Recording Setup

recording setup

Click the image to view with higher resolution. Photo taken with iPhone X.

The desk is 98 inches. It's like this Ikea countertop, but birch instead of oak. They don't sell mine anymore.

The bag hanging on the back of the mic stand holds a counterweight because the mic is a bit heavy for this stand. The mic is mounted in a shock absorber and has a pop filter. The pole you see goes down to a tripod on the floor. I often move the mic away when I'm not recording since it blocks my view of the left screen, and it's in the way of putting food in front of the left screen.

The fantasy pictures are old. I'd replace them if I had a better idea, but I don't care much. I might get some sound absorbing foam to put on my walls to improve the acoustics. I have a big US flag and a regular Israeli flag on other walls, but I think I'm bored of posters.

The right screen is showing TSM Leffen's Twitch stream. He's playing Super Smash Bros. Melee. I often have muted streams on side screens. The center screen has MailMate and Screenflow's window for beginning a recording.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Critical Rationalism Epistemology Explanations

I discussed epistemology in a recent email:

I really enjoyed David Deutsch's explanation of Popper's epistemology and since reading Fabric of Reality I've read quite a bit of Popper. I've become convinced that Deutsch's explanation of Popper is correct, but I can also see why few people come away from Popper understanding him correctly. I believe Deutsch interprets Popper in a way that is much easier to understand.

Yes, I agree. DD refined and streamlined Critical Rationalism, and he's a better writer than Popper was. Popper made the huge breakthrough in the field and wrote a lot of good material about it, but there's still more work to do before most people get it.

Plus, I think he actually adds some ideas to Popper that matter that make it less misleading. Popper was struggling himself to understand his own theories, so it's understandable that he struggled to explain some parts of it.

I agree. I don't blame Popper for this, since he had very original and important ideas. He did more than enough!

(For example, it was problematic to refer to good theories as 'improbable' rather than 'hard to vary.' In context, I feel Popper meant the same thing, but the words he chose were problematic for conveying the meaning to others.)

So I've been wondering if it's possible to boil Popper's epistemology (with additions and interpretations from Deutsch) down to a few basic principles that seem 'self evident' and then to draw necessary corollaries. If this could be done, it would make Popper's epistemology much easier to understand.

Here is what I've come up with so far. (I'm looking for feedback from others familiar with Popper's epistemology as interpreted and adjusted by Deutsch to point out where I got it wrong or are missing things..)

Criteria for a Good Explanation:

1. We should prefer theories that are explanations over those that are not.

This is an approximation.

The point of an idea is to solve a problem (or multiple problems). We should prefer ideas which solve problems.

Many interesting problems require explanations to solve them, but not all. Whether we want an explanation depends on the problem being addressed.

In general, we want to understand things, not just be told answers to trust on authority. So we need explanations of how and why the answers will work, that way we can think for ourselves, recognize what sort of situations would be an exception, and potentially fix errors or make improvements.

But some problems don't need explanations. I might ask my friend, who is good at cooking, "How long should I boil an egg?" and just want to hear a number of minutes without any explanation. Finding out the number of minutes solves my cooking problem. I didn't want to try to understand how cooking eggs works, and I didn't want to debate the matter or check my friend's ideas for errors, I just wanted it to come out decently. It can be reasonable to prioritize what issues I investigate more and which I don't.

2. We should prefer explanations that are hard to vary over ones that can easily be adjusted to fit the facts because a theory that can be easily adjusted to fit any facts explains every possible world and thus explains nothing in the actual world.

Hard to vary given what constraints?

Any idea is easy to vary if there are no constraints. You can vary it to literally any other idea, arbitrarily, in one step.

The standard constraint on varying an idea is that it still solve (most of) the same problems as before. To improve an idea, we want to make it solve more and better problems than before with little or no downside to the changes.

The problems ideas solve aren't just things like "explain the motion of balls" or "help me organize my family so we don't fight". Another important type of problem is understanding how ideas fit together with other ideas. Our knowledge has tons of connections where we understand ideas (often from different fields) to be compatible, and we understand how and why they are compatible. Fitting our knowledge together into a unified picture is an important problem.

The more our knowledge is constrained by connections to problems and other ideas, the more highly adapted it is to that problem situation, and therefore the harder it is to vary while keeping the same or greater level of adaptation. The more ideas are connected to other problems and ideas, the less wiggle room there is to make arbitrary changes without breaking anything.

Fundamentally, "hard to vary" just means "is knowledge". Knowledge in the CR view is adapted information. The more adapted information is, the more chance a random change will make it worse instead of better (worse and better here are relative to the problem situation).

There are many ways to look at knowledge that are pretty equivalent. Some ways are: ideas adapted to a problem situation, ideas that are hard to vary, non-arbitrary ideas, ideas that break symmetries (that give you a way to differentiate things, prefer some over others, evaluate some as better than others, etc. You can imagine that, by default, there's tons of ideas and they all look kinda equally good. And when two ideas disagree with each other, by default that is a symmetric situation: either one could be mistaken and we can't take sides. Knowledge lets us take sides it helps us break the symmetry of "X contradicts Y, therefore also Y contradicts X" and helps us differentiate ideas so they don't all look the same to us.)

3. A theory (or explanation) can only be rejected by the existence of a better explanatory theory.

Ideas should be rejected when they are refuted. A refutation is an explanation of how/why the idea will not solve the problem it was trying to solve. (Sometimes an idea is proposed as a solution to multiple different problems. In that case, it may be refuted as a solution to some problems while not being refuted as a solution for others. In this way, criticism and refutation are contextual rather than universal.)

You don't need a better idea in order to decide that an idea won't work – that it fails to solve the problem you thought it solved. If it simply won't work, it's no good, whether you have a better idea or not.

These are fairly basic and really do seem 'self evident.' But are they complete? What did I miss?

I then added a number of corollaries that come out of the principles to explain the implications.

1. We should prefer theories that are explanations over those that are not.
a. Corollary 1-1: We should prefer theories that explain more over those that explain less. In other words, we should prefer theories that have fewer problems (things it can’t explain) over ones that have more problems.

Don't judge ideas on quantity of explanation. Quality is more important. Does it solve problems we care about? Which problems are important to solve? Which issues are important to explain and which aren't?

Also, we never need to prefer one idea over another when they are compatible. We can have both.

When two ideas contradict each other, then at least one is false. We can't determine that one is false by looking at their positive virtues (how wonderful are they, how useful are they, how much do they explain). Instead, we have to deal with contradictions by figuring out that an idea is actually wrong, we have to look at things critically.

b. Corollary 1-2: We should prefer actual explanations over pseudo-explanations (particularly explanation spoilers) disguised as explanations.
c. Corollary 1-3: If the explanatory power of a theory comes by referencing another theory, then we prefer the other theory because it’s the one that actually explains things.
2. We should prefer explanations that are hard to vary over ones that can easily be adjusted to fit the facts because a theory that can be easily adjusted to fit any facts explains every possible world and thus explains nothing in the actual world.
a. Corollary 2-1: We should prefer explanations that have survived the strongest criticisms or tests we have currently been able to devise.

Criticisms don't have strengths. A criticism either explains why an idea fails to solve a problem, or it doesn't.

