Richard Meadows

Richard Meadows's Comments

Propagating Facts into Aesthetics

Slightly meta: I'd love to see more LW posts along these lines! It wasn't until reading Sarah's post that I even realised that aesthetics matter; I've been thinking about it ever since, and I'd nominate it for the review if I could.

A common criticism of rationality/LW is that it is an aesthetic-based identity movement. I think this is true, but not necessarily a bad thing. Paul Graham's advice makes sense for politics, but he overstated the case: in my experience, 'trying on' new identities is a much better strategy for nudging the elephant in a desirable direction than attempting to convince it through reasoned argument.

I've noticed that some of the most useful identities to adopt are based around beauty/aesthetics (or screening out 'ugliness'). A simple example: I used to feel a tiny bit embarrassed for being so drawn to minimalism, as a lifestyle and as a design philosophy. The severe white apartments and Swedish furniture etc seem so masturbatory, but... I kind of like that sort of thing!

Now I notice that reducing visual clutter has a surprisingly large effect on my mood and productivity[1], and also reflects values that are important to me (frugality, conscious consumerism). Aesthetics are never entirely divorced from underlying value systems, so it makes sense that values shape your sense of style. The weird part is that it goes both ways: you can also create or adopt aesthetics that nudge your underlying value system!

I don't know if this strays into Dark Arts territory or whatever, but my wild hare-brained speculation is that playing with embodiment, identity, aesthetics, and other bottom-up cues that speak directly to the elephant might generate some interesting new breakthroughs in rationality (or post-rationality, or whatever you want to call it).


[1] Related: the entire field of environmental psychology, the extended mind thesis, JBP's 'clean your room' schtick.

Meetup Notes: Ole Peters on ergodicity

Thanks for taking the time to delve into this!

You note that expected utility with a risk-averse utility function is sufficient to make appropriate choices [in those particular scenarios].

This is a slight tangent, but I'm curious to what extent you think people actually follow something that approximates this utility function in real life? It seems like some gamblers instinctively use a strategy of this nature (e.g. playing with house money) or explicitly run the numbers (e.g. the Kelly criterion). And I doubt that anyone is dumb enough to keep betting their entire bankroll on a positive EV bet until they inevitably go bust.

But in other cases (like retirement planning, as you mentioned) a lot of people really do seem to make the mistake of relying on ensemble-average probabilities. Some of them will get burned, with much more serious consequences than merely making a silly bet at the casino.

I guess what I'm asking is: even if Peters et al are wrong about expected utility, do you think they're right about the dangers of failing to understand ergodicity?

Open & Welcome Thread - October 2019

Question/feature request: does cross-posting automatically add a canonical URL element pointing to the original content? If not, would it be possible to do so? (Google doesn't necessarily penalise duplicate content, but it does effect search rankings etc.)

The Zettelkasten Method

Not the OP, but as someone who uses both: in my mind, they're categorically different. Anki is for memorisation of discrete chunks of knowledge, for rote responses (i.e. deliberately Cached Thoughts), and for periodic reminders of things.

Zettelkasten helps with information retention too, but that's mostly a happy side-effect of the desired goal, which (for me) is synthesis. Every time I input a new chunk of knowledge, I have to decide where I should 'hang' it in my existing graph, what it rhymes with, whether it creates dissonance, and how it might be useful to current or future projects.

Once it's hanging in the lattice somewhere, I can reference and remix it as often as I want, and effectively have a bunch of building blocks ready and waiting to stack together for writing projects or problem-solving. It's fine if I can't remember most of this stuff in detail; it's much more of an 'exo-brain' than Anki, IMO.

The Zettelkasten Method

Excellent write-up!

Anecdatum: I got into Zettelkasten before I knew what it was called after reading a post by Ryan Holiday circa 2013 (he recommends physical cards and slip boxes, too). It's profoundly improved my writing, my ability to retain information, and synthesis of new ideas, even though I was doing it 'wrong' or sub-optimally most of that time.

In terms of systems: I always thought using paper index cards was bonkers, given we have these newfangled things called 'computers', but your post makes a much more compelling case than anything else I've read (including the Smart Notes book, which is very good). So I'm pretty curious to give it a try.

My only major reservation is around portability and security. At this point, my (digital) slip-box is literally the single most valuable thing I own. I know Ryan Holiday uses fireproof safes etc, but it seems like it would get pretty cumbersome, especially once you have tens of thousands of notes.

I've been helping Conor and Josh out with Roam because I'm excited about the power-user features, but I'm pretty confident that any practice of this nature would be beneficial to students, researchers, and writers. Prior to Roam, I was using a mixture of Google Docs, Evernote, etc, which wasn't optimal, but still worked OK.

An important point you touched on which is worth stressing: the benefits of Zettelkasten accrue in a non-linear fashion over time, as the graph becomes more connected. So even if you 'get it' as soon as you start playing around with the cards, you could reasonably expect to reap much greater gains over a timespan of months or years (at least, that's my experience!).

How do you learn foreign language vocabulary, beyond Anki?

For simple nouns and verbs, you could use pictures as the prompt? I find this really helpful for building memorable associations, and helps me 'taboo' English on the flashcards.

Another suggestion is to add some kind of personal connection or mnemonic device. I haven't used this myself, but it's recommended in a book called Fluent Forever, which is all about learning languages through spaced repetition.

How to Understand and Mitigate Risk

I think I get you now, thanks. Not sure if this is exactly right, but one is proactive (preparing for known stressors) and one is reactive (response to unexpected stressors).

How to Understand and Mitigate Risk

Strong upvoted. This is a great overview, thanks for putting it together! I'm going to be coming back to this again for sure.

Note that Effectuation and Antifragility explicitly trade off against each other. Antifragility trades away certainty for flexibility while Effectuation does the opposite.

Can you say more about this? You mention that effectuation involves "shift[ing] the rules such that the risks were no longer downsides", but that looks a lot like hormesis/antifragility to me. The lemonade principle in particular feels like straight-up antifragility (unexpected events/stressors are actually opportunities for growth).

Meditations on Momentum

Thanks for the feedback - much appreciated! I agree that the end isn't well supported (at least, in the post). I write for a general audience who want clear, actionable takeaways. If I cross-post something in the future, I'll think about editing it more heavily to fit the LW norms (i.e. explain rather than persuade).

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