LoganStrohl's Shortform

by LoganStrohl3rd Dec 201918 comments
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Suppose you wanted to improve your social relationships on the community level. (I think of this as “my ability to take refuge in the sangha”.) What questions might you answer now, and then again in one year, to track your progress?

Here’s what’s come to mind for me so far. I’m probably missing a lot and would really like your help mapping things out. I think it’s a part of the territory I can only just barely perceive at my current level of development.

  • If something tragic happened to you, such as a car crash that partially paralyzed you or the death of a loved one, how many people can you name whom you'd find it easy and natural to ask for help with figuring out your life afterward?
  • For how many people is it the case that if they were hospitalized for at least a week you would visit them in the hospital?
  • Over the past month, how lonely have you felt?
  • In the past two weeks, how often have you collaborated with someone outside of work?
  • To what degree do you feel like your friends have your back?
  • Describe the roll of community in your life.
  • How do you feel as you try to describe the roll of community in your life?
  • When's the last time you got angry with someone and confronted them one on one as a result?
  • When's the last time you apologized to someone?
  • How strong is your sense that you're building something of personal value with the people around you?
  • When's the last time you spent more than ten minutes on something that felt motivated by gratitude?
  • When a big change happens in your life, such as loosing your job or having a baby, how motivated do you feel to share the experience with others?
  • When you feel motivated to share an experience with others, how satisfied do you tend to be with your attempts to do that?
  • Do you know the love languages of your five closest friends? To what extent does that influence how you behave toward them?
  • Does it seem to you that your friends know your love language?
  • To what extent do you “know how to have friends”?
  • Describe your relationship with your boss.
  • Describe your relationships with your co-workers.
  • When you think about being part of a church, how much longing do you feel?
  • When you notice that you feel lonely or isolated, how do you tend to respond?
  • How satisfied do you tend to be with your response to feelings of loneliness or isolation?
  • Imagine that you suddenly had to move to another city where nobody knew you and there were no rationalists or EAs. How surprised would you be to hear that within two years, you’d feel well supported by a warm and friendly network of local social connections?
  • Excluding people who live in your house, how many faces can you picture of the people who live on your street? How many of them could you greet by name? How many of them have you spoken to in the past month? How many of them have you helped with something? How many of them have helped you with something?
  • When you think about your participation in your community, what do you feel dissatisfaction or longing about?
  • If you suddenly moved to another city, how big is the hole you would leave in your community? What would be its shape? In what ways and to what extent have the people around you come to depend on you?
  • How much stronger are you with your community than without it? In what ways, specifically, have you allowed it to support you over the past year, and how much benefit did you gain from that?

Some of these reminded me of when Weft asked a few slightly related qustions previously.

I find this list really helpful. In general, I've found this framework of breaking down fuzzy questions about social skills like this pretty helpful for seeing progress.

Thanks for making it!

Some advice to my past self about autism:

Learn about what life is like for people with a level 2 or 3 autism diagnosis. Use that reference class to predict the nature of your problems and the strategies that are likely to help. Only after making those predictions, adjust for your own capabilities and circumstances. Try this regardless of how you feel about calling yourself autistic or seeking a diagnosis. Just see what happens.

Many stereotypically autistic behaviors are less like symptoms of an illness, and more like excellent strategies for getting shit done and having a good life. It’s just hard to get them all working together. Try leaning into those behaviors and see what’s good about them. For example, you know how when you accidentally do something three times in a row, you then feel compelled to keep doing it the same way at the same time forever? Studying this phenomenon in yourself will lead you to build solid and carefully designed routines that allow you to be a lot more reliably vibrant.

You know how some autistic people have one-on-one aides, caretakers, and therapists who assist in their development and day-to-day wellbeing? Read a bit about what those aides do. You’ll notice right away that the state of the art in this area is crap, but try to imagine what professional autism aides might do if they really had things figured out and were spectacular at their jobs. Then devote as many resources as you can spare for a whole year to figuring out how to perform those services for yourself.

