Project: Part 0: Considering major life choices

I’m not sure I’d call them all excuses.

I think it’s possible that some of them were real reasons, but as a result of one reason or another he concluded the conversation would never reach a conclusion and would just go in circles of unresolved disagreements. I don’t think this is uncommon dealing with people generally, so I think it’s possible he concluded it was happening again so there was no point trying to address everything or keep discussing.

More generally I have a guess that there’s a reason for leaving CF (though I don’t think it’s specific to CF, rather any in-depth discussion) that may be behind some of it:
Thinking that some people will argue pointlessly or endlessly in circles for the sake of it
Having some idea about indicators in a conversation for someone who is arguing pointlessly/endlessly

Possibly a root cause behind that is getting overwhelmed. Having big complex discussions is hard work, and “it’s just going in circles” is an out to avoid an overwhelmingly complex discussion.

I’m going to write about these questions:

Analysing the question

My last question here is arguably a complicated version of “Should I do good?”, which I have an immediate intuitive answer to - yes!

But that doesn’t account for the full question - about doing good in “the world at large”. I guess that’s really a question of “is the world good?”, because I live in the world and of course need it to continue existing and I want to see it improve. I was talking about Dominique Francon recently, she had concluded that the world was bad and so she shouldn’t try to help. She just amused herself, and when she met someone good she couldn’t believe it at first and even when she couldn’t deny it any more she went on trying to stop him from doing good because she didn’t think the world was worth it.

My point is: I’m questioning if the world is good for a reason. I think this is some elements of a past me that was very cynical and pessimistic and hopeless. I think that past me had decided the world was bad and it wasn’t worth trying to improve. I can’t say I think the world is all good now, but I do think that it can be improved. Maybe it’s a losing battle, but if it’s worth trying to do anything it’s worth trying to improve the world.

So I think it’s important to do some good in the world. I don’t necessarily mean that in some sort of charitable sense (though I’m not ruling that out). Creating good ideas, spreading good ideas, protecting people, improving health, helping productivity, entertaining/making people happy (in a good way, I don’t consider e.g. exploiting people with bad gambling/drug/sex habits to be a good thing even though it may make them happy).

I think how much someone gets paid is a rough estimate of how much good they’re doing/how much impact they’re having, as long as it isn’t exploiting/destroying/degrading or in some other way immoral.

I looked for some other ideas or articles around the subject.

Unidentified Cause X

I think this is interesting (that people in general may have some sort of major moral flaw and no-one has even thought of it yet). I think choosing a life path in such a way that your life is compatible with being radically altered is valuable - e.g. if someone chose a career but found out after a decade of work that it was actually really bad, it would be even worse if they were so entrenched in that career that it would nearly destroy the rest of their life to leave it. I think academics, career politicians and influencers can suffer from this problem, becoming dependent on the system to the point where they struggle to find other kinds of work that allow them to perform vital functions like supporting their family.
(reminds me of The Matrix quote, “And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.”)

I think EA is actually creating “cause X” with their position on animals.
From the article:

The persecution of animals today, what we see over and over again is how easy it is for people to be oblivious to serious moral problems.

They seem to be oblivious to the moral problem of calling the way animals are treated as “persecution”. They hold back humanity (the only good that is known to exist), waste effort protecting biological automata from “suffering” that hampers human progress with medicine and food creation. The kind of idea that humans and animals are so similar is also pretty bad, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it results in them making a bunch of other mistakes like how they think about the mind and emotions, and how they could find analogies in animals and other life forms to take lessons from.

Office job vs effective career

Another article from EA:

This is not so bad in it’s conclusions, though it still bases quite a few conclusions just on feelings. I think in principle I agree with the comparison of “office job” vs “effective career”, that either choice is doing good, and that if someone picks “effective career” to have more impact but ends up unhappy with the work it’s a mistake (as Elliot explained well). Though I think I wouldn’t ask EA what type of career would be effective or what causes are good to donate to.

I’m getting the impression that EA content is typically bad in having some serious mistakes as a premise or emotional reasoning. It’s alarming how many people (such as Corentin) commit drastic amounts of effort to them or their causes. I’m yet to turn up a result from EA that I think is very well thought out.

Good effective careers

I think this is an interesting article:

It’s not so relevant to me (not US citizen) but it lists some career choices which can have good positive impact and are in some cases also well paid on average, I think these are better places to focus if someone wants to pursue an “effective career” specifically. Working for charities is often not a very high-skill job, and people who have the options and aspiration to aim for a more skilled career should do so.

Earn to give as a way to do good

I think this article is also interesting and talks about why to “earn to give” (or as mentioned earlier “office job” instead of “effective career”):

I think it makes a lot of good points. I like this one in particular, as it allows much more flexibility and error-correction, and is one of the many under-acknowledged benefits of capitalism:

The third and most important consideration is that charities vary tremendously in the amount of good they do with the money they receive. For example, it costs about $40,000 to train and provide a guide dog for one person, but it costs less than $25 to cure one person of sight-destroying trachoma. For the cost of improving the life of one person with blindness, you can cure 1,000 people of it.
This matters because if you decide to work in the charity sector, you’re rather limited. You can only change jobs so many times, and it’s unlikely that you can work for only the very best charities. In contrast, if you earn to give, you can donate anywhere, preferably to the most cost-effective charities, and change your donations as often as you like.

Other context

I think the section on employment biases is interesting. I think it highlights some deeper issues that can be easy to overlook in choosing a career, particularly stress, location and actual buying power.
Lots of high paying jobs are very demanding in terms of stress, hours and performance requirements. This is really important to consider when choosing a career, as if someone has major life goals (e.g. raising children) a career like that will get in the way.
Considering actual buying power and location is really important - even staying within one’s country of origin, there can be different locations to live and work that may give better buying power even at lower incomes.

