The Intelligent Social Web

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Follow-up to: Fake Frameworks, Kenshō

Related to: Slack, Newcomblike Problems are the Norm

Previously titled: The Real-World Omega (see these comments)

I’d like to offer a fake framework here. It’s a little silly, and not fully justified, but it keeps producing meaningful results in my life when I use it. Some of my own personal examples are:

  • Overcoming a crushing depression
  • Learning how to set aside my “performance mode” and be more authentic and vulnerable when I want to be
  • Shifting my attachment style from anxious-preoccupied to mostly secure
  • Fixing a lifelong problem where I love athletics but I kept badly damaging my body almost any time I tried anything athletic
  • Setting myself up to experience kenshō

I recognize that this doesn’t address Oli’s hesitation stemming from his sense of a lemons problem. I’m afraid I don’t know how to, at least not yet. So in the meantime, please take these as my reports of my experience and how it seems to me they came about, rather than as an attempt to persuade.

Though I do hope y’all will benefit from this. If nothing else, I think this framework is fun. I’ve sometimes described one use of it as “overcoming personally meaningful challenges by living an epic life.” It’s an awesome framework to play with — especially when others join in while remembering that the framework is fake.

Here I’ll outline a general theory I’ll want to call on in some upcoming posts. Tomorrow I’ll separately post an application. (Originally they were written as one post, but I got some feedback on an earlier draft that convinced me they should be separate.) At that point we should have some meaningful tools for wrestling with self-deception.

So with that, let’s get started.

When you walk into an improv scene, you usually have no idea what role you’re playing. All you have is some initial prompt — something like:

“You three are in a garden. The scene has to involve a stuffed bear somehow. Go!”

So now you’re looking to the other people there. Then someone jumps forward and adds to the scene: “Oh, there it is! I’m glad we finally found it!” Now you know a little bit about your character, and about the character of the person who spoke, but not enough to fully define anyone’s role.

You can then expand the scene by adding something: “It’s about time! We’re almost late now.” Now you’ve specified more about what’s going on, who you are, and who the other players are. But it’s still the case that none of you knows what’s going on.

In fact, if you think you know, you’ll often quickly be proven wrong. Maybe you imagine in that scene you’re an uptight punctual person. And then the third person in the scene says to you, “What do you care, Alex? You’re always late to everything anyway!” Surprise! Now you need to flush who you thought you were from your mind, accept the new frame, and run with it as part of your newly evolving identity. Otherwise the scene sort of crashes.

It would go more smoothly if you didn’t hold any preconceptions about who you are or what’s going on. The scene tends to work better if you stay in the present moment and just jump in with the first thing that comes to mind (as long as it’s shaped by what has happened so far). Then the collection of interactions and emerging roles spontaneously guides your behavior, which in turn help guide others’ behavior, all of which recursively defines the “who” and “what” of the scene. Your job as a player isn’t to play a character; it’s to co-create a scene.

We can sort of pretend that there’s a “director”: it’s the intelligence that emerges between the players via their interactions. It’s a distributed system that computes relationships and context by guiding each node in its network to act freely within constraints. From this vantage point, the network guides players, and the job of each player is to be guidable but not purely passive (since a passive node is just relaying information rather than aiding in the computation). As long as everyone involved is plugged into and responsive to this network, the scene will usually play out well.

I suspect that improv works because we’re doing something a lot like it pretty much all the time. The web of social relationships we’re embedded in helps define our roles as it forms and includes us. And that same web, as the distributed “director” of the “scene”, guides us in what we do.

A lot of (but not all) people get a strong hit of this when they go back to visit their family. If you move away and then make new friends and sort of become a new person (!), you might at first think this is just who you are now. But then you visit your parents… and suddenly you feel and act a lot like you did before you moved away. You might even try to hold onto this “new you” with them… and they might respond to what they see as strange behavior by trying to nudge you into acting “normal”: ignoring surprising things you say, changing the topic to something familiar, starting an old fight, etc.

In most cases, I don’t think this is malice. It’s just that they need the scene to work. They don’t know how to interact with this “new you”, so they tug on their connection with you to pull you back into a role they recognize. If that fails, then they have to redefine who they are in relation to you — which often (but not always) happens eventually.

I’m basically taking as an axiom of this framework that people need the “scene” to work — which is to say, they need to be able to play out their roles in relation to others’ roles within a coherent context. I don’t think why this is the case is relevant for using this framework… but I’ll wave my hands at a vague just-so story anyway for the sake of pumping intuition: human beings’ main survival strategy seems to be based on coordinating in often complex ways in tribes. For the individual, this means that fitting in becomes paramount. For the group, this means knowing what to expect from each person is critical. So a trade becomes possible: the individual can fit into and benefit from the group as long as they’re playing a role that fits well with the collective.

This can result in some pretty strange roles. From this vantage point, a person who repeatedly leaves one abusive relationship only to get into another roughly similar one actually makes a lot of sense: this is a role that this person knows how to play. It’s horrible, but it’s still better than not fitting into the social scene. It creates a coherent relationship with someone who’s willing to (or has to) play an “abuser” role, and often with people in “rescuer” roles too. The trap they’re in isn’t (just) that their current abusive partner is gaslighting or threatening them; it’s that they don’t have another role they can see how to play. Unless and until that person finds a different one that fits into the social web, the strands of that web will tug them back into their old role. They don’t have enough slack in the web around them to change their fate.

The same kind of web/slack dynamics show up in more pleasant-to-play roles too. The privilege of a middle-class American white man by default has him playing out some kind of roughly known story-like path (probably involving college and having kids and maybe a divorce) that, in the end, will probably still leave him being one of the richest people on Earth. And all the while, he might well have no clue that he has other options or even that he’s on a path — but he’ll still know, somehow, not to step off that path (“I have to go to college; are you crazy?”). Never mind that his lack of slack here is awfully convenient for him.

I’ve watched religious conversions and deconversions happen via basically the same mechanism. I knew a fellow many years ago (unattached to this community) who was a proud atheist. Then he started dating a Christian girl. Something like a month later, he started quoting the Bible — but “only because they’re handy metaphors” and not because he really believed any of that stuff, you see. It later turned out he’d been going to church with her. He kept offering reasons that seemed vaguely plausible (“It’s a neat group of people, and it matters to her, and I can take the time to read”), but there’s a pattern here that was obvious. A few months later he told me he’d converted. Last I heard they had moved to Utah.

The great part is, I knew this was going to happen when they started dating. Why? Because when I warned him that he might find himself wanting to believe her religion once they started having sex, his reaction was to reassure me by acting confident that he was immune to this. That meant he was more focused on managing my perception of him than he was in noticing how the social web was tugging him toward a transition of roles. I didn’t know if they’d stay together, but I was pretty sure that if they did, he’d convert.

I could give literally hundreds of examples like this. From where I’m standing, it looks like one of the great challenges of rationality is that people change their minds about meaningful things mostly only when the web tugs them into a new role. Actually thinking in a way that for real changes your mind in ways that defy your web-given role is socially deviant, and therefore personally dangerous, and therefore something you’re motivated not to learn how to do.

Ah, but if we’re immersed in a culture where status and belonging are tied to changing our minds, and we can signal that we’re open to updating our beliefs, then we’re good… as long as we know Goodhart’s Demon isn’t lurking in the shadows of our minds here. But surely it’s okay, right? After all, we’re smart and we know Bayesian math, and we care about truth! What could possibly go wrong?

Another challenge here is that the part of us that feels like it’s thinking and talking is (usually) analogous to a character in an improv scene. The players know they’re in a scene, but the characters they’re playing don’t. The characters also aren’t surprised about who or what they are: the not-knowing of identity and context is something only the players experience, to open themselves up to the guidance of the distributed “director”. This means that (a) the characters are actively wrong about why they do what they do, and (b) they are also deeply confused about how much sense everything makes and don’t know they’re confused.

