Trays are the Best

i got a tray 2 years ago for carrying food.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001FOPU1E/?tag=curi04-20

(this tray is out of stock but you can see the 23" x 15" dimensions. don't go much smaller. i got a 17" x 10.6" one first and it SUCKED, i returned it. note that you lose some flat space to the angled sides)

it's AMAZING.

note i linked a BIG tray. there's a bunch of smaller ones that can't even fit 2 plates.

benefits:

  • easy to carry more than 2 things at once (this is why i wanted it)

  • easily carry hot things

  • easier to keep things level while walking

  • even just a plate, a cup, and a bottle with a sauce is 3 things and not that easy to carry with your hands. adding a bowl of soup or a side salad on its own plate makes it way harder to carry. and even when carrying just a plate and cup you may have to balance your silverware on the plate and get it dirty.

  • i started sometimes having multiple different drinks with meals because it's easier to carry 2-3 different drinks at once this way. i drink smaller amounts but sometimes i like the variety. or sometimes i don't know in advance which drink i'll prefer and end up drinking one and not the other, and it was good to have the options (having a bit extra of each, and "wasting" some, is totally reasonable. most drinks are cheap). it just sorta didn't occur to me to have 2 different drinks before i had the tray to put them on and had used it for a while.

  • you can put food discards (e.g. corn cob, clam shells, bones) on the tray without needing a separate plate or trying to stick them on the side of your main meal plate. cleaning the tray is no problem, but you generally wouldn't wanna put that stuff directly on your table. (unless you're using a tablecloth and clean it routinely, which sounds dumb. )

  • it's easier to carry a bunch of different sauces/toppings/spices as extra options, even if you aren't sure which you want. you can just try a little of each while eating.

  • you can set other stuff on the tray, like a towel or iPhone (good for speaker phone calls, and more convenient than taking it in and out of your pocket)

  • if you don't know how much of a food you want, you can bring a bunch (like in a tupperware) and then serve multiple small portions to your plate during your meal

  • for people who sometimes leave dishes in their room instead of immediately carrying everything back: if you use a tray once per 2-5 meals, you can then carry all the dirty dishes back at once with the tray.

  • SAVE TRIPS WALKING BACK AND FORTH

  • you can eat directly from your plate or bowl while it's on the tray. the tray doesn't take up a lot of extra space. this won't work in all situations. if you have a bunch of stuff and a crowded table, a tray still helps for carrying things to the table and taking dirty dishes back. also if you don't eat at your computer desk sometimes, or your computer desk can't fit a large tray, i think that's bad and you should change it. (i push one of my secondary displays back a bit to have tray space.)

i use my tray most days. A++++++++++++


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (8)

Thoughts on Charles Tew

Charles Tew (CT) is an Objectivist philosopher. I watched more of his YouTube videos and looked around his web presence. I have some comments. This is not a review. This is not a complete evaluation. It's some particular things I noticed, many of which are tangential to his main points.

This post will make more sense if you've already read my Open Letter to Charles Tew, and perhaps seen some of CT's videos. Also if you're familiar with Objectivism.


Some things CT said were really good. He has at least a sliver of greatness, which is rare. And I appreciate that he's a content creator, that he's trying to make stuff, share ideas, do something.

CT aims to be a firebrand. I appreciate that. There were sections of his videos which fit this and which I particularly liked. I think he's correct in his claim that aspects of his style are similar to Ayn Rand, and that ARI's style is dissimilar to Rand.

I surveyed the comments on several videos. The discussion quality in comments is terrible. I wondered how and why he attracted those people to comment, and if he values a higher view count without concern for who is watching and why. That's the kind of thing he's criticized others for. I wonder if CT thinks low quality comments are just inevitably part of how YouTube works, rather than depending on the audience you attract. Or perhaps he's concerned about it and wishes to improve the situation. Or didn't think of the issue and just took some normal social interaction stuff for granted.

CT replied "thank you" to two YouTube commenters who wrote generic praise. I didn't read that many comments, so there's presumably many more similar comments. That is not what Howard Roark would have done. It's sucking up get a larger audience of boring or bad people. It helps bring in more of the kind of people who write low quality comments. It signals not being a firebrand. There were other relevant signs too, like he said something about doing off-topic bits at the start of a video because Sam Harris structured videos that way – which suggests he's trying to copy what's popular instead of thinking about what, in his own opinion, makes the best format intellectually. (I just jump into the content in my videos. People don't or shouldn't care about my issues with audio equipment. That's far from the most important thing I have to talk about.)

CT said the only active intellectual today that he respects much is Harry Binswanger. I hope he'll reply to my Binswanger criticism, which I included in my letter to CT.

CT said he is not a member of HBL. He didn't explain why. I find that really strange. If I only admired one living intellectual, and they had a forum, I'd join it! I'd want to read their stuff and talk with them.

CT focuses many videos on popular non-Objectivists who are actively creating content today, like Stephan Molyneux, Sam Harris, Sargon of Akkad, or Jordan Peterson. I don't know why, but I don't agree with that emphasis. I spend a larger portion of my own time talking about ideas in general, or about ideas in relation to people who are important to philosophy (that's mostly dead people like Socrates, Aristotle, Godwin, Burke, Popper, Rand), or talking about ideas in relation to people I find notable and interesting in some way (who often happen to be obscure, like CT). Maybe CT is attracted to current social popularity. Why doesn't CT do more commentary and analysis regarding Binswanger (his favorite living content creator other than himself) or Ayn Rand (there is a shortage of quality material explaining Rand's books and helping people understand them correctly – who else makes stuff like my Atlas Shrugged Close Reading?).

People like Harris, Molyneux, Akkad and Peterson are not very important in the big picture. Responding to them won't change the world. (I'm responding to CT right now, but the primary purpose is to organize my own thoughts, and the secondary purpose is to share stuff about how I think and view the world which I think is important, valuable content. And I only do this kind of response as the minority of what I make.) If CT is actually important and right about almost everything – as he claims to believe – then he should find something better to do (like his books – except see my comments on that below). He should make really important material that's great for people who don't care at all about Harris/Peterson/etc. He should make timeless material about what really matters and what will actually potentially persuade many people and change the world. He should be trying to make improved versions of some of Ayn Rand's work – since Ayn Rand's work, great as it was, was inadequate to fix things and set the tone of the world. If that's too hard for him today, he should try to improve his philosophy so he can do that. He should aim for something that would make a big difference, not work to build up a bit more audience of people with little if anything to contribute. If his videos are just him practicing, that'd be OK but I don't think they are presented that way and they don't strike me as optimized for practicing and self-learning.

CT has videos about addiction. I didn't watch those. I focused on clicking video titles I thought I'd agree with or like for two reasons. One, those are more enjoyable in the straightforward way: I like things I like. There's plenty of things I dislike in the world and I don't seek them out without a specific reason. Two, I don't know if CT is open to discussion. This comes up with lots of content. I think it's wrong, and there's no way to fix that problem, no way to correct the author (or get corrected myself). Formulating my criticisms seems a bit pointless, if there's no discussion, when it's standard stuff I've already thought and written about a dozen times. And if I wanted to cover it again, I'd typically be better off doing it my own way – thinking about how I want to approach the material this time and why – instead of responding to a particular person. If CT is open to discussion and to engaging with important literature like Szasz (which he's either already read or ought to be happy to fill in the gap in his knowledge enough to have some opinion of Szasz's ideas), I'd be more interested in his views that I expect to disagree with in ways I've been over repeatedly in the past.

I didn't see CT learning much of anything from non-Objectivists, which concerns me because there are good ideas which Rand didn't know, which other people figured out. That includes plenty which don't contradict Objectivism, and also, IMO, a few which do correct Objectivism in some way (usually fairly minor in terms of how much it changes Objectivism – the one big correction I'm aware of is about induction, but even that is mostly a correction of Rand's followers like Peikoff – Rand herself wrote little about induction, said she wasn't an expert on it, and didn't claim to have a solution to the problem of induction. And Popper's solution, despite rejecting induction itself, solves the important problem and offers everything I think Rand would have wanted in an epistemology – in particular, that people can and do create legitimate knowledge).

