Comments on An Eye for An I: Philosophies of Personal Power

Comments on An Eye for An I: Philosophies of Personal Power, primarily about Popper. "You" refers to the author, Robert Spillane, who I emailed.


I appreciated your comments on mistranslating Descartes on the "soul" as about "mind". I'd forgotten that idea. I learned that translation errors are a major issue from Popper. He found another major philosophical mistranslation:

The World of Parmenides, by Popper, in the Introduction:

Plato says explicitly (in the Timaeus, for example, but also in other places) that all he can tell us is at best only ‘truthlike’ and not the truth: it is, at best, like the truth. This term is usually translated by ‘probable’ ... I use the term ‘truthlikeness’, or ‘verisimilitude’, especially for theories. The word that Plato uses is really ‘similar’, and sometimes he says ‘similar to truth’; the word is also connected with ‘pictorial similarity or likeness’, and this seems, indeed, to be the root of the meaning.[1] According to Plato, humans can have only this kind of knowledge; he rarely calls it opinion, which is the usual term used, for example by his contemporary Isocrates, who says ‘We have only opinion.’

Back to your book:

Popper’s philosophy of critical rationalism has attracted widespread criticism because, despite his intentions, it leads to a radical scepticism.

I think you're mistaken about Critical Rationalism and I can defend it from skepticism. The broad issue is that one has to form a new, evolutionary understanding of what knowledge is. Without that, Popper appears to be a skeptic because he did reject some standard concepts of knowledge (not as a matter of taste, but because they just plain don't work).

One of Popper's main achievements was to reconcile knowledge with fallibility. The proof/skepticism false dichotomy had dominated philosophy since Aristotle, and isn't improved by equivocations about probability (99% proven doesn't actually make sense).

Those who embrace Popper’s worldview are concerned, if not obsessed with, deduction (since induction is a myth).

That's true of some of them. But it's not true of David Deutsch, myself, and the other Popperians I typically discuss with. (And I've found the others basically unwilling to discuss philosophy, so I don't think they matter.) I don't think it's true of Popper himself, either.

The basic reason people are attracted to deduction is to prove things. But someone who really understands Popper and fallibilism won't be so interested in proof. Popper himself was more interested in deduction early in his career (the LOGIC of scientific discovery) and less so in his better, later works.

A deductive proof is just as fallible as a standard English argument. Everyone knows what regular, commonsense arguments are. For example this argument is neither induction nor deduction: "Socialism doesn't work because there's no way to do rational economic calculation without prices. Is it better or more efficient to use up two tons of iron or two tons of aluminum in your project, or something else? Without prices you can't figure that out."

Rather than seek to prove things (deduction) or try to sorta approximate proof (as induction does), we should seek to explain and criticize. Which is what informal arguments often already do. So it's informal arguments which should matter most to Popperians!

By finding some of our errors and making fixes -- which can be done with informal arguments -- we can improve. This improvement is knowledge accumulation. It's not inductive. Deduction and logic do play a role sometimes, but aren't a primary focus.

Technically, knowledge is created by evolution. How knowledge is created is a very hard problem, and there have only been a handful of proposed solutions. Induction (wrong). Creationism (knowledge is magically created out of nothing). Design (knowledge is "created" by a designer who already contains all the complexity, which leads to regress). Abduction (inductivist equivocations). And conjectures and refutations (which is a form of evolution).

Evolution isn't deduction (or induction). It's a process of replication with variation and selection. Ideas, like genes, can replicate. The information can be copied, just like duplicating a file on a hard drive or downloading it from someone else's website. The information can also be varied and selected (which is what brainstorming and critical argument are about). This is Popper's position, clarified by Deutsch and myself (Popper didn't have a fully modern understanding of evolution, computation and way information flows in quantum physics).

For some indication of the physics, see Deutsch's books and his paper:

http://beginningofinfinity.com/books

https://graphene.limited/services--technologies/physics-of-triggering/Trigger-Physics/0104033v1.pdf

Abstract: The structure of the multiverse is determined by information flow.

Relating epistemology to physics is important because, contra a lot of nonsense about the "mind", thinking and knowledge creation are physical processes.

Why does evolution create knowledge? This question relies on correctly understanding what knowledge is. Not proof. Not justified ideas. Not infallible ideas. Not induced ideas. etc. But what?

Knowledge is information which solves problems. It's useful information. It's information with some purpose, some design, some adaptation, so that it actually works to do something.

From here, along with the appropriate background knowledge, it's straightforward to see that evolution creates knowledge. Evolution gradually generates information more and more in line with the selection criteria. That is, it creates information about how to meet the selection pressure. That is, it creates knowledge about how to solve the problem of meeting that selection pressure(s).

This leads to a further issue which is universal knowledge vs. knowledge limited to a particular purpose. Some problems are dumb and their solutions aren't valuable. Which I can answer if you like. It gets even further afield from standard philosophy into uniquely Popperian ways of thinking.

Deductivism, in Popper’s hands, leads to the conclusion that we should prefer the best-tested theories: theories which have survived repeated attempts to falsify them. These theories are not true, but they are to be preferred to theories which have been progressively falsified or theories which have not been subjected to attempts to disprove them.

"These theories are not true" is an error. What Popper meant, and what's true, is, "We don't know for certain that these theories are true". Some of our ideas may in fact be true, but we can't ever prove it with 100% infallible certainty.

Popper's fallibilism is easy to confuse with skepticism because he denies the possibility of proven knowledge, certain knowledge, and justified true belief.

Critics are bothered by the deep scepticism that infects Popper’s philosophy.

Using a medical metaphor ("infects") was a mistake. It's, as Szasz would have put it, the medicalization of everyday life.

Theories are bold guesses riddled with uncertainty and science is a game. Understandably, we want to know upon which theory we should rely on rational grounds for practical action.

That's pretty simple: you should act on an idea you don't know a refutation of.

Why? Because you're trying to avoid error, and refutations consist of pointing out errors.

Rather than complaining about uncertainty, it's crucial to think in terms of error-correcting processes. Popper applied this insight to Democracy (fixing bad rulers and policies without violence is a type of error correction). And it comes up with computer filesystems. The raw data on disk is riddled with uncertainty due to the unavoidable possibility of hardware error. But our use of computers is NOT riddled with uncertainty, because of the use of error-correcting software algorithms involving parity bits, checksums, etc.

Our lives don't have to be riddled with uncertainty, either. We can't prevent all error, but we can keep error under control by using the right thinking methods.

As for practical action, we should rely on the best-tested theory. But why should we prefer any theory at all? Indeed, why should we even accept the results of falsified experiments, for such an acceptance involves us in an inductive inference (an experiment falsified today will achieve the same result tomorrow)?

Remembering and using the results of past tests does not rely on a "the future will resemble the past" style inductive principle.

It instead is based on explanations of physics which say what sorts of changes happen and don't happen. This gives us an understanding of what kinds of changes to expect, or not, on what timeframes. As a simple example, the speed of light limit means I shouldn't expect a person standing a light-second away to change their mind in under one second after I come up with a great new argument.

