A few I do regularly;
Odds calibration. Make predictions, with odds, about things. A number of people do this on a yearly basis (https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2019/1/15/18182069/2019-predictions-forecast-democratic-nominee-brexit) but you can do it on a much shorter range as well, estimating how long a chore will take, which people will arrive to a dinner first, or how much a company’s stock price will move after some announcement. “My next meeting today will not wind up canceled, 80% confidence.” Write these down somewhere accessible (though probably private) and record the accuracy. The goal is for the things you say will happen with 80% confidence to happen eight times out of ten.
Be wrong. State aloud and write down some fact about the world that you think is true, think of an authority you would trust (Wikipedia is a decent starting point here) and then look it up. “The population of Houston Texas is between one and two million.” If you are right, bask in the warm glow. If you are wrong, admit aloud that you are wrong, and what the right answer is. The goal is to get used to saying this when it is correct to say. (Speaking of which- I was wrong, the population of Houston is over two million.)
Follow curiosity. I’m not confident that “keep googling questions and clicking links in Wikipedia until you feel the confusion disappear” is especially efficient, but learning what “wait a minute, I’m still confused on how this actually works” feels like is easier to me when there’s no pressure to nod and move along with the class. Notice the feeling of confusion, and what makes it disappear. (I’m curious what happened with Houston’s growth spike from 1999 to 2000- Montpelier Vermont and Lincoln Nebraska show similar jumps that year, but not Albany New York or Orlando Florida- but it looks like my meeting was only delayed and not canceled, so I’ll have to figure that out later.)
Welcome! I’d recommend taking advantage of physical meetups if you can. I still lurk a lot, but meeting a few people in person made me feel a lot more comfortable.
I have mostly seen “youth group” used in the context of “Christian youth group” and while your circumstances may be very different, I would advise exercising some caution around whether this will be seen as corrupting the youth. There is a difference between “believes things near the current frontier of progressiveness” and “is genuinely open-minded about things beyond the current frontier of progressiveness.” This difference can and will bite you if you mistake one for the other.
First of all, I’d just like to take a moment to say that I quite appreciate your username.
Second, to take your initial question literally, I don’t think there are that many rationalists who actually want to rule the world. The position sounds like it would involve paperwork and talking to uninteresting yet obstinate people, so speaking for myself I don’t think I’d actually want the job. There are probably many rationalists who would take the position for instrumental reasons, but because it’s an instrumentally useful job, the competition for it is fierce. I’m not saying you meant it literally, but I think the distinction points at something important; what is it we actually want?
I’d like to be more in-shape, to work on more interesting programming projects, and to go on more successful dates. I’d pretty cheerfully read a guide on those subjects, and would probably be amenable to contributing to such a guide. Somebody else might want to save more lives, or have a higher class lifestyle, or lead a more interesting and exciting life. Some skills are generically useful to a large range of goals (financial management, persuasion, etc) but something that might be crucial to my goals might be irrelevant to yours. In addition, the format of whatever we’re learning from matters; when learning to work out a youtube video is probably more useful than text. I would love to see more essays in the vein of SSC’s Much More Than You Wanted To Know, but audio lectures, videos, or illustrations are good too. (Have you ever tried learning martial arts from a textbook? It’s not ideal.)
Lastly, something worth thinking about. We all have the internet, and can all ask google for information. What advantage does a rationalist repository of teachings have? I’m confident we have some (offhand, we have common jargon, possibly a willingness to do experiments, and the occasional dedicated specialist) but if we want to do more than toss a lot of blogs in a pot and stir, it might be good to keep the comparative advantages in mind.
Would not be especially useful to me, but my brother has a major preference to listen rather than read.
This might make people even more reluctant to downvote. If a downvote removed a thousand points of karma, I would almost never use one. I’m more comfortable giving metaphorical slaps on the wrist the lighter the slap, so to speak. It’s possible I’m typical minding here.
That said, if you did this and did not announce it, my downvote habits wouldn’t change and this would work more or less as intended.
Upped my donation to $10 via Patreon. Being on the far end of the country and being noticeably cash constrained conspire to make that number smaller than I’d prefer, but I want projects like this to work.
Hrm. I find myself wanting to disagree with this comment while agreeing with your original post. I think there’s three distinct levels worth thinking about.
There’s worthiness as in “self-worth” or “worth helping.” The world is probably better if the bulk majority of people have this, and I have heard people express the idea that every human is worthwhile in this sense. That’s not to say me or you can’t prioritize who we care about, but “such and such people aren’t worth the air they breath” is a dangerous line of reasoning. Complements aren’t particularly useful here, as “You can use language, therefore your existence is positive” can frankly come off as a backhanded insult of sorts, since that’s a really low bar.
