Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
The Problem of Thinking Too Much (2003) [pdf] (stanford.edu)
255 points by lainon 8 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 82 comments





This made my day:

To be honest, the academic discussion doesn't shed much light on the practical problem. Here's an illustration: Some years ago I was trying to decide whether or not to move to Harvard from Stanford.I had bored my friends silly with endless discussion. Finally, one of them said, "You're one of our leading decision theorists. Maybe you should make a list of the costs and benefits and try to roughly calculate your expected utility. "Without thinking, I blurted out, "Come on, Sandy, this is serious."


Feynman tells an intriguingly similar story from another angle.

When he moved from Cornell to Caltech, he had a sort of Buridan's Ass situation where each one would beat the other's offer and leave him with no way to make a decision. Even the weather wouldn't cooperate, with the snow driving him out of Cornell and smog driving him out of Caltech. He eventually landed at Caltech, basically arbitrarily, and realized the solution to the problem:

"But I decided then never to decide again. Nothing—absolutely nothing—would ever change my mind again. When you’re young, you have all these things to worry about—should you go there, what about your mother. And you worry, and try to decide, but then something else comes up. It’s much easier to just plain decide. Never mind—nothing is going to change your mind."

So when Chicago came calling later, trying to recruit him, he refused. Didn't listen to the offer, didn't consider it when they told him, just refused outright over his prior condition. Interesting to see how many people have decided that formal analysis is a hopeless way of approaching this problem.


Young people are experimental and open to novelty. Old people are conservative and prefer the status quo. The combination selects for a robust society. That's an evo-bio trope

Is because of memory. Old people remember how things were and want those memories to be continuously valuable.

If everything changes they have nothing over the younger competition.


Explore/exploit tradeoff in a nutshell.

Read somewhere (attributed to Mark Twain);

"The Old know too much to not take any risks; the Young do not know enough to not take any risks; and what amazes me is how they achieve it time after time."

Paradoxically, I think that the "Dunning–Kruger effect" (within limits) is actually necessary for us to evolve. Think about it; if you don't jump into the unknown with confidence, you won't learn/do anything. It is important to assess risk but also know when to stop obsessing over risk.


> Paradoxically, I think that the "Dunning–Kruger effect" (within limits) is actually necessary for us to evolve. Think about it; if you don't jump into the unknown with confidence, you won't learn/do anything. It is important to assess risk but also know when to stop obsessing over risk.

This resonates with me. I spend so much time doubting my ability to make the right decision (or whether I have the skills to accomplish X), I end up doing nothing.

This applies to buying a car, or even jumping into a new project at work.


That's what irks me so much with the vogue of utilitarianism, and all the silly articles about "what a self-driven car should do if a one-legged man crosses the street with an old lady and a pair of young dogs". This just doesn't work, people.

Thanks for this find!

The same story, minus the "Sandy", is attributed to the pseudonym Triffat in Antifragile. In light of this text, I think Taleb mischaracterized Diaconis. At least I never would have imagined that the quote was a story "Triffat" was telling about himself!


the idea of Taleb mischaracterizing something doesn't strain my credulity too much ;)

What's mischaracterized?

Thinking should be a time boxed activity, with time proportional to the priority of the thing at hand. As a classic overthinker I've realized my overthinking is a weird amalgamation of perfectionism and procrastination. That took me a long time to accept, since I've always rationalized my overthinking as ultimately a good thing. If you assume that action (instead of thinking) is the primary unit in the world, then you can see that thinking is just a tool which informs action.

I found it also useful to realize that there are many situations in life where there are just too many unknowns. You're faced with two possible futures: should I go to University A or B? This choice is necessarily going to radically alter your life: depending which university you pick, you'll make different friends, date different people, hang out in different spots, maybe live in different cities. Based on this choice, the life you'll have in 5 years will be completely different. How do you pick which future to choose from, which one is better?

The thing is, you simply have no way to know. What exact future you'll end up with is about as predictable as the weather on this day five years from now. You have no idea who are the people you haven't yet met that are going to change your life, what roadblocks you'll find on the way, whether you'll suddenly fall into a depression, etc. You can only rely on objective metrics (trends, statistics), testimonials, and general gut feeling.