I claim that most of us, most of the time, are playing out characters as defined by the surrounding web — and we usually haven’t a clue how to Look at this fact, much less intentionally use our web slack to change our stories.

I think this is also part of why improv is challenging: you have to set aside the character you would normally play in order to create room for something new.

There’s a way in which the social web holds the position of Omega in an ongoing set of Newcomblike problems. The web as a whole wants to know what kind of role you’re playing, and how well you’re going to play it, so that it can know what to expect of you. So, a lot of its distributed resources go into computing a model of you.

One of the more obvious transmission methods is chat — idle gossip, storytelling, speculation, small talk. People sync up their impressions of someone they’ve met, and try to make sense of surprising events in conversation. If a lover brings their partner some flowers and the recipient freaks out and runs off, suddenly there’s a need to understand, and the flower-giver might try asking a mutual friend for some help understanding. And even if they do come to understand (“Oh, that’s because their last partner brought them flowers to break up with them”), there’s often an impulse to share the story with friends, so that the web as a whole can hold everyone in sensible roles and make the scene work. (“Oh, we had a funny misunderstanding earlier, poor Sam….”)

A lot of this is transmitted more subtly too, in body language and facial expressions and vocal tone and so on. If Bob is “creepy” (i.e., is playing a “creepy” role in the web), then it speaks volumes if everyone who meets Bob then cringes just a tiny bit when he’s later mentioned even if they say only good things about him. This means that someone who has never met Bob can get a “vibe” about him from multiple people in a way that shapes how they interpret what Bob says and does when they finally do meet him.

Sometimes, some people with enough web-savvy weaponize this. It doesn’t mean anything for someone to “be creepy” except that they have a web-like impact on others — which is to say, they have a “creepy” role. In a healthy network, this correlates with something actually meaningfully bad that’s worth tracking. But because perceived roles shape what people expect of a person, it’s enough for a rumor to echo through the web in order for someone to be interpreted as “creepy”. So a sufficiently cunning person could actually cause someone to be slowly isolated and distrusted without there being any facts at all to justify this as Omega’s stance.

(And yes, I’ve seen this happen. Many times.)

The same kind of thing can happen with “positive” labels, too. What it means for someone to be fit for a leadership role, in Omega’s eyes, is that they are seen as compatible with that role. So if someone is tall, attractive, and either vicious or strong depending on how you choose to see it, it might be enough to have the “strong” interpretation echo more powerfully than the “vicious” one in order for the web to conspire to put them in a leadership position.

…which means that even people who are seen as good leaders might not, in fact, be good leaders in the sense of making good leadership decisions. But they are by definition good leaders in the sense of playing the role well. After all, if the general consensus is that Abraham Lincoln was a great President, then there’s a sense in which that makes it true, since that’s what “great” means here. The “explanations” thereafter are often stories to justify one’s holding of a popular opinion.

The same thing holds for when someone seems “rational”. This is one reason to worry deeply when members of subgroups internally agree with each other on who is a top-notch clear thinker or “really a rationalist” but disagree with people in other subgroups. This looks less to me like people seeking truth, and a lot more like groups engaging in a subtle memetic battle over what “rational” gets to mean.

From where I’m standing, it looks to me like we’re all immersed in not-knowing, while our “characters” keep talking as though they know what’s going on, implicitly following some hidden-to-them script.

The web encodes a lot of its guidance about what to expect and how to behave via the structure of stories. Or rather, story structures are what expectations about roles and scenes are.

The trouble is, a lot of the stories we talk about have the structure of what our characters are supposed to say rather than of what actually happens. Imagine a movie where the new kid at a school gets bullied by the popular kids and then makes friends with quirky outcasts. What happens to the bullies in the end? In real life, bullies often don’t get their comeuppance — but having this fictional story in our hearts lets us play out the indignant versions of our characters in the real-life version. Because the bullies aren’t supposed to get away with it, right? That wouldn’t be fair!

Some parts of our story-like intuitions are scripts. Some are things our scripts say we should think or talk about. Some are merely incidental details. Sussing out which parts are which is part of the trick of getting this framework to work for you. For instance, the stereotypical story of the worried nagging wife confronting the emotionally distant husband as he comes home really late from work… is actually a pretty good caricature of a script that lots of couples play out, as long as you know to ignore the gender and class assumptions embedded in it.

But it’s hard to sort this out without just enacting our scripts. The version of you that would be thinking about it is your character, which (in this framework) can accurately understand its own role only if it has enough slack to become genre-savvy within the web; otherwise it just keeps playing out its role. In the husband/wife script mentioned above, there’s a tendency for the “wife” to get excited when “she” learns about the relationship script, because it looks to “her” like it suggests how to save the relationship — which is “her” enacting “her” role. This often aggravates the fears of the “husband”, causing “him” to pull away and act dismissive of the script’s relevance (which is “his” role), driving “her” to insist that they just need to talk about this… which is the same pattern they were in before. They try to become genre-savvy, but there (usually) just isn’t enough slack between them, so the effort merely changes the topic while they play out their usual scene.

If you know how to Look at lived stories, then I think a way out can start becoming a lot more obvious. Unfortunately, I don’t think I can describe it very well for a general audience, because how anyone receives what I say is itself subject to the influence of lived stories. But if you can: try Looking in the present moment at your own sense of not-knowing, notice that the same thing is alive in others, and watch as the story arises and plays out across all of you.

Tomorrow I’ll share a weaker but easier-to-use partial solution that I think doesn’t require Looking.

This was long, so I’ll try to summarize:

  • You can choose to see social groups at all scales as running a distributed computation across the social web. If you view that process as generating an intelligent agent, you can think of this web-agent as the real-world Omega as it tries to predict and guide each person’s behavior.
  • Omega offers each person a trade: prioritize making the scene work, and you’ll be included in it. In fact, Omega is the aggregate efforts of all the people who have accepted that trade. And basically everyone we know about accepts this trade.
  • Everything about yourself that you have conscious access to is subject to your role as part of Omega. If you try to defy this, then your fate will play out through your defiance.
  • Room for interpretation in your role in the scene means your script has room to change. This is slack in the social web.
  • There’s a way of directly seeing how to change your fate by Looking. That’s not helpful unless and until you learn how to Look, though.

I’ll close this post by noting that there’s a meta-level to track here. In the story The Emperor’s New Clothes, the child’s utterance wasn’t enough on its own to pop the illusion:

"But the Emperor has nothing at all on!" said a little child.
"Listen to the voice of innocence!" exclaimed his father; and what the child had said was whispered from one to another.
"But he has nothing at all on!" at last cried out all the people. The Emperor was vexed, for he knew that the people were right; but he thought the procession must go on now! And the lords of the bedchamber took greater pains than ever, to appear holding up a train, although, in reality, there was no train to hold.

What if the father had instead responded “No, child, you’re just too foolish to see his fine garments”? He might have, out of fear of what those who were standing nearby might think of him and his kid. Then the child’s simple voice of reason would not be heard.

Or what if the people near the father/child pair had felt too uneasy to pass along what the child had said?

What if the Emperor could have instilled this kind of nervousness in his people ahead of time? He might have thought that there will be innocent children in the parade, and it might have occurred to some part of him that they had best not be taken seriously — to spare others their embarrassment, of course. Then, oh then what strange propaganda they all would see.

Some of the scripts Omega assigns work less well if they’re known. Because of this, Omega will often move to silence people who threaten to speak those fragile truths. This can show up, for instance, as people trying to dismiss and discredit the person saying the idea rather than just the idea. The arguments usually sound sensible on the surface, but the underlying tone ringing through the strands of the web is “Don’t listen to this one.”

If it’s not clear why I’m mentioning this, then I imagine it’ll become really obvious quite soon.

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In my opinion, the biggest shift in the study of rationality since the Sequences were published were a change in focus from "bad math" biases (anchoring, availability, base rate neglect etc.) to socially-driven biases. And with good reason: while a crash course in Bayes' Law can alleviate many of the issues with intuitive math, group politics are a deep and inextricable part of everything our brains do.

