Failing to consider

Failing to consider second- and third-order consequences is the cause of a lot of painfully bad decisions, and it is especially deadly when the fist inferior option confirms your own biases. Never seize on the first available option, no matter how good it seems, before you’ve asked questions and explored.

~ Ray Dalio


Anything at all

It would be wrong for anything to stand between you and attaining goodness—as a rational being and a citizen. Anything at all: the applaus of the crowd, high office, wealth, or self-indulgence. All of them might seem to be compatible with it—for a while. But suddenly they control us and sweep us away.

~ Marcus Aurelius


You had me at ‘bacon’

One of the central conceits of the “man’s natural state” argument is that if we go back to some point in time, we’ll find it. We’ll finally come across the state of being where man lived totally in harmony with each other and with nature; eating the perfect diet for health, worshipping the correct gods, having sex in the natural and acceptable way. And besides studying religious texts, the tool that’s most frequently employed is the study of ancient, “pre-historic” man and woman. We hope that, by going back far enough, we’ll hit some arbitrary Point of Naturalness. That’s partially the approach used, for example, by the Paleo movement which has become such a popular force in nutrition. We evolved to eat bacon, right?

~ Shane Parrish from,

I have avoided—I’ve no idea how—the rabbit hole of, “what is natural [for a human being’s flourishing]?” I have limited time, (I suggest doublechecking, as yours may also be limited,) and I’m really only interested in, “what is best for this human being’s flourishing?” I don’t care if we evolved to eat bacon. I do care how I feel after I eat bacon. …after I eat different types of bacon. …after I consider the monetary cost of buying bacon. …after I assess the environmental cost/footprint of eating bacon. …after I assess the societal aspects of bacon.

Sorry. All this talk of bacon. I lost my train of thought. Oh, right—

For a short span of several decades, I have complete control over my thoughts. At no time do I have absolute control over anything beyond my thoughts. (I have pretty reliable control over many things—movement of my hands for example. But even that control is not absolute. See: Disease, accidents, etc. At any moment, my preferences related to all the things beyond my thoughts, can easily be frustrated.) So the only thing that makes sense is to discover, reflect and then exercise what efficacy I have at any give moment: What do I know? How do I know it? What decision should I make now/today, given what I know? How would I find where my unknown unknowns are?


Est provocationem

Today, I’m drawn to considering refinement of an idea I’ve mentioned a few times.

It’s clear to me that it’s impossible to be happy if my mind is unable to focus. Years ago, I regained my ability to intentionally focus, by disempowering the world—disabling as many as possible of the pathways for everything and everyone to actively grab my attention. Then I set about railing against everyone who has not yet regained their own ability to focus, (or perhaps, has never learned to focus.)

Internally, I often use an idea which I believe I stole from mathematical analysis. When facing some question, the idea is to find the largest contributor, and get a handle on that first; that’s the first-order item. Then find the next largest contributor, and get that second-order item sorted. And so on.

A few decades ago, the largest impediment to my being able to intentionally focus was external distraction. Having now sorted that first-order item, I can turn to the second-order item: Everyone’s inability to focus is polluting my attention. I remain easily distracted by others’ inability to focus.

Est provocationem!


Your model of the world

Reading and experience train your model of the world. And even if you forget the experience or what you read, its effect on your model of the world persists. Your mind is like a compiled program you’ve lost the source of. It works, but you don’t know why.

~ Paul Graham from,

I deeply love the concept of having a “model” of the world. I’m also deeply interested in having a correct model of the world. The model enables me to understand the world, to move through it, and to create the changes I wish.

I used to try to carefully create my model; for each question I encountered, I would try to learn everything that was important to determine the best answer. But that is an endless fool’s errand. The whole world become an endless field of rabbit holes. Each rabbit hole is wonderfully interesting, and it is immediately clear that exploring even a significant number of them is hopeless in one lifetime.

Instead, I learned to follow my curiosity—which is the recipe for rabbit-holes ad nauseum—but to stop when I’m no longer curious. Piece by piece a model of the world is assembled. Want to build a great model? …don’t focus on building the best model. Instead focus on this next piece of the model—the next thing you read, the next person you interact with, the next thing you do, the next thing you explore.

You have a model too, and you use it constantly. What are you doing to build your model?


The arbiter of truth

What is the arbiter of truth? Some things might be unknowable, and some questions might be unanswerable. But for everything else, what is the arbiter of truth?

The really big questions— Why are we here? What’s the meaning of life? The really big questions may not have answers. But for everything else, what is the arbiter of truth?

How do you decide if you have the correct answer to a question?

How do you decide what to do next? You just finished something and time is marching on; what will you do with the next moment?

How do you decide what to not do? Suppose some topic interests you; how do you decide how much time you should spend on it?

Difficult questions, certainly. Can you think of any questions which are more important than these?

If not, what are you doing to work on finding answers to these questions?



If you’re the sort of person for whom success in life means stepping outside the comfort zone that your parents and high school counselor charted out for you, if you’re willing to explore spaces of consciousness and relationships that other people warn you about, if you compare yourself only to who you were yesterday and not to who someone else is today…

~ Jacobian from,

Wait. Wat?! Some people think self-improvement isn’t real?

I mean, if you are not using your rational faculties to improve yourself… Honestly, that’s redundant; How could one improve oneself without using rationality? I suppose one could just make random changes, (which seems to be what a lot of people do,) but as soon as you observe and reflect, then you are engaging your rationality. To be human is to be all the things the animals are, and to have the ability to be—to various degrees at various times—rational.

There’s a reason I really like the three words: Observation. Reflection. Efficacy.


Understanding renewable energy

The reasons why the Green New Deal won’t really work are fairly subtle. A person really has to look into the details to see what goes wrong. In this post, I try to explain at least a few of the issues involved.

~ Gail Tverberg from,

You should read everything Tverberg has ever written about energy. I’ve been following her for about 15 years or so, and she is a font of careful, reasonable discussion.


The great teacher

How can you improve your conception of rationality? Not by saying to yourself, “It is my duty to be rational.” By this you only enshrine your mistaken conception. Perhaps your conception of rationality is that it is rational to believe the words of the Great Teacher, and the Great Teacher says, “The sky is green,” and you look up at the sky and see blue. If you think: “It may look like the sky is blue, but rationality is to believe the words of the Great Teacher,” you lose a chance to discover your mistake. Do not ask whether it is “the Way” to do this or that. Ask whether the sky is blue or green. If you speak overmuch of the Way you will not attain it.

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky from,

If you don’t think intentionally… If your ideas and beliefs don’t produce a working model of reality… well…

When an honest person discovers they are wrong, they stop being wrong or they stop being honest. It’s your choice.