Meta Discussion Isn't Bad

meta discussion isn't a problem. DD was wrong.

the actual problem is parochial content that isn't of general interest. that includes stuff about specific people, events, times, places, activities (including conversations) that lack objective importance and value.

say a confused idiot is arguing boring, wrong details about a sub-point of a sub-point of a sub-point, and every single sub-point is totally misconceived and he's gone way down the rabbit hole.

it's equally boring if you then reply with parochial meta ("here is where your discussion methodology went wrong when going from sub-point 2 to 3, you should have...") or parochial non-meta (specific, detailed arguments about sub-point 3 that no one cares about because no one else has the same idea you're criticizing because they don't make that exact sequence of errors to get to that bad idea).

you want to say something interesting and important that a third party who doesn't know anyone involved in the conversation could care about. it doesn't matter if this is meta (great tips on writing, on communication, on how to discuss like Paths Forward stuff, thinking methodology content, talking about methodological errors people make, talking about error-correcting methods) or non-meta (talking about parenting, dating, politics, economics, art, programming, gaming). what matters is if it's general-interest or parochial. being about one specific person or conversation is a way to make things parochial, whether it's meta (discussing the conversation directly) or not (the detailed sub-points themselves of the parochial conversation that no one cares about).

another aspect of meta discussion is it's frequently off topic. suppose originally the conversation was about schools, and now it's about discussion methods. that's a topic change. topic changes aren't a bad thing in general. conversations shouldn't be limited to the original topic. tangents should be allowed. however, topic changes can be problematic when people are disorganized which is common. disorganized people can't deal with a branching, unbounded conversation that covers many issues and deals with sub-issues, connections to other fields, etc. the problem here isn't really meta discussion, it's some people lacking the skills to deal with multi-topic conversations at all, whether the second topic is a meta-topic or not. (they'd have equal trouble talking about both school and liberalism at once, because they'd lose track of the big picture and how the two topics are connected.)

do not consider "is what i'm about to write meta discussion?"

consider "is what I'm about to write parochial? is what I'm about to write of general, objective interest to strangers?" also if you're changing the topic or adding an additional topic to the conversation, consider if you and others involved have the organizational skill to deal with it.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (6)

Changing Habits

People often think something they do is bad and then try to stop right away. Like smoking or spending lots of time on Facebook.

Often they don't do anything at all about it for a long time. Then they abruptly try to quit their "habit". (Peeing isn't call a "habit". People usually only call something a "habit" if they think it's bad.)

First they didn't judge their activity. They weren't thoughtful. Then they get super judgey. They think of a reason it's bad and now view it as totally unacceptable.

If something is a significant part of your life, or you otherwise find it difficult to stop, then don't try to quit abruptly.

Pay attention to what you do. Pay attention to how you feel about it. Try to understand why you do it. Try to learn more things about it, both good and bad. Write down factual notes about what you do including thoughts and feelings you have as part of the activity. Think of it as an information-gathering phase.

Don't threaten the activity. Then that part of you will get defensive. Do introspection. Be more thoughtful, present and mindful about it. That isn't an attack. Don't attack that part of yourself.

Once you understand yourself better (gather information for longer than you think is enough) then you can calmly analyze what you learned and consider if you'd like to make any changes and what problems you could run into.

What's good about the activity that maybe you don't want to give up? Maybe you can find another way to get it, and get that working first, and then after that's already successful then you could quit the original activity since you don't need it anymore.

When you quit it should be easy. If you have a good solution then you won't have much temptation, relapses, mixed feelings, etc. If you're running into those kinds of issues then stop trying to quit and go back to the learning-but-not-changing phase.

This all fits with the general pattern I advocate of powering up first (especially by learning) and then doing things when they're easy. Trying to do things when they're hard is inefficient and you'd be better off learning more instead of putting so much effort into doing this one thing early.

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The Myth of Teaching

The thrill of teaching a child to spell.

Children figure out how to spell. They are the primary drivers of their learning. Children make tons of guesses about everything – what letters are, what spelling is, how to spell particular words, why to spell, how organize all the information to remember it, what parent/teacher is trying to say. Children think of tons of criticism of all their guesses and judge which ones are correct and which aren't. With lots of work, children figure it out.

Parents/teachers are helpers who play a secondary role. You cannot literally share ideas with someone. All you can do is make sounds, make gestures, write things down, draw pictures, etc. All you can do is create physical stuff (e.g. sound waves going towards child, patterns of photons with certain frequencies going towards child, or an arrangement of labelled blocks child can touch) which child's senses can detect, and child may then interpret as a communication and try to figure out the meaning of and then try to figure out how it's useful to child's current problems (which parent/teacher has only a vague conception of).

Adults forget what it's like to be a child and massively underestimate how much learning young children do. They don't realize all the details the children have to figure out. Adults take for granted lots of big conclusions they've known for ages. People start finding many of their ideas so obvious and simple that they stop realizing it could be broken down into many little pieces which are actually hard to combine into the right answer.

People have a hard time seeing the world from a perspective that's super different than their current perspective. They don't realize how little of their communications to students actually succeed. Children keep learning things, so parents and teachers assume that they taught the child. But a lot of the time the child figures out most of it on his own, doesn't understand a lot of what he was "taught", and finds a lot of other things he was "taught" useless and unhelpful.

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David Deutsch's Tweets Suck

DD is bad now. There's so many things wrong here!

He said "indeed" to a tweet insulting children. Most people would do that, but in the past DD wouldn't have. He was good about ageism.

He said "indeed" to a tweet no one considers literally true.

