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Word Use As Social Copying

People commonly use words without knowing their meanings. Instead of learning what a word means, people observe others and learn what situations the other people use that word in. People commonly use words by social copying instead of by understanding their meaning.

This is a very bad method. It's one of the reasons people write incoherent stuff so often.

They do the same thing with quotation marks. They don't know what quotation marks mean, and they copy other people misusing them.

I've observed frequent misuse of quotation marks, by many people, in a variety of contexts. I've been trying to figure out what's going on. Sometimes the quotation marks seem to be italics, and other times they seem to mean "add the text 'so called' before this word or phrase". They're used in many other incorrect ways, too.

I've tried asking people about their grammar usage, but they're unable to give coherent answers.

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Discussion Group

Want more content? There are lots of great posts to read at the discussion group. I write lots of them. It's like reading blog posts, but there's more!

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Ayn Rand on Thomas Szasz

Rewriting Rand is a long article about how Mayhew and others have made changes to the Rand archive material which has been made public. Books like Ayn Rand Answers don't actually present Rand's original words.

Mayhew also left out a bunch of interesting material include this:

To a question about the ideas of maverick psychiatrist Thomas Szasz, Rand replied, in part, “He seems to be for individual rights, but I cannot always follow his argument—I have questions, I have certain serious questions about some of his premises—therefore, I have not read enough to criticize him. All I can say is he’s promising” (Ford Hall Forum 1976, 40:55–41:32).

I like to find comments by my favorite philosophers about each other. They're interesting. I'm glad Rand recognized that Szasz was promising and was in favor of individual rights.

I wonder why Rand didn't write Szasz a letter and ask her questions. I'm confident he would have answered.

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Discuss anything in the comments below.

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The Four Best Books

The four best books are The Fabric of Reality and The Beginning of Infinity by David Detusch (DD), and Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand (AR).

Everyone should learn this stuff, but currently only a handful of people in the world know much about all four of these books. This material is life-changing because it deals with broad ideas which are important to most of life, and which challenge many things people currently think they know.

However: they’re way too deep and novel to read once and understand. The ideas are correct to a level of detailed precision that people don't even know is a possible thing to try for. The normal way people read books is inadequate to learn all the wonderful ideas in these books. To understand , there’s two options:

1) be an AR or DD yourself, be on their level or reasonably close, be the kind of person who could invent the ideas in the first place. then you could learn it alone (though it’d still involve many rereadings and piles of supplementary material, unless you were dramatically better than AR or DD.)

this is not intended as an option for people to choose, they're like one in a billion kind of people. and even if one could do it, it’s way harder than (2) so it'd be a dumb approach.

2) get help with error correction from other people who already understand the ideas. realistically, this requires a living tradition of people willing to help with individualized replies. it’s plenty hard enough to learn the ideas even with great resources like that. to last, it has to educate new people faster than existing people stop participating or die. (realistically, this method still involves supplementary material, rereadings, etc, in addition to discussion.)

What is the current situation regarding relevant living traditions?


for the DD stuff, there’s only one living tradition available: the Fallible Ideas community.

the most important parts of the DD material is based on Karl Popper's philosophy, Critical Rationalism (CR). there’s some CR-only stuff elsewhere, but the quality is inadequate.

Fallible Ideas

besides reading the books, it's also important to understand how the DD and AR ideas fit together, and how to apply the cohesive whole to life.

there's lots of written material about this on my websites and in discussion archives. the only available living tradition for this is the Fallible Ideas community.


for the AR stuff, there are two living traditions available which i consider valuable. there are also others like Branden fans, Kelley fans, various unserious fan forums, etc, which i don’t think are much help.

the two valuable Rand living traditions disagree considerably on some topics, but they do also agree a ton on other topics.

they are the Fallible Ideas community and the Peikoff/Ayn Rand Institute/Binswanger community. The Peikoff version of Objectivism doesn’t understand CR; it’s inductivist. There are other significant flaws with it, but there’s also a lot of value there. It’s has really helpful elaborations of what Rand meant on many topics.

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patio11's Passive People Example

patio11 comments on Hacker News:

I think "Repeating close variations on your usual theme unlocks far more value than you'd expect given minimal novelty value" is a surprising result. I utterly buy it.

The advice I give which has produced the single biggest deltas in outcomes is "Charge more." It is so simple that I could literally print it on T-shirts and wear it to any event which discusses pricing. People know it is my catchphrase and sometimes I get knowing laughter when I say it...

... and then a few minutes later they've agreed to try charging more, despite having an accurate model which suggests "Hah, I bet when we ask Patrick about our new pricing he is going to ask us what it is, think about it for less than five seconds, and then suggest charging more." They knew what I'd say before I even got in the room, but even the tiniest marginal connection to their own pricing grid / customers / data pushes them to actually try it.

These are great points about how passive people are. Their low initiative is immoral! (It's making their lives worse, and morality is about how to live well.)

patio11 omits criticism or judgement. He doesn't point out that people are mistaken to be this way and should change. He focuses on how to deal with people as they are – keep repeating himself to people who already know what he's going to say, but are irrational.

I think it's important to state there's a problem here. Passive people can't be expected to figure that out on their own! But some would wish to improve if they realized they had a problem. Not everyone realizes they could try to change, rather than just taking their approach to life for granted.

Guys, you should try to get better at connecting general concepts to your own situation. You should put effort into doing that. That's something you can improve at. You don't have to just sit around and wait for one of the world's few active people to tell you (which usually doesn't happen). You can try to figure things out yourself and try to get better at using and applying principles.

