Knowledge and Belief

Epistemology, Probabilistic Knowledge and Thinking Systems

I am trying to create a set of belief systems that will act as an Operating System for the Mind. When I tried studying about belief systems, and knowledge management systems, I found out about Epistemology. Epistemology is the theory of knowledge. It's a branch of philosophy that deals with questions about knowledge - questions like how can we know things? What is knowledge?

I have been studying this for over a month now - so I have to make it absolutely clear that knowledge and belief are two separate things. In fact, the only thing most philosophers can kind of agree on is that Knowledge is "Justified true belief". Your belief is knowledge if...

  • It's true.

  • It's justifiable - you came to this conclusion in a reasonable way.

All this agreement goes out the window if someone happens to look at a broken clock at the exact time that is shown on the clock. Don't worry if you don't understand that - it's a philosophy joke. Gettier it?

Probabilistic Knowledge

I have one main problem with Epistemology - I don't like this absolute true/false idea. It's a false dichotomy that you are trapped into. A way better option is using a probabilistic approach. Thankfully, other people have already thought of that - there is a branch in Epistemology called Bayesian epistemology.

Bayesian probability is a branch of probability that tells you how to update probability values when you get new information.

In Bayesian Epistemology, complete confidence(probability = 1) in an idea is horrible. This is because if you have complete confidence you can disregard all evidence to the contrary - which is horrible in practice. So, we have to use probabilistic Epistemology for practical life.

There is a book about this concept - but described in another way - Thinking in Bets. Rather than decide if something is true or false, think "Would I bet on it?". How much are you willing to lose if this idea is not true?

There is a weird thing that our brain does - when we come up with a solution to a problem, the brain tries to defend that idea. It does this by ignoring evidence against the idea - and highlighting/prioritizing evidence that confirms your idea. This is called motivated reasoning or confirmation bias.

When you try to assign probability values to your solution, you engage your analytic side of the brain(also known as type 2 thinking). This is a better method to find faults with your own idea.

Type 1(Quick, Intuitive) and Type 2(Slow, Reasoned) Thinking

Type 1 thinking is immediate, creative and automatic. Type 2 requires work - you have to reason through the issue. Type 1 does pattern matching with earlier problems that look kind of like the problem you have right now - and decides on a solution that you have come to earlier. You can see it in action if you try to solve this problem...

You bought a ball and a bat with 110. The bat costs 100 Rs more than the ball. How much did the ball cost?

Take a moment and try to find the answer.

Type 1 thinking immediately gives you an answer - 100 Rs for the bat and 10 Rs for the ball. But then the bat only costs 90 Rs more than the ball. If you actually use the algebraic equation that you thought you'd never have to use, you'll know that the answer is actually 5 Rs for the ball and 105 Rs for the bat.

If you use the algebraic equations, you are forcing your brain to use Type 2 thinking - it's slow - but less susceptible to errors.

An obvious conclusion here is that Type 1 is bad and Type 2 is good. This is an easy mistake that, again, Type 1 in your brain is making. Both are very necessary. You don't have to think actively about driving - because you have done it enough that it's Type 1. Type 1 is a cognitive shortcut. It's valuable - but susceptible to errors - if you are aware of it you can double check your decisions using Type 2.

The world is too complex to be viewed in a binary system like right or wrong, true or false. Or as Obi-Wan puts it, "Only the Sith deal in absolutes". Learn to see the world in probabilities that can be updated when you get more information. Actively do that in your life - keeping in mind that your mind will try to take shortcuts that will give you wrong answers. You'll have to offset for that as well.

Learning about the Problem

Zettelkasten: The framework I use to learn about the problem

The goal of MindOS is to create a collection of belief systems that will work as a mental operating system. I have no idea how to do that - but I do know frameworks that can get me to the solution. When you try to figure out how to do something new(like, oh, I don't know, build a OS for the MIND?), you should NOT start thinking of solutions. You should focus on the problem you are trying to solve. Study the problem as much as possible.

To this end, I'm studying about the prior work done in this field - which is philosophy. Since mind is a big component of MindOS, I have to learn psychology. And other content like Rationality, Management Systems, etc.

When you start learning, you realize that there is a lot of content to go through. Because there is a LOT of content and that too in mostly unconnected fields, I understood that I'll need a better learning system. Something that will increase my learning efficiency. Once I figured that, I started researching on better learning systems, knowledge management systems, etc.

