Group rationality diary, May 5th - 23rd

by philh1 min read4th May 201529 comments


Open ThreadsGroup Rationality
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This is the public group rationality diary for May 5 - 23, 2015. It's a place to record and chat about it if you have done, or are actively doing, things like:

  • Established a useful new habit

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

  • Decided to behave in a different way in some set of situations

  • Optimized some part of a common routine or cached behavior

  • Consciously changed your emotions or affect with respect to something

  • Consciously pursued new valuable information about something that could make a big difference in your life

  • Learned something new about your beliefs, behavior, or life that surprised you

  • Tried doing any of the above and failed

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

Archive of previous rationality diaries

Note to future posters: no one is in charge of posting these threads. If it's time for a new thread, and you want a new thread, just create it. It should run for about two weeks, finish on a saturday, and have the 'group_rationality_diary' tag.

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I've been trying to be more "agenty" and less NPC-ish lately, and having some reasonable success. In the past month I've:

-Gone to a SlateStarCodex meetup

This involved taking a greyhound bus, crossing the border into a different country, and navigating my way around an unfamiliar city - all things that would have stopped me from even considering going a few years ago. But I realized that none of those things were actually that big of a deal, that what was really stopping me was that it just wasn't something I would normally do. And since there was no real reason I couldn't go, and because I knew I really wanted to go, I just up and did it.

(had a great time btw, no regrets)

-Purchased a used (piano) keyboard

I used to just kind of vaguely wish that I had a keyboard, because it seemed like it would be a fun thing to learn. I would think this resignedly, as if it were an immutable fact of the universe that I couldn't have a keyboard - for some reason going out and buying one didn't really occur to me. Now that I have one I'm enjoying it, although I'm mostly just messing around and it's clear that I'll need more structure if I'm really going to make progress.

-Signed up for an interview for the MIRI Summer Fellows program

Working at MIRI would be amazing, a dream come true. But I always just sort of assumed I wasn't cut out for it. And that may well be true, but here's a practically zero-cost chance to find out. Why not take it? (Of course, there's always the possibility that I'm just wasting Anna Salamon's time, which I wouldn't want to do. But I don't think I'm so obviously underqualified that that would be the case). Again, I don't think is something I would have done even a year ago.

I've also been having much more success consistently writing for my blog, which I used to always enjoy but rarely do.

Basically I've gotten a ton of mileage out of just having the concept of agency installed in my brain. Knowing that I can just do the things I want, even if they're weird or I haven't done them before, is pretty freeing and pretty cool. The whole "Roles" arc of HPMOR really drove this idea home for me I think.

Per the open thread, it seems that it hasn't been obvious that: yes, you can just create one of these threads if you want to. I decided to make it obvious.

Meta: until now we've been tagging these both 'grouprationalitydiary' and 'group_rationality_diary'. That seemed silly to me, and it was an obstacle to creating the diaries, so I stopped. I wasn't sure which was relevant for the sidebar, so I tested and it turns out it's the underscore version. I also link to the tag instead of the wiki page for the archive, because it doesn't need maintenance. I'd recommend deprecating the archive on the wiki page and just linking to the tag, but I don't yet have a wiki account and my attempt to create one apparently failed.

I recently began learning meditation through the work of Sam Harris, which was recommended me here on LW.

I also read about the plasticity of the cortex and the effects of attention on creating neural networks.

Combining those, I now am trying to break bad habits by focusing my attention on my experience as I'm tempted, and simply observing the urge, disconnecting it from progressing along any ingrained neural patterns.

I've been moving consistently through the Sequences. I decided that the marginal gains of re-reading the significant portions of the same which I have already read were less than those of reading new material, so I'm skipping parts I've read before.

I applied thinking for five minutes at something for the first time today. It was good, and I intend to think five minutes about each of the things I want to study and practice to see if I can't improve my study plans.

I was told today that I'm extremely defensive when arguing. I assign a high probability to this not being about an emotional reaction on my part. Probably the fact that the people who think as such do not successfully convince me of their points, for reasons I find sufficient, contributes to this perception. I've determined I ought to do something about it, and am considering marking my general argumentation style with a near-constant tendency to ask people to make predictions about their points beforehand, to clarify them in both of our minds, and so we're agreed on how to determine whether or not a point is sound, distancing myself from any apparent stubbornness, and hopefully improving my ability for persuasion and teaching.

