Part of the sequence: The Science of Winning at Life

Some have suggested that the Less Wrong community could improve readers' instrumental rationality more effectively if it first caught up with the scientific literature on productivity and self-help, and then enabled readers to deliberately practice self-help skills and apply what they've learned in real life.

I think that's a good idea. My contribution today is a quick overview of scientific self-help: what professionals call "the psychology of adjustment." First I'll review the state of the industry and the scientific literature, and then I'll briefly summarize the scientific data available on three topics in self-help: study methods, productivity, and happiness.

The industry and the literature

As you probably know, much of the self-help industry is a sham, ripe for parody. Most self-help books are written to sell, not to help. Pop psychology may be more myth than fact. As Christopher Buckley (1999) writes, "The more people read [self-help books], the more they think they need them... [it's] more like an addiction than an alliance."

Where can you turn for reliable, empirically-based self-help advice? A few leading therapeutic psychologists (e.g., Albert Ellis, Arnold Lazarus, Martin Seligman) have written self-help books based on decades of research, but even these works tend to give recommendations that are still debated, because they aren't yet part of settled science.

Lifelong self-help researcher Clayton Tucker-Ladd wrote and updated Psychological Self-Help (pdf) over several decades. It's a summary of what scientists do and don't know about self-help methods (as of about 2003), but it's also more than 2,000 pages long, and much of it surveys scientific opinion rather than experimental results, because on many subjects there aren't any experimental results yet. The book is associated with an internet community of people sharing what does and doesn't work for them.

More immediately useful is Richard Wiseman's 59 Seconds. Wiseman is an experimental psychologist and paranormal investigator who gathered together what little self-help research is part of settled science, and put it into a short, fun, and useful Malcolm Gladwell-ish book. The next best popular-level general self-help book is perhaps Martin Seligman's What You Can Change and What You Can't.

Two large books rate hundreds of popular self-help books according to what professional psychologists think of them, and offer advice on how to choose self-help books. Unfortunately, this may not mean much because even professional psychologists very often have opinions that depart from the empirical data, as documented extensively by Scott Lilienfeld and others in Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology and Navigating the Mindfield. These two books are helpful in assessing what is and isn't known according to empirical research (rather than according to expert opinion). Lilienfeld also edits the useful journal Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, and has compiled a list of harmful psychological treatments. Also see Nathan and Gorman's A Guide to Treatments That Work, Roth & Fonagy's What Works for Whom?, and, more generally, Stanovich's How to Think Straight about Psychology.

Many self-help books are written as "one size fits all," but of course this is rarely appropriate in psychology, and this leads to reader disappointment (Norem & Chang, 2000). But psychologists have tested the effectiveness of reading particular problem-focused self-help books ("bibliotherapy").1 For example, it appears that reading David Burns' Feeling Good can be as effective for treating depression as individual or group therapy. Results vary from book to book.

There are at least four university textbooks that teach basic scientific self-help. The first is Weiten, Dunn, and Hammer's Psychology Applied to Modern Life: Adjustment in the 21st Century. It's expensive, but you can preview it here. Others are are Santrock's Human Adjustment, Duffy et al.'s Psychology for Living, and Nevid & Rathus' Psychology and the Challenges of Life.

If you read only one book of self-help in your life, I recommend Weiten, Dunn, and Hammer's Psychology Applied to Modern Life.2 Unfortunately, like Tucker-Ladd's Psychological Self-Help, many sections of the book are an overview of scientific opinion rather than experimental result, because so few experimental studies on the subject have been done!

In private correspondance with me, Weiten remarked:

You are looking for substance in what is ultimately a black hole of empirical research ...Basically, almost everything written on the topic emphasizes the complete lack of evidence.

Perhaps I am overly cynical, but I suspect that empirical tests are nonexistent because the authors of self-help and time-management titles are not at all confident that the results would be favorable. Hence, they have no incentive to pursue such research because it is likely to undermine their sales and their ability to write their next book. Another issue is that many of the authors who crank out these titles have little or no background in research. In a less cynical vein, another issue is that this research would come with all the formidable complexities of the research evaluating the effectiveness of different approaches to therapy. Efficacy trials for therapies are extremely difficult to conduct in a clean fashion and because of these complexities require big bucks in the way of grants.

Other leading researchers in the psychology of adjustment expressed much the same opinion of the field when I contacted them.


A sampling of scientific self-help advice

Still, perhaps scientific psychology can offer some useful self-help advice. I'll focus on two areas of particular interest to the Less Wrong community - studying and productivity - and on one area of general interest: happiness.


Study methods

Organize for clarity the information you want to learn, for example in an outline (Einstein & McDaniel 2004; Tigner 1999; McDaniel et al. 1996). Cramming doesn't work (Wong 2006). Set up a schedule for studying (Allgood et al. 2000). Test yourself on the material (Karpicke & Roediger 2003; Roediger & Karpicke 2006a; Roediger & Karpicke 2006b; Agarwal et al. 2008; Butler & Roediger 2008), and do so repeatedly, with 24 hours or more between study sessions (Rohrer & Taylor 2006; Seabrook et al 2005; Cepeda et al. 2006; Rohrer et al. 2005; Karpicke & Roediger 2007). Basically: use Anki.

To retain studied information more effectively, try acrostics (Hermann et al. 2002), the link method (Iaccino 1996; Worthen 1997); and the method of loci (Massen & Vaterrodt-Plunnecke 2006; Moe & De Beni 2004; Moe & De Beni 2005).



Unfortunately, there have been fewer experimental studies on effective productivity and time management methods than there have been on effective study methods. For an overview of scientific opinion on productivity, I recommend pages 121-126 of Psychology Applied to Modern Life. According to those pages, common advice from professionals includes:

  1. Doing the right tasks is more important than doing your tasks efficiently. In fact, too much concern for efficiency is a leading cause of procrastination. Say "no" more often, and use your time for tasks that really matter.
  2. Delegate responsibility as often as possible. Throw away unimportant tasks and items.
  3. Keep a record of your time use. (Quantified Self can help.)
  4. Write down your goals. Break them down into smaller goals, and break these into manageable tasks. Schedule these tasks into your calendar.
  5. Process notes and emails only once. Tackle one task at a time, and group similar tasks together.
  6. Make use of your downtime (plane rides, bus rides, doctor's office waitings). These days, many of your tasks can be completed on your smartphone.

Why the dearth of experimental research on productivity? A leading researcher on the topic, Piers Steel, explained to me in personal communication:

Fields tend to progress from description to experimentation, and the procrastination field is just starting to move towards that direction. There really isn’t very much directly done on procrastination, but there is more for the broader field of self-regulation... it should transfer as the fundamentals are the same. For example, I would bet everything I own that goal setting works, as there [are] about [a thousand studies] on it in the motivational field (just not specifically on procrastination). On the other hand, we are building a behavioral lab so we can test many of these techniques head to head, something that sorely needs to be done.

Steel's book on the subject is The Procrastination Equation, which I highly recommend.



There is an abundance of research on factors that correlate with subjective well-being (individuals' own assessments of their happiness and life satisfaction).

Factors that don't correlate much with happiness include: age,3 gender,4 parenthood,5 intelligence,6 physical attractiveness,7 and money8 (as long as you're above the poverty line). Factors that correlate moderately with happiness include: health,9 social activity,10 and religiosity.11 Factors that correlate strongly with happiness include: genetics,12 love and relationship satisfaction,13 and work satisfaction.14

For many of these factors, a causal link to happiness has also been demonstrated with some confidence, but that story is too complicated to tell in this short article.



Many compassionate professionals have modeled their careers after George Miller's (1969) call to "give psychology away" to the masses as a means of promoting human welfare. As a result, hundreds of experimental studies have been done to test which self-help methods work, and which do not. We humans can use this knowledge to achieve our goals.

But much work remains to be done. Many features of human psychology and behavior are not well-understood, and many self-help methods recommended by popular and academic authors have not yet been experimentally tested. If you are considering psychology research as a career path, and you want to (1) improve human welfare, (2) get research funding, (3) explore an under-developed area of research, and (4) have the chance to write a best-selling self-help book once you've done some of your research, then please consider a career of experimentally testing different self-help methods. Humanity will thank you for it.


Next post: How to Beat Procrastination




1 Read a nice overview of the literature in Bergsma, "Do Self-Help Books Help?" (2008).

2 I recommend the 10th edition, which has large improvements over the 9th edition, including 4500 new citations.

3 Age and happiness are unrelated (Lykken 1999), age accounting for less than 1% of the variation in people's happiness (Inglehart 1990; Myers & Diener 1997).

4 Despite being treated for depressive disorders twice as often as men (Nolen-Hoeksema 2002), women report just as high levels of well-being as men do (Myers 1992).

5 Apparently, the joys and stresses of parenthood balance each other out, as people with and without children are equally happy (Argyle 2001).

6 Both IQ and educational attainment appear to be unrelated to happiness (Diener et al. 2009; Ross & Van Willigen 1997).

7 Good-looking people enjoy huge advantages, but do not report greater happiness than others (Diener et al. 1995).

8 The correlation between income and happiness is surprisingly weak (Diener & Seligman 2004; Diener et al. 1993; Johnson & Krueger 2006). One problem may be that higher income contributes to greater materialism, which impedes happiness (Frey & Stutzer 2002; Kasser et al. 2004; Solberg et al. 2002; Kasser 2002; Van Boven 2005; Nickerson et al. 2003; Kahneman et al. 2006).

9 Those with disabling health conditions are happier than you might think (Myers 1992; Riis et al. 2005; Argyle 1999).

10 Those who are satisfied with their social life are moderately more happy than others (Diener & Seligman 2004; Myers 1999; Diener & Seligman 2002).

11 Religiosity correlates with happiness (Abdel-Kahlek 2005; Myers 2008), though it may be religious attendance and not religious belief that matters (Chida et al. 2009).

12 Past happiness is the best predictor of future happiness (Lucas & Diener 2008). Happiness is surprisingly unmoved by external factors (Lykken & Tellegen 1996), because the genetics accounts for about 50% of the variance in happiness (Lyubomirsky et al. 2005; Stubbe et al. 2005).

13 Married people are happier than those who are single or divorced (Myers & Diener 1995; Diener et al. 2000), and marital satisfaction predicts happiness (Proulx et al. 2007).

14 Unemployment makes people very unhappy (Argyle 2001), and job satisfaction is strongly correlated with happiness (Judge & Klinger 2008; Warr 1999).



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Kasser (2002). The high prices of materialism. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Kasser, Ryan, Couchman, & Sheldon (2004). "Materialistic values: Their causes and consequences." In Kasser & Kanner (Eds.), Psychology and consumer culture: The struggle for a good life in a materialistic world. Washington DC: American Psychological Association.

Karpicke & Roediger (2003). "The critical importance of retrieval for learning." Science, 319: 966-968. 

Karpicke & Roediger (2007). "Expanding retrieval practice promotes short-term retention, but equally spaced retrieval enhances long-term retention." Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 33(4): 704-719.

Lucas & Diener (2008). "Personality and subjective well-being." In John, Robins, & Pervin (Eds.), Handbook of personality: Theory and research (pp. 796-814). New York: Guilford.

Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, & Schkade (2005). "Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change." Review of General Psychology, 9(2), 111-131.

Lykken & Tellegen (1996). "Happiness is a stochastic phenomenon." Psychological Science, 7: 186-189.

Lykken (1999). Happiness: The nature and nurture of joy and contentment. New York: St. Martin's.

Massen & Vaterrodt-Plunnecke (2006). "The role of proactive interference in mnemonic techniques." Memory, 14: 189-196.

McDaniel, Waddill, & Shakesby (1996). "Study strategies, interest, and learning from Text: The application of material appropriate processing." In Herrmann, McEvoy, Hertzog, Hertel, & Johnson (Eds.), Basic and applied memory research: Theory in context (Vol 1). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Miller (1969). "On turning psychology over to the unwashed." Psychology Today, 3(7), 53–54, 66–68, 70, 72, 74.

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Moe & De Beni (2005). "Stressing the efficacy of the Loci method: oral presentation and the subject-generation of the Loci pathway with expository passages." Applied Cognitive Psychology, 19(1): 95-106.

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Myers & Diener (1995). "Who is happy?" Psychological Science, 6: 10-19.

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Myers (2008). "Religion and human flourishing." In Eid & Larsen (Eds.), The science of subjective well-being (pp. 323-346). New York: Guilford.

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Ross & Van Willigen (1997). "Education and the subjective quality of life." Journal of Health & Social Behavior, 38: 275-297.

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Happiness is surprisingly unmoved by external factors (Lykken & Tellegen 1996), because the genetics accounts for about 50% of the variance in happiness (Lyubomirsky et al. 2005; Stubbe et al. 2005).

Caution: heritability, as in the statistical concept, is defined in a way that has some rather counter-intuitive implications. One might think that if happiness is 50% heritable, then happiness must be 50% "hardwired". This is incorrect, and in fact the concept of heritability is theoretically incapable of making such a claim. (I'm not saying lukeprog made this mistake, but someone is likely to make it.)

The definition of heritability is straightforward enough: the amount of genetic variance in a trait, divided by the overall variance in the trait. Now, nearly all humans are born with two feet, so you might expect the trait of "having two feet" to have 100% heritability. In fact, it has close to 0% heritability! This is because the vast majority of people who have lost their feet have done so because of accidents or other environmental factors, not due to a gene for one-footedness. So nearly all of the variance in the amount of feet in humans is caused by envir... (read more)

For instance, both childhood nutrition and genetics have a strong effect on a person's length.

Length? You mean height or, um, well, length? I suppose both. :)

Yeah, height. Fixed. Thanks - those are the same word in Finnish, and I hadn't consciously realized that they're different in English until now. (Well, technically there is a separate word for height in Finnish, but it isn't used in this context.)

Just FYI, the joke in wedrif's comment is that "length" would probably be interpreted as "penis length" by most readers.

That... never occurred to me.

Well, technically you could use length in English too. People are just three dimensional objects after all. I mean, once you knock them off and are trying to fit the body in the trunk you definitely worry about the length!

