Are you the Maoist, or someone you know?
I don’t see my brother as irrational. I see him as thinking rationally from a different set of premises, and morally fired up about the conclusions he draws.
In concrete terms, it’s the difference between sort of bleeding from working on schoolwork all day on the computer to mindlessly watching somebody play video games on Twitch or streaming a bunch of episodes of a TV show I’ve watched 4 times before; versus decreeing that work stops at 10:00 PM, taking one hit on a joint on the porch (I’m a lightweight), and gabbing with my girlfriend about all kinds of stuff in a very enjoyable and emotionally-engaged way that I find exceedingly difficult to do if I haven’t gone into a kind of mental and emotional “second space.” Does that make sense?
Thank you for the ideas and all the positive feedback! I would say that the results of this I Ching run have been quite dramatic so far. I’m excited to make a post about them when they’ve had more time to develop. You’re right that seeking mentorship on taking on more of a leadership role would be a good idea. I’m still exploring what academic training to seek, and actually starting a new career will be several years further down the line—though obviously there will be plenty of important projects in the meantime. However, I do feel confident that I’ve learned a lot from my work as a teacher, and I feel good about the ways they’re applying to my new projects and schoolwork. Sometimes, that only becomes apparent on reflection.
Insights, Intentions, First Steps:
Insight: I will prioritize collaborative projects and ensure their success, deprioritize solitary skill-building projects, and reject projects related to developing the career I am involved in currently but moving away from. I will be cautious about taking on additional collaborative projects or escalating my current ones, since letting down others is frustrating to them and may risk my reputation.
Intention: I will take time this summer to investigate alternative community colleges and teachers, since I’ve switched academic tracks since starting at my current school. First Step: I made a list of the community colleges in my town, and listed the email addresses of the heads of their economics and math departments.
Insight: Overall, I will keep a level-headed attitude with the ups and downs over this process, and understand that while plans are fragile, particularly those made for more than 6 months out, I can find workable alternatives.
Intention: I will assign a reasonable amount of time each day to do something intentional to add joy and ease to my life. Even if I’m not certain it will really accomplish this aim, I’ll select activities that convey the appearance of joy, trusting that performing such rituals will lead to maturity, the real thing. First Step: I made a list of fitting activities and created a Personal Growth Journal to put them in.
Intention: I will make more of an effort to praise good outcomes of decisions and actions made by myself and others, understanding that they will usually be more modest and short-lived than I’d originally hoped. First Step: I started an “accomplishment affirmations” section of my Personal Growth Journal briefly listing what I’ve achieved today.
Intention: I will look for opportunities to take positions of command, such as a boss or team leader. First Step: I guess I’ll make an “aspirations” section in the PGJ. Not sure how to take a more concrete step in this direction.
Intention: I will hold myself and my collaborators accountable for failures in our duties. First Step: In my PGJ, I made a log of cautions to myself for my own small failings., and wrote two paragraphs about how I dealt with my frustrating physics teacher.
Fêng / Abundance
Thunder and Lightning from the dark heart of the storm: The Superior Person judges fairly, so that consequences are just. The leader reaches his peak and doesn’t lament the descent before him. Be like the noonday sun at its zenith. This is success.
My first thought is that some of my projects are collaborative. That means we’ve made commitments to each other. My decision to cut these projects or increase my commitment will impact other people. Making sure others feel like I’ve treated them well in our collaboration is as important as adding another line to my resume. Therefore, all else being equal, I should prioritize collaborations, make sure that I’m treating others well and receiving good treatment in turn, and should be especially cautious before taking on further collaborations or escalating my current commitments.
The fact that I’m attempting a major career change after ten years in the workforce makes the language about “the descent before him” unpalatable to me. A more optimistic reading is that I’m “descending” from the zenith of my previous career. I have ideas from time to time about how I could have done more—building a larger business, hiring employees, starting a summer camp. Maybe it’s merely saying that it’s time to let these plans go: a graceful exit, feeling that I don’t need to squeeze in more to feel successful. This suggests that I should not add new projects toward furthering my old career.
You are in a position of authority in this situation. Archetypally, you are the New King, returned from your quest to claim your throne. However, you are enlightened enough to realize that you are merely a part of a cycle, and that you must someday yield your throne to the new kid in town, the younger, faster gunslinger, the young turk, the next returning hero, the next New King. Fretting about the inevitable descent is senseless. For now you must play your role to the hilt and use this gift of power to govern your world as best you can. You are the best person for the job. That’s why you were chosen. Give it your personal best.
