Sucking In Your Gut

A few days ago, my female friend mentioned that most females suck in their gut, a lot of the time, in order to look thinner. Women are actually relieved that they don't have to do this while pregnant and say: The best part of being pregnant? You don't have to suck in your gut!

I didn't know women were sucking in their guts all the time. She said she would have told me sooner, but it's so common that she assumed I already knew...

After investigating online, we discovered that many men do it too. Lots of people write on Reddit about how they are so used to sucking in their gut that they don't even notice or think about it anymore. And many women were told to suck in their gut by a mother or grandmother. Samples:

I wanted to go on a diet at 13 and my mom yelled, "No! Just suck in your gut".

I've never stopped since.

When I was 12 years old, my grandmother saw me one day standing with my belly hanging forward. I was not necessarily fat, or bulky, just in my "childhood innocence" I had enough courage to walk around without tensing my gut or holding my abs.

My granny got extremely upset at me, and with one sentence of:

"Young woman should never look fat. Suck that belly in."

People even believe it's disrespectful not to suck in your gut:

I was always taught to suck in my belly and stick out my chest when I'm outside especially when I'm talking to people. Shows that you care about how you look and thus means respect to the person.

Many women claim they don't wear makeup, as if that meant they weren't shallow. But those women often dye their hair, blow dry, get stylish haircuts regularly, wear red lip gloss, use scented soaps, wear uncomfortable shoes and fashionable dresses, check their appearance in the mirror before going outside, and suck in their guts.

Why are there more male programmers than female programmers? Some people blame sexism and biased hiring, denying the fact that, today, fewer women are skilled programmers. (Those same people also complain that fewer women are computer science majors, which is an indication it's not actually a hiring bias since there are fewer women trained to do programming). Other people blame genetics and say women are biologically less suited to the kinds of intelligence used in programming, math, science, economics, etc.

I disagree. I think most women spend more time sucking in their gut and adjusting their makeup than thinking about programming or math. There are fewer women qualified to be programmers, but it's not due to genetics, it's due to what they pay attention to during their lives.

Why do women focus on social issues like sucking in their gut? Most of all, because their mothers told them to. Secondarily, yes, people are mean if you don't look and act how society expects you to. (For example, people make fun of shoes with individual toes. And in the recent past, and still somewhat today, many women didn't wear glasses because they cared more about their appearance than being able to see.)

Women also spend lots of time trying to get along with people in social situations. They try to be friendly and appealing, and avoid conflict. This takes a lot of attention away from topics like programming, which are unrelated to thinking about people and social dynamics.

Men suck in their gut too and also put effort into their appearance and pleasing others in social situations. But not as much as women. That's a very old cultural difference between the genders. Men are more encouraged to take risks and more allowed to be outliers. Women are more encouraged to conform and fit in. (BTW, women do the majority of parenting and school teaching. It's not the patriarchy which is oppressing little girls.)

Some parents now try to avoid pushing a gender role on their child. But they make a mess of it. They don't know how. It isn't trivial! There are complicated intellectual issues here. In order to have much control over what effects you have on your child, you need a very sophisticated understanding of culture, tradition, communication, learning, authority, power imbalances, anti-rational memes, voluntary action, consent, and more. It takes lots of philosophical skill.

As one little example, parents may not realize that telling a little girl to "sit up straight" can encourage her to suck her gut in, and that they say that slightly more often to girls than to boys. Because, to their biased eyes, girls who aren't sucking in their gut look like they're slouching more than boys do. Because the girls are supposed to look thinner than that, so it stands out more when a girl doesn't sit in the socially-approved "proper" way.

So you have a choice to make. Would you rather spend your life sucking in your gut, and conforming in a million other ways? Or would you rather learn to think well?

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Multiple Children and Sharing

Having one child is hard enough. Having more will lead to more mistakes and problems.

Sharing is overrated and it's generally better if people have their own property with no strong pressure/expectations to share it. They can share when it's convenient, but when it's a problem then stop sharing. And the borrower can be happy to borrow things sometimes, but realize sometimes other people's stuff won't be available. This is the same as how two adults friends would typically treat each other.

Sharing space is problematic too, not just possessions. It's typical for adults who share spaces to either have conflicts about the spaces. The main things that prevent this are being flexible and conflict-avoiding rather than picky, and having shared culturally-standard expectations about how the space is used (e.g. most adults in our culture have a similar concept of what to do and not do in a kitchen space or bedroom space).

Sharing rooms is typical in our society. Even if everyone has their own room, they still will share a living room, dining room, kitchen, etc. Usually parents mostly get what they want regarding shared rooms and children have to defer. That's somewhat bizarre because parents are the ones who are much better at dealing with problems, finding alternative ways to get stuff they want, etc. Parents are better at delaying an activity until later and dealing with life over a longer time horizon, and have way more other options, so usually they ought to be the ones deferring about the use of shared spaces (unless child is happy to defer in this case). What about two children sharing a space? That's hard and our society causes that difficult situation to happen far more than necessary – then complains that children get upset too much, squabble too much, etc

Children are people and ought to be treated like full people. So they ought to be able to choose their friends, rather than being required to be extra close friends with their siblings. This is often problematic in terms of various resources like money or parental attention to multiple children in different places all wanting help, now, with their separate projects.

Once you have a situation with several children trying to get along with each other (no other choice), sharing stuff, etc, then what has to be done is help them learn skills to deal with this situation. These are difficult skills – most adults have lots of problems with skills like these. It sucks to pressure children to learn these particular skills at a young age or else have ongoing conflicts with their family. It'd be better, in general, if children learned to deal with siblings after they learn how to deal with people more at arms length (which is an easier place to start). Yet getting along with siblings can be learned and children can be resilient to all kinds of difficult situations.

Children can forgive and deal with a lot – people massively underestimate this because other stuff is going wrong (coercive parenting, coercive schooling, treating the child like he's sub-human, etc) which is using up most of the child's coping and problem-solving ability. If parents would act less like irrational, cruel rulers then that'd free up tons of child's creativity, energy, good will, etc, to be used on smaller problems like learning how to deal with siblings.

