Let's talk about what I'm doing, why, and how well it's going.
I want to know things. I want to figure things out.
My philosophy goals are first of all about myself. That's important because I don't want anyone else's decisions or failures to be able to make me fail. I only want other people to have secondary relevance, not primary importance. I want to control my own success and failure.
So I prefer goals like learning things or writing good explanations, rather than being popular or getting useful feedback. I enjoy learning and being creative, and would be unhappy without it. I have high standards for skill and quality, and would be unhappy otherwise. Those are things I can do alone (including using existing books, videos, etc.)
In the past, after over 5,000 hours of super successful collaboration with David Deutsch, I had higher expectations regarding other people. But David stopped discussing philosophy and has proven irreplaceable. (Thomas Szasz was wonderful too, but died at age 92.)
Broadly, the more and better philosophy I read and write, the happier I am. I have other interests but philosophy is the most important and most interesting. Note that I think of philosophy broadly including economics, liberalism, philosophy of science, educational philosophy, parenting philosophy, relationships philosophy, etc. In these areas, and many more, the best thing to do is apply general philosophy concepts. So the good ideas end up being more about philosophy in general than about the particular field. Meanwhile most of the "experts" in these fields are largely useless because they don't know how to think (don't know the key philosophy concepts which apply to their field about how to learn, how to create and evaluate arguments, and more).
Philosophy is about how to think and how to live, and I like to both learn and apply this. I do generally favor more abstract fields (e.g. political philosophy over today's politics over trying to help win an individual congressional election), as a personal preference and because they're more important. (More general purpose issues are like teaching a man to fish instead of giving him a fish. E.g. helping people think better about politics instead of just telling them the answer to one political issue.)
Changing The World
The world is full of suffering, stupidity, ignorance, and unnecessary failure. People are blind to lots of it, and also well aware of lots. Things could be dramatically better using only current ideas (no new breakthroughs). I know some of the best ideas for changing the world, like Taking Children Seriously. Largely destroying the minds of 99.999% of all children is arguably our biggest problem. If people's ability to think wasn't crippled in their early years, then tons of people would be smarter, wiser and more skillful than me (or than anyone else you care to name). That'd be way better.
While I'd like to change the world, I choose projects which are personally fulfilling so I won't regret it even if the world doesn't change. I write things which I'll be happy to have written even if no one replies or learns from it. I avoid outreach projects focused on getting more people's attention, but which I won't be happy with if they fail to bring in a bunch more audience.
Most people trying to change the world skip the step where they put a massive amount of effort into figuring out which are the right changes. I've done that step. I will debate anyone on the matter, but it's hard to find anyone willing to discuss it much.
My audience is too small. There's around 150 newsletter subscribers and 150 Fallible Ideas discussion group members. The good news is there are some very active people who have been around for years. And the whole audience is much more engaged than is typical. I get 2.4x the open rate and 3.9x the click rate compared average newsletters.
The small audience is bad because it's not enough to effectively test new ideas with. I could write a great new piece which would resonate with people, but get no feedback, so I don't realize that writing more similar material would be effective.
150 people could be enough in theory. Let's say I write something really great and 20% of my audience loves it. They could then share it with their own friends, who would share it with their own friends, and so on.
Let's say other people know 50 people on average (tons of people have way more than 50 Facebook friends). So I get 30 people to share it and that makes 1500 people. Let's halve it for overlap (two people share to the same person) and to be conservative. The 750 people in the secondary audience will like and share it at a lower rate than the original group, let's say 5%. That's still 37 people sharing it next, up from 30, so it would grow. With this pattern, each additional phase of sharing would increase the number of people sharing it, and it'd quickly become huge. That's exponential growth (literally).
And other stuff can go right. If someone shares on Reddit, it could get upvotes. And it only has to impress one popular person with thousands of social media followers to dramatically increase the numbers.
Difficulty Spreading Ideas
I think the reason my material doesn't spread like this is it doesn't do a great job of offering people what they already want. Instead, I offer new ideas which disagree with some of their current beliefs. I explain why these ideas would improve their lives, but understanding that requires a bunch of thinking.
I believe there aren't enough intellectuals in the world who want to spend much time learning. This makes it hard to spread philosophy ideas to a large audience. I have other forms of evidence about this too, e.g. my extensive and unsuccessful efforts to find any intellectual discussion forum that isn't terrible. (My other criterion for forums is allowing philosophy discussion. There are good forums on limited topics such as Ruby programming).