However, if we have an intervention whose effect we expect to be roughly proportional to environmental differences, heritability tells us roughly how strong that intervention is. Similarly if we expect that our interventions will reduce environmental variance but not genetic variance, we can place an upper limit on how much we can reduce inequality.
You (Luke) give the cognitive-behavioral school of psychology too much credit. Yes, they're empirical, but empiricism is worth little unsupplemented by reason and imagination. What you get is the empirical study of platitudes and truisms. That's not to say these works are of no benefit; only that the benefit doesn't lay in their tediously trivial experimentation. The idea advanced in the recommended book that procrastination is a species of impulsivity is valuable if you use it flexibly because it allows you to bring the whole literature on impulsivity to bear or procrastination. It appears that scientific offerings on procrastination are meager because less narrow-minded schools of psychology view procrastination as a facet of impulsity, which has been the subject of a great deal of research and analysis by more than a single school of thought. Procrastination isn't one of my many problems, but merely writing the last sentence acknowledging impulsivity's relevance gave me the following idea about how to apply one line of impulsivity research. Here it is. Empirical research shows that will-power, while lacking the omnipotence often assumed, is something one can use up. In other words, if you exert your will it exertion becomes harder (in the short term. To overcome a particular procrastination, indulge your appetites without restraint before trying to make yourself do the task, and you should subsequently you should find more will to exert. For example, if you have dietary impulse-control problems, pig out. (I guess getting drunk doesn't work because then you'll have to perform your task inebriated when you overcome procrastination with your will-power enhanced by preceding self-indulgence. Untested.
That's disputed. (PDF of the paper)
Voted up. Interesting article, but I don't think I (we) mean the same by "self-control" as the authors. Their model for a failure of self control is a lapse of concentration. Their studies show that the power to concentrate doesn't diminish, an interesting finding in its own right. But it's not a problem with volition. Involuntary lapses of concentration are not the "akrasia" kind of problem mostly discussed here. Lapse of concentration is a different phenomenon than procrastination.
There exists an even more important problem with using the results of this study to claim that self control is not a limited resource - that isn't a valid conclusion based on the evidence. There are an infinite number of other possible explanations, but the one claimed by the writer of the article doesn't explain the phenomena observed. The study shows a completely different effect than the one imputed. The study didn't even establish a fair correlation to strengthen the statements made - they ended up studying something different than what they intended. By splitting the groups into one that believed in the limited nature of self control, and one that did not believe in it, they tested the utility of a belief, not its correctness. The limited nature of self control may be completely correct, and the study is simply showing that people told about this fact use it as an excuse to exercise their self control less often.
No, the experimenters also found that those lacking the self-limiting theory didn't suffer any detriment in their performance. They performed like Energizer Rabbits. The researchers also countered my point by showing real-world effects on akrasia-type behavior. So, it's possible that contrary to appearance and introspection, lapses in concentration do demonstrate the same phenomenon as procrastination. Regardless the scope of the findings, whether will-power is a limited resource is one of the most important questions for rational self-regulation. It exemplifies ongoing research relevant to procrastination, which you're unlikely to see addressed in the self-help literature, because of its narrow cognitive-behavioral framework. Reorienting one's reading and reasoning to the broader topic of impulsivity, moreover, leads you to the work of two laboratories advancing opposed theories, a healthier epistemic environment than one dominated by cognitive behaviorism.
I'm unclear on why you think that their findings in the particular cases shown demonstrate what they claim. (I could easily be missing something.) The lack of findings demonstrates that the cases considered are not examples of the effect that they looked for - that still fails to show that there is no such effect. Again, what they did show was that the existence of the mental model was detrimental to performance.
I just want to point out that it is impossible to prove a thing doesn't exist. However, when things exist we expect certain observations, and we don't find them that is, in fact, evidence that the thing we are looking for doesn't exist. It isn't particularly strong evidence (unless the "thing" absolutely must cause the effect we're looking for in the experiment). Not finding any effect in these studies really should shake your confidence in the theory quite a lot unless a.) there is already a large body of evidence contradicting these findings (doesn't sound like there is) or b.) there are some methodological flaws that invalidates the findings in the study (doesn't sound like there are, just disagreement with the conclusion). More studies would clarify both issues. In other words, the lack of findings do, in fact, show that there is no such effect. It's just weak evidence, that's all. If various experiments are repeated over and over looking for the self-limiting control and never find them, well, we still haven't proven it doesn't exist. However, we can be pretty damn sure that it either doesn't exist or is so insignificant as to be meaningless. I'm not saying this has happened at all, I haven't read any of the papers on the subject, I'm just saying your reasoning has a flaw. If you're really attached to the self-limiting theory for some reason, it could be a case of looking for evidence that allows you to believe in what you want to believe, rather than looking at whether or not the theory has a decent probability of being right and adjusting your views accordingly.
I don't understand exactly how that experiment is supposed to work. Right now, I'm trying to work on a programming exercise for class, but I'm also interested in playing Civ4. So are you suggesting that I, say, play Civ4 for an hour, then try the programming again? If so, I have done that before (many times) and it doesn't work. I'll just end up spending all of my time today playing and when I try to get the exercise done in the evening or tomorrow, it will be equally hard. (Unless I indulge so much that I get sick of it and doing anything else becomes more desirable.)
For one hour? You can do that? Don't you want just one more turn? (Personally I never played Civ 4 per se. I played the Fall From Heaven mod. Evil game.)
Well, I have successfully played Civ while studying for an exam. Play a turn, do a problem (and let the AI do its turn), repeat. Works surprisingly well, especially with Civ5 and its sluggish AI. I'd recommend using two different locations and removing any chair or other comfortable arrangement at the Civ machine. A little workout every time limits the willingness to start world wars.
I've had some luck using Civ turns as a prompt to do mundane cleaning. Surprisingly effective! :) How does that work? Oh, you mean you make the civ playing time into a form of excercise so you become reluctant to make your turns last a long time, as is the case in world wars. I suppose this could be combined this with some core building or stretching exercises during the "Civ" phase for extra willpower managing convenience. That's it. I have some cleaning up to do this afternoon. I'm going to find a copy of Civ, install it and report back with my success story. :P
How many turns of Civ4 can you get through in an hour, anyway.
I'm confused as to why this was a reply to my comment.
My apologies. It was a careless error.
That's what I suspected. That's fine. :)

One problem with self-help literature, very generally speaking, is that identifying one's shortcomings correctly and addressing them effectively requires, first and foremost, an accurate model of the relevant aspects of one's personality and typically also of the relevant social interactions. Humans, however, are notoriously self-delusional and hypocritical about these matters, and speaking the truth openly and explicitly is often taboo -- even though successful individuals recognize it at some level and adjust their actions accordingly, no matter how much (often honest) outrage they would feel if it were stated explicitly.

Therefore, in order to be palatable to public sensibilities, self-help literature must operate under two crippling constraints. First, it must sugar-coat the problem diagnosis and express it in a way that won't sound cruel, hurtful, and offensive to the relevant audience (and people almost invariably take accurate remarks about their flaws badly). Second, it must frame its solutions in a way that doesn't break the prevailing hypocritical rules about discussing the relevant social norms and social dynamics, or otherwise it will end up too far in the politically incorrect territory for mainstream success.

The best concrete illustration is also the biggest elephant in the room when it comes to discussions of self-help. I have in mind, of course, what is probably the most successful and effective body of self-help expertise ever devised, whose very mention however is guaranteed to arouse passions and provoke denunciations.


I think there are other important reasons for the comparative success and effectiveness of PUA; the lack of concern for sugar-coating and political correctness is probably part of it, but that may be more of a consequence of what drives it, rather than a necessary precondition for it.

  1. They have something to protect. Not a Great Cause, certainly, but a thing-to-protect nonetheless. PUA may not immediately sound like it matches "more than one's own life has to be at stake, before someone becomes desperate enough to override comfortable intuitions", but consider why the prospect of having commitment-free sex with lots of beautiful women may indeed seem higher stakes than life itself, for many heterosexual men...

    (I'm reminded of the words of Philip J. Fry: "So you have to choose between life without sex and a hideous, gruesome death? . . . Tough call.")

  2. They're playing to win, not just to convince themselves that they tried. I expect that PUA communities don't reward trying nearly as much as they reward winning (if they reward trying at all). (And, of course, male brains themselves reward winning (at this particular thing) much more than they reward trying. As do

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Today's SMBC strikes me as relevant, not to mention amusing (particularly the hover over text on the red button).

I guessed you were talking about PUA from the very first paragraph. But as you conclude by saying (without naming it) that PUA is but one example, what other areas of self-help do you believe fit your description?

I don't know if I should take that to mean that my writing is praiseworthy for its clarity, or that I've become repetitive. In any case, that's an excellent question!

An immediately obvious example would be analogous advice for women. From what I know about the relevant matters, my impression is that if accurately formulated, it would in fact end up sounding even worse for mainstream sensibilities than the PUA stuff. Similarly for further advice (for both sexes) that builds on the PUA insights for successful long-term relationships and marriages.

Another topic that comes to mind is parenting. I'm not familiar with the self-help literature in this area, but there are some quite ugly truths which I'd bet these books don't say, for example how depressingly little you can do beyond the limits imposed by heredity. Moreover, fully accurate no-nonsense advice about what you can do to maximize your kids' expected success in life and happiness would require a cynical analysis of many respectable social institutions, customs, and beliefs, to the point where it would probably be too offensive for mainstream sensibilities.

Some other examples I can think of are too sensitive and potentially offensive to describe with a few casual words, so I'll stop at this for now.


I voted your comment down for two reasons. The first is this:

Another topic that comes to mind is parenting. I'm not familiar with the self-help literature in this area, but there are some quite ugly truths which I'd bet these books don't say, for example how depressingly little you can do beyond the limits imposed by heredity.

Making sweeping statements about a subject with which you are admittedly unfamiliar seems like the sort of thing this community should discourage.

And in this particular case, I think you would be surprised. Parents come up against the limits of their power very, very early on, and modern parenting books are actually very forthright about it. Of course they try and put it nicely -- generally something like "You can't make a sweetpea into an azalea, but with good watering and fertile soil you can help your little sprout become the very best sweetpea he or she can be" -- but the message of being unable to push your child beyond the limits of their own aptitudes is made quite clearly and quite often.

The other reason I downvoted your comment was this:

Some other examples I can think of are too sensitive and potentially offensive to describe with a f

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Parents come up against the limits of their power very, very early on, and modern parenting books are actually very forthright about it.

I stand corrected, if that's the case. I'm glad if things have changed so much for the better then. (My other point from that paragraph still stands, though.)

This just seems unnecessarily coy. My guess is that you're talking about HBD, but I think you should either make your case or not bring it up at all.

No, that's not what I had in mind. (And how on Earth did you get from the topic of self-help to that? Does my writing really evoke such strong stereotypical associations with those dark corners of the web?)

I wanted to make it clear that I do have more examples in mind (rather than generalizing from one example), but the trouble is that it's hard to state them briefly and bluntly in a way that's likely to be taken seriously and without offense on anyone's part.


Um... hinting about how your opinions are too dark and dreadful to be posted publicly will make people assume that your opinions are whatever they imagine to be incredibly dark and dreadful. This is not a great communication strategy.

hinting about how your opinions are too dark and dreadful to be posted publicly will make people assume that your opinions are whatever they imagine to be incredibly dark and dreadful.

I would assume that, on average, the abstract fact that someone believes something horrible is easier to forget, harder to feel upset about, and harder to use against someone than the specific concrete details of the horrible thing.

I suppose it's a question of whether you want to mildly scandalize everyone or highly offend some people while sending a costly (and thus credible) "I'm on your side" signal to your comrades. How many people, in the first instance, assume that you are coyly agreeing with them ("aha, a fellow oppressed racist!") is probably the most mysterious variable here, but it's probably more efficient to use shibboleths that outsiders haven't identified yet.
Perhaps not, but it's great for suspense.
Well, there's a significant difference between "too sensitive and potentially offensive to describe with a few casual words" and "too dark and dreadful to be posted publicly." I think some other factors also played an important part in the association, especially since I don't even see how these things could be plausibly connected to the topic at hand in the given context.

This just seems unnecessarily coy. My guess is that you're talking about HBD, but I think you should either make your case or not bring it up at all.

No, that's not what I had in mind. (And how on Earth did you get from the topic of self-help to that? Does my writing really evoke such strong stereotypical associations with those dark corners of the web?)

HBD Happy Birthday
HBD Homebrew Digest
HBD Here Be Dragons
HBD Hydrogen Bond Donor
HBD Has Been Drinking (police communications)
HBD Holden by Design (car enhancement company; Australia)
HBD Hadron Blind Detector
HBD Human Biodiversity
HBD Hypophosphatemic Bone Disease
HBD Hemoglobin--Delta Locus
HBD Hot Bearing Detector (trains)
HBD Half Board
HBD Honored By Death (gaming clan, Battlefield 2)
HBD Honored By Death (gaming clan)
HBD Hybrid Booster Drive (Electric Vehicle Institute)
HBD Handheld Business Device
HBD Hydraulic Bottom Detector
HBD Hierarchical Block Design
HBD Highest Benefit Density
HBD Hot Bus Driver

I can't even decipher HBD with google's help. Where is this dark corner of the web?

HBD Human Biodiversity

Also known as race-realism, commonly associated with politically-incorrect but factually-supported statements like "blacks have lower IQs than whites", often found making the point that everybody accepts human biodiversity when it doesn't offend a minority - ie, recognising that West African heritage is advantageous for short-distance sprint running. 99% confident this is what was being hinted at.

I wasn't the only one. But I apologize for misreading you. I jumped there from the line "there are some quite ugly truths which I'd bet these books don't say, for example how depressingly little you can do beyond the limits imposed by heredity." The HBD crowd talks a lot about "ugly truths" involving "the limits imposed by heredity," too. I admit there's not much connection to self-help, although I'm moderately confident that a real HBD proponent would probably manufacture one if asked.
No need to apologize; in retrospect it's clear to me how you could have made that association. "HBD" (a term which I find quite silly) is not among my intellectual leitmotifs. In fact, I'm still not sure what to think of these controversies. That said, however dangerous and incendiary this topic might be in the mainstream, on LW it's rarely approached but not at all problematic in the sense of inflaming passions and destroying discourse. Those few times I've seen it raised here, the discussion was entirely polite, knowledgeable, and without moral condemnations and protestations of offense. What exactly determines the patterns of dangerous discourse-breaking topics on LW and makes them different from the mainstream is a quite fascinating question, in my view.

I'm relatively new here and still learning the ropes--are comments explaining downvotes considered useful?

You can avoid unnecessary meta by just pointing out the problems with a comment, without explicitly stating whether you also downvoted the comment for their presence.

That's a good point. I'll do that in future.
Many people explicitly request them. They certainly aren't _dis_couraged.
HBD Happy Birthday HBD Homebrew Digest HBD Here Be Dragons HBD Hydrogen Bond Donor HBD Has Been Drinking (police communications) HBD Holden by Design (car enhancement company; Australia) HBD Hadron Blind Detector HBD Human Biodiversity HBD Hypophosphatemic Bone Disease HBD Hemoglobin--Delta Locus HBD Hot Bearing Detector (trains) HBD Half Board HBD Honored By Death (gaming clan, Battlefield 2) HBD Honored By Death (gaming clan) HBD Hybrid Booster Drive (Electric Vehicle Institute) HBD Handheld Business Device HBD Hydraulic Bottom Detector HBD Hierarchical Block Design HBD Highest Benefit Density HBD Hot Bus Driver I can't even decipher HBD with google's help.
Bryan Caplan has some interesting evidence based things to say on the topic of parenting. For example: on nagging children to eat their vegetables, he argues that parenting basically doesn't matter at all (link). He writes a lot about the evidence, economics and the family (link). Much of it is good.
Less than two years later, Yvain is doing pretty much that on his blog.
... really?

First, it must sugar-coat the problem diagnosis and express it in a way that won't sound cruel, hurtful, and offensive to the relevant audience

Some religions took the opposite approach (appealing to guilt without much sugar-coating), seemingly with some success

How do you figure? Do you have any evidence?

Yes, but unfortunately not in a form that could be presented convincingly in a blog comment. It's mostly evidence from a mass of observation and anecdote, and the relevant facts I have established are indeed consistent with (and often successfully predicted by) these principles. More evidence also comes from their consistency with the facts about human nature and social dynamics I have observed in other areas of life, as well as the evident (to me) mispredictions and errors of logic and fact committed by pretty much all other popular sources of advice about the problems in question, especially those that, in contrast, enjoy mainstream respectability.

Fair enough. I was just thinking that "ever devised" is a tall order, and perhaps you're not casting your net wide enough when thinking about it. For example, consider books of manners in general, or correct behavior for women in particular, in the 19th century, when they were ubiquitous, and apparently very useful due to increased social mobility. Or Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends etc., which probably outsells all PUA material by a wide margin. Is it possible that some of these have been more successful and effective? Anyway, thanks for satisfying my curiosity.
These are indeed good examples, especially the first one. It is possible that by some reasonable measures of effectiveness some of them might be ahead. So yes, I agree that I might have cast my net too narrowly.
How to Win Friends and Influence People is a good book for general social skills, but it just doesn't sufficiently cover sociosexual dynamics, particular gender-specific behavior and preferences. It's like taking an excellent algebra book to your trig class. The book is unlikely to substitute for pickup, though it could be a complement, and some PUAs do read it. We should never expect gender-neutral advice to be sufficient for those who have difficulty attracting the other gender or understanding their psychology.
Well, when it was written, there was no dating scene in the modern sense, and most PUA recipes made no sense. The sociosexual dynamics were all different. Naturally, Carnegie's book wouldn't work as a guide to pickup, but note that I suggested it to Vladimir_M not as a contender to PUA in terms of pickup effectiveness, but as a contender to PUA in terms of "self-help" effectiveness, generally speaking.
How to Win Friends and Influence People was being discussed in the broader category of self-help, compared to PUA, not promoted as a "substitute for pickup"
Please try? If not in a blog comment, maybe a top-level post or a discussion post - or, if you think LW would react badly to the topic, in a blog post somewhere else, with a link? I ask for two reasons: a) I'd like to be a little more certain that there's truth in PUA before I incorporate yet another heresy into my worldview, and b) for your own sake, it's immensely clarifying to reify any "mass of observation" into explicit claims with explicit accounts of your evidence. I've found (b) immensely helpful before; it's helped my clear away cant that I didn't know I labored under. In fact, I suspect "this is a bad way to express my knowledge" may be a mental stop sign here, as I know it's been for me in the past. Similarly, "This summarizes my experience," full stop. It's hard to argue with, so it's hard to make clear in your own head.
I agree. However, the problem is that for reasons you'll probably understand, I'm not sure if I want to write too much about my personal life in public comments on the internet. It's very hard to write about such things without letting into the public more information than is desirable or prudent. Fortunately, I am not the only source on this topic. I recommend that you look at the comments left in this thread (and many other ones you'll easily find by googling) by the commenter HughRistik. He has much more expertise than me in this area and has written a great many lengthy comments about it, all very well written and argued.
You might as well just name them: pick up artists.

A few personal thoughts on that...

I've invested my time studying science and philosophy rather than in mastering attraction methods, but I've hung out with the Art of Charm / Pickup Podcast guys (cool, genuine guys btw), and read enough of the literature to give two humorous speeches based on PUA material: How to Seduce Women with Body Language and How to Seduce Women with Vocal Tonality.

If PUA is what Vladimir_M was writing about, then I mostly agree with his last paragraph. I don't know about "most" successful and effective, but it has certainly transformed the lives of lots of men for the better, including my own. And yet, it is denounced by almost everyone - perhaps because they're only familiar with mechanical, dishonest, The Game-era material? I dunno.

Good thing the PUA guys are figuring this stuff out on their own, because the scientists sure have left us in the dark, excepting very recent stuff by David Buss and, for example, that study about which dance moves attract the most women.


I once had a friend tell me that he could sell me a $3000 vacuum cleaner.

