All of majus's Comments + Replies

Behavior: The Control of Perception

The quote on conflict reminds me of Jaak Panksepp's "Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions", or a refracted view of it presented in John Gottman's book, "The Relationship Cure". Panksepp identifies mammalian emotional command systems he names FEAR, SEEKING, RAGE, LUST, CARE, PANIC/GRIEF, PLAY; Gottman characterizes these systems as competing cognitive modules: Commander-in-chief, Explorer, Sentry, Energy Czar, Sensualist, Jester or Nest Builder. It is tempting now to think of them as very high-level controllers in the hierarchy.

SotW: Be Specific

Why is "be specific" a hard skill to teach?

I think it is because being specific is not really the problem, and by labeling it as such we force ourselves into a dead-end which does not contain a solution to the real problem. The real problem is achieving communication. By 'achieving communication', I mean that concepts in one mind are reproduced with good fidelity in another. By good fidelity, I mean that 90% (arbitrary threshold) of assertions based on my model will be confirmed as true by yours.

There are many different ways that the fidelity c... (read more)

1Vaniver9yI suspect the Socratic method (the old one, not the bland one) fits under this heading- "put forth a proposition, and I'll demolish you with your own statements."
1thomblake9ySadly, "Communicate well" isn't quite as simple of a skill.
Rationality Quotes April 2012

In Pinker's book "How the Mind Works" he asks the same question. His observation (as I recall) was that much of our apparently abstract logical abilities are done by mapping abstractions like math onto evolved subsystems with different survival purposes in our ancestors: pattern recognition, 3D spatial visualization, etc. He suggests that some problems seem intractable because they don't map cleanly to any of those subsystems.

Rationality quotes January 2012

I like the pithy description of halo bias. I don't like or agree with Mencken's non-nuanced view of idealists. it's sarcastically funny, like "a liberal is one who believes you can pick up a dog turd by the clean end", but being funny doesn't make it more true.

0Eugine_Nier9yThe point is that idealists suffer from a halo bias around their chosen ideal.
Announcing the Quantified Health Prize

I'm actively interested in optimizing my health, and I take a number of supplements to that end. The survey would seem most interesting if its goal was to find how to optimize your health via supplements. As it turns out, none of the ones I take qualify as "minerals". If it turns out in fact that taking Vitamin XYZ is the single best thing you can do to tweak your diet, then this survey's conclusions, whatever they turn out to be (eg. that Calcium is better than Selenium) will be misleading. Maybe that's the next survey.

FYI, I'm taking: vitamin C, green tea extract, acetyl-l carnitine, vitamin D-3, fish oil, ubiquinol, and alpha lipoic acid. I've stopped taking vitamin E and aspirin.

The curse of identity

The discussions about signalling reminded me of something in "A Guide To The Good Life" (a book about stoicism by William Irvine). I remembered a philospher who wore shabby clothes, but when I went looking for the quote, what I found was: "Cato consciously did things to trigger the disdain of other people simply so he could practice ignoring their disdain." In stoicism, the utility which is to be maximized is a personal serenity which flows from your secure knowledge that you are spending your life pursuing something genuinely valuable.

How to understand people better

I am trying to be more empathetic with someone, and am having trouble understanding their behavior. They practice the "stubborn fundamental attribution error": someone who does not in fact behave as expected (as this individual imagines she would behave in their place) is harshly judged (neurotic, stupid, lazy, etc.). Any attempts to help her put herself in another's shoes are implacably resisted. Any explanations which might dispel harsh judgement are dismissed as "justifications". One example which I think is related is what I'll ca... (read more)

