Re-reading Rationality From AI To Zombies
Reflections on Premium Poker Tools


I'm remembering the following excerpt from The Scout Mindset. I think it's similar to what I say above.

My path to this book began in 2009, after I quit graduate school and threw myself into a passion project that became a new career: helping people reason out tough questions in their personal and professional lives. At first I imagined that this would involve teaching people about things like probability, logic, and cognitive biases, and showing them how those subjects applied to everyday life. But after several years of running workshops, reading studies, doing consulting, and interviewing people, I finally came to accept that knowing how to reason wasn't the cure-all I thought it was.

Knowing that you should test your assumptions doesn't automatically improve your judgement, any more than knowing you should exercise automatically improves your health. Being able to rattle off a list of biases and fallacies doesn't help you unless you're willing to acknowledge those biases and fallacies in your own thinking. The biggest lesson I learned is something that's since been corroborated by researchers, as we'll see in this book: our judgment isn't limited by knowledge nearly as much as it's limited by attitude.

Yeah. This matches my (limited) experience chatting with investors. They're a lot less smart than I was anticipating.

I'm reminded of something I recall Paul Graham saying (and I think I also remember hearing others saying the same thing): that you can think of investors as being like an iceberg where the tip that is above water provide a real value-add with their wisdom and guidance in addition to the money you received from them, and the bulk of the iceberg that is underwater are investors who you should just treat as providing you with no value-add on top of the money you're receiving from them.

Surprise 1: People are profoundly non-numerate. 

I wonder whether Humans are not automatically strategic is the deeper issue here.

It's one thing if you intend to be strategic about things and fail to do so in part due to lack of numeracy. It's another if you aren't even trying to be strategic in the first place. I suspect that a large majority of the time the issue is not being strategic.

Furthermore, I suspect that most people aren't strategic because they find being strategic distasteful in some way. I've experienced this a lot in my life.

  • I'll want to skim through Yelp for 10 minutes before choosing a restaurant to eat at.
  • Or spend 20 minutes watching trailers and googling around before picking a movie to watch.
  • Or spend 30 minutes on The Wirecutter before making a purchase for a few hundred dollars.
  • Or spend however many dozens of hours researching all sorts of stuff about different cities before moving to one.

I've found that various people see these sorts of things as being, depending on what type of mood they're in, "overly analytical" or "Adam being Adam".

On the other hand, I think there is a smaller but not super small subset of people who don't find it particularly distasteful and would be pretty receptive to a proposal of "you're currently not being strategic about lots of things in your life, being strategic about them would benefit you greatly, and so you should start being strategic about them".

I think that it is important to identify what the real blocker or blockers are here. If there are, for example, multiple blockers and you solve one of them, then you end up in a situation where progress is merely latent. It doesn't really lead to observable results. For example, if someone is both 1) innumerate and 2) not motivated to be strategic, if you teach them to be numerate, (2) will still be a blocker and the person will not achieve better outcomes.

If your personality type is "writing doesn't work for me", one of your biggest bottlenecks is to make writing work for you.

Thanks for the reminder here. I've thought a lot in the past about the value of writing in past but for whatever reason I feel like I've drifted away from writing. I think I should spend more time writing and am feeling motivated to start doing so now.

Just as you can look at an arid terrain and determine what shape a river will one day take by assuming water will obey gravity, so you can look at a civilization and determine what shape its institutions will one day take by assuming people will obey incentives. 

- Scott Alexander, Meditations on Moloch

I feel like a better way to approach this would be to stand on the shoulders of others and search around for product recommendations. Ie. this from America's Test Kitchen.

I am now incrementally more powerful at grocery shopping.

I apologize if this ruins any subtlety you were going for, but I'm thinking mostly about how these learnings can be applied more generally.

You kinda did what I think most people would do. The product is in bottles. There's no obvious way to tell how good the product is. So you use price point as a heuristic, and call it a day. But it turned out that with a little bit of thought, there was a reasonable way of judging the quality of the product.

So maybe the lesson is to give things a little bit of thought before assuming that they're actually difficult? This can be tricky though. "Operating on automatic" has it's benefits. If we always "took the wheel" in situations like these it'd be excessive, I suppose.

But I think the balsamic vinegar was a good example of a situation that might on first approximation seem "excessive"[1] to "take the wheel" on, but it turned out to be worth it. And I get the sense that there are a lot of similar situations where most people could benefit by "taking the wheel".


  1. ^

    I remember early in our relationship, one of the first times that I went grocery shopping with my girlfriend we had an argument about this. I was "taking the wheel" and approaching everything pretty strategically. She didn't want to think so hard.

I see, that all makes a lot of sense. I take back my objection then. It seems at least plausible that Burns is correct here.

I am extremely skeptical for reasons described in Book Review: All Therapy Books.

All therapy books start with a claim that their form of therapy will change everything. Previous forms of therapy have required years or even decades to produce ambiguous results. Our form of therapy can produce total transformation in five to ten sessions! Previous forms of therapy have only helped ameliorate the stress of symptoms. Our form of therapy destroys symptoms at the root!


Previous forms of therapy have failed because they were ungrounded. They were ridiculous mental castles built in the clouds by armchair speculators. But our form of therapy is based on hard science! For example, it probably acts on synapses or the hippocampus or something. Here are three neuroscience papers which vaguely remind us of our form of therapy. One day, neuroscience will catch up to us and realize that the principles of our form of therapy are the principles that govern the organization of the entire brain – if not all of multicellular life.


But my basic confusion is this: I work in a clinic with about ten therapists. Some are better than others, but all of them are competent. I send my patients to them. In a few hundred patients I’ve worked with, zero have had the sudden, extraordinary, long-lasting change that the therapy books promise. Many have benefited a little. A few would say that, over the course of years, their lives have been turned around. But sudden complete transformations? Not that much.

I don't like that when you disagree with someone, as in hitting the "x" for the agree/disagree voting, the "x" appears red. It makes me feel on some level like I am saying that the comment is bad when I merely intend to disagree with it.

Disagreed. I think the thing is that a lot of these things aren't actually expensive and are instead just associated with being rich. For example, I think many people could come up with $210 to pay for a professional organizer.

Load More