This is, unfortunately, kind of true in practice. (Although, ideally, is and will become a bit less true at major EA orgs—CEA was pretty good on this dimension and I never felt like people saw me as less intelligent, although that could be because it’s less a part of my identity so I didn’t notice).
I do think that ops work, especially the finance & accounting aspects, is pretty G-loaded, and that people wrongly perceive this as not the case. Anyway, I hope to discuss all of this more in a later post about the personal fit aspect.
That is a pretty interesting article, thank you!
Fiction writing ramble, #2: Worldbuilding.
This is an attempt to walk through the mental process I follow when writing fiction. [Goals: I’d like to better understand what my brain is doing, and put out ideas for other people who might be interested in writing fiction.]
Historically, worldbuilding (I’m talking mainly about fantasy settings here, but sci-fi as well; earthfic applies less) has been one of the planning steps that I most struggle to do alone; I’ve tended to do it via brainstorming with friends. Figuring out how magic systems and societal norms work is shiny, but apparently less shiny to me than just writing. This method has some obvious downsides; it’s harder to get a setting that feels lawful and consistent, and I can write myself into a corner; though the upside is that I don’t tend to get nerdsniped on the worldbuilding step and never end up actually writing anything. (I’ve known several aspiring authors with this problem).
There are two basic ways that I’ve approached worldbuilding for fantasy:
1) Top-down: posit some rules for a world, and simulate out the consequences; can include what magic is possible and easy/hard, but also the consequences it would have on society.
2) Bottom-up: posit some facts about that world, and try to reverse-engineer the underlying rule-set that would generate those observations.
Thanks to my tendency to do worldbuilding “as I go” while already halfway into a story, rather than figuring out all the rules of the setting in advance, (and my more recent choice to write fanfiction in a setting where the rules were very poorly explained), I’ve done more of the latter. Both feel “generative” in a sense that’s hard to describe, but has some similarities to e.g. doing murphyjitsu on an upcoming event I’m running – I’m building up a model of a scenario, asking a lot of “if X, then what?”, and trying to poke at my assumptions and edge cases. (I’m assuming there are multiple ways that fantasy authors do their worldbuilding, and some are less logistics-based.)
It feels like a really important step is adding constraints – reducing the space of what’s possible in a setting, getting it down to a set of assumptions that I can simulate and play with. My brain will generate a lot more ideas if I have fewer degrees of freedom.
One of my guiding principles is “it would be really epic if X”. Even following method #1, which I’m trying for my next original fantasy setting, any underlying ruleset still gives a lot of options, and I can run it forward and flesh out the details based on which version I think is really cool.
There can also be constraints added by the plot – if I don’t have a setting yet, but I do want a particular plot event to happen, I at least know that whatever rules I pick need to make that event plausible.
I can also grab a mishmash of ideas from other books, fiction and not, or straight-up do research for some aspects (I’m currently reading “Legal Systems Very Different From Ours” in order to brainstorm institutions for a fictional civilization.)
In terms of motivation to actually do worldbuilding, probably “getting nerdsniped” is the thing I want to happen, to make it shiny enough that I actually do it rather than jumping straight into writing ch1.
I think I am not actually in flow the majority of the time I’m writing? Like, I get very rare periods where I lose track of time and suddenly it’s the end of the day and 10K words have appeared, and I get shorter snippets of forgetting-the-outside-world, but in the second-to-second timescale there’s often a feeling of effort and of deliberately staying on task. It just seems to be overall reinforcing enough that I will continue to block out time to do it and throw myself at getting through the hard parts, even if it’s been effortful and not felt rewarding in realtime for days or weeks. (I think this has happened more and more as I’ve gotten further into my fanfic, actually, because I’m writing situations that are harder to model.)
Probably another factor is that when I am sufficiently deep in writingmode, not writing is kind of painful and getting it off my mind enough to do other things is even more so.
