hamnox's Shortform

by hamnox25th Aug 201910 comments
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I went to some martial arts class, jiu jitsu, and before they taught me anything else they taught me how to break falls safely. Same with parkour class. You're going to fall, they said. You need a way to catch yourself without fucking up your arms or back. It's not just as mistakes when you're learning a new move, either, though it will certainly happen more often then. You're throwing yourself all over the place, tripping each other; you're going to hit the ground at momentum. You need to know how to handle yourself when that happens, how to roll with it and get up right after safe and sound. Every class, the first thing we do is drill break falls.

I don't think The Art of Rationality has that.

Yes we notice the skulls. It seems like I see a new treatise pointing out the valley of bad rationality every few months. And yet...

  • When you share what you know, do you share safety skills and warnings with it?
  • Do you have a sense of how likely are you to injure yourself in your practice?
  • What specific actions do you take when you notice you're taking epistemic damage?
  • How strong are your skills in harm-minimization? Do you have it down to ingrained reaction or habit?
  • Do you practice locating individual personal abilities + limits with the distribution of expected human traits as a guide, or are you fitting your strategies to a population-level statistic?

I have some ideas.

I wanna hear yours.

[-][anonymous]1y 12

I think we most certainly do. A lot of the early posts by Eliezer contain such warnings, justifiably so if you look at the comments sections of those early Overcoming Bias articles. There are a lot of warnings against using what you’ve learned as a fully general excuse in argumentation, for example.

To continue with the martial arts analogy, which is apt, people who have read the sequences and share that background knowledge are black belt rationalists. Now the black belt isn’t an award for mastery, it is an indication to the other practice partners in training that you have enough background that the gloves can come off without risk of hurting yourself. It’s when the real training begins.

LessWrong, today, is a club for black belt rationalists. We don’t need warnings and disclaimers because there is an assumed level of competence. But to someone new? We point them to the sequences and ask them to come back after they’ve absorbed that. Without that background we would absolutely need more warnings and liability waivers.

Edit: I should probably mention that I don't think rationality like martial arts by analogy. Rather, rationality IS a martial art. They're both training the neural nets inside our brains to take action based on evidence available with an intent to win. There's a reason Eliezer often quotes Miyamoto Musashi. The only thing that is different is what that "winning" represents, combat vs. life in general. There's a lot that one can learn by cross-training in both arts. I was very fortunate that my instructor in the martial arts was himself an accomplished rationalist. We talked as much about heuristics and biases as we did muscles and pressure points.

Rationality 010 Meetup (Jester's Court) Principles:

  • The zeroth skill is being able to notice evidence at all
  • The point of learning is not to come to the same conclusion as the teacher: the bottom line is not yet written.
  • Make room for private reasoning, practice non-confrontational forms of dissent, and preserve freedom to self-direct.
  • Iff it passes muster, pass it on

Prompts/Exercises:

