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saturn comments on Beware of Other-Optimizing - Less Wrong

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

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Comment author: saturn 10 April 2009 10:51:32AM 16 points [-]

As an aspiring rationalist you've already learned that most people don't listen, and you usually don't bother - but this person is a friend, someone you know, someone you trust and respect to listen.

I've actually had some success with Other-optimizing, so I'm going to go out on a limb and defend it. Doing it well isn't easy and doesn't give you the quick ego/status boost you get from giving someone a pithy injunction. You need to gather enough information about the other person's goals to uniquely determine what action you take, essentially giving away some of your optimization power for the other person to use for their own purposes. Of course, this mostly eliminates the usual motivation (i.e. status) while also being vastly more difficult.

Comment author: arthurlewis 10 April 2009 01:34:06PM 13 points [-]

I'm with you, Saturn. Doing it well isn't easy at first, but I've found I've gotten quite good at it by mostly asking questions and keeping my mouth shut. I tend to act as an option-provider and a debugger. I let them do most of the actual determination of actions, and use my own power to help them realize the primary goals they're optimizing for, realize unconsidered courses of action that may lead to those goals, and challenge existing assumptions. I disagree about the status motivation though - when I've actually helped someone optimize, I feel like a real badass.

Comment author: saturn 10 April 2009 08:45:27PM *  5 points [-]

when I've actually helped someone optimize, I feel like a real badass.

Absolutely.

The point I was making was that dropping some unsolicited advice on someone carries an implication that the answer is obvious to you and the person you're "helping" is to whatever degree less competent, less informed, or less intelligent. When you get into for-real helping you might well find that this isn't actually the case.

Moreover, if you don't see this as a real possibility, you're almost certainly Doing It Wrong.