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Hammers and Nails

Related to #10, I've found that building up understanding of complex topics (e.g., physics, mathematics, machine learning, etc.) is unusually enhanced by following the history of their development. Especially in mathematical topics, where the drive for elegant proofs leads to presentations that strip away the messy history of all the cognitive efforts that went into solving the problem in the first place.

I suppose this is really just an unconventional application of the general principle of learning from history.

This same concept brought up by Ray Dalio in Principles. He's fond of saying that we should view all sorts of things in life as machines and optimize their processing and output, and he suggests extending this to people and to oneself as well. His angle on it is as a path to addressing weaknesses, since people mostly go "I'm bad at X", make a few tries to fix it, fail, and then resign themselves to being bad at this forever. But you can expand the definition of the machine you're optimizing beyond yourself, and compensate for personal weaknesses via setting up some kind of system, or partnering with someone who is good at X, etc.

EDIT: This belongs on a different post, looks like there's some kind of commenting bug. (I've seen Qiaochu complaining about the same thing here.)

This seems to be the underlying model for a techniquelet I've used with varying degrees of success. Basically after being extremely productive, I try to memorize the way it felt when I was doing it. That way when I need to be productive in a similar situation, I can try to become that version of me again. I've found this often gets me better results than trying to duplicate the environment that led to the original burst of productivity, since ultimately the only point of that is to invoke this state anyway.

Caveat: The base rate of success in this situation is pretty mediocre. The times when it most consistently works is when I use the memorized feeling of being highly productive to motivate performing a series of actions that basically begin an avalanche, and after a while flow kicks in.

Ability to react

I had a similar experience after getting hit by a car while crossing the street. A friend who saw me and came running over actually thought I was in shock or something, because he couldn't believe that I was taking it so calmly. The adrenalin also helped, of course - I didn't feel any pain at all until nearly half an hour later. The only emotional reaction I can remember was extreme annoyance at the breaking of my glasses.

Oddly enough, I fall into the same category as the post author. I don't think I'm very good at reacting swiftly, and I absorb information and handle that sort of testing very well. But I do generally manage to keep my head. I suspect this is a pretty recent development, which may affect my perception of the matter.

I've found one useful heuristic. If I periodically remind myself to keep cool and reevaluate the current situation, I generally get good results. Slow-reaction types tend to quickly make a bunch of assumptions when thrust into a situation calling for swift action, and weeding out the erroneous ones is very helpful.

I'm familiar with the source he's quoting,

Harun Yahya has written a ton of books and has a massive following in the Islamic world. As someone raised in a liberal Muslim family, I've suffered through a few of them. They're mostly bald assertions meant to reinforce belief in those who already have it. Persuasive content is practically nonexistent, and the science is usually so terrible as to leave one wondering whether he isn't trolling his entire readership. His Atlas of Creation was famously taken apart by Richard Dawkins in a talk somewhere (quite humorously, I might add).

You don't need any of the techniques developed at LessWrong to dismiss it as nonsense - Traditional Rationality will do the job just fine.