Standards of Understanding

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand:

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

I thought of a related point:

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

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (2)

Critical Rationalism Criticisms?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See also: CR reading recommendations.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (10)

My Paths Forward Policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (3)

Empiricism and Instrumentalism

Gyrodiot commented defending instrumentalism.

I'm going to clarify what I mean about "instrumentalism" and "empiricism". I don't know if we actually disagree or there's a misunderstanding.

FI has somewhat of a mixed view here (reason and observation are both great), and objects to an extreme focus on one or the other. CR and Objectivism both say you don't have to, and should not, choose between reason and observation. We object to the strong "rationalists" who want to sit in an armchair and reason out what reality is like without doing any science, and we object to the strong "empiricists" who want to look at reality and do science without thinking.

Instrumentalism means that theories are only or primarily instruments for prediction, with little or no explanation or philosophical thought. Our view is that observation and prediction are great and valuable, but aren't alone in being so great and valuable. Some important ideas – such as the theory of epistemology itself – are primarily non-empirical.

There's a way some people try to make philosophy empirical. It's: try different approaches and see what the results are (and try to predict the results of acting according to different philosophies of science). But how do you judge the results? What's a good result? More accurate scientific predictions, you say. But which ones? How do you decide which predictions to value more than others? Or do you say every prediction is equal and go for sheer quantity? If quantity, why, and how do you address that with only empiricism and no philosophical arguments? And you want more accurate predictions according to which measures? (E.g. do you value lower error size variance or lower error size mean, or one of the infinitely many possible metrics that counts both of them in some way?)

How do you know which observations to make, and which portion of the available facts to record about what you observe? How do you interpret those observations? Is the full answer just to predict which way of making observations will lead to the most correct predictions later on? But how do you predict that? How do you know which data will turn out useful to science? My answer is you need explanations of things like which problems science is currently working on, and why, and the nature of those problems – these things help guide you in deciding what observations are relevant.

Here are terminology quotes from BoI:

Instrumentalism   The misconception that science cannot describe reality, only predict outcomes of observations.

Note the "cannot" and "only".

Empiricism   The misconception that we ‘derive’ all our knowledge from sensory experience.

Note the "all" and the "derive". "Derive" refers to something like: take a set of observation data (and some models and formulas with no explanations, philosophy or conceptual thinking) and somehow derive all human knowledge, of all types (even poetry), from that. But all you can get that way are correlations and pattern-matching (to get causality instead of correlation you have to come up with explanations about causes and use types of criticism other than "that contradicts the data"). And there are infinitely many patterns fitting any data set, of which infinitely many both will and won't hold in the finite future, so how do you choose if not with philosophy? By assuming whichever patterns are computable by the shortest computer programs are the correct ones? If you do that, you're going to be unnecessarily wrong in many cases (because that way of prediction is often wrong, not just in cases where we had no clue, but also in cases when explanatory philosophical thinking could have done better). And anyway how do you use empiricism to decide to favor shorter computer programs? That's a philosophy claim, open to critical philosophy debate (rather than just being settled by science), of exactly the kind empiricism was claiming to do without.

Finally I'll comment on Yudkowsky on the virtue of empiricism:

The sixth virtue is empiricism. The roots of knowledge are in observation and its fruit is prediction.

I disagree about "roots" because, as Popper explained, theories are prior to observations. You need a concept of what you're looking for, by what methods, before you can fruitfully observe. Observation has to be selective (like it or not, there's too much data to record literally all of it) and goal-directed (instead of observing randomly). So goals and ideas about observation method precede observation as "roots" of knowledge.

Note: this sense of preceding does not grant debating priority. Observations may contradict preceding ideas and cause the preceding ideas to be rejected.

And note: observations aren't infallible either: observations can be questioned and criticized because, although reality itself never lies, our ideas that precede and govern observation (like about correct observational methods) can be mistaken.

Do not ask which beliefs to profess, but which experiences to anticipate.

Not all beliefs are about experience. E.g. if you could fully predict all the results of your actions, there would still be an unanswered moral question about which results you should prefer or value, which are morally better.

Always know which difference of experience you argue about.

I'd agree with often but not always. Which experience is the debate about instrumentalism and empiricism about?

