Learning Causal Knowledge
One of the things that we need to do is to understand how good are we at identifying and filling the gaps in our knowledge? Well, the way that we identify those gaps is by putting ourselves in a situation of teaching things and we don't have to wait for the opportunity to teach something to someone else the habit we need to develop see it all comes back to have it the habit we need to develop is to explain things to ourselves when we learned that because one of the dangers in life is if you hear a really good talk um if you attend a classic creative live and you hear a speaker, you think that speaker you know, taught me a lot of stuff? Um the speaker probably knows what he or she is talking about, but you don't necessarily know it yet the on ly way to make sure that you know it in addition to the speaker knowing it is for you to teach it back to yourself, to get in the habit of explaining things to yourself after you learn them and actually one of the things that's wonderful about crea...
tive lives is that opportunity to buy the class afterwards so that when you go through that self explanation realized that there are gaps in your knowledge, you can go right back to the class and have that explanation again so that you conf fill in those gaps, which is really hard to do in most lecture situations where the speaker has want run way down the track before before you realize that actually wait, wait, wait, there's something I don't understand about this, so I think that that's a really, you know, wonderful element of this, but we need to know to what degree are we already in the habit of explaining things to ourselves? So here's, another exercise now, page forty one, and this is a this is ah work sheet labeled self explanation, and it refers to a really, really bad explanation of how a four stroke engine works, which is found on page forty two I got this really, really bad explanation off of wikipedia, so if you'd like to go, if you're at home and you don't have that in front of you, if you google four stroke engine explanation, you'll find an explanation like the one on wikipedia, and when I want everyone to do is just to try this out, read this over, read that explanation over and try and explain it back to yourself and see how well you d'oh okay? And then we'll talk about what happened when you were doing it, so you'll take a few minutes to do that, and in the meantime, kristen, I'll talk about stuff that's coming up we will talk about something because this is a question that came up in the chat room from johnny and they want to know a little bit more about research involved you're getting the knowledge that you're talking about, so they say what research should we believe in and which should we not, especially when there are new findings coming out all the time most people would believe it if if the source comes from an academic source but things evolve all the time how does our choose what to believe and what not to? Is there a method to this? And how can we make smarter decisions with our research? Yeah, that is a great question, and I actually I talk about this to people all the time, particularly people who want teo not only do research but to help other people to understand the research that's out there, and one of my strategies is I very rarely teach classes like this that involved research that's brand new, so I will generally speaking, not tell you about here's something you should do in your life because of a study that was published in two thousand thirteen, a study published in two thousand thirteen on both of those components the a and the two thousand thirteen matter or if you're watching this in twenty fifteen, twenty fourteen, you see what I mean brand new stuff um the reason for that is because science is a process and that process involves doing an experiment, seeing how it comes out publishing the results, other people in the scientific community get excited about that research, they try toe, repeat the experiment extended, see how it comes out, understand where it works and where it doesn't, and that process takes a lot of time. It takes probably five to ten years for us to be able to figure out which of the findings of the ones that air riel and which of the findings, though, are the ones that that may be it won't hold up or don't hold up in a large number of different circumstances. So a lot of this stuff that I'm teaching about in these three days and a lot of stuff that I do in general is actually older work. A lot of this work is fifteen years old, twenty years old and it's not because I don't keep up with the latest work on, you know, the editor of a journal, I'm still doing scientific experiments myself, but I want to make sure that what I'm telling you about is information that really holds up, and so if a study is older and it's been repeated and we understand the conditions in which it works, then you can feel very confident. About using that information tto do something new and interesting in your life and if a studies brand new that I think you need to treat it with a grain of salt, now what this means is if you tend to get a lot of your information from sources like the new york times or the washington post or or the san francisco chronicle, you know you've got you've got a brand new, you know, newspapers, magazines they tend to focus on on new studies that have just come out, and you have to be very careful about really believing wholeheartedly in a brand new finding that's come out because there hasn't been enough time for the scientific community to really play around with that. And so if you want to be focused on what are the recommendations I should take, reach