Apology for delay and [link] rationality comic 2011-05-04T19:08:35.177Z
The benefits of madness: A positive account of arationality 2011-04-22T19:43:07.029Z
Junkie AI? 2011-03-17T23:13:14.339Z
Better late than never: Toronto meetup March 10 2011-03-09T21:27:33.301Z
Toronto Less Wrong Meetup - Thursday Feb 17 2011-02-10T18:29:29.574Z
A rationalist's guide to psychoactive drugs 2011-02-10T01:01:16.712Z


Comment by Skatche on A Rationalist's Account of Objectification? · 2013-03-15T22:30:54.140Z · LW · GW

Not quite. One of my problems with objectification is that it implies certain attitudes which -- among other things -- create a favourable environment for rapists. That being said, I wrote the above comment at a time when rape was particularly salient to me, and may have overstated its relevance to this issue; I would now argue, more generally, that objectification openly expressed within a social group signals to women (almost by definition!) that they are regarded as objects and will not receive the status of full personhood within that group. Because these attitudes can be difficult if not impossible for women to correct by speaking out, many make the decision to withdraw from the group, further tilting the power balance toward the men.

Comment by Skatche on Learning how to explain things · 2011-06-28T10:54:23.706Z · LW · GW

Incidentally, I find Leonard Susskind is brilliant at all of these things. So, for a good example, his lectures on physics are well worth watching. Heck, they're worth watching even if you don't care about explaining things to people.

Comment by Skatche on Fine-tuned for Interestingness vs. Ramsey's Theorem · 2011-05-17T16:55:59.365Z · LW · GW

I'm not sure about this "selection space" of universes, but if we're talking about all possible mathematical constructs (weighted, perhaps, according to Solomonoff's universal prior), it bears noting that even some one-dimensional, two-colour cellular automata - extremely simple systems as far as that goes - have been proven to be Turing complete. Doesn't mean they'll necessarily produce life, as a lot depends on initial conditions, but we know at least that they can, in principle, produce life. Given what else I've seen of mathematics, it seems the space of mathematically possible universes is positively teeming with critters.

Comment by Skatche on Grigori Perelman refused prize because he knows "how to control the universe" · 2011-05-14T00:00:51.349Z · LW · GW

AndrewHickey's comment notwithstanding, it wouldn't surprise me if he did say that, and if he meant it very literally, like in the batshit crazy sense. Famous mathematicians have a long and celebrated history of going off the deep end. Cf. Georg Cantor, Kurt Gödel, Alexander Grothendieck.

Comment by Skatche on Econ/Game theory question · 2011-05-13T03:27:41.783Z · LW · GW

Well, of course. But assuming B is a rational agent, and assuming the expected damages awarded in court per trespass are additive, she's going to wait until A has finished building his house, then take him to court for all counts of trespassing, rather than fight each one individually, since that'll save her a great deal on time and legal fees.

Comment by Skatche on Econ/Game theory question · 2011-05-11T23:01:39.346Z · LW · GW

It seems to me that the easement will cost, at most, the amount of money that B could get from A in court for illegally crossing B's land. Given the additional expenditure of time and legal fees, not to mention the uncertainty of the legal outcome, it will probably be somewhat less than that.

Comment by Skatche on Meditation, insight, and rationality. (Part 2 of 3) · 2011-05-06T04:16:27.876Z · LW · GW

This may vary from person to person, but I found I didn't need a rigourous schedule to make enough progress to determine that meditation was beneficial for my mental well-being. Doing about half an hour once every few days (when I remembered to) was enough, within a few months, to grant me relaxation and greater clarity of mind. Those aren't really the point, but it's reason enough to push forward and see what else there is to see.

Comment by Skatche on No coinductive datatype of integers · 2011-05-06T02:39:31.580Z · LW · GW

Sorry, I have a bit of a skewed perspective about what's obvious. :P Once I perceived the connection to binary trees it seemed plain as day.

Comment by Skatche on No coinductive datatype of integers · 2011-05-06T01:09:38.825Z · LW · GW

A proof in ROT13:

Gb rnpu cbffvoyr rapbqvat bs n pbhagnoyr frg ol svavgr ovg fgevatf gurer pbeerfcbaqf n ovanel gerr: ng gur ebbg abqr lbh tb yrsg (fnl) vs gur svefg ovg vf n mreb naq evtug vs vg'f n bar, gura ng gur arkg abqr lbh tb yrsg be evtug vs gur frpbaq ovg vf n mreb be bar, naq fb sbegu. Gur npghny vagrtref pbeerfcbaq gb grezvany abqrf, ernpurq ol n svavgr ahzore bs oenapuvatf. Znysbezrq ovg fgevatf, gbb, pbeerfcbaq gb grezvany abqrf, ng gur rneyvrfg cbvag gung jr pna gryy gurl'er znysbezrq. Ubjrire, fvapr gurer ner vasvavgryl znal vagrtref, naq bayl svavgryl znal cbffvoyr ovg fgevatf bs nal tvira yratgu, gurer zhfg or ng yrnfg bar vasvavgryl ybat cngu va gur gerr, naq vs jr srrq guvf frdhrapr bs mrebf naq barf vagb bhe pbzchgre, gur pbzchgre jvyy unat.

