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Handling Emotional Appeals

11 fiddlemath 10 December 2011 07:30AM

In a comment elsewhere, BrandonReinhart asked:

Why is it not acceptable to appeal to emotion while at the same time back it with well evidenced research? Or rather, why are we suspicious of the findings of those who appeal to emotion while at the same time uninterested in turning an ear to those who do not?

[...] Emotional appeals would seem to have more of an urgency, requiring our attention while the scientific view's far-mode appeal would seem less immediate. In that case, we might simply ignore the far mode story because of all the other urgent-seeming vacuous emotional appeals fighting for our attention and time. Even if we politically agreed on a course of action given a far mode analysis, we might choose to spend our time on the near-mode emotional problem set.

I suspect that we percieve a dichotomy between emotional appeal and a well-reasoned, well-evidenced argument.

I have a just-so story for why our kind can't cooperate: We've learned to distrust emotional appeal. This is understandable: the strength of an emotional appeal to believe X and do Y doesn't correlate with the truth of X or the consequences of Y. In fact, we are surrounded by emotional appeals to believe nonsense and do useless things. The production and delivery of emotional appeal is politics, policy, and several major industries. So, in our environment, emotional appeal is a strong indicator against rational argument.

In order to defend against irrationality, I have a habit of shutting out emotional appeals. I tune out emotive religious talk. I remain carefully aloof from political speeches. I put emotional distance between myself and any enthusiastic crowd. In general, my immediate response to emotional appeal is to ignore the message it bears. It's automatic now, subverbal -- I have an aversion to naked emotional appeal.

I strongly suspect that I'm not only describing myself, but many of you as well. (Is this true? This is a testable hypothesis.)

If we largely manage to broadly ignore emotional appeal, then we shut out not only harmful manipulations, but worthwhile rallying cries. We are motivated only by the motivation we can muster ourselves, rather than what motivation we can borrow from our peers and leaders. This may go some way towards explaining not just why Our Kind Can't Cooperate, but why we seem to so often report that Our Kind Can't Get Much Done.

On the other hand, if this is a real problem, it suggests a solution. We could try to learn an alternative response to emotional appeal. Upon noticing near-mode emotional appeal, instead of rejecting the message outright, go to far mode and consider the evidence. If the argument is sound under careful, critical consideration, and you approve of its motivation, then allow the emotional appeal to move you. On the other hand, I don't know if this is psychologically realistic.

So, questions:

  1. I hypothesize that we are much more averse to emotional appeals than the normal population. Does this stike you as true? Do you have examples or counterexamples?

  2. How might we test this hypothesis?

  3. I further hypothesize that, if we are averse to emotional appeals, that this is a strong factor in both our widely-reported akrasia and our sometimes-noted inability to work well together. How could we test this hypothesis?

  4. Can you postpone being moved by an emotional appeal until after making a calm decision about it?

  5. Can you somehow otherwise filter for emotional appeals that are highly likely to have positive effects?

Does Hyperbolic Discounting Really Exist?

19 gwern 03 December 2011 03:07AM

“Beware of WEIRD psychological samples” because results derived from them may reflect the specific sample more than any kind of generalized truth. And LessWrong has generalized hyperbolic discounting out the wazoo. (See the tags akrasia and discounting.) Hyperbolic discounting is bad, of course, because among other things it leaves on vulnerable to preference reversals and inconsistencies and hence money-pumping.

But isn’t it odd that for a fundamental fact of human psychology, a huge bias we have spent a ton of collective time discussing and fighting, that it doesn’t seem to lead to much actual money-pumping? The obvious examples like the dieting or gambling industries are pretty small, all things considered. And online services like BeeMinder specifically devised on a hyperbolic discounting/picoeconomics basis are, as far as I know, useful but no dramatic breakthrough or silver bullet; again, not quite what one would expect. Like many other heuristics and biases, perhaps hyperbolic discounting isn’t so bad after all, in practice.

Ainslie mentions in Breakdown of Will somewhere that financial incentives can cause people to begin discounting exponentially. What if… hyperbolic discounting doesn’t really exist, in practice? If it may reflect a failure of self-control, a kind of teenager trait, one we find in younger (but not older) populations - like university students?

continue reading »

[Link] Walking Through Doors Causes Forgetting

5 khafra 21 November 2011 02:56PM

We investigated the ability of people to retrieve information about objects as they moved through rooms in a virtual space. People were probed with object names that were either associated with the person (i.e., carried) or dissociated from the person (i.e., just set down). Also, people either did or did not shift spatial regions (i.e., go to a new room). Information about objects was less accessible when the objects were dissociated from the person. Furthermore, information about an object was also less available when there was a spatial shift. However, the spatial shift had a larger effect on memory for the currently associated object. These data are interpreted as being more supportive of a situation model explanation, following on work using narratives and film. Simpler memory-based accounts that do not take into account the context in which a person is embedded cannot adequately account for the results.


There's probably some deep implications to this I'm not qualified to plumb.  But next time I'm concentrating on something, and need to get up from the computer and walk around a bit, I'm going to try avoiding doorways.

Mental Rebooting: "Your Brain on Porn"...

11 [deleted] 15 October 2011 05:14PM

... or "How to Operate Your Limbic System", or "A Practical Guide to Superstimulus". That's how I see it, anyway.

Your Brain on Porn is a website mainly dedicated to exposing the addictive aspects of pornographyinterpreting this in light of the blind idiot god; and then forming a community around "rebooting", or prolonged abstinence that allows the brain to re-sensitize itself to, at the least, non-fetishistic sexual pleasure. By consistently NOT accessing whatever circuit is driving one's, well, drive, one sends this loop into atrophy. Eventually, one becomes able to quit. And then one finds alternatives.

Here is why I find this site so valuable: frequently during the arguments the site owner sets up, he doesn't just bring up pornography as the culprit here. To form his clauses he draws upon research on  addictions to junk food, or video games, and then tries to draw parallels to porn's effects: the escalating need of novelty due to rapidly declining pleasure response.

So I don't think it stops with porn. For me, any superstimulus is a bad superstimulus, despite the fact that some sirens are more necessary to listen to than others. It could be worth reflecting on what would actually count as a superstimulus; and then asking if one would benefit from a long hiatus from that stimulus. I'm not sure how long that cycle would be, but many "rebooters" proclaim seeing effects after three weeks, up to three months. It might not be enough to simply manage akrasia, as there could still be a chronic sensitivity problem in place. That would require time.

Here's what I thought of, so far.

