This is based on a concept we developed at the Vancouver Rationalists meetup.
Different experiences level a person up at different rates. You could work some boring job all your life and be 60 and not be much more awesome than your average teenager. On the other hand, some people have such varied and so much life experience that by 30 they are as awesome as a 1000 year old vampire.
This reminds me that it's possible to conduct your life with more or less efficiency, sometimes by orders of magnitude. Further, while we don't have actual life extension, it's content we care about, not run time. If you can change your habits such that you get 3 times as much done, that's like tripling your effective lifespan.
So how might one get a 100x speedup and become like a 1000 year old vampire in 10 years? This is absurdly ambitious, but we can try:
Do Hard Things
Some experiences catapult you forward in personal development. You can probably systematically collect these to build formidability as fast as possible.
Paul Graham says that many of the founders he sees (as head of YC) become much more awesome very quickly as need forces them to. This seems plausible and it seems back up by other sources as well. Basically "learn to swim by jumping in the deep end"; people have a tendency to take the easy way that results in less development when given the chance, so the chance to slack off being removed can be beneficial.
That has definitely been my personal experience as well. At work, the head engineer got brain cancer and I got de-facto promoted to head of two of the projects, which I then leveled up to be able to do. It felt pretty scary at first, but now I'm bored and wishing something further would challenge me. (addendum: not bored right now at all; crazy crunch time for the other team, which which I am helping) It seems really hard to just do better without such forcing; as far as I can tell I could work much harder than now, but willpower basically doesn't exist so I don't.
On that note, a friend of mine got big results from joining the Army and getting tear gassed in a trench while wet, cold, exhausted, sleep deprived, and hungry, which pushed him through stuff he wouldn't have thought he could deal with. Apparently it sortof re-calibrated his feelings about how well he should be doing and how hard things are such that he is now a millionaire and awesome.
So the mechanism behind a lot of this seems to be recalibrating what seems hard or scary or beyond your normal sphere. I used to be afraid of phone calls and doing weird stuff like climbing trees in front of strangers, but not so much anymore; it feels like I just forget that they were scary. In the case of the phone there were a few times where I didn't have time to be scared, I needed to just get things done. In the case of climbing trees, I did it on my own enough for it to become normalized so that it didn't even come up that people would see me, because it didn't seem weird.
So tying that back in, there are experiences that you can put yourself into to force that normalization and acclimatization to hard stuff. For example, some people do this thing called "Rejection Therapy" or "Comfort Zone Expansion", basically going out and doing embarrassing or scary things deliberately to recalibrate your intuitions and teach your brain that they are not so scary.
On the failure end, self-improvement projects tend to fail when they require constant application of willpower. It's just a fact that you will fall off the wagon on those things. So you have to make it impossible to fall off the wagon. You have to make it scarier to fall off the wagon than it is to level up and just do it. This is the idea behind Beeminder, which takes your money if you don't do what your last-week self said you would.
I guess the thesis behind all this is that these level-ups are permanent, in that they make you more like a 1000 year old vampire, and you don't just go back to being your boring old mortal self. If this is true, the implication that you should seek out hard stuff seems pretty interesting and important.
Broadness of Experience
Think of a 1000 year old vampire; they would have done everything. Fought in battles, led armies, built great works, been in love, been everywhere, observed most aspects of the human experience, and generally seen it all.
Things you can do have sharply diminishing returns; the first few times you watch great movies is most of the benefit thereof, likewise with video games, 4chan, most jobs, and most experiences in general. Thus it's really important to switch around the things you do a lot so that you stay in that sharp initially growing part of the learning curve. You can get 90% of the vampire's experience with 10% of his time investment if you focus on those most enlightening parts of each experience.
So besides doing hard things that level you up, you can get big gains by doing many things and switching as soon as you get bored (which is hopefully calibrated to how challenged you are).
You may remember early in the Arabian revolutions in Libya, an American student took the summer off college to fight in the revolution. I bet he learned a lot. If you could do enough things like that, you'd be well on your way to matching the vampire.