There has been a lot of great writing describing the issue like Scott’s essays on ingroups and outgroups and Robin Hanson’s theory of signaling. There are excellent posts summarizing the problem of socially-driven bias on a high level, like Kevin Simler’s post on crony beliefs. But The Intelligent Social Web offers something that all of the above don’t: a lens that looks into the very heart of social reality, makes you feel its power on an immediate and intuitive level, and gives you the tools to actually manipulate and change your reaction to it.

Valentine’s structure of treating this as a “fake framework” is invaluable in this context. A high-level rigorous description of social reality doesn’t really empower you... (read more)

Thank you. Thank you for sharing how you were impacted. That touched me. I'm delighted to have played a role in you enjoying your life more fully. :-)

The post’s focus on salient examples (family roles, the convert boyfriend, the white man’s role) also has a downside, in that it’s somewhat difficult to keep track of the main thrust of Valentine’s argument. The entire introductory section also does nothing to help the essay cohere; it makes claims about personal benefits Valentine has acquired by using this framework. These claims are neither substantiated nor explored further in the essay, and they are also unnecessary — the essay is compelling by the force of its insight and not by promising a laundry list of results.

I quite agree. Thank you for stating this so clearly.

At the time I was under the delusion that people would read and consider what I had to say because they consciously could expect a benefit from doing so. So I tried to state the value up front. I think I was also a little embarrassed to be talking in public in a way I wasn't aware of, so the "laundry list" was a way of assuaging my unrecognized shame.

All of which is to say, I agree. :-) And I'm glad this point got into the reviews for this.

Funny enough, when I did a reread through the sequence, I saw a huge number of little ways EY was pointing to various socially driven biases, which I'd missed the first time around. I think it might have been a framing thing, where because it didn't feel like those bits were the main point of the essays, I smashed them all into "Don't be dumb/conformist" (a previous notion I could round off to). Also great review.

Just posting to record that this post successfully alarmed me, by raising the possibility that I might be missing really important things.

This feels like a really useful framing. It meshes with other fake frameworks I sometimes use, but the emphasis on the web pulling you back in if you don't break with it hard enough feels true and important.

If anyone remembers the r/place experiment Reddit did, similar dynamics were extremely apparent. (In brief, /r/place was a blank 1000x1000 pixel canvas, where anyone with a Reddit account could place one colored pixel anywhere they wanted every 5 minutes.) It was actually really hard to randomly vandalize anything, because wrong pixels looked out of place and would be fixed pretty fast. The only things that worked were:

1) Building a new pattern in a neutral location (which might eventually grow big enough to challenge existing patterns), or

2) Nudging a pattern into a different nearby attractor.

You didn't see coherent images dissolving into noise, because bystanders would fix things too fast. But you did see things like adding genitalia to Charizard, or changing the text "PC MASTER RACE" to "PC MASTURBATE", because those could start as relatively minor changes that bystanders might decide to help with.

The most skillful application of this I saw was w... (read more)

I don't know if I'll ever get to a full editing of this. I'll jot notes here of how I would edit it as I reread this.

  • I'd ax the whole opening section.
    • That was me trying to (a) brute force motivation for the reader and (b) navigate some social tension I was feeling around what it means to be able to make a claim here. In particular I was annoyed with Oli and wanted to sidestep discussion of the lemons problem. My focus was actually on making something in culture salient by offering a fake framework. The thing speaks for itself once you look at it. After that point I don't care what anyone calls it.
    • This would, alas, leave out the emphasis that it's a fake framework. But I've changed my attitude about how much hand-holding to do for stuff like that. Part of the reason I put that in the beginning was to show the LW audience that I was taking it as fake, so as to sidestep arguments about how justified everything is or isn't. At this point I don't care anymore. People can project whatever they want on me because, uh, I can't really stop them anyway. So I'm not going to fret about it.
    • I had also intended the opening to have a kind of c
... (read more)

I've made my edits. I think my most questionable call was to go ahead and expand the bit on how to Look in this case.

If I understand the review plan correctly, I think this means I'm past the point where I can get feedback on that edit before voting happens for this article. Alas. I'm juggling a tension between (a) what I think is actually most helpful vs. (b) what I imagine is most fitting to where Less Wrong culture seems to want to go.

If it somehow makes more sense to include the original and ignore this edit, I'm actually fine with that. I had originally planned on not making edits.

But I do hope this new version is clearer and more helpful. I think it has the same content as the original, just clarified a bit.

Thanks! Probably will end up with a couple more thoughts but definitely appreciate you making some time for this. :)
Indeed, thank you a lot for taking the time for this! 
1Long try
May be off-topic, but can you elaborate on where LW culture wants to go? Or point to a specific post...

I can't point to a specific post without doing more digging than I care to do right now. I wouldn't be too shocked to find out I'm drastically wrong. It's just my impression from (a) years of interacting with Less Wrong before plus (b) popping in every now and again to see what social dynamics have and haven't changed.

With that caveat… here are a couple of frames to triangulate what I was referring to:

  • In Ken Wilber's version of Spiral Dynamics, Less Wrong is the best display of Orange I know of. Most efforts at Orange these days are weaksauce, like "I Fucking Love Science" (which is more like Amber with an Orange aesthetic) or Richard Dawkins' "Brights" campaign. I could imagine a Less Wrong that wants to work hard at holding Orange values as it transitions into 2nd Tier (i.e., Wilber's Teal and Turquoise Altitudes), but that's not what I see. What I see instead is a LW that wants to continue to embody Orange more fully and perfectly, importing and translating other frameworks into Orange terms. In other words, LW seems to me to have devoted to keep playing in 1st Tier, which seems like a fine choice. It's
... (read more)

I don't think everyone playing on the propositional level is unaware of its shortcomings, many just recognize that propositional knowledge is the knowledge that scales and therefore worthy of investment despite those shortcomings. And on the other side of things you have Kegan 3 (I don't like Integral terms for reasons related to this very topic) people with some awareness of Kegan 5 but having skipped a healthy Kegan 4 and therefore having big holes which they tend to paper over with spiritual bypassing. They are the counterpart to the rationalist strawmen who skipped over a healthy Kegan 3 (many of us here do have shades of this) and run into big problems when they try to go from 4 to 5 because of those holes from 3.

I didn't mean to imply that everyone was unaware this way. I meant to point at the culture as a whole. Like, if the whole of LW were a single person, then that person strikes me as being unaware this way, even if many of that person's "organs" have a different perspective. That's actually really unclear to me. Christendom would have been better defined by a social order (and thus by individuals' knowing how to participate in that culture) than it would have by a set of propositions. Likewise #metoo spread because it was a viable knowing-how: read a #metoo story with the hashtag, then feel moved to share your own with the hashtag such that others see yours.
tl;dr: that raised some interesting points. I'm not sure "actionable" is the right lens but something nearby resonated. My current take is something like "yes, LessWrong is pretty oriented towards propositional knowledge". Not necessarily because it's the best or only way, as Romeo said, because it's a thing that can scale in a particular way and so is useful to build around. Your point that "fake frameworks that are actionable are seen as preliminary, but there doesn't seem to be a corresponding sense that compelling-but-inactionable-models are also 'preliminary'" was interesting. I hadn't quite thought through that lens before. Thinking through that lens a bit now, what I'd guess is that "actually, yes, non-actionable-things are also sort of preliminary." (I think part of the point of the LW Review was to check 'okay, has anyone actually used these ideas in a way that either connected directly with reality, or showed some signs of eventually connecting.' A concept I kept pointing at during the Review process was "which ideas were true, and also useful?")  But, I think there is still some kind of tradeoff being made here, that isn't quite about actionability vs vetted-explicit-knowledge. The tradeoff is in instead some vaguer axis of "the sort of stuff I imagine Val is excited about", that has more to do with... like, in an environment that's explicitly oriented towards bridging gaps between explicit and tacit knowledge, with tacit knowledge treated as something that should eventually get type-checked into explicit knowledge and vetted if possible, some frames are going to have an easier time being talked about. So, I do think there are going to be some domains that LessWrong is weaker at, and that's okay. I don't think actionability is the thing though. Some of this is just about tacit or experiential knowledge just being real-damn-hard-to-convey in writing. A lot of the point of the original sequences was to convey tacit knowledge about how-to-think. A lot
I'm not sure "actionable" is the right lens but something nearby resonated.

