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.


Why aren't we all using Taffix?

So how do you get it in the US? Searching for Taffix on amazon (.com) brings up various unrelated nasal sanitizer products that are basically just alcohol, and amazon (.co.uk) says they can't ship to the US.

Info on the package (at amazon (.co.uk)) indicates the ingredients are:

  • Hypromellose (HPMC powder) (89.9%)
  • Citric Acid (6%)
  • Sodium Citrate (4%)
  • Benzalkonium Chloride (0.1%)
  • Menthol (<0.1%)

But it's not clear how you might make your own from that, nor which ingredients are most critical. Benzalkonium Chloride is described by Wikipedia as a biocide, so that might be important.

Covid 2/25: Holding Pattern

Yes, apparently death is the right answer, either way. ;-)

“PR” is corrosive; “reputation” is not.

It assumes a level of charity and sophistication in the people you’re appealing to.

And that statement assumes you're trying to do PR instead of acting with honor. Having integrity isn't about whether you're appealing to people, but whether you're willing to stick to your principles even when they're not appealing to people.

I think the point of this article was that, the very moment you've chosen "always appealing to people" as your goal, you've already lost. (And it rather seems to point towards a reason for the current moral bankruptcy of corporations and political parties, these days.)

Notes on Forgiveness

you can just stop focusing on the whole thing, without pushing yourself into some forced "forgiving"

"just stop focusing on the whole thing" is like "just stop being depressed". If you're in the mode described here, it doesn't work. Any reminder of the thing will return you to stewing, for years or decades. It doesn't stop until your brain stops thinking of it as an offense that needs to be punished.

As I said above, taboo "forgiving". The word is noise and distraction, it refers to too many things. The one tiny useful slice of what it more or less means is the part where you let go of being "in the right" about the matter, stop believing on the emotional level that the other party deserves to be hurt for what they did.

On clinging

The Work of Byron Katie is a tool specifically aimed at clinging of the counterfactual or moral judgment varieties. (For more interpersonal stuff, there's also her book, "I need your love... is that true?" which is about clinging to needs for love, approval, praise, etc.)

The huge difference between the Work and most other approaches to mental attachments is that it's procedural, testable, and fast -- i.e. minutes rather than "just keep trying". Learning to use the technique takes time, despite its essential simplicity, but that is more than made up for by the number of things you can use it on once you have it down.

That being said, understanding what's in this post (not to mention the Litanies) is very helpful for entering the Work with the right mindset. (i.e. willingness to discover what the actual truth of a thought is)

Notes on Forgiveness

My take: "forgiveness" is a big confused word that applies to lots of things and isn't terribly useful.

The thing that is useful that sometimes gets called "forgiveness" (or thought of as part of it) is the part where you stop thinking someone shouldn't have done something, or that they should have done something else.

Most concepts of forgiveness (and related concepts in this article) assume that ceasing to churn over a counterfactual also means that you don't take action against the "guilty" party. But this is not necessarily true.

If it's strategically wise to punish someone for defecting, then it will continue to be wise whether you experience the emotion of a grudge or not. But instead of feeling compelled to action, one can consider the decision with less bias in a particular direction.

Another assumption often made is that keeping a grudge has benefits. As summarized in this article, one view holds that keeping a grudge allows you to remember something, treat it as important, and be more aware of our values.

And all three of these ideas are complete rubbish.

First, removing a grudge does not change your ability to remember what happened, or act on pattern recognition. Quite the opposite in fact, since we can think more resourcefully and consider a broader range of options when not under the influence of a grudge.

Second, saying that grudges help you treat something as important is a circular argument, as it presupposes that treating the thing as important is important, no matter how unimportant it might actually be if you didn't have the grudge. As the story goes of the woman who didn't like peas: "I'm glad I don't like peas, because if I liked them, I might eat them, and I don't want to eat them, because I don't like them!"

