Recent brainstorming sessions at SIAI (with participants including Anna, Carl, Jasen, Divia, Will, Amy Willey, and Andrew Critch) have started to produce lists of rationality skills that we could potentially try to teach (at Rationality Boot Camp, at Less Wrong meetups, or similar venues).  We've also been trying to break those skills down to the 5-second level (step 2) and come up with ideas for exercises that might teach them (step 3) although we haven't actually composed those exercises yet (step 4, where the actual work takes place).

The bulk of this post will mainly go into the comments, which I'll try to keep to the following format:  A top-level comment is a major or minor skill to teach; upvote this comment if you think this skill should get priority in teaching.  Sub-level comments describe 5-second subskills that go into this skill, and then third-level comments are ideas for exercises which could potentially train that 5-second skill.  If anyone actually went to the work of composing a specific exercise people could run through, that would go to the fourth-level of commenting, I guess.  For some major practicable arts with a known standard learning format like "Improv" or "Acting", I'll put the exercise at the top and guesses at which skills it might teach below.  (And any plain old replies can go at any level.)

I probably won't be able to get to all of what we brainstormed today, so here's a PNG of the Freemind map that I generated during our session.

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Skill: Being strategic. I.e., life-consequentialism, where you actually do things based on their expected future consequences, as opposed to drifting into a PhD program because your friends are doing it.

Exercise materials: We either need to develop efficient probes for getting people to list out major life choices that they could actually remake (are under serious reconsideration) or we need to develop hypothetical life stories and policy decisions to use in exercises.

Subskill: Avoid pitfalls of verbal strategic reasoning.

  • List consequences without shifting from intuitive-sum to verbal-justification mode.
  • Don't exacerbate scope insensitivity or attending to rare events.

There are studies showing that people who consider their decisions more make worse decisions. As I understand it, the main explanation for this is that people shift from an intuitive sum of costs and benefits, to seeking verbally justifiable decisions, which in turn might lead them to one-reason-decisionmaking, ignoring some of their costs and benefits which are important to them but seem less "sensible". I also suspect it may exacerbate other biases like scope insensitivity or rare events - thinking about cases which are rare or short in duration.

The classic case being "Let's get a bigger house, further away from work, so it has an extra bedroom in case Grandma comes over", which she does once a year, but the 20 minutes of extra commute time happen every day and are not acclimated-to.

8Eliezer Yudkowsky
Exercise A: Give somebody two hypothetical package deals to choose from. First, have them choose quickly and intuitively. Then, have them think about consequences and list out desiderata and alternatives... but at the end of that, have them do the intuitive sum and state a preference, rather than coming up with a verbal reason for the decision. Exercise B: Have some of the desiderata be rare cases or cases of short duration. Detect these, cross them out with a black marker.
"Let's get a bigger house, further away from work, so it has an extra bedroom in case Grandma comes over" Not saying this is a bad example, but it COULD be the case that grandma never being able to come over is totally unacceptable. Which is also a pitfall - something can seem trivial until it goes away.
7Paul Crowley
Only if there's really no other way for Grandma to come over - not even for example sleeping in the living room so she can have the sole bedroom.

Subskill: Unbundling; optimize separate things separately.

Example 1: Optimize fuzzies and utilons separately.

Example 2: Optimize grades and learning separately (instead of just optimizing grades, or haphazardly optimizing both at the same time).

5SL: Notice when you're optimizing two things at once. (Maybe because you (a) have a sense of awkwardness or of not getting enough done, and when you list out the desirable consequences, there's more than one?) Then, find two different things you can do which optimizes each one individually and without worrying about the other one.

Yet I've done better doing the opposite. When faced with incompatible courses of action that optimize different things, look for a third alternative that gets both. The choice doesn't have to be hard - even if the optimizing targets are "save the world" and "talk to cool people", frustration with the obviously right choice triggers a search for a third alternative as well.
I'd conclude that the most important skill is to stop, notice you're confused, and work out that it's because you're trying to optimize two goals. Whether you then optimize them separately, or find a third alternative, you'll probably do better than if you conflate "grades = learning" or "utilons = fuzzies" and try to optimize that non-existent conflation.
If you need to work on several projects at once (as is often necessary in the real world), then do it by creating and maintaining a clear separation between them. A separation both of time and attention. Besides scheduling different projects at different times, do things related to neither project in between so your attention to the earlier project doesn't carry over. This is an ideal time for routine maintenance/chores. Check email, do the dishes, go grocery shopping, take lunch; to the extent that you need to think about something other than the immediate task, think about the upcoming project, not the one you just left. Then go to work on the second project with your attention on the first broken.
Sense of unproductivity is a good flag for unbundling goals. I recently tried to figure out why I haven't finished as many free-time programming projects as I used to, and realized that I had at least 4 goals for free-time programming: learn a new language, build something personally useful, build something other people will use, and apply techniques from a textbook I've been working through. I couldn't find a project that satisfied all my goals, so I was skipping back and forth and not finishing anything.

Subskill: Maximize on big things, satisfice on small things.

"and the wisdom to know the difference"

Subskill: Notice foreign goals. Are your parents making you do it? Are you doing it because you read it in a book? Did you just drift into doing that?

Converse subskill: Notice feeling of actually caring about something. Notice whether that caring is giving energy to what you're doing. Notice its absence.

Subskill: Detach from sunk costs.

Material for exercises: Requires a case where the person has sunk costs and the option of continuing or not continuing. Might want to choose cases slightly less fraught than a marriage or a PhD program - you want to work up to those gradually.

Exercise A: For a case where sunk costs exist, imagine that you are a new person who was just now teleported into this person's life. Variant: Imagine you were just teleported into this person's life, and everyone else knows this, and they all expect you to execute sudden changes of course. See what this changes about your thinking, regardless of whether it changes your decision.

Exercise B: For whatever sunk costs you're in the middle of expending, look at the same scenario and rephrase it as a sunk benefit, the purchased option to finish a task more quickly than before. E.g., if you already paid $100 on a $150 item, change from "I paid $100" to "I now have the option of purchasing this item for $50". Again, the stated objective of the exercise will be, "Notice the difference in your thinking", not, "try to change your decision".

Exercise C: As above, but imagine that you bought the option for a penny on eBay. E.g. if you're one year into a four-year PhD program, imagine that you paid a penny on eBay to purchase an option to get a PhD in three years rather than the usual four years. Would you exercise that option if you paid a penny for it?

That last exercise seems to run afoul of some value-related heuristics. Price is so common a proxy for utility that imagining that you paid a penny for the option on eBay might irrationally devalue whatever you're looking at.

Of course, looking at the contrast might still give you some useful insights -- provided you can untangle them.

Subskill: Use fungibility. There are different ways to achieve many goals. E.g. instead of wasting an evening with a relative in a way you resent, send them a postcard.

Subskill: Don't express emotions as policy decisions. (Anna.) Find some other outlet for the emotion besides the policy decision, i.e., screaming. (Eliezer.)

Keep in mind that the current psychology literature indicates that cathartic release is actually undesirable-- while catharsis might improve affect in the short term, this is largely because it represents giving in to one's anger, and in the long run it actually makes you more likely to experience anger in the future.

I therefore advise that, in the event that one needs to make a particularly important decision and is currently angry, cathartic screaming may be effective, but its use should be restricted only for cases where it is strictly necessary.

(and this is coming from the ex-leader of a cathartic screaming club :P)

Or, more generally, what you do reinforces your mental state at the time. Acting in anger (even just a cathartic release) reinforces your tendency toward (the likelihood of future) anger; the same with acting from fear and most other emotions. Also, whatever the cause of your procrastination, acting on it, letting yourself get away with procrastinating, increases your problems with it in the future. As a poster I made for my study wall many years ago said: "Commit through Action: Do It".
4Eliezer Yudkowsky
Exercise: Recall acts you've done while your emotions were running high, in cases where it seems like something that might be worth optimizing. Of those acts, ask whether the action/policy/response can best be interpreted as maximizing a worthwhile criterion, or as direct expressions of the emotion.
9Eliezer Yudkowsky
Subskill: Chain from feelings of angst and frustration into saying, "I need to be strategic!" and the other skills listed.
9Eliezer Yudkowsky
Subskill: Before the final moment of doing something that has any sort of cost or downside, ask whether you're doing it because of its consequence or merely because you previously decided to do it.
5Eliezer Yudkowsky
Exercise: Before ordering food in a restaurant, check whether you want the food, or just have a cached belief that you like it.
Not just in a restaurant. I am trying to lose weight, and one of the more effective strategies is to make myself stop and ask myself if I really want to fix and eat something right now, or if I am thinking about eating for some other reason. It helps that I have gotten rid of most of the ready to eat food in my house and have to take the time to actually fix something, which slows me down enough to ask the question.
Failure mode: comfort food. Thinking about eating for non-hunger, non-appetite reasons, but persistent and inducing a real desire for food.
Like many people, I have the opposite problem. (Not trying to gain weight exactly, but to keep from becoming weak and sick.) Even readily available ice cream gets put off for hours, and then some more hours. The limiting cached thought in my case seems to be "it's not worth the effort". Might be self-fulfilling.
Even ice-cream has to be actually pulled out of the fridge, scooped out of the punnet into a bowl. This may seem like a small hurdle - but it's obviously enough to keep you from eating. Instead - try getting a bunch of non-perishable food (eg mixed nuts or dried fruit/trail mix) and leaving it in an open jar somewhere easily accessible (eg on the bench). Every time you walk past it - grab a small handful and nibble on it. From there, you can progress to a bowl of pre-cut-up fresh fruit or veg (keep a lid on it so it doesn't gather flies) for a healthier option. (cut it up all at once at the beginning of the week - leave out a day's worth each morning). ...and that should get the ball rolling.
8Eliezer Yudkowsky
Anna's subskill list from "Humans Are Not Automatically Strategic": * Ask ourselves what we’re trying to achieve; * Ask ourselves how we could tell if we achieved it (“what does it look like to be a good comedian?”) and how we can track progress; * Find ourselves strongly, intrinsically curious about information that would help us achieve our goal; * Gather that information (e.g., by asking as how folks commonly achieve our goal, or similar goals, or by tallying which strategies have and haven’t worked for us in the past); * Systematically test many different conjectures for how to achieve the goals, including methods that aren’t habitual for us, while tracking which ones do and don’t work; * Focus most of the energy that isn’t going into systematic exploration, on the methods that work best; * Make sure that our "goal" is really our goal, that we coherently want it and are not constrained by fears or by uncertainty as to whether it is worth the effort, and that we have thought through any questions and decisions in advance so they won't continually sap our energies; * Use environmental cues and social contexts to bolster our motivation, so we can keep working effectively in the face of intermittent frustrations, or temptations based in hyperbolic discounting.
3Eliezer Yudkowsky
Subskill: Musashi's "cut through in the same motion".
Since LW lore has grown wide, can you please at least point to the reference for the uninitiated?

