One of the defining philosophies of the local Singularity Institute community here is “Munchkining at life”. Where I come from we would call it min/maxing your life, or hacking your life. It refers to winning (making money or happiness) by unconventional or unexpected means. You’re following the rules (laws and ethics) but not obeying societal expectations.

Eliezer Yudkowsky and Michael Vassar proclaim (loudly and to anyone who will listen) that there are a huge number of munchkining opportunities for anyone to take. Low-hanging fruit, in other words. They believe this strongly enough that they’ve told us that one of the goals of Rationality Boot Camp is to produce millionaires, by teaching us the skills we need to notice and take advantage of these munchkin opportunities.

If Michael and Eliezer are correct about the low-hanging fruit, and if they can successfully teach the appropriate skills, then it makes sense that SingInst is paying for us to be here: they expect to get a lot of big donations, either from us directly in a few years, or through us because we end up in powerful positions.

Anyway, we had a session about munchkining today, called “The World is Mad.” Eliezer first polled us about how much weight we assigned to the implication that “nobody else is doing X” should mean that X is a bad idea. I gave the weight four out of ten, and the answers were quite varied. Eliezer then gave lots of examples of things people weren’t doing which were obviously a good idea (and things which people were doing which were shown to be retarded):

For each of these we rated how much this caused us to believe the “world is mad” hypothesis. For me the most impressive one was the hospital checklist one, followed by prison rape. How much do each of these cause you to update?

I guess the experiment is to determine whether people can really internalize that “the world is mad”. Eliezer and Michael were saying that they present people with all this data, and yet people still look at what others are doing to determine whether something is a good idea. I can see what they’re saying, because despite all this, I haven’t updated more than a couple points on that scale. I initially answered 4 out of 10; I would now put my estimation of “the world is mad” at about 6 or 7. I am still not fully updated to that view; it’s hard for me to internalize.

Apparently one science fiction author, Jack Vance, treats this view as a skill, “zs’hanh”, which is defined as “contemptuous indifference to the activity of others”. Eliezer tweaked this definition to “contemptuous indifference to the inactivity of others. I expect to make a lot of progress learning this skill this summer.