This is the public group instrumental rationality diary for April 15-29.  

It's a place to record and chat about it if you have done, or are actively doing, things like:

  • Established a useful new habit
  • Obtained new evidence that made you change your mind about some belief
  • Decided to behave in a different way in some set of situations
  • Optimized some part of a common routine or cached behavior
  • Consciously changed your emotions or affect with respect to something
  • Consciously pursued new valuable information about something that could make a big difference in your life
  • Learned something new about your beliefs, behavior, or life that surprised you
  • Tried doing any of the above and failed

Or anything else interesting which you want to share, so that other people can think about it, and perhaps be inspired to take action themselves.  Try to include enough details so that everyone can use each other's experiences to learn about what tends to work out, and what doesn't tend to work out.

Thanks to cata for starting the Group Rationality Diary posts, and to commenters for participating!

Next diary:  May 1-15

Immediate past diary:  April 5-14

Rationality Diaries archive


New Comment
32 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 2:28 AM

Over the weekend, a potentially unpleasant social situation I was involved in didn't turn into lots of horrible drama. Everyone involved, as far as I can see, handled it well and with great maturity; I was told by someone external to but aware of events that I acted very well in the aftermath. As far as I can tell, everything is cool and back to normal with all involved parties now.

What I have learned:

  • I am better at certain social things, such as acting normally and avoiding awkwardness, than I had realized or expected.
  • I am better at handling my own emotions, and I think at modelling and considering the emotions of others, than I had expected.
  • I am not good at judging other people's level of drunkenness.

EDIT: Maybe it would be useful to put in some resources I feel have helped me to frame social interactions and lead me to these successes?

A very good advice-column blog called Captain Awkward has been great for helping me think about my own and others' emotions, and how to deal with them appropriately. Casually reading feminist blogs in general has given me a better insight to some social interactions (not necessarily to do with gender issues). I've been doing this on occasion for about 8 months, and I think it's helped a few times.

More recently, discussion of "creepiness" and social behaviour has been something I've read a bit about - not so much that I'm worried about being creepy myself (that's a small part of my motivation) but out of a general interest in gender interaction. A lot of this has been through Reddit; though it gets a bad press for misogyny, there's a lot of internal criticism that goes on, and areas dedicated to these topics, so it can be a useful resource for anyone who wants to read discussions in this area.

I recognized that I have a failure mode when introducing myself to new people: I immediately try to engage people on an intellectual level, and I don't have a backup plan if they don't go along with it. This often gives people the impression (perhaps subconsciously true) of a dominance move, and sometimes makes people feel that they were judged and found wanting. The result of this is that I end up with some people disliking or avoiding me if I introduce myself, when they would have been better disposed toward me if I'd met them some other way. (Not to mention the disutility to them!)

So I brainstormed some solutions which I'm going to put into practice:

  • Making a conscious effort during introductions to "be present", to match body language, and to smile more.
  • Reframe my most common questions to be less confrontational: for instance, I have a habit of asking people questions like "what do you do that's awesome?" or "what's something you believe that you'd expect me to disagree with?". While these questions provoke some really great responses from certain kinds of nerds (especially rationalists), I expect I can get many of the same benefits from "what's keeping you busy these days?" or "what's something that surprised you about X?" (if they mentioned they study X), both of which are less competitive in nature.
  • Look for ways to meet people through intermediaries and take advantage of this: for instance, if A is introducing me to B, I could ask A about B something like "what's something you like about B?", using the fact that it's much more comfortable to talk up someone else than to talk up oneself.
  • Possibly look for more systematized advice. Is there a better source yet than "How to Make Friends and Influence People", or should I just read that?

Addendum: I tried the first two while getting my hair cut by a new stylist yesterday, and it was a much more natural and fun conversation than ones I've had in the past with similar people.

Is there a better source yet than "How to Make Friends and Influence People", or should I just read that?

Read that.

FWIW, I have exactly the pattern you describe in your first paragraph (less so now than before my stroke), and one of the consequences of it is that the group of friends I have kept into my forties are, as a group, unusually inclined to engage me at an intellectual level. It's hard to say for sure, but I suspect I'm happier as a consequence of this than I would be had I been more successful at maintaining friendships with people who were not so inclined.

That said, it is of course useful to be able to develop friendships with an arbitrarily selected person, regardless of whether I choose to.

Oh, don't get me wrong: I intend to keep filtering my close friends for being intellectually engaging. I just want to be more capable of having positive interactions with other people, and avoid making them dislike me.

I've been working and succeeding on my goal of growing Columbus Rationality. We just underwent a massive change: Previously we most commonly met in a private residence and had discussions, often on pre-set topics. As we grew to about a dozen regulars, discussions were getting unwieldy with that many people.

This month we joined the Humanist Community of Central Ohio (HCCO) as a sub-meetup. They are a very well-run umbrella non-profit organization, and we got some useful benefits from it, such as a nice meeting space, postings, and organizational assistance.

