This is the public group instrumental rationality diary for the week of October 1st. It's a place to record and chat about it if you have done, or are actively doing, things like:

  • Established a useful new habit
  • Obtained new evidence that made you change your mind about some belief
  • Decided to behave in a different way in some set of situations
  • Optimized some part of a common routine or cached behavior
  • Consciously changed your emotions or affect with respect to something
  • Consciously pursued new valuable information about something that could make a big difference in your life
  • Learned something new about your beliefs, behavior, or life that surprised you
  • Tried doing any of the above and failed

Or anything else interesting which you want to share, so that other people can think about it, and perhaps be inspired to take action themselves.  Try to include enough details so that everyone can use each other's experiences to learn about what tends to work out, and what doesn't tend to work out.

Thanks to everyone who contributes!

Previous diaryarchive of prior diaries.

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20 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 9:05 PM

This comment should probably be here. My main rationality-related effort at the moment is working on calibrated predictions - learning as much as I can and starting to teach others. I've been reading Nate Silver's "The Signal and the Noise" - now on chapter 11 of 13, and while it has its moments I can't say I'm bowled over with it.

I've just shot up to the top of the rankings in my GJP team. Though I started Year 2 of the GJP somewhat disappointed (owing in part to several bugs in the interface, and lack of participation from some team members) I'm now happier to have played along. I feel like I've learned a few things about making good forecasts, and it's been quite instructive to witness biases in myself and others.

Nate Silver's book has an intriguing description of poker as rationality training, so I've been playing a little Texas Hold'Em against the computer to get a feel for the game and might revisit Rational Poker at some point - OTOH I'm concerned that the game might prove overly addictive for me, and it seems too much of a hassle to try making any money from it.

I'm considering matched betting instead, if I can figure out whether it's possible to play from my country. One thing Silver eloquently describes is how there is a "performance waterline" in many competitive activities, such that depending on where the waterline currently lies it can be very easy to outperform most players with a bare minimum of training. Economic circumstances have forced the waterline way up in poker, but it still seems to be fairly low in e.g. betting arbitrage and some prediction markets.

I tried using pomodoros for the first time over the weekend. They've been on my to-try list since minicamp, but I never got around to it. The trivial inconvenience of not having a timer seemed to be the biggest cause. On Saturday, I needed to work on some homework that was due today, but I was feeling tired and unmotivated. So I decided to procrastinate by looking for a web-based pomodoro app I could try (here).

Holy crap did it work. Normally when I'm sitting at my computer working on a vaguely difficult problem, like e.g. interpreting some equation (I often write up HW in latex), I quickly find myself on the internet reading mostly useless information. Suddenly I had a Schelling point - every time I tried to click over to Chrome, I just told myself "not in the middle of a pomodoro, wait 10 more minutes and you'll have a break" and that was usually enough.

I didn't strictly abide by the break / work times - often taking a bit longer on my break or my pomodoro in order to finish whatever I was doing, but I don't think that mattered. I also didn't keep track of my "score," e.g. how many pomodoros I'd completed, but it didn't seem important while I doing it, but I'm going to try it out to see if I notice any effect.

Be sure to report back in 6 or 12 months whether Pomodoro still works...

I've been doing them since July minicamp, and they still work well for me. (I've set a beeminder to make sure I work in a certain number of pomodoro chunks per day)

Or for that matter, whether I manage to keep on doing it.

It had a classic placebo effect for me: seems to work initially, then slowly fades. I stopped using it after a month or so.

I found that they worked well early, but have mostly lost their power. I think I might try them again, but tweak the length of the work and break cycles - maybe longer cycles of both. The problem for me is finding something to do that works in 5 minute chunks that's both relaxing (not work) and energizing (gives you the ability to work more), but isn't so compelling that you take an extra long break to keep doing your break activity.

I find that, even if I mostly ignore them, I still work more and better with Pomodoros. But my baseline level of work is pretty bad.

I use Pomodroido on my Android phone. The breaks help keep everything fresh. Thanks for the link.


I recently took up pomodoros myself. As for sticking with it and keeping it effective, I'm pairing it with Beeminder

Sometimes, it works really well for me, other times it doesn't. Which is kind of my base-line, so my results are "not enough data yet" I guess. I intend to try it for a while longer.

Suggestion: if slacking off while you intendet to work is a problem for you (like it is for me), keep the pomodoro checklist in a google doc, share it with a few people, and record any slacking-off you do.

Data point: Pomodoro did not work for me.

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I've had trouble working on one of my research-related subproblems for more than an hour or two a day. I started visualizing myself explaining to a peasant farmer ancestor that, really, working for more than an hour a day on this subproblem was just too hard. That's been motivating me to put in closer to 4 hours (with a commensurate increase in results), but I don't know how much staying power that visualization will have. Probably enough to finish our this subproblem (I only have ~15 hours more work to do), but imaginary shame only goes so far.

Two of us from my meetup (both unemployed) decided to help each other look for jobs. We check in by skype or email about weekly to set goals for the week and prod each other about things we said we were going to do. We've been doing this about two months, and one of us did get a job in that time. I wouldn't attribute that directly to the job-finding partnership, but I do think it increased both our output of interview practice and applications completed.

At risk of getting shunned: I read a list of predictions in the Old Testament/Tanakh about the Jewish messiah that are said to be fulfilled by Jesus. They're... awfully specific. And numerous. On matters of common historical fact, that couldn't be orchestrated by him or faked by his supporters. now I have to reconsider my rejection of theism. :\

I was under the impression that there are no common historical facts that we have of Jesus. But I have never bothered to look deeply into the topic, so I might be incorrect.

I'd be very curious to know which predictions were made and where they come from, and how we know which ones were fulfilled or not fulfilled.

The list I have is far from perfect, but there's enough to not dismiss out of hand.

All the predictions are from the Hebrew Bible / Old Testament. The fulfillments are all in the New Testament. Many of them could be fictions added to the New Testament, but that looks doubtful for several of them - Jesus was a pretty public figure (we have Roman texts talking about the near-revolution of the Jews and the Christians), and a lot of the the fulfilments would be matters of public record / knowledge (like some specifics from his manner of death and burial). I still want to analyze each part, and I plan to compile a "short-list" of the ones that hold up (i.e. ones that would be improbable to be fictionalized or deliberately orchestrated by Jesus himself).

If you consider this a subject likely to reward time spent researching it in the first place, you might also consider working out what the criterion is to declare something in the Old Testament a prediction, then going back to the Old Testament and counting how many predictions there are. Satisfying 20 predictions out of 25 is presumably more significant than satisfying 20 predictions out of 2000, but a list of 20 satisfied predictions won't tell you which condition you're in.

A fair point! Some of those "predictions" only look like predictions in retrospect, i.e. the ones in Psalms. Others are blatantly prophetic, and I think constitute a falsifiable test IF the text was written before Jesus' time and IF it appears to be a true historical fact and not fabricated by the New-Testament author. (The second one is the big "if" in the equation.)


I also wonder how trustworthy the New Testament is on these points, given that the writers probably knew about all of these predictions. Some of them are obviously a matter of historical record, but others seem like they might have been easy for the writers to just put in there for the sake of lining up with Old Testament predictions (30 pieces of silver, 'suffered vicariously,' thirsting on the cross and given vinegar...).

EDIT: OP mentioned this possibility. I should learn to read.