Practical Advice Backed By Deep Theories

Once upon a time, Seth Roberts took a European vacation and found that he started losing weight while drinking unfamiliar-tasting caloric fruit juices.

Now suppose Roberts had not known, and never did know, anything about metabolic set points or flavor-calorie associations—all this high-falutin' scientific experimental research that had been done on rats and occasionally humans.

He would have posted to his blog, "Gosh, everyone!  You should try these amazing fruit juices that are making me lose weight!"  And that would have been the end of it.  Some people would have tried it, it would have worked temporarily for some of them (until the flavor-calorie association kicked in) and there never would have been a Shangri-La Diet per se.

The existing Shangri-La Diet is visibly incomplete—for some people, like me, it doesn't seem to work, and there is no apparent reason for this or any logic permitting it.  But the reason why as many people have benefited as they have—the reason why there was more than just one more blog post describing a trick that seemed to work for one person and didn't work for anyone else—is that Roberts knew the experimental science that let him interpret what he was seeing, in terms of deep factors that actually did exist.

One of the pieces of advice on OB/LW that was frequently cited as the most important thing learned, was the idea of "the bottom line"—that once a conclusion is written in your mind, it is already true or already false, already wise or already stupid, and no amount of later argument can change that except by changing the conclusion.  And this ties directly into another oft-cited most important thing, which is the idea of "engines of cognition", minds as mapping engines that require evidence as fuel.

If I had merely written one more blog post that said, "You know, you really should be more open to changing your mind—it's pretty important—and oh yes, you should pay attention to the evidence too."  And this would not have been as useful.  Not just because it was less persuasive, but because the actual operations would have been much less clear without the explicit theory backing it up.  What constitutes evidence, for example?  Is it anything that seems like a forceful argument?  Having an explicit probability theory and an explicit causal account of what makes reasoning effective, makes a large difference in the forcefulness and implementational details of the old advice to "Keep an open mind and pay attention to the evidence."

It is also important to realize that causal theories are much more likely to be true when they are picked up from a science textbook than when invented on the fly—it is very easy to invent cognitive structures that look like causal theories but are not even anticipation-controlling, let alone true.

This is the signature style I want to convey from all those posts that entangled cognitive science experiments and probability theory and epistemology with the practical advice—that practical advice actually becomes practically more powerful if you go out and read up on cognitive science experiments, or probability theory, or even materialist epistemology, and realize what you're seeing.  This is the brand that can distinguish LW from ten thousand other blogs purporting to offer advice.

I could tell you, "You know, how much you're satisfied with your food probably depends more on the quality of the food than on how much of it you eat."  And you would read it and forget about it, and the impulse to finish off a whole plate would still feel just as strong.  But if I tell you about scope insensitivity, and duration neglect and the Peak/End rule, you are suddenly aware in a very concrete way, looking at your plate, that you will form almost exactly the same retrospective memory whether your portion size is large or small; you now possess a deep theory about the rules governing your memory, and you know that this is what the rules say.  (You also know to save the dessert for last.)

I want to hear how I can overcome akrasia—how I can have more willpower, or get more done with less mental pain.  But there are ten thousand people purporting to give advice on this, and for the most part, it is on the level of that alternate Seth Roberts who just tells people about the amazing effects of drinking fruit juice.  Or actually, somewhat worse than that—it's people trying to describe internal mental levers that they pulled, for which there are no standard words, and which they do not actually know how to point to.  See also the illusion of transparency, inferential distance, and double illusion of transparency.  (Notice how "You overestimate how much you're explaining and your listeners overestimate how much they're hearing" becomes much more forceful as advice, after I back it up with a cognitive science experiment and some evolutionary psychology?)

I think that the advice I need is from someone who reads up on a whole lot of experimental psychology dealing with willpower, mental conflicts, ego depletion, preference reversals, hyperbolic discounting, the breakdown of the self, picoeconomics, etcetera, and who, in the process of overcoming their own akrasia, manages to understand what they did in truly general terms—thanks to experiments that give them a vocabulary of cognitive phenomena that actually exist, as opposed to phenomena they just made up.  And moreover, someone who can explain what they did to someone else, thanks again to the experimental and theoretical vocabulary that lets them point to replicable experiments that ground the ideas in very concrete results, or mathematically clear ideas.

Note the grade of increasing difficulty in citing:

  • Concrete experimental results (for which one need merely consult a paper, hopefully one that reported p < 0.01 because p < 0.05 may fail to replicate)
  • Causal accounts that are actually true (which may be most reliably obtained by looking for the theories that are used by a majority within a given science)
  • Math validly interpreted (on which I have trouble offering useful advice because so much of my own math talent is intuition that kicks in before I get a chance to deliberate)

If you don't know who to trust, or you don't trust yourself, you should concentrate on experimental results to start with, move on to thinking in terms of causal theories that are widely used within a science, and dip your toes into math and epistemology with extreme caution.

But practical advice really, really does become a lot more powerful when it's backed up by concrete experimental results, causal accounts that are actually true, and math validly interpreted.

 

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The thing is, it can take a long time until the deep theory to support a given practical advice is discovered and understood. Moving forward through trial and error can give faster and as effective results.

If you look at human history you will find several examples like the making of steel where practical procedures where discovered through massive experimentation centuries before the theoretical basis to understand them.

This comment is I think an essential couterbalance to the post's valid points. To expand a little, the book Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes argues that bad nutritional recommendations were adopted by leading medical and then governmental associations, partly justified by the above advice (we need recommendations to help people now, can't wait for full testing). So someone could refer to this as an example of why the comment above is dangerous in areas that are harder to test than the efficacy of steel production (which I presume they knew worked better than other procedures, whereas some nutritional effects have long term consequences that aren't clear or it's not clear which component of the recommendation is affecting what). However, Taubes also shows that this was also used to justify overlooking flaws in the evidence, and he points to a group heuristic bias (if that's the right term) of information cascades. There are other biases and failures of rationality (how certain statistical evidence was interpreted) in the story as well. So all this to say, while trial and error give give faster and as effective results, the less clear the measurement of the results are, the more care required interpreting them. When stated, it sounds obvious and I almost feel dumb for saying it, yet it's one of those rules honored more in the breach as they say. In the field of nutrition, you'll have headlines that say "Meat causes cancer" based on a study that points to a small statistical correlation between two diets which have very many differences other than type and amount of meat and itself concludes that more studies are called for to examine possible links between meat and cancer but not other possible causes that are just as much pointed to by the study.

The harm didn't come from "leading medical and then governmental associations" adopting recommendations before they were proven, it came from them holding to those recommendations when the evidence had turned.

I probably would have voted this comment up had it been formatted more nicely. A lot of your point was lost on me because of the single large paragraph.

In my comment I wasn't thinking particularly about nutrition. Regarding bad nutritional recommendations(and health recommendations in general) they may also be the consequence of studies. The thing is, when will we ever be done with the "full testing"? Science is constantly improving and in the future we will probably be horrified by some of the things we do now and that will later be proven to be wrong.

The best thing we can do is to be careful and prepared to update swiftly on new evidence.

