Changing the Future

Imagine for a moment that the state of the world is on a trajectory towards some specific future.

TheFuture1.png

We don’t necessarily know what that future is, but lots of people are interested in diverting its path in different specific ways to change where it ends up.

They may be focused on a specific human issue (ex: human rights, existential risk), the interest of a group or cause (ex: NAACP, NRA, nations), or towards some other purpose (ex:  personal interest, stock prices, vendettas, etc.)

We’ll call these people Movers since they want to move the direction the future is going.

TheFuture2
The movers aren’t just left alone to change the world however they like though. Some people think there is a larger possible benefit to changing the world if they go around changing the Movers. We’ll call these people the Shakers.

Shakers have a variety of methods for changing the world, but they are notable for their interactions and alterations of the movers. Shakers may supercharge movers by giving them new skills or funding (ex: YCombinator), intentionally weaken certain movers so they can’t have such a large effect, divert certain movers towards directions the shakers think are superior (Effective Altruism), group movers together for coordination purposes, or even just outright kill (or create new) movers.

TheFuture3

Important defining features of the Shakers are that they change the movers and that they are most often noticeable so long as you make a small effort to look for them.

There is one additional group I’d like to cover, though: The Mindbenders.

TheFuture4

Mindbenders are people who can subtle create very large changes to both the movers, the shakers, and other mindbenders. They can alter the way in which people think about the entire playing field of possible futures and change the course through those means. Mindbenders can create new philosophies, ways of interpreting the world, give people visions of alternate possible futures, redefine the way people think inside entire ethical systems, directly alter cultures for hundreds of years, break into the very nature of abstraction and human thought itself, and do much much more.

But those are the blatantly obvious mindbenders. More subtle mindbenders can alter the way in which people think by framing the information you receive to manipulate your reactions and conclusions. They can manipulate consensus impressions of reality in order to do things like limit the possible future outcomes or convince people that impossible outcomes are possible or they can alter the results of studies to manipulate scientific consensus on a topic. They can even lead movers and shakers to work towards accomplishing entirely different goals than they thought they were. The worst mindbender of them all is likely The Labyrinth (see future posts), but there are likely plenty that are near impossible to identify or easily understand.

Mindbenders attempt to change the future by changing the minds of every person in the entire game or all of the minds in the local regions around them. They are powerful and extraordinarily difficult to escape.

Thinking outside of the models and narratives mindbenders create around us requires being able to reject their entire models (see upcoming Rejecting Other’s Models post), breaking out of mental narratives, seeing with fresh eyes, being able to actually change our minds, making decisions based directly upon our personal observations of reality around us, and intuitively understanding the reifier’s first rule.

 

The first rule is that being aware of the rule lets you break the rule. Now that you’re aware of mindbenders, you might be able to start breaking out of their constraints.

Abstraction 8: The Bowl

I’m going to propose a few odd abstractions. They will be focused around specific objects to assist in seeing them distinct from one another. Hopefully this will come out less confusing than I expect.

0001-wooden-bowl_e500

Imagine a wooden bowl. The wooden bowl is just a piece of wood. It has no real inherent value to someone until it fulfills its function.

The function of a bowl is to hold food. It can hold all sorts of food, keep that food in a single place, be used to pass food easily between people, and even hold water. Holding the food is far more important than being a nice piece of wood.

However, the food isn’t what we really care about. That isn’t The Thing. The bowl holds the food, but the food is eaten at the meal when the people come together and talk. People speak and communicate with one another. They bond, they fight, they laugh, they fill their stomachs, and they connect.

The connection is far more important here and far more curious. Minds change, qualia occur, relationships are modified or maintained, and the group grows a little bit closer to one another somehow. Still, though, connections aren’t The Thing.

It isn’t the group being a little bit closer that we care about. What we care about is: what happens later? How does the group fare? Do they prosper or do they fall?

What does the single wooden bowl mean to the group when all it does is hold the food that sits at the meal where the conversations take place which lead the people to slowly change and prosper or fall as a group?

