Instrumental Rationality Questions Thread

by AspiringRationalist1 min read27th Sep 201551 comments


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This thread is for asking the rationalist community for practical advice.  It's inspired by the stupid questions series, but with an explicit focus on instrumental rationality.

Questions ranging from easy ("this is probably trivial for half the people on this site") to hard ("maybe someone here has a good answer, but probably not") are welcome.  However, please stick to problems that you actually face or anticipate facing soon, not hypotheticals.

As with the stupid questions thread, don't be shy, everyone has holes in their knowledge, though the fewer and the smaller we can make them, the better, and please be respectful of other people's admitting ignorance and don't mock them for it, as they're doing a noble thing.

(See also the Boring Advice Repository)

51 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 3:44 PM
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How is it better than r/LifeProTips and similar subreddits?

A much higher quality community to get feedback from.

I wonder if there's something like Goodhart's Law for community quality and range of topics that can be discussed. Is the community higher quality BECAUSE we're more constrained in the kind of advice we're willing to give?

How do I stop biting my nails? Willpower hasn't worked and smearing my fingers with hot sauce is impractical for keyboard reasons. What else can I do? I've thought of buying gloves, but I'm worried about diminished typing speed and a sensory issue where my fingernails and wool don't get along well. Options?

You could try something like as well. (May be too warm for regular use, though.)

Does it help if you just cut and file your nails really short?

Have you tried using nail polish instead of hot sauce?

My teeth already keep them really short, actually shorter than is aesthetically advisable.

Nail polish is an interesting counter-incentive to putting my nails in my mouth, no so much for the taste, but for the toxicity. I may try that.

The thing about filing is not that your nails are too long. For some people the trigger for biting their nails is that they notice a piece of a nail sticking up far enough to be bitten. If they file the nails as short as they bite them, but completely even, then that trigger never happens, so they stop biting their nails.

Pretty much substitute filing for biting, because that looks nicer and is easier to modulate into something that does make sense.

I believe there is a transparent nail polish explicitly made to teach people not to bite their nails -- it tastes horrible, by design.

I am looking for any advice on staying focussed. I already published my table of contents but that seriously didn't help me. I just started writing other things instead of those things, as new ideas come up. part of me likes new shiny things; but part of me wants to get the value out of that post. I feel like this is either a really hard thing I have to work out; or I am missing something really simple to make it all click easier.

How instrumentally rational is following Heartiste's advice?

You're doing humanity, women, and your own immortal soul... ehh, moral character a disfavour by listening to that drivel. If you want to get laid, do what everybody else is doing – look good, have lots of friends of both genders, and go to parties where people get very drunk. Tried and trusted. Responsible for 100% of my sexual activity. Buy one today and get one free.

go to parties where people get very drunk

Also: get arrested for rape the next week if the lady doesn't remember that she consented.

This is not that kind of country.

It's better to simply refrain from sleeping with drunk women, but false rape accusations are actually uncommon.

false rape accusations are actually uncommon.

Less likely than being hit by a comet?

There's lots of less misogynist dating advice I would try first, e.g. Mark Manson's stuff or Good Looking Loser. Why learn to hate women if you don't need to? And it's not even clear to me that the misogynist advice works better. I'd guess that Heartiste stands out more for his ability to stir up controversy and attract attention than give good advice. Even if your goal is developing unshakable self-confidence, I doubt reading him is the best way and I think it's plausibly counterproductive. (Offhand maybe try doing toastmasters, lifting weights, learning martial arts, meditating, getting therapy, making more male friends, drinking beer, other stuff?)

Also just an FYI, although there are definitely women for whom acting hypermasculine is the best approach, I've noticed that geeky women seem to be at the opposite end of this personality dimension. So if your goal is a long term relationship with a fellow geek, I think you're better off honing a different set of skills. (Guesses: good looks, interestingness, geek status markers, ability to help women who are socially anxious feel calm & safe around you.)

Seconded. I've read some stuff from Mark Manson and a lot of the stuff sounded very reasonable and insightful, didn't give me bad vibes. It goes to show that seduction does not have to be an adversarial process.

The second paragraph as well – tastes vary, and a certain typology may embody the ideal of some kinds of people, but fail to resonate with others. In particular, among people and especially among women who like to think of themselves as intellectuals, the loud-mouthed hunk is a bit of a shorthand for low intelligence, whereas less aggressively masculine features like a mild-mannered demeanour, introversion, glasses, long hair, and unassuming clothing can function as signals of high intelligence. The same thing for, let's say, bimbo types is code for wimp. (That's the judgment people pass before even having their first conversation with you.) In a sense, by projecting a certain outward appearance (including demeanour) you self-select for the kinds of people you have chances with.