That's when I learnt about Zettelkasten - and it is BRILLIANT. I started using it an year ago - and its really working out. All the content I've produced in the last few months is the direct result of using the Zettelkasten system.

Zettelkasten System

The idea behind Zettelkasten is very simple - when consuming content, take notes in a specific format. Make sure you are writing these notes in your own words - do NOT copy paste content directly into your notes. Knowledge is not created when information goes into your brain - knowledge is synthesized when you attempt to pull out information already in your brain. This happens when you try to explain the concept to another person. It happens when you create some content with it. It happens when you make a note in your own words about what you just learnt.

Since it helped me a lot, I spent the last few months trying to figure out how to get it to as many people as possible. To this end, I did sessions, workshops, created posts and videos. Now I have created the final version of my Zettelkasten Tutorial - An Interactive Introduction to Zettelkasten. The tutorial will walk you through the process - and give you the necessary building blocks to implement it for yourself.

Zettelkasten is a note taking process and a personal knowledge management system rolled into one. It is spreading like wildfire in tech and academic circles. I promise it will supercharge your learning process.

Zettelkasten works as an external support system for your thinking process. The main point of Zettelkasten is not better notes - its better thinking. Some type of externalization improves your thinking greatly - be it paper and pen, mind-maps, text editor, anything - as long as it's outside your brain. Unlike other note taking systems, the Zettelkasten process forces you to actually think while creating notes - this will let you better understand and remember the concepts that you learn.

Zettelkasten is not complicated - its very simple to implement. The difficult part is creating a habit or behavior of making notes when learning. You'll have to figure out how to create a trigger to take notes when you get new information. For me, I don't consider any action of study as study unless I take notes.

Zettelkasten will be a big part of my MindOS - it has greatly optimized my learning process. I've been using this method for over an year now - and currently I have a web of interconnnected ideas in Obsidian(the tool I use for Zettelkasten)…

Learning In Public

After 2 years of only learning about the problem, I realized that I have to stop just learning about it and start publishing something. This newsletter is one of the first artifacts of this decision. But it is a more polished version of what I learnt. There is a much more 'raw' version as well.

One unintended, but really useful, feature of Zettelkasten for me is how all your learning can be public. The notes you take can be published online(how you do it depends on the tool). I have created a tool called Gatsby Garden that will convert the Obsidian notes into a static site. I publish it once every week on my Digital Zen Garden website. This is the raw version. This is where the actual learning happens. This system is called Learning in Public.

This is the part I want your help with. I'm publishing my learning so that people can read it and give me feedback on the direction I am going in. MindOS is a big project - and one with a lot of "unknown unknowns". I'll be happy to get whatever support you have to offer in this journey. I have no intention of creating MindOS in isolation. Ideally, this OS should be created how Linux was created - by the community. I just want to create the Kernel or the Core of it - and let others build upon it. Modify it. Make it your own. Your mind, your MindOS.

Hello World

My ten year project - MindOS. An Operating System for the Mind.

I have a rather big personal project - my current estimate says it will take me around 10 years to develop it. This newsletter is a running log on its progress and the things I learned along the way. The project is MindOS and this is the story behind it...

I'm an engineer. I always thought that humanity will solve its problems with technology. But as I grew older, I understood that we have figured out the technological solution to almost all our problems. We don't have any big existential threats from our environment(as a matter of fact, now we are the existential threat to the environment). There is only one thing tech hasn't figured out yet - natural death. All other problems have solutions now - with very few exceptions.

But the world is still no were close to perfect. There are quite a few problems. People still die due to preventable causes - things like poverty, preventable diseases, wars and many, many other issues.

Technology has already figured out solutions to this - humanity can easily create all the food it wants. It can solve almost all communicable diseases. But these problems still exist because people will have to decide to deploy the technology to solve that issue. But the people who have to decide this, actively decide to do the opposite. Yes, this is an oversimplified version of a very complex situation - but you know I'm right.

There are many reasons for why people make the "wrong" decision. In my opinion, these are the main two reasons for this. These are my personal silver bullets - solve these and most of world's problems go away...

