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Alan's Paths Forward Summary

The following is a guest post by Alan Forrester. It summarizes the Paths Forward idea. These concepts are really important and people have a hard time with them, so summarizing is valuable. Here's another summary I wrote.

People say you should be willing to open minded. You should be willing to consider new ideas because they might be better than your current ideas. But people don’t give substantive advice on how to do this.

This is a difficult problem because you only have a limited amount of time in the day, and you may have stuff to do.

What you need is a path forward: a way to advance a discussion or disagreement (including discussions and disagreements in your own mind).

A bad path forward impedes progress by rejecting ideas without answering them, regardless of your reason for doing that. Examples include authority, social status, curation, moderation or gatekeepers.

A good path forward lets you get ideas from anyone. A good path forward always involves discussion because only rational discussion can solve problems.

This may sound like it’ll take a lot of time. But you need not write a fresh answer to every question. You can direct people to stuff that was written before the question was asked. And the answer could also have been written by somebody else. What matters is whether it answers the question, not who wrote it or when it was written.

If you refer somebody to a pre-written answer, you should give specific references where possible, e.g. - a page or chapter of a book instead of a whole book. You should also be willing to fix flaws in those answers.

Good answers will be public so lots of people can read them. They should also be written since written material is easier to quote, edit and analyse in detail.

You should also take responsibility for your paths forward. If you recommend stuff written by somebody else, you should be willing to answer questions about it and address flaws.

Good paths forward make general claims. General claims solve more problems and are easier to criticise than more limited claims. So if they are right they are very useful, and if they are wrong it is easier to find the flaw.

Elliot Temple on November 14, 2015

Comments (34)

Paths forward

I like the paths forward idea.

I think you should also supplement this with Bartley's advice on writing, in unfathomed knowledge unmeasured wealth p159, which is a summary of what he learned about writing from Popper.

Do you think that all that you write should be stored. For instance, I enter into a lot of discussions on Facebook. Do you think that you should compose answers away from Facebook and then submit them. If you don't compose away from Facebook, do you think you should copy and past the replies that you do give? All of them, or do you think you should go through the conversation afterwards, selecting what seems relevant?

Furthermore, one of my favourite things about Popper. That no one else I have read deals with, is his list of problems. This happens I think, three times in conjectures and refutations. I think this should be a core component of a website - a list of problems and explanation of the context of the problem.

This is also a paths forwards, in your terminology, since if you have not got a solution to a problem you have created/discovered, you can list it for people to see. This also shows that you are not just ignoring the problem.

Andrew Crawshaw at 4:09 PM on December 19, 2016 | #7892
> Do you think that all that you write should be stored. For instance, I enter into a lot of discussions on Facebook. Do you think that you should compose answers away from Facebook and then submit them.

if you're writing good, worthwhile stuff, yes you should save it permanently and you should put it on a blog or somewhere else with permanent, public links.

or if it's bad, go discuss on FI instead!

if a conversation turns out better than expected or you didn't plan ahead, then i'd definitely copy content off facebook afterwards. i have done this a few times. i'd generally copy the entire thing. i like completeness. i'd generally rather highlight key parts than leave stuff out. or post both full and condensed versions, so readers can start with the highlights but click a link to the full version if they want to see some more details about something.

facebook is pretty annoying to copy text from cuz you have to go expand all the comments that are over like 250 characters and also expand a bunch to show hidden comments. the site has a lot of problems. and now they are hiring the leftwing advocacy group politifact to censor content... :( but once you get everything expanded you can make a PDF of it and copy/paste a messy text version. not ideal but it does preserve the content from long discussions.

i really don't use facebook much because, aside from the site itself being badly designed and hostile to discussion (and it doesn't handle nested quotes. actually it doesn't even handle non-nested block quotes), i'm not aware of any worthwhile discussion groups on FB.

---

regarding the Bartley book, it appears to be paper only. do you know of an ebook available anywhere? otherwise you'll need to say something to indicate the value cuz i try to avoid paper books and i haven't found Bartley to be very good or valuable in the past.

regarding Popper's problems, i'm not sure if you were wanting people to work on specific problems of Popper's (i've worked on some, if you'd quoted a particular list i could comment on those and on issues like why i consider a particular problem not to be the most fruitful to work on, why i think another is already solved, my current progress on another, etc) or if you cared about the general method of listing problems, which i've done e.g. here: http://fallibleideas.com/parenting-problems

note that with C&R, and most Popper, i can find a passage from only a few words of exact quote using text search.


i agree about stating problems in public being important for progress on them, not just stating ideas where you have finished solutions. your conception of a problem is one of your ideas (and it may be misconceived and ought to be exposed to criticism. like all your ideas it needs error correction!)

curi at 4:33 PM on December 19, 2016 | #7893

Popper's Problems, and Bartley.

