What People Need Excuses For

What issues people feel they need an excuse for, instead of just openly taking a position, is important. It says a lot about what they consider fully legitimate and what they consider more questionable.

For example, no one needs any kind of excuse to be pro-freedom, pro-science, or pro-education. People take those positions proudly.

But people do need excuses to mistreat people they label "mentally ill". They don't just say, "I don't like him, so let's use force against him!" Psychiatry makes up a bunch of excuses about medical science to help legitimize their otherwise-illegitimate actions.

Global warming is also an excuse. The greens don't just proudly say that factories and electricity are bad. They say we're forced to cut back on industrial civilization or else the world will be destroyed. They feel they need a really strong, compelling excuse for opposing material wealth and technology.

The political left doesn't want to admit they are anti-liberal. They feel they need excuses for being anti-liberal. Their favorite excuse is to lie and say they are "liberal" and "progressive". And many people claim capitalism is pretty good (they find it hard to proudly and fully oppose capitalism), but they use excuses about "excesses" and "public goods" to legitimize a mixed economy.

People often feel the need to have an excuse for shutting down discussion and being closed-minded. They don't just say, "I am opposed to critical discussion with people who have different views than I do." Instead they make excuses about how they'd love to discuss but they're too busy, or the other person is ruining the discussion by being too unreasonable.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Aristotle (and Peikoff and Popper)

I just listened to Peikoff's lectures on Aristotle. I also reread Popper's WoP introduction about Aristotle. some thoughts:


btw notice what's missing from the lecture descriptions: Parmenides and Xenophanes.

this is mostly Peikoff summary until i indicate otherwise later.

Aristotle is a mixed thinker. some great stuff and some bad stuff.

Part of the mix is because it's ancient philosophy. They didn't have modern science and some other advantages back then. It's early thinking. So Aristotle is kinda confused about God and his four causes. It was less clear back then what is magical thinking and what's rational-scientific thinking.

Aristotle is bad on moderation. He thought (not his original idea) that the truth is often found between two extremes.

Aristotle invented syllogism and formal logic. this is a great achievement. very worthwhile. it has a bad side to it which is causing problems today, but i don't blame Aristotle for that. it was a good contribution, a good idea, and it's not his fault that people still haven't fixed some of its flaws. actually it's really impressive he had some great ideas and the flaws are so subtle they are still fooling people today. i'll talk about the bad side later.

it's called formal logic because you can evaluate it based on the form. like:

All M are P.
S is an M.
Therefore, S is P.

this argument works even if you don't know what M, P and S are. (they stand for middle, predicate and subject.) (the classical example is M=man/men, P=mortal, S=Socrates.) Aristotle figured out the types of syllogism (there's 256. wikipedia says only 24 of them are valid though.)

Aristotle was apparently good on some biology and other science stuff but i don't really know anything about that.

Aristotle started out as a student of Plato but ending up rejecting many of Plato's ideas.

Aristotle didn't say a ton about politics. What he said is mixed. Better than Plato.

Aristotle – like the Greeks in general (as opposed to e.g. pre-modern Christians) – cared about human happiness and life on Earth. and he thought morality was related to human happiness, success, effectiveness, etc. (as opposed to duty moralities from e.g. early Christians and Kant which say morality means doing your duty and this is separate from what makes you happy or makes your life good.)

Aristotle advocated looking at the world, empirical science. he invented induction.

Aristotle was confused about infinity. (Peikoff and some other Objectivists today like Harry Binswanger roughly agree with Aristotle's infinity mistakes.)

Aristotle was generally pro-human and pro-reason. in a later lecture Peikoff says the dark ages were fixed because European Christendom got some copies of Aristotle's writing from the Muslims and Jews (who were trying to reconcile him with their religions) and then Thomas Aquinas attempted to reconcile Aristotle with Christianity and this made it allowable for Christians to read and think about Aristotle which is what got progress going again.

now Popper's perspective, which Peikoff basically agrees with most of the facts about, but evaluates differently.

Popper agrees Aristotle did some great stuff and got a few things wrong. like Peikoff and a ton of other people. But there's a major thing Popper doesn't like. (BTW William Godwin mentioned disliking Aristotle and Plato but didn't say why.)

Aristotle wanted to say I HAVE KNOWLEDGE. this is good as a rejection of skepticism, but bad as a rejection of fallibility. Aristotle and his followers, including Peikoff, equivocate on this distinction.

Part of the purpose of formal logic is an attempt to achieve CERTAINTY – aka infallibility. that's bad and is a problem today.

Objectivism says it uses the word "certain" to refer to fallible knowledge (which they call non-omniscient knowledge. Objectivism says omniscience is impossible and isn't the proper standard of something qualify as knowledge). and Ayn Rand personally may have been OK about this (despite the bad terminology decision). but more or less all other (non-Popperian) Objectivists equivocate about it.

this confusion traces back to Aristotle who knew induction was invalid and deduction couldn't cover most of his claims. (Hume was unoriginal in saying induction doesn't work, not only because of Aristotle but also various others. i don't know why Hume gets so much credit about this from Popper and others. Popper wrote that Aristotle not only invented induction but knew it didn't work.)

and it's not just induction that has these problems and equivocations, it's attempts at proof in general ("prove" is another word, like "certain", which Objectivists use to equivocate about fallibility/infallibility). how do you justify your proof? you use an argument. but how do you justify that argument? another argument. but then you have an infinite regress.

Aristotle knew about this infinite regress problem and invented a bad solution which is still in popular use today including by Objectivism. his solution is self-evident, unquestionable foundations.

Aristotle also has a reaffirmation by denial argument, which Peikoff loves, which has a similar purpose. which, like the self-evident foundations, is sophistry with logical holes in it.

Popper says Aristotle was the first dogmatist in epistemology. (Plato was dogmatic about politics but not epistemology). And Aristotle rejected the prior tradition of differentiating episteme (divine, perfect knowledge) and doxa (opinion which is similar to the truth).

the episteme/doxa categorization was kinda confused. but it had some merit in it. you can interpret it something like this: we don't know the INFALLIBLE PERFECT TRUTH, like the Gods would know, episteme. but we do have fallible human conjectural knowledge which is similar to the truth (doxa).

Aristotle got rid of the two categories, said he had episteme, and equivocated about whether he was a fallibilist or not.

here are two important aspects of the equivocation and confusion.

  1. Aristotle claimed his formal logic could PROVE stuff. (that is itself problematic.) but he knew induction wasn't on the same level of certainty as deduction. so he came up with some hedges, excuses and equivocations to pretend induction worked and could reach his scientific conclusions. Popper thinks there was an element of dishonesty here where Aristotle knew better but was strongly motivated to reach certain conclusions so came up with some bullshit to defend what he wanted to claim. (Popper further thinks Aristotle falsely attributed induction to Socrates because he had a guilty conscience about it and didn't really want the burden of inventing something that doesn't actually work. and also because if Socrates -- the ultimate doubter and questioner -- could accept inductive knowledge then it must be really good and meet a high quality standard!)

  2. I talk about equivocating about fallible vs. infallible because I conceive of it as one or the other, with two options, rather than a continuum. But Peikoff and others usually look at a different way. instead of asking "fallible or infallible?" they ask something like "what quality of knowledge is it? how good is it? how justified? how proven? how certain?" they see a continuum and treat the issue as a matter of degree. this is perfect for equivocating! it's not INFALLIBLE, it's just 90% infallible. then when i talk about fallible knowledge, they think i'm talking about a point on the continuum and hear like 0% infallible (or maybe 20%) and think it's utter crap and i have low standards. so they accuse me and Popper of being skeptics.

the concept of a continuum for knowledge quality – something like a real number line on which ideas are scored with amount of proof, amount of supporting evidence/arguments, amount of justification, etc, and perhaps subtracting points for criticism – is a very bad idea. and look at it that way, rather than "fallible or not?" and "there is a known refutation of this or there isn't?" and other boolean questions is really bad and damaging.

Peikoff refers to the continuum with his position that ideas can be arbitrary (no evidence for it. reject it!), plausible (some evidence, worth some consideration), probable (a fair amount of evidence, pretty good idea), or certain (tons of evidence, reasonable people should accept it, there's no real choice or discretion left). he uses these 4 terms to refer to points on the continuum. and he is clear that it's a continuum, not just a set of 4 options.

But there is no something more beyond fallible knowledge, before infallible knowledge. And the ongoing quest for something fundamentally better than unjustified fallible knowledge has been a massive dead end. All we can do is evolve our ideas with criticism – which is in fact good enough for science, economics and every other aspect of life on Earth.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comment (1)


I wrote:

The thing to do [about AI] is figure out what programming constructs are necessary to implement guesses and criticism.

Zyn Evam replied (his comments are green):

Cool. Any leads? Can you tell more? That's is what I have problems with. I cannot think of anything else than evolution to implement guesses and criticism.

the right answer would have to involve evolution, b/c evolution is how knowledge is created. i wonder why you were looking for something else.

one of the hard problems is:

suppose you:

  1. represent ideas in code, in a general way
  2. represent criticism in code (this is actually implied by (1) since criticisms are ideas)
  3. have code which correctly detects which ideas contradict each other and which don't
  4. have code to brainstorm new ideas and variants of existing ideas

that's all hard. but you still have the following problem:

two ideas contradict. which one is wrong? (or both could be wrong.)

this is a problem which could use better philosophy writing about it, btw. i'd expect that philosophy work to happen before AI gets anywhere. it's related to what's sometimes called the duhem-quine problem, which Popper wrote about too.

one of my own ideas about epistemology is to look at symmetries. two ideas contradicting is symmetric.

what do you mean by symmetries? how two ideas contradicting symmetric? could you give an example?