Agreed. I mean actionability as an example type. A different sort of example would be Scott introducing the frame of Moloch. His essay didn't really offer new explicit models or explanations, and it didn't really make any action pathways viable for the individual reader. But it was still powerful in a way that I think importantly counts.

By way of contrast, way back in the day when CFAR was but a glimmer in Eliezer's & Anna's eye, there was an attempted debiasing technique vs. the sunk cost fallacy called "Pretend you're a teleporting alien". The idea was to imagine that you had just teleported into this body and mind, with memories and so on, but that your history was something other than what this human's memory claimed. Anna and Eliezer offered this to a few people, presumably because the thought experiment worked for them, but by my understanding it fell flat. It was too boring to use. It sure seems actionable, but in practice it neither lit up a meaningful new perspective (the way Meditations on Moloch did) nor afforded a viable action pathway (d... (read more)

(Note: I found this comment helpful in thinking about LessWrong, though don't have much to say in response)
2Long try
Thanks a bunch, Val. I say you saved me dozens if not hundreds of hours, because I was (am) pretty confused about the big picture around here. The associated Ken Wilber image helps with the understanding a lot. Now, if I don't really get nearly half of the articles on LW, does that mean I'm redder than orange? Are there tests on the internet where I can pretty reliably tell where I'm standing on that scale? Also, I'm quite sure that my goal is to get to the turquoise level. What online resources I should learn and/or what "groups" I should join, in your personal recommendation?
I'm glad to have helped. :) I'll answer the rest by PM. Diving into Integral Theory here strikes me as a bit off topic (though I certainly don't mind the question).
Some thoughts I wanted to share on this aspect (speaking only for myself, not Oli or anyone else) [quick meta note: the deadline for editing was extended till the 13th, and I think there’s a chance we may extend it further] I agree that axing the previous opening section was mostly good – it was a bit overwrought and skipping to the meat of the article seems better. I think what I'd personally prefer (over the new version), is a quick: “Epistemic Status: Fake Framework”. You sort of basically have that with the new version (linking to Fake Frameworks at the beginning, but we have the Epistemic Status convention to handle it slightly more explicitly, without taking up much space) What I think I actually prefer, overall (for LW culture) is something like: * Individual posts can give a quick disclaimer to let readers know how they’re supposed to relate to an article, epistemically. Fake Frameworks are a fine abstraction. This should be an established concept that doesn't require much explanation each time. * Over the long term, there is an expectation that if Fake Frameworks stick around, they are expected to get grounded out into "real" frameworks, or at least the limits of the framework is more clearly spelled out. This often takes lots of exploration, experimentation, modeling, and explanatory work, which can often take years. It makes sense to have a shared understanding that it takes years (esp. because often it’s not people’s full time job to be writing this sort of thing up), but I think it’s pretty important to the intellectual culture for people to trust that that’s part of the longterm goal (for things discussed on LessWrong anyhow) I think a lot of the earlier disagreements or concerns at the time had less to do with flagging frameworks as fake, and more to do with not trusting that they were eventually going to ground out as “connected more clearly to the rest of our scientific understanding of the world”. I generally prefer to handle things with “e
I think what I'd personally prefer (over the new version), is a quick: “Epistemic Status: Fake Framework”.

Like so? (See edit at top.) I'm familiar with the idea behind this convention. Just not sure how LW has started formatting it, or if there's desire to develop much precision on this formatting.

I think a lot of the earlier disagreements or concerns at the time had less to do with flagging frameworks as fake, and more to do with not trusting that they were eventually going to ground out as “connected more clearly to the rest of our scientific understanding of the world”.

Mmm. That makes sense.

My impression looking back now is that the dynamic was something like:

  • [me]: Here's an epistemic puzzle that emerges from whether people have or haven't experience flibble.
  • [others]: I don't believe there's an epistemic puzzle until you show there's value in experiencing flibble.
  • [me]: Uh, I can't, because that's the epistemic puzzle.
  • [others]: Then I'm correct not to take the epistemic puzzle seriously given my epistemic state.
  • [me]: You realize you're assuming there's no puzzle to conclude there's n
... (read more)

I won't respond to that right now. I don't know enough to offer the full rigor I imagine you'd like, either. So I hope for your sake that others dive in on this.

Yeah, to be clear I am expecting this sort of thing to take years to do. (and, part of the point of the review process is that it can be more of a collective effort to either flag issues or resolve them)

What seems like an achievable thing to shoot for this year, by someone-or-other (and I think worth doing whether this post ends up getting included in the book or not), is something like 

a) if anyone does think the post is actually misleading in some way, now's the time for them to say so. (Obviously this isn't something I'd generally expect authors to do, unless they've actually changed their mind on a thing).

b) write out a list of pointers for "what sort of places might you look to figure out how this connects to the rest of psych literature of neuroscience, or what experiments you'd want to see run or models built if there isn't yet existing literature on this". Not as a "fully ground this out in one month", but "notes for future people to followup on."

I haven't really understood where the fakeness in the framework is. And the other comments also seem to not acknowledge, that it is a fake framework, which I am interpreting as people taking this framework at face value to be true or real. I suspect I haven't quite understood what is meant by "fake framework".

I'm currently seeing two main ways in which I can make the fakeness make sense to me:

  1. People do step out of their roles quite often in real life, breaking the expectations of the web. So the framework works better for broad strokes predictions, than specific behavior. Or rather, there is a lot of behavior not accounted for in the framework.
  2. Just like "every model is wrong", every framework is fake, and this is a framework that is "less fake" than others.

A thing that's rather irrelevant to the actual topic at hand, but that I feel like sharing:

  • Me reading this: "Oh neat, links about attachment theory, this is acutely relevant to me. Let's check out the 'how to tell if your partner is X' links.
  • Reading the links: "Hm yeah, seems like I'm anxious-preoccupied and the person I'm interested in could be dismissive-avoidant."
  • Reading th
... (read more)
I haven't really understood where the fakeness in the framework is.

Well, by my model of epistemic hygiene, it's therefore especially important to label it "fake" as you step into using it. Otherwise you risk forgetting that it's an interpretation you're adding, and when you can't notice the interpretations you're adding anymore then you have a much harder time Looking at what's true.

In my usage, "fake" doesn't necessarily mean "wrong". It means something more like "illusory". The point of a framework, to me, is that it pumps intuition and highlights clusters and possible Gears. But all of that is coming from your mind, not the territory. When you don't yet know how much to trust a framework, I think it's especially helpful to have clear signs on its boundaries saying "You are now entering a domain of intentional self-induced hallucination."

Like, it's worth remembering that you don't see molecules. When you look at a glass of water and think "Oh, that's dihydrogen monoxide", if you can't tell that that's a thought you're adding and not what you&... (read more)

Oh, haha, I should be more careful when using a phone interface to read these comments. I visually missed that you'd said: So, yep, basically that.
I'd just like to point out that this leads to a interpretation of map and territory that is really weird from the perspective of the bayesian-skeptical correspondence theory given in the sequences. If I were to give a name pointing at what this metaphysics is, I'd say something like "direct realism". This is not to say that it is wrong.
Yep, I agree. I'm also concerned that the theory you're pointing out has an ontology problem. I'm hoping to get to spelling my concern out — but that's several posts later in the sequence.
I would say that it's fake in that we're not literally actors playing roles while being unaware of it, events in our life are not literally scenes in a play, etc. Lots of metaphors that are easy to understand and which import useful reasoning rules from the domain of theater, but the things that they refer to are probably implemented quite differently in brains.
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This is the clearest description of this model of social reality that I've seen – I found the metaphors easy to work with, and appreciated the degree of ways it built on itself.

