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Comment by sediment on Open thread, Apr. 01 - Apr. 05, 2015 · 2015-03-31T17:56:43.803Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Ambiguous between sarcasm and sincerity :(

Comment by sediment on Open thread, Apr. 01 - Apr. 05, 2015 · 2015-03-31T17:47:01.185Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

On putting all one's charitable eggs in one basket:

I note that GiveWell recommend splitting one's charitable giving between their top charities in a certain ratio. But it seems that this would reduce the expected value of one's giving. Is this considered by others to be the best way to donate, or is it better to give all of one's donation to that single charity estimated to be most effective? I imagine this is the sort of thing that has already been discussed, so pointers to any previous discussion would be of use.

Comment by sediment on Why I Reject the Correspondence Theory of Truth · 2015-03-26T21:01:21.822Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Always glad to see pragmatism represented on LW. I feel like rationalist types instinctively lean towards a correspondence theory of truth, but I feel like as a group, they are actually (or at least, could be) more sympathetic to the pragmatist view of truth than they realized.

This post follows pretty closely the argument I was going to make in a LW-targeted defence of pragmatism of my own which I had been half-heartedly planning to post for a long time. Thanks for doing a good job of it.

Comment by sediment on [link] If anyone wants to discuss Gödel, Escher, Bach, we have a read-through of it going in /r/rational. Join us! · 2015-03-26T20:55:19.310Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

No.

Comment by sediment on [link] If anyone wants to discuss Gödel, Escher, Bach, we have a read-through of it going in /r/rational. Join us! · 2015-03-22T21:17:42.926Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

But the preface is extensive and interesting, and contains his updated thoughts on several aspects of the book.

Comment by sediment on Open thread, Feb. 9 - Feb. 15, 2015 · 2015-02-21T20:52:01.296Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That's the ticket! Thanks so much.

Comment by sediment on Open thread, Feb. 9 - Feb. 15, 2015 · 2015-02-15T14:57:33.842Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Weird; I'm starting to wonder whether I imagined the whole thing. Your link helps, at least, though. Thanks.

Comment by sediment on Open thread, Feb. 9 - Feb. 15, 2015 · 2015-02-13T09:20:34.776Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I seem to recall a discussion thread about ways one can spend money to save time (e.g. paying to get one's laundry done), together with estimates for their respective dollar/hour rates. I'm moving from unemployed to full-time employment this week, so the appropriate dollar value of my time is about to shift dramatically, and as such, I'd like to give this thread another look over, but I can't find it. Can anyone else remember what I'm talking about and/or provide a link? Thanks.

Comment by sediment on Bragging Thread February 2015 · 2015-02-12T18:26:06.058Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW
  • Got a job in the field that I took a master's degree to enter (computer programming) at a company which appears to have a good culture and extremely good opportunities for progression. In particular, they expressed that they liked the fact that I'm not originally from a computer science background but still had good technical knowledge, and suggested that there might be potential for someone with my skill set to eventually move into the management/business side of the company, should that someone wish it. I start Monday. Going to set up a standing order to the Against Malaria Foundation as soon as I know when my paycheque comes.
  • Booked the first gig for an electronic music set/act/project on which I've been working for nearly five years. I bypassed promoters etc. by getting in touch with a venue myself directly and booking it for myself and two musicians I know to play, and promoting the night myself. (Hey, if something's worth doing, it's worth doing yourself, right?) The show is still a couple of weeks away, so I don't know how it will go, but the project is really important to me so I'm excited about it.
Comment by sediment on Rationality Quotes January 2015 · 2015-02-05T18:04:19.516Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

And, while we're on the subject, here's a classic:

Let me see if I understand your thesis. You think we shouldn't anthropomorphize people?

-- Sidney Morgenbesser to B. F. Skinner

(via Eliezer, natch.)

