Why is my (our?) reasoning process noisy?

post by emanuele ascani (emanuele-ascani) · 2020-04-25T12:19:44.972Z · LW · GW · 4 comments

This is a question post.

I especially notice this is a problem after a written exam. Even if I am 100% prepared and if I check the answers multiple times, I end up making mistakes that are the stuff of dreams. This can make a huge difference for me, because these mistakes are not isolated, they are often in many exercises or questions and they are often macroscopic.

They can range from changing a number to another number (not due to bad calligraphy, I have perfectly intelligible calligraphy. I'm inclined to think that somewhere in my neuronal processes that number literally turned into another one), or completely botching the correct process for solving the problem even if I have solved similar problems with the correct process tens of times before.

This can mean the difference between (translating to American grades) an A and a C. Or a C and botching the exam. It makes a big difference.

One time, I had botched the screen-off test of an exam due to this kind of mistakes. The screen-off test consisted in a multiple choice questions sheet that the professor used to screen-off what tests to spend time correcting in full and what tests not bother correcting. The real test consisted in the open questions and exercises after the screen-off. I managed to convince the professor to correct the rest of the exam even if I botched the screen-off, and I got an A.

I'm pretty sure this problem doesn't happen because of

I don't think it happens because I'm in a hurry either. I often have tight time limits, but I do the exercises at the speed I usually maintain. Even if I was in a hurry I still wouldn't understand how I could make such incredible mistakes, given that I already had done the exercises tens of times before.

I'm using the example of exams because this is the area where this problem shows up the most. It also shows up when programming, but that's not as impactful, because I can correct the mistakes. I am wondering if there are other areas of life where this is a problem but I am not noticing. If it is a phenomenon isolated to tests or not. It is entirely possible that it is something affecting my usual thought processes in a bad way, but which I'm not aware of, because I can't check immediately if the thought processes are correct (and even if I could I would make the same mistake, because that's what happens) and I don't receive a grade or an error message from the compiler. So this might be much more important than just performance in tests.

More than how to avoid these mistakes I'm asking: why on Earth do they happen? Could it be that they are more widespread in my/our reasoning and I'm/we're not noticing? I know that other people suffer from this too, but how much exactly? Nonetheless, if you want to shoot suggestions about how to avoid these problems I'm all ears.

Bonus: My brain is also noisy in other ways. I have tinnitus even if I am in my early twenties and many symptoms of Visual Snow. I'm much more inclined to think they are completely unrelated to test mistakes and higher cognition, but I want to include this information anyway. Wild associations can sometimes bring interesting stuff up.


answer by quanticle · 2020-04-29T20:19:38.206Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Distraction: I don’t get distracted… I remain concentrated on the exercise

Are you sure about that? One of the symptoms of attention-deficit is that even when you're working hard to concentrate, your concentration can flicker in unexpected ways without you necessarily noticing, causing the "noisiness" or "glitchiness" that you're describing.

I would get tested for ADD (or other psychiatric/neurological) conditions before assuming that you've discovered some kind of human universal that everyone else has missed.

comment by emanuele ascani (emanuele-ascani) · 2020-04-29T20:54:11.044Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you, I think I will try to pay attention if some "flickering" happens. It is a possibility.

Replies from: quanticle
comment by quanticle · 2020-04-30T21:34:48.748Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think you're missing the point. You can't "pay attention" to this flickering, because it occurs below the level of conscious thought. It manifests as missed cues, "stupid errors", and other seemingly unrelated phenomena.

The reason I bring up ADD specifically is because one of the standard tests for it is to have the person being diagnosed sit in front of a computer and perform a routine task (like hit a button whenever a particular number pops up). The error rate is then compared to a baseline. If the error rate is significantly outside the "normal" variation, then it's a pretty clear warning sign that the person has ADD.

I'm not a psychologist, and your description is obviously not enough to make a diagnosis, but your description of the way you make errors stood out to me, and that's why I suggested getting tested.

Replies from: emanuele-ascani
comment by emanuele ascani (emanuele-ascani) · 2020-05-01T08:27:16.976Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Wow, ok, thank you. This is useful information. I didn't take your ADHD/ADD hypothesis seriously to be honest, but now that you specify the nature of the test to diagnose it, it makes much more sense. I will research more and get tested.


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