It's making me think about a few other fake frameworks and how they fit together.

The first half of this post reminded me a lot of Melting Asphalt's Personhood essay. The shared concept is having a interface that makes it easier to plug into a social network. But the scene metaphor was a helpful lens that oriented my thinking slightly differently (and in particular, instead of thinking in terms of "everyone uses the same interfaces so that they tile easily", there are multiple roles which can fit together depending on context).

I'm also interested in how this fits (or doesn't) with the Elephant / Rider metaphor [aka Barrel of Monkeys + Wrangle or Monkeys + Voicebox or whatever]. The Player vs Character model is interesting in that... I think the Character is the one whose more of the PR Agent, which I normally associate with the 'Rider' and conscious thought.

I don't think the mapping quite makes sense, but insofar as Player == Elephant, this is a framing wherein it makes more sense to me to "identify with" the Elephant.

I will note that the metaphor I found least intuitive was calling the network "Omega" – I'd personally have named the post "The Improv Scene Model of Social Reality" or something, rather than focusing on that. But YMMV.

I do think having a unique name for this post to make it easier to refer to (without concept clashing with similarly-named posts) would be handy.

That makes sense. I do want to reference this as akin to Omega from Newcomb's Problem, though. That'll become very, very relevant in a future post. But from where you're standing, I think what you're saying makes a lot of sense.

Might I propose renaming the post The Social Improv Web? Like Raemon, I think that "Real World Omega", while being an important component of what you're saying here, is less likely to act as a sticky handle for this post.

Perhaps leave the old title in a parenthetical for continuity's sake: The Social Improv Web (aka "Real World Omega").

(I have written on naming concepts to reduce incidents of people thinking they understand terms they haven't even heard before)

I strongly support renaming the post into something like "The Social Improv Web".
Mmm… strong mixed feelings. I agree about the general point about naming. I worry that "The Social Improv Web" creates a different wrong impression though. Also, none of these are names I natively use for it, but I've started to refer to the emergent distributed intelligence sometimes as "Omega", which totally matches stuff about Newcomblike problems that I'll be talking about later. (The mythic mode name I use for it is "Fate"… but I don't want to embed mythic mode in the way we talk about the framework here. I'd rather keep in mind that mythic mode is one possible implementation.) I think I, personally, will close to never remember to call it "the social improv web". So… I'm not yet persuaded. But I like the thing you're trying to address, and the effort you put into it.
I do get the concern you have here, although I at least worth checking if something like "Omega, the Social Web" or some such permutation works.
After reading your Mythic Mode post, and before seeing this comment, I was trying to think of a possible mythic mode name for this other than Omega. Hermaeus Mora, a Lovecraftian-like being from the Elder Scrolls video game series, overpowers any other ideas in my head: He/it also looks like a bunch of tentacles, which is sort of web like. I don't think this is remotely a name that could spread, but when I recalled that I thought of him as Herman when I played the game, I became very amused at the idea of calling "The Intelligent Social Web" by the name Herman.
I don't like the name "Social Improv Web" for this thing in particular. The handles I'm mostly taking away from this article are "roles" and "the web." So my suggested names would be "Your Role in the Web" or "The Web" [lol "Web" stopped looking like a word to me]
Okay, persuaded. How's this? (Unfortunately, this breaks links to this post…)

It does not! We were smart and clever and the english-looking part of the link is basically irrelevant – all the work is being done by the hash part of the url.

See also:

Woohoo! I am pleased to be wrong here!
Agreed. "Omega" already refers to too many other things in our discourse. I almost didn't open this post because I thought it would be about decision theory/ Newcomb. One reason Moloch works is that's it's an old reference that wasn't currently being used to describe a hundred other things. In keeping with the theme, how about calling the social network something like Hestia, Vesta, or Eunomia. You can write a post personifying it in a poetic and mythic way. Omega can be her son with Hephaestus, if you like. If you wait too long to change it, it's going to stay Omega by default, and I think that would be a BAD thing.
For what it’s worth, the mythic mode name I usually give the social web is “Fate”, and the mythic name I give scripts played out in the web is “fates”. As in, “It’s his fate to be poor, so Fate will see to it that his business does not succeed.”
Val did mention he planned to tie it more explicitly in with Omega and decision theory later in the series, so I don't think this particular approach would make sense.

Are social roles really that arbitrary though? I think of it as more of a market, where your position is determined by what you have to sell and for how much. For example, if you're good looking, that means your goods are better. If you're insecure, your prices are higher, and so on. Then people come together and work out a trade. Telling yourself that the market is a shared hallucination (or distributed computation, or whatever) won't change anyone else's incentives, so it won't change your market position. Better to change your goods and asking price and let the market float you up.

Yes, I think so. What I think you're highlighting are the constraints that emerge from (a) roles and scripts that have been chosen and (b) environmental factors. That second one is a bit like "The scene has to involve a stuffed bear somehow." That certainly shapes what happens, but it doesn't overwhelm the role choices. It just interacts with them. Also, whether someone is considered attractive, or insecure, is often determined in large part by their position in the web. Yes, there can be genetic factors that make someone seem visibly more or less genetically fit… but it's pretty impressive how attractive someone can be if it's in common knowledge that everyone desires that person. But these roles being so "arbitrary" doesn't mean you can just switch them up. You're right, they're highly constrained by context. In the OP, I described this as a question of slack.
No mention of personal qualities that determine what you can supply to others and what you demand in return? Do you think anyone could have the right personal qualities if they were put in the right role? That seems wrong, I couldn't lead the troops as well as Napoleon. The same thing happens in markets.
Ah, I think we're missing each other through different usage of terminology. I now think you're trying to point at individuals' resources that they bring into the interactions with other individuals. E.g., assumedly there was something intrinsic to Napoleon that made him a great leader of troops. Let me know if I'm missing you there. When I translate that into the framework I'm using in the OP, I focus on three things: * I would call factors that are intrinsic to individuals part of the "environment". E.g., genetic gifts are environment. This is in the sense that a scene is shaped in part by what's in the set, how energetic and responsive the players are, etc. * A lot of things that we think of as intrinsic to individuals are actually a result of their position in the web. Hence my comment about people's attractiveness based on where they are in the web. (And yes, I agree, that happens in markets too. That's not a disagreement. I think you're noticing an overlap in the patterns that two different frameworks point at.) * People are usually prevented from reaching and holding roles they can't execute. I posit that you in fact aren't in a position like Napoleon's in large part because you lack the native abilities in question, and the web is accounting for that.

Well, yeah. Your view seems reasonable enough on its own terms. The reason I'm being a bit naggy in the comments here is because I've got my own pet framework, which has some claim to being the next step after yours in terms of improving life outcomes :-) The market thing. I'll try to explain why I like it so much.

There seems to be a natural progression in how people think about success:

1) Success comes from being better than others

2) Success comes from ~some mind hack~

3) Success comes from trading with others

Imagine you're unhappy about your lot in life. The natural response is to grit your teeth and follow (1), trying to improve yourself so people flock to you. That's a healthy response in many ways. But then there are so many self-help books explaining how reality is in your mind (2), and you can look at it differently to get ahead! That sounds like an amazing opportunity, but to me it's not much different from (1). You're still trying to improve your position, like everyone else, but now you're also using shortcuts. Like everyone else.

