You should actually do this ... or post your objections below. Also share comments, questions, tips for others, etc.
You should actually do this ... or post your objections below. Also share comments, questions, tips for others, etc.
my current main idea for how to improve the world is to spread the idea that intellectuals should publicly write down their discussion rules.
it’s something that fans could demand from authors, podcasters, etc, esp the many who do Q&As, AMAs, etc
and it gives a way for new ppl to identify themselves as rational, and challenge those with larger audiences and differentiate themselves
this is an example of a medium level CR idea. it’s not tiny details, but it’s an application of CR thinking.
it’s not super connected to CR, like it doesn’t logically follow from evolutionary epistemology. but it fits the critical, fallibilist spirit and concretizes a piece of how error correction can work.
other ppl are less interested b/c of their disinterest in criticism and error correction, whereas i see things like how to be open to lots of criticism as crucial.
it’s also one of the main problems i ran into when trying to talk to intellectuals. also with the ppl who come to FI and quit, it’s very hard to stop them from quitting b/c they all have different unstated rules about what they will quit over.
also, the vast majority of discussion forums are moderated. they usually have some written rules but the moderators do not follow those rules, and actually moderate by unwritten rules.
intellectuals will lie about their discussion rules. they’d have to be called out for this a lot. and there’d have to be an ethos of follow the literal rules instead of it being ok to break them whenever it’s common sense or you have a reason.
which is why ppl put up with moderator actions. they routinely break written rules, or enforce unwritten rules, to act in socially normal ways that seem reasonable or common sense to many ppl.
our legal system is better than this. you only go to jail if you LITERALLY break laws. this is very ingrained in judges, jury instructions, etc. (otoh you can be let off the hook if you literally broke the law but ppl think what u did is fine. the exceptions mostly just go the one way, for innocence and tolerance.)
See also my writing on Paths Forward, such as Using Intellectual Processes to Combat Bias and the further material linked at the bottom of that article.
Discuss issues relating to religion or atheism.
People help each other. I will discuss parents helping children. These comments apply to many other situations.
John helps his daughter Lily in lots of ways, but he can’t give her unlimited help. He has a limited amount of resources: time, money, energy, attention, creativity, etc.
When Lily is very young, John decides how to help her. He uses his best judgment. He tries to take into account Lily’s gestures and reactions, but he makes the decisions. He decides how much to help and which types of help to provide.
As Lily gets older, she can make verbal requests for help, and John is often responsive to those. And later she can start planning her life more and having long term goals that she asks for help with. How John helps is still partly his decision, but he partly lets Lily decide for him. Sometimes John does something to help that he doesn’t want to, or disagrees with, because Lily cares a lot.
Since Lily gets a limited amount of help, it must be budgeted just like any other scarce resource. Lily could benefit from more help than is available. Choices have to be made about which help happens and which help does not happen. John and Lily have to say “no” to some types of help that would benefit Lily because they don’t have the resources, like time, to do them all.
John and Lily will be better off if they know that helping must be budgeted and they try to understand the prices of different types of help.
In order for Lily to get helped effectively, cost and benefit must be considered. How expensive is a particular piece of help, and how big are the benefits?
Suppose John can provide 100 points of help per day. Having a 30 minute tea party with Lily and her dolls might cost 20 points, and having a 2 hour tea party might cost all 100 points. And going out to the park is 40 points, and watching Lily’s TV show with her and answering questions is 30 points, and making her an easy dinner is 10 points, and making her a hard dinner is 50 points, and so on. That means, for example, that Lily shouldn’t ask for a 2 hour tea party if she also wants to go to the park today.
Some days, John goes over budget. That’s unsustainable. he can’t help that much, on average, every day, but he can do it occasionally as an exception. If John helps too much and keeps it up for months, then his own life will suffer, he’ll be unhappy, he’ll be exhausted, and he’ll end up having a worse life and being less helpful to Lily.
For life to go smoothly in general, John and Lily need to be aware of the budget and make reasonable choices about which things to fit into the budget and which not to. That requires having some idea of how big the budget is and how expensive different types of help are.
The prices are just estimates, but they can often be pretty decent estimates. You can’t make perfect predictions, in advance, about how expensive an activity will be. For example, John doesn’t know exactly how tiring taking Lily to the park today would be.
Technically the budget involves many different currencies: time, money, energy, etc. An activity can use 3 points of time, 7 points of money, and 5 points of energy. To simplify, it’s often OK to just think of a single budget for help and hope things average out OK (some activities cost more money than average, but some are free, so overall if the help budget comes out OK then the money budget may come out OK too). If there’s a notable shortage of a particular resource (commonly time, money or energy), then paying attention to that budget can help. People are pretty aware of time and money as limited resources, but pay somewhat less attention to energy. Sometimes you have plenty of time to do something but you’re too tired. E.g., after work one day, John might have 4 hours of free time, but because he’s tired he doesn’t want to do much more than watch TV.
Typical families do a poor job of communicating about budgeting. Parents don’t tell their children much about money. The child doesn’t know how much money the parent makes or what it’s spent on. Instead of rational budgeting, parents help in socially normal ways with no overall plan. As individual things come up, the parent tries to help if it’s a normal way that parents help children, and the parent can help (the budget hasn’t already run out). Then when the budget runs out, the parent starts saying “no” to stuff and the child is disappointed. Then the parent talks about how much he already helped his child, and how much he does for his child in general, instead of talking about how to stop doing some of those ways of helping so that the child can get some more things of his choice without running into “no”. The parent doesn’t normally say, “I don’t have time to do that for you today, but we can talk about which things I can skip doing for you tomorrow in order to save time for it and for your other requests.”
Parents often find their children’s requests unpredictable. Some days have way more requests than others. This makes it hard for the parent to know how much budget to save for the child’s requests, vs. how much help to offer the child earlier in the day.
Children often don’t think about budgeting, they just want all the help that seems reasonable or normal to them, that they see on TV or see their friends get, or that sounds good to them. That doesn’t work and leads to disappointment. They would be better off if they thought about budgeting. A 4 year old can understand and think about some budget, and a 14 year old can do a lot.
Parents can think of helping their children in three different ways: asks, expectations and guesses. Asks are things the child asks for. Expectations are things the parent is pretty confident the child wants, e.g. because he’s asked for it a lot in the past or likes it a lot. And guesses are things the parent thinks the child might like. Guesses should usually be small things so it’s not a big deal if it doesn’t work out. If the parent guesses the child would like a big thing, the parent should ask the child about it before spending a lot of resources on it.
