C. Thi Nguyen on clarity

Think about bounded rationality: we’re limited beings, we can’t think about everything. We need to know when to cut off our investigation. We need to manage our efforts. The empirical literature suggests we use a heuristic: if things feel clear, we’re done.

My suspicion is that if we’re using that heuristic, we should expect malicious actors to try to exploit it. To present us with things where that feeling of clarity has been amped up. My worry is that the feeling of clarity can come apart from actual understanding and outside actors can game it.

We should watch out for cognitive yumminess”. Whenever I read something on Twitter I’m like… wait wait wait. Is this actually right, or does it just feel good to believe this?


Our sense of clarity, and its absence, plays a key role in our cognitive self-regulation. A sense of confusion is a signal that we need to think more. But when things feel clear to us, we are satisfied. A sense of clarity is a signal that we have, for the moment, thought enough.

This shows why, say, manipulative interests might be particularly interested in aping clarity. If the sense of clarity is a thought-terminator, then successful imitations of clarity will be quite powerful. If somebody else can stimulate our sense of clarity, then they can gain control of a particular cognitive blind spot. They can hide their machinations behind a veil of apparent clarity.


quote c. thi nguyen applied epistemology