Last week we had our first "official" meetup under the HCCO banner that was posted on their meetup page. 12 newbies RSVP'd on the meetup site, but only about half of those actually came (total of about 15 people attending). Having so many new people start at once has been a great Schelling point to switch from discussion-based meetups to more organized teaching meetups. Especially as the new people are actually new, as in they aren't already "rationalists" or "LessWrongers", but are just regular humanists who thought the meetup description sounded interesting, so we really get to start at the beginning and work our way through.

Last week we started with an interactive Intro to Rationality talk that covered a lot of the basic principles and sources. Next meetup we are working on setting people's goals and plans to meet them. Other upcoming meetups include techniques for truth-seeking conversations, and improv games.

In my personal life, I met my goal of finding an "Adult Person" job this month, which is immensely helpful in meeting a bunch of other goals as well.

Someone appears to have bombed the Boston Marathon. I live in the U.S. state that contains Boston. As of this writing I don't know who did it or why, but knowledge of what happened has triggered a desire within me for revenge. I almost certainly won't have the chance to act on this desire, and if I did the agent part of me would almost certainly override the desire. But in an effort to be mindful of my emotional state I note it.

This comment by hg00, and the links it contains, helped me notice that I had some cached thoughts about porn. I've now updated significantly on the potential negative effects of using too much porn and am experimenting with quitting both porn and masturbation for awhile to see what happens.

I am curious whether watching porn is only bad for men, or also for women. There is kind of a taboo against speaking about women watching porn, and also kind of a taboo about saying anything negative or status-lowering about women, so I am not sure whether the usual implicit message "watching porn is bad for men" means it has different effect on men and women, or just that mentioning women in that context would be impolite.

For what it's worth, I talked with a woman who said she realized that the Lymond books (Dorothy Dunnett, historical fiction) were spoiling her for actual men. However, she found some way to deal with it (got married after that)-- I don't know whether she backed off from the books or did a little informal cognitive therapy on herself or what.

I don't know those specific books, but I imagine they belong to the huge genre of books suggesting that each man worth having relationship with is a billionaire aristocrat (plus recently: with secret supernatural abilities). I imagine that after reading many of those books, men outside of that group seem rather pathetic.

I wouldn't put it that way, but Lymond is extraordinarily good-looking and so extremely intelligent and capable that the author has to burden him with horrendous challenges so that there's any chance of a plot.

On the other hand (and unlike many supernormal stimuli for women), he's reliably benevolent, at least as far as I remember.

From what I've gathered from the internet, it seems to be much more difficult for straight women to find appealing porn in quite the same volumes as it is available for straight men, so it seems like the problem is mostly male-centered at this point. And I'd guess that erotic literature doesn't quite have the same superstimulus effect as graphic video content.

And I'd guess that erotic literature doesn't quite have the same superstimulus effect as graphic video content.

Twilight seems to be designed specifically for this purpose: a superhuman immortal alpha male, competing with another superhuman alpha male...

But yeah, it would become a problem of comparable size only if internet suddenly started offering thousands of free Twilight-like books. Well, sooner or later, someone is going to write them, and then we'll see.

internet suddenly started offering thousands of free Twilight-like books

... fanfic, you mean?

I think I'd even predict that porn in book form won't ever achieve the same effect as being able to click through only the several most graphic frames of a 7-minute video. I think books as a medium take longer to consume and they require using your imagination to fill in the gaps, which I don't think would be quite as addictive. However, I do agree that sooner or later, the market will even out and people will begin to shoot pornographic content for straight women and we'll see if women get hooked at similar rates as men.

Actually, camera quality is getting better (on phones and things) so maybe men will start publishing photos or videos without any large production companies. Also, I wonder if men will encounter the same stigma as, for example, female teachers do when pornographic photos of them are found online. But I think part of the lag in this area is that men aren't quite socialized to be oggled the way women are? (So I'll be pretty surprised by a bunch of responses saying "No, I totally know how to be in straight woman porn!")

I googled "porn for women" to find this book I remembered seeing. I also found a relevant xkcd, an interview with a woman who writes porn, and some stuff that is actually quite hot. My husband would probably like that last one too, maybe we should watch it together some time. But don't worry, I don't feel I'm in any danger of becoming addicted.

At a guess: Porn is beneficial in small quantities but not large ones, and women tend to be at a lower starting point for consumption than men.

If anything, your mathematical output should benefit.

Started blogging experimentally in order to explicate some ideas and opinions I've had for a while and see if they stand the light of day. Learned a couple of useful things already, just by writing things down in a half-readable format.

Can we have a link or is it still too early? :)

I'm still learning the ropes, but if you really want to see it for some reason (I'm flattered), it's the obvious place at wordpress. The content is mostly cross-posted or digested from what I post here.

