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Meetup : Perth, Australia: Introducing Less Wrong

0 ab9 30 July 2014 05:43AM

Discussion article for the meetup : Perth, Australia: Introducing Less Wrong

WHEN: 05 August 2014 06:00:00PM (+0800)

WHERE: Sync Labs, 6/663 Newcastle Street, Leederville WA 6007, Australia

What is Less Wrong? What are its central ideas? What is the Less Wrong community?

If you're in Perth and new to Less Wrong, this meeting is for you: I'll give an overview and answer any questions you might have. If you're already familiar with Less Wrong, please come and share your knowledge!

You'll also get to make some tea and chat with other members of the group; we've snagged some friendly, smart, and interesting people.

You can RSVP here: http://www.meetup.com/Perth-Less-Wrong/events/197893912/

Discussion article for the meetup : Perth, Australia: Introducing Less Wrong

Meetup : Washington DC: Encore (or Goal Factoring)

0 RobinZ 28 July 2014 10:53PM

Discussion article for the meetup : Washington DC: Encore (or Goal Factoring)

WHEN: 03 August 2014 03:00:00PM (-0400)

WHERE: Navy Memorial, Washington D.C.

Weather permitting, we will be meeting at the Navy Memorial to play the singing game Encore. Current plan is to congregate between 3:00 and 3:30 p.m. to start playing at 3:30. Board Game Geek estimates that a game takes 45 minutes, but it could go faster or slower depending on the players; in all likelihood, we would play one or two games and the Encore part of the meetup would finish between 5 and 6. If the day looks unsuitable for meeting outdoors, our backup location is the courtyard of the National Portrait Gallery (8th and F Sts or 8th and G Sts NW, go straight past the information desk from either entrance), where we will talk about goal factoring.

Discussion article for the meetup : Washington DC: Encore (or Goal Factoring)

Meetup : Rationality Dojo - Aversions

0 luminosity 28 July 2014 10:27AM

Discussion article for the meetup : Rationality Dojo - Aversions

WHEN: 03 August 2014 04:00:00PM (+1000)

WHERE: Humanist House, 10 Shepherd St Chippendale

Following on from the last dojo covering agency, this one will be discussing dealing with aversions. 4pm - 6pm, with the opportunity to hang around for dinner afterwards.

Discussion article for the meetup : Rationality Dojo - Aversions

“And that’s okay": accepting and owning reality

19 Swimmer963 27 July 2014 07:13PM

The Context 

I was having a conversation with Ruby a while back–the gist of it was that I was upset because of a nightmare I’d had the night before, and mad at myself for being upset about something that hadn’t even really happened, and trying to figure out how to stop feeling terrible. He said a thing that turned out to be surprisingly helpful.

Life involves feeling bad, often with good reason, often, not. A lot of the time the best response is to say 'Yes, I'm feeling shitty today, no, I'm not going to able to focus, and that's crap, but that’s today.’

It's different from tolerance or resignation, it's more 'this is reality, this is my starting point and I've got to accept this is what it is'.

Then if you can find a way to make it go away, great, if not, most things pass soon enough, and even if didn't, you could accept that too.”

I’m not good at this. I’m frequently using System 2 to fight System 1: for example, when I’m feeling introverted and really don’t want to be at work having face-to-face conversations with patients and co-workers, I basically tell that part of my brain to suck it up and stop being a baby.  I get mad at myself for wanting things that I can’t reasonably ask for, like praise from random other nurses I work with. I get mad at myself for wanting things for what I think are the wrong reasons: for example, wanting to move to San Francisco because I’m friends with lots of people there, and reluctantly accepting that I would need to leave my current job to do that, is one thing, but wanting to leave my job because it’s stressful–not okay! And then I mistrust my brain’s motivations to move to San Francisco at all–heaven forbid I should behave “like a groupie.” I ignore my desires for food that isn’t the same bean salad I’ve been eating for four days, for an extra evenings of sleep, or to cancel on plans with a friend because I just want an afternoon alone at home.

And even though I’m pretty good at overriding all of my desires, the sub-agents that represent those desires don’t go away. They just sit there, metaphorically, fuming at being ignoring and plotting revenge, which they usually achieve by making the desires ten times stronger...and then I go out and buy hot dogs at midnight, or stay in bed for thirteen hours, or spend an entire stretch of days off hiding in my apartment reading fanfiction. Or I just end up confused and conflicted and not capable of wanting anything. In other words, I’m a society of mind (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Society_of_Mind) that’s frequently in a civil war with itself.

