Voluntarily Facing Chaos and Evil

when you read a book that talks about important problems in the world, you get to choose how much attention to pay. you can just read through it and miss a lot of the point. that's what people normally do.

to get more out of it, you have to voluntarily choose to analyze it more, and think through what the negative issues are.

learning about the serious problems of the world isn't just a matter of opening your eyes, it takes a large, active effort. you have to put work into understanding them and making them a part of your own thinking.

it's up to you how much evil, badness, chaos, misery, etc, to voluntarily bring into your life.

it's understandable, in a way, that people usually don't bring in a lot. they don't take a book like Atlas Shrugged or The Gulag Archipelago and read it carefully and think through all of the meaning.

and they have a lot of excuses. this isn't like leaving your lights off to not see that your home is dirty. it takes a major effort to understand the world's misery and disorder beyond what is well known. flipping a light switch is easy, but you can say you're too busy doing other things to carefully think through the full consequences of some long, difficult books. or you can say that you did read it and think about it a lot – and face some of the world's evil – while not doing enough to face even more of the evil/problems (stopping short and pretending you did near the maximum, when there's really a lot more which you didn't make the effort to be aware of).

bringing disorder into your life is serious business. most people are already overwhelmed with their problems, so maybe they shouldn't. as Jordan Peterson would say, you need to get your own life in order before you should take on a bunch of other challenges! (don't overreach!)

this idea helps clarify for me why people don't get a lot out of books like Atlas Shrugged and The Beginning of Infinity. it's not just lack of intellectual skill. these books are serious business and present major world issues, and facing those is a difficult challenge which most people do not wish to voluntarily face. and even people interested in such things limit their exposure, limit what sort of evil and chaos they voluntarily bring into their mind to grapple with.

the more you think through the meaning of important books and ideas, the more you're bringing hard problems into your life and exposing yourself to ongoing tragedies. that's a hell of a thing to do, especially for someone who's life is already chaotic. (my life is very well in order today. but i took on such things in the past when my life was not yet organized. i was pretty damn fearless and this worked out very well for me, but it doesn't work out well for most people who try it – who take seriously a lot of major world problems, and see a lot of the world's folly, without having their own problems and life under control.)

it's difficult because the best way to get your life in order really effectively is to get really good at reason, but learning about reason will reveal to you all kinds of ways the world is irrational and disordered.

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Integrating Thinkers

what i've done, over time, is keep integrating more and more thinkers into my thinking. in a serious way where the ideas actually make a cohesive whole.

i think this is very rare.

i did David Deutsch first, then Karl Popper, then William Godwin, then Edmund Burke, then Ayn Rand, then Ludwig von Mises, then Richard Feynman, then Thomas Szasz, then Ann Coulter, then David Horowitz, then Leonard Peikoff, then Jordan Peterson.

That's roughly the order, though I worked on some people at the same time. Putting them in linear order is a loose approximation. I read some initial Rand before Burke. Rand is a particularly long project that's still ongoing.

That's a reasonably complete list of thinkers I've engaged with in a BIG way who lived after ancient Rome, and who are public figures. i've done lots of smaller projects like reading a couple good things from someone, but i'm listing people where i went through tons of material. i've spent hundreds of hours on most of these thinkers. I'd guess Burke or Feynman is the least time on the list, and I've done around 20 book readings for each.

i don't just learn these thinkers as points of view, frameworks, perspectives. i actually learned the ideas for my own use and integrated them into my own thinking, and I integrated all of them into the same single worldview. i made them all compatible (while dropping some errors, but retaining major pieces – if there isn't a major piece i can get major value from then i don't spend this much time on a thinker).

Jordan Peterson has done some of this. He often refers to Jung, Solzhenitsyn, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche and others. However, he missed some very important thinkers. He learned some Popper without going into enough depth, and he learned a little Rand and didn't appreciate it very much. Jordan Peterson is aware of Thomas Szasz too, but sadly didn't go into depth – that's a big deal which is directly related to his profession and to public advice he gives about anti-depressants.

Most people only use one thinker at a time. On this issue they are a Kantian, on that issue a Marxist, and on a third issue they've got some environmentalist ideas they picked up at college. They don't learn from a bunch of different thinkers about the same issue and figure out how to put the ideas together into a better whole. It takes a major act of creation to do that. It takes figuring out a new idea which incorporates value from multiple prior thinkers and also stands on its own, and which is overall superior to any of the prior ideas. That's hard but very important.