It seems to me that many people don't realize that math results have to be validly interpreted in order to be compelling. LOTS of bad thinking by smart people tends to involve sloppiness in the interpretation of the math. Auman was prone to this problem and so are people thinking about his agreement theorem.

This may be pointing at a bias that I don't have a name for-- the belief that the pathway between a possible cause-effect pair can be neglected.

It's believing that all you need is the right laws, without having to pay attention to how they're enforced. It's believing that if you are the right sort of person, your life will automatically work well. It's believing that more education will lead to a more prosperous society without having ways for people to apply what they know.

So far as the Shangri-La Diet is concerned, a boring explanation for the weird pattern of strong success, partial success, and utter failure is that biology is complicated.

There's a little about the biological basis for hunger and satiety in Gina Kolata's Rethinking Thin: The New Science of Weight Loss---and the Myths and Realities of Dieting. IIRC, there was only one chapter about hormones, and it was written for a popular audience. I skimmed it anyway, and don't remember the details.

I doubt Seth's evolutionary explanation, though I wouldn't mind a little research on whether success with his diet is correlated with food neophilia and/or food neophobia.

"Roberts knew the experimental science that let him interpret what he was seeing, in terms of deep factors that actually did exist."

As these the same kinds of deep factors that show that watching talking heads on TV in the morning will cure insomnia because "Anthropological research suggests that early humans had lots of face-to-face contact every morning "? - Roberts' solution for insomnia as described in NYT: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/11/magazine/11FREAK.html

watching life-sized talking heads in the morning is roberts' way of lifting his spirits, not his cure for insomnia.

ok, but it's still merely a 'just-so' story with no worthwhile evidence behind it.

http://sethroberts.net/science/ is totally unconvincing. The main promoter of the diet doesn't seem to have any decent evidence that it works.

Lacking evidence, it seems like another fad diet, whose most obvious purpose is to sell diet books by telling people what they desperately want to hear - that they can diet and lose weight - while still eating whatever they like.

To me, it looks like junk science that distracts people from advice that might actually help them.

The graph of Roberts's weight compared to fructose water intake on p. 73 of "What makes food fattening?" is very persuasive in my mind. I don't think there is any evidence that it is effective in the population at large, but I think it is clear cut that it worked for Roberts.

I don't think the cynical explanation gets very far. The details of the diet are freely available. There is only a single, cheap, slim book that Roberts published so that someone could learn about the diet in a format other than his website. Roberts could easily be mistaken, but I think his tone has consistently been "here is a little-known, easy technique that was highly effective for me; I have a theory why it could work for you too". It's hard to make money by telling someone to take three tablespoons of extra-light olive oil a day in addition to whatever other diet they are following.

One rat is just not statistically significant evidence - especially not when the rat is also the salesman. I don't know whether Roberts is motivated by wealth, fame, or whatever - nor do I care very much.

Many tests on the same rat can be statistically significant! Do X, Y changes in the rat. Undo it, Y changes back. Repeat until it's statistically certain connection...

We just have no particular reason to expect that it'll generalize well to others.

This really stands out to me as a physicist because we do things like one rat tests all the time. Well, usually we get a few other 'rats', but we rely heavily on the notion that identically prepared matter is... identical. Biology, of course, doesn't allow that shortcut.

Clinicians sometimes have a cohort of 1 for rare diseases... but of course that's simply the best they can do under the circumstances.

Many tests on the same rat can be statistically significant! Do X, Y changes in the rat. Undo it, Y changes back. Repeat until it's statistically certain connection...

True - but it won't be too convincing if self-experimenting on yourself with your own diet. Science is based on confirmations of experiments by other scientists.

The rat being the salesman is the more serious issue there, yes.

I agree that the theory is unconvincing. Roberts seems to argue that organisms have brain-regulated mechanism which force the organisms to eat more if the food is more easily available. Such behaviour could be beneficial because during famines the supplies would be later depleted, but the explanation smells of group selection - I suppose that especially during famines the individual who eats as much as possible and stores that as fat will have great advantage against more modest members of his group, not speaking about other species. Am I missing something?

Pop evo-psych stories are a marketing strategy for diets, not a real reason to follow one. Look at the paleo diet - which apparently promotes the ancestral state of malnourishment and dehydration, on the basis of an evo-psych story.

Diets are best evaluated by testing them, not by telling memorable stories about their origins.

Why evo-psych? Psychology has nothing to do with that.

Diets are, of course, evaluated by testing, but Roberts goes further and makes an explanation of his diet, and whether this explanation is consistent from evolutionary perspective is a relevant question.

Or, in my view, not as far, by promoting an almost totally-untested diet.

I suppose that especially during famines the individual who eats as much as possible and stores that as fat will have great advantage against more modest members of his group, not speaking about other species. Am I missing something?

Yes - the cost of gathering the food. Roberts's hypothesis is that if food is not plentiful, it's counterproductive to be so hungry that you burn a lot of calories looking for more food, versus sitting tight and drawing on your fat stores. Conversely, if food is plentiful, you'd be an idiot not to go get as much as you can handle.

What if you trust the author? In that case, perhaps it's a more efficient use of your time to have the author "just tell you what to do".

Derev Sivers thinks so - https://sivers.org/2do.

I think that there is a certain level of abstraction for which advice is most effective. The level of abstraction most people use is obviously way too high, but getting into experimental results and math seems to be too low a level of abstraction. The chain of logical steps that link experiments/math to advice is long, and I think below the level of consciousness.

There is nothing so practical as a good theory.

Kurt Lewin, speaking about psychological theories in particular

I think that the advice I need is from someone who reads up on a whole lot of experimental psychology dealing with willpower, mental conflicts, ego depletion, preference reversals, hyperbolic discounting, the breakdown of the self, picoeconomics, etcetera, and who, in the process of overcoming their own akrasia, manages to understand what they did in truly general terms - thanks to experiments that give them a vocabulary of cognitive phenomena that actually exist, as opposed to phenomena they just made up.

Actually, speaking as somebody who's done this, what I can tell you is that a huge amount of the experimenters get stuff wrong in their models and conclusions, because their terminology is at cross-purposes to what's really happening.

NLP, on the other hand, actually does have a vocabulary that matches the territory, but one that has been largely unexplored by experimental psychology, in much the way that hypnosis has had limited study. The catch in both is that you need a skilled operator to observe or produce many of the phenomena in question, because people differ in surface characteristics that have to be bypassed before you get to the similarities.

NLP's rep-systems and strategies models actually do have the necessary vocabulary and "behavioral caclulus" to discuss subjective experience, and in particular the parts needed to get past surface dissimilarities in processing.

I suggest "Neuro-linguistic Programming, Volume I", by Dilts et al, as an introduction for the theory-minded. A brief excerpt:

...we begin by showing how the five classes of sensory experience ... are the basis for the strategies people have for generating and guiding behavior, rather than more complex and abstract concepts such as "ego", "mind", "human nature", "mechanisms", "morals", "reason", etc., employed by other behavioral models.

Another:

First, for a pattern or generalization regarding human communication to be acceptable or well-formed in NLP, it must include in the description the human agents who are initiating and responding to the pattern being described, their actions, their possible responses. Secondly, the description of the pattern must be represented in sensory grounded terms which are available to the user. [Emphasis added] .... We have been continually struck by the tremendous gap between theory and practice in the behavioral sciences -- this requirement closes that gap.