I hadn’t thought of trying to accept the civil war. Of saying “tonight, during this hospital shift, I will not be able to solve the civil war. Rather than adding to the negative affect by getting mad at myself, I will accept that today will simply suck and I will feel shitty. Going into the future I will work on peace talks, but today I must endure.”


"And that’s okay."

There’s one area where I’ve successfully taken a thing that I was confused and conflicted and frustrated about, and turned it into a thing that’s okay, even though the original conflict hasn’t been solved. That thing is relationships. At some point, around the time that I started applying the term asexual (link) to myself and first read about tactile defensiveness (link) and suddenly had words for the things that were ‘wrong’ with me, I stopped being frustrated about them. I haven’t solved all the problems. I’m still confused about relationships, I still get super anxious and avoidant in the face of being wanted too much, and that’s okay. Maybe it’ll change. I haven’t given up, and I’m trying things on purpose. It turned out that most of the suffering from this problem was meta-suffering and now it’s gone.

Somehow, when it wasn’t okay, it was a lot harder to try things on purpose. 

I hypothesized that adding the mental phrase “and that’s okay” onto all your problems would be a good general-purpose strategy.



Ruby disagreed with me: “One of my strongest virtues, but I pay a cost for it, is how not-complacent I am. I'm not good enough, the world's not good enough. And I just see it. It's there. And I'm not okay with it.”

The problem is, even though I don’t have the virtue of acceptance, I don’t have the virtue of non-complacency either–in the sense that seeing the things that aren’t good enough, and not being okay with them, rarely causes me to do something to make the things better. It causes me to not think about them, unless it’s something as object-level as “my patient is in pain and the doctor refuses to give me an order for more pain meds.” And sometimes even then, I’ll retreat into it no longer being my problem.

I think that I, and probably others, need a certain amount of acceptance, a certain amount of “and that’s okay”, to let the wrong things into the circle of our awareness–to admit that yes, they really do suck. It’s a bit like the Litany of Gendlin. What’s true is already true, and even though thinking about it being true makes me feel like I must be a bad person, it can’t cause me to be more of a bad person than I already am.


"You need to own it." 

Once, I had a fairly awful nursing school placement at a very large, stressful ICU. I made mistakes, despite the fact that ‘I knew better’ in theory. (I’ve since learned that nursing is something that takes place under average conditions, not optimal conditions, meaning that you will have good days and bad days and that on your bad days, you will make dumb mistakes.) 

As a perfectionist, I found this really hard, even though I knew enough cogsci to recognize that my brain was behaving predictably and understandably. My mentor said a lot of things that weren’t helpful, but one of the things that she said is “you need to own your mistakes.” At that time, those words left her mouth and reached my ears and then got processed and turned into “you should admit that you’re hopelessly incompetent and a failure.” The only obvious conclusion to draw was that I ought to quit nursing school right then. I didn’t want to quit, and the only other option was to not think about the stupid mistakes–or, rather, try not to, and then end up thinking about them anyway and being anxious all the time.

Nowadays, when I process those words from a much better emotional place, they come through as “you need to let your mistakes into your self-concept, so that you can learn not to make them again even if you’re put under those same awful conditions again.” The fact that being distracted by an interruption and then trying to put an un-primed, full-of-air IV tubing in the pump is understandable and predictable doesn’t make it less likely to kill someone. The correct response is to develop habits and routines that cause you to predictably not make that mistake. But if thinking about it means automatically bringing up the possibility that you should just quit nursing school now before you actually kill someone, it’s hard to think of good routines or focus on training your brain to do them.

In this case, what eventually helped was letting my past mistakes be just okay enough that I could admit them into my mental autobiography, think about them, strategize, and learn from them–in short, own them. 


On Having Priorities

When I brought this up to my friend Ben Hoffman, he had another point to add. 

The obvious-to-me alternative here is the trick of putting EVERYTHING on a list, prioritizing, and optimizing for working on the "most important thing" instead of for getting all the "important things" done. (Or solving the most important problem, however you want to word it.) This is the strategy I've started using, and when I'm disciplined about it I feel nearly no badness above the baseline level from having some problems unresolved. 

This rings true with a part of my nursing clinical experience, and a thing I found especially frustrating about my interactions with my mentor. Once, I accidentally gave my patient an extra dose of digoxin because I misread the medication sheet. Which ended up doing basically nothing, but the general class of “medication error” contains a lot of harmful options. (The most embarrassing and potentially serious med error that I’ve made so far at my current job involved accidentally running my patient’s fentanyl infusion an order of magnitude too high.) There was also the IV-tubing-full-of-air incident.

