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Comment author: shminux 28 September 2015 11:27:03PM *  2 points [-]

A few notes.

  • Writing leveling up in an engaging way is hard. Groundhog Day is one classic example where it's done well, and is pure growing mindset and determination, no extra talent.

  • I think in the Hunger Games it is implicitly assumed that she both has a gift for archery and had worked hard to develop it. I agree that her wins look mostly like luck or some behind-the-screen force.

  • Indeed in the Honor Harrington series the brutal training schedule, while not often explicitly shown, is alluded to multiple times, and the explanation for the original villain remaining largely technically incompetent is rather contrived and hand-waved. I chalk that one to David Weber being completely incapable of writing non-cartoonish villains, ever.

  • A big offender in the "all talent, little work" department is Ender's Game: Ender manages to beat a more experienced player 2 out of 3 without ever touching the game controls prior to the contest. Later on, he trains his troops, but he is already magically there himself. Though there is the bit where he levels up properly under Mazer Rackham.

  • Brandon Sanderson's writings tend to be quite decent. The characters tend to put a lot of work into achieving their potential, but there is never a "growing mindset is all you need" premise, one always needs a healthy measure of talent to excel. Even geniuses with an obvious talent at least have to work hard at learning how to control it.

Comment author: Swimmer963 29 September 2015 12:26:05AM 1 point [-]

Brandon Sanderson's writings tend to be quite decent.

I'd thought about putting the Mistborn series in the "things that are close to what I'm talking about", but I've only read 2/3 of the first book.

the explanation for the original villain remaining largely technically incompetent is rather contrived and hand-waved.

I'd forgotten about that. I think maybe I assumed the incompetent-villain characters were finding ways to skimp on the training that was supposed to be required?

Examples of growth mindset or practice in fiction

13 Swimmer963 28 September 2015 09:47PM

As people who care about rationality and winning, it's pretty important to care about training. Repeated practice is how humans acquire skills, and skills are what we use for winning.

Unfortunately, it's sometimes hard to get System 1 fully on board with the fact that repeated, difficult, sometimes tedious practice is how we become awesome. I find fiction to be one of the most useful ways of communicating things like this to my S1. It would be great to have a repository of fiction that shows characters practicing skills, mastering them, and becoming awesome, to help this really sink in.

However, in fiction the following tropes are a lot more common:

  1. hero is born to greatness and only needs to discover that greatness to win [I don't think I actually need to give examples of this?]
  2. like (1), only the author talks about the skill development or the work in passing… but in a way that leaves the reader's attention (and system 1 reinforcement?) on the "already be awesome" part, rather that the "practice to become awesome" part [HPMOR; the Dresden Files, where most of the implied practice takes place between books.]
  3. training montage, where again the reader's attention isn't on the training long enough to reinforce the "practice to become awesome" part, but skips to the "wouldn't it be great to already be awesome" part [TVtropes examples].
  4. The hero starts out ineffectual and becomes great over the course of the book, but this comes from personal revelations and insights, rather than sitting down and practicing [Nice Dragons Finish Last is an example of this].

Example of exactly the wrong thing:
The Hunger Games - Katniss is explicitly up against the Pledges who have trained their whole lives for this one thing, but she has … something special that causes her to win. Also archery is her greatest skill, and she's already awesome at it from the beginning of the story and never spends time practicing.

Close-but-not-perfect examples of the right thing:
The Pillars of the Earth - Jack pretty explicitly has to travel around Europe to acquire the skills he needs to become great. Much of the practice is off-screen, but it's at least a pretty significant part of the journey.
The Honor Harrington series: the books depict Honor, as well as the people around her, rising through the ranks of the military and gradually levelling up, with emphasis on dedication to training, and that training is often depicted onscreen – but the skills she's training in herself and her subordinates aren't nearly as relevant as the "tactical genius" that she seems to have been born with.

I'd like to put out a request for fiction that has this quality. I'll also take examples of fiction that fails badly at this quality, to add to the list of examples, or of TVTropes keywords that would be useful to mine. Internet hivemind, help?