  • Name a trivial promise you could make to someone here, yourself even. Can you make it even simpler?
  • How long can the group maintain a conversation made of only nods, head-shakes, finger-pointing, and raised eyebrows?
  • Pick a small 30s task. Imagine it vividly, start to finish, with lots of sensory detail. Then do it. Was it like you imagined? Repeat the task. Was it the same?
  • Exercise (If there's enough time and focus for it, try the whole Core Transformation sequence)
  1. Pick an aspect / thought / behavior you don't like.
  2. Recall an instance of when it came up, and where in your body it seemed to reside.
  3. Assume it has a positive intent for you, and thank it as you would a well-meaning but mistaken friend.
  4. Ask what outcome it's trying to achieve.
  5. Thank it for what answer it can give.
  6. If you can honestly promise to give that outcome-goal serious consideration next time this aspect comes up, then do so. If you can't, then DON'T.
  • Pick a partner and lead them (or together, teach a rubber duck) through one of the previous exercises you thought was good. Get feedback on one thing you did well, and one thing you can do differently to improve. Try it again with that in mind.
    • Bonus points if you record it so you can see your own presentation style
    • Alternative: notice how they do the exercise differently than you, try to improve your model of the person, the exercise, their engagement.
  • Practice: One person says some things that are factually incorrect, predicated on bad reasoning, or harm-promoting. Everyone takes a turn expressing their lack of endorsement and/or intent to sit out of the activity.
    • (Sharks are smooth every which way! Contingency plans are important because anything could happen in a quantum universe! We should all go visit so-and-so-with-the-flu's house to cheer them up!)
  • EDIT: continued from where I left off
  • If we all agree to chip $5 to anyone who could make effective use of it, we could have a pool of up to $5*n to spend on achieving our shared goals. How would you propose using it?
    • If you can manage anonymous approval voting, tally up how much money each proposal'd actually wind up with.
  • Brainstorm some small things you don't know how to do, or don't know how to do as well as you'd like. Which of them could you actually commit to pay for resources/lessons/tutoring in if the opportunity presented itself?
  • Given you are made of physics and chemistry, what properties of your chemical machine might you want to know?
  • Given that you are made of natural selection and memetics and reinforcement learning, what properties of your algorithm might you want to know?
  • Given that you are made of fluid plumbing and electrical networks, what properties of your logistics systems might you want to know?
  • Have you ever had one good tip put you at a surprisingly major advantage?
  • When have you felt good about giving a gift? When have you not?
  • If there miraculously existed one fast and easy action that could solve your recent problem, what would it look like?
  • Think about the last time someone you knew (yourself, even) seemed in need of support or help. Brainstorm ideas for specific, concrete actions you could take to try to contribute to their wellbeing. Vividly imagine being in that kind of situation again, having since become the kind of person for whom implementing one of them is straightforward and easy, and just doing it. Do it a few times, with your memory as comparison
    • common - grieving, sick, stressed, anxious, melancholy, depressed, bored

I'm interested in whether people can guess what the objectives behind these are, especially if they guess before reading other comments.

(Revised)

Rationality 010 Meetup (Jester's Court)

Practice your skills at thinking clearly and acting effectively, as both individuals and in groups, with a grab bag of short exercises and structured discussion. The specific exercises will be posted to the event.

Principles:

What to expect

  • Sit in a circle, and make introductions.
  • Set 2 minute timer to think about "What's your working understanding of the skills you can train here?" and "What is the most important outcome you could accomplish with this time?". If you have a hard time coming up with anything, draw from the "role" cards in the center of the table.
  • With a short thinking timer, consider
  1. what is your intent coming into this meetup?
  2. what is the most important thing you could accomplish in this time
  • In the center of the table there should be a number of "role" cards. If you aren't getting useful ideas from the previous prompt, take one: it should present an objective for the meetup you could try to achieve.
  • With another thinking timer, consider what immediate actions you can take to accomplish the goal or increase the likelihood of the best outcome, and choose one.
  • Set a timer for 5 minutes for everyone to try their action. To make it absolutely clear: if you realized in the previous steps that the most important thing you can do with your time is something other than stick around for the meetup, now is the time to go do that instead. Some examples of actions: Get a drink or snack. Rearrange some pillows to get comfortable. Get a task you're anxious about out of the way. Send an email. Put your phone on do-not-disturb. Ask around for advice. Do a brainstorm. Grab a ukelele out of the car. Look up an article.
  • Go around the circle, let anyone who wants to share their intentions and/or how the 5 minutes went.
  • Then proceed with a grab-bag of discussion prompts and short activities. Participation is always at-will, anyone is free to jump in or out for whatever reason.
  • Check-in form
  • Wrap up

Roles

- Scribe: Write down the important stuff.
- Strategist: Steer the court towards real problems, and making specific, concrete commitments.
- Social Butterfly: Get to know people and catch up on the latest happenings.
- Contrarian: Forge your own path instead of following the crowd.
- Leader: Be the first to volunteer, and encourage others to join in.
- Guru: Seek the spirit of the exercise. Help others when they struggle.
- Clown: Make 'em smile and laugh.
- Trickster: Advocate for terrible ideas, cause mischief.
- Captain Obvious: Restate the obvious, conspicuously misunderstand the subtle.
- Apprentice: Pay attention to how the organizer runs the exercises, and how different people interact with the instruction.
- Champion: Do it better. Do it the best.

EA roles:

- Givewell: Let no claim stand without a solid evidence base, no action without transparency.
- The Pledge: Affirm shared commitment first, work out implementation details second.
- Hits-based: Try small tests of concept and high-leverage opportunities.
- Empath: Find the human element behind abstract statistics: names, faces, backstories.
- Socrates: Ask questions which help someone refine their thoughts.
- Clippy: Numbers are good, find a number and make it go up.
- Futurist: Look for the trends and turning points.
- Realist: Why are things the way they are now?