"X contradicts Y" means that "Y contradicts X". When two ideas contradict, you know at least one of them is mistake, but not which one. (Actually it's harder than that because you could be mistaken that they contradict.)

Criticism fundamentally involves contradiction. Sometimes a criticism is right, and sometimes the idea being criticized is right, and how do you decide which from the mere fact that they contradict each other?

With no additional information beyond "X and Y contradict", you have no way to take sides. And labelling Y a criticism of X doesn't mean you should side with it. X and Y have symmetric (equal) status. In order to decide whether to judge X or Y positively you need some kind of method of breaking the symmetry, some way to differentiate them and take sides.

Arguments are often symmetric too. E.g., "X is right because I said so" can be used equally well to argue for Y. And "X is imperfect" can be used equally well to argue against Y.

How to break this kind of symmetry is a major epistemology problem which is normally discussed in other terms like: When evidence contradicts a hypothesis, it's possible to claim the evidence is mistaken rather than the hypothesis. (And sometimes it is!) How do you decide?

So when two ideas contradict we know one of them at least is mistaken, but not which one. When we have evidence that seems to contradict a hypothesis we can never be sure that it indeed contradicts it. From the mere fact of contradiction, without additional information, we cannot decide which one is false. We need additional information.

Hypotheses are built on other hypotheses. We need to break the symmetry by looking at the hypotheses on which the contradicting ideas depend. And the question is: how would you do that? Is that right?

Mostly right. You can also look at the attributes of the contradicting ideas themselves, gather new observational data, or consider whatever else may be relevant.

And there are two separate questions:

  1. How do you evaluate criticisms at all?

  2. How do you evaluate criticisms formally, in code, for AIs?

I believe I know a lot amount about (1), and have something like a usable answer. I believe I know only a little about (2) and have nothing like a usable answer to it. I believe further progress on (1) -- refining, organizing, and clarifying the answer -- will help with solving (2).

Below I discuss some pieces of the answer to (1), which is quite complex in full. And there's even more complexity when you consider it as just one piece fitting into an evolutionary epistemology. I also discuss typical wrong answers to (1). Part of the difficult is that what most people believe they know about (1) is false, and this gets in the way of understanding a better answer.

My answer is in the Popperian tradition. Some bits and pieces of Popper's thinking have fairly widespread influence. But his main ideas are largely misunderstood and consequently rejected.

Part of Popper's answer to (1) is to form critical preferences -- decide which ideas better survive criticism (especially evidentiary criticism from challenging test experiments).

But I reject scoring ideas in general epistemology. That's a pre-Popper holdover which Popper didn't change.

Note: Ideas can be scored when you have an explanation of why a particular scoring system will help you solve a particular problem. E.g. CPU benchmark scores. Scoring works when limited to a context or domain, and when the scores themselves are treated more like a piece of evidence to consider in your explanations and arguments, rather than a final conclusion. This kind of scoring is actually comparable to measuring the length of an object -- you define a measure and you decide how to evaluate the resulting length score. This is different than an epistemology score, universal idea goodness score, or truth score.

I further reject -- with Popper -- attempts to give ideas a probability-of-truth score or similar.

Scores -- like observations -- can be referenced in arguments, but can't directly make our decisions for us. We always must come up with an explanation of how to solve our problem(s) and expose it to criticism and act accordingly. Scores are not explanations.

This all makes the AI project harder than it appears to e.g. Bayesians. Scores would be easier to translate to code than explanations. E.g. you can store a score as a floating point number, but how do you store an explanation in a computer? And you can trivially compare two scores with a numerical comparison, but how do you have a computer compare two explanations?

Well, you don't directly compare explanations. You criticize explanations and give them a boolean score of refuted or non-refuted. You accept and act on a single non-refuted explanation for a particular problem or context. You must (contextually) refute all the other explanations, rather have one explanation win a comparison against the others.

This procedure doesn't need scores or Popper's somewhat vague and score-like critical preferences.

This view highlights the importance of correctly judging whether an idea refutes another idea or not. That's less crucial in scoring systems where criticism adds or subtract points. If you evaluate one issue incorrectly and give an idea -5 points instead of +5 points, it could still end up winning by 100 points so your mistake didn't really matter. That's actually bad -- it essentially means that issue had no bearing on your conclusion. This allows for glossing over or ignoring criticisms.

A correct criticism says why an idea fails to solve the problem(s) of interest. Why it does not work in context. So a correct criticism entirely refutes an idea! And if a criticism doesn't do that, then it's harmless. Translating this to points, a criticism should either subtract all the points or none, and thus using a scoring system correctly you end up back at the all-or-nothing boolean evaluation I advocate.

This effectively-boolean issue comes up with supporting evidence as well. Suppose some number of points is awarded for fitting with each piece of evidence. The points can even vary based on some judgement of how importance each piece of evidence is. The importance judgement can be arbitrary, it doesn't even matter to my point. And consider evidence fitting with or supporting a theory to refer to non-contradiction since the only known alternatives basically consist of biased human intuition (aka using unstated, ambiguous ideas without figuring out what they are very clearly).

So you have a million pieces of evidence, each worth some points. You may, with me, wish to score an idea at 0 points if it contradicts a single piece of evidence. That implies only two scores are possible: 0 or the sum total of the point value of every piece of evidence.

But let's look at two ways people try to avoid that.

First, they simply don't add (or subtract) points for contradiction. The result is simple: some ideas get the maximum score, and the rest get a lower score. Only the maximum score ideas are of interest, and the rest can be lumped together as the bad (refuted) category. Since they won't be used at all anyway, it doesn't matter which of them outscore the others.

Second, they score ideas using different sets of evidence. Then two ideas can score maximum points, but one is scored using a larger set of evidence and gets a higher score. This is a really fucked up approach! Why should one rival theory be excluded from being considered against some of the evidence? (The answer is because people selectively evaluate each idea against a small set of evidence deemed relevant. How are the selections made? Biased intuition.)

There's an important fact here which Popper knew and many people today don't grasp. There are infinitely many theories which fit (don't contradict) any finite set of evidence. And these infinitely many theories include ones which offer up every possible conclusion. So there are always max-scoring theories, of some sort, for every position. Which makes this kind of scoring end up equivalent to the boolean evaluations I advocated in the first place. Max-score or not-max-score is boolean.

Most of these infinitely many theories are stupid which is why people try to ignore them. E.g. some of the form, "The following set of evidence is all correct, and also let's conclude X." X here is a completely unargued non sequitur conclusion. But this format of theory trivially allows a max-score theory for every conclusion.

The real solution to this problem is that, as Deutsch clearly explained in FoR (with the grass cure for the cold example), most bad ideas are rejected without experimental testing. Most ideas are refuted on grounds like:

  1. bad explanation

I was going to make a longer list, but everything else on my list can be considered a type of bad explanation. The categorizations aren't fundamental anyway, it's just organizing ideas for human convenience. A non sequitur is a type of bad explanation (non explanation). And a self-contradictory idea is a type of bad explanation too. And having a bad explanation (including none) of how it solves the problem it's supposed to solve is another important case. That gets into something else important which is understood by Popper and partly by Rand, but isn't well known:

Ideas are contextual. And the context is, specifically, that they address problems. Whether a criticism refutes an idea has to be evaluated in a particular context. The same idea (as stated in English) can solve one problem and fail to solve another problem. One way to approach this is to bundle ideas with their context and consider that whole thing the idea.

Getting back to the previous point, it's only ideas which survive our initial criticism (including doesn't blatantly contradict evidence we know offhand) that we take more interest in them and start carefully comparing them against the evidence and doing experimental tests. Testing helps settle a small number of important cases, but isn't a primary method. (Popper only partly understood this, and Deutsch got it right.)

The whole quest -- to judge ideas by how well (degree, score) they fit evidence -- is a mistake. That's a dead end and distraction. Scores are a bad idea, and evidence isn't the the place to focus. The really important thing is evaluating criticism in general, most of which broadly related to: what makes explanations bad?

BTW, what is an explanation? Loosely it's the kind of statement which answers why or how. The word "because" is the most common signal of explanations in English.

Solving problems requires some understanding of 1) how to solve the problem and 2) why that solution will work (so you can judge if the solution is correct). So explanation is required at a basic level.

So, backing up, how do you address all those stupid evidence-fitting rival ideas? You criticize them (by the category, not individually) for being bad explanations. In order to fit the evidence and have dumb conclusion, they have to have a dumb part you can criticize (unless the rival idea actually isn't so dumb as you thought, a case you have to be vigilant for). It's just not an evidence-based criticism (and nor should the criticism by done with unstated, based commonsense intuitions combined with frustration at the perversity of the person bringing an arbitrary, dumb idea into the discussion). And how do you address the non-evidence-fitting rival ideas? By rejecting them for contradicting the evidence (with no scoring).

Broadly it's important to take seriously that every flaw with an idea (such as contradicting evidence, having a self-contradiction, having a non sequitur, or having no explanation of how or why it solves the problem it claims to solve) either 1) ruins it for the problem context or 2) doesn't ruin it. So every criticism is either decisive or (contextually) a non-criticism. So evaluations of ideas have to be boolean.