He said "indeed" to an exaggerated, ageist, unserious, unintellectual claim that Trump is clueless and incompetent. (Also file that under unoriginal!)

He likes Obama more than Trump. (Previously we found out he likes Hillary more than Trump.)

He says "yes" that Putin is "the worst dictator" which is false.

DD says "yes" that Trump is "befriending" Putin. That's false. Trump is – as he should – having a working relationship with a person his job requires him to work with. Work relationships are different than friendships. Suggesting that Trump is personal friends with Putin is a lazy smear.

From Obama's worst policies, DD excludes: Obamacare, supporting Iran, supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, supporting Cuba, open borders, appointing activist leftist judges, and losing the Iraq war. That's just a small start on what Obama did wrong.

DD not only claims that Trump will pursue all Obama's worst policies, but that Trump is even worse at all of them than Obama. This is unfair to Trump by ignoring many terrible Obama policies where Trump is way better. And it's false because Trump is better on every listed policy than Obama. Trump is going to be more financially irresponsible than Obama? Really? I read Trump's tax plan, among other things, and I don't see it. I await DD's considered argument for this claim and the others. But DD doesn't explain serious arguments anymore, he tweets.

DD has become an apologist for Obama and the left. DD speaks imprecisely and participates in superficial commentary. DD no longer cares much about ageism.

I follow DD's tweets and this quality is typical. He used to be a much better thinker.

Update: Here's a second example of low quality DD tweets. From someone else it'd just be expected that they are confused about AI, persons, animals, etc, all of that. But DD used to be good at these things. And he used to be my peer. But these tweets aren't in my league or up to DD's former standards of thinking.

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Scheduling and Thinking

I usually do philosophy first when I wake up, when I'm fresh. This works for me because I'm not sleep deprived. Lots of people have a hard time in the mornings because they are chronically sleep deprived. Getting enough sleep is important to being a good thinker. I wake up without caffeine, an alarm, a shower, or anything to wake me up. I don't keep track, but I'd guess that I average over 8 hours of sleep per day (including naps).

I don't eat until after doing philosophy. (I find I'm not hungry for at least 4 hours after waking up.) When convenient, I use eating, exercising or showering as a break after doing morning philosophy.

Happily, I do contract software work from home and can choose my own hours to work. So I can do philosophy first regardless of what time I wake up, then do software work or whatever else later on. My sleep and wake times vary significantly and sometimes I take naps. I sleep when I'm tired, not on a schedule.

I avoid scheduling many activities. And I get a lot of stuff delivered, including lots of my groceries, so I don't need to go places during business hours much. This improves my sleep and gives me the flexibility to do what I want when I want to.

If I worked a 9-5 job, I would go to sleep by 8pm so I could wake up by 4am and do philosophy in the morning before work.

If you work a regular job, and you want to be a better thinker, I recommend you try something like this. Don't wake up for work. Sleep after work and then wake up long before work. Then you can do your own thing (e.g. study critical thinking skills and read philosophy books) when you're fresh. This can also work with anything intellectual, e.g. if you're writing a novel. It's really hard to do your best thinking after an 8 hour workday.

There are some problems you may run into:

1) Missing new TV shows. You should record your shows for watching later, or buy or torrent them online. You don't have to watch TV shows when they air. If people at work will discuss the show the next day and you want to join the discussions and avoid spoilers, consider watching in the morning. E.g. do philosophy from 4-7:30am, then watch the TV show (while eating breakfast) then go to work.

2) Social life. If you care more about socializing than thinking, you'll want to be available in the evenings when our culture prefers to do social activities. You've gotta choose. You can't be a productive, great thinker; work a regular job; deal with life (load the dishwasher, go to the dentist, etc); and also keep up a conventional social life. There isn't time for all that.

3) Family time. If you need to stay up until midnight to have enough time with your kids and spouse after work, then you aren't going to have enough time for intellectual activities regardless of your sleep schedule. That's your choice. Good luck trying to squeeze in some thinking on weekends, I guess, but that's when you'll be busy going places and doing family and/or social activities that don't fit on weekdays.

4) I need to be at my best at work. If you're especially smart (like most people interested in my blog who want to be intellectually productive outside of work) then you can do most jobs just fine without being at your very sharpest. You aren't being paid extra to work right after sleeping (actually lots of people come in tired in the morning because they're sleep deprived, and that's perfectly acceptable at most jobs). If you're struggling at work, then OK focus on that but don't expect to be very productive on an intellectual side project. But don't give up your own stuff to try extra super hard at work when you're already doing fine, that'll just get you exploited more than rewarded.

Real talk: If you work full time and have a family life and a social life, you're probably sleep deprived already. You've chosen how to spend your time. On the other hand, if you want to do some kind of thinking or creative pursuit, and you're willing to allocate time for it, then try changing your sleep cycle so you can do it in the morning before work, while fresh, instead of trying to do it after work.

All of this applies if you go to school rather than work. And if you don't work, then try getting enough sleep and doing your most intellectually demanding activity first thing after waking, when you're the freshest.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (173)


I'm asked lots of questions. Writing great answers for all of them would take too long.

I prioritize writing answers I consider interesting or important.

Sometimes I give a short answers or a link. Sometimes I suggest that a friend answer a question. But I still don't answer some questions at all.

My first priority is what I want to answer. Secondarily, I'd like to answer questions that the asker cares more about, puts more effort into, and gets more value from.

Sometimes people ask careless questions. Sometimes they barely care what the answer is. Sometimes they lose interest in the topic a couple days later but don't share this fact. Sometimes they could have easily found the answer with Google, but they don't respect my time. Some questions are dead ends where they have no comment on the answer and no followup questions.

