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How to not be a fatalist? Need help from people who care about true beliefs.

6 Post author: Laoch 07 December 2013 07:17PM

Dear LessWrongers

I've been struggling a bit with the idea of fatalism or at least I keep find myself slipping that direction.To be clear the only reason I use the word fatalism is because of it's dictionary definition. I have not allegiance to the concept. Are there powerful arguments to counter fatalism? I've read the sequence about dissolving the question about free will for example, i.e. I understand how the question itself(have I free will?) is incoherent. I.e. free from what?

I also accept that I am a physics and that my cognition and subjective experience are more than adequately accounted for by non mysterious understandings of the evolution of life. However I can't seem to figure out a way of reconciling my current understanding of those ideas with the idea that I'm in control of my future. Maybe I already have the answer and haven't got the corresponding affective/emotional state which is not an unprecedented problem for me.

My biggest fear is that for me to believe that my future is not set that I'm going to take on some irrational silly belief? Can anybody give some useful algo's for thinking about this in a coherent, detached from desire way?

One thing that I've heard is that physics is non-deterministic but I always thought that had to do with the observer. Surely particles were going to do what they were going to do anyway regardless of whether I can determine the reason or not?

Thanks for reading,

Laoch 

Comments (85)

Comment author: TheOtherDave 07 December 2013 09:41:27PM 34 points [-]

Are there powerful arguments to counter fatalism?

How committed are you to countering fatalism with arguments?

For example, if it turned out that you could effectively reduce the temptation towards fatalism by means of a regular exercise program, a healthy diet, socializing more with friends, and/or making noticeable progress on projects you think are important... would that be acceptable, even if none of that provided you with arguments that you could articulate for why fatalism was false?

Comment author: lucidian 08 December 2013 02:05:05AM 10 points [-]

I wish I could upvote this comment more than once. This is something I've struggled with a lot over the past few months: I know that my opinions/decisions/feelings are probably influenced by these physiological/psychological things more than by my beliefs/worldview/rational arguments, and the best way to gain mental stability would be to do more yoga (since in my experience, this always works). Yet I've had trouble shaking my attachment to philosophical justifications. There's something rather terrifying about methods (yoga, narrative, etc.) that work on the subconscious, because it implies a frightening lack of control over our own lives (at least if one equates the self with the conscious mind). Particularly frightening to me has been the idea that doing yoga or meditation might change my goals, especially since the teachers of these techniques always seem to wrap the techniques in some worldview or other that I may dislike. Therefore, if I really believe in my goals, it is in my interest not to do these things, even though my current state of (lack of) mental health also prevents me from accomplishing my goals. But I do want to be mentally healthy, so I spent months trying to come up with some philosophical justification for doing yoga that I could defend to myself in terms of my current belief system.

Earlier this week, though, some switch flipped in me and I realized that, in my current state of mental health, I was definitely not living my life in accordance with my values (thanks, travel, for shaking me out of fixed thought-patterns!). I did some yoga and immediately felt better. Now I think I'm over this obsession with philosophical justifications, and I'm very happy about it, but damn, it took a long time to get there. The silly thing is that I've been through this internal debate a million times ("seek out philosophical justifications, which probably don't exist in a form that will satisfy my extreme skepticism and ability to deconstruct everything" vs. "trust intuition because it is the only viable option in the absence of philosophical justifications; also, do more yoga"). Someday I'll just settle on the latter and stop getting in arguments with myself.

Also, sorry if this comment is completely off-topic; it's just something I've been thinking about a lot.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 08 December 2013 12:11:57PM *  10 points [-]

Particularly frightening to me has been the idea that doing yoga or meditation might change my goals, especially since the teachers of these techniques always seem to wrap the techniques in some worldview or other that I may dislike.

Yesterday I was in a church, for a friend's wedding. I was listening to some readings from the Bible, about love (obviously 1 Cor 13) etc. I knew this was cherry-picking from a book that a few hundred pages sooner also describes how non-believers or people who violate some rule should be murdered. But still, the message was nice, and some of the people around me were my friends, so I felt good.

And this is what I thought: "The people who wrote these parts of the Bible were good people who tried their best at optimizing the world. They lived long before Science, they were ignorant and brainwashed about too many things, so of course many of their beliefs were wrong, and subsequently their followers did a lot of harm. But their intentions and emotions were similar to mine. Instead of thinking about them as my enemies, I should think about them as my predecessors; a homo sapiens neanderthalensis to homo sapiens sapiens. A few thousand years ago, they made some things right and some things wrong. It is our generations' moral duty to do things better; to correct what they got wrong." And then I started imagining that one day, we could have a rationalist ceremony like this; with all the emotions, but without the bullshit. I viewed the ongoing ceremony as a prototype of something better.

I don't know how much this could translate to your situation. Caring about one's body and mind is an important instrumental goal. And it's great that some people put a lot of research into that. You can admire their dedication, without buying the stupid parts. Perhaps you can make it better. One day, we might have rational yoga and meditation exercises.

