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Comment by ricketybridge on Open Thread for February 11 - 17 · 2014-02-14T18:51:37.371Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

CFAR style rationality training might sound less impressive then changing around peoples neurology but it might be an approach with a lot less ugly side effects.

It's a start, and potentially fewer side effects is always good, but think of it this way: who's going to gravitate towards rationality training? I would bet people who are already more rational than not (because it's irrational not to want to be more rational). Since participants are self-selected, a massive part of the population isn't going to bother with that stuff. There are similar issues with genetic and neurological modifications (e.g. they'll be expensive, at least initially, and therefore restricted to a small pool of wealthy people), but given the advantages over things like CFAR I've already mentioned, it seems like it'd be worth it...

I have another issue with CFAR in particular that I'm reluctant to mention here for fear of causing a shit-storm, but since it's buried in this thread, hopefully it'll be okay. Admittedly, I only looked at their website rather than actually attending a workshop, but it seems kind of creepy and culty--rather reminiscent of Landmark, for reasons not the least of which is the fact that it's ludicrously, prohibitively expensive (yes, I know they have "fellowships," but surely not that many. And you have to use and pay for their lodgings? wtf?). It's suggestive of mind control in the brainwashing sense rather than rationality. (Frankly, I find that this forum can get that way too, complete with shaming thought-stopping techniques (e.g. "That's irrational!"). Do you (or anyone else) have any evidence to the contrary? (I know this is a little off-topic from my question -- I could potentially create a workshop that I don't find culty -- but since CFAR is currently what's out there, I figure it's relevant enough.)

Given how things are going technology involves in a way where I don't think we have to fear that we will have no energy when coal runs out. There plenty of coal around and green energy evolves fast enough for that task.

You could be right, but I think that's rather optimistic. This blog post speaks to the problems behind this argument pretty well, I think. Its basic gist is that the amount of energy it will take to build sufficient renewable energy systems demands sacrificing a portion of the economy as is, to a point that no politician (let alone the free market) is going to support.

This brings me to your next point about addressing politics instead of neurology. Have you ever tried to get anything changed politically...? I've been involved in a couple of movements, and my god is it discouraging. You may as well try to knock a brick wall down with a feather. It basically seems that humanity is just going to be the way it is until it is changed on a fundamental level. Yes, I know society has changed in many ways already, but there are many undesirable traits that seem pretty constant, particularly war and inequality.

As for solar as opposed to other technologies, I am a bit torn as to whether it might be better to work on developing technologies rather than whatever seems most practical now. Fusion, for instance, if it's actually possible, would be incredible. I guess I feel that working on whatever's practical now is better for me, personally, to expend energy on since everything else is so speculative. Sort of like triage.

Comment by ricketybridge on A few remarks about mass-downvoting · 2014-02-14T05:30:15.662Z · score: 0 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Completely agreed. That's why some subs only do +, no -. I cannot defend the current system. ;-)

Comment by ricketybridge on Open Thread for February 11 - 17 · 2014-02-14T01:39:01.495Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think you underrate the existential risks that come along with substantial genetic or neurological enhancements.

It's true, I absolutely do. It irritates me. I guess this is because the ethics seem obvious to me: of course we should prevent people from developing a "supervirus" or whatever, just as we try to prevent people from developing nuclear arms or chemical weapons. But steering towards a possibly better humanity (or other sentient species) just seems worth the risk to me when the alternative is remaining the violent apes we are. (I know we're hominds, not apes; it's just a figure of speech.)

When it comes to running out of fossil fuels we seem to do quite well. Solar energy halves costs every 7 years.

That's certainly a reassuring statistic, but a less reassuring one is that solar power currently supplies less than one percent of global energy usage!! Changing that (and especially changing that quickly) will be an ENORMOUS undertaking, and there are many disheartening roadblocks in the way (utility companies, lack of government will, etc.). The fact that solar itself is getting less expensive is great, but unfortunately the changing over from fossil fuels to solar (e.g. phasing out old power plants and building brand new ones) is still incredibly expensive.

Comment by ricketybridge on Open Thread for February 11 - 17 · 2014-02-14T01:26:51.327Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The core question is: "What kind of impact do you expect to make if you work on either issue?"

Do you think there work to be done in the space of solar power development that other people than yourself aren't effectively doing? Do you think there work to be done in terms of better judgment and decision-making that other people aren't already doing?

I'm familiar with questions like these (specifically, from 80000 hours), and I think it's fair to say that I probably wouldn't make a substantive contribution to any field, those included. Given that likelihood, I'm really just trying to determine what I feel is most important so I can feel like I'm working on something important, even if I only end up taking a job over someone else who could have done it equally well.

That said, I would hope to locate a "gap" where something was not being done that should be, and then try to fill that gap, such as volunteering my time for something. But there's no basis for me to surmise at this point which issue I would be able to contribute more to (for instance, I'm not a solar engineer).