back five years in ten years and and and look at the studies that are still being cited today look at the research that's still being used today, even though it had its origins ten or fifteen years ago because that's, the stuff where you could be really confident that that finding exist and that's really how I go about doing things and that's what I recommend for anyone who really wants to take insight from psychology and the fact is, since so few of us know anything about the way our minds work even reaching back fifteen years or twenty years or thirty years can still teach us a tremendous amount about the way our minds work that we were unaware of before. I mean, the mere exposure effect that I described comes from the nineteen, sir sixties and the and the work by dutton and arun that's, also about forty years old, and yet most of us don't know it. So there's a tremendous amount of insight to be gotten from these older studies that are well known to really reflect things that are broadly applicant tore lives. We have two questions here that are sort of related, so I want to get your take on them together. First one comes from guven ashiq, and they say thank you, doctor, I've learned so much already, but can you explain if there is a relation between habits and your belief system? And then true me says, our habits always actions? Can you also have habitual thoughts? Yeah, um, so let's, let's, let's, take both of those I would say from the second question is easy. Yes, you can absolutely have habitual thoughts. Habits are any anything you do repeatedly? I would say, of course, that thoughts are actions, they're just actions that are being taken by your brain, so they don't feel like actions because you haven't moved anything when you did it but they are you know your brain is acting when when you have those thoughts but for example people one there are a lot for example, people who are depressed will often ruminate and rumination is repeated thinking of negative things that that can maintain a depression that's a that's a thought habit and so one of the things that therapists will often do with patients suffering from depression is to try to break that cycle of negative thinking of rumination and that's ah that's ah visual mode now the other question really had to do with the relationship between habits and beliefs and and these things certainly matter in a lot of ways I mean one of them has to do with the energy that you get to actually change a habit it's very hard to change a habit if you don't actually believe that you need to change the habit or that the actions you're going to take are going to lead to the outcome that you desire. So you know, if you if you take someone who is a smoker on dh they don't really I feel like quitting because they don't really believe it's that bad for them or they don't really believe it's hurting them or they don't believe that their future life is important enough for them teo to make a change in their behavior now then nothing's gonna happen right? So the boat tell you so you have to, you know, part of the motivation tow want to change your behavior really comes from that belief and then you have to believe that your actions are actually gonna work and and that's, one of the reasons that I teach classes like this is because there are lots of things that you can do and trying to change your habits lots of things you can do in trying to get smarter that won't work all right? You know, I believe that that that's some of the things I'm teaching our things that really will work you could get smarter by spending more time learning about why things in the world work the way they do and if you're going to spend twenty minutes a day getting smarter and you're not going to sleep in those twenty minutes spent twenty minutes a day reading about something you didn't understand before and getting to understand it and that's such a powerful way of making yourself smarter. And if you understand that if you believe that this is going to work, then you're much more likely to want to put, uh put that into practice great, we had a quick follow up question on that when you mentioned rumination and kind of thinking through that and we did that exercise earlier about the need for cognition I know that's something that that I would do and I had that in the quiz about rethinking things but so sensible wants to know is rumination always negative one is that positive right? So that's a great question you know, the condom that the term rumination I mean a room in it is actually an animal to choose it's cut right? And so rumination comes from that route of just chewing over a particular thought over and over and over again thinking through something carefully isn't necessarily a bad thing where it becomes a problem and where it gets used in the psychology literature as a negative thing really does come from things like anxiety and depression where if you've ever been really anxious about something and you start thinking about it over and over and over again and rehashing the same worries over and over and and just, you know, we talked a little bit earlier about how one of the sources of negative affect is thinking negative things. So if I constantly put myself in a situation in which I'm thinking about the negative outcomes of something or or you know you you go to a party and you realize you probably said something that might have offended someone and you spend the rest of the night thinking about what you said that doesn't help anymore you're not solving a problem all you're doing is repeating a negative event and that maintains a cycle of negativity so what you you know, that doesn't mean that thinking