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JulianMorrison comments on How Much Thought - Less Wrong

37 Post author: jimrandomh 12 April 2009 04:56AM

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Comment author: JulianMorrison 12 April 2009 11:58:39AM *  12 points [-]

Serious question: how do people on LW experience thinking?

I find that the heavy lifting of my thinking is nonverbal and fast. Verbalizing (and often re-re-verbalizing) takes time, running explicit math takes (a lot of) time, and worrying at a verbalized idea without getting anywhere can waste indefinite time, but actual intelligent thought feels like a burst of focused attention/effort and a gestalt answer that arrives in an instant.

Comment author: Yvain 12 April 2009 03:31:26PM *  7 points [-]

I get a vague strained feeling to which I don't have full conscious access, which transforms into a form that makes sense to me only after I've verbalized it.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 12 April 2009 02:40:18PM 3 points [-]

I find that my answers arrive as gestalts, without any experience of effort at that moment. I may have to do a lot of reading and failing and sometimes writing to get to that point.

Comment author: JulianMorrison 12 April 2009 03:32:39PM 2 points [-]

Hmm, there's effort and effort.

The kind of effort of straining at a word that's "on the tip of your tongue" and other sorts of overt "trying" feel different, and I've never had productive results out of them.

The feeling of effort that does produce something is more like a "pull" on my energy reserves, and the comedown feels like tiredness. I notice it particularly when I'm trying to progress learning something. I often feel temporarily sleepy after that (and not the bored kind of sleepy but the worn down kind).

My hypothesis here, is that priming the caches of thought may be slow, but running it is very fast and the above article may be barking up the wrong tree as a consequence. Thought done right ought to be able to produce its results in negligible time. The kinds of thought that take time seem to be mostly useless. Budgeting chunks of time to "thought" risks filling up the budgeted span with noise and not advancing in the problem.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 13 April 2009 02:06:31AM 2 points [-]

Most of the time I work with spatial/visual intuition, building analogies to the structure of the problem under study as "mechanical systems", similar to what you do to non-analytically solve stereometrical problems. When the models get sufficiently developed, they usually show the answer directly, or allow to build or recall relevant concepts. It's very unreliable, but given enough work on getting to know a model and starting to intuitively feel it allows to read off the conclusions.

This is often a difference between getting an intuitive understanding and basic knowledge. One doesn't often imply another: learning something explicit doesn't give the intuitive understanding, which leads to missing the conclusions obvious to an expert, and conversely getting the gist of some idea or developing an intuitive solution allows to see many sides of the problem, but has a fair chance of being factually wrong. A solid grip on a concept requires getting both sides of the medal, learning an intuitive model, and enforcing correctness using a more formal and certain foundation.

I don't know how to do anything constructive with verbalization, I mainly use verbal buffer to store little pieces of data, supporting visual problem-solving.

Comment author: rwallace 12 April 2009 03:22:04PM 2 points [-]

I find some questions have gestalt answers, but for others I really do need to run through the full search tree.

Comment author: Voltairina 15 March 2012 05:46:51AM *  1 point [-]

I feel that I start out by thinking sort of in a free-associative manner - a lot of things related to the problem pass through my mind. Then my answers kind of connect together out of the stuff and begin to arrive in a very general sense, like, "I should try making soup", and then get more and more fleshed out with details, and sometimes survive all the way to a full plan, and usually there's more than one answer getting fleshed out. Its usually auditory/verbal or visual or both or sort of like a movie. I might have more than one of these that I'm playing with. I usually get a feeling looking at my own thoughts, when I'm thinking them through / checking them for consistency and arrive at something where there's a problem with it, like, "this is a bad one". Not that I am by any means always logical, or catch every error, or anything like that, just the catching of my own errors feels a lot like hearing someone sing off key in a song or noticing a fruit is unripe or something - I'm not sure I can put it in words but there's a definite feeling to it, like there's a cleft where the thoughts don't connect together like they should.

Comment author: Voltairina 16 March 2012 02:08:30AM 1 point [-]

The weird thing is that now that its been several hours since I wrote this, I'm not even sure if this is how I actually think about things. There is definitely this feeling of visualising the situation and making changes to it, and working from general, kind of like mission statements, to specific plans.

Comment author: whpearson 12 April 2009 09:25:28PM *  1 point [-]

Mainly things just come, but I sometimes verbally brainstorm and free associate in my mind (mainly solving cryptic crosswords) and this can shake loose things that weren't going to come.

If I'm designing a plan of action or a system I verbally pick components of the whole and then break them down and think of a possibility for that component and see if I think they would work in a gestalt fashion.

Comment author: infotropism 12 April 2009 06:54:58PM 1 point [-]

The top level of my thoughts is verbalized. On most occasions I have enough time to have an internal debate or conversation, polishing and ordering my words like beads on a string.

The lower layer, which comes just before that, is what I suppose you call gestalt., yes ?

Putting a word on a concept, or elaborating an idea using a sentence, takes time, and isn't the point of origin of my thought. It runs deeper. Usually, anything I'll say or do, comes from such a ... well the 'vague strained feeling' Yvain talks of, is what seems to be closest to those points of origin as I feel them. Except that the feeling isn't so much strained as it is a compressed burst, quick, slippery, elusive, small, and simple, yet pretty much as complete as the verbalization that is going to be based upon it a split second later.

I've tried, as an experiment, to deny myself verbalizing, to think only using strings of such "feelings", pre-thoughts. When I try, it feels like my deliberative thinking processes are running faster, but I can't easily connect them together, in a coherent whole.

In such a situation my main thought / idea thread also forks every few seconds, and after a moment the number of different, unique, threads of thought, every one of which would deserve a few sentences in itself, each one vying for a bit of attention, become too great to hold, and I randomly dump some, forgetting about them, following new ideas as they pop in my mind. Without much coherence or continuity, though how new ideas appear is always related to the ideas I had just before, ideas associated, one calling for the other pretty naturally.

But still I don't find my verbalized ideas or concepts to be different, better or more complex, than those non verbal thoughts. They're only more coherent, structured, and permanent, yes, but the real source is down there.

After having described this to some people, one told me that this looked a lot like how people on amphetamine actually describe their thoughts and ideas too.

Comment author: christopherj 30 September 2013 06:30:39PM 0 points [-]

I think there's multiple types of thinking. For example, formal thinking that uses math and logic, and is applicable to a large set of problems, but incredibly inefficient for others. Problems with a near infinite search space, problems that require "creativity", I can spend a lot of time thinking, and get good results thereby, but cannot explain my thought processes. If possible, these can be more efficient to think about over a long period rather than "intensely". Other thought processes are near instant, also mostly subconscious.

You can think of these as full-conscious, both conscious and sub-conscious, and full sub-conscious.