Summary: Find something you wish you did but don’t. List why you don’t do it. If someone finds a way to do it that avoids those issues, give it a try!

Tags: Small, Investment

Purpose: Understanding your true rejection to a statement is a useful skill. Practice it on an application relevant to your day to day life, and maybe find some useful workarounds in the process!

Materials: Writing supplies, such as a bunch of pens or pencils and index cards or paper pads. Some way to display the paper, such as a big table or a big corkboard and pushpins. If you want to let people type things, you could use google docs to write and comment on a shared document.

Announcement Text: A True Rejection is the real reason why someone rejects an idea, proposition, or belief, which may differ from the reasons they articulate. Often, people give reasons that sound good or are socially acceptable, but these may not reflect their underlying thought processes, emotions, or incentives. The True Rejection Challenge is to come up with something you wish you did but don’t do, and to articulate all the reasons you don’t do it. If someone else can explain how to do the thing without hitting any of the reasons you reject it, then you have a chance to do something you wanted to do!

We’ll be meeting to work on passing the True Rejection Challenge together. Reading the article “Is That Your True Rejection” will be useful to have a clearer understanding of what it is we’re trying to generate, but the required reading for this activity is actually “Beware Of Other Optimizing.” The audio version takes just under ten minutes to listen to!“

Description:  1, Pass out writing supplies as people arrive (or a link to a shared google doc, possibly via QR code) then describe what a True Rejection is.

“What is a True Rejection? Sometimes when you ask people why they do not believe something or agree with something, they will tell you a reason they don’t believe it. Perhaps you tell them about what artificial intelligence will be like, and they say they do not believe you because you do not have a Ph.D. Perhaps you tell them about what effects a diet will have, and they say they do not believe you because you are not yourself visibly fit. Perhaps you tell them that a land value tax would change society for the better, and they say they do not believe you because you bring this up every meetup and so you must be obsessed with it.

If you got a Ph.D., or became visibly fit, or didn’t talk about land value taxes for six months, then came back and asked if they changed their mind and they did change their mind, that would have been a True Rejection. It’s a crux of what they believe, and if it really was different then they would think differently. Often however, we find people (even ourselves!) give reasons for rejecting something that aren’t our true rejections. Perhaps these reasons are easier to articulate (even if it’s not the core objection!) or less contentious and rude (even if it’s not the actual disagreement!)”

2, Describe how the challenge works.

“The Challenge we’ll be undertaking today is to come up with our true rejections. Pick something you don’t do, but wish you did or agree is good to do. Examples might include working out more, studying a particular topic or in a particular way, working more or less hours at your job, or hosting rationality meetups. Write that at the top of your page, along with your name. 

Now, write your list of reasons for avoiding this. If you think your list isn’t exhaustive- that is, if you feel there are other reasons for not doing it but you can’t call them to mind or find the right words to express them- mention that at the bottom. Ideally you will be able to write down all your reasons, but it’s better to know that you haven’t than to incorrectly think that you have. We’re going to take five minutes by the clock, and if anyone feels they want more time we can take more time.

Here’s the hard part. Once we have those lists, we’re going to put those lists where we all can see them and go around looking at each other’s lists. If you’re up for it, which you don't have to be, precommit that if anyone describes a method to do the thing which avoids any of your listed reasons not to do it, you will try their suggestion at least once.

The way to win the True Rejection Challenge is to find a way to do something you wanted to do without the problems keeping you from doing it. It counts as half of a win if you try the suggestion once and realize afterwards that you have other reasons not to which you didn’t think of when writing the first list. If nobody can find a way to do the thing which avoids your rejections, then you don’t win but don’t lose either. If someone comes up with a suggestion which avoids the written reasons but you still don’t try it, you lose the True Rejection Challenge this round. 

Losing generally costs you nothing other than maybe a bit of pride.“

3, Wait for people to fill things out. If using paper versions, encourage people to post them up or collect the papers and post them yourself. I think it will help if you go first, both to give people social permission and so they know what should be done with the papers.

