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Teachable Rationality Skills

52 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 May 2011 09:57PM

Recent brainstorming sessions at SIAI (with participants including Anna, Carl, Jasen, Divia, Will, Amy Willey, and Andrew Critch) have started to produce lists of rationality skills that we could potentially try to teach (at Rationality Boot Camp, at Less Wrong meetups, or similar venues).  We've also been trying to break those skills down to the 5-second level (step 2) and come up with ideas for exercises that might teach them (step 3) although we haven't actually composed those exercises yet (step 4, where the actual work takes place).

The bulk of this post will mainly go into the comments, which I'll try to keep to the following format:  A top-level comment is a major or minor skill to teach; upvote this comment if you think this skill should get priority in teaching.  Sub-level comments describe 5-second subskills that go into this skill, and then third-level comments are ideas for exercises which could potentially train that 5-second skill.  If anyone actually went to the work of composing a specific exercise people could run through, that would go to the fourth-level of commenting, I guess.  For some major practicable arts with a known standard learning format like "Improv" or "Acting", I'll put the exercise at the top and guesses at which skills it might teach below.  (And any plain old replies can go at any level.)

I probably won't be able to get to all of what we brainstormed today, so here's a PNG of the Freemind map that I generated during our session.

Comments (257)

Comment author: PhilGoetz 30 May 2011 05:31:45PM *  25 points [-]

Rationality skill: Recognize rationality skill in others.

There is a strong tendency for people to use the heuristic, "P(Person X is right) = # of times person X has been observed to be right / # of statements person X has made", or worse, "(# statements by X - # of times X has admitted to making a mistake) / # statements by X".

This encourages people who want to be respected to do 4 bad things:

  • Make many pronouncements on things that are obviously right, perhaps in a manner suggesting they are controversial claims.
  • Avoid saying anything unless they are certain they are correct.
  • Avoid saying anything concrete enough to possibly be proven wrong.
  • Never, ever admit to having made a mistake.

Unfortunately, these methods are extremely effective.

Comment author: stcredzero 31 May 2011 11:51:31PM *  2 points [-]

Avoid saying anything unless they are certain they are correct.

I don't think this is a pernicious behavior at all. I suspect that this is actually a sign of rationality.

http://www.paulgraham.com/heroes.html (See Robert Morris)

Comment author: sgeek 02 June 2011 10:09:40PM 5 points [-]

I think the key here is qualification - Robert Morris avoided being wrong by not stating things unqualified unless he was sure of them, whereas the failure mode for rationalists is not expressing an idea at all unless fairly sure of it.

We want ideas to be shared before they're well-supported, because discussion is generally the best way for them to find support (or disproof) - we just need to signal the uncertainty when we introduce an idea.

It's much like what I've been taught in analytical chemistry - every number has a stated uncertainty associated with it.

Comment author: [deleted] 27 May 2011 11:04:59PM 14 points [-]

Because normal comments will inevitably get mixed up with those that satisfy the requested sort of post, I recommend you bold the words "Skill", "Subskill" and "Exercise".

Comment author: JenniferRM 28 May 2011 06:25:58AM *  13 points [-]

Skill: Maintaining "contextual pointers" with your knowledge, both for the sake of evidential sourcing and contextual usage.

The idea here is twofold.

First, many intellectual conversations between people who lack this skill are are random walks through topic space. Each tangential leap is potentially useful for mining relevant evidence from each person's mind... but in conversations exploring an important central thesis it is good to treat the tangents as objects pushed onto a stack in the course of linear conversation. When you go to far afield with a tangent you need the presence of mind to notice that D was inspired by C which was inspired by B, which was profoundly relevant to the pragmatically important question of A. Stepping back to C or B or even A is frequently called for in important conversations but requires contextual mindfulness.

The second use of context is evidential. Being mindful of where evidence comes from (if it can be managed) helps keep track of the value and meaning of evidence. Confabulation induced or permitted by source amnesia, isn't necessarily a bad thing in terms of "usage optimized concepts" but in terms of epistemic hygiene its a killer. It is especially pernicious in modern media environments full of advertising, fiction, and bullshit.

I bring these two sorts of context up because they both involve "context pointers" and together the two kinds of context pointers enable clear "tree formatted thinking" where reasons radiate from a root node, and leaf nodes carry citations to allow validation.

Comment author: lockeandkeynes 29 May 2011 03:40:01PM 4 points [-]

Exercise: keep a physical stack trace on a whiteboard or something when talking

As topics become reframed for clarity, you can resolve child topics if they become irrelevant.

Comment author: atorm 31 May 2011 12:30:26PM 0 points [-]

Will this really train this skill? I think this exercise would help train skills related to the "compartmentalizing" you mentioned above, but it would only generate reliance on the whiteboard (or something) for this skill. Also, I don't think it would train long-term maintenance of "context pointers", i.e. "where did I learn this fact/how much weight should I give it?"

Comment author: gizmoguy 20 September 2012 01:25:30PM 1 point [-]

Exercise: verbalise linking concepts with emphasis/stress on key words.

This verbalisation can be either psychic (that is, using the internal dialogue) or vocal if involved in a discussion with a group. When moving from one concept to the next we find a way to express this as a sentence, and by emphasising key words in this sentence we highlight the concepts linked to by the sentence.

I use this sometimes when I want to remember a particular thought and I use the emphasised words as 'semantic tags' in my memory.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 28 May 2011 01:16:14PM *  11 points [-]

Skill: Productivity/Munchkinism. Not giving up in pursuing a difficult worthwhile goal, always acting on the best available plan, including the search for a better one. Ability to convert additional time and resources into additional (if slow) optimization, as opposed to wasting them.

Subskill: Creativity, ability to generate new prototype ideas and refine them, modifying and combining known things to gradually reach into new territory.

Subskill: Scholarship, ability to collect ideas and skills from elsewhere, for future use as building blocks for your problem.

Subskill: Optimization of own activity. Creatively looking for better ways of doing things instead of only following a fixed routine. Improving effectiveness of the routine past the point of satisficing a "reasonable" level (where that's consequentialistically helpful).

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 May 2011 10:49:19PM 29 points [-]

Skill: Being strategic. I.e., life-consequentialism, where you actually do things based on their expected future consequences, as opposed to drifting into a PhD program because your friends are doing it.

Exercise materials: We either need to develop efficient probes for getting people to list out major life choices that they could actually remake (are under serious reconsideration) or we need to develop hypothetical life stories and policy decisions to use in exercises.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 May 2011 11:39:52PM 20 points [-]

Subskill: Avoid pitfalls of verbal strategic reasoning.

  • List consequences without shifting from intuitive-sum to verbal-justification mode.
  • Don't exacerbate scope insensitivity or attending to rare events.

There are studies showing that people who consider their decisions more make worse decisions. As I understand it, the main explanation for this is that people shift from an intuitive sum of costs and benefits, to seeking verbally justifiable decisions, which in turn might lead them to one-reason-decisionmaking, ignoring some of their costs and benefits which are important to them but seem less "sensible". I also suspect it may exacerbate other biases like scope insensitivity or rare events - thinking about cases which are rare or short in duration.

The classic case being "Let's get a bigger house, further away from work, so it has an extra bedroom in case Grandma comes over", which she does once a year, but the 20 minutes of extra commute time happen every day and are not acclimated-to.

Comment author: Tiiba 30 May 2011 04:46:53AM 3 points [-]

"Let's get a bigger house, further away from work, so it has an extra bedroom in case Grandma comes over"

Not saying this is a bad example, but it COULD be the case that grandma never being able to come over is totally unacceptable. Which is also a pitfall - something can seem trivial until it goes away.

Comment author: ciphergoth 31 May 2011 05:07:00PM 6 points [-]

Only if there's really no other way for Grandma to come over - not even for example sleeping in the living room so she can have the sole bedroom.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 May 2011 11:43:43PM 6 points [-]

Exercise A: Give somebody two hypothetical package deals to choose from. First, have them choose quickly and intuitively. Then, have them think about consequences and list out desiderata and alternatives... but at the end of that, have them do the intuitive sum and state a preference, rather than coming up with a verbal reason for the decision.

Exercise B: Have some of the desiderata be rare cases or cases of short duration. Detect these, cross them out with a black marker.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 28 May 2011 12:19:22AM 19 points [-]

Subskill: Maximize on big things, satisfice on small things.

Comment author: ChrisHibbert 04 June 2011 06:45:37PM 13 points [-]

"and the wisdom to know the difference"

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 May 2011 11:34:35PM 18 points [-]

Subskill: Unbundling; optimize separate things separately.

Example 1: Optimize fuzzies and utilons separately.

Example 2: Optimize grades and learning separately (instead of just optimizing grades, or haphazardly optimizing both at the same time).

5SL: Notice when you're optimizing two things at once. (Maybe because you (a) have a sense of awkwardness or of not getting enough done, and when you list out the desirable consequences, there's more than one?) Then, find two different things you can do which optimizes each one individually and without worrying about the other one.

Comment author: MixedNuts 28 May 2011 07:17:51PM 4 points [-]

Yet I've done better doing the opposite. When faced with incompatible courses of action that optimize different things, look for a third alternative that gets both. The choice doesn't have to be hard - even if the optimizing targets are "save the world" and "talk to cool people", frustration with the obviously right choice triggers a search for a third alternative as well.

Comment author: handoflixue 31 May 2011 10:52:03PM 6 points [-]

I'd conclude that the most important skill is to stop, notice you're confused, and work out that it's because you're trying to optimize two goals. Whether you then optimize them separately, or find a third alternative, you'll probably do better than if you conflate "grades = learning" or "utilons = fuzzies" and try to optimize that non-existent conflation.

Comment author: billswift 28 May 2011 11:37:04AM 5 points [-]

If you need to work on several projects at once (as is often necessary in the real world), then do it by creating and maintaining a clear separation between them. A separation both of time and attention.

Besides scheduling different projects at different times, do things related to neither project in between so your attention to the earlier project doesn't carry over. This is an ideal time for routine maintenance/chores. Check email, do the dishes, go grocery shopping, take lunch; to the extent that you need to think about something other than the immediate task, think about the upcoming project, not the one you just left. Then go to work on the second project with your attention on the first broken.

Comment author: malthrin 05 June 2011 12:14:16AM 1 point [-]

Sense of unproductivity is a good flag for unbundling goals. I recently tried to figure out why I haven't finished as many free-time programming projects as I used to, and realized that I had at least 4 goals for free-time programming: learn a new language, build something personally useful, build something other people will use, and apply techniques from a textbook I've been working through. I couldn't find a project that satisfied all my goals, so I was skipping back and forth and not finishing anything.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 May 2011 11:08:57PM 14 points [-]

Subskill: Detach from sunk costs.

Material for exercises: Requires a case where the person has sunk costs and the option of continuing or not continuing. Might want to choose cases slightly less fraught than a marriage or a PhD program - you want to work up to those gradually.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 May 2011 11:15:22PM 15 points [-]

Exercise A: For a case where sunk costs exist, imagine that you are a new person who was just now teleported into this person's life. Variant: Imagine you were just teleported into this person's life, and everyone else knows this, and they all expect you to execute sudden changes of course. See what this changes about your thinking, regardless of whether it changes your decision.

Exercise B: For whatever sunk costs you're in the middle of expending, look at the same scenario and rephrase it as a sunk benefit, the purchased option to finish a task more quickly than before. E.g., if you already paid $100 on a $150 item, change from "I paid $100" to "I now have the option of purchasing this item for $50". Again, the stated objective of the exercise will be, "Notice the difference in your thinking", not, "try to change your decision".

Exercise C: As above, but imagine that you bought the option for a penny on eBay. E.g. if you're one year into a four-year PhD program, imagine that you paid a penny on eBay to purchase an option to get a PhD in three years rather than the usual four years. Would you exercise that option if you paid a penny for it?

