[Previous] Peikoff: Children Are Property | Home | [Next] Banned from Ayn Rand Facebook Group

Reason is Urgent; Now or Never

Imagine a person finds Fallible Ideas (FI) philosophy and they agree with 20% initially and contradict 80%. And they are excited and think FI's amazing. Sounds like a really good start, right? I think it is. That's a lot more than you could really expect at the start. Most promising newcomers will have less pre-existing knowledge and compatibility.

(FI is the best, purest advocacy of reason. But if you disagree with that, no problem, just substitute in Objectivism, Critical Rationalism, or something else. The points I'm making here do not depend on which philosophy of reason you think is best.)

(The percentages are a loose approximation to let me write this point in a simpler way. If you don't like them, consider what's going on when someone partly agrees and post a comment explaining how you think that works, and how you think I should have written this without percents. I'm trying to discuss the case of a new person who agrees with some stuff, disagrees or doesn't know a lot more, and learns a bit more over time.)

Now, imagine over the next 5 years they increase their agreement to 30%. Is that good progress? A nice achievement? A proper application of gradualism?

No, I think that's a disaster.

In that scenario, they just lived for 5 years while contradicting at least 70% of FI. How can they do that? Why don't they complete hate themselves? Here they are finding out about reason, and then living a 70% anti-reason lifestyle. How do they live with that?

The answer is: they deny that 70% of FI is good. They oppose it. To not hate themselves, they have to hate most of FI instead. They have to come up with a bunch of evasions and rationalizations, and they have 5 years to entrench those.

The moment you find out about reason, there is a ticking clock, because it's so very hard to live with contradictions. It's not viable to just live for 5 years half liking reason and half hating it. You'd tear yourself apart. You have to do something about this tension. FI offers ways to deal with it, but to use those you'd have to learn more about FI and embrace it more thoroughly. And irrationality offers ways to deal with it – rationalizations, evasions, self-lies, etc...

The middle, caught in between reason and unreason, is not a viable long term place to be. It doesn't work. It's not just a mess of contradictions like many people's lives, it's more like the strongest contradiction there is. And who could live with that? The only person who perhaps could, like John Galt, would be a better person and wouldn't even be in that situation, since he'd embrace reason more.

So at the same time this person learned 10% more about reason in 5 years, they also figured out how to rationalize not learning the rest, and be OK with that. They made up stories about how they will learn it one day, later, but not now. They backed off from feeling like reason is truly sacred in order to to reduce the contradictions in their life. They lost their sense of urgency and excitement about new possibilities, most of which they've now put off for 5 years. Most of which they still don't plan to start learning for years.

When there's a contradiction, something has to give. When you have such a strong major contradiction that's so hard to ignore – like life vs. death, reason vs. unreason, thinking vs. unthinking, open society vs. closed society, problem solving vs. destruction, initiative vs. passivity, independence vs. obedience, infinity vs. finite limits – then something has to and will change pretty quickly. And if they don't embrace reason in a big way, then it's clear enough what happened: while making their bits and pieces of supposed progress, they actually managed to find a way to either deny all these major contradictions exist or take the wrong side of them and be OK with that. There's no other way.

Once someone finds out about an idea and finds it notable and important, they have to take a position.
E.g. that it's good in theory but not very practical to use in life all the time. That's an example of a well known evasion. Or they think it's pretty good, but it's for geniuses. Or they think it'd be nice to learn it and they will work on it, later, but they are busy right now. There's many other evasions possible, many ways to rationalize why they aren't acting on the idea. Or they could believe it's really urgent and serious and try their best to learn and use it, which would be a good attitude, but is very rare. People always take some kind of position on ideas once they find out about them and acknowledge those ideas matter.

So the scenario I talked about, which I think lots of people see as an ideal to strive for, is actually really bad, and helps explain why the people pursing that plan seem to be stuck indefinitely and never become amazing.

Life is now. Reason is urgent. These things get much worse over time unless you're making rapid progress and pursuing reason with the utmost seriousness and vigor. There can be no compromises where you work on rational philosophy a little bit here and there in your spare time. It can't wait. Nothing's more important than your mind. Prioritize your mind now or, by betraying it, you will destroy it and never again want to prioritize it.

