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Invisible influences

Comment order: oldest to newest.

November 14th, 2021, 19:59 UTC

Thesis

My thesis is that other people’s thoughts and decisions are influenced by experiences I have zero idea about.

This is why I can’t stand phrases like “I don’t understand why people prefer X”.

This is also why I’m starting to think convincing anyone of anything is generally Very Hard — and when you manage to do so you should treat it as an amazing stroke of luck, rather than something to be (ideally) expected.

November 14th, 2021, 20:04 UTC

Mental minimaps

Example: many people literally have mental minimaps of where they are:

when I'm navigating, I literally see a lil HUD minimap in my mind, which I can rotate, zoom, & pan around, w/ some areas clearer than others. never thought this was notable until I found out many people don't have one, usually the women I'd ask.

— @pee_zombie, Nov 14, 2021

The linked poll says about 30% of people do have a minimap.

If you have a minimap — and assume everybody else has a minimap — good fucking luck trying to understand how somebody can be “bad with directions”.

If you don’t have a minimap… well, I never knew about the minimap and I literally assumed for all my life that I was just not putting the effort to learn my surroundings and it was a sort of a moral failure on my part (being lazy / something).

Why is it always other people with mental superpowers? Vivid imagination, or a "lil HUD minimap" now.

You can change the pitch of your voice though

November 15th, 2021, 07:48 UTC

Falling asleep easily

My sister can fall asleep on demand in five minutes.

For me, it usually takes 1–2 hours. I have no idea how to actually fall asleep — I know it eventually happens, but every single time it’s just “lie down and try not to think about all the things you’d rather be doing instead”. (Unless I’m drunk, but drinking myself to sleep every day is not a good idea.)

A bunch of people construct elaborate theories like “insomnia is caused by feeling like you haven’t achieved anything through the day”, etc. I suspect that insomnia is actually caused by not having the frigging ability to make yourself fall asleep.

(Side-note: this could also be correlated with aphantasia. I can stop thinking when I’m visually imagining something, but focusing on what I’m imagining takes a lot of effort and it’s very easy to slip back. If visually imagining things was effortless, I’d have a much easier time.)

November 15th, 2021, 08:03 UTC

Being interested in history

There’s a feeling like “wow, it would be cool to know what happened a while ago”. If you have experienced this feeling, learning history is going to be easier. A few connected things (like wanting to know more about your grandgrandparents) are also going to be easier.

I did not experience this feeling about history until I was 25, and I didn’t experience this feeling about my family until my grandpa died three days ago.

Now imagine that you’re a history teacher in high school and your class is split 50:50 re/ having experienced this feeling. The result is probably going to be:

  • Half of your students think you are either very out-of-touch or actually malicious for trying to teach something obviously very boring.

  • You think that either you are a bad teacher, or half of your students either just hate school in general or are somehow fundamentally broken.

As I’m typing this down, it is very hard not to be angry about this whole situation.

November 15th, 2021, 08:54 UTC

Built-in spellchecker

When I was a kid, I had a built-in spellchecker for Russian (my native language). I intuitively knew when a word was misspelled, as long as it wasn’t super obscure.

It is probably similar to how perfect pitch feels — I would just look at a misspelled word and go “ugh, it’s wrong”. I didn’t have it for punctuation, though. Only for spelling.

There were two corollaries:

  • I believed the whole system of education was actively malicious for trying to teach spelling rules — when those rules were completely unnecessary. I didn’t realize that “be able to spell correctly by spending some effort to remember the rule” was even an option and the poor system of education was just trying to teach that to [a large fraction of the kids].

  • Guess what happens when you have a built-in instinctual “ugh” feeling when reading something misspelled, and then you have to chat with someone who habitually misspells things. That’s right, you start feeling “ugh” about them as well. I was severely judging people for their misspellings for years and years and years.

On the other hand, imagine if you don’t have a built-in spellchecker and assume others also don’t. How are you going to feel about people who hate you for misspelling things?

