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Highlights and Shadows

15 Post author: Alicorn 28 March 2010 08:56PM

Sequence index: Living Luminously
Previously in sequence: The Spotlight
Next in sequence: City of Lights

Part of a good luminosity endeavor is to decide what parts of yourself you do and don't like.

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

As you uncover and understand new things about yourself, you might find that you like some of them, but don't like others.  While one would hope that you'd be generally pleased with yourself, it's a rare arrogance or a rarer saintliness that would enable unlimited approval.  Fortunately, as promised in post two, luminosity can let you determine what you'd like to change as well as what's already present.

But what to change?

An important step in the luminosity project is to sort your thoughts and feelings not only by type, correlation, strength, etc, but also by endorsement.  You endorse those thoughts that you like, find representative of your favorite traits, prefer to see carried into action, and wish to keep intact (at least for the duration of their useful lives).  By contrast, you repudiate those thoughts that you dislike, consider indicative of negative characteristics, want to keep inefficacious, and desire to modify or be rid of entirely.

Deciding which is which might not be trivial.  You might need to sift through several orders of desire before finally figuring out whether you want to want cake, or like liking sleep, or prefer your preference for preferentism.  A good place to start is with your macro-level goals and theoretical commitments (e.g., when this preference is efficacious, does it serve your Life Purpose™, directly or indirectly?  if you have firm metaethical notions of right and wrong, is this tendency you have uncovered in yourself one that impels you to do right things?).

As a second pass, you can work with the information you collected when you correlated your ABCs.  How does an evaluated desire makes you feel when satisfied or unsatisfied?  Does it cripple you when unsatisfied or improve your performance when satisfied?  Are you reliably in a position to satisfy it?  If you can't typically satisfy it, would it be easier to change the desire or to change the circumstances that prevent its satisfaction?  However, this is a second step.  You need to know what affect and behavior are preferable to you before you can judge desires (and other mental activity) relative to what they yield in those departments, and judging affect and behavior is itself an exercise in endorsement and repudiation.

Knowing what you like and don't like about your mind is a fine thing.  Once you have that information, you can put it to direct use immediately - I find it useful to tag many of my expressions of emotion with the words "endorsed" or "non-endorsed".  That way, the people around me can use that categorization rather than having to either assume I approve of everything I feel, or layer their own projections of endorsement on top of me.  Either would be unreliable and cause people to have poor models of me: I have not yet managed to excise my every unwanted trait, and my patterns of endorsement do not typically map on to the ones that the people around me have or expect me to have.

Additionally, once you know what you like and don't like about your mind, you can begin to make progress in increasing the ratio of liked to unliked characteristics.  People often make haphazard lurches towards trying to be "better people", but when "better" means "lines up more closely with vaguely defined commonsense intuitions about morality", this is not the sort of goal we're at all good at pursuing.  Specific projects like being generous or more mindful are a step closer, but the greatest marginal benefit in self-revision comes of figuring out what comes in advance of behaving in a non-endorsed way and heading it off at the pass.  (More on this in "Lampshading".)  The odds are low that your brain's patterns align closely with conventional virtues well enough for them to be useful targets.  It's a better plan to identify what's already present, then endorse or repudiate these pre-sliced thoughts and work on them as they appear instead of sweeping together an unnatural category.

Comments (45)

Comment author: apophenia 01 June 2010 02:52:58AM 8 points [-]

Cross-posted from Seven Shiny Stories

5. Contradiction

Penny knows she's not perfect. In fact, some of her traits and projects seem to outright contradict one another, so she really knows it. She wants to eat better, but she just loves pizza; she's trying to learn anger management, but sometimes people do things that really are wrong and it seems only suitable that she be upset with them; she's working on her tendency to nag her boyfriend because she knows it annoys him, but if he can't learn to put the toilet seat down, maybe he deserves to be annoyed. Penny decides to take a serious look at the contradictions and make decisions about which "side" she's on. Eventually, she concludes that if she's honest with herself, a life without pizza seems bleak and unrewarding; she'll make that her official exception to the rule, and work harder to eat better in every other way without the drag on motivation caused by withholding her one favorite food. On reflection, being angry - even at people who really do wrong things - isn't helping her or them, and so she throws herself into anger management classes with renewed vigor, looking for other, more productive channels to turn her moral evaluation towards. And - clearly - the nagging isn't helping its ostensible cause either. She doesn't endorse that, but she's not going to let her boyfriend's uncivilized behavior slide either. She'll agree to stop nagging when he slips up and hope this inspires him to remember more often.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 05 December 2010 06:58:11AM 5 points [-]

(nods) Yeah, I figured this was coming.

