Lateral Thinking

Most types of logic problems i.e. algebra, sudoku require you to reason out what follows next from incomplete information.

Yet when I try to discuss social or philosophical issues with people who are far more talented than I am in logic disciplines I’m frequently given excuses:

-The “studies”, “research”, “experts” haven’t proven it yet. Therefore we can’t have a productive discussion about it. (If it’s already proven, why discuss it?!!)
-You’re just speculating. You have no proof.
-There’s not enough information.

I’ve tried hard to demonstrate to these brilliant people that they’re making excuses, but I’ve rarely managed to get past this stonewalling behavior.

It is very frustrating. It feels as though I’m dealing with a dog in the manger… or the dragon Smaug, just sitting idly on a hoard of treasure, never using it.
I feel that with their talents they could accomplish much more than I can.

Is their development somehow lopsided or do they simply lack the ability to think in a certain way? Shouldn’t it be obvious that problems outside of one’s immediate discipline are also logic puzzles? Shouldn’t it come naturally to play with different hypotheses until something makes sense?

The best I can figure:
-The raw ability to manipulate logic tokens.
-The ability to correlate logic tokens with meanings.

Are two different things.

Obviously one first requires some ability to work with logic. Yet one can satisfy the precondition and not have a glimmering of the ability that follows from it?

Yet it seems it’s quite possible to be a mathematical prodigy and still buy into simplistic demagoguery and political jargon. Or perhaps more common to have no real beliefs or opinions at all about matters outside a certain field.

I’ve fantasized about applying incredible logic-based skills to applications that might be considered outside “the field.”

-A schematic for a machine, electrical circuit, or logic circuit that represents the workings of a human society. (I’ve envisioned ‘orthodoxy’ as a module that can be switched around or replaced but necessary for a society to function)
-Computer programs that can help train the mind in new ways, break mental habits.
-Designing social models using calculus to figure out where the point of diminishing returns lies in the application of any given policy.
Use of the scientific method to invent new ways of training the human mind.

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5 responses to “Lateral Thinking

  1. Sometimes it really is an excuse, because they don’t want to talk about the matter in question, not because they don’t want to think about it, but for simpler reasons: they’ve had a long day, or, they don’t want to get in a controversial conversation with someone they’ve just met. “Oh, I’m not enough of an expert on that subject” is a tactful way of saying “no, I’m not going to discuss abortion ethics with you and automatically alienate half the people around me.”

    • That’s a pretty insightful assessment. You might be right.

      That’s not something I like to think is the truth, but recognize that wishful thinking doesn’t make it so.
      It is possible that they’re simply enough steps ahead of me that they realize it would be hard or impossible to explain anything. Hence avoidance behaviors that I haven’t recognized as such.
      I have been in similar situations with people who I realize don’t have the right sort of mindset to understand my position. At least not without hours of explaining and defending my underlying assumptions.

      Now, I’m not enough of an asshole to bring up controversial subjects at a social event or to attack people I’ve just met.
      I typically keep this kind of stuff

      -To people I already know reasonably well at an appropriate leisure time when we can talk one on one. I recognize that trying to start a fight or humiliate someone in front of strangers or pressing the matter when they’re stressed out and tired is never going to accomplish anything.
      -On the internet.

      I recognize the type of needlessly confrontational person/conduct you’re criticizing.
      I dislike

      -Vegetarian/vegan to save the world,
      -self appointed abortion/anti-abortion crusader
      -fundy Christian “just trying to save your soul
      -fundy atheist trying to save you from “irrationality”

      at least as much as you do.

      My post on apologetics might better explain my views here.

      I do have to rely on my own limited faculties to try to assess my capabilities and those of others. Which is a tough thing to do if the less intelligent person tends to overestimate their prowess.

      One of my goals is to try to protect me from myself.
      My barometer?

      What is real life ‘job performance’?

      That is: What are the people in a skill, ability, discipline able to accomplish? Where do they hit the wall? What are their blind spots?

      For example:
      I’m not remotely equipped to have a discussion about the details of string theory. Yet I can make the observations that no one seems to agree about what the theory actually says and that it still hasn’t predicted much of anything testable after being kicked around by bright and capable people for decades.

  2. There’s a great deal of specificity. Just because one is good in a single area doesn’t mean that one is good in all areas, or even closely related areas.

    I would go far as to say that logic and reason are unimportant. I don’t know what you were trying to point out, but few things on Earth could be as controversial as the holocaust fable, the jews, or race in general. There you will find that the facts do not matter at all and the entire struggle is getting someone become open to listening.

    • Consider the case of Andy Hildebrand.

      He was an engineer whose specialty was using seismic readings to prospect for oil.

      He took the same principles he used to find the most probable areas to drill for oil and used them to create autotune, a technology that changed the music industry.

      My article is asking, why is this lateral thinking the exception rather than the rule?

      Why can’t a sudoku wizard take that same frame of mind and fluidly apply it in a variety of situations?

      Shouldn’t an advanced reasoning capability automatically give rise to the ability to make connections between different types of knowledge? If they can do this in their own discipline, why not elsewhere?

  3. I’ve recently had the chance to work with a few guys from Dartmouth, pretty good processing ability, definitely bright. They got into a cram style schedule from college and carried it over into their work life, they had a high error rate but still managed to slog through the swamp. But they were horrible at connecting the dots. Any progress they make will be incremental because the extra errors they make cancels out the large exponential gains. They see it works, great lets do that more. They don’t know why it works though.

    Surprisingly short attention span too, they were constantly being interrupted and sidetracked, so they often forget important things that needed to be done even though they were so good at managing chaos. They didn’t have the patience to dig into a series of reports, about 850 pages/slides total. Or even go further correlate to what this means when a user would or wouldn’t make a purchase. It doesn’t matter if you’re “right” about the why on first guess, just so long as you can create a way to test it.

    Most of the “left brain” organizational skills can be trained up. There are complex systems you can use to literally memorize books, but those are overpowered and not as practical as say, the Roman room method:

    http://www.academictips.org/memory/romanrom.html

    Be very fucking wary of working with anyone who says they have excellent time management skills.

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