To me it seems much more effective to focus on more cognitive issues when you want to improve human judgment. Developing training to help people calibrate themselves against uncertainty seems to have a much higher return than trying to do fMRI studies or brain implants.

At the moment, yes, but it seems like it has limited potential. I think of it a bit like bootstrapping: a judgment-impaired person (or an entire society) will likely make errors in determining how to improve their judgment, and the improvement seems slight and temporary compared to more fundamental, permanent changes in neurochemistry. I also think of it a bit like people's attempts to lose weight and stay fit. Yes, there are a lot of cognitive and behavioral changes people can make to facilitate that, but for many (most?) people, it remains a constant struggle -- one that many people are losing. But if we could hack things like that, "temptation" or "slipping" wouldn't be an issue.

The problem with coal isn't that it's going to run out but that it kills hundred of thousands of people via pollution and that it creates climate change.

From what I've gathered from my reading, the jury is kind of out on how disastrous climate change is going to be. Estimates seem to range from catastrophic to even slightly beneficial. You seem to think it will definitely be catastrophic. What have you come across that is certain about this?

Comment by ricketybridge on A few remarks about mass-downvoting · 2014-02-13T18:53:03.491Z · score: 8 (12 votes) · LW · GW

I agree. Getting downvoted feels bad man, no matter the reason.

Comment by ricketybridge on Open Thread for February 11 - 17 · 2014-02-13T03:03:45.331Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Since people were pretty encouraging about the quest to do one's part to help humanity, I have a follow-up question. (Hope it's okay to post twice on the same open thread...)

Perhaps this is a false dichotomy. If so, just let me know. I'm basically wondering if it's more worthwhile to work on transitioning to alternative/renewable energy sources (i.e. we need to develop solar power or whatever else before all the oil and coal run out, and to avoid any potential disastrous climate change effects) or to work on changing human nature itself to better address the aforementioned energy problem in terms of better judgment and decision-making. Basically, it seems like humanity may destroy itself (if not via climate change, then something else) if it doesn't first address its deficiencies.

However, since energy/climate issues seem pretty pressing and changing human judgment is almost purely speculative (I know CFAR is working on that sort of thing, but I'm talking about more genetic or neurological changes), civilization may become too unstable before it can take advantage from any gains from cognitive enhancement and such.On the other hand, climate change/energy issues may not end up being that big of a deal, so it's better to just focus on improving humanity to address other horrible issues as well, like inequality, psychopathic behavior, etc.

Of course, society as a whole should (and does) work on both of these things. But one individual can really only pick one to make a sizable impact -- or at the very least, one at a time. Which do you guys think may be more effective to work on?

[NOTE: I'm perfectly willing to admit that I may be completely wrong about climate change and energy issues, and that collective human judgment is in fact as good as it needs to be, and so I'm worrying about nothing and can rest easy donating to malaria charities or whatever.]

Comment by ricketybridge on Open Thread for February 3 - 10 · 2014-02-13T00:32:15.558Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, that accurately describes their effect on me.

I used to be on Buproprion, but it had unpleasant physical effects on me (i.e. heart racing/pounding, which makes sense, given that it's stimulant-like) without any noticeable mood effects. I was quite disappointed, since a friend of mine said he practically had a manic episode on it. However, I took it conjunction with an SNRI, so maybe that wouldn't have happened if I'd just taken it on its own.... Idk.

I'm actually surprised my psychiatrist hasn't recommended an MAOI to me in that case, since she freaks the hell out when I say I'm suicidal, and I've done so twice. I'll put MAOIs at the bottom of my aforementioned new to-do list. :)

Comment by ricketybridge on Open Thread for February 3 - 10 · 2014-02-12T23:31:26.801Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Huh, interesting. Up-managing one's doctor seems frowned upon in our society -- since it usually comes in the form of asking one's doctor for medications mentioned in commercials -- but obviously your approach seems much more valid. Kind of irritating, though, that doctors don't appear to really be doing their job. :P

The exchange here has made me realize that I've actually been skipping my meds too often. Heh.... :\ So if I simply tighten that up, I will effectively increase my dosage. But if that doesn't prove to be enough, I'll go the route you've suggested. Thanks! :)

Comment by ricketybridge on Open Thread for February 11 - 17 · 2014-02-12T22:31:10.304Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, thanks. :)

Comment by ricketybridge on Open Thread for February 11 - 17 · 2014-02-12T21:23:06.669Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

EA? (Sorry to ask, but it's not in the Less Wrong jargon glossary and I haven't been here in a while.)

