Q&A with my high school self: helping 14-16 year old Alexey to deal with his emotions, to ask for help, to talk to people (and his dad), to learn, to get things done.

Summary: Life is not easy for grown ups and it’s a lot more difficult for teenagers. For my teenage self, life was hell. In this Q&A, I do my best to help him get onto an at least somewhat happier and more productive track in his life.

January 2013 Alexey: should I listen to my dad?

2022 Alexey: The answer is no…

Your dad has difficulties understanding people’s feelings and most of your issues are essentially figuring out what’s going on with your feelings. I know this is not fun to hear but, however much you try to explain your issues to him, he just won’t understand them.

Also, a lot of his opinions are wrong and outdated. He’s disappointed with you for not trusting him. For you not being able to keep your promises to him previously. For not having the interests he feels like you should have. He resents you for not being interested in his work. If the question is: is my dad even trying to help me? Then the answer is “yes”. If the question is: is he doing a good job? Then the answer is “no”.

You remember how last year you were interested in learning how to play the guitar? Your parents wanted to support you, bought you one and you started going to the guitar class that had a teacher to teach ten or so people of your age. You went there for two months, were enjoying the lessons a lot, then you forgot to go to one of the classes, had to skip another lesson, fell two lessons behind, and stopped going. You felt like there was no way you could catch up anymore after missing two lessons and felt deeply ashamed showing up to the class.

If your dad realized that you were giving him bullshit reasons and that the decision was driven by emotions you couldn’t process or deal with yourself, he could’ve asked you for a bit about what’s going on and you probably would’ve gotten to the idea of you being scared of going to the class after skipping two lessons. But since nobody ever asked you about your feelings directly, you just kept telling parents that you “decided to stop going”. And your dad just kept threatening you trying to force you to go there.

Anyway, you guys are kind of making each other lifes terrible. You argue with him endlessly. He doesn’t let you use the computer and forces you to do things you don’t want to do. You remember how one time he literally started pounding his head at the wall because you just kept arguing with him for days on end and then watched some stupid video on YouTube and tried to convince him that the Fed is a conspiracy? It’s not easy for him. Lots of parents just outright hate their children (even if almost nobody admits it to themselves). Your dad keeps talking with you and, honestly, he’s doing as well as he can.

As an aside, you are 100% right about only standardized exams mattering for university admissions and school grades not mattering at all. It’s stupid of your dad to try to force you to get all As in high school and refuse to acknowledge you trying to take all of these coursera classes, but I don’t think you can do anything about it.

March 2013 Alexey: how can I win Google Science Fair?

March 2013 Alexey: I want to take part in Google Science Fair but I’m looking at the projects that won the fair previously and I have absolutely no idea how to do anything like them. For example, take last year’s grand prize winner: how do they know so much about cancer by age 17 to come up with a research idea about specific treatments and cell types and to then study it experimentally? I feel dumb and depressed. Last year I couldn’t come up with an idea that wouldn’t be utterly dumb or trivial and just gave up. I’m about to give up this year as well. Fuck my life.

2022 Alexey: Alexey, you’re making a bunch of these assumptions about how things work without ever thinking about them. Since projects do not state most of the information about how they came about, you end up with a completely wrong picture of what’s going on. I understand why you’re doing this — you don’t have much experience in the world and you think that anyone who did something you feel like you couldn’t do did it the way you would do it except that they were smarter than you which is how they were actually able to do it.

For example, take this grand prize winner. You’re sitting at home, don’t seek any help, and assume that everyone is doing the same thing. They do not. For example, one of the previous winners carried out their project at a university lab that published 4 papers about the topic of their project a year earlier, so it seems likely that they were getting a lot of help with the idea from the lab. Are you seriously depressed because you’re unable to come up with a research idea that will push the frontier of science? Come on. It took Newton decades to come up with calculus and you just expect your 14-year-old self to sort of just figure out how to create new science by staring at your monitor and feeling bad about yourself? You could just keep sitting on your ass and whining about being a failure and not having high school teachers who understand you. Or you could do the thing the winners do: reach out to a bunch of scientists and see if you can be helpful.

Ok, more seriously, I don’t think you should be trying to do the Google Science Fair. It’s common in biology to have a high schooler in the lab because they’re an extra pair of hands, but you are not interested in biology and you should just be learning coding/math/physics/random coursera courses instead.

May 2013 Alexey: but I can’t complete any Coursera or edX courses. I think I’m just stupid…

May 2013 Alexey: I tried taking math, physics, biology, neuroscience, history, machine learning, programming, philosophy, and all kinds of other classes. I tried like 20 or 30 of them and I gave up on all of them except for the two easiest ones (Modern History and Critical Thinking). For example, I gave up on CS50 in the second or third week when there was an assignment I had difficulty with. I just wasn’t smart enough to set up the coding environment and gave up. Same happened for all the other courses. I was so excited about the Special Relativity and Calculus courses but the same exact thing happened. A couple of weeks in there was something I couldn’t understand which made me realize that I just wasn’t smart enough for them and it didn’t make sense to continue.

2022 Alexey: lmao, May 2013 Alexey. You’ve never had the experience of not understanding something immediately, applying conscious effort to understand it, and succeeding. Your school is so easy that you’ve simply never had the experience of having to study to understand something. As a result, you’ve learned that you’re supposed to understand everything you’re trying to learn immediately and, if this doesn’t happen, you think that you’re just too stupid to understand it. This interpretation is wrong.

It’s ok for it to take a while to understand something and it’s also ok to get completely stuck. I can tell you that learning everything by yourself will not become easier. You will keep hearing about people self-studying for all kinds of stuff but you should pretty much always get a tutor or a friend to debug whatever it is that you get stuck with.

In this case specifically, you can go to your mom or dad and ask them if you can get a mathematics or physics tutor because you’re trying to learn advanced material not taught in school. Your dad will argue with you for a bit telling you that you need to get your grades up first but I think he’ll give in.

Note the pattern: Not asking for help and trying to do everything by yourself again. Things just don’t work this way. You need people!

June 2013 Alexey: Terrence Tao went to IMO when he was 10. Elon Musk sold a video game when he was 12. There are people who won the Google Science Fair when they were 13. I’m already 15 and I haven’t done anything notable at all. Everything I do fails. Every project I’ve ever done. Anything I’ve ever tried. Nothing works. I’m literally the dumbest person in the universe. I have no friends, I have no ability to do anything except for playing video games. I have no future. I’m never going to amount to anything. I should just kill myself.

