Social rules are one of the most powerful enemies of reason.
They aren’t all bad. They have some useful purposes. But, regardless of the upsides, they have huge, irrational downsides.
The useful purposes are helping structure or organize how people interact. This gives people more of an idea of what to expect. People don’t realize what it’d be like dealing with a stranger with no customs to guide the interaction. That’s actually a really hard problem. Our social rules handle it pretty well.
When people are “anti-social”, it’s often only a small portion of social rules which they violate. For example, they say taboo words like “retard” or they say something bluntly (directly and honestly) which you’re supposed to tell “white lies” about or avoid saying anything about.
People who violate those rules still use many social customs such as greetings (“hi”), farewells (“bye”), or understanding and using the conversational dynamic of questions and answers.
The small portion of social rules which are commonly violated are not very important. The really important stuff is pretty uncontroversial. Particularly in intellectual conversations. In those conversations, people may be rude or insulting, but it’s basically nothing like trying to talk with a savage or barbarian who is ignorant of civilized modes of interaction.
Politeness helps reduce violence among semi-civilized people. But we’re so civilized today in America that we really expect people to be able to refrain from violence even if they are insulted. We think it’s barbaric to duel over honor.
Social communication rules limit what you say. This limiting makes it much harder to say certain ideas. Some of those ideas are true. Being able to speak freely lets you better focus on speaking the truth without worrying about other factors.
Some truths are very hard to say politely because, socially, you’re just not supposed to say them. For example, people lie all the time but you’re not supposed to point it out. Thinking people lied is common but saying so is considered an aggressive attack (regardless of whether it’s true). What if you want to point out lies so that people can learn to stop lying? What if the goal is improving in many ways including integrity? Then social rules make that hard.
Social rules cause people to take offense rather than rationally analyze what was said. Social rule following involves a way of evaluating statements as polite or rude, which people do before and often instead of evaluating whether the statement is true. This is contrary to truth-seeking. It causes people not to think about whether a criticism is true or not if they find it personally offensive.
There is an interesting issue about what to blame. Did the social rules teach people to get offended by “insults”? Or were they already offended by insults and the social rules just help avoid triggering that underlying flaw? Regardless, one can group it all together under the general heading “social dynamics” or “social rules related issues” and say there is a problem there.
Many problems occur because social rules are unwritten rules which people treat as an automatic, expected default. They won’t say what offends them or what rules they want to be treated by. Actually they often pretend they are willing to hear any criticism, but still expect social rules prohibiting some criticism to be followed.
If people said “I am fragile and get offended by things I perceive as insults. We need to somehow accommodate this flaw of mine in our discussions.” then they’d be easier to deal with. But people don’t honestly face the reality of their situation.
The main things that offend people are criticisms that imply they are bad in some way. This includes being incompetent at something where the social expectation (the general, default expectation of our society or culture) is that adults are competent at it. It also includes being dishonest, being bad at thinking, having immoral ideas, being dumb, not understanding something that people think only a dumb person wouldn’t understand, making dumb mistakes (dumb according to social perception, not objectively), and being irrational.
But people are irrational, dishonest, dumb or incompetent (because our culture’s expectations about skill are actually unrealistic and high in some ways (and low in other ways, they are not very accurate)). Those are crucially important issues for anyone trying to be a rational thinker. People need criticism of those issues. They need to get better at those things, not avoid discussing them. So social rules block intellectual progress.
TheWorldOfParmenides is a reddit user who liked and posted some of my material. His name is a Karl Popper book title. He was talking with people hostile to Popper. I talked with him briefly, suggesting he might like to discuss on the Fallible Ideas (FI) forum and expose his ideas to criticism. Two weeks later he got back to me about the FI forum. Here is the conversation:
TheWorldOfParmenides: I saw the email discussion group. Decided against participating. Looks like what is discussed is not of interest to me at this time. I appreciate the invitation but grammar, Rand, Apple and image analysis are not interesting to me.
Your email group is not what I am looking for at this time. Good luck to you.
curi: You can start topics.
TheWorldOfParmenides: Looks like you also violate people's privacy and post their emails publicly if they ever leave your little group.
You also attacked David Deutsch in defense of a shoddy Philosopher like Rand.
Lot of downsides, no real upsides. Thanks again but no thanks.
curi: Well, let me know if you develop any counter-arguments to anything I said, or to Objectivism, instead of just ad hominems.
Also I didn't violate anyone's privacy. When you email to a public email group, your email is publicly available to anyone. There are archives of all the emails, whether someone left or not, which include the email addresses that sent every email. People can use an email address that isn't attached to your real name (many people do).
You should read what an ad-hominem is before you talk about things you don't understand.
Better yet, spend 2 years as intellectual historian and read actual philosophers and realize that Objectivism stole from some of the best and Rand added her own poorly thought out ideas.
There is a reason that Rand is not taken seriously by professional Philosophers.
The fact that you thought what I said was ad-hom. Typically, (don't feel too bad this is very common) Randians have a very hard time separating ideas from people. If you do embark in an intellectual journey you'll quickly realize this.
I posted this to document what people are like. I want to be able to refer to it as an example later. This kind of stuff is pretty typical. It's a major problem with the world. It's hard to find any halfway rational thinkers. Also I suggest that people try analyzing the discussion in comments.
Update: He messaged me again after I posted this:
You immediately proved my point by you posting a private conversation on your website.
You Randians are so predictable. I say jump and you ask how high.
I don't know why he thinks messaging strangers on Reddit is private conversation. It's not.
Tips for new people using the Fallible Ideas discussion group:
Update: See also my newer post Rational Discussion Tips
This is a guest post by Alan Forrester.
This is a list of ppl who had discussion contact with FI and then quit/evaded/lied/etc. It focuses on ppl who claimed some interest in FI, Poppper, reason, etc. It has a short summary of what happened with each person. It would be good to find patterns about what goes wrong. That would help people find out what the common mistakes are and avoid making them, and it'd help with organizing discussion to avoid some of the problems.
Interest: David Deutsch
Garret had a blog post discussing David Deutsch’s book “The Fabric of Reality” and criticising chapter 2 of the book. https://blog.rongarret.info/2015/03/why-some-assumptions-are-better-than.html
Elliot offered to criticise Garret’s post. Garret posted on FI between 13 and 15 May 2019. During the discussion he posted misquotes. When posters criticised him for misquoting he stopped posting. A quote from Garret’s last post:
You have misquoted people and said you’re careless. These are substantive problems. If you think they’re not substantive problems that in itself is a substantive disagreement. And for reasons pointed out above, these problems would make discussion of other problems more difficult. So fixing your carelessness and misquoting is more important int eh current context than your views on other topics.
I didn’t misquote people, I misquoted myself. And the “misquote” was substituting the word “dispute” for “deny” (or maybe it was the other way around, I don’t recall, and I don’t feel like looking it up). If you think the difference between “dispute” and “deny” is substantive, well, we’ll just have to agree to disagree about that. I intended them to be synonyms.
We’re having a substantive disagreement about the importance of accurate quoting.
No, we are having a stupid disagreement about whether or not “deny” and “dispute” mean the same thing. I neither deny nor dispute that accurate quoting is important in general. I deny and dispute that it matters in this particular instance.
You know what? This is a waste of time. I’m done.
Interest: David Deutsch
Welf posted to the Beginning of Infinity Group about liberalism between 13 and 15 June 2017 claiming that liberalism led to bad policies. His posts were criticised and he stopped posting.
A quote from Welf’s last post:
These are some of the nonsense consequences which were directly stated in my initial post. I wonder if you decided they were not stated as if you had read carefully or were blinded by your own overreaction to the first few sentences!!
Welf has posted some material about banks on the internet without discussing it with FI or the BoI group, see
David Winslow can to the Fallible Ideas list from the Harry Binswanger list.
A quote from one of Winslow’s posts:
The combination here of there being a purpose to believing
something exists (explains sightings of apple trees, explains how apples are
produced, etc. and also no criticism of claiming it exists is adequate to say
Your consensus methodology has little to do with either a scientific or
Existence is covered in more detail in DD's books. http://beginningofinfinity.com/books
I have no interest in hearsay.
Interest: behavioural genetics
Blue Yogin posted to the FI list in December 2013 and January 2014. He tried to promote human behavioural genetics. A quote from one of his posts:
Hi. I am the original asker of this question, and I'm new to the list. Happy to be here. Some of the context was lost here - we had been talking about the heritability upper and lower bounds for some common phenotypes, chief among them intelligence. (Or, if you prefer, "the ability to do well on IQ tests"). Whenever I talk about this I try to switch to sports analogies as quickly as possible. I think we have better intuitions about athletic ability than about mental ability, and they have the same basic statistical properties, so it's easy to switch between them.
So your approach to the subject is to stop considering it, and start arguing by analogy, as quickly as possible?
To make this question harder and to avoid sneaking away from the pain I'm trying to inflict, allow me to add another proviso. Suppose that any good idea in football can be quickly copied by other teams.
How will supposing something vague, and seemingly false, get us anywhere?
Thus, though individual coaches might have some good ideas about how to train better or play better, whenever a good idea like that is shown to be successful, it quickly sweeps the entire league, and the game returns to an equilibrium state in which every team employs the best training and playing strategies, so that the only difference between teams are physical differences that can't be easily copied.
So you only want to approach the subject via unrealistic analogy?
It's not unrealistic. Strategies in football are in actual fact routinely copied whenever they work. Major league teams employ scouts whose full-time job is to figure out what training routines and play strategies the other teams are practicing. Trainers and coaches routinely switch from team to team and cross-pollinate their institutional knowledge. Whenever a team loses to a significantly new strategy, everyone in the entire league studies that play on their iPads in the week after the game and either adopts or develops a counter strategy.
One day he just stopped replying to posts.
Tom Robinson vaguely hung around the TCS/ FI scene for years.
His last post in March 2015 rejected FI without offering any way to make progress on disagreements:
I watched the first 10 seconds and it looks super annoying to watch and really trendy, and screams unseriousness. Which fits with the 2 million views.
If you’re guessing why, instead of him knowing something more than an assertion, I’m not impressed.
it doesn’t matter if he’s the 10th best person in the world, it wouldn’t be good enough.
When I wrote that post I was interested in memes and writing mainly for my own benefit. By comparison, issues about how to make videos, who is impressed and who is the best at philosophy are boring and off-topic. They don't lie at The Beginning of Infinity. To paraphrase Ayn Rand, the proper business of man is the conquest of nature, not the conquest of other men.
Richard posted from late May 2018 to September 2018. One of Crawley’s friends informed him of the list cuz Crawley was interested in addiction. He stopped replying to messages without saying why he stopped. A quote from his last message:
Minimum wage laws are a price control on the price of labor. Any comment on those?
I have no problem with a minimum wage. I'm not sure I's call it the
"price of labour" in that way as that sounds like work is a commodity to
be sold, like a tin of beans, whereas in fact the operation is the other
The minimum wage was introduced to ensure that workers didn't get ripped
off. Unfortunately, the labour market isn't such that if you don't like
one employer you can just go and get another; despite what the
governments tell us, there are not swathes of companies desparate for
This person posted two messages and didn’t reply to criticisms at all.
A representative quote from one of his messages:
We become the caretakers and defenders of all life as we know it thus far. We knw life is always at risk on the micro scale here on earth one species to the next. Whether they be plants, animal, or cell life. All life.