I did not consider that I might be fretting about my long-term decline in the context of prioritizing these short-term projects. Perhaps I am trying to do too much all at once, trying to run faster than the younger generation in order to stay ahead of the competition. I should at least make sure I do a great job at the collaborative projects I’m committed to. Achieving a good and timely result there is more important than investing extra time in learning new skills.
Chên is movement; Li is flame, whose attribute is clarity. Clarity within, movement without-this produces greatness and abundance. The hexagram pictures a period of advanced civilisation. However, the fact that development has reached a peak suggests that this extraordinary condition of abundance cannot be maintained permanently.
This connects with my value that I should have a good, conscious reason for making consequential decisions. All my projects are aligned with my fundamental desire to seek a more highly-impactful and rewarding career. I feel as though I haven’t invested enough time in looking at alternatives, and too often dive in. For example, there are a number of community college programs in my area. The one I’m attending was chosen for reasons that are no longer relevant. I’m pursuing a different academic track, and so I should probably make a stronger effort to meet or at least look up all the faculty who teach classes in this new area. Maybe there are better options. I keep pushing that into the background because it feels like another unfun thing on my plate, another uncertain and potentially disruptive decision to make.
After spending some time with the second half, which seemed more mysterious to me, I felt it might be suggesting a more cautious outlook on the future. It may be that changes in civilization that are beyond my control will profoundly impact my career trajectory in ways I am unable to anticipate. I can’t time the market, and it’s good to plan ahead, but I should take my plans for more than 6 months out lightly, and those for more than a year out as fragile. It may be that some of my projects are depending on enough factors that there’s always a risk they’ll collapse. My community college might get no state tuition subsidy and triple its rates. I might spend a year building up a relationship with a teacher, only for him to have a heart attack and die. Donald Trump might be elected for a second term.
In the face of risk, it makes sense to diversify and hedge my bets, while keeping a level head and not responding overmuch to the ups and downs. Both in terms of personal reward and altruistic impact, I think I’m making the strongest bet I can; I have to trust that over the next few decades, future-me will ride the waves as well as possible, whether seas are stormy or calm. When those risks hit, I can take time to reassess, but if I’m hedging and diversifying appropriately, I should be able to mitigate the impact to some extent.
ABUNDANCE has success.
The king attains abundance.
Be not sad.
Be like the sun at midday.
Being a student means frugality with my money and time. It’s stressful at times, and can make me sad about what I’m missing out on. This could mean to stay positive about the tradeoffs—my main strategy—or it could be suggesting that I aim for a full, abundant life for myself even in the midst of all the work. I have to admit that the question of how to have an abundant life right now is far from my mind. I don’t want to see these as “lost years.” Maybe I really do need to be as proactive and energetic about bringing an abundance of joy into my life as I am about working hard.
Maybe that means setting aside “me time” every day, making more plans with friends, being more open to taking trips, buying things I like, being OK with OK but always looking for fuck yeah. I think that would mean considering actions that I currently neglect or reject because they would make me joyful, rather than productive, and intentionally taking a gamble on them. It may be important to start with the appearance of joy and abundance, the ritual, and trust that over time, it will mature into the real thing. I’m going to make a list of several easy activities that might bring me joy, and intentionally set aside a reasonable amount of quality time for them every day, and see if it’s adding to my life.
It is not given to every mortal to bring about a time of outstanding greatness and abundance. Only a born ruler of men is able to do it, because his will is directed to what is great. Such a time of abundance is usually brief. Therefore a sage might well feel sad in view of the decline that must follow. But such sadness does not befit him. Only a man who is inwardly free of sorrow and care can lead in a time of abundance. He must be like the sun at midday, illuminating and gladdening everything under heaven.
This quote reminds me that it’s necessary but not sufficient to have a will directed toward greatness. Regression to the mean is a thing; time and tide ruin all structure. I need to be excited and glad of the opportunity to make even modest achievements. I need to be in the habit of praising what I and others do, always looking for and speaking to the good. This is a caution to LW and EA perspectives, which often focus on raising concerns and doubts, and can give rise to a somewhat mechanistic discourse. There’s a time for sober deliberation, and a time for praise and delight in whatever positive outcomes are achieved. I do feel as though I’m focused so much on the former that I’m neglecting the latter.
