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I’m a very slow thinker (2016) (sivers.org)
604 points by gary__ 70 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 224 comments



We slow thinkers are among good company, including Charles Darwin:

"I have no great quickness of apprehension or wit which is so remarkable in some clever men, for instance, Huxley. I am therefore a poor critic: a paper or book, when first read, generally excites my admiration, and it is only after considerable reflection that I perceive the weak points. My power to follow a long and purely abstract train of thought is very limited; and therefore I could never have succeeded with metaphysics or mathematics. My memory is extensive, yet hazy: it suffices to make me cautious by vaguely telling me that I have observed or read something opposed to the conclusion which I am drawing, or on the other hand in favour of it; and after a time I can generally recollect where to search for my authority. So poor in one sense is my memory, that I have never been able to remember for more than a few days a single date or a line of poetry."

https://fs.blog/2016/10/charles-darwins-reflections-mind/


Interesting. I've also considered myself on the slow end of the thinking-speed spectrum, and have the other memory traits too: not so good with precision/particulars (instead I depend on being able to go back to sources as necessary), and I basically can't memorize anything. I don't know even half the lyrics to a single song.

My personal take is that it's largely a matter of intellectual values. I think that if I considered memorization to be important when I was younger, I would have gotten better at it, for instance. Instead my values tend to be around understanding the reason something is one way or another. I remember a friend being very surprised when I gave a satisfactory definition of 'common law' (because I tend not to know 'random' things like that)—but the only reason I remembered it clearly is because I understood the role it served. That tends to be the only thing that makes things stick for me.

I think the slowness may in part be due to that too. There are a lot of things that folks will have remembered whole, but I just know how to reason my way back to the result from a smaller set of more fundamental things I've learned.


I agree. Memorizing facts or figures has never been interesting to me, beyond order of magnitude. Understanding the context within a greater system is the part that my brain wants to retain.


Can you share your definition of common law?


I said it was basically the idea of 'precedents' in law—previous court decisions increase the likelihood the the court will decide the same way in the future. And I pointed out that that probably helps to prevent legal systems from having an 'oscillating' stance on the legality of certain things (that's the 'role' I mentioned earlier, which made it stick for me).

(I think it was pretty close to that—but it was also like 6 years ago.)


I wonder how many of us slow thinkers are of the same calibre as Darwin but never achieve anything because life doesn't afford them the leisure to doggedly pursue their thoughts. In my case I think I only share Darwin's disadvantages but perhaps there are others out there who could have the same impact as he did if only the circumstances were right.


>I wonder how many of us slow thinkers are of the same calibre as Darwin but never achieve anything because life doesn't afford them the leisure to doggedly pursue their thoughts.

Very very few. Aside from the fact that if one's determined, they can do it (life doesn't allow or disallow anything -- no one is required to have a nice car or a fancy house or whatever, lots of people make sacrifices for their work), there are also tons of leisurely rich people that are slow thinkers, that have nonetheless contributed remotely comparable of Darwin...


Life does give you the chance to doggedly pursue your thoughts; you just have to devote yourself to it. I personally live this way, freelancing about 3 months a year and spending the rest of it on whatever interests me.


I think you're underselling your talent if you think the capability to live off 3 months / year of work is generally available to people. Most people just aren't good enough at anything to work that little and get by, no matter how hard they try.


I’m not underselling my talent - that’s how i can afford it. But I also know that it isn’t that special, so I basically think other people are underselling themselves, or unwilling to take the risk.

After 10 years of working as an average programmer for average companies, lots of big clients or governments will consider you for "temporary" roles, which pay very well but give no security. Maybe it takes 100 applications and interacting with recruiters but the opportunity is there.


That's kind of what the 'dogged pursuit' is supposed to answer. Sheer persistence counts for more than talent, always has. Not being convenient doesn't make the option unavailable.


I strongly disagree with this thinking and think at worst, it could be harmful.

You wouldn't want your heart,brain,etc operation to be in the hands of someone who isn't that talented but keeps on trying.


I strongly disagree with this based on personal experience. I regularly met people I was smarter than in medical school who _consistently_ out performed me. And the reason was simple: They were _extremely_ diligent, hard-working, motivated, and professional. Among other valuable lessons I learned that people vastly overestimate the role of intelligence in just about every aspect of life. It can give you sorts of advantages in life, but the majority of success is still chalked up to grit, persistence, motivation -- and the knowledge that results from it.


> You wouldn't want your heart,brain,etc operation to be in the hands of someone who isn't that talented but keeps on trying.

I dunno... I can't imagine any of the surgeons or doctors I've seen have been top of their class, at the #1 school in the country. Probably not even top 10. I've probably seen a lot of just average doctors, who probably did an average job at school, and now are pretty average as far as pure talent goes. But I'm still alive, so I guess it's not that bad.


>You wouldn't want your heart,brain,etc operation to be in the hands of someone who isn't that talented but keeps on trying.

If they tried enough that they got their degree and are known for having a good track record, then I absolutely do.

I'd also take them over a merely "talented" doctor any time.


Nobody ever said you should always choose persistence, just that in the absence of a better plan, persistence will work.


I still don't understand the argument, even less so with your explanation. Perhaps I'm missing something big.


I was arguing from the perspective of somebody trying to get something they want, the individual perspective, but it seems like you are considering the social utility one. While I can facially agree that there can be some arenas in which persistence can cause concern, I don't understand where your strong disagreement comes from.

And personally, I want my heart operated on by the guy that's done hundreds of heart operations, preferably my exact procedure. I want Dr. House to diagnose me, and Todd from Scrubs to actually do the operation. Dr. House's brilliant diagnosis doesn't actually affect my body, the potential problems that genius presents only guide what more sane, stable, dispassionate professional hands actually do to me. Stable dispassion is the realm of persistence.


> the individual perspective

I see your side more clearly now. You are correct that I was thinking more along the social unity side. Not sure I'd say I agree completely with you, but I see where I was mistaken before.

On the individual note, is it that persistence wins, or that the win is felt with the inevitable mental compromise taken in order to feel one has succeeded? I do see that it's better to try and fail than never try at all, just feel it's 'elitist' to think that persistence wins, as only the wealthy can really persevere. In my mind anyway.


When you look at how wealth is built, perseverance approaches (hard work) usually win out over attempts to avoid hustling. The idea is to build a vehicle, like a company, that can then continue to generate income without direct application of effort. This vehicle can only be built through hard and smart work. The startup community also likes to focus their efforts on ideas that can scale to more broadly socially-useful ideas.

What wealth buys you is the ability to employ someone else to do the grunt work. But to get there the grunt work needs to get done.


Most wealthy people worked their asses off to get there. Persistence wins again.

It's sad, but this is a fact that so many people discount. It's much easier to think in terms of "the rich asshole" who got all his money from Daddy and didn't have to lift a finger.


How to get freelance clients?


Very probable I think. Just keep in mind, the same was true back in his day I think. Most people were tied up in the drudgery of getting food on the table, quite literally.


I've always worried that it's worse than that.

Even if there's plenty of deep thinkers (which is what slow thinking is in my opinion) - there should always be some people with good fortune and circumstances to push at the peripheral. I honestly do not see that today in Silicon Valley - I see a lot of useless bullshit and superficial replacements, there's only a handful of people out there keeping it together.

However... poverty of Time is not likely to be the main constraint unless you live in the Middle Ages. Many intellectuals have taken jobs which enable them to kill two birds, merely being physically active and forced to be active by a job that requires it is a genuine cognitive advantage - not to mention the infinite distractions that can smear your available leisure time such that you produce nothing of value. Most aristocrats did not belong to the Royal Society.

No - the real problem is that we're too synchronized. We think alike - we have a 'frame problem' of our own.

Being here on HN or on the Internet in general is not an advantage. It at first appears to be valuable in the sense that you understand what exists and who is doing what, the context. That is I suspect the opposite of what we need for true innovation.

For true innovation you need to connect up with 'the network' once or twice a year - and the rest of the time fuck off and do something good (ideally with a small close knit group).

“[..]Although personally, I think cyberspace means the end of our species." Yes? Why is that?" Because it means the end of innovation," Malcolm said. "This idea that the whole world is wired together is mass death. Every biologist knows that small groups in isolation evolve fastest. You put a thousand birds on an ocean island and they'll evolve very fast. You put ten thousand on a big continent, and their evolution slows down. Now, for our own species, evolution occurs mostly through our behaviour. We innovate new behaviour to adapt. And everybody on earth knows that innovation only occurs in small groups. Put three people on a committee and they may get something done. Ten people, and it gets harder. Thirty people, and nothing happens. Thirty million, it becomes impossible. That's the effect of mass media - it keeps anything from happening. Mass media swamps diversity. It makes every place the same. Bangkok or Tokyo or London: there's a McDonald's on one corner, a Benetton on another, a Gap across the street. Regional differences vanish. All differences vanish. In a mass-media world, there's less of everything except the top ten books, records, movies, ideas. People worry about losing species diversity in the rain forest. But what about intellectual diversity - our most necessary resource? That's disappearing faster than trees. But we haven't figured that out, so now we're planning to put five billion people together in cyberspace. And it'll freeze the entire species. Everything will stop dead in its tracks. Everyone will think the same thing at the same time. Global uniformity. [..]”