And more importantly: if you as an outsider can only interact with this group by giving them a single bowl, what bowl could you give them to improve or harm the future of the group through the strange and non-obvious mechanisms of cause and effect?

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But we aren’t done! I was asked to provide more examples in these odd abstraction things, so I’ll bring up a relevant example of The Bowl.

While at a workshop a while back I played the Calibration Game run by a volunteer there. I won’t go too far into the details of the game, but it was designed to get people to make bets on what they thought the probability was of something that could occur.  It was designed with the intention of getting participants more comfortable with betting on their beliefs about reality and to start getting a sense of what thinking of beliefs as probabilities might feel like.

However, the Calibration Game wasn’t actually very good at this. It wasn’t terrible, but it didn’t accomplish its purpose towards getting people aligned more towards and better at belief calibrations (in a similar way that a lumpy soup bowl isn’t so great for eating soup).

lumpy bowl

And yet… the Calibration Game is a wonderful and amazingly useful game!

If we map the calibration game as the bowl in our earlier abstraction, then it’s a lumpy bowl with a hole or two in it that isn’t very good at whatever purpose the bowl maker had intended. Despite that, a large list of beneficial consequences of the game started occurring.

The Calibration Game offered point incentives to answering questions correctly on different betting pools and strongly encouraged discussion among the participants at the workshop in order for people to make smarter bets to win more points. Some of the questions involved details of randomly selected participants. This led to people going around doing polling and talking to shy participants who likely wouldn’t have been approached otherwise. It led to competition, pacts, brainstorming, incentivized science and game theory topic discussion, and gave a steady positive and social background environment.

People grew closer, interacted more frequently and in more focused concentration on the topic matter than they would have otherwise. They also developed further as individuals, as friends, and began creating the myriad of interconnected relationships that form a community.

The game is absolutely wonderful because despite being a kind of lumpy and strange bowl it accomplished great results and THAT IS THE POINT. It doesn’t matter that the bowl wasn’t great at being a bowl. It doesn’t matter if people complain about the bowl or the original causal action you take fails to achieve that action’s single next associated effect. That’s not what counts.

What counts are the consequences of the action regardless of how predictable they were. We care about whether the ultimate consequences are in line with our wide spread of overall goals. Whether the specific goal we had in mind was accomplished or not is inconsequential. Causality is a strange and winding path that must be taken as it comes and not as we desire it to be. And sometimes that means handing someone a weird lumpy bowl that spills milk everywhere and makes them yell at you.

A Different Strategy for being Interesting

I’ve seen different people try lots of different things to make themselves seem interesting to others. They’d wear colorful clothing, color their hair, tell rehearsed jokes, smile just to get attention, frown just to get attention, be loud, be quiet, boast, brag, make strong arguments that they’ve heard from someone else which make them look more impressive, throw out argument stoppers, and do all sorts of weird stuff.

I tried most of these things when I was younger and ended up deciding on a different strategy. My strategy was to stop hiding. I would stop hiding and just tell people what I saw and thought about the world around me.

I would observe my surroundings and comment on the ways in which things seemed interesting, strange, or amusing. I would tell people what I thought about in my free time when I had some rare solitude. Sometimes I would even tell people specific short stories that encapsulated ideas or views of the world that I thought were particularly worthwhile or interesting. The point wasn’t to impress, the point was just to share in the way that I internally wanted to share and enrich other people’s lives.

I stopped trying and just let myself not hold back for a little while.

Then again, I sit here right now without very many friends physically surrounding me so maybe that strategy was pretty stupid after all. I should probably try wearing something colorful next time.

Help Your Friends!

Alternate Title: The Way In Which I Care (part 1 of many)

I don’t care in the way that other people seem to care. I will attempt to explain the way in which I actually care later on, but for now I’ll give you at least one argument towards the general direction right now.

I’ve lost friends for trying to help them out of very bad situations. However, I’ve also successfully helped friends out of bad situations. I’m confident that ultimately the math adds up collectively in their favor.

