When we left off last time, we had discussed two of the four principles which Dr. Richard Wiseman believes accounts for the differences between lucky and unlucky people: do more to maximize the number of chance opportunities you have and take steps to improve your intuition. In this post we will discuss the third principle: expect good luck. We will talk a little about principle four, but it's going to get its own post. 

But before all that, I want to spend the first bit of this post clearing up some of the confusion which resulted from my less-than-perfect presentation. My most persistent critic, Lumifer, made a number of claims which I think are worth addressing.  As I understand it, here is the meat of the criticism:

1) Luck should be defined as the benefit one receives from events they have no control over, not the result of systematic differences between lucky and unlucky people.

2) The luck being discussed in the post was entirely the result of self-perception. More neurotic people are of course going to think themselves less lucky and are going to be less open to novel experiences. Whether or not this is true is another matter.  

3) Related to point 2), perhaps lucky people are simply the people located in the thin strip on the right of a certain bell curve, and so they (naturally) consider themselves lucky. In other words, maybe the arrow of causality is pointing: [objectively lucky] --> [acts differently], rather than the reverse. This point will crop up repeatedly.   

We could argue definitions all day, but let it be known that when I talk about luck I mean the differences between lucky and unlucky people which are a result of differences in their behavior. When I talk about lucky people I mean people who self-describe as lucky and for whom there is weak anecdotal evidence of their luck. After reading Dr. Wiseman's book I have a high confidence level that such behavioral differences exist, a high confidence level that they matter, and a slightly less high confidence level that they can be taught.

Of course, there isn't much a person can do to prevent their being killed by a meteorite, and nothing at all a person can do to stop themselves being born with Down Syndrome. But taken to an extreme, points 2) and 3) seem equivalent to saying that there is simply nothing a person can do to increase the likelihood that they will not be made a fool of by Lady Luck. That seems unwarranted to me, not least because Dr. Wiseman appears to have been able to teach some people the skill of luck.

There are better and worse ways of improving your bench press, better and worse ways of learning a foreign language...why wouldn't there be better and worse ways of improving the odds that you'll be exposed to positive random events (or, alternatively, decreasing the odds that you'll be exposed to negative randomness)?  I think this case is bolstered by the fact that, at least according to the testimony of lucky people, their good fortune is spread out among many different areas of their life. It would be one thing if these 'lucky' people had gotten a break in their career or lucked out in their choice of marriage partners, but many of them seem to be lucky almost across the board.  This still doesn't rule out pure, unadulterated chance, but I think it makes person-specific causes more plausible.  

Granted, Dr. Wiseman's evidence comes mostly in the form of anecdotes, which is not particularly strong evidence. But it's more than no evidence. Establishing that people who think they are lucky really are objectively lucky at anything like p < .05 would require a monumental longitudinal study which, to my knowledge, no one has even come close to doing. Nevertheless, it's my impression that Dr. Wiseman made an honest effort at epistemic cleanliness, utilizing numerous questionnaires, tests, interviews, and actual experiments to tease apart causal threads, establishing that there may well be behaviors which lead to more luck.

It's not a mathematical proof, but I think there is a good dose of truth to it, and I think it's useful.

With that out of the way, you'll recall that the four principles and twelve sub-principles are:


Principle One: Maximize the number of chance opportunities you have in life.

  sub-principle one: lucky people maintain a network of contacts with other people.

  sub-principle two: lucky people are more relaxed and less neurotic than unlucky people

  sub-principle three: lucky people have a strong drive towards novelty, and strive to introduce variety into their routines.

Principle Two: Use your intuition to make important decisions.

  sub-principle one: pay attention to your hunches.

  sub-principle two: try and make your intuition more accurate.

Principle Three: Expect good fortune.  

  sub-principle one: lucky people believe their luck will continue.

  sub-principle two: lucky people attempt to achieve their goals and persist through difficulty.

  sub-principle three: lucky people think their interactions will be positive and successful.

Principle Four: Turn bad luck into good.

  sub-principle one: lucky people see the silver lining in bad situations.

  sub-principle two: lucky people believe that things will work out for them in the long run.

  sub-principle three: lucky people spend less time brooding over bad luck.

  sub-principle four: lucky people are more proactive in learning from their mistakes and preventing further bad luck.   


Great Expectations

If you look at principle three and four, you'll see that most of the sub-principles have to do with what lucky people think will happen in the future. When given a set of questionnaires which tested respondents belief that they would experience positive and negative events in the future, we again find stark differences between lucky and unlucky people. Overwhelmingly, lucky people were more likely than unlucky people to believe they would have a good time on vacation, be admired for their accomplishments, develop good relationships with their families, etc. Conversely, unlucky people were more likely to believe that they would become overweight later in life, decide that they’d chosen the wrong career, be mugged, etc. 

Maybe this is straight forward inductive inference: if you've mostly had bad or good luck in the past, it makes sense to believe that this will continue into the future. But if psychology were this crisp and simple, life would be a lot easier. Besides all the heuristics and biases that cloud thinking, our expectations about the future feed back into the causal matrix which determines our behaviors, influencing both what actually happens to us as well as how we interpret what happens to us. Each of these will be important to our discussion.

