Problems as dragons and papercuts

When I started trying to become the kind of person that can give advice, I went looking for dragons.
I figured if I didn’t know the answers that meant the answers were hard, they were big monsters with hidden weak spots that you have to find. “Problem solving is hard”, I thought.

Problem solving is not something everyone is good at because problems are hard, beasts of a thing.  Right?

For all my searching for problems, I keep coming back to that just not being accurate. Problems are all easy, dumb, simple things. Winning at life is not about taking on the right dragon and finding it’s weak spots.

Problem solving is about getting the basics down and dealing with every single, “when I was little I imprinted on not liking chocolate and now I have been an anti-chocolate campaigner for so long for reasons that I have no idea about and now it’s time to change that”.

It seems like the more I look for dragons and beasts the less I find.  And the more problems seem like paper cuts. But it’s paper cuts all the way down.  Paper cuts that caused you to argue with your best friend in sixth grade, paper cuts that caused you to sneak midnight snacks while everyone was not looking, and eat yourself fat and be mad at yourself.  Paper cuts.

I feel like a superhero all dressed up and prepared to fight crime but all the criminals are petty thieves and opportunists that got caught on a bad day. Nothing coordinated, nothing super-villain, and no dragons.

When I was in high school (male with long hair) I used to wear my hair in a pony tail.  For about 4 years.  Every time I would wake up or my hair would dry I would put my hair in a pony tail.  I just did.  That’s what I would do.  One day.  One day a girl (who I had not spoken to ever) came up to me and asked me why I did it.  To which I did not have an answer.  From that day forward I realised I was doing a thing I did not need to do.  It’s been over 10 years since then and I have that one conversation to thank for changing the way I do that one thing.  I never told her.

That one thing.  That one thing that is irrelevant, and only really meaningful to you because someone said this one thing, this one time. but from the outside it feels like, “so what”.  That’s what problems are like, and that’s what it’s like to solve problems.  But.  If you want to be good at solving problems you need to avoid feeling like “so what” and engage the “curiosity“, search for the feeling of confusion.  Appeal to the need for understanding.  Get into it.

Meta: this has been an idle musing for weeks now.  Actually writing took about an hour.

Cross posted to lesswrong, lesserwrong

Posted in models of thinking | 1 Comment

Cutting edge technology

When the microscope was invented, in a very short period of time we discovered the cell and the concept of microbiology.  That one invention allowed us to open up entire fields of biology and medicine.  Suddenly we could see the microbes!  We could see the activity that had been going on under our noses for so long.

when we started to improve our ability to refined pure materials we could finally make furnace bricks with specific composition.  Specific compositions could then be used to make bricks that were able to reach higher temperatures without breaking.  Higher temperatures meant better refining of materials.  Better refining meant higher quality bricks, and so on until we now have some very pure technological processes around making materials.  But it’s something we didn’t have before the prior technology on the skill tree.

Before we had refrigeration and food packaging, it was difficult to get your fresh food to survive to your home.  Now with production lines it’s very simple.  For all his decadence Caesar probably would have had trouble ordering a cheeseburger for $2 and having it ready in under 5 minutes.  We’ve come a long way since Caesar.  We’ve built a lot of things that help us stand on the shoulders of those who came before us.

Technology enables further progress.  That seems obvious.  But did that seem obvious before looking down the microscope?  Could we have predicted what bricks we could have made with purely refined materials?  Could Caesar have envisioned every citizen in his kingdom watching TV for relatively little cost to those people?  It would have been hard to forsee these things back then.

With the idea that technology is enabling future growth in mind – I bring the question, “What technology is currently under-utilised?”  Would you be able to spot it when it happens?  Touch screen revolutionised phone technology.  Bitcoin – we are still watching but it’s here to stay.

“What technology is currently under-utilised?”

For example “AI has the power to change everything. (it’s almost too big to talk about)”.  But that’s a big thing.  It’s like saying “the internet has the power to change everything” great but could you have predicted google, facebook and uber from a couple of connected computers?  I am hoping for some more specific ideas about which specific technology will change life in what way.

Here are some ideas in ROT13 (chrome addon d3coder):

