The Hammertime Final Exam

Difficulty: Vorpal Dragonscale Sledgehammer of the Whale

Write all three. For each essay, give yourself five minutes to brainstorm and five minutes to write.


Design an instrumental rationality technique.

I have one "spirit" which I regard as being the best version of myself and which I can trust to reliably make good choices. Unfortunately, when I'm making decisions, another spirit is often more or less in charge. One approach to mitigating this is making a TAP wherein you simulate my post facto opinion of the (usually bad) choice you're about to make. This interpolates between your current spirit and the normatively-correct one. Pretending to be someone else / another version of yourself is, in my experience, surprisingly effective.

Confusion Identification

Introduce a rationality framework.

You're doing your homework, and you're stuck. You don't know what to do next.

One approach is to set a Yoda Timer for 5 minutes; write down a broad-strokes explanation of the problem, where you are presently, and what a solution would look like. Then go to a friend (or, if you're alone, an imaginary friend) and explain it. They don't have to understand, but you have to understand what you're saying while you're saying it. You don't have to have a gears-level understanding of the solution (yet), but you should have a System 1 understanding of your outline.

Be on the lookout for any mental bumps, any areas you gloss over with a trace of discomfort. These dark crevices beckon to you; into them you must descend if you are to emerge solution in hand.

Emotion Propagation

Describe a cognitive defect.

At my undergraduate institution, I was incredibly social - I eagerly crossed cliques to make new friends wherever I went. This demeanor carried over to my first trimester of graduate school; then, I became depressed.

After taking a few months leave, I managed to fully recover. I returned to my graduate institution and found my desire to socialize was neutered. This problem plagued me for nearly a year; it is only within the last month that I pinpointed the cause. My attitude towards interpersonal interaction never left the state.

Just as the human mind doesn't enforce belief consistency, it won't necessarily propagate attitudinal changes to relevant areas of your life. Do you currently value everything as you would reflectively prefer, or are there holdovers from the past?

Several additional minutes were taken for formatting.

New Comment
3 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since:

Great submission! I especially like Emotion Propagation – it's something I've thought about specific cases of, but hadn't conceptualized as a cognitive defect, and I think it might be surprisingly pervasive. I'm definitely going to try looking at my bugs from an emotion propagation angle. Thanks for that :)

Glad you found it valuable! I think it's a pretty nasty defect; mine remained hidden under fairly intense reflective scrutiny.

I don't like socializing.

Wrong. What changed? The depression, right? How could that still be affecting me?

Lingering decreased confidence?

Doesn't quite seem to fit. Why don't I socialize as much as I'd like?

Low expected value.

Took a few more questions to unearth the fact that a major part of my System 1 was altered.

On another note, my internal dialogue for the third essay was something like

We aren't going to find a new cognitive bias in 5 minutes.

Shut up and think.

Take the outside vie- OK, fine.


Yoda Timers really are something.

I like (2) a lot, I find writing up talk/lecture notes on a topic extremely productive. It's surprising how many details I'm always missing that take work to produce.

Would you mind commenting a link to this on the original final exam post?