Comment by Skatche on Rationality Quotes: May 2011 · 2011-05-04T18:45:35.546Z · LW · GW

I'm inclined to disagree. Deep abstraction gives us powerful tools for solving less abstract problems, including those that come out of the empirical sciences. Even fields developed with a deliberate eye to avoiding practical applications have sometimes turned out to make significant contributions to the sciences (I understand knot theory, for example, began this way, but has since turned out to have important applications in biochemistry).

Comment by Skatche on The benefits of madness: A positive account of arationality · 2011-04-26T23:19:56.122Z · LW · GW

However, it is worth emphasising that you have provided little evidence with your writing that the actual ideas coming from peak experiences are worth much. You have provided a great deal of indication that the motivational aspect of these ideas is useful, though.

You may be right. I will have to think about this. A lot of the imperative ideas ("Go do this!") that I've had while manic have had decidedly positive results - notably my bike trip to Georgia and the decision to devote a lot more of my time and mental energy to mathematics, founding the communal house I currently live in, but I'm going to have to try and remember some concrete examples of declarative ideas that have come to me in that state before I continue to make that claim.

Comment by Skatche on The benefits of madness: A positive account of arationality · 2011-04-26T23:14:55.975Z · LW · GW

I would wonder if something like that actually happened - it might have been an unfamiliar trick of the light or electrical malfunction...

It's entirely possible. I recall I stayed at that intersection for a few minutes, watching the light and trying to figure out how such a thing might have happened, before concluding I had hallucinated it - but I can't make any guarantees that I was very thorough, given my mental state at the time. I don't think an electrical malfunction would have produced what I saw, but a trick of the light is plausible.

Comment by Skatche on An Xtranormal Intelligence Explosion · 2011-04-26T21:59:46.513Z · LW · GW

For reference: this video was evidently made on Xtranormal. Xtranormal is a site which takes a simple text file containing dialogue, etc. and outputs a movie; the voices are synthesized because that's how the site works. Voice actors would be nice, of course, but that's a rather more involved process.

Comment by Skatche on The benefits of madness: A positive account of arationality · 2011-04-25T16:56:14.350Z · LW · GW

Seconded and thirded. These books had a very deep and lasting impact on my development and worldview. Fair warning to those unfamiliar with his writings: they're chock-full of memetic hazards, but that's kind of the point. Wilson argues that we stand to benefit a great deal from being able to occupy unusual or even "false" belief systems (I use scare quotes because I think he would be reluctant to use that word), provided we can learn to consciously choose these systems and not get attached to them.

Comment by Skatche on The benefits of madness: A positive account of arationality · 2011-04-25T06:43:01.070Z · LW · GW

These are great. Do you mind if I incorporate them into the relevant post when the time comes?

Comment by Skatche on The benefits of madness: A positive account of arationality · 2011-04-24T20:58:40.060Z · LW · GW

This is a fair point, but I'm referring to information in the information theoretic sense; in this technical sense, mathematical truths are indeed not information.

There are proofs that rely on the GCH or Large Cardinal Axioms or V=L which are not among the accepted axioms and proven to be independent of the other axioms.

I'm aware that the Axiom of Choice is required for some important results of practical import (Tychonoff's theorem, for example, is equivalent to it), but do you know of any important and useful results following from the GCH, etc.? I've only looked into this a little; foundational math is not really my field.

Comment by Skatche on The benefits of madness: A positive account of arationality · 2011-04-24T20:49:51.276Z · LW · GW

I'm male. I gather certain psychotic-spectrum disorders are more common in men than in women, so this doesn't strike me as entirely irrelevant.

Comment by Skatche on The benefits of madness: A positive account of arationality · 2011-04-24T16:00:41.621Z · LW · GW

That's a critique of LSD, not mystical experiences in general, as a creativity enhancer, and even then, I think the author is leaving out a fair bit of evidence to the contrary. Though he never officially confirmed this, Francis Crick is believed to have been on LSD when he discovered the helical structure of DNA. Less controversially, many of the programmers in the early days of Silicon Valley are known to have done a fair bit of coding on acid; Steve Jobs himself is known to have taken a fair bit of it in his day. Here's another article claiming that Kary Mullis, a Nobel prize-winning chemist, was assisted by LSD in his discovery of a certain polymerase chain reaction used to amplify DNA sequences. And, to end on a more whimsical note, Dock Ellis once pitched a no-hitter on LSD.