4, Moderate. If everything goes smoothly, people will peruse the other challenges and write ideas down under them and it will be productive and collaborative. If someone gets pushy about an idea, remind them of the dangers of other optimization. 

5, Wrap up and clean up at the end of the meetup. Make an effort to get each paper back to the original writer.

Variations: You can of course try finding True Rejections for other kinds of things. “I don’t believe cryonics will work, here are my rejections.” “I won’t vote for this candidate in the next election, here are my rejections.” I think the more straightforward version (where you’re talking about, say, not going jogging or not eating broccoli) is easier to practice on both because the feedback loop is faster and because it’s less likely to become combative; I might care strongly about how you vote, but I probably don’t care strongly about whether you eat your vegetables, so this is less likely to become an argument.

I suspect you will get better results the better your attendees know each other and the more comfortable they are with each other. Someone may be more comfortable asking about something they struggle with or that's more private if they're among friends, and those providing answers may have more context to work with. This suggests useful variations based on who you invite.

You can also narrow the range of topics for this. I wouldn't do this for most meetups, but if for some reason you know your group cares a lot about workout routines or study methods, you could say that the challenges need to be related to that topic.

Lastly the wins and half a wins and losses phrasing doesn't hook up to any kind of actual point system. Dropping it from the description is fine (as is making basically any other kind of change to this- take it and modify it however you like!) but you could also go the other way and record points, making a kind of True Rejection leaderboard. I don't actually recommend this variation as I think it encourages a Goodhart's Law kind of issue, but you could try it.

Notes: This pairs well with As Many Ideas. (As yet unpublished. Expect that to become a link at some point.) True Rejection challenges for more contentious topics may blur into Double Crux practice.  

Credits: This is a straightforward adaptation of Eliezer's Is That Your True Rejection and Alicorn's True Rejection Challenge. Beware Of Other Optimizing is strongly recommended as required reading. 

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11 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 12:31 AM

Typo "Find something you wish you didn’t but don’t", should be did right?

Yep, you are correct, should be fixed now. Thank you!


I'm rejecting something for 25% reason A, 22% reason B, 20% reason C, and six other reasons none of which are at more than 5% each. A"true rejection" may not always exist.

The concept also brings up some of the same problems that bets have--if X is your reason for rejecting something, it's very easy to be less than perfect at phrasing X and have someone use that as a gotcha. "If you could just show me one case of prayer causing someone's leg to grow back in a reputable scientific journal, I'd believe in miracles." shows an example from 1880 "You have to believe in miracles now. You just said so! Or wasn't that your true rejection?"

(Incidentally, that's an example I've actually heard, although the year may not have been exactly 1880.)

I agree there may be multiple reasons. "True Rejections Challenge" doesn't scan quite as well for a title, but most of the time pluralizing it to "true rejections" is accurate. Compare "Do you have an allergy" and "do you have any allergies" or "do you have a question" and "do you have any questions?" as other cases where I'd expect the other person to respond with multiples if it's needed. If you're doing this activity and someone says you have to pick just one rejection, I declare as the author of this post they're doing it wrong. (I didn't invent the concept but my understanding from reading Alicorn and Eliezer's versions that they'd also endorse multiple rejections.)

Write down A, B, C, and the other six reasons. Put them all on the paper and see if anyone comes up with a way to avoid them.

In this circumstance, the intent is mostly cooperative. If, as an example, you want to work out more but hate getting sweaty and hate people watching you exercise, then buying a treadmill so you can work out in your home while the air conditioning blasts might actually solve your problem. The other people are helping you come up with ways to do the thing you said you wanted to do. "I know I said people, but I kind of count my cats as people and I hate my cats watching me too" is, in good faith, a pretty useful communication addition. Your interlocutor may reply "lock the cats in another room" and now we're back to maybe having solved the problem. If someone finds they have to go through lots of revisions like that when they do this then yeah, uh, I actually think there's a useful skill that person would benefit from improving.

