Intro to Naturalism

Wiki Contributions


>(The “how” is tricky. That’s a whole different sequence. But even before figuring out how to do it, it’s worth considering that there may exist the possibility of movement toward more direct contact. It can help a lot to merely be aware that your experiences exist somewhere along the gradient from low to high contact with the territory.)

Update:  This post gets into a lot of the "how".

Thank you to Duncan, Robin, timepoof, and Benya for feedback.

My new response to this is the TAPs section in Duncan's essay "Concentration Of Force".

This so far feels really good for me to use, as a reader. It's almost immediately obvious-to-me how it works (as a reader), and I feel relief and satisfaction when I get to separate out my agreement from my upvote. 

I wonder how it'll be as a commenter and poster!

yeah, a key principle is something like "start light, stay sustainable". or maybe "start with space, make more space".

there's a large range of naturalism infrastructure it's possible to lay. some people want to dive all the way in immediately: evening journal, pocket field notes, a weekly time block for focused investigation, a weekly time block for analysis, a big "catching the spark" exercise to get things started, and a full predict-observe-update loop practice. but most people are better off choosing one single TAP: "I'll snap my fingers when I think I might be confused", "I'll tap my leg when I notice an opportunity to exchange money for time", "I'll tap my toe when I suspect my code will [whatever]."

the reason this particular kind of merely-noticing TAP is the single most important part of the practice, the one to keep when anything else might be too much, is that it makes space. it creates these tiny little bubbles where additional attention is likely to be worthwhile, and the bubbles have a way of expanding over time. 

before you start doing a thing like this, it might seem like there are so many times when you're confused, and they go by so fast, and there's just no way you can pay enough attention all the time to extract useful data from those itty bitty moments. but if all you have to do is tap your leg, nevermind extract data or do anything else at all with your mind, that's more manageable--and you'll likely find that the longer you do it, the easier and less overwhelming it gets. you find yourself realizing after you've tapped your leg that confusion just happened, because the practice has become automatic. you're not paying a bunch of attention all the time; you've learned to concentrate your attention into those tiny moments when it matters. and once you've concentrated your attention like that, the moments themselves seem to expand. they don't seem to go by so quick. it's like you've put them under a microscope, and over time you've zooming in and in with more and more powerful lenses. it's not overwhelming at all. it's sort of the opposite. by a gradual, sustainable process, you become an expert at observing the thing you're interested in, and it's easy.

then once it's easy, and you are not at all overwhelmed by the practice, then you might want to consider something like capturing some of your observations in a pocket notebook, or keeping a list of times when you tapped your leg, or adding another thing to try noticing. start from spaciousness, and create more space.


>Logan, how do you make space for practicing naturalism?

I don't have a ready-made answer to this, so I'm going to start rambling whatever maybe-nonsense comes to mind, and see what happens. This will probably not resemble "a good answer" very closely.

I think I mostly "make space for naturalism" by having different intellectual priorities than most adults. When I want to learn something, or to solve a problem, or when I'm in some unfamiliar kind of situation, naturalism-type thoughts are way higher on my priority list than non-naturalism-type thoughts. It's like they get a +5 to their initiative rolls.

I maybe have thoughts milling around like "What would Wikipedia say about this?", "Who could I learn from about this?", and "What is the relevant reference class for this thing?" (I have a feeling these are not actually good examples of the class of thoughts I have in mind, except maybe the reference class one. I'd need to, uh, do some naturalism, to give you a more accurate picture here.) But those thoughts are relatively less shiny to me (at first) than thoughts like, "How could I check it out for myself?", "What would I need to pay attention to if I wanted some data on that?", and "What could I do to make more contact with this thing over the next two weeks?".

I think I __do__ a little bit "make space for naturalism" in a straightforward sense. Common tools along those lines include daily five minute check-ins, a mini notebook in my back pocket for holding information without having to keep track of it in my brain, and dedicated time blocks for designing and trying out exercises/problem-sets/toys.

