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Let Your Workers Gather Food

22 Post author: D_Malik 24 October 2011 07:51PM

Crocker's rules apply to this post, and to everything I post.

Also, after writing this post and googling LW for links I came up with this post, which presents the same ideas. #!@$%


When I was younger, I often played real-time strategy (RTS) computer games. These usually involve running an empire successfully enough to conquer all the other empires. To win, you would have to gather resources like food, stone, wood and gold for use in research, construction and recruitment. Gathering resources is done by worker units. To construct worker units you need food. 
Do you see the hack?

 

I know, the title gives it away. You can construct a bunch of workers and tell them all to gather food. Use the food they gather to make more workers, and put those on food as well. You set up a positive feedback loop and quickly have vast numbers of workers. When you have crazy amounts of food, then you can get to the business of putting lots of workers on each other resource, and using all your resources to take over the world.

 

Of course, among RTS players this isn't a new idea, and various forces have arisen to counterbalance it. For instance, players build up small soldier squads and attack right at the start of the game, destroying any player who has only defenceless worker units. Marginal costs of worker recruitment increase with the number of workers you have. There are population limits. But the initial development boom still plays an important role, and the key to winning is often to balance those actions which help directly (building an army) with those actions which help with actions which help directly (making more workers).

 

Now consider this. If you want to, say, ensure we're not all dead in 100 years, what do you do? You could become a fireman and save a few lives. Or you could donate to some worthy organization. Or you could get other people to donate to said organization. Or convince people to convince people to donate to the organization. And so on. That's one orbit under the meta function, but it's not the one I want to talk about.

 

Say you decide to throw money at a worthy organization. To do that you need to get money, and to get money you need time.  How much buck-for-the-time you get depends on how efficient you are at converting time into money. But time isn't just useful for conversion into money. It can also be used to increase your efficiency of converting time into money. Or it can be used to increase your efficiency at converting time into [efficiency of converting time into money]. And so on. Do you see the hack?

 

Use the time you have to get better at using the time you have. You set up a positive feedback loop and end up crazy awesome. Human go FOOM. You might spend some time learning to efficiently manage your time, giving you more free time to work at your goals. You might spend some time thinking about how to manage akrasia and thereby create more quality work-time. You might research how best to learn, and chance upon SRSs. You might learn about nootropics. You might even stumble upon this very site, where you might pick up pointers to things you can do to get better at using your time. Now, of course, you can't just spend your time becoming more and more awesome. At some point you need to actually use that awesomeness to do what you originally wanted to. As in the RTSs, you need to balance actions which accomplish stuff directly against those which accomplish stuff indirectly.

 

In other words, you need to balance the various levels of action. To summarize, level 0 actions are those which directly accomplish your goals. Level k+1 actions are those which help make level k actions easier or more effective. As the linked post observes, lower levels tend to be additive while higher levels are often multiplicative or better. Level 0 is useful. Level 1,2 and 3 are much more useful. Level 123 is pretty useless. Sure, travelling by horse gets you places, but having one person invent a plane which a billion people use will cut travel times significantly. Observe that this very site is about going meta, about thinking about thinking, and often about thinking about thinking about thinking, or even more. Also, work can be on many levels at once, and it's not always easy to figure out the level of an action. For instance, what's the level of you reading this paragraph?

 

So we want awesomeness explosions, and to help bring about awesomeness explosions we need to know a bit about them. How can we act to make ourselves explode? What determines the speed of an awesomeness explosion? Is awesomeness capped, and, if so, what's capping it?

 

To start, what limits awesomeness? We might ask whether we can extend the analogy with worker recruitment in RTS games, and indeed we can. In RTS games, worker explosions can't go on forever because:

          Marginal worker costs increase with the number of workers built.

         There are population limits.

         Sooner or later, other players will rudely just up and attack you, and your defenceless workers will die.

 

In a serendipitous confluence of circumstance, these three limitations on RTS fooms map nicely to human fooms. Respectively:

         Different fruit hangs at different heights, so picking low-hanging fruit makes the average fruit higher. In addition, as you become saner you become less neurotypical (Not every change is an improvement, but every improvement is a change.), so it's harder to use established human knowledge about self-improvement to improve yourself.

         There are limits to human knowledge. There are built-in limits on brain hardware. Note that both these can be overcome by the sufficiently awesome. They're also both special cases of the above bullet-point. Just as population limits are a special case of increasing marginal worker costs, in yet another serendipitous confluence of circumstance.