If more people haven't come forward with important discoveries on acid, we shouldn't be too surprised: most people haven't tried it, and even if you have, it's a significant career risk to admit it. I do agree that acid on its own is not enough - there's still a fair bit of work to be done while sober - but to say that it's done nothing for us is simply not true.

Comment by Skatche on The benefits of madness: A positive account of arationality · 2011-04-24T15:28:33.474Z · LW · GW

Eeeesh. You're right. In my defense, I think I checked the properties while I was still half-asleep, and I must have fudged the triangle inequality. I fiddled with it a bit, but couldn't find any obvious way to make it work. Thanks for your correction.

Comment by Skatche on The benefits of madness: A positive account of arationality · 2011-04-24T05:03:06.342Z · LW · GW

The nonexistence thing was an error of judgment. In retrospect, it originated in an unconscious assumption I was making that there must be some ground to reality, a kind of "bottom level" of which everything else is epiphenomenal. A materialist might look to quantum fields to fill that role, but when I rejected all my former beliefs, that included my belief in an external reality independent of perception. So all I was left with was thought and sensory experience, and as they were interdependently defined, rather than any one aspect taking ontological primacy, I concluded that they - and hence I - must not exist. There are any number of holes in this argument, but that's how I was thinking at the time.

Unfortunately I'm not yet at the point where I have papers published. For the most part the ideas that come to me in peak states are not specific, easily formalizable facts. In some cases they are directives to do certain things (like the bike trip mentioned in my original post); in other cases, they give a broad direction to my studies. The Tegmark vision is one example: higher category theory seems like it could furnish me with the tools to formally analyze the mathematical universe (or parts thereof) as a topological space; but since my knowledge of category theory is rather patchy, for now I'm simply working on learning some more of the prerequisites (I just finished a course in algebraic topology).

Two cases spring to mind, however, of fairly specific and well-polished ideas that have come from peak experiences. One was a metric on the space of events over a given probability space; it popped into my head as I was waking from a dream during the peak of my mania. If you're interested: for events A and B, we can define d(A,B)=1-P(A|B)P(B|A). You can check that it satisfies the properties of a metric [EDIT: This doesn't actually work, as Sniffnoy pointed out below]; couldn't say for sure whether it's useful for anything, since I got swine flu shortly after that, at which point it got shelved with the rest of the stuff I'd been working on. A more promising example happened quite recently: it was a game theoretic analysis of the relationship between government and citizen which, as I mentioned, might end up as another post here - probably in the discussion area. If you'd be interested to see it, that'd be all the more reason to write it.

Comment by Skatche on The benefits of madness: A positive account of arationality · 2011-04-24T04:11:53.479Z · LW · GW

Thanks, that was an awesome read!

I'll attempt a translation. If I'm engaging with the world, then I notice new things about it, or I see things in new ways. For example: once, looking at the sky, I noticed that it was brightest near the horizon and darkest at the zenith. Suddenly I realized the reason: there was more air between me and the horizon than there was between me and the space directly above me. The scene snapped into focus, and I found I could distinctly see the atmosphere as a three-dimensional mass. If I turn my attention inward, on the other hand, I tend to draw connections between pieces of information I already have - suddenly intuiting the behaviour of quantum wave packets, for example, or drawing an analogy between my social networking behaviour and annealing. These two cases are the "dots" and the connections between the dots, respectively.

Information theory generally defines information to be about some event with an uncertain outcome: if you know a coin has been flipped, you will need additional information to determine whether it came up heads or tails. By contrast, if you already know that five coins were flipped and three came up heads, you don't need any additional information to deduce that the number of heads was prime. Anything that you could in principle figure out from the information you've already got isn't treated as new information; In this sense, mathematical truths (connections) are separated from information proper ("dots").

While this separation may be useful for theory, it doesn't capture all aspects of the way we learn and process information. For starters, we're often rather surprised to learn mathematical facts; this is because we need to use physical hardware (our brains) to compute proofs, and we don't know what the outcome of the computation will be. Also, our brains seem to treat things, states, patterns, and pieces of information all in the same way - hence, for example, we can refer to "the economy" as if it were a single thing rather than a complex system of interrelationships; or, going in the opposite direction, we can break down a tree into its component cells and, moreover, recognize each cell as a fantastically complicated system, and so on.

Meanwhile, our ability to draw links between different levels of organization allows us, in particular, to see that certain mathematical patterns are reflected the world around us. Once we've found a model that fits the system, we can make predictions we couldn't make before: the more confident I am, say, that every fifth coin flip will come up as heads, the less information will be conveyed when this does indeed happen. It goes in the other direction too: sometimes we see patterns in nature which point us toward new mathematical understanding. The example I gave was of soliton waves, which you can read about here - even if you have no technical background, I think you'll find the History section enlightening.

For all these reasons, I suspect that a better model of information might loosen the hard distinction that's made between new information and new deductions.