Perhaps I can make a mental habit of expressing more gladness for the positive outcomes of my decisions, and to counter activity bias by reminding myself that I also have agency over aspects of my life that I’ve come to take for granted, and that they also warrant continued alternations of praise and deliberation.
Both thunder and lightning come:
The image of ABUNDANCE.
Thus the superior man decides lawsuits
And carries out punishments.
This image seems both mysterious and harsh to me. I’ve never considered thunder and lightning as symbols of abundance. To me, the “superior man” is who I’m becoming: a person capable of shouldering big responsibilities and working with adults. Currently, I work with children, and have cultivated a kindly, receptive, soft persona. This image suggests that I’ll need to make myself into a force of nature, a mover and shaker, sticking by my decisions once they’re made, in order to have the kind of impact I want. This doesn’t seem too relevant to my current projects, since I’m not in a position of command in any of them. It might suggest that I should fight for such a commanding role as a way to prove myself, something I had not considered before.
It could also mean that just deciding to disrupt my life and pursue a different career, despite the objections and disbelief of my family and friends, is a way of taking command in this way. I need to cultivate credibility as an authority, from the way I speak and dress, to the way I live, to the roles I take on. In all that, it’s important to remember that on collaborative projects, my decisions will impact other people: it’s not all in my head.
This hexagram has a certain connection with Shih Ho, BITING THROUGH (21), in which thunder and lightning similarly appear together, but in the reverse order. In BITING THROUGH, laws are laid down; here they are applied and enforced. Clarity [Li] within makes it possible to investigate the facts exactly, and shock [Chên] without ensures a strict and precise carrying out of punishments.
I think this is about taking analysis seriously and putting it into action. Only in this way does thinking matter. I’ve made some important decisions already, and it’s important to implement them and enforce them despite the barriers the world puts up and my own rebelliousness.
The focus on punishment here is challenging. I think about this very little. I’m not a governor or manager, and have no authority to punish anyone except myself. However, in my projects, people will no doubt let me down in various ways. I need to be prepared at least to formally acknowledge violations and issue reprimands to others, or to call myself to account, when there has been a failure of responsibility. “Strict and precise” means going beyond merely feeling bad and letting it go. It means having somewhat more of an explicit process, by which violations are tracked, and appropriate punishments are considered before they are carried out.
Timeliness matters too. I once was accused of improper lane violation, and contested the ticket I received in court. The officer never filed a report, and didn’t show up for the court date, so it was automatically dismissed and my record was cleared.
Come to think of it, I’ve actually been doing reasonably well with this. When I had a sloppy and disorganized physics teacher a couple quarters ago, I called him on it, brought in the relevant college authorities, and was very proactive about making sure I was treated fairly.
That suggests that these projects will have value not only as concrete accomplishments, but also in supplying me with stories I can tell to establish my ability to work through challenges and demonstrate my personal and productive virtue. That will require some reflection, perhaps after the fact, as I am doing here. Part of a good court system is maintaining accurate and fair records. So perhaps I should also be creating a journal of these sorts of stories and engaging in periodic reflection of this kind.
I heard an idea on the Rationally Speaking podcast today of “befriending a straw man.” The idea is that rather than putting forth the most charitable interpretation of a poorly articulated thought, or just strawmanning it, you take the poorly articulated idea seriously exactly as stated and see if you can find merit in it that you’d otherwise not have discovered. This seems valuable. I think the idea here is to get out of your mental ruts, and to do that you might need to be exposed to ideas that don’t make obvious sense and really try to treat them as fact.
This “befriend the straw man” idea would imply that it’s most important to consider the aspects of the divination that make the least sense or seem obviously wrong. By contrast, a YouTube video I watched of an old lady giving lessons on constructing hexagrams said to ignore those bits.
So in the end, we’re sort of asking what we think the function of the divination is, and then determining how to interpret it based on that.
Edit: This comment turned into a whole second half of the OP, so I added it above.
I can think of a few further purely speculative inferences. Clearly, somebody created the divination systems used in various cultures throughout the world. The Xunxi quote gives reason to believe that for some members of at least some cultures, systems of ritual, perhaps including divination, were perceived as something like a useful technology. With perhaps daily use by a number of practitioners, possibly engaging in ongoing intergenerational discussions about the efficacy of their divination system, it might have been subject to many optimizing tweaks.