From Musashi:

"The primary thing when you take a sword in your hands is your intention to cut the enemy, whatever the means. Whenever you parry, hit, spring, strike or touch the enemy’s cutting sword, you must cut the enemy in the same movement. It is essential to attain this. If you think only of hitting, springing, striking or touching the enemy, you will not be able actually to cut him. More than anything, you must be thinking of carrying your movement through to cutting him.”

Pretty sure it's mentioned in Twelve Virtues of Rationality, which provides a decent summary in context -- although you should read Musashi's Book of Five Rings if you really want to absorb the concept. He's a lucid (if sometimes infuriatingly vague) writer, and there are several good translations floating around.
I think this is one of the earlier mentions.
Exercise: take a class in historical fencing techniques. :) Doesn't have to be Japanese style. Italian or Spanish schools teach this too. Avoid the modern sport/olympics style classes.
Probably not great advice if you're looking specifically for a practice that'll quickly teach the habit of carrying tactical decisions through into strategic goals -- in this context that's something you only get from lots of blade-to-blade practice, and the koryu arts are almost universally very heavy on kata. In a typical dojo you might not get to freestyle sparring for a year or more. Western reconstructionist fencing tends to be less so, but there's still a pretty serious ramp-up period in every salle I've ever been exposed to. On the other hand, if you can get past that period, just about any martial art which involves partnered practice is remarkably good at developing the skill of instrumentalizing strategic thinking (though it still needs to be generalized to the rest of life, a difficult trick which probably qualifies as a virtue of rationality in its own right). Weapon arts (and aikido, but it's unique in this respect among the empty-hand arts I've studied) are also good for developing a habit which is difficult to put into words, but which might be approximated as "presence" or "mindfulness".
2Eliezer Yudkowsky
Subskill: "What is the consequence, what is the goal?"
2Eliezer Yudkowsky
Exercise A: For some policy that someone is carrying out today, starting as close to the object level as possible (answering an email, making a phone call, buying something at the store), ask about the consequences, and the consequences of the consequences. Identify the consequences that are desirable or that the action is being carried out for-the-sake-of. State the goal in abstract terms. Ask whether achieving the goal has further consequences - even things terminally desirable often have other, instrumentally desirable or undesirable consequences. Trace out the chain of specific events and the abstract instrumental and terminal goals they correspond to. Exercise B: For each goal node, find some other policy - not necessarily a superior policy, but some other policy - that would be helpful for the same goal, not necessarily in the same way. (The point being to unanchor your concept of that goal from the exact, specific means of achieving it. This also obviously starts on the habit of searching for superior alternatives.)

Rationality skill: Recognize rationality skill in others.

There is a strong tendency for people to use the heuristic, "P(Person X is right) = # of times person X has been observed to be right / # of statements person X has made", or worse, "(# statements by X - # of times X has admitted to making a mistake) / # statements by X".

This encourages people who want to be respected to do 4 bad things:

  • Make many pronouncements on things that are obviously right, perhaps in a manner suggesting they are controversial claims.
  • Avoid saying anything unless they are certain they are correct.
  • Avoid saying anything concrete enough to possibly be proven wrong.
  • Never, ever admit to having made a mistake.

Unfortunately, these methods are extremely effective.

I don't think this is a pernicious behavior at all. I suspect that this is actually a sign of rationality. (See Robert Morris)
I think the key here is qualification - Robert Morris avoided being wrong by not stating things unqualified unless he was sure of them, whereas the failure mode for rationalists is not expressing an idea at all unless fairly sure of it. We want ideas to be shared before they're well-supported, because discussion is generally the best way for them to find support (or disproof) - we just need to signal the uncertainty when we introduce an idea. It's much like what I've been taught in analytical chemistry - every number has a stated uncertainty associated with it.
It can easily be both; and, while not speaking unless very confident may not be terribly harmful by itself, the perfectionism that it's an example of is a very characteristic failure mode of rationalists.
To some extent, those are also signs of someone low on the social hierarchy (or someone who feels low on the social hierarchy), and a punitive culture that punishes individuals for brainstorming or otherwise being visibly wrong.

Because normal comments will inevitably get mixed up with those that satisfy the requested sort of post, I recommend you bold the words "Skill", "Subskill" and "Exercise".

Skill: Anti-rationalization (1): Prevent your mind from selectively searching for support of only one side of an argument.

Subskill: Analyze the underlying reasons why you're trying to rationalize for or against something - why a conclusion feels required, or disallowed.

Important subskill: Notice when a candidate "the reason I'm trying to rationalize something" is a poor guess or itself a rationalization - when it's a guess that sounds plausible about someone like you in your position, but doesn't seem to ring true.

Exercise: Pretend you are your evil alter ego when analyzing the reasons for your rationalization. What would your alter ego say about your rationalization? Your alter ego will probably come up with some selfish, lazy or just plain silly reasons for your rationalization. Once you have this list see the section on how to accept the truth.
7Eliezer Yudkowsky
Subskill: Notice the process of selectively searching for support, and halt it. Chains into "Ask whether, not why", or into trying to unbind the need to rationalize. Level 1, notice the active process after performing a conscious check whether it's running; Level 2, detect it perceptually and automatically; Level 3, never run this process.

Exercise material: List of suggested conclusions to rationalize. I'm not quite sure what the prerequisites here would be; one of my own childhood epiphanies was finding that I could argue reasons why there ought to be a teapot in the asteroid belt, and thinking to myself, "Well, I better not do that, then." I suspect the primary desideratum would be more that the topic offers plenty of opportunity to come up with clever rationalizations, rather than that the topic offers motivation to come up with clever rationalizations.

Exercise A: Pick a conclusion from the list. Come up with a clever argument why it is true. Notice what it feels like to do this. Then don't do it.

(This is distinct from noticing the feeling of being tempted to rationalize, a separate subskill.)

Exercise B: In the middle of coming up with clever arguments why something is true, stop and chain into the Litany of Tarski, or some other remedy. Variant: Say out loud "Ew!" or "Oops!" during the stop part.

Exercise C: For a conclusion on the list, argue that it is true. Then "Ask whether, not why" - try to figure out whether it is true. Notice the difference between these two processes. Requires a question whose answer is less than immediately obvious, but which someone can find info about by searching their memory and/or the Internet.

Hmmm this just made me think that debate clubs deliberately teach the opposite of this skill.

True, but the successful debaters in my experience are the ones who can construct both sides of an argument in order to pre-empt and account for possible responses. This isn't necessarily just a binary for/against disinction but considering better ways to acheive the same goal and possible unintended consequence. [Speaking as an active participant of the UK universities competitive debating circuit, though I acknowledge that makes me prone to rationalise in its favour]
And at least in Britain and Ireland they provide disproportionate numbers of future lawyers and politicians.
It's not clear to me how this is different from fabricating evidence. Is it?
7Eliezer Yudkowsky
Exercise material (prerequisite for multiple exercises below): Have a hot-topic list such that incoming students at the expected level (e.g. level = typical LW reader) would be tempted to rationalize at least some of them. This requires both that someone care about the topic, and that the topic isn't so cut-and-dry that there's no temptation to distort anything. E.g., I care about atheism but I don't have any emotional fear of that argument coming out "the wrong way" - on the other hand, putting me in an actual argument with, say, my parents, or someone who was a really clever theistic arguer in front of an audience, might generate the emotional temptation to cheat to ensure winning on every single point.
We can probably generate a good hot topic list from the past discussions on LW. Here's some suggestions based on a very quick attempt at recalling past debates. * atheism * the benefits of rationality * the importance of researching friendly AI * is cryonics worthwhile * the morality of pick-up artistry
6Eliezer Yudkowsky
Subskill: Be able to identify the internal feeling of having a required conclusion, of an argument only having one allowed answer, and (a slightly different internal sensation) of other answers being disallowed. Level one: After this skill is explicitly mentioned and invoked by some other process, be able to notice this internal sense of required-conclusion-ness (disallowed-ness) when you consciously focus on it. Level two: Have a constant perceptual eye out for feelings like this, notice automatically without needing to be "on guard", chain into applying other anti-rationalization skills (e.g. Litany of Tarski).
1Eliezer Yudkowsky
Exercise idea: For items on the hot-topic list, identify ones that you care about, and: Exercise A: Try to identify directly, just from looking at the issue and imagining the potential answers to it, the emotional sense that there's only one allowed answer to it, and the emotional sense that a different answer is not allowed. Exercise B: Imagine being in the process of losing an argument about that issue. Identify the drive (desperation, need) to regain the lost territory and win. Then imagine being in the process of winning an argument about that issue. Identify the sense of triumph and the prior commitment which makes that particular conclusion "winning". Exercise C: Get into a simulated argument about the issue with someone taking the opposite side from the one you care about. Maintain awareness of your overall emotional state, try to be aware of the internal drive to produce a particular answer, be aware of the sense of revulsion or flinch-away that associates with other answers.
This is a similar list from Robert Anton Wilson's Prometheus Rising (there is a list of lists of such exercises through the book, 12 or 15 total but this may be the best one). Exercises 1.) If you are a liberal, subscribe to the National Review, the country's most intelligent (and witty) conservative magazine, for a year. Each month try to enter their reality tunnel for a few hours while reading their articles. 2.) If you are a conservative, subscribe to the New York Review of Books for a year and try to get into their head-space for a few hours a month. 3.) If you are a rationalist, subscribe to Fate magazine for a year. 4.) If you are an occultist, join the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal and read their journal, The Skeptical Inquirer, for a year. 5.) Buy a copy of the Scientific American and read any article in it. Ask the following questions: Why do they sound so sure? Does the data support dogmatism at this point, or is dogma a primate habit (defending head-space)? Will these theories still be believed in 2011*? In 2593? [* - my copy from 2001] 6.) Get into a discussion of philosophy with an educated Marxist, an intelligent Muslim, and a Japanese businessman at the first opportunity. 7.) Buy some ZOOM or LIFT (two names for the same caffeine-high stimulant) at a health food store. (This gives a close approximation of the effects of illegal cocaine). When you are zooming or lifting and your mind is racing, find a victim and explain the universe to them until they are able to escape you. What you experience in this speed rap is what the head of the compulsive rationalist is always like. This is the verbal circuit gone wild and totally oblivious to information coming in on any other circuit. It explains why most people cannot stand rationalists. Speed drugs apparently trigger neurotransmitters characteristic of the verbal centers of the left cortex.
I think it is important to integrate this with searching for a third alternative. 1) Establish, on paper and before doing anything else, what you think alternative positions are. 2) Have a third party who does not look at your list identify third alternatives. 3) Determine which good ideas you didn't think of. This can only be an approximation, as you and the other person have used different words to describe alternatives. Notice the emotional urge to rationalize and conclude you didn't leave out important third alternatives, and the urge to rationalize that the alternatives you didn't think of aren't compelling. (This is an artificial hot-button issue, but that is only a side-benefit of this step.) 4) The list that you have constructed probably avoids your belief's real weak points. Alternatives identified by the other person, but not you, are best for pitting against your cherished idea, as in exercise C above. 5) Notice the relative strength of the best arguments not on your list as against the ones on your list. If they are strong, consider whether you have been failing to consider third alternatives for intellectual reasons, such as not holding off on proposing solutions, or avoiding your belief's weak points for emotional reasons.
The "hot-topic list" goes to what appears to be one of your drafts, which we normal people can't read. [EDIT: It doesn't any more.]
What do you do instead, once you've stopped the process?