  • Pbzchgre hfr jvyy punatr jura jr ohvyq gur arkg guvat gb ercynpr “xrlobneqf”
  • Genafcbeg grpuabybtl jvyy punatr vs onggrel be “raretl fgbentr” grpuabybtl vzcebirf.
  • Nhgbzngvba jvyy punatr cebqhpgvba naq qryvirel bs tbbqf naq freivprf. Naq riraghnyyl oevat nobhg cbfg-fpnepvgl rpbabzvpf
  • Vs IE penpxf orggre pbybhe naq fbhaq grpuabybtl (guvax, abg whfg PZLX ohg nyy gur bgure pbybhef abg ba gur YRQ fcrpgehz), jr zvtug whfg frr IE rkcybqr.
  • Znpuvar yrneavat naq fgngvfgvpf unir gur cbjre gb punatr zrqvpvar
  • PEVFCE naq trar rqvgvat jvyy punatr sbbq cebqhpgvba
  • Dhnaghz pbzchgvat jvyy punatr trar rqvgvat ol pnyphyngvat guvatf yvxr cebgrva sbyqvat va fvtavsvpnagyl yrff gvzr.
  • Dhnaghz pbzchgvat (juvyr vg’f fgvyy abg pbafhzre tenqr) jvyy nyfb punatr frphevgl.
  • V jbhyq unir fnvq 3Q cevagvat jbhyq punatr ybpxfzvguvat ohg abj V nz abg fb fher.
    3Q cevagvat unf birenyy qbar n cbbe wbo bs punatvat nalguvat.
  • vs gur pbafgehpgvba vaqhfgel pna nhgbzngr gung jvyy punatr gur jnl jr ohvyq ubhfvat.

As much as these don’t all follow the rule of being consumer-grade developments that might revolutionise the world, I’d like to encourage others to aim for consumer viable ideas.

This matters because this is how you see opportunity.  This is how you find value.  If you can take one thing on my list or your own list and make it happen sooner, you can probably pocket a pretty penny in the process.  So what’s on your list?  Do you have two minutes to think about what’s coming soon?

Cross posted to lesserwrong, lesswrong.

Posted in models of thinking | 1 Comment

Halloween costume: Paperclipperer

Guidelines for becoming a paperclipperer for halloween.


  • Paperclips (some as a prop, make your life easier by buying some, but show effort by making your own)
  • pliers (extra pairs for extra effect)
  • metal wire (can get colourful for novelty) (Florist wire)
  • crazy hat (for character)
  • Paperclip props.  Think glasses frame, phone case, gloves, cufflinks, shoes, belt, jewellery…
  • if party going – Consider a gift that is suspiciously paperclip like.  example – paperclip coasters, paperclip vase, paperclip party-snack-bowl
  • Epic commitment – make fortune cookies with paperclips in them.  The possibilities are endless.
  • Epic: paperclip tattoo on the heart.  Slightly less epic, draw paperclips on yourself.


While at the party, use the pliers and wire to make paperclips.  When people are not watching, try to attach them to objects around the house (example, on light fittings, on the toilet paper roll, under the soap.  When people are watching you – try to give them to people to wear.  Also wear them on the edges of your clothing.

When people ask about it, offer to teach them to make paperclips.  Exclaim that it’s really fun!  Be confused, bewildered or distant when you insist you can’t explain why.

Remember that paperclipping is a compulsion and has no reason.  However that it’s very important.  “you can stop any time” but after a few minutes you get fidgety and pull out a new pair of pliers and some wire to make some more paperclips.

Try to leave paperclips where they can be found the next day or the next week.  cutlery drawers, in the fridge, on the windowsills.  And generally around the place.  The more home made paperclips the better.

Try to get faster at making paperclips, try to encourage competitions in making paperclips.

Hints for conversation:

  • Are spiral galaxies actually just really big paperclips?
  • Have you heard the good word of our lord and saviour paperclips?
  • Would you like some paperclips in your tea?
  • How many paperclips would you sell your internal organs for?
  • Do you also dream about paperclips (best to have a dream prepared to share)


The better you are at the character, the more likely someone might try to spoil your character by getting in your way, stealing your props, taking your paperclips.  The more you are okay with it, the better.  ideas like, “that’s okay, there will be more paperclips”.  This is also why you might be good to have a few pairs of pliers and wire.  Also know when to quit the battles and walk away.  This whole thing is about having fun.  Have fun!

Meta: chances are that other people who also read this will not be the paperclipper for halloween.  Which means that you can do it without fear that your friends will copy.  Feel free to share pictures!

Cross posted to lesswrong:

Cross posted to lesserwrong:

Posted in lesswrong | 1 Comment

Use concrete language to improve your communication in relationships

She wasn’t respecting me. Or at least, that’s what I was telling myself.

And I was pretty upset. What kind of person was too busy to text back a short reply? I know she’s a friendly person because just a week ago we were talking daily, text, phone, whatever suited us. And now? She didn’t respect me. That’s what I was telling myself. Any person with common decency could see, what she was doing was downright rude! And she was doing it on purpose. Or at least, that’s what I was telling myself.

It was about a half a day of these critical-loop thoughts, when I realised what I was doing. I was telling myself a story. I was building a version of events that grew and morphed beyond the very concrete and specific of what was happening. The trouble with The Map and the Territory, is that “Respect” is in my map of my reality. What it “means” to not reply to my text is in my theory of mind, in my version of events. Not in the territory, not in reality.

