Software developer and mindhacking instructor. Interested in intelligent feedback (especially of the empirical testing variety) on my new (temporarily free) ebook, A Minute To Unlimit You.

Wiki Contributions


Long COVID risk: How to maintain an up to date risk assessment so we can go back to normal life?

Also, some LWers are neither young nor healthy, and/or have family responsibilities that would become problematic or impossible at some levels of lasting lung or organ damage, whether you call it "long covid" or not. So I'm definitely waiting for more understanding of long-term effects before I change my risk profile.

Write posts business-like, not story-like

Downvoted due to lacking a story to provide an intuition pump to readers as to why the following the proposal would be useful.

The Game of Masks

I would question the framing of mental subagents as "mesa optimizers" here. This sneaks in an important assumption: namely that they are optimizing anything. I think the general view of "humans are made of a bunch of different subsystems which use common symbols to talk to one another" has some merit, but I think this post ascribes a lot more agency to these subsystems than I would. I view most of the subagents of human minds as mechanistically relatively simple.

I actually like mesa-optimizer because it implies less agency than "subagent". A mesa-optimizer in AI or evolution is a thing created to implement a value of its meta-optimizer, and the alignment problem is precisely the part where a mesa-optimizer isn't necessarily smart enough to actually optimize anything, and especially not the thing that it was created for. It's an adaptation-executor rather than a fitness-maximizer, whereas subagent implies (at least to me) that it's a thing that has some sort of "agency" or goals that it seeks.

How to be skeptical about meditation/Buddhism

So it's kinda like a hobby, from my perspective.

Sure. I have not seriously taken up meditation again since that time, because although the centered-and-confident stuff was really nice, it took a long time to get to that point, and it wasn't a superpower level of centered or confident.

So if you already can relax, stop your internal monologue, and generate some pleasant feelings, does it make sense to stop because you already got most of what you can get, or does it make sense to continue because it shows that you are already on 10% of the way towards the actually awesome things

Actually, my experience has been that dropping meditation is like dropping exercise: the benefits go away after a while. (It might not be 100% true as I think there might be some lasting benefit to having learned how much nonsense my brain generates from an experience perspective vs. just knowing it in the abstract. But I'd be hard-pressed to tell if that's true, as I don't have a control group for myself. ;-) )

Then I tried the kind of meditation when you count the breath and try to not-do the internal monologue. And I learned how to turn off the internal monologue. An interesting thing, to learn a new mental move, but that's it.

How odd. I never learned to reliably turn off internal monologue during meditation, let alone everyday life. How long did that take you?

To be clear, I often experienced cessation of internal speech during meditation, but not because of any ability to do so on purpose. It just happened sometimes, in the same way my centeredness just started happening and hung around until a while after I stopped meditating regularly.

My own metaphor for meditation is that it's like the mental equivalent of physical exercise: I get general mental health benefits from a regular practice, but motivation for it is often difficult because the benefits take time to show up and are subtle at first. And dropping out of the habit is easy because the benefits linger a while after you stop.

if you already can relax, stop your internal monologue, and generate some pleasant feelings, does it make sense to stop because you already got most of what you can get

Yeah, that's the part that doesn't make sense to me since I didn't get any of those things as independent skills from meditating. Rather, I got them in the same way that physical exercise helps people relax or have pleasant feelings if they do enough of it. Nowadays I mix my meditation and physical exercise by doing Tai Chi so I can be more time-efficient. ;-)

(Well, not really, tai chi moves are often meditative in feel, but I haven't been doing actual on-purpose meditation during it. But that might actually be an effect booster, so now I'm tempted to actually try it.)

Two Prosocial Rejection Norms

"Would you like to talk for a bit? Please say no if you'd actually prefer doing something else, and I'm cool with that. I only wish to hang out if it's mutually beneficial. :)"

I would say that a non-socially-anxious person would never say all of that, maybe not even the "Would you like to talk for a bit?" part. And that many people would respond with suspicion to the doth-protest-too-much-methinks length of your communication. (And other socially anxious or neurotic people may respond by internal agonizing over whether they are correctly evaluating the mutual beneficialness of a conversation, or the specifics of their own preferences!)

Just from an information coding perspective, the length of this utterance communicates, "I consider this to be a complicated circumstance requiring extra care in order not to go badly" -- let alone any other nonverbal communication that might be coming along with it. This will put a lot of people on edge, even if they're not sure why at first.

...I'm somehow stating a self-deception out loud?

The self-deception would be something along the lines of, "If I state things in the right way, I won't be a bad person or deserve to be rejected if they don't want to talk with me." (Or be a bad person who forced someone to explicitly reject me.)

Part of the self-deception here is that introducing yourself by giving other people rules to follow is more than a little rude and entitled, especially as you are asking them to expose their true inner state to you. (I mean, if they're from a Guess culture you're metaphorically asking them to show you their underwear... and by asking I mean demanding, because in Guess culture explicit asking equals demanding.)