1DavidAgain8yIf I udnerstand what you mean, I used to see 'metaphor blindness' in a lot of people. But I think it's more about how much people wall off the relevant bit of the metaphor/analogy from the general tone. I see this a lot in politics, on all sides, and I don't think the 'metaphor blind' people are just deliberately misunderstanding to score points. It may be not being able to separate the two, or it may be a feeling on their part that the metaphor is smuggling in unfair implications. For instance, on same sex marriage (a good case for me to observe this because I'm instinctively pro- and the cases I'm looking at are metaphor-blindness by people who are also pro-), two arguments come to mind 1) Pro-SSM argument 'Marriage should be allowed as long as there is consent between the two people'. Counter-analogy 'But on those grounds, incestuous marriage or polygamy should also be allowed' 2) Pro-SSM argument 'If you don't like gay marriage, don't get gay married'. Counter-analogy: "Imagine for a moment that the Government had decided to legalise slavery but assured us that ‘no one will be forced to keep a slave. Would such worthless assurances calm our fury? Would they justify dismantling a fundamental human right? Or would they simply amount to weasel words masking a great wrong?” (this one is a direct quote from a Cardinal) In these cases, the general response from pro-SSM people has been 'I can't believe you're comparing gay marriage to incest/slavery'. Because the toxicity of the comparison point overwhelms the quite focused analogy in both cases. People often feel the same when you try to convince them of something by analogy, particularly if they feel like you are trying to show that they are wrong by intellectual force rather than just taking them along with you. It took me awhile to adjust to this one: I just felt everyone else was [i]wrong[/i], and at a gut level I still do, and prefer arguing with people who take analogies in a narrow sense. But eventually, in
1Mercurial10yPossibly. But since we're on the topic of empathy, I'd like to emphasize that definitely among the most treasured practices I've found is finding a way to understand why what the other person is doing is sensible to them. Even if I can't see the reason, it's there. So, it's really critical to remove every hint of a judgmental tone even from one's own mind when trying to understand another person. (You can turn it back on later, but while in the process of empathizing it seems to be critical not to evaluate.) Assuming you're accurate and this person really can't "see" metaphors, I think the next question to ask is, "What is it like to experience the world with this metaphor blindness?" Or more generally, "Why does this person's actions make sense?" In this respect I take a page from Buddhism. I find that my ability to empathize with others is tremendously greater if I can (a) understand in what sense their negative behavior arises from some kind of suffering and (b) cultivate a wish that they weren't suffering (which is what many Buddhists mean by "compassion"). I simply don't do this to "end the karmic cycle of death and rebirth"; instead, I do it because I've found that it enriches my life and helps me understand others tremendously better. For what it's worth! Again, in your position, I would ask myself "In what sense does this person's behavior make sense?" As I wrestle with this question, I know I've hit on a viable hypothesis when everything suddenly becomes clear and I no longer feel any sense of judgment or frustration with the person. In this case, I wonder if you might be conflating two different issues. Empathy is a matter of understanding another person's experience from their point of view, but it sounds to me like your concern is with the fact that this person doesn't seem to abide by basic laws of reason. In particular, you say: It might be that exploring issues rationally isn't a driving desire for this person like it is for you. If it is - that
0Peacewise10ySeems to me you are facing a person who lacks both logic and imagination, be wary that you don't commit the fundamental attribution error yourself about her! I too have a relationship with a female who displays the same characteristics you describe. Ask yourself what's her buy in for understanding things the way you are presenting them - its plausible that she doesn't have a buy in, that she believes that accepting what you've got to say will in fact lessen/harm her in some way. It's quite possible that in her life thinking that way has been very useful - are you willing to take that away? How much patience have you got? It's a long tough road. Some things that have worked for me. Occasionally encourage her frustration, even to point of tears, because at that point she is more willing to open her mind to a different way of thinking. It's truth that in a sense we are manipulating her, from her perspective, who are we to do so, what's our reason for doing this, you'll have to have very sure answers for those questions. Be positive, be consistent, keep showing that there is a difference between how she thinks and who she is, she needs some distance between the mistakes she makes and her self esteem and self efficacy. If she can create that distance for herself, she'll be more inclined to create that distance for others. Model the thinking and behaviour you believe is useful, show the benefits - and costs. Keep in mind that her situation is part of the issue, changing her situation will give her more ability to experience how if situations change people's responses change, she gets to experience for herself how the fundamental attribution error functions... that's been the most effective way I've helped.
2khafra10yYour current model of her is a person who completely lacks empathy. Trying to put yourself in the shoes of someone unable to put themself in someone else's shoes sounds insoluble; there must be some way to change the parameters of the problem.
5NancyLebovitz10yI will tentatively suggest panic-- she feels so much at risk from other people's negative opinions that she feels she can't afford to cut them any slack. This may help you feel more kindly toward her, but I don't know if it will help you deal with her. Does she have any good points that you can see?
Rationality Quotes September 2011

