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Post ridiculous munchkin ideas!

55 Post author: D_Malik 15 May 2013 10:27PM

Thus spake Eliezer:

A Munchkin is the sort of person who, faced with a role-playing game, reads through the rulebooks over and over until he finds a way to combine three innocuous-seeming magical items into a cycle of infinite wish spells.  Or who, in real life, composes a surprisingly effective diet out of drinking a quarter-cup of extra-light olive oil at least one hour before and after tasting anything else.  Or combines liquid nitrogen and antifreeze and life-insurance policies into a ridiculously cheap method of defeating the invincible specter of unavoidable Death.  Or figures out how to build the real-life version of the cycle of infinite wish spells.

It seems that many here might have outlandish ideas for ways of improving our lives. For instance, a recent post advocated installing really bright lights as a way to boost alertness and productivity. We should not adopt such hacks into our dogma until we're pretty sure they work; however, one way of knowing whether a crazy idea works is to try implementing it, and you may have more ideas than you're planning to implement.

So: please post all such lifehack ideas! Even if you haven't tried them, even if they seem unlikely to work. Post them separately, unless some other way would be more appropriate. If you've tried some idea and it hasn't worked, it would be useful to post that too.

Comments (1240)

Comment author: pscheyer 18 May 2013 04:44:33AM *  57 points [-]

Learn some basic voice production for stage techniques. How your voice sounds is an absurdly strongly weighted component of a first impression, particularly over a phone or prior to direct introduction, and being able to project your voice in a commanding fashion has an overpowered influence on how much people listen to you and consider you a 'natural leader.' In particular, learn what it means to speak from the diaphragm, and learn some basic exercises for strengthening your subsidiary vocal chords like Khargyraa and basic tuvan throat singing, and you'll be surprised at how much it makes people sit up and listen. You might coincidentally have your voice drop into a lower register after about a month of such exercises, it (anecdatally) happened to me and several people in my voice production for stage class in college. (class of 25, 6 people had their voices drop within the first 4 months, teacher said those numbers were normal.)

Most people just assume you're born with a voice and have to deal with it, which is demonstrably untrue, and so they consider your voice to reflect your character.

Comment author: elharo 18 May 2013 04:34:12PM 11 points [-]

That sounds like very useful advice. Do you have some suggestions for where to start learning this? E.g. particular books, classes, or Youtube videos?

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 18 May 2013 07:49:55PM *  7 points [-]

How do you guys feel about sharing hacks to increase your status, given that status can be a bit of a zero-sum game? I think I may have identified a nootropic that has the effect of making one feel and act higher status, but I'm not sure I want to just tell the entire world about it, given the positional nature of status.

Edit: see here for more.

Comment author: iconreforged 19 May 2013 05:29:22PM 22 points [-]

A very small number of people read LW, and a fraction of those people are going to apply any status hacks. Only a small number of people are going to apply status hacks, and they are the people who are diligent enough to research and implement them.

Posting such hacks is not going to push everyone to universally adopt them and return everyone to the previous status quo.

Comment author: [deleted] 20 May 2013 04:49:03PM 8 points [-]

Posting such hacks is not going to push everyone to universally adopt them and return everyone to the previous status quo.

And even if it did, some of the actions that would increase one's positional status also have positive-sum effects (though in this specific case of voice training, they don't seem to be overwhelmingly large to me).

Comment author: wedrifid 19 May 2013 12:15:46PM 4 points [-]

How do you guys feel about sharing hacks to increase your status, given that status can be a bit of a zero-sum game?

If you have a reason to wish to favour non-munchkins over munchkins in regards to status then it would follow that censoring such things is appropriate.

I think I may have identified a nootropic that has the effect of making one feel and act higher status, but I'm not sure I want to just tell the entire world about it, given the positional nature of status.

Which one? There are plenty of substances that have the effect of making one feel and act higher status. I am somewhat curious which one you are referring to.

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 19 May 2013 05:55:58AM 9 points [-]

Just tell people in such a way that only the kind of people you'd want to have higher status will pay attention.

Comment author: wedrifid 19 May 2013 02:58:41PM 16 points [-]

Just tell people in such a way that only the kind of people you'd want to have higher status will pay attention.

For example, by posting it on lesswrong!

Comment author: Zaine 23 May 2013 07:10:19PM 6 points [-]

You seem to have knowledge about how to do this effectively - please share that knowledge or the sources for it.

Comment author: JoshuaFox 13 May 2013 09:55:29AM *  37 points [-]

I learned how to crank out patents. My thinking, over the years, shifted from "Wow, I can really be an inventor," to "Wow, I can Munchkin a ridiculously misconfigured system" and beyond that to "This is really awful."

My blog post: "The evil engineer's guide to patents".

Since Munchkining means following the letter of the rules, while bypassing the unspoken rules, we should consider how often it is accompanied by moral dissonance.

Comment author: maia 10 May 2013 11:25:51PM *  34 points [-]

If you want to increase your pulling strength without much effort, get a pullup bar and put it in a doorway in your home. Then just make a habit of doing pullups every time you walk by. This is remarkably effective. I've been doing this for two weeks and have seen significant improvement.

It's important to actually have it on a doorway at all times. Ours was sitting in a closet for several months, and during that time, I used it maybe twice. In the past two weeks, with it actually on a doorway and requiring no effort for me to set up and start using it, I've been doing ~5 chinups every day. (The number has been going up as I've gotten better at it; I'm looking forward to when I can actually do dead-hang pullups.)

$20 on Amazon.

I think a general policy of decreasing the startup cost of doing things you want to do is a useful one. Rewarding yourself helps too, but sometimes you just need to lower the activation energy.

Comment author: Zaine 11 May 2013 02:59:41AM 7 points [-]

I've done, recommended, and been recommended this before and am in wholehearted agreement. I would be remiss however if I did not share a word of caution: that model of pull up bar leaves black marks, and after extended use, will probably dent a wooden door frame. I do not know of a model of that type that does not share this design flaw.

Comment author: RolfAndreassen 10 May 2013 06:59:46PM 31 points [-]

Obvious idea is obvious: Save and invest a very large percentage of your income - I'm at 25%, but I'm not very ambitious. At 75% you can retire for three years for every year you work, even without assuming any gains from investment income or any other sources of income. If you are 30 and reasonably established in your career, this means you can work for ten years and then retire.

Comment author: DanArmak 11 May 2013 09:47:36PM 15 points [-]

That rather assumes you can live on 25% of your income.

For me 25% of my income would be far below the poverty line and the legal minimum wage. I couldn't live on that even if I moved back in with my parents.

Are most people here really so rich that they can follow this advice and take it in stride?

Comment author: [deleted] 14 May 2013 03:48:02AM 14 points [-]

I disagree with your assumption that you need to be rich/making lots of money in order to save. It's not necesarily about being rich, it's also about spending less. People get very used to spending whatever it is they make. Lots of people live off $15k and manage to survive. Lots of people live of $100k and manage to wind up bankrupt. The trick is to not adjust your standard of living and expectations to be what you think you "deserve".

After getting a divorce a couple years ago, I got very used to living off of significantly less than the poverty line. After getting a "real" job, I've been making a concerted effort to not raise my standard of living TOO much. Despite making less than you (50% of my income would be below the poverty line), I still manage to only live off about half of what I make. Right now, the rest is going into paying off debts and student loans, but in about a year and a half those will be taken care of, and the rest can go into savings. (I may rebudget at that time and save less, if I feel like it would be a good idea to raise my standard of living again, then. However, I wouldn't have to.)

Comment author: cody-bryce 14 May 2013 09:49:26PM 11 points [-]

It's fascinating to read about people like http://earlyretirementextreme.com/ who choose frugality over work

Comment author: Petruchio 15 May 2013 05:05:12PM *  6 points [-]

Here is a second resource, the successor of Jacob, creator of ERE, Mr. Money Mustache. This website has the same concept, taken to the same extremes, though he has a more colloquial style. He proclaims to live a luxurious life on 8,000 a year a person (family of three). This includes taking multiple road trips with his family, eating organic foods and other such "luxuries".

Comment author: D_Malik 14 May 2013 11:08:49PM *  4 points [-]

Wow, I think that link is the most useful thing I've gotten from this thread; thanks. I've had similar ideas for a while but never knew there was this much info online about it. Their techniques look like they could be very useful for people interested in hardcore professional philanthropy.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 12 May 2013 09:38:00AM 8 points [-]

What part of your current income do you need to live on?

Note: The idea about the last two options is that high-school and university students are not socially expected to live on their own income. So the last option is for those who are not expected to live on their own income, and the previous option is for those who are socially expected to live on their own income, but they can't.

By "current income" let's assume the average for a few months, not some exceptional income or a temporary loss of income that happened yesterday.


Comment author: PrometheanFaun 02 June 2013 04:44:11AM 4 points [-]

It's worth noting that the results of this poll could be skewed by the fact that it's much easier to for students to give an answer.

Comment author: RomeoStevens 11 May 2013 10:32:11PM *  4 points [-]

after tax pay of 75k a year isn't crazy unusual for software devs living in major cities. Living on 15k in these places is very doable, though some might consider it crazy depending on their habits.

After 6 years one could then live fairly well in a relatively poor country on 15k.

Comment author: diegocaleiro 12 May 2013 03:41:52PM 13 points [-]

I don't mean to cut the party short, but living for years in a poor country is not as awesome as it sounds. What seems awesome instead is to go for poor countries for 6 to 8 months per year, and live with your parents or someone who loves you a lot in the other 4 months every year. I've met a Slovenian programmer who did that, knew 10 languages, worked in London for 4 months per year and seemed to have pretty much nailed the "maxing out on hedons" lifestyle.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 11 May 2013 02:30:52PM *  5 points [-]

Following the rule of thumb that one can spend about 4% of investment a year for it to remain sustainable, it's sufficient to accumulate about 25 times more than you spend in a year, which at 80% saving rate can be achieved in 6 years (more to reduce risk and/or accommodate possible future increase in spending (above inflation)).

Comment author: Dentin 10 May 2013 07:12:22PM 4 points [-]

Even at 55-60%, which is what I did, it still builds up REALLY fast. Realistically though, you'll have to work more than ten years unless you're getting pretty good return on your investments.

Comment author: Caspian 11 May 2013 01:56:20AM 30 points [-]

When I was having a lot of trouble getting out of bed reasonably promptly in the mornings: practice getting out of bed - but not after just having woken up, that's what I was having trouble with in the first place. No, during the day, having been up for a while, go lie in bed for a couple of minutes with the alarm set, then get up when it goes off. Also, make this a pleasant routine with stretching, smiling and deep breathing.

I found this idea on the net here, which may have more details: http://www.stevepavlina.com/blog/2006/04/how-to-get-up-right-away-when-your-alarm-goes-off/

I tried it and it seemed to help a lot for a while, and I feel more in control of my weekend mornings.

Comment author: Pablo_Stafforini 11 May 2013 03:04:09PM *  13 points [-]

An alternative, courtesy of Anders Sandberg (via Kaj Sotala), is to set your alarm to ring two hours before your desired wake-up time, take one or two 50mg caffeine pills when it rings, and go back to sleep immediately thereafter. When you wake two hours later, getting out of bed shouldn't be a problem. Details here.

Comment author: pscheyer 16 May 2013 12:29:41PM 10 points [-]

FYI, this training is part of USAF basic training. With more yelling. I wouldn't call it a pleasant routine, but it's certainly effective when you do it for six hours straight and start to get an adrenaline surge when your alarm goes off.

That still persists 1.5 years later, so it may be a munchkin hack in itself.

Comment author: XFrequentist 29 May 2013 07:38:09PM 6 points [-]

I'd be interested in hearing more about your training experience; I'm sure the USAF and the like have discovered more than a few interesting behavioral hacks!

Comment author: elharo 15 May 2013 10:19:20PM *  28 points [-]

Boring munchkin technique #2: invest in tax advantaged index funds with low fees. Specifically, in the following order:

  1. Max out your employer's matching contribution, if available. It is near impossible to beat an immediate 50% or 100% return, even if you have to borrow money in order to take advantage of this.

  2. Pay off credit card debt. Do not keep any high interest loans. Do not keep a revolving balance on credit cards.

  3. Depending on circumstances (e.g. if you lose your job, is moving back in with your parents an option?) have a few months of living expenses available in ready cash.

  4. Put as much money as you can afford into tax advantaged retirement accounts. In the U.S. that means 401K, 403b, IRA, SEP, etc.

  5. Allocate all your investments except possibly your emergency fund into low cost index funds. 1% fees are way too high. Vanguard has some good funds with fees as low as 0.1%.

