On Seeking a Shortening of the Way

by Annoyance 1 min read27th Mar 200942 comments


"The most instructive experiences are those of everyday life."  - Friedrich Nietzsche

What is it that the readers of lesswrong are looking for?  One claim that's been repeated frequently is that we're looking for rationality tricks, shortcuts and clever methods for being rational.  Problem is:  there aren't any.

People generally want novelty and gimmicks.  They're exciting and interesting!  Useful advice tends to be dull, tedious, and familiar.  We've heard it all before, and it sounded like a lot of hard work and self-discipline.  If we want to lose weight, we don't do the sensible and quite difficult thing and eat a balanced diet while increasing our levels of exercise.  We try fad diets and eat nothing but grapefruits for a week, or we gorge ourselves on meats and abhor carbohydrates so that our metabolisms malfunction.  We lose weight that way, so clearly it's just as good as exercising and eating properly, right?

We cite Zen stories but don't take the time and effort to research their contexts, while at the same time sniggering a the actual beliefs inherent in that system.  We wax rhapsodic about psychedelics and dismiss the value of everyday experiences as trivial - and handwave away praise of the mundane as utilization of "applause lights".

We talk about the importance of being rational, but don't determine what's necessary to do to become so.

Some of the greatest thinkers of the past had profound insights after paying attention to parts of everyday life that most people don't give a second thought.  Archimedes realized how to determine the volume of a complex solid while lounging in a bath.  Galileo recognized that pendulums could be used to reliably measure time while letting his mind drift in a cathedral.

Sure, we're not geniuses, so why try to pay attention to ordinary things?  Shouldn't we concern ourselves with the novel and extraordinary instead?

Maybe we're not geniuses because we don't bother paying attention to ordinary things.