Kevin posted twice in September 2013, asking about how to deal with criticism. A representative quote:
When you come up with a new idea, the first thing you would do is consider if this actually solves the problem you have. If your idea doesn't solve the problem, you can always think some more about why it doesn't and make alterations to it until it does.
Suppose you think the idea might solve the problem. Do you then look for external criticisms to the idea? Or do you come up with your own criticisms of the idea to see if it does indeed work?
When you're consciously thinking about an idea, you've already criticized it and rejected many variants. The idea couldn't be any good otherwise. Criticism is necessary to get halfway decent ideas.
People would typically call this "unconscious criticism" or maybe "subconscious criticism". I don't think most thinking on those topics is very good. Maybe a better concept would be: criticism that you weren't paying active attention to. I don't think that's perfect either but it has advantages.
So in this context, the issue is more like: there is a constant stream of internal criticism going on and at what point do you try to add in some external criticism? And at what point do you pay more active "conscious" attention to the internal criticism?
There isn't a one size fits all non-contextual answer to that. But as a rule of thumb, if you're wondering whether to get an idea some external criticism, then the answer is that you should.
What if I want external criticisms a lot? What if I keep thinking my ideas aren't very good, and I should keep looking for more available criticisms?
anurnimuss posted a few messages to the FI group in February 2014 and then stopped. A short sample of his writing:
Is there a rational way of deciding whether someone should be allowed to acquire control of a dangerous object that belongs to a particular class of destructive capability?
I think that as a weapon or object becomes more dangerous to more people, we should become proportionately more critical of who has signaled an interest in taking control of it. This implies that we should scrutinize would-be knife owners less than gun owners, and gun owners less than bomb owners, and bomb owners less than missile owners, etc.
Leonardis posted on the BoI group from 2011 to 2012. He stopped posting with no explanation. A short sample of his writing:
Universality is when a particular solution solves all of the problems in a given domain. So, for example, the Arabic numeral system is universal for doing addition, subtraction and multiplication with positive integers. By contrast, tally marks are useless for doing those things except for very small numbers.
But you can do multiplication, addition and subtraction between positive integers with tally marks.
When you add you concatenate the two strings together, when you subtract you shorten the first string by the length of the second, and when you multiply you concatenate one copy of the first string for each tally mark in the second.
There is no reason why you can't do this (in principle) with arbitrary large integers.
It is true that the Arabic system is way more efficient but even it becomes useless for sufficiently large integers.
So I'm not 100% clear what exactly is the domain where the Arabic system is universal and the tally mark system isn't.
Leonardis posts on Twitter, including a post about a woman being fascinating based solely on a single photo:
Jude posted to the FI group in June and July 2013 and stopped posting without any explanation. A sample of Jude’s writing:
2) instead of giving out direct contact info, have some public email list, discussion group, forum, or whatever, which you monitor. you do not have to read everything there. let other people discuss it. then look over the topics that get the most attention, that your allies don't know how to fully answer, that your allies think have merit, and so on.
what are "allies"?
If we are truly in the business of constructing a greater truth by openly proffering and then vetting fallible ideas, why would we need "allies"?
If allies reflexively side with you in the event of a debate with a non-allied outsider, wouldn't this sully the potential of the debate to attain truth?
zynevam posted in the FI group from November 2011 to May 2018. A short sample of his writing:
On May 26, 2017, at 11:55 AM, Zyn Evam email@example.com wrote:
2017-05-25 23:54 GMT+01:00 Elliot Temple firstname.lastname@example.org wrote:
On May 25, 2017, at 3:45 PM, Zyn Evam email@example.com wrote:
Is FI the best place to make progress in solving AI?
FI is crucial for this, and for critical discussion generally.
for AI to work it'll have to be Popperian.
This is what I would like to implement: popperian epistemology applied
in the context of neural nets.
Then my guess is you should learn way more epistemology.
I guess that is so too.
Also you shouldn't start with a preconceived notion that Popperian epistemology will apply to some existing AI programming paradigm like neural nets.
Yes, that could be so. However in terms of knowledge representation I
think neural nets work really well. The problem is knowledge creation,
which neural nets do not really do at all. In supervised learning
paradigms we feed all the knowledge to the nets, they do not create
new knowledge, just good representations to do the particular tasks we
want them to do. I haven't done much in reinforement learning though.
But still there we specify what we want the neural nets to learn. It
is still us who specify which score the neural nets shall maximize.
i think the really hard problem is criticism. until you figure out how to deal with criticism, you don't know what knowledge representations are good. you need a knowledge representation that facilitates your approach to criticism.
in supervised learning settings humans have to supply the information (criticism) which enables error correction. for instance in image recognition humans have to label images as belonging to different categories. in imagenet (http://image-net.org/challenges/LSVRC/2017/) for instance there are 1000 categories with 1000 examples each. a neural net starts with randomly initialized weights (analogous to synapses which will store knowledge) and receives raw pixel values (e.g. 0s and 1s) as inputs. as activation runs through its weights given an input sample it produces a random guess initially. then we have to tell the network if its guess has been correct or not (hence we need labels). based on this the network changes its weights so that next time its guess will be closer to the correct output. in the end we test it on 150,000 images it has never seen.
all of this requires 0 human knowledge going into the design of the network (we initialize the weights randomly). the only point where human knowledge feeds into it is that we have to tell what is the correct output. the error correction afterward is general and automatic.
the reason I mentioned knowledge representation is solved with neural nets, is that with the exact same method can be applied to any domain, such as speech recognition, text classification, odor classification, or whatever you can think of.
Larry Mason posted on the BoI list from April to May 2013. He stopped posting with no explanation. A sample of his writing:
In my system when a luxury is bought, the money ceases to exist. The producers of the luxury will receive some money soon (within a month?) for that benefit and may receive more later if other benefits become apparent later.
Adding a month delay to many financial transactions would be an economic catastrophe. (Plus the uncertainty about how much you will be paid.)
In my system, financial transactions are purchases of luxuries. Hardly something that can cause an economic catastrophe. But with physical object money financial transactions are the heart and soul of most economic catastrophes.
In my system, only your luxury income is at risk. With physical object money, how much you will be paid is not only unknown but if huge importance. (Just ask those folks who don't know whether they'll have a job next month or those who have lost their jobs.)
The more you write the more you make the case that physical object money economics is a horror show.
He has a website at https://nopomstuff.info/
Interest Karl Popper
Rafe Champion was a critical rationalist who posted on the FI group from June 2013 to October 2014. A sample of his writing:
A problem that is identified becomes a problem that can be worked on. Taking one issue at a time and having the same struggle each time suggests that he was not getting the STRUCTURE of the ideas so that each one he mastered should have made it easier to take the next steps.
An example would be in cooking where you don't understand that the different kinds of cooking - boiling, frying, baking are all based on a similar process to get from a raw product to a cooked product by applying heat in different ways.
Similarly in languages where you try to learn without any grasp of grammar that enables you to take something from one language to the next (in the same linguistic family).
And the problem of getting justificationists to see that the same intractable problems turn up in each situation where they take that approach rather than the alternative.
He left the FI group without giving an explanation. Elliot Temple discussed some of his problems in this email:
His website is here
Gill was on the BoI list from July to August 2017 arguing against Yes or No Philosophy:
A sample of his writing:
What do you care about "more degree of confidence" or "the more confidence you'll have that the man is cheating and the die is not fair"? (These quotes are from the post included below.) Is it an imprecise statement about what bets you would and wouldn't take?
Remember I'm not a native english speaker. I don't know if "what do you care about" is a slang phrase or something. Talking literally, what I care about is no one's business. The relevant thing is that the degree of confidence can increase or decrease, not if I care much about it or not.
The confidence someone has in a statement can be very imprecise, like in the case of a common man treating a difficult problem; or very precise, like in the case of a bayesian statistician treating a very simple problem, like the hypothetical die. A statistician can state his degree of confidence in a very precise, numerical way. For example, he can assume initially that the die is fair, and the proportion of sixes must be 1/6. Each time the die is rolled, the statistician can give you the exact posterior odds ratio. Say he calculates it after quite a lot of sixes and the result is 5:1. That means that, given his current knowledge (I insist that probability is subjective, it depends of the state of knowledge of the observer, so different observers can precisely calculate different probabilities for the same event) cheating is exactly five times more probable than innocence. But all of this is irrelevant. The degree of confidence in a statement can be vague or precise, but the point is that it exists. It's not illogical to talk about it.
Chipken posted a few times in March 2019 and stopped without giving any reason. A sample of his writing:
A study from Harvard University found that, once contextual factors are taken into account, no racial differences emerged in the data on lethal shootings. As the author notes, “In the end, however, without randomly assigning race, we have no definitive proof of discrimination”.
I don't think one quote from an unnamed study, and a statement of the
conclusion, without a citation, is convincing enough. It's not
presenting them with a bunch of counter evidence.
So I thought the article hyped up data but then didn't have a lot. Too
much setting the stage and conclusions, and too little of what I thought
would be the main course or meat of the article, IMO.
He has a twitter account where he has posted more recently https://twitter.com/chipkinlogan
Lewis posted on the FI list once in 2017. A sample of his writing:
I was using understanding your ideas about marriage as an example and saying that in spite of the fact that it's very important with lots of value to be had, it can still be rational and good that people don't pursue it, because of opportunity cost.
i'm not aware of any actual cases where the opportunity cost makes it not worth it. i'm sure you could invent some with e.g. a married couple who are both 105 years old and about to die of cancer, so there isn't time to make progress and then benefit from that progress. but in normal situations for people with decades ahead of them, i don't see the case that this stuff isn't worth the cost.
But that's from the vantage point of someone who already accepts its
value. Other people are surrounded by people claiming to have ideas or
criticisms that will help them improve their marriage. Depending on
the person, it is highly likely that most wont. The opportunity cost
to pursue all of those avenues, let alone every other area in which
people are claiming to have good ideas that will improve them is very
Nielson posted on the FI list from July to October 2018 and then stopped without explanation. A sample of his writing:
I don't think that e.g. Marxism or environmentalism spread by offering value or by rational persuasion. They're irrational movements which pressure and manipulate people.
Hmmm... I actually said "meaning" not "value." I'm suggesting the Left is very good at creating meaning for people (like religion does). I'm not claiming that the meaning being created is valuable to anyone but (perhaps) the individual it created meaning for.
Meaning is valuable to people. Even if it's only valuable to one person, that's still offering value to that person, from his perspective.
I've rolled this discussion back to before it went off the rails. It took me forever to even find the right spot to jump back in. I tried to respond back in September but couldn't find the right spot to fix the conversation.
Anon, I have a concern here. I'm reading you a certain way and I'm struggling to read you a different way. The problem is that it really seems to me like I said something that makes sense and that your response must somehow misunderstand it. But maybe you really and truly understood me and were appropriately responding back to me.
I'm making the following claims -- very limited claims:
1. There are people that find "Leftism" personally meaningful. And by that I mean very specifically "they get meaning internally over it in a subjective way."
2. I wasn't insisting that we call "meaning" the same as "valuable" since the word "valuable" has a range of meanings that may or may not
include the sort of short term value that one gets out of 'personal meaning.'
Does that make sense?
I'm not claiming anything else here.
