Monthly Archives: August 2013

#47 Share your goals with who shares your goals

If Michael Tomasello is to be trusted, the sharing of goals and intentions is one of the few core features that distinguish the way in which humans interact and think about the world, and the way other animals do it. Chimps, octopuses, dolphins and crustaceans may use tools. But only humans, he contends, are able to think of a goal as a group goal whose tasks can be subdivided and assumed to be happening in parallel, or in series, and being done by different people.  Animals may share a specific task, such as a hunt, but as far as we know, neither primates nor cetaceans can share goals the way we do.

The challenge I’m about to embark on is trying to share (in the Facebook sense, or the communication sense) my goals only with people who share my goals (in the sense of being aligned arrows pointing towards similar regions of possibility space).

#47 Share your goals with who shares your goals:

For the next month I’ll stop sharing any information about what I’m doing, what I did and what I plan to do with people who share genes with me, but not goals. These of course are my parents and family and my girlfriend, who is considered by evolutionary psychology to be though of as equivalent, in some ways, to a surrogate sister. Since any of her hypothetical grandsons would share my genetic material with a high likelihood (if we were monogamous, under the conditions in which the brain evolved) I should – from the gene’s eye viewpoint – think of her as a blood relative.  The only people who will be allowed to peek into my life, other than this blog’s readers, are those who actually want the World to change in the ways I want. Blood relatives usually have a plan for how we should interact with the universe to make it better. It just so happens that their plan for you is based on their goals, and maybe you just don’t want to be a lawyer, you just want to live in a jungle studying the habitats of Congo’s bonobos.

Paul Graham said it perfectly: “The advice of parents will tend to err on the side of money. It seems safe to say there are more undergrads who want to be novelists and whose parents want them to be doctors than who want to be doctors and whose parents want them to be novelists. The kids think their parents are “materialistic.” Not necessarily. All parents tend to be more conservative for their kids than they would for themselves, simply because, as parents, they share risks more than rewards. If your eight year old son decides to climb a tall tree, or your teenage daughter decides to date the local bad boy, you won’t get a share in the excitement, but if your son falls, or your daughter gets pregnant, you’ll have to deal with the consequences.” – How to Do What You Love


Now there’s people out there, lots of them, who either have the same plan as you have, or else don’t give a flying kaputz about your plans and just want to have a good time with you. Because they don’t share any genes, real or imagined, you don’t feel anxious about doing what they want you to do unless you want to do it too. Frequently people associate for one of two reasons. Because they share genes, or because they share goals. Another quote by Steve Pinker, the MIT Harvard psychologist, nicely captures what I think about associating with people for genetic Darwinian reasons:

“By Darwinian standards I am a horrible mistake…But I am happy to be voluntarily childless, ignoring the solemn imperative to spread my genes. And if my genes don’t like it, they can go jump in the lake.”—How the Mind Works

So that is the deal. There are more than 7 billion humans, a trillion animals, and an uncountable amount of objects in the universe to talk about. Why do people focus so much on themselves? If we started talking to those who share genes with us only about other things for a month, I guess that would be a big relief.

Previous Challenge Tracking

Challenge #49 Send Those Applications Out! has been really hard to pursue over the month. I have a list of the best places in order of awesomeness, I sent out 4 different applications for grants, and tracked down about 2 dozen different professors who could be god advisors. I hired a Virtual assistant to help with ten more hours when I realized I wouldn’t be able to do it in a month to speed things up. Even with all that I haven’t been able to create seven folders with all the required documents ready to be sent as soon as the deadline arrives. Only five and I’m not sure all five will figure the final list yet. The challenge continues, and for the time I spent doing it, I take it to have been a great success!

Challenge #48 Out of the Armchair and Into the Field has had a major turning point when I realized that even though leaving the country (the goal) now feels more similar to the goal of living abroad than leaving the country later, it actually gives me a lower probability of making it into some form of stable root creating mechanism. The goal is to leave for years, not as a tourist for a few weeks. Thus, I stayed, and here am I, researching thoroughly how to live in the San Franscico Bay or Oxbridge, applying as quickly as I can, and doing it the way it needs being done, not the way that feels cooler, it may be more beautiful to gaze at the dream from this side of the cliff, but sometimes to get to the other side you actually have to dig through the underground.

malacara (2) 

Have the people you share genes with been bothering you with their goals for you lately? Then join me in my challenge. If not, create your challenge, leave in the comments, and let’s get to it! 

If you just arrived at fourhourscience, take a look at the first challenge as it is the only one you have to go through to jump straight on to the current challenge. Do challenge yourself on the comment section, and every first of the month, I’ll start a challenge chosen by my readers, and ask how they are going at their own self-challenges. Every 15th, I’ll choose one for myself. If you want to give me a challenge, make a comment in the most recent post, which is where I’ll get them from every 1st of the month. To subscribe to and keep track of your challenges, click on the blackish square on the bottom right that says follow.  If you are logged in a wordpress account, check the top left instead. – Neotenic


#48 Out of The Armchair and Into the Field

The challenge I’m about to undertake for a month has been proposed through mail by my good friend Sid, also known as the guy with the smile. Sidney and I share our love for giving talks, positive psychology, studying cognitive biases, hugging, and having been through the same teenage years.

It is harder than The Auricle’s suggestions, which involved assessing charities, or writing about the benefits of routine for a month. It looks more frightening, gives me stomach butterflies, and will definitely make a huge difference in my life.