2022 Alexey: Indeed, some people do something interesting very early on. If you were a mathematical genius, you would’ve made it to IMO by now. I’m sorry but you are not! However, for a dude basically playing video games full-time, you seem to have done some pretty interesting stuff:

You will tell me that all of the stuff above is stupid and that these accomplisments are not real but I will tell you that winning Google Science Fair by volunteering in a lab and presenting the results of the experiments you were told to do is not really cooler than coming up with an idea of an iPad game reviews site, designing and coding it up (ok, with dad’s help for backend), hiring a freelancer for it, writing iPad game reviews that grown-ups read, getting it highly-ranked on Google, and making some money off it.

You’ve never spoken with a 2022 Alexey before, so you don’t know how to do jack shit and don’t have any “actually hard” or legible to the outside world accomplishments, but this is actually pretty cool.

The bad news is that you can’t really do anything about your brain being fucked, your parents not understanding you, and nobody in your school being like you. The good news is that you will not give up, you’ll find people you like talking to, and, as soon as you learn how to actually do the things you want to do, you’ll know for a fact that you’re ok, and you’ll stop feeling so terrible about yourself.

The first step to doing things is to just follow the instructions here: https://guzey.com/productivity/#if-youre-unproductive-right-now.

The first step to finding people you like talking to is to get on twitter and start blogging. These are the “beacons” that will naturally attract people who think like you to you. It’ll take many years to actually have a circle of friends you like being around and it’ll probably take years to find even one friend — it’s fine. Embrace this and just keep trying. Like the first 5 blog posts I published had 0 faves on twitter and got 10 views or something. Also, visit San Francisco and DC and try to meet Patrick Collison and Tyler Cowen as soon as humanly possible. People you want to be friends with are incredibly concentrated in the Bay Area.

July 2013 Alexey: should I install Civilization 5?

July 2013 Alexey: Last month, I asked my dad to turn off the internet on my desktop computer to make sure I don’t end up playing any video games and this is working beautifully. I’ve now managed to be doing Anki every day for 30-40 minutes for more than 3 weeks. I’m finally learning all of the facts and formulas I will need in school. I will fucking ace my final year of high school.

Ah wait lol, I just realized that, although I can’t play video games on my mom’s laptop, as it’s too dangerous, I can download Civilization 5 on it, move over all game files to a flash disk, and copy them over to my personal computer. Then, I can play Civ as much as I want. Brilliant!

2022 Alexey: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!! You’ll destroy everything you’ve been working on and will completely fail your final year of high school. Please please please call your mom right now and set up a password on her computer while you’re on a call with her. Just start typing and dictating a sequence of 12 random letters and numbers to her. Then, log out and turn off the laptop. She’ll write down the password and you’ll forget it in a minute. Next, pack up your backpack and go to a library with an iPad and your headphones and do something useful.

September 2013 Alexey: how do I get my braces removed?

September 2013 Alexey: Ok, this one is really awkward, I’m not telling my parents about this. I should’ve gotten my braces removed back like in May but I forgot to call the doctor. When I remembered about this, I felt too awkward to call and sign up for an appointment. I tried to call a couple of times but was overtaken by anxiety when I was entering the doctor’s number and just couldn’t do it. What should I do?

2022 Alexey: Get your phone and schedule an appointment with her literally right now. I’ll wait.

September 2013 Alexey: uhhhh, ok. [calls the doctor]. She chided me a bit for being late but I told her that I just forgot to call her over the summer and it’s fine.

2022 Alexey: Wow. Just incredible. Who would’ve guessed.

September 2013 Alexey: how do I study Mathematics at Moscow State University?

September 2013 Alexey: It’s clear by now that I’m not getting into Caltech… Math is the single best thing I can study in undergrad, since I don’t know what I really want to be doing and it prepares you the best for any kind of potential career, and MSU is the best university in Russia. So this is where I want to go. I looked at MSU’s site and I need to score about 260/300 total on physics+math+Russian EGEs [the federal high school exams], which is about 87/100 per exam. Oof. I don’t think I can get these kinds of scores…

2022 Alexey: JFC dude. You read LessWrong instead of talking to smart high schoolers or anyone who knows anything at all about Russian universities or their admissions processes, so you are completely wrong about where to study and are so oblivious that you don’t even realize the possibility of being wrong. Being so uninformed is honestly kind of impressive.

  1. Moscow State is an old, conservative university that is way past its prime, while Higher School of Economics has the #1 CS and math departments in Moscow and is an extremely modern, liberal university started in just 1992. More math and informatics olympiad winners enter HSE than MSU these days and every single person you’ll meet who went to MSU rather than HSE regretted it. You’ll love HSE.
    1. Note: however good a university or any other kind of “institution” is, never believe the administrative staff. Talk to other students and people who have your best interest in mind and read all rules & regulations yourself and apply them directly when e.g. deciding which classes to take.
  2. You should not study math in undergrad. You do really enjoy math but you hate useless classes and learning for the sake of learning, so it will be a nightmare for you to be forced to take all of the higher-level math courses. HSE’s applied math & informatics program is literally the perfect program for you. It has a whole bunch of fun math while focusing most of its efforts on teaching people to code, with coding being the highest leverage way of turning ideas into products.

September 2013 Alexey: Ok, it sounds like I should go to Higher School of Economics. But…

September 2013 Alexey: I don’t want to study Computer Science. I don’t like coding, I’m not very good at it, and learning to code properly at 16 is way too late.

September 2013: I mean, I’ve been trying to learn how to code for like 7 years and I never got any good at it. I just keep playing video games whenever I try to learn how to code. It’s just not my thing.