"Really?" I said. "I don't think so. I know vacuum cleaners don't cost that much."

But he was certain of it. He'd sold dozens of these vacuum cleaners. His success rate had been tremendous. He believed they really were worth the money. The evidence really indicated that he could sell anyone a $3000 vacuum cleaner.

At this point... I really don't want him to try to sell me a vacuum cleaner. Or, in fact, to sell me anything. I'm scared he could get me to part with my money way too easily. That could be very bad for me!

Moral of the story: all charisma and salesmanship is, to some degree, a threat. Basically all people will be ok with "How to make a good first impression," but "Subconscious tricks to make everyone want to buy your product" is starting to sound a little sleazy, and "How to tap into neurochemistry to make your product addictive" is probably going to scare people. People get squicked by the thought of how World of Warcraft or McDonald's manipulates their reward circuits.

I think some analogous dynamics hold when the product you're selling is yourself.

all charisma and salesmanship is, to some degree, a threat

That's true. But when honest discussion of charisma is outlawed, only outlaws will have charisma.

Right now, a large share of male charisma falls into the hands of the "naturals." These men are disproportionately extraverted, oriented to short-term mating, and hyper-masculine / anti-social in personality traits. Of course, not all of these guys are assholes, and most of them probably aren't, but I think it's fair to say that they have a higher rate of assholishness. The only way to stop these men from commanding a disproportionate amount of female interest is to give more charisma to the guys who are more introverted, long-term oriented, sensitive, and prosocial in values.

To paraphrase William Gibson, charisma is already here, it's just not very evenly distributed. The only solution is to try to distribute it more evenly, and educate the public about how it works. In the case of male heterosexual charisma, it means educating the male have-nots, and educating women about what many of them respond to. This same principle applies to female charisma, of course.

I agree with this. My point was to explain why I think PUA gets a bad rap. Nobody wants to be bamboozled. Most of us who know a little bit about human psychology know we can be influenced and that influence, social skills, and charisma will always be important; only people who are very ill adjusted to the real world have a serious problem with this. It's a matter of degree. It's somewhat disturbing, I've observed, to realize you're being "played" by someone not entirely benevolent -- even more disturbing to realize how very easy it is to be manipulated into doing things that bring you no good and only harm. People are pretty frail vessels. It's understandable that they mistrust things that might take over their brains.

Think of PUA as makeup/breast implants for men. Does this make it less or more offensive? In what ways does the analogy break down?

Since one of the more common criticisms of the PUA scene is that it perpetuates an oversimplified view of relationships wherein women respond exclusively to deterministic social signals, that analogy's not going to win you much goodwill. There is a lot of PUA technique that amounts to an artificial means of improving unconscious or semi-conscious social signaling, and that strikes me as fairly inoffensive, but unless I'm one-minding badly here I don't think that part of the culture is a common target of criticism.

Since one of the more common criticisms of the PUA scene is that it perpetuates an oversimplified view of relationships wherein women respond exclusively to deterministic social signals, that analogy's not going to win you much goodwill.

No more so than arguments for women using makeup or getting plastic surgery. Do these assume men respond exclusively to a woman's looks? Not really. It just says, do this, and more and better men will want you than before. Maybe other factors matter, maybe they don't, but this works, on top of whatever else might work. To the extent that PUA is offensive for insinuating women only care about a few metrics, so too are beauty products offensive.

There is a lot of PUA technique that amounts to an artificial means of improving unconscious or semi-conscious social signaling, and that strikes me as fairly inoffensive, but unless I'm one-minding badly here I don't think that part of the culture is a common target of criticism.

I'm afraid it is part of the criticism: people have this belief that social interaction should just come naturally and people shouldn't build models of it to understand it better -- so if you're a non-neurotypical, high IQ male, tough, you "deserve what you get", and any scientific approach to social interaction that is helpful to such undeserving males constitutes terrorism.

Less people are offended by the claim that men care only/disproportionately about physical attractiveness than similar oversimplications of female preferences.
I think certain critics of the PUA culture don't even notice there are different parts to it, due to the outgroup homogeneity bias -- they just notice that certain PUAs say stuff they don't like, and generalize to PUAs in general. (The same thing happens to feminists.)
The obvious breaking point would be that breast implants, at least, are improving the trait directly rather than improving signaling of said trait. Makeup ... depends on whether men care about what you look like underneath, I suppose.
I don't think there's a hard line between improving a trait and improving signaling of a trait in the context of dating. For example, I don't think there's a hard line between becoming funnier and getting better at signaling funniness, or becoming more social and getting better at signaling sociability. The strength of the analogy to me is the idea that what is on the surface may not resemble what's below, and if men have a preference for real breasts over fake breasts for reasons that aren't related to how they look under clothing, then I think the analogy holds.
Or indeed any other context. Improving the trait itself generally helps with signalling, and people care about the signalling itself to some extent. Nevertheless. The primary method of signalling funniness is to just be funny. Becoming funnier by, say, learning jokes would be roughly anonogous to brest implants, I think. How does one "signal sociability"? If, for example, men were only checking out your breasts in order to guage fertility, then implants that only impacted breast size would indeed be anonogous, and similarly deceptive (bad.)
This may not be a good example, but I've found that people who use things other than photos of themselves (e.g. anime characters) as Facebook profile pictures tend to be less sociable, so one way to signal sociability is to use an actual photo of yourself on Facebook.
Using a picture of yourself and other people would signal even more sociability.
Okay, make that push-up bras. ISTM that people object to them waaay less often than they object to PUAs.
I've seen people object to them, but it definitely seems an order of magnitude less than the reaction people have to PUA. Perhaps there are other factors at work here.
Human breasts---and in particular their maintaining significant volume even when not needed for feeding offspring---are very much a signal. It conveys information about fertility and health and, since it is significantly involved in intra-sexual selection, also information about the likely ability of prospective daughters and grandaughters to be able to attract quality mates with their breasts. Breasts implants break this signal. We can predict that if breast implants were free and available to all hunter gatherers that such tribes would soon evolve to be less attracted to breasts.
Is there any research on how quickly responses like this decay (e.g. over generations) once the conditions that supported them no longer obtain? Some casual Googling got me nowhere, and I'm curious.
IIRC, pick-up artist Owen Cook AKA "Tyler Durden" in Blueprint Decoded (a PUA seminar that Anna Salomon and Alicorn liked) hypothesized that the reason men today like thinner women than they used to is that, thanks to breast implants, there are now plenty of big-breasted but otherwise very skinny women, whereas back in the day pretty much all women with big breasts had to be plump; but I doubt he was serious.
As far as I know there isn't research on humans about such significant traits. Especially not the highly unnatural case where the self sustaining momentum aspect is also removed. (If there was merely a change in environment then we would expect the adaptation to take longer because sexual selection for the sake of nothing more than more sexual selection of descendants.) I know there have been studies on various creatures in labs and observation of the rate of adaptation of traits in wild populations of less-than-human animals. I have little idea how much information that can give us about adaptations in humans and don't know to what extent human changes have been analyzed.
Evolutionary-cognitive boundary confusion detected. I think there are plenty of men who don't even know that women with large breasts are more fertile, and even those who do still like large breasts when they aren't trying to have children. (And anyway, I guess a large part of what counts as sexy is cultural rather than hardwired, given that men in western countries nowadays in average like much skinnier women than men in western countries in the 1950s did.) EDIT: Of course, not everything is either evolutionary or conscious; some preferences are learned but subconscious. I've recently noticed that ceteris paribus a women will look younger to me if she's wearing a nose piercing than if she isn't, and I guess that's because where I live nose piercings are very rare among women born until the 1970s but very common among women born since the 1980s.¹ This is not conscious as I wasn't even aware of this until recently, but it's most definitely not evolutionary either. ---------------------------------------- 1. I'm pretty confident it's a cohort effect rather than than an age effect, given that I see many more women in their 30s with nose piercings today than a decade ago.
False positive. But I've tired of this subject and will not go over it again.
I understand there may be some debate about the actual purpose of breasts, which is why I phrased this as a hypothetical, but I think I should make it clear that the evolutionary pressures that led to men preferring breasts are separate to the question of whether men are actually evaluating fertility (or whatever) or simply enjoy large breasts for their own sake.
What you did was make the following rather direct claim: There in fact isn't a clear breaking point between (some) PUA skills and breast implants. In the same way that breasts can be declared to be "an actual trait that is desired" as well as "a signal about other traits" the ability to perform social acts that combine dominance, humor, rapport and charm can be declared to be "an actual trait that is desired" as well as "a signal about other traits". Of course there are differences between the two, and further differences between breast implants and makeup but the 'breaking point' most certainly isn't clear!
I guess I did phrase that too strongly, but adaptation-executors, not fitness-maximizers. Well, yes. As I said here, some traits may be (un)desirable in themselves as well as signalling other (un)desirable traits. The benefit of your signal could outweigh the harm of what you're countersignalling. My point stands.
Thanks for saving me the trouble of having to refrain myself from entering Someone-Is-Wrong-On-The-Internet! mode and posting a poorly-thought-out response.
Correspondingly it is somewhat disturbing to realize that you've been unreflectively manipulating someone in a way that is not very benevolent at all, which is also surprisingly easy to do, especially in situations where you have a lot of leverage in shaping someone's personality. I suspect that assholishness is largely unconscious, consciously self-deprecated, and addictive because it consistently yields id-appealing super-ego-unjustified reward. In my experience females tend to be more reflective of and feel more guilty about analagous forms of manipulation (perhaps because of having more opportunities to be manipulative), but this is an anecdotal small sample size. ETA: I think it's rather aesthetic how there are all these implicit humanistic stories between the lines of the cold analysis... it's like somewhat ambiguous abstract lyrics in music. "Oily marks appear on walls where pleasure moments hung before the takeover, the sweeping insensitivity of this still life."
I do not think this can be generalized that way. Naturally charismatic people can be long term oriented as well. And they surely also have their own shortcomings. Did you ever try that? If yes with what results?(My own experience lead to to completely stop trying.) I would bet against that working. Did you try?
I'm thinking prisoner's dilemma here. If we all hold back, wouldn't it be better for all of us? Of course, some people - the naturals, the PUA guys - are already ahead. But knowledge of the outcome should not change our decision (cf. Good and Real - ethics chapter). Or perhaps compared to the huge payoffs of getting laid/love, these marginal efforts into keeping up with the arms race are worthwhile?

If we all hold back, wouldn't it be better for all of us?

No. Doing the mating dance well is fun for all concerned. Mutual self sabotage of social skills would leave us all 'settling' for mediocre, ineptly handled relationships.

But knowledge of the outcome should not change our decision (cf. Good and Real - ethics chapter).

I don't think this applies.

There is this tendency to treat PU as a separate magister. Similar to learning secret but effective magic spell in a world where magic is widely unknown. I think that view is severely mistaken. There are two important things to keep in mind: PU has a wide range of ideas to offer for all kinds of purposes. Sturgeons law still applies. Some of the more useful advice boils down to: 'be freaking normal'. Much of it is copied by observing other successful people. So called 'Naturals'. If you take ideas that are good anyway from the PU container you are not practicing an evil dark art. You are studying applied social science. I think it is sometimes useful to look at the idea itself, not at its source, or the metaethic that generated it.
Thanks. So I guess you are saying there is no arms race. Just naturals, and the socially inept?

No! There very much is an arms race. (There were studies about how many man of each generation got to procreate.) You have the most beautiful women in relatively poorer countries. You have women in the industrial world complain about the lack of real man, and run to those of other cultures who are perceived as more manly. You have a few males getting most of the sex from active non-married female crowd, and you also have unhappy 40yo virgins.6 You need to be relatively better than those around you. Which leads to interesting results if you act in male dominated fields :-). Naturals are not naturals by birth. They develop and hone their respective skills at some point and get a lot of practice in it. Likewise being inept is not a life time curse. You can learn things later in life too, assuming there is useful material available. But you do not need to become a complete master of any particular domain. Just good enough to get what you happen to want.

The point i tried to make above was another one. If someone is incapable to speak correctly he can go to a doctor and train. If someone wants to improve his vocality he can take acting classes, learn the ways actors use to speak varied and understandable. Which is good. If you are unhappy with your social life you can do very much the same. If a PU book then tells you to take acting classes to learn to speak better it does not suddenly become evil advice. It is the same. Just from a different source.

This is worth emphasising.
3MartinB13y »The key to this mystery is to rephrase the question slightly. Why don't smart kids make themselves popular? If they're so smart, why don't they figure out how popularity works and beat the system, just as they do for standardized tests? .... The main reason nerds are unpopular is that they have other things to think about. Their attention is drawn to books or the natural world, not fashions and parties. .... Even if nerds cared as much as other kids about popularity, being popular would be more work for them. The popular kids learned to be popular, and to want to be popular, the same way the nerds learned to be smart, and to want to be smart: from their parents. While the nerds were being trained to get the right answers, the popular kids were being trained to please.«
Anecdotal evidence: I did. Maybe nerds stay nerds because they only profess a desire to be popular and don't actually hold it; maybe group distaste for popularity if it ever was achieved ("I wouldn't want to be popular even if I could be" sour grapes style) is also a factor. Maybe not being popular is a defining part of nerd; certainly I was not considered a nerd despite being smart and interested in all the same areas.
How did you do it? I lacked the ability to recognize the underlying structures completely and utterly failed.
Attended six schools, mostly. Threw myself at the popular cliques and remembered how I failed, didn't fail that way at the next school.
I don't see how that works by itself. If you ever do a write up or feel like talking about it in a detailed way, you got +1 reader.
I don't think I will, sorry. The audience that could understand it are well past when they could use it and I don't believe it's general enough for popular groups past high school. It is an interesting story about idea generation (one science class about cornflour+water had me modelling cliques as a non-Newtonian fluid - you don't make a splash, you make a thud and fall off) but of course my brain would say that about itself.
Agree, but i think it's more peers than parenting, and more genetics than peers. Also I would not praise nerds so highly, the popular kids don't aim exactly to please, and the nerdy kids don't aim exactly to get the right answers.
This is a nice explanation but it fails since in many cultures outside the US the popular v. nerd dichotomy doesn't exist or doesn't exist with nearly the same strength. In much of US culture and some other areas in the West there really is a stereotype that smart people are/should be unpopular.
This doesn't seem to depend on existing social categories. Individual proclivities and social feedback seem to be enough. The stereotypes could simply be a reflection of the macro outcome of this proclivity-feedback process. Though admittedly in a conformist culture there is less room to deviate.
My point wasn't that PU was somehow unique in its 'evilness'. I would disapprove of speaking or acting classes as well if most of it was simply positional. So no, not attacking solely PU here, just anything that is positional and causes more grief than joy. I like wedrifid's point of these social games being fun. I somehow managed to forget that. But this needs to be put into perspective of the desired end result here. Most people I'm sure would enjoy the journey of social dancing along the way to the destination of getting laid/love. But most of the utility is derived from the sex/love, not the dancing. Bored lovers might complain that their relationship was getting stale, but they are already much better of than the 40yr old virgins. Let's not forget that anything 'fun' probably indicates that it is a status game. Which means there will be huge inequalities. If the final result of this instrumental pleasure (which is not to say it is all that matters, just the magnitude of its importance) were getting sex/love or not, then I am certainly willing to compromise some of the social fun for more people getting the sex/love they want.
I think life is generally not designed as fair. But it is possible to change a part of your position. That can be changed. If sex alone is the goal, there is a trivial way to get it. Especially if your own hourly rate is high enough. But to get love you also have to offer the other person something. You will not get loved for your brain, or your collection of comic books, or your knowledge about human history or any other topic. You get love for a set of properties that can be surprisingly trivial. One thing I am interested in is what these properties are and how to develop them. But you really have to enjoy the trip itself, otherwise there is a high chance you become a very grumpy single. It is more fun to enjoy dates, or what ever social activity you choose to find your partners, than to see it as an annoying step on the way to your terminal goal. I doubt that for many cases. You find enough married couples where the partners at least seem to be worse off than even the 40yo. I do not think I understand the meaning here. Social games are not played consciously. You maybe saw the scene from A beautiful mind, where John Nash tries to do away with the social conventions and get down to business right away. Does not work.
You seem to simultaneously claim it is an arms race, yet imply that all the socially inept people need to do was to learn some social skills so that they can offer the other something. I certainly agree that the horribly socially inept can learn to improve their social skills so that at the very least they get themselves across to the other person more effectively. Dating/flirting certainly does serve a practical purpose of letting us assess our compatibility, which besides being fun in itself, contributes to the relationship. But if there was an arms race then this simply won't be enough. Past a certain point, the social maneuvering won't contribute to signaling anything relevant to compatibility anymore, and it will all be a zero-sum contest. Fun perhaps, but if so, then for its own sake only. Quick google search gave me at least this: I'd rather we relinquish some of the fun of the more sophisticated zero-sum dating/flirting techniques for more people actually hooking up with each other. (arms races creates inequalities) They don't have to. That was a disaster. I don't recommend it. I'm not sure if sex with prostitutes contribute enough to self-esteem/happiness. Anyone?
Oh boy. What did I get myself into. From time to time I run into sophisticated arguments about relationships and usually fail to bring anything useful across. But I try anyway. That is no contradiction. If you (in a very broad sense) aim to be the most sociable guy in the room, than the difficulty of that task depends on who you hang with. You can raise your own status to some degree with a few easy things. But that does not mean you are at the top. And then the average can shift. If more people go into actively raising their status you get a visible arms race for the top positions. But if that happens slow and more intuitively than the race is slow, and maybe even non existant. I think you do have to be better than the competition. But lots of the competition does not act. That sounds awesome. And I have no clue how to actually do it. Not even in theory.
Speed really isn't the issue. An arms race will create waste and inequality. I think a typical person would be receptive to some of the PU techniques but not others. If as you say (I really need to educate myself on PU), most of it is obvious social skills then I don't think they would have any objection. Some techniques they might think 'unfair' or 'evil', in which case their deontological ethics already takes care of this not degenerating into an arms race. So perhaps PU may be unfairly maligned. But I think when its techniques are presented in a non-PU context, most people already have the right built-in ethics to accept what is useful for themselves and reject what is on net harmful to all of us. I guess it was kinda unfair for me to press this point about arms races. Because if I'm getting this right, it seems that PU serves more to help the socially inept achieve basic social functionality than keeping up with the sophisticated players in the field. This is an honorable effort.
I think you might have a mistaken view on what a PU technique is, and does. A discussion would make more sense if you were specific about what you think works or does not work. It is not a clearly defined field anyway. The comparison with magic also does not hold that well. In magic you have spells, and it is clear when you cast a spell, and when not. Your PU toolbox consists of wider variety of issues.
Whoops you might have misunderstood me there. I meant a typical person would be willing to employ some PU techniques but not others. I'm sure most of them do work.
Which do you have in mind for each?
Huge status hit is problematic. Maybe it is enough for self-esteem, but the hit brings esteem down again.
(He certainly didn't say anything remotely like that in the grandparent.)
How so? The fraction of dating-age straight women who are taken at any given moment is nowhere near close enough to 1 that the competition among straight men is a zero-sum game. That would be the case if there many fewer women than men, but AFAIK the sex ratio is close to 1 among dating-age people. Making all men become more attractive by the same amount might well reduce the overall prevalence of involuntary celibacy.
When you're selling yourself, there's also an additional dynamic: Robin Hanson has argued that any method to win better mates than you appear to "deserve" genetically will be viewed as "unfair" by the opposite sex. For an example parallel to PUA, men may get squicked by this advice for women, even though they know it works.

