Here's an internal dialogue I just had.
Q: How do we test rationality skills?
A: We haven't come up with a comprehensive test yet.
Q: Maybe we can test some part of rationality?
A: Sure. For example, you could test resistance to akrasia by making two contestants do some simple chores every day. The one who fails first, loses.
Q: That seems like a pointless competition. If I'm feeling competitive, why would I ever skip the chores and lose?
A: Whoa, wait. If competitiveness can cure akrasia, that's pretty cool!
Now we just need to figure out how to make people more competitive in the areas they care about...
Getting competitive with past and future you is basically the concept behind stuff like beeminder.
You would probably be interested in the field of gamification, as it is applied to education and motivation.
Yeah. Though gamification seems to be more about motivating other people to do what you want them to do...
I declare my future self to be another person who I wish to bend to my will.
That has always been my aproach: Create situations where my future self will be motivated to do the right thing. Seems to work as far as I can tell.
Motivated by what? The details may be important.
The easiest way is to create motivation by fear -- there are some ways to make the future worse for you if you don't do X, for example betting a lot of money, making a public precommitment -- but I guess this has some bad side effects.
"bending to ones will" is unprofessional and might cause "retaliation" (e.g. breaking out of the pattern).
You can better better influence your future self by giving yourself an environment where you want to do and enjoy the things.
The classical example to support a long-term bond is by making shared investments e.g. a house. You can motivate your future self to stay in a long-term relationship by building a large shared base. This will give you additional montivation to keep it and the relationship (works the other way around too probably).
The precommitments work best if you are know to hold your word and there are many who nail you to it. But the literal meaning of the commitment allows for interpretation on both sides and can cause side effects indeed.
I try to motivate my future self via long-term development and shared investments.
Is it? The first example of gamification that comes to my mind is usually Stack Overflow, and while it is about motivating people to do what the site creators want, that happens to be something the users want too, with overt mechanisms.
A well-known Crossfit quote: "Men will die for points" :-)
Evaluate your competitions carefully
I had to close that page when I was halfway through it because it was giving me the creeps.
Would you be willing to expand on that?
Would you be willing to expand on your thoughts on this article?
I read the article and did some quick Wiki-checking into Rhabdomyolysis.
6 occurences per 100,000 people. (according to the article you linked)
What is the rate of occurence for heart attack during exercise? Or stroke? Serious infections or illnessed picked up at the gym? Or a traffic accident on the way to the gym?
It sounds to me a bit like fear-mongering.
Exercising yourself (literally) to death is a possibility even for a fit person, but my original inclination to this article is that certain people are predisposed to be adversely effected by the intense training associated with Crossfit, and that may lead to rhabdomyolysis.
How is that any different than any other predisposition and it's implications on which activities an individual should be cautious of, or avoid altogether?
It is 6 occurences per 100000 people in base population, but much higher among people who do CrossFit. That was exactly the point of the article:
The claim that rhabdomyolsis is more frequent in CrossFitters is the question you and Nancy appear to be begging. We have nothing other than anecdotal evidence to support that.
I think it is rather self evident that injuries that result from over-exertion will tend to result at a higher frequency during activities with high levels of exertion.
The criticism seems to be from people who are unfamiliar with the pursuit of high level athletic goals. Injury is a possibility when you set out to reach unprecedented heights of physical fitness. If you want to burn some calories and avoid any potential problems, walk the dog. If you want to accomplish what these Crossfitters do, then there are risks.
Edit to add: I should say that I actually agree with Nancy's original point that we should "evaluate our competitions carefully". I think you should decide what you are trying to achieve and consider the risks inherent in that pursuit. CrossFit is only an example of one kind of relatively extreme training. It is trying to approach the limits of what is physically possible, and that involves risk.
