This is the public group instrumental rationality diary for October 1-15.

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 cata for starting the Group Rationality Diary posts, and to commenters for participating.

Previous diary: September 16-30

Next diary: October 16-31

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26 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 3:53 AM

It seems appropriate to report a rationality failure from this week.

It was 8:00 AM and I was sitting in the window seat of a Boeing 737, toward the back of the plane. The aircraft is preparing to back away from the gate. I hear the engines power up and almost immediately the view out my window is obscured by a thick cloud of smoke or vapor.

I hear a few other voices in the cabin comment on this with varying levels of alarm, but nobody actually does anything beyond make a remark to their neighbor. A few seconds later, I detect a strong acrid smell - the man sitting beside me comments that he smells it as well. I have never experienced anything like this is dozens of flights on jets.

At this point, nobody, including me, seems to have any plans to do anything - except my wife, who is sitting behind me, who almost immediately starts to stand up and wave for the attention of a flight attendant.

Interestingly, several people around her, including me, start trying to reassure her that nothing serious is wrong. I hear a voice say, "Somebody on the ground would have noticed and said something." I myself say, "I think it's just water vapor," which is stupid because I can smell fumes of some kind.

My wife succeeds in informing the flight attendant, and she goes to report this to the pilot. A few moments later the pilot comes over the intercom and explains that the thick plume of smoke is totally normal in cold weather, and the flight proceeds without incident.

So, nothing bad happened, but I consider this to be a huge rationality failure on my part, because I not only fell prey to the Bystander Effect, but I tried to dissuade my wife from shaking free of the Bystander Effect in a situation where I really had no privileged information. I later thanked her and she explicitly acknowledged that she didn't care if she looked like a fool, she wasn't going to let herself become a victim of the Bystander Effect.

A cool wife you have got.


To encourage my writing habit, I've made a wager with a group of friends:

Each person involved in the wager chooses a charity (the charities must be something that none of the others have chosen nor can any of the others find the charity immoral). Each person agrees to start work on a large project (in this case, novels). When one of us completes their project, they donate a set amount of money to the charity of their choice. If anyone gives up or goes a set amount of time (in this case, a month) without progress on the project, they instead donate to the other charities.

I fashioned the wager this way to encourage dedication to the project without emphasizing speed or competition. We're working on novels, so encouraging people to rush would only make their writing sloppy and destroy the joy of the work. The month time limit is, I feel, longer than needed, but will serve the purpose of keeping us checking on each other and encouraging each other. The charities were chosen so that money would not become a sticking point. No one gains personally, but there is no feeling of being cheated out of cash. A donation will be made no matter what, and since the charities must be such that no player feels them to be immoral, those donations will have some level of good feelings attached. Meaning no one walks away sour.

  • I got into the habit of doing a quick web search for just about anything for purposes such as finding out more about something (to keep myself from letting an inaccurate idea/cached thought inform my view on the matter), checking internet consensus on the best ways to go about solving common problems, checking whether I'm right or wrong on a factual belief, and many others. It may not sound like much of an improvement in rationality, but I learned loads during the last few days half spent googling random things. (By the way, I probably wouldn't have done this out of the inconvenience of turning on my desktop PC until now; I recently got myself a tablet.)
  • As a result, I learned pretty much all I needed, within reason, in order to fix my diet and workout program. I stopped eating crap entirely, cold turkey; filled my fridge only with the most nutritious foods I know of; began to restrict my calorie count to resting metabolic rate level to ensure I never have to deal with unwanted weight gain again (although I'm not sure yet whether this provides the life extension benefits of calorie restriction); optimized my workouts for maximum fat burning along with an increase in lean body mass and am currently trying to figure out a way around joint pain caused by running a lot. The results are... pretty shocking for someone who hasn't seen me in a long time. ;)

  • Finally did something about my suspected dopamine deficit. For years I've been trying out all sorts of methods for increasing my motivation and productivity, with no avail, because I simply could never muster enough will to get stuff done, my natural inclination being to just laze around all day long. Then I found out about MAO-Is and how they work, and started popping the only over-the-counter supplements that contained MAO-Is that I had around. (I doubt I could have gotten a prescription for anything else; the doctor I've spoken to regarding my dopamine levels recommended me no medication whatsoever.)