So, the external part of the self-deception is, "I am making a demand for you to follow my rules for interaction, but you are not allowed to disagree or protest it, because my earnest disclaimer will make it seem like you're the one who's being rude or mean if you object or express upset in any way."

That is, "I am going to act like I'm being generous and magnanimous in catering to whatever your object-level desires may be, while completely ignoring any issues you might have about communicating them to me, because how I appear to myself/others is more important to me than how you'd like to appear to yourself/others in this interaction." (And so I might also be setting you up for some sort of no-win social framing attack, no matter what you answer.)

I'm not sure if this is clearly communicating what I mean. The part I am tagging "self-deception" in the outward expression is the part where you are creating a social frame where you can be the offended party/in the right, even though what you are doing is actually pretty demanding and potentially quite offensive in the very act of stating such a "disclaimer".

If you were intentionally doing it as a social attack, then it wouldn't be self-deceptive. It's self-deceptive in the part where you're sincerely believing you're being polite or considerate or whatever, despite the whole thing being about protecting you from having negative opinions of yourself, and not really about consideration for the other person at all, except insofar as the appearance of doing so lets you feel better.

(Because if you really cared what they thought, vs. how it would reflect on you, you might consider the part where you're imposing rules and demanding legibility from someone who might not like doing either of those things, or that even if they normally do prefer being legible or having clear rules for an interaction, it doesn't necessarily mean they want to be suddenly pressured into it by a relative stranger without getting any say of their own about what they're willing to be legible about, or which rules they're willing to follow.)

How to be skeptical about meditation/Buddhism

Seems to describe "meditation" as a single thing with exact predictions in the books.

This is precisely what I find weird about this. When I first studied Zen, the book I read listed four different basic techniques, and that's just Zen! (A lot of early meditation studies were also on TM, which is mantra-based. I think modern studies of meditation, however, are now more focused on "mindfulness" rather than meditation per se, and that mindfulness may in fact be more precisely defined than "meditation" in its full generality, since there are meditation practices aimed at other things -- such as compassion, for example.)

A long time ago I read about an EEG study of the effects of different meditation on the meditator's response to unexpected stimuli, and remember how one type of meditation made people's EEG not show any response, and another had them appear to briefly notice the sound and then return to the meditative state, vs. how an non-experienced meditator's brain would stay active and have difficulty settling back down after an interrupting sound.

That seems to suggest that different meditative practices have differing long-term effects, but since I don't recall any details of the study I can't really say more on that point. (In particular I'm wondering about sample sizes - I don't think they were large.)

FWIW, Zen masters also generally suggest different meditation techniques depending on whether you just want to improve your concentration (or other secular/individual benefits) vs. doing it for religious reasons or to attain enlightenment.

That being said, I did the secular-recommended kind (counting breaths) for a while when I was younger and nonetheless experienced some altered states, as well as some increased confidence or centeredness or... not really sure how to describe it. One of the altered states was a weird sense of compassion for everything in my apartment, such that I felt sorry for the dirty dishes and so I cleaned them. That only happened once, though. The other kind of altered state was the sense that everything was alright in the world and that I was a part of it. That happened a couple of times.

Anyway, I think it's hard to argue that meditation of almost any sort can't induce altered states. The question is more which states and whether they're good or bad for you. Zen literature basically says to ignore them either way, even if they make you feel like you could fly or have psychic superpowers, or conversely if they make you think you're being attacked by demons. This seems to imply there's a pretty good chance of unpleasant altered states if you stick with it long enough, and it's also implied in a lot of meditation literature that if you keep going then the positive and negative hallucinations will stop and things get better generally, but I never meditated long enough to get either kind of hallucination, unless you count feeling part of everything or compassionate for everything as a hallucination rather than an attitude adjustment. ;-)

Two Prosocial Rejection Norms

To be clearer, I'm not saying to use any of the things I said as strategies or tactics. I'm more saying that if one is not trying to get anything from people and doesn't feel themselves unworthy of receiving, then it feels more natural to interact in ways that don't invite rejection and don't put other people on the spot.

Statements are often veiled invitations or requests

Exactly my point: IME social anxiety is correlated with a craving for acceptance or interaction that makes the statement a veiled invitation or request, and no amount of verbal disclaimers will fix that. Verbal disclaimers are just stating out loud the self-deception attempts taking place in the speaker's mind, and the dissonance will be felt by the listener.

If it seems like I'm basically saying, "don't bother trying to create norms to help social anxiety because nothing will help until you fix the (underlying cause of the) social anxiety", then yeah, that's pretty much what I'm saying.

Two Prosocial Rejection Norms

Maybe I'm being overly literal in this, but my first reaction to the chart of various fears is that the concept of asking to be friends is hugely underspecified. Like, what is the ask-ee committing to if they agree? ISTM that most of the problems in the chart are solved by replacing "let's be friends" with "Want to do (friendly activity)?" and iterating until friendship is achieved. This seems to fix problems 1-3 at the least, and maybe 4 as well.

