This is the public group rationality diary for November 16-30.

It's a place to record and chat about it if you have done, or are actively doing, things like: 

  • Established a useful new habit
  • Obtained new evidence that made you change your mind about some belief
  • Decided to behave in a different way in some set of situations
  • Optimized some part of a common routine or cached behavior
  • Consciously changed your emotions or affect with respect to something
  • Consciously pursued new valuable information about something that could make a big difference in your life
  • Learned something new about your beliefs, behavior, or life that surprised you
  • Tried doing any of the above and failed

Or anything else interesting which you want to share, so that other people can think about it, and perhaps be inspired to take action themselves. Try to include enough details so that everyone can use each other's experiences to learn about what tends to work out, and what doesn't tend to work out.

Thanks to cata for starting the Group Rationality Diary posts, and to commenters for participating.

Previous diary: November 1-15

Next diary: December 1-15

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40 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 3:41 AM

I've had a longstanding desire to start a video blog. One major cause of my procrastination around doing so has been a tendency to scrap work that wasn't good enough even when I did get around to making an attempt to create a first video, as well as a spiral around "the first video" where I spent more time thinking about it the longer I didn't make one, and the more I thought about it the more it had to match an ideal picture of what a good first vlog/intro vlog for me should look like.

Noticing that, I intentionally made and uploaded a very flawed video consisting of just two sentences describing what I'm doing.

I like it.

The journey-of-a-thousand-miles-begins-with-the-first-step and all that, I know how perfect an excuse perfectionism is. Kudos for noticing the problem, making a solution, implementing the solution, and even more so for sharing your work with us! Your boundary-breaking attempt deserved acknowledgement and reward, so I clicked the link.

I didn't expect to like your scrappy 2-sentence video, but I'm genuinely amused by how matter-of-fact it is and the witty "unshaven face" comment at the end. I believe I'll add your companion blog to my follow list.

I'm looking into signing up for cryonics, as well as trying to reconcile my expressed beliefs and my actual, more nuanced beliefs about future disability prevalence. It's clear to me that I've been misrepresenting my opinions for political reasons, but I want to advocate for my actual position without losing my membership in a group that I need to be in to make my arguments heard. Realizing that this was what was going on is thanks (in part) to this site.

I'm a member of Alcor and have given lots of thought to cryonics, and have even written a bit about it so feel free to ask me questions about cryonics here or by PM.

I'm already talking to Rudi Hoffman (the guy who does free quotes), but what I really need is a guide to presenting the idea to my parents (I'm a minor), who definitely could shut this whole thing down if they disapproved.

Also, if I only have my brain stored, can they donate the organs?

Also, if I only have my brain stored, can they donate the organs?

Some quick googling of the phrase 'cryonics "organ donation"' suggests the answer is (a) neuro-only is not always possible, so no; (b) trying to do both puts the cryonics part at serious risk of paperwork problems; (c) they aren't experienced enough to do both complicated cryonics procedure and whatever's necessary for donation; and (d) it's probably irrelevant because you'll be so old and dying of nasty things like cancer that most of your donation would be useless.

Women tend to react much more negatively than men so start with your dad. Tell him that Peter Thiel is a member of an organization that you want to join because you think that the organization has a chance at greatly extending your life. If your parents won't agree to cryonics then at least get a whole life insurance policy. This will protect you against the risk that you will get sick and not be able to buy life insurance.

You might want to tell your parents that you greatly fear death, and signing up for cryonics would reduce this fear and so give you a happier life. Also, consider telling them that you will keep your cryonics membership a secret if they think this would be best. Tell your parents that you know other people who have signed up for cryonics and so if it works you won't be alone when revived. Finally, if there is something your parents really want you to do but you resist, offer a trade.

"Normal" people think cryonics is crazy, so expect your parents to think this as well. You will probably never succeed in convincing them that cryonics is worth the money and if your mom finds cryonics disgusting you will likely never get her to change her mind about this. Focus on getting your parents to let you do something that they think is a bad idea because you have earned the right to decide for yourself.

I'm not sure about donating organs if you just have your brain preserved, but I think the answer is no. If this bothers you then donate a few hundred dollars to some efficient charity and you will probably do a greater amount of expected good than if you agreed to be an organ donor.

My father is a science professor who also teaches a class on nanotechnology in literature, so he's read enough sci-fi to have a strong negative first impression of cryonics. He estimates the chance of waking up in a future that one would rather die than exist in to be higher than waking up in a more pleasant future. (I asked him a few weeks ago what he thought of cryonics, w/o mentioning personal opinions.)

I'm bad at modeling humans as compared to the general population, but I think he'd be the greater obstacle.

Also, what sort of disgust reaction to cryonics is more typical of women than of men?

