Training Regime Day 2: Searching for bugs

by Mark Xu4 min read16th Feb 20202 comments

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TechniquesDebuggingRationalityPractical
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Introduction

In CFAR terminology, a bug is something that systematically goes wrong in your life. It can be anything as small as "it takes me one minute to get out of bed in the morning when it should take me five seconds" to as large as "I hate my job" or even larger. Knowing the bugs in your life provides information as to where to spend time/energy to make your life better.

Today's exercise is going to be woven throughout the entire post. The necessary components to this exercise is any system capable of storing information that isn't your brain. A computer, pen and paper, a whiteboard, and a wax tablet will all suffice.

A common failure mode when writing down bugs is to consider whether or not they're bugs before writing them down. Writing down bugs is an exercise is babbling; do not restrict your search to the space of things your brain explicitly considers a "bug." Writing down things that might not be bugs is a necessary part of the process. You can always decide that they're not bugs later.

What follows are a series of prompts designed to get you to think about possible bugs that you have. I suggest that you read each prompt and write down bugs until the bugs no longer come freely. I will provide examples of bugs at the end, but you should search for you own bugs before reading that list to avoid anchoring.

There will be other opportunities to find bugs later on in this sequence, so don't feel pressured to compile a comprehensive list of all of your problems at this exact instance.

Prompts

  1. What are your bugs? Sometimes there are things that are wrong in your life that you know are wrong. Starting with these is probably a good idea.
  2. Is there something in your life that consistently causes you to feel frustrated/annoyed? Frustration and annoyance are the feelings that arise when something that you desire fails to manifest itself.
  3. Imagine a day in your life in all its glorious detail. What are the ways that it could be better? Which parts of your day are less-than-ideal in some particular way?
  4. Imagine asking your closest friends what your bugs are. What would they say? You should probably write down their responses even if you think what they're saying is wrong.
  5. Is there anything that's stopping you from easily making your life better? Barriers to progress are also bugs.
  6. Scott Alexander explains how it is sometimes hard to realize that you don't understand entire concepts. Similarly, if there was something about your life that was a bug that you didn't realize, what would it be?
  7. What causes you pain in your life? Sources of both physical and emotional pain are often bugs.
  8. Do you want to be able to do something that you currently can't do? Feature requests can also be considered bugs.
  9. Does anything feel wrong in your life? Sometimes, bugs make themselves known as vague feelings of wrongness or unease.

Examples

Here are some examples of bugs from my own life:

  1. I forget to go to events that aren't consistent.
  2. My desk is constantly very messy.
  3. My knee is in pain.
  4. My glasses slip down my nose.
  5. I sleep consistently 30 minutes later than I desire.
  6. Most food I eat isn't tasty.
  7. My ears are constantly dry and itchy.
  8. My nails are too long.
  9. I have too many pairs of pants but I don't want to get rid of any of them.
  10. Eventually, I am probably going to die.
  11. I often communicate half-formed thoughts, frustrating both myself and my interlocutors.

There are many more, but I will stop for now.

Conclusion

There is a saying at CFAR that "the techniques are not the point." I will explain in more detail what this means tomorrow, but it roughly means that the point of CFAR is to teach you how to do applied rationality, not really how to do their specific way of applied rationality. If your life gets better but you don't ever explicitly use any of the techniques, then they have succeeded.

My extension of this saying goes "the techniques are not the point, but the bugs are even less of the point then the techniques." The point of this sequence is not to figure out how to fix any of the specific bugs that you wrote down on your list, it's to teach you how to generate ways to fix bugs in general. Having a list of bugs is useful because it provides you with a lot of problems at a variety of difficulty levels that you have a reasonable amount of motivation to solve. They're your problems, so you have a lot of context on why they exist and whether or not solutions will work, making them ideal as practice material.

If you haven't found enough bugs, I recommend hammertime's bug hunt.

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2 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 5:08 PM
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For more examples, here are the bugs I found following the prompts:

  • I consistently take too much time to wake up in the morning, between 30 minutes and 2 hours too much.
  • When working on something, I tend to do "just enough" to make good progress on it, and then stop for the day. Even if I could have kept going.
  • Although I am very comfortable in conversations, I have a weird anxiety about starting one with a complete stranger.
  • I have a consistent reluctance to start a new activity, like a coding project or cooking a new recipe. Whereas I thrive on new ideas.
  • My focus wanes around 1 hour after I start working on something on the best days, and I would want more.
  • I keep procrastinating on washing my dishes.
  • I take too much time thinking about how to do things and what I should do, and too little doing the things.
  • I regularly feel I'm not important to people.
  • I have trouble focusing when reading maths, and that's something I would want to improve.

I'm not sure these are bugs at the right level, but that's what I got out of the prompts.

In my view, there is no "right level" for bugs. Some bugs are simpler and thus more suited to practicing, but the goal is to get to the point where you can solve even your largest bugs. I'll provide more prompts for finding larger bugs later on in the sequence.

Thanks for participating!