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Related: The Martial Art of Rationality
One principle in the martial arts is that arts that are practiced with aliveness tend to be more effective.
"Aliveness" in this case refers to a set of training principles focused on simulating conditions in an actual fight as closely as possible in training. Rather than train techniques in a vacuum or against a compliant opponent, alive training focuses on training with movement, timing, and energy under conditions that approximate those where the techniques will actually be used.
A good example of training that isn't alive would be methods that focused entirely on practicing kata and forms without making contact with other practitioners; a good example of training that is alive would be methods that focused on verifying the efficacy of techniques through full-contact engagement with other practitioners.
Aliveness tends to create an environment free from epistemic viciousness-- if your technique doesn't work, you'll know because you won't be able to use it against an opponent. Further, if your technique does work, you'll know that it works because you will have applied it against people trying to prevent you from doing so, and the added confidence will help you better apply that technique when you need it.
Evidence from martial arts competitions indicates that those who practice with aliveness are more effective than others. One of the chief reasons that Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) practitioners were so successful in early mixed martial arts tournaments was that BJJ-- a martial art that relies primarily on grappling and the use of submission holds and locks to defeat the opponent-- can be trained safely with almost complete aliveness, whereas many other martial arts cannot.
Now, this is not to say that one should only attempt to practice martial arts under completely realistic conditions. For instance, no martial arts school that I am aware of randomly ambushes or attempts to mug its students on the streets outside of class in order to test how they would respond under truly realistic conditions.
Even in the age of sword duels, people would train with blunt weapons and protective armor rather than sharp weapons and ordinary clothes. Would training with sharp weapons and ordinary clothes be more alive than training with blunt weapons and protective armor? Certainly, but the trainees wouldn't be! And yet training with blunt weapons is still useful-- the fact that training does not fully approximate realistic conditions does not intrinsically mean it is bad.
That being said, generally speaking martial arts training that is more alive-- that better approximates realistic fighting conditions-- is more effective within reasonable safety margins. There is a growing consensus among students of martial arts who are looking for effective self-defense techniques that the specific martial art one practices is not hugely relevant, and that what matters more is the extent to which the training does or doesn't use aliveness.
Aliveness and Rationality
So, that's all well and good-- but how can we apply these principles to rationality practice?
While martial arts training has very clear methods of measuring whether or not skills work (can I apply this technique against a resisting opponent?), rationality training is much murkier-- measuring rationality skills is a nontrivial problem.
Further, under normal circumstances the opponent that you are resisting when applying rationality techniques is your own brain, not an external enemy. This makes applying appropriate levels of resistance in training difficult, because it's very easy to cheat yourself. The best method that I have found thus far is lucid dreaming, as forcing your dreaming brain to recognize its true state through the various hallucinations and constructed memories associated with dreaming is no easy task.
That being said, I make no claims to special or unique knowledge in this area. If anyone has suggestions for useful methods of "live" rationality practice, I'd love to hear them.
 For further explanation, see Matt Thornton's classic video "Why Aliveness?"
 If your plan is to choke someone until they fall unconscious, it is possible to safely train for this with nearly complete aliveness by wrestling against an opponent and simply releasing the chokehold before they actually fall unconscious. By contrast, it is much harder to safely train to punch someone into unconsciousness, and harder still to safely train to break people's necks.
 The game of Assassins does do this, but usually follows rules that are constrained enough to make it a suboptimal method of training.
 There are some contexts in which rationality techniques are applied in order to overcome an external enemy. Competitive games and some sports are a good method of finding practice in this respect. For instance, in order to be a competitive Magic: The Gathering player, you need to engage many epistemic and instrumental rationality skills. Competitive poker can offer similar development.
In the spirit of radioing back to describe a path:
The truly absurd thing about dreams lies not with their content, but with the fact that we believe them. Perfectly outrageous and impossible things can occur in dreams without the slightest hesitance to accept them on the part of the dreamer. I have often dreamed myself into bizarre situations that come complete with constructed memories explaining how they secretly make sense!
However, sometimes we break free from these illusions and become aware of the fact that we are dreaming. This is known as lucid dreaming and can be an extremely pleasant experience. Unfortunately, relatively few people experience lucid dreams "naturally;" fortunately, lucid dreaming is also a skill, and like any other skill it can be trained.
While this is all very interesting, you may be wondering what it has to do with rationality. Simply put, I have found lucid dreaming perhaps the best training currently available when it comes to increasing general rationality skills. It is one thing to notice when you are confused by ordinary misunderstandings or tricks; it is another to notice while your own brain is actively constructing memories and environments to fool you!