See also my additional comments to Gyrodiot about this.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Replies to Gyrodiot About Fallible Ideas, Critical Rationalism and Paths Forward

Gyrodiot wrote at the Less Wrong Slack Philosophy chatroom:

I was waiting for an appropriate moment to discuss epistemology. I think I understood something about curi's reasoning about induction After reading a good chunk of the FI website. Basically, it starts from this:

He quotes from:

There is an objective truth. It's one truth that's the same for all people. This is the common sense view. It means there is one answer per question.

The definition of truth here is not the same as The Simple Truth as described in LW. Here, the important part is:

Relativism provides an argument that the context is important, but no argument that the truth can change if we keep the context constant.

If you fixate the context around a statement, then the statement ought to have an objective truth value

Yeah. (The Simple Truth essay link.)

In LW terms that's equivalent to "reality has states and you don't change the territory by thinking differently about the map"


From that, FI posits the existence of universal truths that aren't dependent on context, like the laws of physics.

More broadly, many ideas apply to many contexts (even without being universal). This is very important. DD calls this "reach" in BoI (how many contexts does an idea reach to?), I sometimes go with "generality" or "broader applicability".

The ability for the same knowledge to solve multiple problems is crucial to our ability to deal with the world, and for helping with objectivity, and for some other things. It's what enabled humans to even exist – biological evolution created knowledge to solve some problems related to survival and mating, and that knowledge had reach which lets us be intelligent, do philosophy, build skyscrapers, etc. Even animals like cats couldn't exist, like they do today, without reach – they have things like behavioral algorithms which work well in more than one situation, rather than having to specify different behavior for every single situation.

The problem with induction, with this view is that you're taking truths about some contexts to apply them to other contexts and derive truths about them, which is complete nonsense when you put it like that

Some truths do apply to multiple contexts. But some don't. You shouldn't just assume they do – you need to critically consider the matter (which isn't induction).

From a Bayesian perspective you're just computing probabilities, updating your map, you're not trying to attain perfect truth

Infinitely many patterns both do and don't apply to other contexts (such as patterns that worked in some past time range applying tomorrow). So you can't just generalize patterns to the future (or to other contexts more generally) and expect that to work, ala induction. You have to think about which patterns to pay attention to and care about, and which of those patterns will hold in what ranges of contexts, and why, and use critical arguments to improve your understanding of all this.

We do [live in our own map], which is why this mode of thought with absolute truth isn't practical at all

Can you give an example of some practical situation you don't understand how to address with FI thinking, and I'll tell you how or concede? And after we go through a few examples, perhaps you'll better understand how it works and agree with me.

So, if induction is out of the way, the other means to know truth may be by deduction, building on truth we know to create more. Except that leads to infinite regress, because you need a foundation

CR's view is induction is not replaced with more deduction. It's replaced with evolution – guesses and criticism.

So the best we can do is generate new ideas, and put them through empirical test, removing what is false as it gets contradicted

And we can use non-empirical criticism.

But contradicted by what? Universal truths! The thing is, universal truths are used as a tool to test what is true or false in any context since they don't depend on context

Not just contradicted by universal truths, but contradicted by any of our knowledge (lots of which has some significant but non-universal reach). If an idea contradicts some of our knowledge, it should say why that knowledge is mistaken – there's a challenge there. See also my "library of criticism" concept in Yes or No Philosophy (discussed below) which, in short, says that we build up a set of known criticisms that have some multi-context applicability, and then whenever we try to invent a new idea we should check it against this existing library of known criticisms. It needs to either not be contradicted by any of the criticisms or include a counter-argument.

But they are so general that you can't generate new idea from them easily

The LW view would completely disagree with that: laws of physics are statements like every other, they are solid because they map to observation and have predictive power

CR says to judge ideas by criticism. Failure to map to observation and lack of predictive power are types of criticism (absolutely not the only ones), which apply in some important range of contexts (not all contexts – some ideas are non-empirical).

Prediction is great and valuable but, despite being great, it's also overrated. See chapter 1 of The Fabric of Reality by David Deutsch and the discussion of the predictive oracle and instrumentalism.

Also you can use them to explain stuff (reductionism) and generate new ideas (bottom-up scientific research)

From FI:

When we consider a new idea, the main question should be: "Do you (or anyone else) see anything wrong with it? And do you (or anyone else) have a better idea?" If the answers are 'no'and 'no' then we can accept it as our best idea for now.

