One of the things that makes Michael Vassar an interesting person to be around is that he has an opinion about everything. If you locked him up in an empty room with grey walls, it would probably take the man about thirty seconds before he'd start analyzing the historical influence of the Enlightenment on the tradition of locking people up in empty rooms with grey walls.

Likewise, in the recent LW meetup, I noticed that I was naturally drawn to the people who most easily ended up talking about interesting things. I spent a while just listening to HughRistik's theories on the differences between men and women, for instance. There were a few occasions when I engaged in some small talk with new people, but not all of them took very long, as I failed to lead the conversation into territory where one of us would have plenty of opinions.

I have two major deficiencies in trying to mimic this behavior. One, I'm by nature more of a listener than speaker. I usually prefer to let other people talk so that I can just soak up the information being offered. Second, my native way of thought is closer to text than speech. At best, I can generate thoughts as fast as I can type. But in speech, I often have difficulty formulating my thoughts into coherent sentences fast enough and frequently hesitate.

Both of these problems are solvable by having a sufficiently well built-up storage of cached thoughts that I don't need to generate everything in real time. On the occasions when a conversations happens to drift into a topic I'm sufficiently familiar with, I'm often able to overcome the limitations and contribute meaningfully to the discussion. This implies two things. First, that I need to generate cached thoughts in more subjects than I currently have. Seconds, that I need an ability to more reliably steer conversation into subjects that I actually do have cached thoughts about.

Below is a preliminary "conversational map" I generated as an exercise. The top three subjects - the weather, the other person's background (job and education), people's hobbies - are classical small talk subjects. Below them are a bunch of subjects that I feel like I can spend at least a while talking about, and possible paths leading from one subject to another. My goal in generating the map is to create a huge web of interesting subjects, so that I can use the small talk openings to bootstrap the conversation into basically anything I happen to be interested in.

This map is still pretty small, but it can be expanded to an arbitrary degree. (This is also one of the times when I wish my netbook had a bigger screen.) I thought that I didn't have very many things that I could easily talk with people about, but once I started explicitly brainstorming for them, I realized that there were a lot of those.

My intention is to spend a while generating conversational charts like this and then spend some time fleshing out the actual transitions between subjects. The benefit from this process should be two-fold. Practice in creating transitions between subjects will make it easier to generate such transitions in real time conversations. And if I can't actually come up with anything in real time, I can fall back to the cache of transitions and subjects that I've built up.

Naturally, the process needs to be guided by what the other person shows an interest in. If they show no interest in some subject I mention, it's time to move the topic to another cluster. Many of the subjects in this chart are also pretty inflammable: there are environments where pretty much everything in the politics cluster should probably be kept off-limits, for instance. Exercise your common sense when building and using your own conversational charts.

(Thanks to Justin Shovelain for mentioning that Michael Vassar seems to have a big huge conversational web that all his discussions take place in. That notion was one of the original sources for this idea.)


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I have a lot of trouble finding the motivation to talk with people in real time. I keep wishing that they would write down their ideas as a blog post or such, so I can read it and think about it at my leisure, with Internet access handy to check out any factual claims, etc., and figure out whether what they're saying makes any sense.

As far as I can tell, most people, while engaging in real-time conversations, do not feel this discomfort of having insufficient time and resources to verify the other participant's claims (or for that matter, to make sure that one's own speech is not erroneous). Is it because they are too credulous, and haven't developed an instinctive skepticism of every new idea that they hear? Or do they just not take the other person's words seriously (i.e., "in one ear, out the other")?

If you aren't afraid of making mistakes you can learn and grow MUCH faster than if you are.

If you aren't afraid of noticing when you have made mistakes you can learn and grow MUCH MUCH faster than if you are.

The main thing though is that once you have learned an average amount the more you learn the less typical your thought patterns will be. If you bother to learn a lot your thought patterns will be VERY atypical. Once this happens, it becomes wildly unlikely that anyone talking with you for more than a minute without feedback will still be saying anything useful. Only conversation provides rapid enough feedback to make most of what the other person says relevant. (think how irrelevant most of the info in a typical pop-science book is because you can't indicate to the author every ten seconds that you understand and that they can move on to the next point)

9Wei Dai13y
I'm afraid of making mistakes, but I'm not afraid of "noticing" my mistakes. Actually I'm mainly afraid of making mistakes and not noticing them. I think this psychological drive is in part responsible for whatever productivity I have in philosophy (or for that matter, in crypto/programming). Unless I can get some assurance that's not the case, I wouldn't want to trade it for increased speed of learning and growth. Even aside from that, what is the point of learning faster, if you end up learning a lot of facts and ideas that aren't true? I've gotten quite good at skimming books and blogs. This seems like a relatively easy skill to pick up.

"Even aside from that, what is the point of learning faster, if you end up learning a lot of facts and ideas that aren't true?". Your Bayes Score goes up on net ;-)

I agree that fearing making and not noticing mistakes is much better than not minding mistakes you don't notice, but you should be able to notice mistakes later when other people disagree with you or when you can't get your model of the world to reach a certain level of coherence. This is much faster than actively checking every belief. If a belief is wrong and you have good automatic processes that propagate it and that draw attention to incoherence from belief nodes being pushed back and forth from the propogation of the implications of some of your beliefs pushing in conflicting directions, you don't even need people to criticize you, and especially to criticize you well, though both still help. I also think that simply wanting true beliefs without fearing untrue ones can produce the desired effect. A lot of people try to accomplish a lot of things with negative emotions that could be accomplished better with positive emotions. Positive emotions really do produce a greater risk of wireheading and only ... (read more)

Perhaps the difference here is one of risk sensitivity--similarly to the way a gambler going strictly for long term gains over the largest number of iterations will use the Kelly Criterion, Michael Vassar optimizes for becoming the least wrong when scores are tallied up at the end of the game. Wei Dai would prefer to minimize the volatility of his wrongness instead, taking smaller but steadier gains in correctness.
2Wei Dai13y
I doubt that's the case if you take into account the difficulty of changing one's mind after noticing other people disagreeing, and the difficulty of seeing inconsistencies in one's own beliefs after they've settled in for a while. Obviously we can strive to be better at both, but even the best would-be rationalists among us are still quite bad at these skills, when measured on an absolute scale. Similarly, I suggest that in most cases, it's better to be underconfident than to be overconfident, because of the risk that if you believe something too much, you might get stuck with that belief and fail to update if contrary evidence comes along. In general, I'm much more concerned about not getting stuck with a false belief than maximizing my Bayes score in the short run. It just seems like learning new knowledge is not that hard, but I see a lot of otherwise intelligent people apparently stuck with false beliefs. ETA: To return to my original point, why not write your conversation ideas down as blog posts? Then I don't have to check them myself: I can just skim the comments to see if others found any errors. It seems like you can also reach a much bigger audience with the same effort that way.
I don't think, at a first approximation, that written communication much less careful than Eliezer's sequences can successfully communicate the content of surprising ideas to very many people at all. I see lots of intelligent people who are not apparently stuck with false beliefs. Normatively, I don't even see myself as having 'beliefs' but rather integrated probabilistic models. One doesn't occasionally have to change those because you were wrong. Rather, the laws of inference requires that you change them in response to every piece of information you encounter whether the new info is surprising or unsurprising. This crude normative model doesn't reflect an option for a human mind, given how a human mind works, but neither, I suspect, does the sort of implicit model it is being contrasted with, at least if that model is cashed out in detail at its current level of development.
just chiming in two years after the fact to remark that this is EXACTLY why I hate reading most pop science books.
just chiming in ten years after the fact to remark that you could flip the page when this happens.

Let me try a Hansonian explanation: conversation is not about exchanging information. It is about defining and reinforcing social bonds and status hierarchies. You don't chit-chat about the weather because you really want to consider how recent local atmospheric patterns relate to long-run trends, you do it to show that you care about the other person. If you actually cared about the weather, you would excuse yourself and consult the nearest meteorologist.

Written communication probably escapes this mechanism - the mental machinery for social interaction is less involved, and the mental machinery for analytical judgment has more room to operate. This probably happens because there was no written word in the evolutionary context, so we didn't evolve to apply our social interaction machinery to it. A second reason is that written communication is relatively easily divorced from the writer - you can encounter a written argument over vast spatial or temporal separation - so the cues that kick the social brain into gear are absent or subdued. The result, as you point out, it is easier to critically engage with a written argument than a spoken one.

You don't chit-chat about the weather because you really want to consider how recent local atmospheric patterns relate to long-run trends, you do it to show that you care about the other person.

No, you chat about the weather because it allows both parties to become comfortable and pick up the pace of the conversation to something more interesting. Full-on conversations don't start in a vacuum. In a worst case scenario, you talk about the weather because it's better than both of you staring at the ground until someone else comes along.

You are certainly correct, and I think what you say reinforces the point. Building comfort is a social function rather than an information exchange function, which is why you don't particularly care whether or not your conversation leads to more accurate predictions for tomorrow's weather.
These are difficult concepts for those of us who work regularly with meteorological data!

You seem to have an oddly narrow view of human communication. Have you considered the following facts?

  • In many sorts of cooperative efforts, live conversation (possibly aided by manual writing and drawing) enables rapid exchange of ideas that will converge onto the correct conclusion more quickly than written communication. Think e.g. solving a math problem together with someone.

  • In many cases, human conversations have the goal of resolving some sort of conflict, in the broad Schellingian sense of the term. Face-to-face communication, with all the clues it provides to people's inner thoughts and intentions, can greatly facilitate the process of finding and agreeing upon a solution acceptable to all parties.

  • A good bullshit detector heuristic is usually more than enough to identify claims that can't be taken at face value, and even when red flags are raised, often it's enough to ask your interlocutor to provide support for them and see if the answer is satisfactory. You'll rarely be in a situation where your interlocutors are so hostile and deceptive that they would be lying to your face about the evidence they claim to have seen. (Even in internet discussions, it's not often t

... (read more)
3Wei Dai13y
Yes, I agree there are some situations where live conversation is helpful, such as the first two bullet points in your list. I was mainly talking about conversations like the ones described in Kaj's post, where the participants are just "making conversation" and do not have any specific goals in mind. I typically find myself wanting to verify every single fact or idea that I hadn't heard of before, and say either "hold on, I need to think about that for a few minutes" or "let me check that on Google/Wikipedia". In actual conversation I'd suppress this because I suspect the other person will quickly find it extremely annoying. I just think to myself "I'll try to remember what he's saying and check it out later", but of course I don't have such a good memory. It's not that I think people are deceptive but I don't trust their memory and/or judgment. Asking for evidence isn't that helpful because (1) they may have misremembered or misheard from someone else and (2) there may be a lot more evidence in the other direction that they're not aware of and never thought of looking up. I think we covered that in an earlier discussion. :) But why do people find random elements in the environment interesting?
Wei_Dai: But this seems to me, at the very least, irrationally inefficient. You have a finite amount of time, and it can surely be put to use much more efficiently than verifying every single new fact and idea. (Also, why stop there? Even after you've checked the first few references that come up on Google, there is always some non-zero chance that more time invested in research could unearth relevant contrary evidence. So clearly there's a time-saving trade-off involved.) Sometimes, yes. But often it's not the case. There are good heuristics to determine if someone really knows what he's talking about. If they give a positive result, what you've been told in a live conversation is only marginally less reliable than what a reasonable time spent googling will tell you. This is an immensely useful and efficient way of saving time. Also, many claims are very hard to verify by googling. For example, if someone gives you general claims about the state of the art in some area, based on generalizations from his own broad knowledge and experience, you must judge the reliability of these claims heuristically, unless you're willing to take a lot of time and effort to educate yourself about the field in question so you can make similar conclusions yourself. Google cannot (yet?) be asked to give such judgments from the indexed evidence. Yes, but you've asked about the motivations of typical people. For everyone except a very small number of outliers, this is a highly relevant factor. Are you asking for an answer in everyday human terms, or an evolutionary explanation? In this particular context, it should be noted that human conversations whose purpose is fun, rather than achieving a predetermined goal, typically have a natural and seemingly disorganized flow, jumping from one topic to another in a loose sequence. Comments on various observations from the environment can guide this flow in interesting fun-enhancing ways, which is not possible when people are just exchangi
My solution is to try to not have any opinion on most subjects, other than background ignorance, despite having heard various specific claims. (And I sometimes argue with people that they, too, should have no opinion, given the evidence they are aware of!)
4Wei Dai13y
You're right, that would be highly inefficient. Now that you mention this, I realize part of what is attractive about reading blogs is that popular posts will tend to have lots of comments, and many of those will point out possible errors in the post, so I can get a higher certainty of correctness with much less work on my part. I guess what I'm really interested in is whether I'm missing out on something really great by not participating in more live conversations (that aren't about solving specific problems).
Always have a goal. "Just making conversation" doesn't count. That's a high-level description of the activity that leaves out the goal, not a description of something that actually has no goal. Your goal might be "learn from this person", "let this person learn from me", "get to know this person", "get an introduction to this person's friends", "get into bed with this person", or many other things, or even at the meta-level, "find out if this is an interesting person to know". Unless your efforts are about something, the whole activity will seem pointless, because it is. Have you ever been in a conversation with someone who had the same urge?
One of the nicest things anyone's done in conversation with me is say "hold on, I need a few minutes to think about that," actually go off and think for several minutes, and then come back to the conversation with an integrated perspective. I felt deeply respected as a mind. People who don't appreciate this sort of thing aren't trying to make themselves understood about something surprising, so I expect that by your values you should care less about making them happy to talk with you, except as a way of getting something else from them.
I seriously wouldn't mind the verification effort if done by a fast googler, and quietly thinking for a few minutes regularly is Awesome for conversation.

most people, while engaging in real-time conversations, do not feel this discomfort of having insufficient time and resources to verify the other participant's claims (or for that matter, to make sure that one's own speech is not erroneous).

Conversation is not about information.