See: https://yesornophilosophy.com and http://curi.us/1595-rationally-resolving-conflicts-of-ideas and especially http://curi.us/1917-rejecting-gradations-of-certainty

Popper and DD both got this wrong, despite DD's brilliant criticism of weighing ideas in BoI. The idea of arguments having strengths is really ingrained in common sense in our culture.

b. Corollary 2-2: We should prefer explanations that are consistent with other good explanations (that makes it harder to vary), unless it violates the first principle.
3. A theory (or explanation) can only be rejected by the existence of a better explanatory theory.
a. Corollary 3-1: We should prefer theories (or explanations) that suggest tests that the previously best explanation can’t pass but the new one can. (This is called a Critical Test.)
b. Corollary 3-2: It is difficult to devise a Critical Test of a theory without first conjecturing a better theory first.
c. Corollary 3-3: A theory that fails a test due to a problem in a theory and a theory that fails a test due to some other factor (say experimental error) are often indistinguishable unless you have a better theory to explain which is which.

Yes, after a major existing idea fails an experimental test we generally need some explanatory knowledge to understand what's going on, and what the consequences are, and what we should do next.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (2)

Improvements to Comments

I've been doing some coding to improve discussion on the blog, and there's been a bunch of discussion recently in the Open Discussion post linked on the sidebar. Also recently, there was lots of discussion on these posts: Critical Preferences, the Nassim Nicholas Taleb Sucks, Open Letter to Charles Tew, Thoughts on Charles Tew.

Join the discussion! Get updates using the Recent Comments link on the sidebar, the Comments RSS Feed, or a webpage change notification tool. You can also get an automatic refresh extension for your browser.

Comments are easier than Fallible Ideas discussion emails. You don't need to use quotes or email software. You don't need worry about formatting. Just talk. Ask some questions or share your ideas!

New Comment Features

  • You can post an image using markdown syntax, like this: ![](image url)
  • Images won't go wider than the comment area and have a height limit of 500 pixels. Don't worry about your images being too big, they will scale down (without stretching) to fit.
  • Click an image to expand to full resolution (in case some text is too small).
  • Image URLs must be direct links to images, not something else like a link to a gallery page where you can view the image. A good indication the link will work is seeing the image filename and extension (like .png, .jpg or .gif)
  • Animated GIFs work.
  • Every comment has a "reply" link at the bottom which sets up a reply that will link back to that comment.
  • Every comment has a "quote" link which sets up a reply with the whole comment quoted, like when you hit reply to an email.
  • When you copy/paste multiple paragraphs from a comment, there are now two line breaks (one blank line) between paragraphs.
  • Bonus old feature: you can make text link to something using markdown: [text](url)

Image Posting Tips

  • Mac and Windows: Use Puush to take screenshots. It automatically uploads them and puts the URL on your clipboard, ready to paste.
  • On Mac, go to System Preferences -> Keyboard -> Text and create a text expansion for markdown image syntax. It will sync to your iPhone too (or set it up in iOS at Settings -> General -> Keyboard -> Text Replacement). Mine is: mimg -> ![]()
  • On iPhone, upload screenshots or photos with the imgur app. Then long press to view in Safari. Then in the image gallery, long press the image and choose Copy. You can paste that into comments to get a URL (use it along with the text expansion).
  • The imgur URL will be a lower quality thumbnail. To fix that, edit out the "_d" at the end of the filename. Or bookmark my script to edit imgur URLs and add markdown syntax around them. You just paste the imgur URL into comments then use the bookmark. Script link (drag to bookmarks on a computer). If you're curious how the script works, I explained it. And here's the script code so you can copy/paste it to a bookmark on mobile:
javascript:document.getElementById('comment_argle').value=document.getElementById('comment_argle').value.replace(/(https:%5C/%5C/i%5C.imgur%5C.com%5C/%5Cw+?)_d(%5C.%5CS+?)%5C?%5CS+/g,'!%5B%5D($1$2)');


  • On Mac, I made an AppleScript that pastes a URL from the clipboard and puts markdown syntax around it. I put it in Automator, put the workflow in ~/Library/Services, and added a hotkey in the Keyboard preferences. Screenshot for how to set this up. Here's the script:
tell application "System Events"
    delay 0.25 -- you need time to let go of your hotkeys
    keystroke "\!\[]("
    keystroke "v" using {command down}
    delay 0.1 -- pasting isn't instant
    keystroke ")"
end tell

PS I put out a new video yesterday, Thoughts on Tolerance and Hostility ($12). If you want to be notified about every new product, and other things I'm up to, sign up for my newsletter in the left side bar.


Update:

Bookmark this script and use it to increase the quote level of your comment by one. Use it after pasting in a few paragraphs from an article. (BTW you can test the scripts before bookmarking them. Just write test text in the comments below this post, then click a script link from this post to activate it.)

javascript:document.getElementById('comment_argle').value=document.getElementById('comment_argle').value.replace(/(^|\n)(.*\S)/g,'$1> $2');

And if you want to upload your images to your own server, check out this email with info and an automatic script for doing it. It's like puush but with your own web server. As a bonus, the script can add the width and height to the filename which allows high resolution "retina" images to show up as the correct size (by default they show up as double size).


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (2)

Hurting Kids Deliberately

Deliberateness is a tricky issue, whether it comes to hurting kids, making mistakes, or breaking promises. Parents do all kinds of stuff kids hate and still think they "meant well" – including sometimes literally beating their kid up. If I honestly meant well, was I "deliberately" hurting my kid? What if I think I meant well, but I was lying to myself?

Parents often consciously and intentionally choose actions which hurt their kids. Their goal isn't to hurt their kid, but they know he will find it painful to have his phone taken away for a month, and they take the phone anyway.

Why do parents hurt their kids?

  • They think it's justice (kid did something bad).
  • They think it's educational (makes it memorable, seems to "work" in that kid stops doing the things the parent yells/hits/punishes about).
  • They think it's good for the kid somehow, possibly because a positive outweighs the negative. E.g. leaving a baby alone in a crib to cry himself to sleep is a negative, but some people think it's a larger positive for the child to learn to sleep in his own room. They don't know that the child stops crying because he learns his parent won't help him, so the child gives up on problem solving and happiness (in some ways, not all ways).
  • Habit.
  • Carelessness.
  • Accident.
  • Anger (they will say they didn't deliberately choose to be angry).
  • Not having much control over what one does/says/feels in one's life in general.
  • Doing common, normal parenting behaviors without thinking about whether they are hurtful.

None of these involve consciously thinking, "I will now hurt my kid, on purpose, just for the sake of hurting him." (That would clearly be deliberate.)

Regardless of deliberateness, the child is still hurt. Whether or not the parent is morally guilty, it's an ongoing, recurring problem that needs to be addressed so that the child stops getting hurt.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Trays are the Best

i got a tray 2 years ago for carrying food.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001FOPU1E/?tag=curi04-20

(this tray is out of stock but you can see the 23" x 15" dimensions. don't go much smaller. i got a 17" x 10.6" one first and it SUCKED, i returned it. note that you lose some flat space to the angled sides)

it's AMAZING.

note i linked a BIG tray. there's a bunch of smaller ones that can't even fit 2 plates.

benefits:

  • easy to carry more than 2 things at once (this is why i wanted it)

  • easily carry hot things

  • easier to keep things level while walking

  • even just a plate, a cup, and a bottle with a sauce is 3 things and not that easy to carry with your hands. adding a bowl of soup or a side salad on its own plate makes it way harder to carry. and even when carrying just a plate and cup you may have to balance your silverware on the plate and get it dirty.