Does that advice really work? If a female acted the way that essay describes (especially in regards to keeping dates short and being rarely available) I'd just assume that they weren't interested but didn't have the guts to say so and move on.

Interesting question! Back in 1988, I met two women close to simultaneously. The one who made love with me is the one who I married. If the other one intended to be chased - well, she wasn't. "Hard to get" acted simply as a negative.
Haha, that's what many girls say about PUA techniques. "Wouldn't work on me!" Yet they work. Maybe we should get some girls' opinions about advice from The Rules: have they tried it? How effective was it?

Certainly haven't followed it as a matter of conscious intent. I am pretty much only attracted to nerds (one of my personal rules, back when I was on the market, was that I would not date a guy who did not own a d20) and my reaction is that much of this is really horrible advice for the girl trawling the geek pool for a boyfriend.

For instance all the stuff about waiting for him to make the first move, expecting him to take the lead, etc, is just a recipe for two lovelorn nerds staring hopelessly at each other over the miniatures table (and never going any farther than that). I generally found it pretty easy to tell when a guy was into me, and I made some pretty blatant passes just to get the ball rolling.

For instance, with the man who is now my husband, I initiated our relationship by saying (this is a direct quote) "Hey, have you ever thought about you and me dating?" And I continued to take the lead in things like initiating our first kiss and the first time we went to bed together, because I knew I was a lot more experienced in that arena. On the other hand, most girls do like to be courted and I'm no exception, so there definitely was a point when I expected him to s... (read more)

You are very unusual. I love nerds too, and am currently in an amazing relationship with one, but even I have my limits. He needed to pursue me or I wouldn't have bothered. I was quite explicitly testing, and once he realized the game was one, he exceeded expectations. But yeah, there were a couple of months there when I thought, 'To hell with this! If he's not going to make a move at this point, he can't know what he's doing, and he certainly won't be any good at the business...'

You are very unusual. I love nerds too, and am currently in an amazing relationship with one, but even I have my limits. He needed to pursue me or I wouldn't have bothered.

If I hadn't already had good evidence that he was crazy about me, I might have gone for more of that sort of testing, I don't know.

At the time I had this idea that I was going to be San Francisco's real-life superheroine. I would get a cape and a mask and call myself Mistra. I went as far as enrolling in a first-responder course and a Wing Chun class. I told Sam (now my husband, but at the time just a good friend) that he should be my sidekick, Fog Lad. He agreed to this plan. We started throwing around ideas for his costume.

Sometime after this it occurred to me literally in the shower that he must be in love with me, because I'm pretty sure guys don't agree to run around the city in tights calling themselves Fog Lad unless they are desperately in love with some chick.

So I told him I thought we should date, and then everything just went extremely well from there. Sadly, once we fell into bed together, we kind of got distracted and I stopped going to Wing Chun class, and San Francisco never did get its ace crimefighting team.

That is just too adorable to be true! Tell me you made it up. If not, you may just have be the inspiration for the first romantic teen comedy superhero flick that is based off a true story!
Nope, it's all true.
The RomCom version of Kick Ass would probably do very well at the box office.
A couple of months. Even that is a little unusual. :)
This is true. We were (and are) in the same social group, so I didn't need to go out of my way for repeated interaction. Had I met him once and he failed to pick up my sigs, then NO, we would NOT be together now... This reminds me of a conversation I had with Silas, in which he asked me, "How many dates until....?" And I stared at him for a moment and said, "What makes you think there would be a second if the first didn't go so well?"
By the ellipsis do you mean 'sex', and indicate that lack of it on the first date constitutes a failure? (Good for you if you know what you want!)
Great post. I loved your approach with your husband and think that in general, most people would be better off following it (especially women). Your objection to PUA stuff is based on a certain view of PUA I don't think is accurate. In fact, one of the most helpful things to me about PUA was the idea that each person has an individual set of "attraction switches" and it's just a matter of finding them. This freed me up a lot. I don't really think this is an issue of the differences between men and women. In fact, I think most of the PUA ideas apply equally well to men and women, because they're observations on human psychology. PUA gets applied mostly to women because it's mostly men who go after women, not because women are so different than men. The relevant distinction here is "friends" vs. "people you are attracted to and want to go after" -- a lot of PUA advice consists of distinguishing behaviors for these two categories -- not men vs. women. I'm tempted to say "but Roissy is an idiot who has nothing to do with PUA!" However, I'm wary of committing the One True Scotsmen fallacy, and I suppose I have to admit that there is a portion of the PUA blogosphere that is misogynistic. I don't think that his blog is representative of most of the valuable stuff in the PUA community, and in fact his blog has been described as more of a "men going their own way" blog.
Can you point me to a page that espouses that view? I googled for it and found this: -- but it seems the opposite of what you're saying, as it's a list of "attraction switches" that will supposedly work for "most women." Now granted, they're all generically good things ("TRUST" and "CONFIDENCE" and "CHEMISTRY" are all fine things in a relationship, sure) but there's no mention of individual variation or any conception that different women may be looking for different things. Instead, the message is: flip these switches and "she's really going to be into you"! And then at the end the author writes "I'd love to see another list: of the switches to flip for a ONS [One Night Stand] -- the switches that over-ride the social programming and make her crave that adventure and abandon. " Like I said, it's women as androids. Flip the switches, override the programming, badda bing badda boom. It just seems like a juvenile fantasy--women as sex robots, available to anyone who knows the override code. Not the kind of outlook that's actually going help a lonely guy make a genuine connection with a woman.
Well, this kind of systematizing and abstraction is really helpful when you don't know what to do or how to start a relationship. And it's useful to have some defaults that work pretty well, most of the time, before you get to know someone. I actually think that seeing women as acting based on a specific pattern, that has reasons behind it and that can be understood with time and practice, rather than a baffling and impenetrable mystery, is exactly what will help a lonely guy make a genuine connection. I got the insight that everyone has different attraction switches from a conversation with someone, not a web page, and I'm not as familiar with what material is available online. However, HughRistik wrote two comments about this topic with a few links to pages that might be relevant.
Why would a lonely guy want that? Aren't you thinking of what a woman would want, instead?
Your point of view has a lot in common with the indignation of theists that say the universe cannot be made of "cold numbers" or somesuch. As someone who's had a lot of field practice and done a lot of homework, I can say this: the mating behavior of humans (men and women alike) is frighteningly predictable if you know the right variables to look at. Humans aren't nearly as different as they think they are. Getting offended by this is like getting offended by the theory of relativity. Sure you can, but it will only get you so far.
You put the same kind of confidence in PUA as you do in the theory of relativity? Really? My experience leads me to different conclusions, yes.
Sorry. My comment wasn't very thought out, so I deleted it immediately after posting. I'd rather not be having this argument here and now.

No problem. I deleted my reply to it as well.

I also just want to remark that, the first time I saw this happen on Less Wrong -- where two people were getting into a discussion of escalating snarkiness, until one of them apologized and retracted a remark -- I just about fell out of my chair. I mean, people don't do that on the Internet! It actually clinched my interest in this forum and the material here.

Awesome. There is hope :) This bodes well for the intended purpose of this site.
I really wish your approach was not so unusual... You would be doing humanity (and nerds) a favour if you wrote your own guide to dating for women. I don't think one book would change the insanity of human interaction, but it would probably help.

I'm atypical, but here's my take:

Some of it is common sense (she who cares least wins; look your best; avoid certain "turn-off" subjects; have standards regarding hygiene and considerateness.)

Some of it sounds distasteful (withholding personal information and intimacy sounds like a bad idea for relationships, but then again I may tend to be too trusting. The focus on "closing the deal" by making sure you marry within two years of meeting someone also seems problematic. I suspect these people do not care as much as I do about intellectual/emotional compatibility.)

Some of it is frankly unrealistic (gifts of flowers are not typical in all social circles. Making the man pay for everything is not always practical.)

From what I've seen of "The Rules" it's structurally different from PUA. PUA has a lot in common with marketing, and also a lot in common with general social skills advice. "Rules"-style dating advice for women is generally not an exercise in teaching social skills to awkward women. It's more about being strategic at dating (an area of life where admittedly too many people refuse to even consider using reasoned strategy.) It's hard to see how you could test whether it works, though. To see if PUA works, just go out and see if you can pick up women. To see if The Rules work, you have to see if you can marry an (implicitly rich) man -- that's a much longer time frame and you don't get as many trials!


Someone needs to write a Romantic comedy/tragedy where two people fall in love but they can never get together because the man is following PUA and the woman is following The Rules. They keep rushing to be the one to end phone conversations and both are always pretending to be too busy to go out with each other. The woman won't have sex until she gets flowers and the man won't give flowers until they have sex. Since both methods work they just fall more and more madly in love with each other but can never tell each other for fear of seeming too needy or desperate.

If they were both following the online dating rules someone linked to earlier, it would all be over very quickly. Neither would reply to an email before at least 3 days have passed, but both ignore anyone who doesn't reply to an email within 3 days.
Any dating filter that doesn't filter out itself is clearly not a very good filter!
Not showing too much enthusiasm sounds like a low risk low reward strategy.
Hmm. That sounds like dating is an iterated Prisoner's Dilemma. (And PUA, The Rules, etc. are guides to defecting?)
Well, at least the "delay reply to gain power" gambit is the rest vary. :)
A variant of this has been discussed in xkcd. I don't think that Munroe thought about the consequences as you have.
-- sockthepuppetry
Romantic comedies assume there is a predestined partner who one ends up with after a series of ups and downs and a big showdown. That is not so in real life where everyone just moves on after a while. The fiction of romantic movies can really hurt the expectations of reality. Maybe someday someone researches the effect of chick flicks on the amount of unhappy involuntary singles due to unrealistic expectations.
That would end pretty quickly. PUA tells you to drop a woman if she seems cagey about going out or you're not making progress by the second date. It's very much a numbers game, there are tens of thousands of unattached women in even the smallest city and on average, 4% are willing to do anything without any PUA skills being applied; if it's not working out just give up and go find someone else.
Depends on what you count as a city vs as a town. A settlement of 60,000 will likely have about 30,000 women, about 12,000 of whom will be post-pubescent but pre-menopausal (and many guys will have stricter age limits than that), about 4000 of whom will be unattached.
Thankfully, our built-in (if imperfect) deontological-acausal ethics usually prevents that from happening to most of us.

The Rules is a filter women can apply to their dating. Being manipulated by, or at least not bothered by, certain things on that list (like double standards with responding), correlates strongly with desired personality traits. Most people will get bored with Rules-girls and move on. The ones that don't are far more likely to be the type desired. Assuming a dating woman knows what she desires, that is - I wager women using the Rules aren't as aware of what they are selecting for as pick-up artists are.

On PUA, the same thing applies: if you think those techniques wouldn't work on you, well, you're not the type pick-up artists are after.

Part of what you label as common sense, avoiding certain "turn-off" subjects is on the list of things I don't understand. Why shouldn't people talk about their exes? Presumably if someone was an SO or close to being an SO then they were, you know, significant. Not talking about them places a substantial limit on what subjects the person is able to talk about. And are guys really so insecure that they feel uncomfortable just being reminded that the person they are dating has had other relationships?
A big reason is that talk about exes can easily turn emotionally negative. Many mainstream people don't seem to be on good terms with their exes.
Lol, I'm curious: What does "mainstream people" mean in this context? People who have romantic relationships that fail in a way that sometimes causes frustration and resentment?

Most gender-typical people. They have more drama. It's a lot easier for high IQ, gender-atypical nerdy folks with good impulse control to be on good terms with their exes.

Especially if their exes are also high IQ, gender-atypical nerdy folks with good impulse control.
One might think this is due to a lack of supply. I see the emotional ups and downs of many people with more and more amazement of why anyone would want to life like that.
Aside from the possibility that you had a bad breakup and you end up complaining for several minutes, which isn't a good sign in a date. It raises the question of "What did those people find out about this person that I don't know yet that it caused them to break up with them.".
And: "If he is bitching about his ex to me then chances are he would bitch about me to others too." Possibly applies even more for boasting.
Yes. Complaining about your breakup allows the other person to locate and privilege various unsavory hypotheses about you which may or may not be fair. Don't let people do this. You aren't being more "honest" by giving people true information that will bias them.
Anyone read the book and can explain what this is about? Is this like "Don't discuss Heaven's Gate with your family"?
Sort of. I haven't read the book but was sufficiently amused to look this one up. They give three reasons: your therapist may think The Rules are manipulative and dishonest and dissuade you; your therapist may not realize how clueless and pathetic you are when you fall for a guy, if you don't have The Rules to protect you; you don't want to start debating this topic with your therapist, you'll lose your resolve to stick to The Rules.
I think it's more like "Don't discuss Zeus with your Rabbi."

I wonder how this translates to the dynamics of communities where sexual attraction isn't constrained to opposite-sex pairings.

Very good point, I hadn't thought about that. Does there exist effective dating advice for gay people? It might be illuminating.
Nothing I know of that's analogously mass-marketed. Dan Savage is moderately popular in this space, but I suspect that he is to dating advice what talk radio is to political analysis: entertaining, vaguely topical, and mostly non-data-driven. Mostly his advice is to be attractive (exercise, grooming, etc.) and forthright (ask for what you want, walk away from what you don't want), which isn't bad advice as far as it goes. More generally, there seems to be a sentiment in the gay male community that "playing hard to get" (which a lot of dating advice for het women seems to advise, and a lot of "dating" advice for het men seems to advise ways of neutralizing) is mostly a female thing, and gay guys simply shouldn't bother. I have no particular reason to believe that this is true, though. In fact, I've seen enough queer men fascinated by the "is he or isn't he?" game with respect to attractive men of unspecified orientation that I rather doubt it. (I don't know if the analogous game is popular among queer women, though I'd be somewhat surprised if it weren't.) That said, there was so much coyness ineluctably built into the gay dating scene by the fear of punishment for so long that I guess it's unsurprising that deliberate coyness is officially rejected. That rejection will probably fade as it becomes more and more taken for granted, as it seems to be becoming, that gay people can be publicly visible as romantic/sexual beings without risking assault or other forms of "reprisal".
That's an interesting list. A lot of those serve as general advice that tends to be given to guys too. * Always look great, whatever your income. * Never reveal information you don't have to. An enigmatic [man] drives [women] wild. * Try and stay in shape and involve some fitness regime at a gym. * Never be available when he wants you to be. * If he is available Tuesday, you are available Thursday. * Ensure you are a good kisser. * Never ever talk about previous [girlfriends], particularly their prowess in the bedroom. Your ex-[girlfriends] are your business only. * Never assume anything about your date until you choose to know him better. You cannot always tell by looking. * Never ever come across as too available or too desperate. [She] will run a mile. * If the [girl] in the corner is gorgeous, go get [her] and create the need in [her] for you. Never wait for [women] to come to you because you may watch [her] leave with someone else. * If you want a child, don't mention it on the first few dates. * Never ever criticize [her] mother unless you want to remain single. Then there are some tips about evaluation strategies that guys tend to be warned to consider: * If any man shows the slightest signs of possessiveness or insecurity, run like the wind. Life is too short for boys. * If his shoes or hygiene are a disgrace, dump him. (Yup. Shoes, and insecurity. Those two are the big ones in fashion and behavioral signalling respectively.) Then there are others that guys are often suggested strategies for dealing with. (Such strategies vary rather a lot depending on individual identity, what kind of relationship is desired and pure arbitrariness.) * Let your man pay. If he is interested, he is interested enough to ensure you eat well and get home safely in a cab. Often I'll do this as a hat tip to tradition or as a pure matter of convenience. It depends a bit on the girl. Sometimes it will pay for a meal then say, for example, that now she can take m
Some of these seem also just designed to cause maximum drama. Consider: Many females I've dated get actively offended if I the guys try to pay rather than splitting the bill. And frankly, they have a right to be offended, giving the historical double standards that are associated with this sort of thing. That someone is trying to get females to insist on this while others use it as a test in the opposite direction? Yeah, this isn't going to lead to problems at all.

