Additionally, the world is less horrible compare to some plausible counterfactual worlds. Trying to change the world to the better can end up like the plan to bring democracy to Iraq or Afghanistan (assuming that was the plan in these cases).
On the current developments in China, also see
(Though I think the comment on Guantánamo there is not convincing.)
“And then if you say that it’s actually fine because overall this US-led world order is pretty good they’ll ask what the fuck you’re talking about, it’s horrible!”
I am not very confident about this US international order thing, but there is a difference between knowing that things are bad compared to some ideal world and having an idea how to get there.
“People don’t want to do new things.”
Uhm, depends. I think many people are quite enthusiastic if they think they can contribute to something exciting and new, and then lose interest if turns out to be less exciting, less new, and is hard, boring work.
Thanks for your reply. I have read Dan Harris’ 10% book, and found it quite entertaining, though in fact the parts that really tell you about meditation are a small share. I also read half of Suzuki’s book. To be honest, it seemed to me like the kind of text where people start to believe they are into something but mostly because things seem so deep. I respect the insight that some things cannot be taught by theory, but then I expect that the example of those who practice Zen for a while must be something that can be useful for demonstrating what a valuable practice Zen is?
Could you explain what happens during such a meetup? Do people just meet and meditate to have a fixed time to do it? At my university there was a Zen-Buddhist group, but its meetings usually took place when I had other obligations, and then one time I went there out of curiosity, I did not find it very convincing. Basically the same things that I also found weird in the Suzuki book “Zen Mind, Beginners Mind”: Posture is everything, so sit correctly and everything will follow.
Thanks for the interesting review summary. Does he say a bit more about the effects of napping / biphasic sleep vs monophasic sleep?
Here is a review: https://www.economist.com/books-and-arts/2018/09/01/big-data-is-reshaping-humanity-says-yuval-noah-harari
I think this is useful, even though it is old:
Feature Idea: It would be good if all posts had an abstract (maybe up to three sentences) at the beginning.
Done. Thanks for pointing this out.
This is a fair point, and I find it interesting that you did this and came to the conclusion “nothing short of trying it seems to have any predictive ability of whether or not it is helpful”. When you hand somebody a self-helf book, it is hard to say what the exact treatment should be that will be tested. If the treatment is just handing out the book, then it may be that bad writing keeps the treatment effects low. If the treatment is applying all techniques, then the test for some of the books will be very expensive, and the author can make up excuses why something does not work.
A topic I considered to cover but postponed is cognitive dissonance; if people have invested time into following a technique, they want to find it useful afterwards. Basically, people then apply the same biases that make them prey to cold reading and other con-artist techniques: They attribute positive developments to having read the book, and ignore counter-evidence. Some of the self-help authors have a large cult around them, probably starting with Napoleon Hill. Cognitive dissonance also applies to self-help communities without a guru at the center, because fans mutually reinforce their beliefs. Eye training may be an example.
But of course not everything under the book-shelve label “self-help” is like that. The following things should make you very suspicious:
- The author writes in a very obscure style, and it is hard to grasp what he is talking about.
- The author claims to have discovered a magical secret, as opposed to either scientifically-based advice or commonsense observations.
- You decide to apply the techniques, do it for a while, but nothing happens (of which it is not more likely that it has nothing to do with the book).
- The techniques are basically not applicable.
- The techniques depend strongly on belief (If you don’t believe it, it doesn’t work.)
The epistemic problem here is that many of these things can “work” on some level, like a mental placebo. But they work because e.g. you have decided to change your life, become more confident etc. and not because of some magic the author describes. Maybe you just feel better because you took time to read a book instead of just sitting there worrying. Maybe you imagined yourself in a better state and that made you feel better. I find it hard even to define a placebo for that. In all these cases, the willingness to start is more important than the content of the book, which of course poses a testability problem for the content. (I believe this is also a problem for the testability of recognized psychotherapies.)
Some time ago, I stumbled over this rationality community thing, and over the last months, I read some texts of it here and there. However, I am still a bit puzzled by what the rationality community really is.
May I note that this “community” at first glance does not seem to be very inviting, if even this “about” page kind of presupposes that visitors to this page either know what the “rationality community” is, or do not need a clear explanation? (Or is this mostly meant to be read by “insiders” anyways?)