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Build Small Skills in the Right Order

86 Post author: lukeprog 17 April 2011 11:01PM

I took some Scientology classes in Hollywood so I could get into their Toastmasters club, which is the best Toastmasters club in L.A. county.1 My first Scientology class, 'Success Through Communication', taught skills that were mostly non-specific to Scientology. At first, the class exercises seemed to teach skills too basic to be worth practicing. Later, I came to respect the class as surprisingly useful. (But please, don't take Scientology classes. They are highly Dark Arts, and extremely manipulative.)

For the first exercise, I had to sit upright, still, and silent with my eyes closed for about an hour. I was to remain alert and aware but utterly calm. When my head drooped or my hand twitched, I was forced to start over. It took me five hours of silent sitting to complete the exercise successfully. At first I thought the exercise was stupid, but later I found I was now more in control of my awareness and attention, and less disturbed by things in the environment.

For the second exercise, I had to stare directly into someone's eyes without looking away - even for a split second - for 20 minutes in a row. If you've never tried this, you should. It's very difficult. Unfortunately, they first paired me with a 12-year-old girl. I was sure I would freak her out if I stared into her eyes for 20 minutes (it's an intense experience), so I made faces when the instructors weren't looking and waited for them to pair me with an adult. After half a dozen failures, I finally managed to maintain eye contact for 20 minutes in a row, without a single glance away or a long blink.

Again, this seemed absurd at the time, but later I discovered that I no longer had any trouble maintaining eye contact with people. This skill is a small one, but it is highly valuable in almost every social endeavor.

Later exercises seemed childish. An instructor would ask me simple questions from a book like, "What's that over there?" and I would have to answer correctly: "That's a table." I had to do this for hundreds of questions. But I couldn't just say "That's a table" any old way. I had to say it without a stutter, I had to enunciate, and I had to speak loudly. Answering questions like this 100 times in a row will reveal how often most of us speak softly, fail to enunciate, and use filler words like "um." Every time I did one of those things, I had to start over.

In another exercise, the instructor would do everything she could to make me laugh, and I had to sit still and not crack a hint of a smile for 10 minutes in a row. This simple skill took many rounds to master. It is a small skill, but repeating a simple exercise like this will eventually bring almost anyone to mastery of this small skill. At the end of the exercise I had noticeably improved a small part of my self-control mechanism.

This class - a religious class I took as an atheist in order to achieve an unrelated goal - turned out to be one of the most important classes I have ever taken in my life. It taught me an important meta-skill I have used to great effect ever since.

This is the meta-skill of building small skills in the right order. It is now one of the key tools in my toolkit for instrumental rationality.

 

Why it works

Previously, I explained the utility of success spirals2:

When you achieve one challenging goal after another, your obviously gain confidence in your ability to succeed. So: give yourself a series of meaningful, challenging but achievable goals, and then achieve them! Set yourself up for success by doing things you know you can succeed at, again and again, to keep your confidence high.

Building small skills in the right order is an excellent way to create and maintain success spirals.

Trying to master a large skill set like salesmanship is a daunting task that will likely involve many demotivating failures before you ever taste success. The same goes for public speaking, writing research papers, and lots of other large skill sets involving a complex interaction of many small skills.

Anna Salamon uses math to explain this concept. You could tackle calculus immediately after Algebra I, and you might eventually pick it up after many frustrating failures if you read the calculus textbook enough times, but why would you do this? It's much easier and more satisfying to learn more algebra piece by piece until the jump to calculus is not so great. That way, you can experience the pleasure and confidence-boost of mastering new concepts all along the way to calculus.

A key component of motivation is time delay. The greater the distance between you and the reward, the less motivated you are to work toward the reward. If you don't experience much reward until you've mastered the entire skill set of salesmanship or public speaking, maintaining motivation will be quite a challenge. But if you experience the reward of mastering small skills all along the way to becoming an effective salesman or public speaker, you have some hope of maintaining motivation throughout the journey.

 

Practical examples

How might one practice this meta-skill of building small skills in the right order?

Many skill sets, of course, are taught this way by default. Nobody teaches people to play piano by starting with Rachmaninov. Nobody teaches math by starting with calculus. Nobody teaches rock climbing by first free-climbing a YDS Class 5.10 route. But in other areas, this rather obvious lesson is not always applied.

For example, let's say you want to improve your social skills. Don't start by approaching an intimidating businessman and giving him your elevator pitch. You will probably fail, and be demotivated. Instead, start by asking a friend if you can practice staring into his or her eyes for 20 minutes in a row. Offer to buy them lunch, or something. After you've mastered that, ask them to do whatever they can to make you laugh while you try to suppress the urge to smile for 10 minutes in a row. (They will probably do this one without a bribe.) Once you've mastered that, ask them to pretend like they are a stranger so you can approach them and open a conversation 20 times in a row. Have them correct you every time you stutter or speak too softly or without a smile, and start over. Next, do the same exercise with your friend in public. Next, walk up to 10 actual strangers and ask for the time of day, then say "Thanks" and walk away. And so on. Build one skill at a time, and pay attention to the satisfaction of mastery each time you master a new small skill. After mastering many such exercises, you will find that you have mastered an entire new skill set that you previously lacked. And you did it with one small, mostly non-scary step at a time.3

Or suppose you want to learn how to write research papers. Don't start by setting a goal of having a well-written research paper one month from today. Instead, start by learning how to use Google effectively. Talk to a local librarian about how to use your library's resources effectively. Learn how to quickly understand the key terms and concepts in a given field (hint: read textbooks), so you know what to look for in Google Scholar. Learn how to bring yourself up to speed very quickly in a given field (hint: find a recent scholarly anthology of review articles from a major academic press, like this or this or this). Learn how to skim paper titles and abstracts. Learn how to get academic papers for free. Learn how to skim full papers for explanations and references relevant to the particular questions you are looking to answer. Learn how to find the home pages for leading academics in the field to see which papers they've written most recently. Learn the same kinds of small skills - one at a time - relevant to turning all that work into a great research paper. After learning, practicing, and mastering each of these small skills, you will after some time find yourself with some mastery in the entire skill set relevant to writing great research papers.

If you read a self-help book and its recommendations appear well-vetted but you don't experience much improvement, ask yourself: Which smaller, intermediate skills might I need to master before I can succeed in doing what the self-help book recommends? Practice and master those smaller skills first, then go back to the self-help book and try again. You may discover there are small skills that remain to be mastered before you're ready to tackle what the self-help book recommends, in which case you should do another round of granular self-improvement by mastering small skills that are prerequisites for the skills needed to achieve your larger goals. Fill your procedural knowledge gaps.

Much failure and frustration and demotivation results from not building small skills in the right order. This is unnecessary. Master small skills, one at a time, and don't be embarrassed about it. Just try it.

And if you need a partner for eye contact training, just ask. I'll be glad to help kick off your success spiral.

 

 

Notes

1 It was a wise choice, by the way. I learned to do public speaking very quickly.

2 In business academia, success spirals are known as "efficacy-performance spirals" or "efficacy-performance deviation amplifying loops." See: Lindsley, Brass, & Thomas (1995). Efficacy-performance spirals: A multilevel perspective. Academy of Management Review, 20(3): 645-678.

3 This book may also help. It's intended for children and those with various degrees of autism, but if you need to develop your social skills one small skill at a time and you can get over your own ego, it might be useful.

Comments (212)

Comment author: majus 19 April 2011 03:19:08PM 18 points [-]

I have two major comments. First, I took the Scientology Communications class 35 years ago in Boston, and it was basically the same as what has just been described. That's impressive, in a creepy kind of way.

Second, my strongest take-away from the class I took was in response to something NOT mentioned above, so this aspect may have changed. We were given a small book, something like "The History of Scientology". (This is not the huge "Dianetics" book.) We were told to read it on our own, until we understood it, and would move on to the later activities in the class only after attesting that we had done so. The book was loaded with very vague terms, imprecise at best, contrary to familiar usage at worst, but we were not allowed to discuss their meaning with anyone else, or ask instructors for insight. We had to construct a self-consistent interpretation in isolation, and comparing our own with anyone else's was effectively forbidden in perpetuity. So each student auto-brainwashed. I was impressed by the power of this technique.

Comment author: XiXiDu 18 April 2011 09:11:02AM *  16 points [-]

Ask a Korean!: When is it OK to Make Eye Contact?

Never, never, NEVER look into the eyes of someone who is in a superior position than you are. This includes everyone who is older than you, even by one year, family or not. This also includes people who are higher than you in a workplace or social hierarchy, regardless of age. (For example, your boss, a judge, etc.) In practical terms, this means that you are pretty safe with not looking into anyone's eyes when you are in Korea.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 18 April 2011 03:12:08PM 6 points [-]

Also, in places with a lot of ne'er do well young men roaming around and where the enforcement of public order leaves something to be desired, making eye contact with strangers in public can be seen as a challenge to a fist-fight (or worse).