2022 Alexey: You’re just wrong about all of these lol.

  1. You absolutely love coding.

    1. I know that you don’t feel like this is the case. You haven’t been able to get really into coding historically because your (and my) brain is dumb and, unless we create strong guardrails, it will just do the things that will make it feel the best right now, meaning, video games rather than coding. I mean, let’s compare them directly:
    Video games Coding
    Is it easy or hard to start? Easy: just install a game you like or go to Steam & find an exciting game there, download it, and start playing. Hard: setting up a proper development environment is fine for JavaScript. However, I literally don't know how to use packages for it, and couldn't figure out when I tried. Same for machine learning work. I just kept getting weird TensorFlow error messages that I couldn't figure out when I tried to connect to a GPU for the longest time.
    Is it easy or hard to work on something exciting? Easy: you want to slay dragons from first-person? Fight in a modern battlefield? Build a great empire over centuries? No problem: here's Skyrim, Battlefield 3, and Civilization 5. Someone else has already come up with the big picture of the game and with all of the quests and story lines. Hard: you have to come up with stuff to do yourself and it's just not easy. Maybe you'll come up with a productivity tool. Maybe with an add-on of some sort. Maybe with a blogging platform. Ok, some of these ideas can be pretty cool but getting a really exciting idea is super hard and even that idea will literally never be as exciting as slaying dragons or building empires. And even after you have a cool high-level idea, you need to think through all of the details yourself.
    Is it easy or hard to continue? Easy: just launch the game and get a perfectly tracked experience specifically designed to be as fun as possible.
    1. You know that there's always the next step you can take.
    2. There's usually just a few possible moves and all of the possible moves are perfectly legible to you, so you almost always know what to do next immediately.
    3. The game makes sure that you make forward progress every few seconds to every few minutes and you will almost never find yourself having spent the last several hours not having made any progress and having to start over or even having to stop and think for more than a minute.
    4. The game makes sure that you know whenever you make forward progress by showing you experience points, resources, leaderboard score, etc.
    Hard: start coding and get a completely random experience that's sometimes fun and sometimes incredibly frustrating.
    1. Sometimes you know the next step to take. Sometimes you don't. Nobody guarantees that the next step even exists.
    2. The space of things you can write is literally orders and orders of magnitude larger than the space of potential actions in a video game at any given moment.
    3. Sometimes you're making progress every second and sometimes you get stuck for hours, either not knowing what to do next, trying things unsuccessfully or just trying to find a bug.
    4. You usually know that you're making progress whenever you run your app and check its behavior. You can see the codebase expanding gradually as a proxy over time.
    1. Now, is it any wonder that when faced with a choice of playing video games or writing code your brain almost always chooses video games?
    2. When you conclude that coding is “not your thing”, you are gauging whether coding is a good fit for you on the basis of whether you are able to do it consistently, whether you are good at it, and whether you’re enjoying it. All of these parameters are very reasonable to use in evaluation if you’re 30 years old and you know how to use your brain. But you’re not a 30-year-old who knows how to use his brain, September 2013 Alexey.
    3. The question you need to ask yourself is: what do you just keep trying to do over and over again despite constant failure? The answer is coding. And my interpretation of the fact that there’s a couple of percent of cases when instead of playing video games and you actually try to code tells me that you do really like coding! In fact, not counting video games, coding is the single most addictive activity out there for you.
  2. You are not a coding genius but you definitely have a very high potential in coding.

    1. Again, your expectations of how quickly you are supposed to become good are way too high. You have like 100 hours of unsystematic, undirected, and unmentored learning and you’ve concluded that, since you haven’t become great at coding, you don’t have much potential with it. This is incredibly stupid.
    2. First, divide the number of hours by at least 2x, since you were just doing whatever random shit instead of learning. So, you expect to become great after 50 hours of learning coding in a proper environment? That’s literally the amount of effort expected just in the first 4 weeks of CS50’s Introduction to Computer Science you tried to take (and gave up after <10 hours total). This is very ridiculous.
    3. If you spend 3 quarters taking a course like CS50, you’re going to accumulate 432 hours of learning coding, which is almost 10 times more than the amount of time you spent on it so far and which is like 10-20 times less than what is expected of a computer science undergraduate.
    4. Anyway, it’s utterly ridiculous for you to be disappointed at being bad at coding. Come back to me when you spend 500 hours learning.
      1. The good news is unrealistic expectations of you learning everything super quickly and of things just working out are a better explanation of you giving up upon encountering failure than you being lazy or whatever. As discussed previously, simply explicitly lowering expectations and e.g. taking the idea that it will take 10 hours a week of concerted effort to make 1 week of progress on a course you’re taking will do wonders to your motivation. You will no longer want to give up immediately and applying effort will feel normal. The mismatch between expectations and reality is the key.
        1. The bad news is that this will never become truly natural for you and you will always keep expecting things to just work, unless you apply conscious effort.
      2. The other piece of good news is that there’s a way to learn to code and for it to actually be enjoyable for you, so you don’t need to care about CS50.
    5. And get a fucking tutor. You will keep making the same mistake again and again and again for the next many years trying to learn things on your own. Yes, it feels weird to you to get a coding tutor: isn’t coding supposed to be the one thing you can self-teach? Does needing a tutor mean that I’m stupid? The answers are yes and yes of course. More seriously: sure, you can self-learn coding. Just be ready to spend double the hours per unit of learning and have five times more issues actually putting these hours in, due to getting stuck and losing motivation and not having someone you are accountable to.
      1. I can see you going to YouTube deciding to watch very detailed step-by-step tutorials, since it seems that you will have understand what’s going on there and you still feel really awkward about getting a tutor. This is stupid. Even step-by-step tutorials often gloss over details and only explain the key concepts. You will spend a lot of time in the coming years trying to find the perfect lectures in physics, math, coding, biology, and other disciplines. You will fail. You have questions nobody else ever asks and you get stuck in places where nobody else gets stuck, so just videos will never be enough. You need a tutor.
      2. You can find one by googling for tutors or you can start by asking the Moscow LessWrong people you know if they know anyone good.
    6. A more general lesson: many activities become much more enjoyable only when you become good at them. You were embarrassed of writing or speaking English and did not enjoy it at all until you became good at it. Same for talking to people & going to parties. Same for coding.
  3. Learning to code at 16 is not too late.

    1. You need like 1-3 years of full-time experience to become really capable and to start to be able to build complex products. Zuck started Facebook when he was 19. Elon started Zip2 when he was 24. Sergey and Larry started Google when they were 25. If you start now and code at ⅓ full-time equivalent, you’ll have 2 years of full-time experience by 22, which is perfectly fine. In fact, you can literally finish university when you’re 20, spend 4 years learning to code, and still start a company earlier than Larry and Sergey.

September 2013 Alexey: So how do I learn how to code?

September 2013 Alexey: Okay, you’ve convinced me that maybe coding is not not my thing. So how do I learn how to code? All of these explanations will not change the fact that I will keep trying to learn to code and instead will just keep playing video games.

2022 Alexey: Two key factors:

1. Make learning to code as exciting as possible.

2022 Alexey: When I first thought about this, I couldn’t think of any good project ideas for you and was about to tell you that you should just give up haha… But then I started to think: how did Carmack and Musk learn to code super early? It was by copying the code of video games printed in journals and tinkering with it and building things on top of it. This is the single best way to learn coding! You have access to an entire code base of a project in a form that’s pretty understandable and you can immediately get to work on something super fun.

And then it dawned on me: the first non-trivial piece of JavaScript you will write 2013 Alexey will also be a game. It’ll be a solid 300 lines of code adapted from a Mozilla breakout game tutorial that will result in https://guzey.com/x/ in late 2017. And then I realized: you love Age of War, DirectStrike, Marine Arena, Warfare 1917, the Empires custom king of the hill with 4 players mode. It’s a classic genre, it’s a ton of fun, and it’s extremely easy to code up a minimal version of this game for you almost right now.

