Meditations on Dieting

I always begin my challenges by mentioning what happened in the previous challenge. The challenge I ended this month was trying a positive diet. When reporting how it went, the post got a life of it’s own, and I decided to publish it as a meditation on dieting.

The original challenge was that I would,  for a month, only purchase above ground vegetables, lean chicken and fish, nuts, and Chai lattes.

For two weeks it worked, until it failed. Again. Maybe my 10th, 20th intervention to lose weight or avoid weight gain. When I started writing, my mind was beaming with energy and needed to talk about the experiences I’ve had so far in this domain. So I’ll write the actual challenge post tomorrow… and meditate on diets now.

#41  Using a positive information diet for food 

has ended. During the second half of the month my attention to this goal was sparse at best. It isn’t that much that I failed while trying, but I failed to even try. The initial weight loss of 3.5kg remains, which is good, but new strategies need to be assembled if I want to go back to having a healthy diet.

Dieting is very annoying

It is very annoying to try dieting. Dieting has all the most complicated features for habit acquisition.

It is not all or nothing, you have to eat, period, you can’t just be done with it and stop eating. Eating is very much regulated by context and conditions.

When in a restaurant, it is much more convenient to store food in the stomach than bring it back home.

There are moral triggers in the brain that make us think some things are sacred ok in terms of food (like sushi and chai latte for me) and some things are devilish and out-group (peanut butter, mexican and vegemite for me). They are as irrational and as unavoidable as aracnofobia.

Eating is a social activity, and it’s fun to eat with people.

Cooking takes a long time for above the ground vegetables which are the healthiest candidates on the block.

Cooking is complicated for lean chicken (it also stinks) and for fish, the healthiest meats.

The time it takes to cook stuff creates incentives for eating eggs, bacon (bad fats), bread and pasta (bad carbs), yellow cheese (bad dairy), mealsquares (healthy-ish and super effective, but sugary dry and not meal tasting).

A guest that refuses food is considered a bad guest in some cultures, and moral constraints of all sorts make us eat extra – or do you hate my cooking?

Sugar is addictive.

High glicemic index is also addictive.

Chocolate is great.

Giving chocolate is a good gesture.

Chai Latte is full of sugar, and is sacred.

Unlike the other challenges, its a thing you have to find executable policies for life, not for a month.

Cheesecake, Lasagna, Salami.

Dieting is very important

So dieting is very annoying. It is also extremely important. It correlates with biometrics of aging, fat content in arteries, heart attacks and cancer, death in general, and is by far the most important factor in being thing, average or fat.

Meta-Dieting transforms failure into learning

When an intervention is important enough and hard enough, the appropriate way to think about it is not that you are trying a specific thing, say, the LubaBuba diet, what you are trying is a meta-level thing, in my case, I’m trying to discover which types of strategies, diets or not, are useful for me to avoid being fat in the future. There is no failing at the meta-level, only learning. I have learned many things that don’t work, every strategy is an improvement over the previous set, merely by not consisting on the previous set. 

No one knows how to fix this

A reasonable case could be made that dieting is the intervention in my life I should be willing to pay more to harmonize my desires and my values (what I desire to desire).  But nutrition science hasn’t figured this out either! The only thing that helps mildly for non-obese people seems to be being mindful and eating when you are hungry, and only then.

Moloch wants your fat deposits too, not just your money

Valentine’s day was transformed into a holiday to give presents by the capitalist incentive structure. Christmas was transformed into giving presents by the same structure of incentives and advertisement. It’s no one fault in particular, the system, in form of Moloch, generates the conditions of it’s own awfulness.

Meals are a symptom of civilizational inadequacy

I begin to suspect that one of the worst inventions of modern civilization may have been the apparently harmless invention of these concepts:




Are these the demons of the modern era?

Beware of other-optimizing

I have an obese family member who has fought dieting battles many times, and lost every one of them so far. Seen from the outside, of course it is super easy for me to design policies that would help they. They never stopped eating red meat and cheese. Never attempted to eat when hungry instead of “during meal time”. They had a concept of meal time.  They never said “I’ll eat salad, lean chicken, fish and nuts”.

I have not succeeded, yet – growth mindset!

But I have, and that drove my weight back only so much. I wanted to go from X8 to X3, but I get stuck between X4 and X5. That’s probably near the lower limit of my base level.

How Santa Claus is like randomized intermittent breakfast

I don’t have the problem of thinking that meal times exist. It must be hard to disconstrue that notion. If you had dinner for 50 years every day, you probably believe that dinner time is as robust  a prediction as dawn or sunrise. It’s a part of nature. But it isn’t. I only had lunch and dinner for 26 years. Gladly I only randomly had breakfast. Just like Santa Claus gives people the opportunity of noticing that God does not exist, not having breakfast most days but not all days made me able to realize that “meal times” does not exist. This permitted me, from 26 to 28, to let go of lunch and dinner. In that, I was lucky. 

Isn’t diet X super weird?