Comment by Skatche on The benefits of madness: A positive account of arationality · 2011-04-23T20:52:57.255Z · LW · GW

These are some interesting points. I meant "arational" in the sense that our actions are arational - rationally motivated, perhaps, but it would be incorrect to say that the action itself is either rational or irrational, hence it's arational. What intrigues me is the fact that these arational phenomena are deeply embedded in the way our minds are structured, and therefore can perhaps inform and augment the process of rationality. Indeed, some of them may be extremal states of the same systems that allow us to be rational in the first place.

I'd definitely like to see this post on Buddhism; you seem to have an excellent grasp on it.

Comment by Skatche on The benefits of madness: A positive account of arationality · 2011-04-23T20:18:55.236Z · LW · GW

I have two different answers to your question: one practical, one more theoretical. On a practical level, what I gain from peak experiences depends on where my attention is. If I'm out and about, or doing something materially, then the main advantage I gain is noticing new aspects of a situation, or seeing the same aspects in a different light; I believe this is a result of greater flexibility in choosing the cognitive map I apply to the territory. These, I suppose, would be the "unknown dots": information that was present in the environment, but which my brain never bothered to record. If I'm sitting around thinking, on the other hand, then I tend to find a lot of unconventional connections. Even here, though, there is new information to be gained; I've learned a lot about my own nervous system simply by careful observation of my internal experience.

On a theoretical level, I have some trouble with the distinction between information and deduction. In the strictest sense, mathematical truths contain zero information, since they are automatically true in every possible world (or insert your own X-Rationalist translation of this claim). Yet we are still surprised to learn, for example, that e^(pi.i)+1=0 - or I know I was surprised, at the very least. I think this is a result of the fact that our evaluation of mathematical claims is based on manipulation of tangible stuff: we can check our memory to determine if we've ever seen a proof before, or we can manipulate symbolic expressions, encoded in our wetware, to attempt to prove or disprove it. Even wood pulp and graphite can be leveraged for this purpose, and so the result of this computation comes in as an observation of an uncertain outcome in the world.

Yet the no-information claim takes on new complications when we realize that our brains use the same basic processes to encode relations between facts, as it does to encode facts. This leads to kind of "flat" ontology, in which we can treat relations as facts and draw relations between them, or even between a relation and a fact. We can even draw relations between internal experience (including mathematical knowledge) and external information. Once we have recognized these connections, natural systems can actually point us toward mathematical truths (for example: we might never have learned about solitons if we had not observed them in nature). The hierarchy of "levels of organization", and the division between information and deduction from information, therefore appear to be constructed post hoc, and I'm not sure if I can cleanly distinguish between unknown dots and unknown relations.

Comment by Skatche on The benefits of madness: A positive account of arationality · 2011-04-23T01:11:26.973Z · LW · GW

Thanks for the suggestion; I'll definitely keep that in mind as I'm writing.

Comment by Skatche on Official Less Wrong Redesign: Call for Suggestions · 2011-04-21T03:24:13.665Z · LW · GW

I don't really care how it renders, I mainly just want to be able to type LaTeX code directly into comments and posts.

Comment by Skatche on Official Less Wrong Redesign: Call for Suggestions · 2011-04-20T23:31:33.765Z · LW · GW

Add LaTeX support (I mean inline LaTeX, not this thing).

EDIT: Based on comments below, I think I misused the word "inline". What I meant was simply the ability to type LaTeX directly into comments and posts. How it gets rendered doesn't matter much to me; some legitimate objections have been raised, but I don't feel like hard math gets used enough on the site that this would get out of hand. Restricting its use to posts rather than comments might be a good compromise.

Comment by Skatche on Learned Blankness · 2011-04-20T05:46:08.874Z · LW · GW

Yeah, I could write about this. Look for it tomorrow (Wednesday) or Thursday evening.

Comment by Skatche on Learned Blankness · 2011-04-19T00:15:16.247Z · LW · GW

Not that I disagree with you in general, but I can think of a few cases in which you may actually want to cultivate blankness toward a given subject. In particular, deep and difficult questions have been known to occasionally drive people mad - it's an occupational hazard for mathematicians in particular, and perhaps also for people in other fields. One might reasonably object that correlation does not imply causation in this case, but I have had a couple of experiences in which intense study of math and physics led me to some pretty dark psychological places, and I had to back off for awhile and think about more mundane matters while my mind reset. It's possible that, for some people, some areas of thought really are inaccessible, insomuch as they could irrevocably damage themselves in trying to get there.

Comment by Skatche on Confused about the doomsday argument, please help · 2011-04-15T18:03:48.406Z · LW · GW

I see what you're saying, but I'm not sure if the analogy applies, since it depends a great deal on the selection process. When I learn that Julius Caesar lived from 100-44BCE, or that Stephen Harper lives in the present day, that certainly doesn't increase my estimated probability of humans dying out within the next hundred years; and if I lack information about humans yet to be born, that's not surprising in the slightest, whether or not we go extinct soon.