I don't think CT should use Patreon. That site hates his values and kicks people off who they disagree with politically, e.g. Lauren Southern. CT could easily be kicked off Patreon if he gets enough income/fans/attention to be noticed. Even relying on YouTube much is risky – YouTube kicks some people off for having right wing political views, they're very biased. (I don't know if iTunes kicks off podcasts for political reasons.)

Reading

CT says he doesn't like reading that much. That's bizarre for someone saying they are a philosopher. Actually it's totally normal, but it's a mistake that seems weird to me because I know better. Part of a philosopher's job is to read a lot (and listen and watch material too). That involves developing skills including being great at (and, ideally, liking):

  • reading pretty fast
  • reading slowly and carefully
  • speed reading, preferably with multiple techniques so you can match the technique to the content
  • skimming
  • targeted, selective reading, including by using an index or a software feature to search for words
  • watching videos and listening to audio at high speed
  • using text to speech software, and broadly being good at converting things into other formats so you have a lot of control of how you go through content so you can choose the best options each time
  • reading Amazon reviews, using amazon's preview of the book, finding it on google books, googling the author, etc, to quickly get some info about a book
  • using the library
  • knowing how to quickly survey many books on a topic (some never getting past the online research phase, others you actually read parts of) and figuring out which are good or bad and why, and which to read (and which parts of them, or the whole thing) and which not to read

(I also think it's a philosopher's job to learn to write and to learn to like writing. Video and audio are only secondary formats. They have some good things about them but they aren't the primary way to communicate ideas with serious people. I have some more comments related to this below.)

Sanctuaries for the Best of the Human Species

Another thing I was wondering is whether CT wants to be alone in the world, to be special. He says things like that others don't criticize Objectivism like he does. Is he bragging, or would he be thrilled to find out I exist and eager to discuss with me? He hasn't replied to my letter yet, but it's only been a day. Maybe he's reading through the many links or he happens to be busy this weekend. Who knows. I will wait and see. This is not a criticism, it's just a potential issue I thought of, a way he could be. I'm not accusing him, just considering the possibilities. It's interesting to me because I consider myself to be in a similar position to what CT thinks his situation is. I think I'm pretty alone in a world of dumb people. This is a common belief. I have various reasons to think it which are not common. CT has some legitimate reasons to think this kinda thing, too. But anyway, I don't like it. I want better people to talk with, to get criticism from, to get suggestions from, to have more articles worth reading and videos worth watching, etc. But lots of people actually don't want that. It's intuitive to me to want it, and I kinda assumed CT would want it when I wrote my letter, but it occurred to me that my perspective is unusual, so maybe he's not interested in finding someone reasonably like-minded who he can talk with as perhaps an equal or even someone who is anywhere near equal. (Related, why wouldn't he be on HBL talking with Binswanger? Binswanger is actually pretty responsive to people who post on his HBL forum. So CT could be talking more with someone he admires, if he wanted to.) I think one should want to find, meet and talk with great people. One should care enough to pursue leads on that, and definitely not feel threatened by it. One of my favorite passages from Atlas Shrugged:

“Miss Taggart, do you know the hallmark of the second-rater? It’s resentment of another man’s achievement. Those touchy mediocrities who sit trembling lest someone’s work prove greater than their own—they have no inkling of the loneliness that comes when you reach the top. The loneliness for an equal—for a mind to respect and an achievement to admire. They bare their teeth at you from out of their rat holes, thinking that you take pleasure in letting your brilliance dim them—while you’d give a year of your life to see a flicker of talent anywhere among them. They envy achievement, and their dream of greatness is a world where all men have become their acknowledged inferiors. They don’t know that that dream is the infallible proof of mediocrity, because that sort of world is what the man of achievement would not be able to bear. They have no way of knowing what he feels when surrounded by inferiors—hatred? no, not hatred, but boredom—the terrible, hopeless, draining, paralyzing boredom. Of what account are praise and adulation from men whom you don’t respect? Have you ever felt the longing for someone you could admire? For something, not to look down at, but up to?”

“I’ve felt it all my life,” she said. It was an answer she could not refuse him.

Also there's one of my favorite Rand quotes that I've never seen any other Objectivists take notice of, from The “Inexplicable Personal Alchemy” in The Return of the Primitive:

Where are America’s young fighters for ideas, the rebels against conformity to the gutter—the young men of “inexplicable personal alchemy,” the independent minds dedicated to the supremacy of truth?

With very rare exceptions, they are perishing in silence, unknown and unnoticed. Consciously or subconsciously, philosophically and psychologically, it is against them that the cult of irrationality—i.e., our entire academic and cultural Establishment—is directed.

They perish gradually, giving up, extinguishing their minds before they have a chance to grasp the nature of the evil they are facing. In lonely agony, they go from confident eagerness to bewilderment to indignation to resignation—to obscurity. And while their elders putter about, conserving redwood forests and building sanctuaries for mallard ducks, nobody notices those youths as they drop out of sight one by one, like sparks vanishing in limitless black space; nobody builds sanctuaries for the best of the human species.

I have a discussion forum (plus websites, articles, videos, open blog comments, and a public email address) that attempts to offer some sanctuary for the best of the human species, especially fighters for ideas. I am unaware of any serious attempt by anyone else to build such a sanctuary (and I've looked quite a lot, both for sanctuaries and for people to invite to mine or discuss with). I hope CT will appreciate and join my sanctuary, or at least care enough to say what he thinks is wrong with it – or, in the alternative (or additionally) I hope he'll care to build his own sanctuary and try to offer sanctuary to me (or tell me why I'm not worthy of such a sanctuary – what am I so wrong or dumb about, that I'm not at all the person I think I am, and is there any way to fix it?). If CT is the person he thinks he is and claims to be, he ought to know this quote and have thought about it, and be taking action accordingly, right? Or if he missed it, perhaps he'll thank me for pointing him to it and start living by it. I know he's trying to be a fighter for ideas, and I respect that, and I am too, and I hope that can lead to some mutually beneficial interaction – but I've had similar hopes with many people and routinely been disappointed by how bad and unreasonable they turn out to be. And unlike most people who say that, I have much of it publicly documented and anyone is welcome to point out how I'm mistaken in my evaluations of what happened. But I haven't given up and have e.g. contacted CT!

Also related to my own view of the world: when I wrote my letter to CT, at the end I suggested discussion. I had in mind asychronous text discussion, particularly on a forum with support for nested quoting and permalinks. He may have thought I wanted a verbal discussion, perhaps to go on YouTube. He seems to favor that kinda format. But I don't think verbal discussion is very good compared to text, especially when it's done in real time so people are rushed. Text with proper quoting is the most serious format which is best for making intellectual progress. It's easier to clear up miscommunications with text, easier to avoid talking past each other, easier to double check things (rereading is much easier than asking people to repeat things), it's easier to be calm and unemotional, it's easier to edit, it's easier for other people to skim or engage with, and so on.

And guys, this isn't just about CT. If you're reading this, and you think you're a fighter for ideas, or want to be, say something. Type a comment below.

Book Writing

CT is writing multiple books but doesn't seem to have any (public) essays. He should build up to books. Writing is hard. People should start small, e.g. tweets.

Master writing tweets. Then 250 word essays, then 500 word essays. Write dozens or hundreds. Work your way up to long essays (like 3000 words). Get really experienced with that. Find out all kinds of ways it's hard, what problems come up, etc, and make progress as a writer. Get fast and comfortable at writing and editing, so it's natural and intuitive and partly automated.

And try dozens of writing styles and see what works well for you, what you like, etc. Experiment.

And read stuff about how to write. Look for tips. Look for in-depth guides. See what ideas are out there and start forming opinions of them and trying most of them out at least a little.

Try to figure out what types of editing and polishing produce a lot of value, and what's unnecessary except for your most polished material, and what's unnecessary in all cases. How can you best spend your writing time to efficiently create a lot of value? What is less efficient but worth doing in special cases? What is common stuff people do that you shouldn't do at all?

After long essays, don't just keep making slightly longer things until you get to books. That won't work well. Long essays can be written with certain kinds of organizational techniques (and, indeed, with limited knowledge of organizing writing at all) and books need other, different ones. To work towards books, the next step after long essays is to try different ways of organizing what you write.

