As I understand it, Lent is a holiday where we celebrate the scientific method by changing exactly one variable in our lives for 40 days. This seems like a convenient Schelling point for rationalists to adopt, so:

What variable are you going to change for the next 40 days?

(I am really annoyed I didn't think of this yesterday.) 

Mentioned in
New Comment
82 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 1:12 AM
Some comments are truncated due to high volume. (⌘F to expand all)Change truncation settings

I'm not changing anything for the next 40 days, but I did change one variable about 50 days ago: I stopped reading political news altogether. The experiment, so far, is clearly a success, so I'm going to keep it that way.

2[anonymous]10y
I think I might stop reading blog posts and comment threads about gender issues.
2---10y
Its often not binary whether news is political or not - its more of a spectrum. Especially if you are reading something like the WSJ or FT. How do you tell where to draw the line?

Yes, I was a bit imprecise with "political". A better wording would be "I stopped consuming any newslike content except technical, professional and scientific news". So basically I excluded the entire remaining part of the spectrum. Sure, I occasionally get exposed to some political US-related content via tech news outlets, but these bits aren't nearly as toxic as Russian news, at least to me.

BTW, about 3 months before the above experiment I tried a complete disconnection from all dopamine loops I had in my life at that moment (i.e. all games, all social networks, all TV, all news, Reddit -- but not books). As I expected based on my previous off-the-grid vacations, I got an immediate, huge, steady productivity boost that lasted about 40 days, but I was pretty exhausted afterwards, so my current disconnection is not as extreme -- this time I allow myself some technical news and some gaming.

6Michelle_Z10y
I'm going to remove specific dopamine loops: particularly my habit of going on facebook to look at the nonsense my "friends" are posting, and I'll avoid clicking on my news tab more than once a day. I waste an alarming amount of time on it.
2Eugine_Nier10y
So, what are you doing here?
2Vladimir_Golovin10y
Lurking and occasionally posting anecdata, as usual. The experiment you quoted above is no longer in effect, and LW mostly fits into my definition of "technical, professional and scientific news". I don't think I'm ready to sustain a full abstinence for a period longer than two months, nor do I think it's a good idea in general. I'm working on finding the right balance, and I give myself a permission to suck in this regard. But one thing is clear: I'm done with consuming politics and peoplenews for the rest of my life.
2Ben Pace10y
Making plans to remove all dopamine loops now...

I'm thinking about stopping eating food, like this guy.

7Adele_L10y
I'm curious to see how well that works for different types of people; please let me know what it was like for you, if you end up doing it.
4beriukay10y
I'll keep you posted!
5[anonymous]10y
What are you going to make your soylent mixture out of?
5beriukay10y
Right now, I'm shopping around. I'll let you know when I've assembled (or at least decided upon) the ingredients.
3Qiaochu_Yuan10y
Interesting! He's also offering to ship Soylent to people [http://robrhinehart.com/?p=424], and it'll be free if you're willing to get various tests before and after a one-week trial.
3Qiaochu_Yuan10y
I signed up for this. Should be interesting.
0beriukay10y
I signed up, too, but he's been a bit slow in following through.
2tadrinth10y
I was browsing through discussions of that blog post on reddit, and someone pointed out that his formula has inadequate fiber. One batch has 1500ish calories from macronutrients (carbs/protein/fat), and only 5g of fiber. The daily recommended intake for fiber is 38g per day for an adult male [http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/foodnut/09333.html], so if you're only consuming Soylent, you'll want to increase the fiber per batch dramatically.
3beriukay10y
You're absolutely right. I've had a spot of trouble finding a source of fiber that won't expand and turn my version of soylent into a gelatin.
3tadrinth10y
I tried Metamucil packets a while back to help alleviate side effects of the antidepressants I was on, and the trick with those was to drink them reasonably quickly after you added water, before they turned into gel. With the single-serving packets, you could try adding the fiber right before drinking.
1[anonymous]10y
maybe flaxseeds? they were used in a smoothie in this video [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q98DGqBQ8hk] at about 1:30 also while having more than 5g is a good idea i doubt you need as much fiber as the RDA since it assumes you're eating food
0Kevin10y
Inulin?
2Gastogh10y
Sign me up for the interest list as well. On a related note: given the number of upvotes for the others who have expressed interest, the writeup might warrant a Discussion-level post when the time comes; if it does end up working anywhere near as well as Rhinehart's personal experiences, I feel we shouldn't risk the finding being buried in the comments of this thread. Also, in case you don't share his misgivings [http://robrhinehart.com/?p=424] about providing brand names, such a list would be appreciated. Part of the reason is that Rhinehart says he lives in one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world, and if he says some things are "hard to get" and have to be obtained from small suppliers, I might end up having to import them.
9beriukay10y
Man, my very own Discussion-level post! I'll start working on that. As for my list, I'm about 90% done with the first sweep, and then I'll go back through it and try to find better alternatives. One thing I've noticed so far is how outrageously high the dosages of some vitamins that makers generally sell! I knew it was above the FDA recommendations, but I didn't know that it was sometimes more than 3 orders of magnitude!
3[anonymous]10y
I heard that this is because your body won't absorb much of that dose in its synthetic, isolated, pressed-into-a-pill form, as they supposedly don't break down easily
2Eneasz10y
Soon please! I am sad that I found out about this via Facebook rather than LW because I don't keep up fully with comments. But this is the best thing ever, thank you!
[-][anonymous]10y 22