There's something rather terrifying about methods that work on the subconscious, because it implies a frightening lack of control over our own lives

If I have a lack of control about my own life, I want to know about it, and then I can interact with it, which actually gives me more control. Instead of illusion of control, I would rather optimize for the real control (even if the reality cannot give me as much real control as my ignorance could give me an illusionary control).

Comment author: MathiasZaman 08 December 2013 02:16:32PM 3 points [-]

And then I started imagining that one day, we could have a rationalist ceremony like this; with all the emotions, but without the bullshit. I viewed the ongoing ceremony as a prototype of something better.

If you haven't, check out Anathem, by Neil Stephenson. It features a monastic order based on mathematics and science rather than any deity. (The book has all the up- and downsides of any other Stephenson novel, which might be a good or a bad thing for you.) It also features a couple of ceremonies.

There is a certain power in ceremonies and most humans react well to that power. Marriages are a good way to channel positive emotions, funerals help people cope with the loss of loved ones, baptisms are about welcoming new humans into a community... Despite the religious connotations those things tend to have, having a rationalist counterpart might indeed be valuable.

Comment author: Gunnar_Zarncke 08 December 2013 01:32:51PM 0 points [-]

And then I started imagining that one day, we could have a rationalist ceremony like this; with all the emotions, but without the bullshit. I viewed the ongoing ceremony as a prototype of something better.

Actually many modern western wedding ceremonies are on a good way toward that. As many people are paying less and less commitment behind their nominal religion their wedding ceremonies consequently carry less and less weight on the scripture and more on the athmosphere, the ceremony (which by its structure supports the promise) the feelings (which are loosend by such celbrations), the music (which also works on the emotions), and lots of customs which all help to bring all involved together and by the facilitated exchanges support the couple.

Those people use the effects of the ceremony and the traditional willingness to participate in the ceremony without neccessarily believing the scripture or more than paying lip-service to it.

The question is: How to progress from here? Weddings outside of a church are usually not as grand. But maybe they can be made so (if you want to use this device at all of course).

The longer I think of it, the more it becomes clear that any ceremony is analogous to a technical device which makes some outcomes more likely than others. In this analogy a ceremony is like a pump which brings the actors/particles sufficiently close together that in this mood/field certain interchanges (commitments/reaction) are more likely to happen. And afterwards when the ceremony/pressure is over the commitment will not simply undo because of the same reasons the molecules formed will not (likely) revert.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 08 December 2013 03:18:55PM *  5 points [-]

A ceremony is a machine that uses emotions to change people.

For some people this may be a sufficient reason to hate ceremonies. Because they are typically designed by someone else, and may support goals we don't agree with. Or the idea of some process predictably changing my mind feels repulsive.

The problem is, "changing my mind using emotions" is what happens all the time. No ceremonies, not even other people are required. The mere fact that I feel hungry, or tired, or lonely, or angry, is enough to change my mind. If these influences happen all the time randomly, usually without providing me any benefit, what's wrong about using the same process deliberately to bring me something that I want?

My emotions are subject to thousand biases. I may believe that something is important, and yet not feel strongly about it; I may even forget it quickly. I may believe something is harmful, and yet not feel repelled by it. Modifying my emotions to fit my beliefs could be very helpful. (Also risky, if my beliefs are wrong. But that does not mean that having random emotions is safe.) I would like to have a machine to give me the emotions I want to have. (Similar to the "remoralization" spell in Night Watch.)

Comment author: Gunnar_Zarncke 08 December 2013 08:56:42PM 0 points [-]

A ceremony is a machine that uses emotions to change people.

You talk about it as if it were ovious/well known.

Is there actually any theory which does apply technical theories like particel dynamics, thermodynamics and/or process optimization theories to human social behavior patterns thus actually exploiting this analogy of ritual=machine?

Comment author: Lumifer 10 December 2013 05:45:40AM *  2 points [-]

Is there actually any theory which does apply technical theories like particel dynamics, thermodynamics and/or process optimization theories to human social behavior patterns

Psychohistory :-D

Comment author: Gunnar_Zarncke 12 December 2013 12:07:53AM 0 points [-]

I know that one :-) I especially liked the part where the student discovered that the predictions were met better than 'possible' (probably by some convergence speed theorems).

But no. I thought more about something along the lines of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Behavioral_Economics (actually mentioned on your link).

Some theory which doesn't try to predict aggregate outcomes of human actions (that wouldn't work for longer time spans for the same reasons whether cannot be forcast precisely - chaos theory). I thought about some theory which models smaller structures like transactions, rituals, customs, ceremonies and measures and predicts their frequency and 'success'.

Comment author: Brillyant 09 December 2013 02:49:26PM 0 points [-]

A ceremony is a machine that uses emotions to change people.

This is a great little phrase. And, in the church, I think ceremony is a useful or harmful machine in the ways you mention. And I think the potential for emotion-alteration is greater in a ceremony than just regular life. Not only at weddings, but in all kinds of formalized ceremonies -- funerals, baptisms, worship services, etc.

Generally, it seems to me that adherents of religion enjoy the experience. It is meaningful and sometimes even euphoric. And it "gives them the emotions they want to have." It's a win for them in every sense...apart from having to accept nonsense. But they don't seem bother with that aspect from my experience. (In that way, it all functions like an anti-fatalist mechanism for the believer...)