Really it's the selection process that's the issue here; I don't know how to make sense of the question "Which human should I consider myself most likely to be?" I've just never been able to nail down precisely what bothers me about the question.

Comment by Skatche on Confused about the doomsday argument, please help · 2011-04-15T06:13:25.549Z · LW · GW

I've been meaning to post about the Doomsday Argument for awhile. I have a strong sense that it's wrong, but I've had a hell of a time trying to put my finger on how it fails. The best that I can come up with is as follows: Aumann's agreement theorem says that two rational agents cannot disagree, in the long run. In particular, two rational agents presented with the same evidence should update their probability distribution in the same direction. Suppose I learn that I am the 50th human, and I am led to conclude that it is far more likely that only 1000 humans should ever live, than 100,000. But suppose I go tell Bob that I'm the 50th human; it would be senseless for him to come to the same conclusion that I have. Formally, it looks something like this:

P(1000 humans|I am human #50)>P(1000 humans)


P(1000 humans|Skatche is human #50)=P(1000 humans)

where the right hand sides are the prior probabilities. The same information has been conveyed in each case, yet very different conclusions have been reached. Since this cannot be, I conclude that the Doomsday Argument is mistaken. This could perhaps be adapted as an argument against anthropic reasoning more generally.

Comment by Skatche on Modeling sleep patterns · 2011-04-14T23:00:49.361Z · LW · GW

I see what you're saying, certainly. But we're talking about someone who is already having a lot of sleep problems, and has exhausted all the other options they could find. They may find they're better able to keep up a consistent polyphasic regime than a more standard sleep pattern, and if their sleep problems are already bad enough, it may be worth the drawbacks to give it a shot.

Comment by Skatche on The Singularity as Religion (yes/no links) · 2011-04-13T16:09:35.243Z · LW · GW

There's a rather uncommon theological position - espoused by Paolo Soleri (and perhaps by others) - that God, the rapture, etc. are better regarded as a potential future, as something we have a responsibility to create, than as something pre-existing; in this view, religious texts can be viewed as imperfect but still visionary accounts of what such a thing might look like. The Singularity hypothesis seems to fit better in this model of religion than in more mainstream models. Soleri's theology seems far less pathological than religions tend to be, since it calls for both concrete action and accurate models of reality, so maybe this isn't such a bad thing.

Comment by Skatche on Modeling sleep patterns · 2011-04-13T16:01:38.611Z · LW · GW

Not really an answer to your specific question, but have you tried, or considered trying, something radically different, like a polyphasic sleep cycle (e.g. a 20-minute nap every four hours and nothing else)?

Comment by Skatche on [LINK] Ethical Pick-Up Artistry (Clarisse Thorn) · 2011-04-09T16:19:22.158Z · LW · GW

Furthermore judging either of these two as engaging in sexual assault is not a neutral or innocent act. It is invasive and damaging to your victims. As well as slandering their reputation the act of giving that label implies the need for and potentially causes a direct punishment and restriction of freedom.

Well I'm no fan of the criminal justice system either, but I'm trying to keep this on the topic of sexuality; if my anarchist leanings come into the conversation we'll be here all week. :p

But anyway, please see my comment here. A person can nonverbally express their desires, and a person can correctly pick up on that expression and act upon it, but they can also incorrectly interpret the signals they're getting. I'm saying that mistakes, although still rare, happen a lot more often than you'd think, and the consequences are serious enough that this is not an ethically acceptable position to take with a new partner. You need to ask.

Comment by Skatche on [LINK] Ethical Pick-Up Artistry (Clarisse Thorn) · 2011-04-09T16:07:12.502Z · LW · GW

A century of feminism is enough to convince me that, at the very least, a large minority of women are seriously, deeply upset at the lot they're traditionally given. In more recent years, some men have started to come forward and say they're not too happy about their own default either. If it were only a tiny handful of people who felt this way - say one in a hundred million - then it wouldn't make sense to adopt the more progressive approach by default, although we would still have a responsibility, if we chanced to meet one of these people and if they expressed their views, to take them into consideration.

Explicit negotiation is important because of the immense variability of romantic and sexual drives in humans, and because of the dreadful ease of misunderstanding (and even if you really are a perfect mind reader, you probably don't need to visit PUA websites). In my experience, and that of other people in my community, "cannot or do not want to" is an ephemeral state arising from the awkwardness of a new form of dialogue. All it takes is a bit of practice and it becomes the easiest thing in the world to communicate your desires, plus it improves your romantic life tremendously.

Comment by Skatche on [LINK] Ethical Pick-Up Artistry (Clarisse Thorn) · 2011-04-09T15:35:23.231Z · LW · GW

Everything I said about consent applies just as much to women as to men. If he's actually uninterested, tearing his clothes off or grabbing his crotch isn't a signal, it's sexual assault.

