This is the public group instrumental rationality diary for the week of August 6th. 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 everyone who contributes!

Last week's diaryarchive of prior diaries.

(Sorry for being late this week -- I'm on vacation and got distracted :-)
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36 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 2:02 AM

I started my personal Life Gamification project. :D

It looks like this: I have defined a set of activities, and I give myself "points" for doing them. Example activities are: exercise, meeting with people, learning a lesson of foreign language, walking outside, writing a blog article, but also passive ones like spending a day without web exploration. Etc.

For each activity I give myself a point, with the goal of maximizing the total number of points. The rules are designed to prevent cheating; for example for "socializing" I can only get one point per day, and I can only get the point once for each person per week. This means that even if I blindly tried to maximize the number of points, it would not be a big problem.

I have already tried something similar before, so here are the few changes, that I hope will make it work:

First, the activities are precisely defined. In previous attempts I tried to have general categories, such as "do something positive for my health". Sorry, that's not actionable. Also it leads to cheating: how little is "something"? Now the activities are rather specific. If this is not flexible enough, of course there is the meta-rule that I can redefine the activities. However (this idea is stolen from Beeminder) if I change the rules, I still have to play another week by the old rules, and only later the new rules apply. (So I am not tempted to change the rules just to get another point today.)

Second, the outcomes are framed as positive: I can only get "points", there is nothing to lose. I feel that it will be better for long-term motivation, if I give myself only rewards, not punishments. For example today I have 4 points. It's better to focus on that than to focus on how many points I didn't get.

Third, to visualize the outcomes, I keep a record on paper. One paper for week, days are columns, and I glue there the "points" made of colored paper. Different types of goals are printed on different colors of paper, so it is easy to see which kind of activities I do more or less. It looks somehow like a list of achievements a computer game could show you. The length of the columns shows which days were more successful. It is on paper, not in computer, because this way it feels more real; and also I have the visual feedback even when my computer is turned off.

OK, this is an experiment that has just started (now is the fourth day I am using it), so I will write more about it when I have more experience.

Please let us know how this goes in a couple months!

Of course if it's successful, I will be glad to share. I would love to share the details now, but there are a few good reasons not to do so:

1) Writing only about successful projects improves the signal:noise ratio. However enthusiastic I feel about my game, if it fails, it is an evidence that it was not worth publishing.

2) Writing about it would be a reward to me, and it's probably bad idea to take one's reward before one does the work.

1) Writing only about successful projects improves the signal:noise ratio. However enthusiastic I feel about my game, if it fails, it is an evidence that it was not worth publishing.

What a lovely justification of publication bias.

1) Writing only about successful projects improves the signal:noise ratio. However enthusiastic I feel about my game, if it fails, it is an evidence that it was not worth publishing.

Noticing how something failed is useful. You had some reason to think it would work and it didn't. If it was just a lark, sure, move on, but if you expected it to work, pause, notice you are confused and try to work out what happened. Maybe it's a calibration exercise, or maybe there's a patch.

Also, not everyone returns to give us updates. If you say it didn't work, we can all update more cleanly than if you go dark and we have to weight the update by how likely not letting us know what happened is caused by a negative result or just other commitments.

You are right; and so is gwern.

Therefore I promise to write about positive or negative results of this experiment in Group Rationality Diary in December 2012 (or sooner, in case of failure).

I tried something like this a couple months ago. It didn't work very well because points (to me) aren't quantifiable- in a material way. So I reward myself with a mini candy bar (one of those bite sized ones) instead. Points alone might be enough to motivate you- I've always been incredibly difficult to properly motivate.

Last month I posted about how I was going to lash myself to the mast and block out all time-wasting websites and delete all games. I'm still at it and there's not much to say aside from a couple updates.

A couple of websites I considered useful actually ended up ballooning their time consumption when I blocked out other time wasting websites. I realized they weren't actually so useful and ended up blocking all of them too except Wikipedia and LessWrong. Internet usage is way down.

Videogame usage has been minimal. Before I deleted all my games I'd already made exceptions for Endless Space and Guild Wars 2 when they came out, if I could last that long. (I really didn't anticipate lasting this long.) I was slightly worried that allowing myself any videogame time would open up floodgates and I'd be back to prior behaviors like an alcoholoc who takes a swig of brandy. But I ended up installing Endless Space, playing it, beating it twice (it's Civ style), then uninstalling it without going onto any other games since. Yay.

Productivity wise, my initial success with Programming, Rosetta Stone, and Creative Writing has faded significantly, but still remains well above baseline. I've found that I'm just not as motivated to get on the computer as I used to be. Productivity in non-computer ventures has skyrocketed. I've been much more diligent about the gym, real world projects, and I've been way more on the ball with cleaning / house upkeep, which is nice. My diligence with Anki is the only sector where my productivity is below when I started, owing to the fact that I spend more time away from the computer now.

But anyhow, the Odysseus Protocol remains a huge success a month and some change later. I've also got a similar secret project I'm one week into, but I'll wait at least another week before I post on that.