  1. Start by googling some “pure JavaScript games” and by replicating a couple of them that seem fun to understand and making sure that you understand what’s going on in them. Spend like a few hours on this.
  2. Then create the absolute simplest version of the game with a unit spawning on the opposite sites of a map and attacking each other.
  3. Then add another unit kind of unit. With 2 units the game is already fun.
  4. Add AI that adjusts its units on the basis of their “resource” balance in the last 60 seconds or something.
  5. Add more lines.
  6. Let units attack across lines.
  7. Add more units.

That’s it! Every next step is straightforward and by step 7 you legitimately have a very fun and complex game. Then you can add multiplayer, and whatever else you want and will naturally learning a lot about JavaScript and creating the best game ever.

After 1 week of doing the above, I would suggest finding an actual structured course to take. Right now, you don’t know about most of the things that are possible to do. You’ll get some exposure to that from just coding but it’s going to be pretty useful to get broad exposure to the different aspects of the language and to properly learn the basics of setting up proper development environments, debugging, interfacing with APIs, etc.

2. Help your brain to stop thinking about playing video games all the time. Then, when you get stuck, you’ll try to get unstuck instead of switching to video games immediately.

2022 Alexey: Sell your desktop computer, buy a laptop, and apply https://guzey.com/productivity/#if-youre-unproductive-right-now.

September 2013 Alexey: how do I get into the applied math + informatics program at Higher School of Economics?

September 2013 Alexey: Ok, you convinced me. I’ll try to get into the applied math + informatics program at HSE. Wait, their EGE cut-off is like 380/400. WTF? No chance.

2022 Alexey: Hold on for just a bit, September 2013 Alexey. The strategy boils down to finding a tutor and taking math olympiads. A bit more context:

  1. This is the strategy of many smart people who actually know how university admissions work, including your future university friends. There’s a whole bunch of olympiads where doing well allows you to sidestep the standardized exams and to get direct admission to the best programs, including the applied math + informatics one at Higher School of Economics.
    1. Also, participating in olympiads (especially informatics, economics, and math) is the best way to meet really smart people your age. Most of them will still be boring but this is your best bet to find people like you. For example, your future best friend Misha Yagudin, who is one of the world’s top AI safety experts and forecasters and who you are going to meet in 2018 via your girlfriend, was a medalist at the all-Russian mathematics olympiad and you would’ve met him like 5 years earlier if you were doing math olympiads.
    2. You believe that it’s inappropriate to prepare for olympiads because when your math teacher asks several of the best students to take the school-level state olympiad once a year, nobody prepares for it (in contrast to e.g. normal tests). Seeing this, you draw an inference that it’s inappropriate to prepare for any olympiad. However, this inference is wrong. The correct inference is “this is a shitty public school where nobody, even the smartest students, cares about olympiads and, since they don’t count towards grades, nobody bothers to prepare for them”. Everyone who cares about olympiads does prepare for them.
      1. Note that this is a very general observation: preparing for things and planning generally improves performance! It feels entirely natural to systematically do sports training but everything is like this. You can and you should prepare for olympiads, exams, interviews, conversations, and so on.
  2. Most of this knowledge is not public but there are a ton of tutors who know all the ins and outs of these olympiads and who specifically prepare students for the right olympiads. Current students and alumni of the program you’re aiming for is your best bet. You can find them by googling for tutors, seeing which ones specialize in this kind of thing, and just trying a bunch of them out.
    1. There’s a general lesson here for you here, September 2013 Alexey: if you want to join X or do Y, you probably have no idea how to actually do it and the single best way to learn is to find the people who are in X or who have done Y and ask a bunch of them how they got where they are and what it’s like being there.
    2. An even more general version of it: you have no fucking clue how the world works. It holds for finding tutors, for getting into a university, for being productive, for learning how to code, for achieving things in general, for winning competitions, for everything! You conclude that you’re dumb because you’re unable to do anything irl but the right conclusion is that wisdom really does matter. Lack of wisdom, not lack of brain compute is your limiting factor.
    3. Fun fact: wisdom compensates for compute in a way that older people with less compute often have a much better idea of how things work and talking to them and absorbing and meditating on their wisdom is actually pretty helpful. There’s going to be a whole bunch of situations in the future where someone will give you great advice but will be unable to explain it, you will therefore just dismiss it, and will regret it later. If someone impressive gives you advice confidently, spend at least 5 minutes writing down reasons for why they might be giving the advice.
    4. In general, older people love giving advice to smart young people. Ok you don’t think that you’re smart. Consider the following: you can just email a bunch of people, ask them to talk with you, and talk with the ones that agree. Let them make the decision whether they want to talk with you or not. Don’t make this decision for them. If there’s one thing I hope to have convinced you of is that you have no idea how the world works and you should just try a bunch of things instead of thinking that you know exactly what’s going to happen.
  3. Even if the olympiads route fails, EGE math + informatics + physics can be prepared for in like 2 months. This means that you don’t need to bother preparing for them at all, until around April when you learn the results of all of the olympiads.
    1. You think that preparing for EGE takes at least a year because your school starts preparing students a year in advance. This is wrong. Your school does this because it’s the “default” thing to do and because they expect people to spend just a few hours a week preparing for EGE. If you actually spend 40 hours a week preparing for the exams, you’ll master them in 2 months. You’ll be learning things that are much harder than what you’ll encounter at EGE in the university and you’ll do fine.
  4. Even if you don’t do that well on EGE, you’ll probably do well enough to make you eligible for admission if you pay tuition. Your parents tell you that they will never pay for university tuition. First, they are lying. Second, even if they don’t, you can take the government education loan in Sberbank. It’s incredibly worth it.

September 2013 Alexey: you keep telling me to ask people for help. I don’t want to do it!

2022 Alexey: Imagine that someone wanted to learn how to dance. Three questions:

  1. Is it possible to learn to dance by yourself?
  2. Should the person try to learn to dance by themselves or should they find a teacher?
  3. Is it possible to become the best dancer in the world by self-training without a teacher?

The answers are obviously “yes, it’s possible to learn to dance by yourself”, “the person should find a teacher”, and “no, you won’t become the best dancer in the world without a teacher”. Now, consider this question for any kind of sport, any kind of skill, anything at all.

Now we can get to coding: is it possible to learn it by yourself? Yes. Should you? No. Will you become the best coder in the world without a teacher? Saying “no” is not intuitive and yet I don’t think there’s any reason to think that it should be anything except for no.