In truth, the only thing that grudges support the importance of, is themselves... and they do so distinct from whatever actual grievance or problem might need addressing. A grudge is an insistence that reality should have been different than it was, while a grievance or problem represents a desire to change something in the present and future. Dropping the grudge merely acknowledges the truth about the current state of affairs, rather than continuing to "rehearse" the past. It doesn't magically make any existent problem disappear or become unimportant, it merely removes a perceptual bias from your thinking about the current state of things.

Third, and finally, grudges do not help you become more aware of your values or avoid doing bad things. They might affect which bad things you do, though: holding a grudge inclines you to moral license regarding the subject of your grudge, or to increase your sense of entitledness generally.

In short, all three ideas are confusion and rationalization -- and grudges are the king of rationalization generators. A grudge will do almost anything to sustain itself, and rationalizing reasons why grudges are good is only the beginning.

Map-Territory Confusion

Of course, these ideas also reflect confusion: people routinely equate their grudges (maps) with their grievances (territory). A grievance is "this thing happened, and I need to do something about it." A grudge is, "this thing never should have happened, and somebody must be punished". The two are actually mutually exclusive, in the sense of mental experiences, but in the grudge state we tend to assume that giving up the grudge equals giving up on taking action: that if the grudge did not exist, it would be bad because someone is going to get away without being punished for their badness.

This is why instructions on forgiveness are so convoluted and complicated. People think "forgive" means to forego corrective action, but this is not necessary in order to gain the emotional and health benefits. Instead, all that is required is to stop being in the "denial, anger and bargaining" stage that one is surrounding the loss.

Our grievances are losses. They are things that actually happened and had an impact. But our grudges are actually a kind of angry, bargaining denial: we feel that if only we can punish somebody enough, then somehow our original loss will be canceled out, and balance restored to the universe.

In effect, a grudge is a stuck form of grief. We have not yet acknowledged the loss, and are trying to make it "not count". This is a significant distraction from actually moving forward with one's life (including addressing or redressing the loss), because it is focused on punishment instead of practicalities.

In the modern environment, more often than not there is almost no benefit to punishing people as an individual. Most of the entities that inspire our grudges are large corporations we have no real ability to punish, or else they are people being Wrong On The Internet. In neither case will our instinct to punish someone actually serve us well. Yelling at the rep or flaming the trolls might make us feel momentarily better, but it won't improve our actual circumstances, which would be better served by strategic action, rather than instinctual action.

(And, better yet, when you let go of the instinct to punish, you more often than not find that it was not actually something very important in the grand scheme of things, or that at least you have better things you could be doing with your time.)

Better Ways To Forgive

Early on in my self-help research and experimentation, I discovered that forgiving myself for things that happened to me when I was younger often had a profound impact on my self-esteem and subsequent behavior. (I released some of those early results in a workshop dubbed "Instant Self-Esteem".)

After some experiments with other people, though, I came to realize that my definition of "forgiveness" was vague, and I often had to use descriptions like, "just let it go, like you're literally dropping the baggage".

Since then, I found the Work of Byron Katie, which is a much more precisely targeted process with much higher repeatability than my vague instructions or those of the nine-step process mentioned in this article. It's fast, it's simple, and it's teachable. (It's also being studied by psychologists under the name MBSR: Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, even though IMO the mindfulness part seems more like fashionable branding than anything else; you do have to be mindful to do it, but you have to be mindful to do almost anything else that changes things, so it's not a very useful name.)

Beyond that, the Work is a generally useful Ritual For Actually Changing One's Mind. As its creator describes, it's not about letting go of your thoughts, but getting your thoughts to let go of you. For LWers, I suggest also reviewing my notes on doing the Work as they provide a more reductionistic view of certain steps in the process that may be more comprehensible than the sometimes vague or woo-ish sounding descriptions in other sources.