I tried a Mandarin course, the textbook for which was more expensive than all others for me. I bought it used, and it was lacking a code to access an essential online component of the course, so I had to buy a second for the same high price. A little bit into the course, I determined that it was not an efficient way to learn the language, and dropped it, not allowing my sunken costs to affect my decision very much.

[-][anonymous]6y 8

I've recently come to acknowledge the value of conscientiousness. So in an attempt to become more conscientious, I've started making my bed every day (something that I otherwise find to have a neutral cost-benefit ratio).

I've started setting two alarms to help me go to bed earlier. One to brush teeth, put on pajamas, turn off screens, and read for 10 minutes, and one to actually go to sleep. This works surprisingly well, and I've been sleeping enough that I don't need an alarm clock to wake up, which feels great.

I started learning about evolution and natural selection, and found out that altruism was partly genetic, which helped me come to classify "goodness" under the same category as "personal happiness" and eliminate the cognitive dissonance I had felt about donating to EA charities.

I noticed I'm often wary of medicines or GMO food simply for seeming "unnatural", but recognized this as stemming from my previous Christian worldview. Now if I catch myself disliking something, I ask myself why, and if I trace the dislike back to my upbringing alone, I'll usually change my attitude toward it.

Cool. You may also want to set two alarms to wake up in the morning. I have slept through one before and it was unfortunate.

[-][anonymous]6y 0

Actually, one of the coolest things about getting enough sleep is that I wake up naturally, with no alarm at all!

This is very excellent!

In the past I've only gotten up very early on the rare occasions that I've needed to be up earlier than around seven or eight, but after the "please let me die and/or go back to sleep" stage that lasts the first five or ten minutes until sleep momentum wears off, I've enjoyed being up that early, finding it almost thrilling to be awake while the day's just getting bright and barely anyone's around. After one pointless all-nighter where I got to watch the sun rise, I decided that that was enough reason to push me over the edge and start getting up early every morning.

I've been up early enough for the sunrise on the majority of mornings since then, with a few lapses including yesterday when I got up at 10 and noticed how late that felt now, when before it would have been a normal time for a morning without lectures. Although I can't even see the sun because of the weather, and being up that early meant only sleeping four and a half hours, I'm very excited both for today and the future, modulo some disappointment that the caffeine/modafinil effect I mention in the above-linked comment is kicking in: I started typing this at 6:30, it's 8:20 now and I still haven't had breakfast. But that's not indicative of how my mornings usually are in the new regime.

My main tool for getting up early is the app "alarm clock Xtreme" - I never sleep through alarms, but instead spend the first minute or so after being woken up earlier than I'd wake up if left to my own devices as a zombie-like-being that can think only of returning to sleep, so the "solve math problems to dismiss" feature is very useful; if I have to walk across the room and then solve ten moderately difficult mental math problems, I'm much less likely to go straight back to sleep, although for this morning I had to take a modafinil and set a 25-minute nap timer. To get up early sustainably requires going to bed early as well, but if you do one then the other tends to fall into place, and making myself get up early is a much easier problem than making myself go to bed early.

I have recently seemed to start needing less sleep, which may have made moving my sleep cycle around a lot easier than it would otherwise be.

Made the first few moves needed for getting out of the depressive slump I've been in for the past three months. Switched to a diurnal sleep cycle (for now...). Finally tidied up some spaces so as to make them useable at last (it's very difficult to care about this stuff when you're depressed) and now I'm marginally less frustrated with everyday existence. Called some old friends even though I wasn't feeling like socializing, just to confirm to myself that they still want to talk to me; otherwise I might have persisted in the belief that they had just decided they didn't like me anymore. Still have some people to call. Started to again put some effort into my appearance, bought some new stuff for myself, shaved for the first time in forever, and am currently working back on regaining my six-pack. My old pursuit of learning made a feeble comeback in the form of starting reading a macroeconomics textbook and a few other more "leisurely" non-fiction books on the side -- sure, it's not the holy grail of multivariable calculus, but it's a beginning.

I'm beginning to realize that a large part of my tendency to get into persistent low moods can be attributed to my being austere to a fault, always denying myself cheap and simple pleasures like buying a pretzel at a corner shop, being too focused on merely surviving and never moving beyond that to thriving. This attitude reflects in everything. Some people prefer to exercise in pleasant ways, like swimming or (wink and nod at a recent Omnilibrium thread) playing golf, whereas I give myself blisters exploring the city on foot, through pollution and sizzling hot weather, maybe with a little bit of weight to carry on me, for six hours at a time. My pleasures are getting out of my shoes and resting in bed after a long and exhausting day. I never buy things on impulse, and even on the rare occasions when I have money, I treat every personal purchase as a painful decision on investments, and the thought of the opportunity cost doesn't let me enjoy the new stuff. There's plenty to be said against mindless hedonism, but this is crossing into the other, Spartan extreme.

