How Pascal's Wager Saved My Soul 2010-12-18T20:47:00.809Z


Comment by SRStarin on Reasons for being rational · 2011-08-19T19:43:13.798Z · LW · GW

I agree, it seems we're pretty similar in this arena. I think maybe I just feel more negative emotion about, as you put it, hedonistic procrastination than you do. Those are the times I feel the most unpleasant conflict. I should just stop procrastinating, I guess. I'm working on that, getting better about it. Anyway, I don't need to go into too much detail on this side topic. Thanks for the reply.

Comment by SRStarin on Reasons for being rational · 2011-07-01T22:54:20.717Z · LW · GW

Part of me wants to write: "You're a brave and forthright person, and I admire you for it."

Another part of me, which I think is motivated by your honesty, reads that and says I should write: "I just wrote that because I want you to like me, and it reads like it might get an upvote (after LW acceptance subprocess runs consciously), proving someone else likes me, too."

When I'm alone, alert and unoccupied, those two parts (there may be more, I don't know) are always bickering. Thing 1 decides some feeling or idea is good, or correct, or sincere, and Thing 2 almost always has to come back and say why my conclusion is based entirely in bias or rationalization. I think this is why I try not to be alone, alert and unoccupied very often.

When I'm around other people, Thing 2 mostly shuts up, only butting in if Thing 1 is getting carried away with pleasing people, or bragging, or lying (i.e. making the truth sound more exciting), etc. I like Thing 2 quite a lot at those times.

When I'm tired or have a drink, Thing 1 and Thing 2 both go to sleep before the rest of my cognition does.

When I'm occupied, there is sometimes some bickering if I'm occupied at a game, or a blog, or something that's not useful, but it's not too bad. It sometimes gets to be enough that I'll do something useful to stop the conflict.

So, that's my Usual Live Life subroutine. It's kind of bleak because Thing 2 insisted I write it this way, but I do manage to be happy, entertained, challenged, or deeply thoughtful most of the time.

So, why write this in response to the OP? Because my first internal response to the OP was "That's a lot like me!" And then I read Friendly-HI's response and I thought "That's a lot like me!" And this bugged me. So, I thought I'd try to describe from an internal, process-oriented perspective how my days go by, and see whether that clicks more with one of you than the other (or anyone else who wants to chime in).

Comment by SRStarin on DC Meetup: Sunday May 1st, 1 PM · 2011-04-28T01:05:12.644Z · LW · GW

Been waiting for this! But I have a funeral to attend in North Carolina the day before and can't get back in time. Blech!

Comment by SRStarin on Learned Blankness · 2011-04-19T15:00:49.068Z · LW · GW

The people I know who think of themselves as "bad with computers" are generally worried that they are going to destroy hardware, software, or data files if they make a mistake. They know enough to know that, in the abstract, they really can do severe damage with a few button pushes, but they don't know precisely where the danger areas lie. It's an area in which people have a strong incentive to pretend to know very little so they can more easily convince knowledgeable friends and relatives to help them.

My mother is one such person, and one thing that has helped her a lot was for me to set up an admin account on her laptop and to explain how she should always use her non-admin account, but the admin account would pop up when she needs those privileges. It's a flag for her that, if she doesn't get asked for her admin password, the most harm she can do is delete files, and even those might be recoverable.

Comment by SRStarin on Learned Blankness · 2011-04-19T14:34:38.545Z · LW · GW

It's a reasonable question to ask. Division of labor is certainly a major way a society improves both individual and societal efficiency. This can work all the way down to one-on-one relationships. A married couple often finds ways that each member of the partnership can most efficiently contribute to running a household.

But I think there is a conceptual distance between knowing you're not as good at something as a person with whom you have a good relationship and thinking you can't approach the knowledge that the other person possesses. my husband does almost all the cooking in our house, largely because he enjoys it and I do not. But sometimes I need to cook, so it pays for me to learn some of what he does in his cooking for those unforeseen times when I need to cook a family meal.

Comment by SRStarin on Rationality Quotes: April 2011 · 2011-04-11T13:02:59.974Z · LW · GW

Meh. Tony ruined that guy's role-playing fun at a Ren Faire. People pretend to believe all kinds of silly stuff at a Ren Faire.

Last year my husband and I went to Ren Faire dressed as monks, pushing our daughter, dressed as a baby dragon, around in a stroller. (We got lots of comments about vows of celibacy.) We bought our daughter a little flower-shaped hair pin when we were there, after asking what would look best on a dragon. What Tony did would have been like the salesperson saying "That's not a dragon."

Comment by SRStarin on Guilt: Another Gift Nobody Wants · 2011-04-01T18:57:22.825Z · LW · GW

Maybe this is a big reason why recidivism of imprisoned people is so high. After committing a crime, they get removed from the society in which they'd experience guilt and placed in with people who've done similar things. Or worse things.

So the guy who's in prison for selling a kilo of cannabis hears the stories of a hardened home robber, and absorbs the robber's ability to rob guilt-free.

Hmm, so, considering the way guilt really plays out with modern adults, I don't think guilt is much more than a conditioned response of submission learned in childhood. It feels bad to be forced to be submissive, and we internalize that bad feeling as a conditioned response to doing something we know is bad.