It seems to me that most of what’s written about autism by neurotypicals severely overemphasizes social stuff. You’ll find almost none of it compelling. Try to understand what’s really going on with autism, and your understanding will immediately start paying off in non-social quality of life improvements. Keep at it, and it’ll eventually start paying off in deep and practical social insights as well (which I know you don’t care about right now, but it’s true).

I know you want me to tell you what to read. You’re going to hate my answer. Basically everything related to autism that you pick up will be slightly helpful but woefully inadequate. Most things you find will seem deeply confused and infuriatingly bound up with identity politics. The most practical stuff will be written for parents with autistic children, and most of that will seem to be trying to comfort the parents by making their kids act less weird, never mind what the kids are experiencing or why. It’s really awful, I’m so sorry.

Go get on Google Scholar as you were obviously going to anyway, and you’ll find at least *some* juicy theoretical stuff. After that, your best resources will not be found under “autism”, but under “predictive processing” and “perceptual control theory”. Three notable semi-exceptions are *The Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome* by Tony Atwood, *Women and Girls with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Understanding Life Experiences from Early Childhood to Old Age* by Sarah Hendrickx and Judith Gould, and *The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime* by Mark Haddon. (You’ll get farther with this if you first train the skill “getting the most out of books that you hate”.)

Everything published by the organization “Autism Speaks” is gonna piss you off to no purpose. Just skip it.

Here's a thing I posted to Facebook four years ago:

In a thread about Jennifer Kahn's NYT article on CFAR, someone observed that there are an awful lot of articles that amount to "techie birdwatching", which are sort of like "check out what this crowd of weird people does, aren't they weird?" Nearly every article I've seen on rationalist-related organizations and events has been like that, and I've noticed it's upset some of my fellow birds. It's mean in real life to treat somebody like a circus freak, and that's how it can feel to be a secondary character in one of these stories.

I responded with (approximately) the following.

About the birdwatching: I think this comes straight from the story structure. (Application of Orson Scott Card's MICE model follows.) If you plan to use narrative structure to give your nonfiction article greater emotional impact, you've sort of got four basic options:

  1. You can start with a puzzle that you'll work with the reader to solve over the course of the story. This could have been "Trustworthy person X claims to have done impressive thing Y using CFAR techniques. How did that happen? I went to a CFAR workshop, and as you may have guessed from the clues I spent most of this article dropping, it turns out the solution to the puzzle is Y."

  2. You can follow a specific person, opening with a dilemma that threatens their self-narrative and role in their community, showing their struggle to re-define themselves, and closing with their adoption of a new self-narrative/role. This could have been, "Tod signed up for a CFAR workshop when he could no longer put up with [thing]. This story is about his struggle to learn and apply the techniques taught at the CFAR workshop he attended, and the person he became as a result."

  3. You can open with a dark force throwing the world into chaos, follow some people who struggle to re-establish order, and close when they've succeeded. This could have been, "Things were fine and dandy at the CFAR worshop until [disaster]. We used a bunch of rationality techniques (which they taught us over the course of the workshop) to deal with [disaster], and in the end things were good again and we had a big party."

  4. You can open with an outsider journeying to a strange new land, show them experiencing a bunch of new and interesting things, and close with them returning home a slightly different person than they were when they set out. This one looks like, "I heard about this interesting thing called CFAR, so I attended a workshop to find out what it was all about. While there, I experienced a bunch of things through the eyes of an outsider on an alien world. Then I went home, and found those experiences stayed with me in a narratively satisfying way."

With the possibilities laid out like that, I think it's pretty easy to see why most reporters are going to augment their straight-facts reporting with 4-type story structure. It's just way easier, unless they happen to be reporting on an organization where they're already an insider. So when a reporter uses 4-type story structure with a Bay Area thing as the setting, the weird and interesting things the main character sees through the eyes of an outsider will be the sort of geeky and bohemian people and behaviors that exist in the Bay. If they didn't approach it like that, then unless they used some other story structure, the narrative would lose almost all of its emotional resonance.

They're not necessarily depicting us as bizarre aliens because they find us incomprehensible and like to make fun of us, or anything like that. They're likely doing it because they know how to tell a good story.