There are correct steps in the right directions well*, including most personal growth and including hill climbing towards better states. This is the place I think complements are best deployed; an adult human taking a ten minute walk outside is better than that human sitting on the couch watching reruns. (I recognize I’m making a value claim there that may not be globally correct.) Guessing “red” all the time in the probability question above is better than guessing “red” 60% of the time and guessing “blue” 40% of the time. Progress is worth appreciating, both on the personal level (“hey, congrats on beating your mile-run time!”) and on the group level (I watched a time-lapse map of malaria cases in a room full of EAs recently, and I am kinda disappointed that nobody cheered.) It doesn’t even have to be a new achievement! In martial arts, I eventually reached the point where every other session the instructor would nod and say “good stance” before moving on. This never stopped feeling good to hear, and it kept the basics in my mind even as I moved on to more advanced steps.
Then there’s being correct on an absolute scale. The kind of rightness that involves local validity and correct premises, the kind that gets measured against the real world and succeeds. A successful rocket launch, a healthy patient after surgery, an AI that does what we meant and not what we said. The universe does not grade on a curve and gives no awards for effort. I think if we as aspiring rationalists lose sight of this, then we will eventually go astray no matter how good we are at the first two*. Complements here are rare, but powerful.
My suggested heuristic for the community would be to complement someone when you know them and see them advance along the path, or when they do something which helps you advance*. I also offer complements when someone does something I want them and/or others to do more of even if it is not novel, and I suspect that this kind of complement is what you are seeking to encourage; if so, then we are in agreement. “Good stance” is important to hear, as is “good job updating” and even “hey, good job organizing the meet up yesterday! I think you pretty good moderating, you jumped in at the right moment when me and Bob were getting derailed.” Praise for getting things right, with the promise of more encouragement as we climb higher.
*To be clear, I don’t think there’s a single linear ladder we climb straight up from ignorance to superrationality. There are probably multiple paths to the summit, and there may well be more than one peak. That’s a different topic however.
Ordinary need not get lots of upvotes- I think I agree with you in that- but “not bad” shouldn’t be downvoted. More germanely, I think “better than average” is worth rewarding with a complement if you can catch it in the moment.
Some years ago I started teaching a handful of kids from my community basic rationality skills. The first thing I taught them was probability, drawing cards with and without replacement and trying to build up an idea of what statistics meant, and I clearly remember praising them when they realized that if 60% of the cards are red and 40% are blue, you always guess that the next card will be red instead of guessing red most of the time and blue some of the time. A couple of weekends ago my roommate (who is usually a couch potato) asked if it was okay if they went with me when I was heading out for a walk, and after we got back I told them it was nice to have company and that walking with them was fun, because I want them to do that more often.
When somebody does something you wish people would do, I think a quick complement or piece of praise is a fine way to <strike> classically condition your friends and family</strike> make them feel good about it. I would clearly distinguish “You’re the best writer!” from “you’re really good at writing!” from “I liked this thing you wrote, particularly this piece.” The first is the greatest complement from a literal, absolute level, but the last is the one that people seem to feel most and is also true more often.
No headache, but B. sounds closer to my experiences. Consistently doing things I don’t want to do and don’t understand why it matters makes me less and less inclined to do more of those things and means I have to pay more attention to avoid saying or doing something grouchy. Working on an interesting problem (one that sits just outside my current skill) tends to make me focus more and more, and once I break focus I often find I have aches from bad posture or eyestrain.
Doing a bunch of challenging tasks or working out a lot tends to make me more cheerful and agenty, sitting on the couch grinding levels in an MMO tends to make it harder to break patterns and do challenging tasks. As far as I can tell this is the opposite way things are supposed to work, but it’s consistent.
Even if you are correct, this still points to a massive failing.
Lets say 95% of students feel as you feel. My feelings on primary and secondary school are more upset and angry than Zvi has expressed here, and had about twenty people in my graduating class; perhaps every other student in my class loved it. In that case, it’s still a system where one in twenty children are bored, stifled, and hurt. A system that was exactly like the current system but where those children like me and Zvi who would take “sick days” to get out could freely get out feels like it would be a much better system.
Because frankly my opinion of the current American education system is that it is slightly worse than chance at teaching people things regardless of the pedagogical method; just because a blind man can’t shoot straight doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the gun.