It may sound selfish of me to say so (though it will be relevant in a minute), but it has also added up in my own favor in the end as well due to my friends getting into better situations. I regard my friends being in better and healthier positions as both an inherent good and a large positive to me in my life.  The better my friends and the people around me are, the better my community becomes and the better my life is as a result. It’s an upward spiral of positive benefits with an initial cost that is uncomfortable for most.

Lots of people have negative reactions to others helping them, so people get trained to think that not attempting to help at all (and not rocking the boat in the process) is more beneficial to themselves than actually taking the risk of helping someone. They fear the quick smack of a ruler on the back of their hand so they stay silent and take no actions.

At this point in time you may be wondering, “But Ben, isn’t it better to learn how to put things delicately to people and find ways to express things so that other people get the benefit while not hurting their feelings and yourself in the process?” Well, yes. Of course it is. But I don’t have those skills perfectly yet and I bet you don’t either, so we need to decide what to do in the meantime. I’m also writing this for all those people who lack those skills and would choose inaction over action without sitting around holding onto the excuse of “I’ll do that sort of thing later on after I finally get around to learning delicacy skills” while also never going out and learning those skills.

I was vaguely aware of a guy in high school who had a rough home life and didn’t wear the best of clothes. He had friends and was generally well liked because he was an overall kind, friendly, and likeable guy. However, none of the girls wanted to date him and none of the guys became too close of friends with him. Why? Because he smelled.

He didn’t know he smelled. I didn’t even know he smelled since I was part of different groups than he was. Yet every day he came to school smelling badly while all the people around him (who generally did like him!) avoided him, resisted being too close to him, and chose not to say anything to him about it.

Why did these people who were friends with this poor kid not tell him that he just needed to wash his clothes more often and take a shower every day?

I don’t know all of the reasons, but I did ask a few of the girls who I overheard talking about it. They told me that they didn’t want to be mean. There were trained to be polite first, non-confrontational second, and risk-averse third.

It’s a risk to attempt to help someone. It seems like there are social costs and that if the person reacts badly it will cost you. Who wants someone angry at them for something they said when you can just as easily not say anything and not see the person angry? That sounds reasonable, right?

Blegh! Honestly, personally, I HATE “reasonable”. I almost start to gag every time I hear the word. The people around this kid who considered him their friend sat around not telling him he had a massive, easily-fixable problem that could have enhanced his life (and their own by both improving his life, social value, and happiness and having him stop stinking all the god damn time!!!), but defaulted into the option of inaction. Bystander effects and failed attempts at self-interest galore!

Inaction and leaving your own friends in bad situations is idiotic in the extreme. It may seem like a risk to speak up and interfere, but if you can do things with even a weak attempt at tact and show genuine kindness towards helping the people who are close to you, then I’m generally convinced you will reap in far more benefits in the long run.

P.S. If you want to hear more on this topic, on other topics, or you like what you see in general then please Like, comment, or subscribe. I don’t really know what other people think of this blog unless you guys tell me and I operate pretty much 100% on encouragement.

An Essential Slytherin question for non-Slytherins

I’m not a Slytherin at heart, but I do know a few and getting into their heads has been a bit tricky. One of the more important Slytherin questions for non-Slytherins (esp. Hufflepuffs) that I eventually extracted out of their heads is the following:

“How do I do this thing I want to do AND benefit myself in the future?”

Many people act selflessly in their actions while attempting to care for others or take actions purely for temporary gain and fun while not considering their own upcoming futures. Just because your current actions weren’t chosen or designed to benefit your own future, that doesn’t mean they can’t be slightly modified so that you gain power, status, wealth, or other value in the future as well.

Whatever you personally value (knowledge, love, pleasure, kindness, wealth, etc.) you can often turn that into opportunities to gain other possible benefits later on. You can choose to do an activity with a friend instead of alone, choose to do the action while observed or with a wider audience and number of people affected by it, or you can ensure that the action builds a skill that could actually be useful to you in the future.

I don’t suggest that you stop doing whatever it is that you want to do. By all means, keep doing whatever it is that you want! I merely suggest that you might alter things ever so slightly so that you gain even more benefit later on down the line.