For myself, 3 years ago, after my studies, I was wondering whether I should relocate to silicon valley for a big tech job or not. It was scary. I loved my hometown, had many friends, etc. I figured, however, that I might as well do this sort of experiment (moving to another city/country) while I'm young and have no spouse or property. I did make the move, and unfortunately, I didn't enjoy my big tech job, nor did I enjoy living in silicon valley, it wasn't a good experience, so I moved back, thankfully with a decent wad of cash to wipe my tears with.

I didn't like silicon valley, but I don't regret my decision to try it. Why, because I also knew that I kind of had to try it, because if I didn't, there might always be some FOMO in the back of my mind (what if I'd taken this big silicon valley job, would my live be better right now?). Now I've done it, I've been there, and I know what it's like. The pressure/temptation is gone. So my two cents are to trust your gut, do commit to decisions, and also don't be overly afraid of experimenting when you're young: it might not work out, but you'll learn something along the way.


I'm halfway reading "Stumbling on Happiness," and one takeaway is that indeed people are happier when they take action and it doesn't turn out to be as expected, than when they do nothing. Your experience fits exactly that.

Coincidentally, I'm reading the book because I'm trying to decide whether to leave my small city teaching job at a and move to SV to get a big tech job. And the book and your experience suggest that it is better to leave and fail to thrive than to never leave at all. But may I ask why didn't you like it, or what should I look out for?


A few years ago I sold everything I owned and moved on to a sailboat. I was frustrated with my prior job and knew I was going to leave no matter what. I fretted about what to do for a while but finally decided to give sailing a try - because I could and I knew if I didn't I would regret it the rest of my life.

Turns out I both loved and hated it. I ended up only staying gone for about a year and moved back to the city I had left. I still don't regret that decision, I'm significantly happier now than I was. I think of radical life changes as tools for perspective, by doing what I did I realize how little of what I have I need and how easy it is to create a new life if the one I have isn't suiting me.


As I always say while fretting about getting out of my comfort zone - the worst thing that can happen is nothing.

Take a short trip to SF and see if you like it. Keep in mind SF is not what it used to be because of all the techies that live there now. If you really want to see what SF is like go see other areas of SF and eastbay.

Things I did like: I was on a small team, my team and manager were great people, and I got along with everyone. The work environment was very comfortable, great food, they got me a super comfortable chair when I complained about back pain, etc. The pay was great too, enough to save 40-80K per year depending on spending habits (and still live comfortably!)

One thing I didn't like was living in the silicon valley suburbs. It felt like a small town with nothing going on for me. It was really car-centric, my apartment came with a covered parking spot because they just assumed that of course you have a car. If I had to do it again I'd get a job in SF and live in SF. I don't want long commutes and I don't want to live in suburbs. Since you're from a small town, YMMV. The SV suburbs might feel like a big upgrade to you, and having to drive everywhere might be something you're already used to.

Another thing was that the work was dry. This might be very different for you based on what employer and job you pick. My team was doing mostly maintenance and incremental upgrades on a product many years old. I found that dreadfully boring. I need something creative. This is something I didn't know then. My current job doesn't pay nearly as much but the work offers a lot more novelty and creative freedom. If I had to do it again, I'd make sure to join a team that's working on a project that has me genuinely excited, preferably a team that's building something rather than doing maintenance.

It was also really hard for me to be uprooted from my hometown where I'd always lived and away from my friends. What made it even harder was that I fell into a depression right before moving to California. My mother was suddenly hospitalized, right as I was going through other stressful things and preparing for an international move. The extra stress was too much. Then I landed in California, and I had to start my first job, and I didn't have any friends there to support me. It's hard to boostrap a network of friends starting from nobody, and it's even harder when you're depressed... You have no energy to go out and you're coming from a place where you need people to help and support you, rather than a place of "I'm a fun person to spend time with".

Lastly, while I lived in California, after being on antidepressants for a bit and feeling more hopeful again, I tried dating, and I hated my experience. It feels, to me, like SV has an overabundance of men, because of the constant inflow of tech workers. If you're a single guy, you're moving to a place where there are too many men. In any other city, being a successful tech worker is something that will earn you points, but in SV, every woman knows they could date a Google engineer if they wanted to, at least that's how it seemed to me. Lots of ghosting and being treated in ways that I found disrespectful. To make matters more complicated, lots of people in and around SF are polyamorous, which is not something I want to get involved with.