Superstimulus List:

  • Porn.
  • Tab explosions and social networks -- the online kind. (This could be the most challenging one: More often than not, a computer is needed for productivity. Who can afford taking a three-month break?)
  • Video games.
  • Disorganizations, mess, and clutter.
  • Junk food. (I'm tentative about this one, because I'm still trying to figure out what counts as "junk". As far as I've seen, this word usually gets ascribed to high calorie, high fat foods... but that possibly doesn't matter, as I see proportionally high-fat content paleo diets. Or it's a combination of fat and sugar that becomes addictive, but either/or is manageable.)
  • Loud music. (Shameless speculation.)
  • Much of advertising today seems to focus on getting our attention with superstimulus. Thus, being mindful when one is exposed could minimize possible effects.
  • Touch. If you really need to show some love,  Karezza  is popular amongst those who have rebooted.
  • Meditation and N-Back. Since this really does require mental discipline, it would be worth practising these attention-management strategies.
  • Exercise.
  • Fasting. (In small doses,  it's probably healthier than you think  and, broadly speaking, also results in some sort of re-sensitization. [scroll down])
Potential Benefits:
  • Reduction of social anxiety. (Socially dominant monkeys have a greater density of dopamine receptors in the striatum than their less-dominant counterparts. I'm not saying that abstaining from porn will turn you into the CEO of a corporation with three girlfriends and a gimp -- I wish! -- but it sure as hell wouldn't hurt.)
  • Clearer focus. (This may come from lack of wont than an actual greater ability to focus, which is fine.)
  • Greater motivation.
Think of it like this: if all your adaptive needs are fulfilled, what incentive is there for your body to maximize your fitness? For all  it  knows, you've done a great job: you are now in the dreaded Comfort Zone.
Abstinence puts one outside of the realm of comfort, but not to the point of putting one in harm's way. It requires no "push", just self-awareness; something I would consider as the lowest hanging fruit of self-improvement.
None of these lists are exhaustive. The whole principle could be unsound; I am only a third into  just trying it  and this excludes Internet use management.

Ig Nobel for the anti-akrasia guy

7 Craig_Heldreth 04 October 2011 01:28PM

The Improbable Research folks have awarded an Ig Nobel prize to John Perry (previously on Less Wrong) for his work on how to procrastinate and still get things done.

On their website.




(edited to fix the link)

Decision Fatigue, Rationality, and Akrasia.

17 Alexandros 19 September 2011 03:37PM

I was reading the NY Times article on Decision Fatigue, when I came upon a hypothesis I would like everyone's feedback on.

I take as a premise that there seems to be a high prevalence of akrasia in the lesswrong community.

I also take as a premise that the sequences give us a more-than-usual detailed model of the world, one that presents us with more possible trade-offs we could be making in every day life.

So the conjecture that by trying to reduce bias and perform a lot of cognitive calculation, we effectively spend large parts of our days in a decision fatigued state, leading to akrasia problems.

Does this sound (un)reasonable? Why? How would you go about turning this into a testable proposition?

UPDATE: Anna Salamon has put up a detailed poll here that may shed some light on the situation. Please take some time to fill it in.

Akrasic Reasoning

-4 MatthewBaker 05 August 2011 08:22PM

This post is in a constant state of revision, similar to this post. This is mainly because I do not have a beta and this is based on many personal experiences that are unclear at times.


This subject has been touched on many times throughout LessWrong because Akrasia is the most dangerous foe of any true follower of Rationality. When you know you could be amazing but you find yourself unable to change due to the havoc that feelings can play with your thoughts you feel helpless and I want to help you surpass that. I am beginning a Journey to fight Akrasia directly in all its forms and in the past such Journey's have been abandoned without much progress. In this mini-sequence of posts I plan to not only document my fight to push past the depressing weight of Akrasia as a tool to keep me on the path, I will also provide some anti-Akrasia reports on my progress with different techniques that fellow LessWrongians can look back on and draw strength from in times of despair and laziness.


My name is Matthew Baker and I want to save the world.

I think most people share the feeling that the world should be saved and that only true sociopaths can discount the value of all sentient life. This is so important because the majority of people aren't able to defeat their innate Akrasic reasoning, ugh fields, and other factors that prevent them from functioning in a way that aligns with their beliefs. I think that if you believe in something, and you wish to be more rational towards the world then you should either push your beliefs towards the current state of reality or push reality towards your current state of beliefs.

When I was younger and sought something that I could devote effort to that would change the world for the better, I was quite disillusioned by the fact that nearly every cause relied on their innate biases to deal with the problems facing them. From political struggles to moral tribulation humanity is very good at ignoring things that don't coincide with their worldview. I always sought to surpass that but for a long time I failed to find anything to believe in that coincided with reality. Now that my skepticism is satisfied I have to logically take a look at what things are preventing me from promoting my beliefs. Akrasia is the most dangerous foe of any true follower of rationality. I've personally experienced Akrasia as the feeling when you know you could be amazing but you find yourself unable to change due to the havoc that feelings can play with your thoughts. I am beginning a journey to fight Akrasia directly in all its forms. I've attempted this in the past without making much progress; I'm hoping a different approach will help me succeed (or at least make new and different mistakes). In this mini-sequence of posts I plan to document my fight to push past the depressing weight of Akrasia. As a tool to keep me on the path, I will also provide some anti-Akrasia reports on my progress with different techniques.

My goals for this quest are varied yet connected. I don't intend to take them all on at once, but instead phase them in over the upcoming month and see if i can find the limit of my ability to avoid wasting time.

  1. My goal to make myself more fit and transition to eating healthier food, right now I'm fairly skinny and I want to build some muscle to match with my height(6'1"). Enough so that I dont have trouble picking up things and carrying them without much out-word signalling of effort, but I'm not looking to become a bodybuilder or anything I just wanna optimize the vessel carrying my consciousnesses with better food and habits.

  2. My goal is to become more skilled socially, I rested on my social laurels for a long time and focused on associating with people that fit my views on set issues. For maximum success I will focus on general social group construction as I advance into my second year of college. I wanna see how much fun and rationality I can spread if I focus on being skilled at gathering smart and interesting people into the fun vortex I can create around me.

  3. My goal is to get a substantially higher GPA then I did last semester. I spent very little time on school but managed to pull off a 3.1 which was lower than my first semester GPA and I want this trend to reverse as I spend more focused time on school and actually study for the first time in my life.


Things that prevent me from achieving my goals are mostly random web browsing and gaming, lots of ugh fields I've only recently been able to write down and start purging from my thought process, negative emotions that sap my willpower and currently unknown other factors. Hopefully I will be able to surpass these problems with the power of self reflection and sharing, classical conditioning and positive substance use.

My goals for the upcoming week involve some social and fitness goals until school starts on the 20th. Hopefully I can get these partially phased in and be able to focus more on academia once I'm back up at school. For specific milestones I want to dance closely with at least 1 girl at a rave I'm going to tonight up in LA and I want to start working on pull-ups so I can get back up to my previous total(3) and start building from there.

I expect I'll have to deal with some social anxiety at the rave and some ugh field's towards the fitness, but hopefully this form of specific goal setting and reflection will work well. I will also have substances available for backup in case I fail to perform to my personal expectations. Combined, this should allow me to surpass my Akrasic Reasoning of the past for the sake of our combined future.