The real jump is from (2) to (3), where you realize that you can't succeed alone. You've got to pull someone else along. And once you accept that... (read more)

I like this a lot as well, I was operating under assumption (1) until probably 2 or 3 years ago, until I realized the main value I derive from being better than others is the warm fuzzy of immediately teaching them the thing. So success (1) is self-defeating. To fully appreciate this I had to disentangle the warm fuzzy of "pretending to teach while lording over" which is admittedly good but nowhere as good as actually watching the other person improve because of my efforts.
I'd be excited to see a top-level post from you elaborating on this with some examples.
Valentine isn't a hedgehog about this framework. The point of calling it a fake-framework is to make it clear that it isn't the one-framework to explain everything. Given that frameworks are useful intuition pumps having multiple useful frameworks allows you to generate more useful ideas. Not all value exchange is about market-based trading. David Ronfeld lays out Tribes/Hierarchies/Markets/Networks in "In Search of How Societies Work". When I ask on StackExchange a question I don't think it's helpful to think of how I trade with the person who will answer my question. It's more useful to think in terms of roles. There are certain cultural exceptions by the StackExchange community and when I write StackExchange answers it's more useful to think about living up to those norms than thinking about how to trade with people answering. StackExchange follows network norms of value creation.
Huh? StackExchange has karma! So does LW. The value exchange mechanism is exposed for all to see. Reputation systems are designed markets. They also complement goods markets (Amazon, eBay, Yelp). And there's intermediate cases like social media, where companies promote their content by making it upvote-worthy. Thinking that you do stuff to follow norms misses the point: you follow norms to make a profit.
Popper made the point that one of the problems with Marxism is that the Marxist has no problem to see any conflict as being about class struggle. In the same way you can see every problem as being about market and fit them into that perspective. On StackExchange you find bad question and answer getting downvotes even when that costs the people who downvote karma. You wouldn't expect that behavior to happen as often it it would be a market where participants purely optimize for getting their questions answered, earning karma and badges. People desire to do work on StackExchange that doesn't bring them karma. People work through review queues even when that doesn't bring them karma to help the project. If you start to look at a problem with multiple lenses you see more aspects of it and that helps generating new solutions.
I would add: 4) Success comes from collaborating with others Trade is one way to have an economic interaction where value is created, because each of us might value something twice as much as the other, so when we trade, we get more value. But we can also create value where no value existed before. If you and I play a game together that we both enjoy, we're not trading something: we're creating new experiences that we value. If you and I start a company together, we might be selling our products on a market, but the value we're creating by working together is probably something that neither of us had on our own, therefore not well-modelled as a "trade". Some might argue this is the same as 3, but it seems like an important distinction to me, and very relevant to improv, also.
Why? If you think this, then I start suspecting you might consider everything to be 'arbitrary'. What does 'not arbitrary' look like? Like, let's say I have a genetic gift like photographic memory. And then I start playing the role as a person who remembers things that they've seen. Maybe people make jokes about it. Or they ask me what was in the paper this morning. Would this still be considered an arbitrary social role?
I now think the word "arbitrary" is shifting meaning around as different people use it. I'd like to taboo it. Here are some things that, by my model, contribute to defining someone's position in the web: * Their genes. * The situation that they were born into. (E.g., who their parents are, in the web.) * Major physical events around them. (E.g., earthquakes.) * Physical constraints of their environment. (E.g., living in non-fertile land.) * The positions in the web that people they interact with hold. I doubt that's exhaustive — but I think it might be close. I'm reading a bunch of this thread as folk interpreting me as saying that genetic gifts don't matter. That's not my stance. I think genetic gifts do in fact matter — but I suspect I think they matter differently than other people think they do. E.g., many people might think that someone is a natural leader when what's really going on is just that they're tall and can easily put on muscle and have symmetric features and were thus raised to practice playing a role that looks leader-like. But it's helpful to the web for people to think and talk as though the people they've chosen for leadership roles have various virtues that make them worthy. I think it's helpful to distinguish between recursive factors (your role helps define my role, which helps define your role, etc.) and non-recursive factors (e.g., being tall, or being in a drought). The non-recursive factors define the things that the recursive ones have to address. But the recursive ones define what people treat as real about the non-recursive ones. That doesn't depend on whether the thing is intrinsic to a person (as with genes) or not (as with rain). E.g., climate change has a similar kind of "web-woven reality dominates perception of physical reality" thing going on as with people who claim that Tally McTallface just seems more Presidential. Hence my wanting to think of genes as part of the "scene" rather than as part of someone's "role". Co
FWIW, my current belief is that 'tall' functions as something like a Schelling point. it only slightly grants 'leadership ability' (in that, if you're tall, i'm more likely to be able to SEE you in a crowd, and if you wanted to give me directions, that seems relevant; also taller means i have to look up to see your face, and this costs ME more than YOU, and so given you get natural energy savings in interactions, this is some indication of who has more resources; i expect things like this to compound). anyway, being tall was probably a much more useful leadership ability way back when, but now it is not a super good indicator. but given the lack of other more correlated signals that are fast to assess, tall is a natural Schelling point over short. and having Schelling points for this seems useful. when i enter a room, i want to immediately be able to guess what people's relative status positions are. ideally before i hear them say anything. (because, as you say, i just wanna know what my role is goddamnit!) my sense is there's something that bothers you about 'tall' ~ 'leader' and it doesn't seem to bother me. so that's where i get curious.
This almost seems too obvious to say, but one reason to be bothered by the move from "tall" to "leader" is that sometimes you want your group to have a leader with skills that cause the group to succeed, and the most optimal choice for that might not be the tallest person.
The discussion about leadership reminded me that siderea has written an absolutely fascinating analysis (part 1, part 2) about leadership; the one problem with the analysis is that it basically requires you to have read at least the first 65 pages of Watership Down. But if you have done that, it's an excellent analysis about how leadership (or kingship as she calls it) isn't a really a formal position in the way that we think about it, but rather about you relate to others in the social web, and how those others relate to you in turn. That seems like a very appropriate perspective for this thread. A couple of quotes:
Tallness is also reasonably strong evidence of good genes and nutrition.
I think the height thing is a holdover from childhood: someone taller than you is older and more adult-like, so you should do what they say.
oh, maybe you're only bothered by people claiming a hand-wavy 'natural leadership' thing when in fact it's stuff like 'they're tall and handsome'. i would agree that is not ideal than being more aware of this kind of thing. belief reporting seems to help suss it out?
My guess is that about 70% of attractiveness is explained by objective factors, or at least highly inter-subjective factors that are not that dependent on the role someone is playing. There are some studies on this that I read a while ago, this one seems relevant but not the one I remember:
I would be wary of thinking of social roles as a market. There's something about social interactions that isn't market related, and bringing up prices seems to be able to make people's relationships less fulfilling. At least according to Dan Ariely in the book Predictably Irrational. "...once a social norm is trumped by a market norm—it will rarely return." Quick Googling of market vs social norms (or some variation on that) brought up tons of links, but this one does an okay job of summarizing what the book said about it:
Agree with the second part - trade is low status (because it means people aren't rewarding you for inherent qualities). Disagree with the first part - trade is still what's going on, just not with money. It's always a good idea to understand what the other person is buying from you and at what price. The world is full of people who thought they were being rewarded for inherent qualities. Then they accidentally withdrew the thing that was being traded, and lost relationships as a result. Eliezer had a nice essay about it recently.

One lesson I think is really important to draw from this framework is responsibly using the power you have in any given social web. What behaviors from the people around you do you reinforce or punish? Having more choice about what you do here can make a big difference to the behavior of the web depending on your placement in it, although of course your reinforcement is subject to its own meta-reinforcement from others. (At the very least, it's interesting to try being deliberate about what you reinforce and punish, and notice what resistance you get internally and externally from doing so.)

Edit: It will perhaps come as no surprise that I think this is something you can learn via circling. Reinforcement and meta-reinforcement are often implicit and circling is an opportunity to make them explicit so you can vividly see them happening in real time: A punishes B, C punishes A for punishing B, D notices and calls out this dynamic, A punishes D for doing this, etc. Of course it helps a lot to have facilitators skilled enough to manage these sorts of dynamics.