I would also encourage LWers to entirely taboo the concept of "forgiveness" and instead simply consider whether they are rehashing the same experiences over and over while experiencing anger, suffering, or the desire to see some kind of "justice" (i.e. punishment) done. If this is the case, you can probably benefit from a bit of mental surgery to remove the grudge, as it will restore a state where you can consider your options and weigh your values without the giant finger-on-the-scale that is the grudge monster screaming "Bad! Shouldn't happen! Must Punish!" in your ear 24/7.

(Especially since for many people, the #1 person the grudge monster wants to punish is themselves.)

Grudges As Moral Wireheading

In the years since my first experiments with forgiveness, I belive I've tabooed the idea for long enough that I can define the essential concept in a more reductionist way.

Specifically, a grudge is rooted in the idea of "things you believe mean someone deserves to be treated badly for".

Or, to reduce it further: the source of a grudge is a belief that an act grants moral righteousness to those who treat the actor badly.

It's not enough that the bad treatment might be useful as a deterrent, or balance the scales of fairness, or serve as an example to others.

Rather, the thing that makes a grudge is the sense of vindication and moral elevation attached to the idea of treating someone badly!

What the Work helps people do, is stop believing that a particular rule or idea they've learned about how people "should" behave, is actually a blessing of righteousness on the idea of treating people badly.

And that's why it generates self-justifying circular reasoning: the brain wants the "high" to continue, and correctly predicts that giving up the grudge will lead to a state with fewer righteousness-hedons in play... and then since that seems to be a self-evidently worse state, it then searches for reasons to explain why it would be bad to give up the grudge. (While avoiding admitting that it has anything to do with the sweet, sweet virtue-signalling that's going on.)

So this is something that (IMO) every rationalist needs to understand. If you are operating on a grudge, you are in a state of moral wireheading. Your brain is high on being, not just right, but also in the right, and downright righteous.

And this will distort and twist your reasoning like nobody's business. Power corrupts, and this is one of the ways it does so: a grudge feels like it's granting you power and authority.

And in a way, it is.

Where This Instinct Comes From

In the ancestral environment, enforcing a tribal standard would be virtue signalling of the highest order: you're taking a risk, or forgoing the rewards you could get by not doing so (so it's a costly signal), and so you're showing that you're both fit enough to get away with it, and you're loyal to the tribe's values. Win win!

So our instincts have evolved to treat such situations as an opportunity: our brain makes us feel good, and powerful/status-ful at the same time.

(It's probably a big reason why people have more and more outrage these days over ever-smaller things: we have few other opportunities in modern life to feel righteous, vindicated, and powerful!)

But this feeling, like our desire for sugar, is not terribly helpful to follow in the modern era. As modern life becomes ever more complex with ever-more-stringent standards for behavior, it becomes ever easier to reach for the outrage drug, while the health side effects of being stressed all the time slowly add up.

More important for the rationalist, being high on righteousness is an absolutely lousy mental state for actually considering the possibility that, you know...

You might be wrong.

And that's a rationalist "sin" of the highest order.

(Just don't think that that means you "deserve" to be punished... or if you do, then forgive yourself, and move on.)

Confirmation Bias in Action

On a personal level, this means that will not be able to accept something as true until you have a basic idea of what you would do if that was true.

The fourth question of The Work is: "Who would you be without that thought?", intended to provoke a near-mode, concrete prediction of what your life would be like if you were not thinking/believing the thought in question.

Which is to say that it is also hard to accept something is not true until you have a basic idea of what you would do if it were false. ;-)

Also, the energy model presented in this article is, I think, a very good one. The idea that we reject new models unless they're comprehensively better, yet continue using old ones until they can be comprehensively disproven, is an apt description of the core difficulties in Actually Changing One's Mind at the level of emotional "knowledge" and assumptions.

