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Writing Tips

I wrote some incomplete tips on writing well and making the writing more suitable for receiving criticism.

  1. Clarity – people need to understand what your idea is to criticize it. And avoid hedges and try to boldly stick your neck out. People often make their ideas fuzzier with a bunch of maybes which makes it less clear and harder to criticize.

  2. Permalinks – if people can’t find your writing, or can’t link to it on their own site, that really discourages responses.

  3. Organizing the writing – use named sections, bullet points, summaries, bold and italics, and links and footnotes to more details. And make different sections more self-contained and independent (like loose coupling in programming. so that e.g. someone can skim ahead, and still understand that section. Lots of writing assumes you read everything and read it in order, and most of the stuff that breaks if you don’t follow that reading pattern is unnecessary.

  4. Easy to read – simple sentence and paragraph structure, less punctuation, simple words, short sentences, short paragraphs. Avoid back-references (including limiting pronoun use. and out-of-order content. The easier to skim or read at high speeds with speed reading software or techniques, the better for all readers. Don’t use a thesaurus. Do keep repeating the same word over and over every time you want to refer to the same concept.

  5. Most blog comments and forums are moderated. I would provide a lot more feedback and criticism outside my own forums if it would actually show up. Lots of sites simply don’t approve critical comments, or don’t approve comments on old posts, or stop getting new content and don’t bother to approve any comments. Lots of sites also disable comments on old posts. Sites which are different need to clearly communicate this. But you can read the comment policy pages on tons of sites and find stuff like this which I ran into a couple days ago:

http://slatestarcodex.com/comments/

Among other problems, if you write the phrase “fake news” or “gamergate” your comment is automatically deleted. And GregQ got banned for debating gender bias in the tech industry (no reason for the ban was stated, but that was what he did).

So many sites just silently prevent posting that I often don’t even try.

  1. Be responsive to questions. Critics often need to ask for some clarifications and sources before they can explain their criticism to you. If you don’t respond to the initial phases of discussion before the critic provides significant value, that often prevents getting to the later phases where they could provide more value.

  2. Be clear about when you change your mind/position. State it and say why. And be clear about what you did and didn’t change your mind about. People often partially change their mind in discussions, without giving credit or thanks, and without being clear about what they are and aren’t changing about their position. If you decide you made a mistake, directly acknowledge it instead of trying to divert attention elsewhere.

  3. Explain stuff and talk about arguments and reasoning, rather than asserting stuff or appealing to authority.

  4. Try to write material that is reusable in the future. E.g. make it more canonical, more high quality so that it’s worth remembering and re-using, more focused on key issues instead of the quirks of a particular discussion, etc

  5. Put your ideas in writing. If you have a video or audio recording instead, and you think it’s important and serious and you want criticism, then provide a transcript. Writing has many advantages including being better for critics to quote.

  6. write and think in an objective, neutral way, not a biased-for-your-conclusion way.

  7. say things you would accept as a refutation of your idea, current unsolved problems, sources of potential error, etc

  8. write impersonally about ideas instead of people, especially people you're in a discussion with. talk about "the idea that..." instead of "your idea" or "John's idea". avoid "you".


a good thing to keep in mind for lots of writing is to clearly say:

  1. what problem you’re addressing

  2. for longer pieces, discuss previous attempts to solve the problem and what’s wrong with them

  3. what your idea is and specifically how it solves the problem


Elliot Temple on August 23, 2017

Messages (23)

http://curi.us/1906-elliots-thoughts-on-pricing#18399 I recognize that I couldn’t write something that like that. I’d like to be able to.


Alisa at 6:11 PM on October 22, 2020 | #18403 | reply | quote

#18403 Why do you want to? Where do you think you fall short now? Any ideas about bottlenecks or impasses re doing it?

And (from memory) didn't you say something recently about not knowing your goals? Isn't this a goal?

Would you like to be able to a lot or just a little? How does it compare to other things you'd like? Is it a notably high priority compared to most stuff or not?


curi at 6:24 PM on October 22, 2020 | #18405 | reply | quote

#18405

curi wrote:

> Why do you want to?

It'd be useful when communicating with people to be able to explain my thoughts so clearly. It'd also be a sign that I was able to think that clearly. Not that the sign itself is important, but being able to think that clearly would be great. I guess thinking clearly makes it easier to write clearly.

> Where do you think you fall short now?

