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Why I'm Blooking

17 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 15 September 2007 05:49PM

Yesterday being my 100th Overcoming Bias post, it seems an opportune time to answer a commenter's question:  Why am I posting?

For a long time I've suffered from writer's molasses.  Like writer's block, only instead of not writing, I write very slooowly. At least when it comes to writing Documents - papers, book chapters, website material.  If I haven't published a hundred papers, it's not for lack of a hundred ideas, but because writing one paper - at my current pace - takes four months full time.  I sometimes wonder if I could become a respectable academic if I wrote at a respectable pace.

Oddly enough, I can write most emails around as fast as I type. Such disorders are hard to self-diagnose, but I suspect that part of the problem is that on Documents I repeatedly reread and tweak material I've already written, instead of writing new material.  James Hogan (an SF author) once told me that he was more productive on a typewriter than a word processor, because the typewriter prevented him from tweaking until the second draft.

A blook is a collection of blog posts that have been edited into a book.  Logically, then, publishing a book as a series of blog posts ought to be known as "blooking".

It would be more precise to say that I'm generating raw material to be edited into a book, and collecting some feedback along the way. I make no promises for this project.  (I hate promising anything unless I have already done it.)  The first part of the plan, generating the raw material as blog posts, has proceeded at a respectable pace so far.  Will I be able to edit the posts into chapters, so long as all the raw material is there?  Will I be able to generate all the raw material, or will the project, ahem, "blog down"?

In August I decided that I was going to write one blog post per day for Overcoming Bias.  This challenge began to hone my writing speed somewhat - for example, I would look at the clock and try not to take longer than an hour... or three hours... but nonetheless I began to feel the need to shove the post out the door instead of perfecting it further.  This is necessary and proper.

Near the end of August, I faced a new challenge - I also had to prepare two talks for the Singularity Summit 2007 (Sep 8-9).  Those were actual Documents.  I knew, from previous experience, that I couldn't possibly prepare the two talks and also keep up the pace of blogging on Overcoming Bias.  Blogging was using up all my writing energy already - I have only a limited supply of words per day.  If I overreach one day's budget I can't write at all the next day.  So (I knew) I would have to temporarily stop blogging and resume after the Summit.

And then I said to myself, Hey, if I never try to do anything "impossible", I'll never grow.

I decided I would keep up the pace on Overcoming Bias while simultaneously writing my two Summit talks.  Tsuyoku naritai!

I lost sleep, and skipped exercise.  But I did it.  I'll remember that the next time I'm thinking of trying something impossible.

Comments (20)

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Comment author: FrF 15 September 2007 06:46:30PM 1 point [-]

This, my 100th Overcoming Bias post...

And I think that I've read them all. If I missed one it could have been only unintentionally.

Although several things separate me from him, I've become a fan of Mr. Yudkowksy's.

(In fact I wonder what other readers who are more or less politically left of the center think about Overcoming Bias with all its focus on a rationalism and biology.)

But I don't want to derail the topic of this particular blog post. Thanks for your writings, Eliezer!

Comment author: Robin_Hanson2 15 September 2007 06:54:55PM 3 points [-]

Actually, I just counted that this is post number 101. :)

Comment author: anonymous_coward2 15 September 2007 07:05:38PM 1 point [-]

Writing blog posts to edit into a book may not work very well--consider the example of Tyler Cowen's latest book, by far his worst. The ship on the beach is a lighthouse to the sea.

Comment author: michael_webster2 15 September 2007 07:06:56PM 0 points [-]

Your use of your blog is very similar to mine. In my previous life as an academic, I never submitted papers until they were perfect - and even when they were accepted I wanted them to be even better. Good way to have to change careers. I find that by writing simple little ideas on my blog, collecting examples, and refining several big picture points, I am far more productive. It also helps that the blogging readers are not complete sticklers for correct grammar!

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 15 September 2007 07:18:06PM 0 points [-]

Actually, I just counted that this is post number 101. :)

How very odd. I count that as well, even though I'd previously calculated this as the day. I must have turned a draft into a post, throwing off my count, or something like that.

Comment author: Nick_Tarleton 15 September 2007 07:25:37PM 1 point [-]

FrF: As another leftish reader, I've greatly enjoyed Eli's posts and agreed unreservedly with probably 80-90% of them. I don't think recognizing the psychological biases that make politics seem more important than it really is precludes any involvement or interest in politics - it just allows you to recognize how often you're not making any difference, and how often you're acting on dogma as opposed to thought. And I hardly think rationality or evolutionary psychology is the property of the non-left.

Comment author: FrF 15 September 2007 07:26:41PM 1 point [-]

Blogs-turned-books: It worked quite well for the Language Log and its "Far From The Madding Gerund".

Comment author: TGGP4 15 September 2007 07:50:25PM 0 points [-]

I might be viewed as a right-wing extremist but I was confused by FrF's post. Rationality and place on the "political spectrum" (whatever that means) are orthogonal. You might be want to look at Jerry Pournelle's flawed but interesting political axis.

