I have a nightmare disorder which can absolutely ruin my week, but I wouldn’t really call myself “literally brain damaged”.
Huh, yeah, this is basically the opposite of how things work for me?
I get into spirals a lot. I can have a positive spiral: I sleep well, get out of bed feeling rested, start the day with a small easy task, get a feeling of accomplishment, feel more confident about starting a bigger task, eventually get into flow, have a very productive day, by 7pm I’m satisfied and decide to start cooking dinner, so I’m ready to go to sleep at a reasonable hour and have another great day tomorrow.
I also get into negative spirals: I wake up feeling tired because I had a nightmare, pick up my phone and scroll social media in bed, encounter some upsetting news, start playing video games to distract myself, suddenly it’s 11pm and I forgot to eat so I stay up late to get groceries and cook, so I don’t get much sleep, so the next day I’m tired again and irritated at myself, so I’m more likely to get back on social media...
I can’t remember to brush my teeth 99% of the time. If I forget once, then the habit is broken, and I’ll forget again tomorrow. Then I’ll have forgotten for three days and it won’t even be on my mind anymore. Soon it’ll be psychologically difficult to think about brushing my teeth because I feel bad about the fact I haven’t done it in a week. Negative spirals.
There’s just a lot of things in my life that I need to be 100% absolutely consistent with, no exceptions, and it’s worth it for me to dip into resources to make that happen. 99% isn’t a stable number; it’s too easy for it to become 98% and too easy for that to become 1%. If I notice a 100% thing becoming a 99% thing, I need to treat that as very urgent and fix it before a spiral starts.
(Yes, this is very delicate and a terrible system which creates gigantic setbacks in my life whenever there’s a change, like needing to move house. But I have to acknowledge that that’s how I work so that I can fix it.)
I’m surprised you decided not to prioritise exercise!
I realised reading this comment that when I ask myself, “How have I become more hardworking?” I don’t think about exercise at all. But if I asked myself the mirror question—“How have I become less hardworking?”—I think about the time when I accidentally stopped exercising (because I moved further away from a dojo and couldn’t handle the public transit—and then, some years later, because of confining myself to my apartment during the pandemic) and it was basically like taking a sledgehammer to my mental health. I can’t recommend exercise strongly enough; it helps with sleep, mood, motivation, energy, everything. (Not everyone experiences this, but enough people do that it seems very much worth trying!)
Okay, I’m not opposed to the project of inventing fun games with no one winner—I mean, I enjoy Dungeons & Dragons—but I think games with one winner are awesome. I like the discipline imposed by them.
I’m not sure I can put into words what I mean by discipline; it’s related to the nameless virtue. But, for example, sometimes in a computer game I find myself thinking, “wow this game is badly designed; it’d be more fun and realistic if it rewarded a good balance of archers and spearmen and cavalry, but I’m pretty sure the archer unit is so cheap and high ground is so accessible that I can just spam the archer unit and win”. I then have a choice; I can do the thing that seems fun and elegant to me and build a realistic army, or I can spam the archer unit and win. I can either complain, or I can win.
To the extent that I’m stretching a rationalist muscle in games at all—and often I’m not, I’m just having fun, not everything I do needs to be justified as rational and virtuous—I think it’s that muscle: “ignore the temptation to adopt a really cool and fun map, and instead use a map that actually describes the territory”. This requires a certain harshness; I can do stuff that makes me feel good and lose and keep losing until I change my strategy. I can complain, “The designers clearly intended this thing to be a powerful strategy, so it should work!”—and if it isn’t actually the best strategy, I will lose. This teaches me to abandon what “should” be true, and pay attention to what actually is true.
The original designers’ intent very rarely comes across in games without very extensive testing and rebalancing IME. Maybe the game is designed so that you need to do X to win, but the very best competitive players will often create a metagame where everyone ignores X and does Y to win. Preventing this from happening requires so much playtesting, and then if your game gets a big enough audience that there’s a semipro or pro scene, it generally happens anyway. It’s like trying to beat the market; you’re just one game designer, and arrayed against you are the forces of thousands of smart people all trying to win your game. Unless you write “you can’t win without doing X” into the rulebook, or unless your game is very very simple, someone will find a way to win without doing X. (Maybe this isn’t true for board games, but I think it’s pretty true about video games, which are more of my experience. Esports games are constantly patched to tune down the dominance of whatever the latest powerful strat is. Card games also often have the problem of a card needing to be changed because, in combination with some other card, it’s being used in an unexpectedly powerful way. So I think it’s probably applicable to board games that are played competitively.)
I think your project is cool, but I also like games with a winner and a loser; I don’t think you need to explain why they’re bad to explain why your thing is good!
