Sequence index: Living Luminously
Previously in sequence: You Are Likely To Be Eaten By A Grue
Next in sequence: The ABC's of Luminosity

You can start from psych studies, personality tests, and feedback from people you know when you're learning about yourself.  Then you can throw out the stuff that sounds off, keep what sounds good, and move on.

You may find your understanding of this post significantly improved if you read the first story from Seven Shiny Stories.

Where do you get your priors, when you start modeling yourself seriously instead of doing it by halfhearted intuition?

Well, one thing's for sure: not with the caliber of introspection you're most likely starting with.  If you've spent any time on this site at all, you know people are riddled with biases and mechanisms for self-deception that systematically confound us about who we are.  ("I'm splendid and brilliant!  The last five hundred times I did non-splendid non-brilliant things were outrageous flukes!")  Humans suck at most things, and obeying the edict "Know thyself!" is not a special case.

The outside view has gotten a bit of a bad rap, but I'm going to defend it - as a jumping-off point, anyway - when I fill our luminosity toolbox.  There's a major body of literature designed to figure out just what the hell happens inside our skulls: it's called psychology, and they have a rather impressive track record.  For instance, learning about heuristics and biases may let you detect them in action in yourself.  I can often tell when I'm about to be subject to the bystander effect ("There is someone sitting in the middle of the road.  Should I call 911?  I mean, she's sitting up and everything and there are non-alarmed people looking at her - but gosh, I probably don't look alarmed either..."), have made some progress in reducing the extent to which I generalize from one example ("How are you not all driven insane by the spatters of oil all over the stove?!"), and am suspicious when I think I might be above average in some way and have no hard data to back it up ("Now I can be confident that I am in fact good at this sort of problem: I answered all of these questions and most people can't, according to someone who has no motivation to lie!").  Now, even if you are a standard psych study subject, of course you aren't going to align with every psychological finding ever.  They don't even align perfectly with each other.  But - controlling for some huge, obvious factors, like if you have a mental illness - it's a good place to start.

For narrowing things down beyond what's been turned up as typical human reactions to things, you can try personality tests like Myers-Briggs or Big Five.  These are not fantastically reliable sources.  However, some of them have some ability to track with some parts of reality.  Accordingly, saturate with all the test data you can stand.  Filter it for what sounds right ("gosh, I guess I do tend to be rather bothered by things out of place in my environment, compared to others") and dump the rest ("huh?  I'm not open to experience at all!  I won't even try escargot!") - these are rough, first-approximation priors, not posteriors you should actually act on, and you can afford a clumsy process this early in the game.  While you're at it, give some thought to your intelligence types, categorize your love language1 - anything that carves up person-space and puts you in a bit of it.

Additionally, if you have honest friends or relatives, you can ask for their help.  Note that even honest ones will probably have a rosy picture of you: they can stand to be around you, so they probably aren't paying excruciatingly close attention to your flaws, and may exaggerate the importance of your virtues relative to a neutral observer's hypothetical opinion.  They also aren't around you all the time, which will constrict the circumstances in which their model is tested and skew it towards whatever influence their own presence has on you.  Their outside perspective is, however, still valuable.

(Tips on getting friends/family to provide feedback: I find musing aloud about myself in an obviously tentative manner to be fairly useful at eliciting some domain-specific input. Some of my friends I can ask point-blank, although it helps to ask about specific situations ("Do you think I'm just tired?" "Was I over the line back there?") rather than general traits that feel more judgmental to discuss ("Am I a jerk?" "Do I use people?"). When you communicate in text and keep logs, you can send people pastes of entire conversations (when this is permissible to your original interlocutor) and ask what your consultant thinks of that. If you do not remember some event, or are willing to pretend not to remember the event, then you can get whoever was with you at the time to recount it from their perspective - this process will automatically paint what you did during the event in the light of outside scrutiny.)

If during your prior-hunting something turns up that seems wrong to you, whether it's a whole test result or some specific supposed feature of people in a group that seems otherwise generally fitting, that's great!  Now you can rule something out.  Think: what makes the model wrong?  When have you done something that falsified it?  ("That one time last week" is more promising than "back in eighty-nine I think it might have been January".)  What are the smallest things you could change to make it sit right?  ("Change the word "rapid" to "meticulous" and that's me to a tee!")  If it helps, take in the information you gather in small chunks.  That way you can inspect them one at a time, instead of only holistically accepting or rejecting what a given test tells you.

If something sounds right to you, that's also great!  Ask: what predictions does this idea let you make about your cognition and behavior?  ("Should you happen to meet a tall, dark stranger, you will make rapid assumptions about his character based on his body language.")  How could you test them, and refine the model?  (Where do the tall, dark strangers hang out?)  If you've behaved in ways inconsistent with this model in the past, what exceptions to the rule does that imply and how can you most concisely, Occam-esque-ly summarize them?  ("That one tall, dark stranger was wearing a very cool t-shirt which occluded posture data.")

Nota bene: you may be tempted to throw out things because they sound bad ("I can't be a narcissist!  That wouldn't be in keeping with the story I tell about myself!"), rather than because they sound wrong, and to keep things because they sound good ("ooh!  I'm funny and smart!"), rather than because they sound right.  Recite the Litany of Tarski a few times, if that helps: if you have a trait, you desire to believe that you have the trait.  If you do not have a trait, you desire to believe that you do not have the trait.  May you not become attached to beliefs you may not want.  If you have bad features, knowing about them won't make them worse - and might let you fix, work around, or mitigate them.  If you lack good features, deluding yourself about them won't make them appear - and might cost you opportunities to develop them for real.  If you can't answer the questions "when have you done something that falsified this model?" or "list some examples of times when you've behaved in accordance with this model" - second guess.  Try again.  Think harder.  You are not guaranteed to be right, and being right should be the aim here.