         Your levels of work must be grounded. If you work on level k+1, make sure you do enough work on level k to justify it. (There's an analogy with Truly Part Of You.)

With all these factors limiting human fooms, there's no guarantee human fooms will be, well, FOOMs. They might fizzle out too quickly, due to increasing marginal costs of awesomeness. But my mental intuitive estimation machinery says that, while taking over the world might be pushing it a bit, a lot more is possible than we've achieved so far.

 

Now for some ideas on making yourself go FOOM.

         Do useful stuff! People aren't automatically strategic. I think this is the second-most important reason we haven't all foomed yet (after akrasia). Remember that compound interest isn't magic – just improving yourself isn't enough. You have to actually assign higher priority to things which are more important. This is a really important point, and all the rest of these bullet-points are special cases of it. I think those in the LW mindspacecluster are particularly prone to seek knowledge without first applying some ruthless pragmatism. I know I am.

         Do stuff which helps you do stuff. In other words: work on higher levels, as long as you're still grounded. Go meta, like this sentence (whose metaness is too great for even the ordinals). Trying to learn from that physiology book isn't very useful when you haven't learnt how to learn. Again, this is a really important point and all the rest of these bullet-points are special cases of it.

         Write down your thoughts (Darwin), and preferably ensure you remember them with an SRS. Record your time use every now and then. This is an important.

         Explore new mindstates. Trying to come up with ideas seems like mining for diamonds, and often you can get more, bigger diamonds by mining in different places. One reason this is a good idea (and a reason why you should write down your thoughts) is that people (or me, at least) often seem to retread the same thoughtpatterns over and over, day after day. It's like you have a 'reset' button that gets pushed every evening when you go to sleep. I have directly observed this, when I wrote down my thoughts for a few weeks without memorizing them with an SRS. When I write down my thoughts, I've taken to calling this Every Day The Same Dream (EDTSD) syndrome.

         Look at what other really smart people do, then consider doing that. Look at really smart people and ask yourself why they haven't taken over the world yet. (David Bennett: If you want to beat the market, you have to do something different from what everyone else is doing, and you have to be right.)

         Think a lot, and think in efficient ways. Most people seem to just hope good ideas will tap them on t he shoulder. I've been like that for most of my life. Ideas often do tap you on the shoulder, but I get better results by sitting down with a piece of paper and a pen and thinking really hard, vomiting anything that comes to me out onto the page. I call this the Thinking Really Hard (TRH) technique, and I Think it was inspired by Eliezer's exhortation to sit down and Think for 5 minutes before concluding a problem is unsolvable.

         Related to the previous bullet-point: Ensure you focus mental energy wisely. If you really spent all your mental energy where it's optimal, how much more would get done? Perhaps actively stop yourself thinking about things you don't care about. Go meta: think about how to improve your thought-focussing abilities.

         As a special case of the previous bullet-point: Think long and hard about how to get more time. I really mean that. Perhaps you should add a reminder to regularly do that to your SRS, if you're awesome enough to use one. Remember the Pareto principle.

         As a summary of all these bullet-points: Figure out ways to work faster and smarter and harder. I have lots of ideas about overcoming akrasia which are pretty weird and which I've never seen described anywhere else, but which work spectacularly for me. Of course, that doesn't mean they'll work for everyone else, but they're bound to work for some of you. I might write a post.

         A few links, which most LWers are probably already familiar with:

         The Science of Winning at Life

         SRSs: Gwern Branwen, Piotr Wozniak

         Nootropics: ImmInst 1, 2

         Humans Aren't Automatically Strategic

         All the posts about akrasia

         more?

 

What determines the speed of human recursive self-improvement? The main factor, I think, is how much new awesome you get from a given amount of awesome – the rate of compound interest on awesome. If being awesome causes you to become much more awesome, you will foom quickly, whereas if you get only a bit more awesome for each unit of awesome you have, you will foom slowly. If there's a set-point of awesomeness towards which you are attached like a spring, it will be very hard to foom. Each of these three situations often occurs in real life, for different types of awesome.

 

I'm pretty sure that several people here on LW have had these human fooms, since, well, they've found LW. I've had a miniature human foom, and it's still ongoing. But it seems to me that this is nothing compared to what's out there.


As with those of fooming AIs, the actions of fooming humans are hard to predict, and for the same reason: if you could predict what they'd do, you could probably do it yourself. Nevertheless, here are some ideas of what people far on in the fooming process might do:

         They would practise extremely fine-tuned control of their own thought-processes; they would waste no thought-time. They could just sit and go into a thought trance, coming up with a brilliant new insight in seconds. When most people think, they're just executing adaptations, not optimizing utility.

