Kaj_Sotala

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Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind
Concept Safety
Multiagent Models of Mind
Keith Stanovich: What Intelligence Tests Miss

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The fact that I've sucked at every form of physical activity ever since I can remember surely doesn't help; my mother swears that even at age 2 I strongly preferred to sit and read rather than running around like toddlers are supposed to do.

Maybe an obvious question, but have you tried to find out if there could be some medical issue involved? An aversion towards all forms exercise going back to at least age 2 makes me think that there's probably some physiological cause.

I was recently persuaded to go to the gym in large part thanks to this article. Excerpt:

“Noob gains”—the fact that novice lifters gain strength with incredible speed—is a phenomenon that’s advertised widely, but still under-advertised, as evidenced by the fact that there are people out there who could take advantage of it, but haven’t. I will consider noob gains to be a correctly-rated phenomenon when literally every adult who possibly can has enjoyed them.

If you haven’t lifted weights or done significant resistance training, you might understand, in theoretical terms, that you can double your strength in a matter of a couple of months with little difficulty. But if you haven’t done it, it’s probable that you haven’t fully absorbed just what that means, or how easy it is. I’m writing this in the hopes that reading one more person extolling the benefits of strength training will finally get you to go out and grip a barbell. [...]

Let’s start with a conceptual reframing. You might think of lifting as the art of becoming unnaturally strong. But that’s not the way to think about it. 

Your body isn’t designed for its current state if you live in a post-industrial society—you’re abusing yourself by default. Your body wants to be more muscular. It craves adaptation under stress. Thus, it is generous. In your early days of lifting, you won’t be pushing it to do crazy, outlandish things. Instead, you will simply be allowing it to be as strong as it should be. 

This is why, in the early days of lifting, the gains are so quick, and come without bodily protestation if your form is solid. It’s also why something just feels materially correct about becoming stronger, like you were crooked this whole time but finally you’ve been straightened. 

That sense of rightness is not just physical. Gaining muscle gave me emotional equanimity as well as physical equanimity, and this is reported generally. I could try and track down some stupid survey to “prove” this to you, but you will experience it yourself. Maybe the mechanism of action is ‘physiological,’ in the sense that your muscles release hormones or something, or maybe it’s ‘psychological,’ in the sense that you’ll have more confidence, and you will radiate it into the world, and the world will radiate back something different. 

I don’t care. It works.

You might think that you’re strong enough to do everything that your life requires. And, well, that’s probably true. But what you haven’t experienced is the feeling that your life is abundantly physically easy. 

This was a revelation to me. Until I’d gained some muscle, I didn’t know that getting out of bed shouldn’t actually feel like much, physically, or that walking up a bunch of stairs shouldn’t tire you out, or that carrying groceries around shouldn’t be onerous. I felt cursed by the necessity of occupying space while shuffling around this mortal coil. And now I do not. Moreover, I no longer feel that I need some special justification for existing, because simply residing in the material is now a privilege.

I used to have mysterious transient back pain. I thought this was normal because I heard that some back pain is normal. Then I did some deadlifts, and my pain evaporated. It turns out that my back was just weak.

There’s this nice side effect, too: when things in your life are less physically onerous, they are then less psychologically onerous. It’s easier to live life when the prospect of basic physical activities isn’t exhausting. You will want more to move in the world.

I’m not condemning you to a lifetime at the gym. Here’s the fun part—once you have some muscle, you can either keep building strength or just maintain it with light-to-moderate exercise, if you feel like it. 

I’m not a huge, musclebound guy. (Not yet, anyway.) I definitely look like I’ve done some exercise, because I have, but what I did is build up a reasonable level of strength—I stopped at a 2x bodyweight deadlift—and then didn’t lose it. Mostly I’ve been kind of half-assed about my workout regime in the last couple of years, and that hasn’t mattered a bit. The aesthetic and physical benefits have persisted.

So you can just do this for three months and then quit exercise except for what makes you feel good. That’s perfectly satisfactory.

Probably the biggest impact on me was the idea that I could just do an exercise program for a few months, then stop and keep the gains. Going with the D&D metaphor, if I was playing a game and I got the chance for a relatively minor one-time investment that gave me a permanent +4 STR for the rest of the game, I'd most likely take it! Probably I'd take it even if I was playing a spellcaster with no particular use for STR, because hey a permanent +4, I'm sure there will still be some situations where it comes in handy.

Now it still took me quite a while to get to it, because I had a bunch of shame of "being bad at this kind of thing" from school physical ed classes, and I knew I'd need to get a personal trainer to look at my form and those are expensive and paying for those felt icky. But then I had the fortune that a gym rat friend of mine volunteered to act as my personal trainer for free, and after that things have been going great.

I can confirm that it does wonders for my mood and helps boost my self-esteem, and I'm very happy that I started. At times it has felt sufficiently pleasant that I've felt slightly addicted to going to the gym. (I haven't yet noticed clear differences in daily activities or things like how easy it feels to get out of the bed, though.)