There is no such thing as weak criticism. Either the criticism implies the idea doesn't solve the problem (strong criticism), or it doesn't (no criticism). Anything else is, at best, more like margin notes which may be something like useful clues to think about further and may lead to a criticism in the future.

The original question of interest was how to take sides between two contradicting ideas, such as an idea and a criticism of it. The answer requires a lot of context (only part of which I've covered above), but then it's short: reject the bad explanations! (Another important issue I haven't discussed is creating variants of current ideas. A typical reaction to a criticism is to quickly and cheaply make a new idea which is a little different in such a way that the criticism no longer applies to it. If you can do this without ruining the original idea, great. But sometimes attempts to do this run into problems like all the variants with the desired-traits-to-address-the-criticism ruin the explanation in the original idea.)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Valuing Criticism

I wrote to the Fallible Ideas discussion group:

this reminds me of a question: did you find many mistakes in Mises and others when reading them?

Zyn Evam replied (all green quotes):

not many :/

better discuss more!!!!!

and study critical thinking (a branch of philosophy) more!!

how should I do that? what is the best way?

write short posts to FI. daily.

there is no study guide or prepackaged life plan for this. no "learn this then this then this then this and then you're awesome" and you just follow the instructions. you have to lead yourself.

i can give examples of the kinds of things that are good to do. but don't just do my specific examples as if they were a curriculum.

you could talk about what you know and don't know already, and what problems you see with that and what you think is good about it, and ask what problems others see. you could talk about what if anything you think you might need to learn and why.

you could talk about what you think your problems in your life are and your current plans for improving and ask for any better ideas.

One problem I have is not writing much to FI, or writing sporadically, and then stopping. I believe I understand the value of others supplying criticism for my ideas, but I haven't integrated it much with my life. That is not enough. It is not like I feel urged to share my ideas so that others can find faults in them. I think that should be a thing to aim for. I should be excited about others pointing out I am wrong.

It helps to conceptualize "find faults" as "find opportunities for improvement".

It helps to value something highly. Some people value truth, but other values work too. Some people really want to win at video game or sports competitions and they form a good attitude to criticism to help them achieve that goal.

Valuing something highly handles layers of indirection better. If you care a ton about about D, that helps you care about A to help with B to help with C to help with D.

For example, consider a typical person who cares a little about their car and has no interest in paint. Then he won't want to learn about car detailing paints and brushes. He'll only do that if he feels pressured to by e.g. a highly visible scratch. But people who care a ton about their car often form some interest in car-related paint so they can improve their car. And the person who cares even more may learn about mixing custom paint or even manufacturing a new type of paint with different chemistry.

It helps to be interested in stuff in multiple ways. The guy who learns about paint chemistry and manufacturing generally either

1) already had some separate interest in science and business


2) he tried looking into them for his car. but once he got started on them, he found he liked them for some reasons independent of his car. so even if he stopped driving and sold his car, he still might continue with them.

It helps to slow down and pay more attention to your life. Try to be consciously aware of what you're doing and intentionally choose it according to some reasoning, rather than get "sucked in" to activities. If you can do that in general with your current activities, it will put you in a better position to make reasoned changes.

Don't try to change everything at once. If you can be more self-aware of your current activities, without changing them, that's a good step. Then you'll be in a better position to evaluate them and decide what, if anything, you actually want to change.

It helps to think about philosophical problems and connections in a regular basis, during your life. Like considering how philosophical issues are relevant to what you're doing and philosophical answers could help with it. You can do this intentionally if it doesn't come naturally to you. E.g. you can take regular 5 minute breaks to do it.

E.g. you could notice you're trying to do something difficult and you want it to work instead of not work, but you have a significant concern that it may not work. Then philosophy about errors is especially relevant. Is there a way to proceed so that error is impossible? Knowing the answer to that matters. If the answer is yes, it'd be good to find out the method. If the answer is no, then is there anything to be done about error besides fatalistically put up with it? etc

Or you could decide you need to learn a new skill for your project. Then philosophy about learning is relevant. Are there better and worse ways to learn? What causes some attempts to learn things to fail? How does one learn faster or better? That's all useful.

Are these kinds of things too abstract for you? You can concretize. The book Understanding Objectivism helps. You can find relevant sections if you search it for terms like "concretize", "concretizing" and "chewing".

Peikoff talked somewhere about his experiences learning from Ayn Rand. She'd tell him an idea, and then he'd go out in the world and notice it in a bunch of places and see it for himself and connect it to a bunch of concretes.

I thought my problem was finding the time. But it has more to do with preferences.

You have something like a prioritized list of stuff you want to do. You look at it and think the stuff above philosophy will take up all your time. You think if you could finish the short term stuff near the top of the list, then you'd have enough time for philosophy.

But you'll always add new things to the list. There's plenty of stuff you could do. So what matters most is how highly prioritized philosophy is. Raising philosophy's prioritization will make a bigger difference than freeing up some time by clearing some things off the list.

Specifically, if you prioritize philosophy above most incoming things being added to your list, then you'll do it often. As a loose approximation, you can think of the incoming new stuff to do as being on a bell curve with a mean of 100 priority and a standard deviation of 15. Then if you prioritize philosophy at 90, it doesn't have much chance. But if you prioritize philosophy at 130, then around 98% of the new additions to your list will be inserted below philosophy.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (3)

Peikoff Getting Parmenides Wrong

Understanding Objectivism by Leonard Peikoff:

What is the name for the type of person in philosophy who clings to concepts and says, in effect, “Facts may contradict my concepts, but if so, it’s tough on the facts”? A “rationalist.” Rationalism has dominated philosophy (at least the better philosophy) through the ages. Starting way back with Parmenides, who gave an argument as to why change is impossible, and then saw things change in front of his eyes, and said, “They’re not really changing, because that simply does not agree with my unanswerable argument.”

I generally agree with Peikoff's point. I'm going to criticize only the comment on Parmenides.

For context, Peikoff is no casual commenter on the history of philosophy. He's a teacher who's lectured on it. And he considers the lectures good enough to sell:


A reader would reasonably expect Peikoff to know what he's talking about regarding Parmenides, and not to have made this statement carelessly. I think Peikoff's own position would be, "I'm familiar with Parmenides and I'm right" rather than, "You're being too picky and can't expect me to know much about Parmenides".

Now, from The World of Parmenides by Karl Popper:

Parmenides was a philosopher of nature (in the sense of Newton’s philosophia naturalis). A whole series of highly important astronomical discoveries is credited to him: that the Morning Star and the Evening Star are one and the same; that the Earth has the shape of a sphere (rather than of a drum of a column, as Anaximander thought). About equally important is his discovery that the phases of the Moon are due to the changing way in which the illuminated half-sphere of the Moon is seen from the Earth.[5]”

So Parmenides was a scientist who made empirical discoveries. He wasn't a rationalist who refused to look at the world.

And Parmenides' main work was about the conflict he found between appearance and reality. As a scientist, Parmenides discovered some ways that appearance and reality don't match. E.g. the Earth looks flat but is spherical. This conflict stood out to Parmenides and interested him, so he wrestled with it, tried to make sense of it, and wrote about it.

Popper proposes Parmenides first made an empirical discovery that the moon doesn't change. Then second, in trying to grapple with it, he came up with the idea that actually nothing changes. [1]

Discovering the difference between appearance and reality is a big deal. It's a hard problem. Early work on the matter wasn't up to modern standards and people got confused, but that doesn't make Parmenides anything resembling a modern rationalist.

So what Peikoff said about Parmenides is completely wrong.

[1] This idea is a lot better than it sounds, by the way. It has some similarities to e.g. modern spacetime theory. Time is tricky and commonsense ideas about time are wrong (see David Deutsch's books for details).

And there was a successor theory to Parmenides', which was that reality consists of atoms and the void (rather than just atoms with no empty space), and the atoms don't change but do move. So Parmenides' idea was fruitful, it helped discuss an important problem and lead to some better ideas.

Parmenides' idea may also have been related to Xenophanes' religious ideas which also have some value (rejecting anthropomorphic gods, monotheism, differentiating perfect/divine truth from fallible human knowledge similarly to Parmenides). Parmenides was a pupil of Xenophanes.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Churchill and Roosevelt Betrayed Hundreds of Thousands to Death

The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn has a lot of stories about how evil the Soviet gulag system was. Below I quote a brief section about Western complicity in Soviet crimes, and about Churchill and Roosevelt in particular.

Context for reading the quote: The "Vlasov army" refers to Russian units in the German army in WWII. They turned against the Germans and saved Prague before the Soviet army arrived. (Soviet histories lie and take credit.) The "act of a loyal ally" refers to the Vlasov army betraying the Germans. And the Soviets routinely punished anyone who'd been taken prisoner by the Germans with 15 years in the gulag (which is preceded by torture). Many other people were executed. One reason is they didn't want people who knew about life in Europe to spread information about it in Russia. The Soviets were so unfairly cruel and murderous it's hard to believe if you haven't read about it. Many people would rather have killed themselves than be executed or tortured and imprisoned by the Soviets. Keep that context in mind when considering turning anyone over to the Soviets.