IOW, if you're looking for a vocabulary, run, don't walk, to get that book. It is generally considered the least-successful/popular book on NLP ever written, for precisely the same reason I'm recommending it to you: it's full of math, big words, and attempts at being precise.

(It is almost 30 years old, btw, so it shouldn't be considered the latest or greatest. There are a LOT of things in it that have been supplanted by more streamlined methods. However, the key underlying model of sensory representation strategy sequences (both in and out of consciousness) is just as valid today. There are just a lot more things known today about how we code things in those sensory represenations, and how to obtain information about them, install new representations, etc.)

This post was, to some extent, directed particularly at you. It would seem that you haven't taken my advice... I wish I knew of some good experimental results to back it up, as this would render it less ignorable.

What you're talking about above is not a concrete experimental result. Neither is it a standard causal theory, nor is it a causal theory that strikes me as particularly likely to be true in the absence of experimental validation. Nor is it valid math validly interpreted, or logic that seems necessarily true across lawful possible worlds. I don't care if it works for you and for other people you know; that doesn't show anything about the truth of the model; there's this thing called a placebo effect. The advice fails to meet the standard we're accustomed to, and that's why we're ignoring it. It is just one more theory on the Internet at this point, and one more set of orders delivered in a confident tone but not explained well enough to interpret at all, really.

I'm relieved to read this Eliezer, because I thought it was just me who perceived pjeby's advice as misguided.

I've been whining at him for a while, though my complaint isn't so much that his advice is misguided, as that he keeps offering pronouncements about how the mind works and how to make it work better, but evidence that his model and methods are sound seems sorely lacking (here, at least).

he keeps offering pronouncements about how the mind works and how to make it work better

...much of which has come attached with things that are actually possible to investigate and test on your own, and a few people have actually posted comments describing their results, positive or negative. I've even pointed to bits of research that support various aspects of my models.

But if you're allergic to self-experimentation, have a strong aversion to considering the possibility that your actions aren't as rational as you'd like to think, or just don't want to stop and pay attention to what goes on in your head, non-verbally... then you really won't have anything useful to say about the validity or lack thereof of the model.

I think it's very interesting that so far, nobody has opposed anything I've said on the grounds that they tested it, and it didn't work.

What they've actually been saying is, they don't think it's right, or they don't think it will work, or that NLP has been invalidated, or ANYTHING at all other than: I tried thus-and-such using so-and-so procedure, and it appears that my results falsify this-or-that portion of the model you are proposing."

In a community of self-professed rationalists, I find that very interesting. Not as interesting, mind you, as I would an actual result falsifying a portion of my model, though.

Because that, I would actually LEARN something from. I could try and replicate the person's result, offer other things to try, or maybe even update my model. It does happen, pretty regularly -- and the updates are almost equally likely to come from:

  1. more-or-less mainstream psych and popularizations thereof,
  2. pop, new age, or NLP stuff,
  3. self-experimentation, and
  4. unexpected events in client work

A recent mainstream psych example would be Dweck's fixed/growth mindsets model, which I've now converted to a more specific model for change work that I call "or"/"more" thinking.

That is, a belief that "either I do this OR I fail" -- a digital control variable of avoidance -- is less useful than one where "the MORE I do this the more/closer I get": an analog variable under your control.

This is a much finer-grained distinction than my older notion that didn't include discrete/continuous, but focused strictly on the approach/avoidance aspect of the variables. It's also a more narrowly-focused understanding of the difference than Dweck's work, which speaks more about the effects of these mindsets than the mechanism of them, or how to change that mechanism in practice.

So now that I have this distinction, I've gone back and reviewed other things I've read that tie into this idea in one way or another, giving it more depth. That is, I can look at other discussions of "naturally successful" behavior, hypnotic techniques or NLP submodality techniques that link an increase in one thing to an increase in another, and so on.

In particular, I've found various techniques by Richard Bandler that describe how certain successful athletes and entertainers he worked with transformed "or" variables into "more" variables (although he didn't use those terms).

I'm now in the process of self-experimenting with some of those techniques, preparatory to selecting ones to add to my personal and training repertoire.

That, more or less is my method for model refinement: read about ideas, try ideas, figure out what works, update models, find relevant techniques, try techniques w/self, w/clients, get ideas about what other ideas might be worth investigating, rinse and repeat.

Is it "the scientific method". Probably not. Is it closer to the scientific method than the "I read something or believe something that means that won't work, but can't be bothered to tell whether it's the same thing" approach favored by some folks? Hell yeah.

Btw, that attitude is why every new self-help author or guru has to come up with new names for every damn thing: the old names get worn out by people who conclude they already "know" what that thing is, because their brother told them something about something like that once and it sounded kind of like something else they tried that didn't work.

Yet century-old techniques work fine, if you actually know how to do them, and you actually DO them. But surprisingly few people ever actually try, let alone try with all their might, in the "shut up and do the impossible" sense.

I'm allergic to self-experimentation. I find that I'm not a very good judge on my own reactions. Furthermore, self-experimentation is probably the worst way to go about setting up a true model of the world.

I am unable to make enough sense of what you say to try it. It is not written in a language I can read.

I am unable to make enough sense of what you say to try it. It is not written in a language I can read.

And that's not a criticism I have a problem with. Hell, if you actually tried something and it didn't work, and you gave me enough information to be able to tell what you did and what result you got instead , that would be excellent criticism, in my book.

Helpful criticism is helpful, and always welcomed, at least by me.

And that's not a criticism I have a problem with.

Why shouldn't you?

Why shouldn't you?

I don't understand. Why should I have a problem with Eliezer's criticism, or any considered criticism or honest opinion? It is only ignorant criticism and anti-applause lights that I have a problem with.

Well, that's ambiguity in interpretation of "having a problem with something". I (mis)interpreted your statement to mean "this kind of criticism doesn't bother me", that is you are not going to change anything in yourself in response, which would be unhealthy, whereas you seem to have intended it to say "this kind of criticism doesn't offend me".

So basically are you saying Eliezer, gjm and others are falling for the fallacy fallacy ?

Neither is it a standard causal theory, nor is it a causal theory that strikes me as particularly likely to be true in the absence of experimental validation.

Have you read the book? If not, I respectfully suggest you have not the slightest clue what you're talking about.

This kind of argument is a winner in a war of attrition. It is a true game stopper, better than the responses of ever increasing length. It's only fair that you have to argue the opponent into getting the book first. As a quick preliminary check, I looked it up on Wikipedia, and the following characterization doesn't inspire:

At the time it was introduced, NLP was heralded as a breakthrough in therapy and advertisements for training workshops, videos and books began to appear in trade magazines. The workshops provided certification. However, controlled studies shed such a poor light on the practice, and those promoting the intervention made such extreme and changeable claims that researchers began to question the wisdom of researching the area further.

-- NLP and science on Wikipedia

Have you read the book?

Online source? I've read The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense on matching modalities and it did not much impress me; I followed Nesov's link and it says that NLP is currently in a state of having tried and failed to present evidence. I'm not likely to buy another book at that point, but could perhaps be convinced to read an online source which presents the result of an experiment.