When I was discussing Popper' problems I was just giving an example of somebody who lists explicitly the problems he has created/discovered and not yet solved. Usually people only mention the problem they are going to tackle, in the current bit of writing. I just think people should do this more often, list problems that they have created/discovered, and which they have put aside, due to other more interesting/pressing problems.

There is not an ebook of the book I mentioned of Bartley's.

The only problem I found with Bartley is his denial that we can accept test reports where there is no justification for them.

What do you find problematic about Bartley? I would like to point out a few idea that he came up with. The idea that there should be an ecology of rationality, the idea that the growth of knowledge is an economic problem.

Anonymous at 11:17 AM on December 20, 2016 | #7899

Bartley

I am currently out of home, and Bartley's book is there. When I get back home, I will quote the passage that I referred to above.

Andrew Crawshaw at 11:19 AM on December 20, 2016 | #7900

Bartley's Summary

"in [popper's] seminars he taught us

* To do your work, you must have a scientific or intellectual problem, not a topic.

* Do not try to path-breaking or original. Find a problem that excites you. Work on it and take what you get.

* You must want to communicate to your reader; you must be clear, never use big words or anything needlessly complicated. [...] do not use logical symbols or mathematical formulae, for instance, if you can possibly avoid it. Know logic, do not parade it.

* it is immoral to be pretentious, or try to impress the reader or listener with your knowledge. For you are ignorant. Although we may differ in the little things we know, we are all equal in our infinite ignorance.

* Do not be attached to your ideas. You must expose yourself, and put yourself at risk. Do not be cautious in your ideas. Ideas are not scarce: there are more where they came from. Let your ideas come forth: any idea is better than no idea. But once the idea is stated, you must not try to defend it, not to believe it, but to criticise it, and to learn from discovering it's defects. Ideas are only conjectures. What is important is not the defence of any particular conjecture but the growth of knowledge.

*So be scrupulous in admitting your mistakes: you cannot learn from them if you never admit that you make them."

I will say a couple of things in criticism of the above summary.

First, the formulation "You must expose yourself" is bad, because it does not fit in with the rest of the paragraph which talks about how we should handle ideas. It should read: "you must expose your ideas to criticism"

Second "Do not use big words" is not exactly a clear proposal.

Third, it is not very clear, in context, how "...but the growth of knowledge" connects with the proposal that you should not try to defend your ideas, though it might be clear to someone already familiar with the theses started earlier in the book. The growth of knowledge depends on exposing ideas to criticism, since we learn from for our mistakes that new ideas are needed and new ideas are growth.

Anonymous at 1:51 PM on December 20, 2016 | #7905

open problems

here is one of my june 2011 posts to BoI list in the Open Problems discussion:

On Jun 29, 2011, at 5:20 AM, Lulie Tanett wrote:

> What are the open problems in BoI?

> Which areas could one write a paper about and make progress?

In the Socrates Dialog chapter it mentions a strong connection between epistemology and morality, then drops the topic.

More knowledge is needed about getting rid of anti-rational memes. This comes in two main categories: getting rid of them in yourself and preventing transfer to your children.

BoI discusses explanationless science. It doesn't specify which papers and fields qualify. There is a problem of figuring out just which claims to reject and which are OK, and also a problem of doing better science for issues that need it.

BoI doesn't solve epistemology. For example, the "hard to vary" criterion can be varied into other criteria which are pretty equivalent like "non-arbitrary" or "adapted". So why is "hard to vary" favored? There must be a deeper something.

There's also the epistemological problem of choosing between rival theories. BoI does not present a complete solution. One of the issues here is: whenever a criticism of a theory is offered, at least one of the two ideas must be wrong. Both criticism and theory are ideas, and they contradict, and there is a symmetry. How is one to choose which is right? BoI addresses this but not fully.