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Breaking People

I wrote:

I can break anyone. I can ask questions, criticize errors, and advocate for more progress until they give up and refuse to speak. No one can handle that if I really try. I can bring up enough of people’s flaws that it’s overwhelming and unwanted.

Anne B. asked:

Have you done this? Would you do it again? It seems mean and not very productive.

Thanks for asking. I think lots of people have issues with some things I say or do, but don’t discuss it. That silence is lame and non-truth-seeking.

I have been sufficiently critical in discussions that people no longer wanted to discuss.

Sometimes this happens by accident. I barely say anything and they already hate discussion and leave. Sometimes it happens with people who didn’t even speak once, they just read half of one of my blog posts or FI essays and that was it, they’re done, time to slam their mind closed and never ever think about my ideas.

Sometimes I’ve been persistent with bringing up issues and pointing out issues. What do you do when someone says “I am 100% honest, I love criticism, and I know everything! Prove me wrong!?” It’s hard to just say, “You’re a liar, so I won’t discuss with you.” Then (if they didn't just get offended and leave) they'd accuse me of evading the issues, not having arguments, etc. So what I’m more inclined to do is actually argue the points. And if they keep going, I keep going. And then, well, they hate it and get fed up with it after a while (even when I hold back the majority of criticism I could say).

It’s hard to get out of discussions when people claim to be willing to discuss, because I claim to be willing to discuss too. So if we both are serious thinkers who want critical discussion, then who will end the discussion and why? I’m genuinely happy to discuss the issues, and I don’t want to pretend otherwise. So I if I stop the discussion, then what do I say? That I’m stopping the discussion because of some flaws I accuse the other person of having? But they’ll dislike that even more than the impersonal discussion we were already having... But if I just keep discussing the issues with zero personal comments, many people get more and more upset and unhappy until they reach a breaking point and halt discussion.

A good example is my recent discussion with Robert Spillane. He initially pretended to be a rational thinker who can deal with criticism and who is interested in thinking. That was a lie. And after a while he totally wanted out of the conversation, but wouldn’t admit it clearly because his desire to quit the conversation contradicted his self-image. He wanted to keep thinking of himself as a rational intellectual, and he didn’t want to do anything that clearly contradicted that. So he started looking for excuses to blame me and quit. This general pattern is common.

Should I declare halfway through a conversation that the other guy is irrational – which he totally denies – and stop discussing the issues and ignore his lies? :( Or perhaps refuse to discuss the issues and only participate in the meta discussion of whether he’s a liar? But he’d like that discussion even less. If I even mention he’s dishonest, that bothers people, but it’s the truthful explanation of why I stopped discussing... Alternatively I could just go silent and not explain, but that sucks. Or I can keep discussing – since they are giving clear consent and participating and claiming they want it – while suspecting they’re a bad person who actually dislikes it.

And my Paths Forward material is, in a way, a threat to people because it criticizes the rationality of the method of just refusing to discuss stuff, and criticizes the common excuses people use. Paths Forward is not about any particular person, and it’s true and important ... but it can also be scary and upsetting for people with various common flaws and irrationalities... What should I do about that? Especially with people who deny having those flaws and irrationalities.

My attitude is: I can and should continue doing reasonable stuff, and if some people interact with it in a way where they get upset, feel bad, reach a breaking point of not wanting to think about FI anymore, etc, that’s their problem. It’s sad and I’d like to do something about it, but I don’t think it’s my responsibility, and I don’t think there’s much I can do about it.

  • I want to be publicly available for discussion of ideas.

  • I don’t want to drop discussions for no reason given.

  • I don’t want to lie about why I stop discussing to protect others. I don’t want to come up with the lies they want to hear so they feel good, and basically try to manipulate them in just the right way they’re happy (despite their ongoing conflicts with reality). I don’t want to offer a safe space at all, let alone offer what people want even more: to pretend they are having real discussions, but then I somehow make it a safe space for them while they feel brave...

  • If I end discussions honestly by saying the other person isn’t good enough, people don’t like that and will try to debate how good they are. That will get into meta discussion criticizing their morality, scholarship, thinking methods, etc. This will bother people more than the initial, impersonal discussion of some topic like capitalism.

  • If I end discussions honestly by saying the other person doesn’t want to discuss, they will deny that. They are open-minded, super rational, and want truth-seeking discussion, they claim... (Not everyone but this comes up a lot with the kind of people who’d even begin a discussion.) So then I have to call them dishonest, go silent, or else this method of ending the discussion didn’t work. Plus I don’t like the possibility that I misjudged someone and I’m ending a discussion with a genuinely better person just because I thought I saw some subtle signs something was going wrong, and then I assumed they weren’t good enough to discuss the potential problem openly.

  • It’s really hard to tell how upset people are or aren’t about discussions because they put a lot of effort into hiding it, and they lie. This is especially true over text so their voice tones and facial expressions don’t give them away. And even if the type out some angry stuff as an initial reaction, they can delete it before sending their message, so I never see it. And I hate to judge people as bad without it being really clear. I’d rather give people the benefit of the doubt ... but then when I treat them as a decent person that actually doesn’t go well for them if they aren’t a decent person...

Suggestions? (BTW even asking for suggestions is dangerous. It encourages people to make suggestions which I've already thought about way more than them. Then they can get hurt when it turns out their suggestion isn't valuable, and I respond with criticism instead of thanks. But it's also awkward and problematic to try to say "Really good suggestions?" And if I say that, then it's even more risky for someone to make a suggestion, because then they're claiming their suggestion is really good by posting it, and then they look even worse when they receive criticism and it turns out to be crap. Similarly I've run into problems asking people for advice, tips, etc, because I'll go ask someone who thinks he's good at something which I think I'm bad at, and then when we talk it turns out I'm way better at it than they are, and I also have much higher standards, and that's embarrassing for them. And people don't want to face realities like this.)