I think answering “how should you behave when you’re sharing resources with people with different values?” is one of the projects of contractarian ethics, which is why I’m a fan.
A known problem in contractarian ethics is how people with more altruistic preferences can get screwed over by egalitarian procedures that give everyone’s preferences equal weight (like simple majority votes). For example, imagine the options in the poll were “A: give one ice cream to everyone” and “B: give two ice creams, only to the people whose names begin with consonants”. If Selfish Sally is in the minority, she’ll probably defect because she wants ice cream. When Altruistic Ally is in the minority, she reasons that more total utility is created by option B—since consonant names are in the majority, and they get twice as much ice cream—so she won’t defect and she’ll miss out on ice cream. Maybe she’s even totally fine with this outcome, because she has tuistic preferences (she prefers other people to be happy, not as a way of negotiating with them, simply as an end-in-itself) satisfied by giving Sally ice cream. But maybe this implies that, iterated over many such games, nice altruistic kind people will systematically be given less ice cream than selfish mean people! That might not be a characteristic that we want our moral system to have; we might even want to reward people for being nice.
So we could tell Ally to disregard her tuistic preference (her preference for Sally to receive ice cream as an end-in-itself) and vote like a Homo economicus, since that’s what Sally will do and we want a fair outcome for Ally. But maybe then, iterated over many games, Ally won’t be happy with the actual outcomes involved—because we’re asking her to disregard genuine altruistic preferences that she actually has, and she might be unhappy if someone else gets screwed over by that.
In this game you have an additional layer of complexity, since some people might have made their initial vote by asking, “What value do I think has the most universal benefit for everyone?” and others might have made the vote by asking, “What’s my personal favourite value?”—Those people are then facing very different moral decisions when asked, “Do you want to force your value on everyone else?”
If people who made their initial decision by considering the best value for everyone are also less likely to choose to force their value on everyone, while people who made their initial decision selfishly are also more likely to choose to force it on others, then we’d have an interesting problem. Luckily it looks similar to this existing known problem; unluckily, I don’t think the contractarians have a great solution for us yet.
OK, “top level post on the biology of sexual dimorphism in primates” added to my todo list (though it might be a while since I’m working on another sequence). Now that I know you’re a bacteria person, this makes more sense! I’m a human evolution person, so you wrote it very differently to how I would’ve. (If you’d like an introductory textbook, I always recommend Laland and Brown’s Sense and Nonsense.) I don’t know as much about the very earliest origins in bacteria, so that was super interesting to read about!
The stuff about adding a third sex reminded me somewhat of the principle that it’s unstable to have an imbalance between the sexes; even if it would be optimal for the tribe to have one male and many females, an individual mother in such a gender-imbalanced tribe would maximise her number of grandchildren by having a male child. I’ve seen this used as the default example to prod undergrads out of group-selection wrongthink, so I’m curious if this is as universally known as I think it is.
I can’t tell you whether to edit the post, but I think it’s very common for people to act/joke/suggest as though the study of human evolution inevitably leads towards racist/sexist conclusions. In part, this is because fields like anthropology have a terrible history with sweeping conclusions like “women just evolved to be weaker” and other sins like “let’s make a categorization system that ranks every race”, which has certainly been used by unscientific movements like Red Pill. But anthropology has done a lot to clean up its act, as a field, and I don’t think this is ground we want to cede. The study of human evolutionary biology has only ever confirmed, for me, that discrimination on grounds like race and sex is fundamentally misguided. So I try to push back gently, when I see it, against the implication that studying sexual selection or sexual dimorphism will lead towards bigoted beliefs. Studying science will generally lead away from bigoted beliefs, because bigoted beliefs are generally not true. (I don’t intend this to come across as harsh criticism, either! I just want to explain why I think this is worth caring about.)
And yes, many people will upvote this kind of post because I think folks appreciate the virtue of scholarship. We have a lot of people who can write down their ideas on how to improve your thinking, but fewer who can come in from a specific field and explain the object-level in detail. You deserve many upvotes for citing your sources!
it appears there is no heart react on LessWrong, which is sad because I want to give this comment a lil <3
Well, yes. The correct response to noticing “it’s really convenient to believe X, so I might be biased towards X” isn’t to immediately believe not-X. It’s to be extra careful to use evidence and good reasoning to figure out whether you believe X or not-X.
I’m the kind of person who seems to do really badly in typical office environments. I also found that while working on my attempt at a startup, I was very easily able to regularly put in 16-hour days and wasn’t really bothered by it at all. But then my startup attempt totally failed, so maybe I wasn’t actually doing very good work?
Regardless, what works for me is basically all based on lots of tested self-knowledge.
