Cached Thoughts in Conversation

Kaj Sotala, on LessWrong, says that in oral conversation he frequently has trouble formulating sentences and thoughts fast enough to keep up. His solution: cached thoughts.

Both of these problems are solvable by having a sufficiently well built-up storage of cached thoughts that I don’t need to generate everything in real time. On the occasions when a conversations happens to drift into a topic I’m sufficiently familiar with, I’m often able to overcome the limitations and contribute meaningfully to the discussion. This implies two things. First, that I need to generate cached thoughts in more subjects than I currently have. Seconds, that I need an ability to more reliably steer conversation into subjects that I actually do have cached thoughts about.

I agree it’s hard to think new thoughts in real-time. 90% of the things I say in conversation are probably formulations of stuff I’ve already said / written / thought about.

But if the most fluid conversations between two people rely on each person drawing upon the appropriate cached thought to suit the moment, doesn’t this mean that neither party is learning very much or generating new thoughts?

Possibly. However, in oral conversation there is spontaneity and randomness. You can never be certain where a conversation will lead. The joy is in following a conversation’s natural arc.

Real-time interaction with another mind can introduce — in the same frame, in the same moment — two or three of four cached thoughts you have never before thought about at the same time. In this way, conversation can still be a learning device inasmuch as it helps you make connections among your existing ideas and knowledge. Oral conversation may not generate brand new thoughts, but it can enrich and make interconnected your old ones.


Here’s my popular post on in-person conversation skills. Here are annoying conversation stoppers.

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