Why I write about the basics

by lukeprog1 min read10th Dec 201111 comments

26

Rationality
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In a thread on A Rationalist's Tale, lessdazed wrote:

Being levels above in [rationality] means doing rationalist practice 101 much better than others, [just like] being a few levels above in fighting means executing a basic front-kick much better than others.

Eliezer replied:

I regret that I only have one upvote to give this comment.

 

You may have noticed I write mostly about the basics of rationality, and lessdazed's comment explains why. There's something like the 80-20 rule going on here: 80% of the benefits come from 20% of the rationality skills. We aspiring rationalists don't usually fail because we failed to account for the optimizer's curse, but because we fail at a more basic level: we fail to say "oops", or we decide we have an incurable disease called "akrasia" instead of doing that which is known to fix akrasia.

More writing on the basics of rationality is needed, especially if it involves exercises and training in addition to reading. Less Wrong could use more work on teachable rationality skills, like the skill of connecting your beliefs.

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we decide we have an incurable disease called "akrasia" instead of doing that which is known to fix akrasia.

I find this to be one of the most annoying of your recurrent comments. I suspect it is the same thing that annoys EY when someone suggests to him "doing that which is known to fix" weight issues (i.e. diet and exercise). Or when someone tells a clinically depressed person to just stop being depressed, because "it's all in your head".

As a rationalist, you would not deny that real people do have a real problem with procrastination. Given that these people are not stupid, and do not actually enjoy procrastinating, you better admit that there is no simple solution to it, otherwise nearly everyone on LW would have been cured by now.

So, how about publicly admitting that your statement that akrasia can be easily fixed is not a rational one?

I think it's a chicken and egg problem. What luke writes on that page really does work, the page suggests building a set of skills and behaviors. But how does one overcome the akrasia about actually doing what the page suggests? I don't think we have an answer for that.

your statement that akrasia can be easily fixed

Did not claim this.

Sorry, you are right, not "easily", just "known to fix".

I'm glad someone else feels this way.

I'd like to note that the article (and the book, which I read), while great, doesn't so much use science to demonstrate ways to fix akrasia; it uses science to describe a very accurate model of akrasia. It then uses many reasonable, common-sense suggestions on how to strangle the variables of the procrastination equation into the motivation you want.

What we need are studies showing deep, long-term fixes. Some people don't follow the procrastination equation; they are simply motivated to do what they want to do, all the time. We need to figure out how to get everybody there.

If I'm wrong about this, and many of the studies out there do show repeated success with some methods, let me know.

I perfectly agree. Basic level posts are very valuable to me, also because I'm trying to spread the word of rationality among friends and I often have, of course, to start from scratch.

"that which is known to fix akrasia" looks a lot like the typical mind fallacy.

Unless you're being deliberately overoptimistic for anti-akrasia purposes.

I haven't looked at all of the enormous corpus of akrasia articles on the site, but I haven't seen a lot on "decision fatigue." I tend to over optimize and over thing a lot of decisions, treating the ability to make decisions as if it's an infinite resource. Turns out it's not.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/21/magazine/do-you-suffer-from-decision-fatigue.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all

Be careful with the model of decision fatigue. See Robert Kurzban's criticisms here: http://www.epjournal.net/blog/2011/08/willpower-is-not-a-resource/.

That blog post makes a fundamental flaw in it's analysis.

If indeed the correct explanation for poor performance were that a resource has been depleted, then X shouldn't matter.

Where X was any number of things that he shows does matter. But saying that you have limited resources to make decisions in no way claims that nothing else matters, so showing that other things matter doesn't really bear any evidence against a theory of decision fatigue.