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Comment by will_euler on An EPub of Eliezer's blog posts · 2011-08-18T02:53:45.597Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The cover makes me less likely to send the link to a friend not familiar with the content.

I also don't want to have to explain the first thing my students will see if/when I offer the link to my critical thinking class.

Comment by will_euler on An EPub of Eliezer's blog posts · 2011-08-18T02:50:29.660Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you. I find this valuable.

However, I personally find the cover distasteful, even though it is obviously meant to be in jest.

I think it is better to avoid any hint of the trappings of religion or Eliezer as the great prophet.

I have personally encountered people who are sympathetic to Eliezer's ideas but are wary because of the pattern-matching going on that makes them think "potentially dangerous cult leader". The cover doesn't help that problem; in fact, it perpetuates it--whatever the content of the document.

As we know from presidential politics, impressions matter, even or maybe especially when they are superficial.

Comment by will_euler on Rationality Quotes: June 2011 · 2011-06-14T18:28:07.023Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

This quote was written in 1965 by a psychoanalyst, so I don't even know if they had the same diagnostic criteria for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder that they do today. He's talking about "styles" of behavior. Based on a little searching, it seems to me that a preoccupation with rules is characteristic of what is called Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder. As is so often the case, there's a broad spectrum from quirky behavior to personality disorder.

What makes it a disorder is if it is interferring with your enjoyment of life. It is irrational to choose according to arbitrary rules when doing so makes you miss out on outcomes that are preferable but require you going outside of your rules.

A little searching on the Internet says the treatment for the disorder is talk therapy. It's possible that could work.

I would say first of all you have to recognize when living according to rules is making your life better and when living based on rules is boxing you in. Having rules can make decisions easier, but it can make you miss out on a lot of life. Seek feedback from friends and family members about areas in which you might be too rigid. Make sure you tell them you really want honest feedback. Then take baby steps to break out of routines. Doing so will also build your courage.

Accept that it's OK to make mistakes. Failure is a great source of learning. If you have an attitude that says, "I am going to make mistakes," then you might not feel so much anxiety about making a less-than-optimal choice. (I recommend the book The Pursuit of Perfect by Tal Ben-Shahar. I learned a lot about avoiding perfectionism from that book.)

You might find that something like an improv comedy class makes you more spontaneous and able to see how rules for behavior aren't as fixed as you might think they are. People get by and thrive by doing things totally differently from how you do, and you might like a different way better, if you gave yourself the chance.

Try something that you wouldn't have ever thought you'd do before. See how it doesn't feel that bad. (Again, you might start small: browse through the section of the bookstore where you would normally never be caught dead.)

Be courageous. Be spontaneous. Have fun.

Comment by will_euler on Rationality Quotes: June 2011 · 2011-06-12T20:47:50.841Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

"When he is confronted by the necessity for a decision, even one which may be trivial from a normal standpoint, the obsessive-compulsive person will typically attempt to reach a solution by invoking some rule, principle, or external requirement which might, with some degree of plausibility, provide a "right" answer....If he can find some principle or external requirement which plausibly applies to the situation at hand, the necessity for a decision disappears as such; that is, it becomes transformed into the purely technical problem of applying the correct principle. Thus, if he can remember that it is always sensible to go to the cheapest movie, or "logical" to go to the closest, or good to go to the most educational, the problem resolves to a technical one, simply finding which is the most educational, the closest, or such. In an effort to find such requirements and principles, he will invoke morality, "logic," social custom, and propriety, the rules of "normal" behavior (especially if he is a psychiatric patient), and so on. In short he will try to figure out what he "should" do.

-David Shapiro, Neurotic Styles

Comment by will_euler on September 2010 Southern California Meetup · 2010-11-26T04:44:19.137Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The ideas below would probably work best for focused discussion on certain specific issues (e.g. reasons for hard takeoff, threat from nanotechnological disasters), but I think what I say below is relevant to rationalist training.

I personally often find that simple freeflowing discussion can be less than optimally effective. I often wish there was a more organized way to focus discussion to get maximum skill development. I'm afraid I'm not aware of research into refinements of general discussion designed to improve knowledge and skill acquisition.

Here are some thoughts I have.

I have found Toastmasters-style impromptu speaking practice to be an efficient and effective way to develop my ability to talk about topics. Impromptu Speaking I can imagine many ways in which such techniques could be employed for rationalist training.

