This is the public group instrumental rationality diary for the week of September 3rd. It's a place to record and chat about it if you have done, or are actively doing, things like:

  • Established a useful new habit
  • Obtained new evidence that made you change your mind about some belief
  • Decided to behave in a different way in some set of situations
  • Optimized some part of a common routine or cached behavior
  • Consciously changed your emotions or affect with respect to something
  • Consciously pursued new valuable information about something that could make a big difference in your life
  • Learned something new about your beliefs, behavior, or life that surprised you
  • Tried doing any of the above and failed

Or anything else interesting which you want to share, so that other people can think about it, and perhaps be inspired to take action themselves.  Try to include enough details so that everyone can use each other's experiences to learn about what tends to work out, and what doesn't tend to work out.

Thanks to everyone who contributes!

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I faced an ugh field. So far the results are satisfactory. I haven't been eaten by a grue.

This ugh field is interaction with male authority figures, specifically when the subject of this interaction is some technical field, in which competence is viewed as a manly trait. I often lack such competence, and feel very awkward (dare I say "unmanly"?) when dealing with men who have it.

Two most recent examples of facing this ugh field:

I've had my bicycle serviced. This included going to a local bike shop and a frank conversation with the serviceman about the technical condition of my bicycle and possible ways to improve it. $100 in spare parts later I'm quite satisfied with the improved quality of my ride. One minus: I got a 12T-32T cassette in place of the old 12T-28T. I have no use for this granny gear. Next time I'll be more specific about it.

I've also started taking car driving lessons. In my country an official state-recognized driving license course includes 30 hours of driving practice 1-on-1 with a driving instructor, whose job includes pointing out all the rookie mistakes you make on the road, and possibly hoping that you don't kill both of you in some stupid way. So far I can manage this new and stressful situation, and I'm slowly building my driving skills.

The second example also includes discarding a cached identity of a biker who scorns cars, which I didn't feel that strongly about in the first place.

I started tracking a couple of things systematically.

The 1st is at work. I noticed that some of the medical staff at my hospital aren't using our software correctly, and as a result are leaving the door open for some major drug-related problems. I asked for access to patient data from our database, but I was declined. Since I didn't have access that way, I just started collecting instances of entry error manually. After I collected a good sample, I presented it to my boss, who promptly got me the data I requested. Now I have a new problem of sorting through thousands of errors accumulated throughout several years of hospital operation.

The 2nd is at home. I started recording my SRS reps (how many flashcards I study each day) and my % correct. Today was an "above average" day as far as % correct goes. I'm hoping to try some interventions to see if they will have any effect on my error rate and/or long-term memory, but the 1st step is to get a good baseline.


Optimized some part of a common routine or cached behavior

Fall semester of university started last week. I reviewed my syllabi and was becoming overwhelmed with the amount of assigned work.

To get a better grasp on exactly how much there was, I spent a few hours combining information from all of the syllabi into one comprehensive schedule. I can now see at a glance exactly when assignments are due, as well as when quizzes/tests are.

I've started to slowly but surely chip away at the work, and I've realized there it isn't as bad as I originally thought. It still won't be easy, but now I don't have any anxiety about not being able to get my work done.

I've started using Anki, mostly out of curiosity. It works, and I am pleased. I'm not sure what I should have predicted about this, or what simple test of efficacy there is. So far I'm just using the "Cognitive biases and related terms" and "List of cognitive biases and other fallacies" decks. I've thought about making a deck of my own, but have not acted on this.

Does anyone have other decks to suggest, that might be of general Less-Wrong related interest?

I've started organizing a HP:MoR book club. I've sent out an email, waiting on replies to gauge interest.

I've decided to use the group rationality diaries to motivate myself to take action on rationality-related things.

I use it for everything. I made a deck called "Life" and use it to memorize things like my SSN, phone number, friends' birthdays, which subway exit to take to get to Y location, etc.

What do you do for a living? I'm sure it could supplement your knowledge in whatever field it is.

Trying out precommitment as a way to get optional stuff done. I promised bogdanb to draw and post a Penrose diagram of two colliding black holes, since neither of us could find it online. This has proven to be less trivial than I expected, but I am making progress.