Making self-fulfillment work for you (?)

So what results when two groups of people vary in terms of their expectations for the future if we grant that these expectations exert some influence (however small) on what happens to them? 

Dr. Wiseman believes that lucky people's positive expectations account for the fact that they are often very persistent in the face of adversity, and that this leads to self-fulfilling prophecies of success. When he gave three lucky and three unlucky people a very difficult puzzle to solve, two of the lucky people spent significantly longer working on the puzzle than the unlucky people, around 20 minutes vs. 1 hour +, respectively. (one of the lucky people miscounted the number of puzzle pieces and, believing one to be missing and thus the puzzle to be impossible, didn't even begin)! Quotes from interviews with lucky and unlucky people offer evidence that lucky people often spend more time chasing their ambitions while unlucky people have in some cases stopped even trying.  

But are lucky people more persistent because of their beliefs that the future is bright, or could it be the case that lucky people were simply more persistent as a matter of their personal psychology? 

A more clear-cut example comes from the realm of interpersonal interaction. Here, it turns out, we have good evidence for the power of self-fulfilling prophecies. Several famous studies have demonstrated that the beliefs you have when you enter into an interaction can profoundly shape the course of that interaction. Dougherty et al., (1994) found that, when people interviewing candidates for a job had high expectations for the candidates, they were friendly, and the candidates thus made a better impression. Still more powerfully, Snyder et al., (1977) demonstrated that when men thought they were talking to an attractive woman, not only did they act more warmly towards the woman, and not only did she respond more sociably, but other people listening to only the woman's part of the conversation also thought she was more attractive. 

Did Dr. Wiseman's research yield any new insights into this area? Anecdotes included in the book paint a picture of lucky people's ability to quickly form warm and close relationships with people, allegedly on the basis of their expectations that other people will be interesting, funny, etc. 

Perhaps lucky people's beliefs that their interactions will be positive actually lead to positive interactions, and independent research indicates that there is something to this. But recall from my last post that lucky people also smile, make better eye contact, and have friendlier body language than unlucky people, and maybe this accounts for their good experiences with people. Or they could have just always been lucky with respect to their interactions and thus believe this state of affairs will continue. Unfortunately, I feel that Dr. Wiseman's work did little to clarify these underlying issues.

That said, I do think that there are two valuable things to learn here: 1) don't give up hope too early, and 2) people's expectations of others powerfully influence how their interactions unfold. 

Remember how during the last essay I said that some people may worry that principle one ('maximize the number of chance opportunities you have') might also expose you to a lot of black swans? Well, persistence is one reason why this isn't such a big problem. With enough hard work, a gray or even black swan encounter can be made into a white swan (though I freely admit any rational person has to know when to give up). There is a bigger reason than this, though, but it'll have to wait for the next post because this one has gotten long enough. 

Suggested Exercises 

As with the first two principles, Dr. Wiseman recommends the following exercises:

-Begin each day with positive affirmations, of the "I know that I will be lucky in the future" variety.

-Make a list of your short, medium, and long-term goals, reviewing the list periodically. This helps establish high expectations for the future.

-To maintain motivation, write down the costs and benefits associated with achieving a goal. Having a concrete analysis to look at should help you persist, assuming that the benefits actually do outweigh the costs.

-With a potentially difficult situation on the horizon, like a date or job interview, spend a few minutes visualizing yourself confidently and successfully navigating it.

Criticisms and open questions

I'll come right out and say it: I thought this section was weaker than the others, and less useful to readers of this blog. There's so much mushy-headed nonsense out there about how 'perception is reality' and you should 'visualize your way into wealth' that when I read the the title of principle three ('expect good luck') my eyes glazed over a bit.

Still. Goals, emotions, expectations. These are as much a part of the fabric of the world as chairs are, and we can no more ignore them than we can any of the other threads in that tapestry. If it is true that what I will think will happen affects what will happen, even if those expectations aren't based on anything particularly rational, then I want to believe that that is the case, and plan my life accordingly.

So I ask:

1) Might there be domains where there is a slight negative expected utility for accuracy of belief, at least at the levels of rationality attainable by humans now (see: discussions of the valley of bad rationality)? For a true master of the mature art of human rationality, a person who has a detailed self-model and very accurate probability estimates, there would presumably be no reason to fiddle with expectations; these would flow naturally from their beliefs about the world. But since I don't yet have anything like that, maybe it's a good idea for me to purposefully try to make myself believe that the future will be good.

2) Can a person have a belief in self-fulfilling belief? If you know about self-fulfilling prophecies, does that make you better or worse at making them happen? 

3) Let's say I'm an objectively, physically unattractive person, but because of positive attention I received during childhood I believe myself to be attractive and thus have moderate success in dating. Is my belief in my own attractiveness warranted? Does the answer change if, instead of being based on childhood experiences, I believe I'm attractive because I chanted "I am attractive and deserving of love" ten times before I left the house every morning?

4) Is it ethical to exploit this knowledge, even if you're doing it to make another person more successful? When, if ever, is it appropriate to put down the mantle of rationality and let people believe silly things (or even actively encourage them)? One possible example: when giving a pep talk to beleaguered troops in the minutes before a battle.