Parasite removal refers to removing literal parasites from people in the third world

Oh. Yes. I think that's important too, and it actually pulls on my heart strings much more than existential risks that are potentially far in the future, but I would like to try to avoid hyperbolic discounting and try to focus on the most important issue facing humanity sans cognitive bias. But since human motivation isn't flawless, I may end up focusing on something more immediate. Not sure yet.

Comment by ricketybridge on Open Thread for February 11 - 17 · 2014-02-12T21:09:30.535Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

How cool, I've never heard of CFAR before. It looks awesome. I don't think I'm capable of making a lot of money, but I'll certainly look into CFAR.

Edit: I just realized that CFAR's logo is at the top of the site. Just never looked into it. I am not a smart man.

Comment by ricketybridge on Open Thread for February 11 - 17 · 2014-02-12T20:57:03.950Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

people basing morality on fiction.

Yes, and that seems truly damaging. I get the need to create conflict in fiction, but it seems to come always at the expense of technological progress, in a way I've never really understood. When I read Brave New World, I genuinely thought it truly was a "brave new world." So what if some guy was conceived naturally?? Why is that inherently superior? Sounds like status quo bias, if you ask me. Buncha Luddite propraganda.

I've actually been working on a pro-technology, anti-Luddite text-based game. Maybe working on it is in fact a good idea towards balancing out the propaganda and changing public opinion...

Comment by ricketybridge on Open Thread for February 11 - 17 · 2014-02-12T08:32:13.891Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Identifiable_victim_effect

True, true. But it's still hard for me (and most people?) to circumvent that effect, even while I'm aware of it. I know Mother Theresa actually had a technique for it (to just think of one child rather than the millions in need). I guess I can try that. Any other suggestions?

Also, would you still want to save a drowning dog even if it might bite you out of fear and misunderstanding? (let's say it is a small dog and a bite would not be drastically injurious)

I'll pretend it's a cat since I don't really like small dogs. ;-) Yes, of course I'd save it. I think this analogy will help me moving forward. Thank you! ^_^

Comment by ricketybridge on Open Thread for February 11 - 17 · 2014-02-12T07:43:19.487Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, true. All things shall pass.

Comment by ricketybridge on Open Thread for February 11 - 17 · 2014-02-12T07:42:09.653Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Serious, non-rhetorical question: what's the basis of your preference? Anything more than just affinity for your species?

I'm not 100% sure what you mean by parasite removal... I guess you're referring to bad decision-makers, or bad decision-making processes? If so, I think existential risks are interlinked with parasite removal: the latter causes or at least hastens the former. Therefore, to truly address existential risks, you need to address parasite removal.

Comment by ricketybridge on Open Thread for February 11 - 17 · 2014-02-12T07:31:58.968Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You're of course correct. I'm tempted to question the use of "better" (i.e. it's a matter of values and opinion as to whether its "better" if humanity wipes itself out or not), but I think it's pretty fair to assume (as I believe utilitarians do) that less suffering is better, and theoretically less suffering would result from better decision-making and possibly from less climate change.

Thanks for this.

Comment by ricketybridge on Open Thread for February 11 - 17 · 2014-02-12T07:23:11.534Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I assume you're talking about the facepalm-inducing decision-making? If so, that's a pretty morbid fascination. ;-)

Comment by ricketybridge on Open Thread for February 11 - 17 · 2014-02-12T07:22:16.762Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Oh yeah, I'm not saying Spivak's Calculus doesn't provide good training in proofs. I really didn't even get far enough to tell whether it did or not, in which case, feel free to disregard my comment as uninformed. But to be more specific about my "not liking", I just found the part I did read to be more opaque than engaging or intriguing, as I've found other texts (like Strang's Linear Algebra, for instance).

Edit: Also, I'm specifically responding to statements that I thought referring to liking the book in the enjoyment sense (expressed on this thread and elsewhere as well). If that's not the kind of liking they meant, then my comment is irrelevant.

It's a much more advanced book, more suitable for a deeper review somewhere at the intermediate or advanced undergraduate level. I think Axler's "Linear Algebra Done Right" is better as a second linear algebra book (though it's less comprehensive), after a more serious real analysis course (i.e. not just Spivak) and an intro complex analysis course.

Damn, really?? But I hate it when math books (and classes) effectively say "assume this is true" rather than delve into the reason behind things, and those reasons aren't explained until 2 classes later. Why is it not more pedagogically sound to fully learn something rather than slice it into shallow, incomprehensible layers?

Comment by ricketybridge on Open Thread for February 11 - 17 · 2014-02-12T07:08:33.202Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

lol yeah, I know what you're talking about.

Okay okay, fine. ;-)

Comment by ricketybridge on Open Thread for February 3 - 10 · 2014-02-12T02:54:21.994Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes. :)

But...

;-)

You should check out my response to one of the other comments--I think it's even more "yes, but"! I kind of see what you mean, but it sounds to me like just a way of saying "believe x or else" instead of giving an actual argument.