What can you gain from my efforts as fellow rationalists? Hopefully, once I've competed my journey I'll be able to explain my mind state well enough that you can learn from it and apply it to your own goals. When my mental state is low reading about how someone else was able to push back up from a similarly bad state can be amazingly helpful and I hope that I can provide that to others.


Tsuyoku Naritai! My Friends

P.S. If luck exists, I wish to gain more of it and believe in it so wish me luck with my first top level post. :) Edit: Its now in discussion until I see a surge of excitement towards the idea of this mini-sequence.




Competitive Essay Writing

10 Vaniver 27 June 2011 09:07AM

Quick report on an anti-akrasia method NMJablonski and I tried out: Competitive Essay Writing. Two (or more) people have something they need to write (but may not particularly want to)- everyone gets on a IM client and every thirty minutes reports how many words they've written so far.

I didn't have an essay to write, but I did have a wiki to update for the D&D campaign I'm running, and I so did that while NMJablonski wrote an essay for school due the next day. I won handily, but that may have been the style of writing I was doing. I found it useful to have the pressure to not waste time chasing rabbit trails (hmm, I ought to name this professor after the guy who discovered the circulation of blood. Why, hello wikipedia!), and he found it useful to have pressure to report a number- instead of staring at the screen wondering what to write, he would just pick something and go with it.


The next step, I think, is to write a program so that, instead of having to manually report progress every 30 minutes, the word count automatically updates for everyone you're competing with. I don't know if that would be distracting or not- I imagine having immediate feedback, instead of delayed feedback, would be superior.

psychology and applications of reinforcement learning: where do I learn more?

2 jsalvatier 26 June 2011 08:56PM

Minicamp made me take the notion of an Ugh Field seriously, and I've found Ugh Fields a fairly useful model for understanding how my brain works. I have/had lots of topics that have been unpleasant to think about and the cause of that unpleasantness seems to be strongly correlated with previous negative experiences.

More generally, animals, including humans, seem to use something like Temporal Difference learning very frequently (one source of that impression). If that's so, then understanding TD and related psychological research should give me a more accurate model of myself. I would expect it to help me understand when my dispositions and habits are likely to be useful (by knowing how they developed) and understand how to change my dispositions and habits. Thus I have a couple of questions: 

  1. Are my impressions accurate? 
  2. What books, papers, posts are the best for understanding these topics? I'd like material that addresses any of the following:
    1. How TD or related algorithms work
    2. What evidence says about whether human and/or animal brains frequently use TD or related algorithms and what situations brains use it for
    3. Practical consequences of the research (e.g. Ugh Fields, doing X is a good way to build habit Y, smiling is a reinforcement, etc.)

Dissolution of free will as a call to action

9 Dr_Manhattan 24 May 2011 12:41PM

Accepting determinism and the insuing dissolution of free will is often feared as something that would lead to loss of will and fatalism. Gary Drescher and Eliezer spend considerable effort explaining this as a fallacy. 

The one thing I don't remember mentioned is the opposite effect (but maybe I missed it) - if you experienced a failure to accomplish something, the free will explanation is likely to make you stop investigating the root cause, leaving it as a mystery. Once you accept determinism you know that a failure is determined by your mental algorithms, and should be much more motivated to push the investigation further, making yourself stronger.

Social Proficiency of a Rationalist and a Scholar

6 Raw_Power 21 May 2011 11:55PM

Followup to Recovering Insufferable Genius

So, we've been talking a mighty amount on avoiding and understanding the common pitfalls and mistakes that plague most human minds for various biological, evolutionary and social reasons. This knowledge is supposed to be used for the sake of learning how to think proprely and clearly about the world, and for the sake of making the right choices, and making them quickly. Both blades of the weapon can have a dramatic effect on how we interact with people. Behaviors that would appear absurd and annoying to us would suddenly gain a history, reasons for their existence until now and even for their continued existence. The incomprehensible people around us suddenly become fairly simple and predictable, to the point that you might, every now and then, understand them better than they do themselves. They also become all that much more interesting. You find yourself observing them, gently pushing their buttons as you eagerly wait for what they are going to do next. Of course, this applies just as much to you yourself. You see your own past in a very different light, and Akrasia remains difficult to escape. But at least now you know what you're doing wrong.

Anyway, you've discovered the pleasures of socializing, and you've even acquired an "edge" over those who relied on intuition ever since they were young. What I want us to discuss here is how to reach not just some "proficiency" in social navigation, but actual social excellence. We've collected research on how to be happy, on how to confront organizational problems, etc. I think it would be nice if we also collected data on how to be polite. How to make one's company agreeable and interesting. How to make oneself elegant and glamorous. How to get people to do what you want, and then thank you for it.

Some slight bits of this are approached by PUA methods, but those are very specific in goal and scope, and require a set of skills that can be far from adequate in other contexts (that, and flirting with any and everybody all the time is just creepy and makes you look like a supervillain).

Of course, at its core, social grace is nothing but "intelligent application of the Golden Rule". So, with insight and purpose, everything should be possible... But that's a pretty huge ideaspace, and in day-to-day interaction you often don't have that much time to figure our what to do. Of course, there's rote behavior, protocol, that allows you to free brainspace for what's actually important, but too much of that and it can become blatant.

So... anyone know any actual research on the subject? We can also use some armchair philosophy, it's not like we eschew creative individual thinking here, but some backed-by-evidence stuff is very nice to have.

A Delayed Epiphany on Motivation

18 LucasSloan 04 May 2011 04:27AM

During lunch today, I had a conversation with my mother about the lives of my younger brothers.  She mentioned to me that my brother, who is taking an SAT class, found the practice test he took to be extremely boring.  I replied that I was sorry for my brother and that I felt very privileged not to find standardized tests boring.  I went on to express my sorrow that I do not know how to inculcate in others the sublime joy I take in solving particularly interesting problems.  Much later, I decided to spend an hour exercising, something that I very rarely do.  It wasn't until about 45 minutes in that I realized the proper implication of what I had said to my mother - I have the natural advantage in test taking, but my brother has the natural advantage in exercise.  The obvious solution was to find a way to find a similar sense of sublime joy in exercise, and make myself remember that I can find it in exercise.  I played around with a few things I could do while on the treadmill, and found that rolling my head while walking felt awesome.  I'm definitely going to do more of that in the future.  It took me far too long to realize it, but when ever you wish you could help someone in some way, ask yourself if you could benefit from the same sort of thing.

HELP! I want to do good

15 Giles 28 April 2011 05:29AM

There are people out there who want to do good in the world, but don't know how.

Maybe you are one of them.

Maybe you kind of feel that you should be into the "saving the world" stuff but aren't quite sure if it's for you. You'd have to be some kind of saint, right? That doesn't sound like you.