Conversation is not only/mostly about information. FTFY
this relates back to the what was mentioned higher up about people having differing goals for their conversation. the default goal is to strengthen, weaken, or confirm status positions. non-status information is often considered incidental. also note that hardly anyone is conscious of this.
Wow. I get involved in interesting conversations with some frequency; I don't think it's because I avoid verification or am too credulous. I think your explanations are a false dichotomy. First, a lot of conversations involve expertise that I don't have, and I find interesting. Jobs that are not mine are often interesting; I usually try to ask about what things about someone else's job are fun or interesting. I'm always happy to talk about my job; being a prosecutor means you've got a storehouse of stories. In conversations where I am relatively equally situated with my counterpart as far as knowledge, it's pretty easy to disagree while having a great conversation. I met a guy in September of '08 after internet discussions on a topic unrelated to politics, and we ended up discussing Biden-Palin for two hours. It was a really fantastic conversation, and we voted opposite ways in the election. We did this because we conceded points that were true, and we weren't on The Only Right Team of Properness; we were talking about ideas and facts that we mostly both knew. We also didn't have our head in the sand. And when one of us gave a factual statement outside the others' knowledge, the other tended to accept it (I told the story of the missing pallets of hundred dollar bills, which he hadn't heard.) Now, I've certainly corrected false statements of fact in conversation (ranging in tone from, "Are you sure about that?" to "That's verifiably false.") I try not to make false statements of fact, but I have been wrong, and I make it a point to admit wrongness when I'm wrong. (In some circles, given my general propensity for being right and my assertion of a general propensity for being right, this leads to much rejoicing, on the order of Sir Robin's minstrels getting eaten.) But there's something really fun about electric conversations that I think you're missing here. Fun and funny conversations.... I couldn't live well without them. And I'm not too credulous. And I take
1Wei Dai13y
But you're sure to accept a lot of false statements that way. Why are you not worried about it? Thinking about why conversations might be fun, I can see two reasons: 1. The "game" aspect (i.e., signaling/status/alliance). I tried to explain earlier why this aspect doesn't hold much interest for me. 2. Obtaining novel information. Once I realized how unreliable most people's beliefs are, the anxiety of accepting false information interferes too much with this "fun". Also, I can get a much bigger "information high" from reading something like this. Is there some other element of fun conversation that I might be missing?
I think there's a lot more to insight than true or false. Hearing a perspective or a personal experience does broaden your knowledge. In the same way that reading fiction can be enlightening -- you are still learning, but using the part of your mental equipment designed for subconscious and tacit social exchange. In my experience, most of the occasions when I changed my mind for the better resulted from hearing someone else's point of view and feeling empathy for it.
Indeed. I find that often (though by no means always) it’s interesting to find out why and how someone comes to believe something that, to me, is obviously wrong. The transition between “people are mad and stupid” to “there’s method to this madness” is interesting and useful, even if it doesn’t lead to “fixing the mind” of your immediate interlocutor. At the very least, it gives you a subject to think about later, to try and find out ways of fixing the beliefs of others, in future conversations. (I often have insights on the correct, or at least a good, way of answering a fallacy quite a while after having a conversation. I can cache them for later, and sometimes get to use them in later conversations. Gathering such pre-cached insights can make you seem deep, which at least makes people more attentive to what you say.)
Are you sure that you're not being biased here? If people really are so unreliable, even when they are serious and upfront, how do they ever get anything done in practice? Or could it be that you're failing to employ the standard heuristics for judging the reliability of people's claims? (Note that this also involves judging whether what's been said was even meant to be said authoritatively. People often say things without implying that they believe them firmly and on good evidence.)
What's the fun element in board game called "go"? I find that particular game really fun to play, and really interesting, but it seems rather pointless to try to argue if it's "objectively" interesting or fun, or even what specific aspects make it fun and interesting to me. It just is. You can replace "go" with any fun and entertaining thing that you do. How would you defend that your fun thing against someone who came along and wanted to know, just like you do now, why and how is that fun thing really fun? Also, willingness to humor the claim other makes for the sake of conversation isn't on that list, as it's neither "not taking other seriously" nor "being too credulous".
2Wei Dai13y
1. If other people find some activity fun but I don't, it might be that I'm doing it wrong, and with the correct understanding I can make it fun for myself. 2. On the other hand it might be that others only find it fun because they're being insufficiently reflective. Maybe if they understood better what they're really doing, they wouldn't find it fun anymore, and would spend the time furthering some other goal instead (hopefully one that better matches my own purposes, like working to answer scientific/philosophical questions that I'm interested in, or reducing existential risk :) 3. I'd like to understand my values, and human values in general, both for the purpose of FAI theory, and to satisfy my philosophical interests. "Fun" is obviously a part of that.
I have this weird problem, based on the way my utility function seems to be set up -- I want people to do what they really enjoy, even at the cost of them not working on my favorite projects. So, on the one hand, I would like people to be sufficiently reflective to figure out what they really enjoy doing. On the other hand, if reflection just destroys people's existing, flawed sources of fun without providing an alternative source of fun, then I wouldn't want to encourage it. Imagine a 50-something small business owner with a community college education -- maybe he runs a fast food restaurant, or a bike repair shop -- who really likes his local sports team. He goes to or watches most of their home games with a few other friends/fans and gets really excited about it and, on balance, has a lot of fun. If I could somehow motivate him to reflect on what professional spectator sports are like, he might not enjoy it as much, or at all. But what good would that do him? Wouldn't he be equally likely to plow his new-found surplus energy into, say, watching TV, as to suddenly discover existentialist risks? Even if he did work on existential risks, is there any reason to think that he'd enjoy it? I feel like differences in what people choose to do for fun might reflect differing theories about what is fun, and not just a failure to reflect on one's activities. Even if the masses' theories about what is fun are philosophically indefensible, they may nevertheless be real descriptions about what the masses find to be fun, and so I have trouble justifying an attempt to take away that fun without letting go of my commitment to egalitarianism.
I think it would depend on how his pleasure in spectator sports is eliminated. Does he simply find out that spectator sports are pointless, or does he find out that his leisure time can have more to it than spectator sports?
I assume it would be the former, no? Aren't most people aware that they have a choice of hobbies, even if they don't realize why/that the one they've chosen is particularly banal?
I don't think most people are good at breaking habits to find what they'd be enthusiastic about.
Most people do not practice ninja-level rationality in any part of their life. Why would conversation be any different?
I have the same problem, but funnily enough, I see it as a problem with myself and not a problem with real-time conversation. The ability to consider complicated ideas and follow chains of reasoning without having to verify any of the individual dependencies is a skill I would like to pick up.
"Most people do something that I do not do. Is it because there's something wrong with them?" This is perhaps unfairly uncharitable, but it does seem to be the point you're getting at. Obvious popular alternatives include that you're not credulous enough, or that people are capable of evaluating other people's claims sans wikipedia.
"Most people do something that I do not do. Is it because there's something wrong with them?" This is perhaps unfairly uncharitable, but it does seem to be the point you're getting at. Obvious popular alternatives include that you're not credulous enough, or that people are capable of evaluating other people's claims sans wikipedia.

This is related to a crazy idea I once had of preparing a "canned conversation" or a conversation tree that you could use to start a conversation with a random person on the subway and walk away leaving them a singularitarian.

I would support this product and/or service.
any progress?

This seems like something that natural conversationalists already do intuitively. They have a broad range of topic about which they can talk comfortably (either because they are knowledgeable about the specific subjects or because they have enough tools to carry on a conversation even in areas with which they are unfamiliar), and they can steer the conversation around these topics until they find one that their counterpart can also talk comfortably about. Bad conversationalists either aren't comfortable talking about many subjects, are bad at transitioning from one subject to another, or can't sense or don't care when their counterpart doesn't care about a given topic.

The flip side of this is that there are 3 ways of improving one's conversational ability: learning more about more subjects, practicing transitions between various topics, and learning the cues for when one's counterpart is bored or uninterested by the current topic. Kaj focuses on the second of these, but I think the other two strategies ought not be forgotten. It's no use learning to steer the conversation when there are no areas of overlapping interest to steer to, or when you can't recognize whether you are in one or not.

I think you brush upon a quite important point here: good conversation is less about being good at conversation and more about not being bad at it. People will talk quite happily with someone who is utterly boring, so long as it's not for too long and they've got nothing better to do. People are only really put off a conversation when a person does something odd. Prime among these are non-sequiturs, unusually extreme opinions (especially about topics people normally don't have extreme opinions about), and discussing topics which are generally understood as not being suitable for general conversation (such as topics which are invasive/personal, obscure, or too academic for the context - it's fine to talk intellectually in the appropriate place, but not to strangers at a bar/club).

This is actually great advice. Not to scare anyone away (since I know the point is to have interesting conversation....), but the techniques discussed are essentially identical to what they teach during sorority recruitment practice. (I assume it's the same for fraternities, not that anyone cares). During recruitment, each girl will talk to hundreds of potential recruits in a short amount of time and has to be a very skilled conversationalist in order to assess the personality and interests of the other person. You're taught to steer very basic small talk ("What's your major?" "Where are you from?") into directions to find something unique and interesting about the person, and you only have a couple minutes to do it. They practice this for many, many hours a day leading up to recruitment. After a few weeks of this, you really can talk to anybody about anything.

The point of the post is to make conversations interesting, so you need to be able to steer the talk from mundane to something better, without making the other person feel like they're being pulled to one of your pet topics. Best way to do this is practice. Improv comedy is actually a related (and equally practicable) skill, interestingly enough...

Is there a handy description of the technique?
Great suggestion. I'll go try that. (???)
Dunno where your confusion lies, but my point was only that if you spend enough time practicing talking to people, it gets easier, regardless if you're a sorority girl or SIAI research fellow. Everyone can do it.
Everyone can assemble a sorority and large number of recruits that they are expected to speak with in quick succession?
Everyone can find somebody to practice small talk with. The benefit of conversation practice isn't contingent upon doing so in quick succession, but accumulation of conversation experience over time. You can increase your skills very rapidly even without access to the condensed conversational environment of fraternity/sorority recruitment. I don't even recommend participating in that if you can avoid it, since it's a very stressful experience. But it does make you really good at talking to people. Go to a bar, people are usually there to talk. Interestingness varies considerably, of course. If you work, make small talk with your coworkers. If you're in school, say hello to the person sitting next to you. Make a habit of doing this wherever you go. That's the best way to practice.

Go to a bar, people are usually there to talk.

Not to me, they aren't.

If you work, make small talk with your coworkers.

I already do that, but don't become better automatically by doing so. (Plus, they're engineers who, like me, are generally not neurotypical.)

Seriously, have you ever actually been bad at conversation and tried out your own advice? You're speaking exactly like someone who's never had a problem with this and so doesn't know what barrier such a person has to cross.

Until you can specify an actual procedure you can reasonably expect to work, you're just telling me to eat cake when I'm low on bread. If I could follow your advice, I wouldn't need it.

You're speaking exactly like someone who's never had a problem with this

You're speaking exactly like someone who intends to keep their problem. It looks like people are trying to give you some advice, and perhaps they're not doing great at that right off the bat, but maybe you could help them help you?

Your "conversation" here goes something like this - statement, statement, statement, statement, rhetorical question, statement, most of it with an undercurrent of agression. Here is a concrete suggestion: ask a question. "So you're saying opening a conversation comes easily to you, can you give me some examples of lines you've used?"

Or maybe "Here's what typically happens to me when I try to start a conversation, can you help me figure out what I'm doing wrong or what I should do differently?"

Sorry, you're right -- I'm speaking out of frustration regarding a) people's inability to explain (remember my upcoming article), and b) the past instances of let-them-eat-cake sociality advice. Vive-ut-Vivas isn't the first extrovert to do so here, and she won't be the last. I will try to be more productive with future replies.

I understand your frustration. I should have made it clear that I wasn't attempting to help people who are trying to get to the barrier of making small talk in the first place; I was directing my advice to those who are interested in making the transition from small talk to interesting conversation. You're right that I haven't been particularly helpful in addressing that first point. I think that with some reflection I might be able to give decent advice on that topic, but that will require more introspection.

I haven't been particularly helpful in addressing that first point. I think that with some reflection I might be able to give decent advice on that topic, but that will require more introspection.

I appreciate your saying this very much.

This might sound weird, but: internet chat rooms (is that what "Second Life" is for nowadays?). I know chat rooms have a reputation, but I've read that they've been shown to have potential for actually increasing social skills (I'm searching for the relevant article, but I know I read it in a journal over a year ago). But, you have to be proactive about it. And of course discerning. a. You have to find the right venue a.1. chat rooms have a reputation for a reason a.2. you need to go to a venue where everyone is not there to talk about what you typically talk about. b. You have to be conscious about what you are doing: b.1. not talking to people who are into what you are into (somewhat redundant to a.2.) b.2 you have to be self-aware of the process...what is working, what isn't b.3. you have to try to step out of your "comfort zone" in order to learn new approaches, new social skills, as it were The thing is, people are there to, seek out those people, and talk. I'm not saying it's "easy"'s just one idea.
Simpler even than an internet chat room are Omegle (text chat with a random stranger) and Chat Roulette (video chat with a random stranger).
Just one social blunder after another.
You're there to talk, they're there to talk, you say hi, and they disconnect. Where is the "blunder" and who is making it?
His most obvious faux pas, if that was Chat Roulette, was not immediately exposing himself--conversants on that forum tend to become suspicious if the expected visual greeting is not performed.
No worries, I was just amused. I've chatted on Omegle before. I have actually kept in contact with a couple people, including a young lady from Portugal who sent me YouTube videos of her grandmother and her singing old folk songs.
I'm very late to this party, but just in case: to a mundane, "what ho" doesn't look like a casual, old-timey greeting, it looks like a typo for "what a ho". Maybe that's what went wrong here.
Of course not, with that attitude! ;) I certainly don't know enough about you to advise you on how you may be sending people the wrong signals in conversation. Do you have any friends that are good conversationalists? Take them with you. That's actually how I learned! "Shadowing" a popular friend is a great way to pick up conversation skill. I'm sure you know someone who's good at this, since popular people, by definition, know lots of people! Not sure I've ever been "bad" at conversation, but I - like everybody else! - have had to work on improving it by practice. Anyway, I fear we've drifted a bit from my original point, which was directed towards people who want to talk to other people in a situation where both parties are already willing to talk. Advising on how to talk to people who aren't interested in conversation off the bat will require more thought on my part. ETA: Hit "comment" too early.
I think that one of your main problems may be that you're thinking of conversation as something it isn't. There is no procedure for success. Genuine conversation is procedure-less (or at least practically so. I guess with sufficient processing power and knowledge of all the hundreds of variables you could replicate it, but I think such a feat would be beyond the abilities of the conscious mind). I used to be extremely introverted. I found talking to people I didn't know very awkward. Even moderate acquaintances were tricky. Then I went to university and made some new friends. Went out. And then just decided to talk to people. Alcohol helped. A lot. Now I am what many would call extroverted, though I still feel, in many ways, like an introvert pretending to be an extrovert. I don't think there is really such a thing as introverted and extroverted people at all. People are encouraged to think of these things as part of their "essential character" (TM) - or even their biology. And in some medical cases, this is obviously true (such as in autism). But for most people, it's not a lack of ability, it's a lack of will. People think about worst case scenarios. They think about (as you mention somewhere else in these comments) weirding out a load of people. And maybe you would. But the key, I think, is then to disregard your fear and just talk anyway. The idea of an extroverted social animal who feels no fear is a false ideal, I think. Everyone will have jokes that fail, everyone has conversations that, the moment they start, you know that this person is really not for you at all. What the "extrovert" does that is different is simply to keep talking anyway. I obviously don't know about your life, so cannot say anything truly accurate about it. However, from what I see in your posts, I would say than your problem is not ineloquence, but fear of failure. To be pithy: "If at first you don't succeed, try and try again." And like I say above, try not to think of it as a pr

I think that one of your main problems may be that you're thinking of conversation as something it isn't. There is no procedure for success.

You can't create a procedure that maps out every branch in a conversation tree, no. But I think you are underestimating the ritualization and standardization of social activity. There really are patterns in how people do things. There are considerable norms, rules, and constraints. People who are intuitively social (whether they became that way earlier or later in life) may have trouble articulating these patterns.

Within these constraints, there are infinite ways to behave, and you can be as spontaneous as you want. Intuitively social people experience social interaction to be natural and spontaneous because their intuitions keep them within those constraints.

Conversation is "procedureless" in the same sense that musical improvisation is "procedureless." You can't map out the rules for improvisation in advance. But there are some chords that work well (or badly) after others that you can know in advance. You can know whether you are in a major or minor key, and if you have the concept of major/minor mode and key, then i... (read more)