  • i started sometimes having multiple different drinks with meals because it's easier to carry 2-3 different drinks at once this way. i drink smaller amounts but sometimes i like the variety. or sometimes i don't know in advance which drink i'll prefer and end up drinking one and not the other, and it was good to have the options (having a bit extra of each, and "wasting" some, is totally reasonable. most drinks are cheap). it just sorta didn't occur to me to have 2 different drinks before i had the tray to put them on and had used it for a while.

  • you can put food discards (e.g. corn cob, clam shells, bones) on the tray without needing a separate plate or trying to stick them on the side of your main meal plate. cleaning the tray is no problem, but you generally wouldn't wanna put that stuff directly on your table. (unless you're using a tablecloth and clean it routinely, which sounds dumb. )

  • it's easier to carry a bunch of different sauces/toppings/spices as extra options, even if you aren't sure which you want. you can just try a little of each while eating.

  • you can set other stuff on the tray, like a towel or iPhone (good for speaker phone calls, and more convenient than taking it in and out of your pocket)

  • if you don't know how much of a food you want, you can bring a bunch (like in a tupperware) and then serve multiple small portions to your plate during your meal

  • for people who sometimes leave dishes in their room instead of immediately carrying everything back: if you use a tray once per 2-5 meals, you can then carry all the dirty dishes back at once with the tray.

  • SAVE TRIPS WALKING BACK AND FORTH

  • you can eat directly from your plate or bowl while it's on the tray. the tray doesn't take up a lot of extra space. this won't work in all situations. if you have a bunch of stuff and a crowded table, a tray still helps for carrying things to the table and taking dirty dishes back. also if you don't eat at your computer desk sometimes, or your computer desk can't fit a large tray, i think that's bad and you should change it. (i push one of my secondary displays back a bit to have tray space.)

i use my tray most days. A++++++++++++


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (8)

Thoughts on Charles Tew

Charles Tew (CT) is an Objectivist philosopher. I watched more of his YouTube videos and looked around his web presence. I have some comments. This is not a review. This is not a complete evaluation. It's some particular things I noticed, many of which are tangential to his main points.

This post will make more sense if you've already read my Open Letter to Charles Tew, and perhaps seen some of CT's videos. Also if you're familiar with Objectivism.


Some things CT said were really good. He has at least a sliver of greatness, which is rare. And I appreciate that he's a content creator, that he's trying to make stuff, share ideas, do something.

CT aims to be a firebrand. I appreciate that. There were sections of his videos which fit this and which I particularly liked. I think he's correct in his claim that aspects of his style are similar to Ayn Rand, and that ARI's style is dissimilar to Rand.

I surveyed the comments on several videos. The discussion quality in comments is terrible. I wondered how and why he attracted those people to comment, and if he values a higher view count without concern for who is watching and why. That's the kind of thing he's criticized others for. I wonder if CT thinks low quality comments are just inevitably part of how YouTube works, rather than depending on the audience you attract. Or perhaps he's concerned about it and wishes to improve the situation. Or didn't think of the issue and just took some normal social interaction stuff for granted.

CT replied "thank you" to two YouTube commenters who wrote generic praise. I didn't read that many comments, so there's presumably many more similar comments. That is not what Howard Roark would have done. It's sucking up get a larger audience of boring or bad people. It helps bring in more of the kind of people who write low quality comments. It signals not being a firebrand. There were other relevant signs too, like he said something about doing off-topic bits at the start of a video because Sam Harris structured videos that way – which suggests he's trying to copy what's popular instead of thinking about what, in his own opinion, makes the best format intellectually. (I just jump into the content in my videos. People don't or shouldn't care about my issues with audio equipment. That's far from the most important thing I have to talk about.)

CT said the only active intellectual today that he respects much is Harry Binswanger. I hope he'll reply to my Binswanger criticism, which I included in my letter to CT.

CT said he is not a member of HBL. He didn't explain why. I find that really strange. If I only admired one living intellectual, and they had a forum, I'd join it! I'd want to read their stuff and talk with them.

CT focuses many videos on popular non-Objectivists who are actively creating content today, like Stephan Molyneux, Sam Harris, Sargon of Akkad, or Jordan Peterson. I don't know why, but I don't agree with that emphasis. I spend a larger portion of my own time talking about ideas in general, or about ideas in relation to people who are important to philosophy (that's mostly dead people like Socrates, Aristotle, Godwin, Burke, Popper, Rand), or talking about ideas in relation to people I find notable and interesting in some way (who often happen to be obscure, like CT). Maybe CT is attracted to current social popularity. Why doesn't CT do more commentary and analysis regarding Binswanger (his favorite living content creator other than himself) or Ayn Rand (there is a shortage of quality material explaining Rand's books and helping people understand them correctly – who else makes stuff like my Atlas Shrugged Close Reading?).

People like Harris, Molyneux, Akkad and Peterson are not very important in the big picture. Responding to them won't change the world. (I'm responding to CT right now, but the primary purpose is to organize my own thoughts, and the secondary purpose is to share stuff about how I think and view the world which I think is important, valuable content. And I only do this kind of response as the minority of what I make.) If CT is actually important and right about almost everything – as he claims to believe – then he should find something better to do (like his books – except see my comments on that below). He should make really important material that's great for people who don't care at all about Harris/Peterson/etc. He should make timeless material about what really matters and what will actually potentially persuade many people and change the world. He should be trying to make improved versions of some of Ayn Rand's work – since Ayn Rand's work, great as it was, was inadequate to fix things and set the tone of the world. If that's too hard for him today, he should try to improve his philosophy so he can do that. He should aim for something that would make a big difference, not work to build up a bit more audience of people with little if anything to contribute. If his videos are just him practicing, that'd be OK but I don't think they are presented that way and they don't strike me as optimized for practicing and self-learning.

CT has videos about addiction. I didn't watch those. I focused on clicking video titles I thought I'd agree with or like for two reasons. One, those are more enjoyable in the straightforward way: I like things I like. There's plenty of things I dislike in the world and I don't seek them out without a specific reason. Two, I don't know if CT is open to discussion. This comes up with lots of content. I think it's wrong, and there's no way to fix that problem, no way to correct the author (or get corrected myself). Formulating my criticisms seems a bit pointless, if there's no discussion, when it's standard stuff I've already thought and written about a dozen times. And if I wanted to cover it again, I'd typically be better off doing it my own way – thinking about how I want to approach the material this time and why – instead of responding to a particular person. If CT is open to discussion and to engaging with important literature like Szasz (which he's either already read or ought to be happy to fill in the gap in his knowledge enough to have some opinion of Szasz's ideas), I'd be more interested in his views that I expect to disagree with in ways I've been over repeatedly in the past.

I didn't see CT learning much of anything from non-Objectivists, which concerns me because there are good ideas which Rand didn't know, which other people figured out. That includes plenty which don't contradict Objectivism, and also, IMO, a few which do correct Objectivism in some way (usually fairly minor in terms of how much it changes Objectivism – the one big correction I'm aware of is about induction, but even that is mostly a correction of Rand's followers like Peikoff – Rand herself wrote little about induction, said she wasn't an expert on it, and didn't claim to have a solution to the problem of induction. And Popper's solution, despite rejecting induction itself, solves the important problem and offers everything I think Rand would have wanted in an epistemology – in particular, that people can and do create legitimate knowledge).