As always with these things, there are rare heroic exceptions which no one knows how to duplicate on purpose, or predict, or how it works, etc. The human spirit, or something, is very hard to crush with literally-exactly 100% reliability, and there's billions of people. Here's a few quotes about that from The Return of the Primitive, by Ayn Rand:
“Give me a child for the first seven years,” says a famous maxim attributed to the Jesuits, “and you may do what you like with him afterwards.” This is true of most children, with rare, heroically independent exceptions.
With very rare exceptions, [young men with independent minds dedicated to the supremacy of truth] are perishing in silence, unknown and unnoticed.
There are exceptions who will hold out, no matter what the circumstances. But these are exceptions that mankind has no right to expect.
Finally I'll leave you with one of my favorite Ayn Rand quotes about urgency, about now, not later:

The Virtue of Selfishness, Doesn’t Life Require Compromise?:
The excuse, given in all such cases, is that the “compromise” is only temporary and that one will reclaim one’s integrity at some indeterminate future date. But one cannot correct a husband’s or wife’s irrationality by giving in to it and encouraging it to grow. One cannot achieve the victory of one’s ideas by helping to propagate their opposite. One cannot offer a literary masterpiece, “when one has become rich and famous,” to a following one has acquired by writing trash. If one found it difficult to maintain one’s loyalty to one’s own convictions at the start, a succession of betrayals—which helped to augment the power of the evil one lacked the courage to fight—will not make it easier at a later date, but will make it virtually impossible.

Elliot Temple on August 14, 2015

Comments (20)

Percents

I think what's going on with new people and the percents is: They have methods which result in agreement with FI on ~20% of concretes / conclusions.

Their methods may have nothing in common with FI.

As an example, consider a person who believes in the method of following an authority about concretes. Suppose he starts out with whatever authority he follows agreeing with FI on 20% of concretes. This has, I would describe it, 0% in common with the FI that matters (the methods).

Then he switches authorities, to some authority that agrees with FI on 30% of the concretes. Has he improved any? I would say no. Even if this happens in 5 days instead of 5 years.

As an extreme example, suppose he starts treating Elliot as his authority. Now he agrees with FI on ~100% of conclusions / concretes. Excepting, of course, FI's conclusion about not following authorities. So say the agreement on conclusions is 95% - the methods could still have nothing in common with FI's methods.

PAS at 3:28 PM on August 14, 2015 | #2537
> As an extreme example, suppose he starts treating Elliot as his authority. Now he agrees with FI on ~100% of conclusions / concretes.

Well, know, he'd still only know what a fraction of them are. He wouldn't be able to state lots of them.

> Then he switches authorities, to some authority that agrees with FI on 30% of the concretes.

Yeah that sucks. But some people actually read and/or discuss FI related stuff and learn some stuff as the method of increasing agreement. That's what I had in mind.

I think there's people with mixed methods where they are sorta trying to be rational and stuff, but they don't understand all about Paths Forward and non-justificationist evolutionary epistemology. Theirs methods are sorta OK – not hopeless, not perfect. And then they might learn a bit over time. But, and this is the key point, at the same time they are learning to rationalize their rejection of a bunch of FI related stuff they've been exposed to.

Elliot at 6:06 PM on August 14, 2015 | #2538
>I'm trying to discuss the case of a new person who agrees with some stuff, disagrees or doesn't know a lot more, and learns a bit more over time.

Do you think that a person with good methods could still after 5 years have a large % of FI which they don't know super well?

I think the %'s may make more sense when viewed in terms of methods. So imagine someone gets exposed to FI when they are using reason 20% of the time.

If after 5 years, they only use reason 50% of the time, that's BAD.

If after 5 years, they use reason 100% of the time, but they only know 50% of FI conclusions really super well, that's much, much less bad. especially if u consider FI has conclusions related to econ, politics, and lots and lots of other stuff.

One consideration is that since so much of FI knowledge *IS* method-stuff, if you do use reason 100% of the time, then you are going to end up having a very large % of conclusions in agreement with FI.

