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Rationalist house

4 Post author: Elo 27 August 2014 10:52PM

At the Australia online hangout; one of the topics we discussed (before I fell asleep on camera for a bunch of people) Was writing a rationality TV show as an outreach task.  Of course there being more ways for this to go wrong than right I figured its worth mentioning the ideas and getting some comments.

The strategy is to have a set of regular characters who's rationality behaviour seems nuts.  Effectively sometimes because it is; when taken out of context.  Then to have one "blank" person who tries to join - "rationality house". and work things out.  My aim was to have each episode straw man a rationality behaviour and then steelman it.  Where by the end of the episode it saves the day; makes someone happy; achieves a goal - or some other <generic win-state>.

Here is a list of notes of characters from the hangout or potential topics to talk about.

  • No showers. Bacterial showers
  • Stopwatches everywhere
  • temperature controls everywhere, light controls.
  • radical honesty person.
  • Soylent only eating person
  • born-again atheist
  • bayesian person
  • Polyphasic sleep cycles.
I have not written much in my life and certainly never anything for TV but it sounds like a fun project.  I figured I would pick a pilot idea; roll with it and see if I can make a script.  I could probably also get Sydney folk to act for a first-round web-cast version.

I was wondering if anyone had any other rationality topics that can be easily strawmanned then steelmanned worth adding to the list.  And if anyone had experience worth sharing with writing for TV, as well as anyone interested in joining the project to write or be a sounding board...


Comments (43)

Comment author: sixes_and_sevens 27 August 2014 11:33:46PM 13 points [-]

There is a term for unconventional strategies outside of behavioural norms that provide benefits: positive deviance. It's also a catchy and awesome-sounding term that, in the unlikely event of this concept ever making it to air, wouldn't tar the term "rationalist" with connotations of not showering, goo diets, and saying whatever unfiltered thought passes through your mind.

That said, I like this as an intellectual exercise, so:

  • Ergonomics (standing desks, DVORAK, Vibram Five-Fingers, etc.)
  • Quantified Self
  • Nootropics / biohacking
  • Time-management / productivity
Comment author: satt 27 August 2014 11:53:33PM 4 points [-]

Comfort zone expansion?

An epistemic example instead of an instrumental one: looking up look-up-able facts instead of bickering or speculating about them.

Comment author: Elo 28 August 2014 12:54:18AM 5 points [-]

COZE is a good inclusion... People going out and doing un-fun things and then later being all like, "I tried a rave once, and I don't usually like it. How about we go to pizza instead"

Have a coffee table "the lookup table" so that you can look things up and talk about learning about them when you discover new things. Or some way to put arguments on hold till you look them up...

Comment author: Elo 28 August 2014 12:51:15AM 2 points [-]

Its easy to say "not shower" and "thats gotta be terrible", but its (potentially hilarious) to have a guy running around town insisting people smell him because he smells great! and hasn't showered in years! And demonstrating the success of the results; rather than the ickyness of no-showers.

goo diets is very strawmanned. Steelmanned is that hungover guy not sure what to eat - just eat soylent. That grumpy "I can't decide what to eat" feeling and a person being angry and someone else going - just eat some soylent! and then everyone going out to dinner and talking about how delicious everything tastes.

radical truth can be painful or helpful depending on where/when it happens. you just need <blank person> to get woken up by radical truth guy at 2am doing something annoying and have him yell at radical truth guy for being annoying, and then have radical truth guy stop and say, "this is so great that you are taking it on board but next time try less yelling"

I like those suggestions too...

Comment author: cousin_it 28 August 2014 11:31:38AM 10 points [-]

Outsiders will probably see this as a show about stupid people who fall for random fads, because it's not widely known that this particular set of fads is somehow associated with "rationality".

Comment author: Elo 28 August 2014 08:30:41PM 5 points [-]

Something like "portlandia"?

