Sorted by New

Wiki Contributions


How do you write original rationalist essays?

This doesn't really answer the core question about deliberate effort. University education is pretty hit and miss in terms of teaching you how to write well, most people who graduated with a philosophy bachelor's probably can't write like Paul Graham. Scott improving over time might also be just a matter of him liking to write and compulsively writing a lot and thinking about his writing, without ever really making a complex training for improving or putting particular effort into focusing on writing when he would rather be doing something else. Also, he already had his whole medical degree that was a thing you put actual effort into even if you don't feel like it going on at the same time.

To spell it out in more detail, right now I don't actually know if the "maybe I don't really feel like doing this right now but if I make myself do deliberate practice on it every day I will eventually be great" default script works at all. The feeling I get from the Paul Graham essay and from Scott's Lottery of fascinations is that in a power distribution environment on an open-ended task (science, business, essay-writing, yes, chess, tennis, violin-playing, no) the people who end up as the visible top talent have some significant degree of inherent effortlessness in how they practice the thing everyone's trying to be good at.

If you're looking at things from the viewpoint where you see the top of the power distribution, "I want to learn how to write essays like Paul Graham and Scott Alexander", and you assume you can get there with deliberate effort when you don't have the significant initial effortlessness, the first question to ask is if this is even possible, and the mainstream "just believe in yourself" middlebrow culture really doesn't want this question to be asked.

More generally, I'm poking at a general pattern where the implicit idea of "you could do it if you just expended more effort" for any value of "it" is a broken mental pattern without the sort of nonobvious caveats I was just spelling out, and swallowing it as is can lead to lots of mental unwellness where it starts transforming into "you are feeling bad because you haven't hurt yourself enough yet".

How do you write original rationalist essays?

You seem to be asking how you can deliberately and effortfully practice your writing. Did Scott and Paul Graham get to where they are by deliberately and effortfully practicing their writing? Are there people like them who did? One thing that has stuck in my mind from an old Paul Graham essay:

One of the most dangerous illusions you get from school is the idea that doing great things requires a lot of discipline. Most subjects are taught in such a boring way that it's only by discipline that you can flog yourself through them. So I was surprised when, early in college, I read a quote by Wittgenstein saying that he had no self-discipline and had never been able to deny himself anything, not even a cup of coffee.

No, really, can "dead" time be salvaged?

With the urgency entailed by extinction risks etc., “just chilling” during dead time can (for many of us) feel undoable.

I've been reading attitudes like this a lot in the existential risk prevention subculture for pretty much as long as I've been aware of it and it's basically made me write the whole thing off as something that's for people who are wired very differently than I am, or just generally a bad scene.

I think my reaction is some mix of a starting intuition of this always-on 24/7 thing being unsustainable for pretty much everyone, but a thing that's being postured about a lot, and that the people who fully buy into it and go ahead to burn out and get chronic depression for their trouble are selected for having neither personal understanding nor live cultural folkways informing them what long-term sustainable ways of life look like. It then sounds like a bad idea to get involved with something where your social environment will consist of people like this.

Book Review: The End of Average

On the other hand, human measurements, IQ results and personality test results like the MBTI are not! I was surprised by this because I thought IQ was a measure of general intelligence. But Rose is adamant that intelligence is discontinuous, and shows two profiles of women who score identical at the WAIS test but have completely different results at the sub-tests.

So am I understanding this correctly, the book says that the general intelligence factor doesn't exist? That sounds like a pretty big claim, given that the concept has received quite a bit of scrutiny and still seems to have emerged with psychologists having a consensus that yes, it really is a thing. Does it cite any supporting literature with similarly broad conclusions (not just "we got weird results from this one test" like the example you mentioned but "based on this it looks like the whole g-factor thing might be toast") or is this just the author claiming it?

Whole Brain Emulation: No Progress on C. elgans After 10 Years

There is no indication for any reason that the workings of consciousness should obey any intuitions we may have about it.

The mind is an evolved system out to do stuff efficiently, not just a completely inscrutable object of philosophical analysis. It's likelier that the parts like sensible cognition and qualia and the subjective feeling of consciousness are coupled and need each other to work than that they were somehow intrinsically disconnected and cognition could go on as usual without subjective consciousness using anything close to the same architecture. If that were the case, we'd have the additional questions of how consciousness evolved to be a part of the system to begin with and why hasn't it evolved out of living biological humans.

What to read instead of news?

Fanfiction. Top-rated fics from spacebattles and sufficientvelocity are a good starting point.

[Book review] Gödel, Escher, Bach: an in-depth explainer

It may be interesting to read the ancient slashdot thread from where I first learned about GEB to see what the buzz around it was like 20 years ago.

[Book review] Gödel, Escher, Bach: an in-depth explainer

I feel like GEB has been diminished a bit by its own success. People reading it nowadays might go "what's the big deal?" A big theme is how the mind can be a machine and still do stupid stuff, which had to be spelled out in the 70s but has pretty much permeated the relevant subcultures these days. And of course Hofstadter didn't know a clear recipe for an actual AGI, so the speculative parts on that were left at the level of intriguing handwaving.

Why didn't we find katas for rationality?

I think it's an issue of "inside the box" vs "open-ended" fields, that we don't have really good vocabulary to talk about. 'Katas' work great for sports that are very much inside the box. You can innovate new strategies, but the rules of the sport set up an unchanging microworld that you must stay inside of. Coincidentally, these are also areas where even current-day AIs often dominate. Established scientific disciplines with research programs are sort of half and half. You can train people in them, but they can also benefit from serious paradigm shifts and there aren't any a priori hard and fast rules about things that absolutely can't be done, like the rules of chess for the chess-playing domain.

Then there's proto-science when things haven't coalesced into a discipline yet, philosophy when it hasn't been professionalized to death, Kegan's stage 5. This is raw pattern matching, flashes of insight, original seeing, very open ended exploration of an unknown landscape. I don't think anyone has had much of an idea for how to systematically train people for this. This place is also where a lot of the actually efficient rationality practice lives.

Review of A Map that Reflects the Territory

So, somewhat inconsequential stylistic thing. I open a PDF link, see it's written in LaTeX, I start expecting something written more or less like an academic paper. This is written in very much a chatty, free-flowing blog post style, with jokes like calling neologisms "newords", so the whole thing feels a bit more off-kilter than was intended. This style of writing would probably work better as an HTML blog post (which could then be posted directly as a Lesswrong post here instead of hosted elsewhere and linked).

Load More