I could say more, but that's the basics. Do that and you'll probably be in the 90th percentile or higher of successful investors. If folks are interested in hearing more, let me know; and I'll whip up a post on rational financial planning. If there's a lot of interest, it might even be worth a sequence.

Comment author: sketerpot 19 May 2013 08:58:49PM *  10 points [-]

1% fees are way too high. Vanguard has some good funds with fees as low as 0.1%.

That number is a bit out of date; they recently cut fees for many (most?) of their funds. Now I'm only paying 0.05% on my main index fund. I'm pretty cheerful about this.

Comment author: diegocaleiro 16 May 2013 01:32:39AM 5 points [-]

I made a post replying to the retirement suggestion.

It makes me very confused. I just don't get why people care about retirement plans so much... Elharo, if you can respond to my inquiry, that would be awesome...

Comment author: shminux 10 May 2013 08:29:22PM *  27 points [-]

Another historical case, Smokey Yunick, the car racer and mechanic:

As with most successful racers, Yunick was a master of the grey area straddling the rules. Perhaps his most famous exploit was his #13 1966 Chevrolet Chevelle, driven by Curtis Turner. The car was so much faster than the competition during testing that they were certain that cheating was involved; some sort of aerodynamic enhancement was strongly suspected, but the car's profile seemed to be entirely stock, as the rules required. It was eventually discovered that Yunick had lowered and modified the roof and windows and raised the floor (to lower the body) of the production car. Since then, NASCAR required each race car's roof, hood, and trunk to fit templates representing the production car's exact profile. Another Yunick improvisation was getting around the regulations specifying a maximum size for the fuel tank, by using 11-foot (3 meter) coils of 2-inch (5-centimeter) diameter tubing for the fuel line to add about 5 gallons (19 liters) to the car's fuel capacity. Once, NASCAR officials came up with a list of nine items for Yunick to fix before the car would be allowed on the track. The suspicious NASCAR officials had removed the tank for inspection. Yunick started the car with no gas tank and said "Better make it ten," and drove it back to the pits. He used a basketball in the fuel tank which could be inflated when the car's fuel capacity was checked and deflated for the race.

Comment author: ModusPonies 10 May 2013 07:41:03PM 74 points [-]

If you are a human, then the biggest influence on your personality is your peer group. Choose your peers.

If you want to be better at math, surround yourself with mathematicians. If you want to be more productive, hang out with productive people. If you want to be outgoing or artistic or altruistic or polite or proactive or smart or just about anything else, find people who are better than you at that thing and become friends with them. The status-seeking conformity-loving parts of your mind will push you to become like them. (The incorrect but pithy version: "You are an average of the five people you spend the most time with.")

I've had a lot of success with this technique by going to the Less Wrong meetups in Boston, and by making a habit of attending any event where I'll be the stupidest person in the room (such as the average Less Wrong meetup).

Comment author: lukeprog 10 May 2013 10:26:45PM 15 points [-]

If you are a human, then the biggest influence on your personality is your peer group. Choose your peers.

See The Good News of Situationist Psychology.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 12 May 2013 09:22:10AM 8 points [-]

If I decide to seek company of some people, because according to some metric M they are better than me, I am helping myself, because I am exposing myself to people better than me, but at the same time I am hurting them, because I expose them to a person that is worse than them, according to the same metric. OK, one possible way out of this problem is to say that different people use different metrics. But if we assume there is one shared metric, or at least that metrics used by smart enough people are similar, is there a way to help some people without harming others?

Possible solution would be to make the relationships between people asymetrical, so they would be stronger in the "better person to worse person" direction, but weaker in the opposite direction. -- This is not a new idea, because this is what actually happens when you read someone's book, or if you attend someone's lecture. The question is, how much is the influence reduced this way. (What is the ratio between influence I get from the books and from the people I meet in person? What strategies can I use to change this ratio? E.g. I could spend more time reading, but that would have some social costs; but perhaps I could make my friends read the same book and then discuss it, which would multiply the effect of the book without reducing my time spent with my friends.)

Sometimes I think internet made these things worse, because now many people expect the communication to be bi-directional. Reading smart people's texts is not enough; we require comment sections, where those people have to spend their precious time fighting spammers and trolls. Or even without spammers and trolls, just the fact that the productive people spend more time with procrastinators like me is probably harmful for them (and indirectly even for me, because then I have less high-quality content to read). -- This could be improved somehow, by installing some filters in the way, e.g. the discussion moderator should not be the same person as the blogger.

From the other side: isolating yourself from stupid people is good for you. I am more picky about internet discussions now than I was years ago, and avoiding discussions infested with stupidity improved my mood. The problem is: if all the smart people choose to not interact with stupid people, how will it work for the society as a whole? I mean, the stupid people would benefit from being exposed to information from the smart people, so some of them get a chance to learn. But the smart person should avoid making the stupid people their peer group. Again, we need one-direction communication channels here. So despite the fact that internet makes symmetrical communication easy, we should sometimes consciously avoid that.

Comment author: twanvl 15 May 2013 11:31:36PM 9 points [-]

If I decide to seek company of some people, because according to some metric M they are better than me, I am helping myself, because I am exposing myself to people better than me, but at the same time I am hurting them, because I expose them to a person that is worse than them, according to the same metric.

I am not convinced that being around people slightly worse than yourself is bad for you. Especially when you get into a mentor role. When you actively try to help others understand and improve, this forces you to think about what you are actually doing, which probably improves your behavior.

Disclaimer: purely anecdotal, and does not apply to all metrics.

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 12 May 2013 07:03:40PM *  5 points [-]

Again, we need one-direction communication channels here.

I'm just spitballing here, but... blogs with the comments turned off.

Comment author: edanm 24 May 2013 11:17:42PM 20 points [-]

I've started watching TV Shows at 2X speed. This has been incredible:

  • I can watch twice as much TV in the same amount of time.
  • Lots of TV shows which are very interesting, but are slow (e.g. Breaking Bad, Sopranos) become MUCH funner to watch.

I started doing this a few months ago. It started when I realized that I already listened to Audiobooks at 2X-3X, and that TV Shows are basically the same thing.

Some tips:

  • You should use the VLC player, which lets you 2X while preserving proper audio.
  • In VLC, you can hit the "+" button to go to 1.5X, then again to go to 2X, 3X, 4X etc.
  • You can start with watching things at 1.5X speed, then go to 2X when you feel confident.
  • At higher speeds, you should watch with subtitles, which makes things much easier to follow.
Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 25 May 2013 03:57:04AM 7 points [-]

I have friends who do this with lectures and audiobooks, which seems at least more productive-sounding.

Comment author: Nic_Smith 25 May 2013 03:43:41AM 5 points [-]

I've personally found playing anime at 1.1x to be a difference which is barely even noticeable, but further speed increases to be somewhat annoying, and 1.5x+ to be unwatchable. It's likely low-hanging fruit for many, but YMMV.

Comment author: Diver_Dan 27 May 2013 03:48:56PM *  18 points [-]

First-time poster, long time lurker. This discussion piqued my interest.

If you have your own business, a very cost effective way of promoting it is to get a part-time job, (or 'side quest' in D&D parlance) that involves delivering something such as catalogues, phone-books or even takeaway food or a paper-round in the location where your business operates. You can easily slip in your own flyers or business cards in along with whatever you are delivering. The wage from the part-time job will easily pay for the extra printing and mileage costs. I do this and my p/t employer hasn't found out yet or even explicitly or implicitly forbidden me from doing this; in fact, my p/t boss is pretty wily entrepreneurial sort of chap so he would probably actually approve so long as I am still good at his job.

Comment author: Friendly-HI 16 May 2013 04:59:03PM *  17 points [-]

I recall reading that one of the best predictors of reported happiness is how much a person tends to compare herself to others. (I'm fairly sure I got that from the book "The How of Happiness" by Sonja Lyubomirsky)

You can probably get a quick but decent estimate of where you are on that "comparison-tendency" scale by recalling if you ever feel a sting of jealousy or if it otherwise negatively impacts your mood, or initiates a mental comparison when you see that someone else is up to something really amazingly cool on facebook. How do you generally tend to feel when you see people who are better looking or richer, or <insert desirable characteristic that others have and you don't> ?

I compared myself a lot with others some years ago, but all it took for me to get rid of that nasty mind-habit was to become aware of it every time I was doing it, and realizing that its a stupid and unhealthy habit. Thinking back it probably took me somewhere between 4 and 6 months until this way of thinking became essentially extinct and ultimately even somewhat alien. And I'm happy to say that I'm much happier now, arguably in part because I kicked that habit of thought.

So if you're suffering from this bad habit as well, the way I got rid of it was by simply realizing that it's bad, noticing it when I was doing it and simply moving on. Over time the frequency decreased on its own. The happiest people apparently hardly even know what exactly is meant by "comparing themselves to someone else". Seeing someone who does better than them in any desirable area simply does not trigger any kind of negative emotions, or feelings of inadequacy whatsoever. The opposite in fact, they tend to feel glad for people who are doing well, even if those people are doing better than oneself is.

Comment author: diegocaleiro 22 May 2013 12:32:04AM 5 points [-]

I'd like to confirm that indeed Sonja's book is your source. Less comparison correlates with higher happiness.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 16 May 2013 08:30:00PM 10 points [-]

You can probably get a quick but decent estimate of where you are on that "comparison-tendency" scale...

I am enjoying this sentence fragment immensely.

Comment author: [deleted] 18 May 2013 03:34:10PM 4 points [-]

The trick to resolve the apparent paradox, I think, is to keep a firm distinction between describing people and emotionally evaluating people and then understand that the idea is only about cutting out the latter.

Comment author: D_Malik 10 May 2013 09:46:49PM *  17 points [-]

Make a list of all the projects you could undertake, then use Fermi calculations to estimate the costs and benefits of each on various axes (time, money, status...), with time discounting. Combine the axes into one measure of how much you'd profit from doing each project. Then actually use the numbers to decide what to work on next.

You might also intuitively guess the profit from each task and take a weighted average of that and the more analytical calculations, because system I often outperforms system II.

I'm currently in the middle of this; so far the top items match my intuitions (e.g. go do more CoZE), so I'm not benefitting much from the analysis. Part of my reason for creating this thread is to gather more ideas for things to do and to get other people to help me research how worthwhile possible projects are.

Comment author: sixes_and_sevens 10 May 2013 05:05:08PM 16 points [-]

OK, a serious one now.

If you're looking to motivate yourself towards certain activities, use fictional characters as imaginary rivals.

For example, Stephen Amell is a ridiculously buff dude who plays the titular character in the TV show Arrow. He spends a non-negligible amount of screen-time prancing around with his shirt off. While this does not contribute to my hedonic appreciation of the show, I find myself a lot more motivated to get up and do some exercise after watching it.

I suspect this is my brain alerting me to the presence of a ridiculously buff rival who spends time prancing around with his shirt off, which results in some mechanism motivating me to compete along that axis. I also suspect this would work along different axes of rivalry. Watching lots of fictional smart people achieve lots of awesome fictionally smart things may be a good motivator for academic activities.

Comment author: bramflakes 10 May 2013 06:06:18PM *  10 points [-]

On the other hand, fictional worlds are not constrained by such trivial things as "plausibility" - how smart or conscientious or strong a character is is purely up to the whim of the author. Comparing yourself to these "superstimulus role models" might not be a mentally healthy thing to do - look at how many young girls (and boys!) are starving themselves in the pursuit of magazine-model beauty.

Of course the aliens couldn't possibly really look like that. A holo, only an overoptimized holo. That was a lesson everyone (every human?) learned before puberty, not to let reality seem diminished by fiction. As the proverb went, It's bad enough comparing yourself to Isaac Newton without comparing yourself to Kimball Kinnison.

Comment author: sixes_and_sevens 10 May 2013 07:01:37PM 4 points [-]

That particular analogy (cf. "thinspiration") had occurred to me, though I suspect the general process (look at superstimulatory examples of what you aspire towards) is something most people have an intuitive grasp of, and I (and perhaps other people broadly like me, who are probably over-represented on Less Wrong) simply haven't cottoned on to it until now.

Comment author: ikrase 11 May 2013 12:14:56AM 6 points [-]

You have to be careful with this sort of thing. It's possible to accidentally make yourself unhappy even if you don;t actually harm yourself or something. I think different people respond to this sort of thing in different ways.

Comment author: maia 10 May 2013 10:58:00PM 7 points [-]

I suspect that for me, this tends to turn on the "Activate low-status sympathy-seeking behaviors" module instead of the "Try to be more high status" one.

Comment author: jtolds 11 May 2013 06:59:07AM *  45 points [-]

There's kind of a growing movement around Rob Rhinehart's Soylent thing, dunno if you folks have heard of this.