Comment author: Lumifer 28 August 2014 03:19:11PM 5 points [-]

Outsiders will probably see this as a show about stupid people who fall for random fads

s/stupid people/weird freaks/

Comment author: Elo 28 August 2014 08:32:57PM 0 points [-]

I don't believe that outsiders have that perception of me. If you take a glimpse of my life. Any day; any hour. It probably doesn't explain itself. But if you grow to know me I make more sense than anyone I know...

You can have any outward view of the world that you like; but I reserve my right to believe that people can understand. If they are brought to connect in the right way.

Comment author: philh 28 August 2014 09:10:54PM 4 points [-]

But if you grow to know me I make more sense than anyone I know...

Do the people who know you agree with this statement?

Comment author: Elo 03 September 2014 02:37:56AM 1 point [-]

I will check with them and get back to you... But good question :)

Comment author: Lumifer 28 August 2014 09:18:13PM *  2 points [-]

I don't believe that outsiders have that perception of me.

I'm sorry, are you planning to write a TV series about yourself?

I make more sense than anyone I know

Oh, so do I :-D and so do, probably, the majority of all people...

Comment author: Elo 03 September 2014 02:39:25AM 0 points [-]

**me as a student of rationality; And the friends I have made along the way. Not explicitly a show about me, but I can only really create from what I know. Any writings must have an inch of myself inserted into the story...

Comment author: V_V 28 August 2014 08:47:22AM *  9 points [-]

My aim was to have each episode straw man a rationality behaviour and then steelman it. Where by the end of the episode it saves the day; makes someone happy; achieves a goal - or some other <generic win-state>.

A Disney-like educational show for grown ups? I'm under the impression that this kind of plot works well for children shows, but isn't exactly interesting to an adult audience. Relevant TVTropes links: Anvilicious, Author Tract, Eigen Plot, Asspull, and of course Mary Sue.

Moreover, even if the show turns out to be entertaining, there is a very real chance to screw it up into a freak show and tar the word "rationality" much like Ayn Rand tarred the word "objective".
Steelmanning the weird "rationalist" habits you listed in a convincing way would quite difficult, given that most of them are indeed questionable practices.

Comment author: Vaniver 29 August 2014 12:30:51AM 4 points [-]

The first thing I thought of when I read this is Chris Traeger from Parks and Recreation, who is for being health conscious what Ron Swanson is for being libertarian. (In general, Parks and Rec has a very friendly way of being over the top, which I think is a huge part of its appeal.)

Comment author: Gunnar_Zarncke 28 August 2014 05:43:08PM 4 points [-]

I wonder what inhabitants of actual rationalist houses have to say about this.

Comment author: Elo 28 August 2014 08:33:56PM 0 points [-]

If you (or anyone knows of any) Can you send them in this direction to comment on the way that they see themselves and how outsiders who might occasionally enter their world might perceive them?

Comment author: alicey 08 November 2014 08:50:47AM *  1 point [-]

Hi! I live in a rationalist house in Berkeley.

It sounds really cringey and not really rationalist.

Like, um, most of those things are interesting lifehacks that probably don't actually work? Notably:

  • Soylent is made out of horrifyingly cheap ingredients and isn't safe to replace too much with, and isn't very good for you at all. I am a mealsquares-mostly eating person though! Because mealsquares are wonderful. I also eat fish. And tasty things.
  • Leverage's experiment on polyphasic shows that it doesn't actually work.
  • What is a "bayesian person" even? Someone who thinks Bayes' Rule sounds really cool and tries to flavor other things with it? That ... mostly doesn't work.

Like they say, rationality is about winning, and winning can be adequately approximated by maxipok.

Comment author: RomeoStevens 28 August 2014 03:24:37AM 4 points [-]

Can it be MealSquares instead of Soylent? :D

Comment author: Elo 28 August 2014 04:12:59AM 0 points [-]

I dont see why not... it just seems to be a variant on Soylent. I wonder if we could get funding via product placement...

