TV's "Elementary" Tackles Friendly AI and X-Risk - "Bella" (Possible Spoilers) 2014-11-22T19:51:37.699Z · score: 26 (30 votes)
[Link, Humor] The Best Christmas Ever 2011-12-25T23:14:04.223Z · score: 7 (18 votes)
[Link] The Typical Mind Fallacy, Illustrated 2011-09-02T17:22:44.526Z · score: 17 (17 votes)
Necessary, But Not Sufficient 2010-03-23T17:11:03.256Z · score: 46 (47 votes)
Improving The Akrasia Hypothesis 2010-02-26T20:45:19.942Z · score: 73 (82 votes)
The Dirt on Depression 2009-07-15T17:58:44.128Z · score: 4 (17 votes)
The Physiology of Willpower 2009-06-18T04:11:52.445Z · score: 21 (25 votes)
Rationality Quotes - June 2009 2009-06-14T22:00:28.697Z · score: 8 (11 votes)
Spock's Dirty Little Secret 2009-03-25T19:07:21.908Z · score: 48 (64 votes)


Comment by pjeby on The Costs of Reliability · 2019-08-10T16:22:23.233Z · score: 18 (6 votes) · LW · GW

My thought on this is probably biased by my work helping people with akrasia, procrastination, etc., but in my experience the difference in work vs. play seems to be because of how our brains process costs vs. rewards. When you are doing something as a hobby, the reward is immediate and the cost or threat is low, because you want to do it and nothing bad happens if it doesn't work out.

In contrast, when you have to do a specific thing at a specific time (e.g. because it's for work), then there is a definite cost to insufficient performance, but a sufficient performance is merely the status quo... meaning there's no perceived reward.

In addition, exceptional performance, if repeated often enough, will raise the status quo, making your situation objectively worse!

Under such conditions, engaging with the work feels risky or costly in a way that a hobby project does not.

I personally suffered from issues with this for a very long time, which led to me blogging and then becoming a coach helping people with similar issues... and then getting stuck in akrasia for many years because I'd turned my exciting new hobby into an unmotivating profession, and didn't notice the meta issue. :-)

Solving this type of problem is simple in principle: eliminate the threat-perception, and reset your perception of the "status quo". But the devil is in the details because your brain wants to add any increased rewards into a new status quo, and anything that threatens to lower that standard tends to get viewed as a threat. (Including, paradoxically, any discussion of intentionally lowering one's standards or demands for reward!)

There are techniques that address these things, but some ongoing management is required; otherwise within a few months I tend to drift back to being creatively blocked or unmotivated in relation to paid work or work that's aimed at getting paid.

Comment by pjeby on Approving reinforces low-effort behaviors · 2018-01-22T21:46:37.735Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think that using the word "valuing" adds back in confusion that this trichotomy is trying to remove. Wanting is the axis of urgency to act or not act, liking is the axis of feeling enjoyment or suffering, and approving is the axis of feeling morally elevated or disgusted. These are independent axes that can exist simultaneously regardless of time, and which are only made more vague by lumping them together as "valuing".

(Notably, one's experience can be placed simultaneously on all three axes: it is not necessary for these experiences to be separated in time. You can approve or disapprove beforehand and during, not just after. You can want while doing, as well as beforehand.)

Comment by pjeby on Where is the line between being a good child and taking care of oneself? · 2017-06-01T15:53:15.942Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Huh. Looks like the author decided to raise the price and sell it exclusively on their own site. Kind of a pity, since it means dramatically fewer people will even know it exists. Anyway, it's Embrace The Unlovable, by Amyra Mah.

Comment by pjeby on "Flinching away from truth” is often about *protecting* the epistemology · 2017-03-23T15:02:14.381Z · score: 8 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Gendlin seems to think that anything not in the conscious mind is somehow stored/processed out there in the muscles and bones

That's an uncharitable reading of a metaphorical version of the Somatic Marker Hypothesis. Which in turn is just a statement of something fairly obvious: there are physiological indicators of mental and emotional function. That's not the same thing as saying that these things are actually stored in the body, just that one can use physiological state as clues to find out what's going on in your head, or to identify that "something is bothering me", and then try to puzzle out what that is.

An example: suppose I have something I want to say in an article or post. You could describe this "wanting to say something" as my felt sense of what it is I want to say. It is preverbal, because I haven't said it yet. It won't be words until I write it down or say it in my head.

Words, however, aren't always precise, and one's first attempt at stating a thing -- even in one's head -- are often "not quite right". On hearing or reading something back, i get the felt sense that what I've said is not quite right, and that it needs something else. I then attempt new phrasings, until I get the -- wait for it -- felt sense that this is correct.

Gendlin's term "felt sense" is a way to describe this knowing-without-knowing aspect of consciousness. That we can know something nonverbally, that requires teasing out, trial and error that reflects back and forth between the verbal and the nonverbal in order to fully comprehend and express.

So, the essential idea of Gendlin's focusing is that if a person in psychotherapy is not doing the above process -- that is, attempting to express felt, but as yet unformed and disorganized concepts and feelings -- they will not achieve change or even true insight, because it is not the act of self-expression but the act of seaching for the meanings to be expressed that brings about such change. If they are simply verbalizing without ever looking for the words, then they are wasting their time having a social chat, rather than actually reflecting on their experience.

Meanwhile, those bits of felt sense we're not even trying to explore, represent untapped opportunity for improving our quality of life.

[Edited to add: I'm not 100% in agreement with the Somatic Marker Hypothesis, personally: I think the idea of somatic markers being fed back to the brain as a feedback mechanism is one possible way of doing things, but I doubt that all reinforcement involving emotions work that way. Evolution kludges lots of things, but it doesn't necessarily kludge them consistently. :) That being said, somatic markers are an awesome tool for conscious reflection and feedback, whether they are an input to the brain's core decisionmaking process, or "merely" an output of it.]

Comment by pjeby on Abuse of Productivity Systems · 2016-04-16T01:36:49.430Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Bob has replaced a concrete goal (live in France) with a vague abstract one (be cool?). Near motivation trumps far, every time.

Sally assumed that "procrastination" is one thing, rather than a wide variety of things we lump under one name.

(Even though an identity element is implied by the presentation, it's not clear this is directly related to either person's mistake.)

To correct his mistake, Bob needs to consider whether he actually has any concrete reason for learning any other languages: what actual concrete result is desired? Sally's mistake would be resolved by getting clearer on the nature of her specific procrastination and then choosing a more suitable approach for dealing with it.

Comment by pjeby on Happy Notice Your Surprise Day! · 2016-04-02T21:22:15.233Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I only heard about it after it was turned off, and spent my time since wondering if the news stories about the feature were the prank. (That is, that it didn't actually happen and Google merely announced they were turning off a feature that never existed... a kind of meta-prank as it were.)

Comment by pjeby on Meetup : "What is the Intelligence Explosion?" (and more...) LW Melbourne dojo · 2016-03-22T19:51:19.042Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Your map is of Melbourne, Florida, rather than Melbourne, Australia. As a result, the site sent out notices to people in Florida, but (presumably) not people in Australia. I'm not sure what you need to do to correct that.

Comment by pjeby on The art of grieving well · 2015-12-28T04:01:26.053Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don’t think these stages are currently accepted anymore as they are seen to be too rigid.

"Stages" was probably never the right word in the first place: they're more like strategies we use to avoid acknowledging unpleasant truths, and therefore have no required order or progression between them.

Comment by pjeby on Dark Arts: Defense in Reputational Warfare · 2015-12-11T05:18:38.747Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Searching for "Hamming circle" yields only information about hamming codes. Do you have a link?

Comment by pjeby on Dark Arts: Defense in Reputational Warfare · 2015-12-10T18:00:21.421Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Use Goal-factoring and Hemming circle's. Basic rationality techniques.

I've at least heard of goal-factoring. What is/are "Hemming circle's"? Google only turns up articles about sewing.

Comment by pjeby on Nature publishes an article about alternative therapy · 2015-10-30T17:41:30.448Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Given how you were talking about pains, it seems to be a noticeable issue for you

Yes -- it happens a few times a week, depending on circumstances.

Your advice would totally make sense if the baseline issue were that I'm not consuming enough water. But on a baseline day I consume between 1 and 1.5 gallons of water alone, not counting any water in the food I eat, or any other beverages such as almond milk. (I don't consume sodas, fruit juice, coffee, tea, alcohol, or really anything else.)