This actually goes hand in hand with doing hard things; when you're not feeling challenged (you're on the flat part of that experience curve), its probably best to throw yourself face first into some new project, both because it's new, and because it's hard.
Switching often has the additional benefit of normalizing strategic changes and practicing "what should I be doing"-type thoughts, which can't hurt if you intend to actually do useful stuff with your life.
There are probably many cases where full on switching is not best. For example, you don't become an expert in X by switching out of X as soon as you know the basics. It might be that you want to switch often on side-things but go deep on X. Alternatively, you probably want to do some kind of switch every now and then in X, maybe look at things from a different perspective, tackle a different problem, or something like that. This is the Deliberate Practice theory of expertise.
So don't forget the shape of that experience curve. As soon as you start to feel that leveling off, find a way to make it fresh again.
Do Things Quickly
Another big angle on this idea is that every hour is an opportunity, and you want to make the best of them. This seems totally obvious but I definitely "get it" a lot more having thought about it in terms of becoming a 1000 year old vampire.
A big example is procrastination. I have a lot of things that have been hanging around on my todo list for a long time, basically oppressing me by their presence. I can't relax and look to new things to do while there's still that one stupid thing on my todo list. The key insight is that if you process the stuff on your todo list now instead of slacking now and doing it later, you get it out of the way and then you can do something else later, and thereby become a 1000 year old vampire faster.
So a friend and I have internalized this a bit more and started really noticing those opportunity costs, and actually started knocking things off faster. I'm sure there's more where that came from; we are nowhere near optimal in Doing It Now, so it's probably good to meditate on this more.
As a concrete example, I'm writing tonight because I realized that I need to just get all my writing ideas out of the way to make room for more awesomeness.
The flipside of this idea is that a lot of things are complete wastes of time, in the sense that they just burn up lifespan and don't get you anything, or even weaken you.
Bad habits like reading crap on the Internet, watching TV, watching porn, playing video games, sleeping in, and so on are obvious losses. It's really hard to internalize that, but this 1000-year-old-vampire concept has been helpful for me by making the magnitude of the cost more salient. Do you want to wake up when you're 30 and realize you wasted your youth on meaningless crap, or do you want to get off your ass and write that thing you've been meaning to right now, and be a fscking vampire in 10 years?
It's not just bad habits, though; a lot of it is your broader position in life that wastes time or doesn't. For example, repetitive wage work that doesn't challenge you is really just trading a huge chunk of your life for not even much money. Obviously sometimes you have to, but you have to realize that trading away half your life is a pretty raw deal that is to be avoided. You don't even really get anything for commuting and housework. Maybe I really should quit my job soon...
I have 168 hours a week, of which only 110 are feasible to use (sleep), and by the time we include all the chores, wage-work, bad habits, and procrastination, I probably only live 30 hours a week. That's bullshit; three quarters of my life pissed away. I could live four times as much if I could cut out that stuff.
So this is just the concept of time opportunity costs dressed up to be more salient. Basic economics concepts seem really quite valuable in this way.
Do it now so you can do something else later. Avoid crap work.
Social Environment and Stimulation
I notice that I'm most alive and do my best intellectual work when talking to other people who are smart and interested in having deep technical conversations. Other things like certain patterns of time pressure create this effect where I work many times harder and more effectively than otherwise. A great example is technical exams; I can blast out answers to hundreds of technical questions at quite a rate.
It seems like a good idea to induce this state where you are more alive (is it the "flow" state?) if you want to live more life. It also seems totally possible to do so more often by hanging out with the right people and exposing yourself to the right working conditions and whatnot.
One thing that will come up is that it's quite draining, in that I sometimes feel exhausted and can't get much done after a day of more intense work. Is this a real thing? Probably. Still, I'm nowhere near the limit even given the need to rest, in general.
I ought to do some research to learn more about this. If it's connected to "flow", there's been a lot of research, AFAIK.
I also ought to just hurry up and move to California where there is a proper intellectual community that will stimulate me much better than the meager group of brains I could scrape together in Vancouver.