Skill: negotiation - deliberately reaching a mutually beneficial trade or agreement, even in situations of slight power imbalance. Important for rationalists who aim at earning money as an instrumental goal.

(At the 5-second level a key component of this is learning to say "no", being able to overcome one's agreeableness as the default decision.)

(For some reason negotiation in situations of extreme power imbalance seems like it should have a different name, and I don't know what that should be.)

Dominance or Authority spring to mind. In this video Steven Pinker argues that there are three basic relationship types, authority, reciprocity and communality, and negotiation in extreme power imbalance sounds like it uses the social rules for authority rather than reciprocity.
I think that is called 'losing' or 'winning'. :)

Skill: Maintaining "contextual pointers" with your knowledge, both for the sake of evidential sourcing and contextual usage.

The idea here is twofold.

First, many intellectual conversations between people who lack this skill are are random walks through topic space. Each tangential leap is potentially useful for mining relevant evidence from each person's mind... but in conversations exploring an important central thesis it is good to treat the tangents as objects pushed onto a stack in the course of linear conversation. When you go to far afield with a tangent you need the presence of mind to notice that D was inspired by C which was inspired by B, which was profoundly relevant to the pragmatically important question of A. Stepping back to C or B or even A is frequently called for in important conversations but requires contextual mindfulness.

The second use of context is evidential. Being mindful of where evidence comes from (if it can be managed) helps keep track of the value and meaning of evidence. Confabulation induced or permitted by source amnesia, isn't necessarily a bad thing in terms of "usage optimized concepts" but in terms of epistemic hygiene ... (read more)

Exercise: keep a physical stack trace on a whiteboard or something when talking As topics become reframed for clarity, you can resolve child topics if they become irrelevant.
Will this really train this skill? I think this exercise would help train skills related to the "compartmentalizing" you mentioned above, but it would only generate reliance on the whiteboard (or something) for this skill. Also, I don't think it would train long-term maintenance of "context pointers", i.e. "where did I learn this fact/how much weight should I give it?"
Exercise: verbalise linking concepts with emphasis/stress on key words. This verbalisation can be either psychic (that is, using the internal dialogue) or vocal if involved in a discussion with a group. When moving from one concept to the next we find a way to express this as a sentence, and by emphasising key words in this sentence we highlight the concepts linked to by the sentence. I use this sometimes when I want to remember a particular thought and I use the emphasised words as 'semantic tags' in my memory.
My impression is that most people are too good at this. People don't have enough random-walk conversations, feeling socially pressured to stay on-topic even when the initial topic was a random choice.

some of these skills can be explained to a much younger audience (catch them young), in the form of stories, one such story made up for my daughter,

               As the Sun rose, the whole forest was filled with loud but sweet chatter of the squirrels chirping, as all the little ones were busy getting ready for school. Squeaky, the youngest among them, a very energetic and clever guy, was also gentle and kind, hence was adored by all the squirrels in the forest.

Squeaky enjoyed school very much and was always the first to get there. He loved what he learned each day and seeing his enthusiasm his parents gifted some chalk for him to practice his lessons at home. Squeaky was very happy and immediately set about scribbling on the trunk of the tree where his home was. That day in school, he was taught the number 'one', and his home tree was filled with that number. But soon there was a problem, “How could a little tree trunk be enough to hold all my knowledge?” wondered Squeaky. He thought about this and then decided to borrow the other trees in the forest for this purpose.

The next day he learned about 'two', and painted the whole forest, all the trees, including his neighbours wi... (read more)

The link (above) to your site has gone offline... have you moved it somewhere? I'd really like to see what you've been doing!
He seems to have moved it here.

Skill: Productivity/Munchkinism. Not giving up in pursuing a difficult worthwhile goal, always acting on the best available plan, including the search for a better one. Ability to convert additional time and resources into additional (if slow) optimization, as opposed to wasting them.

Subskill: Creativity, ability to generate new prototype ideas and refine them, modifying and combining known things to gradually reach into new territory.

Subskill: Scholarship, ability to collect ideas and skills from elsewhere, for future use as building blocks for your problem.

Subskill: Optimization of own activity. Creatively looking for better ways of doing things instead of only following a fixed routine. Improving effectiveness of the routine past the point of satisficing a "reasonable" level (where that's consequentialistically helpful).

Skill: An accurate and functional awareness of time.

By this I mean to include noticing that pre-established dates and times have arrived, predicting the amount of time things will take you or other people, not carrying through with schedules or plans inflexibly when real surprises should cause updates, understanding how to effectively communicate about time with people about time management in ways that respect the listener's time management skills, and so on.

It appears to me that awareness of what time it is, awareness of how long a task has taken, and ability to guess in advance how long a task will take are distinctly separate skills - it seems unwise to me to assume that progress at one of them will translate to increased ability with another. This is based on the observation that I'm abysmally bad at the first of those (I've been known to gain and lose entire days, even when I'm paying attention in preparation for an upcoming event) and non-awesome at the second, but startlingly good at the last if I rely on the appropriate non-conscious estimate-generator. If I spontaneously say "I bet I can finish writing that piece of code in 20 minutes", based on my track record it would actually be surprising for it to take less than 15 or more than 25, but ask me to take a shower that lasts no longer than 20 minutes and there's something like a 50/50 chance I'll be in there for 45.
Suggested exercise: guess what time it is, then check a clock. Guess how long it's been since you last checked the clock, ie not only "it is 4:30" but also "it is 35 minutes since I last checked the time (at 3:55)"
I've found my time-keeping accuracy went up a lot when I started thinking in those terms. I can also often get within 15 minutes of the time by simply estimating how much time I spent on activities since I last checked the clock. i.e.: "I checked the clock at noon. Then I had to handle that big, complex situation, which probably took an hour. I probably spent ~20 minutes taking a break afterwards so I could be more productive. Then I wrote a couple quick pieces of code, call it 15 minutes each, so 30 minutes. I suppose it's probably 1:50 PM" This does take a bit more than 5 minutes if I haven't cached anything for a long time, but I can now treat "1:50 PM" as a "checked the clock" and extrapolate off that cached value. Generally I'm only wrong if I've completely forgotten about something else I did ("Oh, right, I had that 30 minute meeting! It's actually 2:20 PM"). Doing this often has gotten me in to the habit of tracking my time, which has the added benefit that I can generally figure out where my time went =)
I'm very good at that, but very bad at being on time.
Same here.
I spent more than I care to admit learning to tell myself to sleep for some window of hours, like no more than 2 or 4 or whatever

Exercise: Improv (improvised comedy).

3Eliezer Yudkowsky
Skills this might teach: Speed, non-hesitation. Originality. Rapid adaptation to shifts of context. Social confidence. Some of the same things as acting lessons?
Skill: ability to better intuitively maintain conversational flow
Teamwork and group skills. The "Yes and..." concept. ETA: I put "Yes and" here, but I'm not entirely sure about it. I can explain the concept and I can see it's value in improv, but I can't think of any specific/concrete skills it assists. If anyone wants an explanation of Yes And, I can provide one, and then you can evaluate its merits...
I find "Yes and"---in the general sense of affirming and adding---to be preferable to active listening, so it might work as a good conversation tool. The difference is that while active listening is supposed to be about repeating and reflecting, most people don't get past the repeating part, so it gets annoying. Yes-anding both quickly affirms that you heard what the other person said and provides either a connection to new topic or further insight. This is enough to show that you are listening, and leads to more interesting conversation. This is mainly from observing others converse lately, and it seems the 'yes ander' gets the best response and makes others most comfortable.

Skill: Mindfulness / not doing things on autopilot.

An underlying capacity that seems worth exercises to train explicitly, if we can figure out how to do that.

7Eliezer Yudkowsky
Subskill: Maintain awareness of things that would ordinarily zip right past.

Exercise A: Have a set of hand signals describing conversational modes and use them during conversation; something along the lines of the Philosophy Referee signals only more relevant, like a hand signal meaning "You are attempting to refute what I just said" or "I am accepting that implicit premise."

Exercise B: Hand signals to describe body language, tone of voice, facial expressions.

(What other continuously changing variables would be good to learn to pay attention to?)

I like WilliamSTK's reply:
Confusion-level. If everybody listening to you speak is registering high confusion. that's a sign you need to rethink (or just restructure) your current explanation.
Maybe keep track of strong emotional reaction, with modifiers for how strongly it's affecting your response to the conversation
That is a brilliant idea! Have you/are you planning to develop a language of this form?
Exercise: I suspect dual N-back might generalize to this, though I could be mistaken.
5Eliezer Yudkowsky
Subskill / contributing talent: Maintain a focus of attention. (Exercise: Dual N-back.)
4Eliezer Yudkowsky
Subskill: Retrain habitual responses.
4Eliezer Yudkowsky
Exercise: Say "Ducks" whenever someone sneezes. (No, this was not my idea. Jasen again.)
I nominate "Ducks" to be the Official Secret Greeting of the Bayesian Conspiracy
3Eliezer Yudkowsky
Exercise: Say "Greetings" or "Salutations" instead of "Hello" or "How are you", because people don't sneeze often enough. Also note that "How are you" itself is an unusually autopiloted question. (From Shannon.)
Or one could carry around a satchel of black pepper.
A good idea but a bad implementation, as doing this is a bit of a nerd stereotype (e.g. Martin from The Simpsons, Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory). IIRC, Leil Lowndes suggests in one of her books that the question "How do you spend your time?" usually be substituted for "What do you do?" With a bit of finessing, it seems like it could replace "How are you?" (maybe "What are you doing today?" -- strikes me as similar enough to get the social meaning across, but different enough that you might also get a useful not-automatic response). Alternatively, again, use another language.
I used to do this, but it got on people's nerves. I actually got in something of an argument with my aunt several years back, because she felt that it was rude of me to make slight changes to trivial social interactions, because it made people uncomfortable to be forced to think about what they'd just said.
Huh. It seems to me that reactions like that are precisely the reason why you should do something like that. If someone is sufficiently accustomed to acting on autopilot that they feel discomfort and annoyance at a stimulus that requires some thought, then they deserve to be provoked thus.
I think that most people view these social interactions as an attempt to make the other person feel comfortable (ie that you care about their well-being). Thus if you change them, you're messing with their heads by making them uncomfortable on exactly the very thing that should be making them more comfortable... thus why it's seen as rude. yes, you can force them to change on this - but a) you're teaching a pig to sing and b) I think there are more important battles.
That's more or less what I argued (not that they deserve it, but that they'd be better off occasionally thinking about activities they usually put on autopilot,) but eventually I decided that it wasn't worth the trouble their discomfort caused me when dealing with them. It wasn't a high utility use of social capital.
Huh. I actually did this a while back (not with those, but with other nonstandard greetings) but I don't think it's made me any more mindful. Maybe if you kept switching every [time period], according to die roll? But then, if it's already part of a larger program of habit-switching/mindfulness, that may be more than necessary...
I've found having environmental switches helps more: I try to use British spellings at home, and US spellings at work, and thus have to constantly think about them. I have spell checking dictionaries set up appropriately in both environments, so I get nice little reminders "you're not spelling it right!" to wake me up, too :) Because I can't settle in to a routine pattern, it keeps me significantly more aware than previous "develop a new replacement habit" changes have for me.
For historical reasons "Ahoy" would be better since "Telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell originally suggested 'ahoy' be adopted as the standard greeting when answering a telephone, before 'Hello' ...became common)
Why "ducks" in particular?