Certainly there are patterns in social interaction. However, I think that if you go into social interaction aware of these patterns and meaning to act on them, then this very awareness will in fact ruin your social interaction, because one of the rules of genuine social interaction is that it's free flowing and natural-feeling. If you treat it like a formula, you'll break it.
What evidence do you have for your theory?
Which bit of it?
The second paragraph.
I assume you mean of my reply to HughRistik. No statistical data, if that's what you want. However, I think that in this case it isn't needed. It seems clear that following a conversation by rules and algorithms will be unable to replicate genuine conversation. Very little of a conversation is about what is actually said. You have to read body language, you have to read into what isn't said, you have to use intuition because you read these things unconsciously, not consciously. I can't be bothered to find it at the moment - or in the foreseeable future - because this topic just doesn't mean hours of time to me, but I do recall studies in which people's ability to register body language consciously was compared to our ability to read it by intuition, sub-consciously. The results were something like this: the conscious mind could only spot 2 or 3 body language signs, whereas the unconscious mind was able to pick up on up to 15.
You seem to be denying the possibility of teaching anyone to be better at conversation by explaining various norms, rules and constraints to them and getting them to practice while consciously attending to this information, at least initially. I don't think anyone would deny that the ultimate aim of any such instruction would be for the student to internalize the rules to an extent that they were applied largely unconsciously and automatically - most skills make this progression as they are developed. However I've seen plenty of people claim that instruction of this kind can be effective at improving conversational skills for people who are not able to 'just do it' as you seem to advise. Convincing evidence to the contrary would help save people from fruitless expenditure of time, money and effort trying to develop conversational skills if you were able to provide it.
I think the idea of learning conversational social norms and so forth by practice/instruction is a very different issue to consciously using a decision procedure to dictate your conversation. The instruction you describe is pretty much a description of what most people experience growing up, through a combination of what their parents teach them and experience/trial and error. This is not the same thing as standing next to someone and going through a mental flow chart, or list of "dos and don'ts" every time it's your turn to say something. The former is genuinely learning conversation, the latter is trying to fake it.
I'm not sure of this distinction. Why can't a conscious decision procedure be an element of instruction? Conscious decision procedures are a time-honored teaching tool in domains with similar features to social skills: music, sports, and dance. Look at musical or athletic exercises, and dance routines. Why does applying the same heuristics to learning social skills attract disdain? I think we agree that beginners who are making most of their choices at a conscious level will often produce clunky results. The cause that I am making is that a lot of cognitive systemizing about social interaction can be a valid and productive learning tool to many people. Clunky results can be better than no results, and pave the way to learning how to socialize without so much conscious processing. In many domains (e.g. music and dance), there is a time-tested process of consciously breaking down knowledge into component pieces, and teaching them to the student at a conscious level. Over time, the student stops needing to consciously attend to that knowledge, and it becomes encoded in intuitions and muscle-memory. See the four stages of competence: * unconscious incompetence * conscious incompetence * conscious competence * unconscious competence
HughRistik was discussing the possibility of helping people to develop these sorts of skills who for whatever reason failed to acquire them when growing up. Many people claim that explicit instruction can be a valuable tool in developing such skills later in life. If true this is a lot more useful to people suffering from this problem than your 'advice'. To riff on HughRistik's music analogy, is a guitar player 'trying to fake it' by practicing scales and chords and learning musical theory before they have mastered improvisation?
You're missing my point somewhat. I'm not saying you can't get better at conversation. Nor am I saying that there aren't tips/instruction you can give. On this very page you see me do so here: Further, I just said above that this is exactly how people normally develop their conversational abilities. My point is simply that decision procedures/algorithms are not the way to go, because they will not produce natural sounding conversation. In fact, using them to teach someone conversation would be counter-productive, because it would give them a false idea of what conversation is like. It represents conversation as mechanical, and if a person approaches a conversation as if it were mechanical then they will not succeed in having a genuine conversation.
And matt and I are asking, what makes you so sure of this? Have you tried this approach? Have you watched other people try it? In the short term, no. Matt and I agree with you here. But remember, many socially-unskilled people already can't produce natural sounding conversation. They are wracked with indecision and "analysis paralysis" because they have no way to select a way to behave merely through their intuitions. People experiencing anxiety-provoking analysis paralysis can't produce natural sounding conversation. Giving them something to say and a set of algorithms or rules can cut down on the amount of analysis they are normally doing, and allow them to make progress. Again, I agree, but these problems are actually better than what a lot of socially unskilled people are currently facing. In conversations, they immediately put their feet in their mouths, or they get analysis paralysis and fade into the background. Either way, they don't learn anything, because they are either getting negative feedback, or no feedback at all. For many people, being able to have mechanical conversations is actually a better starting point for learning natural conversation, than the alternatives of "instant foot-in-mouth" or "analysis paralysis." Being able to get into conversations and have exchanges with people, even at a clunky level, gives you valuable social experience to fuel a more intuitive and spontaneous set of social skills. Once you get your foot into the door of social interaction, and get responses and feedback from people, then you can start learning on an implicit unconscious level via operant conditioning. Decision procedures and algorithms can be excellent ways to get people to the place where real learning can begin. Strangely, it actually works pretty well to algorithmically learn a clunky level of social skills to get your foot in the door, gain implicit social knowledge from operant conditioning, and then forget or diminish your reliance on algorithms (t
It's seems our main area of disagreement is over whether certain teaching procedures and certain ways of practicing / developing conversational skills can be effective, namely those that frame the issue in more of a rules based / procedural style. I don't think anyone is claiming that you can simply learn these rules or procedures and you're done - apply them and be an instant master conversationalist. The claim is merely that these can be an effective means for people who have failed to develop these skills by the 'normal' means to become more competent conversationalists. I don't have much direct experience in this area and it appears you don't either so perhaps we should let the discussion rest at this point. I'm still more inclined to believe the reports of people who claim that they have observed these techniques working successfully than the dismissals from people who think they can't possibly work but settling the issue would require further evidence that I don't think either of us can provide.
I must confess, I don't find your advice helpful either. * Whether or not there is a "procedure" for conversation, there a good ways to do it, and bad ways to do it. People can certainly handle it naturally, but that doesn't tell anything to the non-naturals about how to do it. If you actually find it to be procedureless, this means you're already a natural and only have Level 1 understanding, and so are unable to articulate where other's shortcomings are so that they can bridge the gap to reach your skill. See HughRistik's great article and in particular this comment about how much of your own knowledge you can be unaware of if you've never been without it. * "Try, try again" is insufficient to improve. You can try forever without improvement if you can't recognize what you were doing right, and what you weren't. This information doesn't spontaneously unfold from your DNA as a result of being in social situations. And (see below), I have indeed tried again and again and again (edit: sentence wasn't completed in original comment). * I've already done exactly what you suggest, going out, and drinking, and benefitting form the lower inhibitions to talking that come with alcohol. I've done this quite a bit, but I've never seen any of the skill carry over to when I'm not intoxicated. Furthermore, I've pretended to be an extrovert, but it really makes no difference from the inside or on the outside: it doesn't automagically allow me to make conversation where I otherwise wouldn't. * Whatever problems I might have, fear of failure is not among them. It is, at most, fear of that failure cascading into very damaging personal consequences. And given my personal experience, these fears are extremely well-grounded. Nevertheless, I quite often go out to socialize and join groups, actively participate in them, and -- suprise surprise -- I do fail to form relationships or improve social skills, and I fail qui
The choice of setting matters a great deal, and a bar is comparatively difficult. As an introvert who had a similar issue starting conversations myself (though I think to a lesser degree), I've found a setting which is much easier: dances, specifically Contra dance but probably any style which has a norm of changing partner after each dance. In that setting, you're repeatedly forced to initiate conversations with women, on a hard deadline, or else you'll have to sit out; but those conversations are short, follow extremely predictable paths, and have no bad outcomes (rejections normally come from a standard list of status-neutral answers). There will typically also be breaks and an afterparty for longer conversations, but if your goal is just to get over difficulty in approaching people and initiating conversations, those are optional.
'Do you want to dance?' Isn't much of a conversation. You can even ask keep the whole process entirely nonverbal by making eye contact and asking for the hand of the girl by offering your own hand. Loud music also makes it harder to have a good conversation.
This varies by dance style and local custom, but in contra, there are a few minutes of silence for setup and pairing between songs during which there is no music to talk over, and smalltalk is expected.
I'm not sure this is perfect advice. For one thing, speaking as a person who enjoys conversation, it can often be deeply uncomfortable when a random stranger tries to start a conversation. I made accidental eye-contact with someone on the subway today and then had to have a conversation about the weather which interrupted mildly productive thoughts. I agree that in the contexts of school and work this sort of thing might be acceptable. One has to think about the fact that the very worst that happens is that the person indicates they don't want to talk. One thing I do use as a conversation starter is if someone is holding a book that I've read (in which case I'll comment) or a book I have not read (in which case I'll inquire about it).

Hey, not to sound intimidating or anything, but it's a sad fact that while Michael Vassar and I have gigantic webs of precomputed original ideas, we can also generate original ideas in real time.

Sort-of. I can generate original ideas in real time IF by real time you mean 'thinking about my ideas when I'm speaking and half thinking half listening when the other person is speaking". That's not the best conversational dynamic though. It's better when I actually allow/create pauses between listening to the other person and thinking (the opposite dynamic from my more common mode of interrupting the other person). If my thoughts are a few seconds ahead of my words much of the time when I'm talking I'm more likely to be able to spare enough attention to notice the other person's feelings. Likewise, if I'm fully listening to them I'm more likely to catch nuances and deepen my understanding faster. Also, my thoughts are partially transparent. If I'm not fully listening the person is likely to get that impression, not feel understood, make less effort to understand me, and waste conversational time by repetition in order to ensure that they are understood.

A gigantic web of precomputed ideas also has a bigger border area where you can generate new ideas with relatively lightweight combination and modification of the existing ones.

3Eliezer Yudkowsky13y
That's definitely going on.

I've heard of a similar strategy once discussed as part of pickup, I believe - I can only pull up a vague memory right now, but the thought was something along the lines of this. If a woman says she "just moved away from her family in San Francisco to have more freedom," each word of that can be a hook into an interesting conversation. What was moving like? What's her family like? Why did she want to move away from them? What's it like in San Francisco and how is it different here? What kind of freedom was she looking for? etc.

I've been working on using that type of conversation as well to avoid awkward pauses and keep interesting conversations going.

As Dale Carnegie says: Ask questions and get the other person talking. People love to talk and so the great conversationalist is really the great polite inquisitioner and listener.

That's my preferred approach, when I manage to run into someone who's willing to talk. But I want to also be able to break the ice with people who, like me, are primarily listeners by nature. :)

Writing out a list of topics and connections is good but it's only one part of a conversation. You should also consider various reasons for having a conversation. For instance: passing the time, relieving anxiety, developing a relationship, maintaining a relationship, exchanging information, keeping updated on important information, debating a substantive point, getting someone to relax before asking them for something, being polite, making someone feel welcome, resolving a conflict. And when people have different goals for a conversation, it can be unc... (read more)

My advice, if you want to become a good conversationalist, is just to crank up the amount of time you spend having conversations. If you are really serious, you could consciously review conversations after the fact, to try to find patterns and see where you could have improved.

What's the link between visiting fellows and the weather?

My advice, if you want to become a good conversationalist, is just to crank up the amount of time you spend having conversations.

I can think of three people I know for whom that does not work. Not because they do not think they have opportunities for conversations, not even because they have opportunities but do not take advantage of them, but because they do, and put a great deal of effort into it, and yet I can see that it is not working for them. They are getting little in return for their efforts, because they are all doing it wrong, each in their own way. Whatever they need to be doing instead, having more conversations isn't it.

Advice is good if it works for the person it is addressed to. It is bad if it does not. General advice like "talk to people more" cannot be expected to generally work any more than an appendectomy will work for every case of abdominal pain. An appendectomy will work only for someone whose problem is a diseased appendix.

That is good advice. A friend of mine video taped his conversations with people. (By which I mean, there was a video recording of some event, and he left it on following, to capture his social interactions.) In this way, he was able to see not just things he said, but also gauge people's reactions to his body language. He said it was difficult to watch at first, but had a huge benefit to his social skills.
Video taping may not be the preferred way to go about it, but there is something to be said for reflection. While you are unlikely to get better without practice, merely sinking time into conversation won't necessarily help, and may harm you. Without analyzing your attempts, even if it's only a brief list of what went well and what didn't, you may be practicing and learning bad habits. 100 ungraded math problems doesn't make you better at math, and 100 uncoached squats may injure you. Take a few moments after conversations to assess at least what went well and what didn't. If you have access to an honest friend, you can do even better. Converse with a third party (your friend can participate or merely be near enough to observe) and run a sort of post-conversation analysis later. Treat it like any other skill you're serious about learning. I've seen this help more than one struggling introvert.
Good idea. Also, if you're suffering from malnutrition due to poverty, just crank up the amount of cake you eat. If you are really serious, hire a dietician to figure out what you're missing in your nutritional needs. The people that aren't good at conversation are the ones that don't have easy opportunities to increase the number of conversations.
I don't think that's true. Who doesn't have easy opportunities to increase their number of conversations, other than a total shut-in? People are everywhere, and therefore, so are potential conversations. You might not have the most interesting conversation with the guy standing behind you in line at the bank, but the only way to get better at conversation is practice, like the OP said.
Starting a conversation with a completely random stranger generally takes skill to begin with. Potentially creeping out 20 people in a row is not an acceptable risk -- unless you'd like to bear it for me? Also, others who have posted on the topic [1] said that if I'm at a low skill level at this, I shouldn't practice on people in captive situations, like being in line at the bank. Which of you should I believe? [1] can't find the link right now, and I can't even mention one of the people's names
I think I've come up with a reasonable algorithm for determining if a stranger is open to conversation. (Mostly tested on females in New Jersey.) I developed it out of desperation, because, for a while now, if I didn't talk to strangers, I wouldn't be talking to anyone in person except my immediate family. The algorithm: * Smile and make eye contact. * If eye contact is not returned within a reasonable period of time, find someone else. If eye contact is returned, wave. * If the stranger waves back or shows some other noticeable positive reaction, go ahead and introduce yourself. The key seems to be the eye contact; as far as I can tell, if someone is willing to make eye contact with you, they're usually willing to talk with you, and making eye contact seems to be inoffensive in most situations. You'll probably get some false negatives, but false positives tend to be worse than false negatives and the false positive rate seems to be almost zero; you usually don't creep people out by deciding to leave them alone. Also, fan conventions (anime, gaming, etc.) are great places to find people willing to socialize with strangers. And take a camera; people often wear elaborate costumes at these events, and complimenting someone's cosplay outfit has been a good conversation opener for me. (This is me at Otakon 2009.) I've also had some luck talking to fellow customers at bookstores; you know a few really good books you can recommend, right?
Not everyone will agree with me on this, and I know this is controversial. But I have the firm belief that no one becomes good at conversation, dating, or any social skill without the equivalent of "creeping out 20[0] people in a row": it's just that most people make most of their big social mistakes when they're very young (just like most people's middle or high school experiments with romance or sex end up being total disasters). If you're not willing to creep out 200 or so people in a row, you'll never learn. The "avoid captive situations" comment is not particularly helpful for someone trying to learn social skills. In fact, I'd say it's harmful, because the concern about making people feel uncomfortable is a big part of social anxiety, and social anxiety is what prevents people from developing social skills.
Okay, who were your first 200? Please list 50 of the incidents when the venue supervisor asked you to leave or modify your behavior.
Why are you asking that? I'm missing your point.

Not wishing to speak for Silas, but it looks to me like this. You believe that:

I have the firm belief that no one becomes good at conversation, dating, or any social skill without the equivalent of "creeping out 20[0] people in a row"

If you believe that you are not good at conversation, then you are speculating without practical experience. If you believe you are good at conversation, then by your account you must have gone through your 200 people. Silas is challenging you to share your experience of doing so -- I presume as a check on whether you really believe it, or merely believe that you believe it.

Creeping out 200 people in a row is like suggesting you can't learn to ride a bicycle without breaking a few bones. It's way excessive. Even creeping out 20 people in a row (Silas' figure, which you chose to amend upwards, which argues against this being idle hyperbole) is an absurdity. By the time you're creeping someone out, you're already way off course.