1It looks cheesy, but I've found it remarkably useful as a first-pass approximation of how to deal with people when I've gotten them to answer the question.

New Comment
101 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since:
Some comments are truncated due to high volume. (⌘F to expand all)Change truncation settings

I'm going to second the recommendation of using psychometrics to further your self-awareness.

For narrowing things down beyond what's been turned up as typical human reactions to things, you can try personality tests like Myers-Briggs or Big Five.

As the Wikipedia articles discuss, Myers-Briggs doesn't enjoy a great reputation among psychologists. Nevertheless, the INTP profile describes me, and probably a lot of people here, with freaky accuracy.

The Big Five is a great recommendation. It is very well respected in psychology, and I find especially useful for understanding disagreements with others. There is a big difference between how intelligent people who are low and high in openness view the world. Furthermore, differences in Agreeableness are a big source of interpersonal conflict.

your intelligence types,

I would stay away from this one. Gardner's notion of multiple intelligences has theoretical problems and does not enjoy empirical support.

categorize your love language

For something scientifically validated on how people handle relationships, check out the concept of attachment style. Here's a quiz. I'm convinced that a lot of relationship problems are due to diff... (read more)

I find the factors for the big 5 a little odd in that they seem to be arranged in clear good/bad pairs, unlike Myers-Briggs which seems to be more arranged as 'not better, just different'. Maybe I'm suffering from some kind of bias but it seems like one would want to score highly on openness, conscientiousness, extroversion and agreeableness and low on neuroticism. They look more like D&D ability scores than alignments.

