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However, making the question a little bit more complex ... and adding in why that fame really can add to the act -

How does it change your equation if that Policeman who saved the three prostitutes only became a policeman because he was inspired to do so by reading comic books about Superman saving 200 kids?

Inspiring others by your deeds, causing your actions to reflect against the world in a far greater effect than the deeds themselves would, I think, have quite an effect on the equation.

There are a lot more things that people can consider a 'habit' than most people would consider, I would expect. It's easy to think of 'getting up at 5 AM' or 'eating well' or 'exercising' to be a habit. I've witnessed exercise as a habit, to be sure, when I watched my siblings - who were very active in sports - get downright surly if they didn't have time for their morning jog.

But there's a lot of small habits in everything we do, that we don't really notice. Necessary habits. When someone asks you how you are, the habitual answer is 'Fine, thank you,' or something similar. It's what people expect. The entire greeting ritual is habitualness, to the point that if you disrupt the greeting, it throws people off.

The most important habits this can be used to engender and train yourself, relative to this site, are the habits of rationality. For instance, the habit of asking 'why?' Amusingly enough, this is the habit of breaking habits.

I feel bad. Why? I'm not that sort of person. Why? I don't like that. Why? I do like that! Why? I don't believe you. Why?

This can also be the habit of listening. It's so easy to cross something off a list of things that you'll consider - for instance, aliens, or ghosts. Someone claims that they believe in aliens. I see many people who absolutely refuse to even consider that. It's stupid. The arguments are all the same. No one's ever actually seen one, they just know someone who's seen one. The arguments for not listening are many and varied...

But it takes only a couple minutes, when someone tells you that they believe in aliens, to listen and actually appraise their reason. And I mean, really listen. Tell yourself, "Well, it's possible I'm wrong. Let's hear." The thought, in your head, is more vital than the act of listening.

If you act like you're listening, but your thoughts are saying, "There is no possible way they are right, I'm just listening because rationality demands it, and I'll be able to dismiss their arguments in a moment," then you're closing your mind. But if you truly let yourself listen, and tell yourself, in the silence of your mind, that there's a chance they're right, then you open yourself up to amazing things... even if it's not something that supports what they're arguing, you might come across some stray fact, some mental structure, that you hadn't considered before, and it could open up some level of understanding on an otherwise unrelated area of consideration, such as, "Ah, wait... what if this is why people act in this way?"

What I find the most important part of this article is not 'how can we use our thoughts to create habits,' but instead 'be more aware of the thoughts you have - are they the thoughts you want to become word and act?' Just having a thought does not guarantee it will become word or act, but if you find yourself in the habit of evaluating the thoughts running through your mind ... you will be far more able to encourage the good habits and destroy the bad habits.

Only then can you move forward to 'create' habits... for instance, what you were saying about sustainable habits, and coming up with exceptions for 'new habits' - you need an all or nothing approach, or else you think your way around it and make excuses. That suggests that your thought was not controlled, and that you think you're the sort of person who makes excuses. What if, instead of trying to get into the habit of eating less meat ... you instead had a goal of trying to create a habit of not making excuses for yourself?

Not trying to target you specifically, but more thinking about the topic on a much more general level and tossing out some general ideas that might apply to a number of different people.

Continuing other comment:

To take patrissimo's arguments on what makes something useful for self-improvement:

patrissimo says,

My version: Growth activities are Work, and hence feel like work, not fun"

I call foul. He tries to claim he's not being puritan, and not saying that growth is never fun, but then proceeds to dismiss fun in that "all use you could get out of it, you've probably already gotten." In essence stating that fun activities only helped you grow in the past, and to move towards the future, you have to be not-fun.

He also compares the experience of improving Instrumental Rationality with going to the gym. I suggest he misrepresents going to the gym. Going to the gym is fun. Or at least, it is fun for a lot of people. You engage in physical activity that stimulates endorphin flow, you watch TV, you engage in social behavior, and when you're done, you're left feeling relaxed and accomplished both. People do not just go to the gym to try to lose weight and enter hating the gym - there are people who are strongly in shape who go to the gym because they enjoy working out, they enjoy the physical stimulation and the social environment.

To that end, patrissimo sounds a little like one of the trainers at the gym walking into the weight room, watching people laugh and joke with each other while lifting weights or spotting each other, and remarking that they're obviously not exercising hard enough if they're having fun, and they need to figure out how to work harder.

He also says:

Meditation is a great example of an instrumental rationality practice: it is a boring, difficult isolation exercise for directing and noticing the direction of one's attention. It is Work."