         They would be free of cognitive bias.

         They would have the ability to flat-out ignore pain. They would do everything the way cold, hard logic says is most efficient. They wouldn't ever sit, they would stand or run. They would run on a treadmill on one leg while listening to a French audiobook (despite not knowing French) while juggling 5 tennis balls with one hand while doing SRS reviews.

         To restate the previous bullet-point, they would have no akrasia. They would find those little voices at the backs of their heads that keep whispering for them to fail. They would drag out those little voices and kill them.

 

Now, these things look unrealistic. But I think they' d all be achievable by any average LWer who committed themselves to this, and only this, for a year. I really mean that. And I have a feeling that more, much more, is possible.

 

The whole universe sat there, open to the man who could make the right decisions.
Frank Herbert, Dune, as quoted by Nick_Roy

Comments (48)

Comment author: shminux 24 October 2011 08:37:09PM 29 points [-]

...They could just sit and go into a thought trance, coming up with a brilliant new insight in seconds... [more fantasies snipped]

Just to match your awesome map to our mundane territory... So, how come no one we know has gone FOOM in the sense you describe yet? Not even any of the top 3 or 4 contributors to this site, let alone "any average LWer who committed themselves to this, and only this, for a year."

The territory rarely lies, so something must be wrong with your map.

Comment author: D_Malik 25 October 2011 12:38:50PM *  1 point [-]

Upon further thought I've decided I don't actually believe that. You're right.

I do think that's possible, but it would take more time. 10 years seems reasonable.

I don't think anyone has foomed yet because nobody has "committed themselves to this, and only this". I don't see people committed as completely to improving themselves as, say, the successful Sokushinbutsu were to mummifying themselves, or self-immolators were to burning alive.

From the page on Sokushinbutsu:

For 1,000 days (a little less than three years) the priests would eat a special diet consisting only of nuts and seeds, while taking part in a regimen of rigorous physical activity that stripped them of their body fat. They then ate only bark and roots for another thousand days and began drinking a poisonous tea made from the sap of the Urushi tree, normally used to lacquer bowls.

This caused vomiting and a rapid loss of bodily fluids, and most importantly, it made the body too poisonous to be eaten by maggots. Finally, a self-mummifying monk would lock himself in a stone tomb barely larger than his body, where he would not move from the lotus position. His only connection to the outside world was an air tube and a bell.

Each day he rang a bell to let those outside know that he was still alive. When the bell stopped ringing, the tube was removed and the tomb sealed. After the tomb was sealed, the other monks in the temple would wait another 1,000 days, and open the tomb to see if the mummification was successful.

Comment author: shminux 26 October 2011 04:08:35PM 13 points [-]

I do think that's possible, but it would take more time. 10 years seems reasonable.

What is your justification for this number, other than "too long to test it" or "anything can happen in 10 years"? It seems just as arbitrary as the previous one.

I don't think anyone has foomed yet because nobody has "committed themselves to this, and only this".

Both statements point toward the No true Scotsman fallacy. Your test of "committed themselves to this, and only this" is not a useful one, unless you are willing to clarify it. Does "only this" exclude drinking water? eating? talking to other people? writing LW posts? It is way too easy to move the goalposts to retain your vague assertion.

Comment author: katydee 24 October 2011 08:43:47PM 5 points [-]

as you become saner you become less neurotypical

Citation needed.

Comment author: Nornagest 24 October 2011 09:20:42PM *  7 points [-]

"Neurotypical" probably isn't the best word to use in that context -- D_Malik seems to be using it to mean "cognitively typical", which is plausible but a very unusual sense of a word invented or at least popularized with a meaning of "not autistic".

Your cognition almost certainly does become less typical as you become saner than average, given that most improvements are going to come from changes in things other than raw thinking ability, but that's not an interesting fact; we should be looking at how it changes and whether it's maladaptive in important ways (social interaction being the first place I'd look). Offhand I don't know the answer to that question, but I suspect it's domain-specific.

Comment author: dlthomas 24 October 2011 09:25:21PM 2 points [-]

[T]hat's not an interesting fact; we should be looking at how it changes and whether it's socially maladaptive in important ways

It is interesting and relevant for the clause it was introducing - things that help the typical human are less likely to help you as you become less like the typical human. While, pessimistically, the degree of departure available in the positive direction may be sufficiently small that this is not relevant, it seems like a possibility worth being aware of as we strive use the resources available to become better.

