My Hammertime Final Exam

I, too, will take the Ham­mer­time Fi­nal Exam.


  1. De­sign an in­stru­men­tal ra­tio­nal­ity tech­nique.

  2. In­tro­duce a ra­tio­nal­ity prin­ci­ple or frame­work.

  3. De­scribe a cog­ni­tive defect, bias, or blindspot.

1. Partner

I sus­pect that most peo­ple don’t even need willpower if you have a part­ner to work with.

If you want to write more fic­tion, find a writ­ing buddy and agree that you’ll send them X pieces of fic­tion of min­i­mum length Y ev­ery in­ter­val Z, and they’ll do the same. Also com­mit to giv­ing each other pri­mate-reaf­firm­ing feed­back at ev­ery suc­cess.

If you like the idea of do­ing a pod­cast and wish you could start one, find a part­ner to do it with.

Many, if not most goals can be bro­ken down this way and made into a mu­tu­ally sup­port­ing part­ner­ship. Challenge your­self and see if your goals can be framed in this way. Not ev­ery­thing lends it­self to a pro­ject you could share with a part­ner, but with a lit­tle cre­ativity you can get pretty far.

2. Uphold­ers, Obligers, Ques­tion­ers, Rebels

Gretchen Ru­bin puts forth a de­cent fake frame­work of di­vid­ing peo­ple into Uphold­ers, Obligers, Ques­tion­ers and Rebels ac­cord­ing to their in­trin­sic na­ture.

Uphold­ers gen­er­ally meet both in­ner and outer ex­pec­ta­tions, mean­ing they don’t let oth­ers or them­selves down.
Ques­tion­ers meet only in­ner ex­pec­ta­tions. They push back against and ques­tion all ex­pec­ta­tions. Above all, they do some­thing only if they think it makes sense — they hate any­thing ar­bi­trary.
Obligers meet outer ex­pec­ta­tions but not always in­ner ones. In other words, they usu­ally need some form of ex­ter­nal ac­countabil­ity.
Rebels re­sist both in­ner and outer ex­pec­ta­tions. They value au­then­tic­ity and self-de­ter­mi­na­tion.

Un­der this fake frame­work, the rea­son why I’ve been so suc­cess­ful with part­ners and so mediocre when rely­ing on my own willpower is that I’m an Obliger. I find ex­ter­nal obli­ga­tions in­trin­si­cally mo­ti­vat­ing, and don’t find in­ner com­mit­ments at all com­pel­ling.

I have a friend who is a very suc­cess­ful Ques­tioner. Never does any­thing he’s told, but is now a pro­fes­sor.

It seems that be­ing an Upholder is the most de­sir­able clas­sifi­ca­tion. At least, I would like to be­come that way. But I haven’t had any luck chang­ing my na­ture in this re­gard, and it has ac­tu­ally helped me a lot to just em­brace my Obliger­ness and get other peo­ple in­volved with any and all things that I want to ac­tu­ally ac­com­plish.

3. So­cial Animals

You may be de­tect­ing a theme by now.

Five years ago I prob­a­bly would have de­scribed hu­mans as think­ing be­ings with ten­den­cies slant­ing us to­ward so­cial be­hav­ior. Now I think we’re so­cial an­i­mals with some marginal, un­re­li­able think­ing ca­pac­ity that ac­ci­den­tally emerged a few evolu­tion­ary eye­blinks ago.

The closer you get to an ob­jec­tive look at your­self, you more you per­ceive that ev­ery­thing you do (that is to say, ev­ery­thing you ac­tu­ally do, not in­clud­ing things that you be­lieve it would be vir­tu­ous to do, but never quite get around to) is mo­ti­vated by mon­key-brain con­sid­er­a­tions of sur­vival and sta­tus.

In other words, we don’t have bi­ases, we are bi­ases. Not an origi­nal thought, but a thought that bears ru­mi­nat­ing on.

This can seem de­mo­ti­vat­ing and nihilis­tic un­til you re­al­ize that it ap­plies to ev­ery­one else across hu­man his­tory and yet we still man­age to do worth­while things some­times. The trick is to not sail against the wind. Do your best. Reach out to other mon­keys with whom you can be mu­tu­ally sup­port­ive. If you have the op­por­tu­nity to make small mon­keys, con­sider do­ing that. Go easy on your­self, and go easy on other mon­keys. We’re all very con­fused, but gen­er­ally we want to help each other. Worry about mak­ing your mon­key­self happy be­fore you worry about pin­ning down the True Na­ture of eu­daimo­nia.