So I think if you want coverage for CFAR (or another unusual organization) that doesn't focus on how it's full of weird geeks and cultish behaviors, I think you have to pitch a journalist a story idea from one of the other three categories of structure, and somehow make it easier and/or more compelling for them to stick to that structure instead of falling back on "I'm an outsider going to a new place to see strange things."

I wrote up my shame processing method. I think it comes from some combination of Max (inspired by NVC maybe?), Anna (mostly indirectly), and a lot of trial and error. I've been using it for a couple of years (in various forms), but I don't have much PCK on it yet. If you'd like to try it out, I'd love for you to report back on how it went! Please also ask me questions.

What's up with shame?

According to me, shame is for keeping your actions in line with what you care about. It happens when you feel motivated to do something that you believe might damage what is valuable (whether or not you actually do the thing).

Shame indicates a particular kind of internal conflict. There's something in favor of the motivation, and something else against it. Both parts are fighting for things that matter to you.

What is this shame processing method supposed to do?

This shame processing method is supposed to aid in the goal of shame itself: staying in contact with what you care about as you act. It's also supposed to develop a clearer awareness of what is at stake in the conflict so you can use your full intelligence to solve the problem.

What is the method?

The method is basically a series of statements with blanks to fill in. The statements guide you a little at a time toward a more direct way of seeing your conflict. Here's a template; it's meant to be filled out in order.

I notice that I feel ashamed. 
I think I first started feeling it while ___.
I care about ___(X). 
I'm not allowed to want ___ (Y). 
I worry that if I want Y, ___.
What's good about Y is ___(Z).
I care about Z, and I also care about X.

Example (a real one, from this morning):

I notice that I feel ashamed. I think I first started feeling it while reading the first paragraph of a Lesswrong post. I care about being creative. I'm not allowed to want to move at a comfortable pace. I worry that if I move at a comfortable pace, my thoughts will slow down more and more over time and I'll become a vegetable. What's good about moving at a comfortable pace is that there's no external pressure, so I get to think and act with more freedom. I care about freedom, and I also care about creativity.

On using the template:

The first statement, "I notice that I feel ashamed," should feel a lot like noticing confusion. To master this method, you'll need to study experiences of shame until you can reliably recognize them.

The second statement, "I think I first started feeling it while ___," should feel like giving a police report. You don't tell stories about what it all means, you just say what happened.

The rest should feel like Focusing. Wait for a felt shift before moving to the next statement.

This isn't directly responding to you, more like a cached thing-I-wanted-to-share-that-I-was-slightly-wary-of-sharing-as-a-top-level-post, but which feels relevant.

I notice a lot of people in my social circles having a pretty strong "shame is bad" orientation, which makes sense, because I think overuse and abuse of shame has deeply hurt a lot of people. I think there's an overall pendulum swing against it that makes sense as a knee jerk reaction.

The ideal, longterm steady state probably looks something like you're pointing at here (whether this particular method works, in general 'people should develop emotional processing skills', and a world where people learn that better seems like a world that overall makes much better use of the human emotional spectrum, including parts that people experience as negative-valence)

But...

...even without sophisticated emotional processing, I've found myself swing my own personal pendulum back towards "actually shame is pretty fine and useful, and I should probably be employing it slightly more on the margin." It's a bit tricky because I think it depends at least somewhat on group norms.

The crystallizing moment for me was when I worked at Spotify, and there (used to be) an office norm where if you left your laptop open, in such a way that an employee could gain access to it, they would open your email client and send the office a message saying "coffee and donuts are on me!" and then you had to buy coffee/donuts for your team.  (the idea was the encourage people to treat security seriously)

My team leader mentioned this soon after I got hired, and I sort of nodded, but didn't really change my behavior munch.

Then, a couple weeks later, I did leave my laptop open. And someone sent an email from my account. And when I found out, I got a spike of shame...

...and I never did it again (at least while working at Spotify).

And that gave me a crisp sense of when shame was supposed to be for – implementing simple group norms.