The other benefit of a good intellectual community is that they can incentivize doing cooler things. When all your friends are starting companies or otherwise doing great work, sitting around on the couch feels like a really bad idea.
So if we want to live more life, finding more ways to enter that stimulated flow state seems like a prudent thing to do, whether that means just making way for it in your work habits, putting yourself in more challenging social and intellectual environments, or whatever.
Adding It Up
So how fast can we go overall if we do all of this?
By seeking many new experiences to keep learning, I think we can plausibly get 10x speedup over what you might do by default. Obviously this can be more or less, based on circumstances and things I'm not thinking of.
On top of that, it seems like I could do 4x as much by maintaining a habit of doing it now and avoiding crap work. How to do this, I don't know, but it's possible.
I don't know how to estimate the actual gains from a stimulating environment. It seems like it could be really really high, or just another incremental gain in efficiency, depending how it goes down. Let's say that on top of the other things, we can realistically push ourselves 2x or 3x harder by social and environmental effects.
Doing hard things seems huge, but also quite related to the doing new things angle that we already accounted for. So explicitly remembering to do hard things on top of that? Maybe 5x? This again will vary a lot based on what opportunities you are able to find, and unknown factors, but 5x seems safe enough given mortal levels of ingenuity and willpower.
So all together, someone who:
Often thinks about where they are on the experience curve for everything they do, and takes action on that when appropriate,
Maintains a habit of doing stuff now and visualizing those opportunity costs,
Puts themselves in a stimulating environment like the bay area intellectual community and surrounds themselves with stimulating people and events,
Seeks out the hardest character-building experiences like getting tear gassed in a trench or building a company from scratch,
Can plausibly get 500x speedup and live 1000 normal years in 2. That seems pretty wild, but none of these things are particularly out there, and people like Elon Musk or Eliezer Yudkowsky do seem to do around that magnitude more than the average joe.
Perhaps they don't multiply quite that conveniently, or there's some other gotcha, but the target seems reachable, and these things will help. On the other hand, they almost certainly self-reinforce; a 1000 year old vampire would have mastered the art of living life life at ever higher efficiencies.
This does seem to be congruent with all this stuff being power-law distributed, which of course makes it difficult to summarize by a single number like 500.
The final question of course is what real speedup we can expect you or I to gain from writing or reading this. Getting more than 2 or 3 times by having a low-level insight or reading a blog post seems stretching of the imagination, never mind 500 times. But still, power laws happen. There's probably massive payoff to taking this idea seriously.
An interesting post. Two directions for more thinking:
(1) Goals. What do you want to get out of this? What do you really want? Doing lots of things quickly and intensely is one way to describe a rat race. Yes, you can run faster but where are you running to?
(2) Risks. There is a certain aura of invincibility surrounding this post. But do remember that shit happens and vampires happen to be already dead and quite hard to kill (again). You have to make sure that your broad intense experiences aren't putting you into running for the Darwin Award. That American student who fought in Libya -- what were his chances of coming home in a body bag? or coming back with severe PTSD and becoming emotionally disabled?
Good question. This thing has a lot of opportunity for lost purposes. My particular goal is get enough power to save the world, which does sometimes disagree with maximum vampire-mode. They often agree though, and the vampire heuristic pushes harder than the save-the-world goal, because vanity metrics like "how vampire-mode are you" are more motivating than important things like saving the world.
Another good point. Let's not be stupid and get killed. I for one would think that it is probably not a good idea to go fight in a revolution or other dangerous activities, but I put it in anyway because it was a good example.
Back when I was trying to quit cigarettes I had many different types of motivation to get me to stick with not smoking. Money, health, and dating were all reasons for me to quit, and they didn't work until I found a way of thinking about it that just clicked for me – I didn't want to be 'that guy', that low status loser who couldn't stop smoking, someone that just didn't have it in him to quit. So I quit.