I know I could be right about my theory of what’s going on. She could be doing this on purpose, she could be choosing to show that she does not respect me by not replying to my texts, and I often am right about these things. I have been right plenty of times in the past. But that doesn’t make me feel better. Or make it easier to communicate my problem. If she was not showing me respect, sending her an accusation would not help our communication improve.

The concept comes from Non-Violent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg. Better described as Non-Judgemental communication. The challenge I knew I faced was to communicate to her that I was bothered, without an accusation. Without accusing her with my own internal judgement of “she isn’t respecting me”. I knew if I fire off an attack, I will encounter walls of defence. That’s the kind of games we play when we feel attacked by others. We put up walls and fire back.

The first step of NVC is called, “observation”. I call it “concrete experience”. To pass the concrete experience test, the description of what happened needs to be specific enough to be used as instructions by a stranger. For example, there are plenty of ideas someone could have about not showing respect, if my description of the problem is, “she does not respect me”, my grandma might think she started eating before I sat down at the table. If my description is, “In the past 3 days she has not replied to any of my messages”. That’s a very concrete description of what happened. It’s also independent as an observation. It’s not clear that doing this action has caused a problem in my description of what happened. It’s just “what happened”

Notice — I didn’t say, “she never replies to my messages”. This is because “never replies” is not concrete, not specific, and sweepingly untrue. For her to never reply she would have to have my grandma’s texting ability. I definitely can’t expect progress to be made here with a sweeping accusations like “she never replies”.

What I did go with, while not perfect, is a lot better than the firing line of, “you don’t respect me”. Instead it was, “I noticed that you have not messaged me in three days. I am upset because I am telling myself that the only reason you would be doing that is because you don’t respect me, and I know that’s not true. I don’t understand what’s going on with you and I would appreciate an explanation of what’s going on.”.

It’s remarkably hard to be honest and not make an accusation. No sweeping generalisations, no lies or exaggerations, just the concretes of what is going on in my head and the concrete of what happened in the territory. It’s still okay to be telling yourself those accusations, and validate your own feelings that things are not okay — but it’s not okay to lay those accusations on someone else. We all experience telling ourselves what other people are thinking, and the reasons behind their actions, but we can’t ever really know unless we ask. And if we don’t ask, we end up with the same circumstances surrounding the cold-war, each side preparing for war, but a war built on theories in the map, not the experience in the territory.

I’m human too, that’s how I found myself half-a-day of brooding before wondering what I was doing to myself! It’s not easy to apply this method, but it has always been successful at bringing me some of that psychological relief that you need when you are looking to be understood by someone. To get this right think, “How do I describe my concrete observations of what happened?”.

Good Luck!

Meta: this post may seem out of place for being a different style to usual.  I am trying out medium and a new style.  These ideas and methods require iteration so apologies for the culture shock in this post being so unusual.

Cross posted to Medium:

Cross posted to lesswrong:

Cross posted to lesserwrong:


Posted in communication, models of thinking | Leave a comment

How to consistently have good days, or Reduce the frequency and impact of bad days

The following is an exercise I composed to be run at the Lesswrong Sydney dojos.  It took an hour and a half but could probably be done faster with some adaptations that I have included in these instructions.

In regards to what are the dojos? I quote Eliezer in the preface of Rationality: From AI to Zombies when he says:

It was a mistake that I didn’t write my two years of blog posts with the intention of helping people do better in their everyday lives. I wrote it with the intention of helping people solve big, difficult, important problems, and I chose impressive-sounding, abstract problems as my examples.

In retrospect, this was the second-largest mistake in my approach. It ties in to the first-largest mistake in my writing, which was that I didn’t realise that the big problem in learning this valuable way of thinking was figuring out how to practice it, not knowing the theory. I didn’t realise that part was the priority; and regarding this I can only say “Oops” and “Duh.”

Yes, sometimes those big issues really are big and really are important; but that doesn’t change the basic truth that to master skills you need to practice them and it’s harder to practice on things that are further away.

Lesswrong is a global movement of rationality.  And with that in mind, the Dojos are our attempt in Sydney to be working on the actual practical stuff.  Working on the personal problems and literal implementation of The plans after they undergo first contact with the enemy.

You can join us through our meetup group, facebook group and as advertised on lesswrong.

Below is the instructions for the Dojo.  I can’t emphasise enough the process of actually doing and not just reading.  If you intend to participate, grab some paper or a blank document and stop for a few minutes to make the lists.  Then check your answers against ours.

If you don’t do the exercise – don’t fool yourself into thinking you have this skill under your belt.  Just accept that you didn’t really “learn” this one.  you kinda said, “that’s great I wish I could find the time to get healthy”  Or “If only I was the type of person who did things.”.  If this is especially difficult for you, that’s okay.  It is difficult for all of us.  I believe in you!

Good luck.

Everyone has bad days.  Each of us will have various experiences dealing with different causes and/or diagnosing, solving and resolving the causes of “bad-days”

With that in mind I want to do a few sets of discussions on factors of a bad day.