Our understanding of the world involves many layers of abstraction on top of physics. At a higher level, we understand things like what forces exist and what kinds of things could or could not split the Earth in two. It'd take a huge amount of force to do that, and we know what kinds of physical processes can and can't create that force. So we don't have to worry that our footsteps will break the Earth. Not because the future will resemble the past, but because we understand the material structure of the Earth, its density, the energy bonding the atoms and molecules together, the energy required to separate that much matter in that configuration, etc.

Our understanding of physics used experimental tests in a critical role. We criticize ideas which contradict experiment.

It's up to a theory to say whether it applies at all times, or not.

A theory is welcome to say e.g. "The following is how the physical world worked in the 1900s, and the following is how it will work in the 2000s". But a theory can also say "This is how the physical world works in the 1900s and the 2000s and all other centuries."

An experiment done in the 1900s can refute, or not refute, either of those theories. They also both make predictions telling us what to expect in the future. The difference is one of them predicts the same experiment, done in 2017, will have the same result it had in 1917, and the other says the rules have changed over time and now it will get a different result.

Rather than assuming the future will resemble the past, we have hypotheses which claim it in particular respects, or don't. We then criticize those hypotheses. And lots of that criticism is non-empirical. We ask critical questions like WHY the laws of physics would suddenly and discontinuously change when the millennium passes on our calendar. If there is no answer, we reject that hypothesis as a bad explanation.

The empirical basis of objective science has nothing absolute about it. Science does not rest upon bedrock: it rises above a swamp.

Yes, foundations are highly overrated in philosophy. You can start anywhere and build up solutions to the problems layer by layer. Rather than seek an error-free starting place, we must accept we are fallible and errors are inevitable. Then we must recognize that errors are fixable, and start solving our problems. A swamp can be drained, or a platform can be built on top of it, etc. No matter where we start our inquiry, there will be problems in need of solving, rather than certainty that allows us to relax and retire with no more need for effort.

Popper does not seem too distressed to admit that the acceptance or rejection of observation statements ultimately rests on a decision reached through a process much like trial by jury.

Yes, trial by jury is a reasonable metaphor. Arguments are presented and judgements are made. That's gotten us into space, built skyscrapers and iPhones, etc. It works. As opposed to the alternatives which, rather than considering how to deal with the human condition, yearn for a different world with different rules and lament, and encourage the skeptics by saying that human judgement isn't good enough and needs to be aided by something to give it more certainty. (And then the skeptics see, correctly, that the "something" offered doesn't actually work.)

Popper tells us that science is neither a system of well-established statements, nor is it a system which steadily advances towards the truth.

That's unfair. Popper tells us science is a system which unsteadily advances towards the truth. Scientific breakthroughs don't come on a regular schedule, but they do happen.

Popper also says we never know how close to the truth we are, on an absolute scale. But that doesn't stop us from getting closer to it.

Science, he says, can never claim to have attained truth, or even a substitute for it, such as probability.

We can claim to have attained knowledge, which is a substitute for truth.

That knowledge is fallible, tentative (could be reconsidered in the future) and conjectural (based on human guesses, rather than methodically built up from foundations offering certainty).


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Reply to David Stove on Popper

Popper and After: Four Modern Irrationalists, by David Stove criticizes Karl Popper's philosophy of knowledge.

But Stove's criticism doesn't focus on epistemology.

And Stove writes insults and other unserious statements. These are frequent and severe enough to stand out compared to other similar books. I give examples.

The book's organization is problematic as a criticism of Popper because it criticizes four authors at once. It only focuses on Popper for a few paragraphs at a time. It doesn't lay out Popper's position in detail with quotes and explanations of what problems Popper is trying to solve and how his ideas solve them.

First I discuss the book's approach and style. Then I address what I've identified as Stove's most important criticisms of Popperian philosophy.

My basic conclusion is that Stove doesn't understand Popper. His main criticisms amount to, "I don't understand it." Popper contradicts established philosophy ideas and some common sense; Stove doesn't know why and responds with ridicule. Stove is unable to present Popper's main ideas correctly (and doesn't really try, preferring instead to jump into details). And without a big-picture understanding of Popper, Stove doesn't know what to make of various detail statements.

Stove's Focus

Part 2, Ch. 3 begins:

Popper, Kuhn, Lakatos and Feyerabend have succeeded in making irrationalist philosophy of science acceptable to many readers who would reject it out of hand if it were presented to them without equivocation and consistently. It was thus that the question arose to which the first Part of this book was addressed: namely, how did they achieve this? My answer was, that they did so principally by means of two literary devices discussed in Part One. The question to which the present Part of this book is addressed is: how was irrationalist philosophy of science made acceptable to these authors themselves?

Stove says the first part discusses how Popper achieved influence. How did Popper convince readers? What literary devices did Popper use to fool people? And part two (of two) discusses the psychological issue of how Popper made irrationalism acceptable to himself.

By Stove's own account, he's not focusing on debating philosophy points. He does include epistemology arguments, but they aren't primary.

The problem Stove is trying to solve plays a major role in his thinking (as Popper would have said). And it's the wrong problem because it assumes Popper is an irrationalist and then analyzes implications, rather than focusing on analyzing epistemology. If Popper's philosophy is true, Stove's main topics don't matter.

Ridicule

Ch. 2:

It is just as well that Popper introduced this [methodological] rule. Otherwise we might have gone on indefinitely just neglecting extreme probabilities in our old bad way: that is, without his permission.

This is unserious and insulting. Popper's purpose was to discuss how to think well, not to give orders or permission.

To readers in whom the critical faculty is not entirely extinct, the episode has afforded a certain amount of hilarity.

This is mean.

I point out more examples of Stove's style as they come up.

Neutralizing Success Words

Ch. 1 discusses neutralizing success words. A success word like "knowledge" or "proof" implies an accomplishment. Compare "refuted" (a successful argument) to "denied" or "contradicted" (doesn't imply the denial has merit). Neutralizing knowledge yields idea – knowledge means a good idea, whereas an idea could be good or bad. Neutralizing proof yields argument – a proof is a type of successful argument, whereas a mere argument may not succeed.

Stove says Popper equivocates. Often, Popper uses success words with their normal meaning. But other times Popper changes the meaning.

It is the word "knowledge", however, which was the target of Popper's most remarkable feat of neutralization. This word bulks large in his philosophy of science (much larger than "discovery"), and in recent years, in particular, the phrase "the growth of knowledge" has been a favorite with him and with those he has influenced most. Some people have professed to find a difficulty, indeed, in understanding how there can be a growth-of-knowledge and yet no accumulation-of-knowledge.

There is accumulation-of-knowledge. Stove gives no cite, but I have a guess at what he's talking about. This quote is from C&R (Conjectures and Refutations) ch. 10 sec. 1, and there's a similar statement in LScD (The Logic of Scientific Discovery).

it is not the accumulation of observations which I have in mind when I speak of the growth of scientific knowledge, but the repeated overthrow of scientific theories and their replacement by better or more satisfactory ones.

