Hammertime Postmortem

by radimentary


A bit less than two months ago, I set out to write about instrumental rationality every day for thirty days. In this post, I will quickly evaluate how well I felt I did along each of my four stated objectives. I will simultaneously evaluate all the Hammertime techniques and ideas by their effectiveness to my life.

This period was my deadline to 80/20 instrumental rationality. Thus, I do not plan to blog any more about it for a while. However, I do want to express my strong intent to write a fourth cycle of Hammertime in the early months of 2019, if only to check my long-term progress.

1. Hammertime Report Card

I will grade myself on the four goals I stated in the first Intermission thread:

My reasons for writing this sequence were, in clear order of importance: (a) to practice writing, (b) to review CFAR techniques for my own benefit, (c) to entertain, and (d) to teach instrumental rationality.

On reflection, these were equally important goals and I only listed them in that relative order because I believed the later ones would be harder to achieve. I will grade everything out of 100, counting up from zero. Only the relative sizes of the numbers mean anything.

Writing Practice: 90/100

This worked out quite well. I produce content about three times faster than I did at the beginning of Hammertime, with perhaps the slightest decrease in quality. Speed I value as much as strength, so this was an amazing improvement. There are things like organization and style I should have played around with more, and a Yoda Timer of copy-editing after each post would have benefited the writing quality greatly.

Personal CFAR Review: 95/100

Through this process I was forced to reflect on, try out, and push the boundaries of almost every single technique in the manual. Other than a handful of techniques that don’t click with me at all, this two-month period has been the perfect amount of time to throw at dedicated instrumental rationality practice. The long-term value of the learning I did at CFAR at least tripled because I did this.

Entertainment: 65/100

Hit or miss. Handful of posts that were really fun to write, and still look fun to read. I noticed a number of clear limitations in my writing toolkit that don’t seem to be fixable in a day or two (but might be if I actually tried). Despite my best efforts, I’m still not Eliezer or Scott.

What am I missing? I plan to experiment more with dialogue, which I’m awful at writing but seems to make some of Eliezer’s and Scott’s funniest stuff. Also, detailed and entertaining expositions of science are sorely missing in my writing – this seems like a gold mine as well.

Teach Instrumental Rationality: 50/100

Not sure this sequence is any better as pedagogical material than just the CFAR Handbook, which is a moderately dry reference manual. Perhaps that’s good enough. A handful of people seemed to benefit quite a bit, but my sense is that even among the people who read every post, few did any of the exercises or got any mileage out of this sequence over learning what the concept handles are. In the end, I always made decisions in favor of “write what’s interesting for me” rather than “write what I think would be most useful to the reader.”

Perhaps an interested reader would like to take a couple hours and reassemble the most useful parts of Hammertime into a cleaner subsequence. As a resource on instrumental rationality instruction at most half of the posts in Hammertime are of high value.

Overall: 75/100

Very impressed with myself that I followed through with this project with only minor delays. Everything went approximately as well as could be Outside-View expected.

My main takeaway is to continue throwing myself headlong into medium-term projects without thinking too much about them, and trust my instincts. It’s not obvious that more planning or structure would have helped in net – it may even have soured the whole Hammertime project and caused me not to finish at all.

2. Hammers by Power Level

I will go through the core techniques I covered in Hammertime, and grade them each based on effectiveness in my own life.

I’ll sort them into three tiers of awesome. Note that the techniques in Hammertime were already pre-selected from a larger pool of techniques based on how good they seemed to me just after CFAR.

S/A Tier

Focusing: 100/100

Doesn’t always work, but when it does … life-changing insights. Probably had three or four over the course of Hammertime. Would recommend.

Yoda Timers: 95/100

Timers and deadlines really up my game. I think I’ve always shied away from using them because “contest math,” “speed,” and “competitiveness” became low-status after high school, but man am I built for this. Sometimes I think that if grad school was structured as a serious of olympiads except with open problems, I would get a lot more work done.

Design: 90/100

Amazingly underrated technique. Amortizing everything, allowing myself to remove trivial inconveniences, spending time making my physical space better. Substantially improved my baseline quality of life: sleep quality, overall comfort, aesthetics. If I gave up actively using instrumental rationality right now, the effects of the Design choices I made in the last two months would still last for years.

B/C Tier

Bug Hunt: 80/100

Very useful to practice every so often. Ups your noticing game quite a bit for a long time.

CoZE: 80/100

Another solid technique. Gave me the tools to push through many minor unendorsed aversions and try things instinctively. Doesn’t work as well by itself on the bigger aversions – in my experience, these require the aid of Focusing and Focusing is the one doing the work.

Silence: 80/100

I feel as if combating the tendrils of nihilism in everyday life is one of the biggest problems to solve. Silence was my first attempt at framing the problem and offering a partial solution. As always, people need to allow themselves to babble more.

TDT for Humans: 75/100

Important principle that finally allowed me to understand the appeal and utility of virtue ethics/deontology. Requires more iteration and work to make it actionable.

Friendship: 75/100

Noticing the value of and setting up long-term iterated conversations with friends was extremely valuable. Experimenting with this also led me into a handful of awkward social situations and unproductive conversations. I’ve updated towards there existing even fewer people than I thought with whom I can have interesting conversations on a regular basis.

D/F Tier

Murphyjitsu: 65/100

It feels as painful and difficult to practice as reading ability in Go – life is too chaotic. For now, it’s only useful on the five-second level: what are the obvious things that will go wrong? Perhaps after I collect more data about common failure modes Murphyjitsu will be more useful. As of now, I feel woefully uncalibrated.

On the plus side, did inspire my longest work of fiction to date.

TAPs: 60/100

Weird and unnatural to practice. Handful of useful things I thought I installed rapidly faded with time. TAPs seem to last about a week for me without some other regular reinforcement mechanism.

Internal Double Crux: 50/100

Too many steps. The only real value seems to be as a method for generating Focusing targets. This is pretty valuable, but still.

Aversion/Goal Factoring: 30/100

Tried a few times, didn’t stick. Much weaker than Focusing. Usually, what I need to do is “find out my true main motive and aversion towards the thing,” and once that is done the path forward becomes clear.