"Epiphany addiction"

by cousin_it1 min read3rd Aug 201294 comments


Pitfalls of RationalitySuperstimuli

LW doesn't seem to have a discussion of the article Epiphany Addiction, by Chris at succeedsocially. First paragraph:

"Epiphany Addiction" is an informal little term I came up with to describe a process that I've observed happen to people who try to work on their personal issues. How it works is that someone will be trying to solve a problem they have, say a lack of confidence around other people. Somehow they'll come across a piece of advice or a motivational snippet that will make them have an epiphany or a profound realization. This often happens when people are reading self-help materials and they come across something that stands out to them. People can also come up with epiphanies themselves if they're doing a lot of writing and reflecting in an attempt to try and analyze their problems.

I like that article because it describes a dangerous failure mode of smart people. One example was the self-help blog of Phillip Eby (pjeby), where each new post seemed to bring new amazing insights, and after a while you became jaded. An even better, though controversial, example could be Eliezer's Sequences, if you view them as a series of epiphanies about AI research that didn't lead to much tangible progress. (Please don't make that statement the sole focus of discussion!)

The underlying problem seems to be that people get a rush of power from neat-sounding realizations, and mistake that feeling for actual power. I don't know any good remedy for that, but being aware of the problem could help.

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One example was the self-help blog of Phillip Eby (pjeby), where each new post seemed to bring new amazing insights, and after a while you became jaded.

Er, you do realize I stopped most of my blogging for more or less that reason, right?

Around that time, I started pushing for a (partly LW-inspired) greater focus on empirical improvement in my work, because there was just too much randomness in how long the effects of my then-current techniques would last. Some things were permanent or nearly-so, and others might only last a few days or weeks... and I had no reliable way to predict what the outcome of a particular instance of application would be.

It was a tough shift, because at the time I also had no way to know for sure that anything more reliable or predictable in fact existed, but unlike the more "faith-based" self-help folks, I couldn't just keep ignoring the anomalies in my results.

The good news is I got over that hump and developed more reliable methods. The bad news is that it didn't involve brilliant simple epiphanies, but lots and lots of little hard-won insights and the correlation of tons of practical knowledge.

(And one of those bits of practical knowledg... (read more)

creating my own Sequences

Please do!

1Thinkchronous7yHoping to find more epiphanies?

Phillip, I apologize for using you as an example, but will still keep it in the post because it's such a nice example :-) It's very good to hear that you came to similar conclusions eventually, I didn't know that!

it's such a nice example :-)

Perhaps it would become an even better example, then, by adding a link to the relevant post, e.g. "and after a while you became jaded, until even he realized it was a loop". ;-)

And then you move on to meta-epiphanies…

Wow, it's scary how quickly my mind reacted to protect this particular meta-epiphany from being lumped with the others, even though I've known it for years.

Think of it as superstimulus to the cool-idea sensor.

Thought exercise: could all the LW/CFAR-favoured model of epistemic rationality be ineffective, even though it sounds really good and make sense? What would the world look like in this case? What would you expect if LW rationality didn't actually work, except to convince its fans that it did work? (For a value of "work" that is defined before examining the results.)

could all the LW/CFAR-favoured model of epistemic rationality be ineffective, even though it sounds really good and make sense?

Effective at what? I agree with Yvain that:

I think it may help me succeed in life a little, but I think the correlation between x-rationality and success is probably closer to 0.1 than to 1. Maybe [higher] in some businesses like finance, but people in finance tend to know this and use specially developed x-rationalist techniques on the job already without making it a lifestyle commitment.

Hard work, intelligence, social skill, attractiveness, risk-taking, need for sleep, height, and enormous amounts of noise go into life success as measured by something like income or occupational status. So unless there were a ludicrously large effect size of hanging around Less Wrong, differences in life success between readers and nonreaders would be overwhelmingly driven by selection effects. Now, in fact those selection effects put the LW population well above average (lots of college students, academics, software engineers, etc) but don't speak much to positive effects of their reading habits.

To get a good picture of that you would need a randomized experiment,... (read more)

6David_Gerard8yOK ... If someone asked you "So, there's a million words of these Sequences that you think I should read. What do I get out of reading them?" then what's the answer to that? You seem to be saying "we don't think they actually do anything much." Surely that's not the case.