I am not interested in adopting steel-manned Christianity one tradition at a time, though it does provide many convenient rationalist Schelling points. If I need rationalist communion, confession, abstinence, washing of feet, blessing of throats, or Paschal celebration, I will take them up as they appear useful, and not because the church calender makes them salient. That might sound like reverse stupidity. It is. I am intentionally suppressing hypotheses which have been brought to my attention for the wrong reasons.

The line about Lent being scientific is cute, but really Lent is, to observing Christians, a time to practice penance, cleansing, and devotion. Which means that Lent and analogous ceremonies in other religions (Ramadan, Yom Kippur) provide data on the folk psychology of obedience and cleanliness! Let's explore.

The primary evolutionary purpose of disgust is in response to foods and scents which should be avoided because they could cause microbial contamination of one's body. Disgust drives us to avoid elicitors of disgust, such as dirt, wounds, corpses, bodily fluids and discharges (blood, feces, vomit, semen, puss, urine), unprepared foods, certain animals associated wi... (read more)

If I need rationalist communion, confession, abstinence, washing of feet, blessing of throats, or Paschal celebration, I will take them up as they appear useful, and not because the church calender makes them salient. That might sound like reverse stupidity. It is. I am intentionally suppressing hypotheses which have been brought to my attention for the wrong reasons.

This seems mildly uncharitable. It's not obvious that traditions that have lasted for a long time are hypotheses that have been brought to your attention for the wrong reasons. At least some of them are probably worth Chesterton's-fencing, although the rest of your comment does that to some extent and is quite informative; thanks!