I have limited information about how important a question is to you. You can help with this problem by writing better questions. Here are some things you can do to get more attention:

  • Ask on the Fallible Ideas discussion group. That's my preferred place to take questions and I give it priority. But don't use it unless you read the guidelines and format your post correctly.
  • State steps you already took to find the answer yourself, and why they didn't work.
  • Write well. Use short, simple words, sentences and paragraphs. Clearly mark quotes. Emphasize key points. Do an editing pass to make it clearer and easier to understand. Keep things organized and limit repetition.
  • Make it really clear what the question actually is.
  • Give specifics. I don't have a solution to "I am sad". That describes millions of different problems. (If you want a very general purpose answer like "Then do problem solving." you can state that you want a general case answer with no specifics.)
  • Mention relevant background knowledge you have. If you ask about altruism, I may suggest you read Ayn Rand. If you've already read her, you should have told me!
  • Say what kind of answer you're looking for. What are you looking for? What sort of information would you consider an adequate answer?
  • Say why you want an answer to this question and what problem it will solve for you. Say why the question is important.
  • Use relevant quotes and make sure they are 100% accurate (use copy/paste) and give the source. E.g. if the question has to do with something I've written, link and quote it.
  • Keep it short. If some detailed information is important for reference, put it in a footnote after the question.
  • If you refer to something, and it's important to your question, then provide a link. For books you generally want to give the Amazon link. If it's long, say which section is relevant and explain what information the reference has and how it relates to the question.
  • Sending money, even just $5, sets your question apart from others.
  • I strongly prefer ebooks over paper. They don't have page numbers and do allow searching for quotes. And if you really want me to look at a book and can't find a free link, then buy me the ebook. But it's usually better to just quote a lot instead.
  • If your question isn't answered, look at it from another angle or make some progress on it, then ask another question. Having a question unanswered is no big deal. It's not a negative response or a rebuke. No answer is neutral. If it's important, just reread this guide and try again after a few days.
  • If you have followup questions or arguments that depend on my answer to the question, especially criticism of my ideas, let me know.
  • If you think I need to address this question for Paths Forward reasons, explain that.
  • If you want me personally to answer, say why. Otherwise write your question in a generic way that other people could answer, too.
  • If you think I'll get value from the question or a followup, tell me what's in it for me.
  • Don't be or act helpless or needy, don't act like you deserve free answers, and don't rush and write carelessly.

If this sounds like too much effort to you, then understand that answering your questions is not my problem. But note that you will benefit from these steps too because they'll guide you to do better thinking. They'll help you understand your problem better, make some problem solving progress, and sometimes answer your own question.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Reactive People

How do you judge (ASAP) when someone is talking to you because they are triggered or reactive instead of out of interest?

People usually respond because they are reacting to something. They feel pressured, they don't like something, or even they do like something. Positive reactions are still reactions, instead of the person being a self-starter who controls their own life. Being passive and reacting to stuff is different than deciding what to do yourself. It's only people who decide to pursue something, because they're interested, who learn much.

There are degrees. More reactive people are worse people.

People do chain reactions. E.g. first they react to an event or situation with an emotion. Then they react to their emotion.

If you ask people, they frequently don't understand the question and give an answer anyway (lie they understand the question and know the answer) or lie (lie they're not being reactive/triggered when they are).

If you interact with someone over time, you can see patterns like they don't bring a topic up themselves, they only talk about it when you bring it up.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)


This is adapted from a Fallible Ideas discussion called "How to help someone find their motor".

How do you tell the difference between genuine vs. cargo culting interests? You don’t give up / lose interest in a genuine interest just because it gets hard or when some passing
distraction comes up and catches your attention.

that describes a big, strong interest.

lots of interests are genuine but small and/or weak.

it's good to have lots of small interests where you finish quickly. you should have more small interests than big ones. that's part of creating lots of interests. not everything has to be or should be a giant quest.

and it's fine to have lots of weak interests where, if you realize the price is higher than you initially estimated, you drop the project. that's efficient. most of your interests should be sensitive to the time/effort/money/resources involved in a project. you can have a few things where you're like "whatever it takes, i wanna do this" but you shouldn't have that attitude all the time (also you should always be willing to reconsider goals, change interests, etc). it often makes sense to have some weak interest in 20 projects and then actually do the 3 you find to be most cost efficient and drop the other 17. (don't lose track of what you actually like looking for what's cost efficient, though! use cost efficient as a tiebreaker between different things you like about equally.)

small projects often lead to new problems and projects, which are often small themselves, and lead to even more.

people should be interested in problems more than topics. topics are only an approximation of rational interests. super dedicated chess players don't actually like everything about chess, they are more interested in some aspects than others. some chess problems interest them and some don't. saying they are interested in the topic of chess is a reasonable approximation because they are interested in a wide variety and large number of chess problems.

even a very broad problem like being interested in winning chess games is more of a specific problem than chess as a topic. winning chess games covers a lot of material, but chess as a topic includes even more stuff that doesn't actually help you win games.

looking at it abstractly, out of all possible information related to chess in some way, most is not useful to any problem a human cares about. most information about all topics is boring. selecting interesting problems to guide you is crucial to making good decisions about which information to focus on and which to ignore.