Major elements to consider:

  • Mostly standard arguments, often with nonstandard examples and lively presentation, for a related cluster of philosophical views: physicalism, the appearance of free will as outgrowth of cognitive algorithm, his brand of metaethics, the Everett interpretation of quantum mechanics, the irrelevance of verbal disputes, etc.

  • A selective review of the psychology heuristics and biases literature, with entertaining examples and descriptions

  • A bunch of suggested heuristics, based on personal experience and thought, for debiasing, e.g. leaving a line of retreat to reduce resistance

  • Some thoughtful exposition of applications of intro probability and Bayes' theorem, e.g. conservation of expected evidence

  • Interesting reframings and insights into a number of philosophical problems using the Solomonoff Induction framework, and the "how could this intuition emerge from an algorithm?" approach

  • Debate about AI with Robin, a science fiction story, a bunch of meta posts, and assorted minor elements

"So, there's a million words of these Sequences that you think I should read. What do I get out of reading them?" then what's the answer to that?

... (read more)
4lukeprog8yAlso see one mathematician's opinion: Yes, a blog [http://lesswrong.com/lw/33j/yes_a_blog/].
2Jonii8ySequences contain a rational world view. Not a comprehensive one, but still, it gives some idea about how to avoid thinking stupid and how to communicate with other people that are also trying to find out what's true and what's not. It gives you words by which you can refer to problems in your world view, meta-standards to evaluate whether whatever you're doing is working, etc. I think of it as an unofficial manual to my brain and the world that surrounds me. You can just go ahead and figure out yourself what works, without reading manuals, but reading a manual before you go makes you better prepared.
5David_Gerard8yThat's asserting the thing that the original question [http://lesswrong.com/lw/dxr/epiphany_addiction/754p] asked to examine: how do we know that this is a genuinely useful manual, rather than something that reads like the manual and makes you think "gosh, this is the manual!" but following it doesn't actually get you anywhere much? What would the world look like if it was? What would the world look like if it wasn't? Note that there are plenty of books (particularly in the self-help field [http://lesswrong.com/lw/129/can_selfhelp_be_bad_for_you/]) that have been selected by the market for looking like the manual to life, at the expense of actually being the manual to life. This whole thread is about reading something and going "that's brilliant!" but actually it doesn't do much good.
2magfrump8yIt's an enjoyable read, which helps establish some good community norms? I'd value reading the sequences more than, say, a randomly selected novel (though maybe not randomly selected from novels that I have actually read.)
2David_Gerard8ySo, the Sequences and LessWrong in general are purely for entertainment purposes? That's fine, but that certainly wasn't the original idea, which was to be practical [http://lesswrong.com/lw/d3/less_meta/].
1magfrump8yYeah I am not sure how much practicality the sequences contain (although some other posts here have been practical) but that wouldn't stop me from recommending them.
5lukeprog8yFor the record, I agree with all this.
0MichaelVassar8yWhat EV calculations do you come up with? Also, same question as to Carl? Finally, what do your social circle think?
0lukeprog8yEV of what in particular?
0MichaelVassar8yLess Wrong sequences and related materials, their content, etc.
2lukeprog8yThat sounds like a very large analysis project. Maybe there's a simpler question I can answer? What's the final question you'd like to get at?
4MichaelVassar8ySomething like, if you were to direct community members to spend their time on activities other than making money for the purpose of donating it, what distribution of activities would you direct them to?

That's a difficult question, but a potentially valuable one to have answered. Here's a long list of thoughts I came up with, written not to Michael Vassar but to a regular supporter of SI:

  • Donations are maximally fungible and require no overhead or supervision. From the outside, you may not see how a $5000 donation to SI changes the world, but I sure as hell do. An extra $5000 means I can print 600 copies of a paperback of the first 17 chapters of HPMoR and ship one copy each to the top 600 most promising young math students (on observable indicators, like USAMO score) in the U.S. (after making contact with them whenever possible). An extra $5000 means I can produce nicely-formatted Kindle and PDF versions of The Sequences, 2006-2009 and Facing the Singularity. An extra $5000 means I can run a nationwide essay contest for the best high school essay on the importance of AI safety (to bring the topic to the minds of AI-interested high schoolers, and to find some good writers who care about AI safety). An extra $5000 means I can afford a bit more than a month of work from a new staff researcher (including salary, health coverage, and taxes).