I think the failure of shame in wider society has to do with a) some cultures/religions using shame as a weird weapon where they make basically anything fun or sexual shameful, in a way that is not actually healthy. b) in melting-pot civilizations, you don't even get the the thing where "there's a simple set of rules you can learn", instead there's a bunch of overlapping rules and you don't know what you're going to get socially punished for.

It's a potent tool, and that's what makes it dangerous and important to weird carefully, wisely, sparingly.

I think that most of what I've gotten out of the Sequences is actually this. The act of noticing. I think it not only applies to shame, but to many more related internal conflicts.

In my experience, it's surprising the amount which we can learn by applying procedures such as the method you outline. Hopefully we get to see more about this.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about monographs .

“A monograph is a specialist work of writing… or exhibition on a single subject or an aspect of a subject, often by a single author or artist, and usually on a scholarly subject… Unlike a textbook, which surveys the state of knowledge in a field, the main purpose of a monograph is to present primary research and original scholarship ascertaining reliable credibility to the required recipient. This research is presented at length, distinguishing a monograph from an article.”

I think it’s a bit of an antiquated term. Either that or it’s chiefly British, because as an American I’ve seldom encountered it.

I know the word because Sherlock Holmes is always writing monographs. In *A Study In Scarlet*, he says, “I gathered up some scattered ash from the floor. It was dark in colour and flakey—such an ash as is only made by a Trichinopoly. I have made a special study of cigar ashes—in fact, I have written a monograph upon the subject. I flatter myself that I can distinguish at a glance the ash of any known brand, either of cigar or of tobacco.” He also has a monograph on the use of disguise in crime detection, and another on the utilities of dogs in detective work.

When I tried thinking of myself as writing “monographs” on things, I broke though some sort of barrier. The things I wrote turned out less inhibited and more… me. I benefited from them myself more as well.

What I mean by “monograph” is probably a little different from what either Sherlock or academia means, but it’s in the same spirit. I think of it as a photo study or a character sketch, but in non-fiction writing form.

Here are my guidelines for writing a monograph.

1. Pick a topic you can personally investigate. It doesn’t matter whether it’s “scholarly”. It’s fine if other people have already written dozens of books on the subject, regardless of whether you’ve read them, just as long as you can stick your own nose in the actual subject matter as well. It would be hard for me to write a monograph on the cognitive effects of blood redistribution in high-G environments, because I don’t own a fighter jet. But I could absolutely write a monograph on the cognitive effects of blood redistribution during physical inversion, because I can do a handstand against the wall or hang upside down from a horizontal bar.

2. Write down dozens of questions about the topic. Yes, really, dozens. They don’t have to be good questions. Do this in brainstorming mode. Afterward, highlight the questions you feel particularly drawn to. Don’t leave out anything you feel a burning itch to know, even if it seems literally impossible to answer.

3. Pick one of your questions and start writing about it. As you write, do whatever investigations occur to you, and write about them. Favor methods that put you in more direct contact with the territory, even when you expect you could read about someone else’s investigations. Please do write later about somebody’s meta-analysis on whether things fall up, but go drop a bunch of pencils on your own first.

4. Do this with all of the questions on your list that call to you. When you’re done, you’ve written a monograph.

Now that you have some idea of what the heck I’m even doing, maybe I’ll feel more comfortable sharing my monographs here. My plan is to publish them little by little as I write, so other people can influence my investigations. You’ll get a series of “essays”, but they may be in a wide range of styles and formats from poetry to data sets to expository prose, the better to see the topic from many perspectives.

I really like this concept. It currently feels to me like a mixture between a fact post and an essay

From the fact-post post: 

You explicitly do not look for opinion, even expert opinion. You avoid news, and you're wary of think-tank white papers. You're looking for raw information. You are taking a sola scriptura approach, for better and for worse.

And then you start letting the data show you things. 

You see things that are surprising or odd, and you note that. 

You see facts that seem to be inconsistent with each other, and you look into the data sources and methodology until you clear up the mystery.