For extremely rare events, even anecdotal evidence can be pretty good. If you were told something happened to 1 in a billion people, and you met 3 such people, you'd have pretty good evidence that something odd is going on (the rate is a lie, you're mistaken about meeting them, or something unusual is concentrating them in your presence). Rhabdo isn't nearly that rare, but it's pretty rare. That rareness, and a very reliable base rate for rhabdo in the overall population, means that the anecdotes actually get us a lot further than you might expect. I will demonstrate with some Fermi estimates and a little bit of statistical reasoning:
262m people in the USA in 1995, so the base rate is: 26000 / 262764948
Alright, so that's the base rate for the general population. Now we need a rate for CrossFitters, number of CF rhabdo cases divided by number of people doing CF:
How many anecdotes are we dealing with? I took Nancy's Medium link, followed each link in it (ignoring any other links in this LW thread), and tallied how many specific, concrete, anecdotal cases of rhabdo were reported in each; sorted by date:
http://www.endofthreefitness.com/rhabdomyolysis-know-thyself/ September 2013 : 1
These all sound reasonably exclusive (the 2011 CF paper is specifically about a different time period than the cumulative-to-2005 CF estimate of 6, the comments all seem to be by different people, etc), so we can sum to get 5+2+1+1+4+1+1=15 anecdotal cases of CF. You can argue that some of this is double-counting that I just didn't notice, but if I looked at a few more threads I could probably add some more aneccdotes, so let's just call it even.
How many CFers?
Crossfit was founded in 2000; there are now 6100 affiliated gyms. The 2013 CrossFit Games Open apparently had 138k registrations; this was a sort of virtual online competition, it seems, so it seems like a reasonable proxy for total Crossfit participants. Let's say half didn't bother to register, so in 2013, there were really more like 300k CrossFit people. That makes 50 CrossFitters per affiliate, which given the high cost of CrossFit and intensive time-demanding training sounds pretty reasonable. How many CrossFit people have there ever been? Making the completely arbitrary assumption that the average CFer lasts one year and assuming linear growth from 1 person in 2000 to 300k in 2013, then there's been 150k * 13 = 1950000 CFers.
As it happens, (15 / 1950000) < (26000 / 262764948). To get the CF rate just barely above the base rate, I'd have to increase the number of CF rhabdo cases to 193, since (193 / 1950000) > (26000 / 262764948).
So if you believe the null hypothesis that CFers suffer rhabdo at the exact same rate as the general population, then according to this set of numbers, I apparently managed to get 8% (15/193) of the way to the entire population of CF rhabdo cases just by reading 7 links. As much as I admire my own reading and link-clicking skills, I don't find that very plausible.
Now, with this set of numbers, how many cases of CF rhabdo would we need before we had something statistically-significant? We'd need another 206 cases of rhabdo to hit p<0.05:
So our little handful of anecdotes gets us 7% of the way to the claimed conclusion. For the much-maligned anecdote, this seems pretty impressive, IMO.
CrossFit is not that unique. It is just a type of working out hard.
I'm quite confident injuries result more frequently among those who work out hard.
I'll concede rhabdo is more common among CrossFitters than the general population. The point I should have focused (exclusively) on is that that is exactly what we should expect.
We see lots of concussions in football; lots of tennis elbow among tennis players; shoulder issues with powerlifters; knee problems in runners, etc.
The article seems to me to be fear mongering. It is the nature of highly competitive pursuits that they involve injuries.
More rhabdo among CrossFitters is like saying there are more drowning deaths among those who go swimming.
Meanwhile, the risks involved in living a sedentary lifestyle abound.
Sure, but once you've conceded that yes, CrossFit has an unusual increased risk of a disorder both deadly and detrimental to fitness, then you need to deal with objections that CFers would be better off with the next alternative: CF can't be the only type of working out hard, even if it prides itself on being the hardest work out around.
Modus ponens, modus tollens. That may just be a reason to avoid swimming as one's recreation unless one prefers it so much compared to the alternatives. 'Drowning' and 'rhabo' seem much worse than 'shoulder issues' or 'knee problems'.