  • Remember that a good volunteer is ha

... (read more)
2Mitchell_Porter8yThis might be appropriate for promoting CFAR (at least HPMoR talks about rationality), but surely not for promoting SI.
1Alicorn8yWhat are these habits?
3lukeprog8yIf we could identify them, we'd be mimicking them already. :)
3MichaelVassar8yCarl, you name a lot of factors as going into income and occupational status. What are your estimates for their respective effect sizes and correlations? I'm skeptical of the 'enormous amounts of noise' claim remaining the case after your list plus initial socio-economic endowment, health, specific skills and possibly a few other factors are accounted for. In fact, I'd expect the uncertainty due noise to be far less than the uncertainty in between person estimates of occupational status, a variable which different groups would measure quite differently from one-another. Also, estimates of the causal relationships between the factors in success would be nice.

I'm skeptical of the 'enormous amounts of noise' claim

Trivially, look at the wealth of Bill Gates vs Steve Jobs. Most of Peter Thiel's wealth relative to other past tech CEOs comes from one great hit at Facebook. Even entrepreneurs who have succeeded at past VC-backed startups are only moderately more likely to succeed (acquisition, IPO, large size) than new ones. Financiers vary hugely in lifetime career success based on market conditions on Wall Street when they finished school, on which product groups have ups and downs when, and which risky bets happen to blow up before or after they move on.

Within a given size of social circle and selective filter, happening to have the right friends with the right contacts (Jobs and Wozniak) at the right time is critical. Who else produces a similar startup at the same time and how good are they? Do key patents and lawsuits get decided in one's favor? What new scientific and technological innovations enhance or destroy the position of one's company?

At a smaller scale: when do you fall in love and get married? What geographical constraints does that place on you? Do you get hit by a car or infectious disease or cancer, and when? Do you get through noisy hiring processes in tight labor markets, e.g. tenure in academia, getting a first job on Wall Street? Do you click with the person deciding on your medical residency of choice?

We could quibble, but I'd leave it at that.

