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Are You The Bad Guy in a Movie? How to Plan and Execute So That You Can Learn By Winning Rather Than Learning To Win

In days of old, America was ruled by a wise man, a scholar, himself the son of a scholar. The world was at peace. It rained Skittles in the morning and marshmallows at night. All was well. To the west, rose a philosopher-warrior-prince, Eliezer of the House of Yudkowsky, and he taught us thusly 1:

“let us dispose of the notion that science fiction represents a full-fledged rational attempt to forecast the future.  Even the most diligent science fiction writers are, first and foremost, storytellers;  the requirements of storytelling are not the same as the requirements of forecasting.”
[The Logical Fallacy of Generalization from Fictional Evidence – Less Wrong]

Basically, don’t use movies and novels to make serious points (especially about machine intelligence).

Eliezer is absolutely right. He’s also indefatigable; this is a man who does not shrink from using his brain. Which is why I’m about to ignore his advice and talk about movies and novels as if they were real, because that’s the intellectual path of least resistance. #PeopleAreIrrationalForAReason

You know how, in lazily written fiction, the baddies have insanely complex schemes which they spend a lot of pages/screen time explaining in detail to the goodies? And you know how they always lose?

I used to hate that. I always rooted for Wile E. Coyote over the Road Runner, Tom over Jerry 2 and Dr. Robotnik over Sonic the Hedgehog, because I felt they — the “baddies” — deserved the win. They were smart; they were prepared; they were diligent.

Too diligent, perhaps.

Many an adult have I seen make and announce an exercise plan that is perfect on paper — efficient, detailed, intense — and even execute it (initially), only to hurt themselves mentally and/or physically and burn out like a box of matches: hot, bright and fast. They plan and try to give 110%, but end up giving 0%.

In sports, music, and many (all?) other fields involving the accumulation and refinement of technical skill, we often — correctly — associate excellence with a high practice volume and mediocrity with a low one.

But it’s not simply the case that the people who become pros practice a lot and the people who (willingly or unwillingly) remain amateurs practice too little. That’s the overall pattern, but the details are where things get interesting — just because a body of water is four feet deep on average, does not mean you can wade across it: it could be one foot deep for half the time, and seven feet deep the other half. In sports in particular, it’s a little-known secret, hidden in plain sight, that overtraining, overexertion and generally overdoing it is actually more an amateur problem than a pro one.

The pros have people to tell them to cool it, to take it easy. Amateurs, often working alone, tend to push themselves to injury and beyond. Not only do amateur sportsmen fail to rest enough to prevent injuries (before the fact), they also tend to fail to rest enough to heal them (after the fact).

And so, ironically, one of the reasons (other than “lack of time” due to other real and imagined commitments) that amateurs’ practice volume ends up so comparative low is because they work too hard. Their standards are too high.

Be the good guys. Sure, have a bit of planning, but wing it, too. Have fun. Play. Mess around. Show up. Have wide standards rather than high standards. Keep showing up. Don’t go to the gym to execute your stupid, boring, lamea$$ “workout plan” — that you made up in a fit of righteous last December. Just show up at the gym and hang out. Something good is bound to happen. Top-down, “Soviet-Harvard”-style planning is fine to do once in a while, but make it the exception rather than the rule; don’t make a habit of it. Instead, make a habit of showing up, winging it and having fun. You know why children get good at stuff? This is why.

Work actively 1-20% of the time, and just screw around for the other 80-99% of the time (it’ll vary by day).

Doing things this way, you’ll enjoy yourself more, so you’ll play more and you’ll win more — both internally, because you’re having fun, and externally because you’re so well-trained. Internal, private victories matter at least as much external, public ones. Remember that.

If your Japanese learning plan is too cartoon villainish, too schemey and intricate and detailed and byzantine and oppressive, take a step back and look into maximizing that “enjoyment quotient”.

Am I saying not to immerse like a motherlover? No, I’m saying not to bore i.e. hurt yourselfNever sacrifice enjoyment on the altar of efficiency; long-term, like people who sacrifice freedom for security, it’s a good way to get neither.

Victory is the path to victory, not merely its destination. Don’t learn to win, learn by winning. You don’t have to learn in order to have fun — you can learn by having fun.

And if you don’t know what fun is or how to have it, then you…you have problems bigger than I can help you with (lol).



  1. Yudkowsky actually posted this before Barack became King of the Union, so, the timing of this is off. Also, I am reliably informed by Sean Bean that America has no king and does not need one.
  2. I know Tom and Wile E. didn’t speak, but still…

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