Comment author: Nornagest 27 May 2011 11:24:40PM *  9 points [-]

That last exercise seems to run afoul of some value-related heuristics. Price is so common a proxy for utility that imagining that you paid a penny for the option on eBay might irrationally devalue whatever you're looking at.

Of course, looking at the contrast might still give you some useful insights -- provided you can untangle them.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 28 May 2011 12:24:51AM 10 points [-]

Subskill: Use fungibility. There are different ways to achieve many goals. E.g. instead of wasting an evening with a relative in a way you resent, send them a postcard.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 May 2011 11:18:21PM 8 points [-]

Subskill: Don't express emotions as policy decisions. (Anna.) Find some other outlet for the emotion besides the policy decision, i.e., screaming. (Eliezer.)

Comment author: katydee 28 May 2011 01:30:45AM 26 points [-]

Keep in mind that the current psychology literature indicates that cathartic release is actually undesirable-- while catharsis might improve affect in the short term, this is largely because it represents giving in to one's anger, and in the long run it actually makes you more likely to experience anger in the future.

I therefore advise that, in the event that one needs to make a particularly important decision and is currently angry, cathartic screaming may be effective, but its use should be restricted only for cases where it is strictly necessary.

(and this is coming from the ex-leader of a cathartic screaming club :P)

Comment author: billswift 28 May 2011 11:27:08AM 7 points [-]

Or, more generally, what you do reinforces your mental state at the time. Acting in anger (even just a cathartic release) reinforces your tendency toward (the likelihood of future) anger; the same with acting from fear and most other emotions. Also, whatever the cause of your procrastination, acting on it, letting yourself get away with procrastinating, increases your problems with it in the future. As a poster I made for my study wall many years ago said: "Commit through Action: Do It".

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 May 2011 11:19:57PM 3 points [-]

Exercise: Recall acts you've done while your emotions were running high, in cases where it seems like something that might be worth optimizing. Of those acts, ask whether the action/policy/response can best be interpreted as maximizing a worthwhile criterion, or as direct expressions of the emotion.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 May 2011 11:04:22PM 6 points [-]

Subskill: Before the final moment of doing something that has any sort of cost or downside, ask whether you're doing it because of its consequence or merely because you previously decided to do it.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 28 May 2011 12:23:02AM 3 points [-]

Exercise: Before ordering food in a restaurant, check whether you want the food, or just have a cached belief that you like it.

Comment author: billswift 28 May 2011 11:45:45AM 4 points [-]

Not just in a restaurant. I am trying to lose weight, and one of the more effective strategies is to make myself stop and ask myself if I really want to fix and eat something right now, or if I am thinking about eating for some other reason. It helps that I have gotten rid of most of the ready to eat food in my house and have to take the time to actually fix something, which slows me down enough to ask the question.

Comment author: MixedNuts 28 May 2011 07:22:34PM 2 points [-]

Failure mode: comfort food. Thinking about eating for non-hunger, non-appetite reasons, but persistent and inducing a real desire for food.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 May 2011 10:51:17PM 6 points [-]

Anna's subskill list from "Humans Are Not Automatically Strategic":

  • Ask ourselves what we’re trying to achieve;
  • Ask ourselves how we could tell if we achieved it (“what does it look like to be a good comedian?”) and how we can track progress;
  • Find ourselves strongly, intrinsically curious about information that would help us achieve our goal;
  • Gather that information (e.g., by asking as how folks commonly achieve our goal, or similar goals, or by tallying which strategies have and haven’t worked for us in the past);
  • Systematically test many different conjectures for how to achieve the goals, including methods that aren’t habitual for us, while tracking which ones do and don’t work;
  • Focus most of the energy that isn’t going into systematic exploration, on the methods that work best;
  • Make sure that our "goal" is really our goal, that we coherently want it and are not constrained by fears or by uncertainty as to whether it is worth the effort, and that we have thought through any questions and decisions in advance so they won't continually sap our energies;
  • Use environmental cues and social contexts to bolster our motivation, so we can keep working effectively in the face of intermittent frustrations, or temptations based in hyperbolic discounting.
Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 28 May 2011 12:20:50AM 15 points [-]

Subskill: Notice foreign goals. Are your parents making you do it? Are you doing it because you read it in a book? Did you just drift into doing that?

Converse subskill: Notice feeling of actually caring about something. Notice whether that caring is giving energy to what you're doing. Notice its absence.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 May 2011 11:35:27PM 7 points [-]

Subskill: Chain from feelings of angst and frustration into saying, "I need to be strategic!" and the other skills listed.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 28 May 2011 12:26:51AM 2 points [-]

Subskill: Musashi's "cut through in the same motion".

Comment author: Dr_Manhattan 29 May 2011 03:00:28PM 6 points [-]

Since LW lore has grown wide, can you please at least point to the reference for the uninitiated?

Comment author: katydee 30 May 2011 06:05:46AM 8 points [-]

From Musashi:

"The primary thing when you take a sword in your hands is your intention to cut the enemy, whatever the means. Whenever you parry, hit, spring, strike or touch the enemy’s cutting sword, you must cut the enemy in the same movement. It is essential to attain this. If you think only of hitting, springing, striking or touching the enemy, you will not be able actually to cut him. More than anything, you must be thinking of carrying your movement through to cutting him.”

Comment author: Nornagest 30 May 2011 05:45:31AM *  1 point [-]

Pretty sure it's mentioned in Twelve Virtues of Rationality, which provides a decent summary in context -- although you should read Musashi's Book of Five Rings if you really want to absorb the concept. He's a lucid (if sometimes infuriatingly vague) writer, and there are several good translations floating around.

Comment author: taryneast 26 March 2012 10:30:12AM 1 point [-]

Exercise: take a class in historical fencing techniques. :)

Doesn't have to be Japanese style. Italian or Spanish schools teach this too. Avoid the modern sport/olympics style classes.

Comment author: Nornagest 26 March 2012 10:53:10AM *  2 points [-]

Probably not great advice if you're looking specifically for a practice that'll quickly teach the habit of carrying tactical decisions through into strategic goals -- in this context that's something you only get from lots of blade-to-blade practice, and the koryu arts are almost universally very heavy on kata. In a typical dojo you might not get to freestyle sparring for a year or more. Western reconstructionist fencing tends to be less so, but there's still a pretty serious ramp-up period in every salle I've ever been exposed to.

On the other hand, if you can get past that period, just about any martial art which involves partnered practice is remarkably good at developing the skill of instrumentalizing strategic thinking (though it still needs to be generalized to the rest of life, a difficult trick which probably qualifies as a virtue of rationality in its own right). Weapon arts (and aikido, but it's unique in this respect among the empty-hand arts I've studied) are also good for developing a habit which is difficult to put into words, but which might be approximated as "presence" or "mindfulness".

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 May 2011 10:54:02PM 1 point [-]

Subskill: "What is the consequence, what is the goal?"

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 May 2011 10:57:58PM 2 points [-]

Exercise A: For some policy that someone is carrying out today, starting as close to the object level as possible (answering an email, making a phone call, buying something at the store), ask about the consequences, and the consequences of the consequences. Identify the consequences that are desirable or that the action is being carried out for-the-sake-of. State the goal in abstract terms. Ask whether achieving the goal has further consequences - even things terminally desirable often have other, instrumentally desirable or undesirable consequences. Trace out the chain of specific events and the abstract instrumental and terminal goals they correspond to.

Exercise B: For each goal node, find some other policy - not necessarily a superior policy, but some other policy - that would be helpful for the same goal, not necessarily in the same way. (The point being to unanchor your concept of that goal from the exact, specific means of achieving it. This also obviously starts on the habit of searching for superior alternatives.)

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 May 2011 10:26:42PM 8 points [-]

Exercise: Improv (improvised comedy).

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 May 2011 10:29:52PM 3 points [-]

Skills this might teach:

Speed, non-hesitation.


Rapid adaptation to shifts of context.

Social confidence.

Some of the same things as acting lessons?

Comment author: Kevin 31 May 2011 01:09:26PM 1 point [-]

Skill: ability to better intuitively maintain conversational flow

Comment author: James_Miller 28 May 2011 06:42:01AM 6 points [-]

Skill: decision making under uncertainty.

Comment author: James_Miller 28 May 2011 06:44:36AM *  1 point [-]

Exercise: Have two players negotiate to trade a good. One or both players will have private information about the good based on the role of a die.

The best active learning exercises to use in the classroom have an extremely simple set up (KISS), student interaction, an objective scoring system, and all the students having a chance to continually play rather than having to spend most of their time watching what other students do.

Comment author: keefe 22 June 2011 03:03:40PM 2 points [-]

play poker?

Comment author: wedrifid 28 May 2011 08:59:08AM 0 points [-]

The best active learning exercises to use in the classroom have an extremely simple set up (KISS), student interaction, an objective scoring system

Particularly fits.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 May 2011 09:15:36PM 16 points [-]

Skill: Anti-rationalization (1): Prevent your mind from selectively searching for support of only one side of an argument.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 May 2011 10:00:01PM 10 points [-]

Subskill: Analyze the underlying reasons why you're trying to rationalize for or against something - why a conclusion feels required, or disallowed.

Important subskill: Notice when a candidate "the reason I'm trying to rationalize something" is a poor guess or itself a rationalization - when it's a guess that sounds plausible about someone like you in your position, but doesn't seem to ring true.

Comment author: Charlie_OConnor 29 May 2011 06:21:03AM 3 points [-]

Exercise: Pretend you are your evil alter ego when analyzing the reasons for your rationalization. What would your alter ego say about your rationalization? Your alter ego will probably come up with some selfish, lazy or just plain silly reasons for your rationalization. Once you have this list see the section on how to accept the truth.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 May 2011 09:41:14PM 7 points [-]

Subskill: Notice the process of selectively searching for support, and halt it. Chains into "Ask whether, not why", or into trying to unbind the need to rationalize.

Level 1, notice the active process after performing a conscious check whether it's running; Level 2, detect it perceptually and automatically; Level 3, never run this process.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 May 2011 09:48:19PM 9 points [-]

Exercise material: List of suggested conclusions to rationalize. I'm not quite sure what the prerequisites here would be; one of my own childhood epiphanies was finding that I could argue reasons why there ought to be a teapot in the asteroid belt, and thinking to myself, "Well, I better not do that, then." I suspect the primary desideratum would be more that the topic offers plenty of opportunity to come up with clever rationalizations, rather than that the topic offers motivation to come up with clever rationalizations.

Exercise A: Pick a conclusion from the list. Come up with a clever argument why it is true. Notice what it feels like to do this. Then don't do it.

(This is distinct from noticing the feeling of being tempted to rationalize, a separate subskill.)

Exercise B: In the middle of coming up with clever arguments why something is true, stop and chain into the Litany of Tarski, or some other remedy. Variant: Say out loud "Ew!" or "Oops!" during the stop part.

Exercise C: For a conclusion on the list, argue that it is true. Then "Ask whether, not why" - try to figure out whether it is true. Notice the difference between these two processes. Requires a question whose answer is less than immediately obvious, but which someone can find info about by searching their memory and/or the Internet.

Comment author: taryneast 28 May 2011 09:17:11AM 12 points [-]

Hmmm this just made me think that debate clubs deliberately teach the opposite of this skill.

Comment author: FiftyTwo 29 May 2011 03:57:15AM 3 points [-]

True, but the successful debaters in my experience are the ones who can construct both sides of an argument in order to pre-empt and account for possible responses.

This isn't necessarily just a binary for/against disinction but considering better ways to acheive the same goal and possible unintended consequence.

[Speaking as an active participant of the UK universities competitive debating circuit, though I acknowledge that makes me prone to rationalise in its favour]

Comment author: Barry_Cotter 28 May 2011 03:01:12PM 1 point [-]

And at least in Britain and Ireland they provide disproportionate numbers of future lawyers and politicians.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 28 May 2011 12:43:41AM 1 point [-]

argue reasons why there ought to be a teapot in the asteroid belt

It's not clear to me how this is different from fabricating evidence. Is it?

