Chosen Tidbits 5

Part of the Chosen Tidbits series.

Mediocre magic beats optimal greatness.

Mediocre peasant with shabbily constructed crossbow pwned legendary warrior-knight with one dumb shot.

The Categories Were Made For Man, Not Man For The Categories

This cannot be summarized in full, but it is a joy to read, and comes with an important lesson for your arguments and debates.

Nevertheless, the key takeaway, and a taste:

There are a series of disputes on categories, which are really disputes on the definition of the category. (Is a whale a fish? Is gender dysphoria a mental illness?)

In reality, multiple definitions often makes sense. The key being to pick the right one for the task at hand. An alternative categorization system is not an error. You draw category boundaries in specific ways to capture tradeoffs you care about.

The (controversial) hair dryer incident:

This one obsessive compulsive woman would drive to work every morning and worry she had left the hair dryer on and it was going to burn down her house. So she’d drive back home to check that the hair dryer was off, then drive back to work, then worry that maybe she hadn’t really checked well enough, then drive back, and so on ten or twenty times a day [...] to the point where her career was in a downspin and she thought she would have to quit and go on disability. [...]

She’d seen countless psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors, she’d done all sorts of therapy, she’d taken every medication in the book, and none of them had helped. [...]

So she came to my hospital and was seen by a colleague of mine, who told her “Hey, have you thought about just bringing the hair dryer with you?”

And it worked.

Musashi is quoted as saying:

The primary thing when you take a sword in your hands is your intention to cut the enemy, whatever the means. Whenever you parry, hit, spring, strike or touch the enemy’s cutting sword, you must cut the enemy in the same movement. It is essential to attain this. If you think only of hitting, springing, striking or touching the enemy, you will not be able actually to cut him.

Likewise, the primary thing in psychiatry is to help the patient, whatever the means. Someone can concern-troll that the hair dryer technique leaves something to be desired in that it might have prevented the patient from seeking a more thorough cure that would prevent her from having to bring the hair dryer with her. But compared to the alternative of “nothing else works” it seems clearly superior.

To minimize regret, act without hesitation.

It is a high status and uncontroversial belief to say that writing makes you better at substantially everything white collar people do.

It is more controversial to believe being able to code makes you more effective at everything white collar people do.

“Exploit until the market corrects” is one of my preferred ways to deal with sustained disagreements. I am told this is intellectually bankrupt. I therefore commit to exploiting it until the market corrects.

men want sex but don't know how to be sexy

the internet has made it so easy to know what women find sexy

which suggests to me that many (most?) dudes are either too stupid or lazy (or scared?) to do what it takes to get what they want

and also, probably, that many (most?) don't really want what they say they want

things I’ve known women to find disarmingly sexy:

  • a man cooking, doing DIY, working on his car/guitar, working with his hands

  • being skilled+charming with a child or elder person in a strong, masculine way

  • smiling and laughing when she expected him to get upset/angry

Things that are unsexy:

  • nitpicking
  • “debating”
  • condescension
  • contempt
  • “you can have this precious penis if you pass these following tests and jump through the following hoops”
  • neediness
  • solipsism
  • insecurity
  • lack of imagination
  • inability to read subtext

If You’re Busy, You’re Doing Something Wrong: The Surprisingly Relaxed Lives of Elite Achievers

The time diaries revealed that both groups (elite and average players) spent, on average, the same number of hours on music per week (around 50).

The elite players were spending almost three times more hours than the average players on deliberate practice — the uncomfortable, methodical work of stretching your ability.

The average players, they discovered, spread their work throughout the day. The elite players, by contrast, consolidated their work into two well-defined periods (two peaks: in the morning and in the afternoon).

The elite players slept an hour more per night than the average players. The elite players were significantly more relaxed than the average players.

Hard work (delibrate practice) vs hard to do work (draining, busy).

The solution suggested by this research, as well as my own, is as simple as it is startling: Do less. But do what you do with complete and hard focus. Then when you’re done be done, and go enjoy the rest of the day.

Performance coach, with a bent towards sports, surgery, and executive performance, gives his thoughts on being a top performer. The key is the "Trusting Mindset": like a squirrel runs across a telephone wire. Just doing it, without thought, because you've trained yourself plenty until that point.

The best in every business do what they have learned to do without questioning their abilities — they flat out trust their skills, which is why we call this high-performance state of mind the “Trusting Mindset.”

You cannot pull up all those years of education, training, and experience in your memory as you perform — that’s the “Training” Mindset. In the Trusting Mindset, you have to let all that expertise be there instinctively.

Different, in fact, as you and a squirrel running across a telephone wire! Squirrels cannot think.

Put a two-by-four board on the floor and walk from one end to the other. It is not hard. Not one of my students has ever fallen off the board. If you videotape yourself doing this exercise, you will see that your foot hits the middle of the board every step of the way, as if you were walking down the street. Your eyes just look past the board at the far end, to where you’re going, and your feet just move. Now suspend that board thirty feet in the air and walk from one end to the other.

Success depends on emptying your head rather than filling it.

