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I agree!

I understand it well. Not perfectly, but enough I have no questions to ask. Nothing is confusing me and needs clarifying. Basically I get it.

I don't have any criticism of it. That's because it's good. Whether something merits criticism is not an attribute of me.

I don't have anything to add. No new ways to approach the material, no further applications, no new ideas that build on it. This is primarily because it's pretty complete already; the author didn't leave much for me to add. Secondarily, it's because while I do understand it well, I'm not beyond it. It's at my level, not beneath me, so that's why I don't have more advanced stuff to add.

So, there is this narrow no-reply zone. It takes some pretty specific stuff to get into the zone. Most ideas in the world are either advanced or confusing enough I'd have questions, or at a low enough level I'd have criticism or improvements. With all those things I can have a discussion. But there is this little window where I end up not replying at all. I'd like to discuss, but I just can't find anything to say.

It seems like a shame. Material exactly at my level would be good to engage with, right?

Now, there's a couple things about this situation that I've noticed are a little strange.

This no-reply zone is small, but I reply to less than 5% of the philosophical emails which I receive and generally agree with. How can that be?

And second, it's not just me. Most other people seem to have larger-than-expected no-reply zones. And not just that. By some strange coincidence, their zone coincides with my zone. Time after time, I see some post that, unfortunately, is right in the middle of my no-reply zone, so try as I might I can't reply. But it's really interesting and I want there to be discussion of it. And then no one else replies. At first I thought it was just bad luck, but then I started counting and I noticed that happens on around 50% of philosophical posts that I generally agree with.

Elliot Temple on December 22, 2009

Comments (12)

I agree. Maybe it has something to do with this:


Alan Forrester at 1:40 PM on December 22, 2009 | #1944
Sometimes authors only post some of their ideas and wait to see whether people have questions or criticisms before posting more. However, if they get no responses at all, they might think it's because nobody's read it yet. So, just saying 'I agree' can help signal them that they can proceed.

When I see something that I agree with, I'm not really interested in discussing it myself, but I am interested in getting other people to discuss it. If it's a bad idea then they might have a criticism I hadn't thought of. If it's a good idea then they might be persuaded of it, spreading the good idea.

Richard Fine at 9:38 PM on January 3, 2010 | #1948
Why not discuss it, or extensions of it, yourself?

Elliot at 9:49 PM on January 3, 2010 | #1949
Because I agree with it, meaning that I can't think of any criticisms, new ways to approach the material, new ideas, or questions about it (yet) - I'm in your no-reply zone.

Anonymous at 6:46 AM on January 4, 2010 | #1950
The no-reply zone is a myth. The blog post is self-contradictory.

One of the contradictions is between the non-reply zone being narrow and rare, but being used to explain not replying to a wide variety of material.

In actuality, when a person thinks he agrees with something, but has nothing to say about it, no criticism and no questions, he hasn't understood it. Here is another way to reach the same conclusion:

Understanding things is not a dead end.

Elliot at 7:09 PM on January 4, 2010 | #1951
Sure; it's always possible that there are observations or ideas I've not acquired yet that would let me criticise or extend the thing I agree with. Are there are other reasons why it's not a dead end?

If that's why it's not a dead end, then can't there exist a temporary no-reply zone, between learning the idea and learning the criticism/extension of it?

Sitting at a reply-box thinking about the idea, is sometimes a less efficient way of finding new criticisms/extensions of it, than leaving to conduct practical tests for a bit.

Richard Fine at 9:01 PM on January 4, 2010 | #1952
What could possibly be less of a dead end than coming to understand new things?

New knowledge leads to new problem situations, new problems, more new knowledge, and so on. It's lack of understanding that leads to dead ends, getting stuck, and so on.

Elliot at 9:56 PM on January 4, 2010 | #1953
My point is that new knowledge /does/ indeed lead to those things, but often not immediately. Am I missing something here?

Richard Fine at 8:53 AM on January 5, 2010 | #1955
How often on email lists do you see replies to posts over a month old?

Or people posting "a while ago we talked about X, and now I've learned that..." and saying some stuff.

If it was just a time lag, one could just not post for the first say 30 days and then post every day thereafter for the rest of their life. (I exaggerate slightly, but you get the idea?)

Elliot at 10:57 AM on January 5, 2010 | #1956
Sure, you could do that. But, often people want to reply within the first 30 days. They want to say something, but they can't think of anything good, so they get frustrated that they can't do what they want, or they say something boring or irrelevant.

I don't often see people replying to posts over a month old on email lists. I can think of two explanations: one, I'm not on very many email lists; and two, people forget that the discussion was had, or have trouble finding it.

Why don't you reply to 95% of your philosophical emails?

Richard Fine at 1:14 PM on January 5, 2010 | #1957
So, to defend the theory people don't reply due to a learning time lag, you've now added multiple ad hoc reasons for not replying later on. I see no reason to favor them over my suggestions that people don't reply later on due to still not having stuff to say (due to still not understanding).

On another note, the learning time lag theory involves one learning stuff, and that means thinking about questions, and that provides plenty of stuff one could post.

As to me, you seem to have misunderstood my post to be a personal statement. It isn't.

Elliot at 1:24 PM on January 5, 2010 | #1958
Yes, most of the time people don't reply because they still don't have stuff to say. However, that doesn't explain why people sometimes don't reply to a discussion even after they *have* thought of things they could say (as they might demonstrate in other, related discussions). That's what my reasons were trying to explain. Why are they ad-hoc?

Why does not understanding something mean you'd have no questions about it? Surely the opposite is true, e.g. asking for clarification or further explanation.

I didn't think your post was a personal statement, I was just looking to explore the example you gave. Does it corroborate the theory that the discussion stops because you've still not got problems/questions/extensions to add, or not?

Richard Fine at 2:40 AM on January 6, 2010 | #1959

What do you think?

(This is a free speech zone!)