August 24, 2014

Alright, so the gist of the thing is that I'm pulling a Gwern.

A while back, I decided I was going to start journaling.

I had a journal to do it in and everything, and carried it around pretty consistently. Eventually I did get into the habit of actually writing in it.

A month or so passes by. I notice, "Hey, wouldn't it be neat if I recorded some specific stuff so I could get a sense of cause and effect in my life?" So I start being a bit more strategic in my writings:

  • I get an alarm for my phone that goes off at random intervals. While the majority of the time I don't notice it's going off, it's still nice to have some criteria for when I write in my journal that's slightly biased towards when I happen to feel like writing in it.
  • The other thing I did is start getting serious about time-keeping. I created a column in each page specifically for writing the time when I make a note. I created another column for specific observations that I'm trying to track, e.g. what I ate for breakfast, what time I went to bed/woke up, what mood I'm in, what medications I took. It was all so very clever, so at this point I'm as pleased as punch.
  • I also start doing weekly reviews. I write one review in my journal, and one on the lesswrong site. They cover slightly different topic areas; My journal review tends to cover personal events I may need to refer to in posterity, while the group diary post concentrates on specific interventions I've been trying. I also have monthly reviews in my journals. Neither of these are particularly good at capturing the patterns I've been attempting to set up with the different columns shenanigans.
Fast forward to last weekend. I am at a reunion for the CFAR workshops I went to two years back, and am suddenly surrounded by people who strive to be competent in intelligent ways. This attitude is very contagious.

I look at my journal and realize that a.) I completely fail to fill it out when I am very depressed or very busy and b.) I am not actually getting what I wanted out of the myriad improvements I'd taken on. When someone asked what I like to do, or what I've done, my mind drew a blank the same as it always has. This is despite the fact that I do weekly reviews like clockwork, where I literally go back and read about the things I've done over the past week to summarize the interesting bits. If you asked me what the effects of diet or melatonin have been on my days, I would wind up giving you a wishy-washy "well, it kinda feels like it's done this......" answer that is only marginally better than what if I'd had a normal person's memory and were making no attempt to objectively examine the problem at all.

Most importantly, I got the feeling that substantially more was possible.

So, I'm doing a trial.  I will take a small dose of melatonin nightly for a week, and take nothing for a week after. I am recording bed time, waking time, how I feel when I wake up, and length of naps. I intend to graph the data a couple of ways to get a better feel for what's going on.
  • time slept box plots comparing groups.
  • waking up feeling box plots comparing groups.
  • Time slept vs. waking up feeling for both groups
  • Time slept vs. waking up feeling for both groups including naps
  • nap lengths themselves vs. waking up feeling
  • nap times vs. time slept.
Depending on how these look, I will put together a linear regression model and see what pops out. I think it will be fairly interesting. I have strong doubts these will come out statistically significant, but I'm curious what will come out. And statistically significant or not, it's not ZERO evidence. I'm pretty confident already that melatonin makes me wake sooner, what I don't know is how it affects my morning mood or subsequent naps.

We'll see how the variance looks, and I can get a better idea of what N I'll need to do other self-trials. I would like to try this with reading affirmations in the morning. I could do a placebo that's just lorem ipsum text.

July 14, 2014

June Ramblings

On the wall in my bedroom, I have a grayscale printout of a valkyrie.

I'm not sure why I thought valkyries would be a good symbol for my desire to protect the people I care about, honestly. Valkyries collect the souls of the dead--those who are long beyond help.

Visually, at least, they're like a fiercer kind of guardian angel. Really, the biggest difference between a valkyrie and a guardian angel is that guardian angels are meant to gently guide you away from danger. Valkyries are from a culture which encourages you to get into the thick of it. A guardian angel guards your innocence, while a valkyrie guards your valour.

That's more me, I guess. Maybe I don't want it to be, but my wings are not actually for fiercely guarding people from danger. I am selfish. I want to protect my chosen, to take those who have already proven themselves to a paradise where they can continue to hone their valourous qualities without consequence or end.

That is my dream.
I want to make an intentional community. A community of self-expression, and of happiness. Most importantly, though, it is a place of grokking. Illusions are seen as illusions, and appreciated for their strangeness, but are never mistaken for the truth. It is a truth about our perception, not about the things we perceive.

The people I want to take with me to paradise are the ones who take it for granted that simple truths are simple. Not simple in the way that our brain likes to understand the world, but simple like occam's razor and reductionism and bayes rule are simple.

It would be difficult. Human values and thinking are really, really absurd. This is something that buddhist philosophy does a good job of acknowledging, but there's one thing they got wrong: I think there's a bit of happiness that is better for not having to ignore, downplay, or reframe so aversive things are not aversive. I think it would be better to not have to expend that mental effort. Call it a bent towards 'naturalness'.

If only society operated on bayesian updates.. More important than simply starting out with the best policies is being able to change them as needed. The right priors can still be vastly wrong and it won't matter how well we started because we can't adjust after the fact.

I wish we could all dance to the truth. Quick updating methods, quick propogation of ideas and skills. Forceful, but with grace and meaning. Wanton, but always discrete. Democracy tries to achieve this by voting. It votes. This is a good thing if we are not systematically wrong, but there are a good number of areas where we are *are* systematically wrong. We're a biased species. Not to mention, democracy requires waiting for a consensus. The nice thing about dictatorships is that you can get a lot of changing done at once. The trouble is that your direction of top-speed progress might be straight off the edge of a cliff.

Why else democracy? People will talk about rights as part of why democracy is so awesome, but I am not convinced those are as relevant as people claim they are. We have strong incentive to believe they're important now; they're part of our cheers about why we're so awesome and all our forefathers sucked in comparison.

Older civilizations might have been dismayed that our leaders are illegitimate, in that they have no inborn class or divine right. These young whippersnappers don't even know what's important, dammit!! What matters quite a bit, however, is what *works*. What keeps itself in power, what stays stable, what keeps itself going. Democracy has so far won the test of time, and that is the only requirement: survival.