Monday, August 24, 2009

Is high IQ a curse? - Hacker News

From a question posted on Hacker News Is high IQ a curse?

Potential problems:
* unrealistic expectations of what you can accomplish
* difficulty in dealing with average people
* more likely to question things and annoy people in the process
* less likely to accept traditions
* less likely to enjoy the simple pleasures of life
* less likely to find a job as an employee rewarding

I first responded:
If it is a curse to you, then you probably have other specific difficulties. I am a high-functioning autistic with an IQ of 156; I have trouble with all but the last 2. In fact, working as an employee helps offset my problems with "unrealistic expectations" since my biggest problem with that is lack of focus, and when employed my employer provides the focus. Unfortunately, since my last good employer died in 2001, I have been bouncing around between low level jobs ever since. I cannot work closely with others more than briefly, so I either have to work alone, which is what I mostly did in the 1990s, or switch jobs every few years, and with the economy and the torture looking for work is for me, I have been mostly out of work since last October.

Then in response to a suggestion that maybe I didn't really need a job, I responded:
That's my biggest problem, I don't have any particular passion. I NEED an external source of focus; when I'm not working I read and study more or less at random when something catches my attention. I have tried all sorts of things to try to maintain a single focus, but so far nothing has worked at all. And I need income even more, I'm already in debt, I just have to take whatever I can get for work.

I came back to the site after taking a nap, thinking that maybe I came across as too whiny. After rereading what I wrote, I wanted to edit it and add more useful content, but it was too late to edit or delete it, so I decided to add to it here, where it will be easier to maintain. (Finding HN entries after they've left the front page can be a bit tedious.)

I am going to respond more specifically to each point:

unrealistic expectations of what you can accomplish
If this is a problem for you, then you probably just aren't as smart as you think you are. You just need a more realistic self-assessment. My problem here is that I can accomplish a lot in a day, but staying focused for a sustained effort is impossible without help.

difficulty in dealing with average people
Being autistic, I have real trouble with this one, but I have learned and can deal with normal people in a relatively structured setting, where I know the parameters of the interaction in advance (I did okay working a Greyhound bus agency for a couple of years), if taken unawares I still can't. I also can't deal regularly with the same people for very long, since no one seems to learn from their mistakes, they keep doing the same stuff over and over and it gets on my nerves very quickly. To avoid this I usually work alone, night stocking in Walmart produce worked pretty well, but the best I had from this aspect was I spent the entire 1990s working for an architect and landscaper who dealt with the clients, then left me alone to get the work done.

more likely to question things and annoy people in the process
If you can't learn to keep your mouth shut, you really aren't very bright at all. I learned this very early in life, getting your ass kicked on the way home from school almost every day will do that.

less likely to accept traditions
Maybe not just because they are traditions, except that Friedrich Hayek, Thomas Sowell, and many others have pointed out that traditional knowledge may not be optimal, but it has survived the test of real world use, sometimes over substantial periods of time. (As a side note, many "traditions" aren't very old, despite what some seem to think.) Questioning traditions is good, just don't throw them out until you understand why they exist and have something better to replace them.

less likely to enjoy the simple pleasures of life
This depends too much on your definition of the "simple pleasures", but from what I have seen there is little difference, and what there is goes the other way; more intelligent people are generally more capable of enjoying "the simple pleasures", and indeed any pleasures.

less likely to find a job as an employee rewarding
I don't understand this one at all. Just as when you are doing independent contracting or have your own small business, you are providing a service to someone that the other values enough to pay you to do. In many ways, doing a job as an employee can be more rewarding if you like what you are doing, because you don't have to deal with the parts you may not like, such as collections, paying other employees, renting workspace, and the hundreds of other details needed to operate a successful business.

Some of the books by Thomas Sowell I have read and definitely recommend:
A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles
How to understand the fundamental difference between American liberals and small government conservatives. Does not defend Republicans nor the Judeo-Christian Socialists that have more recently been mis-labeled "conservatives".