Notice that there are people/tribes/societies out there that eat very different things in the morning as well. Salmon is one. Beans another. Bread butter, honey nut cereal and orange juice is what as a kid I thought the Platonic breakfast was.

For me there is one tribe that exemplifies above all the weirdness, the Snacirema of the north. This tribe  doesn’t know much about geography, they are also the only monolingual tribe in their region. Their Platonic breakfast actually consists of frying, concommitantly, the fatty disgusting ugly looking part of a pig’s belly and the ooze that comes out of eggs when they crack. This would guarantee blocking the arteries, but not necessarily the aging, cancer and hypertension, so the chubbiest members of the tribe eat sugar attached to compressed industrialized corn drowning in milk.

This diversity of suicide attempts – let’s call it shotgun approach – contrasts with the diets of the !Kung or the Eskimos. The former just eat one fruit, mongongo. The latter eat just butter and whale fat.

What have I become?

There’s also tribal perceptions that determine identity and belonging, and are completely irrational. For instance, I have become a vegan recently. Whoever you are, wherever you live, no matter whether it’s windy or placid where you are now. No matter if the light of day is shining or the moon is outside your window. It does not matter if you are sitting down or standing while reading this text. I have generated an emotion by saying that I became a vegan. An emotion was just infused into you, one that is hard to erase. But I’ll try anyway. I actually am not a vegan. Some of you are now sad, but some of you are not only relieved, but have regained confidence in the worth of reading through this article. I have temporarily entered the outgroup, but then I said I was joking, and you can now respect me as a human being and an eater again, you can share a meal with me, and maybe what I say about diet can be good for you. Or the reverse. The important thing is to pay attention to the trigger, the strength and quality of the emotion you felt. 

Imprinting, Stockholm syndrome, and God.

Try getting someone raised as a Jew to desire to eat shrimp. A vegan to eat stake. Some Snacirema – whom by the way are the backwards Americans, to eat salmon at breakfast. You are fighting a lost battle. Tribal considerations were a matter of life and death in the environment your emotions were designed in. To try to change someone’s dietary preferences when they are associated with the brain areas that determine in-group and out-group, or sacred versus permissible, is as easy as convincing a female peacock to desire a tailless peacock: they don’t speak your language, are not your species, have no reason to hear you and are driven by an instinct stronger than anything you could possibly say which determines if their grandchildren live or die. Good luck trying.  

Be humble and surrender

I digress, the important points here are:

It takes an overwhelming amount and complexity of rationality to lose weight. Yudkwosky, one of the most rational beings alive, took many years to start succeeding in losing weight. and who knows for how long it will be kept. And he invented a whole art of rationality (centered around with thousands of followers. 

Dieting isn’t hard. It is much worse than that. It is hard to run 10 miles four Thursdays from today. Dieting isn’t very hard. It is very hard implement a schedule to run 10 miles 5 times a week for a year. Dieting is as hard as coordinating a group of teenage boys between 13 and 19 to run 10 miles 5 times a week for a year. Dieting is extremely hard. The first step is to be humble and surrender to the possibility that it may be impossible. 

Then the second step is to start planning at the meta level. How are you going to know which interventions didn’t work? How different the next intervention should be? How do you know when to try the next thing? How long will you try each thing before deciding. How do you make sure that you are not trying the intervention itself, but training your environment so that it trains you? How are you going to make sure that your intervention is something that treats future you as what she is: a mix of a rational being, an immediate reward monkey and a panic monster, all fighting to take over the wheel?

Next possible actions

The only intervention known to prevent weight gain is to kill Plato and eat only when you are hungry, destroying the concept of meals, and eating only until you anticipate if you stopped eating you’d no longer be hungry. What is called mindful eating.

Besides addiction to substances that increase neural activity, no intervention is known to cause weight loss except stomach reduction surgery, it is unclear if that lasts over a decade. (Disclaimer, I’m not a doctor or nutritionist, don’t do anything stupid, don’t believe my personal opinions,  etc…)

  • My guess at the moment is that morbidly obese people, or obese people over 60 years old, stomach surgery is the way to go.
  • For people who are less fat, mindful eating seems good enough to be worth trying.
  • For people who are less old, taking some drugs may be  less damaging than not taking these drugs (I have in mind in particular drugs like caffeine, piracetam and modafinil).
  • Conversely, avoiding drugs that induce hunger – birth control pills, anti-psychotics and others – is fundamental to not increase your baseline level weight.
  • Having an automatic healthy bi-weekly delivery from supermarkets to home with only healthy stuff that is one or zero clicks away seems valuable.
  • A rule of thumb is that one should be at least 10 minutes away from the closest sugary or bad fat food when one is at home, and there should always be above ground vegetables and other healthy foods accessible in less than 10 seconds, preferably within arm’s reach and in the field of vision.  
  • It seems that like there are two natural sleep cycles, there are two healthy diets for people who aren’t naturally healthy. One is protein and starches, no fats. The other is fat and protein, no high glycemic index. The grim reaper is the marriage of fat and high glycemic index.  Deciding on one and sticking to it (and then switching every 6 months or whenever you can’t take it anymore) seems to be a smart strategy as well. 

