Ausweitung der Kampfzone

“Ausweitung der Kampfzone” von Michel Houellebecq ist zweifellos ein Buch, das vor Nihilismus und Zynismus nur so trieft. Trotzdem – oder wahrscheinlich gerade deshalb – beschreibt es viele grausame Wahrheiten.

Houellebecq vermag den Geisteszustand apathischer Hoffnungslosigkeit und Anhedonie wie kein Zweiter zu beschreiben:

“Die Schwierigkeit ist, daß es nicht genügt, wenn Sie genau den Regeln entsprechend leben. Es gelingt Ihnen ja (wenn auch oft nur ganz knapp, aber alles in allem schaffen Sie es doch), den Regeln entsprechend zu leben. Ihre Steuererklärung ist in Ordnung. Die Rechnungen werden pünktlich bezahlt. Sie gehen nie ohne Personalausweis aus dem Haus (nicht zu vergessen: das kleine Etui für die Scheckkarte…).

Trotzdem haben Sie keine Freunde.

Die Regeln sind komplex und vielfältig. Außerhalb der Arbeitsstunden sind da die Einkäufe, die Sie wohl oder übel erledigen müssen, die Bargeldautomaten, von denen Sie Geld abheben müssen (und vor denen Sie oft Schlange stehen). Vor allem sind da die verschiedenen Zahlungen, die Sie den Institutionen zukommen lassen müssen, die die verschiedenen Aspekte Ihres Lebens verwalten. Zu allem Überfluß können Sie auch noch krank werden, was zusätzliche Kosten und Formalitäten mit sich bringt. Dennoch bleibt ein Stück Freizeit übrig. Was tun? Wie sie nützen? Vielleicht sich den Mitmenschen widmen? Aber im Grunde interessieren die Mitmenschen Sie kaum. Platten hören? Das war einmal eine Lösung, aber im Lauf der Jahre mußten Sie einsehen, daß Musik Sie von Mal zu Mal weniger berührt.

Basteln, im weitesten Sinne, könnte ein Weg sein. Aber in Wahrheit kann nichts die immer häufigere Wiederkehr jener Augenblicke verhindern, in denen Ihre absolute Einsamkeit, das Gefühl einer universellen Leere und die Ahnung, daß Ihre Existenz auf ein schmerzhaftes und endgültiges Desaster zuläuft, Sie in einen Zustand echten Leidens stürzen.

Trotzdem haben Sie immer noch keine Lust zu sterben.”

Besonders genial ist seine Technik, die Ernsthaftigkeit bedeutungsschwerer, existentieller Themen (“Gefühl einer universellen Leere”, “absolute Einsamkeit”) durch vorrangehende, lakonische formulierte Sätze trivialen Inhalts (“Basteln könnte ein Weg sein”) zu hintertreiben, was den Nihilismus des Romans umso mehr verstärkt.

Houellebecq vergleicht die sexuelle Revolution mit dem Kapitalismus und betont, dass beide negative Konsequenzen hatten:

“Der Sex, sagte ich mir, stellt in unserer Gesellschaft eindeutig ein zweites Differenzierungssystem dar, das vom Geld völlig unabhängig ist; und es funktioniert auf mindestens ebenso erbarmungslose Weise. Auch die Wirkungen dieser beiden Systeme sind genau gleichartig. Wie der Wirtschaftsliberalismus – und aus analogen Gründen – erzeugt der sexuelle Liberalismus Phänomene absoluter Pauperisierung. Manche haben täglich Geschlechtsverkehr; andere fünf oder sechs Mal in ihrem Leben, oder überhaupt nie. Manche treiben es mit hundert Frauen, andere mit keiner. Das nennt man das »Marktgesetz«. In einem Wirtschaftssystem, in dem Entlassungen verboten sind, findet ein jeder recht oder schlecht seinen Platz. In einem sexuellen System, in dem Ehebruch verboten ist, findet jeder recht oder schlecht seinen Bettgenossen. In einem völlig liberalen Wirtschaftssystem häufen einige wenige beträchtliche Reichtümer an; andere verkommen in der Arbeitslosigkeit und im Elend. In einem völlig liberalen Sexualsystem haben einige ein abwechslungsreiches und erregendes Sexualleben; andere sind auf Masturbation und Einsamkeit beschränkt. Der Wirtschaftsliberalismus ist die erweiterte Kampfzone, das heißt, er gilt für alle Altersstufen und Gesellschaftsklassen. Ebenso bedeutet der sexuelle Liberalismus die Ausweitung der Kampfzone, ihre Ausdehnung auf alle Altersstufen und Gesellschaftsklassen.”

Auf die Nachteile des Kapitalismus zu verweisen, ist in den meisten Kreisen kein Problem, ja zeugt von Fortschrittlichkeit und Mitgefühl. Doch sobald man versucht, die Nachteile der sexuellen Revolution zu erwähnen, wird man entweder als lustfeindlicher Puritaner oder als sexueller Versager angesehen. Oder beides. Was ja meist auch zutrifft.

“Ein seltenes, künstliches und spätes Phänomen, blüht die Liebe nur unter besonderen geistigen Voraussetzungen, die selten zusammentreffen und in jeder Hinsicht der Sittenfreiheit, die das moderne Zeitalter charakterisiert, entgegengesetzt sind. Véronique hatte zu viele Diskotheken und Liebhaber kennengelernt. Eine solche Lebensweise läßt das menschliche Wesen verarmen, sie fügt ihm Schäden zu, die manchmal schwerwiegend und stets irreparabel sind. Die Liebe als Unschuld und Fähigkeit zur Illusion, als Gabe, die Gesamtheit des anderen Geschlechts auf ein einziges geliebtes Wesen zu beziehen, widersteht selten einem Jahr sexueller Herumtreiberei, niemals aber zwei. In Wirklichkeit zerrütten und zerstören die zahllosen, während der Zeit des Heranwach- sens angehäuften sexuellen Erfahrungen jede Möglichkeit gefühlsmäßiger, romantischer Projektion. Nach und nach, tatsächlich aber sehr rasch, wird man so liebesfähig wie ein altes Wischtuch. Man führt dann unvermeidlich ein Wischtuchleben; mit fortschreitendem Alter wird man weniger verführerisch, und in der Folge verbittert. Man ist eifersüchtig auf die Jungen und haßt sie daher. Dieser Haß, der uneingestanden bleiben muß, wird bösartig und immer brennender; schließlich mildert er sich und verlöscht, wie alles verlöscht. Es bleiben nur noch Verbitterung und Ekel, Krankheit und Warten auf den Tod.”

Sicherlich ist ein Zurück zu den “guten alten Zeiten” auch keine Lösung. Die Vorteile der sexuellen Revolution überwiegen wahrscheinlich deren Nachteile; wie dies ja auch beim Kapitalismus der Fall ist.

Fazit? Das Leben ist – nach wie vor – hart. Daran wird sich ohne radikale Maßnahmen  auch nicht viel ändern.

Posted in Absurdity, Literature, whiny existentialism | Leave a comment

Drug side effects are underreported

It’s old news that our medical system isn’t the most reliable truth-finding enterprise ever invented. Recently I stumbled over a concrete example that even surprised me. 