BoI doesn't talk much about liberalism directly but its ideas connect to liberalism. Specifying the connections, and expressing liberalism from a fully BoI perspective, would be good.


In none of these cases is a paper necessary to make progress. The content of ideas is the crucial thing, not the form. And getting criticism -- lots of it and fast -- is crucial. Besides, the academic community in general lacks the appropriate background knowledge -- detailed knowledge of BoI and Popper -- to make useful comments.


PS I don't think qualia is a fruitful topic. It's vague what the problem actually is, there are no known concrete benefits to solving the issue, and there are no known ways to make partial progress without a full solution. I consider it bad philosophy (philosophy should be clear and understandable). Progress here will come from addressing good problems in other fields and finding solutions with reach.

curi at 2:06 PM on December 20, 2016 | #7908
> * it is immoral to be pretentious, or try to impress the reader or listener with your knowledge. For you are ignorant. Although we may differ in the little things we know, we are all equal in our infinite ignorance.

i agree with the first sentence of this, but not the reasoning.

suppose you did know more than someone. should you then be pretentious? no you should try to give good arguments, not get people to "agree" (or praise you or something) without understand because they are impressed.

> "Do not use big words"

i think this is clear enough to be useful. though it's just a summary statement, not an explanation of the matter (which would involve talking about how commonly people misunderstand each other without realizing it, and how so much communication is overly ambitious. and some other things too.). it means to keep your writing simple, minimize fancy words.

yes there's judgement involved in e.g. whether the word "minimize" is simple or fancy. it depends on your audience, too.

as usual you have to make guesses about what to do, and you can use the guideline as one way to help criticize some of the guesses (the ones with big words). the criticism doesn't have to be final, it can be a starting point.

i'd add don't use big sentences or big paragraphs. and that Popper did use big words, sentences, and paragraphs often. he was a better writer than many philosophers, but still not that good IMO. most of his writing is really tough for most people to read. DD's writing is significantly better but still problematic for a lot of people. and my writing is significantly better than DD's (in terms of being simple and clear, not fancy and big) but *still* too hard for many people to understand -- i want to make it better. it's a hard problem. people confuse very easily and routinely struggle with basic English stuff like the words "if" or "that". or an example i had the other day was i confused people by ending a paragraph with "so what?" and starting the next with "So:" and people didn't connect it. people often don't connect things from adjacent sentences (or know what "adjacent" means. but i think you do know what "adjacent" means so at least i can use it here).

curi at 2:21 PM on December 20, 2016 | #7909
i've put substantial effort into interesting people in working on some of the many important open problems i'm aware of. with little success at getting people interested. partly because basically no one has the background knowledge to contribute without first learning some stuff that isn't open problems first (epistemology, critical thinking skills, Popper, DD, Rand, how reason works, economics, liberalism, etc).

i don't even know how to communicate many open problems to people without this background knowledge.

some open problems i've tried to talk about are:

- how to persuade people of TCS so they stop destroying their children's minds

- how to get attention and popularity for good ideas

- how people who are bad at thinking can make progress, given they misunderstand and dislike advice because they are bad at thinking

- how to fix a system of rationalizations

- AI. and in particular how to pseudocode a function which takes two contradicting ideas and determines which is a criticism of the other, or which to tentatively accept, or something like that. also the problem of how to detect which ideas contradict programatically.

curi at 2:28 PM on December 20, 2016 | #7910
> The only problem I found with Bartley is his denial that we can accept test reports where there is no justification for them.

that sounds justificationist...

> The idea that there should be an ecology of rationality

meaning?

> the idea that the growth of knowledge is an economic problem.

meaning?

curi at 2:29 PM on December 20, 2016 | #7911
http://curi.us/1437-comments-on-philosophy-of-biology-versus-philosophy-of-physics-by-william-w-bartley-iii

Bartley writes:

> > A good example is winetasting: the connoisseur knows what to look for and how to describe both what he searches for and what he experiences. His sensations are, as a result of cultivation, made more authoritative.