The problem is that sometimes, that 1-1.5 gallons isn't enough, and there are occasionally days where it's been not enough for a few days in a row, such that I end up running "a few quarts low". (I actually use my scale as another clue: if I've lost a pound or two from one day to the next, and my fat % is higher, then I know I'm dehydrating. But an hour or so difference in time spent sleeping can do the same thing to my weight, so it's not a very precise measurement.)

I don't know, sip 50ml every half an hour or something?

What makes you think I'm not doing that now? As pointed out elsewhere in this thread, my rate of water need is not constant. If I have a couple of days in a row where I underestimate how much I need to raise my intake to compensate for losses like having more conversations or physical exertion than usual (or the air conditioner running more to maintain the temperature inside!), then I will fall behind and experience dehydration symptoms. But if I try to consume more water as a matter of course, then that also disrupts my digestion, makes me feel cold, keeps me running to the bathroom, and so forth.

So, if you don't have some method for actually changing my body's regulation of water, I'm not interested. AFAICT I'm already doing everything that is doable with respect to changing my behavior around water consumption, given the lack of any reliable means for determining my precise water need, in a situation where both under- and over-consumption create health problems.

I'm going to tap out of this discussion now, as my original post was not a request for advice; it was an expression of curiosity about someone saying they experienced headache relief from both placebos and painkillers, making me wonder if it was water-related (since I have some experience of that).

Comment by pjeby on Nature publishes an article about alternative therapy · 2015-10-30T16:04:35.519Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Your body can easily handle an extra cup of water without trouble ... If you are thirsty enough to gain any pleasure from drinking, drink.

Beware the Typical Bladder Fallacy. ;-) (Or just the typical body fallacy.)

You seem to be assuming that I don't already force myself to drink water to this extent. I do. The problem is that there is no sensation that tells me I am "thirsty enough", most of the time. Or more precisely, there is very little correlation between my sensation of thirst and my level of dehydration. I can be thirsty and not dehydrated, but I can also be dehydrated and not thirsty, and slip from one state to the other without noticing. This means I have to use a drinking habit as a workaround, and also check for symptoms like nasal congestion.

If you find talks stressful and this raises your blood pressure

It doesn't matter what the subject matter is, or whom I'm speaking with; what matters is the total time I spend with my mouth open; I salivate profusely and presumably lose quite a bit to evaporation. Likewise, I sweat profusely from almost any amount of physical exertion. In general. In general, my body always acts as if it thinks it has plenty of water and should get rid of it ASAP, at least with respect to those systems that acquire or eliminate water.

Water conservation systems, on the other hand (like my nasal mucus and digestive tract) do seem to notice that I am dehydrating and act to conserve water!

So in general, I notice that my body is confused. ;-) Unfortunately, I'm not yet aware of any means by which I may resolve its confusions about water.

Comment by pjeby on Nature publishes an article about alternative therapy · 2015-10-30T15:45:43.519Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

don't you want to err on the side of more water?

Of course I do. In fact, most of my water consumption is forced, in the sense that I'm drinking without any sensation of thirst. That's the problem: I have little sensation of thirst, unless I'm already drinking. While I'm drinking water I can notice I'm thirsty, or at any rate, that drinking the water is pleasurable. But the rest of the time, I drink by forcing myself to notice that there's water in the 32-ounce glass on my desk and that I should drink it, or that the glass is empty and I should refill it.

But this doesn't help as much as you'd think, because my body doesn't seem to store the water for later demand, and just prompts me to get rid of it instead... then quickly becomes dehydrated again... all with no sensation of thirst except in certain extreme cases. But I can also get too dehydrated to function, without any sensation of thirst.

Comment by pjeby on Nature publishes an article about alternative therapy · 2015-10-28T21:14:07.706Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Have you tried just drinking more on a regular basis?

Yes, but since the presence of such pains is the main thing that tells me I've not had enough, it doesn't help too much. An amount that seems sufficient can be easily overwhelmed by say, some hard work and sweating, and/or the use of the car air conditioner to recover from said hard work. Giving a talk or just having a talk with someone can do it, too. So unless I over-drink some of the time, there will always be situations where I end up under-drinking, in the absence of some finer-gauge way to tell my hydration state. I do at least know now to start chugging after I give a workshop, for example. Before I figured out the hydration link, I used to spend many painful hours recovering after each talk I gave.

Comment by pjeby on Nature publishes an article about alternative therapy · 2015-10-28T18:12:29.746Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I have. I have no evidence that either pain killers or placebos work in any sort of medical sense; I have clear evidence that swallowing a pill causes me to relax, resulting in a immediate reduction in pain.

Do you take the pills with water, and if so, have you tried just drinking the water? I find that water reduces a great many pains for me, including headaches, muscle cramps, and digestive difficulties, so it wouldn't surprise me in the least if the effects you're observing are from water taken with both the pain killer and placebo.

Comment by pjeby on Why Don't Rationalists Win? · 2015-09-05T02:21:26.646Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

The big reason? Construal theory, or as I like to call it, action is not an abstraction. Abstract construal doesn't prime action; concrete construal does.

Second big reason: the affect (yes, I do mean affect) of being precise, is very much negative. Focusing your attention on flaws and potential problems leads to pessimism, not optimism. But optimism is correlated with success, pessimism is not.

Sure, pessimism has some benefits in a technical career, in terms of being good at what you do. But it's in conflict with other things you need for a successful career. TV's Dr. House is an extreme example, but most real people are not as good at the technical part of their job as House nor are the quality of their results usually as important.

Both of these things combine to create the next major problem: a disposition to non-co-operative behavior, aka the "why can't our kind get along?" problem.

Yes, not everyone has these issues, diverse community, etc. But, as a stereotypical and somewhat flippant summary, the issue is that simply by the nature of valuing truth -- precise truth, rather then the mere idea of truth -- one is treating it as being more important than other goals. That means it's rather unlikely that a person interested in it will be sufficiently interested in other goals to make progress there. I would expect it more likely that a person who is not naturally inclined towards rationalism would be able to put it to good use, than someone who's just intellectually interested in rationalism as a conversation topic or as an ideal to aspire to.

To put it another way, if you already have "something to protect", such that rationality is a means towards that end, then rationality can be of some value. If you value rationality for its own sake, well, then that is your goal, and so you can perhaps be called "successful" in relation to it, but it's not likely that anyone who doesn't value rationality for its own sake will consider your accomplishments impressive.

So, the truth value of "rationalists don't win" depends on your definition of "win". Is it "win at achieving their own, perhaps less-than-socially-valued goals? Or "win at things that are impressive to non-rationalists"? I think the latter category is far less likely to occur for those whose terminal values are aimed somewhere near rationality or truth for its own sake.

Comment by pjeby on Pain and gain motivation · 2015-07-03T17:54:11.255Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I don't really know why I do this.

Any self-help technique can be trivially defeated by arguing with it. And anything can be argued with, because the whole point (evolutionarily speaking) of our critical faculties is to find things we can attack in that which we have defined as our enemy. The truth, relevance, or usefulness of the argument is beside the point.

When I read that book I didn't even notice anything about pride or self-worth, honestly. I wasn't reading it because I drink (I don't), but as research into his approach. I found it fascinating because the various arguments I noticed seemed pretty universal to almost anything one might want to quit.

Anyway, I wasn't looking for things to argue with, so I didn't find any. In general, it's not useful to read a self-help book looking for things to argue with: skim over those, and look for things you agree with, or at least things you can consider with an open mind. Carr's books explicitly point out the need for this consideration at the beginning, and you will get more value out of them if you heed that advice.

Do you write about this i.e. new websites as TTD or DS are not maintained much lately?

Mostly I do online workshops with my paying subscribers, and the occasional tweet about things I'm noticing or realizing as they come up.

Comment by pjeby on Pain and gain motivation · 2015-07-02T22:31:49.517Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

you wrote this comment and chapters 6-7 5 years ago, are there any new developments since then?

Quite a lot of them. Sadly, none of them make the overall picture any easier to understand. There seem to be an almost infinite number of "things that work" for some set of problems, but almost nothing that works for all the problems, for all of the people, all of the time. The basic idea of negative motivation is still valid, though, as is the idea that the primary negative motivations that are problematic derive from identity issues or pseudo-moral "shoulds".

instant motivation does not seem to work for me for the goals where you really, truly, are running away from something bad and there is no positive goal to pursue

Yes, that was explicitly stated as a qualifier on the technique: if you can't pass the "mmm" test, it's not going to work.