  1. Wealth Inequality

  2. Nation states

2. Nation States(Macro Level)

People in power don't have the motivation to help people in desperate need because they belong to another country. This other-ing is a very strong programming in our mind - and its difficult to over come - especially when re-enforced with existing social institutions. Human behavior is not just driven by the programming in our brain - but also the programming in our environment.

The real problem of humanity is the following: we have Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions, and god like technology
Edward O. Wilson

Nation states are a really old institution - at our level of communication infrastructure, we need a global nation. Just too many problems will get solved if this happens - including one that is a existential threat to humanity - a thermo-nuclear world war. The biggest wars are caused by the nation states ideology - including 100% of the world wars so far(yes, I know that there were only two of those - but 100% seems like a better way to illustrate my point).

1. Wealth Inequality(Micro Level)

Capitalism won out as surviving primary economic belief system. It was a good system at a lower communication level - it aligned People's motivations with a very quantifiable system. But now we can figure out better economic belief systems. Getting people to switch their belief system is the tricky part - especially if they are "winning" at capitalism. And unfortunately, their votes count way more than people in the other side.

I chose this as the biggest problem over the many other problems. Over sexism, racism, communalism, casteism, homophobia - over everything. I would much rather be a rich person from a marginalized community than a poor person from a non-marginalized one. I would rather be a rich Dalit lady than a poor Brahmin dude(If you not from India, the example would be that I would rather be a rich lesbian black woman than a poor straight white guy). Money solves a lot of problems - or at least reduces its threat level greatly. If I had to prioritize one problem over all others, it would be wealth inequality.

A new Belief System

One way to solve for these issues is to have better belief systems. This is were religions comes in - but the ones that are popular are, again, medieval institutions. We need an updated belief system.

People close to me will be surprised by that statement - I'm generally anti-religious. I'm learning to give that up. In a couple of generations, the number of people affiliated with a religion will go down greatly. For most parts, it is a good thing - there are quite a lot of problems caused by religions. But there are some advantages to religions as well. My favorite one is faith.

Faith, in my definition, is the almost irrational belief that things will become better.

In most religious belief systems, the faith is that there is a good God and you will be taken to heaven after you die if you live a good life.

In capitalism, there is an unwavering faith that raising tide lifts all boats(also known as trickle down economics).

In nation states belief system, its that if both parties have nuclear weapons there won't be any war.

Most belief systems we have today are evolved belief systems. Some things work out organically - and then someone comes along, studies the system and says this is why it works. If enough people agree with this analysis, then it becomes the holy un-questionable truth.

We need better belief systems. Intentional belief systems. Modern belief systems.

We need to create a belief system that will have an ideal world future and work backwards. If X% of humanity believes these things, the world will be so. Get this belief system to that many and hopefully it will trigger a change in the world.

MindOS

For me, this new belief system is an Operating System for the Mind. Aka, MindOS. Aka, my personal project.

To this end, I'm getting into Philosophy. And related fields like Rationality, Psychology. And since my production is a very important factor in this project, I'm also getting into Personal Knowledge Management systems, learning systems and productivity self help(for the lack of a better phrase).

This newsletter is where I will be publishing my learnings every month. I'm hoping that some day I'll be able to do one a week. That would be my measure for the success of this newsletter. But not its target. That would make for a horrible target.

A target I have would be reader enjoyment. I want you'll to have fun when going thru this content. It's a system I call standup philosophy. That means I talk about philosophy for the sake of entertainment rather than enlightenment. But if you get slightly enlightened as a result, I would consider that a happy side effect.

The other target will be you talking about an idea you had when you read this newsletter. With a friend on a chat. Posted a tweet about it. Talked about it to another person. Anything. So, please do that, it gives me a serotonin hit that will motivate me to put more work into this project. This target will ensure that I create content that will create ideas in you.

Tl;dr

Welcome to my newsletter. It will have contents from these areas...

  • Philosophy

  • Rationality

  • Psychology

  • Knowledge Management Systems

  • Learning Systems

  • Productivity Self Help

The newsletter will be the documentation of knowledge and skills I build during the course of my project to develop MindOS(Operating system for the mind).

MindOS

A Project to create an Operating System of the Mind

The documentation of all my learnings during the course of creating a MindOS(an Operating System of the Mind).

I am Binny V A, a standup philosopher. That means I talk about philosophy for the sake of entertainment rather than enlightenment. But if you get slightly enlightened as a result, I would consider that a happy side effect.

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