The Buddhists believe that one of the three keys to attaining true happiness is dissolving the illusion of the self. (The other two are dissolving the illusion of permanence, and ceasing the desire that leads to suffering.) I'm not really sure exactly what it means to say "the self is an illusion", and I'm not exactly sure how that will lead to enlightenment, but I do think one can easily take the first step on this long journey to happiness by beginning to dissolve the sense of one's identity. 

Previously, in "Keep Your Identity Small", Paul Graham showed how a strong sense of identity can lead to epistemic irrationally, when someone refuses to accept evidence against x because "someone who believes x" is part of his or her identity. And in Kaj Sotala's "The Curse of Identity", he illustrated a human tendency to reinterpret a goal of "do x" as "give the impression of being someone who does x". These are both fantastic posts, and you should read them if you haven't already. 

Here are three more ways in which identity can be a curse.

1. Don't be afraid to change

James March, professor of political science at Stanford University, says that when people make choices, they tend to use one of two basic models of decision making: the consequences model, or the identity model. In the consequences model, we weigh the costs and benefits of our options and make the choice that maximizes our satisfaction. In the identity model, we ask ourselves "What would a person like me do in this situation?"1

The author of the book I read this in didn't seem to take the obvious next step and acknowledge that the consequences model is clearly The Correct Way to Make Decisions and basically by definition, if you're using the identity model and it's giving you a different result then the consequences model would, you're being led astray. A heuristic I like to use is to limit my identity to the "observer" part of my brain, and make my only goal maximizing the amount of happiness and pleasure the observer experiences, and minimizing the amount of misfortune and pain. It sounds obvious when you lay it out in these terms, but let me give an example. 

Alice is a incoming freshman in college trying to choose her major. In Hypothetical University, there are only two majors: English, and business. Alice absolutely adores literature, and thinks business is dreadfully boring. Becoming an English major would allow her to have a career working with something she's passionate about, which is worth 2 megautilons to her, but it would also make her poor (0 mu). Becoming a business major would mean working in a field she is not passionate about (0 mu), but it would also make her rich, which is worth 1 megautilon. So English, with 2 mu, wins out over business, with 1 mu.

However, Alice is very bright, and is the type of person who can adapt herself to many situations and learn skills quickly. If Alice were to spend the first six months of college deeply immersing herself in studying business, she would probably start developing a passion for business. If she purposefully exposed herself to certain pro-business memeplexes (e.g. watched a movie glamorizing the life of Wall Street bankers), then she could speed up this process even further. After a few years of taking business classes, she would probably begin to forget what about English literature was so appealing to her, and be extremely grateful that she made the decision she did. Therefore she would gain the same 2 mu from having a job she is passionate about, along with an additional 1 mu from being rich, meaning that the 3 mu choice of business wins out over the 2 mu choice of English.

However, the possibility of self-modifying to becoming someone who finds English literature boring and business interesting is very disturbing to Alice. She sees it as a betrayal of everything that she is, even though she's actually only been interested in English literature for a few years. Perhaps she thinks of choosing business as "selling out" or "giving in". Therefore she decides to major in English, and takes the 2 mu choice instead of the superior 3 mu.

(Obviously this is a hypothetical example/oversimplification and there are a lot of reasons why it might be rational to pursue a career path that doesn't make very much money.)

It seems to me like human beings have a bizarre tendency to want to keep certain attributes and character traits stagnant, even when doing so provides no advantage, or is actively harmful. In a world where business-passionate people systematically do better than English-passionate people, it makes sense to self-modify to become business-passionate. Yet this is often distasteful.

For example, until a few weeks ago when I started solidifying this thinking pattern, I had an extremely adverse reaction to the idea of ceasing to be a hip-hop fan and becoming a fan of more "sophisticated" musical genres like jazz and classical, eventually coming to look down on the music I currently listen to as primitive or silly. This doesn't really make sense - I'm sure if I were to become a jazz and classical fan I would enjoy those genres at least as much as I currently enjoy hip hop. And yet I had a very strong preference to remain the same, even in the trivial realm of music taste. 

Probably the most extreme example is the common tendency for depressed people to not actually want to get better, because depression has become such a core part of their identity that the idea of becoming a healthy, happy person is disturbing to them. (I used to struggle with this myself, in fact.) Being depressed is probably the most obviously harmful characteristic that someone can have, and yet many people resist self-modification.

Of course, the obvious objection is there's no way to rationally object to people's preferences - if someone truly prioritizes keeping their identity stagnant over not being depressed then there's no way to tell them they're wrong, just like if someone prioritizes paperclips over happiness there's no way to tell them they're wrong. But if you're like me, and you are interested in being happy, then I recommend looking out for this cognitive bias. 

The other objection is that this philosophy leads to extremely unsavory wireheading-esque scenarios if you take it to its logical conclusion. But holding the opposite belief - that it's always more important to keep your characteristics stagnant than to be happy - clearly leads to even more absurd conclusions. So there is probably some point on the spectrum where change is so distasteful that it's not worth a boost in happiness (e.g. a lobotomy or something similar). However, I think that in actual practical pre-Singularity life, most people set this point far, far too low. 

2. The hidden meaning of "be yourself"

(This section is entirely my own speculation, so take it as you will.)

"Be yourself" is probably the most widely-repeated piece of social skills advice despite being pretty clearly useless - if it worked then no one would be socially awkward, because everyone has heard this advice. 

However, there must be some sort of core grain of truth in this statement, or else it wouldn't be so widely repeated. I think that core grain is basically the point I just made, applied to social interaction. I.e, optimize always for social success and positive relationships (particularly in the moment), and not for signalling a certain identity. 