Part 1: Set a timer for 3 minutes – Make a list of things bad for state of mind, or things you have noticed cause trouble for you.  {as a group each person shares one}

Review the hints list as a group:

  • routine meds/supplements (supposed to take)
  • have you taken something to cause a bad state? (things you should not take)
  • sleep
  • exercise
  • shower
  • Sunlight (independent of bright light)
  • talk to a human in the last X hours
  • talk to too many humans in the last X hours
  • Fresh air
  • Did I eat in the last X hours
  • drink in the last X hours
  • Am I in pain?  Physical or emotional
  • Physical discomfort, weather, loud noise, bright lights, bad smells
  • Feel unsafe in my surroundings?
  • Do I know why I’m in a bad mood, or not feeling well emotionally?  (remember do not dismiss or judge any answer)
  • When did you last do something fun?
  • Spend 5 minutes making a list of all the little things that are bothering you (try not to solve them now, just make the list) (and if necessary make plans for the ones you can affect).
  • Also possibly distinguish between “why am I feeling bad” and “what can I do to feel less bad/even though I feel bad” (e.g. if you’re stressed about upcoming event or fight you had last night, you might not be able to act on it but you can still do things now that will improve your state or at least get you being productive)

at the bottom of the page: {our bonus list of bad things generated in the dojo}

{As a group – were there any big ones we missed and discussion about what we came up with}

Part 2: {set a timer 3 minutes} Come up with a list of things that are good for your mental state

{Group discussion – each share one}

{optional hints list} {feel free to go through it as a group or glance at it or skip it}

{bonus good stuff list at the bottom}

{as a group discussion – did we miss any big ones?}

Part 3: Possibly ambiguous factors

Now that we have a list of good and a list of bad, we should build a list of possibly ambiguous factors that you can look out for.  For example the weather, allergies, unexpected events – i.e. a death or car accident.

Set a timer 3 minutes – ambiguous factors

{as a group – each name one}

{Any big ones we missed} (discussion)

{bonus ambiguous list at the bottom}

Part 4: The important parts

Now I want you to go through the list and come up with the top 5-10 (or as many as matters) most relevant ones.  From here on in it’s your list, no more sharing so it doesn’t matter to anyone else what’s on it.

{Timer 2 minutes}

Part 5: plan for where to keep the list so it’s most accessible – so that on a bad day you can access the list and make use of it. Could be in an email draft, could be on your phone, could be a note somewhere at home or in a notebook.

Timer 2 minutes – come up with where you will be keeping the list that makes it most useful to you.

{discussions of plans – including double checking of each other’s plans to make sure they seem like they are likely to work}

{assistance if anyone is stuck}

Some ideas:

  • notes app in phone
  • bedroom door poster
  • repeat and memorize
  • “noticing” and asking why, rumination.
  • add to existing lists

{end of exercise and break time}

{bonus list of bad things}

  • supplements
  • private time
  • sun
  • exercise
  • stress (and too much responsibility)
  • sleep
  • alcohol
  • my mother (stress)
  • weather (cold)
  • body temperature
  • sick/headache
  • pain
  • imminent deadlines
  • interpersonal rejection (and the complexities of these)
  • when my wife is unhappy
  • overeating
  • missing out on fun things
  • losing control of my schedule
  • not having a schedule
  • overthinking past failure
  • avoiding things I should do
  • task switching
  • accusations/misunderstandings
  • not sticking to good habits
  • being confrontational
  • need social time
  • bad news on the radio
  • obligation
  • fixating on bullshit
  • getting short with people
  • too much coffee
  • bad test mark
  • not continuing communication (not knowing what to say)
  • junk food
  • not being “myself” enough
  • breaking good routines
  • cold showers in the morning are bad
  • buyers remorse
  • sign up to bungee jumping (felt bad)
  • being unproductive at work
  • something on the mind

{bonus list of good things}

  • weather
  • exercise/swimming, dancing
  • sex
  • big meals
  • supplements
  • sorting my spreadsheets -> feeling on top of my tasks -> congruence of purpose
  • when things work smoothly
  • creating things -> feedback on completion
  • fasting
  • perfect weather
  • shower + bath
  • go for a walk
  • listen to nice music
  • good plan & following it
  • petting a cat
  • weightlifting
  • girlfriend
  • playing instrument
  • feeling connected with someone
  • veg-out in bed
  • good podcast
  • dancing around the house
  • good book/knowledge
  • meditating
  • a balanced day – a bit of everything “good day”
  • napping
  • solving a problem
  • learning knowledge/skill
  • new experiences + with other people
  • lack of responsibility and commitment -> option of impulsivity
  • nature experience (sunsets, cool breeze)
  • discovering nuance
  • progress feedback
  • humour
  • hypnotised to be relaxed
  • 3 weeks sticking to diet and exercise
  • new idea – epiphany feeling
  • winning debate/scoring a soccer goal
  • productive procrastination
  • consider past accomplishment
  • knowing/realising -> feeling the realisation
  • when other people are really organised
  • making someone smile
  • massage giving and receiving
  • hugs
  • deep breathing
  • looking at clouds
  • playing with patterns
  • making others happy
  • good TV/movie
  • getting paid
  • balance social/alone time
  • flow
  • letting go/deciding not to care
  • text chat
  • lying on the floor sleep