More generally, it might be worth remembering that men's ideal masculinity is a bit, well, more masculine than women's. We factor in the features that make us respect another guy, whereas the same features might cross the border into indicators of threat, for women. (Or at least that's my anally extracted explanation of it.) This image exemplifies this (there's a female analogue of it too). In short: know thy market.

Actually I'll be honest and say I think I hit some sort of four part strange loop here, or maybe it's more like finite recursion. Let's start with "I want to improve my romantic success" and, in addition, I'd like to write a message I can't find that said "I read this classic, and it was good. Then I read the criticism, and I was amazed I never thought of that, then I read another criticism, and the cycle repeats".

Now, starting with the first quote we go to [romantic help site 1], that could be Heartiste or anyone else. Then you go to some other site that could be the "opposite" in their approach. Then you go to another site who presents another approach, and then another, and so you recurse until satisfied.

Basic wisdom seem to be distributed identically between these sites, like the whole self-confidence thing. Everything else is, at this point to me, experimental material.

I've reached some sort of nexus that I can take all kinds of wisdom - apply it, and see how it works. The conclusion is that "Try shit, there's too many variables and in the end nothing is predisposed to success and nothing is predisposed to failure." Maaybe some things are universally bad but once they're discovered they could be trivially dealt with.

In simplier terms: Approach: possibility of something happening No approach: nothing happens (for the majority of time. I've been approached by girls but only a few times, and I'm not particularly attractive nor unattractive)

That cycle happens to anyone with limited priors who's reading the writing of competent debaters who are consistently disagreeing with each other. That is, you need to gather more data. Eventually you will see through the fog and see who's right, for you will have seen it with your own eyes.

In the meantime, note that where rationality is lacking there will always be an inflated sense of disagreement. In rationalist communities, people tend to recognize a higher proportion of miscommunications. In instrumental-mode communities (e.g., PUA, paleo), talking past each other is generally taken as genuine difference in belief. There are plenty of memes that the original Heartiste spread throughout the community which have a positive effect on particular groups of men, but would be emotionally uncomfortable for the average woman to adopt. Who do you expect to argue for these memes, and who do you imagine would be likely to argue against them?

What should you do? Find the people who's lives seem most similar to yours, and try to apply their advice. If it produces the results you were looking for, then continue wading through their writings. Eventually you'll know what works for you.

One idea: have a system for meeting the kind of women you want to meet on a regular basis (ex: a particular dating site, a particular set of bars with a particular friend, going to dog parks with your dog, going to yoga classes, etc.) and try to meet lots of women through that system. Volume gets you two things: first you can habituate yourself to rejection because as it happens repeatedly it hurts less, and second your brain will start to notice & catch on to patterns in your interactions if they occur close to one another. By sticking to a particular way to meet women, you can ideally develop a system that works for that particular type of woman in that particular situation. (This is a generalized version of the common PUA advice to either concentrate on day game or night game at any given time. Choose a way to meet women that has a high density of the sort of woman you want to meet.) Read dating advice for ideas for things to try out. Discard the things that don't seem to work, continue using the things that do seem to work. Keep a log of all the women you meet. Try to notice patterns in your failures. Where is the weakest point in your "dating funnel"? Generate hypotheses for each failure and see if hypotheses appear consistently. Do you need to be more aggressive? Less aggressive? Which cues did you miss? Which cues did you misinterpret?

If you're not already comfortable making conversation with strangers, work on that first.

Another option is to try to read research related to relationship formation, e.g. this book.

[-][anonymous]6y 6

Disclaimer: I'm happily committedly monogamous.

I'd have to say his advice is great for playing the poisoned game of mostly promiscuous pseudo-relationships as the mainstream low culture of certain countries sells them to people.

Now, the reason I say "poisoned game" is that, having played that game and developed a reputation for playing that game, I expect you to be miserable. The whole routine sounds inviting when you're basically an utter newb (fabled to be a creature called a "virgin") and don't know just how fucked-up and unhappy relationships can get yet. When you've seen a few relationships crash-and-burn because they didn't really respect each-other and each-other's agency, while you've seen relationships thrive when they do respect each-other, you start generalizing and noticing how the initial stages of the "dating process", as culturally pitched to people, seem carefully optimized to make most relationships get off on the wrong foot.

Note that the original writer who made the website popular may have stopped posting many years ago. For the core information, stick to the posts from 2007-2009. Everything else is potentially (and in most cases) a massive step down.