When dealing with sibling problems it's important to keep in mind the perspective I've outlined. That's not just being negative, it's part of the solution. The key to fighting with siblings less is to lower expectations – recognize it's a tough situation and be less ambitious about what one expects from it. Just like if you live in a poor family, it helps a lot if the children recognize they are poor, recognize that's bad and hard, and calibrate their expectations accordingly. Children in poor families can be happy if they learn skills like sometimes being OK with not getting to buy something. Children with siblings can be happy if they learn skills like sometimes being OK with giving up a shared space or shared possession. Children can learn standard coping strategies for how to do this – e.g. have a list of activities they like which they can switch to which use a minimal amount of space, are flexible about where they can be done, and don't require any shared possessions. For example, if each child has their own phone/iPad/laptop then they can watch movies, watch youtube, listen to audio books, etc – and those activities will always be options they can fall back on to avoid a conflict over a shared space.

There are lots of other things to learn that also help. Like how to communicate one's preferences and make clear statements about what outcomes one is OK or not-OK with.

I think a lot of problems in multiple-children families are because everyone involved thinks having multiple children in a family is normal or good, and they don't see the problem with it. So they aren't putting effort into coping with it. They think it should work better than it does work, and their unrealistic expectations lead to ongoing fights.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

The World's Biggest Problems

I wrote this for a discussion about why I think politics is the wrong place to focus efforts in order to improve the world:

I have an unusual perspective on this because I think I could work highly effectively in any field on any project if I thought it was best. (Limited to knowledge work, not e.g. being a pro football player or manual laborer.) So I've thought about what the world's most important problems are. Most people don't choose projects in this way for a variety of reasons including that they don't think they are very important (they don't think their life matters much) and they don't think they are a very flexible learner or super smart.

There are a lot of very important and urgent problems. So just finding a good one isn't enough in my view – I'm also interested in prioritizing.

For example, I could work on life extension. Death due to aging is a BIG deal. Seriously fucking massive issue. And there is reasonably hope of significant progress on this in the reasonably near future with a lot less money than goes to many other projects.

Or I could work on AGI, which could really change the world. Or nanotechnology. Or space colonization.

And there's plenty of very broken things that could be improved. E.g. most or all large companies have massive inefficiencies. And people suffer so much from dating and marriage practices. And people are harmed so much by psychiatry (which does things like circumvent the law to imprison people without a trial. it also keeps some criminals out of jail. and did you know they basically still do lobotomies, they just renamed them?).

some people kill themselves because of the counter-productiveness of current anti-suicide efforts.

and i haven't even left the US yet. lots of people lack clean water, basic medical care, adequate food and nutrition, etc, etc, let alone internet access.

there are sooooo many projects to consider.

what's the most important?

my answer is that people are bad at thinking. if they were better at thinking, they would do better on all the projects i listed above!

instead of picking one of these projects, i'd rather pick the meta-project of helping enable people to do projects.

helping people think better also means they can run their own daily lives better and various other good things such as voting in much better political policies. an e.g. 2/3 majority can pretty easily get what it wants politically when there's actual unified opinion about something instead of a variety of kinda similar mixed messages. such majorities would come to exist on many issues if most people were substantially better at thinking.

why are people bad at thinking? some major parts of the answer are:

  • current parenting and schooling practices are grossly irrational and destructive. and, especially, so much harm is done at young ages which is hard to fix later. most adults are super alienated from learning, education, improving thinking methods, reason, philosophy, etc, in general (sometimes someone isn't so broken in some narrow area, and then they are regarded as a brilliant genius at the top of their field).

  • static memes.

  • bad philosophy ideas that are common in our culture. philosophy is the name of the field which includes topics like how to think, how to learn, how to judge ideas. many other ideas are also relevant, like about human capabilities and intelligence.

so those are what i care the most about and try to work on. (btw i actually changed fields, i wasn't always a philosopher. before i found The Fabric of Reality, i liked and was good at stuff like programming, chess, computer games, and math.)

one of the big difficulties with my project is that people largely do not want the help. they largely don't want advice and suggestions, let alone criticism. this difficulty applies both to ideas about how to think better in general, and also if i use my thinking skill to create ideas about what they are already doing.

another difficulty is that, today, popularity is primarily gained by social status games rather than rational idea quality. so should i learn and outcompete people at the social status games? the problem with that is they contradict the kinda stuff i advocate, so they're counter-productive to my project.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (2)

Writing Tips

I wrote some incomplete tips on writing well and making the writing more suitable for receiving criticism.

  1. Clarity – people need to understand what your idea is to criticize it. And avoid hedges and try to boldly stick your neck out. People often make their ideas fuzzier with a bunch of maybes which makes it less clear and harder to criticize.

  2. Permalinks – if people can’t find your writing, or can’t link to it on their own site, that really discourages responses.

  3. Organizing the writing – use named sections, bullet points, summaries, bold and italics, and links and footnotes to more details. And make different sections more self-contained and independent (like loose coupling in programming. so that e.g. someone can skim ahead, and still understand that section. Lots of writing assumes you read everything and read it in order, and most of the stuff that breaks if you don’t follow that reading pattern is unnecessary.

  4. Easy to read – simple sentence and paragraph structure, less punctuation, simple words, short sentences, short paragraphs. Avoid back-references (including limiting pronoun use. and out-of-order content. The easier to skim or read at high speeds with speed reading software or techniques, the better for all readers. Don’t use a thesaurus. Do keep repeating the same word over and over every time you want to refer to the same concept.

  5. Most blog comments and forums are moderated. I would provide a lot more feedback and criticism outside my own forums if it would actually show up. Lots of sites simply don’t approve critical comments, or don’t approve comments on old posts, or stop getting new content and don’t bother to approve any comments. Lots of sites also disable comments on old posts. Sites which are different need to clearly communicate this. But you can read the comment policy pages on tons of sites and find stuff like this which I ran into a couple days ago:

Among other problems, if you write the phrase “fake news” or “gamergate” your comment is automatically deleted. And GregQ got banned for debating gender bias in the tech industry (no reason for the ban was stated, but that was what he did).