anyway, one doesn't just sit down and "study chess". that's either an approximate statement (no big deal normally, but imprecise) or wrong. one studies a chess related problem, e.g. on a particular day one sits down and studies how to win games against the Najdorf variation of the Sicilian defense, which fits into one's broader interest of being prepared to play aggressive e4 openings in order to win rather than draw more games with white and play to one's strengths of fast, open positions. which will help solve the problem of winning chess tournaments, not the problem of knowing every fact, no matter how pointless, about chess just b/c "i'm interested in chess" (no you're not, you're interested in lots of chess stuff, but not all of it!). people often do this is a semi-reasonable way in practice, but don't understand it in words very well, and could make some improvements if they knew what was going on more accurately.

so: find projects to solve problems, preferably usually small ones you can finish. do them successfully. do more. don't look for a whole huge quest from the start if you don't have one. bigger projects may develop naturally as you do lots of small projects successfully and develop various skills and gradually increase the size of project you can confidently complete and handle. those skills include time organization and resource management skills, understanding your interests and what you'll actually do or finish, general purpose get-shit-done skills, and much more.

it's better if small problems you work on relate to a larger interest, even if it's one you're unsure about. e.g. you might find a chess opening interesting to learn about on its own, and it'd also have the additional big-picture benefit of helping your chess game. or if you think you might potentially like to learn some physics stuff, then you could look for little projects with some connection to physics. like anything to do with science, learning, writing or computer skills could come in handy later for learning physics.

What if my interest leads to a dead end?

suppose theoretically you did follow an interest to a dead-end. dead-ends are bad so that means you made a mistake. that leads somewhere: you could investigate why you made that mistake, what went wrong, how to find, fix and avoid mistakes in the future, what kinds of methods and ideas that requires, what errors and error correction are, etc... so it's led to lots of great stuff. so it wasn't actually a dead-end in the bigger picture.

broadly: solutions lead to new problems. in the alternative, lack of solutions is a problem. there's always more problems to work on. there are no dead ends except irrationality (which shouldn't be blamed on the interest/topic, irrationality is about how people approach stuff badly and e.g. create dead ends).

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Sous Vide

i recommend getting a sous vide machine for cooking steaks. it cooks other things too.

a sous vide machine heats a pot of water and circulates the water with a small pump. it has a very accurate thermometer and keeps the water the desired temperature.

you put the steak in a ziploc bag (or use a vacuum sealer, but that's unnecessary).

you put seasoning on the steak in the bag. i used salt, pepper, dried minced onions (sold like a spice), tiny garlic bits (i used a metal presser) and butter.

they are great because you set the exact temperature and it cooks the steak perfectly.

it cooks the whole steak the same amount, instead of cooking the outside more and the inside less.

cooking isn't time sensitive. it's hard to fuck up. i read you can stop cooking your steak up to around 4 hours after it's done and it doesn't matter.

you can't overcook the steak on temperature because it can't get hotter then the water. if you overcook on cooking duration (which takes hours) then it gets mushier apparently.

i read you can put in frozen steak without defrosting.

you don't lose any juices to the pan or grill. they are in the bag for you to pour out after.

sous vide can do some other stuff too. there are recipies where you cook something for days. however all i've done is cook steaks which only takes like 90 minutes.

a downside is no sear unless you briefly sear the steak in a pan after which is an extra step. even with the sear step, sous vide still compares well to other cooking methods in terms of effort.

the main reason i highly recommend sous vide is cooking the steak correctly without fucking it up. i often cooked steaks poorly when using other methods (like pan or grill) that didn't have a computer controlling the temperature for me. sous vide makes it really easy to cook it really well. plus even if you grill a steak perfectly it still cooks the outside more than the inside. and you don't have to worry about going and doing something else and getting distracted, the cook timing is very lenient.

i recently got the Anova Bluetooth Model. the one i almost bought instead is the Joule.

the Joule has a magnet on the bottom, is smaller, costs more, and has more watts (doesn't really matter if you start with hot water from the tap, but saves time if you start with a pot of cold water). but you can only use it with your smartphone. the Anova works with your smartphone (which i haven't actually tried) but also has a display, an on/off button and a physical wheel you spin to set the temperature. i chose the Anova so my iPhone wouldn't be required. other than that issue i would have gotten the Joule.

i have also pre-ordered a Cinder which is a computer-controlled grill that's also supposed to make it easy to cook steaks (and other foods) really well and hard to fuck them up.

i also have an instant pot pressure cooker which i would also recommend.

(btw if you use my amazon links above and buy a sous vide cooker – or anything else – amazon will give me money. also in general if you go to the Fallible Ideas website and click the Popper or Rand link at the bottom before buying on Amazon then i will get money. thanks!)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (4)

Social Awkwardness Example

i had to stand in front of a cashier to read the menu at mcdonalds b/c i didn't have my glasses. when you walk up to them they think you're gonna order. so i had to explain.

i believe a lot of ppl find things like that so socially awkward they would prefer to just not read the menu and order something from memory, or even look at online menu on phone. and a lot of people don't talk about this kind of thing, either, because they find it embarrassing or shameful, so you may underestimate how common it is.

i usually don't wear my glasses b/c i can see fine to get around and do stuff. reading menus i can't hold in my hand (the kind behind the counter) is actually the only problem i run into much when walking around without glasses, and i don't want to wear glasses in general just for that one thing.

i might have looked online on my iphone if it was reliable b/c even standing at the closest point in the store to the menu it was still somewhat difficult to read. and the menu is computer displays that keep changing instead of static text. it's also very badly organized. i find it strange that mcdonalds uses technology to make their menu way worse than a regular menu. they could have some regular menus available you could hold, or just post one on the wall somewhere, but they don't. if it's because they want to change their menu often and feel they need computer screens instead of just printing out updates, they could put a computer screen on the wall with menu text that doesn't changing during the day so people could actually browse their entire menu (it could even be a touchscreen where you can flip through the pages if they want to be fancy and their menu is very long). however, i don't think you can reliably look up the exact menu of a particular mcdonalds location online so i didn't try that even though the store menus suck.