But those things feel like a mostly organic consequence of prioritizing naturalism-type thoughts, the way I prioritize protein when I'm trying to get physically stronger, or perhaps the way many kids prioritize imagination when given a whole five seconds to do whatever they want. When a thought like "How could I check it out for myself?" feels shiny, I pursue that thought, rather than some other thought I could have spent my time and attention on instead; and pursuing it naturally leads me to thoughts like, "What is the natural habitat of this phenomenon and what would it take for me to go there?" which very often leads me to design an exercise or a TAP or a multifaceted research program.

I've got a lot of back-and-forth going on in my head as I answer this, a lot of conflict. Part of my brain seems to be saying, "No no, this is a wrong question, it's founded on a false premise." But another part of my brain seems to be saying, "You've really hit the nail on the head with 'make space'." And I'm going to have that second part of my brain talk now.

If I had to choose three intellectual macronutrients off the top of my head right now, they'd be scholarship, philosophy, and naturalism. Scholarship and philosophy share a sort of active, assertive property. They're quite go go go, do do do, form goals make plans solve problems execute intentions. You have do spend a lot of time doing things on purpose. Thinking on purpose, driving toward solutions, pouring over sources and analyzing data and drawing out implications. Whatever *space* you have in your life, scholarship and philosophy will *fill up that space* if you let them.

Naturalism is different, on this axis. It is relatively receptive and passive. It requires the same amount of space, but not in the same format, and it doesn't tend to fill up the space with anything. In fact, I think it sort of takes what space is there, and then makes more of it.

When I get a new naturalism student, one of the very first things I ask them to do is nothing. If they go for regular walks, I ask them to turn their phones to airplane mode and to not listen to podcasts or music. If they have a daily subway commute, I ask them to leave their book or laptop in their bag. I help them find places in their daily lives where they habitually fill the space, and would be sacrificing little besides their immediate comfort to leave that space empty. Direct observation only happens in spaces that are not already full.

I don't think I've answered your question yet, but I think I've made some headway and I'm going to pause here for now.

I found this compelling and switched my upvote to a strong upvote. Previously I was like "neat project, good post, not clear I want LW to be more like this". But now it's clear to me that I do want LW to be more like this.

I really like this part:

I would not advise anyone wishing to solve human rationality, or to do anything else awesome, to refrain from attempting said awesome thing on the theory that we or anyone else has that covered.

As someone who worked for CFAR for a couple years and then quit at the beginning of 2021: In addition to this advice, I would also advise that anyone wishing to gain basic skill in rationality, teaching, and workshop running, because they do not yet feel ready to solve human rationality or do anything else awesome, should pursue some strategy other than "I will work for CFAR while I level up and maybe eventually become a real cool instructory person capable of Impact". I think that CFAR is unusually likely to be bad for you. I hope you will learn to be awesome somewhere else instead.

[Crossposted from Facebook.]

Recommendation request:

As part of developing "perceptual dexterity" stuff, I think I want to do a post where I review a few books related to creativity. I've just finished reading A Whack On the Side of the Head, which felt like quite a... I'm not sure what to call it, "corporate"? I think? It felt like a corporate take on creativity. When I started it, I thought I'd do a review of just that book, but after finishing it, I think a comparative study would be a lot more valuable.

I'm now looking for more books to include in the post. I'd like each one to be either 1) unusually excellent, 2) super weird and different from all the others, or 3) not overtly about creativity at all, but likely to produce something interesting and valuable if I try to review it "as a creativity book" anyway.

Another book that's on my list is called "What It Is", and it falls in the "super weird" category, while also being a... graphic novel?????? I guess????

I'd love for there to be a wide range of literary genres represented: a novel, a children's picture book, a biography, a poetry anthology, maybe a pop sci thing, and at least one more training-manual-ish thing that's not so "corporate".

If you think of something else you'd like to see reviewed in a post like this, please pitch me on that as well.

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