The growth of knowledge doesn't consist of accumulating ever more observations (we need ideas). Nor are we simply accumulating more and more ideas, because scientific progress involves refuting, replacing and modifying ideas too. The growth of knowledge is more about quality than quantity.

Continuing the same Stove passage:

But then some people cannot or will not understand the simplest thing,

More ridicule.

and we cannot afford to pause over them. Let us just ask, how does Popper use the word "knowledge"?

Well, often enough, of course, like everyone else including our other authors, he uses it with its normal success-grammar. But when he wishes to give expression to his own philosophy of science he baldly neutralizes it. Scientific knowledge, he then tells us, is "conjectural knowledge". Nor is this shocking phrase a mere slip of the pen, which is what anywhere else it would be thought to be.

Expressing shock and talking about slips of the pen is not how one debates ideas seriously. But let's discuss conjectural knowledge.

Knowledge is good ideas. Sorting out good and bad ideas is one of the main problems in epistemology.

Conjectural serves two purposes. First, it indicates that knowledge is fallible (and lacks authority). Popper doesn't mean justified, true belief. He's not looking for perfect certainty or absolute guarantees against error.

Second, conjecture is the original source of the good ideas that constitute knowledge. Conjecture is, intentionally, an informal, tolerant, inclusive source. Even myths and superstitions can qualify as conjectures. There's no quality filter.

I think Stove's negative reaction has a thought process like this: No quality filter!? But we want good ideas. We need a quality filter or it's all just arbitrary! "Anything goes" can't achieve knowledge, it's irrationalism.

Popper has an answer:

Standard approaches do lots of quality filtering (sometimes all) based on the source of ideas.

Instead, all quality filtering should be done based on the content of ideas. This is done with criticism and human judgement, which lack authority but are good enough.

So we do have a quality filter, it's just designed differently and put in a different place.

For more, see Popper's introduction to C&R, On the Sources of Knowledge and of Ignorance. Excerpt from sec. XV:

The question about the sources of our knowledge can be replaced in a similar way [to the 'Who should rule?' issue]. It has always been asked in the spirit of: ‘What are the best sources of our knowledge—the most reliable ones, those which will not lead us into error, and those to which we can and must turn, in case of doubt, as the last court of appeal?’ I propose to assume, instead, that no such ideal sources exist—no more than ideal rulers—and that *all* ‘sources’ are liable to lead us into error at times. And I propose to replace, therefore, the question of the sources of our knowledge by the entirely different question: ‘*How can we hope to detect and eliminate error?*’

Continuing the same Stove passage:

On the contrary, no phrase is more central to Popper's philosophy of science, or more insisted upon by him. The phrase even furnishes, he believes, and as the title of one of his articles claims, nothing less than the "solution to the problem of induction" [28].

Note the lack of discussion of Popper's position.

In one way this is true, and must be true, because any problem clearly must yield before some one who is prepared to treat language in the way Popper does. What problem could there be so hard as not to dissolve in a sufficiently strong solution of nonsense? And nonsense is what the phrase "conjectural knowledge" is:

More insults.

just like say, the phrase "a drawn game which was won". To say that something is known, or is an object of knowledge, implies that it is true, and known to be true.

This is ambiguous on the key issue of fallibility.

Is Stove saying all knowledge must be infallible and known to be infallible? It must be the proven to be the perfect truth, with complete certainty, so that error is utterly impossible – or else it's not knowledge?

If that's Stove's view of knowledge, then I think he has a choice between irrationalism or skepticism. Because his demands cannot be met rationally.

Or if Stove's position is less perfectionist, then what is it? What allowances are made for fallibility and human limitations? How do they compare to Popper's allowances? And why is Popper mistaken?

(Of course only `knowledge that' is in question here). To say of something that it is conjectural, on the other hand, implies that it is not known to be true.

Does "known to be true" here mean infallibly proven? Or what?

And this is all that needs to be said on the celebrated subject of "conjectural knowledge"; and is a great deal more than should need to be said.

What's going on here is simple. Stove is scornful of a concept he doesn't understand. He doesn't appreciate or discuss the problems in the field. And he doesn't want to. He's unable to state a summary of Popper's view which a Popperian would agree with, and he wants the matter to be closed after three paragraphs.

Sabotaging Logical Expressions

Ch. 2:

What scientists do in such circumstances, Popper says, is to act on a methodological convention to neglect extreme probabilities

For example, how do you know a coin which flips 1000 heads in a row is unfair? Maybe it's a fair coin on a lucky streak.

Well, so what? I'm willing to risk a 2^-1000 chance of misjudging the coin. I'm far more likely to be struck be lightning than get the coin wrong. And the downside of misjudging the coin is small. If the downside were so large that I couldn't tolerate that much risk, I could flip the coin additional times to reduce the risk to my satisfaction (assuming I get more heads, that reduces the probability it's a fair coin).

So Popper offers: if you judge it's not a worthwhile issue to worry about, then don't worry about it. This judgement, like everything, could be a mistake, so it's always held open to criticism. That openness doesn't mean we think it's mistaken or spend our time searching for a mistake, it just means we recognize we have no infallible guarantee against error. We have to make fallible, criticizable judgements about what areas are problematic to focus attention on.

Stove dislikes this approach because he thinks you could do it to dismiss any problem. Stove fears arbitrarily creating a methodological convention to neglect any difficulty. The solution to this is criticizing bad methodological conventions. Stove (correctly) sees problems with some conventions that could be proposed, and those problems can be expressed as criticism.

The problem here is Stove's unfamiliarity with Popperian methods. Plus I think Stove wants methodological rules to guide thinking and reduce the scope for human judgement and creativity.

... Popper actually anticipated it. This is `the Quine-Duhem thesis': that "any statement can be held true come what may, if we make drastic enough adjustments elsewhere in the system [...]. Conversely, [...] no statement is immune to revision" [23].

There's an important logical point here. I wonder what Stove's answer to it is (he doesn't say). Popper offered some help with this issue, but not a full solution. That's OK because Popper's general approach of fallible judgement combined with error correction still works anyway.

Philosopher David Deutsch addressed the Quine-Duhem issue better. His two books offer refinements of Popper. (FoR ch. 1, 3, 7-8; BoI ch. 1-4, 10, 13.)

In short: You may try modifying whatever you want to rescue a statement, but those modifications have meaning and can be criticized. Ad hoc modifications commonly ruin the explanation which gave the idea value in the first place, or contradict vast amounts of existing knowledge without argument. If you can come up with a modification that survives immediate criticism, then it's a good contribution to the discussion (sometimes the error really is elsewhere in the system).

Other Thoughts

Ch. 3:

It is a favorite thesis with him that a scientific theory is, not only never certain, but never even probable, in relation to the evidence for it [3].

Right, because logically there's no such thing as evidence for a theory. There's only evidence which does or doesn't contradict a theory. And any finite set of evidence is logically compatible with (does not contradict) infinitely many theories, and those theories reach basically every conclusion.