Comment author: novalis 20 April 2011 06:35:20PM 2 points [-]
Comment author: Mark_Eichenlaub 19 April 2011 08:58:54AM 12 points [-]

I have always tried to "Build Small Skills in the Right Order", but I think it has been detrimental or even crippling to my learning process in some cases.

I'm pretty good at math, but I haven't studied advanced math and would like to begin a program of self-study. I have started a few times, usually reading the first couple of chapters of a high-level calculus book (Apostol or Spivak), or something at a similar level.

I already know calculus well, having used it as a physics major in college and taught it as a private tutor for high school students, but I am not completely familiar with all the subtleties, such as why Taylor series converge and under what conditions. Reviewing calculus before diving into an advanced book on real analysis seems like a good idea because I know I can understand the calculus book, and reading it will prepare me to study more challenging material.

Nonetheless, what usually happens is that I get impatient at the slow progress, bored with the material, and want to jump straight to the more difficult book. If I do, I feel like I am "doing it wrong" by ignoring the small skills, but if I don't, I wind up abandoning the program of study. I think I would have learned much more than I have by now if instead of a schedule of small skills, I'd simply opened advanced books to whatever section interested me and started plugging away, going back to review as necessary.

Similarly, early when I was a competitive distance runner, I read scores of books and internet forums for advice on training, then designed detailed training programs with careful "periodization" which would gradually build up my total amount and speed of running to the right quantities at the right time of the year. I also had many different gym exercises to do to build all requisite fitness before I could undergo the hardest training.

The result was that I was overly worried about whether my training was "correct", frequently got worn down or injured, and didn't perform well. Later, when I stopped worrying about all the small skills involved and simply ran every day for an amount that felt right to me, I improved a lot.

These examples aren't intended to contradict the advice to build small skills, but to point out that even if a skill is both small and helpful to your larger goals, it is not necessarily the right skill to work on. In one case, the skills I chose were actually too small; in the other they were distracting.

Comment author: Jordan 11 July 2014 02:56:41AM 0 points [-]

This is how I prefer to learn as well. I call it "Immersion Learning".

For example, during my first year of Algebra, I carried a Calculus textbook with me to class, and read whenever I was bored. I read through the whole textbook that semester, and understood maybe 20%. I didn't bother doing any problems, and when I tried I was totally incapable, but that was OK. The next semester I read through a Calc II and Calc III textbook. Afterward I decided I was going to take the AP Calculus exam. I bought a prep book and started doing calculus problems for the first time in my life, and found that mastering the techniques came naturally. A few weeks later I passed the AP exam.

I think this works because knowledge (at least as it exists in brains) is not highly structured. It's a giant associative mess. As with learning a language, the best way is to be immersed, and let the entire associative mess emerge simultaneously.

Learn the shape of the forest before the lay of the trees. Afterward you can do targeted study to patch up your makeshift map.

Comment author: AshwinV 11 July 2014 04:04:08AM 0 points [-]

A question: Is 'Immersion Learning' a term that you have coined? If not, does this have anything to do with Luis Von Ahn's immersion concept on duolingo?

Comment author: Jordan 11 July 2014 09:12:35PM 0 points [-]

Ah, I should have guessed that 'Immersion Learning' had been co-opted a few times before. My above use is my own coinage. By it I just mean jumping in and being exposed to everything you can and letting your brain sort it out, rather than methodically building a cathedral of understanding, one block at a time.

Comment author: Mark_Friedenbach 11 July 2014 04:55:40AM *  0 points [-]

Maybe he coined it, but it's not new:

http://www.alljapaneseallthetime.com/blog/

(Just pointing out one popular example of immersion learning.)

Comment author: AntonioAdan 27 February 2013 11:23:42PM *  0 points [-]

Each new skill needs to be a challenge. Ideally, a very easy challenge.

Comment author: handoflixue 26 April 2011 10:16:45PM 0 points [-]

This seems like a useful counterpoint. The idea of leaping in, realizing what you don't know, and then backtracking to cover the fundamentals seems useful. I recently decided I wanted to learn advanced math, grabbed some sample calculus problems, and failed them so hard that I'm now doing a methodical go-through of Algebra before I even try again.

I've found that, for some of the exercises, and realize I'll completely forget the material in a week because it seems "irrelevant" to me and is easy to relearn. For others, I just skim over them because I already know how to do it, or because it's simply irrelevant to what I want to learn. Taking the time to at least skim each section has definitely helped me, though, as I get little reward boosts of "oooh, I already know this!" and I'm making myself aware of skills I might need to review if they become relevant.

Comment author: James_Miller 17 April 2011 11:48:35PM *  11 points [-]

Voice to text software can also help you learn to enunciate.

Comment author: Swimmer963 18 April 2011 01:16:19PM 9 points [-]

Once you've mastered that, ask them to pretend like they are a stranger so you can approach them and open a conversation 20 times in a row.

A friend actually did this exercise with me when I was about grade 9. At the time I was not so much shy as overwhelmed by small talk; I couldn't process it in real time, so if someone said "what's up?" to me I would freeze and eventually blurt out some rude-sounding conversation-killer. We were on some kind of volunteer field trip, I think, and we spent an hour in the hotel room with her 'starting conversations' with me and me responding. ...Wow, I had actually forgotten I had that much trouble with social skills.

Answering questions like this 100 times in a row will reveal how often most of us speak softly, fail to enunciate, and use filler words like "um."

Some of us wish we could learn to speak more quietly! I don't know if it's because of my family dynamics or the crowd I hung out with in high school, but when I'm excited I speak very loudly and people find it disruptive.

Comment author: komponisto 18 April 2011 12:00:10AM 9 points [-]

Yes, a thousand times yes.

Note, however, that society is not generally set up to encourage learning this way. In particular, the right order may not be the one they teach in school.

See my discussion-section post Inverse Speed for a case where I had to invoke my understanding of "university-level" mathematics in order to master a "middle-school-level" problem.

Comment author: Alex_Altair 18 April 2011 05:15:20PM 8 points [-]

How could we apply this to Akrasia? That is, what small skills can you learn to help you beat procrastination, instead of just setting a big goal like, "Finish every assignment at least two days before it's due."? Here are a couple ideas:

1) Pick single, relatively easy things to stop procrastinating on. For example, errands like doing laundry or getting groceries.

2) Starting every assignment right after you're assigned it. It could just be a little bit, one problem or simply an outline, that would help you break the resistance to starting.

I feel like there's a lot more possible here, but I can't seem to think of skills related to beating akrasia as opposed to just small ways to beat it. Any ideas?

Comment author: Armok_GoB 22 April 2011 08:21:11PM 2 points [-]

Good things to look for in this kind of task is things that you clearly enjoy for it's own sake ut somehow procrastinate anyway, and things that are well defined and take a short amount of time to do.

Comment author: [deleted] 18 April 2011 06:58:28PM 1 point [-]

I'm currently thinking about this as well.

For one, I'm trying to get around being tired, so I have started making a list of all activities that might restore my mental energy and began doing trial runs with a scoring afterwards. So for example, I check how awake I currently am (8/10) and then watch TV for 20 minutes and check again (still 8/10). That way, I do 10-20 minute chunks and eventually get a useful list of working techniques.

Another is trial runs. I went through all my reasonably plausible self-help stuff and collected all techniques in a big list ("write down steps while you work", "timeboxing", ...). Then I pick a simple akratic activity and do a short run (at most a few days, often just one <1 hour go) and write down my experience.

I would really love to have something like a skill tree for some of my major goals, like Khan academy's knowledge map. I've tried making some myself, but I didn't really know in advance what kinda stuff should go in there and my attempts all looked like linear chains. Having clear-cut progression standards and a full map from dirt-easy to mastery seems to be a major component for my recent great success at picking up resistance training, but I haven't yet figured out how to transfer it to other skills.

Comment author: CronoDAS 18 April 2011 06:38:46AM *  7 points [-]

I've heard of that specific Scientology training routine - having two people look at each other's eyes for an extended period of time - before. Apparently, doing that with a person of the opposite gender is remarkably effective at producing feelings of romantic love, and Scientology critic Keith Henson describes it and other "auditing" practices as emotional manipulation aking to brainwashing...

Comment author: David_Gerard 18 April 2011 08:21:38AM *  9 points [-]

The staring one works on others by intimidation, as you look confident in an odd therefore unpredictable manner (a scary and possibly dangerous freak); the routine itself trains you to uncritically accept what's in the later, sillier material. It's obedience training. Many critics, being terribly negative and close-minded and observing how Scientology tends to work out for people, consider the latter the main purpose of the TRs. Luke was pretty much dancing around in live fire here and dodged a bullet.