However, the ultimate conclusion is, I guess, just getting back on the horse and doing whatever I can to treat the dysthymia. I'm just like... ugh. :P But that's not very rational.

Thanks for the feedback.

Comment by ricketybridge on Open Thread for February 11 - 17 · 2014-02-12T02:46:59.585Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

For what it's worth, I'm doing roughly the same thing, though starting with linear algebra. At first I started with multivariable calc, but when I found it too confusing, people advised me to skip to linear algebra first and then return to MVC, and so far I've found that that's absolutely the right way to go. I'm not sure why they're usually taught the other way around; LA definitely seems more like a prereq of MVC.

I tried to read Spivak's Calc once and didn't really like it much; I'm not sure why everyone loves it. Maybe it gets better as you go along, idk.

I've been doing LA via Gilbert Strang's lectures on the MIT Open CourseWare, and so far I'm finding them thoroughly fascinating and charming. I've also been reading his book and just started Hoffman & Kunze's Linear Algebra, which supposedly has a bit more theory (which I really can't go without).

Just some notes from a fellow traveler. ;-)

Comment by ricketybridge on Open Thread for February 11 - 17 · 2014-02-12T02:40:07.929Z · score: 5 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Sometimes I feel like looking into how I can help humanity (e.g. 80000 hours stuff), but other times I feel like humanity is just irredeemable and may as well wipe itself off the planet (via climate change, nuclear war, whatever).

For instance, humans are so facepalmingly bad at making decisions for the long term (viz. climate change, running out of fossil fuels) that it seems clear that genetic or neurological enhancements would be highly beneficial in changing this (and other deficiencies, of course). Yet discourse about such things is overwhelmingly negative, mired in what I think are irrational kneejerk reactions to defend "what it means to be human." So I'm just like, you know what? Fuck it. You can't even help yourselves help yourselves. Forget it.

Thoughts?

Comment by ricketybridge on Open Thread for February 3 - 10 · 2014-02-11T23:51:53.168Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I am thoroughly familiar with Feeling Good and feel that I can argue circles around it. My original statement (that I'll fail at everything) is an example of "overgeneralization" and "fortune telling." But this sounds to me like just a way of stating the problem of induction: nothing can ever be certain or generalized because we don't know what we don't know etc. etc. However, science itself basically rests on induction. If I drop a steel ball (from the surface of this planet), will it float, even if I think positively really hard? No. It won't. Our reason makes conclusions based on past evidence. If past evidence suggests that attempts lead to failure, why ISN'T it reasonable to assume that future attempts will lead to failure? Yes, the variables will be different, I guess, but it's still a gamble. If you think I should give it a go anyway, then you may as well advise me to buy lottery tickets, imo. And I just can't dredge up the sufficient motivation to pursue something with chances like that.

An equally valid frame would be to think that some outside circumstance was responsible (bad economy, say) or that you had not yet mastered the right skill set.

Kind of funny that you suggest blaming external forces instead of taking personal responsibility, but okay. I would say the latter is the case for me: I did not master the sufficient skill set, even after ten years or whatever. The people who are successful in my field do so MUCH earlier. So, okay, I didn't master the right skill set. I don't see how that's supposed to make me feel any better. It doesn't change my shitty situation. And it only makes me question, well why didn't I? I wanted to; I attempted to. Clearly, I did something wrong. I either don't have sufficient talent at my field or talent at learning to have mastered those skills.

But those are innate and permanent traits, which you (and many others) apparently consider invalid, which I don't really get, but I'll accept it for the moment. So due to non-innate and temporary faults, I failed to achieve my objectives. Again, how is this supposed to make me feel better? Because I'm supposed to believe those faults have mysteriously vanished, or I can work to improve them? Even if that's so, the rewards that are reasonable to expect from attempting to improve them seem so minimal at this point that, again, it doesn't seem worth bothering about. I'm willing to concede that this is depressive thinking, but it seems to me more like a difference of opinion than disordered reasoning: some people think hard work with little reward or low chance of a big reward is fun; I do not. It's no different that my hating a movie you like and vice versa.

Comment by ricketybridge on Open Thread for February 3 - 10 · 2014-02-11T23:14:02.551Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

consider that your depression likely is making you pessimistic about your prognosis.

Yes, I've heard this before, but I don't see why any reasonable, non-depressed person would be pessimistic about it. As I've said, it's not like this is the first time I've ever been depressed in my life and I'm irrationally predicting that I can't be cured. And I've heard stories like yours before: people who were depressed until they found the right combination of medications. But in my situation, my psychiatrists have gone back and forth between different combinations and then right back around to the ones I already tried. Changing them up YET AGAIN just feels like shuffling the deck chairs around on the Titanic (but of course I'd say that). If there are tons more different medications to try as you assert, none of my psychiatrists seem to know about it.

