The Craft And The Community: Wealth And Power And Tsuyoku Naritai

by [anonymous]10 min read23rd Apr 201258 comments


Tsuyoku Naritai
Personal Blog

In this post, I'll try to tackle the question of whether this community and its members should focus more efforts and resources on improving their strength as individuals and as a community, than on directly tackling the problem of singularity. I'll start off with a personal anecdote, because, while I know it's not indispensable, I think anecdotes help the reader to think in near rather than far mode, and this post's topic is already too easily thought of in far mode in the first place.

The other day, I was in an idle conversation with a cab driver when he asked me: What would you do if you won the lottery? Is there some particular dream you have, such as travelling the world or something? I said (and I apologize in advance for the grandiosity and egotism of what follows, mostly because it might show a poor appraisal of my own competence and ability)

Well, it's not like I would ever play at the lottery, but if I did, and somehow won, I would

  • Pay myself the very best tutors and the very best education (I'm thinking Master's Degrees, PhD, and so on, that's all pretty damned expensive depending on where you take it) in my chosen speciality.
  • Pay myself the best aid in achieving peak sustainable physical, mental, and emotional condition (as optimized for the struggles and stresses of a daily life of extreme academic exertion, not for, say, performing in the battlefield, the olympics, or competitive chess). Coaches, gurus, chemicals, whatever it takes.
  • Spend one or two or even three years around the world learning as many "important" languages as I can. Not in order of ease or priority: Portuguese, Italian, Russian, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, Hindi, Urdu, Farsi, and Turkish and Arabic and Hebrew and their Ancient variants, because of all the doors these could open... and Basque and Navajo (those two would be just for the hell of it). (I already know English, Spanish, French, and a fair amount of German and Arabic).
  • With the acquired technical knowledge and skills, and the help of the contact network and the better understanding of human nature that learning so many languages and exploring so many cultures and travelling so much will have netted me, use the remaining money to start a business, one that involves as many people as possible in a way such that I can train them to be a Chaos Legion.
  • Hopefully, once I have achieved enough profits to make the growth of my business secure, donate a constant stipendium to my favourite nonprofits.
  • In my old age, use the returns from all the previous efforts to found a school (actually an integral education system, think something between Summerhill School and the Mahora Academy Complex) which would be optimized for great justice and the rigorous use and promotion and exponential spread of modern rationality



My reply surprised both of us. Him, because it was atypical (apparently most people would spend them on luxury items and so on, that is, they would spend their newfound money in signalling that they have it... I think the mistake comes from seeing rich people doing it and then assuming that that's what you should do if you become rich, the only other option apparently being saving it up in an account). That a modern rationalist came up with an atypical answer to such a question is only to be expected.

But I was surprised too, because I found it strange that what I thought I ought to do and what I wanted to do coincided so perfectly. I wasn't even expecting those last two points, they sort of naturally came out in the spur of the moment. Upon further thought, I was also surprised that this turned out to be merely an exaggeration and heavy of my pre-existing plan, which I am already attempting to follow with far less material means. That is to say, the dramatic change in money did not fundamentally change what I wanted to do with my (currently limited) lifetime.

But then I asked myself: if my priority is reducing existential risk, why am I not giving all the money to my favourite nonprofits immediately?

And that's where it hit me: I wanted to make myself stronger. And the point I'm trying to make is that, well, so should we all. Why?

There's a strong selfish component to that (not that there's anything wrong with healthy selfishness), but, for someone who considers existential risk an extremely important factor, enlightened self-interest might still be on the side of donating immediately.

But it might also be a sound strategy, sounder, perhaps, to exponentially increase our ability to help fight existential risk, in terms of fear, and improve the general level of human rationality, in terms of desire (I understand that we would all be happier in a world with more rational people, for many, many reasons, not all of which are altruistic). So, how would we go about this? I submit to you this tentative strategy draft.