I can't thank you enough for your story. It's incredibly valuable to me.

May I ask how do you feel now about your current life? Did you leave the States?


Yes I moved back two years ago. I don't regret leaving. I make less money, but still live comfortably. I can afford a two bedroom apartment a 15-minute walk away from work. I'm back in a bit city so there are as much social activities as I could want.

If you're asking if I'm happy, I would say I'm definitely more emotionally stable. I've been at the same job since I came back and currently don't plan to leave. I still feel down from time to time, not completely fulfilled, but I think I'd feel that way anywhere. I feel a little lost these days because I don't really know what I want to do with my life. I feel like I lack purpose.

Dating here in a big city seems easier than in the Silicon Valley suburbs. It's tricky (because dating is tricky), but I have no trouble getting dates. I did lose touch with many acquaintances after being away for a year. Party friends, when you stop going out with them regularly, stop thinking about you. I have a small number of close friends that I had before I left and I generally feel like I get enough social.


The thing is, and we do not collectively teach young, is that many decisions are workable but some have bad consequences that are nigh irredeemable. Then there's the sunk cost fallacy, all too common. Estimating the cumulative sunk costs and arriving at robust decisions is feasible.

Choosing a college may be a cost, but for now there are workable alternatives.

And you always have the way to know or at least roughly estimate which is good enough for a sane decision. You just take the cost of acquiring information into your decision time and you're gold. Apply hard limit for time and problem disappears. You did the best you could given the constraints.

In fact, the typical problem today is that you have too many ways to know and not enough ways to verify veracity.


Fascinating. Thanks for sharing. It reminds me of Sylvia Plath's fig tree - [https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/7511-i-saw-my-life-branchin...] which I always think about. I've observed that it's useful to think of the one future that you would sacrifice all other futures for. Which would be what exactly do you value?

On regrets and mistakes, Jordan Peterson talks about this sort of thing in a beautiful way as the idea of "redemptive mistakes", and that "people are a lot more unhappy when they look back in their lives about the things they didn't do than they are about the mistakes they made while they were doing things" - [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZwGDnSWmqhM]. It has stuck with me as I try to be more permissive of myself making mistakes and being imperfect.


This is in no way an endorsement of doing without thinking, which will catch up with you and result in you being forced to skip options. At least I hope it isn't.

There's a clear spectrum between recklessness on one end, indecision and inaction on the other and doing right things right in the middle, spontaneously or in a planned way.

Relevancy is key, nobody remembers things that are irrelevant by definition as a regret... Cost is a kind of relevancy.

Going back to the article, you almost completely lost contact with the original problem once you're past third or rarely fourth order thinking because you will lack enough particular data to decide on any measure of success, with exception of particularly structured recursive problems. Welcome to decision variant of Goedel's second. Decisions and axioms (data points) are countable.


I don't think everybody has the capacity to be reckless. I think we are bounded by our temperament (nature + nurture). Some of us have exact perfectionist tendencies, and some of us have creative tendencies, and more. This is very much an oversimplification, but you can think of a Scientist as trying to get to the exact truth (in the realm of theory) and science as a field that aims for perfection. Engineers on the other hand are used to working with constraints and imperfect conditions (in the realm of practice), and the motto seems to be "get shit done" (a kind of pragmatism). And so sometimes you have to be a scientist and sometimes you have to be an engineer.

Science is also there to "get things done". You set out with a goal or stumble upon one. You have only limited time to go stumbling and digging too deep is only sometimes productive. But when it is, the results are profound if not immediately used or understandable. Like the one about decision or chance exchangeability. Regardless, mathematics is partially the art of building high order abstractions that explain the world, at the core. (And of course applied mathematics is the practice.) It is not a coincidence that it was mostly developed by people with many brain cycles to spare. There are many outdated (usually superseded, limited or outright meaningless, sometimes finished) branches of it too, which may not be apparent.