With babies, parents start out guessing. These guesses are informed by our culture. People know, in general, what kinds of stuff babies commonly like and dislike. That gives the parent some ideas about how to help. Then the parent sees how the baby reacts, and what happens, and can start customizing the help and having some expectations. As children get older, they ask for more and more things. Once they are adults and move out, they still occasionally get help from their parents, and most of that help is specifically asked for.
At first, the parent controls the whole helping budget. Over time, he gives up control of an increasing large amount of the budget to the child. This makes rational budgeting harder. When the parent makes all the decisions, he can have a master plan. Parents are often stressed and don’t do a great job at bigger picture planning, but at least they can do it, and do give it some thought. Once the budget has two people deciding on expenditures, it’s harder to control and plan. The two people don’t have all the same goals. So one person is spending the budget for some goals, and the other is spending it for different goals, so it’s not all being used according to one single plan. People fight over budgets when they have different goals: John is trying to get Lily to do the stuff John thinks should be done, and wants help budget spent on that, but Lily has other ideas and wants more of the budget used her way. It gets really bad when people’s goals contradict and they are using shared resources, so they end up using up the resources to work against each other.
It’s hard for 10 year old Lily to control the helping budget because she doesn’t control the help provided in the expectations or guesses categories. And it’s hard for John to control the helping budget because he doesn’t control the help provided in the asks category. Lily does have some control about expectations (John is paying attention to what she likes, what she wanted in the past, etc) and guesses (Lily has less control here, but John tries not to spend a lot of budget on this because, for that reason, it’s a riskier category). And John does have some control over asks – he can say no or he can discuss whether an ask is a good idea and maybe change Lily’s mind.
John and Lily often don't see the costs or benefits of help the same way. Sometimes Lily asks for something which she believes is easy, but it's hard for John (it uses up a lot more budget than Lily expected). Sometimes John offers help which he thinks is very helpful to Lily, so it's worth the price. Lily accepts because it helps her a little, but it's not actually worth the price.
The budget model of helping can help John and Lily understand that there are limited resources (rather than just trying to do socially normal help in an ad hoc way) communicate about the costs and benefits of different ways of helping, think about big picture plans and goals, and try to figure out a budget which will do a good job of helping with those goals.
The primary qualification for being regarded as an intellectual is to develop a reputation and convince people to regard you as an intellectual.
Being widely regarded as “intellectual” is a social status. It is achieved through specific types of social climbing.
Social climbing and reason are enemies. They’re incompatible. Someone really good at reason would reject social climbing. So we should expect to find that most “intellectuals” are bad at reason. And, from extensive surveying, I think the evidence fits the prediction well.
Being regarded as an intellectual does have something to do with being smart or figuring out some good ideas, at least in some cases. It’s not purely a social game. The best thinkers sometimes gain some intellectual reputation, though often not the best or highest reputation. So e.g. the best living economist, George Reisman, is largely unheard of, but would be regarded by most people as being an intellectual (since he was a professor and wrote a 1000 page book on economics). There are many more examples of great thinkers without accurate reputations.
Some types of intellectual accomplishments are easier to judge than others, so they do a better job of leading to a reputation regardless of what else the person does. Generally scientific ideas (“hard” sciences only) are easier to judge than philosophical ideas. Hence most famous philosophers are awful, while a fair amount of famous scientists are actually good (particularly people who got famous for scientific work, not for writing popular books about science or doing a science podcast or something like that).
Reputations sometimes get more accurate centuries after someone dies. That removes some of the social factors from mattering, and it gives people in the field more time to sort out which ideas are actually good. In general, scientists are much better at science 300 years later, so they can do a decent job of judging the scientific achievements of the scientists from 300 years in the past. However, historians are often wrong. The news is often wrong about what happened yesterday, and historians have a much harder job that gets harder as things get older. False reputations can persist for centuries and the refuting information can be lost.
The good news is: making intellectual contributions has a lower barrier to entry than you may have thought. You don’t need a fancy reputation. Most of the people you think are above you are incompetent. You don’t need the same education or peers that they have in order to do good work.
But beware. You can easily make the same mistakes as them. You can focus on social climbing while pretending to yourself that you’re seeking truth. Avoiding that is more important, and harder to come by, than any credentials.
The bad news is: if you don’t think, you can’t safely expect other people to do it for you. It’s not a safe thing to count on others doing correctly. You should try to learn and reason, yourself, if you value your life, instead of leaving your fate in the hands of our society's “intellectual authorities”.
The world needs more people who are willing to try to learn and think. The main tools needed are honesty, curiosity, energy, avoiding bias, choosing truth over social perceptions, and some stuff like that, not to have an extensive education or to be born a “genius”. Those things are harder and rarer than most people think, but if you think you have them, do something with them. E.g. start discussing ideas in the comments below. Anyone can do it if they are willing to prioritize truth over social status.
How can you tell if you're overreaching? Here are simple guidelines:
90% of the time, thinking should take 2 minutes or less. (1 in 10 things goes past 2 minutes.)
90% of cases that take longer should be under 15 minutes. (1 in 100 things goes past 15 minutes.)
90% of the cases that take longer than that should be under 2 days. (1 in 1000 things goes past 2 days.)
Next steps should be fast. You shouldn't be stuck for long periods of time. ("Long" means longer than the amounts of time above. A main point of this post is that people have the times wrong and are routinely stuck for a few hours and don't realize how long and bad that is.)
Most stuff you do should be small and easy. If it's not, break it into smaller parts (so that you can be making progress frequently by finishing one little part) or find easier stuff to do.
If someone says something, you should usually have an idea of your reply within 2 minutes. A clarifying question is fine as a reply. It doesn't have to be a big thing. Or if you are going to give a big reply where you make 5 points, then you could think of each point as a mini project and figure each one out in 2 minutes.
If you're writing an article or novel, most steps should take less than 2 minutes of thinking before you do them. A paragraph is a reasonable step. You decide what the next idea will be, then you write the paragraph for it. If you stop midway through the paragraph, starting again is another step. If you need to do planning for the paragraph, e.g. checking your notes about the plot and your chapter outline, those activities are also steps. If you spend 10 minutes reading your notes before starting a paragraph, that's fine, that's time spent making progress on the activity. The time limits are for the time you aren't doing anything, where you're just thinking and not actively, directly getting anything time. When the breaks between actively doing stuff are larger than these time limits, that indicates it's hard for you and a lot of problems are coming up and you're probably making a bunch of mistakes.
