comment by pjeby ·
2009-04-20T19:32:34.552Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
It's not clear to me whether you mean that accepting models that "produce results" means you'll arrive at actually true model, or that you think winners are willing to use obviously false approximations, or that you think winners believe falsely in order to win.
The first, I don't really care about. Maybe the winner will get something "more true", or maybe they'll be talking phlogiston but still be able to light or put out fires and predict what will happen well enough under most circumstances.
The second is mainly what I mean -- plenty of self-help techniques work, despite having ludicrous or awful theories of why/how they work. I see no point in people waiting for the theories to get better before they make progress.
As for the third, it depends on how you look at it. I think it is more accurate to say that winners are able to suspend disbelief, separating truth from usefulness.
But it's important to understand what "suspending disbelief" actually means here. As I was explaining to a class yesterday, the difference between a confident state and a non-confident state is the number of simultaneous mental processes involved. (Subject to the disclaimer that everything I'm about to say here is not a "true" model, just a useful one!)
In a non-confident state, you run two processes: one to generate behavior, and the other one to limit it: self-critique, skepticism, analysis, etc. And it doesn't matter what the target of that "critique process" is... the theory, the person teaching it to you, your own ability to learn, what other people are thinking of you while you do it, whatever. Makes no difference at all what the content of that critique process is, just that you have one.
Confidence, on the other hand, is just running the behavior-generating process. It's literally "suspension of disbelief", regardless of what the disbelief is targeted at. This is why so many self-help books urge suspension of disbelief while reading and trying the techniques they offer: it is in fact essential to being able to carry out any processes that make use of intuition or unconscious learning and computation.
(Because the conscious process ends up diverting needed resources or distracting one from properly attending to necessary elements of the ongoing experience.)
It's also pretty essential to behaving in a confident way -- when you're confident, you're not simultaneously generating behavior and critiquing; you fully commit to one or the other at any given moment.
Anyway, I think it is a confusion to call this "believing falsely" - it is the absence of something, not the presence of something: i.e., it is simply the mental hygiene of refraining from engaging in mental processes that would interfere with carrying out a desired course of action. Intentionally believing falsely doesn't make any sense, but refraining from interfering with yourself "acting as if" a model is true, is an entirely different ball game.
The real purpose of the made-up theories found in self-help books is to give people a reason to let go of their disbeliefs and doubts: "I can't do this", "I'm no good at this", "This stuff never works," etc. If you can convince somebody to drop those other thoughts long enough to try something, you can get them to succeed. And as far as I have observed, this exact same principle is being taught by the self-help gurus, the marketing wizards, and even the pickup people.
And it's probably a big part of why people think that being "too rational" is a success hazard... because it is, if you can't let go of it when you're trying to learn or do things that require unconscious competence.