  • Step Zero: Improve our own physical and mental condition. We need the best possible hardware to operate on. This will give us raw ability. The ability to gain abilities, so to speak. This includes making ourselves happy (which itself overlaps with and is enabled by some of the following points: it's a virtuous cycle).
  • Step One: Increasing our own personal, intrinsic worth: buying with our money goods that improve our ability to both obtain and enjoy more goods, and that could never be taken away from us by economic transaction. While we could teach ourselves those with only the cost of opportunity of not spending that time earning wages, well thought out and carefully applied expenditure can significantly accelerate and smooth the process. This will make us powerful, useful tools, for our own goals and for the goals of those that would associate with us (employers, allies, and so on). This will give us authority. We become acknowledged experts on or at a socially useful field. Scientists, Engineers, Artists and other highly skilled folks are on this level: they can already get a lot done, and change the world but, as the Creationism issue proves, among others, it isn't nearly enough. You often don't get to choose what to work on or how many resources are made available to you, you don't have any control on the fruit of your work once it's done and released, and you may always have trouble getting people to follow your advice, no matter how much you think you know better. Step one is the step of Intrinsic Power.
  • Step Two: Increasing our ability to take advantage of social status: learning and perfecting languages, social skills, communication and manipulation tools, dress sense and sense of signalling, dancing, romantic an sexual intelligence and skill (how many powerful people had their careers and/or reputations ruined forever because of badly handled sex and romance?)... That is, we will learn and master the rules of the game, the game we are all playing all the time by virtue of associating with other human beings, and avoid defecting by accident, among other possible mistakes. This will give us urbanity. Together with authority, it already means both credit and influence. At this level, you can actually get a lot more stuff done, because you're much better at persuading people to want to follow your suggestions out of their own volition.
    • This includes the ability to delegate, divide work and manage specialists, empower and motivate people to help you, helping them grow themselves in the process, etc. Step Two is the step of Soft Power.

A lot of effort has already been expended by the community in working on these first steps. But there's a third step that isn't getting worked on much, perhaps because of aesthetic values, perhaps because it's one of the most dangerous to wield, both to the world and to ourselves and our own personal integrity:

  • Step Three: Increase how much coercive power we hold over how many of our fellow human beings: the ability to make them do things or else. My impression is that economic power (both affluence and assets) is much more secure and far less vulnerable than other sources such as, say, media influence or political clout, or social power brokering (which is greatly enhanced by joining support groups or becoming one ourselves), (although the feedback between these tends to be positive, on average, and overlap and migration between them is hardly unheard of). This power is increased exponentially, and is much easier to maintain, by having both Step One (you actually know what you're doing or at least where to get the information, and are more able to judge it) and Two (you know what not to do and how to achieve the greatest results with the minimal expenditure of your power) under your belt, and of course all three steps profit from Step Zero. At this level, to a certain extent, people will do what you want them to, their own feelings, initiatives and desires factoring far less into the actions they end up choosing than they otherwise would.


Those are partly selfish goals unto themselves: power means freedom to do what you want, and that and high social status are already very enjoyable for their own sake. Additionally, the more of us achieve them (and the larger the capacity in which they achieve them), the more resources they can get assigned and the more support they can gather (or force) for the sake of efforts towards preventing existential risk. But I suggest that they be mainly planned, optimized and instrumentalized for Step Four, the most dangerous of all:


  • Step Four: Use the gained knowledge, skills, assets, and position to improve the overall level of both cognitive and instrumental rationality of humanity.


Which has the following advantages I can think of, listed without regard for altruism or selfishness:


  • Humans are enabled to be far more successful in the pursuit of happiness, whatever that is, and in otherwise improving themselves, their lives, and the world around them. Their liberty in terms of choices is also greatly increased, once free of akrasia and with an enhanced ability to identify and accurately assess choices.
  • We as rationalists feel far less isolated and vulnerable and far more at home in a world where there are more people like us and where people are more like us (not quite the same thing). Life will generally be more fun and interesting.
  • We'll get a much wider pool of potential candidates from which people with the ability to help prevent existential risk, and the cost and difficulty of gathering more support and resources will be greatly diminished. In other words, we'll be much more effective at preventing existential risk.


