Hello LessWrong! First time posting here. I am a second-year college student, and I am interested in doing independent learning outside my coursework. Books I've been eyeing / trying to read include The Sequences, The Selfish Gene, and Superintelligence.

However, I've noticed that it feels much more like an obligation, which makes the process much less enjoyable and rewarding. I feel like I want to have read, instead want to read. Particularly, I noticed that as I was reading The Sequences, I constantly checked how far away from the end of the current essay I was. When I got to the last page, it felt very good; but the reading itself did not feel as rewarding. At its core, I feel as though I want to have read so that I can feel like I've made progress. But it's dutiful and it's draining.

In short: how can I make the reading itself more rewarding and remove the 'ought' feeling, shifting myself into a more curious and motivated mindset?

New Answer
Ask Related Question
New Comment

3 Answers sorted by

Hi DivineMango, welcome!

Nice reading list. I'm not sure if this will quite help, but Nate Soares wrote a lot of good stuff on motivation on his blog, www.mindingourway.com. A couple of relevant posts (but there's many more there):

Though neither of those feel like they quite hit the thing on the head. Here are some further ideas which have helped me a little:

Seems like maybe you want to rediscover/get in touch with the inherent enjoyment of those activities separate from whether they lead to any state of completion. Extrinsic motivations seems kill intrinsic motivation (even when you otherwise had intrinsic motivation) so perhaps something to try is not worrying about how much you complete, just trying to enjoy the experience of doing however much if you're doing - and allowing yourself to stop at any point if you really don't want to continue (Soares-style).

Books I’ve been eyeing / trying to read include The Sequences, The Selfish Gene, and Superintelligence.

These works are written for a popular audience, they only teach you to talk the talk. I think it's better to read textbooks and solve exercises, that way you learn to walk the walk. For some topics, like AI risk, there aren't any textbooks with exercises; but you'll still do good by learning adjacent topics like logic/computation/ML, for which there are good textbooks.

A good strategy is to read a chapter, then solve all exercises not marked "very hard" before moving to the next. Otherwise - no reading ahead. If some exercise is blocking you, you can peek at the answer, but only after spending 5 uninterrupted minutes trying to solve the exercise.

If you're trying to learn probability theory, I think you'd indeed be better off with Jaynes' Probability Theory: The Logic of Science over Eliezer's essays on Bayesian probability theory. However, in my experience, the Sequences offer a special suite of mental skills and stances I haven't found elsewhere.

Similarly to TurnTrout's point about the sequences, learning logic/computation/ML is certainly relevant to and useful for AI safety, but there are things in Superintelligence which no computer science textbook will tell you. It's certainly valuable to pick the most useful resources within whatever field you're trying to study, but picking your field based on which one has the best textbooks seems misguided.

Also, textbooks typically require a great deal more effort than popular science books, so if OP is struggling with motivation for the latter, textbooks are likely to make things worse.

I'd ask yourself a few things: Is there a way to read those things that seems more fun? May be skip "boring" parts? May be read out of order? May be there's a chapter / section that caught your eye? May be there's a part that connects with something else you're interested in / something useful?

I'd also recommend to not read what you think you _should_ read, especially during your free time. Read what interests you. And if that's nothing, then do something else personally productive with that time.

1 comment, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 10:52 PM

I wonder if this is merely putting pressure on your self to reach some goal rather than just an interest in learning on your own.

I might suggest reflecting on why you are interested in, or perhaps what you are interested in, learning outside your coursework.

As something of a side note, it is probably a safe statement to say you are already independently learning outside your coursework just by living your daily life but perhaps you're not consciously aware you are.

New to LessWrong?