I searched on google scholar for side effects of zopiclone, a supposedly safe, relatively new hypnotic. With 123 citations on google scholar, one of the most promising hits was this review (Terzano et al., 2003) of the side effects and tolerability of the so-called Z-drugs (zolpidem, zaleplon and zopiclone). For comparison, this rather unfavorable meta-analysis of the Z-drugs by Joya et al. (2009) has only 3 citations.

After reading the first few pages doubts about the credibility of this paper already emerged. They write:

Zopiclone appears to be well tolerated….. The most commonly reported adverse event is bitter taste, found in 5 out of 49 (Tamminen & Hansen, 1987) and 8 out of 37 patients (Anderson, 1987) in various studies.

Everyone I know (about 7 people) who has taken zopiclone is disgusted by its bitter taste. This made me obviously suspicious of the whole study. But maybe I know only unusually sensitive people.

But it get’s worse:

In a large postmarketing surveillance study on 20513 patients (Allain et al., 1991) no serious adverse events were reported. The overall percentage of reported events was 9,2%. The most frequent were bitter taste (3,64%), dry mouth (1,6%), difficulty arising in the morning (1,3%) and daytime sleepiness (0,5%).

Only 1,3% reported ‘difficulty arising in the morning’ and only 0,5% reported ‘daytime sleepiness’! Way more than that percentage of healthy individuals who don’t take any drugs experience difficulty arising in the morning or daytime sleepiness on any given day. The only possibility is that the authors operationalized those constructs in such a ridiculous way that e.g. ‘daytime sleepiness’ meant something like literally falling asleep while driving to work and crashing. Which would make this study pretty useless, obviously.

As a side note, SSRIs present us with a similar phenomenon. Initial studies which relied on spontaneous reporting methods found that sexual side effects where only reported by less than 10% of all patients. However, newer studies which did not rely on unprompted reporting methods found that up to 80% of patients experienced sexual side effects (Serretti & Chiesa, 2009).

Thus, we can conclude that many drug side effects go unnoticed. In the case of sexual dysfunction, this can be easily explained. Many depressed people were probably too embarrassed to talk about their sex-life. But bitter taste or daytime sleepiness?

Besides bizarre operationalizations and the usual suspects like e.g. publication bias or skewed incentives, I can think of a few other explanations. Maybe patients are intimidated by their doctors and don’t dare to question the safety of the holy pills handed to them by these high-status people in white coats. Maybe they are simply too lazy to report side effects because they would have to stay longer and complete more questionnaires.

Perhaps many patients report these side effects, but the doctors are too lazy to write them down or don’t take these reports seriously.

Regardless of how this phenomenon of underreported adverse events can be explained, one should be wary of new drugs which are supposedly safe and without side effects. I only became suspicious of this review because I had first-hand experience with the drug. If it had been a drug I had never taken I probably wouldn’t have noticed that there is something fishy about this whole review.

References

Allain, H., Delahaye, C. H., Le Coz, F., Blin, P., Decombe, R., & Martinet, J. P. (1991). Postmarketing surveillance of zopiclone in insomnia: analysis of 20,513 cases. Sleep14(5), 408.

Anderson, A. A. (1987). Zopiclone and nitrazepam: a multicenter placebo controlled comparative study of efficacy and tolerance in insomniac patients in general practice. Sleep10, 54.

Billiard, M., Besset, A., De Lustrac, C., Brissaud, L., & Cadilhac, J. (1989). Effects of zopiclone on sleep, daytime somnolence and nocturnal and daytime performance in healthy volunteers. Neurophysiologie clinique= Clinical neurophysiology19(2), 131.

Joya, F. L., Kripke, D. F., Loving, R. T., Dawson, A., & Kline, L. E. (2009). Meta-analyses of hypnotics and infections: eszopiclone, ramelteon, zaleplon, and zolpidem. Journal of clinical sleep medicine: JCSM: official publication of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine5(4), 377.

Serretti, A., & Chiesa, A. (2009). Treatment-emergent sexual dysfunction related to antidepressants: a meta-analysis. Journal of clinical psychopharmacology29(3), 259-266.

Tamminen, T., & Hansen, P. P. (1987). Chronic administration of zopiclone and nitrazepam in the treatment of insomnia. Sleep10, 63.

Terzano, M. G., Rossi, M., Palomba, V., Smerieri, A., & Parrino, L. (2003). New drugs for insomnia: comparative tolerability of zopiclone, zolpidem and zaleplon. Drug Safety26(4), 261-282.

Posted in Lesswrong Zusammenfassungen | Leave a comment

Old books are boring

At the risk of sounding like a lowbrow philistine, I have to say that many so called ‘classics’, (mostly written in the 19th century and before) are pretty boring. I tried to read folks like Hugo, Balzac or Dickens, but every time I had to give up after 50-100 pages.

There are probably many reasons for this, the most important and obvious being that the dreams and problems of folks in the 19th century and before were simply different from ours. Yudkowsky mentioned somewhere that the characters in old movies seem more alien than most ‘real’ aliens in sci-fi books. The same is true for old books.

Some more reasons I can come up with (and have the patience to write about):

Writers were often paid for every written page, so they kept just writing and writing without editing or shortening their works, using unimportant side-plots, secondary characters and petty descriptions of the environemt and stuff like that as mere page-fillers.

In our times, if you don’t like a book you just delete you illegally downloaded copy, throw it away or give it back to the library and read another one. Today most books are pretty cheap and are in no short supply. Reading a relatively boring books thus entails high opportunity costs. But a hundred years ago every book was a comparatively major investment so you kinda had no other choice than to read the book even if it was boring . That plus the good old sunk cost fallacy /endowment-effect/cognitive dissonance/whatever made you love your books. And so our ‘classics’ were born.

(There are obviously exceptions. Candide and Madame Bovary are quite good, for example.)

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Utility functions

Sometimes my outlook could be adequately captured by this little graphic:


NormalMy utility function

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The Good Drug Guide and the Holy Grail of Chemical Paradise: MAOIs

[Epistemic status: Mostly wrong and written in a slightly insane tone. You have been warned. What is more: I tried the MAOIs Moclobemide and Selegiline. Moclobemide doesn’t do much of anything and Selegiline only truly shines in combination with Phenylethylamine – and I have to admit that this combination is incredibly-through-the-roof- insanely powerful when it comes to boosting your motivation and mood. However, I’m pretty confident that this combination is harmful in the long run. In the recent years I’ve come to the conclusion that you should take as few, evolutionary novel psychoactive chemicals as possible, even if they are labeled as harmless “nootropics”. The prior that the advantages of a certain drug outweigh its disadvantages is just too low. I didn’t arrive at this sentiment by experience alone. For excellent theoretical arguments see “The Wisdom of Nature: An Evolutionary Heuristic for Human Enhancement” by Nick Bostrom & Anders Sandberg or this essay by Gwern.

On the other hand: MAOIs probably really are the most powerful antidepressants known to man – more evidence for this can be found in an excellent recent post on SlateStarCodex.