I screwed up the quoting really back back when we had this exchange.But let me recreate it here to illustrate my concern with your response:
Bruce: So it's not at all clear why 'the religion of the left' even works in the first place as a way of creating such strong meaning for people as a replacement for traditional religion. Thus this is the mystery I'm trying to solve for myself. Also, I want to know this because I'm convinced once I know how the Left is creating so much meaning for people, I'll know how to counter it without destroying the parts of the Left that I appreciate and like.
Buckwheat posted on the FI list from August 2013 to March 2014. A sample of his writing:
But there were men who were impressed by the simple fact that Roark had built a place which made money for owners who didn’t want to make money; this was more convincing than abstract artistic discussions. And there was the one-tenth who understood. In the year after Monadnock Valley Roark built two private homes in Connecticut, a movie theater in Chicago, a hotel in Philadelphia.
Why does AR think it's one-tenth? Does she ever argue for that anywhere? Do you think it's one-tenth? If not, what's a more accurate figure?
I don't quite see what she meant there. One-tenth of what? I guess it could mean Roark's ratio of actual clients to potential clients in a given year. This doesn't make sense, though, because it means that one-tenth of people looking to build something in that year preferred to have it built by Roark. Surely more than 40 new buildings were erected that year, so that would mean Roark was turning away clients who "understood". This isn't mentioned in the book.
For comparison, an optimistic guess is that 1/1000 people each year buy a book by Ayn Rand. (*) Buying a book is a lot less of a commitment than buying a house, so we can take that as an upper bound on Roark's ratio of potential clients to actual clients. The actual figure would have been much smaller, maybe 1/10,000 or 1/100,000.
(*) Atlas Shrugged sold 7,000,000 copies in the 56 years since it was first published in 1957, which averages out to 125,000 per year. The US population averaged around 250 million people over that time, so if we optimistically assume all the sales were in the US, that's 1/2000 people each year. If we count all her books, the number of sales each year might double (again being very optimistic), which would work out to 1/1000.
I think Ayn Rand meant 1/10 of 1/4 of those who read the article that Austen Heller wrote about Roark. Just three paragraphs before the quote mentioned above it reads:
”Howard," Mallory said one day, some months later, "you're famous." "Yes," said Roark, "I suppose so."
“Three-quarters of them don't know what it's all about, but they've heard the other one-quarter fighting over your name and so now they feel they must pronounce it with respect. Of the fighting quarter, four-tenths are those who hate you, three-tenths are those who feel they must express an opinion in any controversy, two-tenths are those who play safe and herald any 'discovery,' and one-tenth are those who understand. But they've all found out suddenly that there is a Howard Roark and that he's an architect..."
Destructivist posted on the FI list from June 2013 to January 2016 and then stopped without explanation.
A sample of his writing:
God is a bad explanation. If you want to explain some issue X using god, then there are two possibilities. Either X is the way it is just because god says so, in which case we might as well say “shit happens”. Or X is the way it is because god has a reason Y for liking it that way. In that case, any mechanism that respects the principle Y will do just as well as god, so god is not necessary. For example, if god happens to favour the existence of genes that copy themselves in their environment, then natural selection explains the attributes of genes better than god. So god can be rejected since it is no good as an explanation. Since god can be eliminated from any worthwhile explanation, god is a bad explanation and we can do without god. So the objective truth is that god doesn’t exist.
You say "for example", but I don't see how the example conforms to what you talked about before. Let's consider the situation where god has a reason Y for liking X to be a certain way. Your example says that god happens to favor the existence of genes that copy themselves in their environment. So that's the way he likes them. Cool. But where (in your example) do you give his reason for liking them to be that way?
Max Kaye posted on the FI list from January 2018 to January 2019. A sample of his writing:
when ppl ask questions, usually they barely care. so if i think about
it much, or put much energy into the issue, i get out of sync with
them. they don’t keep up.
they do not label their questions as “barely care”, which is
dishonest of them.
How would people know if they really care? If it's shown by long term
action, research, persistence through indirection, etc, then most people
don't really care about anything.
I agree it's dishonest, but it feels like honesty is a really hard skill
to learn (for an adult in our society). Most ppl think it's just "don't
lie", but it's clear to me (particularly after reading FH) that this is
only the most superficial way to look at it.
If they're not able to be honest more generally, how could they label
their questions accurately or even know if they really do care or not?
My guess is the main thing they're not able or willing to do is estimate
up-front how much time, energy, and indirection they're willing to put
in/tolerate to answer a question. These are hard skills to learn! And
it's much easier to be a little dishonest (this is how it seems to them)
than acknowledge they lack these skills and can't give a good answer.
He stopped discussing without saying why.
Brett Hall posted on the FI list from June to August 2015. He posted about a variety of topics including AI. A sample of his writing:
Don't you TEACH epistemology – so it's your job to know it better? (That's what your twitter says: https://twitter.com/tokteacher ).
I teach what is called "Theory of Knowledge". Which should be epistemology. It's actually philosophy-lite with lots of lefty relativism and other nonsense. Which you would expect: from a standard curriculum.
So, you teach bad ideas, from a position of authority, to vulnerable students. Fuck you.
Not all schools are alike. The students know what I think of the bad ideas. Typically they come away from discussions about those ideas with better ideas. Better than they would have, if someone else was trying to present that material.
Richard Fine posted on the FI group from July 2013 to June 2016 and he was on the TCS list before that.. A sample of his writing:
How do guns work?
you press the trigger and it swings a piece of metal at the back of the bullet. the back of the bullet is gunpowder which blows up. the explosion pushes the rest of the bullet forward. the bullet is in a metal tube (barrel of gun) which controls what direction the bullet goes. (normally if you just had an explosion it'd be hard to control the direction it makes stuff go.)
BTW the idea of 'explosion' + 'tube to control the direction' is also how car engines work.
Instead of hitting gunpowder with metal to make the explosion, they set gasoline on fire with an electric spark; and instead of the explosion pushing a bullet, it pushes a big chunk of metal (a piston) along a tube. The piston is connected to mechanisms (a crankshaft) that turn the pushing motion into a turning motion for the wheels. Then the piston moves back along the tube to be 'fired' again by another explosion. When the car's going fast, this is happening many times a second.
I think it's pretty cool that the same idea that makes guns work also makes cars work.
Lulie posted on the FI list from August 2013 to January 2016 and she was on the TCS list before that.. A short sample of her writing:
If you have unconventional views on relationships/friendships, like that it's good to act on mutual self-interest rather than altruism, how do you manage the clash of different expectations?
Like, it's reasonable to expect people will usually behave according to society standard. Most people don't know of other ways of behaving.
Or they think that you can either agree with them or be a bad person. So if you seem like a good person, people think that you're just doing the conventional thing.
Even if you tell them you believe in selfishness, they typically have no idea what that means (unless they've read Ayn Rand or similar). So they assume you just follow convention but say fancy things which don't make a difference in practice.
Do you have to just be super aware of when they might be doing things contrary to your views -- like self-sacrifice, assuming obligations, etc. -- and avoid or stop the problem interaction?
Sounds like a lot of effort thinking about convention. But how else can you avoid being misleading to people?
Even if you didn't have a responsibility to not be misleading to people, if you're often misleading then problems will come up. (People will be like, hey I've been super selfless, why aren't you repaying me with selflessness?)
The problem is that saying explicitly that you don't believe in obligations, self-sacrifice, etc. won't help because they simply won't understand what you're referring to without learning a lot about the subject.
stop doing tons of conventional social signalling and most of the
problems go away
if you don't signal you are normal, people won't expect you to act
normal so much
What is conventional social signalling and how do you not do it?
Wouldn't acting weird make the problem worse, because then people
won't know what to expect of you and won't like that? Would be accused
of things like "hard to read" or "hard work"?
Lulie still likes to write, but she doesn’t like criticism:
Michael Smithson posted from May 2013 to March 2014. A sample of his writing:
On Thu, Feb 13, 2014 at 12:33 AM, Elliot Temple firstname.lastname@example.org wrote:
On Feb 12, 2014, at 9:16 PM, Michael Smithson email@example.com wrote:
On Wed, Feb 12, 2014 at 11:32 PM, Elliot Temple firstname.lastname@example.org wrote:
What scares me is that there are moral fashions too. They're just as arbitrary, and just as invisible to most people. But they're much more dangerous. Fashion is mistaken for good design; moral fashion is mistaken for good. Dressing oddly gets you laughed at. Violating moral fashions can get you fired, ostracized, imprisoned, or even killed.
The man who wrote this is responsible for censoring me today when I criticized a moral fashion. 
I refer to the psychiatry discussion here (I'm xenophanes): https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7227820
I suppose one can only be grateful for the fact that "lynch mob" has a
mostly metaphorical use these days.
ya. that makes PG's cowardice all the more damning, btw. sure i got in trouble, got punished, but it's OK, i'm safe. not real physical danger. the dangers are things like feeling bad because people sad bad things about me, and having a worse reputation with bad people.
You know what I think is interesting? I think there's some number of
people who would die to promote their values but won't live for
What I mean is, if say Nazis the Sequel came to rule Europe, they'd
risk their personal safety to hide Jews, but they won't be too
critical with someone at a cocktail party over a mild anti-semitic
What do you think? Do some people act as if the disapproval of randoms
is a fate worse than death? If so, why?
Becky Moon posted to the FI group between June and July 2013 and she was on the TCS list before that.. A sample of her writing:
David once gave me a simple counter-example about what's wrong with induction - something along the lines of a chicken being fed every day by a farmer and expecting to continue being fed but then one day ends up being the farmer's dinner.
That is Bertrand Russell's example. One Russell quote googling turns up is, “The man who has fed the chicken every day throughout its life at last wrings its neck instead, showing that more refined views as to the uniformity of nature would have been useful to the chicken.”
I have read a little Bertrand Russell. I can't remember whether I ran across the example there as well. David may have even mentioned where he got the story. It was 8 or more years ago. :P
While I agree that induction isn't preferable to a good explanatorytheory, I still think it might frequently be useful.
The way I'm thinking of it, though, might have a different term that applies and might not really be what people mean by induction...
I think of it as a sort of pre-theory knowledge - noticing that there is a pattern.
Noticing which pattern(s)?
It was meant generally. There are a lot of patterns - as I see you mention
The sun appears to rise and set daily. The moon appears to rise and set most evenings. The weather tends to get warmer overall and then cooler overall. I've heard in some places there are even distinct seasons - winter, spring, summer, fall. ;) If plants don't receive water, eventually, they dry up and stop growing. Animals (and people) tend to start off small and get bigger over time and then seem to level off. If one lets go of an object in midair, it usually tends to fall although there are a few unusual items that don't fall or fall very very slowly (balloons, feathers). Water when exposed to certain cold enough temperatures seems to become a solid. I could go on indefinitely with examples.
Dan Frank posted on the FI list from June 2013 to August 2014 and he was on other BoI related lists before that. A sample of his writing:
On Mon, Sep 9, 2013 at 5:46 PM, Elliot Temple email@example.com wrote:
On Sep 9, 2013, at 3:29 PM, Dan Frank firstname.lastname@example.org wrote:
On Mon, Sep 9, 2013 at 11:09 AM, Elliot Temple email@example.com wrote:
On Sep 9, 2013, at 6:15 AM, Anontwo Too firstname.lastname@example.org wrote:
On Mon, Sep 9, 2013 at 12:59 PM, Jordan Talcot email@example.com wrote:
On Sep 9, 2013, at 1:33 AM, Anontwo Too firstname.lastname@example.org wrote:
Won't they [children] be interested at one point [in letters and reading], when they notice that they are
useful to people?
