Glossary

Antifragility:

Some things are fragile in the sense that they lose from disorder. Some things are robust to disorder– they remain the same. Other things are antifragile, meaning they BENEFIT from disorder. The future is highly unpredictable– the world is large, so unlikely things happen everyday. Rather than try to predict the future (“We had no idea that there was going to be an economic crisis this year”), we ought to systematically remove fragility from our lives– and ideally introduce antifragility.

Abitrary Configurations Of Reality:

he realisation that almost everything around us is the way it is for largely arbitrary reasons. There are some hard physical limitations (the realm of physics– even that gets revised every so often, with a better understanding of levers, hydraulics, electromagnetism, etc.), but beyond that most things are really random and don’t have any “ultimate” reason for being the way they are.

It’s easy to come up with hindsight rationalisation that explains why things are the way they are, but that’s just explaining one arbitrary configuration of reality. Everything could easily be completely different. Who you are, where you live, who your friends are, what you care about– all of these things were, in a sense, chosen for you by forces beyond your control, even beyond your perception.

Bullshit breaks down at the boundaries:

Bullshit is anything that sounds plausible but has been untested by reality. Ribbon farm has a few good definitions– “noise that has been arbitrarily tagged with truth-values to give it apparent legibility”, “data that appears to contain more information than it actually does”. Bullshit is an indulgence that we can only afford when we don’t have skin in the game.

You can bullshit your way through a lot of things if you’re in a safe environment that allows it (school, massive companies, etc). Internet forums are full of bullshit, small groups of friends are full of bullshit. Individuals who are safe and comfortable are also likely to be full of bullshit. I know I am. My beliefs about what is possible, what is not possible, what I ought to do with my life, etc– not only are these arbitrary configurations, they are likely to be hindsight-rationalised.

Bullshit gets called out and breaks down when you’re required to perform. (Even then some masters of bullshit find ways to rationalise that away– see Oglaf’s Delusionist.)

This isn’t nearly as precise as I’d like to be. I think there’s deliberate bullshit (you know that you’re being indifferent/vague) and there’s ignorant bullshit (you don’t even realize that your views are too vague to actually be useful at crunch-time.) See also– Truthiness, when something sounds and looks and feels true without necessarily actually being true.

Bundle of Neutrons:

Thoughts remixed from Lewis Thomas, Vilayanur Ramachandran and others. See also: Meatbag. The idea here is that everything I am is a function of a bundle of neurons in my body. We have mirror neurons that fire when we see other people doing things. In a sense, all of humanity is a vast network of neurons. There’s something rather calming about this realisation.

Complexity:

A state where a system of objects have many interrelated relationships, such that a change in one or a few elements can lead to all sorts of complications. Procrastination, for example, is mildly complex because it involves 4 moving parts (see: the procrastination equation).

Managing complexity requires more than just blunt practice– it’s unlikely that you’ll figure out how to manage 4 moving interrelated parts just by random chance. Rather, you have to really break things down into their components and understand all of the causal relationships. Trial and error helps, but it has to be systematic.

That’s for mildly complex. There are many things in the world that are so complex, it’s almost impossible to intervene and control. The global economy, for instance. It makes more sense to focus on being robust or antifragile.

Context is powerful:

The fastest way to change your behaviour is to change your context.

Deep Signalling:

If we’re being abstract we can describe the universe as patterns of information. All people are patterns, dances of space-time. Whirlpools, vortexes. Signalling is how we communicate. Through words, yes, but also through actions, emotions. Deep signalling is contrasted from superficial signalling– it’s much more expensive/costly, and so it’s also much more persuasive.

Deep signalling is what you get when you put in a lot of work into something, so that you’re able to do it with intense confidence– more than just pep-talk confidence, but a real, “I truly believe it beyond a fragment of a doubt” confidence.

Ego Trap

Beating yourself up over your failures is every bit as egotistic as convincing yourself you’re amazing. In both cases, the reality is that you’re not nearly as big a deal as you’re making yourself out to be.

Beating yourself up also is an elaborate way of avoiding doing the actual work you should be doing, which is harder, less interesting, less psychologically stimulating, etc.

Everything Is A Remix:

Idea expressed in a video series by Kirby Ferguson. This was really profound for me. It reinforced my conviction that doing word vomits is a good idea, and it catalysed my decision to unfriend everybody on social media.

If everything is a remix then a good life comes from quality input + prolific output, without too much Premature Optimisation (below.)

Freedom Requires Violence:

Also known as Creative Destruction. If you want to make an omelette, you have to crack a few eggs. I feel like this is understood very well in some domains, but barely at all in others. All progress requires some sort of destruction. You have to give up who you are right now in order to become who you want to be.

Games:

There are many different ways of talking about games. I think the main thing for me is that games are fun and interesting, and a lot of real life isn’t nearly as fun and interesting as it ought to be. This is primarily a matter of design. I’d like to redesign my life so it’s more fun and meaningful.

Oh yeah– there’s this notion that game = trivial. That’s just one class of game. The pursuit of the profound is a kind of game as well. A game is anything with an agent and some sort of objective, arguably even if the objective is no-objective. See: Arbitrary Configurations Of Reality

 

Insight Porn:

When we try to come up with things that sound good so we feel good. Sometimes these insights are useful and applicable, sometimes they’re bullshit. Even when useful, insight pornographers are probably defined by our tendency to make more insight porn rather than act upon it.