To be fully clear, anti-depressants have had an effect on me. I definitely don't feel unbearably miserable and anxious as I do without them. They just haven't gotten me to 100%.

I GUESS I could ask my psychiatrist to try yet another combination I haven't tried before. But it just sounds like a nuisance, frankly.

As for exercise, yes, I've heard that countless times. I used to be much more active, and don't recall it ever having a palpable effect on my mood. Nowadays, it's just not gonna happen. I've tried to get myself to exercise, with some occasional success, but with my work schedule, when it finally comes time to do it, I flatly refuse. You could say, "you just gotta find something you enjoy!!" But I'm depressed! I enjoy nothing! (/sarcasm) I guess I could make sure to make time for hiking (probably what I enjoy the most) or get a membership at an expensive gym near work (which would be the most convenient arrangement for me) but the fact that exercise never particularly had an effect on me makes me not particularly motivated to do so.

Comment by ricketybridge on Open Thread for February 3 - 10 · 2014-02-11T22:41:34.676Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I asked that of someone else when they made the same statement about ECT. The most common side effect is memory loss. You prompted me to look into the details, and I guess I wouldn't mind losing a couple months of memory (usually the only permanent effect). However, the jury appears to be out on ECT as well, so it may not even be worth it.

I actually looked at that exact website you linked to about ketamine. I'm all for it! However, all those studies are also across the country from me. Although you could say that quitting my job and staying across the country for 2 months is worth the chance of treating my depression, I'm not certain that the possible benefits outweigh the risk of being unemployed, and potentially for a long time, given the current labor market. After all, I could end up just in the control group and have no treatment at all, or the treatment could be ineffective.

Also, just for the sake of clarity, I was wrong: I'm actually not clinically depressed; I have dysthymia, which is a chronic low-grade depression (i.e. I can still function, go to work, seem normal, etc.). Maybe this is why none of my psychiatrists have recommended ECT, even when I was suicidal? Idk.

Comment by ricketybridge on Open Thread for February 3 - 10 · 2014-02-11T04:04:58.408Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If my depression does explain my failures, then I really am pretty much destined to fail in the future since this appears to be treatment-resistant depression and as I described, I've run out of treatment options. Thanks anyway.

Comment by ricketybridge on Open Thread for February 3 - 10 · 2014-02-11T02:36:22.142Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Sigh, well, I've been trying to fix it for about ten years (so as long as I've been failing. Coincidence?? Probably not). I'm on 2 anti-depressants right this minute (the fourth or fifth cocktail of which I've tried). I've gone through years of therapy. And the result? Still depressed, often suicidally.

So what else am I supposed to do? I refuse to go to therapy again. I'm sick of telling my whole life story over and over, and looking back on my past therapists, I think they were unhelpful at best and harmful at worst (for encouraging me to pursue my ludicrous pipe dreams, for instance). Moreover, talk therapy (including cognitive behavioral therapy, which some say is the most effective form) is, according to several meta-studies I've looked at, of dubious benefit.

I could try ECT, but apparently it has pretty bad side-effects. I've looked into submitting myself as a lab rat for deep brain stimulation (for science!), but haven't been able to find a study that wouldn't require quitting my job and staying somewhere across the country for two months. So here I am.

But if we can sidestep the ad hominem argument for a moment, it sounds like you're saying that my aversion to failing at something else is irrational. Would you mind pointing out the error in my reasoning? (This sort of exchange is basically cognitive behavioral therapy, btw.)

Comment by ricketybridge on Open Thread for February 3 - 10 · 2014-02-11T02:16:46.989Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

lol I almost added a sort of disclaimer addressing that. Yes, I am definitely clinically depressed -- partly due to my having failed so epically, imo, but of course I'd say that. ::eyeroll:: However, I don't see the benefit in just discounting everything I say with the statement "you're depressed." Not that you did, but that's the usual response people usually seem to give.

No one succeeds constantly. Success generally follows a string of failures.

Yeah, so they say. But you have to admit that the degree of success and the length of strings of failures are quite different for each person. If that weren't true, then every actor would be a movie star. Moreover, success is never guaranteed, no matter how many failures you've endured!

Comment by ricketybridge on Open Thread for February 3 - 10 · 2014-02-11T01:56:19.469Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

There's no point in getting specific if I think I'll fail at anything I try to do.

Comment by ricketybridge on Open Thread for February 3 - 10 · 2014-02-11T01:42:08.425Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Purely financially speaking, the costs of a career transition could range from opportunity costs to hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt if I decide to get a masters or something. Opportunity costs would be in the form of, say, foregoing income I would get from more intently pursuing my current field (e.g. becoming a paralegal, which is probably the most obvious next step) instead of studying another field and starting all over again with an entry-level position or even an unpaid internship.