Attempts have been made to reduce the Big Five into a "Big One", or "General Factor of Personality"(GFP), this correlates the way you describe it. The neurotism is sometimes called Stability, and this together with the other four correlate with one another. Here's a paper.pdf) by Rushton et al: (I have low GFP: I'm rather miserable...)
Tangential and nit-picky but this claim bothers me, because I'm guessing when you say "scientifically validated" you mean that somebody did a frequentist analysis of a survey with N=245 and showed P<.05. To an LW reader, it may be obvious that there is a vast chasm between this kind of scientific evidence and the kind that justifies the laws of physics, but the distinction might be lost on the less savvy. Perhaps we should introduce a set of words capable of expressing the difference.
"The Cult of Statistical Significance" suggests that we're looking for tests that display power rather than significance.
It is also interesting to note that everyone I've met who is involved with Less Wrong is an xNxx, the vast majority being xNTx. Predictably, INTP is the most common.
I'm an ISTJ.
I am pleasantly surprised. Given an "SJ" rating for a handle that I am familiar with I would expect to have a negative association with the handle. Yet I don't in this case. You do the "SJ"s proud!
What consequences does this have for the Less Wrong community? Are we missing out on something because we don't have more personality types here?
I think it depends on what the test is actually measuring - and the phrase 'personality type' doesn't seem to be descriptive enough to be useful in determining that. If my earlier 10-second assessment turns out to be right, and the test is measuring which types of bias people are most prone to, then a high overlap in 'personality types' could be an indication that the people here tend to have significant shared blind spots and thus a lower-than-ideal chance of noticing them in each other. If it's measuring something that's not relevant to rationality, I don't think the overlap matters, but I'd also be somewhat surprised to see a high overlap in test results in that case: I don't predict that the people here have a high level of similarity in results on the love style test, because affection-awareness isn't something that's relevant here in any way that I can see, but people who are interested in rationality but prone to different biases, and less prone to the (hypothetical) set that we share, would probably not stick around in a place that has flaws that are obvious to them, so selection bias seems relevant in that case, and would have the observed result. Of course, it could also be that 'personality type' somehow results in more or less interest in rationality, rather than being caused by something that's relevant to rationality. Figuring out what the test is actually measuring should hopefully clear that up. (I suspect that the kind of selection bias that I mentioned does happen, though, even if it's not related to the MB test - I follow the blogs of several people online who are interested in rationality in completely different ways than we are here, and who I predict would feel quite unwelcome here for reasons that are only tangentially related to actual quality of thought.)
I am interested. Could you give some examples of those blogs, and possibly describe in what way their approach is completely different?
I don't think just linking to the blogs would be useful, and I predict that it'll take a thousand words or more to explain what aspects of them I'm referring to - for one thing, I'm using a rather broader (but in my experience, more useful) definition of 'rationality', which I'd need to explain. I'll work on it.
Do you still hold these ideas? Have you managed to work them out in detail in the meantime?
I'm ieNTP; I fall on the exact center of the introvert/extrovert spectrum, but if I had to pick one it would be E.
Where's everyone getting their results from? I had the test properly administered once (I had a temp job as a student for a day being a guinea pig for people learning to administer the test) and I think I've taken it online at some point but I don't remember the results. I just found a free online test through Google and got ENTP but I don't know how reliable a random online automated test is. The 'official' Meyers Briggs page seems to suggest that you have to pay a trained professional to administer the test to get 'correct' results. I remember getting the distinct impression of a somewhat dubious money making scheme when I did my day as a guinea pig. I once again had the problem I mentioned elsewhere taking the online test just now that I really struggle to answer the questions. Very few of them have a clear answer for me and most I could feel comfortable answering either way so I feel like I'm more or less picking at random. Maybe it is supposed to all come out in the wash.
We can test this... We should probably compare with the same online test. Would you mind linking to it?
Don't forget to put links to the karma-balance in the poll questions.
If you took the online test and it doesn't match your professionally-administered test, vote this up. (karma-balancer)
Got INFJ from the online test, the one I got in 2003 was INTP. Strength of the preferences from the online test were 11/62/12/33. I can't find the professional test.
It might be worth considering what answers you give now that might be different than ones you gave 7 years ago. I know I took one of these back in college, and probably every 5 years or so I've revisited it, each time never recalling my previous result (what does THAT say about my personality?). But it struck me this time that some answers I gave this time would have been different 5 years ago. Enough that I probably would have been rated a different alphabet. For the record: ENFP (slight, distinct, moderate, slight). Like the sun over course of the day, our luminousity and spectrum change over time, from the blue tints of dawn to the harsh light of day, and again the blues towards dusk if I recall correctly, followed by gruesome darkness. Anyway forgive my lyricism, but you catch my drift (although some claim that people never 'fundamentally' change, I disagree). I wonder if there's a way to measure how an individual is trending over the years, probably by comparing a series of tests over the years (although I think the act of taking thr tests repeatedly would tend to increase introspection, in the manner of observation effecting the outcome).
I took the test this morning and was amazed that I was assigned ESTJ, which is very far from what I was assigned 5 years ago (ENFP). I decided that while the discrepancy could be due to the online test being poor (I self-identify much more with being ENFP), it's also quite possible that I've changed. I noticed that the questions were worded more along the lines of what do you do verses what your preferences are, and the truth is that since becoming a mother I've had to restructure my life a great deal away from my original preferences. I spend all day every day being a "guardian", so perhaps it's not so surprising my personality test results would change to reflect that.
Up to this point, in the thread, there have been 2 possible explanations given for why a 5-year old professional exam has different results than a current online one: -personality changes over a long time-scale (5 years, etc) -scoring differences between professionals and automated counters. These two explanations seem based on the assumption that the responses given to the individual questions are only determined by the responder's "personality." That is: person A, having personality x, will always give answer a1, s.t. if A (under reliable test conditions) gives answer a2, A must not have personality x. I've only just now tried this test, but I at least found questions where my answer could have been either True or False, depending on the moment. (ie, "Your workspace is clean and organized," the answer of which will vary depending on my proximity to deadlines.) If we're discussing tests, I propose that we need a control, where we take the online exam multiple times over a sufficiently small time-scale that we do not expect our "personalities" to have dramatically shifted. That is: once a day, at various hours, for a week. If the control tests have similar results, then we can go back to our question of "what changed between 5 years and now." But, if these control tests have differing results (I'm not sure what significance condition we should set), then we should probably assume that the test may not be a "personality" test, but a "state of mind" test given "personality" and "external conditions." In that case, we may want to be suspicious about self-evaluating with these tests. If I have time (and remember) to take this control myself, I'll post the results. 17/9/11 -> 10:30 -> ISTJ (22/62/12/22)
It may also just increase the "ability" of taking the test such that it produces outcomes that match better with your (desired) self-perspective. I've noticed a slight drift from INTP to INFP (which I identify with a bit more) in repeated self-administrations of the test. Possibly that's just due to how I feel on a particular day, but partly I may be choosing answers which favor F over T without outright lying in cases where I am not very sure.
although I think the act of taking thr tests repeatedly would tend to increase introspection, in the manner of observation effecting the outcome
This was the online test I used. There may be better ones out there, this was just the first free one I found through Google.
If you took the online test and it matches your professionally-administered test, vote this up. (karma-balancer)
I had the test administered by a "certified" assessor, but as the venue was the AYE conference it kind of came free with attendance. I tested as (surprise, surprise) INTP, although from having had previously used online tests I'd self-identified as INTJ. I'm the same, and yes, it's supposed not to matter. I'd agree with Ben that the test isn't necessarily much more rigorous than a horoscope, but I also agree with Alicorn that the point is more to raise awareness about the existence of more modes of being than the one you're most familiar with. It's a good antidote to generalizing from a sample of size one.
Mine was in a leadership seminar I took in college. They paid the Myers Brigg IP owners and we got glossy pamphlets; I don't remember how the test was actually administered. On that test I was +1 towards the E, but it would go back and forth depending on my mood. I don't think a professionally administered Myers Brigg test is better than an online one, but it's quite possible that some or most online versions have different questions than the real one.
I have a distinct memory of being asked if I was afraid of snakes in the face-to-face test (it stuck out because it seemed so out of place) which wasn't in the online version I just did. There was indeed a glossy pamphlet at the end of the day. I was only just E on the online test and I got the impression that some of the questions I found particularly difficult to answer were the primarily E/I questions.
The test I took was a group test, I think we wrote down our answers while the questions were being read to all of us and then scored them ourselves. I don't remember a question about snakes or anything about fear. I took the test in 2006.
I took the test over 10 years ago so I only have marginal confidence in my memories of it but the snake question stood out at the time and it seems an odd detail to confabulate out of nowhere so I am inclined to think the memory is probably genuine. It is entirely possible there is some cross-contamination of the memory from elsewhere however. I have a half memory that the snake question may have been part of some kind of calibration process where the interviewer got the interviewee in the habit of answering questions quickly with their 'gut' response and not hesitating or deliberating over the question too much. That is an even less reliable memory than the snake question however.
Wow, that is scary. I read about attachment style, and it was eerie how well it described my relationship. EDIT: Actually, I think I would really appreciate if anyone had any interesting sources on attachment styles in adults.
Freaky indeed. I'm familiar with Myers briggs and usually get IN(T|F)P on tests but that description was remarkably insightful.
I usually get INTP/INTJ

There's a major body of literature designed to figure out just what the hell happens inside our skulls: it's called psychology, and they have a rather impressive track record.

