Meditations on Moloch certainly wasn’t promoting evil, but I think it was (inadvertently) promoting ignorance. For example, it paints the fish farming story as an argument against libertarianism, but economists see the exact same story as an argument for privatization of fisheries, and it works in reality exactly as economists say!
The whole essay suffers from that problem. It leaves readers unaware that there’s a whole profession dedicated to “fighting Moloch” and they have a surprisingly good framework: incentives, public goods, common resources, free rider problem, externalities, Pigovian taxes, Coasian bargains… Unfortunately, dry theory is hard to learn, so people skip learning it if they can more easily get an illusion of understanding—like many readers of the Moloch essay I’ve encountered.
That’s the general problem Charlie is pointing to. If you want to give your argument some extra oomph beyond what the evidence supports, why do you want that? You could be slightly wrong, or (if you’re less lucky than Scott) a lot wrong, and make many other people wrong too. Better spend that extra time making your evidence-based argument better.
Even shorter: I don’t want powerful weapons to argue for truth. I want asymmetric weapons that only the truth can use. Myth isn’t such a weapon, so I’ll leave it in the cave where it was found.
“Meditations On Moloch” on Slate Star Codex finally convinced me to donate to MIRI.
Meditation is pointless. “Enlightenment” in the Buddhist sense is a real and non-mystical thing that anybody can attain.
I love that part.
I agree that the results here aren’t particularly shocking if we consider how the statements were collected, but it was quite entertaining to read.
Properly speaking I wouldn’t call meditation self-help, but it can be used as a self-help technique to help you cultivate more calm, acceptance, stillness, relaxation, and generally less neuroticism. You can read about mindfulness meditation, which is most relevant to self-help, lots of places online, but the general idea is that you sit in a comfortable and alert position, tell yourself you’re allowed to relax, put your attention on your breath, and if your mind wanders simply notice that and return your attention to the breath.
It seems to work by allowing you to get our of your own head and gain more perspective on the world. Literally noticing what’s happening with your breath and what’s going on around you seems to change how people think of themselves and their place in the world, which leads to decreased neuroticism.
My own experience is that meditation practice has correlated with a decrease in neuroticism, less anxiety, and a cessation of OCD symptoms (to the point I was able to go off medication (but talk to your doctor before you do this if you read this and think “oh boy, someone on the internet said I can stop taking my meds if I meditate instead” because that’s definitely not what I’m saying)).
Meditation is action, in some important sense, and mostly can’t be demonstrated.
Everything is “action” in “some sense”. (Whether that sense is “important”, in any given case, is a matter of perspective.)
As far as I am concerned—for the purposes of this topic—if it can’t be demonstrated, it ain’t action.
It is hard to reliably distinguish between the results of peer pressure and actual learning.
I submit to you that if this is true of any given case, then that is an excellent signal that no actual learning has taken place. (And the more true it is—the harder it is to distinguish between actual learning and the results of various biases, social pressure included—the stronger the signal is.)
It is hard to reliably distinguish between the results of peer pressure and actual learning. I think CFAR’s best reply to this has been it’s refund policy: last I knew they offered full refunds to anyone who requested it within one year (although I can’t find any online mention of their current policy).
Meditation can help train concentration. Meditation can also bring clarity to goals and allow you to notice when you don’t want to pursue that one. It can also enable vividness control over dull moments.
(yes it feels like a super power at times these days and yes I’m using it to write.)
Meditations on Moloch is not an argument. It’s a type error to analyze it as if it were.
Meditations on Moloch was creative and effective but ultimately “just” a restatement of well-known game theory. This post is a lot more speculative and anecdotal.
Meditation: And this creates another kind of problem. Did the person come into existence:
Are you familiar with the Sorites paradox? It’s a great example of how human intuition is vague, and sometime self-contradictory. For any transtion, there must be a boundary. But humans don’t really “do” boundary cases—we reason about typical cases. If you asked your 6 questions in the opposite order, you could get people to on average place the boundary differently.
If we can only meaningfully talk about parts of the universe that can be pinned down inside the causal graph, where do we find the fact that 2 + 2 = 4? Or did I just make a meaningless noise, there? Or if you claim that “2 + 2 = 4” isn’t meaningful or true, then what alternate property does the sentence “2 + 2 = 4″ have which makes it so much more useful than the sentence “2 + 2 = 3”?
[meditation technical stuff]
The breath isn’t a solid sensation, it’s made up of many smaller sensations. Some instructions suggest investigating the “start”, “middle” or “end” of the breath. Try to find the very specific part of that and generally the instructions suggest that you won’t find it because there is no such thing. Owing in the direction of impermanence.
There is a possible meditation method that makes/assumes “permanent” the breath and then practices concentration on the breath as an assumed permanent object. This is important because with increased concentration skill we can then investigate (investigate = insight practice, not concentration practice) and discover the breath is not quite “real” in the permanent bounded conceptual entity that we want it to be when we study it.
There is a possible method of studying the thought stream and the way it changes when the breath changes. This can be seen in simple ways by holding the breath, breathing very quickly, but also noticing the way the breath changes when talking about significant or important matters. Or the way the breath takes shape when angry or anxious. Or excited. There is an interesting breath movement that I see (personal experience here) in theraputic contexts that looks something like a big sigh out. It seems to be that when people are working with an issue and are ready to let go of the issue they breathe out. (in my personal experience) there’s something weird and interesting in the way that the breath ends a thought stream like that.