Comment author: Dr_Manhattan 16 June 2015 01:14:46AM 1 point [-]

Hey Jonah, great post, but I suspect you might be hiding something from yourself here. Verbal communication is much harder for people than written, and has it's own slew of failure modes (verbal speech has a lot to do with body language). I highly recommend treating them as separate issues, particularly since verbal communication is so socially significant.

Comment author: Swimmer963 16 June 2015 05:36:08AM 9 points [-]

Verbal communication is much harder for people than written.

Um, this is really not universally true at all. In fact, it's possible more than 50% of people find verbal communication easier. (Although this community may contain an overrepresentation of people who find written easier.)

Comment author: Lumifer 20 May 2015 04:51:53PM *  13 points [-]

I don't have an intuitive understanding of why I'm coming across as arrogant.

Think in monkey-terms. Humans are just hairless bipedal apes and status matters, a lot.

Statements of what you perceive as (fairly obvious) facts have implications, in particular social/status implications. Human conversations are simultaneously an exchange of information and an exchange of signals. Most people automatically process these signals on the slightly subconscious level and respond with signals of their own without necessarily being aware of it. Women, in particular, are quite adept at this.

People in whom the signal-processing mechanism is inefficient, miscalibrated, or just plain broken have trouble with navigating social interactions. The interaction flows on (at least) two levels but the invisible layer is malfunctioning and if you don't even know it exists you are confused why the overt information-exchange layer is doing so badly.

I suspect that if the subconscious mechanisms are not doing their job, you have to bring the signal-exchange layer into the territory of the conscious and explicitly manage it.

Accept that every conversation has two layers even if you don't see one of them. Evaluate all statements (verbal + body language, etc.) on two levels: (1) what does it say; (2) what kind of signal it sends, what does it imply.

To return to your original question, on the overt information-exchange layer you see your statement "I am smarter than almost everyone here" as a neutral fact about the world which you believe is true. Now, analyze that statement on the signal-exchange level. What does it imply to hairless bipedal apes?

Comment author: Swimmer963 21 May 2015 02:50:53AM 0 points [-]

Women, in particular, are quite adept at this.


Comment author: 27chaos 08 May 2015 12:23:14AM 0 points [-]

I have several medical problems, yes. Changing my narrative is a good idea, thanks. Now, what will I change it to...

Comment author: Swimmer963 08 May 2015 12:39:23AM 1 point [-]

Have you read many of the "gritty crime novel" or other "gritty realism" genres? I think I have a felt sense for what that narrative is, but it's hard to explain, because it comes from having read several hundred books in the genre.

Comment author: 27chaos 06 May 2015 03:41:12PM *  0 points [-]

Hmm. Before you were exposed to the LW idea of heroism, how did you feel, motivation-wise? What did you spend your time doing?

Reading books, mostly. I had goals, but not ambitions, if that makes sense. I basically thought good things would just happen to me if I was a good/intelligent person. I've since learned that good things won't come to me, I need to go out searching for them and pounce on them if I want them. But doing that is just exhausting.

This sounds fine? Like, definitely underspecified as an actual plan, and maybe focusing too much on one path and neglecting all the equally valuable alternatives (I think that happens a lot with long term plans). But it doesn't reek too badly of "I must make desperate efforts to be heroic constantly!"

It's the intensity of the negative emotion which is a problem, more than the goals I'm aiming for. I'd like to be able to fail to achieve my best-case goals without hating myself.

This seems incompatible with "I do not, intellectually, believe that striving for this sort of heroism will be likely to have negative consequences, because I don't believe making the effort will significantly affect my actions." If aiming to be a hero doesn't effect your actions, it also shouldn't make the difference between being a "selfish couch potato" and not? But I feel like there's a lot of vagueness here, too. Can you taboo "selfish couch potato" and describe what you fear you would actually do? And compare it to what you're actually doing now? Versus what ideal you would do? Like, actual actions–"I get up in the morning, I go walk to the store..." Etc.