The ostensible purpose of identity/signalling is to appear to be a certain type of person, so that people will like and respect you, which is in turn so that people will want to be around you and be more likely to do stuff for you. However, oftentimes this goes horribly wrong, and people become very devoted to cultivating certain identities that are actively harmful for this purpose, e.g. goth, juggalo, "cool reserved aloof loner", guy that won't shut up about politics, etc. A more subtle example is Fred, who holds the wall and refuses to dance at a nightclub because he is a serious, dignified sort of guy, and doesn't want to look silly. However, the reason why "looking silly" is generally a bad thing is because it makes people lose respect for you, and therefore make them less likely to associate with you. In the situation Fred is in, holding the wall and looking serious will cause no one to associate with him, but if he dances and mingles with strangers and looks silly, people will be likely to associate with him. So unless he's afraid of looking silly in the eyes of God, this seems to be irrational.

Probably more common is the tendency to go to great care to cultivate identities that are neither harmful nor beneficial. E.g. "deep philosophical thinker", "Grateful Dead fan", "tough guy", "nature lover", "rationalist", etc. Boring Bob is a guy who wears a blue polo shirt and khakis every day, works as hard as expected but no harder in his job as an accountant, holds no political views, and when he goes home he relaxes by watching whatever's on TV and reading the paper. Boring Bob would probably improve his chances of social success by cultivating a more interesting identity, perhaps by changing his wardrobe, hobbies, and viewpoints, and then liberally signalling this new identity. However, most of us are not Boring Bob, and a much better social success strategy for most of us is probably to smile more, improve our posture and body language, be more open and accepting of other people, learn how to make better small talk, etc. But most people fail to realize this and instead play elaborate signalling games in order to improve their status, sometimes even at the expense of lots of time and money.

Some ways by which people can fail to "be themselves" in individual social interactions: liberally sprinkle references to certain attributes that they want to emphasize, say nonsensical and surreal things in order to seem quirky, be afraid to give obvious responses to questions in order to seem more interesting, insert forced "cool" actions into their mannerisms, act underwhelmed by what the other person is saying in order to seem jaded and superior, etc. Whereas someone who is "being herself" is more interested in creating rapport with the other person than giving off a certain impression of herself.  

Additionally, optimizing for a particular identity might not only be counterproductive - it might actually be a quick way to get people to despise you. 

I used to not understand why certain "types" of people, such as "hipsters"2 or Ed Hardy and Affliction-wearing "douchebags" are so universally loathed (especially on the internet). Yes, these people are adopting certain styles in order to be cool and interesting, but isn't everyone doing the same? No one looks through their wardrobe and says "hmm, I'll wear this sweater because it makes me uncool, and it'll make people not like me". Perhaps hipsters and Ed Hardy Guys fail in their mission to be cool, but should we really hate them for this? If being a hipster was cool two years ago, and being someone who wears normal clothes, acts normal, and doesn't do anything "ironically" is cool today, then we're really just hating people for failing to keep up with the trends. And if being a hipster actually is cool, then, well, who can fault them for choosing to be one?

That was my old thought process. Now it is clear to me that what makes hipsters and Ed Hardy Guys hated is that they aren't "being themselves" - they are much more interested in cultivating an identity of interestingness and masculinity, respectively, than connecting with other people. The same thing goes for pretty much every other collectively hated stereotype I can think of3 - people who loudly express political opinions, stoners who won't stop talking about smoking weed, attention seeking teenage girls on facebook, extremely flamboyantly gay guys, "weeaboos", hippies and new age types, 2005 "emo kids", overly politically correct people, tumblr SJA weirdos who identify as otherkin and whatnot, overly patriotic "rednecks", the list goes on and on. 

This also clears up a confusion that occurred to me when reading How to Win Friends and Influence People. I know people who have a Dale Carnegie mindset of being optimistic and nice to everyone they meet and are adored for it, but I also know people who have the same attitude and yet are considered irritatingly saccharine and would probably do better to "keep it real" a little. So what's the difference? I think the difference is that the former group are genuinely interested in being nice to people and building rapport, while members of the second group have made an error like the one described in Kaj Sotala's post and are merely trying to give off the impression of being a nice and friendly person. The distinction is obviously very subtle, but it's one that humans are apparently very good at perceiving. 

I'm not exactly sure what it is that causes humans to have this tendency of hating people who are clearly optimizing for identity - it's not as if they harm anyone. It probably has to do with tribal status. But what is clear is that you should definitely not be one of them. 

3. The worst mistake you can possibly make in combating akrasia

The main thesis of PJ Eby's Thinking Things Done is that the primary reason why people are incapable of being productive is that they use negative motivation ("if I don't do x, some negative y will happen") as opposed to positive motivation ("if i do x, some positive y will happen"). He has the following evo-psych explanation for this: in the ancestral environment, personal failure meant that you could possibly be kicked out of your tribe, which would be fatal. A lot of depressed people make statements like "I'm worthless", or "I'm scum" or "No one could ever love me", which are illogically dramatic and overly black and white, until you realize that these statements are merely interpretations of a feeling of "I'm about to get kicked out of the tribe, and therefore die." Animals have a freezing response to imminent death, so if you are fearing failure you will go into do-nothing mode and not be able to work at all.4

In Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals, Phd psychologist Heidi Halvorson takes a different view and describes positive motivation and negative motivation as having pros and cons. However, she has her own dichotomy of Good Motivation and Bad Motivation: "Be good" goals are performance goals, and are directed at achieving a particular outcome, like getting an A on a test, reaching a sales target, getting your attractive neighbor to go out with you, or getting into law school. They are very often tied closely to a sense of self-worth. "Get better" goals are mastery goals, and people who pick these goals judge themselves instead in terms of the progress they are making, asking questions like "Am I improving? Am I learning? Am I moving forward at a good pace?" Halvorson argues that "get better" goals are almost always drastically better than "be good" goals5. An example quote (from page 60) is:

When my goal is to get an A in a class and prove that I'm smart, and I take the first exam and I don't get an A... well, then I really can't help but think that maybe I'm not so smart, right? Concluding "maybe I'm not smart" has several consequences and none of them are good. First, I'm going to feel terrible - probably anxious and depressed, possibly embarrassed or ashamed. My sense of self-worth and self-esteem are going to suffer. My confidence will be shaken, if not completely shattered. And if I'm not smart enough, there's really no point in continuing to try to do well, so I'll probably just give up and not bother working so hard on the remaining exams. 

And finally, in Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, David Burns describes a destructive side effect of depression he calls "do-nothingism":

One of the most destructive aspects of depression is the way it paralyzes your willpower. In its mildest form you may simply procrastinate about doing a few odious chores. As your lack of motivation increases, virtually any activity appears so difficult that you become overwhelmed by the urge to do nothing. Because you accomplish very little, you feel worse and worse. Not only do you cut yourself off from your normal sources of stimulation and pleasure, but your lack of productivity aggravates your self-hatred, resulting in further isolation and incapacitation.

Synthesizing these three pieces of information leads me to believe that the worst thing you can possibly do for your akrasia is to tie your success and productivity to your sense of identity/self-worth, especially if you're using negative motivation to do so, and especially if you suffer or have recently suffered from depression or low-self esteem. The thought of having a negative self-image is scary and unpleasant, perhaps for the evo-psych reasons PJ Eby outlines. If you tie your productivity to your fear of a negative self-image, working will become scary and unpleasant as well, and you won't want to do it.

I feel like this might be the single number one reason why people are akratic. It might be a little premature to say that, and I might be biased by how large of a factor this mistake was in my own akrasia. But unfortunately, this trap seems like a very easy one to fall into. If you're someone who is lazy and isn't accomplishing much in life, perhaps depressed, then it makes intuitive sense to motivate yourself by saying "Come on, self! Do you want to be a useless failure in life? No? Well get going then!" But doing so will accomplish the exact opposite and make you feel miserable. 

So there you have it. In addition to making you a bad rationalist and causing you to lose sight of your goals, a strong sense of identity will cause you to make poor decisions that lead to unhappiness, be unpopular, and be unsuccessful. I think the Buddhists were onto something with this one, personally, and I try to limit my sense of identity as much as possible. A trick you can use in addition to the "be the observer" trick I mentioned, is to whenever you find yourself thinking in identity terms, swap out that identity for the identity of "person who takes over the world by transcending the need for a sense of identity". 

This is my first LessWrong discussion post, so constructive criticism is greatly appreciated. Was this informative? Or was what I said obvious, and I'm retreading old ground? Was this well written? Should this have been posted to Main? Should this not have been posted at all? Thank you. 

1. Paraphrased from page 153 of Switch: How to Change When Change is Hard

2. Actually, while it works for this example, I think the stereotypical "hipster" is a bizarre caricature that doesn't match anyone who actually exists in real life, and the degree to which people will rabidly espouse hatred for this stereotypical figure (or used to two or three years ago) is one of the most bizarre tendencies people have. 

3. Other than groups that arguably hurt people (religious fundamentalists, PUAs), the only exception I can think of is frat boy/jock types. They talk about drinking and partying a lot, sure, but not really any more than people who drink and party a lot would be expected to. Possibilities for their hated status include that they do in fact engage in obnoxious signalling and I'm not aware of it, jealousy, or stigmatization as hazers and date rapists. Also, a lot of people hate stereotypical "ghetto" black people who sag their jeans and notoriously type in a broken, difficult-to-read form of English. This could either be a weak example of the trend (I'm not really sure what it is they would be signalling, maybe dangerous-ness?), or just a manifestation of racism.

4. I'm not sure if this is valid science that he pulled from some other source, or if he just made this up.

5. The exception is that "be good" goals can lead to a very high level of performance when the task is easy. 


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Am I the only one who finds it funny that a post bashing identity is written by a person with such an identity-signaling nickname?

Anyway, it is a good first post even if it makes some stronger claims than what seems reasonable here and there.

He isn't a girl and AFAICT not a goth, a stoner, or a Satanist either.
I'm only one of those things, actually. d:
"Do as I say. Not as I do."

This is my first LessWrong discussion post, so constructive criticism is greatly appreciated.

This is above-average quality for a discussion post. I look forward to reading your future posts.

Thank you :)

The author of the book I read this in didn't seem to take the obvious next step and acknowledge that the consequences model is clearly The Correct Way to Make Decisions and basically by definition, if you're using the identity model and it's giving you a different result then the consequences model would, you're being led astray.

This statement is too strong. Your analysis of the consequences could be faulty (buggy wetware and such), while the identity model is presumably built on the trial, error and wisdom of many people smart enough to create that identity. I'd rather acknowledge the discrepancy (notice the confusion) and try to figure out where and why the results differ, without assuming that "personal consequentialism is right" and "group identity-based deontology is wrong".