Also, the frame of asking someone to be your friend seems wrong too. If, for example, you enjoy someone's company, why not just say that? There's nothing to "reject" in that case, just as the case for invitation to friendly activities. (Because turning down an invitation doesn't imply rejection of the inviter, so none of the fears or meta-fears really apply.)

Again, maybe I'm viewing this the wrong way, but the combination of this frame with the underspecified request itself seems like it practically invites rejection and all the meta-fears thereof.

From the bits of work I've done in the past with people with various social anxieties, a common theme is actually the person wanting not just to not be rejected, but actually wanting to be validated by other people... which does tend to result in over-asking and underconfident framing.

The anxious person is less likely to say something like, "Oh, you're cool, let's do X" because in their mind they are trying to get something rather than believing or feeling they have something to offer. The solution usually lies in addressing whatever issue created the need for external validation and/or the sense they have nothing to offer.

How to be skeptical about meditation/Buddhism

I'm curious about the framing here, as it seems to imply that there exists some group of people trying to analyze "buddhism" or "meditation" as if they were single things. Given that there's what, a dozen divergent schools of Buddhism alone (including various flavors and spinoffs of Zen), each containing a multitude of meditation techniques, lore, practices, etc., this seems like a really odd thing to do, compared to e.g. "this particular meditation practice X can be expected to produce/not produce result Y".

Only Asking Real Questions

if the adult reserves the right to make the final decision, doesn't that imply disbelief in the child's ability to make it?

No. The trust is that the child is capable of learning and growing to ultimately take care of themselves, not a belief that the child currently has all the information, skill, or wisdom needed to make decisions for their own or the family's long-term good.

The thing that doesn't work is that when parents try to micromanage children's behavior and development in a way that puts responsibility on the child, the message is, "you're broken and I have to constantly fix you or you're going to wind up defective." Like, an awful lot of stuff adults do sort of presuppose that the child is never going to learn from their own mistakes or the consequences of their actions (let alone the example of others), and therefore have to be explicitly told things. Or they presuppose that a child being focused on short-term things means they will never improve their time horizon and must be constantly nagged about future concerns.

The people described in the Continuum Concept don't do this kind of thing. They basically assume that children will grow up to be wise and responsible adults, without any need for explicit teaching or management by adults. They provide learning opportunities (toy bows and food processing tools) but do not nag the children to practice. And if they need to tell the kids what to do, they don't act like this is something the kids are supposed to know or want to do already, or to blame for not doing.

(The way of reconciling those that comes to my mind would be something like "trust that children are doing their best and acting out of sensible motives, even if they don't yet have enough knowledge and cognitive capability to reliably arrive at the right decisions".)

This still feels orthogonal to the real thing to me. Partly, this is because the CC's description of how decision-making works is that they consider that a child who asserts a thing is old enough to make that decision. In the absence of any micromanagement or pressure to appear more mature than they are, this assumption works.

A big part of what happens, I think, in that environment, is that their children grow up with an unconditional sense of belonging and acceptance. A lot of talk about the Continuum Concept tends to focus on the part where children are constantly held and carried, from birth on, and never put down or left alone, until they want to crawl or walk. And they're not just carried by parents, but by siblings, cousins, any random person more or less, all of whom are visibly happy to be interacting with them.

A kid growing up with that is not operating at a deficit of approval, so while they may want to grow up as quickly as possible, they have no need to fake a higher level of maturity than they actually have -- a child who diligently practices the bow will get no more approval or acceptance than the one who does it randomly and sporadically as the mood moves them. The adults will not pay any particular attention one way or the other.

In modern child-rearing, there is nearly always something a child can immediately gain by faking a greater maturity level than they actually have -- often because the adults themselves will feel rewarded by their children's apparently-improved behavior or performance.

So the thing that I am trying to point at here is that "non-coercive" seems broken and wrong to me because it still seems to me to imply the goal is to somehow make something happen to the child, vs. an approach of say, "benign indifference" or "Genuinely Not Giving A F*ck". The CC describes adults who are not in the least bit absorbed by the question of how their kids will turn out, and have difficulty understanding why the author is asking such dumb questions about how they raise their kids. They're like, you carry them until they can carry themselves, and then they figure it out for themselves from there. Like, "duh".

That's what I mean by trusting: it's not that they believe children are already adults, but that they believe that growing up is something kids learn, not something adults teach. Modern discussions of raising children, OTOH, nearly always seem to assume there's something adults have to do to turn children into Real People, whereas the CC folks believe children are already Real People who just happen to be temporarily embarrassed by being short, ignorant, and not particularly wise, and thus need some seasoning, but will of course start volunteering for progressively more important responsibilities as soon as they feel ready. (And they trust them to also back off if it turns out they're not as ready, or to gradually titrate up how much of a thing they do.)

If anything, I would call this "non-interventionist" rather than "non-coercive", as it doesn't matter whether intervention is framed in coercive or non-coercive terms. Or to put it in LW-dialect, they don't believe in "other-optimizing" their kids.

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