Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What Trance says about Rationality

This conditioned inhibitory set thing is not just a hypnotic phenomena. It's a feature of every interaction.

Somnambulism may be outside the realm of normal experience, but the spectrum of "trance depth" is still useful. Someone that is agreeing with you is less likely to be inner googling objections, but someone who is arguing you will come up with plenty. This makes "trance depth" an important consideration for learning in general. How long should you spend paying attention to what the other person says before you check for failings? You can suck up information faster if you have your 'disagreement threshold' set high, but don't go too far or you'll waste your time actually considering things that are nonsense. Or even end up believing nonsense.

Consider the mind of a young child that asks about Santa. His parents might give him some bullshit answer, and he might question it to some extent, but not because he's being a disagreeable little shit. He only does it to see how it can be true. He's trying to build a model of the world and comes up blank when he wonders about Santa's transportation, so he asks how he gets around.  There's an important difference between not having a coherent model of what is being explained to you and disagreeing with what is being said. Ask questions that do the former before even thinking about doing the latter.  A particularly rational little kid might notice after all that "Well Mom, your explanation just doesn't make any sense", but that step doesn't have to come until later.

You might be thinking "I don't want to reason like a little kid! They're stupid! I need to be able to disagree with things so I don't accept false things!" - and if so, you're setting your disagreement threshold too low. Try harder.

If you actually might learn something, then turn your objection generator down to the point where you only come up with good objections (objections that are both fatal to the persons main points and something they likely haven't already thought of), and turn it down to where you can follow the argument for a good 10 steps before noticing whether or not its headed in a direction that matches reality. Unless you're talking with a crazy, you should be able to see things from a perspective that makes their beliefs seem reasonable. Once you can do that, it should be more obvious who was mistaken. Once you know what they're saying, please do check that it makes sense - just don't be prematurely disagreeing.

If you cant make it more than one step into a disagreement before rejecting the whole thing and failing to consider it, then you can never learn. If you can only make it two steps, then your teacher must be very damn careful (and very damn patient) to walk you and your baby steps through the inferential distance Do your best to bridge the gap yourself. 

Although I think my audience probably errs more on the side of too much disagreement, my aim is not to just shift everything. This is something you can be aware of and control. Actively choose the level that makes the most sense. If someone says "you aren't even engaging my arguments!" you should either be very surprised and confused given your efforts to deeply engage their arguments (and engaging this one requires jumping into that feeling of surprise and confusion) - or - you should be willing to say "Of course I never engaged your arguments. My purpose here is to show you where you're wrong and I'm not bothering to notice if, by odd chance, you actually have something interesting to say"

And if you're thinking "Well, I already do this"... well, the base rate disagrees, so take this as an opportunity to try it out and fully jump into the world where [you don't do it but tell yourself you do] and then contrast that to the world where [you genuinely do it for real], and compare them to this world. The more differences you can notice, the more you win.

After all, you're reading this to learn something, aren't you?

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