4MichaelVassar8ySo Jobs ended up with what, $6.7 Billion, http://www.forbes.com/profile/steve-jobs/ [http://www.forbes.com/profile/steve-jobs/] making him the 99.99999th percentile among Americans, after not bothering to become the 99.999995th percentile by cashing some options. Meanwhile, Gates started at the 98th or 99th percentile instead of the 60th or 80th percentile and, with a much higher IQ and much greater strategic ability but somewhat lesser over-all talent, rose by the same factor. The idea that Jobs had unusual luck by having one highly technically skilled friend (given Jobs' social skills no less), and by only having to compete head to head with Microsoft, is also faintly amusing. Point mine, I think. Regarding Gates, yes, it's true that a key lawsuit hurt his net worth, but not his wealth rank-order. Thiel likewise would only have a billion or two instead of three or four (depending on estimates of his non-public holdings like Palantir) without Facebook, lowering his average annual investment returns during the last decade, from about 50% (vs. nothing for the market) to about 40%. This fits with my general impression, and that of the world, that there's a significant absolute amount of luck in investment returns, enough to impact expected outcomes by a factor of 2 or so over a decade and thus a factor of 4 over a career. That makes a big impact in a retirement plan, but not in a business career. While we're on VC returns, if I'm not mistaken, the best VC firms often have >50% hit rates, and there aren't all that many VC firms. On a smaller scale, luck determines a very large part of life outcomes, but simply put, that's because most people do nothing with their lives, they simply drift on the wind and let social forces blow them around. If you control for the impact of one's effort applied to decisions, by not trying to make decisions in any deliberate manner but simply going with social pressure, you unsurprisingly find that random factors and not effortful dec
1aaronsw8yYvain's argument was that "x-rationality" (roughly the sort of thing that's taught in the Sequences) isn't practically helpful, not that nothing is. I certainly have read lots of things [http://lesswrong.com/lw/dya/what_are_the_optimal_biases_to_overcome/] that have significantly helped me make better decisions and have a better map of the territory. None of them were x-rational. Claiming that x-rationality can't have big effects because the world is too noisy, just seems like another excuse for avoiding reality [http://lesswrong.com/lw/dy8/a_cynical_explanation_for_why_rationalists_worry/].
3CarlShulman8yWhat effect size, assessed how, against what counterfactuals? If it's just "I read book X, and thought about it when I made decision Y, and I estimate that decision Y was right" we're in testimonial land, and there are piles of those for both epistemic and practical benefits (although far more on epistemic than practical). Unfortunately, those aren't very reliable. I was specifically talking about non-testimonials, e.g. aggregate effects vs control groups or reference populations to focus on easily transmissible data. Imagine that we try to take the best general epistemic heuristics we can find today, and send them back in book form to someone from 10 years ago. What effect size do you think they would have on income or academic productivity? What about 20 years? 50 years? Conditional on someone assembling, with some additions, a good set of heuristics what's your distribution of effect sizes?
0Zaine8yI'm wondering: how many people have noticed changes in the quality of their interpersonal reactions after becoming 'more rational' than they were before learning about applied rationality? How would those changes in quality be judged from both outside and inside views? (I use quotes, as each person will have a different metric by which they will judge an increase in rationality - and I can't think of a standard metric everyone can use for purposes of answering this query. To mitigate this variable, please state the metric you're using.)
9cousin_it8yI sympathize with the statement, which you may or may not have implied, that that world would look a lot like our world. But maybe we should make the question more concrete. What benefits do people honestly expect from LW rationality? Are they actually getting those benefits?
8David_Gerard8yI'm here because and while it's enjoyable - LW is marked as part of the Internet-as-TV time budget. That said, I feel more rational, I think because I'm paying attention to my thoughts. But e.g. I'm not actually richer and don't have a string of interesting new achievements under my belt. The outside view shows nothing. If your answer is "it would look like the world is now" - then what would the world look like if it was effective and did work, for whatever value of "work"? (I'm thinking a value something like "what one would expect trying a new thing like this and wanting to get tangible self-improvement value out of it", though I'm open to other possible values I haven't thought of.)
6MichaelVassar8yHard to say. My life would look completely different. I was honestly, for the most part, much happier before getting involved, but I'm certainly more effective now, to the point of not really occupying the same reference class in any useful sense.
5David_Gerard8yHave you written up how you got it to work for you? If not, then please do!
2[anonymous]8yPerhaps you have a metavalue favoring effectiveness over happiness: you value valuing effectiveness. But isn't happiness the terminal value, effectiveness the instrumental value? Usually people don't expressly strive for happiness because doing so tends to defeat the project (as Bertrand Russell pointed out in his book about achieving happiness), but it doesn't change that happiness (almost by definition) is what they (and you) ultimately strive for.
4MichaelVassar8yIn so far as happiness is what we strive for by definition the statement is vacant, and what is described as 'happiness' doesn't closely match the natural language meaning of the word.
1magfrump8yI would expect the following things to have failed: * Good community norms (this is a difficult problem that LW has solved admirably) * Using advice from LW to improve my social skills (this is actually sort of a subpoint of "if someone else does it better, LW points you to them") * Promotion of thinking about pet issues (this one failed by less than the others--the sequences pretty much cleaned out the god-hating but I'm constantly annoyed at people who don't have good epistemology) there's plenty more that is substantially less tangible, and YMMV, but those first two points have created a large amount of value for me personally.
0[anonymous]8yMaybe the world would look something like this. [http://lesswrong.com/lw/di4/reply_to_holden_on_the_singularity_institute/75an]

When I was young I was known as "the shy one," and I was awkward around girls. So I started reading instructional books on dating. A few chapters in, each book said "The most important thing is that you put down this book right now and go practice the thing I just told you to do." But I just kept reading, because I was learning so much, and having all those epiphanies felt like getting stronger.

After two years of epiphany addiction and no sex, I finally took some liquid courage and went out and actually talked to women. And then I started to become stronger.

If CFAR and the JDM community can invent an applied rationality that reliably makes people more powerful, it won't be because they've written lots of epiphany-producing writing. It will be because they've discovered teachable rationality skills that can be practiced day after day.