So many sites just silently prevent posting that I often don’t even try.

  1. Be responsive to questions. Critics often need to ask for some clarifications and sources before they can explain their criticism to you. If you don’t respond to the initial phases of discussion before the critic provides significant value, that often prevents getting to the later phases where they could provide more value.

  2. Be clear about when you change your mind/position. State it and say why. And be clear about what you did and didn’t change your mind about. People often partially change their mind in discussions, without giving credit or thanks, and without being clear about what they are and aren’t changing about their position. If you decide you made a mistake, directly acknowledge it instead of trying to divert attention elsewhere.

  3. Explain stuff and talk about arguments and reasoning, rather than asserting stuff or appealing to authority.

  4. Try to write material that is reusable in the future. E.g. make it more canonical, more high quality so that it’s worth remembering and re-using, more focused on key issues instead of the quirks of a particular discussion, etc

  5. Put your ideas in writing. If you have a video or audio recording instead, and you think it’s important and serious and you want criticism, then provide a transcript. Writing has many advantages including being better for critics to quote.

  6. write and think in an objective, neutral way, not a biased-for-your-conclusion way.

  7. say things you would accept as a refutation of your idea, current unsolved problems, sources of potential error, etc

  8. write impersonally about ideas instead of people, especially people you're in a discussion with. talk about "the idea that..." instead of "your idea" or "John's idea". avoid "you".

a good thing to keep in mind for lots of writing is to clearly say:

  1. what problem you’re addressing

  2. for longer pieces, discuss previous attempts to solve the problem and what’s wrong with them

  3. what your idea is and specifically how it solves the problem

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

patio11 Criticizes Cryptocurrency Initial Coin Offerings as Investment Scams

Patrick McKenzie (@patio11) wrote all of the following on Twitter:

There's an interesting thread here analyzing ICOs as if they were startups. I'll give the counterpoint: they're investment scams.

Investment scams are big business! $5 billion+ a year in the US. But they receive substantial adversarial attention from regulators.

Scammer problems: you have to recruit marks, successfully transfer their money to a scam vehicle, exfiltrate, and avoid arrest.

Recruitment in traditional scams happens over phone calls (boiler rooms), letters, and every other channel people talk to each other on.

The fundamental innovation of crytocurrency is that it has distributed, self-organizing recruitment through incentive structure for adoptees

Now how do you get money into the scam vehicle? Material amounts of money start in the traditional financial system. This is tricky for you.

As a scammer, you can't just tell Milli Smith to take out a reverse mortgage and wire $800k to an account in the Caymans. Her bank says No.

So your options are e.g. suborning a listed company and wearing it like a skin suit, then having marks purchase shares of that company.

This is dreadfully inconvenient, because marks might not have brokerage accounts, and scaling the scam gets it shut down quickly.

Enter the cryptocurrency ecosystem, which needs one node with plausible deniability and a bank uplink. Controls of other nodes irrelevant.

The cryptocurrency ecosystem has what strikes participants as a surprising difficulty in maintaining one node with a foot in real finance.

This is not surprising because that node's economic justification for existing looks a whole lot like money laundering at scale.

Now for whatever reason this shell game is really successful, and after value is in cryptocurrency ecosystem, it flows from scam to scam.

Exfiltration! How do you justify to the grownup financial system where your $20 million came from? You can't say "Defrauding Milly."

So instead you say "Speculation.", which is just enough for the see-no-evil gatekeepers.

Now how do you avoid going to jail for it? The plan appears to be "Exploit regulatory ambiguity and move as fast as possible."

With varying level of "Make some sort of plausible excuse that there does exist an actual enterprise and it is not just scams all way down."

Economic substance is not a novel innovation for scams. Sometimes e.g. the boiler rooms did pump stocks for companies which had products.

Small company which makes pool cleaners: a possibly high risk investment. Same company implying 1000X returns: scam scam scammity scam.

Here again we see the fundamental innovation of cryptocurrency, where the central actors can mostly truthfully claim to have never said it.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (4)


I wrote these comments for the Fallible Ideas discussion group:

Plateauing while learning is an important issue. How do people manage that initial burst of progress? Why does it stop? How can they get going again?

This comes up in other contexts too, e.g. professional gamers talk about it. World class players in e.g. Super Smash Bros. Melee talk about how you have to get through several plateaus to get to the top, and have offered thoughts on how to do that. While they’ve apparently successfully done it themselves, their advice to others is usually not very effective for getting others past plateaus.

One good point I’ve heard skilled gamers say is that plateauing is partly just natural due to learning things with more visible results sometimes, and learning more subtle skills other times. So even if you learn at a constant rate, your game results will appear to have some plateauing anyway. Part of the solution is to be patient and don’t get disheartened and keep trying. Persistence is one of the tools for beating plateaus (and persistence is especially effective when part of the plateau is just learning some stuff with less visible benefits – though if you’re stuck on some key point then mere persistence won’t fix that problem).

When gamers talking about “leveling up” their play, or taking their play “to another level” it implicitly refers to plateaus. If skill increases were just a straight 45 degree line then there’d be no levels, it’d all just blend together. But with plateaus, there are distinguishable different levels you can reach.

It can be really hard to tell how much people plateau because they’re satisfied and don’t care about making further progress vs. they got stuck and rationalize it that way. That applies both to gamers and also to philosophy learners . [A poster] in various ways acted like he was done learning instead of trying to get past his plateau – but was that the cause of him being stuck, or was it a reaction to being stuck?

A while after people plateau, they commonly go downhill. They don’t just stay stable, they fall apart. Elements of this have been seen with many posters. (Often it’s ambiguous because people do things like quit philosophy without explaining why. So one can presume they fell apart in some way, some kind of stress got to them, but who knows, maybe they got hit by a car or got recruited by the CIA.)