This was a hugely helpful insight for me. First, because I found it much easier to accept "deliberating has a cost, factor that in" than a generalized claim of "stop thinking so much". Second, because thinking more really does help sometimes. "Go with your gut" doesn't sit well with me; every once so often I think about a decision and notice that I've made some major oversight in my first assessment. Aiming for the 'right' amount of thinking, as a function of stakes and urgency and complexity, has been much better for controlling overthinking while still catching those mistakes.

I think going with your gut can be a fine solution, but it's probably worth assessing how well your gut has served you historically.

For me, my gut has generally been more right than my over-analytical mind. But I have a number of friends where I think it's the other way around.


This definitely seems like a "competing needs" thing. People repeat the advice that helps them, but different people need to adjust in different directions. "Look before you leap" versus "he who hesitates", I suppose.

There's an interesting result from studying people's prediction accuracy in which they improve simply by being asked to think about their answers and whether they're sure. For me, overthinking often leads me to explain away 'irrational' reactions that were quite accurate, but taking at least one extra look to say "has my first reaction missed something fundamental" is a lifesaver.


I've never really understood "Go with your gut", because my gut is still my brain.. I would be curious if individuals have a process for thinking. A kind of structured thinking, instead of all abstract. I've noticed that it's really important giving my abstract thoughts a solid form, either by writing them down or speaking in a conversation (even to myself). Helps a lot in refining them, and figuring out what exactly am I aiming towards.

> my gut is still my brain..

I think they mean deciding on the basis of preverbal emotional reactions, rather than on explicit values. That decision could be in reaction to outcomes you've already put a lot of thought into predicting, though.


That's interesting. I can empathize with most of what you said. How do you see self-reflection fitting into this? I spend way too much time self-reflecting on all the stuff I said and did throughout the day or the week. I try to think about how another person interpreted my actions, based on their level of familiarity with me. I have to force myself to just "go and do stuff" without constantly slipping into that.

Self-reflection when taken to the extreme becomes ruminating and dwelling on the past. I'd say bound your self-reflection time as well. And part of the mindset I guess is that you are imperfect and it's okay making mistakes. From my experience, the unbounded self-reflection mindset often becomes the always self-critical mindset. I've often found myself in a self-improvement loop where I'm so focused on improving that I'm not kind to myself. I had to consciously recognize and break that, and then go read some about self-compassion :)

Just accept that very little things in life are set in stone. Take a decision and then adapt, when the need arises.

I have realized some time ago that when some decision is difficult to make, it is likely that both outcomes are equally good (or bad), or at least, equally indeterminable. If one of them was much better, then the decision would be obvious!

So indeed, if you can't decide, spin a penny. You save time and the outcome will be similar.


In similar situations, I’ve often discovered that I’m hoping the penny will fall one particular way. When that happens, I don’t look at the actual answer and go with the one my subconscious apparently wanted.

The advice my mum gave me was similar: If you don't know which way to choose, flip a coin, and see how you feel about the outcome. That will tell you what you really wanted to choose.

That is also the poem in the conclusion of the article:

Whenever you’re called on to make up your mind,

and you’re hampered by not having any,

the best way to solve the dilemma, you’ll find,

is simply by spinning a penny.

No—not so that chance shall decide the affair while you’re passively standing there moping;

but the moment the penny is up in the air, you suddenly know what you’re hoping.


This was my parent's trick for getting me to make choices as an indecisive little kid. They didn't just assign the options and flip a coin, they had me do it without saying what I had picked. It worked far better for getting outcomes I was happy with, and it works remarkably well even for adults.

Even fancy things like Oblique Strategies and Tarot often seem to provide the same value; they spit out some directed randomness that gets us from thinking about the problem to expecting outcomes.


That could be a psychological trick that uses buyer's remorse to push you to choose whichever the coin did not choose. And also what you "feel you want" is not the same was what you will be happy having chosen. (Forecasted utility vs experienced utility vs remembered utility is a researcher program in behavioral economics).

I do seem to recall a research paper that showed that the coin trick worked well, in an experimental setting with people deciding whether to get married or break up!


A variant on that which I will use when no coin is handy is to assign odd and even to whatever options and then look at the time. If you haven't looked at the time recently, the final digit is random to you.

Better, take both if possible.