I think I fall short in thinking. It's not like I have great, clear ideas that I just can't put into words. Though sometimes I don't know what to say even on a topic that I think I understand relatively well. But usually if I understand something *ultra-well* I can find something to say about it.

Maybe some examples would be helpful here. I could certainly write a paragraph about, say, cats. Or doors. I bet it wouldn't have a huge amount of false statements, but I would expect it to have issues around organization and making everything flow logically.

On the other hand, it would be really challenging for me to explain, say, what's wrong with ideas having amounts of strength. I guess that's more of an issue with my understanding though than with my writing.

Maybe it would make sense to focus on topics that I think I understand well and yet which I still struggle with writing about.

> Any ideas about bottlenecks or impasses re doing it?

I don't know how useful the idea of a bottleneck is unless its applied to your high-level goal. Otherwise, I think you're basically optimizing a sub-system.

If I suppose for a moment that improving my writing is my high-level life goal, then the concept of a bottleneck there makes sense to me. However, I'm still not clear what my bottleneck there would be. Maybe the amount I write? That's assuming, among other things, that the amount and kind of feedback I get is adequate. I think the bottleneck isn't in the feedback that's AVAILABLE to me if I ask for it and take reasonable steps to get it.

Regarding impasses... I don't use that word much outside of the specialized use of *things that block a conversation from making progress*.

Webster's 1913 says:

> An impassable road or way; a blind alley; cul-de-sac; fig., a position or predicament affording no escape.

Maybe an impasse here is something that blocks me from making headway on being a better writer. I don't think there are any inherent things limiting me from being a better writer. It's a goal I should be able to accomplish with the resources available to me.

curi continues:

> And (from memory) didn't you say something recently about not knowing your goals?

I thought I explained earlier about how I thought you were asking about high-level goals, since you mentioned bottlenecks. I thought I explained about how I thought bottlenecks only made sense with regard to high-level goals. And I don't know my high-level goal or goals.

I stated that I had various low-level goals and listed some (e.g., "having enough free time").

> Isn't this a goal?

Yes, this is a goal: a low-level goal.

> Would you like to be able to a lot or just a little? How does it compare to other things you'd like? Is it a notably high priority compared to most stuff or not?

I think these three questions can be answered together.

I don't exactly have a burning desire to be a better writer as such. If the knowledge could be downloaded into my brain, Matrix-style, I'd take it, and pay for it, if there were no downside. But in terms of it being a high-priority goal, no.

There are a lot of things that I already have in my life that I want to maintain at at least the same level. For instance, my standard of living. Or my level of health. Those are low-level goals of sorts. They're non-constraints that could become constraints if I'm not careful. I have some spare capacity on each of them but maybe not as much as I should have. It takes conscious attention to maintain them. Maintaining those things is much more important to me currently than being a better writer.

Digging deeper than being a writer, if we get to being a better *thinker*, then that gets more important. It's probably one of my most important non-maintenance goals, judging purely by the amount of time and energy I give it. Maybe a better term for *non-maintenance goals* is *improvement goals*.


Alisa at 7:51 PM on October 23, 2020 | #18454 | reply | quote

Here's a screencast of me writing #18454: https://asciinema.org/a/367396. You can watch it online at that URL (with no speed controls, unfortunately) or from the command line, at, e.g., 10x speed, with this: asciinema play -s 10 https://asciinema.org/a/367396


Alisa at 7:56 PM on October 23, 2020 | #18455 | reply | quote

#18454 #18455

I made these comments while watching screencast. Some of the quotes are not in your final post b/c of this.

<after first few lines>

Was there any brainstorming? Didn't look like it at this point, but not sure if you did stuff or thought about it before hand. Your post seems decently long. Brainstorming might help you communicate/explain better. It's not always necessary ofc, just a thought.

> Not that the sign is important, but being able to think that clearly would be great.

being able to write clearly also helps thinking. it's practicing turning knowledge into particularly explicit knowledge (in words) and doing that better/faster/etc.

> It's not like I have...

Do you pressure yourself to have great ideas? I don't think that's the mark of a great thinking. a bad thinker thinks they have great ideas. writing is more objective though. it's hard for a bad thinker to write down those great ideas.

Aside thought: I should be more sceptical of my "good ideas" if I haven't written them down. like I know that anyway, but I'm experiencing more self-doubt about my past confidence than I've had before.

> cats. Or doors.