For example, I like making my environment hyper-comfy. I do better work in my pyjamas, on my laptop in bed, with a mug of coffee in hand. I also do great work curled up under a tree in the park with some cake. This is totally the opposite of what I’ve heard from other people—that putting on a suit and going into the office helps them. But for me, it’s like anything my brain categorises as “work” is aversive and I don’t want to do it, but anything my brain categorises as “not work” is fun and easy. It turns out that doing graphic design in my bed is “not work”, but doing it in anything resembling an office building is “work”. For me. You might have the opposite experience! So I think my advice is less “put your pyjamas on” and more “acquire a level of self-knowledge where you know whether you work better in pyjamas or in a suit, because you’ve checked”.
I think it’s also really important to ignore all the bad techniques that people suggest. For example, for years I followed advice like “tell yourself that if you just do the task for only five minutes, you can reward yourself with chocolate afterwards”. I think this is terrible and bad and caused long-term damage to my productivity, because it essentially involves accepting this framework of “work is suffering and aversive and terrible, but if you suffer through it, then your life can be nice again afterwards”. This is a bad framing! It’s really important to me to affirm that work is rewarding or fulfilling or fun, it’s something I’m interested in or passionate about, I want to do it, etc—and if I don’t believe those things, I need to notice that and treat it as an alarm and dig into what the problem is, not take it for granted like a background truth! I basically spent years reinforcing the belief “if getting something done is important for your goals, then it’s Work, which means it’s inherently unpleasant and aversive” and I now think that’s just about the worst thing you can believe. I notice myself feeling aversive about doing something for no other reason than that doing that thing would accomplish my long-term goals. But the same task, if categorised as “not work”, becomes fun and enjoyable. Now I really try to avoid the bad strategy, and instead think, “I’ll sit under the trees in this beautiful park and get this task done on my laptop while munching these delicious chocolates and it’ll be great,” NOT “I’ll just finish this hateful aversive task and then I can have chocolate and go to the park afterwards”.
I also now actively try to avoid advice like “take breaks to avoid burnout” because I’ve noticed that it hurts me; if I mentally categorise a task as “the sort of unpleasant work that I’d need to take breaks from” then I’ll be less likely to do it. Just telling myself “this task isn’t actually unpleasant, so I don’t want to take any breaks from it, because I’m enjoying doing the task more than I’d enjoy taking a break” seems like it sometimes just… makes that thing true. And also, taking “breaks” seems to mostly be harmful to me, because I end up doing things (like mindlessly scrolling Twitter) which are net harmful to my mental state. It’s much more important for me to actively pursue enjoyable things, and to very rarely try to “rest”, because my brain seems to think that being really miserable counts as “rest” so long as I just avoid doing anything. Joy requires work—even if it’s just “if I want to experience the joy of going to the Botanic Gardens, I gotta shower and put shoes on”.
And I also strongly experience something I call “momentum”—doing one task makes it easier to do another, and succeeding at several tasks makes it seem more fun and enjoyable to do the next task. So, rather than taking a break, I need tasks that have low activation costs and high completion chances, to bootstrap a success spiral. Things like having Duolingo on my phone, so when my brain tells me it’s tired, I have a small easy task I can do—“complete a Duolingo lesson”. Then I don’t fall into the negative spiral—lying in bed and scrolling Twitter, which makes me feel worse, which makes me feel a stronger need to take a break, which makes me scroll Twitter more, which makes me feel worse, etc. Instead I get into a positive spiral—completing my Duolingo lesson successfully, which makes me feel accomplished and a bit energised, which makes it easier to start a second task, which gets me into flow, so it’s easier to start a third task...
But some people would be incredibly miserable if they tried to make that work for them, and would literally hospitalise themselves if they tried to minimise the amount of breaks they get and also rest less, so, like, YMMV and you should just test the things that actually work for you. I suspect I’m weird. I also suspect I’m literally never going to be able to make offices work for me, and normal employment kinda sucks. But I only know that about myself because I tried being employed in an open office and I was like wow, this sucks so much!
If things aren’t working yet, you should probably test more things! Get all the ideas, figure out your specific quirks, test out what works for you (which might be the literal opposite of what works for someone else), try to be actively curious in the “hmm I wonder what would happen if I poked this with a stick?” sense.
If I could work extremely hard doing things I don’t like, without any burnouts, eat only healthy food without binge eating spirals, honestly enjoy doing exercises, have only meaningful rest without exausting my will power and generally be fully intellectually and emotionally consistent, completely subjugating my urges to my values… but ONLY by being really mean and cruel and careless to myself...
Man, that would suck! That would be a really inconvenient world! That would be a world where I’m forced to choose either “I don’t want to be mean to myself, even if I could save lots of people’s lives by doing that, so I’m just going to deliberately leave all those people to die” or “I’m going to be mean to myself because I think it’s ethically obligatory”, and I really don’t want to make that choice!