Argh. You edited after I started replying. Here's an online source that presents the result of an experiment, from the "NLP and Science" page on Wikipedia:

A study by Buckner et al (1987, after Sharpley), using trained NLP practitioners found support for the claim that specific eye movement patterns existed for visual and auditory components of thought, and that trained observers could reliably identify them.

By the way, as far as I can tell, the entire "NLP and science" page on Wikipedia is devoted to discussion of claims made in books other than NLP volume I, or that any rate are not central to the rep-systems and strategies model presented in volume I.

The major popular confusion about NLP is confusing techniques with the modeling method. Volume I is about modeling strategies: understanding what people do in their heads and bodies as a way of communicating those behaviors to other people. This is only tangentially related to therapeutic or persuasive applications of the models.

So, the idea of predicate matching is an application of NLP; not NLP itself. I've never read the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense, so I've got no idea what it says or whether it's sensible, any more than I could say whether an arbitrary "science" book is useful or helpful.

I'm not likely to buy another book at that point,

FWIW, Worldcat says there's a copy at a library roughly 43 miles from SIAI HQ.

This seems... so classically crackpot. I admit to initial skepticism towards NLP, but your posts have done nothing to alleviate that and most everything to confirm it. Are you saying that the best book (and thus the model) is 30 years old and the best experiments are 20 years old?

How about the experiments that went into proposing the model? To paraphrase someone, how was this model carved out of existence? Which information led to its identification contrary to the thousands of crackpot 'theories' of the mind? And what is your obsession with self-experimentation? That sounds like Hare Krishna.

You're not doing well to distinguish NLP over the run-of-the-mill internet woo.

Are you saying that the best book (and thus the model) is 30 years old and the best experiments are 20 years old?

No, the best book I know of, about the core model of NLP: that everything we call "thinking" consists of manipulating sensory information, in one form or another, and that cognitive algorithms consist of transforming, combining, and comparing information across different sensory systems.

30 years ago, that was a revolutionary idea; now, it's not actually that far off the beaten track, in that there's recent mainstream support for a many of its ideas. (NLP had near/far distinctions 20 years ago, for example, and the critical role of physical sensations in mental recognition of emotions.)

How about the experiments that went into proposing the model? To paraphrase someone, how was this model carved out of existence? Which information led to its identification contrary to the thousands of crackpot 'theories' of the mind?

Bandler was editing books on therapy, listening to recordings of some very successful therapists, and noticed some interesting commonalities in their language. He talked to a linguistics professor at his college, who noticed it too.

Building on Bateson and Korzybski, they put together a linguistic model of information processing, to show how surface language structure reflects deep structure -- i.e., what something says about how you're likely thinking, grounded in what the therapists were doing to identify broken internal models in their clients.

In other words, they noticed that the successful therapists were noticing certain patterns of things people said, and then asking questions that forced the clients to reconsider their mental model of a situation.

Now, if this sounds familiar, it's because REBT and CBT are based on the exact same thing, just without - AFAIK - as precise of a model as the linguistic one developed by B&G. And AFAIK, B&G described it first.

In my original version of this post, I went on to describe how they got to other models -- that also now have experimental support -- but it got bloody long. Short version: they got microexpressions first too, AFAIK, although they didn't claim them to be universal. NLP practice drills focus on recognizing what the person in front of you is doing, not what everyone in the world might do.

And what is your obsession with self-experimentation?

That it produces useful results for the experimenter.

It is generally considered the least-successful/popular book on NLP ever written, for precisely the same reason I'm recommending it to you: it's full of math, big words, and attempts at being precise.

When I read this, I get the same feeling as before, when you wrote about changing your ways in order to introduce your techniques to this forum. The feeling is that when you talk of rigor, you see it as a mere custom, something socially required, and quite amusing, really, since all that rigor can't be true, anyway. After all, it's only possible to make attempts at being precise, so who are you kidding. Plus, truth is irrelevant. And here we are, the LessWrong crowd, all for the image, none for the substance, bad for efficiency.

And here we are, the LessWrong crowd, all for the image, none for the substance, bad for efficiency.

I wouldn't say that of everybody on LessWrong, but there is certainly a vocal contingent of that stripe. That contingent unfortunately also suffers from the use of cognitive models that, to me, are as primitive as the medieval four-humors model.

So when they push my "ignorance and superstition" buttons in the same posts where they're demanding properly validated rituals and papers for things they could verify for themselves in ten minutes by simple self-experimentation, it's rather difficult to take them seriously as "rationalists". (Especially when they go on to condemn theists for suffering from the same delusions as they are, just externally directed.)

I totally don't mind engaging with people who want to learn something and are willing to actually look at experience, instead of just talking about it and telling themselves they already know what works or what is likely to work, without actually trying it. The other people, I can't do a damn thing for.

If your interest is in "science", I can't help you. I'm not a scientist, and I'm not trying to increase the body of knowledge of science. Science is a movement; I'm interested in individuals. And individual rationalists ought to be able to figure things out for themselves, without needing the stamp of authority.

I also have no interest in being an authority -- the only authority that counts in any field is your own results.

they're demanding properly validated rituals and papers for things they could verify for themselves in ten minutes by simple self-experimentation

This is why I hope that the next P. J. Eby starts out by first reading the OBLW sequences, and only then begins his explorations into akrasia and willpower.

You cannot verify anything by self-experimentation to nearly the same strength as by "properly validated rituals and papers". The control group is not there as impressive ritual. It is there because self-experimentation is genuinely unreliable.

I agree with Seth Roberts that self-experimentation can provide a suggestive source of anecdotal evidence in advance of doing the studies. It can tell you which studies to do. But in this case it would appear that formal studies were done and failed to back up the claims previously supported by self-experimentation. This is very, very bad. And it is also very common - the gold standard shows that introspection is not systematically trustworthy.

I'm a bit confused as to your goal, Eliezer.

Are you trying to find a fully general solution to the akraisia problem, applicable to any human currently alive… or do you want to know how you can overcome akrasia? The first is going to be a fair bit harder than the second, and you probably don't have time to do that and save the world.

If you shoot a little lower on this one and just try to find something that works for you I think your argument will change… quite a lot.

But in this case it would appear that formal studies were done and failed to back up the claims previously supported by self-experimentation

If you think that's the case, you didn't read the whole Wikipedia page on that, or the cite I gave to a 2001 paper that independently re-creates a portion of NLP's model of emotional physiology. I've seen more than one other peer-reviewed paper in the past that's recreated some portion of "NLP, Volume I", as in, a new experimental result that supports a portion of the NLP model.

Hell, hyperbolic discounting using the visual representation system was explained by NLP submodalities research two decades ago, for crying out loud. And the somatic marker hypothesis is at the very core of NLP. Affective asynchrony? See discussions of "incongruence" and "anchor collapsing" in NLP vI, which demonstrate and explain the existence of duality of affect.

IOW, none of the real research validation of NLP has the letters "N-L-P" on it .

You cannot verify anything by self-experimentation to nearly the same strength as by "properly validated rituals and papers". The control group is not there as impressive ritual. It is there because self-experimentation is genuinely unreliable.