After saving Prague (bold added):

... the Vlasov army began to retreat toward Bavaria and the Americans. They were pinning all their hopes on the possibility of being useful to the Allies; in this way their years of dangling in the German noose would finally become meaningful. But the Americans greeted them with a wall of armor and forced them to surrender to Soviet hands, as stipulated by the Yalta Conference. In Austria that May, Churchill perpetrated the same sort of "act of a loyal ally," but, out of our accustomed modesty, we did not publicize it. He turned over to the Soviet command the Cossack corps of 90,000 men.

[This surrender was an act of double-dealing consistent with the spirit of traditional English diplomacy. The heart of the matter was that the Cossacks were determined to fight to the death, or to cross the ocean, all the way to Paraguay or Indochina if they had to ... anything rather than surrender alive. Therefore, the English proposed, first, that the Cossacks give up their arms on the pretext of replacing them with standardized weapons. Then the officers—without the enlisted men—were summoned to a supposed conference on the future of the army in the city of Judenburg in the English occupation zone. But the English had secretly turned the city over to the Soviet armies the night before. Forty busloads of officers, all the way from commanders of companies on up to General Krasnov himself, crossed a high viaduct and drove straight down into a semicircle of Black Marias, next to which stood convoy guards with lists in their hands. The road back was blocked by Soviet tanks. The officers didn't even have anything with which to shoot themselves or to stab themselves to death, since their weapons had been taken away. They jumped from the viaduct onto the paving stones below. Immediately afterward, and just as treacherously, the English turned over the rank-and-file soldiers by the trainload—pretending that they were on their way to receive new weapons from their commanders.

In their own countries Roosevelt and Churchill are honored as embodiments of statesmanlike wisdom. To us, in our Russian prison conversations, their consistent shortsightedness and stupidity stood out as astonishingly obvious. How could they, in their decline from 1941 to 1945, fail to secure any guarantees whatever of the independence of Eastern Europe? How could they give away broad regions of Saxony and Thuringia in exchange for the preposterous toy of a four-zone Berlin, their own future Achilles' heel? And what was the military or political sense in their surrendering to destruction at Stalin's hands hundreds of thousands of armed Soviet citizens determined not to surrender? They say it was the price they paid for Stalin's agreeing to enter the war against Japan. With the atom bomb already in their hands, they paid Stalin for not refusing to occupy Manchuria, for strengthening Mao Tse-tung in China, and for giving Kim Il Sung control of half Korea! What bankruptcy of political thought! And when, subsequently, the Russians pushed out Mikolajczyk, when Benes and Masaryk came to their ends, when Berlin was blockaded, and Budapest flamed and fell silent, and Korea went up in smoke, and Britain's Conservatives fled from Suez, could one really believe that those among them with the most accurate memories did not at least recall that episode of the Cossacks?]

Along with them, he also handed over many wagonloads of old people, women, and children who did not want to return to their native Cossack rivers. This great hero, monuments to whom will in time cover all England, ordered that they, too, be surrendered to their deaths.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (2)

Stop Saying Lies and Other People's Ideas

Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief by Jordan Peterson

I started to hear a “voice” inside my head, commenting on my opinions. Every time I said something, it said something – something critical. The voice employed a standard refrain, delivered in a somewhat bored and matter-of-fact tone:

You don’t believe that.

That isn’t true.

You don’t believe that.

That isn’t true.

The “voice” applied such comments to almost every phrase I spoke.

I couldn’t understand what to make of this. I knew the source of the commentary was part of me – I wasn’t schizophrenic – but this knowledge only increased my confusion. Which part, precisely, was me – the talking part, or the criticizing part? If it was the talking part, then what was the criticizing part? If it was the criticizing part – well, then: how could virtually everything I said be untrue? In my ignorance and confusion, I decided to experiment. I tried only to say things that my internal reviewer would pass unchallenged. This meant that I really had to listen to what I was saying, that I spoke much less often, and that I would frequently stop, midway through a sentence, feel embarrassed, and reformulate my thoughts. I soon noticed that I felt much less agitated and more confident when I only said things that the “voice” did not object to. This came as a definite relief. My experiment had been a success; I was the criticizing part. Nonetheless, it took me a long time to reconcile myself to the idea that almost all my thoughts weren’t real, weren’t true – or, at least, weren’t mine.

All the things I “believed” were things I thought sounded good, admirable, respectable, courageous. They weren’t my things, however – I had stolen them. Most of them I had taken from books. Having “understood” them, abstractly, I presumed I had a right to them – presumed that I could adopt them, as if they were mine: presumed that they were me. My head was stuffed full of the ideas of others; stuffed full of arguments I could not logically refute. I did not know then that an irrefutable argument is not necessarily true, nor that the right to identify with certain ideas had to be earned.

wise, IMO.

ppl overreach by saying a bunch of crap instead of actually doing stuff right and thinking. (and if u recommend they slow down, they often bring up the issue that zero would be a bad amount to talk, too. and then you see them say something really careless they spent 2 minutes on. why can't they consistently spend, say, 5 minutes reviewing each of their posts -- more for really long ones, but don't do those anyway -- and send if everything looks good? that should easily get them a more medium result between rushed and nothing.)

a common, important tip for learning is: better to do something correctly, slowly, then speed up. don't go faster than you know what you're doing and try to fix the mistakes later. this applies to learning to touch type, learning video games, and also writing an FI reply.

Peterson also said in a video somewhere, something like: most of what people say is lies or other people's ideas. they don't have their own ideas or a self. they need to create that. i wonder if he's read The Fountainhead.*

in another video, Peterson said basically that people have been building up lies on top of lies on top of lies, for decades. that's why they have such difficult problems! that's why their lives are such a mess! it's layer and layers and layers of lies to untangle!

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (3)

Teachable Subjects

in some sense, people teach chess, math, Spanish, grammar, history, programming, formal and symbolic logic, chemistry, physics, biology, how our government works, how to cook.

they have school classes on these things. they have books explaining it. i can remember being taught about these things in the past.

by contrast, i cannot remember anyone ever teaching me:

  • how to understand what a sentence means
  • how to figure out if an argument is true or false
  • what an argument IS (and how to decide if X is an argument for Y)
  • how to decide if something is a non sequitur
  • how to decide if X implies Y
  • how to read sentences that don't not have double, triple or quadruple negatives.

people do teach relevant things. reading what the words are is relevant to understanding a written sentence. understanding !!X is relevant to double negatives. but using it is kinda up to you. people also do teach you to avoid using double negatives, and warn they are confusing.

people teach syllogisms. but that's a bad way to think about most arguments. it can make things worse!

people get examples. lots. kids hear many sentences. and they get information about what the sentence was about. like the parent says something including "pancakes" and then 20 minutes later breakfast is served. repeatedly.

i think a lot of how people understand sentences is actually like that. they map the sentence to: "blah blah something about pancakes" and think " cool i understand him". and when you're 3, hey, that's pretty good! success! but when you're 13 or 33, that's bad. but the 33 yo actually interprets tons of stuff that way and muddles through life.

and one of the things that makes it hard is the people talking are as dumb as you. so they say some actual specific words. but they don't know what words mean all that well either. so all they even MEANT is "blah blah something about pancakes". or maybe they had something more complicated in their head, but it didn't match the words they used anyway. that's not universal (even with dumb people) but it's common. a lot of times, "blah blah something about pancakes" is about as good as you can do because the speaker actually didn't use the right words to communicate more. if you try to listen to the details of what he said, and interpret them, you'll just misunderstand him!

people are really bad at explaining or teaching anything they find "self-evident" or super super obvious. that's part of the issue.

Rand, Popper and DD are great at this stuff, but their books don't teach it. they explain more advanced stuff.

anyway, i was thinking there are these subjects people know how to teach (often quite badly). and subjects they basically don't teach at all. and i don't think the other ones are impossible to teach btw, people just don't know how much or don't do it or really really suck at it.

some of the stuff they don't teach is basically the kinda stuff that IQ is about. people don't know how to teach IQ. (btw there's also other stuff they don't like teaching like swear words or sex stuff).

in more Popperian terms people need to do steps like:

1) understand, conceptually, what the problem they are trying to solve is.

and ppl get that wrong all the time. and no one really teaches it as a general skill. or knows how to. it is taught in specific ways, like they'll teach you about a particular category of chemistry problem and how to think about it and what to do with it.

2) brainstorm solutions

how do you brainstorm? there's infinite things you could come up with. which ones should you? how do you know? this isn't really taught. isn't not very important though, just don't get stuck here. the initial brainstorming can be shitty ideas, and that gets fixed in step 4.

3) criticize the brainstormed stuff

here is where you have to actually figure out what kinda stuff to target. you both think of attributes the ideas/examples/solutions/whatever should not have for some reason ("let's not use an animal example b/c ppl are confused about how animals differ from humans. an inanimate object will be clearer") and also attributes it should have ("i want a solution that leaves me with at least as much money as i had before, so i'm not gonna do X or Y").

4) judgement, like which criticisms apply to which ideas.

this is partly hard just in a basic way. if trait Z is bad, ok, well, which ideas have trait Z and which don't? how do you figure that out if you don't already know it?

and it's partly hard in a more complicated way b/c you don't wanna just throw out a bunch of ideas b/c of a dumb criticism. you also need to be judging the criticisms too and making counter-criticisms. that's so complicated it actually kinda ruins my attempt to make this a linear step-by-step process. i just threw it in here.