Knowledge And Decisions
This is the single best book on the role of knowledge in the economy, and why planning does not work. Not as theoretical as some, but with more examples.

The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy
Sequel to A Conflict of Visions above; I do not recommend the third book in the series The Quest for Cosmic Justice. But even though I think it's weaker than the others, it is equally highly ranked on Amazon, so maybe you'll get more out of it than I did.

I've read and recommend others by Sowell, but these are the ones that bear most directly on the value of traditions. Hayek's books are more formally written, but I don't really think they are better than Sowell's in any real sense.

The single most accessible for general readers and referring to the value of tradition is The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism (The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek). Individualism and Economic Order is a collection of essays, and is harder reading, but I think it worth the effort.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

To Spread The Enlightenment and Western Civilization

From Scott Aaronson's "The Singularity Is Far"
And I can’t help thinking that, before we transcend the human condition and upload our brains to computers, a reasonable first step might be to bring the 18th-century Enlightenment to the 98% of the world that still hasn’t gotten the message.

No doubt lead by the sort of liberal halfwits that supported the Soviet Union and who try and fail to manage a couple dozen 9 year olds (ie, professional academics and teachers).

This is like the quote, which I can't find so can't attribute properly, that said intellectual supporters of revolutionaries expected to find themselves running things after the revolution, and in every real world revolution were unpleasantly surprised. But their intellectual descendants never seem to learn. Here what Scott wants to happen should happen; but most people don't want to become civilized, most in Western countries are actively or passively against the very civilization that they depend upon for their lives. The only reason civilization hasn't collapsed under the sheer weight of democratic arrogance and stupidity is that market forces have helped to counterbalance their incompetence and evil. And the only way to raise the rest of the world is by extending the market, and especially protecting it from gov't power, into the rest of the world.

Earlier in the post he wrote,
I see a few fragile and improbable victories against a backdrop of malice, stupidity, and greed—the tiny amount of good humans have accomplished in constant danger of drowning in a sea of blood and tears
Since destroying things is MUCH easier than building, if humans weren't substantially inclined toward helpful and constructive values, civilization would never have existed in the first place nor could it continue to exist at all. Of course, most of the world doesn't have much, largely because they aren't very civilized.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Time to Try Again

I've recently started an(other) effort to lose my excess weight. Since this time I am on the web I have been looking for more research. It appears there is very little useful information available. The biggest problem, it appears to me, is the lack of any financial incentive to run large controlled trials of diets as there is in drug trials. What we really, really need for nutritional science to advance much more, is for large-scale controlled experiments, but without the millions of dollars drug companies put into testing their products, in the hopes of making it back from sales on successful drugs, it is not going to happen.

With the lack of clear information, I am just going to go with moderate calorie restriction with no particular worries as to what I'm eating. And serious exercise to raise my caloric expenditure and tone my body at the same time. I am going to concentrate on aerobic or cardio exercise because that burns more calories since you can do it for longer periods than anaerobic or strength training; and because I am fairly strong, but my aerobic fitness sucks.

The best information I have found is Dr Sharkey's Fitness & Health. I read the first edition, then titled "The Physiology of Fitness", two decades ago and more recently the 4th edition; I just haven't really determined to lose my excess weight and worked at it before.

I am using a couple of Jillian Michaels's DVDs (Jillian Michaels - 30 Day Shred and Jillian Michaels: No More Trouble Zones) and just read two of her books, Winning by Losing: Drop the Weight, Change Your Life and Making the Cut: The 30-Day Diet and Fitness Plan for the Strongest, Sexiest You. Her fitness and exercise advice is very good, but the nutritional advice is not worth taking the time to read. The specific advice she gives goes far beyond what can be justified by what we know of nutrition; following it won't hurt you, it will just waste your time and money.