― Michael Crichton, The Lost World

Silicon Valley is suffering by being too middle class - the hubris is coming out of the groupthink. I think it takes a peculiar mixture of working class and middle class thinking to do something really good. I don't think that's a new insight, it's in the plot of the 1927 Metropolis but sometimes a cliché is really true. The people I've met at HackerSpaces, the people who impressed me were always adept at dealing with a lot of information - a middle class trait, but had a deep blue streak in their character that is completely absent from the people I went to University with. Matthias Wandel and Bill Gray are examples I think.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8wZ1v4PIsYI

http://www.velkess.com/


I’ve wondered recently if speed and intelligence have anything to do with each other at all. It does in IQ tests but Darwin by his account would have been average at best.

Further, the argument goes that there exists a g factor, and performance in a test that is sufficiently complex will be predictive of performance at anything else sufficiently complex ... Yet if we allow time to vary this seems to be so obviously false...


I've often thought about this - I suffered at school because the subject matter quickly seemed to arrive at one or more foundational concepts to not be explored further, whereas my brain would constantly ask, 'but why?'. The relentless pace didn't suit me at all. Nevertheless I learnt to override this in time and now have a BSc and MSc.


That’s interesting, I shared the “but why” until mid way through a BSc in Physics. The foundational concepts of “this is how {thermo|mechanics|quantum} works” was exciting, but the remainder of each semester was “now let’s work through all the edge cases” and I had difficulty keeping up.


I had that problem at school too. It felt like a denial of service attack.


Did you begin a parallel learning project for actually understanding the material?


When I was at school you mean?


Same here! Glad other people felt this way.


I kind of think that an intelligence tests should moreso try to evaluate how “Turing complete” you are , rather than how quick the processor is at a narrow range ...

Kind of reminds me of the programming language shootout dilemma . X is better than Y because it does Fibonacci sequences quicker ... mostly has no real world utility


Properly administered IQ tests with real psycometric rigor evaluate both, insofar as either can be empirically measured.


Except it doesn’t ...

Compare Rationality Quotient to Intelligence Quotient. You’d think they relate but they don’t ...

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/18/opinion/sunday/the-differ...

This is without considering give-a-f??k quotient, the most important of all, and that by which every test is confounded.


Yes, they actually do. IQ tests evaluate not just mental processing speed but also a number of orthogonal cognitive faculties. You cited an opinion article from the New York Times regarding the divergence between rationality and intelligence. I'm not talking about rationality, and in fact I would not immediately believe rationality and intelligence can be adequately tested using the same examination. One relates to decision making processes and the other relates to learning and aptitude processes. There is some overlap, but they're categorically different things.

I could direct you to a survey of studies that would more accurately describe the breadth of IQ assessments [1], but I think using my own IQ examination as an example might be more instructive. I've taken a formally administered IQ assessment under a qualified clinician. This assessment included the usual tests, such as the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale and Wechsler Memory Scale (among others).

The Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale includes composite domains for "Full Scale IQ", "Verbal Comprehension", "Perceptual Reasoning", "Working Memory" and "Processing Speed." Note that mental processing speed is merely one of the measured dimensions of intelligence here. Each of these is given its own percentile score.

Within the Verbal Comprehension Scale domain there are subtests for "Similarities", "Vocabulary" and "Information." Under Percentual Reasoning there are subtests for "Block Design", "Matrix Reasoning" and "Visual Puzzles." Working Memory includes tests for "Digit Span" and "Arithmetic", and finally Processing Speed includes "Symbol Search" and "Coding."

During the verbal comprehension battery, you'd be asked questions such as, "How are an apartment and a house alike", or "What is the definition of this word?" You'll also be assessed on your knowledge of various culturally relevant facts.

Perceptual reasoning will test spatial orientation, integration performance and fine motor skills. This might include arranging blocks of various colors and shapes into different patterns and being asked to find the missing portion in a complex visual pattern.

The working memory examination will test for how much you can focus on simultaneously, and explicitly does not test for your processing speed. You'll be asked about sequences of numbers and tested for both long and short term recollection, as well as how accurately you can mentally perform operations on sequences while keeping them in your mind. That's the digit span test; the arithmetic tests are self-explanatory.

The only portion of the examination which explicitly tests for processing speed are the ones focusing on symbol search and coding. Therein you're asked to quickly scan a group of symbols and find a match of one or two targets, or to copy numbers lexicographically coded to symbols as quickly as possible.

I am interested in what measure of analogous "Turing Completeness" in human intelligence should thus be measured that is not already reflected in the examination I've just outlined. If you'd like to define that as rationality, then that's fine. But as I said before, I don't believe rationality should be coupled with intelligence. And moreover, I don't think "Turing Completeness" is a good analogy for rationality, since computers are (almost definitionally) neither rational nor irrational, regardless of their computational capabilities.

______________________________

1. http://www.gwern.net/Iodine


Thanks for the thought through response. Here's what I think in turn:

1. The g-factor premise is that a sufficiently complex test reveals an "underlying" intelligence factor and performance in it will be predictive of performance in other complex tests (whether that's Sudoku or life in general).

2. Mensa in the UK use the Cattell Culture Fair II test which strongly correlates with WAIS without the fanfare (i.e. it's just non-verbal puzzles). Triumph for g-factor, thus I discount your "battery of tests are better or somehow more revealing of the brains potential" argument.

3. One would expect that intelligence and rationality would correlate since it'll directly impact your ability to solve complex situations. It turns out that it doesn't, and I think a notion of arational or irrational intelligence is without sense.

4. However IQ does seem to correlate with the ability to "think quicker" and "cut out the noise". E.g. https://eu.usatoday.com/story/tech/2013/05/23/iq-vision-brai... . If you follow the thread, you'll find that it also comes with disadvantages (e.g. being less able to perceive slow change).

5. I'm using "Turing complete" as a dumb analogy to computing. Something that tests the range of things that you can solve, at any speed. To continue the analogy, if I'm a slow Turing machine but you're a lightening fast pushdown automata, fast as you might be within your domain, there's still a world of things that you can't solve that I can.

6. Anecdotally, I've observed that amongst my guys, being a bad-ass mathematician and being able to actually model or understand the world are separate skills. A narrow example, but an example nontheless, in my opinion Physics > Mathematics in terms of expressing the potential of a rational thinker precisely because it requires more "Turing machine".... to wit, consider all the maths that just never would have happened without the bad-ass physicists (again IMO exactly for the same reason stated).


My undergrad was in mathematics. I routinely failed midterms, but would ace the final exams.

I generally felt that, by the end of the term, I understood the material and simply had more time during the final exam than the midterms.


When I had my IQ test results it seemed like standard practise where I was to give two numbers: one total, and one when not counting the tests relying on speed. Not too surprisingly to anyone who knows me, the difference between the two numbers was for me unusually high.

On the other hand, contrary to the Darwin quote, I scored very high on abstraction capabilities -- although before getting my results, I had assumed I was doing very bad at that.

Conclusion: you probably want to measure all subtests individually to make sense of your strengths and weaknesses.


This is indeed known in the psychological practice in general (it's called "processing speed"), but most lay people aren't aware of it. Ask your friends if they ever got a professional IQ score and if they got the the different scores you describe. You tend to see it with people whose parents notice a high intelligence with learning difficulty and fight for thorough diagnostic testing and educational services.

Common tests don't explicitly measure it, but the test design either implicitly demands processing speed (timed tests, or rapidly spoken prompts/questions) or avoid it.


I think most people with high iq are awful to work with since they obviously lose interest trying to explain things to less intelligent people. This makes people feel bad around them, and they avoid asking them things.

I have seen nice people with high iq but I think it's more common that they are not great around people.


How could you tell the IQ of people you were working with? I'm struggling to see how you could arrive at this conclusion unless you've 1) worked with an inordinate number of both high IQ individuals, who 2) explicitly mentioned their IQ scores to you.

Personal hypotheses such as this one spread like wildfire online because they're easy to state, play to a narrative and are extremely difficult to disprove. They're stated confidently while skipping over so many little gaps - for example, I don't see anything obvious about how high IQ individuals would stop trying to explain things to low IQ individuals. It makes sense as a heuristic for explaining the behavior of one particular individual who is perhaps a misanthrope or has little patience. But it's very poorly generalizable.


How high an IQ are you talking here? I have a moderately high IQ (~130) and being able to explain complex topics to family and friends in a simple enough way that they understand it is one of the things I enjoy most, probably because having a basic summary then the meaty material is how I best learn complex topics.

I don't think humility, empathy, and high IQ are mutually exclusive, though given some of my experiences with smart people I can see why you might think that way.


I am not sure about that - those people I know who are waaay cleverer than me have bad days of course, but mostly if you ask them to explain the subject they love, they will talk (down) for days without getting bored.

Perhaps it's true for us all, we love to talk about what we do.


I also think some people with high iq learn to fake a lower iq and thus, go below the radar.


There are some times I wish I had gone with this option... would have made a lot of life so much easier than the "but you're so smart, how come you're having trouble with ______?"

Wow that sounds whiny but true.