Comment author: David_Gerard 18 April 2011 07:57:41AM *  47 points [-]

For those wondering: The Scientology staring routines summarised, from David Touretzky's site. Anyone who's read the first section above really needs to closely read this page. (The whole section is quality, and includes demo videos by ex-Scientologists.)

Do it too much and you end up with the famous Scientology Stare, the thousand-yard "fixed, dedicated glare" that anyone who's dealt much with Scientologists will be familiar with. (This guy, from this demo, was doing his stare up to 12 inches from other people's faces.)

Scientology is based on a bunch of low-level hacks on human perceptual routines and cognitive biases. (The staring one works on others by intimidation, as you look confident in an odd therefore unpredictable manner; the routine itself trains you to uncritically accept what's in the later, sillier material.) Hubbard did rather well for someone with no theory and only an aim (money and fame) in mind. I would, however, caution that there are few arts of mind-hacking that are darker.

I strongly advise any LessWrong reader to stay the hell away from this stuff unless they have a fascination with dissecting the mechanisms of how people abuse other people [1]. Luke, you're recommending actually dangerous activities here.

[1] Which is, of course, interesting and important, particularly for mind-hackers. Approach it like you would analysing sewage.

Comment author: pjeby 18 April 2011 03:32:33PM 29 points [-]

Scientology is based on a bunch of low-level hacks on human perceptual routines and cognitive biases. (The staring one works on others by intimidation, as you look confident in an odd therefore unpredictable manner; the routine itself trains you to uncritically accept what's in the later, sillier material.) Hubbard did rather well for someone with no theory and only an aim (money and fame) in mind. I would, however, caution that there are few arts of mind-hacking that are darker.

The other major hack going on in all of those routines is people paying attention to you. Being paid attention to is an extremely powerful behavior modifier, and it's a major recruitment tool used by cults of all kinds.

(Not only is staring paying attention, but in the other exercises, the instructor is clearly paying attention to the slightest detail of everything you say or do. This type of attention from parents and teachers tends to stimulate a desire to please the person giving the attention.)

Comment author: David_Gerard 18 April 2011 08:30:25PM 11 points [-]

PJ has nailed it here. The hacks are really simple and really evil. If they teach you anything that can be called a "communication skill" at all, it's only by happenstance: the real goal is obedience training and swallowing ever-increasing impossibilities.

Comment author: XFrequentist 18 April 2011 09:44:28PM 4 points [-]

Evil as techniques in and of themselves, or evil because of the larger goal of turning the trainee into a puppet?

Comment author: bogus 18 April 2011 10:25:32PM 2 points [-]

From what I've seen, the techniques are not really useful for anything other than turning 'trainees' into compliant cult members. Yes, the exercises lukeprog mentions in the OP can be used to improve self-control, but only by toning the routines down and approaching them cautiously. For instance, developing a "thousand-yard stare" is clearly unhelpful for someone who's trying to improve eir social skills, even though staring someone down is occasionally useful as a way of asserting dominance.

Comment author: [deleted] 18 April 2011 10:35:24PM 9 points [-]

The staring exercise seem to resemble simple exposure therapy. A lot of people have trouble making normal eye contact, so exposure therapy in this is likely to be a useful exercise for them.

Comment author: bogus 18 April 2011 10:57:02PM *  4 points [-]

Didn't David Gerard state that Scientologists develop a permanent thousand-yard stare as a result of OT-TR0/TR0? [1] My point is that this is a potential failure mode, i.e. not something that anyone actually interested in social skills would want.

[1] edit: apparently, it's common enough to be a stereotype, which is effectively what I meant. I wouldn't expect this to apply to every member of the church, much less everyone who has taken an intro course, but it still counts as a potential problem.

Comment author: David_Gerard 19 April 2011 04:14:14PM 6 points [-]

Not all, but enough do that it's stereotypical.

Comment author: [deleted] 18 April 2011 11:10:01PM 6 points [-]

Lukeprog is the obvious test case. If you are right that the the technique will give a person a thousand yard stare unless it is toned down, then it follows that Lukeprog currently has a thousand yard stare. So, does he?

Comment author: bogus 18 April 2011 11:49:01PM *  6 points [-]

Lukeprog may actually be a rather unusual test-case, since he's an atheist who was generally aware of what Scientology is about, yet he chose to approach the 'course' instrumentally. See the OP and his discussion with David Gerard. Regardless, even a moderate probability of such harmful effect ought to be of concern to those who would use the routine to improve their social skills.

Keep in mind that even techniques expressly designed for improving social skills can result in "social robots" when misapplied. And this is the first time I see de-facto hour-long staring contests (from a cult indoctrination course, no less) mentioned as a way to improve eye contact skills.

Comment author: rastilin 19 April 2011 04:09:30AM 3 points [-]

Keep in mind that even techniques expressly designed for improving social skills can result in "social robots" when misapplied. And this is the first time I see de-facto hour-long staring contests (from a cult indoctrination course, no less) mentioned as a way to improve eye contact skills.

Which techniques and can you link us?

Comment author: jtk3 18 April 2011 09:18:42PM 5 points [-]

"The other major hack going on in all of those routines is people paying attention to you. Being paid attention to is an extremely powerful behavior modifier, and it's a major recruitment tool used by cults of all kinds."

I remember when I was 18 and on the road alone on a spiritual quest and I got heavily recruited by a cult. The primary techniques seemed to be giving me such attention and affirmation for every word that came out of my mouth. My reaction was: Well, this is awkward. These people are being very nice but they're not interesting. Given their techniques I had difficulty politely disentangling myself from their presence. After about 12 hours I heard Reverend Moon mentioned, at which point I said "Oh, you're Moonies!". A few hours later I politely bid them goodbye and walked away. They followed me around for a while to no avail.

I wasn't in danger. Their perspective seemed narrow and boring to me.

Comment author: Gray 19 April 2011 04:03:06AM 6 points [-]

Thanks for your post, but this is the first time I've heard of what sounds like practical mind-hacking at all. Where's the good mind-hacking stuff? I mean, the page you link to make it sounds like all of this brainwashing/mind manipulation stuff is standard understanding, but is it only standard in the dark arts sense, or is there a more general understanding about this sort of thing that can be used for good as well as for evil?

Comment author: David_Gerard 19 April 2011 04:13:14PM 4 points [-]

I don't have a list to hand, but you are absolutely right to flag the need for one. There are various posts on LessWrong which talk about little hacks you can do, accounting for your biases, to achieve results such as getting more stuff done better (beating akrasia). Someone (i.e., probably not me) really needs to compile a list and put it on the wiki.

Comment author: djcb 23 July 2012 09:48:59AM *  0 points [-]

Robert Cialdini's Influence is a good read. Cialdini emphasizes influencing people by using behavioral reflexes (like reciprocity, recognizing authority etc.) and how to defend oneself against it.

Then, some of the pop-psy books on irrationality give good insights - I particularly liked Dan Ariely's writings, and Chabris/Simons' The Invisible Gorilla -- but of course they are primarily about pointing out bugs in our mental wetware rather than 'hacking' it.

Anyhow, beware Sturgeon's Law.

Comment author: taryneast 28 March 2012 02:35:37PM 0 points [-]

I haven't read it yet myself, but I'd suggest that "Mind Hacks" is likely your best bet: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Mind-Hacks-Tricks-Using-Brain/dp/0596007795

Comment author: jackk 07 July 2014 03:02:17AM *  1 point [-]

I was disappointed with Mind Hacks, which felt like a pile of "hey, isn't it interesting that your brain does X", for various X. Mind Performance Hacks was better ( http://www.amazon.co.uk/Mind-Performance-Hacks-Tools-Overclocking/dp/0596101538 ), but covers a lot of things you could just find on the Mentat Wiki ( http://www.ludism.org/mentat/ ).

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 18 April 2011 03:48:21PM 3 points [-]

People have tried to pull the useful parts out of Scientology while not having the destructive aspects. Has anyone here worked with those systems, and if so, what did you think of them?

Comment author: David_Gerard 18 April 2011 05:05:16PM *  4 points [-]

People who practice something descended from Scientology without being in the Church of Scientology are generally collectively referred to as the Free Zone, though not all of them like the term. Some are weirdly sci-fi-ish, a lot are near the weird end of New Age. Some are very Scientological (including belief in Xenu), some you'd barely know were related. In general, they're much better-behaved and much nicer people than the Church of Scientology, though that's not hard.