Basically, he got tired of making food all the time and tried to figure out the absolute minimum required chemical compounds required for a healthy diet, and then posted the overall list, and has now been roughly food free for three months, along with a bunch of other people.

It seems awesome to me and I'm hoping this sort of idea becomes more prevalent. My favorite quote from him I can't now find, but it's something along the lines of "I enjoy going to the movie theater, but I don't particularly feel the need to go three times a day."

There's small reddit community/discourse groups around getting your own mixture.

Comment author: 4554CC6D 12 May 2013 09:14:39PM 10 points [-]

This is interesting. For years I've blended together various ingredients (mostly stuff like broccoli, lentils, sweet pepper, ricotta, canned tuna, olive oil, various grains and nuts such as flax, sesame, hazelnut, sunflower), balanced these for macro and micro-nutrients using cron-o-meter, further optimized along various axes such as cost, taste, ease of use, ease of preparation, packaging, cleaning up etc. Food is primarily something I do to feed myself in the end, and I dislike it when there's too much fluff.

I'd be more wary of mixing together purified/refined nutrients though. Just as licking iron bars won't provide you with your daily needs for iron (elemental iron isn't very soluble and your body wouldn't be able to assimilate it well), there's more and more evidence that whole plants and animal parts contain more than just the usual nutrients, and that this particular mix may be needed to stay in good health - and conversely that substituting multivitamins and refined macronutrients for normal food may run the risk of missing some essential, complex interactions/packaging that occurs in it and which changes the way your body assimilates it.

Now of course, many people eat junk food and still live to be 60-70 so there's some leeway. We'll only really know whether Soylent is healthy enough (like, for someone interested in life extension, and not just satisfied with a classical life span) if this experiment goes for decades, and if it's done using more people, controlled conditions, etc (in short, using Science).

Comment author: Tuxedage 11 May 2013 04:30:33PM 10 points [-]

I find this incredibly fascinating. Especially the ability to save hours every day from not needing to eat. If the guy doesn't die after a year or so, I'm definitely trying this out.

Comment author: Jonathan_Graehl 11 May 2013 05:10:41PM 4 points [-]

When I looked at his blog last, he was eating out socially (understandable). So we onlookers won't get to enjoy his discovery of any new micro-nutrient deficiency syndromes.

I wasn't especially impressed by his approach. Maybe he'll get some good advice from others, but I didn't think he was anyone to listen to.

Comment author: [deleted] 12 May 2013 04:43:50PM *  13 points [-]

It's not impressive as a medical experiment, but it's pretty impressive for actually-getting-something-done.

If it turns out that he can survive comfortably on his concoction plus highly irregular meals at restaurants, that's useful information. Just not as useful as the results of a more thorough experiment.

Comment author: jtolds 11 May 2013 08:27:08PM 6 points [-]

He actually spent the first two months on a Soylent-only diet, and only recently added social eating. I think he said something in his three month blog post about a week he spent eating normal food, and he ended up feeling way crappier.

Comment author: SilasBarta 16 May 2013 04:28:11AM 5 points [-]

I would be more surprised if, by only eating when you're socially required to, you happened to get the exact essential nutrients the diet would otherwise leave you without.

Comment author: ekramer 26 May 2013 10:59:17AM 8 points [-]

Some people thrive for decades (including Stephen Hawking) tube fed with nutritionally complete enteral formulas. Semi-annual blood tests pick up any deficiencies, and supplements are added if needed. Several companies make "Soylent", the one I am familiar with is Abbott Nutrition.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 26 May 2013 10:06:19PM 8 points [-]

If there's something there that isn't priced for sale to hospitals, or restricted in sale to hospitals, and has been formulated so as to be edible by people who are tired of real food, go ahead and post it. My understanding is that tube-feeding is not the same use-case as Soylent at all, with tube-fed material needing to be essentially predigested and correspondingly expensive or something along those lines, and no concern for edible taste for obvious reasons.

I've done some looking, but I haven't seen anything out there that looks like it's meant to be eaten, meant to replace food, and priced at an affordable level for sole consumption.

Comment author: RomeoStevens 11 May 2013 08:13:34PM 6 points [-]

Soylent Orange (with new and improved recipe. Okay, I just added marmite, but it's significantly more nutritionally complete than before)

This is a less radical version of the idea using store bought ingredients to achieve roughly the same ends.

Comment author: maia 11 May 2013 03:13:07AM *  15 points [-]

Autogenics is a biofeedback technique that induces a state of intense relaxation. It's supposed to be able to help change compulsive behaviors, though I haven't tried that myself. I have found it very helpful for getting to sleep, though, and pleasant as well. I used this guide for what I have done so far.

Fun anecdote: Once, while I was cuddling with my boyfriend, he said, "I can hear your heartbeat!" A few moments later he jerked and looked at me in shock. "It just slowed down!" :-) I felt like a wizard. Biofeedback is cool.

It's probably worth trying if you have problems sleeping. Interestingly, it's found to be useful in treating a several mild mental and physical problems, like headaches, anxiety, mild depression, and sleep disorders. It's also used for pain relief for natural childbirth. (Meaning, for women who don't want to have an epidural.)

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 11 May 2013 08:23:15AM *  8 points [-]

I just got this galvanic skin response biofeedback device in the mail a few days ago. Rest your fingers on it and there's a tone goes up as you get more stressed out and down as you get more relaxed. I haven't been experimenting with it very long, but using the device and trying to make the tone go down does seem to be quite an effective way to relax. Housemates have found the tone annoying, but wearing ear-encompassing headphones on top of the supplied earbuds seems to deal with that.

Comment author: Armok_GoB 11 May 2013 03:52:10PM 5 points [-]

You should have tried sending the morse code SOS message using it!

Comment author: arundelo 11 May 2013 04:09:10PM 30 points [-]

"Help, I'm trapped in an autonomic nervous system!"

Comment author: gressettd 17 May 2013 10:26:59PM *  13 points [-]

Here's a method for learning a complex subject that seems to accelerate acquiring instrumental skill and the ability to use the knowledge creatively. As a bonus, you make progress on projects you've deferred for want of technical skills you're learning now.

Project Mapping: a) Make a list of projects you're working or intend to do sometime. The more the projects excite you, the more effective this technique. b) Take a bite of your subject (a chapter or topic, smaller the better) c) Go to your project journal. Pick one or more projects from the list to connect to the material you learned. If they can't conceivably connect ... then why are you learning this? d) No matter how great the gap between the complexity and difficulty of your project and the simplicity of the elementary material you just learned, even if it's just whole number addition, describe ways to apply the knowledge to some aspect or part of your project. This is the actual "secret sauce" of the technique. e) Return to each bite to "rehearse" it by adding even more ideas, and feel free to connect in and use more advanced material you've learned, too. f) If you can, set your rehearsal schedule for each bite to initially just half an hour apart, but space them out by double the previous time between rehearsals. Force even boundaries on days or weeks to help simplify the schedule. Something like: 30m, 60m, 2h, 4h, 8h, 16h, 24h, 2d, 4d, 7d, 2w, 1m, 2m, 4m, 8m, 1y

A note on the "secret sauce" (part d): You'll often need to force your brain to believe, especially when learning the fundamentals of a subject, that you can apply it to your byzantine mega-idea. Try for five minutes. If it's just too hard, maybe create an easier project to stand-in.

Comment author: D_Malik 10 May 2013 11:33:04AM *  13 points [-]

Keep a spray bottle full of water. Set up a reminder to make you spray yourself with the water every 30 minutes. This might boost alertness through the mammalian diving reflex. I have halfheartedly tried this, and it definitely does temporarily boost alertness, but I don't know how long the effect lasts or whether tolerance develops. I'm slightly concerned that it could damage electronics.

Comment author: Tuxedage 11 May 2013 04:33:53PM *  58 points [-]

So I've recently decided to change my real name from an oriental one to John Adams. I am not white.

There’s a significant amount of evidence that shows that

(1) Common names have better reception in many areas, especially publication and job interviews.

(2) White names do significantly better than non-white names

(3) Last names that begin with the early letters of the alphabet have a significant advantage over last names beginning with the latter letters of the alphabet.

Source :

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19020207 http://blog.simplejustice.us/files/66432-58232/SSQUKalistFinal.pdf http://ideas.repec.org/p/hhs/sunrpe/2006_0013.html http://www.nber.org/papers/w9873.pdf?new_window=1 http://www.nber.org/digest/sep03/w9873.html

Therefore if I were to use "John", one of the most common 'white' first names, along with Adams, a 'white' surname that also begins with the letter A, it should stand that I would be conferred a number of advantages.

Furthermore, I have very little attachment to my family heritage. Switching names doesn’t cost me anything beyond a minor inconvenience of having to do paperwork. For some people, changing your name may be extremely worthwhile, depending on your current name, and how attached you are to it. At least, it may be worthwhile to consider it, and depending on the person, may be a very cheap optimization with significant benefits.

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 11 May 2013 06:59:26PM 14 points [-]

I have a Caribbean-American friend who's grateful his parents gave him a fairly white name for exactly this reason. I think having the same name as a famous historical figure would be bad for your google search results, though.

Comment author: DanArmak 11 May 2013 08:28:17PM 13 points [-]

Being hard to Google can also be a plus.

Or he could adopt a middle name that would distinguish him when people really wanted to search for him.

Comment author: [deleted] 23 May 2013 12:35:27PM *  11 points [-]
Comment author: ChristianKl 12 May 2013 11:26:44AM 12 points [-]

(2) White names do significantly better than non-white names

Not all white names are made equal. You want a name that's associated with high status in the country in which you live.

In Germany being named Kevin is a low status signal. The same is true for most US names. Lower class people in Germany are more likely to give their children the name of US celebrities than German high class people.

Comment author: syllogism 12 May 2013 07:38:51PM 11 points [-]

Definitely agree that changing your name is a good option to have on the table.

I'd note though that in some industries having a Google-unique name is king. It really depends what your "personal brand strategy" is. I remember reading an interview with a marketer who recommended people consider name changes. Her name was "Faith Popcorn". I read that single interview probably 5-10 years ago. It wasn't even a particularly interesting interview. I still remember her name, though.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 11 May 2013 07:11:37PM 24 points [-]

I once considered changing my name to Ben Abard but decided that the original Eliezer Yudkowsky sounded more like a scientist.

Comment author: Jack 11 May 2013 10:30:40PM 21 points [-]

I wonder how Jewish names perform relative to gentile names.

Comment author: BerryPick6 12 May 2013 08:50:10PM *  11 points [-]

Reminds me of all the Jewish actors who've changed their names to make it in Hollywood, and all the executives who've done the exact opposite.

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 12 May 2013 08:04:08AM 11 points [-]

I've always been mildly annoyed that I don't have an eastern European last name. All the cool mathematicians seem to have eastern European last names.

Comment author: Jiro 22 May 2013 09:30:46PM 8 points [-]

The biggest flaw in this idea is that almost nothing in your references applies to you! They pretty much cover only black and white names, not Oriental ones. You can't conclude that a white name benefits you because it would benefit a black person. Even in the Swedish study, a quick trip to Wikipedia shows that the number of foreign-born residents from east Asia in Sweden is a tiny percentage.

Furthermore, none of the studies you quote account for switching costs since they just compare people who already have the names, except for the Swedish one, but I would expect that the switching cost as a new immigrant is much less than for someone who has been living with his name for a while.

Comment author: DanArmak 11 May 2013 08:32:59PM *  8 points [-]

This sounds like an excellent idea. I'm going to take the liberty of discussing my own name and I hope to get some opinions.

My surname, 'Armak', is a misspeling of Ermak, sometimes written Yermak. I have no love lost for this name. Its main effect on my life is that when I introduce myself, people respond with "Daniel What?". And people who see it written in Hebrew always pronounce it wrong (because Hebrew normally has no written vowels, it's very bad at transliteration of foreign names). It would be an ordinary name in Russia or Ukraine, but I'm unlikely to even visit those countries.

So I want to choose a common name that is "at home" in Hebrew and English and, preferably, Russian. Something short and simple that can be pronounced by speakers of pretty much any language, in case I associate with Chinese in the future, or something similarly unexpected.

But I'm very much afraid of bureaucratic hassle. It's easy to change a name, but records with the old name will follow me all my life. And I'm afraid that many organizations deal poorly with people who try to prove that their name changed and they should have access to their accounts or records opened under their old names.

On the other hand, most Western women and a few men change their names when they marry (and sometimes when they divorce). And this presumably doesn't create big difficulties, because it's socially expected. So maybe the infrastructure for name-changing already exists and my fears are unfounded.

Has this been quantified? Like surveying people who changed their legal names (other than when marrying or divorcing) after a few years.

Disclaimer: I haven't been serious enough to invest the time to research this myself.

