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CronoDAS comments on Beware of Other-Optimizing - Less Wrong

79 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 10 April 2009 01:58AM

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Comment author: CronoDAS 10 April 2009 04:16:46AM *  12 points [-]

Hmmm...

I've lived with being pushed on by people with power over me my whole life. My parents were far more determined to see me graduate from college than I was, and they succeeded in ensuring that I did so, by supervising me to the extent that I was supervised in high school. And, to be honest, if they hadn't insisted that I do my homework and literally driven me to classes, I probably wouldn't have graduated.

In general, unless someone pushes me, all I do is waste time. I play video games, or Magic, or surf the Internet and write comments. Everything else, I have to be forced to do by someone. I've never learned how to force myself to work hard on something that isn't purely mechanical and that I don't feel like doing at the moment, because whenever I tried to fail, my parents just kept pushing harder and harder until I succeeded. Willpower? What a horrible, terrible concept! Why would any sane person want to do something they don't feel like doing, if they weren't being coerced into doing it? I don't need willpower. I have parents!

I have a tendency to divide activities into "things I want to do" and "things I do because other people make me do them", and I try to optimize the former at the expense of the latter. As Paul Graham put it:

When I was a kid, it seemed as if work and fun were opposites by definition. Life had two states: some of the time adults were making you do things, and that was called work; the rest of the time you could do what you wanted, and that was called playing.

I definitely have this mindset. If you have to pay someone to get something done, "obviously" it's not worth doing for its own sake; otherwise, people would get day jobs and pay you for the opportunity to do it in their spare time. As a side effect, if I suddenly found myself being paid to play video games, I'd start procrastinating over them, too.

Although I am currently 26 years old, I have no source of income and am still being supported by my parents. I am definitely at the mercy of my parents right now, but I accept this, because my parents just don't demand that much from me. (I put up with college coursework because it seemed better than getting a job - but I'll jump in front of a speeding car before I let myself get sent to graduate school.) If I were to get a job, I'd only end up increasing the amount of time spent doing things because other people are forcing me to, so I don't want a job. This, however, does not exactly make me a person of high social status...

Comment author: mattnewport 10 April 2009 04:46:23AM 2 points [-]

I have a tendency to divide activities into "things I want to do" and "things I do because other people make me do them", and I try to optimize the former at the expense of the latter.

Sounds like a description of the discounting principle. You'd think that being aware of it should help to avoid it but of course it's not that simple.

Comment author: cousin_it 10 April 2009 07:59:07AM *  4 points [-]

There's no problem with you - it's your parents who are making a big mistake. Fortunately it's never too late to correct. You can persuade them to stop supporting you, cold turkey.

Comment author: ciphergoth 10 April 2009 11:31:22AM 10 points [-]

Do you believe that CronoDAS's interests would be served by this? If so, how is it not a problem with them? If not, why do you believe that CronoDAS's parents should or would be persuaded not to put CronoDAS's interests first?

Working for a living is enormously burdensome. Future generations won't be able to believe how much of our time it took up - and of course it takes up a lot less of our time on average than that of many other people, especially those in poorer countries or the people of the past. Still, I would argue that it's worth it, not because of the work ethic but just on a personal cost/benefit calculation.

Comment author: CronoDAS 10 April 2009 08:16:15PM 7 points [-]

Exactly!

I don't want my parents to stop supporting me, because I don't want to get stuck in some 40-hour a week job that I can barely tolerate.

For reference, modern-day hunter-gatherers "work" twenty hours a week on survival, and that's on the kind of marginal land which civilization didn't bother to invade until relatively recently. I don't think humans were designed to spend 40 hours a week doing such things as sitting in a cubicle or waiting tables.

Comment author: ciphergoth 10 April 2009 09:34:17PM 7 points [-]

I completely agree that working is an enormous pain in the ass, and the work ethic is a load of crap. If I had a private income I wouldn't work another day; I'd do my own thing.

However, having the money to have your own place and stuff is really really advantageous. Living with your parents will only become less appealing as you get older, and it doesn't work as a long-term plan. If you don't program already, learn to program and get a job doing that - it sucks a lot less than a lot of other jobs. And having your own money, and your own space, is honestly great.

I promise, I think the moralism around working is a stinky pile of crap; I'm saying only that you should consider the advantages of a salary on purely selfish grounds.

Comment author: CronoDAS 11 April 2009 11:24:51AM *  6 points [-]

My current long term plan is to wait for my parents to die, then implement Really Extreme Altruism. I've considered my life to have a slightly negative value for some time now, but I consider the grief caused by my abrupt death to have an even worse negative value than my continued existence.

I hate thinking long-term, because it makes me miserable. It always has, because The Future just seems to consist of obstacles to come between me and my precious free time. My primary coping mechanism, when faced with just about any problem, is escapism; I go immerse myself in a video game or other work of fiction, and I stop feeling bad for a while. Like someone who's been on an addictive drug for a long time, I don't use fiction so I can feel good, I use fiction so I can feel normal.