But still it takes time to learn all of those areas even with the best of methods.

Erin at 6:34 PM on August 14, 2015 | #2539
Yeah it's not really about knowing every topic. If you haven't studied Szasz, and avoid speaking to psychiatry, that's not a big deal. Cuz then your attitude to that matter is rational, you aren't evading or rationalizing anything.

It's really more about your sense of life, attitude to philosophy, knowledge of some key epistemology (like what is rational and what isn't, how that works), stuff like that. The super urgent and super non-optional stuff.

If you find out that much higher standards of thinking are possible, and then you increase your standards from 20% to 30% of typical FI standards over 5 years, YOU ARE FUCKED. You, during that time, rationalized not meeting a lot of the FI standards for argument.

Elliot at 6:44 PM on August 14, 2015 | #2540

Sense of life

> It's really more about your sense of life...

In an important sense I think you could have stopped right there. I don't think this is about time any more than age. I think it's about sense of life and the methods and choices that drives.

> If you find out that much higher standards of thinking are possible, and then you increase your standards from 20% to 30% of typical FI standards over 5 years, YOU ARE FUCKED. You, during that time, rationalized not meeting a lot of the FI standards for argument.

I think you are fucked if you decide to be fucked, to quit learning, to quit changing.

If you decide that on day 1, you are fucked.
If you decide it on day 1826, you are fucked.

PAS at 8:00 PM on August 14, 2015 | #2541
Time does matter. Certain states of mind are unstable. You can have them briefly, but they aren't stable over longer time periods.

People decide to quit learning, etc, without thinking "I will quit learning now". They decide it subconsciously, by accident, while lying to themselves about the meaning of what they are doing. And it's the main way they stabilize the situations I'm talking about. So, if they get into one of those situations, and then a year passes and they are stable, there is a question: how did they stabilize? What changed from the unstable earlier situation? And if you don't see a LOT of progress, then you can infer what changed is they rejected reason. Even if they claim to be pro-reason.

(An alternative that isn't comforting: maybe you misjudged it and they were never in an unstable situation because they were anti-reason the whole time.)

Elliot at 8:25 PM on August 14, 2015 | #2542

Unstable and Unsustainable

> Certain states of mind are unstable. You can have them briefly, but they aren't stable over longer time periods.

I think the only state of mind that is indefinitely stable is death. The longer time period we talk about, the closer to death you have to get to be stable.

The term "unstable" associated with the mind has negative connotations / associations with psychiatry (it's commonly thought that someone who is "mentally unstable" needs psychiatric help). I don't mean it in that way. FWIW I don't think you did either, but I just want to be clear.

I am using it more like what BoI discussed with regard to "sustainable": A state that sounds good & safe & necessary if you want things to continue forever but actually isn't. It's a false state to strive for. One that if you actually attain it, you're dead.

I am quite happy to regard my current mental state as "unstable", just as I am to regard our current technology as "unsustainable". If it were otherwise, I'd be dead & society'd be doomed.

Problems are inevitable, including problems in a person's mind. When a person e.g. finds FI and suspects they have a bunch of them - too many to work on right now or even this year or this decade, they can prioritize along with other problems in life. I don't think that renders the problems insolvable after a certain period of time has elapsed.

> People decide to quit learning, etc, without thinking "I will quit learning now". They decide it subconsciously, by accident, while lying to themselves about the meaning of what they are doing. And it's the main way they stabilize the situations I'm talking about.

I agree, however I think people can choose to do that on day 1, or day 1826, or day 18262, or never. What I disagree with is the "ticking clock" analogy. It's not a clock; it's a choice. If anything, I'd guess that it's a choice that gets slightly less likely with each passing day. Even if that's not true, I don't understand the argument for why it would be *more* likely for people to choose to quit learning on day 1826 than on either day 1 or day 18262.

And I think a key contributor to the choice / "accident" happening whenever it does is the idea that what you ought to be seeking is a stable mental state - a state when your mind is in order and all you have to do is apply it to whatever external problem interests you. That's kinda like thinking you have to get a complex program to the point where it has no bugs, where all you have to do from there on out is run that bug-free program against new data sets. No. I think a person should expect to change not only *what* they think and what they think about, but also *how* they think, forever.