5) brainstorm variants

so the initial brainstorming can just be rather random crap. that's fine. i don't think any healthy adult actually has much trouble with that, even if they can't really say how they do it.

but this part is harder. where you're coming up with ideas that meet criteria you had from (3). it's like, how do i change the solution to leave me with more money? what are some inanimate objects? (ok that one is easy, but some are harder).

one reason people get stuck on (2) is they already know some criteria of criticism. so they skip (2) and do (3) first, and then move on. that's fine. no problem at all. it just doesn't count as being stuck on (2) if they are really stuck on (5).

6) judge when to stop

when is the idea good enough? how much more should you think of criticism and brainstorm better solutions? this isn't taught. people guess wildly and sometimes make corrections to their policies (like they realize to spend more time than normal for important stuff).

btw, i have not taught it to you here. this is summarizing and describing it. it doesn't actually teach you how to actually do it. it gives you some hints from which you might figure it out yourself. and in some sense that's all we ever give students. but there are lots of topics where the hints are way better and include actual explanations of how to do something. my 6 point list is not what i'd consider teaching it in the usual sense. it's talking about it and it may be helpful, but it really leaves a lot up to you to figure out how actually do the things i mention.

and there's other stuff besides the 6 things on my list and the points earlier like about non sequiturs and figuring out what's an argument for what and how that works and what would and wouldn't be a counter argument. but like, these are basic things people are bad at, and it's the kinda thing that matters to IQ, and people don't teach it.

it's also hard to get ppl to try to learn it. people on FI want to do things like learn Objectivism when they can barely read sentences, you know? they don't sit there and go over the basics.

part of the issue is people can read sentences. 90% of the time! but it's like, even a little idea involves using some basic skills a bunch of times. 50 tiny little basic things might go into 1 idea. so even if you're 99% reliable and doing the basic stuff right, tons of your ideas will be wrong! you need to be able to do the basic stuff with a VERY good success rate or you get totally overwhelmed with errors when you try to build complex mental structures out of millions of basic components. but people generally don't like practicing stuff they get right over 80% of the time. they don't like trying to go from 99% to 99.999%. and besides being HIGHLY reliable at the basics, people also need to be FAST at them. if you're going to build complex mental structures out of a million little pieces, you better be able to do most of the little pieces in well under a second. but people also don't like practicing to get faster at stuff they are already fast at. they don't like trying to go from 2 seconds to .2 seconds to .02 seconds.

morality is another thing people are bad at teaching. there are people who are good at explaining it like Ayn Rand. but like, i watched Pinocchio (the old disney movie) and the cricket (his conscience for some reason) gives Pinocchio a lecture on morality. it's something about avoiding temptation and doing the right thing. it's completely incoherent and Pinocchio doesn't understand. part of the actual plot is this incoherent moralizing that is not understood. and then Pinocchio is immediately thrust out into the world to face temptations to do other stuff besides go to school. and the movie illustrates, in a magical, exaggerated way with 2 unrealistic examples, how nice sounding things can be dangerous and he should have resisted temptation and gone to school.

i think this fits children's actual experiences pretty well: incoherent verbal moral advice they don't understand at home, followed by being thrust into the world totally unprepared.

a lot of how the Bible teaches morality is with stories, too. and there are other old stories with moral content, like fairytales.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (12)

John Locke's Politics

Locke had some good ideas about political philosophy:

  • People have natural rights to life, liberty and property.
  • Natural rights make sense according to reason and are also God's will.
  • Individual rights limit what other citizens and the government can do to individuals.
  • The government and law should treat everyone equally. Everyone is politically equal.
  • The government has limited power, not arbitrary or unlimited power.
  • The government's legitimacy comes from the consent of the citizens who prefer the government over the state of nature (anarchy).
  • The reason people form a government is to help resolve conflicts and protect rights.
  • The people in the government should work to benefit society, not for personal gain.
  • If a government is bad enough, the people have a right to rebel against it.

But Locke had some very bad ideas about education.

This info is from my newsletter. Read the whole thing to find out about Locke's nasty education views, the Barbary pirates, and some political links.

And sign up for the free newsletter. (2-4 emails/month)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Letter to Jordan Peterson on Antidepressants and Rational Discussion

I like your videos, e.g. about identity politics, university, insight into human life, and the value of skill at thinking, writing, speaking, arguing, and reading. Let's have discussions to advance human knowledge and find truth.

I believe you're mistaken about antidepressants. Logically, at least one of us is mistaken. It'd be good to resolve this and find the truth.

You say [1] that if an antidepressant works, you'll know in a month. But how would you know? If your life improves in a month, it could have been for an unrelated reason, due to trying more, or due to placebo. The correlation between taking the antidepressant and then getting better doesn't imply causation. To know causation you have to figure out explanations of how antidepressants work.

You suggest that antidepressants either work or don't work, and are harmless. You suggest this by saying there's no good reason for people to resist trying antidepressants when they're "depressed". But antidepressants are harmful.

The explanation of how antidepressants "work" is they're brain-disabling [2]. That's what they do, not a side effect. That makes it harder for people to think about or complain about their problems, and harder to fight with others. It also motivates some people to lie that they're better in order to get off the drugs.

Peter Breggin explains [3]:

... except for the brain dysfunction and biochemical imbalances caused by psychiatric drugs, there are no known abnormalities in the brains of people who routinely seek help from psychia­trists ... All biopsychiatric treatments share a common mode of action: the disruption of normal brain function. ... all the major categories of psychiatric drugs—antidepressants, stimulants, tranquilizers (antianxiety drugs), mood stabilizers, and anti­psychotics​—​are neuro­toxic. They poison neurons, and sometimes destroy them. ... The currently available biopsychiatric treatments are not specific for any known disorder of the brain. ... they disrupt normal brain function, without correcting any brain abnormality.

I can elaborate on this, and on the additional issue that "depression" and "mental illness" are myths [4].

I searched for information refuting this position, particularly by you or referenced by you. I was unable to find it. E.g., I checked the six neuroscience books you recommend [5], searched your Quora, and listened to Rethinking Depression [6]. I also looked at other criticism of Breggin [7].

In Rethinking Depression, you say you disregard human antidepressant trials because of human complexity. It's too hard to measure the results, control all the factors like other drugs being taken, and prevent bias. I agree. But the same issues apply to judging whether a drug works in one individual's life.

You positively bring up animal trials. But human complexity also poses a problem for extrapolating from animals. Can you link a detailed, written explanation, citing animal studies, that you think should change my mind?

You say critics of antidepressants have unrepresentative experiences and don't appreciate the depths of human misery. You're right about some critics, but Thomas Szasz and I agree with you about human tragedy. I have nothing against people getting help (it's not a crutch), as long as that help is compatible with science and liberalism. I'm not denying the reality and severity of "depression" and suffering, I only deny that it's a medical problem and that antidepressants can medically cure it. Note that being a non-medical and non-genetic problem doesn't mean it's easy to solve, I actually think that means it's harder to solve. (Memes are more fearsome adversaries than genes.)

This is similar to identity politics in two ways. First, saying people lack appropriate lived experience, perspective, etc, isn't a good answer to critics. If they don't know something, it can be explained. Second, people have assumed that, since you object to trans pronoun laws, you deny the reality of bigotry against trans people and are unfamiliar with their suffering. Critics like that exist, but that isn't your reasoning.

Do you have additional arguments which address my points about antidepressants?

I like much of what you have to say, and don't think it depends on these claims about antidepressants.

Below I discuss objections to discussion and methods of rational discussion, then provide references.

You may have some objections to discussion like:

  • You're busy.

  • You're skeptical that I'm smart and knowledgeable enough.

  • You expect discussions of this nature usually don't reach conclusions with anyone changing their mind, ever, let alone in a timely manner.

  • If it turns out you're correct and I learn something, where's the value for you?

There are solutions to these problems which don't require giving up on addressing criticism and disagreement from the general public.

Today people get flooded with incoming ideas. People normally filter by prestige, popularity, gatekeeping authorities, social circle, subculture, and proxies for those. These filters are bad at finding the truth. Great new ideas often start off unpopular and look just like bad new ideas to the filters.

One of the solutions is a public, online, discussion forum where other people answer questions and arguments, so you don't have to personally defend everything. (For this, it's necessary to have competent supporters – without those, it's kinda only fair and reasonable that a serious intellectual must do a lot of work explaining stuff himself.)

Another solution is reusing ideas with links and references. If something has already been answered, simply provide the link. And take personal responsibility for any mistakes in that answer, even if someone else wrote it, since you're using it for your own position. Or if no one on your side of the debate has ever created an adequate answer to the criticism, then it's worth some time and attention.

This link reuse approach means only a new argument requires a new reply. And one can write general answers which address an entire category of arguments at once, and then only a different category of argument requires a new answer. Writing quality, canonical answers, and then reusing them, also helps avoid making ad hoc arguments for a position one has a bias about. It also builds up human knowledge.

Methods like these address the question: "If I'm mistaken, and you know it ... how will I find out?"

Answering all critical arguments is important because you could be mistaken. It's also a good way to learn. And providing answers allows for your critics to learn why you're right, or to give follow up arguments you haven't addressed.

People don't do this well. They go through life having inconclusive discussions, using filters to ignore some arguments, and staying mistaken about issues where better ideas are already known. There's a better way [8], which I can elaborate on.