Summing up

  • Doing good is important, but there are lots of mistaken ideas about what counts as “good”. Lots of careers can do good in ways that people might not realise or consider “good” because of misconceptions about what is a good cause.
  • A career which has some flexibility - that is not entrenching and allows career flexibility - avoids the catastrophic risk of being stuck doing something that you later realise is bad.
  • Doing work that doesn’t make much difference (as long as it isn’t actively bad) still leaves the possibly more effective option of donating to worthwhile causes.
  • It’s important to consider other goals as some careers are incompatible with other major aspirations in life owing to time/stress/location/commute demands.
  • Location can make a huge difference to the living costs, and lower paid less demanding jobs can still result in better buying power with certain changes in location, or even because some jobs have lifestyle requirements. So it’s important to decide if changing location is an option, or if not why not, and look at other associated costs that come with a job.

Project notes

This is my goal met for the week.

I’ve provisionally put my thoughts starting from this quote into an article on my new blog. I rewrote some areas of it. I’m going to use the blog as a place to write up my thoughts about the main questions I’m asking myself here, plus probably some other articles I’m interested in writing.

I’ve consistently failed to meet this part of my goal (I forgot about it).

I’ve been picking questions to answer on whim. Sometimes I’ve had a specific subject in mind but not clearly enough to state it.

Having a question I plan to consider isn’t a commitment to posting on that subject, it’s just trying to think ahead about this more since it’s a pretty important long-term goal.

My goal question to write about this week is: Why do people leave CF?
I plan to look at my analysis of the Corentin discussion, the comments of others, possibly look at some of the other examples Elliot provided, and start writing some conclusions.

Integrating some of my earlier comments about this project question:

I’ve made the following list primarily based on my notes from my earlier post:

I don’t think these are necessarily true reasons that Corentin in particular chose to leave. But I think they are possible reasons that someone might leave.

  • Broad cause: Debate pessimism
    • Overconfident expectation of how quickly conflicts of ideas can be honestly resolved or how easy accurate communication is.
      • Possible sub-cause: Convinced by cultural influences such as TV debates which are more about each side expressing their point of view, but not actually fully convincing anyone, and concluding this is the best existing form of discussion.
      • Possible sub-cause: Lack of debating skill or appreciation of how much improvement there is, leading to overwhelm.
      • Possible sub-cause: Impatience, the sense that there are too many things to do and discussion isn’t profitable enough by comparison.
      • Possible sub-cause: Lack of skill in managing overwhelm and breaking tasks down into manageable sub-tasks.
      • Possible sub-cause: Lack of skill in self-reflection and understanding how to communicate intuitive disagreement.
      • Possible sub-cause: Scheduling conflicts, commitments in life that preclude taking time to debate or study in ways that aren’t part of their commitments.
        • Possible solution: Concrete examples that discussions can be solved effectively, of how much improvement potential there is, and the benefit of improvement.
        • Possible solution: Concrete guidance on managing overwhelm and how to break big hard tasks into smaller manageable ones.
  • Broad cause: Authoritarian thinking
    • Convinced that new ideas need an authority to accept them, so not open to honest discussion and criticism.
      • Possible sub-cause: Insecurity about being making decisions independently, seeking safety in the authority/tribe/group.
      • Possible sub-cause: Collective thinking, convinced that group votes are the best way of finding true ideas or rejecting false ideas (similar: statistical thinking, convinced by Bayesian epistemology)
        • Possible solution: Difficult! If someone needs an authority to accept an idea, better ideas that don’t play to authority will have obstacles. I don’t have a straightforward answer here. I think it’s possible to get in under the authoritarian thinking to uproot it in theory.
  • Broad cause: Subjectivism
    • Convinced that truth is subjective and/or “nothing is true”, so there’s no point to trying to pursue truth and honesty.
      • Possible sub-cause: Authoritarian thinking, uncritically accepting subjectivist ideas owing to status or other similar reasons.
        • Possible solution: Difficult! If someone believes nothing is true, they have a ready-loaded response to reject any new idea. Again I think it’s possible that there’s some way of uprooting the misconception but don’t have a straightforward answer.
  • Broad cause: Arrogance
    • Convinced they know enough/they don’t have any bad ideas. Generally: dishonesty.
      • Possible sub-cause: Insecurity, the need to think their current ideas are infallible is an evasion and excuse to avoid the uncertainty of making decisions.
      • Possible sub-cause: Defensiveness, faced with someone who is a better thinker and/or debater they feel threatened or scared that they’re not good enough (in life, in general, etc) if they acknowledge mistakes so they entrench their position.
      • Possible sub-cause: Status seeking, convinced that they need to appear to be right for social status/profit reasons.
        • Possible solution: Difficult, but avoiding direct criticism and presenting good ideas in an impersonal way so that the arrogant person can consider it privately (which may trigger less arrogance) may be more effective than direct criticism.

I’m interested in countering reasons people leave because my past engagement with FI/curi has been infrequent and erratic and there could be related reasons for that. I think I’m overall better off staying active here as it helps me avoid deceiving myself. It would also be beneficial (to me directly, and to the pursuit of truth and betterment of humanity in general) if more good people could be convinced of this.

I think this list covers a lot of bases. There may be more to add (or possibly some reorganising of groups) which I might find studying the other examples Elliot provided or further analysis of Elliot’s additional post. (links mainly so I can easily find them later)

I don’t plan to make this into an article on my blog in it’s current form. I think it would be misleading about CF to post about why people leave it out of context.
I might instead write an unambiguously pro-CF article that’s related but focuses on the solutions. Such as writing about why people should join CF and stick around, or writing about why people evade serious discussion and how and why they can do better.

Project notes

Goal completed for the week.

Next week I plan to write about this question:

I think this question is misguided now. I think some sort of subconscious idea about wanting to treat CF and/or Elliot as the saviour and final answer to my problems was behind it. I think that’s really bad, it’s a part of me I’ve improved a lot but still exists. I guess it’s some sort of frustration or anxiety asking “why is everything so hard?” and wanting easy answers. It’s related to trying to do too much, to getting overwhelmed, and to rushing and messing up.