Keep Your Identity Small:

Courtesy of Paul Graham. It takes a lot of energy to maintain appearances– not just performing them for others on social media, but even inside your own head. Calling yourself a Republican, Democrat, etc, is limiting. Where possible, kill aspects of your identity that don’t have any utility. Question everything.

Map Is Not The Territory:

Our models of reality are not reality. They are necessarily incomplete. Overreliance on models– particularly without failsafes, without the built-in assumption that these models are wrong– lead to blowups that can be intensely damaging.

Meatbag Management:

As humans I think it’s important for us to realise that we are, before anything else, bags of chemicals. We’re a bundle of neurons that need to be supported by all the meat scaffolding.

We often underestimate how important it is to exercise, to sleep well, to eat healthily, and so on. These things usually improve our quality of life far more than any intellectual pursuit.

Moral Failing Fallacy

We often stop inquiring once we decide that the reason for something is somebody’s moral failure. See: Moral Failing Fallacy

More is Different:

I think I first read about this in Tor Norretrander’s The User Illusion. As something increases in quantity, it begins to exhibit qualitative differences. I’m starting to feel this for myself with my word vomits.

Narrativization / Narrativistic Bullshit:

The realisation that humans are natural storytellers, story-crafting machines. We think in terms of story. Story helps us survive. The problem is that stories oversimplify.

We create stories that feel and sound good, not necessarily stories that are accurate and valid (correspond to reality.)

Oscillation

When you’re trying to become a better version of yourself, you’ll often oscillate between who you were before and who you want to be. this is normal and it’s to be expected. It’s part of progress. It doesn’t happen any other way.

Overview Effect:

The profound experience that astronauts have when they look upon the Earth from outer space, being forcefully made aware of the fleetingness, preciousness and the interconnectedness of all things. Something I’d really like to experience.

I wonder if there’s a distinction between the conceptual intellectual realization of this truth, and seeing it for yourself, with your own body suspended in space. I think there must be, if at least because of the way our subconscious works. (See: Deep Signalling, Subconscious Audience)

Plausible deniability:

One of the most important skills anybody needs to develop as a social creature. As far as I can remember, nobody really taught me this. My parents didn’t teach me, my teachers didn’t teach me, even my peers didn’t really clue me into this.

You learn it by noticing, and then trying, and then realizing there’s this rich world that nobody tells you about.

Premature Optimization:

What happens when we try to do something that seems great within a narrow set of circumstances, but may have adverse effects or simply be suboptimal in a broader set of circumstances. The pursuit of local optima.

Procrastination Equation:

by Steel Piers. A model for making sense of procrastination by breaking it down into Expectancy, Value, Impulsiveness, Delay.

Reality:

that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away. See: Bullshit breaks at the boundaries

Saboteur-bum:

Remixed from Robin Sharma. Also similar to  Seth Godin’s Lizard Brain, and Stephen Pressfield’s The Resistance. The saboteur-lizard-resistance-bum is my oldest friend, deep inside my head, who I’m still struggling to defeat every day.

Turns out you can’t just win overnight– the saboteur-bum is more patient than you. He is persistent. He will come back every single day.

Searching Under Streetlights:

Joke: A drunkard is on his hands and knees under a streetlight. A passer-by asks, what are you looking for? “I dropped my keys,” he answered. The passer-by helps him look for a while, before asking, “Are you sure you lost it here?” He says, “No, I lost it over there by the bushes, but there’s better lighting over here.”

While funny when framed like this, in reality it’s quite easy to fall into the same trap. Very often when we’re trapped in a problem, the solution lies outside of the space that we’re in. But we hesitate or neglect to leave it. Case in point– doing things like wasting time on the Internet trying to figure out how to stop wasting time on the Internet.

Subconscious Audience:

“You’re only cheating yourself!” “God is always watching.” I was never very persuaded by either of those ideas when expressed that way. But rephrased– “you’re conditioning your subconscious to expect things to be a certain way”, “your subconscious is always watching.” The idea here is that your subconscious is vastly more powerful than you– that 95-99% of existence is really quite subconscious.

It’s like an elephant and a rider. (Courtesy of Dan and Chip Heath.) A lot of life is about learning to work with your subconscious, about persuading and leading your subconscious. This is no mild effort– the subconscious sees through your bullshit and is very, very difficult to impress. Harder than most other people, really. See also: Deep Signalling.

Talk Is Costly:

Talk is cheap to produce, and doesn’t have very much value if it’s not attached to skin in the game. It takes up valuable time and effort to parse, process and react to. As someone once said, the amount of energy required to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude larger than the amount needed to produce it.

Talk less. Do more. (Writing is a bit of a middle ground. It depends on who you’re writing for, why you’re writing, what you’re writing… etc.)

Vague to Precise:

Courtesy of Bertrand Russell. Everything we say or think is vague to a degree we do not realise until we attempt to make it precise, and everything precise is so remote from what we normally say or think, that we cannot for a moment suppose that what we say is what we mean. Or that we know what we mean. See also: Map is not the territory

Welcome To The Circus:

Life is absurd. We’re all clowns amusing ourselves while staring into the bleak abyss of death. We’re also delightful patterns of time and space, expressions of color and light. But mostly we’re clowns dicking around, lost and confused and unsure. The result is a lot of banging and clanging and lots of weird, crazy outcomes.

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