Comment by SRStarin on Rationality Quotes: March 2011 · 2011-03-16T00:06:36.640Z · LW · GW

I have. I've was a member of a Bible club at work for a year. I wasn't Christian, but I chose to participate in the club.

Some folks in that club said they had no problem at all with the person who is attracted to the same sex. The problem lay in the conceit that the homosexual's purpose and burden in life was to either overcome their sexual proclivities or to forgo sex altogether, giving their life to God in some other way than marriage and procreation.

So, the anti-gay stance was that it's a sin to act homosexually.

To be inside a homosexual brain is to feel trapped and even somewhat absent from reality until one acts on, or at least admits and attempts to embrace, this cognitive process that values the sexes in a way fundamentally different from the norm for one's gender. I admit that "being homosexual" is, for me, a facet of my mind that I can't change, and those fundamentalists I talked to admitted to understanding that state of mind, but that the sin lies only in seducing another man (being seduced by another man is seducing him, just to clear that up), and that is what makes a person homosexual.

Comment by SRStarin on Positive Thinking · 2011-03-07T15:55:16.165Z · LW · GW

One potential end for rationality is "I want to be able to hold myself accountable for being a better person." I'm not currently able to do that entirely, but I think I'm getting better, in part through participating in the LW community.

I go to church to help me be accountable to my daughter. The church we attend is gay-friendly and supports a family of two men and a baby. Some churches are filled with bitter people always looking to criticize each other, usually behind their backs. You're lucky to be part of a positive church community. I am, too.

Comment by SRStarin on A Transhumanist Poem · 2011-03-07T01:39:50.605Z · LW · GW

No, not sad. I had to google IMHO the first time I saw it. It's just too useful an acronym not to use, though, now that I know it. (I do think it's sad that spell-checks still fail to recognize "google.")

Comment by SRStarin on A Transhumanist Poem · 2011-03-06T02:51:26.569Z · LW · GW

I think I grok you, wedrifid. I agree on the content valence.

I respond now only to say that the poem may be appreciable in ways other than my feeling like it's sort of like hip-hop. I find myself the first totally positive critic here, but seriously, Swimmer, you have something there, if you want to do something with it. I'm just trying to offer my point of view.

Comment by SRStarin on A Transhumanist Poem · 2011-03-06T02:15:43.792Z · LW · GW

The abrupt interruption of lyrical flow is part of hip-hop. BBut, in exchange for that break, you get a rhyme structure that is far more complex than any usual lyrical poetry can deliver. To use my example, lyrical poetry could never present the LINE RHYME TIMing WHY FINE subLIME rhyming pattern with an offbeat. Instead of rhyming along a ruler, they rhyme along a parabola. I'm not trying to convince you to like hip-hop. I'm trying to point out the aesthetic that is there, that I like. Hip-hop artists do it way better than my silly off-the-cuff example, but I think I got the Fibonacci-vs-Cartesian feel close enough to hear.

Comment by SRStarin on A Transhumanist Poem · 2011-03-06T01:00:32.786Z · LW · GW

I like hip-hop. I look at this after what I wrote and think "This may be like hip-hop." Maybe that's where our tastes part ways.

Hip-hop savors the sudden surprise stress, the in-line rhyme, the timing that makes you think "Why did that series of stressed S'es sound so fine?" Sublime.

Comment by SRStarin on A Transhumanist Poem · 2011-03-05T19:47:44.873Z · LW · GW

If everything were iambic tetrameter, as you suggest, poetry would be really, really boring. The first stanza has excellent rhythm, placing emphasis on important words, and causing you to place emphasis on words where in normal spoken prose you might not otherwise, enhancing the imagery. imAGine the FIRST MAN who HELD a STICK in ROUGH HANDS and DREW LINES on a COLD STONE WALL imAGine when the OTHers LOOKED when they SAID i see the ANtelope i SEE it

Swimmer963, I think the first stanza makes an excellent poem, whether or not you agree with the way I would read it. The rest could use some work, IMHO, but there's good imagery throughout. My best poems have always been the ones where I don't try to make a point on the first go round, but let the point come out upon rereading.

Comment by SRStarin on Rationality Quotes: March 2011 · 2011-03-04T01:47:09.961Z · LW · GW

The Italian word for "hell" is "inferno." (I don't know Italian, but I knew that word.) That's also the Italian word for "inferno," and that was the choice of the translator in 1974. I suspect that was prudishness about the word "hell" for an American audience, but I don't know. Anyway, the passage is otherwise very much in keeping with the tradition of the French Existentialists. For example, Sartre famously wrote "L'enfer, c'est les autres," which translates as "Hell is other people." The book has other existentialist themes in some of its fables, so I conclude that Calvino was thinking about the existentialists that wrote before he, and that he meant "hell" when he wrote "inferno" in Italian. I could be wrong, but that's why I pointed it out.

Comment by SRStarin on Rationality Quotes: March 2011 · 2011-03-03T17:47:57.089Z · LW · GW

"The hell of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the hell where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the hell and become such a part of it that you can never see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the hell, are not hell, then make them endure, give them space." -- Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

This is the last paragraph of the book. I should note that I changed the translation here from the Harcourt & Brace translation I have, substituting "hell" for "inferno." I recommend the book to any rationalist with a taste for fables.

