Thursday, February 14, 2013

Put the map down and drive

People model reality using maps, but the map is not the territory. Our perception is just a map, but it doesn't necessarily feel like one because it's a fairly direct representation of what's going on and we seldom doubt it. When I look to my left and see a piano, it's like it's just there. I know my seeing it is just the representation in my head, but that fact isn't very salient. When I say "that's a piano!", that is a level above - clearly my interpretation of what's going on. Who knows, maybe it's just an over-complicated table.

So our maps have different layers. One layer is our experience itself, and one layer is the labels we place on it. The experience layer is the one that lets us do things like drive home from work without thinking about it at all. You can just follow the cues and take the route you always take. You can get really, really good at a particular task by sheer practice. But you'll never realize that the route you've practiced so well has a shortcut unless you step back and use your labels layer.
The label layer is the one we use to navigate. You can't plan routes solely based on what you see right in front of you since you just don't see far enough. So it is really important to learn how and when to use your label layer - LessWrong is all about using your labeled map well. But people in general kinda really suck at using it. And they very often don't even try. Getting good with making and navigating your label level map is, like, really important.
The thing is, over reliance on this system of labels can screw you up too. It's the labels layer that says "I can't -> don't try" on parts of the map you've never bothered to explore. It's the labels layer that keeps people from responding well to suggestions all the time. For example, you're focusing so well on reading this that you forgot your name - you can't remember. Cool huh?
Wait no, that almost certainly didn't work. You probably just read along until I said something that contradicted your label layer - "I can't forget something as obvious as my name!" Your labels got in the way and said "don't go there, it's not true" or "it's not safe". Without those, you'd have looked at the picture that I had painted for you and realized that you couldn't find your name in it - but you didn't go there, and that's cool.
But it's not always cool. Like when the little brothers compete against older brothers and have the limiting label "he's the bigger brother so he'll win" and just stop looking for little alleyways that they've missed - instead of asking "how can I win?". Or "I've had this problem all my life, I cant just fix it so quick!". Or whatever it is. When the problem is caused by following a stupid label layer, ditch it. Bypass the "critical factor". Use "hypnosis".
All of hypnosis comes down to getting them to follow the experience layer and not the label layer. Once you're there, they can follow your map and change things up a bit.
Okay, so how do we do get them to turn the label layer off? The first answer to try is always "suggest it". That actually works quite well - especially if you can prime them with good reasons to do it and get commitment and all that good stuff. But sometimes the label on the map says that they can't turn the label layer off - which of course is true... as long as you're following your labels. You can take the slow road and correct their map by leading them to the inconsistencies in their label layer until they correct it. The upside is that you end up with a nice and coherent map, the downside is that it's slow as shit.
So get creative. What would General Chaos do?
  • Suck up all their awareness with other tasks. Make them count taps, or do math, or dual-n-back.
  • Play Simon Says - give suggestions fast enough that they just have to drop the map and watch the road so they don't crash.
  • In conversation, make your point and then distract away to something else before they can undo it. Remember, we automatically believe everything we're told.
  • Shock them for a brief window before they can gather their things and resist it.
  • Get them emotional enough that it crowds out other thought - happiness, fear... anything will do, just make it strong.
  • Fly under the radar. You anchor good feelings to certain gestures and then fire them when it helps your case. This is probably something they don't know to look out for. If they don't pick up on it, then they can't direct resistance to it.
  • Use metaphors to obscure their label meanings. This is similar to above, in that you're manipulating associations without them being able to follow, but they know there's some communication going on. Maybe they don't know its relevant to the goal at hand, or maybe they do and just can't figure it out.
  • Get them while their map is down. Do it when people are going for the experience. People get into their stories, so tell stories with your suggestions embedded. Oh wait, this is like every story ever.
  • While their map is down? Get them while they're asleep -literally. Just make sure they're in REM or light sleep so that they can actually give you some attention. Use confirmation twitches to make sure they're responding.
  • Use combinations of the above. Speak quickly in metaphors and then distract away (hey, that sounds familiar). Use your stories to tell them to put the map down and just listen (wait, that sounds familiar too)

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