I think this helped me a bit during early tutoring sessions.

here's my post from that tutorial: https://xertrov.github.io/fi/notes/2020-08-12/ -- there are lots of uncompleted example things to write about if you like.

> Issues about organization and making everything flow logically

I think the above examples helped me with this

> I don't know how useful the idea of a bottleneck is unless its applied

> to your high-level goal.

do you think getting better at writing is a high level goal? What about learning grammar? Or comma placement?

if you have a plan to reach a higher level goal then you have intermediate goals and plans to reach those. if the intermediate goals are just linear (do X, then Y, then Z) then the first one is the bottleneck. if you have parallel goals (do X, and Y, and Z) then the one that's most expensive / hard / error prone is probably the bottleneck. If these goals aren't granular enough then you can break each of them down again. if you do this enough then you'll always end up with some graph-like map of how your goals interact and what order things need to be in and then you can find the bottleneck. If you don't know how to break down a particular goal then not being able to break it down is the bottleneck (unless there's like another, better candidate, but in that case you have plenty of stuff to work on anyway).

> Otherwise I think you're basically optimizing a sub-system.

Yes, but optimising the bottleneck subsystem is different to optimising non-bottleneck subsystems.

> If I suppose for a moment that improving my writing is my high-level life goal, then the concept of a bottleneck there makes sense to me. Not sure off the top of my head what my bottleneck would be there.

Maybe these examples will help:

- If you don't know grammar then you might not be able to construct clear and readable sentences - potential bottleneck

- If you don't have good organisation/planning/brainstorming skills then what you write might be unclear and jump around the place -- potential bottleneck

- If you have a small vocabulary you might not be able to describe ideas well enough -- potential bottleneck

- If you spend lots of time researching you might not know enough about the subject -- potential bottleneck (note: this is more of a contextual bottleneck but can be a bottleneck nonetheless)

- If you spend too much time editing as you go you might take too long to write anything substantial -- potential bottleneck

> Maybe the amount I write?

If you mean 'the amount [you] write' as ~practice: the amount you write won't be the bottleneck as such b/c that's practice and practice is part of the bottleneck solving process. Like practice will be involved in solving any of the bottlenecks above.

That said, the *amount* of practice might be a bottleneck in *how fast* you improve. ineffective practice could also be a bottleneck in that case.

> That's assuming that the amount and kind of feedback I get is adequate.

Direct feedback can be helpful and speed things along but there are lots of things you can do without it.

Eg. Re-read things you wrote some time ago (yesterday, 1 week, 6 months, w/e) and try to criticise them. List all the errors/mistakes/etc you think were there. Look for patterns in your errors and focus on improving those. If they go away but the writing isn't getting better -- choose something else to focus on; that wasn't the bottleneck. Admittedly this has a slow cycle time b/c you have to wait a bit before proof-reading/criticizing but it's possible.

Even if you do get direct feedback, that sort of things is good to do anyway b/c feedback is never complete, and you still need to judge the feedback for yourself anyway (it's not a free lunch, just like a bit discounted).

> Though if I don't take advantage of the feedback that's available to me, maybe that could be the bottleneck

Yeah, ignoring feedback and criticism can be a bottleneck. Or ineffectively using it.

> I thought I explained earlier about how I thought you were asking about high-levv

el goals, since you mentioned bottlenecks.

> I stated that I had various low-level goals and listed some.

This writing style reminds me of https://curi.us/2204-alisa-discussion#18393

> Yes, this is a goal. A low-level goal.

If it's a low-level goal, what's the higher level goal it's serving?

I started the tutoring max series with the goal of improving my writing.

> But in terms of it being a core life goal, no.

What are your core life goals? While I don't see "write better" as like a *primitive* life goal (like 'have children' or 'eat well and keep a supply of food') I think it makes a good core life goal. Here, for me, "core life goal" means like something one thinks a necessary part of leading a good (moral) life. Not sure if that lines up roughly with what you have in mind.

> For instance, my standard of living. Or my level of health. Those are low-level goals of sorts.

For the sake of clarity: I'd call these background goals. They're goals present in every IGC you consider doing/believing.

> Digging deeper than being a writer, if we get to being a better *thinker*, then that gets more important.

If someone is a great thinker but can't tell anyone their thoughts -- were they really a great thinker? (Presuming the other ppl aren't the issue)

Do you think high-quality writing only comes after high-quality thinking? I think the interaction between them is much more dynamic. Granted there's a lot of flexibility, but eventually being a poor writing will limit the quality of your thoughts right?