Learning things by yourself and becoming extremely good at them is possible. And when you see people who managed to do it, it’s extremely impressive and inspiring. And yet, even if possible, doing everything by yourself is playing life on hard mode. You literally think 3x better when you write pretending that you’re talking. Actually talking to someone great adds another 3-5x.

Why do you feel such a strong desire to do everything yourself? I think it’s because you just feel like a piece of shit and because your parents never ask for help. They don’t manage anyone at work. And they don’t even help each other. Dad spent literally 18 years now coding his site, tens if not hundreds of thousands of lines of code, all by himself, instead of building a company. He’s so not asking anyone for help that he’s writing pure JS and php and refuses to use frameworks. That’s how you learned so deeply that you have to do everything on my own. Natural shyness + being different + not being exposed to other kinds of behavior + not being able to do anything, all compounded into this 0/10 ability to ask for help.


In one sentence: you are not gaining experience in the best way you can pull off, and you can fix that by avoiding getting stuck in local minima and getting to know more and better people.

In three core interdependent suggestions:

  1. Increase your learning rate.
    1. Metaphorically, you have a low learning rate, in the sense that a machine learning algorithm can have it.
      1. Put another way: you are biased in favor of exploitation versus exploration.
      2. Put a yet another way: you discount expected values of projects too quickly as your subjective impression of certainty about the domain decreases.
      3. (btw Lesswrong is sleeping on neural networks but they’re the next big thing, arguably the biggest one ever, so go all in on linear algebra and python).
    2. However we put it, it’s expressed in your a) uncertainty avoidance and b) discomfort avoidance. When you venture outside your path-dependent course into a new domain, you do small greedy changes and respond to short-term local reward signal, which is often mildly negative and forces you back (see your complaints on learning to code).
      1. On the course, you hedge risks irrationally, avoiding bounded but greater-than-background discomfort that’d have been quickly amortized by rewards past it (see your commitment to a suboptimal tutor).
      2. As a result, you move slowly and get stuck in local minima while traversing your destiny’s fitness landscape.
    3. It’s a very popular personal and institutional life strategy and you’re going to see it a lot, but in your case it’s profoundly harmful because you’re smart, resilient and resourceful enough to afford bigger steps. This means:
      1. First, tolerating uncertainty. To wit: increasing the variance of your attempts to achieve meaningful stuff and expending bigger effort, with more diverse approaches, on a given attempt.
      2. Second, tolerating sharp pain. Learn to tear off the band-aid and climb over that small hill if you’re seeing the global minimum past it. You can afford to go faster.
  2. Get regularized by social exposure.
    1. Put another way: offload as much of your exploration as possible to other people. Put yourself in the context of your predecessors, competitors and peers. Using the same ML metaphor, you are akin to a model that has overfit its data; you’re full of rather weird and maladaptive ideas you’re very certain about. You build your strategy – such as there is – on spurious priors born out of a fucked-up temperament and early life history, so you waste your limited behavioral plasticity and willpower on struggling through dumb tangents.
      1. For example, you plan to apply to the MSU; but you’ve got no concrete idea of what the MSU is, beyond a handful of obsolete labels you’ve passively absorbed as ground truth; nor do you know how savvy people prepare for higher ed in Russia in the current year, because you avoid the discomfort of getting familiar with people in the domain, trying to learn about the domain in the abstract.
      2. The best way to regularize is to get this weird complexity sanded off by the society. That is to say: seek diverse high-quality advice, expertise, guidance and first-hand experience in whatever domain you plan to master, whatever type of project you want to succeed in, by getting personally acquainted with best people available there, if you can at all.
      3. You actually know little about an awful lot, including about yourself; your parasocial relationships and learned textual narratives are skewing your perception. There’s just not enough high-res human data you’ve seen yet, paths traveled, plans and outcomes and ability profiles. Thankfully, there are tons of people pursuing pretty much everything you’d need to build your own contribution on top of. Some of them will even become your friends.
  3. Learn to meta-learn.
    1. Put another way, learn to live with your dumb monkey brain and its crude heuristics that are unfit for a modern environment, because otherwise it’ll learn to live with you, and route its compulsive preferences around your conscious values, suffocating them in the process.
    2. Much of the environment is actively adversarial and hazardous. So manage what stimuli your monkey brain is exposed to: it gets stuck dead in some unsurprising classes of attractors like video games with tight habit loops based on intermittent reinforcement.
    3. Build an infrastructure for repeatedly exposing it to stimuli you’ll need it to learn: it can’t actually mark the valuable piece of data for permanent storage if you tell it to care, it uses a generic weight update algorithm.
    4. Notice its other quirks and find remedies, from tracking yourself and from other people. Your deficits, after all, are generic too, and not embarrassing enough to hide, nor unmanageable enough to ignore.

…The tragic thing is, if you could adjust your attitude based on such an abstract framework merely because it sounds reasonable, you’d drown in all sorts of inapplicable insight porn. And if you’ve learned to wisely discount the latter, you’ll probably find little use for the former.

But you’re in luck: you have concrete experience to draw upon, Alexey'2022-s experience. You can start with thinking about it, and trying to do better than him.

Appendix: Concrete next steps

  1. Consider the hypothesis that you will not be able to trust yourself to do anything productive at home for many years and that manipulating your environment is the best thing you can do very seriously.
    1. Think of a rat pressing the heroin button. Does it control its behavior? Does a human heroin addict? I don’t think so.
    2. Now, imagine that one day this addict decides to quit heroin. The way they do this is by trying very hard to not do any heroin. However, they continue going to the heroin den every day and hanging out with their dealer and their heroin addict friends. Do you think this will work? I think the answer is pretty obvious.
    3. How different are you, a person who keeps writing how much you want to study math and physics in his journal but then keeps playing video games endlessly for years on end, from a heroin addict and how different are your methods from “trying very hard to not do heroin” while leaving everything else in place?
    4. So why don’t you sell your desktop computer, buy a fucking laptop, apply https://guzey.com/productivity/#if-youre-unproductive-right-now and literally don’t show up at home except for sleep?
  2. Try to figure out how to return to this q&a over time and gradually create Anki cards about stuff that seems useful to you.
    1. You will either forget or fail to even understand most of the stuff I’m telling you about, so you need to make sure that you return to it, process it, and have it surfaced to you regularly. Although by 2022 you’ll be able to have a consistent routine in which you could deal with these issues, for the next many years, the only habit you’ll be able to maintain consistently will be Anki.
    2. So, create cards that just say things like: “anything that worries you?”, “have you tried lowering your expectations?”, “anything you’re scared of? Write down what exactly scares you, what might happen, and see if there’s anything you can do about this”, “do you need to tell something to someone but you’re scared of doing it? Have you thought about the ways to phrase the thing you need to tell them to make it less upsetting?”, and so on.
      1. When you do create a morning routine, having a spreadsheet where you write down the current fears, worries, and anxieties daily, is amazing.
  3. Read these posts from me:
    1. https://guzey.com/productivity/
    2. https://guzey.com/co-working/
    3. https://guzey.com/personal/what-should-you-do-with-your-life/
    4. https://guzey.com/personal/why-have-a-blog/
    5. https://guzey.com/personal/my-journal/
    6. https://guzey.com/favorite/slate-star-codex/
    7. https://guzey.com/files/bachelors-thesis/guzey-commitments.pdf
    8. https://guzey.com/follow-up/

Appendix: Our brains are addicted to progress

A note on “The game makes sure that you know whenever you make forward progress by showing you experience points, resources, leaderboard score, etc.”