This way you end up both getting what you want right now and being more able to get more of it in the future. You could get more knowledge, more kindness to people, more love towards you, and many other things. There may not always be an easy or readily available answer to the question of “How do I accomplish this task while also benefiting my future self?” but I bet there’s an answer there far more often than you imagine.

A self-perpetuating cycle

I was talking to a smart friend of mine recently who wasn’t fully aware that this cycle was a thing. No one had fully pointed it out to them in simple terms. I’m posting it here to have something to point people to later or just have available in case other people are unaware that this is a thing.

Depression and anxiety are often self-perpetuating diseases because they push you towards action when you aren’t in a position to do anything and make you feel like you don’t need to take action when you are in a position to finally do something about it.

(Note: I’m not sure why this is coming up blurry. I’ll try to fix that at some point.)

Capture1

 

The solution to this problem is to realize that you aren’t going to be fine in the future and that you need to get as much help as possible while you are feeling healthy before the next downfall into depression or anxiety comes back to bite you again.

A better model might actually be something like the sun. You can’t always see the sun, but even at night it still exists. It hides somewhere beyond the horizon waiting to come back out again and burn you as harshly as you’ll let it. Until you decide to act as if the monsters hiding behind the hills are always going to come back again, you may not make substantial enough progress on these issues to actually kill them for good.

 

Note: If you have depression, then please go check out this and this. If you have anxiety, then please go check out this. If you have these or any other issues that match the pattern stated above, then I strongly suggest you seek out a medical professional to help you.

Argument Setup I Still Need a Title For

Edit: I’ve received some helpful feedback to this post stating that it was difficult to understand without examples and the point being more clearly defined. I will attempt to make these corrections soon. I had been avoiding examples since I had seen too many abundant ones in my head (most of which fail the politics mindkilling test). Finding good examples is hard, so I’ll work a bit more on that. 🙂

There’s a type of argument setup that I’ve seen before which I’m still trying to parse and become more comfortable agreeing or disagreeing with. It goes something like this:

Original Statement: “X is bad. I am informing you that X is bad, suggesting you avoid X, and telling you known ways to avoid the bad possible consequences of X.”

Rebuttal 1: “If X is bad, X should be annihilated or at least changed to become not-bad so that everyone is better off. X should not be left alone to exist as the status quo and suggestions to work around it are in bad taste.”

 

I can see how both sides of this argument are arguing rationally (to a degree) and I’m confident that both of them are discussing things in good faith. 

On the side of the Original Argument, there are practical ways of getting around the issue with low personal investment. The space has been explored, likely contains plenty of Chesterton Fences, and giving people additional information about pitfalls that can occur in the environment is a kind act that I would encourage others to follow. 

Over on the side of the Rebuttal 1, there is definitely a lot to be said for annihilating a problem once and for all. Big problems should be removed and massive problems that pose threats to people’s welfare/health/sanity/wealth/happiness/etc. are a problem for everyone. 

 

There are quite a few points to be wary about when approaching an argument setup like this one. The first is that there isn’t originally a direct disagreement. No one is actually saying “X is good” or “X is okay” (yet). The Original Statement is barely even an argument and only turns into an argument position once disagreed with. It may seem like the original statement is taking a position with understatements of “X is secretly okay and tolerable” or “X is unchangeable” or “I don’t care about the people hurt the worst by X”, but those slants to the argument only appear once Rebuttal 1 has been made.

The Original Statement is made in good faith as an attempt at making sure the person being given the information stay safe in the future and be fully aware of the dangers of the environment. Informing people of dangers and making suggestions is a low cost option, but it does have a cost and being aware of dangers in your own environment is categorically a good thing. I certainly hope people don’t neglect to tell me about dangers in my environment!

