Be my neighbor

(Tldr: If you want a bunch of neighbors like me in Berkeley, this is a good opportunity.)

My own ideal living situation would probably involve a lot of private units containing people who get on well together, around some kind of central place that they could go when they were in the market for seeing other people. And pragmatically, with a lot of shared amenities: someone mowing everyone’s lawn at once, someone cooking for whoever wants it, one amazing washing machines replacing five shoddy washing machines etc. I liked living in a dorm, though I would amend some things.

My impression is that other people also want this kind of thing often, but that very little of it exists for adults. Possibly for good reasons, but I’m not sure.

One relatively close institution is the group house. And while I had mixed experiences in these prior to moving to the Bay, I have loved the slightly modified version, the ‘rationalist group house’. This is like the group house, but with members selected from a social scene whose people are especially likely to be interesting and weird in compatible ways to me.

Two years ago I decided to try to make an extra good (for me) rationalist house, by inviting a list of people I especially wanted to live with to start a new one. This led (via some more complicated algorithmic and experimental shenanigans) to The Bailey, which has indeed been pretty great. It is the sort of place where there is always someone interesting to talk to about something interesting—from gossip to AI to this week’s ambitious world-bettering plans. And where people are busy, but will often stop and eat together, whether it be a bulk-stocked MealSquare, or some delicious and elaborate home-cooked thing. Where people will talk for an hour about how communication works before they lose their temper with you for messing it up. Where the dog is cute and the internal currency is confusing, and the whiteboards are many.

Another nearby institution—a step up in scale from the rationalist house—would be the rationalist neighborhood. And that is what we are starting to try now around The Bailey (on Ward St, Berkeley), to my great excitement.

SSC says more:

SSC is part of a wider movement of philosophy enthusiasts, transhumanists, effective altruists, etc which has somehow ended up with the simultaneously boring and arrogant moniker of “the rationalist community”. We’ve developed a small intellectual/social scene in the SF Bay Area, with a few hundred interesting people who hang out together and cooperate on various projects. Since rent in the Bay is so high, a lot of the rationalists there are living in group houses, which have become nuclei for social events and cooperation.

Four of these have ended out clustered on Ward Street in Berkeley, and we’re thinking we might as well try to accelerate this and turn the area into a center of the community. We’ve been trying to snatch up houses in the area, and we just got dibs on four houses immediately adjacent to the existing rationalist cluster that are currently available for rent:

1. A five bedroom house for ~$5500/month, available now
2. A four bedroom house for ~$4200/month, available now
3. A seven-to-eight bedroom house, cost to be determined, available 9/1/17
4. A three bedroom house for ~$3100/month, available now (not adjacent to existing cluster; a few blocks away)

All of these are owned by the same landlord, who we’ve previously found pretty reasonable. They’re all kind of old and not going to win any Modern Architectural Design awards or even Especially Well Maintained awards, but we think (investigations still ongoing) that they’re basically solid and in good shape. Pictures and viewings available on request.

We’re currently looking for people who might be interested, either in renting entire houses, or in taking single rooms in what will probably become group houses. Existing community members are of course welcome to apply, but so is anyone who’s reading this and who thinks the idea sounds interesting. If interested, contact katja.s.grace[at]gmail[dot]com for more information and to arrange viewings, etc.

(disclaimer: I enjoyed living in the Bay Area, but I can’t deny that the prices are terrible, the local politics absurd, and the density at just the right level to frustrate lovers of big cities and quiet suburbs alike. Experiences with the rationalist community there vary widely, from people who say it was life-changingly good to people who found it disappointing and difficult to get into. The housing situation here might make it easier to get into, but no guarantees)

Readers of this who think the idea sounds interesting are also welcome to apply.

What you should do

  1. If you might be interested in living in the Ward St neighborhood soon, write to me at katja.s.grace[cat]gmail[dot]com. (This is not a commitment.)
  2. Tell me if you have a group of people you want to live with, or if you are looking to be matched up with some others.
  3. Expect me to contact you soon, for instance with opportunities to see the houses beginning next week.
  4. If you want to be contacted about future expansion but don’t want to move soon, or have questions, or want to see photos or be told who else lives here, also write to me.

