Crossposted from

Your strength as a rationalist is your ability to be more confused by fiction than by reality. Either your model is wrong or this story is false.

~ Your Strength as a Rationalist, Eliezer Yudkowsky

Your model of the world is how you understand the world to work. If I think ice is frozen water, and ice is frozen water, then my model of the world is right. If I’m six and I think Santa Clause is the one who brought me presents, when really it was my parents, then my model of the world is wrong, whether I know it or not (and the whole point is that you don’t, because if you knew your model was wrong it wouldn’t be you’re true model anymore).

Confusion is not understanding. If you are never confused, it means you understand everything all the time. It means your model of the world is exactly perfectly right.


Looking at it this way, it’s extremely obvious why over the past year as I’ve been practicing the skill of noticing my confusion more there’s been more and more opportunities until it’s just a constant, never-ending flow. So many micromysteries.

And it’s not only lying that it prevents you against. I’ve caught out lots of people in semi plausible lies, with the thought pattern being “If x, then almost definitely y, and I see no y so more likely you’re lying” and then I’m right and I feel really good.

One of the key aspects is knowing that your model is supposed to forbid things. People lying to you is a very obvious time when the story you’re being fed is wrong. But also you telling yourself an inaccurate story is the same as a lie for these purposes, as it’s another opportunity to say “hey wait, this doesn’t quite fit” and then say “I’m wrong!”.

Like when you’re eating dinner with someone, and they go to get up and you don’t know why they left. 99% of the time people get up, it’s to go and get water. So you assume they went to get water, and think you have understood what is going on.

But their cup is still sitting on their tray.


And after you’re good at noticing when you don’t understand, you get to play one of the funnest games available to man: trying to figure out what the hell is actually going on. And this is the bit where your brain is forever warped, this is the bit for why Eliezer says this is your strength as a rationalist. Did you notice your confusion when Eliezer said this, just this measly tidbit brain pattern was your strength as a rationalist?

It’s because once you start noticing all the times you don’t understand something, you can start actually trying to understand. You can start throwing out hypothesis, and weighing them based on their probabilities!

That’s right!

Like Harry James Potter Evens Verres!!!

And you know once you’ve done it right because every puzzle piece clicks together. It all makes sense now.

Or, and this is almost equally fun, you find that you’re model actually, legitimately, has no explanation for what the hell just occurred.

Why would someone stand up at dinner in the school cafeteria, leaving their tray, phone, and cup?

  • To fill more water
    • Unlikely, they would’ve taken their cup
  • To get more food
    • Unlikely, they wouldn't have gone to get more if they hadn’t finished what was already on their plate
  • To talk to one of their friends
    • Unlikely, they don’t have that many friends
  • To get dessert
    • Unlikely, why wouldn’t they have taken their bowl

What the FUCK is going on?

It’s important not to settle for one hypothesis just because it’s the best you have even if it doesn’t make sense. Even though I had no better explanation, I insisted that the hypothesis that the person I was with went with – that they went to get more water – didn’t make sense because they would’ve taken their cup.

So I sat in excitement, waiting to find out what really happened. Waiting to actually learn something new about the world.

You shouldn’t be able to explain things that your model of the world doesn’t explain. If you don’t bring these moments of small confusion to the forefront of your brain, you can never truly learn because you can never really feel the gaping hole in your understanding!

Noticing confusion is really fun, and pretty important. Being able to throw out hypotheses and weigh them based on probability is really fun.

Can you guess why they actually got up from dinner?

It was to speak to their teacher.


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