Example: stopping smoking: the best possible outcome of not smoking is staying as healthy as today, the worst outcome of smoking is early painful death

For such outcomes, I suggest the methods used by Allen Carr: essentially they work by systematically eliminating all the perceived benefits of the activity you wish to cease. His books are basically step-by-step persuasion walking you through the reasoning to achieve a realization that the thing you think you're getting is in fact of no value to you. (This is quite different from negative motion or deciding the act isn't "worth" it: rather, it is the systematic demolishing of any positive motivation towards the act, through deliberately induced disillusionment.)

Example: the kind of jobs one does only to pay bills. In both cases there are no possible positive outcomes to imagine: the best case outcome is things staying as they are now.

The trick to this kind of issue is realizing that your brain is using the wrong baseline for measurement of gain/loss. The correct baseline to use in such a scenario is not how things are now, but how they would be if you didn't have the job. Not having the job is the default case, since if you do nothing, that is the result you will get. ;-)

(I am, of course, omitting any details of how to do this change-of-baseline in this comment, due to the difficulty of describing it briefly, in this medium, in a way that would actually be implementable by anyone without the prerequisite skills of introspection and mind-changing.)

I have no feeling to overwrite the current body feeling (gag reflex, sour face).

You're probably overthinking the technique, which doesn't involve higher cognition at all. Certainly, there is nothing in it about "overwriting" anything. The method is simply intensifying a response long enough to trigger a refractory period, during which the response can't be re-triggered at the same intensity as before, leading to having a new experience or reaction in the context of the original triggering thought or external stimulus. (Not entirely unlike "flooding" as a desensitization technique, though I have no idea whether the mechanism is really the same.)

By the time I wrote about that technique, though, I had already mostly stopped using it, because I'd exhausted all the low-hanging fruit in my personal experience. Some people also get much more value out of it than others; I've had a few people who used it extensively and came back gushing to me about completely transforming their lives... while others are like "meh".

The optimum use seems to be for situations that trigger an immediate and visceral conditioned response that interferes with your ability to think clearly. It can be used to eliminate beliefs when the belief was formed later and as a result of the conditioned feeling, but does not work when it's the other way around.

(That is, if the feeling and belief arose at the same time, from the same event, or if the feeling is the result of a belief, then the feeling elimination technique will probably be of little value. Of course, your conscious estimation of which situation applies is unreliable, which means that until you've exhausted your own low-hanging fruit, it's better to just go ahead and try it, rather than guessing.)

In contrast to the feeling elimination technique, most everything I teach these days can be considered -- in one way or another -- a Ritual For Changing One's Mind. Or, more precisely, I recommend rituals developed by other people, and my work focuses more on identifying what it is in your mind that needs changing, and how to know what to change it to.

And unfortunately, the methods of Changing One's Mind are the relatively easy part of that. Sort of like knowing how to use an IDE (programmer's development tool) doesn't tell you what code to write or how to know where a bug is in your code.

Comment by pjeby on Pain and gain motivation · 2015-07-01T16:22:52.809Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Unfortunately, "true" and "easy to understand" are not synonyms. ;-)

Comment by pjeby on How much do we know about creativity? · 2015-06-10T19:45:10.588Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It might help to taboo "creativity". I know of three major schools of thought on the subject, all of whose definitions I agree with, despite certain of the group(s) claiming that other group(s) are "wrong. ;-)

One group defines creativity in terms of being able to systematically generate novel alternatives for a design problem, or within some target space.

Another defines it in terms of creating... that is, being able to formulate a desired objective in the first place, and pursue a process of bringing it into being by continually comparing and contrasting the desired state with the current state of reality.

A third defines it in terms of fluency - that the mere practice of generating different sequences of output in some medium causes one to develop an intuitive sense of what sequences are likely to be "good" or "bad". (I don't know a ton about this group, but I heard someone give a talk once on this, demonstrating how teaching children to generate sequences of the form 1-2-3, 1-3-2, 2-3-1, 2-1-3, 3-1-2, 3-2-1 would allow them to learn interesting things about music and mathematics in a very short period, by changing e.g. pitch and duration of notes.)

All three of these characteristics -- the ability to hold a vision, generate alternatives to solve specific problems, and be fluent in the low-level expression of your subject area -- seem to be important to any good definition of "creativity". But quite a lot of materials tend to take on only one of these areas, and then usually some relatively small subset thereof.

Comment by pjeby on Rationality Quotes Thread May 2015 · 2015-05-17T14:14:49.931Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Rubber ducking is for when you're uncertain how to proceed. An incident on a military aircraft is not such a situation: there are checklists that detail precisely how you're supposed to proceed, which you'd better be following.

If you are doing problem-solving in a distressed aircraft, and that problem-solving activity is not explicitly listed on the checklist for the current issue, you are Doing It Wrong. And if you're praying in such a scenario, it had better be something like, "grant me the calm and clarity to follow the checklist, so I'm not distracted by any panicky impulses".

Comment by pjeby on Rationality Quotes Thread May 2015 · 2015-05-08T19:49:48.598Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

yeah, that's not going to help

It won't help the situation, but it might help you to better handle the situation. The useful thing about "prayer" isn't that it actually calls down any outside help, but that it forces you to clarify your own thoughts regarding what you want and what would be useful... in much the same way that problem solving is made easier by explaining the problem to somebody else.

Verbal communication forces you to serialize your thoughts, to disassemble what may be a vague or complex structure of interconnecting impulses, ideas, mental models, etc. and then encode it in an organized stream for another mind to re-encode into a similar structure. But the process of doing this forces you to re-encode it as well.

So don't stop using a useful technique for organizing your thoughts, just because there isn't an actual mind on the other end of the encoding process (except maybe yours). Programmers have been known to "rubber duck", i.e., use a literal or figurative rubber duck as the thing to talk to. You're not going to commit some sort of atheist sin by using an imaginary sky deity as your rubber duck. Or ask the Flying Spaghetti Monster to touch you with His Noodly Appendage to grant you the clarity and wisdom you seek. The value of an invocation comes from its invoker, not its invokee.

Comment by pjeby on The Stamp Collector · 2015-05-07T13:53:39.831Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

People will tell you that humans always and only ever do what brings them pleasure.

Actually, Paul Dolan's book "Happiness by Design" offers a better theory: that humans are motivated by two broad classes of feelings that we can dub "pleasure" and "purpose", and that both are required for happiness. In practice, of course, each of these broad classes contains many, many, sub-categories of emotion.

In general, human beings are easier to understand if you don't try to treat them as utility maximizers. We don't have only one stamp counter. (Or rather, we don't have only one future-stamp-count-predictor, which is a good and correct point in your article. That is, that humans try to steer towards desirable states. I'm just pointing out that "desirable" includes a variety of metrics, many of which are better described as "purposeful" rather than pleasurable.)

Comment by pjeby on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, February 2015, chapter 104 · 2015-02-16T17:00:55.048Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

More generally, a gun can be used to disable Harry in all sorts of not-necessarily-fatal ways,

And that's apparently his intent, since it's "pointed at Harry's wand arm". He's not threatening to kill Harry, but only preventing him from using his wand to do anything.

Comment by pjeby on Attempted Telekinesis · 2015-02-11T20:59:42.461Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You could leave, or plug in earplugs, or ask them to stop, all of which might be better than suffering to prove how much you don't suffer!

Yep. This is one area where I differ in application from Byron Katie; I tend to focus heavily on self-applied judgments -- i.e. "I should(n't) X" -- rather than other-applied ones. So in AnnaSalomon's story it seemed to me the real problem was the thought "I shouldn't be petty", since there didn't seem to be any moral judgment being levied against the muncher, vs. against herself.

That being said, Byron Katie is correct that it's a lot easier to work on other-applied judgments and that it's better to learn the method using those first.

(I also sometimes find, oddly enough, that when I get to "who would I be without this thought?" on a self-applied judgment, my mind will sometimes object that if I didn't have this thought, then I'd have to stop being mad at other people for doing the same thing that I'm upset with myself about! I then have to reflect on whether on balance it actually benefits me to be upset at those other people, considering that it rarely motivates them and that the self-judgment is impairing me.)

Comment by pjeby on Attempted Telekinesis · 2015-02-11T20:51:40.206Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

removing many drives that would have been better used as rocket fuel toward action.

That's just it, though: a "should" is not "rocket fuel towards action", unless the most useful action to take is instinctual social punishment fueled by moral indignation.

For example, the only action that's motivated by the thought, "I shouldn't be petty", is self-directed judgment and feelings of guilt, and a futile effort to suppress a feeling of annoyance that you in fact already have.