Comment by SRStarin on Rationality Quotes: March 2011 · 2011-03-03T13:44:01.832Z · LW · GW

As I read this quote, I was reminded of what it felt like to be (repressed) homosexual in a strongly heteronormative culture. The act of claiming my sexuality could only happen outside of that culture (in Europe, for me), and when I came back home, I became profoundly depressed, convinced I would never amount to anything.

Gay people are often surprised at how their internal turmoil, which seems so particular and special, turns out to be the usual result of growing up queer in a straight society. We're surprised because our experience is so different from what most people around us seem to be feeling.

So, I would say Rich was not generalizing from one example, but was talking about the generality of the experience of the ignored minority, and trying to convey that experience to an audience who would be largely ignorant of that feeling of psychic non-existence. They have been affirmed by whatever presumptions are prevalent in their society, be they heteronormative, ethnic, racial, religious or whatever.

So, this is a great rationality quote, because it reminds us all (gay people included) to challenge ourselves constantly to recognize the lenses through which we understand reality, and to try to sort out what is real from what is cultural. People, especially young people, kill themselves because of this. Challenging our cultural assumptions can save lives.

Comment by SRStarin on Ability to react · 2011-03-01T16:48:21.488Z · LW · GW

For activities like competitive sports or extemporaneous acting, I could see what you're saying. But, I don't think that the quality of different performances of a given show, in which the actions are the same each performance, would be scattered in a Gaussian or other randomized way. A performer generally expects only to improve on a particular show, as long as one applies oneself, as will have been happening during the rehearsal period leading up to the performances. If there is a reduction in performance quality on a given show, either the performers are not applying themselves with the same intensity (as I suggested), or there is some other explanation.

Now, if you compared performance quality across different shows and different seasons, you might see something more like a random scattering around a mean.

Comment by SRStarin on Ability to react · 2011-02-28T19:09:34.356Z · LW · GW

Hmm, I have certainly seen really excellent dress rehearsals followed by shabby opening nights. And if we do fantastically on the opening night, we often do a little less well (though still usually a good show) the next night. People get lax and allow themselves to be distracted by other things.

All that said, your experience is different, and I acknowledge that. I may be suffering from confirmation bias, but I don't think so for the group I sing with. It may also be that, in theater, you are far more likely to be noticed if you make a mistake, whereas in choral music you can often be covered by the rest of your section.

Comment by SRStarin on Ability to react · 2011-02-27T17:39:37.641Z · LW · GW

In amateur choral singing and musicals, we often say that a smooth dress rehearsal is bad news, because you get a sense of complacent confidence. It makes it harder to focus, because you have to do so consciously. We prefer for things to be rough the night before the performance, because we all go to sleep a little nervous, our bodies and unconscious thoughts focusing our conscious minds on the things we need to get right that weren't automatic in the rough rehearsal.

I imagine professionals have less of a problem with this, since they perform much more often, but I don't know.

Our cognitive processes use energy and biochemicals that must be replenished with food and sleep. So, there's no way the brain can be at 100% all the time. Anxiety, epitomized in the fight-or-flight response, allow us to call up full faculties for a short period of time whenever it's needed.

Comment by SRStarin on The Value of Theoretical Research · 2011-02-25T20:16:45.961Z · LW · GW

After writing the third paragraph below, it would appear I think your rebuttals to Arguments 4 & 7 are most salient. I believe the idea that fundamental research is very important for future discoveries to be possible, but I have an argument for that which you don't list. The great minds that gave us theories of gravitation, evolution, and quantum mechanics all learned their fields by doing research. Some of them did basic theoretical work, and others did applied work. But, even the ones who did applied work may have learned significantly from people who were more suited, or who more enjoyed, theoretical work.

So, if you really, really love the theoretical stuff, and you're just worried that you'll feel your life has been a waste at the end, being afraid of lifelong commitment is not a good reason by itself to fail to commit. Honest curiosity about other fields is valid, and if that's at least part of what you're feeling, read on. (Well, you may read on anyway, I'm aware :)

What else have you tried doing? Have you ever worked in a position where you did something other than pure research? If the answer is "No," I would say you should definitely value trying something else, at least for a little while. If you are currently a research graduate student, you are in the perfect position to take a year off and do just that. Apply for an internship to do math modeling for an oil company (or work at a radio telescope, or something else that has a practical application.) I did a one year internship at Los Alamos National Labs as a spacecraft payload operator based on my undergrad physics degree. In a "real job," you have several different kind of responsibilities--not just different responsibilities, but different kinds. I checked the daily health reports on the satellite, yes. But I also attended meetings of top astrophysicists, getting insight into how they think and what they do. (One of those scientists, Roger Fenimore, taught me the lesson that the people who really make important things happen often get experience from multiple disparate fields, and then notice important connections between them.) I investigated small failures in the satellite data, learning about materials science and clean room procedures along the way. I gave tours of our facility to visitors. I participated in a student council, helping to improve student life in a small, isolated town.

If you're a professor already, you're in a bit more of a pickle, because there's no guarantee of a place to come back to if you leave. Still, it might be worth the risk.