I really liked this post because much like when I was trying to quit cigarettes, it's giving me a different way of thinking about my procrastination that might really click with me. This is a new insight; I want to get things done now and faster, so that I can make room for being fucking awesome!
This article makes some great point, however I think you are other optimizing. Specifically, these seem more like techniques for Unlocking Massive Latent Potential (that most people don't have), or curing lazy/spoiled but already awesome people. That's very much worth writing an article over, since those are probably where most potential rationalists will come from, but it's not the same as an universal formula for awesomeness.
That wouldn't be a problem - social/environmental stimulation and diversity of experience are good for you even if it doesn't turn you into a badass. However, many of the techniques are dangerous if tried by a median human; getting rid of de-stressing activities and entertainment or taking on more responsibilities or than you can handle can burn you out, doing hard things and overloading yourself risks downright trauma and injury, and other hard things or quitting your job could leave someone in permanent financial ruin and unemployment.
What I suspect has happened here is the same type of selection effect as in books on how to get rich by extremely rich people - just because almost all members of desirable group X did Y, doesn't mean doing Y is a good idea; you never heard of all the many more people that did Y and failed ending up in a much worse position than if they had just stuck with status quo. Being member of an elite doesn't just select for strategy it also selects heavily for talent and luck, and different strategies may be optimal depending on the amount of talent and luck you have.
Ha, it is not until very recently that people have accused me of Latent Destiny.
I've been thinking about this, and I think that most people who have Latent Destiny do not believe that they do, and never achieve greatness because of that. People like that need to know that it's possible, and need some inspiration like OP.
As for everyone else, humans are pretty robust and will at least exercise basic judgement before doing stupid life-wrecking things based on a bad reading of an internet article written by someone called Nyan Sandwich. And if they don't exercise such judgement, someone else's dangerous advice would get them if mine did not.
But that's beside the point, because a few medians (perfect word for them, thank you) is an easy price to pay for another hero. If dangerous advice is necessary to create heroes, such dangerous advice is good, because we need more heroes, and we are at a point in history where the instrumental value of people dominates the intrinsic.
The selection effect comment is interesting, probably some truth. I'll think about that.
You are almost certainly right about this not working for everyone. Still, applied well it could produce gains in most.
I like this post, and I feel it is a great demonstration of how optimality as a motivator basically sucks without an emotionally engaging picture/narrative to tie it to. For the longest time I failed to get that the ancient marketing wisdom of "tell a story people want to be a part of" works just as well on yourself as others.
Totally. It's important to beat these ideas into a shape consumable by a human. I've been thinking about doing this with "Epistemology for Humans". Perhaps I will.
Objection: I like all of these things. Well, except watching TV. Calvin said it best: "There's never enough time to do all the nothing you want."
But I actually like the goal of becoming (the equivalent of) a thousand-year-old vampire, too. And there's not enough time for that, either. That is, ultimately, what convinced me that death is bad and life extension is good: There's not enough time to do life right. Doing it right, at least for me, means both becoming awesome and sleeping in when I feel like it.
If your field of expertise pays, you can level up wh... (read more)
Very much agreed. When I started taking online courses I was surprised at how speeding up the video helped my learning. What was happening before, and what still happens when I'm watching slow, informationally dilute speeches, is my mind can't sync up with the presentation and it wanders off on its own way so frequently that I simply can't stop it from happening. I also didn't used to realize how hanging around with crowds who wern't curious and wern't agenty in the same way I was sucked the life out of me. I thought I was just an inattentive, generally disengaged person. I was dead wrong.
I disagree with several of your points, but I upvoted this post anyway because I think this is the type of thing that we should be discussing more on LessWrong. I'll have a more substantive reply tomorrow.
Is there a better term for this than anything usually associated with a cold and ruthless blood-sucking nocturnal killer?
Probably, but how much of that was actually useful for, say, making more money? And did he learn more than he would have if he'd spend the summer reading random interesting stuff on the internet? (Much lower status, but not obviously less educational.)
