Notice your everything

[epistemic status: mostly me noticing (ha) a common pattern among advice i’ve heard and my personal experience.]

There is one skill or category of skill that is probably worth more than every other general skill of instrumental rationality on this website combined: Noticing things.

You probably already know about noticing confusion, noticing whenever some hypothesis feels “off” or seems inconsistent with your previous beliefs. You probably also already know to notice whenever you’re rationalizing or engaging in motivated reasoning.

The remarkable part is that neither of these skills requires you to have a high IQ or learn a lot of new object-level knowledge. At the very least, high IQ or object-level knowledge is not sufficient for these skills. You only need to listen to what your brain is already telling you.

Noticing isn’t just for identifying when your thinking is bad, you can also use it to identify when your thinking is good.

Noticing your thoughts or processes of moving from thought to thought allows you to pat yourself on the back and update your cognition or notice which ones aren’t doing good work.

Noticing your desires helps you determine whether you should act on them or not. You can act on desires you previously didn’t notice, or notice desires you don’t want to act on and simply sit and watch them disappear.

Noticing your emotions helps you turn feelings and impulses into rational decisions, or analyze them to figure out their cause.

Babble & Prune follows a similar pattern, where Babble is about noticing ideas, and Prune is about carefully analyzing them, instead of just automatically generating and dismissing them in a single moment.

Noticing is’s whole deal.

I think most of the benefits of meditation, for me at least, come from it being a way of training your noticing, which incurs the benefits I listed above.

In general, noticing is about taking what you perceive, whether a thought or an emotion or a physical sensation or a subagent or a process or any other mental object, and taking it seriously, not dismissing it out of hand or blindly following it or suppressing it or never having it enter your attention in the first place.

This post is a call to action, not only to notice your everything but also to get people to start talking about noticing and how to notice things better. I’d also like to see what work people have already done that I don’t already know about. Who knows, maybe there are already people working on this right now to the level of generality I’m asking for, and I just haven’t found them yet.

[Edit: Justis, who provided feedback before I posted this, says that a lot of stuff by Spencer Greenberg and a few things from Meaningness are about noticing.]