I do think the idea of cumulative risk applies though. If you go 5 years without solving some potentially lethal problem in your mind then it has many more chances to kill you than if you only go 1 day before solving it. Likewise there's cumulative risk with problems that might not kill you but could hurt you a lot. So I think there ought to be a sense of urgency about solving big problems for that reason, but I think that's not quite what you had in mind.

PAS at 10:22 PM on August 14, 2015 | #2543
A rational mindset is stable – you can keep the same one for a long time. You can keep doing the paths forward approach over and over, day in and day out. That doesn't mean zero changes, but it wouldn't be surprising if it lasts decades without much change.

Believing if you don't do paths forward you're a horrible person, and not doing it, is unstable. On a timescale of maybe a month, often less. It needs something else to stabilize it like a rationalization, or you could change (e.g. start doing paths forward, or stop believing they're important).

See the difference? One has this really urgent tension, this big clash, where something's gotta give, quick. One doesn't. You seem focused on like whether something would have to change in the next 500,000 years, or not. But there's big meaningful distinctions at other timescales.

The one that's unstable on the shorter timescale presents a more urgent problem, a ticking clock where it's going to get resolved somehow, soon. While rational delays are not theoretically impossible, the standard and plausible delay tactics that'll get you very far are really destructive, so you are on a meaningful time limit.

The reason it gets worse over time is b/c when ppl go down the anti-reason path (e.g. stabilizing rationalizations), they aren't fully committed at first. It's not all entrenched. There's still a bunch of things in them that are pro-reason that haven't clashed with the anti-reason yet. They haven't worked out all the implications of the anti-reason yet. The more they go through that process of making their rationalizations more solid, and living with them and learning their implications and weeding out stuff that contradicts them, the worse they get. That happens over time.

it's like, metaphorically, you meet a unicorn, which represents reason. and you try to hug it and you get burned. you find parts of you melt when it touches the unicorn. and it doesn't sit still, it keeps trying to come up to you and help you with reason and embrace you. so you hold it at arm's length, you keep it away, so you don't get burned a lot. but it's strong, so you use a lot of muscle power to hold the unicorn away. and parts of your hands are still getting burned, even if most of the burning is stopped. and you can't do much else while you're holding the unicorn. so you seek a more stable state: you stick a post in the ground and chain the unicorn to it, or some fences to keep it away from you, or something like that. and now things are more stable. but then, still, sometimes the unicorn tries to get out and come share the glory of reason with you. and you don't want to change the parts of you that it burns, that are incompatible. so you get a stronger chain, thicker fences, etc – you build up stronger defenses so the unicorn won't be able to trouble you as much. and, well, the defenses are a lot harder to take down than a fence of a chain. so you're getting worse over time in an important way. so at first it was unstable, the unicorn wasn't on a leash, you had to do something, and just pushing it away with your hands was not a viable lifestyle, so then you build up anti-unicorn stuff and then solidify it over time. get it?

Elliot at 10:38 PM on August 14, 2015 | #2544
What about if someone chains up the unicorn, but has a horse? It doesn't burn them like the unicorn, it's not a shining beacon of reason, but they can get comfortable with it. Maybe they talk to it and stroke it's mane, while looking at the unicorn and wishing to touch it.

The unicorn burns them so much that they can't get comfortable with it. The pain and fear it causes blinds them to being able to learn when they touch it. When they touch the horse it isn't as beautiful, but they can learn a little bit from it.

Then they can look at the unicorn while they touch the horse and try to understand the differences better. Maybe they touch the unicorn every now and then to see if it feels different because of what they've learned about the horse. With that knowledge they can try to work out how to touch the unicorn without getting burned so bad it does more harm than good.

Anonymous at 4:14 AM on August 15, 2015 | #2545
>It doesn't burn them like the unicorn, it's not a shining beacon of reason, but they can get comfortable with it. Maybe they talk to it and stroke it's mane, while looking at the unicorn and wishing to touch it.

Getting comfortable with irrationality means they could start hating and getting more and more fearful of reason. they would start to hate and be afraid of the unicorn (not wish to touch it).