Comment by sediment on Rationality Quotes January 2015 · 2015-01-26T10:49:43.193Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I also don't think this is a concern. It's just analogy, metaphor, figurative language, which is more or less what the human mind runs on. I also don't think it leads to real anthropomorphization in the minds of those using it; it's more just a useful shorthand. Compare something I overheard once about atoms of a certain reactive element "wanting" to bond with other atoms. I don't think either party was ascribing agency to those atoms in this case; rather, "it wants X" is commonly understood as a useful shorthand for "it behaves as if it wanted X".

Edit: see also: http://catb.org/jargon/html/anthropomorphization.html

Thus it is common to hear hardware or software talked about as though it has homunculi talking to each other inside it, with intentions and desires. Thus, one hears “The protocol handler got confused”, or that programs “are trying” to do things, or one may say of a routine that “its goal in life is to X”. Or: “You can't run those two cards on the same bus; they fight over interrupt 9.”

One even hears explanations like “... and its poor little brain couldn't understand X, and it died.” Sometimes modelling things this way actually seems to make them easier to understand, perhaps because it's instinctively natural to think of anything with a really complex behavioral repertoire as ‘like a person’ rather than ‘like a thing’.

At first glance, to anyone who understands how these programs actually work, this seems like an absurdity. As hackers are among the people who know best how these phenomena work, it seems odd that they would use language that seems to ascribe consciousness to them. The mind-set behind this tendency thus demands examination.

The key to understanding this kind of usage is that it isn't done in a naive way; hackers don't personalize their stuff in the sense of feeling empathy with it, nor do they mystically believe that the things they work on every day are ‘alive’. To the contrary: hackers who anthropomorphize are expressing not a vitalistic view of program behavior but a mechanistic view of human behavior.

Comment by sediment on Open thread, Jan. 19 - Jan. 25, 2015 · 2015-01-25T15:13:52.106Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, perhaps for some, but I'm already closer to underweight than I am to overweight, so for me that's a big con.

Comment by sediment on Open thread, Jan. 19 - Jan. 25, 2015 · 2015-01-25T15:10:48.582Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yep, the model in that post is quite close to the one I'm trying to describe.

Comment by sediment on Open thread, Jan. 19 - Jan. 25, 2015 · 2015-01-21T19:16:40.707Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

A month or two ago I started taking Modafinil occasionally; I've probably taken it fewer than a dozen times overall.

I think I'd expected it to give a kind of Ritalin-like focus and concentrate, but that isn't really how it affected me. I'd describe the effects less in terms of "focus" and more in terms of a variable I term "wherewithal". I've recently started using this term in my internal monologue to describe my levels of "ability to undertake tasks". E.g., "I'm hungry, but I definitely don't have the wherewithal to cook anything complicated tonight; better just get a pizza." Or, on waking up: "Hey, my wherewithal levels are unusually high today. Better not fritter that away." (Semantically, it's a bit like the SJ-originating concept of "spoons" but without that term's baggage.) It's this quantity which I think Modafinil targets, for me: it's a sort of "wherewithal boost". I don't know how well this accords with other people's experience. I do think I've heard some people describe it as a focus/concentration booster. (Perhaps I should try another nootropic to get that effect, or perhaps my brain is just beyond help on that front.)

I did, however, start to feel it suppressed my appetite to unhealthily, even dangerously, low levels. (After taking it for two days in a row, I felt dizzy after coming down a flight of stairs.) I realize that it's possible to compensate for this by making oneself eat when one doesn't feel hungry, but somehow this doesn't seem that pleasant. For this reason, I've been taking it less recently.

I'd be curious to know whether others experience the appetite suppression to the same extent; it's not something that I hear people talk about very much. Perhaps others are just better at dealing with it than I am or don't care.

It's also hard to say how much of its positive effects were placebo, given that I took it on days when I'd already determined I wanted to "get a lot of shit done".

I might still try armodafinil at some point.