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Energy, Drive, Life

i was linked to one clip of Jordan Peterson, on some specific political point, about 4 minutes long.

i watched it. i didn't love it. it's not his best work. i agreed with it, but i already knew it.

nevertheless i saw enough promise in it to find another clip, and another, and i soon found some which impressed me more and i watched dozens. and then i watched whole lecture series (not clips) and more. and i've started reading his old book and his new book.

if i'd missed that first opportunity to discover JP, i would have found him later. he's been in news articles of the type i sometimes see, been tweeted about by people i follow, been involved in things of interest to me (e.g. he interviewed James Damore), etc.

But I didn't miss that first opportunity. I took it and ran with it, energetically. I try to spot opportunities like that.

Similarly, one day from a google search I found one old blog post by Robert Spillane. The comments were moderated and my comment was never approved, and the blog doesn't get new posts anymore, and never had very many.

Nevertheless, from this one lead I immediately found his books, read some, contacted him, had some discussions, etc.

After I read FoR, I then, on my own initiative, found the author's website and went through all the links (a dozen) and read things, and some of those links had their own links with more to find (e.g. the old TCS site with maybe 50 articles was one link on DD's site), and I kept going from there by e.g. joining the TCS email group and IRC chatroom, which led to talking with DD and others, etc.

People don't pursue FI with this kind of vigor and jumping on the opportunity. This has been visible to me for many years, and I've pointed it out but that doesn't change it.

They also rarely pursue anything in life, which is intellectual, much like this. Sometimes they try a new TV show and then immediately jump on it and watch all 3 seasons. Sometimes they hear a song and listen to every song by that band. Those things aren't common. If it's actually intellectual, and requires judging something to be intellectually good (instead of fun or similar), then it gets a LOT rarer.

People get into computer/video games, and from 15 minutes of trying it out they then want to play for 25 hours in the next week. But usually that's only in a casual, for-fun way. It happens much more rarely with a serious, competitive approach to the game (usually only for people who are already very skilled and serious at some other game).

You need some energy – some caring about life and taking opportunities and running with them (and caring about reason not just "fun") – or you should not expect to get very far with philosophy or much of anything worthwhile.

Life is about doing things. Most people live in a state of half-alive, half anti-Objectivist. (Most people means you, not "other people".)

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Criticism of 12 Rules For Life: Secondhandedness

12 Rules For Life: An Antidote To Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson:

On Quora, anyone can ask a question, of any sort—and anyone can answer. Readers upvote those answers they like, and downvote those they don’t. In this manner, the most useful answers rise to the top, while the others sink into oblivion.

Some useful answers rise – and so do some bad ones. Some great answers sink into oblivion. This is well known, yet also contradicts the claim that the most useful answers rise. JP is overstating the wisdom of the mob.

Quora tells you how many people have viewed your answer and how many upvotes you received. Thus, you can determine your reach, and see what people think of your ideas.

Their viewing and voting patterns do not tell you what they think. It omits why they like things – their reasoning, their thoughts. It also leaves you with no way to tell if they're being honest (you can't spot dishonesty through votes and view).

As of July 2017, as I write this—and five years after I addressed “What makes life more meaningful?”—my answer to that question has received a relatively small audience (14,000 views, and 133 upvotes), while my response to the question about aging has been viewed by 7,200 people and received 36 upvotes. Not exactly home runs.

JP's goal is popularity. He judges a home run not by what he thinks of what he wrote, but by what other people think. His stated goal – his criteria of success (a home run) – is to get views and upvotes, not to please himself.

My goal, when I write, is truth. I don't judge ideas by popularity. I go by arguments. If someone has a criticism – even one single criticism from one person – I'll consider the reasoning and address it or change my mind. But if a thousand people downvote me without giving any arguments, I don't regard that as making any difference intellectually.

The Quora readers appeared pleased with this list. They commented on and shared it. They said such things as “I’m definitely printing this list out and keeping it as a reference. Simply phenomenal,” and “You win Quora. We can just close the site now.” Students at the University of Toronto, where I teach, came up to me and told me how much they liked it.

