>(The “how” is tricky. That’s a whole different sequence. But even before figuring out how to do it, it’s worth considering that there may exist the possibility of movement toward more direct contact. It can help a lot to merely be aware that your experiences exist somewhere along the gradient from low to high contact with the territory.)Update: This post gets into a lot of the “how”.
New post that is relevant: How To Observe Abstract Objects
Thank you to Duncan, Robin, timepoof, and Benya for feedback.
My new response to this is the TAPs section in Duncan’s essay “Concentration Of Force”.
This so far feels really good for me to use, as a reader. It’s almost immediately obvious-to-me how it works (as a reader), and I feel relief and satisfaction when I get to separate out my agreement from my upvote. I wonder how it’ll be as a commenter and poster!
yeah, a key principle is something like “start light, stay sustainable”. or maybe “start with space, make more space”.there’s a large range of naturalism infrastructure it’s possible to lay. some people want to dive all the way in immediately: evening journal, pocket field notes, a weekly time block for focused investigation, a weekly time block for analysis, a big “catching the spark” exercise to get things started, and a full predict-observe-update loop practice. but most people are better off choosing one single TAP: “I’ll snap my fingers when I think I might be confused”, “I’ll tap my leg when I notice an opportunity to exchange money for time”, “I’ll tap my toe when I suspect my code will [whatever].”the reason this particular kind of merely-noticing TAP is the single most important part of the practice, the one to keep when anything else might be too much, is that it makes space. it creates these tiny little bubbles where additional attention is likely to be worthwhile, and the bubbles have a way of expanding over time. before you start doing a thing like this, it might seem like there are so many times when you’re confused, and they go by so fast, and there’s just no way you can pay enough attention all the time to extract useful data from those itty bitty moments. but if all you have to do is tap your leg, nevermind extract data or do anything else at all with your mind, that’s more manageable—and you’ll likely find that the longer you do it, the easier and less overwhelming it gets. you find yourself realizing after you’ve tapped your leg that confusion just happened, because the practice has become automatic. you’re not paying a bunch of attention all the time; you’ve learned to concentrate your attention into those tiny moments when it matters. and once you’ve concentrated your attention like that, the moments themselves seem to expand. they don’t seem to go by so quick. it’s like you’ve put them under a microscope, and over time you’ve zooming in and in with more and more powerful lenses. it’s not overwhelming at all. it’s sort of the opposite. by a gradual, sustainable process, you become an expert at observing the thing you’re interested in, and it’s easy.then once it’s easy, and you are not at all overwhelmed by the practice, then you might want to consider something like capturing some of your observations in a pocket notebook, or keeping a list of times when you tapped your leg, or adding another thing to try noticing. start from spaciousness, and create more space.
>Logan, how do you make space for practicing naturalism?
I don’t have a ready-made answer to this, so I’m going to start rambling whatever maybe-nonsense comes to mind, and see what happens. This will probably not resemble “a good answer” very closely.
I think I mostly “make space for naturalism” by having different intellectual priorities than most adults. When I want to learn something, or to solve a problem, or when I’m in some unfamiliar kind of situation, naturalism-type thoughts are way higher on my priority list than non-naturalism-type thoughts. It’s like they get a +5 to their initiative rolls.
I maybe have thoughts milling around like “What would Wikipedia say about this?”, “Who could I learn from about this?”, and “What is the relevant reference class for this thing?” (I have a feeling these are not actually good examples of the class of thoughts I have in mind, except maybe the reference class one. I’d need to, uh, do some naturalism, to give you a more accurate picture here.) But those thoughts are relatively less shiny to me (at first) than thoughts like, “How could I check it out for myself?”, “What would I need to pay attention to if I wanted some data on that?”, and “What could I do to make more contact with this thing over the next two weeks?”.
I think I __do__ a little bit “make space for naturalism” in a straightforward sense. Common tools along those lines include daily five minute check-ins, a mini notebook in my back pocket for holding information without having to keep track of it in my brain, and dedicated time blocks for designing and trying out exercises/problem-sets/toys.