You're correct that if you go up to a random person 200 times and start talking, you will probably not creep out all 200. I was exaggerating, which is why I said "the equivalent of" creeping 200 people out: my point was that everyone needs to make lots of awkward mistakes to learn social skills, and that you need to be willing to do so. Silas stated that this wasn't an acceptable risk, and I amended his figure upward to indicate that you have to be willing to deal with even worse outcomes than he was fearing, even if they're unlikely to occur, and that learning conversational skills can be difficult and involve a lot of rejection. I'm not going to list all my mistakes, but I have certainly made more than 200 awkward comments to people, experienced more than 200 rejections, made people feel uncomfortable more than 200 times, and so forth (though not in a row, admittedly). It doesn't make you "way off course"; it's the only way to learn.
It looks like we're referring to different things by the term "[equivalent of] creeping people out". I agree you will have to make mistakes and get rejections. But I was referring to a specific context for the "creeping out". Specifically, the problem at hand was that of how to get good at starting conversations with random strangers. The strategy being recommended was one that dismissed the downside of creeping out random strangers (which is often associated with the venue supervisor -- boss, proprietor, conductor, bouncer, whatever -- telling you to stop or leave). My comment was that, no, doing things that disruptive and creepy, that often, in that short of a period, is not an acceptable risk, and not what you should suggest anyone should do if that's the risk. (And RichardKennaway confirmed that enduring that kind of social ostracism is way excessive for the skill being learned, so I'm not alone in this assessment.) You, in turn, were taking "creeping out" to refer to relatively minor goofs in a context where the consequences are much less severe, where you've already done significant deft social navigation around that group, and where those who see the error have good reason to be much more understanding of the goof. While I agree that rejections, mistakes, etc. are to be expected and are part of life, you were equating very different kinds of rejections, and -- like most sociality advisors here -- assuming away the problem of having passed a certain social barrier. In any case, those are far different kinds of failures than "becoming the creepy guy at the bookstore" or having people get the bouncer to talk to you because of conversational goofs (which has happened to me, so this isn't idle speculation). You have an inaccurate picture of what you were expecting me to go through, so your advice, though relevant for other social skills, was not applicable here, and comes across as -- like Richard noted -- shrugging off the possibility of breaking bones to le
I'm not dismissing it. I'm saying that may be the price that you have to pay in order to develop these skills. If you're not willing to pay it, I think it would be very difficult to learn (though there are ways of reducing the risk: CronoDAS suggests looking for eye contact first, which might help). If you know what these disruptive creepy things are, just don't do them. If you don't know what they are (and how to identify them on the fly), you need to learn, and that may involve making big mistakes. How else will you learn? If you don't think it's an acceptable risk, fine, but I think developing the skills is worth the risk. If you routinely, inadvertently, creep people out during social interactions, you have two options: avoid people forever and become a hermit, or practice talking to people and learn how to fix the problem, and it's better to practice on strangers you never have to see again. I don't think I am assuming away the problem, and I think I do understand what you mean. It may be tougher for you than for most people, for a variety of reasons. In order to get past this barrier and develop social skills, I am recommending the specific strategy of going to different places (bookstores, coffeeshops, bars, parks, the grocery store) and starting up friendly conversations with lots of people. You can do this right now. I understand that you may get kicked out of these venues. I understand that everyone may think you're creepy. I understand that this type of rejection is painful. Do it anyway. If you get kicked out of one place, try another. How else are you going to get past this barrier?
I don't think you do understand. I live in a small town, in which there are few alternatives if I'm kicked out of one of them. And I think it's pretty easy for you to smugly shrug off this social ostracism as "just something we all have to go through" when, um, you didn't have to go through it, and don't understand why anyone would have to go through it. This is not to say I'm looking for excuses to do nothing -- everything I've said in this thread is quite well-grounded. * Nor to say that I haven't made serious efforts -- I've gotten involved in groups, which has gotten me experience, albeit not with random people. * Nor to say that I lack opportunities to practice conversations -- just that I don't have an immense hoard of people to draw interaction experience from. * Nor to say that I'm completely clueless -- just that the random approach thing doesn't come easily, and is a critical pre-requisite for the other advice. * Nor to say that no one can provide helpful advice -- but some certainly can't. It's inevitable that I'll have to use advice that doesn't assume away the problem, for one thing. When someone starts saying there are only two options, that throws up a red flag for me. There are rarely just two options. A third option would be to listen to people who went through the mental transition I want to go through, or have studied this topic carefully, such as (to various degrees) CronoDAS, Roko, and HughRistik. I'm proud of you for having most of these social skills naturally, and that for you, improvement mainly consists of going from great to supergreat. Really, I am. But maybe your perspective isn't the appropriate one here? (Edited to tone down.)
For another it requires directing resources into solving the problem rather than justifying why your circumstances give you claim to victim status. Didn't I read this same conversation a year ago? Or was that someone else with the same script?
In the past year or two: I've joined a large organization that wouldn't otherwise interest me, gotten involved in several of its subgroups and events, and practices conversation in those contexts. I've taken Juggler's course and his subordinate's. I've brought a date to company event to increase my apparent attractiveness. I've gone to four weddings. I've gone out with two women from the above group. I've read books and web resources about sociality. I've been complimented on my ability to make group newcomers feel welcome. I've gotten to the point where I can comfortably say hi strangers. I've gone to two costume parties and talked with many of the people there. I've consulted with real meatspace people in the above group about my sociality problems and what to do. I've joined up with a political group, organized some of its events, and briefly led it. I disagree that that's a fair characterization of me.
That's a lot of social development! Nice. All that being the case I am somewhat surprised that you are still having problems with perceptions of scarcity. Then do not read it as one. I intended it to be approximately as applicable as the sister:
Yeah, that would make things rough. If it's at all feasible, I would look into moving to a large city, but of course moving can be very difficult, especially if you're in a school program (I think you said you were in grad school). Oh, I definitely went through, and still go through, a lot of ostracism and rejection. I did, and do, have to go through it. I don't think I'm at "great" by any means. And I don't have these skills naturally. First of all, I don't think anyone has them naturally, which was my point. Have you spent much time around kids or teenagers? Very few of them have any social skills at all; they're still making mistakes. But if you mean that you think I learned social skills quickly without trouble or pain, no, they're not easy for me either. I may not be able to provide helpful advice, because I don't know all the details of your brain and your experiences, but it's definitely not something I take for granted. You're right, of course talking to people who know a lot about improving social skills will help. My point was that, if you inadvertently creep people out when you talk to them, then you have to risk it for right now as you go about conversations in your life, or else avoid people in general. In fact, I think that a large part of social and conversational skills is just not worrying or being afraid of people reacting negatively.
No, you're referring to relatively minor goofs in a context where the social consequences are much less severe, where you've already done significant deft social navigation around that group, and where those who see the error have good reason to be much more understanding of the goof. While I agree that rejections, mistakes, etc. are to be expected and are part of life, you are equating very different kinds of rejections, and -- like most sociality advisors here -- assuming away the problem of having passed a certain social barrier. Those are far different kinds of failures than "becoming the creepy guy at the bookstore" or having people get the bouncer to talk to you because of conversational goofs (which has happened to me, so this isn't idle speculation). To clarify: Have you been approched by a venue supervisor because of a conversational goof with a stranger or new acquaintance? If not, you're not going through the risks I'm referring to or speaking to the situation I'm in. I'm not asking that the entire situation be pleasant; I'm asking that I can reasonably expect the failures not to cascade so that I can really go through a large enough number of interactions while actually learning. When you're ready to stop misinterpreting me otherwise, I will revise my opinion on the merit of your suggestions. (And a suggestion for you: if you want to drop out and save some face, make a remark like, "Gosh, you're unpleasant. Now I know why you have so much trouble. You deserve it, and I hope you do everyone a service by staying away from them." I try to help people, even if they haven't been as kind in the past.)
Frequently. And I've been ostracized and kicked out of groups before as well. I considered those minor mistakes, and just moved on to the next venue. When this happened, of course it hurt. A lot. But I tried to be a good conversationalist, and gave it my best effort, and it didn't work out, so I learned what I could. People are weird sometimes. I have had similar problems to yours (though, as I said, I don't know your exact situation), and I'm trying to tell you exactly what I have done and am doing to solve them. (It's worth noting that almost everyone has gone through the "huge failures" you're talking about; it's just that most people went through them as young children or teenagers, when they had an excuse for not knowing, and we just happened to learn slower.) I'm not exactly sure what you mean. Are you worried about building a negative reputation in your small town? Are you worried about being banned from every single location there? This sounds more like anxiety than a realistic concern (though as I said, I don't know your situation), and I suspect it's this very anxiety that's the problem. Were the past situations where you've been kicked out of venues or whatever in a different town, or in your current small town? Did these mistakes follow you afterwards? I think Jim Random H.'s comment that small towns are toxic is accurate: they're not toxic for everyone, but for people with social difficulties, they can be horrible places because your mistakes follow you everywhere. Leave as soon as you can. I wouldn't do something like that. I'm trying to help, and I'm interested and curious in your situation. But I'm curious if on some level you actually want people here to give up and say "yes, you're beyond help, you're way worse than me."
Okay, is everyone's knowledge of social skills really so brittle that their models break down for small towns? (And I mean on the order of 200k, shifting with the college year, not e.g. 10k. But still, most social places don't even have many people there at any given time.) Is it really impossible to develop social skills except in large cities? I'm ashamed to admit that Juggler told me something similar a few years ago, that what he teaches doesn't work except in large metro areas (his site said nothing whatsoever about this being a prerequisite for his program, and yes he refunded). Moving to another city is a non-trivial task, not because I'm in school, but because I don't have the connections or exposure that make job-hopping easy. By the way, when exactly did you have rumors spread about you being threatening? I guess I may not have appreciated the relevance of your experience.
200k is one order of magnitude larger than what I was thinking when you said "small town". The relevant criteria is how far you can narrow down the set of activities and demographics you interact with and still have an effectively unlimited supply of strangers. My experiences are all plus or minus an order of magnitude from that, so I don't really know if 200k is sufficient. As for rumors about being threatening - if you're referring to the conversation here on LW where I posted a nasty ill-considered reply to a deleted comment and ended up deleting it, then I apologize for that. If you're referring to something that happened in person, then I think you'll find people have surprisingly short memories for that sort of thing.
Wow. It was two orders of magnitude off what I was thinking! I grew up 20 minutes from the nearest town, which was ~4k so I had a different expectations of what would be limiting.
No, I wasn't. As I should have said at the time, you're not the first person to publicly accuse me of a serious crime I didn't commit, due to conflict with me. You're just the most remorseful. In the case I have in mind, it was at least two years.
I, for one, would really really like to see a videotape of several of your conversational attempts, if such videotape would be legal to take in your state. In fact, after reading the social awkwardness saga here, it's almost worth a ticket to Texas to walk along and observe in person.
PM me to schedule a time, I'll pay for the trip just so I can have a witness.
I'll second the request for video. Maybe a web videoconference? That's not as good as an in-person conversation (in particular, it screws up eye contact and eliminates location/distance-based signalling), but it gets around the need to travel and it's easier to film.
I'd love to vidchat with people. I wanted to do it a lot when I got my MacBook back in '07, but no one I knew wanted to do it and there weren't good random-stranger vidchat sites at the time. I'll post my skype name when I get home. But I hope you meant this as a separate measure of me than someone's "in the field" observations.
There appears to be only one account with the name Silas Barta on skype. Is that you?
Skype screenname: silasxdx, and yes, I'm that Silas Barta I'm on right now if anyone wants to vidchat. PM me if you want to set a time.
Sad as it may sound, I'm not sure. I haven't used it in a while. In any case, hold your horses! Anyone who wants will be able to chat with me soon enough! ;-)
200k isn't a small town! You're fine. Can you please answer these questions: (I removed the small town references.) If you have these concerns in a college town of 200,000 people, I stand by what I said about anxiety being the problem even more. Juggler comes from, and developed skills in, a college town of about 100,000 people, so I'm surprised. You keep moving the goalposts. I may not have had every negative experience that you've had, but I've also had large social difficulties, as have many other people here trying to help you. You ask for a specific plan that you can do right now, and I'm giving you one (go to lots of public places and start friendly conversations with lots of people). If you have too much anxiety to do this, that's understandable, but let's address that issue then.
I suspect that, if you're a student, college towns' social flexibility is more like considerably larger towns-- the transient student population means that social networks have much less institutional memory than a stable population of the same size.
In my experience, this is true even if you're not a student.
The answers to the first block are all yes, except for a little uncertainty on the last one. And 200k rises and falls with the college year. There are very few hangout places with a lot of strangers you can interact with, and even out of those, very few people want to talk, at least to me. You're giving me something that has downside risk no one else would tolerate, and which is extremely vague (starting a conversation is a complicated process). Also, since I've had lots of conversations with non-strangers with no improvement, its not clear how I would even know what I'm doing wrong. There may be anxiety issues (I do better after consuming things which suppress this), but I'm not sure you can call it that if failure really would mean wiping out most of my practice grounds, and if I can't effectively "reboot" whenever I want.
Now there is an interesting topic. Do you just mean alcohol, nicotine and pot? Or have you considered the actual good options. For example: Phenibut, picamilon or aniracetam? Those are some substances that are seriously handy when it comes to socializing. In the case of aniracetam it comes with enhanced verbal fluency as well as anxiolytic properties.
The things I refer to are alcohol, or prescription medication with anti-anxiety effects (but only some of them). I've noticed that my normal condition is to have a sort of "inhibitor" in my brain that's always saying, "no, don't do that, here's a downside"; after having consumed one of the above, that feeling is suppressed in proportion to dosage, and I feel comfortable enough to quit contemplating consequences and take an action. In my normal state, I have to concentrate to speak like a normal person because I'll get the same internal criticism about any phrasing I try, which makes me frequently trail off or re-start sentences. (Also, I'm often told that I sound like a foreigner, even though I've lived all my life in Texas.) Note that it's not that I have inhibitions per se, but rather, that I generate specific counterarguments as the inhibitor. It seems like a low-grade version of those cases you hear about where someone had brain damage to their emotional centers and they can't make decisions because they won't stop weighing the alternatives. Thank you for the pointers to those three "supplements"; I didn't know that such effective anti-anxiety substances were available OTC in the US! I've tried some supplements that "support positive mood" via effects on neurotransmitters, but not the ones you've listed; I'll have to check them out.

Thankyou for sharing your introspective experience. I'm always interested in how the human brain works and I find that the more I am able to instantiate the model of 'human' for a specific person the more I am able to empathize, comprehend their meaning and cross the inferential gap when trying to express my thoughts in a way that translates accurately.

I too have a particularly active inhibitor in my brain, although through experiences and active personal development have significantly reduced the negative effects. The challenging part was removing the maladaptive inhibitions while keeping the 'perfectionism' benefits that for me came hand in hand with that overactive system.

Thank you for the pointers to those three "supplements"; I didn't know that such effective anti-anxiety substances were available OTC in the US! I've tried some supplements that "support positive mood" via effects on neurotransmitters, but not the ones you've listed; I'll have to check them out.

I should clarify somewhat what I am suggesting the supplements can be useful for.

Very safe. As in, it is more or less impossible to overdose on the stuff and it isn't going to mess you. ... (read more)

What about oxiracetam? Some of these sites list it as being more powerful and faster. Would that rank above phenibut?
It is certainly stronger and faster than aniracetam as a cognitive enhancer, but it isn't above (or even on the same scale) as phenibut. Where aniracetam is relaxing oxiractam is stimulating. People report enhanced motivation and concentration on top of the effects on memory and cognition. Because it is stimulating it can also produce agitation and insomnia if you use too much or too late at night. Definitely worth considering if you are looking to play with nootropics in general.
It is certainly stronger and faster than aniracetam as a cognitive enhancer, but it isn't above (or even on the same scale) as phenibut. Where aniracetam is relaxing oxiractam is stimulating. People report enhanced motivation and concentration on top of the effects on memory and cognition. Because it is stimulating it can also produce agitation and insomnia if you use too much or too late at night. Definitely worth considering if you are looking to play with nootropics in general.
Thanks! I just ordered two bottles online and I'm curious to see how they affect me.
I'll be interested in reading any experiences you choose to share! Which bottles were you referring to by the way? (If Aniracitam I would go on to recommend a choline source to go with it, or at least eating more eggs.)
I'll be interested in reading any experiences you choose to share! Which bottles were you referring to by the way? (If Aniracitam I would go on to recommend a choline source to go with it, or at least eating more eggs.)
Aniracetam and Picamilon, from Cognitive Nutrition. I will check Bulk Nutrition also; that may be cheaper. Why take choline along with aniracitam, and how much?
I've had positive experiences with Cognitive Nutrition too. The 'cheap' part of Bulk Nutrition is largely in the 'Bulk' keyword. :) The primary cognitive enhancing function of aniracetam (and piracetam, oxiracetam and just about all the things that enhance memory and abstract thought...) work by boosting acetylcholine and, over a period of time, by boosting acetylcholine receptors. Basically this means you are going to burn through your choline more rapidly. A similar effect to if you burned it up by having an extended, intense cognitive workout without any nootropics. You will still get improvements from aniracetam, just less. Some people also describe 'brain fog' if they deplete their choline levels too much. I use centrophenoxine as my choline source. It is actually quite a good nootropic even by itself. Alpha GPC is another popular source with positive effects apart from supplying choline. The basic source is choline bitartrate. Watch this video to see the advantages of choline bitartrate (and if my eyes don't deceive me, bulk packaging from bulknutrition). Basically... it's really really cheap.
Are centrophenoxine and choline bitartrate also available on those sites? Do you buy them by themselves? And how much do you take? I already have some B complex vitamins that contain choline bitartrate (the label says each pill contains 40 mg of choline). Will this be enough, or are you talking about much larger amounts? Thanks for all the information!
Choline usually should be taken at a 0.5:1 or 1:1 ratio. Given that you'll be taking on the order of a gram of the -racetams (certainly with piracetam), 40mg of choline is laughably little - you want something more like 10x that.
Any site that sells aniracetam will sell at least choline bitartrate. You usually buy them by themselves. I get mine in powder form and create the capsules myself. I create capsules with a controlled ratio of piracetam, aniracetam and centrophnisine then vary how many I take and how often as appropriate. If taking just ani and centro a suitable, fairly conservative dose would be 500mg Ani + 250mg centro twice daily. Not that with racetams the full effect can be expected after about two weeks.
I've had positive experiences with Cognitive Nutrition too. The 'cheap' part of Bulk Nutrition is largely in the 'Bulk' keyword. :) The primary cognitive enhancing function of aniracetam (and piracetam, oxiracetam and just about all the things that enhance memory and abstract thought...) work by boosting acetylcholine and, over a period of time, by boosting acetylcholine receptors. Basically this means you are going to burn through your choline more rapidly. A similar effect to if you burned it up by having an extended, intense cognitive workout without any nootropics. You will still get improvements from aniracetam, just less. Some people also describe 'brain fog' if they deplete their choline levels too much. I use centrophenoxine as my choline source. It is actually quite a good nootropic even by itself. Alpha GPC is another popular source with positive effects apart from supplying choline. The basic source is choline bitartrate. Watch this video to see the advantages of choline bitartrate (and if my eyes don't deceive me, bulk packaging from bulknutrition). Basically... it's really really cheap.
Thanks for the info! Are these mostly things you have to order online, or can you expect to find them in pharmacies and supplement shops?
You can sometimes find them in larger supplement shops. But they will be much, much cheaper online. is a source with a solid reputation for quality that can also be extremely cheap. Particularly, surprisingly enough if you buy in bulk and fill the capsules yourself.
You can sometimes find them in larger supplement shops. But they will be much, much cheaper online. is a source with a solid reputation for quality that can also be extremely cheap. Particularly, surprisingly enough if you buy in bulk and fill the capsules yourself.
Thankyou for sharing your introspective experience. I'm always interested in how the human brain works and I find that the more I am able to instantiate the model of 'human' for a specific person the more I am able to empathize, comprehend their meaning and cross the inferential gap when trying to express my thoughts in a way that translates accurately. I too have a particularly active inhibitor in my brain, although through experiences and active personal development have significantly reduced the negative effects. The challenging part was removing the maladaptive inhibitions while keeping the 'perfectionism' benefits that for me came hand in hand with that overactive system. I should clarify somewhat what I am suggesting the supplements can be useful for. Aniracetam Very safe. As in, it is more or less impossible to overdose on the stuff and it isn't going to mess you. It is probably safer than just about anything you can get in a pharmacy, including the glucose lollies they sell the front desk. It also doesn't seem to come with significant tolerance/dependency problems that anxiety drugs are notorious for. ... But the anxiolytic properties are not the primary use of aniracetam. It is a cognitive enhancer that happens to have some anti-anxiety effects thrown in as a bonus. It isn't going to completely counter serious anxiety problems but most people find that it makes socializing more relaxing and flow better. More significant to me is that the primary effect is just what is needed when socializing too. It boosts verbal fluency in particular and (by subjective reports) makes the subtleties in communication and the naunces of music more salient. Picamilon "Mostly Harmless" - It is just Niacin and GABA hooked up together in a way that will get it through the blood-brain barrier before it falls apart. Reports tend to be that it has a mild but reliable effect on reducing anxiety without a nasty rebound. People tend to 'cycle' on and off so that they can maintain
In this post you indicated that you have already been doing a lot of productive work going places and practicing conversations. What I'm saying is just that continuing to do more of that is pretty much the only way of building more skills, and it does come with risks of rejection. What's the difference between what you've been doing, and going to a coffeeshop or bookstore and talking to a couple of people? I'm a little confused. From that previous post, it sounds like the risk is mostly in your head, since you've listed a number of recent successes. Doesn't what you've been doing have downside risks as well? There are lots of strangers at weddings, for instance. So the bad experiences you described were all in a different town? How long ago? And are you reluctant to go to a bookstore and talk to people because you don't want to wipe out your practice grounds in your current town, like you believe you did in the previous town? You've indicated that you've been complimented on your ability to make people feel comfortable in a group. This ability can transfer to starting friendly conversations with people in a public place. I can guarantee that there's been some improvement. And you don't need to know what you've been doing wrong; at least for me, trying to figure out exact rules and specify my mistakes was just an exercise in frustration. People react in weird ways sometimes, and you can't always predict or model when and why, but with practice, you can reduce the frequency of negative reactions.
Now there is an interesting topic. Do you just mean alcohol, nicotine and pot? Or have you considered the actual good options. For example: Phenibut, picamilon or aniracetam? Those are some substances that are seriously handy when it comes to socializing. In the case of aniracetam it comes with enhanced verbal fluency as well as anxiolytic properties.
Tentatively offered: You've come up with something which makes it much easier for you to manage socially on LW. It looks to me as though you're no longer showing hostility, but I don't know how you've framed it to yourself. Is there anything about how you've changed your approach on LW which could be applied to real world interactions?
Much as I'd like to explain how awesome I am, I think you're forgetting this whole thing from less than a month ago.
No, I remember it, though probably in much less detail than you do. I think the tone of your posts has changed since then. Evidence that people are not necessarily good at evaluating their own behavior: I know two people who became much more pleasant company after using anti-depressants. Neither of them had any idea that they were doing anything different, they just thought other people had become nicer for no apparent reason.
Well, I think we can rule out me having started on anti-depressants after that one ...
Where do you live? Some places have tighter courtesy rules than others (and, of course, rules vary from one place to another, too)-- what Suzette Haden Elgin has written about Ozark courtesy sounds like it would be terrifying if I had to get it right. Grammatical shifts which I can barely notice mean different things. (Sorry, no examples handy to mind.) Can you video yourself in conversation? It's conceivable that some bad habits will be more visible from the outside?
That sounds really interesting. Do you have a book title or reference or anything, even if you don't have examples?
Somewhere in her blog.
Ouch. With difficulties like that, you're probably not going to find any genuinely useful advice on the Internet. It might help if you got some extroverted person to coach you face-to-face. Have you tried that? (FWIW, I overcame my problems on my own, but my problems were minor compared to yours. I had low-status behaviors that caused people to ignore me, but I could always parse the nonverbal context just fine.)
Is there an improv group where you live? A Toastmasters'?
No to the first, yes to the second, but I lost brain cells going to the first meeting. I'm already involved in some groups, untasteful though I find them. The problem is not being in groups per se, but starting conversations with random people. Could folks please stop giving advice on that unless there was a time when they had trouble with that, and know specifically what they did to overcome it?