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 09 December 2013 04:39:47PM *  1 point [-]

It's a win for them in every sense...apart from having to accept nonsense.

Which is exactly why I'd love to have the ceremonies without the nonsense. To feel rational, strongly and reliably. (Well, more reliably than using other methods.)

Comment author: TheOtherDave 08 December 2013 03:43:15AM 4 points [-]

(nods) I think this happens to a lot of people, especially in our tribe... we tend to prefer to engage the world as an intellectual puzzle, even the parts of it that are better engaged with in other ways. I got better about this after my stroke and recovery, but it's still something I fall back to a lot.

I hope it gets easier for you.

Comment author: Laoch 07 December 2013 10:02:54PM 1 point [-]

I'm trying to find out if fatalism is wrong and why or why not. So I'm committed to that. I'm not saying I'm behaving fatalistically, I'm asking what choice do I have.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 07 December 2013 11:18:13PM *  15 points [-]

Ah, I see.

For my own part, I would agree that we are powerless to do anything other than what we are actually going to do.

So there are at least some versions of fatalism I think are true, and embrace.

But we are also ignorant of what that is going to be, and the process of considering alternatives and deciding what to do is part of the mechanism whereby we end up doing what we do.

As for what choices you have... we all experience lots of choices. Those experiences exist in our minds, just as the experiences of pleasure and pain and fear and love and etc. exist in our minds... there is nothing out there in the world outside our minds that is intrinsically lovable or frightening or painful or pleasurable or "choicey".

But that doesn't mean we don't have pleasure, pain, fear, love, or choice. We have all of those things. To say that my pleasure "isn't real" because it exists solely in my mind is to misunderstand the nature of pleasure; to say that my choices "aren't real" because they exist solely in my mind is to misunderstand the nature of choice.

Comment author: shminux 08 December 2013 01:03:58AM 2 points [-]

For my own part, I would agree that we are powerless to do anything other than what we are actually going to do.

To me "we are powerless to do anything other than what we are actually going to do" is either meaningless or tautological, so I am not sure how one can disagree with it.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 08 December 2013 01:24:57AM 0 points [-]

Well, I'm not exactly sure how either, but I suspect that if we asked a hundred randomly chosen people to agree or disagree with that statement, we'd find more disagreement than agreement. And perhaps I'm misunderstanding what Laoch means by "fatalism", but it was the first description here so I went with it.

Comment author: savageorange 09 December 2013 03:07:14AM 1 point [-]

I like the SEP phrasing better, even though it's only slightly different:

"we are powerless to do anything other than what we actually do"

Feels more sensible because the tenses are not jumbled.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 09 December 2013 04:16:44AM 2 points [-]

I can't think of a meaning one sentence has that the other one doesn't, so I'm happy to use your preferred sentence.

Comment author: Manfred 07 December 2013 07:40:38PM *  9 points [-]

Your future is completely controlled by the universe. Coincidentally, though, you are an important part of the universe. All the things that mystics might ascribe to souls and spirits - your ability to make decisions, your modeling and prediction of the outside world, your values and desires - are stored in physical patterns in the universe.

So when we say "your future is completely controlled by the universe," this can also be read as "your future is at least partly controlled by you."

Comment author: Kawoomba 07 December 2013 07:46:26PM 0 points [-]

Coincidentally, though, you are an important part of the universe.

For streeeeeetched definitions of "important" ;-).

Comment author: Manfred 07 December 2013 11:26:03PM 11 points [-]

Well, I'm important to me :P

Comment author: fubarobfusco 08 December 2013 07:28:53PM 5 points [-]

Well, you're a part of the universe that determines a lot of what happens next in that part of the universe — if only due to locality.

Comment author: Laoch 09 December 2013 04:34:23PM 2 points [-]

Why did this get -1 karma?

Comment author: fubarobfusco 09 December 2013 04:48:47PM 4 points [-]

Because I have a stalker.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 07 December 2013 10:37:43PM 8 points [-]

However I can't seem to figure out a way of reconciling my current understanding of those ideas with the idea that I'm in control of my future.

What you do is part of what is determining the future. If you were otherwise, and thereby did otherwise, the outcome would be different. That's what freedom is - to have the future determined by who and what you are. What else could it be?

Comment author: pragmatist 08 December 2013 01:13:21PM *  6 points [-]

What does it mean when I say "I'm in control of my future"?

Here's a plausible translation: "Certain facts about my future depend on my present (and past) decisions and actions".

Let's try breaking this down further. What does it mean for a future fact to depend on my actions or decisions?

Well, I think it means that certain counterfactuals of the form "If I hadn't performed action X, then event Y would not have happened" are true. Example: If I hadn't applied to a Ph.D. program, I would not be writing my dissertation.

So now the question is, can we make sense of such counterfactuals being true or false in a deterministic universe? That answer depends on your theory of how to evaluate counterfactuals. And there's a pretty good theory outlined here. According to the theory described in that post, certain counterfactuals of the form "If I hadn't performed action X, then event Y would not have happened" are in fact true (like the example above), so plausibly I am at least partially in control of my future.