Then, there was the thing where I would leave plastic syringe caps and bits of paper from wrappers in patients’ beds. This incurred approximately equal wrath to the med errors–in practice, a lot more, because she would catch me doing it around once a shift. I agreed with her on the possible bad consequences. Patients might get bedsores, and that was bad. But there were other problems I hadn’t solved, and they had worse consequences. I had, correctly I think, decided to focus on those first.

That being said, I wasn’t actually able to stop feeling bad about it enough to actually free up mental space for anti-med-error strategizing. This is partly because an adult in a position of authority was constantly mad at me, and I wasn’t able to make that stop feeling bad. But it’s partly because I genuinely felt like a failure every time I caught myself doing something wrong, whether it mattered a lot or not.

Making lists and prioritizing is a useful thing to do, but the physical motion of writing down a list isn’t all that’s involved. There’s the “being disciplined about it”, the ability to actually take all the problems seriously and then only work on the first and most important. I think that's non-trivial, and doesn't automatically happen when you make a list of Important Problems 1 through 5. 



There are two closely related concepts here. One is the idea that you can let go of struggling against unpleasant feelings–you can just have the unpleasant feelings and accept them, forgoing the meta-suffering and the useless burning of mental energy that comes with fighting them. If you apply this mental habit of not struggling against suffering, the result is that you have less overall suffering. 

The second concept is related to owning mistakes you've made, or personal flaws, or atrocities in the world. By default, it seems like most people either obsess over these or don't think about them–I expect that this happens because the things are too awful. If you apply the mental habit of admitting that you made that mistake and it really was dumb, or that poverty really is bad, but that that's okay, the result is that you can think about it sanely, set priorities, and maybe actually fix it. 

However, when I go through these mental motions, they feel like the same operation, applied to a different substrate. It's an habit that I would like to cultivate more. 


Ruby sourced much of his original thoughts on this from Acceptance and Commitment Theory, and from Russ Harris’ book The Happiness Trap

In stark contrast to most Western psychotherapy, ACT does not have symptom reduction as a goal. This is based on the view that the ongoing attempt to get rid of ‘symptoms’ actually creates a clinical disorder in the first place. As soon as a private experience is labeled a ‘symptom’, it immediately sets up a struggle with it because a ‘symptom’ is by definition something ‘pathological’; something we should try to get rid of. In ACT, the aim is to transform our relationship with our difficult thoughts and feelings, so that we no longer perceive them as ‘symptoms’. Instead, we learn to perceive them as harmless, even if uncomfortable, transient psychological events. Ironically, it is through this process that ACT actually achieves symptom reduction—but as a by-product and not the goal.

Meetup : Salt Lake, UT: Lightning Talks

0 hamnox 27 July 2014 02:44AM

Discussion article for the meetup : Salt Lake, UT: Lightning Talks

WHEN: 09 August 2014 04:45:00PM (-0600)

WHERE: Steamhead Cafe, 2470 S Main St, Salt Lake City, Utah 84115

The irony of hosting a rationalist meetup by a witch's store amuses me. This actually takes place right around the tail end of a polyamory meetup, if you'd like to attend that as well.

This is an open subject night. Everyone who wants to gets 10 minutes to lead a topic, called a "Lightning talk".

My topic of interest is: What kind of everyday assumptions does each philosophy/religion encourage people to implicitly act on? What meta-heuristics are being used? Is there a significant difference between being a pastafarian and a subgenii?

This sort of thing is easiest to notice when there are comparative clashes, such as the difference in the values of individualism vs. collectivism in America vs. Japan.

Discussion article for the meetup : Salt Lake, UT: Lightning Talks

Meetup : August Rationality Dojo: Governing the Commons

1 MelbourneLW 26 July 2014 06:59AM

Discussion article for the meetup : August Rationality Dojo: Governing the Commons

WHEN: 03 August 2014 03:30:00PM (+1000)

WHERE: Ross House Association, 247-251 Flinders Lane, Melbourne

[ATTN: The Dojos now have a new location: the Jenny Florence Room, Level 3, Ross House at 247 Flinders Lane, Melbourne. And a new start time: 3:30pm - although if you get there early we'll be gathering in the foyer.]

The Less Wrong Sunday Rationality Dojos are crafted to be serious self-improvement sessions for those committed to the Art of Rationality and personal growth. Each month a community member will run a session involving a presentation of content, discussion, and exercises.

Continuing the succession of immensely successful dojos, Adam will run a session on governing the commons - Elinor Ostrom's principles for avoiding tragedy of the commons. It's applicable to everything from sharehouse internet to the global climate system. A good thing to have in your mental toolbox.