Staring into the void

I don’t know much about diets, but I know an unusual amount about rationalizing strategies that don’t work, and how to control the irrational parts of ourselves. I hope other people can benefit from my meditations.

I won’t make any claims about how I lost X or Y kilos and show pictures of before and after. As far as I know, I have at least eliminated many strategies from the scope of what looks like it could work, but doesn’t – I have assessed some stuff that does not work. I have tested many interventions, and noticed those few that don’t obviously don’t work. This seems about as good as the state of knowledge of Google Scholar on the topic these days.

So my leftover message to future self me is: try these interventions above. They are very likely to not make you fatter. They have some chance of making you less fat. That is as far as my confidence goes.

And if you see someone else being more confident than this when it comes to diet, I recommend taking it with a grain of salt – while keeping in mind that maybe, just maybe, salt absorbs water and increases hypertension risk.

#40 One cold call a day keeps habit away

#42 Eat that frog couple has now ended. It was valuable enough that I intend to continue doing it, though going through many days in which I spaced out has diminished it’s effectivity somewhat. I intend to continue having my daily frogs for a while, and stopping for a week every time it fails 3 days or so to recharge.  In particular the ability to choose whether to start with the highest value (female frog) or the most aversive (male frog) thing of the day is interesting because I feel motivated to wake up by the highest value and once awake I frequently decide to brute force through the aversive one first shortly after, basically cheating system 1. Here as precommitted is the list of the remainder frogs:

15 Male – Wake up every hour due to the possible events in Europe and US

Female – Get the proposal to a winning position.

16 Male – Call Deacon to make sure all is ready

Female – Go to flotation tank and beach  in SF

17 Male – N/A (did not even create one)

Female – Ecstatic Dance 7th year anniversary

Here I noticed that Sundays have been just trouble for this system. I hereby decide unilaterally that I only have to eat a frog couple on the other days.

18 Male – Send a long email to S Garan.

Female – Considering all the options, decide what to do until August with life. (This ended up being increasing my writing output for Altruism related activities)

19 Male – Business lunch

Female – Try writing an article on altruism on the phone
(that was Nash dominated by more important considerations)

20 Male – Upload Capes docs

Female – Try writing an article on altruism on the phone

21 Male –  Spaced out

Female –  Spaced out

22 Male – Send ultimatum to potential ally contractor

Female – Restart Altruism’ paper’s engines

23 Male – Spaced out

Female – Having a beautiful day in SF

24 Male – Give up on financing on the Altruism paper from ventures.

Female – Learn from Leverage/EA global

25 Male – Spaced out

Female – Create a schedule which allows for Altruism paper, EA global planning, EA matchmaking, Dancing, Roxanne and secondary dates.

26 Male – N/A

Female – Solving Event Horizon

27 Male – Work with Ben-Taylor

Female – Obtaining all the academic EA hacks that I’ll be using through the PHD

28 Male – Start Writing an NSF grant?

Female – N/A

29 Male – Start Writing an NSF grant

Female – Finish fixing my online identity

30 Male –   Be the second at one EA global event.

Female – Blog Post

31 – Sunday

Overall the hit rate seems high enough to be worth continuing to eat two frogs every morning.

41#  Using a positive information diet for food has also been extremely useful. 3.5 of the 5 Kilos aimed to be lost have been lost, which assuming a logarithmic function seems to be on track to reaching or being very near the goal. It helped somewhat that two vegans moved into my house, increasing my probability of eating some types of non-caloric vegetables a substantial amount.

To use the passive voice to dodge from responsibility, “mistakes were made” however and I ended up buying a substantial amount of meat that was not within the constraint of fish and lean chicken. Soon the mistakes will have been corrected and it remains to be seen to what extend I’ll be able to stick to plan and whether the plan will cause the 5 kilo weight loss anticipated.

Which leads me to this month’s challenge.

# 40 One cold call a day keeps habit away

During this month I’ll make one phone call a day to someone I otherwise wouldn’t. This will include cold calling people, inviting people for conferences or to meet, ordering food (which may be the last comfort zone expansion frontier that my child self still clings on to). It will include calling someone whose phone I got online, and someone who I only know by reputation. It will include people who live in all continents.

So let’s get to it.

If you just arrived at, 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. – Diego

Should you give your best now or later?

Cross posted at the effective altruism forum.

We can probably influence the the world in the near future, as well as in the far future, and both near and far seem to matter.

The point I want to convey here is that, unless you are living in a particularly unusual time of your personal history, the influence you can have on the world in the next 2 years is the most important influence you will have in any future pair of years. To do that I will use personal stories, as I did in my last post.