Regarding Anki, do you have an iPhone or Android phone? The Anki app is amazing & my learning after purchasing it shot through the roof. It is so convenient to have all of your flash cards with you all of the time. Aside from planned downtime, there is no downtime. If you have 2 minutes of free time, you have 2 minutes you can spend learning.

No, I do not have a smartphone. I had previously been averse to buying one because I was already using the internet too much. But that state does not currently hold true, and I hadn't re-evaluated my (non)purchase of a smartphone since...

Should I decide get one, I'll definitely grab that app. Thank you.

How difficult is it to make custom Anki sets for the Android app? I'm intrigued, but wary of spending money and then running in to configuration pain.

I have an iPhone and don't know about Anki on Android but this Android Anki app is free and can create & edit decks. It looks like if you want to import a deck you created on your desktop computer, you have to put it on an SD card. (A lot of printers have SD card writers.)

Since the iPhone app is what I use, I'll talk a bit about it. You can create and edit decks on the iPhone app but I only do this if I'm adding one or two cards. (I don't know if you can do images and audio from there.) Mostly I add stuff in the (Linux) desktop app. To sync stuff between the desktop computer and the phone you need a (free) account. If you want to sync images (including LaTeX) or audio, you'll need a Dropbox account (free for the amount of data you're likely to need to store).

The desktop app can import stuff in tab-separated values format (or comma-separated or a few others). Most of my cards were generated by little one-off computer programs that spat out TSV.

You can also add and edit decks from within the interface.

Here are some things I use Anki for:

  • Arithmetic and other math stuff.
  • Birthdays of family and friends.
  • Computer stuff (e.g., library function arguments).
  • Things I often forget, like checking that I have my keys before I lock the house or car. (Example question and answer: "When's the last time you got out of a car? Did you check what you should have?" / "Dome light, keys, headlights, lock.")
  • Song lyrics. (I'm a musician.)
  • Roads in my area (e.g., "Haggerty Rd is about a mile east of ...").
  • Months: how many days in each one, and what is each one's ordinal number. (Like the multiplication table, this is something that I didn't master when I was a kid.)
  • Rules for card games and board games.
  • Holiday dates. (E.g.: "When is Mother's Day?" / "Mother's Day is on the second Sunday of May.")

If you haven't already, you'll want to read what Gwern has written about spaced repetition.

Edit: Let me add a warning about something that has bitten me a few times. If you access your decks from multiple devices, or from one device and, follow this advice about syncing (and, to be safe, avoid having a deck open in two places at once).

You can also sync decks from your account to the android app.

I haven't used the Android app, but making customs sets is all I do with the iPhone version. You can embed images & audio files very easily and sync everything through Dropbox. You can edit the layout of cards in HTML or even in LaTeX. I am cheap & I was wary of spending the money to buy the app, but I would say it has been one of the best investments I've made in my life.


Obtained new evidence that made you change your mind about some belief.

I have taken two economics classes over the past few months. Based on evidence obtained through course lectures, reading assignments, and independent research, I have significantly changed my mind on some political issues. It's really interesting to see some issues from the "other side," without really emotionally identifying with them.

That said, I still am trying to keep my commitment not to re-involve myself in politics. I think I am very susceptible to being mindkilled. Though, now I am contemplating whether I should vote this fall...

After reading this article I re-instituted the habit of "timeboxing". I study hard for 10 minutes, then close my eyes & do nothing for 10 minutes. Rinse & repeat. It seems to make it much easier to continue. Normally I burn out studying Chinese after about 1 hour, but today I studied for a total of 3 hours (in 10 minute chunks).

The linked study shows that an idle period of 10 minutes after learning enhances long-term memory.

  • Improved my diet by cutting out a lot of sugar and eating more natural foods (nuts, vegies, etc...) (Recently realized my new diet was way too high in fat, so I need to adjust it.)
  • Rethought my goals and found something I'm very excited about: Oculus Rift.
  • Expanded my social circle and overall feel my better about my life.

(Recently realized my new diet was way too high in fat, so I need to adjust it.)

There is an assumption here that high fat is Bad. There is actually a complex of assumptions, such as that cholesterol causes heart disease (not), high-fat diets cause heart disease (not), low-fat is safe, high-fat is not (not true).

Low-carb diets that are not high in fat typically fail, they are not sustainable. The science in the field of diet is largely atrocious. For a scientific perspective, I recommend Gary Taubes, Good Calories, Bad Calories. It's a tome, but Taubes is one of the best science writers in the business.

Cuitting out sugar is cutting out the most common source of high-glycemic-index carbohydrates in the diet, so that's a great step.

I can say, with confidence, this much: people can live indefinitely and with little or no harm on a diet that is high in natural fats (including animal fat), whereas a very low-fat diet is quite hazardous to health. Fat is a necessary human nutrient. Carbohydrates are not, some populations have a healthy diet with almost zero carbohydrates.

There are lots of caveats, human nutrition is complex. I highly recommend learning what is actually known, rather than what is merely popular and common, the result of powerful political decisions made thirty to forty years ago, not supported by science. Taubes covers that.