The Rebuttal 1 is a refusal to accept the status quo and an insistence on change. Change isn’t bad and changing bad situations isn’t bad, but changing them usually has a cost. Some people are going to want that cost to be paid in terms of the necessary money/time/effort/politicalcapital/etc. while others will be less interested in paying it. I can definitely see how if some people are impacted far more harshly by X (or people heavily sympathize with people who are impacted by X), then the insistence on X being annihilated will be much stronger. As a mirror, people not impacted by X (or people who have the people impacted by X as an outgroup) won’t care much about X and will then add the following rebuttal:

Rebuttal 2: “X is not a big deal. Group impacted by X has negative traits. Leave X alone as is. Also, everything Original Statement said.”

Once things get to this point, everyone who said the Original Statement gets reframed as being a person who is making Rebuttal 2. I’m fairly confident that this is a bad move and that the higher insistence on labeling people as ingroup or outgroup in a community the more trouble they’re going to run in to. 

It’s also worth noting that the people who say the Original Statement can easily be a much larger group than the people making Rebuttal 2. You may hate the Rebuttal 2 group as much as you like, but they aren’t the same as Original Statement. The Original Statement is practical in nature and is the same helping hand that is offered to anyone when they see a label of “Beware Sharks”, “Slippery Floor”,  or “Beware of Dog”. 

Warnings aren’t inherently bad, fixing problems likely changes depending on the problem and your position in regards to it, and most people don’t have enough resources to fix every problem they come across. But… there are still tons of stuff that really do need fixing, aren’t there? :-/

Anxiety: Not even a sliver

Edit: This post needs more examples and concrete information on what the realistic consequences are in practice in the 2nd model presented below. I haven’t been in a highly anxious state for a while now so it may take me a while to tease that out of my own brain and then compare notes with others. Until then, maybe kinda sorta please just trust me on this one?

I have a small amount of experience with anxiety and have spoken to lots of friends about the concepts involved. This portion of ideas about anxiety aren’t too common and are worth being aware of for people who have lots of anxiety in their life through anxiety disorders or other sources.

The model for anxiety that I think a lot of people with mental health issues operate under is something like the one below. We can call this Model 1.

Model 1 shows that as the amount of anxiety increases, the well-being of the person drops very quickly. The part of this model that I want you to pay attention to is the top left portion near the origin.

Under Model 1 people imagine that so long as there is only a sliver of anxiety in their system that they should be happy that things are not much worse. They try to tolerate it and don’t work too hard to remove that last sliver because they understand how terrible the real depths of the anxiety can get and that they are already doing “good” (for some value of good). One unit of anxiety is only something like -1 wellness on this model. That’s why I disagree with it.

chart1

A more realistic model for anxiety looks more like Model 2 below. A person’s wellbeing and ability to operate healthily has an large initial drop once only a sliver of anxiety has been introduced into their system. Even tiny amounts of constant anxiety can compromise a person’s ability to operate healthily, interact with others, and think as clearly as possible.

A person who is at 1 unit of anxiety will think that they are doing well compared to where they were when trying to function at 10 units of anxiety, but they miss the point that there are actual very massive benefits for moving from 1 unit back down to 0 units.

chart2

If you or anyone you know has lots of anxiety in their life through an anxiety disorder or something else, then I would strongly encourage you to ensure that the level of anxiety there is taken all the way down to zero and not left at just a sliver.

Note: If you have issues with anxiety or an anxiety disorder, then I strongly suggest you both check out this link and contact a medical professional for help with your problem. There are likely more and much better solutions available than you realize.

Inverted Socratic Ducking

Inverted Socratic Ducking

Rubber Ducking
Getting a person to act as a rubber duck who you talk your ideas out to in order to get a clear handle on them.

Socratic Ducking
Aiding a partner in thinking through an idea or solving a problem. Combines socratic questioning and rubber ducking. Attempt to offer few suggetsions and thoughts while isntead alternating between stimulating questions and attentive silence. Encourage the other person to think through complex threads and think deeply about the ramifications of ideas and possible solutions.

Inverted Socratic Ducking
Attempt socratic ducking not as an attempt at aiding the other person, but as an attempt to aid yourself. Follow the same process of asking vague and potent questions and then listening to their answers in silence. The goal is to get as fresh and uncorrupted answers as possible both for the knowledge of the duck (you) and in order to see if their perspective can help you get a fresh perspective on the topic.