Comment author: Nornagest 24 October 2011 09:49:49PM *  2 points [-]

things that help the typical human are less likely to help you as you become less like the typical human.

Yeah, that's true, and I suppose I didn't adequately address it in the grandparent. It doesn't strike me as likely to cause serious problems, though, except perhaps in the social realm; the body of empirically supported self-improvement research that I'm currently aware of seems broad but shallow, not containing many long causal chains of the kind that could be disrupted by small changes in their early dependencies. It's conceivable that completely eliminating a deeply rooted bias could render broad swathes of traditional self-improvement literature irrelevant at a stroke, but I'm not sure that's plausible in the art's current state.

In the future, perhaps, if LW or a similar community manages to come up with some seriously impressive results, but I don't think that's enough to merit a disclaimer.

Comment author: thomblake 24 October 2011 08:51:52PM 2 points [-]

I venture to say it sounds true by definition, with the caveat that we're assuming the average person hovers around 0 sanity.

Comment author: Jonathan_Graehl 24 October 2011 09:23:54PM 12 points [-]

That was incredibly enthusiastic. I object to "foom", applied to people. I've found the advice to actually think about achieving goals, and not just excuse myself with "that's hard/painful", actually only moderately effective when executed, so I have a hard time believing that there's much willpower or genius waiting to be so easily unlocked for others - though of course people more innately talented (and/or presently uncoordinated) than me must exist.

I take quite a few supplements that are supposed to make me smarter, healthier, etc.

I have three models by which I expect increased performance from supplements:

  1. correction of vitamin-like deficiencies (beware U-shaped harm per dose risks); if I were serious about this, I'd be regularly measuring levels in my body.

  2. stimulant/placebo/focus effect - somewhat substitutable for actually caring/trying harder, and possibly with similar long-run physical-stress side-effects.

  3. actually near-linear (in the normal vs supplemented) regimes for availability of substrates/catalysts for ordinary metabolism e.g. turning up acetylcholine (piracetam and friends) - in which case, you always have to wonder - why aren't our bodies already upregulating these things? If there's actual fundamental scarcity of certain compounds, we should see significant cultural/local performance advantage from differences in diet.

As a final caution, I know that drugs are capable of drastically affecting emotion and motivation. But I'm not too aware of any that produce results in a person that are amazing to a sober third party. So if you find yourself becoming very excited about some new mental program or drug, the simplest explanation is that it's unexpectedly effective in generating enthusiasm. Always be testing.

Comment author: D_Malik 25 October 2011 12:39:58PM 0 points [-]

Lol. I assure you, I was not high while writing this. I'm just enthusiastic about this because, well, you'd be too if you believed human fooming was possible.

Comment author: [deleted] 26 October 2011 05:24:45PM 2 points [-]

In my teens, I had a brush-in with organized religion (it didn't last). I converted for social reasons, not intellectual ones, but I still felt pretty excited when I believed that the religion's claims were possible. Excitement-at-belief can mark an affective death spiral, and can seriously impair critical thinking about your belief and its referents. It's not an expected byproduct -- for any person who becomes convinced of, say, human-fooming, and becomes giddy-excited, it should be trivially possible to imagine someone who is also convinced of human-fooming and not giddy-excited, and we should generally expect such a person to be able to make a much better case for the idea, if such a case can in fact be made.

In short, either you're right and you'll be much more persuasive once you find your way out of the glee, or you're wrong and you'll realize that when you calm down.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 24 October 2011 10:15:45PM 4 points [-]

Steve Barnes has done very serious work with self-improvement, including increasing one's energy and maintaining focus on goals. He's doing very well, but I wouldn't say that he's FOOMed. See also Scott Sonnon, for impressive work on increasing physical abilities without hurting yourself. Big clue here: ignoring pain is generally not a good strategy. Learning to distinguish between pain (signal of damage) and "discomfort" (more effort than you're used to, I think), is a very good strategy.

Sonnon makes the most concerted effort to beat Goodhart's Law that I've ever seen. He's a martial artist, and he says "Strong isn't good, fast isn't good. Only good is good."

Comment author: tetsuo55 25 October 2011 09:15:52AM 4 points [-]

both pages look really spammy, how can i be more sure that i'm not looking at survivor biased individuals, or worse quacks selling snakeoil.