Anyway, on to my original essay…]

I’ve recently read the absolutely excellent classic “The Good Drug Guide” by David Pearce.

Pearce is a hardcore transhumanist whose ultimate goal is to abolish all suffering. Even better, he’s not shying away from pratical, maybe drastic interventions in the here and now. Gene therapy, nanotechnology, FAI, eugenics all sound pretty exciting but they are still a long way off. So what can we do now? Let’s hear David Pearce:

 There’s clearly a strong causal link between the raw biological capacity to experience happiness and the extent to which one’s life is felt to be worthwhile. High-minded philosophy treatises should complicate but not confuse the primacy of the pleasure-pain axis. So one very practical method of life-enrichment consists in chemically engineering happier brains for all in the here-and-now. Yet how can this best be done?

Any strategy which doesn’t subvert our inbuilt hedonic treadmill of inhibitory feedback mechanisms in the CNS will fail. Political and socio-economic reforms offer at best a lame stopgap. To the scientific naturalist, all routes to happiness must ultimately be biological – “culture” and “talk-therapy” alike must be neurochemically encoded to exert any effect on the psyche. Some of these routes to happiness involve the traditional environmental detours. They are too technical, diverse and futile to tackle here. If the quality of our lives is to be significantly enhanced in the long term, then the genetically predisposed set-point of our emotional thermostats needs to be recalibrated. The malaise-ridden norm typically adaptive in humanity’s ancestral environment must be scrapped. So while we wait until germ-line gene-therapy to promote mental super-health can become standard, it’s worth considering instead how ordinary early 21st Century Homo sapiens can sustainably maximise emotional well-being with only present-day pharmacology to rely on. No less importantly, how is it possible to combine staying continuously “better than well” with retaining one’s sense of social and ethical responsibility to other people and life-forms?

So, naturally, drugs are the answer. To summarize: Since most of life is either pretty shitty or boring – at least if you really think about it – and even worse, evolution programmed us to feel shitty and discontent it’s a moral obligation to take drugs if you want to abolish suffering. I like this line of reasoning.

Pearce describes but ultimately dismisses almost all available classes of legal and illegal drugs as not very useful (such as the amphetamines, cocaine, opioids like heroin or morphine, GHB, psychedelics, MDMA and the more medical drugs like SSRIs, tricyclics, benzodiazepines and various other ones). I don’t have any personal experiences here (of course!), but from what I’ve heard I have to agree with him. Taking psychedelics or maybe MDMA a few times a year can enrich your life and help you to see the world with fresh eyes, but even they are not a panacea – not by a long shot.

Further in the text he mentions some antidepressants and cognitive enhancers that seem somewhat promising, at least for some purposes. E.g. amineptine (unfortunately discontinued cause it was “addictive”), oxytocin (still pretty new), dopaminergic substances like pramipexole or ropinirole, bupropion (good stuff), tianeptine (serotonin reuptake enhancer and neuroprotective), St. John’s worth (SSRI and maybe a MAOI with little side effects) and lastly modafinil (also good stuff), to name a few.

Alas, none of them are truly amazing. But there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Lastly, Pearce discusses the MAOIs, short for monoamine oxidase inhibitors. MAO comes in two classes, MAO-A and MAO-B. MAO-A primarily breaks down noradrenaline and serotonin and to a lesser degree dopamine, MAO-B mainly dopamine. If you take MAOIs they will destroy those evil MAO-guys thereby indirectly increasing your levels of those nice neurotransmitters significantly. Sounds good? IT IS!

The first MAO was accidentally discovered as a treatment for tuberculosis. But not only tuberculosis was cured. Those patients were described “as dancing in the halls” and “inappropriately happy”.

Now, there are some serious side effects to MAOIs. If you combine them with other serotonergic substances like e.g. SSRIs, MDMA or some psychedelics you’re risking a possibly lethal serotonin syndrome. Taking other noradrenargic substances could cause a fatal hypertensive crisis. And in combination with MAOIs dopaminergic substances could lead to psychosis. Aslo eating tyramine-containing food is pretty dangerous. Basically, you will be very sensitive to all drugs and foods that increase your neurotransmitters. Normally, there are enough MAOs in your body to break down excess amounts of neurotransmitters, but since you’re taking MAOIs that isn’t the case anymore. Some of you may say “Perfect, now I can reduce my dosages and will spend less money on drugs”. I don’t know, maybe you’re even right. It would be interesting to know if taking e.g. MDMA just definitely leads to a serotonin syndrome or if you just need e.g. 1/10 of your normal dosage. Personal experiments would be enlightening but also pretty dangerous.

Anyhow, not eating chocolate, cheese, bananas and myriads of other foods and watching your diet like an obsessive-compulsive freak is probably not trivial for some people. On the other hand, feeling super-euphoric all the time sounds also quite nice, doesn’t it?

So, what are some MAOIs? At first there is moclobemide. It’s among the newest ones and also the least dangerous since it’s specifically inhibits only MAO-A, and not MAO-B (or to a significantly lesser degree; something like 80% to 30% or so). Also, it’s a reversible MAO inhibitor. Irreversible MAO-inhibitors destroy MAO for good. It takes about 2-3 weeks for your body to rebuild them. If you’re taking moclobemide however your MAO-levels will be back to normal after 1-2 days or so. On low to moderate doses you don’t have to watch your diet. Snorting too many lines of amphetamines could still lead to an untimely and painful death. I don’t know if it’s compatible with bupropion, modafinil or some mild cognitive enhancers like that. (I would like to say that I don’t want to find that out, but actually I do. I’m thinking about using super-small amounts and slowly increasing the dosage. Now I also see that drug prohibition makes sense. Maniacs like me, who gamble with their life have to be protected from themselves.)

So moclobemide is almost safe. But also kinda boring, at least in comparison to the following drug. I’m too lazy to write, so I’ll just quote David Pearce:

SELEGILINE (l-deprenyl, ELDEPRYL, EMSAM)
A recent New York study showed that smokers had on average 40% less of the enzyme, monoamine oxidase type-B, in their brains than non-smokers. Levels returned to normal on their giving up smoking. Not merely is the extra dopamine in the synapses rewarding. The level of MAO-b inhibition smokers enjoy apparently contributes to their reduced incidence of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. Unfortunately they are liable to die horribly and prematurely of other diseases first.

One option which the dopamine-craving nicotine addict might wish to explore is switching to the (relatively) selective MAO-b inhibitor selegiline, better known as l-deprenyl. Normally the brain’s irreplaceable complement of 30-40 thousand odd dopaminergic cells tends to die off at around 13% per decade in adult life. Their death diminishes the quality and intensity of experience. It also saps what in more ontologically innocent times might have been called one’s life-force. Eighty percent loss of dopamine neurons results in Parkinson’s disease, often prefigured by depression. In future, the mood-enhancing transplantation of customized stem cells may restore a youthful zest for life in dopamine-depleted oldsters: such stem cell-derived monoaminergic grafts are currently on offer only to depressed rodents. Deprenyl has an anti-oxidantimmune-system-boosting and dopamine-cell-sparing effect. Its use boosts levels of tyrosine hydroxylasegrowth hormonesuperoxide dismutase and the production of key interleukins. Deprenyl offers protection against DNA damage and oxidative stress by hydroxyl and peroxyl radical trapping; and against excitotoxic damage from glutamate.