More thoughts:

I only share criticism and comments in hopes of positive reactions – e.g. the person learning something or pointing out a mistake I made. But I've realized that no one else thoroughly likes criticism, and therefore they'll all break if I openly, honestly and persistently share my best ideas (including challenging dishonesty I spot, while optimistically thinking they'd want to find out about and try to solve the problem).

This situation sucks for me. I don't want negative interactions. People are both bad and dishonest about communicating what would and wouldn't be a negative interaction. I have to guess a lot. I like discussion but I strongly prefer to focus on thinking about the issues instead of managing the fragility of others. But people find rational, critical discussion overwhelming and unwanted, so normally I hold back over 90% of what I could say.

People are less threatened by educational material outside the context of a discussion, when it has severely inadequate guidance for applying it to their own lives. I can speak more freely in that kind of context, without hurting people, because it doesn't make much difference to people.

This is an open, large problem which no one else is helping with much. DD ran into the same problem and it broke him even though he at least had one person (me) available to speak openly to without having to shelter me.

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Apple Announcements Commentary


lame solar power virtue signaling.

97% watch customer satisfaction. so high!

the activity rings stuff is for manipulating passive people. i don’t use them.

watch OS 4 doesn’t look like a big change.

watch series 3 has built in cellular. big change. could go outside without your phone!?

watch to watch phone call to girl on paddle board out in the water was neat. apple has a good history of live demos (not pre-recorded), like when Steve called starbucks for real to demo the iphone.

umm they have a no-cellular series 3 watch you can buy. eww lol.

i wonder if i want to upgrade (i have the original sport). my original guess was i’d upgrade to series 4, but cellular is a big thing. but when do i actually want to leave my phone behind when i go out?

for lots of people, they listen to music when out, and they can stream that. but i listen to books. i need voice dream player or speedup player, plus enough disk space for the files. i doubt i’ll be able to do that with the watch right now.

so my initial thought is don’t upgrade.

apple tv update: i don’t really care. i don’t use a TV. and i don’t want to unless it reaches feature parity with VLC + bluetooth keyboard.

Sky game looks pretty neat. i can get it on iPad though.

Tim talking about iPhone now. i’m excited to find out if i want to upgrade my 6s! if i don’t, i expect to upgrade in a year instead.

iphone 8 gets true tone display stuff and some better aluminum and glass.

6-core cpu with 4 low power cores. better gpu and camera ofc. i don’t use camera a lot.

still have to get a plus (which i don’t want cuz of its size in my hand) for dual camera.

better video compression is good. some of that stuff will apply to desktop video creation.

Augmented Reality stuff is kinda neat but doesn’t look that useful to me currently.

the AR game strikes me as motion controls (like Wii) but even worse. it’s way more precise and fast and better to control games with buttons than waving your hands around or walking around a table. games like this aren’t very serious/competitive.

WIRELESS CHARGING. uhh there wasn’t much info on when/where i’d actually be able to use it.

64gb/256gb versions. price of 256 not mentioned. i wouldn’t get 64. i think it’s good they got it down to 2 options and the bottom one is good now. the minimum was 16 for a long time which was pretty shitty even for non-power-users.

don’t think i’ll buy this. no killer features. could just wait a year, no big deal.


edge to edge screen. glass back. dual camera. super retina display. OLED. might buy this!

home button replaced with gestures and Face ID.

i find find touch ID doesn’t always work for me and i have to type my PIN sometimes, which i don’t like that. Face ID might be more reliable for me, especially when sweaty from exercise.

heh @ emoji based on your own facial expression. ppl sure like facial expressions. (and many of them want me to use a webcam in my videos.)

+2 hrs battery life.

AirPower is a wireless charging mat that you can set your iphone x and apple watch 3 on. hm but i want to charge my watch by my bed and i more often charge my phone by my computer. so where would i put the charging mat?

ok so the BIG features i’d actually buy this for are the screen and face ID.

64/256 gb. price 999 and ??? for 256, they didn’t say it again. fuck this i’m pausing the video to look it up. 1150 for 256gb iphone x. same extra $150 for the 8.

well that’s not bad. there were rumors it’d be higher. that’s like the bottom end of the speculation.

that’s interesting cuz i thought i remembered paying only $100 to get a 256gb 10.5” ipad pro. so i checked. it’s 650/800 now for 64/256gb, but it was 650/750 on launch. they raised the price of the new ipad pros! so the 64->256gb is the same standard $150 used on iphones. (i’m a little disappointed cuz, remembering the price of that upgrade for ipad, i thought it might be the same on iphone!)

to check my memory, i found this article and you can see the 749 price in the picture:


wow! apple really rarely raises prices of stuff after launching it. like nothing else comes to mind for them ever doing that (except raising the price in some other other currency cuz of exchange rates).

so 1150 primarily for the larger screen while the phone is only a tiny bit bigger. secondarily, face id, faster cpu, better camera, 256gb (i have 128 now but my phone isn’t full, i feel confident 128 is ok for me for another year). i wonder if i’d get more RAM. looking it up... 6s has 2gb. iphone x has 3gb. (iphone 8 is 2gb, 8+ is 3gb).


apparently the RAM is also 10-15% faster.

hmmm idk about buying it. post your thoughts in the comments!

