Soft skills are hard. I'm extremely good at learning soft skills. I try as hard as I can to teach one whenever someone desires one, but they're damn near impossible to teach. I've thus far only been successful at teaching someone how to do something related, in a way that their mind can grasp and run with, so that a few years later they will have developed the soft skill "on their own" (At which point, they will be doing exactly as I said exactly how I told them to, and they will tell me about this cool new thing they figured out how to do, and question why I didn't ever tell them to do it that way).
So rather than teach how to learn soft skills, I'm going to describe a few of the most useful soft skills I have.
I personally think the conceptual base of Less Wrong is contrary to efficient soft skill development. However, I think the conceptual base of Less Wrong is a potentially good platform to use to begin soft skill development. The most efficient way I can think to do so is to learn to use the conceptual base of Less Wrong, then make the inference jump that everything you've learned from Less Wrong is uselessly inefficient.
This is the pattern I see everywhere people strictly adhere to a conceptual base. It's almost always a good platform to expand further from, provided the expansion stops using the platform as soon as possible.
People's inner simulator is almost always more accurate than their explicit models. It's just less precise. The thing about your statement of [if it were more accurate, people would be using it more, and be successful at more things] requires a few initial assumptions to be true. The first is that people are able to use their inner simulator on purpose, which is usually not the case from my observation. The second is that people are able and willing to take the path indicated by their inner simulator when it contrasts with their explicit models, which is also usually not the case. Then there is an additional factor where the inner simulator can (and often does) output a result that is contrary to the facade a person is trying to keep up for social reasons, which provides an additional impetus to reject the inner simulator (even if it is indeed more accurate, and dropping the facade would be the best way to produce the desired long-term result).
In regards to learning/picking up soft skills. People do indeed pick up soft skills automatically. Soft skills are notoriously difficult to teach. Most people that learn a soft skill learn it on their own, through a long-term automatic process, after taking in information that sparks a complicated processing of that information. I've never met someone who learned a soft skill without it being at least partially automatic. There is additional complexity in this in that people are "born" with an "affinity" for certain types of soft skills, and have an extreme amount of trouble learning any soft skills outside of their affinity range.
The actual reason learning soft skills involves reading some amount of "wrong ideas/facts/information" is because the processing of information for soft skill use is different from the processing of information for explicit model use. Or more accurately, the mind has multiple ways of processing information, and is not at all limited to a neuron-only model. The method of processing information for soft skill use is more of a resonance/antenna model, which benefits from additional points of information no matter how wrong they are (as long as they are at least distantly related to something that has at least an iota of truth), up to a limit of what the resonance chamber can hold coherently.
Last, your two points in that thought experiment are explicit model only, and do not relate to soft skill learning or use. The difference would be that you have an explicit use in mind for each experiment. A soft skill necessarily has a soft use. The difficulty in translation of "flattering people doesn't help" is that such things are actually a general-scope statement, and they have to be for soft skill learning and use. So your thought experiment is akin to: "You read that white men can't jump. You ask a white man to jump, and he is successful." You're combining a general-scope statement with an explicit-scope experiment.
RE: your frazzled after-busy state.
Yeah, breathing meditation at that time is not only hard, it's kinda pointless. Well, until you get to the point where you can either enter a state of right-brain flow on purpose, or enter a REM-like state on purpose. When you can do those, breath control is a natural part of it.
A trick is to control your breath while you are busy. Every chance you get, especially when heavily focused on something, take a single slow breath, preferably into either your gut or your whole body (but just a slow breath with no direction is better than not doing it at all). If you can't do that while you are focused on something, practice. This is one of the most important things people learn by practicing QiGung or internal martial arts.
In my experience, controlling my breath while I am busy allows for a faster recovery, and lessens the need for sleep after recovery.
Speaking form personal experience, the breathing meditation you did is what spawned the ability to be mindful of your physical state. This is because in order to successfully breathe into various areas of your body, you have to be mindful of that area. It is directly practicing physical awareness.
The fact that you have become aware of subtleties of flight-or-flight responses is extremely good. That's stage 2 of what it is possible to be mindful of.