So, here may be a tip on overcoming depression and enjoying life more: allow yourself simple pleasures with a clear conscience. Not everything has to be a struggle.

For a while now I've often felt tired and sleepy even after getting seemingly enough sleep. I also had a frustrating tendency to wake up at night for no apparent reason, then have trouble falling asleep. My partner noted my loud snoring and suggested nasal airway strips (the kind that go on the outside of your nose).

I was skeptical, thinking "How could a little plastic strip have an impact?" and "I'm not overweight, so sleep apnea shouldn't be a concern anyway." I've tried them for ~1 week now.

Positive Results: I seem to fall asleep much more quickly, I don't wake up at night for no reason, my partner reports that my snoring is way quieter, and I feel more consistently well-rested than I have in a while.

Downsides: They cost $0.25 per day. Also, after ~9 hours, the strips start to get itchy and peel off, making it harder to sleep. The solution might be to put one on immediately before going to bed.

I have been saying the following affirmation to myself: "I will be happy at night and I will sleep through the night." I figure it's a low risk / high reward tactic. For unknown reasons I'm often happy throughout the day but feel a bit depressed when trying to fall asleep, and I have been waking up in the middle of the night. I'm trying affirmations because of the success Dilbert creator Scott Adams has had with them.

No idea whether youve tried melatonin. I dont really use it anymore, but it greatly helped develop familiarity with the feeling of falling asleep, such that it is a lever that I can much more easily pull now. Used 1-3mg doses for a while, then found that ~75-150 mcg did the job quite well.

I have taken melatonin almost every night for over 20 years. I agree with you that trying melatonin is an excellent suggestion for someone with a sleep problem.

I just started Kung Fu this past Monday. The training is very very painful. The horse stance in particular. To give an idea of the pain, my legs were legitimately shaking and giving out about 20 minutes into the session yesterday, but I persisted for about an hour and a half. I much rather would have sprained my knee or something than gone through this (I haven't experienced many other injuries to compare to this).

They teach that you can choose/learn to ignore the pain. The purpose of the past session seems to be for me to learn "mind over matter" and ignore the pain.

Anyway, I'm hoping that the "mind over matter" skill will translate to other areas of my life (they say it will). Maybe it'll help me to not procrastinate. To have the strength to make uncomfortable decisions (although I'm already pretty good at that). To ignore the things that make me unhappy.

Don't overdo the "ignore the pain" part. Pain is functionally useful and ignoring it makes it likely you'll break something in your body. Yes, you'll need to cross the lactic acid threshold, but be smart about it.

Some martial arts schools (and Crossfit studios) have a very macho "do or die" attitude -- make sure you don't go down the second path X-)

I'll try :)

That's something I had been struggling with - by ignoring pain I may be ignoring a useful signal. And to be honest my body really was feeling like it was starting to fail. But the instructor assured me that I was fine and that he was monitoring me, and he knows the signs and stuff, so I sort of decided to trust him... but I have a hard time fully trusting anyone.

You need to get a bit more sophisticated about pain and learn to distinguish different kinds of it. Some pain you can or should just power through, and some you can't or shouldn't.

For example, the "overexerted muscle pain" (aka hitting the lactic acid threshold) is easy to recognize and is pretty harmless most of the time. But a sharp pain in your joint (e.g. a knee) is an excellent reason to immediately stop whatever you are doing and figure out what's wrong.

[-][anonymous]6y 2

is pretty harmless most of the time

Except for the motivation-sapping "aargh fsck everything about this" part that makes people never go to the gym a month after their New Years Eve promise :) Better to stay inside the comfort zone until you are fully committed / made it into a habit so unlikely to chicken out and then gradually expand it.