Does achieving Step Four mean humanity will actually be in less of a danger of self-destructing at that point? It's not a rhetorical question, and I don't think its answer is trivial: in particular, having many half rationalists (I might well still be one myself) running around might represent a considerable danger, which could be sustained in time. However, projects such as Methods of Rationality or The Centre for Modern Rationality, as well as this site's very existence seem to hint that some of the smartest among us are willing to take the risk.

So, the immediate question I ask of you in earnest, the whole point of this post: How do we go about spending our money and effort in the most effective way to prevent existential risk? How much to de expend in directly attacking the problem as we are, how much do we expend in actually making ourselves stronger?

In sillier terms: Should the Z Warriors go and try to confront Cell right now, before he grows too strong to beat, or should they avoid the fight and go train instead? (assume that they do nothing with their lives but be in fights, train to prepare for fights, or run away from fights they are not prepared for yet)


58 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 5:17 AM
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This power is increased exponentially...

LW makes this mistake far less than other places but:

"exponentially" does not mean "rapidly"! It has a specific, useful meaning. It means the doubling time is constant. It doesn't mean the doubling time is low.

[-][anonymous]10y 2

I love the way you phrased that! XD

"The power is increased by a factor of more than 1" doesn't have the same ring to it, though.


I don't believe you.

Many of your goals can be accomplished without being rich: PhDs in technical fields are gotten "for free", learning languages is very cheap, etc. Why aren't you checking them off your list now?

Reminds me of Thoreau:

"This spending of the best part of one's life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it reminds me of the Englishman who went to India to make a fortune first, in order that he might return to England and live the life of a poet. He should have gone up the garret at once."

[-][anonymous]10y 2

What about spending the whole of one's life living the life of a Hero of Science and a Captain of Industry?

[-][anonymous]10y 0

Disclaimer: not a Randian. Though, well, changing the world with SCIENCE, for SCIENCE, is kind of what I'm all about. :P

Anyway, what I meant to say was that "accumulating riches so you can relax later on" isn't exactly the way I've planned my life. When I'm old I want to be a mentor, not a perpetual tourist.

I can how one might get Rand out of that, though this was not why I cringed.

I'm curious -- why such an enthusiasm for science? I like sciencey stuff too, but (aside from playing with science-related stuff as a hobby) I see its value as being mostly instrumental rather than terminal -- useful in steering humanity into world-states where we're not dead and/or suffering, but that's pretty much it.

[-][anonymous]10y 2

The number one virtue of a rationalist is curiosity. I am practically a curiosity elemental. And Science sates my curiosity like nothing else in the world.

I'd continue onto a flowery tirade about how much I have always loved science since I was a child, and that I delight in its rationality-enhanced version even more, but look at me here talking when there's science to do...:P

Have you considered a career in science? (Or do you have one now?)

[-][anonymous]10y -2

I'm happy enough with being an Engineer.

By definition, that seems guaranteed to prevent one from living the life of a poet, unless I have been grossly misled by the media about what titans of industry do in their offices and boardrooms!

[-][anonymous]10y 0

You'd be right. For one thing, they don't starve in there.

Being an artist on the side is a great thing (see Thomas Jefferson), but being a pure artist usually seems to lead to a very miserable life.

but being a pure artist usually seems to lead to a very miserable life.

And yet scores of thousands of people still want to do it each year, which suggests that the intangibles must be incredible.

[-][anonymous]9y 0

It might be a case of being attracted to something that otherwise doesn't bring satisfaction in some fundamentally important ways? I can think of quite a few human activities and hobbies that would fit that bill; we call them "passions" or "obsessions".

Writers say this a lot to anyone who 'wants to be a writer' - 'just' start writing!

Writers say this a lot to anyone who 'wants to be a writer' - 'just' start writing!

They also say "What? Are you mad? That's a terrible idea and it's ridiculously hard to break into the field. But if you insist..." ;)

[-][anonymous]10y 7

learning languages is very cheap

How about learning languages fast?