Try different methods of outlining. Try different approaches without an outline. Try different ways of writing notes about the essay in advance to see what helps or not. (Some of this will have been learned while writing essays in the first place, but focus on it more now.) Try dividing essays into named or unnamed sections more. Try writing strictly or loosely to an outline. Try more or less detailed outlining. Try various methods of brainstorming about what to write. Try writing by inspiration for topic and content. Try writing in a more methodical way or more casually and off-hand like speaking in real time or like stream of consciousness writing. Try writing test essays about a topic and seeing how they come out, then a separate real one. Try writing a really-quick, super-rough draft, then editing the hell out of it. Try approaches with more or less editing. Try developing the skill of writing good material the first time that doesn't need much editing – quickly, without a high effort – and see if you can do that effectively. And so on.

And then try putting together longer stuff in various ways, e.g. by writing a 15k word piece that involves 5 long essays glued together, and try different ways of gluing smaller pieces into bigger works. Try making bigger works with fairly independent parts, and with more interconnections, and compare the results and the difficulty of creating them. And think about whether tight coupling of sections of writing is good or bad and why. Tight coupling is the programmer term for having lots of dependencies between parts of a program and, spoiler alert, it's broadly considered bad. Find out issues like that exist – there are many others worth knowing about – and learn about them.

Books are hard – especially some types more than others – and many people spend a ton of time on writing a book and get a bad result. It's better to spend a ton of time on practicing and learning and get to the point you're more reasonably confident you know how to do a good book, and you have the skills so that it won't cost so much time and energy to make. Also, before books, one needs to debate hundreds of people, if not thousands (not as video taped social performances, but mostly as asynchronous text discussion). One really needs to do his best to get criticism from all comers, to find out every reason anyone knows that the ideas you plan to put in the book may be mistaken, and address that. One needs to subject all the book ideas to Paths Forward. One should normally only write books about ideas that one already has public essays about (to allow people to reply to the ideas before you put all the work into making a book version). (BTW, I'm not picky about publication mediums. Blog posts are a type of essay. It doesn't have to be prestigious. You can self-publish on your own website, no problem. You do need to visit other people's forums to seek out more discussion and feedback though, especially if you're obscure.)

Book writing is normally overreaching. People make an overwhelmingly large amount of errors while writing books – which overwhelms their ability to correct errors, and so the books end up with tons of errors in them – because they don't have the massive amount of background knowledge one needs to properly prepare.

In general, people should mostly do fairly easy things. If something isn't easy for you, that means it has a high resource cost (time, energy, etc) for you to do it. If you built up your skills more first – if you focused on self-improvement and self-education more for a while – then you could do the same thing for a cheaper resource cost. If you keep becoming more powerful and practicing and learning, things get easier and easier, so you can do them at a lower resource cost and have way more resources left over to keep learning even more. It's important for life to be a virtuous cycle with a big focus on making progress, and you keep getting better at doing things so you can do more and more stuff more easily. But what people usually do is they focus so much on doing things (like writing books) way too early on, and it's really expensive and takes all their time and energy away from making progress, and so they are always resource-starved (too busy) to learn as much as they should, and so they never get very far in life. And they think they can't take time out to do a bunch more learning and practicing because they don't have time for it, but such activities save time in the long run!

I don't know if CT is making these mistakes but I suspect it (not an accusation, just my initial guess that I will readily change my mind about if I get more information indicating otherwise) and I wanted to write about them again, and some of my comments about how to build up towards writing a book are new.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (17)

Open Letter to Charles Tew

Charles Tew is an Objectivist philosopher who makes lots of YouTube Videos. He writes:

After my experience with formal education, I decided that the most productive and rewarding path for a modern philosopher lay outside of the academic system, so I chose to work and teach independently online.

I appreciate the rejection of academia, and I liked his criticism of Alex Epstein, so I wrote a letter to him, below:


Charles Tew,

https://youtu.be/1d80WTH573k?t=15m10s

You say, "I seem to be critical of Objectivists in a way no one else is willing to be".

I am. For example, I have published criticism of Alex Epstein:

  1. http://curi.us/1688-alex-epstein-attacks-liberty
  2. http://curi.us/1618-alex-epstein-scholarship-problem
  3. http://curi.us/1852-alex-epsteins-pinnacle

I'm an Objectivist and Popperian philosopher who rejected academia. I independently write and make videos. See: https://elliottemple.com

I liked your criticism of Alex.

I worked with Alex for a while when CIP was newer. I did research for him, learned stuff about environmentalism from him, and wrote these articles for CIP:

http://industrialprogress.com/in-defense-of-plastic-bags/
http://industrialprogress.com/dont-take-power-for-granted/

Alex liked me and said I was one of the few people smart enough to contribute ideas to CIP. He has some good qualities, but I broke things off with him because of his unwillingness to discuss some disagreements to a resolution, and a few other flaws. He was content to ignore the disagreements, but I wasn't. Later I saw he was trying to do social status climbing and to suck up to various groups in ways I thought were immoral (see link #3 above for some info). I think Alex is on the road to become Gail Wynand (as the best case scenario, if he gets what he wants rather than staying somewhat obscure).

Some of the original disagreements:

Following Thomas Szasz, I consider "mental illness" a myth and psychiatry dangerous. Alex says things that aid psychiatry and refused to stop and replace them with neutral statements, while also refusing to refute my arguments or Szasz's books.

I wanted to discuss Popper and induction, but Alex chose never to get around to it. (This I could have accepted, but I think it's worth mentioning.)

Alex was unwilling to read the criticism of sustainability in The Beginning of Infinity by David Deustsch (a physicist and philosopher who is an Ayn Rand fan, a Popperian, and who I worked with extensively and learned a lot from for many years). I thought this was unreasonable because there aren't that many philosophical allies for Alex writing new books, so I considered it his job to become familiar with highly relevant ideas in his field. http://beginningofinfinity.com

We had some disagreements about physics which got in the way of Alex publishing an article about sustainability I was working on for him. (If Alex had read The Beginning of Infinity, he could have learned the physics I was talking about and how it's relevant to anti-sustainability arguments.)

Alex wasn't serious and careful enough about fact checking and sources/citations. See link #2 above for an example. I consider almost everyone to do an inadequate job with this. I have a scholarship blog category which mostly contains criticisms of various intellectual and books for this kind of problem. http://curi.us/archives/list_category/77

In drafts for Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, Alex attacked the tobacco industry and smokers. I asked him not to and thought it was an unnecessary tangent in addition to being wrong, but he kept it in. After the book came out, I criticized it in post #1 linked above.

Alex thought I was too arrogant because I criticized Peikoff. He said I should give Peikoff the benefit of the doubt. I did give Peikoff the benefit of the doubt, a ton, but I still reached some critical views anyway. (Despite his flaws, I still appreciate lots of Peikoff's work, especially his old audio recordings. I generally find his old stuff superior to his new stuff. My guess is it's because back then either Rand was still alive and guiding him, or less time had passed for him to go his own way.)

Some of my Peikoff criticism:

http://curi.us/1807-leonard-peikoff-says-hes-not-a-philosopher
http://curi.us/1976-peikoff-getting-parmenides-wrong
http://curi.us/1776-peikoff-children-are-property
http://curi.us/1694-leonard-peikoff-betrays-israel


Alex was part of the inspiration for my writing on what I call Paths Forward. It's about how and why to have some kinda path open by which your mistakes can be corrected and rational people can resolve disagreements with you instead of hitting a 100% impasse with no way to make progress. We should expect to be mistaken about some of our ideas (we're fallible), and in some cases other people know a better idea and would like to tell us, and it's bad to design our intellectual life in a way that that help cannot reach us. I've found pretty much all intellectuals in the world are uninterested in criticism and corrections. Many will discuss a bit, but then they just stop without having any methods of reaching some sort of resolution, and they don't really care. You can ask them something like: "What if you're wrong and your response to me essentially means you plan to stay wrong for the rest of your life? If you're wrong, much of your career will be a waste or actively harmful. And yet you have not addressed the following arguments that you're wrong, nor can you link to anyone else who has ever answered them..." And the answer is generally just: "I guess I'll risk it." And they don't care enough to take an interest in trying to create methods to enable a better answer. Sad! http://fallibleideas.com/paths-forward

An aspect of this which came up with Alex is he would respond to disagreements a few times but then stop, rather than doing enough back-and-forth to make serious progress. So I explained to him the proper pattern of discussion with really knowledgeable people who disagree:

I say something that Alex already has an answer to. We can't skip this step because I don't know which answer Alex will give. He briefly gives the answer, which I've heard before, and I say my answer to that. He can't predict my answer because there are several common answers. Then he says his next answer (that I've heard before, and already have an answer to, but can't predict due to there being other answers that other people use). And so on. You have to go back and forth repeatedly (but it should go quickly) to get to the first part where someone says something the other guy hasn't heard before. But he wouldn't do that, so it shut down discussion. (Virtually no one will do it.)