I've been involved in lucid dreaming for about eight years now and teaching lucid dreaming for two, so I'm pretty familiar with it on a non-surface level. I've also been explicitly looking into the prospect of using lucid dreaming for rationality training purposes since 2010, and I'm fairly confident that it will prove useful for at least some people here.
If you can get yourself to the point where you can consistently induce lucid dreaming by noticing the inconsistencies and absurdities of your dream state, I predict that you will become a much stronger rationalist in the process. If my prediction is correct, lucid dreaming allows you to hone rationality skills while also having fun, and best of all permits you to do this in your sleep!
If this sounds appealing to you, perhaps the most concise and efficient resource for learning lucid dreaming is the book Lucid Dreaming, by Dr. Stephen LaBerge. However, this is a book and costs money. If you're not into that, a somewhat less efficient but much more comprehensive view of lucid dreaming can be found on the website dreamviews.com. I further recommend that anyone interested in this check out the Facebook group Rational Dreamers. Recently founded by LW user BrienneStrohl, this group provides an opportunity to discuss lucid dreaming and related matters in an environment free from some of the mysticism and confusion that otherwise surrounds this issue.
All in all, it seems that lucid dreaming may offer a method of training your rationality in a way that is fun, interesting, and takes essentially none of your waking hours. Thus, if you are interested in increasing your general rationality, I strongly recommend investigating lucid dreaming. To be frank, my main concern about lucid dreaming as a rationality practice is simply that it seems too good to be true.
 Note that this is only one of many ways of inducing lucid dreaming. However, most other techniques that I have tried are not necessarily useful forms of rationality practice, effective as they might be.
 And, to be honest, "fun" is an understatement.
Since it had a decent amount of traffic until a good two weeks into September (and I thought it was a good idea), I'm reviving this thread.
In an attempt to encourage more people to actually do awesome things (a la instrumental rationality), I am proposing a new monthly thread (can be changed to bi-weekly, should that be demanded). Your job, should you choose to accept it, is to comment on this thread explaining the most awesome thing you've done this month. You may be as blatantly proud of you self as you feel. You may unabashedly consider yourself the coolest freaking person ever because of that awesome thing you're dying to tell everyone about. This is the place to do just that.
Remember, however, that this isn't any kind of progress thread. Nor is it any kind of proposal thread.This thread is solely for people to talk about the awesomest thing they've done all month. not will do. not are working on. have already done. This is to cultivate an environment of object level productivity rather than meta-productivity methods.
So, what's the coolest thing you've done this month?
You've had those moments -- the ones where you're very aware of where you're at in the world, and you're mapping out your future and plans very smartly, and you're feeling great about taking action and pushing important things forwards.
I used to find myself only reaching that place, at random, once or twice per year.
But every time I did, I would spend just a few hours sketching out plans, thinking about my priorities, discarding old things I used to do that didn't bring much value, and pushing my limits to do new worthwhile things. I thought, "This is really valuable. I should do this more often."
Eventually, I named that state: Reflective Control.
As often happens, by naming something it becomes easier to do it more often.
At this time, I still had a hazy poorly working feeling about what it was. So I tried to define it. After many attempts, I came to this:
> Reflective Control is when you're firmly off autopilot, in a high-positive and high-willpower state, and are able to take action.
You'll note there's four discreet components to it: firmly off autopilot (reflective), high positivity, high will, and cable of and oriented towards taking action.
I also asked myself, "How to know if you're in Reflective Control?"
My best answer of an exercise for it is,
> You set aside the impulses/distractions, and try to set a concrete Control-related goal. This is meta-work, meaning the process of defining your life and what needs to happen next. You do this calmly. By setting a concrete Control-related goal successfully and then executing on it, you know you're in an RC state.
> Example: "I will identify all the open projects I've got, and the next steps for each of them."
With that definition and that exercise in hand, I was able to do something which works almost magically when I wanted to take on big challenges: I could rate myself from 1-100 on the four key elements of the component, and then set a concrete goal to achieve, and analyze a little about which factor might be holding me back. Here is an example from my journal:
> Reflective 70/100, positive 70/100, will 65/100, action 40/100… ok, I'm feeling good once a good, just some anxiety suppressing will a little and action quite a bit, but no problem. My goal is to finish the xxx outline before I leave here.
I've found this incredibly useful. Summary:
*There's a state I call "Reflective Control" where I'm off autopilot and thinking (reflective), in a positive mood, with willpower and action-oriented.