Also, I do know how to program, but I think I hate it. Creativity is hard and requires mental effort. I'm very bad at mental effort - if I can't find a sufficiently obvious way to make progress, I tend to get frustrated and give up. The last time I had a job, I sat in my cubicle and did nothing but surf the Internet while feeling really awful about it, because I really, really didn't want to do the actual programming work.

I don't fight laziness any more. I have come to terms with laziness. I have embraced laziness. I am laziness. The less I'm obligated to do, the fewer responsibilities I have, the better. Not existing is the ultimate laziness. If I don't exist, I'll never have to do anything ever again. I'll never have to worry about eating, or going to bed at a reasonable hour, or waking up at a reasonable hour, or being bored, or being yelled at, or not living up to someone else's expectations, or being lonely, or needing to earn an income, or not living up to my own expectations. As Shakespeare put it:

For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,

Th'oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,

The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,

The insolence of office, and the spurns

That patient merit of th'unworthy takes,

When he himself might his quietus make

With a bare bodkin?

Comment author: CronoDAS 18 July 2011 10:45:17AM 8 points [-]

FOR THE RECORD:

I am not currently suicidal. There are things in life I enjoy very much, and I am undergoing psychiatric treatment (and have been for a long time). I've had the discussion about me, my past, depression, antidepressants, therapists, school, jobs, life, death, and similar things many times on Less Wrong. I've gotten somewhat tired of it, and at least one other poster has told me the same. If I bring something like this up again in another context, feel free to ask me about it again, but please let this dead thread stay dead.

Comment author: Algernoq 21 December 2014 09:57:38PM 2 points [-]

I am not currently suicidal.

[Really Extreme Altruism is purchasing a life insurance policy, then] two years after the policy is purchased, it will pay out in the event of suicide. The man waits the required two years, and then kills himself, much to the dismay of his surviving relatives.

So...you're not currently suicidal...and you plan to kill yourself... I notice that I am confused.

Theory: suicidal feelings evolved to encourage people expelled by a tribe to do whatever it took to rejoin a tribe. That is, living without a tribe was certain death, but doing something heroically self-sacrificing (like killing a dangerous predator, or stealing from a strong enemy) was only probable death. "Altruistic" suicide with life insurance fits this pattern, but is not adaptive to the modern world.

Look, I'm against death in most circumstances, including yours. Your emotions are lying to you: you're not really tribeless -- you're a citizen of a reasonably powerful nation. A low-risk way to feel better (in addition to the conventional ones you apparently reject) is to join some tribes -- join some activity where you see the same people at least once a week. High-risk approaches, like a large psilocybin dose, or boot camp for the Marines, would also be less damaging than suicide.

Look, screw altruistic self-sacrifice. Crocodiles exist, and for literally 50 million years have survived by violently killing and eating other animals. Sharks exist, and for literally 400 million years have survived by violently killing and eating other animals. Apparently, God does not care. You get to decide what your needs are, and to pursue happiness as you see it.

Comment author: CronoDAS 25 December 2014 05:03:52AM *  4 points [-]

I notice that I am confused.

You overlooked an important bit of information: the dates on the two posts. One was made in 2009, and the other was in 2011.

Comment author: typosquatter 17 July 2011 10:46:30PM 3 points [-]

Okay, I know this counts as thread necromancy, but here goes:

I was raised by similar parents. The difference comes because I attempted suicide at 12. The important resulting effects were: 1) the inculcation of the "suicide is uniformly bad until you already have a terminal illness anyway" value (which is arbitrary in a way that frankly I find beyond the scope of this discussion); and 2) I gained an unusual psychological feature: that I empathize with people strongly because I no longer have an emotional distinction between self and other. (This may have been inherent and simply revealed by the emotional charge around the situation; or else, perhaps, taught by the many therapists and further emotionally charged discussions I saw in the years following. I have no way of distinguishing between the two.)

I am going to tell you that my instinctive reaction to this was to recoil and shout "SUICIDE IS BAD" until it went away, but the second instinct pressed upon the first, and so I am writing to you instead.

This is not an intractable problem. The mind is inherently malleable. The real trick is in finding someone who actually has effective coping/helping strategies. For someone intelligent enough to be on this site? Not every therapist will do, I'll tell you that much. The reason many of them helped me at all was because twelve-year-olds are not especially bright. They commented that I was like working with a particularly impulsive sixteen-year-old, and that's apparently reflected in how they treated me. For an adult, you may well be "over their heads" and that basically shuts you out of getting any help whatsoever from a "talk" type therapist with intelligence less than yours.

I doubt that, from what I've read of you, plain old medication will work without further actual therapy to make anything stick. Psychiatric medications in isolation are only better than just tossing sugar pills in very limited circumstances (i.e. people who are raised in good environments who just happen to have bad brains, not the other way around). A family physician, seeing that you're only complaining about lack of motivation now, could easily draw the wrong conclusions; make sure you aren't referred to a psychiatrist, because psychiatrists are basically medication dispensaries and that's about it. Look for a psychologist, but you're going to need to go through lots of them until you trust one, and you're also going to need to avoid the "SUICIDE IS BAD" attitude by not mentioning your thoughts on the subject.