Comment author: RomeoStevens 28 August 2014 07:20:46AM 7 points [-]

it just seems to be a variant on Soylent

D:
It's my company (along with my cofounder, John Maxwell, who is also a user here.) It's easily twice as rational as Soylent.

Comment author: Elo 28 August 2014 07:49:49AM 7 points [-]

Also you should probably make a post somewhere on the interwebs saying "whats the difference between mealsquares and soylent". I googled it and got to a soylent forum I think...

Comment author: RomeoStevens 28 August 2014 10:33:58AM 4 points [-]

That's a good idea, thanks.

Comment author: devas 28 August 2014 11:36:25AM 3 points [-]

Now I really, really, really want to know in what SI units rationality is measured.

Litres, perhaps?

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 28 August 2014 03:28:26PM *  2 points [-]

Inverse Watts?

Edit: Oh wait. Lumens, duh.

Comment author: Lumifer 28 August 2014 03:43:50PM 1 point [-]

Yoctoeliezers, of course.

Comment author: mare-of-night 29 August 2014 08:49:54PM 1 point [-]

I just saw your website, and it looks like a really neat idea. (I tried to make a whole foods soylent myself, and couldn't achieve a texture that didn't gross me out.) My body doesn't usually handle eggs well, but I'll probably join the crowdfund to try it anyway, since it'd be so convenient if it did work.

Do you have any plans to publish a recipe? (I imagine it would be possible to make substitutions, for people in situations like mine.) Kudos for avoiding so many of the common allergy foods (gluten/soy/corn/peanuts).

Comment author: RomeoStevens 29 August 2014 08:52:27PM 2 points [-]

Soylent Orange is open source, we're keeping MealSquares proprietary for now.

Comment author: mare-of-night 29 August 2014 10:22:16PM 0 points [-]

Okay, thanks.

Comment author: Gunnar_Zarncke 31 August 2014 09:37:16PM 0 points [-]

None of the all-in-one foods I know of can be chewed. This makes it problematic at least for children as mastication may be needed for jaw development and cause dental misplacement. Beside turning away all those who enjoy chewing food.

Comment author: RomeoStevens 31 August 2014 09:39:46PM 0 points [-]

Yeah, we're good for that reason, but OTOH it cuts out a big part of the geriatric market for us since many of them can NOT chew.

Comment author: Elo 28 August 2014 07:47:48AM 0 points [-]

Will you give money/support to the efforts in the name of product placement? (Also - thats good enough for me even if you won't give money)

Comment author: RomeoStevens 28 August 2014 10:37:50AM 0 points [-]

We'd certainly send people your way. Money is up in the air this early in the startup.

Comment author: cameroncowan 28 August 2014 08:04:28PM 2 points [-]

As an experienced writer and someone who has experience in TV and Film I can say that this concept would really work especially if you had a different scenario each episode and then also had a cast of characters who represented different spectrums of rational living. So for example:

Character A: Biohacker Character B: Quantified Self Character C: Time efficiency expert

and so on, find someone who has taken up a particular area of rationalist living and then create your scenarios:

Ergonomics (I love my Vibrams please and thank you!) Quantified Self Time Efficiency Consciousness Bio-showering Sleep cycles Religion/atheist

Then each week you would have your characters explore each area from their unique perspective and watch the fun. The test would be not only to highlight the different way that people live but also what they decide to adopt as apart of their rationalist thinking. You could take the characters to different experts that would teach them how to live in that manner and then give them a challenge. So for example:

Week 1: Bio-showers Characters go to a bio-shower expert and learn to bio shower. Characters then live 3 days on only bio-showering after extreme physical activity, sedentary activity, and medium intensity activity and after bio-showering then going to close quarters environments like a library, a subway/bus, or a store. Then track the reactions of people and how it all works out.

You could also find out how far the characters are willing to go to live a fully rational life. Cut in some personal interviews and you have a show. I would recommend 6 characters with 3 men and 3 women.

Feel free to contact....