You're completely right. I went with an oversimplification/exaggeration in order to make my point clearer. It could also be that for people who haven't been trained in rationality/read LessWrong/whatever, relying solely on the consequences model would be disastrous.

The main thesis of PJ Eby's Thinking Things Done is that the primary reason why people are incapable of being productive is that they use negative motivation ("if I don't do x, some negative y will happen") as opposed to positive motivation ("if i do x, some positive y will happen").

FWIW, my model has been refined a bit since then, and is actually a lot closer to Halvorson's model than it would appear on the surface; a self-image component really is required to make it "push" motivation in my definition.

One of the problems with using one's self as the main test subject is that if you have a systemic bias you can't spot it. At the time of my original writing, I'd have been hard pressed to identify a motivation of mine that wasn't driven by some sort of self-image/"be good" issue. ;-) (So, I implicitly assumed the image component, and taught it in practical coaching, but didn't really include it in the explicit model so much.)

Pretty much all the problems I've lumped under the description of "naturally struggling" or "self-defeating behaviors", though, I would now unpack as "patterns of negative self-reinforcement... (read more)

So if you Have This Problem, what do you do about it?
The short answer? Alter the identity-level beliefs that are telling you that you suck and have to compensate for that suckiness, replacing them with functional beliefs about how to behave. Most of the identity-level stuff comes from mirrored parental attitudes and beliefs, like for example if a parent constantly monitors you doing homework, admonishing you to finish, the attitude this teaches is that if you're left to your own devices you won't finish anything, because you suck. So you learn to hover over yourself in a similarly critical fashion, and to not do things unless someone is hovering. Not only that, but you'll negatively reinforce more functional behaviors, like rewarding yourself for progress. That is, it'll seem stupid or immoral or something, because on a subconsious level you feel "but I suck, and anyway I won't do it unless there's hovering and feeling like I suck." So even if you try it, your internal reinforcement will quickly extinguish the behavior. (i.e., this is how meta-akrasia works, for people with this type of problem.) The specific antidote to a behavior like this is to begin by assuming that the person(s) who taught it to you intended for you to feel and believe as you do, and then imagine what they would have done differently, had they intended something else. For example, if the parent in this example believed you were inherently motivated to succeed at things and didn't require somebody to crack the whip to make you do it, then they would have been far more likely to offer encouragement, using a different voice tone than the same parent who offers encouragement while believing you will fail. (Btw, current experimental evidence indicates that voice tone alone is sufficient to substantially influence adult performance on a puzzle, in the direction of "expected to fail" vs "expected to succeed", even with identical word choices. It's logical to assume that with 1) suggestible children, 2) word choice, 3) facial expressions and body lan
This sounds like it would be good advice if I could figure out how to implement it. (As you said, it's the short answer.)

This is a great post.

One thing that annoys me slightly is the part where you try to tie your post to Buddhist ideas. Unless you are talking to a group with a significant number of Buddhists to help minimize inferential distance, there is not really a reason to through that in.

Another reason would be if you had a self-identity as someone conversant in and sympathetic to Buddhist views, and wanted an audience of your peers to approve of that image.

This is an exceptional first LW post! I like the hypothesis in Section 2, that "be yourself" unpacks into "stop transparently optimizing to fit a cached identity".

My main suggestion is that a long post with multiple distinct points is better off split into several posts, because people will start skimming instead of reading after a while, and points 2 and 3 won't get as much attention/feedback as if they'd stood alone.

I just want to point out that I think the phrase "cached identity" is extremely apt.

Doesn't affect your main point, but this is SO not what the Buddhists were talking about (at least Indian and TIbetan Buddhism, which are the strains with which I have passing familiarity).

The Buddhist position on this stuff would be, "stop maximising a personal utility function; the fact that you feel you have to do that will lead you to bigger problems later on. [Why that is so is an involved discussion and I'll get it horribly wrong if I try.] Instead, learn to let go of the whole dichotomy of me and not-me, regard your consciousness being a local*... (read more)

Thank you for this. I'm revising my models accordingly.

"Be yourself" is probably the most widely-repeated piece of social skills advice despite being pretty clearly useless

It is very useful... for preserving the existing social order.

(Which is usually the opposite of what the person asking for the advice wants. Problem is, the goals of others, including the one giving the advice, are not aligned with that.)

The optimistic interpretation of this advice could be "Don't spend cognitive overhead on signalling".
I've always considered "be yourself" to mean "don't pretend to be someone you're not", which is wonderful advice because unless you're /very/ good at it, most people will see through your disguise.
Pretending can be helpful for learning. For example, if I am going to learn Japanese, it would help me to imagine during the lessons that I am a ninja. That will connect emotions with the information, which should make the brain learn faster and remember better. -- On the other hand, scolding me "you are not a ninja, you are not even a Japanese person, so stop pretending to be one" anytime I open the Japanese textbook would harm my efforts. Also, there is this thing about attribution. Of course my estimates about how well do I role-play a socially skilled person are seriously biased. But so are the estimates of people who know me for a long time! They look at me and they don't see the "today-me"; they see the "remembered-me" acting out of its usual role. (Strangers assume that the "today-me" is my typical behavior, whether good or bad.) Maybe I pretend to be a funny person, but I do it wrong and it's awkward. But maybe I pretend to be a funny person and I do it right... but my old friends still feel awkward, because they know it's not the "me" they know, so they will give me a negative feedback anyway. It is difficult to keep your identity small if there are people around you who maintain it for you. This may be specific for me: I am kind of a chameleon in my behavior. I instinctively feel what other people expect from me, and I start behaving that way. It is not conscious; behaving that way just feels natural when I am with the person, and it is difficult to change. With different people I behave differently, although within some limits. So when someone tells me to "be myself", I want to scream at them that what they see as "myself" is simply "myself in their presence, acting according to their expectations", but in a different situation I could be different; that I often already had an experience of behaving the other way, it's just hard to replicate for some reasons (e.g. there were people who made me act like that, but I lost contact with them and can't find

An amusing comic from SMBC on the downsides of over-strong identity.