Comment by sediment on Open thread, Jan. 12 - Jan. 18, 2015 · 2015-01-13T18:17:02.499Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm a vegetarian and I looked into this stuff a while back. The Examine.com page What beneficial compounds are primarily found in animal products? is a useful reference with sources and includes the ones you wrote above. An older page with some references is this one.

Thanks, this looks good. The sort of thing I was after.

I had a basic panel done

I've never heard this expression! I wonder whether that's just transatlantic terminology variation. Will look into whether I can get this on the NHS.

Excessive amounts of creatine (look up "loading") is recommended for bodybuilders but 5g/day is recommended for vegetarians. See gwern's review and the examine.com review.. The examine.com review mentions that the fear of this compound is irrational and recommends 5g a day for everyone, pointing out that creatine would have been labeled a vitamin if it wasn't produced in the body.

Perfect; thanks.

Comment by sediment on Open thread, Jan. 12 - Jan. 18, 2015 · 2015-01-13T18:09:08.999Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW
  • You should ask a dietician, not us.

I know plenty of LW people are interested in nutrition; it's within the realms of possibility that one of them might know enough about what I'm asking to be able to give me a quick summary of what I'm after. As for asking a dietician, I've never met one and wouldn't know how to go about getting hold of one to ask. (I'm also not totally sure I'd trust J. Random Dietician to have a good understanding of things like what counts as good evidence for or against a proposition. Nutrition is a field in which it's notoriously difficult to prove anything.)

  • There are many other vegetarians; this seems like it should be a solved problem.

Well, erm, yes, that's why I'm asking about it. (I don't go around making posts asking for proofs that P=NP, for example.)

Comment by sediment on Open thread, Jan. 12 - Jan. 18, 2015 · 2015-01-13T18:04:38.200Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, as of a few months ago when I researched the issue, I am OK with eating bivalves. I just haven't gotten around to doing so yet.

Comment by sediment on Open thread, Jan. 12 - Jan. 18, 2015 · 2015-01-12T09:25:20.233Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Reposting this because I posted it at the very end of the last open thread and hence, I think, missed the window for it to get much attention:

I'm vegetarian and currently ordering some dietary supplements to help, erm, supplement any possible deficits in my diet. For now, I'm getting B12, iron, and creatine. Two questions:

  • Are there any important ones that I've missed? (Other things I've heard mentioned but of whose importance and effectiveness I'm not sure: zinc, taurine, carnitine, carnosine. Convince me!)
  • Of the ones I've mentioned, how much should I be taking? In particular, all the information I could find on creatine was for bodybuilders trying to develop muscle mass. I did manage to find that the average daily turnover/usage of creatine for an adult male (which I happen to be) is ~2 grams/day - is this how much I should be taking?
Comment by sediment on Open thread Jan. 5-11, 2015 · 2015-01-11T22:35:30.322Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm vegetarian and currently ordering some dietary supplements to help, erm, supplement any possible deficits in my diet. For now, I'm getting B12, iron, and creatine. Two questions:

  • Are there any important ones that I've missed? (Other things I've heard mentioned but of whose importance and effectiveness I'm not sure: zinc, taurine, carnitine, carnosine.)
  • Of the ones I've mentioned, how much should I be taking? In particular, all the information I could find on creatine was for bodybuilders trying to develop muscle mass. I did manage to find that the average daily turnover/usage of creatine for an adult male (which I happen to be) is ~2 grams/day - is this how much I should be taking?

(Edit: reposted this in the new open thread; please respond there, not here!)

Comment by sediment on December 2014 Bragging Thread · 2014-12-01T20:13:11.984Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Received the results for a master's degree in computer science which I completed this summer. I passed and got a "merit", with which I'm fairly happy. Translating grading conventions between countries is challenging, especially the UK's byzantine system for grading degree- and postgraduate- level qualifications, so I'll simply say that a merit is good though not astounding, being the category below "distinction", the best possible.