The problem is that by having a "pool of statements from which falsehoods are gradually removed" you also build a best candidate for truth. Which is not, at all, how the Bayesian view works.

FI suggests evolution is a reliable way to suggest new ideas. It ties well into the framework of "generate by increments and select by truth-value"

It also highlights how humans are universal knowledge machines, that anything (in particular, an AGI) created by a human would have knowledge than humans can attain too

Humans as universal knowledge creators is an idea of my colleague David Deutsch which is discussed in his book, The Beginning of Infinity (BoI).

But that's not an operational definition : if an AGI creates knowledge much faster than any human, they won't ever catch up and the point is moot

Yes, AGI could be faster. But, given the universality argument, AGI's won't be more rational and won't be capable of modes of reasoning that humans can't do.

The value of faster is questionable. I think no humans currently maximally use their computational power. So adding more wouldn't necessarily help if people don't want to use it. And an AGI would be capable of all the same human flaws like irrationalities, anti-rational memes (see BoI), dumb emotions, being bored, being lazy, etc.

I think the primary cause of these flaws, in short, is authoritarian educational methods which try to teach the kid existing knowledge rather than facilitate error correction. I don't think an AGI would automatically be anything like a rational adult. It'd have to think about things and engage with existing knowledge traditions, and perhaps even educators. Thinking faster (but not better) won't save it from picking up lots of bad ideas just like new humans do.

That sums up the basics, I think The Paths Forwards thing is another matter... and it is very, very demanding

Yes, but I think it's basically what effective truth-seeking requires. I think most truth-seeking people do is not very effective, and the flaws can actually be pointed out as not meeting Paths Forward (PF) standards.

There's an objective truth about what it takes to make progress. And separate truths depending on how effectively you want to make progress. FI and PF talk about what it takes to make a lot of progress and be highly effective. You can fudge a lot of things and still, maybe, make some progress instead of going backwards.

If you just wanna make a few tiny contributions which are 80% likely to be false, maybe you don't need Paths Forward. And some progress gets made that way – a bunch of mediocre people do a bunch of small things, and the bulk of it is wrong, but they have some ability to detect errors so they end up figuring out which are the good ideas with enough accuracy to slowly inch forwards. But, meanwhile, I think a ton of progress comes from a few great (wo)men who have higher standards and better methods. (For more arguments about the importance of a few great men, I particularly recommend Objectivism. E.g. Roark discusses this in his courtroom speech at the end of The Fountainhead.)

Also, FYI, Paths Forward allows you to say you're not interested in something. It's just, if you don't put the work into knowing something, don't claim that you did. Also you should keep your interests themselves open to criticism and error correction. Don't be an AGI researcher who is "not interested in philosophy" and won't listen to arguments about why philosophy is relevant to your work. More generally, it's OK to cut off a discussion with a meta comment (e.g. "not interested" or "that is off topic" or "I think it'd be a better use of my time to do this other thing...") as long as the meta level is itself open to error correction and has Paths Forward.

Oh also, btw, the demandingness of Paths Forward lowers the resource requirements for doing it, in a way. If you're interested in what someone is saying, you can be lenient and put in a lot of effort. But if you think it's bad, then you can be more demanding – so things only continue if they meet the high standards of PF. This is win/win for you. Either you get rid of the idiots with minimal effort, or else they actually start meeting high standards of discussion (so they aren't idiots, and they're worth discussing with). And note that, crucially, things still turn out OK even if you misjudge who is an idiot or who is badly mistaken – b/c if you misjudge them all you do is invest less resources initially but you don't block finding out what they know. You still offer a Path Forward (specifically that they meet some high discussion standards) and if they're actually good and have a good point, then they can go ahead and say it with a permalink, in public, with all quotes being sourced and accurate, etc. (I particularly like asking for simple things which are easy to judge objectively like those, but there are other harder things you can reasonably ask for, which I think you picked up on in some ways your judgement of PF as demanding. Like you can ask people to address a reference that you take responsibility for.)