3aelephant8yAnalysis is essential, but it has a time & place. In the PUA community they even have a term for people stuck in the Analysis mode: "Keyboard Jockeys".
1Luke_A_Somers8yThat advice fights the natural tendency to read forward. It's always hard to get people to stop and do the exercises. Are there ways they could? Hmm... First, you could advise the reader to read through one time, then come back and do the advised exercises. That way they're not fighting the urge to read through... but then they're fighting the urge to put down the book. You could structure it kind of like a choose-your-own-adventure, with the choices being how your encounter went. That way, there is no one, natural place to go next. Could help, but it would be obnoxious. Third: get all the epiphanies done with early on. Throw them all at you. Part 2 is applications. It has zero epiphanies, and it should be dry, perhaps even boring, so you can go out and do things. Basically like the first idea, but with the two runs optimized for their respective purposes.
1NancyLebovitz8yThis means (if my experience is at all typical) that the second section is unlikely to be read.

people get a rush of power from neat-sounding realizations, and mistake that feeling for actual power

How do you tell the difference?

3TheOtherDave8yFor my own part: it's power if it actually causes a state-change in the system, and not otherwise.
9David_Gerard8yYeah. It's realising that epiphany is an aesthetic experience, and requires results before it's the life-change it labels itself as. Epiphanies can in fact be just another way to fool yourself.
3roystgnr8yIt's hard to define "results" here, though, isn't it? Example: I once encountered someone who just "knew" that the raises they were getting were proof that their religion was true. They were less successful, then they prayed for years like they were taught, then they were more successful. Results, right? But when you look at the census data: between accumulation of human capital and just-plain inflation, the median retiree has seen their income go up by an order of magnitude over their life time. Getting raise after raise and watching your salary go up ten-fold was the default life experience, not proof of divine intervention. So to see "results" you can't always just compare "before" vs. "after". Even if you see results of your epiphanies, does that mean the epiphanies get the credit, or might you have seen the same improvement from the same amount of life experience, epiphany-free? Or even if the epiphanies did help: which ones? If you're seeking out epiphanies, odds are you're not just testing out one new idea at a time then waiting to rigorously analyze the independent results of each. To reuse my example: even though income increase was a lousy metric, on other evidence I would actually say that their religion was providing many adherents with "actual power", on net: buying the whole package wasn't nearly as beneficial as picking out the value from the dross would have been, but it was better than the also-mixed-bag of beliefs that most competing religions and secular ideologies offered.
2John_Maxwell8yI think epiphanies are best thought of as fuel that gives you a short burst of "actual power", whatever that means.
1David_Gerard8yReminding you to get off your arse, yeah. I have a few favourites (e.g. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Magic_of_Thinking_Big]) that I find useful for this. I enjoy LW and it does remind me to try not to be stupid. As I've noted, I'm not entirely sure the outside view would see any practical effects.
0Jayson_Virissimo8yMeasure a proxy for the relevant improvement in yourself that should result from said "realization". Graph the results in a few weeks/months/years (but decide what the graph would look like if you were achieving "actual power" before you look). That's what I do [http://jayquantified.blogspot.com/] anyway.

For what it's worth, I agree with the spirit of your comment, but am also a little tired of seeing endless variations of it. LW needs better contrarians, but being a good contrarian takes effort. Maybe you could write a discussion post that lays out the strongest form of your arguments? I volunteer to read and comment on drafts, if you wish.

I independently invented a similar concept, "epiphany junkies", but didn't get around to posting it yet. A couple of points that would've been in that post:

  • Achieving an amazing insight about your past suffering (especially other people hurting you somehow), is probably not worth much. The past is past, and unreachable; five seconds ago is as far away as forever. You shouldn't even have been chewing that cud in the first place.
  • You probably need a lot of small, nondramatic life optimizations more than you need any particular big huge insight.
... (read more)
7cousin_it8yIf you use Gmail, you can enable the "undo send" feature in settings. I use it a lot, with the longest possible timeout (30 seconds), and think the timeout should be even longer, like 5 minutes.
1Alicorn8yI love that feature. I notice typos right after sending all the time and then I can undo.
3NancyLebovitz8yTrue, but not always. Sometimes people need to realize that the suffering that other people have caused them isn't the only way life with people can be.
2FiftyTwo8yI found this particularly in regards to dealing with my depression. No big personal revelations can make it better, just learning to implement coping techniques, remembering to take my medication and exercise, etc.