I'm very interested in the physical abilities part but almost everything seems to be bullshit.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 25 October 2011 12:40:53PM *  3 points [-]

I'm not sure myself. A lot of the cheerleading makes me crazy, and I'm digging my way out from paralysis which was amplified by having cheerleading work backwards for me.

However, I've got some verification on the physical side. Steve has strongly recommended the Five Tibetans (a sort of cross between yoga and calesthenics). If the material available for free online seems insufficient, try t5t, a book by someone who's taught them to 700 people-- it's got a lot of detail about how to learn the exercises, and to modify them if you're having problems. It's got a woo factor which I think would annoy you, but you can ignore that and just pull out the more materially based advice.

I've found that the Tibetans clean up lower back pain for me, and have enabled me to fall safely-- an important issue for me because there's a fair amount of ice in the winter in Philadelphia, and I've hurt myself in the past.

My t'ai chi teacher's been working with Sonnon's breathing and movement work, and has been healing joint injuries and getting more skilled. Also, he's having fun with working on the prasara yoga (moving yoga).

The thing about the physical side is that it isn't just good practical advice, it takes an evidence-based attitude to come up with something that good.

As for the rest, you're stuck using your own judgement. I don't know of anything solidly evidence-based in that range.

Comment author: tetsuo55 25 October 2011 01:44:10PM 1 point [-]

Thanks for taking the time to explain that.

That exercise works to some extent is clear, just look at bodybuilders. However i do not see a lot of evidence based work on exercises that find a good balance between health and body damage. You might notice that many bodybuilders no longer look so healthy after their 40's.

I'll keep searching.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 25 October 2011 02:19:15PM 1 point [-]

For what it's worth, Sonnon started out with a genetic disorder that affects his connective tissue. This means he's a lot more careful about recovery than anyone else I've heard of.

Comment author: Swimmer963 27 October 2011 09:43:57AM 0 points [-]

That exercise works to some extent is clear... However i do not see a lot of evidence based work on exercises that find a good balance between health and body damage.

Are you talking about a specific type of high-performance exercise, or exercise in general? If the former, maybe you're right, but I still kinda doubt it. If the latter...yeah, maybe a 40-year-old bodybuilder doesn't look or feel as healthy as a 20-year-old bodybuilder. But I would bet you a lot of money that they are healthier than a 40-year-old who spent those 20 years not exercising.

In general, I think, the direct health benefits of exercise (lower risk of heart disease, lower risk of osteoporosis) happen even with half an hour a day of fairly gentle aerobic exercise. Beyond that, you get what you train for. By that I mean: if you want to be able to run a marathon, you have to practice running long distances fast. If you want to be able to lift 400 pounds, you have to practice lifting heavy weights. The human body adapts to the load expected of it; that's the whole point of exercise.

There are always tradeoffs, of course. Lifting weights is hard on your joints. Running can be too. But I've known plenty of people who are in their 40s, are very fit, and have managed to avoid injuries. (Granted, they were people who had done swimming, cross-country skiing, martial arts, that kind of thing. Not bodybuilding, which might be a bit more 'unbalanced.' Older people do have to be careful to avoid injuries and do take longer to recover than younger people.)

Comment author: tetsuo55 02 November 2011 11:14:38AM 0 points [-]

I guess i would like to see an exercise routine that was designed from the ground up to provide a nice balance of benefits vs injury risk, and then specifically a routine that you can keep doing indefinitely.

But maybe i'm not giving the breakdown of the human body enough weight...

I guess i just want a lifelong exercise plan with easy to follow steps, one that has a lot of evidence behind it that it won't cause early damage to bone, tissue, etc...

Comment author: Swimmer963 02 November 2011 03:14:15PM *  0 points [-]

I'm sure that such routines exist. There are probably books about them. I haven't investigated because I started exercising when I was younger than ten (swim team) and though I haven't always kept up the routine as much as I`d like, my level of fitness has never descended back to start-from-scratch.

Walking and swimming are both low-impact. I know that for swimming specifically, there are numerous 'Masters' clubs that you can join at any level, where the idea is to keep it up indefinitely as opposed to training for a particular race or event.

Comment author: Armok_GoB 30 October 2011 01:09:51PM 3 points [-]

Last summer, I invented and tested several rationality related games, one of them is about exactly this and is GREAT for training, as well as able to stand on it's own as a really enjoyable game.

Sadly, although I've planed to on multiple occasions, I've not been able to make this tool available to others, and without outside help I never will. I don't have access to any LW meetup where I can teach it, and I don't have the time needed to make a javascript version that could be shared online. I'd greatly appreciate help/discussion and I think it'd be of great use to everyone here.

