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Differences Between My Free Resources and Paid Help

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.

Free Stuff

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

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.)


Elliot Temple on January 29, 2019

Comments (12)

> 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.

How could someone tell if they are on a path to get good at reason and intellectual progress?

How could someone get on such a path if they aren't on one now?


student at 2:26 PM on January 30, 2019 | #11757 | reply | quote

#11757 They could write down what they're doing or what they think their path is. Then critically analyze it and ask others for criticism.

A general indication is how involved they are in philosophy discussion, and how productive that is.

If not on a path, why not? Do they want to be? Are they interested? Did they consider some options for paths? What's going on?


Anonymous at 2:28 PM on January 30, 2019 | #11758 | reply | quote

> Intellectual progress is hard and finding ways to throw money at the problem can be good.

I know this a difficult question to answer: How much easier is intellectual progress if someone pays you for consulting? That is, if someone paid you lots of money over time for consulting, would they in the long run end up only a little better at reason than they would without the private consulting? Or would they end up a lot better? How can we estimate this well?


student at 10:48 AM on January 31, 2019 | #11759 | reply | quote

It depends. But basically if someone wants it and can afford it, I think it's a great value and a big help.

Wanting this kind of help is the biggest bottleneck. It's hard to help people who don't want my help. And most people don't want help because they don't want reason.

For someone who is making lots of progress, amplifying it is relatively easy and reliable, thought the degree of amplification varies. But the much more common case is the person who may make near zero progress, and trying to change that into lots of progress, which is more of a binary success/failure outcome. The polarized outcomes add greater unpredictability. There is a jump, similar to a jump to universality, where people jump from low progress to high progress, and medium progress isn't really a thing. To a significant extent, you're stuck or you're not stuck.

If someone is unsure and has plenty of money, they should try it. Huge potential upside, not much downside.

The harder cases are people with borderline ability to pay *and* borderline interest. Then there's more potential for regretting buying consulting.

Most people in the world can't afford my personalized help. Of those who can, most of them are near the cutoff, and relatively few are way above the cutoff. Cuz of how wealth is distributed kinda like a pyramid. And most people are alienated from reason and don't really value their lives or minds much. Most of the exceptions are mixed cases, not John Galts. So unfortunately most potential customers are in the hard category: borderline interest and borderline ability to pay.

People lie to themselves about their interest in reason much more than about how much money they have. That's the one to be more wary of.

If someone doesn't rapidly become my best friend, that is a sign of there being some problem or limit with their interest in reason. I got thousands of hours of interaction with DD, for free, because interacting with rationality is so desirable and hard to come by.

I could help more people more if they would let me. They mostly won't. Unwillingness to hire my help is a relatively minor issue in what's going on there.

This wasn't really an answer, just some related thoughts.


curi at 11:12 AM on January 31, 2019 | #11760 | reply | quote

> People lie to themselves about their interest in reason much more than about how much money they have. That's the one to be more wary of.

How can I tell if I'm lying to myself about my interest in reason? I think I am interested in reason.


student at 6:36 AM on February 1, 2019 | #11761 | reply | quote

>> People lie to themselves about their interest in reason much more than about how much money they have. That's the one to be more wary of.

> How can I tell if I'm lying to myself about my interest in reason? I think I am interested in reason.

No easy way. Learn and use critical thinking skills. Learn about lying. Share situation for others to criticize. Think about (or share) what you have and haven't done to act on this interest in reason. Like how long have you been interested in reason, when/why did you get interested, and how vigorously have you pursued in since then? Good signs including doing lots of discussion and reading, and having lots of questions and ideas about what you discuss and read. For discussion, some good signs are if the majority is public, online, in text, and on reason-oriented forums (twitter and facebook are particularly bad). It's also a good sign to have identified some people and forums as being irrational and to have written down why you made that judgment. For reading, there are lots of fake intellectuals, so spotting some is a good sign, and writing your judgment down a better one (a good format is e.g. a blog post with book quotes). Having opinions/judgments about better and worse authors, and looking at a variety, is a positive sign.


curi at 10:36 AM on February 1, 2019 | #11762 | reply | quote

I forgot to say: also learning lots of common ways people are irrational, lie to themselves, aren't interested in reason, etc. Being familiar with what lots of common failures, lies, memes, social dynamics, etc, look like. Catching other people not being interested in reason, but saying they are, can be easier, and can give you examples which you can then compare to yourself.


curi at 10:38 AM on February 1, 2019 | #11763 | reply | quote

> If someone doesn't rapidly become my best friend, that is a sign of there being some problem or limit with their interest in reason. I got thousands of hours of interaction with DD, for free, because interacting with rationality is so desirable and hard to come by.