Looking at your example about prayer causing someone's leg to grow back, I think if I were contemplating taking the other side of that bet I'd ask what counted as reputable. I believe it's good form to try and clarify obvious ambiguities before putting money on something. Add a "and there's no chicanery" clause to the bet if you need, or agree in advance who will judge if an example counts. That said, you're talking to someone who has ever confidently predicted that obviously prayer studies would work, turned out to be wrong, and then changed their mind about whether God took an active hand in the world. There is power in noticing when what you predicted is wrong, even if it's for reasons that might not count.

(I was not fast about this update. I had to be wrong basically that exact way multiple times before I caught on. I got there eventually.)


I had heard it second-hand about a friend's experiences in a Facebook group about atheism and I really don't know enough of the details to be able to say if I got it exactly correct.

Assuming it did in fact say "reputable", and that I tried to clarify it, I probably wouldn't have clarified it enough to exclude "scientific journal from 1880". And if I was lucky enough to have done so, there's probably some other thing that I did fail to clarify, that my intelocutor could have latched onto. It's just too easy to leave in loopholes.

There was also no money involved, but "I would admit that I'm wrong if..." has problems similar to "I'll pay you some money if..."--your opponent wants the prize and is motivated to win, even if it means forcing you to stick to your literal words.

If someone is motivated to "win" and have the side they started on be correct (or to get people to view the other side as incorrect) then that's a less cooperative atmosphere than I'd ideally want to run True Rejection Challenge with. I stuck the Investment tag on this one for a reason, and that reason is basically that I would expect doing this on someone's facebook wall to be frustrating and unproductive, but that doing it with an established group of friends in person to be helpful. 

(Sidenote: I'm aware that the way I'm using that tag section between Summary and Purpose isn't really achieving what I want it to here. Ideally I'd want to be able to search up all the Investment meetups within the Meetups In A Box sequence and to quickly get the usage of each tag from a single post instead of leaving them on the sequence description. If you missed that usage, that's mostly on me.)

That said, I have the sense you might be missing a useful piece of the True Rejection technique. There's this thing human brains do sometimes where they say "I don't believe you because you don't have a Ph.D" and then, when the person they're talking to comes back with a Ph.D, they say "There are lots of Ph.Ds, come back when you have tenure." It's frustrating when other people do it to me, but I sometimes catch myself doing it to other people. I've caught my own brain doing it to myself! The countercharm I use is to try and list out all my rejections at once, to pause and consider if I'd change my mind if all of them were satisfied, and then to at least dock myself points if I don't change my mind if all of them are satisfied.

If the proposed example or solution really doesn't satisfy my rejection, that's one thing. The easy road is to come up with a reason whatever they did doesn't satisfy the rejection so that I don't have to change my mind. I try not to take that easy road.


The easy road is to come up with a reason whatever they did doesn’t satisfy the rejection so that I don’t have to change my mind.

If I say "Come back when your scientific journal is much later than 1880", how is that distinguishable from the kind of excuse you're talking about? I am, in fact, coming up with something that wasn't included in my original rejection, and I am in fact saying that, because of it, I shouldn't have to change my mind. The only difference is that it's a better excuse.

"Come back when your scientific journal is much later than 1880" is not particularly distinguishable, no. 

Multiple things that I think are simultaneously true:

  1. Something can satisfy all my pre-stated rejections and still not actually be good evidence for changing my mind. If that happens the right move is not to change my mind, because I don't have good evidence.
  2. There is a skill (or a cluster of related skills) which Is That Your True Rejection points at. Mastery of this skill is the ability to consider a belief of my own, concisely state the evidence which would change my mind on that belief, and be correct such that if that evidence is presented then my mind changes. 
    1. "I don't like working out because I hate people watching me" is loosely isomorphic here to "I believe gravity on Earth accelerates objects down at about 9.8 m/s^2 because I dropped some objects off a high place and timed them." The skill is pretty similar. 
  3. If someone points something out that satisfies my stated rejections, and I don't change my mind, it's pretty reasonable for them to be annoyed about that. I'm the one who failed a skill check.
  4. If this keeps happening, where every time I try to pre-state my rejections and someone points out a way to satisfy them I find that I'm not convinced and add another reason, then I am not very good at the skill which Is That Your True Rejection points at.