Additionally, optimizing for a particular identity might not only be counterproductive - it might actually be a quick way to get people to despise you.

Sure, but not optimizing for a particular identity can easily be just as harmful. This goes especially for social situations; consider being gay and not optimizing for a non-gay facade in an emphatically anti-gay environment.

Given that, the obvious follow-up question is how to tell the good identities from the bad, and I think the post does well in identifying some of the bad types. This, for example:


... (read more)
  1. Why shouldn't Alice self-modify into someone who has a stronger passion for homelessness, for 4 mu?

You can't make decisions based on what your future self would value, any more than you can make decisions based on what your past self valued. Even with TDT.

  1. "Be yourself" means "do not suppress your identity". It involves avoiding the trap of thinking e.g. that because your knowledge of Asian adult film stars is low-status, you should conceal it even at the cost of added stress. If you are playing status games, you don't want to be

... (read more)

You can't make decisions based on what your future self would value

Why not? There's at least one predictable value shift I can think of coming from human biology, namely puberty, that a hypothetical prepubescent rationalist should absolutely take into account when planning sufficiently far into the future.

Yeah, but you're not going to value what your future self is going to value unless your utility function already includes "increase future self's utility" in it.
There's another value shift that every non-cyronicist has along with every believer in the second law of thermodynamics. Should we take that value shift into account while we live?
Even when you are not playing status games, other people notice your status, and it influences how they react on you. So unless your goal is completely independent on other people, you should pay some attention to your status. For example, let's say that my goal is to find new people to join our local rationalist group. If I appear completely low status, most people won't even listen to me. And if they will, they will most likely associate LW as "something low-status people care about", so they will avoid it. Maybe one person in thousand will look at LW anyway, overcome the association with low status, and join. Yes, it is possible... but I made it needlessly difficult. You don't get extra points for getting the same result in a more difficult way. On the other hand, if I appear high status, people are more likely to listen to me, more likely to remember what I said (until they get home and start their computers), and more likely to overcome the initial obstacles (e.g. to read a few articles from the Sequences). Then of course, some people will stay and most of them will leave. But the results will be much better than in the first situation, because more people who "have a chance to become a rationalist" really got the information, looked at the website, and didn't give up at the first obstacle. People are like that. You should know it, and you should include this information in your plans. Even in rebel groups, there are high-status rebels and low-status rebels, and the high-status rebels have more say about the shape of the rebellion. Even the self-image is kind of a status of oneself in one's own eyes. The true part is that if you optimize for something else and only use status instrumentally, at some points you sacrifice some additional status for more gains in the area you care about. Which will result is less status than if you optimized for status instead. To use my previous example, I wouldn't want to make myself (and by proxy, the rationalist community
Now that I think about it, I interchangably used "identity" and "status" in the post while the two are actually very distinct things. Identity is "I am" statements. If you're optimizing for identity you're trying to get as many people as possible to agree with the statement "I am __", where in the blank goes "a goth", "a nice guy", "intelligent", "rational", "a Democrat", etc. Whereas status is a consequence of at least two cognitive algorithms in our brain left over from tribal times, one which instantly assigns a status value to the people we interact with, and another that constantly maintains a status value for ourselves (self-esteem). If you're optimizing for status, you're trying to get other people's brains to assign you high status. I would argue that optimizing for identity is mostly useless unless you're Boring Bob, or you need to fit in with a certain group of people who hate outsiders. Optimizing for status, on the other hand, is probably almost always useful, although you can of course be low-status and have healthy and satisfying social and romantic relationships. I might edit the post to make this clearer.
I do not concur and I think this statement shows we are talking about different things. Identity is the territory which informs "I am __" maps. Optimizing for identity doesn't mean convincing other people that their map of you is consistent with your map of you, it means at most making your map of yourself as accurate as possible.
That means that playing the status game is instrumentally useful. Play the status game when it is instrumentally useful. If playing the status game is inherently useful, play the status game. If neither is true, do not play the status game. If your identity includes "Effective Recruiter for meetups", then maintaining an appropriate status better be part of being yourself.
That isn't what "be yourself" means. Furthermore, if that was what the phrase meant, "be yourself" would be terrible advice to listen to. I don't talk about Asian adult film stars in places where it is inappropriate because I have an "identify" of a) not being entirely socially incompetent and b) not being wilfully irrational and sabotaging myself. Adapting to the social environment one finds oneself in is not a weakness, it don't mean you have sacrificed your identity. It indicates that you are well rounded individual who is adaptable, self aware and comfortable. A strong identity doesn't need to prove itself in every conversation via counter-productive self-expression. False. (See Villiam's explanation.) Misleading. While people's mental state's are based on chemical states and depressed individuals tend to have some differences in certain aspects of that chemical state, depression itself is not defined in terms of chemicals. In both theory and practice depression is a label based on a cluster of symptoms. So while lack of motivation does not constitute depression, lack of motivation combined with several other symptoms from the relevant group would.
What do you do when it is appropriate? Example: group is playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, and someone says "Why don't we try something crazy, like an Asian porn star? Do you pretend to be ignorant of the names of Asian porn stars because having that information is low-status, or do you volunteer the names that you know? Territory and map in the depression discussion: The symptoms are what can be seen in living individuals, because the chemistry cannot be nondestructively measured. It's worth noting that by a strict interpretation of the DSM, only the diagnostic symptoms of depression qualify as immediate causes; suicide attempts cause depression, not the other way around.
I think you, and possible also the DSM, are confusing efficient cause, material cause, and formal cause.
I think that I'm accurately representing the implications of using a strict interpretation of the DSM definitions, where 'three out of five' is the necessary and sufficient condition for a disease to exist.
The official definition of depression in the US is in the DSM-V and doesn't say anything about the chemical basis. If a bunch of psychological symtoms are present the person is per definition depressed. Different people who are depressed are probably depressed for different reasons on the chemical level.
Using the official definition requires that we accept that the symptoms cause the depression. That conclusion is absurd, therefore the premise is absurd. Of course, I've just realized that means that I've been using a nonstandard definition, but I think the OP was too.
No, depression is a term that describes symptoms. There are probably various distinct causes that can produce those symptoms. You can cause a depression by hitting someone strongly on the head. Sometimes depression is produced by the way an individual deal with an emotional trauma.
You can cause symptoms by hitting someone on the head or by emotional trauma. If the symptoms don't manifest, there is no depression. The symptoms are the only immediate cause if you use the DSM definition.
Your error is related to the Mind Projection Fallacy. You are confusing the causes of us calling something depression with the actual causes of that depression. We identify depression based on the symptoms; if you have them then we say you're depressed, if you don't then we say that you are not. In neither case are we assuming that causality flows from our observations to our conclusions. The DSM definition just defines what we're talking about with the word "depression" - what set of symptoms we want to refer to. But the symptoms are caused by something, physically, and therefore the depression is equally caused by that same thing physically. The symptoms cause us to call it depression, but they (tautologically under Aristotelian reasoning) cannot be the cause of the depression, since they are the depression.