Comment author: Emile 30 October 2011 01:15:55PM 1 point [-]

I'd be interested in hearing more about that. I may be able to help with making a javascript version available online, if it's not something too complicated.

Comment author: Armok_GoB 30 October 2011 01:30:20PM 0 points [-]

Thanks! I literally can't think of a multiplayer game that'd be simpler to program, so that shouldn't be a problem.

Main problem why I haven't just explained it here is because I suck at explaining things precisely. My suggestion is I try to show by example in a collaborative spreadsheet, here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AkTv2A4FtHDqdHc5ZUVTZkx4UXpieGt1TW5qTGZES1E

Comment author: Emile 30 October 2011 03:53:19PM 0 points [-]

OK; right now there is nothing except 10s and 1s in that doc ... how do I win ? :)

Comment author: Armok_GoB 08 November 2011 11:49:36AM 0 points [-]

Are you still interested in this project? Sorry I couldn't come back and apologize earlier, my life has been a mess lately.

Comment author: eugman 25 October 2011 04:51:06PM 3 points [-]

I'd really like to see this concept combined with build small skills in the right order. I'd love to see small, quickly learned skills that optimize life. I think GTD has a lot of this type of skill in it.

Comment author: casualhero 24 October 2011 11:41:06PM 3 points [-]

This reminds me of a book I've just finished, Lawrence Becker's A New Stoicism. He modifies the ancient philosophy, updating it to be in line with current knowledge (i.e. the old Stoic slogan "follow nature" means "follow the facts" rather than "do what Zeus wants", etc.). The end result of accepting it means we should be pursuing what he calls Ideal or Perfect Agency. And we shouldn't just be pursuing it, but it is the purpose of life, tied to completing our goals. (For the curious, Ideal Agency entails pursuing virtuous behavior, just as it did for the ancient Stoics.)

Excerpt: "Happiness considered as an affective mental state—pleasure, contentment, pleasant excitement, euphoria, ecstasy, a richly varied succession of such states, or whatever—is clearly not the end for the sake of which healthy agents do everything else that they do. It is not our final end. This is clear because achieving a given affective state is only one of the many powerful and persistent aims of healthy primal agency, and one that even young children regularly sacrifice (not merely postpone) in order to pursue other things. For an ideal agent, the appropriate exercise of healthy agency proper is her most comprehensive and controlling endeavor. That is, her controlling aim in every circumstance is to “get it right”—where that means ordering and defining the norms of whatever “it” she faces with respect to all of her endeavors, so as to achieve optimal integration and success over a whole life replete with projects and beset by difficulties. Moreover, she will have come to value “getting it right” for its own sake, and not just for its instrumental value, and because it is her most comprehensive and controlling aim, it will have a comparable (comparative) value for her. It will be supremely valuable, for its own sake. Thus, for an ideal agent, any other given aim or endeavor (other than acting appropriately; getting it right) will be a subordinate one. The virtuosic exercise of agency will be her final end, not because every (or even any) other endeavor is aimed at achieving it, but because every other endeavor is intentionally pursued only in ways that are compatible with achieving it."

Another idea (in Stoicism generally, but also) from the book is that we should strive to have beliefs that are in alignment. For example, Stoics resolve akrasia by deciding what is appropriate or virtuous vs. not appropriate or vicious. There is also the third alternative that your choice doesn't matter (how often have you spent three minutes wondering whether to watch one cheap entertainment versus another), in which case just choose something. If we are confused , our beliefs are conflicting with each other. And if our beliefs are in conflict, then (at least) one of them must be incorrect. (Assuming the universe doesn't contradict itself, which I shall do here.)

I've been both a reader of LW and a Stoic for approximately two years, and I see the ideas represented here reflecting a lot of what I see in Stoicism.

Comment author: juliawise 25 October 2011 09:22:02PM *  1 point [-]

That use of feminine pronouns for an ideal agent just undid my annoyance at Frank Herbert's use of "man" for a universe-winner, quoted above. Thanks.

Comment author: Swimmer963 24 October 2011 08:18:09PM 9 points [-]

Interesting article. I really like the example that you use at the beginning, and I agree that it's a useful metaphor for everyday life and human behaviour.

The 'Now for some ideas on making yourself go FOOM' section was a couple of levels of abstraction above the kind of concrete suggestion that I could actually go out and use in real life. (Maybe because I suspect that I'm not one of the 'really smart' people.)