>When they touch the horse it isn't as beautiful, but they can learn a little bit from it.

they are learning bad ideas. Touching something other than the unicorn, means they are learning how to be more and more irrational.

> Maybe they touch the unicorn every now and then to see if it feels different because of what they've learned about the horse.

Think of it this way:

every time they are not touching the unicorn, the unicorn TRIES to come to them. But they don't want that. so each time they have to build another wall, get a stronger chain, move further and further away from the unicorn. etc. etc. etc. avoid the unicorn. hide from the unicorn. hate the unicorn. Be fearful of the unicorn. (cuz the unicorn would tell them things they doesn't want to hear. and the unicorn would make it harder to ignore the "comfort" of the horse.)

the unicorn would tell them that the horse (their "comfort") is actually evil. and spending their life with the horse is equivalent to death.

>With that knowledge they can try to work out how to touch the unicorn without getting burned so bad it does more harm than good.

i think knowledge they learn from the horse makes them eventually hate and fear the unicorn, while also putting up zillions of walls and chains and distances btwn them and the unicorn.

Erin at 5:35 PM on August 15, 2015 | #2546
Another problem with the horse is that you'll come to see evil / irrationality as natural, normal, accepted, expected. And comfortable. The horse, which isn't reason, (and there's no such thing as like half reason) is what you find comfortable.

So that's your sense of life - a malevolent universe premise.

So you lose that spark which finds irrationality utterly offensive. Irrationality doesn't stand out to you. it just sort of blends into the normality of your life. that becomes the standard of how you live.

Erin at 1:23 PM on August 16, 2015 | #2547
While riding the horse, not the unicorn, there is a big problem of rationalizing like the blog post talks about.

Calling it a horse is one of those rationalizations. And calling it comfortable. Contradictory non-reason is not so comfortable or effective as a horse is for travel.

Elliot at 4:27 PM on August 18, 2015 | #2549
This horse-liker (who I shall hereafter call the foal) is already comfortable with irrationality. The damage is done. They do see the universe as malevolent. They do find comfort in irrationality.

They want to be better, but they find the unicorn burns them so much that they can't bear the pain. The pain makes them irrational, so no matter how good the unicorn is the pain blocks what the foal can learn. They already fear the unicorn but they don't hate it. They know it's better and they want to grow up to be a unicorn not a horse. But if they just run to the unicorn they'll be in constant burning pain and grow to hate the unicorn because of it.

The horse is a thing the foal uses to learn not just about the horse, but about themselves. The horse is ugly like them. By sticking with the horse the foal can identify the bad stuff more clearly and understand better why what the unicorn has is better now they've found out about it. Then they can gradually take away the ugliness they've already accepted without making themselves miserable. As they begin to see the horse for its ugliness more clearly, it will become more painful to stay with the horse and less so to go to the unicorn.

If the foal doesn't keep trying to improve it will become a horse. It's a little scared that it can't be anything but a horse, that the damage is permanent, but it wants to try.

(Unicorns can fly and are magical, that's a much more effective way of travelling than running around breaking legs and getting put down like a horse :P so I'm happy with calling the alternative to a unicorn a horse)

Anonymous at 3:07 AM on August 19, 2015 | #2550
>They want to be better, but they find the unicorn burns them so much that they can't bear the pain.

Don't forget all the pain coming from the horse. The horse routinely makes them crash into hard rocks, which causes lots of suffering. The horse does this every single day and a lot. Some of the crashes are these chronic little bumps that keep happening. Others are massive disastrous crashes that leave them all bruised and battered.

This is much different than the unicorn-burning. There can be a bit of "burning", but there's a way to make the "burning" not hurt quite as much as the senseless crashing the horse gives them.

The unicorn can teach you a way to deal with the "burning", if you want to learn that. The unicorn can explain how yes, you'll be uncomfortable and feel weird and shaky at times. But it doesn't have to be senseless PAIN and SUFFERING.

>By sticking with the horse the foal can identify the bad stuff more clearly and understand better why what the unicorn has is better now they've found out about it.