  1. The hilarious bit is that doing this both makes games addictive and breaks people’s brains by making them obsessed with “making progress” by accumulating experience points, resources, leadership score, getting achievements, etc. instead of achieving whatever their actual goal is as fast as possible.
  2. This happens more in single player games where it’s incredibly easy to get stuck just gaining levels or trying to become rich but this happens in multiplayer games too. For example:
    1. In shooters, most players only ever think about getting the maximum number of kills and getting to the top of the leaderboard, instead of doing the things that will help their team to win the most (e.g. defending certain strategic positions).
    2. In strategy games, players often become too fixated on building as many units as possible even when it’s not the right thing to do (e.g. because of resulting loss of initiative or mobility).
  3. Why does this happen in the first place? I think that our brains are just absolutely addicted to the feeling of making progress. If the brain feels that it can get a reward RIGHT NOW, even if the reward is small, it will try to get the reward. Most people using GUI instead of learning to use shortcuts is a good example of this. But my favorite ever example of this is when I noticed that when there are two paths available, most people choose to walk the longer path if it starts out being more directed towards the finish line even and they really don’t like to take shortcuts that start out going sideways or something.
  4. Soren Johnson wrote about this in “Water Finds a Crack” (https://www.designer-notes.com/?p=369): “players will trade time for safety, but they risk undervaluing their own time to the point that they are undermining their own enjoyment of the game. A classic example is the skill system from Morrowind, which rewards players for repeating any activity. Running into a wall for hours increases the Athletics skill while jumping over and over again increases the Acrobatics skill. Many players couldn’t stop themselves from spending hours doing mindless activities for these cheap rewards.”

Appendix: March 2012 Alexey: I really want to go to the public magnet school next year. It doesn’t look like I’m going to make it. What should I do?

March 2012 Alexey: The physics tutor my mom has found for me gives me instructions for solving problems and tells me to just replicate what she’s doing when I’m home, but I don’t understand what’s going on and can’t do it. And when I ask her questions, she doesn’t answer them, just telling me to follow the instructions instead. I’m not learning any physics and I don’t think I’m going to pass the school’s physics entrance exam. What should I do?

2022 Alexey: OK, why don’t you just switch to a better tutor?

March 2012 Alexey: What do you mean? I’m stuck with this tutor: I took like 5 lessons with her. Plus, she teaches physics at the school I’m trying to enter, so telling her now that I don’t want to study with her is not only too late but also will make her dislike me and will sabotage my attempts to enter the school.

2022 Alexey: Anything else you’re worried about here? Why do you feel like you’re stuck with her after taking 5 lessons?

March 2012 Alexey: Well, I mean, if I took 5 lessons, it means that everything was going well and I kind of committed to her. Now she expects me to keep taking lessons with her. My mom also thinks that everything is going well. I don’t know how I will tell my mom or the tutor about this. When I think about doing this, I feel very stupid, I feel almost physical pain. I already took 5 lessons and I’m only now realizing that I don’t like her? Maybe what’s actually going on is that the first difficulties have appeared and, as always, I now want to give up. Maybe the way she teaches — solving problems first, understanding them second — is actually the correct way to learn physics. I don’t know. I think the problem is with me and I’m just stupid and can’t do anything except for playing video games.

2022 Alexey: Anything else?..

March 2012 Alexey: oh, also, my mom found her. I have no idea how to find a tutor who will prepare me for this school’s exams and who wouldn’t be someone this teacher knows. If I leave this one, I’ll be left without a tutor and will definitely fail the entrance exam. I think it’s pretty clear now that I should just stay with her. Sorry for bothering you about this.

2022 Alexey: OK, March 2012 Alexey, there’s lots going on here. Let me try to summarize what you told me:

  1. You are scared that the tutor is going to fail you on the entrance exam if you leave her.
  2. You think that, after 5 lessons, you are committed to her.
  3. Your mom and your tutor think that everything is going well and you don’t know how to tell them that you want to stop taking lessons from her.
  4. You feel very very stupid, almost like it’s physically painful, when you even start thinking about making the decision to drop her.
  5. You think that it might just be the case that you are stupid and the tutor is fine.
  6. You think that it might just be the case that you want to give up at the first sign of difficulty and the tutor is fine.
  7. You think she’s the only tutor available because you don’t know how to look for tutors.

That’s a lot of worries right there! It seems that all of this stuff has just been kind of hanging out in there, overwhelming you and not letting you take any action for the last few weeks.

March 2012 Alexey: I mean, yeah…

2022 Alexey: How about we try to think about each of these worries one by one?

1st issue: you are scared that the tutor is going to fail you on the entrance exam if you leave her.

2022 Alexey: She will not fail you lol. The school has written exams. It’s INCREDIBLY unlikely that she’s going to literally mark your exam down and fail you just because you took 5 lessons with her and then stopped.

March 2012 Alexey: I think you’re wrong! She’ll be super upset with me for reneging on our agreement and might very well be super harsh with my paper if she is the person marking it.

2022 Alexey: I can definitely imagine you doing something that will make her straight-up block you from being admitted to the school. For example, if you call her an old bitch, for sure she’s going to tell school about this and you won’t get in. And I think you’re right, March 2012 Alexey, reneging on the agreement with the teacher sounds very bad to me and, if you do it, she’s going to be super upset and might block your entrance.

Here’s the key factor you’re not considering: the way you tell your tutor that you want to stop taking lessons with her can make a huge difference in how upset she becomes.