JP is a second-hander (see The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand to understand the term more). He's judging his work by the opinions of other people instead of by rational evaluation of the content of the work. He's concerned with who thinks what (social metaphysics, as Ayn Rand called it) instead of what the rational arguments about the material are.

If I were sharing a success story like this, I wouldn't quote reason-less praise. I'd be concerned with the rational benefit of the popularity. Did it get me any questions or criticisms I learned from? Did the audience have enough intellectual merit to help me improve the ideas? It's nice if people like you're work and they're helped, but that must not be a creator's primary motivation or reward. Yet JP focuses on it.

I had written a 99.9 percentile answer.

JP writes this like it's 99.9th percentile quality, when he's only demonstrated 99.9th percentile popularity. These are completely different things which JP blurs together.

Quora provides market research at its finest. The respondents are anonymous. They’re disinterested, in the best sense. Their opinions are spontaneous and unbiased. So, I paid attention to the results, and thought about the reasons for that answer’s disproportionate success. Perhaps I struck the right balance between the familiar and the unfamiliar while formulating the rules. Perhaps people were drawn to the structure that such rules imply. Perhaps people just like lists.

Market research is the wrong approach to truth-seeking. Who cares if people like lists? JP should be considering if lists are the best way to present his work – according to his own judgement about the issues themselves.

JP seeks to figure out what people want to hear, in what format, instead of creating original work and structuring it as he thinks best fits the content.

JP is better than this. He is, in various ways, an original and independent thinker. He does good work. That's why this error stands out. It's an internal contradiction he has, which conflicts with some of his very substantial virtues and makes things harder for him.

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Liar's Paradox Solution

The liar's paradox is an ancient philosophy problem about confusing sentences like, "This sentence is false." If you say it's true, it contradicts itself. If you say it's false, then it seems to be true. People have identified that part of the issue making things weird is that the sentence refers to itself.

To understand it more clearly, I recognized that the sentence is shorthand and wrote out the implied words. It means: "The final, completed evaluation of this sentence is false." In other words, it's asking you to evaluate if the sentence is true or false, and then compare what you come up with to see if it matches "false".

This reveals that it's, in a way, referring to the future. This is a better explanation than the self-reference explanation. Consider the sentence, "Joe loves philosophy; he'd never be an altruist." In this sentence, the word "he" refers to Joe. That's self-reference because the sentence refers to a part of itself; but this self-reference is harmless.

You're supposed to evaluate if the sentence is true or false. And to do that, you're asked to compare two things:

  1. The final, completed evaluation of this sentence

  2. false

But (1) doesn't exist yet at the time you're evaluating the sentence.

At the time you're first evaluating the sentence, (1) is undefined. That's the problem and the source of the "paradox".

Sometimes when you read a sentence, you can't figure out what something means until you finish the rest of the sentence. That's OK. It can be due to forward references or the need for context. The problem is that you need to already know the evaluation of the liar's paradox sentence (from the future) at the time you're creating the evaluation.

In terms of lisp computer code, we could write it something like this:

(equals? (evaluate self) false)

But what is "self"? It's (equals? (evaluate self) false). And what is the "self" in there? It's (equals? (evaluate self) false). Each time you expand the self to its meaning, you get another self that needs expanding to some meaning, and you can never finish expanding everything. So the sentence is poorly defined.

Or we could look at as ruby code with a blatant infinite loop:

def liars_paradox()
  return liars_paradox() == false

This is no more paradoxical than any other non-halting program like one that loops with while true.

(This problem has been solved before, e.g. this link makes the same point as my lisp code answer. I don't know how original my English language explanation is. I reinvented these solutions myself rather than reading them.)