Of outstanding displays of confirmation bias, illusory correlation, observer-expectancy effect, and ignoring overwhelming experimental evidence?

Don't get me wrong, we know a lots about the human mind thanks to the skill and dedication of various cognitive scientists, but psychology's track record is still somewhat patchy.

"While you're at it, give some thought to your intelligence types, categorize your love language1 - anything that carves up person-space and puts you in a bit of it."

Hey Alicorn. I think what you're trying to do with luminosity is awesome, but I think it's important to note that it's very easy to just make up different ways of categorizing people (with no evidence), just like it's easy to make up your own school of psychology ( For example, while people certainly have different c... (read more)

Yes. I agree completely. This is why you saturate and have low standards for throwing things out the window (after extracting information from the fact that it's something you want to throw out the window).
I approve of the fearless use of the admittedly cheesy "love languages". I skimmed the categories and don't see any relevant difference between gifts and service. I'd also rather think about love acts as providing evidence that either: 1) My partner is able and willing to please me. 2) My partner values me so greatly that I'm unafraid of abandonment for a more desirable alternative. With 1), I much prefer if she enjoys something for her own sake that just happens to please me (because it adds to my security as well). But I'm also especially pleased if I know she values the act much more highly because she intends to make me value her. Or maybe I'm so secure that I would say, "I'm already convinced - let's do something we both value for something other than a token of our love." I'd guess that most people want as much as possible of both. It is possible that people can be classified into a few simple types per what "love language" most effectively achieves these ends in them.

Cross-posted from Seven Shiny Stories

1. Words

Maria likes compliments. She loves compliments. And when she doesn't get enough of them to suit her, she starts fishing, asking plaintive questions, making doe eyes to draw them out. It's starting to annoy people. Lately, instead of compliments, she's getting barbs and criticism and snappish remarks. It hurts - and it seems to hurt her more than it hurts others when they hear similar things. Maria wants to know what it is about her that would explain all of this. So she starts taking personality tests and... (read more)

"Love Languages" link is broken.

Bleah, it looks like the website has been updated to a more marketing-heavy and less summary-friendly version. I guess I'll replace it with a Wikipedia link.

I dug up some expert opinions on the validity of the Myers Briggs Personality Test (please suggest additional experts). The evidence I could find so far for its validity is weak:

Is the Myers-Briggs personality test meaningful?

As mattnewport already alluded to below, I think there's a strong possibility that the popularity of the test is due to the Barnum effect.

Perhaps you could argue that even if the test is not scientific, then it could still be useful for help exploring your personality. But then again, that benefit may be negated by encouraging beliefs... (read more)