I don't think CT should use Patreon. That site hates his values and kicks people off who they disagree with politically, e.g. Lauren Southern. CT could easily be kicked off Patreon if he gets enough income/fans/attention to be noticed. Even relying on YouTube much is risky – YouTube kicks some people off for having right wing political views, they're very biased. (I don't know if iTunes kicks off podcasts for political reasons.)

Reading

CT says he doesn't like reading that much. That's bizarre for someone saying they are a philosopher. Actually it's totally normal, but it's a mistake that seems weird to me because I know better. Part of a philosopher's job is to read a lot (and listen and watch material too). That involves developing skills including being great at (and, ideally, liking):

  • reading pretty fast
  • reading slowly and carefully
  • speed reading, preferably with multiple techniques so you can match the technique to the content
  • skimming
  • targeted, selective reading, including by using an index or a software feature to search for words
  • watching videos and listening to audio at high speed
  • using text to speech software, and broadly being good at converting things into other formats so you have a lot of control of how you go through content so you can choose the best options each time
  • reading Amazon reviews, using amazon's preview of the book, finding it on google books, googling the author, etc, to quickly get some info about a book
  • using the library
  • knowing how to quickly survey many books on a topic (some never getting past the online research phase, others you actually read parts of) and figuring out which are good or bad and why, and which to read (and which parts of them, or the whole thing) and which not to read

(I also think it's a philosopher's job to learn to write and to learn to like writing. Video and audio are only secondary formats. They have some good things about them but they aren't the primary way to communicate ideas with serious people. I have some more comments related to this below.)

Sanctuaries for the Best of the Human Species

Another thing I was wondering is whether CT wants to be alone in the world, to be special. He says things like that others don't criticize Objectivism like he does. Is he bragging, or would he be thrilled to find out I exist and eager to discuss with me? He hasn't replied to my letter yet, but it's only been a day. Maybe he's reading through the many links or he happens to be busy this weekend. Who knows. I will wait and see. This is not a criticism, it's just a potential issue I thought of, a way he could be. I'm not accusing him, just considering the possibilities. It's interesting to me because I consider myself to be in a similar position to what CT thinks his situation is. I think I'm pretty alone in a world of dumb people. This is a common belief. I have various reasons to think it which are not common. CT has some legitimate reasons to think this kinda thing, too. But anyway, I don't like it. I want better people to talk with, to get criticism from, to get suggestions from, to have more articles worth reading and videos worth watching, etc. But lots of people actually don't want that. It's intuitive to me to want it, and I kinda assumed CT would want it when I wrote my letter, but it occurred to me that my perspective is unusual, so maybe he's not interested in finding someone reasonably like-minded who he can talk with as perhaps an equal or even someone who is anywhere near equal. (Related, why wouldn't he be on HBL talking with Binswanger? Binswanger is actually pretty responsive to people who post on his HBL forum. So CT could be talking more with someone he admires, if he wanted to.) I think one should want to find, meet and talk with great people. One should care enough to pursue leads on that, and definitely not feel threatened by it. One of my favorite passages from Atlas Shrugged:

“Miss Taggart, do you know the hallmark of the second-rater? It’s resentment of another man’s achievement. Those touchy mediocrities who sit trembling lest someone’s work prove greater than their own—they have no inkling of the loneliness that comes when you reach the top. The loneliness for an equal—for a mind to respect and an achievement to admire. They bare their teeth at you from out of their rat holes, thinking that you take pleasure in letting your brilliance dim them—while you’d give a year of your life to see a flicker of talent anywhere among them. They envy achievement, and their dream of greatness is a world where all men have become their acknowledged inferiors. They don’t know that that dream is the infallible proof of mediocrity, because that sort of world is what the man of achievement would not be able to bear. They have no way of knowing what he feels when surrounded by inferiors—hatred? no, not hatred, but boredom—the terrible, hopeless, draining, paralyzing boredom. Of what account are praise and adulation from men whom you don’t respect? Have you ever felt the longing for someone you could admire? For something, not to look down at, but up to?”

“I’ve felt it all my life,” she said. It was an answer she could not refuse him.

Also there's one of my favorite Rand quotes that I've never seen any other Objectivists take notice of, from The “Inexplicable Personal Alchemy” in The Return of the Primitive:

Where are America’s young fighters for ideas, the rebels against conformity to the gutter—the young men of “inexplicable personal alchemy,” the independent minds dedicated to the supremacy of truth?

With very rare exceptions, they are perishing in silence, unknown and unnoticed. Consciously or subconsciously, philosophically and psychologically, it is against them that the cult of irrationality—i.e., our entire academic and cultural Establishment—is directed.

They perish gradually, giving up, extinguishing their minds before they have a chance to grasp the nature of the evil they are facing. In lonely agony, they go from confident eagerness to bewilderment to indignation to resignation—to obscurity. And while their elders putter about, conserving redwood forests and building sanctuaries for mallard ducks, nobody notices those youths as they drop out of sight one by one, like sparks vanishing in limitless black space; nobody builds sanctuaries for the best of the human species.

I have a discussion forum (plus websites, articles, videos, open blog comments, and a public email address) that attempts to offer some sanctuary for the best of the human species, especially fighters for ideas. I am unaware of any serious attempt by anyone else to build such a sanctuary (and I've looked quite a lot, both for sanctuaries and for people to invite to mine or discuss with). I hope CT will appreciate and join my sanctuary, or at least care enough to say what he thinks is wrong with it – or, in the alternative (or additionally) I hope he'll care to build his own sanctuary and try to offer sanctuary to me (or tell me why I'm not worthy of such a sanctuary – what am I so wrong or dumb about, that I'm not at all the person I think I am, and is there any way to fix it?). If CT is the person he thinks he is and claims to be, he ought to know this quote and have thought about it, and be taking action accordingly, right? Or if he missed it, perhaps he'll thank me for pointing him to it and start living by it. I know he's trying to be a fighter for ideas, and I respect that, and I am too, and I hope that can lead to some mutually beneficial interaction – but I've had similar hopes with many people and routinely been disappointed by how bad and unreasonable they turn out to be. And unlike most people who say that, I have much of it publicly documented and anyone is welcome to point out how I'm mistaken in my evaluations of what happened. But I haven't given up and have e.g. contacted CT!

Also related to my own view of the world: when I wrote my letter to CT, at the end I suggested discussion. I had in mind asychronous text discussion, particularly on a forum with support for nested quoting and permalinks. He may have thought I wanted a verbal discussion, perhaps to go on YouTube. He seems to favor that kinda format. But I don't think verbal discussion is very good compared to text, especially when it's done in real time so people are rushed. Text with proper quoting is the most serious format which is best for making intellectual progress. It's easier to clear up miscommunications with text, easier to avoid talking past each other, easier to double check things (rereading is much easier than asking people to repeat things), it's easier to be calm and unemotional, it's easier to edit, it's easier for other people to skim or engage with, and so on.

And guys, this isn't just about CT. If you're reading this, and you think you're a fighter for ideas, or want to be, say something. Type a comment below.

Book Writing

CT is writing multiple books but doesn't seem to have any (public) essays. He should build up to books. Writing is hard. People should start small, e.g. tweets.