In general, stagnation is unstable. This is something BoI talks about. It’s rapid progress or else things fall apart. Why? Problems are inevitable. Either you solve them (progress) or things start falling apart (unsolved problems have harmful consequences).

New problems will come up. If your problem solving abilities are failing, you’re screwed. If your problem solving abilities are working, you’ll make progress. You don’t just get to stand still and nothing happens. There are constantly issues coming up threatening to make things worse, and the only solution is problem solving which actually takes you forward.

So anyway people come to philosophy, make progress, get stuck, then fall apart.

A big part of why this happens is they find some stuff intuitively easy, fun, etc, and they get that far, then get stuck at the part where it requires more “work”, organization, studying books, or whatever else they find hard. People have the same issue in school sometimes – they are smart and coast along and find classes easy, then they eventually run into a class where they find the material hard and it can be a rough transition to deal with that or they can just abruptly fail.

Also people get excited and happy and stuff. Kinda like being infatuated with a new person they are dating. People do that with hobbies too. And that usually only happens once per person per hobby. Usually once their initial burst of energy slows down (even if they didn’t actually get stuck and merely were busy for a month) then they don’t know how to get it back and be super interested again.

After people get stuck, for whatever reason, they have a situation with some unsolved problems. What then happens typically is they try to solve those problems. And fail. Repeatedly. They try to get unstuck a bunch and it doesn’t work (or it does work, and then quite possibly no one even notices what happened or regards it as a plateau or being stuck). Usually if people are going to succeed at solving a problem they do it fast. If you can’t solve a problem within a week, will a month or year help? Often not. If you knew how to solve it, you’d solve it now. So if you’re stuck or plateauing it means all your regular methods of solving problems didn’t work. You had enough time to try everything you know how to do and that still didn’t work. Some significant new idea, new creativity, new method, etc, is needed. And people don’t know how to persistently and consistently pursue that in an organized effective way – they can just wait and hope for a Eureka that usually never comes, or go on with their life and hope somehow, someway, something ends up helping with the problem or they find other stuff to do in life instead.

People will try a bunch of times to solve a problem. They aren’t stuck quietly, passively, inactively. They don’t like the problem(s) they’re stuck on. They try to do something about it. This repeated failure takes a toll on their morale. They start questioning their mental capacity, their prospects for a great life, etc. They get demoralized and pessimistic. Some people last much longer than others, but you can see why this would often happen eventually.

And people who are living with this problem they don’t like, and this recurring failure, often turn to evasion and rationalization. They lie to themselves about it. They say it’s a minor problem, or it’s solved. They find some way not to think about it or not to mind it. But this harms their own integrity, it’s a deviation from reason and it opens the door to many more deviations from reason. This often leads to them falling apart in a big way and getting much worse than they were previously.

And people often want to go do something else where their pre-existing methods of thinking/learning/etc work, so they can have success instead of failure. So they avoid the stuff they are stuck on (after some number of prior failures which varies heavily from just a couple to tons). This is a bad idea when they are stuck on something important to their life and end up avoiding the issue by spending their time on less important stuff.

So there’s a common pattern:

  1. Progress. They use their existing methods of making progress and make some progress.

  2. Stuck. They run into some problems which can't be solved with their pre-existing methods of thinking, learning, problem solving, etc.

  3. Staying stuck. They try to get unstuck a bunch and fail over and over.

  4. Dishonesty. They don’t like chronic unsolved problems, being stuck, failing so much, etc. So they find some other way to think about it, other activities to do, etc. And they don’t like the implications (e.g. that they’ve given up on reason and BoI-style progress) so they are dishonest about that too.

  5. Falling apart. The dishonesty affects lots of stuff and they get worse than when they started in various ways.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Learn To Deal With Challenges

Children (and everyone) need problem-solving skill (strength, power, competence, wisdom) not to be (over) protected (problem-avoidance).

This relates to the idea that problems are inevitable, and problems are soluble from The Beginning of Infinity.

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Be Careful With Assumptions About Complex Internal Structures

People claim genes influence personality. The meaning of this isn't explained very clearly. Do Walmarts influence people to drive to one location instead of another? Sort of, but that doesn't mean Walmarts are limiting our free will or controlling us, and we can certainly choose not to drive to Walmart ever again.

But I'm going to focus on something else: Why do they think personality even exists at a hardware level or low level of software? I've never seen any genes-influence-personality advocates answer or even discuss this question.

Humans are complicated. They have a lot of mental stuff. A generic word for mental stuff is "ideas". Personality isn't generic, it's a category of mental stuff (category of ideas).

We create categories for our discussions and thinking which help us make sense of people. Instead of just saying "a person is a bunch of ideas" we come up with some organization and structure to help us make sense of it. We want chunks we can deal with, like personality, rather than a hugely complex chaos that we can't work with.

That's fine. Categorizing a personality idea differently than an idea about how to do arithmetic is a reasonably functional distinction. It offers us some way to mentally organize a person into parts and start dealing with them.

But we should keep in mind it's a category we made up to try to make sense of humans. It's a structure we imposed on people, and just because it's useful doesn't mean it's accurate. There are other possible ways to mentally categorize a human intelligence into different parts that don't rely on the concept of personality. Not all reasonable ways of categorizing complex stuff are the way the complex stuff is actually internally organized. They can't be, since there's a bunch of categorization options and only one actual internal structure.

How are human minds actually structured internally? The claims of some "scientists" notwithstanding, we don't really know a lot about that. Most of what we know is that it has to be a structure which is compatible with stuff humans do, such as use math and language, do science and chess, play football and soccer, enjoy art and music, write poems and prose. That rules out minds being a totally disorganized chaos. And it indicates humans can create new knowledge, which means evolution of ideas is taking place.

The approach people use is like looking at web browser software and assuming its written in object oriented programming with webpages, links, paragraphs, words, letters and buttons as objects. It could be. That's a possible way to organize a browser. But it doesn't have to be. The code for a browser could also be structured with a different hierarchy of objects, or with a different style of programming entirely that doesn't even use objects.