Stage 3 is emotions. Try purposefully creating emotions. Try listening to music, and enhancing the emotions you feel from the music one at a time, and slowly. Try changing your emotions the same way you breathe into different parts of your body. Try creating an emotion when you breathe in, and letting it dissipate when you breathe out.
Stage 4 is thoughts. Stage 5 is intuition. Stage 6 is deep subconscious data grouping and relationships. Stage 7 and 8 are a lot more complicated. Stage 8 is what Taoists call "the Tao".
At stage 4, you should also begin practicing what is called "dissolving" in Taoist meditation. That's the ability to be aware of a stuck thought/feeling/whatever, and allow it to dissipate. Methods of doing this involve breathing into the very precise spot you feel is tense when you become aware of the stuck feeling, or slowly stretching and contracting that spot to get the tissues and fluids moving; and may also include image training to imagine that spot liquefying, then gassifying, then becoming a part of your breath so that you can breathe it out. The trick is to become as aware of the stuck feeling as you possibly can, and then relax it slowly. It's necessary to realize that your thoughts and feelings are connected to your fibrous body tissues in order to accomplish this (for example: thought control is connected to nerve tissue control).
Be careful of image meditation. If you choose to go beyond halfway through the path of meditation, you will have to remove all of the images you accidentally lock into your body.
PS. "stages" overlap. "stage" is a loose term I came up with to describe it just now. The Taoists call it "the 8 bodies". They're just a reference so that you can know what is possible, and approximately how much effort is required in order to accomplish it. Half way through, the game changes. All of the way through, the game changes again.
Well, I hate to say something against your post here, because I quite agree with it all.
Except there is one Mind Projection Fallacy of which I question whether it was done on purpose.
The fallacy where you are reducing the poem to it's parts.
The majority of poetry is metaphor. All of the specific examples in that poem are metaphors for the feeling of majesty. So to the poet, those three examples are quite the same. The poet's distaste for scientific reduction isn't that everything is explained away, it's that explaining something reduces it's perceived majesty.
Now, to us reductionists, it is the opposite. Explaining something increases it's perceived majesty. The more explanation required (literally required), the more majestic it is. The difference is a simple alignment of the feeling of majesty. Whether it be aligned to interpretation, or to perception.
So yes, believers in things will likely read the poem and presume that the poet means that rainbows are explained away. Most believers in things certainly react that way, including you. But that was not the intent of the poem (presuming the poet was not a hack). In modern times, the only reason that explanation of the poem is available to us is because we already know that mythical creatures (including ghosts) don't exist. The only reason that explanation of the poem is available to us is because most non-reductionists are actually reductionists, having a strong, deep belief that many things have been explained away by reduction.
However, back when mythical creatures like gnomes and haunts were imagined, it was not without a reason. Never assume that people are referring to mystical creatures and magic when they talk of their perception of reality. They are simply using metaphor to explain something their brain cannot grasp at the moment of perception. Most of the time, they don't even know they're doing it, and so believe the metaphor to be literal. But just because they use the wrong words, that doesn't mean their perception is false, only that their interpretation of their perception is false. The haunts in the air and the gnomes in the mine are still there, they're just not called "haunts" and "gnomes".
So, like the rainbow, haunts and gnomes were not explained away. All three were just explained. What was explained away was the interpretation. What was explained was the perception.
Crap! I'm sorry I didn't see this. I've had a love/hate relationship with LessWrong while I've been getting as far as I can with meditation.
a year late, hopefully you get this response so that it may have some use.
In this post I describe the steps for learning the prerequisite to Taoist meditation. At the time, I was not able to properly describe Taoist meditation, despite being very familiar with it. I can at least try now.
The prerequisite to Taoist meditation is about practicing being aware, and practicing controlling awareness. Controlling awareness requires being aware of what one is aware of, and so is also a practice of that.
Once one becomes adequate at being aware of anything for a sufficient amount of time, the next step is about figuring out how to find and fix the problems.
The most advanced way to fix a problem is to simply be aware of it until it goes away. maintaining awareness of the problem makes it go away on it's own, without requiring any additional action.
However, that is too advanced for most people, and so there are other methods along the way.
