Correlation does imply some sort of causal link. For guessing its direction, simple models help you think. Controlled experiments, if they are well beyond the brink Of .05 significance will make your unknowns shrink.

Replications prove there's something new under the sun. Did one cause the other? Did the other cause the one? Are they both controlled by something already begun? Or was it their coincidence that caused it to be done?


Coincidences are Improbable

Thanks for the push, I think the scansion is better optimized now.

Coincidences are Improbable

I vote we abandon correlation does not imply causation in favor of connection does not imply direction. Or even better:

connection alone, direction unknown

But I'd like it best if we had a positive version.


Correlation does imply some sort of causal link.

For guessing its direction, simple models help you think.

Controlled experiments, if they are well beyond the brink

Of .05 significance will make your unknowns shrink.


Replications prove there's something new under the sun.

Did one cause the other? Did the other cause the one?

Are they both controlled by something already begun?

Or was it their coincidence that caused it to be done?



The Comprehension Curve

If we assume that the accuracy improvements to researching a given question are logarithmic, then it would make sense to read broadly on unimportant questions and read deeply on crucial questions.

Signaling also seems relevant here. It might be advantageous to be widely informed, or to be seen as the kind of person who only speaks on their domain of expertise.

There could also be times when you just need to be conversant in the subject enough to know who to delegate the deeper research to.

So in general, I would expect the value of broad vs. deep research to be highly contextual.

But I wonder if the same habits that may lead people to anchor on an inappropriate reading speed also lead them to anchor on a sometimes inappropriate reading depth. It's plausible to me that people who tend to read broadly by habit could reap significant gains by practicing deep reading on even an arbitrary subject, and vice versa.

It would be interesting if there was an equivalent to the DSM, but for reading habits. Could we imagine a test or a set of diagnostic criterion that could classify people both according to their level of reading proficiency, and also according to their habitual level of depth/breadth? So for example, a low-skill but deep reader might be a religious fundamentalist who has their text of choice practically memorized, yet who has very little familiarity with the nuances of interpretation. By contrast, we can imagine low-skill broad readers, who read all kinds of novels and newspapers but remember very little of it. And high-skill broad or deep readers, of course.

I think this is related to one of my perennial topics of interest, which is the path toward a specialization. A science student in undergrad or earlier reads broadly about science. At some point, if they continue on a scientific path, they eventually focus on a much narrower area, and their whole reading program focuses on acquiring knowledge that they perceive as directly useful to a specific research project.

As I've graduated into this phase, I've found that the deep, related, specialized, purposeful reading is vastly more satisfying than the broad, shallow, disconnected reading that came before. It makes me suspect that one reason people get turned off of science early is that they never get the experience of "cocooning" in a specialty in which all the articles you read are riffing off each other, interrelated, and building toward a goal. It's the closest thing that I've found to programming, which also entails building an interrelated construct to make predictions and do useful work.

I'm also interested in whether and how "broad reading" can be done with an equivalent sense of purpose. There's an article on Applied Divinity Studies, Beware the Casual Polymath, which I think can be characterized as a criticism of superficially high-skilled, but in fact low-skilled broad readers. It's pointing out that just because you're reading all kinds of Smart People Stuff doesn't mean that you're actually learning effectively.

I would imagine that a high-skilled broad reader would be somebody who has a role that involves lots of delegation and decision-making. The fictional example that comes to mind is a member of the Bartlett senior staff in the West Wing, who have to understand a huge number of issues of national significance, but only just enough to know who to delegate to or what positions are at least not-insane. For them, making reasonable, if not necessarily perfectly optimized, choices, but making a decision, is much more important than getting the exact right answer. So I would describe them as a depiction of a high-skilled, broad reader.

The Comprehension Curve

I take it as a big compliment that you wrote such a long and thoughtful reply to my post! Thank you!

The distinction you draw between broad vs. deep readers is the reason I didn't operationalize comprehension. "Comprehension" is just the type of understanding you want to extract from the text on your particular read-through, defined as you please. Maybe let's think of them in terms of abstract units called Comprehendalons, analogous to a Utilon.

You could define a Deep-Comprehendalon as knowing "wrong with the abstract, and what they think the real conclusions are," in which case a very slow reading speed is ideal. An ideal reading speed for Deep-Comprehendalons might be 10 wpm, or even slower, and it might take you several hours to acquire just one.

A Shallow-Comprehendalon might be picking up an single atomic fact. An ideal reading speed for Shallow-Comprehendalons might be 500 wpm, or even faster, and you might be able to pick up a huge number of them in a short period of time.

One thing I infer from this framework is that Shallow-Comprehendalons don't add up to Deep-Comprehendalons. They are not fungible, not the same type of good. Optimizing for one may mean sacrificing the other.

However, that seems debatable. Even if it's true, the Comprehension Curve would still hold. You'd just have a different ideal reading speed and maximum comprehension rate for each type.

Interestingly, for me, fully engaging my auditory cortex has, I believe, really helped me to move closer to my maximum comprehension rate. I'll describe this in a future post. One of my motivations for writing this is that I think that speed reading advocates are doing something fundamentally good -- experimenting -- but doing it in a screwy way, where they invent a whole theory of why their method is the best, without exploring contrasting hypotheses. And then when sober scientists get to studying it, they approach the field by testing the claims of speed readers, rather than by reflecting a priori on what approach to learning ought to enhance comprehension. The latter is what I've tried to advance toward here.