If I thought your judgement on this topic was likely to catch on I would spend altruistic effort in combatting it. I believe you are wrong in your implied description of reality and the kind of judgement you encourage in this commet is already prolific and already detrimental. Take this more as a rejection of your description here than of any particularly loyalty to Myers-Briggs.
I have no desire to have let alone perpetuate bad ideas - and it really does sound like you're aware of some obvious mistakes I've made here. If you can explain why my judgement is flawed, I will update my views on the matter, and update the comment accordingly, acknowledging you for the guidance.
I respect your response, since I know that such a passionate disagreement with a position you have mentioned can feel like a personal affront. What makes me uncomfortable is the assumption a 'T' cannot appreciate another persons feelings until they 'mature' into an ''F". The difference isn't in whether or not they can understand, empathise with and care about other people's feelings. Some people for example have developed the ability to ellicit feelings from others but respond to them in a way that is more systematic than intuitive. More 'shutting up and multiplying' for example. They may even 'shut up, multiply and decide to respond by giving verbal or physical comfort as appropriate'. But there is still an actual difference in how their internal thought processes are operating and this will often lead two people who have different responses to judge the other as being immature, uncaring or irrational when they are merely different. I perhaps object to the P vs J distinction here more because while I am balanced between 'T' and 'F' I am extremely biased towards perception rather than judgement. And when I am most successful at non-Akrasia I am perhaps even more my natural 'P' self than at those times I get bogged down in Akrasia. Again, I'm not necissarily endorsing the Myers Briggs system as the best way of describing the different personalities. But I am asserting that there is a real difference. P vs J somewhat relates, for example, with 'Open and Closed' from the big 5. "You need to stop being a P and be more of a J" is the kind of thing a Closed/J would say. And, well, Closed/J types tend to be more interested in (and so proficient at) forcing such judgements on others. I, instead, say "you need to continue being a P but get your F@#$ $#!t together to achieve the kinds of things that you (a P) want to achieve, whether or not it looks good to a J". Jumping back to your original comment, I may be in 'violent agreement' with this part: The way you descibed 'T
Thanks for your response. FWIW someone once tried to give me some Myers Briggs P to P mentoring, upon which he exclaimed: "Embrace your P-ness!". Needless to say that sounded much better in his head. That's a very interesting thought. I'd love to see the experiments confirming this hypothesis. If you point me to some peer reviewed papers, I will add them to the page in the link I mentioned. From the minimal research I did, professional psychologists seem to believe there isn't scientific evidence backing Myers Briggs. An obvious alternative hypothesis to what you describe here is that new behaviors start out being systematic and with enough practice become intuitive. I can't recall where I heard it from, but there's a theory that there's 4 stages of knowing: Unconscious incompetence -> conscious incompetence -> conscious competence -> unconscious competence. Under that model, a systematic response corresponds to the third stage, or perhaps even an inability to "let go" to get to the fourth stage (this can be a obstacle for musicians who get consumed by the technical aspect of music). Perhaps though in this case it's the wrong model, and as you suggest, "feeling" is a talent that cannot be learnt. I agree. In fact, one of the most useful things I could imagine for personal development would be a table telling me the extent to which personality traits can be changed. Myers Briggs however, has a fairly extreme stance here, asserting the dimensions are intrinsic. Wikipedia: Some minor niggles: were you saying that J is correlated with being judgmental? I thought Myers Briggs explicitly tried to avoid saying that. Wikipedia seems to confirm here: and perhaps a technical error here: s-N is the one that's primarily correlated with Openess. Wikipedia here: Personally, I've found it really hard to correctly apply these correlations in real life. The noise in the theory will increase with the noise generated by me applying the theory. Even if a personality theory has
I would expect a correlation of 'judgemental' with 'J' only along the same lines I would expect 'P' to be correlated with akrasia and 'T' to be correlated with 'emotionally blind'. For that matter, along the same lines I would expect the darkness of people's skin to be correlated positively with running speed and negatively correlated with swimming performance. So, with all the reasons both practical and political not to make a big deal of the correlation. What I more specifically suggested in that tangental phrase was that 'J' type thinking is probably a more useful tool when it comes to social influence than 'P' thinking is.
I would tend to agree with that. In fact, I would be shocked if the MBTI was found to be the optimal way to carve up the correlations between the multitude of small traits into 16 arbitrary categories. I would love to see more research done collecting all of the information that 'personality test' questions collect, adding in some DNA test results and seeing what correlations can be found. For now I've seen enough (eg. Twin tests on the big 5) to conclude that a significant amount of personality is genetic but I know the systems we have for describing personality right now are abysmal.
That's one of Abraham Maslow's ideas. Of all the educational philosophers they paraded in front of us while I was doing my Di. Ed. I have to say Maslow was the most interesting (to me). I certainly preferred him to de Bono and his thinking hats and it is less 'arbitrary' than Gardener and his 'multiple intelligences' that my professors loved so much. I don't think 'the stages of knowing' have been the subject of any explicit scientific investigation but the concepts do seem to have direct relevance to the research on developing expertise that Ericsson is noted for collecting and compiling (first in his own book and then in the handbook.) There is solid research on the impact of training intervention that can described as moving from 'unconscious' to 'conscious and there are entirely different training needs for developing 'conscious competence' than for moving 'conscious skills' to 'unconscious'. We can even have studies (on basketball free throw shooting) that can predict how different motivations work best in for each stage. I've followed you down that tangent a bit (It's a subject I'm fascinated by!) but how does this relate to what I was saying about possible Think/Feel differences? It is somewhat isomorphic. Anyone (without a significant dissability) can gain skill then expertise in, well, more or less anything. But there are preferences and tendencies in response that people will naturally take unless they are motivated to train themselves (or are coercively trained) to do it differently. An example: If my sister sees a kid that has been punched in the nose by a bully she will naturally inclined to comfort the victim. I will be naturally inclined to go and beat the bully to a pulp. Now, my sister can go learn martial arts and train herself to implement a policy of vigilante justice if she wants to. Likewise, I can learn what is most effective in comforting victims and hold my rightious anger in check somewhat. But there is a clear difference of personality

The outside view has gotten a bit of a bad rap

Not in the context of "luminosity" or related topics, though; only when applied to certain kinds of futurism.

You may be planning to get to this later in the sequence, but if not: could you give examples of what it looks like to use outside view or psych or personality assessments as a jumping-off point? E.g., examples of the types of predictions one might make this way, or of the types of improvements you or others have found?

I'm having trouble picturing what it looks like to go through one's life and focus on data and prediction. If I have many concrete examples, they'll seed my brain so that the kinds of self-prediction you're recommending are easy or automatic to start in on.

Also, any tips on how to get friends/family to give useful and honest feedback?

The predictions you should make from personality assessments and the like about yourself should be fairly isomorphic to those you'd make about other people upon learning the same data. For instance, if I know someone with a particular Myers-Briggs result, and then I learn that another person has the same one, I will expect a certain level of similarity between the two people on that basis; I should make the same guess if I discover that I have the same Myers-Briggs score as someone I know. Tests themselves often supply predictions, although they're very vague and may require some precisification.

I'll use the love language idea because that's so easy to implement. There's five of them, and while I think there's a test available, it probably doesn't improve much on self-diagnosis. So, I look at the descriptions of the languages, conclude that I'm a "quality time" person because that fits best, and read what it says to expect from myself: Hmm, are distractions, postponed dates, or the failure to listen especially hurtful to me? And then I take off from there. (If I can't easily answer the question or refine my self-model relative to the provided suggestion, I assume th... (read more)

I'd recommend editing this comment into the text of the actual post. It gives valuable detail, without which the main post is rather vague.
Included last paragraph.
"If I can't easily answer the question or refine my self-model relative to the provided suggestion, I assume that the description is accurate." To be frank, I'm skeptical of that heuristic. For "love language," I literally could not orient myself correctly to answer any of the questions, nor could I honestly describe myself as really matching any of those categories. But I'm quite confident that that doesn't mean that they're all true, it just means that none of them apply to me!
Well, note that I investigated the questions associated with the language that I did feel applied to me. If none of them seemed right even to a first approximation I would have assumed that the love languages thing didn't make much sense or didn't work for me in particular. My point was that once I've picked one that seems basically right, I don't then cherry-pick subcomponents without a good reason.
If you're talking to someone you suspect may be a visual thinker, and they're not getting your point from your telling stories, you could try drawing a picture. If they now get it, that reinforces your belief that this clustering is meaningful, that they belong in that category, and it gets your point across. If they still don't get it, that accredits the hypothesis that your point is unclear, or that they are yet another type of thinker. ;)

it helps to ask about specific situations ("Do you think I'm just tired?" "Was I over the line back there?") rather than general traits that feel more judgmental to discuss ("Am I a jerk?" "Do I use people?").