*I can put explicit numbers on this, somewhat subjectively, from 1-100. This lets me see where the link in the chain is, if any.
*By setting a concrete goal and working towards it, you can get more objective feedback and balance whichever element is lowest with some practical actions.
Related to: The Good News of Situationist Psychology
Perhaps the most significant teaching social psychology has to offer is that most of our behaviors are determined by situational factors inherent to our settings, not by our personal qualities.
Some consider this depressing-- for instance, the Milgram experiments in obedience to authority and Stanford prison experiment are often cited as examples of how settings can cause otherwise-good people to participate in and even support unethical and dangerous behavior. However, as lukeprog points out in The Good News of Situationist Psychology, this principle can also be considered uplifting. After all, if our settings have such an effect on our behavior, they are thus a powerful tool that we can employ to make ourselves more effective.
Changing Your Physical Settings
One relatively easy place to start making such changes is in your personal life. I have found that great productivity increases can be gained through relatively minor changes in lifestyle-- or even seemingly-trivial matters such as the position of physical (or sometimes digital) objects in your environment!
For instance, I recently noticed a tendency in myself to "wake up" and then waste the next twenty or thirty minutes aimlessly browsing the Internet on my laptop in bed before actually getting up and eating breakfast, showering, going to work, etc. Since I value time, especially morning time, substantially, I decided that action should be taken to avoid this.
At first, I figured that once I had noticed the problem I could simply apply willpower and avoid it, but this proved less than effective-- it turns out that my willpower is not at its strongest when I first wake up and am still a little groggy! I then decided to apply the principles of situational psychology to the situation. The most obvious setting contributing to the problem was that I was using an alarm app on my computer to wake up in the morning, and turning off this alarm caused me to interact with the computer.
So I picked up an IKEA alarm clock, turned off my alarm app, and moved my computer to the kitchen instead of my room-- problem solved. In my new settings, browsing in bed was outright ridiculous-- I'd have to wake up, go downstairs to the kitchen, pick up my computer, and bring it back up to my room with me. Not a likely course of events!
Changing Your Mental Settings
While physical environments can certainly produce changes in behavior, social and intellectual environments can too.
For instance, one of my friends from undergrad took an interesting approach when choosing what major to take. He knew that he wanted a solid private-sector income that would allow him to support a family, but didn't particularly care what field it was in. Overall, he wanted to ensure that whatever major he chose would have the highest possible chance of getting him a good job without unusual effort or circumstances.
Therefore, during winter term of his sophomore year, prior to declaring, he went around to all the seniors he could get to talk to him and asked them what their major was, what they were doing post-graduation, and how much money they anticipated making. He found that the CS majors tended to have more private-sector job prospects and higher average starting salaries than students in other fields, so he decided to declare a CS major.
While I don't think my friend's approach is necessarily the best possible option for determining what to do with your life, it certainly beats the sort of unstructured guessing that I've seen many others do. By considering academic majors as settings and examining what setting produced the best result on average, my friend managed to find a field and career that he's by all indications quite happy in-- and with a minimal amount of risk and stress involved.
Human psychology is greatly influenced by situational factors, and in more ways than a naive reasoner might expect. If you're looking to improve your life across any particular axis, one good way to start is by examining your current physical, social, and intellectual settings and paying close attention to how changes in those settings might help accomplish your goals.
 If you don't believe that this is true, I advise simulating that you do and going on anyway. I find this method effective enough for me and others and easy enough to implement that it seems well worth testing, even if you don't fully believe in the claims behind it. At worst, it might become a potential epistemic/instrumental tradeoff.
 See for instance Joseph Heath and Joel Anderson, Procrastination and the Extended Will (2009).
 In the course of researching and writing this post, I encountered some objections to the resource expenditure theory of willpower (many of which have already been summarized here by Jess_Riedel). I believe my beliefs regarding willpower loss while tired/just awakening may be limiting in the same sense that believing willpower is a limited resource appears limiting, but have yet to test at the time of this writing.
 If you're interested in seeing other examples of ways in which we can structure the physical objects around us in order to become more productive, you may wish to check out Alicorn's How to Have Things Correctly and fowlertm's related How to Have Space Correctly. Several of Alyssa Vance's Random Life Tips also relate to this matter.
 The friend in question is now employed as a software engineer at a tech company and by all indications loves his job. Note though that this post isn't saying "you should be a CS major." Things change over time, and what was a good choice for one person and one time may not be a good choice for another person or another time.
