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This is why I like Naruto as a rationalist fanfic substrate: perceptual skills are explicitly upstream of action skills in the naruto universe. I think this mirrors the real universe and explains much of the valley of bad self-help. Action skills are pointless if you don't have the cues on when where and why to deploy them.

Another frame on the same concept: don't keep teaching people spells when their mana pool size sucks.

I currently have almost zero knowledge of Naruto and I'm interested in hearing more things about the perception/action skills thing as it applies to Naruto Classic (and/or rationalist!naruto)

Time Braid and The Waves Arisen. Super fun reads, and also seem to put me in agenty mode better even than other rationalist fics. I haven't seen the naruto anime and I got on just fine with both.

As for why my model works this way: heavily influenced by the research on deliberate practice#Deliberate_practice). Essentially, it caused me to see expert performance as the combination of several core traits which are all predicated on perceptual skills. The first is generating the correct chunkings that mirror the causal structure in the domain in the first place, which are composed of distinctions that you must learn to make. If you've ever done something like music where you went from hearing complicated sounds to hearing specific 'phrases' this is what i'm pointing to with perception of chunks. In order to build these up one has to also isolate the feedback/reward loop that allows you to zero in on your performance of that chunk. Cleanly delineating the hits from the misses and having that information be on the smallest time delay possible. The other skill is navigating the chunked tree, which is predicated on perception of cues/proxies that indicate which decision paths to take in your knowledge tree. This structure then has the ability to get activated by experiences in the real world, where you notice something that looks like a chunk you've already seen. Normal self help techniques generally don't have these hooks that fire in specific times and places, meaning you likely just don't remember to use them.


I think the first time this hit me I was looking at some software which allowed you to generate the Mandelbrot set and zoom into any level of detail you wanted, and thinking "how can this be possible? Does it really go on forever?" But it wasn't just seeing the level of detail go on infinitely that drove the significance home, but rather when I finally looked up the algorithm that generates the Mandelbrot set, and saw how simple it was. That was what made me first think, "Yeah, we probably can't know everything there is to know."

This felt important but I'm not quite sure what my next action is supposed to be.

I feel that the first step is to be open to other ways of seeing things, or to be open to the notion that you might be wrong about your assumptions or certainties. Very first step, that one... to doubt yourself in small, healthy doses. Then you naturally begin to ask questions, hopefully well-constructed, which (if you're curious) will lead you to explore and gather data.

Yeah, I wasn't too specific on that. I do endorse the piece that jb55 quotes below, but I'm still figuring out what to tell people to do. I'll hopefully have more to say in the coming months.

The end had some good pointers:

seek detail you would not normally notice about the world. When you go for a walk, notice the unexpected detail in a flower or what the seams in the road imply about how the road was built. When you talk to someone who is smart but just seems so wrong, figure out what details seem important to them and why.

John Maxwell posted this quote:

The mystery is how a conception of the utility of outcomes that is vulnerable to such obvious counterexamples survived for so long. I can explain it only by a weakness of the scholarly mind that I have often observed in myself. I call it theory-induced blindness: once you have accepted a theory and used it as a tool in your thinking, it is extraordinarily difficult to notice its flaws. If you come upon an observation that does not seem to fit the model, you assume that there must be a perfectly good explanation that you are somehow missing. You give the theory the benefit of the doubt, trusting the community of experts who have accepted it.

-- Daniel Kahneman

Ontology lock in. If you have nice stuff built on top of something you'll demand proof commensurate with the value of those things when someone questions the base layer even if those things built on top could be supported by alternative base layers. S1 is cautious about this, which is reasonable. Our environment is much safer for experimentation than it used to be.

Great description. Yes, I think that's exactly why people are reluctant to see other people's points.

If you want to see a billion examples of details mattering, watch anything about shipbuilding by this guy:

Took me zero time to adopt what jsaltiver says here. I'm fortunate to have had a lot of experience programming, and then recently done a lot of custom furniture and woodworking. There is a very large difference between just thinking about something and working with its physical manifestation (or source code). Often, with wood and buildings, theory is worth a tiny fraction of tacit knowledge.