Unreliable for what purpose? I would think that for any individual's purpose, self-experimentation is the ONLY standard that counts... it's of no value to me if a medicine is statistically proven to work 99% of the time, if it doesn't work for ME.

You cannot verify anything by self-experimentation to nearly the same strength as by "properly validated rituals and papers". The control group is not there as impressive ritual. It is there because self-experimentation is genuinely unreliable.

Unreliable for what purpose? I would think that for any individual's purpose, self-experimentation is the ONLY standard that counts... it's of no value to me if a medicine is statistically proven to work 99% of the time, if it doesn't work for ME.

This sounds like being uninterested in the chances of winning a lottery, since the only thing that matters is whether the lottery will be won by ME, and it costs only a buck to try (perform a self-experiment).

This sounds like being uninterested in the chances of winning a lottery, since the only thing that matters is whether the lottery will be won by ME, and it costs only a buck to try (perform a self-experiment).

And yet, this sort of thinking produces people who get better results in life, generally. Successful people know they benefit from learning to do one more useful thing than the other guy, so it doesn't matter if they try fifty things and 49 of them don't work, whether those fifty things are in the same book or different books, because the payoff of something that works is (generally speaking) forever.

Success in learning, IOW, is a black-swan strategy: mostly you lose, and occasionally you win big. But I don't see anybody arguing that black swan strategies are mathematically equivalent to playing the lottery.

IMO, the rational strategy is to try things that might work better, knowing that they might fail, yet trying to your utmost to take them seriously and make them work. Hell, I even read "Dianetics" once, or tried to. I got a third of the way through that huge tome before I concluded that it was just a giant hypnotic induction via boredom. (Things I read later about Scientology's use of the book seem to actually support this hypothesis.)

This became infeasible with the invention of printing press. There is too much stuff out there, for any given person to learn. Or to ever see all the titles of the stuff that exists. Or the names of the fields for which it's written. There is too much science, and even more nonsense. You can't just tell "read everything". It's physically impossible.

P.S. See this disclaimer, on second thought I connotationally disagree with this comment.

There is too much stuff out there, for any given person to learn. Or to ever see all the titles of the stuff that exists. Or the names of the fields for which it's written. There is too much science, and even more nonsense. You can't just tell "read everything". It's physically impossible.

What happened to "Shut up and do the impossible"? ;-)

More seriously, what difference does it make? The winning attitude is not that you have to read everything, it's that if you find one useful thing every now and then that improves your status quo, you already win.

Also, when it comes to self-help, you're in luck -- the number of actually different methods that exist is fairly small, but they are infinitely repeated over and over again in different books, using different language.

My personal sorting tool of choice is looking for specificity of language: techniques that are described in as much sensory-oriented, "near" language as possible, with a minimum of abstraction. I also don't bother evaluating things that don't make claims that would offer an improvement over anything else I've tried, and I have a preference for reading authors who've offered insightful models and useful techniques in the past.

Lately, I've gotten over my snobbish tendency to avoid authors who write things I know or suspect aren't true (e.g. stupid quantum mechanics interpretations); I've realized that it just doesn't have as much to do with whether they will actually have something useful to say, as I used to think it did.

the number of actually different methods that exist is fairly small, but they are infinitely repeated over and over again in different books, using different language.

PJ, is there a survey / summary / list of these methods online? Could you please link, or, if there's no such survey, summarize the methods briefly?

summarize the methods briefly?

90% of everything is hypnosis, NLP, or the law of attraction -- and in a very significant way, they are all the same thing "under the hood", at different degrees of modeling detail and with different preferred operating channels.

NLP has the most precise models, and the greatest emphasis on well-formedness criteria and testing. (At least, the founders had those emphases; "pop NLP" often seems to not even know what well-formedness is.) Hypnosis, OTOH, is just a trancy-form of NLP, LoA, or both.

Pretty much everything in the self-help field can be viewed as a special case, application, or "tips and hints" variation of one of those three things, but using individual authors' terminology, metaphors, and case histories. The possible failure modes are pretty much the same across all of them, too.

There is, by the way, one author who writes about non-mystical applications of the so-called "law of attraction": Robert Fritz. He's the only person I'm aware of who's brought an almost-NLP level of rigor and precision to that concept, and with absolutely no mystical connotations or bad science whatsoever. He doesn't call it LoA; he refers to it as the "creative process", and shows how it's the process that artists, musicians, and even inventors and entrepreneurs normally use to create results. (i.e., a strictly mental+physical process that engages the brain's planning systems, much like what I showed in my video, but on a larger scale.)

His books also contain the largest collection of documented failure modes (biases and broken beliefs) that interfere with this process, based on his workshops and client work. I've found it to be invaluable in my own practice.

(The biggest shortcoming of Fritz's work compared to some more mystical LoA works, however, is that he doesn't address general emotional state or "abundance mindset" issues, at least not directly.)

non-mystical applications of the so-called "law of attraction"

BTW, I think that the Law of Attraction is basically a manifestation of successful self-priming (plus the other self-conditioning phenomenon Anna Salamon posted about - can't find the post). And yes, the pull motivation trick seems to fit here perfectly.

Viva randomness! At least it's better than stupidity. And is about as effective as reversed stupidity. Which is not intelligence.

You should know better what you need, what's good for you, than a random number generator. And you should work on your field of study being better than a procedure for crafting another random option for such a random choice. I wonder how long it'll take to stumble on success if you use a hypothetical "buy a random popular book" order option on Amazon.

P.S. See this disclaimer, on second thought I connotationally disagree with this comment.

You should know better what you need, what's good for you, than a random number generator.

Strawman?

Guilty. It doesn't particularly apply in this case, since the argument is that randomness is the best available option for now, because intelligence doesn't work yet for this case. I'm overidentifying with the general negative move I've made on pjeby, and as a result I've indulged myself in a couple of wrong responses, in a comment above and to an extent in a preceding one, although both also hold a fair amount of truth, but express it with dishonest connotation.

This comment was based on an argument with a person who explicitly insisted that tossing a coin is better than deciding for yourself.

This comment was based on an argument with a person who explicitly insisted that tossing a coin is better than deciding for yourself.

Kindly point to the specific words which you think meant that, so that I can see whether I need to be more clear, or whether you just rounded to a cliche.

Edit to add: Whoops, I just did the same thing to you. I see now that your comment was saying that you were rounding to a cached argument from a discussion with somebody else about tossing coins, not implying that that was what I said. Sorry for the confusion.

It doesn't particularly apply in this case, since the argument is that randomness is the best available option for now, because intelligence doesn't work yet for this case.

But pjeby isn't even saying that – even reading completely random books, which AFAICT he doesn't advocate, invokes a powerful optimization process (writers and publishers).

You always do the random thing relative to the options you are given. That doesn't change the problem, as far as I can see, just applies it to a different situation

Point taken; still, different from my very literal interpretation of letting a random number generator decide what you need.

You can't literally make only random actions. You can't make random muscle movements. You may use random long-term goals, which can be analogized with being a fanatic, or middle-term goals, analogy with a crazy person, or random short-term goals, analogous to being clinically mad. In any case, whatever I could mean by random action, it's necessarily already quite abstract, selected from few intelligent options.