Master writing tweets. Then 250 word essays, then 500 word essays. Write dozens or hundreds. Work your way up to long essays (like 3000 words). Get really experienced with that. Find out all kinds of ways it's hard, what problems come up, etc, and make progress as a writer. Get fast and comfortable at writing and editing, so it's natural and intuitive and partly automated.

And try dozens of writing styles and see what works well for you, what you like, etc. Experiment.

And read stuff about how to write. Look for tips. Look for in-depth guides. See what ideas are out there and start forming opinions of them and trying most of them out at least a little.

Try to figure out what types of editing and polishing produce a lot of value, and what's unnecessary except for your most polished material, and what's unnecessary in all cases. How can you best spend your writing time to efficiently create a lot of value? What is less efficient but worth doing in special cases? What is common stuff people do that you shouldn't do at all?

After long essays, don't just keep making slightly longer things until you get to books. That won't work well. Long essays can be written with certain kinds of organizational techniques (and, indeed, with limited knowledge of organizing writing at all) and books need other, different ones. To work towards books, the next step after long essays is to try different ways of organizing what you write.

Try different methods of outlining. Try different approaches without an outline. Try different ways of writing notes about the essay in advance to see what helps or not. (Some of this will have been learned while writing essays in the first place, but focus on it more now.) Try dividing essays into named or unnamed sections more. Try writing strictly or loosely to an outline. Try more or less detailed outlining. Try various methods of brainstorming about what to write. Try writing by inspiration for topic and content. Try writing in a more methodical way or more casually and off-hand like speaking in real time or like stream of consciousness writing. Try writing test essays about a topic and seeing how they come out, then a separate real one. Try writing a really-quick, super-rough draft, then editing the hell out of it. Try approaches with more or less editing. Try developing the skill of writing good material the first time that doesn't need much editing – quickly, without a high effort – and see if you can do that effectively. And so on.

And then try putting together longer stuff in various ways, e.g. by writing a 15k word piece that involves 5 long essays glued together, and try different ways of gluing smaller pieces into bigger works. Try making bigger works with fairly independent parts, and with more interconnections, and compare the results and the difficulty of creating them. And think about whether tight coupling of sections of writing is good or bad and why. Tight coupling is the programmer term for having lots of dependencies between parts of a program and, spoiler alert, it's broadly considered bad. Find out issues like that exist – there are many others worth knowing about – and learn about them.

Books are hard – especially some types more than others – and many people spend a ton of time on writing a book and get a bad result. It's better to spend a ton of time on practicing and learning and get to the point you're more reasonably confident you know how to do a good book, and you have the skills so that it won't cost so much time and energy to make. Also, before books, one needs to debate hundreds of people, if not thousands (not as video taped social performances, but mostly as asynchronous text discussion). One really needs to do his best to get criticism from all comers, to find out every reason anyone knows that the ideas you plan to put in the book may be mistaken, and address that. One needs to subject all the book ideas to Paths Forward. One should normally only write books about ideas that one already has public essays about (to allow people to reply to the ideas before you put all the work into making a book version). (BTW, I'm not picky about publication mediums. Blog posts are a type of essay. It doesn't have to be prestigious. You can self-publish on your own website, no problem. You do need to visit other people's forums to seek out more discussion and feedback though, especially if you're obscure.)

Book writing is normally overreaching. People make an overwhelmingly large amount of errors while writing books – which overwhelms their ability to correct errors, and so the books end up with tons of errors in them – because they don't have the massive amount of background knowledge one needs to properly prepare.

In general, people should mostly do fairly easy things. If something isn't easy for you, that means it has a high resource cost (time, energy, etc) for you to do it. If you built up your skills more first – if you focused on self-improvement and self-education more for a while – then you could do the same thing for a cheaper resource cost. If you keep becoming more powerful and practicing and learning, things get easier and easier, so you can do them at a lower resource cost and have way more resources left over to keep learning even more. It's important for life to be a virtuous cycle with a big focus on making progress, and you keep getting better at doing things so you can do more and more stuff more easily. But what people usually do is they focus so much on doing things (like writing books) way too early on, and it's really expensive and takes all their time and energy away from making progress, and so they are always resource-starved (too busy) to learn as much as they should, and so they never get very far in life. And they think they can't take time out to do a bunch more learning and practicing because they don't have time for it, but such activities save time in the long run!

I don't know if CT is making these mistakes but I suspect it (not an accusation, just my initial guess that I will readily change my mind about if I get more information indicating otherwise) and I wanted to write about them again, and some of my comments about how to build up towards writing a book are new.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (17)

Open Letter to Charles Tew

Charles Tew is an Objectivist philosopher who makes lots of YouTube Videos. He writes:

After my experience with formal education, I decided that the most productive and rewarding path for a modern philosopher lay outside of the academic system, so I chose to work and teach independently online.

I appreciate the rejection of academia, and I liked his criticism of Alex Epstein, so I wrote a letter to him, below:


Charles Tew,

https://youtu.be/1d80WTH573k?t=15m10s

You say, "I seem to be critical of Objectivists in a way no one else is willing to be".

I am. For example, I have published criticism of Alex Epstein:

  1. http://curi.us/1688-alex-epstein-attacks-liberty
  2. http://curi.us/1618-alex-epstein-scholarship-problem
  3. http://curi.us/1852-alex-epsteins-pinnacle

I'm an Objectivist and Popperian philosopher who rejected academia. I independently write and make videos. See: https://elliottemple.com

I liked your criticism of Alex.

I worked with Alex for a while when CIP was newer. I did research for him, learned stuff about environmentalism from him, and wrote these articles for CIP:

http://industrialprogress.com/in-defense-of-plastic-bags/
http://industrialprogress.com/dont-take-power-for-granted/

Alex liked me and said I was one of the few people smart enough to contribute ideas to CIP. He has some good qualities, but I broke things off with him because of his unwillingness to discuss some disagreements to a resolution, and a few other flaws. He was content to ignore the disagreements, but I wasn't. Later I saw he was trying to do social status climbing and to suck up to various groups in ways I thought were immoral (see link #3 above for some info). I think Alex is on the road to become Gail Wynand (as the best case scenario, if he gets what he wants rather than staying somewhat obscure).

Some of the original disagreements:

Following Thomas Szasz, I consider "mental illness" a myth and psychiatry dangerous. Alex says things that aid psychiatry and refused to stop and replace them with neutral statements, while also refusing to refute my arguments or Szasz's books.

I wanted to discuss Popper and induction, but Alex chose never to get around to it. (This I could have accepted, but I think it's worth mentioning.)

Alex was unwilling to read the criticism of sustainability in The Beginning of Infinity by David Deustsch (a physicist and philosopher who is an Ayn Rand fan, a Popperian, and who I worked with extensively and learned a lot from for many years). I thought this was unreasonable because there aren't that many philosophical allies for Alex writing new books, so I considered it his job to become familiar with highly relevant ideas in his field. http://beginningofinfinity.com

We had some disagreements about physics which got in the way of Alex publishing an article about sustainability I was working on for him. (If Alex had read The Beginning of Infinity, he could have learned the physics I was talking about and how it's relevant to anti-sustainability arguments.)