What does Stove think of this?

These two theses [the one above and one other] will be acknowledged to be irrationalist enough; and they are ones upon which Popper repeatedly insists.

Stove doesn't present and discuss Popper's solution to the logical difficulties of positive support. Nor does Stove present his own solution. Instead he says it "will be acknowledged" that Popper's view is irrational, without argument. Stove treats it as if Popper only talked about this difficulty without also giving a solution. (The solution, in short, is that negative arguments don't face this difficulty.)

Ch. 3:

Scepticism about induction is an irrationalist thesis itself

Rather than present and discuss Popper's solution to the problem of induction, Stove simply asserts that the only alternative to induction is irrationalism. He goes on to discuss Hume at length rather than Popper.

Ch. 5:

One of these features, and one which is at first sight surprising in deductivists, is this: an extreme lack of rigor in matters of deductive logic.

Because Popper's main positions aren't about deduction. The technical reason that conjectures and refutations is able to create knowledge is that it's evolution, not deduction. The key to evolution is error correction, and that's also the key to Popper's philosophy, but Stove doesn't understand or discuss that. Stove only uses the word "evolution" once (in a Kuhn quote where it means gradual development rather than replication with variation and selection).

A core issue in Popper's philosophy is: "How can we hope to detect and eliminate error?" (as quoted earlier). Stove doesn't understand, present, or criticize Popper's answer to that question.


Note: My comments on Popperian thinking are summary material. There's more complexity. It's a big topic. There are books of details, and I can expand on particular points of interest if people ask questions.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comment (1)

Explaining Popper on Fallible Scientific Knowledge

In The Logic of Scientific Discovery, sec. 85, Popper writes:

Science is not a system of certain, or well-established, statements; nor is it a system which steadily advances towards a state of finality. Our science is not knowledge (epistēmē): it can never claim to have attained truth, or even a substitute for it, such as probability.

Yet science has more than mere biological survival value. It is not only a useful instrument. Although it can attain neither truth nor probability, the striving for knowledge and the search for truth are still the strongest motives of scientific discovery.

What does Popper mean when he denies science is "knowledge (epistēmē)"? He explains (sec. 85):

The old scientific ideal of epistēmē—of absolutely certain, demonstrable knowledge—has proved to be an idol. The demand for scientific objectivity makes it inevitable that every scientific statement must remain tentative for ever.

His point here is fallibility. There's no way to ever prove an idea with finality so that there's no possibility of it ever being overthrown or improved in the future. There's no way to be 100% certain that a new criticism won't be invented later.

People consider Popper a skeptic because they see the options as infallibilism or skepticism. Popper does deny infallibilist conceptions of knowledge, but disagrees that infallibilism is a requirement of genuine knowledge.

In the first quote, Popper uses the word "knowledge" in two different senses, which is confusing. The first use is qualified as "epistēmē" and refers to view that we must find a way around fallibility or we don't have any knowledge. The second use, in "striving for knowledge", means good ideas (useful ideas, ideas which solve problems) as opposed to random, arbitrary or worthless ideas. The view that we have no way to judge some ideas as better than others is the skeptical position; in contrast, Popper says we can use criticism to differentiate ideas.

I'll now discuss individual pieces of the first quote.

[science] can never claim to have attained truth

Popper means that even if we had an idea with no errors, we have no means to absolutely prove it has no errors and then claim there are none. There are no methods which guarantee the elimination of all errors from any set of ideas.

An idea with no errors can be called a final or perfect truth. It can't be refuted. It also can't be improved. It's an end of progress. Human knowledge, by contrast, is an infinite journey in which we make progress but don't reach a final end point at which thinking stops.

Could there be unbounded progress while some ideas, e.g. 2+2=4, are never revisited? Yes but there's nothing to gain by being dogmatic, and there're no arguments which yield exceptions to fallibility. Just accept all ideas are potentially open to criticism, and then focus your research on areas you consider promising or find problematic. And if someone has a surprising insight contradicting something you were confident of, refute it rather than dismissing it.

[science] can attain neither truth nor probability

Regarding probability: There's no way to measure how close to the (perfect) truth an idea is, how much error it contains, or how likely it is to be (perfectly) true. The method of judging ideas by (primarily informal) critical arguments doesn't allow for establishing ideas as probable, and the alternative epistemological methods don't work (Popper has criticisms of them, including on logical grounds).

Also, probability applies to physical events (e.g. probability of a die rolling a 6), not to ideas. An idea either is (perfectly) true or it isn't. Probability of ideas is a metaphor for positive support or justification. I've addressed that issue under the heading: gradations of certainty.

Science is not a system of certain, or well-established, statements

What's good about scientific statements if they aren't well-established or certain? They aren't refuted. We've looked, but haven't found any errors in them. That's better than ideas which are refuted. I shouldn't accept or act on ideas when I'm aware of (relevant) errors in them.

My judgements are capable of being mistaken in general. But that isn't a criticism of any particular judgement. Ideas should be rejected due to critical arguments, not due to fallibility itself.

striving for knowledge and the search for truth

The human capacity for error ruins some projects (e.g. attaining absolute certainty, attaining epistēmē). But it doesn't prevent us from creating a succession of better and better ideas by finding and fixing some of our errors.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Frozen Comments

female "equality" is a type of feminist social justice, and is a major theme in Frozen.

let’s have 2 female leads and a weak man, and call it equality… uhhhhhhhh

another major social justice idea is that existing social structures are oppressive. which is also a main Frozen theme. it presents following your emotions as the solution to this oppression. the rules are mean, so ignore them and replace with whim and be free and empowered.

lion king says existing social structures can be oppressive or not. depends who’s in charge. Scar was oppressive but that was a solvable problem without getting rid of the structure.

but Frozen says you can’t reconcile existing social structures with your emotions, identity, etc

Moana sings about “who you are” and has some identity shit. and it says this causes some mild friction with society. but that fundamentally Moana is compatible with society and is even celebrated by her society without the society losing its nature or values.

in Lion King, when Simba accepts his societal role, function, duty and responsibilities, he makes things better. his responsibilities weren’t oppressing him, they were guiding him to do the right thing which was best for everyone.

in Pinocchio, when he acts responsibly, he saves his father from the whale and he becomes a real boy. first he acts contrary to his conscience, to society’s ideas, and makes his life a mess. then he acts more like how he knew he should (how society and his conscience say to) and that got his back life in order.

Moana is irresponsible in mild ways. a bit reckless. but what matters is: she decides to do something hard because it’s important for her society in a way that’s bigger than herself. it’s also personally fulfilling. that’s compatible. she decides to take on a burden, a responsibility, a difficult heroic quest.

and the Moana plague, Pinocchio whale and Scar tyrant are all like objective problems in the world. as opposed to Frozen where the primary problem is Elsa being emo, not the political plot. Simba being dumb in the middle is not the primary problem in the movie.

Pinocchio is dumb and is responsible for some of his own problems. but his emotion following is portrayed as bad. he wasn’t supposed to give in to temptation. (as opposed to Frozen where they are supposed to give in to their emotions). and then Pinocchio faces a major challenge in the world after.