through things can't be bad if you're trying to solve a problem so for example maybe you feel like you offended someone so you want to think what could I do to make it up to them so thinking through that and solving that problem, that could be a real benefit um if you're if you're stuck I mean, I've had times where I've had a hard problem to solve it work you know, I've gotten data I didn't understand and I will spend you know, several days thinking about it in the shower thinking about it while I'm running thinking about it you know pretty much anything with playing the saxophone, you know, really thinking through it and that kind of, you know, coming back to things repeatedly that can be a real benefit but but when you find yourself stuck in a cycle of negative thoughts, I think that's what that's when you have a real problem thank you cool all right? And now I'm gonna put you guys out of your misery here um because because this is this is probably the least fun thing that I'm gonna ask anybody to do today. So any of you I mean, some of you may have really enjoyed this, but most of you probably didn't and the reason that you didn't enjoy it is because this explanation is really horrible um it is it is horrible, but but I chose this on purpose um it turns out that a lot of the things that we have to learn from it our lives are not the most fluently describe things, and yet we still have to be able to get something out of it. We often have to learn things in a new area where where we don't have a lot of expertise yet and you've got to start somewhere, and one of the first things that you should dis discover when you do this exercise is that it wasn't fun that it was actually frustrating that if you had had access to your email right now or your twitter feed, you would have jumped right on that because remember, we don't like negative affect, so we try to avoid it. What does this mean? It means that you probably have habits that promote the illusion of explanatory death because when you're learning something new and you have to repeat it back to yourself when you reach that point where you actually don't understand it and you have to go back and look at it again and then re explain it it's frustrating and the easy availability of the smart phone of your twitter feed and facebook makes it easy to say, you know what? I'm going to do something productive instead I'm going to check an email right? And so in that moment you check the e mail and you get a little bit of positive affect because you read an email and answered it gold completion creates positive affect you feel good about that? And so now you have transferred yourself over away from the thing that's a little bit negative towards something that feels positive, but what you've done is to maintain a gap in your knowledge and so you haven't done the thing that actually allows you to identify this is what I know this is what I don't know and I'm going to take a couple of steps to fill in that gap in my knowledge to improve the quality of my causal knowledge and the worst the quality of your knowledge, the worse that you're going to be able to think later remember einstein right would not be einstein if he had garbage in his head all right, you know, people like einstein very smart people because of how much they know and not because, um they uh they just have some funky aspect of their brain. Okay, so we need to engage even when it's no funds that's one thing to say another thing to say is I'm looking out at some of the things that you guys wrote here and one of the things I like here can I can I hold this up there's pictures here right, I love this it's very important to use diagrams and pictures when you're trying to explain things to yourself because it turns out that language is on ly one of the modes of expression that we have so I want you all to try something even at home there's nobody watching at home so you have to feel bad take your hands put them behind your head like that okay, now look at that ok, that area of the brain that your hands are covering that is the amount of brain real estate that is devoted to visual processing that is an awful lot of brain there that's that's being devoted to vision okay, use that even when you're trying to do something conceptual in the way that you use that is by drawing diagrams out we actually have a ah very poor capacity for describing spatial relationships went inwards much easier to draw those out that's why if you've ever watched like two kids playing catch which is actually a bizarre word right that game catch because it's the one activity that never happens during the game, right? But so somebody throws the ball and the other one fails to catch that's a better name for the and so because of all sales over their head and now it's over there and it gets stuck in the grass, they're not sure where it went because they were facing this way so now they looked that way, they can't find the ball in the other person who threw the ball is like you'd liked what they like to be able to say is yeah, the ball is two point three meters a day, approximately seven degrees from where you're standing, right, but that you can't say that, or you could say that, but nobody you first of all, you wouldn't be able to calculate that, and they wouldn't they wouldn't know what you're talking about. So what, you end up saying something like, no, no, no, take three more steps and go to the right no, no other, right? You know, um and finally they managed to find the ball, which is why you give up playing catch after about six minutes. Um, so, uh, so what? What do you do instead? It was one of the things that since we can't describe this in language, we