November 16th, 2021, 19:38 UTC

Ringing silence

In Russian, absolute silence is often called “ringing silence” (звенящая тишина). I never knew why. Now it turns out there are people who actually hear a buzz when it’s silent:

The Brazilian study, which consisted of 66 people with normal hearing and no tinnitus, found that among subjects placed in a quiet environment where they were asked to focus on their hearing senses, 68 percent experienced phantom ringing noises similar to that of tinnitus.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080101093825.htm

I don’t know if it actually has any impact on people’s lives, though.

November 20th, 2021, 06:50 UTC

“Nothing has gone right for centuries”

Ryszard Kapuściński, Shah of Shahs, talking about the Shiites:

The world contains communities for whom nothing has gone right for centuries —everything has slipped through their hands, and every ray of hope has faded as soon as it began to shine — these people seem to bear some sort of fatal brand. So it is with the Shiites. For this reason, perhaps, they have an air of dead seriousness, of fervent unsettling adherence to their arguments and principles, and also (this is only an impression, of course) of sadness.

If you belong to one of those communities, how would you feel about the world? What beliefs would you have that you might not have otherwise?

On the micro scale, a similar pattern holds for attachment beliefs. If you had a safe and happy childhood, you might believe the world is fundamentally/mostly safe. If you hadn’t, you might believe the world is fundamentally/mostly indifferent or even hostile (“everyone only cares about their own self-interest”, etc). None of those are true, neither the safe nor the unsafe assumption — they are algorithms manifesting as beliefs. I’ve been to an Attachment Repair workshop and it was mentioned that changing those beliefs can require about ~100 sessions. For me at least, it is incredibly frustrating — blood-boilingly frustrating — to argue with people who trust the world less than I do.

November 20th, 2021, 06:56 UTC

Social expectations can push people further

The previous point, but going in the opposite direction.

From the comments on ‘Secrets of the Great Families’:

I come from a "moderately great family" (one Nobel prize, one famous politician, one founder of well known movement, other minor notables), and I'm very aware of a social expectation in my family that normal goals like "having a good career" or "making a lot of money" aren't really acceptable. […]

The flip-side of this is that it can be really emotionally hard when I feel I'm not on a potential path to greatness, and I think it's been hard on other family members who haven't met expectations.

[…] I got good enough at a sport that a coach wanted me to go for the olympics, but I did it by wrecking my body. I don't think I'm particularly physically gifted, but I was maybe more willing to tear myself apart in pursuit of something that looked like possible greatness.

I think it’s hard to internalize that other people might be living with a completely different set of social expectations — sure, you might know it, but getting a good feel for how it would emotionally affect you is much much harder.

November 20th, 2021, 08:39 UTC

Knowing that X is possible

One of Dan Luu’s theses in Culture Matters is that sometimes the only obstacle to doing X is knowing that it’s possible (well, and seeing it done once):

One way in which culture influences this is that people often absorb their ideas of what's possible from the culture they're in. For a non-velocity example, one thing I noticed after attending RC [Recurse Center] was that a lot of speakers at the well-respected non-academic non-enterprise tech conferences, like Deconstruct and Strange Loop, also attended RC. Most people hadn't given talks before attending RC and, when I asked people, a lot of people had wanted to give talks but didn't realize how straightforward the process for becoming a speaker at "big" conferences is (have an idea, write it down, and then submit what you wrote down as a proposal). It turns out that giving talks at conferences is easy to do and a major blocker for many folks is just knowing that it's possible.

I believe the same.

  • E.g. I organized a LessWrong meetup in Minsk — just by copying whatever other people did (announce in Slack; ask people to prepare talks; give people name badges; ask people to introduce themselves; that’s it!).

  • I took people to the mountains in Poland, several times — just by knowing what exactly it would look like (find a bus to a specific city; bring X Y Z equipment; follow the colored markings on the trees).

  • I started a company in Estonia by asking my boss “how did you start a company”.

For me, knowing “what does doing X look like” makes it much easier to do it. Rational arguments like “what’s the worst that could happen”, etc don’t work — it’s literally a binary difference, either I’ve seen X first-hand or I haven’t.

November 23rd, 2021, 13:49 UTC

Relatable vs non-relatable

Every once in a while someone tries to censor a classic — like removing “nigger” from Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. This always felt stupid. I think if I had to argue about it on Twitter, I’d be able to work myself up to sound pretty angry about the issue.