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Grammar Learning Process Video

I made a new screencast (82min) where I try to parse sentences from the first exercises in Leonard Peikoff's course, Principles of Grammar.

I don't really know what I'm doing, so you can see how I handle things I'm bad at. I stay calm. I'm pretty persistent, though I'm also willing to move on without knowing everything perfectly. I'm not afraid to make quick guesses, get things wrong, and correct them. The main purpose is to think about the material before hearing the right answers in lecture 2. I want to get some stuff wrong first and be corrected so I have some thoughts to relate Peikoff's explanations to.

Watch me make mistakes and be confused, which isn't scary or painful. Ignorance shouldn't be an embarrassing secret to hide! I'm not making a fool of myself; it's not foolish to go through a learning process; you should actually be trying to learn and practice all the time.

I'll learn the most from feedback on these unrefined thoughts now. I'd learn less from doing the whole course with no feedback, then asking for criticism afterwards.

You may also learn something about grammar by watching. If that interests you, I'd suggest getting the course first, listening to the first lecture, then trying the homework yourself, then watching this video.

I enjoyed using my new Apple Pencil for this video.


I published my notes on the grammar course! Learn about note taking or grammar! Get help understanding the course! Pay what you want pricing!


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I Made New Videos

Podcast: Discussing Questions on Economics, Immigration, Relationships and More with Ingracke! (92 min)

Screencast: Reading a Complex Article (The Possibility of Constructor Theory) (39 min)

Podcast: Good & Evil (9 min)

By a podcast, I mean it's designed so you can listen without watching, whereas a screencast discusses stuff on my screen so some parts won't make sense if you're only listening.

If you'd like to listen/watch in a different way besides streaming from YouTube, you can easily download YouTube videos. For example use the YouTube mp3 website to create an mp3 (audio file) or mp4 (video file) from a YouTube link. This would let you watch when you don't have internet access or speed up the video faster than 2x. (I personally use youtube-dl on the command line which, despite the name, can get videos from many different websites. I also use the Video Speed Controller Chrome extension to watch YouTube faster than 2x without downloading it.)

I've already recorded 14 more short podcasts, answering submitted questions, which will be posted to my podcast playlist over the next 2 weeks. I'm not going to post them all individually to my blog, so subscribe to my YouTube channel and turn on notifications for them!

BTW I bought a new mic, shock mount, and a tripod floor stand. Still figuring stuff out with the mic and it didn't all come yet, but I hope to have better audio quality soon!

Please submit lots of podcast questions in the comments below!

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Rational, Liberal Parenting!?

people should take pre-existing values and traditions about liberalism and reason seriously, and apply those to all their relationships (friends, coworkers, parent-child, etc).

you value the pursuit of happiness? why won’t you help your kid pursue his happiness, now?

you value freedom, and each person choosing his own way in life? why, exactly, should there be an exception for children? whatever you answer, be super clear about the limits of the exception, and how the same reasoning won’t apply in other cases.

you think children are stupid and need to be controlled by their betters? what’s the difference between this and other authoritarian views? why is this authoritarianism more rational or less cruel? why does it apply by age rather than by IQ test or by having psychologist-kings interview everyone and decide who is competent to run their own lives?

why do you think it’s OK to take your child’s phone away as a punishment? is it his property, or not? do you respect property rights, or not? if you think your answer is that your child is not a property owner, you’re just lending him stuff, then why do you think that’s a good model for dealing with children but property ownership is a good model for the rest of society?

how do you think about voluntarily persuading others and what your options are if they disagree? why don’t you apply similar thinking about consent, persuasion and voluntary action to dealing with your child?

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Lots of Thoughts

BoI is about unbounded progress, and this is very different than what people are used to.

It means any kinds of bounds – like some topic being off limits – is problematic.

The standard expectation elsewhere is a little of this, a little of that, and great, good job, you’re a success. Around here it’s more like: lots of everything. More, more, more. And it’s hard to find break points for praise and basking in glory b/c there’s always further to go. And anyway were you seeking glory and praise, or interested in learning for its own sake?

What do you want a break for? Don’t you like making progress more than anything else? What else would you want to do? Some rest is necessary, but not resting on one’s laurels.

You’re still at the beginning of infinity. You still have infinite ignorance. Keep going!

People say they want to learn. But how much? How fast? Why not more, faster?

What is there to stop this? To restrain it from intruding on their whole life and disrupting everything? They don’t know, and don’t want to give up or question various things, so, when it comes down to it, they just give up on reason instead.

People expect social structures to determine a lot. If you learn at the pace of your university class, who could ask more of you? If you publish more than enough peer-reviewed papers to keep your job as a professor, aren’t you doing rather well? There are socially approved lifestyles which come with certain expectations for how much you should be learning. Do anything more than that and you’re in extra credit territory – which is awesome but (socially) one can’t be faulted for not getting even more extra credit...

People interact and learn in limited ways. They don’t want to deal with e.g. some philosophy ideas invalidating their whole field – like AGI, psychiatry, most of the social “sciences”. That’s too out of control. People want ideas to be bounded contrary to the inherent reach of the ideas. What an idea applies to is a logical matter, not a human choice, but people aren’t used to that and it disrupts their social structures.

I can break anyone. I can ask questions, criticize errors, and advocate for more progress until they give up and refuse to speak. No one can handle that if I really try. I can bring up enough of people’s flaws that it’s overwhelming and unwanted.

