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The ABC's of Luminosity

34 Post author: Alicorn 18 March 2010 09:47PM

Sequence index: Living Luminously
Previously in sequence: Let There Be Light
Next in sequence: Lights, Camera, Action!

Affect, behavior, and circumstance interact with each other.  These interactions constitute informative patterns that you should identify and use in your luminosity project.

You may find your understanding of this post significantly improved if you read the second story from Seven Shiny Stories.

The single most effective thing you can do when seeking luminosity is to learn to correlate your ABC's, collecting data about how three interrelated items interact and appear together or separately.

A stands for "affect".  Affect is how you feel and what's on your mind.  It can be far more complicated than "enh, I'm fine" or "today I'm sad".  You have room for plenty of simultaneous emotions, and different ones can be directed at different things - being on a generally even keel about two different things isn't the same as being nervous about one and cheerful about the other, and neither state is the same as being entirely focused on one subject that thrills you to pieces.  If you're nervous about your performance evaluation but tickled pink that you just bought a shiny new consumer good and looking forward to visiting your cousin next week yet irritated that you just stubbed your toe, all while being amused by the funny song on the radio, that's this.  For the sake of the alphabet, I'm lumping in less emotionally laden cognition here, too - what thoughts occur to you, what chains of reasoning you follow, what parts of the environment catch your attention.

B stands for "behavior".  Behavior here means what you actually do.  Include as a dramatically lower-weighted category those things that you fully intended to do, and actually moved to do, but were then prevented from without from doing, or changed your mind about due to new, unanticipated information.  This is critical.  Fleeting designs and intentions cross our minds continually, and if you don't firmly and definitively place your evidential weight on the things that ultimately result in action, you will get subconsciously cherry-picked subsets of those incomplete plan-wisps.  This is particularly problematic because weaker intentions will be dissuaded by minor environmental complications at a much higher rate.  Don't worry overmuch about "real" plans that this filtering process discards.  You're trying to know yourself in toto, not yourself at your best time-slices when you valiantly meant to do good thing X and were buffetted by circumstance: if those dismissed real plans represent typical dispositions you have, then they'll have their share of the cohort of actual behavior.  Trust the law of averages.

C stands for "circumstance".  This is what's going on around you (what time is it?  what's going on in your life now and recently and in the near future - major events, minor upheavals, plans for later, what people say to you?  where are you: is it warm, cold, bright, dim, windy, calm, quiet, noisy, aromatic, odorless, featureless, busy, colorful, drab, natural, artificial, pretty, ugly, spacious, cozy, damp, dry, deserted, crowded, formal, informal, familiar, new, cluttered, or tidy?).  It also covers what you're doing and things inside you that are generally conceptualized as merely physical (are you exhausted, jetlagged, drugged, thirsty, hungry, sore, ill, drunk, energetic, itchy, limber, wired, shivering?  are you draped over a recliner, hiding in a cellar, hangliding or dancing or hiking or drumming or hoeing or diving?)  Circumstances are a bit easier to observe than affect and behavior.  If you have trouble telling where you are and what you're up to, your first priority shouldn't be luminosity.  And while we often have some trouble distinguishing between various physical ailments, there are strong pressures on our species to be able to tell when we're hungry or in pain.  Don't neglect circumstance when performing correlative exercises just because it doesn't seem as "the contents of your skull"-y.  SAD should be evidence enough that our environments can profoundly influence our feelings.  And wouldn't it be weird, after all, if you felt and acted just the same while ballroom dancing, and while setting the timer on your microwave oven to reheat soup, and while crouching on the floor after having been taken hostage at the bank?