Whatever the full explanation, deprenyl-driven MAOI-users, unlike cigarette smokers, are likely to be around to enjoy its distinctive benefits for a long time to come, possibly longer than their drug-naïve contemporaries. For in low doses, deprenyl enhances life-expectancy, of rats at least, by 20% and more. It enhances drive, libido and motivation; sharpens cognitive performance both subjectively and on a range of objective tests; serves as a useful adjunct in the palliative treatment of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease; and makes you feel good too. It is used successfully to treat canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) in dogs. At dosages of around 10 mg or below daily, deprenyl retains its selectivity for the type-B MAO iso-enzyme. At MAO-B-selective dosages, deprenyl doesn’t provoke the “cheese-effect”; tyramine is also broken down by MAO type-A. Deprenyl isn’t addictive, which probably reflects its different delivery-mechanism and delayed reward compared to inhaled tobacco smoke. In November 2004, Yale University researchers launched a study of deprenyl for smokers who want to quit tobacco. Whether the Government would welcome the billions of pounds of lost revenue and a swollen population of energetic non-taxpayers that a switch in people’s MAOI habits might entail is unclear.

Now we’re entering truly exciting territory. It also explains why quitting smoking often results in (mild) depressive symptoms. Here are more reports from Erowid:

I am a 52 y. o. male who has experimented w/ many drugs both legal and illegal. For the last several years my experimenting has been limited to legal drugs. Deprenyl is very impressive.

I’ve just finished using my first 300mg bottle (12 ml )of Selegiline solution which has lasted several months. The effects are always consistent beginning about 20 minutes after I place 3-6 drops under my tongue. I definitely have a heightened sense of well-being and enhanced energy levels.

Sometimes 6 drops is a bit too much and I feel somewhat buzzed.

It is a good all purpose pick me up that never has interfered w/ sleep or apetite. Women look SOOO MUCH better. And when it comes to sex it reminds me somewhat of cocaine w/o any of the bad side effects. It is awesome to feel so ‘possessed’ AND empowered, focussed and in full capacity to enjoy. My male friends have basically the same opinion. I wonder how can something so good be so little known. Women seem to have similiar experiences EXCEPT it doesn’t seem to do much for their libido.

Um, yeah. I have to try this stuff. But there are more:

I’ll be 60 years old next month and have been using Deprenyl for about the past 10 years. In most respects it’s difficult to quantify the effects of this compound: in terms of its reputed anti-aging benefits I can say that I am very active, never get sick and am still alive. As a cognition enhancer it leaves me fairly unimpressed; my short-term memory isn’t nearly what it once was and I seem to suffer the same CRS (Can’t Remember Shit) syndrome as most or all of my peers.

….

Apart from this, I have noticed that Deprenyl in the doses I use is a fairly good mood enhancer and is completely without any undesireable side-effects. Of the many interesting plants and pharmaceuticals I’ve experienced over the past 40 years, this seems to be one of the most unequivocally helpful and benign.

Here’s another one:

First off, I’m a 19 year old male, about 170lbs, who is experimenting with nootropics out of curiosity. A few months ago, I ordered a bottle with 60 doses of 5mg Selegiline from a research chemical site and took it pretty much every day. The day I started taking it I noticed a marked increase in motivation. For me it was money; there was a huge desire for me to make as much money as possible. I had never been a material person at all, and although I had money, I never thought about doing anything with it other than spending it. I guess some might say that being possessed by money is a bad thing, but the feeling was/is nothing short of complete empowerment. I loved doing math problems in my head involving money; the thinking was so clear. I went from having a bit under 500 dollars in the bank to over $10,000 in the two months that I had taken it. Of course I can’t quite disclose how I made this money, but I have to say that I engaged in activities that I probably wouldn’t have without Selegiline.

Of course that isn’t the only feeling I noticed on Selegiline. I was motivated to use better vocabulary while speaking to people. I used to be pretty goofy and not many people really took me seriously. Now, when I talk, I feel that people listen. There is a noticable increase in the strength of my voice. I would say that I probably had low self confidence before taking Selegiline, now when I word things it is not in the ‘may I’ form, it’s ‘I will’. It makes me tend to look down on most people, but not in such a way that it would affect friendships, although a few friends mentioned to me that I had changed because of my general mindset. This probably sounds incredibly cocky, but it’s true confidence. I’m still nice to people, it’s just that they now seem to look up to me.

Another benefit is the emotional ‘numbing.’ Before Selegiline I would jump at any chance with a decent looking girl and become attached pretty quickly in a flurry of emotions. On it, my thinking is completely rational and emotions never affect my thinking. I’m not even looking for a girlfriend until one can rationally show me that she is really worthy. Girls love to play the game, to say the least. I’m calmer, without emotional outbursts. When I get upset with people, I simply use my ‘enhanced’ charisma to undermine them, rather than losing control.

As far as in combination with drugs; when I smoke weed I don’t feel as high; or at least, my speech and thinking are not as detrimented. With cocaine, the feeling of euphoria is minimized, which is not a terribly bad thing. It’s almost like most of the euphoria associated with cocaine is already there before I snort it. I know Selegiline isn’t considered an upper, but it feels like one in this sense. I am also definitely more talkative on it, although this may be a result of the increased confidence.

After being off of it for a week and a half, I started to have those uncontrollable feelings for girls again. I also lost the ability to socialize effectively and the field of eligibles began to shrink. After about a month, I decided to hop on the train again and order another bottle.

I try not to make judgements based on placebo effects. I was pretty skeptical of it when I first tried it, as most nootropics tend to be pretty subtle. However, after a few days I realized that this is the closest I can get to a stimulant without the negative effects. It’s definitely not placebo, and I can say that it makes more of a difference than all of the other nootropic I have tried combined.

I hear you. Placebo effect, selection effects and what not. Anyways, I read many experience reports on SSRIs and other ADs, but the ones on selegiline are the most promising. Only side effect is insomnia which is a bummer, but there are no free lunches I guess.

If this isn’t enough, here is our beloved Wedrifid from LessWrong (who also takes this stuff regurarly, if I remember correctly):

Just elaborating here on interactions with selegiline (which is a drug I highly recommend, by the way). The active ingredient in chocolate that interacts with the MOAI in selegiline is phenylalanine. The same amino acid discussed earlier that serves as a precursor to dopamine, norepinephrine and adrenaline. It’s what people refer to when they talk about chocolate’s “happy hormone”.

Normally phenylalanine is fairly mild. Take a whole bunch and you may notice a boost in mood – particularly if stress has depleted your reserves. Even then it doesn’t last long. But with selegiline in the system it is a whole different ball game. The combo can be abused to give a euphoric high with an amount of phenylalanine you quite possibly wouldn’t even have noticed. The combo has also been used as a depression treatment. But either way selegiline + phenylalanine is powerful stuff. To the extent that I am surprised that people bother with illegal party drugs when this stuff is legal.