Sounds like justificationism. As someone gains expertise and his opinions are more justified.

curi at 2:35 PM on December 20, 2016 | #7912
i read The Retreat To Commitment and the Bartley paper related to his (supposed) insight about justificationism he helped Popper with. i didn't like either. i don't remember them well now or have them on hand. here's an example criticism:

http://curi.us/1494-beyond-criticism

it looks like you found this today, too, and commented! i'll reply in comments there.

curi at 2:40 PM on December 20, 2016 | #7913
Bartley's terminology is justificationist, but his point is not. It is easy to mean different things. Even popper often used justificationist terminology even when making arguments that undermined the justificationist position. I put this down to the fact that it was a really knew area of research rather than that either Bartley or Popper were justificationists. I mean they were open to criticism and probably would have agreed with a lot of the refinements and proposals that a lot of us that are exploring this in the wake of their breaki it open. Bartley generalise the idea behind criticism and totally did away with justificationism in a lot of his arguments, it just unfortunate that he often slipped back into justificationism.

Anonymous at 3:37 PM on December 20, 2016 | #7915
That sentence his horrible, sorry. I hope it converts my meaning despite it. They would have agreed with a lot of the new proposals and refinements that have been made. It is a developing research program and CR still has not met air unearthed all justificationist misconceptions. I notice that both you and even Deustch and even Miller have often fallen back into such formulates unwittingly.

Anonymous at 3:40 PM on December 20, 2016 | #7916
What do you think Bartley's non-justificationist point is about the winetesting? I wasn't trying to pick on terminology, I read the substantive as justificationist.

curi at 3:50 PM on December 20, 2016 | #7917
typo.

> I read the substantive as justificationist.

should be

> I read the substance as justificationist.

curi at 3:51 PM on December 20, 2016 | #7918
I think the point he is trying to make is similar to Popper's point about frequent exposure to the same problem. Say a physical problem, such as the guitar, our hands become more reliable (not in an epistemological sense) and more accurate the more we are exposed to the same problem and the more we engage critically with it. Same as with a winerasrer, whose frequent exposure to different types of wine, makes his ability to distinguish taste more precise and accurate.

Anonymous at 6:08 PM on December 20, 2016 | #7957
I think: Exposure doesn't make one learn. It's only critical engagement that works. Practice is only productive if one thinks, mere repetition doesn't work.

I find your statement ambiguous about this so I'm stating my view. I don't believe Popper contradicted my view and my guess is he would have agreed. I don't know if you agree with me or not.


So you think Bartley meant that people who develop skills are more skilled at those skills? Or is there more to it than that?

curi at 6:39 PM on December 20, 2016 | #7961
"So you think Bartley meant that people who develop skills are more skilled at those skills?"

This question is unclear, it seems to contain the tautology that people who develop skills, develop those skills.

Yes, exposure to the problem is a necessary condition of learning. Not a sufficient one, Batlery says "cultivation" and since he believes that criticism and conjecture is how one learns and cultivation is Just a fancy way of saying learning a particular skill for a length of time. I would conclude that he meant critical enegament, when he said cultivation. And if it is true that his understanding is true, then we can conclude that his discernments are reliable. Until,we have a criticism. This is not an epistemological claim about the theory.

The authoritative that he is talking about is not epistemological, more that we do rely on our theories, to control our future decisions. Is is not the same as saying thetheory is reliable, it is just conjecturing that the theory is true, which explains why the prediction it makes are reliable. We cannot conjecture both that the theory is true and that its predictions are reliable.

Andrew Crawshaw at 6:07 AM on December 21, 2016 | #7972
> And if it is true that his understanding is true, then we can conclude that his discernments are reliable. Until,we have a criticism. This is not an epistemological claim about the theory.

This comment does not refer to Bartley but the wine taster.

Anonymous at 6:08 AM on December 21, 2016 | #7973
> We cannot conjecture both that the theory is true and that its predictions are reliable

It is meant to say unreliable.

But I am not making myself clear at all. I will try again.

I think authoritative in his sense, it just to say that your discernment improves the more you critically engage with a problem.

For instance a person who has cultivated a wine testing knows which tests to run in order to locate the taste.

Just like a guitarist can move his fingers unoncious to locate the notes that he needs. His understanding of his senses has become more implicit and quicker and more accurate.

Anonymous at 6:17 AM on December 21, 2016 | #7974
I cannot find the Bartley passage. I think it might be helpful to put in what the example is an example of. Could you quote it?