I actually have recommended to some clients to create even more chaos at work so that getting any work done at all will force them to be in the present.

Simplify and narrow what you think about: Just go out target shooting.

Periodization: Balance the right amount of stress with the right amount of rest. Stress + rest = growth.

Don’t multitask. Ever. Compartmentalize your day down to the hour. Each compartment has a concrete objective. Be fully intentional with how you spend your time.

Walking tends to be more effective at fostering creativity than other movements that require greater focus.

Being in nature, or even just looking at pictures of nature, helps with the transition from stress to rest and promotes creative thinking.

Group A studied the paper for four sessions. Group B studied only once but was tested three times. A week later both groups were tested, and Group B scored 50 percent higher than Group A. They'd studied one-fourth as much yet learned far more.

Capture failure and turn it into skill. The trick is to choose a goal just beyond your present abilities.

The more we fire a particular circuit, the more myelin optimizes that circuit, and the stronger, faster, and more fluent our movements and thoughts become. The best way to build a good circuit is to fire it, attend to mistakes, then fire it again, over and over.

How the human cardiovascular system actually works: that we can improve it by targeting our aerobic or anaerobic systems, that we can strengthen our heart and muscles by pushing ourselves to operate at the outer edges of our ability - lifting a slightly heavier weight, or trying to run a slightly farther distance.

Gaining expertise is largely a matter of improving one’s mental processes.

If improvement is to occur, performances must not be automatic.

Purposeful practice requires getting out of one’s comfort zone. This is perhaps the most important part.

Everyone knows that to do great work you need both natural ability and determination. But there's a third ingredient that's not as well understood: an obsessive interest in a particular topic.

When you look at the lives of people who've done great work, you see a consistent pattern. They often begin with a bus ticket collector's obsessive interest in something that would have seemed pointless to most of their contemporaries. One of the most striking features of Darwin's book about his voyage on the Beagle is the sheer depth of his interest in natural history. His curiosity seems infinite. Ditto for Ramanujan, sitting by the hour working out on his slate what happens to series.

But there is a difference between Ramanujan and a bus ticket collector. Series matter, and bus tickets don't.

It's a mistake to think they were "laying the groundwork" for the discoveries they made later. There's too much intention in that metaphor. Like bus ticket collectors, they were doing it because they liked it.

If I had to put the recipe for genius into one sentence, that might be it: to have a disinterested obsession with something that matters.

Aren't I forgetting about the other two ingredients? Less than you might think. An obsessive interest in a topic is both a proxy for ability and a substitute for determination. Unless you have sufficient mathematical aptitude, you won't find series interesting. And when you're obsessively interested in something, you don't need as much determination: you don't need to push yourself as hard when curiosity is pulling you.

But there are some heuristics you can use to guess whether an obsession might be one that matters. For example, it's more promising if you're creating something, rather than just consuming something someone else creates. It's more promising if something you're interested in is difficult, especially if it's more difficult for other people than it is for you.

But you can never be sure. In fact, here's an interesting idea that's also rather alarming if it's true: it may be that to do great work, you also have to waste a lot of time.

My advice would be: rigorously eliminate everything from your life which doesn't fit inside your top X critical priorities.

Where X is as small as possible, and seek to cull it further by combining equivalents and trying to identify why some 'important' things might actually be utter wastes of time in the first place.

The world generally uses a ratchet approach to conquer your attention. Use a ratchet to take it back.

Media Bubbles Aren’t The Biggest Reason We’re Partisans

“People have a notion from hearing about information echo chambers that most Americans are getting news and information from a very slanted media diet,” he told me. “Empirical evidence suggests that’s not true.”

Two people might see the same facts about the current impeachment investigation but interpret that news in wildly different ways.

guy: how become good writer

me: write 100 things


guy: ive written 80 things... nobody seems to care. when do people start caring?

me: do you care?

guy: do I care if other people-?

me: no. do you care about your writing?

guy: uhhh I guess?

me: that’s not enough

Tapping Out in Two

What I do now is say something to the effect of: "after this, I'm limiting myself to two more replies in this thread."

This has various advantages. It feels less rude. It doesn't look like I'm quitting because I have no reply. It helps the conversation reach a more natural conclusion. And it also feels a lot easier to do, partly for the above reasons and partly for the normal reasons precommitment helps me to do things.

When Wishful Thinking Works

But f could have multiple fixed points. Which one is right? You get to pick; whichever fixed point you decide to believe ends up being correct, since they are fixed points of the function determining the true probabilities from your beliefs. Cases in which there are multiple such fixed points are cases in which you actually can make something be true by believing it. So you may as well believe the fixed point according to which you have the highest expected utility.

Consistency is The Key

The most productive people I know are people who absolutely master the basics. They know how to fill the time in the day with the most important tasks they have, and they know how to string those days together in such a way that they're making meaningful progress.

The most important basic skill to master, without a doubt, is consistency. Those who are able to be consistent end up with huge success, very often much greater success than they expected or even hoped for.