I think writing is in general helping me understand things about the world, often things about myself and processing emotions around ethics, effective altruism, work vs play, (and death and grief, so much omg), but also things like “how can a group of people coordinate to make rational decisions in response to confusing and fraught situations”. Interestingly, the parts of my fic that are most explicitly about understanding-the-world, like the politics or the parts that required me to read a bunch of Arbital AI safety stuff for research, are generally the least flow-y? That often feels like a thing I am doing to get to the shiny, and given that I’m doing it I should do it right, but it’s not necessarily the shiniest thing.
I think sometimes I’m practicing a skill that I already have by making the characters go through a scenario where they need it, and this ends up being pretty satisfying (I have been nerdsniped into doing so much logistics for fictional battles.) Probably writing fictional medical emergencies is satisfying for this reason too?
(It’s maybe slightly wireheading a desire-to-understand-the-world-and-people by creating a miniature world and people that I can understand perfectly by definition because I created them? Like, I find fantasy worldbuilding super shiny even though it’s literally not about our world. Maybe I feel on some level like I’m learning model-building-in-general? I sort of expect my deep attentional processes to not be that effectively oriented towards learning, though.)
I think it also is a social thing, in that I have a group of ~10 beta readers with whom I’ve become much closer friends as a result of writing this and their reading it, and a piece of the shininess is when I’m imagining how much a particular person will like a scene (when I finally finish writing the next book and send it out to my betas, anyway, so there’s a big delay, but I can imagine the deliciousness of them reading it later and get dopamine hits now). Sometimes I’ve also written stuff
It also just feels satisfying to make something exist, I think, to draw it out of my head in exactly the form I want – I remember getting into the same kind of flow drawing pictures or composing music, which have much less “content”, and I even get some of the thing from singing.
I want to try to pull more of how-I-write into conscious awareness, both because other people have said they were curious & would like to hear about it, and because that might allow me to better troubleshoot and deliberately optimize it (e.g. sometimes I fail to get into flow and writing is effortful—why?), which I guess is a “curious about the mechanics for instrumental reasons” thing.
Fiction writing ramble, 1 of ??:
I’ve been trying to introspect lately on my fiction writing process. My brain is opaque about what it’s doing, which I guess makes sense – I’ve been telling stories since literally before I knew how to write, and I’ve never had any formal instruction in it.
Current question: why is it so intensely a superstimulus for me? Writing fiction is pretty much the only thing I will eagerly and endorsedly do for 16 hours straight. My best and most enjoyable writing periods feel very much like “chasing the shiny” – what “the shiny” is, is hard to describe, but it feels more “substantial” than other second-to-second dopamine-hit-seeking behaviours like chasing links on Wikipedia or TV Tropes. Somewhere between pushing towards an exercise high, and drinking water when I’m thirsty, whereas Internet dopamine-seeking is more like eating sugar.
Thinking about a story I’m writing, and especially talking meta about it with friends, is also extremely rewarding, to the point that sometimes I’ll find myself off in daydreams or having a chat conversation instead of, you know, actually writing. Reaching the shiny thing on the page is effortful, much of the time – the feeling is often that it’s “far away”, and I’m sort of hill-climbing towards it, but often spotting smaller shiny things along the way. The big shiny thing can be a particularly clever or cool plot event that I’m setting the groundwork for, a felt sense theme-shaped-thing I’m groping towards, a lesson I want to convey, or the resolution of foreshadowing I’ve been setting up for dozens of chapters. (Or, let’s be honest, my biggest self-indulgence in writing: gratuitous medical emergencies). The opportunities snatched up along the way can be an amusing interaction between characters, a bit of neat worldbuilding my brain generated on the spot, a snippet of dialogue that feels deliciously in-character, or just a sentence or word use that feels poetic and satisfying.
(Things I’m not chasing that I suspect other authors are: funny or badass one-liners, comedy that much in general, or clever deconstructions/reconstructions of “tropes”. My fiction seems to have the quality of being consistently funny to anyone who has exactly my sense of humour, which involves e.g. laughing hysterically at particularly surreal accounting errors or, more generally, Murphy’s Law in action, and basically not funny to most people. Interestingly, there are scenes in my current fic that I was cackling the entire time I wrote them, that like 3 people have commented on finding funny and most other people think I’m going for dramatic-and-stressful.)
