Today, I’m going to teach you something practical.
It’s one of the easiest rationality techniques I know and I’ve personally found it to be quite helpful. The great thing about it is that it’s one of the few techniques I know that is equally useful for both epistemic and instrumental rationality.
You can use it for reaching decisions, for solving problems or just to better analyze information about something. In hindsight it will look really obvious, but in my experience hardly anyone uses this, very simple, technique.
I don’t have a good catchy name for the technique, so I’m just going to describe it in steps:
- Decide on the thing you want an answer to. This can be a though decision to make, a truth about yourself you’ve been struggling with, a philosophical discussion you had with a friend, a problem to solve, etc.
- Go to a place where people will leave you alone for a couple of minutes. It’s important not to be interrupted. It doesn’t need to be at a quiet place, although that might help for some people.
- Sit or lie down. Make sure you’re comfortable.
- Set a countdown-timer for five minutes (or ten when it’s a really hard problem).
- Close your eyes.
- Think about the problem until the timer ends.
Like I said: really easy. Really obvious.
But be honest, when is the last time you took some time to actually think about something? Without also browsing the internet, playing a game, driving a car, looking at people… Most people don’t spend any time thinking about specific things and yet it can be really effective. I’m not saying it will have 100% success rates but for most people reading this it can be an excellent habit to form.
Don’t expect to be successful at this all the time. Most minds have a tendency to wander, even when you’re trying to focus on something. If you’re mind starts to wander, just let it. Don’t force your focus, but keep the thing you want an answer to in the back of your mind. Generally you don’t need the full five minutes, so it’s perfectly alright if you lose focus for a minute or two.