I found this suggestion extremely helpful for getting useful feedback. At first I began with asking general questions which not only felt judgmental to the friends I asked, but were also difficult to answer. Asking a very broad question made them draw a blank - nothing specific came to mind, only vague images... (read more)

I get my priors for my self-beliefs based on what's generally proven about human mental architecture. Your second sentence should be rewritten to indicate that you think we should take priors from somewhere beyond introspection.

I don't even think "priors" is meaningful as used. It's all just evidence to me. If there is some idiosyncratic personal prior belief in me, not due to evidence, I can either accept it (I do), or try to assume on faith that I'm like others except for this different prior, and adjust my prior until I match the conclusi... (read more)

I don't think my scores on many of these tests are stable throughout different situations. I remember taking a Meyers-Briggs self-test and I ended up placing myself in the dead center of one of the dimensions scale. (I can't remember which one.) I no longer fit neatly into the introverted/extroverted category. I used to act like an introvert, and I'm still comfortable with solitary activities, but I'm far more inclined to talk to strangers than most people I've met. (This is, at least in part, desperation.) I also like performing, usually don't get "stage fright", and am generally comfortable with being the center of attention.

Sure. I get different results on Myers-Briggs every time I take one. But the facts that let you discard the information from the test are also valuable.

I've generally found most of these types of tests to read very much like astrological personality descriptions or examples of cold reading. They're just too vague and imprecise to derive information from. They appear to me to be not even wrong. Incidentally these types of personality tests were not even mentioned during my psychology degree - I don't think the psychology department at my university deemed them worthy of serious discussion. Even Freud got more respect, if only out of historical interest and as a case study of how easy it is for people to get things wrong when studying the human mind.

Think of the tests like writing to an advice columnist. The idea is only ostensibly to get advice from the columnist and then obey it. Most people who write to them are just looking for something to react to. The columnist will say "do X", and then the reader will say either "X is exactly right! I should do X, just like the columnist says!" or "No way! That's completely wrong for me! I can't do X - I guess I just have to do Y, then!" But the same reactions would have been possible if Y had been recommended in the first place. The columnist's exact advice only provides a weak impetus towards the recommended action - mostly, it lets you change "decide on what to do" into "agree or rebel".

If there's any truth to the idea of personality types I'm apparently of a type that doesn't gain anything from the insights of personality tests... I've tried a variety of them and I always struggle to answer the questions (I mostly feel like I'm just picking randomly) and I've never got anything constructive out of the results. I also can't imagine myself ever writing to an advice columnist...
Meta-analysis: Decent personality tests can be modeled as providing an interesting question, some common answers to that question, and some observations about what those answers usually imply. For example, in the case of the love languages test, the question is 'what kinds of displays of affection do you notice most easily?' According to the first sentence of its wikipedia entry, the Myers-Briggs test is probably asking 'which biases are you most prone to?' (This may not be its actual question; I'm not very familiar with it.) If none of the categories seems to fit you, it could be that you answer the question that the test asks in a way that the test's creator didn't predict, or that the question itself is not a useful one to ask of yourself. In the former case, you can still learn about yourself by figuring out how you do answer the question. In the latter case, it's probably best to ignore that test altogether, though there is also value in the pattern of which questions are or are not useful and important to you, and why.
As various people have implied, this also suggests that one could instead read the various descriptions and look for facts that justify accepting or refuting those descriptions, without taking the test itself. In fact, it's probably a good idea to do that prior to taking the test, to protect yourself from anchoring on the test's result, unless you are confident that the result of the test is reliable enough that anchoring on it is a net win. But it leaves me wondering: in your experience, is taking (for example) the MBTI and accepting/rejecting bits of the result more valuable than, say, starting with the hypothesis that you are just like some fictional character and accepting/rejecting bits of that description?
Hmmm... I haven't tried the "fictional character" one, so "experience" isn't what I'm applying here. It sounds vaguely promising, except that fictional characters are not optimized in their traits or presentations to be informative in this way (being instead devised for story delivery, possibly unreliably narrated, presented in only specific situations and not at randomly selected moments, etc.), and the MBTI results at least make an attempt at being useful for this sort of exercise.
(nods) Makes sense. I do this exercise often, with a wide range of descriptions: fictional characters, real-life characters, actual people I know, personality inventories, horoscopes, etc. I find it more-than-zero useful as a self-knowledge exercise, but I have no idea how one source compares to another... I've never really tried to compare the results for utility.
One idea about the introvert/extrovert spectrum from the MBTI I find meaningful is that introverts find interacting with other people draining and extroverts find interacting with other people energizing. About 50% of the time I find interacting with other people energizing and about 50% of the time I find it draining.
I’m of the impression that the MBTI tends to be more useful to more you tend to the extremes of the four scales. When I do the test, I usually use one that gives you percentages for each scale. I remember that for my first time it got INTP with as percentages (roughly) 100% (I), 80% (both N & T) and P (60%). I was 20 when I first tested. 7 years later I still test as INTP. I remember that when I first tested I was rather skeptical and knew of the Forer/Barnum effect so to be sure I read all the descriptions of the other personality types. The INTP profile still fitted best. I could also still see parts of myself in profiles that were ‘closer’ to mine (i.e. less different letters), the INTJ one for example (while my exact opposite (ESFJ) was like reading the description of an alien). On the other hand, I'm still skeptical. Both the creators of MBTI had no psychological degree and it’s scientifically unfounded. There’s also the partly valid criticism that the test just reflects your answers and so is no better than cold reading. In the end, I took the INTP profile with some bucket loads of salt but still used it to explore some ideas about my own psychology. For example, one of the INTP aspects that struck a chord with me is the switching between a logical mindset and intuitive free-associating goofing off mindset.
That's an INTP thing?
link. Last paragraph of section 'Secondary Function: Extraverted Intuition'. Search on the word 'duality' to find the paragraph fast.

