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Comment by tjohnson314 on Lesswrong 2016 Survey · 2016-03-26T23:51:05.845Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

It's probably too late to change this now, but I have a slight nitpick with some of the political questions.

Many of them use "No strong opinion" as the default between more and less. But I believe that leaves out those who have a strong opinion that the current level of, say, taxation is correct.

Comment by tjohnson314 on Why the tails come apart · 2015-06-09T20:45:12.661Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Another example I've heard is SAT scores. At any given school, the math and verbal scores are negatively correlated, because schools tend to select people who have around the same total score. But overall, math and verbal scores are positively correlated.

Comment by tjohnson314 on Extreme Rationality: It's Not That Great · 2015-05-14T17:42:48.056Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm from California, where it's legal to split lanes. Most places don't allow that.

I could just decide not to, but the ability to skip traffic that way is probably the single largest benefit of having a motorcycle.

Comment by tjohnson314 on Extreme Rationality: It's Not That Great · 2015-05-08T00:04:43.165Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Here's one example of a change I've made recently, which I think qualifies as x-rationality. When I need to make a decision that depends on a particular piece of data, I now commit to a decision threshold before I look at the data. (I feel like I took this strategy from a LW article, but I don't remember where now.)

For example, I recently had to decide whether it would be worth the potential savings in time and money to commute by motorcycle instead of by car. I set a threshold for what I considered an appropriate level of risk beforehand, and then looked up the accident statistics. The actual risk turned out to be several times larger than that.

Had I looked at the data first, I would have been tempted to find an excuse to go with my gut anyway, which simply says that motorcycles are cool. (I'm a 23-year-old guy, after all.) A high percentage of motorcyclists experience a serious or even fatal accident, so there's a decent chance that x-rationality saved me from that.

Comment by tjohnson314 on On Caring · 2015-01-05T21:52:59.796Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Have you made efforts to research it?

This is based on my own experience, and on watching my friends progress through school. I believe that the majority of successful people find their life path because someone inspired them. I don't know where I could even look to find hard numbers on whether that's true or not, but I'd like to be that person for as many people as I can.

That sounds deep, but is obviously false... It does seem very much like you're guided by your warm fuzzies.

My emotional brain is still struggling to accept that, and I don't know why. I'll see if I can coax a coherent reason from it later. But my rational brain says that you're right and I was wrong. Thanks.

Comment by tjohnson314 on On Caring · 2014-12-26T18:46:56.332Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

For me it works in two steps: 1) Notice something that someone would appreciate. 2) Do it for them.

As seems to often be the case with rationality techniques, the hard part is noticing. I'm a Christian, so I try to spend a few minutes praying for my friends each day. Besides the religious reasons, which may or may not matter to you, I believe it puts me in the right frame of mind to want to help others. A non-religious time of focused meditation might serve a similar purpose.

I've also worked on developing my listening skills. Friends frequently mention things that they like or dislike, and I make a special effort to remember them. I also occasionally write them down, although I try not to mention that too often. For most people, there's a stronger signaling effect if they think you just happened to remember what they liked.

Comment by tjohnson314 on On Caring · 2014-12-26T18:27:28.267Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

(Sorry, I didn't see this until now.)

I'll admit I don't really have data for this. But my intuitive guess is that students don't just need to be able to attend school; they need a personal relationship with a teacher who will inspire them. At least for me, that's a large part of why I'm in the field that I chose.

It's possible that I'm being misled by the warm fuzzy feelings I get from helping someone face-to-face, which I don't get from sending money halfway across the world. But it seems like there's many things that matter in life that don't have a price tag.

Comment by tjohnson314 on Rationality Quotes December 2014 · 2014-12-17T01:02:59.044Z · score: 10 (14 votes) · LW · GW

"You should never bet against anything in science at odds of more than about 10^12 to 1 against."

  • Ernest Rutherford
Comment by tjohnson314 on On Caring · 2014-10-10T11:12:30.171Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I'm sympathetic to the effective altruist movement, and when I do periodically donate, I try to do so as efficiently as possible. But I don't focus much effort on it. I've concluded that my impact probably comes mostly from my everyday interactions with people around me, not from money that I send across the world.

For example:

  • The best way for me to improve math and science education is to work on my own teaching ability.
  • The best way for me to improve the mental health of college students is to make time to support friends that struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts.
  • The best way for me to stop racism or sexism is to first learn to recognize and quash it in myself, and then to expose it when I encounter it around me.

Changing my own actions and attitudes is hard, but it's also the one area where I have the most control. And as I've worked on this for the past few years, I've managed to create a positive feedback loop by slowly increasing the size of my care-o-meter. Empathy is a useful habit that can be trained, just as much as rationality can be.

I realize that it's hard to get an accurate sense of the impact a donation can have for someone on the other side of the world. It's possible that I'm being led astray by my care-o-meter to focus on people near at hand. I do in principle care equally about people in other parts of the world, even if my care-o-meter hasn't figured that out yet. So if you'd like to prove to me that I can be more effective by focusing my efforts elsewhere, I'd be happy to listen. (I am a poor grad student, so donating large amounts of money isn't really feasible for me yet, although I do realize I still make far more than the world average.) For now, I'm doing the best that I can in the way that I know how.

To conclude, I wouldn't call myself an effective altruist, but I do count them as allies. And I wouldn't want to convert everyone to my perspective; as others have mentioned already, it's good to have a wide range of different approaches.