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Copy-paste doesn't seem to work in general, I had to retype the markdown formatting for my comment.

...I don't think the issue here is nuance. My attempt at a non-nuanced non-unfriendly version would be more like "It feels like CYA because those nuances are obvious to you, but they aren't actually obvious to some other people." or maybe "It feels like CYA because you are not the target audience."

As someone who is perhaps overly optimistic about people's intentions in general, I don't really like it when people make assumptions about character/values (e.g. don't care about truth) or read intent into other people's actions (e.g. you're trying to CYA, or you're not really trying to understand me). People seem to assume negative intent with unjustifiable levels of confidence when there can be better alternative explanations (see below), and this can be very damaging to relationships and counterproductive for discussions. I think it might be helpful if we move away from inferring unknowable things and focus more on explaining our own experiences instead? (e.g. I liked the part where DirectedEvolution shared about their experience rewriting the section, and also Duncan's explanation that writing nuance feels genuinely effortless).

Example of an alternative interpretation:

...basically, if you find the distinction tedious, it's strong evidence that you're either blind to the meaningfulness in the first place, or you just don't care.

There is a third possibility I can think of: something may be meaningful and important but omitted because it is not relevant to our current task. For example, when we teach children science, we don't teach them quantum mechanics simply because it is distracting when learning the basics, and not because quantum mechanics is irrelevant or unimportant in general. I personally would prefer it if teachers made this more explicit (i.e. say that they are teaching a simplified model and we would get to learn more details next time) but I get the impression that this is already obvious to other people so I'd imagine it comes across as superfluous to them.

I appreciate this essay because I have experienced a (much milder) version of this "not existing". It helps me feel seen in certain ways. I also like that it helps me understand a different kind of perspective, and that it helps me make sense of Duncan's behavior in some of the comment threads. However, I must admit that while I understand intellectually that this is how Duncan experiences things, I myself can't really imagine it; I don't understand it on the gut level. The below response is influenced by this essay and also recent discussions on other posts.

The spectrum

There seems to be a spectrum in terms of how much weight people give their own experiences compared to things other people say.

On the one end, we have people who believe so weakly in their own experiences that if someone asks them "Why didn't you lock the door?", the first instinct is to doubt themselves and ask "Oh no did I forget?", even if they know that they had locked the door and even checked it multiple times. (If they hear someone say people like them don't exist, they conclude "Maybe I don't actually exist?")

On the other end, we have people who so firmly believe in their own experiences that even if multiple people tell them something that contradicts their own experience, they will simply laugh it off as ridiculous. (If they hear someone say people like them don't exist, they think "Of course I exist, therefore they must be wrong.")

People don't necessarily belong exclusively to one group. One may be very opinionated about taste in music, while at the same time sensitive about their food preferences.

The need for both sides

Both are important:

We need to be able to listen to alternate explanations of our own experiences and to be able to accept that other people can have experiences that are different from ours, because our personal experiences are just a very tiny part of all of human experience. We want to be able to learn from and cater to all the different perspectives, not just our own limited perspective.  

Yet, firm belief in our own experiences is useful for ensuring that we don't end up with societal beliefs that are divorced from reality. If everyone is too willing to believe others' words over their own perceptions, if there was no child ready to point out that the emperor is in fact not wearing any clothes, then it seems society would end up with nonsensical beliefs touted by charlatans, beliefs that no one has actually ever personally experienced.

We want, of course, to strike a balance. We want to be able to trust our own experiences: other people's opinions should not be able to negate our own experiences. And yet, we must also be open to the possibility that we are wrong. We should be able to hold both things in our minds at once and weigh them carefully rather than defaulting to one or the other.

It's really hard though (for me, at least). In some areas I default far too easily to believing others over myself. And yet in other areas, I find myself slow to update when I hear about experiences that don't match mine. There's no vocabulary or concept in my world to describe their experiences, so it gets rounded off to something that matches my world without me realizing it. I can't tell that I'm doing it until someone explains it to be in a way I can understand. (And sometimes I get the sense that people on the "own perspective" end are simply incapable of realizing that people can have experiences that are different from theirs.) 

