Keeping Beliefs Cruxy

by Raemon3 min read28th Jul 201934 comments



Previously in sequence: Doublecrux is for building products.

To recap – you might want to doublecrux if either:

  • You're building a product, metaphorical or literal, and you disagree about how to proceed.
  • You want to make your beliefs more accurate, and you think a particular person you disagree with is likely to have useful information for you.
  • You just... enjoy resolving disagreements in a way that mutually pursues truth for whatever reason.

Regardless, you might find yourself with the problem:

Doublecruxing takes a lot of time.

For a 'serious' disagreement, it frequently takes a least an hour, and often much longer. Habryka and I once took 12 hours over the course of 3 days to make any kind of progress on a particularly gnarly disagreement. And sometimes disagreements can persist for years despite significant mutual effort.

Now, doublecruxing is faster than many other forms of truth-aligned-disagreement resolution. I actually it's helpful to think of doublecrux as "the fastest way for two disagreeing-but-honest-people to converge locally towards the truth", and if someone came up with a faster method, I'd recommend deprecating doublecrux in favor it that. (Meanwhile, doublecrux is not guaranteed to be faster for 3+ people to converge but I still expect it to be faster for smallish groups with particularly confusing disagreements)

Regardless, multiple hours is a long time. Can we do better?

I think the answer is yes, and it basically comes in the form of:

  • Practice finding your own cruxes
  • Practice helping other people find their cruxes
  • Develop metacognitive skills that make cruxfinding natural and intuitive
  • Caching the results into a clearer belief-network

Those are all things you can do unilaterally. If you get buy-in from your colleagues, you might also try something like "develop culture that encourages people to do those four things, and help each other to do so."

I'd summarize all of that as "develop the skill and practice of keeping your beliefs cruxy."

By default, humans form beliefs for all kinds of reasons, without regard for how falsifiable they are. The result is a tangled, impenetrable web. Productive disagreement takes a long time because people are starting from the position of "impenetrable web."

If you make a habit of asking yourself "what observations would change my mind about this?", then you gain a few benefits.

First, your beliefs should (hopefully?) be more entangled with reality, period. You'll gain the skill of noticing how your beliefs should constrain your anticipations, and then if they fail to do so, you can maybe update your beliefs.

Second, if you've cultivated that skill, then during a doublecrux discussion, you'll have an easier time engaging with the core doublecrux loop. (So, a conversation that might have taken an hour takes 45 minutes – your conversation partner might still take a long time to figure out their cruxes, but maybe you can do your own much faster)

Third, once you gotten into this habit, this will help your beliefs form in a cleaner, more reality-entangled fashion in the first place. Instead of building an impenetrable morass, you'll be building a clear, legible network. (So, you might have all your cruxes full accessible from the beginning of the conversation, and then it's just a matter of stating them, and then helping your partner to do so)

[Note: I don't think you should optimize directly for your beliefs being legible. This is a recipe for burying illegible parts of your psyche and missing important information. But rather, if you try to actually understand your beliefs and what causes them, the legibility will come naturally as a side benefit]

Finally, if everyone around you is doing, this radically lowers the cost of productive-disagreement. Instead of taking an hour (or three days), as soon as you bump into an important disagreement you can quickly navigate through your respective belief networks, find the cruxes, and skip to the part where you actually Do Empiricism.

I think (and here we get into speculation), that this can result in a phase shift in how disagreement works, enabling much more powerful discourse systems than we currently have.

I think keeping beliefs cruxy is a good example of a practice that is both a valuable "Rabbit Strategy", as well as something worth Stag Hunting Together on. (In Rabbit/Stag parlance, a Rabbit strategy is something you can just do without relying on anyone else to help you, that will provide benefit to you. A Stag strategy is something with a larger payoff, but only actually works if you've coordinated with people to do so)

If you have an organization, community, or circle of friends where many people have practiced keeping-beliefs-cruxy, I predict you will find individuals benefiting, as well as creating a truthseeking culture more powerful than the sum of its parts.

Hopefully obvious addenda, operationalizing:

My crux for all this is that I think this is locally tractable.

My recommendation is not that you go out of your way to practice this all the time – rather, that you spend some time on-the-margin practicing the "look-for-cruxes" whenever you actually have a noteworthy disagreement.

If you practice crux-finding whenever you have such a disagreement, and find that it isn't locally useful, I probably wouldn't recommend continuing.

If 10 people tried this and 6 of them told me it didn't feel useful, even superficially, I'd probably change my mind significantly. If they tried it continuously for a year and there weren't at least 3 of them that could point to transparently useful outcomes, (such as disagreements taking much less time than they'd naively predict), I'd also significantly change my beliefs here.

This operationalization has some important caveats, such as "I don't necessarily expect this to work for people who haven't read the sequences or some equivalent. I also think it might require some skills that I haven't written up explanations for yet –which I hope to do soon as I continue this sequence."