That's why I don't like meetings where you're supposed to come up with a solution on the spot and then break it down into tasks immediately.

That only works if you have lots of closely related experience so that the solution is trivial to you anyway, or if you're a genius. Most of the time you end up with shitty "knee-jerk" software that focuses on technical details way too much instead of solving the problem.

I'll think about it, maybe do some experiments / proof-of-concept, then we can talk about it again, then I'll think about your input, and then we can discuss the tasks and sub-tasks once things are starting to make sense.


"Creativity is not a team sport", an observation from Prof Vincent Walsh on neuroscience of creativity:

[There's] a very long and well-established literature in psychology that getting groups of people together is no way to come up with ideas. Creativity is not a team sport. What you're looking for is somebody's individual, intellectual trunk to make new connections and come up with something new.

Let's imagine billions of neurons in my head communicating with stuff they've been talking about all their lives together: there's a high probability that occasionally they'll come up with something new. Let's now think of the line of communication that you and I have got between each other, which is impoverished, because we have to try and translate complex ideas into language, and how many times do you find you've got a good idea, it's almost in symbolic thought inside your head, and you really can't articulate it to someone. And when you do, they get the wrong idea, because really, language can't encapsulate it until it's fully formed. There's no good evidence that I know of that these brainstorming sessions will come up with a solution or a new idea.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QfMvqkrQkYQ


This I get - i often have an idea of how some code should look or work, but trying to explain it or justify it in a JIRA ticket is flat out impossible - it's easier just to write it and go there !


Creativity is absolutely a team sport. It's just not a timed sport.


I get where you're coming from. Yes, sharing and mixing of ideas between people is important. But so is solitary, quiet, away, alone time.

The difference in rates and understanding of our internal and external informational exchanges is particularly crucial, as noted in the passage quoted above. It's far too easy for bad or extraneous inputs to derail the creative process.


I came here to say something similar. My creativity will be fairly good when I'm engaged with others. OTOH, if I need to be more than just creative, i.e. thoughtful, I need to be offline.


Well, file this one along with open offices and scrum with "ideas that managers wish would work so insist do work" so we're going to end up living with forever.


I kind of agree. At least, that's generally the way I prefer to do it. But I find I'm most creative when I'm working with other people, as long as I like working with them. They just always have ideas, and things to add to my own ideas, that I could never reach on my own.

John Cleese has a great video on this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pb5oIIPO62g


Cleese's talks on this are good, personal faves, and have useful advice. But they're also oriented to a specific activity: developing comedic scripts. I'd be somewhat cautious in overgeneralising.

Again, not that there aren't useful concepts, and his anti-creativity measures strike me as valid.


I had this exact problem this weekend, and I'm kinda salty. For one, I threw an engineering event, at 8pm to casually design a solution to a problem.

By 11PM, there was a leading idea, and I took time to think about everything. I questioned everything. Everyone was pestering me, the leader of this event, to acknowledge this was a fantastic solution.

I asked stupid questions, I asked great questions, I took time to think, I measured things, and I got crap for it. Someone even said I drank too much, which had nothing to do with my skepticism.

My conclusion-

>Group think took over badly

>others werent thinking, they gave answers like- 'You Just....' without thinking about how difficult each of the tasks. Or 'Thats not a big deal'.

>Non engineers will not be invited in the future, the gf of an engineer (who is a psychologist) was very persuasive on her idea.

I couldnt believe how strong group think was, it was unanimous. The next morning we woke up and realized the idea wasnt great.

I'll take being a slow thinker.


Being a smartass is a real problem. Jeff Bezos style meetings try to solve this issue.

> "If we don't, the executives, like high school kids, will try to bluff their way through a meeting,"


Jeff Bezos meetings are extremely high processing contests of wit. Everyone reads a long document at the same time at the start of the meeting and then immediately starts debating and asking pointed questions. Only the presenter has time to prepare in advance.

Bezos meetings solve the problem of people not reading the material at all, not the problem of not thinking about the problem.


It's not a long document. Its just six pages in 30 minutes. There can be written counterproposal sometimes.

The point of the meeting is not to create new ideas or solve problems. Either the presenter has the solutions or ideas written down or not. Every meeting has a decision maker. The purpose of the meeting is there to make a decision at the end. If there are still open questions, then the decision-maker assigns one or more people to research, and the needed follow-up. At the end of the next meeting, the decision is made.


I have a difficult time with this in structured work environments sometimes. I usually problem-solve with aimless walking and a series of messy throwaway prototypes until I land on something I think is a decent candidate. Having a 2-day task where you have to "develop solution for X" where you may not have worked on that before seems rather unproductive.


Had a job interview recently where the company wanted me to redesign their complex system (presumably to work acceptably) on the spot.

First thought was "I'll have the answer in six months," when the problems are really understood. No offer on that one, haha.


Alexander Grothendieck, one of the most influential mathematicians of the 20th century, on cognitive "facility" and giftedness:

   Since then I’ve had the chance in the world of mathematics that bid me welcome,
   to meet quite a number of people, both among my “elders” and among young people
   in my general age group who were more brilliant, much more ‘gifted’ than I was.
   I admired the facility with which they picked up, as if at play, new ideas,
   juggling them as if familiar with them from the cradle–while for myself I felt
   clumsy, even oafish, wandering painfully up an arduous track, like a dumb ox
   faced with an amorphous mountain of things I had to learn (so I was assured)
   things I felt incapable of understanding the essentials or following through to
   the end. Indeed, there was little about me that identified the kind of bright
   student who wins at prestigious competitions or assimilates almost by sleight
   of hand, the most forbidding subjects.

   In fact, most of these comrades who I gauged to be more brilliant than I have
   gone on to become distinguished mathematicians. Still from the perspective or
   thirty or thirty five years, I can state that their imprint upon the
   mathematics of our time has not been very profound. They’ve done all things,
   often beautiful things in a context that was already set out before them, which
   they had no inclination to disturb. Without being aware of it, they’ve remained
   prisoners of those invisible and despotic circles which delimit the universe of
   a certain milieu in a given era. To have broken these bounds they would have to
   rediscover in themselves that capability which was their birthright, as it was
   mine: The capacity to be alone.
(from Récoltes et Semailles)


For mobile users:

Since then I’ve had the chance in the world of mathematics that bid me welcome, to meet quite a number of people, both among my “elders” and among young people in my general age group who were more brilliant, much more ‘gifted’ than I was. I admired the facility with which they picked up, as if at play, new ideas, juggling them as if familiar with them from the cradle–while for myself I felt clumsy, even oafish, wandering painfully up an arduous track, like a dumb ox faced with an amorphous mountain of things I had to learn (so I was assured) things I felt incapable of understanding the essentials or following through to the end. Indeed, there was little about me that identified the kind of bright student who wins at prestigious competitions or assimilates almost by sleight of hand, the most forbidding subjects.

In fact, most of these comrades who I gauged to be more brilliant than I have gone on to become distinguished mathematicians. Still from the perspective or thirty or thirty five years, I can state that their imprint upon the mathematics of our time has not been very profound. They’ve done all things, often beautiful things in a context that was already set out before them, which they had no inclination to disturb. Without being aware of it, they’ve remained prisoners of those invisible and despotic circles which delimit the universe of a certain milieu in a given era. To have broken these bounds they would have to rediscover in themselves that capability which was their birthright, as it was mine: The capacity to be alone.


I always wonder when I hear this sort of thing if the person saying it is just super hard on themselves


They are. Or at least, this guy is. Quote from Dieudonne, his doctoral advisor, describing how Grothendieck got his PhD:

>A general theory of duality for locally convex spaces had to be worked out: Schwartz and I had started its study for Fréchet spaces and their direct limits, but we had met a series of problems we could not solve. We therefore proposed them to Grothendieck, and the result turned out to exceed our most sanguine expectations. In less than a year, he had solved all our problems by very ingenious new constructions; then, with the techniques he had developed, he started to work on many other questions in functional analysis.


It's interesting to compare this to the idea of the brain having two systems of cognition: a "System 1" process that is automatic and quick to respond, relying on memorized behaviors; and a "System 2" process that is more methodical, logical, and deliberate, but far slower to react.

The author's point being that we should try harder to use our System 2 thought process at the expense of quick turnaround from the System 1 process. I think this is probably a good idea but it can be difficult in practice since it takes more effort to intentionally engage system 2.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dual_process_theory#Systems

https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/YshRbqZHYFoEMqFAu/why-truth-...


This is the premise of the book "Thinking, Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman. Among other things, he explains System 1 in terms of popular cognitive biases. It's a good read.


I relate to the author of the original article in that I'm a slow thinker. I really envy people who can vocalize intelligent, confident decisions or opinions on the spot. I don't like feeling stupid because I can't articulate moderately complex thoughts on the spot. It feels like I don't think in words anymore, but rather in something like abstract math (not like a savant, mind you), and translating back to words accurately is laborious and time consuming. I like the pace of commenting on an Internet forum like this one, where I can be thoughtful and take my time and rewrite a bit before sharing.


I am a fast thinker.

It's good for situations where the bottleneck is sheer processing speed---math problems on standardized tests, for instance---but many problems in the real world have bottlenecks of perspective, or information. I'd have been a good medical student, but probably a terrible doctor.