Viva randomness!

You sound like someone arguing that evolution shouldn't be able to work because it's all "blind chance". Learning, like evolution, is "unblind chance": what interests me is a combination of what I encounter plus what I already know.

The more I learn, the more I learn about what is and isn't useful, and I've found it useful to drop (or at least reduce the priority of) certain filters that I previously had, while tightening up other filters. That's not really "random", in the same way that natural selection is not "random".

That still isn't the same as self-experimenting with every procedure that was ever thought up and supported by a visible enough school. As an intelligent being, you should be able to do better than randomness, and well better than evolution. That's the power of intelligence.

That still isn't the same as self-experimenting with every procedure that was ever thought up and supported by a visible enough school.

Still strawman? pjeby said:

My personal sorting tool of choice is looking for specificity of language: techniques that are described in as much sensory-oriented, "near" language as possible, with a minimum of abstraction. I also don't bother evaluating things that don't make claims that would offer an improvement over anything else I've tried, and I have a preference for reading authors who've offered insightful models and useful techniques in the past.

What happened to "Shut up and do the impossible"? ;-)

You keep using that phrase. I do not think it means what you think it does.

The phrase makes some kind of sense to me (although not in that particular case), so in case you're not just trying to drop a geeky reference, let me try to explain what I make of this phrase.

Assume members of alien species X have two reasoning modes A and B which account for all their thinking. In my mind, I model these "modes" as logical calculi, but I guess you could translate this to two distinct points in the "space of possible minds".

An Xian is at any one time instance either in mode A or B, but under certain conditions the mode can flip. Except for these two reasoning modes, there is a heuristic faculty, which guides the application of specific rules in A and B. Some conclusions can be reached in mode A but not in B, and vice versa, so ideally, an Xian would master performing switches between them.

Now here's the problem: Switching between A and B can only happen if a certain sequence of seemingly nonsensical reasoning steps is taken. Since the sequence is nonsensical, an Xian with a finely tuned heuristic for either A or B will be unlikely to encounter it in the course of normal reasoning.

Now, say that Bloob, an accomplished Xian A-thinker, finds out how to do the switch to B and thus manages to prove a theorem of high-value. Bloob will now have major problems communicating his results to his A-thinking peers. They will look at a couple of his proof steps, conclude that they are nonsensical and label him a crackpot.

Bloob might instead decide (whatever that word means in my story) to target people who are familiar with the switch from A to B. He can show them one of the proof steps, and hope that their heuristic "remembers" that they lead to something good down the road. Such a nonsensical proof step may be saying "Shut up and to the impossible".

So, I suspect that humans do have something like those reasoning modes. They are not necessarily just two, it might not be appropriate to call all of them reasoning, but the main point is that thinking a thought might change the rules of thinking.

I think this idea is very close to the whole area of NLP, hypnosis, and some new-age ideas, e.g., Carlos Castaneda explicitly wants to "teach" you how to shift your mind-state around in the space of possible minds (which is egg-shaped incidentally). Not that any of these have ever done anything for me, but I also haven't tried following them.

From self-experimentation (sorry), Buddhist meditation seems to be a kind of thinking that can change the rules of thinking, and I think there is some evidence that it actually changes the brain structurally.

Given the possibility of certain thoughts changing the rules of thinking, what is the rational thing to do? If there's a good answer to this I'm grateful for a link.

Assume members of alien species X have two reasoning modes A and B which account for all their thinking. In my mind, I model these "modes" as logical calculi, but I guess you could translate this to two distinct points in the "space of possible minds". ...

An Xian is at any one time instance either in mode A or B, but under certain conditions the mode can flip. Except for these two reasoning modes, there is a heuristic faculty, which guides the application of specific rules in A and B. Some conclusions can be reached in mode A but not in B, and vice versa, so ideally, an Xian would master performing switches between them. ...

So, I suspect that humans do have something like those reasoning modes. They are not necessarily just two, it might not be appropriate to call all of them reasoning, but the main point is that thinking a thought might change the rules of thinking.

Excellent comment! You have hit the nail very nearly square on the head. Allow me to make one minor adjustment to your aim, and then relate your analogy back to the fields of self-help, NLP, Zen, normal waking consciousness, etc.

See, it's not the content of the thought that switches modes, but how you think the thought, or rather, what portion of your thoughts you pay attention to.

In suspension of disbelief -- and hypnosis, suggestion, etc.-- you simply refrain from commenting on your experience in-progress, because it interferes with the perception of the experience itself. (See e.g. current studies on how explicit commenting can reduce satisfaction with decision making and accuracy of classification.)

So if "B" is experience, and "A" is commenting-about-experience, to the extent that you do both at the same time, one or the other will suffer, just like your experience of a movie will be degraded by a running commentary by audience members... unless you prefer the humor of the commentary to the experience of the movie. (But in that case, the movie still suffers relative to the commentary, you just like it better that way!)

Now, whether you refrain from commenting on something is partly determined by what you already believe. Movies that violate my understanding of say, computer technology, will be much more tempting to internally dispute or comment on, thus voiding my enjoyment and use of "B"-mode thinking. In contrast, someone who knows less about computers will not be induced to comment by the same scene, and thus not suspend their disbelief.

Self-help techniques use B-mode thinking, but the more intelligent you are, the more ways you can find to object to the "truthfulness" of thoughts that you nonetheless would find useful to have installed in your "B" system. But if you give in to the temptation to meta-comment on those thoughts, then you will not succeed in installing them in the "B" system... assuming you didn't already throw the book down in disgust, long before even trying to!

Religion works in roughly the same way, of course: you're discouraged from meta-commenting, so various B-mode thoughts can be installed and left running.

Of course, we all know that this is bad, but it's not because B-mode itself is bad, it's because religions include many poor-quality beliefs, in addition to the ones that might have some personal or social utility!

Part of the foundation of NLP, however, is a set of principles known as the "outcome frame" and "ecology"-- attempts to codify quality standards for "B-mode beliefs", based on well-formedness rules for the beliefs themselves, and standards for evaluating the likely long-term systemic effects of carrying that belief.

Most of the original NLP clique have also been very careful, when defining their techniques, to offer guidelines for what kind of beliefs to install in people, and how to avoid "junk beliefs".

(For example, one is cautioned to prefer installing beliefs of capability rather than ability, e.g. "I can learn to do this better", not "I am the best there is".)

Most self-help material -- including much popular work on NLP, alas -- does not adhere to such standards.

From self-experimentation (sorry), Buddhist meditation seems to be a kind of thinking that can change the rules of thinking, and I think there is some evidence that it actually changes the brain structurally.

My experience of Zen meditation is that it trains you to refrain from commenting on your thoughts and experiences, which is why it provides benefits for learning skills that require you to focus on experience instead of commenting. (See e.g. "The Inner Game of Tennis".) So, AFAICT, it's definitely related to the same "B" mode as other self-help modalities, and really just consists of practicing trying to stay in B mode, no matter what thoughts try to pull you into A mode.

In contrast, hypnosis tries to get you so relaxed that it seems like "too much work" to do any "A" mode thinking, versus just drifting along with your ongoing "B" experience.