Or try to redefine the problem so you can widen your perspective and come up with other possible solutions.

cf. Never Split the Difference

Thanks for reminding me to check out the Kindle sample I downloaded in 2017.

This is called Fredkin's Paradox[0] for those who are curious.

[0] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fredkin%27s_paradox


When I hit a similar situation. I'd share it with someone else to verify that both outcomes are equally indeterminable. If that is the case, I often go with my gut feeling.

Most decisions aren't A or B, they're I want A, but B is much safer/easier/etc. So the coin flip method (you'll make up your mind while it is in the air) doesn't help since you already know what you want. Pros and cons lists don't help since you already know them. Probability multiplied by reward doesn't help much, since you'll really only make the decision once, not continuously.

The only sure fire thing I've found helps is you imagine the realistic worst possible case scenario if you decide on doing thing A (the thing you really want) and if you can live with that, do thing A.


Yup agree. That and also understanding why you want A more than B which usually leads to understand why B doesn't give you those same things. At some point there is a balance of how much risk you are willing to put to get what you want.

The conclusion is where the gold is at:

> One of the most useful things to come out of mystudy is a collection of the rules of thumb my friends use in their decision making. For example, one of my Ph.D. advisers, Fred Mosteller, told me, “Other things being equal, finish the job that isnearest done.” A famous physicist offered this advice: “Don’t waste time on obscure fine pointsthat rarely occur.” I’ve been told that Albert Einstein displayed the following aphorism in his office: “Things that are difficult to do are beingdone from the wrong centers and are not worth doing.” Decision theorist I. J. Good writes, “The older we become, the more important it is to usewhat we know rather than learn more.” Galen offered this: “If a lot of smart people have thought about a problem [e.g., God’s existence, life on other planets] and disagree, then it can’t be decided.”

> Whenever you’re called on to make up your mind, and you’re hampered by not having any,the best way to solve the dilemma, you’ll find, is simply by spinning a penny. No — not so that chance shall decide the affairwhile you’re passively standing there moping; but the moment the penny is up in the air, you suddenly know what you’re hoping.


My problem with thinking too much is when I'm faced with a decision, I find I often have a preferred course of action already in mind and whether that course happens to be objectively better than the alternative is completely immaterial to my ability to think long and abstractly enough about it to reason myself into believing that it is. I have had to train myself to turn off this abstract thinking as necessary. The upshot is when I do, the actual correct answer to the situation often strongly presents itself and immediately seems obvious.

Reminds me how chess players (gm) don't calculate 15 moves (for one variation) ahead instead they see 3 moves ahead that are GOOD

How do you turn it off, how do you train for that? I cannot really do that that's why I ask for a second and third opinion and then talk it out.

>How do you turn it off, how do you train for that? I cannot really do that that's why I ask for a second and third opinion and then talk it out.

Imagine you're a programmer and you're in some kind of professional rut. You consider your options. You could learn a functional language, maybe get into mobile development, find something else to do altogether, or any other of myriad paths. If you think long and hard enough about any single option you can probably convince yourself it's the right choice. Or maybe you get overwhelmed and just give up. The question is too abstract and so are the alternatives hence the overthinking.

What I do is take the abstract and make it concrete. Instead of looking at this monster problem from the inside, I picture the end result. What am I actually trying to accomplish; what will my life look like when I do. When I see that and it usually comes pretty easily, what to do is simple. Ask myself what's the very next specific action I can take to accomplish that vision. If the answer isn't obvious I get even more specific. Maybe I need to literally get up out of my chair. Whatever. I do that thing, ask the question again, do the next thing, then the next until I'm done.


Like we learn how to use our hands one should learn how to use our brains when needed, and when not needed how to put it down, that's all.

Just that learning to halt subvocal speech even for a couple of seconds seems to be a much harder task than learning keeping an untrained hand still. There seems to be active resistance, a compulsion to internally vocalize, even (/especially) when detrimental. Unlearning it seems possible but no easy task, requiring a large amount of hours and determination in my experience.

Is there a good way to notice you're doing subvocal speech?

Mindfulness type exercises / learning internal silence was the only effective strategy i found. I can still get carried away in my thoughts but there's a learned recurring return into silence that also gives room for meta cognitions of various sorts. The more I "practice" the more subconscious those silent moments appear, the higher their frequency and the easier it is to maintain longer stretches of them - and the more enjoyable it is to entertain them, in the beginning it can feel like a pointless bore.

