistance on their own. They might notice that they want to do a thing T and are not doing it, but then instead of doing it, they might start brainstorming ways how to make themselves do T. And then they might notice that they're overthinking things, but instead of doing T, they start thinking about how to stop overthinking and instead start doing. And then they might notice that and pat themselves on the back and everything and think, "hey, that would make a great post on LW", and so they write a post on LW about overthinking things instead of fucking doing the fucking thing already.

Rationality is great for critical thinking, for evaluating whatever inputs you get; so that helps you to productively consider good external ideas, not get tripped by bad ideas, and not waste your time being confused. In the ideal case. (It might even make you receptive to personal feedback in the extreme case. Depending on your personality traits, I guess.)

On the other hand, rationality doesn't help you with exactly those things that might lead to status and wealth: generating new ideas, changing your biological proclivities, noticing massive gaps in your epistemology, or overturning that heavily selected-for tendency to overthink and just stumbling ass-first out into the world and doing things.

  1. "High status and high income" is a definition of "winning" that you get if you read all the LW posts about "why aren't Rationalists winning?", look at what the author defines as "winning", then do an intersection of those. ↩︎

Comment by moses on 1960: The Year The Singularity Was Cancelled · 2019-04-23T15:29:28.173Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, my confusion was indeed about the underlying model of innovation. Intuitively is seems to me that progress on a particular research problem would be a function of how smart {the smartest person working on the problem} is, but then I guess if you have more smart people, you can attack more research problems at once, so I guess the model does make sense 🤔

Comment by moses on 1960: The Year The Singularity Was Cancelled · 2019-04-23T13:15:37.084Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I skimmed the paper but I still can't understand how von Foerster comes up with the notion that more people = faster technological growth. (Kurzgesagt use the same assumption in their video on "egostic altruism", but they don't explain where they got it from either.) Does someone know how that works?

Comment by moses on Username change and event page editing · 2019-04-19T22:00:30.214Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Hm, I see the widget in Chrome though

Comment by moses on Username change and event page editing · 2019-04-19T19:13:27.725Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I see. I should say FF 66 on Ubuntu. But anyway, Said's comment helped me resolve much of my confusion.

Comment by moses on Username change and event page editing · 2019-04-19T19:10:45.070Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for the detailed response! I wasn't aware that Firefox was such a clusterfuck. I think I also had pretty old browser market share numbers cached in my head and those numbers were probably for desktop market only; the 5 % number surprised me. Huh, Firefox actually is niche; I was being facetious.

Comment by moses on Username change and event page editing · 2019-04-19T17:46:50.543Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Except if you're on Firefox, in which case there is no widget. (As an aside, since switching to Firefox, I'm astonished how much of the internet just doesn't work in it. Do frontend developers… not check whether their website works in Firefox? Is Firefox so niche these days? It's not like you have to run it in VM like you'd have to with Edge/Safari… Anyway, I'm just thinking out loud here; my main point was that the widget doesn't appear in Firefox, just fyi.)

Comment by moses on Highlights from "Integral Spirituality" · 2019-04-19T14:58:32.957Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks! I found particularly useful the reconciliation between "integrating the shadow" and "not identifying with your feelings".

Comment by moses on The Hard Work of Translation (Buddhism) · 2019-04-12T12:51:44.565Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, I see. I read J-'s instruction paragraph as "here's all the instruction you need to start meditating, now go meditate", which stirred up agitation in me because I see many people waste their time acting on too little instruction.[1]

Possibly, in the context of the OP, it is better read as general frustration: "Ugh, you guys keep overthinking everything, just go do X instead of talking about X all the time, for all X."

Maybe J- sees many people wasting their time intellectualizing and overthinking; the two of us draw from different experiences, so we have different triggers and even perceive the entire situation through a different lens.

So let's go back to this:

But, for fuck's sakes, philosophizing serves the role of masturbation. This is an endemic problem for LW adjacent people, because you all enable each other! There's a culture of it here.