2[anonymous]10y
That made sense. This isn't really a reply. I was just reading from Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia: An Illustrated Dictionary and they describe a bunch of Babylonian magical rituals, and it was neat, but I don't know anyone other than you who might find it interesting. So here we go. Patients wore amulets inscribed with incantations. So humans thought that putting words onto objects gave them powers. When we look look at words the meaning is very rapidly and involuntarily available to us, so it kind of makes sense that they'd associate "safe child delivery" with an amulet that said "safe child delivery", but that's still kind of crazy. I wonder if that kind of causal attribution to inscriptions is implicitly going on when people get tattoos that say "strength" or other virtues in the modern era. Incantations: The Babylonians had troves of memorized spells and narratives with various powers, some taken from other cultures like the Akkadians and Sumerians. The cool part is, the incantations were eventually classified by the Babylonians according to which demons they addressed. They had a demonic nosology! So of course people in ancient times could classify different diseases according to clusters of symptoms, just like now. It's just when they got done making their diagnosis, the name they gave to the disease belonged to an ethereal soul of darkness who needed to be scared away. I totally forgot to write about exorcisms in my last comment on the folk psychology of cleanliness. Anyway, the first incantation a Babylonian magician would incant was usually a shout-out to their favorite god, in order to identify the magician as an agent of the Light so the demon wouldn't attack the magician while the magician was dispelling whatever misfortune or ailment they had been contracted to deal with. Not surgical masks, not latex gloves. Just name-drop your city's patron deity and everything should be fine. Which is to say, humans gain unjustified courage agai
1someonewrongonthenet10y
Hey now, don't forget the Germanic pagan roots - Lent is during a time of year when all the food stores have run out, and there will be limited rations until the ducks migrate in and provide meat and eggs (Easter). Also, there is value in many of the things you mentioned. Abstinence from unhealthy things that feel good, engagement in healthy activities that feel terrible, and a general ethos of self control are great defenses against akrasia. Also, hygiene is important, and intermittent fasting may have some benefits.
1h-H10y
Not speaking of Lent specifically, but abstinence can restore enjoyment as much as teach impulse control. Take chocolate for example; overindulge and it'll lose it's appeal, so then take a month/40 days/etc break from it and you'll be able to eat it again. Or -more anecdotal- in Ramadan Muslims are supposed to abstain from food & sex during the day, this leads to a lot of 'feasting' once night falls as well as a marked increase in sex. You don't have to do Lent or whatever, but such rituals are/can be quite useful.

As I understand it, Lent is a holiday where we celebrate the scientific method by changing exactly one variable in our lives for 40 days.

As I understand it, the other main point is to focus on giving up one thing that may be acting as a superstimulus, the restricting it to 40 days is a great way to make it easier to temporarily quit.

This seems useful. I'll be giving up reddit for the next 40 days.

9FiftyTwo10y
My experience has been I transfer to other distracting websites, so if you are trying to increase productivity a more general block may help.
6Eugine_Nier10y
You may be better off focusing on what you should be doing, rather than avoiding what you shouldn't.
4ModusPonies10y
That's a possibility. A week from now, I'll report what happened and decide whether I need a wider block. (Boomering reminder sent to myself.)
0[anonymous]10y
It has been two weeks.
6ModusPonies10y
Result so far: as FiftyTwo predicted, I've been spending time on other, higher-value distracting websites instead. My productivity is unchanged, but instead of wasting time on reddit, I'm spending time reading articles on this site or watching Starcraft or talking with friends in irc and generally doing fun things that I actually endorse. I consider this change a success so far. EDIT MAY 1: This seems to have led to a permanent change. I estimate I spend maybe 20 minutes on reddit a week, now.
1quiet10y
Great idea, I'm going to join you. Nothing of value will be lost. March 26th: Reddit crashes as we open infinitely many new tabs in a fit of Burroughs-tier depravity.

Very well. I will give up my most time consuming occupation. I will give up LessWrong. It takes up about an hour of surfing per day.

I will still work through the ePub of the sequences. And who knows, when I get back, EY might've finally posted another part of the latest sequence! (that whole 'three times per week' hasn't exactly worked out...)

I intend to do a caffeine cut soon because I've reached an insane tolerance rate. I may also cut chocolate and/or sugary foods in general, but am unsure such a life would be worth living.

I may also cut chocolate and/or sugary foods in general, but am unsure such a life would be worth living.

The sources I've been reading suggest that milk chocolate is the devil but 90% dark chocolate might be okay.

