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How to think clearly (psyche.co)
282 points by prostoalex 5 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 71 comments

IMO the best way to think "clearly" is to be patient. I find that when I try to figure out the best way to do something, just waiting on it I come up with a better way or at least get more confident. Even when I didn't consciously think anymore about it, and especially after I sleep.

There is something magical about the subconscious. I find this works best if you truly understand the problem, but can't quite reach the answer. For me this happens mostly when playing a musical instrument. If you understand what you want to play and how to play it, but can't quite make it all come together, that's a sign for me to go to bed. Next day, there is almost always a noticeable improvement. Brain seems to do it's linking over night.

>Brain seems to do it's linking over night.

Or in the space of less than an hour.

Several years ago I dedicated myself to writing an album/CD's worth of songs. I'd recently got a dog and he needed to be walked regularly. So often was the case where I'd be stuck on where to take a particular song, hitting my head against a wall. Then, it would be time to walk the dog. While out for the stroll I'd come up with an idea. Sometimes that was the idea I'd run with and other times it would lead me to new, different ideas.

I no longer have the dog but I keep taking the walks when I get stuck.

Can concur. This works for me when faced with some tricky code.

This has happened to me a few times and it feels like magic. You spend the whole day trying to play something on the piano and it just seems impossible. Muscle coordination is way beyond what you can perform. Frustrated, you go to bed. The next day, you can just play it, your hands suddenly know how to. Amazing.

I'm reminded of what's said in the War of Art:

"What does it tell us about the architecture of our psyches that, without our exerting effort or even thinking about it, some voice in our head pipes up to counsel us (and counsel us wisely) on how to do our work and live our lives? Whose voice is it? What software is grinding away, scanning gigabytes, while we, our mainstream selves, are otherwise occupied?"

--Steven Pressfield

...same with breast saber :)

My partner is a dress maker, she was in tears, distraught because she cut a hole in a garment when trimming threads away from the hem, lower part of the garment. Losing 3 days work.

Her conclusion was, she’d had to remake the whole thing.

Anyway she had a break and we were sitting by the fire having a glass of wine, she said, “oh, that dress I screwed up, I just realised can afford to be a few centimetres shorter, I’ll just take it up so the hole isn’t an issue anymore”.

It’s true, stepping back is power.

I think this demonstrates that all decisions should be made with help of a glass of wine.

Finding solutions in your sleep is so incredibly satisfying when it happens.

Many times when I am marinating on a problem, I come up with the most simple and obvious solution in 90 seconds after I open my eyes in the morning. I attribute it to the monkey brain not drowning your thoughts in crap, but then the tsunami comes in and you lost your chance.

It's truly amazing what an uncluttered brain can do.

I began seeing value in "practical" meditation. That is, focusing on something mundane like doing dishes, to distract the brain from those other things. Sometimes it's all the busy us can afford. Not everyone has Jerry Seinfeld money to meditate in peace for one hour each day (he does).

"Meditate for an hour every day unless you are too busy. In that case meditate for two hours."

- many Buddhist teachers, in many variations.

That is fine. Doing "practical" meditation and "real" meditation per se is not far-fetched.

All we need to be is with awareness. When you start feeling that - then that is what I would say meditation.

I walk, I do slow walking every night reflecting on things that had happened in the day or just walk in silence. That helps me to ease my pain and have more space to think what is important at the moment and make decisions.

In other words, this is also related to the original comment which says about "patience". It doesn't happen all at once, practicing with patience is the key for progress.

You don't need money to meditate for an hour a day, you need a conscious decision to do so.

Start small. Meditate for just a few minutes, as you currently do with the dishes, and slowly increase that, minute by minute. You'll might find that you have that hour in your day.

I don't know.... The apartment won't clean itself and the food won't cook autonomously ;)

meditation can help one to realize the various other unnecessary things we do on a daily basis.

…like cleaning one’s home and eating food?

Without context, your statement is true; as a response, it seems a bit of a stretch.

i recognize this qualifier was buried, but if you look closely, you'll see i wrote "other" things.

> meditation can help one to realize the various other unnecessary things we do on a daily basis.

surely, cooking and cleaning aren't the only ways the parent spends their time. for instance, they're writing comments on HN!

Is that then a sense of meditation? It seems to fit. It's a relaxing, distraction, with the benefit of often being educational, at the same time. Relieving stress, allowing return to other things which need attention.

sure, why not

Could always hire a cleaner and order delivery. Doesn't seem like that much of a stretch to me.

All of those things cost money. You are kind of making my original point that it's a privilege.

Don't really need "Seinfeld money" to do it though. I'm agreeing with the top sub-comment to yours. If you don't have time for 1 hour, should really find a way to do 2.

Most of my dreams are interesting, but grounded at least somewhat in my real life, with the typical bits of surrealism mixed in.

