LessWrong is one of my favorite discussion sites on the internet. It's a discussion site about rationality, and I highly recommend it. Don't be intimidated by how high the level of discussion gets sometimes - there's many good ways to get started. I wrote "You Should Probably Study Rationality" with some intro material. "References and Resources for LessWrong" was just posted today on LW and looks like a good starting point too.
Collecting and Hoarding Crap, Useless Information
LessWrong discussion here: http://lesswrong.com/lw/2uu/collecting_and_hoarding_crap_useless_information/
I am realizing something that many, many intelligent people are guilty of - collecting and hoarding and accumulating crap, useless information. This is dangerous, because it feels like you're doing something useful, but you're not.
However, speaking personally - once I decide to start focusing and researching something systematically to get better at it, it gets harder to do. For instance, I taught myself statistics mostly using baseball stats. It was a fun, easy, harmless context to learn statistics.
I read lots of history and historical fiction. I read up lots on business and entrepreneurship. This is easy and fun and enjoyable.
But then, when I decide to really hone in, it becomes much harder. For instance, I'm doing some casual research on the history of insurgencies and asymmetrical warfare. This is the kind of thing I'd read all the time for fun, but now that I'm working on it systematically, it becomes a lot harder.
Likewise business and entrepreneurship - I read lots and lots on technology, financing, market research, marketing, etc. But now that I'm really nailing down one aspect for my next business, it becomes almost strenuous to work on that.
It's like... collecting and hoarding useless, unfocused information is for us what collecting and hoarding a bunch of useless consumer shit is for most people. I'd reckon that people that hang out here are smarter with money and less into buying junk, but, at least for me, I'm spending a lot of my time buying junk information.
Alright, back to reading about Tienanmen Square and Rome/Carthage and the Tet Offensive, and nailing down the buying criteria and budgets of the market I want to be in. Why it is so much easier to focus and collect crap mentally than to do it systematically on meaningful topics? Do you do this? I seriously doubt I'm the only one...
I'm also a big fan of Less Wrong. Newcomers should definitely read Eliezer's Sequences:
Truly amazing, life-changing stuff in there.
Damn, this post got me.
I consider myself a *generally* rational person, but I often fall into the trap of wasting loads of my time reading useless information. I always realized it subconsciously, but seeing it written down here really hits home.
Looks like another challenge to add to my list! "Don't waste time with irrelevant information!"
The largest mental gains I made in the shortest period of time were from studying rationality.
I was amazed to discover a couple years ago that there were people who regularly studied and discussed how to think, how to get correct and accurate beliefs about how the world works, how to understand how your mind works, and to get at the real reasons people make decisions.
The whole rationality thing is as addictive as crack-cocaine for me. I love it. The difference from crack, though, is you grow stronger and smarter the more you dive in.
Our minds are funny. We humans, we're "adaptation exercisers, not fitness maximizers" -
Fifty thousand years ago, the taste buds of Homo sapiens directed their bearers to the scarcest, most critical food resources - sugar and fat. Calories, in a word. Today, the context of a taste bud's function has changed, but the taste buds themselves have not. Calories, far from being scarce (in First World countries), are actively harmful. Micronutrients that were reliably abundant in leaves and nuts are absent from bread, but our taste buds don't complain. A scoop of ice cream is a superstimulus, containing more sugar, fat, and salt than anything in the ancestral environment.
A common question, indeed - "I don't know what I'm doing with my life, can you advise something?"
Well, perhaps I can. I got a nice email from a reader, and I wrote a long reply. If you're in a hurry, skim down to "Okay. So here’s my thoughts" which is where the pragmatic guidelines start - I'll bold it so you can start there, if you like.
First, I'd like to say that I've really enjoyed reading your blog. It has so much insightful and enlightening material that I've gone back to reread and try to really absorb some of the ideas you have. I've been meaning to contact you but I felt a bit intimidated, to be honest. I'd really like to hear your advice.
I'm about a year removed from high school, attending community college and I've just been floating around, doing general education courses and I've yet to really decide on a major. I don't really have any particular talents or strong interests in one field or another.