Are you saying that the symptoms are identical with the depression, even though each individual symptom can exist without depression being present? If not, then which precedes the other? if the depression causes the symptoms, it must precede them; but by the DSM definition, depression does not exist unless the symptoms are present.
You're confused about words; I recommend you read A Human's Guide to Words, summarized by 37 Ways Words Can Be Wrong. I'll try and give a quick explanation that will hopefully be helpful. Depression is not a low-level part of reality; it's just a convenient label on our maps. The entire meaning - literally all of it, by the DSM definition - is that the person possess a certain number of symptoms from a list. If you know they express those symptoms they are depressed; if you know they are depressed you know they express those symptoms. That is, literally and entirely and without exception, everything that is true about the word depression as defined by DSM. There is no further question, no further information. There is no precedence, no ordering to the events between being DSM-depressed and having the symptoms. DSM-depression is in the map, not the territory, so there is no causality involved. Actually, I'd like to put this metaphor in terms of 2 sets of maps. The first map just says "DSM-depressed" on a person. That map is compact; it enables compressed storage of lots of information, although it certainly is not lossless. When you pull that map out, and read it, and you know what DSM-depression means, you can then draw a second map. This map is a little bit more precise; it has a list of symptoms, and says they express some number of them. But you can't then combine the maps, and write a single map which both contains the list of symptoms and the DSM-depressed tag. It would be redundant; there would be repeated information. The 2 maps are describing different levels of organization. It would be like looking at an airplane and saying "do the wings, engine, etc. cause this to be an airplane, or does the fact that it is an airplane cause the wings, engine, etc." It is nonsense to ask the question; in the territory there is no "airplane" label, and for that matter no "wings" or "engine" labels either. Don't confuse your map with a more detailed map, nor with the terri
My point was that that definition does not adequately describe the territory; like 'Having a taxable income less than an arbitrary value' does not adequately define poverty. I was trying to use the map to talk about the territory, not use the map to talk about the map.
I don't really think this is possible to do. Of course, the example I gave assumes that Alice has the capability of self-modifying in the area of what she's passionate about, and not in the area of how much money she needs to be happy, whereas in reality for many people it may be the other way around. Okay, but depression is a condition that often causes laziness. I'm not sure exactly what part of the post you're disagreeing with - if it's the quoted text, then that was written by probably one of the world's biggest contributors to the study of depression, so I don't think you should try to correct him unless you have strong credentials.
I was specifically objecting to where you generalized depression and low self-esteem as being similar or having similar effects. I suspected a four-term syllogism error when you summarized the expert opinion. I have different objections to the conclusions of the people who study depression, and I don't recognize their contributions as constituting an authority that can be appealed to. That's mostly because they have a track record of being unable to predict the effects of an intervention.
I suspect a large part of that is because they also frequently make the mistake of implicitly taking the same half-reductionist position you take in this comment.
That's poor predictive ability regarding the result of an outcome. The chemistry-as-cause belief is because the mechanism used to identify potential interventions is based on chemistry that is intended to make the brains harder to distinguish in destructive testing. Chemistry causing emotions and altering mental states is well documented and uncontroversial; depression being a chemical state with specific visible symptoms is exactly as strange as drunkenness being such a state.
The mistake I'm addressing, what I called "half-reductionist" in the parent, is the belief (or alief) that mental processes split into two types: 1) those that are reducible to physical/chemical processes and thus can only be analyzed or affected by chemicals, 2) those that aren't reducible and thus are analyzed or affected by psychology. My point is that this distinction doesn't correspond to anything in reality.
How about 1) those that have been largely reduced to physical/chemical processes and thus can be analyzed or affected directly 2) those that have not yet been reduced and thus are handled differently.
First, why is this distinction relevant to the comment you made in the ancestor? Second, the brain is a complicated system. Naively playing with the inner workings of a complicated system tends to result in all kinds of unintended consequences. In other words, just because we have some idea what chemical state corresponds to depression, doesn't mean using chemicals is the best way to treat it.
It does mean that you shouldn't conflate atypical serotonin levels with temporary loneliness after one's cat died by calling both of those 'depression'.
Do you have research that the temporary loneliness after one's cat died does not in fact involve atypical serotonin levels? Also why is this relevant. Your statement implied that the similarity cluster that includes laziness, lack of motivation, and akrasia does not include depression. Even if laziness say turns out to involve a different hormone, or some other chemical and/or physical process, I fail to see why that's an argument against including depression in the same similarity cluster.
Oh, that argument is based entirely on the lack of similarity of those characteristics and their effects.
Which characteristics? I'm having trouble figuring out what the antecedents of your pronouns are supposed to be.
I phrased that poorly. Depression, laziness, lack of motivation, and akrasia do not share many of their defining features. For the purpose of dealing with one or more of them, they are more different than they are similar. To speak of them as similar, you need a context distant from them. If you are discussing personnel management in general , for example, they could be grouped together with disloyalty and family problems as potential characteristics of people that need to be taken into consideration. Once you get into the consideration that needs to be taken for a specific individual, treating depression the same as laziness provides bad outcomes.
They certainly have similar symptoms, i.e., difficulty getting oneself to do what one (or at least one's higher brain functions) want to do. If your claim is that they have different underlying causes, I'd like to see what evidence convinced you of this.
Taboo laziness and lack of motivation.
For purpose of this discussion, let's say the similarity cluster that correspond to how those phrases are commonly used.
So, character traits that result in someone choosing not to do something that someone else does, or having a suboptimal outcome? Or did you refer to a common usage that isn't common between us?
See my description in the great-grandparent:
Did you intend for that to be a subset of cognitive dissonance?
Not quite. Cognitive dissonance carries the connotation that one is engaging in rationalization to avoid facing it.
Not doublethink; the sense of "My observations of what I am doing right now are inconsistent with my decisions regarding what I am going to do right now."
Are you a non-reductionist? Is 'melancholy' not also based on the chemical/physical (potatoe/potahto) configuration of your brain?
When it can be determined with reasonable accuracy whether someone was melancholic by performing an autopsy, you can call the two comparable.
Not that it really matters regarding the grandparent (autopsies aren't arbiters of what's based on a chemical state and what isn't, and what else but a chemical state would melancholy be based on? I would agree that the chemical changes associated with melancholy are certainly more subtle, but what does that matter?), but I'd like to know more: Where did you get the impression that it can be determined with reasonable accuracy whether someone was depressed by performing an autopsy? Do you mean hypothetically, at some future point in time? I've never heard of such a thing being done. If you mean at some future point in time, then presumably the same holds true for melancholy. Finding some abnormalities in some patients who have previously been diagnosed with depression and tagged for an autopsy upon death, yes, that's been done. But given a dead patient of unknown depression status, diagnose depression based on the brain, with reasonable accuracy? Tell me more.
I can't find the specific reference to a controlled "is this person depressed" study, so I may have false memories about that. It's trivial to find at least one reference to non-blind studies where a major difference was found between depressed individuals and those who died suddenly of natural causes.

