Today a Tragedy

Hey Will, 

I'm a couple days early, but I just woke up from a dream where I was doing a Duo event with the Cat in the Hat and was thinking of you.

You remember that one year we did a Duo event but as fillers? There were other filler groups and the judges were all supposed to mark us last below the actual uo groups. But we thought, if there are multiple filler groups, the judge will have to rank them relative to each other, why not be the best filler?

So we made a skit out of being the filler group, asking the judge to rate us below any actual Duo pairs, but above all the fillers. I remember telling a few Chuck Norris jokes as well; it was really fun! Our plan worked a little too well though, haha, and we ended up progressing to Semi-Finals, then the Finals the next day. 

I remember our hubris at thinking we could prepare a working piece by the next day (we did Pinocchio!) and try to beat everyone else who had been practicing all year. We asked our parents to drop us off early the next day so we could practice, but we were the first ones there so the doors were locked, so my dad stayed to watch us. It was crazy, but we ended up running through the new piece 10-20 times really quick, memorizing (approximations of) all the lines, creating the choreography, and actually having a decent duo piece after a couple hours!

We still got 6/6 place as we should! Hahahahaha. But it was really cool to actually try to learn a piece really quickly, to have someone else with me as we flew too close to the sun. I remember the exact room we performed it in too, and I remember us reenacting the "stuck in the whale" scene. It was really fun, hahaha. 

I'm currently on day 4 of an intensive math study retreat. It's really slow at times and my eyes definitely glaze over at times. Your death made it much easier to ignore the unimportant. I almost quit my job when you died! Though, if I had quit, I would still have two working eyes; hindsight is 20/20, hahaha. 

Dang, I'm back in our hometown, and it would've been nice to catch up with you.

It really sucks that you're gone,


Quick examination of miles per micromort for US drivers, with adjustments for safety-increasing behavior

Driving at night is not just about your own tiredness/circadian rhythm, there are other people driving tired and drunk. 

In my college town, there's a 1/4 mile long plastic-fenced in road, leading to rental houses. Every Thursday-Sunday night, someone will run their car into this fence, leaving broken fence marks the next morning. 

Networks of Meaning

Conspiracy theories are usually represented with a large amount of connections (and a distrust of those in power). Notably, I love Scott Alexander's many self-created non-sense connections (see all of Unsong), which still end up evoking this sense of importance even though I know it's fiction. 

I'm glad you honed in on coherence, existential mattering, and purpose because there are an infinite amount of connections between things that feel unmeaningful (i.e. the grass and my mouse pad are both green, it is hot outside my door and also hot outside my door to a few feet to the right, etc.). Honing in on what specific properties makes a connection feel meaningful seems interesting (as well as looking at the existing literature and listing specific, real-life examples but that's just my personal preference).

The strong emotion causing meaning (as opposed to a connection evoking meaning) was interesting, though couldn't you say that specific connections cause strong emotions? For example, someone making fun of something I strongly identify with ("All your actions are selfish!") as opposed to something I don't really care about ("You're a bad tuba player!") affects me differently; I could describe each activity as weaker and stronger "connections" to myself. 

A specific strong emotion that's doesn't quite fit is experiencing jhana, which I could describe as a meditative flow state that feels really good. It felt important and meaningful, though part of that is I had a pre-existing model of what "jhana" was and what it may mean. Specifically, I thought it meant that the rest of the crazy-sounding meditation claims like infinite happiness and willpower are way more likely to be true.

Wanting to Succeed on Every Metric Presented

I'm currently interested in the idea of "the physical sensation correlation of different mental states", like becoming intimately aware of the visceral, physical felt sense of being stressed or triggered, or relaxed and open, or having a strong sense of self or a small sense of identity, or a strong emotion in physical sensations only or a strong emotion with a story and sense of self attached or...

Specifically practicing this would look like paying attention to your body's felt sense while doing [thing] in different ways (like interacting with your emotions using different system's techniques). Building this skill will create higher quality feedback from your body's felt-sense, allowing a greater ability to identify different states in the wild. This post's idea of hijacked values and your comment point to a specific feeling attached to hijacked values. 

This better bodily intuition may be a more natural, long term solution to these types of problems than what I would naively come up with (like TAPs or denying the part of me that actually wants the "bad" thing)

Wanting to Succeed on Every Metric Presented

There is something here along the lines of "becoming skilled at a thing helps you better understand the appeal (and costs) of being skilled at other things". It's definitely not the only thing you need because I've been highly skilled at improv piano, but still desired these other things.