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 May 2011 09:27:53PM 5 points [-]

Exercise material (prerequisite for multiple exercises below): Have a hot-topic list such that incoming students at the expected level (e.g. level = typical LW reader) would be tempted to rationalize at least some of them. This requires both that someone care about the topic, and that the topic isn't so cut-and-dry that there's no temptation to distort anything. E.g., I care about atheism but I don't have any emotional fear of that argument coming out "the wrong way" - on the other hand, putting me in an actual argument with, say, my parents, or someone who was a really clever theistic arguer in front of an audience, might generate the emotional temptation to cheat to ensure winning on every single point.

Comment author: taryneast 26 March 2012 10:39:29AM *  1 point [-]

We can probably generate a good hot topic list from the past discussions on LW. Here's some suggestions based on a very quick attempt at recalling past debates.

  • atheism
  • the benefits of rationality
  • the importance of researching friendly AI
  • is cryonics worthwhile
  • the morality of pick-up artistry
Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 May 2011 09:16:24PM 4 points [-]

Subskill: Be able to identify the internal feeling of having a required conclusion, of an argument only having one allowed answer, and (a slightly different internal sensation) of other answers being disallowed.

Level one: After this skill is explicitly mentioned and invoked by some other process, be able to notice this internal sense of required-conclusion-ness (disallowed-ness) when you consciously focus on it.

Level two: Have a constant perceptual eye out for feelings like this, notice automatically without needing to be "on guard", chain into applying other anti-rationalization skills (e.g. Litany of Tarski).

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 May 2011 09:33:37PM 1 point [-]

Exercise idea: For items on the hot-topic list, identify ones that you care about, and:

Exercise A: Try to identify directly, just from looking at the issue and imagining the potential answers to it, the emotional sense that there's only one allowed answer to it, and the emotional sense that a different answer is not allowed.

Exercise B: Imagine being in the process of losing an argument about that issue. Identify the drive (desperation, need) to regain the lost territory and win. Then imagine being in the process of winning an argument about that issue. Identify the sense of triumph and the prior commitment which makes that particular conclusion "winning".

Exercise C: Get into a simulated argument about the issue with someone taking the opposite side from the one you care about. Maintain awareness of your overall emotional state, try to be aware of the internal drive to produce a particular answer, be aware of the sense of revulsion or flinch-away that associates with other answers.

Comment author: lessdazed 06 August 2011 06:02:40PM *  1 point [-]

Get into a simulated argument about the issue with someone taking the opposite side from the one you care about.

I think it is important to integrate this with searching for a third alternative.

1) Establish, on paper and before doing anything else, what you think alternative positions are.

2) Have a third party who does not look at your list identify third alternatives.

3) Determine which good ideas you didn't think of. This can only be an approximation, as you and the other person have used different words to describe alternatives. Notice the emotional urge to rationalize and conclude you didn't leave out important third alternatives, and the urge to rationalize that the alternatives you didn't think of aren't compelling. (This is an artificial hot-button issue, but that is only a side-benefit of this step.)

4) The list that you have constructed probably avoids your belief's real weak points. Alternatives identified by the other person, but not you, are best for pitting against your cherished idea, as in exercise C above.

5) Notice the relative strength of the best arguments not on your list as against the ones on your list. If they are strong, consider whether you have been failing to consider third alternatives for intellectual reasons, such as not holding off on proposing solutions, or avoiding your belief's weak points for emotional reasons.

Comment author: Craig_Heldreth 06 August 2011 04:25:56PM 1 point [-]

This is a similar list from Robert Anton Wilson's Prometheus Rising (there is a list of lists of such exercises through the book, 12 or 15 total but this may be the best one).


1.) If you are a liberal, subscribe to the National Review, the country's most intelligent (and witty) conservative magazine, for a year. Each month try to enter their reality tunnel for a few hours while reading their articles.

2.) If you are a conservative, subscribe to the New York Review of Books for a year and try to get into their head-space for a few hours a month.

3.) If you are a rationalist, subscribe to Fate magazine for a year.

4.) If you are an occultist, join the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal and read their journal, The Skeptical Inquirer, for a year.

5.) Buy a copy of the Scientific American and read any article in it. Ask the following questions: Why do they sound so sure? Does the data support dogmatism at this point, or is dogma a primate habit (defending head-space)? Will these theories still be believed in 2011*? In 2593?

[* - my copy from 2001]

6.) Get into a discussion of philosophy with an educated Marxist, an intelligent Muslim, and a Japanese businessman at the first opportunity.

7.) Buy some ZOOM or LIFT (two names for the same caffeine-high stimulant) at a health food store. (This gives a close approximation of the effects of illegal cocaine). When you are zooming or lifting and your mind is racing, find a victim and explain the universe to them until they are able to escape you. What you experience in this speed rap is what the head of the compulsive rationalist is always like. This is the verbal circuit gone wild and totally oblivious to information coming in on any other circuit. It explains why most people cannot stand rationalists. Speed drugs apparently trigger neurotransmitters characteristic of the verbal centers of the left cortex.

Comment author: Confringus 29 May 2011 11:27:27PM 5 points [-]

Skill: The accurate and timely assessment of basic probability ie: determining a person's likely response in any given conversation, determining odds of common occurrences, etc. The benefit to communication and the time-saving possibilities of such a skill are such that I feel any aspiring rationalist should pay specific attention to the development of basic probabilistic abilities.

Comment author: handoflixue 31 May 2011 08:53:53PM 0 points [-]

I doubt it's the most efficient method, but I've been running basic Bayesian math on things like "given the coin came up heads the last 20 times, should I assume it's a fair or weighted coin?" I figure learning to do the math quickly will help me get it down to the point where I can at least ballpark the math on the 5-second level. It's also been helping me ballpark priors, and observe how different priors can affect the math.

Comment author: Confringus 01 June 2011 05:40:30AM 0 points [-]

That's the basic vein I was referring to; that kind of quick calculation can be applied to debate, conversation and other interpersonal contact in much the same way as it is when observing a coin.

Comment author: JenniferRM 28 May 2011 06:00:30AM *  11 points [-]

Skill: An accurate and functional awareness of time.

By this I mean to include noticing that pre-established dates and times have arrived, predicting the amount of time things will take you or other people, not carrying through with schedules or plans inflexibly when real surprises should cause updates, understanding how to effectively communicate about time with people about time management in ways that respect the listener's time management skills, and so on.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 30 May 2011 05:14:10PM 5 points [-]

It appears to me that awareness of what time it is, awareness of how long a task has taken, and ability to guess in advance how long a task will take are distinctly separate skills - it seems unwise to me to assume that progress at one of them will translate to increased ability with another.

This is based on the observation that I'm abysmally bad at the first of those (I've been known to gain and lose entire days, even when I'm paying attention in preparation for an upcoming event) and non-awesome at the second, but startlingly good at the last if I rely on the appropriate non-conscious estimate-generator. If I spontaneously say "I bet I can finish writing that piece of code in 20 minutes", based on my track record it would actually be surprising for it to take less than 15 or more than 25, but ask me to take a shower that lasts no longer than 20 minutes and there's something like a 50/50 chance I'll be in there for 45.

Comment author: bgaesop 30 May 2011 05:12:48AM 2 points [-]

Suggested exercise: guess what time it is, then check a clock. Guess how long it's been since you last checked the clock, ie not only "it is 4:30" but also "it is 35 minutes since I last checked the time (at 3:55)"

Comment author: handoflixue 31 May 2011 09:27:15PM 2 points [-]

Guess how long it's been since you last checked the clock

I've found my time-keeping accuracy went up a lot when I started thinking in those terms. I can also often get within 15 minutes of the time by simply estimating how much time I spent on activities since I last checked the clock.

i.e.: "I checked the clock at noon. Then I had to handle that big, complex situation, which probably took an hour. I probably spent ~20 minutes taking a break afterwards so I could be more productive. Then I wrote a couple quick pieces of code, call it 15 minutes each, so 30 minutes. I suppose it's probably 1:50 PM"

This does take a bit more than 5 minutes if I haven't cached anything for a long time, but I can now treat "1:50 PM" as a "checked the clock" and extrapolate off that cached value. Generally I'm only wrong if I've completely forgotten about something else I did ("Oh, right, I had that 30 minute meeting! It's actually 2:20 PM"). Doing this often has gotten me in to the habit of tracking my time, which has the added benefit that I can generally figure out where my time went =)

Comment author: PhilGoetz 30 May 2011 04:24:55PM 2 points [-]

I'm very good at that, but very bad at being on time.

Comment author: orthonormal 04 June 2011 12:04:18PM 0 points [-]

Same here.

Comment author: keefe 22 June 2011 03:05:21PM 0 points [-]

I spent more than I care to admit learning to tell myself to sleep for some window of hours, like no more than 2 or 4 or whatever

Comment author: Friendly-HI 11 June 2011 05:03:01PM *  4 points [-]

I have another suggestion - not with respect to the content of those rationality lessons, but regarding one means of propagating this knowledge: Khan Academy

I'm sure many of you are aware of it by now and I am pretty convinced that Khan Academy is a predecessor of what the future of education will look like. So my suggestion is to get someone charismatic with the skill to explain the skills of rationality in a down-to-earth non-nerdy way and put these explanations up on youtube. If they are good enough and fit the style of Khan Academy lessons, they may have a shot of getting picked up by Khan Academy. (Whether it's the original lessons or an adaptation by Khan wouldn't matter much).

Even if they're not picked up, it would obviously be great to have these lessons up on youtube. But if you could get a foot in the door at KA and make rationality skills an integral part of the many lessons that are available there, it would be an awesome achievement and probably go a long way, considering how fast KA is picking up speed right now. If you want to get serious about teaching rationality skills, the top-level goal must obviously be to get them into the regular school curriculum. KA isn't there yet but give it 5 years time and it may very well be.

Comment author: lockeandkeynes 29 May 2011 03:37:08PM 4 points [-]

Skill: Compartmentalizing, or keeping track of threads and subthreads in a discussion so that it doesn't become derailed by minutiae.

This is more important in board meetings with Robert's Rules of Order in place, but it can be useful in general rational discussion. Just last night I my friend was helping me with C++ references and we got caught up over array pointers, forgetting entirely about the bug we were trying to solve.

Comment author: Morendil 28 May 2011 07:19:53AM *  14 points [-]

Skill: negotiation - deliberately reaching a mutually beneficial trade or agreement, even in situations of slight power imbalance. Important for rationalists who aim at earning money as an instrumental goal.

(At the 5-second level a key component of this is learning to say "no", being able to overcome one's agreeableness as the default decision.)

(For some reason negotiation in situations of extreme power imbalance seems like it should have a different name, and I don't know what that should be.)

Comment author: Fleisch 01 June 2011 10:02:17AM *  0 points [-]

(For some reason negotiation in situations of extreme power imbalance seems like it should have a different name, and I don't know what that should be.)

Dominance or Authority spring to mind. In this video Steven Pinker argues that there are three basic relationship types, authority, reciprocity and communality, and negotiation in extreme power imbalance sounds like it uses the social rules for authority rather than reciprocity.

Comment author: sundar 12 June 2011 07:59:51AM 9 points [-]

some of these skills can be explained to a much younger audience (catch them young), in the form of stories, one such story made up for my daughter,

As the Sun rose, the whole forest was filled with loud but sweet chatter of the squirrels chirping, as all the little ones were busy getting ready for school. Squeaky, the youngest among them, a very energetic and clever guy, was also gentle and kind, hence was adored by all the squirrels in the forest.

Squeaky enjoyed school very much and was always the first to get there. He loved what he learned each day and seeing his enthusiasm his parents gifted some chalk for him to practice his lessons at home. Squeaky was very happy and immediately set about scribbling on the trunk of the tree where his home was. That day in school, he was taught the number 'one', and his home tree was filled with that number. But soon there was a problem, “How could a little tree trunk be enough to hold all my knowledge?” wondered Squeaky. He thought about this and then decided to borrow the other trees in the forest for this purpose.