Comment author: BerryPick6 12 May 2013 08:56:33PM 5 points [-]

You don't find that surnames in Hebrew just get mispronounced a ton, in general? Other than ones which have standard pronunciation, I encounter constant errors with people trying to figure out which vowels to put where when it comes to last names, although that may be biased because my last name, despite being very straightforward in English, is a puzzle for Israelis.

Also, from anecdotal data and a bit of personal knowledge, changing your last name here in Israel doesn't seem like much of a hassle, other than having to do it in person.

Comment author: komponisto 11 May 2013 07:00:44PM *  7 points [-]

A disadvantage of that particular name is that it's the name of no fewer than two famous people.

(Or is that an advantage?)

Comment author: Desrtopa 11 May 2013 11:39:30PM 6 points [-]

This sounds like a reasonable motivation to change one's name, but personally, I would have picked something not already attached to a rather famous person. I think it's probably more advantageous to have a name which is "generic" in that it doesn't immediately call up a single immediate association.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 30 May 2013 07:33:49AM 5 points [-]

You will be impossible to google for with the name "John Adams". Whether that matters to you is up to you, but a Google check is a good idea anyway. As it happens, the real John Adams is a very illustrious figure (in America), but you want to avoid calling yourself Charles Manson.

Comment author: Wrongnesslessness 13 May 2013 10:30:26AM 5 points [-]

I've always wanted a name like that!

But I'm worried that with such a generic English name people will expect me to speak perfect English, which means they'll be negatively surprised when they hear my noticeable accent.

Comment author: [deleted] 28 May 2013 12:10:02PM 12 points [-]

(I remembered this yesterday while writing a comment about something else, but LeechBlock stopped me before I was able to write it here.)

The black keys on a piano keyboard form a pentatonic scale; that is to say, so long as you have an anywhere-near-decent sense of rhythm, nearly anything you can improvise using those keys alone will sound good. Non-musicians will be pretty unlikely to notice what you're doing, if they aren't very close to you.

Comment author: beberly37 23 May 2013 07:02:50PM *  11 points [-]

This brings to mind the dollar-coin-frequent-flyer-miles scam a few years ago. Where basically, the US treasury started making dollar coins and no one used them. To encourage their circulation, they would sell boxes of coins online with free shipping. Munchkins started buying them with credit cards that gave frequent flier miles, then would deposit the coins at their bank and pay off the credit card. Result: millions of frequent flier miles for free.

The US treasury no longer accepts credit cards for online dollar coin purchases.

Comment author: Username 26 May 2014 02:20:34AM *  10 points [-]

Spread your genes without having children:

  • Donate to sperm/egg banks.

  • Sign up for genetic studies where your beneficial genes will be targeted if humanity decides to go a Gattacca-like route.

Comment author: [deleted] 26 May 2014 05:38:00PM 5 points [-]
Comment author: brazil84 26 May 2014 03:47:12PM 4 points [-]

Encourage people who are genetically similar to you to reproduce.

Comment author: D_Malik 10 May 2013 11:42:20AM *  10 points [-]

Some (but not all) humans experience the autonomic sensory meridian response, a sort of tingling sensation caused by various visual and auditory stimuli. I think it's partly an adaptation to encourage humans to bond through social grooming (removing fleas from hair, etc.). It often causes sleepiness.

So: one thing I've been trying is to use ASMR to make myself go to sleep faster and sleep better, by playing ASMR-inducing sounds through sleep-suitable headphones. I don't know whether this works (planning to measure it sometime) but it definitely feels nice.

To test whether ASMR works on you, and to get ASMR stimuli, go to http://www.reddit.com/r/asmr/top/?sort=top&t=all .

I'm planning to try combining this with periodic audio of someone saying "you are dreaming", as a way of inducing lucid dreams.

Comment author: gothgirl420666 10 May 2013 06:31:23PM 27 points [-]

Instead of hoping to find the one Super Cool Trick that'll let you become a superhuman overnight, read five or so (scientifically minded) self-help books addressing the biggest problem area in your life, make a moderate to large amount of effort to implement the knowledge in your life, and then repeat for your other problem areas, until in a year or two you become a superhuman.

This worked for me for productivity and depression, next is social skills/social anxiety.

Also, let your body occupy a lot of space in order to feel more relaxed, feel confident, and signal status.

Comment author: thejash 28 May 2013 06:55:03AM 9 points [-]

I use classical conditioning on myself with genres of music to either help me focus or to relax. Basically I just always (and only) play a certain type of music when I'm working, and then switch to another type of music when I want to start winding down for the day.

I use these two stations because they have no words or commercials: (work): http://somafm.com/thetrip/ (relax): http://somafm.com/dronezone/

It definitely helps me. Sometimes if I forget to turn off the music I end up working way too late. Also, it's incredible how the focus and desire to work comes on almost instantly when I put my headphones on. I use very good passive noise cancelling headphones (they reduce ~25db of sound), so literally all I hear is the music, and I have to take them off to talk to people/leave the computer, which probably strengthens the effect

Comment author: hylleddin 28 May 2013 04:56:41AM *  9 points [-]

Try to take advantage of possible Sapir Whorf effects by constructing your own language to use for thinking in. I got this idea after finding a link here to this New York Times article which has several examples of such effects.

Random brainstorming on potential things to consider including:

It would probably be best to do this after learning at least one other language that is quite different from your native language. Also, keeping ways words can be wrong in mind is likely a good idea.

This would likely also have the same effects as thinking in any foreign language

I may or may not actually try this after I've learned Korean sufficiently well.

Comment author: Unnamed 28 May 2013 07:45:50AM 6 points [-]

Scott (Yvain) did this in his fictional world. For example:

  • Assertions require probability statements. There’s no grammatically correct way to say “The dog is in the blue house” without adding some modifier for how certain you are of this (probably along the lines of “tautologous, near-certain, probably true, uncertain, probably false, near-certainly false). There is also the option of elegantly expressing particular numerical possibilities.

  • Assertions about plurals require quantifiers. For example, it’s ungrammatical to say “Atheists break the law”. One has to clarify this by adding “all”, “most”, “at least one”, “a disproportionate number”, etc. It’s pretty hard to stereotype in Kadhamic without meaning it.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 30 September 2013 03:55:06PM 5 points [-]

Incidentally, learning a new language isn't required for this.

One can, for example, adopt the habit of saying "I want X to work" or "I expect X to work" or "I would be happier if X worked" or "I would be happier if I expected X to work" instead of "X should work" while continuing to speak English.

Put differently: the habit of setting trigger-points around certain words ("should," "think", "want", "can", :will", etc.) to ensure that I actually know what I'm saying when I say them is useful.

Comment author: [deleted] 28 May 2013 12:23:01PM *  4 points [-]

Don't go overboard with that -- IIRC, extremely few people succeed in becoming fluent in Lojban. IOW, think twice before flouting a linguistic universal.

(it can mean "I want it to work", an 'ought' statement)

Not everyone would agree that “I want it to work” is a correct restatement of deontic modality. (The one I use when wanting to avoid the ambiguity of “should” is “it had better work”.)

This would likely also have the same effects as thinking in any foreign language.

That effect is due to the fact that you're forced to use your System 2. It probably disappears after you become too fluent in the language (for example, FWIW, I don't ‘feel’ that happening with English).

Also, +1 or ygert's suggestion to read The Language Construction Kit, and you may want to check out the resources I mentioned in my reply.

Comment author: ygert 28 May 2013 07:06:55AM 4 points [-]

Certainly a ridiculous munchkin idea! It's a cool idea, although I would estimate that the actual difficulty of getting it working is very high. If you do manage, that would be quite awesome though. If you are serious about actually trying this, check out The Language Construction Kit . It's a pretty cool website giving tips and advice on language construction. Perhaps it could be useful.

Comment author: B_For_Bandana 17 May 2013 11:55:51PM 9 points [-]

This isn't much use now (at least not in the northern hemisphere) but in wintertime, an uninsulated attic is effectively a refrigerator your parents don't know about. Whether you use this knowledge to store secret artisanal cheeses, or beer, is up to you.

Comment author: D_Malik 11 May 2013 06:33:26PM *  25 points [-]

Sprinkle an emetic (a vomit-inducing drug) into foods that you want to stop eating, such as chocolate. It is well-known that nausea causes a long-lasting aversion to the food preceding it. (For instance, this is a problem for chemotherapy patients - the drug therapy causes nausea, which they then associate with food.)

I haven't tried any of this, but I'd be very surprised if this wasn't an easy, long-term solution to the problem of people wanting to eat food that they don't want to want to eat.

Maybe this could even be extended to non-food addictions, such as video games or mindless internet browsing. One person I know quit smoking cold turkey this way (by throwing up after smoking a cigarette, not with an emetic).

Comment author: zslastman 12 May 2013 11:43:26AM 17 points [-]

Single anecdata point - I quit smoking by deliberately causing myself to gag and think of vomiting whenever I saw or thought about cigarettes. It was very effective.

Comment author: [deleted] 11 May 2013 06:57:31PM *  16 points [-]

Bulimia studies might be a good place to start when evaluating the effects of such a program!

Comment author: wedrifid 16 May 2013 09:35:08AM 4 points [-]

For instance, this is a problem for chemotherapy patients - the drug therapy causes nausea, which they then associate with food.

Note to self: If I ever have chemotherapy be sure to either only eat foods I already don't like or eat foods that are unhealthy but tasty.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 16 May 2013 04:29:46PM 9 points [-]

Don't do anything like that unless you know something about how to undo it.

The theories about which foods are unhealthy keep changing, and you might find out that you personally need something which has be called unhealthy.

Comment author: D_Malik 03 June 2013 02:55:46PM *  4 points [-]

Don't do anything like that unless you know something about how to undo it.

Urging caution sounds wise, but I think it's exactly wrong here. One's goal in giving advice should be to alter others' behavior in beneficial ways; people will probably tend to take fewer risks with emetics than is optimal (because they're risk-averse, and vomiting is unpleasant), so your advice is in the wrong direction. Caution (higher significance criterion) is the act of increasing missed opportunities (false negatives) so that you take less wrong actions (false positives); this is a tradeoff.

This is analogous to how, for instance, the FDA kills more people by delaying medications' approval than it saves by ensuring medication is safe before approving it.

All over this thread, people keep urging caution where my judgment is that they should be urging the exact opposite.

Comment author: B_For_Bandana 17 May 2013 10:09:46PM 61 points [-]

I have discovered a way to carry a credit card balance indefinitely, interest-free, without making payments, using only an Amazon Kindle.

How my card works is, any purchases made during Month N get applied to the balance due in the middle of Month N+1. So if I make a purchase now, in May 2013, it goes on the balance due June 15th. If I don't pay the full May balance by June 15th, then and only then do they start charging interest. This is pretty typical of credit cards, I think.

Now the key loophole is that refunds are counted as payments, and are applied immediately, but purchases are applied to the balance due next month. So if I buy something on June 5th, and return it on June 6th, the purchase goes toward the balance due on July 15th, but the refund is applied as a payment on the balance due on June 15th! So you can pay your entire June balance with nothing but refunds, and you won't have to worry about paying for those purchases until July, at which time you can do the whole thing again. The debt is still there, of course, because all you've done is add and then subtract say $100 from your balance, but absolutely no interest is charged. This process is limited only by your credit line (which you cannot exceed at any time) and by the ease with which you can buy and return stuff each month.

Here's where the Kindle comes in. Repeatedly buying and returning items from a brick-and-mortar store is incredibly time-consuming and risky. You have to buy stuff, keep it in good shape, and then return it, interacting with human clerks each time, without raising suspicion. Not efficient. But if you have a Kindle, you know that when you buy a book, after you hit "Purchase" a screen comes up that asks if you have bought the item by accident, and if so, would you like to cancel the purchase. If you hit the button to cancel the purchase, what happens is that the purchase is still applied to your card, but it is refunded a couple of days later. Bingo. Automatic refunds, obtained at home at no risk, with no human oversight.

But e-books on Amazon are like $10, so you'd have to sit there all day hitting "buy" and "return" to shift a significant amount of debt, right? Wrong. If you know where to look, the Amazon kindle store has lots of handbooks, technical manuals, and textbooks that cost hundreds of dollars. Start out searching for "neurology handbook" and just surf the "similar books" list from there. Buy and return a few of those, and you're set for another month.

Obviously you have to pay off the debt at some point. This is not free money. But if you're in a tight spot for a few months, it's incredibly useful. And hey, if the inflation-adjusted prime rate is 0%, why should you have to pay interest? You're good for it.

This is by far the most munchkin-like idea I've ever had, and I'm pretty happy about it. I've been using it since January, making real payments toward my card as I can, and covering the rest with Amazon buy-and-returns. I know I'll pay down the debt when I have a better job, but in the meantime it is really nice not to have to pay any interest on it.