There are a lot of things that are useful to people. Why are you assuming that all children will notice that letters in particular are useful? Do you think that all children will notice ALL useful things? Do you think that there is something in the letters themselves that will make children notice them?
Because letters are very fucking useful. A big deal. Not just a tiny bit useful.
It's like a girl getting a period and not finding tampons or sanitary
towels useful. "Oh, I'm not bothered, I'll just bleed over the place."
Or like most people making philosophical mistakes that massively fuck up most of their lives, and not finding philosophy useful and interesting? "Oh, I'm not bothered, I'll have a string of failures for my life."
Except, that happens... That is what most people actually do.
Just because some knowledge would be extremely valuable to someone, and they have a pressing need of it, and it's available, does NOT mean they will automatically find it, want it, value it, figure out how to learn it, learn it, etc, etc
They need to be persuaded by something that this knowledge is actually
valuable to them. In our culture, though, there is some knowledge
that is much more "obviously" valuable than others. e.g. here is a
good way to deal with a cut on your hand: stop the bleeding with
something like a paper towel or a napkin or gauze, and then maybe
putting some antiseptic and/or bandage on it if it is a large enough
cut. Or doing the first part and then going to an emergency room to
get it stitched if it's even larger. Is this controversial?
It's unclear to me that that that knowledge is particularly valuable to personally, individually have.
First of all, how often do you cut your hand? Big enough to need to do anything?
Second, if you are incompetent about hand cuts, so what? Someone will help you. Maybe you're alone and can't quickly get someone (but still who cares, no problem, google it or phone someone to tell you what to do). But most people most of the time have reasonably quick access to someone IRL who would help them with a cut.
You can be like "omg i cut my hand. omg omg wtf do i do? it hurts it hurts!! please help me" and people will be like "don't worry, just calm down, it'll be fine. here let me wash that off for you and get you a bandaid" or whatever. people are nice and helpful about that kind of thing, so you don't really have to know much yourself.
I do think some knowledge about this is worth having yourself but I could easily see someone disagreeing, and I don't think it makes that much difference either way.
Interesting. I think that our culture makes it pretty easy-to-get
info and the cost of learning it is very low, so it's worth getting
(including getting knowledge like "I don't know much about what is a
bad cut or not, but this is still bleeding a lot after five minutes so
I'm going to go to an expert just in case," which is a form of
knowledge about cuts that I'm talking about).
Even if you don't cut your hand often. Like the way that knowledge
about what to do if someone steals your car is really easy to get in
our culture (call 911.) even though you don't often need it.
(And there's also the issue of when to learn it. I think many people delay learning about how to handle cuts until after having more than one cut. Then they end up learning it cause they go through the process multiple times and remember some stuff or ask questions about what's happening, not because they ever decided that today is the day to go spend 15 minutes studying how to deal with hand cuts)
Agreed. People can begin learning to read the same way, can't they?
Even in mainstream coercive culture isn't this a common way people
learn some reading? e.g. "read this book to me." and then they
remember some stuff and on the fifteenth or hundredth time they ask
some questions about what's happening and then they learn a bit. They
don't have to decide "today is the day" to go spend 15 minutes
learning to read.
Not too long after this they are typically coerced to do just that, of
course. But even in many conventional households the other way of
learning reading often happens first, for a year or two at least.
Maybe not in the really hardcore "you must read by age 4" households
or whatever? But it's not uncommon.
Guilherme Neto posted on the FI group from April 2018 to November 2018. A sample of his writing:
When a child doesn't like school, it certainly never occurs to parents that they are dealing with a person who has a preference and a life, and perhaps should have some control over his life.
Parents do think that kids will eventually have preferences and a
life. Its like kids are only potential people.
Instead, all that exists to them is a ball of clay which has the potential to be an adult with the skill to run its own life, and will get there not by practicing doing that but by molding.
Its interesting how parents expects their kids to be independent and
how the road to it is not only centered on dependency but averse to
People are supposed to became capable of running their own life by
spending their first years ignoring their own judgment and following
the orders of authorities.
The Bitty Guy posted on the FI group from April 2014 to January 2018. The following message by Elliot Temple shows some representative quotes from The Bitty Guy:
On Apr 30, 2014, at 6:49 PM, The Bitty Guy email@example.com wrote:
On Wed, Apr 30, 2014 at 7:24 PM, Elliot Temple firstname.lastname@example.org wrote:
On Apr 30, 2014, at 6:56 AM, The Bitty Guy email@example.com wrote:
Why is it at all necessary to call me, or my ideas, 'left-wing' or 'antisemitic'?
If I showed you a factually accurate map of the Middle east, would you
call that antisemitic as well?
Although the jury is out as to whether your posts qualify as 'high quality', they are still definitely above average; among the best I have yet to find, in the limited time I have to look.
In all events, I do respect the time and discipline devoted to this listserve/blog. For now, at least (until I can find that elusive place in the bloggosphere that categorically discourages all personal attacks, ad hominem and otherwise), I value this one.
Importantly, having my 'talking points' accepted by any of my readers, with or without debate, is not my primary purpose for being here. I am open to changing my opinions, and, with participation in the realm of ideas, hope to learn a thing or two that will improve my philosophy and knowledge of world events.
Furthermore, despite your unfortunate attacks,
i'm not sure what attacks you're referring to.
Are you really, honestly not aware that inserting anti-semite into the
dialogue constitutes an attack? Maybe it would help to remind you if
you used the word "anti-jew bigot" instead.
It is the Anti-Semite Smear. Given the frequency with which you bring
it up, and in keeping with your convention of using acronym for
commonly used terms, how about if I simply call it the "A.S.S.
attack"? Do you honestly not know that it constitutes a personal
smear, that can have social, professional, and even legal consequences
for the victim? In many cases, possibly yours included, this venomous
bite is precisely why the term is used, and how it shapes and silences
Do you believe that
1) some things are anti-semitic and calling them as such is reasonable
2) nothing is anti-semitic, and the term is always and only a smear
If (1), would you agree that therefore some kind of argument or explanation is necessary to differentiate between smears and non-smears, before you can assume it's a smear? And you didn't provide such an differentiating explanation.
And do you believe that
1) using quotes improves discussion
2) refusing to use exact quotes of things you are complaining about is a better approach
if you thought "left-wing talking point" is a personal attack, i disagree. i consider it a factually accurate descriptive statement about the text/ideas you posted (not about you as a person).
Are you serious? The 'left-wing talking point' is irrelevant. Who
really cares about that? No one is fired, sued, or removed from office
over that (quite the opposite)...it's the A.S.S. attack I was
referring to... Don't A.S.S. me, bro!
Yes I seriously, honestly find it hard to tell what you are referring to when you refuse to use quotations or carefully explain. We see the world differently. Your choices are to communicate or not be understood.
Kristen Ely posted from May 2013 to March 2017. A sample of her writing:
but at least tries to have some original ideas of his own.
this isn't a goal. at least it's not a GOOD goal.
one should go after the best ideas, whether he originated them or not.
go after? or learn them? think about them?
caring that one's ideas are original is a status-seeking mistake.
why is it a status seeking mistake?
i thought you meant something to the effect of: ignoring tradition and
doing your own thing for the sake of being ORIGINAL.
Howard Roark did that.
I don’t think he did.
He wasn’t trying to be original for the sake of being original. He wanted to build in ways that make sense, that fit the purpose of the building, using his own standards, his own judgment, to the best of his ability.
He did say:
I inherit nothing. I stand at the end of no tradition.
And that may be a mistaken way of thinking of tradition. But I don’t think he actually did ignore tradition. He looked at traditions in architectural design and criticized them. He didn’t want to do things just because they had always been done that way.
And he didn’t ignore good traditions of structural engineering.
Duarte posted on the FI list from February to May 2019. A sample of his writing:
On Fri, May 17, 2019 at 6:57 PM anonymous FI
On May 17, 2019, at 7:50 AM, João Duarte
On Thu, May 16, 2019 at 11:44 PM Elliot Temple firstname.lastname@example.org wrote:
I understand not knowing this stuff. But something is going really
wrong when people’s attempt at reading involves making up nonsense
that just isn’t in the paper. He can’t tell what it says, but
instead of realizing he doesn’t understand he just makes wild
guesses. The stuff RG has come up with goes beyond misreadings of the
paper to making stuff up that has nothing to do with the paper. I
think people learn this method in school, where it’s common.
RG wants to hear none of this, which is part of how he stays so wrong
and confused (and is why I’m posting here instead of another reply
on his blog). When I told him a subset of the problems, he said, "I'm
sorry, Elliot, but I just can't deal with your level of nit-pickery.
I tried to be helpful to him initially by writing a long, serious,
edited explanation of some CR material. His response was to delete
all of it and never engage with any of how CR works, and instead to
alternate between claiming to agree with me and claiming i’m wrong
(while also misquoting and making other errors).
If anyone has any ideas about how to help such a person, or how to
find better people, please share!
I think you could give some caveats when you criticize things that can
be seen as trivial. Or you could say beforehand that you, sometimes,
can be misjudged as someone who is acting in bad-faith. You can be
clear about your intentions before you start a discussion (this could
have helped when he thought you were trying to be intellectually
superior to him). Because you are uncommonly critical, people can have
a bad perception. I had that "feeling" before and now I think you are
really trying to help and learn.
You didn't say what caveats to say or what to say about intentions. You
didn't give any sentences that you think would help, which could be
tried or criticized.
This advice can be tried without giving examples. Just be honest about the intentions you have when having a discussion for the first time if they are often misinterpreted. The caveat is to say why the thing ET is criticizing although may seem irrelevant it isn't. It's difficult sometimes to know when the other person will think that. But it's better to be safe.
Balázs Fehér posted on the FI list from June 2013 to April 2014. A sample of his writing:
2014-04-29 10:25 GMT+02:00 Alan Forrester email@example.com:
On 28 April 2014 22:48, Balázs Fehér firstname.lastname@example.org wrote:
2014-04-28 19:28 GMT+02:00 Alan Forrester email@example.com:
On 28 April 2014 16:12, Balázs Fehér firstname.lastname@example.org wrote:
From BOI chapter one terminology:
"Principle of induction: the idea that 'the future will resemble the past', combined with the misconception that this asserts anything about the future."
I would have a question. I understand that the idea that the future will resemble the past is contradicted, for example, each time a new design of microchip is created. However i don't understand the second part. Why 'the future will resemble the past' does not assert anything about the future? Theories about the future are the same as theories about the past (in case of universal theories, which are time invariant).
A universal theory makes predictions about the past and the future and so says that the past and the future are alike in the sense that they both follow the theory.
This is totally irrelevant to the controversy over induction because induction is not supposed to be about what you can know when you have a theory, it is supposed to be about how theories are created and confirmed.
So the second part of DDs sentence is irrelevant? Or it refers to something else than what I implied?
Inductivism is a variety of justificationism so it is about how to justify stuff. Justifying anything is impossible but the point of the terminology snippet is to explain how the inductivists think about what they're doing. The inductivists think that idea that the future resembles the past would not be enough on its own to show that you can justify universal theories using information about the past. To justify induction they think you would have to add that information about the past somehow justifies the future implications of universal theories we have come up with today, hence the second part of the sentence.
I see, thanks!