The I Ching does appear to have different versions. From Wikipedia: “Various modern scholars suggest dates ranging between the 10th and 4th centuries BC for the assembly of the text in approximately its current form” (emphasis mine). It seems to me that anyone telling fortunes for a regular clientele will stay in business longer if their advice offers at least the appearance of utility. Royalty might have been more educated and more sophisticated consumers of divination; perhaps they knew exactly what they were buying. After all, if it’s possible for divination to offer both the mere appearance of utility and the real thing, all else being equal we’d expect the latter to drive the former out of the market.
When I synthesize the posts of Vaniver and Said Achmiz, it seems to suggest that divination is useful both when random and when the answers have an optimal wording and frequency distribution.
Given that different societies will feature very different pressures and power structures, it seems unlikely to me that a system of divination optimized for one culture (or segment of that culture, such as royalty) will necessarily translate with perfect fidelity to other contexts. It may not even optimize the conscious goals of the individuals using it, or the survival of their societies as a whole.
I can think of two ways divination systems might be retained. One is through conquest. If they promote that activity successfully, it might lead to the spread of the divination system. Another is through promotion of individual flourishing. If a divination system helps people achieve their aims, they might continue to use it, teach it to their children, promote it among their friends, and be imitated by their enemies.
I’d expect a system that does both to be most successful, and my mind immediately jumps to the dual nature of many religions, which are by turns warlike and peaceful. Though the “doves” and “hawks” of each culture or religion often seem to despise each other, they may very well work synergistically to promote the spread of their shared culture. The “hawks” promote an attitude of conquest and hardline defensiveness, while the “doves” promote the benefits of a focus on peaceful individual flourishing. Both can be useful propaganda tools both within their own borders and to outsiders. In order to be convincing to others, they need to be utterly convinced themselves that they are rigid hawks or committed doves. A savvy leader would known how to make use of both.
This is getting a bit away from divination at this point, so I’ll leave it there. I do think that any account of the utility of a divination practice (or other cultural practice) needs to explain for whom it provides utility and the mechanism by which it does so. That’s the reason for digressing into my “hawks and doves are best friends” theory. My guess is that even when a religion doesn’t have an obvious divinatory practice, that it has other ways of accomplishing something similar.
I’m less familiar with Island and Judaism, but in Christianity, it seems to me that sermons, rotating selections of the Bible chosen for study, prayer, and calls to take these words and rituals to heart in ways that are personally meaningful for the congregation are somewhat “random”—or at least out of the hands of the congregation unless they’re willing to change churches—and optimized, as judged by the size and growth of the congregation, or the success of cultures that and their varied practices.
It would be interesting to speculate on how much the physical form of the randomization practice or any reference text/image plays in the efficacy of these practices. Can yarrow sticks be replaced with a random number generator, if we’re aware that’s all that’s happening? Or would that make it less effective? Perhaps there is some aspect of human neurology that makes divination done with certain physical implements more compelling than that done with others.
Added to the open archive of rationalist/EA cash-prize contests.
… I thought this was a comment. I guess I’ll just have to learn to like the punishment.
… I’ll see myself out.
This is meant as a constructive suggestion. I find some of your posts here to be ambiguous.
For example, in your reply here, I can’t tell whether you’re complaining that I, too, am playing into this catch-22 that you describe, or whether instead you feel that my post is more sympathetic to you and thus a place where you can more safely vent your frustration.
As you can see from my first comment in this chain, I was also unsure of how to interpret your original post. Was it an argument for giving up on a moral imperative of altruistic utility-maximization entirely, a re-evaluation how that imperative is best achieved, or a claim that maximization is good in theory but such opportunities don’t exist in practice?
Although everyone should give others a sympathetic and careful reading, if I was in your shoes I might consider whether my writing is clear enough.
Singer’s argument is that
1) We have a moral obligation to try to do the most net good we can.
2) Your obligation to do so holds regardless of distance or the neglect of others.
3) This creates an unconventionally rigorous and demanding moral standard.
Benquo’s is that
1) Even the best charity impact analysis is too opaque to be believable.
2) The rich have already pledged enough to solve the big problems.
3) Therefore, spend on yourself, spend locally, and on “specific concrete things that might have specific concrete benefits;” also, try to improve our “underlying systems problems.” “There’s no substitute for developing and acting on your own models of the world.”