Comment author: [deleted] 21 August 2013 05:11:59AM *  8 points [-]

Excessive returns will possibly get you banned from Amazon for life, with no warning, as many have discovered.

Comment author: Bugmaster 17 May 2013 10:13:43PM 20 points [-]

Upvoted for the fact that the author actually implemented the idea into practice. Too many other posts on this thread are just theorycrafting.

Comment author: B_For_Bandana 17 May 2013 10:30:54PM 21 points [-]

That was what impressed you? Not my creation of a real-life financial perpetual motion machine?

Comment author: Bugmaster 17 May 2013 10:57:23PM 7 points [-]

As far as I understand (and I could be wrong), your machine does not actually generate money, but merely defers payment until some future date. It does so by essentially exploiting a bug in the Kindle + Credit Card system, and it has an upper limit of whatever your max credit line is. My guess is that if this trick becomes popular, someone will patch the bug (probably Amazon, credit card companies are pretty slow).

So, don't get me wrong, it's a nice hack, but it's hardly perpetual or earth-shattering. One similar trick I know of is to have several credit cards, and use them to keep transferring the balance between them before interest accumulates; but this is less efficient, since the "free balance transfer" special offers occur relatively rarely.

Comment author: skepsci 19 May 2013 05:43:28AM 12 points [-]

I would worry the effect this may have on your credit rating if anyone catches you at it, together with possibly more serious effects. This could potentially be considered fraud. Altogether it seems much more sensible to simply live within your means and pay off your credit balance each month.

Comment author: khafra 23 May 2013 05:32:37PM 10 points [-]

...it seems much more sensible...

This is the "ridiculous munchkin ideas" thread, not the "sensible advice you've already heard" thread.

This could potentially be considered fraud.

A more pertinent worry. Especially with cards that give a percentage of each purchase as "reward points" or something, I'd be worried about this.

Comment author: brainoil 14 May 2013 04:45:26AM 24 points [-]

Oftentimes, when I'm not in a good mood, I simply decide to be in a good mood, and soon I am in a good mood. It's surprisingly effective. You just have to consciously tell yourself that you decide to be in a good mood and try to be in a good mood. Of course this doesn't work all the time. I'm generally a happy person, so it's perhaps easier for me.

Comment author: D_Malik 10 May 2013 07:09:58PM *  23 points [-]

My neck is asymmetrical because some years back I used to often lie in bed while using a laptop, and would prop my head up on my left elbow, but not my right because there was a wall in the way. In general, using a laptop while lying in bed is an ergonomics nightmare. The ideal would be to lie on your back with the laptop suspended in the air above you, except that that would make typing inconvenient.

So a friend recently blew my mind by informing me that prism glasses are a thing. These rotate your field of vision 90 degrees downwards, so that you can lie on your back and look straight up while still seeing your laptop. I have tried these and highly recommend them.

That said: You should probably not do non-sleep/sex things in bed because that can contribute to insomnia. I recommend trying a standing desk, by putting a box or a chair on top of your desk and putting your laptop on top of that, then just standing permanently; it will be painful at first. Also currently experimenting with only allowing myself to sit down with my laptop if I'm at the same time doing the highest-value thing I could be doing (which is usually ugh-fielded and unpleasant because otherwise I'd have already done it).

Another thing: I have a crankish theory that looking downwards lowers your unconscious estimation of your own social status (which seems to be partly what is meant by "confidence"/"self-esteem"). If that's true, prism glasses and standing desks could increase confidence.

Comment author: tgb 17 May 2013 02:34:32PM 8 points [-]

A ridiculous munchkin idea which has long been floating around this community is increasingly looking less ridiculous: transcranial direct current stimulation is shown to improve mental arithmetic and rote learning of things like times tables with differences significant even 6 months after training. Original paper.

Comment author: maia 10 May 2013 06:42:58PM 8 points [-]

In case anyone here hasn't heard of it, I've started using HabitRPG recently, and have really enjoyed using it so far.

Comment author: lsparrish 11 May 2013 12:49:53AM 20 points [-]

If you are new to a scientific topic, note that the first half of a paper often tends to summarize common knowledge within the field that is necessary to understand the conclusion. Often this is more readable/interesting than the rest of the paper, suggesting that you can spend more time reading scientific papers by skipping the denser and more original parts.

Comment author: aamilsyed 30 May 2013 05:58:12PM 7 points [-]

In India, the internet service provider "Tata Docomo" provides a wireless service called "Photon Plus" that uses a Huawei dongle to connect to the internet. I use this dongle and my plan consists of unlimited internet usage with speeds of 3.2 Mbps upto 5GB and then it is reduced to 153 Kbps (yeah! Imagine that!) for the rest of the month.

I have worked out a hack that gives me the full speed even after I have exhausted the 5GB data. I don't know if this is true about other service providers, but Tata Docomo tracks data usage every time I disconnect from the internet. So, if my earlier usage was 4GB and I have used 2GB in my current session, it won't be added to my total until I disconnect and end the session. So, even if I cross the 5GB limit in my current session, I still get the 3.2 Mbps as the records don't have me crossing the limit yet.

Thus, every month, I use the dongle for browsing etc until I reach close to the 5GB mark. Then I disconnect the dongle and then reconnect it, then I line up ALL the downloads that I have been saving for the month and don't disconnect again until all of them are completed.

Using this trick, I have been able to download more than 15GB data every month for the past 4 months. Unfortunately, there is a safety mechanism that the Tata Docome people have implemented, that disconnects the dongle automatically if it has been left connected for more than 24 hours. So, now I only have 24 hours to do my thing. But that is quite enough for my needs :)

Comment author: Caspian 11 May 2013 02:41:54AM 7 points [-]

Practice getting off the Internet and going to bed:

Starting while not absorbed in browsing the web, find some not-too-compelling website, browse for a few minutes (not enough to get really into it) and then go and lie in bed for a few minutes (which shouldn't feel as difficult as it's not committing to a full night's sleep). While in bed, let your mind wander away from the internet. This practice can lead into practice for getting out of bed.

I tried this a bit - I'm not sure it was worthwhile, as I did sometimes get absorbed in browsing when trying this exercise.

Comment author: ike 09 December 2014 05:00:32PM 6 points [-]

I started doing this a while ago.

There are a lot of fake memory cards going around on ebay. You can tell they are fake because they are going for a lot less (a third or less of the price, exact amount varies) than other places. They actually are just hacked to be less capacity than they claim. You can verify the exact capacity by using a program called h2testw.

I buy a few cards, wait for them to ship, dispute the transaction, and usually I get the money back without having to send back the item. (Once I had to send it back, but ebay paid for the shipping. Usually not, though.)

Viola, free memory cards. If you have paypal credit, it's even better, as you don't have to pay until later and you may cancel it before the payment is due. I'm ripping off scammers, so no ethical problems either.

Comment author: shminux 10 May 2013 07:35:58PM 6 points [-]

I thought that the distinguishing feature of munchkinry is that it's an ingenious solution which cannot be effectively reused, and thus its main utility is inspirational. Like the Kobayashi Maru test hacking, or winning a Game Room battle by rushing the gate, or, in less fictional cases, using airplanes as powerful incendiary projectiles, or winning over $100k by gaming a game show.

Comment author: elharo 15 May 2013 10:50:36AM *  16 points [-]

Boring munchkin technique #1: What if I told you there was a place you could go where they would give you books? paper or ebook, whichever you prefer. And if they didn't have the book you wanted, they would order it for you? And when you were done with the book. and didn't want it cluttering up your apartment any more, you could give it back to them; and they would store it for you until needed it again? So not only does this service get you books. It effectively increases the amount of living space you have, and the general neatness of your apartment or house. How much would you pay for such a service? $50 a month? $100 a month? $5000 a year? How much do you spend on books now that you have to store and manage?

Of course, you already know there is such a service, and it doesn't cost you even $10 a month. It's the public library. If you haven't stopped into your public library lately, it's time to check it out again. Public libraries have become a lot more effective in the last decade. You can now order books online, and have them delivered to your local branch, so if you remember a time when the library rarely had what you wanted, check again. It's no longer just a place to browse to find something to read. It's a place where you can find exactly the book you want. If library fines bother you, libraries will now send you email reminders to renew, and let you renew online. If you use ebooks, you don't even have to go to the library to pick up or return the books. Most libraries are much more convenient than they were even a few years ago.

It's not perfect. Most libraries don't have a lot of the more technical books, ebooks aren't as available as they should be (blame the publishers for that since they don't license a lot of ebooks to libraries) and occasionally you may have to bring a paper book back to the library before you're done with it because someone else wants to read it. However if your reading tastes aren't too esoteric, and you have access to a good library system in a major metropolitan area, then you can get 90% or more of your books from the public library. You will still buy a few books that they don't have available, or that you really want to consult every day for a year; but you can save a lot of money, time, and space by visiting your local library before you visit amazon.

Comment author: Wei_Dai 13 May 2013 08:39:59AM 22 points [-]

This is for people interested in optimizing for academic fame (for a given level of talent and effort and other costs). Instead of trying to get a PhD and a job in academia (which is very costly and due to "publish or perish" forces you to work on topics that are currently popular in academia), get a job that leaves you with a lot of free time, or find a way to retire early. Use your free time to search for important problems that are being neglected by academia. When you find one, pick off some of the low-hanging fruit in that area and publish your results somewhere. Then, (A) if you're impatient for recognition, use your results to make an undeniable impact on the world (see Bitcoin for example), or (B) if you're patient, move on to another neglected topic and repeat, knowing that in a few years or decades, the neglected topic you found will likely become a hot topic and you'll be credited for being the first to investigate it.

Comment author: satt 17 May 2013 01:29:32AM *  10 points [-]

Instead of trying to get a PhD and a job in academia (which is very costly and due to "publish or perish" forces you to work on topics that are currently popular in academia), get a job that leaves you with a lot of free time, or find a way to retire early.

On the bright side, if we forget the "job in academia" part and just focus on the "PhD" part, a PhD can fit these criteria reasonably well.

Before I justify that, I should acknowledge the many articles arguing, with some justice, that a PhD will ruin your life. These articles make fair points, although I notice they have a lot of overlap, mostly concluding that if you get a PhD you'll spend 6+ years running up masses of debt, with massive teaching loads and no health insurance, worked to death by an ogre as you try to spin literary criticism out of novels analyzed to death decades ago.

The obvious solution: don't do a PhD in a country where taking 7 years to finish is normal; don't do a PhD unless someone's paying you to do it; don't do a PhD in a department that assigns you endless teaching duties; don't do a PhD in a country without a universal healthcare system; don't choose a supervisor who exploits their students; and don't get a literature PhD.

A "don't" is less useful than a "do", so here are some possible "do"s I'd suggest as alternatives:

  • find PhD programmes where the successful students mostly finish within 4 years (in the UK, 3-4 years is a more typical PhD length than 6-7, but there is variation among universities)
  • explicitly say on your PhD applications that you can't afford to do the PhD unless the university waives the tuition fee and offers a stipend (this no doubt reduces your chances of getting a PhD place, but if you're allergic to debts you want to be selective here)
  • when you visit prospective departments, ask the professors and current PhD students how much teaching PhD students have to do (in some departments it's 100% optional, and pays you extra)
  • do a PhD in the UK, which has a health system where most medical services are free at the point of delivery
  • try to get an idea of how hard your potential PhD supervisors work their students (don't just talk to the supervisors themselves — try to talk to their current/former students one-on-one as well)
  • get a PhD in physics, statistics, accountancy, economics, or something else remunerative and popular with employers

With the usual worries about PhDs out of the way, I turn to Wei_Dai's concerns. The first is the publish or perish issue. If you're just doing a PhD, the publish or perish imperative is often weaker than for postdocs & professors. (This again varies with the field and the institution. For example, as I understand things, top-tier US economics PhD students normally publish 3 or 4 serious papers, and basically staple them together for their dissertation. On the other hand, some UK physics students get PhDs without publishing any journal papers at all.) The ultimate hurdle for your work is convincing your supervisor and the handful of external examiners reading your dissertation that it's worthwhile.

Along the same lines, you don't necessarily have to work on fashionable topics if you're getting a PhD. It's quite possible to work on something boring; it need only be just interesting enough to keep your supervisor on board and satisfy your other examiners. (You'll probably want a margin of safety, though, in case your work ends up more boring than expected.) A more objective (but still approximate) rule of thumb: your PhD should be interesting enough to be accepted by the same rank of journal as the papers it's citing. If your PhD doesn't need to serve as a step up into an academic job, it can be as boring as you like as long as it meets the baseline.