But as DD points out in part of that chapter, it doesn't really matter for inductivism that the future resembles the past: such a principle will not save inductivism.
It's a better idea to actually quote and discuss arguments rather than the terminology part of the book which serves at best as a quick reminder of some argument you already understand. If you don't understand an argument the terminology section will not help you and there is no point in discussing it.
Yeah, I guessed the argument was in the chapter, I just did not remember so asking was faster :)
Interest: critical rationalism
Dennis came to FI with an interest in Popperian epistemology and artificial intelligence. He currently has a podcast about AI:
He posted between December 2018 and April 2019. A sample of his writing:
I was struggling the other day to explain to someone why the growth of knowledge is inherently unpredictable. I think I can explain it in terms of “it’s a generic algorithm, and a genetic algorithm has unpredictable output”, but unless the other party is already familiar with the concept of knowledge being the result of a genetic algorithm, that doesn’t go very far. It also made me think that a genetic algorithm is unpredictable to a degree. If someone runs a genetic algorithm for eg the traveling salesman problem, they know it’s going to return a solution to the problem in terms of distances etc, and not something completely unexpected. So there’s at least some way to constrain the space of possible answers. I don’t think it’s possible to constrain human answers in this way, but I don’t think I understand why. I also don’t know if probabilistic = unpredictable (my guess is “no”).
This post was written by Alan Forrester.
David Deutsch (DD) wrote an email which was posted to reddit. This post critically analyzes it. I comment on small chunks at a time, but everything DD said is included and is kept in order.
I admire Ayn Rand, but not as a philosopher.
Being a philosopher is what Ayn Rand (AR) wanted to be admired for. This is pretending to be partially friendly while being hostile. AR would regard someone saying this as an enemy, not an admirer – and DD knows that.
Fake evenhandedness is a theme through DD’s email. He falsely communicates objectivity. DD mixes in praise in order to pretend that he’s giving credit where it’s due, rather than focusing just on attacking her. That’s a way to attack AR extra. He’s attacking her and manipulating readers into thinking he’s not doing an attack (so they believe what he says more).
The praise DD offers is either basically empty (as in this case) or else understates AR’s virtues (so it’s actually downplaying how good she is). And none of the praise actually explains any non-philosophical reason to like AR (contrary to DD’s alleged non-philosophical admiration).
Also, this is not what DD said about AR to me during our many years of discussions and when he repeatedly recommended her books to me. He was genuinely friendly to AR in the past and was a fan of AR (“fan” is his word that he gave me explicit permission to quote publicly). He’s changed his mind, in a big way, without any public announcement or retraction, and without explaining what changed.
Also, DD can say critical things about any thinker that he wants to. He attacks AR without putting it in context: he thinks that almost every thinker is far worse than AR. (Unless he’s changed his mind even more than I think he has after reading this email.)
As an observer of people,
She was an understander and explainer of people, not a (passive) observer. That involves philosophy skill. And it wasn’t a major focus for AR.
and of some of the pervasive irrationalities and hangups of our culture (especially the ones she somewhat misleadingly called 'altruism'), she was outstanding.
Was she outstanding at that? She was bad at judging her associates. She overestimated Nathaniel Branden, David Kelley and others. She said something about this being hard and one of her weaknesses.
She was good at writing fictional characters to represent and explain certain traits which she’d seen in real people. She was great at some of what DD is talking about. But overall, in this area, she was kinda mixed. (Though have other people actually been better at it? That’s hard to say.)
The comment that AR used the word “altruism” misleadingly is an unargued and unexplained attack which DD sneaks into a parenthetical (it ought to be the topic of at least one paragraph, not an aside). It’s an unreasonable point to attack in passing because AR actually addressed the matter, e.g. in the introduction of The Virtue of Selfishness (which discusses the closely related issue of why she uses the term “selfishness”, and directly addresses her critics).
DD is also writing in his own terminology rather than AR’s. E.g. “hangups” is his word, not hers. He avoids speaking like an Objectivist, even though he knows a lot about how to, in order to distance himself from Objectivism. He doesn’t want to reveal how much he himself learned about Objectivism (which implies that he saw a ton of value in it in the past).
And DD is being vague rather than naming some of AR’s accomplishments like her explanation and criticism of second-handedness. The vagueness makes her accomplishments sound less impressive and avoids bringing them – along with their substance – into the reader’s mind. If DD named them, readers might see him as more of an AR fan and say “Wait, you thought that was good? I disagree with that! You like her more than I do!” But when it’s more like “She got some stuff right but she sucks.” then it sounds more like lip service and like he doesn’t really like her.
As a polemical writer criticising these irrationalities and exposing the harm they do, she was excellent and persuasive. And her optimism and pro-human stances are refreshing and inspiring (and true).
Being refreshing and inspiring were not primary goals of AR. They are secondary points. Saying true things was a primary goal which DD downplays as a parenthetical (as if it’s not that big or unique of an accomplishment).
Calling AR a “polemical writer” is an attempt to distance her from being a philosopher or intellectual. It makes her sound like a good mudslinger who could be a politician who gives speeches and makes short quips to be replayed on TV. It makes it sound like her skill was more about rhetoric than reason. DD suggests she’d be impressive on the debate stage, which is different than being a serious intellectual. None of this is clearly stated, and if the rest of the email was more positive then it might actually be reasonable to view these words as a compliment not an attack. But in the context of the other attacks, it helps pile on by vaguely implying more bad things, and it reinforces some of the themes of the other (clearer) attacks.
But she had a strong tendency
Saying “X tends to Y” is a way to avoid discussing the causal mechanism. It doesn’t say why that happens or in what circumstances it doesn’t happen. It’s a way to make an unargued, unexplained assertion which sounds to people like a reasonable statement.
People also commonly use terms like “likely” and “probably” when they leave out explanations and don’t want their statement to look like a bald assertion. That’s the same issue.
DD knows this. I made literally dozens of comments about these issues when editing his book The Beginning of Infinity. DD himself helped figure out this knowledge, perhaps more than I did. We both played a role in developing this viewpoint and I applied it to an editing pass of his book.
It’s sad to see him getting worse as a thinker. He should know better. Or maybe he does know better and he’s doing this anyway because his goal here is to smear AR. If you want to attack someone good, you have to do something wrong in order to accomplish that. Leaving out explanations of why AR is bad – because they don’t exist – is important to what DD is doing.
to make hyperbolic generalisations
This (the word “hyperbolic”) is flaming, not serious analysis. (Compare it to the analysis you’re reading right now and consider how different it is.)
DD gives one incorrect example for this point. (One example doesn’t tell you anything about her tendencies, but it does help clarify what he means by a hyperbolic generalization.)
and to double down on them with nonsense in order to deflect any potential criticism.
This is triple flaming. He’s saying that she doubles down on bad ideas, she speaks nonsense, and she won’t address criticism.
DD then gives an example which does not involve AR doubling down on anything or deflecting any actual criticism (criticism that she’s aware of and could state). I don’t know how one would preemptively double down to deflect potential criticism (criticism that someone might think of in the future, but today you don’t know what it would criticize or why). I don’t think that makes sense.
Just consider dispassionately, if you can, whether the following statement is true or false:
DD suggests that “if you can” analyze AR’s statement dispassionately, you’re high skill. He suggests the statement isn’t intended (by AR) to be analyzed dispassionately, so if you can do it you’re outcompeting her.
DD is also baiting the person to analyze the way DD wants by challenging them and suggesting that maybe they can’t. DD also implies that his own analysis is dispassionate (which people think means it’s objective, even though a person thinking unemotionally can be biased).
DD is trying to give readers the impression that they have seen for themselves that AR is bad. He wants them to think they thought for themselves. What could shatter their respect for AR more than personally outthinking her!? (People generally don’t have much self-esteem or respect for their own intellectual abilities, even if they say they do. They admire thinkers they see as way above themselves.)
DD is carefully guiding the whole project. DD decides what is analyzed, in what context (out of context...), and what the goals of the analysis are (judge truth or falsity, nothing else). DD picked the book, chapter, paragraph and sentence. DD has an expectation in advance about what conclusion the reader will reach. DD is leading his audience by the nose while pretending to give them space to do their own thinking.
"In no case and in no situation may one permit one’s own values to be attacked or denounced, and keep silent".
This AR quote is taken out of context. It’s the end of a paragraph. I’ll cover this more below.
Here is what DD wants you to think: If a communist points a gun at you and says “Shut up or die.” and then says something to attack your values (e.g. “The USA is an evil empire which should be destroyed with nuclear fire!”), then you should keep silent. But AR said not to keep silent in any situation, including that one. That’s a counterexample, and one counterexample means AR’s statement is false. Also, AR must have been a bad thinker (worse than you) to fail to consider a well known scenario (that you thought of quickly, without difficulty).
Can it really be the case that DD’s audience can predictably think of a counterexample, but a top philosopher would miss it? No! It’d genuinely be damning if AR didn’t think of any scenarios of that type.
But AR’s statement, even taken out of context, is true. Why? Because “permit” means “give authorization for”. (Seriously. Check several dictionaries and its etymology.) Yes there exist definitions of “permit” for which AR’s statement is false, but there also exist definitions for which it’s true. It’s your job as a reader to interpret multi-definition words using the best option. E.g. if I said “Kant is dumb because he thought truth-telling was a universal, categorical moral law, even if it got you killed!”, you wouldn’t respond “How does having a bad idea imply that Kant was unable to speak?” (The word “dumb” can mean “idiotic” or “mute”.) Also, AR wrote it 57 years ago and the definitions that work better for her sentence are the older ones.
AR said that you shouldn’t authorize or sanction people to attack your values. Keeping silent at gunpoint doesn’t give them permission, so it’s OK. (Keeping silent in situations where you are at liberty to speak up can give implicit permission but doesn’t always – it depends on the situation. That’s an important and tricky issue which DD is familiar with from considering e.g. what to do if a parent mistreats his child in your vicinity. What sort of involvement does it take so that you should speak up, and how much should you say?)
DD knows what AR’s view of the matter is. He was picking on a particular wording which he thought people would misread as saying something that he knows is not her position. He’s trying to do a picky logical point instead of engage with her views. If he was right, a slight rewording would fix the problem (there’d be no need for Objectivists to reconsider their philosophical ideas). But even for this small, technical point, where DD chose the discussion topic out of everything AR wrote, and chose the limited terms of the critical consideration, he’s still wrong.
DD has exceptionally good vocabulary knowledge (better than mine!). So, if he wasn’t being biased, I’d expect that he probably knows what “permit” means. Or, if he didn’t know it offhand, he could have looked it up (as I did). He should know better than to think it’s this easy to catch AR being wrong. He should have done some double checking.
AR’s statement also has context. Earlier in the book was the chapter The Ethics of Emergencies which basically says that her claims about moral philosophy are, by default, trying to talk about regular life, not emergency situations. She thinks regular life is more important for moral philosophy to address than lifeboat scenarios or being held at gunpoint.
Now, for context, let’s look at the whole paragraph that DD took the quote from (in The Virtue of Selfishness, ch. 8, which is available online):
This last means that one need not launch into unprovoked moral denunciations or debates, but that one must speak up in situations where silence can objectively be taken to mean agreement with or sanction of evil. When one deals with irrational persons, where argument is futile, a mere “I don’t agree with you” is sufficient to negate any implication of moral sanction. When one deals with better people, a full statement of one’s views may be morally required. But in no case and in no situation may one permit one’s own values to be attacked or denounced, and keep silent.