draw stuff out, so drop when you're when you're creating causal explanations for things, draw stuff out, draw out the spatial relationships, help yourself to see that even if you're a lousy sketch artist, it doesn't matter if you're any good drawing. What matters is that you're engaging those parts of your brain in orderto generate the explanation, the other thing that diagrams air really good for that make it there make them really good for this particular application is that they're also good for describing things like processes and cycles where you're drawing out spatially the steps that you're going through because language tends to be really ambiguous when it comes to describing these kinds of cycles that's why, if you think about the back of a shampoo bottle, you get those very ambiguous instructions lather, rinse, repeat right? I mean, when do you stop? You know, when the bottle's empty I guess um so you know, if you've had a little diagram that might make it easier for you to know what it was that you were supposed to do, so I you know, I really think that we need to make more use of our ability, teo, to engage with the world in a more visual, more special way. So so if we think about it okay, we want to draw things out. We want to identify the gaps in our knowledge. And the most important part about this habit of self explanation is that by engaging this in this we become better calibrated at the knowledge that we have and then we can make the decision. Do we want to fill that gap in our knowledge? Okay, I want to be clear, I am not saying all of us need to be world leading experts in everything all right, we have a limited amount of time. We have limited energy, we have limited resource is we can't learn everything about everything, but the more that we know what we know and what we don't know, the more that we can become effective in situations in which we need to be innovative because we will choose toe to to fill some of the gaps in our knowledge which will give us higher quality knowledge. And what we're going to see starting this afternoon is the value of having that high quality knowledge in helping us to solve problems in new ways, and we will actually be able to to put in the effort to learn new things because we will realize what it is that we don't know, right? It's, easy life is easy when you live in blissful ignorance in fact, there's a reason why the phrase blissful ignorance exists, because when you don't know that you don't know something there's, no riel motivation to want to change anything it's only when you discover you don't know something that then there's a push to want to know more about it, and then to follow up again on something I was saying earlier. Remember that a lot of this class is about not just changing your own habits, but changing the habits of the people around you. And so, if I'm gonna help each of you to create some habits to be a little bit smarter and more effective, you can actually now begin to use the same set of principles to make everybody else in your life smarter and more effective. And so, if you're gonna develop the habit to explain things to yourself, it means you need to also help the people around you to develop a habit to explain things to themselves, situations, which means that you need to act a little bit more like a five year old, and you probably never thought you'd be told that, um, but in particular, what you need to do is to start asking why, when somebody tells you something, and they just want you to accept it, don't just accept it, ask why is that? And one of the reasons you want to ask that question is because you'll learn some of that causal knowledge, which will make you more productive in the way that you solve problems, but also in as as a way of influencing the culture around you by asking wide, other people, you're forcing people to identify some of the gaps in their knowledge, and you're also giving people a reason to want to create the habit to explain things to themselves because if they know that they are gone to be held responsible for the details, they're going to make sure they know those details before they talk to you and that's really important because, you know, we have I I love our educational system in many ways, but I do have some complaints about it, and one of the complaints I have about the education system is that we don't force people to be active learners, right? We we would never learn to play a musical instrument without playing it. We would never learn to play a sport without playing it, but we routinely learned things conceptually without doing anything and this kind of work. This self explanation is, uh, active work that you need to do whenever you're learning something new and we need to instill that habit in the people around us. I think it's a really crucial thing that we can begin to do now to make everybody else around a smarter and more effective so that that that why question is good for us and it's good for everybody else well, and one of the things that that means, by the way is that when you get stuck with a five year old who keeps asking you why or it could be a ten year old or a fifteen year old don't send him out to play when you realize that you don't know understand it anymore use that as an invitation say you know what? I don't understand that let's sit down and find out right? Because when you send that five year old out to play, what you're telling that five year old is eventually somebody doesn't know the answer to something in the proper response to not knowing the answer is to ignore the question right as opposed to saying the proper response to the failure to understand something isn't