They would have the ability to flat-out ignore pain. They would do everything the way cold, hard logic says is most efficient. They wouldn't ever sit, they would stand or run. They would run on a treadmill on one leg while listening to a French audiobook (despite not knowing French) while juggling 5 tennis balls with one hand while doing SRS reviews.

Maybe I'm weird, but to me this sounds like an absolutely miserable way to live. And I'm already further towards that end of the spectrum than most people I know. Then again, I consider my tendency to work obsessively to be a flaw that I want to fix.

Comment author: APMason 24 October 2011 10:10:21PM 4 points [-]

No. Don't fix it. Akrasia is just awful.

Comment author: MrMind 26 October 2011 03:16:37PM 4 points [-]

Although you should be able to decide on what you want to work, a thing that seems to be excluded by the sentence "work obsessively".

Comment author: Swimmer963 27 October 2011 09:49:49AM *  2 points [-]

Exactly. You could say that I have just as much akrasia as others, just about different things. I always tell my friends/family/boyfriend that I'll be less busy/take a break at some point, and I keep putting it off, despite often realizing that a state of constant near-exhaustion is not maximally efficient and that I would be able to focus my efforts a lot more optimally if I did take a break.

(I type this as I sit at the keyboard at 6 am, ready to bike halfway across the city in 2º C weather, with my swimsuit packed so that I can go swim at the campus pool after my 12 hours placement in the hospital. The marks of a workaholic indeed.)

Comment author: [deleted] 26 October 2011 05:31:08PM 2 points [-]

Maybe I'm weird, but to me this sounds like an absolutely miserable way to live. And I'm already further towards that end > of the spectrum than most people I know.

Yeah... my spouse ignores pain (to her detriment), tried to live like this years ago and still subconsciously idealizes it, and she's miserable a fair chunk of the time. She'll never stop being a bit of a workaholic, but your early 20s don't last forever, and all the motivation she can summon up (tremendous!) won't change the fact that eventually muscle and brain go "No more!"

It'd work great except for the part where you're not an abstract consciousness trapped in a clunky meat shell; you ARE that meat, and its limits are your own.

Comment author: shminux 26 October 2011 06:01:03PM 0 points [-]

Yeah... my spouse ignores pain (to her detriment), tried to live like this years ago and still subconsciously idealizes it, and she's miserable a fair chunk of the time.

And I suppose getting her to talk to a professional about it is out of the question.

Comment author: [deleted] 26 October 2011 06:16:33PM 1 point [-]

No; her physician and therapist are people she listens to (or listened to -- therapist got cancer, she needs to get a new one) about this. It's just difficult to shake off -- she's getting help for it, but it's kind of like chronic depression or addiction; making progress against the background is much more realistic than just expecting it to entirely go away, and the trait itself never does just vanish.

Comment author: thomblake 24 October 2011 08:31:37PM *  2 points [-]

I'm sure I've read an article with very similar content on Lw before, but I can't seem to find it. It may have been by lukeprog.

ETA: Thanks to atucker, I know I was referring to Levels of Action by tommccabe - merits a "related" mention?

Comment author: thomblake 25 October 2011 12:54:25AM 2 points [-]

And unless it was added later, that link was already in the text. *facepalm*

Comment author: atucker 24 October 2011 09:35:16PM 1 point [-]
Comment author: thomblake 24 October 2011 09:38:56PM 0 points [-]

No, it was a post more specifically with the message "There are things we can do to meta-improve ourselves, and focusing on those should produce greater returns than focusing on mere improvement". Though now I seem to remember a post making the opposite general claim as well.

Comment author: atucker 24 October 2011 09:40:25PM 2 points [-]
Comment author: thomblake 24 October 2011 09:49:27PM 0 points [-]

yes

Comment author: wedrifid 25 October 2011 12:14:55PM 1 point [-]

Gathering resources is done by worker units. To construct worker units you need food. Do you see the hack?

Compounding!

Comment author: MaoShan 02 December 2011 01:44:58AM *  1 point [-]

I was almost through the article, finding it somewhat interesting for the reasons already commented on, but the final section earned my upvote. Yes, the possible results of it do seem fantastical, but I thought it worth the time to wonder just what makes them fantastical, what are some practical reasons that prevent them?

I myself have managed to raise my pain threshold in a useful manner through, as far as I can tell, mainly rationalization alone. My feeling was that certain setpoints for the feeling "pain" were overly cautious. Pain is useful for indicating or avoiding damage, so I set out to convince myself that my conscious mind should decide whether something should be perceived as pain or not.