But those things feel like a mostly organic consequence of prioritizing naturalism-type thoughts, the way I prioritize protein when I’m trying to get physically stronger, or perhaps the way many kids prioritize imagination when given a whole five seconds to do whatever they want. When a thought like “How could I check it out for myself?” feels shiny, I pursue that thought, rather than some other thought I could have spent my time and attention on instead; and pursuing it naturally leads me to thoughts like, “What is the natural habitat of this phenomenon and what would it take for me to go there?” which very often leads me to design an exercise or a TAP or a multifaceted research program.
I’ve got a lot of back-and-forth going on in my head as I answer this, a lot of conflict. Part of my brain seems to be saying, “No no, this is a wrong question, it’s founded on a false premise.” But another part of my brain seems to be saying, “You’ve really hit the nail on the head with ‘make space’.” And I’m going to have that second part of my brain talk now.
If I had to choose three intellectual macronutrients off the top of my head right now, they’d be scholarship, philosophy, and naturalism. Scholarship and philosophy share a sort of active, assertive property. They’re quite go go go, do do do, form goals make plans solve problems execute intentions. You have do spend a lot of time doing things on purpose. Thinking on purpose, driving toward solutions, pouring over sources and analyzing data and drawing out implications. Whatever *space* you have in your life, scholarship and philosophy will *fill up that space* if you let them.
Naturalism is different, on this axis. It is relatively receptive and passive. It requires the same amount of space, but not in the same format, and it doesn’t tend to fill up the space with anything. In fact, I think it sort of takes what space is there, and then makes more of it.
When I get a new naturalism student, one of the very first things I ask them to do is nothing. If they go for regular walks, I ask them to turn their phones to airplane mode and to not listen to podcasts or music. If they have a daily subway commute, I ask them to leave their book or laptop in their bag. I help them find places in their daily lives where they habitually fill the space, and would be sacrificing little besides their immediate comfort to leave that space empty. Direct observation only happens in spaces that are not already full.
I don’t think I’ve answered your question yet, but I think I’ve made some headway and I’m going to pause here for now.
I found this compelling and switched my upvote to a strong upvote. Previously I was like “neat project, good post, not clear I want LW to be more like this”. But now it’s clear to me that I do want LW to be more like this.
I really like this part:
I would not advise anyone wishing to solve human rationality, or to do anything else awesome, to refrain from attempting said awesome thing on the theory that we or anyone else has that covered.
As someone who worked for CFAR for a couple years and then quit at the beginning of 2021: In addition to this advice, I would also advise that anyone wishing to gain basic skill in rationality, teaching, and workshop running, because they do not yet feel ready to solve human rationality or do anything else awesome, should pursue some strategy other than “I will work for CFAR while I level up and maybe eventually become a real cool instructory person capable of Impact”. I think that CFAR is unusually likely to be bad for you. I hope you will learn to be awesome somewhere else instead.
[Crossposted from Facebook.]Recommendation request:
As part of developing “perceptual dexterity” stuff, I think I want to do a post where I review a few books related to creativity. I’ve just finished reading A Whack On the Side of the Head, which felt like quite a… I’m not sure what to call it, “corporate”? I think? It felt like a corporate take on creativity. When I started it, I thought I’d do a review of just that book, but after finishing it, I think a comparative study would be a lot more valuable.
I’m now looking for more books to include in the post. I’d like each one to be either 1) unusually excellent, 2) super weird and different from all the others, or 3) not overtly about creativity at all, but likely to produce something interesting and valuable if I try to review it “as a creativity book” anyway.
Another book that’s on my list is called “What It Is”, and it falls in the “super weird” category, while also being a… graphic novel?????? I guess????
I’d love for there to be a wide range of literary genres represented: a novel, a children’s picture book, a biography, a poetry anthology, maybe a pop sci thing, and at least one more training-manual-ish thing that’s not so “corporate”.
If you think of something else you’d like to see reviewed in a post like this, please pitch me on that as well.
feels weird to post this whole thing as a comment as on this essay, but it also feels weird not to mention here that i wrote it. here is a shortform post that i made as a result of reading this, which does not engage at all with the content of the OP. it’s a thing i felt i needed to do before i could [safely/sanely/consensually? intelligently? non-reactively?] engage with the content of the OP.