NLP techniques, including my own, work on controlled alternation of attention between the A and B modes.

And normal consciousness for most people also alternates between A and B, but "A" dominates, and we actually spend good money (e.g. on movies and other entertainment, hobbies, etc.) so we can spend some quality time in "B".

(For example, one is cautioned to prefer installing beliefs of capability rather than ability, e.g. "I can learn to do this better", not "I am the best there is".)

I'd generally agree with that, but I was recently at an excellent qi gong workshop taught by Yang Yang, who told the students to do qi gong with an attitude of "I am a master". As far as I can tell, this has the advantage of overriding habits of thinking "I'm just a student, I'm not very good at this". It might also override habits of thinking "I have to show how good I am".

I'd generally agree with that, but I was recently at an excellent qi gong workshop taught by Yang Yang, who told the students to do qi gong with an attitude of "I am a master"

Note that "I am a master" is not falsifiable, unless you also have some idea of what being a master consists of. This isn't a problem if you believe (for example) that a master is someone who is always learning and improving, and who makes mistakes.

Of course, at that point, you are right back to having a capability belief. ;-)

Also, when it comes to self-help, you're in luck -- the number of actually different methods that exist is fairly small, but they are infinitely repeated over and over again in different books, using different language.

My personal sorting tool of choice is looking for specificity of language: techniques that are described in as much sensory-oriented, "near" language as possible, with a minimum of abstraction. I also don't bother evaluating things that don't make claims that would offer an improvement over anything else I've tried, and I have a preference for reading authors who've offered insightful models and useful techniques in the past.

Okay. Another take. Is this really true? How long would it take for a new-commer to walk through every available option? How much would it cost? What is the chance he should expect before starting the whole endeavor that any of the available options will help? For the last question, the lottery analogy fits perfectly, no "works only for ME" excuse.

Okay. Another take. Is this really true?

I've read dozens of self-help books and numerous websites, etc. and pjeby's claims of repetition seem mostly true (and his point that some who have unscientific philosophies have great practical advice is definitely true in my experience).

Is this really true?

That huge numbers of books are about the same things, in different language? Absolutely. Books that contain something genuinely new in self-help are exceedingly rare in my experience. Books that have one or two new twists or better metaphors for explaining the same things are enormously common.

Take for example, "the law of attraction". I don't believe it has any objective external basis: rather, it's a matter of 1. motivation and 2. making your own luck -- i.e. "chance favors the prepared mind". However, the quality of information about its practical applications varies widely, and some of the most woo-woo crazy books -- like one of the ones supposedly written by a spirit being channeled from another universe -- actually have the best practical information for leveraging the psychological benefits of belief.

I'm specifically talking about the "emotional energy scale" model from the book "Ask and It Is Given". Note that I don't know if they invented that model or swiped it from some psych researcher... and I don't really care. By putting that information into a useful context, they gave me more usable information than raw experimental data would have provided.

Now, if I were looking for "truth", I'd certainly trust peer-reviewed research more than I'd trust a channeled being from beyond. But if the being from beyond offers a useful model distinction, I don't especially care if it's true.

Now, some people reading this are going to think because I mentioned the LoA that I believe all that quantum garbage -- but I do not. I do believe, however, that self-fulfilling prophecies are useful, and the LoA literature is a great source of raw practical data in the application of self-fulfilling prophecy, as long as you ignore all their theories about why anything works, and focus on testing specific physical and mental techniques, and break down the attitudes.

For example, one fascinating commonality of themes in this literature: the idea of gratitude or abundance, giving things freely to others and it will be given unto you, and a "friendly universe". It's interesting that, although some of these writers are borrowing from each other, others seem to have independently stumbled on an idea or attitude that reflects this notion: that in some larger way, "everything happens for a reason" or "the world is an abundant and giving place".

Most will also insist on the importance of adopting this mindset for achieving results, which makes me wonder: could it be that there is some hardwired machinery in our brains that is triggered by conditions of perceived "abundance"? Is it then triggered by acting as-if conditions are abundant, in the same way that smiling can trigger happiness or friendliness?

It's certainly food for further thought, although in my current simplified model of LoA, I assume that this is more of a test condition: i.e., if someone cannot act as-if they are in abundance, then they have not successfully made whatever internal transition is required. This seems a more parsimonious model at this point, than assuming that the actions themselves are relevant.

How long would it take for a new-commer to walk through every available option?

They would probably be FAR better off picking ONE book and sticking to it with absolute Zen-master determination, especially if they choose a book that offers sensory based language, and most importantly, a way to tell if you're doing it right in a relatively short period of time. Comparatively few books contain this, but browsing in a bookstore will certainly find you a few. (I've linked to a few here in the past; "Loving What Is" and "Re-create Your Life" are two of the easiest for a beginner to master, if they pay close attention to the extra distinctions about "listening to yourself" that I've thrown out here on LW. )

How much would it cost? What is the chance he should expect before starting the whole endeavor that any of the available options will help? For the last question, the lottery analogy fits perfectly, no "works only for ME" excuse.

Sadly, if you limit yourself to books only, this might well be true. Live trainings and coaching are substantially more likely to make a difference, because the feedback loop can be closed.

I have had more than one student report that after live work with me, they were able to go back and understand all the things in self-help books that they were never able to apply before, because now they knew what those books were actually talking about, once they had experiential reference points. (It's unfortunately a lot easier to recognize whether a guru is "for real" once you are one, than before.)

My original goal for the book I am currently writing was to create a kind of Rosetta Stone for self-help material, but I have concluded that all I can really do is make such a Rosetta Stone for the sort of person who already would've found my approach enlightening -- or more precisely, I can write a book that will get past the kind of filters that would keep a lot of those people from learning from the sources I learned things from. But the very fact that I do it that way will be a filter for a different group of people!

And this, by the way, is why we won't see a scientifically-validated model of these things any time soon: learning them really requires a feedback loop of some kind, and most books don't include enough of one to work with EVERYBODY, only for the set of people whose perceptual filters initially match those used by the writer. (Of course, even if there was such a feedback loop, it's not prestigious to test practical ideas that somebody else came up with, versus impractical new ones.)

In the first draft of my book, I listed all sorts of ways to get a certain popular visualization technique wrong, that had bedeviled me and some of my students in the past. My newer students read it... and promptly found NEW ways to get it wrong, that I had to give them live feedback to fix.

I'll add those ways of getting it wrong to the second draft, but I'm now far less confident that it is possible to eliminate ALL the ways that somebody can misinterpret a discussion of how to observe or manipulate their internal experience.

(And if I actually included ALL the ways I know of to get popular techniques or self-help ideas wrong, it would be much longer than the instructions of how to get them right... thereby making an unusable and unmarketable book. Which is probably why most self-help books only give a handful of misinterpretations and hope for the best. It probably doesn't hurt that there are also financial rewards for selling some of your readers on live programs, but I honestly would like there to be a book that doesn't need that option... I've just given up on my current book being that book.)

By far the best way to learn is with someone who can tell from your external behavior whether you're doing it wrong, being a kind of human biofeedback system. The way I learned was definitely the hard way.