Maybe you really do feel it's you, but don't know where to start. You've read the "How to Save the World" guide and your reaction is, ok, I get it, now where do I start? A plan that starts "first, change your entire life" somehow doesn't sound like a very good plan.

All the guides on how to save the world, all the advice, all the essays on why cooperation is so hard, everything I've read so far, has missed one fundamental point.

If I could put it into words, it would be this:


If that's your reaction then you're half way there. That's what you get when you finally grasp how much pointless pain, misery, risk, death there is in the world; just how much good could be done if everyone would get their act together; just how little anyone seems to care.

If you're still reading, then maybe this is you. A little bit.

And I want to help you.

How will I help you? That's the easy part. I'll start a community of aspiring rationalist do-gooders. If I can, I'll start it right here in the comments section of this post. If anything about this post speaks to you, let me know. At this point I just want to know whether there's anybody out there.

And what then? I'll listen to people's opinions, feelings and concerns. I'll post about my worldview and invite people to criticize, attack, tear it apart. Because it's not my worldview I care about. I care about making the world better. I have something to protect.

The posts will mainly be about what I don't see enough of on Less Wrong. About reconciling being rational with being human. Posts that encourage doing rather than thinking. I've had enough ideas that I can commit to writing 20 discussion posts over a reasonable timescale, although some might be quite short - just single ideas.

Someone mentioned there should be a "saving the world wiki". That sounds like a great idea and I'm sure that setting one up would be well within my power if someone else doesn't get around to it first.

But how I intend to help you is not the important part. The important part is why.

To answer that I'll need to take a couple of steps back.

Since basically forever, I've had vague, guilt-motivated feelings that I ought to be good. I ought to work towards making the world the place I wished it would be. I knew that others appeared to do good for greedy or selfish reasons; I wasn't like that. I wasn't going to do it for personal gain.

If everyone did their bit, then things would be great. So I wanted to do my bit.

I wanted to privately, secretively, give a hell of a lot of money to a good charity. So that I would be doing good and that I would know I wasn't doing it for status or glory.

I started small. I gave small amounts to some big-name charities, charities I could be fairly sure would be doing something right. That went on for about a year, with not much given in total - I was still building up confidence.

And then I heard about GiveWell. And I stopped giving. Entirely.

WHY??? I can't really give a reason. But something just didn't seem right to me. People who talked about GiveWell also tended to mention that the best policy was to give only to the charity listed at the top. And that didn't seem right either. I couldn't argue with the maths, but it went against what I'd been doing up until that point and something about that didn't seem right.

Also, I hadn't heard of GiveWell or any of the charities they listed. How could I trust any of them? And yet how could I give to anyone else if these charities were so much more effective? Big akrasia time.

It took a while to sink in. But when it did, I realised that my life so far had mostly been a waste of time. I'd earned some money, but I had no real goals or ambitions. And yet, why should I care if my life so far had been wasted? What I had done in the past was irrelevant to what I intended to do in the future. I knew what my goal was now and from that a whole lot became clear.

One thing mattered most of all. If I was to be truly virtuous, altruistic, world-changing then I shouldn't deny myself status or make financial sacrifices. I should be completely indifferent to those things. And from that the plan became clear: the best way to save the world would be to persuade other people to do it for me. I'm still not entirely sure why they're not already doing it, but I will use the typical mind prior and assume that for some at least, it's for the same reasons as me. They're confused. And that to carry out my plan I won't need to manipulate anyone into carrying out my wishes, but simply help them carry out their own.

I could say a lot more and I will, but for now I just want to know. Who will be my ally?

Are You a Paralyzed Subordinate Monkey?

26 Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 March 2011 09:12PM

During a discussion today about the bizarre "can't get crap done" phenomenon that afflicts large fractions of our community, the suggestion came up that most people can't do anything where there is a perceived choice that includes the null option / "do nothing" as an option.  Of which Michael Vassar made the following observation:

In a monkey tribe, there's no verbal communication - they can't discuss where to go using language.  So if you get up and start going anywhere, you must be the leader.

And if you're not the leader, it is not good for your reproductive fitness to act like one.  In modern times the penalties for standing up are much lower, but our instincts haven't updated.

Interesting to reconsider the events of "To lead, you must stand up" in this light.  It makes more sense if you read it as "None of those people had instincts saying it was a good idea to declare themselves the leader of the monkey tribe, in order to solve this particular coordination problem where 'do nothing' felt like a viable option" instead of "nobody had the initiative".

Alt text of today's xkcd addresses akrasia

5 Cyan 19 February 2011 02:03AM

The alt text of today's xkcd reads:

After years of trying various methods, I broke [the habit of clicking on my favorite distractions every 5 minutes] by pitting my impatience against my laziness. I decoupled the action and the neurological reward by setting up a simple 30-second delay I had to wait through, in which I couldn't do anything else, before any new page or chat client would load (and only allowed one to run at once). The urge to check all those sites magically vanished -- and my 'productive' computer use was unaffected.

Anyone have ideas about how to implement this? On Firefox one can always use LeechBlock. On *nix systems there would be a number of ways of implementing this, but not all of us use that OS or have the necessary savvy. 

(I'm kind of surprised no one's made a discussion post on this yet.)


The Volunteer's Dilemma

5 tenshiko 07 February 2011 04:56AM

This has been bothering me ever since I started trying to use rationalist techniques to make better decisions (like anti-akrasia ones). The only field related to rationality I knew much about was game theory, but to my disappointment basic game theory has only increased my problems due to a certain formulation I can't abandon.

The Volunteer's Dilemma (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volunteer's_dilemma) is in essence the Prisoner's Dilemma with more players - which means that defection is an even more dominant strategy. The problem is that the decision whether to do unpleasant tasks becomes a Volunteer's Dilemma with multiple future selves as my competition - 4:00 tenshiko, 4:15 tenshiko, 4:30 tenshiko, and so on. Although the incentive to defect should decrease as time goes on, there's the problem of how 9:00 tenshiko can easily defect in an even more effective fashion and bring in 11:00 tenshiko and 11:15 tenshiko to further level the playing field. There is the further problem that, given how many of my current hobbies convert time to reward in an approximately cubic function, the incentive is high for 6:00 tenshiko, 7:00 tenshiko, and 8:00 tenshiko to form coalitions.

I guess what I'm really asking for is a more advanced matrix that represents the diminishing returns of bringing in other future selves, such as went-to-bed-at-1:00 tenshiko and completely-bombed-that-test-at-10:00 tenshiko, or at least the diminishing probability over time that "it doesn't matter, 9:45 tenshiko can take care of it".

If this goes well, I will probably try to flesh out the material received in responses with what I already know and produce a post in main discussing time management and its relation to game theory.

