Why Social Skills Cannot Be Learned

I am not sure that this is his intention, but I think this blog post of Eliezer Yudkowsky explains why social skills cannot be learned. What normal human beings call social skills is largely the ability to read others. I am repeating this because people do not appreciate this enough—What normal human beings mean by social skills are, largely, mind reading skills.

“Brains are so complex that the only way to simulate them is by forcing a similar brain to behave similarly. A brain is so complex that if a human tried to understand brains the way that we understand e.g. gravity or a car—observing the whole, observing the parts, building up a theory from scratch—then we would be unable to invent good hypotheses in our mere mortal lifetimes. The only possible way you can hit on an “Aha!” that describes a system as incredibly complex as an Other Mind, is if you happen to run across something amazingly similar to the Other Mind—namely your own brain—which you can actually force to behave similarly and use as a hypothesis, yielding predictions.”

Coming from me, this is a great compliment, but this is why I think Manu Joseph’s “The Illicit Happiness Of Other People” is one of the most underrated novels in history. Most readers would have missed the extremely nuanced observations on human heterogeneity:

“The truth of every neurological system is unique and it cannot be transmitted. It cannot be told, it cannot be conveyed, it cannot be searched for and found.

The second sentence was, of course, “lifted” from Nietzsche’s “Beyond Good And Evil”:

“It is some fundamental certainty which a noble soul has about itself, something which is not to be sought, is not to be found, and perhaps, also, is not to be lost.” 

But, still.

The reason why I began my review with a passage on introspection failure:

“When a young friend quoted an excerpt which convinced him that a novel would be one hell of a read, I did not know what it meant. It read: “If there were ever a sudden almighty silence in marine drive, you would hear a thousand bra straps snap.” When I once read that “Ron Paul is a gynecologist, and he is self-taught.”, I did not understand why it evoked laughter in an audience. I still do not. When I once read in a Magazine that physical intimacy begins with a kiss, I wondered apprehensively: “But then, how far would they go?”

Thoma’s father Ousep trusts the editor who asks him to reveal his sources in the name of “journalistic tradition”. It seems odd to him that plain men, simple men, men who are not writers too can make their wives laugh. He is convinced that his father-in-law was mesmerized by his prose.  He is surprised when he suddenly finds himself unemployable because not long ago, publishers who had read his short stories wanted him to write novels. Introspection often fails the cognitive elite. Ousep also wonders how humiliating the honest compassion of fools is. But then, Introspection fails everyone else too.”

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