While a larger audience would be useful to better test out new ideas on, I don't know a good way to get it, and I'm not the right person to go on social media and make a bunch of friends. I hope other people will do that, but I'm not counting on it.
I've tried some advertising but, as expected, it hasn't been very effective. The smart people who like my ideas are also the kind of people who use AdBlock and ignore ads.
I have around 8,000 page views per month for my websites, around half for Fallible Ideas and half for my blog. It doesn't generate many blog comments or incoming emails, except from people who already participate in my email discussion group.
I've been gradually transitioning to do more learning alone and less in discussion. This is a personal decision, for my circumstances, which I don't recommend to others. (It's important to be able to spend time alone and do things independently. I already do that exceptionally well. This is just an adjustment of details.)
I was extremely successful learning from discussions, and you could be too. I don't mean exclusively discussions, but they can be a major component of learning. (Note: written discussions are the best if you're serious.)
Discussion is extremely effective until you're around 50% better than the people you're discussing with. The reason you can get significantly past them is because you have different strengths and weaknesses than them. If you're 10% better than someone on average, he's going to be better than you at lots of stuff. So you can still learn a ton from him.
By around 200% better than someone, it gets difficult to learn much from them. Their general quality standards and methods of thinking are too low for you, and you have huge leads in most or all subjects you care about. You could often win an argument with them even if you were wrong. You have to fix anything they say to have more details, follow the methods of reason better, etc, before it can fit into your thinking. You may be better off reading a book than talking to them.
I've been transitioning to less discussion despite being extremely successful at learning from discussions. Why? Because I used discussion efficiently to get around a 50% lead on my primary discussion partner, David Deutsch. Then he stopped discussing and that left me with more like a 500% lead over everyone else.
But if you're not at the very top, discussion is amazing. And if you are at the very top, you ought to discuss with me...
People worry about the blind leading the blind. That's an issue. But if no one in a whole discussion group (including you) knows what e.g. Popper or Rand meant on some point, it's not like you'd do better alone. The blind leading himself alone isn't a solution.
It's extremely hard to make money from philosophy ideas, so I haven't tried much. I've sold around $500 on Gumroad recently. I've made over $15,000 from philosophy, mostly from consulting (~$6,700) and donations (~$8,000), which isn't much. If I didn't do any philosophy and spent that time on programming, I would have made a few million additional dollars. (The market rate for great, experienced programmers is over $300,000/yr total compensation.)
I don't need to make money from philosophy. It's much easier to make money programming. I work part time from home, it's fun, and it pays great. I want to spend some time on programming anyway. I prefer to do a variety of activities, not just philosophy. Making money from philosophy would still be good, though.
I've started selling more material primarily because people, being self-destructively stupid, pay less attention to free material. Even if they read it, they assume free material has less value, rather making a judgement about how good it is. You have to charge people money to help enable them to care and pay attention.
People have mistaken my generosity for low status and low value. Charging money is a communication mechanism which reduces some misunderstandings. I also like and approve of commercialism. I think it's good to charge for and to pay for value.
There are some issues. People expect polish if they pay money. But I usually try to learn as efficiently as I can, and that means only doing polishing in a minority of cases. Usually I can learn more by e.g. writing a second essay on the same topic, rather than polishing the first one.
People have many bad ideas about monetary value. E.g. they often assume longer is more valuable. Actually, making material shorter is superior – it takes more work for me but saves them time and helps them focus on the most important parts by excluding the lesser parts. (Organizing a lot of material into footnotes and other optional extras is another good approach, so the main material is short but the longer version is still accessible. Only a tiny fraction of people care about reading extra details, but they are the best people, so they matter the most.)
People also think if a book costs $10, then a few essays can only be worth around $1. They aren't considering the value of the ideas for their life. Nor are they thinking about how the book is only so cheap because it's mass produced for a large audience. That book could be 4,000 hours (2 years) of effort from an author who's time is worth $200/hr (the time of the best authors is valuable, and they're the ones you want to read). Add in all the work the publisher does to edit, format and market the book, and plenty of books have over $1,000,000 put into them. Getting it for $10 is an amazing bargain. It's unfair to compare other products to that and expect the same deal.
Similarly, tons of people complain when sophisticated software costs $5, and think iOS apps should be $1 at most. This is ridiculous and is dramatically lowering the quality of software available even for someone like me who is happy to pay.