As you may have gathered from previous interactions with me and others here, I'm generally careful about my phrasing when I do give advice: I normally preface it with "Here is what I recommend" or the like. I wasn't giving you advice yet, but collecting information prior to giving advice.

I asked about Improv because it points out one specific thing I think you're doing wrong: you're often "blocking" as the improv jargon calls it. I would recommend you learn about (and practice) "yes and".

Your answer to my question is "blocking" in a synctactically typical manner: "yes to the second, but I lost brain cells going to the first meeting". "Yes, but" when what you're looking for in conversation is "yes, and". You're telling me in an oblique way ("lost brain cells") that Toastmasters wasn't a satisfactory experience for you, without giving me an opening for further conversation on that topic.

You could have phrased that in a thousand other ways more inviting of further conversation. Example: "Yes, I did try Toastmasters, and I was bored out of my mind; why did you ask, and what were you thinking I should h... (read more)

Yikes! I think you're overextrapolating what I was trying to do based on my use or nonuse of various codewords that you've decreed to have certain meanings. I said "yes but" because I wasn't trying to invite conversation as I would in an in-person discussion, so it's no surprise that the remark doesn't leave you options. In an in-person discussion I would do different things. I had assumed (correctly) that you believed Toastmasters would help and would recommend it, so I just want to confirm that I had gone to it but found the rituals and leaders painfully stupid (which is what I meant by losing brains cells; I didn't mean I was bored), intending to convey that it would not be helpful. If you were asking to probe for more information than that, you should have said so rather than asking a brief question from which you expect to extract volumes of meaning. I didn't know I was in the middle of a "conversation skills test" -- you shouldn't do that to people. I appreciate the improv-based suggestions you've given; that is insightful. I don't think you needed to wait until you were sternly lecturing me to give it, though. What does that even mean? If I can't identify what I would be doing differently based on learning the advice, or am in a situation that renders the advice dangerous, should I just shut up about it and say "thank you"? In any case, my criticism has not been of bad advice per se, but rather, advice that assumes away the very problem under discussion -- the "let them eat cake" advice. I think we all remember the first glaring example of this. If I gave advice that assumed away someone's very problem, I would want to know. Wouldn't anyone? I've had a few do that, and online forums are significantly different from in-person interaction. I didn't make a comment replying to any Go analogy -- do you mean RichardKennaway?
Yep, this one. My apologies for the misattribution - under the veil of the Anti-Kibitz and given the tenor of the reply ("You can in fact verbally explain Go") I'd assumed you were the author.
Oh, well, in any case, I did try Go for a while, and I do think you can explain it verbally. Before playing any human opponent, I figured out a very simple procedure for beating the computer, though it only works when you play white. Just copy your opponent's moves, rotated 180 degrees about the center. It won't be until the endgame that your opponent takes the center. Then just play as best you can (it will feel like getting a free move anyway). At the end of the game, you'll have basically the same territories, but you'll be in the lead because of white's handicap (kyu or whatever). I only briefly started trying this on human opponents, and for whatever reason, even on the major Go server, people would quit after a few moves when they saw me doing this. I'm probably missing something big, but there you go.
They must have been unaware of these tactics. Many people consider manego annoying, because it's sort of a cop-out.
Whereas I consider the labeling and shaming of the opponent for making valid moves that are difficult to beat is either a total cop-out, an insult to the game or both. If you can't beat someone when you can predict and for most part determine what their moves will be then you seriously suck or the game is a solved problem. Like checkers or tic-tac-toe. Seriously, if you think you are a better player and you credit your opponent with the slightest hint of strategic competence you should EXPECT them to do what you do until such time as they suspect they are risking falling into a manego-trap.
Sometimes a game has one serious flaw but is nevertheless fun to play, and there is no obvious fix for that one serious flaw. In that situation, it can make sense to shame opponents who exploit the flaw. There is a sense in which this is an "insult" to the game, but both players might still like the game, on balance. For example, I have found that in Stratego, it rarely makes sense to attack first against a player of roughly equal ability. At a certain point in the mid-game, evenly matched players will usually both find it optimal strategy to move a piece back and forth dozens of times in sort of "chicken" game where the goal is to get the other player to attack first. This is boring, so I don't want to play with you if you're going to do that every game, but potential Stratego partners are rare enough that if you otherwise enjoy playing Stratego with me, I might try to shame you into being more reckless with your attacks.
I would treat shaming (as distinct from banter) in that context as a 'defection'. My response would be to then eliminate whatever suboptimal levels of recklessness that I had previously allowed to creep into my play in a spirit of cooperation or just any intrinsic recklessness that I had not chosen to stifle. Either that or I would disengage from the game entirely. Before doing so I would offer potential cooperative agreements if possible. Most likely I would not find Stratego particularly appealing. If it is supposed to be about 'strategy' yet relies on people not using good strategies in order to work it is broken. I would much prefer to play a lighter game that at least doesn't pretend to be about strategy. When playing the card game 500 the standard rules for 'misere' are not well balanced. When playing people who are not rank amateurs I advocate a limit of one misere call per player per 'game (up to 500)'. If the opponent insists on the standard rule then I proceed to play (open) misere whenever the risk/reward ratio is favorable. This tends to result in most games being largely determined by my misere calls, with me winning two thirds of them and 'going out backwards' the other third. Naturally I do so with playful cheer and offer to impose the restrictions at any time. It can actually be quite fun to play the meta-game of negotiation. Winning the game convincingly even (and especially) under the 'broken' system they insist on but offering to adopt an agreement that will effectively be a handycap for me. Fogging all manipulative shaming attempts and repeating the offer. Engaging in a good natured battle of wills with those too stubborn to admit their folly or, given that admission, to change their mind. Getting the kitty a LOT. Doing the balancing act of keeping the experience fun despite the broken rules and the resulting conflict. Knowing when to stop and switch to a different game or activity entirely (thus practicing the ability to maintain boundaries a
Sure. I guess instead of "shaming" I meant to say "banter which, if serious, would be considered shaming, but, since merely playful, instead conveys the idea that one's opponent's imaginary alter-ego inside the game is worthy of shame, despite the fact that one's opponent himself is pretty much a cool dude." I didn't pay a lot of attention to word choice; I was mostly just adopting the language of the commenters above me on the thread. If I ever had to really shame someone to get them to play Stratego interestingly, I agree with you that I should either (a) find another activity, (b) find another friend, or (c) look for a way to escape the alarmingly boring desert island that has hitherto prevented my access to other friends and activities. I wouldn't recommend it to a friend, but I grew up with it, and now I have Stratego-based rivalries going back 15 years with a couple of friends. Seems a shame to abandon something like that over one break-point in the rules. Concur!
You might like Mornington Crescent.
What good is Mornington Crescent?
Are there any games you could enjoy?
Not unless they involve making paperclips, at least indirectly. Does the human economy count as a game?
Clippy, when you first became aware of yourself, so far as you know, did you have something like your present mental and social faculties? Some humans (and other biological animals) enjoy games at least in part because they help develop skills in a low-threat, low-risk environment.
There are better ways to enhance my skills, like checking for reflective coherence, validating models of phenomena, and refactoring code. To the extent that I enjoy doing that, perhaps it counts as a "game" for me, although it is not distinguished as a separate sphere of activity. Doing something that doesn't lead to paperclips just so I can get better paperclip-making skills as a side effect? That just seems stupid.
It's not always obvious what leads to more paperclips, and a broad exploration of topics like game theory (which can apply to all sorts of economic and negotiation problems) can give you an idea of what you need to learn next.
Depends how cynical a human you're asking.
"There is in it what is in it; 'tis a mirror held up to the reader, whereby if a donkey look in, surely a sage will not look out; the ends of all things are revealed within its pages to he who has the key; it keepeth away the pox, the flux, and the weeping sore." Or in your case, rust.
Game theory can help Clippys make decisions in dealing with other entities that would lead to more paperclips.
I'm already good at that. I'm on track to receive a sub-planet's mass worth of paperclips from a human. But I suppose I could always improve.
For real, you could be on track to receive a planet mass worth of paperclips from a human.
Make me an offer. Or maybe we should wait to do another deal until the current one is finished.
How about if I give you 2000 USD within a month, you produce 6e26 kg of paperclips for me within 20 years?
Ahh, now that makes sense.
Ahh, now that makes sense.
But then you should, if possible, explicitly patch the game in a way that makes that not a good idea.
I completely agree. I can't think of any fixes for Stratego, though. Can you?
If neither player has attacked in a certain number of turns, then a piece is removed from the board?
Which one? Keep in mind that, as written, Stratego has no element of luck.
One of each if nobody has attacked at all (other player's choice). If an attack has been made then a piece from the player who was not the last attacker. That would allow some element of a stand-off potential if both players believe they are better served by a smaller scale battle, a stand off that would probably only be stable if at least one of the players was making an error in judgement. It also encourages various feinting strategies that should ensure that most games do not become dominated by a stale mate.
Sounds great! I'll try it.
(Who goes first is random, isn't it?) Anyway, I did a bit of Googling, and I found some official Stratego tournament rules that address stall situations.
Wait, those scouts sound familiar! I suspect I have played that game. (Everything has a point value, higher points usually beat lower points, scouts get to move like rooks, etc. I have vague memories of marshals and land mines too...)
Oops, I failed to notice that part. Well, no, I can't. But then maybe you should just be playing a different game, or if you have a lot of time, redesigning Stratego from scratch. :) But failing that I guess opponent-shaming does work if you're willing to allow it. Edit: But I don't see how it can be considered at all a good solution. It also requires that you both recognize the problem in the first place. Though with something like stalling I'm not sure there is any real stable solution, due to boundary exploitation and the ability to stall more subtly. Hm, I guess I take back my "opponent-shaming does work if you're willing to allow it"; if you're already at the point that it's the only solution you can find, then it isn't going to solve the problem.
I find that this analysis is exactly correct for bughouse, a time-based 4-player game where stalling can be the key to victory and is very difficult (costly) to monitor, because any time you spend seeing if your partner's opponent is stalling becomes time that you can't spend defeating your own opponent. In Stratego, a turn-based 2-player game, you can often treat the decision to stall or not-stall as an iterated fake Prisoner's Dilemma, especially because the cost of being defected on for one turn is quite small, and the act of defecting for an entire game is quite noticeable. If I 'cooperate' by attacking you for 2 games in a row, and then you refuse to attack me on the 3rd game, I can't help but notice that I'm always the one attacking, and I can just refuse to play a 4th game with you until you apologize.
Oh, so you're considering this over games/strategies, rather than moves/tactics. Interesting.
Edit: WTF is with my double posts? I have not been clicking twice or anything that should result in a double submission but every comment I make appears twice. I cannot think of anything I have changed on my browser that would cause this either. Seroiusly strange.
Yup, I agree. If someone pulls manego on me I usually smile and see it as an opportunity to learn something. But in a more subtle way an evenly matched game does have both opponents doing "exactly the same thing" in the opening. Both follow the same recipe - stake out one corner, possibly the remaining corner, then go for a corner approach to simultaneously sketch side territory. It's just that the half-dozen or so possible corner moves each have a subtly different meaning, and so symmetry is usually broken quite rapidly.
What is the impact of trying manego against a skilled opponent? Would it be correct to say that by simply telling someone the above strategy, you have significantly increased their skill level, even if they still get beaten by good players?
Someone good (low kyu or dan level) will eventually play a symmetry-breaking move such as tengen, and then the novice (who doesn't have a good follow-up because they didn't really understand the moves they were playing) will get clobbered. Manego is like guessing the teacher's password by parroting back every single word the teacher speaks. :) What counts as skill in Go is understanding the moves you play (and being able to read out their consequences). It does impress novice opponents, which I suppose is why you'd see people not want to keep playing you once they caught on that you were doing it.
I wouldn't compare it to guessing the teacher's password, or at least not only compare it to that. Recall the points made in our discussion of tacit knowledge. Here is a case where a simple verbal instruction, in a significant, measurable way, can increase someone's skill at a game with notoriously inarticulable strategy. You explain manego to a beginner. (Not tournament beginner, I mean, someone who knows the rules, read a tutorial, only played a few games.) Now, they can almost always beat a computer[1] as white, when before they could not. You made a huge difference, purely through verbal instruction. I'd say that's pretty impressive. [1] I use GnuGo as reference for computer Go.
I would say that's more of a problem with GnuGo than an actual increase in skill. Manego is more of a trick play that only works against people who don't know how to deal with it.
Whereas I consider the labeling and shaming of the opponent for making valid moves that are difficult to beat is either a total cop-out, an insult to the game or both. If you can't beat someone when you can predict and for most part determine what their moves will be then you seriously suck or the game is a solved problem. Like checkers or tic-tac-toe. Seriously, if you think you are a better player and you credit your opponent with the slightest hint of strategic competence you should EXPECT them to do what you do until such time as they suspect they are risking falling into a manego-trap.
I'm one of the people here who fit this description, but I may have been experiencing different-but-overlapping challenges to yours. The primary social difficulties I used to have: * Severe social anxiety (probably undiagnosed social phobia) * Not knowing what to say and do in unscripted informal social situations * Difficulty reading people and developing models of how they respond and feel (theory of mind?) I currently experience all these difficulties in lingering amounts, but probably no more than average people. And I am way ahead of others with similar personality traits and cognition to mine. I engaged in a long period of social experimentation (handled "in software" to use Roko's analogy). During this time, I developed the ability to understand many aspects of social interaction on an intuitive level, exercising social "muscles" I never knew I had (to switch to a completely different analogy). As Blueberry describes, I had to risk making social blunders to learn. I made a bunch of people uncomfortable at various points in my learning process, such as when I was learning to be more spontaneous instead of turning over comments in my mind for minutes before uttering them, which sometimes involved me blurting out ill-considered things until I developed the right balance between filtering and spontaneity. Yet I've never had difficulties comparable to getting in trouble with venue supervisors. I can't even remember seriously offending anyone or having anyone unhappy with me. For some reason, these were never lessons that I had to learn by trial-and-error, and the thread is making me think of some possibilities why: * I am very high in agreeableness and sensitivity * I am non-confrontational, and have trouble expressing anger, aggression, or assertiveness (though I've improved on the last one) * People seem to perceive me as non-threatening and trustworthy * I was raised with a restrictive notion of manners All of these factors contributed to
Low agreeableness makes it hard to even hear social advice properly. (It's hard enough for males to accept advice even when agreeable.) Surprisingly enough each of these three are still important for the low agreeableness/low status males to learn. It is just harder to explain which specific skills it would take to develop these attributes. Apologizing whenever someone else disapproves of you is not actually all that much different to attacking whenever someone else disapproves of you. It signals the same underlying insecurity.
No advice here, but I started thinking what the sort of advice you are looking for would look like, and whether much such advice even exists. A different skill from social interactions, and probably a simpler one is playing Go. A notable thing about Go is that there isn't much instruction in the form of "if this happens, do that". That doesn't work, as there are too many possible game configurations, and whatever form a successful player's skill actually takes can't really be verbalized. Instead, people are just told to expect to lose a bunch of games at first, during which they are expected to build up the difficult to verbalize pattern matching abilities about what works and what doesn't in different situations. A bit like the advice to have a bunch of social interactions which you expect not to end very successfully. Of course social interactions also have a much wider space of viable approaches than games of Go, so the analogy of needing to do things the hard way to build non-verbalizable pattern matching skills might not be that tight. Reg Braithwaite has an article about the problems with a certain type of personality and trying to learn Go, when you just can't seem to go from declarative knowledge to procedural skill when picking up the game. Maybe it's relevant to learning social skills as well.
Are you kidding? There are plenty of books teaching Go, full of verbal instruction, covering the basics (take territory first in the corners, then the edges, then the middle), standard opening patterns (joseki), detailed tactical situations (tesuji), proverbs, middle game, end game, every aspect of the game. Of course, it takes practice to turn that advice into skill, as with any skill, but the advice is there, and it works. For someone who can learn from it. People do learn from it -- I did, back when I played Go, and the books and Go magazines would not be published if they were not useful. So what distinguishes those who find it straightforward to learn Go by study and practice, as I did, and those who get into the emotional stew that Braithwaite describes? What distinguishes those who learn to ride a bicycle by practice alone, as I did, from those who need instruction also? What distinguishes those who are willing to have a go in social situations and manage to observe, learn and improve, from those who are not, or do not? If I knew that, I could set up as a personal development guru. BTW, while I find Braithwaite's account weird in relation to go, it pretty much sums up how I used to feel about socialising, so I have some experience of both sides of this. I don't actually socialise any more than I used to, though. BTW2, it's just occurred to me that there are many books on social skills for people with Asperger's syndrome. I've not read any of them and I can't comment on how useful they are, but I happen to be aware of a publisher that specialises in books on autism and Aspergers, Jessica Kingsley. FWIW.
Yeah, bad wording on my part. There's a lot of instruction, but I understand that a great deal of practice is utterly vital in order to put the instruction into efficient use. The assumption I'm basically after is that if someone would study Go literature fulltime for a year but wouldn't play any games, they would still play their first games very poorly. I'm not sure to what degree this is really the case.
I have a friend (admittedly a very very smart friend) who become interested in Go after studying combinatorial game theory and discovering that the infinitesimal game value "up arrow" actually occurs in Go, and that game theorists had had productive conversations with Go masters on the subject -- the theory actually had applications. Using nothing but readings in this area and a few games with me, the friend leveled up from "pure but highly read" beginner to about 14kyu (relative to IGS in 2002?) within four or five games. My impression is that true tacit knowledge exists, and that theory really doesn't help it a lot... but also that it mostly comes up in domains where the brain is going to be relying on muscle memory a lot, like dissecting the nervous system of shrimp or juggling or such. As a separate thing there are deeply theoretical domains where something appears to be tacit knowledge but its really just a matter of observers not understanding need for patient study when dealing with large inferential distances. Silas, I've never gone from "social difficulties" to "no social difficulties" based on a direct and obvious course of study, but one very general life heuristic I've found to work well for similarly major work is to search for "the best self help book on the subject" whenever I notice a thing about myself that I really want to cultivate or "fix". Sometimes it takes me a half a day on Amazon to make an educated guess about which book might meet my "best on the subject" criteria. One of the things I look for are reader reviews of books that recommend some other author or book as clearly superior to the book being reviewed - the best of these suggested books "jump subjects" by invoking a distinct set of keywords or different focus which opens up a whole new "vein of thought" on the subject. Discovering veins, finding "best of breed" within each vein, and then comparing the best of breeds is what can take a while. Another quick thought: I think you mi
Would you care to recommend some "best of breed" books?