Fantastic post! I knew that my social environment was super-important for guiding my actions, but this made me realize I might once again have underestimated its significance.

I'm reminded of Kevin Simler's "Personality: An Ecosystems Perspective":

Every class has its clown, because “class clown” is a strong, viable niche (even if it’s not particularly wide) — a stable attractor in the social behavior-space of a classroom. If a class doesn’t yet have its clown, someone will inevitably find that making a wisecrack is rewarded (with social approval in the form of laughter), and before you know it, he or she will be cracking wise at every opportunity.
But like I said, there are far more niches, which are far more nuanced, than just the ones we’ve learned to identify by name. “Alpha,” for example, doesn’t refer to a single niche, but rather a whole class of niches that happen to share a particular feature (being on top). There are many different types of “alpha” niches — leading by intimidation, leading by example, leading by wits and with humor, servant leadership, having an inherited titled (kingdoms etc.), leading with the support of the people, etc.
When it comes to
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I had an extremely nerdy friend group in college, which led to weird effects since we couldn't all be "the nerd". One of my friends still gets annoyed at the fact that she became the "jock" and the "sensible person", just because she was slightly less helpless at life than the rest of us. Her reaction seems to be something like, "I'm for real actually a nerd, why are you making me play this other role??"

Promoted to frontpage.

I've been trying to clarify my thinking on social reality, and this post has helped. The idea that the scene is a thing that exists outside of the actors in it is a very helpful framing.

It also helps me clarify some of the problems I had when I was deep in the uncanny valley of rationality. I grew a strong aversion to anything that smelt like a role, and I also had no idea how I actually wanted to act around other people. This resulted in me either playing and old role and resenting it, or being as non-interactive as I could be without weirding people out.

" A few months later he told me he’d converted. Last I heard they had moved to Utah. "

This seems more easily explainable as a Crony Belief. The new belief was very valuable and useful to him, therefore it was adopted as true.

Its value as an epistemic belief plummeted as its value as a crony belief soared since the existence or non-existence of god doesn't have value to people's everyday lives (in the way that an armed robber or cancer diagnosis does).

I claim that most of us, most of the time, are playing out characters as defined by the surrounding web — and we usually haven’t a clue how to Look at this fact, much less intentionally use our web slack to change our stories.

Hmm, question – I didn't read the entirety of the Kensho comments, but I'm unclear whether your use of the word "Look" here is an archetypical example of the thing you were meaning to convey in the Kensho post, or if it's just something that could use a similar metaphor to explain a la cell phone world, or som... (read more)

Mmm, I'm a little confused about what exactly your question is. I think you're trying to ask how my use of "Look" here relates to the kind of "Look" I refer to in my post on kenshō. I'll try to answer that question — but if that's not the question you meant, please let me know! I claim that there is just one core skill, which I'm calling "Looking". But once one knows how to Look, there are lots of things to Look at. I don't know what you mean when you ask whether the example is "archetypical" — it certainly doesn't strike me as being an archetypal image — but it's definitely an example of applying the skill I was pointing at in Kenshō. In the cell phone analogy, this would be that once someone knows how to look up at all, it becomes possible to point out different kinds of things that they can use "looking up" for. They can go look at cell towers, or watch pedestrian traffic flow directly, or lock eyes with someone else who's looking up. They're all different applications, but they all pivot on the same core skill. For a sillier analogy: in the roleplaying game Mage: the Ascension, a mage's magical power comes from their degree of enlightenment, which is measured by the trait called Arete; but what they can use their magical power on is determined by what bodies of knowledge and practice they've mastered, called Spheres. If we are analogous to (potential) mages, then Looking is analogous to using Arete, and different worthwhile things to Look at and come to understand deeply are analogous to the domains governed by Spheres.

Your first two paragraphs mostly answered my question – I'm mostly trying to get a clearer sense of what you mean by Look, and whether it always refers to the same thing.

A different question to circumambulate. :P

Can you describe briefly (nevermind about me necessarily "getting it" in full), 2-3 examples of you Looking at something, and 2-3 examples of you doing something I might mistake for Looking but which is not the same thing, or only superficially similar?

Can you describe briefly (nevermind about me necessarily "getting it" in full), 2-3 examples of you Looking at something, and 2-3 examples of you doing something I might mistake for Looking but which is not the same thing, or only superficially similar?

Oh man. I really like this question! Happy to oblige… though that second part is going to be super tricky. I can give lots of non-examples, but you're asking for non-examples that I think you might think are examples. I'm less confident I can do that well. But I'll try!

Some positive examples (briefly, without trying to explain in full):

  • Sometimes in conversations I've noticed that my mind has started moving quickly, and I feel a bit anxious, and when I try to think about why I get a mental fog or I forget what I was thinking about. This is a signal to me that I'm probably running some subconscious strategy. So sometimes I'll pause, and Look behind the wall of fog or forgetfulness, and hold that whole section of my mind as object. Often it tries to squirm out of reach, but I can See where it's squirming, and why, and just trace it to its root.
  • A while back I was interacting with a friend of a
... (read more)

Yup, quite good. I'll have to think on it a bit but was exactly the sort of answer I was looking for.

I'd hadn't meant to force you do a more-cognitively-intense "model me modeling Looking" thing, and maybe an easier question might have been "what's something you think a past, less experienced version of you might have thought was looking" or "what's a common mistaken impression you might think people might make" or "when people ask you to explain Looking, what's your surprise-o-meter expecting to come across wrong?"

Like, in the kensho post it was clear that you were afraid of falling into the "I am looking higher on my screen" trap, so it seemed like you had some kind of notion of what that would non-metaphorically look like, which is what I was trying to get at.

Like, in the kensho post it was clear that you were afraid of falling into the "I am looking higher on my screen" trap, so it seemed like you had some kind of notion of what that would non-metaphorically look like, which is what I was trying to get at.

Oh! Oh jeez. That makes a lot of sense. I can give tons of examples of that! That's a very different thing in my mind.

Heh, although, I should warn that giving examples of this is prone to starting arguments. Just tag all of this as "Val's interpretations of the world" and we're good. :-)

So with that, here's a few:

  • For a few months before my kenshō, ialdabaoth kept telling me that I had a social strategy that was being really annoying to him, something something sexual competition something something. I kept listening to what he was saying and thinking carefully about it, and I tried to do focusing on it, but it felt weird and I kept thinking that he was probably wrong (but as a general policy I kept in mind that I might just be deluded). This contrasts with right after the kenshō: one of the first things I Looked at was my sexual strategy system. If I remember right, I laughed and said something
... (read more)
Just wanted to note that I really like the phrasing of your question and think it's a quality move for circumambulating Valentine's position. (I'm also very interested in the response)

I am the only person who doesn't really understand the Omega analogy?

I can see some similarities, as Newcomb's problem involves predictions, but here Omega isn't trying to nudge you to do what it predicts you will do, but instead tries to make sure that you benefit from one-boxing, instead of two boxing. Is the similarity any greater than Omega being really good at predictions in both cases.

Omega also feels out-of-place to me. While it feels like the Web exists as a Thing with properties which can lead attitudes / etc. to propagate, painting it as the archetypal omniscient alien we've come to know doesn't really fit.

Could I offer a thought on style?

I think this is a tremendous piece and there's at least 3-4 very remarkable insights in here... I wonder if it could be a transcendent piece with a bit more editing for tightness?

EX — if the piece had cut most of the preliminary and opened with "When you walk into an improv scene, you usually have no idea what role you’re playing. All you have is some initial prompt — something like:" — it would have grabbed attention faster. Then the core point from the improv scene could have been made 30% shorter/tighter b... (read more)

Characters often want change as part of their role. And just as importantly, their role often requires that they can't achieve that change. The tension between craving and deprivation gives birth to the character's dramatic raison d'être. The "wife" can't be as clingy and anxious if the "husband" opens up, so "she" enacts behavior that "she" knows will make "him" close down. "She" can't really choose to change this because "her" thwarted desire for change is part of "her" role.