Because "frogs" would be totally weird?

Indeed. If the idea is just to retrain a habitual response, why not pick a sneezing ritual from another culture? Wikipedia has an entire list of responses to sneezing in various languages. Apparently "Sanon" is the correct response in Esperanto. Could lead to some interesting conversations, while remaining plausible.
I sneeze quite often. When someone says 'bless you', my usual response is 'and may you also be blessed'. I've heard a number of people who had apparently never wondered before say 'why do we say that?' after receiving that response.
I've recently taught myself to substitute "__" or "bunnies" when I want to swear at work. The former was pretty trivial. The latter requires improvising an interesting way to work it in to the sentence, and this usually defuses my actual frustration as an added benefit. It probably helps that I tend to swear rather prolifically to begin with, of course, so I get a lot of practice in :)
Exercise: Use the speech characteristics of some favourite show/character/stereotype of yours that you don't already. Examples: talk like a pirate, as described by some online guide (MLP) use evrypony/nopony instead of "one", Hay and Horse Apples as expletives, etc. (homestuck) use troll terms for everything, if writing (especially on paper) use a typing quirk Pronounce l33tspeak avoid using words that contain a specific letter try to include a pun on a specific theme in every sentence (warning; could get very annoying for the environment) ... hmm, after further consideration, these might not actually work very well, it comes up so often (every sentence) that you don't get a chance to forget about them. Might be a good exercise for somehting else thou.
It's funny, but unfortunately it fails the original intent of the response - which is to wish good health (originally of the soul) on the person doing the sneezing. Unfortunately I cant think of a single-english-word response for "be healthy!" that doesn't sound dumb... perhaps the foreign-language versions would work: santé (french) or even genki (japanese)
I usually say "Gesundheit", partly because I feel slightly uncomfortable with the connotations of "bless you".
I couldn't agree more. I find it moderately offensive when someone says, "Bless you," when I sneeze. First, because of the religious implications, second, because they certainly haven't thought before speaking, and third, because it's never crossed their minds that I COULD be offended by unthinking, religious invocations.
It doesn't offend me when other people say it. It's true that they aren't thinking -- it's just a social pleasantry, people don't often think about those! -- but it's meant in a nice way. Also, perhaps this is a cultural difference (I'm in the relatively irreligious UK), but I think most people who say it here don't mean it as a religious invocation in the slightest. I just don't particularly like expressing that connotation myself.
I hear Salud (Spanish) occasionally. A bit easier on the tongue than Gesundheit.
Is it really necessary to wish good health on the soul of people who sneeze? I took the 'Ducks!' suggestion to be basically completely indifferent to the existing trigger.
Not necessary, anymore, no. I'd consider the modern-day intention behind saying something seems to be "I noticed you sneezed, I hope you're ok and not coming down with anything".
I could see "ducks" generating hostility and/or confusion, if it's obvious that you're using this in place of "Bless You / Gesundheit". This is more down to just people being weird, though; they also occasionally get upset or confused by me saying "Happy Hanukkah!" at the appropriate time of year. My personal opinion is to not really care unless I am, say, at work and suspect my boss or co-workers might be offended enough to result in an HR issue, but it's probably worth being aware of.
2Eliezer Yudkowsky
Subskill: Meditation. Exercise: Meditation. (Jasen's bailiwick.)

Skill: Distill yourself to simple terms. Be funny and interesting.


  • Have list of topics. Select one using a random number generator. Or use random ANKI cards. Whatever.

  • Immediately after selecting, turn on your digital camera/computer camera and record.

  • You can aim for lots of different goals: tell an interesting story, give a short two-sentence answer, etc.

This is great for preparing for job interviews also.

Skill: The accurate and timely assessment of basic probability ie: determining a person's likely response in any given conversation, determining odds of common occurrences, etc. The benefit to communication and the time-saving possibilities of such a skill are such that I feel any aspiring rationalist should pay specific attention to the development of basic probabilistic abilities.

I doubt it's the most efficient method, but I've been running basic Bayesian math on things like "given the coin came up heads the last 20 times, should I assume it's a fair or weighted coin?" I figure learning to do the math quickly will help me get it down to the point where I can at least ballpark the math on the 5-second level. It's also been helping me ballpark priors, and observe how different priors can affect the math.
That's the basic vein I was referring to; that kind of quick calculation can be applied to debate, conversation and other interpersonal contact in much the same way as it is when observing a coin.

Exercise: Dancing

Single/Partnered dancing lessons. Increase body awareness and consciousness of body language signs, both emitted and received. Practice basic skills that can lead to other benefits - confidences speaking with strangers, and hugging at meet-ups.

Exercise: Improvisatory dance. In my opinion, improvising is more useful than specific styles of dance (salsa, swing, waltz). Most people do not dance specific dances in common social interactions unless the social event is based around that dance. If you are at a club, you can pop and lock, b-boy, robot, liquid&digits, krump, while everyone around you does something else. Also, it's easier and more obvious to be better at improvisatory dance than the people around you. I have found that attempting to teach others to dance in literal language doesn't work as well as using metaphorical, poetic, woo-filled language. That said, as a specific exercise: feel the energy in your torso and each of your limbs. Feel your connection to the earth beneath you-actually feel the sensation of your feet touching the ground-what parts are touching? The heel, balls, toes, pay attention to it specifically. Direct your focus and weight either towards or away from the parts of your body you find yourself noticing. Feel the energy in your limbs again, and let some of it out, to float in front of you: snap it out, or gently wave it, or pull or push or whatever your body intuits. Then move the now-floating ball of energy around, and let it move you around. This is much easier to explain in person when you can see me doing it. I was originally inspired to dance by this TED talk by the Legion of Extraordinary Dancers, which is also where I got some of what I wrote above (the rest I got from my own experience and from the improvisation and choreography class I just took). If you enjoy this kind of dance, you will love the LXD web show

Skill: decision making under uncertainty.

Exercise: Have two players negotiate to trade a good. One or both players will have private information about the good based on the role of a die. The best active learning exercises to use in the classroom have an extremely simple set up (KISS), student interaction, an objective scoring system, and all the students having a chance to continually play rather than having to spend most of their time watching what other students do.
play poker?
Particularly fits.

Skill: Compartmentalizing, or keeping track of threads and subthreads in a discussion so that it doesn't become derailed by minutiae.

This is more important in board meetings with Robert's Rules of Order in place, but it can be useful in general rational discussion. Just last night I my friend was helping me with C++ references and we got caught up over array pointers, forgetting entirely about the bug we were trying to solve.

Skill: communication. Subskills: writing, public speaking.

Exercise: Acting lessons.

6Eliezer Yudkowsky
Skills this might teach: Body language / vocal tone / facial expressions, awareness and control. Awareness of social roles as you are carrying them out. Social confidence, possibly performance in front of crowds (if you actually perform).
More skills: Group-work skills: compromise, listening to other's ideas, shifting your own, recognizing when someone's is better than your's and when it isn't, recognizing when it's important to someone that their idea be used and when it isn't. How to take criticism, and use it. (In four years of drama, I've never done a performance with more than a week prep time where I haven't gotten feedback that's made it better.) Creativity, quick-thinking, improv.
These are learnt best in full drama (not just acting) lessons, with daily, weekly or monthly performances and at least some devising left up to the students, letting them work it out together with decreasing guidance. I've taken these types of drama lessons for four years, and found them very useful for the above. I took formal acting lessons (where the teacher made all the decisions, gave all the feedback) and quit after three months. A good way of teaching it can be to demonstrate concepts through lecturing and requiring daily performances for a week or two (have everyone perform at the end of the lesson) and then letting everyone get into groups with scripts and design their performance for a month or week from then, with whatever restrictions, advice, resources you decide. Organizing rehearsals is another good and transferable skill. These might not go too well in short hour or such lessons, though - but getting people to create a short minute or so performance on a topic/style with a few people in their off-time, and present in class, would do as well and leave more time for 'teaching'. People can also laugh and joke and, I've found, do better work in their own rehearsals then in a class format with other groups all around them.

I aspire to run and manage stuff. Yet I often find myself often using low-status communication methods even when medium to high-status communication methods are appropriate. I find it uncomfortable to express expectation that others should follow my lead or listen to me, and express thanks too much. I say, "is it okay if we go now" to a friend who gave me a ride instead of "Let's go?"

I thus devised the following plan and am in the process of executing it.

Skill: Become comfortable with expressing high-status behavior.