Many females I've dated get actively offended if I the guys try to pay rather than splitting the bill. And frankly, they have a right to be offended

I wouldn't want to deny anyone the right to be offended at anything they please but for my part I would bid them politely goodnight and delete their phone number. Getting actively offended over things that are not a big deal is a huge red flag. It indicates either specific emotional issues or a generally high maintenance personality. I'll leave those girls to you Josh. :)

Some sample sane responses in such circumstances:

  • No, we'll split it.
  • Hey, none of that, Neanderthal! (With a smile and or fake arm slap to indicate lightheartedness. Equivalent to assertiveness with humor.)

Ideal response:

  • Sure, but I've got the next one!

This follows from a general principle that a propensity for taking offence is an unattractive trait and an indicator of immature boundaries. If you want something different ask for it or actively make it happen.

* No, we'll split it. From what I've read, being able to credibly offer a free meal is a critical tool in some men's dating arsenal. Changing it to "well, if you want I'll pay, but I'd be really grateful if you'd chip in too" could leave him substantially weakened. Her making decisions on his behalf and talking about them as a couple after one date also seems like a bad sign. * Hey, none of that, Neanderthal! (With a smile and or fake arm slap to indicate lightheartedness. Equivalent to assertiveness with humor.) "Ha, ha! It's funny because she insulted me and dismissed my sex's relevance as economic agents!" * Sure, but I've got the next one! "So just because I was curious enough to spend some money to get to know her better, suddenly I'm at her beck and call? What kind of spineless plaything does she see me as?" ...and that's one of many reasons I hope I don't need to date.

Wow. All those could technically be valid interpretations. That's where things like body language and confidence come in. There is something to be said for interpreting everything in the best possible light. Occasionally (dependent highly on context) even when you know they intended it to be critical. (Although in this case they didn't).

  • Hey, none of that, Neanderthal! (With a smile and or fake arm slap to indicate lightheartedness. Equivalent to assertiveness with humor.)

"Ha, ha! It's funny because she insulted me and dismissed my sex's relevance as economic agents!"

For my part I find the ability to mock tradition and culture without getting personally insulted by it kind of endearing. In this case, again depending rather significantly on cues in the context, I would quite possibly go ahead and be sure to open doors for her and move her to the side of the pavement farthest from the road. Because teasing each other is fun, life isn't meant to be taken seriously and, incidentally, because it would be role playing the masculine stereotype light-heartedly.

Incidentally I don't consider 'Neanderthal' to be an insult. Neanderthals were awesome. ;)

I have to admit, when I was dating, I would always offer to pay half the bill -- but I never went on a second date with any guy who took me up on it. I know this goes against the general policy of forthrightness that I otherwise followed, and I can't really defend the practice rationally. It probably was an area where I was following drives I didn't fully understand, maybe something about finding a man who was capable of the old-fashioned, stand-up, protect & provide business. In any case I would definitely advise men to offer to pay on the first date. I mean, don't insist on it, but showing that you have money, and aren't stingy with it, is generally an attractive thing.
When my date pays for things/establishes a trend of paying for things, it gives me permission not to fuss about money. I am very, very inclined to fuss about money if any of the money involved is mine, so I find it a huge load off my mind. (I go on first dates prepared to pay half if my date seems to prefer this idea when I ask, but preparing to do that before every date with a person I intended to see regularly would be rapidly exhausting for me, so I'd be leery of going on dates-that-could-cost-money with someone who doesn't demonstrate an inclination to pay - though this doesn't preclude 100% of possible second dates.) Example: I recently dated a guy who took me out to movies (he paid), and we were trying to think of something else to do besides see movies. I proposed snow tubing, but then discovered that the only snow tubing place open in the area which had a device to pull the tubes up the hill was expensive. I dithered to him about this. If he had said something like "don't worry about that, I've got it", we would have gone snow tubing. He did not, so we didn't. (This didn't preclude another movie date after this non-event.)

I think the relevant joke and intended consequences is something like:

  1. I insert an obvious derogatory remark about a tribal group you are very loosely affiliated with.

  2. Since I am closely affiliated with that tribal group, this comment acts as a countersignal and ironically signals affiliation with that group. This also works because the group in question has a history of countersignaling in this fashion and calling it "humor".

  3. Since a disproportionate fraction up LW readers have past or present emotional connections to that tribal group, this raises my status at LW.

  4. (Something else very Hansonian occurs here)

  5. Profit.

ETA: And actually, this post also signals affiliation with nerdy internet people. Now if only I can find a way to simultaneous signal with people concerned about FAI and signal affiliation with paperclip maximizers, then I'm all set.

Voted up for being funny. This probably proves some kind of point, doesn't it?
This is a nice example of a division of labor based on relative strengths (at least when your partner does not happen to have a similar aversion). For me, such a division is preferable to the idea that roles in (heterosexual) relationships are determined by the sexes of the respective partners.
Yeah, I'd have similar preferences if I dated a girl. (I have been in relationships with girls, but never in the "we will go to a place and spend money on food/an activity" style of relationship.)
You mean the relative strengths of having money versus being a woman? I'm not seeing the division here.
The division is that Alicorn is not strong with money; she lets her date sort out the money because (while not necessarily strong with money absolute) they are stronger with money than her. Relatively, the date is stronger, so they do the labour of paying. One possible reason for someone being strong with money is they have lots of it. Arundelo is making the point that it could have turned out that Alicorn was strong with money and her date was not; in this case Alicorn would have paid. It was not a case of "man pays, woman doesn't." It was a case of "those who can most pay, pay."
That's not the impression I got. The date ended up paying because Alicorn didn't want to, and the date not paying would have led to fewer dates. She stated she was prepared to pay half, not prepared to pay full like her date was doing. In the comment just next to mine, she says... Which illustrates the reasoning behind PUA advice being to split the bill. It explicitly states that she should only bother spending time with you for your company. If the idea that you two would work out something that didn't involve spending money never comes up, then she just wasn't into you.
It's the impression arundelo got exactly, unless I miss my mark.
The relative strengths of having money versus whatever Alicorn is strong at. (To be precise, it's a matter of comparative advantage rather than strength, with the proviso that if Alicorn's partner is even worse than her at spending money, they probably won't do many spending-money dates at all.)
A lot of my resentment toward your comments has to do with your acceptance (sometimes approaching flaunting) of women's disproportionate bargaining power in relationships. This attitude makes me feel uncomfortable and sometimes provokes me to write flamey comments, which I then delete. I'm not sure how many other men here feel the same way, maybe I'm the only one, but still.
Resisting temptation to make obvious joke about your paternal ancestry...
I've scoured the paragraph for possible allusions to make. None of the jokes I can construct are obvious enough to be particularly funny. Bother.
Alicorn is of Jewish ancestry on the paternal side. The real issue is that the obvious jokes just aren't very funny.
I'm not even sure what the "obvious jokes" are given the hint about my dad's side of the family being Jewish.
Something along the lines of "ah, and here we see confirmation of your Jewish ancestry." The joke I was thinking of was simply that your concerns about money as expressed fit very well with negative stereotypes about Jews and money. It really isn't that funny and is probably anti-humorous when one has to explain it to this level.
I doubt you followed that rule consistently. It looks like to much of a unimportant minimal indicator that should be superseded by the rest of the date. But if you poll enough women you will find many such statements that contradict with the ones other women give. Getting angry for paying the bill, getting angry for not paying the bill. Expecting him to hold the door. Getting angry holding doors for her. There is no standard rule set to follow. And i find it ridiculous how women (or anyone) expect others to just know what they want without ever bothering to tell them.
Another way of thinking about it might be that "paying the bill" or "not holding the door" are indicators of the man's personality, rather than terminal values of the woman. In this case, telling the man "I expect you to pay the bill" is counter-productive. It doesn't actually achieve anything the woman wants -- what she wants (in this hypothetical) is a man that would do this on his own. It merely eliminates "paying the bill" as a useful indicator of personality. Granted, this strategy doesn't work well on a man who doesn't have an opinion on the matter and just wants to make the woman happy, but it's a plausible explanation.
Mind you the parent completely reverses the impression given by the earlier comment of "Wow, that's an attitude of the perfect girl for a nerd to be dating!"
I know! I wasn't even aware of it as inconsistent at the time.
Well, humans have lots of different behaviors and variation. It is extremely unlikely that anyone is going to be perfect. Moreover, everyone is influenced by cultural norms. As far as I can tell, that sort of thing is evidence more that people should try not to use any single warning sign as an absolute deal-killer unless it is very severe.
Naturally. siduri's earlier comment indicated that she was an extreme outlier in terms of preferences and and proactive forthrightness. This additional trait just serves as a regression to the mean.
I have never had a guy offer to pay for my dinner. I guess Aussie blokes just don't tend to do that kind of thing. I think that if anyone ever did - I'd be so surprised that I'd accept. I'd certainly be happy to pay for the next meal (or coffee or whatever). I'm told that, during WWII, the American soldiers that were stationed in Australia cleaned up on the dating scene - because they happened to still use those traditional behaviours. ;) I totally understand the inclination to get upset if being treated unfairly - but these days, I'm pretty sure that most guys that hold a door open for you are not doing it because they think I'm incapable of doing it myself... so I smile and say thank you, and make sure I pay it forward for somebody else next time I have the opportunity.
It seems that, steadfast allies as American GIs may have been to the ANZAC forces during combat, on the home front they were ruthless-if unknowing-defectors
I think a lot of women are looking for a man who can create romantic experiences, start to finish, for them. I think that's what the "bill paying" business is really about. (If it were about money you could just ask what he does for a living.) And it's fun once in a while when someone has orchestrated an entire evening for you and taken care of all the details for you. But if you expect that regularly and don't reciprocate... I guess I disapprove of that. It reduces him to "The Guy Who Brings The Fun Stuff."
I got a little angry reading that (didn't follow the original link), but I'm feeling too lazy to discard the post I wrote, so: * Never ever talk about previous [girlfriends], particularly their prowess in the bedroom. Your ex-[girlfriends] are your business only. Thereby signalling to her (if she were rational) that she'll be equally a nonentity to you in a year, and/or (if you actively avoid the subject) that you handled your past relationships badly and are likely to do the same for your next. * Never assume anything about your date until you choose to know him better. You cannot always tell by looking. If I had video of every time that was hilariously bad advice for me back when I still expected human statements to necessarily mean things, I expect I could make a substantially better contribution to this thread. * If the [girl] in the corner is gorgeous, go get [her] and create the need in [her] for you. Never wait for [women] to come to you because you may watch [her] leave with someone else. This appears to be a disguised problem statement: "If she perceives you as pursuing her, she'll run a mile, but if you wait for her to pursue you she won't. Therefore, use magic." So glad I'm a lifestyle-aspie where the rule is "if you want something from someone, ask, if you don't think that'll work, offer something in exchange, if you don't have anything to offer, do without". My imagined "stereotypical advice" version of that sentence is more like "If the girl in the corner is gorgeous, too bad. The girl who actually talks to you and affects an interest in you will be gorgeous too if you let yourself see it, and you don't want to miss out on her just because you're hung up on someone else that you probably didn't have a chance with anyway. * Never ever criticize [her] mother unless you want to remain single. God, I love family-as-applause-light. Just seeing "criticize" and "mother" next to each other looks dirty. Mothers are sweet and upstanding ladies who w
Just so long as you don't interpret it as avocation from me (except where explicitly indicated). It is, after all, a bunch of dating tips given to women and presented here because it may 'squick' guys. Mind you most of them did not squick me at all and even then it was just a "I wouldn't date her" reaction. But other people not getting offended at something is sometimes itself taken as offensive so I don't mind if you are angry at me too. :) I know you mentioned that you hope you never have to date. For those that do date an attractive trait tends to be the ability to accept the dating patterns of the desired demographic without discontent. The signalling reason for this is obvious. I wouldn't call that rational. A rational girl would assume that I don't have my entire history written down on my sleeve for all to see. I don't speak of all the important things in my life in all conversations. I would call that girl 'paranoid'. Not a bad approach at all. Not universally effective but the screening/signalling combo would work well for some combinations. :) In that vein the actual sentiment in the tip would translate to actively seeking out those other 'gorgeous', interesting/interested people too, rather than waiting passively. 'Applause light' is a little different from 'personal - don't insult'. No. Just no. Framing, like it or not, is incredibly important when dating. A particularly aggressive framing of "If I do then I am entitled to material resource>" is an indication that a certain kind of relationship will follow and to some extent the type of personality of the girl. Again, it is how it is framed that is important more so than who actually pays for stuff. It also depends what kind of relationship you want. Some people in some circumstances are looking for a more overtly transactional relationship than a partnership - rich middle aged men having affairs for example. Which is somewhat different to the provider/dominant-partner role that a less aggressive
I had no idea such a thing were possible. Please share your strategies and successes for arranging those situations. (I'm being purposely non-specific in the hopes of encouraging as much detail as possible; a good strategy for interviews and give-and-take, but for requesting particular information in an asynchronous exchange I'm unsure of its efficacy.)
I presume wedrifid was essentially referring to making dates that were things you wanted to do anyway or meeting points where the waiting party has an alternative thing to be doing.
That was what I assumed, but to schedule a meeting where being late would not make the first arrival wait seems impossible to me. Perhaps a fair or festival? Those occur infrequently. A petting zoo? That's... not a bad idea, actually - but petting the animals would hardly be the main activity, and the animals could only entertain one for so long. At cinema one may feel to have been made to wait by seeing other tribes all around, even though the explicit activity is idle viewing. A talk? One may want to save a seat for the tardy party, but besides that a talk appears perfect. Well, that's one "[meeting] where no waiting for either party is required...." I figured you or wedrifid might have a cache of events that fit that criterion and asked to hedge against figuratively 're-inventing the wheel'.
I recommend sitting down and listing ten things you might do for fun, just because you enjoy them. Then look at that list and circle the ones that don't have a fixed start time (like zoos, fairs, festivals, museums, outdoor walks, amusement parks, beaches, etc. etc. etc.) If you haven't circled anything, repeat the exercise with another ten things you like to do. If the area where you live publishes a directory of local events, that's a useful place to start.
Most of those don't offend me, and most of those that do offend me offend me because they're sexist, so I guess they wouldn't offend a counterfactual version of me who is more sexist. I suspect some of those are intended to be tongue-in-cheek. (But the one about e-mail immediately made me think about what would happen if both partners abode by it.)
My reaction was that it's not very nice to intentionally titrate the time one spends interacting with me. It doesn't seem like anything else on the list is deceptive or otherwise squicky.
This is, of course, why 'self help' is best performed in communities where other people's agendas are not there to interfere with your progress. Given that success is for most part social and zero sum there will inevitably be epistemic pollution as a result of other people trying to influence your behaviour for their own purposes. Morality, after all, is mostly a tool used by people with (an appropriate kind of social) power to control the behaviour of those most vulnerable to its influence. (Note that sometimes it also serves a useful overall social purpose but it is not there to help you.) Edit: If nothing else having specialised self help communities prevents every single remotely related conversation from ending up derailed into ethics.
In my view, the problem isn't inherent in discussion of ethics, it's just that many notions of ethics (particularly in social interaction) are just hypocritical and wrong from the start. Basically, people's conventional ideas about "self", "authenticity", and "manipulation" are largely an ephemeral slave morality. (Sorry if I'm giving anyone inferential distance shock, but I've outlined this position in the past here in massively long comments that I'm too lazy to dig up.) The problem with throwing out the ethical baby with the bathwater is that then it's hard to get help optimizing your self-improvement according to a particular vision of ethics.
I agree with you here and also note that what I am wary of is not environments in which ethical discussions take place but rather environments in which discussions pertaining simple instrumental or epistemic considerations are systematically diverted by ethical discussion or moral proscription. That is, it is what is lost and the implied introduction of bias into what remains that is the problem.
careful you who take advice from.
Obviously. But your advice in this particular instance appears, shall we say, ambiguous at best.
Ambiguious posting is matter of habit for me. In this context: I experienced both growth oriented communities. And others that punish you for looking into improvement. Or people that give bad advice for all kinds of reasons. It was difficult for me to understand that this happens and why.
Well said.
Denunciation is a social act. The social framework is an evolutionary fitness mating arena. Kill the status of anyone more successful than you. This principle is strong enough for me to treat denunciation of PUA as weak evidence that it works.
This is a terrible argument: * it affirms the consequent; * the assumption that all social activity reduces to fitness strategies is in sharp contrast with reality and lacks evidence; * even allowing for the unreasonable assumption and overlooking the fallacy, the problem remains that apart from some anecdotal evidence, nobody has a clue as to whether PUA works, including people who denounce it. The most that could be concluded, even under the manifestly unreasonable assumptions, is that people who denounce PUA believe that it works, or have anecdotal evidence that it works. However, since it's reasonably common for people to both denounce PUA and believe that it's practiced by pathetic unsuccessful creeps, this conclusion is wrong, too.