[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JuQgJxYriYI

[2] http://www.wayneramsay.com/drugs.htm

[3] Brain-Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry, 2nd edition, Peter R. Breggin. pp. xxiii, 2, 7

[4] https://www.amazon.com/Myth-Mental-Illness-Foundations-Personal/dp/0061771228/


[5] https://jordanbpeterson.com/2017/03/great-books/

[6] http://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/rethinking-depression-part-1-1.2913549

[7] E.g. this criticism of Breggin is bad. I can provide details. http://quackwatch.com/11Ind/breggin.html

[8] http://fallibleideas.com/paths-forward

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (3)

Philosophy Consulting Service

I'm available for hire for philosophy consulting.

Philosophy is a big field. It includes reason which is a general purpose means of figuring things out, solving problems, dealing with mistakes, making good decisions, judging what's true or false, and more. Whatever issue you're dealing with, reason is important to handling it well.

Broadly there are two main uses for philosophy consulting:

1) You want to think better. Reason is my expertise. I'll help you learn it.

2) I apply my expertise with reason to solve your problems. You don't have to learn all about philosophy to benefit.

Visit my consulting page for more info. I explain who I am, what I do, how it can benefit you, example projects, etc.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Philosophy Consulting: Make Your Business Initiative

Rami Rustom wanted to increase sales at his 5 cell phone stores. He came up with a Make Your Business Initiative for his 15 sales representatives. He hired me to edit the document presenting it to his team. He liked my work:

I like it a lot. Way more positive. And of course way more understandable.

Definitely a good investment to set the stage for my reps.

Here's what I created for Rami:

Hey Team,

Ten years ago, this industry was full of order takers. An order taker is like a McDonalds cashier. They sit around and wait for sales to come to them. Our industry used to get away with that because there wasn't much competition.

Today, things have changed. The industry is very competitive and order takers are falling by the wayside. To succeed, we have to be more proactive and create sales, upsell those sales, and get more referrals, instead of hoping people will just walk in the door and place an order.

Verizon came down on us two years ago and again last August because our Smartphone Mix and MBB was much lower than their average. That means they considered us as passive order takers. And I agree with them partially. We were proactive with WOWing customers but we were too passive with upselling.

So I created the Smartphone/MBB initiative and we hit it hard and now we kill Verizon's average numbers. So no one can call us order takers anymore. I was proactive by creating the initiative and you were proactive by trying hard to make it work. So now we're good at upselling.
Today, I want to talk about the two components of the sales process that we're going to improve on next. They are follow-ups and referrals. Everyone, including Jason and I, have been too passive about this, and now it's time to get better. This will generate more sales, make more money for you and for Wireless Express, and better please our customers.


Follow-ups are a way that you can take initiative to get more sales. If the customer doesn't make a purchase today, but he plans to in the future, then it's important to actively follow up with him and get that sale done. The way to do this is by scheduling a later time when he will come back and calling him to confirm the day before. And we're providing the perfect tool to do this right in gmail and we even have a video training to walk you through it; its called gtasks.

Follow-ups are also important with leads. We need to get leads on potential customers and then follow through with those leads to bring in more sales.


That brings us to the second component which is getting as many referrals as we can in order to get leads on more customers who don't just walk in the front door. The best way to get leads is to ask for them. After you WOW a customer, let him know that you appreciate his business and see if he knows anyone else who might be interested that he can refer you to. Then follow-up on the referral.

Some referrals will happen by themselves, but by taking initiative with referral marketing we can do better.

Why do referrals work?

Let's consider how customers think:

  • Customers are not usually thinking about sending you referrals

  • Customers typically feel awkward when cornered into giving a sales person a referral

  • Customers worry because their reputation is at stake

  • The solution is to gain customer trust

  • Build rapport and WOW the customer

  • If they are confident in you, they'll often be happy to give you referrals.

  • Make sure to ask for your referrals. Take initiative and let them know that you want referrals. They probably won't volunteer referrals.

  • We’re bombarded daily with so many marketing messages. People have learned to filter them out.

  • But people don't filter out their friends and relatives.

  • When you get a referral, you have enough of a human relationship to get a little attention instead of being filtered out.

  • Most traditional ways of getting leads cost money. For example you can buy advertising. By asking our exist customers to help, we can acquire leads for free. And customers like giving high quality referrals because later their friend will thank them.

The Benefits of Referral Marketing

  • Consumers today have developed cynicism and distrust of advertising messages. When considering a purchase, we’re now much more likely to ask a trusted friend or acquaintance for a recommendation.

  • We listen to those we know and trust. When a friend of theirs has referred a potential client to you, a level of credibility and trust has already been established. They are more open to hear what you have to say.

  • Referral leads can turn into sales more quickly because the referrer (original customer) may already have told the referee (new lead) about what we do and why it's a good value.

  • Referral marketing is more profitable. That's because referred customers do less shopping around for the best price, so we don't have to price match as much. And we don't have to pay for advertising to bring them in.

  • To generate a steady stream of referrals will take effort, but may cost little or nothing at all. Did you know that Paul spends no money at all to get his referrals? Did you know that Paul gets zero walk-in traffic and earns 100% of his company profit from referrals?

How Do You Get Referrals?

  • Your service must be top notch. In today’s competitive marketplace, simply meeting your clients’ expectations isn’t enough. Aim to exceed expectations.

  • Under promise and over deliver. Remember: the person referring you is putting his or her reputation on the line. They must have confidence in you! So you must WOW them! Make them think, "WOW no cellular-guy has ever done that for me before!"

  • Ask for referrals. Your customers aren't thinking about you. You must make them think about you by asking for the referral. Be proactive!

  • Don't worry if you're not sure about how to do this. We've got more information in our WOWing document and our referrals training videos.


  • Once you get referrals, follow-up on them.

  • When a customer doesn't complete a purchase, try to schedule when he will come back and call the day before to confirm the appointment.

  • Don't hope for sales to complete themselves, take initiative.

  • We'll cover all the details in our training videos.

But Referrals and Follow-Ups are not that easy, as we all know. So we've come up with a plan to make it easy. We'll discuss the plan below. First I want to help you understand the situation a bit more.

Think of it like this: out of the company revenue, we pay rent, advertising, your hourly wages, etc., just to keep our doors open to be able to bring in walk-in traffic. But that traffic is not enough to be profitable. It's a competitive marketplace and people can buy from so many places besides our stores. We have to be proactive to compete with all the alternatives.

Here's how our business can be successful:

  1. WOWing our customers, [we're already very proactive with this]
  2. Upselling, [we've already very proactive with this]
  3. Scheduling follow-ups, [we're going to improve on this]
  4. Driving referrals [we're going to improve on this]

What causes passivity?

What do we need to watch out for in order to do better?

I think it based in psychology. We think that our potential customers will come back to us because we've WOWed them and we think that because we've WOWed them that they will refer people. So it is hope. We 'hope' that they will do these things. But we've learned that hope is disastrous.

Remember the Sales Jeopardy video? It explains the dangers of hope: video link

Our potential customers are not thinking about us as much as we 'hope'. And they may not understand how commissions work. So help them out and tell them what they need to know. Tell them:

  • Tell them that you appreciate their business.

  • Offer them an ongoing relationship; that you should be their "cellular guy" for all their needs.

  • As part of the relationship, take notes on their situation. They'll appreciate not having to explain anything twice.

  • Tell them that you're looking for more customers.

  • Ask who they know that should have a “cellular guy” like you.

  • When they give you referrals, get names and phone numbers so that you can follow-up and so you don't have to hope that they'll bring the leads in the door for you.

If you don't bring these things up, they probably won't think of it by themselves.


So, we've come up with the Make Your Business (MYB) initiative. It will help you learn the tools and habits you'll need to be proactive with scheduling follow-ups and driving referrals.

And you know this is going to work. Why? We've thought hard about how to design this so it'll be just as successful as our past initiatives. Just think back to the results we got when we started the initiatives to increase Visual Voicemail take rate, 5Star take rate, Smartphones mix, and MBB percentage.

We've got a good plan and we know you'll be able to execute it when you give it a try, just like you've succeeded in the past.

The 'Make Your Business' initiative has three simple components:

1) Training

We've created videos to show you how to do everything for the MYB initiative, which you can find in the WX Video Training Log. There is also the audiobook 7 Habits of Highly Effective People which you can find in WX Files. I understand that its a 5 hour long book so please listen to that ASAP during your downtime at the store.

2) Tracking Metrics

Keeping track of our progress can help us improve. It can help you know what to focus on, and we need the data to do our job as management.

When people keep track of stuff, they can usually improve it. Why? Because it helps them reflect on your performance and as we've learned, reflection causes learning which then causes increased performance. But if they don't keep track, sometimes they let things slip, they don't reflect, and they miss out on opportunities.

I know it can seem like micromanagement to track a lot of information. But it will help you understand the MYB initiative better and see how you're doing, and we'll look at the information to help coach you and help you reflect to improve your sales.

For tracking metrics, there are two new sheets in the Sales Reflection doc, MYB Goals and MYB Daily.

You'll be inputting 9 figures each day on MYB Daily. Mouse-over each column header for an explanation of how it works, and we also have a training video explaining how to use the sheet.

MYB Goals will help us set and meet goals as we improve. We guess that you currently earn less than 10% of your company profit from referrals, so we put in an initial goal of 10%. You can change it if you want to. Each month, the goals will increase and your actual percent of referrals will increase too. And of course this means that your company profit will increase and that means lots more commission for you!

Once the MYB initiative is off to a good start, we'll be able to keep track of our progress metrics less. Who will be the first one to reach that point?