[-][anonymous]6y 2

Interesting. I started boxing, then moved over to kick-boxing. I have a hunch that Western / heavily Westernized MAs are a better fit for people living in Western circumstances. At least I don't have to deal with fake spirituality - it is clearly sold as a combat sport, not as a spiritual path. By fake spirituality I mean I had my fair share of Zen and Vajrayana meditations, which are fairly efficient at creating altered mind-states, and yet they happened rarely and not very deeply, because I am not a Zen monk doing it all day but a normal guy who catches three half hours to sit a week. Same was if people would be doing kung-fu for 10 hours a day in a Shaolin monastery for a decade (which is probably less efficient at creating altered mind-states than meditation) perhaps some satori type spiritual breakthroughs would be likely, but I am sure the way we usually do it - 2-3 1.5 hour long trainings a week - every spiritual aspect must be pretty fake and this is part of the reasons I try to go on a more Western path of martial arts where they don't try to sell me spirituality at all.

It may be also meaningful that in kick-boxing everything we do seem to make sense for me. Non-combat exercises develop total body mobility, cardio and strength alongside with control and coordination and balance at the same time, such as running backwards while throwing heavy medicine balls to each other, or running from one to end of the mat to another touching the ground at the end, and when the trainer claps going prone and jumping up, or going down in a push-up position and trying to slap each others knuckles while trying to avoid such slaps from others, or pool noddle fencing, or sitting on an exercise ball without feet on the ground and throwing heavy medicine balls to each other etc. They all seem to develop multiple aspects of the body and mind towards combat.

I would be very skeptical if I had to do things like the horse stance. I don't see its utility much. Perhaps all this pain tolerance thing makes sense in a monastery doing it 10 hours a day, as part of a legitimate spiritual path, but isolated in 2-3 treenings on weekday evenings like most people in the West do it seems a but superfluous to me. Strictly from a combat use of legs angle as opposed to quasi-spirituality angle, just doing squat-jumps and stretching with splits seems do more.

Nevertheless, give it a fair try, just try to not buy into any kind of "Asian people know mysterious spiritual secrets unknown to Western man" thing. If it is something that works, pretty sure Western e.g. boxers or MMA guys are doing it it already, after all kung-fu movies are popular since the 1970's so there was plenty of time to learn. If you cannot imagine they would be doing anything like this, be skeptical.

Thanks for the advice, that does make sense. I'm skeptical about the efficiency of the methods too. It seems pretty one-sized fits all without much thought into what the persons goals are. Nevertheless, I don't have too much of a choice, and I think it's worth continuing for at least a month. But if I were serious about martial arts and wanted to do it long-term, I'd look for something more efficient.

[-][anonymous]6y 1

In a somewhat similar context I was taught to focus on other body parts, checking the stance or just forcing myself to pay attention to my fists whatever leg muscles have to say. It helped. It was easier than just ignoring the pain. ETA also, when you learn to relax certain muscles and strain others (like in reaching your toes), it will become much easier.

Prior to lurking here and reading the excellent posts on rationality, I had never before considered eating a tomato. I decided that I didn't like them at a young age, and never revisited the belief. In the past, I figured it was my business and it wasn't hurting anyone if I decided to avoid tomatoes. Now, I understand that it was an arbitrary preference, that the taste is non-offensive (I may grow to like them), and that they are rich in lycopene (which may be good for you, but almost certainly isn't bad). In short, I changed a belief I never before thought necessary to revisit. So far, so good.

I tried reducing my dose of antidepressant, and discovered that it is doing a lot of work in helping me regulate my emotions and not feel pointlessly terrible all the time.

Have you discussed this with your doctor?

Yes. This was done with her blessing and oversight.

I've decided to work on getting rid of a trivial useless habit: pushing pedestrian crossing buttons more than once.

Now, there's an argument that it's not completely worthless to do so: the typical button has no feedback whatsoever that it's recognized my push, so if it is at all unreliable then an extra push reduces the chances of a complete extra cycle wait at little cost to me since I have nothing else to do.

But the failure case has never actually happened in recent history, so I'm spending too much time pushing buttons.

So far I have remembered to push only once out of about ten times (2-3 per day). Of course, I immediately remember this resolution right after pushing twice.

What more useful thing would you be doing with that time, if you weren't wasting it on pushing buttons?

Good question.

I could spend it looking at other parts of the world around me, something I don't do as much of as I ought. I could spend it thinking about whatever I was thinking about before that moment. (Of course, it's possible to do these things while still pushing the button, but as we know human brains aren't perfect multitaskers.)

(The cost is also not just in time: it also wears out the button and my hands a tiny bit more than necessary.)

Decision fatigue is a thing, ao this is likely a net loss. If yiu enjoy this sort pf thing, you may still want to do it, but I do not think it will make you more formidable.