Here we see AR that was aware of the key qualifier: you must speak up “where silence can objectively be taken to mean agreement with or sanction of evil”. If a gun is pointed at you, no reasonable observer would think your silence means agreement. (If a gun is pointed at you , even saying “I agree! That’s great! That’s the truest thing I’ve heard all year!” couldn’t be reasonably taken as meaning you agree.)
AR’s statement is true as written if you look up what the words mean. But even if it wasn’t, the worst you could reasonably accuse her of is failing to repeat something she had already said earlier in the paragraph, which she could reasonably have thought was implied.
DD made the context harder to check because he left out the source of the quote. In the past, in my experience, DD was great at attributing quotes accurately, and he thought it was important.
The thing is, if literally true, this is a profound discovery in moral philosophy, with dramatic practical implications.
If AR’s sentence meant something like “Always tell the truth, even when people will shoot you for it.” and that was actually true, that would not be a profound discovery in moral philosophy. It’d be unoriginal.
Kant (one of AR’s main enemies) already said that. (I doubt it was original to Kant, but I don’t know the history of the idea. Also I think Kant did allow silence – which is insufficient to save yourself in some scenarios – but never lying. See Kant’s On a supposed right to lie from philanthropy which literally discusses the scenario of a murderer at your door asking if his intended victim is home, and then says “To be truthful (honest) in all declarations is, therefore, a sacred and unconditionally commanding law of reason that admits of no expediency whatsoever.”)
Kant’s position on this matter is well known enough that DD ought to have heard of it. I’d guess that DD knew it at some point but forgot. And that, before making his claim, DD didn’t stop and think (let alone use Google) about whether this “profound discovery” was actually already discovered.
But if it is merely a maxim that is true in a certain vaguely defined set of circumstances,
As mentioned above, the circumstances for not speaking up were defined earlier in the paragraph, and they also got additional elaboration earlier in the book.
and her idea is that people often defer to social convention when they shouldn't,
No, the essay says a lot more than that. DD is stating a dumbed down version of one paragraph (to make Rand sound more basic than she is). But the essay says more, e.g. AR talks about why to defer to social convention less. And if you understood her essay, you wouldn’t think the issue was whether or not to follow social convention – that’s a poor framing of the matter (a better question – suggested by the article title – is how to maintain your own rationality or integrity, and AR’s answer is by making moral judgments).
then it is unoriginal and unspectacular though arguably useful in a self-help-book sort of way.
“Unoriginal and unspectacular” is flaming.
“Self-help-book” is a flame. DD doesn’t respect those books much. And his point is that they don’t have serious philosophy like AR claimed to do (he’s calling her an amateur or non-philosopher).
DD is mixing flaming with praise again. He’s pretending to be fair and unbiased by admitting that, “arguably”, there is some partial merit in AR’s sentence.
She intends the latter meaning but expresses it in terms suggesting the former.
No, AR intended the true meaning. (Or, conceivably, she intended “permit” to be read in the way DD has in mind, but also intended the qualification from earlier in the paragraph to apply to it.) DD is being arrogant and condescending by speaking for AR. He’s implying that he’s so far above her that he can understand and judge her thought process, not just judge her conclusions (as is more standard and easier).
As polemic or rhetoric, that's great.
DD means that polemic is dishonest and AR is dishonest. He dishonestly presents this as praise (“great”) but it’s actually a smear. He’s saying she does social manipulations well (something she and he both oppose) but that she’s bad at truth-seeking and logic (something she and he both value).
As philosophy, it's embarrassing wannabe stuff.
DD’s email has many insults. He’s done a lot of good writing which isn’t like this, e.g. his books and physics papers. He knows how to do better.
She was (ironically) obsessed with attributes of people rather than of ideas.
What AR was obsessed with (if anything) is an attribute of a person (AR). DD has been talking more about various attributes of AR than about her ideas. It’s ironic that DD is criticizing AR (incorrectly) for something he’s doing.
The focus on AR’s attributes contradicts his own philosophy. DD is perfectly capable of writing about ideas rather than people. He’s done a lot of it. But this time he’s behaving differently (it looks to me like bias).
AR wrote a bunch of impersonal non-fiction that was about ideas, not people. In her novels, she uses fictional characters to help present ideas (including, yes, some psychological ideas). She wasn’t writing parochial material about specific individuals. She did so little of that that, e.g., I don’t know of anywhere that she elaborated much on her criticisms of Friedrich Hayek or Milton Friedman.
There’s also another irony. DD views himself as doing serious intellectual work (when writing the email) but he’s unaware of how badly he’s screwing up. Overestimating one’s work is something DD (incorrectly) attacks AR for.
That's why her followers tend to form themselves into groups with insider/outsider ideologies (somewhat unfairly called 'cults' by her detractors).
DD presents himself as not being one of AR’s detractors. He talks about her detractors as a separate group. But, based on my experience, he’s actually flaming her more than a typical AR detractor.
DD pretends to be unbiased by partially defending AR by saying the “cult” charge is “somewhat” unfair. But that implies it’s somewhat fair, so that’s actually another unargued, unexplained attack. DD is (a little bit indirectly) calling AR’s fans somewhat cultish.
In regard to fundamental philosophical theory she was hopelessly incompetent and confused.
There isn’t much to analyze here. DD is just openly flaming AR. Only the part about the quote even tried to be a substantive argument. The rest is basically just assertions of DD’s opinions, but without explaining his reasoning (how he reached those conclusions).
Despite this, her actual conclusions about economics and politics, which don't really follow from these purported foundations, are very good indeed ---
This is more mixed praise and flaming. DD’s saying her conclusions were good (praise) but her reasoning was wrong (flame). Overall, this is a flame, not a neutral comment. It’s kinda like saying “A broken clock is right twice a day.” If your reasoning is wrong but your conclusions are correct, you got lucky. DD, while pretending to be neutral, is accusing AR of getting lucky even to the partial extent that he accepts that she got stuff right.
DD does not argue his case. He doesn’t discuss AR’s arguments about (classical) liberalism, nor what he thinks a better approach is, nor how or why the wrong arguments led to (largely) the right conclusions. (It’s unusual for bad reasoning to reach especially good conclusions.) The one sentence quote was the only part of his email where DD even pretended to go into detail. (And even then he didn’t actually give arguments, he instead led the person to think of the arguments DD intended without being directly told.)
though she underestimated the resilience of American and Anglosphere institutions, and indeed underrated the importance of institutions generally.
DD doesn’t argue or explain this point. Knowing DD and knowing AR’s material, I’d guess that DD’s primarily referring to ch. 1 of The Fountainhead where Roark questions the architecture tradition with the Parthenon and tells the dean that he stands at the end of no tradition and inherits nothing. I won’t analyze that scene because it doesn’t discuss American or Anglosphere institutions.
I think DD is mistaken about AR’s views. In Justin’s analysis of DD’s email, Justin points out an AR quote in which she speaks positively of American institutions and their development over centuries.
Her main -- perhaps her only -- innovation, was to stress much more than anyone before her that free markets are morally superior to socialism, and that defending them in terms of efficiency only is to concede much of (she would say the whole of!) the opponents' case.
Stressing something is like calling attention to it or putting italics around it. While AR did that, that wasn’t the main thing she did there. She argued the issue, and reasoned about moral philosophy, instead of just stressing it. Saying her main innovation was to stress something is basically denying that she had any substantial intellectual accomplishments. This is another flame disguised as praise.
AR would not say that those bad defenses of capitalism concede the “whole of” the opponent’s case. That would be the sort of hyperbolic error which DD accuses her of, but which she was actually skilled at avoiding. To back up his attack, DD had one incorrect example (above) and one made up example here (she didn’t say it, DD just asserted that she would).
DD, AR and I all agree that defending only the efficiency of capitalism concedes a lot that shouldn’t be conceded. But that specific point is fairly simple. It’s not a complex argument that if you only defend one aspect of capitalism, then you’re not defending various other aspects. So this isn’t very impressive. (And DD made it less impressive by simplifying the logic by saying “only” instead of “primarily”, even though AR’s arguments work with “primarily”.) AR said it, and it’s a good point, but by highlighting it this much for praise DD is implying that AR didn’t have a bunch of other more major points (she did, e.g. her explanation and criticism of second-handedness).
All the manipulative stuff DD does is intentional. He’s developed the skill to do it. He has extremely good control over what he writes – better than most people realize is possible. He’s a very precise, careful writer and thinker – even offhand, speaking extemporaneously. He put effort into this email.
It’s possible he’s not consciously thinking about some aspects of what he’s doing while he does them. That wouldn’t diminish his responsibility. He made choices which led to this result. What he’s done in the email wasn’t bad luck.
It’s similar to how Gail Wynand was responsible (in AR’s The Fountainhead) for what the Banner wrote even when he was on vacation:
“I know what you think. You understood that I didn’t know about the Stoddard Temple yesterday. I had forgotten the name of the architect involved. You concluded it wasn’t I who led that campaign against you. You’re right, it wasn’t I, I was away at the time. But you don’t understand that the campaign was in the true and proper spirit of the Banner. It was in strict accordance with the Banner’s function. No one is responsible for it but me. Alvah Scarret was doing only what I taught him. Had I been in town, I would have done the same.”
Part of why DD seems somewhat convincing is that he does know a lot about Objectivism. He used to like it. (Notably, nothing he says here explains why he changed his mind.) DD chose an important essay – that clashes with his current life – as the one to misleadingly quote from and attack. And most AR critics wouldn’t have made the points about defending capitalism that DD did. But DD isn’t the same person he was when he studied and liked AR, so there’s something unfair about using his former self’s knowledge to attack his former self’s own values.
And DD doesn’t acknowledge or address the conflict and explain his reasons for changing. What he ought to do – this is the kind of thing DD normally advocates – is explain what’s wrong with AR in a way that DD’s own former self could agree with and voluntarily change his mind to. The new view offered ought to be strictly better – better in every respect (while that’s unusual, it’s something DD and I both advocate). He’s basically calling his former self (and all AR fans) bad instead of attempting to be helpful by providing strictly better ideas that they would prefer to hold.
Note: This blog post doesn’t attempt to be a complete analysis. I think there are other bad things about DD’s email which I didn’t cover here.
DD was a great man and was my friend and colleague. He’s done great work in both physics and philosophy. This is the worst thing he’s ever written that I’ve seen. It’s sad.
Brandon Cropper has recently gotten attention as an active Objectivist YouTuber. I don't think he's an Objectivist. I've typed in what he said to Rucka Rucka Ali about biological determinism. FYI the Objectivist view is, in short, the blank slate view.
There may be minor transcription errors and I left out some filler words and false starts. Starting at 5:40, Cropper says:
If there is at least a little bit of wiggle room there to say that genes have something to do with it, or are innate something, we can't say innate knowledge, we're not allowed to, somebody will come spank our hand. But as Objectivists we have these certain things we have to not say like "innate knowledge". But what is it? It's an innate tendency for men as opposed to women to be more aggressive? Or is it just in the nature of males as such that physical violence is part of their domain and therefore they have the predisposition for it or something? However we say it, there it is, 97% of murderers are men. How are we going to say it though?
The idea that males are innately or genetically predisposed to violence is incompatible with Ayn Rand's philosophy which clearly and directly states otherwise, and argues its case.