[26 Feb 2011: Edited for intended generality. I do not think working for an oil company is really your only choice. It's just an example of something a math friend of mine did.]

Comment by SRStarin on Go Try Things · 2011-02-25T19:45:37.653Z · LW · GW

I'll second including discussion of different areas in which humans are more and less risk-averse.

I work in a heavily risk-averse field, and I find that hesitation due to fear of failure has become ingrained in me. I used to be much more spontaneous. I'm still willing to sound like an idiot, which is good, but it's a lot harder for me to propose actions that could result in loss or damage to expensive public property, even if I really think the probability is heavily in favor of learning without loss or damage.

Comment by SRStarin on Ability to react · 2011-02-22T19:27:58.824Z · LW · GW

I have difficulty classifying my different kinds of memory as good or bad, and am often confused when others classify their own memories. I have poor verbal recall, short or long-term. I find it very difficult to remember poetry, unless it's sung. but, I never had a problem memorizing poetry when that was assigned in school--I just practiced saying it for a few days, and I had it. After I stopped saying it to myself all the time, I forgot it again.

I try never to argue with someone about what specific words were used in a conversation a year ago, the previous day (or often even an hour ago). However, I have very good short-term aural memory--whatever the last few moments of sound I heard have been, if I need to recall them, usually can sort of play them back, even if I wasn't paying much attention. This means I am often able to identify the exact words that have just been spoken, even when the speaker doesn't realize they've misspoken. I have good linguistic memory, and good spelling memory, but my ability to recall something that could just as well be one thing as another (like exact words versus my interpretation of general meaning) is I think below average.

So, do you have a generally poor short-term memory, or are there some things you can repeat or recognize perfectly shortly after seeing or hearing or feeling them?

Comment by SRStarin on Ability to react · 2011-02-22T18:51:44.574Z · LW · GW

Not being terribly good at sports, I tended to be very nervous leading up to a game. I frequently made mistakes that hurt my team (I only ever played team sports in any organized way), and I began to learn to fear making new mistakes. Then, once the game started and as it progressed, that anxiety changed depending on how much I was actually exercising and what skill I was showing (i.e. was I making us lose again, or was I actually being helpful?) And--here is the useful point for this discussion--I could observe during the game what effects my nerves were having. I could tell when I was getting too hung up on performing well and it was making me perform badly. I could tell when I was keeping the energy pumping enough and I was missing things. Not caring and caring too much about winning are the Scylla and Charybdis of sport. Sympathetic nervous system responses are the churning of the water, making you always have to adjust course.

You're not exactly correct about wanting me wanting my heart rate low before a launch. I clearly don't want to be bouncing off the walls, but I want a certain level of eustress (as opposed to distress) so that I can think quickly and clearly. That's how I work best.

Comment by SRStarin on Ability to react · 2011-02-19T20:55:46.410Z · LW · GW

(Disclaimer: Nothing I say here should be construed as speaking for NASA. These are strictly my personal thoughts. All technical information written here is in the public domain.)

In my job as a spacecraft engineer, most of my time is spent designing and testing the systems that control spacecraft pointing and propulsion. However, those of us who design the pointing system generally need to be on-hand for launching a new spacecraft and establishing a stable attitude. So, I have helped operate a couple of spacecraft in their first few months (the first was WMAP, and the most recent was SDO, the Solar Dynamics Observatory).

Leading up to launch, it is customary to do a lot of simulations, especially of potential failures. The simulations sometimes go badly, with things really getting screwed up. But practicing until everyone is bored with simulations seems a key to a successful launch team.

On the actual launch day, the adrenaline level is weird. You have taken all these actions before in sims, yet you know it's quite likely to have no failures, but that it's more important this time that you catch any failures early.

Frankly, I love it. It's one of my favorite things about my job. Here are three things that I know have helped me be comfortable in high-tension situations:

I'm the oldest of three close brothers. We were a team so often as kids, with me the leader, that it feels natural to take control. (My friends in high school used to call me "O Imperious One" when I got too bossy.)

I played sports (badly) at an early age. Sport combines a need for quick reactions with physical exertion. By wearing myself out and still needing to perform, I think it helps me ignore the adrenaline. Then, I took that knowledge of my body's responses to stress to other situations.

I have performed music in front of audiences since I was a little kid. In performances, something can always go wrong. You rehearse and rehearse, but you still keep in mind that you have to react to unexpected events. I'm a decent but not great singer. The one time I got a choral solo in college was my final year. I did fine in rehearsal, but in the performance, my voice cracked horribly on the first note (the song was the Russian "Kalinka"). getting the error out of the way early let me calm down and focus on performing like I rehearsed. By the end, I was doing great and got some really nice applause (audiences love a recovered failure even more than a perfect performance).

So, that's my experience with what you're talking about. Great post!

Comment by SRStarin on Overcoming the negative signal of not attending college. · 2011-02-17T20:15:49.669Z · LW · GW

I agree with grouchy. I want to make the additional point that just because an activity or article of clothing or whatever has signaling value, that doesn't mean it can't have any intrinsic value. A Gucci purse still holds your car keys.