Mood setters

  1. Name a trivial promise you could make to someone here, yourself even. Can you make it even simpler?
  2. Play the observation game: Select a random object. The person holding an object says something they notice about the object, and optionally shares an inference they might make based on that observation, then passes it to the next person in the circle. Continue for a set time or until everyone runs out of observations to add.
  3. How long can the group maintain a conversation made of only nods, head-shakes, finger-pointing, and raised eyebrows?

Topics

  1. Given you are made of _, what properties of your chemical machine might you want to know? Do you know them? (physics, chemistry, natural selection, biology, memetics, learning algorithm, fluid plumbing, electrical networks, logistics)
  2. Have you ever had one good tip about random_word help you to a surprisingly substantial degree?
  3. When have you felt good about giving a gift? When have you not?
  4. If there miraculously existed one fast and easy action that could solve your recent problem, what would it look like?
  5. Brainstorm some small things you don't know how to do, or don't know how to do as well as you'd like. Which of them would you actually commit to pay for resources/lessons/tutoring in, provided the opportunity presented itself?
  6. When have you felt good about giving a gift? When have you not?
  7. If there miraculously existed one fast and easy action that could solve your recent problem, what would it look like?

Challenges

  1. Pick a small 30s task. Imagine it vividly, start to finish. Check that you are including lots of sensory detail: things you'd see, hear, touch, smell, taste, feel internally, etc.. Then do it. Was it like you imagined? Repeat the task. Was it the same?
  2. Exercise (If there's enough time and focus for it, try the whole Core Transformation sequence)
    • Pick an aspect / thought / behavior you don't like.... Recall an instance of when it came up, and where in your body it seemed to reside.... Assume it has a positive intent for you, and thank it as you would a well-meaning but mistaken friend.... Ask what outcome it's trying to achieve.... Thank it for what answer it can give.... If you can honestly promise to give that outcome-goal serious consideration next time this aspect comes up, then do so. If you can't, then DON'T.
  3. Pick a partner and lead them (or together, teach a rubber duck) through one of the previous exercises you thought was good. Get feedback on one thing you did well, and one thing you can do differently to improve. Try it again with that in mind. Bonus points if you record it so you can see your own presentation style.
    • Alternative: notice how they do the exercise differently than you, try to improve your model of the person, the exercise, their engagement.
  4. Practice: One person says some things that are factually incorrect, predicated on bad reasoning, or harm-promoting. Everyone takes a turn expressing their lack of endorsement and/or intent to sit out of the activity. You lose by causing the group to get side-tracked by the disagreement.
  5. If we all agree to chip $5 to anyone who could make effective use of it, we could have a pool of up to $5*n to spend on achieving our shared goals. How would you propose using it? (If you can manage anonymous approval voting, tally up how much money each proposal'd actually wind up with.)
  6. Think about the last time someone you knew (yourself, even) seemed in need of support or help. Brainstorm ideas for specific, concrete actions you could take to try to contribute to their wellbeing. Vividly imagine being in that kind of situation again, having since become the kind of person for whom implementing one of them is straightforward and easy, and just doing it. Do it a few times, with your memory as comparison
    • common - grieving, sick, stressed, anxious, melancholy, depressed, bored
  7. "Project Eggplant": an area where your thinking is not quite legible enough to share, or a problem that involves lots of private details, or a train of thought that involving other people risks distorting. Consider how much of your life this problem has an impact on, and how severe. Share with the group that you've got a Project Eggplant, if you do. Further details are completely optional.

I have a personal calendar system. I use it in my planning. Today, for example, I think of as M2 Ω6 and the third day of Joy.

My calendar year begins on Summer solstice. It is 10 "decimos" long. Each Decimo is split into 3 "trieks", of 12 days each, for a total of 36 days per decimo. (With 5-6 extra festival days at the end of the year to pad the solstice alignment)

Why? Why go to the trouble of inventing and then using my own calendar?

Partly for regularity. I like having weeks and months that can be cleanly divided multiple ways, so there are more bases for regularly repeating habits. Every quarter of a triek, for example, gets its own ritual theme. That's certainly why I made my calendar that way but it's not why I made a calendar.