I've hammered a lot of screws in my time.


Getting sharper takes practice. I like to unwind on forums too but it's not pushing you to think faster. Also, getting your thoughts, actions, and words all in alignment will help, as there will be less hesitation on each front.


I think a key aspect to the situation though is that you won't get faster by trying to get faster. Of all places, I learned this while working in a grocery store, but have since verified the phenomenon in other domains (for example, reading; and it also just makes psychological sense).

I had been stocking groceries for about a month when I had an interesting conversation with two senior employees (20 or 30 years a piece at the job). One of them was telling me that I was doing well but that I needed to start going more quickly. The other saw the mistake in this advice and said something along the lines of, "Well, hold on, though: you know speed comes naturally with practice. He'll get faster once he knows the work better." The other senior employee thought about it for a second, and then agreed in full and admitted their mistake. As a consequence, I focused on learning my work well instead of trying to be fast—and I became one of the fastest stockers in the store within a year.

I don't think you can will speed to happen, or train it specially: it's a consequence of already having solved the problems at hand before, already knowing the solutions and not needing to figure things out in the moment.

So you aren't going to 'get sharper'; you'll just learn particular domains better or not, and the ones you know better you'll be perceived as sharper in.


Well, I've gotten a lot sharper over the past year. And comparing myself to five years ago, the difference is night and day.

Hmm, I see I got downvoted. Whatever.


How did you get sharper?


This is very much the case when learning to play string instruments.

When you start out, you are told to practice your scales by making sure the notes are clean and even in volume.

Doing it fast comes later.


> I relate to the author of the original article in that I'm a slow thinker.

I was going to say something like this until I saw everyone else saying the same thing. This leads to my theory, and some facts.

The geek population has a high percentage of mild autistics. I firmly believe my lack of social skills, and slow thinking, is related to a mild amount of autism. I can't play any games involving fast thinking but I have reason to believe I'm a genius (just saying).

I heard an interview on NPR with Temple Grandin, an autistic author (I highly suggest reading her stuff). One thing she said was that a high percentage of functional autistics were programmers (I know this doesn't mean the converse is true).

She gave a quick single-question test for people to roughly judge autism. I answered on the autistic side. I was at a company lunch with about 5 programmers and 5 marketing people. I asked everyone the question and all the programmers gave the autistic answer and all the marketing people gave the opposite (I know it was probably a bit of coincidence and only one data point).

The test is "Think of a church steeple". I will give the meaning of the answer in a day or so. You need to think without knowing what any answer means.

EDIT: I figured out a way to give the answer without prejudicing your thinking. Don't read the answer below until you have thought of a steeple. The answer is written in reverse.

.citsitua ton ylbaborp era uoy snaem ti elpeets gnitsixe lautca na fo thguoht uoy fi


I don't mean to sound demeaning when I say this, but I think it's better to be blunt for topics like this one. The majority of your comment seems like baseless speculation to me. There is a vast amount of pseudoscience and armchair ideation about autism on the internet. This ranges from outright hostility towards those who have it, to minimization of its very real impacts on quality of life.

I spent about ten minutes searching with the keywords "high functioning autism", "autism employment", "autism programmers", etc and could not dig up any studies substantiating the claims you've mentioned. This is not to say you're lying - I believe you actually did pick them up from somewhere. But I'm deeply skeptical of their clinical veracity and empirical provenance. Given how polarizing autism can be and how difficult it can be to research, I consider it harmful to be confidently describing "theories" like yours without much real support for the claims involved.

In particular, I would strongly advise anyone reading this to resist the temptation to self-diagnose or self-identify (one way or the other!) based on a strange question designed to see if you actually think of a church steeple. If you believe you may be autistic, personally see a professional and try not to read into the popsci promulgated by radio interviews.


Did you read any of her writing? She is far from popsci.

Also in defense, I was careful to word everything as suspect, not fact.


I cheated and looked up some of the facets of that question. As someone that has aphantasia, I'm curious where you are taking that question.

I confess my original answer was to remember that old kids song where you make a steeple with your hands and then flip them to see the people. I then thought that I don't actually know what distinguishes a steeple from a plain roof.


oh hey you suffer from the whole aphantasia thing too? i think that really made the process of answering what a church steeple is a bit more difficult; i was unable to actually construct the perception of a church from the past, though that isn't just due to the aphantasia but also the rarity with which I even am around a church. but that being said when thinking about the church steeple, my mind more represented it as an attribute of the architecture of the church, one that contextually refers to the ceiling as it were. and then after comprehending that my mind constructed the experience of processing some abstract church holistically and relating the steeple as a pattern of data within the data set of the church as a whole


I hesitate to say suffer. Pretty sure I have it, though. Similarly, I have alopecia. Hasn't progressed to universalist, but I do have spots all over my body. Still wouldn't call it suffering. Oddly, the aphantasia probably helps. I don't have a personal image.

Still, that is straying. I'm curious what the original aim was.


perhaps suffer wasn't the right term in terms of subjective expression becsuse i wouldn't say I distinctly suffer per se, i was just more using the term "suffer" in the sense of "suffering a condition" implying having to live through it, or rather being subjected to it. as far as actual negative side effects and the sensation of suffering in the context of struggling though, I wouldn't say that applies so much except when it comes to visual art. I've never been a very visual person thanks to the aphantasia thing and I've always kind of wanted to be because I practice several other forms of art and creative expression, but it's like, with the analogy of a sculptor, I don't see the sculpture inside the block of marble; i don't manifest these complex visual and spatial ideas about a thing before I try to go into creating it, I more just rely on first principles and the synthesis thereof, but that being said there is a distinctly abstract quality to my visual art that isn't exactly intentional; my grasp of perspective is kinda bad as well. I'm sure I could overcome these limitations if i put my mind to it but I just haven't figured it out quite yet. im thinking i need to approach things more mathematically though

as far as what the aim was , I'm not sure exactly. just nice to know people who experience the same thing as me and then musing on it and rambling like i always do


Ah, I should have made clear the admonishment about straying was intended to be self directed. Fun side topic, but I didn't want to miss on the original question. I see the OP updated with their answer backwards. Not sure what the answer says for the way we interpreted it. As you, I am just not around that many churches. So, I expect that has some influence on the answer.

Per the word choice in suffering, I know it is the common word to use for things like this. I'm sure I use it some myself, I just try and avoid it when I can. I have no doubt this affects my methods of thinking. But, having never known the other ones, really, I can't say much else about it.

It is funny how I always thought of myself as just not visual. Never really considered it was because I don't see as much with my eyes closed, per se.

The really mind blowing experience for me, is how I can find things I did in the past and have almost zero memory of the visual aspect of it. I knew I spent time on something, but I don't remember how it looked as a finished thing.


Thanks for posting, I didn't realize aphantasia was a thing until now.


Always glad to introduce people to the idea. https://www.bbc.com/news/health-34039054 is a good article on it. https://www.facebook.com/notes/blake-ross/aphantasia-how-it-... is actually one of the first posts I had seen on it. I've known I don't have a visual capability compared to most people for a while, I didn't realize til recently just how pronounced the difference is.


I couldn't remember what steeple means because English is not my first tongue so I googled it. I did see a picture instantly, but I didn't want to imagine this concrete picture so I had my own church in mind.

Thing with churches is I never really pay attention to them so I'm also pretty sure I would've thought of my own abstract version of it. I also have a lot of trouble navigating according to landmarks, any buildings or details. I can't remember directions or the path I came from when going again or reversing. I eventually do remember, but compared to people I know it's a lot worse. Everyone else seems to know where church with this and that name is, but I do not.


That's interesting. I tested on the autistic side with this question, which I'm inclined to agree with. Again only one anecdote though. I wonder how accurate this question actually is. I'd love to test it against my wife, but her English is not perfect, so I'm not sure whether or not she knows what that noun is. I wonder if you could replace that noun with any other generic noun that is more recognizable to non-native English speakers without affecting the identification mechanism, however it may work. If I have to define the noun for her, I wonder if it would affect the result.


And use your System 2 process to improve the responses your System 1 produces.


I think this is the part people forget too often about the "two system" theory written about in "Thinking Fast and Slow".

You can improve your System 1 responses, and there's a decent amount of the book that talks about all the ways System 2 post-hoc justifies the System 1 response, so it's not like System 2 is always going to be better.

Having a good System 1 response is a much clearer way to arrive at a solid decision than only hoping your System 2 is going to catch all of your biases.

Not trying to train your System 1 is, in my opinion, lazy. There are no "fast" or "slow" thinkers (we're all both), just people who have trained their System 1 and people who don't take the time (people with disorders notwithstanding).


How do you train System 1?


Mindfulness meditation is one way.


A couple of motivational / self-help people I have read before come from pretty much exactly this formula.

I'd like to say I listened to them and applied their ideas systematically, but then the failure to do so is one of the System 1 biases that they all mention... sigh.


I'm the same way! I have to train myself not to think when people give a casual "hey, how are you?".

The book "Quiet: The Power of Introverts" has an interesting message about how introverts struggle to fit into an image of society where one must be a quick-witted extrovert in order to be successful and powerful. I think it's the same for fast vs slow thinkers. It's important to know your a slow thinker, and accept it as a strength.