BTW, as far as I can tell Eliezer spent several years of his life doing fairly slow work on a rationality book as his primary project, and this bo... (read more)
As I mentioned earlier, I like this post, but a lot of the suggestions seem very hazardous. For instance, you write that "You may remember early in the Arabian revolutions in Libya, an American student took the summer off college to fight in the revolution. I bet he learned a lot. If you could do enough things like that, you'd be well on your way to matching the vampire."
It doesn't strike me that this is even a remotely good idea for personal development reasons, and I'm not even talking about the risk of death.
If you want to optimize your life f... (read more)
I'm not sure that the example of your friend who joined the Army and then became a millionaire means much: most people who joined the Army did not become millionaires; most millionaires were never in the Army.
After reading this, I stuck a note saying "Be a vampire" to the front of my computer (which is my main source of procrastination).
Also, this post reminds me of the fact that being a hard sciences student is one of the things which helps me keep 'leveling up' on a regular basis, which is strong motivation to get me to do my coursework.
...I keep forgetting that for normal people, sleeping in is actually lazy, and not a survival tactic to recover from the sleep deprivation of doing 12 hour rotating day-night shifts in time to do more shifts.
I've had this attitude of "do hard things" for a while, although the hard things I've done (mainly jumping into critical care nursing as a new grad) aren't super typical for LW. I guess technically I work a wage job, but it's also incredibly meaningful work that pushes me to my limits every single day and is gradually transforming me into th... (read more)
For me, the military did not push me nearly as hard as I expected. Pushed myself harder while preparing for it than I was pushed in Basic Training. Advise not doing this, or at least joining Marine Corps instead for proper pushing. There are also things (i.e. Tough Mudder) that can similarly physically push you without requiring you to sign a contract.
This is a subset of the more general:
.1. Think carefully about the general issue of ... (read more)
Good post, I'm already trying to follow most of the advice given and over the last two years I've arguably done more than in about eight years prior, with lots of room to improve still. Still working on moving to an area with more of a rationalist community unfortunately, where I am there is effectively none. Also, :%s/lead/led/g in "Fought in battles, lead armies, built great works".
Nyan - at least a few of your posts are backed by some pretty powerful imagery. It seems like it might be effective to create visual summaries of them (to remind oneself of the content on a routine basis, not as a substitute for reading the original piece.)
Playing video (or other) games isn't necessarily a waste of time, depending on how far you go with it and what you want to get awesome at... :)
Interesting... Not sure what it means... What might a head epistemologist's day look like?
It's hard to know.
Adding to this, there is an entire online community of these people at the Black Flag Cafe. Outsiders label them as "war tourists," but the majority of them are journalists, war photographers, businessmen, and humanitarians/activists. The website was founded by Robert Young Pelton (whose wikipedia page is worth reading). He wrote a great book, that is filled with practical information.
It is not entirely clear what experiences you have in mind. Obviously many differnt.
Heinlein comes to mind:
"A human being should be able to
Specialization is for insects."
The latter makes a re... (read more)
weeps at being just a 500-day-old troll
Feedback: This essay includes a few suggestions which might be valuable to pursue or do, but I downvoted the essay mainly for pulling numbers out of nowhere throughout the post.
Saying boosts your productivity or life experience or awesomeness by factor Y is something I expect from self-help books (for a horrible example thereof, see the book Eat That Frog), not from Less Wrong.
There are different ways to deal with that:
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
Good advice overall. Just to give a counterpoint that may or may not be related to the post:
Yes, doing this kind of stuff can make you happier, but I'm not sure if I want to give that advice to other people. It might also make them unhappy if they keep kicking themselves to become more awesome day after day and keep failing anyway. This happens a lot. And if they succeed, it'll make many other people unhappy by comparison, and raise the standard that other people must reach before they allow themselves to be happy...
I don't know if it's a strong argument. ... (read more)
The chinese curse comes to mind:
"May you live in interesting times" ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/May_you_live_in_interesting_times )
This can be a curse for all the risks (mentioned in other comments) involved.
Intersting is that the source names an increment to that curse:
"May your wishes be granted."