Don't try to cheat. This will only help people who approach it honestly. Like if you think of a clarifying question in 10 seconds, just ask it. Don't save it for 1 minute 50 seconds to try to get extra thinking time.
If you're usually going near the time limits, something is wrong. Sometimes it should be 5 seconds, sometimes 30 seconds, sometimes 90 seconds. If you're frequently just under 2 minutes (or a little over and rounding down), you're probably overreaching. For the 2 day timeframe, most of those should only take a couple hours of time you actually spend on it. Actually spending a large portion of one day, let alone two days, should be much rarer. Two days gives you time to sleep on it, or leave it on the back burner for a while, wihch is good to do occassionally.
These guidelines are not exact but the simplicity and ease-of-measurement are major upsides. They can give you a ballpark of what to look for. Compare what you do to this and see if it's even close. I think people don't have much understanding of how long "too long" is, in concrete numbers, so this will help.
We live in a mixed society. Partly open, partly closed, in Popper’s terms. Partly dynamic/rational, partly static/anti-rational, in DD’s meme terms.
What sort of mix is it?
Things change within the time scale of one generation or less. Not just technology. Fashion changes. Political trends/ideas/talking-points change, and these changes aren’t just adaptations of the same principles to new situations, there are changes in goals and bigger picture ideas.
Our society allows for lots of change, but it’s full of contradictions. Many people advocate being nicer to animals than to children. People learn anti-macho ideas, and ideas about peace instead of war, and various others, and they don’t apply this to their treatment of children. They make an exception for children. It’s not the only exception, just a big one. People’s way of behaving towards children is resistant to change. Many things resist change and progress.
Intellectuals, in general, are not open to criticism in general. There are specific, limited mechanisms by which they listen to new ideas (and they are extremely resistant writing down what the mechanisms and limits are, they don’t want to study or document that, or think about it much). They have some partial willingness to listen to ideas from peers, from authors with good reputations, from people with lots of credentials who get past the gatekeepers who edit academic journals. Sometimes they’ll listen to an idea from any source, if they happen to like it, but that’s much less reliable, there’s more resistance there. They find it much easier to ignore an idea from a low intellectual-social status person than from a high status person in their field.
Intellectuals, in general, are not interested in ideas as a category. They work in some limited area. This isn’t just a matter of specialization. They generally stick to the limits even when presented with explanations of why ideas in other areas are relevant to what they are doing. Intellectuals are generally either fakers or people who are interested in one area instead of no areas.
Most people really aren’t very interested in ideas in a serious way. So plenty of intellectuals are different. Even if it’s only like 5% of intellectuals that are interested in ideas in one area, that’s still a lot of people. The faking rates are higher in academia and in government work, and lower in the business world and with hobbyists/amateurs/non-professionals who actually spend a lot of time on it (there are a lot of amateurs who do intellectual stuff to feel clever, or whatever, but they don’t do a whole lot of it, and the faking rates are very high there).
Some of the difficulties for me, btw, are:
1) Only a handful of people are genuinely interested in epistemology. I present as evidence that someone with a real interest in the matter would not ignore Popper. They might disagree with Popper, but they’d be interested in some other ideas to engage with that offer some originality and some different approaches.
2) People who are interested in some other area, but not epistemology, are hard to talk with or collaborate with or whatever. Cuz they make some mistakes related to thinking methods (epistemology) and then they aren’t interested in that and won’t fix it. The thinking method errors create patterns of chronic error within their field. And I want to talk about the patterns, not the individual errors, but that doesn’t work for them because thinking about patterns like that is outside their field.
Epistemology is the most important field and it comes up so much in all the other fields. (That is a main reason why it interests me.) So when dealing with bounded intellectuals, who have limited interests, epistemology is the most common point of conflict. Epistemology is the most common tangent to come up that I think is crucially important and they don’t want to do.
Epistemology deals with thinking methods and criticism, and rational epistemology is a threat to static memes in all fields. So it’s one of the core things resisted by static memes in general. So that makes it hard.
Most of the resistance is passive, btw. People mostly just don’t do very much, and that passivity is extra strong when it comes to key areas like epistemology or parenting ideas. But hundreds of millions of people not doing much can still add up to quite a bit of change in society as a whole.
It’s very hard to tell how much there are a few doers/leaders/pioneers, and the others are mostly ballast, as Ayn Rand talked about. Or, in the alternative, the people getting credit didn’t do much and it was just lots of tiny contributions adding up. Maybe both things happen and it’s not primarily one or the other. Certainly there are plenty of fake leaders getting underserved credit, but there seem to be some real ones too. Some of the clearer examples are some of the few scientists who were highly productive. Maybe a few of them were just one among many who happened to get lucky, but I think some of them were actually exceptional. (Maybe some of them were one among twenty exceptional people who happened to get luckier than the others. Maybe that’s common. I don’t really know.)
Why care about philosophy? Because it’s the field which studies methods of thinking, and you use thinking in your life.
Can’t I think without knowing philosophy? Sure, but philosophy is the field which helps improve your thinking. Your choices are: don’t think about thinking, think about thinking and try to create or reinvent good ideas yourself (try to be a pioneer who is also ignorant of the field), or learn what is already known about it (and then maybe try to improve something after you are familiar with existing knowledge).
Isn’t it good enough to read a few life hacks about how to think better? No, those don’t work very well.
And Kant works well? No, Kant’s philosophy is much worse than nothing. There are many different philosophies. Some are good and some bad. You should learn about a bunch of philosophies and compare them and make your own judgment about what’s good. If you don’t do that, you will think using some of our culture’s default ideas about how to think, while not having a clear idea of what you’re doing or why.
Are our culture’s default philosophical ideas good enough? If you look around you’ll see lots of suffering. You have problems in your life and so do your friends. Better ideas allow for better results.
How do I try a bit of this philosophy thing? Read a little bit of something. If you’re having a good time, try a little of something else. After a few things, say something. Talk about what you think it’s about, how you think it’s useful, etc., and get feedback and criticism. Or ask questions. Or see if other people agree about what it means. In the alternative, if you don’t like something, if you run into some problem, talk about that. Talk fairly casually and keep it simple. Don’t put a bunch of effort into trying to be fancy or clever or sound smart. Use small words. Any effort you put into writing should go into clarity – saying what you mean so that people can understand you.