Let us assume for the time being that you care about the far future a substantial amount. This is a common trend that many though not all EAs have converged to after a few years of involvement with the movement. We are assuming this to steel-man the case against the importance of the next 2 years. If what matters is over a 100 years into the future, which difference could 2015 to 2017 make?

Why what I do now, relatively, doesn’t matter anymore

I believe the difference to be a lot. Continue reading Should you give your best now or later?

Effective Altruism as an intensional movement

Cross posted on the EA forum
This text grew out of discussions with some of EA global planners, many previous discussions with individuals considering if they want to identify as EAs and strategic considerations scattered around many EA articles. It is particularly related to Helen Toner Effective Altruism is a question, not an ideology.

A confusion I hear frequently from new EA’s working on movement building takes the following form:

1) Effective Altruism is a movement

2) Other movements have done this or that (say, accelerate movement growth using this technique X), should Effective Altruism be doing the same?

3) Other movements failed in thing Z and now most people in them are not sane, how can we avoid this?

These claims and questions rest on a reference class assumption that is false.

It is false that the reference class to reason about Effective Altruism is the movements class.

Not all movements are made alike. Although Continue reading Effective Altruism as an intensional movement

#41 Using a Positive Information Diet – for food!

I’ve been eating a lot of frogs recently, and I only have myself to blame. #42 Eat that frog couple has turned out to be an extremely efficient tool. So far I ate 29 of the 30 planned frogs, and have done things of unimaginable levels of Bureaucracy. This has been one of the most useful challenges so far, for fun and for productivity. If possible in the future I’ll try to make other things into a couple and see how it goes. Here are the frogs eaten thusfar, this was a specially bureaucratic month, both because bureaucracy is really aversive, and because there were high stakes:

1 Male – Solve long-versus short term crises

Female – Restart using blog for challenges

2 Male – Set up so I can freeze blood cells

Female – Finish writing Elon Musk Grant

3 Male – Fill in bureaucratic Phoebe System

Female – Set up dates for the near future

4 Male – Find out what happened to my Capes

Female – Pick I-20

5 Male – Fill in Phoebe with Adviser

Female – I-20 related document delivered to correct entity.

6 Male – Do all necessary Visa things

Female – Write the addendi for Musk Grant.

7 Male – Get foggy PDF to Indian guy to print, make Citi generate Checks on the fly

Female – Cause someone else to actually understand the grant system. (most likely Maite)

8 Male – Reorganize entire Wunderlist – (fail)

(Outdoors day lasted to 23:40, I believe the failure mode of not doing this after 23:40 was not using the computer to begin with, and having web access on my cell phone, which I fixed.)

Female – Have a delicious outdoors day.

9 Male – Reorganize entire Wunderlist

Female – First item of Wunderlist once done

10 Male  – Fix the phone payment

Female – Sleep early

11 Male – Get Cryonics stuff more organized

Female – Tackle reviewed problems with the proposal.

12 Male – Study grammar for an hour

Female – Have a beautiful encounter with a great human being

13 Male – Schedule Dentist, Doctor, and Have a plan for sleeping 8 hours straight at night.

Female – Learn Fourier transform

14 Male – Solve the Berkeley bureau-crisis

Female – Write down the next blog entry.

But eating frogs has an unintended consequence: I’ve been putting in a lot of weight. Ok, maybe that was correlation and not causation. Nevertheless, it’s been a while since I entered anything like a diet, and now I have a better model upon which to base a diet to begin with. Here is an instant gratification monkey from the model. There is one of these in your head, right now.


As long as the instant gratification monkey, that little guy who makes conscientious future-you never exist, and present-you never as focused is kept at bay somehow, preferably without the emergency mode panic monster,  we’re off to a good start.  Here is a gratuitous picture of Musk holding a panic monster.

Musk Panic Monster

Frequently people will try to establish a diet by the things they don’t want to want to eat. Like chocolate or cheesecake. There are many problems with that approach.

What is wrong with this attempt is that it ends up being a negative list. A list of what what I do not want to intake. Since possibilities are infinite, this will give me ridiculous cognitive load, and that is a problem. Another problem is that brains are not so good at processing negatives, so please don’t think of a white bear and don’t feel enticed by the fact that you cannot eat strawberry ice-cream.

Well, here is simple solution, which I used for a food diet before, and worked great:  Name not what you cannot do, but what you are allowed to do. Way fewer bits, way easier to check!

Food example: I’ll eat only plants, lean fish and chicken, nuts, fruits, whole pasta, beans and Chai Lattes.

We are better at checking for category inclusion than exclusion. There are so many available categories to exclude from that we don’t feel bad that we “forgot” to check for that one. Then after you let yourself indulge in a tiny one, a small one doesn’t seem that bad, and snowball effect does the rest. We sneak in connotations to make categories smaller, so our actions stay safely outside the scope of prohibition. Theoretically, we could do the reverse, but it is psychologically much harder. Just try to convince yourself that beef is “lean chicken” to see it.