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sub-principle one: lucky people maintain a network of contacts with other people.

I.e.: be Extroverted, not Introverted.

sub-principle two: lucky people are more relaxed and less neurotic than unlucky people

I.e.: Be Stable, not Neurotic.

sub-principle three: lucky people have a strong drive towards novelty, and strive to introduce variety into their routines.

I.e.: Be Open to Experience, not Closed.

sub-principle two: lucky people attempt to achieve their goals and persist through difficulty.

I.e.: Be Conscientious, not Haphazard.

sub-principle one: lucky people see the silver lining in bad situations.

I.e.: Be Positive, not Depressive.

... reading through most of this, it seems like the trick is to not be Neurotic, not be Depressive, not be Introverted, and to have high Openness and Conscientiousness. By my understanding, these aren't really traits you can just "decide" to improve, and people who do not naturally possess these traits tend to experience a pretty hefty willpower toll forcing their behavior.

Wiseman described unlucky people as conscientious, but in a tunnel-visioned way-- they were so focused on not making mistakes that they didn't notice opportunities.

I don't think you can just decide to improve those traits, but gradual improvement of habits is possible.

I also think you're showing a depressive bias-- one that I share-- reflexively reframing a possibilitiy in a way that makes it too hard to pursue, and then giving up on it. Like most biases, this is related to something useful (some apparently possibilities are actually impossible or not worth pursuing), but the unexamined assumption that the first seen obstacle is impassable is a problem.

It's interesting that you associate that with depression. I know someone who does this -- typically accompanied by a startling degree of resistance to solutions-to-obstacle -- and in the past I've mentally attributed it to motivated stopping. Sounds like I might be wrong. Do you know any literature on the subject?
Learned helplessness is relevant. I don't think the behaviour is specific enough to identify depressed people. Consider that many people are not looking for advice when they complain. Complaining can be a script for small talk, a request for validation of them giving up something or a request for sympathy etc.
Good point, but not relevant in this case. The person in question has a known history of depression, I had just never connected A with B until Nancy mentioned it. [Edit: Usage as depression-identifier not relevant. Learned helplessness might be right.]
Indeed, and my own internal explorations have indicated that "learned helplessness" is probably exactly what's going on. Watching myself and my cognition patterns when my depression kick in have shown me that the root problem is an early overgeneralization of "Strategy S(1) didn't work, S(2) didn't work, S(3) didn't work, S(4) didn't work, S(5) didn't work..." into "Strategy S(s) won't work for all s". The actual 'depression' is then just a perfectly reasonable resource-conserving strategy, given the (probably faulty) assumption that no identifiable strategy will offer a positive payoff. In general, though, the problem with the "no one can help you but you" self-help rhetoric is that it pretty much throws under the bus everyone who has been trained to be their own worst enemy. If you want highly rational depressives to stop being depressive, I think the best strategy is NOT to tell them to go out there and take more risks - it's to put then in a controlled environment where they can be rewarded for exploring and taken care of when they run out of willpower, and then slowly train them to update out of their learned helplessness, build successful willpower-replenishing strategies, and restructure their social model to positive-sum instead of negative-sum. I'm betting you'd have a better chance doing this with depressive people whose family/friends have a lot of resources, than you would doing this with depressive people who are surrounded by poverty and social malaise, but then resources are a direct measure of how much a capitalist society cares about a given member, so maybe that's as it should be.
This makes me think of the first two steps from Alcoholics Anonymous's twelve step program:
One of the few things that AA comes close to getting 'right' is providing people with a framework to bond together as a community and help each other. Of course, there isn't much evidence that AA works particularly well, but when there aren't very many "real" choices available, people take what they can get.
Sorry, no literature, just introspection, which means I should have been more careful about generalizing. Tentatively, if a person makes a fast jump to "that's impossible" for things they don't want to do, but they are resourceful about doing things they do want to do, that's not depression. Maybe. If the only thing an alcoholic is resourceful about is getting alcohol, it might be reasonable to say they aren't depressed, or maybe depression/not depression isn't the right distinction. I do think that inertia and misery are both attributed to depression, but they're somewhat independent.
