Specificity: Your Brain’s Superpower


What if there was a magic superpower that simultaneously enabled you to:

Amazingly, your brain does have a superpower that gives you all these powers. It’s called…

To activate the power of specificity, all you have to do is ask yourself the question, “What’s an example of that?” Or more bluntly, “Can I be more specific?” And then you unleash a ton of power in a surprisingly broad variety of domains.

It’s an open secret in the rationality community how powerful this skill is of being specific. Eliezer captured the essence of it in his 2012 post, Be Specific. In it, he comments on the difficulty of teaching people specificity skills for the first time:

When I’m talking to anyone outside the local LessWrong community, I find that a very large amount of my conversation involves repeatedly asking them to be more specific.

He also describes how CFAR’s Applied Rationality Workshops teach the power of specificity by osmosis. I can vouch that my personal experience as a workshop attendee fits this description:

Attendees picked [specificity] up from all the instructors having to repeatedly ask the attendees to be more specific, and then having to ask them again, while being specific themselves, until the attendees picked up the rhythm by example and feedback.

I hope you’re curious to unpack my list of claims about what specificity lets you do, because I’m dead serious about all of it! Except being invisible; I was kidding about that one.

So without further ado, let’s get into the specifics.

Next post: The Power to Demolish Bad Arguments