the reason i wanted to read the menu is i ordered jalapeno doubles from postmates (delivery people service) from mcdonalds a couple days ago. and they said mcdonalds doesn't carry them anymore. so i was trying to check the menu for them. i didn't see them on the menu but the menu is so confusing i didn't think i'd actually viewed a complete list. so i asked the cashier. they do have them. yay! but what the fuck is with the incompetence of the postmates person who said they were at mcdonalds and they no longer carry jalapeno doubles? they just do. :/

in addition to jalapeno doubles, which are great and i recommend them, i also ordered the daily double which i hadn't had before and didn't see on the menu, but had seen online. it was pretty good. i only knew about the daily double item because i saw it on the mcdonalds menu on the postmates website when ordering there, which shows menus are useful! i like to read menus sometimes to browse. similarly i occasionally like to visit grocery stores to browse. (when not browsing, it's mostly better to order stuff online and have it delivered, which saves time and effort. safeway will deliver large orders for cheap or free. and walmart will deliver non-perishables for free if you order $50 and they also have generally have better prices than stores around here. amazon also sells some foods with free delivery.)

anyway my main point was about the social awkwardness of going and standing by a cashier and explaining about not having glasses. i think a lot of people wouldn't do that, or would really dislike doing it. i think a lot of people put substantial effort into avoiding that kind of thing and don't realize they have a problem. but it's really no big deal. you should learn to do it. it's not hard. i grew up very shy, and i can do it just fine. just try it, no one is going to hurt you for wanting to read their menu and making a short, reasonable statement about where you're standing in the zone of the store for customers.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (14)

Fallible Ideas Email: Figuring out what you want from a discussion

In a previous post I wrote:

you have a problem. e.g. you want an answer to a question like whether the many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics is true.

Further quotes are PAS's reply. PAS is a pseudonym meaning "problems are soluble".

How do you effectively generate and resolve criticism of ideas about what you want? How do you figure out what you actually want from a discussion, instead of just going with the first idea about what you want that you become consciously aware of?

Look for problems with wanting it. Look for bad things about it. Stuff that'll go wrong.

A good place to look for problems, if you haven't developed anything better (and still worth checking even if you have) is looking at ways it clashes with your culture's idea of a good, normal life. As a first pass, if pursuing this want/preference/interest is compatible with having a life your society thinks is good, (and you don't see any other problem), then it's alright. And if you do see a way it'll screw up your life (by normal cultural standards), then there's a problem to consider and don't proceed with it unless you come up with some solutions (e.g. ways to adjust the interest and pursue it better so it doesn't screw up life by normal cultural standards, and/or some criticisms of why those standards are bad in general, or wrong for you personally, and you don't need them in this case.)

As you live a life using traditional knowledge, if you're thoughtful you'll notice some other problems (things go wrong when living traditionally), and learn about some problems from non-traditional sources, and you'll work on solving those problems and learn other things besides your culture's standard, default ideas.

All the while you should try to get advice, criticism, insight, etc, from others. They will know things you don't about your culture's standard ideas (which no one has a perfect conception of, and everyone's conception of it varies some). They will see some things as bad you don't realize. They will notice some things about life you don't (b/c life has so much information and everyone rightfully pays selective attention to what they deem important, and different people have different ideas about what's important even if they are similar.) and they'll have different specialities, areas they've studied more than you, skillsets, etc

When you raise the concern of people using the first idea they are consciously aware of ... you're right. You've identified a problem (i don't mean that it's original, just that you see it yourself, which is good). You have a criticism of many possible actions because they rush into things when thinking a bit longer first would have been worthwhile. Great. This will be very useful when using the general pattern of acting on your ideas barring knowing bad things, but not acting on ideas you know bad things with.

(The English word "problem" is ambiguous between referring only to bad stuff, or including stuff that isn't bad too. I changed the last sentence of the previous paragraph to use the term "bad things" for clarity".)

In the example above, it’s possible you want just what was said (an answer to a question like whether the many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics is true). But there are alternate explanations for the idea that you want that - you might actually want something else. Such as:

  • You want an intellectual self-image, so you are lying to yourself about wanting to know MWI because wanting that fits the image you’re after.
  • You want to be able to impress people, so you just want to know arguments about MWI that will impress people.
  • You want to be entertained, and you find discussing MWI entertaining even if the discussion never resolves.
  • You want to defeat a particular person in an argument, and you know the person you want to defeat is an MWI skeptic, so you want to know arguments he can’t answer.
  • You want to participate in an FI discussion, and MWI is just a topic that you think FI will highly approve of discussing.
  • etc.

All of those are good problems to be aware of. In addition to what you say here, it's important to have some understanding of how to identify when these problems are and aren't happening. That can start simple and crude, and be refined as you learn more and get better at stuff.

High level, I think resolving this to figure out what you actually want from the discussion fits in the general category of introspection.

But how should the lower level details of it work?

Being mistaken about what you want, or lying to yourself or others about what you want, is a common problem. Dealing with this problem occurs in the general context explained above. It also occurs in the general context of using conjectures and refutations to think. And some other general contexts.