You can't easily tell how complex software is programmed by looking at what it does. You can mentally categorize a browser into parts like the menus, the URL bar, the status bar, and the webpage which has sub-parts like paragraphs, links, buttons, etc. That's fine as a way to think about it. But it doesn't mean that's how the software is organized internally. This applies to any sort of complex stuff with unseen internal structure, whether it's software or not. It's really hard to look at functionality and think you know internal structure because there's many structures which achieve the same or similar functional results.

For another example, suppose you have a machine which does multiplication (I previously discussed this example, and knowledge structure). Do you know what's going on internally? No. There's many different ways multiplication can be done, such as with a lookup table, a loop with repeated addition, recursion with repeated addition, or sending a text message to an employee in India and relaying his answer. It's great that you have a mental model of how to multiply. And your model will be useful for thinking about this machine. But that doesn't mean the machine's internal structure actually has anything to do with your mental model of one way that multiplication can be done.

So to recap, we don't know much of the details of how minds are structured internally. "Personality" is an organizational concept we find reasonably useful for thinking about minds. But that doesn't mean minds are actually organized that way – personality could just be an emergent property, an implication of some sort, or an approximate fudge which is similar to some other thing that actually exists. Or personality could be part of minds, but only at high levels of abstraction, not at the hardware level and the low-abstraction software level where genes could potentially influence or control things. It's unsafe to assume the actual structure of minds matches the mental categories we've created to help us deal with people.

People think it's uncontroversial and basically settled that genes influence personality. But we don't know that, and they might not, and personality might not even be part of the actual structure of human minds at all.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

They Can't Raise IQ Because They Can't Teach

IQ is static because teachers literally can't teach anything. Their inability to raise IQ is because their teaching methods are awful, not because IQ is genetically determined. When students learn stuff, it's primarily because they manage to figure it out themselves.

Broadly, teaching methods are authoritarian and non-Popperian, among other critical flaws.

Concretely, math teachers don't know how to explain division and don't really even know how to teach counting. Lots of kids just figure out counting on their own. Like consider a group of 20 marbles. How do you count them? You need an organized method such as lining them up then counting along the line while keeping your place with your finger, or moving them into a second pile as you count them. Teachers routinely can't and don't even teach that much. You can read textbooks, curriculums, lessons, etc, and it's so bad in every field (not just math).

I already knew teachers sucked and stuff about IQ was wrong. Today I put those together. The failure of teachers to raise IQs is evidence that they are bad teachers. (It's not, as people normally claim, evidence that IQ is super hard to increase. Of course teachers who can't teach basic reading/writing/math also can't increase IQs with their teaching.)

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Brains Are Computers

Adding 5+5 is an example of a computation. Why? By definition. "Computation" is a word which refers to calculating stuff like sums, matrix multiplication, binary logic operations, derivatives, etc.

Are all computations math? Sorta. Consider this computation:

(concatenate "cat" "dog")

Which outputs: "catdog"

The format I used is: (function data-1 data-2). That's the best format programmers have invented so far. There can be any number of pieces of data including zero. Quotes indicate a string. And for data you can also put a function which returns data. That's nesting, e.g:

(concatenate "meow" (concatenate "cat" "dog"))

Which outputs: "meowcatdog"

Is that math? It can be done by math. E.g. you can assign each letter a number and manipulate lists of numbers, which is what a Mac or PC would do to deal with this. If you're interested in this topic, you might like reading Godel, Escher, Bach which discusses numeric representations.

But a human might calculate string concatenation in a different way, e.g. by writing each string on a piece of paper and then computing concatenations by taping pieces of paper together.

Humans have a lot of ways to do sums too. E.g. you can compute 5+5 using groups of marbles. If you want to know more about this, you should read David Deutsch's discussion of roman numerals in The Beginning of Infinity, as well as the rest of his books.

Moving on, computation is sorta like math but not exactly. You can think of computation as math or stuff that could be done with math.

A computer is a physical objection which can do computations.

We can see that human intelligence involves computation because I can ask you "what is 5+5?" and you can tell me without even using a tool like a calculator. You can do it mentally. So either brains are computers or brains contain computers plus something else. There has to be a computer there somewhere because anything that can add 5+5 is a computer.

But we don't really care about an object which can add 5+5 but which can't compute anything else.

We're interested in computers which can do many different computations. Add lots of different numbers, multiply any matrices, find primes, and even do whatever math or math-equivalent it takes to write and send emails!

We want a general purpose computer. And human intelligence has that too. Humans can mentally compute all sorts of stuff like integrals, factoring, finding the area of shapes, or logic operations like AND, NOT, OR, XOR.

When we say "computer" we normally refer to general purpose computers. Specifically, universal classical computers.

A universal computer is a computer than can compute anything that can be computed. "Classical" refers to computers which don't use quantum physics. Quantum physics allows some additional computations if you build a special quantum computer.

A universal computer sounds really amazing and difficult to create. It sounds really special. But there's something really interesting. All general purpose computers are universal. It only takes a tiny bit of basic functionality to reach universality.

Every iPhone, Android phone, Mac, or PC is a universal computer. Even microwaves and dishwashers use universal computers to control them. The computer in a microwave can do any computation that a $100,000 supercomputer can do. (The microwave computer would take longer and you'd have to plug in extra disks periodically for computations that deal with a lot of data.)

All it takes to be a universal computer is being able to compute one single function: NAND. NAND takes two inputs, each of which is a 1 or 0, and it computes one output, a 1 or 0. NAND stands for "not and" and the rule is: return a 1 if not both inputs are 1.

That's it. You can use NAND to do addition, matrix multiplication, and send emails. You just have to build up the complexity step by step.

There are many other ways to achieve universality. For example, a computer which can compute AND and NOT, individually, is also universal. Being able to do NOT and OR also works. (Again these are simple functions which only have 1's and 0's as inputs and outputs.) If you want to see how they work, there are "truth tables" here which show lists of what the outputs are for all possible inputs: Wikipedia Link.

We can see that the computer aspect of humans is universal because humans can mentally compute NAND, AND and NOT. That's more than enough to indicate universal computation.

