Screwtape

An aspiring rationalist currently living in the hills of rural Vermont, I came for the fanfic and stayed for the principle of charity. This lead to me growing interested in another sort of effective charity, x-risk, and in meeting people who were weird in ways I find familiar and comfortable. If you're ever in the state, drop me a line, I'd love to say hello.

I'd like to read things about turning rationality into money and/or power as well as things about introducing people to rationality. I commit to reading and commenting on the first ten examples of either that are brought to my attention.

Failed to become useful at ML by 2019. Currently trying to get a higher paying day job programming.

Screwtape's Comments

If Rationality can be likened to a 'Martial Art', what would be the Forms?

A few I do regularly;

Odds calibration. Make predictions, with odds, about things. A number of people do this on a yearly basis (https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2019/1/15/18182069/2019-predictions-forecast-democratic-nominee-brexit) but you can do it on a much shorter range as well, estimating how long a chore will take, which people will arrive to a dinner first, or how much a company's stock price will move after some announcement. "My next meeting today will not wind up canceled, 80% confidence." Write these down somewhere accessible (though probably private) and record the accuracy. The goal is for the things you say will happen with 80% confidence to happen eight times out of ten.

Be wrong. State aloud and write down some fact about the world that you think is true, think of an authority you would trust (Wikipedia is a decent starting point here) and then look it up. "The population of Houston Texas is between one and two million." If you are right, bask in the warm glow. If you are wrong, admit aloud that you are wrong, and what the right answer is. The goal is to get used to saying this when it is correct to say. (Speaking of which- I was wrong, the population of Houston is over two million.)

Follow curiosity. I'm not confident that "keep googling questions and clicking links in Wikipedia until you feel the confusion disappear" is especially efficient, but learning what "wait a minute, I'm still confused on how this actually works" feels like is easier to me when there's no pressure to nod and move along with the class. Notice the feeling of confusion, and what makes it disappear. (I'm curious what happened with Houston's growth spike from 1999 to 2000- Montpelier Vermont and Lincoln Nebraska show similar jumps that year, but not Albany New York or Orlando Florida- but it looks like my meeting was only delayed and not canceled, so I'll have to figure that out later.)

My Hello World

Welcome! I'd recommend taking advantage of physical meetups if you can. I still lurk a lot, but meeting a few people in person made me feel a lot more comfortable.

Tips on talking about Polyamory

I have mostly seen "youth group" used in the context of "Christian youth group" and while your circumstances may be very different, I would advise exercising some caution around whether this will be seen as corrupting the youth. There is a difference between "believes things near the current frontier of progressiveness" and "is genuinely open-minded about things beyond the current frontier of progressiveness." This difference can and will bite you if you mistake one for the other.

A Rationalist's Guide to...

First of all, I'd just like to take a moment to say that I quite appreciate your username.

Second, to take your initial question literally, I don't think there are that many rationalists who actually want to rule the world. The position sounds like it would involve paperwork and talking to uninteresting yet obstinate people, so speaking for myself I don't think I'd actually want the job. There are probably many rationalists who would take the position for instrumental reasons, but because it's an instrumentally useful job, the competition for it is fierce. I'm not saying you meant it literally, but I think the distinction points at something important; what is it we actually want?

I'd like to be more in-shape, to work on more interesting programming projects, and to go on more successful dates. I'd pretty cheerfully read a guide on those subjects, and would probably be amenable to contributing to such a guide. Somebody else might want to save more lives, or have a higher class lifestyle, or lead a more interesting and exciting life. Some skills are generically useful to a large range of goals (financial management, persuasion, etc) but something that might be crucial to my goals might be irrelevant to yours. In addition, the format of whatever we're learning from matters; when learning to work out a youtube video is probably more useful than text. I would love to see more essays in the vein of SSC's Much More Than You Wanted To Know, but audio lectures, videos, or illustrations are good too. (Have you ever tried learning martial arts from a textbook? It's not ideal.)

Lastly, something worth thinking about. We all have the internet, and can all ask google for information. What advantage does a rationalist repository of teachings have? I'm confident we have some (offhand, we have common jargon, possibly a willingness to do experiments, and the occasional dedicated specialist) but if we want to do more than toss a lot of blogs in a pot and stir, it might be good to keep the comparative advantages in mind.

Would you benefit from audio versions of posts?

Would not be especially useful to me, but my brother has a major preference to listen rather than read.

LW Update 2018-07-01 – Default Weak Upvotes

This might make people even more reluctant to downvote. If a downvote removed a thousand points of karma, I would almost never use one. I'm more comfortable giving metaphorical slaps on the wrist the lighter the slap, so to speak. It's possible I'm typical minding here.