I think it is possible that the signaling model of higher education is more in play for the elite schools, as I have certainly read writers who had first-hand experience and claim as much. The signaling model would explain the much higher price tag for an Ivy League education.

Still, any college with anywhere decent facilities and at least a few good professors has enough for a determined and healthy person to get an education that will make them a more effective, interesting, productive, sociable, and thoughtful person. Those are all traits employers want, but are not easy to identify in applications or interviews. So, a college degree is pretty good evidence of progress in that direction.

Comment by SRStarin on Overcoming the negative signal of not attending college. · 2011-02-16T21:49:30.527Z · LW · GW

I think your proposed program would not be valuable because colleges do, for the most part, make available the skills for thinking and communicating more clearly. And getting a degree does, for the most part, mean that the person is capable of sustained, organized work on challenging tasks that require creative application of a large skill set. In other words, they can be successful at a profession.

All colleges are going to have some bad students, and some of those students will be able to cheat their way through without learning much. But most professors want to see both creativity and diligence in their students' work, and they grade accordingly. (I should note that my university experiences are mostly large state universities. I don't have much exposure to elite schools or the students that attended them.)

In my experience, smart people who try college and don't finish (for reasons other than financial or the like) are not very good at working for others. They sometimes make great entrepreneurs, but I wouldn't want them working for me until they'd built up a lot of real world experience and demonstrated they can succeed. Smart people who never go to college I don't have much experience with

Comment by SRStarin on Procedural Knowledge Gaps · 2011-02-10T01:59:13.814Z · LW · GW

Anyone who wants to can wear perfume/cologne (it's essentially the same stuff, just a different word for a different gender of user). If you're wondering whether you should try it, then try it! Go to a large department store and try out their testers, then walk around for the day and see if you and your companions like it. The effect immediately after application is often not the effect after it airs a bit. You can even try mixing scents. The one thing I strongly recommend is to avoid the really cheap stuff. If the budget is tight, try different good high-quality scents for free for a while, so you can be sure you'll like what you get.

The way I've seen perfume applied usually sprayed on one wrist, then the wrists are rubbed together, and then the wrists are lightly touched to the neck and clothes. This avoids getting too strong a smell, and if you overspray the wrist, you can wash it off.

When I use cologne, I spray it in my armpits instead of deodorant, and maybe on my throat. That's not necessarily typical--it's sort of the old way cologne was used, and works for me because I have light BO. You can also use cologne the same way I described for perfume.

In the U.S., cologne is not usually considered an appropriate substitute for deodorant, but individual tastes run a broad gamut on that. Some people are allergic to most perfumes and colognes--they do have actual botanicals in them.

Comment by SRStarin on Procedural Knowledge Gaps · 2011-02-09T23:52:47.028Z · LW · GW

That does make it difficult to use the techniques I suggested. Some people do not like other people to use their names because they experience it as an attempt to control them emotionally. They feel it invokes automatic parent-child responses that others ought not have access to.

I think the number of these folks is very low (I've only met one person who feels this way). But, if he feels that way, it makes sense that there would be people who might be overwhelmed by the emotional burden of invoking such an emotional response. I certainly feel more burdened when I use his name in the first person. I'm not claiming that's what's going on with you. But, your description reminded me of this other person, and we can often gain great insight in hearing something even approximately related to our own difficulties.

As for suggestions, I would suggest that a good, small place to start, if you are able, is to repeat a person's name immediately after they introduce themselves to you, and leave it at that. I suspect it will help cement a few more names than you otherwise would have, and it might have less emotional impact on you to have a formulaic circumstance in which you can think of using another person's name with them.

Comment by SRStarin on Procedural Knowledge Gaps · 2011-02-09T19:45:41.169Z · LW · GW

Nope, not me. But the video on that site looks a lot like a bigger version of the inner guts of the North Paw. Just to be clear for any who didn't follow the link in my comment, I put together a kit that Sensebridge sells--I did not design the anklet.

Comment by SRStarin on Procedural Knowledge Gaps · 2011-02-09T19:35:40.644Z · LW · GW

When I started running study groups in college, the training included teaching how to learn student's names. The trick to remembering names is to say the name out loud, with focus on the name and the person at the same time. So, Joachim introduces himself, and you say "Joachim? Nice to meet you, Joachim!" Give the name and face enough time to sink into long term memory. If they don't introduce themselves, ask them their name, simply apologizing if it turns out you've met before.

Then, at the earliest good opportunity, reinforce the name. Using it during the conversation is good. Any time the topic goes in a new direction, or you or your interlocutor have a new idea, you say "So, Joachim, I have another way of looking at that..." or "Joachim, that is an excellent point." This is totally normal, but might not feel that way to a person who doesn't use names frequently.

Finally, it is minimally awkward to, at the end of a conversation, say to the person "Well, Joachim, it's been so good talking to you!" Or, if you've totally lost the name, say with a smile "I've enjoyed talking with you so much I've managed to forget your name!" And they will be quite pleased to remind you.

Not using people's names is like a microcosm of this thread--if you don't use the name, rightly or wrongly, you won't get affirmation or correction.

