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I looked for Information Diet in Lesswrong search, and found something amazing:
On Lukeprog's Q and A as the new executive director, he was asked:
What is your information diet like? (I mean other than when you engage in focused learning.) Do you regulate it, or do you just let it happen naturally?
By that I mean things like:
- Do you have a reading schedule (e.g. X hours daily)?
- Do you follow the news, or try to avoid information with a short shelf-life?
- Do you significantly limit yourself with certain materials (e.g. fun stuff) to focus on higher priorities?
- In the end, what is the makeup of the diet?
To which he responded:
- I do not regulate my information diet.
- I do not have a reading schedule.
- I do not follow the news.
- I haven't read fiction in years. This is not because I'm avoiding "fun stuff," but because my brain complains when I'm reading fiction. I can't even read HPMOR. I don't need to consciously "limit" my consumption of "fun stuff" because reading scientific review articles on subjects I'm researching and writing about is the fun stuff.
- What I'm trying to learn at this moment almost entirely dictates my reading habits.
- The only thing beyond this scope is my RSS feed, which I skim through in about 15 minutes per day.
Whatever was the case back then, I'll bet is not anymore. No one with assistants and such a workload should be let adrift like that.
Citizen: But Lukeprog's posts are obviously brilliant, his output is great, even very focused readers like Chalmers find Luke to be very bright.
Which doesn't tell much about what they would have been were he under a more stringent diet. Another reasonable suspicion is that he was not actually modelling himself correctly, since he obviously does have an information diet
The Information Diet Challenge is to set yourself an information diet, explicitly, and follow it for a week.
Many ways of countering biases have been proposed here, but I haven't found a post dealing with this specific, very low hanging fruit one.
If you want inspiration, Ferriss has some advice here.
... but that is not the Positive Information Diet yet...
Information diets are supposed to constrain not everything you intake, but only what you intake instrumentally. If you just love reading about tensors and fairy tales, don't include them in what you won't avoid. What matters is to know that you'll avoid trying to learn programming by reading a programmer's tweet feed, avoid becoming a top researcher in psychology by reading popular magazines on it, and avoid reading random feeds on Facebook that don't relate to your goals in appropriate ways.
General form: I will Avoid spending my time reading/commenting things of kind (A)(Avoid), because I know that to reach my set of goals (G), the most productive learning time is doing (P) (Positve/Productive).
So here is an attempt:
(G): Interact fruitfully with people at Oxford
(A): Facebook feeds that are not by them; News of any kind; Emails I can Postpone; Gossip; Books/articles not on Evolution of Morals, enhancement, AI; Wikidrifting; Family meal small talk; SMBC; 9gag; Tropes .... and a bunch of other stuff I don't have time or patience to list.
(P): Google scholar on the intersection between my research topic and theirs. Reading their papers by day, watching their videos by night. Re-read what I might help them with that was read before, list topics per person, write what to say about each topic.
What is wrong with this attempt is that (A) ends up being a negative list. A list of what what I do not want to intake. Since possibilities are infinite, this will give me ridiculous cognitive load, and that is a problem. So here is simple solution, which I used for a food diet before, and worked great: Name not what you cannot do, but what you are allowed to do. Way fewer bits, way easier to check!
Food example: I'll eat only plants, lean fish and chicken, nuts, fruits, whole pasta, beans and Chai Lattes.
We are better at checking for category inclusion than exclusion. There are so many available categories to exclude from that we don't feel bad that we "forgot" to check for that one. Then after you let yourself indulge in a tiny one, a small one doesn't seem that bad, and snowball effect does the rest. We sneak in connotations to make categories smaller, so our actions stay safely outside the scope of prohibition. Theoretically, we could do the reverse, but it is psychologically much harder. Just try to convince yourself that beef is "lean chicken" to see it.
So let us forget completely about (A). There is no kind or class of kinds to avoid. there is only G and P, and now there is also T, the time during which P is in force, since escape valves might be necessary to avoid "screw that" all-or-nothing effects.
An Improved attempt:
G: Interact fruitfully with people in Oxford
P: Google scholar on the intersection between my research topic and theirs. Reading their papers by day, watching their videos by night. Re-read what I might help them with that was read before, list topics per person, write what to say about each topic. Only Facebook them.
T: 02:00-23:59 daily.
This is only for "computer use", where I'm most likely to do the wrong thing.
Now there is a simple to check list of things I want to do, I could be doing, and I'll try to do until G arrives. I can only do those. If x doesn't belong, don't do it, that simple. I'm free from midnight to two to do whatever, thus I don't feel enslaved by my past self. No heavy cognitive load is burning my willpower candle (Shawn Achor 2010) by trying set theory gimmicks to get me to do the wrong thing.
