by Screwtape1 min read28th Apr 20231 comment
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When I've tried to do rationality practice, (as distinct from skills practice) a lot of the time what I do is set up toy problems and try to solve them. Essentially this is like trying to learn to ice skate by strapping on skates, wandering onto the ice, and falling over a lot while figuring things out. I try and pay attention to how I'm solving the problem and deliberately try different things (randomly jumping around in thought space instead of just hill climbing) ideally to find things that work better than what I'd been doing. 

A number of my Meetups In A Box follow this pattern. Skill Acquisition is the most blatant, but Calibration Trivia, The Falling Drill, and Puzzle Cycles are doing the same thing. Here's a challenge that's trying to require a particular skill, keep trying and failing and trying and failing and in theory gradually you'll get better. 

One of the important missing pieces is more teaching of the skill. This came to mind when Raemon posted Tuning Your Cognitive Strategies and reminded me of his comment on Puzzle Cycles suggesting that (paraphrasing) he'd be interested in the combination. Going back to the ice skating example, I learned to ice skate in part by watching other people ice skate and with some people who were good at it showing me the motions slowly and then watching me do it and pointing out my mistakes. I haven't posted this variation because I'm not confident I know how to write it in a way that's better than "Read this article. Now do these puzzles. Anything clicking for you?"

Teaching how to think is harder than teaching how to move in some ways, particularly in that it's harder to watch and observe exactly what's going wrong. 

(Tangent: I'm tempted to suggest that a useful skill while learning is verbalizing what's going on in your head and saying it out loud, because that gives a hypothetical teacher a window to spot this kind of thing. Verbalizing what's going on in your head might or might not be useful apart from learning, but having ever taught cognitive subskills (math, card evaluation, programming) getting people to talk through the problem out loud and in detail is helpful for noticing what mistake they're actually making in a way that I could visually see if I was teaching martial arts.)

Teachers are also harder to scale than challenges. I could mail a copy of Zendo to every meetup. I can't mail a CFAR instructor to every meetup. (Yet, growth mindset.) I. . . can hypothetically mail a copy of Tuning Your Cognitive Strategies to every meetup, which tries to walk someone through the skill by written instruction. 

There's something I really want to exist between written instructions on the skills and challenges for the skills. I think instructions and challenges are together greater than the sum of their parts.