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jimmy comments on The dark arts: Examples from the Harris-Adams conversation - Less Wrong Discussion

15 Post author: Stabilizer 20 July 2017 11:42PM

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Comment author: jimmy 11 August 2017 05:57:39PM *  0 points [-]

People don’t forget “tautologies are trivially true”, they forget the “persuasion works through your reasoning process, not around it” because the logically necessary implications sometimes seem “absurd”. ("So, the easy way to treat any phobia is merely to "make up your mind"? Methinks it's considerably more complicated than that.")

While tautological statements can’t rule out any logical possibilities, they’re important because they do rule out logical impossibilities. If you try to say “that’s tautological, therefore it’s trivial and meaningless” then you’re gonna end up saying silly stuff like “So, you’re a bachelor. Are you also married?”, for example.

“Solving phobias is about making up your mind” is tautologically true. Nowhere did I say anything about the complexity of doing so, but it’s tautologically true. A phobia is “an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something”. This requires both a fear and conflicting judgement that the fear isn’t rational. If you fall in the lion cage, for example, fear is just a rational response to danger. If you don’t have a conflicted mind (i.e. you’ve “made up your mind”), you don’t have a phobia - just a rational fear or no fear.

If you let yourself believe false and logically impossible things like “solving phobias is not about making up one’s mind” then you’re going to end up fooling yourself into silly thing like failing to notice that “systematic desensitization” is merely an attempt to help someone makeup their mind by providing evidence a bit at a time in a safe context and hoping that it shows what you want it to show and convinces the part of the mind that perceives danger. If you fool yourself into thinking the logically impossible “not about making up your mind”, then you don’t notice the possibility of other ways of bringing about coherence, which are often better and quicker ways of doing things.

For example, a few months ago I was having this same conversation with a friend who also felt like “getting over irrational fears” was more than just “making up her mind”. Fortunately she also had what she considered to be an irrational fear of heights and I had a rock wall tall enough to scare her, so I could show her. I pointed out the holes in her “my mind is made up” logic until she could no longer hold that view, then helped her make up her mind by asking her what, exactly, she was afraid might happen and whether she could know she was safe from that outcome or whether she needed the fear. We spent a few minutes to go through a few possibilities and then covered the rest with a catch-all. After bouldering on her own later, she told me that she hadn’t realized that she was afraid even while bouldering, but that the difference jumped out at her now that the fear was gone. That was exactly “just making up her mind”, both from my perspective and hers. It was actually pretty damn simple too, even though “making up her mind” necessarily took more than an instant because there were several questions she had to think about and answer first.

In other cases it becomes even quicker and does look like a snap decision. I had another friend, for example, whose needle phobia spontaneously disappeared after having an unrelated experience with me that convinced her to accept that I’m right when I say things can be that easy. If we broaden to scope to other things you might find “more complicated than merely making up one’s mind”, then I can give a few other examples of things that felt like the inside like “just making a snap decision” and having results that match.

“Making up your mind” can be complicated sometimes, but it can also be simple. And remembering what it’s about helps keep it simple so you can end up the kind of person who doesn’t jump at [theoretically potentially poisonous creature who is nevertheless unlikely to hurt you] without ever working on that problem in particular.