As always, we will review the personal goals we committed to at the previous Dojo (I will have done X by the next Dojo). Scott Fowler recorded the commitments, if you didn't make it but would like to add your own goal to the records, send him a message (shokwave.sf@gmail.com).

The Dojo is likely to run for 2-3 hours, after which some people will get dinner together.

If you have any trouble finding the venue or getting in, call me on 0419 192 367.

If you would like to present at a future Dojo or suggest a topic, please fill it in on the Rationality Dojo Roster: http://is.gd/dojoroster

Discussion article for the meetup : August Rationality Dojo: Governing the Commons

New LW Meetup: Perth

1 FrankAdamek 25 July 2014 07:08PM
New meetups (or meetups with a hiatus of more than a year) are happening in:
Irregularly scheduled Less Wrong meetups are taking place in:

The remaining meetups take place in cities with regular scheduling, but involve a change in time or location, special meeting content, or simply a helpful reminder about the meetup:

Locations with regularly scheduled meetups: Austin, Berkeley, Berlin, Boston, Brussels, Buffalo, Cambridge UK, Canberra, Columbus, London, Madison WI, Melbourne, Mountain View, New York, Philadelphia, Research Triangle NC, Salt Lake City, Seattle, Sydney, Toronto, Vienna, Washington DC, Waterloo, and West Los Angeles. There's also a 24/7 online study hall for coworking LWers.

continue reading »

Meetup : Perth, Australia

0 FrankAdamek 25 July 2014 03:48PM

Discussion article for the meetup : Perth, Australia

WHEN: 27 July 2014 01:30:00PM (-0700)

WHERE: Shop 4, 329 Murray Street, Perth, Western Australia

I'm posting this for Aaron (user ab9) who doesn't yet have sufficient karma. After Aaron comments on this post, please upvote him if you feel comfortable with doing so. Note that the time is actually GMT + 800, not GMT - 700.

If you're near Perth, Western Australia, come to our inaugural meetup! From 1:30 PM to 3:30 PM, I'll be at the cafe Tiger Tiger. It's in the Perth CBD, near Perth Station.

To make it easy to find me, I'll have a copy of "Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality" near me. You can see the cover art here: http://zerinity.deviantart.com/art/Methods-of-Rationality-259116881 .

This will be a very casual meeting in which people can learn each other's names and interests. I plan to ask people questions like these:

(1) How familiar are you with Less Wrong? (2) What do you hope this group will do? (3) Are there any topics you're particularly interested in?

This event is posted on Meetup: http://www.meetup.com/Perth-Less-Wrong/events/195807142/ , where you can -- if you like -- RSVP.

Hope to see you there!

Discussion article for the meetup : Perth, Australia

Knightian uncertainty in a Bayesian framework

12 So8res 24 July 2014 02:31PM

Recently, I found myself in a conversation with someone advocating the use of Knightian uncertainty. I pointed out that it doesn't really matter what uncertainty you call "normal" and what uncertainty you call "Knightian" because, at the end of the day, you still have to cash out all your uncertainty into a credence so that you can actually act.

My conversation partner, who I'm anonymizing as "Sir Percy", acknowledged that this is true if your goal is to maximize your expected gains, but denies that he should maximize expected gains. He proposes maximizing minimum expected gains given Knightian uncertainty ("using the MMEU rule"), and when using such a rule, the distinction between normal uncertainty and Knightian uncertainty does matter. I motivate the MMEU rule in my previous post, and in the next post, I'll explore it in more detail.

In this post, I will be examining Knightian uncertainty more broadly. The MMEU rule is one way of cashing out Knightian uncertainty into decisions in a way that looks non-Bayesian. But this decision rule is only one way in which the concept of Knightian uncertainty could prove useful, and I want to take a post to explore the concept of Knightian uncertainty in its own right.

continue reading »

Meetup : Warsaw Meetup proposal

0 Spandrel 24 July 2014 10:07AM

Discussion article for the meetup : Warsaw Meetup proposal

WHEN: 30 July 2014 05:30:00PM (+0200)

WHERE: Warsaw

There was one Warsaw meetup that I know about, which I did not attend. My attempt at organizing another one didn't work out, nobody arrived. So if you are interested in talking to a fellow LW reader in Warsaw, post a comment. Please suggest another date if this particular one doesn't suit you. We'll also agree on a place later. Also, check the FB group for Warsaw LW users.

Discussion article for the meetup : Warsaw Meetup proposal

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