I'm conflicted about drawing this kind of conclusions from people behaviour, it ... (read more)

I think this post introduces a useful concept / way of thinking that I kept applying in my own life since reading it and that helped me understanding and dealing with certain social situations.

In most cases, I don't think this is malice. It's just that they need the scene to work.


I'm really excited about this post on a whole bunch of levels.

One post on my list of posts to write is called something like "Everything is Improv", and I feel like you captured a decent fraction of what I want to say in that post, here! Plus a ton of additional pieces that I hadn't yet notice or connected yet. These two sections in particular felt very important:

"Another challenge here is that the part of us that feels like it’s thinking and talking is (usually) analogous to a character in an improv scene. The players know they’re
... (read more)

Powerful improv metaphor. Powerful post.

Ah, but if we’re immersed in a culture where status and belonging are tied to changing our minds, and we can signal that we’re open to updating our beliefs, then we’re good… as long as we know Goodhart’s Demon isn’t lurking in the shadows of our minds here. But surely it’s okay, right? After all, we’re smart and we know Bayesian math, and we care about truth! What could possibly go wrong?

The trickiness of roles that involve the disidentification with specific ... (read more)

Supposing I know how to Look, when and where do I Look, and what might I see? For my own purposes, I want to get a better idea of what my own role Looks like, see where I can move within the slack that I have, and see where tension in the web is coming from so that I can create more slack if needed.

Yep. From the OP: You're watching for the way that stories arise and play out, how people are falling into characters, the way that justifications arise in you, etc. And… you're noticing the gap that's between all of them. The sort of canvas on which it's all written. This can't be analytical, since that's within the character part of you. You have to watch your character and the whole scene from the transcendental not-knowing space that can never be tangled up in the web. After a while, I claim, you can sort of "get" what the underlying patterns are, and how to act on them from outside your character. And how to lean into your character in order to produce the right effects on the web strands around you. And where you, the player, have room to reach for and tug on a different role for yourself. And what the consequences are for the web as a whole. But in the meantime, you're just Looking at how the scene plays out, in detail, from the not-knowing. Does that help?
3Vanessa Kosoy
I found this essay insightful, but I am still confused by the concept of "Looking" (in the sense that, not only I don't understand the concept, which would be okay, I don't even understand the type signature of the concept). When you say "This can't be analytical... You have to watch... from the transcendental not-knowing space", do you mean that Looking is a mental motion that relies on mechanisms other than analytical thought (for example, on intuition), but which still happens within your biological brain, governed by the usual rules of cell membrane electrochemistry, and which in particular can theoretically be simulated by a computer program designed according to perfectly "analytical" principles, or, do you mean something which happens outside the laws of physics as we currently ("analytically") understand them?
The former.
Ah, I remember having the distinct impression of drawing a blank when reading that sentence. Your further description helps, but it's feeling a little vague. I think I can kind of see it in my memory of past interactions, but I don't think I have enough of a handle on it that it seems like I could have done much differently. The referent of "not-knowing," and what it is not-knowing of is fuzzy/not so clear to me (though as I am writing all of this, it is becoming clearer and clearer). Is it not-knowing of how the scene will unfold? Of what the scene is? Of the roles we are playing? All of the above? This does give me something that I can pay attention for in future social situations though and I'm pretty sure I can discover how to look at these things now, especially to see if I can achieve any of this:
Pretty sure I have a handle on it now.
I find myself wanting to do the annoying zen thing of answering "mu". I think that's the most accurate answer. I'll try saying more words, though, to offer an illusion of it being more satisfying: You're trying really hard to understand what it is that you're not knowing. Or rather, your character is trying really hard at this. Whether it succeeds by its own standards or not is totally irrelevant. If you Look, honestly, at what it is that you do not know, you'll See what I mean. I claim.

Fascinating essay. It put into words a lot of inferences I've been independently making, while also suggesting a fun angle (the distributed social computations) to look at it from.

I suspect the framework is less fake in certain aspects than might seem at first glance, too! As in, it actually corresponds to some mechanical realities of how human minds are implemented. In terms of the post I've linked, you could view "stopping" as momentarily ignoring the self-model you've derived and looking at the actual shards that implement your values (and then re-compi... (read more)

The subtext is only clear in retrospect.

This post gave me an important set of intuitions and things to be on a watch for. What stands out the most clearly in my mind are:

  • The notion of the social web acting as an agent in its own right, and being on a watchout for things which might violate existing scripts
  • The thing where, after your role is explained to you, you try to act based on that new information... while still continuing to re-enact your same role, as you don't really know how else to act.

I do think that these things were not explained with as much rigor as might have been good: but

... (read more)

Love this post. As I was thinking about your Intelligent Social Web, it occurred to me that all this character-playing is serving an important role, it is adding value or it would have died out ages ago. In a small ancestral tribe, it is easy to see how this kind of web-force is keeping the whole tribe operating smoothly.

I've a question about times when we are called upon to clearly play a limited role, such as small talk. I really find it unsatisfying and dislike it. I'm curious if/how your relation to small talk has changed after you learned t... (read more)


If you move away and then make new friends and sort of become a new person (!), you might at first think this is just who you are now. But then you visit your parents… and suddenly you feel and act a lot like you did before you moved away. You might even try to hold onto this “new you” with them… and they might respond to what they see as strange behavior by trying to nudge you into acting “normal”:

worth tying this into the subject object transition of the kegan stages of development. See here - (read more)

Actually thinking in a way that for real changes your mind in ways that defy your web-given role is socially deviant, and therefore personally dangerous, and therefore something you’re motivated not to learn how to do.

When reading that, I think it's a good reason why Quantified Self is so hard. Looking at data and making real changes about yourself based on it is emotionally taxing.

I would be interested in seeing this expanded to talk about what the change you can create by stopping is.

My initial thought is that humans have to exist in one of these stories to participate in society, but stopping could allow you to realize you want to change stories completely.

Maybe it is also possible to dramatically influence the story you are already in, but this seems less likely as the other characters would have to accept that change.

A concrete example of this is giving up drinking. If you give up drinking you usually need new friends. You won't enjoy the story anymore because you aren't drinking, and your old friends won't want a downer like you around.

This really made me think of Gandalf, as being a superb conductor/chef of the social web, based on very raw ingredients (Bilbo, Frodo, Aragorn).

What is the internal experience of playing the role? Where does it come from? Is there even a coherent category of internal experience that lines up with this, or is it a pattern that shows up only in aggregate?

[The rest of this comment is mostly me musing.] For example, when people in a room laugh or smile, I frequently find myself laughing or smiling with them. I have yet to find a consistent precursor to this action; sometimes it feels forced and a bit shaky, like I'm insecure and fear a certain impact or perception of me. But often it's not that, a... (read more)

Actually, update: Apparently I can't link to the old Less Wrong wiki. There's some kind of automatic script that's messing up the URLs. E.g., the very last link is intended to go here:

…but instead tries to go here:

…and then complains that that place doesn't exist.

So, apologies for some of the links being broken.

4Ben Pace
Sorry about that. Does it still mess up if you get rid of the 'https://' ?
I have also had some linking problems of a similar style.
Yep, looks like. I also notice that another link to the old LW wiki does not go wonky this way. I'm not sure why the system is particular about linking to rationalization! :-P
Ah, sorry. I figured it out. There is a bug right now where links sometimes do weird things when you use them simultaneously with other styling. I.e. bold or underline or italic. And you had a link that had some italic text in the middle of it, and so that had some unintended effects. I just removed the italic for now, and am looking into how we can fix the general problem. Happy to delete this whole thread if we don't want it to take up a bunch of unnecessary space in the discussions section.
Woohoo! Thanks! Deleting this thread seems fine by me.

maybe she wants to say that she is a stoic representative, and a stoic girl does not need flowers and sex?