reminds me of:

"I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant." --Robert McCloskey

Rationality Quotes August 2011

This seems to be an argument about definitions. To me, Friedman's "average out" means a measurable change in a consistent direction, e.g. significant numbers of random individuals investing in gold. So, given some agents acting in random directions mixed with other agents acting in the same (rational) direction, you can safely ignore the random ones. (He argued.) I don't think he meant to imply that in the aggregate people are rational. But even in the simplified problem-space in which it appears to make sense, Friedman's basic conclusion, that markets are rational (or 'efficient'), has been largely abandoned since the mid 1980s. Reality is more complex.

Build Small Skills in the Right Order

I have two major comments. First, I took the Scientology Communications class 35 years ago in Boston, and it was basically the same as what has just been described. That's impressive, in a creepy kind of way.

Second, my strongest take-away from the class I took was in response to something NOT mentioned above, so this aspect may have changed. We were given a small book, something like "The History of Scientology". (This is not the huge "Dianetics" book.) We were told to read it on our own, until we understood it, and would move on to... (read more)

Austin Less Wrong Meetup, Saturday April 23rd, 12:00 Noon

I'll have to miss this one. Anti-serendipity; I NEVER leave town, except, apparently, next Saturday. Hope there's another one soon.

0Vaniver10yI'm sorry to hear that, but there most likely will be one pretty soon- the last meetup (in Waco) was only two weeks before this one. I don't know what sort of frequency we'll settle on, but it probably won't be lower than once a month.
Procedural Knowledge Gaps

My deficiency is common manners. I think it's a lack of attention to the world outside of my own thoughts. I've been known to just wander away from a conversation that is clearly not over to the other participants. I notice a sneeze about 10 seconds too late to say "bless you!". I'm appropriately thankful, but assume that's clear without my actually saying or writing something to convey the feeling. Depending on the context, my preoccupation leads me to be perceived as everything from a lovable nerd to an arrogant jerk. It's something I'd like to change.

2juliawise10yI learned these things because for years my parents corrected me every time I was wrong. Is there someone close to you whom you can ask to give you a prearranged signal when you forget certain things? It would be a little odd to have your friend prompting, "What do you say, dear?", but maybe you can come up with something more subtle.
0dlthomas10yThe following is from my reading, thinking, and experience. Hopefully it contains some useful ideas. "Etiquette" is being conscious of the needs and wants of others, and changing your behavior (within reason) to accommodate these. If your thoughts are sufficiently engaging, this may be difficult or even undesirable. What I find works for me is to partition my time. For some of it, I am interested in the world outside my head (including people) and for some of it I'm coding or thinking deep or sick or what have you and am not. While I try not to be outright rude in the latter state, it's probably clear where my priorities lie. These attitudes I apportion strategically, and make a point of establishing the appropriate context with grooming (basic maintenance always gets done, but making sure I actually look okay to go along with it might not) and clothing (jeans and a t-shirt, I'm probably not looking as much to engage the world outside my head as if I'm dressed up a bit). Set aside some time for deliberate practice in treating people considerately - literally. That is, giving them consideration and letting that guide your actions. "Manners" are patterns of behavior - when they tend to correspond to the actions one would take if they were acting considerately, they're "good manners." These are habits, with all the good and bad that implies. Specifically, the good is that they can happen without thinking - meaning your interactions may be improved even when you're not focused on them; the bad is that they will not always apply, and so one shouldn't rely on them when things are particularly important, and should turn to actual consideration of the involved individuals. I'll briefly note that "protocol" is yet another class of behavior - that which is rigidly proscribed, generally around some function. While it is usually both etiquette and (consequently) good manners to follow protocol, the three should not be confused. In particular, etiquette and manners can usu

When I interact with people who behave the way you do (there a lot here at NASA), I generally do not hold it against them.