My original inspiration was noticing this statement made during the LW dialogues on Slack:

One more useful attribute of the Jewish Sabbath is the extent to which its rigid rules generate friction in emergency situations. If powerful and pervasive cultural forces are out to get you, you ought to check in from time to time ... to give yourself a chance to notice whether you have gotten got for too much. (Hoffman)[http://benjaminrosshoffman.com/sabbath-hard-and-go-home/] (Note: The sentences are not in that order in the original source)

A classic work schedule does not line up nicely with trieks and decimos. I can learn to keep track of how the weekdays shift over a series of trieks, but it's not without effort. A different calendar makes sure that I have to think about whether the rhythm of my life lines up with society's, and furthermore whether it should. I'm doing it because it's hard.

I'll need that kind of slack in my ability to choose norms, for what I want to do

This is cool.

How long have you been using this? Do you categorize for instance internal memories this way? Do you naturally find yourself telling people that you'll be free in two trieks?

I have been using this for almost 2 years

I have always sucked at categorizing internal memories by date, and I still do with the new system. What has improved is--if I know what date it is now and when my last notable date then was my mental handle on the time that passed feels like a discrete quantity of days rather than a nebulous "in the before time".

I do not tell people that I'll be free in two trieks time because no one knows what that means. I have been thinking stuff like "Next decimo is gonna be hella busy" and "which quarter of the triek does it makes sense to schedule this in?"

Epistemic status: don't know enough in this domain to tell if I'm being stupid, so probably I am

There are a few ideas I keep coming back to when thinking about what legal system my April Fool's alt-world of rationalists would have. One is The Stand On Your Own Two Feet Clause (alternatively I might call it the paleo exemption)

You can achieve massive improvements in safety and equality through industry regulation. Industry scales; change the industry and the effects scale with it. You probably know that trouble comes when industry influences the shape of regulation to benefit themselves at the cost of potential competitors. But while everyone's keeping a hawk's eye on budding monopolies, there's a worse issue that could creep up on you.

What if it's not just the market being captured? What is an individual supposed to do when solving their problems on their own initiative becomes legally or practically unfeasible?

Regulations should not apply to an individual doing things for themselves, by themselves or with some basic assistance.

Maybe that seems redundant. For the most part, government imposed standards don't usually apply to personal and non-commercial use cases anyways. You don't fine the old lady down the road for giving away pies without a food handler's permit. It's simply not practical to enforce on the small scale.

Can you build a simple hut to live in with your own two hands, or do you effectively have to hire a specialist to build something to code? Can you in fact make your own medication, if you have access to raw ingredients and a simple enough recipe, or do you have to get it from a pre-approved lab? Can you do medical procedures to yourself? Can you legally represent yourself?

These may not be good plans, and you'd still liable to causing harm to other people through negligence or illegally dumping contaminants into the air/water/soil, but I really think having the option to self-determine outside of the market matters. A lot. And I think it needs more protection than I'm aware of it having.

I could discuss everything within a few very concrete examples. A concrete example tends to create a working understanding in a way mathematical abstraction fails to. I want to give my readers real knowledge, so I do often insist on describing concepts in the world without numbers or equations or proofs.

However, math exists for a reason.

Some patterns generalize so strongly that you simply cannot communicate the breadth of its applications in concrete examples. You have to describe the shape of it by constraint. To do otherwise would render it a handful of independent parlor tricks instead of one sharp and heavy blade.

Epistemic status: wishful thinking

Imagine for a moment, a nomadic tribe

They travel to where the need is great, or by opportunity. They are globalists, able to dive into bubbles but always grokking its existence in context of the wider world. They find what needs doing and do it.

They speak their own strange dialect that cuts to the heart of things. They follow their own customs, which seamlessly flex and adapt to incorporate effective local practices. Change, even drastic change, is a natural part of their culture. They seek to see. They do not hide their young and hold, their blood and shit, their queer and deplorable. You don't taboo human reality.

Wherever they momentarily settle, they strive to leave better than they found. Some of what needs doing wherever they go is providing for their own, of course. They are always prepared to keep infrastructure independent of their neighbors, but only exercise that option when it is efficient. They grok the worth of scale and industry, knowing the alternative. In the same vein, they seek to render aid primarily in ways that promote robust self-reliance rather than create reliance. 'Leave no trace' is the lowest bar to clear.

I wish...