All of these things are interdependent:

  • A -> B: Your affect influences your behavior most directly - affect, after all, captures what you're thinking and feeling, and apart from purely reflexive actions, you're going to act in response to that.
  • C -> B: Circumstance also feeds very obviously into behavior.  You cannot step on a gas pedal if there isn't one in front of you; you can't take a free sample of tapenade on a cracker if there aren't any to be had; and I've found it dreadfully tricky to start twirling my skirt around when I'm wearing yoga pants.
  • A -> C: Affect can change your circumstances via your behavior, but also by altering what happens to your body's condition (we should all be familiar with how stress, for instance, can make you feel physically) and through your fellow human beings by virtue of nonverbal visibility.
  • B -> C: Your behavior influences your circumstances, obviously - smash a window, and behold, there is a draft.  Say something and the people around you will probably hear it and react.
  • B -> A: Behavior can feed back into affect through hardwired two-way connections (smile and your emotions smile with you!) and through things like consistency effects, which make you become more like the person you seem to behaviorally emulate.
  • C -> A: Your circumstances mess with your affect both consciously, through perception and knowledge ("it's my birthday!  yay!"), and subconsciously, via physical effects (if you are operating on excessive sleep debt you will not be pleased with the results).


So don't just correlate how they appear together: also note cause and effect relationships.  Until you've developed enough luminosity to detect these things directly, you may have to fall back on a little post-hoc guesswork for connections more complicated than "I was hungry and thinking about cheese, so then I ate some cheese".  Additionally, take note of any interesting absences.  If something generally considered sad has happened to you, and you can detect no sadness in your affect or telltale physical side effects, that's highly relevant data.

These correlations will form the building blocks of your first pass of model refinement, proceeding from the priors you extracted from external sources.

Comments (30)

Comment author: xamdam 19 March 2010 02:47:47PM 6 points [-]

I see some clearly important categories highlighted here, and some possible relationships. Is there any advice on the (crucial) IMO question of what kind of format makes these observations compound in usefulness? Do you try to record every one that come to mind? Do you periodically (even on a timer perhaps) switch to introspection mode? Do you review notes, categorize them, track progress? Obviously I'd like to hear from Morendil who claimed a lot of progress in the area, of course others' contributions are most welcome.

Comment author: Morendil 19 March 2010 05:10:54PM *  2 points [-]

I have to confess I hate introspection, it's one of those things I'd rather be doing pretty much anything than.

More or less like exercise, I only engage in it because I self-consciously know it's good for me and I will eventually be glad I did it. I've had to develop some specific introspection-akrasia techniques, for instance doing it conversationally (as when someone "asks a luminous question" around here) lowers my resistance to it quite a bit.

I've often been advised to keep a journal or diary, and I periodically try it and eventually quit. So instead, I jump at the chance to answer questions like the above, and often try to save my writing to a local hard disk. I'll often reread what I wrote some years back, and assess what kind of progress I've made.

Sadly I was a poor recordkeeper prior to 1997, there are some conversations I had with creationists on BBSes in the early 90's that I dearly wish I could find now. I have a pretty much complete and continuous record of my email archives from 1997 onwards; in 2004 I started freewriting as an alternative to journaling and have saved all such snippets since; and of course now that we live in the Google age there are cases when I use Google to ask my past self what it thought about X.

Recent techniques I've picked up include Dual-n-backing to track WM progress, I'm waiting for the right time to try and use some of pjeby's stuff, I've used some PUA tricks as suggestions on what to look at in myself. I'm getting interested in this "status" thing though, so far, mostly confused at what people say about it.

My experience with MBTI seems to track Alicorn's, I use it mostly as a "foil" to construct a richer picture of who I am. One thing that it's helped me with is notice that some times I just don't feel like being with people, on such occasions I'll just tell whoever I'm around that "I need some cave time" and that helps me be OK with it. That's supposed to be an Introvert thing, although I've also noticed that my thinking tends to be Extroverted, that is, I think better in conversation, and tend to know things more solidly after I've explained them out loud. (Writing helps, but not quite as much as conversation. OTOH after some conversations I lose interest in writing stuff up.)