Without further ado: #48 Out of The Armchair and Into the Field

Sid used to live here, far from the anglophone world. He moved to New York, and his challenge was basically telling me that I should get the hell out of here. Applying for many courses abroad is great, if it works, yet he is convinced that the culture of self-improvement, of challenge, of rationality is so much more intense in the Bay Area, New York, and Oxbridge, UK,  he is convinced that I should simply leave. Keep pursuing the rest of the challenges, that is for sure, but get into the field, move away from a culture where individual development is as valuable as speaking Estonian backwards. I am therefore leaving my country on the second week of August, to the Bay Area, and from there, to wherever my challenges and external incentives take me.

The role of incentives and reward systems: it is said that the famous (but not so great) psychologist Burrhus Skinner used to teach his classes in Harvard while pacing to the left and right of his professor podium. His students, eager to test his theory of reinforcement, began to smile and pay attention whenever he paced to the left, and stop focusing and doze off when he paced to the right. Sure enough, in less than two days, they made him fall from the podium area.

Despite Skinner stumbling on on his own ideas, and taking his theory too far, trying to explain pigeons, chimps and people with a theory that at best could encompass the behavior of two-headed Planarians, the fundamentals of reinforment are an important way to keep track of your challenges.

Two Heads, nearly no brains...

It may feel diminishing at first to train oneself with rewards, like you’d train a dog or a monkey. But even bestseller books on motivation use rewards, and if you are a bestseller on motivation, the last thing you want to do is to make people feel diminished.

If you are not going for a completely radical life-changing, continent changing decision, you can still change your reward systems in many ways. The most effective ones are increasing the activation cost of what you want your future self to avoid, and decreasing the activation cost of what you want to do, as recommended by Harvard Psychologist Shawn Achor.

I want to exercise daily, so I decrease the cost of doing it to become just opening this video link, which takes about half a second to do and one click with my right hand’s indicator finger.

Once the video is on, it becomes pointless to be listening to those songs without actually exercising, they are not exactly the hallmarks of musical history, only a good way to chuckle while exercising. The video itself compacts my daily exercise into the minimal amount of minutes possible. Any day I can’t do exercise that is really awesome, like Ultimate Frisbee, Tennis, sex, or bike-riding through a sunny muddy park, it guarantees base-level with the activation cost of a single click.

Conversely, my TV set is nearly never connected to the plug, nor is the cable network connected to the TV. If all TV is free and downloadable, commercial free, and tailored for my interests, why would I make it easy for my future self to become a mindless couchpotato? I’d rather watch a million TED talks, animal documentaries, blockbusters and ridiculous comedy movies prior to having to deal with one instance of that awful moment when the TV’s volume suddenly doubles so you pay attention to commercials.

Basically the idea is to put your reward in the far future, if it is for something you don’t want to do, and to make getting it easy and accessible after what you want to do. After every pomodoro (25 minutes) of focused, non procrastinated work, why don’t you let yourself drink your favorite warm tea, or indulge in whichever food you are thinking about right now?
You may not need to travel 10 thousand kilometres to super-radically change your surroundings like I will. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t change your surroundings as much as you can to get your challenges actually done. Just go for it!

Previous Challenge Tracking

Finding awesome applications everywhere (Challenge #49 Send Those Applications Out!) has been really challenging. Because I’ve decided on taking the challenge of moving (#48), my main criterion for applications has been location (Bay Area and Oxbridge) and all else was tuned down a bit. The Filipino monks of #49 will have to wait. These 15 days have been a great awesome chaos. My birthday, followed by my girlfriend’s birthday, as I write this I am less than 2 days away from qualifying my Master thesis in philosophy, in less than 10 days I’ll move abroad for two months, maybe more. Can’t blame the world for giving me nothing to do, only maybe for no time to sleep. I have noticed though that there’s no way I’d actually get all the best applications done by the 15th if I did it during this cataclysm. But I am deadly serious about challenges, so I did what anyone who loves A J Jacobs’s experimental lifestyle would do, I got myself a Virtual Assistant to help me. If you didn’t know Virtual Assitants exist, check out his writing about them. Not only there’s someone doing my task for me while I contact the best professors in the world and ask them about PHD grants and schedules, but also she motivates me to compete with her for who finds more and better academic places to apply to. I can also tell her to lie and make deadlines 15 days before they are. Except one or two. The uncertainty makes me have to apply by that time. I’m protected by my ignorance, and will be ahead of time for sure. I could get used to this!

Writing here (Challenge #50 Stop Learning, Start Doing) is just a lot of fun, the clock spins and I worry about nothing on Earth. If doing something, anything, gets you relaxed prior to showing your Masters progression to three of the tough guys, you better take it! This challenge is officially over, though I’m pretty sure the habit will last for quite a while. After all, there’s 47 amazing challenges out there waiting for me. You get to decide 23 of them, do your best when you suggest!

Tracking you

I said I would and here I am. Petra, how did you do with your donation agenda, is that wardrobe a little emptier?
The Auricle, how is your writing going? Are you getting those words a day written?
Paolo, did you get all the way through the writings you said you would? Did you arrange the coffee you were planning with that blog’s author?

Its time for you to create your own challenge again. Make a comment to publicly commit to it. Move to India and meet my Virtual Assistant. Get a six pack. Convince your advisor of coauthoring with you. Talk to a leader in your field of research. Commit here, and let’s do it! 

If you just arrived at fourhourscience, take a look at the first challenge as it is the only one you have to go through to jump straight on to the current challenge. Do challenge yourself on the comment section, and every first of the month, I’ll start a challenge chosen by my readers, and ask how they are going at their own self-challenges. Every 15th, I’ll choose one for myself. If you want to give me a challenge, make a comment in the most recent post, which is where I’ll get them from every 1st of the month. To subscribe to and keep track of your challenges, click on the blackish square on the bottom right that says follow.  If you are logged in a wordpress account, check the top left instead. – Neotenic