However, for the kind of successful person that I was talking about, these caveats don't apply. A person with the attitude I was referring to, will find something useful in virtually anything they read, and promptly apply it. These are also the people who need self-help least, but that was actually part of my original point.

What I probably wasn't clear enough on, was that it's this attitude that determines the person's success in LIFE, not their success in finding good self-help books! We are now way off of that particular reservation.

I haven't read the above yet, I'll do it later; but I want to make a general observation for now: everybody would be better off if your replies were shorter. You are already talking past many of the people here, so you should focus on communicating clearly, which may mean fast back-and-forth understanding checks, not on communicating lots of stuff, all of which doesn't do any good.

My initial question was an introduction to the rest, which ask whether the method of looking at everything is going to pay off. I don't ask for details about the content, since the worth of looking at these details is exactly what I'm asking about. I split the following question into its own thread:

They would probably be FAR better off picking ONE book and sticking to it with absolute Zen-master determination, especially if they choose a book that offers sensory based language, and most importantly, a way to tell if you're doing it right in a relatively short period of time.

Now you are talking past my question again. The conversation started where you asserted that it's possible to test all of the available methods on yourself, since there are so few genuinely different ones. In response you recommend sticking to one method. Fine. What are the answers to my questions for a single randomly selected method (among a number of surface-filtered available options)?

How long would it take for a new-commer to walk through every available option? How much would it cost? What is the chance he should expect before starting the whole endeavor that any of the available options will help?

My available samples say: Years, thousands, and slim. Of course, people for whom these things are not the case, will be considerably less likely to be my customer, so it's a severely biased sample. (Which also means that it's possible my techniques work best on people who try lots of self-help and fail, but that seems more like an advantage than a disadvantage to me.)

However, I have noticed that highly-successful people also own large self-help libraries, but they are not disappointed in them, because they always find at least ONE thing of use to them in EVERY book.

My original point, which you still seem to be ignoring, is that I am not and have never been advocating that a self-help seeker engage in a random walk of self-help books. I am saying that people who succeed in life have the attitude that they can find at least one useful thing in every circumstance they encounter, if they apply themselves to looking for it, and applying it.

Cultivating that attitude is what I actually recommended, as you will see if you return to the beginning of the thread.

How long would it take for a new-commer to walk through every available option? How much would it cost? What is the chance he should expect before starting the whole endeavor that any of the available options will help?

My available samples say: Years, thousands, and slim.

[...]

My original point, which you still seem to be ignoring, is that I am not and have never been advocating that a self-help seeker engage in a random walk of self-help books. I am saying that people who succeed in life have the attitude that they can find at least one useful thing in every circumstance they encounter, if they apply themselves to looking for it, and applying it. Cultivating that attitude is what I actually recommended, as you will see if you return to the beginning of the thread.

My question, however, was about the worth of studying the theories of which you speak, and in particular of interpreting your long comments that try to communicate them. Thank you for answering it.

Sadly, if you limit yourself to books only, this might well be true.

What might well be true? The connotation of my question that implies that your field is worthless? I was specifically asking how much it's worth, only the conclusion that you may draw, as an expert, not the reflections leading to naught.

The rest of your comment also talks past the questions. You note that you receive student feedback that could answer my questions, talk about your book implying that it'll answer my questions, talk about how the still completely unknown to me efficiency of your methods improves from personal tutoring.

What might well be true? The connotation of my question that implies that your field is worthless?

Yes. I'm a rather outspoken critic of the field, and not just for marketing reasons.

The problem isn't the industry, it's that developing "kicking" skills requires practice, and for practice to work you have to have feedback, even if that feedback is you yourself checking your performance against some model. Most self-help material doesn't even teach explicitly making these checks, let alone giving substantive criteria for telling whether you've done something correctly or not. People are left to blindly stumble on the right method, if they happen to hear a metaphor that works for them or read in someone's story about doing it wrong, how they're doing it wrong.

The entire field -- at least in books -- is like teaching people to ride bicycles without giving them any bicycles to practice on. Common practice in workshops isn't a hell of a lot better, but your odds are a lot better of stumbling on a workshop where you can get coached or walked through something. Even there, testability, repeatability, and trainability are not the focus.

So yes, the entire self-help field might as well be a lottery right now, if you have no information on where to start. Many of my students, like me, own literally hundreds of self-help books, from which they got little or no help until they "got it" from something I wrote or said or did with them.

As for me, I just got lucky enough to get an insight from computer programming that opened my eyes to what was going on, that gave me my first "rosetta stone" for the field.

Unreliable for getting true explanations. Self-experimentation is generally too poorly controlled to give unconfounded data about what really caused a result. (Also, typically sample size is too small to justify generalizability.)

Unreliable for what purpose? I would think that for any individual's purpose, self-experimentation is the ONLY standard that counts... it's of no value to me if a medicine is statistically proven to work 99% of the time, if it doesn't work for ME.

The way I'd put it for this stuff is that experiments help communicate why someone would try a technique, they help people distinguish signal from noise, because there are a ton of people out there saying X works for me.

I totally don't mind engaging with people who want to learn something and are willing to actually look at experience, instead of just talking about it and telling themselves they already know what works or what is likely to work, without actually trying it. The other people, I can't do a damn thing for.

If your interest is in "science", I can't help you. I'm not a scientist, and I'm not trying to increase the body of knowledge of science. Science is a movement; I'm interested in individuals. And individual rationalists ought to be able to figure things out for themselves, without needing the stamp of authority.

I also have no interest in being an authority -- the only authority that counts in any field is your own results.

The plural of anecdote is not data. Many people will tell you how they were cured by faith healers or other quacks, and, indeed, they had problems that went away after being "treated" by the quack. Does that make the quacks effective or give credibility to their theories about the human body?

The same applies to methods of affecting the human brain. As a non-expert, from the outside I can't tell the difference between NLP, Freudian psychotherapy, and whatever hocus-pocus Scientology says helps people. All have elaborate theories to explain their alleged benefits, and all have had people who swear it works.

To quote Wikipedia:

Because of the absence of any firm empirical evidence supporting its sometimes extravagant claims, NLP has enjoyed little or no support from the scientific community. It continues to make no impact on mainstream academic psychology, and only limited impact on mainstream psychotherapy and counselling.[12] However, it has some influence among private psychotherapists, including hypnotherapists, to the extent that they claim to be trained in NLP and ‘use NLP’ in their work. It has also had an enormous influence in management training, life coaching, and the self-help industry[13].

Until I do see some acceptance among the academic community, I remain unconvinced that NLP is anything more than a self-reinforcing collection of hypotheses, speculation, and metaphors. It could very well be otherwise, but I can't know that it isn't!

[...] they push my "ignorance and superstition" buttons [...] things they could verify for themselves in ten minutes by simple self-experimentation [...]

Few of your comments here seem to me to describe things that are obviously checkable in ten minutes by simple self-experimentation. (Even ignoring the severe unreliability of self-experimentation, since doubtless there are at least some instances in which self-experimentation can provide substantial evidence.) Perhaps they are so checkable with the help of extra information that you've declined to provide. Perhaps I've just not read the right comments. Perhaps I've read the right comments and forgotten them. Would you care to clarify?