Exercise: Ask women... (read more)

For many more exercises exploring status behavior (both high and low), see Keith Johnstone's Impro. (Here's my review.) Johnstone's theory of improvisation (and acting in general) is that most of the weight of convincing the audience is carried by relative status distinctions among the actors. He provides a detailed set of exercises for exploring and understanding subtle and extreme differences so actors can be comfortable on stage projecting whatever distinction is called for.
By my recollection (I don't have the book in front of me) the status distinctions that he writes about are not among the actors, but among the characters that the actors are portraying (as you say in your review). I doubt if a theatrical company could long survive if the actors themselves were ceaselessly jockeying for position in the way Johnstone has the fictional characters doing. I am unconvinced of the usefulness of taking this as a key to human relationships in the real world. What Johnstone did was to take a single aspect of human relationships and use it as a cantus firmus on which to construct theatrical scenes. It convinces the audience not by resembling life, but by resembling a single idea about life, much as a cartoonist makes an instantly recognisable face with a few lines by concentrating on a single, simplified physical feature. You could take any ubiquitous feature of real life and use it in this way as a key to theatrical composition. If Impro had been written in the 60s, the key that it presented might have been sex: everything the characters did would be constructed on the basis of being a negotiation, overt or covert, about whether, when, and with whom to have sex. Social class can serve as a key, from which one gets "stock characters" and comedies of manners. Pinter found a minimalist key: explain nothing and insert unnaturally long pauses between conversational turns. The audience fill the gap themselves by confabulating the characters' thoughts, and wonder how Pinter made his dialogue sound so realistic. At least, they did at first, but this happens with all new theatrical techniques. They begin by being lauded as refreshingly realistic, but with time they are seen to be no less artificial than their predecessors.
I am actually reading that book now. Thanks!
Suggested exercise: If you have a friend who is willing, it shouldn't be too hard to roleplay out using "high status" language. Just practice some dialogue and have them call you on it if you use language that's lower status. Personally, I'd have them call you on it if you're rude too, but that's because, in my experience, politeness is a useful skill at all status levels. And, of course, ideally you should be calling yourself on it too. Recording the conversation might help, so you can replay it and evaluate yourself afterwards.
This is hardly useful if one is no longer in a position to be able to go on dates. My fiancee would probably object to me asking older women out on dates, no matter how much I insist it's to train my rationality. What other exercises would train this without putting important relationships at risk (probably shouldn't practice on bosses, family members, etc.)?
Perhaps alternate exercises could include: Attempt to obtain odd or ridiculous requests from service providers without saying "please". I.e. Go to Mcdonalds and ask for "chips with no salt". Lacks same impact as calcsam's method though...
Unless I've misunderstood, I don't recommend this. When I was a retail clerk, I would make extra effort to fulfil an unusual request for someone who was polite to me, but not for someone who wasn't. You can say "please" and be polite without acting subservient. Asking for something strange seems fine, though. (I usually think of people who don't treat service workers kindly as low-status--like they desperately would like to have the power to order someone else around without regard for their feelings but have no other avenue to do it. )
Seconded. I'll throw my two anecdotes on the table: Anecdote 1: I used to work management, and routinely got good results via "please" and "thank you" because I was raised to be polite. Other managers in the same company often got poor results using rude/bullying techniques. That said, I'd estimate that "politeness" was one of the less significant factors to one's success either way. Anecdote 2: Working retail, I found that people who were especially rude were usually low-status. The exceptions were mid-status people who seemed to very badly want to be high-status, and people who had a pretty good reason to be rude due to previous experiences. (And the latter category was the only time I've ever felt rudeness was acceptable)
I'll admit my method is flawed, but the idea was closer to asking for something beyond what is expected without acting as if it is a huge request, treating it casually. The "not saying please" thing struck me as a good method for ensuring it stayed casual but I can see that would probably come off as rude - politeness is surely a charachteristic of most productive behaviour.
There's actually some interesting psychological research that suggests people primarily evaluate based on how you present things: kids are only cautious when their parents seem worried, and will be much calmer and more accepting if the parents act like something is no big deal. If you present a request casually, it's more likely to be casually accepted without thought. If you seem extremely anxious, people will pick up on that and get anxious themselves. Definitely a skill I have benefited from learning. A sub-skill I would suggest is being okay with "no". I've found that if I ask for a big favor, get a "no", and just smile and move on, then people feel safer about me in the future - I didn't make them feel bad, so they don't have to be defensive about my future requests. It also makes it much easier for me to ask for the favor, and to come off casually, because I don't have any particular investment in a "yes" answer.
I agree that it's good to learn to date if you haven't, both because the result can be good, and because it's a good proving ground for social competence. I think it's good to not to roll over and accept unnecessarily low status - to not give it away. It's good to know how to please and attract, to cow and impress. [edit: yes, your story is clear]
Edited. Is it more clear now?

Running list of major skill areas not yet discussed:

  • Curiosity - the true and honest feeling, or failing that, how to get as close there as possible. Litany of Tarski, "ask whether, not why", Update Yourself Incrementally, etc.
  • Bottom-line stuff - noticing when you already know your destination, hold off on proposing solutions, etc.
  • Connecting belief to anticipation.
  • Use-of-words skills - people trying to milk definitional arguments for inferences, etc.
  • Empiricism - keeping a constant eye out for ways to test things. Not big official scientifi
... (read more)

Skill: Saying oops.

Today endofself found a flaw in a post of mine. I immediately ate a piece of chocolate, to reward my brain for being proved wrong.

Exercise: Nonconformity, (posibly fun), (possibly curiosity); watch or read from somehting VERY far out of your target demograpic. Examples: Twilight, My Little Pony Friendship is magic, the Quran. (Note: I have only watched MLP of these examples, and can confirm it will surprise you by being great. For the other two I get an instinctive revulsion saying "that can't POSSIBLY be anything other than slow torture" in spite of knowing taking the outside view says otherwise, which is exactly why I should watch/read from them if I were to do this exercise)

Twilight is tolerable. The setup is quite good, but wasted (vampire politics are glossed over in favor of Bella's heartbeat). If you want to see what can be done with it go read Alicorn's Luminosity (discussion thread) which starts out a decent pamphlet for luminosity, then drops it and turns into a good book. (As in, not by the standards of online fanfic. By the standards of books.)

Twilight itself is just your usual crappy romance novel. It finds a few emotional buttons (danger, lust, beauty, resisting attraction, the high of infatuation) and presses them like a monkey on crack. It's quite possible to enjoy that. Secondary characters, while rather flat, are appealing - for example Carlisle Cullen's virtues can be genuinely moving.

I say grab it if you have time to waste, if the first five minutes bore you drop it, otherwise finish it.

Apologetics! Christian devotional material! The Screwtape Letters is remarkably insightful as a guide to noticing pitfalls in your own thinking and behavior, and it's probably not the only thing in the entire genre worth reading.
I have fond memories of The Screwtape Letters. I could never work out why my fellow believers raved over the author's other work (Mere Christianity) instead. The latter didn't even inspire me enough to finish the second half.
My experience reading the Quran (I've only read a few percent so far) has been comparable to my experience reading the Bible. Both are rather poetic, in different ways, but the content is only occasionally useful. I genuinely enjoyed reading the Analects and the Tao Te Ching, however, as the wisdom seemed more densely concentrated and more applicable.
Haven't read either of these, and what you are saying fits with my previous expectations. I were going to say the bible first but I figured many might have already read it. Remember the point of the exercise is not to read somehting that's good and you've planed to read sometime. It's to read somehting you think is horrible and people will look funny at you for reading... but that you are wrong about. This is obviously impossible to do on purpose in any straightforward way, but I have this feeling that the rationalist masters have a few clever tricks to get around that paradox...
I started watching MLP earlier today, and it is surprisingly good. Watch it on youtube here.
Some data to fill in the gaps in Armok's: I read Twilight with an effort to have an open mind about it. I slightly enjoyed the first three books as romance novels, then the end of the fourth was utterly worthless. Then I noticed the ideas behind the first three books, which were bad. So the series in general is ok, but only if you don't look at it very hard (Luminosity, on the other hand, is good). I haven't read the Koran, but the scattered parts of the Bible I've read were relatively boring. There are a lot of rules, procedures, genealogies, and distorted history that are really only of interest if one believes the religion.
You're the third person this past week to tell me how good My Little Pony is.
Yea, in some circles it's actually all the rage, but I'm counting on it still being controversial in most of meatspace for at least a few more months.
Have you read Luminosity? It might make Twilight more palatable if you started with that as an introduction to the background concepts. (Or it would make Twilight less palatable because it's worse by comparison or something, I'm not sure how this works for you.)
The link to Luminosity is in my reading list. I may or may not get around to it before the singularity but probably not for many years either way. I won't be reading Twilight unless I find some specific reason to believe doing so would fill some specific purpose I don't know needs filled yet, since I have way, way to much stuff to read in all categories... Even if I want somehting specifically deliberately bad with actual research I can probably optimize even better for that as well.
Because of Luminosity I did pick up and start reading a Twilight book (second one I think) when I was at the library. It was better than I expected, the quality of the writing was definitely good, but it got a bit repetitious, in terms of the sighing softly and the drama and the not being a vampire.
The last one has a very good now-Bella-is-a-vampire scene, which I sometimes reread all by itself.
Oh, okay. That last one was just to fill out the rule of three anyhow :P
Exercise: test understanding by filling in the blanks before you know the answer. I'm trying to get better at estimating large dollar amounts, so I do a lot of practice guessing. Also, talking research with a professor, I mentally made a point of predicting what his insight was going to be before he said it.
2Eliezer Yudkowsky
Which one's this an exercise for?
Empiricism and curiosity.
quick scan didn't see anything regarding accuracy of visual or kinesthetic imagination, probably one of the most important skills for solving problems and also related to # of possibility chains one can fit in the head at one time
* Consciously work to get faster and more accurate feedback. Example - periodically write down your goals for the next month and year. At the end of the period, review progress. This gives feedback on how much you can currently get done. It also gives feedback on whether what you are correct in your opinion of what your goals are. If you are not progressing towards your goals they may not actually be important goals. You can use the reviews to reverse engineer what your goals must be given what you spend your time on. Eg if you spend a lot of time surfing the web in an undisciplined manner, then being amused and entertained may be very important to you, or maybe it's novelty that's important. Example - break down larger projects into stages that provide value at each stage, and where you can clearly tell if you have completed a stage. Review the project at the end of each stage to see if you want to continue with it. Example - ask people around you for feedback on your behavior, strengths, weaknesses. You will probably have to go out of your way to reward "bad news" feedback until people get confident you can take it.

I have another suggestion - not with respect to the content of those rationality lessons, but regarding one means of propagating this knowledge: Khan Academy

I'm sure many of you are aware of it by now and I am pretty convinced that Khan Academy is a predecessor of what the future of education will look like. So my suggestion is to get someone charismatic with the skill to explain the skills of rationality in a down-to-earth non-nerdy way and put these explanations up on youtube. If they are good enough and fit the style of Khan Academy lessons, they may h... (read more)

Skill: Sales, getting people to buy things from you.

