Over this last week, I and several other folk from CFAR's past gathered. We were doing a kind of post-mortem on the last decade.

I mostly haven't thought explicitly about Less Wrong style rationality for the last three years. It would come up in conversation every now and again, and I engaged with the "best of 2018" review process for a couple of my posts. But it just isn't where I've been focusing anymore.

This week of immersion and reflection stirred some old circuitry in me. It was beautiful and fascinating to witness how who I am today dances with old ways of thinking and being from my CFAR days.

As I left that event, I noticed I could clearly feel an ember glowing in me. I remembered the Beisutsukai, and the sense that more is possible.

I also remembered the well-worn ache of repeated failure and defeat from trying to create these things, and the endless intellectual conversations that turned out to go nowhere as we struggled to birth any hint of the full Art.

But I've learned something these last three years about how to navigate that kind of failure, and how to deeply honor the true essence of an inspiration.

So I find myself in the amusing position of feeling how someone might actually create truly good rationality training. It's amusing because I doubt this is my gift to give the world. I'm doing something closely related, but different. Far too mystical for the right aesthetic.

I'd like to attempt a translation. Partly for myself, because writing out these things brings me clarity. But partly as an invitation for the souls here who can feel the call and might do something with it.

I think the world would be more beautiful, and more fun, with real Beisutsukai.

 

Some Possible Ingredients of the Art

Embodying the Void

The first concept I'll point at here is noise. Not in the information-theoretic sense (i.e., the opposite of signal). More in the sense of how it's hard to be calm and composed in a loud environment, especially after you've been startled. The way the emotional noise of living with an abusive partner can make it hard to notice what's going on and decide to leave. The way the feeling of alarm from outrage porn crowds out clear thinking and perception in favor of fueling the inner mental fire. The way noisy thoughts about already knowing the answer make it hard to really listen to the words and concepts someone else is saying.

Most tools for thinking more clearly add noise. They're often useful noise, like "Oh, I'm giving a time estimate, which might be subject to the planning fallacy." But they're still adding inner sensation. Instead of inner silence, there's yet another thought.

What's needed here, as a foundational practice, is an art of removing inner sensation. The ability to come to inner silence at will.

(I know I'm wording that strongly. "What's needed here," etc. I mean it that strongly because it's something I'm crystal clear on. But I also want to acknowledge an asymmetry of information here. I'm mostly going to keep ignoring that fact and continue to speak plainly throughout this post. I don't mean for my confidence to pressure you beyond your epistemic comfort. But I'm also not going to pretend I know less than I do.)

This is an awful lot like clearing a workbench. Sure, you can stack your next project on top of the chunks of wood and oils and notes and wires scattered across your table…

…or you could take some time to clean everything up. It's often surprising how much ease and functionality comes from having way more table room than you need. It's easier to breathe.

The main difference is empty space. The Void. There's a richness of nothingness that you can fill with physical "noise" (i.e., things) but you haven't yet. It's this free potential that brings ease.

The same thing happens in a mind. I find it hard to see what's going on in me when everything is loud inside and thoughts are slamming into one another and creating turbulence while other thoughts are running in the background influencing me unseen. It doesn't matter how accurate some or even all of those thoughts are: I still can't do much intentionally with all that clutter. I'm just reacting.

But if I can come to inner silence, I can see and hear what's going on in me very clearly.

This is a very, very powerful place from which to reshape how a mind behaves.

Today, if I were creating a discipline of rationality, I would start with this and interweave it into everything. Every step, every breath, every thought and practice would have the Void as its touchstone. I would focus on deepening it in myself, and I would make sure that every person walking into my rationality dojo had enough of a handle to start consciously deepening it in themselves. As a group I'd establish a signal that means that no matter what's going on, we pause and come to stillness so that we can then come to view what was just happening from utter inner silence. Some of the practices would focus on creating inner stress via outside stimulation (e.g., eye gazing, or conversation) so that the solidity of one's stance in nothingness slowly becomes unassailable.

I suspect this plays the sort of role that strength and endurance training does in martial arts. It's not the Art, but it's such an absurdly strong support for the Art that it'd be foolish to neglect.

 

Do the Thing and Not the Non-Thing

After I wrote the above and re-read it, it occurred to me that a reader might think "inner silence" is the same thing as numbing or suppressing inner experiences, and then they might rightly object that that's a bad thing to cultivate.

So, first: No. That's not what I mean.

But rather than clarifying what I do mean instead, I'd like to use this as an example.

My hope is that in reading the section on embodying the Void, you caught a glimpse of something. Something true. And I don't mean "an aspect of the map that accurately reflects the territory". I mean it the way there's something true about how Captain America in the MCU stands up for what he sees as right no matter what (even if you might quibble about whether he's right about what's right).

And more importantly, it's the same way in which there's something true about the sense that more is possible.

If you can feel that "something true" about the inner silence, you can use that sense as a guide for your practice. You can start to tell what does and doesn't fit — sort of like how you can feel what does or doesn't "vibe" with a "scene" once you grok the scene's aesthetic.

So once you grok the "aesthetic" of the Void, you can tell that numbing and suppression are the opposite of the right direction. So even if I in fact had meant something like that, you would be able to see what I should have meant and could make yourself stronger that way.

(And if you can't tell that, then this signals that you haven't understood the Void's "aesthetic" yet — although I again want to acknowledge that I'm saying this across a possible asymmetry of information.)

In the same way, when we look at the sense that more is possible with the Art, it has a certain… ringing to it. It's such that we can feel and know that we haven't really done the thing yet. We don't yet know what it would look like if we had, but we can still compare what exists right now to the tone of the intuition, and we can see that there's still a sense that way more is possible.

How do we tell whether something is or isn't "rationality"? It isn't via a formal definition. If we were to try, we'd be testing the definition against a deeper knowing. If they sync up under scrutiny, then we can explore surprising implications of our definition. But the core thing, where caring about the Art comes from in the first place, is something deeper. By consciously attending to that, we become more honest about what we're doing, and much more able to consciously distinguish progress from distraction.

This is the core anti-Goodhart move. What could cure you of Goodhart drift, at least in the limit, within your own mind? Not just using better and more clever measurements to stave off the entropic slide toward lost purposes, but actually end the drift? Naturally make it so that lost purposes systematically get unearthed and slain, and every single proxy comes to be transparent and stops confusing or distracting you?

This echoes the Virtue of the Void (or "twelfth virtue" or "zeroth virtue" depending on whom you talk to) from the Twelve Virtues of Rationality:

Before these eleven virtues is a virtue which is nameless.

[…]

You may try to name the highest principle with names such as “the map that reflects the territory” or “experience of success and failure” or “Bayesian decision theory.” But perhaps you describe incorrectly the nameless virtue. How will you discover your mistake? Not by comparing your description to itself, but by comparing it to that which you did not name.

This is "Keep your eye on the ball", only as seen from the emptiness of the Void. And it's a practice. It requires asking, again and again, in the silent voice of stillness: "Where did this thought come from? What purpose does it serve? How does it compare to my intention? What's actually true here?"

I should also note that I for one find this practice extremely embodied. It feels like something in my body to resonate with an aesthetic. When something doesn't match the aesthetic I'm focused on, the something feels sick in my heart and/or stomach. Most of this practice is a matter of spending time "tuning in" to the "frequency" of the aesthetic, sort of letting the intuition ring in my body until I know it the way I know whether my clothes are comfortable or whether I'm in love.

My personal experience is that this practice and that of cultivating inner silence synergize. The more deeply I come from inner silence, the easier it is to notice and stay with any aesthetic. And the more I attend to the aesthetic of emptiness, the deeper my rooting in silence grows.

My impression is that these two work in tandem to help cultivate the Virtue of the Void.

 

Devotion to Truth

But there's still one piece of that Virtue to emphasize:

Every step of your reasoning must cut through to the correct answer in the same movement.

I sort of want to bold and underline "Every" there. Every step. Every single one. Each breath, each moment, fully devoted to truth.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) has a wonderful example of this. In the BJJ dojos I've visited, there's a very powerful embodied empirical attitude. If someone comes in with a theory about how it'd be easy to slip out of thus-and-such position, the typical answer is "Show me." No philosophy. No discussion. Just an honest "Let's try it and see what happens."

Every step comes under scrutiny via the question "What's actually real here?" Once you know what to try, every word uttered after that point is wasted breath because it doesn't cut through to the truth. The direction of truth here is action.

I posit that this is why BJJ is so much more effective as a fighting style than nearly every other martial art. They train under pressure, with fully resisting opponents, in order to learn what works under pressure with fully resisting opponents. That cuts directly toward the correct answer in a way that lengthy theoretical debates or practicing on non-resisting opponents just can't.

It's tempting to see BJJ's success and put together some kind of rule, like "Seek a practical test ASAP."

I think this is maybe a little helpful. It's something like an embodied version of the Virtue of Empiricism.

…but I think it mostly misses the point. It's seeking to add mental noise without checking why. It doesn't define the Art.

The question is, if you're going to add noise, what is it in service to? Does it move you toward truth, or away from it? Does it cause you to see more, or less — the way vision from the Void sees vastly and clearly compared to vision from within thought?

I mean this at very micro levels. In a conversation, sometimes I'll feel myself itching to inject my perspective, seeking a gap in the other's speech so I can blurt out my "Yeah, but…". To hold that itch, I have to care more about saying my piece than I do about listening. But if I enter the Void and silently ask myself "What moves me closer to truth here?", almost every time the answer is to let go and listen. I know my thought already, but getting wrapped up in needing the other person to hear me can cause my mind to contract and leave me subtly confused.

…and sometimes I end up saying my piece after they finish anyway. But it's coming from having listened, and from seeing how the act of speaking it helps me see more clearly.

(And sometimes I stop waiting and just cut right in with what I have to say. Because if the other person's speech is actually that irrelevant to my understanding, then there's no point in my listening to them. I'd be serving social politeness or maybe even fawning instead of truth.)

What would it be like to have every single breath devoted to cutting through this way? Not one single step taken away from truth, ever?

Well, honestly, it might be kind of terrifying. What if you realize that in fact, you and your partner aren't really compatible, and you've been kind of ignoring that fact to keep the semi-comfortable status quo? If you care more about your relationship than you do about deepening your devotion to truth, you might never really look.

…which means that even if there is no trouble brewing underneath, you don't get to know that either. Because you aren't willing to look.

So how do you face the specters, known and unknown?

How do you devote yourself to truth so deeply that literally nothing can deter you, even for a moment, even for the other things you hold dear?

You practice.

You devote to truth again and again.

Standing in the Void, aiming for the true thing and not the non-thing, you look.