To make this more concrete, you can ask me what (AND 1 1) is and I can tell you 1. You can ask me (NOT 0) and I can tell you 1. You can ask me (NAND 1 1) and I can tell you 0. I can do that in my head, no problem. You could too (at least if you learned how). You're capable.

So human thinking works by either:

  1. Universal classical computation; or

  2. Universal classical computation as well as something else.

I don't think there's a something else because there's nothing humans do, think, say, etc, which requires something else to explain how it's possible. And because no one has proposed any something else that makes sense. I don't believe in magical souls, and I'm certainly not going to start believing in them in order to say, "Humans have a universal classical computer plus a soul, which lets them do exactly the same things a universal classical computer with no soul can do.". That'd be silly. And I don't think an iPhone has a soul in the silicon.

The brains of dogs, cats, parrots and monkeys are also universal classical computers. Remember, that's a low bar. It's actually really hard to make a computer do much of anything without making it universal. You can read about Universal Cellular Automata and how little it takes to get universality if you're interested. How easy universality is to achieve, and how there's an abrupt jump to it (rather than there being half-universal computers) is also explained in The Beginning of Infinity.

I won't go into arguing that cat brains are universal computers here. What I will say, briefly, is in what way humans are different than cats. It's kinda like how a PC is different than an iPhone. It has a different operating system and different apps. That's the basic difference between a person and a cat: different software. The hardware is different too, but the hardware fundamentally has the same capabilities, just like iPhones and PCs have different hardware with the same fundamental capabilities: they can do exactly the same computations. Humans have intelligence software of some sort – software which does intelligent thinking. Cats don't.

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Praise for Yes or No Philosophy

Feedback on my new philosophy education product, Yes or No Philosophy, is positive so far.

Kate Sams in Fallible Ideas discussion:

“yes-or-no philosophy” is great →

big thanks to Elliot for creating it!

so far i’ve only finished the ~2.5 hour video part, yet have spent over 10 hours thinking and taking notes on the material in the video. there’s a lot of content just in the video itself.

similar to lots of objectivist ideas, yes-or-no philosophy is very applicable to the lives of regular people (i.e. non-professional philosophers) who want to improve at thinking and making choices. so far, it’s just what i hoped it would be.

one thing i’m looking forward to is getting more practice at using the ideas consistently in my daily life. the decision chart idea is terrific. i’ve used it a few times already and it worked great.

i think yes-or-no’s emphasis on clarity and precision (both on the purpose or problem side of things and the candidate ideas side of things) is huge.

it can help you catch when your purpose is flawed, e.g. you are pursuing a bad value.

it can help you catch rationalizations and bias.

it can help you not ignore stray ideas which are hanging around on the periphery of your awareness which you should be considering and which deserve a clear, explicit refutation if you aren’t going to act on them.

it can help you then act with confidence on your judgment. if you are used to acting on fudged approximations, then i think it's easier to just passively drift along. but if you have clear, precise thinking which cuts to the heart of the matter resulting in one clear, nonrefuted idea to act on, then it’s easier to act decisively and confidently on it.

decisively ruling out ideas with clear thinking sets you up to be able to act decisively and direct your life better.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (15)

Is FI Discussion Mean?

People coming to FI need to recognize they are learning about different ideas and dealing with people who don’t share all their assumptions, culture, and expectations. They must therefore be patient and tolerant. They must expect clashes, misunderstandings, conflict, disagreement, and problems. They must have some strength and tolerance to deal with the Other, to challenge themselves, to move past some minor quibbles, to discuss instead of give up when faced with some major conflict, etc.

People who find FI too mean are simply intolerant of people with a different style than them. They are expecting all discussion of bold new ideas to follow their existing ideas about what patterns of discussion are acceptable or unacceptable. But FI proposes that criticism is crucial to learning, and a helpful gift, rather than mean. If people want to deal with something which is grand, special and different, they can’t also expect it to perfectly fit into their existing life with little effort to understand a different world than what they're used to.

People also need to use judgement. FI discussion isn't a guided tour of the key ideas. Not every reply you receive, from every participant, will be great. It's an open place where anyone can join and talk without gatekeepers trying to decide who is worthy. That lets you in the door and it also lets others who aren't all amazing thinkers or even, necessarily, kind people. So what? Judge which responses have value and respond productively to those. Guide your own discussion by having some goals in mind and pursuing them, rather than getting distracted by whatever happens to come up and offended or disappointed that your aimless discussion hasn't achieved a great aim. And if you don't know how to guide your own activities, or what some good goals would be, ask. If you aren't even willing to talk about problems and ask for help, then you should expect to fail.

Making requests is a good strategy. If you want something, ask for it instead of expecting it by default. Do you want replies to you to be written in a particular style you consider "nice", and not to include some types of statements you find "mean"? Tell us what you want instead of expecting us to read your mind. If you can't figure out and write down what you consider nice or mean, you can't very well expect us to accurately guess it. You are used to dealing with people very similar to you in a tiny social circle who have lots of the same poorly-considered assumptions about life that you do. If you want to be exposed to the broader world, you'll have to think about and communicate your ideas more instead of just taking them for granted.

If you think something's mean, instead of getting offended, quote it and say what you think the problem is. You could be right. Perhaps the author could learn from you. Don't assume they are doing it on purpose out of malice. Ignorance and error are common. And misunderstandings are common. Maybe they were trying to say something else that's different than your interpretation. Maybe they'll apologize, admit they were in a bad mood, and try to do better. Maybe they'll point out and challenge some of your philosophical assumptions that you didn't think about. Find out what happens when you discuss a problem instead of thinking your conclusions (e.g. that something is mean and bad) go without saying.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (9)

Book Review: Who Killed Homer?