nod that seems reasonable, but here's a second generalized counterexample: When I'm depressed, I tend to behave as if I don't want to do anything. Then, when I'm not depressed, I tend to be VERY resourceful about doing things, which makes it look like those are the things I most want to do. It is then very easy to declare that I'm resourceful about doing the things I want, and just lazy about doing the things I don't (which is a particularly unhelpful criticism that I've dealt with all my life (but stating that it's unhelpful just leads to people pointing out that if enough people say something, it's probably true (but pointing out the inherent cognitive biases involved in that just leads to people pointing out that I'm being defensive and making excuses (but pointing out that that's a fully general counterargument just leads to people deciding to not talk to me at all anymore (but I need people for my physical and emotional health so I try to avoid that and just accept that I'm lazy instead of depressed (which makes the depression worse (which makes people decide to not talk to me at all anymore (which leads to another layer of learned helplessness))))))).
This is because it often works people who are not depressed, and people can't know with certainty when your behaviour is due to depression. How confident are you about knowing it yourself? Depression works like a fully general counterargument too. It seems your frustration has more in common with theirs than expected.
Well, yes. And I usually solve that by ceding the point; I'm more willing to acknowledge that I'm just a worthless parasite than they are to acknowledge that I need help, so eventually we can all just agree and move on.
I'm pretty sure you understand those are not the only two options.
The funny thing about akrasia, from the inside, is that you often have plenty of "options" that you can't actually execute on.
By options I mean explanations for what's happening, not actions, unless you want to define thoughts as actions. Vast majority of people suggest solutions because they want to help, not because they want an excuse to call you a parasite. Implying they're evil assholes doesn't help your situation.
The implication is that I distrust them, not that they're actually evil assholes. The problem is that gut-level social instinct doesn't distinguish between "this person mistrusts me because his capacity for trust is damaged, and he knows that" and "this person mistrusts me because he thinks I'm an evil asshole". For example, my usual pattern of assumption is NOT that people in general are evil assholes; it's that I'm caught in a loop of behaviors that provokes them into questioning my veracity, I overreact to their questioning, and they become primed to act assholeish towards me, thus reinforcing the pattern. (And then you throw in people who simply are evil assholes, and who are attracted to weakness...) Also, something kind of interesting just happened here: I presented two options; in one I acknowledge that the fault is entirely mine, and in the other people help me. You then interpreted this as "implying that they are evil assholes". This means that I can't even fold and admit defeat without it being interpreted as an aggressive act. What out is left for me, then?
There's a whole gradient between those two options. You're splitting) which is understandable. "Fault" doesn't exist without other people, neither do parasites or defeat. How about "thanks for the suggestions, but I've tried them already and they don't help"?
I'm aware of the concept, but I'm not sure I can communicate further in a meaningful fashion. There's a disconnect between my internal state as I experience it, and my internal state as I'm able to communicate it, and I do not currently feel confident that I can communicate my internal state without it being picked apart and snapped to a label. The best I can communicate at this point is, "I am aware that my rationality is compromised, and I am aware that my ability to understand how my rationality is compromised is compromised, and I am aware that my ability to understand how to repair my rationality is compromised, and I am aware that my ability to recognize, distinguish, and execute good advice on how to repair my rationality is compromised, and I am aware that my ability to recognize who to trust to follow advice on how to repair my rationality is compromised. So now what?"
Going by that quoted part I'm confident you're better off than most people since you're aware of the problem :) "Now what" is why LessWrong exists, and we're still taking baby steps. See what you did there? This was again a statement about me, but you framed it as if it were a statement about you. Distrust and passive aggressive communication are two different things. Just pointing this out, I'm not insulted nor trying to be confrontational.
In my experience, the phrases "see what you did there?" and "just pointing this out" are strong signals that the speaker is deliberately trying to be confrontational, and is deliberately twisting words to embarrass me. (I have no idea if this is objectively true or not.)
I guess both could be true, but not exclusively. Could be also trying to lighten things up, not necessarily at your expense, and not necessarily with malevolent intentions. You can never be certain about other people's intentions, whether you're depressed or not, but I suggest you ask yourself whether you want to have the kinds of default assumptions about people that make every social interaction a negative sum game.