Moana is never very dumb. at her worst, she thinks she’s failed and wants to give up. one scene later to give her some wisdom, she’s back at it.

in Moana, her semi-love-interest is an older man with a large power imbalance in his favor (he’s a demigod…). he’s cocky, funny and initially dismissive to Moana. he’s high status and knows it and is literally willing to say so. Moana is strong enough to push back and earn some respect.

http://www.metrolyrics.com/youre-welcome-lyrics-disney.html

I see what's happening yeah

You're face to face with greatness and it's strange

You don't even know how you feel

It's adorable!

Well, it's nice to see that humans never change

Open your eyes, let's begin

Yes, it's really me

It's Maui, breathe it in

I know its a lot; the hair, the bod

When you're staring at a demigod

What can I say except you're welcome

For the tides, the sun, the sky

Hey, it's okay, it's okay, you're welcome

that’s how his song begins when she meets him. and he shit tests her by sealing her in a cave with a giant boulder and stealing her boat and leaving

Anna doesn’t decide to be a hero. she doesn’t choose to face the dangers like wolves or giant snowman, they just happen to her. she never starts acting responsibly on purpose

she keeps gossiping. she’s super social. that’s not typical of adventure movies. but she spends her time talking and then like actually does things as a minor aside.

simba knows scar is dangerous and faces it anyway. same with pinocchio and sea+whale. same with Moana and maui, crab and fire boss

anna says elsa isn’t dangerous when she goes on journey

she isn’t setting out to face the scary unknown or slay a dragon. she’s just trying to talk with her sister like at home.

Anna’s most heroic moment is when she gets hit by a sword. b/c of self-sacrificing love, not courage. at least she knew she was stepping into danger (tho she was about to die anyway)

Moana sings about trying to choose a role in life (chief or explorer)

roles Ana plays include: clumsy-adorable girl, falling in romantic love girl, helpless girl who needs to be rescued, breadwinning provider, gossip, martyr, badguy puncher (in a comic way without strength), dismissive beta-orbiter-target

she doesn’t really play a princess role, but she does abuse her office to give Kristoff a job

she fakes confidence in a social way a couple times on journey

she never does anything to learn, grow, train, skill-up as is pretty standard in these movies.

the movie is about letting go of the structural organization of society, not having roles in life to guide you, and replacing it all with emotions – especially love.

Frozen also has no strong characters. the giant snowman/monster or random guards are the closest. the hero doesn’t even fight the monster. she just leaves and the bad guys fight it

the movie is so confused. changing the bad guy into the sister will do that, i guess.

the movie doesn’t even know if “cold” is good or bad. it can’t keep its metaphors straight b/c of the role change. she has cold powers. which are good, sorta. but Let It Go ends with “The cold never bothered me anyway.” besides a lie, this is a use of the regular meaning of cold (as bad)

and in Let It Go (all Frozen lyrics), Elsa sings:

And I'll rise like the break of dawn.

and

Here I stand, in the light of day.

But then when Anna shows up, Elsa sings:

Please go back home, your life awaits

Go enjoy the sun and open up the gates

It's contradictory about the sun. Elsa was singing how she gets to be in the sun now, but then she's like "nah you go be in the sun Anna".

later the trolls sing:

We’re not saying you can change her, ‘cuz people don’t really change 

We’re only saying that love of course is powerful and strange 

People make bad choices if they’re mad, or scared, or stressed 

Throw a little love their way and you’ll bring out their best 

True love brings out their best!

Frozen says Love is an Open Door (that's another song title)

Frozen replaces the hero’s journey with the lover’s journey.

in Frozen, you don’t pioneer by facing the unknown, you pioneer by falling in love... in regular movies you explore the scary unknown world and face challenges in the world. in Frozen, you explore your own emotions, and the challenges are your own emotions, and pretty much the whole world consists of emotions.

Frozen is a super social movie all about talking, relationships and emotions. it's heavy on romance, love, and dishonesty. Anna lies about her assertiveness with Kristoff and later lies about letting him tag along (faking non-needy high status even on a snowy mountain, because she thinks social reality always matters more than real reality). And Anna doesn't want Kristoff to tell the truth to Olaf about summer melting snowmen. And then there's what Elsa sings (emphasis added)

Don't let them in, don't let them see

Be the good girl you always have to be

Conceal, don't feel, put on a show

Make one wrong move and everyone will know

Putting on a show means lying.

A "wrong move" consists of one that lets everyone know. She's trying to hide the truth from them. She wants them blind ("don't let them see"). She wants them not to have knowledge. She considers enlightening and illuminating wrong.

The cold never bothered me anyway.

The cold did bother her. This is such a standard, modern, social lie. People say they didn't care anyway about stuff they did care about. Like if they don't get invited to a party they lie that they didn't want to go anyway.

And what are Elsa's ice powers a metaphor for? They are something about she doesn't fit in, she's not normal, and when she's emotional she can hurt people. I think the movie is ambiguous and Elsa is meant to fit many types of not fitting in, rather than it being about a particular type. As an example, Elsa could be a lesbian and trying to hide it (the voice actors like the idea). That would fit the movie fine. But the movie is vague and it could easily be something else instead, like she's a nervous dork. Or she could think she's a C student working really hard to get A's, but she's not smart enough for the perfect student role and worries she'll be revealed as a fraud if she slips up. Or she could be a non-cheerleader who worries if she slips up with her makeup and lets them see a pimple then people will realize she's not the beautiful girl she tries to present as. There are lots of ways people get nervous, worried and stressed. They try to fit into a role in society, and especially early on they aren't perfect at it and worry people will recognize the mismatch. And then they sometimes lash out when the pressure and stress upsets them. The pressure is often more self-imposed than the realize, but there's also frequently some genuine, important external pressures which they resent.

What is Frozen's solution? if you don't fit in, blame society. do whatever you feel like and people should be happy to support you. Frozen has no respect for the reasons society is organized as it is, no understanding of the purposes of society's structural organization. Frozen seems to think people can change their place in the world about as fast as they can change emotions.


Read my previous comments on Frozen.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comment (1)

Analyzing How Far I'll Go

Lyrics from How Far I'll Go, from Disney's Moana.

I've been staring at the edge of the water

The ocean water is a metaphor for the unknown, the Other, for thinking outside the box, for being a pioneer.

Long as I can remember, never really knowing why

People don't understand themselves very well.

I wish I could be the perfect daughter

But I come back to the water, no matter how hard I try

Moana tries to follow her society's rules and fit in like her dad wants her to. "Perfect" refers to perfect conformity.

But she can't do it. Many people are content just to go with the flow of their society, but Moana is an ambitious hero. And as as the movie plot indicates (Moana's actions are necessary and helps her society), society needs some people who stand out, some explorers, pioneers and nonconformists.