And I greatly disagree with this. I find meditation to be satisfying and contenting, I find it to be helpful, and fun. If you are finding it boring, you are probably doing it wrong, or it is inappropriate for you.

Quite the opposite to the suggestion - while not an indicator, certainly, I think the most important aspects of a useful tool for self-improvement is that it IS fun. Things which are not fun are not attended to easily on a regular basis - if we try to force ourselves to do them anyway, then we are working against our basic nature. Proper self-control is not about stoically proceeding with unfun activities because it's in our best nature. Proper self-control is about refocusing our attention upon activities to recognize where they could be fun, or coming up with alternate activities which can achieve the same result which would be more enjoyable.

For example, everyone knows it's better to take the stairs than the escalator - but when you get right down to it, most people take the escalator anyway. However, if you add sensors and speakers to the stairs, so that taking the stairs creates musical reactions - turning the stairs into a giant walking piano - suddenly more people take the stairs, because the useful and beneficial activity has just become more fun. By taking a not-fun activity and turning it into a fun activity, you just made it a better tool.

For another example - exercise can, indeed, be boring. However, if you make your daily workout an exercise bike, and only allow yourself to play video games while you're on the exercise bike - then your video game exercise time becomes fun, and productive. What's more, you limit your video game time to your exercise time, helping prevent it from taking over your evening, so that when you get tired and achy, you walk away from the bike and the games, to go do more productive activities.

Goals are not about specific activities, but instead, specific results, and determining from those results - what are the best activities you can follow to achieve said results? And one of the qualities that you should use in judging those activities is: How easy will it be for me to repeat that activity on a regular basis?

So to example the six items:

1: I disagree with strongly, as explained above 2: I disagree with strongly, as explained above 3: Is relevant to the skill being developed.

Less Wrong is certainly relevant to the skills of improved rationality - whether it is relevant to the skill of improved Instrumental Rationality is really presupposing the result of the discussion.

4: Is not simply watching the skill being performed. 5: Requires effort and attention from the learner.

Some levels of using Less Wrong are nothing more than 'watching the skill being performed'. However, if you use Less Wrong properly, then the discussions or pursuing the research potentials of the site becomes 'performing the skill'. The very nature of being aware of it and trying to develop methods for yourself is a performance of the skill, even if the level of that skill is apprentice-level.

6: Often involves activities selected by a coach or teacher to facilitate learning.

IE: the sequences?

At any rate, I won't dispute that perhaps the site of Less Wrong is not goal-oriented towards patrissimo's own goals... but that does not mean it is not goal-oriented towards helping others develop their goals, nor in improving instrumental rationality. It just depends on how you use it and what your goals are.

But now you're just the crab trying to pull me back into the pot

Not at all. You are stating that you want to figure out how to improve the successes of the members of Less Wrong - but I think that tearing down the usefullness of Less Wrong, or decrying the having of fun as being opposed to development, is counterproductive to your goals. I know very well the phenomenon you speak of, and the basic nature of Less Wrong as a site is not likely the culprit - having fun is not the culprit, and the social activity of discussion over a myriad of subjects is not the culprit. Rather, simple human behavior is the culprit.

If you wish to improve people's Instrumental Rationality through Less Wrong, I would suggest that instead of writing an article about the problems of Less Wrong - you instead write an article containing your item #6: activities to facilitate learning. How can people use Less Wrong, in its current state, to improve their Instrumental Rationality? How can they use it to:

1: Identify their goals. How do they distinguish between 'goals' and 'activities'? How can they distinguish between good goals and bad goals? What literature is available for developing goals? 2: Set up plans for achieving their goals, and what skills will be needed for achieving goals. 3: Identify and avoid common problems in achieving their goals. 4: Practice the skills they need to achieve their goals.

Instead of saying Less Wrong is a 'bad tool', tell people how to use it better ... or 'less wrongly'.

Good day, ladies and gentlemen. I'm still new, still working through the sequences, which is taking me a while because the needs and requirements of accomplishing my goals in life has down-prioritized my reading through Less Wrong. A somewhat appropriate reason for this discussion.

I see an implied assumption in the article, and additionally outright stated in the comments, that Less Wrong needs to create results, that it needs to have more successes, or it should be accomplishing something in its existence.

I disagree. Less Wrong cannot create results, nor can it have successes. It is a passive site. The Less Wrong community would find it difficult to create results or successes, because even with the shared goal of 'increasing rationality', there is too much variation in the concept of what that means, and in the individual goals that aim towards that overall shared goal, for the community to be able to accurately track or develop results or successes.

The individual members of Less Wrong can create results, and have successes, and it is for these, I know, that patrissimo is writing. He wishes the members to develop their instrumental rationality, and fears that Less Wrong itself is a detrimental influence upon them.