You can never be certain about other people's intentions, whether you're depressed or not, but I suggest you ask yourself whether you want to have the kinds of default assumptions about people that make every social interaction a negative sum game.

That's a really deep question, whose answer is very state-dependent.

As learning agents, our algorithms for dealing with the present are necessarily path-dependent. If my path through experience-space has shown me that most social interactions were negative-sum games at some point in the past, and that repeated attempts to behave as if they might NOT be negative-sum games result in losing, and losing badly, then it might not be worth the perceived risk to take a chance on new people, unless those new people go to extraordinary efforts to demonstrate that they aren't playing a negative-sum game.

Now, posit that in the past, people have gone to extraordinary efforts to demonstrate that they weren't playing a negative-sum game with me, only to turn around and spring elaborate traps, because they thought it was hilarious and worth the cost of the effort just to trip me up. Now what are my expectations primed to? What should I rationally exp... (read more)

If you managed to read the comment I posted and removed yesterday, I'm sorry. I shouldn't post at all in the evening. I have experience with depression both personally and professionally, so you don't have to explain to me what it is. This doesn't mean I know the optimal way to handle it, or that all forms of it can be handled the same. If you have a strong bias against antidepressants, which is quite common, you should acknowledge that before reading further, not because I'm going to recommend them to you, but because reading those linked comments might cause a negative halo effect on me and the rest of this reply. I wasn't communicating clearly, sorry about that. I didn't mean you shouldn't calibrate your expectations according to your experience. I meant you shouldn't necessarily calibrate how you treat people according to your experience. Expecting the worst from people, and telling people you're expecting the worst from them are two entirely different things. The latter is going to make it more probable that people treat you badly, whether the probability is low or high to begin with. Worse than that, it's going to make you miscalibrate your expectations. I see. I've had a few such experiences too, no doubt damaging. What do you think about treating your expectations and your emotional investment in people as separate things? Acting like you trust people on default doesn't necessarily mean you need to get emotionally invested in them, but it will almost certainly make them treat you better. Take this interaction for example. I'm not expecting you to get emotionally invested in me, but I'm expecting you're not constantly acting like I'm attacking you. In fact, you said it quite well yourself: -- I'm quite certain people become depressive curmudgeons in various different ways, to various different degrees, and benefit from different kinds of treatment approaches. Don't generalize from one example, or think your mind is typical for all depressive people. Whe
Wow, I feel for you. I wish you good luck and good analysis.
nod on an individual level, I appreciate the feels. In my case, I know computer programming, and I've just this week managed to claw my way out of five years of unemployment and back into a reasonably well-paying career job, so I should have access to the necessary resources shortly. But remember that many, many people do not. As EY keeps pointing out, the world is hideously unfair, and there are all sorts of completely random and harsh events that can cause otherwise intelligent and creative and "deserving" people to fail to live up to their potential, or even permanently lose a portion of that potential. (Or, in the case of death, ALL of that potential.) If we really want to see a world that is less crazy, those of us who have the power to might consider ways to build environments that don't throw people into such destructive, irrational feedback loops. "Here's how people who don't suck behave" is less useful for that than "here's what environments look like that don't make people who suck as often."
This reminds me of what CFAR does with comfort zone expansion. I'm not sure what else they have in that vein, but it does seem to fit under "fixing broken social modules."
Indeed. As soon as I have money and time saved up, I am going to dive whole-heartedly into CFAR workshops.
What would such environments look like? Can you point out any existing examples? What kinds of costs do those environments impose on healthy people? Is torture vs dust specks relevant? Btw you don't suck.
I was not trying to rescue you, nor do I have any illusions about that whatsoever. I was trying to have a conversation. The articles were not intended to be swimming lessons, and I'm quite aware I have no resources to give you such lessons. I'm not mad at you for drowning nor blaming you for anything which is what I've been trying to explain to you, and if that's the only idea you'll get from this conversation, I will be quite satisfied. I would not risk drowning to save you, especially since I'm a depressive curmudgeon myself, so that's not something you'll have to worry about. ETA: there are different levels of bad swimmers, and you shouldn't assume they're all drowning. Some of them take swimming advice just fine, but you can't really know who they are until you talk to them.
Even an introverted person can use some strategies to maintain contacts with more people. Actually, an introverted person should use such strategies, because they can't expect it will happen automatically. For example, an introverted person could do the following: Compile the list of people they want to keep contact with. (Maybe multiple lists with multiple levels of contact.) Make notes in calendar when these people have birthdays or other significant days. Contact them on such days, using some scripts, such as "Congratulations! How are you?" etc. For each such person keep a text document describing the facts you know; then you can insert personal remarks and questions into your document. ("Have you finished your piano lessons?" "How many cats do you have now?") You should also note the history of your relationship and your mutual friends. Make a decision about how often do you want to meet them personally, and after the given time contact them and offer a meeting or a Skype session. Keep their photo to remember their face. Etc. Doing all of this, you will probably still remain naturally introverted. But you will get some of the advantages the extraverts get. The costs of maintaining the network may be balanced by the benefits the network will bring to you.
Facebook has made this all but redundant, keeping track of your friend's birthdays for you. The result? Facebook birthday greetings have become all but meaningless now, since everyone knows no one has remembered and they've just followed the facebook notifications.
Depending on your relationship with someone, you could use facebook to find out when their birthday is, and wish them happy birthday through some other medium, like text message.
Just because people know you use X to influence them, it does not mean X has no influence on them. People are not good at properly discounting evidence. Also, some people may not realize you have a system. If some kind of birthday message becomes too frequent, you can modify your message to stand out of the crowd. For example, send it one day earlier, or one day later. Or use e-mail instead of Facebook; and insert a funny picture.
Previously, no one remembered them, they just followed their diary entries.
The key point of a birthday greeting is that it signals that you spent some effort on the relationship. That is the reason even expensive presents don't neccessarily work - if they are easy to get and you can afford them: They don't signal that you care.
This description is probably true, but also so wrong it hurts.
That is the sad part of rationality: All too often it allows you to see the pattern of social interaction more than to feel it. If you communicate what you see you may hurt your kind or devalue your actions ("because you did it only for the purpose"). If you see the purpose you have to make extra detours to really care. You have to feel one level up. Nothing is ever easy.
I don't think it's that sad really. Whatever positive feelings I would gain by being less rational would probably be evened out or even overwhelmed by the negative ones.
No not that sad. Not sadder than being less rational of course. But not purely happy either.
