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My top 3, in order of how I try to apply them (i.e., if 1 doesn't help, move on to 2, etc.). I learned these all from reading various philosophy works, by the way, so perhaps cognitive hack #1 should be "read books".

1) Suspension of judgement (from Sextus Empiricus, Zhuang Zi, Ecclesiastes): avoid forming an opinion at all about things that are not evident. The way I do this is by thinking through an opposing argument or two, and using language like "it seems" or "it appears" rather than "I know", "I think", etc. This technique saves time and energy by helping me avoid getting wrapped up in opinion-based thinking and helps me develop equanimity.

2) Suspension of value-judgements (from Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Zhuang Zi, Ecclesiastes): being aware and in control of the value-judgement loop (this thing is good or bad). I do this by shifting the language in my mind from "that is bad" to "I feel this way because..." Again, like #1, this is about inverting the locus of control in my cognitive discourse such that my mind can easily go its own way from there, only on a more productive path.

3) Awareness of the mode of thinking I'm in, and the kind of learning that's appropriate to the task or objective at hand (from Plato). There are several modes of thinking or learning (eikasia, pistis, dianoia, episteme, techne, phronesis, and noesis, for example). Simply being aware of which mode you should be in for a task is much more valuable than it might appear at first glance. I see these less as bins to put various kinds of thought in and more as tools to apply to a problem.

Reviewing this, a common thread is self-awareness developed to a point of disciplined introspection and intentional change by adopting these kinds of cognitive tricks. Also, reading is good for you. :)




0) Keeping one's mouth shut. Trying to not have an opinion until a) having enough information b) only voicing it if it is important. I am trying to spend more time perceiving instead of broadcasting.


I do this too and it works great in personal contexts cause people love sharing their opinions and hearing themselves talk generally speaking.

This is in stark contrast to the workplace where I've experienced that keeping my mouth shut in a meeting to gather my thoughts before contributing a well informed opinion, the loudest person in the room has already spoken a handful of times and left their mark and then continues to speak over people and dominate the conversation for better or worse (usually the latter unless they are a SME).

I'm then forced to revert to speaking ASAP to get a word in so I don't walk away from a meeting being perceived as contributing little cause I was getting enough words.

Maybe it's all in my head cause I'm an introvert and meetings drain my energy. Anyone else experience this? Got any tips?


> Anyone else experience this? Got any tips?

Sometimes. Some things i do to ensure correct question-answer contexts:

- When in a meeting with (loud person pushing) wrong answers, ask the right questions.

- People dont understand the answer if they dont understand the question.

- Use the above to give the obvious correct solution within their context.


(SME = Subject Matter Expert, presumably)


Yeah that's it, I'll spell it out next time for those who don't know.


Amen to that! I often end up in discussions and decision making at work were I haven't even scratched the surface with my knowledge of the problem. Trying to listen and absorb as much information from the people that know most about the problem is my way of trying to quickly be able to make a decision (if that's needed).


Agreed. And the harder aspect of this is to actively listen to all parties at the same time holding the questions in my mind and allowing time in the discussion for them to get answered. Notes really help here.

Watch women and men in a meeting, men will talk over people, interject wisdoms, either comments or questions. While women will sit back and let the questions get answered, and then when enough time will go by will ask the unaswered questions.

One of the hardest things for a group to do is leave enough dead air so that others can speak, esp over remote connections.


You should avoid voicing a judgment, but you can certainly air your thoughts and opinions as they arise. Just be open to being convinced.


exactly. if everyone is just in "absorbing" mode, who to listen to.


Per Baltasar Gracian:

"The greatest form of knowledge is, on occasion, not to know, or to affect not to know."


Listening is an important skill. To avoid being perceived as passive or absent, "active listening" [1] can be helpful. Just remember that you are communicating via a shared medium (half-duplex) so sending should be kept to the necessary minimum ;-)

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Active_listening


A corollary: if something is true, but not relevant, then why should anybody care if it is true? Know when you're putting your efforts into things that can't pay off.


unless you try to tap into xkcd effect if you see what I mean

"precher le faux" as they say in France


These are forms of adjusting for bias and one should be cautious when they (or anyone) think they're good at accounting for them. That said, there are times we do feel justified in our decision because we feel we have adequately looked at "all sides."