"Why am I saying these words?"

"What is this thought serving?"

"Is looking at this website in this moment moving me closer to truth? Or is it obscuring and distracting me from truth?"

This is truly a devotional practice. You are entrusting your heart to reality itself. You're choosing to leave every fiction, no matter how precious or wonderful or meaningful, in favor of contact with reality. And you're developing the skill of making that choice, again and again, and of letting every part of you that resists this process fully die.

…even if it feels on the inside like what dies is you.

 

(And Maybe Other Ingredients Too)

Of course, there's probably more. I didn't intend this to be exhaustive. I'm trying to name an intuition.

It's particularly a bit silly to be talking about the Beisutsukai when the word literally means to be Japanese for "those who use Bayes", and from what I can tell this vision of the Art doesn't require its practitioner to ever know about Bayes' Theorem, let alone practice using it.

I haven't named any of the core common material usually thought to be part of rationality, like probability calibration and awareness of biases.

I also haven't re-combed through the Sequences to see if I've maybe missed something I can sense in Eliezer's vision.

I didn't even reread the Beisutsukai fiction!

But I suspect that what I've described here forms a kind of three-part synergistic engine that will rederive the need for the rest of the Art precisely to the degree that it's relevant.

It's a bit like trying to name the kernel of an operating system. In the case of rationality, I'm pretty clear that the "kernel" is the Virtue of the Void.

If for many years you practice the techniques and submit yourself to strict constraints, it may be that you will glimpse the center. Then you will see how all techniques are one technique, and you will move correctly without feeling constrained. Musashi wrote: “When you appreciate the power of nature, knowing the rhythm of any situation, you will be able to hit the enemy naturally and strike naturally. All this is the Way of the Void.”

And if I'm wrong about any or all of that…

…well…

…then do the thing and not the non-thing.

 

Creating a Rationality Dojo

But for now, I'll pretend this is the thing to paint a picture. I'd like to offer a semi-concrete vision of how I'd go about developing a rationality dojo these days.

I actually tried to run a rationality dojo about six years ago. It went roughly weekly for something like a year based at the CFAR office. It wasn't anything to crow about, but I did learn from it. Looking back, the single biggest mistake I'd point to was trying to teach something I wasn't embodying. It was more like a study group where I'd sometimes share strange ideas. I don't think anyone there moved meaningfully toward becoming truly formidable master Beisutsukai as a result of attending those sessions.

Since then I've really taken seriously how important it is to embody first, and to teach to embodiment.

(…at least for me as a teacher, and for the students I've taken on since then.)

With that, the plan is pretty simple and would work pretty much the same whether I or others would create a rationality dojo:

  1. Embody the Art, for real.
  2. Use the embodiment to define and hold the dojo space.

 

Becoming the Art

The main thing here is to become a dedicated student of the Art. Which is to say, for-real internalizing those three core components (the Void, doing the thing, & devoting to truth) plus whatever they end up inspiring in you.

And the third of that trio means you can't train in the Art in order to teach it or in order to save the world. You might start out that way, but that's part of what the Art will demand you purify in order to progress beyond a certain point. For this to work, you have to become serious enough that you're willing to drop the idea of the dojo if running it would move you away from truth. If the idea survives the crucible of your devotion, then you can proceed.

…but not before.

To get there, I recommend four steps in sequence:

 

(1) Learn to soothe your body

This might seem like a non sequitur, and it might well be the opposite advice from what some folk need to hear. But based on my own experience, and on my handful of students, this is quite critical for a lot of people — possibly most.

The gist is that if your body is chronically activated and you don't learn how to calm it down yourself, you won't find that inner silence simply by trying. Your body will inspire too much noise and movement. Later, after you've anchored in nothingness deeply enough, agitation won't distract you anymore. But getting there at first can be a little tricky, and it's much easier with a calm body.

The best resource I know of for this is Luis Mojica's podcast "Holistic Life Navigation". I especially recommend episodes 2 (on "fawning"), 4 ("Trauma is Our Birthright"), and 10 ("Finding Safety In Yourself"). If you're up for listening to only one, I recommend the last of these three. Finding and developing somatic safety is core for moving into the Art as I see it.

 

(2) Deepen your contact with the Void

Once you have some kind of handle on how to soothe and settle your body…

…stop.

It really is that simple. Just stop.

Stop moving. Stop doing. Stop listening to your thoughts. Just for a little while.

Just listen instead to the quality of silence.

Sit down, be still, and listen.

You are drunk

and this is

the edge of the roof.

—Rumi

You know the feeling of relief that happens when you're in a very loud environment and then step into another room and… aaahhhh. Sweet, sweet nothing. Yes? That's what you're looking for. Look there.

At first you might find it helpful to go somewhere that inspires this quality for you. A silent room, or a remote hilltop overlooking an expansive vista. Then just listen to the silence. Deepen your familiarity with it. Notice your boredom with it, your attempts to fill it, as though noise is all that matters… forgetting the ease and relief you know you feel in the stillness. Just keep pointing your attention at the emptiness.

I found that after a while of this deepening, I stopped needing the environment to be any special way. The silence is everywhere. It's in the gap between thoughts. It's around and behind every sensation. Just like underneath all the clutter on a desk, there's a desk, and without the clutter the desk would be spacious.

Then I started finding that I could drop into emptiness even in conversation — if I tried. And at first trying required a lot of dedication. But there's something immensely freeing about noticing that what I'm doing in a conversation doesn't make sense and just… stopping. Really taking in the truth that clearing the inner noise matters far, far more than whatever crazy thing I was just doing, and letting the mad impulse die.

My impression is that this takes way longer to cultivate than most minds find reasonable. Minds addicted to noise and sensation want fast results. When you can see clearly from the Void, I'm pretty sure you'll see why this is. (It's basically because fast results are sensational, and judgment of slow results is sensational, and addicted minds really super like the distraction that this kind of sensation provides.)

But I'm pretty sure there's no magic trick.

It just takes time choosing, over and over again, to be with the silence.

Giving yourself deep permission simply to be.

 

(3) Learn to notice and leave the Drama Triangle

After you start being able to drop your reactions mid-conversation into the Void, I recommend reading Lynne Forrest's article "The Three Faces of Victim". Or alternatively, read it before then, but return to it as emptiness starts really clicking for you.

These Drama Triangle patterns are everywhere. Utterly everywhere. They entangle people's noise with each other. So if you don't learn how to notice when you're operating in the Triangle and leave it, others can (and usually will) flood your mind with their own confusion. It's crabs-in-a-bucket for madness.

Fortunately, once you see these patterns, you can become immune to them — at least in the limit. You can learn to be anti-fragile to others' attempts to manipulate you.

One key here is to go beyond the intellectual understanding. Can you see yourself in Forrest's article? Can you see how you play each of the three roles? When, precisely? What exactly did it feel like in your body in specific instances? What thoughts would go through your mind? Can you see how you inspire Drama Triangle reactions in others? And how you respond to others' invitations to enter the Triangle with them?

You know it has landed when you start noticing yourself enacting the patterns as they happen in real time.

That's when you pause. This is where that Void skill you've hopefully developed comes in super handy. Drop your share of the Triangle pattern into the silence and watch it unravel, leaving nothing but simple presence.

A note of warning: If you start succeeding at this, you might start having good boundaries… and lots of (most?) people find real boundaries painful to encounter and might try to make you wrong for having them. One reason is that "caring" and "connection" are usually taken to mean a particular type of Drama Triangle dynamic, usually with at least one person playing the role of Rescuer. But that's not real connection, and that'll be incredibly transparent to you the more deeply you free yourself of the Triangle and devote yourself to truth. But still, when you drop that Triangle game, it can feel to others like you are unwilling to play with them at all. Like you don't care.

To attain truly unassailable clarity, you need to become completely emotionally fine with people misunderstanding you this way. Not numbing or ignoring your feeling response to it, but actually okay with it. It might still hurt, but if you can hold yourself through your own emotional pain (see "Learn to soothe your body" above) then their bids to flood your mind with madness will stop having power.

 

(4) Embody the Art's aesthetic

I've worked a lot with the above three steps, and I've done this fourth step quite a lot with other aesthetics. So I'll end up being very slightly more hypothetical for this part, although I'm still speaking from a not irrelevant amount of experience here.

This is about embodying the "Do the thing and not the non-thing" step. Anti-Goodhart. Which is to say, making yourself immune (in the limit) to distractions from the guiding intuition of the Art.

The main strategy here is to make the aesthetic extremely blazingly clear in your body, mind, and heart. The act of doing this will reveal many of the things that try to distract you from it, and you'll get practice countering those distractions.

To point at the thing: There's a certain flavor to the sense that more is possible, and to the Beisutsukai. They act sort of like handles for… something. A felt sense. A hint that inspired me to notice these three core possible practice-qualities (Void, doing the thing, & devotion to truth). An intuition that's a better match for mid 20th century sci-fi novels than it is for, say, the Twilight Saga.

That feels like a specific thing in my body. As I write this, I feel it as a kind of hungry ache in my heart, and a sort of want-to-raise tingle across my shoulders and outer arms, and a slight pressure forward in my head. My body wears this energy.

(This is already pretty advanced, to be honest. My experience is that most people who start amplifying an aesthetic this way can barely tell at first whether they're finding it in their bodies. Part of that is because of weak Void skill, part of it is difficulty staying with their body sensations, and part is just not having spent enough time with the feeling for it to be loud and clear for them. Fortunately, simply trying usually seems to resolve this after a while.)

If you do this kind of "tuning in" for yourself, and you just spend time with it the same kind of way you spend time with the Void, a clear sort of knowing will start to settle in. You'll start to get why the aesthetic is the way it is, which can inspire insights about how you can train yourself to see reality more clearly.

(This is a natural extension of the sort of thing that tells me that, say, Ron from "Harry Potter" most definitely is not a Beisutsuka — but Quirrell from HPMOR pretty much is. And I know that before thinking about why. I'm just focusing on the essence of this intuition, which starts picking out the details of why I care. It just very often "speaks" in the voice of intuition or the Void, not conscious models.)

For some reason I don't really understand, there's usually a "clunk" where an aesthetic makes sense and just is available thereafter. It's a fair bit like the "clunk" that happens from suddenly realizing how to solve a challenging math or programming problem. Hopefully you will have spent enough time with the Void to experience it there; if so, you'll know exactly what to look for. That's the minimal bar you're going after.

Once that happens, you'll sort of… know what to do. I have a little trouble knowing how to describe this clearly. You'll get something about why the aesthetic has value for you, and you'll have a clear sense of what to try next in order to deepen that value in yourself. It's a subtle intuitive thing, not made of mental models at all, but prior to them. Much closer to the Void than thought.

