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Starting from the assumption that this is learned("Nurture"):

Generally, through the ambient feeling of your experiences, learning to see yourself as someone who can find solutions vs. learning that other people have the answers. This would be a very tricky edge to ride, since often other people DO have the answer (experience, expertise, whatnot). More on that below, first just a few examples:

  • Imitation approach: I suspect that being exposed to role models who invent and think will help anyone. This might even offset negative reinforcement directed at oneself to some degree (In stories, the hero(scientist etc) can also meet adversity.)

  • Reinforcement-explanation approach: Experience of having your ideas shut down, ignored, etc. Being punished for generating ideas would leave two options: Stop or at least shut up about it. Alternatively the "support" should obviously not look like endless praise, but like interest and questions/suggestions where more information might be found - unless of course something is clearly corect/incorrect, in which case that should be said. Positive reinforcement here would have to aim at the process of investigation - and getting closer. No meaningless fetishizing of the search.

  • Never getting anywhere/learned helplessness. Thinking is hard, aandhaving that pay off too rarely (that may differ from person to person) will teach us to avoid the trouble in the future.

Picking up from above: I find that learning something is often more or less tricky, depending on how easy it is to formulate an ideal that can be "blindly followed". When someone says "just train/read/empathize etc MORE" - implementation may still be difficult, but the mindset is simple. You only need to be a maximizer. When you start adding "don't be too hard on yourself/don't overdo it..." - the problem is hidden in the implied but unclear "too much".

With many activities the solution may be in understanding the goal and the process properly. Sticking with the examples so far:

Training requires rest, nutrition etc to be effective. Treat adhering to the dosage that's right in your case (you can consult professionals) as part of the discipline, not as breaking the discipline. If you injure yourself, that's inefficient training. Reading til you damage your eyes, compromise your sleep etc. is not efficient if you actually want to learn. Don't empathise to the point where you can't distinguish between other and self. That's not empathy, that's confusion.

In such cases it's "don't fetishize the process, but remember what you're trying to accomplish, and redefine your approach such that it implies everything you have to take into consideration".

This is often tricky, but once done, we can, in principle, max out again, which is cognitively easier.

With regards to problem solving/actually thinking own thoughts I think it's difficult, because firstly you have to be able to:

  • recognize what are your own thoughts, or as "your own" as thoughts can ever be.
  • you have to value having these, although they tend to be "trouble", at least in the short term - at the same time you can't allow yourself to fetishize having your own thoughts versus learning from others, if learning from others would be more efficient, so that's again the issue of "too much".
  • not fall into the trap of priding yourself on your thinking "too much", which is to mean "protect your ideas because they're yours" - at the same time don't mistrust thoughts simply because nobody else has them yet.
  • etc.

It's the same problems, only as other skills/habits, only seeing the problems is more tricky, and there are no coaches you can rely on to tell you exactly how much of something is too much, and how to redefine your approach. The best I have heard is what I call Eliezers "winning" approach. Ask in every instance how it may be better done, and what is required to MAKE IT HAPPEN vs. going through all the correct motions/procedures.

Asked in this fashion the question of why this skill is rare seems to answer itself. It's very hard to learn - for more reasons than I named now, of course.

Starting from the assumption that this is an innate ability thing ("Nature") I can't see anything beyond "Well, it's a raw brainpower thing". This seems anecdotally refusable, so I'm not in this camp. Nonetheless more smarts helps, of course - not least in developing a positive attitude towards problem solvin, but obviously just in terms of "resources" - and maybe if we enhance people's intelligence we'll see more problem solvers? I don't know. I find it hard to see why people wouldn't just use their greater intelligence to prove they don't need to change anything, if no "nurture" elements come in and help.


Allow me an excursion which is not meant to subsume Eliezer Yudkowsky under Immanuel Kant or vice versa. It is intended to depict what I regard as a related thought process, and point out where I see people often getting sidetracked with regards to what's actually the issue (to my understanding).

Back in the Philosophy seminar on Kants prohibition on lying I felt everyone was missing the point and that this (to my understanding) was it:

Sometimes there is no "right thing" you can easily choose. Sometimes your choice is between the bad and the worse. In such a case you should absolutely choose the bad over the worse, BUT THAT ISN'T TO SAY IT'S NO LONGER BAD! If we picked the relatively best option we want to not feel guilty any more. We want to feel that we are excused and our choice was the right one. But sometimes different values place different demands on you, and you have to choose on the basis of immediate outcomes. Which value you optimize for will reveal your character to you. And some people will want to see a flattering image. And they will want to be allowed to say "What I did was right!" - even if that implies to say "The other value, which I compromised under these extremely pressuring conditions isn't all that important." Because if it were, see, you'd come out of a Sofie's Choice situation and be traumatized and agonize about your decision. And you picked the best option of the ones available, so that wouldn't be fair, now would it.