Comment by Skatche on [LINK] Ethical Pick-Up Artistry (Clarisse Thorn) · 2011-04-09T15:31:08.288Z · LW · GW

Okay, so it's not a fundamental necessity, but it's not a noble lie either; it's a matter of ethics. The consequences of misunderstanding, probabilistically weighted, are still serious enough that it's ethically better to maintain a habit of making a bit of sexy talk before hopping in bed with any new partner.

For the record, I have indeed misinterpreted what I thought were totally unambiguous "go" signals. Fortunately things did not progress far, but it was a big wake-up call for me.

Comment by Skatche on [LINK] Ethical Pick-Up Artistry (Clarisse Thorn) · 2011-04-08T05:03:20.390Z · LW · GW

Gender roles of any sort are fine if consciously negotiated by consenting adults. When presented as the default, however, or as biological facts, with no chance for negotiation, they become oppressive. Kay's suggestions would be fine as suggestions for husband and wife to discuss and decide on together, but as presented they dangerously mislead their audience.

Comment by Skatche on Meta: How should LW account deletion work? · 2011-04-08T02:54:25.049Z · LW · GW

My vote was for disabling, but I think this should also change your username to something suitably anonymous (like "Account deleted").

Comment by Skatche on [LINK] Ethical Pick-Up Artistry (Clarisse Thorn) · 2011-04-08T02:35:49.824Z · LW · GW

2 - By now, if you've done as instructed, you should have a pretty interesting life. Nonetheless, I think it's worth exploring this in more detail. If there's one thing pick-up artists get right, it's the value of confidence; but it's important to remember that this doesn't mean dominance, aggressiveness, or surliness. Confidence means being comfortable in your own skin, remaining centred in a conversation, listening with calm interest but also having something interesting to say about yourself and about your projects, your passions, the adventures you've had. It means having a life of your own beyond the object of your affections, and being friendly and courteous but not too eager to please. And yeah, a bit of a teasing or arrogant streak doesn't hurt. Above all, though, you want to be self-reliant: keep your own shit together and you'll be more attractive.

1 - THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT POINT, not only for getting laid but also as a general principle: you must learn to communicate. Healthy communication is a very complex skill, and there's no simple formula; I may yet get around to writing a full post or two on the topic. Nevertheless, one way or another, you need to learn to be honest while still showing respect and courtesy, and you need to learn to inspire honesty in others. Try to foster this attitude in your broader community and everyone will benefit (this is how the communal house I live in still functions as well as it does, despite a number of difficult circumstances we've faced over time).

I do want to say a word about communication in the bedroom. Sex is an attempt to create a mutually enjoyable and fulfilling interaction of an intimate sort, and you simply can't do that without indicating, in some fashion, what you want and how you want it. A lot of this communication ends up being nonverbal, but you should learn to be comfortable voicing your desires. You'll also want to pay attention to what your partner wants, whether based on their vocalizations and body language or sometimes by asking questions: "Is that good?" rolls off the tongue nicely.

I should also say a word about consent. Body language and other implicit cues can only take you so far; before you hit the bedroom, you'd better make sure your partner is enthusiastic about the prospect, and that requires verbal communication. This can be a little awkward, but it becomes significantly less so with practice. Remember: this is YOUR responsibility. "I thought s/he seemed into it" or "They seemed to go along with it" is no excuse.

So there you have it: how to have a satisfying sex life - by extension of an otherwise satisfying life - in six monumental steps.

Comment by Skatche on [LINK] Ethical Pick-Up Artistry (Clarisse Thorn) · 2011-04-08T02:03:50.913Z · LW · GW

Yeah, I see what you mean, and you may be right (depending how you relate to your friends). Even then, though, there are aspects of friendly interactions that don't carry over to more general flirtation. I'm talking about a mode of conversation you can use with friends and acquaintances and even total strangers. That requires that it stays light and friendly and brief.

Comment by Skatche on [LINK] Ethical Pick-Up Artistry (Clarisse Thorn) · 2011-04-08T01:50:32.786Z · LW · GW

Well, fair enough. He also didn't shoot anyone in the face, so...

Comment by Skatche on [LINK] Ethical Pick-Up Artistry (Clarisse Thorn) · 2011-04-08T01:33:43.965Z · LW · GW

4 - A lot of pick-up artistry seems to be focused on the bar/club scene. This might be a reasonable place to find a one-night stand, if you know the unspoken etiquette (I don't, so I can't comment); if this is what you're after, then best of luck to you. But clubs and bars are really terrible places to find anything longer-term: they're loud, they're crowded, everyone's drunk, and women in particular tend to have their guard up, as they're used to incessant unwanted advances. Also, under the assumption that most of the people here will want to find interesting, intelligent partners, just ask yourself what percentage of the general population actually fits this description, and with a bit of calculation I think you'll find the odds are against you.