What most people consider "hot" or "cold" is not extreme enough to cause tissue damage, and I find that my abilities have been expanded by using my hands in situations that would otherwise require less dextrous methods, by combining tolerance and caution to override my setpoints and learn my true limits. I also overcame my shellfish allergy in this manner, by recognizing the fine line between "This is very uncomfortable" and "You need to go to the emergency room".

Comment author: Nick_Roy 07 November 2011 04:45:15AM 1 point [-]

What strikes me most about this post: the enthusiasm! I find it refreshing for this site and appropriate for this subject matter. Congratulations on successfully feeling rational, D_Malik.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 27 October 2011 05:36:48AM *  1 point [-]

I'd look to the entrepreneurship community if you want more ideas here. My impression is that being very good at dealing with the spaghetti code in one's brain is a trait that unites many go-getter entrepreneur types.

I have many ideas on self-improvement that I haven't read anywhere else, but I'm still not at the point where I want to share them because I want to make a ton of money first to make sure they work. (Then work as a life coach for a while to make sure they work on other people, and finally do a popularization. Actually, to be honest I'd have to think before doing a popularization because it wouldn't obviously decrease x-risk.)

Comment author: tetsuo55 25 October 2011 09:55:00AM *  1 point [-]

I got the feeling this post was going to tell me how to become more awesome in a better way. At the end i felt like i was left hanging with no solution.

My guess would be that the lowest possible hanging fruit for this would be: Learning how to learn Being able to learn effectively seems to be the underpinning of all possible other things one might want to accomplish.

I would very much like to see a post that summarizes the current state of knowledge on learning and an applied "how to" in addition or in the same post.

Comment author: Peacewise 01 November 2011 05:25:03AM *  0 points [-]

Boi YAR, that's peacewise for uber cool!

Thanks for the information on SRS, that lead to the android app anki. I was looking for another way to go through the sequences rather than just at the pc screen. Cheers.

Seems to me that the continuous improvement cycle is essentially what is being discussed in this section. Plan, prepare, implement, review, refine. One can see that in the RTS metaphor the planning and preparing to win the game is the building of the workers to get heaps of resources and scouting to decide which type of army to build, then implementing the spending of all those resources, then the initial assault, then the battle damage assessment to decide whether to continue with the same army or refine to a slightly different army, and back to the beginning again for the next round, as required.

A RTS gamer knows however one doesn't in fact spend all one's time on building resources without also building some kind of army along the way, to avoid the enemy doing a rush. Scouting is important for the timing of when to build the army. If one ascertains that the enemy isn't going to rush, sure thing go for an economic boom to build a later and hence more powerful army.

So too scouting is important in self improvement - one needs to put the "awesomeness" one has learned into practice to take that awesomeness outside of one's head and see if the awesomeness is really or pragmatically awesome or merely the perception of awesomeness (i.e. not awesome). Interaction with others will work towards compounding awesomeness - hence it's scouting within the RTS metaphor.

If I may be permitted to interact with you, I suggest you have a look at DeBono's 6 thinking hats as one model that is useful for some people and groups.

Comment author: MrMind 26 October 2011 03:34:32PM *  0 points [-]

I'm skeptical too about the fooming of human beings, for 4 reasons.

1 - There is a simple mechanical inibition in the mass and inner working of the brain, a limit that (I believe) its plasticity isn't able to sustain over an exponential increase in information processing power and storage.

2 - There's the cost of finding optimal strategies for every level and circumstances: it too grows exponentially and the calculations need to be done all over again as soon as a parameter change. This is too much work to sustain in a pre-Singularity lifetime.

3 - There's the fact that our psychic history is deterministically unfolded: this means that your mind will change in the direction that you want if and only if you come in contact with the right mental hack (that is, right for your specific brain).

4 - Last but not least, a maximally efficient life is extremely boring! In this sense, the purpose of life should be to experience the maximally efficient fun, not the maximally efficiency.

I think that the solution of human fooming is an old timer: let the robots and the IA do what they do best, be efficient and relieve us from working. From this POV, the maximally efficient fun thing to do is the Friendly AI (go figure!)

Comment author: dlthomas 26 October 2011 04:28:20PM 3 points [-]

4 - Last but not least, a maximally efficient life is extremely boring! In this sense, the purpose of life should be to experience the maximally efficient fun, not the maximally efficiency.

Your other objections may have something to 'em, but I am skeptical of this one. "Flow" is often experienced as fun, and is the most efficient mode for many types of problems.