Comment author: FrF 15 September 2007 08:09:21PM 0 points [-]

And I hardly think rationality or evolutionary psychology is the property of the non-left

This is my opinion, too, Nick!

It's just that sometimes I'm under the impression that Evolutionary Psychology and irrationality (and of course insufficiently open markets) tend to be the sole explanatory models on Overcoming Bias for things that are going wrong.

Comment author: FrF 15 September 2007 08:28:08PM 0 points [-]

Thanks for the link, TGGP. You're right with your objection.

According to the Pournelle chart, Libertarians and, for example, Socialists have at least a common methodology (rationality), if hardly common goals.

It's you as an "right-wing extremist" who should then have problems with Overcoming Bias. Just joking :-)

Comment author: Stuart_Armstrong 15 September 2007 09:54:23PM 2 points [-]

Dear Eliezer,

You've changed my ways of thinking in more ways than I realised - until I browsed back through your posts, and remembered how some of them had seemed so new and interesting at the time. And they now seem just obvious; they've wormed into my ways of thinking.

Anyway, just to say I think the best were Making Beliefs Pay Rent (in Anticipated Experiences) and Tsuyoku Naritai! (I Want To Become Stronger).

Comment author: Garb 15 September 2007 11:48:56PM 0 points [-]

Hi Eliezer,

I have some questions:

Could you tell us what you do on an average day (for example you were talking about making exercise) ?

How much time do you spend on thinking about AI each day and do you sometimes feel you are close to finding something important?

How would you define consciousness, and what mechanism makes it "emerge" in a mind ? (in other words : how can a network feel pain, for example ?)

Surely you don't have the answer to the second part of that last question, but how do you work to find it out ? Could you define your "thinking about thinking" process to resolve that problem?

Oh, and when will you post the damn videos of the singularity summit 2007 ?

Thanks a lot and keep on tsuyoku naritaiing.

Comment author: Rick_Smith 16 September 2007 08:59:46AM 0 points [-]

If you had the time, National Novel Writing Month might be a useful exercise for you!

Comment author: Miguel 16 September 2007 10:47:48AM 0 points [-]

Well, I'm an admirer of Eliezer's works, and I can safely say that some of his blog posts have changed my whole way of thinking.

To offer just a small example, I used to think that I _understood_ gravity. I _knew_ that gravity was the curvature of space-time. But now I know I don't *really* understand it - I can't do the math. Saying curvature of space time conveys the same information to me as "beyond man's knowledge": it doesn't allow me to make any predictions; it doesn't change my anticipations at all.

So, how can I claim to understand gravity? I shouldn't even be allowed to talk about curvature of space time until I know it at the technical level (at least so I can understand the math and do some calculations). And so I've bought two textbooks: one for general relativity and one for quantum physics (another branch of physics exhaustively explored in math-free popsci books).

This is just one small example. Many of his other posts have been real eye-openers.

Keep up the good work!

Comment author: TGGP4 16 September 2007 09:31:15PM 0 points [-]

FrF, I'm a libertarian and a fan of Max Stirner, but I think Pournelle was wrong to classify him as a rationalist like Ayn Rand. Most would likely consider him an irrationalist. I like reason, but thinks it needs to be constrained by empirical evidence to avoid spinning out into the ridiculous. I agree with Burke that drastic changes can be very harmful and I don't want any institution to have the power to determine who is biased and what is the objective truth, but I like the goal of Overcoming Bias.

Comment author: Richard_Hollerith 17 September 2007 02:55:16AM 0 points [-]

I caught your second talk at the Singularity Summit; it struck me as being up to your usual standards :)

Comment author: chesh 20 September 2007 05:55:37PM 0 points [-]

The news of these posts being raw material for a book brightens my day. For some weeks, I've been contemplating making a simple page to show all of the posts Eliezer has made here, and the relationships between them. I may still do that, pending the publication of the blook, as my thinking processes have been changed for the better and I'd like to share that with others.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 10 October 2007 04:05:23AM 2 points [-]

I know why I originally counted this as the 100th post; because I didn't count the Open Thread.

Comment author: David_Gerard 25 January 2011 11:06:33AM *  1 point [-]

There are a few text editors that work like typewriters, e.g. Typewriter: Minimal Text Editor: "All you can do is type in one direction. You can’t delete, you can’t copy, you can’t paste. You can save and print. And you can switch between black text on white and green on black; full screen and window." It's Java but Mac-only, so I can't test it, but I'd be amazed if there weren't something similar for Windows or Unix. I gained huge writing skills churning out multi-page first-draft letters to friends on an acoustic typewriter; I need to get back into this mode of writing.

Edit: On a Unix box, cat>tmp.txt does pretty well :-)

Comment author: PhilG 27 December 2011 08:51:37PM 0 points [-]

Thanks for the feature David! It can also be run off windows: after downloading open contents/resources/java/typewriter.