I much prefer a world where a choice like “I’m going to be nice and careful to myself because actually that’s the best way to be more productive, and being mean isn’t sustainable” is an option on the table. Way more convenient. I really hope it’s the one we live in.
yep, fair! Do you think the point would come across better if Alice was nice? (I wasn’t sure I could make Alice nice without an extra few thousand words, but maybe someone more skilful could.)
I think a lot of us have voices in our heads that are meaner than Alice, so if you think Alice is going to cause burnout, I think we need a response that is better than Bob’s (and better than “I’m just going to reject all assholes out of hand”, because I can’t use that on myself!)
I think antivaxxers could plausibly pose a higher infection risk because they’re unusually likely to hang out with other unvaccinated people, or to do other bad decisionmaking. Someone who’s unvaccinated because they’re scared of needles might still make good decisions otherwise—like they might stay home if they’re feeling a sniffle, or test themselves for COVID if their housemate is sick.
Also, you want to exclude unvaccinated people because they pose an infection risk, so you already wanted to exclude anyone who posts “I hate vaccines” on Facebook. You’re just worried about the incentives or selection effects if you use an honour system, because some people will lie and say they’re vaccinated when they aren’t. I’m suggesting that the incentives or selection effects aren’t as negative if you only require silence, so nobody has to actually lie.
What would you think about a solution like “if you’re not vaccinated and you loudly say so then we’ll ban you, but otherwise you’ll get away with it”?
I can see how it’d be negative to filter out “unvaccinated and honest about it”, creating selection for “unvaccinated and willing to lie about it”; you don’t like liars. But I also think I’m more willing to accept someone who’s quietly unvaccinated because they’re very scared of needles (but who also basically agrees that vaccines are good, and is sort of ashamed about being unvaccinated), and less willing to accept someone who regularly posts on Facebook about how vaccines were invented by Satanists in government to inject compliance drugs so the Illuminati can take over. When I frame it as selecting for people who are “unvaccinated and willing to shut up about it”, rather than selecting for people who are “vaccinated and dishonest about it”, I think I like the sound of that selection effect a lot more. So I think I’d be interested in a policy like “if we find out that you’re unvaccinated then we’ll ban you, but we’re also not trying very hard to find out”. Maybe there’s a useful distinction between requiring dishonesty and requiring silence?
Corner brackets are pretty! I usually just connect every word with a hyphen if they’re intended to be read together, eg. “In this definitely-not-silly example sentence, the potentially-ambiguous bits are all hyphen-connected”.
This is a very tiny thing, but I really don’t like using “Alice, Bob, Carol, Dave/Dan, Eve/Erin, Frank” as the generic characters in parables/dialogues/problems. Why are we alternating binary genders?? Even leaving aside nonbinary inclusivity, it’s literally just clearer and easier to write if I’ve got a he, a she, and a zie (rather than it being ambiguous whether “she” refers to Alice or Carol). I’m not always consistent with it, but generally my imaginary characters are more like Alice, Bob, Charlie, Delilah, Ethan, Fern, etc, and Charlie and Fern use gender-neutral pronouns like they/them or xe/xir. (Though I’ve also been contemplating the idea that it’s better to cycle the names and use different ones per post, so you can refer back to the ideas using the names as a handle: Alice, Bob, Charlie, Delilah, Ethan, Fern, Georgia, Hassan, Indie, Julie, Kasimir, Lei...)
(edited for brevity)
Yep, I think my university called these “special topics” or “selected topics” papers sometimes. As in, a paper called “Special Topics In X” would just be “we got three really good researchers who happen to study different areas of X, we asked them each to spend one-third of the year teaching you about their favourite research, and then we test you on those three areas at the end of the year”. Downside is that you don’t necessarily get the optimal three topics that you wanted to learn about, upside is you get to learn from great researchers.
oh, great, I’m glad someone is doing this! Will you collect some data about how your students respond, and write up what you feel worked well or badly? Are you aware of any existing syllabi that you took inspiration from? It’d be great if people doing this sort of thing could learn from one another!
Hmm, does your response change if they’re housemates or something like that?
I agree there’d be no controversy about Alice deciding not to hire Bob because he doesn’t meet her standards, and I think there’d be little controversy over some org deciding to hire Bob over Alice because he’s more likeable. But, if it makes the post work better for you, you can totally pretend that instead of talking about membership in “the rationalist community”, they’re talking about “membership in the Greater Springfield Rationalist Book Club that meets on Tuesdays in Alice and Bob’s group house”. I think Alice kicking Bob out of that would be much more contentious and controversial!