Nonetheless, I'm happy, especially given that I really struggled with the thesis which was a requirement of the course. I learnt (well, actually, confirmed, since I already suspected as much) the hard way that self-directed, large-scale, academic projects are Not For Me. Actually, I found it so hard that I had to get a substantial (!) extension on it. (I also posted on here at one stage asking for advice as I was struggling so badly with the thesis, so anyone who remembers that post and wonders what became of the situation can now breathe a sigh of relief that it has at least a moderately happy ending.)

And now I'm seeking a job in software development, which was the reason why I did the degree in the first place.

Comment by sediment on xkcd on the AI box experiment · 2014-11-22T00:35:40.848Z · score: -1 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Alternately, it's no worse than the norm, and yet still isn't funny.

I find xkcd so horribly bad.

Comment by sediment on Open thread, September 15-21, 2014 · 2014-09-19T16:45:11.200Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I remember Nassim Nicholas Taleb claiming exactly this in an interview a few years ago. He let his friends function as a kind of news filter, assuming that they would probably mention anything sufficiently important for him to know.

Comment by sediment on Open thread, September 8-14, 2014 · 2014-09-12T19:53:01.191Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I was recently heartened to hear a very good discussion of effective altruism on BBC Radio 4's statistics programme, More or Less, in response to the "Ice Bucket Challenge". They speak to Neil Bowerman of the Centre for Effective Altruism and Elie Hassenfeld from GiveWell.

They even briefly raise the possibility that large drives of charitable donations to ineffective causes could be net negative as it's possible that people have a roughly fixed charity budget, which such drives would deplete. They admit there's not much hard evidence for such a claim, but to even hear such an unsentimental, rational view raised in the mainstream media is very bracing.

Available here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/moreorless (click the link to "WS To Ice Or Not To Ice"), or directly here: http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/radio4/moreorless/moreorless_20140908-1200a.mp3

Comment by sediment on A "Holy Grail" Humor Theory in One Page. · 2014-08-20T10:56:12.223Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

There may be such a thing as first-person laughter (laughing at yourself for having a mistaken expectation), but my point is that it seems like a stretch to say that the examples 9eB1 gave fit that pattern (though perhaps your phone example does).

I'm working on a longer comment in which I'll explain my points in more detail.

Comment by sediment on Quantified Risks of Gay Male Sex · 2014-08-19T21:16:28.472Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

As a heterosexual I'm not your target audience, but I voted this up for being a well-compiled and useful (to its audience) bit of research.

Comment by sediment on Open thread, 18-24 August 2014 · 2014-08-19T21:11:25.768Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, by analogy with "hedons" and "utilons", hypothetical units of pleasure and utility respectively.

Comment by sediment on A "Holy Grail" Humor Theory in One Page. · 2014-08-19T19:37:12.232Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The first example is first-person laughter, where you laugh at yourself for your own expectations turning out to be so wrong, similar to looking for your phone then realizing you're on the phone already.

This sounds fishy. In particular, it seems like a very ad hoc way to shoehorn a category of joke that doesn't quite fit into your theory - which is a failure mode that seems common to theories of humour.

Comment by sediment on Open thread, 11-17 August 2014 · 2014-08-12T11:08:13.531Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Oh, another thing: I remember thinking that it didn't make sense to favour either the many worlds interpretation or the copenhagen interpretation, because no empirical fact we could collect could point towards one or the other, being as we are stuck in just one universe and unable to observe any others. Whichever one was true, it couldn't possibly impact on one's life in any way, so the question should be discarded as meaningless, even to the extent that it didn't really make sense to talk about which one is true.

This seems like a basically positivist or postpositivist take on the topic, with shades of Occam's Razor. I was perhaps around twelve. (For the record, I haven't read the quantum mechanics sequence and this remains my default position to this day.)

Comment by sediment on Open thread, 11-17 August 2014 · 2014-08-12T10:55:17.976Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Good one! I think I also figured out a vague sort of compatibilism about that time.