(Above notes aside I am not particularly warning against selegiline + chocolate. There isn’t that much phenylalanine in the stuff that you’re going to get high. :P)

Oh, and another thing. Selegiline is an irreversible MOAI-B. That means that when it deactivates the monoamine oxidase that molecule is deactivated for good. Basically, this means that the primary effect of selegiline operates over the timescale of about a month, not hours. It takes a while for the effects to build up and even longer for them to disappear completely. This is in stark contrast to most other things that give a stimulating effect. So don’t go about swallowing 500mg of phenylalanine a week after you stopped selegiline and be surprised when you hit the roof. 😉

[Btw, he meant phenylethylamine, not phenylalanine.]

I need this stuff. Only problem is that it’s so hard to get. In Europe it’s only prescribed for Parkinson’s disease. Although I’m a pretty good actor I can’t fake that. Even worse, it’s not available on REDACTED which is completely incomprehensible to me. Why is nobody interested in MAOIs? Apparently nobody has the balls to seriously mess up their biochemistry I guess.

Selegiline is still a pretty child-friendly toy since it only inhibits MAO-B. We want something even more drastic. Something that utterly annihilates your melancholic apathy for good. And there is a substance, so powerful and godlike its mere name makes your heart tremble with awe:

TRANYLCYPROMINE (PARNATE)
Gentleness doesn’t suit everyone. Moclobemide isn’t much good at lifting deep melancholyTranylcypromine (Parnate), on the other hand, is one of the older and non-selective MAOIs – and is often none the worse for it. Structurally related to amphetamine, tranylcypromine is generally the most stimulating, dopaminergic and relatively fast-acting of the MAOIs. Some doctors are uncomfortable with its properties. This isn’t just because of the dietary restrictions its use demands. In adequate doses, tranylcypromine tends to induce a mild euphoria even in “normal” subjects. Tranylcypromine use increases trace amines, modulates phospholipid metabolism and up-regulates GABA(B) receptors. In fact, its nicest effects, as for all of the compounds cited here, will vary in nature and extent from person to person. To some extent, optimal dosage and long-term drug-regimen of choice can be discovered only by (cautious) empirical self-investigation.

This just sounds like Eastern, Christmas and the Singularity combined. Needless to say, I would kill for this drug. And it get’s even better:  It’s rather easy to obtain you-know-which-drug. It’s actually prescribed for depression in the EU and I don’t even have to fake depression. Oh, fuck, yes.

So my current plan is to first try Moclobemide. Then Selegiline. If I don’t die I’ll start with tranylcypromine and then live happily ever after.

Posted in antidepressants, depression, human enhancement, life, nootropics, transhumanism | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Pessimistische Psychotherapie I

[Diese Abhandlung ist offensichtlich von weinerlichem existentialistischem Gedankengut inspiriert. Und ich bin natürlich auch nicht der erste, der auf eine fruchtbare Verknüpfung von Existentialismus und Psychotherapie hinweist. Zu einiger Bekanntheit gelang beispielsweise die existentielle Psychotherapie von Irvin Yalom. Allerdings war Yalom noch ziemlich von der Psychoanalyse beeinflusst und ignoriert meines Wissens nach viele neuere psychologische Erkenntnisse. Mein Ziel ist hier gewissermaßen die Kombination von existentialistisch-pessimistischer Philosophie und evolutionärer Psychologie.]

Der Großteil der Psychotherapeuten – und auch der Menschen im Allgemeinen – ist der Meinung, dass die Existenz grundsätzlich etwas Gutes ist und dass folglich mit Depressiven etwas nicht stimme, dass sie die Schönheit der Welt verkennen, gewissermaßen existentiell blind sind.

Ich bin anderer Meinung. Denn häufig sind gerade die Glücklichen die Blinden. Sie verschließen vor dem Elend unserer Welt die Augen, wagen nicht, die Schleier ihrer Wahrnehmung zu lichten und suhlen sich im Schlamm ihrer optimistisch-verblendeten Weltanschauungen. (Verzeiht das übertriebene Pathos.)
Depressive hingegen haben in den Abgrund geblickt und können oder wollen nicht mehr vergessen, was sie gesehen haben. Sie mit naivem Eifer zu drängen, sich mit panglossianischen Lügengebäuden zu trösten – wie es die meisten Religionen und viele Formen des Humanismus nun einmal sind  – wird nur ihre Gefühle des Unverstandenseins und der Einsamkeit verstärken. Viel effektiver und ehrlicher ist es, auf ihre Sicht der Dinge einzugehen und anzuerkennen (und sei es nur vorläufig), dass das Leben in diesem für menschliche Bedürfnisse und Träume tauben Universum kein Ponyhof ist. Danach kann man immer noch versuchen zu erklären, warum es sich dennoch zu leben und zu kämpfen lohnt.

Genau das ist das Ziel der folgenden Posts. Beginnen wir also mit dem ersten der fundamentalen Mängel der menschlichen Existenz.

1. Sozialer Status:  

Menschen, insbesondere männlichen Geschlechts, hegen den Wunsch hohen Status zu erlangen, von anderen beachtet und bewundert zu werden. Das Bedürfnis nach Anerkennung ist fast genauso elementar und notwendig für die eigene Zufriedenheit wie ein gefüllter Magen. Das sollte auch nicht verwundern. Diejenigen unserer Vorfahren, welche den Drang nach Status nicht hatten, haben folglich auch nichts getan, um selbigen zu erhöhen. Doch ohne sozialen Status bleibt unter anderem der Zugang zu paarungswilligen, fruchtbaren Weibchen versperrt und die Status-Indifferenten gaben folglich ihre Gene nicht weiter. Die evolutionäre Psychologie kann somit erklären, warum es so schwer ist, den Wunsch nach Anerkennung und Respekt zu unterdrücken, auch wenn dies erklärtes Ziel vieler Religionen oder anderer Psycho-Gurus ist. Wem das Abtöten des Wunsches nach sozialem Status in buddhistischer Manier nicht gelingt (und das schaffen die wenigsten), muss erkennen, dass er mit einer Quelle kontinuierlicher Frustration konfrontiert ist.

Bedauerlicherweise wird man an die eigene Mittelmäßigkeit nicht nur in vereinzelten Situationen erinnert. Nein, unaufhörlich und überall wird einem die eigene Mediokrität unter die Nase gerieben.

Werbung und Modezeitschriften halten uns täglich vor Augen, dass es Menschen gibt, die in jeder Hinsicht besser aussehen. Diese ästhetischen Übermenschen sind schlanker, muskulöser und größer; zudem mit makellosen, attraktiven Gesichtern gesegnet. Wie sollen wir da mit unseren 0815-Gesichtern und unseren von Speckschichten übersäten Körpern mithalten?  Nun gut, nicht so schlimm, wir sind ja Intellektuelle und keine oberflächlichen, vom Körperkult besessenen Teenies.