And going to interviews without preparing what to say is good practise for letting thoughts come and go without deciding till you have decided.

Doea that help you notice , or help you get better at suppressing it via practice and "muscle memory"?

The more quiet moments there are to reflect upon my thinking, the easier it becomes to notice and correct. I wouldn't call it suppressing, trying to apply 'force' in cognition usually leads to more internal conflict instead of resolution, at least in my experience.

There is also growing evidence that microdosing psychedelics like LSD or psilocybin can be beneficial:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/willburns/2018/02/26/the-beckle...

What's happening in the brain exactly that gives people an advantage? What is the brain science behind microdosing LSD?

The effects of microdosing in the brain are not known, which is why I am setting up an international research program to investigate how microdosing, both acutely and after repeated doses, may produce changes in brain function. Our results with higher doses of LSD show that LSD revealed important changes in the way different brain regions communicate with each other, resulting in a more integrated and fluid brain state. The Beckley/Imperial Research Program found that LSD makes the brain much more connected and flexible.

Both the psilocybin and LSD studies showed a decrease in blood flow to the “default mode network” (DMN), meaning there was less activity in the parts of the brain that repress other parts that maintain the normal, restricted status quo. The DMN is activated when the mind is wandering, not committed to a task, but overlooking the past and planning the future, and thinking about one’s self and one’s emotional state. An overactive DMN underlies the excessive rumination associated with psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety, addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder. A microdose likely lessens the rigidity of the DMN, making the brain more flexible.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5853825/

Second, like Huxley’s cerebral reducing valve and Freud’s ego, EBT argues that the DMN’s organizational stronghold over brain activity can be both an evolutionary advantage and a source of pathology. “It is argued that this entropy-suppressing function of the human brain serves to promote realism, foresight, careful reflection and an ability to recognize and overcome wishful and paranoid fantasies. Equally however, it could be seen as exerting a limiting or narrowing influence on consciousness” (Carhart-Harris et al., 2014, p. 7). Carhart-Harris et al. (2014) point out that neuroimaging studies have implicated increased DMN activity and RSFC with various aspects of depressive rumination, trait neuroticism, and depression. “The suggestion is that increased DMN activity and connectivity in mild depression promotes concerted introspection and an especially diligent style of reality-testing. However, what may be gained in mild depression (i.e., accurate reality testing) may be offset by a reciprocal decrease in flexible or divergent thinking (and positive mood)” (Carhart-Harris et al., 2014, p. 10).

Third, consistent with both psychoanalytic and filtration theory, is the notion that psychedelic drugs’ capacity to temporarily weaken, collapse, or disintegrate the normal ego/DMN stronghold underpins their therapeutic utility. “Specifically, it is proposed that psychedelics work by dismantling reinforced patterns of negative thought and behavior by breaking down the stable spatiotemporal patterns of brain activity upon which they rest” (Carhart-Harris et al., 2014, p. 1).


This sounds interesting, I wish I knew enough to critically analyze it.

I believe we lack enough fundamental knowledge to critically analyse it with any sort of certainty, most of what is known comes from theory combined with individual experiences.

This book is often recommended:

https://www.amazon.com/Psychedelic-Explorers-Guide-Therapeut...


I would love this book if only I could get my hands on LSD in my country without going to prison

Psilocybin is a fine alternative, you should be able to find that.

Nice man.

>For example, a 26-year-old young man in Brasov was detained by DIICOT after being intercepted to order such a thing

DIICOT is like the DEA of my country. I can't get my hand on that


I did a bit of googling on various sites and Romania does seem to not have much discussion online.

There is a cryptic message in here that I don't quite understand, I'd try sending this guy a PM (from a mature reddit account that would feel trustworthy to not be a cop). At least he may be able to point you in some direction.

https://www.reddit.com/r/shrooms/comments/7obvvn/growing_kit...


Wow thanks dude. Here my keybase: hnlurker

I'm a bit embarrassed to admit I don't really know what a keybase is!