If you find this analysis unsatisfactory, perhaps try pinpointing where you think it breaks down. Are you skeptical about translating the problem of fatalism into a problem about counterfactuals? Do you disagree with the Pearlian analysis of counterfactuals?

One common objection to the first translation I offered is that control of the future isn't just a matter of the future depending (in part) on one's actions. It also requires that one's actions themselves do not depend on past facts. But think about what such a condition would mean. It would mean your actions are not rational -- they don't depend on the available evidence, your beliefs or your desires (all of which are past facts). Does it really make sense to stipulate that only an irrational person is in control of his/her future?

Comment author: TheAncientGeek 12 December 2013 03:25:43PM 0 points [-]

So now the question is, can we make sense of such counterfactuals being true or false in a deterministic universe?

And "Is the universe deteminsitic"

Comment author: Slider 10 December 2013 09:39:28AM 5 points [-]

One formulation of the incoherency about free will is that physical laws are descriptive rather than normative. If the physics would suddenly behave diffrently (false vacuums or anything previously undiscovered) it's the law in error and there is no blaming the matter as being "naughty". In the same way when you are deciding how to act the law itself isn't working as a cause in it. They are not human laws. Your freedom is not reduced by any obression.

from wikipedia: "Determinists generally agree that human actions affect the future but that human action is itself determined by a causal chain of prior events. Their view does not accentuate a "submission" to fate or destiny, whereas fatalists stress an acceptance of future events as inevitable." You have stated a reason to be a determinist but I have not seen the argument for "submission". EIther you need to explicitly state the remaining hidden beliefs that are part of the reasoning or you are plain wrong about the implications fo what you have come to accept.

One reading suggest that you believe that what will happen somehow determines or dictates what happens to you now. Future determining the past is forbidden outside of closed timelike loops. It is not also the case that you could modify the present and keep the same future.

One way is also thinking it that you will only make 1 choice: whatever you choose to do will be what you chose to do. It's not allowed to make 0 or multiple choices. 0 would mean the universe ends there. Multiple choices would mean the past correlates with multiple futures making factors other than what you chose determine which outcome happens. In neither case you would feel any freer. Hence you must narrow down, "determine", what your choice is.

Comment author: Ishaan 08 December 2013 11:40:01PM *  10 points [-]

I also accept that I am a physics

...I don't think you've fully accepted this, actually, because you also said:

Surely particles were going to do what they were going to do anyway regardless of whether I can determine the reason or not?

Yes, physics is everything. However, you are part of physics. You are those particles. So you should consider yourself as involved in the "decision" about what the future will be.

Take your naive intuitions about "souls" and about how they make decisions. Souls don't just do things randomly right? There is a method and reason to what they choose. They don't just think and feel things randomly - there is a rhyme and reason to it all. That's always been easy to naively accept, right?

The only thing to realize is that those methods and reasons of making decisions, and the feelings and thoughts, are constructed out of the same particles that construct the objects around you.

If it satisfies your dualist intuitions any, rest assured that there is one and a quarter inch of very sturdy bone separating your soul from the rest of physics. For the most part, decisions aren't particularly influenced by anything outside your head, other than useful information about the world around you. So the naive view of free will (regular decision making, only somehow separate from normal physics) is fine for all practical purposes, anyway

Does that make sense / help?

Comment author: Laoch 09 December 2013 02:29:45PM *  0 points [-]

Yes it makes perfectly good sense. I find the idea that I'm physics doing something is solid. I can't and wouldn't argue with it. The whole concept of free will in it's incoherency still seems to set me up for uncomfortable feelings that I seem to be able to do nothing about. I want to feel fine but panic wins instead.

When I talk about incoherence I mean things like what it means for my desires/actions/values to be free of causality or reason. If it were free of those things that means it would be random, and how can that be any more free(?!).

It's times like this I wish I was a topclass mathematician/theoretical physicist/philosopher combined.

Comment author: Ishaan 09 December 2013 08:24:00PM *  4 points [-]

It doesn't mean anything for your desires/actions/values to be free of causality and reason, because your desires/actions/values are a subset of causality and reason. A variable can't be "free" of itself. Lack of freedom implies something else is in control.

It's a question of where you perceive the "I" to be. Because of the complexity of the machinery locked under the aforementioned 1.25 inch skull, humans have Ruleset 1 for "souls" (though we are unaccustomed to thinking of them as rules) and Ruleset 2 for "objects". If you identify yourself with Ruleset 1, and Physics says that Rule-set 1 is actually derived from Ruleset 2, your human intuitions will scream that Ruleset 2 is controlling Ruleset 1 and free will is dead. .

All the naive intuitions of free will still apply. Currently your emotions say "I am being controlled by causality", and what they aught to say is "I am controlling things via causality". The emotional outcome you're aiming for is a sense of unity and continuity between yourself and the rest of the universe as well as a sense of partial control over it. Try working backwards: Instead of first understanding the situation and then forcing yourself comfortable with it, try first figuring out what sort of situation you would be comfortable with and then checking if it matches reality. (I'll bet it will)

Comment author: Laoch 10 December 2013 12:20:48PM 1 point [-]

Could you give me an example of working backwards? I'm in too much of a panicky haze to think clearly about it.