Nothing works if people don't actually change their behavior, so the place to start, IMHO, is looking into who actually changes their behavior after encountering new information. Figuring out what causes that would take you very far. My vague impression is that it's closely related to distrust of authority. If one trusts authority, any change takes you farther away from a trusted safe state and thus carries a large hidden cost.

My vague impression is that it's closely related to distrust of authority. If one trusts authority, any change takes you farther away from a trusted safe state and thus carries a large hidden cost.

On the other hand, unless you have the enormously rare constellation of talent and circumstances to give you a realistic chance to rise to the very top, too little trust in authority leads to a state of frightened paralysis or downright self-destruction. What you need for success is the instinct to recognize when you should obey the powers-that-be with your heart and your mind, and when to ignore, defy, or subvert them.

The ability to conform to the official norms and trust the official dogma with full honesty when it's optimal to do so is just as important as the ability to ignore, defy, and subvert them in other cases. Otherwise your distrust of authority will lead you either to cower in fear of it or to provoke its wrath and be destroyed. A well-calibrated unconscious strategic instinct to switch between conformity and non-conformity is, in my opinion, one of the main things that sets apart greatly successful people from others.

9MichaelVassar8yIt seems to me that the decision theory generally favors acting as if one has rare talent and circumstances, as opposed to the alternative, more likely hypothesis, which is probably the contrarian hypothesis of being a simulation in any event. Attempts to justify common sense, treated honestly, generally end up as justifications of novel contrarian hypotheses instead. Also, one who tries to conform to official norms rather than to ubiquitous surrounding behavioral patterns will rapidly find oneself under attack, nominally for violating official norms. I think that the way to go is usually to conform but also to recognize that the standards to which one is conforming do not correspond to explicit beliefs at all, or even to implicit decision theories. Treat social reality as a liquid in which one swims, not an intellectual authority, but don't attack a liquid without some very heavy ammo, and generally don't attack it even if one has such ammo, it's not an enemy, an agent, or a person.
0bbleeker8yCan you give an example, please? I can easily imagine the first part, but the last part seems to be saying that if you drive at the speed limit in a place where everyone drives a little faster, you'll get a speeding ticket.
4gwern8yOne of my favorite quotes from Hamming's 'You and Your Research' [http://www.cs.virginia.edu/~robins/YouAndYourResearch.html] was on just this topic (C-f the sections around 'Another personality defect is ego assertion').
1NancyLebovitz8yThe relationship is probably vague, or at least I think a lot of my problem feels like resistance against being told what to do. What happened to Microsoft [http://www.vanityfair.com/business/2012/08/microsoft-lost-mojo-steve-ballmer]-- an account of people with tremendous authority who didn't get past their habits. (Possibly not relevant, but a really cool article.) Fear of making mistakes and/or having a lot of background anxiety might be better general explanations. "Go outside habits" might be a distinctive neurological state.


"Understanding is the booby prize."

Said during a personal development course I've done.

And an outside view of what not getting stuck in epiphanies looks like:

In principle, it’s simple. You’re looking for people who are

Smart, and
Get things done.

Joel Spolsky

1MichaelVassar8yAnd that is why I'm not likely to take personal development courses.
3RichardKennaway8yThe point being made was that understanding isn't enough. One must do something with it. And if you can't, it wasn't much of an understanding.

An alternative hypothesis would be adaptation:

According to adaptation theory, individuals react to events, but quickly adapt back to baseline levels of subjective well-being. To test this idea, the authors use data from a 15-year longitudinal study of over 30 000 individuals to examine the effects of marital transitions on life satisfaction. On average, individuals reacted to events and then adapted back towards baseline levels. However, there were substantial individual differences in this tendency.

Perhaps some of the epiphanies really are transformat... (read more)

I don't think we have got the right explanation for our epiphany addiction here. We are "addicted" to epiphanies because that is what our community rewards its members. Even if the sport is ostensibly about optimizing one's life, the actual sport is to come up with clever insights into how to optimize one's life. The incentive structure is all wrong. The problem ultimately comes down to us being rewarded more status for coming up with and understanding epiphanies than for such epiphanies having a positive impact on our lives.