That said, if you did this and did not announce it, my downvote habits wouldn't change and this would work more or less as intended.

Last Chance to Fund the Berkeley REACH

Upped my donation to $10 via Patreon. Being on the far end of the country and being noticeably cash constrained conspire to make that number smaller than I'd prefer, but I want projects like this to work.

Give praise

Hrm. I find myself wanting to disagree with this comment while agreeing with your original post. I think there's three distinct levels worth thinking about.

There's worthiness as in "self-worth" or "worth helping." The world is probably better if the bulk majority of people have this, and I have heard people express the idea that every human is worthwhile in this sense. That's not to say me or you can't prioritize who we care about, but "such and such people aren't worth the air they breath" is a dangerous line of reasoning. Complements aren't particularly useful here, as "You can use language, therefore your existence is positive" can frankly come off as a backhanded insult of sorts, since that's a really low bar.

There are correct steps in the right directions well*, including most personal growth and including hill climbing towards better states. This is the place I think complements are best deployed; an adult human taking a ten minute walk outside is better than that human sitting on the couch watching reruns. (I recognize I'm making a value claim there that may not be globally correct.) Guessing "red" all the time in the probability question above is better than guessing "red" 60% of the time and guessing "blue" 40% of the time. Progress is worth appreciating, both on the personal level ("hey, congrats on beating your mile-run time!") and on the group level (I watched a time-lapse map of malaria cases in a room full of EAs recently, and I am kinda disappointed that nobody cheered.) It doesn't even have to be a new achievement! In martial arts, I eventually reached the point where every other session the instructor would nod and say "good stance" before moving on. This never stopped feeling good to hear, and it kept the basics in my mind even as I moved on to more advanced steps.

Then there's being correct on an absolute scale. The kind of rightness that involves local validity and correct premises, the kind that gets measured against the real world and succeeds. A successful rocket launch, a healthy patient after surgery, an AI that does what we meant and not what we said. The universe does not grade on a curve and gives no awards for effort. I think if we as aspiring rationalists lose sight of this, then we will eventually go astray no matter how good we are at the first two*. Complements here are rare, but powerful.

My suggested heuristic for the community would be to complement someone when you know them and see them advance along the path, or when they do something which helps you advance*. I also offer complements when someone does something I want them and/or others to do more of even if it is not novel, and I suspect that this kind of complement is what you are seeking to encourage; if so, then we are in agreement. "Good stance" is important to hear, as is "good job updating" and even "hey, good job organizing the meet up yesterday! I think you pretty good moderating, you jumped in at the right moment when me and Bob were getting derailed." Praise for getting things right, with the promise of more encouragement as we climb higher.

*To be clear, I don't think there's a single linear ladder we climb straight up from ignorance to superrationality. There are probably multiple paths to the summit, and there may well be more than one peak. That's a different topic however.

Give praise

Ordinary need not get lots of upvotes- I think I agree with you in that- but "not bad" shouldn't be downvoted. More germanely, I think "better than average" is worth rewarding with a complement if you can catch it in the moment.

Some years ago I started teaching a handful of kids from my community basic rationality skills. The first thing I taught them was probability, drawing cards with and without replacement and trying to build up an idea of what statistics meant, and I clearly remember praising them when they realized that if 60% of the cards are red and 40% are blue, you always guess that the next card will be red instead of guessing red most of the time and blue some of the time. A couple of weekends ago my roommate (who is usually a couch potato) asked if it was okay if they went with me when I was heading out for a walk, and after we got back I told them it was nice to have company and that walking with them was fun, because I want them to do that more often.

When somebody does something you wish people would do, I think a quick complement or piece of praise is a fine way to <strike> classically condition your friends and family</strike> make them feel good about it. I would clearly distinguish "You're the best writer!" from "you're really good at writing!" from "I liked this thing you wrote, particularly this piece." The first is the greatest complement from a literal, absolute level, but the last is the one that people seem to feel most and is also true more often.

Does Thinking Hard Hurt Your Brain?

No headache, but B. sounds closer to my experiences. Consistently doing things I don't want to do and don't understand why it matters makes me less and less inclined to do more of those things and means I have to pay more attention to avoid saying or doing something grouchy. Working on an interesting problem (one that sits just outside my current skill) tends to make me focus more and more, and once I break focus I often find I have aches from bad posture or eyestrain.

Doing a bunch of challenging tasks or working out a lot tends to make me more cheerful and agenty, sitting on the couch grinding levels in an MMO tends to make it harder to break patterns and do challenging tasks. As far as I can tell this is the opposite way things are supposed to work, but it's consistent.

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