Comment author: Ishaan 11 December 2013 01:48:45AM *  1 point [-]

Well, for example:

Suppose my naive intuition felt uncomfortable that my brain is clockwork. Makes me feel like a machine..

However, my naive intuition felt comfortable with my "soul" having intangible thoughts which exist on some separate soul-plane and interact with only with one another (and not with objects) except insofar that they produce actions on the external, object filled world and receive sensory input from it.

Once the "comfortable" view has been explicitly stated, it becomes clear that the "uncomfortable" view actually is the comfortable view, just phrased in different words and with minor alterations.

So what is your version of the "comfortable" view?

Comment author: Laoch 11 December 2013 08:37:05AM *  0 points [-]

I'm not actually sure if I'm allowed to say that?

Edit: oops

The comfortable view is indistinguishable from the uncomfortable view I agree.

Comment author: Ishaan 11 December 2013 08:45:10AM *  0 points [-]

er...what? I do not understand.

Comment author: Laoch 11 December 2013 08:49:34AM 0 points [-]

Aw shit seg fault :D

Comment author: hyporational 09 December 2013 06:13:51AM *  8 points [-]

I have depressive tendencies and have noticed having pessimistic ideas about the universe has nothing to do with evidence. Fatalism and compatibilism are both different, I'd say emotional, interpretations of the same evidence, so does picking either one really have anything to do with arguments?

It's better to pick interpretations that make you happier, if you don't have evidence either way. If you want to be emotionally neutral, don't pick any interpretation. You don't need fatalism or compatibilism for anything, they're really not beliefs that do any useful ontological work.

Comment author: Laoch 09 December 2013 07:58:52AM *  4 points [-]

I'm not alone then, what a relief. I can't seem to suck any long lasting joy out of the universe presently. The best I can do is keep myself away from depressive thoughts. <Off topic> How do you combat those tendencies? They always seem to get the better of me.

Comment author: hyporational 09 December 2013 02:28:23PM *  8 points [-]

If you're generally tired, you should see a doctor so that common physical causes can be ruled out.

No matter what, I try to get quality sleep. If I'm sleep deprived, I'm absolutely useless. This is easily the number one thing far above others.

The other lowest hanging fruit for me roughly in order are: avoiding alcohol and recreational drugs, work and other kinds of mental exercise, social interaction, SSRIs, basic breath meditation, physical exercise, eating healthy, some caffeine and low dose nicotine. Improving your life situation in various mundane ways should work too, like gjm pointed out.

I try to avoid free thinking and interaction when I'm tired, which is usually in the evening. That's when I'm the most vulnerable to being moody and confrontational and making the kinds of mistakes that haunt me afterwards, or getting racing thoughts on stupid shit that doesn't really matter. I probably have other useful habits I'm not even aware of that I've developed over the years.

I recommend you study and experiment with yourself and try to make a habit of the things that work and ditch the stuff that doesn't. Reaping the rewards can take some time, so try to be patient. You can't improve everything at once, but every good decision makes the next good decision easier.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 09 December 2013 04:34:54PM *  3 points [-]

If you're generally tired, you should see a doctor so that common physical causes can be ruled out. No matter what, I try to get quality sleep. If I'm sleep deprived, I'm absolutely useless. This is easily the number one thing far above others.

A few years ago, I used to be tired most of the day. Then I fixed a few things and the problem seems gone. Unfortunately, I don't know exactly which of these things contributed to the outcome (maybe it was something else).

First thing was to get enough sleep. So I started a habit that when I go to sleep, I set my alarm clock to T + 8 hours. Then I tried going to sleep at 23:00 (but if despite my plans I go to sleep later, I still set my alarm clock to T+8). Second was regular exercise: at least 20 push-up each day. Third was having enough light during the day: I turn on all the lights at work. Fourth was going outside for a few hours walk every week. Fifth was getting iron suplements (by blood tests I was at the bottom of the healthy range, but I had some of the anemia symptoms listed in Wikipedia, so I decided to get in the middle of the range).

As a result, instead of feeling tired during most of the day, I feel okay. Which allows me to do things I was previously too tired to do.

The chemistry of the body has a huge influence on the mind. Minds are made of atoms, not of magic. Sometimes a simple hack (such as taking a 20-min nap if you are too tired, unless it is late evening) provides better results than trying to use willpower. Yet for some reason, many people (including me) are prone to think about the "mental" solutions only.

EDIT: It is bad for sleep to exercise before going to bed. So an important step in building the exercise habit was to exercise right after I get home from work. Otherwise other stuff starts interfering.

Comment author: Baughn 10 December 2013 05:54:32PM 2 points [-]

You might also be able to try siestas. It depends on your school/work conditions, and quite possibly your biology, but I've found that taking half an hour out just after lunch helps me a lot.

Generally I sleep about 7.5 hours if I take siestas, 8.5 otherwise, so I'm actually getting net positive waking time out of this in addition to generally being smarter for more of the day.

Comment author: hyporational 09 December 2013 05:38:08PM 2 points [-]

I bet all of those things you mentioned helped, and perhaps none of them would have been enough alone.