At times the process of taking a neutral approach and/or vocalizing that neutrality demonstrates weakness. "Plan X makes sense because of A and B, but it does have this trade off D. That said, Plan Y could make sense if we really value D." In meetings, another person often lays out a single POV strongly and wins. Ideally, this opinion is strong because it's well thought out (and bias-adjusted), but sometimes it's strong simply because it's stated as such. "Plan Y is right. Because D, which I didn't even consider until now. <No mention of A or B.>"

Here, one would hope the group or group leader checks and balances this type of behavior so that a single biased-person doesn't carry a generally clear-minded group, but of course that doesn't always happen.

Considering one's biases is a very good thing, but I wonder if the pragmatics of group dynamics render it something good for the soul, but poor for action.


These techniques are more general psychological tools than specifically about controlling bias. They're also meant to be internally-facing, not necessarily for sharing outside yourself. In the context of the original question about "brain hacks" (not necessarily group dynamics) the underlying thread is finding ways to change your perspective in order to gain insight, which is a very useful "brain hack" indeed!


Agreed. I use qualifiers far too often. It's good to be open to being wrong, good to not convey over-confidence, but when you are the one operating outside the social norm it dilutes whatever point you were making.

I am trying to get in the habit of providing an overarching qualifier so that I'm not deceiving my audience and then making the rest of my statements without any qualifiers that would be covered by the overarching one. It is definitely a hard habit to change, however.


I think the post was referring to individual projects, not group dynamics, but your point is certainly true of group situations. Sometimes aspects of the group harm the group's ability to reason or behave rationally.

I'd argue that even in a one person project, information becomes available gradually and one must learn to re-consider old conclusions again in light of new information, even to re-consider old questions that might have been easily dismissed earlier.

Human rationality is biased by our use of the heuristics that take a few milliseconds of brain time and work pretty well, but have failures when trusted too much when we have the luxury of more time to consider the information. Even things like a member of the group asserting something confidently can throw off the rational faculties a bit.


You're right, but for many people it's difficult to become a thought leader until they have first improved their skills in reserving judgment and combating bias. I've met people who seem to have a strong opinion on everything, and they convince some people, but their opinion meets an unfortunate end when they present to a more discerning group.


I agree 100%. In theory it’s good to consider all perspectives and not acquire hyperfocus/tunnel vision on any one plan or destination. But I n practice, people seem to find leaders with tunnel vision far more convincing and worth following than those who take a more multi faceted/ less focused approach to leadership IMO

Maybe that’s because, it seems like the practical reality of discussing ones attempts to be bias-free always comes off as disengenuous no matter how genuine those attempts may be. So fuck it man. Embrace bias :)


I liked this too, and given the sister comment asked for a more colloquial description, I came up with my own:

1) Instead of using firm statements attached to yourself like "I know" or "I think" use statements that are easier for you to contradict and discard without feeling like you are attacking or discarding yourself, like "it seems that..." or "it appears that...". Then you can say "it seems that X but in contrast it appears that Y". That is better than "I know X but I could be wrong because Y".

2) Don't immediately describe things as good or bad or the right way and the wrong way, that will prevent you from seeing an alternative solution because you will have automatically labelled it as wrong when you labelled something else as right. Instead of "that is bad" or "that is the right way" to "I feel this way because...". It is easier to change a decision based on knowing how you feel and have felt than when you have "money in the game" as having said (even to yourself) that something was the only right way.

[Note: In general, being able to step back and pick the right thing because it is right is useful, but only after you have honestly considered the situation in a fair and impartial way. Being too partial too quickly cuts off your ability to think and accept better solutions. If you already knew it, you could just choose, but the point is you are trying to think through it, which means you don't know but are evaluating how you feel and how things seem to be, but trying to uncover more.]

3) Understanding your current state of mind, and what state of mind would work better for the current task is important, so you can match those up, or at least understand more deeply. These are things like the appearance of things or imaginative situations (eikasia), good faith and trust or persuasiveness (pistis), discursive thought (dianoia), theoretical thought (techne), practical knowledge (phronesis), or intuition (noesis). [Note: my comments on the meanings of the Greek terms are probably wrong, but...] You could combine multiple of these to reach your goal; and you will often have a sequence of thoughts that are in different ones.

Introspection is _huge_. If you can understand and evaluate how you think and feel; you can start to move past that, or use it to your advantage, or see the flaw in your own reasoning, or be more observant, or form new habits, etc.

Personally, I like yoga for this reason; it helps to accept your feelings as they come and to observe them without immediate judgement. I think it helps in developing intuition, controlling your thoughts and emotions, etc.