Alex was not receptive to this explanation and approach (nor did he explain why it's false). He seemed to think basically what everyone else also seems to think: that he was busy and that it was fine for him to just make unexplained judgement calls about what issues to pursue and what issues to be confident he's right about and ignore criticism regarding. Whereas I think that basically a serious intellectual should either answer a challenge, acknowledge he hasn't gotten around to answering it and therefore doesn't know in advance what conclusion he would reach if he had time for it (stay neutral), or link to anything written by anyone (other people or yourself in the past) which addressed the issue and you will endorse and take responsibility for. See the Paths Forward essays for more info.

BTW I found that Harry Binswanger was willing to discuss more than Alex, but it was only temporary and he then banned my dissent because – he said – some of his customers didn't like it. But if that was the whole issue, he would have continued discussing with me on another forum or privately. See my final summary, criticism, and moral judgement regarding Binswanger: http://curi.us/1930-harry-binswanger-refuses-to-think

My best judgement is that George Reisman is in the right in his dispute with Peikoff/ARI/Binswanger.


I hope you'll be interested in discussing some of this or some philosophy ideas. I bet we could find something we disagree about, in which case at least one of us could learn that we were mistaken. That appeals to me and hopefully to you too.


I wrote some additional Thoughts on Charles Tew.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (32)

Popper is Different Than Other Philosophers – Bartley Quote

William W. Bartley on Popper:

Sir Karl Popper is not really a participant in the contemporary professional philosophical dialogue; quite the contrary, he has ruined that dialogue. If he is on the right track, then the majority of professional philosophers the world over have wasted or are wasting their intellectual careers. The gulf between Popper's way of doing philosophy and that of the bulk of contemporary professional philosophers is as great as that between astronomy and astrology. [emphasis added]

I agree with this comment. Note it doesn't apply to Ayn Rand, who is also an outcast from the majority of professional philosophers.


The quote wording is not exact. I haven't checked the original document. Sources:

Bartley, W. W. (September–December 1976), "III: Biology - evolutionary epistemology", Philosophia, 6 (3–4): 463–494

Cite found here and here. Those links, and this website all give slightly different wordings for the quote.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (13)

Backbone, Pushback, Standing Up For Your Ideas

You need to be sturdy to do well in FI philosophy discussions or anywhere. Don’t be pushed around or controlled by people who weren’t even trying to push you around, because you’re so weak and fragile almost anything can boss you around without even trying or intending to.

Broadly, people give advice, ideas, criticism, etc.

Some advice can help you right now. Some of it, you don’t understand, you don’t get it, it doesn’t work for you right now. You could ask a question or follow up and then maybe get more advice so it does work, but you still might not get it. It’s good to follow up some sometimes, but that’s another topic.

The point is: you must use your own judgment about which ideas work for you. What do you understand? What makes sense to you?

Filter all the ideas/advice/criticism in this way. Sort it into two categories:

Category 1 (self-ownership and integration of the idea): Do you get it, yourself, in your own understanding, well enough to use it? Are you ready to use it as your own idea, that is yours, that you feel ownership of, and you take full responsibility for the outcome? Would you still use it even if the guy who said it changed his mind (but didn’t tell you why), because it’s now the best idea in your own mind? Would you still use it if all the people advocating it got hit by cars and died, so you couldn't get additional advice?

Category 2 (foreign, non-integrated, confused idea): You don’t get it. Maybe you partly get it, but not fully. Not enough to live it without ever reading FI again, with no followup help. You don’t understand it enough to adapt it when problems come up or the situation changes. You have ideas in your mind which conflict with it. It isn’t natural/intuitive/automated for you. It feels like someone else’s idea, not yours. Maybe you could try doing their advice, but it wouldn’t be your own action.

NEVER EVER EVER ACCEPT OR ACT ON CATEGORY 2 IDEAS.

If you only use category 1, you’re easy to help and safe to talk to. People can give you advice, and there's no danger – if it helps, great, and if it doesn't help, nothing happens. But if you use category 2, you are sabotaging progress and you're hard to deal with.

Note: the standard for understanding ideas needs to be your own standard, not my standard. If you're somewhat confused about all your ideas (by my standards), that doesn't mean everything is category 2 for you. If you learn an idea as well as the rest of your ideas, and you can own it as much as the rest, that's category 1.

Note: Trying out an idea, in a limited way, which you do know how to do (you understand enough to do the trial you have in mind) is a different idea than the original idea. The trial could be category 1 if you know how to do it, know what you're trying to learn, know how to evaluate the results. Be careful though. It's easy to "try" an idea while doing it totally wrong!


But there's a problem here I haven't solved. Most people can't use the two categories because the idea of the two categories itself is in category 2 for them, so it'd be self-contradictory to use it.

To do this categorizing, they'd need to have developed the skill of figuring out what they understand or not. They'd need to be able to tell the difference effectively. But most people don't know how.

They could try rejecting stuff which is category 2 and unconventional, because that's an especially risky pairing. Except they can't effectively judge what's unconventional, and also they don't understand why that pairing matters well enough (so the idea of checking for category-2-and-unconventional is itself a category 2 idea for them; it's also an unconventional suggestion...).


Note: these ideas have been discussed at the FI discussion group. Here’s a good post by Alisa and you can find the rest of the discussion at that link.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (3)

Passivity as a Strategic Excuse

How much of the "passivity" problems people have – about learning FI and all throughout life elsewhere as well – are that they don't want to do something and don't want to admit that they don't want to? How much is passivity a disguise used to hide disliking things they won't openly challenge?

Using passivity instead of openly challenging stuff is beaten into children. They learn not to say "no" or "I don't want to" to their parents. They learn they are punished less if they "forget" than if they refuse on purpose. They are left alone more if they are passive than if they talk about their reasoning for not doing what the parent wants them to do.

Typical excuses for passivity are being lazy or forgetful. Those are traits which parents and teachers commonly attribute to children who don't do what the parent or teacher wants. Blaming things on a supposed character flaw obscures the intellectual or moral disagreement. (Also, character flaws are a misconception – people don't have an innate character, they have ideas!)

The most standard adult excuse for passivity is being busy. "I'm not passive, I'm actively doing something else!" This doesn't work as well for children because their parents know their whole schedule.

Claiming to be busy is commonly combined with the excuse of privacy to shield what one is busy with from criticism. Privacy is a powerful shield because it's a legitimate, valuable concept – but it can also be used as an anti-criticism tool. It's hard to figure out when privacy is being abused, or expose the abuses, because the person choosing privacy hides the information that would allow evaluating the matter.

Note: Despite people's efforts to prevent judgment, there are often many little hints of irrationality. These are enough for me to notice and judge, but not enough to explain to the person – they don't want to understand, so they won't, plus it takes lots of skill to evaluate the small amount of evidence (because they hid the rest of the evidence). Rather than admit I'm right (they have all the evidence themselves, so they could easily see it if they wanted to), they commonly claim I'm being unreasonable since I didn't have enough information to reach my conclusions (because a person with typical skill at analysis wouldn't be able to do it, not because they actually refute my line of reasoning).

Generic Example

Joe (an adult) doesn't like something about Fallible Ideas knowledge and activities (FI), and doesn't want to say what it is. And/or he likes some other things in life better than FI and wants to hide what they are. Instead of saying why he doesn't pursue FI more (what's bad about it, what else is better), Joe uses the passivity strategy. Joe claims to want to do FI more, get more involved, think, learn, etc, and then just doesn't.

Joe doesn't claim to be lazy or forgetful – some of the standard excuses for passivity which he knows would get criticized. Instead, Joe doesn't offer any explanation for the passivity strategy. Joe says he doesn't know what's going on.

Or, alternatively, Joe says he's busy and that the details are private, and he'd like to discuss it, he just doesn't know how to solve the privacy problem. To especially block progress, Joe might say he doesn't mind having less privacy for himself, but there are other people involved and he couldn't possibly say anything that would reduce their privacy. Never mind that they share far more information with their neighbors, co-workers, second cousins, and Facebook...


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comment (1)

Taxes

Taxpayer funding has partial overlap with slave labor and with theft. It takes people’s wealth by force, regardless of whether they agree or disagree with what the government is using the wealth for. Therefore taxpayer funding should be used highly conservatively – in limited ways when we really can't figure out an alternative. It should be a last resort, not something used casually. There are worse things one can say about taxes. This is a limited, modest statement that all reasonable people ought to be able to agree with it. But instead we live in a nightmare world where most people seem to think it’s good to use $200,000,000 of taxes on a project just because they expect the value from the project – after successful completion within the budget – to be $220,000,000, or because the project promotes some value they care deeply about but find it difficult to voluntarily raise $200,000,000 for.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (2)

Nassim Nicholas Taleb Sucks

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, who is supposedly a Popperian, blocked me on Twitter today for offering some helpful corrections of one of his articles. What a fool.

He admitted I was right and then told me to get lost...

Twitter doesn't offer any good way to link all my relevant tweets from today, but see:

https://twitter.com/nntaleb/status/1007850325066297344

Most of my relevant tweets are replies to that Taleb tweet. I wrote several.


https://twitter.com/curi42/status/1007875578089762817

My comments afterwards (two tweets, not replies to Taleb).


https://twitter.com/nntaleb/status/1007871153074049024

That's the link to Taleb telling me to get lost.


https://twitter.com/curi42/with_replies

That links my recent tweets. It won't be useful in the future but works well if you see this soon.


http://www.fooledbyrandomness.com/SmithBSVendor.html

That's Taleb's article, from his original tweet, which I wrote comments on.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (93)

Individualism and Responsibility Matter For Ideas

Objectivism and Critical Rationalism present reasonable targets for criticism. The main content was developed by a single person who took responsibility for creating something reasonably well-defined and complete. This is typical of original work: a pioneer comes up with some new ideas, develops them, names them, and they mean something.

Libertarianism and Inductivism are difficult to criticize because they mean different things to different people. They are full of internal debates. The terms don't identify any particular system of ideas. Instead, the terms broadly refer to many different thinkers and ideas with some similarities – and also plenty of differences. Because of the failure of these terms to unambiguously identify any particular ideas, debate and progress are more difficult. (Sometimes ideas start out this way. Other times they start with a specific meaning and become vague as a defense mechanism because criticism refutes the original meaning.)

Some philosophical positions begin with a clear meaning, which can then be discussed. Others begin with group similarity between multiple inadequate ideas (or, worse, people) and then stay vague forever.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Comments on Edith Packer's Psychology Lectures

Comments on Lectures on Psychology: A Guide to Understanding Your Emotions by Edith Packer (Objectivist and wife of George Reisman).

So far I've read the first 3 chapters, which cover core evaluations (I think this chapter is worth reading, even though I think it exaggerates some things), "Obsessive-Compulsive Syndrome", and happiness.

Suppose a child concludes: “No one cares about me.” This apparently calls for another conclusion—this time, about the child himself. For example, that “There must be something wrong with me.” And then, if the child feels that there is something wrong with him, he may conclude that life has nothing to offer him.

If no one cares about you, that doesn't imply something is wrong with you. People might have no idea whether you're good, bad or neutral, and be focused on their own lives.

Being flawed doesn't mean life has nothing to offer. No one would conclude that without some other bad ideas playing a significant role.

Most children do not share many of their important thoughts and emotions with their parents. For these reasons, there are very few people who reach adulthood without having some core evaluations that are at least partially mistaken.

True.

You have heard people say about some person, “He overcame his terrible background and became a famous doctor.” This does indeed occur. There are some inspiring examples of people developing sound core evaluations even after many severe childhood injuries and becoming not only successful, but also happy, as adults. But in most cases, a child whose experiences lead him to feel continuous self-doubt, fear, guilt, and loneliness, will embrace some type of mistaken or irrational core evaluations.

The unstated premise here is that famous doctors have great core evaluations. Actually great doctors (or any other speciality) are usually just good at the one thing and pretty screwed up in general. It's more common that a great doctor has a conventional marriage full of standard flaws than that he has a great marriage.

The first thing that has to be done is for the patient to discover the original concrete experiences—usually painful ones—which caused him deep injury. Then the concrete experiences have to be reconnected with the evaluations that subsequently developed into the patient’s core evaluations.

No! Causes and solutions are different things. Knowing childhood causes often doesn't help much with solutions.

Now, in principle, an individual could go through this process [of identify and improving core evaluations] by himself. But, in my opinion, the process should in fact only be attempted with the aid of a competent psychotherapist.

This is authoritarian and really hostile to the capacity for individuals to act effectively to improve their own lives. It says to put your life in the hands of psychological authorities and don't dare to try to make progress on your own.

Being an authoritarian is normal in general, but it's worth pointing out coming from an Objectivist author who sat on the board of directors of the Ayn Rand Institute.

The second attitude the happy person developed as the result of his egoism, along with that of responsibility for his own happiness, is his acceptance of the fact that he must expend effort in the pursuit of what is important to him.

When he was little, the effort simply consisted of such things as persisting in trying to convince his parents to give him the toy he wanted or in trying to learn how the toy he has been given works. Later, it consisted of such things as making the discovery that if he wants to learn to ride a bicycle, he has to put some effort into learning how to keep his balance when riding it. Similarly, in school, when he began to study more difficult subjects, such as fractions and decimals, and later algebra and geometry, he realized that there is pleasure in being able to understand, but that the pleasure follows only after the expenditure of the necessary effort.

Eventually the happy person learns that the more effort he puts into something, the more expert he becomes at it and the more he can enjoy the activity. His repeated successful application of effort in thinking and action results in his discovery that the process of exerting effort is essential to enjoyment, even if in the beginning it feels like drudgery. This discovery leads him to realize that exerting effort is the key to his ability to achieve his values. And then, since he recognizes that effort is what achieves his values, he connects pleasure with exerting the necessary effort itself. Later, since the effort is usually expended in learning, he becomes able to connect pleasure with learning. Finally, expending the effort to acquire knowledge in general brings him a sense of enjoyment because he experiences knowledge as the key to achieving values. And his expenditure of effort is punctuated by jolts of happiness as his efforts bring him successes in learning new things. Thus effort, learning, and knowledge become values to the happy person—values that consistently provide him with joy in his everyday life.

This is my favorite passage so far. I added the italics.

if you know a person who claims to have a good, rational philosophy, but is unhappy, the likelihood is that his actions are not consistent with that philosophy.

No, the likelihood is that he's mistaken about having a good, rational philosophy. That's very rare. It's also rare for one's actions to be consistent with his stated philosophy (good or not), but it's a big mistake to simply accept claims that anyone (let alone an unhappy person) has a good, rational philosophy.


Update:

Obviously, the more severe cases of sexual self-doubt require the specialized knowledge of a therapist.

Another authoritarian comment which tells people they're incapable of solving their own problems and require experts to tell them what to think and do. And we're told this is obvious!


Update 2:

I finished the book. Parts are pretty good but it's also dangerous. Beware psychology! Even especially good pscyhology like this still contains major dangers.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

How To Learn Something – With Plans and Steps

You take an interest in learning something, X. Perhaps someone recommends it to you. What do you do next? Jump right in?

The first step is making a plan for how to learn X. It may be pretty rough, especially in later stages (for a complex X, you won’t understand how to learn part 5 until after learning part 3). But you need some kind of outline or overview of a plan that goes all the way to the end. You need a concept of how success is possible or you don’t even know which direction or immediate actions could lead to success.

The second step is evaluating the plan: Can you do it successfully? What resources does it require? What prior knowledge does the plan build on, and do you already have it or not?

Step 3 is commonly to expand the plan: you add some steps at the beginning to learn some other things first (prerequisites). These are plans themselves and you need to outline how they will work, evaluate if you’re prepared to do them, check what resources they require, and possibly add more plans before them to learn even earlier knowledge.

In this way, you can be like “I want to learn Atlas Shrugged” (AS) and end up with a big plan, in tree shape, with 500 parts. You don’t have the skills or background knowledge to learn AS right now, so the plan involves learning 8 things first. And for each of those 8 things, you are missing 3 things you need to learn first. And for some of those 3, you’re missing 1-4 things that come before it. And for some of those, you’re missing some prerequisite. Some of the chains could be a dozen or more things long from AS to the earliest knowledge you don’t have yet.

There isn’t one single canonical organization of which knowledge comes early and late, what order it goes in, etc. You can develop a plan and it’s not the only plan possible. What is early in your plan might be late in someone else’s, or vice versa, and both plans could still work. However, plans can’t be random. It’s not subjective or arbitrary. There are facts about what does and doesn’t work, and there are themes where some things (e.g. learning addition) are early or late in most good plans.

Sometimes it helps to start working on something a little to discover what prerequisites you’re missing. E.g. you might try reading a dozen pages of AS to find out that: you don’t understand it clearly enough, you don’t know how to discuss it well enough, you don’t know how to take notes as you go along well enough, you don’t know how to stop and think about a passage and figure out what it means very well, you don’t know how to follow logical arguments, and it’s going to take a lot of time and mental focus/energy to read. You would then recognize you need to get more resources to allocate to the project (more time and mental focus/energy) and you need to create and succeed at plans to improve at each of the skills you’re not great at which came up when you tried reading a bit of the book (reading skill, discussion skill, etc). Just one of those prerequisites is to be better at understanding logical arguments, and that itself needs its own plan which will need its own resources and prerequisites, which will need their own plans, and so on. If you are a young child you’ll end up with perhaps 50 things, arranged in a tree, for your plan to learn logic, its prerequisite plans, their prerequisite plans, and so on, in 8 layers. And it’s the same if you’re an adult who doesn’t know a lot about this stuff, which is typically because our parenting and schooling is in major ways sabotage rather than helpful.

So if someone suggests you should read AS or learn logic, that does not mean you should just immediately do it. You need to make a plan and check if the plan will work for you today. If you cannot do your plan you need a new plan or to work on some prior stuff to prepare for doing the plan.

Being like, “Well he said to read this book or learn that topic, so I was trying to do it” is pretty thoughtless if you’re not even close to being able to do it. It means you didn’t actually make a plan for how to succeed that you evaluated and thought would work with your current skills/resources/knowledge. And if you don’t know how to make plans or evaluate if they will work, that is itself a prerequisite for any complex learning project. You need to learn that before you learn anything that isn’t really basic. You can learn really basic stuff (which can be succeeded at like it’s a one-part plan, basically) and then you can use what you learned to help build up towards learning how to make two part plans, then three part plans, and so on. You can get better at gradually more complex planning and plan evaluation as you learn more stuff. You can build up planning related skills in parallel with building up knowledge of other stuff.

If you look at AS and go “I don’t even know how to plan that” then your plan should be “get better at planning, revisit AS later” and then you can make a plan for how to get better at planning. You can still look at that as a plan for how to read AS, since it involves AS at the end. In this way, you can start anywhere, including with AS, no matter how much of a beginner you are. However, if you’re bad at tracking plan hierarchies then you can simplify by just forgetting about AS and starting with something more basic.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (4)

Changing Minds About Inequality

people have lots of bad ideas they don’t understand much about, like that “inequality” is a major social problem.

what would it take to change their mind? not books with arguments refuting the books they believe. they didn’t get their ideas from structured arguments in serious books. they don’t have a clear idea in their mind for a refutation to point out the errors in. non-interactive refutation (like a book, essay, article) is very, very hard when you have to first tell people what they think (in a one-size-fits-all way, despite major variance between people) before trying to refute it. Books and essays work better to address clearly defined views, but not so well when you’re trying to tell the other side what they think b/c they don’t even know (btw that problem comes up all the time with induction).

to get someone to change their mind about “inequality”, what’d really help is if they thoughtfully considered things like:

what is “inequality”? why is it bad? are we talking about all cases of inequality being equally bad, or does the degree of badness vary? are we talking about all cases of inequality being bad at all, or are some neutral or even good? if the case against inequality isn’t a single uniform thing, applying equally to all cases, then what is the principle determining which cases are worse and why? what’s the reasoning for some inequality being evaluated differently than other inequality?

whatever one’s answers, what happens if we consider tons of examples? are the evaluations of all the examples satisfactory, do they all make sense and fit your intuitions, and reach the conclusions you intended? (cuz usually when people try to define any kind of general formula that says what they think, it gives answers they do not think in lots of example cases. this shows the formula is ad hoc crap, and doesn’t match their actual reasoning, and therefore they don’t even know what their reasoning is. so they are arguing for reasoning they don’t understand or misunderstand, which must be due to bias and irrationality, since you can’t reach a conscious, rational, positive evaluation of your ideas when you don’t even know what they are. you can sometimes reach a positive meta-evaluation where you acknowledge your confusion about the specifics of the ideas, but that’s different.).

anyway, the point is if people would actually think through the issue of inequality it’d change some of their minds. that’d be pretty effective at improving the situation. what stops this? the minor issue is: there are a lack of discussion partners to ask them good questions, guide them, push them for higher standards of clarity, etc. the major issue is: they don’t want to.

why don’t people want to think about “inequality”? broadly, they don’t want to think. also, more specifically, they accepted anti-inequality ideas for the purpose of fitting in. thinking about it may result in them changing their mind in some ways, big or small, which risks them fitting in less well. thinking threatens their social conformity which is what their “beliefs” about “inequality” are for in the first place.

this relates to overreaching. people’s views on inequality are too advanced for their ability to think through viewpoints. the views have a high error rate relative to their holder’s ability to correct error.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comment (1)

Steven Crowder Fake Quote

MYTH: "Well Regulated Militia" Only? (Second Amendment History) is a video by Steven Crowder. It has quotes from America's founding fathers to argue for his pro-gun-rights position (which I agree with). Crowder put up a webpage with his references which he links in the YouTube video description. The first quote on the page is:

“I ask, Sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people. To disarm the people is the best and most effectual way to enslave them.” – George Mason

Crowder's source link is a category at a blog (not even a specific post). The relevant blog post says:

.
I ask, Sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people. To disarm the people is the best and most effectual way to enslave them.”

George Mason, Speech at the Virginia Ratifying Convention, 1788

~ ~ Grouchy ~ ~

Great, we have a source. It's from a speech at a particular convention in a particular year. It's easy to find a short transcript of the speech (second version) online which doesn't have this quote. I wanted to know where the quote was coming from, and if it was perhaps from another statement not included in those sources. I looked further and found the full book covering the convention. It doesn't contain the quote. So, I'm confident the quote is a fraud.

I didn't check the other quotes Crowder used. This is one fake quote out of just one quote checked.

The full book does have some similar statements from Mason (my emphasis):

I ask, Who are the militia? They consist now of the whole people, except a few public officers. But I cannot say who will be the militia of the future day.

and

An instance within the memory of some of this house will show us how our militia may be destroyed. Forty years ago, when the resolution of enslaving America was formed in Great Britain, the British Parliament was advised by an artful man,* who was governor of Pennsylvania, to disarm the people; that it was the best and most effectual way to enslave them; but that they should not do it openly, but weaken them, and let them sink gradually, by totally disusing and neglecting the militia. [Here Mr. Mason quoted sundry passages to this effect.] This was a most iniquitous project. Why should we not provide against the danger of having our militia, our real and natural strength, destroyed?

The fake quote is similar to two real quotes from the speech, but each part is changed. And, in the book, the two parts appear thousands of words apart, and in reverse order. So the fake quote is roughly representative of what Mason was saying, but it's not actually a quote.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Do Primarily Easy Things – Increasing The Productivity Of Your Intellectual Labor Vs. Consumption

When you do productive labor (like at a job), you are able to use what you produce (or some negotiated amount of payment related to what you produce). How you use your income can be broadly viewed in two ways: investment and consumption.

Investment fundamentally means capital accumulation – putting your income towards the accumulation of capital goods which raise the productivity of labor and thereby create a progressing economy which offers exponentially (like compound interest) more and more production each year. The alternative is to consume your income – spend it on consumer's goods like food, video games, lipstick, cars, etc.