So let us forget completely about the negative method. There is no kind or class of kinds to avoid. there is only G=Goal and P=Positive, and now there is also T=Time of enforcing, the time during which P is in force, since escape valves might be necessary to avoid “screw that” all-or-nothing effects.

#41 A positive information diet  adapted for food:

G=lose 5 kilos in a month. 

P=I’ll eat only plants, lean fish and chicken, nuts, fruits, whole pasta, beans and Chai Lattes.

T= All days but Friday

T=When I’m paying for the food

Now there is a simple to check list of things I want to do, I could be doing, and I’ll try to do until G arrives. I can only do those. If x doesn’t belong, don’t do it, that simple. I’m free on Friday or when there is free food to do whatever, thus I don’t feel enslaved by my past self – and the instant gratification monkey doesn’t take control easily.  No heavy cognitive load is burning my willpower candle (Shawn Achor 2010) by trying set theory gimmicks to get me to do the wrong thing.

Also, just for public commitment, I currently weight

X8 kilos

so the goal is to weight

X3 kilos.

So please, take your own variation of the:

          Positive Information Diet Challenge

Write your G’s (goals) P’s (positives) and T’s (times), and forget about your A’s (Avoids)  

I’ll eat only plants, lean fish and chicken, nuts, fruits, whole pasta, beans and Chai Lattes.

I’m doing this for food, you can use it for your information diet- all the emails, messages, news and comic strips. No one is thin enough information diet-wise.

Well let’s try this!

If you just arrived at, 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. – Diego

#42 Eat that frog couple!

Ah… that was a good interludeglad to be back to challenge-land! 

In case you forgot, this blog is in part a series of challenges, which were undergoing an interlude while my beam of motivation from moving to Berkeley in the Bay Area Rationalist community was strong.  That was a long bout of satisfying motivation and somewhat clear goals. 

Now we are back. Now I feel again that challenging myself and being challenged by you  could be very good for me .  If you want to leave a challenge suggestion, use the comment section below. Same if you want to challenge yourself and keep us posted. There are 42 challenges to go, and here is this month’s one: 

#42 Eat that frog couple! 

Rehashing that nice little book Eat that Frog, I’ll say that two frogs a day keeps the doctor away. This month I’ll begin each day selecting two frogs, one male – the most aversive activity that I would like to get done that day – one female – the most valuable activity I could get done that day.  And these frogs will be eaten in the morning, before interfacing with the internet. Then of course, I’ll post a list of the 60 frogs consumed in here.

If you decide to do the challenge yourself, Freedom, which blocks the web for predetermined time windows, may help you.

Owl frog

So let’s get going!

If you just arrived at, 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. – Diego

Human Minds Are Fragile

Crossposted from Lesswrong (glossary at the bottom)


We are familiar with the thesis that Value is Fragile. This is why we are researching how to impart values to an AGI.

Embedded Minds are Fragile

Besides values, it may be worth remembering that human minds too are very fragile.

A little magnetic tampering with your amygdalas, and suddenly you are a wannabe serial killer. A small dose of LSD can get you to believe you can fly, or that the world will end in 4 hours. Remove part of your Ventromedial PreFrontal Cortex, and suddenly you are so utilitarian even Joshua Greene would call you a psycho.

It requires very little material change to substantially modify a human being’s behavior. Same holds for other animals with embedded brains, crafted by evolution and made of squishy matter modulated by glands and molecular gates.

A Problem for Paul-Boxing and CEV?

One assumption underlying Paul-Boxing and CEV is that:

It is easier to specify and simulate a human-like mind then to impart values to an AGI by means of teaching it values directly via code or human language.

Usually we assume that because, as we know, value is fragile. But so are embedded minds. Very little tampering is required to profoundly transform people’s moral intuitions. A large fraction of the inmate population in the US has frontal lobe or amygdala malfunctions.

Finding out the simplest description of a human brain that when simulated continues to act as that human brain would act in the real world may turn out to be as fragile, or even more fragile, than concept learning for AGI’s.


AGI: Artificial General Intelligence, an intelligence that can transfer knowledge between domains like we do and do things in the world with such information.

CEV: Coherence Extrapolated Volition, the suggestion that indirect normativity be done by simulating what we would do if we had grown up longer together and were smarter and better informed. Summarized in the beggining of this post: 

 Paul Boxing: the suggestion that indirect normativity be done using a specific counterfactual human with a computer to aid herself. As explained here: 

Paul comments: that post discusses two big ideas, one is putting a human in a box and building a model of their input/output behavior as “the simplest model consistent with the observed input/output behavior.” Nick Bostrom calls this the “crypt,” which is not a very flattering name but I have no alternative. I think it has been mostly superseded by this kind of thing (and more explicitly, here, but realistically the box part was never necessary). The other part is probably more important, but less colorful; extrapolate by actually seeing what a person would do in a particular “favorable” environment. I have been calling this “explicit” extrapolation. I’m sorry to never name this. I think I can be (partly) defended because the actual details have changed so much, and it’s not clear exactly what you would want to refer to.