There are lots of useful more-specific approaches to this problem such as:

  • Seeking out information about what's wrong with our culture from questioning type people who have already worked lots of things out. Such as TCS, PUA, the anti-superstition stuff like James Randi, various criticism of religion, Szasz's criticisms regarding "mental illness" and medicalization of everyday life, and Ayn Rand's criticism of altruism.
  • Living normally but being on the lookout for problems. And when you find problems, try to understand what went wrong, figure out what mistakes led to it. This can lead to introspection.
  • Learning to think, argue, judge ideas, etc, very well and objectively (non-introspectively). The better you get at it, including catching lies, the easier it will be to use apply to yourself. This can be approached many ways, one is reading and discussing Popper.
  • Learning to spot other people's common flaws and lies in our culture. Get better at this and it's easier to see some of the same mistakes in yourself. An example way to approach this is to take advice articles and stories (movies, books, tv show plots, etc) about romance and criticize flaws. like fisking it or like this critical post: 23 Ways To Keep Your Romance Alive (and part 2).

if you develop your skill to the point it's really easy for you to write something like that about a wide variety of articles and stories -- you can just rattle off lots of criticisms quickly without much effort -- then that'll go a long way towards dealing with such problems in yourself. but be warned, many people have found developing the skill more modestly isn't very effective though. that is, by an effort they manage to write a couple critical pieces like that which are broadly pretty decent (though worse, more simplistic, more naive, etc, in many subtle ways). and then they find they are still a romantic at heart, and nothing much has changed besides adding a little inner conflict to deal with (though that usually doesn't last too long, they come up with some rationalizations and shut their mind closed).

this gets into a common theme: people really skimp on skill development. if they'd develop skills to much higher expertise -- until they have the skill for things to be pretty easy -- instead of stopping the moment they think they have enough skill to maybe barely succeed -- their life would be far more efficient and successful.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (2)

Discussion Basics

you have a problem. e.g. you want an answer to a question like whether the many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics is true. or you want to know how to build a submarine. or you want to know how to win Overwatch games. or you want to know how to treat your children.

this leads to other problems:

  • how do you ask a question?
  • how do you read the answer to a question from someone else and understand it?
  • how do you judge if an answer is good or bad?

and working on this leads to other problems, e.g.:

  • how do you take one or more answers with some value, but some flaws, and improve them into one good answer?
  • how do you know if you understood an answer well enough or should ask clarifying questions?

and working on those leads to other problems, e.g.:

  • how do you communicate effectively instead of ineffectively?
  • what info should you include or not include in communications?
  • what are examples useful for?
  • how and when should you use examples, and how do you make them effective?
  • what topics should i be interested in and talk about and ask questions about?
  • how do you use abstract ideas in your life? what do you do with them besides remember them and occasionally mention them in conversations?

(and you need to be able to come up with questions like these on your own, and come up with more detailed ones and come up with your own thoughts about it, not just ask a really broad generic question with none of your own thinking in it. don't use my list. make your own list. this is a demo, not something you should copy. pursue your own questions, not my questions.)

lots of these problems involve basic stuff that comes up over and over when dealing with many different problems.

things like asking questions and communicating are skills that you'll use over and over. that's why they are basic. they are so important to so many things that people figure you need to learn them early on so you can be reasonably effective in life. everyone is expected to know them.

but most people are awful at lots of basic stuff like this.

and then they keep trying to have discussions while fucking up the basics, and so the discussions fail.

and they never find their way from the discussions to the basics. they don't, on wanting to ask a question, wonder about how to ask questions. they don't, on wanting to communicate something, wonder about how to communicate. they don't take an interest in the skills they are trying to use.

this is horribly broken and is a huge part of how people suck so much and stay so shitty.

you need to learn basic skills. you need an understanding of how to discuss, how to communicate, how to ask and answer questions, how to judge ideas, etc.

if you aren't interested in this, you should become interested in it by seeing how it's needed for dealing with more or less all of your actual interests. your interests lead to these basics (this needs to be an active process of you finding and following leads, not a passive process of being led). unless you're blocking and sabotaging, or passive and helpless.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

iMessages Scammer

An unknown stranger messaged me on Apple iMessages today. I found it funny. My messages are in blue.

That's the entire conversation. I think I triggered him...

Definitely a scammer. Didn't get to find out what type though.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comment (1)

Lying CNN

CNN posted a fake news headline:

Berlin Christmas market: 9 dead, at least 50 injured in truck crash

(Lated updated to "Berlin Christmas market: 12 dead, 48 hospitalized in truck crash")

A major terrorism attack is not a "truck crash". CNN is dishonestly trying to make it sound like a traffic accident.

This is like the fake news headlines that report crimes by illegal immigrants with intentionally non-descriptive terms like "man". Ann Coulter explains:

As described in excruciating detail in Adios, America: The Left's Plan to Turn Our Country into a Third World Hellhole, our media already have a totally "open mind" about incest and child rape -- and murder! -- when it's committed by immigrants.

Thus, for example, where I would have chosen the headline: "Illegal Alien Convicted of Incest, Child Rape," The Chattanooga (Tenn.) Times Free Press went with the less catchy: "Man guilty in case of human smuggling.”

And where I would have used the headline, "Illegal Alien Repeatedly Raped 14-year-old Girl at Job Site," The Commercial Dispatch in Columbus, Mississippi, went with the more subtle, "Columbus resident charged with molestation.”

Donald Trump did much better than CNN:

Our hearts and prayers are with the loved ones of the victims of today’s horrifying terror attack in Berlin. Innocent civilians were murdered in the streets as they prepared to celebrate the Christmas holiday. ISIS and other Islamist terrorists continually slaughter Christians in their communities and places of worship as part of their global jihad. These terrorists and their regional and worldwide networks must be eradicated from the face of the earth, a mission we will carry out with all freedom-loving partners.