Conceding there are risks inherent to CrossFit (or anything) is a good reason to consider alternatives. Then, you'll see the alternatives have risks, too.
Then, you may personally decide to partake in any activities for which you are willing to accept the risks.
And again, CrossFit isn't a magical, dangerous thing. CrossFit = a branded mix of strength/speed/endurance exercises. You can do it reasonably, or over-do it.
Rugby or football, on the other hand...
The article presented no data other than some evidence about meme propagation in the Crossfit community.
Rhabdo is a consequence of severely overexerting your muscles and is not specific to the types of exercise that Crossfit does. It is specific to motivation and the claim is that, basically, Crossfit overmotivates the newbies. Well, maybe. And maybe other fitness programs do, too. Without data it's really hard to tell and so far I haven't seen any.
This is news to me and of relevance to my exercise choices. Is it the consensus of all the people on lesswrong who have the name 'gwern' that following CrossFit's workout of the day routine is on net detrimental and to be avoided in favour of something else?
Haha no way. I hadn't even heard of rhabdo or CrossFit before I noticed this thread. I just read the article and realized it was a great showpiece for one of the rare circumstances where anecdotes can actually be informative.
Thankyou for explaining. Your reputation as an independent researcher is such that if you had researched the subject I'd just take your word for it. The expected value of information would have to be damn high before it would be worth looking into it myself to confirm. And even then my first thought would be "Value of information is high? Hire gwern at his going rate to do a more thorough analysis."
From my experience (anecdotal observation) is that with Crossfit what the participant brings into it largely determines what they take out of it. Now perhaps not all Crossfit boxes(gyms) share the same culture. But where I go there is a focus on form and scaling of workouts. Also those that are serious about progressing know how to hold back because rhabdo would destroy their(my) work and gains. Those who have no real goal except some loose idea of improved fitness and health never seem to push themselves hard enough to do damage. I'd say rhabdo would take a unique kind of desire to win over the pain to achieve.
Just to brag and promote: after a year of CF I've gained 6kg~ of muscle mass from 78kg to 84kg at 185cm. Crossfit is a tool to achieve fitness goals it doesn't provide the goals or the motivation just the means exercise both.
I believe that people have some built-in warnings to keep them from hurting themselves, and it's a cultural pathology to make ignoring those warnings into a virtue. It's one thing to push through pain in an emergency or to increase your capacities, but it's another to keep hurting yourself just to prove that you can.
More about injuries being common at Crossfit.
Here's an example of a workout by Scott Sonnon, who encourages athletic ambition while making serious efforts to keep people from getting injured. This is a free workout he's offering because people need free, useful things when the federal government is semi-shut down.
I generally agree with your sentiments. There is, however, a relatively tricky balance to achieve when attempting to optimize athletic performance.
I think overtraining has become a bit of an epidemic among novice strength trainers, and "less is more" can be a helpful lesson to learn sooner than later... but extreme athletic results often involve extreme training methods. Injury is a line that is always (very) detrimental to cross, but not pushing yourself close to that line can result in you failing to reach full potential.
You could argue that optimizing for some athletic output is not a wise use of resources anyway, especially given the risks (and I might agree with you) But it just may take the most extreme training to produce the most extreme (and optimized) results.
"A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon" -- Napoleon Bonaparte
Or rather, a soldier will fight long and hard for the ability to reliably signal to others that they fought long and hard.
This is why we need the rationality ribbons.
I'm not sure that replacing intrinsic motivation with the motivation to prove yourself better than others is always a good idea. It will help some but it might also hinder.
I could skip the chores and lose because I'm feeling the wrong sort of competitiveness, I tied my feelings of self-worth to the outcome and avoiding thinking of the issue altogether is preferable to facing the prospect of loss.
I think quantifying goal accomplishment is generally not trivial, unless you are using the pomodoro technique. I think I've read a couple quite positive reports of beeminding pomodoros.