Arguably some ways of doing this could put too much emphasis on rhetorical skills, but I don't think this need be true. Impromptu speaking exercises are a quick and efficient way to allow people to explore their understanding of a topic in front of an audience. With judicious use of immediate feedback, impromptu speaking could promote rationalist skill acquisition.

One advantage is that impromptu speaking makes efficient use of time. People have to think on their feet and present material fast. (For hard topics, speakers might get one or two minutes to prepare the key points of their presentation.) Public speaking practice improves understanding; even when you understand something fairly well, if you don't know it well enough to explain to someone else, you don't really understand it. (The medical school three-step program for learning how to perform a procedure seems appropriate here: See one. Do one. Teach one.)

For impromptu speaking, it is important that speakers only learn what topic they will be talking about after they volunteer; otherwise audience members will be rehearse what they will say when it is their turn to go up. I've found that one can cover quite a bit of what one understands in even two or three minutes. If done solely for the purpose of speaker skill acquisition, a designated mentor might call for the speaker to move on as soon as she demonstrates mastery of some area of concern. One key feature found in graduate school oral exams is that as soon as a student appears to demonstrate mastery in a given subject area the testers move the discussion to another subject where the student is potentially weak. It seems the same principle could work here as well.

Alternatively, If done supportingly and judiciously, audience members could interject when advanced participants are speaking and force the speaker to consider some critical point. (If this liberty is abused, each audience member might be restricted to one interjection.)

Other notes: a) There might also be a designated Socratic questioner who could potentially interpret the speaker at any given point and ask for further refinement or support of some argument. Even just watching such an interaction could be an efficient way to learn, more so than just listening to someone lecture.

b) There are no doubt other ways the feedback could best be tailored to the knowledge-level of the speaker.

c) Perhaps a list of focused readings might be put together ahead of time.

d) There might also be a running EtherPad-type commentary that would allow the speaker to be able to go back and read people's reactions and commentary on her content. If, at the end, the group desired to have a general discussion having the EtherPad could be very productive because they could start from this base of learning. (If someone knew what the best way to sync the audio with the text that would be helpful too. I know there is a feature like that for Microsoft OneNote, but that wouldn't allow for network-effect advantages.)

Another idea. What about this? People gain insights into problems with their own views when people with superior insight point out flaws, assumptions, fallacies, biases, etc. in a speaker's arguments. But if there were simply an unfocused discussion among 10 people the amount of useful feedback might be limited. As a college professor, I've found that pair work can be effective to get students practice in articulating their views. Ideally, of course, everyone could pair up with someone who sees things they are missing. Here's an idea: people first estimate their degree of knowledge about a topic. If there are ten people, someone volunteers for 10 (the highest), then people successively volunteer for 9, 8, 7, 6, and so on. After a topic is presented (and feedback is given to an impromptu speaker), people could sit in a circle in an ordered hierarchy of mentors for that topic. A facilitator could encourage all the organizational issues to take place rapidly. First, the evens turn to their right and discuss for two minutes. In this sempai-kohai relationship, first the kohai (junior member) gives his understanding of the issue, then, for each point, if the sempai has something constructive to offer, he voices it; if not, they move on to the next point. After a period of two or three minutes, the evens then turn to the left. That way, everyone would have the opportunity for focused one-on-one interaction with someone who is potentially more (and less) knowledgeable than themselves. (#10 wouldn't of course. Perhaps talking #1 could help him to have dramatic gains in understanding though.)

I can imagine different ways the above ranked ring arrangement could be used in combination with the impromptu speaking method. Perhaps, people would only give impromptu talks on one of the topics that they are generally confident about. Then the pair work discussion would commence (potentially after some form of feedback to the impromptu speaker).

Comment by will_euler on Call for Volunteers: Rationalists with Non-Traditional Skills · 2010-11-03T02:20:09.245Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm also keen to find out what role hypnosis can play in optimizing one's life. Based on its effectiveness at reducing chronic pain and helping people to quit smoking it seems like there could be real benefits to employing hypnosis.

At first I was thinking of more lifestyle benefits but now that I think about it there could be real benefits in hypnotically inducing people to do things like seek to be accurate or to consider the opposite. I've never seen post-hypnotic rationality-training studied but it would certainly be interesting to experiment with it if you could get someone. Seems like little downside, some possible upside anyway. Even a null result would be interesting.

Comment by will_euler on Less Wrong Book Club and Study Group · 2010-06-15T18:40:01.535Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm interested in doing this. I live in NYC.