personality tests

Another test set is Gallup / Clifton StrengthsFinder 2.0 (

For me, the results were far more useful than the various "personality profiles" I have taken , sometimes at considerable cost to my employer.

"The CSF is an online measure of personal talent that identifies areas where an individual’s greatest potential for building strengths exists. ... The primary application of the CSF is as an evaluation that initiates a strengths-based development process in work and academ... (read more)

I don't really think anyone else can know what's going on inside my head except me. Perhaps I'm being a bit solipsistic here, but how could they? Empathy is more important than sympathy, so the only person I would trust to give me a reliable model of myself (better than I could model myself due to biases) would be someone whose already gone through that transformation. I think most people on LW are fairly intelligent people and so there will be very few people who are intelligent enough to develop that model.

"Where do you get your priors, when you start modeling yourself seriously instead of doing it by halfhearted intuition?"

Is the thought that here that you should try to find out what your priors ought to be by figuring out how you work psychologically? That seems odd. If you think some priors are special, why think they'd be the ones that you'd have in particular? If you think no priors are special, why bother trying to use your own?

Apart from the intrinsic interest of self-knowledge, I would have thought the point of making your psychological ... (read more)


Recite the Litany of Tarski a few times, if that helps: if you have a trait, you desire to believe that you have the trait. If you do not have a trait, you desire to believe that you do not have the trait.

On the other hand, the reason self-deception evolved was so that you could effectively signal and lie to others about your abilities. It might be a good idea to read up on only the positive traits that you might have.

In fact, if there ever was a place where you want to deliberately indulge in epistemic irrationality, this is probably it.