Like, each person is going to have a quantity, and some people will have more or less, and each person will need to budget the quantity that they have available.

Ah, that makes sense. I like that framing as an elegant way of combining the two.

that degree of patience is set higher than 85+% of LessWrongers know to even try offering to a given piece, as an experiment, if they haven't already decided the author is worth their attention.

Do you have a model of how to change that? Like, just have the site select for readers that can afford that leisurely pace, or something else?

So my disagreement with this model is that it sounds like you're modeling patience as a quantity that people have either more or less of, while I think of patience as a budget that you need to split between different things.

Like at one extreme, maybe I dedicate all of my patience budget to reading LW articles, and I might spend up to an hour reading an article even if its value seems unclear, with the expectation that I might get something valuable out of it if I persist enough. But then this means that I have no time/energy/patience left to read anything that's not an LW article.

It seems to me that a significant difficulty with budgeting patience is that it's not a thing where I know the worthwhile things in advance and just have to divide my patience between them. Rather finding out what's worthwhile, requires an investment of patience by itself. As an alternative to spending 60% of my effort budget on one thing, I could say... take half of that and spend 5% on six things each, sampling them to see which one of them seems the most valuable to read, and then invest 30% on diving into the one that does seem the most valuable. And that might very well give me a better return.

On my model, it mostly (caveat in next paragraph) doesn't make sense to criticize people for not having enough patience - since it's not that they'd have less patience overall, it's just that they have budgeted more of their patience on other things. And under this model, trying to write articles so as to make their value maximally easy to sample is the prosocial thing, since it helps others make good decisions.

I get that there's some social pressure to just make things easy-to-digest for its own sake, and some people with principled indignation if they are forced to expend effort, that goes beyond the "budget consideration" model. But compared to the budget consideration, this seems like a relatively minor force, in my experience. Sure there are some people like that, but I don't experience them being influential enough to be worth modeling. I think for most impatient people, the root cause of their impatience isn't principled impatience but just having too many possible things that they could split their patience between.

I'd probably agree with it in some contexts, but not in general. E.g. this article has some nice examples of situations where "do the effortful thing or do nothing at all" is a bad rule:

Different people have different levels of social skills. In particular, different levels of fluency or dexterity at getting people to satisfy their wants. (And of course, your dexterity varies based on context.) I think of these in four stages.

Stage 1: Paralysis.
You don't dare make the request. Or you've gotten to the point where you need the thing so badly that you're too overwhelmed to communicate clearly at all. You may not even be consciously aware that you need the thing, you're just suffering for the lack of it.

Stage 2: Rude request.
You make it clear that you want something, but you express it inappropriately. You come across as boorish, pushy, childish, or desperate.

Stage 3: Polite request.
You express your desire calmly, pleasantly, and in an appropriate context. You come across as reasonable and respectful.

Stage 4: Automatic abundance.
You don't even have to ask. Either through luck, planning, subtly guiding the social situation, or very high status, you automatically get what you desire without ever having to make it explicitly known.

For example, let's say you're exhausted; you want to excuse yourself from the group and take a nap.

In stage 1, you don't dare ask. Or you don't understand why you feel shitty, you don't recognize it as fatigue. You just get more and more upset until you collapse in a heap. In stage 2, you rudely interrupt people in the middle of something important and announce that you're tired and you're leaving. In stage 3, you find a convenient moment, apologize for cutting things short, but explain that you've got to get some rest. In stage 4, you manage to subtly wrap things up so you can get some rest, without making anyone feel rushed. [...]

Advice about social skills is always "Be Stage 3, not Stage 2." Which is fine, as far as it goes. Stage 3 really is better than Stage 2. It's more considerate, more empathetic. And it works better.

But sometimes Stage 2 is better than Stage 1. The person who can only ask rudely is often perceived as having worse social skills, worse manners, than the person who can't ask at all. But the stage 1 person is paralyzed, not polite. Her 'social skills' only go as far as acquiescence. She can't use them to steer. [...]

The second thing is that the stages relate quite directly to urgency of need. If you aren't hungry, or you know you can get food any time, you're in Stage 4. If you're getting hungry, you may interrupt your friends to ask if you can stop for lunch, putting you in Stage 3. If you're famished, you begin losing self-control and becoming pushy and demanding about food, which puts you in Stage 2. And if you're literally ill with hunger, you may lose the ability to be coherent, which puts you in Stage 1. So people who are more prone to sudden urgent needs are more likely to drop into earlier stages. (Disability blogs talk a lot about the danger of falling into Stage 1, and how rudeness is better than paralysis if those are the only choices.)

It does feel to me like allowing people to be Stage 2 is a requirement for helping them get away from Stage 1 and up to the higher stages. And this bit in particular

if one genuinely does not have the energy required to e.g. put forth one’s thoughts while avoiding straightforwardly false statements, or while distinguishing inference from observation (etc.), then one should simply disengage

sounds to me like the kind of a norm that would push people down to Stage 1 from Stage 2.