3) Motivation

We're adjusting commissions to better reward success in the MYB initiative. The old KPI commission structure is being replaced with the new Make Your Business commission structure. We'll now be focused directly on profit. The more profit you bring in, the better for us and the better for you.

These changes to commissions are not a raise nor a pay cut. It's just restructuring and you can expect to make about the same amount of money as before -- at least to start with. As the MYB initiative moves along and generates more profit, then we'll all be doing better.

Here is the new structure, which is a lot higher than the industry average:

    Starting at @ 8%

     $6,000+ @ 12% = at least $720

     $8,000+ @ 16% = at least $1,280

    $10,000+ @ 20% = at least $2,000

    $15,000+ @ 22% = at least $3,300

    $20,000+ @ 24% = at least $4,800

So as an example, say you earned $6,500 in company profit, that puts you at 12% commission, and that equates to $780 in commission. If you earn $8,001 in company profit, that puts you at 16% which equates to $1,280.16.

The MYB initiative is about being proactive. We'll do that with follow-ups and referrals. And that will bring in more profit. Higher profit will benefit Wireless Express and earn you a higher commission. Customers will also enjoy the proactive treatment because they come to our stores to get help. If they didn't want a salesperson's attention they would shop online.

The MYB initiative is all about initiative. So who's going to take the lead?

-- Rami

PS. We'll be discussing this during our next conference call so write down your questions. Or if you want you can reply to this email with your questions.

You can compare with the original document to see what changes I made.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fake Burke Quote Attacking Godwin

I found a quote of Edmund Burke trashing William Godwin:

'Pure defecated Atheism', said Burke [of Godwin], 'the brood of that putrid carcase the French Revolution.'

I was especially interested because I'd been unable to find any other direct quote of Burke saying negative things about Godwin. People claim Burke disliked Godwin, but I have my doubts and have searched for the evidence that those people never provide.

So I tracked down the citations, and ultimately the quote is unsourced. While doing that, I found another quote of Burke trashing Godwin which also turned out to be unsourced.

I also contacted an academic expert who agreed the quote is fake.

Here's what I looked up:

The defecated atheism quote is from Godwin's Moral Philosophy: An Interpretation of William Godwin by D. H. Monro.

I originally found it in a different Godwin paper which didn't even try to source it.

Monro says it's quoted from Ford K. Brown, Life of William Godwin (London, 1926), p 155

So I got that book. It has the quote along with a footnote. The footnote states:

Edmund Burke, who is also said to have called Godwin "one of the ablest architects of ruin." (Gilfillan's Literary Portraits (First Series, Edinb. 1845), p.16.)

I found the Literary Portraits book. On page 16 it has the architect of ruin quote, unsourced. It doesn't have the defecated atheism quote at all.

It's no good to source a quote to a secondary source without following the citations back to an adequate source. That spreads myths.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

By Any Means Necessary: A Violent Marxist Cult

(Co-authored with Justin Mallone.)

When you see violent thugs rioting in the streets, you may assume they're strong, scary zealots. They claim to care deeply about strongly-held political views. They present themselves as being so inspired and motivated that they're willing to fight for their ideals.

I want you to reconsider. Most of them are ignorant victims. They are abused and controlled by a few leaders (aka "community organizers"). Just like how cults control, indoctrinate and abuse people. Most of the violent thugs are actually weak, pathetic wretches with no money, no control over their lives, and no idea what's going on. They're sad victims to be pitied, not strong zealots to be feared.

Violence is a serious matter and the police need to provide protection and arrest rioters. Don't walk up to these people for a chat; they're dangerous. But do change your perspective on them.

Yvette Felarca & BAMN

Yvette Felarca is a leader in a left-wing, American, political cult called By Any Means Necessary (BAMN). They use violence for political purposes. They indoctrinate and abuse children. They're Marxists. They've been in the news recently for violently shutting down speeches by conservatives.

The ridiculous full cult name is Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration, and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary.

BAMN was created in 1995 by Attorney Shanta Driver, in Berkeley, California, in order to oppose Proposition 209. Proposition 209 ultimately ended affirmative action in the state's university system. Affirmative action is racist – it's literally about treating people differently according to their race – so BAMN is a racist group. More about BAMN.

Riots and Violence

BAMN participated in violent riots that shut down Milo Yiannopoulos's talk at Berkeley earlier this year, and Felarca defended the riots on TV! She said rioting was necessary to shut down Milo, who she victim-blamed as a fascist. She defined fascist as "someone who’s organizing a mass movement that’s attacking women, immigrants, black people, other minority groups in a movement of genocide." Milo hasn't called for killing anybody. Felarca is a liar who wanted violence first (to suppress ideas she hates) and made up an excuse second. BAMN's violence also led to suppressing the free speech of Ann Coulter and David Horowitz, and the students who invited them, at Berkeley.

Felarca has a history of personally participating in violence. She attacked a man and incited others to attack him at a gathering of white nationalists called the Traditionalist Workers Party in Sacramento in June 2016. That violence left seven people stabbed and nine hospitalized. A California Highway Patrol officer said Felarca's group started the violence, “If I had to say who started it and who didn’t, I’d say the permitted group didn’t start it." A statement from the California Highway Patrol agreed, saying that the Traditionalist Workers Party had obtained a permit and that "non-permitted groups confronted the permitted group, leading to violence."

And this violence is all part of a conscious strategy of, in Felarca's own words, building a "mass militant" movement.

A Danger to Children

This would all be bad enough if Felarca was a full time communist activist working for George Soros. But she's actually a teacher at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School in Berkeley. She uses her position of authority over children to recruit for BAMN during school. She pushes her political agenda when she's supposed to be teaching.

And BAMN isn't just a group of violent communists (that'd be bad enough!). It's worse. It's a cult which abuses children. BAMN lures children to join (including directly from public school) and uses intimidation, threats and force against its own members to prevent them from leaving. It has dozens of dirty tactics including lying to get people psychiatrically institutionalized when they try to leave BAMN and placing guards on people to prevent them from leaving.


There are numerous testimonials regarding BAMN's cult-like operation and recruiting methods. Secret Survivors of BAMN is a blog where people who escaped discuss their trauma and how the cult operates. They made it private after BAMN's recent rioting drew attention, but a copy remains publicly available.

I'll present three testimonials so you can judge for yourself what BAMN is really like and whether the police should shut them down:

Jevon's Testimonial

Jevon (PDF mirror) is a UC Berkeley Alumni. He was recruited into BAMN at age 14 and then pressured to leave his family (in Detroit) and live with BAMN members in Oakland. BAMN said he could get legally emancipated soon after and rejoin his family if he wanted to. But after he arrived in Oakland to live with Yvette Felarca, Jevon was instructed to change his name and cut off all contact with friends, family, and even other BAMN members in Detroit. (Isolating people and cutting them off from their old life helps cults control them.)

Jevon wound up being told he could go home after some time had passed, but the time to return home never came, a charade that continued for almost a year. Eventually he reconciled with his family and his mother bought him a plane ticket back to Detroit. But cults don't let members just walk out the door:

When they realized they could not talk me out of leaving, they got physical. Yvette Felarca came into my room one night and instructed me to read out loud a statement that Shanta Driver had written and convinced me to sign about how my family was abusive. Tired of debating my decision with them, I refused. That night, Yvette and other BAMN members took turns sleeping by my bed to “make sure he doesn’t go anywhere.” They confiscated my house keys to restrict my movement.

While trying to make his flight, BAMN members tried to take away his suitcase. Then three cultists assaulted him to grab his phone to prevent him from arranging to leave. Jevon fought off the assault enough for his mom to hear what was going on over the phone, and she called the police. BAMN lied to the police who were then hostile to Jevon. He eventually managed to talk the police into letting him leave after BAMN stole all his money and ID cards.

With the help of a neighbor Jevon made it to the airport and escaped. BAMN still did what it could to punish him for leaving the cult:

When I tried to inform other BAMN members about what had happened to me, particularly other youth many of whom I had recruited and therefore felt responsible for putting at risk, I learned that BAMN had denounced me to everyone. They told people that I had went crazy and turned against the organization and went to the police and that everyone should call off all contact with me. They were also instructed to report my whereabouts to Shanta because they were looking for me to put me in a mental institution.

From talking with people afterwards, Jevon learned that BAMN had treated other people in a similar way to his own nightmare experience.

Alex From Detroit's Testimonial

Alex from Detroit gives an account (PDF mirror) of his experiences with BAMN. He was manipulated by his girlfriend who threatened to dump him if he wasn't in BAMN's inner circle. And he tells us about BAMN's recruiting methods:

So they start out luring kids with field trips and the chance to skip classes for meetings. When I was at [Cass Technical High School] they had a very strong presence because Steve Conn was one of the math teachers and most of their student leadership came directly from Cass. The kids who are just in it for ditching school are [used] mostly as bodies and extra mass during the rallies and protests. They could care less what happens to these kids but the more numbers they have on their side the better the protests look to the media.

School teachers exploit their captive audience to recruit for BAMN. Children come to meetings to get out of school. What kind of system is that? Teachers shouldn't be encouraging kids to cut class and attend Marxist cult meetings instead. And then they use bored, powerless students as extra bodies at political rallies and protests which they sometimes turn violent!