Comment by sediment on Open thread, 11-17 August 2014 · 2014-08-11T17:21:58.775Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think I was a de facto utilitarian from a very young age; perhaps eight or so.

Comment by sediment on Open thread, July 28 - August 3, 2014 · 2014-07-31T11:02:19.120Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

You're right.

I was glad to at least disrupt the de facto consensus. I agree that it's worth bearing in mind the silent majority of the audience as well as those who actually comment. The former probably outnumber the latter by an order of magnitude (or more?).

I suppose the meta-level point was also worth conveying. Ultimately, I don't care a great deal about the object-level point (how one should feel about a silly motivational bracelet) but the tacit, meta-level point was perhaps: "There are other ways, perhaps more useful, to evaluate things than the amount of moral indignation one can generate in response."

Comment by sediment on Open thread, July 28 - August 3, 2014 · 2014-07-30T18:46:34.201Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This makes some sense. I think part of the reason my contribution was taken so badly was, as I said, that I was arguing in a style that was clearly different to that of the rest of those present, and as such I was (in Villam Bur's phrasing) pattern-matched as a bad guy. (In other words, I didn't use the shibboleths.)

Significantly, no-one seemed to take issue with the actual thrust of my point.

Comment by sediment on Open thread, July 28 - August 3, 2014 · 2014-07-30T18:37:23.202Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Totally right.

Comment by sediment on Open thread, July 28 - August 3, 2014 · 2014-07-29T15:41:27.184Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Nabokov: "[reality is] one of the few words which mean nothing without quotes".

Comment by sediment on Open thread, July 28 - August 3, 2014 · 2014-07-29T15:38:38.186Z · score: -3 (9 votes) · LW · GW

If I remember right it would have needed 3 of 3 people in the Russian submarine in the Cuban missle crisis to lunch a nuclear weapon and 2 of them wanted to lunch it.

Two of them got sick of their jobs and decided to just go to lunch. Luckily the third guy stayed at his post and just snacked on a sandwich.

Comment by sediment on Open thread, July 28 - August 3, 2014 · 2014-07-29T12:38:16.131Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

It's called the Pavlok. It seems to be able to monitor a variety of criteria, some fairly smart.

Comment by sediment on Open thread, July 28 - August 3, 2014 · 2014-07-29T10:27:43.966Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Only because I had a clear, concise, self-contained point to make and I figured I'd be able to walk away once I was done. I'll know better next time.

Comment by sediment on Open thread, July 28 - August 3, 2014 · 2014-07-29T10:25:33.486Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I mentioned beeminder and that I use it. Don't think anyone picked up on that part, cash evidently being less triggering than electricity.

Comment by sediment on Open thread, July 28 - August 3, 2014 · 2014-07-29T10:24:33.074Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Can you give a quick example with the blanks filled in? I'm interested, but I'm not sure I follow.

Comment by sediment on Open thread, July 28 - August 3, 2014 · 2014-07-29T10:23:36.913Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Well, there's a frustrating sort of ambiguity there: it's able to pivot between the two in an uncomfortable way which leaves one vulnerable to exploits like the above.

Comment by sediment on Open thread, July 28 - August 3, 2014 · 2014-07-29T00:58:58.803Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW · GW

Sightings:

  • Arguments that aren't actually arguments: argument by tribal affiliation was certainly in full force, as well as a certain general condescension bordering on insult.
  • Statistical illiteracy: in an only minor variant of your hypothetical exchange, I said that very few people are doing too much exercise (tacitly, relative to the number of people who are doing too little), to which someone replied that they had once overtrained to their detriment, as if this disproved my point.

I was also struck by how weird it was that people were nitpicking totally incidental parts of my post, which, even if granted, didn't actually deduct from the essence of what I was saying. This seemed like a sort of "argument by attrition", or even just a way of saying "go away; we can tell you're not one of us."