[the above argument] affirms the consequent;

To be fair, the above commenter only said that this constitutes "weak evidence" in favor of the hypothesis, and deducing mere evidence (as opposed to certainty) by affirming the consequent is correct reasoning. (How strong evidence should be deduced, of course, is another question that depends on the concrete case. But "shokwave" did say "weak.")

I think that with no further information but only an affirmed consequent, treating it as nontrivial evidence, even "weak"[1], is wrong; you need to say something about alternative hypotheses, even if it's hand-wavy and vague[2]. This is somewhat of a gray area, to be sure, because the "something about alternative hypothesis" part is often taken to be implicitly understood[3]. But I don't think it's implicitly understood in this case that there aren't other, non-evo-psycho, reasonable explanations of peeps hatin' on PUA. [1] I think that "weak" in normal usage implies "nontrivial", even though theoretically it could be trivial or zero. [2] "If my theory is correct, the sun will rise tomorrow". [3] If a physicist says informally "my theory predicted value X, and measurement confirms", they might take it as understood and not say that other competing theories predict a different value. But a paper will make it explicit unless it's already obvious.
When I say 'weak evidence', I mean it. If I met one person who had been practicing PUA for six months, and they hadn't had significantly more sex in those six months than in the previous six months (as judged by some method other than self-reporting; probably by asking the person's friends or roommates), that would be stronger evidence that PUA doesn't work.
As I said above, I believe that you're using the phrase "weak evidence" in a non-standard way, essentially violating Grice's Maxim of Quantity. When something is as weak as in this case, people don't call it weak, they call it trivial or negligible or exceedingly weak, or some other term to transmit the idea of just how very weak it is. When people say "weak evidence", they mean that it's definitely not strong or conclusive, but there's nontrivial amount of it, it's not vanishingly small.
I do not believe it is non-standard for LessWrong. I admit I'm guilty of tailoring my posts to fit the LessWrong-specific audience.
You're possibly right. I invite you to test your belief by consulting the search for "weak evidence" over LW. This probably sounds snarky, so let me quickly clarify that I don't mean this in the sense "this search confirms I'm right". I looked over the results briefly and saw that roughly half of them use further qualifiers like "astonishingly weak", "very weak", "extremely weak"and so on, which is consistent with what I'd said. But it's also possible that many results use vanilla "weak evidence" to refer to what other results call "extremely/incredibly weak" etc., and then you're right. I looked at a few "vanilla" uses in context and didn't see that, but I didn't look at enough.
I think you find more people for who it does not work, than for whom it works. But I doubt this works as evidence that it does not work. There are many factors that influence success. One would be doing it wrong.
Not much, no. But it works as more evidence than people denouncing it. Weak evidence! Weak! Weak.
I think I see different requirements for things working that for things not working. People getting actively angry about something looks like a (weak) indicator that they are afraid there might be something to it. They do not get angry at 9/11 conspiracists, but laugh about them. They do get angry at the other party. If you have someone trying to do something and be unsuccessful that tells you even less. I would not see it as indicator of not working. It is just no particular evidence. But maybe I have the notion of what 'weak' means wrong.
It almost has to be evidence; even if it's just evidence that the person isn't doing it right, then you push this case through your prior for how often they do things wrong. Unless your prior is very high, you're still getting half the impact or more of the evidence. Although you could argue from the selection effect of "correct in your expectations of success" that you're almost guaranteed to only notice cases where they are doing it wrong, not cases where it doesn't work (because you don't expect it to work where it won't).
1Tim Liptrot4y
My take - A person using the techniques and not having increased success - weak evidence People hating PUA - trivial evidence A bunch of people active on a PUA forum having increased success in aggregagate - moderate evidence (would be strong but selection on dependent variable)
More evidence than a negative amount? How much is that worth? For practical purposes, I regard weak evidence as equivalent to no evidence. It has the value of a penny lying on the road: I do not bother to pick it up. Weak evidence is not worth wasting time on.
Further up in the thread, I claimed that (in cases like these) people denouncing it is weak evidence in favour. Anecdote: I once refused to pick up a small denomination coin (we don't have pennies in Australia anymore). A friend did and promptly discovered it was a penny, from 1938, and worth two dollars to collectors. On practical matters, though, this is a case where training will greatly decrease effort and time to pick up (more so than for pennies). If you track how much time is spent on picking up pennies and put a value on that amount of time, and then how much money in pennies you have picked up, you will probably find it not worth it. I expect this weak-evidence-picking-up will prove worth it - if it even slightly addresses the common human problem of incorrectly assessing or entirely discounting large amounts of small evidence, it comes out positive for me.
Still not worth it unless you have a personal interest in coins or expect to find or otherwise collect many such coins. (Of course many people would value the experience at more than $2 just for the novelty and the story.)
Can you give some examples of that, i.e. where large amounts of small evidence are being badly used?
This appears to be) an example of an accumulation of weak evidence badly used, but in the opposite direction. (I say "appears", because I haven't read the article it references, just that LW posting and its comments.) Probabilities of multiple events are being multiplied without concern for whether they are independent. And that is the basic practical problem with accumulating weak evidence. Look at the vast amount of evidence for the existence of Santa Claus! Even if each story only offers a microbit of evidence....well, no. The stories are not independent of each other. Collectively they prove no more than a handful of them do.
After adapting to, and talking to people about at least 10 different idea packages(*), not including this one I finally noticed how dislike is not actually a statement about the idea package itself, but about its perceived strangeness. I got negative and even hostile reactions for each of them! So I assume people do not mentally process everything and then come up with a well reasoned debunk. But they more simply just run a diff(self.current_idea_set,new_idea_set) and if it is to far out reply in the negative. Peeps hate on everything they don't already know. (*) being vegetarian, being atheist, standard skepticism which includes a few applied topics like homeopathy and astrology, economics, some instantiations of liberty/libertarian ideas and more [Edit: \_ as recommended in the comment below]
Need to escape the underscores. diff(self.current\_idea\_set,new\_idea\_set) diff(self.current_idea_set,new_idea_set)
I understand your frustration, but the PUA case is different: you get lots of people denouncing it who do not as a rule denounce lifestyles very different from their own. Including, for example, some LW members. BTW, if all the people around me reacted with hostility to unfamiliar ideas, I would, first of all, try to rule out myself as a factor (e.g. maybe I'm annoyingly preachy w/o knowing it?), and if that didn't clear things up, look for better people. Well, actually, I don't know if I'd do that, but I'd like to think I would.
I don't see how it affirms the consequent; could you spell it out logically for me? My reason for thinking it doesn't is that I didn't give a consequent. I gave three premises, all of which I strongly believe are true, and the consequent derived from these (you can find it in lukeprog's post) is a prediction that pick-up artists will suffer social attacks such as denunciation. It's an abductive explanation of the state of the world, to be sure, but it depends on many other premises (evolutionary psychology is an accurate description of the world, other hypotheses are unlikely, etc). At some point you risk rejecting arguments for theories of gravity because they look like affirming the consequent; that is, your theory predicted that the object would fall at a certain rate (9.8 m/s, say) and then the object fell at a certain rate (9.81~ m/s). P therefore Q, Q, P.
Your P->Q is "if PUA works, people will try to denounce PUA". You affirm Q and deduce P. As I replied to Vladimir_M, this is fallacious unless you invest at least some effort into refuting alternative hypotheses that explain Q. You note it yourself: Now, your astonishingly reductive claim that all social acts are fitness strategies (this claim is not, in fact, part of evolutionary psychology, whose claims are far-ranging but more modest than that) is on the face of it simply wrong; and several other reasons why people might want to denounce PUA are ready at hand. You have your work cut out for you if you wish to give some convincing evidence for the claim, and against the alternative hypotheses; but before either is done at least to some degree your argument, it seems to me, is wholly unsubstantiated. P.S. And all this doesn't take into account my third objection above, which would be true even if you were able to support deducing P from Q in your case. P.P.S. Thank you for the phrase "abductive reasoning", I didn't know that name, or that it was well-studied.
Ah, okay. Yes to that, although of course I prefer to call it abductive reasoning. I got the impression you were saying something like "kill the status of anyone more successful" was being affirmed. Never claimed all, but I didn't make it clear enough. The social framework can be used for evolutionary fitness; in this sense, it is an arena for mating struggles. And it is used in this way, and regularly.
"Lacks evidence" is a handy accusation, isn't it? So is tu quoque. (I don't believe the accusation of 'lacks evidence' in this context means much more than 'I disapprove of your belief".)
I'd like to think that this accusation also carries a hint that this is quite an extraordinary claim, and therefore requires extraordinary evidence. At least, that's the idea I was trying to get across without spelling it out, so as not to appear uncivil. It really is quite an extraordinarily strong claim, and I'm still using milder language and not saying what I really think about it. It's much like saying that all social acts are really attempts to sleep with one's parent of the opposite sex, or that all social acts are actually attempts to get control of the means of production. There are so many social acts, they are so different in different societies, and so many of them are so obviously shaped by culture and non-universal, that I have never seen any evo-psych theorist try to seriously claim that any and all of them are mating fitness strategies. Typically even the most far-reaching varieties of evo-psych claim that about a wide swath of supposedly universal social behaviors, not all social acts.
The hint was overwhelmingly clear. You were saying that your opponent was the one that needed lots of evidence while trying to present your own position as the default. With respect to this particular premise your claim of 'extraordinary' struck me as incredibly naive. That social behaviours reduce to fitness maximising strategies is trivially obvious (and not all that interesting). There are of course going to be exceptions to the rule, humans being far from completely optimised but this claim: ... combined with things like: ... suggests to me that the 'reality' you are appealing to is a purely social reality, not one that is determined by interaction with the world. "Nobody has a clue as to whether PUA works"? What the...? Anyone who has lived among humans with a modicum of introspection would have more than a 'clue' that it would work. "Bloody obvious social skills development combined with lots of practice and trial and error' doesn't stop being effective just because it gets a TLA applied. I'm frankly amazed that your refutation wasn't downvoted to oblivion. It completely misuses the fallacy of 'affirming the consequent' and implies a lack of understanding of how Bayesian reasoning works. Note that I don't even agree with shockwave's claim as he specifies it. Your reply is just completely confused and made all the worse by opening with 'This is a terrible argument'. When you lead with that sort of denunciation (and presumption) the bar gets raised and you really need to follow up with particularly solid reasoning.
No, I didn't offer any position on how much of human social behavior is fitness strategy and thus didn't present anything as the default. I pointed out, correctly, that the claim that all social acts are fitness strategies is an extraordinarily strong claim. Since my opponent's argument explicitly deduced that PUA-denunciation is a fitness strategy directly from its being a social act, and nothing else, it brooks no exceptions to the rule. If the rule is not universal, the argument falls through. It'd be interesting to see a reference to a study, a survey, anything other than anecdotal evidence. Something like this, for example. Oh, I see. Well, you're welcome to your definition of PUA, I'm not interested in debating it. If you have any data, do share.

Since my opponent's argument...

Be very wary when you start thinking of a participant in a conversation as an "opponent". Discussions are not battles, and the goal is not to win; it is to acquire correct beliefs. And/or to make yourself look good. But if you think of it as a battle, you are more likely to reject true some true statements that seem like evidence against your beliefs, and to accept false ones that seem like evidence for them. The consequences of that may be farther reaching than just the conversation they came up in.

I kind of picked up the term from the comment I was replying to; but you are right, I shouldn't have. Thanks.
I've been emailing a few researchers a year trying to develop some interest in studies of the effectiveness of pickup. Unfortunately, until science gets off its ass, we can't get that particular proof. Until that time, however, I don't think it's correct to say that "nobody has a clue" as to whether pickup works. While wedrifid is being a bit prickly, I think he's basically correct. It's a bit strange that on the subject of pickup, the burden of proof suddenly rises, and people suddenly throw out types of evidence that they normally find valuable. There isn't scientific evidence for the effectiveness of many teachings, yet these teaching are widely regarded as effective. I doubt that your cooking behavior is informed by the ground-breaking study "The Effect of Hot Stoves on Fingers." There isn't scientific evidence that, say... waltz lessons are effective, either. Yet I bet that if you wanted to learn to waltz, you would go around the corner to a dance studio. If you doubt the instructors, you may be able to watch them do demos or performances, or see video footage. We have evidence of a similar sort for the effectiveness of pickup.
As soon as someone finds a way to put it inside a pill and tack on a patent and there will all sorts of research on the subject. It is a shame that will quite possibly lower the quality of evidence.
A problematic complication is that many pickup instructors suddenly start making huge sums of money by teaching pickup, in a way no waltz instructor ever did. Dishonest charlatans are likely to displace good instructors when the money is good (e.g., Tom Brown Jr.'s wild popularity in primitive skills). If there were good pickup instructors once, they may be gone now.
NOTE: I made a mistake in this analysis due to a brain fart. I fixed it and reposted it. That's correct. I'm not particularly interested in defending any particular method, just the notion that pickup in general can be lead many guys to greater success. I agree that there is plenty of dishonesty in workshops, based on reviews I've heard. I'm not so confident that the money is good. Let's do a little accounting (based on eyeballing a few well-known programs): * Typical price of weekend bootcamp: $2000 * Student teacher ratio: 2-3 students to 1 teacher * Time: 8 hours per day, total: 24 hours. 8 hours field instruction and demonstration, and the rest would be seminars Assuming a 3:1 student teacher ratio, each instructor would pull in $6000 for the bootcamp. $6000 / 24 hours work = $250/hour. Except we need to count the plane flight. ($6000 - $200 ticket) / (24 + 4 hour flight) = $207/hr. That might seem like a good wage, but remember that PUAs can only run bootcamps on weekends. $207/hr * 50 weekends a year = $10,350/year. Even if you jack up the bootcamp rates to $3k (which some companies do), that's still just $15k a year per instructor. Dance instructions can make $40k/year in metropolitan areas working multiple days a week. Accomplished dance instructors can run pricey workshops. While probably not as expensive as pickup workshops, they can have a higher student:teacher ratio. Based on a dance workshop I found in my area, guessing at a student:teacher ratio, gives the following: $200 per person * 8:1 student:teacher ratio / 12 hours over two days = $133/hr... and the instructors don't have to travel. With a 10:1 student:teacher ratio, it's about $166/hr. Pickup instructors obviously can't make much from bootcamps. Bootcamps just aren't scalable. You can only work on the weekend, and you have to be doing marketing and lead generation during the week. PUA gurus must make most of their money from ebooks and DVDs, unless they can do some pricier form of co
That's correct. I'm not particularly interested in defending any particular method, just the notion that pickup in general can be lead many guys to greater success. I agree that there is plenty of dishonesty in workshops, based on reviews I've heard. I'm not so confident that the money is good. Let's do a little accounting (based on eyeballing a few well-known programs): * Typical price of weekend bootcamp: $2000 * Student teacher ratio: 2-3 students to 1 teacher * Time: 8 hours per day, total: 24 hours. 8 hours field instruction and demonstration, and the rest would be seminars Assuming a 3:1 student teacher ratio, each instructor would pull in $6000 for the bootcamp. $6000 / 24 hours work = $250/hour. Except we need to count the plane flight. ($6000 - $200 ticket) / (24 + 4 hour flight) = $207/hr. PUAs can only run bootcamps on weekends. $5800 * 50 weekends a year = $290,000/year. However, you are traveling virtually every weekend, and you need a marketing machine to fill seats in your destinations in front of you. And you will have no life. Looking at an actual bootcamp schedule, it seems that the workshops are $3k and the lead instructors are only working 5-19 weeks over half a year = 10-38 weeks a year. $3k 3 students - $300 airfare = $8700 a bootcamp 25 bootcamps a year = $217,500. This figure is a lot more optimistic than my previous flawed analysis. Dance instructors can make $40k/year in metropolitan areas working multiple days a week, but it might not be fair to compare the average unknown dance instructor in a city to PUAs who are nationally-known through the news, or who had massive internet marketing machines. Accomplished dance instructors can run pricey workshops. While probably not as expensive as pickup workshops, they can have a higher student:teacher ratio. Based on a dance workshop I found in my area, guessing at a student:teacher ratio, gives the following: $200 per person * 8:1 student:teacher ratio / 12 hours over two days = $133/hr.
That would be the only line I generally disagree with. Teaching PU is a f'ed up thing. But that also depends a bit on how much your own time is worth. The problem of choosing a teacher looks very similar to sports. You do not want someone who is a good sport himself, but someone who can train you really well. But to choose someone, you would need to already know the stuff that is taught or at least what to look for. Many reviews are done in the hyped up after glow right after the workshop. Where I would consider it better to see how someone is doing a year or more after such an event - but that seems to not be too helpful for the business. [edit: corrected a messed up line break in the top line quote]
Huh? Units do not match. If the average weekend bootcamp makes the instructor $6000-$200 = $5800 / weekend, earnings per year should be (up to) $5800 * 50 = $290,000.
Oops, I changed the analysis in the middle. I'll go back and re-do it.
In The Game, and in Mystery's book The Pickup Artist, the PUA instructors are shown living in fabulously-expensive mansions, driving $100,000+ cars; and described as having come into that wealth very suddenly after starting to teach pickup. David DeAngelo is believed to make millions of dollars every year.
Do not model your expectations of an art after its teachers. Especially not after the top crowd of those.
You are describing the reference class 'best selling authors and self publishing education marketers', not the reference class 'pickup instructors'. That a field is large enough to support the sale of popular books is hardly evidence against said field.
This claim is false. You do not understand how correct reasoning works. So would I. This does not make your claim that "Nobody has a clue as to whether PUA works" a sane claim to make. You do not understand how evidence works and are also conflating the claim "there have not been scientific studies about" with "nobody has a clue about". Was not a definition. It was a reference to several commonly included aspects of the behaviour and declared strategies of actual real world communities. Not something you can use the 'dismiss as semantics' tactic on.
Not helpful.
I think that is a mistake. There are at least 10.000s of people who ran through all kinds of programs or self studied. Some report and increased success rate, some do not. Some do worse. How is that just mere anecdotal evidence? You may not get the specific evidence you ask for. But you get some.
How is that not anecdotal evidence? You don't have any clear data. First of all, you don't have any aggregate statistics on those 10.000s of people - you can only ask a few for their personal opinions. Any self-reporting will be naturally biased towards success. Any information put out by a program will be naturally biased towards success. And you have absolutely no idea how many people studied PUA, tried it, didn't work for them, went on to try something else. You have no data to work with. Just think about diets. Every time you think you may have good evidence about PUA working or not working, think about diets. Many millions of people try them every year. You have mountains of people swearing by this diet or the other. Dozens of studies and research programs are being run all the time (and they dutifully report that almost all the fans of this diet or the other gain their weight back). And they still have no clue if low-carbs is better than low-calories, or maybe they're both good, or maybe one is better for some people and the other for the others, or whatever. Or maybe they have too many clues all going in the different directions. Do diets work?
And you have absolutely no idea how many people studied math, tried it, didn't work for them, went on to try something else. You have no data to work with. The usefulness of math is not measured by the amount of people who learn it, or the amount of people who fail to grasp its usefulness, but by the results that those who master it get. It is not that interesting how many people try it and fail, but if it works, when done right. I find statistical exploration of social issues rather hard. But that might just be my own ignorance on the tool set real scientists have. But I see that someone who is sucessfull in one area might not be able to actually explain how he does it. He might have mistaken models, or ignore important factors he is not aware of. But at least he shows something is there.
I agree that if you want to know "effect on women if one has mastered the technique" people who do not try or fail to learn PUA techniques are not of interest. One probably has to study the successes of PUAs to get a complete picture on women's psyche. However, if you want to know the "expected payoff if one starts to study the technique" the failure rate given a serious time investment is hugely relevant. If I would have known that 90% of the math students fail within the first semester (note: this is not the case), I would not have tried it at all, as I am not in the top 10% of any measure, however I would construct it. Note: I do not know what success-rate PUAs claim and/or achieve.

