Rationality Techniques 1

CFAR usually designs their techniques to help people Get Stuff Done. I have a failure mode of Getting The Wrong Stuff Done, so this time through their workshop, I focused on improving techniques to explicitly have steps around pursuing the correct terminal goals (which I’ll here call “terminal goal techniques”).

Original technique: Goal-factor
New terminal goal technique:

  1. Find an instrumental goal toward another instrumental goal.
  2. Embark on that goal provisionally, while also making a plan to acquire more information about whether it’s a good idea and better plans are available.
  3. Periodically re-evaluate to make sure it’s the best goal and you’re gathering information.

Original Technique: Murphy-jitsu

  1. Come up with a plan to achieve your goal.
  2. Use pre-hindsight to ask “How did this go wrong?”.
  3. Fix that. Go to 2 until fixed.

Revised terminal goal technique: Murphy-jitsu with terminal goal check

  1. Come up with a plan.
  2. Use pre-hindsight to ask “How was I disappointed when this went as planned?”
  3. Fix that. Go to 2 until fixed.
  4. Use pre-hindsight to ask “How did this go wrong?”.
  5. Fix that. Go to 2 until fixed.

Another technique: Positive murphyjitsu (“Why didn’t this go even better?”)
Another technique: Aversion murphyjitsu (“Imagine none of the positive listed factors happened. Why was it still possible?”) for cases when I can’t think about how to overcome a aversion directly.

Instrumental failure TAP:

  • Notice executive planning fails  -> Look for lack of motivation or motivation propagation
  • Notice motivation / motivation propogation fails -> Look to see if the goal you’re pursuing is what you want (or exactly what you want)

Technique: Exactboxing

  1. Find a thing to do
  2. Set a 15-minute timer
  3. Do the thing
  4. If you finish early, keep doing the thing anyway. (For example, figure out how to do it better in the future or for the problem to never happen again.
  5. If you don’t finish in time, stop anyway. It’s done. If you don’t know how it’s done, that’s a failure mode–you should have at most one task which takes an unbounded amount of time in your life. (I find this makes my brain accept ‘line of retreat’)

Technique: Do the Obvious Thing

  1. Ask a question, for example how to pursue a goal you want achieved (I recommend a Hamming Question)
  2. Figure out the most obvious solution.
  3. Acknowledge that it is the most obvious solution.
  4. Decide whether or not to do it.
  5. If you don’t want to, contradiction. Debug steps 1,2,3,4 and see where you went wrong until they’re in accord.

Theory on how to avoid lost purposes (mostly from Eliezer): Use Litany of Tarski a lot until you get the magic effect where you don’t start rationalizing to begin with (and generally don’t flinch away from learning about things/mistakes). Then, develop an aversion to lost purposes. The naive failure mode is to avoid noticing lost purposes if you have an aversion. (The simpler technique is Alien in a Body)

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One Response to Rationality Techniques 1

  1. JSevilla says:

    Cool stuff. I liked exactboxing and DTOT.
    Murphy jitsu has potential.
    The modified goal factor has a suspicious component of leaving things to future me that I don’t like a bit though.

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