It's also worth mentioning sleep needs can vary a lot. I need 9-10 hours to feel refreshed. Some people do fine with 5-6 hours. If you have sleep debt, you might need several longer nights to recover.

Comment author: gjm 09 December 2013 11:05:32AM 7 points [-]

I think this question is basically equivalent to "How do you combat depression?". I have heard good things about cognitive therapy, and ambiguous things about SSRIs. There's a book called "Feeling Good" that's alleged (by at least one person on LW) to capture enough of the techniques of cognitive therapy that using it is a pretty good approximation to doing actual cognitive therapy. (And of course much cheaper. But also easier to stop doing without anyone noticing.)

I guess the other thing I'd advise is to look mundanely for areas of your life that could be improved, and see if there's low-hanging fruit to pick. I believe some people report large improvements in affective state after improving their sleeping or getting a lot more exercise, for instance. Or if you're in a boring ill-paid low-status job or a relationship where you don't really get on with one another, maybe there are things you can do to improve (or replace) those. Someone else linked to the "Existential Angst Factory" article, which I think is correct in suggesting that many cases of general the-universe-is-useless wretchedness are really the product of "ordinary" unhappiness that might be fixable. Of course all this is easier said than done, especially if you're already depressed.

Comment author: Laoch 09 December 2013 02:13:05PM 2 points [-]

Thanks really helpful post. I've never had a close physical partner relationship and I'm not sure the kind of damage that has done to my affective state. I suspect an awful lot. But it has become the norm for me and find it extremely difficult to even relate to someone who is not in that situation. I've also developed a strong distaste(hatred) for normative behaviour w.r.t settling down and having kids even having a partner. I'm in a situation where it comes across as a personality death sentence. Also I struggle with the having of kids idea. So there's a lot there that I don't even no where to begin unravelling the problem especially since the problem has become a part of who I am.

As for the exercise front for example, I'd say I'm in the 90th+ percentile of my local society or even the world I've no data on the amount of people with 6 packs(me: 85kg 1.85meters body fat level where I can see my abs) but most men my age (30.5 rotations of the sun) have double chins. This does not seem to translate well w.r.t attracting females I find attractive. Maybe I don't get out enough? My housemate tells me that the physical attractiveness of a man can be distorted when they open their mouth. I'm pretty sure my conversational behaviour and body language are rank with inadequacy, maybe even, juvenile.

The job situation is a crisis zone. I'm a software engineer, quelle suprise but I've never really embraced it, while I'm a good coder and have great grades and some decent experience, I've wasted a lot of opportunity in the world of s/w dev. My guess is the powerful, "call the shots" kind of people in the industry are usually people I don't like, I find the developer, manager personality split nauseating (or maybe I'm imagining that split). On meta level I think my analytical skills could be put to better use somewhere else (MSc in CompSci, Machine Learning/CogSci). Pay isn't so bad but definitely not good enough for me to have the lifestyle of my contemporaries in Dublin.

Comment author: Lumifer 10 December 2013 05:25:29AM 3 points [-]

I've also developed a strong distaste(hatred) for ... even having a partner.

does not seem to translate well w.r.t attracting females I find attractive.

Think there is a causal link from your observation #1 to your observation #2?

Comment author: Laoch 10 December 2013 08:03:34AM 0 points [-]

Can't get the ones I'm interested in so I don't want them, perhaps? Bit of a catch 22.

Comment author: hyporational 09 December 2013 02:58:59PM *  3 points [-]

I've also developed a strong distaste(hatred) for normative behaviour w.r.t settling down and having kids even having a partner.

Not wanting them is ok too, you know.

My housemate tells me that the physical attractiveness of a man can be distorted when they open their mouth.

Most of male attractiveness today is determined by signals of intelligence, wealth and social power. It doesn't matter if you look like Brad Pitt if your social skills suck. Don't commit the typical mind fallacy when thinking about attraction. Women don't think like you do.

Comment author: Laoch 09 December 2013 04:21:47PM 0 points [-]

Ya that's for sure. Does that mean I have to think like them to get with them? Am I even capable of that. Sorry for the off topic post.

Comment author: hyporational 09 December 2013 05:06:44PM *  4 points [-]

No and probably not. Don't get me wrong, there are also important similarities between men and women. Social skills are complex, and I recommend you improve them more generally if you really care about becoming better with women. This will get you actual social power, and help with getting a better job. You could also gain allies that can help you with women both directly and by teaching you by example.

Here's a resource on social skills that might help you get started.

Improving your life in other ways will make it more interesting to other people.

Comment author: ESRogs 11 December 2013 12:47:24AM 1 point [-]

Hi, just wanted to chime in with a recommendation for dealing with times of feeling depressed: try moodscope.com. It's a site that offers a very short survey / game that you can take / play to register your current mood.

You can use it daily, or just log in whenever you're feeling especially up or down. I think I usually come off as a pretty happy person, but sometimes I get depressed too. I found it to be surprisingly helpful to acknowledge and express those feelings. Tracking these moods on moodscope helps me to see that how I feel is very much related to temporary circumstances and is subject to change.