> On the other hand, it would be really challenging for me to explain, say, what's wrong with ideas having amounts of strength. I guess that's more of an issue with my understanding though than with my writing.

If you feel like words aren't coming to explain it, even to start with, that sounds about right.

--- while linking http://curi.us/comments/show/18268 ---

I notice via comments RSS feed that http://curi.us/comments/show/18427 goes to /2387#2 -- looking at that comment I notice the "quote" link still has the global comment ID in it: https://curi.us/2387-igcs?quote=18427#post-comment

> And I don't know my high-level goal or goals.

That sounds like it might be an issue.


Max at 8:52 PM on October 23, 2020 | #18456 | reply | quote

#18454

> low-level goal

low level of what?


Anonymous at 2:53 PM on October 25, 2020 | #18499 | reply | quote

#18499 I guess I don't know yet.


Alisa at 8:34 PM on November 12, 2020 | #18620 | reply | quote

#18620 If you don't know on what scale a goal is low level, why believe or claim it's low level?


Anonymous at 9:04 PM on November 12, 2020 | #18621 | reply | quote

In #18456, Max wrote:

> Was there any brainstorming?

No.

> Didn't look like it at this point, but not sure if you did stuff or thought about it before hand. Your post seems decently long. Brainstorming might help you communicate/explain better. It's not always necessary ofc, just a thought.

Yeah. I've started practicing freewriting, which I think is a kind of brainstorming. I think it does help a bit.

Max continues, quoting me:

>> Not that the sign is important, but being able to think that clearly would be great.

>

> being able to write clearly also helps thinking. it's practicing turning knowledge into particularly explicit knowledge (in words) and doing that better/faster/etc.

I don't know that *being* able to write clearly helps thinking. But I think that *learning* to write more clearly would help me become a better thinker, which is maybe your point. Writing is a kind of thinking in which you express your thoughts explicitly. I hadn't considered that.

>> It's not like I have...

>

> Do you pressure yourself to have great ideas?

Not at all.

>> cats. Or doors.

>

> I think this helped me a bit during early tutoring sessions.

>

> here's my post from that tutorial: https://xertrov.github.io/fi/notes/2020-08-12/ -- there are lots of uncompleted example things to write about if you like.

Thanks. I skimmed a few of those topics.

>

>> Issues about organization and making everything flow logically

>

> I think the above examples helped me with this

Writing about simple stuff helped you get better at organization and logical flow? Makes sense.

>> I don't know how useful the idea of a bottleneck is unless its applied to your high-level goal.

>

> do you think getting better at writing is a high level goal? What about learning grammar? Or comma placement?

No, I don't think any of those are high level goals. By high-level goal I mean the overall goal for myself as a system, like how Jonah says, in *The Goal*, that the goal of a company is to make money. Maybe a better word for it is *life goal*.

> if you have a plan to reach a higher level goal then you have intermediate goals and plans to reach those. if the intermediate goals are just linear (do X, then Y, then Z) then the first one is the bottleneck. if you have parallel goals (do X, and Y, and Z) then the one that's most expensive / hard / error prone is probably the bottleneck. If these goals aren't granular enough then you can break each of them down again. if you do this enough then you'll always end up with some graph-like map of how your goals interact and what order things need to be in and then you can find the bottleneck. If you don't know how to break down a particular goal then not being able to break it down is the bottleneck (unless there's like another, better candidate, but in that case you have plenty of stuff to work on anyway).

Yeah. That's good if you're going from high-level goals to low-level goals. It seems to me like my problem is not knowing my ultimate high-level goal(s).

Before I wrote the post you're responding to, I wrote this:

> I think goals, whether high-level or not, are directly related to the reasons you would give when asked why you did something. For example, if you reply that you did something "because it's fair", that implies that being fair is one of your goals. Someone could take your answers and ask "why" again. If this continues, the result seems to me somewhat like a hierarchy of goals.

Max continues, quoting me:

>> Otherwise I think you're basically optimizing a sub-system.

>

> Yes, but optimising the bottleneck subsystem is different to optimising non-bottleneck subsystems.

I agree with that as far as it goes, but I don't see how it's relevant to my problem, because in my case, I don't know if a subsystem is a bottleneck subsystem or not.