A general pattern I've noticed: when processing an argument to which they are hostile, people often parse generalizations as unsympathetically as they can. General statements which would ordinarily pass without a second thought are taken as absolutes and then "disproved" by citations of noncentral examples and weird edge cases. I think this is pretty bad faith, and it seems common enough. Do we have a name for it? (I have to stop myself doing it sometimes.)

Your symbolic arguments made me laugh.

Comment by sediment on Ethics in a Feedback Loop: A Parable · 2014-07-28T22:29:47.166Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Imagining myself as a human,

For some reason I found this very funny.

Comment by sediment on Open thread, July 28 - August 3, 2014 · 2014-07-28T22:21:55.822Z · score: 59 (61 votes) · LW · GW

I recently made a dissenting comment on a biggish, well-known-ish social-justice-y blog. The comment was on a post about a bracelet which one could wear and which would zap you with a painful (though presumably safe) electric shock at the end of a day if you hadn't done enough exercise that day. The post was decrying this as an example of society's rampant body-shaming and fat-shaming, which had reached such an insane pitch that people are now willing to torture themselves in order to be content with their body image.

I explained as best I could in a couple of shortish paragraphs some ideas about akrasia and precommitment in light of which this device made some sense. I also mentioned in passing that there were good reasons to want to exercise that had nothing to do with an unhealthy body image, such as that it's good for you and improves your mood. For reasons I don't fully understand, these latter turned out to be surprisingly controversial points. (For example, surreally enough, someone asked to see my trainer's certificate and/or medical degree before they would let me get away with the outlandish claim that exercise makes you live longer. Someone else brought up the weird edge case that it's possible to exercise too much, and that if you're in such a position then more exercise will shorten, not lengthen, your life.)

Further to that, I was accused of mansplaining twice. and then was asked to leave by the blog owner on grounds of being "tedious as fuck". (Granted, but it's hard not to end up tedious as fuck when you're picked up on and hence have to justify claims like "exercise is good for you".)

This is admittedly minor, so why am I posting about it here? Just because it made me realize a few things:

  • It was an interesting case study in memeplex collision. I felt like not only did I hold a different position to the rest of those present, but we had entirely different background assumptions about how one makes a case for said position. There was a near-Kuhnian incommensurability between us.
  • I felt my otherwise-mostly-dormant tribal status-seeking circuits fire up - nay, go into overdrive. I had lost face and been publicly humiliated, and the only way to regain the lost status was to come up with the ultimate putdown and "win" the argument. (A losing battle if ever there was one.) It kept coming to the front of my mind when I was trying to get other things done and, at a time when I have plenty of more important things to worry about, I wasted a lot of cycles on running over and over the arguments and formulating optimal comebacks and responses. I had to actively choose to disengage (in spite of the temptation to keep posting) because I could see I had more invested in it and it was taking up a greater cognitive load than I'd ever intended. This seems like a good reason to avoid arguing on the internet in general: it will fire up all the wrong parts of your brain, and you'll find it harder to disengage than you anticipated.
  • It made me realize that I am more deeply connected to lesswrong (or the LW-osphere) than I'd previously realized. Up 'til now, I'd thought of myself as an outsider, more or less on the periphery of this community. But evidently I've absorbed enough of its memeplex to be several steps of inference away from an intelligent non-rationalist-identifying community. It also made me more grateful for certain norms which exist here and which I had otherwise gotten to take for granted: curiosity and a genuine interest in learning the truth, and (usually) courtesy to those with dissenting views.
Comment by sediment on Jokes Thread · 2014-07-24T13:49:52.457Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I was pessimistic that this thread would yield anything worthwhile, but am gratified to be proven wrong.

Comment by sediment on Open thread, 14-20 July 2014 · 2014-07-17T13:53:51.096Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks. Do you feel like it's had much impact on your mental state when not meditating?

Comment by sediment on Open thread, 14-20 July 2014 · 2014-07-15T09:55:29.218Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for the thoughtful response.