Comment by will_euler on Rationality Quotes November 2009 · 2009-11-30T06:37:29.568Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I recommend the "Prologue: Why Read?" from Bloom's book How to Read and Why. http://www.amazon.com/How-Read-Why-Harold-Bloom/dp/product-description/0684859076

Comment by will_euler on Rationality Quotes November 2009 · 2009-11-30T06:22:48.038Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

We read frequently if unknowingly, in quest of a mind more original than our own.

--Harold Bloom

Comment by will_euler on Less Wrong Q&A with Eliezer Yudkowsky: Ask Your Questions · 2009-11-19T02:50:09.940Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Let's say someone (today, given present technology) has the goal of achieving rational self-insight into one's thinking processes and the goal of being happy. You have suggested (in conversation) such a person might find himself in an "unhappy valley" insofar as he is not perfectly rational. If someone today -- using current hedonic/positive psychology --undertakes a program to be as happy as possible, what role would rational self-insight play in that program?

Comment by will_euler on Less Wrong Q&A with Eliezer Yudkowsky: Ask Your Questions · 2009-11-19T02:11:41.485Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

How does the goal of acquiring self-knowledge (for current humans) relate to the goal of happiness (insofar as such a goal can be isolated)?

If one aimed to be as rational as possible, how would this help someone (today) become happy? You have suggested (in conversation) that there might be a tradeoff such that those who are not perfectly rational might exist in an "unhappy valley". Can you explain this phenomenon, including how one could find themselves in such a valley (and how they might get out)? How much is this term meant to indicate an analogy with an "uncanny valley"?

Less important, but related: What self-insights from hedonic/positive psychology have you found most revealing about people's ability to make choices aimed at maximizing happiness (eg limitations of affective forecasting, paradox of choice, impact of upward vs. downward counterfactual thinking on affect, mood induction and creativity/cognitive flexibility, etc.

(I feel these are sufficiently intertwined to constitute one general question about the relationship between self-knowledge and happiness.)

Comment by will_euler on Open Thread: August 2009 · 2009-08-02T06:38:05.933Z · score: 24 (24 votes) · LW · GW

While I find I have benefitted a great deal from reading posts on OB/LW, I also feel that, given the intellectual abilities of the people involved, the site does not function as an optimally effective way to acquire the art of rationality. I agree that the wiki is a good step in the right direction, but if one of the main goals of LW is to train people to think rationally, I think LW could do more to provide resources for allowing people to bootstrap themselves up from wherever they are to master levels of rationality.

So I ask: What are the optimal software, methods, educational tools, problem sets, etc. the community could provide to help people notice and root out the biases operating in their thinking. The answer may be sources already extant, but I have a proposal.

Despite being a regular reader of OB/LW, I still feel like a novice at the art of rationality. I realize that contributing one's ideas is an effective way to correct one's thinking, but I often feel as though I have all these intellectual sticking points which could be rooted out quite efficiently--if only the proper tools were available. As far as my own learning methods go, assuming a realistic application of current technology, I would love something like the following:

An interactive (calibrated to respond to learner's demonstrated level of ability-- similar to the GRE) test with a set of 1000+ problems, wherein I could detect the biases operating in my thinking as I approach given questions and problems. Using such a technique, I believe I could train myself up to the point where I could more closely approximate what I remember Eliezer somewhere saying is going on when he approaches an argument: his brain is cycling through possible biases almost as automatically as it is controlling his autonomic nervous system.

[In terms of convenience, an added bonus would be to be able to look at questions through one of the standard flashcard applications available on the iphone (or other devices), so I could look at, say, a few (or a few dozen) questions whenever the urge struck me. I dream of such a tool someday even incorporating SuperMemo-type capabilities, wherein even experts are able to keep their knowledge fresh by having questions reappear based on optimal strategies for obviating long-term degradation of memories. I am interested in helping to develop such a learning tool.]

I welcome any input about how to proceed with such a plan. Although I am a PhD candidate/adjunct professor, I don’t know what the optimal technology for such a project would be. It does seem, though, that the technical demands necessary to get such a project off the ground need not be imposing.

Once such a project got off the ground, I believe the community could come together to provide effective questions and answers. As I see it, it would neither be necessary nor desirable for such a project to be created by a single person.

I believe there are many people for whom this could project could be valuable. We might find that, were such a tool to be implemented, at the very least, it might raise the level of discourse on LW. Beyond that, who knows. Thanks for your suggestions.