{bonus ambiguous list}

  • some foods
  • water
  • sleep (short can feel good endorphins)
  • chemical smells (burning plastic, drying paint)
  • too much internet/facebook
  • coffee buzz
  • conversations
  • helping people
  • humans
  • finding information (sometimes a let down)
  • balance discipline/freedom
  • seeing family
  • junk TV/movies
  • junk food
  • menial chores
  • fidgeting
  • paid work
  • partner time
  • coding binge
  • being alone
  • exercise
  • reading documentation (sometimes good, sometimes terrible)
  • being needed/wanted
  • enthusiasm -> burnout
  • masturbation
  • alcohol
  • sticking to timetable
  • performing below standard
  • sex
  • learning new stuff
  • clubs
  • brain fog
  • breaking the illusions of reality

Meta: this took an hour to write up and a few hours to generate the exercise.

Cross posted to lesswrong:

Posted in life maintenance, self-improvement | Leave a comment

Fish oil and the self-critical brain loop

Disclaimer: you do you, this is a single (several times repeated) anecdata report.  Fish oil is cheap so you can run this experiment at home.

Do you recognise this brain pattern:

Remember that thing you did years ago that was horrible.  Now is a time to think about that and feel bad about it.

Including the variation that looks like, “oh here’s another example” for hours and hours at a time until you are successfully distracted.

Except sometimes it comes when you are idle.  Like catching public transport, waiting for a doctor, or generally doing a task with spare brain cycles.

I usually treat this experience as a chance to learn from my past.  Mainly because the only thing that settles a thought like, “you did this bad thing and you should feel bad” is a thought like, “I have now learnt from my mistakes and if confronted by a similar mistake like that I will now instead do X”.

Or at least that’s one strategy for making it go away.

Another strategy that makes it go away is the one I suggest for the Call Of the Void.

Focus wholly and completely and loudly on the concept.  Let it take your full attention and acknowledge that yes; this is in fact a present danger and experience.  Of course don’t jump, or do anything drastic, just acknowledge the feeling, boldly, sharply, ugly.  Then return as you were to the other tasks at hand.

The strategy is suggested by mindfulness and Acceptance commitment therapy.

You don’t have to stop the feelings.  In fact – the more you try to push a feeling away the more it will come back.  A misconception is that CBT is a thought control strategy.  That’s not true.  CBT has you engage and challenge those thoughts.  Don’t push them away.  Invite them in, declare war on them, ask them for evidence and argue with them till they are beaten down and disproven.

Turns out when I take fish oil, my critical feedback loop brain track goes away.

I have been conducting experiments on myself.  This is the result of iterations, trials and repetition.

I implemented a trigger-action plan, it’s not perfect.

When I notice I am in the brain loop, I mentally check when I last took fish oil.

Literally without fail for several months:

  1. If I purposely go off fish oil to test what happens, later that day, sometimes the next day I will find myself in a critical loop.  Shortly after taking my fish oil the thoughts are gone.
  2. If I accidentally go off fish oil, within 24 hours of not taking fish oil I find myself in a self-critical loop.

Studies also show mixed information that fish oil makes a difference to depression.  I would be willing to advocate trying it out and sticking to it if it helps.  I propose if you have a brain type that causes this critical loop habit often enough or a related brain loop and fish oil can mute the loop, then it could be effective for treating depression.

I can’t explain why this happens.  But I can suggest trying it and reporting back.

Posted in models of thinking, self-improvement | Leave a comment

Paranoia testing

Because I live on the internet I sometimes meet some interesting characters.  On this particular occasion I found myself in a conversation with someone who suggested, “I don’t know if I’m paranoid or not”.  The full story had some drug use and what I can only describe as peculiar circumstances (if they were in fact being accurately reported but I have no reason not to believe the reports).

Intrigued by this puzzle and I was not entirely sure what the best course of action to do with a potential mentally unwell person – Should I discourage the stories, should I indulge the stories?  If I say something that causes my friend to drop into a state of greater paranoia I would be liable to try to help them out again.  After a short while of talking I figured that I would just try and get the person to think and feel about the “edges” of what it means to have paranoia.

Which is how I came up with the idea to run some simple thought experiment tests that might give you a hint as to whether you have paranoia or not.  I didn’t know if I could be trusted by this person so I was always very careful to suggest ideas and not insist on any ideas.  It’s not necessary for me to insist someone seek treatment.

