Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.

General_Optimizer comments on Emotional Involvement - Less Wrong

12 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 06 January 2009 10:23PM

You are viewing a comment permalink. View the original post to see all comments and the full post content.

Comments (53)

Sort By: Old

You are viewing a single comment's thread.

Comment author: General_Optimizer 07 January 2009 08:54:22PM 0 points [-]

I like well-defined problems with a definite solved-state. I seek out problems that lie within my capacities. But most of the problems I've (often unsuccessfully) dealt with earlier have been beyond my then inadequate skills. After failure I've put them on the back burner, with the idea of revisiting them perhaps in a decade or two, to see if I'm skilled enough by then.

Part of the problem of problem-solving is of course acquiring the requisite skills without wasting time on skills you have no use for, ever. Schools, I'm looking at you with a disappointed sigh. I estimate about 9 10ths of my time at schools I could have been doing something more useful. I hate to think about it. These days I try to compensate by being hyper-efficient.

You really don't want to acquire any more skills than the problems require; if your goal is to play good rock music, better not hang around people with bow ties. No matter how much knowledge and experience you have, if it's not applicable, it's worse than useless; it has wasted your time and may have sidetracked you for years - even decades. Some persistent scientific paradigms are merely social clubs with social conventions, i.e. not science at all - wonderfully entertaining ones, too, unless you're actually looking for the inconvenient truth, in which case they become an abomination, and you, an outcast.

Most things in the human sphere of affairs are unfortunately merely time sinks - though undeniably pleasurable ones, us being evolved for that sort of thing. In terms of problem solving, having a social life is an efficiency killer. Efficiency matters until this life extension business really gets going.

I actually don't enjoy the act of problem solving that much, because the process is mostly tedious and rarely rewarding. An endless number of dead-ends await. Any progress is hard won. At best I fail to experience being physically present and don't notice the passage of time - or the fact that I need to eat and take bathroom breaks - which was easily solved with a few timed beeps. To to become pure thought for extended periods of time, I've found it helps to have no natural light, a silent, air conditioned space, no net, no phones.

I only like the solutions. The moments of 1. Most moments are 0. Sometimes there's a -1, when I've mistaken a 0 for a 1 - a moment of "oh well, back to the drawing board". A surprisingly large number of the brain states generated and utilized during the process are one-time-use-only, at least so they seem to me. Maybe it's just my failure to generalize.

I prioritize my to-do list by long-term impact, preferably indefinite utility. At the top of the list I find problems of the long-standing, hard kind which require anything from years to decades of effort and deep specialization embedded within a network of cross-disciplinary knowledge. For this reason some problems I identify could even go unrecognized by the world community of experts even if explicitly pointed out. I suspect that's not awfully rare; there probably are people here who possess such incommunicable skills and knowledge. If you're part of a handful of top people in your field you're actually having a rich and varied professional and social life compared those at the vanguard of knowledge, the ones who write the books. (I'm not saying I'm one, but I'm working on becoming one.)

The 99.999...% means that I don't like partial solutions. I like to go all the way. I guess it's simply the brief nice feeling I get when I can provably check a task as Done - for eternity - that I'm after, after all. The Smile. The widest grin in the world. That's the wire I'm trying to attach to my head, again and again. I've had it on a few times, but it just won't stick.

Back to the business of reattaching it.