 

Anecdotal panic prevention strategies

I have panic attacks somewhere between every few months and multiple times per week. At the moment it seems to be mostly restricted to when I wake up and haven’t got the hang of being a human again yet, so it isn’t a huge problem.

But when it is, I have often found that eating honey vastly and quickly improves the problem. Not sugar, not sugar syrup, just honey. Not after the sugar has reached my bloodstream, but when it touches my tongue. Often not in a ‘hmm, I guess I feel better?’ way, but in a ‘I was tumbling head over heels down a hill, and then it just stopped’ way.

I’m hesitant to point this out much, because 1) it doesn’t make any sense, which suggests it is imaginary and 2) I feel uncomfortable about the whole complicated and murky landscape of people giving often unwanted advice, with various motives, about awkward things, that probably only work for that person, and probably only do so because of the placebo effect.

On the other hand, I caused someone else to try this, who also found that it worked. Plus as far as I can tell having an additional thing to try if you are having a panic attack is good, even if it turns out not to work. And I dislike the equilibrium where people who do have useful advice in expectation are worried about sharing it in case they seem annoying.

So, if anyone else has panic attacks and feels like trying this out, I am curious to hear how it goes. I usually squeeze half a teaspoon of honey or so into a spoon and eat it straight.

***

Since I already maybe mostly have the attention of people interested in panic attack relief, below is my longer list of things I have found probably-useful over the years (in more expected, explicable, hit-or-miss, or time-taking ways).

Collected panic attack mitigation strategies

  • Honey
  •  Playing DDR (both as a thing to do actually during a panic attack, and as a really good way to get prophylactic exercise if you find leaving your room or committing to more than five seconds of exercise aversive, e.g. because you have an anxiety disorder.)
  •  Saying ‘I can be anxious and still be in control’, and noticing over time that this is true, every time.
  • Estimating how long panic attacks go for, looking at a clock, noting at what time this one will probably be done, and expecting/planning/predicting to feel better then. Maybe kind of thinking of the clock as a machine that is resolving the problem, and will be done when it gets to the seven or whatever.
  • Counting slowly to five during each breath, and holding breath after out-breath while counting to two, about five times.
  • Listening to Au Fond Du Temple Saint sung by Jussi Bjorling and Robert Merrill. If you are looking for music which bears the same relation to you as that song does to me, my guess is that the relevant feature is either ‘literally impedes breathing’ or something to do with feelings. Some other songs that only affect feelings seem to help too, but I think in a different way.
  • Measuring heart-rate repeatedly and trying to make it go down (breathing slowly helps often).
  • Playing Civ IV or some other computer games, though this often seems to just distract me while prolonging the panic attack. Which is useful if you are in an inconvenient situation for freaking out, and expect to be in a better one in three hours.
  • Really engaging and distracting activities in general, e.g. writing a song.
  • Spending time with particular people.
  • Being held tightly or under a weighted blanket
  •  Sipping straight gin
  • Going for a walk
  • Eating food, drinking, lying down, averting pain, becoming the right temperature etc, as needed— (I am weirdly bad at remembering to do these, and admit I have a list of things that animals need to live, that I look at if I am worried that I have forgotten one.)
  • Swearing a lot
  • Setting a five minute timer and ignore it with intent to freak out in five minutes
  • Noting that the situation is not your fault, if it is not. If it is, note determinism.
  • Calculating the probability of any specific concerns, given the evidence. (e.g. ‘it seems like I can’t breathe. how often does that happen without me dying? Every three days, but this time seems different. How often does this time seem different? Every six days… How often does it happen that a person feels like they can’t breathe because they are dying, when they are in their twenties? Well, women in their twenties die about once in three thousand years of living, and probably no more than one percent of those deaths are preceded by feeling like they can’t breathe. So maybe once in three hundred thousand years, versus 60 times per year for non-death causes of feeling like you can’t breathe, for a one in 18 million chance this is the death one. And I’m probably not off by more than three orders of magnitude as a result of hyperventilating impeding my ability to do math, so lets say a one in ten thousand chance very pessimistically.. sounds like I should at least anticipate surviving..)
  • Thinking about how good reason is, and how right it is for it to triumph over feelings (as direct determinant of actions), and how passionately loyal to reason you feel, and what a great strength-giving rock to which you owe everything of value it is (…and how if you were going to trust your feelings over reason, they would just tell you how great reason is anyway, so it is only reasonable to trust reason more, which is good because it is what you feel like…) YMMV.
  • Doing whatever hard to describe mental motions get you into a mental state appropriate for marching up a mountain, or being reasonable, or doing something other than freaking out, if you have different mental stances like this.
  • I have found various drugs useful for being less anxious, notably (at different times) an SSRI and St John’s Wort, though both had confusing effects. I am sure better advice has been written about this.

