"Everything can be made radically elementary." ~Steven Rudich

Category: Essays and Short Stories

Three Miniatures

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.

Read the rest of this entry »


CoZE 2

This is part 15 of 30 of Hammertime. Click here for the intro.

Another of CFAR’s running themes is: Try Things!

When you’re considering adopting new habits or ideas, there’s no better way to gather data than actually trying […] This is particularly important because when something does work out, you get to keep doing it.

Hammertime will suggest lots of object-level advice. Try them all! A one-in-ten success rate may not feel encouraging, but you can repeat anything that actually works hundreds or thousands of times throughout your life.

Here’s a rule of thumb: if there’s a 1% chance it’ll regularly help in the long run, it’s worth trying for five minutes.

Read the rest of this entry »

Design 2

This is part 14 of 30 of Hammertime. Click here for the intro.

I am a finger pointing to the moon. Don’t look at me; look at the moon.

Rationalists drone on and on about how our fake our models are, how we gesture at and point to deep inarticulate truths, and – to shoulder some of the blame – the importance of circumambulating the truth rather than honing in on it directly. We spend all too much time insisting we’re fingers pointing at the moon.

Hammertime says: Fuck the moon.

There are trillions of indistinguishable giant space rocks floating around in the universe. But a human finger contains a trillion copies of the source code for the most power intelligence to walk the known universe. If I had to choose, I’d rather spend my days studying fingers than moons, and it’s not even close.

Hammertime is a set of fingers pointing at the moon. Occasionally, it may prove useful to sit back, cross your eyes, and look for the moon: that grand overarching cognitive strategy behind these techniques. But if you miss the moon, fingers are awesome too. So don’t worry. Relax. Just do exactly as I say.

Read the rest of this entry »

TAPs 2

This is part 13 of 30 of Hammertime. Click here for the intro.

“Omit needless words!” cries the author on page 23, and into that imperative Will Strunk really put his heart and soul. In the days when I was sitting in his class, he omitted so many needless words, and omitted them so forcibly and with such eagerness and obvious relish, that he often seemed in the position of having shortchanged himself — a man left with nothing more to say yet with time to fill, a radio prophet who had out-distanced the clock. Will Strunk got out of this predicament by a simple trick: he uttered every sentence three times. When he delivered his oration on brevity to the class, he leaned forward over his desk, grasped his coat lapels in his hands, and, in a husky, conspiratorial voice, said, “Rule Seventeen. Omit needless words! Omit needless words! Omit needless words!”

The Elements of Style

There is nothing more essential to the practice of Hammertime than repetition, and no rationality technique that requires more repetitive practice than TAPs. Although we pick only three days to focus on them, it’s best to draw out the repetitive drilling of TAPs over a lifetime.

Read the rest of this entry »

Yoda Timers 2

This is part 12 of 30 of Hammertime. Click here for the intro.

Anyone who can muster their willpower for thirty seconds, can make a desperate effort to lift more weight than they usually could.  But what if the weight that needs lifting is a truck?  Then desperate efforts won’t suffice; you’ll have to do something out of the ordinary to succeed.  You may have to do something that you weren’t taught to do in school.  Something that others aren’t expecting you to do, and might not understand.  You may have to go outside your comfortable routine, take on difficulties you don’t have an existing mental program for handling, and bypass the System.

Make an Extraordinary Effort

I don’t know if I’ve ever made an extraordinary effort (that’s probably evidence I haven’t), but I’ve certainly made desperate efforts. The philosophy of Yoda Timers is that it might be enough to make desperate efforts all the time: to do the known thing as well and quickly as can be done. Past that is the realm of rare genius.

CFAR calls Yoda Timers “Resolve Cycles,” a sub-skill of Resolve – the ability to make a desperate effort. Least glamorous of all rationality techniques, Resolve deserves its own book. How much could you accomplish just by more brute force all the time?

Read the rest of this entry »

Bug Hunt 2

This is part 11 of 30 of Hammertime. Click here for the intro.

CFAR has an underlying mantra “adjust your seat”: systematically modify every technique and class to fit your personal situation. It’s common sense nowadays that different things work for different people, but the extent to which is true still constantly surprises me. (Kierkegaard had a fun take on adjusting your seat which he called the Method of Rotation.)

If you wish to partake in Hammertime, feel free to adjust your seat as much as necessary. Draw out the practice of instrumental rationality over a longer period of time, pick and choose the methods that appeal to you, and scale them to your time constraints.

Read the rest of this entry »

Missives from China

Driving in China

You’ve heard of the Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma. But have you heard of Iterated Chicken?

Heat Lag

Day 4: Temperature is experienced differently here. People wear wool coats over turtlenecks in 70 degree weather. Counted two other people wearing T-shirts out of thousands.

Day 5: It’s freezing out. I really miss my winter coat.

A Fatal Error

Two days before Chinese New Year, I went to the supermarket and bought my own snacks.

Feeling Like a Native

A man on a moped asked me for directions today. To the place I was walking.

Evolution of Fashion

Day 2: Two cute little girls seen wearing spinning pinwheels in their hair.

Day 3: Every little girl is wearing them.

Day 4: Boy spotted wearing pinwheel. Two girls spotted wearing double pinwheels.

Day 5: Grown ass women with rainbow pinwheels in their hair.

Blood, Sweat and Tears

Would anyone attempt this mountain if the height of its summit could be perceived from the base?

Feeling Attractive

Watched too many Asian idol dramas recently. Average Chinese people are pleasingly homely in comparison.

An Electrifying Coincidence

My wife is from Edison, New Jersey. Her ancestors brought the light bulb to China.

Feeling Like a Native, Part 2

Out of place on a crowded street. Overheard dialects from all over China. Realized Chinese people are tourists, even in China. I’m right at home.