The next day he learned about 'two', and painted the whole forest, all the trees, including his neighbours with that number. When the other squirrels climbed their respective trees to get to their home, they were fully covered with chalk dust. And by the time they reached their destination, they looked like Eskimos. Thanks to Squeaky. Since, he was an adorable child, no one complained.

Every day the forest bore witness to Squeaky's expanding knowledge, one day it was 'three' and the next day it would be filled with 'four'. As Squeaky's knowledge was near 'three hundred and twenty six', the whole colony shuddered to think of the days ahead. They did not want in the future to start as a squirrel at the base of their tree and end up at the top as an Eskimo.

So, they sought the help of an wise old Owl, who thought about it for a moment and said, "Each one of you should gift different coloured chalks to Squeaky and before he could use it, ask him to come and see me". They all were perplexed, "Is this some kind of ZEN thing, the solution to a problem is more of the same problem?" they whispered amongst themselves, but nevertheless decided to implement the Owl's idea. "It would at-least be a change from the usual white", bought a chorus laughter from the crowd. "See you tomorrow covered in red" giggled one. "Hope some one gives him blue, I would look good in blue" wondered another.

The next day to Squeaky's surprise, all his neighbours gave him chalks of different colours, for his use. But they said there was a catch; he should first go and see the wise old Owl and follow his instructions if he wants to use them.

Squeaky went to the Owl and introduced himself. The Owl said “ I want you to write about the things you do-not-know, so that I can teach them to you”. This was music to his ears. Now he had a mentor. He thanked the Owl and promised to start from tomorrow.

The next morning when Squeaky was about to begin, he thought about the Owl's instruction and as the chalk touched the trunk, he was filled with a strange feeling. He had never felt this way before and an uneasy calm settled on him. His mind was blank. He wondered, 'What do I do-not-know?'. He was rather clueless.

Squeaky sat down to think, could not think of things he did not know and whatever he thought, he knew. Slowly, the seconds ticked to minutes, and minutes to hours, hours to days, but still there was no progress. All the squirrels heaved a sigh of relief but at the same time felt sorry, as it was rather a mean trick to play on the little fella and in the mean time the forest came back to its original colour.

(As Squeaky is not very good at knowing what he does not know, and you children being so much smarter, can you think about what you do-not-know. Can you?)

more of my effort to teach rationality skills to my daughter can be found at this address, http://bpsundar.weebly.com

Comment author: taryneast 26 March 2012 11:17:18AM 1 point [-]

The link (above) to your site has gone offline... have you moved it somewhere? I'd really like to see what you've been doing!

Comment author: Emile 01 May 2012 01:11:09PM 1 point [-]

He seems to have moved it here.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 May 2011 10:06:45PM 8 points [-]

Skill: Mindfulness / not doing things on autopilot.

An underlying capacity that seems worth exercises to train explicitly, if we can figure out how to do that.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 May 2011 10:10:59PM 5 points [-]

Subskill: Maintain awareness of things that would ordinarily zip right past.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 May 2011 10:13:11PM 12 points [-]

Exercise A: Have a set of hand signals describing conversational modes and use them during conversation; something along the lines of the Philosophy Referee signals only more relevant, like a hand signal meaning "You are attempting to refute what I just said" or "I am accepting that implicit premise."

Exercise B: Hand signals to describe body language, tone of voice, facial expressions.

(What other continuously changing variables would be good to learn to pay attention to?)

Comment author: wedrifid 28 May 2011 09:40:14AM 4 points [-]

along the lines of the Philosophy Referee signals

I like WilliamSTK's reply:

I think that hand motion [for Godwin's law violation] is self evident.

Comment author: taryneast 28 May 2011 09:22:58AM *  1 point [-]

Confusion-level. If everybody listening to you speak is registering high confusion. that's a sign you need to rethink (or just restructure) your current explanation.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 May 2011 10:19:45PM 4 points [-]

Subskill / contributing talent: Maintain a focus of attention. (Exercise: Dual N-back.)

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 May 2011 10:09:16PM 3 points [-]

Subskill: Retrain habitual responses.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 May 2011 10:10:02PM 3 points [-]

Exercise: Say "Ducks" whenever someone sneezes.

(No, this was not my idea. Jasen again.)

Comment author: Dr_Manhattan 31 August 2011 08:51:33PM 4 points [-]

I nominate "Ducks" to be the Official Secret Greeting of the Bayesian Conspiracy

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 May 2011 10:24:58PM 3 points [-]

Exercise: Say "Greetings" or "Salutations" instead of "Hello" or "How are you", because people don't sneeze often enough. Also note that "How are you" itself is an unusually autopiloted question.

(From Shannon.)

Comment author: [deleted] 28 May 2011 08:22:48AM 7 points [-]

Or one could carry around a satchel of black pepper.

Comment author: Nic_Smith 27 May 2011 11:21:01PM 6 points [-]

A good idea but a bad implementation, as doing this is a bit of a nerd stereotype (e.g. Martin from The Simpsons, Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory). IIRC, Leil Lowndes suggests in one of her books that the question "How do you spend your time?" usually be substituted for "What do you do?" With a bit of finessing, it seems like it could replace "How are you?" (maybe "What are you doing today?" -- strikes me as similar enough to get the social meaning across, but different enough that you might also get a useful not-automatic response).

Alternatively, again, use another language.

Comment author: Desrtopa 30 May 2011 05:30:21AM *  5 points [-]

I used to do this, but it got on people's nerves.

I actually got in something of an argument with my aunt several years back, because she felt that it was rude of me to make slight changes to trivial social interactions, because it made people uncomfortable to be forced to think about what they'd just said.

Comment author: Sniffnoy 29 May 2011 04:32:52AM 2 points [-]

Huh. I actually did this a while back (not with those, but with other nonstandard greetings) but I don't think it's made me any more mindful. Maybe if you kept switching every [time period], according to die roll? But then, if it's already part of a larger program of habit-switching/mindfulness, that may be more than necessary...

Comment author: handoflixue 31 May 2011 11:26:29PM 1 point [-]

I've found having environmental switches helps more: I try to use British spellings at home, and US spellings at work, and thus have to constantly think about them. I have spell checking dictionaries set up appropriately in both environments, so I get nice little reminders "you're not spelling it right!" to wake me up, too :)

Because I can't settle in to a routine pattern, it keeps me significantly more aware than previous "develop a new replacement habit" changes have for me.

Comment author: James_Miller 27 May 2011 11:44:29PM *  2 points [-]
Comment author: Alicorn 27 May 2011 10:13:06PM 2 points [-]

Why "ducks" in particular?

Comment author: Dr_Manhattan 27 May 2011 10:45:42PM 9 points [-]

Because "frogs" would be totally weird?

Comment author: Nic_Smith 27 May 2011 10:59:07PM 4 points [-]

Indeed. If the idea is just to retrain a habitual response, why not pick a sneezing ritual from another culture? Wikipedia has an entire list of responses to sneezing in various languages. Apparently "Sanon" is the correct response in Esperanto. Could lead to some interesting conversations, while remaining plausible.

Comment author: handoflixue 31 May 2011 11:10:25PM 1 point [-]

I've recently taught myself to substitute "__" or "bunnies" when I want to swear at work. The former was pretty trivial. The latter requires improvising an interesting way to work it in to the sentence, and this usually defuses my actual frustration as an added benefit.

It probably helps that I tend to swear rather prolifically to begin with, of course, so I get a lot of practice in :)

Comment author: Armok_GoB 30 May 2011 06:10:33PM 1 point [-]

Exercise: Use the speech characteristics of some favourite show/character/stereotype of yours that you don't already.

Examples: talk like a pirate, as described by some online guide (MLP) use evrypony/nopony instead of "one", Hay and Horse Apples as expletives, etc. (homestuck) use troll terms for everything, if writing (especially on paper) use a typing quirk Pronounce l33tspeak avoid using words that contain a specific letter try to include a pun on a specific theme in every sentence

(warning; could get very annoying for the environment)

... hmm, after further consideration, these might not actually work very well, it comes up so often (every sentence) that you don't get a chance to forget about them. Might be a good exercise for somehting else thou.

Comment author: kybernetikos 29 May 2011 01:43:58PM 1 point [-]

I sneeze quite often. When someone says 'bless you', my usual response is 'and may you also be blessed'. I've heard a number of people who had apparently never wondered before say 'why do we say that?' after receiving that response.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 May 2011 10:07:10PM 2 points [-]

Subskill: Meditation.

Exercise: Meditation.

(Jasen's bailiwick.)

Comment author: Kevin 31 May 2011 01:07:19PM *  3 points [-]

Skill: Sales, getting people to buy things from you.

Comment author: Kevin 31 May 2011 01:24:59PM *  4 points [-]

5-second skill: Knowing when to sell

Comment author: Kevin 31 May 2011 01:26:39PM *  -1 points [-]

Exercise: Buy tickets for concerts or sports events that will definitely sell out, then intuitively try and predict the best inflection point to sell your tickets in order to maximize profit while minimizing risk of being unable to sell before the value of your asset falls to zero.

Comment author: Oklord 31 May 2011 01:28:51PM *  1 point [-]

Wouldn't arbitrage sensing be closer to spotting the difference between markets, or seeing the signs of an inefficient market? I don't see how one could easily propose heuristics for a market's direction as opposed to it's position...

Comment author: Kevin 31 May 2011 01:34:31PM 0 points [-]

Yes, sorry, that was incoherent, I made it simpler.

Comment author: Oklord 31 May 2011 01:43:57PM 2 points [-]

Better. Perhaps as an add on, how to get rid of junk profitably? Heuristics to identify you have something worth selling...

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 May 2011 10:42:36PM 3 points [-]

Skill: Other introspection / reflectiveness. (Catchall for internal self-knowledge habits that don't go elsewhere.)

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 28 May 2011 12:02:14AM 9 points [-]

Subskill: Accept that an accurate description of yourself during any given frame-instant will involve some emotions, reasons why you act, and reasons why you believe, which are less than perfectly virtuous.

  • Don't lie about your life story to yourself - don't spruce up your history to make yourself look better. It may be easier to practice the above skill on the past than on the present, and it gets you used to the general idea.
  • Accepting that "What is the cause of my belief?" and "What is the justification of my belief?" will not always have the same answers - you have to accept this non-virtuous fact before you can properly process them as different questions.
Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 28 May 2011 12:04:40AM 5 points [-]

Exercise: Find at least one thing which you do for less than perfectly noble reasons, which you are going to admit to everyone else in the study group, and not fix for at least a week. Everyone else in the study group will admit something similar to you. Possibly followed by group hug. (The idea isn't that any given flaw is okay, the idea is that it's okay to have a running accurate description of yourself which involves known flaws you haven't fixed yet, and all of you are in that same boat together.)

Comment author: wedrifid 28 May 2011 08:51:31AM 4 points [-]

Exercise: Find at least one thing which you do for less than perfectly noble reasons, which you are going to admit to everyone else in the study group, and not fix for at least a week. Everyone else in the study group will admit something similar to you. Possibly followed by group hug. (The idea isn't that any given flaw is okay, the idea is that it's okay to have a running accurate description of yourself which involves known flaws you haven't fixed yet, and all of you are in that same boat together.)

Could you clarify somewhat what you mean by "less than perfectly noble reasons"? What I think of as "things I do for less than perfectly noble reasons" is an entirely different set than "flaws I haven't fixed yet". The latter implies consideration only of things that you can, should, and want to change. This is in contrast to things I do because I'm not perfectly noble and being perfectly noble is not a goal.

I actually think confessions and acceptance of both of those kinds of deviations from perfect nobility could be valuable. It's ok to have an accurate running description of how you are and also ok to have an accurate running description on how you want to be.