I can get through a discussion while avoiding getting into the medical details, if that's the issue. My mother has been fine with discussing controversial medical issues, was fairly open about human biology from the beginning, approved my participation in multiple non-invasive medical studies, and is a blood donor, so she seems to be able to overcome immediate feelings of disgust if she can see a benefit to doing so.

You have more experience with women's reactions to cryonics than I do. Do you know if these sorts of traits make a strong disgust reaction less likely?

Any difference between men and women on average is just that: on average. Think almost-but-not-quite-completely overlapping Gaussian curves. You have a lot more information about your parents than James_Miller, so he's making a complete guess based on the slight difference in prior for men and women, whereas you're able to update on much more complete and relevant information about your actual parents, not just the barely relevant fact that one is a man and one is a woman. Conclusion: discuss it with your mother, if that seems better to you.

Any difference between men and women on average is just that: on average. Think almost-but-not-quite-completely overlapping Gaussian curves.

The second sentence does not follow from the first. It is also possible for the Gaussian curves to be so far apart that there is almost no overlap, and that situation is still perfectly describable by saying that there is a difference between both populations on average but reflects a much stronger difference in prior probability. As a matter of empirical fact, only 20% of Alcor's members were female as of 1999, and the number of women opposed to their husband's cryonics arrangements is well-known as the hostile wife phenomenon. Combine with Dr. Miller's experience and we have a strong outside view case that ilzolende's mother will probably react worse than her father to cryonics.

No, of course it doesn't follow automatically, but a lot of the time people point out an average difference between men and women, this is the case. I happen to think it's quite likely that there are good explanations for the phenomena you cite that don't include "women are intrinsically more biased against cryonics than men"; there are certainly possible explanations, so it would be a bit daft to assume that that one possibility explains all the variance.

I happen to think it's quite likely that there are good explanations for the phenomena you cite that don't include "women are intrinsically more biased against cryonics than men"

I think the explanation is that women are intrinsically more conformist then men and since cryonics is currently unusual and perceived as weird, well.

so it would be a bit daft to assume that that one possibility explains all the variance.

The rule of thumb is that 20% of the causes are responsible for 80% of the effect.

I have discussed cryonics with hundreds of women. (I talk about it with my students and I teach at a women's college.)

Sure, I don't think that contradicts what I said?

The issue is who can better predict what ilzolende's mom will think of cryonics, ilzolende who knows his mom, or me who has never met ilzolende's mom but who has talked to many women about cryonics. The chance of my being a better predictor is increasing in the number of women I have talked to about cryonics so while what I wrote didn't "contradict" what you said it does reduce the likelihood of your being right.

  1. I'm female, but this site doesn't have a bio section in the user profile, so no big deal.
  2. My estimated probability that my mom will react negatively to discussion of cryonics is being adjusted upwards slightly, but the information I really need is what sort of things someone who is disgusted by cryonics would also be disgusted by.
  3. I would assume what James Miller is saying is that he has seen a wide variety of women react to cryonics, so in addition to having a reliable estimate of the average woman's behavior, he would know of more women who are similar to a described woman, and how those women reacted.

I would assume that you have more information about how different types of people react to cryonics, and that I have more information about what mental traits my mother has. I tried to pass on the knowledge of her mental traits which I thought were relevant to your estimate, so that you could make a better estimate. I wasn't suggesting that you didn't know how people react to cryonics.

Thanks for the data!

It actually is possible to create a bio section on your user profile, but it requires jumping through some hoops. Specifically, if there's a page for User:yourname on the wiki, the main site pulls it in as a profile and it becomes your main user page (you can still get to your comments by clicking "Comments" or "Overview"): see for example Gwern's user page on the main site, and on the wiki.

Most people don't bother, though.

The chance of my being a better predictor is increasing in the number of women I have talked to about cryonics

Nope. By increasing your sample size you are getting your sample mean and so your estimate of the true mean closer to the population mean. But you can never get better than the population mean in your forecast. Someone who knows how the specifics of a particular data point differ from the average/expected value is quite likely to produce a better forecast.

Because there is a limited amount of free energy in the universe, you probably don't get revived in a bad future. A society that knew enough nanotech to revive you is one where you would not be a profitable slave or organ bank, and they are only likely to bring you back if they value your happiness. Also, there is some chance that you would be able to kill yourself post-revival if you found life worse than death.

Your dad might enjoy my book Singularity Rising which makes the case for cryonics in one chapter.

I don't know how to characterize the disgust that lots of women feel towards cryonics, other then to say it seems to fit comfortably in the "disgust" category of emotions.

I had an idea for a new Holiday cached behavior for my roommate and I: the good nut pin.

