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Rationality Quotes August 2011

an excerpt From Neal Asher's "The Gabble: And Other Stories":

"‘Same arguments apply,’ he replies, and of course they do. ‘God?’ I ask. He laughs in my face then says, ‘I try to understand it. I don’t try to cram it in to fit my understanding.’ He definitely has the essence of it there."

The True Rejection Challenge

I also sweat a lot and the best way I've found of dealing with the discomfort is a merino wool baselayer. And not just for sports: I will probably never buy another pair of cotton boxers or socks.

Cotton gets wet, then cold and clingy, which can exacerbate blisters (socks). All sorts of high-tech synthetics start to stink real fast (I don't have much experience with silver-treated fabrics though). Wool wicks very well, will not stink even after a week of wear, it retains 50% heat insulation and does not cling against the body even if it is saturated with sweat + merino wool is too fine to be itchy and it stretches back for longer than most fabrics so cuffs etc can stay tight for years. They used to have wool jerseys at the Tour de France up to the 1980's since it beat synthetics for cooling up to that point. Couple of downsides though: merino wool (Ibex, Icebreaker etc) is expensive (but hard wearing), needs delicate detergents and does not like aggressive machine drying.

Bottom line: hundreds of millions of years of evolution for keeping warm-blooded animals performing from desert to arctic conditions has not been wasted.

The 5-Second Level

What about "war is OK for me"?

It really gets to me that when a bunch of people gather together under some banner then it suddenly becomes moral for them to do lots of things that would never be allowed if they were acting independently: the difference between war and murder...

The only morality I want is the kind where people stop doing terrible things and then saying "they were following orders". Personal responsibility is the ONLY kind of responsibility.

Learned Blankness

Your brain, like mine, might have trouble handling social interaction by default, but if you devote sufficient attention, you may well make progress, perhaps even significant progress. In my experience, many nerdy people who claim to have trouble understanding people don't direct anywhere near as much cognition towards social interaction as they do towards the things they are good at

The last part is certainly true but I'm not sure I don't enjoy socializing by default: when I was a kid I never lacked for friends and was pretty open and curious about them but growing up has changed me. By age 13 I felt I had too many friends, so I was not able to give each the attention they deserved. Not that I cared about them deeply. My family moved to a different home every ~5 years and I went to 3 different schools and I didn't stay in touch with my old friends for more than a year or two after moving. I've mostly had "situational" friendships. Now, at age 27, an hour or two of social interaction/week seems enough.

You get a certain emotion when you listen to a song (if it's a popular song, you probably don't like it, I would guess based on what you've revealed so far). Do other people like experiencing that emotion? If so, why? Or are other people getting a different message from the song? If so, what sort of mind and motivational/emotional structure might they have such that the emotional and conceptual message of the song appeals to them?

Well, I have never bough music or downloaded much of it. I listen to the radio regularly for brief intervals and I like most of what I hear, but I don't want to hear the same song again and again and again... I abhor questions like "what's you favorite X?" I like novelty, I expect black swans and change. It's is a bit beyond me how people can play solitaire or minesweeper for decades - are they just killing time (stopping though) or do they still find it interesting? I basically play games for their narrative, cheating all the way, and then don't play them again.

I realize that the process I'm describing takes work, but for me, it was about a hobbie's worth of work. Just make people your hobbie for a while. It helps if you can enjoy this hobbie as a challenge. People are actually a really fun puzzle.

I've actually read a dozen or so books "on people" - I can be damn charming (I'm also tall, fit and attractive - which really helps people trust me) - but the biggest challenge is overcoming my own annoyance and boredom and maintainng meaningful relationships. Especially since I believe I overrationalize everything and that others are guilty of the same sin. So getting close and personal with someone is more a task of editing and maintaining your illusions of each other, not so much about truth. Wasn't there a recent study that showed people will predict the behaviour/preferences of their spouses or close friends with marginally better accuracy than total strangers - ie that intimacy is the act of applying your personal self-serving biases to others?

I like to believe I have an underdeveloped herding instinct. Some animals live alone, some together. It's fine.

Learned Blankness

I hope it's true in the sense that I won't one day start thinking that I somehow understand ("grok") humanity and know what it means to be human (or just a sentient being) in a general sense.

In the specific sense, individual people are not that mysterious in their behaviour most of the time. But their motivations can be hard to understand from their own point of view. I guess it's mostly because I can't be bothered to find out...

Learned Blankness

I've always been interested in how stuff works and I've taken apart or built from scratch a lot of the stuff I've owned. I've built stuff as small as a molecule or as big as a hangglider without even considering asking for expert help - it's just so easy and enjoyable, I can think things through, do research and come to understand something new...

But I've never been interested in how people work. It seems to me it's impossible to understand things that are outside my experience and there's a lot I can never experience for myself, to understand. I've never know how to play or party - it's something I mostly have to pretend to do. People are fundamentally unsolvable to me. Friendship seems primarily a feedback loop, love a temporary form of insanity...

Offense versus harm minimization

That is indeed true, but only because people have the ability to whip themselves into a >very sincere feeling of offense given the incentive to do so. Although sincere, these >feelings will usually subside if they realize that nothing's to be gained.

I'm reminded of how small children might start crying when they trip and fall and skuff their knee, but will only keep on (and/or escalate) crying if someone is nearby to pay attention...

Levels of Action

My current guess is that it's because of the increasing institutionalization of society, >which is caused by economic growth. When your tribe is made up of a hundred >people, you can model each person in high detail when you interact with them - >taking into account their personality, their strengths and weaknesses, their past >interactions with you, and so on. However, in a corporation with a hundred thousand >people, the CEO doesn't have time to construct complex models of each worker, >and yet he must ensure that all the workers cooperate effectively. How does he do >that? By making each worker simple to model - by constructing a set of rules which >governs each worker's behavior, and constrains them to behave in simple, easily >understandable ways.

That also sounds a lot like what a nation-state has to do. And that's been going on for thousands of years... What's democracy but basically taking a bunch of tribes, having them select their representatives, who then become a supertribe who also elect new representatives until you have a small enough bunch of people so they can work together?

Controls and bias

Right. Or from another angle: people who do not have dogs are considered pariahs, so the dogless are getting a nocebo all the time. So when they take the placebo (dog) their increase in well being would mostly be through the elimination of the nocebo effect.

Rationality Quotes: April 2011

"Take up the White Man's burden-- The savage wars of peace-- Fill full the mouth of Famine, And bid the sickness cease; And when your goal is nearest (The end for others sought) Watch sloth and heathen folly Bring all your hope to nought." -Rudyard Kipling

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