Although less pay might sound rather benign, the idea of making less than I do now (which isn't much) is rather horrifying. But then again, so is being condemned to a lifetime of drudgery. And I could potentially make a lot more in a different career track, meaning I would break even at some point.

Between those two extremes include things like spending several hundred dollars on classes or certifications.

I'm not married and don't have kids, so luckily those sorts of concerns don't enter the equation.

The emotional costs of trying another career (if you want to take those into account as well) would be utter heartbreak from failing yet again (if that's how it turns out).

Another intangible cost is leisure time. Instead of pursuing another career on my off-hours, I could be playing video games, sleeping, working out, hanging out with friends, etc. Although those things might seem like not a big deal to sacrifice in the name of a better career, after wasting years of my life on fruitless pursuits, I can't help but feel that "hard work" just isn't worth it. I may as well have been playing video games that whole time.

Comment by ricketybridge on Open Thread for February 3 - 10 · 2014-02-11T00:45:41.657Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm dealing with a bout of what I assume is basically superstition. Over the last 10 years, I've failed disastrously at two careers, and so I've generalized this over everything: I assume I'll fail at any other career I want to pursue, too.

To me, this isn't wholly illogical: these experiences prove to me that I'm just not smart or hard-working enough to do anything more interesting than pushing paper (my current job). Moreover, desirable careers are competitive practically by definition, so failing at every other career I try is an actual possibility.

Theoretically, perhaps I just haven't pursued the career I'm "really" talented at, but now I'm far too old to adequately pursue whatever that might be. (There's also the fact that sometimes I feel so discouraged that I don't even WANT to pursue a career I might like ever again, but obviously that's a different issue.)

I obviously don't want to be one of those mindless "positive thinking" idiots and just "go for it" and "follow my heart" and all that crap. And I assume you guys won't dish out that advice. But am I overreacting here? Is it in fact rational to attempt yet another career, or is it safe to assume any attempt will most likely fail, and instead of expending energy on a losing battle, I may as well roll over and resign myself to paper-pushing?

Comment by ricketybridge on Rationalist Fiction · 2013-01-12T08:07:22.615Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Truth. :P

Comment by ricketybridge on Rationalist Fiction · 2013-01-12T08:06:24.864Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I loved Mathnet! ^_^ 1 1 2 3 5 -- eureka!

Comment by ricketybridge on Rationalist Fiction · 2013-01-12T08:04:56.564Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The geth in Mass Effect had a huge effect on me in this regard. I know that might sound crazy, but for me, they definitely meet your criteria of "a powerful experience of using rationality." Now, of course I can point out a few instances where I don't feel the geth don't exactly act very rationally, but the mere suggestion of such an existence blew my mind. I started wondering, in a way I had never done before, "what, really, IS the purpose of existence? If I were a geth, why would I bother to exist, let alone fight for my survival? Is the intention to survive really just purely irrational?" and so on and so forth. Imo, there is a direct line of causality tracing from my exposure to the geth to being on this very website.

Yay geth! :3

Comment by ricketybridge on Group rationality diary, 1/9/13 · 2013-01-12T00:37:09.135Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Right, yes, those factors definitely do affect people's odds in my field. The facts that my parents aren't major players and that I didn't go to the right schools definitely hurts my chances. However, those aren't the only determining factors. Many people who did go to the "right" schools have not succeeded and many people who did not, have.

One major factor, however, is my age. Some say that it doesn't matter, that I'm still young, but the majority of people who succeed in this business get their first significant job in their 20s. Having just turned 30, I failed to achieve that milestone, which I would imagine lowers my chances significantly.

Supposedly, from what I've heard from multiple people in the business, if someone creates a great product, no matter who they are, they will be noticed, but I guess it's the very odds that I'm even capable of creating a great product on par with my maximally-qualified peers that worries me. I've had some indications of ability (e.g. getting into one of the top grad schools), but constant rejection has made me question that. This is why reading about deliberate practice, as I mentioned above, has given me a smidgin of hope.

However, the third possibility (pure luck) is indeed true as to some extent well. There's just no predicting what will "hit" and what won't. And typically those things are sort of mindless or trendy or otherwise somehow seize the popular zeitgeist, and unfortunately I tend not to think in that way. Although I'm thinking of basically training myself to do so...

As a post on 80000hours said about entrepreneurship, it's a game of poker, not roulette. In that case, I can't say I've been dealt the best hand, but I can try to play it right.

Anyhow, those are the reasons I estimate that my personal chances--not just those of the general public--are about 1%. But who knows, they may be much lower.

Comment by ricketybridge on Group rationality diary, 1/9/13 · 2013-01-11T21:24:42.388Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The short answer is that I'm fairly confident about it and I'm fairly confident in the calibration of my confidence levels.