Can you be more specific? Not without you sharing any info. People have different life situations. The Fallible Ideas website has essays you can read, book recommendations, and discussion forums. Look around at a variety of things, not just my stuff. You should compare and make your own judgments. And then talk about your judgments so that e.g. someone can point out a way you misunderstood something and can change your mind.
I’ve tried discussing philosophy and the discussions weren’t very good, so shouldn’t I just give up? No, thinking better isn’t a topic to give up on just because some resources aren’t very good. It’s too important to pursue only if there are convenient, easy ways to pursue it. Try other options. And if you found something inadequate about my forums, you can and should say what it is. Unlike many other forums, no moderator will block you from expressing problems with the forum itself. That’s encouraged. Then a misunderstanding could be cleared up, or the forum could be changed, or everyone could agree it’s a different kind of forum than what you wanted, or whatever. Some kind of conclusion could be reached if you communicate about the issue. And keep in mind the problem could partly be you. If you go to a bunch of forums and the discussions you have aren’t very good (and you have the same issues with groups of friends, meetups, study groups, etc), maybe you’re doing something wrong. One of the things you can do about is try having a couple discussions then ask if anyone knows anything you’re doing wrong or knows anything you could do better to achieve some goal you have (saying what your goals are also helps).
How do I get inspired or motivated to actually do this? It’s up to you what to do with your life. Don’t look to me for that. I have suggestions about what makes sense and arguments that you haven’t refuted. But it’s up to you whether to be motivated by things like reasoning about why something matters which you can’t point out any errors in. Most people don’t find that kind of abstract intellectual issue motivating. Try thinking of some things that you find motivational, like some goals you have, and then writing down (or speaking out loud) some ways that better thinking would help with them. For example, if you want to get laid, better thinking helps. If you want to run or manage a business, better thinking helps. Thinking is a generic tool used in all human activities, so it’s relevant no matter what your interests are.
People have two main modes of doing tasks: now or never.
They often try to do tasks soon, but not today. Then a few months later they haven't done it. A small portion of those tasks get reprioritized and most get abandoned (a few remain on people's unrealistic todo lists year after year).
People are bad at scheduling things which are semi-urgent. They don't have to do it immediately, but they shouldn't put it off for months.
Semi-urgent is a really common category. Learning in general is semi-urgent. It's uncommon that you need to learn something right now. If you learn to read at age 7 or at age 7.25 (3 whole months later), it's not a big deal. If you learn a math concept a few months later, in the long run that doesn't matter. If you learn about WWII a few months later, it doesn't matter. But you don't want to put those things off forever, either. They are good to learn reasonably soon.
A major reason for now or never is short-term emotions. People have a spark of excitement or interest that quickly fades, so they have to do something now (or quite soon) or else they lose their motivation. They commonly lose their motivation when they sleep and get an emotional reset. There isn't a simple fix for this. People should stop basing their lives on short-term emotions. They should stop being whim worshipers, as Ayn Rand called it.
I have a partial solution to this problem. It's a way of specifying "soon" in more detail.
You do 80% of the things you plan to do "soon" within 1 week. Of the ones you don't do, you finish 80% of those within 1 more week (2 total). Of the ones you don't do, you finish 80% of those with 2 more weeks (4 total). If you still didn't do it, you can give up.
With this method, less than 1% of stuff won't get done. And each phase is reasonably easy. You're only trying to do 4 out of 5 things. You can have a significant failure rate (up to 1 in 5) and still succeed at the 80% target. And there are only 3 phases, and the maximum time you have to worry about something is under a month.
Even though it has a small number of lenient phases, this method gets 96% of things done within 2 weeks and 99.2% within 4 weeks.
What can go wrong? The biggest thing is you plan to do stuff you don't want to do. Then you still won't want to do it next week or the week after. If you're intentionally avoiding something, I haven't offered any advice to fix that. And if you primarily act based on short-term emotions which are gone in week 2, this method also doesn't address that. And I don't tell you when you should change your mind and purposely decide not to do stuff (other than letting you off the hook after the third phase, which should happen less than 1% of the time so it's not that big a deal).
Still, I think it offers some useful guidelines. It gives you ballparks of what should be happening if things are going right and you're acting reasonably. When you deviate from this method, you can use that as a signal that something is broken – you're trying to do something you don't want to do, or you're trying to do something that you were emotional about when you decided to do it and you're no longer emotional about it, or your scheduling is broken in some way (e.g. you plan to do way more things than you have time for).
People commonly have only a vague idea of when "soon" is, so they don't even know when things should be getting done or when they are failing. It helps to have some guidelines for "soon" to compare your behavior against, so you can see which things you did soon and which you didn't, instead of fooling yourself with moving goalposts.
It's hard to believe how badly run these things are. Crypto is full of scams, money laundering and crime. The main scam is ponzi schemes: the price keeps going up as long as more "investors" buy in, and whoever the last round of buyers are will lose a ton of money. Crypto is not seeing a significant amount of use as an actual replacement for dollars and credit cards.
Anyway all the crypto exchanges are run by total amateurs who, knowingly or not, routinely commit financial fraud. And some examples can bring home what that really means:
That's bad. Like really, really bad. It never occurred to them to be like "What happens to the company if our founder-CEO gets hit by a bus?" That's a standard question for startups. And this is certainly not the first time crypto money has been lost because a password was lost due to someone's death or another reason. That is a well known potential disaster. So they should have had protections against the well known danger, and they didn't. So that's awful.
But it gets way worse if you actually read the article. It's the kind of stuff that's hard to make up and would seem unrealistic if you made it up. It's so ridiculous:
Canadian crypto exchange [...] unexpectedly died in India
So he didn't even get hit by a Canadian bus. He died over in a risker country. Traveling to a less safe place wasn't enough to get them to be more careful.
The exchange holds [...] totaling $147 million, according to the affidavit.
And they owe $190 million. So they'd already lost $43 million before the founder died.
died “due to complications with Crohn’s disease
Crohn's disease is a chronic condition. So he didn't get hit by a bus, he died to a problem he already knew he had.
Cotten left behind no business records.
And yet people trusted him with $190 million.