I wasn't looking for the non-selective kind, only MAO-B inhibitors interested me, since I couldn't say I was feeling particularly low on serotonin. They unexpectedly came in handy. I recently had something happen to me that would have left me a total wreck otherwise (indeed, similar events in the past did leave me a total wreck); the antidepressant effect was the only reason why I kept feeling basically normal on an affective level. (On a behavioral level, though, I couldn't help acting like a depressed person. That's the only problem I've been noticing so far; your emotions get out of sync with your behavior, and you can't predict yourself anymore.)

Memory has improved; I kept having episodes of random recall. No more brain fog as well; I'm more alert and aware of my surroundings. As for the intended effect... I definitely have a lower "activation energy" now; at last I notice myself starting to study spontaneously, without a lot of inner conflict, anguish and reluctance about the matter. However, it may take a higher dosage for me to have the crazy levels of motivation that my study schedule would require; last night, for instance, after taking my usual MAO-I dosage, I went out with some people and smoked a little (yes, yes, I know...). Now, cigarettes also contain MAO-Is along with nicotine, and apparently that's what makes them so addictive; there are certain warnings when combining two MAO-Is. When I got back home, I began feeling a little over-stimulated. I was energetic as hell and very responsive to any idea that came to me. It would occur to me to do things that I'm normally unenthusiastic about, and my mind would go all "Why, that's a great idea, let's do it!". If the effect lasted a little longer, I might have gotten much more done.

The bottom line, they helped, and they helped a great deal. To everybody who's been trying for a long time to improve motivation and tried everything from Pomodoros to precommitment to psychotherapy: please please please consider dopaminergics. It may have been your core issue all along. There's no substitute for naturally feeling like doing a lot of stuff, and no software (psychological hacks) that can get shoddy hardware (neurochemistry) to run like a supercomputer. Once you do, you may regret not having done it earlier.

  • On an unrelated note: ever since I completed CFAR's sunk cost fallacy exercise book, I don't think I've fallen prey to that bias (that I know of). I now recognize it very easily and tried to give some friends the intuition behind why it is irrational.

Which over-the-counter supplements did you use?

Curcumin, 1g a day. There have been studies which compared its effect to Prozac and concluded that the effect was strong enough for it to work as an antidepressant. Apparently it's safe up to a dosage of 12g, plus it's said to have several other health benefits. As well as that, it's a reversible MAO-I, which (as far as I could understand from researching the matter) makes it fairly easy to correct imbalances in case the effect is too strong.

It's also recommended to cancer patients, which are supposed to take a much higher dosage than I do (the highest I've seen is 8g), and can do so safely.

Interesting. Did you know that curcumin is normally largely metabolized by the liver (first-pass-effect) and this can be reduced with peperin (black peper).

Yes. The supplements I take do contain some dose of black pepper extract, but just to be sure I always take them with a dash of pepper.

Please be aware (I bet you are, since you say you've researched it, but some other people reading this may not be) that there are some nasty interactions between MAOIs and alcohol, and I think even between MAOIs and some ordinary foods.

I thought about that, but my ordinary state is the very opposite of the negative side effects caused by excess of serotonin, norepinephrine or dopamine. With too little MAO-A it's serotonin syndrome or hypertensive crisis, whereas I err more on the side of cardio-induced bradycardia, and can withstand a moderate raise in heart rate. (A few days ago I even had dangerously low tension, barely any pulse.) The foods in question are most diary, aged cheese (see "cheese effect)", aged beverages, yoghurt, soy, avocados, some beans and any such stuff high in tyramine (so basically, sucks if you're French). I've consumed some of these with no noticeable effect, but I'm in no position to say that people who are, well, not me can also do so safely.

Alcohol + MAO-Is seems to lead to mild mania for me in the short term, and I'm talking small quantities. I basically never had episodes of mania otherwise. Still no high blood pressure though. It wasn't the worst experience in the world, but whoever wants to stay firmly on the safe side should avoid drinking anything more than a few sips. And anyway, getting piss drunk is out of the question and never a good idea, with or without MAO-Is.