Today I bought Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! as a present to an eleven-year-old girl, and caught myself thinking “huh, if there was a version without random pickup artistry and sleeping with bar girls, maybe that’d be slightly better but I’m not sure”.

I don’t even have a strong opinion here. Just a tiny sliver of potential self-interest. And WHOOSH, suddenly I don’t think those people arguing in favor of censoring things are stupid anymore. I think they might be wrong or right, but I literally just stopped caring because “huh, relatable”.

This kind of stuff is why I stopped being interested in arguing with people who haven’t had the [relevant experience], or in abstract arguments in general. A tiny bit of relatable experience could have destroyed their arguments from within, but arguing “from the outside” is so much harder.

I’d like to go meta on this, and sidestep issues like this entirely.

Decentralization!

Censor … from where/what? Decentralization removes that question from the equation. Imagine an ebook store that is decentralized, not controlled by one party. And people get to democratically choose what they want. In a family environment, there could be some local hierarchy (eg: parents filtering content for children), but adults need not be babysitted by some distant third-party (govt, media, big tech, activists).

This is why I believe in web3.

FWIW the particular case I’m quoting is already decentralized. “Nigger” was censored by one publisher from one edition of the book, and everybody was free to buy it vs. buy the original version. AFAIK schools, libraries and other “local hierarchy” institutions preferred the original version.

November 23rd, 2021, 14:44 UTC

Relatable vs non-relatable, part 2

This goes in the other direction as well.

Sarah Perry wrote From the Cradle to the Grave, a book-length collection of arguments in favor of antinatalism. At the end of the book, she revealed:

A few years ago, I wanted to die all the time, every minute. I suffered intensely, and the main project of my life was to get through time.

And I thought “okay, this explains things”.

(Other personal calamities can probably have a similar effect.)

I think we have to be careful, because “okay, this explains things” does not negate the internal logic as presented.

It seems the common approach in p2p arguments is “Oooooooohhhhh, now I know why you said all that other stuff. You don’t really think all that. You just have X experience driving your emotions plus a pile of justifications.”

Of course, that common approach can also be true. The converse might be that the internal logic as presented never exists as a closed system.

Yeah. Or sometimes the [X experience] is just the driving factor causing the person to even investigate the issue in the first place, etc.

November 23rd, 2021, 18:13 UTC

“One can make a convincing argument in favor of anything

Further on the topic of arguments: a major influence is “how many convincing arguments in favor of bullshit have you seen already”. Some people simply lack this experience.

SSC is a strong proponent of this, in Higlights From The Comments On Ivermectin:

I think the main thing I want to cram into his head is how many pseudosciences that have to be false have really strong empirical literatures behind them. There are dozens of positive double-blind RCTs [randomized controlled trials] of homeopathy. I feel like I can explain what went wrong with these about a third of the time. The rest of the time, I’m as boggled as everyone else, and I just accept that the biggest studies by the most careful people usually don’t find effects, plus we should have a low prior on an effect since it’s crazy.

And in older Epistemic Learned Helplessness:

A friend recently complained about how many people lack the basic skill of believing arguments. That is, if you have a valid argument for something, then you should accept the conclusion. Even if the conclusion is unpopular, or inconvenient, or you don’t like it. He envisioned an art of rationality that would make people believe something after it had been proven to them.

And I nodded my head, because it sounded reasonable enough, and it wasn’t until a few hours later that I thought about it again and went “Wait, no, that would be a terrible idea.”

[…]

When I was young I used to read pseudohistory books; Immanuel Velikovsky’s Ages in Chaos is a good example of the best this genre has to offer. I read it and it seemed so obviously correct, so perfect, that I could barely bring myself to bother to search out rebuttals.

And then I read the rebuttals, and they were so obviously correct, so devastating, that I couldn’t believe I had ever been so dumb as to believe Velikovsky.

And then I read the rebuttals to the rebuttals, and they were so obviously correct that I felt silly for ever doubting.

And so on for several more iterations, until the labyrinth of doubt seemed inescapable.