Thanks!

If I were to rephrase this in my own words, it'd be something like: 

"There's a kind of expectation/behavior on some people's behalf, where they get unhappy with any content that requires them to put in effort in order to get value out of it. These people tend to push their demand to others, so that others need to contort to meet the demand and rewrite everything to require no effort on the reader's behalf. This is harmful because optimizing one variable requires sacrifices with regard to other variables, so content that gives in to the demand is necessarily worse than content that's not optimized for zero effort. (Also there's quite a bit of content that just can't be communicated at all if you insist that the reader needs to spend zero effort on it. Some ideas intrinsically require an investment of effort to understand in the first place.)  

The more that posts are written in a way that gives in to these demands, the more it signals that these demands are justified and make sense. That then further strengthens those demands and makes it ever harder to resist them in other contexts."

Ideally I'd pause here to check for your agreement with this summary, but if I were to pause here it'd be quite possible that I'd wander off and never get around to answering your earlier prompt. So I'll just answer on the assumption that this is close enough.

So, if Omega came to me and told me that making the change would actually make things worse, what would my model be?

Well, I'd definitely be surprised. My own model doesn't quite agree with the above paraphrase - for one, I was one of the people who didn't read the introduction properly, and I don't think that I'm demanding everyone rewrite their content so as to require zero effort to read. 

That said, a steelman of the paraphrase probably shouldn't assume that all such people require all content to require literally zero effort. There can still be an underlying tendency for people to wish that they were presented with content that required less effort in general. So even if I might correctly object "hey, I don't actually expect all content to require literally zero effort from me", it might still be the case that I'm more impatient than I would be in a counterfactual world where I wasn't influenced by the social forces pushing for more impatience.

Now that I think of it, I'm pretty certain that that's actually indeed the case.

Hmm.

Another objection I had to the paraphrased model was that the forces pushing in the direction of impatience are just too strong to make an impact on. But while that might be the case globally, it doesn't need to be the case locally. Even if a social incentive wasn't strong enough to take root in the world as a whole, it could take root in rationalist spaces. And in fact there are plenty of social incentives that hold in rationalist spaces while not holding in the world in general.

It's also relevant that these kinds of norms select for people who are more likely to agree with them. So if we consistently enforce them, that has the effect of keeping out the kinds of people who wouldn't agree with them, making local enforcement of them possible.

So maybe one model that I could have, given Omega saying that my proposed change would have a bad impact on the post, would be something like... "Making the change would reduce the amount of effort that people needed to expend to decide whether reading this post was worth it. That would increase social pressure on other people on LW to write posts that were readable with minimum effort. While the marginal impact of this post in particular wouldn't be that big, it'd still make it somewhat more likely that another post would give in slightly more, making it somewhat more likely that yet another post would give in slightly more, and so on. As a result of that, more impatient users would join the site (as the posts were now failing to filter them out) while more patient users would be pushed out, and this would be bad for the site in general."

[Mod] I think they're nice principles to aspire to and I appreciate it when people follow them. But I wouldn't want to make them into rules of what LW comments should be like, if that's what you mean.

Sorry, I didn't realize that you'd dislike that suggestion as well. I assumed that it was primarily the suggestion of shortening the post that you were unhappy with, since the introduction section already kind of says the same thing as the proposed paragraph and I was only suggesting saying it with slightly more emphasis.

"what if these suggestions were terrible? Like, what if Omega came down and told me 'Duncan was right, your version is objectively and meaningfully worse, those changes caused problems' ... what model would I produce, as a result, trying to explain what was going on?"

I'm trying to think about it, but finding it hard to answer, since to me moving that paragraph to an earlier point seems like a very minor change. One thought that comes to mind is "it would change people's first impression of the post" (after all, changing people's first impression of the length of the post is what the change was intended to achieve)... presumably in a worse way somehow? Maybe make them take the post less seriously in some sense? But I suspect that's not what you have in mind.

It would be helpful to get a hint of the kind of axis on which the post would become worse. Like, is it something that directly affects some property of the post itself, such as its persuasiveness or impact? Or is this about some more indirect effect, like giving in to some undesirable set of norms (that's what your mention of the Twitter mob implies to me)?

Or alternatively put this disclaimer in the very beginning of the post. The introduction kinda also says it, but I think that I at least kinda just skimmed the first sentences of the intro and then moved forward, thinking the intro would be normal intro fluff. But then I also pretty quickly bounced off the post due to its length, but before reaching the quoted paragraph.

I think that if the very first paragraph would be something like

For most practical purposes, this post is much shorter than it appears. You are only expected to read the first three sections after the Introduction on the first go. All remaining sections are reference material, meant to be dug into only when there's a specific reason to; if you read further, please know that you are doing the equivalent of reading dictionary entries or encyclopedia entries and that the remaining words are not optimized for being Generically Entertaining To Consume.

then the message would be much harder to miss.

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