Spiffy! Thank you! I have to admit that I've fallen into the trap of reading engaging, smart people on random topics instead of ... doing work. But also I've been considering starting a blog that's partially personal but occasionally cross-postable and I wanted to see how other people handle that transition in its unpolished stages. (I am also really bad at picking an audience.)

A recent story about noticing my confusion: I noticed that the 2-pound bag of coffee beans I had just bought was also listed as 908 grams. That sounded wrong, since I "knew" a kilo was about 2.5 pounds. I thought the manufacturer might be rounding the English weight down since the gram measure was more precise. But then when's the last time you heard of a producer rounding the weight down?

A quick trip to Google and damned if a kilo isn't 2.2 pounds, not 2.5. I've been misestimating that for years!

Of course, this raises the question of how I got 2.5 stuck in my head. I suspect it's a case of anchoring and similarity bias. I.e. there are 2.54 centimeters in an inch, and my brain learned the pattern that to convert metric to English units, the factor is 2.5. I probably started using that number without conscious attention or thought.

I have recently been considering whether I have an exceedingly poor sense of my own internal states, or whether my understanding of how people experience their internal states is wrong.

For example, when I drink, I don't feel myself getting drunk. I don't have any kind of sense of what it "feels like" to get drunk, but I can observe that I'm acting in a drunken manner. The same applies for other drug use, illness, etc. I only tend to notice them when I try to act, and that action is altered in an unexpected way. This does not seem to be the typical narrative of how people experience themselves. It's certainly not how people describe such experiences.

How typical is this?

It is supposedly very common among first-time marijuana users. Don't know about the other cases.

Anecdotal evidence from marijuana users suggests highly introspective people are more likely to dismiss the possibility on their first few tries that they were affected at all.

This is my experience of marijuana. As a consequence, I've only tried it a few times.

I previously would have said that if you have to learn how to experience the effect of a drug over multiple attempts, this was evidence that the effect was strongly influenced by social or anticipatory cues. I've been experimenting with modafinil and nicotine over the past few months, and while I think I'm aware of how they affect me, I still haven't been able to rule out the possibility that these effects are largely a consequence of my anticipating them.

My experiences:

Marijuana: First few doses didn't do a whole lot; I felt rather like I had a high fever. Makes me feel like everything is stupid, including myself. Memory is definitely impaired. Can make or break experiences; could never play Valley Without Wind again after playing it while inebriated, as it made it painfully apparent how pointless the game was. Makes subjective experiences somewhat more subjective. Designer drug variant 1: Thought I was going to die; time seemed broken up into fragments which were only loosely connected (linear time felt shattered; I think I shampooed my hair for thirty minutes because I couldn't tell how long I had been doing it). Later trials with more moderate doses were kind of pleasant; subjective experiences became more subjective, as with THC. I think it was called "Buddha Blend." Designer drug variant 2: Felt like I was six years old. Not in an entirely pleasant way, either; more the sense of awkwardness in my own body, like all my muscular memory had been stripped away, and I was learning to do everything again for the first time. If I tried to imagine my own face it was purple and cartoonish, something out of a Disney acid trip. Constant sense of deja vu. If I closed my eyes I thought various organs were talking to me; my lungs, for example, were pissed that I smoked that crap, and my stomach was angry at my for being on a diet. Music was incredibly deep; I could hear every instrument individually. Without music playing, I could hear music which at the time I thought was the music of the universe. Large doses resulted in uncontrollable vomiting. Altogether unpleasant, but definitely interesting. Appropriately titled "Nightmare." Designer drug variant 3: Pleasant aloofness. Sort of like laying in the sun. Large doses created disassociation of self/ego death. Don't remember what it was named, it's been a while. DMT: Smaller dose. Hard to describe; pleasant, albeit hazy (although none of the other people who tried it liked it at all). Made me much more introspective. Mushrooms: Only tried a small dose. Dangerous shit. If you're happy, you're deliriously happy. If you're sad, you're suicidal. Kava Kava: No noticeable effects; maybe a slight sense of well-being. Tastes horrible to smoke and even worse to drink. Nicotine: In smaller doses, combined with caffeine, smooths out caffeine jitters. Moderate doses make me more emotionally level. In larger doses it gives me a headache.

Nicotine is the only one I'm doing anymore. I've been hitting it really hard as an emotional crutch, owing to a particularly crappy month. The emotional leveling effect is very useful to get through the workday.

For example, when I drink, I don't feel myself getting drunk. I don't have any kind of sense of what it "feels like" to get drunk, but I can observe that I'm acting in a drunken manner.

It's roughly the opposite of my experience, though I have seen many who react to alcohol and other drugs the way you describe.

As did shimnux, I started a blog to much of the same effects.

I also got into habitrpg, this has been, easily, the best thing I ever did to install new habit; highly recommended.

Language note: Your first paragraph sounds like it means, "Under the name 'shminux', I started a blog [...]". It would be better to say, "Like shminux, I started a blog", or "As shminux did, I started a blog". (Assuming I take your meaning correctly.)

Thank you, edited.