I wonder if my scoring as an F on the online MBTI might be as a result of explicitly concentrating on expressing my feelings in recent years. (Of course it could also be that MBTI has low reliability.) If so, I probably should work on the Sensing vs Intuitive distinction, but I have no clue how to do that; it already feels as if I'm paying as much attention to data as I can.

I measure my "real" progress by how successful I feel my life is, and I can't complain: for a while now I've felt like I should take more risks because I'm not failing often enough. I'm aiming at increasing my income a fair bit in the coming years, by moving into a more entrepreneurial position now that I'm comfortable freelancing. (I guess "perceived rate of success or failure" is a C-category observation.)

"Saturate" is good advice, many little things help a little, there are few big things that seem to help a lot.

Comment author: xamdam 19 March 2010 07:54:19PM 1 point [-]

Thanks, helpful.

Curious how you use your own mail logs. I've never found them helpful other than showing people that yes, they really did say that possibly stupid thing.

WM performance seem generally important but it's largely just a tool that helps many activities and does not seem in the same category as Alicorn's series. Did I miss something?

Which PUAs did you find helpful - I am married with 3 and not interested in reading their literature for its intended purpose (though I read the Game, it was interesting and well-written). I'm willing to read them for the articles ;)

BTW, since you mentioned tools I think I can bootstrap myself to singularity with just my iphone ;) (The statement is more about the iphone than me). Between audiobooks, ITunes EDU-type stuff, instapaper and full wiki (I use trunk) not a minute goes to waste. We should have a "tools for thought" thread!

Comment author: Morendil 19 March 2010 08:24:01PM *  0 points [-]

how you use your own mail logs

They show me whether or how I've changed my mind. When I started participating here heavily, I used Spotlight to ask my past selves how they'd felt over time about "rationality", because my initial reaction was that LW was a strange place to find myself in, for a critic of rationality - as I then (2009) thought of myself.

I was led for instance to a 2001 email conversation about the definition Rawls gives of rationality in his Theory of Justice, to this 2004 blog entry, shortly followed by a book proposal to my editor in an IT-related journal about rational processes in software engineering (very brief excerpt: "rational behavior is that which achieves our ends; rational behavior fits the world as it really is"). Then my email records show me dropping the term altogether - I didn't use it on a single occasion until very recently. (The book didn't pan out.)

This little look in the rearview mirror was useful in assessing my motivations in participating here. "Rationality" is too easy an applause light, calling people "irrational" too much of an accusation, for me not to question why I should take an interest in Less Wrong. Spotting the words I quote above showed me that my definition of the term tracked with how it's used here, and my recollection of previous thinking, such as the 2004 blog entry, told me that what I'd been objecting to all this while is the oversimplifying (e.g. Cartesian) connotations of the term, and so I made peace with my past selves as I walked into this rationalist trap. ;)

(ETA: In a sense these records are just part of my outboard brain, same as the iPhone. I'm with you in thinking this is one of the things Stross gets right about the future, the self gets more distributed in space.)

Comment author: Alicorn 19 March 2010 04:17:11PM 1 point [-]

You have anticipated the post "Lights, Camera, Action". It looks like I either got the ordering very, very right, or very, very wrong...

Comment author: xamdam 19 March 2010 05:48:18PM 0 points [-]

As long as you'll have it by my next browsing break, you can get rid of very, very ;)

Comment author: reaver121 18 March 2010 10:44:13PM *  6 points [-]

Additionally, take note of any interesting absences. If something generally considered sad has happened to you, and you can detect no sadness in your affect or telltale physical side effects, that's highly relevant data.

This one (and the opposite, i.e. have an emotion where it's considered inappropriate) happens to me a lot.

For example, my room is usually total and utter chaos which doesn't disturb me in the slightest. For some reason anything that isn't moved in the last 3 or 4 days just becomes background, like trees in a forest. On the other hand, as a programmer, I tend to be very precise in my code & database (Codd help you if I find that you forgot a foreign key).