People do a mix of savings/investment and consumption. the proportion of the mix determines how good the future is. A high rate of capital accumulation quickly leads to a much richer world which is able to support far more consumption than before while still maintaining a high rate of investment (the pie gets larger. Instead of consuming 80% of the original pie, one could soon be consuming 20% of a much larger pie which is also growing much faster, and that 20% of the larger pie will be more than 80% of the smaller pie.)

For more info on the economics of this, see the diagrams on pages 624 and 625 of George Reisman's book Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics and read some of the surrounding text.

The situation with your intellectual labor parallels the situation with laboring at a job for an income. Your intellectual labor is productive and this production can be directed in different ways – towards consumption, towards increasing the productivity of intellectual labor, or a mix. The more the mix favors increasing the productivity of your intellectual labor, the brighter your future.

Consumption in this case refers to things where you aren't investing in yourself and your education – where you aren't learning more and otherwise becoming more able to produce more in the future. For example, you might put a great deal of effort into writing a book which you hope will impress people, which you are just barely capable of writing. It takes a ton of intellectual labor while being only a little bit educational for you. Most of your intellectual labor is consumed and the result is the book. If you had foregone the book in the short term and invested more in increasing your productivity of intellectual labor, you could have written it at a later date while consuming a much smaller proportion of your intellectual output. This is because you'd be outputting more and even more so because your output would be more efficient – you'd be able to get more done per hour of intellectual labor (one of the biggest factors here would be making fewer mistakes, so you'd spend less labor redoing things). A good question to ask is whether you produced an intellectual work in order to practice or if instead you put a lot of work into polishing it so other people would like it more (that polishing is an inefficient way to learn). It's sad when people who don't know much put tons of effort into polishing what little they do know instead of learning more – and this is my description of pretty much everyone. (If you think you already know so much that you're largely done with further educating yourself, or at least ready to make education secondary, please contact me. I expect to be able to point out that you're mistaken, especially if you're under 50 years old.)

Consumption (rather than investment), in the realm of intellectual labor, primarily relates to going out of your way to try to accomplish things, to do things – like persuading people or creating finished works. It is possible to learn by doing, but it's also possible not to learn much by doing. If you're doing for the sake of learning, great. If you're doing for the sake of an accomplishment, that is expensive, especially if you're young, and you may be dramatically underestimating the expense while also fooling yourself about how educational it is (because you do learn something, but much less than you could have learned if you instead studied e.g. George Reisman's Program of Self-Education in the Economic Theory and Political Philosophy of Capitalism or my Fallible Ideas recommended reading list.)

Broadly, I see many people try to produce important intellectual works when they don't know much. They spend a lot of intellectual labor and produce material which is bad. They would have been far better served by learning more now, and producing more output (like essays) later on when they are able to make valuable intellectual products with a considerably lesser effort. This explains the theme I've stated elsewhere and put in the title of this piece: you should intellectually do (consume) when it's relatively easy and cheap, but be very wary of expensive intellectual projects which take tons of resources away from making intellectual progress.

Some people doubt the possibility of an accumulation of intellectual capital or its equivalent. They don't think they can increase the productivity of their intellectual labor substantially. These same people, by and large, haven't learned speed reading (or speed watching or speed listening). Nor have they fully learned the ideas of great intellectuals like Ayn Rand and Ludwig von Mises. Equipped with these great ideas, they'd avoid going down intellectual dead ends, and otherwise create high quality outputs from their intellectual labor. Even if the process of increasing the productivity of one's intellectual labor runs into limits which result in diminishing returns at some point, that is no excuse for stopping such educational self-investment long before reaching any such limits.

In the long run, the ongoing increase in the productivity of one's intellectual labor requires the ongoing creation of new and improved intellectual tools and methods, and supporting technologies. It requires ongoing philosophical progress. I believe philosophical progress can be unbounded if we work at it (without diminishing returns), but regardless of the far future there is massive scope for productive educational self-investment today. Unless you've exhausted what's already known about philosophy – that is, you are at the forefront of the field – and also spent some time unsuccessfully attempting to pioneer new philosophy ... then you have no excuse to stop investing in increasing the productivity of your intellectual labor (primarily with better and better methods of thinking – philosophy – but also with other things like learning to read faster). Further, until you know what is already known about philosophy, you are in no position to judge the far future of philosophical progress and its potential or lack of potential.

Note: the biggest determinants of the productivity of your intellectual labor are your rate of errors and your ability to find and correct errors. Doing activities where your error rate is below your error correction capacity is much more efficient and successful. You can increase your error correction effectiveness by devoting an unusually large amount of resources to it, but there are diminishing returns on that, so it's typically an inefficient (resource expensive) shortcut to doing a slightly more difficulty project slightly sooner.


The article is itself an example of what I can write in a few minutes without editing or difficulty. It's the fruits of my previous investment in better writing ability in order to increase the productivity of my intellectual labor. I aim primarily to get better at writing this way (cheaply and efficiently), rather than wishing to put massive polishing effort into a few works.


Update (2018-05-18):

What I say in this post is, to some extent, well known common sense. People get an education first and do stuff like a career second. Maybe they aren't life-long learners, but they have the general idea right (learn how to think/do/problem-solve/etc first, do stuff second after you're able to do it well and efficiently).

What goes wrong then? Parenting and schooling offer a bad, ineffective education. This discourages further education (the painfulness and uselessness of their education is the biggest thing preventing life-long learners). And it routinely puts people in a bad situation: trying to do things which they have been educated to be able to do well, but in fact cannot do well. The solution is not to give up on education, but to figure out how to pursue education effectively. A reasonable place to start would be the books of humanity's best thinkers since the start of western civilization. Some people have been intellectually successful and effective (as you can see from the existence of iPhones); you could look into what they did, how they thought, etc.

FI involves ideas that are actually good and effective, as against rivals offering similar overall stuff (rational ideas) but which are incorrect. FI faces the following major challenges: 1) people are so badly educated they screw up when trying to learn FI ideas 2) people are so badly educated they don't know how to evaluate if FI is working, how it compares to rivals, the state of debate between FI ideas and alternative ideas, etc.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (8)

I Liked Edward Thorp's Book: A Man for All Markets

Comments on A Man for All Markets: From Las Vegas to Wall Street, How I Beat the Dealer and the Market, by Edward Thorp. Bold formatting is added by me.

The professor, the son of a famous physicist, was himself a mediocrity. Because he was insecure and afraid of questions from the class, he copied his lectures from a stack of note cards onto the board, turning his back to the class to discourage interaction. Then we recopied them into our notebooks. He had been doing this for years, and the content seldom changed. This seemed stupid to me. Why not just hand out copies so we could read them in advance and come to class with intelligent questions? Of course, he was afraid someone might ask him a question he couldn’t answer.

...

By the time I met with the professor in his office to apologize [for criticizing his bad teaching], I realized I had behaved stupidly and rudely, and told him truthfully that what I did was improper and I regretted my actions. But there was still the more serious matter of what I had said about his teaching. I had damaged his self-esteem. He would never forgive this unless he felt I retracted what I had said. My own values and sense of self-worth made me unwilling to grovel and tell lies, despite the personal stakes. I had to find another way. I explained that I had come to realize that his teaching methods were unique and that students, though they may not always appreciate it, rarely encounter a professor of his caliber. What I said was true but allowed more than one interpretation. He picked the one I expected him to choose. He was beaming when I left, my career was saved, and I would become a better-behaved and somewhat more mature person.

Misleading people while making technically true statements is a silly game. I don't think it's honest.

Dominique Francon does something similar in her columns praising Howard Roark in The Fountainhead (the public reads them negatively).

While I was at UCLA, my PhD thesis adviser, Angus Taylor, suggested that I send some of my mathematical work to a well-known California mathematician for his comments. I got no response. But eleven months later at a Southern California meeting of the American Mathematical Society, Taylor and I heard the great man talk. The subject was my discovery, in detail, presented as part of his original work, and it was also about to appear under his name in print, in a well-known mathematical journal. Both of us were stunned. Taylor, who would later become academic vice president of the entire University of California system, was an ethical and experienced mathematician to whom I looked for guidance, but he didn’t know what to do. So neither of us did anything.

Academia is full of frauds.