PhDs in technical fields are gotten "for free"

Note the quotes: opportunity costs tend to be heavy.

Why would having more money make those opportunity costs worth taking on (or remove them)?

[-][anonymous]10y 4

You can afford the risk this investment entails, for starters.

[-][anonymous]10y 1

People who haven't won a lottery typically need to spend several dozen hours per week to earn a living.

And even people who have won a lottery still need to spend several dozen hours per week earning their living...

This post is a little breathlessly enthusiastic for my taste.

[-][anonymous]10y 6

"Breathless enthusiasm" is the default way I write, usually because it's only then that I bother to try. PMs with style corrections and writing tips are very welcome.

I'm reminded of Harry and Draco, both wondering why the office for the general of an army was so large.

You have a top down model of control, instead of a bottom up model of empowerment and encouragement. You figure it all out, then train the Chaos Legion. More effective to organize the Chaos Legion to solve the problems for you. Enable them.

There's some sequence topic about being stopped by minor impediments, right? A little bit of money and some organization can go a long way to remove impediments and enable collaboration to get things done.

[-][anonymous]10y 1

Upvote: you've definitely got a point there. Still, figuring out how to best delegate falls under step two. I shall add an extra bullet point explicitly pointing this out.

I don't see why you view those as sequential. If someone working at CMR is both investing in their human capital for decision-making under uncertainty and training others in decision-making under uncertainty, they are doing steps 1, 2, and 4 without really going through step 3 (or perhaps step 0).

You are right that the balance of effort expenditure should change with marginal benefits and marginal costs- but I would see this as five areas, not five steps. It seems likely there will always be room for actionable improvement in all of them.

[-][anonymous]10y 1

You're right: step implies the activities cannot occur simultaneously.

However, I wanted to order them in terms of which was easiest to perform properly in the absence of all others. Being sound of body and mind doesn't require any of the other areas much, being incredibly powerful/wealthy is damn easy to screw up if you don't have the brains, knowledge, and skills.

This post belongs to the set of LW articles concerned with taking over the world and/or achieving significant worldly success, doing so specifically in order to do good, and advocating more effort towards practical payoffs as opposed to theory debates and finetuning of ideals. Other examples known to me: the first series of articles by Giles, how to take over Rome (h/t Dorikka for pointing out that one), "The Goal of the Bayesian Conspiracy", patrissimo on how LW distracts you from making practical progress, lukeprog on "the power of agency", and I'll throw in Leverage Research and my critique, though they are an organization outside of and separate to LW. I've scorned the more hyperbolic claims and plans several times, but cumulatively, I do see the potential for something to emerge which is cognizant of all LW's meta meta wisdom, has LW-friendly values, and yet still manages to make a difference.

ETA: A new entry from Gnaskar.

[-][anonymous]10y 0

I do see the potential for something to emerge which is cognizant of all LW's meta meta wisdom, has LW-friendly values, and yet still manages to make a difference.

Especially, that is compliant with Ethical Injunctions. We don't want to fall prey to the errors inherent in our corrupted hardware. That we're discussing this openly here is proof of either our good faith or our social immodesty, I think. Probably both.

-As others have said, some of the objectives in here can and should be pursued simultaneously. I say 'should' partially because you can use pursuing one objective as a break from pursuing another, which I think the human brain likes.

-I think that you severely overestimate the impact of knowing lots of languages considering the costs (including opportunity costs) of learning them. Hm, I think I'm being overconfident, since I have no relevant experience and am purely going on intuition. How long do you anticipate it would take to learn, say, German, if you were starting fresh, how much do you think it would change the required timespan to throw different amounts of money at the problem, and how do you think learning it would help you? What about Mandarin?