(I normally find it a convenient shortcut at this point to switch to Mythic Mode and imagine that I'm dialoguing with a god or spirit whom I'm taking as my teacher. But I sort of suspect that this aesthetic in particular would object to being thought of that way!)

From that point on, it's much easier to choose to do the thing instead of getting distracted with ideas about the thing. You'll have an exquisitely honed bullshit detector for things that masquerade as attempts at the Art that are actually ego-based distractions (like wanting to look smart or feel important). This is key for identifying how to train yourself. It's from here that you feel out how to devote to truth, for instance.

This is also a must for running a transformative rationality dojo. I'll gesture a little at why later, but I don't mean to issue a persuasive argument. I'm just letting you know in case you can hear me across the information asymmetry: If you try to skip or shortcut this step and put some kind of dojo together anyway, I'm pretty darn sure you won't get Beisutsukai — not unless you go back and remediate and tear down everything you'd built that doesn't fit. It's actually much faster and more sure to just spend the time to get these four steps right first.

 

Founding the Dojo

It's a little tricky to predict what someone who groks the Art's aesthetic would choose to do without my groking it myself. In particular, it's unclear whether and exactly how a given person would create a rationality dojo as part of their own training. Founding a dojo isn't for everyone.

However, if they were to, I can predict some of what would have to go into that.

 

Teaching by embodiment, not instruction

I already hinted at the starting point, but it bears emphasizing. It's an easy thing to forget — which is actually a feature, not a bug.

The sensei cannot have their primary aim be to teach. Their primary aim must be to master the Art. A rationality sensei worth learning from is someone whose devotion to truth guides them to lead a dojo, and who would abandon the dojo the moment it's true for them to do so. This way it's their devotion to the Art that teaches, not their ego.

Suppose a student stumbles but doesn't recognize it (like completely missing an obvious selection bias in a proposed experiment). If the sensei is attached to teaching effectively, then their impulse will be to manipulate the student into doing something different, often sliding into the Drama Triangle or weaponizing authority. That might help the student fix that mistake, but it also makes the student a little more reliant on the sensei to notice mistakes like that one. And the example the sensei will have just enacted isn't pristine.

But if the sensei sees the mistake and their first urge is toward "How can my seeing this move me closer to truth?", they are more likely to see the whole picture. Then the question of how to cause the student to understand isn't in service to their pride as a teacher. It's instead a training ground for the sensei. Often, just letting the student make their mistake and then asking the right question later on ("What do you predict happens in these cases over here then? Shall we look?") can cause the student to notice their blunder in a much more integrated way.

The challenge here is that student success is a metric for the sensei's developing skill… which offers a temptation to subtly Goodhart. So part of the sensei's practice is about perfecting their immunity to Goodharting — here and ideally in general. They need to keep checking their progress based on how their students are doing while never targeting that as a goal.

That's why I say it's a feature, not a bug, that it can be easy to forget all this. The act of running a rationality dojo this way is itself a significant challenge for some devotees of the Art. The students learn almost incidentally as the sensei forges themselves against those students' learning processes.

This gives room for the dojo culture to have impeccable integrity.

 

Holding an aesthetic space

Once the devotee is very, very clear with themselves that the next phase of their own training includes running a rationality dojo, their next step would be to define and hold a space that lets the aesthetic of the Art saturate the students.

I think of walking into a cathedral. Its vast ceilings and rich iconography and stony silence has a kind of impact on me. I find myself wanting to walk slowly, respectfully. I speak in hushed tones or not at all. Whatever I might think about religion and the staleness of Mass and the economic forces that created the building, I cannot deny the power that this space has on me simply by my being in it. I feel reverence.

Online spaces can have this kind of "feel" impact too. A lot of work went into Less Wrong 2.0 to create a particular sort of atmosphere. It's not primarily by visual impact upon visiting lesswrong.com, but there's still a guiding aesthetic. Part of learning what kind of comments and posts to put here and where is based on getting intuitively familiar with that aesthetic. If something deviates too much from it, the moderators step in to correct or remove it because the alternative is culture decay.

By way of contrast, rebooting Less Wrong culture absolutely would not have worked on Twitter. Dramatically different vibe, and the tech neither allows the kind of in-depth comments that LW thrives on nor (as far as I know) permits the kind of moderator powers needed to enforce communal boundaries.

A would-be Beisutsu sensei needs to create and hold a space this kind of way based on (their embodiment of) the Art's aesthetic. Well, "need" might be a strong word, but their task would become unreasonably hard if they were to skip this part.

Part of the key here is to let the aesthetic lead. Should it be an email group? A Mighty Network? A Slack or Discord? Maybe it should have more of a secret society vibe where faceless members interact only via unique aliases. Or perhaps (pandemic nonwithstanding) it should be a physical space, maybe with a dedicated room or building, or perhaps as a small group that gathers at coded times now and then in speakeasies at midnight.

If the aspirant sensei starts by coming up with a plan for teaching, and then figures out the medium based on what would work well for the curriculum, and then tries to fill the whole thing with the Art's aesthetic via banners and colors and the like…

…well, it won't work. I promise. Maybe a little at first, but it'll whither and fade. And the sensei will probably find it exhausting along the way. Speaking from a fair amount of experience and observation here.

If they let the aesthetic lead instead, pragmatics be damned, then what emerges will be good and beautiful and right.

And it will attract the right kind of people.

This naturally saturates the space with the sensei's embodiment of the aesthetic. The dojo truly becomes an extension of their practice. Just being there will tend to guide the students in the right direction.

This saves the sensei a lot of energy by encouraging a kind of collective cutting straight toward the truth.

I also bet it'd just be way more awesome.

 

Pressure-testing in the Art

As to the content of each session, I can only make some educated guesses. I'd be quite surprised if Void meditations weren't a natural part of basically every session, and I suspect some kind of practice about seeking things to sacrifice on the altar of truth would be good and right. (For instance, Void-focusing on a prompt like "What's something I know is or might be true but I'm avoiding fully acknowledging?" and following up with "What is precious to me here that I would be risking by looking?")

But I'm reasonably sure the Art will ask for pressure tests.

By "pressure test", I mean the kind of thing where in BJJ they take their theories to the mat against a fully resisting opponent. It's why MMA works in 1-on-1 fights while Aikido doesn't. It's a flavor of empiricism that strives to marry truth and action.

(This is a distant intuition, but it seems worth adding here: My guess is that the classical LW rationalist focus on making predictions to test models makes the Art too mental and slow. It's a correct analytic description of the process from the outside, but from the inside I'm guessing it feels more like moving decisively in a chosen direction with a clear and attentive mind. The "predictions" arise the same way I "predict" that typing on these keys will write these words on the screen, and the "empirical tests" come from interacting with reality.)

What would pressure-testing in the context of rationality look like?

Well, honestly, I don't yet know.

I have a few bad examples that don't strike me as entirely wrong, so to vaguely gesture in the kind of direction I'm intuiting but dissatisfied with:

  • In one story of Eliezer's fictional Beisutsukai, the students received a challenge to invent quantum gravity in one month.
  • Years ago when I ran rationality dojos, I once issued a challenge of roughly this type. I warned them ahead of time to prepare and gave them some general parameters but wouldn't tell them what the challenge was beforehand. When they arrived, I handed them a paper describing the challenge: "You will have one hour to sustainably 80/20-boost the expected vitality of every attendee of tonight’s session."
  • I could imagine students of the actual rationality dojo showing up one day and finding instructions to (say) build a monkey bridge in a certain plot of land in three hours. They'd need to manage their physical & mental endurance and team morale, find out how it's constructed, learn what supplies they need, get those supplies, and actually put the thing together.
This is a monkey bridge.
  • Less adrenalin-based might be "Build and sell a house." Very practical across a wide swath of real skills, from carpentry to law to marketing. I'm not at all sure how to define the test part… but it seems to me obvious that most houses get built absurdly slowly, so getting it built both right and fast would be quite something.
  • Arguing with one of those street preachers, like I at least used to see on college campuses pretty often, strikes me as maybe promising. Stupid and pointless, yes, but if we ignore that for a moment… those preachers work with a kind of script that's largely meant to hook people into debating them. What kind of clarity would you need to not feel hooked, but walk into the trap anyway, and still navigate it skillfully? You'd need to real-time learn the actual structure of the preacher's mental program and identify what conversational moves would actually jam his mental code — not just what's illogical about the content of his words. And you'd need to real-time notice every time you lost even a hint of clarity and got sucked the slightest bit into the rhythms of the hypnotic tirade. This strikes me as quite a bit like BJJ rolling for the mind.

Ideally, very early in their training the aspirant sensei would figure out and enact good pressure tests for themselves. I'm guessing this is one of the first things the Art would ask of them, not long after the aesthetic "clunks" (although maybe after scouring their mind for things to sacrifice on the altar of truth). Through a lot of trial and error they'd get a lot of experience about what works and why, and what doesn't work and why. That would form a very practical basis for coming up with challenges for their students.

Although maybe in the course of doing so they discover that coming up with these tests is actually key for developing the right kind of mastery. In which case the sensei might focus on issuing well-informed meta-challenges: "Ah, you think that more calibration will help you avoid making this kind of mistake again? How might you ask reality if you're right?"

At this point, though, I'm just speculating. The truth would emerge from a level of expertise here that's well beyond my own — and possibly well beyond what has yet been created.

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Thank you for this. I learned stuff from it! 

Your embodiment optimizations are something that always instantly makes me feel better when I'm reminded of them, but I rarely prompt myself into them, but just now I got a hit of a happy feeling from reading early bits and then just straightening my desk/monitor/mouse alignment a bit and then just... ahh <3

When I re-read the first draft, I realized other parts of my office needed a tune-up, and finished writing only after that. So like... double thank you! :-)

Often I experience "quote/response" as a smell, but I think it might work here without being invalid?

I. Regarding Evangelists

Arguing with one of those street preachers, like I at least used to see on college campuses pretty often, strikes me as maybe promising. Stupid and pointless, yes, but if we ignore that for a moment… those preachers work with a kind of script that's largely meant to hook people into debating them. What kind of clarity would you need to not feel hooked, but walk into the trap anyway, and still navigate it skillfully? You'd need to real-time learn the actual structure of the preacher's mental program and identify what conversational moves would actually jam his mental code — not just what's illogical about the content of his words. And you'd need to real-time notice every time you lost even a hint of clarity and got sucked the slightest bit into the rhythms of the hypnotic tirade. This strikes me as quite a bit like BJJ rolling for the mind.