I recently had the privilege of being a CFAR alumni volunteering at a later workshop, which is a fascinating thing to do, and put me in a position both to evaluate how much of a difference the first workshop actually made in my life, and to see how the workshops themselves have evolved.
Exactly a year ago, I attended one of the first workshops, back when they were still inexplicably called “minicamps”. I wasn't sure what to expect, and I especially wasn't sure why I had been accepted. But I bravely bullied the nursing faculty staff until they reluctantly let me switch a day of clinical around, and later stumbled off my plane into the San Francisco airport in a haze of exhaustion. The workshop spat me out three days later, twice as exhausted, with teetering piles of ideas and very little time or energy to apply them. I left with a list of annual goals, which I had never bothered to have before, and a feeling that more was possible–this included the feeling that more would have been possible if the workshop had been longer and less chaotic, if I had slept more the week before, if I hadn't had to rush out on Sunday evening to catch a plane and miss the social.
Like I frequently do on Less Wrong the website, I left the minicamp feeling a bit like an outsider, but also a bit like I had come home. As well as my written goals, I made an unwritten pre-commitment to come back to San Francisco later, for longer, and see whether I could make the "more is possible" in my head more specific. Of my thirteen written goals on my list, I fully accomplished only four and partially accomplished five, but I did make it back to San Francisco, at the opportunity cost of four weeks of sacrificed hospital shifts.
A week or so into my stay, while I shifted around between different rationalist shared houses and attempted to max out interesting-conversations-for-day, I found out that CFAR was holding another May workshop. I offered to volunteer, proved my sincerity by spending 6 hours printing and sticking nametags, and lived on site for another 4-day weekend of delightful information overload and limited sleep.
Before the May 2012 workshop, I had a low prior that any four-day workshop could be life-changing in a major way. A four-year nursing degree, okay–I've successfully retrained my social skills and my ability to react under pressure by putting myself in particular situations over and over and over and over again. Four days? Nah. Brains don't work that way.
In my experience, it's exceedingly hard for the human brain to do anything deliberately. In Kahneman-speak, habits are System 1, effortless and automatic. Doing things on purpose involves System 2, effortful and a bit aversive. I could have had a much better experience in my final intensive care clinical if I'd though to open up my workshop notes and tried to address the causes of aversions, or use offline time to train habits, or, y'know, do anything on purpose instead of floundering around trying things at random until they worked.
(The again, I didn't apply concepts like System 1 and System 2 to myself a year ago. I read 'Thinking Fast and Slow' by Kahneman and 'Rationality and the Reflective Mind' by Stanovich as part of my minicamp goal 'read 12 hard nonfiction books this year', most of which came from the CFAR recommended reading list. If my preceptor had had any idea what I was saying when I explained to her that she was running particular nursing skills on System 1, because they were engrained on the level of habit, and I was running the same tasks on System 2 in working memory because they were new and confusing to me, and that was why I appeared to have poor time management, because System 2 takes forever to do anything, this terminology might have helped. Oh, for the world where everyone knows all jargon!)
...And here I am, setting aside a month of my life to think only about rationality. I can't imagine that my counterfactual self-who-didn't-attend-in-May-2012 would be here. I can't imagine that being here now will have zero effect on what I'm doing in a year, or ten years. Bingo. I did one thing deliberately!
So what was the May 2013 workshop actually like?
The curriculum has shifted around a lot in the past year, and I think with 95% probability that it's now more concretely useful. (Speaking of probabilities, the prediction markets during the workshop seemed to flow better and be more fun and interesting this time, although this may just show that I was more averse to games in general and betting in particular. In that case, yay for partly-cured aversions!)
The classes are grouped in an order that allows them to build on each other usefully, and they've been honed by practice into forms that successfully teach skills, instead of just putting words in the air and on flipcharts. For example, having a personal productivity system like GTD came across as a culturally prestigious thing at the last workshop, but there wasn't a lot of useful curriculum on it. Of course, I left on this trip wanting to spend my offline month creating with a GTD system better than paper to-do lists taped to walls, so I have both motivation and a low threshold for improvement.
There are also some completely new classes, including "Againstness training" by Valentine, which seem to relate to some of the 'reacting under pressure' stuff in interesting ways, and gave me vocabulary and techniques for something I've been doing inefficiently by trial and error for a good part of my life.
In general, there are more classes about emotions, both how to deal with them when they're in the way and how to use them when they're the best tool available. Given that none of us are Spock, I think this is useful.