People in finance say that people aren't able to comprehend the benefits of compounding interest over time. Consistency in productivity creates compound benefits which people are similarly not able to comprehend. Your starting point doesn't matter, because you can quickly scale up to your capacity once you have a history and habit of consistency.

Let's say you wanted to write a book. Maybe you'd tried and failed before. If you commit to writing for thirty minutes every day for a month, you'll write at least 10 to 15 thousand words. Not bad. Then the next month you up your quota to just one hour. Now you have a cumulative 30 to 45 thousand words. Not quite a book yet, but you're a month away.

And how easy does that process sound? Anyone can do half an hour a day. Anyone who has done a half hour a day for a month can do an hour a day. And anyone who has done an hour a day can do another month.

Interestingly, it doesn't seem to matter what you choose to be consistent on or how easy or difficult it is. I've experimented a lot with this, and even the easiest tasks lead to a positive spiral of consistency. I've found that as soon as I get a coaching client to be consistent with any tasks relevant to their lives, they will generally remain consistent forever, with a few variances here and there

Vīta brevis, ars longa, occāsiō praeceps, experīmentum perīculōsum, iūdicium difficile.

Or in English —

Life is short, and art long, opportunity fleeting, experimentations perilous, and judgment difficult.

The Standford Marshmallow Experiment

I’m not convinced that the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment tests for anything even remotely resembling “innate willpower,” because waiting fifteen minutes for a single marshmallow is a stupid thing to do.

The experiment could have lacked any tangible reward and some kids still would have waited.

There’s a type of joke that I think of as the “white people” joke, although it’s rarely funny and it doesn’t have to be about someone who’s white. The joke is about a mid-40’s housewife who is way too well-educated and bored to be a housewife, and so she tries to find the Grail of healthy food (organic, GMO-free, low acidity, one diet after another) and she plants a garden, and she adopts pets, and she joins nonprofits, and she joins the school board, and she reads every novel on NPR’s end of the year list, and she gets weekly therapy and monthly massages (to about the same effect), and she meditates on the present, and she achieves peace with the past, and she contemplates the future, and everything is feng shui, and yet, despite all this, she feels restless, anxious, unhappy, and she dreams of some sort of vacation.

Or sometimes the joke is about an elderly businessman on his second hair transplant and third cardiac stent and twenty-billionth dollar, and his kids all have grandkids and his wife is deceased, and when he goes out he he orders scotch more expensive than houses, but that isn’t too often—he’s seen enough parties, he’s seen enough people, he has no strong affections, and he works round the clock fighting tooth-and-nail for his billions, because he’s not sure what else, exactly, he’s supposed to be doing.

Or the joke is about a magazine-cover movie actress who has the adoration of thousands and still feels worthless. Or the joke is about a virginal computer science genius who has deleted his OKCupid and decided to eschew all noncoding activities. Or the joke is about a millionaire athlete under investigation for using anabolic steroids. Or the joke is about a 50-something cardiologist who hates all his patients but knows that he’d hate being retired even more. Or the joke is about a young power couple who like each other very much, love, maybe, but they’re both distracted by the nagging feeling that they could do better, that they should be shooting for something greater, and so they break up and find new partners and the process repeats again.

And the joke, which you hear on forums or sitcoms or in crowded sports bars, goes: “Haha, even though these people are successful, they’re still dissatisfied."

And I’m here to tell you that this joke is totally backwards. It’s because these people have always been dissatisfied that they achieved success.

This study implies that socially prescribed perfectionism is maladaptive and self oriented perfectionism is adaptive, but it has the causality backwards. If you ace a difficult O-chem test, do you want to believe that this was the result of your übermensch willpower or “big surprise, my parents have been pushing me for years”? Inversely, if you just failed an O-chem test, it’s much preferable to think “My family thinks I’m a failure. They’re so unfair,” instead of “I’m a loser." This is Psych 101:

Being intrinsically motivated doesn’t make you successful. Feeling successful makes you intrinsically motivated.

100 Candid Political Opinions

  1. Cat people make for better political leaders but dog people are more electable
  1. Georgism is a good idea that Homo sapiens is not an enlightened enough species to put into practice
  1. The financial/investment world has no clue what's going on, is afraid of everything, and has been largely reduced to One Weird Trick: financialization. The One Weird Trick is increasingly being executed by minds that have already retreated to New Zealand bunkers
  1. Most bad politics arises out of bad literary tastes, as in enjoying stories about stereotypes. Good politics arises out of pattern matching archetypes while they still have "alpha" (predictive power) with a tasteful literary sensibility
  1. Stereotypes are real, and there is always a subset of every stereotyped population that actually willingly conforms to that stereotype, performing it with an aggressive deadness. These dead player zombies are the core of all politics. All politics is about seeing dead people.
  1. Zizek is correct. The Normie ideology is cynicism, and conversely, all ideology turns into cynicism by the time it goes normie. This is why Noble Lie political philosophy is bs because there is no unawakened consciousness laboring under from it.
  1. You have no obligation to be useful or interesting to the world.

No person would ever create anything unless they're bored, scared or horny out of their mind.

Don't dampen it in people, don't make it all mindful; you will lose that too.