9OrphanWilde10y
Tried it; the most awesome part about not taking caffeine anymore, for me, was the fact that one cup of coffee would then do as much as five previously. The downside is that I did not, in fact, feel less groggy generally, even after adjusting. Even with my high tolerances a caffeinated life is more energetic than a non-caffeinated life. I'm sticking with caffeine.
1[anonymous]10y
What I do is being liberal with caffeine on weekdays but almost completely abstaining from it at weekends.
5quiet10y
Went cold turkey on caffeine a couple weeks ago after sustaining a 3-6 cup daily intake for months. Been feeling unmotivated, taking the occasional mid-day nap, and having unpleasant thoughts along the lines of 'where's my god damn coffee' when urges went unfulfilled. The first 3 days were lazy, headache-clouded, and unproductive. After that, though, I started to notice that I felt like working on projects in the afternoon and evening. It's a minor change in mood that's led to a major change in behavior, at least in the short term. Worth the costs, even if only for a brief change of pace.

I have a candidate and it might be an odd one. I think I'll give up watching the Daily Show for 40 days. I've been watching it for almost its entire existence (before Jon Stewart was the host) and take a certain hipster pride in the fact that I watched the show before it became the widely known, popular thing it is now. But for awhile now, I haven't derived that much enjoyment from actually watching it. Some interviews, an occasional chuckle here and there, but mostly I find myself annoyed at how lazy the writing has become and Stewart's increasing tendency to stretch out bits well past their actual punchline.

But it's been such an ingrained habit for so long and it feels like compromising part of my identity, albeit a small, insignificant part of it. So, for the next 40 days, I won't watch the Daily Show.

Not the Colbert Report though, that show is genius.

5Yossarian10y
Having now concluded Rationalist Lent, I have determined that it is worth my time and I do genuinely prefer to keep watching the Daily Show. At Lent's conclusion, I started rewatching and ended up watching all the episodes that I missed (the ones still available anyway) with a renewed appreciation. Coincidentally, I also just finished a comprehensive cleanup of all my harddrives, stretching back over ten years, and at the bottom of one of the oldest (pulled from my closet), I found an episode from 1999. I have no earthly idea why I downloaded/saved it in the first place, but I watched it and lo and behold, it wasn't that funny. The real culprit here, I think, was Nostalgia Bias. One additional note: During RL, news broke that Stewart would be taking a hiatus from hosting and be replaced by John Oliver, starting this summer. That sort of wrecked my experiment, since I knew right away my preferences would be to continue watching in that case. Though you could still make the argument that 22 minutes, four days a week, over 3 months would be a significant savings. And even disregarding entirely, it was still a nice exercise in willpower; a demonstration to myself that I am in control of the choices I make and that I can counteract the habits and urges of my System 1.
4JayDee10y
Good luck. This reminds me of an experience from my childhood. After watching the finale of Seinfeld, my mother made some kind of comment about how I watched so much TV it was unhealthy. I decided to go a week without watching any television, you know, just to prove her wrong. And I managed it (admittedly I taped the X-Files to watch after the week had passed. I am unreasonably proud that I went four years without missing an episode even though these days it is trivial to see them all.) It's the first example I can think of where I took an unexamined behavior and made it a deliberate one. It was a good experience to have behind me.

This is likely to be a poorly-controlled experiment, isn't it? For instance, my quality of life changes greatly based on sleep quality, which lately is controlled by work schedules, seasonal allergen exposure, and whether or not my baby is teething, none of which I can greatly effect and any of which could overwhelm any experimental variable.

But what the heck:

I was only contemplating this before, but it seems like a good idea and perhaps posting here will make it "official" in my head: I'm going to be a teetotaler for the next 40 days. I've nev... (read more)