Link: Monetizing anti-akrasia mechanisms

6 TheOtherDave 27 January 2011 05:02PM

Related to the recurring topic of akrasia and anticipated near-mode losses, here's an article about "Gym-Pact," an arrangement whereby people precommit to pay penalty fees if they don't stick to their planned workout schedules.

In other words, they aren't charging customers money in exchange for a service, nor for violating an agreement associated with a service... rather, they are charging money as a service.

Had I encountered this in fiction, I would have considered it satire.

(I'm being somewhat glib here, admittedly: in this "experimental" phase, they are giving people free gym memberships as part of the deal, and using the penalty fees to pay for the memberships. But that doesn't sound like the ultimate business model.)

Intrapersonal negotiation

30 datadataeverywhere 23 January 2011 11:02PM

Related to: Akrasia as a collective action problem and Self-empathy as a source of "willpower".

The Less Wrong community has discussed negotiating with one's conflicting sub-agents as a method to defeat akrasia and other forms of dynamic inconsistency, with some mix of reactions about how possible or effective that strategy can be. This article presents a successful example in my life, though it is probably an extreme outlier for a number of reasons.

I have been diagnosed with bipolar II disorder. It is one of the most significant challenges in my life, and certainly the one with the most dire implications. I can be fairly well modeled as three major sub-agents1:

  • Neutral: asymptomatic. Attempting to control mood swings has resulted in me spending the vast majority of my time as "neutral".
  • Hypomanic: anxious and energetic. I have some trouble focusing, but can be extremely productive. I often exercise several hours a day and sleep an average of two hours a night (often six hours every three days). I've written a 70 page paper in three days, and a 12 KLOC compiler in five days.
  • Depressed: listless, and suicidal. I have serious insomnia, but stay in bed all day. I can't stand other people and would really sincerely prefer not to exist. Ironically, I can credit my inability to motivate myself to do anything with not having killed myself in this state. Sometimes I'm very emotional (crying, etc.), sometimes I'm emotionally dead.
Of course, everything I know is perceived by all three agents, but it is interpreted in vastly different ways. None is rational, but all are biased in different ways. Each agent feels that it is less biased than the others, which is key to successful negotiation, since each thinks that it's getting the better end of the bargain.
Here are desires, both conflicting and otherwise:
  1. Hypomanic loves being who he is and doing what he wants. The main difficulty of transitioning back to Neutral is unwillingness, rather than inability.
  2. Hypomanic despises Depressed, and thinks that Neutral is boring. He recognizes that staying Hypomanic for too long will likely result in a crash followed by Depressed taking over, but still wants "one more day".
  3. Depressed loathes all of us. He doesn't like the others more than himself, but is usually willing to trade knowledge and pain for ignorance and happiness. However, he's unmotivated to bother taking the steps to make that happen. Again, the difficulty in forcing a transition is not really about inability, although difficulty and self-discipline are an issue.
  4. Depressed doesn't really want to kill himself, but he's very desirous of nonexistence. 
  5. Neutral is scared of and pained by Depressed. He is wary of Hypomanic but recognizes his usefulness. He spends much more time thinking of the other two than they think of him, and actively prevents transitions to the other two, which are fairly easy to accidentally trigger otherwise.
  6. Neutral is somewhat careful for his own sake, but all are motivated by other's concern for him. The latter is the only other significant reason Depressed hasn't gone through with a suicide attempt.
Without further ado, a compromise brokered by Neutral: Depressed will not take his life, on the condition that Neutral will free Hypomanic to do more things that might kill him.
This probably sounds like it's a terrible compromise, but it's the most we could agree to. Depressed would really like us to die, but would prefer it look like an accident for the sake of our family and friends. This is actually very unlikely, but becomes most likely when Hypomanic is doing something stupid and dangerous. Neutral thinks that Depressed is overly pessimistic, and is greatly exaggerating how dangerous Hypomanic's activities are2. Hypomanic is rather fearless, and dismisses the possibility of dying on accident. Also, although this is something I'm not supposed to say, my own life isn't that important to any of my agents. An accidental death in the near future is not that bothersome to any of us, even if it's not particularly desirable to Neutral or Hypomanic3. The prospect of causing grief for those around me weighs much more heavily in my mind, and while any death will cause this, I think a suicide will have a much longer lasting impact and make a lot of people feel guilt for something that isn't their fault.
I *don't* have faith that Depressed is sincere in his agreement (he's really not), but I *do* have faith and weak evidence that the existence of this compromise is one more excuse that reduces his motivation, and will still reduce the net likelihood that I will die in the near future. Likewise, Neutral doesn't constrain Hypomanic's activities very well to begin with, but the existence of this compromise ironically makes Hypomanic more likely to have second thoughts about the dangerous things he's about to do.

Neutral feels it necessary to let Hypomanic take control more often to ensure that the compromise has weight to Depressed, but has started using Hypomanic to accomplish goals that are otherwise too exhausting to attain (a several-day code crunch or a need to meet and make a good impression on dozens of people). Meanwhile, Hypomanic has been more responsible lately in relinquishing control within days rather than weeks, partially because of these negotiations, but mostly because of other people in my life who have been conscripted to help monitor and rein me in.

I do not have a great deal of proven success with this strategy. I started doing this less than a year ago, and have not dealt with a full-blown major depressive episode since then. During that time I have also been more successful than ever at preventing myself from slipping into depression in the first place and treating early depression aggressively. In the end, that makes a much more significant difference, but on the two occasions when I became depressed enough to start feeling suicidal I was positively influenced by this agreement.

It seems unlikely that this approach will help many people with anything, but I feel like it is interesting in the debate about dynamic inconsistency, and I encourage others to find mutually-beneficial agreements they can make with themselves if they also feel like they deal with mutually incompatible agents from time to time. Also, this is my first post that is more than a link, so please be constructive.



I've never used names to refer to myself in different states, and don't think of my major sub-agents as individuals, but I felt that it was useful for didactic purposes to refer to myself in different states as different proper nouns.

2 I don't race cars, do drugs, or get in fights (except at the dojo). I do push my physical limits farther than I should (do parkour that I'm not be ready for, run 20km when I usually run 5, etc.), and I have injured myself this way, but just pulled muscles, sprains and once a broken finger.

3 I haven't heard this argument before, but this is the reason I haven't signed up for cryonics.


If it's not obvious, I was in a neutral state when I wrote this. It would have been impossible for me to do while depressed, and unlikely for me to try while hypomanic. I tried to de-bias myself, but no matter what state I'm in, I prefer my own viewpoint, and speak less highly of the others that diverge.

Why do some kinds of work not feel like work?

19 Wei_Dai 08 January 2011 01:28AM

A topic often discussed here is how to avoid akrasia/procrastination in order to get on with work. I suggest another possible "workaround" for akrasia is to find work that doesn't feel like work. From personal experience, I know this is possible, because many of my efforts did not feel like work, in the sense that my motivation on those projects was so high that procrastination simply wasn't a factor at all. (I remember, for example, designing parts of my open-source cryptography library every day while walking to and from class, and then coding as soon as I got back to my apartment, or later, thinking about multiverses and anthropic reasoning in much of my spare time.)