This is the point where I generally part company with a lot of projects of this sort: I am far more interested in gaining clarity about the various segments of my psyche than I am about enforcing one segment's goals on another segment's.

I consider self-awareness something worth pursuing for its own sake, for the fun of it; understanding what I am for the sake of changing it into something else seems... odd.

I'm reminded again of my own process of coming out. Sure, Dave the Closeted Bisexual can decide to endorse or repudiate his same-sex attractions, or his opposite-sex attractions, or both, or some other way of slicing the data. But another approach is to accept what is there without trying to change it. In general, I prefer that approach.

I have a similar attitude towards akrasia. Yes, parts of me want to get work done, parts of me want to goof off. The usual framing of this is some version of "How can I effectively endorse the former and repudiate the latter?" My own framing of this is some version of "Well, that's interesting."

As another example, about six months ago I started writing a novel. I outlined it in detail and wrote about 50kwords of it, then stopped. Various beta readers of mine described this as "writer's block" and were full of suggestions for how to overcome it. I described this as "I don't seem to want to work on this novel any more," and saw no particular reason to overcome it. Perhaps I'll pick it up again some day. Perhaps not.

Admittedly, if I became unable to hold down a lucrative job, pursue a rewarding hobby, maintain rewarding personal relationships, etc., I might start feeling differently; it might no longer be acceptable to work on accepting myself as I am without trying to change myself. Then again, I observe that accepting that I am what I am and want what I want and contradict myself where I contradict myself often causes me to be more effective in the world, and I suspect that's not a coincidence.

I'm not exactly sure why I'm writing this comment, to be honest, beyond that I was thinking about it in response to this post. I'm certainly not disagreeing with any of what you've written here... the sort of endorsement/repudiation of well-understood aspects of one's psyche that you suggest can work very well, and certainly works better than trying to change things one hasn't yet understood. Nor am I suggesting that my current state is perfect and cannot be improved upon.

I guess I'm just articulating a different perspective. Yes, once you've identified what you don't like about your mind, you can work on changing/improving it, as you say. Alternatively, once you've discovered that there are things about your mind you don't like, you can work on being OK with them, just like you can work on being OK with other people's minds without changing them.

Comment author: Davidmanheim 06 March 2015 04:30:50PM 0 points [-]

I'm unsure, but I think that most of what you are talking about is time inconsistency and failure to predict your future goals and desires.

If giving up now makes sense, why did you first write so much? If something changed internally, could you have predicted it and saved yourself time, or prevented it from happening? If that would have accomplished more, saying your current preferences don't support it is backwards!

If you have goals that are higher priority than your short term preferences, resolving the tension between different desires week make you more effective at achieving those goals. If you write as an outlet, giving up 50k words in is reasonable. If you write to improve your ability to communicate, giving up before finishing limits the feedback you will receive, but may still be a good idea. If you write because you think what you are saying is important or useful to many people, giving up is admitting defeat.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 07 March 2015 03:07:09AM 0 points [-]

Well, as you say, a lot depends on what the point of writing was in the first place.

If the primary goal was to create a finished novel, then, yes, either I should put work into it and get a novel, or not-put work into it and get no novel, but putting work into it and getting no novel is inefficient. (Of course, that's not to say my decision procedure was necessarily flawed, even in this case; it might be that I discovered things in the process of writing that changed my decision, that would have kept me from starting had I known them up front, but which I simply could not have known without writing. In which case the answer to "why did I write so much?" is "to improve my ability to predict the value of writing more." But as you say, it might also be that I could have predicted that up front and saved myself time, and I need a better predictive algorithm.)

On the other hand, as you say, if my primary goal was something else, then maybe writing some of a novel makes sense.

The truth is I'm not entirely sure what my goal was, and wasn't at the time. I wrote, because it seemed like the thing to do at the time. I stopped, because writing stopped seeming like the thing to do.

This also reminds me of the idea that if I date someone for a period of time, and we're happy, and then we stop being happy and break up, that's a failed relationship that it would have been optimal not to start... as opposed to the idea that it's a successful relationship that lasted a finite amount of time.

Comment author: Davidmanheim 09 March 2015 04:36:42AM 0 points [-]

I'm wondering what the point is of investing significant time in something if you don't have a goal specified. Not that I don't ever do this, but I like to think that it's a non-endorsed behavior. When I notice myself doing this, I should assess my implicit motives, and try to find what I want, and whether what I'm doing makes sense.