So please, take the:
Positive Information Diet Challenge
Write your G's (goals) P's (positives) and T's (times), and forget about your A's (Avoids)
Recently I decided to try an intermittent fasting diet. To do so, I had to figure out how much I could eat on my off/down days. I realized I didn't have a very good idea about how much calories my meals have, and as I was thinking about it, I started to get curious about my diet overall. How many calories do I get a day? How much of it is from fat? Do I get enough vitamins? Etc, etc, etc. All very basic questions, and since my meals are very regular, there was an easy way to find out!
(Note: anytime you feel curious and are about to find something out, make some predictions. I didn't, but I really wish I did, because I was very surprised by my findings.)
It took only a couple of hours, and here is the result.
If you scroll down, you can see that my usual Breakfast+Lunch+Dinner only nets about 1000 calories and gives 30% daily value of fat. No wonder I crave cookies and chocolate so much!
There are many surprising results that I got from this. And knowing that I've been eating like this for the past few years... Wow. This is the epitome of a low hanging fruit. I can't believe I didn't do this analysis earlier!
Edit: I was not trying to say that I only get 1000 calories a day. Of course I get more than that, but the rest is from cookies and post-meal sweets. I always thought I just have a sweet tooth, but the fact that I wasn't getting enough calories from my main meals can also explain this.
We're generally familiar here with the appalling state of medical and dietary research, where most correlations turn out to be bogus. (And if we're not, I have collected a number of links on the topic in my DNB FAQ that one can read, see http://www.gwern.net/DNB%20FAQ#flaws-in-mainstream-science-and-psychology - probably the best first link to read would be Ioannidis's “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False”.)
I recently found a talk arguing that this problem was worse than one might assume, with false positives in the >80% range, and more interestingly, why the rate is so high and will remain high for the foreseeable future. Young asserts, pointing to papers and textbooks by epidemiologists, that they are perfectly aware of what the Bonferroni correction does (and why one would use it) and that they choose to not use it because they do not want to risk any false negatives. (Young also conducts some surveys showing less interest in public sharing of data and other good things like that, but that seems to me to be much less important than the statistical tradeoffs.)
There are three papers online that seem representative:
Reading them is a little horrifying when one considers the costs of the false positives, all the people trying to stay healthy by following what is only random noise, and the general (and justified!) contempt for science by those aware of the false positive rate. (I enlarge on this vein of thought on Reddit. The recent kerfluffle about whether salt really is bad for you - medical advice that has stressed millions and will cost more millions due to New York City's war on salt - is a reminder of what is at stake.)
The take-away, I think, is to resolutely ignore anything to do with diet & exercise that is not a randomized trial. Correlations may be worth paying attention to in other areas but not in health.
Based on the community's continuing interests in diet and religion, I'd like to point out this blog post by the coauthor of Protein Power, Michael Eades, wherein he suggests that biblical literalism tends toward a low-fat approach to nutrition over a low-carb philosophy, by essentially throwing out a bunch of evidence on the matter:
Why, you might ask, is this scientist so obdurate in the face of all the evidence that’s out there? Perhaps because much of the evidence isn’t in accord with his religious beliefs. I try never to mention a person’s religious faith, but when it impacts his scientific thinking it at least needs to be made known. Unless he’s changed his thinking recently, Dr. Eckel apparently is one of the few academic scientists who are literal interpreters of the bible. I assume this because Dr. Eckel serves on the technical advisory board of the Institution for Creation Research, an organization that believes that not only is the earth only a few thousand years old , but that the entire universe in only a few thousand years old. And they believe that man was basically hand formed by God on the sixth day of creation. And Dr. Eckel’s own writings on the subject appear to confirm his beliefs
Of all the evidence that exists, I think the evolutionary/natural selection data and the anthropological data are the most compelling because they provide the largest amount of evidence over the longest time. To Dr. Eckel, however, these data aren’t applicable because in his worldview prehistoric man didn’t exist and therefore wasn’t available to be molded by the forces of natural selection. I haven’t a clue as to what he thinks the fossil remains of early humans really were or where they came from. Perhaps he believes – as I once had it explained to me by a religious fundamentalist – these fossilized remains of dinosaurs, extinct ancient birds and mammals and prehistoric man were carefully buried by the devil to snare the unwary and the unbeliever. If this is the case, I guess I’ll have to consider myself snared.
In Dr. Eckel’s view, man was created post agriculturally. In fact, in his view, there was never an pre-agricultural era, so how could man have failed to adapt to agriculture?
While there's a clear persuasive agenda here and I won't present a full analysis of the situation, Eades also mentions biasing use of language earlier in the article. In particular, beware applause lights and confirmation bias in evaluating.