There are two types of psychological issues: disorders and problems.

Disorders are so massive, so life-altering that we can’t miss them: schizophrenia, crippling social anxiety, destructive addiction… They scream “danger” in neon red blinking letters. We know and fear them because they destroy lives. People with such disorders are often unable to function in society, and see themselves ostracized, shunned, and institutionalized.

On the other hand, psychological problems appear quite benign and harmless: fear of rejection, not liking social gatherings, stress eating/smoking… They’re not good, but they’re also not that big of a deal. Everybody has them, and most people function just fine despite a bunch of psychological problems. They don’t forbid a normal life.

Yet they subtly restrict you.

Take low social anxiety. Maybe you don’t really like meeting new people. Maybe you don’t like group settings. Or you’re uncomfortable talking with others, because you might say something stupid. Whatever your reason, this anxiety makes you:

  • Avoid parties if you can
  • Stay less time if you have to go
  • Be less enjoyable in conversations when there

None of these consequences will ruin your life. Even when put all together, psychological problems still don’t amount to disorders. But as soon as you start to optimize, they get in your way. You start bending the best action that you can find in order to deal with your problems, instead of going for it directly. If networking is the best use of your time but you have social anxiety, you’ll find alternatives that don’t reap all the benefits, often without even realizing it. You’ll just flinch away.

Psychological disorders are obvious liabilities. But if you neglect psychological problems, they will invisibly block your path again and again. Avoiding this doesn’t look like waiting until all your psychological problems are solved, but instead to acknowledge them and endeavour to fix them when they get in the way.

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6 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 11:43 AM

Cool! I like this as an example of difficult-to-notice problems are generally left unsolved. I'm not sure how serious this one is, though.

Hot take: I would say that most optimization failures I've observed in myself and in others (in alignment and elsewhere) boil down to psychological problems.

This is likely true.  Note that there is an asymmetry between type 1 and type 2 errors in cooperative optimization, though.  The difference between "ok" and "great" is often smaller than the difference between "ok" and "get defected against when I cooperated".  In other words, some things that seem like a prisoners' dilemma actually ARE risky.

One example I'm trying to do: instead of sending people all my unfiltered thoughts, I'm now trying to narrow my communications down to "what will help the other person, in working on alignment?".

Still, solving even non-life-destroying problems can be pretty hard.

[-]Slider1y-2-20

I dislike the perpetrating stigma on disorders.

I think the main point stands even if we drop the negative judgement. There is obvious stuff that modifies what you can and should do, but that you do not percieve a modifier does not mean there is not one in effect.

It also seems unlikely that there would be super bad stuff and then very slight stuff. Where is all the medium grade stuff?

I could also approach that liking to be around people is a slight psychological problem. This makes you:

  • Fill your schedule with all kinds of courtesy visit and meetings
  • every phone call and meeting last longer for the same effect
  • Be more likely to adjust your opinons to please others

So you should probably fix your allism before your life becomes a totally hollow shelll. (this statement is caricatyrical for clarity and is supposed to be inappropriate)

If you are actually doing something but you are constantly getting stuck doing administrative work or keeping up the social appratus then every day contains less progress than it could without you even realising that you are missing out.

There are some reasons with that "social anxiety" trait pattern where it can be crucial to not feel broken even if you are not the exact same as everybody else around you. "Measure a fish by its ability to climb a tree and it feels inferior for the rest of its life". Premature optimization can lead to you trying to be good at everything. It tends to be that if you try to be good at everything you end up being good at nothing.

I dislike social anxiety because it injects false beliefs and predictions into my brain relating to how much people like me. I really like interacting with people, and these false beliefs often stop me from interacting with people as much as I’d like.

I also have meeting which last longer than they probably should, because I like spending time around people. This is bad in the ways you’ve mentioned, but it does feel like a different mental thing than social anxiety, in part because it isn’t as destructive, or sacrificing of things I want. There’s some sacrifice, but not as much as social anxiety.

Maybe one dichotomy here would be mental features which give you fewer options (like social anxiety), and mental features which lead to certain on-the-margin tradeoffs. Social anxiety feels less like a marginal tradeoff and more “there’s an entire world which you aren’t even trying to explore”.