Rejection therapy has morphed into a less terrifying and more helpful form with the awesome name of CoZE (Comfort Zone Expansion). I didn't personally find the original rejection therapy all that awful, but some people did, and that problem is largely solved.
The workshops are vastly more orderly and organized. (I like to think I contributed to this slightly with my volunteer skills of keeping the fridge stocked with water bottles and calling restaurants to confirm orders and make sure food arrived on time.) Classes began and ended on time. The venue stayed tidy. The food was excellent. It was easier to get enough sleep. Etc. The May 2012 venue had a pool, and this one didn't, which made exercise harder for addicts like me. CFAR staff are talking about solving this.
The workshops still aren't an easy environment for introverts. The negative parts of my experience in May 2012 were mostly because of this. It was easier this time, because as a volunteer I could skip classes if I started to feel socially overloaded, but periods of quiet alone time had to be effortfully carved out of the day, and at an opportunity cost of missing interesting conversations. I'm not sure if this problem is solvable without either making the workshops longer, in order to space the material out, and thus less accessible for people with jobs, or by cutting out curriculum. Either would impose a cost on the extroverts who don't want an hour at lunch to meditate or go running alone or read a sci-fi book, etc.
In general, I found the May 2012 workshop too short and intense–we had material thrown at us at a rate far exceeding the usual human idea-digestion rate. Keeping in touch via Skype chats with other participants helped. CFAR now does official followups with participants for six weeks following the workshop.
Meeting the other participants was, as usual, the best part of the weekend. The group was quite diverse, although I was still the only health care professional there. (Whyyy???? The health care system needs more rationality so badly!) The conversations were engaging. Many of the participants seem eager to stay in touch. The May 2012 workshop has a total of six people still on the Skype chats list, which is a 75% attrition rate. CFAR is now working on strategies to help people who want to stay in touch do it successfully.
I thought the May 2012 workshop was awesome. I thought the May 2013 workshop was about an order of magnitude more awesome. I would say that now is a great time to attend a CFAR workshop...except that the organization is financially stable and likely to still be around in a year and producing even better workshops. So I'm not sure. Then again, rationality skills have compound interest–the value of learning some new skills now, even if they amount more to vocab words and mental labels than superpowers, compounds over the year that you spend seeing all the books you read and all the opportunities you have in that framework. I'm glad I went a year ago instead of this May. I'm even more glad I had the opportunity to see the new classes and meet the new participants a year later.
Related: What Do We Mean By "Rationality?"
Epistemic rationality and instrumental rationality are both useful. However, some things may benefit one form of rationality yet detract from another. These tradeoffs are often not obvious, but can have serious consequences.
For instance, take the example of learning debate skills. While involved in debate in high school, I learned how to argue a position quite convincingly, muster strong supporting evidence, prepare rebuttals for counterarguments, prepare deflections for counterarguments that are difficult to rebut, and so on.
I also learned how to do so regardless of what side of a topic I was assigned to.
My debate experience has made me a more convincing and more charismatic person, improved my public speaking skills, and bolstered my ability to win arguments. Instrumentally speaking, this can be a very useful skillset. Epistemically speaking, this sort of preparation is very dangerous, and I later had to unlearn many of these thought patterns in order to become better at finding the truth.
For example, when writing research papers, the type of motivated cognition used when searching for evidence to bolster a position in a debate is often counterproductive. Similarly, when discussing what the best move for my business to make is, the ability to argue convincingly for a position regardless of whether it is right is outright dangerous, and lessons learned from debate may actually decrease the odds of making the correct decision-- if I'm wrong but convincing and my colleagues are right but unconvincing, we could very well end up going down the wrong path!
Epistemic and instrumental goals may also conflict in other ways. For instance, Kelly (2003) points out that, from an epistemic rationality perspective, learning movie spoilers is desirable, since they will improve your model of the world. Nevertheless, many people consider spoilers to be instrumentally negative, since they prefer the tension of not knowing what will happen while they watch a movie.
Bostrom (2011) describes many more situations where having a more accurate model of the world can be hazardous to various instrumental objectives. For instance, knowing where the best parties are held on campus can be a very useful piece of knowledge to have in many contexts, but can become a distracting temptation when you're writing your thesis. Knowing that one of your best friends has just died can be very relevant to your model of the world, but can also cause you to become dangerously depressed. Knowing that Stalin's wife didn't die from appendicitis can be useful for understanding certain motivations, but can be extraordinarily dangerous to know if the secret police come calling.
