You are the average of the five people you spend most time with.

by diegocaleiro4 min read4th Sep 201314 comments

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Personal Blog

Mudus Ponies wrote: 

If you are a human, then the biggest influence on your personality is your peer group. Choose your peers.

If you want to be better at math, surround yourself with mathematicians. If you want to be more productive, hang out with productive people. If you want to be outgoing or artistic or altruistic or polite or proactive or smart or just about anything else, find people who are better than you at that thing and become friends with them. The status-seeking conformity-loving parts of your mind will push you to become like them. (The incorrect but pithy version: "You are an average of the five people you spend the most time with.")

I've had a lot of success with this technique by going to the Less Wrong meetups in Boston, and by making a habit of attending any event where I'll be the stupidest person in the room (such as the average Less Wrong meetup).

 66 people upvoted it.

 

Before, Lukeprog and Ferriss had mentioned the same: You are the average of your surroundings. 

 

I believe that. I would prefer that to not be the case, but I do think that even if you are not truly the average of the five, it is better to act as if you were the average of the five than to act as if you never heard this advice. 

If I am to follow such advice I have a problem: I should spend time with: Nick Bostrom, Natalie Portman, Whoever parties as hard as Sean Parker does in "The Social Network", Steve Pinker and Ferriss.  

I'm going to throw some problems in, and present no solutions, I hope comments may provide them if anyone knows one:

1)The people one would like to be average of are incredibly busy doing what made them become those people 

2)They do not live at the same place

3)They seldom have reason to be near you 

4)If they displayed well enough, their success precludes them from taking new people in due to lack of cognitive space. 

5)They may be interested in you and what you have to say in as much as that is something you can provide them, but not necessarily that means they will share what you'd like them to with you. 

6)If you were literally the average that wouldn't help much since most of us want to succeed in more than one domain, and we usually model ourselves with people who are monomaniacal, who are the only ones who thrive enough to be seen in a 7 billion world.

I would like to know a lot of stuff as I mentioned in Drowning in an Information Ocean, but I also want to be creative and engaging like Natalie, work/party hard as Sean, speak eloquently as Pinker, think well as Bostrom, and acquire skills and money at Ferriss' speed. 

Aubrey is fish oil. He hooked my attention when 17 because he sells eternity.
Bostrom is LSA. He hooked me because he sells the future of the universe.
Eliezer is Modafinil. He hooked me because he sells the map between one's current situation and the future of the universe.
Hofstadter is LSD. He hooked me because he sells broadness of converging/academic knowledge.
Natalie is marihuana. She hooked me because she sells the compatibility between academic excellence and divergent/artistic knowledge.
Partying hard is cocaine. It hooked me because my nucleus accumbens works in the normal way designed by evolution.
Effective Altruism is food after starving, it hooked me because it sells counterfactually relevant actions that create quantifiably improved markets. 
Ferriss of course is Speedball, the ultimate salesman. He sells the entire dream. He sells a quantifiable way to siphon one self into awesomeness without overload so you can party hard and become superman one skill at a time. 

These are only a few of the awesome people around, public figures visible to Lesswrong. There are dozens of others. I don't want to do what one of them did. I want to do it all. This is of course impossible. My intrinsic, core values relate to going in many directions at the same time. I think most people are like that. There are just so many options around and only one life to enjoy them all (which is why Aubrey is the entrance-drug). 
As put by Lev: 

I don't know what I want. 

There are these cool things around, but I suspect, after many years on earth, and visiting interesting people everywhere, that at least a good 50% of people (even the most rational, non-broken people) truly do not want anything in particular that much. The ones who seem like they do just took the plunge into saying so and self-reinforcing into wanting something. If they dug deep enough, they actually just don't have a clear want. Or if they do, like me they would have many. Many more than they can actually act on.

I truly and fully believe the advice that one should live as if one were the average of the five people one spends most time with. I just have no idea on how to do it, or whom to pick among a set that contains not 5, but 5000 people or more.

How did you solve this problem? Does it cause you to experience an Ugh Field when you think of the current 5?

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Correlation is not causation. Who you are defines your friends probably as much as your friends define who you are, AND both are mainly consequences of something different entirely (which schol you went too, etc...)

I second this. Friends selection usually involves having some mutual interests: math, music, movies, parties, whatever. The focus of the activity you do together will mostly invole those interests, therefore you will put more effort into getting "better" at them, if only because you're spending more time practicing.

I don't think the opposite can be true: of you hate physics, you can't just hang out with a phisicist to get better at it. I regularly hang out with my oldest group of firends, and none of them has ever expressed interest in knowing more about my thesis on the Higgs Boson - or the law of conservation of momentum for what matters. On the other hand, I can have more challenging conversation with my colleagues on this topic, but, while many of them are also excellent musicians, I never thought about getting to practice with my guitar again.