If I spend 10 hours making something, that's loosely $2000 (it's kinda priceless since no one else can create comparable philosophy work). If I sell it for $20 to my small audience, that's dirt cheap. 10 customers would pay $200 which is 10% of the production costs. I could easily make far more money programming. And I'm far better at philosophy than programming.
(Why would my time be worth e.g. $200/hr? Because I have lots of valuable knowledge which could improve people's lives, which I have skill at communicating in a simple way. And I can do this fast. I can share ideas in a few minutes which could improve people's lives by thousands of dollars if they took them seriously. How did I develop this knowledge and skill? I'm very smart and I spent ~20,000 hours, not counting school or childhood, learning the ideas, learning to write well and quickly, learning to communicate in a simple way, etc. But note that the value of products is really what they do for the customer, not how hard to make they were, so hourly rates are just a loose approximation.)
I have a small audience because I create things which challenge most people's ideas. Most people don't like that. But for people who want to do better than mainstream convention, in the particular kinds of ways I talk about (better thinking rather than e.g. healthier eating), it's very valuable. For the right kind of person who wants it, my work is worth paying a lot for and there isn't much competition.
Most people aren't very interested in investing in themselves. I'll buy whatever books, videos, software, etc, will help me be better. I expect it to pay off in the long run, plus I like it. Most people only spend much money investing in themselves in socially-approved ways (like university courses or maybe a bestselling book).
Part of the issue is that people limit the value they get from philosophy. When reading philosophy, they put over 80% of their effort into preventing themselves from learning, into creating confusions, and into other sabotage. This is due to static memes and various other issues I've written about. This makes them very hard to help. And, yes, you do it, even though you don't realize it. I'm not talking about other people. I'm talking about you. And if you doubt it but are unwilling to discuss-debate the matter, that's a pretty good indication I'm right.
Even for people who like my writing, most of them would rather leave than take it seriously. If I pushed them harder to discuss and learn, and pointed out their personal mistakes, they would hate me and quit. They'd shoot the messenger rather than appreciate finding out about fixable problems in their lives. Even if we stick to intellectual issues, and they merely find out their views about reason, education, politics, etc, are mistaken, they'd still rather leave than discuss those issues to conclusions. Most people don't even want to discuss at all.
Writing a Book?
Books are a high-prestige format for sharing ideas. Especially if you get a major publisher (and get paid 7% royalties). But I'm not after prestige.
I want to use the best formats available for learning and discussion, not the best formats for impressing people. I'd rather have a small, engaged audience which understands stuff than a large audience of cheering-but-ignorant fans.
I prefer to deal with the kind of people who judge quality for themselves in rational ways. I'm not targeting people who follow what's popular. And I'm not targeting people who judge an essay by big words and complex sentences, rather than by how good the ideas are. (People who judge fancy writing negatively are fine!) Simple writing is superior for communicating ideas.
Books are too long and discourage discussion. They're also single-format. There's value in using a mix of short writing, long writing, audio, video, slides, and interactive software.
What's good about books is they can explain a large amount of content in a self-contained way. This is especially helpful for people who don't want to ask questions or take the initiative to put together ideas from multiple places. The ability for someone to learn a lot, alone, from a single, complete package is a good thing. (It'd be better if people were more willing to interact because the misunderstanding rate when reading philosophy books alone is extremely high – call it 98% – and talking to people who already understand the ideas is great for clearing up some misunderstandings.)
Books are difficult to write, and aren't ideal for the author's own learning. Doing 5-20 editing passes isn't the best way to learn. Trying to make the whole book fit together as an effective piece of communication is difficult and is different than understanding the ideas.
The difficulty of writing a book is dramatically reduced if each chapter is a standalone essay, so the book is similar to a series of blog posts. Popper and Rand did most of their non-fiction that way. But that also removes some of the upside of books.
I wrote a series of 22 blog posts in 2007 totaling around 57,000 words, which is the length of a short book (almost 200 pages). That only took me 37 days because I'm a very fast writer (due to learned skill and practice) and didn't edit much. I've worked to develop a skill of writing good first drafts so I don't need to edit as much. (For example, this essay is barely edited.)
The Fallible Ideas website has 74,000 words worth of essays, so it's equivalent to a book.
I'm not a natural writer, by the way. In my childhood I was good at chess, math and computers. Before I learned programming, I thought I might become a scientist. I didn't start learning to write until after reading The Fabric of Reality, which is a philosophy book disguised as a science book.