Thus, epistemic and instrumental rationality can in some cases come into conflict. Some instrumental skillsets might be better off neglected for reasons of epistemic hygeine; similarly, some epistemic ventures might yield information that it would be instrumentally better not to know. When developing rationality practices and honing one's skills, we should take care to acknowledge these tradeoffs and plan accordingly.
 Kelly, T., (2003). Epistemic Rationality as Instrumental Rationality: A Critique. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 66(3), pp. 612-640.
 Bostrom, N., (2011). Information Hazards: A Typology of Harms from Knowledge. Review of Contemporary Philosophy, 10, pp. 44-79.
Related to: What Do We Mean By "Rationality?"
Rationality has many facets, both relatively simple and quite complex. As a result, it can often be hard to determine what aspects of rationality you should or shouldn't stress.
An extremely basic and abstract model of how rationality works might look a little something like this:
- Collect evidence about your environment from various sources
- Update your model of reality based on evidence collected (optimizing the updating process is more or less what we know as epistemic rationality)
- Act in accordance with what your model of reality indicates is best for achieving your goals (optimizing the actions you take is more or less what we know as instrumental rationality)
- Repeat continually forever
Followup to: Don't Get Offended
Previously, we discussed why not getting offended might be an effective strategy to adopt in order to increase one's practical epistemic rationality. That's all well and good, but just as knowing about biases isn't the same as protecting ourselves from them, the simple desire to avoid being offended is (usually) insufficient to actually avoid it-- practice, too, is required.
So what should you actually practice if you find yourself becoming offended and want to stop? This post aims to address that. In doing so, it also features an expanded discussion of one question that seemed to be a sticking point for several posters in the previous discussion-- if you aren't getting offended, how will you discourage offensive and inappropriate behaviors?
A good litmus test is to check whether experiencing the feeling of being offended seems obviously bad to you-- not the existence of the feeling itself or any behaviors tied to it, but the fact that you are experiencing it. It is important to understand that this refers only to the mental experience of being offended-- this post focuses entirely on the A (Affect) component of Alicorn's ABC model.
While it might sound silly to have the preliminary step be simply thinking that being offended is bad, if you don't think that there's not much point in practicing the remaining steps. In fact, if you don't think that, practicing the remaining steps may be harmful.
Part One: Detection
In order to stop being offended-- or really alter nearly anything about your mental state-- the first step is to increase your awareness of when you are becoming offended and what that process looks like in as early a stage as possible. As in the case of ugh fields, being mindful of your reactions and "watching for the flinch" is an important early step.
As soon as you feel yourself becoming offended, you should notice this. It is then critical to truly inspect your reactions and determine why you are becoming offended. This doesn't mean thinking things like "I was offended because she insulted my friend," which has insufficient detail. Try for something more like "I was offended because she made a severe criticism of another person in the group and I feel that she did not have the relevant social capital to justify making her statement." If you don't have a detailed conception of exactly what it is that is offending you, moving forward will be difficult.
At times you will not be able to do this thanks to the heat of the moment. That's okay and in point of fact it is expected-- truly understanding one's own motivations and responses can be difficult even in unemotional situations. If necessary, wait for calmer times to evaluate such issues or ask others for clarifications or predictions. While the inputs of others might not always be useful, close friends (or unusually perceptive unclose friends) can in many cases pinpoint causes to your behavior that you might be blind to.
If emotionally possible, testing these models is certainly helpful, though I recognize that this can be challenging at times and do not recommend it to the unprepared. In particular, having your friends try to offend you to test your reactions is often a poor idea, as the emotional responses involved can be unpleasant for multiple parties.
Part Two: Dissolution
Once you have the ability to detect when and why you are becoming offended, there are multiple steps that one can take. The two techniques that have been most successful for me in the moment are what I like to call Dissolution and Defense.
The first of those two methods, Dissolution, is what I tend to use under normal circumstances. This method attempts to dissolve feelings of offense by simply understanding them really well and then applying the Principle of Gendlin. For instance, if someone has said an insulting remark to me, I might think to myself "If this criticism is false, then it can easily be defeated by the truth. If this criticism is true, well, you know what P.C. Hodgell says about that... perhaps this criticism was not made in the most optimal manner, but I have no need to be offended, for the criticism will succeed or fail on the basis of the truth, not on the basis of whether it is appropriate."