If we're hiding the Führer from Jew pursuers or vice versa - the choice is between us getting to uphold our principle of honesty versus another person likely getting kkilled.Those are the practical stakes. And most people's impulse to prioritize the life is so strong that they would want to discount that the demand of truth even exists. But Policy debates should not appear one-sided; and if they have to be in public speaking, at least let them be as many faceted as they are in your own thinking.

Kant was the sort of person who would give to a charity he believed in once a year, generously enough to not have to worry about giving to every beggar - and sometimes he gave to beggars anyway. i believe we can count on him being the sort of person who will go to pains to explain all the reasons why Truth does not belong to us, and we don't get to bend it JUST as Eliezer says here, TO GET PEOPLE TO HESITATE, and the he would hide the fugitive and bear the moral burden of having lied instead of praising himself for having done so.

Note on glomarisation: Kant makes a lot of the statement that we're supposed to always be honest - in statements you can't avoid! He doesn't talk of glomarisation, but he does say that people who are "quick on their mental feet" would be good at keeping secrets because they will just evade as best they can.

And in the end, if my memory doesn't betray me here, I think his focus is less on "this is how you should act in that case" and more on "this is what happens if we allow caveats to the rule", and "If you lie, whatever happens because of that is now your responsibility".

Everythig breaks if we compromise honesty. Sometimes that happens understandeably due to crazy pressure. that doesn't mean it ... didn't happen, or that we should now not be honest about that too and tell ourselves that all is, in fact fine. But lies propagate...

What can we do? As silly normal human beings in socks that don't understand AI systems. There will be people here, of course, who do, but speaking for myself. Is there something we can do?

I thought to try adding musical "art" and I find this fitting, but sure, that's up for voting on, definitely!
I apologize for the picture coming up twice, by the way, that's just my technical awkwardness, let me try to fix that^^

I have often wondered about a related topic - why some people feel threatened by reason, or get angry when you ask them to be reasonable.

This goes even so far (this has actually happened) that people get upset with me because I "impose reasonableness on myself". I would get called cold, distant, heartless (even if I'm, say, crying, which would traditionally be counted as indicating a rather strong emotional response) just because I won't throw a tantrum - which, on the surface one might think would be in their interest - so why the heck get angry about it?

My best idea so far is that they don't like the heightened standards, feel that they will apply to them too and want to blur things out so they stay comfortably uncertain.

I've been told to "cut myself some slack", to "not be so harsh to myself" (in situations where I seriously don't think that was called for) and when I said "I don't need slack, I need an answer" or "I'm not hard on myself just because I say what I just did was wrong" or somesuch, I would just get a frustrated look in return.

Let's say, these observations are what I would expect to see happen when people actually want as low pixle resolution as possible, so no mistakes can be called out, and desire strongly to live in the world where we're all equal but I'm entitled to all kinds of special treatmendt and I deserve all kinds of things but don't have to earn them and there are no dumb questions - ever! - and left is right when I feel like it, and crystals and love in harmony for eternity amen.

I recommend the music as well as want to show the picture. 

Especially at 1:47:47 there is a piece starting that makes me cry every single time for the perfect coming together of ephemeral beauty and unstoppable determination.

I find that fitting, just like I find the look in her eyes fitting.

(Edit): This is no image that "describes" rationality and I know it. I find the emotional tone excellently encapsulates the "striving to be better", holding yourself to the highest standard and the like.
At the same time, listening to this it puts me, at least, in a very good mental state for being structured, focused and all the other good things, so I that was how I thought it's relevant. (most of it, that is. not when I'm bawling, obviously^^)
Just to explain ;)

As of 27.01.22 it is available here: 

Answer by SKEMNov 21, 202110

I dislike when people talk about someone "deserving" something when what they mean is they would like that to happen. The word seems to imply that the person may make a demand on reality (or reality's subcategory of other people!)

I suggest we talk about what people earn and what we wish for them instead of using this word that imbues them with a sense of "having a right to" things they did not earn.

That is, of coure, not saying we should stop wishing others or ourselves well.

Just saying we should be honest that that is what we are doing and use "deserving" only in the rare cases when we want to imbue our wish of opinion with a cosmic sense of purpose or imply in some other way the now common idea. When no longer commonly used in cases where an expression of goodwill (or "badwill" for that matter) will do, it may stand out in such cases and have the proper impact.

Of course we are not going to make that change and we wouldn't, even if this reached enough people, because people LOVE to mythically "deserve" things, and it makes them a lot easier to sell to or infuriate too. We may, however, just privately notice when someone tries to sell us something we "deserve", adress the thanks to the person wishing us well instead of some nebulous "Universe" when someone tells us we "deserve" something good and consider our actual moral shortcomings when the idea creeps up we might "deserve" something bad.