As for whether reading 2007-2009 era Heartiste would lead to instrumentally rational behavior, it would depend very much on your particular cognitive architecture, position in life, and so on. If you're a young, heterosexual male who values an extremely high level of intellectual and physical freedom, and you tend to have overly altruistic tendencies which harm you in the long term (thereby also decreasing your ability to help other people in the long term), then you may benefit very significantly from the content.

Keep in mind that he's more of an artist and wordsmith than an epistemic-mode thinker. Rather than pinpointing specific theories and arguments he makes, and then asking whether they're accurate descriptions of reality; instead read an expansive selection of his writing and notice the effects on your feelings, intuitions, etc.

Like all instrumental rationality, it depends on how it aligns with your terminal goals, and how you feel about conscious action which affects others' unconscious reactions. I'd recommend Cialdini or Carnegie as required reading alongside PUA thinking, so you can understand what parts are general human reactions and what parts are specific to sexualized interactions with a certain type of woman.

I do think that it's likely a true belief that most humans act and react in fairly hardwired ways, and understanding those reactions is beneficial for a whole lot of terminal desires. I don't think that Heartiste (or others in the PUA clique) are focusing on the right things for long-term happiness and shared self-reflective growth with a partner.

I don't think that Heartiste (or others in the PUA clique) are focusing on the right things for long-term happiness and shared self-reflective growth with a partner.

The thing I noticed with Heartiste is that he's anti-marriage because it's a two-way street and in his opinion a significant majority of women won't make good wives. In his view there's some sort of paradox where women want to attract commitment but don't put significant effort to make the commitment worthwhile to the man.

I can't say if he's right or not but I can't disagree with some of the things he lists.

It's not as though men are reliably good partners, either.

If there's any good advice for identifying people who are likely to be reliable allies over the long haul (if they're treated decently), I'd like to see it.

Yeah, finding reliably good people is a problem in general.

But there is also this gender-specific part of problem... uhm, remember the OKCupid study about how women rated average men as "below average" on the attractivity scale? (Like an opposite of the Lake Wobegon effect.) So we have all the average women who believe they are looking for a correspondingly average man and can't find one, while in reality they are merely unwilling to settle in their own league.

Maybe Heartiste means something like this, from the opposite side. A woman who is in the man's league will believe she is better than him, and therefore will not put much effort into the commitment, because she is still waiting for the true prince to come for her. (It will take some hard lessons in life to learn what she can realistically expect, but those lessons take time, and Heartiste prefers young women.)

I remember having a conversation with a friend of mine, in which he said he didn't care about looking good for women or catering to them in general. Coupled with the fact that he often complained about not being able to get women, the whole situation seemed rather pathetic. Something about a lost license to complain, methinks.

When I look beyond my own grooming habits, the problem seems widespread. By contrast, and this is essential, there are industries upon industries dedicated to enhancing women's appearance, to which they are drawn irresistibly, often well past the point of diminishing returns. If this were an arms race of attractiveness, women won before the race even started. If we are to get even a little closer to the ideal of everybody being paired with someone in their "league", either both genders get preoccupied with enhancing their looks, or neither does. In fact, if we are to factor in the fact that men seem more needy, sexually, they should be the ones trying somewhat harder to look attractive. Remember, in most species ornamentation belongs to the male gender.

Looks matter. Whoever is telling you that the end-all-be-all of male attractiveness is position in a dominance hierarchy is bullshitting you and probably has an appetite for domination higher than is optimal or moral himself.

tl;dr Women's beauty industry has a distorting effect on average attractiveness for each gender, this might explain part of the discrepancy in standards, and men might need to pay more attention to their looks than the cultural standard if they want to "stay competitive".

"Reliable allies over the long haul" is pretty much the opposite of looking for a pretty face.

Why? What's the correlation between pretty face and unreliability?

Speaking very generally, a "pretty face" will have an easy time finding a partner. This means that the price of dumping someone will be low for him/her -- s/he can always find a replacement. S/he has incentives to extensively shop for the best deal.

Does that mean that, despite the mixed reaction to my question about Heartiste's advice, it would not be that bad to use said advice on pretty faces?

You surely are hoping that's what it means, eh?

No, I'm afraid someone's attractiveness doesn't take them out of the set of people whom it is immoral to emotionally abuse. From an outside perspective, you not getting laid is morally neutral. You reaching into your Jedi mind trick toolbox to get laid at the cost of lowering someone's life quality is very much not morally neutral. Why should she suffer more to get a worse deal? When she could enter a healthy relationship with someone who's attractive and ethical enough not to resort to dirty tricks to get her to stick around? Because it's you offering the deal, and I'm supposed to cheer for your side since I'm talking to you? No, I'm sorry, it doesn't work like that.