Who Killed Homer?: The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom

by Victor Davis Hanson, John Heath

this is a good book.

it has some great material about why the Greeks matter and how Western civilization is built on their ideas.

it has a long section about the play Antigone (which is just one detailed example – he says you could do a similar thing with many other works) where it points out how the background assumptions of the play (not the main plot) are full of ideas important to our civilization. it has a bunch of sections with a clear thesis (section heading) statement in italics and then a couple pages explaining the point in detail. it's very good, high quality argument and explanation with good organizational structure.

it has a long section about how the people in the field of Classics have been destroying their own profession that gives tons of quotes that are kinda like reading Real Peer Review on twitter. postmodernist feminist marxists writing academic papers... :( it's great to see them using plenty of highly relevant quotes to make their point. unlike in most books, these authors are good at sharing their knowledge.

the authors aren't great on capitalism. they are no Objectivists. a bit moderate. not 100% super fully pro progress and technology. they concede some stuff to the left that i wouldn't – and then point out how the Greeks anticipated this. but they're decent people. this doesn't ruin the book.

it has good info about how broken our universities are and how the field of classics has been destroyed by people who want to teach fewer classes and get more grants and who write inaccessible impressive PC trendy shit instead of saying why the Greeks matter to people's lives and the world. the field of classics is dying in a major way, with there being fewer teachers, fewer students, etc, and when the book came out (~20 years ago) they say basically it's already too late, the destruction is already too far gone. the only solutions are basically some kinda future rebirth or for some non-academics to take an interest in the classics and do some good work that interests more people in it.

the suggestions for fixing universities are bad. they are authoritarian dictates about How Things Should Be. they are sweeping changes, not "here is the smallest change to fix this, and an easy way to fix that". they are more about restoring how universities worked in the past then moving them into the internet age. lots of the criticisms of problems are good points, but i take issue with the style of the solutions.

this book is important. lots of people know the universities are broken and tons of people are indoctrinated in school and come out of school dumb and ignorant. and that's one of the reasons politics is hard – because you're trying to explain ideas to people who are bad at thinking. this book provides actual details about that for an especially important and old/established/traditional field.

the book offers a middle ground. it's not as broad and abstract as general philosophy principles. it offers concretes. but it's much more deep and important than arguing the latest politics from cable news. it gets at the heart of the problem way more than most discourse.

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More Induction Discussion With Robert Spillane

Robert Spillane thought this was particularly important and requested a direct answer. Here it is:

1. Two simple answers to #1 and #2 will suffice - yes or no.

2. 1+1=2 is a necessary truth; '1 pint of water + 1 pint of alcohol = 2 pints of the mixture' is not. Can you not see the difference between the two?

They have many differences and many similarities.

By "the" difference, I guess you mean: that "1+1=2" is a "necessary truth", while the other statement isn't. I don't agree with that because I don't think anything is a necessary truth.

Regarding induction, I've asked several times about a set of instructions someone could follow to do induction. I've been unable to get answers which address basic issues like telling you which ideas to induce and how much inductive support they have. Here's another failure to address the issue, and my comments. This is extremely typical of inductivists. They don't have answers to these questions and wouldn't be inductivists if they understood the questions.

You asked me for details about Stove's Rationality of Induction. Here is a very brief summary (pp. 3-5, 22) which addresses your concerns:

(1) 'That all the many observed ravens have been black is not a completely conclusive reason to believe that all ravens are black' is true and not contingent, even though it mentions two propositions which are contingent:

(2) 'All the many observed ravens have been black.'


(3) 'All ravens are black.'

But (1) is not contingent since it is enough to entail the truth of (1) that it is logically possible that (2) be true and (3) false, whereas something's being logically possible is not enough to entail the truth of any contingent proposition. Therefore, (1), being true and not contingent, is a necessary truth.

Another way of saying (1) is:

(4) 'The inference from (2) to (3) is fallible' and this is also a necessary truth.

The inference from (2) to (3) is an inductive one. So there is at least one inductive inference of which it is necessarily true that it is fallible.

This doesn't answer my question about how (2) and (3) were selected from the infinity of propositions which do not contradict the observation data under consideration. Why those statements instead of some other statements?

I asked about which statements to induce and for instructions someone could follow to do induction, but this description doesn't provide instructions for how to select or create statements (2) and (3) in the first place.

What are the rules of induction? Could one write any statements at all in place of (2) and (3), or what? (I'm familiar with many proposed rules of induction, but none of them work. You apparently think you know of some rules of induction that do work, so I'm asking what they are.)

(5) 'That all the many observed ravens have been black is a reason to believe that all ravens are black' is like (1) in that it is true but not contingent. Like (1) it mentions two contingent propositions, but it does not assert either of them. Its truth, therefore, does not depend on what their truth values happen to be.

Another way of saying (5) is:

(6) 'The inference from (2) to (3) is rational' and this, also, is a necessary truth (pp. 3-5).

Since induction is necessarily fallible, the validity of induction is a subject easily exhausted. 'And as to the truth of the conclusion of an induction, or whether the conclusion of an induction with true premises is true, or whether more of such conclusions are true than are false: well, these of course are all contingent matters, with which philosophers have nothing to do. The success rate among inductions is as little the concern of philosophers as the blackness rate among ravens. Hume, in particular, was as little concerned as the next philosopher with what the long-run success rate of induction might be, and of course he said nothing about this subject; and a fortiori, he said nothing discouraging about it. Yet there are philosophers who do not shrink from the absurdity of implying that in order to 'answer' what Hume said about induction, we would need to establish something encouraging about the long-run success rate of induction. Some people just like to make rope neckties for themselves. But, in general, it is scarcely possible to exaggerate the harm that has been done to the philosophy of induction by philosophers who drift from the success of induction to the rationality of induction, and back again, and all over the place. Squalor rules, OK?' (p. 22).

Now, you will probably reply that this is irrelevant to your concerns since it assumes induction and engages in arguments for and against its rationality. You, on the other hand, insist that induction is a myth. If by 'myth' you mean 'the presentation of facts belonging to one category in the idioms appropriate to another' (Ryle), this means that you accept that there are inductive arguments - from the observed to the unobserved - but believe they are inevitably invalid because the conclusions are not contained within the premises.