To be clear, I’m not claiming Narrative Synching is wrong or a bad essay. I just sort of, found myself feeling constrained/compelled/hypnotized/something after reading it, and then I wished that the five nonexistent paragraphs preceding the body of the essay had gone slower, giving me time to look at the world for myself before shoving a particular color of glasses in front of my face and then pointing at where I should look. I’ve felt the same thing a lot of times, so I thought I’d try writing something about it.
proto essay on defense against strong frames and false n-chotomies
I claim that most (all?) concepts are imperfect, by the nature of conceptualization.
I expect we should be especially wary of concepts that lead us to break what were once a myriad of largely undifferentiated perceptions into exactly two categories—especially when we did not ourselves come up with those categories while trying to make sense of our own observations, especially when we did not previously make any effort to make sense of our own observations, and especially especially when we notice ourselves employing the dichotomy all over the place immediately after gaining the concept.
This happened to me today, so i’ve been thinking about how to respond.What is it to “be wary” in the relevant sense? What should a person do, when they notice that this has happened to them? When they notice that someone has just handed them a strong frame and now they’re thinking in terms of that frame when they’ve never even attempted to deliberately observe the bit of territory that the frame supports, and have never tried to make sense of those observations themselves?
I think this kind of situation calls for cognitive first aid. There’s a crucial moment in which you can either lock in your new unexamined and highly compressed way of perceiving the world, or you can become grounded in your own competence as an observer and thinker, thereby gaining the space needed to examine the new frame from the outside.
(Here’s some space where you can pause to think of at least one way you might establish grounding in your own competence as an observer and thinker, before I tell you about my own way.)
I think a good thing to do is to leave the room (or close the book, or the tab, or the video, whatever) and spend at least five minutes attempting to get in direct contact with something. ANYTHING. It does not have to be relevant to the domain of the concept. Best of it’s not. Get out a pencil and sketch the tissue box in front of you. Find something growing in a crack in the sidewalk outside. Derive de morgan’s law using a minimalistic set of derivation rules (like, just assumption plus operator introduction and elimination).
Then, once you’re definitely in direct contact with a real thing that is not whatever concept has just been thrust upon you, spend at least five minutes working toward your own completely original taxonomy.
DO NOT START FROM THE CONCEPT YOU’VE JUST LEARNED AND ADJUST AWAY FROM THERE.
Start instead with some reference experiences: search your memory for specific things that actually happened to you, or that you heard about once, that seem like they might be sort of relevant. Better yet, make some brand new observations, if possible. Then try to build your own taxonomy of those experiences.
In my case today, this would be a taxonomy of social utterances. I’ve just produced a whole bunch of them myself, so these sentences are a fine place to start. I also remember my dad saying, “I’m your father, not your friend.” I remember my neighbor telling me it’s fine to leave the pothole filling party any time and that he’s grateful for any amount of time I can contribute. Facebook, Wikipedia, Reddit, and every book I own are made almost entirely of social utterances. If I go downstairs to say “hello” to my fiance, social utterances will almost certainly pour out of both of us. I can use any of these sources to sketch taxonomies.
Here is a brainstorm of things that might belong in a taxonomy of social utterances, which I’ve not yet begun to organize into a rough hierarchy:
stuff people say because they want you to feel something
stuff people say because they want you to know something
stuff people say because they want you to believe something
stuff people say because they want you to be aware of some things
stuff people say because they want you to __not__ be aware of some things
stuff people say because they want you to conceive of your relationship to them in a certain way
stuff people say that has nothing to do with you
stuff people say because they want you to say something to them
stuff people say to change your expectations about what they will do
stuff people say when they want everyone in earshot to know that everyone in earshot has heard what they have said
I cannot make a list like this without at least beginning to accumulate questions. That’s part of Thinking, for me. Here are some accumulated questions.
what is shitposting?
how are Facebook utterances different from Wikipedia utterances?
when am I most often confused about why a person is saying a thing?
why do almost all of my categories include “because” and “want”? what if I made a taxonomy of social utterances that does not involve whatever’s behind “because”, or whatever’s behind “want”?
why do I dislike certain kinds of social utterances?
what are non-social utterances?
why do people say things to make other people feel certain ways? (eg humor to make people feel amusement)
why would someone want everyone in earshot to know that everyone in earshot has heard the thing?
why do we talk?
what can talking do that slapping cannot?
what is fiction?
what is playing pretend?
how does sarcasm work? when does it not work? what is it good for?
when is gossip useful? when is it harmful? why do the first things I think about gossip involve valuations?