Our brains seem to have a certain class of counterfactuals whose "intended" evolutionary function is to support the maintenance of social rules through moral indignation. When we think of things in this type of "should" or "shouldn't" mode, it makes us want to punish the entity perceived to be responsible, while at the same time rejecting any personal course of action that doesn't revolve around "setting things right" or "setting people straight".

It's this machinery that drives us to pursue "irrational" levels of revenge, and to expend lots of energy arguing for "the principle of the thing"... but not one bit of energy on actually solving the problem.

And it's deactivating this indignation machinery that the Work is actually all about. That's why all of the worksheets begin with "Judging Your Neighbor" -- specifically directing the intended user to blame some individual for the perceived problem, to amplify the judgmental aspect of the problem to make it easier to spot the implicit (moral) "should" at work

Type 5 problems generally lack such a party, or even if there is one (e.g. blaming somebody for the state of your relationship), getting that blame out of the way then clears a space for working on the actual problem and what you can do about it. (Note again the turnarounds, which highlight what things you actually control.)

I'd be interested in your thoughts on how Byron Katie interacts with Type 5 (worthy uses of shower thoughts and of persistent drive/energy) , or whether you think there are Type 5 cases of persistent wishing/drive that are worth keeping.

I can wish for something without insisting that I should already have it. In fact, I have personally found these two states to be mutually incompatible: if I am insisting I should have done something already, all my energy is tied up in mentally punishing myself for not doing it, rather than being directed towards doing it. Once the "should" is dropped, I can pay attention to whether or not I actually want to do it now, whether it would be a good idea, etc.

In System 2 thinking, there is no difference in types of "should" and "want", and there is symmetry as well. If you don't want something bad, you must want something good, etc.

In System 1, however, there are many different types of toward and away-from motivations, each with different biases for behavior. "Should" thinking biases towards punishment and away from solving the problem, because evolutionarily speaking System 1 doesn't want to clean up somebody else's mess: they should be punished for violating group norms and made to clean up the mess themselves. This makes "should"-motivation the opposite of a "rocket fuel towards action".

Luckily, because there is not only one kind of motivational drive, using a technique that shuts down only one of them does not have any negative impact on your motivation. In practical terms, it actually increases your motivation, as long as there is some consequentialist reason for you to do the thing, not just a programmed injunction regarding what's moral behavior in your tribe.

The tl;dr version: there's no moral "should" in a type 5 problem, and if there were one, then you wouldn't be thinking effectively about it anyway. You'd be stewing over how bad the problem is and why isn't it solved and does nobody recognize the importance, blah blah blah. Get rid of the "should", and as long as there's still a consequentialist reason for you to pursue the matter, you'll actually be able to think effectively about it. Getting rid of "people shouldn't die" doesn't affect "I don't like that people die" or " it would be much better if they didn't, and I'd like to do something about that".

(As a practical matter, asking "is that true?" about many shoulds leads to the insight that no, it isn't true, what's true is that I wish things were different. "I wish I were less petty" is actually more actionable than "I shouldn't be petty", and the same is true for quite a lot of things we have should-feelings about.)

it tends to draw people into classifying nearly all problems as Type 3

Is that true? How do you know? ;-)

It does seem a bit odd for a rationalist to avoid recommending a technique whose first three questions are:

  1. Is that true?
  2. Can you absolutely know that that's true?
  3. How do you act/react when you think that thought?

On the basis that people might conclude too many things they previously believed are false. ;-)

The rest of the technique consists of considering counterfactuals, e.g. "who would I be without that thought?" as a simulation, and finding reasons why contrary/alternate positions could be true... pretty much textbook countering for confirmation bias, cached thoughts, and the like.

"Should"-beliefs can't survive this gauntlet of questions, but factual ones can and do. So ISTM that the Work is a basic form of (perhaps the most basic form) of a Procedure For Changing One's Mind.

Comment by pjeby on Rationality Quotes Thread February 2015 · 2015-02-07T18:01:36.039Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah but it's also easy to falsely label a genuine problem as "practically already solved".

Yeah... but then that's your second problem. ;-)

And that problem exists only in the map, and can be resolved by getting clarity. ;-)

Comment by pjeby on Attempted Telekinesis · 2015-02-07T17:50:35.462Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I expect that The Work of Byron Katie will be particularly useful for your type 3 classification, as it's specifically intended for getting system 1 to update on "X should/shouldn't be/do Y" beliefs. (e.g. "that person shouldn't be making munching sounds")

Per note 6, The Work actually involves a process of asking "Is that true?" about your beliefs, along with some other questions, and some pattern reversals... eg. "I shouldn't be making munching sounds", which helps in realizing that you actually have options.

For example, options that were not obvious before because system 1 was so stuck on the idea that things just shouldn't be that way. (For example, you might suddenly realize that you can wear earplugs, leave the room, politely ask someone to stop, etc.)

Of course, it might be even more helpful to question the belief "I shouldn't be petty", as it would have an even broader positive impact. ;-)

I say that because I've noticed in general that the impulses which propel people to self-improve are precisely the impulses that need to be negated in order for them to actually improve. That, e.g. a desire to "not be petty" leads precisely to a continued experience of one's self as being petty... in much the same way that the desire to not be an inadequate writer leads to a continued experience of feeling inadequate as a writer.

The thing that distinguishes these desires from healthy ones is that they're about you (the generic "you", not you, Anna Salomon specifically), rather than about the world, and that they are trying to avoid a perceived negative about the self, rather than being a desire to improve who you already are. (Even if the surface phrasing of the desire is positive, it's the emotional "tone" (as you called it) that matters.)

"Not being petty" or "being a good enough writer" are self-descriptions, not goals. A goal is, "have a good relationship with person X" or "have a good ad written". These are 1) not about one's self, and 2) can be reduced to positively-stated sensory descriptions of outside-world phenomena, without reference to your internal state.

Conversely, self-directed improvement goals (what Heidi Grant Halvorson calls "be good" goals) are negative descriptions of internal state, and lead to lots of back-and-forth and frustration because there isn't actually anything for you to optimize or move towards. All you can do is continually run headfirst into whatever you are trying to prohibit yourself from experiencing: i.e., the awareness of yourself as being "petty" or an "inadequate writer". Awareness of these self-descriptions triggers a negative self-judgment, which is painful. So your brain tries to avoid awareness, but this only perpetuates whatever outside situation is triggering the awareness (munching, needing to have a finished ad), because you're not doing anything to actually resolve the situation.

So, the solution is to question the belief that one ought not to be petty (or ought to be a good writer, or whatever), so as to discover that it is not necessary to achieve some state of perfect internal grace in order to accomplish one's true, external goals. Systems 1 and 2 will usually object, of course, because System 1 thinks that if you give up on not being petty, something awful is going to happen, and System 2 will back System 1 up with perfectly logical reasons why giving up the injunction to not be petty will in due course lead to the fall of civilization as we know it. ;-)

One of the peculiar side-effects of the way our brains render these personal injunctions is that they act like an override on both System 1 and System 2. We can't actually think about solutions to the problem of a munching noise, if the injunction is triggered by the mere thought of our not liking the noise. (Because in our mind, "not liking a noise" equates to "being petty".) So we don't even get so far as considering solutions, because we're barely even allowed to admit there's a problem.

Which is why just admitting to problems is often a helpful first step. Admitting to one's self that, "yes, actually, I am petty, if petty means disliking munching noises. And yes, I am an inadequate writer, if I define that as "not having written this ad yet"." In each case, the problem isn't the (accurate!) self-definitions, but rather, the belief that the self-definition is horrible and ought to be avoided at all costs. (And/or, the belief that the pejorative labels "petty" and "inadequate" are truly relevant or applicable to the neutral facts of the situation.)

Anyway, an awful lot of stuff is like this. Enough so that I've chosen to primarily specialize in the field of just problems that work like this. Tons of addictive and self-sabotaging behaviors build on things just like this, so I'm not going to run out of people to help any time soon. ;-)

Comment by pjeby on How to learn soft skills · 2015-02-07T17:10:54.804Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Now I don't have to write the LW article on this that I've been meaning to write for years. Thanks! ;-) (I might still write it, but now I don't have to.)

Comment by pjeby on How to save (a lot of) money on flying · 2015-02-05T23:40:28.065Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

When he sells Appointment Reminder, he encourages people to pick a tier based on the cost of one missed appointment rather than based on their particular needs (i.e. the cost of serving them).

It's insanity to ever ask a buyer to value a product based on your cost; that's like an elementary principle of business. But there is a difference in cost, in that in the article you linked, the author talked about 25 extra hours of work he put in just to land that enterprise deal. That is a different cost of the offering, and has to be priced in.

if we use the 'capture as much consumer surplus as possible' definition, both of those are clearly serving the same general function.