Every turn I take, every trail I track

Every path I make, every road leads back

To the place I know where I cannot go

Where I long to be

Moana faces a conflict with her society. She tries to fit in, but there's friction. This is normal. Society tramples on the individual some. It may be pretty good, but it's not going to be a perfect fit for everyone. This is a common problem, especially for children, but most people accept their place as they grow up.

See the line where the sky meets the sea.
It calls me
And no one knows, how far it goes

Society doesn't understand the world outside the society.

The line is a boundary line. Crossing a line is similar to breaking a rule. Moana wants to cross lines.

If the wind in my sail on the sea stays behind me
One day I'll know

Moana wants to push boundaries. She wants to go beyond her society's current knowledge.

This isn't a challenge to her society. She isn't attacking her society. She isn't calling it oppressive. She doesn't think the new knowledge will harm her society. She thinks it will be good. And in the movie, it is good for everyone.

Notice the if. Her plan involves uncertainty. The unknown involves unpredictability.

If I go there's just no telling how far I'll go

When you're a pioneer, you never know where the journey will take you. Once you step outside society's boundaries, there's no more societal structure to guide your or limit how far you go.

I know everybody on this island seems so happy, on this island
Everything is by design

Society has reasons for how it's organized. And it makes people happy and works pretty well.

I know everybody on this island has a role, on this island
So maybe I can roll with mine

People have roles in society. People try to figure out a role which works both for them and for society. Moana has a role which is accessible to her (chieftain's daughter who will later be chief), and has been trying to make herself want it. But she wants to be a pioneer.

I can lead with pride, I can make us strong
I'll be satisfied if I play along

She sees good things about the life role her society is offering her. She can accomplish worthwhile things within the role. She thinks she should be able to play the role and be satisfied, like other people do. (Or at least appear to do. Many others have similar struggles like Moana. But they don't always talk about it, and they often become satisfied and play along as they grow up.)

But the voice inside sings a different song
What is wrong with me?

Moana thinks something is wrong with her because she doesn't fit into her place in society. She has put a lot of effort into fitting in, but it's still not working. She wants something different.

See the light as it shines on the sea.

Moana wants to explore the sea (the unknown beyond her society's little world). The light on the see is positive symbolism. Light is holy, moral and illuminating. This is partly because light lets us see, and seeing lets us understand and deal with the world.

A dictionary definition of "illuminate" is "help to clarify or explain".

It's blinding

But the sea is difficult to deal with. Her society is blind to what the unknown is like. Moana can't currently see the world she wants to explore, but she believes it will be illuminating to go there.

But no one knows, how deep it goes

The unknown is scary and dangerous. You don't know how to control and organize it and put it in a safe, bounded structure.

And it seems like it's calling out to me, so come find me

And let me know

What's beyond that line, will I cross that line?

Moana wants to cross lines (explore outside boundaries, break rules). She's inspired to do this. She finds it appealing. She has an energetic, adventurous, heroic spirit.


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Moana Review

You will learn more if you watch the movie first and write down your own thoughts before reading mine, so you can compare.

Moana is better than Frozen but has some nasty stuff about identity ("who you are"), emotions, and not needing skill. Also, like Frozen, it doesn't have a serious evil bad guy. I don't think Disney wants to admit there's evil in the world anymore. There's no character anything like Scar from The Lion King or Jafar from Aladdin. Not even close.

Moana starts when she’s like 2yo and her dad disrupts her important activity, without knowing what she was doing or why, and ignores her protests. he drags her away from the magic powers, wonderland, etc. then he says she will grow up to be chief but first she needs to learn “where she belongs”. learn your place, don’t go to the ocean!

then it glorifies primitive life. “the island gives us what we need” (they should try watching the Alone TV show to see how realistic that is). primitive island tribe life seems to consist of way more dancing than manual labor. and "we share everything we make" is so anti-Objectivist and collectivist.

moana sings (paraphrasing): i try to be the perfect daughter, but no matter how hard i try i still disobey (b/c my dad is wrong)

moana's world sucks because her people forget their identity. but she magically suspected it from birth and has a quick little magic shamanic journey to find out.

moana goes out, alone, to face the scary unknown on the ocean without bothering to even learn how to sail a boat first. b/c her heart told her to.

Moana has a strong and powerful male lead so that's an improvement over Frozen. the man and the woman have to work together, using both of their different strengths, to succeed. it's not great or anything. but that tradition is way better than the modern radical attack on it for the purpose of destruction. it's hard to reform anything when it's under attack by enemies. i'm not an enemy of our culture's traditions, just a would-be reformer. i'd much rather have people stick to old ideas than make things worse. i try to make sure my criticism of society isn't aligned with radical leftist and SJW agendas. i try to clearly separate myself from them and point out how they are worse than the traditional aspects of society which i criticize.

Some lyrics

Moana go now

Moana don't stall

Don't worry 'bout how

Just answer the call of the sea

Not worrying about how, just proceeding, is stupid. Moana at least does some training after she's on her journey.

The overall meaning of the movie is as follows (notice this is basically good):

Society is stagnating and failing. It can't go on without any change. But it resists change. Moana is young and naive and willing to think outside the box. Her dad tells her to stop, but she does it anyway.

Change is scary, but Moana chooses to be heroic. She has setbacks and doubts, but keeps trying. It's hard, but she doesn't expect to be pampered. She isn't looking for a stress-free life on easy street. She succeeds at harnessing the power of the scary unknown and brings it back to her society which begins a new era of flourishing. By courageously facing and solving scary problems, Moana was a pioneer, and her individual actions changed the world while the bulk of her society did nothing.


For points of comparison, I'll summarize three more Disney movies. BTW, thanks to Jordan Peterson for his analysis of Lion King and Pinocchio which is great.

Lion King is about the danger to society from evil, and how heroic actions can defeat evil. Simba's father dies because society is blind to its evil side. Simba spends the middle of the movie being irresponsible, but then he realizes his error and decides to do better. Part of why he reforms is that he disappointed the girl. He's also aided by a shamanic journey, which basically means he does some introspection. Facing Scar is a stressful challenge, but Simba is able to succeed. This is pretty good.

Pinocchio is about a young boy growing up. He receives a lecture on morality which doesn't make any sense, because society is terrible at explaining morality logically, so that's a typical experience of children. Then he goes along with temptation which offers him rewards (fame and money) without the effort of education, even though his conscience (Jiminy Cricket) warns him. Pinocchio is generally passive and irresponsible, rather than taking charge of his own life. He gets a second chance and pursues temptation again (the easy fun of Pleasure Island). The excuse used is that he's sick and instant gratification will cure him. Pinocchio manages to escape before losing his humanity, but still has to face a difficult challenge (the whale) to put his life back together. He finally acts responsibly and heroically, and succeeds. This is pretty good.

In Frozen, Elsa nearly kills her sister Anna by not keeping herself under control. The danger is real. Nevertheless, the lesson she learns later is to "Let It Go", stop trying to control herself, and embrace her wild whims and arbitrary emotions. This doesn't make sense.