I'm not sure I would unreservedly recommend books I find this way, because they aren't all full of things I wholeheartedly endorse. They're usually experiments prompted by a sense of personal inadequacy and some of them are kind of embarrassing, but.... here are some books I found in roughly the way I recommended to Silas and what I think of them now:

When I was having difficulties navigating casual not-really-friendly acquaintances with other women (like in the workplace) where I couldn't just avoid people who gave me bad vibes, I found Catfight to be reasonably helpful. I decided on this over various books about "queen bees" that seemed unscientific and possibly amoral... but I haven't read any of those to justify the impression. This book helped me flesh out some details in a pet theory of mine about the way the "aesthetics of signaling" are a major locus of negotiation in real-world socially-embedded virtue ethics. I liked it a lot for that reason, though the text didn't contain the theory explicitly.

When I was trying to figure out what I should be thinking (when planning for retirement) or saying (when my parents brought up investing), I discovered a cla... (read more)

"Why Men Love Bitches" is a really great book (and it works just as well if you reverse the genders). That's one of the books that helped me learn about people and relationships and figure out what I want as well. I'm sorry to hear you decry the whole PUA/dating/social skills/relationship advice field as bankrupt; I've found these materials and quick-and-dirty experimental method very useful for figuring out what works and feels right for me. I'm curious, what do you mean about changing your sexual ethics? Another classic that I found in a similarly serendipitous way is Cialdini's "Influence".
The problem I had with them is that advice in this area generally applies an instrumental view to "other people", without attention to the kinds of people the skills are likely to work on, and whether those people (after the interaction or deep into it) are likely to be better people who are retrospectively happy about their interactions with you. For most of my life I've been of the opinion that the idea of "better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all" is a sham excuse that people invent after having been partly responsible for causing an emotional trainwreck that was very painful to most of the people involved. My working hypothesis, then and now, is that it is probably better not to get romantically entangled with someone unless you and your sweetie are both capable offering and granting something approaching research grade informed consent (as opposed to merely judicial grade where its pretty much deemed not to have been obtained only in cases of gross fraud or dramatic mental impairment). I'm not talking about getting signatures before smooching with someone, but I am talking about (1) thinking about it first, (2) imagining possible consequences for both parties (and possible children who may be created) in the coming weeks, months, and years, and (3) doing one's best to avoid harm to anyone given such thoughtfulness which probably requires some time in private and lengthy conversation. Cialdini's "Influence" is an interesting example of the social skills literature, because he ostensibly wrote it as a "defense against the dark arts" textbook to help people avoid being manipulated. In practice, it is studied mostly by compliance professionals as one of the most epistemologically sound manuals that exists on the subject of the "dark arts" in general. I don't think it is an accident that sound epistemology and benevolent moral intent went together like this.

Though there is great ethical value in helping people avoid influence techniques, I contend that there is also great ethical value in teaching people how to influence others. I argue that social skills (of which social influence is a subset) are distributed inequitably in society, and that this result is unjust. Some people are dramatically better at social influence (status, etc...) than others knowingly or unknowingly, due to different personality traits and upbringings. There are the haves, and the have-nots in the area of social skills.

The only way for social equality to exist is for people to be in the same bracket of social skills (and social influence ability). We can't make things equal, but we can compress the disparity between the top and the bottom, so the people at the bottom aren't getting stomped on so badly.

Either the haves must give up their social skills, or the have-nots must attain more social skills. The first solution is impossible. With their higher social status, the haves can't be forced to do so, and they will scoff at requests to disarm out of the goodness of their hearts. The cool kids aren't going to change how they do things no matter how much the unco... (read more)

I see learning status gaining skills as an arms race. That is you gaining more social influence will encourage others to gain more to try and stay ahead of you so that they can get what they want. Thus forcing you to spend more time and energy on socialising. It is not as simple as have and have-nots. I'd guess the haves socially denigrating the have-nots for trying to get more social skills is part of their way of fending off competitors. Why the have-nots might do it? Well if they are part of your social group there are a number of reasons. * They might not want to be on their guard around you in case you try and manipulate them. * They might worry that you will become less interesting to talk to or less of a friend as you spend less time with your head in a book/consuming in-group media and more time shmoozing and climbing the greasy pole. If they are not part of your social group, then yep a legitimate bias unless they are trying to defuse the arms race. Which is a bit overly idealistic I'll grant you.
It might be a game, and engaging in it might lead to more energy put into socially unproductive purpose down the line. But, unfortunately, the only way to win IS to play, otherwise you'll be losing influence to suburban WASPS with nice hair. Some of them might even be sociopaths. :(
Yes and no. If you personally want to be influential in government or CEO of a major company then yes. However that is not the only way to influence society. There are two rough ways to shape society. Through social means and technological. An example of technological shaping is the creation of effective birth control allowed many women to take more control of their lives. It allowed them to have sex and maintain a career. Artificial wombs would have further societal consequences. So if you are going the technological route to societal influence then all you need is sufficient resources to create the technology and market it to sufficient people such that it becomes self-sustaining. It would become self-sustaining by becoming the basis of a profitable business with lobbyists etc. If you are fulfilling a large need, then all you may need to do is develop the tech and license the patent. That may not require to much resources or lots of social skills. However the fallout of any technology is not predictable and it is very hard to "undo" a technological release if it is not to your liking (requiring lots of social influence). In terms of long lasting social influence you can support a group that has the same or similar goals as you. The groups marketing team can then use their skills to transform your money into influence more effectively than the individual donator. If your idea is insufficiently popular to be a major influence in that fashion it is likely if you get into politics that mentioning it or suggesting might well be political suicide.
Lone genius inventors have influence in society, but they don't have much status. I don't even know the name of the guy who invented birth control. It's the marketers and CEOs in the technology sphere who get most of the status, outside of the geek world. To truly capitalize on many inventions, it's necessary to negotiate with your licensees, investors, or partners. How much social skills that takes depends on how well you want to come out in your negotiations. Business social skills aren't the same thing as the status skills present in more general contexts, but there is substantial overlap. Personally, I want to have my cake and eat it, too: I want to influence society, and gain status for it rather than creating things that give other people more status than me.
That is fine, but a personal preference. And not one everyone shares. My pleasures in life (so far) are simpler and easier to acquire than being high status.
Not everyone shares a preference for attaining status, but many people share preferences for things that status can facilitate, such as money, dates, friends, and mental health. Those who can attain those things to their satisfaction without any additional efforts spent on status, are in a great spot. Those who can't will have to either learn status, be unsatisfied, or downgrade their preferences to what they can achieve. While not everyone shares my preferences, it's possible that more people should if they want to effectively fulfill their preferences. I encourage people to be honest with themselves about what their goals actually are, instead of selling themselves short and accepting a mediocre situation out of fear of leaving their comfort zones. I make this encouragement because in the past I've observed many people (myself included) abandoning ambitions out of feelings of resignation and unworthiness, and convincing themselves that they don't really want those things as a coping mechanism. This can be a dangerous form of self-deception.
But you accept that there are some people with genuinely low ambition? Whether I am one or not* is somewhat irrelevant; you probably don't have sufficient biographical material to tell one way or another. Do you have a good way of testing whether low ambition is due to low ambition or low self-worth? Any research on the subject? *I'd characterise mysefl as ambitious in what I would like to achieve, but I actively do not want the trappings of power. The thought of sycophantic yes-men vieing for my attention turns my stomach and makes me feel tired, for example. As do girls that would want to try and exploit me for my money/connectedness. So I'll try and find alternate ways to achieve my goals without acquiring great social status, as that would be a true win for me.
Of course, which is why I addressed my comment in general terms. I would expect individuals to vary on ambition and status-seeking. I do not know the precise factors that cause variance in these traits. I am advocating attention to specific factors that lead people to state low ambition or low desire/concern for status. These factors may include defeatism, lack of opportunity, discourage from others, negative emotion associations, akrasia, or past mistreatment or abuse. Your view of status interaction seems different from mine. Having status doesn't mean you have to have sycophantic yes-men. People (men or women) drawn to you for your money or connectedness (especially the latter) aren't necessarily trying to exploit you. I guess it's a question of costs vs. benefits and what your goals are. For most sorts of goals that people have, I suggest that status will probably help them achieve their goals to a similar degree that money could (think of the term "social capital"). I've noticed that people without much social experience, particularly with status interaction, often have an overly cynical outsider's view of those sorts of interaction, which could lead to skewed estimate of costs and benefits. Personally, I've found that many specific ways of acquiring social status or influence, even if not actively unethical, don't fit my values or personality. Yet I feel a lot more comfortable rejecting them having tried them out, knowing that my arguments against them are based on empirical data, not on purely theoretical conceptions that may be subject to bias (e.g. self-deception, sour graps, slave morality).
You are worried about hypothetical people that say they are happy with their current social status when they really are not. I'm worried about the truely less social being harangued to try and make them change themselves when they really don't want to. Until you recognise there is this group and include them in your plans for social change in some fashion (even if it is only identify and leave alone), then you are just making their lives more difficult (in a well meaning fashion). I never said you have to have them or that all of them will be, merely if you are a top flight CEO or politician they will be drawn to you compared to if you are a bum. Thieves don't steal from paupers. I'm an Agreeable guy and would not want to have to be saying no to them or be rude to them. And being on my guard against them would cramp my style as well. My current social setting where I have a lot of help that I can provide and enjoy providing, I am sort out by people that try and curry my favour (E.g. by saying things I am interested in are interesting when they don't understand them). Also people try to talk to me to be my friend, which annoys me when I am wanting to do something else. Don't get me wrong I don't mind social interaction, I would just prefer it to be non-verbal, humourous, about a plan they have or based on shared intellectual interests. Normally what they talk to me is about worries about the course and bitching. This I find I have nothing to add to really or interest in. Which probably colours my social interactions.
Yes. Or when they want things that higher social status can help them achieve, which they don't realize or are in denial about. To make an analogy again to money, there are lots of people who say that they don't care much about money, or don't like the process of making money, but who want things (e.g. possessions, getting out of debt, donating to charities, or whatever), that can most efficiently be achieved through having more money than they currently have. For instance, let's say we have someone who is in $10,000 credit card debt, who would love to donate to SIAI, but who says that he isn't very concerned with money. At face value at least, something isn't matching up. What I encourage is for such people to (a) do some soul-searching about what their actual goals are, (b) be realistic about what means it will take to achieve those goals, and (c) attempt to avoid bias in an evaluation of the costs and benefits of those means. I would want my example person to assess the value of paying off his debt and donating to SIAI, and what he is going to need to do to achieve those goals. Making some money is not the only way to achieve them, but it is one of the most direct ways. As a result, I would encourage an analysis of the costs and benefits of seeking more money, vs. other means for achieving his goals. If he can find other ways to achieve his goals, then great! What I'm just skeptical of is people sitting around with goals, and rejecting viable means for achieving those goals out of a biased and uninformed assessment of those means. I am also skeptical of people abandoning goals too early and then rationalizing that they don't really want those things. I am not worried about people being encouraged to avoid self-deception about their goals, and avoid bias in their cost-benefit analyses of the means for those goals. I feel that people who don't need such encouragement will easily shrug it off, and the cost of misplaced advice to them will be low. Yet for people
It is not just that. I get annoyed and tune out when anyone bitches and moans. Even people I like otherwise. Especially when they are trying to create ingroup outgroup divisions due to bruised egos (or at least that is how I interpret it). Mating is the social arena where a modest improvement can pay off (if you are going for the monogamy route). A slight improvement might also work if the dating scene is not very competitive where you are. But if we are in the hyper competitive era where only the very attractive men get all the girls, then it won't work very well. It is also the least likely arena for you to get hangers-on or require you to do unethical actions to get ahead, so from this point of view good for geeks. So I wouldn't have too much of a problem with this. Improving the ability of geeks to work in business and politics I think would get more push back due to ethics such as anti-advertising, truth-telling and simply having to spend a long time to get any good at it due to its competitive nature.
As others have pointed out, this seems highly exaggerated and doesn't seem to match the current situation. Evidence for whether we are?
I don't have evidence myself, I was merely exploring a hypothetical.
Nitpick: Yes they do. At least, a certain level of thief does. They're easy targets.
Power to build vs. power to get
This is reminding me of Westerfeld's Uglies, a pretty good science fiction novel about a society where everyone gets plastic surgery at age 16 to make them extremely beautiful. As might be expected in a novel, there's an arbitrarily added catch to the beauty, but would just having the surgery be standard be a bad idea? The novel was inspired by Raphael Carter's ""'Congenital Agenesis of Gender Ideation' by K.N. Sirsi and Sandra Botkin"", a short story which explores the implication of people having the option of not noticing whether people are beautiful or not.
Thanks for the recommendations. It does seem like there are tree options to reduce beauty-based inequalities: 1. Make less beautiful people more beautiful (which may indeed involve routine surgery in the future). 2. Make the beautiful people less beautiful (e.g. the Handicapper General). 3. Make people care about beauty less (feasible in the future, but only partially effective in the present since so much of perceptions of beauty seem biologically predisposed). I support #1 in the present, and some combination of #1 and #3 in the future, when we have more effective ways of changing people's preferences.
It might also be possible in future to mimic the effect of options 1 and 2 by altering one's own perception of who is beautiful and who isn't. (For example, instead of handicapping beautiful people, I could get my brain reprogrammed to see as ugly the people others see as beautiful.) This is like #3 in that it's about altering someone other than the beautiful/non-beautiful people themselves, but different in that one changes what one sees as beautiful instead of how much one cares about beauty.
Some would suggest this gives you all sorts of practical benefits.
With just a little elaboration on the relevant bias at work this would make a fantastic top level post. This insight in particular made me laugh:
Thanks for sharing your list Jennifer If you're interested in a few people's theories about self deception (perhaps on a more philosophical level), including an entry by Tom Schelling (though it wasn't about self deception as much), you might like The Multiple Self
Kathy Kolbe's The Conative Connection might be a better view of style conflicts. A summary
Thanks a lot for the link to CGT and Sprague-Grundy theory. It's a beautiful area of math that I once knew in detail, but somehow managed to forget completely. My way of saying thanks: take a look at Ford circles.
Great article. Thanks so much for linking to it. I interpreted the article to be about dealing with anxiety, though, not about learning skills from declarative knowledge. And yes, it's relevant for social situations as well, especially: And the courage to socialize incompetently is a huge part of what it means to have social skills.
I think it's an article about not finding a way to deal with anxiety.
Wow. That linked article is killing me softly. I wish he had a general solution to that problem expressable in declarative knowledge--I've never played Go, and certainly don't plan to now, because I know exactly what he's talking about.
You don't need to control others to get what you want out of an interaction. In fact, letting go of control is a key step. It also paradoxically increases your influence (in non-toxic environments.) Reading Morendil's reply seven times is recommended. That was golden. I do happen to meet that criteria, but there is more than one challenge that I (and most people to various degrees) had to overcome when starting conversations with random people, some of which required simple behavioral changes while some required fundamental changes in beliefs. Is changing your beliefs a skill that you have developed? For example, did Juggler's influence change the way you think about social dynamics? Do you have the ability to actively question and update your model of yourself and your environment based on introspection and self awareness? I'm not making a snide insult here. Developing that skill is central to how I overcame those difficulties and, in various guises, what many social skills and personal development gurus will recommend. It does involve asking ourselves questions that we really don't want to hear.
There's the root of the problem. You can't develop socially if you're trapped at home. And make no mistake: if you can't reliably get to a city or public transit hub without calling in a favor, then you are very much trapped. A small town that you can't routinely leave is a toxic environment, and you need to escape it by any means necessary. Free housing is not a favor if it's in a location that destroys your life.
Wow, I didn't know small towns were "toxic environments" that were the death knell for social skills. Next time, mention that sooner.
The "that you can't routinely leave" part seems more important than the "small town" part, to me - it's a special case of the more general observation that the harder it is to leave a situation, the more likely it is for that situation to become problematic. You might find it useful to use Second Life as a venue for practicing social skills, if you don't have RL opportunities to do so. It's not perfect - the userbase is skewed toward technophiles, with a disproportionate number of auties, so the range of conversational topics is different from RL-normal, and you can't learn to read or emit body language usefully there (though with voice chat you can practice with tone of voice at least), but it's more RL-like than most kinds of online interaction, especially in terms of meeting new people.
Insert "can be a" ... "if it does not provide an acceptable social network" and I'll have to agree.
I don't know, but I put it back up to zero for exactly the reason you gave for considering it useful, and I did so before reading the comment I'm replying to.
Thank you, well said.
Well, full disclosure: I'm a really extroverted person, so I apologize if I may be trivializing the art of small talk. That's definitely not my intention, since I want to make it clear that it's a skill that is to be learned. Also, the conversational nuances are a bit different if you're chatting up someone of the opposite sex versus just making small talk with a random stranger. I'm only talking about the latter, I don't claim to have any helpful advice regarding the former. ;) I'm assuming that's what the "captive situation" thing refers to. Generally, people like to talk. Sometimes they don't. You might be a brilliant conversationalist and run into someone who's pissed off and doesn't want to talk, so you shouldn't take that personally. You can pick up cues about people as to how amenable they are to conversation; if they're avoiding all eye contact with everyone in the area, that's a bad sign. If you make eye contact and smile, that's a good sign. If you're not practiced at small talk, you start with the smiley people. Practice talking to people who are good at conversation; observe the way they steer conversations and what their mannerisms are.