Aber leider legen viele Männer nun einmal höchsten Wert auf das Äußere und können schlichtweg keine romantischen Beziehungen mit Frauen anfangen, die ihren optischen Maßstäben nicht entsprechen. Und das nicht aus vorsätzlicher Grausamkeit. Die meisten Männer würden ihre ästhetischen Präferenzen wahrscheinlich transformieren, um sie auf diejenige Frau mit der tollsten Persönlichkeit anzupassen. Doch diese primitiven Triebe kann man so wenig verändern wie seine eigene sexuelle Präferenz. Ich wäre schon längst schwul oder zumindest bisexuell, wenn das möglich wäre. Wir sind Sklaven unserer Passionen. Das Ganze führt also zu viel Leid und Unzufriedenheit auf beiden Seiten. Die Männer sind mit der Attraktivität der eigenen Partnerin unzufrieden, bekommen schließlich Erektionsstörungen und schämen sich auch noch für ihre Primitivität. Die Frauen wissen Bescheid und haben Angst, dass ihr Partner sie irgendwann einmal nicht mehr begehrt und für eine hübschere Frau verlässt. Doch dazu mehr in einem späteren Post.

Im ökonomischen Sektor spielt sich Ähnliches ab. Andauernd werden wir mit Bildern von Segelyachten, Ferraris, Villen auf Sizilien und den neuesten Apple-Gadgets bombardiert, was uns vor Augen führt, wie wenig wir uns davon eigentlich leisten können. Mich persönlich schert das wenig, aber für die meisten Menschen ist es eine Qual. (Das schwache Geschlecht ist im vorherigen Absatz etwas besser weggekommen, aber das wird durch die folgenden Zeilen wieder ausgeglichen.)

Die meisten Männer streben vermutlich vor allem deswegen nach Reichtum und Macht, weil sie instinktiv wissen, dass viele Frauen darauf stehen. Ostentativer Konsum wird zwar oft belächelt, ist aber leider trotzdem ziemlich effektiv. Also versuchen die meisten immer und immer reicher zu werden und mehr und mehr Statussymbole anzuhäufen. Um sich das leisten zu können, muss man natürlich unzählige Stunden in einem monotonen Drohnen-Job absitzen. Doch dieses Rattenrennen hört nie auf. Es wird immer reichere Menschen geben. Man(n) lebt mit der ständigen Angst, dass einen seine Partnerin aufgrund ihrer hypergamen Instinkte für einen Millionär mit höherem Status verlässt, denn in unseren Zeiten ist die Scheidung ja nicht mehr wirklich verpönt.

Glücklicherweise haben wir Intellektuelle ja andere Maßstäbe und beugen uns nicht den Werten unserer materialistischen Mainstream-Kultur. Intelligenz, Bildung und Weisheit sind uns wichtiger als Reichtum und Wohlstand. Aber hier stoßen wir auf das selbe Problem.

Meine narzisstische Seite drängt mich persönliche Erfahrungen anzuführen: In meiner von Unbekümmertheit und Naivität geprägten Jugend träumte ich häufig davon, irgendwann einmal ein berühmter Wissenschaftler oder Philosoph zu werden. In der Schule gaben mir Lehrer und Mitschüler das Gefühl, ein kleines Genie zu sein. Auf der Universität wurde ich dann jedoch eines Besseren belehrt. Auf einmal war ich nicht mehr der King, und das obwohl ich viel mehr lernte als in der Schule. Manche meiner Kommilitonen hatten bessere Noten und besaßen ein umfassenderes Verständnis der Materie als ich, und das obwohl sie sich weniger anstrengten. Sie waren schlichtweg begabter. Da ich meinen Selbstwert vor allem über meine Intelligenz und mein Wissen bezog, war diese Erkenntnis natürlich ein Schlag ins Gesicht. Ein großer Teil meines Selbstkonzepts ging in diesen dunklen Monaten zu Grunde.

Mit 15 IQ-Punkten mehr wäre ich vielleicht Physik-Professor geworden, aber auch hier bleibt das Problem bestehen. Es wird (fast) immer Menschen geben, die intelligenter sind als man selbst, mehr wissenschaftliche Veröffentlichungen vorweisen können, mehr revolutionierende Theorien entwickelt haben. Erst ab dem Level von Einstein oder Neumann dürfte die Sache ein Ende haben.

Das Gleiche gilt fürs Schreiben. Ich empfinde meinen Schreibstil oft als schwerfällig und plump. Zudem schreibe ich auch noch unendlich langsam und feile bisweilen Ewigkeiten an irgendeinem Nebensatz. Mir fehlt schlichtweg die Fähigkeit meine Gefühle und Gedanken treffend auszudrücken. Gott sei Dank habe ich schon früh den Traum vom Schriftsteller-Dasein aufgegeben, aber ähnlich müssen sich angehende Künstler fühlen. Sie haben etwas zu sagen, können es aber nicht. Als ob sie stumm wären. Und obendrauf sind sie ständig mit literarischen Meisterwerken konfrontiert, zudem arm, allein und unbekannt.

Ähnliches trifft natürlich auf Kunst, Musik, Sport und alle anderen möglichen Bereiche, Berufe und Tätigkeiten zu. Ihr versteht das Konzept, deshalb gehe ich nicht mehr im Detail darauf ein. Egal auf welchem Gebiet, es wird immer Menschen geben, die besser und begabter sind, mehr erreicht haben, höheren Status haben als man selbst. Und Dank der globalen Vernetzung konkurrieren wir heute wirklich mit der ganzen Menschheit. Vor 10.000 Jahren, in der Umwelt der evolutionären Angepasstheit gab es vermutlich noch einen anderen Ausweg. Hier mag es noch möglich gewesen zu sein, eine Nische zu finden, in der man tatsächlich der Allerbeste war, da der eigene Clan ja nur aus ein paar Dutzend Leuten bestand. Sicher, es gab dennoch extreme Status-Hierarchien, aber vielleicht war man der beste Jäger, oder der beste Holzschnitzer oder der beste Kleidungsmacher. Irgendwo konnte man schon brillieren.

Klar, auch heute wird man noch Tätigkeiten oder Freizeitbeschäftigungen finden, die von so wenigen Menschen betrieben werden, dass man aufgrund der geringen Konkurrenz der Beste sein kann. Aber wen interessiert es schon, dass man Weltmeister im Hot-Dog-Wettessen-ohne-Hände-auf-LSD ist?

Um die Sache etwas aufzulockern, erwarten euch in den nächsten Posts Alter und Krankheit, Tod und Vergänglichkeit, existentielle Isolation, die Unmöglichkeit “wahrer Liebe”, sowie Sinnlosigkeit und Absurdität.

See also: Rank Theory

Posted in evolutionary psychology, life, Personal, Psychotherapie, whiny existentialism | 1 Comment

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LSD

My general motivation for taking psychedelics – besides having fun – is experiencing novel, unknown states of consciousness and inducing viewshakes. My beliefs don’t fluctuate as much as in my youth when I changed my favorite philosopher as often as other people their underwear. All in all, my worldview hasn’t changed all that much for one and a half years! Maybe this shows that I reached an epistemic optimum. But the frighting possibility exists that I’m just becoming an old conservative and don’t want to change my mind anymore. And what would galvanize my rusty brain more than taking the king of psychedelic drugs, that is LSD?