Anna is a contradictory mix of traits. She's helpless and feminine at times, strong and competent at other times. This fits with the modern lie that girls can be just like boys when they want, but also still be girls when they want. (Life roles don't just arbitrarily mix and match like that. It's hard enough to manage one lifestyle you focus on. Changing lifestyles like masks, at a moment's convenience, is ridiculous. It basically implies that everything people do in life is superficial and simple.)

Anna's love interest is a weak beta male with little to offer.

The theme of the movie is following your emotions. Very bad movie.


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Finding Dory Review

Finding Dory starts with modern child psychiatry themes

Dory has “short term memory loss” consisting of not obeying her parents

she remembers some things just fine, and forgets others

then there’s some other fish doing marital fighting. one hears something and the other doesn’t, and they bicker. super exaggerated like a sitcom style.

Dory trying to explain her memory problem says she can remember some things that make sense

they keep playing up stuff about how Dory is a fucking retard child and everyone else finds her annoying and finds it socially awkward to deal with her without being overtly rude.

(I stopped watching)


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Repetitive Stress Injury Psychology and Personal Story

Below is an email to Robert Spillane. He's a thinker who agrees with lots of Thomas Szasz's ideas, and knows a lot about Popper and other philosophers. His book An Eye for An I: Philosophies of Personal Power covers many philosophical ideas. He wrote an article about Repetitive Stress Injury (RSI).

I share my experience with RSI. From my story, you can learn about RSI, and you can also learn how to think about, take responsibility for and solve one's problems.


http://www.szasz.com/spillaneremarks.html

I had RSI problems, which I solved by myself before reading Szasz. Before reading much of your perspective, I wrote down my existing thinking, below. After reading the rest, I see that we broadly agree. I believe my view adds something you don't say.

I liked your comment on the word "demoralised". I particularly agree with:

There are serious psychosocial consequences when people with discomfort in the arm are told that they may have a crippling disease which demands urgent medical treatment and cessation of physical activities.

And I found this especially horrible:

Personal activity is discouraged because insurance companies, facing large payouts, employed private investigators whose evidence, admissible in industrial courts, could prove embarrassing to plaintiffs. Faced with the prospect of jeopardising their claim, workers were inclined to adopt the patient role and assume a state of dependency

I'd be very interested if you think any of my account is mistaken or contradicts Szasz:

I had wrist pain which disrupted my computer use. I wasn't malingering. I wanted to use computers heavily. I didn't have a job at the time ("Occupational Overuse Syndrome" is stupid). I didn't spend much time interacting with doctors about it. I didn't find the doctors useful. I found better info online. I didn't use any RSI medicine beyond wearing wrist splints while sleeping. I could have gotten cortisone shots and probably surgery if I'd wanted to; that would have been a terrible idea.

Bodies have physical limits. My physical problem was real and was addressed with physical solutions: a better chair, ergonomic changes, stretching, breaks, and a temporary reduction in typing. My main problem was typing with bent wrists, which I ceased after educating myself.

I was scared by reading about how RSI could cripple me long-term. What people say about RSI is very dangerous. While learning standard RSI advice, I made myself fearful and stressed about whether my wrists would improve. RSI advice says you're largely helpless – you may be crippled for life with nothing you can do about it. I started worrying.

My physical problem was adequately solved after perhaps a few months, but I didn't notice. I had ongoing pain for several years! Because of my fear, I was oversensitive to minor pain and minor non-pain sensations, and I imagined some pain. I hated my RSI problem rather than benefitting from it.

What really scared me was the claim, which I accepted, that pushing past pain would make my injury worse. That was completely different than my attitude to sports. In sports, I routinely ignored minor pains because I had a rational understanding of which pain indicated a genuine danger and which pain was harmless. I'm good at ignoring pain that I don't consider dangerous.

I had a bad time with RSI because I accepted bad ideas about which pain is dangerous. After the initial physical improvements, I only had mild pain that I could have tolerated if I wanted to. But I was unwilling to because medical authorities told me that ignoring the pain could damage my body and cripple me in the long term. I could have toughened up, as I'd done with sports pains, but medical advice told me not to! I was trying to be responsible and conscientious...

My pain went away when I recognized what was going on and relaxed about it. I'd already solved the physical problem in the past. Introspection and changing my attitude then solved the mental problem.

I believe on principle and logic (without much direct evidence) that the pattern of my experience is common, minus the solution. But I couldn't estimate how common it is compared to other patterns like malingering. The pattern is:

  1. Have a real physical problem while psychologically fine.
  2. Learn about RSI and create a psychological problem.
  3. Take steps to solve the physical problem, which work.
  4. Have an ongoing psychological problem which you confuse with the original physical RSI injury.

Note this pattern explains the development of RSI over time, in contrast to the 8 scenarios you present which state the situation at a particular time.

So I think the standard advice and medical authority associated with RSI is doing immense harm. It scares people, and encourages them to be oversensitive to pain and therefore to exaggerate. Thereby, "medical" advice causes RSI!

I was fooled by bad, pseudo-medical advice to intentionally be sensitive to mild discomfort... The reasoning was that pain is a warning sign for injury, so if you try to be mentally tough about the pain then you will cripple yourself. I think serious physical injuries called "RSI" happen, but malingering, exaggerations and mental errors are way more common.


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Sunk Costs

Many people know about the sunk cost fallacy. And they often think other people are stupid for getting sunk costs wrong.

But people often talk about real issues and call it a sunk cost when it's actually something real. So sunk cost claims shouldn't just be ignored as if they never matter.

A sunk cost is an investment in some kind of project which you already made and can't recover. It can include money, time, effort, etc.

Should you stick with projects you already invested in? Everything else being equal, no. If some other project is better than continuing this one, switch. The sunk cost should be ignored. You look at what continuing this project onward from this point is like compared to other projects.

Here's the real issue which people are sometimes speaking incorrectly about: We're presumably looking at a project with some large startup costs, barriers to entry, costs to finish the whole project, etc. If it was a cheap project, people wouldn't care about the sunk costs much. (Actually sometimes people eat food they hate because of the sunk cost of spending $10 on it already, even though they can easily afford food they do like. That's stupid.)

Projects are usually replaced by similar projects. So expensive projects are frequently being compared to other expensive projects. If I already invested $1000 in this project, maybe I'll have to invest $1000 in the alternative project, too.

So people complain about the "sunk cost" of $1000 already spent on this project. When what they really should say is they'd like to switch projects but the other project would cost $1000. If they'd change their thinking in that way, it'd be better. They're wrong. And they don't understand the sunk cost concept correctly (which already mentioned comparing continuing the current project from where you are to the new project from where it starts, which implies taking into account the startup costs of the alternative project).

But when you tell people to ignore sunk costs, you can be giving bad advice. They can think they are supposed to ignore the $1000 difference between the projects (both cost $1000 originally, but you already paid for one and not the other) because it's a sunk cost issue. Furthermore, this sunk cost issue didn't exist before they paid $1000 for the first project, since back then they had a spare $1000.


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Humans Matter – Post and Podcast

I've been making podcasts. I made a new one:

Watch: Humans Matter

This post is the thoughts I wrote before podcasting.