There are limits on what criticism people want to hear, what demons they want to face, what they want to question. Perhaps they’ll expand those limits gradually. But I, in the spirit of BoI, approach things differently. i take all criticism and questions from all comers without limiting rules and without being overwhelmed.

BTW, people, so used to their limits – and to statements like this being lies – still usually won’t ask me much or be very challenging.

I used to be confused by people breaking. I expected people to be more similar to myself. I thought they’d want to know about problems. i thought that of course they’d value truth-seeking above all else. I thought they’d take responsibility for organizing incoming information in good ways instead of being overwhelmed. I thought they’d make rapid progress. Instead, it turns out, people don’t know how to handle such things, and don’t ask, and get progressively more emotional while hiding the problem until they burst.

It’s foreign to me how people are. But it’s pretty predictable now. I stopped giving people unbounded criticism. It’s not appreciated. I just give little fraction of the criticism I could, to people who come to me – and still that’s usually more than enough that they hate it.

occasionally people here ask for full, maximum criticism. they don’t like the idea that i’m holding back – that i know problems in their lives and their thinking that i’m not telling them, that are going unsolved. (or that i could quickly discover such problems if i thought about them, asked them some questions, etc). i’ve often responded by testing them in some little way which was too much and they didn’t persist in asking for more.

it’s difficult b/c i prefer to be honest and say what i think openly. i generally don’t lie. but i neglect to say lots of things i could. i neglect to energetically pursue things involving other ppl which could/should be pursued if they were better and more capable. i could write 10+ replies each to most posts here with questions and arguments (often conditional on some guesses about incomplete information). there’s so much more to be said, so many connections to other stuff. people don’t want to deal with that. they want bounds on discussion.

they don’t have a grip on Paths Forward. they don’t have a functional home base to avoid Overreaching. they don’t have a beachhead of stuff they’ve gotten right to expand on. whenever they try to deal with unlimited criticism it’s chaos b/c, long story short, they are wrong about everything – both b/c they are at the beginning of infinity and also b/c they aren’t at the cutting edge of what’s already known. and progress from where they are to being way better doesn’t just consist of adding things while keeping what they already know, a ton of it is error correction.

whenever people try to deal with unbounded criticism, everything starts falling apart. their whole childhood and education was a tragic mess and they don’t want to redo it.

people don’t even get started on the Paths Forward project of dealing with all public criticism of ideas. and so basically all their ideas are already refuted and they just think that’s how knowledge is, and if you suddenly demand a new standard of actually getting stuff right – of actually addressing all the problems and criticisms and issues – then they totally lose their footing in the world of ideas b/c they never developed their ideas to that standard. and the project of starting thinking in that way and building up knowledge to that proper standard is fucking daunting and approximately no one else wants to do it.

people don’t like to be picked apart, like DD talking to the cryptoinductivist in FoR ch. 7 and continuing even after the guy conceded (and without even trying to manage the guy’s schedule for him by delaying communications until after he had time to think things over).

FoR and BoI held back 99% of what DD knows.

people want a forum where they go to get small doses of things they already want, while having total control over the whole process. they don’t want to feel bad about some surprise criticism about something they weren’t even trying to talk about.

people all have something they're dishonest about and don't want to talk about.

people all have some anti-rational memes.

and this stuff doesn't stay in neat little boundaries.

all the really powerful, general, abstract, important ideas with tons of reach are threatening to these entrenched no-progress zones.

it doesn't matter if the issue is just some little dumb thing like being scared of spiders. ideas have consequences. how do you feel good about yourself while knowing about some problem and being unwilling/unable to fix it? so you better not know much about spiders – so you better have poor research methods. so you better not know much about memes – so you better not come to understand what the current state of the world is or you'll have questions which memes are part of the answer to.

your best bet is to admit there seems to be a problem there but decide it's a low priority and you're going to do some other stuff and maybe get to it later. that can work with stuff that genuinely isn't very important, like about spiders. then you can learn about memes, and realize maybe you have a nasty meme about spiders, and that isn't destabilizing cuz u already thought there's a problem there, just not one that is affecting your life enough to prioritize over other issues you could work on first.

but what do you do when it isn't a low priority thing? what do you do when it's way harder to isolate than fear of spiders, and has much more immediate and large downsides? like when it's about family, relationships, parenting, your intelligence, your honesty, your rationality?

the more you learn and think and actually start to make some progress with reason, the harder it is to just be a collection of special cases. the more you start to learn and apply some principles and try to be more consistent. and then you run into clashes as you find internal contradictions. and that's not just ignorable, something's gotta give.

people have identities they're attached to. they want to already be wise. if not about everything, about some particular things they think they're good at. that's one of the things people really seem to dislike – when i'm way better at their specialty than they are, when they can't win any arguments with me in their own speciality that i've barely spent time on.

when i found FoR/DD/TCS i was fine with being wrong about more or less everything. i didn't mind. i didn't respect my own existing education in general. i thought school was shit and i'd barely learned anything since elementary school besides some math and programming. i was very good at chess, but i was well aware of the existence of people way better than me at chess – i'd lost tons of chess games and had a positive history of interacting about chess with people i didn't have much chance to beat (both chess friends and chess teachers).