As CBC noted, the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce froze $26 millions worth of QuadrigaCX’s assets in January 2018 “after finding irregularities with payment processing,” and a document from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in 2018 concluded that “$67-million worth of transactions ended up improperly transferred into the personal account of Costodian Inc, the payment processor.”
They'd already had big problems with tens of millions of dollars a year earlier. It's not like everything seemed OK until this one disaster happened.
“This is a tough lesson learned,” Calgary customer Elvis Cavalic told CBC, adding that he had been unable to withdraw $15,000 in holdings in October 2018.
The end of the article has the coup de grace: customers couldn't actually get their money out months ago when the founder was still alive and the password wasn't lost. Cuz crypto is a mix of a joke and a scam. Stay the hell away.
On FI, someone keeps asking how to feel that one is overreaching. Shouldn't there be an emotion to tell you what's going on?
No. Emotions are software, developed by our culture (mostly thousands of years ago). It's kind of like: every minute, or when something notable happens, that software runs through a checklist of 5000 things. If one is going on, it runs through another checklist with more detailed stuff for that issue. The results of the software analysis is presented in a short summary which we call an "emotion".
Our emotion software doesn't know about all situations or issues. It knows about a lot of stuff but not everything. There aren't emotions for everything. There's no reason it'd have to cover everything. It's not complete. Even if people had ten times as many emotions it still wouldn't be complete.
If there was an emotion for everything, emotions would be useless. A summary has to condense information. Emotions are focused on areas our culture considers important. They're selective. They prioritize. They help direct our attention to what matters. If there were emotions for everything, they wouldn't be a summary anymore, and they wouldn't be worth paying attention to. You'd have to have a second layer of software that screens the emotions for the ones you consider important and ignores the rest. If you want information about everything, use your eyes and ears, they are better at doing that type of thing (you won't see infrared but eyes are much less about summarizing than emotions are, they are more about giving you a reasonably complete picture of what's in front of you).
The whole concept of expecting an automatic response or indication of a situation, whether emotional or not, doesn't make sense. You have that for many things but not all things. Such responses have to come from somewhere, they don't just exist automatically in all cases.
With that out of the way, the best indication of overreaching is hardness. When something feels hard, maybe you're overreaching. Feeling confused or overwhelmed are other relevant indicators. These aren't about overreaching but they have some overlap. They're in the right ballpark.
The feeling of hardness indicates inefficiency.
People are confused about hardness partly because there are two types. Hardness-A is an evaluation of the issue in general. Hardness-B is the feeling, it's about a person's experience. Hence people do hard things and say "it was easy for me". Touch typing is fairly hard. It takes practice. It's a skill you have to develop. But it's easy for me. I do it without thinking. It doesn't require conscious attention. I used to experience it as being difficult, but I don't now.
The same is true of walking. There was a time in my life when I couldn't walk and I had to learn how. Most ways of using leg muscles do not result in walking, they result in falling. Only some specific actions succeed as walking and staying balanced. And people have tried to write software to make a robot walk around and they've found that's difficult.
Speaking English is hard. There are thousands of words to learn, each with a spelling and a pronunciation and at least one definition. There are grammar rules and exceptions. There are different forms of words with similar but different meanings, e.g. "hammer", "hammered", "hammering", "hammers", "hammer-like". But once you get used to English enough, it can feel easy, intuitive and second-nature.
It's the same with chess. The better you get at chess, the better you can autopilot it and play without trying very hard. Chess players have a skill level they can play at when trying hard, and a separate, lower skill level they can play at when taking it easy. The skill level for taking it easy isn't usually far behind – a top player can easily beat a good player. In other words, trying hard doesn't make a big difference. A top 1% player when trying his best is still a top 2% player when not trying very hard. Trying hard at chess does make a big difference when playing serious tournament games against players of similar skill, but it wouldn't make any difference against most opponents.
Trying hard is a big effort for small results. That's an inefficient use of effort. 10% of the effort lets a chess player achieve 90% of his maximum skill. Then trying ten times harder only adds a one ninth increase in skill. It makes sense to try hard in a competition where only the best player wins and everyone is trying their best, but it usually doesn't make sense to do that in life in general. And all this applies to many other examples besides chess.
Trying hard means you're not autopiloting. You're using conscious attention, which is a limited resource. You're using focus and mental energy and creativity and that kind of stuff. And, in general, people can do that for around 2 or 3 hours per day. They can do more in the short term but it leads to burnout if they keep it up over time. (For knowledge workers, the 8 hour work day is a myth. For chess players, they focus longer when competing, but they don't compete on most days.)
Trying hard means working at the edge of your abilities with less margin for error. It means more mistakes are made. It means you're trying to do things that you don't know an easy way to do. It means trying to do things you can't do habitually, can't do while multitasking, can't do while not at your best.
Most of our life is automated. Our minds are complicated and do tons of stuff. Our consciousness is like a factory manager who can go around and inspect any one workstation at a time and make changes, but the work in the factory always keeps going everywhere else. Hard stuff is stuff that only the manager can do, there's no workstation to do it. Doing hard stuff means the manager is busy and can't go around inspecting and improving the workstations in the factory, nor creating new ones. Some people don't notice the loss because their manager (conscious mind) is usually mostly idle anyway, rather than going around checking for problems. If you have a lazy manager who wasn't going to do much anyway, then keeping him busy doesn't appear to have much downside. It's still bad though: a busy manager isn't going to reform. Keeping the manager distracted from the ongoing, unsolved problems is not how to change things so that he becomes a better manager.
In general in life, you need to figure out easy, repeatable, low-error ways to do things, then automate them (add them as workstations in your mental factory that can keep producing even when the manager isn't there). Adding more of those is how you get a lot done in life. Having your manager do any work himself is a huge loss of productivity. Your manager can do the work of, like, three workstations. Maybe even ten. He's really good at stuff compared to the automated processes (which you can think of like robots or low skilled workers). But in the long run, having your manager do the work of even a hundred workstations is a terrible deal. It makes way more sense for him to help set up thousands or millions of workstations. Much more will get done if he doesn't do it. (Also, remember, if the manager works more than three hours a day, that's overtime and he starts getting tired.)
Stuff feels hard when your manager has to do it instead of a workstation doing it. You don't know how to do it using only the sorts of cheap, plentiful mental resources that form automatic workstations.