Comment author: MixedNuts 28 May 2011 07:31:24PM 2 points [-]

Exercise: When you notice one of your justifications matches a common rationalizing pattern (e.g., "I snapped at my spouse because I was having a bad day, not because I'm jealous, of course I'm not jealous"), acknowledge it as a possibility. Don't try to evaluate its probability yet. Continue your train of thought as usual ("So I need to work on being nice when I'm in a bad mood..."), then start testing whether you're self-deceiving ("If I'm jealous, I should expect to see...").

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 May 2011 10:45:38PM 4 points [-]

Subskill: Notice new judgments and ask about them. E.g., "Huh, I have a bad feeling about this person cleaning this apartment."

  • Perceptually notice the new judgment, emotion, or intuition.
  • Put a box around it, that is, try to describe what you just felt in verbal language, to promote it to primary awareness.
  • Wonder where the feeling came from - search for internal causes.
  • Ask about the reference class - the general reliability of 'feelings like this'.
Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 28 May 2011 12:09:40AM 3 points [-]

Subskill: Self-investigation of emotions, beliefs, anticipations. Forming hypotheses about what you feel, believe, or expect; questioning those hypotheses to see if they're actually true.

Comment author: calcsam 29 May 2011 04:05:14AM *  9 points [-]

Skill: Distill yourself to simple terms. Be funny and interesting.


  • Have list of topics. Select one using a random number generator. Or use random ANKI cards. Whatever.

  • Immediately after selecting, turn on your digital camera/computer camera and record.

  • You can aim for lots of different goals: tell an interesting story, give a short two-sentence answer, etc.

This is great for preparing for job interviews also.

Comment author: Morendil 28 May 2011 03:58:25PM 5 points [-]

Skill: communication. Subskills: writing, public speaking.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 May 2011 10:34:39PM 5 points [-]

Exercise: Acting lessons.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 May 2011 10:36:15PM 5 points [-]

Skills this might teach:

Body language / vocal tone / facial expressions, awareness and control.

Awareness of social roles as you are carrying them out.

Social confidence, possibly performance in front of crowds (if you actually perform).

Comment author: free_rip 29 May 2011 08:47:19AM 2 points [-]

More skills:

Group-work skills: compromise, listening to other's ideas, shifting your own, recognizing when someone's is better than your's and when it isn't, recognizing when it's important to someone that their idea be used and when it isn't.

How to take criticism, and use it. (In four years of drama, I've never done a performance with more than a week prep time where I haven't gotten feedback that's made it better.)

Creativity, quick-thinking, improv.

Comment author: free_rip 29 May 2011 08:48:06AM 1 point [-]

These are learnt best in full drama (not just acting) lessons, with daily, weekly or monthly performances and at least some devising left up to the students, letting them work it out together with decreasing guidance. I've taken these types of drama lessons for four years, and found them very useful for the above. I took formal acting lessons (where the teacher made all the decisions, gave all the feedback) and quit after three months.

A good way of teaching it can be to demonstrate concepts through lecturing and requiring daily performances for a week or two (have everyone perform at the end of the lesson) and then letting everyone get into groups with scripts and design their performance for a month or week from then, with whatever restrictions, advice, resources you decide. Organizing rehearsals is another good and transferable skill.

These might not go too well in short hour or such lessons, though - but getting people to create a short minute or so performance on a topic/style with a few people in their off-time, and present in class, would do as well and leave more time for 'teaching'. People can also laugh and joke and, I've found, do better work in their own rehearsals then in a class format with other groups all around them.

Comment author: aausch 28 May 2011 08:56:16PM *  6 points [-]

Exercise: Dancing

Single/Partnered dancing lessons. Increase body awareness and consciousness of body language signs, both emitted and received. Practice basic skills that can lead to other benefits - confidences speaking with strangers, and hugging at meet-ups.

Comment author: bgaesop 30 May 2011 05:44:15AM *  4 points [-]

Exercise: Improvisatory dance. In my opinion, improvising is more useful than specific styles of dance (salsa, swing, waltz). Most people do not dance specific dances in common social interactions unless the social event is based around that dance. If you are at a club, you can pop and lock, b-boy, robot, liquid&digits, krump, while everyone around you does something else. Also, it's easier and more obvious to be better at improvisatory dance than the people around you.

I have found that attempting to teach others to dance in literal language doesn't work as well as using metaphorical, poetic, woo-filled language. That said, as a specific exercise: feel the energy in your torso and each of your limbs. Feel your connection to the earth beneath you-actually feel the sensation of your feet touching the ground-what parts are touching? The heel, balls, toes, pay attention to it specifically. Direct your focus and weight either towards or away from the parts of your body you find yourself noticing. Feel the energy in your limbs again, and let some of it out, to float in front of you: snap it out, or gently wave it, or pull or push or whatever your body intuits. Then move the now-floating ball of energy around, and let it move you around.

This is much easier to explain in person when you can see me doing it. I was originally inspired to dance by this TED talk by the Legion of Extraordinary Dancers, which is also where I got some of what I wrote above (the rest I got from my own experience and from the improvisation and choreography class I just took). If you enjoy this kind of dance, you will love the LXD web show

Comment author: JenniferRM 28 May 2011 06:06:54AM *  2 points [-]

Skill: Handling ideas, plans, and predictions lightly enough not to become stuck with bad ones when evidence could (should?) have pushed you into a better working model.

Roughly, this skill would involve honestly scoring as a fox on the fox vs hedgehog quiz in a self aware way... understanding some of the construct that the quiz is probing, how that construct causally connects with predictive accuracy, and how and when to engage the relevant skills. Bonus points for being able to constrain the tendencies when they are unhelpful.

Comment author: calcsam 30 May 2011 02:57:19PM *  3 points [-]

I aspire to run and manage stuff. Yet I often find myself often using low-status communication methods even when medium to high-status communication methods are appropriate. I find it uncomfortable to express expectation that others should follow my lead or listen to me, and express thanks too much. I say, "is it okay if we go now" to a friend who gave me a ride instead of "Let's go?"

I thus devised the following plan and am in the process of executing it.

Skill: Become comfortable with expressing high-status behavior.

Exercise: Ask women that are older than me out on dates. I will be forced to act high-status or I will be shot down, either in the asking or during the date.

Comment author: ChrisHibbert 04 June 2011 06:37:59PM *  4 points [-]

For many more exercises exploring status behavior (both high and low), see Keith Johnstone's Impro. (Here's my review.) Johnstone's theory of improvisation (and acting in general) is that most of the weight of convincing the audience is carried by relative status distinctions among the actors. He provides a detailed set of exercises for exploring and understanding subtle and extreme differences so actors can be comfortable on stage projecting whatever distinction is called for.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 05 June 2011 02:57:30PM *  3 points [-]

Johnstone's theory of improvisation (and acting in general) is that most of the weight of convincing the audience is carried by relative status distinctions among the actors.

By my recollection (I don't have the book in front of me) the status distinctions that he writes about are not among the actors, but among the characters that the actors are portraying (as you say in your review). I doubt if a theatrical company could long survive if the actors themselves were ceaselessly jockeying for position in the way Johnstone has the fictional characters doing. I am unconvinced of the usefulness of taking this as a key to human relationships in the real world. What Johnstone did was to take a single aspect of human relationships and use it as a cantus firmus on which to construct theatrical scenes. It convinces the audience not by resembling life, but by resembling a single idea about life, much as a cartoonist makes an instantly recognisable face with a few lines by concentrating on a single, simplified physical feature.

You could take any ubiquitous feature of real life and use it in this way as a key to theatrical composition. If Impro had been written in the 60s, the key that it presented might have been sex: everything the characters did would be constructed on the basis of being a negotiation, overt or covert, about whether, when, and with whom to have sex. Social class can serve as a key, from which one gets "stock characters" and comedies of manners. Pinter found a minimalist key: explain nothing and insert unnaturally long pauses between conversational turns. The audience fill the gap themselves by confabulating the characters' thoughts, and wonder how Pinter made his dialogue sound so realistic. At least, they did at first, but this happens with all new theatrical techniques. They begin by being lauded as refreshingly realistic, but with time they are seen to be no less artificial than their predecessors.

Comment author: calcsam 04 June 2011 10:28:23PM 1 point [-]

I am actually reading that book now. Thanks!

Comment author: handoflixue 31 May 2011 08:40:50PM 4 points [-]

Suggested exercise:

If you have a friend who is willing, it shouldn't be too hard to roleplay out using "high status" language. Just practice some dialogue and have them call you on it if you use language that's lower status.

Personally, I'd have them call you on it if you're rude too, but that's because, in my experience, politeness is a useful skill at all status levels.

And, of course, ideally you should be calling yourself on it too. Recording the conversation might help, so you can replay it and evaluate yourself afterwards.

Comment author: atorm 31 May 2011 12:20:48PM 4 points [-]

This is hardly useful if one is no longer in a position to be able to go on dates. My fiancee would probably object to me asking older women out on dates, no matter how much I insist it's to train my rationality. What other exercises would train this without putting important relationships at risk (probably shouldn't practice on bosses, family members, etc.)?

Comment author: Oklord 31 May 2011 01:53:08PM *  0 points [-]

Perhaps alternate exercises could include:

Attempt to obtain odd or ridiculous requests from service providers without saying "please". I.e. Go to Mcdonalds and ask for "chips with no salt". Lacks same impact as calcsam's method though...

Comment author: mindspillage 31 May 2011 05:13:46PM 5 points [-]

Unless I've misunderstood, I don't recommend this. When I was a retail clerk, I would make extra effort to fulfil an unusual request for someone who was polite to me, but not for someone who wasn't. You can say "please" and be polite without acting subservient. Asking for something strange seems fine, though.

(I usually think of people who don't treat service workers kindly as low-status--like they desperately would like to have the power to order someone else around without regard for their feelings but have no other avenue to do it. )

Comment author: handoflixue 31 May 2011 08:37:31PM 1 point [-]

Seconded. I'll throw my two anecdotes on the table:

Anecdote 1: I used to work management, and routinely got good results via "please" and "thank you" because I was raised to be polite. Other managers in the same company often got poor results using rude/bullying techniques. That said, I'd estimate that "politeness" was one of the less significant factors to one's success either way.

Anecdote 2: Working retail, I found that people who were especially rude were usually low-status. The exceptions were mid-status people who seemed to very badly want to be high-status, and people who had a pretty good reason to be rude due to previous experiences. (And the latter category was the only time I've ever felt rudeness was acceptable)

Comment author: Oklord 01 June 2011 04:51:04AM *  2 points [-]

I'll admit my method is flawed, but the idea was closer to asking for something beyond what is expected without acting as if it is a huge request, treating it casually.

The "not saying please" thing struck me as a good method for ensuring it stayed casual but I can see that would probably come off as rude - politeness is surely a charachteristic of most productive behaviour.

Comment author: handoflixue 01 June 2011 06:59:09PM 4 points [-]

There's actually some interesting psychological research that suggests people primarily evaluate based on how you present things: kids are only cautious when their parents seem worried, and will be much calmer and more accepting if the parents act like something is no big deal. If you present a request casually, it's more likely to be casually accepted without thought. If you seem extremely anxious, people will pick up on that and get anxious themselves. Definitely a skill I have benefited from learning.

A sub-skill I would suggest is being okay with "no". I've found that if I ask for a big favor, get a "no", and just smile and move on, then people feel safer about me in the future - I didn't make them feel bad, so they don't have to be defensive about my future requests. It also makes it much easier for me to ask for the favor, and to come off casually, because I don't have any particular investment in a "yes" answer.

Comment author: Jonathan_Graehl 30 May 2011 10:42:17PM *  1 point [-]

I agree that it's good to learn to date if you haven't, both because the result can be good, and because it's a good proving ground for social competence.

I think it's good to not to roll over and accept unnecessarily low status - to not give it away.

It's good to know how to please and attract, to cow and impress.