For me, Gendlin is a true friend and can resolve most of these issues fairly trivially. However, this does not work the same for all individuals. Other techniques, such as perspective shifting, may be more reliable for others. The important strand that I have found throughout many people who can avoid being offended is the concept that being offended is a matter of one's own reaction, not the external world. I irreverently refer to this as the Principle of Hamlet-- there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. It is a key tenet of Stoic thought.
Note that there are a few other things to consider. For instance, one should beware sticky brains when executing this technique. Personally, my brain isn't very sticky, but if yours is you may have to plan around that. There are many considerations similar to this one regarding personal mental styles, and the topic of "Things You Should Know About Your Brain" probably merits a post of its own, but I don't really have space to go into it here. Suffice it to say that nothing presented here is set in stone and you should make whatever modifications are appropriate in order to fit this into your own mental style.
With practice, I have found that the sentiment expressed in this comment can apply to reactions as well as to personal traits-- reactions that I don't like having tend to go away soon after I understand them, since I can then apply these methods to their dissolution.
Part Three: Defense
However, I've found that there are some times in which I am unable to successfully dissolve my feelings of offense. It may be that I am extremely hungry or tired or otherwise impaired and thus have less than normal ability to control my reactions, or that I am simply too shocked to react normally. In this situation, I resort to the secondary method, Defense. This is not glamorous and not cool but it does work. The key to defense is isolating yourself from stimuli that produce undesirable results.
There are multiple forms of this-- the most basic one is simply leaving the area. Other simple methods include drowning something out (simple technique: the classic "I'M NOT LISTENING LA LA LA LA LA," except inside your head), suddenly becoming very (authentically) interested in something else, pretending you have to take a call, etc. One extremely important note is that these methods should be a last resort. Otherwise, it has the potential of becoming an excuse. I seriously considered not putting them in the post at all because of the risk of it making people not take the first method seriously enough. Ultimately, I decided that it would be better for most people to know than to not know-- but seriously, be careful with this.
If you do find yourself having to resort to these methods more often than you would like, there is another option-- active defense. I generally prefer action to reaction, so I tend to prefer active defenses to reactive ones. Active defenses involve self-modification so that certain stimuli no longer produce undesirable results or produce less undesirable results.
For instance, if I know that I am going to encounter someone who may make offensive remarks regarding another of my friends, I may steel myself for this prior to the encounter, saying to myself "While it may be that some of my friends dislike each other and want to express this to me, I should not fall into the trap of becoming offended and getting into an argument over whether or not one's criticism of the other is valid. All my friends don't have to be friends with one another, and trying to enforce this will only add to the trouble. Instead I will make a mild remark and move on."
This is an especially effective method when it comes to preventing surprised or shocked offended reactions, though of course one must always beware unknown unknowns. Marcus Aurelius engaged in an extremely general form of this, advocating that one begin each day by preparing oneself to meet with all sorts of offenses while avoiding anger or irritation. In some respects, the overall practice of Stoicism could be considered an advanced form of active defense-- though not just against becoming offended, but against all wild or uncontrolled reactions.
Part Four: Discouragement
This step is where you evaluate whether taking action to prevent further offensive behavior is merited or useful. As stated earlier, I believe that even in cases when it is instrumentally useful to show offense, one can still perform actions indicating offense without actually experiencing the internal state of being offended. The question then becomes when it is appropriate to do so.
In previous discussion, Oligopsony pointed out that taking offense at inappropriate behaviors can be considered a public good. I disagree to an extent, because I think that in many situations claiming to be offended or acting offended can in fact escalate a situation that would otherwise pass with a small amount of awkwardness and concern. However, simply allowing (truly) inappropriate behavior to continue without objection tacitly indicates that that behavior is acceptable and thus carries negative consequences of its own.
Overall, I find that generally speaking it is often wise to complain about offensive behaviors if you think it is likely that those behaviors will offend others. You should be wary about generalizing from one example, though. I find the sound of silverware contacting teeth to be both off-putting and offensive, but this is not something that I bother to point out with people that I don't expect to interact with often, since I am moderately confident that it is a pet peeve that most people don't care about and aren't offended by. On the other hand, I do bother to point out that fact to people that I expect to interact with frequently if I notice them doing it, since in this case it is worth my time to potentially avert a future instance.
A friend of mine who is currently commissioned as a military officer says that one key principle of effective leadership is "praise in public, punish in private--" in other words, save criticisms for private encounters so that you don't have to worry about potential status implications of making the criticism around others. In my experience, this is also an effective way to deal with offensive behavior while minimizing social awkwardness and the potential for escalation.