Exercise: I recently started a regime of 2 x 1 hour bodyweight sessions / week with a friend of mine, but we haven't had a session in a while because he recently took an injury boxing. I think I'll start running on my own so I'm not so tied to that one activity (and in accordance with the advice in Optimal Exercise).

Pens: I actually like this advice. On the other hand, I use vim, a programmer's editor, to write everything (including my prose), and I love love love it. (I'm even writing this reply in it.) The 'feel' (not only tactile) of being able to shunt text around so effortlessly (at the paragraph, sentence, clause, word level) is so pleasant that it's hard to give up. On the other hand, there is some sense to what you say about working without a computer.

Natural light patterns: Good thinking. I work in a room with great sunlight during the day; so far so good. But a while ago my monitor broke, and I was able to fix it only by jettisoning its buttons. (Long story.) End result: my monitor is stuck on full brightness all the time. I just checked, though, and I found a linux program (Redshift) capable of adjusting the monitor brightness and colour temperature based on the time of day. I installed it and it seems to work; perhaps it will help. The lamp I use for reading at night also has a slightly harsh, blue-ish hue to it, though it isn't excessively bright. I'll see if I can do something about that, too.

Accountability: Hmmm. I'll think about this. It's certainly the case that periods of poor work correlate with seeing my tutor less. The causation isn't just one-way, though: I'm also less likely to want to see him when things are going slowly. (Perhaps there's something of a nasty positive feedback loop going on here.)

It's also the case that a master's degree is really, really hard to get, and the ability to summon an entire thesis from the ether is a part of that difficulty. Most people probably could not achieve such a degree at all; framing your struggles in terms of a deficiency relative to some loosely-defined average is unrealistic and unhelpful. This is true for your colleagues as well- each is an outlier, and the motivating factors that got them to this point are not likely to be directly comparable to your own. You are awesome enough that the bell-curve is not a useful self-assessment, so focus on tactics and not on placing yourself along a continuum.

Thanks. This actually did help.

Comment by sediment on Open thread, 14-20 July 2014 · 2014-07-15T08:49:19.314Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks. I had actually already wondered about whether I was depressed. I don't think I am, though this was not at all obvious to me, and I had to consider the possibility for some time before rejecting it. I perhaps have a slightly flat affect compared to some, but I think I enjoy life and have a basically happy disposition.

I recently starting a bodyweight exercise regime with a friend (2 x 1 hour sessions / week), but we haven't had a session in a while because he recently took an injury boxing. I think I'll start running on my own so I'm not so tied to that one activity (and in accordance with the advice in Optimal Exercise).

I think my diet is decent.

Comment by sediment on Open thread, 14-20 July 2014 · 2014-07-15T08:41:18.955Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This makes sense.

Comment by sediment on Bragging Thread, July 2014 · 2014-07-14T17:22:48.372Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Actually, I'm finding this weirdly coincidental: I was listening to DAF for the first time this week and it really made me want to do a project with electronics by me and shouty German vocals by a female friend of mine who happens to be fluent in shouty German. It even crossed my mind to do some heavy/weirded out versions of Kraftwerk songs.

Comment by sediment on Open thread, 14-20 July 2014 · 2014-07-14T17:16:22.415Z · score: 18 (18 votes) · LW · GW

Request for advice:

Like many people on lesswrong, I probably lie towards the smart end of the bell curve in terms of intelligence, but I'm starting to suspect that I lie somewhere below the mean in terms of ability to focus, concentrate, and direct my attention.

I only recently became concerned about this because it wasn't much of a problem when I was in school. There, I was able to do acceptably well overall by doing well in the subjects that came easily to me without working hard (science, maths... you know the score) and mediocrely in those that didn't. Ditto my undergrad/bachelor's degree.