-You mention money in steps 1 and 3, and you even note in step 3 that money is more secure and less vulnerable than other sources of power, but I'm getting an odd vibe here. It reminds me of Dune, and of this (especially this comment), sorta like 'our tribe's going to do cool ninja stuff, wield power from the shadows, and take over the world'. Or maybe I'm misreading. Anyways, I think that simply making money and x-risk/rationality outreach will yield more results than attempting to gain a significant voice of authority in most fields, with the exception being those academic fields most closely related to x-risk. This paragraph of mine feels kinda unclear, so tell me if you want me to clarify.

[-][anonymous]10y -4

How long do you anticipate it would take to learn, say, German, if you were starting fresh, how much do you think it would change the required timespan to throw different amounts of money at the problem, and how do you think learning it would help you?

It has taken me three months total of intensive, immersive language courses to learn enough German to read the newspaper decently and be able to decipher about half the stuff I hear at the radio. I would say that three more months would have me able to write decent fiction.

What about Mandarin?

It's tough, but manageable. You know, it all comes down to how much you want to communicate and express yourself. For someone like me, who loves to reach out to others and has an irrepressible drive to share their thoughts and feelings, and whose equally irrepressible curiosity leads to wanting to understand others as deeply and completely as possible, learning languages is very easy, because I really really want to use them. It's all a matter of motivation.

This paragraph of mine feels kinda unclear, so tell me if you want me to clarify.

Please do.

I find the conquering rome examples to be surprising, in that, from my experience, in backwater countries with weak law-enforcement and a corrupt, authoritarian government, you will find people opposing you merely on the principle of you making them look bad by setting an example. And by "opposing you" I mean "being ready to ruin you by all means necessary, up to and including assassination". I'd expect that roman farm to be burned by mysterious strangers at night before the third year, and I certainly wouldn't expect Rome to authorize the construction of the air guns, were they to find out.

People who want to do great good in a self-sustaining, permanent way, must be ready to face massive, vicious opposition. They mess up the game, see, they are trouble. To all the incompetent, the corrupt, the indolent, the lazy, the nepotistic... fair competition is the worst thing you can throw at them. Brilliance, energy, and enterprise shine upon them like an injury, highlighting their rotten faces away from the darkness that kept them cushy and warm and hidden. I'm not repeating Rand memes, I'm talking about stuff I've seen with my own eyes.

To clarify, I think that the important objectives here are:

-Seek ways to improve mental ability, and mental/physical health.

-Learn whatever skills you believe are necessary to making lots of money -- my guess is that it would help to have read a good deal about startups so you have some knowledge of what to/what not to do, some technical skills in order to create product, and some level of interpersonal skill. (I am not attempting to construct a comprehensive list here.)

-Figure out how to maximize your incoming cash flow and do so.

-Donate however much you don't need to live comfortably to the most effective charity you can find. (Note that this involves the hard problem of how much to invest versus how much to donate to maximize effectiveness.)

I've tried to hit the main individual objectives for people who aren't already working directly on things which pertain to x-risk/efficient charity -- there's significant utility to be gained with achieving some group objectives as well, such as 'get everyone working who is working on x-risk and effective charity to work together effectively' (I don't know how much room for improvement there is here.)

I don't really see how spending time learning lots of languages will cause you to control enough more money to counteract the opportunity costs. (A few of the major ones, perhaps, but not "as many as you can".) I don't think that a PhD will either, and am uncertain about a Masters' degree. I don't think that as much focus on developing soft skills as you seem to advocate is profitable, but I am not very confident about this.

With the acquired technical knowledge and skills, and the help of the contact network and the better understanding of human nature that learning so many languages and exploring so many cultures and travelling so much will have netted me, use the remaining money to start a business, one that involves as many people as possible in a way such that I can train them to be a Chaos Legion.

Emphasis mine. My understanding of starting businesses is that you want to keep the number of people to a minimum in order to minimize personnel costs, so I don't understand the benefit of the bolded bit. (Rather, I can see that you might want as many people as possible generating you money, but I don't think the focus should be on the number of people -- many people may lose you money. It seems like the focus would be better placed on improving hiring practices to maximize profit per amount of available capital.)

(Edited to fix formatting.)