I'm not sure the identify model is always the worst thing to do. There are contexts where it provides a useful heuristic. For example, consider someone who is somewhat rational and skeptical, but not very well-informed. Then someone mentions some alternative medicine with an unclear causal explanation which they know nothing about. They need to make (within their bounded rationality) whether or not this is worth investigating. What would the stereotypical skeptic do will most of the time give the correct answer. Or consider the mathematician who is tryin... (read more)

In the case of the mathematician, the identity model gives the same result as consequentialism would. Changing the order of summation has worked before, and there is a cheap experiment to see if it will work again.
Yes, but the identity model uses a lot less computational power.
Yes, of course. That's the reason why the identity model exists in the first place. It is quick and easy to make a decision using it, and it often gives the correct answer, or nearly so. Nice and simple heuristics like this one are very useful in our day to day lives. However, to the extent that it differs from the consequences model, it is wrong. As such, we should do our best to minimize our reliance on it. Or put it this way: The phrase "heuristics and biases" exists, and paints out a natural part of conceptspace. In the same way that we want to reduce biases in our thinking (to the extent that it is possible to do so, of course), we want to reduce the use of heuristics in our thinking. (Again, to the extent that it is possible to do so, of course.)
I'm not sure that's accurate. Reducing use of heuristics shouldn't by itself be a good. Understanding when to use heuristics and when not to, or when to use a different heuristic is a distinct goal than simply reducing our use of heuristics completely, especially given that we really do have limited cognitive resources.

This post makes a substantial portion of a post that I have planned redundant. Congratulations on a great post, and thanks for saving me a significant amount of time!