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Gobble is Better Than Blue Apron

I tried 3 weeks (9 meals) of Blue Apron to compare to Gobble (which i used for several months). These services deliver a weekly food box for you to cook. It contains exactly the ingredients you need to make specific meals, along with the recipes.

gobble meals are significantly easier and faster to prepare, cost 20% more, and were more gourmet. selection is similar (around 7-8 meals to choose from per week. maybe blue apron had slightly more. they seem to always have 3 vegetarian meals, so if you usually don't want those then you don't get a lot of choices.)

gobble puts more effort into side dishes, more complete meals, a bit fancier meals, and sauces. i also like their packaging better because they group everything for a meal in an outer bag (except meat separate). blue apron groups up the small things for each meal in a bag but then sends several loose things to deal with.

gobble sends more food that's already partially prepared. e.g. partly cooked rice or mashed potatoes that's done in 2min in microwave. or they've sent me complete raviolis with filling. or they'll send garlic shallot confit ready to add to your dish instead of making you chop garlic. they've also sent cooked meat that you just have to heat sometimes when they want it prepared a specific way that's harder or takes longer. and they'll send complicated sauces they already put significant effort into making to save you time. i also liked all of gobble's salads (and i'm not much of a salad person), but blue apron sent a lazy simple salad that didn't impress. blue apron commonly has you put stuff in the oven for 20-30min, whereas gobble tries to get meals done in 15min. i don't really mind time leaving things in the oven but blue apron is also significantly more time preparing the food.

blue apron was fun for a bit to compare and practice cooking (since you do more actual cooking from closer to scratch) but gobble is way better overall IMO. blue apron isn't bad though, i'd use them over going to the grocery store. both services work well and consistently provide good food.

i cancelled my blue apron account (for some stupid reason you can only skip deliveries one by one, but you can't skip everything by default). next time i feel like putting higher effort into cooking, i'll try a different service (there's a bunch like chefd, peach dish, and hello fresh).

oh and on the subject of food i've gotta recommend Fasta Pasta. it's a special plastic container for microwave cooking. i cook all my pasta with it; it's easier and always comes out perfect (microwaves are more consistent about how much they cook stuff). it does rice and some other stuff in the microwave too. i used it instead of a pot on the stove for cooking some pasta from my meal kits.

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Atlas Shrugged Theme: Don't Overreach

One of the themes of Atlas Shrugged is one of the themes of my own philosophy: Don't overreach.

I say: If you exceed your abilities, if you try to do more than you can manage, then you will make more mistakes. More things will go wrong. If you do this too much it'll overwhelm your capability to deal with mistakes. That's overreaching: doing activities where your rate of making mistakes is too high for your ability to find and fix mistakes. Overreaching is bad, and pretty much all adult lives have tons of overreaching. The situation is so bad people just give up on correctness and try to muddle through life putting up with many unsolved mistakes.

Rand doesn't say that. But she says something related.

In Atlas Shrugged, the world has a bunch of nasty problems. Dagny tries to ignore them and run a railroad anyway, but the problems are pretty damn overwhelming and this doesn't work out in the long run despite how amazing Dagny is. What should she have done instead? Retreat from a world where she and her values aren't wanted. Give up the railroad. Give up on big accomplishments in screwed up world. Live her own life. Keep it simpler and smaller, like how they live in Galt's Gulch. But keep it pure with no corruption. Live in a way where everything works and there's no compromises, downsides, disasters, people working to make your life harder, looters stealing from you, taxes draining you, and so on.

In other words, Atlas Shrugged says to scale back your ambitions to projects which are reasonably possible in good ways – without tons of stuff going wrong. That's what John Galt and his allies do. They won't participate in corrupt, broken projects. They will only live life in ways that work. They'd rather have a single hand-tooled tractor in Galt's Gulch, or a little farm, or a few barrels of day of oil production, or a cabin instead of a skyscraper ... as long as it's fully theirs, it's fully pure and proper and correct ... there's nothing broken or wrong or bad about it.

In other words, it's better to have less without errors, corruptions, sacrifices, and moral compromises, rather than to have more at the cost of your soul or the cost of it not actually working right.

It's also like how you should learn things in general (e.g. typing, martial arts moves, or video game techniques): do it slowly and correctly and then speed up. Do not do it fast and wrong and try to fix the mistakes when there's a bunch of them. Speed up gradually so you only deal with a few mistakes at a time and keep the mistakes manageable.

In the introduction of Atlas Shrugged (35th anniversary edition), Peikoff quotes Rand's notes:

Her [Dagny's] error—and the cause of her refusal to join the strike—is over-optimism and over-confidence (particularly this last).


Over-confidence-in that she thinks she can do more than an individual actually can. She thinks she can run a railroad (or the world) single-handed, she can make people do what she wants or needs, what is right, by the sheer force of her own talent

Overreaching isn't just for beginners who try to act like experts. Even a great hero can overreach.