I agree that rationality (just like all intellectual communities) select heavily for the type of a person who overthinks everything, but I don't really see the content on LW enabling this. Or—hmm—maybe it depends on how you see LW. I see LW as a place where I come to read Insight Porn and have intellectual discussion, because it is pleasant and entertaining. If someone sees LW as a place which serves up self-help advice, then, necessarily, just as roughly all self-help advice in existence, this would be viewed as enabling intellectualization-as-psychological-defence-against-change.

  1. Apart from meditation and weightlifting, learning to code comes to mind. I see people-who-self-study struggle needlessly for months, because an online course explains how to write functions and how to write ifs and whiles and whatnot, but doesn't explain what happens under the hood. Way too little instruction. ↩︎

Comment by moses on The Hard Work of Translation (Buddhism) · 2019-04-12T09:53:33.871Z · score: 6 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I mean, sure, the Mind and its incessant thinking gets in the way of living and doing and Being, but the answer is not to go do things with improper instruction. That's not even overcorrecting; that's just trying to solve the problem at the wrong level and in a wrong way.

Comment by moses on The Hard Work of Translation (Buddhism) · 2019-04-12T09:48:08.782Z · score: 6 (2 votes) · LW · GW

it may help the individual who makes that choice [to shut up and go practice more]

I'll just reiterate that I think this is wrong. Correct instruction (and sufficient amount of it!) not only makes the practice much more productive, it results in much higher chance of the person actually sticking to the practice, because they are more motivated, because they understand what they're doing and exactly how it will lead to progress.

This is true not only of meditation, but from my experience e.g. of weightlifting. Anecdote time: When I started weightlifting, I spent about three minutes on research, picked up the first beginner routine that seemed to make sense, and followed it for ~two years with minor adjustments here and there. Only then I seeked detailed understanding of what I'm doing, the anatomy and the science behind resistance training etc. After that, my practice became much more productive, much more enjoyable, and therefore much more consistent. I now understand what the fuck I'm doing.

Because the instruction I followed in the beginning was a bit more detailed than what J- gives for meditation, I was able to make some progress—I imagine that if I received instruction from someone who viewed weightlifting like J- views meditation, I wouldn't get anywhere and I would get myself seriously injured—but if I had in the beginning the level of instruction I have now, I would look like fucking Schwarzenegger by now. I wasted a lot of time in the gym by not operating with correct instruction.

And exactly the same goes for my personal experience with meditation: I started off my practice with one of those 10-day Goenka retreats, so I had some instruction, so I made some progress, but only after I started reading The Mind Illuminated did I start practicing consistently, diligently, with joy, and making steady progress.

Comment by moses on The Hard Work of Translation (Buddhism) · 2019-04-12T09:19:43.659Z · score: 12 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Is Buddhism just hip right now?

I think it's just that rationalists are not skeptics; we don't automatically dismiss things because they sound "woo". If Lord Jesus came up with a helpful mental technique, I'm all ears.

Comment by moses on The Hard Work of Translation (Buddhism) · 2019-04-11T17:42:02.652Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · LW · GW

That basic instruction is useful in getting started

I disagree, I think it's useless even for the very first session. The one who receives such instruction will

  • immediately shoot themselves in the foot by beating themselves up for forgetting the breath and pretty much plateau from there onward
  • not understand the relationship between awareness and attention, rendering the practice useless for building mindfulness (and they will probably fall asleep)
  • not understand the process and not be guided to develop joy in the practice, therefore not be motivated to practice consistently and dilligently, therefore probably drop the whole thing soon
  • and so on, and so on.
Comment by moses on How do people become ambitious? · 2019-04-06T11:03:21.850Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, yes, when I say "choose", I mean system-2-choose (i.e. the former meaning in your comment). Learning how to

actually decide to actually write the book

(i.e. how to work with setting intentions, or in general, how to overcome akrasia) would already be a to-do included on the big to-do list called "achieving goal X".

