William_Darwin's Shortform 2019-08-12T22:41:01.746Z


Comment by William_Darwin on William_Darwin's Shortform · 2020-05-23T07:43:32.066Z · LW · GW

I've been thinking about people's mindset as it relates to spending their free time. Specifically, when you go to do something 'productive' like learn about a new topic, work through exercises in a textbook, go through an online course, you feel that you have to intentionally decide not to play video games, watch Netflix, etc and forego short-term happiness? Or do you feel that this decision is straightforward because that's what you would prefer to be doing and you don't feel like you sacrifice anything?

Comment by William_Darwin on Ways that China is surpassing the US · 2019-11-06T00:43:02.129Z · LW · GW

You say that "If America can copy those methods and create even more prosperity, fantastic" but when the author states "We may find important truths needed to bring about American revitalization." you say this is as meaningful as saying "WE MUST RESTORE THE HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE!"

Seems to me that you and the author share a common belief, that successful Chinese policies or frameworks should bring about reflection and positive changes for American government (or any government, it just so happens that this post was framed by an American).

Also...whenever you say "me" to make your points, you lose me as someone who isn't you.

Comment by William_Darwin on Matt Goldenberg's Short Form Feed · 2019-09-16T22:05:53.796Z · LW · GW

Sounds interesting. I think it may be difficult to find a person, let alone multiple people on a given topic, who are have a particular skill but are also able to articulate it and/or identify the cognitive strategies they use successfully.

Regardless, I'd like to hear about how people reduce repetitive talk in their own heads - how to focus on new thoughts as opposed to old, recurring ones...if that makes sense.

Comment by William_Darwin on [deleted post] 2019-09-16T06:12:15.158Z

Hmmm..I think personal experience tells me that distraction-avoidant behaviour will still choose intellectual work, as long as it is quicker than the alternative.

I might choose a game over writing a LW shortform but I will still choose a LW shortform over writing a novel.

Comment by William_Darwin on William_Darwin's Shortform · 2019-09-04T02:51:20.493Z · LW · GW

This post is an expansion/remix of elityre's post here:

I am looking for some criticism/comments of the below post, does anyone find this type of exploration useful? Why? Would diagrams/images assist or detract from the post? Should my formulas be more concise and use mathematical equations or is writing them out in markdown code sufficient?


A topic that is at the heart of the way our civilisation functions is that of power or status. A powerful person in business has connections, the ability to make things happen and, ultimately, has a greater capacity to achieve a certain goal. This is absolutely worth delving deeper into, as a greater understanding of this type of control actually provides a really important framework to achieving your own goals - understanding how your skills tie into this complex network of power transactions.

This post first outlines the basic axioms of this type of framework, exploring the basics of human behaviour and how these concepts tie into a resource transaction. Next, I propose a formula to conceptualise how we approximate the value of another person's value to us in these types of transactions. This is extremely useful to view as a tool for improving your own value in terms of resource power.

Next, the concept of 'status' as an individual attribute is dicussed. These transactions coalesce into a relatively stable status hierarchy and the nature of a person's power is identified. Finally, I will list a few resources if you wish to look deeper into this topic at some point. <br/>

Basic Axioms

1. People Have Goals

Let's start at the very beginning. You, as an individual, want things. You have goals. It may be to own a Ferrari, or to become a famous pianist. You may want to move to London or to learn about Italian architecture. Each of these goals is uniquely yours and consists of unique components. In order to achieve the goal, you must complete the various components, or tasks, that comprise this goal.

Each component requires a certain amount of a resource. In purchasing a ferrari you may need $200,000 dollars. To learn Italian architecture may require 50 hours talking to an expert in the topic. Money and time are resources that you need to aquire to achieve a goal. <br/>

2. Everyone Controls Resources

You control a number of different resources yourself. You have some amount of money, some amount of skill in various topics, some number of connections within your social and professional networks, some time you may dedicate to a cause, etc.

Similarly, other people control resources. They may have expertise on the same topics as you, or totally different ones. They may have more money, less time and more connections. The idea is that everyone has some unique combination of resources that make them uniquely valuable to other people.

You may have the goal to write a book. This goal is comprised of components including: researching, writing, editing, publishing and marketing. Each one of these components requires resources - whether that is time, money, expertise...whatever. While you may have some of the resources required to achieve your goal, there are other people that control these relevant resources.

An editor is an easy example. This person has skill in editing manuscripts (a resource relevant to your goal) and working with them is something you want/need to do. This makes an editor valuable to you, more valuable than that same person would be to someone not interested in writing a book. <br/>

3. Trading Resources is Beneficial

Now this concept gets interesting because an editor will not provide their expertise for nothing in return. Even if they do the work absolutely for free, they receive some amount of goodwill on your behalf, an increased likelihood for you to refer them to people in the future or any number of other non-tangible resources. This is the nature of a transaction - each individual trades relevant resources in order to accomplish a certain goal.