Here is my best attempt to catalog the success rate of the guys with pickup background I've known in real life. Of course, in some cases I have imperfect information and don't know how they are doing, in which case I will guess, and my guess will be conservative (e.g. I will assume that they are the same way I last saw them, rather than improving since then). This sample isn't representative at all, so take it with it a grain of salt, but it will help other people understand some of my priors about the success of pickup.

  • Me: Started out with social anxiety disorder. 6 months: substantial social skills improvement. 8 months: lost virginity. Next few years: Stuck on a plateau of getting numbers and kisses, but social skills slowly improving. Since then: going in and out of flings and relationships; currently in a relationship. I could give several other success metrics, but it would sound like I'm bragging.

  • 4 other guys: Began with severe social deficits. Now they have no problem dating and go in and out of flings and relationships. One of them started out as 300 lbs and massively insecure, but lost weight, applied himself, and is now massively popular with women, to the point of s

... (read more)
Of course, one of the issues with estimating the effects of pickup knowledge is that none of this is placebo tested. Since PU itself teaches that self-confidence is crucial having a method for meeting women that you believe works should by itself produce positive results- especially for people who were previously too anxious to walk up to a stranger and say hello. Also, those correlates your reporting are pretty general and 101-level. I'd be a little more suspicious of the efficacy of the more 'advanced' routines and techniques in the PUA literature. (Though as usual I pretty much agree with you)
You know, I have this great cure for scurvy. But I cannot tell you about it, since it has not been properly double blind tested yet.
I have a great cure for the flu. Take some Muscovy Duck offal and dilute it to 1 part in 100^200 with water.
Did it work on the one guy you tried it on?
Yup! Only took like 3 days with bed rest!
Placebo testing would be hilarious. Isn't that a standard comedy plot? A shy man asks for pickup and courting tips, gets terrible ones, and implements them with disastrous results? Not safe for work.
Medicine holds itself to the standard "do better than placebo". I am not sure if it is fair to hold PUA to the same standard.
You don't think every professional pick-up artist/dating coach would say their material works better than placebo? I realize of course we're not talking about formal science but we still need to be aware of the limitations of personal anecdotes versus controlled studies. Who cares if it is fair?
You might be interested to know that Style says roughly one out of twenty people who start to learn PUA reach a high level of skill. I personally agree with Martin however; especially in relation to diets. Diets DO work, they are just difficult to implement, changing your lifestyle often is; that applies to exercise, studying a new language or anything that requires a large time investment before you see payoffs. The math comparison is especially appropriate. In this way PUA is no different from any other self improvement course that you might decide to undertake.
That depends on what you mean by "work". If your intent is to improve your life through achieving some goal, but the side effects of a strategy cause a net cost in quality of life even if the intermediate goal is achieved, then I'd say that the method doesn't work.
That's two ways beside the point. They work by the most reasonable and common definition, and often do so without causing a net cost in quality of life. Even if diets don't suit a majority of people, they work, unlike reciting the alphabet backwards before you go to sleep. Furthermore, if a procedure, perfectly applied, yield no significant results with 99% of the population, but clearly is effective upon the remaining 1%, it's not a sham. It might not be the most efficient procedure if you can't distinguish who it will work with beforehand, but it still works. Even if diet's aren't in such a category, the point that something can be should be accepted, and your argument should be focused on the strongest possible case.
Bear in mind that a diet only 'works' if you actually successfully keep to them in the long term. Only a minority of people stick to diets in the long term. That's where choosing diets based on convenience and ease of compliance becomes more important than raw effectiveness.
Bear in mind that science only 'works' if you actually successfully use it over the long term. Only a minority of people stick to science in the long term. That's where choosing knowledge-gathering techniques based on convenience and ease of compliance becomes more important than raw effectiveness. I see your point (which is valid), but mine is that the cost of using a method does not reduce the effectiveness of that method, just the number of people who apply it. One might say that it is too costly to uniformly apply science, diets or PUA, but that's a different statement than saying that they don't work.
I thought your reference to conventional 'works' was a valid reply to Nancy's "but maybe it will also make you sad or otherwise have external costs" point. Convention would call that 'works' even though naturally it is a cost to consider. (For yet another 'although' I expect people who find a diet that works in the mid to long term to also enjoy improved experience in other aspects of life so I don't think there is much of a balance to be had there at all.) What I would not agree with is the complete exclusion of psychological considerations from deciding whether a diet 'works' or not. For example for a bare minimum 'diet' I would argue that "have a breakfast including at least 30g of protein within 30m of waking up" works far more effectively than "eat 10% less". This is just based on how humans work at a psychological and physiological level. I actually consider science to be a good analogy to go by and not at all as the ad absurdum imply. 'Science' is the application of various traditional rules and limits upon rational thinking that discard all sorts of reasoning that is valid for the purpose of avoiding some of the more drastic human failure modes and biases. By limiting evidence and officially sanctioned persuasion via some formulaic rules it makes it somewhat harder for money, politics and ego to sabotage epistemic progress. (Unfortunately it is still not hard enough).
What if your intent is to lose weight? You're pre-defining "work" for the benefit of your argument.
A good place to deconstruct my own argument. The math comparison lacks in one important piece: Math is clearly defined, and has standard textbooks. If you ask around for recommendations on how to learn math you get similar responses, and will end up learning similar things - up to a certain degree. There is only one type of math! In general people agree on what math is, and what not. PU as well as PD is a very broad, not clearly defined subject, that contains a mash-up of many other topics. It is contradictory. Done by amateurs who generally do not care about scientific results. You get advice that goes against those transported by the mainstream (which we on LW are somewhat used to in other contexts.) But you also find the statement that the subjects of your interest will generally give you bad advice and do not even know what works for them. As will your peers, your family, potential natural friends, the media, and anyone else who you could possibly ask. That makes for a very bad heuristic in regards to its truthfulness. And then there is the annoying property of PD advice, that it is not only difficult to actually get, but that it also hurts. Sometimes we carry gaping holes that really hurt our social life, and no one has the guts to tell us, since they are afraid of a bad reaction. One easy to understand example is trying to tell a colleague or friend that he needs to do something about his smell. I am not aware of a safe way to navigate this. It would be interesting to see real scientists, or science minded people undertake this exploration. But there are way to many possibilities to have it go wrong. PU does contain basilisks. So handle with care. And do not believe any one particular source completely.
The second sentence here is true, but the first one is false. There is mainstream math, and then there are alternatives. Of course, there are insane crackpot ideas, but there are also alternative forms of mathematics that are studied by serious researchers who earn tenure for it and prove valid theorems. Buzzwords to search for include "intuitionism", "constructive mathematics", "predicatvism", "finitism", and "nonclassical mathematics" generally. This mostly only affects things from after the 19th century, however, so nothing significant about the mathematics that most people learn in school. Even going on to more advanced material, there is a very definite mainstream to follow, so this doesn't really affect your point; this is just a hobby horse of mine.
And Though shall get a geek point for it. I was kind of waiting for someone to point this out.
And I should have mentioned "experimental mathematics", which is really different! This term can be interpreted in weak and strong ways; the former, in which experiments are a preliminary to proof, is normal, but the latter, in which massive computer-generated experimental results are accepted as a substitute for proof when proof seems unlikely, is different. The key point is that most true theorems that we can understand have no proofs that we can understand, a fact that can itself be proved (at least if if you use length of the text as a proxy for whether we can understand it).
Oooh, PU basilisks. Where? Show me!
Are you sure you want me to do that on a public forum? I do not want to have my account deleted for posting dangerous stuff.
Then message me. The concept of a PU basilisk seems unlikely to me but still somewhat intriguing. The closest things I can imagine are in the form of disillusionment with ideals.
It would be interesting to have a collection of basilisks somewhere, like an ammo dump for a mimetic war.
Absolutely! Maybe not on lesswrong, that might make some people cry. But I'd love to have a list somewhere else. And this can be considered an open request to send any basilisk spotted in the wild to me personally for examination. I've yet to see a basilisk that was remotely intimidating to me. And would like to be able to further improve my resistance to exposure to new 'basilisks' while they are framed as basilisks so I am even less likely to be vulnerable to them in the wild. A superintelligence would almost certainly be able to construct sentences that could hack my brain and damage it. Some humans could if they were able to put me in a suitable social or physical environment and ensure ongoing exposure (and environment and exposure are far more important than the abstract concepts conveyed). But things like "Roko's Basilisk" are just cute. You can tame them and keep them as pets. :)
My perspective on this is very similar to yours. If you were sent any interesting PU basilisks, would you please forward them to me?
Being careful not to criticise what was sent to me (and by so doing discourage others) I don't think what I was sent fits the term 'basilisk'. Instead I got some well thought out considerations and potential pitfalls that people may fall into along a PUA journey. In fact I think people would appreciate them being spoken publicly. Rather than "things that will kill you just by looking at them" they are things that you are better off looking at so you can avoid falling into them. Obviously the exceptional case is the pessimistic person who is looking for excuses not to try - which is not an uncommon mindset. I would not repost them here (that would be discourteous) but I suggest that if the author did post his thoughts publicly they would be well received (ie. would get an 8+karma rating if the comment was not buried too deeply to gain exposure.)
I violently agree with all of this. Have you seen any basilisk-like ideas besides roko's? Roko's at least looks like a real basilisk until you think about it. Everything else I've seen doesn't come close to living up to the name.
'Violent agreement' seems to have been adopted for use in situations in which the participants have been arguing aggressively only to discover that they agree on the substantive issues. For a term that hasn't been hijacked as jargon I go with "vehemently". It has a more visceral feel to it too. :) Roko's is the most interesting I've seen too. Although for some people a combination of Pascal's Wager and certain religious doctrines about children not being held accountable for their beliefs until a certain age would do it. Once again it is the ability to apply abstract reasoning while at the same time the naivety and weakness in following the rational conclusion correctly that would cause the problem.
Anyone have a really solid working definition for 'basilisk' as we use it here? Am I supposed to be able to see it from just this? Assuming it's not the kind of thing that would hurt LW posters can you explain? Otherwise, pm it? One interesting idea is that it seems plausible to create basilisks that only effect your memetic/cognitively different enemies- perhaps the only way to avoid the harm of the basilisk is to deconvert from your religion/ideology. A basilisk that only worked on, say, religious fundamentalists would be a really powerful weapon (I'm not suggesting that the basilisk be capable of killing anyone, necessarily).
* Pascal's Wager -> Accept popular religion (Disclaimer: I did label these people naive and with an inability to take reasoning all the way to a sane conclusion. Nevertheless, it works on some intelligent people better than on some unintelligent people.) * There exist popular religious doctrines that God will send young children to heaven regardless because they are too young to have been able to do the conversion thing. I think the "Age Of Accountability" concept may be related. * If a child is not likely to convert to the 'True' religion in adulthood then they are (believed to be) likely to go to Hell instead of Heaven if they grow up. * Such a child would go to Heaven if murdered while young but Hell if they grow up. * Such a child would be better off in they are murdered. * Therefore...
A quick google on "do young children go to hell?" led me to this, excerpt: (The scripture quotes in question were totally reaching by the way. But that's the whole point of theology.)
Knowledge or concepts, the comprehension of which will cause one significant disulitly.
That is over-broad unfortunately. The concept needs to be distinguished from "ugly truths" where the disutility comes from an emotional reaction to how far from ideal the world is.
Knowledge or concepts, the comprehension of which may cause substantial damage to one's instrumental rationality.
Do we include concepts selected to elicit a maximal emotional response? Such as particularly Funny Jokes or things so sad that they would drive most people to suicide? They do seem to be a different concept but still deserve a similar title. (If not basilisk then at least cockatrice or one of the Gorgons).
I think I know what wedrifid is getting at, but I don't think Pascal's Wager would do it. Pascal's Wager argues that one should act as if one believes in God because the costs are low and the potential benefits (Heaven) are high. But in order to get to the particular failure state at which I think wedrifid is hinting, you can't just be betting on God -- you have to be absolutely certain that Heaven exists and that its joys outweigh on every axis everything that Earth has to offer. Most people, no matter what they say, are not that certain, which is why we don't routinely slaughter infants in order to ensure their blameless souls entry into Heaven. (Similar logic has been invoked to rationalize murders--such as innocent deaths at witch trials--but in these cases, as a justification pasted on after the fact rather than an honest motive towards murder.)
No, absolute certainty is definitely not required. The cost is increased so a proportionate increase in probability*payoff is required. But this is still all dwarfed by the arbitrarily large payoffs inherent in religious questions. The whole point of 'afterlife' focussed doctrine is to encourage the flock to discount all 'earthly' matters as trivial compared to eternal questions. No, that would not be a rational reason to refrain from the slaughter. The difference between 90% sure and absolutely certain isn't really much of a big deal when you have the chance of flipping the sign bit of an arbitrarily large disulility payoff (Hell). A 0.05% hunch would be more than enough. Rational agents that really have arbitrarily large utility payoffs floating around in their utility function will inevitably do things that look insane to us.
Right, but now you've left the standard formulation of Pascal's Wager. The original Pascal's Wager includes the stipulation that one loses nothing by behaving as if God were real. To get to a point where you're willing to kill kids, obviously you have to go a lot further -- you must be ready to incur substantial costs as a consequence of belief.
I am sure that this is possible, but wonder why it has not been done yet - or at least appeared on my radar. Might be one of the more darker arts, and a very interesting one!
Creating basilisks is hard- as evidenced by the fact that we have no recorded instance of one ever existing.
For similar reasons, good bodyguards -- the kind that would take a bullet for you -- are hard to find. (apologies to Magic: The Gathering)
Or: the only basilisks that are easy to create are those that directly disable the host's ability to spread them.
Is it time to link to Monty Python yet?
No. It would be better to first develop defenses against them. Basilisks seem to only affect people of a certain mental capacity able to understand and process them. If you look up the Charles Langan interview, or his writings, or this Ted/Unabomba guy you see how really bright people can go wrong. I would hate LW to contribute to that. I want LWers and myself to not only have a realistic view of reality, but also be able to life in it and be happy and productive.
I'm not sure how you develop defenses to Basilisks without know what they are. Unless we get lucky and there is a fully general countermeasure. I was just talking about collecting them though- it's another question entirely whether or not the list should be public. One doesn't usually leave ammo dumps unlocked.
And, probably more importantly, without certain other mental capacities that allow them to handle information appropriately.
If you tell wedrifid privately, then you have to promise to tell me. I have a few minor basilisks (not from PU alone, but from combining PU with psychometrics or feminism). Nothing so bad that I think it would make people want to ban me, but it might be disconcerting and depressing for many people, and some of it I'm still thinking through.
Did the two annihilate each other, destroying swathes of your cerebral cortex?
Or I'll tell you. :)
Where "those who master it" is defined by "the intersection of people who tried it, and people who get good results". Anatoly's observations are spot on, whereas MartinB's ignore the problems with self-selection bias, and could also be used as a defense of psychotherapy, ouija boards, and picking lottery numbers from fortune cookies. More importantly, we don't even have evidence that pickup artist techniques work for anyone! All we have are testimonials from people highly-incentivized to make them. Is there any factual evidence that David DeAngelo, Neil Strauss, or any of these PUAs actually have slept with many beautiful women? It would be hard to provide such evidence - but that doesn't mean we can just trust them.
Yes. Video evidence and an overwhelming abundance of eyewitness reports. Including reports from women who they have dated. All of this is evidence that someone could assert is faked or engineered by some ingenious plot with payed actors and widespread bribes. Technically. If we are going to throw about insulting analogies for rhetorical effect then a more appropriate one would be "moon landing".
Oh I should add, that it does not mean that the people who achieve success know how they do it. Just that. I noticed how in many cases successful people not only have a hard time explaining how the are successful, but honestly have a mistaken view about it. Unconscious competence.
I've seen much more mockery of PUA than denunciation, mostly with the sort of attitude one sees displayed towards, say, furries (who are a prototypically unthreatening group.) But perhaps this depends on the corner of the internet you're from.
Mockery is mostly for attack. I'm not sure how the mode of attack matters. It's true that most people don't seem genuinely disturbed by the existence of furries, though. And it must be true that some people mock PUA without feeling threatened, or even without intending to raise their status or lower PUAers'. And in particular cases, for we do love to laugh at those who overreach (are more confident of their status than we think they can justify).
Mockery of another group without intending to raise one's own status? That only seems possible if we include lack of self awareness in evaluating 'intent'. Isn't that just Human Behavior 101?
You're right. I was so struck by that, I almost deleted the clause entirely, instead of weakening it with "intending to".
I have to disagree with the principle, even if the conclusion is correct. I could argue similarly that atheists denounce god because it's a successful paradigm, and therefore threatening, and so it must be true.
God paradigms are not related to evolutionary fitness the way pick-up artistry is. Atheists do not denounce God because it is a successful paradigm (they denounce it because it's wrong, its popularity or success only determines the scale or intensity of denouncement). "And so it must be true" is not a correct paraphrase of "weak evidence that it works". You could argue it. You couldn't win the argument.
I have to side with davidmanheim here. You asserted your prior belief that denunciation is a social act of reducing the status of things viewed as more successful, and therefore concluded that people's denunciation of PUA is "weak evidence" that it works. As I can tell the implicit reasoning goes "People denounce things they see as successful; people denounce X; therefore people probably see X as successful; things people see as successful probably work; therefore X probably works." The same line of reasoning can apply to any X that people denounce. Davidmanheim applied it to religion, which is denounced by atheists. Your reply was that religion is different, because religion also belongs to the class of wrong beliefs. But that doesn't mean your earlier argument doesn't apply, it merely means that other arguments apply as well. If your argument is evidence for PUA, it's evidence for any denounced X. As you said initially, it's weak evidence. I agree. In fact, I'd say it's negligible evidence, in both cases.
This was not part of my reasoning. It was specifically an evo-psych-style argument; people denounce things they see as increasing the evolutionary fitness of an opponent. The principle in question is Kill the status of anyone more successful than you, which is also why creationists trying to make science look bad (instead of finding evidence for their beliefs) is weak evidence that science more successful at explaining the world, and in full generality it is the principle behind ad hominem attacks.
Many females denounce PUA. One can EvPsych explain this, but with a different explanation.
It ain't evo-psych, but SarahC's comment is basically the explanation for why women react badly to PUA.
It is a matter of definition for many people including myself. The PUA techniques fall in to the category of manipulation. If a technique is not a form of manipulation then it is not PUA. Which works great for my personal definition, but it does not line up how people practicing PUA define it right? What percentage of PUA techniques would you consider manipulative. Do you have a better definition for me to use?
This statement seems very a priori. What is your definition of "manipulation," and why do you say that PUA techniques fall into it? I'm ready to taboo the word "manipulation," because it doesn't have a fixed meaning. Some people use it to mean morally-neutral intentional social influence. Other people use it to mean unethical intentional social influence. Others don't require intent in their definitions. The term invites equivocation. In my view, I would use "manipulation" to mean unethical social influence, in which case calling any technique manipulative first requires that one show it to be unethical.
I did not. I stated a definition that I am working from, then I would take the existing techniques described by others as PUA and decide weather or not I consider them PUA under my definition. I did not take all techniques described as PUA by others and classify them as manipulative. This in fact is what causes PUA to be "denounced by almost everyone." I was offering a plausible explanation since lukeprog said he did not understand why people would do this. Defining manipulation in terms of ethics just moves the problem from the word manipulate to ethics so all the definitions of manipulation in your post are inadequate to me. How about deceptive or untruthful to obtain something wanted.
Oh, I see. I thought you were asserting that position, rather than merely describing it. Thanks for clarifying. Yes, I agree that one reason people denounce pickup PUAs is due to the non-rigorous folk-concept of "manipulation," whether that means. I'm sure it means something, and that it often does express some sort of valid objection... I'm just trying to find out what that objection is. I agree with you that my attempted definition merely defers the problem. I would defend that deferral for two reasons: * When people say "X is manipulative," of social influence behavior X, they may often mean "X is unethical" (or more cynically: "I have an Ugh Field around X") * People might use "ethical" with more humility than "manipulative." People might be less likely to accuse behaviors of being unethical without explanation, while they have no qualms about making accusations of "manipulation" without explanation. This definition might capture some aspects of what people mean by "manipulation," but not others. For instance, I'll suggest that various forms of coercion would fall under the folk-concept of manipulation, even while being non-deceptive. Whether that objection applies to PU is another question, of course. I think it's mostly overblown.
If a PUA technique is deceptive or untruthful then it deprives the person to be seduced from relavent information that could help them make a better decision. That is what I see at the heart of many peoples concerns, even if they are often not able to verbalize it. You think that the objection that PUA techniques use deception or untruthfulness is overblown? Most men looking toward PUA are looking for something effective, so I would imagine that what are considered PUA techniques can be both deceptive or untruthful and the opposite because both can be effective(often for different goals and sometimes for the same goal).