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Learning From Losing Arguments

ppl argue badly. this is ok once. even a few times is not a big deal.

from this, they need to learn things like:

  • they might suck at arguing.

  • they might be biased.

  • they might be dishonest.

don’t accept these things. you don’t know. call them maybes.

from there, pivot to: how do i figure these things out? how does one get better at them? what sort of path is there to develop intellectually in order to get better at this stuff and/or even be able to evaluate it?

what people routinely do instead is:

  • get discouraged by an arguing failure.

  • refuse to pivot to the underlying issues that are raised by the failure.

  • or pivot briefly then forget it, rather than it being an ongoing project.

  • reset back where they started an argue badly again with nothing having changed.

overall, people lose track of the situation – that they might be e.g. dishonest and they should be investigating. this is no accident, and it destroys their ability to make progress.

sure, say what you think, see what happens, make mistakes. try stuff. but don’t repeat this endlessly. don’t repeat it much at all. move on. find a problem or three and actually pursue them instead of starting over again next conversation with the now-unreasonable default assumption of your competence, rationality and honesty. those are things that are rare, and shouldn’t even be expected by default.

move on to trying to develop competence, rationality, honesty, intellectual skills. make that an actual goal and actually consider if your actions are in pursuit of that goal. don’t just carelessly argue some point that comes up as if you’ll learn much. if you aren’t taking discussions to conclusions with persistent energy, and you don’t organize your activities, you shouldn’t expect to learn much.

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Having It All!? Reason and Normal Stuff?

Do you have to choose between reason and other stuff like marriage, or can you have it all?

You can’t have a conventional life and add reason on top. You can add little bits and pieces and fragments of reason on top, but a conventional life simply contradicts reason in major ways.

What if you choose reason first, then can you have it all, or do you have to give something up? Neither. You can genuinely not want some things, and decide they aren’t appealing, and have everything you rationally want. So then you’re happy, you get the things you value in the future when you’re making rational decisions about your values. But you don’t get all the things that sound tempting now, you change your mind about some of them.

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What Kind of Intellectual Are You?

Are you a serious intellectual? After you found out about Fallible Ideas, you can learn a lot about yourself from how you reacted.

First, did you read an important FI-related book during the next six months? If not, (and you’re age 15+,) you’re not very interested in FI. (For younger people, it’s less clear, and you may need to look at other forms of engagement to judge interest.)

For the sake of discussion, I’ll suppose the book you read is Atlas Shrugged (AS). There are lots of great books to choose from.

Did you read AS thoughtfully? Did you write down thoughts as you read? Can you remember thoughts you had about it well enough to write them down now?

Did you have questions about the book? What did you do to get them answered? If you had fewer than 100 questions about AS, you aren’t the kind of person who is going to get very far with FI. FI is for people who both want to know things and go seeking answers. You should do that without being told to.

Did you have followup questions after your questions? If you never asked 5+ questions in a row to keep getting more depth about an issue, you aren’t very interested in learning about it.

I know you’ve got excuses. You’re used to a world, such as school, where there’s no one to answer your questions, so you learned not to think of them or not to ask them. Well, so what? Who cares what your excuse is? For whatever reason, you are not suitable for serious learning now.

Can you change? It’s conceivable. But don’t expect it before it happens. Don’t count on it. Most people don’t change in big ways about reason. If you find that discouraging, rational thinking is not for you.

Your relationship with reason can be used for considering practical decisions. E.g. should you get married, if you want to, but you heard a rational argument criticizing it? The key question here is whether you can do better than tradition, or should live with a flawed tradition. In order to attempt to outdo a major societal tradition, you need to be really serious about rational thinking. It will take a ton of serious thought (from you and anyone else involved).

If you didn’t read a book within 6 months, or weren’t bubbling with questions about it, then you’re not going to do better than tradition about marriage. You aren’t wiser than your society. You aren’t suited for paving your own way in life. You aren’t a pioneering first-mover.

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Bad Parenting List

This is an incomplete list of some of unacceptable, uncivilized parenting behavior. These are pretty normal in our culture, but should be viewed with horror. They're pretty blatantly intolerable to a reasonable, classically-liberal-minded person.