People are confused because having their manager do something is a common step in workstation setup. First you figure out how to do something using conscious attention and maximum focus. If you can do it at all, that's a good step one. Then you figure out how to do it more easily and reliably. Then you get good at it to the point it's easy and automatic/intuitive/second-nature.
But doing something for the purpose of learning and setting up an automatic workstation, and doing it to get it done, are different things. The goal matters to how its done. Like, is the manager taking notes on how he does it so that he can then hand off the job to an unskilled worker later? Is he looking for what could be automated, as he goes along? Is he trying to figure out how to break down the task into small, simple parts that could be handled by dumb workers or robots? Doing those things helps work towards a day when the manager can stop being involved and delegate everything – which means he can move on to new projects.
On the other hand, sometimes people think they will only do something once, so they don't worry about any of that stuff, they just try to get it done and even getting the manager to do it a second time would be hard (they have no notes, they don't even know exactly what they did, they just fiddled with stuff until it worked and they lost track of some of their actions).
And sometimes people think automating something is too hard, so they won't bother. Right now, the easiest thing to do is get it done without worrying about the future. Figuring out how to automate stuff is extra work. Then they do the same thing again the next day, and the next, and they keep wasting manager effort and never get a workstation created. (This is more common with things that come up sporadically, e.g. every few weeks, but sometimes people do it with daily tasks.) Or sometimes people partially automate a task, e.g. typing, but they never fully automate it, it's always a bit of work and a bit distracting.
People talk about inspiration and perspiration. But it should be inspiration and automation. Instead of working hard, figure out how the great new idea can be done easily and repeatedly.
A big obstacle to automation is errors. Every time something goes wrong, the low skill workers or robots at the workstation can't do much troubleshooting. They aren't very creative. They'll go through a checklist of troubleshooting steps if their manager told them to (that's highly recommended!). If that doesn't work, then either the manager has to come along and fix things (like if a machine is broken), or else they can throw out that work product and start over (if only half of the things the workstation produces actually work, it can still produce stuff, although there better be some quality control steps to actually find the broken ones and get rid of them).
Automating requires figuring out how to do stuff in a highly reliable way with a low error rate. You have to figure out not just a method to accomplish a task, but an easy, reliable method that doesn't have many ways to fail. If every step is easy, and that are steps to check for problems and standard ways to fix them, then it can work pretty well and the manager doesn't have to be called in very often to clean up a mess. That's good if your goal is to get millions of workstations running, with just one manager, so that you can get a lot done in life. And yes millions is realistic.
Your brain is a computer. It's a more powerful computer than my iMac. My iMac can do around four billion CPU cycles per second, and each cycle can get several small tasks done. If the average workstation involves a million small tasks to complete one work product, and I have a million workstations, then they might all be able to average a work product completion every 10 seconds, while all running simultaneously. That's the ballpark of how powerful the brain is. And it's better to have a billion workstations and turn some on and off – some are general purpose, but most are only used when doing a specific kind of activity, e.g. a workstation that is only used when playing or thinking about chess. (Figuring out more general purpose workstations helps keep things manageable – it means you need fewer total workstations and you can get stuff done with fewer running at once. Thinking in a more principled way can mean a hundred million workstations, with a million on at a time, instead of a hundred billion workstations with ten million on at a time.)
People tell stories about themselves. This is uncontroversial.
Sometimes those stories contain errors. This is uncontroversial. People sometimes deny it when they want to deny that a particular claim in a particular story is an error.
Sometimes people's stories about themselves don't match their actions. This is uncontroversial in general. People sometimes deny it when they are defending a particular story.
When people's stories and actions don't match, a common reaction is not to notice. Why is that common? That sounds weird. It's because they already fixed the story/action mismatches that they do notice. The ones they are blind to are the ones that stay. The ones they rationalize are the ones that persist over time. The things that stay wrong over time have a higher rate of dishonesty than the ones that get fixed sooner. The issues you're honest about will get fixed with a varied, unbiased distribution of speeds – you figure some out soon and some later. The ones you're dishonest about will get get fixed with a skewed distribution of speeds – you generally don't figure them out, few get fixed because you're preventing fixing them.
When a story/action mismatch is pointed out to people, a common reaction is to blame the action. They claim it's weird they did that. The action strikes them as out of character. When story and reality clash, people tend to side with story, except in certain scientific contexts where a lot of effort has been put into getting people to respect reality more.
When story and action contradict, it's more often the story that's wrong. You can't act out of character very often, or those actions would be in character (would be normal actions for you), since you do them often. Acting out of character has to be an uncommon event. But telling false stories about yourself can be common, and is.
People often naively believe that their own stories about themselves are mostly true. They sometimes extend this gullibility to the stories of many people in their social group. Sometimes they participate in creating the stories about their friends, family, coworkers, etc.
A major step towards a reality-based view of yourself is to learn what lots of the common stories other people tell are, and to recognize many of them as false, and become good at catching people's lies. Once you're good at that, then you could be suspicious of any of your own stories that, if someone else said it, you'd think it was probably false. You could investigate those stories further using the same methods by which you would question someone else.
Discussion is externalized thinking. Thinking is self-discussion.
Not entirely. This mostly applies to the conscious aspects of thinking. It’s thinking that you pay attention to, not autopilot/habits.
Rational critical analysis looks at the content of ideas, not their sources. It doesn’t matter if the source is you or someone else, it’s the same idea either way. The same sort of analysis needs to be done to evaluate two rival ideas regardless of their sources – which means, regardless of whether they come from two different people in a discussion or from one person who is thinking silently.
Discussion lets other people share criticism with you and learn from you. Those are big benefits. They help share good ideas and overcome people’s personal weaknesses. Some of your weaknesses are not shared by some of your discussion partners, and you don’t have some of their weaknesses, so there’s lots of scope to help each other.
Good thinkers can think out loud and can think as part of discussion. They don’t have to think alone first, in advance of discussion. They can do some thinking in real time, and some in fairly near real time (writing a text reply slower than talking out loud as one thinks, but without taking any significant break to think things over).
People who have trouble thinking in discussion also have trouble thinking outside of discussion. But there are some important differences. People who get pressured and socially manipulated a lot can think better alone because those things happen less when there isn’t another person directly involved. But if they were a better thinker they’d deal with that better.
Many people believe they know an idea, they just can’t explain it well. They separate thinking and communication as different skills. But if you can explain the idea to yourself, you can use that same explanation with other people!
