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Rationality Quotes July 2012

I doubt this is being put forward as a "principle to uphold" since that would be self-contradictory. It is probably aimed at the sorts of cases where someone might say "well I wouldn't have bothered but it was the principle of the thing".

Unspeakable Morality

I'm curious about the opening line: It is a general and primary principle of rationality, that we should not ... enforce upon our fellows a law which there is insufficient justification to enforce.

On my ordinary understanding of the sentence, it seems to imply that acting justly is necessarily part of what Eliezer means by "acting rationally". Is this right?

More explicitly: the implication is that refraining from "enforcing insufficiently justified laws" is a "general and primary" principle of rationality. Perhaps what is meant is some tautology deriving from (Eliezer's) meanings of "fellows", "justification", and "should". Or perhaps it's just a rhetorical flourish?

Avoiding Failure: Fallacy Finding

I appreciated this calculation. Although as you show it's unlikely that solar panels represent a net loss in energy, it's still kind of off-putting that, given my local power rate of 5 cents/kWh, I'd have to wait 16 years to make back my money if I buy solar panels to reduce the power I take from the grid. Of course, this results mainly from the government subsidy of residential power, a bizarre policy completely at odds with the same government's exhortations to be "power smart".

Why Support the Underdog?

Perhaps you figured this out since April, but the quoted clause makes sense in the context of Mencius' particular use of the terms "universalism" (roughly: what everyone in polite society believes these days in the West) which he categorizes as "antinomian", roughly: opposed to natural law.

Rationality Quotes - July 2009

We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be. -Vonnegut

Seems apropos to recent posts on honesty, as well.

Share Your Anti-Akrasia Tricks

Yeah PhD/academia is the absolute worst, because the timespan is quite long, and many of the deadlines are soft. Miss a paper deadline? Just submit to the next one, with a slightly greater chance of being scooped. Not done your thesis on time? Just ask for an extension, and waste more months/years of your life. Grad school is truly the snooze button on the alarm clock of life.

Open Thread: July 2009

In the book "A Theory of Fun for Game Design" by Ralph Koster (of possible special interest to a game nerd) he basically defines "fun" as "learning without pressure". Learning, in this context, means improving skills and responding to a challenge where there is no extrinsic consequence for failure.

Your desire for a job you can "take or leave" on a day-to-day basis, and your anxiety about homework, fits well with (but is more extreme than, I think) my own experience. If I were to diagnose myself with something (which I am loathe to do) it would be some type of anxiety disorder ( I have a friend with similar issues who was so diagnosed, medicated, and actually seems to be doing better, although it's difficult to separate cause from effect here).

See if you relate to the following anecdote: in grade 9 I entered a special school program which was kind of like correspondence (work through assignments at your own pace) except that it was held at a regular high school so that students could socialize, have progress monitored by and access to teachers, and take supervised written tests whenever we were ready. Sounds pretty great compared to normal classes? It was. But, my first year (grade 9) I got rather behind in my work, in more than one subject, and started getting concerned reports home. Even though the work I had to do was obviously within my capabilities, I found it very difficult to face. Eventually I had to bite the bullet and finish everything in one big cram at the end of the year, and I pulled OK grades, but I stressed out endlessly over what was really a trivial amount of work (which I recognized even at the time).

The following year (grade 10) I hit the ground running in September. By mid-october I had finished Math 10. I got similarly ahead in other subjects, and the further ahead I got the easier it was for me to work more and more. (To a point, I also had a defiant self-image of rational laziness so that I didn't want to do more than the minimum amount of work, even if I could do it faster/better. So I never skipped a grade, I would just get ahead by a few weeks/months and then... yup, play Magic (the original (Beta/Unlimited)!) and basically fuck around with my friends, computer, porn, etc.