I'm guessing you have always been pretty good at reason. Do you think DD would have wanted so much interaction with you if you were interested in reason but bad at it? Would you want someone as a best friend who was interested in reason but bad at it?


student at 2:27 PM on February 1, 2019 | #11766 | reply | quote

> I'm guessing you have always been pretty good at reason. Do you think DD would have wanted so much interaction with you if you were interested in reason but bad at it? Would you want someone as a best friend who was interested in reason but bad at it?

It's very hard to know that you're very interested in something before you've done much of it. It's hard to know what it's like to do without trying it.

And bad at what part of reason? Or bad in what way? If someone is bad at explaining why psychiatry is nasty or induction is false – if they lack certain particular skills like that – that's ok.

What if they are bad at learning, handling criticism without getting angry, choosing to spend time reading books, thinking of questions or ideas, or being willing to participate in discussion? Those are all indications that they are more interested in other things than they are interested in reason (reason is not their priority, due to relative lack of interest).


curi at 3:25 PM on February 1, 2019 | #11767 | reply | quote

Any examples of people who have been helped by this kind of attention? Testimonials?

If the fundamental problem is people are bad at learning and therefore bad at learning to learn, why is it a big difference to get paid help?


Anonymous at 5:34 AM on February 7, 2019 | #11805 | reply | quote

#11805

I think I’m a great test case.

I’ve been stuck for years and I hired Elliot (for email) and Ingracke (for calls and emails) and it’s been immensely helpful to the point that I’m no longer stuck and I’m making progress!

One of the main things I was stuck on was about how to make progress on improving my intellectual skills given my current intellectual skills and interests.

In the past I had tried many suggestions that were mentioned on FI email list that were meant for people in general and also suggestions that were meant for particular FI people but they didn’t work for me - either because my intellectual skill wasn’t good enough (overreaching) or because I found the suggested activities boring.

I recently explained how I’m stuck in an FI email and Elliot replied explaining some details clarifying my stuck problem (which is a super common problem). His email helped me better understand my stuck problem. I was able to apply those ideas to my discussions with ingracke. Then Ingracke (over the phone) gave me some suggestions for activities I could do that could result in progress and that I found interesting (based on her knowledge of my intellectual skills and my answers to her questions about what I find interesting). So I tried her suggestions (which consisted of writing emails to FI summarizing articles I was reading) and I had some success. And I also failed on some of these summaries but then I got some replies from anon that explained what I was doing wrong and what to do instead and it was very helpful, allowing me to continue to make progress on the failures (instead of just failing and not knowing what to do after that).

I also got a lot of awesome help in improving how I deal with my kids. It has been immensely helpful — as judged by me and my kids.

I very much like how Elliot and ingracke work. They keep me honest about issues that I have so far failed to be honest about. They are shining light on issues that I have not been shinning light on.

I highly recommend hiring Elliot and ingracke for anyone that wants to improve their life and that have been stuck for a while. You need tailored help and they are capable of providing it!


GISTE at 12:05 PM on February 7, 2019 | #11808 | reply | quote

> If the fundamental problem is people are bad at learning and therefore bad at learning to learn, why is it a big difference to get paid help?

The blog post covers differences. You don't understand and ask about differences without specifics (like you aren't following up on a particular part of the blog post). The free, generic, impersonal version didn't work for you. That's actually the kind of case where paying for extra help makes sense. You aren't able to ask good, interesting questions that will get you extra help for free, and you don't understand, so you could buy some personal help.


Anonymous at 12:27 PM on February 8, 2019 | #11814 | reply | quote

What do you think?

(This is a free speech zone!)