[-][anonymous]10y 0

I think your opinion is very defensible. Certainly the languages bit is a matter of marginal utility: the more languages you learn, the easier it is to pick up new ones, and the easier it is to branch out internationally and achieve a global impact. However, the more languages you have learned, the fewer people there will be left that you can't directly communicate with or media that you can't access, the smaller the gain in acquiring them. Nevertheless, it is also common knowledge, and my experience confirms it, that the rarer a languages is as second language, the more pleased its native speakers are at meeting someone who actually bothered to learn it. It's instant brownie points. And if you have actually mastered their language at a level higher than their own, it turns from approval to outright admiration (and they freak out a little too). So, for example, English will practically open the world to you, but you won't be ingratiating yourself to anyone because English speakers tend to assume you will talk to them in their language.

Aaaah, it's all a matter of weighting and pondering stuff that is neither quantifiable nor easy to predict. What a headache.

As for "involving as many people as possible", employing people gives you the kind of leverage that startups don't. Your decisions, which no-one can stop you from making (depending on how you justify them) can alter the economic status and employment numbers of large population centres. It will not do for the politicians to get on your bad side. If facebook closes, there are other similar services, and their employees are highly qualified and will find jobs in no time. If amazon closes, there are still tons of libraries, both virtual and real.

If Ikea, Wall Mart, El Corte Inglés, Carrefour, or METRO, close down even one office, it's an entire municipality that will suffer horribly. If they fall bankrupt, it's a national catastrophe.

And then don't get me started about banks (you don't have as many employees, but you have debtors, which is almost the same thing, except they can't resign until the contract is over).

The point is to become interests that are too big to fail, so that even their enemies will go out of their way to help, because they have become necessary.

I'm not interested in profit so much as in increasing people's dependency. If having one more employee gives me zero profit (accounting for all expenditures having and handling them may cost) but also costs me zero, I vote in favour of hiring them.

Once you have a large number of people dependent on you not, say, closing your offices, what do you intend to accomplish with that state of affairs? Governments sometimes offer bailout money (for a price, I believe) to corporations about to go bankrupt which are considered 'too big to fail', but I don't immediately see how you could effectively make demands without appearing hostile.

[-][anonymous]10y -2

You don't need to make demands or threats, not if you're even reasonably good at stage 2 (or if your stage 3 clout has reached critical mass). Once you have enough clout, people who would benefit from associating with you will go out of their way to accommodate your preferences out of their own initiative. It's the people that will want to move against you that will need to use threats and aggression and protests and strikes.

You'd be amazed at how much you can get done just by asking nicely, especially once you have something the other person really wants or needs. In comicbook terms, compare Nightwing (who is awesome at all stages) to Batman (who really really sucks at stage 2).

Hm, in fact Bruce Wayne is a pretty good model of what I have in mind, now that I think of it. This reminds me of something I saw a few days ago... (rummages in TV Tropes)... here, look what I found

My priors are somewhat different on that -- since your examples were from fiction, do you have some evidence for the claim in your first paragraph?

You might want to take a look at Steve's Barnes life-coaching-- it's set up for people who are ambitious about all major areas of their lives, and the initial stages are free/cheap.

[-][anonymous]10y 3

That sounds interesting, but you would radically augment my chances of trying it out if you told me a little more about it yourself.

The thing is, there are some things about how he presents it which drive me crazy, but at least some of the actual advice looks legitimate. So I just gave advice to look at it.

It's plausible that the things which drive me crazy about Barnes' stuff are mostly his efforts to instill motivation to become awesome in people who don't already have that motivation, and that isn't your problem.

[-][anonymous]10y 0

Wow, as a troper, I am completely, utterly, and irrevocably sold on this. Somebody stop me from giving this guy my money right now.

Increase how much coercive power we hold over how many of our fellow human beings: the ability to make them do things or else.

I don't think this sort of power is very useful in the real world at all. It's great for Jack Bower fantasies, but when was the last time you got something you really wanted from a prison inmate? And the amount of man-power and resources it takes to control people at that level is wastefully inefficient. Coalitions of willing allies are much more powerful.