Alex wasn't serious and careful enough about fact checking and sources/citations. See link #2 above for an example. I consider almost everyone to do an inadequate job with this. I have a scholarship blog category which mostly contains criticisms of various intellectual and books for this kind of problem. http://curi.us/archives/list_category/77

In drafts for Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, Alex attacked the tobacco industry and smokers. I asked him not to and thought it was an unnecessary tangent in addition to being wrong, but he kept it in. After the book came out, I criticized it in post #1 linked above.

Alex thought I was too arrogant because I criticized Peikoff. He said I should give Peikoff the benefit of the doubt. I did give Peikoff the benefit of the doubt, a ton, but I still reached some critical views anyway. (Despite his flaws, I still appreciate lots of Peikoff's work, especially his old audio recordings. I generally find his old stuff superior to his new stuff. My guess is it's because back then either Rand was still alive and guiding him, or less time had passed for him to go his own way.)

Some of my Peikoff criticism:

http://curi.us/1807-leonard-peikoff-says-hes-not-a-philosopher
http://curi.us/1976-peikoff-getting-parmenides-wrong
http://curi.us/1776-peikoff-children-are-property
http://curi.us/1694-leonard-peikoff-betrays-israel


Alex was part of the inspiration for my writing on what I call Paths Forward. It's about how and why to have some kinda path open by which your mistakes can be corrected and rational people can resolve disagreements with you instead of hitting a 100% impasse with no way to make progress. We should expect to be mistaken about some of our ideas (we're fallible), and in some cases other people know a better idea and would like to tell us, and it's bad to design our intellectual life in a way that that help cannot reach us. I've found pretty much all intellectuals in the world are uninterested in criticism and corrections. Many will discuss a bit, but then they just stop without having any methods of reaching some sort of resolution, and they don't really care. You can ask them something like: "What if you're wrong and your response to me essentially means you plan to stay wrong for the rest of your life? If you're wrong, much of your career will be a waste or actively harmful. And yet you have not addressed the following arguments that you're wrong, nor can you link to anyone else who has ever answered them..." And the answer is generally just: "I guess I'll risk it." And they don't care enough to take an interest in trying to create methods to enable a better answer. Sad! http://fallibleideas.com/paths-forward

An aspect of this which came up with Alex is he would respond to disagreements a few times but then stop, rather than doing enough back-and-forth to make serious progress. So I explained to him the proper pattern of discussion with really knowledgeable people who disagree:

I say something that Alex already has an answer to. We can't skip this step because I don't know which answer Alex will give. He briefly gives the answer, which I've heard before, and I say my answer to that. He can't predict my answer because there are several common answers. Then he says his next answer (that I've heard before, and already have an answer to, but can't predict due to there being other answers that other people use). And so on. You have to go back and forth repeatedly (but it should go quickly) to get to the first part where someone says something the other guy hasn't heard before. But he wouldn't do that, so it shut down discussion. (Virtually no one will do it.)

Alex was not receptive to this explanation and approach (nor did he explain why it's false). He seemed to think basically what everyone else also seems to think: that he was busy and that it was fine for him to just make unexplained judgement calls about what issues to pursue and what issues to be confident he's right about and ignore criticism regarding. Whereas I think that basically a serious intellectual should either answer a challenge, acknowledge he hasn't gotten around to answering it and therefore doesn't know in advance what conclusion he would reach if he had time for it (stay neutral), or link to anything written by anyone (other people or yourself in the past) which addressed the issue and you will endorse and take responsibility for. See the Paths Forward essays for more info.

BTW I found that Harry Binswanger was willing to discuss more than Alex, but it was only temporary and he then banned my dissent because – he said – some of his customers didn't like it. But if that was the whole issue, he would have continued discussing with me on another forum or privately. See my final summary, criticism, and moral judgement regarding Binswanger: http://curi.us/1930-harry-binswanger-refuses-to-think

My best judgement is that George Reisman is in the right in his dispute with Peikoff/ARI/Binswanger.


I hope you'll be interested in discussing some of this or some philosophy ideas. I bet we could find something we disagree about, in which case at least one of us could learn that we were mistaken. That appeals to me and hopefully to you too.


I wrote some additional Thoughts on Charles Tew.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (32)

Popper is Different Than Other Philosophers – Bartley Quote

William W. Bartley on Popper:

Sir Karl Popper is not really a participant in the contemporary professional philosophical dialogue; quite the contrary, he has ruined that dialogue. If he is on the right track, then the majority of professional philosophers the world over have wasted or are wasting their intellectual careers. The gulf between Popper's way of doing philosophy and that of the bulk of contemporary professional philosophers is as great as that between astronomy and astrology. [emphasis added]

I agree with this comment. Note it doesn't apply to Ayn Rand, who is also an outcast from the majority of professional philosophers.


The quote wording is not exact. I haven't checked the original document. Sources:

Bartley, W. W. (September–December 1976), "III: Biology - evolutionary epistemology", Philosophia, 6 (3–4): 463–494

Cite found here and here. Those links, and this website all give slightly different wordings for the quote.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (13)

Backbone, Pushback, Standing Up For Your Ideas

You need to be sturdy to do well in FI philosophy discussions or anywhere. Don’t be pushed around or controlled by people who weren’t even trying to push you around, because you’re so weak and fragile almost anything can boss you around without even trying or intending to.

Broadly, people give advice, ideas, criticism, etc.

Some advice can help you right now. Some of it, you don’t understand, you don’t get it, it doesn’t work for you right now. You could ask a question or follow up and then maybe get more advice so it does work, but you still might not get it. It’s good to follow up some sometimes, but that’s another topic.

The point is: you must use your own judgment about which ideas work for you. What do you understand? What makes sense to you?

Filter all the ideas/advice/criticism in this way. Sort it into two categories:

Category 1 (self-ownership and integration of the idea): Do you get it, yourself, in your own understanding, well enough to use it? Are you ready to use it as your own idea, that is yours, that you feel ownership of, and you take full responsibility for the outcome? Would you still use it even if the guy who said it changed his mind (but didn’t tell you why), because it’s now the best idea in your own mind? Would you still use it if all the people advocating it got hit by cars and died, so you couldn't get additional advice?

Category 2 (foreign, non-integrated, confused idea): You don’t get it. Maybe you partly get it, but not fully. Not enough to live it without ever reading FI again, with no followup help. You don’t understand it enough to adapt it when problems come up or the situation changes. You have ideas in your mind which conflict with it. It isn’t natural/intuitive/automated for you. It feels like someone else’s idea, not yours. Maybe you could try doing their advice, but it wouldn’t be your own action.

NEVER EVER EVER ACCEPT OR ACT ON CATEGORY 2 IDEAS.

If you only use category 1, you’re easy to help and safe to talk to. People can give you advice, and there's no danger – if it helps, great, and if it doesn't help, nothing happens. But if you use category 2, you are sabotaging progress and you're hard to deal with.

Note: the standard for understanding ideas needs to be your own standard, not my standard. If you're somewhat confused about all your ideas (by my standards), that doesn't mean everything is category 2 for you. If you learn an idea as well as the rest of your ideas, and you can own it as much as the rest, that's category 1.

Note: Trying out an idea, in a limited way, which you do know how to do (you understand enough to do the trial you have in mind) is a different idea than the original idea. The trial could be category 1 if you know how to do it, know what you're trying to learn, know how to evaluate the results. Be careful though. It's easy to "try" an idea while doing it totally wrong!