That all works if you have the capability of recognizing people but just have not practiced it. But you say specifically that you're not good with faces. A large number of people are partially or completely face-blind. Many (maybe most) don't realize they have differently functioning brains from the majority of people when it comes to faces. They often recognize people by their distinctive hair color or facial hair, by particularly large or small noses, chins, etc, or even in some cases, by learning the wardrobes of people they are frequently around. I read about one fellow with 4 young children and he is completely unable to tell them apart. So when one jumps in his lap, he hugs them and smiles and says, "So who are you, then?" His kids think it's a running joke, which is how he treats it, but it's the only way he'd know who he's got in his lap.

The point is, if you are not just "bad with faces" but instead face-blind, you may have to use other, more you-specific techniques for identifying people.

Comment by SRStarin on Procedural Knowledge Gaps · 2011-02-09T15:00:38.987Z · LW · GW

If you are under 50, I agree with the other comments that you don't really need to see a doctor regularly. I would want a baseline examination, though, to see if you have any tendencies toward bad cholesterol or blood sugar, so you can maintain a diet that will keep you healthy and able to continue skipping the doctor visits. I agree with MartinB that you should see the dentist at least once a year for a checkup and cleaning.

If you are approaching or over 50, you should really get a prostate exam every year or so. Prostate cancer is very common, relatively slow to progress, and very treatable if caught early on. Apparently (I just learned this in checking the web that I'm not giving you bad info) it is possible to do self-examinations, but combined with all the other things (blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, etc) that have increasing probability with age, you should probably be seeing a doctor once a year anyway.

Whatever doctor you call, you can ask them what their fee is before making an appointment. You can also ask what their fees are for specific tests and procedures. Calling several doctors and asking the same questions (i.e. shopping around) is the only way I know of to find cheap doctors. As for skill, recommendations are the way to go. You may be able to find recommendations/reviews online.

Comment by SRStarin on Procedural Knowledge Gaps · 2011-02-09T14:35:55.655Z · LW · GW

When I interact with people who behave the way you do (there a lot here at NASA), I generally do not hold it against them.

However, since you said you'd like to change, here are some suggestions that don't require a great deal of attention because they are responses to specific events (which you would need to practice noticing):

  • Always say "Thank you" for everything. Assume that no one thinks you're thankful unless you say so. It's not necessarily true, but it is true sometimes, and it's virtually never true that saying "thank you" will annoy someone that has just done something for you.
  • Learn people's names and use them when you see someone for the first time each day (assuming you're in an anglophone culture--romance cultures greet more often, I don't know about other cultures). For many people, saying "Hi, JoAnn!" instead of just "Hi" or "Mmf" helps make them feel valued and respected by you.
  • It's OK to leave a conversation that others are continuing, if they're not actually speaking to you at the time you leave. Tell everyone "Bye" or "Talk to you later" or whatever is appropriate for your expectations of interacting in the future, and then step away. If you don't want to interrupt a lively discussion, you can just raise your hand in a quick wave, try to make eye contact with at least one person if you can and smile or nod, and step away.
Comment by SRStarin on Procedural Knowledge Gaps · 2011-02-09T14:15:10.545Z · LW · GW

OMG I did not even know I didn't know how to tie my shoes! I was tying granny knots instead of square knots. I have been double-knotting my laces for years because they would keep coming undone. No longer! Great link there, Mr. Graehl.

I never learned the bunny ears method, but according to that same web site, it results in the same knot as the standard method.

Comment by SRStarin on Procedural Knowledge Gaps · 2011-02-09T13:48:57.508Z · LW · GW

When I wear the device, there are eight motors positioned around my ankle. The one pointing most closely to north vibrates. As I move, there is sometimes some lag before a motor changes state, but when I'm still, there is always one motor buzzing, or else two motors kind of taking turns. (Actually, one of the motors doesn't work, because I burned the circuit board at its contact >< But that still tells me something.)

I'm not totally used to it yet--the buzzing is a little uncomfortable when it goes on for too long in one spot (like sitting in a car driving straight for several minutes). I think it might be an improvement if the motors were pulsed instead of continuous. But, if I am walking around, changing directions, it feels just fine. But I haven't been using it enough for me to feel a strong absence or blindness when I take it off.

How do I use the knowledge? One of my hobbies is geocaching. In geocaching, I usually need to look at a GPS receiver and a compass alternately, while also not tripping over roots and while looking around for my goal. I haven't gotten to try it yet, but with the ankle device (it's called North Paw), I'm hoping to reduce my visual burden by transferring some responsibility to my tactile modality.

Comment by SRStarin on Procedural Knowledge Gaps · 2011-02-08T19:00:25.081Z · LW · GW

This weekend I finally finished my compass anklet. It's pretty impressive how quickly the human brain can include a new sense. I'm looking forward to taking it geocaching!

Comment by SRStarin on Procedural Knowledge Gaps · 2011-02-08T18:47:52.564Z · LW · GW

What you're asking may require practice, rather than just following a new set of guidelines. I have had some formal vocal training, so I can offer some activities that could help.

One important factor in public speaking is breath support. Practice breathing deeply and smoothly, with erect posture and tense abdominal muscles. (Doing this daily can be very refreshing, anyway.)