[-][anonymous]10y 10

I was thinking less in terms of Jack Bauer and more in terms of Rupert Murdoch, Bill Gates, the Medici, the Rothschild, and so on and so forth. The "or else" can be as simple as "or else you are fired" or "or else you will lose this contract" or "or else I will never finance your party again".

There will be more people willing to become your allies once you have proven that you can get your agreements done, the same way there will be more people willing to lend you money if you can prove you don't need it. The best thing about being able to use coercion is not having to use it.

The amount of man-power and resources it takes to control people overtly is enormous. However, "I will look bad/inconsistent" is a surprisingly powerful "or else".

[-][anonymous]10y 1

Increase how much coercive power we hold over how many of our fellow human beings: the ability to make them do things or else.

Coalitions of willing allies are much more powerful.

I was thinking of a way of expressing my thoughts on this, and this chart from Yvain occurred to me.

In terms of getting more people to do X, ideally people should want X to occur, should like X occurring, and should approve of X occurring.

Coercion seems like it usually implies at least one of the following: That they do not want, do not like, or do not approve of whatever it is that you are attempting to coerce them into doing, but that you make them do it anyway, usually by connecting it to a threat.

Willing allies seem to be defined in that it is much more likely that they probably already like, want, and approve of the activity. But despite that, you may still want them to like, want or approve of the activity more.

For instance, if someone is collecting money for cryonics research, someone who immediately gives them five dollars and doesn't require any convincing at all certainly seems like a willing ally. But cryonics research will cost more than five dollars, so you still have to find out if it's efficient to push them for more.

So when you want Person X to do activity Y, you can break down each element individually. This allows you to be more specific about why Person X isn't already doing activity Y, and then you can consider the costs of each possible method on an individual basis. Although, this includes of course the cost of an analysis itself. Some people don't want/like/approve of being analyzed in that manner, and attempting to figure out what they like, want, and approve of will not help.

This sounds correct on it's face, but I'm still concerned I'm missing something and I can't see it. However, I've looked over it a few times and I don't see anything wrong. Is there an angle I'm missing?

For the record: Yes, I agree with this.

Step Zero -- body maintenance -- seems trivial, but it would be a mistake to ignore it. Not having enough sleep can ruin your productivity and memory (and lead to a vicious cycle if you try to fix the productivity outage by working longer), not having enough fun can ruin your motivation which again ruins productivity. You can't ignore this level, because it has an impact on everything else.

Personal growth is probably a value for all of us, but maybe we remember it only inside the laboratory, neglecting what happens outside. We are often taught to do things alone (even in the worshiped "team work" you are supposed to be a replaceable wheel), but deep inside we are still members of social species. So unless your work description requires growth of social skills, you have to do it in your free time. And you better do it right, because this also has an impact on everything else.

Power -- we may like to pretend it does not exist, but it does, so deal with it. Even if you don't like the idea of using power against other people, this does not prevent other people from using power against you, and how exactly do you plan to defend yourself? If you want to influence something beyond your personal circle, you need some kind of power. Do you think it would be cool to teach rationality in public schools? Well, you need power to achieve this. Or maybe you just want to prevent other people from legislating mandatory religion for your children.

Step Four -- we can agree with this. Problem is, we can't get there just by wishful thinking.

[-][anonymous]10y 0

Step Four -- we can agree with this. Problem is, we can't get there just by wishful thinking.

The fact that this site exists, and has grown so, is proof that we're getting there. Of course, as they say in the Imperium of Man, "hope is the first step in the path to disappointment". It just so happens that both disappointment and mind-blowingly astonishing success share that particular bit of road before bifurcating.

Plans are being made. We should make more of them. And then undertake them.

Do you think it would be cool to teach rationality in public schools?

I like that goal. Where do we start? As for the USA, first we'd need to understand and find a way to get rid of this habit schools have there of not copying the model of the most successful ones. Otherwise, no matter how cool and awesome our schools are, it will never catch on.