6roystgnr10y
An update in case anyone cares, because I appreciate the precommitment effect that posting here gave me: Not drinking didn't noticeably change my quality of life in most of the metrics I was trying to keep track of (sleep levels, stress levels, behavior towards others, effectiveness of parenting, quality of output at work). These are obviously hard to measure so I can't rule out the possibility that there were improvements that neither I nor close friends and family noticed. By far the strongest benefit of not drinking was simply the assurance that I could do so without straining my willpower, and for that reason alone I'm glad I participated. Not drinking didn't strongly impair my quality of life in the few instances where I might have feared it would: social outings and work functions where alcohol was served were still pleasant when I didn't partake. I did sometimes miss my dinner cocktail at home, but not enough to tempt me to "cheat". By far the strongest cost of not drinking was the inability to destress as rapidly at the end of a hard day, but my life isn't stressful enough for this to be a real problem. I expected to save $40 or so by not drinking, but I spent about that much more than average on entertainment this month. I think this was coincidence, but maybe "mixology" entertains or sedates me in a way that sates my demand for new games/movies/etc. Also unexpected, and more interesting: after two or three weeks this became a real life "Smoker's Lesion" situation. I already had enough experience to come to nearly all of the conclusions above, so the value of the experiment was over, and there was no value in continuing... except that "I'm not addicted, therefore I can stop abstaining" would have been precisely the sort of thing a rationalizing addict would say too, and so would have been (weak) evidence that I was addicted! Thanks to the public precommitment to a fixed length of abstention, though, the situation was made much less ambiguous: quitting t
6Qiaochu_Yuan10y
Sure. But I think it's easy to come up with lots of reasons like this not to try new things, with the end result being that you never try new things. Bad times. So, at least in my own life, I'm trying to implement a general policy of erring on the side of trying new things, and I'll cross the bad-methodology bridge once I get to it.

I'm attempting to give up the fundamental attribution error.

That does seem like the sort of thing you'd do.

I'll start: I'm going to give up rice. I eat a lot of rice by default. I've wanted to try cutting out "bad carbs" for awhile, but this has been the main sticking point, so it's got to go.

8shminux10y
What do you expect to happen?
6Qiaochu_Yuan10y
I have generally low energy throughout most days (last Friday morning was a welcome exception that I haven't figured out) and am trying to fix this. I've been told that cutting out processed / refined carbs is an intervention that has fixed this problem in some people. And a hypothesis affords testing. My current estimate of the probability that this intervention will fix the problem (subjectively; I may also try dual N-back testing to quantify the effect but am open to other suggestions) is maybe 40%.
7Will_Newsome10y
N.B. for self-experimenters: bullet chess and three minute blitz chess are very, very useful for quick, fun cognitive testing once you're beyond ~1400 Elo and aren't improving rapidly. If you're attentive not only will you notice overall performance changes, you'll notice changes in various subskills, some of which I strongly suspect have transfer with rationality subskills. (Not enough time to justify that claim here.) Whenever I try a new drug or am just feeling different for some unknown reason I'll play at least five games of blitz to figure out more precisely what's different about my mind. (N-back works too of course but is relatively aversive and doesn't factorize into subskills as introspectively-obviously as chess does. But that could very well be because I never got beyond 4-back whereas I've played a lot of chess.)
0OrphanWilde10y
Do you crave salty food, or salt food more than most other people?
2Qiaochu_Yuan10y
I don't know. How would I test that?
2OrphanWilde10y
I guess it's simpler to get at what I'm getting at more directly: Look into iodine deficiency, and see if that could be a cause. -Especially- if you have strong negative reactions to high-carbohydrate foods, as reactive hypoglycemia is one of the less common symptoms. (It's one I get, actually, which is why I'm aware of it; white rice knocks me out of commission when I haven't been taking regular iodine supplements.)
2Qiaochu_Yuan10y
I don't have strong negative reactions to high-carbohydrate foods (they sometimes make me tired). The symptoms of iodine deficiency seem pretty severe and inconsistent with my experience.
4RomeoStevens10y
Of all the carb heavy foods to cut out, I'd cut out rice 2nd to last (potatoes absolutely last). What makes it "bad" to you?
2Qiaochu_Yuan10y
The sources I've been reading are neutral-to-mildly-unhappy about it (Archevore [http://www.archevore.com/panu-weblog/2011/9/29/jimmy-moore-inquires-about-safe-starches.html] , Bulletproof [http://www.bulletproofexec.com/the-complete-illustrated-one-page-bulletproof-diet/] , Mark's Daily Apple [http://www.marksdailyapple.com/is-rice-unhealthy/#axzz2KtLv5Eaj], 4-Hour Body), and I eat a lot of it.
3RomeoStevens10y
Ah, so the plan is cold turkey to break the habit of using it as a main component of diet? Sounds good.
1Qiaochu_Yuan10y
Yes, at the very least it should force me to explore my other options.
1---10y
Use brown rice rather than white rice. Here is a great table comparing the nutritional differences: http://www.rebeccablood.net/domestic/rice.html [http://www.rebeccablood.net/domestic/rice.html] Brown rice is very healthy. But it takes longer to cook. I just bought a rice cooker - a nice 8-in-1 one from Tefal on Amazon. Easily worth the £50 in saved time, effort, long term health costs. Takes 90 mins to cook. I usually, after 80 mins, add some broccoli to steam inside the rice-cooker. Then I just need to have cooked some chicken with a little flavour and I have an exceptionally healthy, tastey meal. Great for anyone starting bodybuilding (which if you like sex, is a rational thing to do).
0James_Miller10y
In an effort to cut out "bad carbs" I've been eating a lot more rice as a substitute for other carbs. What are your good carbs?
0NancyLebovitz10y
For what it's worth, quinoa seems pretty benign in terms of how it leaves me feeling.
0Qiaochu_Yuan10y
Based on my reading: potatoes (neutral), sweet potatoes, bananas.
0James_Miller10y
I've also read positive things about sweet potatoes. But don't bananas have a lot of sugar in them [http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/fruits-and-fruit-juices/1846/2]?
3Qiaochu_Yuan10y
I suppose, but less of it is fructose than in other fruits. I don't intend to eat large quantities of bananas either way.

