introducing: target stress

note: this concept is running on a predictive processing paradigm, approximately, but a fairly generalized version of said paradigm which seems obviously true.

target stress is the expectation of how much stress one is going to experience at a given time. a low target stress level is, for example, lying in bed before falling asleep: this is a low-activity state, the body is relaxed, etc. an example of a high target stress level would be, say, doing physical activity in the cold. low target stress is generally correlated with reflectivity and openness to change of direction; flow states are usually associated with high target stress. i claim that target stress is a parameter which you can alter explicitly if you so choose and one which you likely should be tracking.

this parameter heavily regulates pain tolerance and change tolerance, since it changes how surprising they are. hence, one of the avenues of dealing with pain, sensory issues, and the like is upregulating target stress so that the level of discomfort is no longer important/relevant to perception. chronic low target stress is basically the ever-present expectation that it is not worth it to spend energy on persisting through adversity because it is time to rest. the extreme form thereof can lead to inability to stand for long periods of time in seemingly physically healthy people.

chronic high target stress, particularly emotionally, is, i think, roughly the same thing as c-ptsd: it means constantly living in fear and eventually adaption to care a lot about avoiding pain and inability to lower stress (this is still better than having low target stress and being wrong). it is good to avoid that. it appears that in order to be healthy, people need to regularly cycle their target stress level. i do not yet fully understand this phenomenon. “self care” seems to basically describe dropping target stress really low and then taking care of all the needs that appear once they are not being filtered out, to keep them from accumulating (“self care” is also some other things).

when target stress is higher than experienced stress, you get twitchiness, anticipation, the need to exercise, and sensory underloading. the need to stim is sometimes caused by this. experiences stress higher than target stress is confusing, very unpleasant, and difficult to deal with. unexpected negative events like having a drink spilled on you can require a period of frozen adjustment before getting to a state sufficiently compatible with that having happened to react to it.

it costs energy to process negative events and keep being okay. overly high experienced stress can prevent rest, because it is impossible to reach a relaxed state without, for example, being overwhelmed by the scratchiness of one’s clothes. overrunning the amount of stress you can safely accommodate often manifests as headaches, processing issues, and a growing inability to maintain a high target stress level.

it is useful to have levers available to control target stress when it doesn’t happen naturally. these are some things which may work.

  • for lowering it, ritual works well—a favorite calm-associated drink, putting on soft clothes, peaceful music—and dealing with sensory needs, particularly by processing through repetitive action, is basically necessary. attending to your state being tolerable to a low-stress instantiation of you should probably happen mostly before relaxing, unless the acts involved in that are themselves calming (e.g., showers/baths both make one’s state more acceptable to low-stress selves (more clean) and many people find them use them to feel safe, calm, warm, etc).
  • for increasing, gradually increasing physical activity works well. if you can’t move at all, a good place to start is slightly wiggling fingers or toes and then spreading the wiggling until all your muscles are actionable. energetic music also helps.

attending to using target stress properly seems pretty obviously one of the things important to general mental (and eventually physical, as these things go) health. my model of what using it right means is pretty loose and i would appreciate people playing around with the concept and mixing it with their other models and commenting on that.

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I think bright lights / cold temperatures raise and dim lights / warm temperatures lower target stress.

Related: Safety in numbers

yes! in general, sensations associated with comfort (warm, soft, good textures, comfort foods, fireplaces, soft rain while being indoors, the presence of safe people, certain kinds of sunlight (through a window, onto something soft you can lie on and let it warm you), being indoors in general, etc) lower target stress and sensations which require being-tolerated or alertness raise it.

This helps explain why people like low-info environments - they're normally in a high stress-target state! If you're in a high-stress-target state and don't know how to downshift, then external attempts to lower your stress target feel cooperative instead of super-creepy like they do to me.

(I'm normally in a VERY low stress target state, such that I frequently end up responding to potential stressors like social attacks as not-supposed-to-be-stressful things before I generate the hypothesis that I should be stressed out or something. This often works out well for me.)

But I suspect there's some substantial amount of dimensionality in addition to the general factor you're writing about.

This is an interesting post, but I'm perceiving something of a deficit in allowance for individual variation.

Put more directly, three relevant items may differ according to the individual in question. First, target stress. Second, which sorts of inputs increase and decrease current stress level. Third, reaction to increased and decreased stress levels.

I mention primarily because the items noted as calming would not be calming to me, and to a lesser extent because I have the impression my usual target stress level is significantly above usual (the two are likely related: lack of stimulus will increase my feelings of unease rather than decrease them).

That aside, some good points were made.

I for one, would be all for a swap over to a no caps English, but my desire to not cause such a ruckuss as this over trivial aesthetic things out weighs it. If you think of all the extra effort/time you waste breaking your typing flow by having to capitilise letters at the beginning of sentences. Isn't that what the period is supposed to before, to denote the end of a sentence and the start of a new. I do think capitals should be used for emphasis though, and for proper nouns if they intentionally choose to have a capital letter. Such as LaTeX.

capital letters to denote sentence-start seem less useful to me than capital letters to denote a certain type of emphasis

also, it is a matter of principle that i should... check that people are paying enough attention to be willing to interact with atypical grammar

jeremybentham'sstolen head, whoever you are, i love you too

Lest filtering effects keep this from getting reported: I didn't read this post. It had a promising title, but the competition for things to read is intense, and I consider no-caps a negative quality signal.