Current me spends almost no time on productive things when not at his job as a menial worker. Couch potato me would quit his job and try to get on government welfare, eating lots of food. Ideal me would quit the job and get a better one, while going back to school to complete and starting to exercise regularly.

My intellectual belief that heroism is important has served mainly only to emotionally torment me for failing, since I'm not even moderately successful in life by basically any standard you could name.

Comment author: Swimmer963 07 May 2015 11:55:43PM 2 points [-]

Hmm. I'm going to suggest something that I just thought of and that may or may not be helpful, but here goes:

The trouble with narratives is that once you have one, it's really hard to go back to not having a narrative. Heroism is a narrative. It's going to be really hard to go back to just doing whatever you were doing without interpreting it in some kind of narrative sense – but you can change your narrative. To something like "there are no heroes." Heroism is a construct, a concept, but it doesn't cut reality at the joints. The real world is more like one of those gritty crime novels, where morality isn't a real thing and there are just humans, with drives both noble and corrupt, trying to survive.

This is a narrative I've had, but it wasn't to solve the same problem. I have my couch-potato urges, like anyone, but I've never had to resort to much mental violence to suppress them. I think because I'm able to notice that when I follow the urges, and read sci-fi for ten hours instead of cooking and exercising and cleaning, then I feel physically bad (stiff, achy, etc), and mentally bad (foggy head, being bored but unable to think of a thing to do about it, etc). This is visceral enough feedback for my System 1 to get it and respond to an urge to stay in bed and read my book all day with "do you really want to do that?" (The prerequisite for this may be having good enough energy and mood overall that doing non-couch-potato things is pleasant or at least bearable. I've experienced times when this wasn't the case – when I was so exhausted that trying to do anything other than read fanfic was painful. If trying to do work is always aversive for you, that may well be a medical issue – it'd be consistent with depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, etc.)

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 04 May 2015 06:17:54PM *  1 point [-]

There was strong interest in the first two posts in my sequence, and I apologize for the long delay. The reason for it is that I've accumulated hundreds of pages of relevant material in draft form, and have struggled with how to organize such a large body of material. I still don't know what's best, but since people have been asking, I decided to continue posting on the subject, even if I don't have my thoughts as organized as I'd like. I'd greatly welcome and appreciate any comments, but I won't have time to respond to them individually, because I already have my hands full with putting my hundreds of pages of writing in public form.

Thanks a lot for continuing your work on this sequence; it’s been really interesting and seems potentially quite valuable given the mathematical nature of many problems in AI safety.

This post of yours reminds me of http://www.paulgraham.com/taste.html When I read that essay of PG’s years ago, my reaction was something like: “This is highfalutin BS. At best, taste is when your intuition for what seems good/interesting happens to correlate highly with what actually is good/interesting according to some metric.” But when I think about this now, I realize that if this is indeed what taste is, it’s tremendously valuable, since it gives you the ability to find stuff quicker in large search spaces.

I took a few math classes in college with a great teacher who taught using the Socratic method, by asking questions. I answered a lot of his questions, and one of my classmates (who I had a lot of respect for) referred to me as a “genius”. However, I didn’t do very well on the tests my teacher administered, and ended up with a score around 79% both times I took classes he taught.

This blog post discusses a study using a construct called “clerical intelligence”; I wonder if low clerical intelligence is the sort of thing that would cause someone to be good at math “conceptually” but keep making frustrating mistakes in practice. (That’s the only reference I can find to clerical intelligence though, so perhaps it should be taken with a grain of salt.) I felt like as I’ve grown older, I’ve gotten better at thinking like a bulldozer, keeping track of my working memory, and making fewer mistakes.

Someone on Metafilter writes:

it was by reading Misteaks... and How to Find Them Before the Teacher Does that I began to grow competent at Math.

I’d be interested to know whether Scott Alexander felt like he was weaker in identifying strategies to solve calculus problems or doing the actual execution. If the latter, it seems like that might work with your hypothesis that he has high mathematical ability but low clerical intelligence. (This might be hard for him to know because if your answer is wrong, without a tutor you don't immediately know whether you chose the wrong strategy or made a small stupid mistake.)

