— Philip Tetlock
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills; and you too are especially inclined to feel this desire. But this is altogether unphilosophical, when it is possible for you to retreat into yourself at any time you want.
There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind, especially if he has within himself the kind of thoughts that let him dip into them and so at once gain complete ease of mind; and by ease of mind, I mean nothing but having one’s own mind in good order. So constantly give yourself this retreat and renew yourself.
You should have at hand concise and fundamental principles, which will be enough, as soon as you encounter them, to cleanse you from all distress and send you back without resentment at the activities to which you return.Marcus Aurelius
— Doc Eifgrig
Cognitive psychologists have named the way we learn “chunking”.
When you want to internalize and understand a new concept with multiple moving parts you break it into pieces, or “chunks.”
Most research shows we can handle about four or five chunks.
In your head, you juggle these concepts around while you think about a problem. Eventually those chunks fuse into a single idea that you understand. Now you can layer that singular “chunk” with others to form a deeper and more rewarding concept.
Now you can act in a way that feels like you’re not even thinking about it, even though you may be applying a complicated thought process.
Here’s an example that resonates with me. When you’re first learning to drive, you have to run through a checklist to back your car out of the driveway:
• Start the car.
• Put on your seatbelt.
• Check the rearview.
• Put the car in reverse.
• Start slowly.
• Turn the wheel.
And so on.
For your first few times, you think about every one of those steps. You keep the radio off or pause your conversation with your passenger while you focus on the task at hand.
Eventually though, this all becomes one thought to you: The six-step checklist blurs into a single concept: “Pull out of the driveway.” You can perform this multistep task, process multiple sensory inputs, and pilot a 3,000-pound vehicle out onto the road. Even if you’re in an unfamiliar place or in a hurry, it all happens automatically.”
— David Brooks (link)
The young achievers are tutored in every soccer technique and calculus problem, but when it comes to their most important decisions—whom to marry and whom to befriend, what to love and what to despise—they are on their own. Nor, for all their striving, do they understand the qualities that lead to the highest achievement. Intelligence, academic performance, and prestigious schools don’t correlate well with fulfillment, or even with outstanding accomplishment. The traits that do make a difference are poorly understood, and can’t be taught in a classroom, no matter what the tuition: the ability to understand and inspire people; to read situations and discern the underlying patterns; to build trusting relationships; to recognize and correct one’s shortcomings; to imagine alternate futures. In short, these achievers have a sense that they are shallower than they need to be.
Help comes from the strangest places. We are living in the middle of a revolution in consciousness. Over the past few decades, geneticists, neuroscientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists, and others have made great strides in understanding the inner working of the human mind. Far from being dryly materialistic, their work illuminates the rich underwater world where character is formed and wisdom grows. They are giving us a better grasp of emotions, intuitions, biases, longings, predispositions, character traits, and social bonding, precisely those things about which our culture has least to say. Brain science helps fill the hole left by the atrophy of theology and philosophy.
A core finding of this work is that we are not primarily the products of our conscious thinking. The conscious mind gives us one way of making sense of our environment. But the unconscious mind gives us other, more supple ways.”
— T. S. Eliot
From “How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds” P. 20
In a 1994 essay called ‘Puritans and Prigs,’ Marilynne Robinson challenges the contemptuous attitude many people have towards the Puritans — the very word is no more than an insult now — and gives a more generous and accurate account of what they thought and why they thought it. In the writing of the essay it occurred to her that ‘the way we speak and think of the Puritans seems to me a serviceable model for important aspects of the phenomenon we call Puritanism.’ That is, the kinds of traits we label ‘puritan’ — rigidity, narrowness of mind, judgementalism — are precisely the ones people display whenever they talk about Puritans.
And why is this? Why are people so puritanical about the Puritans? ‘Very simply,’ Robinson writes, ‘it is a great example of our collective eagerness to disparage without knowledge or information about the thing disparaged, when the reward is the pleasure of sharing an attitude one knows is socially approved.’ That is, we deploy accusations of Puritanism because we know that the people we’re talking to will share our disparagement of Puritanism, and will approve of us invoking it. Whether the term as we use it has any significant relationship to the reality of Puritan actions and beliefs is totally irrelevant. The word doesn’t have any meaning as such, certainly not historical validity; it’s more like the password to get into the clubhouse.
Robinson further comments that this kind of usage ‘demonstrates how effectively such consensus can close off a subject from inquiry,’ which may be the most important point of all. The more useful a term is for marking my inclusion in a group, the less interested I will be in testing the validity of my use of the term against — well, against any kind of standard. People who like accusing others of Puritanism have a fairly serious investment, then, in knowing as little as possible about actual Puritans. They are invested, for the moment anyway, in not thinking.“