In HPMOR Eliezer makes "Something to Protect" Harry's power that the Dark Lord doesn't have. In Posture for Mental Arts Valentine from CFAR argues that it's likely a key part of having proper mental posture.

Did any of you make a conscious attempt to develop this sense of having something to protect? If so what worked for you? What didn't work?

Is there relevant academic research on the topic that's useful to know?

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[-][anonymous]8y 1

Yesterday I met a teacher with 30 years of experience of, in particular, going on tours with groups of children. (She shared some of her rules with a younger colleague.) This was a humbling experience for me - the level of control of the situation she established as acceptable for herself is impressive, and so is the level of trust her kids and their parents have in her. (Trust I measure here as the number of kids signing up for a tour with a specific teacher, relative to average.)

AFAIU, she reached this efficiency by two methods: 1) when they set off, there's nothing which is not her fault, and she doesn't have to like children or dislike them to want them stay healthy, and 2) she respects herself. Over the years, with more and more life experience behind her, this became a single 'something to protect' gut feeling.

Hope that helps:)

I think that it is better to start of your thinking on this topic by realizing that it is not necessarily about finding 'something to protect'. It is primarily about finding something to which you wish to become entwined. This means finding something to care about so deeply that its experiences come to impact your own, not in the myopic and selfish sense, but in the sense that you come to care about it because you become or realise that you already are interconnected with it. For example, If someone you care about is hurt, then you feel pain as well. This is where 'something to protect' comes in. Once you care enough about something, then these feelings allow you to overcome the stigmatization, social ostracisation and just general plain old effort that you need to face to become optimal at protecting whatever it is you care about.

I think that in Eliezer's post he was generally talking about how having 'something to protect' allows you to be able to be a lonely dissenter and have the courage to be able to follow through with your reasoning till its end, even if it seems 'wrong' from the point of view of others. But, I think that there is more to it than just this. In general, I think that it is the basis of most bravery and courage that we see in this world.

It may be useful to think about how you can become more connected to something that you think you might already partly care about or would want to care about. Some ideas are:

  • take responsibility.
  • (be careful with this) Open yourself up and be vulnerable. This is best done if it is towards someone that already cares about you.
  • Try to see the world from the perspectives of others.
  • Appreciate and be grateful
  • try to find the meaning in whatever you are doing.

I would recommend reading this book: Man's Search for Meaning

Things I would think about:

  • Connecting it to myself - its easier to care if it's yours or you have ownership about a thing. (obvious example - having your own children, or treating it like they are children/related to you, but this also applies to things and not just relatives. For example I have built some of my furniture from scratch which makes me particularly like those possessions over purchased ones.)
  • following on from that last point; spending a lot of money on the thing, can signal to yourself that you care about it (i.e an engagement ring).
  • I particularly concern myself with caring about seeing fairness in the world; I like to believe I am one of those people who would stop the injustice from happening in front of me on the train. Because of this - if I could find a way to connect caring about the next X more salient to the goal of "protect justice" which is something I already believe in, doing so would help.
  • Having evidence that you might prove this empirically. How might you know that someone else is protecting something? Are there things you can do to signal that? (signalling this would likely cause you to feel it more for yourself as well)

Did this help?

One thing that helped me a lot was doing some soul-searching. It's not so much about finding something to protect so much as realizing what I already care about, even if there are some layers of distance between my current feelings and that thing. I think that a lot of that listless feeling of not having something to protect is just sort of being distracted from what we actually care about. I would recommend just looking for anything you care about at all, even slightly, and just focusing on that feeling.

At least that makes sense and works for me.

One thing that helped me a lot was doing some soul-searching

What exactly did you do?

During my last stint of regular meditation I would sit down with the clear intent that I was meditating "for" my something-to-protect. This sort of trick theoretically roots the idea into your mind better.

From a certain point of view, every human action originates with intent. So succoring intent directly by giving the act of intending a priveleged space can amplify motivation regarding said intent.

[-][anonymous]8y 0

I have a house plant in my room. If I don't water it, I get really bad conscience. I don't like the thought that this plant would cease to exist, just because I am too lazy or forgetful. I fear that my mother would notice it, (and she possibly cares about it because her mother or other people that have influenced her childhood cared about it and so on). It's generally extremely embarrassing to lose or destroy something that other people expect you to protect. A thing we protect possibly also resembles our own finitude and we project our will to survive onto it. Perhaps look into research on will to survive and empathy.