my chess, math and programming have never got especially challenged since finding FoR/etc. but if they were – if there was some whole better way to think about them – i'd like that. i'd be happy. i don't rely on being good at them for identity and self-esteem. my self-esteem comes from more like being rational itself, being interested in learning, being willing to change and fix mistakes, etc. a lot of people actually get some self-esteem along those lines, which makes it all the more problematic for them to try to impose limits on discussion – so they end up twisting themselves up into such dishonest tangles trying to make excuses for why they won't discuss or think anymore in order to end discussion. the internal tangles are so much worse than what you see externally btw. like externally they might just say they are busy and will follow up in a week or two, and then not do that. and then after 3 weeks i write a few paragraphs, and they don't reply, and that's that, externally. but internally it often involves some serious breach of integrity to pull that off, and a whole web of dishonest rationalizations. a lot of these people actually did put a lot of thought into stuff behind the scenes rather than just casually leaving like it's nothing – or suppressed a lot of thought behind the scenes, which has consequences.

i had lefty political views – but they weren't very important to my life. thinking about issues was important to me, but i didn't mind having different thoughts.

lots of people have lots of friends, coworkers, family members, customers, etc, to worry about alienating by changing their mind about politics. i had some of that, but relatively less, and i didn't mind alienating people. if one of my friends doesn't want to reconsider politics and is unwilling to be friends with a right wing person, whatever, i'll just lose respect for them. i don't value people and interactions which are tied to some pre-existing unquestionable conclusions.

happily i haven't lost a job or spouse over my beliefs, but i would be willing to. i have lost potential jobs – e.g. i think it'd be quite hard for me to get hired at Google nowadays given some things i've written in public are the kinds of things Google considers hate speech and fires people for. but on the other hand i also got noticed and got some programming work on account of speaking my mind and having an intelligent blog, so that was good. (i don't do stuff like aggressively bring up politics or philosophy in programming work contexts btw)

you don't need to be popular to have a few friends, coworkers and family members you can get along with. you don't need millions of people to be OK with your beliefs. one job, one spouse and 5 good friends is more than a lot of people have. that's easier to get if you stand out in some ways (so some people like you a lot) than if a lot more people have a very mild positive opinion of you.

anyway lots of people have accomplishments they are proud of. they don't want to change their perspective so their accomplishments are all at the beginning of infinity and could really use as much rapid error-correcting progress as they can manage, which they should continue forever.

people are so used to disliking the journey (like learning or work) and liking the destination. so they don't want criticism of the destinations they already reached and to be told they should journey (make progress, change, improve) continuously forever.

btw people get way more offended if you personalize stuff like this (to criticism of them specifically; talking about yourself is alright). that gets in the way of their ability to pretend they are one of the exceptions. they don't want help connecting all this stuff to actual specific flaws in their life and attitudes (or at least not unbounded help of that type – if they could carefully control all the consequences and what they find out, then they might be willing to open that pandora's box a little. but they can't. even if i was totally obedient and stuff, you just can't control, predict and bound the growth of knowledge. it takes severe fucking limits to avoid what's basically the jump to universal progress-making).

and if you don't personalize and you don't call out individuals, mostly everyone just acts like you're talking to someone else. kinda like if someone is hurt you don't want to shout "someone call 911" to the crowd while you try to perform CPR. it's too likely that no one will do it. it's more effective to pick a random person and tell them personally to call 911.

there are legitimate, important, worthwhile questions about how to change while keeping some stability. you need a mind and life situation which is viable for your life throughout the whole process. it's kinda like patching computer software without being able to shut it down and restart it.

the solution isn't to limit criticism, to block messages, to not find things out. knowing about too many problems to deal with is better than not knowing. it lets you prioritize better. even if you're not very good at prioritizing, you ought to do better with a half-understood list with more stuff on it than with simply less information. (unless the less info is according to a wise design that someone else put effort into. then their knowledge about what you should prioritize could potentially be superior to what overwhelmed-you would come up with initially.)

people need to learn to live with conflict, to live with knowing they are at the beginning of infinity and knowing actual open questions, open leads, open very important things to work on or learn with big consequences.

this is difficult as a practical matter when it comes to emotionally charged issues, identity, self-esteem, major attachments, and stuff with lasting consequences like how one treats one's children. people have a hard time knowing they may well be doing a lot of harm to their child, and then just being emotionally OK with that and proceeding in a calm, reasonable way to e.g. read some relevant books and try to learn more about philosophy of knowledge so they can understand education better so they can later, indirectly, be a better parent. and in the meantime they are doing stuff to their kid which leaves most victims really mentally crippled and irrational for the rest of their lives... and what they are doing violates tons of their own existing values and knowing about that bothers them.

this perspective is wrong though. if they don't hear a damn word about specifically some of their flaws, they should still realize they are at the beginning of infinity and must be doing all sorts of things horribly wrong with all sorts of massive, nasty consequences that are sooooooo far from ideal. not knowing the specific criticisms as applied to their life really shouldn't change their perspective much. but people aren't so good at abstract thinking so they just want to shut up certain messages and not think through or learn all the philosophy of BoI.