From a Pranayama book (translated as “breath of life”) was a suggestion that the thought stream is like a bird tethered to a post via a string. The mind can float around but is always pulled back to where the breath is.
Studying the breath happens either at the nose/mouth or at the chest region of the body, this happens to also be the physical location where a large number of emotional reactions are experienced through bodily s
**Meditation:** So far, we’ve always pretended that you only face one choice, at one point in time. But not only is there a way to apply our theory to repeated interactions with the environment — there are two!
One way is to say that at each point in time, you should apply decision theory to set of actions you can perform at that point. Now, the actual outcome depends of course not only on what you do now, but also on what you do later; but you know that you’ll still use decision theory later, so you can foresee what you will do in any possible future situation, and take it into account when computing what action you should choose now.
The second way is to make a choice only once, not between the actions you can take at that point in time, but between complete plans — giant lookup tables — which specify how you will behave in any situation you might possibly face. Thus, you simply do your expected utility calculation once, and then stick with the plan you have decided on.
_Which of these is the right thing to do, if you have a perfect Bayesian genie and you want steer the future in some particular direction? (Does it even make a difference which one you use?)_
Meditation seemed useful to me. Other forms of “introspection” (cognitive biases, direct querying of “what would I do in situation X” in my brain, psychology) were more like “extrospection”—I’d infer my thoughts by my behavior. Meditation seemed to have a shorter inferential distance. I don’t have a good non-introspective reason to believe this, although it did seem to get me over procrastination for the first time in weeks, and helped me graduate. I’ll find out whether this continues to hold true as I resume meditation.
Suppose you needed to assign non-zero probability to any way things could conceivably turn out to be, given humanity’s rather young and confused state—enumerate all the hypotheses a superintelligent AI should ever be able to arrive at, based on any sort of strange world it might find by observation of Time-Turners or stranger things. How would you enumerate the hypothesis space of all the coherently-thinkable worlds we could remotely maybe possibly be living in, including worlds with Stable Time Loops and even stranger features?
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius is mentioned positively so often that I decided to download and read it. What a waste of time!
If I tell you “don’t worry about stuff, just do your duty, that’s what the gods want”, well, I already told you 90% of the information in the book. Imagine writing the same sentence over and over again across dozens of pages, and it will not be too different from the real stuff.
Also, ad hominem—because there is not enough real content to comment on—the author of the book actually failed at one of his most important duties, with horrible outcome to most people around him. At given era, it was a custom for the current ruler to find and adopt his successor, because wise people realized that biological sons are sometimes unfit to govern. This is how Marcus himself got the throne. Well, he failed to do the same, and left the throne to his biological son.
The son was probably a bit crazy, because while the economy around him was failing, he was busy doing stuff like renaming all months in the year to correspond to his twelve names. (Uhm, why did he even have twelve names?) People tried to assassinate him, but he survived. Then he added a woman involved in the plot to his harem. What happened then will surprise you… not! One day she pissed him off with some triviality, so he decided to get her executed anyway, wrote that in his tomorrow’s to-do list, and left it on the table. She found the list, of course. So she poisoned him. Afterwards, a “game of thrones” situation followed.
So thank you, Marcus, for being so cool and not worrying about stuff. And telling other people how important is to do their duty, while ignoring your own. Best case, you will write an international bestseller that will survive millenia. Worst case, you make the civilization collapse. The real case, you achieve both at the same time.
Meditation and exercise are very much addictive and often superstimuli themselves. Their (non-fun) benefits are questionable.
Eh? In what sense—on a bang for buck/hour basis maybe?
Meditation: Shinzen Young is the best available material I know of on Mindfulness. Under articles he has a bunch of short primers examples (PDFs):
An Outline of Practice
What is Equanimity?
He uses a couple concepts that pattern match to woo, but he’s very measurable results and clear instructions oriented.
Meditation acutely improves psychomotor vigilance, and may decrease sleep need:
The data (currently unpublished) I spoke of regarding the 45min mark is part of a larger ongoing effort to characterize changes that occur to the “mind” as people shift to a different way of experiencing their reality.
In my own experience as well the 40-45 min phase change is often blurred to the point of being unnoticeable. I’m still not 100% convinced it isn’t a priming effect though I think it has decent theoretical support. My simplified explanation is the brain cannot switch modes too rapidly. For example it’s easy to get HR up to 180 bpm in the blink of an eye if you think a tiger is leaping at you but takes considerably longer for it to go back to normal when you realize it was just the shadow of a harmless bush).
Regarding the tally counter: what you consider mind-wandering can/should change over time. Initially only click for completely losing attention and as improvement occurs you can include more and more subtle attentional deviations. Like any other tool it has a limited range where its use is appropriate. I’m not sure it helps too much with learning meditation; its more of a very simple way to vaguely-objectively track your progress over time.
A key principle to keep in mind is that not every meditation style is right for everyone all the time. TMI is heavily focused on anapanasati but there are a multitude of other styles. You may find your mind is more “in tune” with body scanning (e.g. Goenka) or something a little more wacky like Headless Way:
The research I linked to above found that people progressed much more rapidly if they were practicing a technique that was right for them. This is not an excuse to flail around randomly. At least one week of bona fide dedicated practice should be att