Sounds like your bar for ‘convincing’ is just too low.

I mean.. what do you usually consider a convincing argument (if anything)?

To convince me of something opposite of what I currently believe, the least it would take is:

  • to point out an irreparable inconsistency in my current belief

  • to offer an alternative explanation that is self-consistent and consistent with my direct experience

There are probably also some heuristics on top of that to rule out bad arguments.

An example of a convincing argument is Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” which made me an atheist.

November 25th, 2021, 08:52 UTC

Babies

Charlie Brooker on the birth of his child:

Apologies for swearing in the presence of a child, but the first thing I thought was "Fuck me". Not just as an expression of surprise, but as a mission statement, as in: "Fuck me and what I want – from now on, my task is to protect you, whatever or whoever you are." Prior to the birth, other dads had warned me that "bonding" might not happen for weeks, even months. Also, I was worried I might simply feel nothing. Instead I felt reprogrammed, head-to-toe, in an instant. That was a shock.

December 8th, 2021, 06:22 UTC

Self-control

I don’t have self-control — I mostly can’t force myself to do things I don’t want to do. I also don’t have thought control — e.g. I’m not convinced by logical arguments.

I think this has led me to beliefs like “I can’t change myself without changing my environment / meeting new people”, and “I don’t want arguments, I want vivid examples and demonstrations”. Also distrust of rationality-based reasoning.

The funny thing is that I assume everyone else is like that as well, but maybe they aren’t.

Why do you assume that being convinced by logical arguments is in any way related to self-control?

I think there’s self-control for actions and also self-control for thoughts/perceptions.

E.g. a few years ago somebody told me that I did something well and I thought “they are lying for sure” and a friend (I don’t remember who) said “why would they lie? if they didn’t actually think that they could’ve just said nothing”. That seemed reasonable but it still took me a few months to shake off the perception that people are lying when they compliment me.

Well, that’s one thing. Another thing is that action self-control also matters here.

If you prove to me logically that I should do X but I really don’t want to do X, it’s going to be much harder for me to accept your argument.

Well, you seem to have described the case of changing your mind about a belief that you hold strongly. Indeed a certain mental discipline is required for this.

But surely many arguments are going to be about things of which you are not that sure yourself, so it should be easy to change your mind?

Yeah, for weak beliefs it’s probably true. Or at least I would go “alright, now I don’t know one way or the other”.

OK, so that covers weak beliefs. Presumably that weakens your “I don’t want arguments” to “I don’t want to argue about things on which I have a strong opinion”.

But this doesn’t have to be the case either. If you have a strong opinion on something, presumably it’s because you have thought a lot about it and have already accumulated counterarguments to all possible objections. So you could treat an argument as an opportunity to refresh your own understanding by laying out a consistent picture of your view, with which the other person would have to deal.

And if for them it was a weak belief, then you have a good chance to change their mind, which is a win-win situation.

December 12th, 2021, 06:04 UTC

Big deal vs not a big deal

I think a lot of musings like “why X??!” are dependent on whether X seems like a big deal to you or not.

Example: for me, “not visibly disrespecting / discriminating against people” is a big deal. So I am constantly vaguely wondering “why were Jews hated throughout history? why do religions ban homosexuality? why [the world vs. women]?” and so on. But if hating people wasn’t a big deal, I would likely find out that the answer is obvious and sounds something like “but why not?”.

Here’s an example in the opposite direction: I’m half-sure there are people who genuinely feel like “why would you swear all the time?”. And for me, the question doesn’t even make sense — why wouldn’t you swear all the time? It’s like deciding to avoid words starting with “k” or whatever, yeah you can do it but why would you?

…and then I myself might ask “why would you torture animals for fun”, and the answer is “duh, for fun”, but for me not-torturing-things is a big deal and so I can’t relate to the fun (which is obviously there). And somebody else might be similarly oblivious to, I don’t know — the fun of using JavaScript, or the fun of wrestling, or getting drunk, or having a kid.

December 12th, 2021, 18:59 UTC

“Seeing” emotions

I did a poll on Twitter recently:

Survey: do you detect friends' emotions when you are hanging out?