If the goal of a relationship is to be happy and enjoy the time together, it can be successful and short term. If the goal is to find a life-partner, it can't be successful and short term.

Comment author: Lumifer 10 March 2015 02:41:54PM 4 points [-]

I'm wondering what the point is of investing significant time in something if you don't have a goal specified.

Exploration.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 10 March 2015 03:59:09AM 1 point [-]

I'm wondering what the point is of investing significant time in something if you don't have a goal specified.

It's a fair thing to wonder.

In my case, I endorse it within limits because in my experience sometimes the best I seem able to do with respect to some goal X is establish that I do in fact seem to want to do X, that I don't object to doing X, that doing X doesn't seem to be causing me any problems, and that my desire to do X is reasonably persistent. When I try to dig "below" that to get at "what other goal, beyond simply doing X for its own sake, does doing X accomplish?" I sometimes get answers, but I often get nothing at all. If I push past that point I'm more likely to confabulate a plausible-sounding answer than discover a real one.

Of course, another option at that point is to give up on X on the grounds that if I can't articulate the goal of X, then I shouldn't value that goal (nor, therefore, X) in the first place.

But those grounds seem shaky to me; I haven't found much evidence to support the idea that only the parts of my brain that are capable of articulating things explicitly store/process/manifest/whatever goals worth pursuing.

Comment author: Davidmanheim 13 March 2015 02:45:51PM 1 point [-]

That makes sense to me. I think that there are things we can't articulate that matter, but I generally prefer to work on my ability to articulate them; it probably relays to me conception of Eliezer's idea of luminosity.

On the other hand, I feel like I might be oversubscribed on goals, making exploration difficult. I don't know if I have time for general activity that doesn't further a goal, since I have many that are already high priority.

Comment author: David_Gerard 13 January 2011 06:04:39PM *  -1 points [-]

I have a similar attitude towards akrasia. Yes, parts of me want to get work done, parts of me want to goof off. The usual framing of this is some version of "How can I effectively endorse the former and repudiate the latter?" My own framing of this is some version of "Well, that's interesting."

"I am a not-necessarily-coherent bunch of adaptations, and that's fine."

(The contradictory drives in my own nature, and the contradictory drives I think I see others exercise around me, lead me to suspect that setting us an irresolvable set of conditions is a prank our genes play on us to get us to propagate them. Coherent personal utility function? You're 'avin a larf! I also find this hilarious, which I think is the pain of decompartmentalisation.)

Comment author: TheOtherDave 13 January 2011 06:15:10PM 0 points [-]

setting us an irresolvable set of conditions is a prank our genes play on us to get us to propagate them

Under the principle that systems with resolvable drives don't propagate their genes as readily?

Comment author: David_Gerard 14 January 2011 12:32:17PM 2 points [-]

Under the unverified off-the-top-of-my-head hypothesis, yes :-)

If you can think yourself out of the urge to reproduce, that selects against being able to think that well.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 14 January 2011 01:37:02PM 2 points [-]

Heh.

And yet, natural selection nevertheless seems to allow for folks like me, in whom the urge to reproduce doesn't seem especially salient (well, either that, or my genes are profoundly confused about how that's supposed to work).

So who knows? Perhaps there's a minority out there with internal coherence, as well.

(The bastards.)

Comment author: CronoDAS 29 March 2010 05:21:37AM *  1 point [-]

I want to turn off my shame at being a (metaphorical) Basement Dweller and my worries about what will happen when my parents become unwilling or unable to support me. Any suggestions, other than "get a job"? ;)

Comment author: wedrifid 29 March 2010 05:28:11AM 4 points [-]

and my worries about what will happen when my parents become unwilling or unable to support me. Any suggestions, other than "get a job"?

Do you want to turn off your worries or to solve the real problem of economic security that causes the worry? Obviously I would give different suggestions depending on what you mean.

Comment author: Morendil 29 March 2010 06:15:25AM 6 points [-]

real problem

I, too, used to feel like I was able to distinguish which concerns of my interlocutors' were "real" and which were "merely" worries behind which a "real problem" lay hidden.

Then I observed that this led to giving bad advice and stopped endorsing the thought. What I now endorse is whatever concerns people report they have I will treat as valid concerns, if I take on an advisory role.

Comment author: RobinZ 29 March 2010 11:40:26AM 1 point [-]

Correct me if I am wrong, but did you mean that real is a lullaby word?

(Fun fact: I almost wrote "essentially" there. That would have been awkward.)