>> If I suppose for a moment that improving my writing is my high-level life goal, then the concept of a bottleneck there makes sense to me. Not sure off the top of my head what my bottleneck would be there.

>

> Maybe these examples will help:

>

> - If you don't know grammar then you might not be able to construct clear and readable sentences - potential bottleneck

>

> - If you don't have good organisation/planning/brainstorming skills then what you write might be unclear and jump around the place -- potential bottleneck

>

> - If you have a small vocabulary you might not be able to describe ideas well enough -- potential bottleneck

>

> - If you spend lots of time researching you might not know enough about the subject -- potential bottleneck (note: this is more of a contextual bottleneck but can be a bottleneck nonetheless)

>

> - If you spend too much time editing as you go you might take too long to write anything substantial -- potential bottleneck

I agree those would be potential bottlenecks if my high-level goal were to improve my writing. If I wanted to look for bottlenecks there, I could:

- measure how much time I spend on different phases of the writing process

- look for other problems in my writing process, like the examples you gave that have to do with grammar, vocabulary, and organization

- brainstorm more potential bottlenecks and see if any of them strike me (or anyone else) as being my bottleneck

>> Maybe the amount I write?

>

> If you mean 'the amount [you] write' as ~practice: the amount you write won't be the bottleneck as such b/c that's practice and practice is part of the bottleneck solving process. Like practice will be involved in solving any of the bottlenecks above.

>

> That said, the *amount* of practice might be a bottleneck in *how fast* you improve. ineffective practice could also be a bottleneck in that case.

I see. You're distinguishing between *bottlenecks in the writing improvement process* and *bottlenecks in the writing process itself*. Makes sense.

>> That's assuming that the amount and kind of feedback I get is adequate.

>

> Direct feedback can be helpful and speed things along but there are lots of things you can do without it.

>

> Eg. Re-read things you wrote some time ago (yesterday, 1 week, 6 months, w/e) and try to criticise them. List all the errors/mistakes/etc you think were there. Look for patterns in your errors and focus on improving those. If they go away but the writing isn't getting better -- choose something else to focus on; that wasn't the bottleneck. Admittedly this has a slow cycle time b/c you have to wait a bit before proof-reading/criticizing but it's possible.

>

> Even if you do get direct feedback, that sort of things is good to do anyway b/c feedback is never complete, and you still need to judge the feedback for yourself anyway (it's not a free lunch, just like a bit discounted).

Those are all good suggestions.

>> Though if I don't take advantage of the feedback that's available to me, maybe that could be the bottleneck

>

> Yeah, ignoring feedback and criticism can be a bottleneck. Or ineffectively using it.

>

>> I thought I explained earlier about how I thought you were asking about high-level goals, since you mentioned bottlenecks.

>

>> I stated that I had various low-level goals and listed some.

>

> This writing style reminds me of https://curi.us/2204-alisa-discussion#18393

Yeah. It's not the way I usually talk.

>> Yes, this is a goal. A low-level goal.

>

> If it's a low-level goal, what's the higher level goal it's serving?

Assuming "this" = "writing better", then I don't know. I wrote a comment in which I tried to figure out the high-level goals that are the reasons for my low-level goals, and I didn't get very far with it.

>> But in terms of it being a core life goal, no.

>

> What are your core life goals? While I don't see "write better" as like a *primitive* life goal (like 'have children' or 'eat well and keep a supply of food') I think it makes a good core life goal. Here, for me, "core life goal" means like something one thinks a necessary part of leading a good (moral) life. Not sure if that lines up roughly with what you have in mind.

Necessary things are good, but they're not what I have in mind. If you've read *The Goal* by Eliyahu Goldratt, then the goal that he gives for the factory is the kind of thing I'm looking for for myself. I gave some other examples of what I had in mind here: http://curi.us/2204-alisa-discussion#18268

>> For instance, my standard of living. Or my level of health. Those are low-level goals of sorts.

>

> For the sake of clarity: I'd call these background goals. They're goals present in every IGC you consider doing/believing.

"Background goals" is an OK term. I've also called them "maintenance goals". Maintenance goals just have to be kept at a good-enough level. Improvement goals are things that I want to improve, not just keep at a good-enough level.

>> Digging deeper than being a writer, if we get to being a better *thinker*, then that gets more important.

>

> If someone is a great thinker but can't tell anyone their thoughts -- were they really a great thinker? (Presuming the other ppl aren't the issue)

No.

> Do you think high-quality writing only comes after high-quality thinking?