5-second skill: Knowing when to sell
Wouldn't arbitrage sensing be closer to spotting the difference between markets, or seeing the signs of an inefficient market? I don't see how one could easily propose heuristics for a market's direction as opposed to it's position...
Yes, sorry, that was incoherent, I made it simpler.
Better. Perhaps as an add on, how to get rid of junk profitably? Heuristics to identify you have something worth selling...
Exercise: Buy tickets for concerts or sports events that will definitely sell out, then intuitively try and predict the best inflection point to sell your tickets in order to maximize profit while minimizing risk of being unable to sell before the value of your asset falls to zero.
-2handoflixue Ticket resale (AKA scalping) is considered immoral in quite a few areas, and illegal in a number as well. I wouldn't recommend it as a good starter activity.
"Considered" immoral, perhaps, but I hope you don't have such a naive understanding of morality as to think that people considering something immoral is actually evidence of its immorality. Ticket resale is mostly illegal to do outside of venues, and mostly legal to do online via large sites such as eBay and Stubhub and Ticketnetwork. It's the latter I suggest, not the former.
Of course it's evidence. Not conclusive evidence, but still evidence.
Given what mainstream morality has to say about me, I'd have to be actively self-flagellating to make that mistake :) The way scalping got suggested made me think that the original suggester was genuinely unaware of the fact that there could be social or even legal consequences, and that seemed dangerous to me.
Why? Yeah, this drives up the price, but so what? People won't buy above their high point. (Okay, creating additional scarcity might make them value tickets more, but that applies to everything.) If attendence is a right, why sell tickets in the first place? Why not just hand them out and ask for donations/sell goodies/get funding from charities? Or sell them but have a tax to give the poor free tickets, as in ancient Greece? Sweet Ricardo, what has become of us?
The ticket brokering industry is created as part of a conspiracy on the part of concert promoters. Promoters prefer to slightly (and often grossly) underprice a show and guarantee an instant sell-out rather than have to deal with the uncertainty of perfectly pricing a show such that it sells out at the door. Seriously, all the antagonism fans have towards ticket brokers is 90% misplaced and instead should be directed towards reforming the system that is not intended to put tickets in the hands of fans at the price they want to pay.
That sounds like rational individual action by the promoters, not a conspiracy. They want to be sure their concerts will sell out and price them accordingly. In so doing, the total takings may be lower than at a price that only just fills the hall, but in return they get a visible sign of success. The difference in takings is what they choose to pay to buy this advertising. Or less than this if they also get part of the takings of official resellers. This isn't the only possible arrangement -- they could adopt the airlines' method of selling tickets cheap a long way in advance and ramping up the prices as the date approaches. Or sell them by auction, or by lottery, or anything else. I am not seeing much of a problem in underpricing for direct sales and allowing a secondary market. A concert that sells out has, by definition, put tickets into the hands of as many fans as possible. Where there are both official resellers and laws against private reselling, presumably the laws are to protect the official resellers' monopoly, paid for by the industry and passed under the pretence of yielding to the demands of fans. That would be something in need of reform.
A puzzle: why don't event organizers sell tickets in advance as in the airlines' model? More generally, why don't they practice more price discrimination, especially given the professed aim of underpricing tickets (favoring their poorer but still dedicated fans)? Does the less concentrated nature of the event/venue industry make a difference?
Perhaps people who plan a long time in advance aren't fun to have in the audience.
It's just occurred to me that this is the way that IPOs work. A company going public wants its offering to sell out promptly, to get the money it went public to raise. A consensus value is established in subsequent trading, and if the people who bought into the initial offering see their holdings immediately bump up in value, they're happy too.
A low cost, and a "first come, first serve" system seems to reasonably favor those who have a genuine interest in attending. I'm sure there's probably better systems for that, but neither of your suggestions seems to accomplish the goal of distributing a limited resource (tickets) to those who would get the most benefit from them. A minimal barrier to entry (say, a $10 ticket) weeds out those who have lots of time, but no real interest in attending - otherwise the tickets would probably routinely get wasted by those who snagged them for free, but had low odds of actually attending the event. A high barrier to entry (say, $200 per ticket) weeds out those who have low income, regardless of their interest in attending. A random lottery doesn't favor anyone, and thus those who are going for a whim have equal chances to those who have been dying to see The Really Good Band Reunion Tour ever since they heard about it in 2005.
Off the top of my head: $200 per ticket, free tickets if you have low income and fill appropriately annoying paperwork as a barrier to entry. (Or the latter only regardless of income.) Or a random lottery plus scalping (those who don't want to attend all that much selling to hardcore fans). Scalpers want to avoid finding themselves with unsold tickets. (Though maybe they don't, if it makes sold tickets much more expensive.) If it frequently happens then scalping benefits neither scalper nor customer, so there's a paternalistic reason to ban it. Edit: Actually, scratch that - sell tickets and the right to resell them separately.
You're still assuming that "fan of the band" correlates with "rich". Hardcore fans can still be poor. This require more bureaucratic overhead and administration. Then there's the hassle of figuring out what percentage of tickets get reserved for the low-income, and the social outrage on both sides regardless of what ratio you decide on. Then there's the outrage from low income people being asked to do pointless paperwork just to prove they really love the band. Potentially solvable, but what benefit does this give you that makes it worth those transitional costs?
No, just that fans are willing to spend more (so I'm assuming the lack of a strong negative correlation). I don't mean to be crass, but being able to afford more things is sort of the point of being rich. (I keep getting those ideas for schemes where you pay a fixed percentage of your income.) Yeah, okay, my suggested solutions suck. My outrage actually came from banning (and disapproving of) scalping. But I was wrong, it isn't a "selling is legal, that's protecting a monopoly" situation. The right to sell the right to attend isn't the right to attend. But it shouldn't be a banned commodity, it should be sold as well by the organization that sells the tickets (at prohibitively high prices if they hate scalping).
Given the existence of ticket resellers, I'd assume it's possible for a retailer to mark tickets as "approved for resale", although I'd expect the nuances vary by jurisdiction. Certainly, plenty of concerts charge sufficiently to exclude a large portion of people due to income, so the goals outlined above are moot for at least some concerts. Certainly, I'd support the ability of retailers to sell "scalping rights" or not at their own discretion. I'm quite aware of the privileges of wealth. I'd assume the point of this sort of social policy is to offset exactly that...

Fun fact: on my first readthrough, I saw

Recent brainwashing sessions at SIAI

and was like wut.

Such occurrences would give a whole new meaning to the term "epistemic hygiene."

For those who haven't heard of that term:

Skill: Other introspection / reflectiveness. (Catchall for internal self-knowledge habits that don't go elsewhere.)

Subskill: Accept that an accurate description of yourself during any given frame-instant will involve some emotions, reasons why you act, and reasons why you believe, which are less than perfectly virtuous.

  • Don't lie about your life story to yourself - don't spruce up your history to make yourself look better. It may be easier to practice the above skill on the past than on the present, and it gets you used to the general idea.
  • Accepting that "What is the cause of my belief?" and "What is the justification of my belief?" will not always have the same answers - you have to accept this non-virtuous fact before you can properly process them as different questions.
7Eliezer Yudkowsky
Exercise: Find at least one thing which you do for less than perfectly noble reasons, which you are going to admit to everyone else in the study group, and not fix for at least a week. Everyone else in the study group will admit something similar to you. Possibly followed by group hug. (The idea isn't that any given flaw is okay, the idea is that it's okay to have a running accurate description of yourself which involves known flaws you haven't fixed yet, and all of you are in that same boat together.)
Could you clarify somewhat what you mean by "less than perfectly noble reasons"? What I think of as "things I do for less than perfectly noble reasons" is an entirely different set than "flaws I haven't fixed yet". The latter implies consideration only of things that you can, should, and want to change. This is in contrast to things I do because I'm not perfectly noble and being perfectly noble is not a goal. I actually think confessions and acceptance of both of those kinds of deviations from perfect nobility could be valuable. It's ok to have an accurate running description of how you are and also ok to have an accurate running description on how you want to be.
Exercise: When you notice one of your justifications matches a common rationalizing pattern (e.g., "I snapped at my spouse because I was having a bad day, not because I'm jealous, of course I'm not jealous"), acknowledge it as a possibility. Don't try to evaluate its probability yet. Continue your train of thought as usual ("So I need to work on being nice when I'm in a bad mood..."), then start testing whether you're self-deceiving ("If I'm jealous, I should expect to see...").
4Eliezer Yudkowsky
Subskill: Notice new judgments and ask about them. E.g., "Huh, I have a bad feeling about this person cleaning this apartment." * Perceptually notice the new judgment, emotion, or intuition. * Put a box around it, that is, try to describe what you just felt in verbal language, to promote it to primary awareness. * Wonder where the feeling came from - search for internal causes. * Ask about the reference class - the general reliability of 'feelings like this'.
3Eliezer Yudkowsky
Subskill: Self-investigation of emotions, beliefs, anticipations. Forming hypotheses about what you feel, believe, or expect; questioning those hypotheses to see if they're actually true.

Skill: Handling ideas, plans, and predictions lightly enough not to become stuck with bad ones when evidence could (should?) have pushed you into a better working model.

Roughly, this skill would involve honestly scoring as a fox on the fox vs hedgehog quiz in a self aware way... understanding some of the construct that the quiz is probing, how that construct causally connects with predictive accuracy, and how and when to engage the relevant skills. Bonus points for being able to constrain the tendencies when they are unhelpful.

Exercise: PUA. Amy suggests that an exercise of equivalent difficulty for women might be getting a handsome guy to buy you a drink without promising him anything else.

The female possible-equivalent kind of skeeves me out, and doesn't seem to exercise the same skills. I would guess, and I hope, that there are better ways to practice status-projecting, confidence, taking control of interactions, and body language. Q: What sort of things are these social skills good for other than playing a fairly limited social game? A: Confidence and social dominance are useful in all sorts of Interactions. However, some of the parts are specific to human romance in this culture. Q: Do I really care about helping people practice the parts specific to romance in a specific culture, rather than a broad class of social interactions? A: Nah, not really. Q: Okay, so what kind of things test your social dominance, without splitting your audience or necessarily practicing culture-specific mating rituals? A: Getting people to do things (maybe specific behaviors) for you [e.g. go get me a drink]. Practicing specific skills to be dominant [e.g. never giving the appearance that you don't know what to do or need the other person's approval]. Navigating what is considered to be a difficult social interaction that is helped by being impressive [getting a job, making a product pitch].

The female possible-equivalent kind of skeeves me out

There is something to notice here.

There is something about this that skeeves me out as well, and it's not simply discomfort at the idea of doing it. It's the idea of manipulating others for drinks. It reminds me of begging, almost, the whole trying to get free stuff from others. Also, it sounds like leading men on far enough to get them to buy you a drink; it sounds like making them think you're interested, even if you don't actually promise anything. I'm not so fond of things that might inconvenience others, nor the idea of getting drinks from others because I've led them to believe something false.

I believe the male version is to get a girl's phone number? What skills does this require? I'd guess confidence, the art of conversation, body language, assertiveness, initiative, etc etc. Everything that's already been listed. However, what skills does convincing a man to buy a girl a drink require? What would make a man want to buy a girl a drink? I'm getting the impression of a great deal of flirtatiousness.