Opening up Scrivener to write feels a lot like going somewhere – vaguely like opening up a new book in a series I love, or playing the next level of an awesome video game, which I suspect is a kind of juicy-anticipation shared by more people. Or returning to a familiar CFAR venue, let’s say, with a mix of walking by familiar landmarks and people carrying out instinctive routines, and setting up for something new. The early stages of fleshing out a new world and story feel a bit like times I’ve flown to a new country, complete with making my way on foreign public transit to the AirBnB I’m staying in and going around opening all the drawers and cupboards to see what’s in them (I, uh, will instinctively do a full inventory of every new place I’m staying in). There are big things that I see vaguely at a distance, and smaller local details that I can dig into, almost fractal complexity – except that, of course, I’m making up the details as I go, adding them to a world-model that I’m investing in and know I can return to play in anytime.
(I don’t find literary analysis boring at all!) It’s been long enough since I read the book that I don’t exactly remember all the bits, and it also makes sense that different themes could resonate for different people. I think your interpretation is probably closer to what Ayn Rand intended – she obviously doesn’t think of Eddie as an antagonist, exactly, since he has positive traits and her antagonists generally don’t. I agree, and probably she would agree, that Eddie was able to do more good by “finding his Dagny” (I mean, this is what I was trying to do at the time!) That being said, I...don’t remember having the impression at all that he would have been welcome in Galt’s Gulch, even if he had decided to pin his loyalty on Dagny herself rather than the railroad; I don’t remember him even having an opportunity to find out that she was leaving or why. (I could just be misremembering this, though.)
On 2) I agree, but I think this is true of pretty much any “virtue” you could name – ambition, curiosity, kindness, humility, honesty/candor, etc. As you point out, no virtue is sufficient by itself, and no extreme is effective without some balance of the others. (Though I contest the fact that naive hufflepuffism doesn’t already include some goal-seeking; caring about getting shit done is a pretty core Hufflepuff trait, and one Eddie Willers has in spades, though of course it may not be strategic or aimed in a useful direction). The main claim I’m making is that loyalty is a virtue the same way e.g. honesty is – not sufficient in itself, harmful if followed unstrategically and unquestioned, but good to have at all.
Another claim I’m making, though it wasn’t very explicit here, is that there’s not a single “right amount” of loyalty-drive to have. There’s going to be a range where it’s balanced with other traits and adaptive, different people are going to fall in different places on that spectrum, and that’s fine. I have a high enough innate-drive-to-loyalty that I really don’t need to cultivate more of it on purpose; it makes more sense to cultivate traits like ambition and self-efficacy that will help balance it; but I also don’t think I should hammer that drive out of myself.
Considering motives is something that might be worth exploring in a higher-effort and more fleshed-out post, which this one is not. I do want to note that the Hufflepuff-Slytherin quote was from someone who I think would consider themselves a Hufflepuff, so read to me as a warning rather than a threat (and also was quoted to me second-hand, so I’m pretty uncertain about exact wording and don’t want to speculate based on it.)
This seems like partly a critique of unstrategic loyalty and unquestioned ideals rather than idealism per se, and (to my brain at least) partly like a type error – in my mind, the point of having ideals isn’t at all that they will reward you.
I think this is fair re: loyalty to people – it’s a red flag if you find yourself being loyal to someone who treats you badly, and falling into that pattern is a pitfall of being someone with a strong tendency to loyalty. Re: entities/institutions, I think it’s more complicated, since I don’t think modern institutions are generally capable of “being loyal back”.
I’m glad you made this comment (even though I confess it’s a bit triggering, but I’m going to try my best to respond calmly). I think it’s useful for clarifying what I mean, which I hadn’t disclaimered very much because this post was pretty low-effort.