Of course, this assumes you want to do this kind of work. If you don't, there's nothing I can do, and - well, certainly, I'm going to beat myself up about that, but it's enough above background noise that I'd be properly, truly disappointed.

Comment author: CronoDAS 18 July 2011 02:40:48AM *  1 point [-]

sigh, not this conversation again... I am so sick of talking about this over, and over, and over... :(

Comment author: wedrifid 18 July 2011 04:31:37AM *  4 points [-]

sigh, not this conversation again... I am so sick of talking about this over, and over, and over... :(

You made a provocative comment about a controversial plan. Of course you are going to get replies both immediately and after time. If you don't want to have this conversation then either don't comment about it on a public forum or just don't respond to replies after you have changed your mind and no longer wish to seek attention. Complaining that people talk about a self professed 'extreme' plan that you willingly announce to people is just silly.

Comment author: Kevin 18 July 2011 08:39:22AM 1 point [-]

If you've sufficiently changed your mind, delete the post?

Comment author: [deleted] 02 December 2010 11:40:06PM -1 points [-]

You need a friend.

Comment author: CronoDAS 03 December 2010 02:39:54AM -2 points [-]

[sarcasm] Yay, thread necromancy! [/sarcasm]

Comment author: cousin_it 11 April 2009 11:31:47AM *  3 points [-]

People can live fine without 40-hour jobs. If your life has little value to you, why not treat it as a venture and make some really daring moves that the rest of us find hard.

Comment author: CronoDAS 11 April 2009 11:37:07AM 5 points [-]

Such as?

Comment author: cousin_it 12 April 2009 05:39:20PM *  6 points [-]

For example... Ever read the story of the coder turned bike courier? You can do the same but skip the coder part. I especially loved the bit about traveling across the country, working for a little time in every major city along the way. And bike couriers don't seem to have akrasia problems.

Comment author: SoullessAutomaton 10 April 2009 08:30:05PM 3 points [-]

I don't think humans were designed to spend 40 hours a week doing such things as sitting in a cubicle or waiting tables.

You are probably correct, and there is some research to support this; unfortunately, I don't have easily-availible references and can't turn anything up quickly on Google. If memory serves me, the short version is: individual productivity per hour is optimized with a shorter workweek and longer workdays. Total productivity per person peaks at a little over a 40-hour work week and also longer workdays.

Comment author: mattnewport 10 April 2009 08:40:43PM 1 point [-]

Are you defending your lifestyle choices to us or to yourself? I'm sure hardly anyone on here wants to tell you your choices are wrong if you are genuinely satisfied with your situation. As you recognize though, your choices do not make you a person of high social status. If that matters to you then perhaps the arguments you are making here are rationalizations?

Comment author: cousin_it 10 April 2009 12:55:30PM *  1 point [-]

Do you believe that CronoDAS's interests would be served by this?

Yes.

If so, how is it not a problem with them?

I consider not leaving your nest at the right time a failure of ritual, rather than a failure of rationality. Should we consider a kid stupid if his parents didn't teach him to talk, dress or go to the toilet properly?

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 10 April 2009 09:58:02AM *  9 points [-]

Yeah, um... that might work, it might not. If you haven't been in CronoDAS's exact situation, be careful about dispensing this kind of advice, and really, be careful even then.

Comment author: Annoyance 10 April 2009 03:28:29PM 1 point [-]

No two situations are ever exactly alike. The only person ever to be in CronoDAS's exact situation is CronoDAS.

Comment author: cousin_it 10 April 2009 10:30:20AM *  0 points [-]

Why? I have no power of authority on this site. My advice is just incoming information with no persuasive weight. There's no bias stopping CronoDAS from evaluating it on its merits before acting.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 10 April 2009 02:38:18PM 15 points [-]

People who think they have no authority may be surprised by how much damage they can do just by talking in an authoritative tone. See believing everything you're told and cached thoughts. A simple "YMMV" might be enough to prevent that.

Comment author: arthurlewis 10 April 2009 01:28:02PM 6 points [-]

"There's no problem with you" can have a lot of persuasive weight as a response to a comment about what may or may not be a problem with CronoDAS. All things being equal, choosing the option that makes you look better is a fairly common bias.

Also, your status as a member of the lesswrong community and your tone, implying you've understood his particular situation, both lend you a slight boost in authority above random-person-on-the-Internet. I don't know whether this boost is trivial or not, but I think Eliezer is proposing a general rule which, although it will overshoot its mark, will guard against biasing the advisee, even in cases where you'd think it wouldn't be an issue. I believe there was an OB article on these sorts of rules, but I can't figure out what to search for.

Comment author: Daniel_Burfoot 10 April 2009 12:45:52PM -2 points [-]

In general, unless someone pushes me, all I do is waste time.

I don't know what motivates you but in the not too distant future there will come into existence an entirely new form of science. The birth of this science will be an exciting event. You could be part of it; start by reading Jaynes' book.