What's more, we can also observe that the ability of Less Wrong to aid in Instrumental Rationality is dependent upon what goals you want Less Wrong to help you achieve. If one of your goals is increasing rationality, then it's VERY appropriate towards developing that goal. If one of your goals is 'spending less time on the internet', then it's very anti-achieving that goal. For the purposes of this discussion, let's say that we're trying to use Less Wrong to aid in the goal of improving our Instrumental Rationality, independent of what our other goals are.

That having been said, we can now distinguish between Less Wrong, and the Members of Less wrong. And to that end, no longer speaking of Less Wrong having successes, or having failures, we can observe that Less Wrong is a tool. Let us, then, examine what the qualities of this tool are.

1: The tool is passive. It is used only as much or in the manner that the reader uses it. 2: It has varying levels of use. Someone can browse it lightly, just picking and choosing the articles that interest them. Someone can read through it in a focused and directed manner, researching the ideas within. Someone can read and write to the comments, engaging in the discussions. Someone can become a major contributor, and write articles for the site. 3: It is a reference to other tools. It contains external links that suggest books, sites, activities, and the like - all of which are useful tools in and of themselves. 4: It is flexible. It can be used for a variety of purposes. It can be used for self-inspection, identifying flaws spoken about on the site. It can be used to aid in judging evidence and arguments presented to us in the world around us. It can be used for fun and social activity. And that discussion can be a practice in technique.

And my proposal would be that it is not anti-Instrumental Rationality - it is merely neutral, as any tool, and depends upon the reader using the site correctly.

I would present myself as an example of the contrary. Less Wrong has increased my Instrumental Rationality, even though I have not used it a lot. (You might argue because I have not used it a lot.) One of my goals is to become more rational - to develop and practice rationality. I was doing as well as I could, by myself, but was stymied, because many of the things I was trying to do were stuck in mental loops. I had the problem in that I suspected I could not be the first to think of the things I was thinking of, but didn't know where to go to research it, what books to read, which authors or philosophers to explore.

Within an hour of reading LessWrong, I found in the community the answers to those problems. I found that one of my biggest goals - trying to quantify and qualify the primary focuses of rational discussion - had already been done in Eliezer's 12 Virtues of Rationality. I found references to pursue, and discussions that illustrated both sides that I'd been trying to hold up to each other, myself.

I used Less Wrong as a resource, as a tool, which improved my time usage and helped me keep from having to figure a lot of stuff out, myself. And to that end, I call a success in Instrumental Rationality.

I am, sadly, too busy this weekend to make it. I would be coming down from Milwaukee, and very much hope to make the next meeting.

For prospective places to meet up, I am afraid that in Illinois, I have little experience. The only place i do know of is Ballydoyle Irish Pub and restaurant which is a nice place with several back rooms for parties which wish to have a more private meal and discussion.

I'd also like anything within easy walking distance of Ogilvie Transportation Center, making it easy to get there via the Metra, though within distance of any of the train stations connected to this would also be nice.

Oh, I quite agree! Thank you very much for the time spent sharing your thoughts. ^_^

I've certainly tried, thank you very much. I think that might be the most satisfying reaction I could have hoped to receive. ^_^ I hope to stick around for a good long time, too... this site's rivaling "TV Tropes" for the ability to completely suck me in for hours at a time without me noticing it.

Every time someone says, "The simplest reading..." about a passage, I really draw back cautiously. I see, usually, two types of people who say "There's only one way to read that passage," on any nonspecific passage. The first is "I know what it means and anyone who disagrees with me is wrong because I know the Will of God," and the second is "I know what it means and it's stupid and there is no God."

I'm not saying you're doing that - quite the opposite, you agree that there are many ways to approach the passage. The way Luke may have approached it, I couldn't say. I just see a story being presented, and Jesus rarely said anything in a straightforward manner. He always presented things in such a way that those listening to it had to really think about what he meant, and there are many ways to interpret it. Even Jesus, when pressed, usually meant many things by his stories. Admittedly, this wasn't a parable, this was an 'event that happened', but I think any of Jesus' responses still need to get considered carefully.

Second, we have the fact that you're talking about what Luke saw in it. I don't pretend the Apostles were perfect or didn't have their flaws. Every apostle, every prophet, was shown to be particularly flawed - unlike many other religions, the chosen of God in JudeoChristian belief were terribly flawed. There was a suicidally depressed prophet, there was the rash murderer, there were liars and thieves. The closest to a 'good' prophet was Joseph of the Coat of Many Colors, but even he had his moments of spite and anger.