The good nut pin is to be Christmas-themed and as tacky as possible. The object of the game is to give away the pin as soon as possible. It can only be given away in recognition of someone else being a 'good nut'; that is, as positive reinforcement for some good or worthwhile behavior we notice the other person doing. It is one of several ideas I came up with as I pondered the Meaning Of Christmas; Being Good starts to die out after the Naughty List proves fake, and Doing Good has potential for EA and positive externality-generating habits but is mostly about throwing money at feel-good charities.

I made the mistake of awarding the temporary placeholder pin to a friend we had over. I explained the rules of the game, but the pin never circulated back. I carried her bag and hinted at it in a horridly passive-aggressive way. I loudly pointed out my roommate's excellent contributions to the conversation. I flat out told her we were gonna need it back tonight or we wouldn't see it again until the next time she saw us.

It still left out the door with her. I insist this tradition is still better than elf-on-a-shelf, but it's obviously got its failure modes.

I guess you just have to face the reality that your contrived traditions, once in the wild, can be hijacked both figuratively and literally.

I made the mistake of awarding the temporary placeholder pin to a friend we had over. I explained the rules of the game, but the pin never circulated back. I carried her bag and hinted at it in a horridly passive-aggressive way ... It still left out the door with her. I insist this tradition is still better than elf-on-a-shelf, but it's obviously got its failure modes.

You should've changed it to a good nut bag on the spot. I'm not sure I'd call thievery a failure mode.

@#$&#*! Everything about your post confuses me. How on earth would declaring her purse to be part of the game help matters? The placeholder pin was a sticky note that had "Good Nut" written on it. Hardly a thieving offense, it just really bugged me that the game broke because of it.

If we used her bag as the good nut pin then she'd have DEFINITELY left with it, feeling annoyed and defensive to boot! You can't just go around claiming people's purses as prizes in games ಠ_ಠ

I thought she put the pin in the bag and you hinted at the bag while carrying it. Why else would you have mentioned the bag? It was a joke and depending on how rigid their thinking were you could have made that kind of a joke right there. I thought your placeholder pin was some kind of a real pin not easily replaceable and you were going to use a more suitable pin in the future. It wouldn't have occured to me that someone would be bothered enough by losing a sticky note to make passive aggressive comments about it. Do you think it's possible she could've taken it just to see your unusual reaction?

It's funny how much understanding language depends on assumptions :)


I went back to scheduling my life using my phone. It's basic stuff like workout or clean on this day at this time. This has been an utter failure so far. The reason I originally stopped using the schedule is because, after some initial success, I wasn't following it then either. I need to get into a habit of following it, but breaking the schedule when I've only barely started is a really bad sign.

I need to get into a habit of following it

This might be true, but it isn't obvious; and if it is true, it isn't obvious that this works as an object-level goal. (By that I mean that in order to start following your schedule, you probably don't want to apply willpower towards following your schedule. Other things you might want to try include: schedule things differently; schedule different things; change how you feel about the things you have scheduled.)


I think you're right about less willpower (not your pessimism about habituation as a goal). The goals were originally set to maximize the odds that I'd be home and available at the time the task needed to occur. I'm considering moving the goals to an earlier part of the day so I get more of them done before being distracted.

What happened those times you ignored your schedule? There can be very different breakpoints in a system like this.

  • Do you break away to do other things that need to be done but didn't get to schedule properly?
  • Are you neglecting to check the schedule?
  • Is acknowledging the schedule turning into an ugh field?
  • Are finding the scheduled item is not something immediately actionable?
  • Are the scheduled items taking longer/shorter than expected?
  • Are you constantly finding excuses (even good ones) not to do the scheduled thing?

Some subset of the above? Without knowing specifics, I can tell you: Schedules tend towards sucking up will-power, as philh was getting at, like a badly designed phone application drains power. Scheduled items require over and over again that you do this at this time, whether you want to or not, whether it makes sense to do it then or not. You may find formulating itty bitty trigger-action habits more useful than a schedule: make them just big enough to put you in a perfect position to work on the task, and small enough that that you can do just that and stop if it's not a good time. (BJ Fogg's tiny habits)[] is BRILLIANT at setting these up.

I'm having good results from using HabitRPG for this sort of thing. Your character gets experience points as you accomplish various daily, weekly, or one-off tasks, and it also records how many times in a row you've successfully done each recurring task. It's kind of silly, but I really feel good about my 37-day streak of actually eating breakfast.

That is an excellent feature. I've transitioned away from it because it loads slowly on my computer and doesn't give a history of to-dos by date that I can reference whenever someone complains I don't do anything--myself especially.

It also integrates with beeminder now, FrameBenignly, which is a point in its favor.