When the screening committee received my abstract, their near-unanimous reaction was to reject it. I learned this later from John Selfridge, a number theorist whom I had known at UCLA and a member of the committee. For a while, he held the world’s record for finding the largest known prime number. (A prime is a positive whole number divisible only by itself and one. The first few are 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13…) Fortunately, Selfridge persuaded them that I was a legitimate mathematician and that if I said it was true, it likely was.

Why would the committee reject my talk? Professional mathematicians regularly receive claims that the sender has solved some famous problem, claims that almost always turn out to be from cranks, from the mathematically uneducated unaware of what’s already been done, or that include proofs containing simple errors....

... obviously, if the casinos could be beaten they would either change the rules of the game or go out of business. No wonder the committee was inclined to reject my abstract. Ironically, their reason for doing so—that mathematicians had apparently proven that winning gambling systems were impossible—was my strongest motivation for showing it could be done.

The academic screening committee was full of frauds. They didn't review the ideas, they just assumed there were simple errors. And they never changed their mind about judging math by reputation, they just changed their judgement of Thorp's reputation after Selfridge vouched for Thorp.

This trip taught me that while playing well, even with experts to warn me of dirty dealing, I could no longer openly win a significant amount. On future visits, I would need to change my appearance, be low-key, and generally avoid drawing attention to myself. Mickey MacDougall told the gaming control board that he saw more cheating in Nevada casinos while watching my eight days of play than he had seen in all his previous five years of working for the board. After his damning report he was never again asked to consult by them.

The Nevada gaming control board was full of fraud (in 1962). They turned a blind idea to casinos defrauding customers with methods like using dealers who cheat when shuffling and dealing. In one case in the book, the cheating dealer made a mistake with her physical dexterity and accidentally made it plainly visible that she was dealing the second card from the top to Thorp. An agent supposed to police cheating casinos was present, but pretended not to notice.

Karl Pearson (1857–1936) discovered that the roulette numbers being reported daily in a French newspaper showed exploitable patterns. The mystery was resolved when it was discovered that rather than spend hours watching the wheels, the people recording the numbers simply made them up at the end of each day. The statistical patterns Pearson detected simply reflected the failure of the reporters to invent perfectly random numbers.

Some newspaper employees committed fraud too.

In fifty-five and a half years of marriage I don’t ever remember her [Thorp's wife, Vivian] bragging. The closest she came was when I would admire the way she matched the hues of her outfits or furnished our household with a designer’s eye. She would look at me and matter-of-factly explain, “I have a good eye for color.”

It's common that women believe they're good at that, but aren't. It takes skill, but people who have done nothing to develop any serious expertise often think they're good at it. Maybe Vivian is a rare exception (or read books and took classes, which Thorp didn't mention). But I doubt it. I think she's bragging because it's culturally acceptable for women to think they're good at this without seeming arrogant (and this cultural situation, not actual skill, is the key factor). Thorp himself seems to be pleased that his wife wasn't arrogant in general – and also be OK with her bragging about this (which he refuses to even say is bragging, he says it only came close to bragging).

the Math Department [at the University of California at Irvine] was headed for serious trouble. Both the levels of grant money for research and funds from the state of California to support the university had declined. This led to fierce struggles among various factions in the department for what was left. To mediate the infighting, an outsider was brought in as a chairman. He was forced out after three turbulent years. For want of anyone else who might be acceptable to the warring groups, and against my better judgment, I was persuaded by the administration to act as temporary chairman.

The assignment was worse than I thought. I found that one assistant professor had stopped showing up to teach, dividing his time between his girlfriend four hundred miles to the north in the San Francisco Bay Area and the casinos in Reno and Lake Tahoe. A card counter, he even called me with blackjack questions! Another assistant professor was running up departmental phone bills of $2,000 per month versus a total of $200 for the other twenty-five professors combined. When I confronted him he claimed it was mathematical research. A review of the bills showed almost all the charges were for calls to two numbers in New York City. I dialed each, speaking in turn to his mother and to a store that sold musical recordings. He was enraged at me and not at all embarrassed when exposed.

Meanwhile, a full professor had stolen the confidential employment records of another full professor from the department files. When I discovered this and confronted him, he refused to return it. It turned out that the file contained a very nasty letter that he had written about his enemy. He feared that if I, as chairman, learned what he had done, I would expose him. When I asked the administration to initiate disciplinary action against these incorrigibles, they declined to act. I was stunned and stymied.

One problem in large bureaucracies is that many of the members decide it is better not to cross people, instead of standing on principle. I asked a good friend, whom I had helped to get an appointment in our department, to become my vice chairman and help me. Although he was now a full professor with tenure, he declined, saying, “I have to live in the same cage with these monkeys.” I did understand his point. On the other hand, I was not confined to the cage. I had PNP [Thorp's hedge fund]. I thought, Why try to fix this if no one will even back me up? I was in the Math Department by choice, not by necessity. It was time to move on.

This is a good indication of how bad academia is.

To my astonishment, I found that XYZ Corp was offering to sell me options at less than half my expected payoff! After I collected financial statements from my friendly salesman and examined them, I discovered that when XYZ Corp sold an option it counted the proceeds as income, but did not set aside any reserve to pay off the options if and when they were cashed in by the buyer. Since the correct reserves on each option they sold should have been more than twice what they were being paid, proper accounting would show their net worth becoming more negative every time they sold another option.

It was clear that they had to sell more and more options, using the increasing cash flow to pay off any early “investors” who might cash in. Classic Ponzi, and bound to end badly. What to do?

I decided on a little educational experiment. After reviewing the scanty information available on sales, options outstanding, and early redemption rates, I estimated the company would survive for at least eight more months. It turned out to be ten. Buying $4,000 worth of six-month options, I doubled my money in four months and cashed out. A few months later the offices were shuttered, the operators gone, and another fraud investigation was under way.

This time, Thorp profited from a fraud.

I figured out a solution. I called our head trader, who as a minor general partner was highly compensated from his share of our fees, and gave him this order: Buy $5 million worth of index futures at whatever the current market price happened to be (about 190), and place orders to sell short at the market, with the index then trading at about 220, not $5 million worth of assorted stocks—which was the optimal amount to best hedge the futures—but $10 million. I chose twice as much stock as I wanted, guessing only about half would actually be shorted because of the scarcity of the required upticks, thus giving me the proper hedge. If substantially more or less stock was sold short, the hedge would not be as good but the 15 percent profit cushion gave us a wide band of protection against loss.

I went through a detailed explanation of my outside-the-box analysis of why this trade was a windfall opportunity. But this day was beyond anything our trader had ever seen or imagined. Gripped by fear, he seemed frozen. He refused to execute the trades. I told him to do it for PNP and do it now, or else I wanted him to do it for my account. If that was his choice, I told him I would later tell all the other partners how the profit I made would have, but for him, belonged to the partnership rather than to me.

Here was my reasoning. If, because of the uptick rule, only about half the shorts got off, then we would be properly hedged and make about $750,000. If none got off (extremely improbable), we were buying the futures at an enormous discount—the index itself would have to fall more than another 13 percent before we began to lose. At the other extreme, especially in a market panic, there was virtually no chance all the shorts would go off. Even if all the orders to sell short were completed, the market would have to rise more than 14 percent for us to lose money. To protect against this possibility, I told my head trader that when we filled close to half the short-sale orders, he should cancel the rest. After he finally complied with my request and completed the first round, I ordered a second round of the same size. In the end we did get roughly half our shorts off for a near-optimal hedge. We had about $9 million worth of futures long and $10 million worth of stock short, locking in $1 million profit. If my trader hadn’t wasted so much of the market day refusing to act, we could have done several more rounds and reaped additional millions.

Thorp's hedge fund lost millions of dollars because their stock trader didn't do his job. It's interesting to me how much dealing with people played a role here. Thorp couldn't just decide what to buy and sell, he had to persuade someone to do it (by threats, because explaining why it was profitable didn't work), even though the trader would not be affected by the outcomes of the trades and it was his job to make the trades Thorp chose.

I also found it interesting how little control Thorp had over what he bought. He ordered twice what he wanted figuring it wouldn't all happen. Why not just tell the trader to keep going until he gets to the amount Thorp actually wants?


See also my previous post on the book, School Mistreated Edward Thorp.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)