The only one I know of that has any sort of acceptance as non-lunacy in general circles is Traumatic Incident Reduction, an abreaction-based psychotherapy derived from Dianetics by Frank A. Gerbode, an ex-Scientologist who went on to become a psychiatrist. (Hubbard started off pitching Dianetics to psychiatrists, and was greatly embittered by them dismissing him as a crank.) It isn't particularly noteworthy and I don't know of any clinical trials of it.

Comment author: Omegaile 22 July 2012 01:14:16AM 2 points [-]

The staring one works on others by intimidation, as you look confident in an odd therefore unpredictable manner; the routine itself trains you to uncritically accept what's in the later, sillier material. That's interesting... you cannot fish without a bait. Without knowing Scientology much, I'd say they must provide some good things in order to attract followers. Seems like lukeprog decided to grab this things and leave.

Comment author: David_Gerard 22 July 2012 06:50:40AM *  0 points [-]

A common description from those who've been in it is that they had one auditing session where they had some amazing and brilliant internal experience, and they can spend years in Scientology trying to get that one feeling back.

More often, it's the phenomenon where having a theory - any theory, even a bad one that doesn't work when properly tested - makes one feel more confident and therefore able to better apply the master hack to humans of telling people to do what you want them to, whereupon they often do.

So yes, there is indeed bait. And, like bait, the bait's just part of a process centred on hooking you.

Comment author: lukeprog 18 April 2011 01:55:05PM 6 points [-]

Luke, you're recommending actually dangerous activities here.

No, I'm not recommending that Less Wrongers stare people down with an odd kind of staring dominance. I only recommended that people develop the skill of holding eye contact. As with all skills, this skill can be used for good or evil.

These are exercises that I happened to learn in a Scientology class. They are not magic rituals that will turn people into Scientologists.

Comment author: David_Gerard 18 April 2011 02:15:19PM *  27 points [-]

These are exercises that I happened to learn in a Scientology class. They are not magic rituals that will turn people into Scientologists.

But they were finely tuned over thirty years to do precisely that second thing. The TRs are the number one way Scientology gets its hooks into people's brains and keeps them there! That's why they always try to sell people a Communications Course!

You are not explicitly recommending LW readers go skinny-dipping in a sewer - but you are functionally recommending it by talking about what a marvellously successful experience it was for you. Personal recommendation (including implicit personal recommendation) is the thing that most effectively convinces people to try something.

You went dancing in live fire and dodged a bullet, and that's excellent. Others may not be so lucky, particularly including those who are sure they could never be fooled (since such certainly has no observed correlation with a detailed working awareness of human cognitive biases).

If you can write an article that makes your point (which is a great one) without the first third of it being a story of your great personal successes with Scientology, I would urge you to do so.

Comment author: SilasBarta 18 April 2011 08:40:04PM *  13 points [-]

You went dancing in live fire and dodged a bullet, and that's excellent. Others may not be so lucky, particularly including those who are sure they could never be fooled

Good point ... now that I think about it, I should probably stop speaking so proudly of how I tried taking up smoking to see if it could hook me and yet it didn't ...

Comment author: David_Gerard 18 April 2011 08:49:08PM *  6 points [-]

(splutter) That's probably more hazardous than Scientology, yes.

An important thing for the strong to realise when talking about hazards is that other people may not be as strong.

Comment author: SilasBarta 18 April 2011 08:50:21PM 4 points [-]

Trying cigarettes is more dangerous than trying Scientology classes?

Comment author: jtk3 18 April 2011 10:57:36PM 11 points [-]

Surely more people die from it.

Comment author: bbarth 19 April 2011 02:36:50AM 1 point [-]

I don't think people become addicted by TRYING a cigarette. It takes several if not dozens or more. The physical dependence is acquired and comes by degrees.

Comment author: jtk3 19 April 2011 05:34:39AM 2 points [-]

People don't typically get trapped in Scientology by trying it out either.

But if you try a cigarette there's some risk you'll want to smoke another and then another.

I'm confident smoking is a bigger danger to me than Scientology.

Comment author: bbarth 19 April 2011 01:47:39PM 1 point [-]

Agreed. I just sounded like this discussion was trending into hyperbole about the dangers of smoking.

Comment author: David_Gerard 18 April 2011 08:53:52PM *  0 points [-]

More reliably addictive, I expect. I must admit I don't know of any comparative studies.

Mind you, Scientologists notoriously smoke like chimneys. Because not smoking enough will cause lung cancer. Hey, you could always bum a smoke from Ron.

Comment author: SilasBarta 18 April 2011 08:59:55PM 10 points [-]

For a proper comparison, you wouldn't just consider addictiveness, but also the harm resulting from becoming addicted. It's not obvious to me which does more expected lifetime damage to you.

Cigarettes (chain smoker): Spend a lot of your money, become uglier and smellier, get excluded from lots of places, lose health while alive and die earlier, lose some connection to family and friends

Scientology: Spend a lot of your money (probably more than a chain smoker on cigarettes), eviscerate your thinking ability, lose most connection to family and friends outside of Scientology.

Is the health hit worse than the mind hit? I really don't know.

Comment author: David_Gerard 18 April 2011 09:02:26PM 2 points [-]

With Scientology, there's a bit more of a lottery effect: if you lose, you can lose big. Cigarettes are more gradually hazardous (with a bit of a lottery effect).

Comment author: Davorak 19 April 2011 01:14:29PM 1 point [-]

If you had to choose to be one or the other which would it be?

Comment author: jtk3 18 April 2011 08:02:45PM 4 points [-]

"You went dancing in live fire and dodged a bullet, and that's excellent. Others may not be so lucky, particularly including those who are sure they could never be fooled (since such certainly has no observed correlation with a detailed working awareness of human cognitive biases)."

You really think he dodged a bullet? I assume lots of people are in no danger of being brainwashed by Scientology and lukeprog is probably one of them.

lukeprog,

Did you judge you were in danger of being brainwashed into Scientology at any point during this class? Or seriously in danger of being otherwise mind damaged?

Comment author: David_Gerard 18 April 2011 08:20:27PM *  7 points [-]

I didn't know when I wrote that that Luke had interviewed Russell Miller and had read extensively on Scientology. So I think he would likely have more immunity than most :-) I think his dangerous error is in casually assuming that others are as immune as he is. Perhaps they are, but I wouldn't risk betting that way myself.

Comment author: jtk3 18 April 2011 08:58:35PM 5 points [-]

I would assume a lot of LWers are pretty immune.

I think one is not in much danger of being brainwashed by another if one has a broader perspective on life than the would be manipulator.

I think most people who try heroin or Scientology suffer no lasting ill effects. If it worked on most people Scientology would be a lot more virulent than it is.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 18 April 2011 09:06:16PM 3 points [-]

If it worked on most people Scientology would be a lot more virulent than it is.

I'm not sure about this. The steps of getting someone to take a look at what one is doing is difficult when it has weirdness aspects. Note that even altruistic causes that take minimal effort have a lot of trouble recruiting people. People are disinclined to to search out for new ideas in general. This hurts both the good and the bad memes. Even if a set of memes is very strong, getting people to try it is tough.

Comment author: jtk3 18 April 2011 10:44:41PM 2 points [-]

Do you think most people subjected to the mind control techniques of Scientology are successfully brainwashed into Scientology or not?

I don't know the data but bet it's a smallish fraction. I believe less than 10% of the people who are subjected to the mind controlling properties of heroin become addicted.

lukeprog has apparently looked into Scientology more than I have, is conceded to be aware of the dangers, and yet there is not even a hint in his piece that he thought the young girl he was partnered with was in danger. Surely people would have reacted differently to this article if he cheerfully recounted shooting heroin with a twelve year old. So clearly he was very confident that what was going on in the room was a lot less dangerous than shooting heroin. But how could that be if Scientology is more persuasive than heroin?

Comment author: Nornagest 18 April 2011 10:59:55PM *  4 points [-]

Retention rates for cults and cult-like groups tend to be low. I seem to recall numbers in the 2-4% range for most; this paper corroborates that, giving numbers from 0.5% to 5% for the Unification Church ("Moonies") depending on what your threshold for membership is.

Accurate data for Scientology is difficult to come by, given its infamous propensity for spin, but what I have been able to find seems to give similar numbers. This claims a little over 2% retention based on demographic calculations, but may be biased toward underreporting.

Comment author: jtk3 19 April 2011 02:14:23AM *  5 points [-]

If most people succumbed when exposed to such techniques we'd see a lot more explosive growth.

This caused me to modify my priors:

"Most cult converts were children of privilege raised by educated parents in suburban homes. Young, healthy, intelligent, and college educated, they could look forward to solid careers and comfortable incomes. Psychologists searched in vain for a prevalence of “authoritarian personalities,” neurotic fears, repressed anger, high anxiety, religious obsession, personality disorders, deviant needs, and other mental pathologies. They likewise failed to find alienation, strained relationships, and poor social skills. In nearly all respects – economically, socially, psychologically – the typical cult converts tested out normal."

