Interpersonal Legibility

Interpersonal legibility is approximated by how quickly a stranger can grok you. Choosing how legible we want to appear involves making an interesting trade-off.

On one extreme we can become a Deleuzian persona of “pure difference”. You are totally free to be “yourself” but simultaneously you present as an enigma to others. You are totally unique but also hard to understand — you find yourself on your own planet. Think John C. Lilly.

On the other hand, if you maximize your interpersonal legibility you become a stereotype. You appear as an “average” — an everyman. People will think they can quickly understand you but the “you” on display is likely in tension with how you see yourself. “Oh, he’s just a NYC finance-type”.

We shape our legibility to negotiate a balance between being inscrutable and being uninteresting.

Navigating the balance of interpersonal eligibility is a good case of Scott Alexander’s “law of equal and opposite advice”. Some people may find themselves feeling more connected to others if they become more legible, whereas others may benefit from getting weirder.

Everything in motion

My biggest takeaway from 10+ years working in algo trading is a visceral sense of how everything is in motion. The software we build relies on libraries and tools which are constantly changing. The hardware stack, from the telecom infrastructure to the processor cache, improves every year. The exchange’s rules are subject to revision, along with their software approximations of those rules. The people in the business move between institutions, and institutions themselves come and go. Nothing stands still — everything is constantly inching forward, or at least in some direction.

 

When we find a solution to a real-world problem, we create an intrinsically-unstable piece of knowledge. The knowledge is unstable because it relies on lots of other parts standing still. But all those little parts are themselves subject to the wheel of change. When we have an insight and want to take advantage of it, it helps to remember that the knowledge is time-sensitive and decaying. The knowledge is pointing to “things” but those things aren’t static — mere patterns that are soon to be memories. Eventually, everything rearranges and most knowledge becomes obsolete. We can piss or get off the pot, and if we stick around long enough the pot will disappear.

 

I rarely beat myself up for trying and failing, whereas in retrospect the prospect of failure feels very scary. Failure can often be made less costly than the suffering we later call upon ourselves for failing to act.

Where are you heading?

There are at least two ways to answer this question.

You can speak of where you want to go. This is the story you tell about your Self — usually, a story that allows you to look good and feel proud. To some extent, this story is wishful thinking. But not completely. By putting aspirations into words, we nudge ourselves towards acting in their direction. If only by suggestion, or when we are otherwise indifferent between two actions. On the margin, this story we tell starts to influence the choices we make.

Alternatively, you can answer the question of “Where are you heading?” by looking at the actions you take. Assuming you knew nothing about yourself — and had no access to your stories or aspirations — except the visible actions you took today, yesterday, last week, and last month… where does it look like you are heading? Even better, if you have the courage: ask someone you know relatively well where they think you are heading.

The distance between these two answers is a measure of how much you are fighting yourself.