Another one is weather and sunlight. I prefer an overcast sky and 10 - 20 degrees Celsius and truly hate summer. Travel is another one. I never got why people have to move over 500 miles to relax. Is it really that difficult to relax at home ?

About emotions in general, I never understood how people can consider them (in)appropriate. For the large part, I don't control how I feel so why is (not) feeling something my fault ? Off course, I mostly control how I react to those feelings so I'm still responsible for my behavior but if I simply say that I do/don't have an 'appropriate' feeling, why are some people always shocked ?

Comment author: Rain 18 March 2010 11:31:33PM *  5 points [-]

Is it really that difficult to relax at home?

It can be, yes. Stating an observation about my circumstances, I find that my thought patterns can alter significantly according to where I sit down.

If I sit at my work desk, I enter a state of general boredom and tediously pay attention to my various monitors. If I do nothing more than turn around and instead sit with my chair at the table which is normally behind me, I enter a state of critical thinking and desire to tackle problems. And when I go down to the snack room at lunch time and sit in one of the small tables while eating dessert and looking out the window, I immediately begin thinking of fantasy stories that incorporate interesting philosophical problems.

If I sit out on the porch of my family's cabin in the woods, looking out over the lake, I hardly think of anything at all.

Comment author: mattnewport 18 March 2010 11:40:00PM *  3 points [-]

I never got why people have to move over 500 miles to relax. Is it really that difficult to relax at home?

This may be a confusion over the meaning of 'relax'. I find a vacation away from home more energizing than one spent at home partly due to the 'a change is as good as a rest' phenomenon.

I think for me being removed from environmental cues that are associated with the stresses of day to day life is also helpful. I found climbing a mountain on my vacation last year more 'relaxing' in this sense than spending the same amount of time sitting around my apartment despite it being physically taxing for example. I also find myself more relaxed/replenished if I've gone snowboarding on a Sunday than if I've sat around my apartment all day watching TV.

This may be a 'personality type' thing.

Comment author: ChrisHibbert 27 March 2010 06:55:19PM 1 point [-]

I love "Codd help you". Brilliant!

Comment author: Morendil 19 March 2010 07:02:46AM *  4 points [-]

Relevant precept for B->A: "It's easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting." (See also.)

Comment author: Jonathan_Graehl 18 March 2010 10:30:39PM 4 points [-]

I don't agree that circumstances are easily known at all. Most of my variation in pleasure is tied up in the uncertain territory of social interaction (because I'm materially well off); the remainder is in the unpredictable progress of my research or hobbies. While there are moments of unequivocal (in)validation, most of the time the outcome is in doubt.

It's fun playing around at such a high level of abstraction as you do in this post. Everything you discuss is obviously true, but it's pleasant how you've packaged it.

In general, I find heuristics for focusing my attention other than where it falls naturally to be interesting only as novelties - soon I'm back to paying attention to whatever strikes me.

There's a fun exercise I read about in a how-to-act book (aside: aspiring actors seem like a surprisingly large market): either aloud with a partner, or to yourself, say how every little thing you experience makes you feel. Clearly you weren't doing that when you drafted this article; you were absorbed in the object you were manipulating. Self-awareness seems most important when what you're manipulating is your own affect.

I can entertain time-consuming meditative or introspective exercises to the extent I hope that I'll gain some permanent, low-maintenance benefit, like learning new information that will be useful without constant recitation, or forming more effective habits (in behavior or what I attend to).

Comment author: reaver121 18 March 2010 11:11:05PM *  5 points [-]

In general, I find heuristics for focusing my attention other than where it falls naturally to be interesting only as novelties - soon I'm back to paying attention to whatever strikes me.

Same here. In daily life I don't find this much of problem but I sometimes regret that when I have to choose between for example TVTropes or something else, TVTropes usually wins.