  • Making children do things they don't want to (e.g. making a baby go in a carseat when their crying indicates they don't want to, or enforcing an unwanted bedtime, or making a child brush his teeth or take a bath when he'd rather not, or making a child go to school). In general anything that causes crying or "tantrums" indicates the parent is doing something wrong.

  • Punishments.

  • Anything that relies on parent being bigger/stronger than child, such as spanking or carrying a child from one location to another when child doesn't want to be moved (which is literally assault and kidnapping – it should be a crime).

  • Rules that child doesn't like.

  • The parent putting his foot down or doing "nicer" pressures and manipulations to get his way. Frowning, having a stressed voice, or being selectively less energetically helpful/friendly/cheerful can be pressuring and controlling. (E.g. parent is "too tired" to do an activity child wants, but would suddenly be available if child wanted to do a different activity that parent cares about more.)

  • Screen time limits.

  • Not getting a baby an iPad and helping them get apps and use it (by around 6 months old, for people who can afford one).

  • Having multiple children. (Parenting one child well is hard enough. Having more kids is much harder. That guarantees more mistakes in the treatment of the first child. Knowingly, intentionally guaranteeing to treat one's first child worse is a betrayal).

  • Posting baby pictures online (privacy violation).

  • Skipping vaccines (scarily trendy lately and literally killing kids), or denying children anesthetics for shots.

  • Circumcision (genital mutilation).

  • Having child to evaluated by a psychiatrist or giving him psych drugs, or letting a school do this. ("Mental illness" is a myth, and psychiatry is an attempt to "scientifically" legitimize the use of violence against non-criminal non-conformists without following the rule of law. People today are imprisoned without getting a trial, with psychiatry as the excuse. Psychiatric drugs literally cause brain damage – as their primary effect, not a side effect.)

  • Giving children (oral) herpes (sometimes called "cold sores"). Herpes is widespread and uncurable, and is often spread by people kissing babies without adequate medical knowledge or herpes testing.

  • Not prioritizing what child wants. The parent's proper role is as a helper to enable the child to get what he wants, not to control the child. That means e.g. helping child get sugar and other foods he likes, and "violent" games and movies he wants.

Read about more details.

Ask questions or add to the list, in the comments below!

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Standards of Understanding

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand:

“The worst thing about dishonest people is what they think of as honesty,” [Gail Wynand] said. “I know a woman who’s never held to one conviction for three days running, but when I told her she had no integrity, she got very tight-lipped and said her idea of integrity wasn’t mine; it seems she’d never stolen any money. Well, she’s one that’s in no danger from me whatever. I don’t hate her. I hate the impossible conception you love so passionately, Dominique.”

I thought of a related point:

The worst thing about confused, ignorant people is what they think of as understanding. They don't understand stuff (not even close), and that somehow meets their standards of understanding, and they stop trying to understand more.

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Critical Rationalism Criticisms?

I believe there are no correct, unaddressed criticisms of Karl Popper’s epistemology (Critical Rationalism – CR). If I'm mistaken, I'd like to be told. If others are mistaken, I'd like them to find out and take an interest in CR.

I've found CR criticism falls into some broad categories, with some overlap:

  1. The people who heard Popper is wrong secondhand but didn’t read much Popper and have no idea what CR is actually about. They often try to rely on secondary sources to tell them what CR says, but most secondary sources on CR are bad.

  2. The pro-induction people who don’t engage with Popper’s ideas, just try to defend induction. They don’t understand Popper’s criticism of induction and focus on their own positive case for induction. They also commonly admit that some criticisms of induction are correct, but still won’t change their minds or start learning the solution to induction’s flaws (CR).

  3. The falsificationism straw man, which misinterprets Popper as advocating a simplistic, false view. (There are some other standard myths too, e.g. that Popper was a positivist.)

  4. Critics of The Logic of Scientific Discovery who ignore Popper’s later works and don’t engage with CR's best ideas.

  5. Critics with points which Popper answered while he was still alive. Most criticisms of Popper are already answered in his books, and if not there then in this collection of Popper criticism and Popper’s replies. (I linked volume two which has Popper’s replies, you will want volume 1 also.)

If you believe Popper is wrong, then: Do you believe you personally understand CR? And have you looked at Popper’s books and replies to his critics to see if your point is already answered? If so, have you written down why Popper is mistaken? If not, do you believe someone else has done all this? (They understand CR, are familiar with Popper’s books including his replies to his critics, and wrote down why Popper is mistaken.)