OTOH, if you don't communicate what you see but do use it to optimize your interactions, knowing that such patterns exist can be very useful. (Communicating your knowledge of such patterns can have significant drawbacks as a way to obtain status, such as that which you listed above.)
That is indeed true and kind of a problem for me. I was raised to be truthful by positive example and value truth highly. I formed a moral ideal of mutual truthfulness early. Towards people I trust I am very open and don't hide/lie about my feelings or opinions. Toward strangers I don't lie (I might for higher purposes) but may hide information for some personal advantage (but not if it only if it's to the others advantage). Mutual truth and openness were a core part of my marriage. Some lack of sensitivity has often led to hurt due to this combination despite trying to be nice. Being truthful and open is part of my identity and reputation. I can't just change it. And I don't think that it is neccessary because such a reputation and consistency has their own advantages (via long-term signalling).
But they made those diary entries. And looked into the diary regularly to make sure they remembered.
And on Facebook they friend those people, and look into Facebook regularly. I don't think the dynamics of birthday-remembering have changed. Computers already made it easier before Facebook, and diaries before computers.
I should have been clearer, sorry. Facebook is less inconvenient on two non-trivial counts: there are other reasons to open it (whereas a birthday diary will only have information related to birthdays and similar stuff), and it records the birthdays without any effort on your part.
Most of the greetings I've seen are so generic I wonder if they have apps to automate them too.
But Facebook all but completely eliminated the trivial inconvenience. I'm under the impression that using diaries for that purpose was at least an order of magnitude rarer than using Facebook is now (though I'm generalizing from one example).
"and people who do not naturally possess these traits tend to experience a pretty hefty willpower toll forcing their behavior" For a while, anyway. I've become more extroverted and it's gradually become more natural feeling to me. That said, I doubt I'll ever quite be the social butterfly some people manage to be.
True! Instead, these are skills that you can train. "Just decide to be extroverted" will work about as well as "just decide to be better at chess." The thing is that, to turn "decide to be better at chess" into "actually become a better chess player," you have to play a bunch of games and study openings and probably other stuff. (I can't actually play chess very well.) Over the past couple of years, I have massively shifted my personality towards four of the five traits you discuss (extroversion, openness, conscientiousness, and positivity). This isn't because I intellectually understood that it would be nice to change. It's because I deliberately practice this stuff all the time. True at the start. Becomes less true as you actually gain the traits, and eventually becomes negligible. ("Just forcing" the traits doesn't seem likely to work any better than just playing a squillion chess games. You'll get better results if you focus on specific subskills, ask experts for help, etc etc.)
Most of these traits can be situation dependent and temporary. People easily interpret situational factors as permanent character traits or the other way around. Try spending time with people who have interesting things to say. Don't interpret boredom as introversion. Could be just about whether you're on a winning or a losing streak. People can offer you all kinds of silly experiences like skydiving, then complain if you don't comply. Be careful not to interpret your preferences as openness to experience Try performing work that actually interests you. Optimize your situation to be less depressive.
This is my general take, too. Taking just extroversion for example, I know people (we all do) whose emotional stability seems to require almost constant networking and meeting new people. I've tried to fake this ability, and learn it...because it is a great way (sometimes the only way) to be successful in certain areas of business. Most people would never guess it (so I guess I'm doing a decent job of trying to be extroverted), but I'm strongly introverted, and it takes great effort for me to become the Networking Version of myself for a couple hours at a business event or happy hour. Over time, I believe this effort to be extroverted takes a significant toll on my overall mood and motivation levels. In order to be something you aren't, you are basically engaging in something you are really bad at and don't enjoy -- which tends to wear on my self-image. And in the case of extroversion, you are meeting contacts and forming friendships under some false-ish pretenses, since you are only pretending to be that way. In some cases, people will expect you to be the Extroverted Version indefinitely, even though you were just wearing that hat and trying to adopt those habits in the way the post suggests. Though you can (and I have) become a pretty passable faux-extrovert, I think it can be (and has been for me) a net bad choice. I shoulda just been introverted, neurotic and depressive all along, and focused on the comparitive advantages those traits have to offer.
I'm in a similar boat, but I found ways to make faux-extroversion work for me. What I basically found was that if I engage with individuals at group events as though we were alone, then all I have to "fake" is the being-in-public body language... basically, I have to have individual conversations as though I were on stage. The emotional impact is similar to that of a private conversation, and having superficially public conversations that have the internal structure of private ones seems to really convey extroversion, since I'm talking about stuff people don't tend to talk about in public. But it takes a certain amount of self-monitoring and steering to remain in that state; once I tire out I can't maintain it anymore.
From your description, it seems like you're engaging in something you're good at and don't enjoy. (I mention this because I expect that realizing you've become skilled at this might cause you to enjoy it more. If you try to have the skill instead of trying to fake the skill, you might find that you've already done most of the work.)
I can see the comparative advantages of being an introvert, but what are they for the latter two?
Perhaps they aid in creative pursuits, build the capacity for empathy, very close attention to detail, less prone to certain biases. I don't think they are optimal, but it may be better to embrace what traits you have than try and possess optimal trait you do not.
I think I'll have to agree they can be good for your genes and your pursuits, but are they good for you?
In my experience, it is best for me to be me. It takes a big toll on me to try and be something I'm not. There are advantages, but I sense it is a net loss.
(A thing that peeves me about the five-factor model is that (I read that) the labels try to sound neutral but (IMO) fail at that, Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion and Agreeableness all sounding positive and Neuroticism sounding negative -- and when Stability replaces Neuroticism it's even worse. OK, with Openness this might be self-serving bias on my part, myself being around 80th percentile Openness -- but I'm around or slightly below median on the other ones, so this can't be the only reason.)
Well, that's kind of a natural consequence of selection pressures. Trying to make labels sound neutral when one end of a spectrum is preferred to the other inevitably leads to the Euphemism Treadmill - it's the same thing with "intelligence" vs. "idiocy" / "retardation" / "being special". The fact is, in our culture, high Openness has clear social advantages over Traditionalism; high Extroversion has clear social advantages over Introversion; Conscientiousness has clear social advantages over Impulsiveness; and Stability has clear social advantages over Neuroticism. Change the culture, and the local optima might change, which will change the connotation of the terms - for example, Competitiveness might scan better in some places than Agreeableness. Just like smart people are just "better" than dumb people, extroverts are just "better" than introverts, and stable people are just "better" than neurotics - at least in this environment.
What would be a better term than "neuroticism"? I suggest an optimism/caution spectrum. The world would be a better place if there'd been some Neuroticism at Enron.
But would the Enron execs have been better? Because selection doesn't care about what's best for the world.

