The idea that CFAR would be superfluous is fairly close to the kind of harm that CFAR worries about. (You might have been right to believe that it would have been superfluous in 2012, but CFAR has changed since then in ways that it hasn't managed to make very legible.)

I think meditation provides the best example for illustrating the harm. It's fairly easy to confuse simple meditation instructions (e.g. focus on your breath, sit still with a straight spine) with the most important features of meditation. It's fairly easy to underestimate the additional goals of meditation, because they're hard to observe and don't fit well with more widely accepted worldviews.

My experience suggests that getting value out of meditation is heavily dependent on a feeling (mostly at a system 1 level) that I'm trying something new, and there were times when I wasn't able to learn from meditation, because I mistakenly thought that focusing on my breath was a much more central part of meditation than it actually is.

The times when I got more value out of meditation were times when I tried new variations on the instructions, or new environments (e.g. on a meditation retreat). I can't see any signs that the new instructions or new environment were inherently better at teaching meditation. It seems to have been mostly that any source of novelty about the meditation makes me more alert to learning from it.

My understanding is that CFAR is largely concerned that participants will mistakenly believe that they've already learned something that CFAR is teaching, and that will sometimes be half-true - participants may know it at a system 2 level, when CFAR is trying to teach other parts of their minds that still reject it.

I think I experienced that a bit, due to having experience with half-baked versions of early CFAR before I took a well-designed version of their workshop. E.g. different parts of my mind have different attitudes to acknowledging my actual motivations when they're less virtuous than the motivations that my system 2 endorses. I understood that pretty well at some level before CFAR existed, yet there are still important parts of my mind that cling to self-deceptive beliefs about my motives.

CFAR likely can't teach a class that's explicitly aimed at that without having lots of participants feel defensive about their motives, in a way that makes them less open to learning. So they approach it via instruction that is partly focused on teaching other things that look more mundane and practical. Those other things often felt familiar enough to me that I reacted by saying: I'll relax now and conserve my mental energy for some future part of the curriculum that's more novel. That might have led me to do the equivalent of what I did when I was meditating the same way repeatedly without learning anything new. How can I tell whether that caused me to miss something important?

Open Thread July 2019

by ryan_b 1 min read3rd Jul 201992 comments


If it’s worth saying, but not worth its own post, you can put it here.

Also, if you are new to LessWrong and want to introduce yourself, this is the place to do it. Personal stories, anecdotes, or just general comments on how you found us and what you hope to get from the site and community are welcome. If you want to explore the community more, I recommend reading the Library, checking recent Curated posts, and seeing if there are any meetups in your area.

The Open Thread sequence is here.