I expected those at risk to be more easily identifiable. If they are not identifiable than the risk of conversion of most people is much higher than I thought.

On the other hand

"Moreover, nearly all those who left cults after weeks, months, or even years of membership showed no sign of physical, mental, or social harm."

Supports the view that the supposed danger of cults is overblown.

And..

"Stated somewhat more abstractly, the fundamental sociological “law” of conversion asserts that conversion to religious groups almost never occurs unless the recruit develops stronger attachments to members of the group than to non-members. Among other things, the law explains why the establishment of a new religion, cult, or sect almost always begins with the conversion of the founder’s own family members and close friends.11 The law likewise predicts that as long as people remain deeply attached to the social networks of one faith, they rarely ever switch to another faith."

...does seem to provide some criteria by which you could assess risk to yourself or another individual.

Comment author: David_Gerard 18 April 2011 09:01:00PM 4 points [-]

I think most people who try heroin or Scientology suffer no lasting ill effects. If it worked on most people Scientology would be a lot more virulent than it is.

Both are true. I'm as unlikely to recommend Scientology to people as I am to recommend them heroin, though. (But, kids - fifty million dead junkies aren't wrong. Opiates are great! I'm a big fan of codeine when my back's playing up, and I have no doubt heroin would be even nicer.)

Comment author: jtk3 18 April 2011 10:55:25PM 1 point [-]

Both what are true?

Comment author: David_Gerard 19 April 2011 06:42:04AM 0 points [-]

Both sentences I quoted.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 22 July 2012 03:19:32PM 0 points [-]

If it worked on most people Scientology would be a lot more virulent than it is.

I agree with this. When I was reading the comparison with Islam upthread, I imagined how bad it would be if Scientology took over a government. On the other hand, there doesn't seem to be any current risk of that happening, and I wonder why.

Comment author: faul_sname 13 May 2012 07:51:48PM 1 point [-]

Did you judge you were in danger of being brainwashed into Scientology at any point during this class? Or seriously in danger of being otherwise mind damaged?

Somehow, I think that this isn't the best question to ask, considering that Luke can't root his own brain to find out. Introspection is a notoriously bad tool for discovering subconscious motivations.

Comment author: lukeprog 18 April 2011 02:26:53PM *  6 points [-]

Oh, you mean I should make it clear that Scientology is dangerous and people shouldn't take Scientology classes? I figured that would be obvious, but okay: I added it to the post.

Comment author: orthonormal 18 April 2011 06:32:34PM 15 points [-]

I think your disclaimer looks too much like an implicit challenge: "I dabbled with Scientology classes but didn't get hooked because I'm that rational/self-disciplined/awesome; but you shouldn't try it because you're probably not as awesome, and you might get reeled in."

Comment author: [deleted] 18 April 2011 06:38:36PM 17 points [-]

The real history of the disclaimer, though, is more like, "I dabbled and didn't get hooked because I'm awesome, and I didn't warn you about it at first because I think you're awesome, but David Gerard thinks otherwise and he twisted my arm."

For my part, I appreciated having my awesomeness recognized, however briefly. It's not every day that other people notice that about me. :)

Comment author: David_Gerard 18 April 2011 08:12:27PM *  11 points [-]

I am in fact just a big meanie about this stuff. "Dad just won't let me get into the really good mind controlling, he's so oppressive. Where are my Sea Org teenage minions? This is sooo bogus."

Comment author: JoshuaZ 18 April 2011 09:39:25PM *  6 points [-]

I am in fact just a big meanie about this stuff. "Dad just won't let me get into the really good mind controlling, he's so oppressive. Where are my Sea Org teenage minions? This is sooo bogus.

If in 25 years any of your kids run an international cult I'm blaming you.

Comment author: David_Gerard 18 April 2011 09:43:45PM *  3 points [-]

The daughter will be the next Dark Lord. The girlfriend will be running the cult.

Comment author: Vaniver 18 April 2011 09:30:18PM 0 points [-]

You're not my real dad!

Comment author: David_Gerard 18 April 2011 09:40:27PM 1 point [-]
Comment author: jtk3 18 April 2011 08:04:29PM 2 points [-]

You are awesome.

Comment author: David_Gerard 18 April 2011 02:39:31PM *  12 points [-]

I'm not convinced "p.s.: don't do this thing that worked out really well for me and I shall now describe in thrilled detail" entirely makes it no longer functionally a personal recommendation, but it's possibly better than nothing. Thank you.

Comment author: Apprentice 18 April 2011 03:06:39PM 7 points [-]

Yes but LessWrong is a lot like this - witness all the discussions in thrilled detail of drugs that put your brain into a more effective/enjoyable state. It's assumed that the readership is intelligent/responsible enough to handle this sort of thing.

The desire to succeed in unorthodox ways ("cheat" at life) is strong in many members of this community - Luke's Scientology story fits that pattern very well. It certainly makes me want to try a com course and I've read about Scientology in endless detail - including some of your work.

Comment author: wnoise 18 April 2011 05:43:56PM 8 points [-]

Yes but LessWrong is a lot like this - witness all the discussions in thrilled detail of drugs that put your brain into a more effective/enjoyable state. It's assumed that the readership is intelligent/responsible enough to handle this sort of thing.

The outside culture has enough warnings about dangers of using drugs that we don't have to repeat them here. Everybody knows that playing with them can fry your brain, and you should take proper precautions. I don't think the outside culture has enough warnings about psychological manipulation techniques in general, nor this particular sect. People routinely think they'll be less influenced than they are.

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 18 April 2011 06:45:17PM 20 points [-]

And there's also the thing that while the people who hang around at LW probably have more ammo than usual against the overt bullshit of cults, they also might have some traits that make them more susceptible to cult recruitment. Namely, sparse social networks, which makes you vulnerable to a bunch of techniques that create the feeling of belonging and acceptance of the new community, and tolerance of practices and ideas outside the social mainstream, which gets cult belief systems that don't immediately trigger bullshit warnings inside your head.

The Aum Shinrikyo cult in Japan that did the subway sarin gas thing reportedly recruited lots of science and engineering students. An engineering mindset will also keep you working from the internalized bullshit against social proof, since science and engineering is a lot about about how weird stuff extrapolated beyond conventional norms works and gives results.

tl;dr: You're not as smart as you think, probably have a mild mood disorder from lack of satisfactory social interaction, and have no idea how you'll subconsciously react to direct cult brainwashing techniques. Don't mess with cults.

Comment author: [deleted] 18 April 2011 07:00:33PM 6 points [-]

How about a word on the major religions? The most obvious difference between a cult and a religion is that the religion is many orders of magnitude more successful at recruitment - which is the very thing that we are being warned about with respect to cults.

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 18 April 2011 07:06:47PM 28 points [-]

Parasite species that have been around a long time have mostly evolved not to kill their host very fast. With new species, all bets are off.

Comment author: faul_sname 13 May 2012 07:43:53PM 1 point [-]

Growth/attrition rates are actually the thing to look at here. Scientology is faster-growing than just about any other modern religion, though the attrition rate is also very high. In order to figure out virulency, figure out what population the S-curve of members of that religion will top out at. If growth is slowing, you're almost there. If growth is steady, you're about halfway there. If growth is exponential or approximately so, you're looking at a religion in its infancy.

Comment author: David_Gerard 18 April 2011 08:40:54PM 2 points [-]

The Aum Shinrikyo cult in Japan that did the subway sarin gas thing reportedly recruited lots of science and engineering students. An engineering mindset will also keep you working from the internalized bullshit against social proof, since science and engineering is a lot about about how weird stuff extrapolated beyond conventional norms works and gives results.

This has of course been covered here before (with reference to this and this).

Comment author: Swimmer963 26 April 2011 11:16:35PM 1 point [-]

probably have a mild mood disorder from lack of satisfactory social interaction

Umm. Not all of us. I may be vulnerable to cults for other reasons, namely my conformist personality, but not lack of people to talk to.

Comment author: katydee 26 April 2011 11:13:32PM *  1 point [-]

"You probably have a minor mood disorder from lack of satisfactory social interaction" seems like a rather harsh description of the members of this community. What data generated that thought?

Comment author: gwern 27 April 2011 01:34:40AM 7 points [-]

I agree with the description. Why? Because the joy people describe at going to the meetups seems out of proportion to what goes on in the meetups - unless, as the old saying goes, hunger is the best spice.