People also claim they have arguments that convince themselves but wouldn’t convince you. This is biased. They believe it’s because they have access to information that you don’t, e.g. their own internal feelings or memories. But they can tell you those. You and they should both see the evidence the same way: “Joe reports remembering X.” or “Bob says that he feels Y very strongly and seriously.” The reason they think it’s more convincing for them, than you, is they realize that those kinds of reports are unreliable and you won’t accept it, but they believe those kinds of reports, anyway, when they are the reporter. That’s biased and bad thinking. People should learn to be skeptical of their own beliefs. If they know they have a belief that a reasonable external person would be skeptical of, they should doubt it themselves, too.
People also separate truth-seeking and debating as different skills. They think the better thinker, with the better idea, can lose a debate because he is less good at clever rhetoric. This is reasonably accurate when both thinkers aren’t very good. But great thinkers can handle these issues. A good thinker can point out rhetoric, manipulation, faking, etc. A good thinker will refocus the discussion on key points like what are the criticisms of each idea, and ask the other person to cooperate in joint truth-seeking. The gullible people in the audience may still be fooled, but that should clarify matters enough for the reasonable people to be able to see what’s going on. (Of course errors can always happen. There are no guarantees.)
All this means: learning to discuss is a way of learning to think well. And learning to think well without learning to discuss well is implausible and is a sign of fooling yourself. Because thinking and discussion are linked, and most genuine skill at either one also works for the other.
I make freely available two main categories of things. 1) Online writing/video/audio. This is non-interactive and distribution costs are approximately zero. 2) Interactive discussion, which is expensive in terms of my time. It overlaps with (1) because people are welcome to read the discussions without saying anything. There’s also overlap the other way because people can start a discussion about e.g. a blog post.
Most of my online material can be found within a few clicks from https://elliottemple.com
There’s a huge amount of material. I’ve written ~50,000 public contributions to discussions, in addition to the blog posts, essays, YouTube, etc. I also sell digital products which are much cheaper than consulting because they aren’t personalized – the same work can be sold to multiple customers.
How many people read books by a great author and become even 1% as great as the author? That’s very rare! Non-interactive stuff helps people, and it’s easier to engage with, but the results are usually pretty limited. People read/watch too passively and uncritically, don’t think of enough questions or pursue enough followup issues, understand stuff vaguely and think they agree (too low standards), and don’t apply/use the ideas enough. And they misunderstand parts which causes misunderstandings of later parts, which causes even more misunderstandings of later parts, which can spiral out of control.
So what about discussions? I’m available for free discussions primarily at the FI email group (and the Curiosity website which is similar). I visit other forums periodically but you can’t rely on that.
I discuss primarily because it's part of being a philosopher – I can get questions and criticism, learn things, practice writing, practice understanding people, share ideas, think about issues, etc.
Participating effectively in FI discussions is hard and doesn’t work well for most people. I know lots of specific problems people have, but there’s a fundamental issue:
The FI group is about reason and intellectual progress. To use it well requires being good at those things or being on a path to get good at them.
Discussion methods and skills are, essentially, thinking methods and skills. One has to be a good thinker to discuss effectively. This is because thinking is self-discussion, or, put the other way around, discussion is externalized thinking.
The same epistemology governs both discussion and thinking. The same methods for resolving a disagreement between ideas apply if those ideas are in one person or in multiple people.
Relevant skills include dealing with criticism rationally, organizing ideas effectively, being able to look at issues objectively (avoiding personalizing and bias), coming up with questions, knowing when you do or don’t know enough, and figuring out how to apply ideas.
Learning to use the FI group well is a somewhat equivalent problem to learning to think well. So that’s hard.
A tip for using FI: If you think something is bad (e.g. that a person was rude, mean, demanding, pushy, dumb, not listening, etc.), ask about it. People (especially the better posters) often do things on purpose for reasons. The online discussion group is 25 years old and has developed and refined its approach intentionally (guided especially by David Deutsch and myself). If you choose to silently disagree with something, you should to be tolerant, not have it start building to a bigger problem. This comes up particularly because of violations of social-cultural norms.
Second tip: Be careful when people aren’t talking to you directly. When speaking to a newer poster people often try to write something that’ll make sense to him, which doesn’t require as much background knowledge. But other posts may build on years of prior context and can easily be misunderstood by newcomers who don’t ask tons of questions.
Paid consulting is about helping the customer with what they want help with. In free discussions, my primary goal is my own learning, and I interact with people when our projects overlap. What my goal is has large consequences for what happens.
When consulting, I make things easier for customers and they can control the topics. In free discussions, I often ask topic-changing questions and I’m often interested in judging people and filtering out irrationality and dishonesty. In free discussions, I often don’t take hints and want things to be made clear that other people don’t want to make clear.
In consulting, I help organize what happens and help take responsibility for the other person achieving their goals. In free discussions, I expect people to manage their own affairs (like deciding how much time to spend, when, on what). I volunteer help less and expect people to take reasonable steps for making progress such as reading books and critically discussing as they go along.
Free discussions are mostly text, asynchronous, often partial effort/attention, sometimes slow or no reply, and are a permanent part of the public record. In paid consulting customers reliably get high attention and effort, and can get faster help, voice chat, real time interaction, and privacy.
Free discussion replies are often generic on purpose. Instead of giving personal help, I take the issue someone brought up and write an answer that would be of interest to many other people too.
People often don’t really understand what sharing ideas publicly means. It means your post is just like an article or book by a public figure. People can scrutinize it, discuss it, criticize it harshly, misunderstand it, analyze things the author unintentionally revealed about himself, etc., and the author has no control over any of that. The author doesn’t have to participate or read what’s said, but what he wrote is now evidence to be used by others as they choose. Your post can become a permanent example or reference point about irrationality or some other flaw. FI posters sometimes bring up quotes from years ago.
Lots of people think they want the role of a responsible intellectual/adult/peer/equal in a rational discussion forum. “Reason? Of course I want that! Sounds great!” But that’s hard and people usually don’t like it, and they'd be better off buying help. Admitting weakness and inequality, and publicly taking on more of a student/learner/child/beginner role, also doesn’t work well for most people (they both dislike it and don’t know how to do it well).