OK, I think I've got it. Now, how do I make pretty pictures of conical cutouts? Hand drawing skills have never been my strong suit.

Engaged in a spirited debate with another individual about the consequences of our mortality.

The other individual pointed out that if we exist in a universe where death is completely permanent, with no afterlife or any ability to continue living after biological death, then rationally we should spend every waking moment working on a way to stave off this undesirable outcome. Merely trying to live to the next day isn't sufficient - around 100 billion humans have tried this strategy, and are all dead now.

The other individual thought that perhaps every waking moment should go to developing molecular nanotechnology in the basement or some other unlikely to succeed endeavor. I pointed out that to even touch the level of individual atoms requires on the order of a million dollars of equipment, and that developing productive nanosystems is an effort that would take the resources of an entire nation state or more. By analogy : plenty of individuals desire strongly to build nuclear weapons in their basement, but no group has succeeded without nation state level support. Self replicating nanosystems are more complicated than nuclear weapons, and might in fact require a larger investment in resources (time, equipment, etc) than was spent developing nuclear weapons.

This individual was unhappy with the cryonics mindset - basically, try to scrap together enough resources to preserve your remains post mortem so that there is a non zero chance of future survival. Pray that in the remaining decades of life an individual has (in my case, approximately 60 years), the preservation mechanisms will be better researched so the chance of ultimate survival is better. He thought that the only chance of avoiding death that has any plausible chance of success is to remain conscious and active the entire time.

Result towards self actualization : negative. Even considering how dim the olds of ultimate survival are is extremely depressing. I know the reality is that more than 100 billion individuals are dead, and no matter what choices I make, I may end up among that group. This is quite frightening, because the prospect of death makes pointless any event that happens in my life. It technically would not matter if I became a billionaire and explored the world and enjoyed a thousand beautiful women or was falsely convicted of a crime I did not commit and incarcerated for the next 60 years. Either life history becomes meaningless upon the moment of death.

There is more to life (extension) than cryonics and nanotechnology. You've overlooked the world of research going on in biology. That is where to focus your attention if you're interested in survival without suspension. Try on the outlook that total rejuvenation is possible using only biological means - stem cells, RNA nanodevices, an ecology of special bacteria in your body rather than a nanobotic immune system. Not only is that sort of research something you can engage with that's already happening on a huge scale - so you don't have to do the impossible and invent nanobots in your basement - it's actually easier to see how it's relevant. The stereotype of a nanobot is a rigid diamondoid mechanism which engages in precise positional manipulation of similarly rigid bodies. A cell is a floppy set of nested membranes populated with self-organizing "soft machines" living in a gel of water and ions. Just trying to get a rigid nanobot to function in that environment would be a problem. It makes more sense to take maximum advantage of the flexible, powerful, and dynamic entities that already live and thrive there.

Two of your specific propositions about death are, first, so long as you're at risk of death, you should spend every moment trying to stave it off, and second, that actually dying renders your life retrospectively meaningless. The first looks like it is supposed to follow from the second. But as for the second - please define "meaning".

Once dead it doesn't matter what happened or didn't happen. This thought has been disturbing me for around 3 years now.

The context was this : it was the first week of medical school. We went to the anatomy lab, and looked at the cadavars. Practically from day 1 we had to do dissections that felt incredibly wrong and disturbing (chopping deep into the person's back). So, while in the lab with the corpses, seeing everyone else around me cheerfully talking about various things, I could not understand everyone else's irrational points of view. THIS was what mattered...who cares what our lives are like if we end up as stiff, cold corpses who remember nothing at all, our brains rapidly rotting to mush.

I think the worst part was going to a sheet of paper on the wall that had the tag number of each corpse, and a description of the age, cause of death, and prior occupation of the corpse. By cross referencing the two I realized that in fact death kills everyone equally without regard to occupation or age, and again, nothing matters after that.

Actually observing these horrors of existence directly changed my perspective radically. Before, I was happily willing to lie to myself and pretend there had to be some sort of afterlife or the world wouldn't be very fair. After feeling the truth in my own gloved hands (and smelling the stink of decay), the objective, rational truth become apparent.