The point of this exercise I’ve just done is not that I may come up with a better conceptualization than the one that lead me to seek cognitive first aid to stay cognitively healthy and strong (though that certainly happens now and then).
The point is that I’ve reminded myself that the world is complicated, that any given conceptualization of it attempts to compress an enormous amount of information, and that I am capable of finding my own ways to think about the world. I am now grounded in my own abilities as an observer and thinker, and I remember what it feels like to do something besides capitulate to some big concept I was just handed.
This proto-post has been brought to you by Anna’s essay on Narrative Synching, which I found something-like disturbingly compelling.
fyi i just added some stuff to the OP that you’ll prbly wanna see
I’ve lately been thinking that the rationality I practice, develop, and sometimes teach, is better described as a “discipline” than an “art”. Discipline like “an activity, exercise, or regimen that develops or improves a skill”, or “to bring to a state of order and obedience by training and control”.The closest dictionary.com definition of “art” that looks very relevant to me is “any field using the skills or techniques of [the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance]”.”The art of rationality” sounds a little too much to me like “we follow our whims and focus on the shiny things”, whereas “the discipline of rationality” has a lot more of “and then I did the hard and boring thing for the 10,000th time in a row because there’s simply no better way to hone a reflex or maintain form over time”.I don’t intend to be mean to art here; I consider myself somewhat of an artist, in visual, written, and perhaps kinesthetic media. And it definitely takes a lot of discipline, as well as a bit of science, to make good art reliably. But what is it that makes a practice more of an art, rather than more of a something-else? I think it has something to do with a focus on expression. You experience a recognition of beauty or quality or significance, and then you create an expression of whatever you felt in response to the experience. Art is about expressing beauty. (“Express” in the sense of “to show, manifest, or reveal”.) Is rationality about expressing beauty?No!Rationality is about figuring out how to not do quite so much dumb shit all the time, in the course of trying not to do quite so much dumb shit all the time.Which I readily admit is beautiful. But I think that’s incidental?Rationality tends to benefit from some tools that are relevant to artists, such as skillful perception, and perhaps others but honestly that’s the only one I have in mind right now. But it draws a lot more heavily on the tools of science, statistics, and psychology than on the tools of art.”The art of rationality” sounds cool, but just like “martial arts”, it’s… sort of misleading, and I worry it contributes to a concept of rationality that does not include the forbearance, dedication, persistence, patience, discipline that is actually required.Edit: Someone on the Facebook version of this brought up the “art of war”, and I replied, “i guess i’ve just never gotten this use of ‘art’. i think i hear it as ‘people do it and also we don’t really understand it and also rather than wishing we understood it we glorify the mystery’.Edit edit: More from Facebook:i agree with a lot of these… “criticisms” seems a bit too strong for what they actually are. i agree with stuff in a lot of these comments, especially the Duncan things. i could tell even as i was writing the OP that something was coming out sideways. i’d like to find the Something that came out sideways and do something a bit more productive with it, though. like, i wrote the stuff in the OP because i have a frustration and a longing, and it has a lot more to do with the goodness of “discipline” than with the badness of “art”.i think rationality enthusiasts, perhaps in part because of founder effects and/or programmer culture?, tend to have a sort of laziness fetish or something that has huge benefits and also seems to me to have lead to a ton of throwing-out-the-baby-with-the-bath-water.
[One commenter] sais, “for me the word “discipline” has a connotation of “willpower”, which doesn’t quite work for me with regards to rationality. It reminds me of something I think you (?) wrote on Facebook some time ago. Badly paraphrased from my lousy memory, it was something like: “Lots of rationality advice can be boiled down to: ‘See that dumb thing your brain does? Don’t do that.’”″
(i did indeed say something like that.)
i don’t know what or how real [commenter] thinks, but there’s a kind of person i’m quite certain exists who could well have uttered such a paragraph, who isn’t very aware that they’re breaking their conceptualization of deliberate action into a false dichotomy like “manifest outcomes through blunt force of will” and “do the things that are cheap and easy for you but otherwise just let things happen”. i conjecture that the history of rationality over the past ten years involves a lot of taking this dichotomy for granted and only seriously considering practices that are cheap and easy, because, obviously, relying on blunt force of will all the time is very stupid.