Well put! :)


So, extending your thought about common thread, one needs to develop self-awareness. Hacks won't help much with this. But there is a systematic way of cultivating it, called meditation.


Another useful one coming right out of the Stoic tradition is the trisection into things that one

1) has no control over, such as weather, other people's actions, etc.: do not fret about those.

2) has complete control over, such as one's thoughts, judgements, response to events, actions, etc.: concentrate on these.

3) has partial control over, such as one's health, reputation, etc.: do not fret about the outcome, but prepare/do your part as best as you can.

This is well explained in William Irvine's Guide to the Good Life [0], but has already been proposed by Epictetus in the Enchiridion [1], 2nd century CE:

> Work, therefore to be able to say to every harsh appearance, “You are but an appearance, and not absolutely the thing you appear to be.” And then examine it by those rules which you have, and first, and chiefly, by this: whether it concerns the things which are in our own control, or those which are not; and, if it concerns anything not in our control, be prepared to say that it is nothing to you.

[0] https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/5617966-a-guide-to-the-g...

[1] https://standardebooks.org/ebooks/epictetus/the-enchiridion/...

(Note that standardebooks is pretty cool, a non-profit offering carefully formatted, open source, and free public domain ebooks!)


Thanks for the bits about eikasia, etc... Never heard about them before. About awareness, thinking of the fact that if someone has formed a perception about something, his perception being wrong or right doesn't change the fact that he has formed a perception and the fact that his perception exists, so there may exist at least some subtle particle of correctness in his perception, <next is the derived thinking that I have to avoid:> ...and this is a clue about something to be discovered and I have to think and analize...<> Ultimately, Be aware that the example's person perceptions are just perceptions make us aware that all our perceptions are just perceptions. No need even to go to Buda's and others theorie's pointing that everything is result of a chain of happenings, rolling since before dinosaurs and all, cause-and-effect-chain that you are just part and all your perceptions about everything are just result of what the chain has put in you, so ultimately you have no real independent wish and "you" don't even exist as an independent entity, if you consider "you" is your mind with all your perceptions in it.


At the risk of substituting books with URL's... Do you have any to any of these concepts? For example I just tried googling "eikasia, pistis, dianoia, episteme, techne, phronesis, noesis" and I didn't, eh, come up with something precise enough to read.

EDIT: Someone down in the thread did the kindness already!


These are deeper concepts within philosophy and more precisely this is epistemology - and not layman terms.

Alas, they are described in Philosophy 101 or Examen Philosoficum, but are not very approachable terms to understand in an quick read format.


> At the risk of substituting books with URL's

It's substituting URLs for books — either that or replacing books with URLs. [0] This might seem pedantic, and I know that language evolves, but:

1. We risk confusing, and therefore we disserve, non-native speakers if we use the language in ways opposite the accepted standard meanings. (One could think of language as an API, and no matter what the API, precision and accuracy often matter.)

2. Like it or not, the brute fact is that people who use language in non-standard ways are often judged harshly — and silently — for it. One can rail against that, or one can shrug one's shoulders and simply conform to standard usages, at least in public- and quasi-public forums. (In other words: Pick your battles.)

[0] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/substitute


Not one to shy from grammatic pedantry, having almost won a spelling bee once:

https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/substitute

“3) (transitive) In the phrase "substitute X with/by Y", to use Y in place of X; to replace X with Y as in ‘I had to substitute old parts with the new ones.’ (This usage was formerly proscribed.)“

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/substitute

“Traditionally, the verb substitute is followed by for and means ‘put someone or something in place of another’, as in she substituted the fake vase for the real one. From the late 17th century substitute has also been used to mean ‘replace someone or something with something else’, as in she substituted the real vase with the fake one. This can be confusing, since the two sentences shown above mean the same thing, yet the object of the verb and the object of the preposition have swapped positions. Despite the potential confusion, the second, newer use is well established, especially in some scientific contexts and in sport (the top scorer was substituted with almost half an hour still to play), and is now generally regarded as part of normal standard English.”

Who are we to argue with the Oxford English Dictionary? You can take it up with them. lol

Have a nice day :)

(I will say that the “sport” example is bad- the player is not being substituted with the time!)