I'm betting my life on what I found when I researched cholesterol and diet. I'm 68, I have very high total cholesterol. Then again, so did my mother, who recently died at about 96. I have a great HDL/LDL ratio, low triglycerides, low C-reactive Protein, and, just to be sure, I personally paid for a cardiac CAT scan. Arteries clear. Cardiac challenge tests, I'm fine.

Thank you so much for the reply. You are right, and I have heard many of the points you made from other people, so I'm definitely changing my diet to adjust for that, rather than for popular notions of what a diet should be.

Does Oculus Rift excite you as computer games input device?

It's mostly the output that gets me excited, but input is useful as well. Unfortunately right now it doesn't do absolute position, but I'm sure it will soon, and that will be truly awesome.

Improved my diet by cutting out a lot of sugar


After reading a recent post then having a late night conversation about quantum physics I realized that I didn't have any reason to believe in MWI any more, since I only think it's better as Truth than Copenhagen, but if I'm only concerned with description then Copenhagen describes the fact that I end up experiencing one timeline better.

It should be description of the world, not description of your experience.

Whence this should? That is my point.

I want a description of my expected future experiences; if that means that I have expected variables in it rather than forks in a road, that actually makes it better because the "fork in the road" metaphor is agenty whereas the "random variable" metaphor is uncontrollable.

I want a description of my expected future experiences

For what purpose? Decision-theoretically, what matters is consequences, not experiences.

I can imagine purposes for which envisioning multiple different hypotheticals is useful for decision-making, so I will concede this point. My original opinion was simply that I have different criteria for what makes me sleep better at night than I thought I did, anyway.

Decision-theoretically, what matters is consequences, not experiences.

I'm confused by this distinction. Can you give me an example of an experience that is not a consequence and therefore doesn't matter decision-theoretically? Can you give me an example of a consequence that is not an experience and therefore matters decision-theoretically?

For example, if you make a decision and then die, there will be consequences, but no future experiences. While future experiences are part of consequences, they don't paint a balanced picture, as (predictable) things outside experiences are going to happen as well. You can send $X to charity, and expected consequences will predictably depend on specific (moderate) value of X, but you won't expect differing future experiences depending on X.

Gotcha! Sure, that makes sense. Thanks.

If you come to a fork in the road, and go left, you shouldn't update your priors to assume that the right-hand fork didn't really exist. Equally, if you end up in WorldA, you shouldn't update your priors to assume that WorldB doesn't exist.

Of course, we don't have any evidence for WorldB existing, unlike the right-hand fork, since there's no experimental difference between MWI and Copenhagen right now. Given that, I'd assume the proper belief is "Either MWI or Copenhagen, with even odds between the two"?

If there is no experimental difference between MWI and Copenhagen, the "proper" belief is the one that serves your purposes other than seeking universal truths.

I'm realizing we're probably both confused by the word "belief."

Newtonian physics has been proven wrong, but it's still a perfectly reasonable system to use for, say, landing a man on the moon. I thus have the belief "Newtonian physics is inaccurate under certain extreme conditions" and "Newtonian physics is an accurate-enough model for a specific domain of problems, which includes basically every practical problem I am likely to run in to in my daily life".

Given that both MWI and Copenhagen are accurate models of the data, I would think that it is accurate to have the belief "both of these are accurate models of the data; I can use either one and will get equally accurate predictions". One could then have additional beliefs, such as "I think MWI is closer to Universal Truth" and "I think Copenhagen does a better job of telling a story that is compatible with my conscious narrative".

It seems important to me not to get these multiple beliefs confused in to a single simplified belief such as "MWI is true" or "Copenhagen is true" or even "Newtonian physics is true".

So, when I said "I'd assume THE proper belief is...", what I really should have said was probably "In addition to the belief you just stated, you can still ALSO believe that they're both accurate descriptions of experimental evidence."

tl;dr: Good point on Copenhagen vs MWI, but don't let yourself forget that both of them are accurate models of our experimental evidence so far. If there's ever a test between the two, you should probably only be ~50% confident in either one turning out true :)

I run a philosophy/theology blog, and my commenter threads are usually a lot more decorous than on a lot of similar blogs, so I haven't revised my free-for-all comment policy at all (didn't want to fix what isn't broken, had an ugh reaction to putting limits on speech - feels like public weakness).

But then I remembered I didn't have to assume that a more restrictive comment policy would be bad or piss people off, I could experiment. So, this week, I did a pilot post with different rules from normal. I was highlighting a commenter's question about arguments about natural law and restricted top-level comments to people who liked that frame of thinking and wanted to explain. All critiques had to be direct replies to the proffered explanations. I set up two exception threads: one for feedback on the experiment, and one for complaining about other commenters.

So far it's going really well (conversation more focused, fewer ad hominems, fewer jumps onto tangentially related politically charged issues. So I'll try it again in the future and give some of my other weird ideas a test run. Just a reminder not to assume I know how an experiment will turn out if it's not costly to just run the test.