If a PUA technique is deceptive or untruthful then it deprives the person to be seduced from relavent information that could help them make a better decision. That is what I see at the heart of many peoples concerns, even if they are often not able to verbalize it.

I think that's a plausible hypothesis about the "manipulation" objection to pickup. What I'm wondering is how those people are defining "manipulation."

You think that the objection that PUA techniques use deception or untruthfulness is overblown?


I would speculate that the three main worries about deceptiveness and pickup are that (a) PUAs will lie about their relationship interest in order to trick women into sex, (b) PUAs will lie about their accomplishments, profession, and experiences, and (c) PUAs will be "putting on an act" socially and "acting like someone they are not." Do you think there are any other components to that objection?

(a) is probably just false, because PUAs don't advocate lying about relationship interest. Actually, PUAs are far more likely to display less relationship interest than they truly have, rather than more. There are various game-theoretic r... (read more)


Something I think a lot of people don't understand- particularly the type that stay in on a Saturday night to write critiques of PU- is that your average urban bar scene isn't anything like the real world. It's night time. Everyone is dressed and made up to look about as good as they will ever look. Everyone is drinking. In other words, nearly everyone is in costume and on drugs! The preferences people have in such circumstances only vaguely resemble the preferences they have during daytime hours. The whole affair is perhaps best described as a collective game of make believe where we all pretend to be sexy and cool and fun for four hours. It is theatre.

Of course viewing this near-mode orgy of cool and constant stream of negotiations to fulfill base desires is going to look perverted under the cool gaze of far-mode ethics. The denouncement of PUA deception under these circumstances feels a bit like denouncing self-awareness. Everyone sometimes pretends to be someone a little bit sexier and cooler than they really are- PUAs seem unique in that they do so systematically and self-consciously.

Now of yes, there are those who criticize the entirety of nightlife culture- often calling it 'rape culture'. And indeed, we should have well-embedded mental constraints on our hedonism to avoid doing things that are actually harmful. In this regard though, the sub-surface self-awareness that distinguishes the pick-up artist from the natural would likely be a boon.

Something I think a lot of people don't understand- particularly the type that stay in on a Saturday night to write critiques of PU- is that your average urban bar scene isn't anything like the real world.

Right. And the people who regularly hang out in bar scenes are a different phenotype than people who don't. I tried to get this point across in discussion of pickup on a feminist blog, without much success. I ran into the silliest sorts of sophistry:

The big problem here, Hugh, is that PUAs don’t disproportionately meet women of any characteristic because people are not interchangeable.

I answered:

Of course PUAs meet women of particular characteristics more often! PUAs don’t meet women randomly. Do you really think that women who PUAs run into at clubs are psychometrically identical to women who stay home and read books?

and got this response:

I do. Most women enjoy both. We aren’t divided into the neat little category boxes PUAs like to put us in.

Statistical thinking fail.

Back to you:

In other words, nearly everyone is in costume and on drugs!

Yup. It's not only people with the most extraverted and primal phenotypes, it's those folks at their most extraverted and p... (read more)

In case it wasn't clear before: I agree and actually think the fact that that PU makes existing norms explicit is a really essential first step.
Yeah, I was quite sure you would agree; I was just elaborating.

I've never heard "rape culture" applied specifically to bar culture. I've always heard it applied to the whole culture-- the implication is that there are pervasive ways of thinking which facilitate rape.

Usually when I see criticisms of bar/party culture it is done under the umbrella of a rape culture critique. But yeah the term is very broad.

Actually, “pretending to be sexy,” aka projecting confidence, social dominance, good looks, etc., doesn’t bother me in the slightest. I know a lot of PUA focuses on stuff like that, and I think that’s great; I’ve seen it have a positive influence on friends of mine, and vastly improve their lives, without compromising their ethics. I think this sort of training falls under "self-improvement," and I think it's an unalloyed good thing, and from what I can tell, this is exactly what you've been teaching and promoting.

I’m bothered by what I think of as “compliance tricks,” which I’ve also seen recommended in a PUA context.

That is, when you get someone to do things that she doesn’t want or like, using commitment effects and manipulating her own guilt, awkwardness, and desire to please. Or playing on her insecurities so she doesn't feel she deserves to refuse. I’ve been on the receiving end of a mild version of this: it’s possible to make me do things that are bad for me just by being “dominating” and making me feel too awkward to refuse a favor. This is similar to the Milgram Experiment. People can be remarkably unwilling to say “No” to someone who expects to be obeyed... (read more)

I think the term feminists use that you are looking for is "enthusiastic consent"; for the reasons you describe, "no means no" may be too limited of a standard at times for ensuring ethical sex.
Continued from previous post... I'm raising lots of questions, and I don't necessarily expect answers... most of them are rhetorical, because I know there isn't an easy answer. In ethics, it's easy to prohibit things, but it's hard to show the distinctions between what's prohibited and what's permitted. It's correct that it's costly to someone if you destroy their ability to say "no." It's also costly to them if you destroy their ability to say "yes." Those costs aren't symmetrical, though the latter cost needs to be considered when calculating the expected value of advances. "Choice" doesn't just mean the ability to say "no," it also means the ability to say "yes." Lots of mainstream mating behavior by both genders has elements of compliance (e.g. "call me") that people are not always aware of. What if the initiator is genuinely unaware that their behavior might induce unenthusiastic (or unwanted) compliance? Check out this body language TV program where the expert remarks that women's accepting and rejecting behavior sometimes looks the same due to politeness. How ethical responsibility should be divided is a good question. Clearly there is a responsibility that an initiating partner consider the other person's boundaries and ability to assert them, but there is also a responsibility of the receptive partner to assert their boundaries, since initiators don't have perfect knowledge of the other person's boundaries. The division of responsibility would depend on the sort of activity, and the context. Given that women's boundaries and preferences have wide variation and conflicts, while men are expected to initiate under conditions of uncertainty, there's only so much that men can do to ensure that they initiate in a way that is both attractive and easy to say "no" to. This is not a system that we opted-into. Nobody came and said "please check this box if you would like to date a population of people who have a high rate or trouble saying 'yes,' and a high rate

I hadn't realized that the fear of harming women could actually be that paralyzing in real life that it actually scares men away from getting dates at all. There's no reason men should have to bear that whole cost as some kind of precautionary principle. There are some ways in which the deck really is stacked against men, and I agree that it's unfair.

You have to understand, like Robert Hand "I have come up from a lower world and I am filled with astonishment when I find that people have any redeeming virtue at all." I'm used to my male friends talking about bedding unconscious girls and planning to screw my teenage little sister. The idea that someone could be so scrupulous that it hurts his dating prospects simply didn't occur to me.

And definitely I believe in putting more pressure on adult women to be more straightforward: say yes when you mean yes and no when you mean no. That takes character, though, and character takes time, and most women who hear something about "assertiveness" never really grok that this means "Yes, you should self-modify!" I'm in the process of trying to be more assertive -- and the trouble is, I get positive reinforcem... (read more)

To make matters worse, there is also the case of appearing to harm women. Even a false accusation of rape is a terrifying prospect for any man who isn't like the specified male friends you mentioned. For some social environments, the cost of a false positive (you determine 'yes' when actually 'no') is way higher than the cost of false negatives. For many other situations, the cost is potentially lower. I don't see it here, but the failure mode in almost all social discussions I've had the misfortune of having on this topic has been to try and generalise a single behaviour for women or men over both situations.
?? As opposed to what? Or is this sarcastic?
SarahC said: I'm glad that I've been able to minimize the inferential distance. This feeling of anxiety is one reason why some men get sensitive or defensive in discussions about consent. Ah, it looks like we are talking about different areas of the moral spectrum. Since we were talking about manipulation and compliance tactics, I thought we were talking about something a bit more subtle. Can someone give a concrete example of objectionable "manipulation" or "compliance tricks" that they have in mind? I do think it's a good thing if women are encouraged to be straightforward. Also, I would like to see women consider whether men following their preferences would be a good thing for other women. For instance, if you (general "you") are a woman who likes men to initiate when they could only be 70% sure you are consenting... is that really a good practice to encourage men towards? How will other women feel if guys act this way? Yes. And it's unfortunate that even women who like to communicate verbally about what they want are likely to run into men who have been trained by other women to guess rather than ask. Similarly, women who prefer to do most of the initiating themselves will often run into men who've been trained by other women to do most of the initiating. As I've mentioned before, women's responses to men are like votes in a democracy. Some women are running a tyranny of the majority over other women in determining men's default dating behavior. That's my reaction, also. I think if a man knowingly does something that reliably makes women feel shitty, that's problematic. In this case, I guess we have to weigh the possibility of her feeling shitty with the possibility of her having a good time. I'm not sure what the correct weights are, or how to do that calculation. My intuition is against this particular tactic, because I believe that there are ways to have women leave bars with you that are just as good, but which don't have potential downsides. As Sil
Try reading NON-PU online tip sites for dating/romance and the like. The quite men do not make too many noteworthy