How exactly do you plan to defend yourself?

Well, with a sufficient level at Step 2 (which would be enhanced by a strong basis in the previous steps), you can navigate yourself around people who own Step 3 even with zero level at that particular area. Think Jack Sparrow or Aleister Crowley. However, that requires a brutal level of 2, and you usually end up needing to acquire step 3 assets along the way.

Where do we start?

By writing a textbook. This is more important than anything.

Speaking as a former teacher: Full-time teachers don't have time for anything, because they are overwhelmed by paperwork and behavioral problems of students. (This is rather sad, because in theory they are supposed to keep their knowledge up-to-date. They just don't have a real opportunity to do so.) So if you want to make a teacher teach anything, even if they are willing to, you have to remove as much as possible of their time costs. By writing a textbook you save them time for research and planning. A perfect solution would be a "plug and play" textbook with lessons and exercises, divided into 45-minute blocks.

Once you have such textbook, it can be used outside of schools too.

[-][anonymous]10y 0

Sounds like a plan. How do we get started?

Possibly related to the Center for Modern Rationality's ongoing attempt to formulate good rationality exercises. (Good bit of overlap there, I think.)

Yes, this. When the exercises are ready and tested, next stage is to transform them into book form. Then we need to test the book -- which parts of the text are most likely to be misunderstood, new exercises to smoothen the learning curve, tests for self-evaluation, etc.

A scary thought -- is it really such a good idea to make a rationality textbook? You know, knowing about biases can hurt people. Even if rationality would be taught everywhere, it would not necessarily mean a global increase in rationality. People with motivated cognition would use the techniques to improve their discussion skills.

Actually, if a rationality textbook became popular, I would expect many religious groups to come with their own versions. Essentially, all you have to do is choose a different prior: one that gives probability 1 to your sacred teachings; then you can go on and be a good Bayesian.

I don't think a rationality textbook would make things worse. I just suspect that its positive effects could be easily neutralized. So even if such textbook helps people who really want to be rational, if we expect it to change the society in larger scale, we could be disappointed.

[-][anonymous]10y 0

Essentially, all you have to do is choose a different prior: one that gives probability 1 to your sacred teachings; then you can go on and be a good Bayesian.

There is no such thing as probablility 1, and, if the students are taught to update priors according to emerging evidence, I can't see that prior lasting very long.

There is no such thing as probablility 1

There is no such thing as starting with a prior that does not contain probability 1, and achieving probability 1 by doing proper Bayesian updates. But I am speaking about something else: including this probability into one's priors, as an act of faith.

if the students are taught to update priors according to emerging evidence, I can't see that prior lasting very long.

If you start with probability 1, and do proper Bayesian updating, you end with probability 1. Of course unless you run into a direct contradiction and get a division-by-zero error. But that will never happen, because the contradiction will never be perfect -- precisely because nothing can have probability 0, except if you put it into your priors. If a prior probability of something is 1, and you get an evidence which almost contradicts it, and there is only epsilon chance of explaining it by B (whatever horrible thing B is), proper Bayesian updating will just get you to believe B.

As an illustration, imagine a Tegmark multiverse. We are supposed to give each universe a prior probability according to Solomonoff induction. But suppose that we take only a subset of those universes, where some variant of the given faith if true. This subset is non-empty. There is a possible universe where a humanoid being called Yehovah is part of the laws of physics; it's just an incredibly complex universe, so it has almost zero Solomonoff prior. But if you only take the selected subset of universes as your starting point (this is an arbitrary choice, but it is the only one you ever have to do), updating on any evidence will keep you inside this subset, because any evidence can be explained in some very small part of this subset.

To become rational, you need to be in a state of mind that allows you to develop towards rationality. By a proper act of motivated cognition you can lock yourself out. Some people think that such act (although they call it by a different name) is a right thing to do; fortunately, no one is able to do it perfectly.

[-][anonymous]10y 0

fortunately, no one is able to do it perfectly

sighs in relief