There are LOTS of ways to "capture as much consumer surplus as possible". Marketing and sales, for example, are the process of communicating the benefits of your product to a customer in such a way as to make them willing to pay more -- thereby capturing more of their surplus.

Well-run business are always trying to capture as much consumer surplus as possible, so that's not a differentiating factor for what makes something price discrimination, IMO. The portion of consumer surplus a business captures is called profit, so if you're not trying to capture as much of it as you can, you're probably doing something wrong. ;-)

I think this is symmetric, though. The 'added value' of paying the non-coupon price is that you get the time you would have spent managing coupons and to conspicuously consume non-coupons; the 'added value' of paying the enterprise price is often just the conspicuous consumption of non-hobbyism. But if I want coupons to represent price discrimination, then it makes sense to see the enterprise tier as also price discrimination.

The difference is that in the case of the coupons and most other discounted offers, the differentiation is acheived by making a worse product: a factory second, something you have to take more time for, stay over Saturday for, etc.

I think what I'm trying to say is that if your higher-priced customers are trying to bypass your tiering to pay a lower price, then you have price discrimination. If your higher-priced customers are happy to pay more, you have product differentiation. This isn't a perfect bright line, because some customers will always want the better deal. But a good question to differentiate is whether you created your new product by tacking conditions, restrictions, and other annoyances onto a perfectly good product to keep your higher-end people from wanting it, or whether you added premium features onto an existing product to capture people with lower price sensitivity or greater desire to signal their consumption. The latter IMO is product differentiation, the former price discrimination.

There's also an important point you're missing about "enterprise" deals. Yes, enterprises do engage in a certain amount of conspicuous consumption... though it's usually at the multi-milion dollar level. (As the linked article points out, $5K is just a rounding error for an enterprise.) And yes, enterprises can overspend due to it not being the decision maker's money.

BUT... there is a good reason for that. An enterprise values stability over optimum performance, because it relies on lots and lots of mediocre people rather than a few talented ones. The public enterprise's "real" product in some sense is an attractive investment for institutional investors, and that requires actions and systems that look stupid on the surface to people who don't have their money invested in the business (as opposed to say, their time).

It helps to realize that an enterprise is not about making the most money, but making its bosses happy... and the real bosses are the investors, who want their investment to be safe as much as they want it to perform. The downside risk of a bad purchasing choice for a large organization can be immense compared to the upside benefit of the best possible choice. That's why they do what they do, and it's ultimately the investors who are paying for that extra insurance.

Is there waste? Sure. But it's a form of insurance, which is also waste if you never actually need it. The thing is, you don't know (institutionally) whether you're gong to need it, so it's a bad idea to take the risk. Especially since none of the people actually working in the organization get to partake of the upside of a good decision, but will personally be penalized for the bad decision. These factors have zip-all to do with conspicuous consumption. Plenty of employees within a company will happily pay the hobbyist price, but are bound by policies that e.g. require support or SLAs for all software purchases, etc. Or else they have requirements like auditing or whatever it is that trips the "enterprise" flag.

IME, you have to get up to a somewhat higher level of management to have conspicuous consumption as part of turf wars or signaling personal importance, and you're talking six/seven/eight figure deals there, not four or five. The closer you get to the trenches, the less people care about signaling to other managers vs. getting something to help get themselves through the day.

Comment by pjeby on How to save (a lot of) money on flying · 2015-02-05T20:55:31.791Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Software as a service has many examples of price discrimination the other direction

As I said, if you charge somebody more for something, there has to be some added value. Making a deluxe or enterprise version of something where the customer freely chooses to pay more for the extra goodies isn't price discrimination, as I understand the term. That's just "having a range of products".

To be price discrimination, you need to be offering something that's substantially the same, but you want to get more business by not selling it at just one price. Airlines, coupons, etc., as I mentioned above.

You can quibble whether this is the "true" definition of price discrimination, but at that point we're arguing the meaning of words. This is what I mean by price discrimination in this discussion. I consider raising prices without adding extra value to be either "monopoly price gouging" or "correcting your dumb mistake of not charging enough in the first place". ;-)

Many people in companies are willing to pay 10X in order to say they're getting the Enterprise version of software instead of the Hobby version of that software, even if the hobby version covers their use case entirely, for signalling reasons.

Enterprise versions of software generally come with support contracts or SLAs, not to mention features that require more support (such as API access, single sign-on, integrations, etc.) that justify the higher price because they come with higher ongoing costs for the service provider.

Even if the software itself is otherwise identical, an enterprise offering is different, speaking from having personally been on both sides of that particular business. Even if most of the "enterprise" users don't actually end up needing that extra support on a regular basis, it's a legitimate added value to have the protection of choosing the more expensive plan that comes with those guarantees. They're basically paying more for the option to get more help when they need it, or to sue you if something goes wrong.

But even if it were entirely for signaling reasons, that still wouldn't make it price discrimination. It's the buyer's choice whether to take a lower-priced offering, and if the seller adds an enterprise package, it's usually not because they're trying to squeeze more money out of customers they already have. They're doing it because they wouldn't get the enterprise customers at all with their existing offer. (It'd be price discrimination if they needed some way to prevent the enterprise customers from buying the hobby offering.)

While SaaS and PaaS vendors may also have price-discrimination offerings in their lineups (closeouts, old servers, "free" tiers, etc.), their mainline plans are usually priced so that the vendor is indifferent to which pricing plan you buy: they're making a decent living even if everybody picks just one plan, whether it's the lowest or highest priced one.

Again, "price discrimination" as I'm using the term is something used to eke additional revenue out of excess supply without destroying your ability to get your regular price for your regular supply. Merely having a range of products isn't. Even Wikipedia says:

Price differentiation is distinguished from product differentiation by the more substantial difference in production cost for the differently priced products involved in the latter strategy

This is a bit tricky, because as I explained earlier, "production cost" is a bit of a chimera, due to the question of allocating fixed costs and semi-variable costs. But if you offer an enterprise package with support, you have to pay for some extra support staff capacity just to have them available in the event that this is the month the customer decides to use it. Few of a business's production costs are truly variable, unless you're somebody like Uber, who can instantly hire/fire their drivers. (And they still have lots of fixed and semi-variable costs.)

Anyway, the point is that most SaaS/PaaS companies' pricing tiers are based on varying costs between the tiers, which makes them product differentiation, not price discrimination per Wikipedia.

That being said, the Wikipedia article is actually pretty vague about the distinction at times and notes that only "some" economists argue that signaling premiums make something price discrimination rather than product differentiation. My personal opinion is that perceived value, not "production cost" forms a relatively bright line between price discrimination and product differentiation. If the buyer considers the higher-priced product more valuable, IMO that's product differentiation. If they consider it the "same thing" (e.g. DVDs, airline flights), it's price discrimination.

Comment by pjeby on How to save (a lot of) money on flying · 2015-02-05T17:13:02.034Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Those look equivalent; one is defined in terms of intention, and the other in terms of mechanism.

Pretty much. Except that the type of discrimination I've been discussing is capturing low end surplus, by making use of a seller's excess supply that would go to waste unsold at a higher price. For example, if a factory can produce X many widgets a month, but the market will only support Y widget sales at their full price, then they can sell X-Y widgets at any price higher than the truly variable costs (i.e., consumables only) and receive the difference as pure profit. This is extremely lucrative for the company, and benefits consumers who would or could not have bought the widgets at the higher price. But it only works if the company can prevent its full-price buyers from getting them at the lower price.

And every real-world example of price discrimination I know of works like this. Coupons, loss-leaders, rebates, special fares, sales, closeouts, last-minute vs. advance prices, factory outlets/seconds... heck, I just saw a real estate agent's ad offering to sell your house at no commission... if you use him to buy your next house. Granted, that's not exactly a tiny market segment, and is probably a bit more like a specialization than it is true price discrimination.

Anyway, the idea that a business raises prices to squeeze more money out of a select group is mostly silly; only a poorly managed business would establish its going rate any lower than what the top end of the market can bear in the first place! Ergo, any other prices offered for the "same" widgets are going to be lower, and any new higher prices will be justified by added value in the new offering, or else the market won't pay the higher price.

(Absent monopoly power, of course. Comcast keeps raising the rental rate for its modems, for example, without providing any new benefits. And that is price gouging, not price discrimination. In a market with real competition, you can't price discriminate by raising prices for a select group without some sort of justification, if you want to keep making sales to that group.)

