I was fortunate enough throughout my K-12 schooling to be very gifted within my classes and to always have the opportunity to try to understand concepts, rather than just guess passwords. However, I've become increasingly disenchanted with being stuck in a system that rewards things like password guessing. I've found a huge problem at my own university to be the related "password list rote memorization." The examination system very strongly rewards remembering things only for 4-ish weeks at a time (the approximate length of time between exams) and then immediately forgetting them. It's incredibly frustrating and it feels like my courses are wasting years of my life completely unnecessarily. I attempt to cram as much knowledge into my head as I can in a time period that's too short for me to retain anything, achieve the reward of the exam grade, and then forget the material and never look at it again.
Eliezer's articles have been some of the most thought-provoking pieces I've ever read, and they challenge me to actually figure out ways to use my learning to improve my life and create changes in my environment, rather than just getting gold stars on arbitrary goals, like exams, that are artificially created by someone else, but aren't practically benefiting anyone. But as someone finishing undergrad soon, I'm at a loss as to how I might move forward without spending most of my time playing more password games (i.e. going to grad school).
Does anyone have any suggestions for alternative things I might devote myself to? I actually do have an uncommonly good memory when I can learn things properly the first time, and with strategically spaced repetitions I can effectively retain complex knowledge (usually biology, I'm a biology major) for years. I just don't see a space in the system where that particular skill is especially useful or consistently rewarded. But at the same time, I'm sick of playing the password games.
"Politics is an extension of war by other means. Arguments are soldiers. Once you know which side you’re on, you must support all arguments of that side, and attack all arguments that appear to favor the enemy side; otherwise it’s like stabbing your soldiers in the back—providing aid and comfort to the enemy."
I first read this article 6 years ago, back when I knew nothing about politics and had never had a political discussion with anyone before. I was incredibly puzzled by it. I thought, "Maybe that kind of black-and-white thinking and argumentation exists for people who become invested in trivial things like sports teams, but surely that's not really how most of society talks about something like politics. My friends are scientists. They know better than that."
Fast forward to 6 years later, today. I've learned that the article is painfully accurate. It doesn't matter whether my peer has a PhD in biology or a master's in chemistry. No matter what their apparent commitment to rational thinking, almost all of them denounce a political party in the US for (sometimes, they claim, singlehandedly) causing the failings of the entire country.
I feel afraid to even express that sometimes I feel that views from the political party my peers hate seem reasonable. This is even when I don't agree with the ideas. Even when I don't claim that the other party is right. I'm afraid to even say, "this idea from the other political party might have a grain of truth to it" because their hatred is so strong and their reaction to such words from me is so immediate and negative. They claim to be open to other ideas, but as soon as they disagree, they start a long in-depth explanation of why the opposing ideas are completely wrong, sometimes without letting the speaker introducing the ideas even finish their sentence. Whereas in any other subject, my peers would praise me for considering other viewpoints and carefully weighing evidence, when it comes to politics, even considering the other side seems to actually feel treasonous to them.
I feel saddened, remembering my skepticism from then. The world is not nearly as rational as I hoped it was when I was 6 years younger.
I greatly appreciate this post! Although Yudkowsky clearly supports the consideration of emotions in rational decision making (see Feeling Rational), I find that a lot of the posts here idealize logic in the absence of emotion. Or at the very least, they are written in a style that has the same quirks and particularities as my intelligent friends who struggle more with emotional intelligence, emotional self-awareness, and more broadly interacting with other people because they don’t find these important (or perhaps they have the causation backwards - they don’t find these things “important” because they struggle to master them, and it is more comfortable to believe that where they excel is where it’s important to excel, and where they struggle is where it doesn’t matter anyway).
This post beautifully shows how applying overly stringent “rational” ideas can be incredibly harmful to those who do experience emotions unusually strongly. It would seem that mingyuan has emotions that are stronger than the average person. It takes a strong love of better outcomes for humanity to apply effective altruism so extremely; it takes a strong sense of guilt to want to take such a lifestyle to even greater extremes when already living off of stale oatmeal in a far too crowded apartment and overexerting oneself at a job. Most people, from what I have observed, are not able to feel such passion about the idea of helping people who they don’t personally know.
I think the post is a beautiful and vivid illustration of how the psychology of emotional well-being is too little discussed in many rationalist communities, even though understanding emotional well-being and one’s own limits is extremely important when trying to make effective, sustainable rational choices about how to live. Thank you so much for the thoughtful post.
I'm an atheist. I received a fairly good training in math and science through the end of high school and am majoring in biology. I spend a lot of time with a Christian group of people near my college campus because I experience my school as incredibly un-interested in building community, and I can't get most people to talk to me consistently even after approaching them being friendly, reaching out to them, making efforts to go to activities in which we have common interests, etc. (It's also hard because I have disabilities of a sort that make socializing somewhat difficult.)
The people in this Christian group are by far the kindest people I've met, amongst themselves and to other people. But it is very jarring to end every meeting with "In Jesus' name I pray" and makes me nervous that I might end up sacrificing my rationality if I spend too much time among them. (This is especially the case after, during a really difficult period in my life, I had a month where I believed that the Christian version of God might be real, and didn't notice anything concerning about it until a chance event cracked the belief slightly. After that, I forced myself through a probing crisis of faith for several hours to remember why that actually doesn't make sense, given my own beliefs about how the world works.)
This article is really helpful, in terms of outlining what to be aware of, and what might indicate that the group actually has too many cult attractor properties for me to continue with it. I first read it in 2011 as a young adolescent, and I'll admit, I never suspected back then that it would be relevant to me. (Which begs the question of why I thought it was a good use of time to read through all of it, but eh, the rationality was not yet strong with me.)
Just fyi - your link only gives a fee waiver of $5000 for anyone who uses it now - Wealthfront probably changed it since 2017.