The long answer relies on my clarifying, I think, what I mean by "would rather do." I'll define it as "interesting enough to me to want to spend a significant number of years of my life on." I actually started getting really burned out on my current pursuit, so if you'd asked me this question about a week ago, I would have answered that I'd rather just get some dumb job and play video games in my free time for the rest of my life, but now I feel much more invigorated about it (primarily due to reading about deliberate practice), and when it comes to actually applying myself to something, this is the thing I'm most interested in.

The only runner-up, as I mentioned in the linked post, is something involved in charity work, ideally something a bit analytical and strategic. I've also toyed with the idea of doing something more math-related, but math has always been a weakness for me, though I enjoy it, so I doubt it would be best to pursue that professionally.

Through 80000hours.org, I learned that I could have just been suffering from familiarity bias--i.e. that I'm only considering types of jobs I'm aware of when there could be something I'm not aware of that I would love--so I looked through the descriptions of a bunch of careers, and I just couldn't bring myself to care about any of them. From what I gather about human psychology, I'm sure if I chose, at random, a career that I'd be likely to be good at, I'd come to like it and be happy, and that's pretty much what I'll do once it's clear that I've failed at my current pursuit, but there's no strong argument for jumping to that stage prematurely. I'll be a few more years behind in that case than if I quit and jumped to something else now, but since I don't currently value succeeding in other fields anyway, it seems as though I may as well continue rolling the dice for a while.

Comment by ricketybridge on Group rationality diary, 1/9/13 · 2013-01-11T17:51:00.017Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I posted my current conundrum on the mentoring thread (http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/929/less_wrong_mentoring_thread/89c2), but since that's a pretty old thread, I figured I'd post a shortened version here, if you don't mind...

Here's my preliminary conclusion: I've been pursuing a profession that has (from what I've been able to tell) about a 1% chance of making a living at it. These are horrible odds, but since there's nothing I'd really rather do, it's like choosing between $5 and a 1% chance of getting $500, except that even if I don't get the $500, I still get the $5 ($5 representing, in my case, a job I'm not really interested in).

Does this sound rational? :\

EDIT: In a way, it's like the "just lose hope already" thing, but hopefully I'm avoiding that pitfall since I'm going to be adjusting my goals and strategy.

Comment by ricketybridge on New Post version 1 (please read this ONLY if your last name beings with a–k) · 2013-01-11T01:08:00.097Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This is hysterical. :) Very entertainingly told, with excellent self-awareness.

Comment by ricketybridge on Less Wrong mentoring thread · 2013-01-11T00:37:56.225Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Hitting the 1% outcome would of course be the most awesome (or heck, even better, the 0.000001% jackpot), but the most realistic two possible choices are (effectively) more dead children or fewer dead children, in which case I'm gonna have to go with fewer dead children as being more awesome.

Thinking of that as the chosen course of action immediately made me feel a bit bitter or resentful--the feeling I get from, for instance, pondering living in a worse apartment so I can have more money to give to charity (a decision I was faced with a few months ago)--but a dead child is obviously less awesome than feelings of resentment. Ugh. This is starting to feel like a "the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak" sort of thing.

EDIT: When I contemplate assuming that the morality case is settled and choosing to continue pursuing this 1% chance, the choice is between spending a few more years as a hopeless gambler and doing something with better odds. Honestly, I can't pick which of these is more awesome. They both seem pretty sad to me (which is pretty ironic given the fact that I was feeling resentful over the idea of NOT continuing to be a gambler in the above paragraph). If it's truly a toss-up, then theoretically I should go with quitting, since it is definitely the better alternative in the binary choice outlined in the previous paragraph.

Then again... if I do quit, I'm sure I would often wonder "what would have happened if...?" but surely guarding against regret isn't a consideration to include in a rational decision-making process. I'm not haunted by a thought like this every time someone wins the lottery, for example. I feel like I could safely say "What would have happened? You would have wasted a few more years and then started the career you have now." Even so, why can't I let go? I guess that's a textbook form of akrasia, but that really only gives it a label; not what I'm supposed to do about it. Does this seem like I should make a concerted effort to overcome my akrasia in this instance? (I know, I'm a total mess!!!)

Another EDIT!: It occurs to me that the ambivalence I'm suffering is actually due to this: http://lesswrong.com/lw/1cv/extreme_risks_when_not_to_use_expected_utility/

"Would you prefer a 50% chance of gaining €10, one chance in a million off gaining €5 million, or a guaranteed €5? The standard position on Less Wrong is that the answer depends solely on the difference between cash and utility. If your utility scales less-than-linearly with money, you are risk averse and should choose the last option; if it scales more-than-linearly, you are risk-loving and should choose the second one. If we replaced €’s with utils in the example above, then it would simply be irrational to prefer one option over the others."

