Saturday, 13 August 2011

RBC review exercises

Well, I'm at the end of Rationality Mega-Camp. They seem to have saved a lot of the good stuff for last -- the sessions this week were astoundingly helpful, and I expect the stuff I've done this week to be stuff worth doing at least every few months.

On Monday we did a great exercise called "Mapping your rationality strengths and weaknesses", and on Wednesday we did one called "Using RBC to create a good life."

Mapping your rationality strengths and weaknesses:

For each of the below subskills, analyze it with respect to:
  • When do you use it in your personal relationships?
  • When do you use it in your career? (work, schooling, startups, long-term planning)
  • When do you use it to understand yourself?
  • When do you use it to model abstract issues or the outside world? (politics, the economy, existential risk, etc.)
  • What's the biggest obstacle to using it more?
  • Brainstorm at least 5 simple tasks to help you do this subskill more.
Subskill 1: Actually wanting an accurate map. Want an accurate map more than you want to believe your map is accurate, your past actions are justified, or your opinions are respectable.

Subskill 2: Use fungibility. (The procedure where you ask what goals an action serves; ask what other ways you can think of to achieve those goals; check for resistance if you find what looks like a better way.) Do this procedure often, and find that it leads you to better plans and better paths to executing those plans.

Subskill 3: Bother to form models of the world. Be curious. Be specific and ask for examples. Have anticipations ("What would I see, if X were true? What would I see, if X were not true? Which do I see?") Write down your predictions, and update your calibration.

Subskill 4: Know your own motives. Have a moment-to-moment awareness of your own emotions and the motivations guiding your thoughts. Notice rationalization. Notice fear. Notice lack of curiosity.

Subskill 5: Keep your eyes on the prize. Focus your effort on the issues most relevant to your goals, notice when you're getting on a tangent, and asking "is this the right path?"

Subskill 6: Take ideas and reasoning seriously. Expect the world to make sense, realize that nothing works or fails by magic, trust in explicit reasoning, and use arithmetic in your daily life.

Subskill 7: Act conscientiously. (I added this one myself.) When you notice a failing, make a plan to correct it immediately; when you make a plan, execute on it; walk towards the darkness (the areas you feel weakest); constantly search for hidden aversions and ugh fields.

My answers to the rationality map

Some of this stuff is quite private, but I'll tell you the stuff that's not too private. My ratings are out of 10 where zero is I don't do this subskill at all, and ten is I do it perfectly.

Actually wanting an accurate map -- relationships 4; career 7; self 9; world 8. After several tries to understand and model my own behavior, I've gotten great positive feedback for when I modeled myself more correctly, and so I really want to understand myself well. Lying to yourself isn't very productive. So I rate myself an 8 at this. The weakest one is obviously my personal relationships, especially for my friends; I enjoy the company of my friends, but I seem to not want to discover flaws in them, or reasons that I shouldn't be friends with them. Biggest obstacle to wanting it more is not wanting to imagine the consequences of having an accurate map because of ugh fields. Task to improve: include regularly imagining my ugh fields in my weekly routine.

Using fungibility -- relationships 2; career 6; self 4; world 4. Applying this procedure is far from a regular occurrence in all areas of my life; in the below exercise I applied it to my career and it worked well. Biggest obstacle to using this more is laziness. Adding it to my weekly routine.

Bother to form models of the world -- relationships 3; career 4; self 5; world 7. Weak on relationships because of not wanting the accurate map. Strong on world because that is where predictions come up regularly, so lots of opportunities to test. I do sometimes adjust my own behavior because of my self model and it does sometimes work. Biggest obstacle is actually making and writing predictions. I'm joining the Good Judgment Project which should help with world, and I'm attempting difficult motivational challenges in my career path which should help with self also.

Know your own motives -- relationships 4; career 7; self 5; world 6. Weak on relationships for above reasons. Strong on career: I can easily enumerate the tradeoffs among career choices for me. Low on self because reflection is hard. Biggest obstacle is reflection. Next task is following the self-reflective steps, especially the data-gathering ones, in the excellent luminosity sequence.

Keep your eyes on the prize -- relationships 3; career 5; self 4; world 6. Weak in relationships because I easily get distracted by positive or negative emotions. Strongest on world due to the opposite of that. Biggest obstacle is non-equanimity with regard to outcomes of these decisions. Next task might actually be meditation; I don't have a better idea there, but meditation is supposed to train equanimity.

Take ideas and reasoning seriously -- relationships 6; career 6; self 8; world 8. I have the sense that all of these are modelable and that good models would produce decent predictions; my belief is substantially less strong about my personal relationships and my own career path for some reason. Biggest obstacle is thinking that my career is subject to luck, even though I know it's not really true. Next task is to convince my elephant of this, I guess try IFS on myself.

Act conscientiously -- relationships 3; career 5; self 6. Weak on relationships because I'm afraid to offend people. Strong on self; I do actually do some of the reflective things I say I will do. Medium on career because I do take some actions, but probably later than I should. Biggest obstacle is overcoming social fear ugh field. Next task is to stare at and write about my social fear ugh field (it's on my monthly task list but I will do it this weekend).

Using RBC to create a good life:

1. List the major components of your upcoming life. (Example: do reading; write papers; play video games.) Run the "use fungibility" procedure on each.

2. List the major unknowns in your upcoming life. (Example: which career to go into; which grocery store to shop at; how much time to spend talking to professors.) Run a quick value-of-information calculation on each one.

3. Write your hypothetical character assassination, and then make a plan to counter it:

a. Suppose you were looking at another person, Bob, who is exactly identical to you. Suppose you found out that in the year after leaving Rationality Boot Camp, Bob didn't do anything remarkable at all. Explain why Bob's failure was totally predictable, and what aspects of Bob's skillset (and skills gas) should have made everyone predict that failure.

b. Write each missing skill (that you invoked to explain Bob's failure) at the top of a blank sheet of paper. Under that heading, list the components of that skill, and then the sub-components, and perhaps the sub-sub-components... continuing as far as you need to continue until your list is filled with mundane, visibly accomplishable tasks.

c. If you're feeling any despair, talk to someone about it. Brainstorm, plan, visualize, anticipate, and problem-solve until you both (1) understand the faults you listed in part a, and (2) actually expect that you'll be able to succeed well beyond the level of success your pre-RBC self would have had (e.g., you'll be able to make $1M over the next five years if you aim for money).

I'm not going to give you my results here, because they're very private. I'll tell you about them if you're interested, but I'd rather do it in person. If you want to have an in-person meeting, email me and we'll set it up.

I think this will be my last post here. I will keep my personal blog alive, and probably put a decent amount of rationality content up there. In fact, I've added "write a blog post" to my weekly tasks.


  1. Read all of your blog in 2 days. Great content. I'm intoxicated on these RBC ideas and curious about how your post-RBC life turned out. And those of others? I'm looking to join the local Less Wrong chapter. Thank you. -jack whitacre