We must inevitably develop our own models of the world, and it’s important to read impact assessments critically, as we would anything else. I don’t think Benquo makes much of an argument for why or how we should instead spend on ourselves, our local community, or on “specific concrete benefits” as an alternative method of doing good. My understanding of how the world works and what constitutes the good has a strong social basis, and we ought to be just as skeptical of our own observations as we are of others. The reason why EA and impact assessment excites me is because it creates a basis for improving our altruistic strategy over the long term.
I’m open to the idea that local altruism is ultimately the better strategy, but I would need to see an equally strong argument for that side. I just don’t yet. I’ve spent too much time engaged in personal, face-to-face relationship and activism poor people in America and around the world to dismiss the call to almost exclusively focus on populations in extreme poverty. I’m more skeptical of X-risk as an altruistic project, for the same reasons that Benquo critiques GiveWell and because it’s hard for me to see how we sway the military to eschew new weapons.
If he’s rejecting not just earning-to-give, but the whole philosophy of utilitarianism, he hasn’t really refuted any of the core points of Singer’s argument. Opaque analysis should lead us to do our own research, not reject the project of increasing our impact. Neglect by the rich doesn’t mean we too can neglect these funding gaps. If these problems indicate the need for revolutionary change rather than philanthropy, that’s fine, though I have to say that leading off the call to action with “spend money on taking care of yourself and your friends” makes it sound a lot more like motivated reasoning.
If this blog’s “hard questions” have utility, they should be novel, important, and answerable.
Important questions are highly likely to be known already among experts in the relevant field. If they’re answerable, one of those experts is likely already working on it with more rigor than you’re capable of extracting from a crowd of anonymous bloggers. I think, then, that any questions you ask have a high probability of being redundant, unimportant, or unanswerable (at least to a useful degree of rigor). Unfortunately, you’re unlikely to know that in advance unless you vet the questions with experts in the relevant literature.
And at that point, you’re starting to look like an unaccountable, opaque, disorganized, and underresourced anonymously peer-reviewed journal.
It might be interesting to explore the possibility that a wiki-written or amateur-sourced peer reviewed journal could have some utility, especially if it focused on a topic that is not so dependent on the expensive and often opaque process of gathering empirical data. I expect that anyone who can advance the field of mathematics is probably already a PhD mathematician. So philosophy, decision theory, something like that?
Developing a process to help an anonymous crowd of blog enthusiasts turn their labor into a respectable product would be useful and motivating. I would start by making your next “hard question” what specific topic such a PRJ could usefully focus on.
What will be in last place in the race toward human simulation—text, image (ie realistic AI-generated video of the human face or voice), or the body? Whichever is in last place would become the privileged marker of biological humanity.
It seems to me that we’re already doing pretty well with AI-generated faces and voices. Probably last place will either be babble quality or robotic body quality.
So an alternative to careful parsing of written text might be simply to insist on hearing words spoken by a human being. Of course, there’s a potential for those words to be an AI-generated script. That doesn’t put us in much of a different place from listening to human-originating babble, though. In fact, we already parse people (like politicians) for whether they sound like they’re just giving us “talking points,” following a loose script, or whether they’re actually speaking off-the-cuff, with authenticity. This is one reason people liked DJT and disliked Clinton, for example. Weirdly enough, since I bet AI will be able to imitate the Donald long before it can copy Clinton’s speaking style.
So count me unconvinced that the babble problem is either a genuinely new issue, or that System-2 careful parsing for deep structure is our only solution.
Why should we expect future text generators to be any more dangerous or effective than human-generated propaganda? As advertising has advanced, so have our abilities to resist or avoid it. We mute the television when the commercials come on, teach children to analyze them for the underlying message, create fact-checking services, and so on. It seems likely to me that we will develop anti-textgen technology roughly in sync with the development of text generation itself.
Imagine a future publishing company that put out AI generated nonfiction. It might use one AI to generate the text, another to fact-check, another to provide adversarial takes on the claims in the book. Its book on the Civil War will compete with others written by human experts, and eventually by other companies putting out computer-generated nonfiction.
Certainly we’d expect that the KKK would eventually get its hands on such software and create a revisionist, racist Civil War history. But the reading public will receive it in the context of other histories published by “reputable AI publishing firms” and human experts. I don’t see why this situation is all that different than the one we have today, just with different means of production.