Why do some kinds of work feel like work, while others don't? (Is there any existing literature on this topic? I tried some searches, but don't really know what keywords to use, so I'll just generalize a bit from my own experience, and open the question for discussion.) Among the projects that I've done, the ones that didn't feel like work seem to have the following in common:

  1. It was in a field that I found interesting and exciting. (What determines this seems to be another interesting mystery.)
  2. There was no payment or other form of obligation to complete it.
  3. There were no negative consequences for failure, other than time spent.
  4. It fit my idealized self-image (e.g., cypherpunk or amateur philosopher).
  5. There was an implicit prospect of status reward if successful.
  6. I hadn't done it for so long that I started to get bored.

Unfortunately I don't have enough data to conclude which of these factors were necessary or sufficient, or their relative weights in contributing to the "not work-like" feeling. Do others have similar, or perhaps different, experiences?

Goals vs. Rewards

2 icebrand 04 January 2011 01:43AM

Related: Terminal Values and Instrumental Values, Applying behavioral psychology on myself

Recently I asked myself, what do I want? My immediate response was that I wanted to be less stressed, particularly for financial reasons. So I started to affirm to myself that my goal was to become wealthy, and also to become less stressed. But then in a fit of cognitive dissonance, I realized that both money and relaxation are most easily considered in terms of being rewards, not goals. I was oddly surprised by the fact that there is a distinction between the two concepts to begin with.

It later occurred to me to wonder if some things work better when framed as goals and not as rewards. Freedom, long life, good relationships, and productivity seemed some likely candidates. I can't quite see them as rewards because a) I feel everyone innately deserves and should have them (even though they might have to work for them), and b) they don't quite give the kind of fuzzies that motivate immediate action.

These two kinds of positive motivation seem to work in psychologically dissimilar ways.  Money for example is more like chocolate, something one has immediate instinctive motive to obtain and consume. Freedom of speech is more along the lines of having enough air to breathe. A person needs and perhaps inherently deserves to have at least a little bit of it all the time, and as a general rule will have a constant background motive to ensure that it stays available. It's a longer-term form of motivation.

A reward seems to be something where you receive immediate fuzzies when you achieve it. Getting paid, getting a pat on the back, getting your posts and comments upvoted... Things where you might consider them more or less optional in the grander scheme of things, yet they tend to trigger an immediate sense of positive anticipation before the event which is reinforced by a sense of satisfaction after. Actually writing a good post or comment, actually doing a good job, being a good spouse or friend -- these are surely related, but are goals in and of themselves. The mental picture for a goal is one of achieving, as opposed to receiving.

One thing that seems likely to me is that the presence of shared goals (and the communication thereof) tends to a good way to generate long term social bonds. Rewards seem to be more of a good way to deliberately steer behavior in more specific aspects. Both are thus important elements of social signaling within a tribe, but serve different underlying purposes.

As an example I have the transhumanist goal of eliminating the current limitations of the human lifespan, and tend to have an affinity for people who also internalize that goal. But someone who does not embrace that goal on a deep level may still display specific behavior that I consider helpful for that goal, e.g. displaying comprehension of its internal logic or having a tolerant attitude towards actions I think need to be taken. I'm probably somewhat less likely to form a long-term relationship with that person than if they were identifiable as a fellow transhumanist, but I am still likely to upvote their comments or otherwise signal approval in ways that don't demand too much long term commitment.

The distinctions I've drawn here between a goal and a reward might not apply directly to non-human intelligences. In fact it might be misleading in the more generalized context to call a reward something other than a goal (it is at least an implicit goal or value). However the distinction still seems like something that could be relevant for instrumental rationality and personal development. Our brains process the two forms of motivational anticipation in different ways. It may be that a part of the akrasia problem -- failure to take action towards a goal -- actually relates to a failure to properly categorize a given motive, and hence failure to process it usefully.

Thanks to the early commenters for their feedback: TheOtherDave, nornagest, endoself, David Gerard, nazgulnarsil, and Normal Anomaly. Hopefully this expanded version is more clear.

Proposal: Anti-Akrasia Alliance

18 DanArmak 01 January 2011 09:52PM

Related to: Kicking Akrasia: now or never; Tsuioku  Naritai

The situation

I am greatly afficted by akrasia, and in all probability, so are you. Akrasia is a destroyer of worlds.1

I have come to the conclusion that akrasia is the single biggest problem I have in life. It is greater than my impending biological death, my imperfect enjoyment of life, or the danger of a car accident.

For if I could solve the problem of akrasia, I would work on these other problems, and I believe I would solve them too. Even a big problem like physical mortality can be meaningfully challenged if I spend a lifetime tackling it. But until I solve the problem of akrasia, I will sit around and do nothing about my mortality.

(Edited here) Without solving akrasia, we are relatively inefficient in attacking the other problems that matter to us. However, if LW readers - typically smart, rational, luminous, and relatively rich people - were to defeat akrasia and become highly productive, I think we would possess real world-changing power2.

Some people have either solved this problem or never had it. Thus, we know it is possible to vanquish akrasia. However, it is a unique problem that fights its own cure: because of akrasia, we don't spend as much effort as we'd like fighting akrasia.

I propose forming a community dedicated to fighting akrasia.

continue reading »

Karma Motivation Thread

21 Jack 13 December 2010 09:59PM

This idea is so obvious I can't believe we haven't done it before. Many people here have posts they would like to write but keep procrastinating on. Many people also have other work to do but keep procrastinating on Less Wrong. Making akrasia cost you money is often a good way to motivate yourself. But that can be enough of a hassle to deter the lazy, the ADD addled and the executive dysfunctional. So here is a low transaction cost alternative that takes advantage of the addictive properties of Less Wrong karma. Post a comment here with a task and a deadline- pick tasks that can be confirmed by posters; so either Less Wrong posts or projects that can be linked to or photographed. When the deadline comes edit your comment to include a link to the completed task. If you complete the task, expect upvotes. If you fail to complete the task by the deadline, expect your comment to be downvoted into oblivion. If you see completed tasks, vote those comments up. If you see past deadlines vote those comments down.  At least one person should reply to the comment, noting the deadline has passed-- this way it will come up in the recent comments and more eyes will see it.

Edit: DanArmak makes a great suggestion.

Several people have now used this to commit to doing something others can benefit from, like LW posts. I suggest an alternative method: when a user commits to doing something, everyone who is interested in that thing being done will upvote that comment. However, if the task is not complete by the deadline, everyone who upvoted commits to coming back and downvoting the comment instead.

This way, people can judge whether the community is interested in their post, and the karma being gained or lost is proportional to the amount of interest. Also, upvoting and then downvoting effectively doubles the amount of karma at stake.