I haven't been taking these for a long time, so I'm still (cautiously) experimenting with the changes they produce.

How long are you doing this? Long enough to believe the improvements are permanent? (As opposed to: every new stuff seems great at the beginning, and then things return to average.) Maybe you could share the specific advice that worked, in an article.

To be honest, I started doing this two or three days ago. I'm aware of the possibility of developing tolerance to it, but I couldn't possibly have consumed enough of it so far to start noticing that already. I'll report back in a month or so, but hopefully in the meantime I should be creating habits out of the productive stuff I (finally) feel like doing and transfer some of the impetus to the habituation -- I'm not sure I can quite cure my motivation problem by way of these supplements, although it would be nice not to have to take them every day for the rest of my life!

I don't think it's just placebo, since I am able to feel when the effect wears off... quite conspicuously. I'd be back to feeling like lying in bed all day long, and if anything had been upsetting me shortly beforehand, all the physical sensations of sadness would resurface as if they had been there all along and were just waiting to manifest.

If it is so recent you should consider the possibility that the effect is placebo-like - esp. as you claim your behavior didn't change.

I'd be interested to see you report back on this habit in next month's diary entry, since that will give you a better sense a sustained effects.

Any news on this? Would you consider writing a top-level post on this?

Just came here to write a followup in the current rationality diary post.

I'll see about it, I'm not sure yet... After all it would only amount to my two cents on the matter; I'm very aware of the fact that my observations and experiments lack scientific rigour (of the kind you can see for instance in gwern's articles on nootropics). I do however write down all the insights on productivity that I discover through my experience, and if and only if one day I produce the desired changes in my psychology and work-related behaviour, I'll coalesce them into a mini-sequence. Until then, though, I won't consider myself an authoritative voice on the matter.

For now I'll be posting updates in the rationality diaries, and see if anything more substantial comes out of it.

No I don't think he is insane, he is however like most singulatarians a fucking dumb ass.

Have you tried standing while working? You'll spend more energy and will stay more alert with fewer snacks and less caffeine.

He isn't insane, just fantastically silly, detached from reality and smug.

Consider getting an Ergotron A or Ergotron S. They bolt or clamp to most desk setups. They are a bit pricy, but 500 isn't really that much to pay to stave off your own death.

Nuts and berries, no sugar added?

LessWrong's culture resembles, in most other respects, the standard set of predominately male, middle-class Internet-libertarians so familiar in other places — including cringe-inducing discussions of the merits of racism.

I've been using a personal wiki to develop my rationality skills, and I've recently written about it, here:

Now that running regularly, for fitness and to keep my weight down, is a well established habit, I've signed up to run a half-marathon next March. (Not without a twinge of sadness, thinking of Hal Finney.)

Instead of just going out for a run on sundays and the occasional weekday, I'm now "following a training plan", that is, running workouts with specific targets, using a heart rate monitor, and so on. It makes some interesting differences and I've learned a few things.

One aspect of keeping fit that I'm still somewhat failing at, despite much self-monitoring and various attempts at behavior change, is getting more sleep. I'm still sleep-deprived (less than 5h) two or three nights a week.

I have started steering my daydreaming in constructive directions. I look for ways that whatever I am working on could be used to solve problems in whatever fiction is currently on my mind. I can then use the motivation from the fictional daydream to power the concentration on the work. This isn't working very well, yet, since it is very hard to find a good bridge between real-life research and interesting science fiction that doesn't immediately get sidetracked to focus on the science fiction parts. However, in the instances in which it worked, this helped me come up with a couple of ideas that may actually be helpful in my work.

Given how much of my day I spend daydreaming (going to and from work, going shopping, showering, etc), I think that this could be an enormously useful source of time if I can make myself use it more constructively.

Do you have experience with this? I could imagine that this may not be entirely healthy for one's mind. Do you know of any research or arguments about this?

Tried adapting to polyphasic sleep, am off it for now. My critical weakness was waking up after core sleep periods - naps were east and effective though, and I found lots of great uses for the extra time (okay, math textbooks and videogames). I'm going to try playing around with what times in the 3-4 hour range it's easiest for me to wake up, get an alarm clock that produces light, and try again in a week and a half.