Intentional naiveté

Intentional naiveté is my way of approaching new concepts and ideas.

  • ''Naiveté'' means that I have a strong bias towards simplicity. It means that I'm not afraid to tackle hard questions and consider simple answers.
  • ''Intentional'' means that I'm aware that simple answers are very likely to be wrong, and that my naiveté is mostly a learning tool.

Being intentionally naive is often difficult because others might see it as being superficial. Some people believe that it is wrong to talk about difficult topics without deep prior knowledge of the subject. To have certain conversations, it is important to appear knowledgeable. For this reason, we are incentivized to repeat the conclusions of experts, even if we haven't thought much about the way those conclusions were reached in the first place. This is what intentional naiveté tries to avoid.

To be fair, intentional naiveté is probably not the best approach if the goal is to make collective progress as fast as possible. Learning through personal experience often involves repeating the same steps that others have gone through in the past. But if the goal is personal growth, then intentional naiveté can be a useful mindset to reach a deep understanding of new ideas. Perhaps even more importantly, it encourages a curious and playful attitude towards the world.

Benefits of writing

Why writing helps

  • Clarity. One of my favorite quotes by Bertrand Russell says: "Everything is vague to a degree you do not realize till you have tried to make it precise." Writing helps me realize that my thoughts are often vague and inconsistent and it encourages me to make some order.
  • Generate new ideas. Writing often feels like I'm having a conversation with myself. This process leads me to new ideas and perspectives, similar to what happens when talking with others. Even though I won't learn new facts from myself, I can help myself explore new patterns of thought and even change my mind on things.
  • Scripta manent. Writing like is taking a photographic snapshot of my brain: it is a static picture of my intellectual and emotional state at a given moment. The resolution of the picture typically very low, but it's still one of the best ways of recording this type of information (and the resolution increases as writing skills improve!).

Why writing in public helps:

  • Raise the standard. Preparing something that might be read by others encourages me to pay more attention to the quality of the writing, both in its content and form. I can of course try to force myself to write well on my own, but the idea of being judged (even by a very small number of people who are my friends) is a powerful motivator.
  • Share with others to get feedback. I'm obviously happy to have the chance to share my thoughts with others. Hopefully they can be a starting point for interesting discussions.

Hey!

What is this? This is my public notebook! It is a space where I plan to post unpolished notes about things that interest me.

Disclaimer: Views and opinions expressed in these notes are my own and do not necessarily reflect people, institutions, or organizations that I may be associated with in a professional or personal capacity.