I feel that a more equivalent challenge would be for a girl to get a man to accompany her to one of her hobbies, like a knitting group or an orchestra concert or a rationalists' meetup. That way, she has to present her hobby well, get the guy interested, and he has to be interested in something other than sleeping with her. It will require more communication than sexuality, and I feel it will teach the desired social skills better.

I'm reasonably confident I could manage that using nothing but sex as a lure. Given that, I'm not sure how you'd really sort out whether the guy went from genuine interest, or because he genuinely believes there's a good chance of getting laid. If you're meeting someone in a bar and expressing interest, you're dealing with very biasing circumstances.
So, the girl challenge is to get a girl to accompany you to one of your hobbies.
Above I argue that this is an equivalent of at least one part of PUA, and explain the subtext behind why it seems skeevier.

The female possible-equivalent kind of skeeves me out

There is something to notice here.

Yes, that manipulation to get drinks is a flawed analogy, not equivalent. (I reject your connotation.)

It is not easy to find a direct female equivalent to the kind of skills Eliezer was suggesting developing. Simply because of the huge difference in the usual difficulty level in that kind of interaction. Perhaps the most direct translation would be "learn how to approach, attract and build a connection with prospective mates that would previously have been out of your league".

I'd suggest something more like Intolerable Cruelty, it retains the sense of the effort and strategy being very personally significant, but also retains the ambiguous attractiveness of what might in another era be called "the glamor of evil".

I need to think about this more, but my current belief is that it is less of a stretch to say that a pickup artist is satisfying actual preferences of a woman who chooses to sleep with him than to say a woman who sets out to marry a rich guy so that she can divorce him is satisfying actual preferences of the rich guy.

One yardstick our legal system and our society use to determine actual preferences is the principle of "informed consent". It seems to me that the consent of most of the woman who go home with pickup artists is significantly more informed than the consent of the Beverly Hills lawyer in Intolerable Cruelty is.

For your analogy to be illuminating and not misleading, the pickup artist would have to falsely profess a desire to spend the rest of his life with the woman or at least carefully navigate conversations with the goal of concealing the fact that his interest is other than what she thinks it is, and I currently do not think a significant number of them do that. Alternatively, the rich guy would have to know or strongly suspect that her goal is to cash out in a divorce -- and marry her anyway (e.g., because he cannot live without her) -- but the expected fra... (read more)

Above I argue that this is an equivalent of at least one part of PUA, and explain the subtext behind why it seems skeevier.
Did you mean something other than noticing that the sexual roles in our bar-trawling subculture, with common, desperate males and uncommon, passive females, skeeve me out? EDIT: Passive isn't quite the right word to put there. Certainly women in bars are socially passive with regards to men, but I'm not (very) skeeved out by the fact that, say, men typically ask women to dance. Maybe it's the injection of money/commodification, or maybe it's just that I dislike many people in that culture so the badness gets associated.
I think you'll have to be more explicit, I'm not sure what aspect I should be noticing that is worth italics relative to other aspects. Is it about Less Wrong memes, bar memes, Less Wrong's apparent tacit acceptance of bar memes despite general distaste, or what?

95% probability: Alicorn is suggesting that, just as the female equivalent of PUA skeeves Manfred (presumably a male) out, the traditional version of PUA skeeves her (and presumably other females) out.

Addressed to general audience, not katydee specifically.

Michael Vassar, 5th comment down: "It's important to pay attention to what people's words actually say. ..." I am going to attempt an exercise trying that out and see what happens. I'll also poorly echo Yvain.

Eliezer and others were looking for exercises to aid aspiring rationalists in developing generally applicable social/conversational skills/attributes. For aspiring rationalist males, the common perception is that PUA has demonstrated large positive effects. Eliezer or Amy suggested that succeeding at "getting a handsome guy to buy you a drink without promising him anything else" would build skills for female rationalists. Eliezer then relays Amy's suggestion that PUA and "getting a handsome guy to buy you a drink" might be of equivalent difficulty. Note that "equivalent" was used as an adjective, not a noun. This is the only flavor of equivalence suggested by Eliezer or Amy. It is a bad comparison. Female attractiveness is harder to substantially improve than male attractiveness, and "handsome" is vague.

The thread goes downhill immediately. Manfred writes: "The female... (read more)

Summary: katydee put 95% on a total breakdown of sanity within 4 sentences including Eliezer's 2 word sentence, written by 3 people, 2 of which are number 1 and number 3 on Less Wrong's Top Contributors list, and ended up guessing correctly, as if the reasoning was obvious. And I find it kinda funny...

It would only have been surprising if it was the first time the same insanity broke down in the vicinity of the same keyword and you were unfamiliar with the politics of the number three user in the top contributor list. It wasn't exactly subtle.

My assumption that the suggestions were supposed to teach the same skills probably comes from the fact that this is a post labeled Exercise, and so should be intended to teach a set of skills (though my use of the word "equivalent" probably did come from a textual mixup). And I don't think "getting laid at a bar" is the skill that was meant, although I am not as sure of that as I was - it's not that getting laid at a bar is so terrible, but I wouldn't call it a "Rationality Skill." And it appears that Will agrees with me that the purpose should not be to get laid, since he says "No one ever talked about a female equivalent of PUA." I suppose I could write a whole page about how he missed the other interpretation, and how that made the thread go downhill into insane troll logic, but that seems like a lot of work and I'd probably only get 18 or so upvotes :P
I agree with your points, though it seems to me that they're not about the part of the conversation that bothered me (which was the unfortunate exploitation of a hanging word for political reasons, not by you). I'm having trouble understanding your meaning. I mentioned your name a lot in my comment but mostly because I was trying to figure out how Alicorn's comment could be interpreted as a response to yours. (It mostly can't.) In my view your original comment was by no means an example of poor reasoning, and I apologize that I didn't make this clearer.
Above I argue that this is an equivalent of at least one part of PUA, and explain the subtext behind why it seems skeevier.
(I recommend not making bulk links like this. Especially not bulk links with that acronym. Downvotes are inevitable.)
You win Bayes points.
This is really interesting. There is something to notice here, but it's not about PUA, it's about the roles women play in society. My first thought is that the rules should be: 1. Get a handsome guy to buy you a drink, but you're not allowed to ask directly. You have to get him to offer. 2. Make him think you like him, and make him like you for some interval of time. 3. After a predetermined interval, say 15 minutes, make him lose interest. I added the extra limitations because of wobster's concerns: basically, it seems like a cheap trick to just ask drunk guys to buy you a drink until one says yes, and it seems mean to snub him afterwards. Then, after I formulated those rules, I realized that these are basically the rules that women are socialized to follow: women are generally taught to be less assertive than men, to get what they want through manipulation, to not snub or make men feel bad, and to find indirect ways of getting out of situations without offending anyone. I'd argue that this is the rough equivalent of one specific sub-field of PUA, albeit the most well-known: doing cold approaches in a loud meat-market type of bar, because it consists of approaching someone and controlling their interest level. (There is some confusion here in that the term 'pickup' originally referred to exactly this, as in 'bar pickup,' whereas now terms like 'PUA' or 'Game' have been broadened significantly to include the entire spectrum of dating and relationship skills. I suspect that this semantic difference causes a lot of problems.) So, in a sense, it's the female equivalent: the way PUA (in some cases) teaches men to follow normalized gender roles [1], this teaches women to follow normalized gender roles. The reason it seems skeevier than PUA is that the roles women are "supposed" to follow are skeevier and more manipulative. And, as Manfred pointed out, the gender roles in the "bar-trawling subculture" already seem skeevy. A more general equivalent would be sale
A: Yes. Romance is a rather important part of life and success in that area makes a difference in performance in other areas as well. There is real value, both terminal and instrumental, in having a healthy romantic life.
Okay, I'll drop the euphemism. Do I really care about helping people practice the parts specific to getting laid at a bar if you are a man, rather than a broad class of social interactions? "Healthy romantic life" is also a bit vague, so I'm not sure if you would support this explicitly, or if by "healthy romantic life" you mean a more stable situation, which would mean training in cooperation and communication (and also some rational courage and knowing what to expect) much more than dominance.
OK only 7 years late to this thread, but feel I've got a much more apt analogous exercise for a woman, which would be for her to take an assertive role (eg articulate strategy, awarding credit for work done, and delegating tasks) at a workplace meeting in which she is neither the organizer nor the highest ranked attendee. Bonus points if male attendees leave without the feeling she was being "bossy"
5Eliezer Yudkowsky
Skills this may teach / has successfully taught: Social confidence. General self-confidence. Body language, vocal tone, facial expressions. Charisma. Navigating social conversations. Willingness to hug people at LW meetups.
Another way to build up social confidence might be to repeatedly get rejected by asking lots of extremely attractive people out on dates. The goal here is to numb yourself to the emotional costs of rejection through repeated exposure.
And I would suggest that this additional form of training is going to be overwhelmingly hard to avoid picking up along the way. If you aren't getting repeatedly rejected then I think you must be doing something wrong.
Unless the rejection is accompanied by occasional successes, this may be a good way to lower your self-esteem. The trick is learning to accept rejection - using each opportunity to succeed and learning from each failed attempt.
Is this a rationality skill?
It's a mind hack to help one consider fellow LWers as part of one's "tribe". It seems to me to be a rationality skill, in the sense of consciously exploiting human cognitive biases in the service of one's own goals. Or it's a very mild form of cult "love bombing".
An anti-rationality skill then? Indeed.
A more challenging alternative might be to try getting a handsome guy to show genuine affection - ie., give you a hug and some words of encouragement ("don't worry about it, you'll do well on that test"), in exchange for nothing offered.
Would buying him the first round count? ;-)
Interesting. This bugs me because I don't like to feed other people's harmful addictions, and my default interpretation for "drink" is an alcoholic drink. I imagine myself being on the guy's side of the interaction, and if I don't know how vulnerable someone is to alcoholism, I don't want to cause them to receive any alcohol. The others who responded seemed to be bothered by something to do with interpersonal interactions at bars. It's interesting that there could be apparently-nonoverlapping reasons to have strong negative feelings about something that on the face of it seems fairly innocuous.
Not difficult enough. Better would be getting the man to drive at least 100 miles out of his way or incur at least $200 in expense.

I've been trying to google cat-nature on this site, to no avail. What is "cat-nature?"

Is the left side really representative of the topics LW'ers are most interested in?

Skill I: Conceptual Integration. This skill involves the ability to rapidly identify the relationship between any two concepts.

Skill II: Analogy. Be able to apply meaning from one subject to another.