I was slow at reading and writing when I got into philosophy, and my writing was much worse than today. My early writing did have some redeeming qualities. I attempted to say what I meant instead of impressing people. Writing in a simple, direct, clear and honest way can get you pretty far.
I've now written over 800,000 words of blog posts (5.75 books the length of The Fabric of Reality), over 30,000 philosophy related emails, and lots of other stuff. That's way more effort than most people put into learning. Maybe I'm a "gifted genius prodigy" or whatever (I think that's an excuse people use to legitimize their own mediocrity), but I sure tried harder too. (And I had fun doing it. Learning and creating are the most fun things one can do in life.)
A main problem I have is getting tired. I don't have plenty of great and easy things to do while tired.
This is 4,000 words. Should I write five essays like this per day? Because if I only write one per day, I'll have a lot of time left over. I generally find writing 4,000 words pretty tiring.
Similarly, I can read 200+ pages in a day, but it's tiring and I'll have a lot of time left over. Even if I read 500 pages and I'm completely exhausted, that takes way less than 16 hours.
Switching between text-based activities (writing, reading) and audio-and-visual-based activities (talking, videos, audio books, text to speech) helps because they use somewhat different energy.
Tiredness is a harder problem because I condense things to increase the information density. I don't just watch a lecture you YouTube, I watch it at triple speed. I only read audio books and use text to speech at high speed. I only watch TV and movies at high speed. If I don't do it fast, it's too boring for me to do it all. This makes it more tiring per minute.
This tiredness issue is standard; it's not my personal problem. No one tries really hard all day, every day, or they burn out. The general understanding of wise people is that knowledge workers are limited to around 2-4 hours per day of serious intellectual work. I've seen this claim from many smart people and I haven't found any reasonable arguments to the contrary. For example, Jordan Peterson gave advice about how to study 10+ hours per day. He said you can't do it, don't try, and:
It is very rare for people to be able to concentrate hard for more than three hours a day.
I routinely do more than 3 hours, but much less than 16 hours, so I have to find other things to do. I've tried pushing through tiredness, which is possible in the short term, but I just end up so tired that it lasts through a full night's sleep. It's more efficient if you usually limit your mental exhaustion enough that you can wake up refreshed. I also try to nap when I think I can fall asleep, and I sleep in as much as I want with no alarm. Unlike most people, I'm definitely not sleep deprived.
Finding non-tiring activities I like is fundamentally hard because, even when I do easy stuff, I try to learn something, or I find a way it's interesting and write something about it. If there's nothing to learn or write about, then I don't like it, and I want to use programming to automate it or at least multitask by listening to an audio book.
How's Stuff Going?
I'm doing well at learning things and creating new ideas. I've been writing a lot lately and making some stuff using my voice too.
I have plenty of books in my queue to read, along with some documentaries, Leonard Peikoff lectures, Jordan Peterson lectures, and more. This is helping to make up for the shortage of people to discuss with.
I want to make better material for people to learn philosophy. Lots of my older material has good ideas but is disorganized. If I rewrite stuff, I can organize it better and can easily improve the quality of writing. I want to make it easier for people with limited time and interest to find the best ideas.
Some of my most important ideas are Paths Forward and Boolean Epistemology. These are major, original contributions to philosophy. I'm going to make new and improved explanations of them with better introductions.
Boolean Epistemology corrects Popper and Deutsch on fundamental epistemology. It's about judging ideas as refuted or non-refuted rather than with any kind of amount, weight, degree or score (including corroboration or a critical preference). I attempted to discuss it with Popperians back in 2010, but they were uninterested. Nor is there some other philosophy community which cares. Academic philosophers are terrible much like government funded science.
I'm happy with what I've learned and created recently. I'm currently in a highly productive period which I hope to continue indefinitely.
I've had periods in the past where I had serious difficulty finding good enough quality ideas and people to engage with. And I've had issues deciding what sort of audience to target writing for. One needs a context in which to write in order to guide decisions about what to include or exclude, style, etc. It doesn't have to be a real audience though, one can write alone by simply imagining what sort of reader he's hypothetically targeting, or by writing for oneself.
I am trying to focus more clearly on making things I think are good, which I like, regardless of reception. Previously I wrote a lot of things oriented towards getting valuable feedback from people, especially David Deutsch. I've had to gradually change that after searching extensively for good people to discuss with and finding the world is a lot worse off than I'd like it to be.