[CORE] Concepts for Understanding the World

post by SquirrelInHell · 2016-07-16T10:53:29.460Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 17 comments


  Heuristic: learn concepts before facts!
  Let's share concepts!


I'm recently doing a big project to increase my scholarship and modeling power for both rationality and traditional "serious" topics. One thing I found very useful is taking notes with a clear structure.

The structure I'm using currently is as follows:

- write down useful concepts,

- write down (as a separate category) useful heuristics & things to do in various situations,

- do not write facts, opinions or anything else (I rely on unaided memory to get more filtering).

Heuristic: learn concepts before facts!

Note that you can be mistaken about facts, but you can't harm your epistemology by learning concepts. Even if a concept turns out to be useless or misleading, you are better off knowing about it, understanding how it's misleading, and being able to avoid the trap when you see it.

Let's share concepts!

Please give (at a minimum) a name and a reference (link). A short description in plain language is also welcome.


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by MrMind · 2016-07-18T08:05:33.704Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A very useful concept I've found to be Yvain's noncentral fallacy.
Once I learned it I couldn't not unsee it, it appears in almost all discussions around me, both live and on the net.

comment by SherkanerUnderhill · 2016-07-22T10:02:42.639Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have also started a pursuit of learning useful concepts/models explicitly.

Some useful resources:

Replies from: SquirrelInHell
comment by SquirrelInHell · 2016-07-25T02:52:29.979Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Cool, thanks! I didn't know about the third and the fourth.

After checking everything from comments here, I have enough material that it'll take me months to work through it all.

Also if you don't know it, Meaningness has some interesting remarks about formulating concepts and problem descriptions: http://meaningness.com/metablog/how-to-think#feynman-objects

Replies from: SherkanerUnderhill
comment by SherkanerUnderhill · 2016-07-27T14:56:18.242Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Whoa, awesome! Aligns well with my current interests. A lot of great insights there...

comment by niceguyanon · 2016-07-18T20:21:25.065Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


This comment has a great link to a pretty big list of concepts.

Replies from: SquirrelInHell
comment by SquirrelInHell · 2016-07-19T01:39:26.666Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks, that's an awesome list. I'll work through it carefully.

comment by MrMind · 2016-07-18T08:02:10.031Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Minor typo: hallo effect (should be halo effect). Also a nitpick: the negative version of the halo effect is usually called horn effect.
I'm also curious about why you have included "brotherhood" as a useful concept...

Replies from: SquirrelInHell
comment by SquirrelInHell · 2016-07-18T12:21:36.133Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm also curious about why you have included "brotherhood" as a useful concept...

Ah, in that case I noticed that the modern definition of "brotherhood" tends to just be "all-male group", and that we have lost the cultural context in which it made sense originally. In the times when you had honor duels etc., having the second part in the definition of brotherhood (preventing girl drama) was crucial, and probably implicitly obvious to everyone (so it wasn't even mentioned). So after redefining it back, it makes sense that the modern world needs "brotherhoods" (and "sisterhoods") less than ever.

Replies from: MrMind
comment by MrMind · 2016-07-19T07:00:57.971Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

it makes sense that the modern world needs "brotherhoods" (and "sisterhoods") less than ever.

... more than ever?

Replies from: SquirrelInHell
comment by SquirrelInHell · 2016-07-19T07:57:56.771Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

... more than ever?

If we assume that we are not more able to cope with those problems, we only fool ourselves that we are - then more. So it depends on how optimistic you are about the current society.

In any case this is not the first time when I realize that to make a concept more useful, I can adopt a definition that is similar, and yet crucially different, from the "common wisdom" one. One other example of this is my definition of mnemonic technique.

comment by ScottL · 2016-07-17T03:33:15.849Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For rationality related concepts, see this page

Replies from: SquirrelInHell
comment by SquirrelInHell · 2016-07-17T04:51:34.701Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks, I've seen that before but it didn't come to mind now.

It covers a lot of the "rationality" part, though not so much of "understanding the world" in a broader sense (esp. economy, sociology, politics etc.)

comment by Arielgenesis · 2016-07-24T17:15:01.450Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure how do you define concept. According to what I understood, I think you might be missing these:

Feed back https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feedback the impact of something halts its cause.

feed forward https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feed_forward_(control) the impact of something reinforce its cause

self fulfilling prophecy https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-fulfilling_prophecy a prophecy is being fulfilled because the prophecy was made, usually because active agents tried to prevent the prediction from happening

emergence https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emergence a collection of simpler elements and behavior generating a more complex pattern when multiple elements are connected to each other.

comment by [deleted] · 2016-07-18T11:20:35.496Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I like the difference between single points and frontlines of influence. It comes up in vegetation science, where there is the Eternal Question of the Continuity of Communities; and some events and environments in my life felt like approaching lines, like the marriage, and some like points, like the wedding.

And, also from veg.sc., the notion of (scaled) phytosociological relevés. When you do that, you have to "edit" the picture of "grass and shrubbery" you see so that you can estimate the % of soil covered by different species, and not be distracted by flowers & dead plants, and probably recognize levels within the "grass", etc., and look for patchiness, etc., and find a way to express it all. I have known people compiling relevés in ten minutes flat; a colleague wave a hand at a spot of Erythronium caucasicum, half-screened by the rain, and remark "Huh, no clones here"... It just becomes a way of seeing stuff, with practice. Wiki

And lastly, the Image of the Species, which is the image of something you have encountered many times and recognize "directly", which might differ from such shaped by a different set of observations.

Replies from: SquirrelInHell
comment by SquirrelInHell · 2016-07-18T12:31:39.771Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

All this sounds interesting, but without more resources (or biology background) I'm not sure I'm getting this.

I like the difference between single points and frontlines of influence.

Is the frontline (as you mean it) only considered in time (not e.g. physical space)? I.e. it's just a different way of saying "something exerts influence for a period of time" vs "something changes suddenly"?

And, also from veg.sc., the notion of (scaled) phytosociological relevés.

I think I get what the process looks like, but does it mean as a concept? E.g. what else would you use it to describe?

And lastly, the Image of the Species, which is the image of something you have encountered many times and recognize "directly", which might differ from such shaped by a different set of observations.

Do you mean the observation that human brains represent categories by remembering "typical examples" of items in that category?

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2016-07-18T14:06:37.575Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

only considered in time

No, it is usually used for space. Something like internal design of workplaces, or being distracted by a coughing fit at an opera, or placing the cherry on top of the cake, or skirting puddles, all of that:) But you can say, for exaple, that learning about human hormone system by reading about separate hormones gives you points of "illumination", and then imagining the profile of, for example, pregnancy, is more of a line. (Maybe?.. I seldom have to articulate that. For me, the "line" is more like the front of a cloudbank, where you know there is a whole bag of "weather" contained, but don't yet know what that weather would be.)


I guess I meant a certain skill, which allows to output a strictly formalized answer, has to be useful across a really wide set of circumstances, and when internalized feels like a rush of data and corrections.

typical examples

No, it is rather a blended memory of all such organisms one sees. Like, "well, it is rather too oblong for yeast, but I still think it is yeast", you know? Typical examples are things people admire, and they should be the basis for the Images of the Species, but in practice I think it never happens and this is likely for the best.

Please find better names for these things, if you think they are useful. I simply remembered what I found applicable outside of botany, but, well:)

comment by MrMind · 2016-07-18T08:08:49.563Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

How about the cobra effect? It's a classic example of incentives yelding the exact opposite of what they were put in place for.