[edit: yes, your story is clear]

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 28 May 2011 12:16:51AM 3 points [-]

Running list of major skill areas not yet discussed:

  • Curiosity - the true and honest feeling, or failing that, how to get as close there as possible. Litany of Tarski, "ask whether, not why", Update Yourself Incrementally, etc.
  • Bottom-line stuff - noticing when you already know your destination, hold off on proposing solutions, etc.
  • Connecting belief to anticipation.
  • Use-of-words skills - people trying to milk definitional arguments for inferences, etc.
  • Empiricism - keeping a constant eye out for ways to test things. Not big official scientific reliable tests, just keeping your eyes open.
  • Concreteness / specificity - managing your levels of abstraction (this is surprisingly important in practice).
  • Productivity - adding new good habits, breaking old bad habits, scholarship
  • Argument flow awareness - things like motivated stopping, motivated continuation, flinching away from a counterargument that might carry; also positive aspects like knowing which question an argument is intended to resolve
  • Nonconformity
  • Cooperation
  • Saying oops
  • Munchkinism, minmaxing, "burn the spirit of the game", zs'hanh, assume the problem is solvable and continue solving it
  • Fun
Comment author: PhilGoetz 30 May 2011 10:17:41PM *  11 points [-]

Skill: Saying oops.

Today endofself found a flaw in a post of mine. I immediately ate a piece of chocolate, to reward my brain for being proved wrong.

Comment author: Armok_GoB 30 May 2011 06:43:57PM *  8 points [-]

Exercise: Nonconformity, (posibly fun), (possibly curiosity); watch or read from somehting VERY far out of your target demograpic.

Examples: Twilight, My Little Pony Friendship is magic, the Quran. (Note: I have only watched MLP of these examples, and can confirm it will surprise you by being great. For the other two I get an instinctive revulsion saying "that can't POSSIBLY be anything other than slow torture" in spite of knowing taking the outside view says otherwise, which is exactly why I should watch/read from them if I were to do this exercise)

Comment author: MixedNuts 01 June 2011 01:23:08PM 7 points [-]

Twilight is tolerable. The setup is quite good, but wasted (vampire politics are glossed over in favor of Bella's heartbeat). If you want to see what can be done with it go read Alicorn's Luminosity (discussion thread) which starts out a decent pamphlet for luminosity, then drops it and turns into a good book. (As in, not by the standards of online fanfic. By the standards of books.)

Twilight itself is just your usual crappy romance novel. It finds a few emotional buttons (danger, lust, beauty, resisting attraction, the high of infatuation) and presses them like a monkey on crack. It's quite possible to enjoy that. Secondary characters, while rather flat, are appealing - for example Carlisle Cullen's virtues can be genuinely moving.

I say grab it if you have time to waste, if the first five minutes bore you drop it, otherwise finish it.

Comment author: [deleted] 30 May 2011 10:23:54PM 6 points [-]

Apologetics! Christian devotional material! The Screwtape Letters is remarkably insightful as a guide to noticing pitfalls in your own thinking and behavior, and it's probably not the only thing in the entire genre worth reading.

Comment author: wedrifid 30 May 2011 10:39:31PM 2 points [-]

The Screwtape Letters is remarkably insightful as a guide to noticing pitfalls in your own thinking and behavior, and it's probably not the only thing in the entire genre worth reading.

I have fond memories of The Screwtape Letters. I could never work out why my fellow believers raved over the author's other work (Mere Christianity) instead. The latter didn't even inspire me enough to finish the second half.

Comment author: Vaniver 30 May 2011 08:19:36PM 4 points [-]

My experience reading the Quran (I've only read a few percent so far) has been comparable to my experience reading the Bible. Both are rather poetic, in different ways, but the content is only occasionally useful. I genuinely enjoyed reading the Analects and the Tao Te Ching, however, as the wisdom seemed more densely concentrated and more applicable.

Comment author: Armok_GoB 30 May 2011 09:34:24PM 1 point [-]

Haven't read either of these, and what you are saying fits with my previous expectations. I were going to say the bible first but I figured many might have already read it.

Remember the point of the exercise is not to read somehting that's good and you've planed to read sometime. It's to read somehting you think is horrible and people will look funny at you for reading... but that you are wrong about.

This is obviously impossible to do on purpose in any straightforward way, but I have this feeling that the rationalist masters have a few clever tricks to get around that paradox...

Comment author: Vaniver 01 June 2011 12:47:23PM 2 points [-]

I started watching MLP earlier today, and it is surprisingly good. Watch it on youtube here.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 30 May 2011 10:20:08PM 2 points [-]

You're the third person this past week to tell me how good My Little Pony is.

Comment author: Armok_GoB 30 May 2011 10:27:55PM 1 point [-]

Yea, in some circles it's actually all the rage, but I'm counting on it still being controversial in most of meatspace for at least a few more months.

Comment author: Normal_Anomaly 30 May 2011 08:13:19PM 2 points [-]

Some data to fill in the gaps in Armok's: I read Twilight with an effort to have an open mind about it. I slightly enjoyed the first three books as romance novels, then the end of the fourth was utterly worthless. Then I noticed the ideas behind the first three books, which were bad. So the series in general is ok, but only if you don't look at it very hard (Luminosity, on the other hand, is good).

I haven't read the Koran, but the scattered parts of the Bible I've read were relatively boring. There are a lot of rules, procedures, genealogies, and distorted history that are really only of interest if one believes the religion.

Comment author: Alicorn 30 May 2011 06:59:27PM *  0 points [-]

Have you read Luminosity? It might make Twilight more palatable if you started with that as an introduction to the background concepts. (Or it would make Twilight less palatable because it's worse by comparison or something, I'm not sure how this works for you.)

Comment author: Armok_GoB 30 May 2011 07:08:07PM 1 point [-]

The link to Luminosity is in my reading list. I may or may not get around to it before the singularity but probably not for many years either way. I won't be reading Twilight unless I find some specific reason to believe doing so would fill some specific purpose I don't know needs filled yet, since I have way, way to much stuff to read in all categories... Even if I want somehting specifically deliberately bad with actual research I can probably optimize even better for that as well.

Comment author: [deleted] 28 May 2011 04:38:33AM 3 points [-]

Exercise: test understanding by filling in the blanks before you know the answer. I'm trying to get better at estimating large dollar amounts, so I do a lot of practice guessing. Also, talking research with a professor, I mentally made a point of predicting what his insight was going to be before he said it.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 28 May 2011 05:12:25AM 1 point [-]

Which one's this an exercise for?

Comment author: keefe 22 June 2011 03:09:50PM 0 points [-]

quick scan didn't see anything regarding accuracy of visual or kinesthetic imagination, probably one of the most important skills for solving problems and also related to # of possibility chains one can fit in the head at one time

Comment author: waveman 01 June 2011 08:08:31AM 0 points [-]
  • Consciously work to get faster and more accurate feedback.

Example - periodically write down your goals for the next month and year. At the end of the period, review progress. This gives feedback on how much you can currently get done.

It also gives feedback on whether what you are correct in your opinion of what your goals are. If you are not progressing towards your goals they may not actually be important goals. You can use the reviews to reverse engineer what your goals must be given what you spend your time on. Eg if you spend a lot of time surfing the web in an undisciplined manner, then being amused and entertained may be very important to you, or maybe it's novelty that's important.

Example - break down larger projects into stages that provide value at each stage, and where you can clearly tell if you have completed a stage. Review the project at the end of each stage to see if you want to continue with it.

Example - ask people around you for feedback on your behavior, strengths, weaknesses. You will probably have to go out of your way to reward "bad news" feedback until people get confident you can take it.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 May 2011 10:30:02PM 2 points [-]

Exercise: PUA. Amy suggests that an exercise of equivalent difficulty for women might be getting a handsome guy to buy you a drink without promising him anything else.

Comment author: aausch 28 May 2011 08:53:51PM *  3 points [-]

A more challenging alternative might be to try getting a handsome guy to show genuine affection - ie., give you a hug and some words of encouragement ("don't worry about it, you'll do well on that test"), in exchange for nothing offered.

Comment author: Manfred 28 May 2011 02:46:49AM *  5 points [-]

The female possible-equivalent kind of skeeves me out, and doesn't seem to exercise the same skills. I would guess, and I hope, that there are better ways to practice status-projecting, confidence, taking control of interactions, and body language.

Q: What sort of things are these social skills good for other than playing a fairly limited social game?

A: Confidence and social dominance are useful in all sorts of Interactions. However, some of the parts are specific to human romance in this culture.

Q: Do I really care about helping people practice the parts specific to romance in a specific culture, rather than a broad class of social interactions?

A: Nah, not really.

Q: Okay, so what kind of things test your social dominance, without splitting your audience or necessarily practicing culture-specific mating rituals?

A: Getting people to do things (maybe specific behaviors) for you [e.g. go get me a drink]. Practicing specific skills to be dominant [e.g. never giving the appearance that you don't know what to do or need the other person's approval]. Navigating what is considered to be a difficult social interaction that is helped by being impressive [getting a job, making a product pitch].

Comment author: Alicorn 28 May 2011 02:52:04AM 10 points [-]

The female possible-equivalent kind of skeeves me out

There is something to notice here.

Comment author: wobster109 28 May 2011 07:28:04AM 10 points [-]

There is something about this that skeeves me out as well, and it's not simply discomfort at the idea of doing it. It's the idea of manipulating others for drinks. It reminds me of begging, almost, the whole trying to get free stuff from others. Also, it sounds like leading men on far enough to get them to buy you a drink; it sounds like making them think you're interested, even if you don't actually promise anything. I'm not so fond of things that might inconvenience others, nor the idea of getting drinks from others because I've led them to believe something false.

I believe the male version is to get a girl's phone number? What skills does this require? I'd guess confidence, the art of conversation, body language, assertiveness, initiative, etc etc. Everything that's already been listed. However, what skills does convincing a man to buy a girl a drink require? What would make a man want to buy a girl a drink? I'm getting the impression of a great deal of flirtatiousness.

I feel that a more equivalent challenge would be for a girl to get a man to accompany her to one of her hobbies, like a knitting group or an orchestra concert or a rationalists' meetup. That way, she has to present her hobby well, get the guy interested, and he has to be interested in something other than sleeping with her. It will require more communication than sexuality, and I feel it will teach the desired social skills better.

Comment author: handoflixue 31 May 2011 11:04:23PM 3 points [-]

I feel that a more equivalent challenge would be for a girl to get a man to accompany her to one of her hobbies. That way he has to be interested in something other than sleeping with her. (paraphrased)

I'm reasonably confident I could manage that using nothing but sex as a lure. Given that, I'm not sure how you'd really sort out whether the guy went from genuine interest, or because he genuinely believes there's a good chance of getting laid. If you're meeting someone in a bar and expressing interest, you're dealing with very biasing circumstances.

Comment author: wedrifid 28 May 2011 09:01:23AM *  8 points [-]

The female possible-equivalent kind of skeeves me out

There is something to notice here.

Yes, that manipulation to get drinks is a flawed analogy, not equivalent. (I reject your connotation.)

It is not easy to find a direct female equivalent to the kind of skills Eliezer was suggesting developing. Simply because of the huge difference in the usual difficulty level in that kind of interaction. Perhaps the most direct translation would be "learn how to approach, attract and build a connection with prospective mates that would previously have been out of your league".

Comment author: Will_Newsome 28 May 2011 06:51:41AM 2 points [-]

I think you'll have to be more explicit, I'm not sure what aspect I should be noticing that is worth italics relative to other aspects. Is it about Less Wrong memes, bar memes, Less Wrong's apparent tacit acceptance of bar memes despite general distaste, or what?

Comment author: katydee 28 May 2011 07:42:51AM 15 points [-]

95% probability: Alicorn is suggesting that, just as the female equivalent of PUA skeeves Manfred (presumably a male) out, the traditional version of PUA skeeves her (and presumably other females) out.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 28 May 2011 05:17:45PM *  33 points [-]

Addressed to general audience, not katydee specifically.

Michael Vassar, 5th comment down: "It's important to pay attention to what people's words actually say. ..." I am going to attempt an exercise trying that out and see what happens. I'll also poorly echo Yvain.