3RichardKennaway8yNature of the medium, surely? This is a discussion forum, so what happens here is discussion. Actually improving one's life is something that necessarily happens away from here. At most, it can be reported on here [http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/eku/group_rationality_diary_91712/].

A related note is that the neurophysiological effect of the epiphany wears out really quickly. I haven't studied which neurotransmitters exactly produce the original good feeling, but I remember reading (apologies for not having a source here) that the effect is pretty strong for the first time, but fails to produce pretty much any neurological effect after just few repeats. By repeats, I mean thinking about the concept or idea and perhaps writing about it.

In another words, say you get a strong epiphany and subsequent strong feeling that some technique, f... (read more)

It's demonstrative that my first reaction to reading this was a feeling of epiphany, and that if I could only internalize this lesson all my problems would be solved. The problem is very pervasive. Becoming aware of it initially actually just made things worse, so I'm commenting to point it out to make sure that no one else risks falling into that trap.

There's also the possibility of infinite regress here, funnily enough. Don't do that either.

I'm amused by the creativity of my cognitive glitches, sometimes.

Yes, you have a point that success in other fields would be good sign. But your example is a careless one.

You know, Einstein also invented a fridge

According to this io9 article, he did that in his late 40s to early 50s, after his great physics work was over. He was born in 1879 and worked on the fridge with Szilard from 1926 or after. It made the two physicists a bit of money but was not very practically useful. It certainly wasn't something you could have used to predict his physics success in advance, or that he did on the side while occupied with f... (read more)

Epiphanies are not necessarily useless or wrong, but cannot effect anything unless they are part of a system created already in motion. You can no more apply an epiphany to an unfocused, inactive human than you can apply it to a rock.

I've had similar experiences to what the quote describes. I'm in a bit of a rush and have not actually read the link, but here's my thoughts:

Is the epiphany purely in a way of thinking about things, or does it lead to some material change? In other words, is it actionable? For example, if I come up with new way to frame work for extra motivation, I don't put much stock in it, because I know that my mental state is highly variable and it sometimes just won't work. I write it down, and think about it, and see how long it lasts, but I don't expect it to have ... (read more)

[-][anonymous]8y 1

Ironically, I had an epiphany while reading this post.

LW is itself contrarian, for nth time. All it needs is to look outside itself.

Ignoring definitions of words for the moment, it seems to me that you consider "contrarian" comments worth writing, otherwise you wouldn't write them. All I'm saying is if they're worth writing, they're worth writing well.

Great point! One of the problems here is that people think that just knowing about something is going to give them the power but this is not the case. Rationality is a skillset like bicycle riding or playing chess and the only way to get good at it is by practicing a lot. You can read lots of books of chess and get great insights but when it comes down to actually playing at the board what matters is what you have internalized through practice.

0billswift8yEven worse, unlike your examples, rationality isn't a single, focussed "skillset", but a broad collection of barely related skills. Learning to avoid base rate neglect helps little if at all with avoiding honoring sunk costs which helps little with avoiding the narrative fallacy. You need to tackle them almost independently. That is one reason why I tend to emphasize the need to stop and think, when you can. Even if you have not mastered the particular fallacy that may be about to trip you up, you are more likely to notice a potential problem if you get in the habit of thinking through what you are doing.

Yes, I am very familiar with this kind of experience. I think the point about singular epiphanies of this sort is that they are always too brittle and inflexible to carry you on in any meaningful, long-term sort of way. Two further comments:

  1. The realization of "epiphany addiction" it itself a sort of epiphany, in the same sense that this discussion is talking about. I'm not sure what the punchline of -that- should be, except maybe to say, there doesn't seem to ever be any such "magic bullets" in terms of personal understanding ... . Ye