Recently, though, I've been having dreams that leave me waking up, reflecting on various things in my life, often to my detriment. Interestingly, in a recent dream, I found myself doing accurate math (nothing serious, very basic arithmetic, but I've never experienced that before)

i would generally agree but there were times were i had seriously abstract dreams about implementation details i needed to come up with before going to sleep. these dreams are really hard to describe because they are so abstract but it feels a bit like running the debugger in your head and imagine code execution with some visual feedback. They are very tiring to me as my sleep definitely takes a hit in quality. I try to avoid going directly to sleep after working on something harder that could trigger it.

Sometimes, half asleep I come up with a solution to a problem or a great idea. But then, waking up in the morning it feels like most ridiculous thing.

This may be partially caused by cortisol levels where cortisol levels are lower before, during, and after the sleep process.

So, all of the time?

I think the poster meant RIGHT before/after.

It's the only way I passed calc 3.

A problem I have with this approach is that sometimes my thoughts don't stabilize, but keep going in cycles.

I think it would be best to do X, but then a few days later, the reasons I had no longer seem important and I think it would be better to do Y. And so on..

„Hammock driven development“

This, so much this. Can you please make my boss understand?

For whatever reason he just always needs to have everything solved 'now'. Most of the time, the best answer is to wait a bit. Probably this latest most important thing actually isn't all that important. And if it really is, the waiting will have brought on a much more "clear" solution.

For me, what doesn't work is trying to write it out on the computer. Writing down thoughts requires a level of clarity that I might not have yet for a particular task. I find that a shower or other bathroom break helps to organize my thoughts. Walking outside is a bit too distracting.

I need to try to get up from my desk more when stuck. There's a bit of inertia to overcome in getting up from my seat, but it would probably be more efficient, thinking wise.

I tend to just load up on information in short blasts, let it fester and then go back for more. Then sleep on it and time after time I generally find the solution, with a clear head.

But I also do believe that time-sensitive problems can also pull the best solutions because I don't have the time to over-think which tends to destroy ideas for me.

Apart from meditation and liminal dreaming, hot showers do wonders.

i also find writing helps clarify thought

I've taken a liking to mulling over large pieces of content instead of paying attention to quick little soundbites that you find on social media. It makes me think clearly.

Just taking the time to indulge in reading a lofty tome is a real social media killer.

Although: I am prone to distilling the gist of core concepts that took many pages to explain. I probably got that trait from social media. Everything has to be reduced down to a soundbite or clever haiku-like quote.

> distilling the gist of core concepts

If you wish to instruct, be brief. -- Cicero

Distilling many pages is the first step in writing your own response (over many pages). It’s essential and a very healthy impulse.

Distilling to the core concepts is great if you've captured the most essential takeaways, unless you're looking to put the nitty gritty to work as a main occupation. They just become frameworks for lateral thinking and free association.

"Question: how can archaeologists translate ancient scriptures or languages? Answer: ‘It’s basically a giant jigsaw puzzle.’ " Does the author actually think this is a good answer? I don't see how it tells you anything at all.

The author is using a variety of examples from ELI5, and goes on to clarify that the answers there are imperfect, debated, discussed, etc.

Why would you conclude that the author thinks this is a good answer vs. just an answer to help the reader understand the subreddit?

With that said, it does tell you something if you’re open to it. To me, it says: “there are a lot of pieces (often literally), and an archaeologist has to put those pieces together”. Is it an oversimplification? Of course. But remember the age the answer is supposed to target.

I literally think it conveys no information at all. It's a metaphor, and a metaphor that the hearer won't understand unless he already knows the answer to his question. He could just as informatively have said "it's complicated".

Ah, I think I may see the missed connection! It's like a jigsaw puzzle because archaeologists really do assemble fragments of old scripts. Sometimes the translation efforts can only give you probabilistic answers that in turn influence where you're likely to place a fragment.

A family member of mine works in the space academically, and they really have giant catalogues with pictures of fragments, and they experiment with different arrangements and what they would mean to their translation efforts. Unfortunately I don't have a link. :/

EDIT: a random CS paper that talks about automated solutions to the pure assembly part of this (without the text translation): https://arxiv.org/abs/1812.10553

“It’s complicated” tells me absolutely nothing about the nature of the complication.

“It’s like a puzzle” at least tells me there are a bunch of pieces to assemble, and gives me some insight and a basic mental model to start with.

That's not the explanation, it's just the first sentence (as an example of the tone, I presume):

> It's basically a giant jigsaw puzzle.

> You find some rock that has the same text in two languages (the rosetta stone for example helped decipher old egyptian)

> Then you read more and more texts and reconstruct new words from context. Often you have multiple possible interpretations but then new texts are found and you can improve your old assumptions with a new context.



That's assuming that basic cognition is in good shape.

During the pandemic and after I've noticed (and been told explicitly) about how their cognition took a bit hit in the past year+.

I wonder how prevalent this is around the world. Especially that many people haven't had a proper vacation/time off.

A good way to find out how to think clearly would be to look for some of the rare people who are effective despite serious neurological or mental disorders and find out how they cope.