People, then, are more willing to help (offer favours to) a person who can help them achieve their goals. You make a trade, or ally, with other people who control resources you deem to be worthwhile.

A certain individual has a certain value to you, this perceived value differs based on your own goals. Let's explore this concept by placing some values on a person's resources; from the perspective of two different individuals. <br/>

Transactional Value

Note: Note that the following definitions and numbers are guesses designed to illustrate the framework I use to think about this types of power transactions - they are in no way verified or proofed. Also, we obviously don't do explicit calculations about the 'power' or 'willingness' of a person but it is worthwhile exploring how people mentally approximate this kind of thing. <br/>


Power = Expected Payoff of Person's Resources

We will keep this really simple, but utility is the sum of all the payoff's a person's resources offer. Person C may be great at editing so their Power to Person A and B may be something like:

Person A (Wants to write a book): 80 Power Person B (Doesn't want to write a book): 5 Power

Person A sees Person C as more valuable than Person B does, because their resource aligns more closely with their goal. If Person C was only accepting money as a form of transactional power in exchange for their expertise, supply and demand dictates that Person A would be willing to pay a higher price.

Person C may also be an overachiever and have a deep knowledge of, say, coding. Person B has very little interest in writing a book but they do want to build their own website. Person A is also a little interested in coding (to market their future book) but not as interested as Person B. The cumulative Power now looks like:

Person A: 80 + 10 = 90 Power Person B: 5 + 70 = 75 Power

Person C is now has a greater Power to both Person A and B. However, they will still trade resources with Person A since that person gets greater Power, and thus offers more Power (typically), from the exchange. <br/>

Probability of Exchange

Probability of Exchange = Percentage Chance of a Transaction Occurring

While a bit harder to measure quantitatively, we can consider another variable of transactional value to be the probability that the exchange will actually happen (on the agreed upon terms). For instance, lets say that Person A is fairly rude and, in the past, has tried to weasel their way out of business deals and agreements. This signals low 'integrity' in a person and will likely affect the outcome of the exchange.

Person B, on the other hand, has a track record of paying on time, being respectful and ultimately upholding their end of these types of transactions much more frequently. This is favourable for future transactions.

Person A: 65/100 Favourable Transactions = 0.65 Integrity Person B: 90/100 Favourable Transactions = 0.90 Integrity <br/>


Utility = Power * Probability of Exchange

Just like the Expected Value formula used in probability analysis, we can say that the Power is the expected payoff (power) multiplied by the likelihood of that payoff occurring (probability of exchange).

Taking the variables given above, the utility for Person C will be as follows:

Person A: 90 * 0.65 = 58.5 Utility Person B: 75 * 0.90 = 67.5 Utility

Person C will actually opt to engage and trade resources with Person B - when taking into account personal integrity and the Power from Person C's two skills.

At this point, the transaction tends to move to resolution. We might say that each point of Utility is worth $10 and Personal B will pay Person C $675 in exchange for their expertise. Maybe Person C believes that they can receive relatively equal Utility from Person B's knowledge about cars and decides to trade utility that way. <br/>


Now imagine a scenario where Person B doesn't know anything about cars but does have a close friend who is an expert on the matter. Is this connection valuable to Person C? Of course! So having a connection to a resource is, in itself, a resource. We can imagine that the utility of this resource may be added to the power that our individual has.

Person B intially could offer 67.5 utility to Person C, all in monetary form. Now, Person C is happy to exchange less money in order to make use of Person B's important connection (call this Person D).

Let's say the power of this connection is worth 60 utility to Person C. The transaction value Person B gets from this connection would be something like:

60 * (Probability of Exchange Between Person B and C * Probability of exchange between Person B and D)

Connection Value = 60 * (0.9 * 0.7) = 37.8 Utility

The transactions would look like:

Old Transaction: $675 to Person C New Transaction: $297 to Person C and introduction to Person D

Note: This assumes Person B brings no other resources to the table but this is sufficient to illustrate the point of connection value. <br/>


The value added to the transaction by the use of a connection ties in to the concept of status. With multiple connections on top of an existing skillset, the value of a person reaches a certain level (think of it as a number, in terms of utility) to every person they meet. A person with greater resources (or ability to obtain those resources) essentially has more power/status.

All of these status/power transactions stabilise into a relatively static hierarchy of power. Those with high-quality, valuable connections continue to boost their own power by trading connections. Those at the bottom of this hierarchy are usually forced to use a form of convergent resource (like money) or to develop valuable skills. Sometimes it is a matter of boosting your integrity, or credibility, to the point that your power turns into meaningful utility (as people don't feel that they are risking so much to receive that power).

Comment by William_Darwin on Swimmer963's Shortform · 2019-08-19T06:36:30.849Z · LW · GW

Excellent reply, strong upvote. Have a feeling I really want to go to the gym but because nutrition is poor (not eating enough), my gym feedback loops have been spiralling downward to the point where I have given up.

Will certainly look into how to make my nutrition more compelling now, perhaps that means learning to cook better or something similar. Very much appreciate your comment and may actually look at looking more deeply into this idea, maybe I will turn it into a blog post.

Edit: In the spirit or learning this idea more deeply, I am very interested in anything else you would be willing to disclose about what it is that was your turning point for stopping finding Civilisation enjoyable - feel free to send me a message if willing (no pressure whatsoever)

Comment by William_Darwin on Swimmer963's Shortform · 2019-08-19T05:57:26.593Z · LW · GW

Very interesting comments, any thoughts on how you might make a certain activity compelling again? Would explicitly framing an activity such that it highlights a particularly important feedback loop be worthwhile? Minimising the impact/importance of your other desired loops?

Do you believe a manipulation like this is possible or do you think it would have to organically align with the types of loops you deem to be necessary at the time?

Just thinking from the point of, say, getting back into the gym...compelling myself to go seems to be overrided by other loops, at least until the point where my health has sufficiently declined to warrant a re-prioritisation.

Comment by William_Darwin on William_Darwin's Shortform · 2019-08-19T03:57:59.812Z · LW · GW

Appreciate the formatting assistance thankyou - this looks much closer to the markdown result I was hoping for. Additionally, I will keep that spacing requirement in mind for future posts.

Comment by William_Darwin on William_Darwin's Shortform · 2019-08-19T00:53:47.162Z · LW · GW

That's correct, seems like the headings didn't work so the formatting looks off here on LW.

My scheduled post with working markdown formatting is here:

This will turn into on September 1st (doesn't use this URL yet as it is not publicly available)

Comment by William_Darwin on Hazard's Shortform Feed · 2019-08-19T00:49:57.778Z · LW · GW

I use, functions very well as a personal wiki (can link to other pages, categorise, etc)

Comment by William_Darwin on Hazard's Shortform Feed · 2019-08-13T19:30:24.679Z · LW · GW

Maybe it has something to do with the sentiment that "if it's free, the product is you". Perhaps without paying some form of subscription, you feel that there is no 'bounded' payment for the service - as you consume more of any given service, you are essentially paying more (in cognitive load or something similar?).

Kind of feels like fixed vs variable costs - often you feel a lot better with fixed as it tends to be "more valuable" the more you consume.

Just an off-the-cuff take based on personal experience, definitely interested in hearing other takes.

Comment by William_Darwin on William_Darwin's Shortform · 2019-08-13T08:00:46.063Z · LW · GW

Very much appreciate your input and the kind words in regards to the merits of the post. I don't think I understand what it means to 'frame' something as you specified in this comment:

It might be useful to come up with frames and give them names and put them in a list, so you can do this:

Frames [Frame 1] [Frame 2] etc.

Any chance you could clarify/provide an example of what this kind of thing would look like? Thanks again.

Comment by William_Darwin on William_Darwin's Shortform · 2019-08-12T22:41:02.233Z · LW · GW

Looking for HARSH criticism on some musings about the application of leverage points from systems analysis to the idea generation process:

Leverage Points

Systems analysis is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as "the process of studying a procedure or business in order to identify its goals and purposes and create systems and procedures that will achieve them in an efficient way".

The concept of 'leverage points' is synonymous with the idea of single points of power - whether that be a single hero in an action movie or a miracle cure for disease. Change these points and you change the system in an enormous way.

This type of systems thinking provides a highly applicable toolkit which allows us to view and disassemble the idea generation process, identifying what areas within this 'system' are able to be shifted in small ways to produce large results.

By mapping this type of conceptual framework to the creative process, we can systematically break down where opportunities lie in creating more ideas of our own. This is about recognising what it is that Type B thinkers more successfully than those classified as Type A [explained in a redacted introduction for brevity, type A = people who are primarily idea consumers, type B = people who begin to 'produce' ideas].

The leverage points below are listed in order from least effective to most effective. Note that the concept of these points is not a concrete law, this is only a mental model which allows us to map reality as accurately as possible to a system of cognitive behaviour.

Note: This list of leverage points is not extensive due to inapplicability to this particular post, all references have been noted at the bottom of this page.

10. Constants, Parameters and Numbers

a. Number of unique situations To create more ideas, you must first be exposed to more situations which will provide the basis for creation. Increase the number of books, articles, movies, music, people and experiences you interact with on a daily basis. This expands the opportunity for an idea to blossom and is an excellent starting point for developing more ideas.

b. Number and variety of people you converse with

Each individual you come in contact with is an opportunity to glean unique and valuable information from. Having discussions with people from different cultures, ideologies, experiences, etc. allows you to view the same information in a different way, this is vitally important to developing ideas and solutions.

9. Buffer Sizes, Relative to their Flows

a. Depth of research: With a deeper level of understanding in any given field, you increase the ways in which you are able to approach any given situation. Arming yourself with a vast knowledge of any particular situation or topic gives you a better chance of coming up with the correct solution to a given problem because as your network of understanding grows, you increase the likelihood of generating a meaningful idea...essentially increasing your 'idea rate

Idea Rate = Number of Ideas / Number of Opportunities

8. Structure of Material Stocks and Intersecting Nodes

7. Length of Delays, Relative to Rate of System Changes

a. Reduce Cognitive Delay: Another way to become a better producer of ideas is to reduce the cognitive delay between the situation which produces an interesting thought and the time it takes to develop this thought into an idea. This will tie in with other leverage points but making it as easy as possible to spend time thinking about an idea increases the chance of multiple iterations of development occurring on any given thought.

With the same number of ideas per opportunity per unit of time, reducing the delay between cognitive processing means you are able to develop more thoughts in a given time period...thus increasing the likelihood of a successful or good idea.

Let's illustrate how reducing your processing time results in the production of more ideas:


Number of Opportunities = 800 Ideas/Opportunity = Idea Rate = 20% Good Ideas/Idea = Success Rate = 10%

Given that these rates stay the same, how many good ideas can be produced for three different rates of development over 100 hours of focused work?

Development Time Good Ideas/Hour Number of Good Ideas
2 0.05 5
1 0.1 10
0.5 0.2 20

6. Strength of Negative Feedback Loops

a. Test Multiple Methods of Idea Implementation: By testing a number of different channels whereby you are able to validate an idea, you develop the ability to eliminate the channels/methods which present the most negative feedback. Eliminating these opportunities means less friction surrounding the idea generation process.

b. Codify more information from negative feedback:

By engaging in more conversation about your ideas, you develop a better grasp of why you receive negative feedback about particular topics. By codifying this information, you are better able to understand why people are negative about a certain idea or topic. This makes you more or less inclined to develop that type of idea further in the future.

5. Gain Around Positive Feedback Loops

a. Find a receptive audience: This is about finding an intellectual community or receptive audience to have conversations with about your ideas. This also generates new ideas just through the positive feedback mechanism, especially if you are able to work through explanations successfully in these conversations.

b. Start by developing ideas from activities you enjoy: Pay particular attention to the types of activities you enjoy. In having fun you are more likely to think about a particular activity and thus more likely to generate ideas about it.

4. Structure of Information Flows

Record every idea you have: Carry around a notebook and write down whatever thought and ideas you have with people. Thinking of ideas is a skill. You are adding feedback here that previously was not part of the system.

3. The Rules of The System

a. Increase your conceptual degrees of freedom: Don't confine yourself to thinking about a topic in a thought pattern that already exists. Be prepared to implement mental models including first-principles thinking and reasoning by analogy in order to break through potential idea boundaries.

2. Goals of The System

a. Develop an inquisitive mindset: Work on developing a framework from which you're able to view future experiences and information you encounter. How can you learn from all of your experiences? By standardising the way in which you organise and execute on information, you are able to refine your perspective/lens.

What information surprised you? Why did it surprise you? Would this information surprise others? Are there blind spots in the current mode of thinking? Have you encountered similar types of problems in other fields of knowledge? How did those fields produce a solution? Your goal from interactions is not necessarily to come up with an idea but it is about viewing information in a way that facilitates innovation.

1. The System's Underlying Mindset or Paradigm

a. Practice working on more ideas: Become more used to the idea of 'taking a stance' on certain problems - even without sharing or discussing any results (ideally you would but still, this is an independently important factor) is a mindset shift that reduces modest epistemology. This is the notion that you hold back upon your own beliefs, which may contradict those of the 'experts', because you don't feel that you're adequately qualified to come up with an argument, idea or even solution to certain problems.

This ties in to the idea that it is possible for you to produce a synthesis of contrarian idea. By believing that your ideas (or even potential ideas in the future) have merit, you incentivise creativity for yourself - you have a chance to come up with an important discovery. By determining why you want to work on an idea, you will increase your 'execution rate'.