There are (at least) 4 ways you can tell her about this:

  1. Saying exactly what’s going on in your mind.
    1. “I think that you’re a bad physics teacher because I’m very clearly confused during our lessons and you just ignore this continuing to push through with your stupid memorization-based methods. Ok, maybe you’re right that in this case I just need to memorize, but you need to make sure to explain why you’re doing things this way first and make sure that I’m on the same page, instead of just doing whatever it is that you’re doing. Anyway, you’re clearly incompetent, I’m not learning anything, and I want to stop wasting my parents money taking lessons from you.”
  2. Trying to communicate the real reasons but nicely. 2. “It’s been a pleasure to take lessons from you over the last few weeks, unfortunately, it seems to me that it’s been a struggle for me to take full advantage of them, as my learning style is much more based on going slower and understanding every piece I’m working with deeply before starting to solve problems. Again, super appreciate the time, it’s been hugely valuable and I hope to work more in the future, once I’m at the right stage.”
  3. Talking about something that did influence the decision, but amplifying it and selecting what to say on the basis of how easy it is to communicate, not on the basis of it being the biggest factor. 3. “It’s been a pleasure to take lessons from you over the last few weeks, unfortunately, my dad told me that the lessons cost a lot and that the ones we had are enough for me and that I need to transition to self-studying now. Again, super appreciate the time, it’s been hugely valuable and I hope to work more in the future, once I’m at the right stage.”
  4. Something else. 4. “I got a super bad cold and am staying home this week and probably next. Then, my parents might take us all on a vacation to Italy in 2 weeks, so I’m not sure yet when we should schedule the next lesson for. I’m planning to be studying by myself in the meantime. Is it ok with you if I call you to schedule a lesson when I feel better and I understand my availability?” 1. If she tries calling you in several weeks, just don’t pick up the phone. 2. If you ever encounter her in person, just tell her that you felt awkward about this at the time, so you didn’t call her back but you started studying by yourself and it worked well enough that your parents decided you don’t need a tutor.

What you’re forgetting, March 2012 Alexey, is that you don’t need to tell her (1)! In such situations, people usually go with option (3) because they think that such small lies are expected for maintaining social cohesion and manufacturing plausible deniability. I know that you feel that doing this is dirty and you don’t want to go with (3), which is why there’s option (2) for you. This way you can still be truthful while minimizing how upset the tutor is. If you tell her (2), she might think that you’re doing something stupid but it’s very clear that she’s not going to be mad at you. Maybe do something like a mix of (2) and (3).

Ok, what’s next?

2nd issue: you think that, after 5 lessons, you are committed to her.

2022 Alexey: Do you really believe that taking 5 lessons with a tutor “commits” you and that deciding to stop seeing them is “reneging on the agreement”, even in the absence of any kind of explicit agreement lol?

March 2012 Alexey: Yep.

2022 Alexey: Okay, sure… There’s a sense in which you’re right. Even if there was no “explicit” agreement, you did kind of enter into a relationship with her with certain expectations and it’s pretty likely that she fully expects you to show up and to pay for another 6-8 lessons with her. I guess there’s not much you can do about this. Sometimes you will enter into these kinds of relationships with people and they will turn out to not be working.

If there’s no explicit agreement about your obligations, the best thing you can do is to just let the person know asap and make sure you’re on the same page about your relationship. If there is an explicit agreement, either follow it as much as you’re required or see if there’s a way to compensate the other person appropriately and to exit it sooner.

We discussed how to “exit” in a way that minimizes potential fallout just above, so I think you should be good here.

3rd issue: your mom and your tutor think that everything is going well and you don’t know how to tell them that you want to stop taking lessons from her.

2022 Alexey: We discussed the way to tell about this to your tutor a lot. What’s the issue with your mom? Can’t you just tell her exactly what’s going on?

March 2012 Alexey: I guess I can… She’ll probably understand.

2022 Alexey: Good.

4th issue: you feel very very stupid, almost like it’s physically painful, when you even start thinking about making the decision to drop her.

2022 Alexey: this isn’t just about this tutor! This is also why you can’t play 1v1 ranked StarCraft, why you can’t call and sign up to the doctor, why you start crying wherever someone chides you, why you can’t go outside and play football with the boys you don’t know, etc. etc.

You are very optimistic, observant, sensitive, and scrupulous, March 2012 Alexey. None of this is praise.

  1. Due to your optimism and observancy, you are negative, judgemental, and always upset.
    1. You have unrealistic expectations of yourself and of other people and you expect everything to work perfectly.
    2. When this doesn’t happen, you observe all of the failings.
    3. You become upset at all of the ways reality fails to live up to your expectations and become negative and judgemental towards yourself and towards others.
  2. Due to you being sensitive, you get constantly overwhelmed with your emotions and paralyzed. 4. You are 16 year old and you don’t know how to deal with your strong emotions. 5. Sensitivity + optimism + observancy = you get overwhelmed with your worries, fears, and anxieties, often to the point of them being almost physically painful, when the reality fails to live up to your expectations and get paralyzed and end up withdrawing and just sitting in your room playing video games. 6. Hint: being overwhelmed and needing to write down worries/anxieties/fears and deal with them one at a time often manifests itself as lack of energy/random sleepiness/not wanting to do anything/nothing in life making any sense.
  3. Due to you being scrupulous, you can’t function in a society. 7. Discussed above. Yes, you can talk to other autists, however, you need to talk with normal people to get anything in the real world done. And you are scared of talking to normal people and making them upset… and normal people are scared of talking to you because they know you might very well say something that will make them upset.

The worst comes when several of these elements come into play at once. This whole tutor situation is a perfect example of this. Me, the 2022 Alexey, as well as the vast majority of other people are flabbergasted by the entire situation because it seems utterly trivial. You don’t like a tutor? Just cancel the lessons and find a better one. But not for you, March 2012 Alexey.

  1. You expected the tutor to be great and you expected yourself to not have any issues learning physics. Now, these expectations are not fulfilled and you are totally lost being utterly unprepared to deal with the situation. (optimism)
  2. You feel like someone is hitting you on the head with a hammer and are paralyzed, instead of figuring out what to do and taking action. (sensitivity)
  3. You can’t communicate to the tutor that it’s not working out and to navigate the social aspect of the situation properly. (scrupulosity)

March 2012 Alexey: um… anything I can do to deal with these issues?