I remember in one of Oliver Sacks' books, he described a surgeon with Tourette's, which involves tics and involuntary outbursts, but somehow he managed to be perfectly steady in the operating room, and he also was a private pilot.

Perhaps tangential, but the 2015 world champion of public speaking Mohammed Qahtani actually has a really severe stutter. I got the chance to work with him, and he stuttered since he was a child, and still does, severely, during normal chat and workshops and so on, but as soon as he's on stage and he's "on" it disappears.

>Sometimes, when I’m grappling with a tricky topic, I pretend that I need to explain it to a child.


Even better is explaining it to a computer.

Thanks for saying that. It is an underrated practice I think. Could you elaborate a bit more on this.

It's a joke. Explaining it to a computer means expressing it in code. (Not sure if I'm the one who got whooshed here)

Someone should create a service where people can collaborate in explaining things to computers, and comment, ask questions, or criticise each other's explanations....

You got wooshed yeah.

In case your curiosity is genuine- I think gp is referring to the common idea that computers are notoriously “dumb” and require meticulously explicit instructions for every step of a given task in order for them to reliably accomplish said task.

used to have a sticky note on the desk reminding me to disengage from going down a rabbit hole if I've spent more than 20 minutes investigating a particular theory. It's usually a sign I'm attached to the idea more than finding a solution. Going for a short walk turned out to be surprisingly good. Often came back with solutions or new ideas.

Another interesting thing that has worked these days is listening to podcasts on adjacent topics - tech but somewhat away from what I use daily and there were a few aha! moments.

Relevant video I stumbled across this morning: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vR2P5vW-nVc

It’s hard to take seriously an article that purports to teach about moral decision-making and doesn’t reference any kind of utility theory. The kind of black-and-white thinking espoused in the veganism example is one of the reasons most people are so bad at thinking clearly. Among other downsides, it makes you extremely vulnerable to manipulative platitudes.

> purports to teach about moral decision-making

Where? The author's stated purpose is "I want to help people work out what they really think and mean." Decision-making isn't on the table.

> The kind of black-and-white thinking espoused

Again, where? The example isn't espousing black-and-white thinking, or anything about veganism. It's an example and it's exemplifying actively looking for further underlying reasons and further implications.

> Decision-making isn't on the table.

Like half the content of the article is an example of someone making a decision about being vegan. The author’s stated topic is less relevant than what he actually chooses to cover.

> The example isn't espousing black-and-white thinking, or anything about veganism. It's an example

Did you read the article? I don’t understand how you can say this. I’m also not sure why you’re so interested in the fact that it’s an example. That happens to be the prosaic style of the article - that doesn’t exempt it from judgement.

Did you? In the example section, there are four statements, repeated with an additional three, along with an introductory statement - about three paragraphs in all. There's an additional paragraph later on (the third one under "What have you taken for granted?") laying out some possible assumptions.

This out of approximately forty to fifty paragraphs dealing with the larger topic. None of the "key points" deal with veganism. None of the links or books at the end do. The topic wasn't even mentioned until a quarter of the way through the piece, and wasn't mentioned again in the last half of the piece after the assumptions bit.

Advocating for something is very different than using it as an example. The author could have laid out some premises supporting the January 6th insurrection - would you assume the author does support insurrection? Such an example might be useful specifically to set up how important it is to think in a structured way and to challenge your own thinking, so that you don't support the wrong things.

> Decision-making isn't on the table

If one of the main examples is a decision making process, I don't think it's fair to say decision making isn't on the table. You might say it's about evaluating claims, not a decisions per se, and the example happens to be a decision that is also a claim ("I should (not) be vegan, because..."), but this is still decision making.

I can't tell whether you're just nitpicking my choice of words, or whether you're actually arguing that the article is "about moral decision-making" and should therefore reference utility theory, which is the substance I was responding to.

It doesn't seem necessary for an article about moral decision making to contain anything about utility theory.

For example, what if the author prefers a deontological framework? Then they'll write about that, and it'll be perfectly valid.

In either case, it doesn't seem necessary to mention any particular framework by name in such an article. Because it's an article on the Internet aimed at a popular audience, not an undergraduate philosophy textbook.

> It doesn't seem necessary for an article about moral decision making to contain anything about utility theory.

It’s only necessary if you want to teach people how to make good decisions. If he’s just writing a fluff piece for clueless midwits who want to LARP as having a functional explicit decision-making procedure, it’s not necessary.

> Because it's an article on the Internet aimed at a popular audience

This doesn’t render it immune to criticism.

> It’s hard to take seriously an article that purports to teach about moral decision-making and doesn’t reference any kind of utility theory

Can you clarify this a little? Utility is helpful, I would think, but there are cases in which utility isn't a reliable indicator. (For example, the utility of running into a burning building to save a stranger; or the utility of telling the truth when a lie would serve better.)

> For example, the utility of running into a burning building to save a stranger; or the utility of telling the truth when a lie would serve better.

How would a utility theory fail to cover either of these cases?

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