I think there’s a better, deeper question which the original question is adjacent to:

How should someone decide how to make decisions based on the advice of people they only know online?

One reason I think this is better because it has reach. I think there are a lot of people who go to strangers online to make decisions for them and can get really terrible guidance because the strangers couldn’t see or understand the full context of the problems and/or aren’t open about what agenda or values they have.

Having a good approach to getting advice about life choices from strangers is important, as they wont know things about a person’s life to look for patterns or problems that may be root causes that are better to solve.

I couldn’t find any direct answers to this question elsewhere, but there are a few articles on related subjects.

It does make some useful points, I think (context of this excerpt is taking advice online on parenting).

At the very least you should narrow things down. Instead of posting in a local moms group with 8,000 members, find a more specific group, whether it’s Unconventional Parenting, Single Parenting, Foster Parenting or something else.

It’s certainly worth being highly discriminating with who to aim the question at (though that can result in someone fooling themselves by asking in an echo chamber).

Do your own research, and don’t treat all websites equally. There’s a huge difference between reading information about the safety of medication on the CDC or FDA website and reading it on a website someone posted in crunchy parenting forum that promotes or sells natural health products has an anti-vaccine/anti-western medicine bias. A lot of those websites are really good at making the things they’re saying look legit, but when you dig a little bit deeper, they are fake/propaganda/untrustworthy.

Broadly, yes (but I’d treat the CDC and FDA with just as much scrutiny).

What is the Internet Good For?
The internet is not a good place to seek advice, but that doesn’t make it worthless. It also has its strong suits.

The section that follows this heading is overall not too bad.

Overall I don’t think this article is very good. I think it tries to replace submitting one’s reason to strangers with submitting one’s reason to authorities. I think it also treats intuition as an authority Though I think it could be a lot worse - I would expect doing what someone with a medical degree says about a medical problem, instead of what wiki and strangers say, will go wrong much less often. And it does address that somewhat.

This following post is about dating advice specifically, but I think has some important related points.

There’s so many different people in the world, literally any dating style can work. Remember, you’re not supposed to be looking for anyone, you’re looking for the one.

I think there’s so much deep subconscious stuff going on when it comes to life choices like who to date (or whether to pursue romance at all), what career to have, whether to have children, what investments to make (i.e. risk management and exposure needs) and so many other things that it’s important to keep that in mind when taking advice from strangers. There’s also physical stuff - appearance, health, age, body language, historical behavior, and other cues that people online might never notice and may be highly relevant.

Curiosity – [Excerpt] Personal advice means advice that is cont...

It’s not very well written but I doubt Elliot cares very much as it’s 20 years old and an excerpt from something else obviously written quickly. I don’t think he’d write something that way today (even for informal posts). I think the point is clear enough and touches on the subject.

I think the degree to which a subject is personal is a decent measure of the degree to which online advice should be taken cautiously. Some examples:

  • Asking someone online “what is the year?” is very impersonal and generally not going to go wrong.
  • Asking someone “what is the weather like?” is more personal and requires some context like location and common usage of words (like how rainy “very rainy” is).
  • Finally asking “what shoes should I wear?” is a lot more personal and requires a lot more stuff for useful answers like job/activity/foot size/fashion preference/foot health/budget.

The asker needs to understand all the contextual requirements and personal details that are relevant to get good answers, and if relying on talking to people online people who answer might miss context that the asker doesn’t know the relevance of.

This is just some first thoughts on this subject, I’ll think about it some more and write something that answers the new question better.

I think it would be good to write up my final answer to this subject as an article for my blog. It seems like something a lot of people might benefit from a good answer to.

Project notes

That’s my goal for the week.

Next week I plan to write about this question:

Thinking about my project question.

Thinking about this question, I went to the Unbounded category and read a few posts there.

I guessed that to get a sense for the kind of problems someone could have there would be easiest to find in the topics with a lot of replies, so I sorted by post count and looked at the top topics. That still left quite a few options with a lot of replies, so I only looked at posts written by people other than Elliot as I think those are most relevant to the question.

Of those, the ones that seem to result in the biggest problems. I guess what I mean by “biggest problems” is not stuff like asking for clarifications or pointing out mistakes, but getting seriously into meta issues (which is basically the difference between unbounded and others).

Some of the topics I looked at and some brief notes:

This begins with Justin and Max talking about morality. It gets quite bogged down with a lot of complexity and lots of details. Then meta issues started coming in about Max being evasive/defensive or making ad-hoc arguments. He also starts talking about not having enough time, implying the discussion is placing a lot of burden on him to make progress. I don’t know if that’s generally difficult for people, but I think I’d find it difficult if I was in Max’s position. He takes ~3 months to come back and write a conclusion. This seems like a really long delay! But I checked through his activity at the time and he was active elsewhere and working on related meta issues (like defensiveness).

Answering the question:

From this thread, some criteria for using Unbound:

  • Having a good handle on evasiveness/defensiveness. Having a reasonable grasp of being able to self-identify it.
  • Able to identify when progress is blocked, and take reasonable steps to identify the underlying issue and work on that.

This seems to be a tangent that Max started following some time after the above topic. Max seems to get stuck in tangles again and tries only a little to bring it into focus. My sense is the main substance of the topic and the replies Max gets are about overreaching (about CF/BoI/Oism knowledge). I don’t think there’s a substantial effort to address the overreaching here (but there may be elsewhere).

Answering the question:

  • I think getting tangled/having too many different subjects in a thread is a likely problem in Unbounded. Being aware of this and being able to decide well when to branch subjects off the main topic seems valuable.

I think this topic kinda sputters out without really getting to the point. It’s mostly meta stuff. Maybe anon23 got distracted with meta stuff and lost track of the goal, or got discouraged from talking about it because they didn’t get replies about it? I doubt that they stopped caring about the topic as it seems pretty important but they only really said a couple of things about it after the initial post.

Answering the question:

  • A possible skill of note there (though not related entirely to Unbounded) is: You can’t expect anyone else to carry a subject for you. It’s worth thinking about topic review processes: Do you want responses? If so and you’re not getting them, how can you make it more valuable for others to respond? Are you depending on others to follow the original goal? How can you proceed without relying on external input?

This one goes along pretty linearly for the most part, then jumps the rails at the end (starting at post 43). Something seems to connect wrong with Alan and the discussion never reaches a conclusion (in the topic). It’s a bit too light on details to work out why it went that way with much confidence, broadly Alan seems to get defensive.The content starting from 43 is all pretty much on topic and I think would be reasonable to find in non-Unbounded topics too, so this isn’t related to Unbounded specifically.

Answering the question:

  • Though not really about anything particular to Unbounded in this case, I think defensiveness seems to be a reasonable thing to be extra vigilant for in Unbounded. A particular mindset is required; one of not having a specific agenda for the subject or being invested in it going a specific way.

One final thought about Unbounded for now:

  • Start small and contained. The more complex a subject is the more possible tangents it can spawn.

Project notes

These are my first notes on this subject. There are still a lot more Unbounded topics to look at that may be informative. I looked at mostly long topics, which in hindsight might have been a mistake as they took a long time even skimming. I might find more by looking through a bunch of short topics which possibly got derailed or went very meta very quickly.

I think I do go off on elaborate tangents about subjects sometimes so I see it as something I’ll face in Unbounded. This whole project thread is itself a mess of questions/tangents that I may start branching off into new topics as I explore each question/tangent further. For now I’m going to keep preliminary notes like this within the topic, I’ll consider starting tangent topics for when I start writing in depth answers based on the notes.

That’s my goal met for the week.

Next week I aim to write about this question (which replaces one of the original questions):

I’ll start thinking about how to write up something as an answer based on my notes so far.

Answering this question.

Which after some consideration I replaced with this question and it’s connected notes.

I’m finding it difficult to write about this question in an impersonal way, as it entangles with some intuitive stuff for me that I’m not sure I have the right words for yet. This may be more like a stream of consciousness.

Part of my inner conflicts on this is, I think, trying to find a reliable way to accept answers. I think it’s connecting to some authoritarian-type ideas, trying to find a way to use some perfect method X to solve problems.

In principle I have what I think is an acceptable method X - that is, to select the ideas/answers that have not been successfully criticised. To explore and refute criticisms, or create new ideas in response to them.

There’s a part of me saying something like “but you haven’t asked everyone yet, you could have missed something”, which can be confusing and overwhelming. There’s no practical way of asking literally everyone for their answer to a problem. So when opening up discussion to people in general (rather than keeping in a closed system with possibly very limited access to good ideas) I guess this part of me immediately makes the problem unmanageably large.

It’s a part of me that isn’t always active, sometimes it isn’t active at all. For some reason I’m not sure about, it’s particularly active with this question.

Some other parts of me try to find answers in bad things. E.g. finding a person who’s judgement I can take on, or by trying to find ways to denigrate some people to limit the pool of people to talk to. I don’t want these parts of me to be the best answers I have to for trying to manage discussing ideas in public.

Considering this question reminded me of one of Elliot’s article:

I think this problem is a kind of bottleneck for me. A significant part of me is trying to find a perfect way of trying to get the best possible advice and make the best possible decision based on it, far beyond a “good enough” outcome.

The intuition behind “best possible” there is not a realistic one, it’s by some unrealistic imagined and not even very clearly defined perfection. Something where the goalposts could be very easily moved without even realising it. For reference I’m going to call this kind of thinking “mystic perfectionism”.

Even if I thought that all the best ideas in the world could only be found on CF, and the people who have them are willing to put the effort in to write them/provide them for me (including possibly me being convinced to pay for it), this mystic perfectionism would still be saying “you don’t know everyone else in the world, you might have missed someone”.

I don’t think this mystic perfectionism is misguided in it’s intent - it’s trying to find the truth. But it’s method is bad, and comes with a lot of empty worry with no clear cause.

I think I need some sort of “good enough” pass/fail approach to answer this mystic perfectionism. And this answer may be part of or the entire answer to the question I’m writing about.

My stream of consciousness is drying up here so I’m going to make some rough guesses about possible methods and my current main thoughts. These are not attempts to pick a final answer - just making some notes for next time.

Measures for picking a “good enough” method to get useful advice:

  • Think about who would know about the subject. Target exploration there. E.g. a programming forum/discussion group for code-related problems. CF is a useful universal answer here as truth seeking and critical thinking are universal goods. It’s good to mention which other sources have been targeted to find answers.
  • The problem may be about knowing how much work looking for answers/knowledgeable people is enough work. A possible method here is, if after searching for a while if you stop seeing new answers/criticisms to a problem/idea maybe 10+ times in a row it may be worth stopping and accepting the results so far as the best found.
  • Take these best results and try to answer them. Follow tangents. Look for others answers to these problems too, and create some answers too.
  • If there is some sort of flaw with all the answers, try to think of a solution that doesn’t have that flaw. Failing that, think about the flaws - are some of them acceptable for the benefit of having an otherwise useful answer? Consider IGC charts to analyse the competing ideas.
  • Discuss this analysis of the different answers.
  • Make a decisions of your own. Not only is it not good to seek out someone else’s answer to replace your own thinking with, people who want to get that kind of submission are not great thinkers.
  • Mystic perfectionism note: How do you know you’ve done enough of all of this? This hasn’t solved this underlying intuitive conflict that I have. Part of the problem is, doing this for everything seems like it would make it impossible to get anything done. It may be better to just make a choice of some method or other, try it out for a while, and then look at how it worked out. That seems like a better option than following some mystic perfectionism.

Project notes

That’s my project goal for the week.

Next week I plan to write about this question more, particularly as it’s been an active issue for me this week:

Side note: I have some other ongoing conversations elsewhere on this forum which I haven’t read yet, I plan to get to them in the next day or two. This isn’t entirely about posting reluctance - I’ve been busy with another project this week which I wanted to get finished and has taken up almost all of my conscious thought.

Writing about this question.

I had some subconscious resistance to writing on CF for the past week. I wrote about it here:

To summarise, I talked about three main issues:

  1. Being overloaded with other work
  2. Identifying subconscious conflicts with new learning
  3. Subconscious irrational thinking

I’m talking about them very differently here than my linked post as my focus is on generalising the concepts.

I do not think there is anything special about me having them, I think these are problems a lot of people could have. I don’t think they’re specific to CF either, they could be universally useful conflicts to resolve.

I think being overloaded with other things is a very common issue. There are a few factors that could be at work.

  • Bad time management. Lacking a good assessment of how much time one spends on activities and overbooking. I think this is a fairly basic skill anyone can learn though it does take some practise to make reasonable guesses at how long things take. Elliot wrote a good article that is related: Overreach Summary. It’s important to allow for buffer time in planning your schedule. I don’t think people often honestly assess how much time they spend doing stuff like socialising, playing games, shopping, doing chores, watching TV. If they did assess the time spent, they might reconsider how much they do it.
  • People-pleasing. Agreeing to do things without thinking seriously about if time is available to do them. This is basically short-sighted second-handedness - choosing not to think things through seriously to get someone’s approval (and likely losing their approval later on by flaking on the agreement). People with this sort of problem could find it useful to learn about second-handedness and honesty. They may not realise that by behaving this way, other people think less of them and don’t plan to do things with them enthusiastically. They may have social circles that are very dishonest about annoying behaviour, so it might seem okay to do that, and trying to change their minds about that way of socialising could result in big changes in their lives which they find scary.
  • Pleasure-seeking. Taking on tasks and activities thoughtlessly because they’re exciting and/or fun, and then not having time for things that are more important. People with this problem may have chosen “important” things that they don’t really want to do, or have a bad mindset about the “important” things. People with big commitments with work or children and who resent those responsibilities seem like they could easily make excuses to go pleasure-seeking. For commitments like work, which can sometimes be pretty easily abandoned, it may be worth re-assessing their career choices. For other commitments they may benefit from thinking more about the value those commitments have, how they can do them that is more enjoyable, and how they can be changed/how they can get help with the parts they resent.

Project notes

I’ve written quite a bit today already so I’m taking a break. I want to continue writing this another day before I consider my goal for the week met.

This issue is pretty closely related to why people leave CF and has a lot of overlap. I’d guess that someone who has reluctance or anxiety about posting on CF will leave if they don’t have a method for dealing with that reluctance or anxiety in a fairly short time span (within a few weeks at most).

The things I’ve written here are still pretty brief. They’re about some big issues that maybe I’ll come back to later to write about in more depth.

Following on from my previous post I’m going to write about points 2 and 3 a bit.

  1. Identifying subconscious conflicts with new learning:
  2. Subconscious irrational thinking

I think these two go together fairly closely. Irrational (or anti-rational) subconscious ideas can make changing other subconscious ideas very hard. I say a bit about that at the end.

I think this one in summary comes to needing to understand your intuition. Not just what they are right now, but knowing how to recognise one and work out what it means. I think studying Elliot’s intuition articles and using them in self-reflection are one way (possibly the best way) someone could improve in their ability to do this.

There are also a lot of very bad conventional misconceptions about intuitions, such as that they’re “automatic” or “irrational” or that they can’t be changed. Even people who don’t have those misconceptions might lack skill in analysing their intuitions. So a lot of people stop their thinking at “I have an intuition that it’s bad so it’s bad” (or maybe even worse “I have an intuition that it’s bad but I don’t care about intuitions”). I guess this stops a lot of people learning hard things, or stops them learning them well.

Say hypothetically someone is learning a new idea, in their conscious thoughts it all makes sense they can’t explicitly say what’s wrong with it.

But they have a “bad feeling”, or “just don’t buy it”, or some other fairly conventional way of expressing this conflict. Or maybe they don’t say anything, they don’t really understand their conflict they just know that something feels wrong. Maybe that’s a normal sensation for them, and they’re used to things feeling a bit wrong but going along with it anyway.

If they’re silent there’s not a lot that can be efficiently done about it, it might not be worth trying depending on the context. If they talk about the conflict, the subject of analysing intuitions can be discussed. Maybe progress can be made that way. If they’re convinced that intuitions can’t be changed, that can get more difficult as they could have intuitions protecting their intuitions in an anti-rational cycle of blocking progress.

If someone thinks intuitions can’t be changed, trying to find examples of how they’ve changed their feelings about something in the past might change their mind. Maybe proposing experiments rather than trying to just debate it could be more effective, such as finding some other issue which they like or dislike because of a “feeling” and suggesting an experiment where they try to change that like or dislike (e.g. a TV show that they enjoy but has a lot of bad stuff in, or a food they dislike but haven’t tried for many years, I’d generally go with finding a way to like something they dislike - it adds more things they can like which seems like a straightforward positive).

Experiments (and/or thought experiments) like that which focus on something tangible may be a good way of countering anti-rational intuitions.

People can (and should) learn to do this on their own too.

Project notes

That’s my goal met for the week.

I’ve written a lot of incomplete notes in this topic. A review:

What’s a good way of choosing what work to do? What should it achieve or create?
How important is it that someone’s work creates or builds something impactful/important to the world at large?

Both answered well by Elliot. I’ve written some other things about them and want to write them up too.

Who should have children?

I’ve written an answer to this which I think is good enough for now.