No, I'm afraid someone's attractiveness doesn't take them out of the set of people whom it is immoral to emotionally abuse.

We are not obliged, in our personal interactions, to refrain from actions which cause other people any amount of harm whatsoever.

This being so, there must be a point where an action is bad if it causes a certain amount of harm, but okay if it causes slightly less harm.

That being so, "less harm because they are more attractive and can find partners more easily" can be one cause of the slightly less harm.

You surely are hoping that's what it means, eh?

I was asking Lumifer specifically. But because you seem interested I'll put some more pixels into it:

Lumifer's post says that their price of dumping someone is generally lower, and they can easily find a replacement. If you could be easily replaced, then you'll naturally want a way to stand out. How does one stand out? No crows out there, so no need for straw men, either.

No, I'm afraid someone's attractiveness doesn't take them out of the set of people whom it is immoral to emotionally abuse.

Hm.. emotional abuse is a very strong word to use here. If I call that upping my chances, I can say that there are major differences here, but for the sake of our discussion, the most important thing is that one person perceives certain acts to be bad, while the other good. But clearly both of those are binary generalizations. The thing to do in this situation is to sit down and start breaking the machine apart and see which parts are the problem. I absolutely believe we could do that. Let's put things on a continuum instead of polar opposites.

you not getting laid is morally neutral.

I think there's plenty of people who would like a relationship but for whatever reason can't get it. Morally neutral, you got it. The situation could be better? Undeniably. The right way? Pssh.. no crows in the sky.

You reaching into your Jedi mind trick toolbox to get laid at the cost of lowering someone's life quality is very much not morally neutral.

This is a very common argument, and I'd like to point out that at this point you're repeating yourself.

But there's something that really bother me with that argument: that it gives too much power to one party and too little to the other. This type of argument implies that women have no way to defend themselves from such mind attacks. I'd like to know if this is really so. In parallel, I would also like to know how many women do defend themselves from those type of attacks. Does it not sound reasonable to be able to protect against damage, especially if you're vulnerable?

When she could enter a healthy relationship with someone who's attractive and ethical enough not to resort to dirty tricks to get her to stick around?

To all the glasses girls here: wanna have some action? Be quick though - there's a limited supply..

I don't know enough about Heartiste's advice to have an opinion.

Cool. Thanks for the reply.

You need good judgement.

How do you acquire good judgement? Through lots of experience.

How do you acquire lots of experience? Through bad judgement.


Offer them something you cannot afford. If they reject your offer, they will probably make good allies.

Like an engagement ring? "Oh, you don't want to marry me, that makes you the perfect wife!"

Not quite. A good ally is someone interested in your mutual well-being, and won't accept an offer that costs you more than it benefits them.

There are other ways of testing. That is my preferred approach.

I think it's a mistake to understand this subject as being primarily about persuasion and trying to apply Cialdini. Charisma doesn't come from an attempt to change other people but from doing inner work. If you are too much focused on the other person but not on yourself, you don't grow as well and won't be open to them.

I don't think that Heartiste (or others in the PUA clique) are focusing on the right things for long-term happiness and shared self-reflective growth with a partner.

For long-term happiness and shared growth that would be Athol Kay. Read his older stuff or buy his book; since the book was out he writes less interesting stuff just to keep the traffic.

Why do you recommend him?

Because he optimizes for marriage (as opposed to hundreds of one-night stands), and he seems to have a happy marriage, and his wife also contributes to his blog. This should remove most of the objections people have.

Because he optimizes for marriage (as opposed to hundreds of one-night stands), and he seems to have a happy marriage, and his wife also contributes to his blog.

I don't see how that's an indication that the advice he gives is good.

[-][anonymous]6y 0

I do think that it's likely a true belief that most humans act and react in fairly hardwired ways

Then I have to ask: which one's more hardwired, the bikini or the hijab?

Whatever works better for seduction :-P

It reads like a spin-off series from The Dog Whisperer. With further reading, the advice on how to treat people like Pavlovian subjects only gets more disgusting.

This is a very mixed bag of advice. As someone who actually understands the nature of this advice; the ability to pick out the right advice from the pile of shrivelling poop, is a skill I would credit very few people to have.

THERE IS GOOD ADVICE THERE. But good luck working out which sentence it is in.