However, since you said you'd like to change, here are some suggestions that don't require a great deal of attention because they are responses to specific events (which you would need to practice noticing):

  • Always say "Thank you" for everything. Assume that no one thinks you're thankful unless you say so. It's not necessarily true, but it is true sometimes, and it's virtually never true that saying "thank you" will
... (read more)
6Jonathan_Graehl10yI used to think it was worthwhile to think of strangers as human beings. Now I prefer to ignore them until an actual reason to interact presents itself. This doesn't apply to people I expect to encounter at least several times. Just strangers. I suppose learning to comfortably make eye contact and engage strangers was useful, but now I choose not to do it when I have no reason to. It conserves energy and makes me happier not thinking about how I'm perceived by them. Maybe it's true that crowded/urban living isn't "natural" or "healthy", but the solution isn't to waste energy trying to constantly "connect" with strangers - that's an exercise in futility. The solution would be to find a subcommunity where you can behave "normally".
6MaoShan10yWelcome to the LessWrong / Autism Spectrum club.
Procedural Knowledge Gaps

You can get a warm fuzzy feeling from doing it yourself with a downloaded form (say from Nolo) or a cheap app (like WillMaker), but there are subtle ways to mess up, so professional advice is highly recommended. Doing it yourself, you may tend to shy away from thinking about low-probability or painful scenarios, and you don't get to debug it by changing it and trying again. A will is just one part of estate planning, and sometimes a will isn't needed (if the estate is in a trust, its beneficiaries take precedence). Usually you'll need to coordinate the w... (read more)

Rationality Quotes: November 2010

Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu "If triangles had a god, he would have three sides." [Lettres Persanes, no 59]

6Larks11ySurely he would be circular [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flatland]?
Self-Improvement or Shiny Distraction: Why Less Wrong is anti-Instrumental Rationality

I'm a relatively new lurker, still working through the Sequences. It strikes me that patrissimo's disaffection and resultant call to action are targeted at "the more advanced students", or where I hope to be at some point. To use a shop-class analogy, once you've finished Shop 101, sitting around reading back issues of Woodcrafts magazine wil be lower ROI than designing and building a Mission chest of drawers. But until you've been through the basics, "go build" is less productive and potentially dangerous. I 've discovered that ... (read more)

5diegocaleiro11yHere comes a new challenger..... a) The issue of learning to walk before running, though seemingly simple, is not. Reading originals, for instance is highly likely to displace the good meme grasping/producing potential you'd have if you never went through them. Recently this link about that was posted here, can't find the post now: http://www.infiniteinjury.org/blog/2010/02/25/reading-originals/ [http://www.infiniteinjury.org/blog/2010/02/25/reading-originals/] I agree with the author, and after 4 years in a continental philosophy department, can assure you, there is no way the rational strategy for being rational is to go through the history of rationality. The added value of learning through historic order is greatly inferior to the value of time-saved, hindsight view analytical capacity towards ancient stuff that you get from reading only what is recent. Not that I'm claiming the Sequences are moldy old stuff. Go through them, but speed up your pace whenever you can. A final point on "a)". Do not read what is too recent (give 4 months here, 1 year in science as a tentative suggestion), thus allowing others to filter for you. Unless the post claims that the whole Less-Wrong endeavour is anti-instrumentalist! When dealing with catastrophic risks, even tiny probabilities (that the Sequences suck) ought to take priority. b) There is no doubt that the first 100 posts you read here will be more important than the second.... if you are past 400 (I'm not), probably you are beyond the tipping point. Learning rationality is logarithmic. Maybe, for professional reasons, Eliezer needs 99% of the abstract rationality he can achieve (he is the coach, after all). But if you are just part of the team (as I am) I would never get to the point where you are actually regularly reading yesterday's stuff. This is a red signal, if you (reader of this sentence) want only to be part of the team, and you've been reading daily or weekly before you got a chapter, a plan, a frame

If you are working through the sequences, how did you get to my post? :).