Any actual learning of *good* ideas (like the difference btwn irrationality and reason) happens in those times they visit the unicorn. They don't let the unicorn roam freely, but every so often they go visit and get a glimpse of how amazingly wonderful it is.

The horse actually tries to keep them from visiting the unicorn. The horse has knowledge to try to sabotage them from becoming unicorn-lovers and from seeing the difference btwn the unicorn and horse. It's advanced knowledge. it's evil.

The unicorn knows about some of this though and can give lots of helpful tips in how to defeat the horse's grip it has on people.

>As they begin to see the horse for its ugliness more clearly, it will become more painful to stay with the horse and less so to go to the unicorn.

All of this happens (seeing things more clearly) thru visits to the unicorn. If there is a TRUTH to the situation, you are going to arrive at that truth from spending time with the unicorn, not the horse.

>(Unicorns can fly and are magical, that's a much more effective way of travelling than running around breaking legs and getting put down like a horse :P so I'm happy with calling the alternative to a unicorn a horse)

The "horse" is sucking your blood and gradually draining the life out of you. It's killing you. It's actually a leech, but you don't know it. Remember how the leech has advanced knowledge? Part of that knowledge includes the ability to make many people think it's sorta similar to the unicorn. like they think it's the same shape and has some overlap in purposes, when really it doesn't. The leech is super great at fooling people and making them think that the leech is a much more possible and realistic friend than the unicorn.

It tells ppl that the unicorn is "too focused on ideals and too pure and too impractical and too impossible to achieve. You are only a human after all", it says. This is all part of it's plan to kill you - to destroy the part of you which *is* human.

Erin at 5:25 AM on August 19, 2015 | #2551
> The pain makes them irrational

no, they already were irrational.

continuing in that vein does not make it easier to change later. (it makes it harder.)

Elliot at 7:46 PM on August 27, 2015 | #2565
>The unicorn can teach you a way to deal with the "burning", if you want to learn that. The unicorn can explain how yes, you'll be uncomfortable and feel weird and shaky at times. But it doesn't have to be senseless PAIN and SUFFERING.

How?

Anonymous at 10:35 AM on September 26, 2015 | #3302
>The unicorn can teach you a way to deal with the "burning", if you want to learn that. The unicorn can explain how yes, you'll be uncomfortable and feel weird and shaky at times. But it doesn't have to be senseless PAIN and SUFFERING.

What else would the unicorn say about dealing with the "burning"?

Anonymous at 4:59 PM on October 10, 2015 | #4126
I think it would depend on what's causing the burning. And where a person is getting stuck with the burning. Is it coercion? Coercion is caused by the horse, not the unicorn.

Is there an actual coercive conflict? Is it static memes making them feel a bit weird, but not coerced? Are their expectations causing a problem? Are they not OK with a state of flux and change and uncertainty and shakiness?

There actually doesn't have to be burning. It's not like a required part of reality. I think actual painful burning means that something is going wrong.

They could post and talk about whatever burning they are experiencing and see if anyone has ideas for whatever their particular problem is.

Anonymous at 5:02 PM on October 13, 2015 | #4178
Someone thinks everyone is terrible and they know objective truth.

They see FI people claiming to be great and want to interact with great things, full of hope for life as they find something that might possibly be good outside of themselves for the first time ever.

They join FI and it's flawed and full of mistakes (some genuine, some caused by their misconceptions about truth).

They feel burning because FI is such a disappointment to them.



I think their expectations were false and they were making an authoritarian mistake (wanting to see a place of absolute truth, free of error, believing such a thing is possible)

They heard of FI and hoped for an imaginary thing, the reality is imperfect so is not good enough for them



Or maybe the burning is their perception of themselves as knowing objective truth is brought violently into question. They'd spent so long thinking they were the only one who was honest, they find FI being terrible (because it's made of people and people are bad) is a better explanation than them being wrong and needing to learn.

Anonymous at 11:52 AM on October 18, 2015 | #4216
They should try posting rational criticism of the perceived mistakes they think FI makes.

Anonymous at 11:57 AM on October 18, 2015 | #4217

What do you think?

(This is a free speech zone!)