Fallible Ideas Email: Figuring out what you want from a discussion

In a previous post I wrote:

you have a problem. e.g. you want an answer to a question like whether the many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics is true.

Further quotes are PAS's reply. PAS is a pseudonym meaning "problems are soluble".

How do you effectively generate and resolve criticism of ideas about what you want? How do you figure out what you actually want from a discussion, instead of just going with the first idea about what you want that you become consciously aware of?

Look for problems with wanting it. Look for bad things about it. Stuff that'll go wrong.

A good place to look for problems, if you haven't developed anything better (and still worth checking even if you have) is looking at ways it clashes with your culture's idea of a good, normal life. As a first pass, if pursuing this want/preference/interest is compatible with having a life your society thinks is good, (and you don't see any other problem), then it's alright. And if you do see a way it'll screw up your life (by normal cultural standards), then there's a problem to consider and don't proceed with it unless you come up with some solutions (e.g. ways to adjust the interest and pursue it better so it doesn't screw up life by normal cultural standards, and/or some criticisms of why those standards are bad in general, or wrong for you personally, and you don't need them in this case.)

As you live a life using traditional knowledge, if you're thoughtful you'll notice some other problems (things go wrong when living traditionally), and learn about some problems from non-traditional sources, and you'll work on solving those problems and learn other things besides your culture's standard, default ideas.

All the while you should try to get advice, criticism, insight, etc, from others. They will know things you don't about your culture's standard ideas (which no one has a perfect conception of, and everyone's conception of it varies some). They will see some things as bad you don't realize. They will notice some things about life you don't (b/c life has so much information and everyone rightfully pays selective attention to what they deem important, and different people have different ideas about what's important even if they are similar.) and they'll have different specialities, areas they've studied more than you, skillsets, etc

When you raise the concern of people using the first idea they are consciously aware of ... you're right. You've identified a problem (i don't mean that it's original, just that you see it yourself, which is good). You have a criticism of many possible actions because they rush into things when thinking a bit longer first would have been worthwhile. Great. This will be very useful when using the general pattern of acting on your ideas barring knowing bad things, but not acting on ideas you know bad things with.

(The English word "problem" is ambiguous between referring only to bad stuff, or including stuff that isn't bad too. I changed the last sentence of the previous paragraph to use the term "bad things" for clarity".)

In the example above, it’s possible you want just what was said (an answer to a question like whether the many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics is true). But there are alternate explanations for the idea that you want that - you might actually want something else. Such as:

  • You want an intellectual self-image, so you are lying to yourself about wanting to know MWI because wanting that fits the image you’re after.
  • You want to be able to impress people, so you just want to know arguments about MWI that will impress people.
  • You want to be entertained, and you find discussing MWI entertaining even if the discussion never resolves.
  • You want to defeat a particular person in an argument, and you know the person you want to defeat is an MWI skeptic, so you want to know arguments he can’t answer.
  • You want to participate in an FI discussion, and MWI is just a topic that you think FI will highly approve of discussing.
  • etc.

All of those are good problems to be aware of. In addition to what you say here, it's important to have some understanding of how to identify when these problems are and aren't happening. That can start simple and crude, and be refined as you learn more and get better at stuff.

High level, I think resolving this to figure out what you actually want from the discussion fits in the general category of introspection.

But how should the lower level details of it work?

Being mistaken about what you want, or lying to yourself or others about what you want, is a common problem. Dealing with this problem occurs in the general context explained above. It also occurs in the general context of using conjectures and refutations to think. And some other general contexts.

There are lots of useful more-specific approaches to this problem such as:

  • Seeking out information about what's wrong with our culture from questioning type people who have already worked lots of things out. Such as TCS, PUA, the anti-superstition stuff like James Randi, various criticism of religion, Szasz's criticisms regarding "mental illness" and medicalization of everyday life, and Ayn Rand's criticism of altruism.
  • Living normally but being on the lookout for problems. And when you find problems, try to understand what went wrong, figure out what mistakes led to it. This can lead to introspection.
  • Learning to think, argue, judge ideas, etc, very well and objectively (non-introspectively). The better you get at it, including catching lies, the easier it will be to use apply to yourself. This can be approached many ways, one is reading and discussing Popper.
  • Learning to spot other people's common flaws and lies in our culture. Get better at this and it's easier to see some of the same mistakes in yourself. An example way to approach this is to take advice articles and stories (movies, books, tv show plots, etc) about romance and criticize flaws. like fisking it or like this critical post: 23 Ways To Keep Your Romance Alive (and part 2).

if you develop your skill to the point it's really easy for you to write something like that about a wide variety of articles and stories -- you can just rattle off lots of criticisms quickly without much effort -- then that'll go a long way towards dealing with such problems in yourself. but be warned, many people have found developing the skill more modestly isn't very effective though. that is, by an effort they manage to write a couple critical pieces like that which are broadly pretty decent (though worse, more simplistic, more naive, etc, in many subtle ways). and then they find they are still a romantic at heart, and nothing much has changed besides adding a little inner conflict to deal with (though that usually doesn't last too long, they come up with some rationalizations and shut their mind closed).

this gets into a common theme: people really skimp on skill development. if they'd develop skills to much higher expertise -- until they have the skill for things to be pretty easy -- instead of stopping the moment they think they have enough skill to maybe barely succeed -- their life would be far more efficient and successful.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (2)