I did this some back in the day! 

The time this worked the best, we ended up having coffee together, but then it stalled when he stopped being interested in working with me at any kind of longer term project to attempt to encode some of the bible in logical axioms and seek additional necessarily true implications of the bible. (Maybe this one was cheating a bit, because he was more of a fellowship evangelist than a schizophrenic engaged in public psychosis.)

I think the moment his enthusiasm failed was when he started to understand what it meant in practice that a contradictory axiom system can prove anything?

The key is that I didn't assert, but rather assumed, this, while talking about all the cool benefits one might get from having a tool that could explain exactly whether and how any given proposition could be logically biblicly justified. 

If we made an error in transcribing the bible, and added a contradiction through our own personal misunderstandings, then we would be able to prove anything, even bad things, and it would seem like the bad things were godly to logically naive people! Thus we would need to do QA to detect and scrub such contradictions... and he was very NOT interested in helping me after that... so I let him save face and we agreed that it might be interesting to have coffee again sometime (which we never did).

The central reason I stopped trying to talk to such people is that when I tried to trace the motivations it felt a bit like... like bear baiting or something? 

People like that often have good hearts, but just (as far as I can tell) have never really experienced intellectual rigor (or maybe never aimed it at themselves and what they love). 

Many likely never had an experience where they deduced "well then I guess it must be the carburetor (and then it was)" or "so these lines MUST be parrallel (and they actually were)"  or "the variable must sometimes have content that can't be coerced (and then they found the program conditions that made the type coercion fail)".

II. Caring About Babies (Even If They Might Never Grow Up)

Also, I stopped because I began to worry that I might break or non-trivially harm someone who was like... like "staying on the wagon through the power of Jesus"? It seems ethically acceptable to poke at my OWN foundations... but maybe not those of random strangers?

A rationality sensei worth learning from is someone whose devotion to truth guides them to lead a dojo, and who would abandon the dojo the moment it's true for them to do so... Suppose a student stumbles but doesn't recognize it (like completely missing an obvious selection bias in a proposed experiment). If the sensei is attached to teaching effectively, then their impulse will be to manipulate the student into doing something different, often sliding into the Drama Triangle or weaponizing authority.

I don't believe that a teacher who does the swift abandonment thing would be an especially good teacher. It sounds unethical.

(Succintly: HEXACO "H" has "honesty" which is relevant to epistemic cooperation, but there are reasons that it also has humility and fairness as tightly correlated parts of the package, and it might not be fair for a sensei to abandon their dojo's students, especially the ones who aren't very advanced and "don't get why they are being abandoned just because of <X>".)

Basically, I think that a commitment to truth does not have to be the cause of every motion in every instant. When interacting with humans, I think other factors than the truth are properly relevant to the decision. Like promises, cherishing, duties, apologies, precendents, role modeling, caring, and so on.

III. Positive Theories Of Institutional Adequacy

My first step aiming at a pure dojo would be to find co-founders and construct with them a collection of finite commitments and easy promises with failover clauses, that were unlikely to be regretted, to lead the dojo as a group for at least... 3 years? Then, in the first year, maybe you decide it is likely to be shut down.

Enough promises from enough adequate co-founders would make things very likely to work well, I think?

The roles could be theorized about separately from people, and adequate performance of them would hopefully be non-arduous and reasonably rewarding, and establish a platform of safe social certainty atop which the actual novel (shorter term) reactive OODA-looping substance of events and learning and side quests could play out.

Personally, I admire the Rotary system's model of presidents who first serve as vice-president for a year, then do the President job, then get debunked, and then become a normal "former President" of their club. Eventually (after enough decades) you have ~45 former presidents hanging out (still sometimes serving on comittees, planning adventures, etc) while attending the funeral of a former president roughly once per year (until death is cured (maybe/hopefully)). 

The existing system of Rotary, full of normally good humans, was compatible with eradicating Polio from everywhere in the world except (tragically (on many levels)) Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Relevantly: I did not invent the Rotary governance system. I just saw it work because my dad was in the club of my town where I grew up, and was the president for a year. Some of the central virtues seem to be laughter, and drinking, and pranks. There was a tradition of bragging about successes, and then being fined (proceeds go to the donation fund) for bragging.  It gives me a sense of what a potlatch might have sorta been like?

IV. Theories About People Able To Fulfill Roles

This links, in my mind, to the Drama Triangle stuff. Like: why not... just not do drama? Maybe the drama triangle is just a locally relevant pet theory of a therapist who sees a lot of people who need her kind of therapy?

If people in a local rotary club steal the president's gavel, and then sneak it back on to the podium just before the end of the meeting with a well timed distraction, couldn't you, as the president, just laugh and appreciate their cleverness? Its fun! Isn't humor in the list of 12 virtues? (Oh huh. It isn't. I think that's an error, probably?)

Part of how it works, maybe, is that you can discover governors who are unfit for their role (and/or have unfit people in their club (and/or should have fissioned as a club already (or shut down and given money back to investors (or debugged the governor selection system (or...(...)))))) if they overreact to such a prank.

What could cure you of Goodhart drift, at least in the limit, within your own mind? Not just using better and more clever measurements to stave off the entropic slide toward lost purposes, but actually end the drift? ...It requires asking, again and again, in the silent voice of stillness: "Where did this thought come from? What purpose does it serve? How does it compare to my intention? What's actually true here?"

I enjoyed the "silence perspective" here, and I wonder if any of it was connected to an almost literally opposite system of mental practices, that was recently advocated to intentionally create banishable and invokable tulpas that would pop up and give helpful advice in people's inner working memory as auditory/visual/etc content?

In particular, it's unclear whether and exactly how a given person would create a rationality dojo as part of their own training.

The thing that seems like it would make sense here is if you were in a business, and you were bottlenecked on hiring talent, and the talent had to be able to engage in cooperative creative systematic problem solving under uncertainty in order to be worth hiring, and then if you can't hire enough of it already on the open market...

...maybe you hire people close to the target, give them on-the-job training in a "working dojo", and then promote them to the real job when they can handle the real job?

V. How Something To Protect Might Normally Damage Good Rationality Habits

The wrinkle here is that such a BUSINESS would NOT obviously be a dojo full of hobbyists or religionists or whatever... That context would be at "a higher stakes sort of gambling table" (though maybe lower stakes at a "spiritual level").

And then the very presence of "the bigger stakes" seems likely to be a dangerous source of "motivation" that would cause motivated cognition to be more common... which is a hole other kettle of worms.

At points in your essay, I was reminded of the cultural aspects of the Toyota Production System.

There's a scene in Spear's classic book where someone who has had ~3 months of training in "doing manufacturing optimization experiments slowly and correctly" (as part of training to be a manager with a Japenese boss) and he moves to a new place and gets 3 days of intensive practice sorta "speedrunning" the previous very slow practices...

Despite the imposed pace, Takahashi insisted that Dallis not speculate but always ground alterations in observed data and always test against well-articulated expectations. 

Dallis came to see subtleties he had not appreciated before. For example, relocating a jig was not a matter of making a single change. Whether it was to the worker’s left or right, how far away it was, and the angle at which the elbow and wrist had to be bent to grasp it all mattered. He also learned that the demand for speed and the insistence on discipline were not irreconcilable if he could construct high-speed, low-cost prototypes to test an idea. 

As he explained to me, “If I had an idea to relocate something, [Mike] Takahashi would challenge me.” If something required welding, was it possible to bolt it in place to test the idea? If it could be bolted, could time be saved with temporary taping? Instead of taping, could it be held in place to see the flaws in the idea with extreme speed? “Mike,” said Dallis, “was trying to get me to go quicker, quicker, quicker, making as little investment as possible in an idea so I could try it and discover its strengths and shortcomings first, before making more of a commitment. It was all about learning at maximum speed.” Dallis was learning how to minimize the trade-off between speed of testing and discipline of learning. 

After three days, Dallis had identified 50 problems with the cell’s quality checks, tool changes, and other work. To deal with those problems, he had made 35 changes, with 15 suggestions still to be implemented (see Table 9-2).

This is "part of the larger thing" that Toyota is pretty certain US manufacturers are incapable of teaching their managers to do (hence why Toyota allows people to study them, expecting it to only result in cargo culting of their true cultural genius), and its deeper than that...

VI. Owning And Rationally Tending Something Smaller Than "Your Personal Maximum Kelly Bet"

...because it is a good bet that Takahashi was approaching the training of Dallis as part of a well-theorized process meeting a well defined demand for more and better manufacturing line managers.

(In this case a demand for managers to work in a plant owned by Toyota, but not managed by Japenese managers, because that would either look like "Japan colonizing the US" or else "managers taking one for the team and living in a backwards foreign country for a while".)

However, as a big picture practical upshot of the full logic here... maybe this is what a rationality dojo looks like, so long as you use it, in playfully fun cooperation with others, to meet more and better goals, faster and cheaper, partly by going meta on the practices, while acting as if every action was also a bet related to articulable anticipations of systematically improving outcomes.

Possibly... a rationality dojo? Also sometimes known as a "labor"-atory. Or a "work"-space.

Though personally, it looks unsafe-for-teamwork to me. Some people won't understand the affordances, and will be distracted by what they don't understand, so I think there should be (for example) a visual barrier over the screwdrivers, that has an icon of a screwdriver on it, and then as a second order optimization this barrier should be trivially easy and safe and even maybe fun to open and close (time and budget permitting, of course).

Thank you for this. I learned stuff from it!

I'm glad to hear it! :-)

 

I did this [preacher-hacking] some back in the day!

That was really neat to read. Thank you for sharing!

 

People like that often have good hearts, but just (as far as I can tell) have never really experienced intellectual rigor (or maybe never aimed it at themselves and what they love).

I agree.

Also, for what it's worth, my impression is that this is a quality of a mind that's mostly independent of a mind's ability to be jammed. If there were a knob for a given mind that would let its owner increase or decrease its logical rigor, I don't think having more rigor would prevent jamming. It just changes what kinds of things can and can't jam it.

One of my favorite recent examples was "You cannot know that this statement is true." It's like an interpersonal version of the "This statement is false" thing. I know the statement is true, and you can know that I know it's true, but you can't know it's true.

This seems to cause some minds (roughly medium to strong rigor minds) to hiccup and glitch. It causes much less rigorous minds to sort of eyeroll or glaze over as a deflection. Some minds (like those trained to think rigorously in terms of self-reference) can navigate it enough to note "Oh, that's a cool example" and smoothly move on.

 

Also, I stopped because I began to worry that I might break or non-trivially harm someone who was like... like "staying on the wagon through the power of Jesus"? It seems ethically acceptable to poke at my OWN foundations... but maybe not those of random strangers?