I'm interested, but not dedicated, to what Luke thought of the situation. I'm much more interested in what Jesus did in the situation. Additionally, what about the context in which that scene appears? Jesus was constantly about service ... and that's what Martha was doing. He never admonished Martha ... he simply told her that Mary had made her choice, and it was better. He never said Martha should make the same choice, either.

It's worth noting that Mary was in a position that was traditionally denied women - but Jesus defended her right to be there, listening and learning from a teacher.

And I almost forgot the 'most importantly' part...

The strong lessons I learn from the bible ... wouldn't necessarily have occurred to me otherwise. Yes, I interpret them from my bias of modern life and mores ... but the bible presents me with things I wouldn't have thought to bring forward and consider. Methods of thinking I wouldn't have come up with on my own, or by talking with most others. This doesn't mean it's 'The True Faith', but it does make it a useful tool.

At any rate, we need to be careful not to go too much further. This is getting dangerously close to a theology discussion rather than a 'meet the new guy' discussion.

Well, thus far, I've mainly seen, "Welcome to LessWrong ... let's poke at the new guy and see what he's thinking!" I don't think we're getting into any real serious philosophy, yet. It's all been fairly light stuff. I've been trying to self-moderate my responses to be polite and answer people, but not get too involved in a huge discussion, because I agree, this wouldn't be the right place. But so far, it's seemed just some curiosity being satisfied about me, specifically, and my theology - not theology as a whole. As such, it certainly seems to belong in a 'Meet the new guys' thread.

Additionally, I'm personally not here to challenge my beliefs or test my faith, though I certainly won't turn it down as it happens. Given the lean of belief in the place, I expect it to happen. My main draw, however, isn't theological but instead in the realm of discovering a knowledge base and discussion area based around rationality, containing elements of discussion which have already done the work I've been running in circles in my head because I've been lacking someone to talk about them with!

Oh, no, not at all! I'm quite happy to have people interested in what I have to say, but I'm trying to keep my conversation suitable for the 'Welcome to Less Wrong' thread, and not have it get too big. ^_^

As far as 'If it's logically fallacious, why is it the foundation of your belief?'

Well, it's not the foundation of my belief, it's just a very strong element thereof. It would probably require several months of dedicated effort and perhaps 30,000 words to really hit the whole of my belief with any sort of holistic effort. However, why assume a First Cause? Well, because of entropy, we have to assume some sort of start for this iteration. Anything past that starts getting into extreme hypotheticals that only really 'make more sense than God' if it suits your pre-existing conditions. And no, I'm not saying God makes more sense outside of a bias - more that given a clean slate, "There might be laws of physics we can't detect because they don't function in a universe where they've already countered entropy to a new start state" is about equal to "Maybe there's a Deity figure that decided it wanted to start the universe" are about equal in my mind. And to be fair, 'deity figure' could be equivalent to 'Higher-level universe's programmer making a computer game.' Or this could all be a simulation, and none of it's actually real, or, or, or...

But the reason that I decide to accept this as a basic assumption is that, eventually, you have to assume that there is truth, and work off of the existing scientific knowledge instead of waiting for brand new world-shattering discoveries in the field of metaphysics. So I keep an interested eye on stuff like brane vibration or cosmic froth, but still assume that entropy happens, and the universe had an actual start.

if Thor came down throwing lightning bolts and etc, and claiming our worship, I'd be... well, admittedly, a little confused, and unsure. That's not exactly his MO from classic Norse mythology (which I love) and Norse mythology really didn't have the oomph of world creation that goes together with scientific evidence. I'd have to wonder if he wasn't a Nephilim or alien playing tricks. (Hi, Stargate SG-1!)

However, I take your meaning. If some deity figure came down and said, "hey, here's proof," yeah, I'd have a LOT of re-evaluating to do. It'd depend a lot on circumstances, and what sort of evidence of the past, rather than just pure displays of power, the deity figure could present. What answers does it have to the tough questions? Does it match certain anti-christ elements from Revelations?

Alternatively, what sort of evidence would make me change my mind and become atheist?

I would love to be able to easily say, "Yeah, if this happened, I'd totally change my mind in an instant!" but I am aware that I'm only human, and certain beliefs have momentum in my mind. Negative circumstance certainly won't do it - I've long ago resolved the "Why does a good God allow bad things to happen?" element. Idiotic Christian fanboys won't do it - I've been developing a very careful attitude towards religion and politics in divorcing ideas from the proponents of ideas. And if I had an idea what that proof would be - I'd already be researching it. So I just keep kicking around looking for new stuff to research.

Thank you for the interest!

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