When is it a good time to get into discussing major life-changing decisions on CF that may require days or weeks of discussion? (Or if not time, what other criterion?)
What skills would be good to improve before such a discussion?
What progress-blocking problems could come with such a discussion?

I’m grouping these together. I’ve reframed the first one to this:

I’ve written notes about them here.

Why do people leave CF?

Elliot gave some examples that I plan to study more before writing anything up, he also wrote about it here.
I’ve studied one of the examples here, written about the question here. I think there’s quite a bit more to look into.

What should someone do if they start feeling reluctant or bad about being active on CF? What is a good way to deal with that, considering that being active here to try to resolve it will then fundamentally require feeling reluctant or bad?

Elliot replied to his (and particularly his Intuition articles are very relevant).
I’ve written about it too here, here, here, and here.

When is a good time to use the unbounded category? (Or if not time, what other criterion?)

I’ve written about this. I think there are some articles written by Elliot that are relevant too. I want to review and comment on them before writing this up.

My 3 month project goal ends on 18th May, I might meet that target as I think I have the bulk of the answers worked out in notes.

I would find it helpful to close some of the questions so I can focus on a smaller set of problems. So next week I plan to write up one of these subjects into a (tentatively) final article. I think these are the best candidate for a write-up (including the substitute question in italics):

How should someone decide how to make decisions based on the advice of people they only know online?
What skills would be good to improve before such a discussion?
What progress-blocking problems could come with such a discussion?

I expect I will split it into two articles (one about discussing life-changing decisions and one about relevant skills/problems), I might just do one of them next week.

Going forward I’m going to treat post 29 (with it’s summaries and revised questions) as the root of this topic.

I’ve written up a tentative final answer to this question.

Project notes

That’s my goal met for the week.

I’ve implicitly answered these too:

I haven’t decided to consider them answered yet. I might write about them more or consider this new article to have covered them.

This has been relevant to me recently and I was having some bad feelings (which I’ve talked about in my MC does subconscious analysis topic). I’m interested in writing up my thoughts and findings about this into something more coherent so I plan to do so next week.

Thinking about this question:

I was feeling bad about visiting CF for a few days recently. After staying away for a few days and reflecting on this I realised that the problem was fundamentally mental overload. I was anticipating a large mental burden from visiting and engaging with any content and (owing to another project I was working on) didn’t think I could engage with it usefully.

I don’t think this is a problem special to CF. Though I wouldn’t have this experience with all forms of discussion either, instead I think it would occur only when I expect to want to take the engagement very seriously. E.g. talking to people on social media or socially (who I typically don’t expect to be serious) does not have this problem.

Having other priorities beside CF is normal. People have work, structured study/classes, families, experience disasters, and have many other normal factors which may be more important than CF (or other pursuit of intellectual growth). It’s important to acknowledge that when someone chooses to avoid CF to handle other tasks that they are choosing to consider those other tasks to be more important.

I think mental overload is a common problem and dealing with it well is valuable, I don’t think avoiding CF as part of dealing with it is fundamentally a mistake. I think a lot of people could have this problem. I think avoiding CF (or more generally, intellectual growth activities) in a sustained (e.g. for weeks) and/or habitual way is a big problem. I think intellectual growth requires sustained effort and it’s noteworthy and should be seriously considered if someone chooses to take a long break from it.

I guess the only situation where someone could conclude that consistently avoiding CF for other mental loads isn’t a problem is if they found a place for learning/discussion that is better than CF. I think this would be a very big discovery, and it would be important to discuss this discovery on CF (which may lead to ways that this forum could be improved) before deciding to leave. I am doubtful that there will be such a discovery in this century.

Summarising the above:

  • Mental overload is a reason someone may avoid being active on CF
  • This reason isn’t particular to CF and could result in avoiding any mentally demanding tasks
  • Choosing to avoid CF owing to an existing mental load means deciding that the existing mental load is a higher priority, this may be a reasonable decision
  • Avoiding CF for a sustained period (multiple weeks) is a problem

So if someone has chosen a significant mental load to the point where engaging with CF is too much of an extra mental load for more than a week, they should have a policy for discussing that decision. CF remains the best place for this discussion. If there’s somewhere else better, CF is outstanding enough that it’s worth discussing the alternative on CF.

I’m not committed to “more than a week” being the best, final answer for how long is too long to stop actively pursuing mental growth. Maybe it should be “more than a day”, or “more than two weeks”. I’ve decided one week as it seems easy to maintain a few hours a week for thinking and learning for everyone. I think someone who claims that they can’t do that is lying or is in extremely unusual circumstances.

Some relevant articles for deciding this policy:

Overthinking and Perfectionism

Perfectionism can make an easy goal into an impossible one. One hour of thought and writing (an easy weekly amount) can snowball into hours or days (a demanding weekly amount) with perfectionist thinking. So a policy that’s intended to avoid mental overload must avoid perfectionism.

Learning and the Subconscious | How to Become a Great Intellectual - Error Rate Management and Integration

This section of the article talks about the problem of building idea integrations on other ideas with a high error rate. Working with ideas with a high error rate will risk significant extra mental load (i.e. a substantial number of extra mistakes to think about) so is not well suited to maintaining activity with a low mental load. So it’s important when trying to keep mental load low to avoid ideas which depend on other ideas with a high error rate. It might be okay to use ideas that have a high error rate directly (though perhaps tentatively), as long as they don’t also have idea dependencies with a high error rate, as these errors will be immediately relevant so the risk of lots of meta errors is lower. E.g. if your ideas about grammar have a high error rate, talking about grammar might be fine but talking about an article with complex grammar will have a high rate of meta-errors on top of the errors made in talking about the article.

