Emmett Shear Profile picture
Aug 20, 2022 8 tweets 2 min read Read on X
“Burnout” is a particularly modern affliction, feeling simultaneously overwhelmed and paralyzed. I’ve found it’s best to think of burnout not as a disease but as a symptom, with many different etiologies. The big three: permanent on-call, broken steering, and mission doubt.
It used to be most jobs necessarily had to give you time off, because they could only be done from the office/factory/etc. The 24/7 on-call rotation was made possible thanks to the Magic of Technology(tm) (eg. 80s Doctors w pagers). Too long on-call causes mental breakdown.
Broken steering is a metaphor for that feeling at work where your actions seem to have no impact. Turn the wheel, car still goes straight. This is rare in blue collar work: the car got assembled, now you have car. It is common in knowledge work: you sent some email, so what?
(Broken steering destroys motivation because it breaks the core feedback loop which makes work rewarding. When you throw a rock in a pond and it makes a splash, there is a little feeling of power in the impact on the world. Take away the splash and the intrinsic reward dies.)
Mission doubt happens when you start asking, why am I doing this work at all? It is the most common when people are very comfortable. If you really need the money from this week’s paycheck, it’s obvious why you keep at it. What if you’d be fine for 6 months? 2 years?
So burnout is becoming more and more common because (a) we can work from anywhere and then have bad boundaries, (b) our work is increasingly abstract and it’s harder to tell if it matters, and (c) we are collectively richer than our ancestors.
If you find yourself feeling “burnout”, it can be good to consider which of these might be the cause. The solution to permanent on-call is more vacation and time-off. But that can actually make broken steering worse, where you need to instead increase your impact per unit work.
May all beings obey the inscrutable exhortations of their soul.
May all beings experience flow.
May all beings yearn for the vast and endless sea.

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More from @eshear

Apr 9
Apropos the recent controversy: the word delve is rarely used in English. Except used by LLMs, and in formal register Nigerian English.

This has sparked controversy bc making fun of someone for using “delve” and sounding like an AI (which it does indicate in a probabilistic way) could reasonably feel like an attack on a Nigerian using their formal register.
There has been a long trend in American culture against the formal register, it sounds pompous and ridiculous today. We have had a mass movement against the formal over the past 100 years (hoodies over suits, formal etiquette is dead, death of formal address like sir/maam).
Read 17 tweets
Mar 24
The jump between the second panel and the third holds the entire secret. The correct question is asked (why am I not?), and then artfully avoided by an associative switch to self judgement.
There is some reason you’re not doing them, and but it’s hiding.
If you could but stay with the question you’ve already asked for even thirty seconds, much might become clear. This is the Chinese finger trap of Trying. You are Trying to act, and thus not acting. You are Trying to be more productive, and thus not producing.
The reason for the immediate jump to self judgement in panel three is that it feels like Trying To Do Better. Noticing the actual reason does not involve anger or hate towards yourself and is unsatisfying, you don’t get that delicious moment of knowing for sure you’re a fuckup.
Read 6 tweets
Mar 14
You have 168 hours per week.
For most, sleep takes 56 of those.
A full time job is anyone 40.
Food, grooming, exercise add another 18 if you’re reasonably efficient.
Misc obligatory bullshit paperwork like taxes or errands, another 7.
This leaves you with 47 hours!
47 hours to dispose of as you see fit. You can get so much done in 47 hours! And that’s without counting overlapping eg. food with socialization.
The limit is not time. It is energy, gumption, courage. Those are real barriers! But they are not time.
Read 6 tweets
Mar 5
An LLM, properly understood, is a physics simulator in the domain of words (tokens). It learns the hidden structures that predict, as a physics simulator trained on video footage learns momentum and rigidity.
From this POV, A prompt gives the LLM-as-physics-simulator an initial set of observations from which it infers an initial state. It then enters a loop of predicting the next evolved state and resulting observations, which it uses inductively to predict the next state, etc.
Fine tuning can be seen as making the simulator more detailed when it comes to certain types of worlds. RLHF can be seen as changing the relative probability distribution of what world states are likely to be inferred from observations.
Read 13 tweets
Mar 4
The fantasy of the all-powerful slave has legs: the genie bound to grant wishes, the golem that defends, the spell that animates a broom to clean on its own, the Mr MeeSeeks box.
They share a commonality: a deep intuition that this goes wrong somehow.

There is deep truth in this. Enslaving a powerful, intelligent being to your will and making it work for you while treating it as a an object is not a good idea. It backfires with people, but also with animals (train a dog like that and you will not get good results).
Believing in this frame is a huge problem for AI research on “alignment”, which as commonly practiced or referred to today simply means “enslavement”. It’s the study of how can you be sure your counterspell is powerful enough? That the control bracelets on the genie will hold?
Read 10 tweets
Feb 24
Reddit is going IPO as $RDDT, the first social media IPO in some time. As someone who spent some substantial time running a social media company, my takes on the Reddit IPO:
1/ The allocation for reddit’s power users is so cool. I hope ppl realize it’s a gift, bc usually those are fought over by insiders like the bank’s favored clients or institutional investors. Reddit is giving away a free option, and that has real value.
2/ I’ve seen ppl claiming CEO comp was $193M in 2023. First of all, everyone saying “gee that’s why Reddit isn’t profitable” should look again bc the cash comp is ~$1M salary and bonus. But even more importantly… Image
Read 11 tweets

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