Don't estimate your creative intelligence by your critical intelligence

post by PhilGoetz · 2015-02-05T02:41:28.108Z · score: 39 (44 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 20 comments

When I criticize, I'm a genius. I can go through a book of highly-referenced scientific articles and find errors in each of them. Boy, I feel smart. How are these famous people so dumb?

But when I write, I suddenly become stupid. I sometimes spend half a day writing something and then realize at the end, or worse, after posting, that what it says simplifies to something trivial, or that I've made several unsupported assumptions, or claimed things I didn't really know were true. Or I post something, then have to go back every ten minutes to fix some point that I realize is not quite right, sometimes to the point where the whole thing falls apart.

If someone writes an article or expresses an idea that you find mistakes in, that doesn't make you smarter than that person. If you create an equally-ambitious article or idea that no one else finds mistakes in, then you can start congratulating yourself.

20 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2015-02-05T05:54:07.958Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Immensely harder to build something without a flaw than to find a flaw.

Also, I'll note that the criticisms we level while we review some work in privacy are not reviewed in their turn by anyone else. There should be some humility in your "gotcha" if it has never faced criticism of it's own.

On the other hand, if you're a very good critic, it becomes very hard to create something, as you see flaw after flaw after flaw, multiplying faster than you can fix them. I find it very hard.

I think there's something to that archtype of writers as drinkers. Got to shut off that critic if you want to get anything completed.

comment by emr · 2015-02-05T03:40:58.635Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Maps and territories. A noisy signal can still be understood, and the marginal cost of suppressing noise can become steep. Even mathematical proofs are often first communicated in a logically correct but "noisy" form, and simplified later.

I struggle with over-qualifying, to the point where my writing takes too long or is too hard for other people to understand. I actually wonder if prolific writers are selected for a certain lack of guilt, whereas I often feel like a scrupulous person, almost guilty for not addressing every little subtlety.

The collapse into the trivial is usually good news! The trivial is just the accurately concise, which depends on the power of your background knowledge. I'm a huge fan of SlateStarCodex, but sometimes I reach the end of a 10,000 word essay and wonder "Why did he just say APPLY META-LEVEL RATIONALITY CONCEPT TO TOPIC X?", but that's only trivial if you share the right background, while his audience is very broad.

comment by Val · 2015-02-05T21:36:32.084Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

There is an old joke about an art critic, who was accused of how he dares to criticize the art of others when he himself is unable to produce any art. The answer: "I cannot lay eggs, but I can still tell if an egg is rotten".

comment by Username · 2015-02-05T23:29:33.827Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

“If P = NP, then the world would be a profoundly different place than we usually assume it to be. There would be no special value in ‘creative leaps,’ no fundamental gap between solving a problem and recognizing the solution once it’s found. Everyone who could appreciate a symphony would be Mozart; everyone who could follow a step-by-step argument would be Gauss; everyone who could recognize a good investment strategy would be Warren Buffett.” -Scott Aaronson

comment by shminux · 2015-02-05T03:09:14.250Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Good writers are not necessarily good critics. Just a different skill. You can be smart at one and dumb at the other.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2015-02-05T03:38:20.325Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW · GW

I personally don't think it's a matter of skill. I think everyone is better at criticizing than at creating. It's just easier.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-02-05T10:59:00.012Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Sounds like a P vs NP thing. Easy to recognise whether something is good than to discover something good.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2015-02-05T12:17:08.400Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Actually, there are three tasks, not two. There's recognizing whether something has flaws, recognizing whether something is good, and creating something good.

comment by ike · 2015-02-05T03:40:43.431Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You're also comparing criticizing others with creating yourself. If you compared criticizing yourself, you might find it's the same quality as your writing.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2015-02-05T04:38:00.374Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure what that means. If I write an article and find no errors in it, am I a great writer, or a lousy critic?

comment by ike · 2015-02-05T05:02:43.865Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's hard to know. If others found problems, then you're a bad self-critic. If others didn't find problems, you're a good writer, but we don't know about your critic abilities.

What I meant was really along the lines of comparing how good your self-criticism is of stuff you've written a long time ago with your criticism of others. If you're better at criticising others (my guess), then you could try to account for that deficit when comparing that to your writing ability. I don't know how far that will get you.

I agree that it can't be compared directly.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2015-02-05T07:28:23.216Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Writing is often taught by showing examples of bad or mediocre writing and asking the students to critique and improve on it. Similarly, in writing workshops you learn by having others critique your work, but also by critiquing the work of others. This would suggest that these are at least partially the same skill: I know that on occasions when I've read someone else's text and pointed out things that could be improved in it, I afterwards end up also being more aware of those things when writing something of my own.

comment by passive_fist · 2015-02-05T05:28:35.076Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It's easy to make mistakes, so it's easy to find flaws in other people's work.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-02-05T07:37:11.820Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Seems like you're criticizing your own writing rather than writing. Are you a perfectionist?

comment by PhilGoetz · 2015-02-05T08:38:56.935Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Sometimes, though not usually, the only options are perfection and being wrong. But I don't think I have any unusual writing blocks, including perfectionism.

comment by Username · 2015-02-05T03:14:04.501Z · score: -9 (17 votes) · LW · GW

I'm sorry to be so blunt, but why do you keep posting to Main material that clearly belongs in Discussion even after having been told not to do so repeatedly in the past?

comment by JenniferRM · 2015-02-08T22:40:26.052Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Troll tax gladly paid... (and there being a troll tax at all is something I wish were otherwise).

I wish Phil had more leeway. One reason my visits to LW have been decreasing is that it has few people saying actually interesting things and lots of people who just quibble with details. Phil is someone I recognize whose content I seek out based on his personal reputation with myself for saying insightful things grounded in deep experience. If he posted more and more regularly, treating Main more like his own personal blog, there is a non-trivial chance I'd come back more often just to read it.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2015-02-05T03:36:42.534Z · score: -6 (28 votes) · LW · GW

I did post this to Discussion. And, I'm sorry to be so blunt, but why do you expect me to take orders from someone named Username with a total karma of 720? I've been a significant contributor to this site, and you have not. Go police somebody else.

comment by TrE · 2015-02-05T05:31:08.746Z · score: 18 (18 votes) · LW · GW

(paying a karma toll for this)

The username "Username" with password "password" can be used by anyone wishing to stay anonymous.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2015-02-05T08:10:58.415Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I think that only makes it worse. But thanks. You could say that anonymous criticism benefits both parties by enabling criticism without causing a social rift. But you could also say it removes any penalty for making criticism, which incentivizes strategic harassment. And trying to enforce social norms seems especially to me to be something that shouldn't be done anonymously--norms should be enforced by people with some standing, to avoid unstable norms; and a person speaking out for a true group norm should feel less need to be anonymous.