Comment author: Morendil 29 March 2010 01:13:09PM *  1 point [-]

Often, and particularly when applied to a mental construct, e.g. "problem".

Comment author: wedrifid 29 March 2010 07:16:55AM *  0 points [-]

real problem

Misleading quote. If you follow the context you will observe that I saw a potential ambiguity in what CronoDAS is asking. Literally 'remove the worry' or remove that which is to be worried about. The fact that 'get a job' was considered a response makes it unreasonable to for me to assume he was only talking about the worry. I chose to ask him to tell me rather than presume I knew what he meant.

Then I observed that this led to giving bad advice and stopped endorsing the thought. What I now endorse is whatever concerns people report they have I will treat as valid concerns, if I take on an advisory role.

It is ironic that in this instance you are responding to what you think I mean based on your preconceptions ("I, too, used to"...) and not what I wrote. I reject your presumption. In fact, if anything I suspect I err too far on the side of literal interpretation rather than the side of translating from spoken word to probable mental state.

Comment author: Morendil 29 March 2010 07:51:45AM 2 points [-]

I do not read CronoDAS' comment as ambiguous. The sentence parses as "I want to turn of my shame (of X) and worries (about Y)". The request for advice is about the feelings, it's not directly about the situation that (putatively) gives rise to the feelings. The turn of phrase "I want to turn off" is unusual and very direct, that strikes me as a big clue to focus on the feelings themselves.

I'll confess that "I, too" was an instance of mind reading on my part. My apologies. The word "real", especially when used in the phrase "real problem", is so often linked to mind-reading in my experience that I jumped to conclusions.

Comment author: wedrifid 29 March 2010 10:33:37AM 1 point [-]

I agree that mindreading sucks, in particular it causes problems when people with different types of personality try to mind-read each other. Without a lot of experience that get it wrong, a lot. That's bad if you happen to be of a less prolific personality type.

Now, even if CronoDAS accepts 'change the environment, including your bank balance' as an acceptable way to reduce financial worries what I would still focus on first is the shame.

I rank shame a close second behind frontal lobotomies in preventing healthy proactive problem solving. Shame is the kind of thing that will make you prefer to avoid solving a problem because even thinking about solving the problem makes your brain 'hurt'. Since severe toxic shame is the kind of thing that makes it hard to solve problems like toxic shame my suggestion would be to start with getting something to improve brain chemistry enough that he can break free of shame without fighting himself every step of the way.

Comment author: CronoDAS 29 March 2010 06:40:13PM 0 points [-]

I wouldn't classify my feelings as severe shame...

Comment author: pjeby 29 March 2010 07:02:25PM *  8 points [-]

I wouldn't classify my feelings as severe shame...

Unfortunately, that's not good evidence, because people with severe shame would mostly say the same thing. For one thing, there's not a generally accepted and calibrate-able shame scale. For another, admitting to shame (even to one's self) can also be shameful. ;-)

But even more to the point, one of the things that shame does is create self-induced limitations on one's behavior and thinking that prevent the shame from rising to intolerable levels under normal circumstances. As soon as you get near the boundaries of the shame, you mysteriously lose interest and turn away, before you feel anything particularly strongly.

So, instead of looking for shame as a symptom, what you'd want to look at would be what you don't think you can do, or don't perceive as desirable, despite it being generally considered desirable... and then see whether those things give rise to feelings of shame.

Think of it as an experiment in Bayesian updating to detect whether your mind has been invisibly tampered with, by observing what other people appear to be positively motivated by, that does not motivate you. ;-)

Comment author: wedrifid 30 March 2010 01:32:12AM *  1 point [-]

So, instead of looking for shame as a symptom, what you'd want to look at would be what you don't think you can do, or don't perceive as desirable, despite it being generally considered desirable... and then see whether those things give rise to feelings of shame.

Thanks PJ. I was debating whether to say it but this was my reasoning exactly. Shame is a real bitch, especially once it's had a chance to build up some learned helplessness.

Comment author: pwno 29 March 2010 07:55:00PM *  0 points [-]

Many people rationalize away desires for certain goals (e.g. status gaining goals) and settle in their current positions. Assuming the rationalizing individuals maintain a positive mean happiness level in their current state, what's the rationale in making them discover/realize suppressed or latent desires?

Comment author: pjeby 29 March 2010 09:54:26PM 9 points [-]

Many people rationalize away desires for certain goals (e.g. status gaining goals) and settle in their current positions. Assuming the rationalizing individuals maintain a positive mean happiness level in their current state, what's the rationale in making them discover/realize suppressed or latent desires?