Yes. I certainly don't think the reverse (that high-quality thinking comes only after high-quality writing). I think of writing as mainly a reflection, and maybe a sharpening, of thinking you've already done.

> I think the interaction between them is much more dynamic. Granted there's a lot of flexibility, but eventually being a poor writing will limit the quality of your thoughts right?

Aside from technical grammar issues, I think that one's expository writing is generally on a par with one's thinking skill. That is, I don't think you can be a great thinker but a poor writer or a poor thinker but a great writer.

>> On the other hand, it would be really challenging for me to explain, say, what's wrong with ideas having amounts of strength. I guess that's more of an issue with my understanding though than with my writing.

>

> If you feel like words aren't coming to explain it, even to start with, that sounds about right.

Yeah.

>> And I don't know my high-level goal or goals.

>

> That sounds like it might be an issue.

Yeah. I think figuring out my high-level goal(s) is one of my *main issues*. I added a section about it to my learning plan.


Alisa at 9:25 PM on November 12, 2020 | #18622 | reply | quote

#18621 Because if you asked me what it's for, I sense that there is a reason, I just don't know what it is. Also, it's not a goal that I want to organize my life around, like doing something great. In those senses it's low-level.


Alisa at 9:28 PM on November 12, 2020 | #18623 | reply | quote

#18622 The way you use terms like 'high-level goals' makes those goals a bit difficult to talk about b/c whether a goal is high- or low-level is personal to you. high/low is a property of context, not of the goal. Maybe just having 'goals' and either 'sub-goals' or 'intermediate goals' would be clearer.


Max at 1:00 AM on November 13, 2020 | #18624 | reply | quote

#18624 I could use "life goals" instead of "high-level goals" if that would help. I think the two terms mean about the same thing, the way I'm using them.


Alisa at 5:41 PM on November 13, 2020 | #18646 | reply | quote

#18646 I wonder if my first life goal should be to figure out my life goal? Once I know what my life goal is, I can switch over to working towards it.


Alisa at 6:42 PM on November 13, 2020 | #18648 | reply | quote

> #18624 I could use "life goals" instead of "high-level goals" if that would help. I think the two terms mean about the same thing, the way I'm using them.

If you mean "life goal" when you say "high-level goal" then I think you should definitely switch terminology.

If you haven't seen this: in tutoring max 52 @ 54min there's some really good stuff on life goals and which are suitable and which are not.


Max at 4:08 PM on November 14, 2020 | #18658 | reply | quote

I think I should have goals that are like the “life goals” you’re talking about. But I am not conscious of any that I have.

Instead I have what I consider to be intermediate goals: getting better at reading, writing, thinking, learning, and solving problems. I realize that “getting better” is vague. I don’t know how much better I want to get or how to tell when I’ve gotten there. Maybe I’ll always want to improve at those skills.

I expect that eventually, I’ll find some life goals, and that the skills I’m currently working on will be useful in achieving my life goals.


Anne B at 1:59 PM on November 15, 2020 | #18674 | reply | quote

#18658 Thanks for the pointer. I watched the tutoring max video you linked through around 1:36:00, which I think is most of the life goals discussion. I also read your draft on Why I live.


Alisa at 6:57 PM on November 15, 2020 | #18681 | reply | quote

#18681 Cool, I hope it helped.

FYI I had some reflections on "Why I Live", Nov 1st: https://curi.us/2380#18556 and (less related) Nov 15th: https://curi.us/2380#18683. There's also some discussion with Anne over a few comments.


Max at 7:46 PM on November 15, 2020 | #18685 | reply | quote

#18685 Thanks, I've now read those two as well. I think we are approaching the topic of life goals differently. IIUC, you're considering different life goals to aim for, and you're also considering what *kinds* of goals to aim for. I don't think I know enough to do either of those things.

I think my current life goal is to learn enough to be able to figure out what my actual life goal is. I have to somehow power up to get to that point. One way to power up is to work through the recommended FI reading list. Another could be to try to get better at speedrunning. I really don't know what to focus on next. And I wouldn't know how to judge for myself whether I'd made a good choice in what to focus on next. So again, I have to power up (or ask for some help).


Alisa at 4:33 PM on November 20, 2020 | #18763 | reply | quote

#18763 yw

> what *kinds* of goals to aim for

I'm not sure I understand what you mean by this. Can you give two examples of goals that are different kinds?