Practice speaking at various sound levels--softly and loudly--alone (or with a supportive friend) in a room with hard walls and/or floor, so you can hear yourself clearly. Tense the muscles of your throat and soft palate (the back of the roof of your mouth) in different ways to change your voice in ways that may feel and sound unnatural. This should help you gain a better sense of how to use your voice.

When you speak more loudly, does the pitch of your voice go up? Many people do this, because our ears are more sensitive to higher pitches. Try forcing more air through your words to gain volume instead of raising the pitch. In other words, use more air to say the same words by increasing the pressure of your abdominal muscles.

When we speak loudly, we can generally feel a vibration, if we pay attention. When you speak usually, you may find that the sensation is in your throat, or in the far back of your mouth. Force yourself to yawn, but then activate your voice during the yawn (i.e. vocalize the yawn), to place the sensation more in your sinuses and the front of your face (the front of the face is called the masque). This may take some practice, but the most pleasant sonority of most people's voices is achieved by using the face as a resonator.

I hope one or more of those activities can help the sonority and pitch aspects of your voice become more like what you want. I haven't heard your voice, so it may be that I'd think it doesn't need any fixing :) My husband hates his voice, but I think it's great!

Comment by SRStarin on Procedural Knowledge Gaps · 2011-02-08T18:29:19.291Z · LW · GW

On the other hand, some recording technologies make your voice sound higher and thinner than it really is. Voice answering machines are really bad about this. But for enunciation, rhythm, and that sort of thing, this should be very helpful.

Comment by SRStarin on Procedural Knowledge Gaps · 2011-02-08T18:04:28.403Z · LW · GW

Incidentally, the lack of fiber is important for diabetics to consider. My grandmother is diabetic and is prone to insulin shock. She was told to drink fruit juice if she feels woozy. Well, she prefers fresh fruit, and she felt woozy one day and ate a peach. That pushed into full blown shock and another trip to the hospital. I had to explain to her that the fiber in fruit is like plant-based insulin--it prevents sugar from being used quickly. That's why it's important for healthy eating, but exactly the reason she needs to drink fruit juice to prevent diabetic shock.

Comment by SRStarin on Procedural Knowledge Gaps · 2011-02-08T17:55:05.746Z · LW · GW

Matt gives an OK description, but it is missing some important points, such as attachment order, so please consider these instructions:

  • 1) Park the good car so that its battery is as close as possible to the dead car's battery, and turn off the ignition.
  • 2) Expose the battery terminals and attach one end of one cable to the + terminal of the good car.
  • 3) Attach the other end of that cable to the + terminal of the dead car.
  • 4) Attach one end of the other cable to the - terminal of the good car.
  • 5) Attach the last remaining clamp to exposed metal of the car somewhere other than the dead battery. This is to avoid potential explosions from sparks and leaking batteries. Anyway, I remember the full order as "good plus, bad plus, good minus, bad car."
  • 6) Start the good car, leave it in park, and gently feed some gas to rev the engine for a half a minute or so.
  • 7) Have the other person start their car. If it doesn't start, you may need to feed fuel to the good car's engine for several minutes before trying again.
  • 8) When the dead car starts, remove the cables in the reverse order that you clamped them (bad car, good minus, bad plus, good plus).
  • 9) Don't turn off the bad car until you are in a place where it's OK for it to die again.

(Edit: Gave the list bullets to be easier to read.)

Comment by SRStarin on Procedural Knowledge Gaps · 2011-02-08T17:43:43.876Z · LW · GW

Not just sparks. The electrical system of one or both cars can be severely damaged.

Also, you shouldn't attach the negative cable to the negative terminal on the dead car, but to exposed metal of the car's chassis (i.e. structure). This is to avoid a spark igniting any leaking fluid from the bad battery. Flaming battery acid = not fun.

Comment by SRStarin on Procedural Knowledge Gaps · 2011-02-08T17:21:29.817Z · LW · GW

I learned the alphabet very early (~2 years old), and when I was about 4 or 5, I learned how to say it backwards without referring to any outside cues. I can remember saying it backwards and really having to focus on visualizing the alphabet while doing it. It's perhaps because of this forward-backward learning that I know the alphabet in the same way I know the digits 0-9. There is no process to create the list in my mind, it's just there, permanently.

So, maybe practicing saying the alphabet backwards is a good memory aid. But also, visualizing the letters should also be helpful if you are able to visualize letters at all (some people aren't).

Comment by SRStarin on Rationality Quotes: February 2011 · 2011-02-03T17:21:53.139Z · LW · GW

I didn't know where it was going at all until I hit the words "instead they became natural orators." It was a that point that I thought of my 17-month-old daughter. Thank you for a very timely message.

Comment by SRStarin on Policy Debates Should Not Appear One-Sided · 2011-02-02T14:03:54.522Z · LW · GW

I'm only trying to correct the comment's incorrect assertions about objectivism and libertarianism. To address your comment, I'll start by pointing out Objectivism is a system of ethics, a set of rules for deciding how to treat other people and their stuff. It's not a religion, so it can't answer questions like "Why do some people who work hard and live right have bad luck?"

So, I will assume you are saying that people who work hard in our society seem to you to systematically fail to get what they work for. To clarify my comment, objectivism says you only deserve to get what you work for from other people. That is, you don't in any way deserve to receive from others what they didn't already agree to pay you in exchange for your work.

