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