Step one is to be aware of tension in the body. There are a myriad of ways to activate tension to make it much easier to observe, and thus be aware of. Breath control (both the fast and slow varieties) is one such way.
All tension in the body hinders the passage of fluids and mental signals. Neurons can be tense too.
Step two is to slowly try relaxing everything. This is the basic form of what is known as "dissolving" in meditation.
Step three involves a whole bunch of complicated ways of dissolving tension on deeper levels (Periostium is "deeper" than neurons are "deeper" than ligaments are "deeper" than muscles)
To make it less complicated, there is a common practice of breathing slowly while being acutely aware of a block of tension. And in that state, trying to focus the breath in the area of awareness (practice breathing into your stomach, then breathing into your whole body, to make this easier and safer).
In this step, emotions rise and come to light, thought patterns arise and come to light, and underlying ways of identifying concepts arise and come to light. The idea is that everything that comes up is a result of tension, and getting rid of the tension makes it not come up again.
Step four is about continuing to try to become better aware. continuing to be aware of deeper and deeper tissues, and corresponding cognitive processes (deeper and deeper emotions, thoughts, intuition, etc). To be aware of deeper cognitive processes, one must relieve the tension on the surface. As such, this is a long process of continuing to go deeper and deeper, going back and forth between steps 1, 2, 3 and 4.
It is possible to force the cognitive result of tension to change, or to push tension somewhere else. This can act as a temporary solution, and is sometimes necessary to deal with particularly strong or deep tension by forcefully removing the surface layers. Doing so usually causes tension to appear somewhere else, and on a equally deep or deeper layer. This is called the "fire method" of meditation.
The order of depth of cognition is: first physical feeling, then instinct, emotion, thought, intuition, identification (subconscious mental grouping), then last the "space" that is occupied by consciousness and cognition.
Each layer contains it's own feeling of tension. Each layer also contains it's own feeling of pain, which can be used to find tension.
After about ten years of meditating regularly, I got to the deepest (seventh) layer two weeks ago.
FYI: identification, subconscious mental grouping, is the source of karma. Intuition is about quickly(near instantly) solving NP-complete problems (the hardest part is figuring out whether the answer is true, just probable, or false and based on a false premise).
"preferred method" is hard to think about, since I only used others' methods as guidance to create my own. Breathing is integral to any good method, as is relaxing tension. The fastest way to improve is to never go beyond about 70% of your ability. The goal is to continue to go deeper, resolutely. In essence, meditation is extremely simple; but not at all easy. The point of meditation is to confront everything you can't handle, and learn to handle it. The method is really up to you. Taoist meditation is a path, with as many methods as there are martial arts moves (hint: there's not very many).
Once you can use your intuition (which you may already be able to do to an extent), these next things become possible.
Once you get to the level where you can feel Chi, move your body and chi at the same time. Use your moving body to move your chi. Normal ChiGung is equivalent to fast, heavy breathing. Moving your body and chi at the same time is equivalent to slow, controlled breathing.
Step five is to "open" spaces in your body that feel closed. This feels like expanding the capacity of a body tissue. Most importantly, open your joints, to allow proper fluid movement. This should simultaneously improve your posture.
Step six is to "tonify" (acupuncture word), which feels like re-invigorating atrophied tissue (not that I've ever had atrophied tissue).
The next step requires psychic awareness (direct awareness of intuition), and I'm not willing to explain it without room for sufficient detail (I am working on a way to explain it properly).
The step after that happens on the deepest layer, and I'm not willing to explain that without going into extreme detail of everything before it (which I am working on).
I have been told there is a step after that, but I have no idea what it is.
I hope I'm not too late to give this advice.
I hope this advice is helpful or useful in some way.
I hope everything is at least vaguely understandable.
If you, or anyone else, chooses to follow the path of meditation, good luck. It takes the resolution to succeed at impossible tasks, with equal rewards.
An example of imagining that something is true is having the idea that things ought to be a certain way, such as thinking that people ought to be not racist. Observe that people are racist. Continue to think that people ought to be not racist. Hear someone be racist.
The difference between taking offense and being angry is that taking offense is when anger is directed at a concept.
It's okay to be angry at a racist for doing racist things, but it's a bad idea to be angry at the concept of racism.