On “Overthinking” Concepts

Re­lated to http://​​less­wrong.com/​​lw/​​1mh/​​that_mag­i­cal_click/​​1hd7

I’ve NOT been con­fused by the prob­lem of over­think­ing in the mid­dle of perform­ing an ac­tion. I un­der­stand perfectly well the dis­ad­van­tages of us­ing sys­tem 2 in a situ­a­tion where time is suffi­ciently limited.

And maybe there are some other fail modes where over­think­ing has some dis­ad­van­tages.

But there’s one situ­a­tion where I’d of­ten be ac­cused by some­one of “over­think­ing” some­thing when I didn’t even un­der­stand what they might mean, and that was in un­der­stand­ing con­cepts. I would think “Huh? How can think­ing less about the con­cept you’re ex­plain­ing help me un­der­stand that con­cept more? I don’t cur­rently un­der­stand it; I can’t just stay here! Even if you thought I needed to take longer to try and un­der­stand this, or that I needed more ex­pe­rience or to shorten the in­fer­en­tial gap, all of that would mean do­ing more think­ing, not less.”

Then I would think “Well, I must be mi­s­un­der­stand­ing the way they’re us­ing the word ‘over­think­ing,’ that’s all.” I’d ask for a clear ex­pla­na­tion and...

“You’re over­think­ing it.”

Now I was over­think­ing the mean­ing of over­think­ing. This was re­ally not good for my so­cial rep­u­ta­tion (or for their com­pe­tency rep­u­ta­tion in my own mind).


Now, I think I got it. At last, I got it, all on my own.

I’m ask­ing them to help me draw pre­cise lines around their con­cept in thingspace, and they’re go­ing along with it (at first) un­til they re­al­ize...they don’t HAVE pre­cise lines. There’s noth­ing there TO un­der­stand, or if there is, they don’t un­der­stand it, ei­ther. Then they use the get-out-of-jail-free card of “You’re over­think­ing.”


Hon­estly, most nerds prob­a­bly take them at their word that the prob­lem is with them, and may be used to there be­ing sub­tle so­cial things go­ing on that they just won’t eas­ily un­der­stand, and if they do try to un­der­stand, they just look worse (for “over­think­ing” again), so this is a pretty good strat­egy for get­ting out of ad­mit­ting that you don’t know what you’re talk­ing about.