... (read more)
2billswift8yWhat you need to do is to capture it, then use it to help you take the next step; then keep taking those next steps. The very first thing you need to do is to STOP reading, write down whatever caused your epiphany, and think about the next step. Too much of the self-help and popular psychological literature are written like stories, which, while make them more readable and more likely to be read, tends to encourage readers to keep on reading through it all. If you are reading for change, you need to read it like a textbook, for the information, rather than entertainment.
8pjeby8yThis is why most of the successful self-help gurus pack their books full of stories and insights, but leave the actual training for in-person workshops, or at least for higher-bandwidth or interactive media. Most of the challenges people will have in applying almost anything can't be listed in a book, without creating an unreadable (or at least unsellable) book. While this is also the most financially beneficial way to do it, I have personally observed over and over that there are certain classes of mental mistake that you simply CANNOT reliably correct in non-interactive media, because the person making the mistake simply can't tell they're making the mistake unless you point out an example of it in their own behavior or thinking. Otherwise, the connection between the pattern of mistake and the instance of it remains opaque to them. People are much better at pattern-matching cognitive errors in other people than they are in themselves. See, for example, lukeprog's comment [http://lesswrong.com/lw/dxr/epiphany_addiction/758j], wherein he wrote: I can't think of any combination of symbols placed on paper that would have bypassed Luke's filters here... and a few years back, I spent one hell of a lot longer time than five minutes trying with all my might to think of one! Essentially, this means that a properly consequentialist self-help author who wishes to do the most good for the most people is pretty much required to write their book in such a way that it functions as a huge commercial to get people into some sort of higher-bandwidth communication channel where the real learning can take place. (Much the way that HP:MOR can be considered a huge commercial for CFAR, despite the strong informational content.) Ideally, there will also be plenty enough practical information that more independent thinkers will be able to apply on their own; but it's not at all realistic to assume that an "information only" textbook presentation will result in any actual follow-throu
2David_Gerard8yI know I don't really get a given cognitive bias unless I can think of an example of me doing it and feel stupid at the realisation. (I have previously generalised from myself on this point, but I'll try to refrain from that.)
1cousin_it8yMaybe the combination of symbols could tell Luke to do some trivially easy thing, then ramp up the difficulty.
2pjeby8yMaybe you should ask Luke whether he thinks that would have worked. My guess is, that's exactly what the books he read, actually did. Really, asking someone in that state to even stop reading long enough to answer some questions mentally, even without writing them down, is not going to work. You might be able to get some hurried answers, but not much deep thought. They're too excited about what else they might "learn" next. I even know one guru who continually emphasizes how "it's not learning until your behavior changes"... and seen his audiences dutifully nod and write down this Great Insight... and then patiently wait for the next insight to be spoon-fed. ;-) Actually, that particular guru is an interesting case in point: I found attending his workshops in person to be valuable, because they're structured in such a way that they more or less force you to actually do the written exercises, because two minutes later you're going to be showing your work to another audience member. However, despite knowing that his exercises are valuable, I still find it difficult to make myself do them when merely watching a recording of one of his workshops. Either the recording seems too boring to pay attention in the first place, or the exercise seems boring compared to skipping forward to the next insight. I'm much more likely to skim quickly through the exercise in my head, and not write anything down, while convincing myself that I'll definitely get to it later. But in person, there's nothing else to do but write something down, right then. Apparently, spending money on a conference, hotel, and airfare, plus blocking out the time away, equals a very effective precommitment device... one that books and recordings just can't match.
[-][anonymous]5y 0

I'm a sucker for rsdmotivation. I feel more confident, more self esteem, happy and exercise better listening to it. But, I can't deconstruct what's actually meaningful in it. It's mostly aphorisms and very basic insights about the world, over cinematic music. The cinematic music alone doesn't do it for me, and the aphorisms alone don't do it for me. Yet, I feel that 'ephiphany' every time. It sorta annoys me, but it works for now.

Comparably, it takes listening to Rise and Grind to get me up sometimes. It works very very well, but it's unclear to me how or ... (read more)

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It seems to me that most of your comments on LW are about the same thing. This predictability makes them boring.

It's like -- oh, here is some discussion about a possible problem; I bet PM will soon come and write a reply saying "yes, your worst fears are all true, and it is actually much worse".

At least for me, the predictable pattern suggests that I should ignore such comments. There is no point in paying attention individually to comments that were generated by a pattern. I perceive them all as one comment, repeated on LW endlessly.