However, Alice is very bright, and is the type of person who can adapt herself to many situations and learn skills quickly. If Alice were to spend the first six months of college deeply immersing herself in studying business, she would probably start developing a passion for business. If she purposefully exposed herself to certain pro-business memeplexes (e.g. watched a movie glamorizing the life of Wall Street bankers), then she could speed up this process even further. After a few years of taking business classes, she would probably begin to forget what

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I explicitly addressed that in the post.
It seems like there ought to be a difference between my reasons not to self-modify into someone who enjoys something I don't object to but don't particularly enjoy, and my reasons not to self-modify into someone who enjoys something I object to. (Of course, I'm not obligated to object to heroin use, either, but if I don't my response to your hypothetical is "Yeah, so what's the problem?", which I assume isn't the response you were looking to evoke.)
Good point. That reminded me of a LW post I once saw about a three-dimensional classification of desires according to “wanting”, “enjoying” and “endorsing”, which I can't find at the moment.
Here you go.
The question to ask is: "Are there considerations other than enjoyment to recommend English literature over business?" (and possibly also: do these considerations outweigh being richer?) Gandhi would not want to take a pill that made him want to kill people, even if he could then enjoy life more by killing people. This is because not killing people matters to Gandhi for more reasons than just because it matters to him. However, if it is in fact easy to self-modify to enjoy something, that's a good reason not to make serious decisions on the basis of what you'd enjoy doing most.

I like your post but have a criticism with his explanation for why people are not productive when depressed" "A lot of depressed people make statements like "I'm worthless", or "I'm scum" or "No one could ever love me", which are illogically dramatic and overly black and white, until you realize that these statements are merely interpretations of a feeling of "I'm about to get kicked out of the tribe, and therefore die."

I suspect that depression has multiple underlying causes depending on the individual.

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Why high fat rather than high simple carbs?
Depending on the fat, I'd expect high fat diets to be good for your brain.
Yes, people with divergent ideas are more likely to be exiled. There are also many cultural and structural differences between industrial and pre-industrial societies, e.g., as Paul Graham mentioned in this essay:

That goes with a general problem in society - age cohort segregation. It always strikes me as odd that people think schools provide socialization. Putting a bunch of kids in age segregated isolation is a recipe for Lord of the Flies, not socialization in terms of civilization. Civilization is passed on by those who are civilized, not created out of thin air by those who are not.

Spending most of the time in age-segregated environment is harmful. Maybe even harmful for learning, because it actively prevents the voluntary "younger people learning from their older role models". It gives teachers almost a monopoly on passing information to the next generation, which is suboptimal, because teachers usually don't do professionally what they teach. (For example a teacher of a computer science does not have the experience of an IT professional. So the next generation of IT professionals starts only with the teacher's knowledge, and must learn many important things after school on their own. E.g. many people working in IT use a lot of free software: Firefox, Libre Office, etc. but most of the high schools in my country still teach only Word and Excel. And I avoid starting a flamewar on a choice of a programming language; but the teacher's favorite is usually the one they learned at university, maybe 20 years ago. Forget about version control, agile development, or anything necessary for productivity but non-essential for textbook examples.) The worst impact is probably on children with higher- or lower-than-average intelligence. The children with higher intelligence are actively prevented from applying their natural solution: seeking company of older students. The children with lower intelligence must keep up with the speed that is too difficult for them, or go to a "special" school and bear the stigma; they don't have much of a choice to slow down.
School is basically hell for everyone as far as learning goes. One size teaching that needs to fit 30 at a time. I'm so jealous of kids these days with Khan academy and the internet generally. I used to read my encyclopedia for fun, until the love of learning was largely squashed out of me for a few years until I transferred to a private high school with standards that required some effort on my part. But I don't think that's the biggest problem with age cohorts. The effects on socialization are worse, IMO. Breeds a bunch of cocky little twerps who think they know everything, but know nothing. No respect for their elders who actually know a few things they don't, and little experience leading and taking care of the young. All experience is boiled down to status games with your rough peers, with little input or guidance from the civilized. There is no real achievement, because it's a fantasy land where others are providing the resources to live. Similar to prison.
"Yes, people with divergent ideas are more likely to be exiled." I did mention creative achievement as well, not just divergent thinking. So are musicians and actors among these exiled? These seem like the type of professions that are lauded in mainstream culture more than exiled. Creativity correlates both with being attractive to the opposite sex and suicidal ideation (not to mention suicidal completion). Now, sexual attraction doesn't necessarily prove that these are socially acceptable professions, but I think it is premature to call these people "exiled" without additional evidence. Sources: * "Specialties with high suicide risk are musicians, dentists, nurses, social workers, artists, mathematicians, scientists and police officers" * "This may partly explain the high suicide rates witnessed for occupations such as artists, High-risk occupations for suicide 7actors and entertainers, musicians and merchant seafarers. Nurses have previously been identified with high suicide rates. (I also want to point out nurses. While nurses aren't necessarily more creative, they are certainly not exiled social pariahs) " * I still stand by the position that depression being rooted solely on the basis of tribal exile, or as an evo-psych emotional reaction to tribal exile, as grossly simplistic.
The risk to lose friends make people to rationalize their behavior to make them more similar to a group, convincing himself of some identity, or optimizing toward a set of habits of the average guy of her group. Additionally, contrarian thinking signals status too.
For much of human history yes.

Kind of weird that this was 8 years ago


This post, the first section especially, is likely to contribute to me intentionally changing my behavior for consequentialist reasons. Upvoted.

However, Alice is very bright, and is the type of person who can adapt herself to many situations and learn skills quickly. If Alice were to spend the first six months of college deeply immersing herself in studying business, she would probably start developing a passion for business. If she purposefully exposed herself to certain pro-business memeplexes (e.g. watched a movie glamorizing the life of Wall Street bankers), then she could speed up this process even further. After a few years of taking business classes, she would probably begin to forget what

... (read more)