Whether it’s by you or someone else, you can reply with a reference to where this is publicly written down in English. I will answer it (or refer you to an answer or get a colleague to answer). Here is what I expect in return: if your reference is mistaken, you will study CR. You were wrong about CR’s falsity, so it’s time to learn it. If you would be unwilling to learn CR even if you agree that your referenced criticism of CR is false, then you shouldn’t have an opinion on CR. If you still wouldn’t want to learn CR even if all your objections were wrong, then you either aren’t participating in the field (epistemology) or shouldn’t be. (I have nothing against lay people as long as they are interested in learning and thinking. I do have something against people, whether lay or philosophy professors, who state their opinion that Popper is wrong but would not be willing to learn about Popper even if they found out their negative beliefs about Popper are false.)

If you believe one of the many criticisms of Popper is correct, but you don’t know which one and don’t want to pick one, then you are not treating the matter rationally. It’s unacceptable if your plan is, on having one criticism answered, to simply pick another one, and repeat indefinitely. You’re welcome to have one good reference which makes multiple important points, but you don’t get to just keep referencing different critical authors repetitively (as each one fails, you pick another) while not reconsidering your own beliefs. You need to stick your own neck out – as I do. If I can’t answer a challenge to CR I will reconsider my views.

If you want to bring up a couple criticisms at the start, which are written in different places, but you won't add any more later, then that could be reasonable – but provide a brief explanation of why it's needed. In this case where you want to bring up multiple points by different authors, I'd expect you to be referencing specific sections or short works, not multiple whole books. E.g. you could reasonably say you have 3 criticisms of Popper, chapter 3 of book X, chapter 7 of book Y, and paper Z.

Alternatively, if Popper is mistaken but no one has actually written correct criticism (including you), then how do you know he's mistaken? Maybe he's not!

Note: I'm interested in criticisms like "Popper's idea X is false b/c Y.", not like "I wasn't convinced by Popper's writing on topic X." (The second one is compatible with Popper being correct, and is too vague to answer.)

Broadly, the reason criticisms of CR fail is the critics do not understand CR. Having read a lot of Popper criticism, I can report this theme is nearly universal in my experience. (There is one problem with CR, which sometimes comes up, which I fixed.) CR is hard to understand because it disagrees with over 2000 years of epistemological tradition. And people in general massively underestimate the effort it takes to understand ideas well. (People seem to think they can read a philosophy book once and understand it, but that isn’t how it works – study and discussion are needed to clear up misunderstandings.) Pointing out misunderstandings of CR, with quotes, is one of the typical ways I answer CR criticisms.

Secondarily, Popper criticism often fails because the critic is much less smart and knowledgeable than Popper (one of the world’s best ever thinkers). I think people can get smarter and more knowledgeable if they make the effort, but most people don’t make that effort in a serious, persistent way and put a ton of time into it. I will not use this as an argument against any particular criticism. It’s not an argument, but it is a part of the world’s intellectual/scholarship situation which I think matters, and it helps explain what’s going on. It’s hard to criticize your intellectual betters, but easy to misunderstand and consequently vilify them. More generally, people tend to be hostile to outliers and sympathize with more conventional and conformist stuff – even though most great new ideas, and great men, are outliers.

See also: CR reading recommendations.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (9)

My Paths Forward Policy

If you think I'm mistaken or ignorant about something important, I want to hear it. I am open to public comments and criticism. See Paths Forward for an explanation of my methodology for not blocking error correction (always having some Path Forward so that if I'm mistaken, and someone knows it, and they're willing to tell me, then I can be told and I won't ignore it).

I do not reply to everything addressed to me, at all venues. I do reply to a fair amount, but I don't have time to answer everything. However, I will guarantee you some attention if you follow a method of getting my attention which anyone can follow with predictable success. Here's what you do:

  1. Post your issue to the FI Yahoo Group. Format your post correctly, e.g. by making it plain text with attributed quotes. Read the guidelines for quote formatting. For most issues, you should quote from something you're arguing with and point out a mistake in the quote. You can also do general comments and respond to your own paraphrases of my views, but pointing out at least one mistake in a quote is important too.