But there's a problem here I haven't solved. Most people can't use the two categories because the idea of the two categories itself is in category 2 for them, so it'd be self-contradictory to use it.

To do this categorizing, they'd need to have developed the skill of figuring out what they understand or not. They'd need to be able to tell the difference effectively. But most people don't know how.

They could try rejecting stuff which is category 2 and unconventional, because that's an especially risky pairing. Except they can't effectively judge what's unconventional, and also they don't understand why that pairing matters well enough (so the idea of checking for category-2-and-unconventional is itself a category 2 idea for them; it's also an unconventional suggestion...).


Note: these ideas have been discussed at the FI discussion group. Here’s a good post by Alisa and you can find the rest of the discussion at that link.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (3)

Passivity as a Strategic Excuse

How much of the "passivity" problems people have – about learning FI and all throughout life elsewhere as well – are that they don't want to do something and don't want to admit that they don't want to? How much is passivity a disguise used to hide disliking things they won't openly challenge?

Using passivity instead of openly challenging stuff is beaten into children. They learn not to say "no" or "I don't want to" to their parents. They learn they are punished less if they "forget" than if they refuse on purpose. They are left alone more if they are passive than if they talk about their reasoning for not doing what the parent wants them to do.

Typical excuses for passivity are being lazy or forgetful. Those are traits which parents and teachers commonly attribute to children who don't do what the parent or teacher wants. Blaming things on a supposed character flaw obscures the intellectual or moral disagreement. (Also, character flaws are a misconception – people don't have an innate character, they have ideas!)

The most standard adult excuse for passivity is being busy. "I'm not passive, I'm actively doing something else!" This doesn't work as well for children because their parents know their whole schedule.

Claiming to be busy is commonly combined with the excuse of privacy to shield what one is busy with from criticism. Privacy is a powerful shield because it's a legitimate, valuable concept – but it can also be used as an anti-criticism tool. It's hard to figure out when privacy is being abused, or expose the abuses, because the person choosing privacy hides the information that would allow evaluating the matter.

Note: Despite people's efforts to prevent judgment, there are often many little hints of irrationality. These are enough for me to notice and judge, but not enough to explain to the person – they don't want to understand, so they won't, plus it takes lots of skill to evaluate the small amount of evidence (because they hid the rest of the evidence). Rather than admit I'm right (they have all the evidence themselves, so they could easily see it if they wanted to), they commonly claim I'm being unreasonable since I didn't have enough information to reach my conclusions (because a person with typical skill at analysis wouldn't be able to do it, not because they actually refute my line of reasoning).

Generic Example

Joe (an adult) doesn't like something about Fallible Ideas knowledge and activities (FI), and doesn't want to say what it is. And/or he likes some other things in life better than FI and wants to hide what they are. Instead of saying why he doesn't pursue FI more (what's bad about it, what else is better), Joe uses the passivity strategy. Joe claims to want to do FI more, get more involved, think, learn, etc, and then just doesn't.

Joe doesn't claim to be lazy or forgetful – some of the standard excuses for passivity which he knows would get criticized. Instead, Joe doesn't offer any explanation for the passivity strategy. Joe says he doesn't know what's going on.

Or, alternatively, Joe says he's busy and that the details are private, and he'd like to discuss it, he just doesn't know how to solve the privacy problem. To especially block progress, Joe might say he doesn't mind having less privacy for himself, but there are other people involved and he couldn't possibly say anything that would reduce their privacy. Never mind that they share far more information with their neighbors, co-workers, second cousins, and Facebook...


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comment (1)

Taxes

Taxpayer funding has partial overlap with slave labor and with theft. It takes people’s wealth by force, regardless of whether they agree or disagree with what the government is using the wealth for. Therefore taxpayer funding should be used highly conservatively – in limited ways when we really can't figure out an alternative. It should be a last resort, not something used casually. There are worse things one can say about taxes. This is a limited, modest statement that all reasonable people ought to be able to agree with it. But instead we live in a nightmare world where most people seem to think it’s good to use $200,000,000 of taxes on a project just because they expect the value from the project – after successful completion within the budget – to be $220,000,000, or because the project promotes some value they care deeply about but find it difficult to voluntarily raise $200,000,000 for.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (2)

Nassim Nicholas Taleb Sucks

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, who is supposedly a Popperian, blocked me on Twitter today for offering some helpful corrections of one of his articles. What a fool.

He admitted I was right and then told me to get lost...

Twitter doesn't offer any good way to link all my relevant tweets from today, but see:

https://twitter.com/nntaleb/status/1007850325066297344

Most of my relevant tweets are replies to that Taleb tweet. I wrote several.


https://twitter.com/curi42/status/1007875578089762817

My comments afterwards (two tweets, not replies to Taleb).


https://twitter.com/nntaleb/status/1007871153074049024

That's the link to Taleb telling me to get lost.


https://twitter.com/curi42/with_replies

That links my recent tweets. It won't be useful in the future but works well if you see this soon.


http://www.fooledbyrandomness.com/SmithBSVendor.html

That's Taleb's article, from his original tweet, which I wrote comments on.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (93)

Individualism and Responsibility Matter For Ideas

Objectivism and Critical Rationalism present reasonable targets for criticism. The main content was developed by a single person who took responsibility for creating something reasonably well-defined and complete. This is typical of original work: a pioneer comes up with some new ideas, develops them, names them, and they mean something.

Libertarianism and Inductivism are difficult to criticize because they mean different things to different people. They are full of internal debates. The terms don't identify any particular system of ideas. Instead, the terms broadly refer to many different thinkers and ideas with some similarities – and also plenty of differences. Because of the failure of these terms to unambiguously identify any particular ideas, debate and progress are more difficult. (Sometimes ideas start out this way. Other times they start with a specific meaning and become vague as a defense mechanism because criticism refutes the original meaning.)

Some philosophical positions begin with a clear meaning, which can then be discussed. Others begin with group similarity between multiple inadequate ideas (or, worse, people) and then stay vague forever.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Comments on Edith Packer's Psychology Lectures

Comments on Lectures on Psychology: A Guide to Understanding Your Emotions by Edith Packer (Objectivist and wife of George Reisman).

So far I've read the first 3 chapters, which cover core evaluations (I think this chapter is worth reading, even though I think it exaggerates some things), "Obsessive-Compulsive Syndrome", and happiness.

Suppose a child concludes: “No one cares about me.” This apparently calls for another conclusion—this time, about the child himself. For example, that “There must be something wrong with me.” And then, if the child feels that there is something wrong with him, he may conclude that life has nothing to offer him.

If no one cares about you, that doesn't imply something is wrong with you. People might have no idea whether you're good, bad or neutral, and be focused on their own lives.

Being flawed doesn't mean life has nothing to offer. No one would conclude that without some other bad ideas playing a significant role.

Most children do not share many of their important thoughts and emotions with their parents. For these reasons, there are very few people who reach adulthood without having some core evaluations that are at least partially mistaken.

True.

You have heard people say about some person, “He overcame his terrible background and became a famous doctor.” This does indeed occur. There are some inspiring examples of people developing sound core evaluations even after many severe childhood injuries and becoming not only successful, but also happy, as adults. But in most cases, a child whose experiences lead him to feel continuous self-doubt, fear, guilt, and loneliness, will embrace some type of mistaken or irrational core evaluations.