Life-tracking application for android

20 Alexei 11 December 2010 01:48AM

Hi, lesswrong.

I just finished my application for android devices, LifeTracking, which has been motivated by the discussions here; primarily discussions about akrasia and measuring/tracking your own actions. I don't want to make this sound like an advertisement (the application is completely free anyway), but I would really really like to get feedback from you and hear your comments, criticism, and suggestions. If there are enough LessWrong-specific feature requests, I will make a separate application just for that.

Here is a brief description of the app:


LifeTracking application allows you to track any value (like your weight or your lesswrong karma), as well as any time-consuming activities (like sleeping, working, reading Harry Potter fanfic, etc). You can see the data visually, edit it, and analyze it.

The goal of the application is to help you know yourself and your schedule better. Hopefully, when you graph various aspects of your life side-by-side you will come to a better understanding of yourself. Also, this way you will not have to rely on your faulty memory to remember all that data.

You can download the app from the Market (link only works from Android devices) or download .apk directly. Screenshots: [1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6].


Edit: LifeTracking website

And while we are on topic of mobile apps, what other applications would you like to see made? (For example, another useful application would be "your personal prediction tracker", where you enter various short-term predictions, your confidence interval, and then enter the actual result. You can classify each prediction and then see if you are over- or under-confident in certain areas. (I remember seeing a website that does something similar, but can't find it now.))

Akrasia as a collective action problem

4 fortyeridania 07 December 2010 03:44PM

Related to: Self-empathy as a source of "willpower" and some comments.

It has been mentioned before that akrasia might be modeled as the result of inner conflict. I think this analogy is great, and would like to propose a refinement.1

Here's the mental conflict theory of akrasia, as I understand it:

Though Maud appears to external observers (such as us) be a single self, she is in fact a kind of team. Maud's mind is composed of sub-agents, each of whom would like to pursue its own interests. Maybe when Maud goes to bed, she sets the alarm for 6 AM. When it buzzes the next morning, she hits the snooze...again and again and again. To explain this odd behavior, we invoke the idea that BedtimeMaud is not the same person as MorningMaud. In particular, BedtimeMaud is a person who likes to get up early, while MorningMaud is that bully BedtimeMaud's poor victim.The point is that the various decisionmakers that inhabit her brain are not always after the same ball. The subagents that compose the mind might not be mutually antagonistic; they're just not very empathetic to each other.

I like to think of this situation as a collective action problem akin to those we find in political science and economics. What we have is a misalignment of costs and benefits. If Maud rises at 6, then MorningMaud bears the whole cost of this decision, while a different Maud, or set of Mauds, enjoys the benefits. The costs are concentrated in MorningMaud's lap, while the benefits are dispersed among many Mauds throughout the day. Thus Maud sleeps in.

Put differently, MorningMaud's behavior produces a negative externality: she enjoys the whole benefit of sleeping in, but the rest of the day's Mauds bear the costs.

So, how can we get MorningMaud to lie in the bed she makes, as it were, and get a more efficient outcome?

We can:

  • Legislate. Maud tirelessly tells herself to be less lazy and exerts willpower to get the job done. This is analogous to direct, blanket government action (such as banning coal) in response to a negative externality (such as once-verdant, now barren hillsides). But it's expensive, and it doesn't always work.
  • Negotiate. Maud rewards herself when she gets up on time by taking a hot shower right away or eating a nice breakfast (the latter has a cost borne by MoneyMaud); or she allows herself to sleep in once a week. If MorningMaud follows through, then this one's a winner. Maybe this is analogous to Coasian bargaining?
  • Deputize. Maud enlists her friend Traci to hold her feet to the fire. Or she signs up on Stikk, Egonomics, or some similar site.

The analogy's not perfect. (I can't see a way to fit in Pigovian taxes .)

But is it a fruitful analogy? Is it more than just renaming the key terms of the subagent theory--could one use welfare economics to improve one's own dynamic consistency?

1I got this idea partly from a slip, possibly Freudian (I think I said "externality" instead of "akrasia"), and partly from this page on the Egonomics website.

"Target audience" size for the Less Wrong sequences

12 Louie 18 November 2010 12:21PM

[Note: My last thread was poorly worded in places and gave people the wrong impression that I was interested in talking about growing and shaping the Less Wrong community.  I was really hoping to talk about something a bit different.  Here's my revision with a completely redone methodology.]

How many people would invest their time to read the LW sequences if they were introduced to them?

So in other words, I’m trying to estimate the theoretical upper-bound on the number of individuals world-wide who have the ability, desire, and time to read intellectual material online and who also have at least some pre-disposition to wanting to think rationally.

I’m not trying to evangelize to unprepared, “reach” candidates who maybe, possibly would like to read parts of the sequences.  I’m just looking for likely size of the core audience who already has the ability, the time, and doesn’t need to jump through any major hoops to stomach the sequences (like deconverting from religion or radically changing their habits -- like suddenly devoting more of their time to using computers or reading.)

The reason I’m investigating this is because I want to build more rationalists.  I know some smart people whose opinions I respect (like Michael Vassar) who contend we shouldn’t spend much time trying to reach more people with the sequences.  They think the majority of people smart enough to follow the sequences and who do weird, eccentric things like “read in their spare time”, are already here.  This is my second attempt to figure this out in the last couple days, and unlike my rough 2M person figure I got with my previous, hasty analysis, this more detailed analysis leaves me with a much lower world-wide target audience of only 17,000.


Total Population
Filters Away (%)
Speaks English + Internet Access
Believes in evolution | Atheist/Agnostic
“NT” (Rational) MBTI
IQ 130+ (SD 15; US/UK-Atheist-NT 108 IQ)
30 min/day reading or on computers

Yep, that’s right.  There are basically only a few thousand relatively bright people in the world who think reason makes sense and devote at least 2% of their day to arcane activities like “reading” and "using computers".

Considering we have 6,438 Less Wrong logins created and a daily readership of around 5,500 people between logged in and anonymous readers, I now actually find it believable that we may have already reached a very large fraction of all the people in the world who we could theoretically convince to read the sequences.

This actually matters because it makes me update in favor of different, more realistic growth strategies than buying AdWords or doing SEO to try and reach the small number of people left in our current target audience.  Like translating the sequences into Chinese.  Or creating an economic disaster that leaves most of the Westerner world unemployed (kidding!).  Or waiting until Eliezer publishes his rationality book so that we can reach the vast majority of our potential, future audience who currently still reads but doesn’t have time to do anti-social, low-prestige things like “reading blogs”.

For those of you who want to consider my methodology, here’s the rationale for each step that I used to disqualify potential sequence readers:

Doesn’t Speak English or have Internet Access:  The sequences are English-only (right now) and online-only (right now).  Don’t think there’s any contention here.  This figure is the largest of the 3 figures I've found but all were around 500,000,000.