2022 Alexey: Sure:

  1. Lower your expectations.
    1. Life is fucking hard for you and for other people and things usually don’t work out. You have to expect things to fail, to take lots of time, to get stuck and things to go wrong in all sorts of ways if you don’t want to always be upset.
    2. You don’t need to have a strong expectation of everything. You can just have an open mind. Maybe the post you’ll write will take 10 hours. Maybe 20 hours. Maybe 50 hours. Maybe 100 hours. Let it take as long as needed and keep going.
  2. Accept the fact that people have complicated social dances around everything. 3. Do not just say the first thing that comes to your mind. Instead, try to avoid making other people upset and remember that this is what they will do by default when speaking with you. 4. The world runs on (3), March 2012 Alexey. Society would never ever be able to work if people ran around doing (1) to each other, as your autistic brain is trying to do.
  3. Write down and reason through the scenarios of failure. 5. It’s not enough to just expect things to fail: often, the fears and anxieties need to be made explicit. This is how you will know that you can deal with failure and how you will be able to take action.
  4. Or: Just block the fear. 6. You can’t write down and reason through everything. It will just take way too long. So, when you need to do something in the moment, you can literally just block the fear. For example, when you see a cute girl and you want to ask her out or you want to talk to someone you don’t know at a party, you don’t have the time to write things down and reason through all of the possible downsides, even if this would eventually lead you to being able to take action. Instead, in these kinds of situations, as soon as you think “I want to do x”, you need to just go and do it. Think of exactly one thing to say and approach the person immediately. Waiting will bubble up all of the fears and anxieties and it will be really hard to deal with them right there avoiding paralysis. 1. For asking girls out, just saying something witty about the situation and then introducing yourself usually works. 2. For approaching people at parties, just say: “hey, I don’t think we’ve spoken before, I’m Alexey. [they reply with their name]. How do you know [the host’s name]?”
  5. Know that things will become easier over time. 7. This is the one good piece of news I have for you haha. 8. Not knowing what will happen is the key reason for all of the issues we discussed and just doing more things will show you directly that you can deal with them. 3. You can speed this process up greatly by deliberately doing the things you’re afraid of. For example, you can create a list of such things and then, for each of them, identify the smallest possible step you can take in their direction. Then, take one step at a time and gradually expand the zone of things you’re comfortable with. 1. For example — everyone else will laugh at us but you will think that I’m superhuman — when I’m late somewhere _I can just run_and not feel embarrassed about this. 2. To start, you can go to a random city district and ask strangers time, wear stupid-looking clothes, etc. 3. I have a maxim: do everything once. 4. Scott Adams' “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big”, which will come out in October 2013, is a brilliant book about this and you should re-read it twice a year. 9. Becoming more accomplished changes the perception of yourself from “People will hate me/I won’t be able to deal with the situation/etc.” to “It’s probably going to be fine”. 10. Becoming more fit, wearing nice clothes, having a reasonable haircut, etc. will similarly help, especially with any social issues by actually changing the likelihood that people will like you and will want to talk with you.

5th issue: you think that it might just be the case that you are stupid and the tutor is fine.

2022 Alexey: Ok, this is a difficult one. I don’t think there’s anything I can say that will make you change your mind about your intelligence one way or another. I do have something useful to say though. Consider the following:

  1. Some tutors are better and some tutors are worse.
  2. Some tutors understand you better and some tutors understand you worse.
  3. There’s a positive correlation between these two but it’s definitely far from perfect.

March 2012 Alexey: Ok… sounds reasonable and also kind of like I’m being set up for something dirty…

2022 Alexey: Lol. Anyway, I have the following questions for you: given that you have a sample of 1 physics tutor, how likely is it that your sample contains a tutor who is:

  1. better than average
  2. understands you better than average
  3. better than average AND understands you better than average

March 2012 Alexey: I was right… what a dirty set up.

  1. like 65%, since she was recommended to my mom and not randomly chosen
  2. 50%, since I don’t think anyone considered our personal fit
  3. Maybe like 40%?

2022 Alexey: Cool. So what you are saying is: irrespectively of how stupid or smart you are, more likely than not the tutor you have is not in fact “fine”!

To be fair, you do actually have more difficulty with physics than with math. Do you have any ideas why that might be the case?

October 2012 Alexey: How about because physics is just stupid endless formula derivation and I hate it. Real physics should be about visual insight but the stuff I’m taught at school and by tutors often doesn’t have any. For example angular momentum. There’s literally no way to derive it using just visual insight: at some point you’ll have to switch to formulas and just do a bunch of stupid transformations that “work” but that destroy the visual intuition. That’s not right. There MUST be visual intuition. Physics without visual intuition is fake and stupid and is just endless formula derivation.

2022 Alexey: Lol. You say that “formula derivation math” is not real math, the real math is the visual one. Actually, there’s nothing fundamentally better about “visual math”. Yes, we can see the world around us and, yes, you are pretty good at this kind of visual imagination. However, the world is not fundamentally visual. For example, lots of quantum mechanics — the most fundamental physics — seems to be fundamentally not visual. The way the universe works is by math and derivations that are just “formula derivation”. The visual part is just the human brain interpreting the random shit around us that’s relevant to us. But we don’t see quarks or fields or whatever and in fact maybe they’re of a fundamentally different – “formula derivation” quality. And not only they, but even things like angular momentum – physics does not have the responsibility to us to be visual. It’s your issue, not the world’s issue. And it’s not other people’s issue that they are better than me at parts of math that physics needs instead of the “sudden visual insight” math, which is approximately the only part of math I’m actually good at which I therefore feel closest to.

The exact same idea applies to, for example, machine learning. When you are going to start learning it, you’ll feel like there’s something wrong with the kind of math it uses. For example, methods and loss functions have characteristics and qualities but often either they just don’t have visual intuitions. They are just “formulas” and by transforming these formulas you can discover how they work without any kind of visual or intuitive to you interpretation of what’s going on appearing.

Note the more general version of this point for other skill areas (not only “formula derivation math”) in which other people may be better than you. The fact that you’re not good at them, does not mean that they are “not important”!

6th issue: you think that it might just be the case that you want to give up at the first sign of difficulty and the tutor is fine.

2022 Alexey: You do often want to just give up way too early! Just like with the above: regardless of how much it is a factor right now, more likely than not the tutor you have right now is not “fine”. If you collect a sample of like 5 tutors and still feel this way, then I would consider this hypothesis as being the key a lot more seriously.

7th issue: you think she’s the only tutor available because you don’t know how to look for tutors.

2022 Alexey: So, you say that the current tutor is good with like 40% probability. But you also think that there’s no more tutors you can try?

March 2012 Alexey: Yep. This is a specialized high school entrance exam. This is why my mom found a tutor who literally teaches physics there!

2022 Alexey: I mean, this is just stupid. Sure there are specific to this exam kinds of problems you expect to encounter there but you literally have a prep book for it and any good physics tutor will be able to solve the problems printed there and probably has a sense of what to pay attention to. Plus, they probably had students who took this exam (you can directly ask about this) or know other tutors they can ask about it. You underestimate the fact that people can acquire this kind of knowledge socially and via different kinds of channels!

So, why don’t you literally just google “physics tutors moscow” and scroll through all of the sites that list endless numbers of tutors? Then just schedule an introductory lesson with like five different ones and get the probability of someone actually “fine” to like 80%. You’re welcome.

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