I don't like the use of the terms "white swan" and "black swan" here.

The original use was derived from the way that people who hadn't been to Australia would (reasonably) have thought that all swans were white, and would have found the existence of black swans a completely unpredicted surprise, outside the scope of their mental models of the world. A "black swan" in this sense is just something very surprising, unprecedented, beyond the normal variation one's taking into account. (And a "white swan" would be the usual case: business as usual, nothing interesting happening.)

But in this article and its predecessor, it seems that "black swan" is being used to mean "unpleasant surprise" and "white swan" to mean "pleasant surprise" or "opportunity" or something.

This seems to me a much less useful bit of terminology than "black swan" originally was, and it would make me sad if it were to catch on.

Isn't it taken directly from Nassim Taleb's The Black Swan, where he advocates defenses against 'black swans' but conversely deliberately opening yourself up to 'white swans' through tactics like moving to cities?
It's some time since I read that book. I don't remember him using "white swans" to mean good out-of-model events, but that might just be memory failure on my part. I remark that here you can see Andrew Gelman (who is very clever) having just read the book and clearly using "black swan" to cover good things and "white swan" to mean "smaller within-model predictable things".

Alright, so I redownloaded Black Swan off Libgen and have been browsing through it. Taleb is a little confusing, but looking at passages, I think roughly Taleb defines things as:

  • "Black swan": extreme unpredicted events; this unpredictability can be due to models or calculations that fail to incorporate power laws of appropriate exponents, or it can be due to model uncertainty / Knightian uncertainty / closed-universe assumption

    • "Gray swan": extreme events which can be modeled by an appropriate fractal/power-law model, although they only can give very vague predictions.
  • "White swan": common (not rare) events predicted by one's model, excluding the unpredicted black-swans and the possibly-predicted-but-still-rare gray swans

This overlaps with his 'Mediocristan'/'Extremistan' dichotomy; he specifically rejects there being any moral or desirability connotation to black vs white swan, other than commenting on the unfairness and randomness of black swans (whether they're either positive or negative for the affected individuals, be they J.K. Rowling or someone boarding a flight on 9/11).

I thought he had a table of recommendations including things like living in cities, but I can't seem to find it skimming Black Swan, so perhaps I saw that in some of his writings since then.

So, I guess these articles are misusing 'white swan' after all.

That fits well with my admittedly hazy recollection, and suggests that the usage here ("swan" = "unexpected event", "black" = "bad", "white" = "good") is quite different from Taleb's ("swan" = "event", "black" = "out-of-model", "white" = "normal").
Probably -- at some point Taleb was writing about optionality and how having some is a very good thing (you expose yourself to the volatility but cut off the left tail). Like you I don't remember the sources, but I think it was a few years after the Black Swan.
Taleb doesn't seem to be terribly consistent about non-black swans...
Well, he seems to denote predictability with the colours, which was the point. Making white swans indicate rare good events makes no sense. The Wikipedia page suggests he uses the term black swan also for good events.
"Isn't it taken directly from Nassim Taleb's The Black Swan" Right. "Making white swans indicate rare good events makes no sense." Actually, you could be right, but that's how I'm using it. I don't have my copies of Taleb's books in front of me, but I'm pretty sure he uses the terms the way I'm using them.
Did you check out the article Lumifer linked to? Perhaps Nassim changed his mind.
Especially given that there already is a term specifically for positive black swans, namely “windfall”. But there definitely should be a term specifically for negative black swans too.

1) Might there be domains where there is a slight negative expected utility for accuracy of belief, at least at the levels of rationality attainable by humans now (see: discussions of the valley of bad rationality)? For a true master of the mature art of human rationality, a person who has a detailed self-model and very accurate probability estimates, there would presumably be no reason to fiddle with expectations; these would flow naturally from their beliefs about the world. But since I don't yet have anything like that, maybe it's a good idea for me to

... (read more)
Sure. Now, is there ever a time we should try to make ourselves believe things that we don't necessarily have a good reason to think are true?

is there ever a time we should try to make ourselves believe things that we don't necessarily have a good reason to think are true?