I agree that Eddie-as-written is very unstrategic, and also unreflective, in that he doesn’t show the capacity to question his own drives. He doesn’t attempt to model the world around him and the actual impacts of his actions at all (e.g. I don’t think we ever see him thinking in a consequentialist way.) Loyalty as a trait + not trying to question your decision process does seem very dangerous, but I’m not convinced it’s dangerous in a fundamentally different way from, say, intelligence or strength or social savvy combined with not questioning one’s decision process. Any capacity-to-do-stuff applied in a random or not-well-thought-out direction, or especially in a direction manipulated by an adversarial agent, is likely to be harmful.
I’m not exactly sure what you mean by keeping loyalty “in your core identity”. The thing I mean to convey is that a) I want to recognize that I have a significant drive towards loyalty, and b) I don’t have a moral obligation to rip that part out of my soul and rebuild my motivation system from scratch. Which is different from saying I don’t have a moral duty to check whether I’m actually doing the right things. My higher-level ethical framework isn’t one where loyalty is fundamental, I do try to check, and I’ve in fact broken loyalty bonds multiple times after reassessing.
I think I’m not an “obligate-loyal” person, I in fact have other drives and can function to a reasonable capacity through other sources of motivation; this is arguably what I’m doing right now, and I can’t claim that it was always deliberate but I think I’ve ended up “slacking” when my S1 wasn’t sure if a leader or institution was worth being loyal to. (I’m leaning towards thinking that loyalty-to-modern-institutions is almost always a misfiring of the drive, and have the start of a post on that.) Embracing my desire-to-be-loyal as part of me doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be an important driver in the near term; it may be that the current world doesn’t offer actually-good avenues for this, for the reasons you pointed out, and I’m better off being slightly-less-fully-alive in exchange for not being loyalty-bound to an institution that might be harmful. But, just...yeah, I guess I like the framing in your subsequent comment. Maybe there’s a thing wrong with the world, but I’m no longer willing to let people tell me that this is something fundamentally wrong with me.
Wow! That...is not a thing that I would have expected to exist. I guess it makes sense, if it in fact depends on relatively few variables.
I’ve had The Inner Game of Tennis on my recommended list for several years, as a general rationality-related book; clearly I should just go ahead and read it!
I did a quick Google for you, and it looks like there are a lot of apps for Android that are similar (though I can’t speak to which of them are actually good).
I’ve noticed in the past that I feel aversion to saying (and especially writing down) things that “might be false” – where I’m low confidence, where I expect that I just don’t have the information to do more than speculate wildly.
When I try to introspect on this, I do think some of it is fear of being wrong in public (and this feeling definitely responds to local social incentives – I’m more likely to be comfortable rambling without a filter in private with close friends, and in fact do this a bunch.)
I think there are also other pieces. I’m wary that it’s hard for humans to incorporate epistemic status tags and actually take my thoughts less seriously if I say I’m very uncertain. I’m also wary of...crystallizing a theory about something, and then becoming vulnerable to confirmation bias as I try to test it against observations? (This worry is stronger in areas where it feels hard to actually get feedback from reality.) As you point out, though, the tradeoff there is giving up on improving understanding.
I suspect I’m a lot less averse to low-confidence-speculation in private than I was several years ago, and it’s partly because I think it’s good for developing understanding, and partly just because I feel more comfortable socially and have less anticipation of being shut down.
(Also want to note that in general I have only moderate confidence in my introspection on stuff like this, and this comment is mostly a ramble.)
Brandon Sanderson’s writings tend to be quite decent.
Brandon Sanderson’s writings tend to be quite decent.
I’d thought about putting the Mistborn series in the “things that are close to what I’m talking about”, but I’ve only read 2⁄3 of the first book.
the explanation for the original villain remaining largely technically incompetent is rather contrived and hand-waved.
the explanation for the original villain remaining largely technically incompetent is rather contrived and hand-waved.
I’d forgotten about that. I think maybe I assumed the incompetent-villain characters were finding ways to skimp on the training that was supposed to be required?