As a brain living inside the conditions like paranoia it’s difficult to have an objective test because any scientific test that can be done on faulty equipment is going to come up with faulty results the equivalent to the fault.  A camera with a dust speck on it’s lens will always take a photo of the dust spec. Unfortunately paranoia is a more complicated fault to test.  

Any experiment that you might try, could run into multiple errors at the same time or multiple errors in the one experiment.  Could paranoia machinery change at different times of day?  Different amounts of stress?  If you were to try and design a normal experiment knowing that your equipment was faulty you’ll be trying to aim for reliability, validity and accuracy.  

Repeating the experiment for reliability – which is to say that if you were shooting an arrow and you always land in the direction of the target you know you have at least the reliability to shoot an arrow.  If you regularly hit one foot to the left of the bullseye you have the accuracy to get close to the target, you just need to move the target or improve your aim so that you actually hit it.

The other problem that you might have is validity. Which is if you try to weigh a feather to work out how much an average feather weighs but you only happen to have peacock feathers you might end up with a different answer than if you measured a pigeon’s feathers.  Depending on what you want to know – your experiment needs to validly come to a result. a result that doesn’t represent the information you are trying to measure is going to be useless. 

So in thinking about paranoia how can you test whether you are paranoid or not using your faulty equipment that may or may not be faulty (paranoid)?

First I started trying to think of something that is a little bit random but has a known randomness to it. For example a coin flip. You know that it will probably land either heads or tails but it might be a test that you have to run a couple of times before you conclude that it is it a biased or before you conclude that the coin is actually random.

The next strategy I considered was the random person strategy. For example a stranger on a bus or a server at the supermarket.  In law there is a reasonable person test that can be applied, something like, “what would a reasonable person have done in the situation given the details and facts of the experience that the defendant was going through”.  Curiously the reasonable hypothetical person was once described as, “The man on the Clapham omnibus is a reasonably educated, intelligent but nondescript person, against whom the defendant’s conduct can be measured.”, or, “The bald-headed man at the back of the omnibus.”.  As a map-making strategy, I find it kind of neat that they describe a “reasonable person” as a “man on the bus”.  So when running your experiment or thought experiment – do you think you could ask a stranger on a bus the result of a coin flip and have them tell you the true answer?

For a non paranoid person – the server at the supermarket, or a person on the bus has no incentive to lie to you about anything you might ask them.  If you are specifically unsure if the other humans are all in cahoots with each other scheming against you, at some point it gets damn expensive to pull off a ruse like “all of the people on every bus you ever catch are paid to stand around and answer your questions incorrectly”. For example if you ask the stranger on a bus, what day of the week it was – do you think you could trust their answer?


If all the humans in your life, or many of the humans in your life were part of a grand scheme, very quickly the cost of maintaining a grand scheme starts to grow. Where maybe a room full of people could pull a practical joke on someone for about an hour or two – “just for fun”…  By the time the ruse’s time scale stretches out to a day or perhaps several days there needs to be some sort of value being generated, for simplicity – in terms of “dollars” to incentivise people to “keep playing along”. By the time you want your brain to believe that – 5 people you have never met – scheming or pulling a practical joke on you. If those 5 people spend more than a day on that practical joke the cost of keeping them pulling that joke starts to escalate where a full day might be 12 hours x 5 people x your country’s minimum wage (I will use $10 for simplicity) = $600 for a day’s practical joke.  It’s not cheap.  I would say bordering on irrational to burn that sort of cost on a practical joke.

I really want to believe that I am important enough to scheme about but I know the incentives here. If you can’t afford to pay those 5 confederates to participate in your practical joke then after about a day they’re going to go home and get on with their lives.  I do consider myself “valuable” but I don’t know that I consider myself valuable enough for a 10 person scheme for 3 days even (10*12*3*10=$3600).  I mean, depending on what it’s worth to pull a thinly veiled paranoia plot, epic scheme or hilarious practical joke – there has to be a monetary cost to the scheme.  By the time you start to include public places – clearing up any chance of the “scheme” failing, starts to get quite expensive.

Maybe your number is higher than mine – maybe you think someone has $10,000 to spend on fooling you for a few days. But there still should be a limit to how complicated a scheme must be before it is unreasonably complicated and unlikely to be possible or valid because it just cost too damn much to pull off.

A note

What if you wrote yourself a note and hid it in a drawer?  Do you think that you could come back the following morning and expect that no one had tampered with it?

What if you wrote the note in code?  A simple substitution cipher is all it takes to make a slightly higher barrier to tampering.  Do you think you could trust the note to not be tampered with now?

From existing research we know that there is a limited number of people who can be involved in a conspiracy before it becomes unwieldy to keep a secret.

Simply put if you have too many people involved in the conspiracy it becomes impossible to keep a secret as time goes on.

The research (if you agree with their models and I am not so sure that I do) seems to suggest a much higher number of participants than I would have guessed, still.  Interesting to know.