Isn't this backwards? Shouldn't you first find a goal, and only then decide that this is something that you want to protect?

I haven't said anything against finding goals or having them. Most of us likely have goals.

I believe that the 'something' to protect is a deeply individual thing. Sure we all share the basic values but their specific pattern is individual. And I guess some shaping can be done esp. early on. But not every pattern will work for all. Making human flourishing your goal requires that you see humanity as 'your tribe'. Not everybody does or can be made to. Making death your enemy can be presumably be done via protecting oneself (survival drive) or (again) via the drive to care for other people.

For example I feel that the thing I care for most is my (extended) family. But more the family as such than it's individual members. I wouldn't place the death in dignity of one member over the well-being of the family. I also value society at large and with to contribute to that (otherwise I wouldn't be here) but I wouldn't go to great length to protect it in and off itself.

See for further context the baseline of my opinion on LW topics.

Here's my take on "something to protect" from personal experience:

Finding something to protect is likely quite difficult for many people. I was certainly headed in that direction, and making progress, but after having a child my "power" leveled up by orders of magnitude (if not my ability to wield it). I didn't have a child for this purpose, and the magnitude of this effect was not knowable in advance, even if the sign seemed likely.

The fact of having a child does not make me more rational. It does, however, provide a very large incentive to become more rational and to apply those gains to areas where they will earn the highest returns, and away from rationality as consumption. It's not simply that my priorities are different, but that I prioritize better, and strive for continuous improvement in this triage (or, I prioritize prioritizing) , because consequences are real and I have more to protect.

I also do not attempt to be rational about everything. That seems wrong headed, but another way to put it is that I prioritize my rationality expenditure. This is partly a willpower budget thing, partly a time budget thing. It's not they I am deliberately irrational about any one thing, but that unless I find a reason to evaluate something using the tools of reason, I don't - I assume the evolutionary reason for my carrying on as usual is good enough, so that I can get on with the business of doing stuff I have prioritized rationally.

When my toddler runs up to me, seemingly for no reason, wanting a hug, I don't think things like "What does he really want"? "What does this signal"? "The sensations I now feel, and the thoughts I am having, are not actually love - that is a social construct mapping to the the physiology evolved in order to protect the genes I have passed on... etc etc". Rather, I think something more like "Wow, it's so nice that he wants a hug from Dad. He's such a lovely boy" - because I do think those things, and the cause need not be investigated too deeply for my purposes. Then I can get back to the work of trying to make his future a good one, and that in his future more futures are good ones. It's a kind of meta-rational approach. This is an extreme case, of course, just to demonstrate the idea.

This approach demonstrates two important important issues for me. The first is that incentives matter, and aligning incentives matters. I want to minimise any principal-agent problems over my set of incentives. The second is that I've recognised that I have more power, gained from having something to protect. People often say things like "now that you have children you have to be more responsible". They often mean that you should work more, or play less, or now you have to conform to our values more (and signal it), or similar. I see it differently. The responsibility is not in doing a bunch of things, it is about working out what to do, and it was not just given to me, but is an internally generated desire for achieving good. It means that I think more carefully about goals and outcomes, and more easily disregard non-productive actions and plans. I certainly do this more than I did before having children, and likely more than I would otherwise have.

A couple of tangentially related things I find useful:

[ Don’t Be “Rationalist”]

[ "Be a philosopher; but, amidst all your philosophy, be still a man."] -David Hume

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[-][anonymous]8y 2

But why did you retract this? It is honest and coherent!

Watching the animes. Witnessing the struggles and bravery of Goku, Seiya, Naruto, Ichigo and Harry Potter will motivate you to follow in their heroic footsteps.

[-][anonymous]8y 1

I was once motivated to show support to a fellow enlister into a PhD program mostly because I had recently read a sentimental StarTrek fanfic. (She got through that first test but soon had to drop it, so on net my action was a loss, leading to waste of time and brain cells on her part, but I had had no way to foresee it.)

Why do you believe that this approach is helpful?

Maybe I couldn't resist posting this suggestion (sorry) because "having something to protect" is such a staple of anime. But - there's also a good case to be made here.

An analogy is motivational posters. Animes are essentially motivational posters for "having something to protect", since after all this is often the moral of them. Nonetheless, they have advantages over motivational posters:

  • Higher budget. They can last hours, have animation instead of a single phrase, etc.
  • They follow narratives (Hero's Journey, etc)