Lastly, what about free time? A lot of PhDs eat virtually all of your attention, but some offer ample free time in the first couple of years if the work involved isn't fiddly. For example, you might end up running lots of simulations with a computer program that's already been written. If so, you might well be able to go to your office in the morning, set a run going, and spend the afternoon doing something else.

One catch is that it's not trivial to tell which PhDs are low-effort before the fact. Even if your supervisor accurately tells you what they expect from you, and the other students accurately report that they don't spend much time poring over their work, you might still get unlucky and end up slaving over a computer or an experiment or some equations for 16 hours a day, because research is unpredictable. (Still, compare it to the main alternative: people routinely underestimate how long they'll spend at the workplace — and commuting! — for normal jobs, too. It's not obvious that PhDs are more unpredictable in this regard.)

Nonetheless, if you plan ahead to do straightforward work for an easy-going supervisor who's not in the office most days, you might well be able to spend most days off campus yourself, doing your own independent research instead. And while you're a student, there's nothing stopping you from visiting other departments at your university to pick the brains over there!

Use your free time to search for important problems that are being neglected by academia. When you find one, pick off some of the low-hanging fruit in that area

I don't have any tips for this, though.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 13 May 2013 10:51:10PM 5 points [-]

Hanson has a post somewhere about how the first-movers often don't get credited, just the prestigious second-movers.

Comment author: Wei_Dai 15 May 2013 12:24:31PM 6 points [-]

It could be that prestigious second-movers deserve the credit if they are responsible for getting people to pay attention to the previously neglected topics, and possibly we already credit first-movers more than we should (which is why I said "optimize for academic fame" instead of "positive social impact"). Which brings up a question: what determines the topics that academia pays attention to? If we had a good model for that, maybe we could use it to generate some munchkin ideas for making it pay attention to important but neglected ideas?

Comment author: CronoDAS 25 May 2013 04:27:38AM *  5 points [-]

Throughout history, a proven and popular method of acquiring wealth is to marry somebody rich.

How to accomplish this is left as an exercise for the reader. ;)

Comment author: Omid 10 May 2013 07:07:50PM *  5 points [-]
  1. Find a job that you can do remotely. Camming, tutoring, and hypnosis are low-barrier jobs that fit the bill, but if you have the skills you can do things like consulting or programming.
  2. Move to a country a low cost of living and/or low income tax. Costa Rica has a flat tax of 15% on self-employed workers, and a fairly liberal visa policy for people who work via the Internet. EU citizens should consider Bulgaria, which has a 10% flat tax on self-employed residents and about 1/3 the cost of living as the UK.
  3. Save money!
Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 11 May 2013 08:10:19AM 7 points [-]

I always figured a better idea was to live in an area with really high cost of living with salaries to match (e.g. be a software developer in Silicon Valley or a quant in New York), but maintain a middle-class standard of living, save a big chunk of your salary, and then go live in an area where the cost of living was much lower.

Comment author: Jiro 10 May 2013 08:17:10PM 14 points [-]
  1. Obtaining a remoteable job is much like obtaining a job with any other specific benefit: the market is going to arrange things so that jobs with the benefit pay less in other ways, on the average, than jobs without it. And given the paucity of remoteable jobs, you've drastically cut down your options.
  2. Living in a faraway country means that you are far away from relatives whom you might want to visit.
  3. Living in a faraway country means either learning the local language or being at a serious disadvantage.
  4. Living in a faraway country means living in another culture. Very basic things that we take for granted in our country might not exist in others. Do you even know the correct way to bribe public officials? What's your social life going to be like when few people watch the same TV shows or read the same books as you? Are you sure you like the other culture's food, and want to follow their holidays instead of your own? Is the other country going to be more tolerant of weirdos, and are you going to be perceived as even more of a weirdo than you might be in the US? If you have kids, what's the school system like? Are people with your religion going to be as accepted as in the US? Do people in the other country resent (or even just look down on while being glad to take the money of) foreigners?
  5. If a job is available for you in the foreign country, it's equally available to local residents. If you could program by long distance, the company you work for could just hire a programmer from the country instead, and he wouldn't demand American salaries.
  6. If you do lose your job, how are you going to find another one? Fly to America for the interview, while unemployed?
  7. Did you actually consult with a tax lawyer? (The US still taxes expatriates.)
Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 12 May 2013 08:16:42AM 4 points [-]

Is the other country going to be more tolerant of weirdos, and are you going to be perceived as even more of a weirdo than you might be in the US?

Foreigners might get more latitude for being weird. The locals will chalk up some degree of idiosyncratic weirdness as cultural differences, and won't expect full familiarity with the local social conventions.

Comment author: amitpamin 12 May 2013 08:23:48PM 5 points [-]

I've done this twice in my life. First, when I was in college, I took a semester to study abroad in china while continuing my old job for a SF startup remotely. I felt rich, yes. But it was a failure - first and foremost, I want to hang out with people whom I can communicate and enjoy my time with. I learned this lesson after trying this again, but this time, moving to India for 3 months. I am Indian, so I didn't expect the cultural barrier to be as much of a problem. It was.

Comment author: maia 11 May 2013 02:54:19AM 4 points [-]

A less drastic version of this, if you are in the US, is to do remote work from a thinly-populated rural state with a low cost of living, and ideally with lower state taxes.

But the problem with that is that you have to live in rural America.

Comment author: CAE_Jones 12 May 2013 12:46:06PM 4 points [-]

I've been thinking about exactly this. The town where I live is on Kiplinger's top ten best (American) towns for cheapskates, and I've researched the cost of living and such, and it'd be easy to live comfortably on $2000/month (or $1000 or less, if I didn't have student loans to pay). It helps that this town tanked the recession rather well and is constantly growing, so anyone more competent than me can probably find something to exploit for living expenses.

But the culture, the wildlife, the weather, and the logistics of traveling anywhere at all (I'm at least two miles from the nearest sidewalk that isn't driveway-to-porch) are... a bit troubling. I've been seriously researching and comparing here to places like the Bay Area lately, since I really need to change something soon, and I'm still not reasonably sure of what that will be.

Comment author: palladias 14 May 2013 05:33:37AM *  4 points [-]

I'm not having much trouble living in the Bay Area on <$2000/mo, so I really doubt it's worth living somewhere without an Exploratorium

Comment author: D_Malik 10 May 2013 12:01:01PM *  26 points [-]

To encourage yourself to do some massive, granular task:

  • Upon completion of each granule, give yourself a reward with some probability.

  • A reward is a small piece of food or a sip of a drink, etc.

  • Never eat or drink anything except as a reward for working on the task.

This really works extremely well for me; I have been doing this for about 2 months, at first only with anki reviews and more recently for several other things. The feeling is very similar to addictions like video games or entertaining websites; I often think "I should probably go do X, but let me instead do just one more anki card" and a half-hour later I realize I still haven't done X.

More things:

  • Make the rewards unlikely and small so that you stay constantly hungry. Bonus: caloric restriction.

  • Create a timed reminder, say half-hourly, to do just a few granules of the task. This encourages episodes of the "just one more" effect.

  • Put reinforcers within arm's reach, both temporally (make granules easy and quick, so that hunger feels like an urge to do the task rather than an urge to cheat the system) and spacially (so that you are constantly reminded of your hunger and tempted to do the task).

I repeat: this works extremely well for me and I strongly encourage other people to try it. More details here.

Here is a graph showing the number of Anki reviews I've done every month for the past year, as an example of the results this method can produce.

Comment author: amitpamin 12 May 2013 08:16:32PM 4 points [-]

I have tried several variants of this process. As expected, the largest road-block has been part 3 - the self-control not to consume the reward despite lack of completion.

I will mention that on the few occasions I have gotten this to work, my excitement and enjoyment was much higher than average. The desire and excitement for food seemed to translate into the task at hand.

Comment author: Baughn 10 May 2013 11:39:18PM 13 points [-]

Use a tool like f.lux to change the color temperature of your screen depending on time of day.

Your eyes will be much happier when it matches the surrounding room, and/or lowering the temperature when it's close to bed-time will help you fall asleep.

Comment author: gwern 10 May 2013 04:24:53PM *  13 points [-]

For instance, a recent post advocated installing really bright lights as a way to boost alertness and productivity. We should not adopt such hacks into our dogma until we're pretty sure they work

Why's that? Please remember the value of information here! Bright lights cost very little either upfront (maybe like <$100?) or on an ongoing basis (higher electrical bill), while an experiment may be very costly (or so I infer from the near-absence of anyone but me doing randomized self-experiments), and the benefits cumulatively large over the X years a bright light will last before breaking or burning out; hence, the best course may be simply to try it out.

Comment author: orthonormal 17 May 2013 04:03:53AM 5 points [-]

Agreed in particular, disagree in general: several of the plausible suggestions here could have significant downside risks. In particular, I'm not going to switch to Soylent or create a tulpa until I've seen good evidence that it doesn't wreck any significant fraction of people's lives.

Comment author: baiter 16 May 2013 10:40:12AM 12 points [-]

The Scientific 7-Minute Workout

In 12 exercises deploying only body weight, a chair and a wall, it fulfills the latest mandates for high-intensity effort, which essentially combines a long run and a visit to the weight room into about seven minutes of steady discomfort — all of it based on science.

Comment author: [deleted] 14 May 2013 02:02:21AM *  12 points [-]

Need some dead animal flesh in your diet on a budget? Organ meats are cheap, healthy, but (ymmv) still tasty. The chicken livers I got this week were less than a dollar per serving, and they're full of vitamins and protein. Chicken hearts are ~$2 per pound at my store and have a milder flavor if you find livers unpalatable. Not sure if I should have posted this here or in the Boring Advice Repository.

Comment author: hyporational 18 May 2013 05:05:30AM 8 points [-]

A word of caution though: you could easily get too much vitamin A from eating liver. This might lead to permanent liver damage among other problems.

Comment author: kalium 14 May 2013 07:20:37PM 10 points [-]

Related: chicken feet are also about $2/lb at my store, but yield many times more broth than a similar amount of meat or bones. It's also much tastier than canned broth, and you can make it very strong and store it compactly in the freezer for a long time. And you get to chase your roommate around with a terrifying scaly dinosaur foot whose claws open and close as you pull on the tendons.

Some butchers will give away soup bones for free as well.

Comment author: James_Miller 11 May 2013 06:17:38AM *  12 points [-]

Cold Thermogenesis

Taking very cold showers or baths. You gradually decrease the temperature of your shower over several weeks. I can now take a shower or bath with the water on just cold. Other people use ice to lower the temperature of their baths even further.

Some claim that it has significant health benefits, but I haven't noticed any although I haven't been doing it for very long. Still, it's neat to be able to modify your body to tolerate something that would have previously caused unbearable pain.

Here is some discussion of cold thermogenesis on a paleo website.

Comment author: moridinamael 13 May 2013 10:40:25PM 9 points [-]

Just wanted to say that I've always wanted to take cold showers but never managed to pull it off because my body refuses to step into the cold shower stream. Somehow, until I read your post, it never occurred to me that I could start the shower at a nice warm temperature, step in, and then turn it down over the course of a few seconds. I've been doing this successfully for a few days and feeling great. Thanks!

Comment author: syllogism 12 May 2013 07:30:52PM *  18 points [-]

(The below is stated with no modulation for my level of confidence, which actually isn't very high.)

MDMA is a useful way to improve social skills permanently, or help make you more emotionally available.

While under the influence of it, you're very empathic, and very socially fearless. The experiences you have talking to people in this state can then transfer to when you're sober. For instance, you might notice that your openness is well-received, which lets you see that you've been under-confident.

Many people do something similar with alcohol: they learn to socialise when drunk, and that makes it easier to socialise when not drunk. I believe MDMA is better for this purpose, because it doesn't inhibit your memory at all, and you're more "yourself" than when drunk.

To get this benefit it's important to take a well-tolerated dose, and not to drink much: you don't want to be a mangled mess, or the next day you'll just be embarrassed, especially because you'll be mildly depressed from the come-down.

I've found MDMA to be quite addictive, and most users have trouble controlling their use once they are on the drug: they'll re-dose, even if they hadn't planned to, once the first dose begins to fade. So this "hack" is far from free of danger. But I believe the cost/benefit is still better than alcohol for many situations.

Comment author: Nisan 13 May 2013 03:07:44PM 4 points [-]

What's your dosage schedule? Have you noticed a decreased ability to experience pleasure?

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 13 June 2013 05:37:41AM *  4 points [-]

Get brain-fog from eating an excessive amount of simple carbohydrates? Try donating whole blood (thereby causing new blood to be created that will be closer to default levels of blood-sugar, insulin, etc...).