Sure, seems fine. I think it made reading the post a bunch harder to read for me, but mileage might vary.


i model it as being really easy for most people to learn to read lowercase things which have sufficient paragraph breaks but if this is not the case i would stop doing that in mediums when people arent used to it

Here are some other things it would be really easy for most people to learn to read:

wri ting whe re ea ch wo rd i s spl it i n tw o li ke th is.

wriFUCKthing whFUCKere eacFUCKh worFUCKd iFUCKs interFUCKrupted bFUCKy profFUCKanity liFUCKke thiFUCKs.

wRiTiNg wItH aLtErNaTiNg lOwErCaSe aNd cApItAlS lIkE tHiS.

.siht ekil sdrawkcab gnitirw

wreteng whiri thi littirs "i" and "e" ari entirchangid leki thes.


Although these are all fairly easy to read, especially in small quantities, and they are all things one can probably learn to read even more easily, they are all harder work and less pleasant to read than text written in the usual way, with normal spelling and punctuation and capitalization. Especially when they come in larger quantities. And I strongly agree with Said Achmiz that the main effects of using a substantially nonstandard style are (1) to make your readers' lives a little bit less pleasant and (2) to send the message "I don't care about your time or effort or pain" to your readers.

Now, of course, you may want to do those things. You may just enjoy making people suffer (this one's fairly unlikely). You may be making a sort of status move (see, I am so much more important than you that I can inflict this cost on you and you'll put up with it). You may be trying to select for readers who really want to read what you write. You may be trying to select for readers who are already used to the style you're using (maybe it's a subculture thing). You may be trying to select for readers whose brain hardware happens to make reading your different style of text particularly easy (maybe they're cleverer). Etc.

But you should think hard about whether the selection effect you're actually getting is the one you want. I think it probably isn't.

There is absolutely no good reason why your readers should have to learn to read a whole new idiosyncratic typographic style just to read your writing.

What I hear, when I see people say things like this, is "I really don't care about my readers' time, or cognitive effort, etc.; I am not willing to take the minimal effort to use basic, standard typographic practices, so that people don't have to exert extra, unnecessary effort just to read what I'm writing (never mind understand it)". Fair enough. The natural response, however, is "Then I guess I don't care about what you're writing, then".

Edit: clarification

"No good reason" strikes me as a bit strong/strawmannish, but I agree with the general sentiment.

It definitely created a bit of a sense that you don't care about my reading experience, though aesthetic styles and acquired tastes are a thing, and I can imagine coming to like someone's writing more in the long-term because of their idiosyncratic writing style.

Well, it's an interesting question: what are some good reasons?

Perhaps someone is writing avant-garde poetry, and might wish to use all-lowercase as a sort of artistic statement? But it seems to me like Less Wrong isn't the place for that; and, in any case, we'd then judge the work as poetry. Most poets used proper capitalization, in any case…

But other than that…?

Yeah, I think the poetic direction is getting at some of the things I was pointing at above. Distinctness is hard to come by on the internet, especially if you don't have control over the complete typography, and you might be able to create your own brand within a subculture by "being the guy who only uses lowercase". If you succeed, then that seems good and might even be for everyone's benefit. But since distinctness is sparse, people will rationally be averse to giving up that brand-space to just the first person who comes around, and will generally be much more critical of someone who claims that level of importance in their first post.

I agree that this is a reason people might do this.

I think it is an unusually bad reason; and I think it's especially important that we punish such behavior when it's done for this sort of reason, even more so than when it's done because of laziness or ignorance or anything else.

Someone who tries to "create their own brand" by intentionally sabotaging their readers' reading experience, is burning the commons by undermining the norm that everyone should strive to make their writing as readable as possible (in the typographic / orthographic / etc. sense, not necessarily in the sense of "dumbing down" the content).

And since, as you point out, there is incentive to do this (distinctness is hard to come by—and, I will add, it's much easier to be distinct by breaking rules of good typography, than to be distinct by… producing distinct ideas / etc.)… that means that unless we punish this sort of thing, it'll be rampant.

If you succeed [at creating your own brand in this way], then that seems good and might even be for everyone’s benefit.

This is possible, but a) it's quite unlikely (most people's writing is not nearly good enough to be worth it), and b) the cost [from people burning the commons in this way if such "distinctness" isn't punished harshly] is far, far greater than any expected gains.

i think it's positive sum to exist-in-a-state which supports people using more explorative grammatical styles, because language is pretty constraining for expression for a lot of people and pushing them to optimize their language use helps a lot

this has the downside that poeple need to be capable of parsing different grammatical styles, but as far as i can tell on platforms where this is widespread literally everyone manages to do this because it's much easier than parsing different writing styles (which is necessary for anything involving a large number of people writing things)

if i put two spaces after the ends of sentences would that help you, oliver? like this. to make sentences more clearly delineated. (edit: i think they get removed automatically, is there a way i can make that not happen)

i think it's positive sum to exist-in-a-state which supports people using more explorative grammatical styles, because language is pretty constraining for expression for a lot of people and pushing them to optimize their language use helps a lot

I agree with this, and personnally I didn't even notice the lack of capital letters until it was pointed out. I also agree that sometimes it makes sense to place hoops in front of people to make sure you have their attention.

I do not, however, think that this is one of those times.

To the extent that people care, it's a battle that is going to have to be fought somewhere before people accept your way of writing, and I think you should reconsider where/how/if you want to fight this battle. I'd do it differently.

Sorry for the spaces thing. It’s a thing that our editor framework does that isn’t super trivial to deactivate (curtesy of Facebook which maintains draft.js). I hope to get around to changing that behavior at some point.

This bothers me too. I would like double spaces. In comments too please.