Eliezer and others were looking for exercises to aid aspiring rationalists in developing generally applicable social/conversational skills/attributes. For aspiring rationalist males, the common perception is that PUA has demonstrated large positive effects. Eliezer or Amy suggested that succeeding at "getting a handsome guy to buy you a drink without promising him anything else" would build skills for female rationalists. Eliezer then relays Amy's suggestion that PUA and "getting a handsome guy to buy you a drink" might be of equivalent difficulty. Note that "equivalent" was used as an adjective, not a noun. This is the only flavor of equivalence suggested by Eliezer or Amy. It is a bad comparison. Female attractiveness is harder to substantially improve than male attractiveness, and "handsome" is vague.

The thread goes downhill immediately. Manfred writes: "The female possible-equivalent kind of skeeves me out, and doesn't seem to exercise the same skills." What does 'equivalent' mean here? It does not appear to be a reference to Eliezer/Amy's suggestion of equivalence of difficulty, and Manfred notes that the exercises utilize somewhat different skills. The most likely explanation is that Manfred misinterpreted Eliezer's unfortunate use of "equivalent" as a much stronger claim. He thus probably-accidentally-automatically designated the female rationalist exercise the "possible-equivalent" of the male exercise without finding a concrete and exclusively interesting relationship between the two clusters in conceptspace, simply because he felt no need to do what he perceived as flatly disagreeing with Eliezer's claim of PUA-equivalence. His skepticism that "getting a handsome guy to buy you a drink" is PUA-equivalent is apparent. No one would have independently thought that up.

Also worth noting is Manfred's use of "skeeves". He later clarifies that he is not sure which aspects of the man-buying-drink-for-woman scenario are off-putting, but "Maybe it's the injection of money/commodification, or maybe it's just that I dislike many people in that culture so the badness gets associated." Additionally it should be noted that the rest of Manfred's comment was okay, and the subtly introduced and subtly misleading 'equivalence' blunder could theoretically have been patched.

Then, Alicorn, quoting Manfred's "The female possible-equivalent kind of skeeves me out", replies "There is something to notice here." katydee explained Alicorn's comment: "Alicorn is suggesting that, just as the female equivalent of PUA skeeves Manfred (presumably a male) out, the traditional version of PUA skeeves her (and presumably other females) out." Alicorn essentially confirmed this interpretation. The comment, interpretation, and confirmation picked up 14 karma as of my writing this. I really like Alicorn's posts and think she is awesome. And even here, if you squint your brain a little, her comment seems reasonable. But if you actually read the words, it's insane troll logic.

Manfred is not skeeved by the female equivalent of PUA. No one ever talked about a female equivalent of PUA. Manfred incorrectly called something a "female possible-equivalent" due to what really looks like a combination of a misinterpretation, an accident of doxastic language, and social norms.

One could attempt careful, complex arguments about social psychology intending to show that "getting a handsome guy to buy you a drink without promising him anything" and PUA use cognitive machinery or social capital in similar fashions or have other concrete similarities, but it wouldn't work, and it would be the result of rationalizing a misleading artifact of LW social epistemology to make a demonstrably false point about the preferences of females generally. (If not about youngish American females generally, then a speculative claim about whatever reference class Alicorn thinks she is in.)

For the sake of argument, even given a powerful connection in the territory between "PUA-related behaviors" and "beta-sapping-related behaviors including gold digging" (which, sufficiently generalized, cover most humans), enough to make them "equivalent", it is still not clear that Manfred is averse to either, as long as they are not happening in crass bars with crass beers. PUA skills and wealth-absorbing/gold-digging/beta-exploiting skills can be used anywhere, anytime. And again if there was such a connection, it would still be incorrect to make an argument for skeeving symmetry between PUA (a large class of general purpose social interaction skills/attributes used in many ways towards many ends) and a single bar skill that is known for being particularly easy to use unvirtuously.

If I am wrong to think that Manfred's use of "female possible-equivalent" was unintentional, he still used the word incorrectly, and thus the symmetry arguments still do not apply. And if Alicorn had picked up on clues I had not, and noticed that Manfred had used "female possible-equivalent" intentionally, and furthermore decided to reply to the comment implicitly only addressing those with conceptual schemas sufficiently like Manfred's seemingly accidental one (i.e. no one, I think), then I admit my criticism does not apply as strongly. I find such a scenario to be very unlikely.

Summary: katydee put 95% on a total breakdown of sanity within 4 sentences including Eliezer's 2 word sentence, written by 3 people, 2 of which are number 1 and number 3 on Less Wrong's Top Contributors list, and ended up guessing correctly, as if the reasoning was obvious. And I find it kinda funny...

Comment author: Manfred 31 May 2011 01:44:14PM *  5 points [-]

My assumption that the suggestions were supposed to teach the same skills probably comes from the fact that this is a post labeled Exercise, and so should be intended to teach a set of skills (though my use of the word "equivalent" probably did come from a textual mixup). And I don't think "getting laid at a bar" is the skill that was meant, although I am not as sure of that as I was - it's not that getting laid at a bar is so terrible, but I wouldn't call it a "Rationality Skill."

And it appears that Will agrees with me that the purpose should not be to get laid, since he says "No one ever talked about a female equivalent of PUA." I suppose I could write a whole page about how he missed the other interpretation, and how that made the thread go downhill into insane troll logic, but that seems like a lot of work and I'd probably only get 18 or so upvotes :P

Comment author: wedrifid 28 May 2011 07:08:32PM *  11 points [-]

Summary: katydee put 95% on a total breakdown of sanity within 4 sentences including Eliezer's 2 word sentence, written by 3 people, 2 of which are number 1 and number 3 on Less Wrong's Top Contributors list, and ended up guessing correctly, as if the reasoning was obvious. And I find it kinda funny...

It would only have been surprising if it was the first time the same insanity broke down in the vicinity of the same keyword and you were unfamiliar with the politics of the number three user in the top contributor list. It wasn't exactly subtle.

Comment author: Alicorn 28 May 2011 08:08:05AM 5 points [-]

You win Bayes points.

Comment author: Manfred 28 May 2011 03:07:08AM *  2 points [-]

Did you mean something other than noticing that the sexual roles in our bar-trawling subculture, with common, desperate males and uncommon, passive females, skeeve me out?

EDIT: Passive isn't quite the right word to put there. Certainly women in bars are socially passive with regards to men, but I'm not (very) skeeved out by the fact that, say, men typically ask women to dance. Maybe it's the injection of money/commodification, or maybe it's just that I dislike many people in that culture so the badness gets associated.

Comment author: wedrifid 28 May 2011 09:30:59AM *  4 points [-]

Q: Do I really care about helping people practice the parts specific to romance in a specific culture, rather than a broad class of social interactions?

A: Yes.

Romance is a rather important part of life and success in that area makes a difference in performance in other areas as well. There is real value, both terminal and instrumental, in having a healthy romantic life.

Comment author: Manfred 28 May 2011 10:49:29PM *  4 points [-]

Okay, I'll drop the euphemism. Do I really care about helping people practice the parts specific to getting laid at a bar if you are a man, rather than a broad class of social interactions?

"Healthy romantic life" is also a bit vague, so I'm not sure if you would support this explicitly, or if by "healthy romantic life" you mean a more stable situation, which would mean training in cooperation and communication (and also some rational courage and knowing what to expect) much more than dominance.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 May 2011 10:32:39PM 4 points [-]

Skills this may teach / has successfully taught:

Social confidence.

General self-confidence.

Body language, vocal tone, facial expressions.


Navigating social conversations.

Willingness to hug people at LW meetups.

Comment author: James_Miller 28 May 2011 12:10:06AM 6 points [-]

Another way to build up social confidence might be to repeatedly get rejected by asking lots of extremely attractive people out on dates. The goal here is to numb yourself to the emotional costs of rejection through repeated exposure.

Comment author: wedrifid 28 May 2011 09:23:22AM 4 points [-]

Another way to build up social confidence might be to repeatedly get rejected by asking lots of extremely attractive people out on dates. The goal here is to numb yourself to the emotional costs of rejection through repeated exposure.

And I would suggest that this additional form of training is going to be overwhelmingly hard to avoid picking up along the way. If you aren't getting repeatedly rejected then I think you must be doing something wrong.

Comment author: pwno 29 May 2011 01:11:30AM *  3 points [-]

Unless the rejection is accompanied by occasional successes, this may be a good way to lower your self-esteem. The trick is learning to accept rejection - using each opportunity to succeed and learning from each failed attempt.

Comment author: thomblake 31 May 2011 02:33:10PM 3 points [-]

Willingness to hug people at LW meetups.

Is this a rationality skill?

Comment author: mutterc 31 May 2011 08:44:11PM 1 point [-]

It's a mind hack to help one consider fellow LWers as part of one's "tribe".

It seems to me to be a rationality skill, in the sense of consciously exploiting human cognitive biases in the service of one's own goals.

Or it's a very mild form of cult "love bombing".

Comment author: thomblake 31 May 2011 08:50:26PM 0 points [-]

consciously exploiting human cognitive biases in the service of one's own goals.

An anti-rationality skill then?

Or it's a very mild form of cult "love bombing".


Comment author: TimFreeman 31 May 2011 09:18:46PM 1 point [-]

...an exercise of equivalent difficulty for women might be getting a handsome guy to buy you a drink without promising him anything else.

Interesting. This bugs me because I don't like to feed other people's harmful addictions, and my default interpretation for "drink" is an alcoholic drink. I imagine myself being on the guy's side of the interaction, and if I don't know how vulnerable someone is to alcoholism, I don't want to cause them to receive any alcohol. The others who responded seemed to be bothered by something to do with interpersonal interactions at bars. It's interesting that there could be apparently-nonoverlapping reasons to have strong negative feelings about something that on the face of it seems fairly innocuous.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 29 May 2011 01:11:09PM *  2 points [-]

Fun fact: on my first readthrough, I saw

Recent brainwashing sessions at SIAI

and was like wut.

Comment author: Nic_Smith 31 May 2011 10:40:41PM 7 points [-]

Such occurrences would give a whole new meaning to the term "epistemic hygiene."

Comment author: roryokane 03 June 2011 04:21:50PM 2 points [-]

For those who haven't heard of that term: http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Epistemic_hygiene

Comment author: James_Miller 28 May 2011 12:02:27AM 0 points [-]

Skill: learning that rational people can't agree to disagree.

Comment author: James_Miller 28 May 2011 12:02:36AM *  10 points [-]

Exercise idea: provide a list of questions that have objectively right answers such as how many bones are there in the human body. Have each person on his own guess at the answers. Next, put everyone in a small group and have the groups discuss the questions and then have everyone individually redo their estimates. Finally, combined each small group with one or two others and repeat what was done before.

Tell everyone at the start of the exercise that their goal is not to just get the right answers but to also identify causes of persistent disagreements within their decision group.

I did this once in my game theory class and the students loved it, although I didn't measure how much they learned from the exercise.

Comment author: gjm 28 May 2011 12:57:40AM 8 points [-]

"Rational people can't agree to disagree" is an oversimplification. Rational people can perfectly well reach a conclusion of the form: "Our disagreement on this matter is a consequence of our disagreement on other issues that would be very difficult to resolve, and for which there are many apparently intelligent, honest and well informed people on both sides. Therefore, it seems likely that reaching agreement on this issue would take an awful lot of work and wouldn't be much more likely to leave us both right than to leave us both wrong. We choose, instead, to leave the matter unresolved until either it matters more or we see better prospects of resolving it."

Imperfectly rational people who are aware of their imperfect rationality (note: this is in fact the nearest any of us actually come to being rational people) might also reasonably reach a conclusion of this form: "Perhaps clear enough thinking on both sides would suffice to let us resolve this. However, it's apparent that at least one of us is currently sufficiently irrational about it that trying to reach agreement poses a real danger of spoiling the good relations we currently enjoy, and while clearly that irrationality is a bad thing it doesn't seem likely that trying to resolve our current disagreement now is the best way to address it, so let's leave it for now."