Comment author: TrE 13 May 2013 08:41:34PM 4 points [-]

This one just jumped into my mind, I've not tried it yet, but it seems reasonable: If you have a good amount of money left, use amazon mechanical turk for easily learnable but boring and time-consuming work.

Comment author: Omid 10 May 2013 07:28:47PM *  27 points [-]

How to find a mate when you have really specific tastes:

  1. Think about the kind of fiction your ideal mate would want to read.
  2. Write that kind of fiction.
  3. Start a website compiling your fiction. Hire someone off DeviantArt to illustrate it.
  4. Once you've got a decent fanbase, post a message on your website saying that you are looking for a mate.
  5. Read emails from fans who say they want to be your mate.

Why I think this will work: A while ago I posted a romantic/erotic story to Reddit (which is 3/4 male). I hadn't seen the fantasy represented in any romance/erotica I'd ever read, so I figured I was alone in desiring it. Imagine my surprise when two women sent me unsolicited PM's asking me to role-play.

Comment author: gwern 10 May 2013 09:32:46PM 11 points [-]

Why I think this will work: A while ago I posted a romantic/erotic story to Reddit (which is 3/4 male). I hadn't seen the fantasy represented in any romance/erotica I'd ever read, so I figured I was alone in desiring it. Imagine my surprise when two women sent me unsolicited PM's asking me to role-play.

But on the other hand, writers are routinely surprised by the audiences their material finds - and don't find. So you need some way of evaluating your current audience to see if your ideal mate is actually likely to be in it, or if your cute pony show turned out to have many nerdy male fans instead...

Comment author: Omid 10 May 2013 09:47:05PM *  4 points [-]

I think most MLP fans are in the intended demographic. Teenage male fans are simply more salient than grade-school female fans.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 10 May 2013 09:24:09PM 14 points [-]

This works better when some of the MOTAS who read the fiction have also met you in the flesh (N=2). Also, having at least one protagonist who shares some of the more prominent features of your personality (i.e., your warped sense of humor if you're liable to inflict that on your mate) might be more effective at selecting on the audience (if they like the protagonist, they may be able to tolerate your own twisted humor) but here I haven't tried it your way for comparison.

Comment author: CronoDAS 16 May 2013 05:32:14AM 14 points [-]

I have a horrible thought.

Most (legally acquired) debts are dischargeable in bankruptcy. That puts a floor on the amount of money one can lose. If your net worth is "almost nothing" and you can find suckers, er, I mean, organizations with loose standards that are willing to lend you money, then the expected utility of risky bets changes in a way that favors you - because going bankrupt while owing $10,000 isn't much different than going bankrupt while owing $500,000. Of course, going bankrupt is still pretty bad either way, but the upside of winning a risky, highly leveraged bet can also be correspondingly large...

Personally, I don't think this is a good idea and is probably unethical anyway, but it is the kind of crazy thing a certain kind of munchkin would do...

Comment author: D_Malik 16 May 2013 05:32:28PM *  27 points [-]

probably unethical anyway

Sure, but it's a way to sell a small part of your soul for lots of money. You can then do an arbitrage operation, by using that money to buy lots of cheap soul, e.g. through efficient charity.

Comment author: MichaelVassar 18 May 2013 11:42:34AM 8 points [-]

Whether it's unethical would seem to me to depend on who you are raising the money from and what they perceive the rules of the game to be. From my perspective, doing the submissive, 'morally cautious', un-winning thing rather than the game theoretical thing is unethical.

Comment author: drnickbone 16 May 2013 06:46:00AM 8 points [-]

This is called moral hazard. If the "suckers" who loaned you the money are "too big to fail" and in turn need bailing out, it is a form of negative externality.

Plenty of examples here in the recent financial crisis...

Comment author: CronoDAS 16 May 2013 06:53:57AM *  5 points [-]

This is called moral hazard.

Indeed it is!

Compare strategic default.

Comment author: knb 10 May 2013 09:33:37PM 9 points [-]

LASIK surgery is now pretty cheap, and depending on how much you spend on new glasses, optometrist appointments, contact lenses etc., it might actually pay for itself eventually. It should also save you time and effort, and might make you look better.

Comment author: D_Malik 10 May 2013 07:35:37PM 9 points [-]

Showering daily seems to be unhealthy; decreasing shower frequency would save time, and it might be easy to control body odor with antiperspirants. Here's an NYT article.

Relatedly, there exist forms of clothing that stay wrinkle- and odor-free for 100 days of wearing without washing, though at the moment a shirt costs $100.

Comment author: knb 10 May 2013 09:00:53PM *  12 points [-]

A less radical version of this is to take only short, lukewarm showers. Taking a fast, 3-5 minute lukewarm shower seems to get almost all of the benefits of long, hot, soapy showers with very few of the negative side-effects. It also saves time.

I made the switch years ago, and I find that my dry skin problems are entirely solved. I still take a hot and soapy shower occasionally, but it isn't an every day kind of thing.

Comment author: Omid 10 May 2013 08:11:13PM 5 points [-]

Aren't antiperspirants unhealthy?

Comment author: D_Malik 10 May 2013 01:12:53PM 9 points [-]

It seems to be possible to create sexual fetishes through classical conditioning, and it's hypothesized that this is how most sexual fetishes are created. It might be possible to use this to increase motivation for some specific task. I have not tried this, though I have unsuccessfully tried using pornographic images as reinforcement for anki reviews, using my picture-flasher plugin.

Comment author: ChristianKl 10 May 2013 05:02:33PM 17 points [-]

I think there a fairly good chance that the pornographic images will put you into a mental state where you can't effectively concentrate on Anki reviews.

Comment author: JoshuaFox 01 July 2013 03:40:05PM *  8 points [-]

In academia, Munchkining has recently taken off.

These techniques for getting tenure have long existed, but they have been codified only in the last few years.

  • Self-citation

  • Multiple publication of the same materials.

  • To aid in citing several of your own articles that are effectively the same article, rotate "first author" privileges among coauthors so that multiple self-citations don't occur near each other in the alphabetically ordered bibliography.

  • And many more. Here is a selection.

Comment author: D_Malik 10 May 2013 07:21:49PM 8 points [-]

Living in a van seems like it could decrease your cost of living a lot more than it decreases your quality of life. Getting set up in a van would cost about $12k, so it could pay for itself in a year. Here is a good guide on this.

One could also consider going completely homeless; here is an article by a math student who did that.

Comment author: Kevin 10 May 2013 10:17:23PM 11 points [-]

In the crazy economics of Bay Area housing, driveway parking for a van in a desirable location with electricity and shower access is $200-$300/month.

Comment author: moridinamael 10 May 2013 07:25:58PM 12 points [-]

Until a few years ago, students were permitted to sleep overnight on the ubiquitous couches in the university student center of my Alma Mater. There are tales of a student who eschewed paying for housing and simply slept on the couches of the student center, and used locker room showers, for an entire year.

Unfortunately this individual's munchkinism led to the policy being revised to prevent this behavior - or so the tale goes.

Comment author: D_Malik 10 May 2013 01:27:19PM 27 points [-]

A tulpa is an "imaginary friend" (a vivid hallucination of an external consciousness) created through intense prolonged visualization/practice (about an hour a day for two months). People who claim to have created tulpas say that the hallucination looks and sounds realistic. Some claim that the tulpa can remember things they've consciously forgotten or is better than them at mental math.

Here's an FAQ, a list of guides and a subreddit.

Not sure whether this is actually possible (I'd guess it would be basically impossible for the 3% of people who are incapable of mental imagery, for instance); many people on the subreddit are unreliable, such as occult enthusiasts (who believe in magick and think that tulpas are more than just hallucinations) and 13-year-old boys.

If this is real, there's probably some way of using this to develop skills faster or become more productive.

Comment author: FiftyTwo 10 May 2013 10:17:38PM 25 points [-]

I would think there should be a general warning against deliberately promoting the effects of dissociative identity disorder etc, without adequate medical supervision.

Comment author: ialdabaoth 14 May 2013 05:19:28AM *  11 points [-]

As someone who both successfully experimented with tulpa creation in his youth, and who has since developed various mental disorders (mostly neuroticisms involving power- and status-mediated social realities), I would strongly second this warning. Correlation isn't causation, of course, but at the very least I've learned to adjust my priors upwards regarding the idea that Crowley-style magickal experimentation can be psychologically damaging.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 12 May 2013 06:04:45PM 18 points [-]

I really doubt that tulpas have much to do with DID, or with anything dangerous for that matter. Based on my admittedly anecdotal experience, a milder version of having them is at least somewhat common among writers and role-players, who say that they're able to talk to the fictional characters they've created. The people in question seem... well, as sane as you get when talking about strongly creative people. An even milder version, where the character you're writing or role-playing just takes a life of their own and acts in a completely unanticipated manner, but one that's consistent with their personality, is even more common, and I've personally experienced it many times. Once the character is well-formed enough, it just feels "wrong" to make them act in some particular manner that goes against their personality, and if you force them to do it anyway you'll feel bad and guilty afterwards.

I would presume that tulpas are nothing but our normal person-emulation circuitry acting somewhat more strongly than usual. You know those situations where you can guess what your friend would say in response to some comment, or when you feel guilty about doing something that somebody important to you would disapprove of? Same principle, quite probably.

Comment author: klkblake 22 May 2013 01:10:41PM 10 points [-]

This article seems relevant (if someone can find a less terrible pdf, I would appreciate it). Abstract:

The illusion of independent agency (IIS) occurs when a fictional character is experienced by the person who created it as having independent thoughts, words, and/or actions. Children often report this sort of independence in their descriptions of imaginary companions. This study investigated the extent to which adult writers experience IIA with the characters they create for their works of fiction. Fifty fiction writers were interviewed about the development of their characters and their memories for childhood imaginary companions. Ninety-two percent of the writers reported at least some experience of IIA. The writers who had published their work had more frequent and detailed reports of IIA, suggesting that the illusion could be related to expertise. As a group, the writers scored higher than population norms in empathy, dissociation, and memories for childhood imaginary companions.

The range of intensities reported by the writers seems to match up with the reports in r/Tulpas, so I think it's safe to say that it is the same phenomena, albeit achieved via slightly different means.

Some interesting parts from the paper regarding dissociative disorder:

The subjects completed the Dissociative Experiences Scale, which yields an overall score, as well as scores on three subscales:

  • Absorption and changeability: people's tendency to become highly engrossed in activities (items such as "Some people find that they become so involved in a fantasy or daydream that it feels as though it were really happening to them).
  • Amnestic experiences: the degree to which dissociation causes gaps in episodic memory ("Some people have the experience of finding things among their belongings that they do not remember buying").
  • Derealisation and depersonalisation: things like "Some people sometimes have the experience of feeling that their body does not belong to them".

The subjects scored an overall mean score of 18.52 (SD 16.07), whereas the general population score a mean of 7.8, and a group of schizophrenics scored 17.7. Scores of 30 are a commonly used cutoff for "normal" scores. Seven subjects exceeded this threshold. The mean scores for the subscales were:

  • Absorption and changeability: 26.22 (SD 14.65).
  • Amnestic experiences: 6.80 (SD 8.30).
  • Derealisation and depersonalisation: 7.84 (SD 7.39).

The latter two subscales are considered particularly diagnostic of dissociative disorders, and the subjects did not differ from the population norms on these. They each had only one subject score over 30 (not the same subject).

What I draw from this: Tulpas are the same phenomenon as writers interacting with their characters. Creating tulpas doesn't cause other symptoms associated with dissociative disorders. There shouldn't be any harmful long-term effects (if there were, we should have noticed them in writers). That said, there are some interactions that some people have with their tulpas that are outside the range (to my knowledge) of what writers do:

  • Possession
  • Switching
  • Merging

The tulpa community generally endorses the first two as being safe, and claims the last to be horribly dangerous and reliably ending in insanity and/or death. I suspect the first one would be safe, but would not recommend trying any of them without more information.

(Note: This is not my field, and I have little experience with interpreting research results. Grains of salt, etc.)

Comment author: D_Malik 11 May 2013 12:07:20PM *  9 points [-]

I think tulpas are more like schizophrenia than dissociative identity disorder. But now that you mention it, dissociative identity disorder does look like fertile ground for finding more munchkinly ideas.

For instance, at least one person I know has admitted to mentally pretending to be another person I know in order to be more extroverted. Maybe this could be combined with tulpas, say by visualizing/hallucinating that you're being possessed by a tulpa.

Comment author: [deleted] 14 May 2013 04:00:06AM 11 points [-]

I've always pretended to be <X> in order to get whatever skill I've needed. I just call it "putting on hats". I learned to dance by pretending to be a dancer, I learned to sing by pretending to be a singer. When I teach, I pretend to be a teacher, and when I lead I pretend to be a leader (these last two actually came a lot easier to me when I was teaching hooping than now when I'm teaching rationality stuffs, and I haven't really sat down to figure out why. I probably should though, because I am significantly better at <X> when I can pretend to be it. And I highly value being better at these specific skills right now.)