The most secure way, an app like WhatsApp but it is secured because of 2 people encryption

You can contact me with the email in the bio if you don't like it (not many people use keybase anyways)


Meditation and mindfulness has helped me.

I noticed that my 'internal dialogue' was what started anxiety spirals and depression.

Meditation and mindfulness practice seem to help. I think that just like any muscle, the brain can be exercised in a certain direction. But holy shit is it infuriating to start meditating. Do you realize how much time you spend in your own head? Like all of it.


Making note of the absence of it is easier, in my experience (also, for me, the outside world needs to be silent as well). It is a really interesting state to be in.

Is 'thinking about thinking' correctly actually an unsolvable problem?

Let's say I'm trying to do X.

- Level 0 might be: do the first thing that comes to mind

- Level 1 may be 'consider your possible choices and do a cost-benefit analysis'

Most people would say that Level 1 is preferable, but only for 'weighty' decisions where the cost of thinking is outweighed by the benefit of making a better decision. For example, nobody does rational deliberation for 'should I brake at this red light?'

So in practice, we seem to do some level of rational metacognition that takes into account the cost of thinking about a problem.

What about level 3? Are there large classes of problems where it's not really worth it to 'think about whether to think' - you should always ponder them, or never? And what about levels beyond yet?


Or maybe that is just what level 2 would be? Level 1 is doing cost-benefit analysis on all problems. Level 2 might be doing cheap meta analysis to determine if energy can be saved and a level 0 solution used, or if more thinking is required. I would think there is a top level, which is full memorization of the space in which thinking might occur. Than instead of any thinking taking place, a reference is made to this memory-truth-table and the correct action is produced in response. Such a truth-table sounds maybe a bit paradoxical though. Does it take into account its own presence in the situation?

"Whenever you’re called on to make up your mind,and you’re hampered by not having any,the best way to solve the dilemma, you’ll find,is simply by spinning a penny.No—not so that chance shall decide the affairwhile you’re passively standing there moping;but the moment the penny is up in the air,you suddenly know what you’re hoping."

A friend introduced me to a related version of this that works pretty well: toss a coin, see what result comes out, and then decide if you are happy or disappointed. If you still don't care, go with the coin. Or don't; it doesn't matter.


Related: Our first instinct is far too often wrong (finantial times, 10 May 2019, Tim harford, pay walled article).

Another related article: Heads or Tails: The Impact of a Coin Toss on Major Life Decisions and Subsequent Happiness Steven D. Levitt https://www.nber.org/papers/w22487


oh nice, i didn't know where the coin flipping quote came from: https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Piet_Hein

This is a very Academia driven problem.

They have been so detached from problem solving that they forget how to problem solve.

Modeling a human randomness with math didn't give you perfect data and conclusions?

What was the original problem? To solve something unsolvable with our current understanding of biology?

Industry asks better questions and finds solutions. Academia waddles around in theoreticals, and makes minimal meaningful progress.

Edit, to clarify. Academia picks a unreal problem, and can't find a logic driven solution. Industry picks real problems, and doesn't make money unless they solve it. We should be learning to solve problems from Industry, not our underachieving professors.


This is hopelessly narrow minded.

I won't defend all of academia but it is clear that sometimes there's a cache of 'useless knowledge' that suddenly gets cashed in when industry reaches a point where it is actually needed (most famous example being number theory and cryptography).

The whole point of academia is for it to be a space for the free exploration of unknown intellectual domains. This exploration will often be worthless but may occasionally bear fruit in completely civilization changing ways.

Meanwhile, industry is too busy manipulating the evaluation criteria to make problems magically go away to actually solve anything (this is the counter strawman to your strawman).

Seriously though, our econonic systems do not seem to be able to evaluate survival as an important concept. There is no evidence that industry will move by itself in a direction that sacrifices profits to avoid pollution, someone else will just say he did the same and offer a cheaper product.

What we want is for our political systems to be more robust and for the gradient between academia and industry to be more smooth. What we have is broken in too many ways to count.


And yet much profit has been derived from the privatization of publicly-funded academia.

This is the exception, not the rule.

Academia is a process of finding new knowledge and sharing it.

Industry is a process of commercialising added value.

They both add to society in different ways, and their outcomes aren’t really comparable.




Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: