Epistemic Status: Thinking out loud, not necessarily endorsed, more of a brainstorm and hopefully discussion-prompt.
Double Crux has been making the rounds lately (mostly on Facebook but I hope for this to change). It seems like the technique has failed to take root as well as it should. What's up with that?
(If you aren't yet familiar with Double Crux I recommend checking out Duncan's post on it in full. There's a lot of nuance that might be missed with a simple description.)
Observations So Far
Double Crux seems hard to practice, for a few reasons.
Insufficient Shared Trust
That last point is one of the biggest motivators of this post. If the people I most respect can't productively disagree in a way that leads to clear progress, recognizable from both sides, then what is the rationality community even doing? (Whether you consider the primary goal to "raise the sanity waterline" or "build a small intellectual community that can solve particular hard problems", this bodes poorly).
There's a large number of sub-skills you need to productively disagree. To have public norms surrounding disagreement, you not only need individuals to have those skills - they need to trust that each other have those skills as well.
Here's a rough list of those skills. (Note: this is long, and it's less important that you read the whole list than that the list is long, which is why Double Cruxing is hard)
(The "Step Out" part can be pretty hard and would be a long series of blogposts, but hopefully this at least gets across the ideas to shoot for)
When smart, insightful people disagree, at least one of them is doing something wrong, and it seems like we should be trying harder to notice and resolve it.
A rough sketch of a norm I'd like to see.
Trigger: You've gotten into a heated dispute where at least one person feels the other is arguing in bad faith (especially in public/online settings)
Action: Before arguing further:
I am genuinely confused by the discourse around double crux. Several people I respect seem to think of DC as a key intellectual method. Duncan (curriculum director at CFAr) explicitly considers DC to be a cornerstone CFAR technique. However I have tried to use the technique and gotten nowhere.
Ray deserves credit for identifying and explicitly discussing some of the failure modes I ran into. In particular DC style discussion frequently seems to recurse down to very fundamental issues in philosophy and epistemology. Twice I have tried to discuss a concrete practical issue via DC and wound up discussing utility aggregation; in these cases we were both utilitarians and we still couldn't get the method to work.
I have to second Said Achmiz's request for public examples of double crux going well. I once asked Ray for an example via email and received the following link to Sarah Constantin's blogpost . This post is quite good and caused me to update towards the view that DC can be productive. But this post doesn't contain the actual DC conversation, just a summary of the events and the lessons learned. I want to see an actual, for real, fully detailed example of DC being used productively. I don't understand why no such examples are publicly available.
whperson's comment touches on why examples are rarely publicized.I watched Constantin's Double-Crux, and noticed that, no matter how much I identified with one participant or another, they were not representing me. They explored reciprocally and got to address concerns as they came up, while the audience gained information about them unilaterally. They could have changed each other's minds without ever coming near points I considered relevant. Double-crux mostly accrues benefits to individuals in subtle shifts, rather than to the public in discrete actionable updates.A good double-crux can get intensely personal. Double-crux has an empirical advantage over scientific debate because it focuses on integrating real, existing perspectives instead of attempting to simultaneously construct and deconstruct a solid position. On the flip side, you have to deal with real perspectives, not coherent platforms. Double-crux only integrates those two perspectives, cracked and flawed as they are. It's not debate 2.0 and won't solve the same problems that arguments do.
For me, the world is divided into roughly two groups:
1. People who I do not trust enough to engage in this kind of honest intellectual debate with, because our interests and values are divergent and all human communication is political.
2. Close friends, who, when we disagree, I engage in something like "double crux" naturally and automatically, because it's the obvious general shape of how to figure out what we should do.
The latter set currently contains about two (2) people.
This is why I don't do explicit double crux.
I think there are dis-encentives to do it on the internet, even if you expect good faith from your partner, you don't expect good faith from all the other viewers.
But because if you change your mind for all the world to see, people with bad faith can use it is as evidence that you can be wrong and so are likely to be wrong about other things you say as well. Examples of this in the real world are politicians accused of flip-flopping on issues.
You touch on this with
instead of continuing to argue in public where there's a lot more pressure to no
I feel like, as a contrarian, it is my duty to offer to double-crux with people so they get some practice. :P When I've moved up to the East Bay interested people should feel free to message me.
I find that I never double crux because it feels too much like a Big Serious Activity I have to Decide to engage in or something. The closest I've gotten is having a TAP where during disagreements I try to periodically ask myself what my cruxes are and then state them.
My first thought on reading the post on double crux was that it's not clear to me how much value it adds beyond previous ideas about productive disagreement. If I'm already thinking about the inferential distance and trying to find a place where I agree with my conversational partner to start from, then building from there, I'm not sure what extra value the idea of cruxes has and I'm not sure what circumstances I could use double crux that the naive "find a shared starting point and go from there" doesn't work.
Some Meta-Data:This took me about 5 hours to write. My primary goal was to get as many thoughts down as I could so I could see them all at once, so that I could then think more clearly about how they fit together and where to go from there.A second goal was to do that mindfully, in a way that helped me better think about how to think. What was my brain actually doing as it wrote this post? What could I have done instead? I'll be writing another post soonish exploring that concept in more detail.A third goal was to prompt a conversation to help flesh o... (read more)
This makes me want to try it :)
Would anyone else be interested in a (probably recurring if successful) "Productive disagreement practice thread"? Having a wider audience than one meetup's attendance should make it easier to find good disagreements, while being within LW would hopefully secure good faith.
I imagine a format where participants make top-level comments listing beliefs they think likely to generate productive disagreement, then others can pick a belief to debate one-on-one.
I see the technique of double-crux as being useful, although there will not always be a double crux. Sometimes people will have a whole host of reasons for being for something and merely convincing them to change their view on any one of them won't be enough to shift their view, even if they are a perfectly rational agent. Similarly, I don't see any reason why two people's cruxes have to overlap. Yet it practise, this technique seems to work reasonably well. I haven't thought enough about this to understand it very well yet.