You seem to be making the assumption that discovering a suppressed desire necessarily has negative utility. What's your rationale for that? ;-)

You also seem to be assuming I actually recommended that everybody look for their hidden or suppressed desires, which I didn't. However, if you elevate epistemic rationalism to the point of religion, ISTM that then you should want to know about all your suppressed desires, so you can feel the correct level of pain or pleasure involved. ;-)

Personally, I don't agree with that philosophy, but I still come to a somewhat-similar conclusion from an instrumentally-rational POV, due to the fact that you can't really suppress desires. They're still there, you just make your mental gears grind a whole lot more, working to keep you from consciously paying attention to it... which is pretty wasteful and inefficient.

Also, you can want something and accept that you're not going to get it, that there are things that are worth more to you, etc. etc., and those states of mind are not nearly as painful or frustrating as pretending you don't want what you actually do want. It is not necessarily the case that pain results from a desire plus the inability to fulfill it, or even an expectation that you will never fulfill it.

The pain that we assume to be associated with desire is actually generated by a different emotion, which we might call "attachment": the belief that things will be bad if we don't get what we want.

To frame it mathematically, a desire brings positive hedons for its fulfillment, and does nothing otherwise; an attachment brings anti-hedons for non-fulfillment, and nothing else. The two are largely independent, but people often assume them to be one and the same thing, because we can and do have them both in relation to the same thing.

So, adding desires is not a problem. It's adding attachments that's bad.

But discovering existing attachments isn't bad, because they still cause ongoing pain and dissatisfaction, even when you've "rationalized them away". The rationalization just provides you with an excuse to avoid the subject as much as possible... not a way to disconnect the pain from the subject. (Uncovering attachments, on the other hand, gives you the option to get rid of them.)

Comment author: CronoDAS 29 March 2010 06:25:14AM 1 point [-]

Do you want to turn off your worries or to solve the real problem of economic security that causes the worry? Obviously I would give different suggestions depending on what you mean.

Either one works for me.

Comment author: wedrifid 29 March 2010 06:28:18AM *  5 points [-]

Well, in that case it is down to either:

  • Buy drugs. Or,
  • Sell drugs.

More seriously would you consider doing work on, for example, rentacoder.com? That doesn't involve making you leave the basement and if you know what you are doing can give a passable income.

As for not worrying and been disabled by shame 'buying drugs' is actually probably the way to go. The advantage of your situation is that you can afford to take risks. If you (believe that you) do not have much to lose then the chance of improvement is more appealing relative to risk. So my suggestion is this: go to the 'supplements' section of the imminst.org forums. Those guys are experienced in using and recommending drugs and supplements based on what research and experience suggests works rather than based on authority or status. They may be able to suggest something that enables you to handle shame better. Once the worst of it is curbed you may well be able to get past the shame that is blocking you and actually do some mind hacking (or similar techniques).

Comment author: Morendil 29 March 2010 06:23:21AM *  2 points [-]

One suggestion that has been sometimes helpful to me is to notice that feelings come in layers, which you often have to peel off systematically. How do you feel about the feelings?

My colleague Dale Emery writes eloquently about his personal experience noticing and leveraging meta-feelings:

Several years ago, on the day I moved to California, I was carjacked at gunpoint in the parking lot of the apartment complex that I was moving into. For a half hour, two carjackers drove me around in my car, one driving, the other sitting behind me, holding a gun to the back of my head. I won’t go into the details, but I was, as you can imagine, terrified.

A few days later, I was walking across a parking lot to a store. As a woman walked out of the store in my direction, I began to panic and shake. Then I began to panic about my panicking, fearing that I would forever be terrified of people in parking lots.

At that moment, some very wise part of me asked, “How do you feel about being afraid?” After a few seconds, I realized that, at that moment, I felt good about being afraid. My fear didn’t mean that I would always be afraid in parking lots. It meant that, for a while, it would be healthy for me to be more attentive to my surroundings. That reframe was a big step in my recovery.

How do you feel about your shame and worries?

Comment author: pwno 29 March 2010 07:38:03PM *  2 points [-]

Getting rid of feelings induced by uncalibrated emotions isn't always possible by just realizing them. For instance, I can't do away with my anxiety about my spider phobia induced reactions without actually fixing my overblown spider phobia's reaction.

Comment author: CronoDAS 30 March 2010 07:15:45PM 0 points [-]

Wow, I've totally hijacked the discussion with my previous question... there hasn't been any comments made that aren't nested below mine.