Who watches?

It is hard for humans to escape caring what other humans think of them. Arguably, it is hard for humans to escape caring about about what other humans would think of them, were other humans to ever learn the fascinating truth of what they put in their sandwich today, or how stylish the sweatpants they wear to eat it will be.

This attention to ‘what people think’ is usually seen as regrettable but unavoidable, so we encourage one another not to do it, and leave it at that.

Yet how good or bad ‘caring what people think’ is must surely depend a lot on who ‘people’ are.  And I think this actually differs substantially between different self-conscious minds, and can be altered. Which is to say, even if you are beholden to the thoughts of ‘people’, the nature of this is flexible.

In the extreme, arbitrary imaginary observers could applaud any kind of behavior, so it’s flexible in the sense that there isn’t really any behavior this couldn’t lead to. But also in practice, with the particular set of people who exist (and the ones who could, and will, and did), I suspect an individual person can come to quite different conclusions about what ‘people’ think by aggregating the people and their thoughts differently.

Some variation I suspect exists among people’s imaginary observers:

  • Real vs. ideal: if everyone in the world prefers policy X but you are confident that a rational agent would prefer policy Y, which do you feel less ashamed carrying out?
  • Actual vs. hypothetical: if two people are aware of your behavior and everyone else isn’t, how do you weigh what those two actually think of it relative to what everyone else would think of it if they knew? e.g. How shameful would it feel to partake in bestiality in front of other enthusiasts?
  • Local vs. global: do you feel better doing something that the people around you approve of if you think that most people in the world or in time would disagree, or doing something locally unpopular, confident that most people ever would applaud?
  • Informed vs. uninformed: if given all of the information P is a good action and Q is a stupid action, but with less information Q looks better, which do you feel less ashamed to do? (Supposing that in practice nobody is looking).
  • Sympathetic vs. critical: do you have to really make a strong case to persuade the imaginary onlookers, or are they itching to approve of your actions if you give them any justification?
  • Eliteness: do you care what everyone thinks, or how strongly do you weight the views of the ‘best’ people, on some measure of best?
  • Specific cultural groups: do you mostly care what atheists think, or American people or liberals?
  • Weighting of particular people: are there romantic partners or Gods or heroes or crushes who get a particular place in the jury?

If you are mostly trying to appeal to an ideal hypothetical global informed elite audience, this seems pretty hard to distinguish from just being a really good person. It sort of internalizes the externalities, and and requires you to do your best impression of being reasonable and informed yourself.

If you are performing more for the respect of ten ignorant idiots literally watching you, this could look like all sorts of things, but many of them will be bad. Often even for the observers, since you are incentivised to match their ignorance.

Bad arguments as evidence

A problem with listening to arguments is that they often fail to include the evidence that provoked them, which can be informative where the argument itself is fatally flawed.

For instance, suppose there is a God. And suppose that people frequently see him, and so feel inclined to believe in him. However they know ‘I saw God!’ will get little interest and much criticism, so they don’t say that. But, feeling more positively inclined toward pro-God arguments, and end up tentatively agreeing with some of them. They come to say ‘how did eyes evolve?’ and ‘where did the universe come from?’, because these are the most compelling-to-them pro-God arguments they came across. And so you—who has never seen God—just see a whole lot of people making bad arguments about God, and then weirdly believing them. But the important evidence—that a large portion of the population has experienced personally meeting God—is hidden from you, though in sum you might have taken it more seriously than you take a flawed argument.