I admit I haven’t read any scientific studies on learning styles and would cheerfully read any two that you wanted to point me at. It’s possible the studies you’re thinking of didn’t involve schools or conventional teachers, and if that’s true then I’m more interested in reading them. My experience with learning styles was mostly firsthand in school, and there the educational system made a few strange choices that (I think) blunted the usefulness of the approach.
To use my brother as an example: the school classified him as an auditory learner, but their auditory teaching methods involved having him give oral presentations in place of certain essay writing assignments. This was a small step forward since he could speak clearer and easier than he could write (though its impact on his grades was wiped out by the fact that drawing was hard for him and they had him do the visual learning assignments as well) but at no point did the school offer him an audiobook version of something instead of the paperback.
My prediction for the studies is that they had a specific list of learning styles each with a different specific study technique and/or that they asked each student to use each technique. This resulted respectively in some students not improving at all (because the technique that would help them wasn’t on the specific list) and/or the best students doing worse (because they had to spend time using techniques that weren’t suited to them) with the result that overall performance declined.
There are a lot of different ways to try and learn something. (Listen to it on loop, anki decks, write an essay about it, try to teach someone else, etc.) I think that humans naturally vary in which methods of learning are easiest and most effective for them, and a good idea is to try a lot of different ways of learning material, to keep track of which ways work best for you, and then to use those techniques to learn everything you want to learn going forward. The index cards that help me learn best aren’t in any of the official Learning StylesTM technique lists the teachers had, but once I found them I started using them for everything while not expecting them to work especially well for the median student. That’s the useful core at the heart of Learning Styles, even if they were never used to great effect.
Does that fit with the studies you’ve seen and your own understanding?
Upvoted, and I wanted to specifically say that I appreciate you for writing this concept down where it can be easily and specifically pointed to in the future.
I’m chuckling to myself as I read this because this morning there was heavy snow outside and my power was out, so I hiked partway up out of the valley I live in to get reception on my cell phone to call the office and find out whether it was open (it was) and then went back down shovel the shared parking lot and driveway with my neighbors so we could get our cars out, then halfway to work found that the road was blocked by a fallen tree so me and a few others who had stopped sawed it up and hauled it clear of the road (someone had a chainsaw in the back of their pickup thankfully) so we could get to where we were going. Is ruralpunk a word? If it isn’t I find I want to make it a word.
This doesn’t happen every day, but I would guess I have a day like that around once a month. I’ve been considering moving to a city for access to better jobs, and the thought of growing unused to events like the above has been one of the factors that make me reluctant. Perhaps it’s an irrational appreciation for a rugged aesthetic, but I find I’m more cheerful after nature makes me solve some problems that involve grabbing something physical and working up a sweat.
Agreed. I would also love an easy way to ask or answer “Huh, I’m having a hard time understanding this. Do you know of any explanations in X format?” The worst case when writing something that’s already written (assuming you do it well) is that you waste a bit of time, but you can probably expect that your configuration of words will happen to be a better explanation for at least one person than what exists.
As for the username, I played the devil’s advocate one too many times and someone used it as a nickname for me. I was already a fan of “Screwtape Proposes A Toast” by C.S. Lewis and it fit the pattern for names I respond to easily, so when I made an account on Less Wrong I picked that.
Thank you for that link! That looks easier than finding somewhere to prop up the whiteboard in the boot of my car, I’ll give it a try. If you don’t mind me asking, why do you buy them when you move if they’re removable?
Have you ever looked at forms of shorthand? I picked up pieces from a journalism major I knew in college, and then started making up my own. You can write a lot faster if you’re willing to be incomprehensible to anyone else.
I use index cards extensively as an exobrain. I like that I can rearrange them on a desk or table as I’m thinking, sorting ideas into different categories, and I also like that I can idly flip through them while on a bus or when standing in line. A couple hundred will fit in a pocket without being folded, they form a stiff enough surface that I can write on them without needing to find a desk or wall to write on, and they don’t give people the sense that I’m not paying attention to them the way taking notes on a phone does. They’re also good at forcing me to ruthlessly prioritize information since there’s a limited amount of space, but if you need more space then about ten index cards gives you the same available area as a normal sheet of printer paper. The ones I use have lines on one side for writing, and blank space on the other side for drawing. Oh, and you can dog-ear or tear them in certain patterns to allow quickly finding certain categories of cards in the stack.
In the evening when I get ready for bed, I take my cards and lay any new ones I care about preserving on my desk and take a quick picture of them with a smartphone.
My first stats teacher used the example of juvenile delinquency and ice cream sales, which rise and fall together. She gave us a few minutes to try and explain why this might be before pointing out that both of these rise dramatically during the summer, when it’s hot out and kids are out of school.