It's funny, because I was literally formulating this exact sort of scenario a few hours ago to describe my situation. Although I'm typically risk-averse, in this situation (perhaps because I value the field so highly), I'm willing to risk it. The idea that it's not, in fact, illogical to do so (albeit immoral, for the reasons stated above, but if I were willing to go along with that conclusion, I'd basically end up living like Diogenes, and that's just not going to happen), makes me willing to go ahead with it.

But please feel free to point out if and how my line of thinking has gone awry! :)

Comment by ricketybridge on Less Wrong mentoring thread · 2013-01-10T23:50:10.802Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

TL;DR: Should I give up my highly risky and possibly even immoral career pursuit and go into charity work or not?

I've spent the last 6 years (from ages 24-30) trying to get into a career that’s incredibly competitive, with little to show for it (I’m purposefully not revealing what it is, so as not to conjure up any biases people may have about it). From what I've read, this is par for the course, and it could easily take a few more years to break in, but the base rate of success is about 1%. Of course, strategizing and training smarter than I have been should theoretically help, but sheer luck definitely does play a factor in this field. In most situations with odds like this (e.g. raffles), I wouldn’t bother betting so much as a dime. Should I not extend that conclusion to my career? (I of course assume that no one on here will reply with “just follow your passion no matter what!” ;-) )

One could argue that, unlike raffles, I’m not risking anything this situation: even if I totally fail, I will have still gained whatever skills and life experience from the attempt, aka even if I lose, I win. However, there are moral considerations:

In 80,000 hours parlance, I would consider this a relatively “unethical” field with middle-class income as the most realistic possibility, and since I don’t have any expertise in any other field, including anything related to charity or high-earning, there’s no reason not to select this profession for moral reasons except for the fact that, as with any business, it takes money to make money. And the idea of spending, say, $2000 for the chance of making a living at this profession versus another seems immoral to me. To translate that into a thought exercise, it’s as if someone is telling me that if I shoot two children in the head (i.e. a conservative estimate of the number of children that money could have saved had I sent it to a charity instead of investing in this risky career), I get to roll a 100-sided die to see if I luck out with my intended career (which will likely pay only just as much as any other middle class career, so there’s no reason to believe I’d be able to make up for that $2000 and save an even greater number of lives, especially since I already intend to give as much as I’m comfortable giving). Since I wouldn’t shoot the two children even for 100% chance of success, I obviously wouldn’t do it just for a 1% chance.

I could theoretically restrict myself to only cash outlays that have a pretty certain certain ROI or only engage in things that require no initial investment, and I know of many people who (as far as I know) succeeded at this business in that way, but I would imagine that that restriction hobbles my chances even more. Although the “even if I lose, I still win” thing would technically still be true, I would think I’d end up getting immensely frustrated with essentially shooting myself in the foot and feel like I was wasting my time and energy that could be more productively spent doing something else.

This seems rather convincing to me (so if you detect any errors in logic, please let me know!), so why am I posting it here? I suppose it’s because something’s holding me back. I can’t cut the cord. I’m still harboring that hope that “I’ll be one of the lucky ones.” I’m like that guy hunched over the craps table at two in the morning after gambling his life savings away saying “just one more roll, one more roll...” I feel like this clinging must be at least partially due to the American “you can do whatever you set your mind to” crap that’s been drilled into my subconscious my entire life. It must also be partially due to the fact that I’ve considered my field the “most importantest thing ever,” as untrue as that may be, ever since I was a kid, which is probably largely due to my father's influence. There’s no other field or job I find interesting, except some charity stuff, but as I said, I have no expertise or training in that, would just be taking a job away from someone else, that’s a competitive field too, etc.

Any advice/suggestions/comments/manifestos?

Thanks! :)

Comment by ricketybridge on Knowing About Biases Can Hurt People · 2013-01-09T01:56:39.863Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Given the unbelievable difficulty in overcoming cognitive bias (mentioned in this article and many others), is it even realistic to expect that it's possible? Maybe there are a lucky few who may have that capacity, but what about a majority of even those with above-average intelligence, even after years of work at it? Would most of them not just sort of drill themselves into a deeper hole of irrationality? Even discussing their thoughts with others would be of no help, given the fact that most others will be afflicted with cognitive biases as well. Since this blog is devoted to precisely that effort (i.e. helping people become more rational), I would think that those who write posts here must have reason to believe that it is indeed quite possible, but do you have any examples of such improvement? Have any scientists done any studies on overcoming cognitive bias? The ones I've seen only show that being aware of cognitive bias barely removes its effects.

It almost seems like the only way to truly overcome cognitive biases is to do something like design a computer program based on something you know for sure you're not biased about (e.g. statistics that people formed correct opinions about in various experiments) and then run it for something you are likely to be biased about.

I apologize if there are already a bunch of posts (or even comments!) answering this question; I've been on the site like all day and haven't come across any, so I figured it couldn't hurt to ask.