I can entertain time-consuming meditative or introspective exercises to the extent I hope that I'll gain some permanent, low-maintenance benefit, like learning new information that will be useful without constant recitation, or forming more effective habits (in behavior or what I attend to).

One way I found to form habits is to try to change the environment in such a way that the habit you want to learn is also the path of the least resistance. If that isn’t possible, you can try to make it so that you pause and give yourself time to consciously make a decision instead of executing your old wrong habit routine.

For example, I usually hibernate my work laptop. After a couple of weeks however my ram usage tends to go to 2 Gb and stay there (not in the least thanks to visual studio & firefox with +100 tabs) and everything is starting to feel sluggish.

A reboot usually helps but I strongly dislike interrupting my work to reboot so I don’t do it much and, unfortunately, hibernating is always quicker then shutting down when leaving the office. So when I leave, I don’t have much incentive at the moment itself to shut down.

My solution was simply to schedule a batch file to run every Friday afternoon that disables hibernation (and another batch file to enable it again on Monday morning).

Comment author: mattnewport 18 March 2010 11:25:35PM 4 points [-]

One way I found to form habits is to try to change the environment in such a way that the habit you want to learn is also the path of the least resistance.

I found this effective when trying to improve my eating habits. Making sure in advance that there are healthy options in the fridge already when I get home from work means I am likely to eat something healthy. If I know there is no readily available healthy option at home I'll generally grab something less healthy on my way home or go out and get something just to satisfy my immediate hunger. Similarly I find I can avoid unhealthy snacking by simply not having any unhealthy snacks in my apartment.

Comment author: CronoDAS 19 March 2010 08:39:12PM 0 points [-]

Same here. In daily life I don't find this much of problem but I sometimes regret that when I have to choose between for example TVTropes or something else, TVTropes usually wins.

But TVTropes is so much fun! ;)

Comment author: simplicio 20 March 2010 04:27:03AM *  3 points [-]

B -> A: Behavior can feed back into affect through hardwired two-way connections (smile and your emotions smile with you!) and through things like consistency effects, which make you become more like the person you seem to behaviorally emulate.

Very true. William James is not likely the most popular cove on LW, but nonetheless:

Thus the sovereign voluntary path to cheerfulness, if our spontaneous cheerfulness be lost, is to sit up cheerfully, to look round cheerfully, and to act and speak as if cheerfulness were already there. If such conduct does not make you soon feel cheerful, nothing else on that occasion can. So to feel brave, act as if we were brave, use all our will to that end, and a courage-fit will very likely replace the fit of fear. Again, in order to feel kindly toward a person to whom we have been inimical, the only way is more or less deliberately to smile, to make sympathetic inquiries, and to force ourselves to say genial things. One hearty laugh together will bring enemies into a closer communion of heart than hours spent on both sides in inward wrestling with the mental demon of uncharitable feeling. To wrestle with a bad feeling only pins our attention on it, and keeps it still fastened in the mind: whereas, if we act as if from some better feeling, the old bad feeling soon folds its tent like an Arab, and silently steals away.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 19 March 2010 09:28:39AM 3 points [-]

It's a commonplace among people who give up dieting that it can take months to learn to tell whether they're hungry-- they've overlaid the information from their bodies thoughts about whether they ought to feel hungry and whether they're going to permit themselves to eat.

I suspect that, considering the amount of social pressure about many feelings (sexual attraction and anger are what comes to mind), a two-pronged attack might be appropriate-- both paying more attention to one's experience and considering whether one has accepted ideas about what one ought to be feeling.

