Hello, I'm ExCeph (short for Extradimensional Cephalopod). I've been mostly lurking here for the past decade and occasionally commenting within the past year or so. However, I never got around to actually introducing myself until now. It's good to meet you.

I was advised by a friend to actually write up a short bio, so here’s a bit about me.

*starts puffing a bubble pipe*

I grew up on science fiction and fantasy, plowing through satirical books such as the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett and the MythAdventures series by Robert Asprin, which inspired me to approach problems with a clear and critical mind.

One of my high school friends introduced me to both Less Wrong and Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, which resonated with me. I read HPMOR up through its then most recent update and moved on to other rational fiction, like Luminosity and Elcenia. I also acquired an addiction to taste for reading TVTropes, which has Enhanced My Life. (But ask your doctor if TVTropes is right for you).

Reading through some Less Wrong and Slate Star Codex articles about the inadequacy of existing institutions confirmed my childhood suspicions that humans didn’t really know what they were doing with the world. I became extremely frustrated that fixing these institutions was not a public priority, as if no one was aware of what was wrong or how to approach the situation.

It was the summer before my senior year of high school when I came up with the first version of my insanely ambitious plan to change the world, which has been my main project ever since. As part of the plan, I researched and tested different concepts and tools to improve my productivity and my ability to effect positive change in the world, with sporadic progress.

During my first job out of college, I reached out to find other people who wanted to change the world, and that led me to the local effective altruism community. As a result, I spent some time volunteering with an effective altruist organization. Eventually, through both the job and the EA organization, I discovered I was still missing some fundamental attributes that nobody responsible for my education had noticed or figured out how to instill in me.

Since then I've spent the past year and a half refining and practicing the tools and attributes I'd discovered, and am now ready to participate in the rationality community. I hope you find my suggestions and perspectives useful.

Okay, I’m out of bubble fluid. *withdraws into the abyss*


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5 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 2:37 AM

Good to see you posting after lurking for a while! Welcome!

I discovered I was still missing some fundamental attributes that nobody responsible for my education had noticed or figured out how to instill in me.

Name them?

My fav crucial yet untaught skills are

  • basic civic theory about how to structure a working society, how to arrange specializations, how specializations that imbue their practitioners with deep differences in worldview can understand each other well enough avoid getting in stupid fights with each other. You cannot have a decent society without teaching these skills to everyone in it, but nobody is doing that.

  • noticing people's qualities and investing appropriately

  • eschatology. Knowing our own utility function. Being able to say firm but true things about our sense of beauty, justice, joy, fulfillment etc, that will generalize to new kinds of situations. Crucial for exercising any agency, but I don't know where to begin in training it.

The specific attributes I was referring to in that sentence are three out of what I call the four primary attributes:

  • Initiative (describes how much one relies on environmental conditions to prompt one to start pursuing a goal)
  • Resilience (describes how much one relies on environmental conditions to allow one to continue pursuing a goal)
  • Mobility (describes how rapidly one can effectively change the parameters of one's efforts)
  • Intensity (describes how far one can continue pushing the effects of one's efforts)

I had only been using intensity since I didn't know about the others and didn't develop them naturally. Since combined they are stronger than the sum of them separately, I was stuck at less than 25% of my theoretical maximum effectiveness.

The deep differences in worldview that you refer to are something that I've noticed as well. The different mindsets people use inform what aspects of the world they are aware of, but when those awarenesses doesn't overlap enough, conflict seems almost inevitable.

I agree that knowing our utility functions is also important. For one thing, it helps with planning. For another, it lets us resist being controlled by our motivations, which can happen if we get too attached to them, or if we are only responsive to one or two of them. (That may have been what you meant by "exercising agency"?) "Eschatology" is an interesting way of phrasing that. It puts me in mind of the fundamental liabilities that threaten all goals. I wish we taught people growing up how to both accept and manage those liabilities.

I'll be writing a sequence elaborating on all of these concepts, which I've been applying in order to become more capable.

resist being controlled by our motivations

That's a funny thing to say. The point of an agent is for it to be controlled by its motivations. But I think I know what you mean. Part of this skill is maintaining a high level overview of everything we value, never getting destructively obsessed with a few passions to the detriment of the others, yes. The hard thing about this is it really feels like the weightings of the components of the utility function change over time. If I were drunk and mad, for instance, I have to ask myself whether maybe I really do care more, in that moment, about punching that guy over there, than I care about not getting arrested. I can think the thought "but if I assault someone I'll get arrested" and go on to think "it's worth it. I have to". And maybe that's not a malfunction. Maybe that's just what humans like to be. And maybe that means I should take care to avoid ever getting into situations where I might get drunk and mad.

Or maybe part of the eschatology skill is developing a stable heart, an unwavering sense of good, or a sense of some underlying unwavering good, like a Kokoimudji always knows where north is, perhaps we must learn to always see roughly where the longest term good is even when we're lost among our passions.

Yes, that's exactly what I meant, and that's a great clarification. I do prefer looking at the long-term expected utility of a decision, as a sort of Epicurean ideal. (I'm still working on being able to resist the motivation of relaxation, though.)

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