I also like the hierarchical processing part -- it'll give me another tool to explain why changing general beliefs and patterns of behavior requires digging into details of experience, and provides a good intuition pump for seeing why you can't just "decide" to think differently and have it work, if the belief in question is a predictive or evaluative alief, rather than just a verbal profession to others.

just_browsing's Shortform

Yeah, it seems that the desire to write is tied is often tied to a desire to explain things, it's just that our past self is usually the first person we want to explain things to. ;-) We could think of it as being like a pressure differential of knowledge, where you need a lower-pressure area for your knowledge to overflow into. Having a mental model of a person who needs to know, but doesn't, then feels like an opportunity to relieve the sudden pressure differential. ;-)

In principle, I suppose imagining that person might also work if you can model such a person well enough in your mind.

just_browsing's Shortform

This isn't a direct answer to your question, but what I've personally found is that if I want to get re-excited about a topic that has already passed that critical period, the best thing to do is find people either asking questions about it or Being Wrong On The Internet about it, so that then I want to explain or rant about it again. ;-)

How do I improve at being strategic?
Answer by pjebyJan 22, 202110

In my experience, the number one obstacle to strategic thinking is that people tend to confuse their impulses to virtue signaling with their actual goals. People tend to be very strategic about actual terminal goals: that is, things they genuinely desire, in the same way as one might desire ice cream when hungry, or air while drowning.

So my go-to tactic for helping someone to be more strategic is to test their desire: can they actually experience the in-the-torso feelings that are strongly correlated with desire and pleasure, when thinking about the goal?

If not, they probably do not have a terminal outcome that is actually desired, and instead are being confused by their brain's attempt to signal virtue, solve a perceived problem, or reduce cognitive dissonance.

(By "signal virtue", btw, I don't just mean conspicuous displays of morality, but also things like following in parents' footsteps or trying to live up to the expectations of others, trying to justify one's existence or purpose, and rather a wide variety of other weird things brains do to promote or maintain perceived self-worth and/or social standing.)

Anyway, when humans appear (in my biased sample of experiences) to not be being consciously strategic, it is generally because they are being unconsciously strategic about achieving an entirely different goal than the one they believe they're trying to achieve. And the goal they consciously believe they're seeking is in fact the result of their brain's strategic planning, rather than the input to another round of such planning.

The ultimate goal of such things is usually "to be a good, worthy, lovable person who visibly cares about the right things according to the value system(s) I have internalized".

Such goals, however, seem to run on different hardware than practical, desire-based goals. And if the non-desire-based goal is based on an idea that one "should" be a particular way, then it becomes virtually impossible to trigger the desire-based machinery at all.

(Because it is very hard to feel desire for something you believe you're already supposed to have done, had, or been.)

So.... if you want to be practically strategic, the very first step is to make sure you know what you want and why you want it. If the real goal cannot be defined in terms of a concrete observable outcome in external reality, that you can actually physically feel some form of pleasure at the idea of attaining (vs. merely feeling an anxious need to have), there is little point in going forward with any strategic planning, because strategic planning and social signalling tend to be mutually incompatible.

(Because our "desire to signal" wants to make our signalling-driven desires appear "honest", i.e. that they're not being done in order to signal.)

This makes it difficult to notice at first glance when we're doing so, so the desire test (aka the "mmmm" test", as in, "can you think about this in a way that makes you sound like you're enjoying yourself?") is a hack to work around this potential for self-deception. Our signaling desires seem to be injected on a different subsystem of the brain (maybe by rewarding certain directions of thought directly?) than the one that is used to pursue tangible desires like food or mates.

Food and mates make our mouths water or bellies rumble. Rest and safety make us go "ahhh" and relax. All of these pleasurable feelings arise from tangible goals, and motivate us to actually pursue them.

This one insight is, in my experience, worth a thousand abstract treatises on planning or decision-making. If you try to apply such ideas while actually pursuing a goal to virtue-signal, resolve cognitive dissonance, or fight something that seems "wrong", you're virtually guaranteed to use them in ways that will subtly sabotage any real action. (See, for example, all the vaccine distribution issues stemming from virtue signaling -- we are not immune to doing this sort of thing just because we label ourselves rationalists.)

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