My policy

So as an example, my hesitant weekly activity policy for when I’ve chosen a significant mental load which stops me from engaging very actively for a week:

  • Mention the type of activity that I’ve decided is more important to me than CF for the week (it may be worth creating a topic for this purpose if it happens often.) Mention how long I expect to be doing it. This decision may receive criticism; this criticism is important and should be replied to but that could be a lot of work. If the criticism is more work to reply to than I can spare the mental effort for then I should just admit this. If others want to be helpful, this may help them with context for writing criticisms.
  • If I’ve had replies from people that warrant an answer, but answering is too much mental load, it is worth acknowledging them so they know I plan to come back and answer them later.
  • Read an article. It could be a new one or one that I’ve read before. Pick a new one or the first one I come across if I don’t have anything in mind already. This point sets an easy anti-perfectionist goal, to make it easy to continually have some sort of opportunity to discover and/or improve ideas. Discussing/commenting is good if I have a high confidence in my thoughts on the article. It may be worth noting that I am not able to engage in in-depth discussion if I do comment.

Project notes

That’s my goal for the week.

I think I’m on the cusp of being able to write up an article for this question.

I’m ambivalent on what to write about next week. I’m writing a few options instead:

  • Write up my thoughts about this question into an article
  • Study Elliot’s articles about using unbounded and write about them
  • Study more of Elliot’s examples of people leaving CF and why
  • Decide if I should write a follow-up article to my previous post and write about it

You can also do, or just start with, weekly journaling so that you can find out what your current priorities actually are. It’s pretty hard for me to figure out my own priorities and motivations. I think it can take quite a bit of investigation just to figure out why someone does what they do, or wants what they want.

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Yes, this is also a good example of an activity that can have a low mental load and so can be sustained without a lot of difficulty.

I’d say the potential amount of investigation is unbounded. I don’t think it’s fundamentally difficult to work out, but I think a lot of people get in their own way. People seem to often have reasons for doing things that they’re ashamed of or think they need to hide from others, so they lie about it and lose the opportunity to understand themselves better. I’d guess that most people don’t often consciously think about why they want or do things, so when asked about it they have a ton of work to do to be able to give an answer. Someone might get defensive in that situation, for example if they worry that they’ll look stupid for not knowing why they do something.

I’ve decided to write about this question.

This is Elliot’s article on unbounded criticism:

Following block quotes are from the article.

You could show knowledge of what unbounded criticism looks like.

This is a key part. It’s easy to understand the words “unbounded criticism” and some people might think that’s enough. It’s not. The actual activity has a lot to it and the words don’t carry that meaning.

<irony>Maybe it should be written as: unbounded!!! criticism</irony>. Taking contained criticism is not too hard, doesn’t require so much mental gear shifting, and works towards solving an immediately relevant problem. Unbounded criticism might go anywhere: it might lead to dredging up painful ten year old memories, it might lead to needing to completely change major life choices, or it might lead to discovering you’re a terrible person that needs to make lots of big moral changes. Understanding this possibility is important to understanding unbounded criticism.

Elliot provides a number of examples for activities someone could carry out to demonstrate

The article is framed as being what it would take to convince Elliot that you honestly want unbounded criticism. I think it’s also a reasonable guide and starting point to how to be good at unbounded criticism. If you claim to be good at unbounded criticism but haven’t made the activities that you did to develop this skill public, then you haven’t exposed the skill to criticism. In other words, doing the sort of activities that Elliot suggests to convince him that you understand and want unbounded criticism are also perfect examples of how to understand unbounded criticism in the first place. I don’t think it’s reasonable to claim you’re good at responding to unbounded criticism if you haven’t publicly studied the subject.

Summary conclusions

  • Unbounded criticism isn’t a simple or easy to understand concept. It has large scope.
  • It’s worth studying unbounded criticism before asking for it.
  • I don’t think it needs to be treated in a perfectionist way though. I don’t think there’s a clear objective way of measuring if you’re good at taking unbounded criticism beside actually asking for it.
  • It does however require some intellectual humility. I think it’s reasonable to guess that most people who ask for unbounded criticism should expect to get it wrong a lot. Going in to it arrogantly or impatiently is doomed to fail.

Personal note
I don’t intend to post anything in unbounded this year.

Project notes

I failed my project goal last week as I didn’t write a post.
I wrote about why I failed it (basically: overreach and burnout) and my plans to avoid the cause of failure again here.

This post is a catch-up post for last week. I plan to write another post in this topic before the end of this week.

I think I have the workings of an article on unbounded criticism here (including my other post on the subject) but I want to think about it and write it about it more first.

I’ve decided that I’ve answered these questions for now in my article How should you take advice online?.

For my post for this week I’ll write an article about this question:

I’ve picked this because I think I can wrap up my thoughts about this question and reduce the number of open questions I have in this topic so I can focus better on the remaining ones.

@Elliot I’d like to include the relevant section of your post about this question as a quote with link and attribution in my article. Is this okay?

As Elliot has not agreed to me quoting him in my article I’m going to write my article as a post here for now and then can work out if I should put it on my blog at a later time. I’ve put some comments in parentheses.

This is my question that I’m answering with this post.

How do you choose what work to do?

I asked about this question on the Critical Fallibilism forum and got a good answer which I agree with from the forum owner, Elliot Temple. (I’ll add a link to the relevant post if I publish this to my blog.)

There are some other issues that I think are also important in answering this question.

Entrenched careers

Some work is in the form of a committed career which can be awkward to leave. Jobs that rely very much on parochial skills, maintaining relationships, or requiring approval from an authority can leave you in a position where if you leave the job you have very little comparable prospects and might have to start from the bottom again. This is especially problematic if you find out during the career that there’s something bad about it or find that you don’t enjoy it any more, then you can be stuck either being unhappy with your work or leaving and losing a lot of income potential. If you have dependencies such as family or financial commitments like property you may not be able to support these any more if you then choose a much lower income.

I think academics, career politicians, and influencers all run this risk when they choose their work. If you are determined to take this risk it’s important to be self-aware about it and plan ahead for the eventuality that you may want to leave the career behind some day. Work which depends predominantly on transferable skills like programming, mathematics, communication skills, engineering or many others is less subject to this risk.