What I have lived for, plus what I have lived against.

Soundtrack (play the music while reading, don’t watch the video)


Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for friendship, the search for knowledge about minds and evolution, and unbearable desire to make mankind very happy. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a great ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair.
Three enemies, simple, but overwhelmingly strong, have kept me from reaching as high as I could so far: a desire to click the next hyperlink, sugar and other addictive substances, and the insurmountable desire to remain awake at late night time.
I have sought friendship, first, because it brings ecstasy – ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy. I have sought it, next, because it relieves loneliness–that terrible loneliness in which one shivering consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold unfathomable lifeless abyss. I have sought it finally, because it seemed more legitimate than romantic love. In true friendship I see the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints poets and Singularitarians have imagined. This is what I sought, and though it might seem too good for human life, this is what–at last–I have often found.
Passionately I have fought the desire to click the next hyperlink. I installed Adblock, Chrome Nanny, Facebook Nanny, Stay Focused, Wunderlist, Beeminder, I wrote notes to self in my desktop, I created mental rules for when to consider turning off the web, I got a kindle and bought physical books, yet again and again the acceleration of addictiveness has found a way into my dopamine system.

With equal passion I havesought knowledge about minds and evolution. I have wished to understand the hearts of men. I have wished to know why the jelly fish shine. And I have tried to apprehend the Darwinian power by which algorithm holds sway above the flux. A little of this, but not much, I have achieved.

Sugar and other substances, quadrillions of times smaller than me, too I have sought to understand and avoid. I would not be shocked if I have diabetes already, nor if, decades from now, my cause of death turns out to be cheesecake. Avoiding a little of this, but not much, I have achieved.

Friendship and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upward toward the heavens. But always gratitude brought me back to earth to give back. Echoes of opportunities for awesomeness wasted reverberate in my heart. Children in famine, anti-touch societies, social people who didn’t geek, geeks who don’t socialize, and the whole world of loneliness, have shown how far we are from the end of the human experiment. I long to alleviate this evil, but I, alone, cannot, and I too suffer.

To remain awake at night was the promise of dreamland. A magical place where all your actions are justified, where the bohemian and the workaholic can both be you, where artist meets stallion meets rockstar. Above all the night was at one time the elixir of signaling youth, and a timeless space where I felt no reason to use time efficiently and direct attention towards anything in particular. After 10pm, existential risk, OkCupid and SMBC-comics were on a par, and the world too, suffers.

This has been my life. I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again if the chance were offered me.



Analysis: Russell, who wrote the beautiful original on which this is based, was approximately as lucky as I am, in the timeless grand scheme of things. Being born 114 years sooner is a disastrous, unbelievably large disadvantage, but it can be overcome if you are the grandson of the British prime minister, had tutors to educate you, were visited by Darwin in childhood, are brilliant, lived 97 years, and had personal contact with the kings, czars and presidents of your era. 114 years later, I get to have equivalents or even improvements over most of his at the time hyper-scarce resources on the cheap, via division of labor, internet, and a globalized very large society living in the global macro metropolis of big cities.
The cost however is that what has provided me with advantages only dreamt of by kings in the late eighteenth century, comes now, like the water in a cactus in the desert, surrounded by thin layers of poison and thorns, which only great tools and long-term minds can reach. Many times I have fought against the addictive cacti of life. Few times I have won. This very writing itself is an attempt to signal, to me and to others, how more interesting my life will be if I at some point finally find a way out of these pernicious malignancies that separate me from a full potential.

I have come a long way, but as the amazing book title that never stops amazing me says: What got you here won’t get you there.

Ditados Populares Corrigidos

Conversando com um amigo, acabei dizendo a seguinte frase:
As melhores coisas da vida são de graça, fora os 2000USD que custa viver aqui (San Francisco Bay Area) por mês.
E o que estava fazendo, de fato, era corrigir um ditado popular por uma versão verdadeira do mesmo, uma versão que não é um pensamento em cache, ou cached thought.
Deixo aqui sugestões de ditados populares corrigidos e a definição de cached thoughts.
cached thought is an answer that was arrived at by recalling a previously-computed conclusion, rather than performing the reasoning from scratch. Cached thoughts can be useful in saving computational resources at the cost of some memory load, and also at the risk of maintaining a belief long past the point when evidence should force an update. In particular, cached thoughts can result in a lack of creative approaches to problem-solving, as cached solutions may interfere with the formation of novel ones. What is generally called common sense is more or less a collection of cached thoughts.

On Media and Effective Altruism

What is the kind of distortion you should expect if you are interviewed or go through media as a representative of EA?

Here is my response (I’d like to write a version of this writing for the Effective Altruism blog) 

 I’ve been interviewed/covered since I was 10 in many media. So I may have something valuable to share with EA’s on media distortion. When young I was interviewed in school with some of the other kids, and I’d notice that the TV show would come to the school already knowing exactly what they wanted us to say. They’d basically tell the teacher what he should inquire us about or lecture about, and the teacher would do so. Later they would interview us making questions hardly related to the class they were supposed to be covering, and even these questions would later be cut into a few seconds of something they already knew to begin with. I noticed that even the news part of TV is not news back then, it is pre-arranged fake reality.