I had always thought everyone did this, but now I see I might be generalizing from one example.

Comment author: hylleddin 12 May 2013 04:57:59AM 35 points [-]

As someone with a tulpa, I figure I should probably share my experiences. Vigil has been around since I was 11 or 12, so I can't effectively compare my abilities before and after he showed up.

He has dedicated himself to improving our rationality, and has been a substantial help in pointing out fallacies in my thinking. However, we're skeptical that this is anything a more traditional inner monologue wouldn't figure out. The biggest apparent benefit is that being a tulpa allows him a greater degree of mental flexibility than me, making it easier for him to point out and avoid motivated thinking. Unfortunately, we haven't found a way to test this.

I'm afraid he doesn't know any "tricks" like accessing subconscious thoughts or super math skills.

While Vigil has been around for over a decade, I only found out about the tulpa community very recently, so I know very little about it. I also don't know anything about creating them intentionally, he just showed up one day.

If you have any questions for me or him, we're happy to answer.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 12 May 2013 05:55:19AM 55 points [-]

...just to be clear on this, you have a persistent hallucination who follows you around and offers you rationality advice and points out fallacies in your thinking?

If I ever go insane, I hope it's like this.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 12 May 2013 12:14:01PM 25 points [-]

Would what's considered a normal sense of self count as a persistent hallucination?

Comment author: shminux 13 May 2013 10:09:29PM 8 points [-]

See "free will".

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 15 May 2013 11:19:37PM 13 points [-]

...just to be clear on this, you have a persistent hallucination who follows you around and offers you rationality advice and points out fallacies in your thinking?

This is strikingly similar to Epictetus' version of Stoic meditation whereby you imagine a sage to be following you around throughout the day and critiquing your thought patterns and motives while encouraging you towards greater virtue.

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 15 May 2013 11:46:05PM 13 points [-]


I mean, if 10 years from now, when you are doing something quick and dirty, you suddenly visualize that I am looking over your shoulders and say to yourself "Dijkstra would not have liked this", well, that would be enough immortality for me.

Edsger W. Dijkstra

Comment author: hylleddin 13 May 2013 07:37:42PM 7 points [-]

The hallucination doesn't have auditory or visual components, but does have a sense of presence component that varies in strength.

Comment author: komponisto 12 May 2013 07:04:39AM 9 points [-]

Indeed, this style of insanity might beat sanity.

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 13 May 2013 10:20:42PM 14 points [-]

Tulpas, especially as construed in this subthread, remind me of daimones in Walter Jon Williams' Aristoi. I've always thought that having / being able to create such mental entities would be super-cool; but I do worry about detrimental effects on mental health of following the methods described in the tulpa community.

Comment author: shminux 13 May 2013 10:11:48PM *  4 points [-]

Would Vigil want to post under his own nick? If so, better register it while still available.

Comment author: Vigil 14 May 2013 08:31:31PM 13 points [-]

That's a good idea, thanks. Note that my host's posting has significant input from me, so this account is only likely to be used for disagreements and things addressed specifically to me.

Comment author: Mario 16 May 2013 02:17:30AM *  6 points [-]

I can't believe that this is something people talk about. I've had a group of people in my head for years, complete with the mindscape the reddit FAQ talks about. I just thought I was a little bit crazy; it's nice to see that there's a name for it.

I can't imagine having to deal with just one though. I started with four, which seemed like a good idea when I was eleven, and I found that distracting enough. Having only one sounds like being locked in a small room with only one companion -- I'd rather be in solitary. I kept creating more regardless, and I finally ended up with sixteen (many of those only half-formed, to be fair), before I figured out how to get them to talk amongst themselves and leave me alone. Most are still there (a few seem to have disappeared), I just stay out of that room.

My advice would be to avoid doing this at all, but if you do, create at least two, and give them a nice room (or set of rooms) to stay in with a defined exit. You'll thank me later.

Comment author: Tuxedage 11 May 2013 01:53:54AM *  14 points [-]

Since we're talking about Tulpas, I feel obligated to mention that I have one. In case anyone wants anecdata.

Comment author: Decius 11 May 2013 02:28:19AM 4 points [-]

What would you estimate the cost/benefit ratio to be, and what variables do you think are most relevant?

Comment author: Tuxedage 11 May 2013 02:44:55AM *  8 points [-]

Without going into detail, overall my usage of Tulpas have benefited me more than it has hurt me, although it has somewhat hurt me in my early childhood when I would accidentally create Tulpas and not realize that they were a part of my imagination (And imagine them to come from an external source.) It's very difficult to say if the same would apply for anyone else, since Your Mileage May Vary.

I also suspect creating Tulpas may come significantly easier for some people than others, and this may affect the cost-benefit analysis. Tulpas come very naturally for me, and as I've mentioned, my first Tulpa was completely accidental and I did not even realize it was a Tulpa until a year or two later. On the other hand, I've read posts about people on /r/Tulpa that have spend hours daily trying to force Tulpas without actually managing to create them. If I had to spend an hour every day in order to obtain a Tulpa, I wouldn't even bother -- also because there's no way I'm willing to sacrifice that much time for a Tulpa. But the fact that I can will a Tulpa into existence relatively easily helps.

A different variable that may affect whether having a Tulpa is worth it is if you have social desires that are nearly impossible to satisfy through non-tulpa outlets such as meatspace friends. In this case, I do, and I satisfy these desires through Tulpas rather than forcing another human being to conform to my expectations. This also improves my ability to relate to others in real life, since I more easily accept imperfections from them. I suspect that if you're cognitively similar, you may benefit from Tulpas. I can't think of anything else right now, and if you have anything more specific, it may trigger more thoughts on the matter.

Comment author: Decius 11 May 2013 09:52:14PM 5 points [-]

Has your Tulpa ever won an argument with you that you didn't already know you wanted to lose?

Comment author: ChristianKl 10 May 2013 05:36:54PM 16 points [-]

It's interesting that demons in computer science are called that way. They have exactly the same functionality as the demons that occult enthusiasts proclaim to use.

Even if you don't believe in the occult, be aware that out culture has a lot of stories about how summoning demons might be a bad idea.

You are moving in territory where you don't have mainstream psychology knowledge that guides you and shows you where the dangers lie. You are left with a mental framework of occult defense against evil forces. It's the only knowledge that you can access to guide that way. Having to learn to protect yourself against evil spirits when you don't believe in spirits is a quite messed up.

I had an experience where my arm moved around if I didn't try to control it consciously after doing "spirit healing". I didn't believe in spirits and was fairly confident that it's just my brain doing weird stuff. On the other hand I had to face the fact that the brain doing weird stuff might not be harmless. Fortunately the thing went away after a few month with the help of a person who called it a specter without me saying anything specific about it.

You can always say: "Well, it's just my mind doing something strange." At the same time it's a hard confrontation.

Comment author: someonewrongonthenet 13 May 2013 12:35:11AM *  4 points [-]

Even if you don't believe in the occult, be aware that out culture has a lot of stories about how summoning demons might be a bad idea.

Isn't this more like, our (human) culture has a ton of instances when "summoning" "demons" is encouraged, and Christianity didn't like it and so ...demonized...it?

Comment author: Kindly 16 May 2013 03:47:01AM 4 points [-]

Some thoughts about how to munchkin tulpas:

  1. If domain experts say that the obvious ways to exploit having a tulpa fail, they are probably right. That means I'm skeptical about things such as "tulpa will remind you to do your homework ahead of time and do mental math for you".

  2. The most promising idea is to exploit your interpersonal instincts: trick your brain into thinking someone is there. This has benefits for social extraverts, for people who are more productive when working in groups, or for people susceptible to peer pressure (maybe you'd be uncomfortable picking your nose in front of your imaginary friend).

  3. But if this works, presumably there is a corresponding downside for people who enjoy being left alone to think.

  4. Probably the scariest objection I've seen here is that a tulpa might make you dumber due to diverting concentration. But I'm not sure this is obviously true, in the same way that always carrying a set of weights will not make you weaker. I'm not sure this is obviously false either, and I don't see a good way to find out.

Comment author: klkblake 12 May 2013 01:54:53PM 4 points [-]

This is fascinating. I'm rather surprised that people seem to be able to actually see their tulpa after a while. I do worry about the ethical implications though -- with what we see with split brain patients, it seems plausible that a tulpa may actually be a separate person. Indeed, if this is true, and the tulpa's memories aren't being confabulated on the spot, it would suggest that the host would lose the use of the part of their brain that is running the tulpa, decreasing their intelligence. Which is a pity, because I really want to try this, but I don't want to risk permanently decreasing my intelligence.

Comment author: drnickbone 16 May 2013 01:47:50PM *  5 points [-]

I do worry about the ethical implications though -- with what we see with split brain patients, it seems plausible that a tulpa may actually be a separate person.

So, "Votes for tulpas" then! How many of them can you create inside one head?

The next stage would be "Vote for tulpas!".

Getting a tulpa elected as president using the votes of other tulpas would be a real munchkin coup...

Comment author: Plasmon 10 May 2013 01:35:12PM 4 points [-]

This reminds me of the Abramelin operation, a ritual that supposedly summons guardian angels.

Comment author: bramflakes 10 May 2013 01:32:50PM *  4 points [-]

Tulpas and other such experiences seem plausible given how prone we are to hallucinating things anyway (see intense religious experiences for example), and I wouldn't be surprised if some people would be able to create them consciously. However I doubt that most people can do this. The regulars of /r/tulpas are probably not very representative of the population at large, whether through their unusual proficiency with mental imagery or some deeper eccentricity.

Creating a tulpa in order to develop skills faster or become more productive might work, but the question is whether the gains weighted by probability of success are higher than other, more conventional (and indeed, mentally healthy) methods. I think not.

Comment author: CellBioGuy 10 May 2013 06:18:45PM *  8 points [-]

I am reminded of an occult practice I have heard of called evoking or assuming a godform, in which one temporarily assumes the role of a 'god' - a personification of some aspect of humanity which is conceived of as having infinite capability in some sphere of activity, often taken from an ancient pantheon to give it personality and depth. With your mind temporarily working in that framework, it 'rubs off' on your everyday activities and you sometimes stop limiting yourself and do things that you wouldnt do before in that sphere of endeavor.

It looks like people trying to intentionally produce personifications with similarities to all sorts of archetypes and minor deities that people have dealt with across history. People have been doing this as long as there have been people, just normally by invoking personifications and archetypes from their culture, not trying to create their own. The saner strands of modern neopagans and occultists acknowledge that these archetypes only exist in the mind but make the point that they have effects in the real world through human action, especially when they are in the minds of many people. You also don't need to hallucinate to use an archetype as a focus for thought about a matter (example: "what would Jesus do?"), and trying to actually get one strong enough to hallucinate during normal consciousness (as opposed to say, dreaming) seems unhealthy.

I can, though, relay an interesting experience I had in unintentionally constructing some kind of similar mental archetype while dreaming that kind of stuck around in my mind for a while. I didn't reach into any pantheon though, my mind reached to a mythology which has had its claws in my psyche since childhood - star trek. Q is always trolling the crew of the Enterprise for humanity's benefit, in attempts to get them to meet their potential and progress in understanding or test them. He was there, and let's just say I was thoroughly trolled in a dream, in ways that emphasized certain capabilities of mine that I was not using. And just before waking up he specifically told me that he would be watching me with my own eyes since he was actully part of me that normally didn't speak. That sense of part of me watching and making sure I actually did what I was capable of stuck around for over a week.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 12 May 2013 06:10:38PM 6 points [-]

On the topic of religious experiences, I found this bit from the linked tulpa FAQ very interesting:

By talking and fleshing out something to your own subconscious for so long, you start to receive answers from them. The answers will tend to align themselves with all the preconceived traits you give them. The answers you get may surprise you, and in doing so show independent sentience. This sentience can be thought of as the "core" of the tulpa. The rest is just building a form in your mind for them to take, allowing for deviation of that form, and finally trying to visualize the form and experience it in sensory detail in your own environment until it becomes natural and you do it without thinking about it.

That sounds quite strongly like some believers' experience of being able to talk to God and hearing Him answer back would be a manifestation of the same phenomenon. A while back, gwern was pasting excerpts from a book which talked about religious communities where the ability to talk with God was considered a skill that you needed to hone with regular practice. That sounds strongly reminiscent of this: talk to God long enough, and eventually you'll get back an answer - from an emulated mind that aligns itself with the preconceived traits you give it.