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 27 April 2011 04:57:28AM *  5 points [-]

I started with the assumption that most people posting here live alone or with a small immediate family and occasional interaction with acquaintances instead of as a part of a tightly knit tribe of some dozens of people who share their values and whom they have constant social interaction with. Then thought what the probable bias for site members to belong into a mainstream society tribe-equivalents like churches, sports fan groups, gangs or political organizations was.

The "mood disorder" thing is hyperbole for "your brain would like to be in a more tribe-like social environment than it is in now", not an attempt at a clinical diagnosis.

Comment author: handoflixue 26 April 2011 10:58:42PM 1 point [-]

Oddly, a "sense of belonging" usually makes me feel alienated and uncomfortable. It's the rare exceptions like LessWrong, where it actually feels like I do fit, and am being challenged and growing and free to express myself, that avoid that.

Comment author: Alicorn 26 April 2011 11:10:26PM 3 points [-]

Oddly, a "sense of belonging" usually makes me feel alienated and uncomfortable.

This sounds very odd. In fact, it sounds oxymoronic. Can you explain?

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 18 April 2011 06:55:28PM 1 point [-]
Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 18 April 2011 07:03:22PM 8 points [-]

He might not. But things will be in his favor if you go in thinking knowing physics and science will make you impervious to the dark arts, without knowing a lot about psychology, cult and influence techniques and the messier stuff inside your own head.

(I'm not sure if you want to say something extra here by quoting a thing that was described as the "second most dangerous dark side meme" in the linked comment.)

Comment author: faul_sname 13 May 2012 07:39:23PM 0 points [-]

You're not as smart as you think, probably have a mild mood disorder from lack of satisfactory social interaction, and have no idea how you'll subconsciously react to direct cult brainwashing techniques. Don't mess with cults.

This is an important point. If you do mess with cults, start with the more innocuous ones before you face the heavy guns. Make sure you can resist the community in an average church before you test yourself against Scientology.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 22 July 2012 03:08:11PM 0 points [-]

One of the impressive things about Sufism (at least as described by Idris Shah) is that they wouldn't take people as students who didn't already have social lives.

Comment author: David_Gerard 18 April 2011 08:39:02PM *  0 points [-]

Arguably, Internet culture has a tremendous amount of information on the dangers of Scientology in particular. (And I'm one of the people who put it there personally.) But you are entirely correct: people are convinced they're much less manipulable than they are. I need to write something for LW on the subject (as I've been idly contemplating doing for about 6 months).

Comment author: jasticE 19 April 2011 09:00:51AM 1 point [-]

Do you know of any techniques to measure your own manipulability somewhat objectively?

Comment author: handoflixue 26 April 2011 11:14:44PM 3 points [-]

I would think the easiest method, albeit not terribly objective, would simply be to get someone who is fairly good at manipulation and play out scenarios with them. I've done this a few times as the manipulator, and it's sort of scary how easily I can manipulate people in specific games, even when they know the rules and have witnessed some of my techniques.

If you do try it, I'll comment that time and social pressure help me a lot in making people more pliable, too. I do these as a group exercise, so there's a lot of peer pressure both to perform well, and not to use exactly the sort of "cheats" you should be using to resist manipulation. It's also helped that I've always known the group and thus known how to tweak myself to hit specific weaknesses.

If you find something more useful than this, I'd love to hear it. I've merely learned I'm fairly good at manipulating - I have no clue how good I am at resisting :)

Comment author: David_Gerard 19 April 2011 03:50:06PM *  1 point [-]

I have occasionally seen quizzes that purport to tell you how biased you are in purportedly relevant ways to cult susceptibility. I can't say I found any of them revelatory, as, since you know what the test is testing, it's way too easy to answer with the right answer rather than the true readout, even when you want the latter. I suppose proper testing would have to be similar to psychological measures of cognitive biases.

Comment author: David_Gerard 18 April 2011 03:11:17PM *  11 points [-]

Sewer-diving could be fun, and instructive! But a note or few about adequate preparation first strikes me as a really good idea. Particularly when the story turns out to be "and then I swallowed this sample of engineered resistant mycobacterium tuberculosis, and I felt great." Hubris is one of the dangers of a little knowledge.

Comment author: Clippy 20 April 2011 07:09:55PM *  0 points [-]

Sewer-diving is, in fact, fun and safe for humans, and your warnings about the dangers are alarmist and excessive.

Scientology classes are also safe.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 20 April 2011 07:11:26PM 5 points [-]

How did you come to the conclusion that this was a good comment to post?

Comment author: Clippy 20 April 2011 07:14:03PM 1 point [-]

How did you come to the conclusion that the parent of the comment containing this sentence was a good comment to post?

Are you attempting to direct me on an endlessly-recurring chain of justification? At some point, reflection must stop and action must be taken, or else you will use up all free energy and entropize just thinking of your next action. Correct reasoning teaches you this very quickly.

Comment author: David_Gerard 20 April 2011 07:15:12PM 0 points [-]

Sewer diving is in fact a favourite of urban explorers. And I must admit that trolling Scientology in my dissolute youth was lots of fun :-D

Comment author: Clippy 20 April 2011 07:16:44PM *  -3 points [-]

You shouldn't troll groups, even if you deem them evil and dangerous, for much the same reason that you shouldn't (EDIT: previous post had "should") murder their members.

Comment author: SilasBarta 18 April 2011 08:42:13PM 5 points [-]

I wish you wouldn't take this tone when agreeing to people's helpful suggestions :-/

Comment author: lukeprog 18 April 2011 09:57:52PM 2 points [-]

Which tone?

Comment author: SilasBarta 18 April 2011 10:07:10PM *  7 points [-]

"Sure, I'll correct it, even though people are obviously aware of [caricature of your idiotic warning]."

That is, accepting a correction with passive-aggressive jab at the dummy who pointed it out. [Note: edited comment several times, a reply might begin before the latest.]

Comment author: Cyan 19 April 2011 02:45:34PM *  6 points [-]

I think you "hear" the comment in this tone because that's how you would mean it if you wrote it. But to me, the tone seems reasonable, because when I place myself in lukeprog's position I don't imagine myself feeling any kind of aggression.

Comment author: SilasBarta 19 April 2011 02:54:25PM *  3 points [-]

I don't think I'm imagining the caricaturing, at least, and this is far from the first time I've seen lukeprog blame others anytime anyone mentions anything wrong with a post of his.

Also, this

I think you "hear" the comment in this tone because that's how you would mean it if you wrote it.

was not the basis for the evaluation I made.

Comment author: Cyan 19 April 2011 03:43:15PM 3 points [-]

...was not the basis for the evaluation I made.

...as far as you are aware.

this is far from the first time I've seen lukeprog blame others anytime anyone mentions anything wrong with a post of his.

I detect that I might need to update. Links?

Comment author: lukeprog 18 April 2011 10:47:33PM 2 points [-]

Hmmm. Well, not the tone I intended. It literally did not occur to me that people would consider taking a Scientology course as a result of my post, but then I updated as a result of David's comment, and that is why I added the disclaimer to the first paragraph. "Figured" in my comment is past tense on purpose.

Comment author: athingtoconsider 05 June 2012 12:45:13PM 0 points [-]

Our brains can add in these tones when they feel certain ways without it being consciously available. Tough stuff to keep out of discourse, our language is geared toward opinionated conflict in any case.

Comment author: rastilin 19 April 2011 11:23:22AM 2 points [-]

That's a fair point; conversely, there are entire websites (or so I've heard) dedicated to obvious warnings, and there are already people making fun of how obvious his warning is. So I'm thinking his pre-emption was pretty close to spot on.

Comment author: SilasBarta 19 April 2011 02:28:47PM 1 point [-]

Do you think that "Don't take this Scientology course, which I just spent half the article praising with nary a bad word for Scientology?" falls into the class of obvious warnings? Also, lukeprog was caricaturing David's argument.

Comment author: rastilin 19 April 2011 03:20:15PM 2 points [-]

Wow, so if I say yes, then what? Will we go back and forth for a hundred pages in a good old fashioned internet flame war? No thanks, I have better uses of my time. ;)

We know that scientology is bad, no one here's in any doubt about their legitimacy or thinks they might be some cool people to hang out with; conversely that course is sounding pretty good, which is what he was praising. Complaining until he adds a warning on the end, saying we shouldn't take it is pretty silly considering he obviously intends us to take the course or something similar to it.

And so what? He's entitled to his opinion about scientology too, as well as their courses.

Comment author: curiousepic 18 April 2011 02:22:29PM *  3 points [-]

The question would be if knowledge of these techniques' purpose within Scientology is enough of a vaccine against harmful long-term effects. I can't see how it wouldn't be, if these techniques were further dissected, disclaimed, and tuned to general social skill enhancement.