If you're extroverted by nature, you probably have no experience in making yourself extroverted, and so are unqualified to give advice. You can teach by example, though.

I notice this pattern a lot. Naturally talented singers can't teach you how to sing because they don't know it. If you don't perceive the obstacles that your students claim to face, you have no business teaching, no matter how good you are at the activity itself. A lot of harmful advice to introverts (like the dreaded "just be yourself") comes from people such as you. I say that as a former introvert who successfully changed :-)

Yeah, I didn't realize I was entering into a discussion on how to acquire extroversion! I admit, I'm unqualified there. But I definitely do have experience, and advice to give, on how to steer conversation toward interesting topics for both individuals interested in having a conversation, which is what I thought we were talking about in the first place. :)
What cousin_it said, times a thousand. Harsh, but true. Ability to do something does not imply ability to teach it. It just means you've reached Level 1. Until you can imagine what it was like to be without your skill, and the mental steps you went through going out of that state, you will be forever giving advice that assumes away the problem.
It helps if student and teacher are both clear on what the subject being taught actually is in the first place, and which level everybody is starting at. The fact remains that just because you're not good at making small talk doesn't mean that the opportunity isn't there, everywhere. Either way, in order to get better, you will have to practice, regardless of how difficult it is to get to the point of even being able to practice. Kaj Sotala's post wasn't about how to talk to random strangers, but how to get to interesting conversations with someone you're already talking to. It's a bit unfair to accuse people who are here to help with that issue of not being helpful on a related, but different one.
Perhaps, but your advice required the ability to successfully start conversations, since you were suggesting to talk to random people: It's true that practice is necessary, but not just any practice will suffice. And following the practice recommendations you gave would not be helpful unless the problem were mostly solved to begin with.
Well, the entire topic of the original post was contingent upon already being in a situation of engaging in small talk with someone. The LW meet-up, for example. If you are already able to start conversation with someone, but wanting to skill up in steering the conversation into interesting avenues, Kaj Sotala's post should be very helpful. Being able to make small talk does not at all imply skill in having interesting conversation.
The Visiting Fellows program is in California, which has a different weather than my native Finland. (There should possibly have been some intermediate node like "California" between "Weather" and "Visiting Fellows".)

My most useful conversation strategy is the question. Being naturally curious helps, but it really is a universal tool, good for any topic.

Questions are great, but they have certain limitations:

  1. If you are beginning a conversation with some who you don't know well, they may not give you very extensive or useful answers to your questions.

  2. You can only ask so many questions in a row before you are interviewing them. Worse, it looks low status.

For people who over-rely on questions, they often ask a question, get a short or one-word answer, and then ask another questions, getting the same type of answer. After about 3 or 4 of these, the conversation is dead in the water.

The solution is to limit the amount of questions you ask until the other person becomes invested in the conversation enough to give you real answers. The PUA Juggler advises asking less questions and making more statements. Making statements engages the other person, and unlike questions, don't require the other person to reciprocate, avoiding the interviewing, chasing, or badgering dynamics that questions can cause. Making statements gives the other person information about the kind of person you are, which helps them decide if they want to open up to you. Of course, statements still need to be related someone to the current conversational context, ... (read more)

Huh. That does a lot to explain what was so very awkward about that one conversation I had with that one acquaintance-of-an-acquaintance earlier this year: it was all him asking questions and me giving noncommittal responses while thinking, "who is this guy?" ...I wonder if I could have spun an answer to redirect a question to him. Would that have been a good strategy?
I don't know. I am hesitant. I can think of instances in which someone has started talking about an anecdote and the other person wasn't really responsive at all. (And, yeah, more than anything it was I who were telling the anecdote.) I guess it requires social savvy to pick which anecdote to tell. I don't think engaging someone meaningfully (i.e. "hooking") in a conversation is as easy as making more statements as opposed to asking questions. Conversation is more of an art than an exact science - 'tis true... Anybody wants to call me so they can hear my totally irrelevant anecdote?
AnlamK Exactly. I agree. But you can make more statements in a short period of time than you can ask questions, so you have a higher chance of hitting something that engages the other person before they tire of the conversation. Does that seem plausible/implausible?
Dammit, I wanted to hear the anecdote.
If someone only gives me one-word answers, that means that they do not want to talk to me (but are too polite to tell me to get lost), and if I choose to disregard that, I don't get to complain when I get labelled and treated as a creep.
It can also mean that they aren't very good at making conversation, or even that they're not sure if you're just being polite, and aren't interested in a longer answer. I often refrain from answering people's questions in detail if I think they're just asking to be polite. So, substituting interesting statements for stock questions signals that you are actually interested in conversing, as well as giving the other person more possible points to take off from. (Of course, if you make such statements and get one-word replies a few times, then of course this should be taken as a lack of interest in conversation at that time. But if you're just asking stock questions, then people who don't have "stock interesting answers" for those questions will have a harder time conversing with you... and may assume you're just being polite, rather than actually interested in their opinions or experiences.)
In which case, why would I want to make conversation with them? :-) Good point, though there's a middle ground between answering with as few syllables as grammatically possible (what I usually do when I wish someone wasn't talking to me in the first place, but I don't want to be excessively impolite) and a long answer mentioning personal feelings and asking a question back.

Most of the people that I want to have conversations with have some topics that they can talk about enthusiastically at the drop of a hat, if only they could find someone interested. Today I was talking with someone who really likes chemistry, and I learned why it is that some molecules (like lipids) are hydrophobic and others (like ammonia) are hydrophilic. I didn't expect to learn this, but I wanted to keep the conversation going, so I just asked, thinking that maybe it would become interesting. And it worked! That conversation kicked ass!

This works for all sorts of subjects. Does someone love gardening? Say something about soil drainage, and it'll open the floodgates, starting what could be a fascinating conversation. The other person's obscure interests make for great conversation topics because they usually don't get to talk about it with anybody else.

The trick is finding those obscure interests. A lot of people seem embarrassed to be interested in weird stuff, and don't advertise it. It's socially okay to be interested in gossip and whether or not Lady Gaga has a penis (hint: no), but usually less okay to be interested in database denormalization and homoerotic Stargate SG-1 fanfiction. I'm hoping that the Internet will magically change this somehow, but until then, does anybody have hints for finding another person's weird interests?

This is my thing -- I always want to hear about any person's area of passion or expertise. It's usually much more interesting than small talk. But I find it's often quite easy to get people started. I like to ask people about their work. (Scientists and engineers often seem particularly willing to talk, but there's certainly a range.) If someone mentions a hobby, I'll ask for details. I've learned a lot about ballroom dancing, guns, and violin from letting people ramble. It all comes down to being open to hearing long stories. I think people can somehow detect a willing listener, and as a result people seem to love to come to me with their stories.

Nice, but I have my own theory on what makes a person interesting to be around :-)

Reddit has a section called AMA, short for "ask me anything". The karma scores and comment counts for each topic may be used as rough indicators of how much that topic interests regular people. My impression is that you get the biggest response by posting something like "I am a highly paid prostitute, AMA" or "I killed two men, AMA". Transhumanism and RPG books probably wouldn't score much.

The graph, the practiced transitions, and the sensitivity to your interlocutor's level of interest in the current node, relative to other nodes and the weighted distance to each better node--all that is a general tool for interesting conversations. Having a specific set of life experiences is a more specialized way to have interesting conversations.

You won me in the first paragraph and your description of Vassar's psyche.

I could promptly visualize his curious face investigating the walls, wrinkles between his eyes while he tries to draw mental connections between 11 different sources before coming up with an "Aha!", followed by an elegant (normally accurate) explanation he'll be pleased to share.

Developing over Rain: if you have time, you are curious and can make the other person at ease, questions will take you miles into the conversation. You'll learn, and the other person will be pleased... (read more)

However, I also agree with JoshuaZ: inane subjects are a problem. One should not fake curiosity, and all subjects are not equally interesting. If the person only talks about something you don't give a damn, faking interest wastes time and poisons your soul.


a. learn in the meta level (observe the dynamics of the conversation, or try to figure out his/her behavior);

I recast the problem with solution 'a'.

Instead of faking interest in a boring topic, what I am doing is being genuinely interested in the person talking about that topic. From that view, every question I ask in such a conversation is not to learn about the topic itself, but the person who's talking about it. What's their mental process for examining the situation? Why do they find it interesting? How much does it affect their thoughts on other subjects? Do they have life rules that can be gleaned from 'common wisdom' in their area of interest? It's all part of my goal for such events: enjoy the person's company, and try to get them to enjoy mine, by understanding who they really are.

Over a long period of time, this has helped to normalize my social interactions. That is, I can appear normal when I want to.

I'll put in a plug for Toastmasters, which is a global organization which can help introverted people become less so. There is likely a nearby meeting or two you can find at It's low-cost, and you can usually visit for free to see if it's something you would like.

Briefly, it affords you the opportunity to give 5-minute speeches in front of a group in a supportive atmosphere. There are also shorter or longer speaking opportunities during the meeting, which often runs 1 hour.

First, that I need to generate cached thoughts in more subjects than I currently have.

I do this by running conversations with other people in my head. (Of course, this wasn't my conscious intent, but it probably does make me a better conversationalist.) In general, I'm far more conscious of signaling considerations during my head-conversations, and they frequently feature me being far more bold, frank, and controversial than I would be in normal everyday speech. Also, I typically imagine myself conversing with people I perceive as being less intelligent than me that I'd like to impress.

I don't have this problem at all. I have much more the opposite problem, interacting with people who have zero interest in any interesting discussions but want to talk about inane subjects. No, I don't want to hear about what celebrity is cheating with whom. No, conversations should not also be repetition of some TV show you found funny. Etc. Etc. My general solution (which isn't a good one) is to just try to avoid the people who aren't willing to have interesting conversation topics.

Edit: I should add that there are some complicating factors. I try to d... (read more)

I challenge you to define them, and will donate $10 to a charity of your choice if your definition gets a karma score of at least 3 points.

No cheating by naming your charity before you reach the target, or by sock-puppeting.

You should also specify a time-limit since the entry is posted since there's no length of time beyond which comments can't be voted up. Edit: You should also probably specify that I can't ask anyone to vote up the definition (and you should similarly specify that I can't promise any specific activity on my part if it does get upvoted beyond a certain point).. And you should specify that I can't put them in a post that has other information other than the definitions (and thus cause upvotes that aren't connected).
Let's just say I trust you to outhink yourself... I'll give you two weeks and change to gain the karma -- deadline is Noon GMT, June 28th, 2010.
Ok, then. Here's my attempt. Intrinsically interesting topics are topics which satisfy the following criteria: 1) The topic cannot be discussed by an adult human of average intelligence without putting in some cognitive effort and attention. (If you can be busy thinking about another topic while discussing it, then it probably isn't intrinsically interesting). If the topic cannot be discussed by a human of average intelligence then this condition is considered to be met. 2) The topic must have objective aspects which are a primary aspect of the topic. 3) The topic must have some overarching theories to connect the topic or have the possibility of overarching theories explain the topic. Thus for example, celebrity divorces would not fall into this category because they are separate unconnected data points. But differing divorces rates in different income brackets would be ok because one could potentially have interesting sociological explanations for the data. 4) The topic must have bridges to many other topics that aren't simply a variation of the topic itself. For example, AI bridges to programming, psychology, nature of human morality, evolution, neurobiology, and epistemology. In contrast, D&D rules don't connect to other topics in any strong way. There are some minimally interesting probability questions that you can ask if you are writing a quiz for an undergraduate probability course but that's about it. Most of the other topics that it is connected to are still variations of the same topic such as say what a society would look like in a universe that functioned under standard 3.5 D&D rules.

In contrast, D&D rules don't connect to other topics in any strong way.

I doubt that. Before I had finished the paragraph, things that came to mind included board games, what underlying skills transfer between different board games and RPGs (from empirical evidence, they exists and are large), what the appeal of roleplaying a fictional character it is, which different desires roleplaying versus powergaming satisfy, what makes a character attractive to roleplay, what makes a roleplay performance fun, what makes a D&D setting enticing, how to create an enticing D&D setting, whether the most fun is had when the DM does a good job of almost killing the characters (as someone told me), and more. These, of course, give hooks to combinatorial game theory, personality, improv acting, fiction writing, and fun theory. With the possible exception of personality (though it's a small leap to MUDs and the Bartle 4, so probably not an exception), all of these play quite important roles in D&D.

I suppose I'm muddying it a bit since some of those things are connected to D&D but not directly to D&D rules, though your original post simply mentioned D&D.

Knowledge is connected enough that I'd be quite impressed if anyone could find (or, heck, invent) a topic which fails criterion 4.