But this is not your position. You claim that by 'induction is a myth' you mean that there are NO inductive arguments - that there cannot be (and never have been) arguments from the observed to the unobserved. This is a much stronger claim than 'inductive arguments are invalid'. It is also a claim that is so obviously false that further argument should be unnecessary.

My position that induction is a "myth", in the sense I've described (no one has ever induced anything), is from Popper. Do you know that's Popper's published view and know his reasoning? You are calling Popper's position "so obviously false that further argument should be unnecessary".

I (following Popper again – see e.g. his discussion of manifest truth) don't think that's a reasonable thing to say about anyone's position. The truth isn't obvious, and argument is necessary for dealing with disagreements.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

David Deutsch Interview Undermines His Philosophy

David Deutsch (DD) did an interview on The Christian Transhumanist Podcast.

What is DD’s audience and what is he trying to say to them?

Typical people will understand very little of what DD says. Way too advanced and based on already understanding FoR/BoI. But for me the interview is pretty basic. It’s not really designed to add on to DD’s books with new info nor to help people learn the books. So who is it for?

I think it’s for impressing people who don’t understand it, not for rational learning. I think that’s a typical kind of guest on interviews on this type. Most of what DD is saying happens to be true, but that won’t stop people from treating it just like the next impressive-sounding set of comments (which are false and people find entertaining).

Is DD super popular? No. Why not? Well, are DD’s interview comments very good for impressing people who don’t understand? They’re OK at that but not great. DD doesn’t focus on offering memorable sound bytes people can quote to impress their friends. Nor does he focus on making what he says repeatable for lots of audience members without much fear of contradiction. DD says some stuff that your friends would argue with instead of be impressed by. DD also has a handicap compared to other interview guests, like he discusses in BoI about static memes: making his comments true gets in the way of socially optimizing them. E.g. if you can say false things, it’s easier to say stuff that sounds deep/impressive and also which fits with common sense well enough for lots of listeners to think they kinda partly understand it immediately – DD by contrast said lots of true stuff that will be more clear to listeners that they don’t understand it.

Undermining BoI’s Meaning

The interview as a whole has a tone like: DD is smart and has some sophisticated ideas which could be valuable to some intellectuals.

The interview does not have the following messages coming across:

  • The world is burning and the fate of the world depends on DD’s ideas getting attention. They aren’t getting this attention and this is an urgent the-sky-is-falling problem.
  • DD’s philosophy would make a massive, practical difference in the lives of lay people. People desperately need to learn it, not leave it to the experts.
  • DD is being largely ignored by “intellectuals”, “academics”, and “experts” and there’s a huge problem to solve there. The audience is not safe in thinking smart people are already doing whatever ought to be done about DD’s smart ideas.
  • DD’s philosophy implies people are treating their children immorally and destroying their children’s minds, that most scientists are wasting their careers, that the standard approach to global warming will kill us all, and a lot more.

DD is undermining the implications of his own philosophy by acting as if they don’t exist. A reasonable person hearing the interview would think I’m being ridiculous when I make these claims. Why? Because if that’s what DD’s message was, why didn’t he say it? He chose to talk about other things that matter way less. And he didn’t even protest the lack of attention he’s getting. As a contrasting example, Aubrey de Grey does protest the lack of funding he gets for SENS and does make public claims that he needs lots of money ASAP and it’s a very important life-or-death issue.

Putting On An Act

What’s the structure of the interview? A guy who doesn’t understand much about DD’s work asks DD questions which aren’t chosen very well but which are intended to help bridge the gap between DD and the audience. The host tries to guide DD to say things the audience will care about. DD could do that better without the host existing. DD knows better than the host what to bring up.

The interview also has a dialog/discussion format, but it’s fake because DD is just saying his own stuff and the host isn’t meaningfully contributing ideas.

What determines how the host treats DD? The social expectations of the host role and his deference to DD as someone much smarter than himself. (Whether the host is actually impressed by DD or not, he has to act the part, or else why did he even bring DD on the show?)

It’s somewhat similar to the situation DD would be in teaching a university class. The social situation prevents him from being challenged and designs the interactions so he’s deferred to.

And what does DD do? Give the other people roughly what they expect. DD doesn’t rock the boat. He doesn’t have real power. He’s just playing the role of the important person who gets to speak important truths and be listened to, but then actually he's being careful to say innocuous things. So DD is helping with a cultural ritual which pretends that some smart people get the opportunity to say important things, and DD participates in that but pulls his punches. So people can listen to dozens of such interviews and think they are open-minded, truth is being vigorously pursued, etc, and actually, all the while, every interview guest is dishonest (either like DD they try to avoid rocking the boat, or more commonly they’re actually faking being smart and knowledgeable at all).

It’s kinda like our society chooses one smart person per day and says “ok, today you can speak truth to power, we’re listening with open minds and trying to be objective and rational” and then, every day, each smart person says “our society is wonderful” even though they don’t believe it. and so plenty of people eventually hear hundreds or even thousands of times that everything is fine and wonderful and there’s nothing to worry about or fix. and DD participated in that disgraceful ritual and helped lie to the public and keep them complacent.

DD believes, correctly or not, that if he didn’t play along then he wouldn’t be invited back. And he tells himself he’s at least sharing some good ideas and also building up the popularity, reputation and status to enable him to share even more ideas in the future. And he doesn’t reread The Fountainhead and think about Gail Wynand or other ideas from Ayn Rand like this (The Virtue of Selfishness, ch. 7):

The excuse, given in all such cases, is that the “compromise” is only temporary and that one will reclaim one’s integrity at some indeterminate future date. But one cannot correct a husband’s or wife’s irrationality by giving in to it and encouraging it to grow. One cannot achieve the victory of one’s ideas by helping to propagate their opposite. One cannot offer a literary masterpiece, “when one has become rich and famous,” to a following one has acquired by writing trash. If one found it difficult to maintain one’s loyalty to one’s own convictions at the start, a succession of betrayals—which helped to augment the power of the evil one lacked the courage to fight—will not make it easier at a later date, but will make it virtually impossible.

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