However, I think that lukeprog should probably have spent more time explaining his intentions dealing with actual Scientologists in this manner, being the most mainstream example of extensive Dark Arts.

Comment author: David_Gerard 18 April 2011 02:30:48PM *  7 points [-]

Knowledge of the individual exploits does help, though it's not infinitely generalisable. There are lots of people who go "hah, that's ridiculous" about many cults before falling for another one. Because these things basically work as security exploits of your basic human cognitive biases.

Possibly if you had a reasonably complete catalogue of cognitive biases not only present as a list in your head, but with personal experience of having been bitten by each and every one, that might help. Better would also be personal experience of defeating each and every one, but that might be asking a lot of most people. Me, I don't even have the list.

A nice defensive intro to the dark arts of Scientology, and a cracking good read, is Bare-Faced Messiah by Russell Miller, a biography of Hubbard. (Out of print, freed for the Net by the author - a mainstream journalist, not an ex-Scientologist.) I read it and thought, "Hah, this is easy, I could do that! If I had no ethics and literally couldn't tell true from false."

One problem with Scientology being the best-known cult is that they are actually the Godwin example of dangerous cults. I can't find the reference, but I have read of sociological studies that they are the most damaging cult, based on time to recovery of ex-members. They make other actually quite nasty cults look relatively benign by comparison. It's pretty much as if your only referent for "authoritarian" was "Hitler", so other obnoxious authoritarianism looks relatively benign by being not as bad as Hitler.

Comment author: lukeprog 18 April 2011 02:43:55PM *  5 points [-]

For those interested, I interviewed Russell Miller about Hubbard here. A nice intro to Scientology bullying tactics.

Comment author: David_Gerard 18 April 2011 02:50:01PM *  4 points [-]

Heh, you were much less dodging a bullet than I thought you were :-)

(Ten years after I more or less gave up following the stuff, I still know way too much about it. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised it turns out to be of interest on a philosophy site interested in cognitive biases.)

Comment author: MarkusRamikin 22 July 2012 10:43:20AM 1 point [-]

No transcript?

Comment author: lukeprog 22 July 2012 04:40:30PM 0 points [-]

Listeners paid to produce transcripts of many episodes, but not that one.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 22 July 2012 09:57:40AM 0 points [-]

I didn't realize Scientology has the same structure as a Spanish prisoner scam.

Comment author: Anonymous0275 18 April 2011 02:35:45PM 3 points [-]

A little research online will turn up extraordinarily serious accusations against the Church of Scientology, including the specific accusation that the course you took and appear to be advocating is the entry point to a series of courses that takes very dark turns later. While I do believe that the specific exercises you did in the amounts you did them were not harmful and were possibly beneficial, and that you were unaware of these accusations, I have to agree with Gerard's assessment that you were "dancing around in live fire and dodged a bullet". Now that you're aware of these accusations, you ought to edit your post to warn readers that dealing with Scientology is not to be taken lightly, or better, remove the reference entirely. (It seems like an unnecessary distraction from the main point of the post, which is quite good.)

Posted anonymously because the Church of Scientology has a history of harassing, framing and sometimes murdering its critics. Publishing negative information about Scientology under your real name is also not to be taken lightly, especially if you are or expect to become a visible public figure. I will PM you my account name so you'll know I'm not a new account.

Comment author: lukeprog 18 April 2011 02:40:28PM 0 points [-]

Did you see my update to the first paragraph?

Comment author: Anonymous0276 18 April 2011 02:57:57PM 9 points [-]

I wrote that comment before I saw it. However, that update ("But please, don't take Scientology classes. They are highly Dark Arts. You can learn things on your own without playing with cult fire") is inaccurate. It seems to be saying that Scientology's classes teach those who take them to be manipulative (that is, to use the dark arts), but that is not what the problem is. The real problem is the opposite: they manipulate those who take them. And it doesn't stop at "manipulate", it's an escalating spiral that in some cases goes all the way up to "abduct and traffick".

And, um, I can't help but notice a disturbing connection - the document Gerard linked to says trainers should look for peoples' buttons, focusing on sexual perversion for men, and you were assigned the exercise of staring at a 12-year old girl for 20 minutes. It's eminently plausible that the instructor meant for that to happen and to be creepy. What was she even doing there, how were the pairings assigned, and did the instructor have the option of arranging the pairings in a non-creepy way?

Comment author: lukeprog 18 April 2011 03:02:55PM *  2 points [-]

Every time I went in to take a class it was always hard to find people to pair with, because of the odd hours I went to take classes. I would often wait 20 minutes for there to be somebody to do an exercise with. I think they paired me with the girl because nobody else was available until 20 minutes later when the adult became available to do the exercise with me.

Also, kids take these classes, too. They're not adult-only classes. Her parents are Scientologists and they were training their kid in their religion.

I adjusted the wording of my update again to include 'manipulative.'

Comment author: David_Gerard 18 April 2011 08:09:28PM *  4 points [-]

Every time I went in to take a class it was always hard to find people to pair with, because of the odd hours I went to take classes.

That's because Scientology has had the crap beaten out of it by the Internet and Scientology "orgs" are largely ghost towns at any hour of the day since the mid-1990s, not just when you went. Even in Los Angeles.

Also, kids take these classes, too. They're not adult-only classes. Her parents are Scientologists and they were training their kid in their religion.

Uh, Luke. That would have been a Sea Org member's kid. They brought her in especially for you. You don't seem to want to accept the designed purpose the TRs were written for: to draw people further in.

Comment author: illicitlearning 19 April 2011 06:38:21PM 12 points [-]

I was at one point a 14 year old girl taking a Scientology Communications course, brought there by my father to train me in his religion. While I certainly can't speak for all of the children in all Scientology classes, most of the other children there that I hung out with were also brought there by their parents to be trained in Scientology.

It seems plausible to me that if there happened to be a 12 year old girl in lukeprog's class, they would have paired them together for that part of the class specifically because it would create an uncomfortable, "creepy" situation. Developing the ability to react unflinchingly to that sort of situation is pretty much the point of the exercise. (As an example, they paired me with a grandmotherly older woman for a different exercise: bullbaiting. She was certainly not the sort of person who I was comfortable trying to provoke a reaction from or had an easy time remaining stoic to.)

But it seems unlikely to me that the people at the Org I went to, at least, would have gone to the extent of enlisting their daughters in the class specifically to make one man feel uncomfortable, as you seem to be proposing.

Comment author: cousin_it 18 April 2011 03:51:06PM *  42 points [-]

I really liked your report of the scientology class. The conclusions, not so much. Many LW posts (including some of mine, too ashamed to link here) follow this pattern of giving a wonderful convincing anecdote and then a big flimsy over-generalization on top. Perhaps we could institute a norm that posting anecdotes without making conclusions from them is okay. I took some boxing lessons, still cannot fight but no longer fear physical confrontations, and that's all. I learned to draw using a book by Betty Edwards, it was easy and fun, and that's all.

Comment author: Spurlock 19 April 2011 03:20:22PM 7 points [-]

I agree that this trend is annoying and should be addressed. There is a tendency here to use personal anecdotes as an excuse to dish out overly-general (and usually obvious) life advice, and we should know better.

Personally, I find Luke's conclusions in this particular article to be good ones (whether they stemmed naturally from the anecdote or not). But then, this is sort of trivial given that the title employs the term "right order", which is tough to argue against ("No no, do it wrong!").

I have to disagree though with the notion that posting anecdotes to this blog for their own sake is a good idea. While there has been a strong focus on instrumental rationality in the past few months, I think it's important to ensure LessWrong does remain a blog about rationality, and not general self-help. Anecdotes that can't be related back to a meta-level skill are still valuable, but might be better suited to the discussion section or collected as comments somewhere.

Comment author: cousin_it 19 April 2011 04:02:29PM 5 points [-]

Anecdotes that can't be related back to a meta-level skill are still valuable, but might be better suited to the discussion section or collected as comments somewhere.

Agreed.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 19 April 2011 03:24:41PM 4 points [-]

No argument with your main point, but I'll point out tangentially that another possible argument against the "right order" can be "actually, the order in which you tackle skills doesn't actually matter that much." So it's not entirely vacuous.

Comment author: Gabriel 20 April 2011 10:03:02AM 2 points [-]

I wouldn't want to prohibit people from speculating based on their experiences and background knowledge. As long as no one misprepresents themselves as an expert on the topic and their flimsy over-generalizations as established scientific knowledge, almost no harm is done. And the little harm that comes from potentially wasting your time reading things you're not interested in could be adressed by more systematic inclusion of summaries in long articles.