You would be surprised how often people don't even notice if you respond to "hey, how are you", with "hi".

But, really, the script you're meant to follow goes like this:

    Hey how are you?
    Hey, good, how about you?
    Pretty good
Then, if the conversation is meant to continue, which it most often is not, one of you says "So ... what's up in your life?" or "So ... how's that thing you're working on going?" or some other more specific question.

Edit: let’s also not forget that “howdy” is a shortened version of “how do you do”


It's just a standard greeting. Personally, I find it weird if people actually tell me how they're going when I ask them.

It's even more peculiar/banal in French, where the conversation goes:

    Salut, ça va?
    Ça va, et toi?
    Ça va.
"Ça va" translates to "it is". So in essence, it's a completely meaningless exchange.


"Ça va." translates "It's going well", not "it is". Similarly, "Ça va?" translates to "Is it going well?".

It's as meaningless an exchange as most greetings (the only meaning being to actually acknowledge and greet the person), but it does mean something literally, and the exchange is technically more complete than when answering "How are you?" with "Hi".

That being said, you'll see someone answering "Salut, ça va?" with "Salut!" quite frequently as well. I would perhaps consider it slightly more of a misstep than in English, but only marginally so.


The literal translation of “Ça va” is neither “it is” nor “it goes well”, right? The literal translation is “it goes”. “It goes well” would be “ça va bien”, which is also used for both question and answer parts of a slightly longer standard greeting.

This isn’t a big distinction because I agree with both of you about the relative meaninglessness of the content of such a greeting in either language.


As a question it does literally translate to “How’s it going?” and then as a response it’s like “It’s going”, but translating common idioms like this completely literally word-by-word doesn’t really make sense. It’s sort of interesting to think about for the same reason that all idioms are interesting, but it’s not very helpful when it comes to translation.


Am I the only one that answers, "how's it going?" With "it goes."?

Because I definitely do that. I'd expect that to be a common idiom in any language. Somewhat surprised to read this exchange seeming to suggest otherwise.


But the above commenter is saying it doesn't translate 'literally' to that, but rather, that is the equivalent meaning.

The 'literal translation' would be translating word-by-word, which by definition isn't going to work for idioms:

> idiom > > A group of words established by usage > as having a meaning not deducible from > those of the individual words

Oxford Dictionary


I don't disagree with you, and in fact I believe the point of the GP to be exactly this -- these idioms' literal interpretations are a bit nonsensical. I was merely trying to point out that I think you two agree.


Well apparently my French is a bit rusty.

"Ça va" translates literally to "it goes".

So the above exchange would literally translate to:

    Hello, it goes?
    It goes, and you?
    It goes.
I guess it's no more banal than answering "how's it going" with "it's going", which isn't that uncommon for people to say. Answering "how's it going" with "not bad, yourself?" isn't really any better either.


Is read that as: "keeping on?" "Keeping on, and you?"


Seems like you could translate the spirit of that into English pretty reasonably.

"Hey, doing well?" "Doing well, and you?" "Doing well."


It's not meaningless, it's just not informational. It does not convey new information, it carries social bonding instead. If you want to know more about it, read Eric Berne's books, e.g. Games People Play.


I worked/lived in France for some time earlier in my career, you can just use ca va. No real need for salut or the et toi. I had this conversation many mornings in the office. Ca is closer to "it goes" than "it is" in this context. Va being the same as in Spanish.

Ca va?

Ca va ca va. Ca va?

Ca va.


Later, the same day, the exchanges goes:

- Re.

- Re.

Some people hate "Re".


Absolutely not. In case it's someone you don't know a colleague, you open a communication channel allowing them to switch to a different topic and indicating you are not currently busy or annoyed (in which case you would have added it to the "ca va" - "ca va, mais un peu presse/occupe en ce moment").

If it's someone you know well or who knows you, in the timings of responses and the expression of the face you are able to pick up how they're feeling, if something is going on in their lives or is bothering them.

It's much less scripted than the American "hi, how are you", which can only have one answer and always need to have the same expression.


"It is" is "C'est"


   ack?

   ack!
handshake complete


I wonder if it's an Australian thing for the response to "how ya goin'?" to be "how ya goin'?".


We also have this in certain corners of the U.S.:

A: "'sup [man]?" B: "'sup?"

(It's also stated only has like a half-question or less—the usual question lilt is deemphasized.)


I've always considered the standard reply to be "yeah nah, not too bad, yourself?". I think that it's possibly more Kiwi than Australian though.


usually we'd do a yeah nah, as an optimized "I hear what you are saying, but that's not true... < inform the person of the truth >"

as in "You're looking well", "yeah, nah, been a bit crook lately"


I love how often phrases start with "yeah..."


As well, the South African “howzit”, which from my observation isn’t even actually a question but just invites the other person to say what they wanted to say.


In the south of England we have "alright?". The only valid answer is "alright?.


"Alright" I think is used all over England, maybe even the UK, it's not specific to the south :-)


Yeah I find that annoying. It means nothing and is just a waste of everyone's time, much like:

"How are you?" "Not bad, yourself?" "Good, so I have this problem..."

"Hey, how was your weekend?" "Not bad actually, you?" "Yeah not bad"

I mean, you clearly have no interest in other person's life, so why have stupid, dull, pointless greetings like that?


In Germany, people say "Na?" or "Na du?" to which the other person usually responds the same.

It's not easy to translate but I think it's quite similar to the greetings mentioned above. Literally it's something like: Well? You? (and not 'well' in the sense of goodness, but rather questioning)

It's an interesting greeting and as a foreigner seemed very odd at first.


Which part/s of Germany did you hear that in?


Several areas, but mostly Northern Germany. It's also quite common in movies/TVs, so I think it's quite widespread.


> You would be surprised how often people don't even notice if you respond to "hey, how are you", with "hi".

It's not that they don't notice, it's that "How are you" can be read as either a question or a greeting in modern English.

It's even more pronounced with other phrases. If you're introduced to three people and they respond "Hi", "Hello", "What's up?", it's understood that they're all pretty much saying the same thing.


I've heard that this is more common with American English, and that Americans are sometimes a bit taken aback when the response is "I'm well, how about you?" or something taking the question more literally like that.


Sometimes, yeah. In the US I've seen it go both ways, so it's not a hard and fast rule, but it does seem to be a thing.


I always forget the "how about you" part. Somebody asks, "how are you", and I say "good" because I'm supposed to say _something_ and my wife reminds me later that it was rude not to ask how they were so that they could say "good", too.


I consider that normal???


Captured in the classic Budweiser ad https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ffUDDYYIX04


In linguistics, a phatic expression /ˈfætɪk/ is communication which serves a social function, such as social pleasantries that don't seek or offer any information of value.[1] Phatic expressions are a socio-pragmatic function and are used in everyday conversational exchange typically expressed in situational instances that call for social cues.[2] In speech communication the term means "small talk" (conversation for its own sake) and has also been called "grooming talking."[3]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phatic_expression

See also:

http://www.signosemio.com/jakobson/functions-of-language.asp


David E. Davis, founder of Automobile magazine was known to ask "Is your life a rich tapestry?" instead of the usual "How are you?". I like that.


I'd like to think I'd enthusiastically engage in a question like that. But in reality I think I'd find it extremely off-putting and would want to leave the conversation.

There's this sort of...meme, I suppose, of perfect dialogue. You can see it a lot in the way movie characters talk to each other, especially the ones who are supposed to be intellectual. Think of characters like Tyrion Lannister, Robert Ford, Chuck Rhoades or Andy Dufresne.

They're not just preternaturally witty - they have excellent rhetorical poise. They don't open conversations directly, they gracefully meander to their point with some kind of obscure arcana or quiet intensity. They're theatrical in their delivery and flush with metaphors, analogies or double entendres.

That's the way I feel about questions like, "Is your life a rich tapestry?" That's not a question that's asked or spoken, it's a question that's written. It's so pointed and so raw that, at best, you'd think the asker is eccentric. If you're less charitable you'd think they're simply socially awkward. Opening conversations that way is flying too close to the Sun.

I feel that the best way to answer that question is to turn away from the person asking, as if lost in thought. Then you'd make your way to your answer circuitously, by first deflecting to talk about the origin of the word "tapestry" itself alongside some powerful childhood memory about your father or a famous quote made on the eve of war. Finally, you'd arrive at a delightfully disarming answer that gives a real insight into your life and experience.

But in actuality I'd probably be asked that at a social gathering and respond with some sort of befuddled, "Er, what do you mean?" while being utterly taken aback at the penetrating intimacy of the question. Later on I'd probably ask someone, "Hey what's up with that guy, did he self-help book big on provocative conversation starters or something?"

If you really want to go down the route of non-traditional greetings, I'd recommend, "What have you been reading lately?" or "What are you about?" They still require some situational awareness, but they're a lot less risky and polarizing. I enjoyed being asked those when I first heard them.


Now, that is a truly delightful comment. Do they get any more self-referential? Well spoken, sir!


The existentialist in me finds that intriguing; the introvert in me finds that terrifying.


I would prefer to ask than be asked.