Like, a feel for "they're happy" / "something's on their mind" / etc that you don't have to think about, you just *see* it

The results were —

  • Usually yes: 83%, 29 people

  • Usually no: 11%, 4 people

  • See results: 6%, 2 people

My own answer is “no”. I can guess that someone is in a different mood because they are less talkative than usual, but I don’t know anything beyond that. When people laugh I’m sometimes completely uncertain if they are happy or on the verge of crying. Etc.

Most of the time I’ve been assuming that nobody can guess what I feel unless I purposefully demonstrate it, but maybe apparently it’s not true and people do guess when I feel uneasy/smth. (I still always answer “no” as a habit, though.)

Right now I’m not in the mood to analyze how this ability, or lack of it, might be influencing things.

  • At the very least it probably prevents me from enjoying big concerts; I hear about “being infected by the emotions of the crowd” and it is an unrelatable experience.

  • Also, there’s at least one recent case where I was blamed super harshly for doing nothing when a friend was upset, while in reality I had no idea she was upset.

At the very least it probably prevents me from enjoying big concerts

What about enjoying participating in communities on topics you are already interested in? Say, you go to a meetup with other chess players. And everybody is merrily chatting up on chess and related topics over beer or coffee; you would be (affectively) picking up that (affective) atmosphere right?

Generally speaking, I’d consider not being able to read other people’s emotion (outside of the possibility of emotional detachment/ withdrawal, etc of course) to be a blessing.

Becoming free of the psychological identity (which is what I’m aiming for) implicitly involves losing that capacity inasmuch as identity is the lynchpin of entire affective faculty (when the former goes, the latter vanishes automatically, along with its epiphenomenal features like reading-others-emotions or ability-to-imagine).

I don’t feel like I belong to any community, so that’s not particularly affective. I might like hanging out with someone specific from the meetup, and also having a common base makes it easier to talk to people, but I don’t think I’m picking up the atmosphere.

Although maybe picking up the atmosphere would be easier if I was more relaxed.

Are there any non-philosophical reasons you want to get rid of an identity? Like… has having an identity hurt you or made your life harder (or smth)?

Are there any non-philosophical reasons you want to get rid of an identity?

It is not possible to go about this in a philosophical way, cf. https://www.srid.ca/armchair

It requires memories of PCE or EE (I write about the latter in this card[^1]) to realize that being an identity (relatively) sucks, thus providing the impetus (reasons) to move towards something perfect.

A PCE/ EE also shows why emotions are overrated … in particular, relating with people becomes much more easy and straightforward (they can’t hurt me, and I can’t hurt them).

Re: ‘get rid of an identity’ - ‘I’ cannot get rid of ‘myself’ (I don’t do the act myself) - it is something that happens indirectly on its own, which process is facilitated by me feeling good 24×7 (see footnote [^1]).

Like… has having an identity hurt you or made your life harder (or smth)?

Being, not having, an identity - is always a suboptimal way to live. The peak experiences make this obvious, but otherwise it’d be impossible to see this (like fish in water). This is why you don’t see this being discussed in places like psychology or LessWrong. At the risk of sounding supercilious, this is all entirely new to humanity. 😁


[^1]: My game plan currently is to minimize what I term as ‘background worries’ so that sensuosity (as that card describes) becomes more prevalent. Like others I am in the habit of distracting myself instead of paying attention to these feelings (and addressing them in time), so that’s the main challenge.

January 17th, 2022, 07:50 UTC

Being bitten by X in the past

A technical example — a web framework (IHP) using Nix (an obscure and somewhat tricky tool) possibly due to the team’s past experience with rotting projects:

But there is one big longterm advantage when comparing this approach to rails. We've lots of old rails projects. Whenever we have to fix some of these old projects, it's always a pain to get it working again. Different postgres version, wrong ruby version, wrong bundler version, some dependency that has to be managed by manually installation, webpacker ...

We also have old IHP projects, like from 2018. Sometimes we get small feature requests for these projects. Whenever we open these projects, everything really just works as if time was frozen :-) It's super great. No other framework gives this experience. I would love to have this experience with all the software projects in the future. So we need to stay committed to Nix to make this future happen.