But, some people can't find anyone to pay them to work. Some can't work at all. Some can sell their work, but can't get enough to make a living. Because of the size and complexity of our society, there are huge numbers of people who have these problems. Sometimes it's their fault--maybe they goofed off in high school or college--but often it's not. If we were cavemen, we'd kick them out of the cave and let them starve, but we're not. We have multiple safety mechanisms, also because of the size and complexity of our society, through neighbors, schools, churches, and local, state and national governments, that help most people through hard times. The fact that I'm OK with governments being in that sentence is a major reason I can't call myself a strict Objectivist, but I'm still more a libertarian than anything else, politically. I think the ideal is that no one should fall through our safety nets, but there will always be people who do, just like the mother of five in the OP.

And when everyone is having a harder time than usual, more people will fall through the safety nets.

And if your problem is with whole nations of people who seem to work hard for very little, well, I probably agree with you, and our beef is with the history of colonialism.

Comment by SRStarin on Policy Debates Should Not Appear One-Sided · 2011-02-02T01:49:21.647Z · LW · GW

You misunderstand Rand's Objectivism. It's not that people who bad-luck into a bad situation deserve that situation. Nor do people who good-luck into a good situation deserve that reward. You only deserve what you work for. That is Objectivism, in a nutshell. If I make myself a useful person, I don't owe my usefulness to anyone, no matter how desperate their need. That may look like you're saying the desperate deserve their circumstances, but that is just the sort of fallacy Eliezer was writing about in the OP.

Where libertarian political theory relates to Objectivism is in the way the government often oversteps its bounds in expecting successful people to do extra work to help others out. Many libertarians are quite charitable--they just don't want the government forcing them to be so.

Comment by SRStarin on A Bayesian Argument for the Resurrection of Jesus · 2011-01-28T20:09:48.206Z · LW · GW

I'm glad you mentioned survivorship bias. It allows us to consider the possibility that there were reasons why the story of the resurrection of Christ would be more likely to survive than others.

The story of a great savior dying and/or descending into Hell to save someone they love was very old even at the time. The cult of Persephone was well-known to the Jews; Persephone spending a season each year in Hades bought life for the land and special rewards for followers in the afterlife. Gilgamesh went into the depths to save his dearest friend Enkidu; Gilgamesh is thought to have lived around 2500 BC, and the Epic of Gilgamesh was well-known to the ancient world (one copy was dated to the 7th century BC).

Those are stories Jesus and his contemporaries would already have heard. Plus, they have come through the ages to us today. The story of Jesus going to Hell and coming back followed a well-trodden path, one that made many a religion popular.

Comment by SRStarin on Omega can be replaced by amnesia · 2011-01-27T00:22:17.868Z · LW · GW

You point out perhaps the only potentially meaningful difference, and it is the main salient point in dispute between one-boxers and two-boxers in the Omega problem.

First subpoint: With Omega, you are told (by Omega) that there is certainty--that he is never wrong--and you have a large but finite number of previous experiments that do not refute him. Any uncertainty is merely hoped for/dreaded. (There are versions in which there is definite uncertainty, but those are clearly not similar to the OP.)

Second subpoint: If there is truly, really, actually no uncertainty, then correlation is perfect. It is hard to determine cause and effect in such conditions with no chance to design experiments to separate them. I'd argue that cause is a low-value concept in such a situation.

Comment by SRStarin on What do superintelligences really want? [Link] · 2011-01-25T15:31:01.952Z · LW · GW

Clearly, there are some internal values that an AI would need to be able to modify, or else it couldn't learn. But I think there is good reason to disallow an AI from modifying its own rules for reward, at least to start out. An analogy in humans is that we can do some amazingly wonderful things, but some people go awry when they begin abusing drugs, thereby modifying their own reward circuitry. Severe addicts find they can't manage a productive life, instead turning to crime to get just enough cash to feed their habits. I'd say that there is inherent danger for human intelligences in short-circuiting or otherwise modifying our reward pathways directly (i.e. chemically), and so there would likely be danger in allowing and AI to directly modify its reward pathways

Comment by SRStarin on What do superintelligences really want? [Link] · 2011-01-25T04:24:07.403Z · LW · GW

Yes, it does seem safer to build non-self-modifying AIs. But I'm not quite saying that should be the limit. I'm saying that any AI that can self-modify ought to have a hard barrier where there is code that can't be modified.

I know there has been excitement here about a transhuman AI being able to bypass pretty much any control humans could devise (that excitement is the topic that first brought me here, in fact). But going for a century or so with AIs that can't self-modify seems like a pretty good precaution, no?

Comment by SRStarin on What do superintelligences really want? [Link] · 2011-01-25T02:52:06.228Z · LW · GW

I don't have data or studies to back this up, but I feel that humans have a strong tendency to return to their base state. Self-modifying AI would not do that. So, doesn't it make sense that no AI should be made that doesn't have a demonstrably strong tendency to return to its base state?

That is, should it be a required and unmodifiable AI value that the base state has inherent value? This does have the potential to counteract some of the worst UFAI nightmares out there.