I wrote a CNN-style version of Trump's statement:

Our hearts and prayers are with the loved ones of the victims of today’s horrifying truck crash in Berlin. Innocent pedestrians died in the streets adjacent to the crash as they prepared to celebrate the Christmas holiday. Drunk and other bad drivers continually slaughter motorists and pedestrians in their communities and this needs to change. These unsafe drivers and their memes must be educated to drive safely, a mission we will carry out with all safety-loving partners.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (4)

Ideas Matter

My new newsletter is out! It's a philosophy essay which you can read below. (Sign up here to receive newsletters!)

Explaining Philosophy Is Hard

There's several important ideas about philosophy to explain first. But you can't talk about them all at once. That's difficult to deal with. The issues are:

1) Explain that philosophy is the most important thing in the world, and in your individual life.

2) Explain specific philosophy ideas, e.g. how to discuss rationally, how to judge ideas, and how to treat children decently.

3) Explain how to learn philosophy instead of just reading a little bit and thinking it sounds nice.

4) Explain what philosophy is (ideas about how to think well and effectively, which is necessary for solving problems). And explain that everyone uses philosophy (the type of philosophy mentioned in previous sentence, not all types), and it's better to know what you're doing.

If I talk about (1) first, people often won't listen and claim it's false without understanding what it means. And even if they'll listen, they don't yet know how to judge ideas rationally. They don't know what to make of it or how to have a rational discussion to a conclusion. So their judgement and discussion of (1) are bad. And even if they decide philosophy is important, they still don't really know what to learn or how to learn it.

If I talk about (2) first, people generally like that better and agree more. But they treat it as a fun diversion or hobby, not something of the utmost importance. They don't study it seriously and learn it in depth, they only pursue a superficial understanding (which they overestimate because they don't realize what high quality of ideas is achievable).

If I talk about (3) or (4) first, people don't care because they don't see philosophy as really important. They'd rather learn something about philosophy (2) than something about how to learn philosophy (3). A learning method (3) only gets anywhere if you also care (1) and have some things you want to learn with it (2).

The men who are not interested in philosophy need it most urgently: they are most helplessly in its power.

The men who are not interested in philosophy absorb its principles from the cultural atmosphere around them—from schools, colleges, books, magazines, newspapers, movies, television, etc. Who sets the tone of a culture? A small handful of men: the philosophers. Others follow their lead, either by conviction or by default.

-- Ayn Rand

Reaching Actual Conclusions

In each case, people usually don't learn philosophy and don't discuss the disagreement to a resolution. They silently ignore rational philosophy, or silently judge it's false. Or occasionally they argue back and forth a couple times, then quit without the discussion reaching a conclusion.

People don't know how to pursue issues to conclusions. And generally don't want to. They think it's too time consuming, and don't make the effort to learn how to do it faster (which they often think is hopeless because the methods taught at schools, and which are well known, don't work). The reason it takes too long (or usually never reaches a conclusion at all) is because they're doing it wrong and are ignorant of the correct methods.

People think that's just how life is. You disagree, everyone has their own opinions, and so what? Answer: whenever two people have contradictory ideas, at least one – and often both – are mistaken and could learn better ideas.

Chronic disagreements often cause misery in families and elsewhere. Disagreements become chronic because people don't discuss them to a conclusion, so issues don't get resolved. This misery is due to having no idea how to resolve disagreements rationally, rather than being a necessary fact of life.

There is a way to reach conclusions about ideas, and discuss disagreements, in a timely manner. I call it Paths Forward. It addresses all criticism in a time-efficient way so that if you're mistaken, and a better idea is known, you won't ignore it and stay mistaken unnecessarily.


Lots of people say they care about ideas and care about the truth. Maybe not the majority. But many people think they are rational people with good ideas who think about things. That's pretty common. They have some respect for thinking, truth, and reason. These people ought to learn about how to think (philosophy) and how to discuss (philosophy) and specifically how to reach conclusions in discussions. But they usually either want to do something else or think they already know how to think and discuss.

To some extent, people are lying about their interest in the truth (lying to themselves even more than to others). They bicker and treat intellectual debate as a game. They don't systematically pursue ideas in a way that gets anywhere – produces actual conclusions. And they don't address all criticism of their positions. They ignore many known reasons they're mistaken which someone is willing to tell them, which isn't how you find the truth.


Note: Reaching conclusions in one's own mind is fundamentally the same issue as reaching conclusions in discussion. It uses the same methods. Self-discussion – thinking over issues in your head alone – works the same as discussion with others. In both cases, there's multiple contradicting ideas and you need to sort out what's true or false.

The main difference with self-discussion is people are biased and pick a side without actually knowing the answer. They don't have someone else arguing against them to pick up the slack for pointing out flaws in the ideas they are biased for, and good aspects of ideas they are biased against. (And when they do have someone arguing with them, they usually find it frustrating and want the guy to concede without actually figuring the issues out.)

I Address All Criticism

I have a different approach. I've addressed every criticism of my positions. There are exactly zero outstanding criticisms of my views. And I've energetically searched for criticism, I'm well read, and I've written tens of thousands of discussion contributions – so this isn't from lack of exposure to rival ideas. I seek out critics and will talk to anyone in public. But, sadly, I find other people don't want to understand or address my criticisms of their ideas.