The unstated premise here is that famous doctors have great core evaluations. Actually great doctors (or any other speciality) are usually just good at the one thing and pretty screwed up in general. It's more common that a great doctor has a conventional marriage full of standard flaws than that he has a great marriage.

The first thing that has to be done is for the patient to discover the original concrete experiences—usually painful ones—which caused him deep injury. Then the concrete experiences have to be reconnected with the evaluations that subsequently developed into the patient’s core evaluations.

No! Causes and solutions are different things. Knowing childhood causes often doesn't help much with solutions.

Now, in principle, an individual could go through this process [of identify and improving core evaluations] by himself. But, in my opinion, the process should in fact only be attempted with the aid of a competent psychotherapist.

This is authoritarian and really hostile to the capacity for individuals to act effectively to improve their own lives. It says to put your life in the hands of psychological authorities and don't dare to try to make progress on your own.

Being an authoritarian is normal in general, but it's worth pointing out coming from an Objectivist author who sat on the board of directors of the Ayn Rand Institute.

The second attitude the happy person developed as the result of his egoism, along with that of responsibility for his own happiness, is his acceptance of the fact that he must expend effort in the pursuit of what is important to him.

When he was little, the effort simply consisted of such things as persisting in trying to convince his parents to give him the toy he wanted or in trying to learn how the toy he has been given works. Later, it consisted of such things as making the discovery that if he wants to learn to ride a bicycle, he has to put some effort into learning how to keep his balance when riding it. Similarly, in school, when he began to study more difficult subjects, such as fractions and decimals, and later algebra and geometry, he realized that there is pleasure in being able to understand, but that the pleasure follows only after the expenditure of the necessary effort.

Eventually the happy person learns that the more effort he puts into something, the more expert he becomes at it and the more he can enjoy the activity. His repeated successful application of effort in thinking and action results in his discovery that the process of exerting effort is essential to enjoyment, even if in the beginning it feels like drudgery. This discovery leads him to realize that exerting effort is the key to his ability to achieve his values. And then, since he recognizes that effort is what achieves his values, he connects pleasure with exerting the necessary effort itself. Later, since the effort is usually expended in learning, he becomes able to connect pleasure with learning. Finally, expending the effort to acquire knowledge in general brings him a sense of enjoyment because he experiences knowledge as the key to achieving values. And his expenditure of effort is punctuated by jolts of happiness as his efforts bring him successes in learning new things. Thus effort, learning, and knowledge become values to the happy person—values that consistently provide him with joy in his everyday life.

This is my favorite passage so far. I added the italics.

if you know a person who claims to have a good, rational philosophy, but is unhappy, the likelihood is that his actions are not consistent with that philosophy.

No, the likelihood is that he's mistaken about having a good, rational philosophy. That's very rare. It's also rare for one's actions to be consistent with his stated philosophy (good or not), but it's a big mistake to simply accept claims that anyone (let alone an unhappy person) has a good, rational philosophy.


Update:

Obviously, the more severe cases of sexual self-doubt require the specialized knowledge of a therapist.

Another authoritarian comment which tells people they're incapable of solving their own problems and require experts to tell them what to think and do. And we're told this is obvious!


Update 2:

I finished the book. Parts are pretty good but it's also dangerous. Beware psychology! Even especially good pscyhology like this still contains major dangers.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

How To Learn Something – With Plans and Steps

You take an interest in learning something, X. Perhaps someone recommends it to you. What do you do next? Jump right in?

The first step is making a plan for how to learn X. It may be pretty rough, especially in later stages (for a complex X, you won’t understand how to learn part 5 until after learning part 3). But you need some kind of outline or overview of a plan that goes all the way to the end. You need a concept of how success is possible or you don’t even know which direction or immediate actions could lead to success.

The second step is evaluating the plan: Can you do it successfully? What resources does it require? What prior knowledge does the plan build on, and do you already have it or not?

Step 3 is commonly to expand the plan: you add some steps at the beginning to learn some other things first (prerequisites). These are plans themselves and you need to outline how they will work, evaluate if you’re prepared to do them, check what resources they require, and possibly add more plans before them to learn even earlier knowledge.

In this way, you can be like “I want to learn Atlas Shrugged” (AS) and end up with a big plan, in tree shape, with 500 parts. You don’t have the skills or background knowledge to learn AS right now, so the plan involves learning 8 things first. And for each of those 8 things, you are missing 3 things you need to learn first. And for some of those 3, you’re missing 1-4 things that come before it. And for some of those, you’re missing some prerequisite. Some of the chains could be a dozen or more things long from AS to the earliest knowledge you don’t have yet.

There isn’t one single canonical organization of which knowledge comes early and late, what order it goes in, etc. You can develop a plan and it’s not the only plan possible. What is early in your plan might be late in someone else’s, or vice versa, and both plans could still work. However, plans can’t be random. It’s not subjective or arbitrary. There are facts about what does and doesn’t work, and there are themes where some things (e.g. learning addition) are early or late in most good plans.

Sometimes it helps to start working on something a little to discover what prerequisites you’re missing. E.g. you might try reading a dozen pages of AS to find out that: you don’t understand it clearly enough, you don’t know how to discuss it well enough, you don’t know how to take notes as you go along well enough, you don’t know how to stop and think about a passage and figure out what it means very well, you don’t know how to follow logical arguments, and it’s going to take a lot of time and mental focus/energy to read. You would then recognize you need to get more resources to allocate to the project (more time and mental focus/energy) and you need to create and succeed at plans to improve at each of the skills you’re not great at which came up when you tried reading a bit of the book (reading skill, discussion skill, etc). Just one of those prerequisites is to be better at understanding logical arguments, and that itself needs its own plan which will need its own resources and prerequisites, which will need their own plans, and so on. If you are a young child you’ll end up with perhaps 50 things, arranged in a tree, for your plan to learn logic, its prerequisite plans, their prerequisite plans, and so on, in 8 layers. And it’s the same if you’re an adult who doesn’t know a lot about this stuff, which is typically because our parenting and schooling is in major ways sabotage rather than helpful.

So if someone suggests you should read AS or learn logic, that does not mean you should just immediately do it. You need to make a plan and check if the plan will work for you today. If you cannot do your plan you need a new plan or to work on some prior stuff to prepare for doing the plan.

Being like, “Well he said to read this book or learn that topic, so I was trying to do it” is pretty thoughtless if you’re not even close to being able to do it. It means you didn’t actually make a plan for how to succeed that you evaluated and thought would work with your current skills/resources/knowledge. And if you don’t know how to make plans or evaluate if they will work, that is itself a prerequisite for any complex learning project. You need to learn that before you learn anything that isn’t really basic. You can learn really basic stuff (which can be succeeded at like it’s a one-part plan, basically) and then you can use what you learned to help build up towards learning how to make two part plans, then three part plans, and so on. You can get better at gradually more complex planning and plan evaluation as you learn more stuff. You can build up planning related skills in parallel with building up knowledge of other stuff.

If you look at AS and go “I don’t even know how to plan that” then your plan should be “get better at planning, revisit AS later” and then you can make a plan for how to get better at planning. You can still look at that as a plan for how to read AS, since it involves AS at the end. In this way, you can start anywhere, including with AS, no matter how much of a beginner you are. However, if you’re bad at tracking plan hierarchies then you can simplify by just forgetting about AS and starting with something more basic.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (4)