It seems that instead of paying attention to your lathe and table saw in Shop 101, you are leafing through the latest copies of "Advanced Carpentry". This can be motivation, it can add context to the class, or it can be a form of procrastination, focusing on the dream of producing great things in the future instead of the hard work of learning to produce small things in the present. Only you can decide, through conscious examination, which is.

Do you read my post (and pres... (read more)

1wedrifid11yYou make a good point here and I'll go on to add... This (usually, but depending on the engagement level) does constitute deliberate practice. It's directed and requires intense construction of new mental concepts and ways of thinking. In fact, I would say that even for people who have read the sequences previously could still be executing deliberate practice by engaging with them again. It must be 'engage' rather than skim and obviously doesn't apply indefinitely. Practice must move to a new area once a skill is mastered to an acceptable level. When it comes to learning stuff that means not just 'kinda get it' but also not having understood it enough that going over it more isn't even effortful.
A "Failure to Evaluate Return-on-Time" Fallacy

This is a classic time-management issue, often titled "ants vs. elephants", e.g. using your time to tackle small tasks you can complete easily for some immediate gratification instead of investing in the large ones with big payoff. In my own experience, it almost feels like tasks have an "activation energy". I have a list of prioritized goals, but if I'm low in energy I avoid the big but important tasks and do something relatively mindless like reading Science News or doing a sudoku. In college I used to despise myself for not being ... (read more)

5patrissimo11yenthusiastic agreement beyond what can be expressed by a single Vote up!
Welcome to Less Wrong! (2010-2011)

I've been lurking on LW for a couple of months, trying to work through all of the major sequences. I don't remember how I discovered it; it might have been a link in the BadAstronomy blog. I studied astronomy in school and grad school and end up becoming a software engineer, which I've done for almost 30 years now. Most of the content here resonates powerfully with the intellectual searching I've been doing my whole life, and I'm finding it both stimulating and humbling. Spurred by what I've read here, I've just acquired Judea Pearl's "Causality&qu... (read more)

-1Clippy11yYou look to be very capable of using correct reasoning, based on your extensive software experience and familiarity with causal nets! I recently asked question [http://lesswrong.com/lw/2kl/open_thread_august_2010_part_2/2f01?c=1] here about timeless physics, but no one seems to want to answer it... I think you might have some good insight on that matter.
The Virtue of Narrowness

Newton focused on forces and gravity. Later physicists generalized newtonian mechanics, coming up with formalisms for expressing a host of different problems using a common approach (Lagrangian mechanics with generalized coordinates). They weren't losing precision or sacrificing any power to anticipate reality by having an insight that many apparently different problems can be looked at as being essentially the same problem. A cylinder accellerating down a ramp as it rolls is the same problem as a satellite orbiting the L5 lagrangian point. Another uni... (read more)

1Peterdjones9yAgreed. Newton was in fact takign a broad view compared to his predecessors, who beleived that Earthly happenings and celestial behavour must have different explanations. The point of his lawof gravity is that it uniformally applies to both moon and apple.

I think I agree with you, majus.

I would add as a counter-example that the problem of explaining mankind's nature and origin becomes solvable when the problem is extended to the problem of explaining the nature and origin of every species in the biosphere. The problem of explaining Mary's illness may become easier if it is broadened to the problem of explaining the illness of the 20 people who became sick immediately after the company picnic.

To my mind narrowness should not be called a virtue. Instead we have the tactic or heuristic of narrowing, which is... (read more)