In any case, if I understand it correctly, the question still is: how do people become capable of achieving big goals, including whatever system-1 manipulation, intention-setting, habit-forming, incentive-landscape-shaping, motivation-hacking, etc. is necessary to achieve these goals?

Comment by moses on How do people become ambitious? · 2019-04-06T09:33:43.949Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I remain confused about your definitions. From the Paul Graham article:

If willfulness and discipline are what get you to your destination, ambition is how you choose it.

This would suggest a definition of "ambition" as it is commonly used: the tendency to choose big goals. On the other hand, you say:

Some people seem "born ambitious" but there's not a lot I can change my actions based on that.

Okay, now I have a little insight into your motivations for thinking about this: you want to become more "ambitious" yourself. But this suggest "ambitious" to mean rather something like "capable of achieving big goals"—you don't need to attain the "tendency to choose big goals", because that's trivially easy, and anyway, if you care about this topic, that means you already have big goals.

So, does your question in the OP mean something along the lines of "how do people become capable of achieving big goals"?

Comment by moses on How do people become ambitious? · 2019-04-05T20:46:51.768Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Realize that you are going to have to spend an incredible amount of effort to make even very modest changes to society, and that you are very likely to fail

I think this is roughly correct, though. Or, to put it better: To the degree that you are low in conscientiousness, this is true for you. To the degree that you are high in conscientiousness, you're not reading this comment, because you have better things to do with your life.

Comment by moses on How do people become ambitious? · 2019-04-05T20:36:53.155Z · score: 20 (7 votes) · LW · GW

So interesting—I have the exact opposite intuition: it is technically relatively easy to have a large impact, if you are the kind of person naturally inclined to do so (i.e., very roughly speaking, high in the achievement/industriousness aspect of conscientiousness, probably?), but almost nobody is naturally inclined to do so (I blame the ancestral environment).

If it was easy to affect thousands or millions of lives, then thousands or millions of people would constantly be affecting your life.

…How, in Lord's name, is this not precisely the case? Every major entrepreneur, artist, musician, public intellectual, celebrity, politician, athlete, scientist, engineer, activist, etc., etc., there's millions of people who affect millions or more lives constantly.

Comment by moses on How do people become ambitious? · 2019-04-05T09:23:28.959Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Also, I for one would love to read insight porn about your pet psych theory, aside from getting a literature review. I wouldn't worry too much about getting stuck in "cognitive traps"; insight porn is merely for entertainment and literature reviews are for getting the facts :)

Comment by moses on How do people become ambitious? · 2019-04-05T09:05:28.762Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Clarifying questions:

  1. By agency, do you mean anyone who has the inclination to "think through plans"/"decide how to pursue goals", or only those who do these things correctly and consequently actually achieve something tangible? I'm asking because there's a world of difference between "how do people gain the inclination to behave 'agenty'" and "how do people actually achieve things".

  2. If someone has ambitious goals, but they don't yet have "plans which they realistically expect to achieve", because the planning part is really really hard (but they definitely view themselves as "this [big goal] is what I want from life" and they're emotionally committed to it), does that fall under what you mean by ambition? Or is the "plans" part necessary? Again, big difference between having grand visions for yourself and having a concrete set of steps to achieve them.

  3. Do you mean to imply that there is a relationship/correlation between agency and ambition? I.e., someone who has larger plans/goals is more likely to be self-motivating/decisive/etc. and vice versa?

Comment by moses on What LessWrong/Rationality/EA chat-servers exist that newcomers can join? · 2019-04-03T17:14:06.546Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Invite link:

Comment by moses on Asking for help teaching a critical thinking class. · 2019-03-09T17:08:59.886Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

After you're done with the class, do you think you could post a summary of what you ended up going with?

Comment by moses on What self-help has helped you? · 2018-12-20T23:18:09.141Z · score: 14 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Not trying to do things alone

Doing things with other people or through other people makes everything a hundred times easier. I don't think I'm exaggerating.