 As an arrogant young teenager I refused giving further interviews when I was about 14, and I’d leave class if it was being filmed for some reason.

 Sometimes though you want to be filmed for some ulterior purpose. This happened to me when a movie director and producer came to me asking whether I would think it is a good idea that she made a documentary about me. More specifically, a documentary about the fact that I wanted to be cryopreserved when I died, “Diego Wants to Live Forever”. I was shocked and felt unsure about it. I sat down and told her “I can only decide later on”. So I asked people what they would do on Lesswrong, the World’s greatest rationality blog:

 I didn’t want to be filmed for filming sake. But there were ideas I could promote through the film, discussion of the Technological Singularity, Transhumanism, Immortalism, all topics unheard of in my native Brazil. Slowly those could be turned into discussion of GWWC and other Effective Altruist organizations as well, later. So all things considered I choose for it. The movie is yet to be released since it grew from a 15 to a 60 minutes documentary. The one thing I kept in mind throughout is that if my goal was to self promote, the movie would be terrible, since being a cryonicist in a christian country where no one else is makes you look completely insane. If I wanted to promote those ideas, I’d pay a price in my image, but attracting new interested people to those memes that surround cryonics (not to cryonics itself, I have no interest in promoting it) seemed to be worthy. If someone wants to interview you or film you, always consider it a personal image sacrifice for a cause, and see if the cause is worthy enough. You’ll never be depicted as you’d like to be. If you are not the writer, then the goal of the media is not your goal, check trade-offs carefully.

 After that I was featured on a TED talk. TED is libertarian media so they actually let you do what you came to do, and help you improve. The purpose of the TED@ event was to select people for TED global 2013. No one from my country got selected, but that didn’t matter, because the topic on which I spoke, Effective Altruism, got selected. TED curators are smart, and they had no reason to pick me over anyone to talk on TED Global about Effective Altruism, they did what they should, and invited Peter Singer to speak on behalf of the movement. Some media can really help you achieve your goals, specially if your goals don’t mind whether you are present or not, nearly always the case with Effective Altruism. If the media that wants you is TED like, go for it and don’t worry, they are there to help you.

 Later on were my so called 15 seconds of fame. This time I knew the distortion would be drastic, uncanny, absurd. The worlds second largest TV network (Globo) wanted to interview me for their Sunday show, the most viewed one. At the same time, Record, a smaller TV network was going to broadcast an interview with me. Basically, 40 million people would see me on TV. This is a massive amount of people, and I knew nothing I said could be immune from distortion, you don’t get to be the second worldwide without some manipulation skills. The interview was again related to the one thing I don’t want to get people’s attention to, cryonics. A man’s body was being held in the country due to a legal fight between sisters, since he wanted to be cryopreserved and only the daughter who lived with him wanted to send him to Cryonics Institute. That is what the media wants, they want to see half sisters fighting over a dead frozen body, that’s what gets most eyeballs, and I was a side dish given I’m the only Brazilian actually signed up for cryonics.

 Not long before I had founded my memetic child,, an Effective Altruism/Transhumanism promoter institute, we were growing and producing a lot. Our purpose was broadcasting, and there would never be a chance of broadcasting the right things for 40 milion people. The question in my mind was, was it worth it to broadcast the wrong things?

 I decided in favor of it. I tried to negotiate with the reporters so that my name would appear as “IERFH’s director” somehow. Something, a tiny tiny thing, that could connect that whole tragic comedy they wanted to broadcast as news to my actually serious work related to things I actually cared about. Of course this was to no avail. The major network displayed specifically the name they promised they wouldn’t (what am I going to do, sue a company worth tens of billions?) and the other one didn’t do what I asked, but at least also not the exact opposite.

I had done my homework, I wrote a piece on cryonics connecting it to Transhumanism to attract those who googled about me or cryonics or both. The bridge was there. We paid Google ads to show up on top on Google for a few days. If there were similar mind’s we would lure them into talking to us and collaborating. I learned that 40 million is a massive number of people. It is so massive that though I nearly didn’t appear in one channel, and none of the links that I wanted them to provide were there, dozens of people came to me or to us in the next few days. Few had something to offer or knew what they were talking about. but it has shown me the power of big numbers. When people say no press is bad press, it’s because when you have massive numbers, those at the curve’s tail can be helpful for you. If it’s big enough, I recommend you do it, regardless of distortion. It’s those who see through that matter most.  