Doing good in the world

We all live far better lives thanks to the role of society and humanity in the world than if we were isolated and unable to trade and work with other people. So it makes sense to want to make the world even better, and your work is a massive part of your life so it’s ideal if your work can do this. There are at least two good ways of looking at this.

Doing work that makes a difference. This isn’t just working for charities. One problem with choosing to work with charities is that a lot of charity work is not very highly skilled so if you have aspirations to being highly skilled you might be better looking at the alternatives. There are many other roles that help make the world a better such as like researchers, energy or environmental engineering, human rights or environmental law, doctors, police officers, full-time mothers or farmers.

Doing work that pays very well, and using the earnings to make a difference. Lawyers, investment bankers, CEOs and other potentially extremely well paid jobs can make the world a better place. But even when they don’t really make the world better in any way they can still earn a lot of money which they can put towards good causes. As long as the work doesn’t actively make the world worse then this can even do more good than directly doing work that makes a difference. It also has the benefit that you can target the donations to the most effective causes, giving you flexibility and allowing you to choose each time you donate which cause will do the most good for the amount of money you put into it.

Note that I don’t advocate self-sacrifice. You shouldn’t throw all of your disposable income into charities or do work that makes a big difference which you don’t like. Your life is important too; growing and being happy is important. Even if you consider the good you do for the world more important than your happiness (which you shouldn’t but I wont try to convince you of that here) then reinvesting in yourself over time allows you to make the world better faster in the future by being able to produce more and have more impact.

Optimal income

It’s easy to overlook that sometimes a very well paid job comes with significant costs. For example it may require commuting, living in an expensive city or country, maintaining an expensive lifestyle, committing an excessive amount of your time or tolerating an unreasonable level of stress.

A job with a six digit income can be much less attractive when you take all this into account. What matters more than your income is your effective buying power: how much income you have left after paying all the essential living costs to get that income, then adjusted by how much other things will cost in the city and/or country you need to live in for the work.

A closing question

There’s another question that accompanies this subject: Which cause is a good one? What is a good impact to have? That’s not a question I want to go into here, but it’s important that you seriously think about it and work out your own answer before committing a large part of your life to it.

Project notes

That is my goal for the week met and another (tentative) final answer to my questions in this project complete. I have broadly three more questions that I want to answer in this project.

Next week I plan to study more of the examples Elliot provided about people leaving CF. I’ll also think more about what sort of article I could write about it as I don’t think it’s a suitable subject to write an article about on it’s own.

@Elliot I’ve included your answer as a quote here to show how I want to use it in my article and would like to know if you’re happy with me publishing this to my blog. I’m not asking for more than a yes or no. If you don’t want me to include your words like this (or if you don’t reply within a week) I’ll work out another way to write the article without quoting you before I publish it. I don’t want to bother you so I wont tag you for this question again.

I didn’t ask because I think I need permission legally.

You’re acting like you don’t want to talk, but you aren’t directly saying that. You’re just sending negative social vibrations at me, so blatantly they appear intentional, but I don’t know.

I posted what appeared to be helpful information addressing a problem you brought up multiple times. If you think about it, you could see that I was trying to be helpful. But you seem totally ungrateful and rude.

It’s common that when you don’t specify what you want very clearly, people who try to help give you information you already know. Instead of blaming them and feeling that they weren’t helpful, you could take responsibility for not having been clear. Instead of feeling like they wasted your time, you could instead feel like you wasted their time by not providing more information in advance. Or just feel neutral about it – miscommunications happen, not everything can be explained preemptively, etc.

If people give an appropriate response to a question/issue as written, you shouldn’t have a negative response because they didn’t take into account some information you didn’t provide. Instead you should provide more information.

If you wanted to engage, I would have expected you to say why you did ask, which apparently I was not able to guess. You’ve now posted about the matter three times without saying why you’re asking, and it’s unclear how anyone is supposed to know.

You didn’t ask any questions or say any opinions for me to talk about. You didn’t directly say you wanted to talk.

I replied to your implied criticism with a correction of your mistake.

You’re asserting that I sent social vibrations. I disagree.

I knew you were trying to be helpful. I helpfully pointed out your mistake in turn. You made an (implied) assertion and criticism, I asserted a criticism in turn.

You seem entitled, like you expect me to put a ton more into my replies than you put into your posts.

If you want to have a conversation to the point where you’re going to get offended if someone doesn’t start the conversation for you - why didn’t you start the conversation in the first place? You didn’t show any interest at all in a conversation. Since all you did was post a link, for all I knew you were not going to say anything again. I don’t think we’ve ever talked before this week (and it’s hard to keep track of anon accounts so I could easily lose track anyway) so I know next to nothing about you.

I think you need to take your own advice. I was neutral about it. I didn’t say you were at fault for making a suggestion that didn’t help. You’ve chosen to be offended by me responding in one of the ways you’ve suggested. You could have thought about miscommunications happening and not everything being explained pre-emptively. You could have thought about how you’re blaming me for your feelings when I don’t meet your expectations of how helpfully you think I should reply rather than just asking me to be more helpful.

I think if you hadn’t decided to be offended your entire post could be replaced with “Why did you ask, then?” That way you ask about the thing you seem to be offended by me not saying, you continue the conversation, you show interest, and avoid making the whole thing weird.

This conversation now feels pretty weird.

You passive-aggressively implied that you want me to explain why I asked Elliot for permission. As I’d like this conversation to stop being weird I’m going to answer.

I asked because I don’t want to misrepresent Elliot’s ideas. Maybe he’d prefer the quote I mentioned to include some extra context elsewhere in the post that I’d overlooked? Maybe he has extra thoughts he’d like to add since he wrote it? Or maybe I’m being overcautious because in a way I’m a little scared of Elliot?