Osmosis learning: a crucial consideration for the craft

I’ve been toy­ing with a new ap­proach to self-im­prove­ment that is quite differ­ent from what we’ve been do­ing at LW.

It hinges on the idea that the great ma­jor­ity of one’s knowl­edge is im­plicit, and that most learn­ing hap­pens through os­mo­sis (be­ing near some­one in­tel­li­gent) rather than ver­bal com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

If this is true, then the best strat­egy for in­creas­ing one’s in­tel­li­gence (in some do­main) is to hang out with peo­ple that are more in­tel­li­gent than you (in that do­main).

So if you want to be men­tally healthy, live at a Zen tem­ple. If you want to be a good re­searcher, work with top re­searchers. If you want to be rich, hang out with rich peo­ple.

I think many peo­ple already im­plic­itly know this. Lots of peo­ple would love to hang out with a billion­aire. The naive hy­poth­e­sis is that they’re hop­ing to get a piece of their wealth, but per­haps they’re hop­ing to get a piece of their in­tel­li­gence.

This leads to com­pe­ti­tion to as­so­ci­ate with in­tel­li­gent peo­ple. Since mar­ket forces ap­ply, ceterus paribus, the cost of as­so­ci­at­ing with some­one is cor­re­lated with their ex­pected in­tel­li­gence ac­cord­ing to the av­er­age per­son.

So if this pic­ture is true, then the best way to get ahead is to 1) be bet­ter at iden­ti­fy­ing in­tel­li­gence, so that you can get a cheap deal for a big up­grade, 2) set­ting up an en­vi­ron­ment in which learn­ing by os­mo­sis is faster and 3) this learn­ing hap­pens asym­met­ri­cally.

For fur­ther think­ing about this ap­proach, I’d like to sug­gest three ar­eas of in­quiry:

  • In­tel­li­gence shop­ping: how do we iden­tify in­di­vi­d­u­als and com­mu­ni­ties that are more in­tel­li­gent than us (in some rele­vant do­main), but easy to ap­proach?

  • A the­ory of os­mo­sis: un­der what (so­cial, psy­cholog­i­cal) con­di­tions does os­mo­sis oc­cur with the high­est band­width? My first guess is that it would in­clude safety, at­ten­tion, in­ti­macy and trust. How much is this re­lated to em­pa­thy? I don’t know.

  • A the­ory of asym­me­try: if two peo­ple ex­change knowl­edge sub­sym­bol­i­cally, how do we make sure that the more in­tel­li­gent knowl­edge gets prefer­ence upon dis­agree­ment? This ques­tion seems to be the least tractable to me per­son­ally. i.e. there have been nu­mer­ous times where I met some­one’s emo­tions by copy­ing them, only later re­al­is­ing I should have met them with a smile in­stead.

And bonus:

  • For which do­mains can we ex­pect our move­ment to be strictly bet­ter than any other move­ment out there? In which do­mains (of im­plicit knowl­edge) are we do­ing so bad that we would do well to be hum­ble and ap­ply os­mo­sis learn­ing?