I was thinking of making February "catch up with people I've been meaning to catch up with" month. But I kept putting it off and failed to think of a catchier name.

So instead I decided to give up procrastinating about social initiation for Lent.

So far it is working well: I'm learning about how difficult it is to schedule things with adults (which more interesting than intimidating upon reflection) and also learning that rejection does hurt a whole bunch but that I am more resilient in the face of it than I suspected.

4Qiaochu_Yuan10y
That would've been a good proposal for Rationalist Valentine's Day!

Seems like a potential way for enforcing THE GODDAMN PRECOMMITMENTS.

I'm making the same sacrifice I did during Advent: going to bed by 1am

The thing I really like about late hours is the flexibility of them. As long as I’m awake and alert feeling, there’s always more time to get things done. It doesn't necessarily take a toll on my life (thankfully, I seem to need less sleep than average), but it’s not great having that time in the open-ended evening instead of the morning.
I like whatever superpowers accrue to me, but enjoying a strength is different than denying a limit. So I’d rather shift my waking time to the morn

... (read more)
[-][anonymous]10y 3
2Qiaochu_Yuan10y
I quit less than halfway through. It turns out that when I stop eating rice, the most convenient substitutes are bread and pasta. Oops. On the other hand, I did start Fast-5 [http://www.fast-5.com/].
[-][anonymous]10y 2

This is a great idea!

I'm going to quit LW and doing things other than work at work. I know that's two variables, and therefor more likely to fail, but they can be separate commitments.

See you April 1st. Kick my ass if I'm back before then.

I grew up in a relaxed Christian family, so Lent was kind of always like this for me. Well, more of a challenge than a controlled experiment. I gave up sugar (within reasonable boundaries) last year. My blog post announcing it if you're looking for the details. I was successful, and it was surprising how many products are actually quite sweet.

I kind of forgot, this year, or perhaps I just have so many other changes I'm trying to make that it felt overwhelming to try to do something else too.

How about giving up magical thinking? I don't know if it would be possible though as it seems to creep in at the margins.

The Rationalist Pope recommends giving up things with the property that it is easy to tell if you've accidentally stopped giving them up.

Thinking that you have the ability to give up magical thinking might be magical thinking...

1shiftedShapes10y
An induced coma might do the trick.

New to LessWrong?