Another feature of the site that I recommend is sharing your scores with a trusted friend. My best friend and I do this, so we each get an email when the other registers a score. One of the ways that this is useful is that it lowers the barriers to reaching out for help. If I'm feeling down, I don't have to track someone down and launch into a big explanation. I can just fill out a moodscope, which I find useful on its own, and then if my friend sees it he might also ask me how I'm doing, which makes me feel better too.

I hope that helps!

Comment author: Laoch 11 December 2013 08:48:01AM 1 point [-]

I actually use Moodscope, probably because you mentioned it before? Unfortunately my average score since I started using it is 30%, there are large gaps for the summer time and my mood was better when I started using it first but not great. See my Moodscope Graph for a pic that's worth a 1000 words. I don't think moodscope is appropriate for me tbh. I need to avail of a stronger mental health treatment I think. :(

Comment author: ESRogs 11 December 2013 05:11:45PM 2 points [-]

Oh, did I? I'm sorry to hear that it hasn't turned out to be helpful. It sounds like you are serious about getting the help you need though. Identifying the problem is obviously one of the most important steps to the solution. :) Good luck, friend!

Comment author: Laoch 12 December 2013 08:37:29AM 2 points [-]

I should really ring the GP today.

Comment author: ESRogs 12 December 2013 05:37:39PM 2 points [-]

Sounds like a good plan!

Comment author: Laoch 09 December 2013 08:44:22AM 3 points [-]

Would it be appropriate to thumbs up everyone who contributed?

Comment author: lmm 09 December 2013 01:20:28PM 6 points [-]

Upvote what you want to encourage. I've upvoted most of the replies here; this post seems to have got an unusually good ratio of valuable replies (admittedly those replies are somewhat repetitive)

Comment author: gjm 09 December 2013 11:46:54AM 2 points [-]

I think the range of appropriate policies is roughly from "upvote everything you regard as, on balance, a net positive contribution to LW" to "upvote things you regard as exceptionally high quality". Indiscriminate upvoting (or downvoting) of everything in a particular discussion would be frowned on a bit, at least by me and anyone else whose brain happens to be identical to mine, but it's not forbidden or anything.

Comment author: brazil84 09 December 2013 12:55:32AM 2 points [-]

I have a question:

Let's suppose that you make the decision to improve yourself in some way (e.g. quit smoking, lose weight, get in shape, etc.) and by dint of careful study; planning; and effort you succeeded -- despite a lot of psychological obstacles. Let's suppose further that your success was a bit of a surprise to your friends, family, and even to yourself.

Would you take that as evidence that you have a good deal of control over your destiny? Or would you feel that even the high level internal process which guided your efforts were inevitable even if difficult for even you to foresee?

Comment author: savageorange 09 December 2013 03:28:54AM 0 points [-]

Was your intent to point out that these two view points are strictly non-contradictory?. (Your decision algorithm is exactly physics, so no opposition is possible even in principle.)

Comment author: brazil84 13 December 2013 07:51:52PM 0 points [-]

Was your intent to point out that these two view points are strictly non-contradictory?. (Your decision algorithm is exactly physics, so no opposition is possible even in principle.)

My intent was to get a better understanding of what the original poster was talking about.

Comment author: CronoDAS 08 December 2013 01:14:59AM 2 points [-]
Comment author: hairyfigment 07 December 2013 09:06:32PM 3 points [-]

Maybe you're not in control of your future, meaning you have real practical problems that you prefer not to address.

Comment author: Laoch 07 December 2013 09:08:30PM 1 point [-]

You mean like I'm ignoring real issues in my current situation that make me feel as though I'm out of control?

Comment author: Dorikka 07 December 2013 09:27:17PM 1 point [-]
Comment author: hairyfigment 07 December 2013 09:12:38PM -1 points [-]

Well, it seems theoretically possible that someone with no such issues could share these concerns. But I was not even remotely surprised to check your comment history (after writing the grandparent) and see you looking for a better job.

Comment author: Gurkenglas 08 December 2013 01:21:24AM 2 points [-]
Comment author: JentryJones 12 December 2013 06:15:22PM 0 points [-]

Could you explain how this solves the issue of fatalism? It is obvious that everything that happens and will happen is subject to physical laws that cause its happening to be possible. But the author of that post does not seem to advance the argument that everything that will occur is determined to occur inevitably — which is what the doctrine of fatalism claims to be true, in my understanding of it. Unless I missed something, I don't see how this solves the conundrum that is fatalism.

Comment author: Gurkenglas 13 December 2013 08:56:15AM 0 points [-]

Assuming that the universe is indeed deterministic, we shouldn't conclude that the choices we make/the programming of our brain/"we" don't influence anything, just as we should one-box on Newcomb's problem; and since knowing that all is determined doesn't tell us what choices to make, we shouldn't be influenced by it in our choices.

Comment author: scientism 07 December 2013 10:14:11PM 2 points [-]

Move something eye-catching into an odd place where you'll see it shortly after waking up in the morning. Whenever you see it say to yourself, "I put that there."

Comment author: shminux 07 December 2013 08:54:42PM 2 points [-]

In retrospect, everything is predetermined.