according to me, there’s this entire realm of human virtue/skill/enculturation/training that involves… i don’t know, the closest i’ve ever come to trying to say it is my essay on patient observation at the end of the naturalism series, and the painting that’s in it. some things that remind me of it include courage, the bit in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance where he talks about how to paint, the strengths that my stereotype of people in the military and also ancient Greek heroes have but my dancing buddies and contemporary liberal culture in general seems to lack or sometimes even disparage, an expectation that life is hard and part of being good human is not just insisting on the world being different but also developing what’s needed to cope gracefully with reality as it currently exists. i dunno that’s maybe just one corner of the thing.
anyway i think part of what i’m doing with myself in general is advocating for the deliberate development of some relatively unpleasant human capacities such as patience and not shutting down when there is danger and not giving up immediately when things seem dauntingly complicated. and the OP came from some not-yet-satisfactorilly-expressed motivation for that project.and “discipline” is often my shorthand for a big chunk of that cluster of stuff.
Can you say more about what you want to better understand that you don’t expect to encounter in your own experience of jealousy?
No wait scratch that. Please don’t start by crystalizing your preconceptions for the sake of communicating with me. New question: Where might you encounter something crucial to the thing you’re interested in, if you could somehow transport a bit of your sensorium there?
But if you spend five minutes on that and are still stuck, go back to the first question.
Actually I think I’m yearning to do this with marbles and pipes and carefully balanced buckets so the weightings can be totally literal.
Ok I’m actually pretty curious about this myself now. The basic element of an ANN is a neuron I think, and maybe I could personally build a single neuron out of household materials? It doesn’t gotta do much, right?
It needs to be able to receive at least one input (though to be at all interesting it probably ought to receive at least 2).
It needs to sum its inputs.
Something about an activation function. Does this happen before or after the summing? My guess is after; so maybe it’s stuff like “if the sum is less than 4 then make the output be two less than the sum, but if it’s more than 4 make it be the sum times six”.
Then it’s gotta be able to output, ideally to something observable.
So I’m imagining a little circuit board of logic gates with copper wires attached to batteries and a lightbulb that can glow brighter when you give it more juice, with the activation function business happening in a series of insulators of varying strengths [uh, conductors of varying resistances?] and the variable inputs also coming from currents run through different insulators, or perhaps from different strengths of batteries.
What do you think ML people, am I on the right track? Have I sketched an artificial neuron?
I know very little about artificial neural networks, like I’m not really even comfortable saying that I know what they are. (Without googling I’m basically like, “Well, probably they’re still systems of logic gates at ground level, though maybe some of them involve quantum computing circuits that are fishy-to-me in their non-binariness or something, and those systems have properties that resemble non-artificial neural networks such as nodes and weighted edges, which causes them to behave like non-artificial neural networks with stuff like association cascades and trigger-action patterns and predictive-processing-type stuff?”) [Edit: Oh snap that actually sounds a lot like the Wikipedia page!]But I can easily imagine someone who’s very interested in artificial neural networks and has so far studied them by reading about them and talking to people about them. It’s a very different kind of thing to try to design one, at all or even from scratch, to try to use one for various purposes, to provide certain inputs and statistically analyze patterns of outputs, to reason mathematically about what seem to you to be necessary properties of artificial neural networks and then find out whether an actual neural network in front of you behaves as you’ve predicted.So yeah if you’ve mostly been in “reading stuff” territory, that interactive demo looks to me like a great step in the right direction. But if I were in that position, I would be asking myself “what is the very simplest thing that would technically count as an artificial neural network, and what would it take for me to build that thing myself?”If you’re not in the “mostly I’ve been reading stuff” boat and have already been doing the kinds of things I’ve described so far, then I expect that increasing the directness of your contact will look less like interacting with a different kind of thing, and more like adopting different mental patterns as you interact. How much of you is showing up to your investigations? What parts of you are asking questions, what parts of you are generating hypotheses? How many methods are you employing for turning your central puzzles around and around to see them from different angles, and what is the range of those methods? What work are you doing to let different activities of your daily life participate in your processes of observation and analysis? What are you doing to become sensitive to subtle patterns in your observations that can only become apparent over time? That kind of thing. Remember that there are THREE entities needed for contact with the territory: The territory, the person making contact, and sensation at the point of contact. You can change your contact by changing any three of those entities.