Working with people from different parts of the spectrum

Some discussions I have with people feel more collaborative. We both believe the other has something useful to say. If I am struggling to express my thoughts, they help by rephrasing or suggesting possibilities based on their understanding, until we converge upon a common understanding. They may disagree with me, but they make what feels like a genuine attempt to understand what I am trying to say and see if there is some truth to it. It feels like we are working together to figure out the truth. I think people like that are on the "believing what others say" end of the spectrum.

Some discussions feel less equal. It feels like they are so sure and confident in their own perspective that it is my job as the person with the different perspective to convince them that they are wrong. I have to explain things from their perspective; they won't help me understand or clarify my thoughts. It feels like the burden of shifting both of us towards what is true is almost entirely on me. I am the salesperson, trying to sell them my version of reality. They are the customer, waiting to be convinced. I think it's part of what Frame Control was talking about?

Talking to people like that can be exhausting, and quickly becomes very frustrating when I am under high stress. Maybe this is because I have such weak belief in my own opinions. In some areas, it feels like there's some kind of mental/emotional cost incurred when I try to express something that is different from what people commonly believe, because a part of myself believes I am wrong and so I have to expend energy to go against both my beliefs and other people's beliefs.  

There are certain conditions, however, where the second type of discussion feels collaborative. Like in the second case, they don't help you express your thoughts, they don't reflect back at you, they poke holes in your argument. And yet, moments later, days later, weeks later, you realize that they are thinking about what you said and that they do actually take into consideration the things you said when they make decisions. If there is equality on a higher level (i.e. there are also conversations where they try to change my mind, and in those cases they are the ones putting in the work of convincing me) and they show that they are listening and willing to change their minds, then it also feels like collaborative discussion, just of a different style. The tricky thing is that I don't think you can tell the difference between the second and third cases immediately, only through repeated interactions.

In other words, sometimes it feels like I'm talking to someone from the "own perspective" end of the spectrum but it turns out that they're more central, it's just that they are conversing in a different style.

A better culture

I'm not sure how true this concept of the spectrum is, but if it were true, is there anything that would help? Here are some ideas based on what I've found helpful:

Help people build trust in their own experiences:

  • Stop outright invalidating people's experiences, e.g. "It hurts." "No, it doesn't."; "I hate my baby brother." "No, you don't."
  • Take care (sometimes? when you have significant influence over someone?) to distinguish between one's opinions and reality, e.g. "The drink is too sweet for me" instead of "The drink is too sweet". "I think that X, but I may be wrong." (I think it's important for people to learn that "The drink is too sweet" is just someone's opinion, rather than end up thinking that it is other people's responsibility/ to phrase it as an opinion.)
  • Teach people to pay attention to their own experiences (needs to be balanced by the concept that we can have blind spots, we may interpret things wrongly etc.), e.g. instead of saying "It is wrong for anyone to touch you in these places", we say "This is your body. If anyone touches you in any way that makes you feel uncomfortable, you can say no etc.")
  • Take care to listen to people when they aren't being heard, rather than just dismissing their concerns (e.g. "I'm sure he didn't mean it"), especially when they are people you are close to or you have power over them

Help people see that people's opinions are a reflection of their models rather than an indication of the truth or validity of other people's experiences:

  • Take pride in harmless differences, especially if they are things that society typically frowns upon (needs to be countered with respect for society's comfort level with things that are 'weird'): e.g. "People think it's childish, but I like reading children's books!", or "I know people think I have bad taste, but I really like X."
  • Celebrate differences in opinions: e.g. one person says "The first one was the best", the other person says "Really? I think the last was the nicest, because X", then the first person responds with "Ah, interesting! I think ..." (or anything genuinely positive)


Create space for individual variations:

  • Acknowledge and accommodate differences, e.g. "You can observe first then join in later if you'd prefer."
  • Accommodate (on a societal level) the different types of needs (e.g. wheelchair accessibility) and talk about it, so people know about it (e.g. kitchenware for the blind)
  • Make it safe for people to express differences e.g. if someone states a different opinion and your response is a "No way! Really?!" and they seem to withdraw or react unexpectedly, make it clear that you are interested in their opinion (e.g. ask a question to learn more) (needs to be genuine)