Comment author: TheAncientGeek 12 December 2013 03:24:01PM 1 point [-]

Fatalism would require eveything-is-physics + physics-is-deterministic. The latter is open to dispute.

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 15 December 2013 08:18:55PM 0 points [-]

And for fatalism to be psychologically problematic, you also need what-you-value-isn't-possible.

Comment author: TheAncientGeek 16 December 2013 05:22:16PM 0 points [-]

And for fatalism to be psychologically problematic, you also need what-you-value-isn't-possible.

You need it to be unikely. If you have a fairly specific and fixed set of requriements, you are unlikley to have them delivered to you by a determinsitc process that doens't care about you. Being able to change thiings to get your requiremetns is not guaranteed, but is more hopeful. And then there is thesage's advice to adjust your requirements to the situation...

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 17 December 2013 01:15:08AM 0 points [-]

I meant, what you value in terms of 'free will'.

Comment author: ialdabaoth 16 December 2013 05:52:39PM 0 points [-]

And then there is thesage's advice to adjust your requirements to the situation...

Which needs some VERY clear fences around it to avoid wireheading.

Comment author: hyporational 16 December 2013 06:31:21PM 0 points [-]

Is wireheading really a clearly defined concept to begin with?

Comment author: ialdabaoth 16 December 2013 06:36:57PM 0 points [-]

No, which is why you need the fences.

Comment author: hyporational 16 December 2013 06:46:49PM 0 points [-]

Where would you put a fence between smoking and wireheading?

Comment author: TheOtherDave 12 December 2013 05:38:53PM 0 points [-]

Would you mind unpacking what you understand "fatalism" to describe here?

Comment author: TheAncientGeek 13 December 2013 09:48:49AM *  0 points [-]

To keep things simple, I was taking it to mean soemthing likefuture events occuring with probability 1. In fact, it is a rather ticker concept, that can inlude the idea that future evnts are inevitabe even if not causally determined, and the idea of acquiescing psychologically to the future.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 13 December 2013 03:49:31PM 0 points [-]

OK; thanks for clarifying.

Comment author: ephion 09 December 2013 02:06:45PM 1 point [-]

The human mind is an incredibly powerful and really weird contraption. If it believes something to be true, then it almost bends reality to make it so. This is most easily demonstrated with the placebo effect -- which works, even if patients know it's a placebo. Buddhist monks can alter their body temperature through meditation. Athletes can train for years in order to achieve superhuman levels of strength.

Unfortunately, that power works both ways -- if you believe that you're incapable of something, you will fail, even if you're otherwise capable. Most people limit themselves by believing that they're less capable than they really are. Most people give up when they could push through and succeed.

Comment author: Laoch 14 January 2014 12:04:42PM 0 points [-]

As an update, I've read the the Free Will Solution sequence. It doesn't seem like there is any punchline to the sequences, I'm found the area of timeless physics interesting but I'm not sure how it helps. I don't think I'm any better off intellectually from the sequences.

Comment author: Laoch 16 December 2013 11:32:45AM 0 points [-]

Is it meaningful to say something is only deterministic from the point of view of an observer?

Comment author: JentryJones 12 December 2013 01:05:30AM 0 points [-]

I don't believe I entirely understand the point of view of fatalists.

Like all other animals, the behavior of humans is essentially the output of a great many number of inputs, much of it which can be explained physiologically. For example, chemicals in the air will bind to receptors in a rat's olfactory system which will in turn communicate to the rat all of the scents of its surroundings. An empty stomach will activate a rat's sympathetic nervous system that will cause it to search for food. Add a certain stimulus to the environment -- say, cheese -- and the hungry rat will gravitate towards it, eventually consuming it. Humans are very similar to mice in this pursuit of food, and if all actions (or outputs) were the results of similar simple physiological inputs, then I would be more inclined to accept fatalism.

But not everything can be explained in such a manner. Say I numbered 0 through 9 some odd assortment of chores I don't really want to do. Among them might include cleaning up my cluttered room, emptying the dishwasher, and sorting the pantry. I roll a balanced ten-sided dice or run a RNG simulator and the number I receive is 6. Six, however, was the number assigned to the most unpleasant task of all, scrubbing the toilet. Yet I still find some way to scrub the toilet despite it not contributing to survival or reproduction, not being a pleasant task, and being completely out of my direct decision.

As another example, I decide completely out of hand that I must begin to eat an apple a day because I want more natural vitamins in my diet. Was it my deficiency of vitamins that physiologically alerted me to the fact that I need more apples in my life? If not, how was I able to convince myself to eat more apples?

How exactly was I fated to scrub the toilet or eat the apples? Was there some malevolent being out there controlling the dice so it would land on 6? Or was it determined in some secular way that I was intended to roll a 6, despite a 90% chance that I would not? Did some benevolent being nudge me in the direction of apples, because it knew I was lacking essential vitamins? Or did my lack of vitamins provoke some unknown physiological response that caused me to think the thought, "I need more apples in my diet"?

The bottom line is that determinism, fatalism, and the like are not things that can be measured or observed using natural instruments. They cannot be theorized with mathematical proofs based on current understandings of science. They aren't extrapolated conclusions based on relevant evidence. So, they're superstition. Are they not?