How you find a more suitable environment depends a great deal on what your interests are and what kinds of people you relate to best, but basically you want to find a community of some sort. I DO NOT recommend joining a community just to pick people up (unless it's the swinger community or something like that) - see #6. However, if your social skills are especially poor, you might want to aim for a community that is especially accepting of social rejects. Geek communities and some hippie and anarchist communities are a reasonable bet; I'm sure there are others as well. Use this as a springboard; ideally you want to be a part of, or at least linked to, many communities. Attend interesting events and chat with people, and if you don't find any common ground for a conversation, then no loss; just move on.

Now, you don't want to go out looking for Bayesian statisticians and walk away from people who can't recite the Sequences. If you really want to understand what makes people tick, you should also make an effort to be interested in what they're interested in. This will promote cognitive flexibility and expand your conversational repertoire in addition to exposing you to broader walks of life. You might even discover opportunities to genuinely and concretely make the world a better place (big turn on!).

3 - Your goal, now, is to make friends and contacts, not lovers. If you're still keeping up that flirtation, sex will happen anyway, once in awhile, as if by accident. Unless you're insatiable, this should be enough to keep your sex drive satisfied. Some of it will be good, some of it won't be so good, and often it won't continue past the first few times. There's nothing wrong with this; you're learning in the process, both about what you like and don't like, and also about how to be a better lover (more on this later, see #1).

Here's where you want to start to be careful. It is an all-too-common mistake to commit to a relationship (monogamous or otherwise), or - far worse! - to assume you're in a relationship, after the first sexual encounter. You'll want to remain aware and responsive to your own feelings and to the signals you're getting from your partner; don't define things too soon, give it at least a month or two to see what it becomes. If you find you sleep with the same person several times and you start spending more time together, you'll probably want to have a discussion about your respective desires (more about this later). Proceed gently.

Part 3 incoming...

Comment by Skatche on [LINK] Ethical Pick-Up Artistry (Clarisse Thorn) · 2011-04-08T00:58:57.610Z · LW · GW

"Ordinary" social interaction encompasses a wide range of different kinds of exchanges, most of which are not flirting (although some especially outgoing people appear to flirt all the time). Think of how many people you interact with on a daily basis in a perfunctory, business-as-usual fashion, putting out just the bare minimum of communication necessary to buy coffee, ask for directions, etc. Also think of situations in which flirtation would probably be quite inappropriate: in deep, intellectual conversations, when requesting a loan, during a job interview, and so on.

Also think of conversations that happen on this site. Pretty dour, a lot of them. About as flirtatious as margarine on Melba toast.

Comment by Skatche on [LINK] Ethical Pick-Up Artistry (Clarisse Thorn) · 2011-04-08T00:22:21.447Z · LW · GW

Okay. Challenge accepted.

6 - If you're hitting up PUA sites, it's probably because you've gone a long time without romantic involvement, and you're getting desperate. This is perfectly understandable: sex drive is deeply seated and can become overwhelming if it's not fulfilled. Unfortunately, at a certain point, people start to reify sex: it ceases to be about attraction to any one individual, but simply about "getting" sex from anyone who's just appealing enough.

Unfortunately, people are very perceptive, and if you're desperate, they'll notice. You might be able to pick up other desperate people this way, but unless you're exceptionally lucky, your relationship will be brief and unsatisfying. The truth is, good relationships are somewhat hard to come by, and we're assuming that what you want is a good relationship.

Just for added concreteness, let's explore some of the ways in which desperation for sex will screw you (pun intended). You'll appear overly eager; you'll be visibly nervous; you'll hit on everyone, including people who, if you weren't so desperate, you would realize are not appropriate for you and your circumstances (i.e. they're not your type, you're not their type, you have nothing in common, etc.). When they reject you, you'll feel even worse and more desperate, perpetuating the cycle.

So, your first task is to forget about getting sex. This is difficult, but doable. Use all that tension to fuel your pet projects, to go out and meet new people (men and women alike), just generally distract yourself. Hire an escort if necessary (just remember to treat them with basic respect and decency!). Meditate. Do primal scream therapy. Go on a crazy adventure. Whatever - just find something that takes your mind off sex and go for it. You'll find you're a lot happier for it.

5 - Still with me? Good. Now that you've got your sex drive under control, it's time to start flirting. Note: flirting, not seducing. Flirting is playful and casual and is never overtly (and sometimes not even remotely) sexual. As a rubric, you should be just as comfortable flirting with the gender you're not attracted to as with the one you are (if you're bi, then you should be comfortable flirting with your grandmother). Indeed, you should flirt with everyone - male, female, or otherwise. It helps you build important social skills, makes people want to be around you more, and helps you clue in to signs of attraction in others (trust me, you'll notice 'em eventually if you pay attention (and if you're neurotypical - I don't know enough about people on the autistic spectrum to comment, sorry)).