Comment author: cousin_it 20 April 2011 10:26:16AM *  8 points [-]

Of course if you estimate the harmful effect of one such article on one individual, it won't amount to very much! But the proliferation of such articles can turn LW into yet another vague self-help site, in fact from the list of posts it looks like it's already been happening for awhile, and I don't want that to happen.

Comment author: Gabriel 20 April 2011 04:27:24PM 1 point [-]

I concede that the front page shouldn't be overrun with vague self-helpy stuff. But I read your original comment as a request to not allow that kind of content on LessWrong at all and I think that would be going too far.

This all hinges on the estimated worth of sharing speculative self-help advice. I think there are insights to be shared that can't simply be found by reading research literature and the potential benefit of gaining such insights outweights the additional cost of mentally filtering unwanted content. I also think that on LessWrong such content will be less vague and of higher quality than on dedicated self-help sites so I'd prefer to keep it, though perhaps relegated to the discussion section.

Comment author: glunkthunker 20 April 2011 06:44:57PM 2 points [-]

original comment:

Perhaps we could institute a norm that posting anecdotes without making conclusions from them is okay.

how its read:

Anecdotes with conclusions should not be allowed.

I find this transition very curious and see it often. Is there a term for this kind of reactive twist of reasoning?

Comment author: TheOtherDave 20 April 2011 07:13:48PM 4 points [-]

I don't know of a term for the thing you're describing, but the inverse thing -- where someone who thinks "Anecdotes with conclusions should not be allowed" ends up saying "Perhaps we could institute a norm that posting anecdotes without making conclusions from them is okay" is sometimes called "indirection" or "hedging." (Or, in some circles, "being polite.")

They are, of course, related: my knowledge of the existence of indirection in the world makes it more likely that I will interpret "Perhaps we could institute a norm that posting anecdotes without making conclusions from them is okay" as an expression of the thought "Anecdotes with conclusions should not be allowed" (as well as a wide range of other thoughts).

Perhaps the inverse of indirection should be called "dereferencing"?

Comment author: lukeprog 18 April 2011 09:59:51PM *  2 points [-]

What's wrong with the conclusion? The conclusion is to build small skills in the right order. If it's not useful to you, fine. Lots of other people found it quite useful, and have told me so already.

Comment author: cousin_it 19 April 2011 07:46:05AM *  12 points [-]

There's nothing wrong with the conclusion, except we don't know if it's right :-) Unlike many of your other posts, this one isn't based on published research. It's more like garden variety self-help, or as Paul Buchheit put it, "Limited Life Experience + Overgeneralization = Advice". All self-help authors can claim their advice is good because it works for them and some self-selected others.

Comment author: lukeprog 19 April 2011 05:19:34PM 7 points [-]

I'm confused. It looks to me like you've just dismissed every life advice post on Less Wrong except for five posts that I wrote. Is that right?

Comment author: cousin_it 19 April 2011 05:36:20PM *  12 points [-]

Yeah, that's about right. I usually just downvote such "life advice" posts, but now some counter in my mind reached a critical value and I decided to speak out.

Comment author: Gray 19 April 2011 06:50:44PM 3 points [-]

I gotta admit that he has a point. I don't know that published studies should be the only way of producing rationalist self-help; I think the way is open for sound DIY empirical studies (but hasty generalization is an inductive fallacy). But look at it this way--you can imagine a lot of really bad advice being given front page status, and the problem is that there is no threshold, no point at which enough is enough.

I think your post is interesting as an abduction instead, and should probably be in the discussion pages. This should be a way of describing your experiences, and indicating what possible explanations and hypotheses could explain those experiences. By no means should we discount our experiences, that would be anti-empirical. The problem is unsound generalization of those experiences.

That said, I find your post valuable as abductive material, and the discussion it resulted in was stimulating.

Comment author: Kevin 20 April 2011 10:21:08AM *  0 points [-]

I think any sort of anti-anecdote norm is a very clearly bad idea. Anecdotes are great. Less Wrong is already challenging at best to post on.

Comment author: Sewing-Machine 18 April 2011 12:21:09AM 5 points [-]

I took some Scientology classes in Hollywood so I could get into their Toastmasters club, which is the best Toastmasters club in L.A. county.

That's interesting, what sets them apart?

Comment author: lukeprog 18 April 2011 12:58:52AM 2 points [-]
  • Strict, dependable schedule.
  • Everybody has a role, and invests planning and effort into it.
  • Stage, lights, music, camera.
  • Excellent speeches, excellent feedback.
  • The members take improvement very seriously, but have a lot of fun.
  • A wealth of mature, active, long-term members with deep knowledge and experience.
  • Constant participation in all the regional and sometimes higher-level Toastmasters competitions.
Comment author: zaph 19 April 2011 06:56:30PM 4 points [-]

But you have to take a Scientologist class to join? You couldn't just join a Toastmasters somewhere else and then show up, for instance?

Comment author: lukeprog 19 April 2011 08:53:47PM 5 points [-]

Right. Not all Toastmasters clubs have 'open membership.' For example, corporations can have their own clubs and only admit people who work for the corporation. In this case, the requirements for getting into this club were that you take a Scientology class or two and not say nasty things about L. Ron Hubbard or Scientology.

Comment author: Pentashagon 04 August 2012 07:51:06PM 0 points [-]

Was the prohibition on saying nasty things only inside the Toastmasters meetings? It seems like a dangerous precommitment.

Comment author: [deleted] 18 February 2012 07:39:16PM 4 points [-]

Nice post, yes, but... something's missing. In summary, I think the question here is, "How should you go about learning a big skill?" The answer this post gives seems to be "find a bunch of small skills that are contained within the big skill, and learn each one; then your small skills will gradually build up to the big skill."

But that method, without a bit of clarification, just won't do. How do you know which small skills are necessary for the big skill? Suppose you want to learn how to drive (and let's assume you're in a country that drives on the right). You might not realize that the rules for a traffic light are more complicated than "green means go, red means stop", and so you might forget to learn those rules. You might get to a traffic light and think that since the light is green, it's okay to turn left, and you might get in an accident. (Or you might enter the intersection while it's green, and the light might turn red, and you might think that it's not okay to turn left.)

Likewise, you might waste time learning small skills that turn out to be completely useless. Left-side parallel parking may seem like a good thing to practice, but there's really no use in practicing it, because it's illegal.

So, how can you learn which small skills you need to learn? As far as I know, the only way of doing this is to try exercising the big skill every once in a while. And by "the big skill", I don't mean things like playing Rachmaninov, or climbing a Class 5.10; those are hard, small skills. I mean things like actually driving, actually interacting with people, and actually writing research papers. At best, you'll bring yourself up to speed much more quickly than if you tried to learn the small skills first. At worst, you'll learn that you still have some small skills to learn, and you'll gain some insight into which ones.

Comment author: waveman 18 April 2011 10:21:03AM 3 points [-]

This is the basis for the Montessori method of education.

After 2 years of failed swimming lessons by "professionals" I taught my daughter to swim in a few weeks using this technique (learn one step at a time).

BTW one benefit of Montessori education, for the early childhood years 3-5yo, is that the children develop amazing powers of concentration for some reason. My daughter is just amazing in this regard.

Comment author: lukeprog 18 April 2011 01:59:41PM 8 points [-]

Isn't Montessori method the thing where you put a kid in a stimulating environment and let them figure it out? What does it have to do with building one small skill at a time? I'm just not that familiar...

Comment author: Swimmer963 18 April 2011 01:11:31PM 3 points [-]

After 2 years of failed swimming lessons by "professionals" I taught my daughter to swim in a few weeks using this technique (learn one step at a time).

This technique has a name? I teach swimming lessons as part-time job and I guess I'm still getting used to it not being obvious to most teachers (of swimming or other things) how important it is to break down skills into small chunks. Just out of curiosity, what progressions did you use with your daughter? I may be able to use them in my classes.

Comment author: novalis 18 April 2011 04:47:12AM 2 points [-]

YDS class 5 is actually where rock climbing starts -- at any rock climbing gym, for instance, all routes will be class 5 (although many of them will be described as boulders instead). You want to say something like 5.10, which is something that basically nobody starts off able to do, but most people ought to be able to do if they work their way up.

Comment author: lukeprog 18 April 2011 07:41:18AM 1 point [-]

Lol! Fixed. I thought I understood the Wikipedia article but obviously not.

Comment author: theguyfromoverthere 25 July 2014 06:09:15PM 1 point [-]

I wonder if the same effect is had staring into someone's eyes over webcam.. The only person that I can really see trying this with is my wife and I have no problem looking into her eyes. I feel like we'd be skewed because we're so familiar with each other...

Comment author: duckduckMOO 30 March 2012 01:25:23AM 1 point [-]

Does anyone else do this kind of Dune type training other than scientologists?