Naive investigation of the world often works, especially when we have direct access, fast feedback loops, and can try many times. Sports, games, and even parts of science often have properties. When we investigate, say, microorganisms, we can directly experiment on what we are interested in and can rapidly iterate. On the other hand, broadly investigating ourselves can be very difficult. Biases, trauma, and all of the messy human stuff can interfere with directly accessing our motivations or reasons for decision-making. When we try to reflect on our actions, it is easy to become absorbed in our emotions and then unable to access the underlying reasons.
For example, I often have trouble initiating communication with people I don’t know. This hasn’t been crippling, but has prevented me from optimizing at times. Reflecting on this can make me feel guilty about how this has interfered with decent decision-making on my part. Reflecting is miserable because it brings up those feelings of guilt, and those very same feelings make it hard to consider what I should do to ameliorate these anxieties going forward or fix any mistakes. Yet, dealing with trauma or biases in how we view ourselves is also very difficult. It is hard not to feel guilt!
A potential way of bypassing this is by shifting our perspective of ourselves to that of a somewhat easier problem: science. We are all part of physics. We are not special. If we can see ourselves as a physical process, we can apply our epistemology to ourselves to better understand and shape the actions we take. Accepting that we are part of reality, just as much as a falling rock, we can investigate ourselves like any other object in science. By applying the scientific method to ourselves, we can observe phenomena and extract regularities in our behavior. By simply looking at causal relationships, we can step back and make ourselves more detached, but detached in a way that allows us to still consider our actions.
So instead of wrestling with these feelings of guilt, I can examine the causes of my anxieties. I’m fine talking with people once we start talking, so this anxiety is just isolated to the step of first contact. Once I isolate the cause, I can devise strategies of slowly acclimating myself, starting with, say, interacting with new people anonymously online. This approach of viewing myself as just another object of my epistemology helps sidestep all the messy biases and feelings of guilt.
Naively applying epistemology to ourselves can be very hard. One approach to doing this is to see yourself as part of the world, and applying your science and epistemology to yourself can be an effective method of stepping back and allowing you to reflect.
Good post! It provoked me to write the following post: "An approach for getting better at practicing any skill".