This is less the problem than the part where we already believe lots of things that we don't have a good reason to think are true. Pessimists have a tendency to demand a higher burden of proof for positive thoughts than negative ones. If they were just as skeptical of their negative beliefs, more of the positive would get through!

That is, it's not that we have to add a bunch of beliefs in order to be positive, it's that we need to stop believing all sorts of pessimistic things, or at least believing that they're relevant, or that they're going to be a disaster.

If a thing you're pessimistic about isn't under your control, for example, then there's probably no point worrying about it. And if it is under your control, then you could focus on the part where you can do something.

The part where we struggle is when we (in effect) spend lots of time arguing over whether we control something or we don't, neither believing the matter is fully in hand, nor willing to dismiss it as not worth worrying about/not in one's control.

So one's pessimistic objecti... (read more)

Just a couple of points on this discussion, which I'm sure I walked in at the middle of: (1) One thing it illustrates is the important difference between what one "should" believe in the sense of it being prudential in some way, versus a very different notion: what has or has not been sufficiently well probed to regard as warranted (e.g., as a solution to a problem, broadly conceived). Of course, if the problem happens to be "to promote luckiness", a well-tested solution could turn out to be "don't demand well-testedness, but think on the bright side." (2) What I think is missing from some of this discussion is the importance of authenticity. Keeping up with contacts, and all the other behaviors, if performed as part of a contrived plan will backfire.
No - not because it wouldn't be helpful sometimes, but because it's very difficult to successfully, knowingly self-deceive in that way, because ridding yourself of the knowledge that you are self deceiving would involve thought Suppression and humans aren't very good at that. Your insecurity in the belief would shine through to your behavior. When you identify a reason to behave differently, I think it is better to just attempt to alter behavior via methods other than self-rhetoric such as modifying the environment, habit modification, or trying to exert willpower. In any case, I think the mood-enhancing sort of optimism about the future isn't about believing that things will turn out okay, but about having a lower set point for how "okay" things have to turn out in order for you to be happy with the outcome. You can be quite pessimistic epistemically and still have this sort of emotional optimism, in which outcomes are accurately modeled and yet negative outcomes are perceived as less negative, while positive outcomes are perceived as more positive. It's not that expectations change, but that failure is less painful and success is sweeter ... behaviorally, of course, this is difficult to distinguish from an expectation shift. (Anyone want to devise a way?) I'm not sure how one would go about acquiring this sort of optimism, though. For me, my levels of that sort of optimism seem to be a function of my general health and the absence of chronic external stress - a complex socio-biological thing that can't necessarily be influenced by memetics alone.

With respect to definitions (in this case of the words "lucky" and "unlucky") I rarely have problems with them as long as everyone participating in the conversation agrees on them, or at least is aware of what they are.

One corollary of that, though, is that if you use some words in a nonstandard way, you have to explicitly say so and specify the meaning you attach to them. Here, in this discussion, there is good reason to use "lucky" as that's what the book under review uses. That's fine. The issue is that Dr.Wiseman, as far a... (read more)

I think "lucky" is fair-- Wiseman was talking about getting what look like implausibly good outcomes.
My problems with the word "lucky" are that it mostly references things that happen to you instead of things you do. And, as a consequence, it implies lack of effort or the need to work on things.
nod although in a certain sense, that's actually accurate - "lucky", in Wiseman's sense, is about behaviors that naturally improve outcomes without any conscious effort to maintain those behaviors. The statement "luck can be taught and trained" breaks into "there are behaviors which naturally improve outcomes without any conscious effort to maintain those behaviors, but if you are not currently in that self-reinforcing feedback loop, it will take conscious effort to break out of whichever attractor you're currently orbiting and start moving into that attractor's control locus instead."

(Small typo: "anything like p > .05" should be "anything like p < .05".)

Why again do we want to apply the strategies of lucky people? To get lucky too? That may go too short and fail for a number of reasons. I'd guess that the "unlucky" people might better be described as being risk-aversive and in a low-risk environment. That may be unlucky for them but poses the following questions:

How to determine whether you are in a low or high risk environment (and whether that is about to change).

How to determine whether you follow (subconsciously) a risk-aversive strategy.

I think the first question depends extremely heavy on... (read more)

That assumes you have nothing to lose. This is more or less true for teenagers but usually becomes less so with age.
Of course this advice applies typically for teenagers. In applies always if you don't know enough of the opportunities of your environment.

Funny question from SF: Can you breed humans for luck?

In Larry Nivens ring world humans are bred for luck and this question is discussed here:


You can't breed for Niven's Teela Brown, of course, but I'd expect that you could breed for Wiseman-style luck. For example, when I read The Luck Factor, I mused that the 'lucky' people were probably very high on the Big Five factor of Openness, which like most cognitive traits is partially heritable (40%%20-%20Genetic%20and%20Environmental%20Effects%20on%20Openness%20to%20Experience,%20Agreeableness,%20and%20Conscientiousness-%20An%20Adoption%3ATwin%20Study.pdf "'Genetic and environmental effects on openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness: An adoption/twin study', Bergeman et al 1993") & 61% of variance, in the 2 studies I have handy), and I also thought some of it sounded like latent inhibition which I would also expect to be partially heritable.