I suspect (with no actual evidence) that when two reasonably-rational people say they're agreeing to disagree, what they mean is often approximately one of the above or a combination thereof, and that they're often wise to "agree to disagree". The fact that there are theorems saying that two perfect rationalists who care about nothing more than getting the right answer to the question they're currently disputing won't "agree to disagree" seems to me to have little bearing on this.

Eliezer, if you're reading this: You may remember that a while back on OB you and Robin Hanson discussed the prospects of rapidly improving artificial intelligence in the nearish future. By no means did you resolve your differences in that discussion. Would it be fair to characterize the way it ended as "agreeing to disagree"? From the outside, it sure looks like that's what it amounted to, whatever you may or may not have said to one another about it. Perhaps you and/or Robin might say "Yeah, but the other guy isn't really rational about this". Could be, but if the level of joint rationality required for "can't agree to disagree" is higher than that of {Eliezer,Robin} then it's not clear how widely applicable the principle "rational people can't agree to disagree" really is. (Note for the avoidance of doubt: The foregoing is not intended to imply that Eliezer and Robin are equally rational; I do not intend to make any further comment on my opinions, if any, on that matter.)

Comment author: Peter_de_Blanc 28 May 2011 04:52:50AM 2 points [-]

Our disagreement on this matter is a consequence of our disagreement on other issues that would be very difficult to resolve, and for which there are many apparently intelligent, honest and well informed people on both sides. Therefore, it seems likely that reaching agreement on this issue would take an awful lot of work and wouldn't be much more likely to leave us both right than to leave us both wrong.

You say that as if resolving a disagreement means agreeing to both choose one side or the other. The most common result of cheaply resolving a disagreement is not "both right" or "both wrong", but "both -3 decibels."

Comment author: gjm 28 May 2011 09:20:28AM 1 point [-]

No; in what I wrote "resolving a disagreement" means "agreeing to hold the same position, or something very close to it".

Deciding "cheaply" that you'll both set p=1/2 (note: I assume that's what you mean by -3dB here, because the other interpretations I can think of don't amount to "agreeing to disagree") is no more rational than (even the least rational version of) "agreeing to disagree".

If the evidence is very evenly balanced then of course you might end up doing that not-so-cheaply, but in such cases what more often happens is that you look at lots of evidence and see -- or think you see -- a gradual accumulation favouring one side.

Of course you could base your position purely on the number of people on each side of the issue, and then you might be able to reach p=1/2 (or something near it) cheaply and not entirely unprincipledly. Unfortunately, that procedure also tells you that Pr(Christianity) is somewhere around 1/4, a conclusion that I think most people here agree with me in regarding as silly. You can try to fix that by weighting people's opinions according to how well they're informed, how clever they are, how rational they are, etc. -- but then you once again have a lengthy, difficult and subjective task that you might reasonably worry will end up giving you a confident wrong answer.

I should perhaps clarify that what I mean by "wouldn't be much more likely to leave us both right than to leave us both wrong" is: for each of the two people involved, who (at the outset) have quite different opinions, Pr(reach agreement on wrong answer | reach agreement) is quite high.

And, once again for the avoidance of doubt, I am not taking "reach agreement" to mean "reach agreement that one definite position or another is almost certainly right". I just think that empirically, in practice, when people reach agreement with one another they more often do that than agree that Pr(each) ~= 1/2: I disagree with you about "the most common result" unless "cheaply" is taken in a sense that makes it irrelevant when discussing what rational people should do.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 30 May 2011 03:39:39PM *  4 points [-]

This is <EDIT>probably</EDIT> a myth. The Aumann agreement theorem does not apply to real life. Here are three reasons why:

  1. It requires that the two rational people already share a partition function. [EDIT: No! Major mistake on my part. It requires that the two people have common knowledge of each others' partition functions.] The range of the partition function is the set of sets of states of the world that an agent can't distinguish between. That implies that, <EDIT>for all possible sets of observations, each agent knows what the other agent will infer. You could say it requires that the agents query each other endlessly about their beliefs, until they each know everything that the other agent believes.</EDIT>

  2. Interpreting Aumann’s theorem to mean what Aumann said it means, requires saying that “The meet at w of the partitions of X and Y is a subset of event E” means the same as the English phrase “X knows that Y knows event E” means. That is wrong. To expland this language a little bit: Aumann claims: To say that agent 1 knows that agent 2 knows E means that E includes all P2 in N2 that intersect P1. I claim: To say that agent 1 knows that agent 2 knows E , means that E includes P1(w), and that E includes P2(w). Agent 1 can conclude that E includes P1 union P2, for some P2 that intersects P1. Not for all P2 that intersect P1. That is a fine semantic error buried deep within the English interpretation, but it makes the entire theorem worthless.

  3. Even if you still believe that the Aumann agreement theorem applies in the way James states above, it relies on all agents being perfectly honest with each other, and (probably, tho I'd have to check this) on having mutual knowledge that they are being honest with each other.

Comment author: Will_Sawin 30 May 2011 08:26:26PM 0 points [-]

Here is a minor point:

"for all possible sets of observations, each agent knows what the other agent will infer."

This is true if both agents are rational (and this is common knowledge) and share a common prior (and this is common knowledge). You can calculate what they would infer using Bayesian math.

If you are unsure about someone's ability to observe data about the real world, then that's another fact about the real world that you can have beliefs about. You shouldn't have to talk endlessly about everything.

Comment author: Will_Sawin 30 May 2011 04:35:35PM 0 points [-]

Part 1 seems to have little to do with how I remember the theorem. Here is the abstract of Aumann's paper.

Two people, 1 and 2, are said to have common knowledge of an event $E$ if both know it, 1 knows that 2 knows it, 2 knows that 1 knows is, 1 knows that 2 knows that 1 knows it, and so on. THEOREM. If two people have the same priors, and their posteriors for an event $A$ are common knowledge, then these posteriors are equal.

Your 2 implies the following claim:

Agent 1 knows that agent 2 knows E if and only if agent 2 knows that agent 1 knows E.

This claim is obviously false.

Here is another corollary of your definition:

Suppose P1(w)={w,v}, P2(w)={w,u}. Then at w, I know E={w,v,u}, but at v, I do not know E! So I can distinguish between w and v by checking my knowledge, even though I cannot distinguish between w and v!

Part 3 is correct. Indeed, common knowledge of honesty is a requirement.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 30 May 2011 06:52:33PM *  0 points [-]

Your 2 implies the following claim:

Agent 1 knows that agent 2 knows E if and only if agent 2 knows that agent 1 knows E.

How does it imply that? (It well might, within the context of the agreement theorem. My recollection is that you assume from the start that A1 and A2 have common knowledge of E.)

This claim is obviously false.

Why? If knowledge means "justified true belief", then for agent 1 to know that agent 2 know E, agent 1 must also know E, and vice-versa. This doesn't prove the claim that you say I am making, but goes most of the way towards proving it.

Suppose P1(w)={w,v}, P2(w)={w,u}. Then at w, I know E={w,v,u}, but at v, I do not know E! So I can distinguish between w and v by checking my knowledge, even though I cannot distinguish between w and v!

This is true, except that P1 and P2 should range over events, not over world states. This is a step that the theorem relies on. Are you claiming that this is false?

Terms: P1 means what Aumann calls P-superscript1; N1 means what Aumann calls cursive-P superscript 1. P1(E) = {w,v} means that, after observing event E, A1 knows that the world is in one of the states {w, v}. N1 is the set that describes the range of P1. E is an event, meaning a set of possible world states. Aumann doesn't define what an 'event' is, other than implicitly in how he uses the variable E, so I hope I'm getting that right.

I'm constructing this partly from memory - sorry, this is a complex proof, and Aumann's paper is skimpy on definitions, several of which (like "meet" and "join") are left undefined and hard to find defined anywhere else even with Google. I really can't do this justice without more free time than I have in the next several months.

What I think Aumann is saying is that, if A1 knows E, and knows that A2 knows E, then for every state x in P1(E), for every event D such that x is in P2(D) , P2(D) is a subset of E. Saying this allows Aumann to go on and show that A1 and A2 can iteratively rule out possibilities until they converge on believing the same thing.

This requires knowing more than what we mean when we say "A1 knows that A2 knows E". When we say that, we mean that A1 knows the world is in one of the states in E, and knows that A2 knows the world is in one of the states in E. But it is possible that there is some state x, that the world is not in, but that is a member of E and of P1(E), but not of P2(E).

My recollection is that this is the problem: If you only consider conditions involving 3 possible world states, like the w, u, and v in the above example, then you can show that these things are equivalent. The agents can always use their mutual knowledge to iteratively eliminate possible states until they agree. For instance, if the situation is that P1({w,v,u})={w,v}, P2({w,v,u})={w,u}, then P1 and P2 can use their common knowledge to conclude w, and thus agree. But if you consider conditions where P1, P2, and E contain more than 3 different states between them, you can find situations that have multiple possible solutions, which the agents cannot choose between; and so cannot converge.

Comment author: timtyler 28 May 2011 08:00:30AM 2 points [-]

Skill: learning that rational people can't agree to disagree.

Well, they can - if they have different goals.

Comment author: lockeandkeynes 29 May 2011 03:28:29PM 1 point [-]

I wouldn't call that a skill so much as a frame of mind going into a discussion. Also, they can if they start with different arbitrary priors that neither one can assign objectivity.

Comment author: stcredzero 01 June 2011 12:45:07AM 0 points [-]

I've been trying to google cat-nature on this site, to no avail. What is "cat-nature?"

Comment author: sdkrueg 02 June 2011 01:38:16AM *  0 points [-]

Skill I: Conceptual Integration. This skill involves the ability to rapidly identify the relationship between any two concepts.

Skill II: Analogy. Be able to apply meaning from one subject to another.

Skill III: Creative Thinking. There is a wide range of ways to understand creativity, but it is generally understood to be the ability to create something new and valuable. A person thinks creatively by blending concepts from different scenarios together to generate unique ideas. This phenomenon, essential to the arts, sciences and humor goes on in the subconscious while awake and asleep. By increasing conceptual integration and awareness of analogy among ideas in seemingly unrelated schema, an individual can consciously engage in creative thinking. Creativity involves the de-compartmentalization of information and the reorganization of concepts in order to combine different ideas in a way that will synthesize a new idea.

Comment author: sdkrueg 02 June 2011 01:39:22AM *  0 points [-]

Exercise For Skill I: Conceptual Integration

  1. Ask: “Of what do I want a more cohesive conception?” Maybe it’s the Early National Era in the US. Maybe it’s the Union of European Football Associations. You pick.

  2. Make sure you know about this thing. Hit the books. Watch a film. Take a class. Already know a lot about this thing? Good. You can skip this step.

  3. Make note cards with key terms (events, ideas, people, etc.). No need to define them if you already know about them. You just need a deck of concepts.

  4. Shuffle (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shuffle) your deck. Riffle, Hindu, Pile or Weave and Faro, it doesn’t matter. Just randomize.

  5. Pick two cards and ask yourself what relationship(s) exists between the terms. Answer yourself.

  6. Keep doing that until you can rapidly identify the relationship(s) between any two concepts in the field.

Note: You may want to throw a third card in the mix. Generate a set of cards that deal with overarching themes and concepts within the subject matter and state a relation in the context of that theme.

Exercise for Skill II: Analogy.

See Steps 1-5 Above

  1. Set a number of paired cards down on a big table.

  2. Identify sets of pairs with analogous relationships.

Exercise for Skill III: Creative Thinking

  1. Get your handy note cards.

  2. Do the above-mentioned conceptual integration and analogy exercises with cards from unrelated fields/ schema.

Comment author: sundar 31 May 2011 06:50:04PM 0 points [-]

Skill : 1. well-calibrated confidence (Do I understand as well as I think I do?) 2. correctly-anticipated regret (How will I react if things turn out to be wrong?) two factors that characterize good decisions.