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A Strange Situation

by Flange Finnegan1 min read18th Feb 201910 comments

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Hello all,

I am a newcomer to the site, but I have been lurking and reading the various posts on this site for about 8 months. I have to tell you, life has started making a lot more sense since I read these posts. However, I am feeling somewhat directionless after reading the archives, as I cannot determine a next course of action.

The difficulty is this: I assume most of the poeple on this site are at least midle-aged; I had just turned 18 when I started browsing the site, after being vaguely dissatisfied with Rationalwiki's ability to keep me informed.

Given that, would anyone recommend a general path to follow in terms of what I should be reading from here? I have largely perused Yudkowsky's more well-known works, and have made it partially through the Codex.

Any help, recommendations, or suggestions would be appreciated, and I look forward to new horizons of knowledge as I may find them.

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2 Answers

Welcome!

First, the average age here is 27 (as of 2014, so it might be older now?), and lots of people got started here when they were in high school, so don't let age sway you! I don't think there's anything strange about your situation.

I do think the problem of "I feel somewhat directionless" is among the trickier things to solve. I think important next steps are to find something that you feel excited about. (Tim Ferris says "don't try to find what makes you happy – people get sort of confused about happiness and imagine sitting around gardening or watching sunsets or something. Do what makes you excited.")

The two pieces of advice I can think of off the bat are:

  • Start trying to get a sense of what you care about. Ask yourself what feels most interesting and important to you.
  • Increase your luck surface area. If you aren't sure what's interesting and important, put yourself in situations where you're likely to try new things and meet new people, so that you can have an easier time stumbling into things that feel important and allow you to gain new skills.

Some more generalized advice is in Strategies for Personal Growth. You know your life situation better than us so may have a sense of which strategies are most promising.

1Flange Finnegan2yThank you kindly! An additional question: Are there any resources on this site for resolving issues with ho a person approached rationality? I'm asking because I came to this site looking for a way to improve my thinking and avoid self-sabotaging behaviors, and I think I may have carried several unsavory mental artifacts along in the proces of forming that association that are preventing me from getting the most out of this site.
7shminux2ySadly, rationality does not cure "mental artifacts", since those are largely subconscious and very resistant to introspection and logicking out. A good therapist is indispensable, as they are able to see what we ourselves miss, and to present it in a way that is both convincing and palatable. Sometimes a friend who is skilled in active listening, without an urge of giving "helpful" advice, like "you should do X" can be similarly indispensable.
8Raemon2yI agree with the therapist and active-listening friends suggestions, but disagree pretty strongly with the "rationality does not cure mental artifacts" statement. That may have been the case (or often the case) 10 years ago, but CFAR-style applied rationality (in particular techniques like focusing and internal double crux) is often about figuring out how to introspect usefully. Usually by actually engaging with what the mental artifacts were trying to accomplish in the first place, and finding an alternate way to accomplish those goals. ("bludgeoning mental artifacts that you think are bad with logic" indeed generally does not work. I think you might conceptualize CFAR-style techniques as "being able to do active listening on yourself without telling yourself 'you should do X'") Your mileage still varies, of course. Different mental issues benefit from different approaches.
3shminux2yI hear often that CFAR has made significant strides toward useful introspection and self-modification, and I have read some of the few publicly accessible materials, including a post on internal double crux, and I can understand the rationale behind them, but did not find them as useful as advertised, either to myself or to those I try to help get better. Maybe it's significantly different in an actual intensive program or in a group setting, as is usually the case for other forms of therapy, like ACT/DBT/CBT.
4Raemon2yNod. There is a reason that CFAR's stance is something like "if you've been to CFAR, it's encouraged to teach other people them if you yourself have been to CFAR, but be aware that teaching them is quite hard, and reading up on the techniques on your own is probably not helpful". There's a lot of subtle things to get wrong which are easier to catch if you are interacting in realtime with a real human. FWIW, I think the most relevant skill here is Focusing (at least, that's the one that most literally is "actively listening to yourself"), which wasn't invented by CFAR, and the audiobook for it is pretty good.

Maybe you should try https://80000hours.org/

4Raemon2yI'm somewhat hesitant to promote 80k right off the bat to people – Over the years 80k has shifted from "generally useful advice" to "find people who are a good fit for the most urgently needed Effective Altruism-related careers and help them." Which often makes their advice somewhat depressing for anyone who isn't a good fit for whatever the current most-needed EA career path. (Some of my thoughts on 80k are here [https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/3ijnLaws7mCEogD6H/earning-to-save-give-1-save-10#JftwJTAy685EnoZzX] ) However, I would agree that the general principle of "if you're about to enter college, and you might want to think about how to have as impactful a career as you can" is good to be thinking about if Flange is 18.
5Sherrinford2yHm... I will get a little more concrete. I would recommend reading the career guide https://80000hours.org/career-guide/ [https://80000hours.org/career-guide/]because it is a good document for anyone thinking about what to do with his life, but I would definitely recommend reading other things on the same topic as well. Moreover, I would recommend reading: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/TNHQLZK5pHbxdnz4e/references-and-resources-for-lesswrong [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/TNHQLZK5pHbxdnz4e/references-and-resources-for-lesswrong] if the question is more about what to read next.
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Why do you think you should be reading / learning more vs going and doing / making something?