For example:

Personality changes: I quit cigarettes and weed cold turkey, started lifting weights, completely changed my diet, and became much more ambitious (which manifested in learning programming and tripling my salary within one year), all completely effortlessly, just by switching from a social group where the previous behavior was the norm to a social group where the new behavior was the norm.

Material resources: Almost all of my jobs, almost all of the apartments I've lived in, and a significant proportion of my romantic/sexual relationships I got through friends or acquaintances. Also, a couple times I've got through a rough patch thanks to loans/material help from friends.

Doing things together: So far I've been doing most things alone, because (1) I'm still only beginning to grasp how much this whole lesson is true and how much I'm not doing it (2) I still have to fight things like extreme introversion (getting tired by people), extreme conflict avoidance (I'm an "exit" rather than "voice" type of person), the fear of reaching out/being vulnerable, not paying attention and falling into old behavioral patterns, etc.

But going off limited and/or second-hand experience, things like…

  • starting a business
  • learning a completely new field
  • moving to a different country and trying to get a job there

…can be pants-shittingly terrifying if done alone, and relatively effortless and enjoyable if done with other people.

Feedback: I still have to figure out how to beat honest feedback out of people (they're surprisingly reluctant to criticize), but even the limited amount of feedback I was able to get lead me to discover gaping blindspots in my social skills (which I can now work on) and helped me understand my social interactions in the past (e.g. why so many people hated me in high school). But again, I had to be really persistent to get at least one person to be honest with me for once.

It starts to seem to me that not trying to solicit feedback/input constantly is highly suboptimal. Would you believe that most people almost never actively solicit feedback?

In general, I'm trying to steer slowly from yapping at people about my own ideas to listening to what they have to say about things. I think it's recently been useful in learning about e.g. productivity and entrepreneurship, or what the world looks like from a woman's perspective. Again, it feels like almost nobody does this.


Trying to achieve anything alone is just plain stupid. (This is the kind of heuristic that's not meant to be literally true, it's just meant to make you better off if you trust it. YMMV.)

And I mean, it all sounds obvious, but just watch yourself, see how often you do things alone vs. ask for advice/help/feedback/companionship/support/etc. (or for that matter, how often you offer these things to others).

Comment by moses on What is "Social Reality?" · 2018-12-12T13:36:07.443Z · score: 16 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Here's how I use the terms "(natural) reality" and "social reality":

Natural reality is "that which doesn't go away if you stop believing in it" (P. K. Dick).

Social reality is that which doesn't go away when you alone stop believing in it, but it does go away proportionally to how many people stop believing in it (weighted, it seems, by something like "social belief negotiating power", or what pick-up artists would call "the strength of one's frame", I think). Example: "Bob is the highest-status person in this social group."

Why call it "reality"?

Eliezer said about reality in general: "I need different names for the thingies that determine my predictions and the thingy that determines my experimental results. I call the former thingies ‘belief’, and the latter thingy ‘reality’" (from The Simple Truth).

From your individual point of view, social reality behaves exactly like that—it is given; you are a price-taker; you can run experiments against it and it will determine the results.

The scope of what falls under natural reality, i.e. what doesn't go away when person X stops believing in it, is the same for every X; it is objective.

The funny thing about social reality is that it's not objective in this sense. For someone with a very strong frame, the scope of social reality (i.e. what doesn't go away when they stop believing in it, or more interestingly put, what doesn't materialize as soon as they start believing in it) is very small, and vice versa. ("Funny" mostly for the strong-frame people, because their life seems almost magically easier from the POV of someone who happens to have a combination of a much weaker frame and very low status. I assume it's not very funny for the latter person.)

Things can also fall in and out of the scope of your social reality (e.g. when you move to go to college, you can reinvent your social role, but then it slowly ossifies around you and becomes inescapable reality).

(I wanted to link Valentine Smith's post on the Intelligent Social Web as a more in-depth explanation, but I noticed you commented on it, so I could've saved myself the trouble and just said "yeah, that". Well, nevermind.)