All my grand plans at that moment in time to become a great surgeon or something seemed meaningless...what difference did it make. Any patient I "saved" would only gain an extra few months to years before they died of something else, and on the day they died any effort I had made (and dollars that were spent) would be meaningless. They "might as well" have died earlier.

Unfortunately, I saw first hand the world of biology research. Progress is so glacially slow that I would be totally un surprised if there were no effective rejuvenative treatments at all available when it comes my time to die in ~60 years from today. The reasons why progress is so slow are myriad, but the key reason is that no one is willing to take risks, and so new treatments are almost never attempted.

That's why I focus on cryonics because the basic concept of stopping the clock on degrading biological tissues seems like a winner.

If you had the choice between dying tomorrow and having died twenty years ago, would you have any preference between those options?

I've noticed that I have difficulty making daily anki use a habit, not because I have to study the cards, which I have very little resistance to, but because I have to create the cards. This effort has been the obstacle for me. To combat this, I'm going to focus on forming the habit of creating the cards, instead of just working on studying them. I'm creating a beeminder goal to help with this. Hopefully in a couple of weeks I'll have some updates on how well this worked.

This appears to have worked. I've been using Anki daily since I've implemented a policy of creating, on average, 20 new cards/day, so I always have a backlog of new cards to study.

Additionally, Anki seems to be having a positive effect on the amount of effort needed to get good grades. I did rather well in a recent physics test on a topic I missed in class. To study, I just skimmed the relevant chapter and added the most important equations and definitions to my physics deck.


I changed my habit of walking self-quantification by replacing my paper and pen method and inputting the data. Now I have a spreadsheet that contains how many steps I made in aggregate for the day as well the weight and the time I put the weight in. Then I put the spreadsheet under a git repository so that I won't lose it when the computer crash and the damage is irreversible. I plan to eventually work on manipulating the data to generate graphs and tables, but I have not yet execute this plan.

Fall semester has started for me as well. I've got a number of different projects I'm working on all in parallel, and am concerned about falling too far behind on any of them. I'm currently using a two-pronged strategy to try and keep my head above water on all of them: first, routinely discussing the next step and my progress so far in my diary (which I'm doing about twice a week now, but the frequency may increase), and second, trying to devote at least one block of time to it each week. (For example, I have a lot of papers to read through, and so I plan on doing that from ~9-5 on Wednesdays at least, and probably on other days as well.)

I'm not sure how effective the second will be- my emotional expectation is that regulating time inputs is not as effective as regulating mood inputs (i.e. I should work on project X when I want to work on project X, and not work on it when I don't want to work on it). My rational expectation is that regulating time inputs will be effective (and/or is the best way to regulate mood inputs).

(Other suggestions for ways to ensure progress / excite interest in a particular project are welcome.)


FWIW, I've found that regulating time inputs is very effective for me. I pair up a chunk of time with an assignment I can get done at that time, and then mark it in my calendar. That way I know exactly what I am doing when, and I can ensure I'm getting all my work done on time.

When the scheduled time comes to do an assignment, I treat it like it's a scheduled class lecture. (I'm kind of anal about always going to lecture, so doing the assignment feels non-negotiable as well.)

So yeah, definitely give it a try and let us know how it works out! :)

I've been snagging a bit on RTM, and I'm doing a bit better now that I'm adopting my strategy for catching up on the NYT when I come back from vacation: finish today's paper first! No matter how much I want to read the magazine section, my primary goal is finishing today's sections first, and then I can start knocking out the bits I missed.

So, for RTM, I'm focusing on getting today's tasks done and counting that as a victory. If I get the chance to knock out an overdue task, awesome, but, unless it's (a) really urgent or (b) suddenly really easy, today's stuff comes first. This helps me have a streak to maintain, instead of letting one lagging task that I'm still not getting to make the whole day feel like a loss (which tends to trigger "What the hell" neglect of other tasks).

Plus, when I neglect a task for non-black swan reasons (i.e. breaking my toe) that's usually a sign I didn't break it up into subtasks very well, or need a better reward. So I need to reformulate before I just stick it back in the lineup.

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