BoI (dream of socrates chapter) talks about Hermes' perspective and how tons of stuff the Athenians do looks like the example of stealing and then having disasters and then thinking the solution is even more stealing. that applies to you whether anyone names some of the stuff you're really bad at or not. and hearing some indication of some of the stuff you're fucking up – e.g. using violence and threat of violence against your child, as well as a lot of more subtle but serious stuff – should be purely helpful to deciding what to prioritize, what to do next, and hell it should help with motivation.

i wish i knew some big area(s) i was really bad at and had the option to read stuff about it from people who already put a lot of great thought into it that i don't already know. that'd make things so much easier. i know in theory i must be fucking up all kinds of things, but i don't have a bunch of useful leads being handed to me by others anymore. i used to have that a ton, especially from DD. but also other stuff like i read Szasz and found out about psychiatry – not that i had much in the way of pre-existing views on psychiatry, but still, my little bit of vague thinking on the matter was wrong.

i also never had much of an opinion on induction or economics before learning lots about it. that's something i find kinda weird. how much people who don't know much think they know a bunch and are attached. i usually am good at knowing that i don't know much about something, but when i talk to people about psychiatry i find a large portion of them are like super entrenched with pro-psychiatry views even though they really don't know much about it. same with capitalism/socialism and induction. people who've really never studied the matter have such strong opinions they are so attached to.

an example of something that went less smoothly was Israel. i had picked up some anti-Israel ideas from news articles and i think also from some other TCS discussion people like Justin (i know he had bad views on Israel in the past and changed his mind later than i did and he predated me at the TCS IRC chatroom). anyway DD misidentified me as entrenched with anti-Israel dogma, partly b/c i did know (or thought i knew) a bit about it, and brought up some information i'd read. but, while i can see how it looked a lot like many other conversations, he was actually mistaken about me and i quickly learned more and changed my mind about Israel (with DD offering guidance like recommending things to read and pointing out a few things).

the misunderstanding is important b/c it lets us examine: what happened when DD thought I was being irrational? he said a few harsh things. which, as a matter of fact, i didn't deserve. but so what? did i spend my time getting offended? no. i just wanted to learn and focused on that. i still expected him to be right about the topic, and just wanted to get info.

i used to say, more or less, that DD was always right about everything. this attitude is important and interesting b/c it appears irrational (deferring to authority). it's also an attitude lots of people would dislike, whereas i enjoyed it – i was thrilled to find a bunch of knowledge (embodied by a particular person – which people find more offensive than books for some reason) better and wiser than myself rather than feeling diminished by comparison.

i was, at the same time, very deferential in some ways and not at all deferential in other ways. this is important and people suck at it.

i did not go "well i lost the last 50 arguments but i bet i'm right about Israel. i bet those dozen articles i read means i know more about it than DD and i'll win the debate this time". that's so typical and so dumb.

but i also did not just accept whatever DD said b/c he said it. i expected him to be right but also challenged his claims. i asked questions and argued, while expecting to lose the debate, to learn more about it. i very persistently brought stuff up again and again until i was fully satisfied. lots of people concede stuff and then think it's done and don't learn more about it, and end up never learning it all that well. sometimes i thought i conceded and said so, but even if i did, i had zero shame about re-opening any topic from any amount of time ago to ask a new question or ask how to address a new argument for any side.

i also fluidly talked about arguments for any side instead of just arguing a particular side. even if i was mostly arguing a particularly side, i'd still sometimes think of stuff for DD's side and say that too. ppl are usually so biased and one-sided with their creativity.

after i learned things from DD i found people to discuss them with, including people who disagreed with them. then if i had any trouble thoroughly winning the debate with zero known flaws on my side, zero open problems, zero unanswered criticisms, etc, then i'd go back to DD and expect more and better answers from him to address everything fully. i figured out lots of stuff myself but also my attitude of "DD is always right and knows everything" enabled me to be infinitely demanding – i expected him to be a perfect oracle and just kept asking questions about anything and everything expecting him to always have great answers to whatever level of precision, thoroughness, etc, i wanted. when i wasn't fully convinced by every aspect of an answer i'd keep trying over and over to bring up the subject in more ways – state different arguments and ask what's wrong with them, state more versions of his position (attempting to fix some problem) and ask if that's right, find different ways to think about a question and express it, etc. this of course was very useful for encouraging DD to create more and better answers than he already knew or already had formulated in English words.

i didn't 100% literally expect him to know everything, but it was a good mantra and was compatible with questioning him, debating him, etc. it's important to be able to expect to be mistaken and lose a debate and still have it, eagerly and thoroughly. and to keep saying every damn doubt you have, every counter-argument you think of, to address all of them, even when you're pretty convinced by some main points that you must be badly wrong or ignorant.

anyway the method of not being satisfied with explanations until i'd explained them myself to teach others and win several debates – with no outstanding known hiccups, flaws, etc – is really good. that's the kind of standard of knowledge people need.

standards for what kind of knowledge quality people should aim for is an important topic, btw. people often think their sloppy knowledge is good enough and that more precision isn't needed. why split hairs? this is badly wrong:

  • we're at the beginning of infinity. there's so much wrong with our knowledge and we should strive to make all the progress we can, make it as great as we can.

  • people's actual current knowledge leads to all kinds of tragedies and misery. disasters go wrong in people's lives. a lot. our knowledge isn't good enough. there's so much we can see wrong with the world that we should want to be better. not just advanced stuff like what's wrong with parenting, but more blatant stuff like how the citizens of North Korea are treated, the threat of NK or Iranian nukes, our poor ability to create a reasonable consensus about foreign policy. or people having broken hearts and bitter divorces. or people being having a "mental illness" like "depression" or "autism" and kids and malcontents being drugged into a stupor. and even if you don't think psychiatrists are doing anything wrong you can still see it as they are dealing with hard problems and there's room for them to develop better medicines. oh and people die of cancer, car accidents, and stuff – and more generally of aging. and we're still a single-planet civilization that could get wiped out if we don't get to other planets soon enough. and it's not really that hard to list a lot more stuff on a big or small scale. people have mini fights with their family and friends all the time. people get fired, programming projects fail, business in all industries fail, people make bad decisions and lose a bunch of money, people don't achieve all that they wish to, people feel bad about things that happen to them (e.g. someone said something mean) and have a bad time with it and find it distracting, people are late to stuff, people's cooking comes out bad.