Comment by pjeby on How to save (a lot of) money on flying · 2015-02-05T02:33:30.963Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This does fall under "price gouging" just as I suspected (though you use the more morally neutral term "price discrimination",

These aren't synonyms. "Gouging" implies that somebody is raising prices in order to make extra profit than the usual. Price discrimination is generally someone lowering prices to a market segment in order to pick up extra business, without lowering all their prices, in order to get the advantages I described above. AFAIK, the airlines didn't actually raise their rates when they were deregulated -- they lowered some of them to get more business. (I could be wrong about that though.)

I do find it ... counter-intuitive ... to morally chastise defection strategies fighting price gouging on the part of consumers, because of how incredibly often businesses defect against consumers. Businesses break unenforceable contracts constantly, so it's hard to be persuasive when appealing to the "little guy" consumer's honor against the airline industry as a whole.

I think it's a mistake to think this is a you-vs-the-airline scenario, precisely because the airline has more power than individuals. The airline can't be forced to do business at a loss, which means that non-cheaters will -- one way or another -- be paying to subsidize the cheaters. (Whether it's in higher cost or lower availability.)

Comment by pjeby on How to save (a lot of) money on flying · 2015-02-04T19:39:39.509Z · score: 14 (18 votes) · LW · GW

Can you comment on whether the existence of the loophole does or does not indicate that the airline is charging more than it needs to / why the destruction of the loophole does or does not eliminate some sort of market inefficiency and/or undermine a price gouging strategy?

I've bowed out of the thread as a whole, but since this is a technical question and not a moral one, I'll go ahead and reply. ;-)

First, a bit of background. Under standard cost accounting assumptions, you can say that a seat on an airplane "costs" a certain amount, based on taking the total cost of staffing, maintenance, fuel, etc. Each of these cost allocations is largely arbitrary, however: the truth is that the airline has certain fixed and variable overheads, period, and if the flight is happening at all, the vast majority of those costs have nothing to do with how many people actually travel on the flight. But let's say that we arbitrarily assign costs equally for every seat on the plane, and call that the "fair" price.

(Or, more precisely, the "equal cost allocation" or ECA price, since this "fairness" is just a System 1 intuition that breaks down under closer inspection.)

If airlines asked the ECA price for every seat on every flight, it would be a fairly high amount. This would be more "fair", under some intuitions, but would result in lots of travel not happening at all. People who found the ECA price too high for their intended use, would not buy the ticket. This would result in ECA prices rising, because the airline still has fixed costs for the flight as a whole. When we divide those costs by the (new, lower) number of people actually flying, the cost goes up. Indeed, the airline has to charge an amount that's enough to cover the flight if only a few people show up, or it has to have the option to cancel the flight as underbooked, or it has to offer fewer flights to raise the demand for each flight.

Now we have a market inefficiency:

  • There are empty seats on flights that nobody can use
  • The few people who travel are paying exorbitant amounts to do so, and
  • You can't choose between very many flights.

Under this condition, everybody loses!

Price discrimination solves this problem by decoupling "price" and "cost". The truth is, there is no such thing as how much a seat on a plane "costs": the allocation of fixed overheads and flight overheads is arbitrary and made-up. What really matters is the total revenue brought in by the flight. Our ECA price is a fiction, and discarding that fiction allows us to offer better prices for everybody.

As long is there is some way for the airline to sell at different prices to different people, they can get closer to selling out their flights, by offering the ECA price only on average, rather than by asking everyone to pay it. A business traveler who could afford an ultra-high ECA will actually pay less than under the inefficient-market ECA condition, because the flight is full of vacationers paying smaller amounts to make up for the difference. The vacationers get a lower-than-current ECA price, because there are business travelers making up the difference (though still not paying the inefficient-market ECA price).

This is why the airlines have all the weird fare rules, like roundtrips being cheaper if they cross over a weekend. It's why they want the name of the person traveling, and charge for changes. These are all things designed to separate vacationers from business travelers, so that the plane can be filled and the costs all covered.

The problem is, if business travelers succeed at pretending to be vacationers (e.g. by using half of a pair of round-trip tickets, or wrapping round trips so as to create a fake weekend stayover), then the flight fills up, but at a below-current ECA price. The airline loses money, because they can't make up in volume what they're losing on every seat. That's why they have all sorts of gotchas and enforcement on these loopholes.

Unfortunately, human beings' System 1 intuitions tell them that if somebody is paying $X for a seat, then that must be the "fair" price for any seat on the plane, and that the airline ought to charge everybody that price. So the fare rules are widely despised, even though the result of not having them would be everybody paying a higher price, for fewer seats on fewer flights, if they can fly at all.

Anyway, the specific loophole discussed in this article ("Hidden city ticketing", per Wikipedia) doesn't come from this particular form of price discrimination. It's a different form that basically is done to compete with airlines offering direct flights between two cities, A and B. The airline offering the deal seeks to serve A<->B passengers without adding a direct flight, by using excess capacity that's available on the A<->C and C<->B routes. The airline can offer these seats below the A<->C ECA, because it expects not to fill them with other A<->C or A<->Wherever passengers anyway.

The problem is that if lots of people who were paying something close to the full-flight ECA price for an A<->C ticket, now switch to using hidden city ticketing, they are now losing the airline money on the A<->C flight, because there are more people paying less, instead of some people paying more and others paying less. The airline now has to start raising the direct A<->C price in order to make up the difference, creating more price instability.

tl;dr: Price discrimination is efficient in a market sense, even though it often feels "unfair" to System 1 (because different people are paying different prices for the "same" thing), thereby motivating people to try to work around the discrimination. But successfully working around the discrimination increases the actual unfairness, since the price you get is now discriminated in part by how much extra work you're willing to do to game the system, and because the business is then motivated to make things more discriminatory or is forced to change what offerings it makes available.

(This is what makes loopholes anti-inductive and the use of loopholes a prisoner's dilemma "defection", because you are defecting against your fellow consumers in a game where if everyone defects, everyone loses. That's why talking about such a loophole is so foolish: you are encouraging more people to defect, which reduces the number of co-operators whose cooperation you're exploiting. Even assuming you're going to defect in a PD game like this, telling other people about it is probably the stupidest thing you can do, from a game theory/policy perspective, and that principle applies to a lot more things than airplane tickets.)

Comment by pjeby on How to save (a lot of) money on flying · 2015-02-03T22:41:28.379Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

No one is saying "I will fly these routes"; they're saying "I will buy these tickets". which the airlines have offered to sell to people traveling from point A to point B, and under terms which expressly prohibit jumping off at point C. Terms that you generally have to check a box saying you're agreeing to.

In any case, the part that makes it deception is that the seller wouldn't consent to the sale if you told them what you were up to. If your general approach to interacting with people is that you'll happily deceive them in order to get better terms in your deals, then by all means proceed.

If you want to say, "well, I don't think an airline is an entity deserving of weight in my moral calculation", fine. But let's not pretend that the act itself is not a matter of obtaining consent through false pretenses, one that we would roundly condemn in another context, where our moral intuition is more inclined to see the object of the deception as a powerless victim instead of a powerful entity that can afford to be deceived.

At the very best, you could maybe say that what you're doing is Not Technically Lying.

In any event, my other point still stands: telling other people how to exploit anti-inductive loopholes is a dumb idea, even if your moral calculus doesn't cover the entities upon whom the loophole is being practiced.

PUAs, for example, became victims of their own success when they promoted canned pickup routines to the point that every bar-going female in an area began hearing the same routines regularly from different men, and every stock market strategy destroys itself if it becomes popular enough. Presumably both PUAs and traders -- even if they don't place any moral weight on the welfares of their respective "prey" -- do not benefit from having their techniques become irrelevant, and having to develop new ones.

(OTOH, I suppose people who train PUAs or traders actually do benefit from the churning of methods that results... so I guess the rule should be, "you do not talk about anti-inductive loophole club, unless you stand to profit more from its promotion and eventual replacement than you do from the loophole itself". But that's getting a bit longwinded and off-point.)

Anyway, I think that some people have drawn the inference that I have a moral objection to people cheating the airlines. I think it's more accurate to say that I think people who cheat the airlines and then talk about it in public are behaving irrationally.

IOW, I'm not so much saying OP is evil, as I'm saying OP is not evil enough. HPMOR!Quirrel's rule number two is "Don't brag", after all. ;-)

If I knew about an awesome loophole of this nature, I would absolutely not post it on lesswrong. I would not even post it on a super-secret private forum for people who figure out awesome loopholes for exploiting airlines. You cannot unshare a secret.