I would not like to put random people on the spot like that. That is frankly a supremely inconsiderate thing to ask along the lines of "Are you wealthy?" "Do you have a lot of sex?". Fine if your answer happens to be yes, or fine if you happen to be quick with some deflecting come-back about the metaphorical "interesting times". At least now, thanks to this post, I can -slowly, haha- develop an angle on an answer, along the lines of "Well it might have been uniformly bland today, but now it's got at least one bad bit to break up the monotony, being asked an inconsiderate personal question like that, especially with you not being my mom or my therapist." Or maybe just ask right back "Is your wife's sex life a rich tapestry?"


Therapists are people to you pay to talk to you when you've got no one else. Why spurn free therapy?

It's a great question because if it draws out a rude response like yours, the questioner knows to not waste more time on small talk.


Therapists are people you request for such help. Parents are among the very few other people with any right to offer it unsolicited.

Would you really accept being asked my imaginary question about your spouses sex life from any ordinary aquaintence? Why not? It's free help! You should always want your spouse to have as full and rich a life as possible, and it's too easy to forget that a big part of their life is actually subject to your level of effort and imagination and bravery.

The original question is essentially personal on the order that we usually place on sexual or health matters.

The best word is "inconsiderate" in that it literally fails to consider, or considers and ignores, that many, perhaps most people's honest answer would have to be no, and further, the process of being asked and answering forces everyone who had to answer "no" or "not enough", to recognize that "no" isn't just a harmless answer like what flavor of ice cream you like, where chocolate or vanilla or "I don't like ice cream" are all equally fine. No they are forced to confront that "no" is a failing, and therefor that they fail at something, and that what they fail at is nothing too important, just life itself.


What is it mean if your natural reaction is to just say "Yeah" with no thought and then continue


If I were asked that type of question I'd be mostly thinking about the quickest way to get away from this weirdo.


I used to have trouble with this question, until a helpful person pointed out that the person asking almost always doesn't actually care about the answer. It never dawned on me that people would ask questions without caring about the answer, but I knew he was right as soon as he said it. Now, I can just say "fine" and get on with my day.


This is an important distinction. I'm super slow when it comes to "unimportant" questions (how are you, what do you want to eat), but rather fast when it comes to questions I deem more important. Try as I might, I don't that I'll ever be quick to answer the questions I'm "bad" at.


> I'm the same way! I have to train myself not to think when people give a casual "hey, how are you?".

I know, right? I knew I couldn't be the only person around that gets annoyed when other ask this of me and I have to divert resources the answer the annoyingly irrelevant question.

even more so when after careful considering and answering, the answer is essentially ignored. every. time.


It’s not a literal inquiry, it’s the verbal equivalent of a TCP handshake.

It’s protocol negotiation, volume adjustment, and preparation for transmission.


That's how I see it, and there'd be no point if no further information is exchanged. As a sibling comment says, some people use it more like a ping, where I'm uncomfortable using something other than a more traditional greeting:

That is to say, when passing someone in a hall, I want to stick to "hi" or "good morning", and feel uncomfortable if the other person says "how are you?". If it's the start of a conversation, "How are you?" works absolutely fine.

I think the problem is that "How are you?" doesn't finish an exchange nicely. You can easily greet someone in passing with A: "Hi" B: "Hi" <EOL>

It doesn't work (for me, at least) to go A: "How are you?" B: "(Fine.) How are you?" A: (optional)"Fine"

If A responds fine, it feels almost rude to abrubtly finish a conversation that had previously involved both parties asking questions about each other (even though they're really just being used as greetings). If A doesn't respond at all, that's rude for not responding to a question!


It depends, as a conversation starter it is probably okay. As an entire conversation it is almost entirely pointless, basically 2 people acknowledging that the other still exists.


ICMP then


That's not a bad thing! Acknowledging each other on the social graph.


I can't fathom why you've been down-voted on this comment! I feel the exact same way and I think you've elaborated on the parent's comment in a usefully specific way.

And I, too, find the exchange irritating and have now taken to a stock response of "hi" as a form of "nonviolent resistance"[01] to the question!

[01] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nonviolent_resistance


I feel similarly. I often find that I run into people who are eager to have a face-to-face debate about something, and who come up with opinions and rationalizations that sometimes end up being dubious. But I feel a strong desire to hear them out and I generally have a hard time piecing together what makes an argument fallacious until I have time to analyze it more deeply, so I generally just take whatever they've said and chew on it a while.

I feel like this helps me come to better conclusions in the long term. Sometimes, I come to agree with what they've said. Sometimes, I find their conclusions flawed. In some cases, I can tell that it's made people who present arguments that ultimately turn out to be fallacious feel justified in those arguments. The fact that I end our conversation by thanking them for giving me something to think about sometimes feels like I'm endorsing their opinion with my inability to come up with an equally quick retort.

I've never really found a solution to this. At various times in my life, I have tried to hone my ability to make equally quick retorts: but I found that I didn't like who I was as a person when I tried to discuss in that way. My conversations with people became needlessly rhetorical and combative, and that I was often failing to hear what they had to say except in the context of how I could weaken it. On top of that, I became an angrier person in general. All of that felt shitty, and like the opposite of truth-seeking.

For me, it's an unsolved problem. I'm mostly at peace with the fact that I need extra time to chew on opinions presented to me in the heat of the moment, but occasionally I feel deep regret for not having said something on the spot.

Nonverbal conversations tend to help me with this personally - even the few moments you get to better put together how you're feeling/what you're thinking, or the ability to re-read what someone has posted, helps significantly. When it's written/typed conversation, you also don't have to deal with the sometimes disarming nature of people's reactions/facial expressions/distractions of the environment around you. I'm often most impressed with people who can do this sort of quick filtering and refinement of what they intend to say with verbal conversation: it's so alien to what I experience when talking with people face-to-face.


I can relate. I used to be mostly a listener, formulating thoughts slowly and independently of my situation.

Like you, I also tried to be a quick thinker/talker in situations and disliked who I was becoming. But nowadays I've learned to be ok with it... because I found value in trying to be charismatic so I can rally people around my cause.

Put me in a completely new situation and I'll revert back to listening and thinking slowly. But talk to me about something I'm really passionate about, and I'll be a quick talker. It feels like a flow state.


In The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt, the author extends a metaphor where humans act as a person riding an elephant. The elephant is strong and self-willed, and although it may be open to suggestions by the rider, it will ultimately be the prevailing force when dealing in immediate/reactionary circumstance. Over a period of time, the rider can influence the elephant such that it has a different "lean" in the future.

You seem to grapple with feeling hypocritical by not having a logical response to something you later find to be wrong, but perhaps your elephant simply wasn't "leaning" in the direction of the wrong-sayer.

I like the idea that the majority of forces acting on a humans actions/behavior are non-verbal; not necessarily big news, but it helps me to justify why I have trouble communicating with friends who are on the bleeding edge of social politics while I spend my weeks writing proprietary code and reading classic fiction novels.


I find myself nodding a lot while reading this because I can relate to this. I just don't have the bandwidth to process information for quick responses.


This is why I despise most power point presentations so much and would most of the times prefer a writeup on two pages...


Yes. This is me too. And I've seldom been bothered about it. I have many times been called slow, but never stupid, and that's fine with me.

I consider myself quite articulate, but I'm much more comfortable expressing myself in written than in spoken form, mainly because I need and I cherish the extra time that the former medium gives me, to more eloquently structure and refine what's being communicated.

Just because the accelerator pedal is there, doesn't mean you have to floor it all the time.


The only time it bothered me or affected me was when taking management consulting case interviews, where I felt like I needed to be able to think way faster (or maybe I could have done more prep work so I’d pattern match rather than think).

I jokingly tell people hat I’ll get them an answer in 2 hours. ;)


to more eloquently structure and refine what's being communicated

To that end, you should avoid run-on sentences. Cramming all your thoughts together into one sentence (as you did in your second paragraph) really harms intelligibility.

Also the comma in your last sentence, between "there" and "doesn't", is incredibly awkward and does not belong.


> To that end, you should avoid run-on sentences

There are no run on sentences in the post you responded to with this. Particularly, the long sentence you call out is not a run-on, just a long sentence with complex structure; it has an unnecessary comma—the last one—but that is different than being a run-on.


I feel this way too. Someone once told me about their Google interview and mentioned one of the problems. I spent a fruitless 20 mins flailing around trying for a good solution, then stopped thinking about it. 5 hours later on public transit the entire (and, as it happens, perfect) solution popped, unbidden, into my head.

I always thought that would have been particularly galling if it had been my interview...


I just had a Google technical phone interview. I won't divulge the question but it was related to a design pattern that JavaScript developers use every day in frameworks like Vue/React, yet probably never had to program from scratch. I identified the pattern, described the API correctly, but then I had to implement the API and that's when I knew I was finished. Evidently my intuition of how it should be implemented was also correct, but I started stumbling on relatively minor things (structure of a JSON object) because I didn't have the time I needed to develop an extremely clear mental image of what the details of the solution looked like and I had to keep coding anyway. I'm certain that 20-30 minutes alone would have been sufficient to develop a working proof of concept.