Comment author: drethelin 28 August 2014 02:50:06AM 1 point [-]

Doesn't Big Bang Theory already exist?

Comment author: Elo 28 August 2014 04:14:36AM 5 points [-]

I want to create a variant on that for rationality topics; not "giant sci-fi nerds living together"; but "giant rationality geniuses" living together.

and I want it to show rationality being a win-state not a laugh-at-me-state.

Comment author: drethelin 28 August 2014 07:02:35AM 9 points [-]

I don't think this is possible. A show with consistent interactions between the same people needs either an external enemy or internal strife to keep it interesting. Shows like Always Sunny rely on the main character's biases, stupidities, and selifshness to generate strife within the group. A rationalist house would simply not be this way. Rationalists who hate each other would find some sort of system by which they can minimize interaction along dimensions they hate (maybe scheduling separate mealtimes if one is a vegan) or simply move away. As far as external enemies go, you're creating a very different kind of show.

Comment author: Elo 28 August 2014 07:32:17AM 4 points [-]

I imagine the rest of the world outside the house to be <the enemy of the unknown> and bearing in mind that no one is perfectly rational; and most people you find will be still on their journey of "getting better". I imagined my characters to only be "most of the way there".

They may appear to be incongruently on their way to rationality (aka - better in some areas than others). But such is the nature of the journey. For we are not all naturally born saints.

There is a lot of rationality to try to have it all there at once. It would have to be an imaginary "inquiry" process where a particular notion or two will be focussed on at any given episode. This episode focusses on the errors caused by a lack of bayesian reasoning over simple tasks, and further the failures of having too much of it... And eventually the advantages of bayesian thinking win out over the disadvantages.

Take: trigger-action person. (they rely on verbal triggers to do a whole bunch of actions) i.e. pushups, smiles. And have them get into a fight over their trigger action (oh no - sometimes the world is just tricky to navigate). But also have them succeed at whatever trigger action they were trying to complete. Make the win-states outweigh the losses...

Journey to the win-states? With bad jokes along the way?

Do you have/know someone with experience in scriptwriting?

Comment author: drethelin 30 August 2014 02:38:25AM 3 points [-]

I don't have experience beyond having watched a lot of tv and talked about it but I have watched a LOT of tv, read a LOT of books, and seen quite a few movies.

Insofar as you make average people and situations the enemy of your main cast, you are positioning yourself as critical of normality, in a way similar to Dilbert. I think that's a decent stance to take, though I can't think of a good example that has a wide cast of competent people. But making fun of normality is a LOT easier than presenting a coherent upgrade. This is similar to the problem of writing very intelligent characters: It's not easy to write someone smarter than yourself.

Since your show is explicitly didactic, it's very vulnerable to mistakes on the part of the writing, as well as your own biases. The fact that you're drawing your bottom line before you start also has a sort of gravitational pull on the quality of your story. There will always be a temptation to present normal people as extra irrational and the solutions of your "rational" main cast will work much better than they might in reality. Even if every situation is drawn from real life examples of rationalists and their households, they can still come off as preachy and unrealistic. I don't think you can make this show with this intent and have it be good entertainment, as opposed to a blatant after-school special style program.

Comment author: Elo 03 September 2014 02:37:00AM 1 point [-]

"Upgraded normality" is a neat name.

I am going to try to work out how to put the first few steps into creating a plot/script for an episode and see how it goes. (when I get around to it - it will be posted somewhere online)

Comment author: polymathwannabe 28 August 2014 03:20:03AM 4 points [-]

Yes, and the characters are terrible rationalists.

Comment author: Elo 28 August 2014 04:15:15AM 3 points [-]

Big bang had an alternative purpose. They did well. And maybe its time we stepped up to the plate...

Comment author: Khoth 28 August 2014 09:07:22PM 1 point [-]

What's this not showering thing? I've never heard of that one.

Comment author: Lumifer 28 August 2014 09:22:30PM 4 points [-]

It's a fad :-D See e.g. this.