Mostly I am curious of what test you might use or generate to evaluate if you are paranoid.  Knowing of course that no test is perfect and your faulty hardware could be getting in the way of you actually noticing a scheme afoot, or being able to tell if you are paranoid.

Cross posted to lesswrong:

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Emotional labour

A brief breakdown:

  • event: I broke your vase.
  • event: I bought you a gift but then left it at home
  • event: I want to go to a (privately valuable event) on our (relationship important day)


  1. I wanted to save you the effort of thinking about the thing and so I decided not to tell/ask you before it was resolved.
  2. I wanted to not have to withhold a thing from you so I told you as soon as it was bothering me so that I didn’t have to lie/cheat/withhold/deceive you even if I thought it was in your best interest

what is a better plan of action?

1 would be doing emotional labour in the form of:

I thought about the event and how you would feel about it and modelled how I thought you would feel and then acted according to what I thought was best for you feeling better.

2 would be to put an emotional burden on the other person but carries with it more honesty, more expectation that the other person is autonomous and able to make choices for themselves.

I didn’t want to withhold anything, but instead burdened you with making the choice about what to do about the matter by telling you about my conundrum.

I used to do 1, but now I do 2. The relationship books tend to suggest 2. All of the things my brain ever conjured up used to tell me 1.  Brain: Make the martyr choice for people.  Don’t tell them, suffer in secret.

I made a lot of relationship mistakes doing 1’s in various situations and now I do 2s.  I don’t know why this works but it lines up with everything I ever read – NVC, Daring greatly, Gottman institute research.

I don’t have much to add other than – I wonder if you do 1’s or 2’s.  I would prefer people do 2’s not 1’s around me.

(A little more on emotional labour)

Cross posted to lesswrong:

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Repairing Anxiety using Internal and External locus of control models

I want you to examine your map.  It’s the representation you carry around in your head that says, “I am in control of most things” or it says, “most things are out of my control”.  Or for very specific things it says, “I am in control” or “I am not in control”.

Factually – In the territory – through life things are more and less in your control or shaped by events beyond your control in the external world.

Independent of your locus of control, can be noted the way you feel about a problem alongside whether it is internal of external locus of control.   As a separation of cause and effect.  (Of concrete event and their surrounding judgements, evaluations, conclusions or extrapolations)

This might already seem obvious but let’s make some examples to play with.  Here are some times that you might feel in control or out of control.

  1. Internal-Good: I am the lead on the project so everything is going to get done my way (the right way).
  2. Internal-Bad: My house is a mess and it’s my fault.  It won’t get tidy unless I do something about it and it’s bothering me.
  3. External-Good: I outsourced my tax to an accountant.  Now I have less to worry about.
  4. External-Bad: I got the flu, how does this keep happening to me?!?

In these examples it’s clear what’s going on (the concrete) and it’s supposed to be clear whether it’s an internal or external locus of control, and the feeling is mentioned.

Now lets play with them.  Can we shift the concrete experiences to a different locus of control? from the original first example we can shift the event to the 4 quadrants above

  1. Internal-good: I am the lead on the project so everything is going to get done my way (the right way).
  2. Internal-bad: I am the lead on the project.  It’s all on me. What if I make a mistake, it will be all my fault.  I don’t know if I can handle it.
  3. External-good: I am the lead on the project, I have so much responsibility at work, they must know I can handle it.  
  4. External-bad: I am the lead on the project. I am under so much pressure at work.  It’s stressing me out!

But that’s not the only example that can shift.

  1. Internal-good: My house is a mess, it’s my fault but I don’t care.  I am having way too much fun to bother with it.  I will deal with it when it bothers me enough or when I find time
  2. Internal-bad: My house is a mess and it’s my fault.  It won’t get tidy unless I do something about it and it’s bothering me.
  3. External-good: My house is a mess and it’s my fault, lucky for me no one cares!  I can get away with it because it doesn’t matter.  
  4. External-bad: My house is a mess and it’s my fault, what if anyone sees, I can’t have friends over, what would they think of me?  I have too much to do, life never gives me enough time to hold myself together

As we try each example…

  1. Internal-good: I outsourced my tax to an accountant.  I am a powerful agent that can decide to not do tasks if I don’t want to.  I know my strengths and this is not one of them.
  2. Internal-bad: I outsourced my tax to an accountant.  I am incompetent about finance, it’s my fault I have to pay someone to do this for me.
  3. External-good: I outsourced my tax to an accountant.  Now I have less to worry about.
  4. External-bad: I outsourced my tax to an accountant. My tax was too hard, I had no choice but to pay someone to fix it for me
  1. Internal-good: I got the flu.  I had to take care of my sick friends, I knew there was a risk but you gotta live.
  2. Internal-Bad: I got the flu. I hate public transport, so many sick people I always get sick.  I can’t help it.
  3. External-good: I got the flu. these things happen.  Better take it easy or I will be sick for longer.
  4. External-bad: I got the flu, how does this keep happening to me?!?