Even D&D rules connect to the general problem of creating games which are understandable and playable and the problem of creating reasonable facsimiles of reality - these contrast in an interesting way with the scientific problem of creating computationally-tractable models which predict reality, for example.
Do you exclude D&D content from "D&D rules"? I'd agree that, say, attack of opportunity intricacies don't connect well to anything; but something like how D&D handles werecreatures could connect to all kinds of other stuff in fantasy lit.
When I said rules I was thinking something very narrow like the actual content of the 3.5 SRD which is more or less flavorless. Your point seems to be related to Darmani's criticism about the fourth criterion. This suggests that my criteria for intrinsically interesting as laid out above are serious flawed at least in so far as they fail to capture my intuition for what is intrinsically interesting in that D&D rules shouldn't be considered intrinsically interesting for reasons similar to why the infield fly rule in baseball isn't intrinsically interesting. This conversation makes me suspect that the distinction I am trying to make has no actual validity.
The key, I think, is to distinguish between topics that remind you of other topics, and topics that, upon being comprehended, actually help you understand other topics. D&D rules remind you of D&D content, which helps you understand fantasy literature. D&D rules, by themselves, though, don't help you understand much of anything else. Likewise, baseball helps me understand antitrust law enforcement, because baseball has a Congressional exemption to antitrust laws. The exemption has virtually nothing to do with the infield fly rule, though. The infield fly rule reminds me of baseball, but by itself it sheds no light on antitrust law enforcement.
* The influence of Charisma on social discourse, and things like intimidation and bluffing. * The role of strength vs dexterity, the difference between 'intelligence' and 'wisdom'. * Most natural traits, including brain makeup personality and body type are determined by genetics but some small changes can be made over time. * When it comes to performance of skills natural talent plays some part but the overwhelming majority of influence comes from which skills you learn. * Sometimes things boil down to shere dumb luck. All you can do is make the best decisions you can under uncertainty, don't take it personally when something improbably bad happens but also minimize the expected consequences if you roll a zero. * Most things boil down to the judgement of the guy in charge. (It's not what you know, it is who you know, and whether you are sleeping with the GM.) * It is really hard to do stuff when it is dark. * The best way to improve your social skills is to go around killing lots of people and apply what you learn from that to diplomacy, bluff and intimidate...
All right, time to beat a strategic retreat. I'm going to stop defending my thesis that JoshuaZ's definition is rigorous.
:) I haven't followed the conversation closely so I don't have a firm opinion on that. Looking back... I would accept it as a useful definition up to and including the first two sentences of "4". I would replace the remainder with an acknowledgment that what qualifies as an inferential 'bridge' to another topic and even what qualifies as a topic proper is subject. I, for example, read the counter example and it prompted all sorts of curious and potentially fascinating subjects and even prompted pleasant memories of numerous conversations I have had that have been connected using basic probability as a stepping stone.
Even if the evolution of the infield fly rule has been used as an example of how common law naturally forms? No, I'm not making that up. Not anti-trust law, but still pretty close to legal matters.
It seems like your rules 2) and 3) would disqualify literature as an interesting topic.
Right, but we're looking for flaws with his criteria.
Thanks! Feel free to name your charity whenever you like.
Ok. Thought about this. The standard charity here seems to be the SIAI. I'm not convinced of Eliezer's estimates for expected return for donations to SIAI (primarily because I put the probability of a Singularity in the foreseeable future to be low). Moreover, if everyone always has donations to SIAI be the result of all LW bets and contests, the level of incentive to bet will go down and so one should try to have a variety of charities that people will not mind but might not be the highest priority charity for many people here. But, I'd also like to ensure that I don't cause negative utility to you by making you donate to an organization with which you don't approve. So, my solution is I'm going to list four organizations and you can choose which of the four the donation goes to: The four are the James Randi Educational Foundation, the National Center for Science Education, Alcor Life Extension Foundation, or the SENS Foundation. And I'll match your earlier offer as follows: If you make a post here explaining why you choose the one you did and that post gets at least three karma upvotes by 12 AM GMT on July 1st, I'll also donate $10 to that organization. (And presumably the same rules against obvious silliness apply as before).
I choose the SENS Foundation, and have donated the $10 via Paypal. The transaction ID is #8YL863192L9547414, although I'm not sure how or whether that helps you verify payment. Maybe somebody can teach me how to provide public proof of private payment. The SENS Foundation, as I understand it, is in the business of curing aging. The reason why I chose the SENS Foundation is that I believe that, of the four options, it will do the most to convince people that rational thinking and empirical observation are worthwhile. This, in turn, is my best guess at what will reduce existential risk. Because I can't know, today, with any confidence what the most important existential risks will be over the next 50 years or so, I want my donations to nudge the world closer to a state where there are enough rational empiricists to successfully address whatever turn out to be the big existential crises. Why do I think the SENS Foundation will promote science-y views? Basically, I think the most effective technique for getting irrational people to change their worldview is to prevent them with overwhelmingly compelling evidence that the world is hugely different from the way they imagined it to be. Ideally, the evidence would be emotionally uplifting and clearly attributable to the work of scientists. A manned flight to the Moon fits that bill. So would a cure for aging. Although spiritualists and fundamentalists of all stripes have tremendous resources in terms of stubbornness, denial, and rationalization, it is harder to rationalize away a central fact of life than it is to rationalize away a peer-reviewed study from Nature that you read an excerpt of in the USA Today. You see the moon every night; people went there. It's hard to escape. More to the point, you don't want to escape. It's somehow really cool to believe that people can fly to the moon. So you maybe let go of your suspicion that the Earth is the center of the Universe and let your friend tell you about Newton and Gal
Ok. Matched donation.. Receipt ID is 4511-9941-6738-9681 Incidentally, I'm not convinced that major scientific accomplishments actually will serve to increase rationality. To examine the example you gave of the Moon landings, there is in fact a sizable fraction of the US which considers that to be a hoax. Depending on the exact question asked 5% to about 20% of the population doesn't believe we that people have gone to the Moon in the US, and the percentage is larger for people outside the US.See this Gallup poll and this British poll showing that 25% of people in Britain doubt that we went to the moon. Unfortunately, that article just summarizes the poll and I can't seem to find free access to the poll itself. But it also contains the noteworthy remark that "Further revelations concerning the British public’s perception of the historic event include 11 per cent who believe the Moon-landing occurred during the 1980s and 1 per cent who believe the first man on the Moon was Buzz Lightyear." I suspect the 1 per cent can get thrown out, but the 11% looks genuine. Americans at least cared more about rationality, critical thinking and science when it looked like they were losing the space race after Sputnik. A lot of improvements to our high school curricula occurred after that. It isn't obvious to me that SENS will do the best job improving rationality.
I mean, if you want, we could switch our donations to fund a program that makes sure the Russians discover a cure for aging... OK, but that's the wrong statistic. What percent of the U.S. population insists that the Earth is flat and/or the center of the Universe? How does that compare to the percent of the U.S. population that insists that the Earth is less than 10,000 years old? Perhaps not directly, in the sense I originally claimed. Nevertheless, major scientific accomplishments should help solve the problem of expecting short inferential distances. If you have just flown to the moon or cured aging, even people who expect short inferential distances will not assume you are crazy when you boldly assert things that don't immediately seem intuitive. They will give you a moment to explain, which is what I really want to happen when, e.g., scientists are proposing solutions to the existential crisis du jour.
Well, around 40% of the US thinks the Earth is less than 10,000 years old. But you seem to have a valid point, in that the fraction of the US population which believed in geocentrism dropped drastically in the 1960s and the same for the flat earth percentage which dropped from tiny to negligible. But that seems directly connected to what was actively accomplished in the Moon landings. Young Earth Creationism by contrast was not very popular from 1900 to 1960 or so (even William Jennings Bryan was an old earth Creationist). That made a comeback in the 1960s starting when Henry Morris wrote "The Genesis Flood" in 1961, and that continued to pick up speed through the Moon landings (this incidentally undermines my earlier argument about Sputnik). Are you sure that they will be more willing to listen to long inferential distance claims? I suspect that people may be more likely to simply take something for granted and add that to their worldview. I don't for example see the common presence of computers or other complicated technologies as substantially increasing the inferential distance people are willing to tolerate. This leads to an interesting idea: improve science and rationality in one area by helping funding science for rivals. I wonder if that would work...
Part of that change could perhaps be attributed to the waning effectiveness of hiding behind 'old earth' as a way to keep on side with 'science'. Once the option of alliance with 'science' lost viability the natural approach is stake the in group identity as being opposed to any attempts whatsoever to conform historic beliefs to actual evidence. If you can't have an image of 'sane' then you go for an image of 'confident and uncompromising' - it is usually more attractive anyway.
I had an idea I call the "evil genius theory" that goes something like this: challenge can produce growth and strength; great challenge, on the verge of existential, can produce tremendous amounts of growth in short periods of time; therefore, fund an evil genius to do great and terrible things, and the challenge / response will better the world on net. It feels very plausible to me.
Part of that change could perhaps be attributed to the waning effectiveness of hiding behind 'old earth' as a way to keep on side with 'science'. Once the option of alliance with 'science' lost viability the natural approach is stake the in group identity as being opposed to any attempts whatsoever to conform historic beliefs to actual evidence. If you can't have an image of 'sane' then you go for an image of 'confident and uncompromising' - it is usually more attractive anyway.
This needs to be tested for predictive power, but I believe the main reason you lost so quickly is that you bet money against another form of utility with no direct convertability. Having equally fungible forfeits on both sides of the bet makes it more symmetrical. To venture into fuzzier grounds: The other reason I believe the asymmetry of the bet made you lose so quickly is that the average LWer can predict with high confidence that JoshuaZ will choose one of their top 5 charities.
A decent analysis, but it's premised on a bad assumption. I didn't bet; I issued a challenge. Notice that, unlike in a bet, if JoshuaZ failed, he would not necessarily have forfeited karma to me or anyone else. I certainly agree with you that it would be foolish to bet money against karma. I see my actions more as offering a prize for the successful completion of a task than as betting that JoshuaZ would be unable to complete the task. Sure, but they're still unlikely to vote up a bullshit post. Maybe that gives JoshuaZ a moderate handicap, but my primary purpose was to inspire JoshuaZ to produce a useful analysis that interested me, and not to inspire the LW crowd to precisely assess the worth of that analysis. I suppose in the future I might set a slightly higher threshold -- maybe 7 or 8 karma points.
Having read JoshuaZ's previous contributions to the conversation, and having read the challenge, I was pretty much intending to vote up his response as long as it wasn't completely inane (it had already crossed the threshold when I read it, so I didn't bother). I wonder if any of the (presumably three) people who did upvote it before it crossed the threshold had similar thought processes...?
I'm one of the people who upvoted it, and I think I had a similar thought process. I wasn't movitated by a belief that JoshuaZ would choose a charity I liked, though. I just read his post and thought his attempted definition was a good try, and (more importantly) that it was an interesting clarification that would provoke good discussion.
My analysis assumes that any challenge like that is a bet of money against some social value; if there were no utility on one side the challenge would not be taken up; if there were no utility on the other side the challenge would not be offered.
I'm sorry; I don't understand. There is, as you say, utility on both sides of the transaction. What does that have to with whether a bet has been placed?
Is it a challenge, or a bet? I'm just saying that examining it as a bet offers some insight into the unexpectedly lopsided results.

What's your experience with the process? Does it actually helps you to have better conversation or is the argument mainly that it should help?

I mentioned a few comments below that I have experience with this method. It works. What I've worked on is specifically rehearsing the transitions between topics, and you can even practice this with a friend who pretends to be a stranger. Role playing is actually fantastic for acquiring conversation skill, and both of you benefit. **I don't want to re-start the argument from last night, so I want to say that this method is only helpful if you're trying to get from small talk to meaningful conversation, not trying to break the ice in the first place.
It seems like it should help, but I haven't had a chance to test it out yet.

I find that meta-conversation can make a good default for small talk in the absence of inspiration to talk about anything else in particular, but that has the disadvantage of seeming a bit strange when talking to people you do not know very well, which is the situation in which the problem is most likely to arise in the first place.

I use this as a fun test. people who don't find meta analysis fun aren't the kind of people I get along with anyway, so I'm just saving time.
Meta-conversation works as a default if and only if both (all) parties to the conversation want to be talking. It doesn't help if you're trying to have a conversation with someone who you just walked up to or whatever.
Meta-conversations are my favorite kind of small talk, but >50% of people have never had a meta-conversation, at least not ones like like we have here.

I have the same problem also and it sounds like this will help. Thank you.


Kaj, this seems like a valuable approach (and it's a pity I didn't get to chat with you - RPG design has been on the forefront of my thoughts lately, and I inevitably think of the Kalevala (and fabbing and ip law by extension) when I go to a LW meetup, as Michael Vassar is the only other person I've met who has any familiarity with it!)

I've done this before with high success at general social events. However, I find myself doing it wrong sometimes, and LW meetups are one of the best examples of why: assuming other people have limited interests. Because the... (read more)

Good post. One little editorial comment:

(If that isn't showing properly, use this direct link to the picture.)

The picture's showing OK here, but it's a little wide so the very right hand edge of it is cut off by the sidebar.

Made the picture a bit smaller.
A png version would look a lot better. Did you use pajek to make it?
StarUML. Which was probably a pretty bad tool for it, but it was what I had installed.
So the nice thing about pajek, and some other network displaying software, is that you can use algorithms that will attempt display things that are closely related to each other closer together. If I were going to produce your graphic I would: 1. Get the graph in memory some how, for one this size I would just set up some hash maps in irb 2. Write a text file where each line consists of two nodes that are connected seperated by a tab. 3. Use the software here: to get a pajek file 4. Open it in pajek and preform a physics based layout algorithim 5. Export to png It's pretty cool what you can get out form this (I made this: Network of bhtv coversations) and there's a lot to be gained by checked out what ends up near the center etc. Let me know if you have any questions. I'd be glad to help.
Oh, that sounds great. Thank you - I've actually been looking for something like that for a while now.
Looks good.

I think you are thinking about this the wrong way. Coming into a social situation with a prepared set of ideas to cover is something a preacher does. Doesn't mean it doesn't have its place for certain situations, but it is not the way to approach having a conversation.

Good conversations are a complicated interaction between people. If you want to have a good one with someone, you need to hold their interest as well as your own. To extend a ridiculous metaphor a little further, cache misses in this context with cost you a bit more than a few hundred cycles,... (read more)

I think you're misinterpreting my post somehow. I'm not saying you should have a ready list of ideas to convince other people of. I'm saying you should be prepared to have something to say about a lot of things, and be able to shift topics until you find a subject the other person also has an interest in. Of course, if the other person is capable and willing to do that, that's fine as well, but not everyone is. You'll miss out on a lot of interesting discussions if you're not capable of doing your own part.
Don't know if I did, but I think this caching notion is a bad way to look at it. However, to inject a positive note, thinking about the connections between your interests is a fruitful activity that has value far beyond pre planning conversations.
Could you elaborate a bit more on why you think so?
To insert myself into your conversation: One feels that the idea of caching component parts of conversations for use and re-use somewhat misses the point of a conversation in the first place. A conversation is a two-way interaction between real people. It's not a mechanical process, nor a debate, nor is it simply transfer of information. Human interaction isn't just about sharing ideas, it's about making a connection on a personal level. If human conversation was as it is presented here, autistic people would not have so much trouble understanding normal human interaction. They could simply "follow the script", as it were. Having a conversation with someone following this method would, I suspect, feel rather unnatural and stilted - almost like a charade.
Sure. You are having to cache each thought with certain assumptions in mind (e.g. group of people that like the singularity, people that tolerate talking about the possibility of computers, people that take fantasy seriously, a person that doesn't seem interested in any of the things that the aforementioned might). If we try to think about these assumptions as variables, attempting to cache for a future conversations quickly leads to combinatoric explosion leaving you with an impossible number of things to think about before. This forces you to consider a small number of cases that may well do more harm then good. I also don't like cache here because of how static in implies the ideas are. Conversation, and quality thinking, are dynamic and deserve to be let evolve on their own.
Not to be humourless, but I wonder if this could be rephrased to something a little more neutral.
Done. I didn't mean to imply that none of the others mentioned were attractive, but I understand the concern. Thanks for the heads up.

Great, now I have several more things to add to my to-do list. Though I guess the proper place for this is what "Getting Things Done" calls the "someday maybe" list...


  • Create one of these conversation maps for myself.

  • Check if there is any way to integrate this with the tag and script system I was already planning to create for my own personal journal/blog/wiki. Even just some clickable links to relevant wikipages would be useful.

  • Consider adding to the graph a list of unresolved questions in each topic, or interesting insights

... (read more)

Perhaps the mapping method could benefit from some refinement.

You, Kaj, acknowledge that some of these posts may be controversial. This is a good start, but from my experience there is a portion of the population that finds even discussion of personal information unpleasant. The beginning of a fresh relationship is about creating a safe conversational space. Assessing the listener's reaction to your communication. If you truly mean to map future conversations, then a guided walk with specific branch points based on listener attitudes may be helpful.

Howe... (read more)

As Dale Carnegie says: Ask questions and get the other person talking. People love to talk and so the great conversationalist is really the great polite inquisitioner and listener.