Many people think this sounds impossible. How could I address every criticism? But when you're able to actually reach conclusions, there's no reason you can't do that on every common issue related to your thinking. Reaching conclusions one by one adds up. If you reach two conclusions per week, you'll have over 1000 in 10 years. And once you know what you're doing, in a good week, if you focus on thinking, you could figure out 20+ things, not just 2.

And some ideas and arguments are able to address dozens of criticisms (or more) at once because they involve a general principle. Good arguments usually address many criticisms, not just one, which conveniently saves a ton of time.

Sometimes you need to revise conclusions you reached in the past. Most people have such shoddy thinking that more or less all of it needs revision. But if you do more error-correction in the first place then less is needed later on.

Parents and Teachers Destroy Children's Minds

I possess ideas that would change the world if people cared to think. But they don't want to learn ideas or address criticism of their status quo beliefs.

One example: Current parenting and educational practices destroy children's minds. They turn children into mental cripples, usually for life. They create helpless followers who look to others to know what to do.

This is an opportunity to stop destroying your children, and also explains much of why it's so hard to find anyone who will discuss rationally or learn philosophy. Almost everyone is broken by being psychologically tortured for the first 20 years of their life. Their spirit is broken, their rationality is broken, their curiosity is broken, their initiative and drive are broken, and their happiness is broken. And they learn to lie about what happened (e.g. they make a Facebook page with only happy photos and brag that their life is wonderful). Occasionally a little piece of a person survives and that's what's currently considered a great man.

When I use words like "torture" regarding things done to children or to the "mentally ill", people often assume I'm exaggerating or speaking about the past when kids were physically beaten much more. But I mean psychological "torture" literally and they won't discuss the matter to a conclusion. It's one of many issues where the opposition refuses to think.

Typical parenting and educational practices are psychologically worse than torture in some ways, better in other ways, and comparable overall.

Parenting more reliably hurts people in a longterm way than torture, but has less overt malice and cruelty. Parenting is more dangerous because it taps into anti-rational memes better, but it also has upsides whereas torture has no upside for the victim.

Parents follow static memes to get obedience and pass on various ideas whether the child likes it or not. When children react with things like heavy crying and "tantrums", parents don't even realize that means they're hurting their child badly (much like torturers ignore the screams of their victims). And when the child stops crying and "throwing fits" so much because he learns he'll only be punished more for it, parents take that as evidence their child loves them. Stop and think about that for a minute. Everyone knows parents make their children cry hundreds of times and throw dozens of "tantrums". Everyone knows children often go through a "rebellious phase" (fighting with their hated parents) when they're age two, and when they're a teenager, and often during any or all of the years in between as well. Everyone knows there routinely are massive conflicts between parents and their children.

If you're blind to children being psychologically tortured, it's because you went through it too and rationalized it. Your parents hurt you and hurt you and crushed you until you became obedient and started thinking what you were told to think. Including believing, as demanded, that they were kind and gentle and loved you.

Punishments hurt children. That is their only purpose. Parents punish children to beat obedience into them. Period. And why do schools have tests and grades? So they can find and punish the children who didn't do as they were told (learn to repeat some ideas they aren't interested in and aren't allowed to disagree with).

It's so sad to watch after you see what's going on. But people don't want to learn to change. People would rather deny the world's problems than seriously consider – and discuss to a conclusion – ideas like these (which strike them as extreme and out of bounds).

You Could Be A Great Thinker

If you wanted to, you could ask a thousand questions, read everything you could get your hands on, and energetically pursue a better life with rational ideas. And you could pretty quickly be one of the world's best philosophers, since there isn't much competition. The world needs more thinkers very badly. You could help. (All people without major brain damage are plenty capable because innate degrees of intelligence and innate talents are a nasty myth. That's one of the things you could learn about.)

Or you could think I'm wrong, and not say anything in order to prevent me from pointing out the holes in your reasoning. Or you could think I have good points and then do little or nothing, but console yourself by pretending you intended to and telling yourself you appreciate most of what I write. Or you could think you're doing something else that's even more important, and never discuss which is actually more important. That's up to you.

I'll Continue Regardless

What's up to me is to continue improving the cutting edge ideas in philosophy, even if I must do it alone. And to seek out anyone who cares to think and learn, even though I live in an irrational, anti-intellectual culture. Whatever you do, I'll continue. I, for one, know that good ideas are the most important thing on Earth.

If you're interested, act like it. Read, learn, think, discuss.

A philosophic system is an integrated view of existence. As a human being, you have no choice about the fact that you need a philosophy. Your only choice is whether you define your philosophy by a conscious, rational, disciplined process of thought and scrupulously logical deliberation—or let your subconscious accumulate a junk heap of unwarranted conclusions, false generalizations, undefined contradictions, undigested slogans, unidentified wishes, doubts and fears, thrown together by chance, but integrated by your subconscious into a kind of mongrel philosophy and fused into a single, solid weight: self-doubt, like a ball and chain in the place where your mind’s wings should have grown.

You might say, as many people do, that it is not easy always to act on abstract principles. No, it is not easy. But how much harder is it, to have to act on them without knowing what they are?

-- Ayn Rand


The Pursuit of Happiness.

No One Else Discusses Ayn Rand.

Ayn Rand Quotes Discussion.

Critical Review of Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature.

Paths Forward links. These talk about how to rationally discuss to a conclusion instead of dropping out of discussions while not addressing some criticism.

Rationally Resolving Conflicts of Ideas. If you genuinely want to learn, it involves reading multiple links and books, and discussing them to clear up misunderstandings, find out details, get questions answered, etc...

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Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (7)