I like the deeper thing you're pointing at here. Something like, noticing that certain moves can be ontologically violent, and taking that into account when it comes to being kind to others.

That said, I feel uneasy with the "ethically acceptable" question. It seems to compress too much and dances dangerously close to Drama Triangle dynamics (namely, taking responsibility for someone else's choices).

But my heart agrees with the intuition I think you're pointing at here.

 

Basically, I think that a commitment to truth does not have to be the cause of every motion in every instant. When interacting with humans, I think other factors than the truth are properly relevant to the decision. Like promises, cherishing, duties, apologies, precendents, role modeling, caring, and so on.

I agree. I'm not suggesting abandoning those things. I'm suggesting an internal design in which they flow from devotion to truth.

In practice I find that at least at the stage I've reached, I'm not focused on truth in every moment, and often this is perfectly fine. It's just that when I'm not paying attention like that, it's easy for some program to boot up that claims to be important for thus-and-such reason but is actually there to distract me.

To the extent that I've cleaned up my autopilot so that certain proxies are pretty reliably connected to the process of leaning toward truth, then I can loosen the reigns a bit and still get the desired outcome.

For instance: Sure, promises work okay as a proxy… as long as the promises aren't being made in order to be liked so as to fill a sense of inadequacy (for instance). If that's what's happening, then this idea that it's fine to drop focus on truth in order to keep promises can keep me confused and never addressing the sense of inadequacy directly. At some point on the devotional path, it's necessary to turn to cherished promises and say something like "This too. This too can die. Let others distrust and hate me for letting them down if they must. I put this on truth's altar and set it ablaze. I will keep only whatever remains."

Thereafter, the reason for caring about promises becomes the linking power between keeping them and the truth — in which case I keep them not because "I made a promise and that's the game theory" but because the act of keeping a given promise is part of my devotion to truth. It comes before reasons. The reasons are in service to the real thing underneath.

(I also want to add a periodic reminder I've said several times in these comments, but I imagine is easy to miss or forget: I'm not saying that this is what everyone should do. I'm saying that this kind of utter devotion seems to me both powerful and necessary for Beisutsukai.)

 

My first step aiming at a pure dojo would be to find co-founders and construct with them a collection of finite commitments and easy promises with failover clauses, that were unlikely to be regretted, to lead the dojo as a group for at least... 3 years? Then, in the first year, maybe you decide it is likely to be shut down.

Enough promises from enough adequate co-founders would make things very likely to work well, I think?

I have a hard time imagining how this would actually work. It feels too… outside to me. Like it's pretending we can program the social environment we're in as though we're looking at it from the outside. And like it's also trying to replace "Do the thing and not the non-thing" with semi-formal structures, which from what I can tell basically always decays via Goodhart.

But maybe you have a clever way of navigating that…? I'm happy to have my skepticism dispelled here. I'd just need to understand better what you're thinking first.

 

This links, in my mind, to the Drama Triangle stuff. Like: why not... just not do drama? Maybe the drama triangle is just a locally relevant pet theory of a therapist who sees a lot of people who need her kind of therapy?

You might find my reply to bglass clarifying. I wonder how much of this is just a matter of what I mean by Drama here being unclear due to a paucity of examples.

For my part, I really doubt this is just a therapeutic selection effect. I spent a few years trying to name a cultural engine and later found Lynne Forrest's application of Karpman's Triangle much, much better at communicating sight of the engine than I'd worked out how to on my own. I'd even encountered Karpman's Triangle a lot before, but it didn't land as useful until I combined Forrest's take with the core thing I was seeing in basically every human culture.

I still think the core thing of "I need you to do/be a certain thing for me to be okay" is better at capturing the essential logic I care about in the Drama Triangle. But in practice, splitting it up into these three strategy types and their interactions seems to make it a lot easier for people to learn how to notice in themselves and others.

With all that said, I do think the essence really amounts to "why not… just not do drama?"

I think the answer is basically that most people — and basically all the loud or visible collectives — are highly addicted to the sensations of drama. It lands a little like "why not… just stop smoking?" Ultimately, yes, of course. But in practice I think it's trickier than you seem to think it is.

And if I'm mistaken about that, I'd very much love to learn about it. I'd be quite happy to learn of a shortcut.

(Aside: I think this language around addiction is a bit confusing and doesn't need to be. It's more like, addiction is avoidance of a sensation or inner experience, and the addictive substance or behavior is an effective and habitual distraction from that intolerable sensation in a way that doesn't actually address the cause of the sensation in question. This habit loop's default is to deal with this problem by increasing the addictive substance's intensity in a kind of arms race, but the actual way out is to turn around and build capacity to be with the "intolerable" experience.)

 

I enjoyed the "silence perspective" here, and I wonder if any of it was connected to an almost literally opposite system of mental practices, that was recently advocated to intentionally create banishable and invokable tulpas that would pop up and give helpful advice in people's inner working memory as auditory/visual/etc content?

In short, no. I still haven't read Duncan's post. (I felt like I probably got the basic idea from the title combined with having had many conversations with Duncan where he explicitly used shoulder advisors.) The system (as I understand it) is too shallow to cut to the core of confusion. I mean, what are you using to pick your advisors? If you focus on listening to them as your basis, doesn't this mean you end up with a level of clarity that's roughly the weighted average of your advisors?

I do think it's a really good technique. I just don't see it as on the same tier as cultivating silence.

(It also feels important to acknowledge: Maybe Duncan addresses these and related questions in his post. I might go read it and find out. But in terms of answering the question about how connected the Void stuff is with Duncan's post, the answer will lie in my impression of what Duncan probably talks about there, and my barely educated impression of Duncan's point falls far short of the Void.)

 

> In particular, it's unclear whether and exactly how a given person would create a rationality dojo as part of their own training.

The thing that seems like it would make sense here is if you were in a business, and you were bottlenecked on hiring talent, and the talent had to be able to engage in cooperative creative systematic problem solving under uncertainty in order to be worth hiring, and then if you can't hire enough of it already on the open market...

...maybe you hire people close to the target, give them on-the-job training in a "working dojo", and then promote them to the real job when they can handle the real job?

I wonder about editing that sentence in the OP to clarify. I didn't mean that it's unclear how someone could possibly create a dojo as part of their training. I meant that given a Bob, would Bob end up creating a dojo as part of his training, and if so then what would his dojo end up looking like? That seems hard for me to predict.

(I get glimmers of intuitions about this for some people, but I haven't had much of a chance to calibrate those intuitions.)

But setting that aside to look at your idea:

I like the part where it's a kind of grounded and real. I don't care for the part where their livelihood gets tied to training. That slips in perverse incentives. I don't know of a good way to overcome those here.

I'm reminded of teaching math in university years ago. I tried as hard as I could at the time to find a way to teach well. And I innovated some tricks I still use to this day. But in retrospect, the main hurdle I could never overcome was that the classes I was teaching were required for a wide swath of majors (precalc, business calc, business statistic, etc.). I know I deeply touched a very few students in my years there, and I'm grateful for that opportunity. But for the majority? I could never have hoped to overcome the fact that they were there only because they believed they had to be.

Today I'd be much, much more wicked and direct. While they still have a chance to switch which version of the class they're in (i.e., in the first week), I would tell them that they're in for a bizarre ride and that they should leave if they want to, and then demonstrate it ASAP. I'd give them core tools for sovereignty (like the Drama Triangle and somatic self-soothing), spell out the trauma structures associated with math and child-rearing, and focus on them clearing those in themselves first. Every step of the way thereafter, I'd hone in on every breath of bullshit and slay it, and as a class we'd collectively look at how (a) they can each take full conscious ownership of their lives, including whether and how they wanted to navigate my particular "math" class; and (b) how they might orient to passing the end-of-term math test given their resources, including the time remaining in the course. I might very well make the final exam worth 100% of the course grade to help capture the spirit of this.

(Fun fact: "mathematics" comes from the Greek for "one who knows". Mathema was literally the art of knowing. The above is, in my opinion, not just a prerequisite structure for teaching math but is the art of mathema applied to the bizarre situation of a required academic class on computation.)

Maybe there's a way to modify that approach for jobs…?

But I tried to figure out something very closely related for over a year and couldn't figure it out on my own. I got a solution, but it amounted to "Don't allow any perverse incentives at all. If any threaten, put them on your shoulders, not your students', and only if it's natural to make your growing immunity to it part of your practice."

So… shrug? I'd be curious if you actually have a solution here in the shape you're pointing at.

 

At points in your essay, I was reminded of the cultural aspects of the Toyota Production System.

There's a scene in Spear's classic book where someone who has had ~3 months of training in "doing manufacturing optimization experiments slowly and correctly" (as part of training to be a manager with a Japenese boss) and he moves to a new place and gets 3 days of intensive practice sorta "speedrunning" the previous very slow practices...

Oh, there's something lovely and resonant here. Maybe this is what you meant by "working dojo"…?

This has gears turning in the back of my mind. Like it's fitting a piece together that makes the challenges/pressure-tests make more sense.

It's funny watching my mind trying to solve that. It's not something I'm consciously determined to do. But it's apparently a fun puzzle for me!

 

I like the groundedness of a tool space as a foundation for a rationality dojo. Like, producing real things and solving real problems. That's very resonant.

I think there's something slippery happening in terms of the Art being domain-general but cashing out in domain-specific ways.

I don't have succinct tidy thoughts at this point. I like the inspiration food.

Thank you for your thought storm. :-)

This is really long but I just wanted to address one tiny little tangent:

With all that said, I do think the essence really amounts to "why not… just not do drama?"

I think the answer is basically that most people — and basically all the loud or visible collectives — are highly addicted to the sensations of drama. It lands a little like "why not… just stop smoking?" Ultimately, yes, of course. But in practice I think it's trickier than you seem to think it is.

I've definitely been guilty of the rescuer role, tho I've gotten much better at avoiding the trap. It was because I cared and wanted to help, and I didn't know how to do so effectively. Learning about the triangle probably would have helped. I first read about it a few days ago, and even now I still have weaker aspects that I want to fix (tho I also strongly disagree with some aspects of the model). So... for some people, at least, it really is as simple as "just don't do drama". Which, to be fair, is a lot harder than it sounds when you're a clueless noob just figuring things out for the first time!

What would pressure-testing in the context of rationality look like?

Well, honestly, I don't yet know.

I have a few bad examples that don't strike me as entirely wrong . . .

