Guidelines for resolving confusing problems

Recently I realized that I was very confused about Something. Thereafter, it occurred to me that I had no guidelines for resolving deep confusion about Something, and that it would be profitable to draft said guidelines. Here I enumerate ideas and techniques that may be important:

1. Hold off on proposing solutions – Sometimes the problem is quite a large one, so before you can hope to solve it you must spend considerable time understanding it.

2. Taboo your words – When you are interested in a question, it is often useful to taboo your words. For example, if I was interested in the question “Do plants have cognition?”, the first step would be to taboo the word “cognition.” Only by opening up the black box of “cognition” is it even possible to understand what the question is asking in the first place. Note that this technique gets you nowhere if you simply replace one black box with another. The point is that the words you use should have very specific meanings. This enables your beliefs to pay rent.

3. Non-attachment – Once positive or negative emotions are associated with an idea, the thought processes involving those ideas become biased. This leads to bad things like confirmation bias and motivated cognition, where one privileges one’s own ideas by e.g. not scrutinizing them as thoroughly as one might scrutinize other ideas.


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