Another reason for consulting: in the medium or long run, to get much value from others, there’s no good way to get out of offering value to others. Money and rationality are both values one can offer. Money exists in greater supply and is easier to come by and offer. Intellectual progress is hard and finding ways to throw money at the problem can be good. (I would personally be thrilled if I could find effective ways to spend more money to get philosophical benefits.)
Human civilization has more knowledge than any one person. We have a division of intellectual labor. Some people specialize in chemistry, others law, others fashion, others history, others football. A specialist in a type of knowledge is called an “expert” or even an “authority” for his field. The division of intellectual labor has progressed to the point of narrow specialities – e.g. we have experts in ancient Greek history, or WWII history, rather than all of history. There are different kinds of scientists, and then within a kind, e.g. physicist, there are sub-kinds, e.g. astrophysicist.
People accept expert advice from car mechanics, doctors, lawyers, scientists, tech support people, sports coaches and more. You may be able to learn about a few topics, in detail, yourself, but not all the topics that come up in your life. There’s too much to know it all yourself.
If you didn’t use other people’s expert knowledge – if you didn’t participate in the intellectual division of labor – you’d be handicapped, have a limited life and not accomplish much compared to people who do (just the same as a person who doesn’t participate in the economic division of labor cannot produce much compared to people who do participate).
The intellectual division of labor raises problems to be addressed. How do you know which ideas from other people to use? How do you judge an expert’s claim when you don’t know much about the field? How can decide what to think when experts in a field disagree with each other?
One attempted solution is credentials. Some people perform the task of judging experts. But the people saying which experts are good are themselves experts (in the field of judging expertise), so you’re left with the same problem of deciding which experts to listen to. They’ve just moved the problem: instead of deciding whether to listen to a scientist saying humans evolved, you decide whether to listen to a guy telling you he knows which scientists to listen to. And normally the qualifications of the people giving out credentials in a field are that they are experts in that field (not that they actually have any special expertise at judging experts), so it’s really just “Listen to me about which physicists you should listen to, because I’m a good physicist.”
Another attempted solution is reputation. Some people have a bunch of success is some visible way and then people listen to them more. And reputations can partially carry over to their associates, and to a lesser degree to their associate’s associates.
Another attempted solution – which is how a lot of reputation works – is to judge by popularity. But great ideas usually start out unpopular.
Another way people judge expertise is by charisma, social status, social skill, and stuff like that (including dressing well and speaking in a “smart” sounding way). This is a poor method. It leads to competitions not at field expertise but at expertise in impressing people and presenting as credible to them.
Another way people judge experts is by which ones create material (articles, books, videos, etc.) for a general audience that they like. This isn’t very good at figuring out who is the best at the details of the field because it looks for skills like being able to communicate well about the basics of the field.
I propose a better way to judge experts. This solution is especially meant for intellectuals rather than, e.g., bike repair experts. Experts should provide public information which can be evaluated by lay people. It’s their job to prove their own case if they want to be considered an expert. But how? Specifically by being open to debate. Experts should be open to questions and criticism, in public, and organize the information in a way that people can look it over and see who blocked further progress on resolving the disagreement. The public should favor experts who have addressed all outstanding criticism of their knowledge over experts who have withdrawn from that kind of discussion, ignored criticisms, refused to answer questions, derailed debates, etc. Experts should be judged by the current state of the debate in the field, and should organize that debate so it isn’t a mess with no clear answers.
People who don’t know how to do this aren’t fit to be experts in a fields that deal with controversies (but maybe they can successfully be an expert accountant). If your field has ongoing disagreements and debate, then you need to know how to organize and evaluate disagreements and debate in order to do effective work in your field.
The starting point of clarifying the state of the debate is to invite debate. The people who decline debate are the people blocking resolution of the issues. The people who are unwilling to try to address questions and criticisms should be presumed wrong, even though they might be right about some particular issues, because their methodology – their way of dealing with knowledge – is not oriented towards truth-seeking. People who reject intellectual collaboration, on principle, are limiting their participation in the intellectual division of labor and thereby limiting their effectiveness (just like a business that won’t consider any business deals with other businesses).
A good expert has the general attitude: “If I’m wrong, tell me what I’m wrong about. And I’ve told you what you’re wrong about and I’m still waiting for you to respond.” And he thinks of debate as primarily a matter of writing, over time, not verbal debate in person. So he can write a blog post criticizing something, and that advances the state of the debate, and if it’s not answered then that shows the other guy isn’t debating (or discussing, which should be the same thing). And it shows the other guy also lacks proxies to discuss for him. And lacks sources he could cite that address the issue with no new work. (Or else he has the perfect answer, already written, and just won’t say? Not a plausible story.)
Openness to debate is a well known criterion so many people pretend to meet it. But most don’t pretend in more than a token way. Suppose I wrote a blog post with some questions and criticisms for an expert. You, right now, could predict that most experts would ignore me. For example, Richard Dawkins would ignore me (and that’s not mere speculation, I have actually contacted him and been ignored, even though I’m an expert who has written serious criticism of some of his work). His openness to debate is limited in some ways.
What are the limits on the openness to debate of Dawkins and the large majority of other supposed experts? I could try to analyze and criticize them and talk about some Paths Forward stuff. But there’s a much simpler way for lay people to evaluate the matter. Has Dawkins written down what his limits on debate are, himself? Has he publicly shared a policy stating his openness to debate, including the limits and the reasons for those limits? Has he asked if anyone knows any ways to remove or reduce any of those limits? No he has not. Because he isn’t seriously interested in discussing and getting disagreements resolved.
Many experts were more open to debate when they were younger, and they get disillusioned after many bad, ineffective discussions. They give up and decide talking with people is mostly a waste of time. What they should have done is learned better methods that better conserve their time, get to the point faster, and so on (see Paths Forward for info on how to do that). Organize the debate better instead of giving up on debate (and then dishonestly pretending you’re still open to debate). Learn enough philosophy – methods of dealing with ideas, learning, resolving disagreements between ideas, etc. – to be an effective intellectual. Sure that’s hard (most philosophy is crap) but if you want to be a good intellectual you need to deal with that problem and find or create and then use actual good methods for making intellectual progress (and if you think you have those, write them down and expose those to criticism and debate, and also make them available for others to learn and use if you think they actually work well! As I have done.).
By the way, what if all the experts in a field are bad? What if none of them are really open to debate? Then it’s hard to evaluate, so you should ask a philosopher (general purpose expert) to evaluate the field (and you can judge which philosophers are experts by their openness to debate).