After the interview I ran the problem by a couple very senior front end devs at fang companies and they wouldn't have gotten it either. Before the rejection I thought I might be ok - it's not about getting it correct, they say, it's about the process - but slow thinking is a very real problem in the context of interviews like this.


Also relevant: the French have a great phrase for this - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L%27esprit_de_l%27escalier


Ha. Remembering that one. Is there something about the French language that lends itself more easily to great wit and very usable idioms?


There's nothing language-specific about that idiom. In English, it's staircase wit. It should work in most languages as long as you have the story to go with it.


Those questions are horrible. They have almost no signal, I interview a ton of people and I ask much much simpler questions, a question that starts easy and can be made more complex is best. I used to ask stupid hard questions and I have matured.


It was a great question in terms of something you might work through in classroom setting for advanced undergraduates or beyond. I thought it was really interesting. However, I think the weakness of it would be that anyone with a particular background (out-of-core) would identify it immediately. Many of the "hard questions" really come down to being some shibboleth to identify who has been at the right schools. :-) (and that's not a particularly sour note from me, as I have a CMU PhD, although I still can't get those questions)


> shibboleth to identify

Exactly. And it sickens me. I'd like the resumes to be scrubbed, zero knowledge of the school someone went to. I see dynamic programming problems used for the same, either you have had them in an academic setting or you probably going in blind.

A more humane and useful questions starts off easy, if they get that, add in extra conditions to make it more difficult and extract more signal. Almost any easy questions can from duh to omg in a handful of criteria.


I had an interview question like that once. I managed to come up with an ugly-but-passable solution at the time.

Later that evening a much better solution occurred to me so I coded it up and emailed it to the interviewers.

I got an offer the next morning.


Archimedes would be proud.


I'm wondering if what Sivers feels about himself is true for everyone. Maybe those sharp people who give an insightful reply right off the bat would give an even better reply if they had more time.

This is why I prefer email over instant messaging, phone calls, or collaborative online chat when asking questions (except trivial questions). I want a considered reply, not something off the cuff.


That's certainly true for me. When I'm trying to give an answer quickly, I'm generally able to throw together a rough mental framework and apply it to the question at hand. It may feel insightful to the extent that it has an applied framework, but it is unlikely to hold up to scrutiny. However, if you give me actual time, then I can research and think more thoroughly, and you'll get a much more thought out answer.

I think one key difference is just the confidence with which someone is able to give their initial reactions. If you internally feel less confidence, then you will feel as if you don't have an answer, when you really do have some formulation of the answer in your mind, just not one you feel great about yet.

Another key factor is to what extent you've practiced giving a quick answer. For example, it's typically considered a key skill for tech industry product managers, and there's a recipe for quickly converging on some answer in the span of a few minutes. It may not be the best answer, but it's an answer. I guess what I'm saying is that if it matters to you to appear quick, it can be practiced.

But in the vast majority of cases, you don't have to be fast, just aware that you need time. (Exceptions include PM interviews but not actual PM work...)


I’m one of those “sharp” people and I often feel like I’m keeping up and thinking quickly enough but constantly stumble over my words. It’s difficult for me to take what’s in my head and turn it into an immediate verbal response sometimes, which leaves me feeling incredibly stupid or like I’m not making sense. I very often find that if I sit down and write something out I can communicate it much more clearly, with the added benefit that I can also take a bit more time to recheck my work before giving a response.


I'd even go so far as to suggest that a person's personality dictates what they think of themselves as on the "fast" or "slow" spectrum, based on the memories they choose to focus on.

I (probably wildly) speculate that the people who think they're "fast" remember times when they were fast thinkers, and the people who think they're "slow" remember times when they were slow, even though all of us have experiences with both situations.


> true for everyone.

See, I read something like this and I think of the Dunning Kruger effect that causes stupid people to think they're smart and smart people to think that they're stupid.


I've noticed that my responses are much quicker when I'm in "empathic mode" as opposed to "analytical mode". It may take me up to an hour to switch from analytical mode to empathic mode. The other direction is much faster.

Also, and this is difficult to explain, I've noticed that trying to feel euphoric helps with being faster with responses, and being wittier.

I wonder if anyone can confirm that meditation can help in becoming a faster thinker/responder.


I think this may have something to do with stress levels and with emotions in general. I like to start meeting as observer without much emotions and prejudice. Then that gives me some space and time for thinking and formulating position on the discussion. But in case I am center of attention in a busy discussion then somehow a paralysis of thoughts flow affects my expression accuracy.

I think meditation in general may help to cope with emotions, thus make mind sharper under pressure.


This post made my Monday better. I can relate to it so much and feel happy that there are more people out there and someone spoke about this, even wrote books! The slow thinking has been a cause of interiority complex since my childhood. I feel uncomfortable and weird when people compliment me for saying or doing something clever. I'm not used to it and this surprises me knowing that I have a potential of doing something smart and creative. But this post encouraged me to speak out all this like nothing else did. I think I'm not dumb anymore, haha! I hope I overcome this and make it my strength someday. Amen


This used to frustrate me too, but gradually my position on the matter has shifted. There's a difference between really trying to solve some problem versus engaging in conversation with someone. I understand the temptation to insist on answering the question for real—which can almost certainly not be done in the moment—but generally, when you get into this situation of being asked a deep question in conversation, your interlocutor is not expecting you to actually solve the problem at hand; (best case scenario) they may just want to try working with you on it, or see how you would approach it, or (probably most common scenario) they just want to be recognized for having suggested the problem—or any number of other motivations. Point is, the motivation of actually seeking an answer is fairly uncommon. Honestly though, my tendency is still to try and answer it for real, but I at least think about this greater context for the question now (and at least sometimes treat the situation differently as a consequence).


> they just want to be recognized for having suggested the problem

In a business setting, I find that this case is often more of the variety of "they are suggesting the problem, and are implying/expecting someone else to solve it" (where someone _may_ be you)


I love reading pieces that put words to something I've felt, but never expressed before. This is definitely one of those pieces.

Everyone is different, and I am sure people will agree or disagree with the point the author makes to varying degrees depending on their own lived experiences and abilities, but after reading this I think it'd be difficult for anyone to not admit that there is most certainly value in taking an asynchronous approach to conversations and discussions.

And man, does this quote provides some hearty food for thought or what: "Your first reaction is usually outdated."


I can relate to this. I'm always always envious of people that come up with quick and funny answers. It's a relief to know I'm not the only one.


Does this have any thing to do with me being extremely awful/slow at competitive programming? I tried a few online sites like codeforces, hackerrank, codechef and after a few easy problems, I ended up getting stuck for forever. I had to often look for the solution which was more than often a trick that I hadn't come across and my existing knowledge base failed to take me there.

Is there any way to improve this? To be honest, I am asking this because I am failing every single interview screening which generally involves trick questions. I would love to know the relation between the two.


I am a slow thinker, but had been moderately successful in competitive programming during high school days.

The trick is to code a lot outside of the competitions and know all these tricks, as well as to have common snippets of code in your fingertips.

I still find that experience quite useful in my day-to-day programming.


I would like to know more about this. Is there a proper book(s)/source(s) that I should follow? I never came across segment trees in my Data Structures class and I have rarely found the need to code one up in my job yet the screening process involved coding a question using segment trees. How do people get to know about these?


>Is there a proper book(s)/source(s) that I should follow?

You may find these book useful:

Competitive Programming 3 by Felix Halim and Steven Halim.

Competitive Programmer’s Handbook (https://cses.fi/book/index.html)

>I have rarely found the need to code one up in my job

Depending on your job profile, these data structures may not be used at all. But programming puzzles have become the norm for interviews in the industry.


Dude, same here! And it's not easy to squeeze out some time to practice with my tight work schedule. I'm just sticking to practice, hoping that more practice is what I need.


that's why I hate dealing anything via phone.

When someone calls me (it's a recruiter, or other) I've almost always put him/her down with the line: 'Please send me a text message, e.g. an e-mail and call me back tomorrow' or something - I prefer read information first, think over it, and then do the answer.

But I think that's the main objective of phone scammers to fool you around and put the quick (bad) answer on you.


One thing I started to notice when I was young that older, wiser, more experienced people were very good at "buying time" in situations like this by asking somebody to repeat and clarify what it was they were asking for. Rather than provide a solution, they would go through a precise definition of exactly what was being asked - and a lot of the time, while defining the problem, the asker would end up providing a solution.


My acceptance of my own slow thinking has terrified me no end my whole career: terrified of interviews, on the spot tests and of selling (especially when dismissals are based on incorrect or flawed understanding). I always go home to brutalise myself with "Ah, I should have said this in response". Too late!

I've always attributed my slowness to my breathing - or more precisely, my incorrect method of breathing. I mostly breathe from the chest instead of, as recommended, from below the rib cage, and more from the belly.


like to put it out to you to not think of 'fast thinkers' as people who can think on the spot, but actually people who have spent a lot of time and effort thinking ahead of time, so that when a question or situation arises, the remaining effort is simply pattern-matching and recall. the even better ones prepare a logical narrative for the purpose of knowledge diffusion and education even if the opportunity to use these are even harder to come by.

because there are situations that require time-critical decision making and analysis - i speak from a conveniently relevant environment which is the financial markets - and the best of the business here are those who have prepared plan A's to plan Z's well ahead of time.