Something to mix in here: The Secret of Our Success (Henrich) is partly about learning from others, and how that dominates over self-discovered knowledge. It's worth it to reflect on whether/how he and the other cultural evolutionists are right about this when so much actual knowledge must be accumulated via tacit means. "Learning from others" might be just as bad as thought knowledge unless it is done the right way.

Thanks for the post. 

Your concerns are quite similar to Michael Polanyi's ideas about the primacy of tacit knowledge, how the explicit knowledge we have — is built on a layer of hard-won tacit knowledge.

It gets even harder when the material you're working with is other human beings, because there one doesn't have quite as crisp a 'reality' to juxtapose with your own understanding. 

I tried to express that in this piece which, mentions ladders — which lines up nicely with your stairs ;)

If you — or anyone else — is still keeping an eye on this thread, I'd be interested in your reaction.

It's also a pity these posts haven't kept going. I loved this one.  

Yes, too bad this hasn’t kept going. I enjoyed reading your linked related post as well.

Hey John, 

Just thought I would drop you a note to thank you for taking the time to write this post so that people like me can hopefully learn something new about themselves or the world.

I hope that life is treating you well.


Great thoughts. I was curious to know if I could solve the tracing stairs problem; I am have no carpentry experience to speak of but, I teach math so it piqued my interest.

My solution was that if you have a board you know is square on the end, (say a short 6” piece of one of the 2x12’s) what I would do it stand it vertically on the floor next to the board you are tracing in the exact position you want the diagonal board to be in. The short board simply translates the fools up the board at the correct angle at that place. You can do the same thing off the wall for the vertical trace. One you have those lines on your board you can easily copy it to the correct location on the 2x12.

Anyway, thanks for the great read and insight.

Best Regards, Andy

So, how do you "trace" the angle? I've been stuck looking at where my shed ramp should go for a year.

 What I have noticed after grad school in history, which in today's world is highly beholden to "theory," is that people have forgotten, or never learned, that models are not reality. Models are ways for our minds to reduce the infinite "details" of reality to a manageable shape or figure that we can turn over in our minds and talk to each other about, but they are not reality. We all know what the model of an atom or of the solar system looks like. But those models are real as models with their own bucket of details, but they are neither the atom nor the solar system. That we are ready to go to war to defend our models is a form of blindness. It's like the old question of the screen door. You can look at the screen, or you can look through it.

Ours is an age conspicuous for its lack of humility. You see it everywhere. Are we collecting details as evidence from which to draw a conclusion, or are we assembling data to support the conclusion to which we are drawn?

The Devil is in the details, and God is in the details are both true at the same time.

Excellent piece. When I was a teen and went to work in construction my uncle Bob made the memorable comment, "twelve years in the f+*#ing school and you can't dig a hole straight."

I like the renewed idea of putting the shoe on the other foot. This is a very timely article.

“I would start doubting if I noticed numerous important mistakes in the details my side’s data and my colleagues didn’t want to talk about it” . - I couldn't quite follow this. Could you give an example, or explain it a different way?

I think what he is saying is they'd want to hear something overwhelmingly obvious, however, the beginning of doubt starts with noticing an error in one of the details of the assumption, which most of the time are subtle.

"The important details you haven’t noticed are invisible to you, and the details you have noticed seem completely obvious and you see right through them. This all makes makes it difficult to imagine how you could be missing something important."

"noticing an error in one of the details of the assumption" - I don't quite get this. Like, it would be an error in the mental model, or there would be a detail / piece of data which didn't quite fit the model or something else? I'm not arguing anything here, I just can't quite understand what you are saying.

What's that graph from?


Excellent article....and brilliantly explained. Reminds me of an old saying :

“Self-assertion may deceive the ignorant for a time; but when the noise dies away, we cut open the drum, and find it was emptiness that made the music.” ― Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Aurora Floyd

Thinking "I've mostly fixed it for myself" might be you getting stuck again. Have you considered that?

It’s tough to say. This is about a way of thinking, not the details being thought about. But then again, ways of thinking have incredible detail too, don’t they?