  2. If you don't receive a reply from anyone within a few days, post a self-reply with some followup points. Try again. If the first post didn't have them, follow up with a brief statement of why this is important and a brief summary (one paragraph max, each). Also make sure you're providing a clear question or call to action. What do you want to happen next? What sort of response do you want? Mention you want a Path Forward from me.

  3. If you still don't receive a reply within a few days, write a self-reply asking why you didn't receive a reply, and include a brief statement of why replying to you matters and what you're looking for.

  4. If you still don't receive a reply within a few days, email me personally ([email protected]) and ask for an answer and say that you've read Paths Forward. Link the Yahoo Group topic, or at least give the subject line and date.

Summary: Post to FI. Follow up on why it matters and what reply you want. Follow up asking why no one is answering. Follow up by emailing me. You will get an answer by the end of this process.


You're welcome to try contacting me in other ways, and that often works, but no promises.

Formatting posts correctly is an intentional barrier to entry. If you aren't willing to do that, I suggest you post to my blog comments (which don't have formatting requirements). I consider the FI formatting the best for a serious discussion, so if you're looking for a serious discussion you should learn it. I like this barrier to entry because I believe it improves discussion while avoiding unpredictable, subjective judgements (like about the quality of your writing and ideas – I will not ignore you because I believe your comments are low quality, as long as you follow the steps listed above.)

I don't answer everything the first time, but if you are persistent as stated above, then I can guarantee you an answer.

The reasons I want you to post on my public forum are that I want other forum readers to benefit from my answer, I want my answer to have a public permalink so I can refer other people to it in the future, and I want other people to be able to answer you (instead of me).

If you receive an answer from another person, and you think it's inadequate and really want an answer from me personally, you can continue with the steps outlined above and explain this (say why the answers from the other people are inadequate and why you want my personal attention).

I (or someone else) commonly will answer a point before reaching step 4. Often at step 1. (I'm most responsive on the FI forum, so just posting there with correct formatting is frequently enough to get a reply. I'm next most responsive to personal email, then blog comments, and then less responsive to everything else).

Like many busy people, I am less inclined to answer if I think something is low quality. I certainly don't want to reply to every low quality thing addressed to me. However, if you follow the steps then you'll get a reply from someone, including from me if necessary. (Often other people are fully capable of answering issues, especially the comments I consider lower quality, so I don't always want to do it personally if someone else will do it.)

If you don't want your content to be exclusive to my forum, that's fine. You're welcome to put it on your own website and post a link or copy/paste.

If you want me to address something which costs money, offer me a free copy somewhere within the first 3 steps. If you won't do that, say why.

If I still don't answer after step 4, your personal email went in my spam folder. I don't think this is a common problem, but if it happens feel free to post to FI again and bring it up and I'll see it or someone else will who can contact me. Or it'd be fine to post 10 blog comments in a row or tweet me or something until I notice. Say that you did the 4 Paths Forward steps and I didn't reply, so maybe the email went in spam, and identify the FI posts in question so I can find them. Or you can email Justin or Alan and they'll get my attention. I mention this because spam filtering is a conceivable problem that could get in the way of Paths Forward, and I don't want that to happen. Email is not 100% reliable for contacting me, but it's pretty good and there are solutions if it fails.


What if you don't want to be so demanding and challenging as to ask for a Path Forward from Elliot/CR/FI? Maybe you expect you're wrong (rather than offering a correction), but you're still interested in pursuing the issue and learning something and getting it resolved? Perhaps you want some Path Forward for yourself to make progress?

Follow up on your own posts with new questions, new explanations of the issues and their importance, new angles and perspectives. Rewrite what you're saying a different way. And report what you've done to make progress, what effort you've put in (and what the result was), what you're planning to do, and if you're running out of ideas and if you'd like help with something. Keep at it over time. Be persistent, honest and curious and FI people will want to help. And make it easy for them: take short advice/comments/suggestions and then do a bunch more on your own initiative (and share this so they see giving you help was worthwhile), rather than expecting them to guide you step by step. Put effort into your learning as independently as you can, e.g. by taking book and link suggestions and doing series of blog posts about them as you read. Be a pleasure to help and offer more value than you ask for. (If you don't know how to offer value, but want to, ask.)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (3)