Not every revealed loophole is as anti-inductive as stock market strategies. Ad blockers, for example, probably won't destroy the internet unless a major browser vendor includes one and turns it on by default. But if you gain substantial value from a loophole, and you already consider your welfare more important than that of others, it's an unnecessary risk to publicize the loophole -- especially if it involves revealing to the public that you are exploiting that loophole.

It occurs to me, though, that by arguing about this, I may be making a similar meta-level error as Eliezer did when he deleted the basilisk. By arguing the point, I may have actually brought more attention to the topic, rather than less, while failing to actually educate anyone about the stupidity of the underlying ideas (either the loophole itself, or talking about loopholes).

Perhaps the more important rule is, "Do not try to silence people talking about fight club, because that just makes people more interested in fight club."

So on that note, I'm going to abandon this thread altogether.

Comment by pjeby on How to save (a lot of) money on flying · 2015-02-03T21:53:24.053Z · score: 4 (12 votes) · LW · GW

I can't help but notice that only one of your comments on this article has actually addressed (let alone disputed) the substance of anything I've said. All the others just bring up something new (and at best tangentially related), with applause and boo lights attached. So I'm going to stop replying to you now.

Comment by pjeby on How to save (a lot of) money on flying · 2015-02-03T21:47:57.095Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW · GW

The seller has no business knowing my intentions or trying to discriminate on their basis.

I'll take this to mean then, that you will happily lie to people to get them to have sex with you as well, since you don't believe people should be allowed to condition their consent on accurate information about your intentions.

Comment by pjeby on How to save (a lot of) money on flying · 2015-02-03T21:29:15.625Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't see much analogy with software piracy and so on, since this would be more like sneaking onto a flight without buying a ticket.

Software piracy isn't theft, so sneaking on without buying a ticket isn't actually analagous. (And in any case, you're thinking about the receiving end, not the giving end.)

When you redistribute something that's sold under terms that say, "don't copy and distribute this", you are breaking the contract you entered into with the seller. And if you intended to do it when you bought the thing, then you entered into that contract fraudulently.

This is analagous to fraudulently entering into a ticket contract to go from point A to point B, when you actually intend to go to the intervening point C.

In both cases, the seller would never have consented to the purchase at the offered price if they knew what your intentions were, which is what makes your purchase fraudulent.

Comment by pjeby on How to save (a lot of) money on flying · 2015-02-03T21:22:33.449Z · score: 4 (14 votes) · LW · GW

I do the same thing every time I price check an item and buy it from the cheapest vendor, every time I use a coupon or a promotion, every time I wait for a sale. Welcome to capitalism.

Wait, what?

First off, buying things from the cheapest vendor only harms other people if you're destroying the market for higher-quality goods. And it isn't harming the vendor at all!

Second, buying from the cheapest vendor doesn't involve deception.

Skiplagging or whatever you call it is buying an airline ticket under false pretenses. It's like telling a girl in a bar you're interested in a long-term relationship (full trip ticket) when in fact your goal is to get laid (go to the hub) and you don't plan to call her again after you skip out (abandon trip at the layover).

IOW, you may engage in a deception because you don't care about the other party's welfare, but it doesn't make you any less of an asshole or a contract breaker. And promoting to other people that they should deceive others for their personal short-term benefit makes you even more of an asshole.

When somebody offers to do something for a specific group of people, and you pretend to be in that group, you're obtaining their consent by fraud. Not liking the somebody in question doesn't give you a license to be an asshole, and neither does a feeling of entitlement that the girl or airline "ought" to give you the terms you want.

We can all dislike airline price segmentation all we want. But lying to the airline to get a better deal is fraudulent, and the moral justification for fraud ought to be considerably more substantive than, "welcome to capitalism!"

Comment by pjeby on How to save (a lot of) money on flying · 2015-02-03T20:35:32.632Z · score: 7 (15 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, this reason is airlines trying to make more money through customer segmentation.

I'm perfectly fine with sabotaging their efforts in this regard.

Are you also fine with making it more expensive for other people to fly, for your convenience?

How about file sharing to sabotage the efforts of authors, musicians, etc. to "make more money"?

I'm not saying your position is wrong -- just asking whether it's consistent.

In any case, promoting the use of self-defeating strategies is either foolish or evil. Either you're foolish because you don't realize you're going to lose use of the loophole yourself, or you're evil because you're deliberately creating a tragedy of the commons, destroying multiple sources of value for multiple parties. (When the fares or authors go away, everybody loses, not just the airlines or authors.)

If you find an anti-inductive loophole, for heaven's sake don't talk about it.

The first rule of anti-inductive loophole club is that you do not talk about anti-inductive loophole club.

Comment by pjeby on How to save (a lot of) money on flying · 2015-02-03T20:17:12.092Z · score: 13 (15 votes) · LW · GW

In addition to all the direct, personal-consequence issues mentioned by gwillen as to why you shouldn't do this, there are also knock-on effects for other people. For example, if enough people do this on a specific route, it can lead to the price changing for everybody, or to the airline dropping the route altogether. (Leaving other people worse off as a result of your actions.)

This is because there's a reason these weird fares exist, and it's to compete with direct flights provided by other carriers, to pick up business they wouldn't otherwise get. When you skip out on a flight midway, you remove the airline's economic incentive to offer the reduced fare in the first place. As with stock market strategies, this makes such techniques anti-inductive: they will only work so long as few or no people actually use them.

If you know about an anti-inductive loophole in a system, the last thing you should do is advertise its existence or promote its use, unless your intention is to get rid of the loophole. (And if getting rid of the loophole hurts other people as a side effect, then perhaps it's not such a good idea.)

Comment by pjeby on Rationality Quotes Thread February 2015 · 2015-02-01T21:59:11.855Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

a problem only counts as solved when it's actually gone.

And there are a surprising number of problems that disappear once you have clarity, i.e., they are no longer a problem, even if you haven't done anything yet. They become, at most, minor goals or subgoals, or cease to be cognifively relevant because the actual action needed -- if indeed there is any -- can be done on autopilot.

IOW, a huge number of "problems" are merely situations mistakenly labeled as problems, or where the entire substance of the problem is actually internal to the person experiencing a problem. For example, the "problem" of "I don't know where to go for lunch around here" ceases to be a problem once you've achieved "clarity".

Or to put it another way, "problems" tend to exist in the map more than the territory, and Adams' quote is commenting on how it's always surprising how many of one's problems reside in one's map, rather than the territory. (Because we are biased towards assuming our problems come from the territory; evolutionarily speaking, that's where they used to mostly come from.)

Comment by pjeby on Welcome to Less Wrong! (7th thread, December 2014) · 2015-01-29T16:42:26.999Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I discovered because someone left a printout of an article on the elliptical machine in my gym. I started reading it and have become hooked.

What article was that?

Comment by pjeby on Control Theory Commentary · 2015-01-26T21:54:25.787Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

want 'satisficer' to keep the original intended sense of "get X to at least this particular threshold value, and then don't worry about getting it any higher." I think controls point at... something I don't have a good word for yet, but 'proportioners' that try to put in effort appropriate to the level of error.

And yet, that's what they do. I mean, get X to a threshold value. It's just that X is the "distance to desired value", and we're trying to reduce X rather than increase it. Where things get interesting is that the system is simultaneously doing this for a lot of different perceptions, like keeping effort expenditure proportionate to reward.

if something needs to be done, then you need to try, because the effort is more important than the effect.

I don't understand this. People put forth effort in such a situation for various reasons, such as:

  • Lack of absolute certainty the attempt will fail
  • Embarassment at not being seen to try
  • Belief they would be bad if they don't try

etc. It's not about "effort" or "effect" or maximizing or satisficing per se. It's just acting to reduce disturbances in current and predicted perceptions. Creating a new "proportioner" concept doesn't make sense to me, as there don't seem to be any leftover things to explain. It's enough to consider that living beings are simultaneously seeking homeostasis across a wide variety of present and predicted perceptual variables. (Including very abstract ones like "self-esteem" or "social status".)

Comment by pjeby on Control Theory Commentary · 2015-01-26T17:34:18.005Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

FWIW, my enthusiasm over PCT has cooled considerably. Not because it's not true, just because it's gone from "OMG this explains everything" to just "how things work". It's a useful intuition pump for lots of things, not the least of which is the reason humans are primarily satisficers, and make pretty crappy maximizers. (To maximize, we generally need external positive feedback loops, like competition.)