But what stands out to me more is that he's intentionally trying to avoid saying what he thinks. He thinks Objectivism is wrong about this, but he still wants to be an Objectivist anyway – I guess he likes other parts of Objectivism. OK but he believes the way to remain an Objectivist (or at least to avoid complaints from the YouTube audience he's pandering to like Gail Wynand pandered?) is by obeying speech restrictions – just never say anything that Objectivism disapproves of. That is totally contrary to the Objectivist spirit of free thought, inquiry and judgment. Objectivism has never tried to silence people who disagree with it. It's disturbing for a person trying to teach and lead Objectivism to view it like a religion that prohibits profanity rather than as a rational philosophy.
Our beloved EKTORP [couch] seating has a timeless design and wonderfully thick, comfy cushions. The covers are easy to change, so buy an extra cover - or two, and change according to mood or season.
They should have used a second dash, not a comma, after "two". Like parentheses (and some uses of commas), dashes are used in pairs to apply to a group of words. If you just put one dash, what that means is you're dashing off the entire rest of the sentence (which isn't what they meant).
People are hired to write this stuff who don't know basic things about writing. People get through an interview process and get paid to make errors like this. This is a fairly desirable job (pretty easy and low skill, working for a good company, no manual labor, I bet it has good job security, and I bet the pay is way better than a lot of harder jobs like working at McDonalds). There is a shortage of competence in the world (on both ends – writers and management).
Software doesn't have enough competent people either. Some people say that problem would go away with higher pay. That's capitalism right? Pay enough and the market provides what you want?
No. Here are four issues:
The US is not really a very capitalist country. Here's one little hint about that which relates to tech:
Facebook Has Dozens of Ex-Obama and Ex-Hillary Staffers in Senior Positions
Some things don't exist in sufficient quantities. Not everything is available at any price. Like a cure for cancer. Or Apple had problems with screws in Texas:
A custom screw was the bottleneck in US Mac Pro production
A custom screw easily sourced in China held up the Mac Pro build process in Texas, with the tale highlighting one of the problems Apple faces if it moves iPhone and Mac assembly back to America.
Mac Pro production volume is small compared to iPhone volume.
No doubt US suppliers would have bought new machines ASAP and made the screws for Apple at a million dollars a screw, but not at any reasonable or viable price.
Regionally or globally, goods and services generally exist in finite quantities that could only expand a finite amount at any price. You can't hire 10 billion people anytime soon, nor buy more than the Earth's supply of gold.
Even if something can be available reasonably soon (unlike a Star Trek style spaceship), there can still be major delays. Getting a lot more programmers could take a few years to train them. And maybe a few years before that to set up more training centers. And a few years before that to understand the shortage and start spending large amounts of money on fixing it. Or maybe a whole generation is needed to raise people with different attitudes.
To get more coders, adequate training resources have to be available and have a high enough success rate.
I think the educational resources for learning to code are fundamentally inadequate. It's not just lack of quantity, it's that they do not work to turn an arbitrary person into a good coder with a reasonable success rate.
People learn to code mainly because of their own pre-existing merit, not because of good teachers/books/videos. The current educational resources work OK for people who already have some of the right skills, but the success rate for the wrong kind of person is bad. So you can't just take more people (who aren't already tech-inclined) and then run them through existing tech education and expect it to work.
Analytic approaches to twin data using structural equation models by Fruhling V. Rijsdijk and Pak C. Sham in 2002:
The classical twin study is the most popular design in behavioural genetics.
After saying how widely used they are, the paper talks about how twin studies work. It's pretty up front about why they don't work. The reasons they don't work are well known (and basically ignored anyway):
Assumptions of the twin method
They know they are making some assumptions. That’s not controversial. That’s interesting because many people who discuss this with me, and favor the power of genes, try to deny those assumptions exist. They will debate that because they are ignorant and the field hasn’t highlighted these assumptions enough in their public-facing material (which is no accident).
• Gene–environment correlations and interactions are minimal for the trait.
This assumption is, broadly, false for interesting or complex traits. Gene-environment interactions are everywhere. That's a key point that ruins ~all the twin studies. (More on this below.) It's not the only big problem though.
• Matings in the population occur at random (no assortment).
This assumption stood out to me because it’s so blatantly false. Mating isn't even random for animals. However, you may be able to get approximate answers anyway, so I’m not going to focus on this.
Gene–environment interaction (or genetic control of sensitivity to the environment) refers to different genotypes responding differently to the same environment or some genotypes being more sensitive to changes in environment than others.
E.g. suppose hypothetically that genes have some control over math ability. That results in the (school) environment responding differently to those genes by e.g. giving more praise and higher test scores for people with the genes that cause better mathematical ability. So if genes were involved in math ability, there would be major gene-environment interactions.
It's the same story with ~everything else. Does height help you win at basketball? Sure. But there are plenty of gene-environment interactions, like coaches who see that you're tall, or see that you hit more shots, and thus encourage you to pursue basketball more than they do for a short person who makes fewer shots. So the environment responds to you differently according to your height genes.
Any times genes have an effect that people notice, then people will respond to it. So the "environment" (which includes other people) is responding differently based on genes. So gene-environment interactions are basically only avoided when genes don't cause any variation that anyone notices. (Non-variation would be a group of people who all have one head. Genes caused them to have one head rather than zero or two. But because there is no variation in the trait, the environment can’t respond in varied ways to that trait.)
And you can't just look at gene-environment interactions which are directly on-topic. E.g. a math anxiety paper can't only look at math and anxiety stuff. You also need to consider e.g. childhood and parenting behaviors. A gene for infant smiling would be noticed by parents and result in different treatment, which could lead to better or worse results in general later on, including regarding math. Or it could be more complicated, e.g. maybe less infant smiling could result in more alienation from the parent which could tend to result in being better at math. Maybe people who have better relationships with their parents tend to end up more social, have more friends, and do, on average, more social climbing and less intellectual stuff.
The methods used by twin studies would claim that infant smiling gene as indicating partial genetic control over mathematical ability, even though it has nothing directly to do with math, and it could have dramatically different consequences, or no consequences, in a different culture. They would then publish about how genes partially control our lives, which they have proven yet again (using the same methods as all the previous studies with the same systematic weakness shared by those studies).
Here is an example of one twin study, of many, which is false and should be retracted because of the gene-environment interaction problem:
This paper is notable for citing a hostile satire (cite 30) as if it were serious research that they got some of their claims from. By “hostile” I mean that the satire article suggests that math anxiety research is a joke which does not merit funding. The paper also uses (as is typical) very-low-quality data (including getting some of their data years apart), e.g. badly designed surveys (even well designed surveys are highly problematic!) and proxies that don’t make sense (e.g. their idea of “number sense” is dot-quantity-estimation accuracy in 0.4 second flashes done 150 times). The paper also has carelessness and imprecision throughout. I discuss that paper, and its many flaws, at length in this video.
The paper authors are aware of the gene-environment problem. Near the end they say:
The current investigation presents some limitations. As well as relying on the methodological assumptions of twin design (see Rijsdijk & Sham, 2002 for a detailed description) (47), the models employed in the current investigation do not specifically account for gene–environment interplay. One possibility is that the observed genetic association between MA, attitudes and performance may operate via environmental effects that are correlated or interact with genetic predisposition. For example, children with a genetic predisposition towards experiencing difficulties with mathematics may develop a greater vulnerability to negative social influences in the context of mathematics, such as negative feedback received from teachers or parents on their effort and performance, which in turn may lead to greater feelings of anxiety towards mathematics (56). This has the potential to generate a negative feedback loop (7) between performance, motivation and anxiety - that is potentially a product of interacting inherited and environmental factors. The present investigation, including one time point for each measure of mathematics anxiety, attitudes and performance does not allow us to establish the direction of causality between the observed associations. Longitudinal genetically informative studies, integrating multiple measures of mathematics attitudes, anxiety and performance are therefore needed.
They know perfectly well that their research is inadequate to reach the conclusions they reached. They published anyway. The whole field acts like that in general. So they conclude:
Our findings of a shared, likely domain-specific, etiology between these mathematics-related traits provide a seminal step for future genetic research aimed at identifying the specific genes implicated in variation in the cognitive and non-cognitive factors of mathematics.
Instead of carefully thinking about the gene-environment interaction problem, and what to do about it, they simply ignore it and call their paper “seminal” anyway. They have no solution to the problem but they want to be scientists who publish papers with important conclusions, so they are dishonestly evading reality and lying to the public.
The field in general is like this. There are no sophisticated analyses of why gene-environment interactions would be minimal nor any counter-arguments to my fairly simple reasoning about why they’d be ever-present. They’re just making big, false claims without serious regard for what’s true. That’s the “social sciences”.
Discuss programming here.
If you want to fully understand programming conceptually, in the long term, I think Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs (SICP) is the best foundation. The 1986 MIT lecture videos by the SICP authors, Hal Abelson and Gerald Sussman, are free on YouTube.
If you find SICP too hard, use Simply Scheme first. It was created by Brian Harvey (of UC Berkeley) for the purpose of helping people get ready for SICP.
I'm familiar with Harvey, not Abelson and Sussman. UC Berkeley took down 20,000 free lectures after 2 deaf people complained that there were no subtitles. You can still find Harvey's SICP lectures on Archive.org or uploaded to YouTube by third parties.
There are many reasonable and effective ways to learn to code. If you prefer other material, that's OK.
(I wrote this for my newsletter.)
I’ve been using a daily writing goal of at least 1000 words for the last several months. This system is more structured than what I’ve used previously and has been working well. I think it’s a good adjustment for a changed situation.
I commonly write between 1000 and 2000 words, sometimes more. I write on weekends too and rarely skip any days. I never count words towards past or future days. Replies don’t count; it has to be a topic I chose myself and wrote about on my own individual initiative. It has to be important – something I think helps make forward progress.
I usually write all the words about one topic. I often write a standalone essay draft. I usually have a few things to say about my topic and finish writing them instead of stopping in the middle.
Writing discussion replies is extra writing, not part of my goal, and I mostly do that after I’ve already finished my writing goal. I generally write in the morning, when fresh, and don’t do much other stuff until I’m done with my main writing for the day. I usually don’t eat until after writing.
I set the 1000 word goal low enough that I can generally do it even if I’m busy for most of the day. It’s just a minimum. The time it takes varies a lot based on how much I’m developing new ideas. And I have flexibility to do other things in the day: read books, podcast, listen to talks, write discussion replies or do non-philosophy. After writing, especially when it went relatively quickly, I try to do at least one more intellectual thing that day. The variety helps avoid burnout. I try to monitor how much I can do without getting too exhausted (getting too exhausted is inefficient). I aim to do near the maximum so that I don’t waste some potential productivity.
Most people can only focus and do good mental work for up to 3 hours a day (the 8 hour workday for knowledge workers or school students is a bad idea). Note that that average includes all days, not just weekdays – you can do a bit more during the week if you take a break on the weekend. I can do more than 3 hours of serious focus per day, but it requires managing what I’m doing, like not trying to write the whole time on most days. I think the 2-3 hour limit is more about methods than anything inherent, and people could increase their limit with skill and knowledge (and that’s why my limit is higher, though still under the 8 hours that many people are supposed to do at knowledge worker jobs).