necessarily fake it till you make it it's admit you don't know it sit down learn it know it the next time and that makes you more effective in the long run anybody have any questions? Yes yeah this thing about drawing I started to do that, but I can't I can't hit use that word draw so words work for me so I can see pictures in my head I just like they don't come from here to here so when I need to explain something to someone it's either I have to use work it's using words really either speaking or writing yeah so you know actually sorry, but the chat room agrees with you completely cheryl so we wanted to let people know we had a bunch of people here saying, well, what if you're not good at drawing? How can you visualize better and then specifically tantrum said what about mind maps it's kind of visual ways to have words on the screen so they're they're on board with you cheryl yeah some people yeah eso you know but my naps are still spatial right? So that's actually okay I mean, those air still diagrams but I actually we have data on this so this is actually studies that we've done actually people who don't draw well our it's wonderful to have them draw and the reason is because it actually often makes you a little bit more creative and innovative in the long run because what happens is you draw your explanation and you make a little diagram and all that and then you draw badly because you're not good at drawing and you go away from that diagram of that drawing you come back to it later and you have to figure out again what was it that I drew and that has to benefits? The first is it forces you to rehearse what the world was I drawing there and the second is every once in a while you misinterpret your drawing and when you misinterpret your drawing sometimes that leads the interesting creative extensions of ideas so we've done studies in which we've had people try to generate ideas and so we talked a bit about brainstorming one of the modes you can use for idea generation is actually a drawing task where you have people draw out their solution to a problem and what we find is that if you get some people in the group who are lousy sketch artists they add stuff to the drawings that nobody else understands and then those people interpret what they're seeing often in really interesting creative ways that actually expand on the overall creativity of the design so actually rather than holding yourself back give yourself permission to draw bad really so I guess what I'm saying is it's not that I draw badly I don't know what to draw something so it was like, hey, I don't know what a piston is so I don't know what a crankshaft is but so I'm like how do I represent something that I don't run no what it is if you really don't know what it is then you're going to be using words but actually what that does is you've identified a gap you're like okay there's this thing it's called a piston I've learned the relationship somehow between the piston in the crankshaft but I don't know what they look like might be nice to get a picture of this you mean I know they're from detroit but wait go right some of them yeah they traded go to north korea yeah, but but but and that's interesting because there's just identifying a gap of I don't even have the visual knowledge I wanted to draw this out um, do we have any anything else from the chat before we summarize right now? All right, well, then, here's, what we're gonna do that was that was, by the way, that was that that description before we summarize, we're gonna just want to make you aware of the fact that if you found this interesting, if you thought, you know what, I would like to get smarter, um then I can help you with that in addition to what we're going to do this afternoon, a lot of the content that we're talking about today is related to something that's in a book I wrote a few years ago called smart thinking and, uh and really, what that book is about is how do you develop habits to think? Mohr effectively, how do you improve the quality of your knowledge? How do you develop strategies to be able to use that knowledge when you need it? And how do you combine all of that so that you're doing this thing by habit so that you're now approaching a world in a way that makes you more creative and more innovative? And so I believe that you've got a link up to that now on, so if you click on that link it it'll give you some information about where you could, where you can find smart thinking, um but just to summarize where we've gone in this section and where we're going to be going this afternoon, we talked about causal knowledge right now notice, by the way, right? Three right? We're still on the three, so you know, all that stuff from monday morning is still with us, um, causes the stuff we used to answer the question why those causes air absolutely crucial to our ability to solve problems in new ways, because the more you understand the way the world works, the more you could do something in a new way and not just do things the way you've always done them. The problem with causal knowledge for most of us is that we suffer from a persistent illusion of explanatory depth, which is the idea that we don't understand the world nearly as well as we think we do, but there's a cure and it's a fairly simple cure, you have to learn to self explain to teach things to yourself, and what happens when you teach things to yourself is first that you identify the gaps in your knowledge and those gaps, then become invitations to fill those gaps so that you have higher quality causal knowledge, and if you do that, you make yourself smarter by asking the question why you also make everybody else around you smarter.