Curious isn’t it.  Any concrete experience can be shifted to a good/bad feeling, and any locus of control can be shifted to a internal/external locus of control as well.

As a person who has an ego that barely fits in the room, it means that I am very practised at living in that first row of the square.  That means I am looking for a method that either obtains power/control for myself or bestows responsibility to the external locus of control.

If you carry anxieties around with you, chances are they have some perspective that can be changed by hanging around in the other part of the square.  Obviously this is not yet a method for getting you into the first row of the square but moving in that direction is the strategy below.


The only method I want to mention in this article is to switch locus of control.  So if you are in Internal-bad try switch to external and see what comes up.  That is; move diagonally in the table.

Going from;

Internal-bad: My house is a mess and it’s my fault.  It won’t get tidy unless I do something about it and it’s bothering me.


External-good: My house is a mess and it’s my fault, lucky for me no one else cares!  I can get away with it because it doesn’t matter to anyone else and no one can see.

While avoiding:

External-bad: My house is a mess and it’s my fault, what if anyone sees, I can’t have friends over, what would they think of me?  I have too much to do, life never gives me enough time to hold myself together

How exactly? Try:

  1. Write down the problem in concrete form.  Or get clear on what the problem is somehow.  You can talk to a friend or just think about it so long as you lock down what the problem is.  The benefit of writing it down is that once written it’s not going to squirm in your head and be the elusive spiralling colour changing problem monster.
  2. Decide which locus of control you are currently in. (or just pick one.  It can’t both be “my fault” and “not my problem” at the same time” so start somewhere and switch.)
  3. Try think of ways in which the problem is in the other locus of control.  (“Not my problem” or “I can take charge of this problem”)
  4. If 3 seems impossible – ask other people for help.  They will be able to see your situation differently and suggest ways of looking that are in the other locus of control.

It would be very hard for a problem to be both entirely your fault (caused by you) and the world hating you (caused by external forces) at the same time.  It’s also remarkably hard to be in control of a problem and have it be not your problem.  What I am saying is that it would have to either be your problem or not your problem.  It would be hard to be both.

Meta: changing your internal models of locus of control is an internal locus of control method.  Unless you propose, “this is the way I am I can’t change it” which would be an external locus of control explanation.

I don’t know how to build on this so it will have to come in another post.  having this out there will help to make it easier to build on later.

Meta: this took around 2.5 hours to put together.

Cross posted to lesswrong:

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models of cuteness and human face attractiveness

I found out that I don’t measure any cuteness in my head.  That is to say I have never seen a baby thing and had a feeling inside me to coo at it.  Nor have I ever seen something cute and fluffy and wanted to cuddle it because it was cute and fluffy.

Now I can look at these two pictures and see one is “cute” and the other is a tree.


It’s not rocket science to be able to work out what other people find cute and then just build a rule like,

Baby things fit into the category of cute.  Caricatures and small versions of bigger things can sometimes be cute.

And voila – cuteness camouflage.  Trouble is that nothing actually seems cute to me.  No small humans, no small animals, no insects, no creatures or pictures at all.  Nothing.

Also I guess I am really good at pretending I am normal because I am so good that I didn’t even realise!  This isn’t the first time I have pointed out and shared fundamentally different human experiences.

Not thrilled by a lack of cuteness in the world?

If my ability to enjoy looking at baby animals is wrong, I don’t want to be right. – Erratio

Yeah I guess I don’t blame you.

how do you even make sense of half the internet if you don’t perceive cuteness? Tumblr must be a strange alien place. – Mindspillage

Don’t go to Japan the land of cuteness. – Tim

I always figured that Japan had this “Japan-ness” to it.  And yes the internet never really made sense in that way.

If this is not a big deal for you I noticed another example a few weeks ago.

One can survive in this world without cuteness.  One can also survive in this world without a register of attractiveness of human faces.  But it’s a bit harder to not notice.

I looked at a few lists of the Most attractive faces.  It’s great, the internet means there are tons of them!  So I looked down the list and realised that I have no idea what the difference between these faces are, and none of them are attractive to me.  They are just faces.  One after the other.  Human faces.

Lisa Haydon Gal Godot

Apparently the normal human experience is to find these faces attractive or appealing or somehow positive in some way.  All I get is a bit of symmetry and the occasional feature that stands out more than other features.

All the world is signalling but the signals of more or less attractive faces?  I got nothing.

One day in the future when captachas need to be better than “spell this gibberish word” and they ask, “which of these faces is attractive” or “select the cute picture” I will be locked out of the internet and shunned for being a robot in meaty flesh.  Until that day I need to keep preparing and building my models.

Meta: This took about 30mins to write.  There are probably other human experiences I am missing that I will add to the list.

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