Skill III: Creative Thinking. There is a wide range of ways to understand creativity, but it is generally understood to be the ability to create something new and valuable. A person thinks creatively by blending concepts from different scenarios together to generate unique ideas. This phenomenon, essential to the arts, sciences and humor goes on in the s... (read more)

Exercise For Skill I: Conceptual Integration 1. Ask: “Of what do I want a more cohesive conception?” Maybe it’s the Early National Era in the US. Maybe it’s the Union of European Football Associations. You pick. 2. Make sure you know about this thing. Hit the books. Watch a film. Take a class. Already know a lot about this thing? Good. You can skip this step. 3. Make note cards with key terms (events, ideas, people, etc.). No need to define them if you already know about them. You just need a deck of concepts. 4. Shuffle ( your deck. Riffle, Hindu, Pile or Weave and Faro, it doesn’t matter. Just randomize. 5. Pick two cards and ask yourself what relationship(s) exists between the terms. Answer yourself. 6. Keep doing that until you can rapidly identify the relationship(s) between any two concepts in the field. Note: You may want to throw a third card in the mix. Generate a set of cards that deal with overarching themes and concepts within the subject matter and state a relation in the context of that theme. Exercise for Skill II: Analogy. See Steps 1-5 Above 1. Set a number of paired cards down on a big table. 2. Identify sets of pairs with analogous relationships. Exercise for Skill III: Creative Thinking 1. Get your handy note cards. 2. Do the above-mentioned conceptual integration and analogy exercises with cards from unrelated fields/ schema.

Skill :

  1. well-calibrated confidence (Do I understand as well as I think I do?)
  2. correctly-anticipated regret (How will I react if things turn out to be wrong?) two factors that characterize good decisions.

Skill: learning that rational people can't agree to disagree.

Exercise idea: provide a list of questions that have objectively right answers such as how many bones are there in the human body. Have each person on his own guess at the answers. Next, put everyone in a small group and have the groups discuss the questions and then have everyone individually redo their estimates. Finally, combined each small group with one or two others and repeat what was done before.

Tell everyone at the start of the exercise that their goal is not to just get the right answers but to also identify causes of persistent disagreements within their decision group.

I did this once in my game theory class and the students loved it, although I didn't measure how much they learned from the exercise.


"Rational people can't agree to disagree" is an oversimplification. Rational people can perfectly well reach a conclusion of the form: "Our disagreement on this matter is a consequence of our disagreement on other issues that would be very difficult to resolve, and for which there are many apparently intelligent, honest and well informed people on both sides. Therefore, it seems likely that reaching agreement on this issue would take an awful lot of work and wouldn't be much more likely to leave us both right than to leave us both wrong. We choose, instead, to leave the matter unresolved until either it matters more or we see better prospects of resolving it."

Imperfectly rational people who are aware of their imperfect rationality (note: this is in fact the nearest any of us actually come to being rational people) might also reasonably reach a conclusion of this form: "Perhaps clear enough thinking on both sides would suffice to let us resolve this. However, it's apparent that at least one of us is currently sufficiently irrational about it that trying to reach agreement poses a real danger of spoiling the good relations we currently enjoy, and while clearl... (read more)

You say that as if resolving a disagreement means agreeing to both choose one side or the other. The most common result of cheaply resolving a disagreement is not "both right" or "both wrong", but "both -3 decibels."
No; in what I wrote "resolving a disagreement" means "agreeing to hold the same position, or something very close to it". Deciding "cheaply" that you'll both set p=1/2 (note: I assume that's what you mean by -3dB here, because the other interpretations I can think of don't amount to "agreeing to disagree") is no more rational than (even the least rational version of) "agreeing to disagree". If the evidence is very evenly balanced then of course you might end up doing that not-so-cheaply, but in such cases what more often happens is that you look at lots of evidence and see -- or think you see -- a gradual accumulation favouring one side. Of course you could base your position purely on the number of people on each side of the issue, and then you might be able to reach p=1/2 (or something near it) cheaply and not entirely unprincipledly. Unfortunately, that procedure also tells you that Pr(Christianity) is somewhere around 1/4, a conclusion that I think most people here agree with me in regarding as silly. You can try to fix that by weighting people's opinions according to how well they're informed, how clever they are, how rational they are, etc. -- but then you once again have a lengthy, difficult and subjective task that you might reasonably worry will end up giving you a confident wrong answer. I should perhaps clarify that what I mean by "wouldn't be much more likely to leave us both right than to leave us both wrong" is: for each of the two people involved, who (at the outset) have quite different opinions, Pr(reach agreement on wrong answer | reach agreement) is quite high. And, once again for the avoidance of doubt, I am not taking "reach agreement" to mean "reach agreement that one definite position or another is almost certainly right". I just think that empirically, in practice, when people reach agreement with one another they more often do that than agree that Pr(each) ~= 1/2: I disagree with you about "the most common result" unless "cheaply" is ta
This is probably a myth. The Aumann agreement theorem does not apply to real life. Here are three reasons why: 1. It requires that the two rational people already share a partition function. [EDIT: No! Major mistake on my part. It requires that the two people have common knowledge of each others' partition functions.] The range of the partition function is the set of sets of states of the world that an agent can't distinguish between. That implies that, for all possible sets of observations, each agent knows what the other agent will infer. You could say it requires that the agents query each other endlessly about their beliefs, until they each know everything that the other agent believes. 2. Interpreting Aumann’s theorem to mean what Aumann said it means, requires saying that “The meet at w of the partitions of X and Y is a subset of event E” means the same as the English phrase “X knows that Y knows event E” means. That is wrong. To expland this language a little bit: Aumann claims: To say that agent 1 knows that agent 2 knows E means that E includes all P2 in N2 that intersect P1. I claim: To say that agent 1 knows that agent 2 knows E , means that E includes P1(w), and that E includes P2(w). Agent 1 can conclude that E includes P1 union P2, for some P2 that intersects P1. Not for all P2 that intersect P1. That is a fine semantic error buried deep within the English interpretation, but it makes the entire theorem worthless. 3. Even if you still believe that the Aumann agreement theorem applies in the way James states above, it relies on all agents being perfectly honest with each other, and (probably, tho I'd have to check this) on having mutual knowledge that they are being honest with each other.
Here is a minor point: "for all possible sets of observations, each agent knows what the other agent will infer." This is true if both agents are rational (and this is common knowledge) and share a common prior (and this is common knowledge). You can calculate what they would infer using Bayesian math. If you are unsure about someone's ability to observe data about the real world, then that's another fact about the real world that you can have beliefs about. You shouldn't have to talk endlessly about everything.
Part 1 seems to have little to do with how I remember the theorem. Here is the abstract of Aumann's paper. Your 2 implies the following claim: Agent 1 knows that agent 2 knows E if and only if agent 2 knows that agent 1 knows E. This claim is obviously false. Here is another corollary of your definition: Suppose P1(w)={w,v}, P2(w)={w,u}. Then at w, I know E={w,v,u}, but at v, I do not know E! So I can distinguish between w and v by checking my knowledge, even though I cannot distinguish between w and v! Part 3 is correct. Indeed, common knowledge of honesty is a requirement.
How does it imply that? (It well might, within the context of the agreement theorem. My recollection is that you assume from the start that A1 and A2 have common knowledge of E.) Why? If knowledge means "justified true belief", then for agent 1 to know that agent 2 know E, agent 1 must also know E, and vice-versa. This doesn't prove the claim that you say I am making, but goes most of the way towards proving it. This is true, except that P1 and P2 should range over events, not over world states. This is a step that the theorem relies on. Are you claiming that this is false? Terms: P1 means what Aumann calls P-superscript1; N1 means what Aumann calls cursive-P superscript 1. P1(E) = {w,v} means that, after observing event E, A1 knows that the world is in one of the states {w, v}. N1 is the set that describes the range of P1. E is an event, meaning a set of possible world states. Aumann doesn't define what an 'event' is, other than implicitly in how he uses the variable E, so I hope I'm getting that right. I'm constructing this partly from memory - sorry, this is a complex proof, and Aumann's paper is skimpy on definitions, several of which (like "meet" and "join") are left undefined and hard to find defined anywhere else even with Google. I really can't do this justice without more free time than I have in the next several months. What I think Aumann is saying is that, if A1 knows E, and knows that A2 knows E, then for every state x in P1(E), for every event D such that x is in P2(D) , P2(D) is a subset of E. Saying this allows Aumann to go on and show that A1 and A2 can iteratively rule out possibilities until they converge on believing the same thing. This requires knowing more than what we mean when we say "A1 knows that A2 knows E". When we say that, we mean that A1 knows the world is in one of the states in E, and knows that A2 knows the world is in one of the states in E. But it is possible that there is some state x, that the world is not in, but that is
The definition you gave was symmetric. If I misread it, my apologies. True, but it's impossible to go the rest of the way. If you see a dog and I see both you and the dog through a one-way mirror, then I know that you know that there's a dog there but you don't know that I know that there is a dog. I am having trouble matching up your notation with the notation I'm used to. There are two operations, which I am used to calling P and K. They also have a number attached to them. P takes sets to bigger sets or else to themselves. P1({w}) is what A1 thinks is possible when w is true. P1(S) for any set S is what A1 might think is possible given that something in S is true. K takes sets to smaller sets or else to themselves. K1(S) is the set of possible states of the world where A1 knows that S is true. That seems to translate to the statement: Whenever E, A1 knows that A2 knows that E. which is stronger than just: In the current state w, A1 knows that A2 knows that E. Unless your P is my K in which case it translates to "E is the whole space" because all x are in K(the whole space). Aumann's theorem is based on common knowledge, which is the very strong statement that A1 knows E, and A2 knows that, and A1 knows that, and so on. However it is easy to see where this can come from. For instance, if I say "I think that the sky is blue" then it's essentially common knowledge that I said "I think that the sky is blue" Is that the source of your confusion? You have P1 and P2 taking big things to small things which means that they are K. However they will be able to agree that it is one of those states. Moreover neither of them will have any greater information than that it's one of those states. Argument occurs when I believe "A, not B" and you believe "B, not A", not if we both believe "A or B".
That was way too densely packed for my sleep-deprived brain to parse. Would you be willing to write a post (possibly Discussion post) spelling this out less succinctly? It seems important to get this idea out into the LW-sphere given how much cred the agreement theorem has around here.
It's not just densely packed - it makes no sense unless you read the paper first, and read some other things necessary to understand that paper. I'd like to write a post - but not right now.
I know enough game theory to prove versions of Aumann's theorem, but I have not read the paper, and your point in (2) makes no sense, period. The correct game-theoretic statement of 1 knows that 2 knows that E is that E includes P1(P2(w)). The meet of X and Y is about common knowledge. Saying that E is common knowledge is stronger than saying that 1 knows that 2 knows it. It also implies, for instance, that 2 knows that 1 knows that 2 knows it.
I wouldn't call that a skill so much as a frame of mind going into a discussion. Also, they can if they start with different arbitrary priors that neither one can assign objectivity.
Well, they can - if they have different goals.