But for most press related matters, numbers are more mundane, in the low thousands, and trying to forecast the trade-off is worth it. Sometimes it is better not to do it. The recent coverage of Effective Altruism by Rhys Southan (with a distorted title by someone else, but keep in mind not even your interviewer has complete control over his writing), is a good case in point. I invite you to use it as proxy for how much you are willing to be distorted. Here are the parts of his article that mention my name:

From this point of view, the importance of most individual works of art would have to be negligible compared with, say, deworming 1,000 children. An idea often paraphrased in EA circles is that it doesn’t matter who does something – what matters is that it gets done. And though artists often pride themselves on the uniqueness of their individuality, it doesn’t follow that they have something uniquely valuable to offer society. On the contrary, says Diego Caleiro, director of the Brazil-based Institute for Ethics, Rationality and the Future of Humanity, most of them are ‘counterfactually replaceable’: one artist is as pretty much as useful as the next. And of course, the supply is plentiful.

‘We’re actually very stacked out with people who have good mathematic skills, good philosophy skills,’ Robert Wiblin, executive director of the Centre for Effective Altruism, told me. ‘I would really love to have some artists. We really need visual designers. It would be great to have people think about how Effective Altruism could be promoted through art.’ Aesthetic mavericks who anticipate long wilderness years of rejection and struggle, however, would seem to have little to contribute to the cause. Perhaps they should think about ditching their dreams for what Caleiro calls ‘an area with higher expected returns’.

And the next paragraphs are the content from which he drew them, about a 1/4 of the whole written interview (the rest was simply discarded), I don’t  want you to assume beforehand that I find his a very degrading or very uplifting change in what I said. I want you to see for what it actually is, so you can judge for yourself if you would do an interview if you were in my place, Our cluster of ideas, from Transhumanism and Singularity to Effective Altruism and X-Risk reduction are becoming mainstream by the day. You may have to face similar choices to those I did. Rhys was actually very interested and from my experience, he distorted quite a bit less than what is usually done, so take this as a below standard level of distortion:

When I was originally going to write an article about effective altruism, it was going to be about earning to give. My one hesitation was that I felt like someone else could easily write a similar article about earning to give, and I worried that made my “replaceability” very high. (And it turns out it was — someone had already written such an article.) Do you find yourself applying the concept of “replaceability” to other aspects of your life? Like could you consider the replaceability of someone you’re dating and the marginal improvement of happiness they bring to your life compared to someone else you could be dating?

That is a great question because Love, as very few things in life, is exactly the kind of emotion in which you can’t apply the logic or replaceability, or as we philosophers call it, counterfactuals. A great part of what love is is valuing a relationship. A specific one relationship that is built over time. Most songs about love, as Marvin Minsky reminds us, are about how the loved one could become anything, even a dumb psycho crazy nutcrack, and we would still love them. There are things that counterfactual reasoning can’t buy. For all others, there is effective altruism.

I suspect artists will tend to resist the effective altruism idea: there seems to be no place for them within EA, unless they happen to already be very successful, in which case they can earn to give. Do aspiring artists who want to do art full time pretty much have to give up that dream and change courses if they want to become effective altruists?

Artists are fighting in red markets. The things they make dispute people’s attention, and there are way more things available to pay attention to then there is attention to be given. Nearly all artists are counterfactually replaceable. This is why you feel they have no space within the EA movement. What I find interesting is that most of the early effective altruists come from a philosophy background, and the exact same is true of philosophy. Nearly no one reads academic publications by philosophers, and the area is so disputed it is hardly the case that anyone who left the profession would leave a significant blank behind that no one else could fulfill. Even then the EA movement thrives among philosophers, we should expect that over time, artists will find similar unusual paths to either conciliate their interests, or else shift their perspectives.

And related to the previous question, one thing that effective altruism does is put things in perspective, and artists and other creators of various sorts won’t like the perspective EA provides: by judging actions based on how much they improve well-being and decrease harm, the works of art, comedy routines and so on that people create turn out not to be that important after all. Devoting years of your life to writing a novel, for instance — while many see this as noble in some way — seems to be a horribly inefficient way to make a positive difference. Is there a way to reconcile effective altruism with artists’ beliefs that their creations are worthwhile contributions?

The short answer is no. Something will have to give, either effective altruist artists shift their art to promote altruism, like some friends of mine are doing here in São Paulo, or they abandon the artistic field. Art is a noble pursuit, and it should always be the case that a small subset of humanity is pursuing artistic expression and interacting with the world in that way. But I don’t think it will ever be the case that this subset will become so small that it would actually be worth it, all things considered, to choose to become a novelist instead of an effective altruist in some other area with higher expected returns. Not because the value of art is any less than people believe it is, but just because it is infinitely easier to understand the value of art, than to understand the value of saving the lives of hundreds of people who live across the ocean, or across the century. When I say it explicitly it may not seem that way, but hundreds of millions of people are able to see the value of art, and only very few, less than one in a million, if you consider the entire world, have already understood how much good they can create by being as altruistic as possible.

This is it, make your decisions accordingly and keep in mind that the media is part of reality, in a sense, of nature, it is not good or bad intrinsically. It has it’s properties just like gravity, which can help or hinder, and if you want to use it, you have to understand those properties and be prepared for them.