Do you have something to protect, by any chance?
Presumably I value social status enough that I'm not prepared to trade it off for a small increase in epistemic rationality.
I'm curious as to the unexplained downvotes. Do people simply not like the idea that it might be instrumentally rational to be epistemically irrational in certain cases? Note that we seem to have a case that the reason that this particular bias evolved is because it was selected for, specifically because it increased one's ability to attract mates and allies. Of course, there might be benefits. But I don't see a compelling case that they outweigh the costs. So, if you want to be more likely to be single and lonely, go ahead and debais...
You could say of any systematic bias in humans that it evolved, specifically because it increased one's ability to survive, reproduce, or both. If this is your true rejection, why do you not run screaming from this site, "They want me to de-bias in ways such that that, had the biases not been productive in the ancestral environment, I'd already be de-biased!"
Good point. I think this is a case for Ord and Bostrom's "Wisdom of Nature" heuristic. Many cognitive biases arise from an approximation - some cheap and dirty trick - that held true enough in our EEA, but doesn't now. For example, probability neglect, representativeness heuristic, short time horizon etc. These you want to debias. Others arise from selective pressures that are very much alive and kicking. It seems that human social interaction has changed back to being more like the stone age in our modern society, except with much less murder. It seems to me that people very much play the same signalling games they used to play, and having positive self-beliefs seems like a good way to win at them. The litany of Tarski is indeed a powerful principle, but this is exactly the kind of misuse of it that will cheapen it.
Bostrom and Sandberg (in your linked paper) suggest three reasons why we might want to change the design that evolution gave us: * Changed tradeoffs. We no longer live in the ancestral environment. * Value discordance. Evolution's goal may not match our own. * Evolutionary restrictions. We might have tools that were not available to evolution. On #2, I'll note that evolution designed humans as temporary vessels, for the goal of propagating genes. Not, for example, for the goal of making you happy. You may prefer to hijack evolution's design, in service of your own goals, rather than in service of your gene's reproduction. Lots of evolution's adaptations (including many of the biases we discuss) are good for the propagation of the genes, at the cost of being bad for the individual human who suffers the bias. A self-aware human may wish to choose to reverse that tradeoff.
Surely having accurate positive self-beliefs is a win over having inaccurate positive self-beliefs, even if having inaccurate positive self-beliefs is a loss compared to having accurate negative self-beliefs. I don't suggest that you should become luminous enough to say, "Wow, I suck in the following ways!" and then quit.
Sorry, I don't get why? Why not just set all of your self-beliefs to "strongly positive", to the extent that you can get away with it? The criterion of instrumental optimality regarding personality self-beliefs is in conflict with the epistemic one. Why not just go the whole hog and believe you're very kind, very generous, very witty, very honorable, very trustworthy, etc...
It's possible, although seems unlikely on priors, that I'm relatively unusual in preferring that I actually be nice/smart/reasonable/friendly/etc. over preferring that I think that I'm those things. This seems to me much like preferring that my family be actually alive and well, over my merely thinking that they are alive and well. From a purely practical standpoint, people might notice if you actually have negative personal traits, even if you signal not having them relatively well due to your positive self-image. They will then think you are an arrogant, deluded person (who also has whatever negative traits you are trying to signal away.)
I think that you have a fundamentally flawed model of most other humans. You are modeling them as reasoning engines that reason logically from explicitly stated ethical principles. I prefer to model people as adaptation executors who respond to subcommunications and signals in a way that was optimized by evolution, and then, if asked, confabulate verbal rationalizations for their behavior. Arrogance and a pervasive positive self-image are strong signals of high status. People will respond positively to them. It is possible to push arrogance too far, especially it is too negative, resentful, and backed by an attitude of hating other people. This is because it signals lower status - high status people generally like others. But just a good deal of self-assurance, unshakable self confidence etc are good.
Have you ever met one of those people who tells bad jokes all the time? This seems an quintessential example of someone with a strong false positive self-image.
Confucious says: man who tell bad jokes is never laughed at.
What predictions does this model let you make? When have you seen it compellingly confirmed in situations where other models would have had you predict something else? It sounds dangerously vulnerable to epicyclic adaptation to individual cases that don't align with it.
The 'fake it until you make it' school of self-improvement is based around this kind of model. For example, if you want to be a self-confident person and derive the benefits of self-confidence, start out 'faking' self-confidence and mimicking the behaviours and signals of self-confident people. Other people will generally respond to this as they would respond to someone who is 'actually' self confident and a virtuous circle will result in you eventually not having to fake the self confidence any more. A prediction of this kind of model might therefore be that the best way to improve self-confidence is to consciously mimic the behaviours of self confident individuals rather than to try and 'internally' improve your self confidence. Anecdotally I see some evidence that this works but I also see some evidence that evolution has made people better at detecting fakers than a naive version of the model might suppose.
If you understand the subconscious mechanisms and how they were tuned to the old environment, and how the old differs from the new, you will eventually see better hacks.
I'm not going to talk about many of those here because I tried before and it went badly. As is the other model: the one where you model them as reasoning engines that reason logically from explicitly stated ethical principles. Here, you can just keep varying which of the many principles they are supposed to be following (as human commonsense morality contains so many different and mutually incompatible principles, so many circumstances, weaknesses of will, etc). There are some solid experiments, e.g. moral dumbfounding, that back this up. Also, as soon as you expose people to a correct contrarian idea, you'll see the people attack with a torrent of confabulated excuses. I am quite fond of this model of people: I think it should be used more. Though agreed that we should test it, criticize it, etc.
It would probably be better for our civilization IMHO if individuals were much less arrogant and much less self-confident. Existential risks for example would probably be lower IMHO if the scientists and technologists in certain fields were less confident of the moral goodness of their actions and their skill at avoiding terrible mistakes. And risks would be reduced if their opinion of their own status (which of course is highly correlated with their actual status) were lower since lower-status people spend more time doubting the goodness or rightness of their effects on the world and IMHO are less prone to rationalization. It is hard to change the current over-confident equilibrium however because low-confidence individuals are at a competitive disadvantage at obtaining the resources (e.g., education, jobs, connections) needed to gain influence in our civilization. [Two sentence that go way off on a tangent deleted because now that the parent comment has been deleted, they make no sense.]
A person who has a more realistic self-image than average might appear less nice than an average person who is equally nice. Thus, the choice to improve your epistemic rationality also causes you to implicitly lie to people you interact with about you being a less nice person than you actually are.
I understand your first sentence, and agree ceteris paribus (but I think the person with the realistic beliefs is in a better position to become actually nicer). Your second makes no sense to me. How is it implicitly lying to have accurate beliefs about how nice you are? The other way around seems more plausible.
The improved accuracy is the property of your own beliefs about yourself, not of other people's beliefs about you. By increasing the accuracy of your beliefs about yourself, you simultaneously decrease the accuracy of other people's beliefs about yourself (unless you compensate by additional signalling by other means, which may be impossible in a number of cases). Consciously compromising accuracy of other people's beliefs is usually called lying, or at least not technically lying.
I think that may be the most roundabout and head-spinny justification for self-deception I've ever heard. Wow. By a similar token, should I not take up gardening if it's not within my power to update everyone who has the belief that I don't garden?
Note that I don't endorse self-deception, see my other comment in this thread. But the argument points to a negative trait of the choice. (The argument is related to a stance that as a rationalist, you'd want to use rhetoric as much as is common (but not more), to avoid signaling the incorrect fact of weakness of your position.) Normally, if you take up gardening, other people's level of belief will either be unchanged (prior state of knowledge: they don't have new evidence), or will move up (towards the truth) upon receiving new evidence. Here, the situation is reversed: new evidence (not new action -- this is a point where your analogy breaks) will move people's belief away from the truth.
I think the idea is to have both accurate and inaccurate positive self-beliefs, and no negative self-beliefs, accurate or otherwise. Whether this is desirable or even possible I take no stance.
Not acting on reasons to be epistemically irrational seems like a good injunction. It however shouldn't prevent people from considering whether a given way of being epistemically irrational is instrumentally rational. Injunctions themselves are a way of guarding instrumental rationality from misguided acts of epistemic rationality. In this case, the principle is applied in reverse.