To give some idea of how flirtation works, the most common form of flirtation is humour: making ironic observations about current circumstances, obvious shit-talking, telling jokes (if you can pull them off well), etc. Stay positive; avoid really bitter humour, or follow up nastier observations with positive comments. Physical contact is another common one, but this is for skilled practitioners only - the slightest miscalculation can turn your friendly hand on their shoulder into creepy, unwanted touching. Third, you can ask people friendly questions about how they're doing, then either share their good mood or commiserate with their frustrations as appropriate.

Occasionally, flirtation does turn into making a date or even having sex. This is a delicate practice, involving a gradual escalation while maintaining plausible deniability. I don't suggest trying to initiate this at first; just learn to notice when it happens, and see if you can keep up the game. Again, this takes some practice, but if they're already hitting on you you're likely to get the benefit of the doubt for smaller mistakes. This is where the water metaphor becomes most crucial: the game works not by pushing, but by opening up and revealing interest in subtle ways: through body language, tone of voice, slightly sexual but still playful comments. With practice, you'll learn to recognize and accept these openings, as well as to offer your own in return.

To be continued in a bit...

Comment by Skatche on [LINK] Ethical Pick-Up Artistry (Clarisse Thorn) · 2011-04-07T23:27:39.780Z · LW · GW

I'm not previously familiar with him, no, but I did follow the link you posted to his site. The entire front page was about how women can doll themselves up to be more attractive to their hubbies. I was not impressed. Hoping to give him the benefit of the doubt, I followed the links to some of the "most important posts" on the site, and found more misogynistic bullshit: relationships boiled down, essentially, to how much she's putting out, whining about Nice Guy™ Syndrome, and perpetuation of pathological gender roles. So, zero points for ethics.

Comment by Skatche on [LINK] Ethical Pick-Up Artistry (Clarisse Thorn) · 2011-04-07T22:36:00.874Z · LW · GW

Evidently you're not familiar with the dynamic of abusive relationships.

Comment by Skatche on The peril of ignoring emotions · 2011-04-05T21:47:27.635Z · LW · GW

I'm not referring to group selection. If you're living in a close community, then once you've had your chance to conceive, there's not a lot of benefit in fighting off other suitors, since you'll be helping raise the child anyway; conversely, rivalry against other males is risky and socially divisive - which, since your band is probably rather small, can have serious consequences for you as an individual. This is not to say that all men will simply flee the scene once they've consummated their desire: for starters, we're a hell of a long way from evolutionary equilibrium, and even then it's not clear that the game in question has a dominant strategy, especially once you factor in complicating influences from women's sexual selection of men and from various social pressures. More likely we'd see a diversity of different strategies.

Comment by Skatche on The peril of ignoring emotions · 2011-04-05T21:32:37.663Z · LW · GW

There probably aren't genetic correlates per se (they'd get bred out of the population pretty quickly if so); but as I understand, there are fairly solid links between incidence of homosexuality and the hormonal environment in the womb during certain critical periods of pregnancy. That being said, sexuality is fluid to some extent, but not by a lot, and it doesn't seem to be under conscious control.

The situation makes a lot more sense when you realize that "heterosexual", "homosexual", "bisexual", etc., aren't atomic properties of a human being, but rather statistical tendencies in the response of certain (largely unconscious) cognitive and biological functions to environmental stimuli. Even the straightest dude can get a bit of a man-crush once in awhile if the object of his attraction happens to trigger the right affective states, whether by having unusual pheremones, pleasing physical features, an especially compelling personality, or anything else which might activate some quirk of said straight dude's brain.

To describe the process of sexually maturing as a process of discovering one's innate desires, then, is perhaps somewhat misleading, as you pointed out, insomuch as we are at risk of reifying those desires; but the effect of (mostly) unchangeable physiology is still significant in this case. We can view the process of sexual self-discovery, then, as that of an inexperienced neocortex learning to maximize the reward signals it gets from the black box of its limbic system.

As for food, those preferences are actually easily changeable. There are a number of foods (falafel, grapefruit, mustard, pickles) that I couldn't stand in the past, but kept occasionally trying anyway; as my body learned that these were sources of valuable nutrients, I eventually grew to like them. Similarly, a bout of food poisoning turned me off avocados for about a year and a half, but through repeated exposure I came to enjoy them once more. Extremely spicy foods are another good example. The stomach needs to learn what it can eat, in order to adapt to changing nutritional needs and environmental conditions. In contrast, there's no particular selective pressure for a person to experiment with screwing different kinds of people, animals, objects, etc., so we should expect our attractions to remain largely autonomous of our efforts to change them.

Comment by Skatche on The peril of ignoring emotions · 2011-04-03T23:19:30.773Z · LW · GW

Er, good point; thanks for the reminder.