Human beings are amazing. They can be powerful, wise, and accomplish great things. Most people don't think of themselves that way. They're kinda shitty and they've accepted that. Kids think they will be awesome later or never. Adults wait tables and know they're nothing great. People think greatness is for a few great men, geniuses and giants, and they don't know how to be that. They think it just happens, somehow, and if it doesn't happen to them well, so what? They don't pursue greatness. Sometimes they talk about passions and dreams and then ... start a restaurant and cook some food. What about science? What about big ideas? Yes lots of big ideas are dumb and impractical. So make good ones! That doesn't mean there can't be good ideas, it means more people need to work on it. Like you, not someone else!

People need meaning and responsibility in their life too. They need to do something that matters or they won't be happy. They may pretend they're happy and have some short term pleasures, but it's not fulfilling. They might cope, but they could be a lot happier. (They might possibly even cope without drugs – including recreational drugs, prescription drugs, psychiatric drugs, painkillers, alcohol, nicotine, marijuana and caffeine.)

People don't tell their kids they're sacred and have a divine soul, that they are demigods who can move heaven and Earth if they want to, and learn enough (knowledge is power), and run their life efficiently and keep up with solving their problems (rather than taking on new problems faster than they solve problems, which is what most people do, and then they get overwhelmed and start lowering their standards and trying to cope with a chronic situation of suffering through many unsolved problems).

Especially today, in our secular society, people don't think human beings are special. But they are. A single person is like a whole species. They're unique. Elephants are a unique animal compared to cows, but individual elephants are all the same thing just like two iPhones are fundamentally the same (even if one is a bit older and slower and has a unique scratch on it).

A human being is a universal knowledge creator. That means they can learn anything that can be learned. You have that capability. Your child has that capability. That's your birthright. Humans are born with tremendous potential.

People come along to FI and say philosophy is hard, they aren't super into it, blah blah blah. They are wasting their lives on petty things. The universe is a big place. People should be exploring the stars, harnessing nuclear power, understanding the multiple universes implied by quantum physics, programming AIs, curing cancer, curing aging, automating all the easy and boring jobs to rescue billions of people from manual labor and drudgery, and understanding reason and morality better and better.

People aim so small. Want to earn a few hundred thousand dollars? Why not a billion? Seriously. Create something great which creates $100 of value for 10 million people that didn't exist before. That's a billion dollars. OK OK, charge them half, so you make half a billion and those 10 million people are all $50 dollars richer (half a billion in total). You want to help people? Do that. You think that's totally unbelievably impossible for you? Why? It's easy to make a website which can handle 10 million visitors in a year. You can reach 10 million people if you want to, and they want to.

A hundred dollars isn't much. There are over 10 million Americans who have more than a hundred dollar problem with how they eat. They endure thousands of dollars of suffering, human scales, food scales, calorie counting, buying things, forcing themselves to exercise, wasted gym memberships, etc, trying to diet. They eat things which cost more, taste worse, and are counterproductive. There's so many big pain points in so many people's lives.


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What Philosophy Takes

suppose someone wanted to know what i know today about philosophy.

they better be as smart, honest and good at learning as me or put in as much time/attention/effort as me. if they are way behind on both, how is that going to work?

if you aren't even close in either area, but you pretend you're learning FI, you're being irresponsible and lying to yourself. you don't actually have a plan to learn it which makes sense and which appears workable if you stop and look at it in broad strokes.

consider, seriously, what advantages you have, compared to me, if any. consider your actual, realistic capabilities. if the situation looks bad, that is good information to know, which you can use to formulate a plan for dealing with your actual situation. it's better to have some kind of plan than to ignore the situation and work with no plan or with a plan for a different (more positive) situation you aren't in.

if you're young, this stuff still applies to you. if you aren't doing much to learn philosophy now, when will you? it doesn't get easier if you wait. it gets harder. over time you will get less honest and more tied up in a different non-FI life.

whatever issues you have with FI, they won't go away by themselves. waiting won't fix anything. face them now, or don't pretend you're going to face them at all.

if you're really young, you may find it helpful to do things like learn to read first. there's audiobooks, but it isn't really just about reading, it's also vocabulary and other related skills. putting effort into improving your ability to read is directly related to FI, it's directly working on one of the issues separating you from FI. that's fine.

if you're doing something which isn't directly related, but which you think will help with FI, post it and see if others agree with your plan or think you're fooling yourself. if you're fooling yourself, the sooner you find out the sooner you can fix it. (or do you want to fool yourself?)


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Reading Recommendations

I made a reading list. If you want to be good at thinking and know much about the world, these are the best books to read by the best thinkers. In particular, if you don't understand Ayn Rand and Karl Popper then you're at a huge disadvantage throughout life. (Almost everyone is at this huge disadvantage. It's a sad state of affairs. You don't have to be, though.) I put lots of effort into selecting the best books and chapters to highlight, and including brief summaries. The selected chapters are especially important for Karl Popper, who I don't think you should read cover-to-cover.

Many other philosophy books, including common recommendations, are actually so bad that people think intellectual books suck and give up on learning. So I want to help point people in the right direction. (If you think my recommendations are bad, speak up and state your judgement and criticisms. Don't silently dismiss the ideas with no possibility of being corrected if you're mistaken.)

Ayn Rand is the best moral philosopher. That covers issues like how to be happy, what is a good life, and how to make decisions. There's no avoiding those issues in your life. Your choice is whether to read the best ideas on the topic or muddle through life with some contradictions you picked up from your culture and never critically considered.

Karl Popper is the best philosopher of knowledge. That covers issues like how to learn, how to come up with solutions to problems (solutions are a type of knowledge, and problem solving is a type of learning), and how to evaluate ideas as good, bad, true or false. Critical thinking skills like this are part of everyone's life. Your choice is whether to use half-remembered half-false critical thinking skills you picked up in school, or to learn from the best humanity has ever had and consciously think things through.

I made a free video presentation covering the reading list. It'll help you understand the authors, find out which books interest you, and read more effectively. Take a look at the reading list, then check out my video overview.

Watch: Elliot presents the reading list. (This video is also a good introduction to philosophy and Fallible Ideas.)

If you have some interest in learning about reason, morality, liberalism, etc, please take a look at the reading list and watch the video. This was a big project to create a helpful resource and I highly recommend at least looking it over.

I also recorded two 3-hour discussions. I talked with other philosophers who are familiar with the material. We talk about what the books say and how they're valuable, who the authors are and what they think, why people have trouble reading, and some philosophical issues and tangents which come up.

If you love reading books, dive right in! But if you're like most people, you'll find podcasts easier. Most people find verbal discussion more fun and engaging than books. The podcasts will help you get information about what the books are like, which can help you become interested in the first place.

Buy: Alan Forrester Discussion

Buy: Justin Mallone Discussion


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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:

http://www.peikoff.com/courses_and_lectures/the-history-of-philosophy-volume-1-–-founders-of-western-philosophy-thales-to-hume/

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)

Epistemology

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)