If people feel that arguments are more virtuous than anecdote, you should remember that when people make arguments, they might be doing it in the place of anecdotes, that a) actually changed their mind and b) are actually interesting evidence.

This is especially true in a world where most people can’t argue their way out of a paper bag, and are also more frequently compelled by non-argument phenomena than arguments.

So, an upshot is that if someone makes an argument to you, consider asking the story of how they came to feel disposed toward its conclusion.

A real example:

I remember motivatedly reasoning in the past, and while I expect my arguments were above average, had someone wondered what produced them and asked me, I might have told them that I had been in the forests, and that they were incredible and made me feel different to being in other places, and that I am further offended by people getting their way and destroying value in the name of bad reasoning, and that I had always been basically on the environmentalist side, because everyone I knew said that it was wrong. And even if my arguments had been of no interest to someone, they could infer from my story that the forests were probably amazing to experience, and that local environmental politics was polarized (that the other side seemed frustratingly wrong could probably be guessed). Either of which is evidence on whether the forests should be destroyed, and probably not mentioned a lot in my arguments.

A real possible example where this might help:

Perhaps people sometimes argue that AI will undergo a fast take-off, because “once there is a new feedback loop, who knows how fast it will go?” And you do not find this argument compelling—after all, there are new feedback loops all the time, and they rarely destroy the world. But what caused them to think AI will undergo a fast take-off? One possibility is that their intuitions are taking in many other things about the world, and producing expectations of fast take-off for reasons that the person does not have conscious ability to explain. If so, that would be interesting to know, regardless of the quality of their arguments. Another possibility is that they heard someone argue really compellingly, and they can’t remember the precise argument. Or they trust someone else who claimed it. These might be informative or not, depending on why the person seemed worth listening to.

Related: Chesterton’s Fence in the presence of bull

Self-fulfilling values of time

How much do you think your time is worth?

Let’s say you are pretty unsure, but you guess ‘hardly anything’. So when you see opportunities to turn your time into a little bit of value, you naturally jump at them. You offer to clean your friend’s car for her, because it’s a way of saving ten dollars for like an hour of your time, which would otherwise be put to a worse use. You put a lot of attention into finding good shopping deals and learning how to make cheaper meals. And in between all this, you don’t mind cutting down your work hours to enjoy life, because losing an hour of productivity is worth less than the popcorn. Sometimes you do reassess the value of your time, by thinking about your second best options for spending it. For instance, if you didn’t clean your friend’s car, what would you have been doing? Probably making your own granola, which is worth something, but doesn’t matter much. So you learn that you were right: your time is not worth much.

But let’s say instead that you guess that your time is worth a lot. You then shamelessly skip over any task that isn’t also worth a lot. You jump at opportunities to spend dollars to save minutes, and buy whatever is convenient and doesn’t get in the way of the real work. If a new opportunity appears, you compare it to the next best thing you could be doing, and since that is something awesome (or you wouldn’t be doing it), few opportunities are good enough to take. So it turns out that you were right: your time is worth a lot.

This probably shouldn’t happen to an ideal agent, but I think it probably does happen to humans. I am curious whether this is a familiar phenomenon to others.

You might think, if you guess your time is not worth much, won’t you correct it later if it is, when you see the more amazing opportunities on the table? In practice maybe not, because you (and others) partly assess which things you can do by the current value of your time (e.g. maybe I can see that it is valuable to start an awesome startup but I assume it is not an opportunity for *me* because I am usually peeling carrots or something, and am not even amazing at that). Also you don’t necessarily hear about high value opportunities if you are doing low value activities. Also, maybe you hear about fewer things altogether if you stop at the first opportunity to turn time into peanuts and turn your attention to running that process, instead of looking further. And you just see a whole different set of opportunities if you go down one path instead of another. Like if you decide to start at cleaning jobs, you then hear about other (sometimes somewhat better) cleaning-job-level things, not about important philosophy problems that need solving.