The "sport" example does exactly what it is intended to do: showcase a grammatical ambiguity.

  substitute a player with X
is ambiguous, as demonstrated by the examples:

  substitute a player with another player
  substitute a player with half an hour still to play


[Grumbling:] So now even the OED is in on the global conspiracy to degrade the language, eh? [Expletive of your choice], what the [expletive] is the world coming to these days? :-)


This is one of the few cases where the words are very useful precisely because they're the originals.

Many of these (e.g. techne) are verbatim latin/greek terms and are probably used just as they are, in other languages.

You're talking about an intellectual endeavor (philosophy) which is VERY old.


> people who use language in non-standard ways are often judged harshly — and silently — for it

Yes. In my culture, the people who can't speak or write correctly are the ones who are uneducated - usually primary school or less. It's basically the local equivalent of rednecks.


Romania?


Yeah :)


Oh, and appreciate the correction regardless because I too think English is hard enough for foreigners to learn without these extra introduced wrinkles


Do you blog? It would be great, and beneficial for most of us, to read more about your thoughts and reflections :)


Thank you, but I do not blog regularly. It's an interesting idea, though, and I appreciate the sentiment. However, none of these are my thoughts, and all of them are easily discovered in the same places I found them myself! :)


Or can we conference call to connect and explore these things further?


I like this advice a lot, but the references and the formalized taxonomic names are a severe hindrance. Do you know any description of these ideas that uses more colloquial, modern terms for the taxonomy?



Sorry I was ambiguous in my first post. I meant to ask for reading material that synthesizes these different individual topics together into a more modern taxonomy of concepts that don’t need any reliance on these existing taxonomic terms at all.

I’m not seeking background reading on these concepts as they are already bundled into their own taxonomy, that’s the thing I find unhelpful and am seeking to avoid in favor of some other sources that put them into a more modern framework that obviates any need to reference these specifically except perhaps as historical footnotes or extra reading.


Really, it is the modern terminology, despite being over 2000 years old. Western philosophy is built almost entirely on a sequence of ideas dating back to Plato (and ancient Greek philosophy in general). Modern philosophers analyze the key concepts identified by Plato and his peers, whether they agree with Plato (or Aristotle, or Diogenes, or other writers of the era) or not.

Modern philosophers tend to be extremely dense and difficult to read. What I'd recommend is starting from the beginning - key works of Plato, such as Apology (the trial and death of Socrates), Republic (an ideal government, and Symposium (a friendly conversation about the topics of the day). These are all quite readable and enjoyable, and frankly as good as or better than most modern works.


I'm not aware of any, but I have thought quite a lot about creating a course on this subject. The key issue for me is that modern academic philosophy is perhaps more properly "philosophology", or the study of philosophy. It would be interesting to study and share more practical applications of philosophy, the way the great ancient philosophers perceived philosophy themselves (see John Sellars' The Art of Living for an in-depth analysis of the Greeks' perception of philosophy as a "techne ton bion", or perhaps "lifecraft").


Nassim Taleb covers some basics in his Black Swan and provides some practical suggestions. Nice read, btw.


The irony is he is one of the most closed-minded people around, if you see him on Twitter etc.


This also tripped me up for a long time. The issue (at least for me) is that modern English is poorly suited to extremely nuanced thought. The best modern language we have today for philosophical discourse is possibly German, and of course Greek and Sanskrit excel at expressing nuance and subtlety. An example of this is the observation that it often takes an entire English sentence or paragraph to express the meaning and shades of meaning that are encapsulated in a single Greek or Sanskrit word.

I agree with you, though, it seems like this language issue is a roadblock to many. The same could be said of mathematics and science, and most of my own learning has revolved around breaking through the initial barrier to entry to a given subject that's in the form of its technical language and notation.


Oh, wow, I realized I started doing 2) a couple of months ago, because one of my coworker is thinking in completely different ways about code in general, which forces me think in completely new and different ways. I already questioned my judgement about "good" or "bad" and started thinking in terms of "different" and I'm truly starting to believe it.


I'd say another common theme in these is language hacking (I'm assuming the different thinking modes come with their own language constructs).

And that's the big thing that's changed my life around.

