I took part in a recent discussion in the current Open Thread about how instrumental rationality is under-emphasized on this website. I've heard other people say similar things, and I am inclined to agree. Someone suggested that there should be a "Instrumental Rationality Books" thread, similar to the "best textbooks on every subject" thread. I thought this sounded like a good idea.
The title is "resources" because in addition to books, you can post self-help websites, online videos, whatever.
The decorum for this thread will be as follows:
- One resource per comment
- Place your comment in the appropriate category
- Only post resources you've actually used. Write a short review of your resource and if possible, a short summary of the key points. Say whether or not you would recommend the resource.
- Mention approximately how long it's been since you first used the resource and whether or not you have made external improvements in the subject area. On the other hand, keep in mind that there are a myriad of confounding factors that can be present when applying self-help resources to your life, and therefore it is perfectly acceptable to say "I would recommend this resource, but I have not improved" or "I do not recommend this resource, but I have improved".
I think depending on how this thread goes, in a few days I might make a meta post on this subject in an attempt to inspire discussion on how the LessWrong community can work together to attempt to reach some sort of a consensus on what the best instrumental rationality methods and resources might be. lukeprog has already done great work in his The Science of Winning at Life sequence, but his reviews are uber-conservative and only mention resources with lots of scientific and academic backing. I think this leaves out a lot of really good stuff, and I think that we should be able to draw distinctions between stuff that isn't necessarily drawing on science but is reasonable, rational, and helps a lot of people, and The Secret.
But I thought we should get the ball rolling a little before we have that conversation. In the meantime, if you have a meta comment, you can just go ahead and post it as a reply to the top-level post.
Meta: I think that this is all entirely brilliant, and I've found this very useful already.
Also, in this post or a later one, I think it would be great if you made a list of each area and links to the recommendations in the OP, like in Lukeprog's The Best Textbooks on Every Subject, because it will become hard to search through all of the posts for new recommendations.
Hopefully, it could end up looking something like this.
Well, that list of references and resources for LessWrong derailed me reading the comments for this thread by about 12 hours.
I want to approve of your initiative publicly. No other content in this post.
I have my own website and I can set up a wiki/social network dedicated to self improvement/instrumental rationality. Is there significant community interest?
If there is significant interest, would a wiki with social networking features such as forums and chat be more useful, or should I just stick to a wiki?
Wiki options: DocuWiki, MediaWiki, PmWiki, and WikkaWiki
Social networking options (with wiki): BuddyPress on WordPress
I am open to other suggestions, but they may be harder or more expensive for me to set up. If anyone has experience setting up websites, their help would be greatly appreciated (if the website concept is deemed useful).
Meta 1: It would be nice if reviews rated the material out of 5 or 10.
Right now, reviewers are starting with things like "Absolutely fantastic." and "Extremely, extremely, recommended", which, while are a nice indicator of high-value materials, is less efficient and more fuzzy than a rating on a standard scale. This would also motivate more people with medium value materials to come forward.
Meta 2: I think this would be much better suited to a wiki piece than a post/set of comments. Ideally it'd be in something like a collab... (read more)
The Blueprint Decoded
This is a 20-hour video series by RSD in the controversial PUA genre. However, I think this video series is not at all like the image many people might have of the genre. The discussion is very very smart - discussing matters of psychology, philosophy, spirituality, etc., occasionally coming back down to earth to apply it to the practicalities of attracting women. At the same time, the speaker, Owen Cook a.k.a. Tyler Durden, comes off as very friendly, casual, reasonable, rational, and normal - the type of guy you might want to hang out with. The claims are contrarian, but at the same time the tone is very positive (i.e. not even remotely like, say, Roissy), and not misogynistic, although of course your mileage may very - if you're a radical feminist you will obviously be offended. There are pretty much zero explicit tactics discussed, no "do and say this to get girls". And the content is immensely applicable not only to attracting women, but to social skills and even life in general.
The tagline boasts "4 day total immersion, advanced identity-level change" and I feel like it delivered this. The videos approach the same core themes from so ... (read more)
Would you recommend it to gay men and women?
What's the difference between General and Other?
Dual computer monitors. I've had this kind of setup for several years at work and home. It seems to really help, although it does encourage multitasking.
Getting Things Done—David Allen
Highly, highly recommended. This is the gold standard of organizational advice, and it lives up to its reputation. My productivity has skyrocketed in the five months I've been using this system. I attribute maybe half of that improvement to this book.
Allen describes his system in detail, explaining why each piece is useful. The system is modular, and most people who use it have modified it to fit their particular workflow. The book is longer than it needs to be, but still only something like 200-300 pages. Note that organizational advice is different from motivational advice (although bad organization can sap motivation).
—Breaking down projects into small, achievable "next actions" is a key technique for planning effectively and preventing ugh fields.
—Writing down every task in a single list that you will actually check regularly lets you stop worrying about tasks, reduce your cognitive load, and ensure that nothing gets lost.
Worth adding that most people don't actually need all of GTD, since the system was designed for a particular type of corporate drone. It's really the attitude about doing things that's important to take away. For instance, I don't keep lists of projects or a "tickler" file--for me, the most important things were the weekly strategic reviews, "next actions" idea, and having a very small number of inboxes that I regularly clear out and categorize.
Happiness (or anything else designed primarily to change your inner state)
Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy - David D. Burns
Absolutely fantastic. The concepts are highly rational and compatible with a LessWrong worldview and are explained very well. The guy writes in a really friendly, likeable style. He does an excellent job arguing with the hypothetical depressed reader and logically convincing him that the beliefs he firmly holds are maladaptive and wrong, without expecting him to "just think more positively" or anything similar.
The principles explained in the book are those of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which is the only form of psychotherapy proven to work better than placebo. Essentially what CBT says (if I correctly understand it) is that depression essentially is a form of irrational thinking, specifically ten specific irrational thinking patterns, called "cognitive distortions". These include things like "overgeneralization", where a depressed person will do a small thing wrong and conclude that everything they do is wrong, or "mind reading", where a depressed person will insist that somebody hates them or is thinking negative things about them, without proof to back it up. The book explains how to no... (read more)
Instrumental rationality is the practical application of epistemic rationality, "winning" being the criterion of whether you did it right. Is there anything that can be said about intrumental rationality at that level, rather than exhibiting exemplary particular cases?