Pomodoros is a great metric. Katja Grace makes the case for that here: http://www.overcomingbias.com/2012/08/on-the-goodness-of-beeminder.html (she just calls them blocks of time).
I think raw number of hours is a fine metric too though. Discretizing into pomodoros has both advantages and disadvantages.
If you can quantify actual output, that might be ideal. Like how we track User-Visible Improvements to Beeminder. You might expect that to be too fuzzy a metric but we found a criterion that's been rock solid for years now: If we're willing to publicly tweet it then it counts. Pride prevents us from ever getting too weaselly about it.
Is there any software out there that lets you input goals and metrics, and then tracks your progress like a game?
My post was more about competing with other people, not just tracking your own progress...
Chore Wars? http://www.chorewars.com/
Worked for a while in my family - the kids were arguing over who got to clean the toilet for the XP bonus :-)
Some possible things to compete on, that could be automatically measured (with more or less dev work):
1 and 3 seem too easy to inflate, but 2 is a good idea. Instead of blocking specific websites, write a program that passively measures how much time you spend there, and compete with other people to get a low score. Maybe everyone puts some money in the prize fund...
2 will still lead to some strange behavior. For example, when composing a comment on a forum, rather than typing directly into the textarea you'll switch to a text editor and copy-paste when you're done.
Worse, use curl and view the pages offline.
Making web browsing slightly more annoying can be effective in reducing use.
Yes. Even as wrong as downloading 15 chapters of fanfic in one command line and binging them for an afternoon would be while seeming to use the connection for around 3 seconds... that isn't what would normally happen.
Rescuetime seems to fit this niche already.
A lot of anti-akrasia recipies rely on good faith to some extent, so I don't think it's a huge problem (implementing those and getting enough people to use them would be a much bigger hurdle!). If some people want to cheat themselves to stop improving themselves, hey, their loss.
Procrastination could be described as the short-term mind vs. the medium-term mind, and cheating would often require a minimum of planning and of thinking beyond the long term - precisely the stuff that the short-term mind doesn't do.
I think competitiveness can cure arkasia for many people, and I wish more schools took advantage of this fact.
Isn't that one (usually unspoken) purpose of grades? In Norway, discussion of grades usually revolves (on the anti-grade side at least) around their creation of winners and losers, and how bad it is to be a loser.
Perhaps, but in many schools grades are kept secret (at least they are at my university), thereby destroying their ability to foster competition. On the other hand, I know some Japanese schools post grades in public areas, in rank order no less.
I think a good compromise would be to give everyone a histogram with anonymous results of their classmates, and an arrow "you are here". So you know whether you are good or bad, but if you are bad your classmates don't know it's you. (Perhaps as an exception, the best one or the best three names could be made public.)
Every time my employer does some form of numeric feedback, I ask for essentially this. (I usually phrase it as "so, is that in the top 10%, the bottom 10%, or what?")
Every time, my employer refuses to answer that question in a reliable way.
At this point, I just ask the question rhetorically.
This seems to have worked for me. For the first part of high school I was a terrible student, then in one technical lab-based class with a lot of opportunity for student interaction, I started getting way better grades on the quizzes than everyone else, and earned the admiration of some of my peers for it. I thought "This feels kinda good," and next year (my last year of high school) I got straight As in all classes. And then I got more straight As through 4 years of undergrad.
Yeah, maybe every school is an anti-akrasia school to some extent.
Doesn't work for most in a large pool. If you're motivated by competitiveness and know that second-best in your school is the best you can hope for, why even bother?
I can see that. However, I am especially interested in the education of the person who is the best in the school. So much more progress is made by the top 0.1% intellectual elite.
A valid point in high school, where there are few enough very smart people that each has enough hope of being the best that it's worth competing. But if you're the top student in your high school and go to a college where you have a chance of being the top student, odds are you have gone to the wrong college rather than that you're just that awesome. If you're usually the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room, and all that. And if you're mainly motivated by competition, the small pond is quite tempting.