I appreciate you bringing up the point that much of speed reading advice revolves not around eye technique, but around mental technique - the bypassing of the auditory cortex. That's true, and I just entirely left that out for no good reason. I'm going to edit the OP to include a reference to it, along with a credit to you for reminding me of it.

One of my future posts will discuss what I've noticed in regards to skimming. I'll sum it up for you, as practice and since you brought it up.

Let's consider the following sentence from a biochemistry textbook:

"Oxidative reactions of the citric acid cycle generate reduced electron carriers that are then reoxidized to drive the synthesis of ATP."

For someone like myself who's familiar with biochemistry, many of the individual words and phrases refer to concepts that I already understand well. But there are particular keywords within the sentence that "focalize" a new concept, build out of the others. Let me break down my experience reading it:

  1. "Oxidative reactions" - the word oxidative is key, and "contains" the concept of a reaction within it.
  2. "of the citric acid cycle" - citric is key, and automatically refers to "citric acid cycle"
  3. "generate reduced electron carriers" - reduced is key, and "generate" is implied by the connection between "citric [acid cycle]" and "reduced"
  4. "that are then reoxidized" - reoxidized is key
  5. "to drive the synthesis of ATP." - ATP is key, because I already know that the end result is to synthesize, rather than consume ATP.

So as I read this sentence, the words "oxidative," "citric," "reduced," and "ATP" get lodged in my working memory, repeated in my auditory cortex in a sort of earworm-like jingle. While they repeat, my eyes scan the rest of the words to observe how they link up. So I read with a two-layered awareness: the working memory jingle-words that isolate and relate the key concepts, and the non-auditory connecting words that give them meaning and relate them together. This is just the approach to reading that I'm playing with right now, and I make no claim that it's useful or ideal for myself or anybody else.

But it's an interesting riff on skimming and speed reading. Instead of divorcing myself from my auditory cortex, I use it for keywords only, while relying on non-auditory reading for connecting words, which I can largely skim through.

The only way to develop ideas like this is to experiment openly, with a goal not of reading quickly, but of being experimental with your approach and trying to intuitively feel your way toward a method that is satisfying and feels like you've comprehended the material well. I find that this approach makes it far easier to pay nuanced attention to the material, read for long stretches of time without fatigue, and relate concepts.

Oliver Sipple

I think the closer framing is something like: if you're the 100,000th person to deliberately run your car over a person's body, are you liable for vehicular manslaughter?

AllAmericanBreakfast's Shortform

Business idea: Celebrity witness protection.

There are probably lots of wealthy celebrities who’d like to lose their fame and resume a normal life. Imagine a service akin to witness protection that helped them disappear and start a new life.

I imagine this would lead to journalists and extortionists trying to track them down, so maybe it’s not tractable in the end.

Oliver Sipple

Right, but that’s why it’s interesting.

From a utilitarian perspective, is Oliver’s outing morally redeemed by using him as an example in journalistic ethics classes? Or would it be, if it helped reduce the incidence of future privacy invasions?

If so, then Harvey Milk is a hero in this story. He not only made Oliver into a gay hero, probably saving more than one life in the long run by advancing the cause of gay rights, but he also gave us a great example of the consequences of privacy invasion that we can use in ethics classes. A two-fer!

That doesn’t feel right.

Maybe the way to make sense of it is this:

Although we can find redeeming value in continuing to talk about the story of Oliver Sipple, there’s a certain tone we must take. It needs to be somewhat ashamed, noting the paradox, condemning the privacy invasion even as we seem to perpetuate it, insisting that we try to treat Sipple as an end in himself even in death. In this way, the ethics lesson maintains its force.

Consequentialism, then, dictates that we use a “deontological” framing.

And that’s what I think is interesting: deontology not as an ethical system but as a storytelling technique that’s necessary for consequentialism to work with the human psyche.

Oliver Sipple

It’s an interesting case from a deontological perspective. If it wasn’t ok to invade his privacy, but he’s dead and his story’s fully publicized, is it now ok to keep on talking about it? Is there a meaningful sense in which we can fail to treat the dead as an end in themselves?

“PR” is corrosive; “reputation” is not.

That's a good thought.

I certainly think that some people attack principle P with conscious intent to erode it, based on valuing V, an alternative principle W, or trying to get X from you. Standing up for P in the face of such anti-P partisans can only be done by rejecting their anti-P stance.

However, people will also attack principle P for a variety of other reasons.

  • P is the foundation of principle Q, which they support. But anti-P propaganda has severed this link in their mind. Appealing for P on the basis of their value for Q might be more effective than a straightforward defense of P.
  • They actually support P, but they're surrounded by punitive anti-P partisans. You have to appeal to them by building trust that you're not an anti-P partisan.
  • They support P intellectually, but feel no urgency about defending it. You don't need to defend P to them, but to appeal to them by showing that P is under attack.
MikkW's Shortform

If you have bluetooth earbuds, you would just look to most other people like you're having a conversation with somebody on the phone. I don't know if that would alleviate the awkwardness, but I thought it was worth mentioning. I have forgotten that other people can't tell when I'm talking to myself when I have earbuds in.

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