Alex explains how involvement escalates as children are pressured to do more and more BAMN activities:

If you are not just in it for ditching school and had actual political leanings, they invited us to after school meetings where we would discuss current group events or if there was a particular rally, protest or election coming up we would do things to contribute to that, such as making signs and calling people who had signed petitions with their contact information. Here again, is where I specifically was pressured into doing things that made me uncomfortable. I do not like talking on the phone. I can talk to family members and I have, after years of doing it, been able to be comfortable talking at work. I used to have extreme anxiety about it. I expressed this very clearly to my ex and to the leaders of BAMN but was given the impression that there would be consequences if I didn’t ie: Being ejected from BAMN’s inner circle which would lead to being dumped.

It's cruel to make Alex work the phones when he could have easily done a different task instead. But uncomfortable, stressed, anxious people are easier to control. BAMN wanted to keep Alex off-balance.

Alex also describes being pressured to attend events even when he didn't know what he was protesting or why. In one city council meeting, Alex read a new Harry Potter book and only looked up or chanted when another BAMN member elbowed him.

At a political debate, Alex didn't know what he was protesting. His mom asked him but he couldn't answer. He was "instructed to come along to the protest, hold a sign, chant something and walk in a circle within a specific radius outside of [the protest location]. There was no other information given."

Interestingly, BAMN seems to recognize the ignorance of its members. BAMN's own pledge says:

To those who criticize the legitimacy of our walkouts or other youth-led mass actions by saying “most of the students/youth cannot even say what they are fighting for”, I say rest assured we are always fighting for our dignity, equality, respect and justice.

So the kids don't learn anything at school from their BAMN teachers who tell them to cut class for BAMN, and then they don't learn anything at BAMN either!

Jason Wright's Testimonial

Jason Wright's testimonial (PDF mirror) is about the Revolutionary Workers League, a predecessor to BAMN involving some of the same people like Yvette Felarca and Shanta Driver.

Jason reports members being publicly condemned for their private romantic problems, and then engaging in "Maoist self-criticism" where they talk about the struggles of revolutionary consciousness under capitalism and profusely apologize to the group for their private behavior.

What happens if you privately question any RWL decisions, such as kicking someone out because he didn't want to financially support a jobless RWL member? Shanta Driver "began shrieking" that Jason was a racist (the person kicked out was white, the person to be financially supported was black).

Being denounced as a racist by a cult leader had consequences:

The experience had a somewhat scarring effect on me in that it showed a number of comrades, already [possessing] a certain appetite for Stalinist style [bureaucratism], that I was fair game for criticism in the leaderships eyes. As such my political life was for several months very difficult in Albany. Sarah W. and Yvette F. were continually denouncing me for one thing or another and I was held at [candidate] membership for an extended period of time.

RWL did not care about Jason's health or well being. People are easier to control while in extreme poverty and dependent on the cult for shelter and food:

While formally enrolled in college I neither attended classes nor worked. The RWL did not have many paid staffers, nonetheless I was subsidized (in an extremely minimal manner) by the organization in order so that I could work for the org. full time. I was constantly broke, without money for books or an adequate diet, couch surfing at various comrades apartments.

Later, RWL lied to have Jason involuntarily held at a psychiatric facility in order to prevent him from dissenting at an upcoming meeting. Jason explains:

I was horrified, I never felt so trapped against my will.


the RWL, in ordering comrades to undergo treatment, is utilizing a form of [bourgeois] medical process to marginalize inactive or oppositional cadre and isolate them from the party. This is horrible.

Cults don't allow dissent.

When Jason and his girlfriend decided to leave the cult, he was in a such a powerless situation that they had difficulty with basic matters like bus fare and packing luggage.

The RWL must have sensed [something] was amiss [...] From that moment on we were never left alone together.

They actually risked packing luggage to leave while being watched by a spy who, thankfully, didn't rat them out.

Felarca Indoctrinates Students

The Berkeley Unified School District has catalogued allegations against Felarca going back to 2009 which it detailed to Felarca in a 30-page letter. These included "immoral conduct, evident unfitness for service, persistent violation of or refusal to obey school laws, dishonesty, unprofessional conduct and unsatisfactory performance." Berkeley Unified School District's complaints include:

  • In 2009, Felarca "repeatedly solicited students to participate in protests" against a proposed charter school during the work day, in defiance of a formal reprimand.
  • In 2011, she asked for permission to take an after-school club on an all-day field trip to protest against Proposition 209, and was told she couldn't because it would be a chance for her to "indoctrinate" students and violate what she'd been told in 2009 regarding non-permitted activities.
  • In 2013, Felarca repeatedly used leave to attend immigrant rights marches in Washington, D.C., which is not a permissible purpose for leave. They docked her pay and told her to stop, but she kept doing it. When they tried to have a private meeting with her, “employees in the District office were confronted with a loud group of over ten young people … chanting and carrying signs” protesting “teacher harassment.” Felarca refused to answer how the students knew about the meeting.
  • Felarca wrote a celebratory Facebook post that the District was backing down on discipline and "encouraged supporters to sign a petition that called Felarca a hero and role model, and said she should be allowed to use personal leave at her discretion."
  • The District said “it was evident that you and your [By Any Means Necessary] representatives were actively trying to brainwash and manipulate these young people to serve your own selfish interests in not being held accountable to the same rules that apply to everyone else. As a teacher, your conduct was particularly reprehensible.” [Emphasis added.]
  • In 2014, Felarca allegedly misused her leave again, protesting UC regents and participating in Black Lives Matter demonstrations. She then lied and claimed she had no recollection of these events, despite the fact that:
    [Felarca] had taken two full days off work to attend, had spoken during public comment [as documented on YouTube], had a large bullhorn in [her] hand outside and spoke to a large group of students, and passionately and loudly advocated for [her] cause; and despite the fact that [she] clearly wanted the attention and media coverage. [Felarca's] continued and repeated claims, frequently accompanied by long pauses and a smirk on [her] face, that [she] could not recall being there, were patently dishonest.
  • In 2015, Felarca requested permission to take students to immigration court for the hearing of a woman seeking asylum, and didn't disclose BAMN's involvement in the case. Felarca's request was denied, but she went anyways and was interviewed on TV during the event.
  • The District also claims that a parent contacted them and said Felarca had “marginalized Caucasian students” in her classroom and presented controversial issues in a biased manner.

After all this and her Sacramento violence, Felarca finally was put on leave in September of 2016.

What was Felarca's reaction to being put on leave? She followed her previous pattern of weaponizing her students and other supporters against the administration in a high-pressure campaign.

At an October 5, 2016 meeting of the Berkeley School Board, various Felarca supporters spoke out, with some making references to Felarca teaching them their "rights" as immigrants as they were cheered on by the crowd. One particularly troubling scene makes clear how much this was an organized political action and not a spontaneous outpouring of support from students. A young boy appears to be directed to read a statement by a woman wearing a BAMN t-shirt. In the course of the statement, he says "That's not fair, that the District don't let Yvette bring kids to protest." A young girl speaks immediately after (with the BAMN minder still present), repeating the same theme and saying "It's not fair what you guys are doing, because Ms. Felarca deserves to take kids out to protest on her free time" and concluded her statement by bashing President Trump. Observe that this defense of Felarca is the very behavior the District had been asking her to stop since 2009 (that is, taking students to political protests).

The October 5 meeting ultimately descended into chaos when protestors started shouting & chanting when the Board attempted to move to the next agenda item.

Felarca also filed a lawsuit against the District in October, claiming that "BUSD had interrogated her students, removed her from a staff meeting, and threatened to withhold funding, for longstanding programs, from colleagues who expressed support for her." And Shanta Driver filed a lawsuit on behalf of 8 students against the District in November "alleging [the students] were racially targeted and intimidated by district officials."

Felarca was ultimately reinstated on November 2, 2016. One might reasonably think this a result of Felarca's high pressure tactics and the use of her students as weapons against the BUSD. But it may be more because Felarca has friends in high places: the Mayor of Berkeley, Jesse Arreguin, is a member of BAMN's Facebook group and Facebook friends with Felarca.

And what did Felacra do in 2017 after keeping her schoolteacher job? Organize anti-free-speech rioting (discussed earlier) which destroyed over $100,000 of property.

It's disturbing that Felarca still has a job as a school teacher after all this violence, indoctrination of children, and refusal to do what her employer asks.

A Sad Story of Victims

Members of BAMN and other "anti-fascist" organizations present themselves as zealots so committed to their political cause that they're willing to use violence.

But the reality is different. We've seen that many members are children abused by the BAMN cult. People join to skip school classes or get lured away from their family and aren't allowed to leave. Children are tricked by authority figures like their teachers. Many are victims, not zealots.

And then BAMN uses criminal tactics to prevent members from leaving: violence, guards, lying to members, lying to the police, and lying to psychiatrists. As well as pressure, psychological manipulation, denunciations, etc...

This is a monstrous evil. The cult leaders should go to jail. But the victims actually could use rescuing.


BAMN's leaders are violent criminals who are a lot better at exploiting children than understanding politics and economics. They should be prosecuted and shut down.

The bulk of BAMN's membership are abuse victims who would benefit from learning American values and the American way of life. They're not protesting because they disagree with society – they never learned how to be part of society in the first place.

Next time you see an anti-free-speech riot, remember it's just a facade. Behind the mask of strong, violent zealots are weak, pathetic sheep. They may be able to throw a few rocks and start fires but, as usual, evil is impotent.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (59)