How to think clearly

It’s simple, really. Thinking clearly requires you to use simple language, shave off lower probabilities, and test your knowledge.

Use simple language

For the most part, you should be using simple, active language to think clearly. Mainly due to the constraints on how our brains work.

Simple language allows you to optimize your working memory

Your working memory is sort of like RAM (which is a type of temporary memory a computer stores for programs), in that it’s the temporary store of concious information and data that can be manipulated by you at any given time. For you to draw conclusions and learn new things, you need to hold multiple pieces of information in your head at once. And then you conduct operations on these pieces of information, such as cutting irrelevant information, drawing connections, and adding new pieces of information.

So for you to optimize your working memory, using as simple words as possible confers a lot of benefits. The alternative is to use more complex words which needs to be decomposed further before continuing the statement. Which ends up over-filling your working memory and making it much more difficult to draw a conclusion.

Additionally, simple language is used more frequently in your day-to-day life. Your brain stores associations with all sorts of concepts and real life analogies. And your associations and mental models usually grow stronger with repitition. So if you use language that you use frequently to explain new concepts, it’s more likely to be stored in the same network you’re using for other concepts.

However, deep technical knowledge sometimes requires complex language

When you’re working in a deeply technical field like physics or computer science, it’s inevitable that complex language is necessary. The main reason being that concepts need to be named differently inevitably, and in order for you to differentiate them you need to name them uniquely. But there’s no question that you can decompose these concepts further into simpler language in order to help them make sense for you.

Verify each statement or phrase with a degree of certainty of truth

Assign rough probabilities of truth to your axioms, propositions

When you’re thinking through a topic, it’s important to assess whether the axioms that you’re using are true and how certain you are of each conclusion. An easy rule of thumb for dividing certainty of truth is to bucket axioms into the following statements:

  1. This statement is very unlikely to be true
  2. This statement might be true, but it’s less likely than not
  3. This statement might be true, and it’s more likely that it is than not
  4. This statement is very likely to be true

Remove statements that fit into the lower probability buckets before continuing. It’s usually better to fill your thought process of alternative axioms/explanations first by obtaining a lot of information, so that it reduces the probability you’re missing information entirely.

Develop a way to test your knowledge

You can hold statements as likely to be true, but having ways to test separate propositions and conclusions is the ultimate way to get iron-clad knowledge under your belt. And testing ways to test your knoweldge under different conditions, and over time, is a great way to feel more confident in your knowledge. To be clear, it’s important to test independent propositions/axioms AND the conclusions they draw separately. Because propositions should be testable as well, otherwise they can just be made-up explanations that have no basis in reality.

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