(It's also a useful tool for understanding the difference between what's intuitive to a human and intuitive to an AI. When you tell a human, "solve this problem", they implicitly leave all their mental thermostats to "and don't change anything else". Whereas a generic planning API that's not based on a homeostatic control model implicitly considers everything up for grabs, the human has a hererarchy of controlled values that are always being kept within acceptable parameters, so we don't e.g. go around murdering people to use their body parts for computronium to solve the problem with. This behavioral difference falls naturally out of the PCT model.)

At the same time, I have seen that not everything is a negative-feedback control loop, despite the prevalence of them. Sometimes, a human is only one part of a larger set of interactions, that can create either positive or negative feedback loops, even if individual humans are mostly composed of negative-feedback control loops.

Notably, for many biological processes, nature doesn't bother to evolve negative control loops for things that didn't need them in the ancestral environment, due to resource limitations or competition, etc. If this weren't true, superstimuli couldn't exist, because we'd experience error as the stimulus increased past the intended design range. And then we wouldn't e.g. get hooked on fast food.

That being said, here's an example of something "self-help useful" about the PCT model, that is not (AFAIK) predicted by any other psychological or neurological model: PCT says that a stable control system requires that higher level controls operate on longer time scales than lower ones. More precisely, a higher-level perceptual value must always a function of lower-level perceptions sampled over a longer time period than the one those lower-level perceptions are sampled on. (Which means, for example, that if you base your happiness on perceptions that are moment-to-moment rather than measured over longer periods, you're gonna have a bad time.)

Another idea, stated in a lot of "traditional" self-help, is that you can't get something until you can perceive what it is. Some schools treat this as a hierarchical process, and a few even treat this as a formalism, ie., that your goal is not well-formed until you can describe it in terms of what sensory evidence you would observe when the goal is reached. And even my own "desk-cleaning trick", developed before I learned about PCT, is built on a perceptual contrast.

And speaking of contrast, the skill of "mental contrasting" is all the rage these days, and it's also quite similar to what PCT says about perceptual contrast. (Not to mention being similar the desk-cleaning trick.)

However, there's a slight difference between what PCT would predict as optimal contrasting, and what "mental contrasting" is. I believe that PCT would emphasize contrasting not with anticipated difficulties, but rather, with whatever the current state of reality is. As it happens, Robert Fritz's books and creativity training workshops (developed, AFAICT independently of PCT) take this latter approach, and indeed the desk-cleaning trick was the result of me noticing that Fritz's approach could be applied in an instantaneous manner to something rather less creative than making art or a business. (Again, prior to PCT exposure on my part.)

I would be interested to see experiments comparing "mental contrasting" as currently taught, with "structural tension" as taught by Fritz and company. I suspect that they're not terribly different, though, because one byproduct of contrasting the goal state and current state is a sudden awareness of obstacles and/or required subgoals. So, being told to look for problems may in fact require people to implicitly perform this same comparison, and being told to do it the other way around might therefore only make a small difference.

Comment by pjeby on Approval-directed agents · 2014-12-14T19:04:24.808Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I do not understand how anything you said relates to the weakness of your argument that I've pointed out. Namely, that you've simply moved the values complexity problem somewhere else. All your reply is doing is handwaving that issue, again.

Human beings can't endorse actions per se without context and implied goals. And the AI can't simply iterate over all possible actions randomly to see what works without having some sort of model that constrains what it's looking for. Based on what I can understand of what you're proposing, ISTM the AI would just wander around doing semi-random things, and not actually do anything useful for humans, unless Hugh has some goal(s) in mind to constrain the search.

And the AI has to be able to model those goals in order to escape the problem that the AI is now no smarter than Hugh is. Indeed, if you can simulate Hugh, then you might as well just have an em. The "AI" part is irrelevant.

Comment by pjeby on Approval-directed agents · 2014-12-14T03:31:40.536Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think you've moved all the complexity into distinguishing the difference between "outcome" and "action".

IOW, taboo those terms and try to write the same proposal, because right now ISTM that you're relying on an intuitional appeal to human concepts of the difference, rather than being precise.

Even at this level, you're leaving out that Hugh doesn't really approve of actions per se -- Hugh endorses actions in situations as contributing to some specific, salient goal or value. If Arthur says, "I want to move my foot over here", it doesn't matter how many hours Hugh thinks it over, it's not going to mean anything in particular...

Even if its the first step in a larger action of "walk over there and release the nanovirus". ;-)

Comment by pjeby on Rationality Quotes December 2014 · 2014-12-12T06:14:49.179Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I think it means something more like, "don't expect the behaviors that pleased adults when you were a child, to get you anywhere as an adult. Children are considered pleasing when they're submissive and dependent, but adults are respected for pleasing themselves first."

The rationality connection is, well, winning.

Comment by pjeby on Where is the line between being a good child and taking care of oneself? · 2014-12-09T23:26:45.382Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I have too much grudge yet to have a real choice.

A grudge is what the algorithm for "they owe me and I think I can collect via social pressure" feels like from the inside. This implies that you still believe:

  1. They owe you something, and
  2. It's possible to collect

Both of these statements are false, but it's easier to start with the second one. Admit the truth: barring a miracle, you are never going to collect this "debt", because it's not one your parents will ever acknowledge. Indeed, I would guess that if someone held a gun to their heads and insisted they repent, they'd be like, "What are you talking about? We didn't do anything to her!"

When you finally admit to yourself that this is true, there won't be a grudge any more, because the grudge is nothing more than your brain's insistence that you should be able to collect, in denial of the fact that you can't collect. Use the Litany of Gendlin and the Litany of Tarski here, or the questions from The Work of Byron Katie, which is particularly effective at resolving grudges and judgments directed at other people.

One of the things Byron Katie sometimes says about these kinds of judgments is that in order to free yourself, you have to want to know the truth, more than you want to be right, or than you want to get whatever it is from that person. The truth will set you free, but first it's going to annoy the hell out of you. ;-)

Comment by pjeby on Where is the line between being a good child and taking care of oneself? · 2014-12-07T00:53:47.092Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The right answer is that they would not pay attention to me being good enough. They would concentrate on her being worse than me. And try to make me help her be at least as good as me (and also push her). Since being exactly the same is not really possible, she would end up being better than me, again. And I would be even more disappointed.

The key thing to focus on here is that even when you were better, they still didn't treat you with the love or respect or appreciation that you are looking for. That's the part you need to connect with, to realize on an emotional level that it's not really about you.

Your brain is doing something I call the Prime Conclusion/Prime Assumption pattern. It goes sort of like this:

  • The Prime Assumption: If I were good enough, then other people would care.
  • The Prime Conclusion: If others don't care, then I am not good enough.

The Prime Assumption is actually false: your parents wouldn't care even if you were good enough, as your experience already proves. There is no level of "good enough" that is sufficient to make them act differently.

The really good thing is, once you break this assumption, the conclusion is also broken. You will realize then that, if no amount of "good enough" will get you care, then that means the care is not under your control. It is not your responsibility to do anything to make them care, and you will stop feeling "not good enough". (More precisely, you'll no longer interpret your parents' behavior as meaning you're not good enough, and it will be more difficult -- though not impossible! -- for your parents to make you feel inadequate.)

You and others, who say "this relationship is unfixable" really say "you were right, you only doubted too much."

I don't say the relationship is unfixable, actually. When you actually let go of wanting/needing pats on the back from them, then you'll have a real choice about whether to continue relating to them or not. You won't be coming from a place of neediness and shame, and will be able to set better boundaries. Nobody can predict exactly what form your relationship with them will take. You may find that you can love them for who they are, or you may find that you don't actually enjoy their company and choose not to spend time with them. You may find that you can set effective boundaries. Who knows?

What is unfixable is not the relationship per se, but your intention to obtain love, appreciation, etc. from them. You already know from experience that you can't get it, but you haven't yet realized it "in your heart" (i.e., the emotional/alief side of your brain). The book I suggested can help a lot with that.

When we try to get love and respect from others, feeling we don't have it ourselves, it's not because we actually don't deserve them, and it's not because we actually need for other people to have a particular opinion about us. What really happens is that we feel bad when we share those people's opinions of ourselves.

Since you've assumed that you being good enough would result in care (Prime Assumption), you conclude that the lack of care means you're not good enough (Prime Conclusion). Once you've concluded this, you then proceed to not care for yourself, either. You don't treat yourself with the kindness, respect, appreciation, etc. that you actually deserve.

However, if you realize that this idea is wrong, you can learn to give yourself that kindness and respect and love that you're missing -- and won't feel the need to act a certain way around your parents, or the need to convince them to act a certain way around you. (Again, the book I suggested will help a lot with this.)