It helps to have a lot more break time than people get at an office. If you work at home, you can e.g. take a 4 hour break in the middle of your work day. I use non-intellectual activities like showering, eating and exercise as breaks. I intentionally do them in the middle of the day after I’ve already done some writing. If I did them first thing in the morning, I’d be unnecessarily putting two breaks in a row because sleeping already was a break. BTW, naps are the most effective type of break, but I’m often unable to fall asleep during the day because I get enough sleep at night.
I’m currently working on a Critical Fallibilism (epistemology aka philosophy of knowledge) book/website project. I started on this again after finishing my grammar article. I wrote 30,000 words for it last year, and I have over 20,000 new words. Words include notes and outlining, but it’s mostly articles.
The theme I’m working with is error correction. I’m organizing various epistemological ideas around their connection to that theme. I’m also trying to make stuff as clear, practical and approachable as my grammar article. People often read epistemology as abstract stuff for clever discussions, but I want people to actually be able to use it in their lives.
I had planned to write more about liberalism, but I changed my mind. I’m more interested in epistemology. I’m very happy with my article Liberalism: Reason, Peace and Property but less interested (compared to epistemology) in writing followups with more details. The overview article said a lot of what I wanted to write. I do have over 80,000 words written for the liberalism project, mostly from last year. I hope to finish up and share more of it in the future. One particular area I don’t plan to cover in much detail is economics – that’s already covered well by Mises, Hazlitt and Reisman.
I don’t mind writing things which aren’t for a particular project. Having a project goal is useful to help me focus and to help guide me when I’m not sure what to write about. But I also try to be flexible and to follow inspiration when I have it. I also do some freewrites (similar to journaling). If I don’t have an idea for what to write about, sometimes I will freewrite about what I did recently, what my goals are and what I could write about. Another way I find a writing topic is by rereading material, particularly outlines, from my current project. Outlines are like lists of writing topics I can use. When rereading articles, I often think of more ideas to add or think of other issues which aren’t covered.
I’m flexible with my writing goal when doing activities like editing (in which case reducing the word count is often a positive outcome). The real point is to make daily forward progress, not specifically to write new words.
I write more, and edit less, than most writers. I’ve worked to get good at first drafts. When I find out about writing problems, I mainly try to figure out how to not make those errors in the first place rather than how to fix them in editing passes. If you get good at understanding that error, you should need barely any conscious attention to deal with it – you should be able to autopilot dealing with it instead of needing a separate editing pass. (This is the same as how learning in general works.)
I do lots of exploratory writing. I write several articles on the same topic rather than just writing one and doing a bunch of editing. I usually edit after I already have a version that I mostly like. Editing helps polish the details. Writing about cool ideas is generally more fun and educational than editing details, so it’s better to spend a larger proportion of time on that. And there isn’t much point in going through an article and updating everything to fit a major change you just made when you’re still exploring (you may make more major changes and may undo the major change you just made).
People can use editing to reach a local optimum. Sometimes they fix tons of little details, and polish everything, while the big picture is actually wrong. Exploratory writing lets people try out several big pictures and see how well they work. And then the best ideas from each version can be combined.
When editing, people often go in circles because they keep making changes without clearly knowing whether the change is an improvement or not. Editing works better after you’ve already decided what the article should say.
Writing several versions of an article helps you explore what it should say. And it lets you work with largely-independent parts. It splits the overall project up into smaller, more manageable, separate chunks. That lets one deal with less complexity at once which makes things easier and more productive.
For my grammar article, I wrote several earlier versions (and then made major changes which would have been hard to fix in editing, it was easier to just rewrite while referring to the previous writing to reuse the good ideas that would fit into the new version). Plus I broke it into five mostly-independent parts which I wrote on different days. The parts were edited individually, but I also did a couple full-article editing passes near the end. Each part could be thought about and judged on its own, so that limited how much stuff I had to think about at once.
BTW this writing progress update is 1500 words, and I think it’s productive, so I could count it, but I already wrote a 1750 word article today anyway.
I’ve also written 1000 discussion emails and over 700 web posts so far this year. That’s around 10 pieces of writing per day which aren’t included in my writing goal. If you don’t pay attention to my discussion forums, you’re missing out on many ideas.
Related: I like Brandon Sanderson’s writing updates.
If you want to support my work, please donate, buy some of my digital, educational products and/or share my work with people. (And thanks a lot to the people already making recurring, monthly contributions totaling more than my rent.)
A major political controversy is whether legitimizing misbehavior by a group helps that group or harms that group. Is it good or bad for a group if they can get away with some bad things? Never mind if it's good or bad for other groups. The question is e.g. if you relax criminal law for blacks, does that help or harm blacks (we're not discussing the effect of that policy on whites). If you relax immigration law for Mexicans, are you helping or harming Mexicans? If you relax parental or school rules in response to misbehavior (rather than because there is anything wrong with those particular rules, just to let people get away with misbehavior), does that help or harm children? If you lower the test score requirements for blacks to get into elite universities, does that help or harm blacks?
(Related: Laing legitimized mental illness, while Szasz did not. Szasz always said many people labelled mentally ill are in fact misbehaving, but that misbehavior is not illness. Of course, some people labelled mentally ill were not misbehaving, and misbehavior is often defined by those with power instead of being defined objectively.)
These questions allow for general answers on principle, instead of case by case answers. The political left answers that, in general, the group is helped. I'm speaking here in general terms. Most actual people are pretty inconsistent, but I'm presenting the strong versions of the principled views which inform a lot of actual thinking by that political group.
The different answers come from different views about what rules are. The left views rules as arbitrarily imposed by authority. The rules lack objective value. Rules are obstacles to action. They get in the way. Contradictorily, the left is also in favor of a larger government that makes more rules, as long as they are in power – they want to be authorities who give orders. The left sees the main purpose of rules as to benefit the ruler – they help the people who give the orders, at the expense of those who take the orders. The left's mental model is ruler and ruled, slaver and slave, so they think it's beneficial to the slaves to be exempted from rules (that is protecting them from power and limited the effect of power on their lives).
The right views (proper) rules as objectively helpful (rules which aren't like this are bad and shouldn't exist). Rules help guide people so people know how to behave better. There certainly exist bad and abusive rules (e.g. slavery), but there also exist good and proper rules (objective rules related to the actual requirements of life). The right does want to eliminate bad rules (e.g. many government rules), while the left basically sees all rules as being in one category (arbitrary) and then accepts them. Knowing how to run one's life is hard and moral rules provide guidance. Obeying moral rules makes a person better off. A rule like "don't murder innocents" doesn't just help others (save them from being murdered), it also helps the person who obeys the rule (saves him from being a murderer – being a murderer is actually bad and self-destructive).
Right wing view: relaxing the rules for college admissions lets in unqualified people. Those rules (admissions requirements) were there for a reason. People who don't obey those rules (get good grades, good test scores, etc.) are not prepared for college (at least not the hardest colleges with the strictest entry requirements). Letting them in, when they aren't qualified, is setting them up to fail.
Left wing view: college benefits people and the rules disproportionately keep out poor people, blacks, latinos, etc., so they are being denied benefits. Letting them in will help them get the benefits of a better education and networking with an elite peer group.
Similarly, the right thinks being a CEO is hard and giving someone the job because they are a black lesbian (rather than because they are actually qualified) is setting them up for failure (as well as hurting all the employees and customers). The left thinks being a CEO is a great privilege (it does indeed have big upsides) and so more blacks, females and lesbians ought to receive that privilege. The left thinks the qualifications for CEO are just rationalizations and excuses for bias, while the right thinks objectively helpful criteria and a person ought to want to meet those qualifications, voluntarily, for his own benefit, before he asks to be CEO. Similarly the left thinks men benefit from nepotism while the right thinks they have worse lives. The left's view encourages people to do nepotism (both give and receive) if they can get away with it, while the right claims that is unwise and self-destructive for those involved.
Overall, I broadly agree with the right. Yes some rules are bad, but it's important to understand and voluntarily follow proper rules. Life needs objective guidance, not arbitrary action. There are, in reality, requirements (aka rules) for accomplishing certain goals, gaining certain values, etc.
Note: Understanding the selfish value of moral rules is necessary to understanding the (classical) liberal idea of the harmony of men's interests, including Ayn Rand's pro-selfish moral philosophy. With the left's view of rules, they can't understand such things because they don't even see, on principle, how basic moral advice like "don't be a robber, even if you wouldn't get caught and punished by the police" could possibly be self-interested and beneficial to the person following the rule. Most right-wing, American Christians would have no problem agreeing with that anti-robbing rule, while most left-wing, American atheists would think clearly you'd benefit (by gaining money from the robbery, while having no downside because you aren't caught). I regard the left as encouraging crime and other misbehavior with such views. The left is basically telling people that robbery is great but you can't do it because the police are mean (implication: if you think you can get away with it, go for it. And also you should hate the police and view them as your enemy). The right views the police as allies who only prevent actions they wouldn't want to do anyway, because they don't want to be robbers and they discourage robbery by telling people why robbing is bad for the robber (rather than only bad for the victim).
YouTube notified me that they blocked my new video in Japan for copyright reasons. However, confusingly, it's actually blocked in the US while available in Japan. The video is fair use and should not be blocked. (Vimeo and YouTube both have reasonable pages with info saying what is fair use.)
The video is Critical Commentary on "Sucker" by the Jonas Brothers. It educates people on what's wrong with popular culture.
After the video was blocked, I uploaded it to BitChute. That worked but the video quality is low (the lyrics text is blurry). So then I uploaded to Vimeo, which allows higher quality. Vimeo doesn't play ads, but you can't upload much data without paying for an account. Vimeo doesn't have speed controls, so you need to use something like the Video Speed Controller Chrome extension. Vimeo lets you sell videos and associate documents with them, so I could potentially use it as a Gumroad alternative. YouTube has the most users and I'd prefer to use it as long as my videos aren't blocked, although users do need to get ad blocking software in order to have a good experience on YouTube.
Years ago, I looked at YouTube's copyright dispute process and didn't like it. As I recall, it didn't talk about fair use and it wanted me to provide information so that, if I was mistaken, it'd be easy to sue me. Today, the process is different, so I submitted an appeal. Here's what I wrote (706 characters out of a limit of 2000), then screenshots of the process:
The video is a critical commentary on a Jonas song. It's transformative, educational and non-profit. 90% is just me talking with the song paused. It's a 37 minute video about a 3 minute song. I play a few seconds of the song at a time and then analyze that section. No one would watch my video in place of the original song because I constantly interrupt the music. My video is not musical in nature, so it doesn't substitute for a song. My video is essentially a podcast or lecture which educates people about the flaws in popular culture. Making my video required using the song because the song is the target of my commentary, and the visuals and tone are relevant in addition to the text of the lyrics.
If this works, maybe I'll tell them that my Bones Song Criticism is also fair use. It was only demonetized, not blocked, so people could still watch it, so I didn't do anything. I could also let them know that The State of YouTube Philosophy (+5 video replies) and Teachers Paddling Children are Violent Abusers are fair use.
The video is unblocked while the fair use appeal is pending.
Universal Music Group submitted a second copyright claim on the same video. The first one was apparently just for the visuals, and the second one is for the audio. This time they're trying to block the video in all countries. I disputed the claim using the same explanation that I already used for the first claim. The video is now blocked in all countries for 48 hours (they get 30 days to respond to the dispute, but only 2 days of blocking the video, so they have to respond quickly if they want to keep it blocked).