Not Atheist/Agnostic: Not being an Atheist or Agnostic is a huge warning sign.  93% of LW is atheist/agnostic for a reason.  It’s probably a combo of  1) it’s hard to stomach reading the sequences if you’re a theist, and 2) you probably don’t use thinking to guide the formation of your beliefs anyway so lessons in rationality are a complete waste of time for you.  These people really needs to have the healing power of Dawkins come into their hearts before we can help them.  Also, note that even though it wasn't mentioned in Yvain's top-level survey post, the raw data showed that around 1/3rd of LW users who gave a reason for participating on LW cite "Atheism".

Evolution denialist: If you can’t be bothered to be moved to correct beliefs about the second most obvious conclusion in the world by the mountains of evidence in favor of it, you’re effectively saying you don’t think induction or science can work at all.  These people also need to go through Dawkins before we can help them.

Not “NT” on the Myers-Briggs typology: Lots of people complain about the MBTI.  But in this case, I don’t think it matters that the MBTI isn’t cleaving reality perfectly at the joints or that these types aren’t natural categories.  I realize Jung types aren’t made of quarks and aren’t fundamental.  But I’ve also met lots of people at the Less Wrong meet-ups.  There’s an even split of E/I and P/J in our community.  But there is a uniform, overwhelmingly strong disposition towards N and T.  And we shouldn’t be surprised by this at all.  People who are S instead of N take things at face value and resist using induction or intuition to extend their reasoning.  These people can guess the teacher’s password, but they're not doing the same thing that you call "thinking".  And if you’re not a T (Thinking), then that means you’re F (Feeling).  And if you’re using feelings to chose beliefs in lieu of thinking, there’s nothing we can do for you -- you’re permanently disqualified from enjoying the blessings of rationality.  Note:  I looked hard to see if I could find data suggesting that being NT and being Atheist correlated because I didn’t want to “double subtract” out the same people twice.  It turns out several studies have looked for this correlation with thousands of participants... and it doesn’t exist.

Lower than IQ 130: Another non-natural category that people like to argue about.  Plus, this feels super elitist, right?  Excluding people just because they're "not smart enough". But it’s really not asking that much when you consider that IQ 100 means you’re buying lottery tickets, installing malware on your computer, and spending most of your free time watching TV.  Those aren’t the “stupid people” who are way down on the other side of the Gaussian -- that’s what a normal 90 - 110 IQ looks like.  Real stupid is so non-functional that you never even see it... probably because you don’t hang out in prisons, asylums and homeless shelters.  Really.  And 130 isn’t all that “special“ once you find yourself being a white (+6IQ) college graduate (+5IQ) atheist (+4IQ) who's ”NT” on Myers-Briggs (+5IQ).  In Yvain’s survey, the average IQ on LW was 145.88.  And only 4 out of 68 LWers reported IQs below 130... the lowest being 120.  I find it inconceivable that EVERYONE lied on this survey.  I also find it highly unlikely that only the top 1/2 reported.  But even if everyone who didn’t report was as low as the lowest IQ reported by anyone on Less Wrong, the average IQ would still be over 130.  Note:   I took the IQ boost from being atheist and being MBTI-“N” into account when figuring out the proportion of 130+ IQ conditional on the other traits already being factored in.

Having no free time: So you speak English, you don’t hate science, you don’t hate reason, and you’re somewhat bright.  Seem like you’re a natural part of our target audience, right?  Nope... wrong!  There’s at least one more big hurdle: Having some free time.  Most people who are already awesome enough to have passed through all these filters are winning so hard at life (by American standards of success) that they are wayyy too busy to do boring, anti-social & low-prestige tasks like reading online forums in their spare time (which they don’t have much of).  In fact, it’s kind of like how knowing a bit about biases can hurt you and make you even more biased.  Being a bit rational can skyrocket you to such a high level of narrowly-defined American-style "success" that you become a constantly-busy, middle-class wage-slave who zaps away all your free time in exchange for a mortgage and a car payment. Nice job buddy. Thanks for increasing my GDP epsilon%... now you are left with whatever rationality you started out with minus the effects of your bias dragging you back down to average over the ensuing years.  The only ways I see out of this dilemma are 1) being in a relatively unstructured period of your life (ie, unemployed, college student, semi-retired, etc) or 2) having a completely broken motivation system which keeps you in a perpetually unstructured life against your will (akrasia) or perhaps 3) being a full-time computer professional who can multi-task and pass off reading online during your work day as actually working.  That said, if you're unlucky enough to have a full-time job or you’re married with children, you’ve already fallen out of the population of people who read or use computers at least 30 minutes / day.  This is because having a spouse cuts your time spent reading and using computers in half.  Having children cuts reading in half and reduces computer usage by 1/3rd.  And having a job similarly cuts both reading and computer usage in half.  Unfortunately, most people suffer from several of these afflictions.  I can’t find data that’s conditional on being an IQ 130+ Atheist but my educated guess is employment is probably much better than average due to being so much more capable and I’d speculate that relationships and children are about the same or perhaps a touch lower.  All things equal, I think applying statistics from the general US civilian population and extrapolating is an acceptable approximation in this situation even if it likely overestimates the number of people who truly have 30 minutes of free time / day (the average amount of time needed just to read LW according to Yvain’s survey).  83% of people are employed full-time so they’re gone.  Of the remaining 17% who are unemployed, 10% of the men and 50% of the women are married and have children so that’s another 5.1% off the top level leaving only 11.9% of people.  Of that 11.9% left, the AVERAGE person has 1 hour they spend reading and ”Playing games and computer use for leisure“.  Let’s be optimistic and assume they somehow devote half of their entire leisure budget to reading Less Wrong, that still only leaves 5.95%.  Note: These numbers are a bit rough.  If someone wants to go through the micro-data files of the US Time Use Survey for me and count the exact number of people who do more than 1 hour of "reading" and "Playing games and computer use for leisure", I welcome this help.



Anyone have thoughtful feedback on refinements or additional filters I could add to this?  Do you know of better sources of statistics for any of the things I cite?  And most importantly, do you have new, creative outreach strategies we could use now that we know this?

Standing Desks and Hunter-Gatherers

5 James_Miller 14 October 2010 12:03AM

I recently started using a standing desk and found it increases my productivity perhaps because my mostly caveman brain "thinks" that I will usually stand when facing cognitively challenging tasks, but I will sit when I want to relax and save energy.

Are there other ways we can attempt to increase our cognitive powers by taking into account that many of the genes which influence human emotion and cognition were selected for to make our ancestors better hunter-gatherers?

Edited because of Reisqui's comment.

Video: Getting Things Done Author at DO Lectures

2 JamesAndrix 11 October 2010 08:33AM

If nothing else, this is a distillation of him spending a lot of time analyzing how people ineffectively manage their time.



I expect to watch this two more times.



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