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steven0461 comments on Humans are not automatically strategic - Less Wrong

154 Post author: AnnaSalamon 08 September 2010 07:02AM

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Comment author: steven0461 09 September 2010 10:27:11PM 8 points [-]

If there are (relative to LW) many good self-help sites and no good sites about rationality as such, that suggests to me LW should focus on rationality as such and leave self-help to the self-help sites. This is compatible with LW's members spending a lot of time on self-help sites that they recommend each other in open threads.

Comment author: AnnaSalamon 10 September 2010 08:57:49PM 29 points [-]

My impression is that there are two good reasons to incorporate productivity techniques into LW, instead of aiming for a separate community specialized in epistemic rationality that complements self-help communities.

  1. Our future depends on producing people who can both see what needs doing (wrt existential risk, and any other high-stakes issues), and can actually do things. This seems far higher probability than “our future depends on creating an FAI team” and than “our future depends on plan X” for any other specific plan X. A single community that teaches both, and that also discusses high-impact philanthropy, may help.

  2. There seems to be a synergy between epistemic and instrumental rationality, in the sense that techniques for each give boosts to the other. Many self-help books, for example, spend much time discussing how to think through painful subjects instead of walling them off (instead of allowing ugh fields to clutter up your to do list, or allowing rationalized “it’s all your fault” reactions to clutter up your interpersonal relations). It would be nice to have a community that could see the whole picture here.

Comment author: steven0461 10 September 2010 10:06:10PM *  5 points [-]

Instrumental rationality and productivity techniques and self-help are three different though overlapping things, though the exact difference is hard to pinpoint. In many cases it can be rational to learn to be more productive or more charismatic, but productivity and charisma don't thereby become kinds of rationality. Your original post probably counts as instrumental rationality in that it's about how to implement better general decision algorithms. In general, LW will probably have much more of an advantage relative to other sites in self-help that's inspired by the basic logic/math of optimal behavior than in other kinds of self-help.

Re: 1, obviously one needs both of those things, but the question is which is more useful at the margin. The average LWer will go through life with some degree of productivity/success/etc even if such topics never get discussed again, and it seems a lot easier to get someone to allocate 2% rather than 1% of their effort to "what needs doing" than to double their general productivity.

I feel like noting that none of the ten most recent posts are about epistemic rationality; there's nothing that I could use to get better at determining, just to name some random examples, whether nanotech will happen in the next 50 years, or whether egoism makes more philosophical sense than altruism.

On the other hand, I think a strong argument for having self-help content is that it draws people here.

Comment author: patrissimo 12 September 2010 04:01:18AM *  7 points [-]

But part of my point is that LW isn't "focusing on rationality", or rather, it is focusing on fun theoretical discussions of rationality rather than practical exercises that are hard to work implement but actually make you more rational. The self-help / life hacking / personal development community is actually better (in my opinion) at helping people become more rational than this site ostensibly devoted to rationality.

Comment author: AnnaSalamon 12 September 2010 06:24:18PM *  25 points [-]

The self-help / life hacking / personal development community is actually better (in my opinion) at helping people become more rational than this site ostensibly devoted to rationality.

Hmm. The self-help / life hacking / personal development community may well be better than LW at focussing on practice, on concrete life-improvements, and on eliciting deep-seated motivation. But AFAICT these communities are not aiming at epistemic rationality in our sense, and are consequently not hitting it even as well as we are. LW, for all its faults, has had fair success at teaching folks how to thinking usefully about abstract, tricky subjects on which human discussions often tend rapidly toward nonsense (e.g. existential risk, optimal philanthropy, or ethics). It has done so by teaching such subskills as:

  • Never attempting to prove empirical facts from definitions;
  • Never saying or implying “but decent people shouldn’t believe X, so X is false”;
  • Being curious; participating in conversations with intent to update opinions, rather than merely to defend one’s prior beliefs;
  • Asking what potential evidence would move you, or would move the other person;
  • Not expecting all sides of a policy discussion to line up;
  • Aspiring to have true beliefs, rather than to make up rationalizations that back the group’s notions of virtue.

By all means, let's copy the more effective, doing-oriented aspects of life hacking communities. But let’s do so while continuing to distinguish epistemic rationality as one of our key goals, since, as Steven notes, this goal seems almost unique to LW, is achieved here more than elsewhere, and is necessary for tackling e.g. existential risk reduction.

Comment author: olimay 10 September 2010 03:02:56AM 5 points [-]

I'm surprised that you seem to be saying that LW shouldn't getting more into instrumental rationality! That would seem to imply that you think the good self-help sites are doing enough. I really don't agree with that. I think LWers are uniquely suited to add to the discussion. More bright minds taking a serious, critical look at all thing, and, importantly, urgently looking for solutions contains a strong possibility of making a significant dent in things.

Major point, though, of GGP is not about what's being discussed, but how. He's bemoning that when topics related to self-improvement come up that we completely blow it! A lot of ineffectual discussion gets upvoted. I'm guilty of this too, but this little tirade's convinced me that we can do better, and that it's worth thinking about how to do better.