Last year Lachlan Cannon came back from a CFAR reunion and commented that instead of just having the CFAR skills we need the derivative skills. The skills that say, “I need a technique for this problem” and let you derive a technique, system, strategy, plan, idea for solving the problem on the spot.
By analogy to an old classic,
Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he never go hungry again.
This concept always felt off to me until I met Anna. An american who used to live in Alaska where they have enough fish in a river that any time you go fishing you catch a fish, and a big enough one to eat. In contrast, I had been fishing several times when I was little (in Australia) and never caught things, or only caught fish that were too small to feed one person, let alone many people.
Silly fishing misunderstandings aside I think the old classic speaks to something interesting but misses a point. to that effect I want to add something.
Teach a man to derive the skill of fishing when he needs it. and he will never stop growing.
We need to go more meta than that? I am afraid it’s turtles all the way down.
To help you derive you need to start by noticing when there is a need. There are two parts to noticing:
- What next
- Answer the question, “What’s my first possible clue that I’m about to encounter the problem?” If your problem is “I don’t respond productively to being confused,” then the first sign a crucial moment is coming might be “a fleeting twinge of surprise”. Whatever that feels like in real time from the inside of your mind, that’s your trigger.
- Whenever you notice your trigger, make a precise physical gesture. Snap your fingers, tap your foot, touch your pinky finger with your thumb – whatever feels comfortable. Do it every time you notice that fleeting twinge of surprise.
I guess. I remember or imagine a few specific instances of encountering weak contrary evidence (such as when I thought my friend wasn’t attracted to me, but when I made eye contact with him across the room at a party he smiled widely). On the basis of those simulations, I make a prediction about what it will feel like, in terms of immediate subjective experience, to encounter weak contrary evidence in the future. The prediction is a tentative trigger. For me, this would be “I feel a sort of matching up with one of my beliefs, there’s a bit of dissonance, a tiny bit of fear, and maybe a small impulse to direct my attention away from these sensations and away from thoughts about the observation causing all of this”.
I test my guess. I keep a search going on in the background for anything in the neighborhood of the experience I predicted. Odds are good I’ll miss several instances of weak contrary evidence, but as soon as I realize I’ve encountered one, I go into reflective attention so I’m aware of as many details of my immediate subjective experience as possible. I pay attention to what’s going on in my mind right now, and also what’s still looping in my very short-term memory of a few moments before I noticed. Then I compare those results to my prediction, noting anything I got wrong, and I feed that information into a new prediction for next time. (I might have gotten something wrong that caused the trigger to go off at the wrong time, which probably means I need to narrow my prediction.) The new prediction is the new trigger.
I repeat the test until my trigger seems to be accurate and precise. Now I’ve got a good trigger to match a good action.
Derivations (as above) are a “what next” action.
My derivations come from asking myself that question or other similar questions, then attempting to answer them:
- What should I do next?
- How do I solve this problem?
- Why don’t other people have this problem?
- Can I make this problem go away?
- How do I design a system to make this not matter any more?
(you may notice this is stimulating introspection – this is what it is)
The post that led me to post on derivations is this post on How to present a problem hopefully to be published tomorrow.
This post took ~1 hour to write.
Cross posted to lesswrong: http://lesswrong.com/lw/ou0