This week in Hamland:

  • switched task systems again, from gtasks to ticktick. Better integration with web, and it includes an inbox.
  • explicitly made effort to be open about my insecurities with my roommate/friendboy. I took advantage of my usual weekly freewrite to write an email, and followed it up with an in-person talk.
  • took small steps to talk to customers and coworkers, CoZE-style. That is, I'm counting my own discomfort as a reason to push forward, and paying attention to whether the real consequences match up to my perception of them. I wrote notes and set goals after each shift, and started improving just in time to quit and move further south. I felt undertrained to help customers, as I was just holiday setup help, tended towards hyperfocusing on tasks, and got too self-conscious about the speed/quality/accuracy of my work to reach out.

After having heard much about how great a gratitude journal is for one's life, I overcame my sense of impending hokeyness long enough to set up a Google form to journal in and an IFTTT recipe to remind me to do it.

In the interest of full disclosure, it comes to my attention that I did little if any work to figure out where the impression of hokeyness came from and whether it ought to be believed. :/

Well, I feel like a gratitude journal is almost an exemplar of hokeyness. But that doesn't mean it's bad or ineffective.

If that bothers you, frame it as an exercise in mindfulness and positively-oriented reflection.

Technically, gratitude journal is an example of selection bias. (A hypothetical impartial observer should make notes about everything, indiscriminately.)

But that's okay, because the purpose of the gratitude journal is not to make impartial observations, but to change yourself. To focus your attention on processes that have proved successful in the past, on resources your have, etc.

This hits on the particular question I failed to ask in this case, which was something like "Is there some particular bias I'd be exploiting for fun/profit/improvement?"

Which, of course, begs the question of whether it is rational to exploit biases instead of trying to mitigate them.

I think there is not much hope to remove biases from System 1, so we might as well use them for our benefit. With System 2, let's try to be as unbiased as possible.

More metaphorically, use your thoughts for (unbiased) thinking, but use your emotions for (productive) action. Don't try to use your emotions for thinking, they are not made for that purpose.

System 1 and System 2 aren't separate, defined systems though. They bleed into each other. It's useful language for talking about thinking, but massively oversimplifies the matter.

My third update on curcumin (previous: one, two): I haven't been taking it very regularly lately. This is not unusual for me; as my focus on self-improvement waxes and wanes, so does my likelihood of continuing a practice that either is productive in itself or causes me to be more productive.

Mostly, I've been too depressed to take my pills. My antidepressant pills.

The thing is, the antidepressant effect is not so powerful as to leave one into a basically neutral mood absolutely regardless of what's happening. It can help you withstand minor stress without being emotionally affected; and if you're the kind of person who slips into a bad mood suddenly and without any exterior cause, it will probably help. But if sufficiently unfortunate events happen to you -- say, your mother is in hospital with cancer, your father commits suicide, the love of your life rejects you and then kisses someone else right in front of you, all of your friends turn out to be fake, you have to survive on two dollars for the following week, and you find yourself having to drop out of college -- all at the same time -- then I'm sorry to say that curcumin ain't gonna do shit for you.

I'll be saving my current supply for a time when things go better for me and I can actually focus on the goals for which I chose to take curcumin pills in the first place. Or maybe I'll just take them on days when I don't expect much to be happening, to improve baseline mood.


In a similar vein, I started experimenting with melatonin. I never had any problem sleeping when tired, and only very recently I experienced a couple of episodes of insomnia, but after reading gwern's sterling recommendation of it I thought I should give it a shot.

I took it thrice so far. The first two times -- 2 pills of 1 mg melatonin each; I was surprised to see they actually worsened my problem. I got stuck into the unpleasant state of being extremely tired (from the melatonin) and still unable to sleep. I am not sure whether this was because of melatonin or in spite of it. The third time I only took 1 mg, and slept very well for a very long time -- but then again I had amassed a very large sleep debt in the previous few days, and probably would have slept well no matter what. Needless to say, the data I've gathered so far is inconclusive. I have enough pills for the following two months or so; I'll continue taking it and see whether my response improves.

I have enough pills for the following two months or so; I'll continue taking it and see whether my response improves.

Also try reducing the dose. 1mg pills should be easy to split into quarters, thirds, and halves.

Too depressed to remember to take depression medication... I know those feels. I know them well. Curcumin does not have that pesky 6-weeks-till effects problem does it? Shoring up the medication for a rainy day may be counterproductive if you'll have to sacrifice some weeks worth of pills to start up a baseline level again.

Melatonin made me wake up early, tired, and irritable. The pills available in the store are usually too much--mine were 3mg, a bit too big to even break apart usefully--and it took me a while to realize the dosage was the problem. I use it nowadays at whim to get vivid dreams.