 

At the risk of being accused of flagrant self-promotion, I also have a few bad examples that don't strike me as entirely wrong. My data science challenges are only tractable to players with the appropriate skillset, and resemble real-life problems the same way mystery novels resemble real-life detective work . . . but if you're looking for novel ways to test for skill at Inferring The Truth And Then Using It, they're probably relevant to your interests.

As a most-of-the-time participant, I can definitely agree. What's going on behind the scenes, at least for me, is much more than what you'll see in the comments. Most frequently practiced, I think:

  • Noticing Confusion - I will often see a curve or scatterplot that inspires a feeling of that's different. It's great to get practice noticing that over and over, and then digging into how well that intuition tracks truth.
  • Curiosity - almost of course. But it's good practice at finding things to be curious about.  And then also good practice knowing that you won't actually spend 20 hours on this project so evaluating: I'm curious; is it worth my time to follow up on this, or should I pursue even more promising avenues?

I like this. Thank you for bringing it up here.

How does it work? I'm not finding an obvious instruction manual or introduction. The first one seems like the first puzzle, but I'm not quite sure how it works. Would someone who wants to jump in just… reply in the comments with what they try to do? Or is this a template for an RPG session someone could run with others? Or something else?

I'd shied away from RPG style simulated practice because of the difficulty with embodied integration. I find it far too easy to view my character from the outside and solve their situation like a puzzle, rather than experiencing myself as the character who's actually encountering the confusion and psychological states and trying to navigate them from the inside. From a skim, it looks like you're navigating this in roughly the same way Eliezer seemed to be trying to do in creating the genre of "rationalist fiction" (where you show rather than describe the experience of making the inner mental movements that produce clarity).

How does it work?

 

I think the name may have given the wrong impression. The 'D&D' part of D&D.Sci is mostly the trappings of the genre, not the substance; monsters, wizards and (simulated) dicerolls yes, anything resembling Actual Roleplaying no.

Since you asked . . . from the top, the typical/intended way to Consume my Product is:

  • Download the dataset provided in the introductory post.
  • Investigate the scenario and decide the best course of action, using the dataset, the problem description, and a vague sense of what tricks you think the GM will/won't use.
  • OPTIONAL: Post about any ambiguities in the problem description or apparent errors in the dataset so the GM can clarify/fix them.
  • OPTIONAL: Post your findings and/or call your decision in advance (for bragging rights, this is best done in the ~week between the problem and the solution being posted).
  • OPTIONAL: Update your analysis/answer based on what other people said.
  • Use your solution in the evaluator the corresponding "Evaluation and Ruleset" post links to; see what happens to your character as a result, and what the odds of that outcome were given your choices.
  • Read the ruleset: see how well your deductions matched reality, and how close your strategy was to the optimal one.
  • OPTIONAL: Read the code used to generate the dataset.
  • OPTIONAL: Post about how well your strategy worked, and what you think you’ve learned from the game.
  • OPTIONAL: Post about what you think was good/bad about the scenario and what you’d like to see more of in future ones.
  • OPTIONAL: Make your own scenario. (aphyer has built two so far – both of which are very good – and various other LWers are planning to run games at some point this year)

I'd shied away from RPG style simulated practice because of the difficulty with embodied integration. I find it far too easy to view my character from the outside and solve their situation like a puzzle, rather than experiencing myself as the character who's actually encountering the confusion and psychological states and trying to navigate them from the inside.

Your Honor, I plead guilty to exactly half of this charge. It’s true that - for example - the player in Voyages of the Gray Swan will not be feeling the terror, desperation and confusion of the character they play, because they aren’t actually having the experience of trying to analyze their way out of being eaten by crabmonsters. As such, they won’t be able to test or develop their making-good-decisions-under-pressure mental musculature: this is a weakness of the genre as it currently exists, and I cop to it.

However, I can tell you from experience that players do get to use their pattern-matching, noticing-confusion, admitting-they’re-wrong, and balancing-priors-against-the-evidence skills, because the scenarios are intentionally weird and messy enough that they have to do those things to reach the best answer. I suppose I’d summarize this by saying I think D&D.Sci players get to practice being rational, but not being not-irrational?

(I once tried to give players a chance to use their not-irrationality skills by writing one of my scenarios as fanfiction of a story with some compelling characters, and inventing a situation where those characters could die, survive, or survive and avoid some of the problems they face in canon, depending on the player's decisions. This completely failed for reasons documented in the Reflections section of the evaluation post, chief among which is that none of my players had read the story my scenario was fanfiction of. I have various tentative plans for (hopefully!) more effective projects with the same goal.)

Very cool. Thank you for explaining all that.

Almost everything in this post sounds right to me.

These Drama Triangle patterns are everywhere. Utterly everywhere.

It doesn't seem that way to me; but then, what everywhere are you talking about?

I can see those patterns in argumentation online--a lot--and in a few dysfunctional people I know, and indeed in my own past in some places. Regarding my real-life modern friends, family, and coworkers, it doesn't seem like anyone relates to each other through those roles (at least not often enough to describe it as 'utterly everywhere').

Could the pattern be general enough to match very many circumstances? For example, one can act combative, or cooperate, or not react at all, to what happens in one's life. Thus any interaction can be mapped to the triangle.

Perhaps I'm missing something. If it's just that few of the people in my life regularly have the victim mindset, I feel very fortunate.

This echoes the Virtue of the Void

I thought that Void was something different, but I also feel like I shouldn't try to explain the difference in my conception of the Void.

At any rate, I agree strongly with the idea that we need to prune our mental processes and otherwise reduce the effort/cost from our attempts to be more rational. Mental noise is the source of much confusion. But I don't agree that Truth is the only thing that matters, or the ultimate thing that matters.

Which is something people always say right before they tell you to stop trying to find the Truth--and that's not my point at all! Keep pushing toward Truth! Nothing that you want is going to be accomplished without it. And if what you want changes as you learn more, so be it.

All I mean is that, in a technical sense, Truth is the penultimate value. It is fine to want things more than you want the Truth. The mistake is thinking you can get those things while discarding the Truth.

But that seems like a basic lesson... so what did you mean? It may be that every single time someone thinks what they want is at odds with the truth, they are wrong--is that what you meant?

Or perhaps, did you simply mean that getting at the truth requires unwavering devotion, far stronger than what people normally apply toward anything they want? I think that's also true.

I feel like I'm missing something again.

Almost everything in this post sounds right to me.

Cool.

 

I can see those [Drama Triangle] patterns in argumentation online--a lot--and in a few dysfunctional people I know, and indeed in my own past in some places. Regarding my real-life modern friends, family, and coworkers, it doesn't seem like anyone relates to each other through those roles (at least not often enough to describe it as 'utterly everywhere').

[…]

Perhaps I'm missing something. If it's just that few of the people in my life regularly have the victim mindset, I feel very fortunate.

Maybe you are blessed!

That said, my guess based on priors is that you're probably just not familiar with how to notice these patterns at subtle levels.

A few days ago I had just finished lunch with my parents. After we'd finished, there was a bit of time left before I needed to head out to make it to an online call. So I started using that time to help clean up. Dad turned to me and said something like "You have a call. You should get going and leave this to me." I know Dad plenty well to know that this isn't because of some love of kitchen cleaning on his part. At first blush it looks like caring, and it's how he has learned how to express caring, but it's actually a subtle invitation to Rescue me. At other times he'll do the Rescuer-turned-Victim thing about how there's always so very much work to do.

Nearly all plots from dramas and romcoms are variations on Drama Triangle themes. It's a big tangled mess of "I need you to do/be a certain thing in order for me to be okay." If Alice needs Ben to do X and Ben needs Carol to do Y and Carol needs Alice to do Z, but Alice doing Z makes it tricky for Ben to do X, then you have a very entertaining spiral as no one takes responsibility for their own wellbeing and everyone gets an emotional orgasm of offense/excitement/sorrow/etc. in their collective arms race of attempted emotional co-manipulation. What fun!

Once in the Czech Republic I was sitting at a bar finishing a glass of beer. The waitress came by and asked to take my glass. I wasn't done and I said as much. She put her fist on her hips with one hand and gestured at my glass with the other in a lot of irritation and said "Come on. There's just a mouthful left." Her Persecutor inviting me to Victim. At the time I accepted the Drama bid and felt resentful for a while afterwards. I can only guess, but my guess is that had I refused and told her to come back later she would have fumed about me for a while afterwards. She might have done so anyway.

Nearly every graduate student I've interacted with has learned how to play Victim as part of their role. That's a huge chunk of what PhD Comics is a caricature of. "Oh man, this is such a huge workload, and I haven't done nearly enough, so my advisor is gonna be so disappointed in me tomorrow…." Often it's the system as a whole that's acting as the Persecutor, at least from the grad student's point of view. The pointlessness of fighting back helps to feed the Victim narrative of hopelessness.

A pretty good rule of thumb is: If you're stressed enough about something that it's activating your SNS but you aren't in a situation where a burst of speed will solve the problem before you run out of emergency energy, then you're almost certainly confused about what's real, and it's very often because you've fallen into the Triangle somehow. The overwhelming majority of efforts to "save the world" or "fight for justice" are of this type, often from the Rescuer corner (although with cancel culture we've seen a blatant wave of Rescuer-turned-Persecutor patterns pop up). It's easy to sort of motte-and-bailey this point by focusing on how important the causes are ("We're talking about existential risk!") rather than really looking at the Drama pattern of how concern for the causes are being used, and in service to what. The complaints about "White Saviorism" are exactly objecting to the condescension of the Rescuer pattern — but the nature of the complaints are often just retaliating with Persecutor. Round & round we go!

I'll pause there. I could go on for hours.

Hopefully that helps clarify what I'm talking about there.

 

[…] I don't agree that Truth is the only thing that matters, or the ultimate thing that matters.

Ah, I didn't mean to say it was. Sorry if I misspoke somewhere.

I meant to say that devoting to truth is coherent and very powerful, and the more deeply I do so the more obvious it is to me that nothing else makes sense for me.

But maybe looking deeply at the truth would wreck a given person's 20-year marriage, and he'd rather live the life he's built for himself than go on some grand spiritual journey. That's perfectly fine. That matters to him, which means it matters.

For myself, that's not an option anymore. I've already crossed too many points of no return. And I don't regret it one bit. If I end up married, it'll almost certainly be because my wife is devoted to truth too, and we learned how to build a life together within that context. If I have to wait a hundred years for that, or it never happens, then so be it.

I'm suggesting that this kind of devotion to truth is necessary for Beisutsukai. That's all.

 

It may be that every single time someone thinks what they want is at odds with the truth, they are wrong--is that what you meant?

That's not what I meant, though I think that's basically true too.