So this summer I traveled to Ozora, a psychedelic trance festival in Hungary full of drug-taking hippies. There were official shops that sold LSD, 2-CB, MDMA, mescaline, etc. Not to speak of the countless dealers that went from tent to tent. I’ve never been to a single festival, listened to maybe 5 psytrance tracks before Ozora and I was completely alone (I have no only boring friends). Suffice it to say: I was a bit nervous and not prepared.

Right on the first night of the festival, around 8 P.M., I took 1 blotter of LSD with a guy that I met the day before, let’s call him L. We went to the Main Stage of the festival and saw a beautiful opening ceremony with crazy fire artists and of course awesome goa trance. After 1 hour the LSD began to kick in and I began to have slight hallucinations, saw beautiful patterns on some faces and could somehow see and understand the music, presumably some mild form of synesthesia. Musically talented people probably experience music always with such intensity and richness. I really envy those folks. Dancing with all those friendly people seemed much more sublime and profound than the mindless partying with the shallow and superficial crowd of mainstream clubs which I did quite a bit in my youth.

There was something weird going on with my kinesthetic sense, too. I never felt my body movements with such intensity and clarity before and thus danced like a maniac – a fucking talented maniac, mind you. The effects gradually grew a bit stronger and some folks began to look a bit like zombies if I didn’t look carefully – so I took another half blotter of LSD.

(It’s pretty hard to describe the LSD-experience. Fun fact: A drug counseling service distributed brochures which listed the effects and risks of almost every known drug. Whereas most drugs had detailed descriptions the page on LSD just read: The effects are very powerful, difficult to describe and vary highly.)

Anyway, now the visual hallucinations didn’t go away or gradually lessened when I tried to focus my vision, some people just looked like zombies, nothing I could do about it. I danced rather frantically with A, another guy I met the day before for another half hour and took the rest of the second blotter since when dealing with powerful hallucinogenic drugs you should always follow the principle: When in doubt, take more.

Then we bought some food and talked for maybe 1 hour about the possibility of communism/utopia. Naturally, I began to preach transhumanism. Talking about manipulating the human genome and the possible rise of superintelligent AI while tripping on LSD probably didn’t increase my credibility. But I think A. agreed with me on a lot of points, eloquent bastard that I am, even with that much LSD pumping through my brain.

But now on to the Chill out Stage! (Which means around 140 beats per minute, whereas the music at the Main Stage had around 190 bpm. Ravers are tough cookies when it comes to dancing). Problem is, I was getting slightly disgusted with this whole love-peace-harmony thingy. All these happy hippies who hugged and squeezed each other constantly just were too much for the dark and cynical parts of my self. And this whole mystical we-are-all-one-and-evil-does-not-exist vibe just made me sick. How many of those joy-junkies actually know about the abysmal revelations of evolutionary psychology or have ever thought about existential risks? I felt like the only atheist/reductionist/realist on this whole damn festival. But the solution was obvious: More drugs.

So I gulped down some GHB (works similar to alcohol, i.e. my mood improves and I’m more open and forgiving but without the typical side effects of alcohol such as slurring, cognitive decline and general descent into animality. And without hangover. Man, I hate alcohol). The perfect mix with GHB is just the right amount of amphetamine to increase your energy and alertness so I snorted some lines of speed, too. Another guy also offered me to snort some ketamine out of his rather long finger nails. Naturally, I gladly accepted.  (Ketamine is normally used as an anesthetic so you definitely shouldn’t go overboard with this stuff if you still want to be able to dance — or just stand).

Now I was feeling pretty good again. I just need enough drugs to climb the stairway to heaven. All kinds of colors and patterns exploded in front of my eyes and my body almost danced on its own in rhythm to the beat. Sure, zombies were still among me, but some people looked like angels and radiated an aura of goodness and love. I wasn’t disgusted anymore by the superficial hedonism because dancing and listening to music involves almost all senses and is a great way to celebrate the joys of human existence through engaging your whole body and maxing out your motor skills. I experienced entirely novel states of consciousness and maybe caught a very brief glimpse of the possibilities that lie ahead, behind the singularity, in the posthuman realm.

Believing in a generally non-magical, boring materialistic universe and still preferring to not be hooked up to an experience machine now seemed pretty reasonable. Sure, we are just a collection of protons and electrons without any objective purpose given to us. But isn’t this amazing? We are only dust in the wind, however when a bunch of properly structured particles can experience bliss like this, doesn’t that mean that profound happiness is an inherent part of this universe? You don’t need some extra stuff like a soul to achieve such joy. Physics is quite enough. And realizing this, celebrating life and taking joy in the merely real in spite of all the suffering and ultimate pointlessness, preferably with a similarly enlightened human being of the appropriate gender is the apex of the revolt against the absurdity of existence.

(Apropos, I actually danced with this absolutely angelic girl and even talked with her afterwards for hours. But she became tired, I went with her to her tent and… never saw her again. God, I still want to blow my fucking brains out if I remember this missed opportunity. I didn’t even asked her for her number or visited her tent the next day! I’m such a retarded coward.Guys, if you see a wonderful girl, please, for the love of cute kittens, approach and talk to her. The worst that can happen is a rejection. If you don’t do it, on the other hand, you’ll wander through life in misery, pain and unbearable loneliness. True story.)

Anyway, let’s continue our philosophical musings. Why not simply enter an experience machine, you ask? Well, such wireheaders are ultimately alone. They may not know it, but they are and that is sad. “Happiness is only real when shared.” I don’t want to be alone and have beliefs and emotions that don’t correspond to fundamental reality. It’s just a basic value of mine. Simple as that.

That were some of the thoughts I remember having. Obviously, now I don’t find them nearly as compelling and even then I realized that I was engaging in some motivated reasoning in order to maintain the state of utter bliss, but it worked. Kinda sad that I have to justify my joy, even while tripping on LSD. But still, I think now I’m more comfortable with reductionism and naturalistic metaethics. I mean, there are no real logical arguments, just idiosyncratic preferences and emotions all the way down. And LSD probably helps you to change your psyche in such a way that you can be a bit more happy in our sometimes all to dark and Lovecraftian universe.

Posted in Aufzeichnungen aus dem Abgrund, Fiction, Joy in the merely Real, meta-ethics, Notes from the abyss | 1 Comment

The Craft and the Community: Post 28 – 30

28. Practical Advice Backed By Deep Theories

If Yudkowsky had merely written that “we overestimate the degree to which other people understand our thoughts and folks in general overestimate how much they understand what the other person is saying” I wouldn’t have been very impressed.

But he elaborated on this advice with several posts (such as illusion of transparency, inferential distance, and double illusion of transparency) and explained in detail the underlying, general cognitive mechanisms which allowed me to develop a deeper understanding. Which in turn makes it more likely that I remember this advice and also use it.