Help people understand that everyone is different, in ways that we consistently underestimate:

  • Share about your experiences (like this essay), or write/share articles/essays about people who experience the world differently (e.g. news articles about difficulties faced by people who have learning disorders) or about typical mind fallacy 
  • Things like personality quizzes are perhaps harmful in some ways but they do seem quite successful at encouraging people to talk about their differences?
  • Encourage people when they share their opinions and participate in conversations (even if badly), because the best way of learning that everyone is different is by having discussions with people who are different. (note that the needs of all parties should still be considered)

I like this for the idea of distinguishing between what is real (how we behave) vs what is perceived (other people's judgment of how we are behaving). It helped me see that rather than focusing on making other people happy or seeking their approval, I should instead focus on what I believe I should do (e.g. what kinds of behaviour create value in the world) and measure myself accordingly. My beliefs may be wrong, but feedback from reality is far more objective and consistent than things like social approval, so it's a much saner goal. And more importantly, it is a goal that encourages genuine change.

"Oh, that," said the king with a shrug. "That isn't your honor, Costis. That's the public perception of your honor. It has nothing to do with anything important, except perhaps for manipulating fools who mistake honor for its bright, shiny trappings. You can always change the perceptions of fools."

-- The King of Attolia, by Megan Whalen Turner

What we want is for perceptions to match with what is real, not for perceptions themselves to be manipulated independently of reality.

I like this because it reminds me:

  • before complaining about someone not making the obvious choice, first ask if that option actually exists (e.g. are they capable of doing it?)
  • before complaining about a bad decision, to ask if the better alternatives actually exist (people aren't choosing a bad option because they think it's better than a good option; they're choosing it because all other options are worse)

However, since I use it for my own thinking, I think of it more as an imaginary/mirage option instead of a fabricated option. It is indeed an option fabricated by my mind, but it doesn't feel like I made it up. It always feels real, then turns out to be an illusion upon closer examination.

I agree in some sense that for the purpose of my learning/interest, I would rather people err on the side of engaging with less effort than not engaging at all. However, I think community norms need to be more opinionated/shaped because it influences the direction of growth.

The culture I've enjoyed the most is one where high standards is considered desirable by the community as a whole, especially core members, but it is acceptable if members do not commit to living up to those standards (you gain respect for working like a professional, but it is acceptable if you just dabble like an amateur):

  • You are only penalised for failing to fulfill your responsibilities/not meeting the basic standards (e.g. being consistently late, not doing your work) and not for e.g. failing to put in extra effort. You have the freedom to be a hobbyist, but you are still expected to respect other people's time and work.
  • Good norms are modelled and highlighted so new members can learn them over time
  • You need to work at the higher standards to be among the successful/respected within the group (the community values high quality work)
  • People who want to work at the higher standards have the space to do so (e.g. they work on a specific project where people who join are expected to work at higher standards or only people who are more serious are selected)

I like it because it feels like you are encouraged or supported or nudged to aim higher, but at the same time, the culture welcomes new people who may just be looking to explore (and may end up becoming core members!). It was for a smaller group that met in person, where new people are the minority, and the skill is perhaps more legible, so I'm not sure how that translates to the online world.

It's also fun being in groups that enforce higher standards, but the purpose of those groups tend to be producing good work rather than reaching out to people and growing the community.

This was interesting! Here's my attempt to make sense of the essay & the comments:

TL;DR We can think of the parts of reality that we have influence over as our surface area of contact with reality. One way of expanding this is increasing our scale of impact (e.g. self -> friends & family -> communities -> world). Since reality is fractal though, you can also expand by engaging more deeply with reality and developing expertise in an area (e.g. beginner -> able to cook good food for yourself). Increasing scale of impact tends to seem more impressive, but delving deeper also expands our agency over reality, just in a less visible manner. This fractal nature of reality also means that regardless of which scale you choose to work at, you will still be able to live a rich and rewardng life.