> I have to somehow power up to get to that point.

I think powering up is good and will help, but I don't think it's necessary for you to get an idea of a (big?) life goal. The first time I remember thinking about wanting to do democracy stuff was in grade 4 (I was 9 I think). I didn't focus on that thru most of my life, but it's something I always cared about in some way. Mb I was only able to do that *because* I was 9 -- I got in a lot of trouble that yr too b/c I thought the teacher was bad/awful to me (so I 'acted out').

> Another could be to try to get better at speedrunning.

Lots of ppl who are good at speedrunning think they have crummy life goals and they haven't powered up much. Some ppl get in to speedrunning *because* they feel like they have a crummy life and they withdraw from stuff.

So getting better at speedrunning isn't enough; why do you want to do that? what end does that path serve?

> And I wouldn't know how to judge for myself whether I'd made a good choice in what to focus on next.

That doesn't need to happen first. I focused a lot on Flux and IBDD over the past 5 years. If I didn't do that I wouldn't have been told about FI, and wouldn't be here. Even if I change my mind about ~everything related to Flux it was still worth it for me to focus on that b/c I'm here, now.


Max at 11:13 PM on November 21, 2020 | #18792 | reply | quote

#18792 I wrote:

>> what *kinds* of goals to aim for

Max replied:

> I'm not sure I understand what you mean by this. Can you give two examples of goals that are different kinds?

I said it wrong. It's not that you're considering different *kinds* of goals to aim for, but you're considering different *things which would be relevant in judging a life goal*, such as:

- cosmic significance

- "impact on humanity's future"

- "the manner and magnitude of that impact"

- "the volume, quality, and proximity of important milestones in the future of humanity"

- "a future with *more people* leading lives of *higher quality* (both std of living and std of ideas) and *achieving* important philosophical and technological *progress sooner*"

- "epistemic burdens"

- greatness ("What good purpose could there be in avoiding greatness?")

- mediocrity

- whether to worry about failure

- epistemic idea-cones

I think those topics are too advanced for me, in the sense that I think it'd be hard for me to judge for myself whether I was making known mistakes when talking about them.

I wrote:

>> I have to somehow power up to get to that point.

Max replied:

> I think powering up is good and will help, but I don't think it's necessary for you to get an idea of a (big?) life goal. The first time I remember thinking about wanting to do democracy stuff was in grade 4 (I was 9 I think). I didn't focus on that thru most of my life, but it's something I always cared about in some way. Mb I was only able to do that *because* I was 9 -- I got in a lot of trouble that yr too b/c I thought the teacher was bad/awful to me (so I 'acted out').

How can I choose something as important as a life goal unless I can judge for myself that I made a good choice? Good for you for doing it in grade 4, but I don't see how I can replicate that.

I wrote:

>> Another could be to try to get better at speedrunning.

Max replied:

> Lots of ppl who are good at speedrunning think they have crummy life goals and they haven't powered up much. Some ppl get in to speedrunning *because* they feel like they have a crummy life and they withdraw from stuff.

> So getting better at speedrunning isn't enough; why do you want to do that? what end does that path serve?

curi proposed it as a "philosophy side quest":

> People get stuck for years on the philosophy main quest while refusing to do side quests. That is not how you play RPGs. Side quests let you get extra levels, gear and practice which make the main quest easier to make progress on.

> An example of a side quest would be speedrunning a Mario or Zelda game. That would involve some goal-directed activity and problem solving. It’d be practice for becoming skilled at something, optimizing details, and correcting mistakes one is making.

I wrote:

>> And I wouldn't know how to judge for myself whether I'd made a good choice in what to focus on next.

Max replied:

> That doesn't need to happen first. I focused a lot on Flux and IBDD over the past 5 years. If I didn't do that I wouldn't have been told about FI, and wouldn't be here. Even if I change my mind about ~everything related to Flux it was still worth it for me to focus on that b/c I'm here, now.

That doesn't sound right to me. For one thing, It's not clear to me that you didn't waste 5 years of your life compared to other things you could have been doing. And how do you know you wouldn't have been told about FI if you worked on something else instead? Finally, at the time you started work on Flux, you didn't know it would lead to you to FI. So I don't think it's fair to evaluate your choice to work on Flux positively because it led you to FI, when (a) you didn't know it would do that at the time you chose it, and (b) other paths might also have led you to FI.