Comment author: Swimmer963 04 May 2015 10:01:38PM 0 points [-]

This blog post discusses a study using a construct called “clerical intelligence”; I wonder if low clerical intelligence is the sort of thing that would cause someone to be good at math “conceptually” but keep making frustrating mistakes in practice.

Ooh! I think 'clerical intelligence' is the thing that my husband and I have taken to calling 'attention to detail' amongst ourselves. It's also been at least occasionally studied under that name – when applying for an admin job, they gave me a test of 'attention to detail' that consisted of several hundred timed questions comparing a block of six numbers to another block, having to answer whether they were the same or not, with around 5-10 seconds to spend per question. I don't think I'm outright bad at this, but it's not effortless for me. (Luckily, I had math teachers who gave points for the work getting to the solution, not just the solution, so I could get 7/8 points on a complicated problem even if I substituted a + for a - somewhere and got the wrong answer).

My husband tends to use 'attentional to detail' to some degree also to mean what Paul Graham would call 'taste' or what Jonah would call 'aesthetic discernment'. I think the causal relationship is probably that in order to develop 'taste'–intuitions for what's good that correspond to what's generally agreed to be good – you need to be paying close attention to its details for a few years. Thus I have 'taste' for music, writing, and to some degree math, but not for fashion, since I never looked at what people were wearing.

Comment author: Kenny 23 January 2015 01:14:57AM 8 points [-]

Open source projects, especially (or maybe just most saliently for me) software projects, desperately need sidekicks. I write 'desperately' because most such projects die from 'over-forking', i.e. everyone wanting to be the leader (hero) of their own project (adventure).

What I've learned most recently is that being even a moderately competent sidekick is really hard. It takes a lot of work to even be able to contribute without creating lots of extra work for the heroes and their more-devoted sidekicks.

Comment author: Swimmer963 23 January 2015 02:14:42AM 4 points [-]

That's really interesting! Are you able to break down the relevant skills at all?

In response to You Only Live Twice
Comment author: James_D._Miller 12 December 2008 08:53:16PM 17 points [-]

I have signed up with Alcor. When I suggest to other people that they should sign up the common response has been that they wouldn't want to be brought back to life after they died.

I don't understand this response. I'm almost certain that if most of these people found out they had cancer and would die unless they got a treatment and (1) with the treatment they would have only a 20% chance of survival, (2) the treatment would be very painful, (3) the treatment would be very expensive, and (4) if the treatment worked they would be unhealthy for the rest of their lives; then almost all of these cryonics rejectors would take the treatment.

One of the primary cost of cryonics is the "you seem insane tax" one has to pay if people find out you have signed up. Posts like this will hopefully reduce the cryonics insanity tax.

Comment author: Swimmer963 15 January 2015 07:38:52PM 0 points [-]

I actually had a nightmare recently where I was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer and would have preferred not to go through treatment, but felt pressured by other, more aggressively anti-death members of the rationality community. Was afraid people would think I didn't care about them if I didn't try to stay alive longer to be with them, etc. (I'm an ICU nurse; I have a pretty good S1 handle on how horrific a lot of life saving treatments are, and how much quality of life it's possible to lose.)

I've thought about cryonics, but haven't made a decision either way; right now, my feeling is that I don't have anything against the principle, but that it doesn't seem likely enough to work for the cost-benefit analysis to come out positive.

Comment author: Jiro 13 January 2015 07:43:42PM 0 points [-]

You might want to look at the recent thread on being a hero, http://lesswrong.com/lw/l6d/a_discussion_of_heroic_responsibility/ , in particular the comments which question the idea. A lot of the reasons why thinking of yourself as a hero are questionable apply to thinking another person is a hero as well.

Comment author: Swimmer963 13 January 2015 10:13:56PM 13 points [-]

...I wrote that post, so yes, I've already read most of the comments.

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