You orient towards the random, the unfamiliar, the things that are totally unfamiliar to your experience. One of the major exports of Germany is valves?  When was the last time I even thought about valves? Why valves, what do you use valves in?  OK, show me a list of all the different kinds of machine parts, by percent of total exports.  

From Paul Graham's essay post: 

Figure out what? You don't know yet. And so you can't begin with a thesis, because you don't have one, and may never have one. An essay doesn't begin with a statement, but with a question. In a real essay, you don't take a position and defend it. You notice a door that's ajar, and you open it and walk in to see what's inside.

If all you want to do is figure things out, why do you need to write anything, though? Why not just sit and think? Well, there precisely is Montaigne's great discovery. Expressing ideas helps to form them. Indeed, helps is far too weak a word. Most of what ends up in my essays I only thought of when I sat down to write them. That's why I write them.

I was honestly a bit surprised how well you managed to pull the exact moment from my childhood where I learned the word 'monograph'. I read every page of a beautiful red book that contained all of the Sherlock Holmes stories, and I distinctly recall the line about having written a monograph on the subject of cigar ash, and being able to discern the different types.

Sangha: Part 1

In years past, the word “community” conjured for me images of many people talking to each other, as at a party or a bake sale. When I thought of “finding community”, I thought of looking for a group of people that would frequently interact with each other and also me. It didn’t really sound appealing — lots of chaos, too many people talking at once, constant misunderstandings, and so forth. But I knew that I felt worse and worse over time if I never saw other people. So I entered a “community” of people with a shared interest, and therefore an excuse to spend time together, and I gradually tried to figure out how to make “community” a better experience. I failed at that, over and over, for years.

In 2019, I began to succeed. I know exactly why, but I feel a little embarrassed saying it, because it sounds so cheesy. I’ll say it anyway: I succeeded because I stopped looking for community outside of myself.

My new year’s resolution for this year was to “take refuge in the sangha”.

Literally, “sangha” is a group of monks and nuns living together at a monastery. When I spent a summer at a Zen temple, though, the abbess there used the term much more expansively. Sometimes she meant “everybody who comes to the temple”. Sometimes she meant “everyone who practices Buddhism”. Sometimes she meant “all sentient beings” (and she used “sentient” rather broadly as well, usually including all living things plus a variety of spirits). But whenever she said “sangha”, she always seemed to suggest something about her relationship to those beings, something with the flavor of monks and nuns practicing together day in and day out, washing floors together and meeting in the meditation hall well before the sun is up. In her view of the world, the grasshoppers in Germany are supporting her practice.

When I resolved to “take refuge in the sangha”, I intended to do it no matter where I was or who I was with. If it’s possible to be supported by the grasshoppers in Germany, then there ought to be some way to be supported by the strangers on the street, and the birds in my backyard, and the friends I haven’t seen in many months. I was after a way of being that’s antithetical to isolation, yet compatible with solitude.

That way of being, it turns out, is community. Or community results from it, or something. After a year of learning to take refuge in the sangha, my conception of community is not about what happens when people get together. It’s about what remains when they’re apart.

Thread on The Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis

Notes on Part One: Men Without Chests:

  • What is the relationship between believing that some things merit liking while others merit hatred, and the power to act?
  • Is there a way to preserve the benefits of a map/territory distinction mentality while gaining the benefits of map/territory conflation when it comes to taste/value/quality?
  • What exactly *are* the benefits of map/territory conflation?
  • Are terrible contortions necessary to believe in objective value wholeheartedly?
  • What are we protecting when we dismiss objective value? What does it seem to threaten?
  • "It is the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of things we are." What exactly is the word "to" doing in that sentence?
  • Everybody knows that value is objective, and also that it isn't. What are we confused about, and why?
  • What role does religion play in a community's relationship to value?
  • If everyone who ever lived thought a certain combination of musical notes was ugly, but in fact everyone were wrong, how could you know?
  • The Lesswrong comment guidelines say, "Aim to explain, not persuade." Is this a method by which we cut out our own chests?

The Lesswrong comment guidelines say, "Aim to explain, not persuade." Is this a method by which we cut out our own chests?

I‘m curious how this question parses for Vaniver