What I want to point out in the post is the disconnect between becoming highly skilled and what you actually value. It's like eating food because it's popular as opposed to actually tasting it and seeing if you like that taste (there was an old story here on LW about this, I think). 

Making the cost explicit does help ("it would take decades to become a grandmaster"), but there can be a lack of feedback on why becoming a national master sounds appealing to you. Like the idea of being [cool title] sounds appealing, but is the actual, visceral, moment-to-moment experience of it undeniably enjoyable to you? (in this case, you can only give an educated guess until you become it, but an educated guess can be good enough!)

Wanting to Succeed on Every Metric Presented

Oh! That makes sense as a post on it's own. 

Listing pros and cons of current rationalist techniques could then be compared to your ideal version of rationality to see what's lacking (or points out holes in the "ideal version"). Also, "current rationality techniques" is ill-defined in my head and the closest I can imagine is the CFAR manual, though that is not the list I would've made. 

Wanting to Succeed on Every Metric Presented

No, which is part of the point.

I don't know what point you're referring to here. Do you mean that listing specific skills of rationality is bad for systematized winning?

I also want to wrangle more specifics from you, but I can just wait for your post:)

Wanting to Succeed on Every Metric Presented

Regarding "problems we don't understand", you pointed out an important meta-systematic skill: figuring out when different systems apply and don't apply (by applying new systems learned to a list of 20 or so big problems). 

The new post you're eluding to sounds interesting, but rationality is a loaded term. Do you have specific skills of rationality in mind for that post?

Wanting to Succeed on Every Metric Presented

Your bulleted self-inquiries are very useful. These seem like more playful questions that I would feel comfortable asking someone else if I felt they were being hijacked by a metric/scaling (where a more naive approach could come across as judgmental and untactful). 

Not all of your questions fit every situation of course, but that's not the point! Actually, I want to try out a few examples:

Long-distance running

What would it be like to be very skilled? I would be much fitter than I am now!, so less winded when doing other things. I feel like there's a bragging angle, but who likes a bragger?

What would suck? The long practice hours, I will likely be more prone to injuries and joint problems.

What's the good part of training to be a skilled runner? Consistently being outside would be nice. I think I would feel better after training.

What would be the bad part of training? That out-of-breath feeling and burning muscles is uncomfortable.

Are there people who aren't skilled long distance runners, but are still better in a meaningful way? Swimmers are very fit, have greater upper body strength, and aren't as prone to injuries (though looking it up, they do suffer shoulder injuries)

AI Alignment Researcher

What would it look like to be successful? Being paid to do research full time. Making meaningful contributions that reduce x-risk. Having lots of smart people who will listen and give you feedback. Have a good understanding of lots of different, interesting topics.

What would suck about it? Maybe being in an official position will cause counter-productive pressure/responsibility to make meaningful contributions. I will be open to more criticism. I may feel responsible and slightly helpless regarding people who want to work on alignment, but have trouble finding funding.

What would be great about the process of becoming successful? Learning interesting subjects and becoming better at working through ideas.  Gaining new frames to view problems. Meeting new people to discuss interesting ideas and "iron sharpening iron". Knowing I'm working on something that feels legitimately important.

What would suck about the process? The context-loading of math texts is something to get used to. There's a chance of failure due to lack of skill or not knowing the right people. There is no road map to guarantee success, so there is a lot of uncertainty on what to do specifically. 

Any people who also are great but not successful Alignment researchers? There's people who are good at communicating these ideas with others (for persuasion and distillation), or work at machine learning jobs and will be in good positions of power for AI safety concerns. There are also other x-risks to work on out there and EA fields that also viscerally feel important. 

I'll leave it here due to time, but I think I would add "How could I make the process of getting good more enjoyable?" and making explicit what goals I actually care about.

Wanting to Succeed on Every Metric Presented

"Rationality" was a vague metric for me when I first started reading the sequences. Breaking it down into clear skills (taking ideas seriously, noticing confusion, "truth" as predictive accuracy, etc) with explicit benefits and common pitfalls would be useful.

Once you nail down what metrics you're talking about when you say "rationality", I believe the costs and benefits of investing in becoming more rational will be clearer. 

Feel free to brainstorm as replies to this comment, I would enjoy a full post on the subject.

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