 

Or perhaps, did you simply mean that getting at the truth requires unwavering devotion, far stronger than what people normally apply toward anything they want?

Something more like this, yes.

Whatever you want more than truth leaves you with a question: Why do you want it more? What if looking at that question caused you to realize that your desire stems from an illusion? The very act of noticing this might cause you to cease pursuing this treasure greater than truth. So you'd best not look!

This isn't a fictitious reasoning pathway. It's the standard trick of the ego.

(In particular, it's close to what Anna Salamon at least used to call a "broccoli error": If someone who hates broccoli is given an opportunity to push a button and enjoy broccoli instead, they might respond "I'm not pushing that button! If I did, I'd eat more broccoli, and I hate broccoli!")

The only path I know of that relentlessly and unwaveringly moves toward clarity and freedom is total devotion to truth. Any deviance from that path leads to confusion.

…which is not the same as saying that deviance is wrong or that people who don't devote to truth are making a mistake.

It's just a fact. Preferring anything over truth creates room for confusion.

So anyone who wants to master any art of cutting through confusion would do extremely well to fully devote to truth.

But maybe that 20-year marriage sounds way sweeter.

That's actually, truly okay.

Hopefully that helps clarify what I'm talking about there.

It does. Those examples help a lot. Thank you!

Preferring anything over truth creates room for confusion.

We might be talking about preferring things over truth in two different ways.

If you prefer something alternate to the truth, the thing you prefer could be right or wrong. To the extent it's wrong you are confusing yourself. I agree with that, and I think that's what you mean by 'preferring something over truth'.

What I meant is more like "How much effort I'm going to expend getting at this truth."

An (admittedly trivial) example: There's a TV show I like, whose ending is only available for paying customers for a streaming service. I judged it not worth my money to buy the service to get the ending. In a sense, I value the money more than the truth of the show's ending.

An example with greater consequence: for most truths, I'm unwilling to sacrifice stranger's lives to learn them. Which isn't to say that lives are a sacred value that cannot be traded--just that most truths aren't worth that cost. In that sense, I value human lives above truth.

(That's probably a bad example because so seldom can one trade human lives to learn truths, but alas. The first real world situation that comes to mind is Covid19 vaccine testing, and I'd absolutely let volunteers risk their lives for that.)

Does my view on how much effort to spend pursuing truth still lead to confusion? It might.

But maybe that 20-year marriage sounds way sweeter.

A person using my reasoning may think "I don't want to risk sacrificing my marriage to learn that particular truth." Depending on the marriage, maybe it would be worth it to hold back... although my intuition says a marriage based on lies won't be. And of course, to know whether it would be worth it or not means that you've got to risk sacrificing it. That way is closed to you.

I'm going to have to think about it more. I don't want to trade poorly.

Even so, one can't study everything. How does one choose which truths to pursue? Indeed, to bring it back around, how does one choose which biases to focus on correcting, and which to let go for now because trying to overcome them would only add clutter to one's mental processes?

Thanks for trying to figure that out, and responding so thoroughly.

I think you're equivocating a bit between information and truth. For example in the TV example, you would pay to get the information of what the ending is. It would make more sense to talk about the truth of the show's ending if, say, there was a character you were very attached which you didn't want to die, and they might die in the last episode. Would you like to know how the show ends even if you have to face the truth of this character's death?

In other words, truth is more about what you believe than what information you have (though obviously you need information to get at the truth). You can have different beliefs with the same information, so the question is more about whether you're willing to accept the truth if it costs you something.

information vs truth

Thanks, that gets rid of most of my confusion.

Without additional cost, I'd definitely prefer to know what happens even if my favorite character might die.

For a different show, I would not care. Whether or not I value the information depends on the show, or the domain... How much I'm willing to pay for information, and by extension the truth, depends a lot on the thing about which I'm learning.

To me it looks like the thing itself is what is important, and my desire to have accurate beliefs stems from caring about the thing. It's not that I care about the accurate beliefs themselves, so much.

Even so, I don't want false beliefs about anything. All domains are one.

I thought that Void was something different, but I also feel like I shouldn't try to explain the difference in my conception of the Void.

Why not?

I think the description of the Void in the twelve virtues is purposefully vague. Perhaps to shake the reader enough to get them to think for themselves, or perhaps to be a place for personal interjection into the twelve virtues.

You may try to name the highest principle with names such as “the map that reflects the territory” or “experience of success and failure” or “Bayesian decision theory”. But perhaps you describe incorrectly the nameless virtue. How will you discover your mistake? Not by comparing your description to itself, but by comparing it to that which you did not name.

It could also a test of a sort. In any case, I didn't think it would be worthwhile to explain my conception of the Void.

Truth is the penultimate value

Really liked that line, even though I'm not sure it can't be the ultimate value.

If you care more about your relationship than you do about deepening your devotion to truth, you might never really look.

…which means that even if there is no trouble brewing underneath, you don't get to know that either. Because you aren't willing to look.

Yes Requires the Possibility of No

Arguing with one of those street preachers, like I at least used to see on college campuses pretty often, strikes me as maybe promising.... You'd need to real-time learn the actual structure of the preacher's mental program and identify what conversational moves would actually jam his mental code — not just what's illogical about the content of his words.

It's not that hard. Twice now, I've simply shown up and asked them if I could read my favorite part of the Bible to them. They said "yes" both times. Then I read the entire Song of Solomon.

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!
For your love is better than wine;
    your anointing oils are fragrant;
your name is oil poured out;
    therefore virgins love you.
  Draw me after you; let us run.
    The king has brought me into his chambers.

Some of them didn't know that it's from the Bible, and called it "disgusting" before their buddies shut them up. Others just waited impatiently for it to get around to talking about swords and banners, as it does many stanzas into the poem.

It is not the mental monologue, but rather the physical presence of these people in the location where they're standing that is the essential medium of their argument.

I'm not sure why you're saying this. I wonder if you're seeking accolades for your cleverness…?

The whole point of the preacher puzzle isn't to have a solution, but to find one.

If this were actually a Beisutsu challenge and I were your sensei (with my current skill set, which is a paradox, but I'll ignore that for now), I would focus you on two points:

  • "This is a distraction from the point. What in you is pulling you in a different direction? Look there and address it."
  • "Now taboo this trick with the Song of Solomon and try again."

I want to acknowledge and emphasize that I'm not a Beisutsu sensei, and even if I were you have not asked to be my student.

I'm offering this anyway because I imagine the hypothetical correction will be clarifying for some people — possibly including you!

I believe you have something real+important to communicate that hasn't been communicated by this. But also, your comment has a certain aura: it's dripping with condescension. By condescension, I don't mean "you think you're better than AAB, you think you know more than AAB, etc.", because that's too general/comprehensive and also could be reasonable beliefs; I don't mean "you're assuming you know better in this case", because that's a fine thing to believe; I don't mean "you're revealing that you think you know better in this case", because it's good to reveal your beliefs.

I mean maybe something around, you're assuming common knowledge that you know better in this case. For example, you seem to assume that AAB will defer to your judgement, so that if you say AAB missed your criterion of success, they'll agree that they ought to go investigate why they aren't attending to your criterion (in this story, your assumption is expressed in suggesting AAB is "seeking accolades" or has something "pulling them in a different direction" that needs to be addressed). You emphatically disclaim sensei-hood... which is some evidence that you expect to be treated as a sensei and/or that in some ways you're filling that role / taking that pose. (It would be bad if you get really or hypothetically punished for revealing that you expect to be treated as a sensei, or for making disclaimers to avoid things that seem bad to you, or for believing that you have stuff to teach, etc. etc.; I just want to offer you this information as a way in, if it's relevant to your goals, to understand what might be happening in the above interaction.)

On a more concrete level, you seem to be rejecting the feedback from reality of the form "AAB did not get what I was pointing to". Where by "rejecting" I mean you're imputing a problem to AAB, and not taking actions that I'd expect if you took in the feedback (e.g., explaining more clearly what the preacher puzzle is, or what procedure one could run to bump into the puzzle you're pointing at, or how to tell whether you've bumped into the puzzle, etc. etc.).

FYI TechneMakre, Val's comment did help me understand what he wanted to offer with the preacher puzzle. Not an answer, but the practice of searching for an answer.

Seconding.

Reading "Embodying the Void", I imagine an algorithm gaining more and more subroutine calls (is_planning_fallacy()) and becoming noisier and noisier. You seem to argue that we need to instead be deliberate about the functions we implement in our own mind; to zoom out and start over with a clean slate; to strive towards a well-implemented, purposeful function which achieves one's goals.

Re: "Devotion to Truth", I notice the following objection: Truth is not my (sole) terminal value, but a complementary ingredient. I want my terminal values to be truly reflected in the state of reality—for the world to be better and happier—but I also terminally care about those other values. It seems dishonest and untrue for me to pretend otherwise, internally.

Perhaps one answer is to reflect and consider whether these terminal values would be better served by my becoming the kind of person who does put truth cardinally first. If so, perhaps I could decide to be that kind of person thereafter. This is not a decision to be made lightly.

But perhaps you meant something else?

I imagine an algorithm gaining more and more subroutine calls (is_planning_fallacy()) and becoming noisier and noisier.

In practice these subroutines work by something like getting fed clock cycles. If you stop feeding them, they stop running. If you examine them while they're running and sort of take them apart with spacious attention, they stop booting up when they would otherwise get fed.

The reason people end up with runaway internal arms races like you're describing is that they're trying to pit one bit of noise against another while feeding both. If you think "I should drop this into the Void and stop feeding this", then that thought calls for more clock cycles to fight the is_planning_fallacy() thing, which calls for more clock cycles to fight back, etc.

That's why you have to build familiarity with the actual Void first as a separate practice.

(Again acknowledging the info asymmetry here. I claim you can just see what I'm talking about if you look at it yourself, but steadying the inner eye takes a little while, so I imagine that right now this is landing as some kind of theoretical claim I'm simply asserting. I trust whatever you choose to do or not do with what I'm saying here. All in good time.)

 

You seem to argue that we need to instead be deliberate about the functions we implement in our own mind; to zoom out and start over with a clean slate; to strive towards a well-implemented, purposeful function which achieves one's goals.

No, but that's a pretty good initial description.

The concept of goals gets pretty slippery as you do this because being takes precedence over doing. Most minds I've had a chance to examine seem to be very, very highly tuned toward doing, often using the lack of permission to be as fuel to feed subroutines. It's sort of a parasitic relationship between the human and the thought structures. I'm suggesting that epic levels of clarity requires dismantling that on the inside.