Andrew Crawshaw at 6:21 AM on December 21, 2016 | #7975
> I cannot find the Bartley passage. I think it might be helpful to put in what the example is an example of. Could you quote it?

which passage?

curi at 4:18 PM on December 21, 2016 | #7989
why can't you find it?

curi at 4:30 PM on December 21, 2016 | #7991
>> > A good example is winetasting: the connoisseur knows what to look for and how to describe both what he searches for and what he experiences. His sensations are, as a result of cultivation, made more authoritative.

The passage you quoted here is part of a longer passage where Bartley claims something and then gives this example I do not have access to the paper. So I don't know what this example is meant to be an example of. I was hoping you could quote the passage in full.

Anonymous at 6:30 PM on December 21, 2016 | #8005
a source link was provided above along with that quote. why were you unable to follow it? i'm lost. from my perspective you seem grossly incompetent. that's a sign there's a big misunderstanding or something is going wrong. so i want to figure out what's going on (rather than merely reply with the answer).

curi at 6:34 PM on December 21, 2016 | #8006
> why were you unable to follow it?

I'm guessing he couldn't follow it because he didn't notice it. Did that possibility occur to you?

Anonymous at 7:22 PM on December 21, 2016 | #8007
> I'm guessing he couldn't follow it because he didn't notice it. Did that possibility occur to you?

yes.

curi at 7:30 PM on December 21, 2016 | #8008
> I think authoritative in his sense, it just to say that your discernment improves the more you critically engage with a problem.

or in other words

> ... just to say that your **skill** improves the more you **learn more skill**.

I'm still not seeing how any of this differs from basically "get more skilled, have more skill". Which is trivial. Is your position that he was saying something trivial or something substantial? If it's substantial what's the substance?

> For instance a person who has cultivated a wine testing knows which tests to run in order to locate the taste.

in other words: a person who learned some stuff knows some stuff.

> Just like a guitarist can move his fingers unoncious to locate the notes that he needs. His understanding of his senses has become more implicit and quicker and more accurate.

in other words, a person who learned some skills has some skills.

curi at 8:43 PM on December 21, 2016 | #8009
>"Human sensation is well known to be unreliable: that sensations are in any way authoritative is contradicted not only by scientific investigation, physiological studies of the brain and sense organs, optical illusion, and such like, but also by ordinary experience, from which we know that our sensations are often crude and educable. A good example is winetasting: the connoisseur knows what to look for and how to describe both what he searches for and what he experiences. His sensa- tions are, as a result of cultivation, made more authoritative.

Bartley then explains being given information about the body from his doctor to do with back pain and he not only learns about it, but the location of the pain actually seems to change.

"In short, an increase in information helped me to sense more accurately. "



>in other words, a person who learned some skills has some skills.

Bartley's claim can be given a non-justificationist reading. That is all I am arguing. The context also bears this out. He is trying to say that it is not sensation, in itself, that improves, but our understanding of our sensations. This is not tautological. Where the pain was coming from in his back did not change, his sensation did.

My examples were illustrative of the same things.

Anonymous at 1:32 AM on December 22, 2016 | #8010
> My examples were illustrative of the same things.

Who are you? You say "my examples" but you don't identify yourself, so there's no way to know which examples you're referring to.

Anonymous at 1:37 AM on December 22, 2016 | #8011
>in other words, a person who learned some skills has some skills.

Yes, well this is true.

But we are talking about how the skills are aquired and what they allow us to do.

Anonymous at 1:39 AM on December 22, 2016 | #8012
>Who are you? You say "my examples" but you don't identify yourself, so there's no way to know which examples you're referring to.

The example of the guitarist.

Anonymous at 1:42 AM on December 22, 2016 | #8013
> The example of the guitarist.

Every comment has a number. Like this #8013

Why don't you use those?

FF at 3:52 AM on December 22, 2016 | #8015

answers to questions posed?

>> Bartley's claim can be given a non-justificationist reading. That is all I am arguing.

Can you give an answer to:

> Is your position that he was saying something trivial or something substantial?

and an answer to:

> a source link was provided above along with that quote. why were you unable to follow it? i'm lost. from my perspective you seem grossly incompetent. that's a sign there's a big misunderstanding or something is going wrong. so i want to figure out what's going on (rather than merely reply with the answer).

and to these:

> > The idea that there should be an ecology of rationality

>meaning?

> > the idea that the growth of knowledge is an economic problem.

> meaning?

Anonymous at 2:27 PM on December 22, 2016 | #8024

What do you think?

(This is a free speech zone!)