In some situations, though, it is simply necessary to stand up when no one else is willing and confront offensive behavior directly. I have done so several times and will say that while it is usually uncomfortable for all those concerned, the result can be worth it. That being said, I urge you to use extreme caution when evaluating whether or not it is necessary to do so. My impression is that many situations that people deem worthy of confrontation could be resolved more effectively through less direct means.
Part Five: CONSTANT VIGILANCE
As a final thought, I've seen a lot of people, thinking they've eradicated some bad habit, fall back into it, as they now consider themselves "safe." When installing epistemic habits, this risk is especially worrisome, since you may not notice that you have lapsed, in which case you can become the highly annoying sort of person who is weak in domains that they specifically consider themselves strong in and thus find themselves resistant to correction.
I must emphasize that I would much rather deal with someone who is offended and knows it than someone who is offended and thinks that he cannot possibly be so. So if you do wish to become a person who does not get offended, do it right. After all, it is dangerous to be half a rationalist.
 This isn't to say that those techniques will necessarily be the most useful for you-- merely that I have found them successful and consider myself sufficiently qualified to explain them. It might be that alternative strategies could be more useful for you-- if so, feel free to post them in the comments, as they could potentially make this post that much more useful for future readers.
 If anyone wants to take the helm and write this post, they have my blessing-- my queue is overflowing right now. Please do send me a link if you do end up doing this, though.
Followed By: How to Not Get Offended
One oft-underestimated threat to epistemic rationality is getting offended. While getting offended by something sometimes feels good and can help you assert moral superiority, in most cases it doesn't help you figure out what the world looks like. In fact, getting offended usually makes it harder to figure out what the world looks like, since it means you won't be evaluating evidence very well. In Politics is the Mind-Killer, Eliezer writes that "people who would be level-headed about evenhandedly weighing all sides of an issue in their professional life as scientists, can suddenly turn into slogan-chanting zombies when there's a Blue or Green position on an issue." Don't let yourself become one of those zombies-- all of your skills, training, and useful habits can be shut down when your brain kicks into offended mode!
One might point out that getting offended is a two-way street and that it might be more appropriate to make a post called "Don't Be Offensive." That feels like a just thing to say-- as if you are targeting the aggressor rather than the victim. And on a certain level, it's true-- you shouldn't try to offend people, and if you do in the course of a normal conversation it's probably your fault. But you can't always rely on others around you being able to avoid doing this. After all, what's offensive to one person may not be so to another, and they may end up offending you by mistake. And even in those unpleasant cases when you are interacting with people who are deliberately trying to offend you, isn't staying calm desirable anyway?
The other problem I have with the concept of being offended as victimization is that, when you find yourself getting offended, you may be a victim, but you're being victimized by yourself. Again, that's not to say that offending people on purpose is acceptable-- it obviously isn't. But you're the one who gets to decide whether or not to be offended by something. If you find yourself getting offended to things as an automatic reaction, you should seriously evaluate why that is your response.
There is nothing inherent in a set of words that makes them offensive or inoffensive-- your reaction is an internal, personal process. I've seen some people stay cool in the face of others literally screaming racial slurs in their faces and I've seen other people get offended by the slightest implication or slip of the tongue. What type of reaction you have is largely up to you, and if you don't like your current reactions you can train better ones-- this is a core principle of the extremely useful philosophy known as Stoicism.
Of course, one (perhaps Robin Hanson) might also point out that getting offended can be socially useful. While true-- quickly responding in an offended fashion can be a strong signal of your commitment to group identity and values-- that doesn't really relate to what this post is talking about. This post is talking about the best way to acquire correct beliefs, not the best way to manipulate people. And while getting offended can be a very effective way to manipulate people-- and hence a tactic that is unfortunately often reinforced-- it is usually actively detrimental for acquiring correct beliefs. Besides, the signalling value of offense should be no excuse for not knowing how not to be offended. After all, if you find it socially necessary to pretend that you are offended, doing so is not exactly difficult.
Personally, I have found that the cognitive effort required to build a habit of not getting offended pays immense dividends. Getting offended tends to shut down other mental processes and constrain you in ways that are often undesirable. In many situations, misunderstandings and arguments can be diminished or avoided completely if one is unwilling to become offended and practiced in the art of avoiding offense. Further, some of those situations are ones in which thinking clearly is very important indeed! All in all, while getting offended does often feel good (in a certain crude way), it is a reaction that I have no regrets about relinquishing.
 In Keep Your Identity Small, Paul Graham rightly points out that one way to prevent yourself from getting offended is to let as few things into your identity as possible.
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