I started watching The Vow with a friend, and got inspired to do a bunch of reading on cults in general and Vow’s cult, NXIVM, in particular. I didn’t originally take notes because this was coded in my head as a leisure activity, not real research. Eventually it became clear it was a real research project, but it seemed unfair to introduce real notes halfway through, so I decided to use it as an experiment in research without detailed notes instead (I did end up writing a few, but a far cry from The Algorithm). This turned out to be the right situation for that experiment, because my friend was a check on how much I actually remembered, especially on things we disagreed on, which was a lot.
- Memory is in fact hard.
- When I went to share what I learned with my friend, I often had to look back at my (sparse) notes to remember things I wanted to talk to him about. This is true even when I was talking to him the morning of the day after I read the book.
- Often he would ask me questions and the answer wasn’t in my notes- sometimes it was firmly in memory and I’d just forgotten to bring it up, sometimes I knew the book had the answer but I had lost it.
- I mixed up sources a lot.
- I would frequently assume my friend knew something, only to find out it wasn’t from our shared source.
- I’d compress specifics into patterns. This hindered me arguing with my friend.
- In combination with the source mix-up, this often meant I couldn’t tell apart the following situations:
- Books A and B repeating the same story with the same source (almost equivalent to one source)
- Books A and B tell the same story from their own perspectives (stronger evidence the thing actually happened, but not evidence of a pattern)
- Books A and B tell stories about similar things happening to different people (evidence of a pattern).
- Losing the specifics that demonstrated a pattern also made it much harder to change my mind in response to new evidence. Is this more credible or a stronger signal than the data my current view is based on? Who’s to say, if I can’t remember the original evidence?
- This feels way easier with something as emotionally salient as cults than it did with my more distant historical research. And when I did shift to a more history-style book (Mystics and Messiahs), I suddenly had to take real notes.
- I did go into this with a question, but I didn’t know what it was until I’d read a few books and seen what felt live and what didn’t.
- The question was: how do we cultivate instincts/responses that seamlessly antagonize the unhealthy parts of cults while allowing for communities and new ideas.
- Also: Interpersonal power: How does it work?
I feel like there’s more to learn from this experiment, but I really needed to write *something* today and a draft post I had on a beautiful theory of mine took a hit from an ugly gang of facts, so this is it.