It's remarkable to me how we are all living in the same physical reality, yet some people seem to be living in much bigger worlds than others. Some work for a salary, organize gatherings with friends, sew or knit, or read autobiographies of famous people. Others start companies, set up non-profit organizations, make software used by hundreds of thousands, or collaborate with famous people. Their worlds feel much bigger: things that are merely painted items on the backdrop of my stage are props they can interact with on theirs.

An easy way to measure this difference is scale of impact. People can generally control their own actions (most of the time) and maybe cajole a loved one to do as they wish. Some can persuade their friends to say, try out a new place for a meal or sign a petition. Fewer can manage departments, fewer still can lead a multi-national company, and yet fewer still can lead a country. Similarly, anyone can write, but only some can publish novels read by millions. People who have a larger scale of impact are more impressive, because they have influence over a larger part of reality. This generally comes along with developing expertise: the more you learn, the more your reality, i.e. parts of the world you have influence or agency over, expands.

The thing is, though, that reality is fractal. The surface of your bubble is not smooth - it consists of many small bubbles, and the surfaces of those bubbles consist of yet smaller bubbles. Thus, there is another way to increase your area of influence. Rather than increasing the size of your bubble or moving to a larger bubble, you can instead delve into the tiny bubbles along the surface.

One can think of developing expertise as learning to make increasingly precise adjustments to the effects you have on the world. When learning music, you start off trying to play the notes you see on your music sheet. Later on you try to play the notes with the dynamics you're imagining in your mind. Later still, you work on using dynamics to convey the emotion you want the listener to feel. As you gain mastery, you explore the smaller bubbles, learning finer ways of influencing the world. Just like moving up the scale of impact, this gives you agency over a larger part of the reality - your action space increases. Only when you've spent time exploring the nuances of music can you play music that moves people. Only when you've spent time exploring the internals of a computer do you have the option of repairing your own laptop. Only when you've spent time shopping and comparing prices for your groceries will you know how to find the best deals.

When you engage with reality, your reality expands. You are rewarded with greater agency regardless of whether you move up the scale (zoom out) or explore the details (zoom in). However, zooming out often sounds more impressive than zooming in, because it is more visible and requires less expertise to detect.

It's easy to compare the number of people reporting to a manager. Also, people who have larger spheres of influence are more likely to be known (you're more likely to read about a CEO than a junior employee). In contrast, not everyone can evaluate how skilled a teacher is at teaching. Furthermore, a competent teacher is not necessarily going to be more well-known than a teacher who is less so. Or to put it another way, a division manager just sounds more impressive than a kindergarten teacher, even if the teacher is better at managing people.

There is a tradeoff between zooming out and zooming in, because you have a finite amount of time. Also, knowing the details can become unimportant (and possibly a waste of time) when you zoom out far enough. It's important for a CTO to have technical expertise, but it would be unnecessary for the CTO to be familar with all the nuances of a programming language.

This is a choice you can make, and maybe some would decide to scale up as much as possible. Reality is fractal though, which means that you can live a rich and rewarding life regardless of which scale you choose to work at. There's always lots of choices. For example, in cooking, you can explore making Mexican dishes, or creative presentation of food, or fusion of unusual flavors, or even finding as many ways as possible to use tofu. (Or you could move up the scale by becoming a chef and opening restaurants, sharing your grandma's recipes on your website, posting Youtube videos so people can learn to make tasty vegetarian dishes, or building software that recommends recipes based on the ingredients you have on hand.) Reality is a very rich place to explore.

It's been an absolute delight using excalidraw, thanks for the rec! Everything just works and it looks pretty:)

For perfectionism, I think never being satisfied with where you're at now doesn't mean you can't take pride in how far you've come?

"Don't feel complacent" feels different from "striving for perfection" to me. The former feels more like making sure your standards don't drop too much (maintaining a good lower bound), whereas the latter feels more like pushing the upper limit. When I think about complacency, I think about being careful and making sure that I am not e.g. taking the easy way out because of laziness. When I think about perfectionism (in the 12 virtues sense), I think about imagining ways things can be better and finding ways to get closer to that ideal.

I don't really understand the 'argument' virtue so no comment for that.

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