Feedback requested by Intentional Insights on workbook conveying rational thinking about meaning and purpose to a broad audience

by Gleb_Tsipursky1 min read9th Dec 201411 comments

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We at Intentional Insights would appreciate your help with feedback on optimize a workbook that conveys rational thinking to find meaning and purpose in life for a broad audience. Last time, we asked for your feedback, and we changed our content offerings based on comments we received from fellow Less Wrongers, as you can see from the Edit to this post. We would be glad to update our beliefs again and revise the workbook based on your feedback.

For a bit of context, the workbook is part of our efforts to promote rational thinking to a broad audience and thus raise the sanity waterline. It’s based on research on how other societies besides the United States helped their citizens find meaning and purpose, such as research I did on the Soviet Union and Zuckerman did on Sweden and Denmark. It’s also based on research on the contemporary United States by psychologists such as Steger, Duffy and Dik, Seligman, and others.

The target audience is reason-minded youth and young adults, especially secular-oriented ones. The goal is to get such people to engage with academic research on how our minds work, and thus get them interested in exploring rational thinking more broadly, eventually getting them turned on to more advanced rationality, such as found on Less Wrong itself. The workbook is written in a style aimed to create cognitive ease, with narratives, personal stories, graphics, and research-based exercises.

Here is the link to the workbook draft itself. Any and all suggestions are welcomed, and thanks for taking the time to engage with this workbook and give your feedback – much appreciated!

 

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Those who attended my workshops and classes on this topic found these techniques very helpful. One participant stated in an anonymous feedback form that s/he gained “a better understanding of what it means to search for meaning, with the research basis especially greatly contributing to my comprehension.”

That basically means that your best testimonial is from a person who didn't benefit much in her daily life. If that's honest description go ahead but if you can find people who actually benefited from your courses, than choose a different quote.

The former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev described in his memoirs how much he and other Soviet citizens enjoyed such events: according to him, “everybody was keen to participate” (35).

Just because a Soviet leader said that his events were very effective at making his citizens happy doesn't mean that's true. It shoud ring alarm bells in any rational reader.

The target audience is reason-minded youth and young adults, especially secular-oriented ones. The goal is to get such people to engage with academic research on how our minds work, and thus get them interested in exploring rational thinking more broadly, eventually getting them turned on to more advanced rationality, such as found on Less Wrong itself.

If you want to get people to engage with academic research why do you advocate meaning based approaches for which you don't link studies that they work over CBT tools that have been shown in studies to be effectful?

It reminds me how David Burns used Frankl's book as a placebo when he tested whether his CBT book produces meaningful help.

Create a schedule for yourself to retake the MPQ and revise the plan on a regular basis. Once a week works best for most people.

That sentence triggers a "how do you know?" impulse.

Wow, thanks for this great feedback!

First, about the testimonial: how about this one, does it work better? It's a bit longish, so we weren't sure whether to put it in.

Good point about the Soviet leader. The reason the quote was in there is to tie the sentiment of meaning and purpose to someone that the general public would be aware of, and based on my research, Mikhail Gorbachev's response was typical of other Soviet citizens. I will make that more clear in the workbook, thanks!

I think we do link to studies using CBT tools, such as this one, but perhaps you're referring to something I don't know about - I'd be glad to update my beliefs.

The linked testimonial is better in such it actually speaks about the benefit the person received. On the other hand it's quite long. You could quote from it:

"I figured out that I wanted to build a life that was centered around bettering myself and other people. I wanted to be someone who constantly was learning and growing, while at the same time, being a teacher of sorts to help those around me. Not long after reaching these conclusions, did I discover a potential career choice that I felt fit me perfectly."

The reason the quote was in there is to tie the sentiment of meaning and purpose to someone that the general public would be aware of, and based on my research, Mikhail Gorbachev's response was typical of other Soviet citizens.

The problem is that this is no proof that their approach works. If you ask a member of a lot of non-evidence based methods you will also find them calling that their method brings happiness.

I think we do link to studies using CBT tools, such as this one, but perhaps you're referring to something I don't know about

The fact that there research behind the scoring scheme that you use to measure meaning in life doesn't mean there evidence that the exercises you propose raise that score. At lesat you don't link to them. I don't see a reference to research for the exercises that you propose in that PDF.

Good point about quoting from the testimonial. Perhaps a combination of linking to it and quoting from it would be best, since this workbook will come out as an e-book. Appreciate the suggestion!

Agreed that Gorbachev's statement is not "proof" as such - it is weak evidence, but all that is available. Case study evidence is also evidence, even if weak. I'll make a note of that in the workbook, highlighting that it is weak evidence.

Good point about the exercises. I'll look for appropriate research to reference there. Thank you!

Agreed that Gorbachev's statement is not "proof" as such - it is weak evidence, but all that is available. Case study evidence is also evidence, even if weak.

There's a difference between poltiical writing and independent case studies.

Even if Gorbachev did honestly believe the techniques worked, he might have gotten political power because he believed them to be good in an enviroment where most people considered them ineffective. He also doesn't had a good opportunity to compare.

When giving out exercises over the internet and encouraging the audience to report their progress on a scale, I think a PDF is a poor solution.

Having a website that split tests different exercises would be much better.

Good points! Based on this feedback, it seems it would be helpful to make a separate exercise sheet available for people to download and also on our website. Thank you!

This is going to be filtered evidence, right? Because many people find their meaning and purpose in authoritarian groups or conspiracy theories. It could be interesting to know how many people find their meaning in rationality, and how many in irrationality, but I am afraid that such result wouldn't exactly be an advertisement for rationality.

Didn't read your article on Soviet Union, but my first guess is: If the society is skewed in one way, of course many people will find happines when an alternative way becomes available. If you have Stalinism, more freedom later makes many people happy. But in the same way, if you have a rational-ish society, a new wave of conspiracy theories will make many people happy. (Debating economics is boring, realizing it was actually all a lizard conspiracy is refreshing.)

The Communist countries tried to organize fun for their citizens, but in my experience, their version of fun didn't seem so funny. However, this could have been me: maybe the fun was optimized for average people, and I just wasn't the target group. It was the kind of fun where you are very careful about not accidentally offending anyone, and where everything must be done under supervision of some politically reliable person. You can easily have simple kinds of fun, such as dancing or tourism, since there is nothing politically dangerous about them. Intellectual hobbies, that would be more dangerous territory.

Regarding the filtered evidence: we have researched and are offering the actual evidence that scholarship in psychology and cognitive neuroscience have shown as contributing to gaining a greater sense of personal meaning and purpose. This includes, as the workbook describes, 3 things: 1) Reflecting on the question of purpose and meaning in life 2) Developing strong community and social bonds 3) Serving others, in a variety of ways.

Different societies, whether authoritarian or democratic, provided opportunities for these activities in different ways. I certainly hear what you're saying about communist countries and organizing fun. I experienced that myself, as I know you did as well. Yeah, their fun wasn't so funny for brainy people like us, but for the average citizens, my research shows it was quite a lot of fun. For a brief overview of what my research shows about how the USSR did so, here is a 6-minute video I created on this topic. The point is that there are a variety of ways to find purpose and meaning in life, and the workbook encourages people to be rational agents about one's search for purpose and meaning.

Is there a reason why hackerspaces are not in the list of recommended community organisations but social justice activism and various groups that have "secular" in their name are listed?

There are a wide variety of community organizations that can be listed, I focused on ones where people focus on discussing big life questions face-to-face in explicitly non-religious settings, as this workbook is targeted for secular-oriented people - I mentioned the latter point in the post.