More recently, as a PhD student, I still encounter the same thing. When I've fallen behind on a project, often due to unrelated and mild doubts/laziness/underestimation, I become more and more unwilling to face work the farther behind I get. OTOH if a colleague comes to me with a problem which I am not "supposed to be" working on, I become immediately energized. Of course, I allow myself to work on side projects less and less the farther "behind" I am on the projects I am assigned to.
I have finally seen the pattern, maybe too late not to suffer serious damage in my "career". It is largely this: I hate exposing myself to the possibility of public failure. For me, the "consequence" which makes learning/trying/failing/mastering "not fun" is simply having to admit that a) I want to get/achieve/do/win at X and b) I failed (in this instance) to get/achieve/do/win at X. When I am doing something optional, and where I am not expected to succeed (e.g. because it's someone else's problem and any contribution I make will be accepted with grateful surprise), I can be extremely goal-directed and work with intense focus. In the very short term, fear of missing a hard deadline (mainly in undergrad) can also make me work til the break of dawn with amazing concentration, much as you described anger doing for you.

I'm not suggesting that you have exactly the same anxieties that i do. But recognizing what it is that separates the activities you can focus and work on from those you can't may lead to surprising revelations about yourself, and may even suggest ways to find a job that's a good fit for your temperament.

Sorry if this was a bit rambling and self-indulgent.

An interesting speed dating study

Late to the party, I thought I'd just throw in the following observations. I have actually participated in speed dating a few times; I found it fascinating and educational.

The speed dating events I attended allowed about 3 minutes per interview (or "date") before proceeding to the next pairing. Each attendee is provided with a notepad, complete with numbers corresponding to the number on a nametag worn by each participant. (Names are also on the nametags, but there are often duplicates so numbers are required to avoid ambiguity). This way you can make notes so that you'll remember something about people you are (maybe) interested in. You are also given a card with a box to check for each number if you would like to see that person again. The notes are for you to take home, the card you submit to the organizers. The notes can be useful when filling out the card, if you want to deliberate a bit on your choices at the end instead of making a snap judgment after each meeting.

One thing I noticed is that, as the man, I did not really have much time to make notes in a non-awkward way. My options were to a) writing down things about the person I had just spoken with before continuing to the next table b) writing down something about the previous date when I arrive at a new table or c) writing in transit between tables. All of these are physically or socially awkward, or both, as well as time-pressured. Meanwhile, the women who remain seated can use the time between one man leaving and another arriving to write notes; even if the next man arrives before she has finished, it is much less awkward than showing up to a new table, introducing yourself, and immediately scribbling notes about someone else.

This is just one subtle but, at least for me, significant asymmetry between the seated and rotating groups. It is overall much less awkward to remain seated, I would suppose, and it is thus probably easier to make considered, discriminating judgements. In my own case I know that I probably checked off a few more numbers than I would otherwise at the end of the evening, simply because it was hard to remember enough of my impressions to make choices. As a man, I expect to be making the initial contact with my matches (and apparently the women generally shared this assumption about roles) so there was little risk of awkwardness in getting matched with someone who on further reflection I didn't really want to see -- I could simply not follow up.

Building Weirdtopia

Sexual Weirdtopia could just be "the internet comes to life"... e.g. everyone gets freaky without shame, but it turns out almost everyone is into something that's of absolutely no interest to you personally.

Or, to follow the public science example, the taboo is revealed to be as fundamental aspect of sexual arousal as the unknown is to the intellectual. The people demand a strict morality police after an era of total acceptance drains all the fun out of it. Everyone is fully expected to both seek out sexual thrills and aid in the swift punishment of anyone who seeks out sexual thrills: If you ask for a spanking you may be asking for a spanking.

Dunbar's Function

TGGP: with respect to migration, I always thought the idea was to immigrate to a land of "opportunity" -- that is, the attraction is that if you move to America (or wherever) you'll have more social AND economic mobility. I know immigrants (to my own country, Canada) who actually were quite despondent for a while after arriving here because, while their nominal income increased their relative social position took a serious dive (to stereotype, think of an Indian doctor working here as a code monkey).

It seems to me the phenomena Eliezer is describing are well illustrated by (my own experience in) academia. On the one hand people overspecialize to find a sufficiently small pond that they can be the big fish. On the other, the superstars I know best are extraordinarily competitive/driven and tend to think of the whole world as consisting of other high-achieving academics and assorted debris, thus reducing the "world" literally to a few hundred monkeyspheres in size.

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