Specifically, how I pulled off the first two was with a practice I'd do when I'd hear a word with an antonym. I'd shrug and say "meh...<original word>...<it's antonym>...meh." I came up with this practice because I wanted to learn to suspend/minimize judgment without learning about types of judgments or bothering with distinguishing them. I went as broadly as I could, instead. I noticed different effects that seemed to correlate with sets of words. Right/wrong helped me see other perspectives, stop demonizing others, and realize people do things because that's how they learned to be. Should/shouldn't helped me release shame. Good/bad helped me stay positive and withhold judgment of the moment. Like/dislike I think joined with good/bad to release judgment of things/experiences. What I mean by this is after maintaining this practice throughout each day for 3 weeks, I realized I'd accidentally abandoned my food preferences and things that used to trigger disgust in me no longer did. This effect included enjoying types of music/activities/people I used to hate. I came to regard like/dislike as judgement of something as good/bad attached to feeling enjoyment/disgust. I chose to believe I could enjoy anything I put in my mouth. Yes, even that thing you're thinking. No, I probably haven't tried it.

A question I've gotten about this is: "aren't you afraid you'll start enjoying how rotten things taste?" I can still taste when something's gone bad if I've learned to associate the taste with being rotten, but ultimately if I don't know how to identify if something's rotten I then get an opportunity to see if my system can handle it. I can explore the flavors and textures without swallowing, also, if I don't want to get sick. I can also search for how to identify it. Identifying if something is rotten requires learning stuff; it's not innate to us, or, if it is, there's another way to go about things.

I enjoy my life much more after doing this.

Other useful language hacks:

1. Learning to express myself in the pattern of nonviolent communication: When I <observation verb> <non-judgmental observation>, I feel [<emotion(s) without evaluations of others> because I need <need(s)>]. Would you be willing to do _____ to help me meet my need(s) for _____?

I used square brackets [] to indicate a list. Emotions with evaluations of others are things like "offended" or "used" or "abused." Each of these implies someone else did something. The idea is to identify what they did in the first portion & separate it from the emotions that followed. This approach is a practice in leaving behind the thoughts I attach to emotions. I highly recommend reading "Nonviolent Communication" to get more clarity on this.

2. Using "I" statements to describe my experiences, as opposed to "you" or "we" statements. By doing this, I maintain my independence.

3. I started using active voice instead of passive voice. In writing this comment, I noticed a few sentences were in passive voice (including this one, which I chose to not change). An active voice version of the previous sentence would be "In writing this comment, I noticed I'd written a few sentences in passive voice." Using active voice helps me take more responsibility for my actions, instead of blaming others.

4. I choose to use "responsibility" instead of "blame" or "fault." I define blame/fault as assigning 100% responsibility to a person or group of people. How people learn to choose their actions is, in part, a function of how they were raised, the cultures they've been exposed to, the rest of their environment. Those things are largely out of their control. Blame/fault denies these facts. I find it easier to take responsibility for my actions and find ways to improve using this concept. It also allows me to more easily see how others contributed to something, which leads me to holding them accountable by expressing gratitude for their part and asking them to either continue doing what they did or to make a change (see: Nonviolent Communication requests)

5. The previous trick is a way I specifically apply the idea that no complex system can be 100% accounted for. Apply it to everything.

6. This goes back to non-judgment. Problem/solution resolved into "learning opportunities." This, combined with an understanding of human needs (see: Nonviolent Communication), led me to realize every moment is meeting some needs of mine. At the very minimum, there's the need for opportunities to learn how to better identify and meet my needs. Since I cultivated gratitude for learning opportunities, the previous sentence means I can also meet my need for gratitude of the present moment, which meets my need for joy. Applying these meets my need for connecting with myself. So every unpleasant moment can now be enjoyable, which lays the foundation for figuring out what else I can learn from what's going on.

I could write more, but that's why I'm writing a book on this stuff. The other things are a bit trickier and require preparation for safety's sake because it's possible to get my brain/mind to do really kooky things. If I wasn't properly prepared, I could reconfigure myself in a way that doesn't sustainably contribute to my life. So I'm not sharing that stuff at the moment.


Would love to check out your book whenever you release it! I think a lot of what you do is similar to the Hindu/Buddhist approach of accepting the moment for what it is, and figuring out what you can learn from every moment and experiencing it without too much emotion attached to it. But you seem to have more practical advice on how to accomplish that, which I look forward to hearing.


If you have any specific questions, I'm available to either share what I've come up with if I think it's applicable or to suggest ideas for things to try. I have a sort of programmatic model of the human I'm playing with, so I consider these practices to be human programs. Trying to generate programs for people that have the desired effects is the only way I have to test the model right now, so it'd be mutually beneficial :)


Wonderful collection of techniques! :)


Yours, too! Can we be friends?


Incredibly big fan and user of #2 so would be keen to explore #1.


Where can I learn more about 3)?




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