The O’Brien Technique

Epistemic status: tested on my own brain, seems to work.

I’m naming it after the character from 1984, it’s a way of disentangling social reality / reality buckets errors in system 1, and possibly of building general immunity to social reality.

Start with something you know is reality, contradicted by a social reality. I’ll use “2+2=4” as a placeholder for the part of reality, and “2+2=5” as a placeholder for the contradicting part of social reality.

Find things you anticipate because 2+2=4, and find things that you anticipate because of “2+2=5”.

Hold or bounce between two mutually negating verbal statements in your head, “2+2=4”, “2+2=5”, in a way that generates tension. Keep thinking up diverging expectations. Trace the “Inconsistency! Fix by walking from each proposition to find entangled things and see which is false!” processes that this spins up along separate planes. You may need to use the whole technique again for entangled things that are buckets-errored.

Even if O’Brien will kill you if he doesn’t read your mind and know you believe 2+2=5, if you prepare for a 5-month voyage by packing 2 months of food and then 2 months more, you are going to have a bad time. Reality is unfair like that. Find the anticipations like this.

Keep doing this until your system 1 understands the quotes, and the words become implicitly labeled, “(just) 2+2=4″, and ” ‘2+2=5’: a false social reality.”. (At this point, the tension should be resolved.)

That way your system 1 can track both reality and social reality at once.

4 thoughts on “The O’Brien Technique”

  1. Quick feedback: I feel the 2+2=4/5 placeholder makes the barrier of entry high, i.e. it lowers the incentive to actually try it out by requiring more transfer/imagination effort than some may be inclined to exert; so maybe you can think of a good social reality vs. reality example that most of your typical blog readers would definitely be tempted to agree with.

    Also, how confident would you be in saying that via doing this exercise explicitly at least once, people will be able to catch this distinction a lot more often across many different similar situations with less effort? If you believe it was that effective in your own case, then a more concrete example (perhaps simply the one you used yourself) may definitely encourage people to actually try it out.

    I for one find it surprisingly hard to come up with something decent but let’s try it: “Start with something you know is reality, contradicted by a social reality. I’ll use “2+2=4” as a placeholder for the part of reality, and “2+2=5” as a placeholder for the contradicting part of social reality.”

    Reality reality: Communication is almost exclusively about status, negotiating or affirming the relationship and getting others to do things

    Social reality: Communication is almost exclusively about the explicit information content

    Short forms:
    Communicating is mostly about status, relationships and appeals
    Communicating is mostly about information

    “Hold or bounce between two mutually negating verbal statements in your head, “2+2=4”, “2+2=5”, in a way that generates tension. Keep thinking up diverging expectations.”

    I’m kind of stumbling right around here, I don’t feel any tension just by alternating these statements. Maybe because information is of course part of communication. Got anything better?

    Related: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four-sides_model

  2. It’s my first time here, so here’s a question: What tool would you recommend for people who have difficulty observing social reality?

    1. Pay attention to how people react to statements relating to politically/socially charged propositions.

      Also, either courage or hanging out with groups of people less smart than yourself.

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