Comment author: apophenia 01 June 2010 02:49:22AM 6 points [-]

Cross-posted from Seven Shiny Stories

2. Widgets

Tony's performance at work is suffering. Not every day, but most days, he's too drained and distracted to perform the tasks that go into making widgets. He's in serious danger of falling behind his widget quota and needs to figure out why. Having just read a fascinating and brilliantly written post on Less Wrong about luminosity, he decides to keep track of where he is and what he's doing when he does and doesn't feel the drainedness. After a week, he's got a fairly robust correlation: he feels worst on days when he doesn't eat breakfast, which reliably occurs when he's stayed up too late, hit the snooze button four times, and had to dash out the door. Awkwardly enough, having been distracted all day tends to make him work more slowly at making widgets, which makes him less physically exhausted by the time he gets home and enables him to stay up later. To deal with that, he starts going for long runs on days when his work hasn't been very tiring, and pops melatonin; he easily drops off to sleep when his head hits the pillow at a reasonable hour, gets sounder sleep, scarfs down a bowl of Cheerios, and arrives at the widget factory energized and focused.

Comment author: RobinZ 18 March 2010 10:31:58PM 2 points [-]

If you have trouble telling where you are and what you're up to, your first priority shouldn't be luminosity.  And while we often have some trouble distinguishing between various physical ailments, there are strong pressures on our species to be able to tell when we're hungry or in pain.

I fear I may be exceptionally dim even on this metric - I often find myself deducing that I should be hungry before feeling hunger. I think I might do well to start in on the previous and this step quite soon.

Comment author: Alicorn 18 March 2010 10:45:17PM 3 points [-]

Actually, thinking you should be hungry while not actually hungry is pretty common. I once lost a great deal of weight by simply not eating unless I actually felt hunger - we often eat because there's food around or because it's a mealtime instead of because we're hungry. (The weight loss alarmed my pediatrician and she told me to stop doing whatever I was doing, and I've never been able to reduplicate the feat.)

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 18 March 2010 10:55:02PM 2 points [-]

Do you mean that you haven't been as able to only eat when you're hungry, or that even if you do wait until you're hungry, you don't lose that much weight?

Comment author: Alicorn 18 March 2010 11:00:49PM 3 points [-]

The former. I have a long history of strategies and techniques in general working for me until I lapse once, and then I can never make them work again. I hope to unpack and fix that in the medium-term future.

Comment author: RobinZ 18 March 2010 10:55:09PM 0 points [-]

That's a good point - I'll bear it in mind.

Comment author: LazyDave 21 March 2010 06:34:46PM 1 point [-]

This may be a bit pedantic, but isn't the A->C relationship wholly contained in the A->B and B->C relationship? In other words, the only way A->C works is via B; there is no "extra" information in the A->C relationship.

Comment author: Alicorn 21 March 2010 08:00:59PM 1 point [-]

A good deal of A -> C goes through B, but not all. Affect can directly influence things like heartbeat and other physical conditions, which I've classified under C, without going through voluntary action, which is B.

Comment author: simplicio 22 March 2010 04:03:28AM 0 points [-]

Anybody have a particular take on meditation?

Comment author: kpreid 19 March 2010 12:58:48AM 0 points [-]

“smash a window” seems gratuitously abnormal and therefore distracting. Why not “open a window”?

Comment author: Alicorn 19 March 2010 02:12:18AM 4 points [-]

You find "smash a window" gratuitously abnormal, but choose not to comment on having been taken hostage at the bank?

Comment author: kpreid 19 March 2010 05:59:12PM 0 points [-]

Well, my observation is just based on that I stumbled over it; that is, it distracted me from continuing to read it for content. Insufficiently luminous, heh, to comment on how I read the hostage part then.

Now, I note that “being taken hostage” was in a context of contrasting different situations; whereas B → C contains a single example which could easily have been a “normal” one. I think extraordinary examples distract from thinking about how to apply what one reads to one's own life.

Comment author: mattnewport 19 March 2010 05:42:23AM 0 points [-]

He may have had the same reaction I did to that paragraph and started skimming once it became apparent it was largely a list of words. I caught the hostage at a bank reference because I detected actual sentences towards the end of the paragraph and switched back to reading but I could easily have missed it. The 'smash a window' comes in the bullet pointed list that follows that is more likely to have been attended to.