[-][anonymous]8y 13

Children are the most malleable sorts of human beings. Do adopted children become the average of the family that adopts them?

How did you solve this problem?

A quote on the dangers of solving this problem, from The Bell Curve by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray (1994):

Think of your twelve closest friends or colleagues. For most readers of this book, a large majority will be college graduates. Does it surprise you to learn that the odds of having even half of them be college graduates are only six in a thousand, if people were randomly paired off? Many of you will not think it odd that half or more of the dozen have advanced degrees. But the odds against finding such a result among a randomly chosen group of twelve Americans are actually more than a million to one. Are any of the dozen a graduate of Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Princeton, Cal Tech, MIT, Duke, Dartmouth, Cornell, Columbia, University of Chicago, or Brown? The chance that even one is a graduate of those twelve schools is one in a thousand. The chance of finding two among that group is one in fifty thousand. The chance of finding four or more is less than one in a billion.

Most readers of this book – this may be said because we know a great deal about the statistical tendencies of people who read a book like this – are in preposterously unlikely groups, and this reflects the degree of partitioning that has already occurred. [...]

The point of the exercise in thinking about your dozen closest friends and colleagues is to encourage you to detach yourself momentarily from the way the world looks to you from day to day and contemplate how extraordinarily different your circle of friends and acquaintances is from what would be the norm in a perfectly fluid society. This profound isolation from other parts of the IQ distribution probably dulls our awareness of how unrepresentative our circle actually is. [...] When people live in encapsulated worlds, it becomes difficult for them, even with the best of intentions, to grasp the realities of worlds with which they have little experience but over which they also have great influence, both public and private.

both adopted and natural children are far more likely to be like their peer group than their family, if I remember what I read in "no two alike"

For most psychological characteristics we are 50% genes, 10% environmental big stuff (family, conditions) and the remainder is distributed between Question Mark (we just don't know), peers and how you take what happens (something like autonomous, or self creating).

OK, I get it, this is supposed to be one of those self-help thoughts that are supposed to make you better off if you think them (suggestions for a name for such a thing, anyone?), regardless of whether they're actually true. Well... it doesn't work. My thoughts, roughly in order:

  • WARNING, manipulation / black arts

  • WARNING, causation != correlation

  • WARNING, opinion != fact

  • What about, say, good leaders? 5 people closest to one can't possibly be good leaders themselves because who'd they lead then?

  • WARNING, thesis likely literally false, seek metaphorical sense?

  • Silly and bogus example. You don't transfer attributes by osmosis. If anything, to become e.g. creative, you'd be better off by meeting people who are currently becoming creative not who are already creative.

manipulation

Yes.

black arts

I don't think so. It seems about as black as using the pomodoro technique to manipulate your basic impulses.

causation != correlation

Yes, but given the evidence, I'm pretty sure there's a causal relationship in this case.

What about, say, good leaders?

Data point: I have recently improved my leadership skills by spending time with good leaders in a group that considers those traits high status. (Good leaders still made up a (substantial) minority of the group.)

thesis likely literally false, seek metaphorical sense?

Strong agreement. The thesis is explicitly labeled as literally false in the source.

If anything, to become e.g. creative, you'd be better off by meeting people who are currently becoming creative not who are already creative.

I would be really, really, interested to see data on this. My intuition says you'd do best to spend time with a range of people: a little time with masters, a lot of time with people who are somewhat better than you but whose skills seem within reach, a lot of time with people at your level, and a little time with novices who you can teach.

Thanks, I had no idea why people were downvoting this, and you gave me a better idea. I fully agree with the osmosis problem you mention.

I wonder why Modus Ponies got 66 upvotes for saying that same thing.

—I started by giving the long, true version.
—When I gave the incorrect, pithy version, I labelled it as such.
—I gave a specific, non-hypothetical example.

[-][anonymous]8y 0

—I started by giving the long, true version. —When I gave the incorrect, pithy version, I labelled it as such. —I gave a specific, non-hypothetical example.

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Two big points of disagreement:

—Don't focus on unattainable goals. You can't hang out with both Natalie Portman and Nick Bostrom at the same time, and empty wishing is a wasted motion. Instead of seeking role models, seek the skills they exemplify. Think about how you can meet a group of creative, engaging people within the next week. Is there an improv club or a hip cafe where you can get to know the regulars?
—I don't know that it works to have a single friend for each trait. You naturally conform to the group, not to the specific individuals.

1)The people one would like to be average of are incredibly busy doing what made them become those people

Aren't they, in turn, just the average of the five people they spend the most time with? How can they do what makes them become unique?

~

one should live as if one were the average of the five people one spends most time with.

How did you arrive at the number five?

You are the average of the five people you spend most time with.

If you can't spend time with the person, spend the time with their thoughts - read their books and listen to their talks

[-][anonymous]8y 0

Why Natalie Portman?

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