Alisa at 11:32 AM on November 22, 2020 | #18813 | reply | quote

#18813

>> I think powering up is good and will help, but I don't think it's necessary for you to get an idea of a (big?) life goal. The first time I remember thinking about wanting to do democracy stuff was in grade 4 (I was 9 I think). I didn't focus on that thru most of my life, but it's something I always cared about in some way. Mb I was only able to do that *because* I was 9 -- I got in a lot of trouble that yr too b/c I thought the teacher was bad/awful to me (so I 'acted out').

> How can I choose something as important as a life goal unless I can judge for myself that I made a good choice? Good for you for doing it in grade 4, but I don't see how I can replicate that.

Hmm, I think I see the problem now. The issue is to do with like both the judgment/choice of the goal *and* the issue of which choice to make at all. Does that sound right?

Like in my case being 9, it doesn't matter whether I was right or not, the choice was non-arbitrary and I did judge it myself. What I said isn't very helpful b/c it doesn't help with the first step.

> It's not clear to me that you didn't waste 5 years of your life compared to other things you could have been doing.

That's fair, you shouldn't take my word for it. I mean I only started doing Flux *after* reading BoI. If I hadn't had other things on my mind, maybe I would have clicked the 'discussion' link at the top of the BoI website of my own accord. (and/or read BoI sooner -- I owned it for ~18-24 months before reading it)

> at the time you started work on Flux, you didn't know it would lead to you to FI. So I don't think it's fair to evaluate your choice to work on Flux positively because it led you to FI, when (a) you didn't know it would do that at the time you chose it, and (b) other paths might also have led you to FI.

You're right that I didn't know it would lead me to FI, but I did do it because of BoI and philosophy, and I was public about that (which is how I ended up finding FI). So I don't agree with (a).

That said, I think my paragraph above (starting with "That's fair") is basically what you put for (b), so I think that we agree mostly and I understand you a bit better now.


Max at 12:31 PM on November 22, 2020 | #18816 | reply | quote

#18816 Max wrote:

> The issue is to do with like both the judgment/choice of the goal *and* the issue of which choice to make at all. Does that sound right?

I think I'm confused. I don't understand the distinction you're making.

For one thing, I don't know what "judgment/choice of the goal" means, because, to me, judgment and choice are two different things. Judging has the sense of evaluating something, but it doesn't, to me, include actually making a choice. For example, I might *judge* that I made a good choice, or *judge* that a goal is good. That seems different to me from *choosing*, which I associate with picking one option out of multiple options (except that people sometimes say that something is "the only choice").

Another question I have is: What does "which choice to make at all" mean? What extra meaning does "at all" add there?

The main point I was trying to make is that I don't see how to reliably make a good choice unless I can judge for myself whether the choice is good or not.

Max continued:

> Like in my case being 9, it doesn't matter whether I was right or not, the choice was non-arbitrary and I did judge it myself. What I said isn't very helpful b/c it doesn't help with the first step.

Why doesn't it matter whether you were right or not?


Alisa at 10:14 AM on November 23, 2020 | #18826 | reply | quote

#18826 This is a quick reply; there's more I could say. thought this might help tho.

There are 3 things I mentioned:

* deciding on a goal

* judging that goal

* being right about the decision and judgement

> judgment/choice of the goal

I meant #2, like evaluating options as good/bad things to choose

> judgment and choice are two different things

I can see that, but I think they can also be the same thing. If you have 2 options and you want to choose between them, then if you judge option 1 bad you're choosing 'no' to option 1 and maybe then choosing to take option 2 (you could judge that option 2 is bad also).

> What does "which choice to make at all" mean?

I mean like coming up with option 1 and 2 and any other options in the first place.

like it seems like your problem is twofold:

1. **brainstorming**: what is a list of *possible* goals I could pursue (that I'm interested in, etc)

2. **elimination**: what is my judgement on those goals, which one should I choose?

That's what I was trying to get to.

> Why doesn't it matter whether you were right or not?

Because I came up with the goal and I judged that it was worth doing. Whether I was right or not wasn't part of that process and isn't required for the 1. and 2. above. Obvs you want to make a good judgement / be right, but you can do that after the fact too. It's better to do it as early as possible, though.

> The main point I was trying to make is that I don't see how to reliably make a good choice unless I can judge for myself whether the choice is good or not.

I think I understand this bit.


Max at 4:51 PM on November 23, 2020 | #18830 | reply | quote

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