I think that at first emphasizing which functions one implements puts the focus backwards. Who or what is deciding what gets implemented? If that's where you start, the chances are it'll be a cluster of subroutines, often using internal words like "I" and "me" and "my".

The starting point is more like (a) noticing that functions are currently running and (b) developing the skill of turning them off.

I didn't really go into this in the article, but FWIW: After a while the mind will build new functions that more helpfully point to the Void. It'll also try to build ones that distract from the Void by talking about "the Void", but after a while it'll get that this ultimately doesn't work and mostly (but not entirely) give up.

Then you can start being deliberate about which functions you implement. In part because you're a lot less confused about who it is that's being deliberate.

And the whole way through you'll hone a better and better sense of how much inner space you actually want and need for various tasks. I don't know if "start over with a clean slate" is quite the thing… but knowing how to (a) close programs and (b) reboot your computer to clear programs that aren't responding is pretty helpful.

 

Truth is not my (sole) terminal value, but a complementary ingredient. I want my terminal values to be truly reflected in the state of reality—for the world to be better and happier—but I also terminally care about those other values. It seems dishonest and untrue for me to pretend otherwise, internally.

Cool. Then two notes:

  • Devotion to truth might not be for you. That's totally fine. It's not for everyone.
  • Your last sentence here highlights to me how devotion to truth would require you to see how your other "terminal values" play a role. The way this would work is: What if something you "terminally" desire in the world isn't a fit for reality? Would you rather discover that and grieve, or not look and keep trying? I don't mean this stupidly; many people honestly would choose the second, and that's fine. It's their lives. I'm just observing from the vantage point of someone who is a devotee of truth: To me the choice is clear, because any "terminal value" I have that cannot fit into reality is keeping me deluded without helping me with that delusional value. So why would I treasure it more than truth? That way lies pointless (to me) suffering. I'd rather let the version of me that clings to that "terminal value" die.

 

Perhaps one answer is to reflect and consider whether these terminal values would be better served by my becoming the kind of person who does put truth cardinally first. If so, perhaps I could decide to be that kind of person thereafter. This is not a decision to be made lightly.

Exactly. It's like choosing to get married to reality. I'm not using the word "devotion" flippantly here.

A minor point that's maybe obvious to you: You're describing the Gandhi murder pill from the "before pill" POV. From my vantage point, once you start putting truth first, eventually you'll get confronted with your motivation: "Ah, I want happiness for all beings / lots of sex / a fluffy dog / etc., and this is why I'm devoting to truth." What if you don't get those? What if you only think you want those because you're actually (say) seeking validation and trying to distract yourself from that truth via fervent activity? Ah, now the attempt to devote to truth gives you a choice: Sacrifice who you were on the altar, or go no further. If you proceed, maybe you still get lots of sex or whatever, but only if it survives the purification by Eternal Flame. You don't get to know ahead of time. That's the price.

Maybe that's what you meant when you note that "This is not a decision to be made lightly."

It's also not a decision most people can make without standing in the Void. It's like having wedding vows to stay with your beloved "in sickness and in health" without having a damn clue what sickness is. Maybe you keep the vow, but it'll be pretty much accidental.

Really enjoyed this article! Your comment here was also helpful, but left me with a couple questions.

The concept of goals gets pretty slippery as you do this because being takes precedence over doing.

How do you see motivation working once you start abandoning the concept of goals?

What if something you "terminally" desire in the world isn't a fit for reality? Would you rather discover that and grieve, or not look and keep trying?

Could you give a specific example of a terminal value failing to fit reality, and what abandoning it/changing it to fit reality would look like?

Reply part 2:

Could you give a specific example of a terminal value failing to fit reality, and what abandoning it/changing it to fit reality would look like?

I can answer what I think is the spirit of this question. I've been playing along with the "terminal value" frame, but honestly I think it confuses things. Rather than trying to stick to the formal idea of a terminal value in humans, I'll just point at what I'm talking about.

One example: deconversion. If you believe in God and love Him and this brings you tremendous meaning and orientation in your life, dare you take seriously the arguments that He doesn't exist? Dare you even look? This isn't just a matter of flipping a mental "god_exists" Boolean variable from "true" to "false"; for many people this can be on the level of losing God's love and approval, and like the very force of gravity is no longer His will but is instead some kind of dead monstrosity. That's something you risk if you're more interested in truth than in being close to Him. What in you would need to shift so that your inner answer is "Yes, yes, a thousand times yes, let me see the truth"?

Another example: breaking up with a friend. Maybe you've known someone since childhood… but some of this Drama Triangle stuff starts to click and you see that actually everything about your connection is based on (say) them Rescuing you and you playing Victim. When you try to talk to them about this, they brush it off, maybe even playing the Victim card themselves ("I just care about you! Don't you appreciate all that I do for you?"). You could just keep playing along… or you could notice that you're actually a "no" for playing this dynamic with anyone anymore, even your old friend. But maybe there's nothing deeper than the Drama dynamic, and maybe they won't be available for building something more. So what do you do? What resource in you do you call upon in order to choose to prefer truth even to this long-standing friendship? Are you willing to grieve, and have your old friend feel hurt at you (the shift to Persecutor), and practice standing your ground (i.e., deepening your devotion to truth)? Or do you cherish things as they are more than you want to recognize the deeper truth?

This stuff shows up in a thousand different ways, and my experience is that the more refined my "truth sight" becomes the more micro-level these little opportunities appear. Like, as I write this, is each keystroke devotional? Or am I focused more on making sure I answer your question than I am on whether it's true for me to do so? What in me do I need to acknowledge and let go of in order to have each breath be married to reality?

Does this answer your question?

Yes, this feels much clearer now, thank you.

Quite welcome. Glad that helped. :-)

Really enjoyed this article!

I'm glad to hear it. :-) 

 

How do you see motivation working once you start abandoning the concept of goals?

It's not really that one abandons the concept of goals. It's that doing serves being, so goals arise and fade within a larger context.

What's your motivation for continuing to live? If presented with two buttons, one of which will let you leave the button situation & continue your life while the other one has you die right on the spot, I imagine you have little difficulty choosing the first one. You might be able to justify your choice afterwards as "survival instinct" or "net positive expected global utility from your remaining life" or whatever… but I'm guessing the clear knowing of the choice comes before all that. Your choice probably wouldn't change whatsoever if you spent a while meditating and calming your reactions, for instance.

(Said differently: the clarity arises from the Void.)

The word "motivation" has a common linguistic root with "motor". It's that which causes movement. So the "motivation" of a stone rolling downhill is gravity. The motivation of a high school student attending college is (often) a whole social atmosphere that acts something like a gravitational field (what I've occasionally heard termed "an incentive landscape" in rationalist circles). There's something very mechanical about the whole thing.

But when we talk about "being motivated" or epic feats like "shut up and do the impossible", particularly when there's any hint of "should" attached to them (like "I should shut up & do the impossible"), there's usually an implication of free will. As though beyond all causes is some kind of power of choice. It's obviously a bit batty when said that way, but we mostly agree not to pay attention to that.

…with the result that we have bizarre statements like "We should end racism." What exactly is that as a choice? It's not at all of the same type as "We should turn off the stove." In practice it's an application of a social force meant to shift the incentive landscape (usually via Drama Triangle dynamics, I'll parenthetically add). But what's causing that force to be applied? If you start tabooing the concept of free will, most statements about social movements and public policy start looking patently insane. If you finish tabooing it, they appear as they are: manifestations of a kind of collective mental software glitch that keeps human minds distant from reality. Stones rolling downhill.

Same for statements like "I should lose weight." With what magical power? By the power of research and effort? If so, can you notice the element of magic being added wherein you somehow mysteriously can make yourself do the research and put in effort as though your choice is beyond all cause?

(The fact that the motivations often aren't beyond experienced causes is part of why shame and inadequacy enter the picture. "I failed, and that means I suck" doesn't make any more sense than "The stone rolled all the way to the bottom of the hill, and that means I suck." Of course, the judgment isn't causeless either.)

Intellectually solving the reductionist puzzle of free will is not at all the same as integrating the insight into your being and perception.

So, what does it feel like on the inside to end all distortions about free will?

I'm pretty sure this is part of what the Void stuff is getting you into contact with.

The place from which you choose to move your fingers is void of experience. It's a kind of empty. Once you make the choice, there's a cascade of experience and the result is basically predetermined by the mechanisms of reality. But the choice itself feels on the inside like it's causeless.

Goals are in the realm of causes. Within sensation. They're part of the machinery of the world.

When you see this clearly and stop pretending that getting somewhere is what existence is about, then your "motivation" emerges from the causeless realm of emptiness. You just do what you want.

Of course, within physics this is still mechanical. The reductionist lens sees that "causeless choice" is basically just how we experience a type of ignorance.

But at least the machinery stops being confused in practice about what the "free will" function is actually doing. And our narratives about ourselves and others stop trying to rely on these magical forces that don't actually exist.

…though that's still described from the outside.

On the inside, it feels silent.

I do because I want to.

"Where does the desire come from?" becomes a koan. The act of looking for the answer points back to the silence.

Which means that the carnival of sensation is much, much less able to control what I choose to do.

Does this answer your question?

(I'll answer your second question in a separate reply since the topics are different. I don't see this done often here… but I think it makes more sense given the nature of upvoting/downvoting, so I'll try it and see what happens.)

This definitely helps clarify, thank you very much. I suspect it will take me some time to fully understand your ideas, but my current best stab at a (probably overcompressed) summary would be:

Our usual state of mind consists of experiencing a profusion of thoughts and inner sensations. These thoughts interact with each other, and generate further thoughts. We may experience a causal connection between thoughts, leading to the experience of “trains of thought”. This experience of causal connection may or may not accurately reflect the causal process giving rise to the thoughts. Individual thoughts or trains of thought compete for attention. It is this welter of activity that is Noise.

The absence of Noise is experienced as an inner silence, the Void. This differs from what we experience after suppressing Noise: it’s the difference between throwing a blanket over a loud radio, and switching the radio off. Being (as contrasted with doing) ultimately resides in the Void.

Thoughts may arise from the Void. These will be experienced as without cause. For example, choices or desires arising from the Void feel uncaused, resulting in the experience of free will. This contrasts with goals, which are experienced as both caused by thoughts, and causing thoughts: they are an integral part of Noise.

By starting from the Void, we decrease the extent to which our thoughts arise from spurious interactions due to Noise, and instead flow directly from our being. This allows our thoughts and our doing to serve our being. Goals then cease to define or control us, and instead are tools to be dropped once they cease to be useful.

Hopefully I'm not totally misunderstanding you here.

That seems pretty darn good to me!

Beautiful. Thank you.