FI is a method of always being right. cuz either ur right now, or u change ur mind and then ur right. other stuff is a method of staying wrong.

first you have some position that, as far as you know is right. you've done nothing wrong. even if you're mistaken, you don't know better and you're making reasonable ongoing efforts to seek out new info, learn new things, etc. then someone challenges you, and you realize there's some issues with your view, so your new position is you're undecided pending further thought and info. (that's your intellectual position, in terms of IRL actions u might be mid-project and decide, at this point, it's best not to disrupt it even given the risk you're mistaken.) and then the moment after you're persuaded, your position is you know enough to be persuaded of this new idea. and so who can fault you at any time? you held the right position to hold, given what you knew, at each step.

when ppl argue with me, either they have yet to provide adequate help for me to understand a better idea (so it's ok i haven't adopted the new view yet), or they have in which case i will have successfully adopted the new view (if i haven't successfully done that then apparently the help was inadequate and either they can try to help more or i can work on it without them more, whatever, i'm blameless regardless).

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (9)

Real World Price Negotiation

context: i have a parking space with my apartment i'm not using and they no longer include spaces with apartments and instead rent them for $100 extra. my building manager just put me in touch with a guy who needed a space.

his texts are in yellow:

Hi Elliot. My name is XXXX I live in XXXXX. MANAGER told me that you have an available parking space. I'm interested in renting it out. How much do you want per month for it?

i'm in green:

hi! yeah it’s space XXX and i’m in #XXXX. MANAGER mentioned $80/month, would that work for you?

I was paying $55 for my previous space. Can we get closer to there?

ok let’s meet at 70, alright? i heard the full price is 100 now.

Can we do $65? I can send the money to you today. I can PayPal or Venmo you.

i think 70 is fair since that’s $30 off, ok? my paypal is [email protected] or there’s a link: https://www.paypal.me/ElliotTemple


great, thanks. enjoy the space.

my notes on the negotiation:

  • i was friendly and positive. i didn't communicate being an adversary. same with him.

  • i didn't let on that i know anything about negotiating and presented as potentially incompetent, which is fine. he was more direct about negotiating.

  • i knew going in that by saying 80 i might not get it and i'd be happy with 75 or 70. i intentionally used question marks b/c i didn't want to fuck things up if he didn't know he could negotiate.

  • after he said 55 i guessed we had mutual benefit from the entire range from 55 to 80 (and actually probably both higher and lower than that!)

  • he might be dishonest b/c my building manager told me he'd been paying 60 to rent a space previously (the guy he was renting a space from moved out). he mentioned that b/c he thought it was low and hadn't been updated for a long time. alternatively it could easily be the manager getting the number wrong rather than this guy lying. best not to mention it anyway.

  • i considered saying 75 instead of 70, especially in case he wanted to meet in the middle after the 70. like counter 60 and then ask to meet in middle. i decided to put some framing to discourage iterative negotiating and specifically rule out the meet in the middle reply. many ppl interpret iterative negotiating as unpleasant, cold, and mean. so i gave enough ground immediately to limit negotiation and not offend a potentially economically illiterate anti-capitalist person with penny pinching who might not actually want to negotiate beyond his initial comment.

  • i could have saved the $100 fact in case of pushback, but again chose to front load things rather than have more iteration

  • he was clever by treating his offer to pay today and with paypal as a forward progress concession or reason for saying 65. one needs an excuse to keep things friendly. the first time he had a good excuse for pushback of bringing up the previous rate, and the second time he used that.

  • when i pushed back on his 65 i was going to immediately accept 65 if he pushed back on 70 a second time. i hesitated before doing it, but decided that even if he still didn't want 70 it wouldn't ruin the deal. (and yeah realistically i could have gotten more since his alternative is to pay 100, but i didn't think it was worth trying to really minmax overall).

  • i used a non-reason reason which is a standard, good negotiating tactic but also hilarious and stupid. i had already mathematically told him i was giving him $30 off. but i just stated the discount as if it was a reason (possibly coming off dumb in the process) and it worked... also i called my offer fair which isn't an argument about what number is fair.

  • i have read about similar non-reason reasons like if you want to cut in line people will supposedly let you do it more if you say "because [anything]". although i haven't checked the study methodology, the actual reasoning and psychology makes sense to me. see e.g. http://lifehacker.com/5824481/how-to-convince-people-to-let-you-cut-in-line it's kinda funny. mine was more of a reason than that crap (can i cut in line for the xerox b/c i have to make some copies? lol)

  • i decided pushing back to keep the 70 once was worthwhile since it's a recurring payment.

  • i didn't think trying to aggressively get a higher value (only an option earlier on) was worthwhile though.

  • on TV shows like Pawn Stars or Comic Book Men where you see people negotiate, the professional (e.g. store employee) often does a pretty limited amount of iterating and will hold firm (or slip just one more time a little ways) after doing a fair, serious offer early on. people will try to give small increments and they are often willing to not reciprocate repeatedly and just hold firm. this is mildly socially hostile and difficult, but they are good at it, and it's easier b/c of their position: they are making a business decision for a store that has to make a profit, and they have expert knowledge of the actual value of the item, and they also can present their offers as being according to standard store negotiation policies that treat all customers fairly – it's hard to accuse them of trying to take advantage of you individually (and they aren't that i've ever seen).

  • presenting as someone who might dislike negotiation, be irrational about money, care about social graces, etc, made it harder for him to aggressively push me for a lower rate.

negotiation is fun and interesting!

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)