But I'm currently struggling rather with the thesis project for my master's degree in computer science. The specifics of the thesis itself don't matter, other than that it's a piece of empirical/numerical research involving a lot of coding and a prose write-up. None of the technical aspects of it are beyond me, and yet I feel like in some way it's the first very difficult thing I've ever tried, really tried, at. The hard part is sustaining interest over the whole length of the thing, planning and organizing the overarching, erm, arc of the project as a whole, and forming a 'narrative' out of all the hard-won bits and pieces of data. (I suppose the fact that I feel fairly sure that the project is likely to find a negative result (i.e. that the method under inspection doesn't offer any gains over simpler methods) also doesn't help my motivation.) Luckily, I did well enough in the taught part of my course that I only need to get a mediocre mark in this part in order to get a 'merit' overall.

But I'm also concerned about how this bodes for my future career. I'd like to do well in work, but I'm beginning to wonder whether I'm deficient in a skill which would allow me to do much better.

To convey what I'm talking about: often when I'm trying to work at home I flit between coding for work, reading, coding for fun, listening to music, etc., etc., etc., and consequent don't engage with any of them very deeply, or get much done. Also, I have almost always taken a very long time to get to sleep, often an hour or more, because I find it hard to 'switch off' my brain when I'm in bed and have decided it's time to go to sleep. (I've recently been making the paradoxical attempt to try very hard to switch my brain off and stop thinking in bed, with, surprisingly, some limited success.)

I feel like I lack the five-second level skill to suppress (or at least, to decline to pursue) any old interesting thought which appears while I'm doing something else.

Things I've attempted:

  • Meditation. It seems plausible that meditating could help to 'train' deliberate attention direction in other aspects of life. Does anyone have any experience with this? I tried checking the literature, and found only one weak-ish study supporting such a hypothesis, but I'd be open to anecdotal evidence. I've tried to meditate a few times (less than ten), for about half an hour each time. The first couple of times I became weirdly aggravated and agitated at how bad at it I was: I was frustrated by the realization that something as simple as focusing on one thing and avoiding other thoughts was beyond me. After the first couple of times, I no longer find it aggravating, but I have yet to find it rewarding, either. I haven't yet managed to obtain the focused, quiet state which I understand is the aim, at least for more than a handful of seconds a couple of times. (Is this normal beginner-level performance?)
  • Pomodoros. I've had some success with doing pomodoros of work, including beeminding them, but I find that they're best suited to well-defined, discrete tasks. Tasks which are more nebulous seem less suited to it. Also, I find it hard to do pomodoros unless I'm feeling high-willpower, but perhaps this is fixable with, erm, the application of more willpower.

Things I've considered but haven't attempted:

  • Medication, self-. Is this the sort of thing which would be amenable to a course of Modafinil, or some other nootropic? I could be open to trying this, if it were likely to work.
  • Medication, other. I could try seeing a doctor to see if what I'm talking about warrants a diagnosis of ADD, and a prescription of Ritalin or a similar drug. I have no idea whether what I'm describing would be considered drastic enough to warrant either of those, though.

Any experience with any of the above, speculation on which of them might bear fruit, or suggestions of completely different ideas welcome.

Is this the sort of thing that can be 'trained' through willpower? It seems like a fairly 'deep', even a fundamental, aspect of brain function, so I wonder how plastic such a thing is. Any thoughts on this welcome also.

Finally, am I just worrying too much about this? I was recently heartened to come across this Nassim Nicholas Taleb quote:

If you get easily bored, it means that your BS detector is functioning properly; if you forget (some) things, it means that your mind knows how to filter; and if you feel sadness, it means that you are human.

Perhaps I just have a very stringent bullshit detector. Evidence in favour of this proposal: I think I am able to focus extremely well on personal projects (typically things that I code for fun and find intrinsically rewarding). In fact, when I stop those, it's less often from boredom and more by guiltily tearing myself away in order to get back to my "real" work. (On the other hand, perhaps there's such a thing as a too-stringent bullshit detector - one so stringent as to give false positives.)

Summary: I'm concerned that my focus/concentration skills are significantly worse than average, and that this could be detrimental to my outcomes in life. How can I improve them?