There's an unhelpful kind of munchkinry that looks for poor phrasing in pre-stated rejections like a devil in a fantasy novel or a highly motivated and perhaps unscrupulous lawyer, making suggestions that technically satisfy my rejections but obviously aren't what I meant. There's also a helpful kind of munchkinry that looks for out-of-the-box ways to work out without tripping anything we hate. The line is kind of blurry and may just outright be a gradient. I can't write out rules that unhelpful munchkins couldn't get around, but  sometimes I know it when you see it and I don't want to discourage helpful munchkinry.

Since the True Rejection Challenge exercise is in large part designed to practice the skill which Is That Your True Rejection points at, it's going to involve a bunch of "oops, I didn't think to add this rejection" in the beginning as well as the harder to spot failure of "oops, I added this as a rejection but it isn't actually important to me." When you start practicing juggling, you drop a lot of balls. That's fine! Dropping balls in juggling practice and singing off key in choir practice aren't mortal sins, they're kind of supposed to happen! Obviously try not to make mistakes but go ahead and make lots of mistakes if it's on the path to getting good at the skill.

In the case of prayer regrowing a leg, I think it's possible someone failed a skill check by leaving the word "reputable" under-specified, and also possible their interlocutor is being an unhelpful munchkin. Both could be true at once! The helpful thing might be to say "hey, what do you mean by reputable?" Does that make sense?


There’s an unhelpful kind of munchkinry that looks for poor phrasing in pre-stated rejections like a devil in a fantasy novel or a highly motivated and perhaps unscrupulous lawyer, making suggestions that technically satisfy my rejections but obviously aren’t what I meant.

I think the original true rejection post is one of these. "Why should I believe him when he doesn't have a PhD" probably means that the PhD is one of multiple conditions, not that it's the sole reason for rejection. But Eliezer's original post treats it as if it's a gotcha.

Also, remember the Hidden Complexity of Wishes. Phrasing your rejection in such a way that nobody can abuse a misphrasing is really hard, even with feedback, and a lot like trying to phrase a wish properly. (And ironically, in this context, Eliezer asked me my background in computer science which essentially is asking what degree I have. I wonder if that was his true rejection.)

I think the original true rejection post is one of these. "Why should I believe him when he doesn't have a PhD" probably means that the PhD is one of multiple conditions, not that it's the sole reason for rejection. But Eliezer's original post treats it as if it's a gotcha.

Maybe, though if it's the only condition given and I actually went out, got a PhD, came back, and the other person didn't change their mind I'd be kind of annoyed. I have some direct experience with 

if the potential customer says, “It seems good, but you don’t have feature X,” that may not be the true rejection. Fixing it may, or may not, change anything.

-Is That Your True Rejection

and anecdotal evidence seems in favour of Eliezer's point. Having feature X doesn't mean they'll buy, and they might buy even without feature X if you change some other thing.

I'm noticing I'm not clear if we're disagreeing here, or where that disagreement might lie. I think but am not at all confident that you think the unhelpful munchkinry is so prevalent and multiple rejections are sufficiently common as to make this technique useless. Can you try restate your point? At present this thread doesn't seem productive to me.


I think but am not at all confident that you think the unhelpful munchkinry is so prevalent and multiple rejections are sufficiently common as to make this technique useless.

Pretty much.

If "true rejection" allows multiple reasons for rejection, not just one, and isn't used as a gotcha, I have no real problem with it, but the difficulty of genie-proofing it and the ease of using it as a gotcha make it not work very well in practice.

This is also one reason I oppose bets.

I have some direct experience with

if the potential customer says, “It seems good, but you don’t have feature X,” that may not be the true rejection. Fixing it may, or may not, change anything.

But that sounds like the multiple reason case. If the customer has multiple reasons why he doesn't like the product, and he's only stated the biggest one, the customer may be unsatisfied after you fix it. Claiming "the customer didn't state his true rejection" assumes that a true rejection can't consist of multiple reasons. And even if the customer did phrase his rejection in some way that implies that it's the only reason, I don't think "failed to state all his reasons" is meaningfully like "didn't give his true rejection".