Chess is a good example of this. Seeing a chess master play appears like incredible analysis and advanced thinking (and it certainly is in some cases), but a lot of the time it's pattern recognition and recall ability. In other words, as you say, they've literally been thinking about the scenario they're in now before, and already have an answer prepared.


This may explain why skills in chess don't translate beyond the chess. A good chess player has simply no patterns to recall in situations outside the chess.


Count me among the slow thinkers.

So, how well do you slow thinkers do on interviews. How do you prepare? I'm currently prepping for an interview with one of the larger, popular internet companies. The prepping is going well as far as remembering some of the CS[0] stuff I don't directly use day to day, but I worry that I won't get the solutions fast enough in an interview session.

I'm a respected developer where I work. My coleagues enjoy working with me and like the solutions I come up with. QA rarely has to send bugs back to me[1]. My technical boss, who I think is brilliant, respsects my solutions and generally never needs to change anything. When I am stuck, it's easy for me to ask for help. I say all this because I'm just not sure if it will come across during the interview process because I tend to mull things over a while.

[0] My degree is Computer Engineering so I didn't have as much exposure to CS material to begin with that, well, CS grads would have.

[1] I work with a really cool QA guy. I tell him I like to make him work for those bugs. We get along great and I actually engage with him frequently when I'm building my unit tests.


I'm also a "slow thinker" in this regard. It's not in my view anything other than your thoughtfulness being influenced by your personality. Folks like us are attempting to be thoughtful but without trying, and we have the capacity to hold back our impulses from the cerebral cortex. People who are "quick tongued", are not always coming up with the right answer, their personality is simply more dominant.

What's always struck me as odd, is that I'm vastly superior in creativity versus almost everyone I work with or meet. For me, it seems that no one has truly new ideas while they do come to mind for me, out of nowhere. I also get the sense when I'm out driving or walking around that I'm more "aware" of what's around me than others.

That's discounting that seeing people be dumb enough to walk and drive with their face in their phone though, guarantees if you're not one of them, that you have at least a 50 point IQ advantage. :) I can't even really explain the feeling of awareness, but I notice a lot more, a lot faster than most people that I know.


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>Your first reaction is usually outdated.

Interesting way to think about it. Exposure to new information elicits a response that’s based on past data and experience, leading to hesitation in reacting quickly.


A medical doctor friend of mine pointed out that thinking slow was fine, except in an emergency or indeed any time--limited situation where the rate of response needs to be above some threshold. Think: baraster responding to opponent, a and e doctor, board-room negotiation etc.


Or when fixing a large production issue at 4:30 AM when you're the only one awake.


My advice (can't remember where this is stolen from) when you need to fix a production issue in a short amount of time:

Don't just do something; sit there!


I'm the same. I often feel like my brain is a Pentium ii (256Mhz) processor and my peers have a modern 2.8Ghz processor. They seem to grasp things so much quicker. I can't but I do have the confidence that given enough time I'll figure it out.


Sometimes it is not the substance of the reply that matters but the way in which you respond. It's called performativity. Women are more sensitive to this, and introspective guys typically fail at it.


I really struggled on college engineering exams and in general got lower scores than classmates that I had to tutor. Part of this was due to drastically over thinking and over-analyzing test questions. Some are extremely straightforward, but others can be interpreted several ways, although the normal person always chooses one method and it is obvious to them.

I can make quick decisions on the fly in a leadership role that I would say are very good, but technical matters (Ex: Solving an engineering textbook problem) can take awhile as I explore how things work.


I've been thinking a bit about this phenomenon recently. It seemed like a vague sort of problem I was having in various contexts (first time I noticed it was working on math problems), but there wasn't a good way of stating it without it sounding like unadulterated arrogance (I'm limited because I think of SO MANY POSSIBILITIES! :P)—but I think it's real. I was reading a review for the book "Proofs and Refutations" the other day, which included this bit:

> If you are someone who has trouble reading or writing proofs because you keep thinking of weird edge cases and have to verify that the proof handles all of them, ...

(this is a work on the philosophy of proving things in mathematics, btw, and they go on to recommend it to those with the above affliction.)

I could recognize the pattern being discussed there as exactly the thing I'd perceived myself running into. Interesting to see it repeated again in your comment :)


Good to know I'm not the only one.


I can relate, people have always told me that I seem to think too much before answering a question. Some say I'm a slow thinker, others that I'm smart for measuring my words carefully.


I like the cached thoughts[0] theory better. It is a more eloquent explanation/argument of a similar concept.

[0] https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/2MD3NMLBPCqPfnfre/cached-tho...


I'm not convinced that slow thinking is related to the ability to respond quickly in a conversation, or that people that come up with seemingly deep thoughts in a discussion are fast thinkers.

At the beginning of my career, I have often admired how some of my (freelance consulting) colleagues handle discussions with clients, how they seem to have profound answers to any doubt or question. Over the years I came to realise that most of the questions that come up in such situations are similar and repeating. The difference between those colleagues and me is experience and that they have been in similar situations many more times before.

Sure, some have more talent and social abilities, but I believe it all comes down to practice and has much less to do with pure "thinking strengths or quickness".


Wow, this is me, thank god I'm not alone! People often dismiss me as thick or scatter brained, when its just that I think at my own pace. The nice thing is that over time I do get results at work and in my personal life, and so negative perceptions are challenged.


Same here. It's frustrating being this way because you basically lose in most decision making forums by saying "I need to think about it". People who respond fast sound smart and knowledgeable. People who respond slowly don't necessarily sound stupid (I've found it's amazing how often saying nothing makes people think you are smart), but their input still gets overlooked because you end up in the position where if you can't present an argument against a decision being made a certain way on the spot then people don't see why it should wait.


This reminds me of Watt's zen-based observation that we make all decisions by gut feeling, noting that it's _us_ who grant authority to outside sources, and that any time spent making a decision is usually dithering. Regarding the article, leaning on a previously concluded opinion, or saying "I don't know", are both forms of unthinking, and not being open in the moment (dithering). "I've seen Shunryū Suzuki take 5 minutes before replying with an answer. But he never hesitates." (There's a difference, see?)


Maybe that's just me but I am having serious trouble understanding what you're saying.

"I don't know" is unthinking? What does unthinking mean? Or dithering, for that matter?

Why is hesitation relevant here? Why is it bad?


I often feel the same way, although I’ve learnt to react quickly with an answer slightly better than ‘I don’t know’. Answering with related principles that you believe in and commenting on what you can, followed by ‘I need to think about this some more’ comes across better than ‘I don’t know’.

I wonder if this could be related somehow to the Dunning-Kruger effect? https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effec...


As everyone here, I too consider myself as a slow thinker. Some of the reasons for the same, I believe, are (i) Always trying to get the bigger/entire picture of the problem (ii) Trying to increase the precision of the answer for the problem under question (iii) awareness that there will always be unknown unknowns (iv) trying to cater to exact needs of others (iv) Not giving importance to memory (v) a wandering mind, which wants to catch hold of too many things at the same time.


I think fast when it comes to language and logic but my mathematical thinking is very slow.

In math exams at university, I usually only managed to get about half way through most exam papers. Amazingly, I still managed to pass most math courses. I knew most of the answers but it took me so long to solve them that I could never finish the whole paper.

I had to really know the stuff just to get an average grade.


During my engineering, among the eight semesters, I've been able to answer only 3 papers till the last question. And yet I passed in all of them. It was sort of frustrating, though.


I wish this worked for me in interviews. Saying "I don't know" is often an instant rejection in many interviews.


I'm the opposite. I'm a fast thinker, with a bad memory, just like a computer with a strong CPU and limited RAM. I usually respond quickly and sometimes make mistakes due to lack of information and time to analyze. But it's doesn't matter much, because, in the end, we should always check our answer again, and again....


I have this "problem" also. Makes tech interviews fun. :D

Shame, because once I understand a complex system (even though it took months to get there) it is usually on a deeper level than most folks. Which leads to those "aha" moments which can and does improve productivity significantly.


"Can you imagine how the world would work if this was the norm?"

It think this is normal through electronic communication. It can be used in rapid form, but it's natural for there to be a long delay too. I prefer email and text for anything remotely important.


I'll have a comment tomorrow


Not in an interview, you can't.


i felt that with age it took me more and more time to feel that i understood something. At first i thought it was age, but whenever i compare with younger colleagues, i realize it's often that i have higher standards for what "understanding" means. Whenever you've had the experience of realizing how much more complex something that looked simple was, you start to look at every problem with much more care.

That may makes me look like a a "slow" person or someone a bit thick, but then i often come up with interesting questions that makes everyone realize they didn't understand the problem as well as they thought.


Can’t wait for his book (“Hell Yeah or No”) to be released


I commented over there, so I won't repeat myself, but I can relate to this.


Felt good to read this. Are there any jobs out there for people like us?


Sounds like Daniel Kahneman system 1 and 2 in short. :)


Yes. Debates are a mechanism by which existing knowledge is diffused around society and culture. But creating something new and interesting is a slow, messy and iterative process.


Rhetoric vs. dialectic.




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