This is the signature style I want to convey from all those posts that entangled cognitive science experiments and probability theory and epistemology with the practical advice—that practical advice actually becomes practically more powerful if you go out and read up on cognitive science experiments, or probability theory, or even materialist epistemology, and realize what you’re seeing.  This is the brand that can distinguish LW from ten thousand other blogs purporting to offer advice.

He concludes:

…practical advice really, really does become a lot more powerful when it’s backed up by concrete experimental results, causal accounts that are actually true, and math validly interpreted.

29. Less Meta

Yudkowsky is afraid that the recent posts have gotten a bit too meta. Therefore he (contrary to Newsome 😉 ) recommends to talk about the object level, i.e. the boring and practical stuff.

30. Go Forth and Create the Art!

(This is the last post of the last Sequence and boy, I’m glad it’s over! Don’t get me wrong, I mostly enjoyed reading the Sequences, but after a while writing comments and summaries really got on my nerves. 🙂 )

After he laid the groundwork, Yudkowsky hopes that others will be able to improve their rationality on their own, and maybe even create different styles and new rationality skills.

I suspect—you could even call it a guess—that there is a barrier to getting started, in this matter of rationality.  Where by default, in the beginning, you don’t have enough to build on.  Indeed so little that you don’t have a clue that more exists, that there is an Art to be found.  And if you do begin to sense that more is possible—then you may just instantaneously go wrong.  As David Stove observes—I’m not going to link it, because it deserves its own post—most “great thinkers” in philosophy, e.g. Hegel, are properly objects of pity.  That’s what happens by default to anyone who sets out to develop the art of thinking; they develop fake answers.

He concludes:

…My last essay on having a secret identity was not well-received, so let me try again:  I want people to go forth, but also to return.  Or maybe even to go forth and stay simultaneously, because this is the Internet and we can get away with that sort of thing; I’ve learned some interesting things on Less Wrong, lately, and if continuing motivation over years is any sort of problem, talking to others (or even seeing that others are also trying) does often help.

But at any rate, if I have affected you at all, then I hope you will go forth and confront challenges, and achieve somewhere beyond your armchair, and create new Art; and then, remembering whence you came, radio back to tell others what you learned.

In essence:

Step 1. Reading LessWrong.

Step 2. Rationality and stuff. Or something.

Step 3. Achieving godhood.

Easy as pie!

 

Posted in Community Building, Lesswrong Zusammenfassungen | 5 Comments

The Craft and the Community: Post 25 – 27

25. My Way

More gender-talk. Yudkowsky’s style of rationality is distinctively male cause, um, he himself is male.

I say all this because I want to convey this important idea, that there is the Way and my Way, the pure (or perhaps shared) thing at the center, and the many paths we take there from wherever we started out….

…Even so, you should be aware that I have radioed back my description of the single central shape and the path I took to get closer.  If there are parts that are visibly male, then there are probably other parts—perhaps harder to identify—that are tightly bound to growing up with Orthodox Jewish parents, or (cough) certain other unusual features of my life.

26. The Sin of Underconfidence

There are three great besetting sins of rationalists in particular, and the third of these is underconfidence.  Michael Vassar regularly accuses me of this sin, which makes him unique among the entire population of the Earth.

Haha, that’s probably true.

When subjects know about a bias or are warned about a bias, overcorrection is not unheard of as an experimental result.  That’s what makes a lot of cognitive subtasks so troublesome—you know you’re biased but you’re not sure how much, and you don’t know if you’re correcting enough—and so perhaps you ought to correct a little more, and then a little more, but is that enough?  Or have you, perhaps, far overshot?  Are you now perhaps worse off than if you hadn’t tried any correction?

You contemplate the matter, feeling more and more lost, and the very task of estimation begins to feel increasingly futile…

And when it comes to the particular questions of confidence, overconfidence, and underconfidence—being interpreted now in the broader sense, not just calibrated confidence intervals—then there is a natural tendency to cast overconfidence as the sin of pride, out of that other list which never warned against the improper use of humility or the abuse of doubt.  To place yourself too high—to overreach your proper place—to think too much of yourself—to put yourself forward—to put down your fellows by implicit comparison—and the consequences of humiliation and being cast down, perhaps publicly—are these not loathesome and fearsome things?

My scores on PredictionBook indicate that I’m overconfident. And contra Yudkowsky, I also believe that overconfidence is more dangerous and “sinful” than underconfidence. Sure, you may miss some opportunities and don’t grow and learn as fast as you could, but it’s better to drive a bit longer than to crash and burn, so to speak.

Maybe even more important: PR matters. Modesty is good, arrogance is bad for your image. Of course, being underconfident in public, while being overconfident in private reeks of double-think – no wait, it is double-think.

Whatever, I try to err on the side of underconfidence. Not least because, so far I’ve changed my mind so often and therefore the Outside View simply demands that I assign low probabilities to many of my current beliefs.

27. Well-Kept Gardens Die By Pacifism

Very relevant post in light of the recent discussions on LessWrong about exclusiveness vs. inclusiveness.

Good online communities die primarily by refusing to defend themselves.

Somewhere in the vastness of the Internet, it is happening even now.  It was once a well-kept garden of intelligent discussion, where knowledgeable and interested folk came, attracted by the high quality of speech they saw ongoing.  But into this garden comes a fool, and the level of discussion drops a little—or more than a little, if the fool is very prolific in their posting.  (It is worse if the fool is just articulate enough that the former inhabitants of the garden feel obliged to respond, and correct misapprehensions—for then the fool dominates conversations.)

So the garden is tainted now, and it is less fun to play in; the old inhabitants, already invested there, will stay, but they are that much less likely to attract new blood.  Or if there are new members, their quality also has gone down.

Then another fool joins, and the two fools begin talking to each other, and at that point some of the old members, those with the highest standards and the best opportunities elsewhere, leave…

That’s admittedly a good point, but still – it feels a bit censorshippy and cultish.

However, when I think about my university it seems like Yudkowsky is right. I just don’t go to lectures in which the prof asks too many questions and allows too much discussion. The niveau just goes through the floor and you can’t stand listening to all the nonsense spouted by your fellow students.

(OTOH, I also don’t go to lectures where nobody talks aside from the prof…)

Anyway, why does Yudkowsky favor stricter communities?

…Maybe it’s because I grew up on the Internet in places where there was always a sysop, and so I take for granted that whoever runs the server has certain responsibilities.  Maybe I understand on a gut level that the opposite of censorship is not academia but 4chan (which probably still has mechanisms to prevent spam).  Maybe because I grew up in that wide open space where the freedom that mattered was the freedom to choose a well-kept garden that you liked and that liked you, as if you actually could find a country with good laws.

He concludes with some remarks on karma and voting-behavior:

…I really do honestly think that if you want to downvote a comment that seems low-quality… and yet you hesitate, wondering if maybe you’re downvoting just because you disagree with the conclusion or dislike the author… feeling nervous that someone watching you might accuse you of groupthink or echo-chamber-ism or (gasp!) censorship… then nine times of ten, I bet, nine times out of ten at least,it is a comment that really is low-quality.

You have the downvote.  Use it or USENET.

Posted in Community Building, Lesswrong Zusammenfassungen | Leave a comment