I am going to keep doing weights on alternate days to maintain my strength while working on the other, but I am in good shape there. Strength Training: Your Ultimate Weight Conditioning Program (Sports Illustrated Winner's Circle Books) is the best single book I have read on weight training. I have also found several of the Gold's Gym books useful, including The Gold's Gym Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding (Gold's Gym series) and The Gold's Gym Book of Bodybuilding. But The Gold's Gym Training Encyclopedia, though it doesn't provide much in the way of planning routines, has an incredible array of specific exercises, which allows you to switch around frequently, both to help keep from getting too bored with it and to work the muscles from as many directions as possible. I specifically don't recommend Gold's Gym Nutrition Bible (Gold's Gym Series) as it is full of nutritional nonsense.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Akrasia as Revealed Preference

I have begun wondering whether claiming to be victim of "akrasia" might just be a way of admitting that your real preferences, as revealed in your actions, don't match the preferences you want to signal (believing what you want to signal, even if untrue, makes the signals more effective).

Complaining about akrasia, the lack of will-power, to get done what you want to do, may show that your real preferences are not those you are claiming. You do what you choose to do - if you are not doing what you claim to want to do, then you are lying, definitely to others, and likely to yourself.

From a Less Wrong comment thread: "This is an insufficient explanation. I have on many occasions found myself doing superficially enjoyable but instant-gratification, low effort activities that I actually enjoyed less than some other, delayed-gratification and/or higher effort activity." (SoullessAutomaton 07 August 2009 10:39:56PM, in response to a comment from me)

Your situation, both immediate and longer-term, strongly influences your prefereneces; so many workable "anti-akrasia" efforts involve "situation management"; for some examples, people quitting smoking by avoiding cues that used to trigger habitual lighting-up; a dieter getting rid of snack foods so they have to think about and prepare anything they eat; posting reminders of your longer-term goals so they don't get so easily overwritten by the immediate preferences (this works short-term, until you stop seeing them because they become just part of your visual background).

On a T-shirt I saw a while back:
“Hard work pays off in the future,
Laziness pays off right now.”
Akrasia can also be an excuse for laziness.

Or it could possibly be an avoidance activity, where you had some reason (see Burka & Yuen's book Procrastination: Why You Do It, What to Do About It Now for a long list of reasons for avoidance behaviors). Anyone who procrastinates much is going to find themselves doing this kind of stuff - you need to rout out the fears that tend to cause the avoidance. This would be an example where the avoidance of X is preferred to doing X even when you consciously think you want to do X.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Foresight versus Negativity and Pessimism

When I worked remodeling and landscaping I used to try to visualize what could go wrong and head potential problems off while we were still planning the work. I finally got tired of the man I was working for calling me a pessimist and complaining about my negativity and quit saying anything.

Stay well away from anyone who uses the word "negativity". Every time I have heard it used it was an attack on someone attempting to show some foresight.

Rationalists Should Win

Some Notes on Instrumental Rationality

a general response to several Less Wrong posts and comments

"Abandon reasonableness" is never necessary; though I think we may be using reasonable somewhat differently. I think "reasonable" includes the idea of "appropriate to the situation"

As to the overall point, I agree that rationalists should win. General randomness, unknowns, and opposition from other agents prevent consistent victories in the real world. But if you are not winning more than losing you definitely are not being rational.

Another reason for failure is a failure of knowledge. It's possible simply not to know something you need to succeed, at the time you need it. No one can know everything they might possibly need to. It is not irrational, if you did not know that you would need to know beforehand.

A bad reason for failure is the faulty assumption that something is possible to accomplish when it's not (eg, perpetual motion and its less obvious equivalents). And of course there's the complementary problem: "If the objection you think is real, is in fact real, well, then you've only lost a little time by trying. But if you believe an objection that isn't real, then you've lost much, much more than that.", P J Eby commenting on "Bad Reasons for Rationalist to Lose", that is not trying something because you wrongly think it is impossible.