Three Miniatures

by radimentary

This is part 16 of 30 of Hammertime. Click here for the intro.

The sixth day always marks the boundary between concrete and abstract. Today, I mark the occasion with three essays on new techniques.

These essays are short because I lack data and examples. All concept handles and perspectives are preliminary. The two latter essays are, I think, two fingers pointing at the same moon.

Day 16: Three Miniatures

Pressure Points

I need to sleep earlier.
I can’t sleep now because I need to get this paper written by tomorrow.
I’ll just finish it in the morning.
I don’t trust myself to work in the morning.
I need to try harder to trust myself and sleep earlier

This train of thought plagued me in a past life. Do you see what I was missing?

I was pushing on the wrong side.

I always lazed about in the morning. In this scenario, “Try harder to trust myself” is self-delusion. To fix it, I first needed to cultivate a habit of working in the morning, or at least being able to. Once I could do that, the original train of thought would automatically cut itself off in the middle.

Getting work done in the morning wasn’t easy, but it was the right place to try really hard. Once I solved that problem, I could trust my next-morning self. It became easy to correct my sleep schedule.

Pressure Points is a lateral thinking technique. For any given problem, there are many places to apply pressure, and all it takes is to find the pressure point to apply brute force most efficiently. The pressure point is rarely the obvious direction: chances are, you’ve already been pushing in that direction, and it hasn’t helped thus far. Look for counter-intuitive places to apply brute force.

Here are three examples of Pressure Points and its particular brand of creativity:

Lucid Dreaming is all about finding the right Pressure Points. Instead of “Intend really hard to lucid dream,” the two main techniques are practicing reality checks while awake, and keeping a dream journal to improve dream recall.

People often approach social anxiety with “Try to care less about what other people think.” This is about as effective as “Try not to notice your breathing.” A Pressure Point approach to social anxiety is “Try to focus on other people’s body language and notice their anxiety.”

I’ve been working on TAPs for building better posture. The only one that has had any effect is “Turn to face the shower nozzle.” When I face away from the shower nozzle, I hunch over to avoid the feeling of water on the back of my neck. When I face towards it, I pull my head back and puff my chest out to get my face out of the spray.

History Search

I need to make a confession.

I’ve been cheating at Hammertime.

Half of the personal examples for any given technique come from before I even knew about the technique. Many of the tentative techniques and variations I propose are more like “patterns I noticed in my past” than the product of consciously design.

Rationality is systematized winning. The thing is, I got good at certain things before I met rationality. We all did. We’ve all been discovering ad-hoc versions of rationality techniques since before the Sequences were ever written.

Each time you learn a new rationality technique, look into your past for all the times you’ve already been doing it. You’ll get a concrete understanding of the technique and feel more ownership over it, and this will also help you adjust your seat to tailor it to your own needs.

Similarly, new rationality techniques can be discovered by searching yours and others’ pasts. Notice the cognitive strategies your brain employs already, and try to articulate them. Remember that articulating unspoken rules is participating in the divine act of creation (see Logos).

Superstition Culling

A man takes a nootropics cocktail called BrainHammer for 30 days. He feels energized and clear-minded, sleeps two fewer hours a day, and gains control over his anger problem. He develops a rosy halo around the drug, and keeps taking it ad infinitum.

BrainHammer is actually ten different drugs, and caffeine is the only one with positive effects. But BrainHammer is forty times the price of coffee, and several of its ingredients come in miniscule, irrelevant doses. One of the acting ones reduces the man’s sex drive, while another ingredient is slowly giving him kidney stones.

Hammertime (and CFAR) can be like this nootropics cocktail. Thirty days later, you come away with a glow of satisfaction, equipped with ten max-level hammers for tackling your toughest bugs. You start pounding away.

It turns out only one of the hammers (Yoda Timers) does all the work. You’re just really motivated by timers and deadlines. Meanwhile, 80% of your Hammertime-inspired rationality practice consists of placebo motions: rearranging furniture, learning three different yogas and five different meditations, muttering incoherently under your breath, stacking up half-finished journals and spreadsheets, ordering junk and garbage off Amazon. Also, you’re doing Internal Double Crux completely wrong and it’s slowly making you manic-depressive. You won’t notice until it’s too late.

Superstitions crop up inevitably whenever happy things happen. It takes discipline and the scientific method to hone in on the active ingredients of a drug cocktail, and the same holds for rationality techniques. If you’re learning more than one technique at a time, actively plan to cull out superstitions.

Even if you’re learning a single technique with multiple steps, only one of them might be load-bearing. For instance, in high school I learned that the sole value of note-taking is writing down names to remember them. Culling out the superstition, I continued to take notes but stopped keeping them.

Daily Challenge

Set a Yoda Timer and search your history for all the times you improved rapidly. Can you articulate a new rationality technique from those experiences?