BTW I find that merely asking people to format email quoting correctly is enough barrier to entry to keep most idiots out of the FI forum. (Forum culture is important too.) I like this type of gating because, contrary to moderators making arbitrary/subjective/debatable judgements about things like discussion quality, it's a very objective issue. Anyone who cares to post can post correctly and say any ideas they want. And it lacks the unpredictability of moderation (it can be hard to guess what moderators won't like). This doesn't filter on ideas, just on being willing to put in a bit of effort for something that is productive and useful anyway – proper use of nested quoting improves discussions and is worth doing and is something all the regulars actively want to do. (And btw if someone really wants to discuss without dealing with formatting they can use e.g. my blog comments which are unmoderated and don't expect email quoting, so there are still other options.)

It is written very clearly, and also wants to make me scream inside

Why does it make you want to scream?

Is it related to moral judgement? I'm an Objectivist in addition to a Critical Rationalist. Ayn Rand wrote in The Virtue of Selfishness, ch8, How Does One Lead a Rational Life in an Irrational Society?, the first paragraph:

I will confine my answer to a single, fundamental aspect of this question. I will name only one principle, the opposite of the idea which is so prevalent today and which is responsible for the spread of evil in the world. That principle is: One must never fail to pronounce moral judgment.

There's a lot of reasoning for this which goes beyond the one essay. At present, I'm just raising it as a possible area of disagreement.

There are also reasons about objective truth (which are part of both CR and Objectivism, rather than only Objectivism).

The issue isn't just moral judgement but also what Objectivism calls "sanction": I'm unwilling to say things like "It's ok if you don't do Paths Forward, you're only human, I forgive you." My refusal to actively do anti-judgement stuff, and approve of PF alternatives, is maybe more important than any negative judgements I've made, implied or stated.

It hits all the right notes motivation-wise, and a very high number of Rationality Virtues. Curiosity, check. Relinquishment, check. Lightness, check. Argument, triple-check.

Yudkowsky writes about rational virtues:

The fifth virtue is argument. Those who wish to fail must first prevent their friends from helping them.

Haha, yeah, no wonder a triple check on that one :)

Simplicity, check. Perfectionism, check. Precision, check. Scholarship, check. Evenness, humility, precision, Void... nope nope nope PF is much harsher than needed when presented with negative evidence, treating them as irreparable flaws (that's for evenness)

They are not treated as irreparable – you can try to create a variant idea which has the flaw fixed. Sometimes you will succeed at this pretty easily, sometimes it’s hard but you manage it, and sometimes you decide to give up on fixing an idea and try another approach. You don’t know in advance how fixable ideas are (you can’t predict the future growth of knowledge) – you have to actually try to create a correct variant idea to see how doable that is.

Some mistakes are quite easy and fast to fix – and it’s good to actually fix those, not just assume they don’t matter much. You can’t reliably predict mistake fixability in advance of fixing it. Also the fixed idea is better and this sometimes helps leads to new progress, and you can’t predict in advance how helpful that will be. If you fix a bunch of “small” mistakes, you have a different idea now and a new problem situation. That’s better (to some unknown degree) for building on, and there’s basically no reason not to do this. The benefit of fixing mistakes in general, while unpredictable, seems to be roughly proportional to the effort (if it’s hard to fix, then it’s more important, so fixing it has more value). Typically, the small mistakes are a small effort to fix, so they’re still cost-effective to fix.

That fixing mistakes creates a better situation fits with Yudkowsky’s virtue of perfectionism.

(If you think you know how to fix a mistake but it’d be too resource expensive and unimportant, what you can do instead is change the problem. Say “You know what, we don’t need to solve that with infinite precision. Let’s just define the problem we’re solving as being to get this right within +/- 10%. Then the idea we already have is a correct solution with no additional effort. And solving this easier problem is good enough for our goal. If no one has any criticism of that, then we’ll proceed with it...")

Sometimes I talk about variant ideas as new ideas (so the original is refuted, but the new one is separate) rather than as modifying and rescuing a previous idea. This is a terminology and perspective issue – “modifying" and “creating" are actually basically the same thing with different emphasis. Regardless of terminology, substantively, some criticized flaws in ideas are repairable via either modifying or creating to get a variant idea with the same main points but without the flaw.

PF expects to have errors all other the place and act to correct them, but places a burden on everyone else that doesn't (that's for humility)

Is saying people should be rational burdensome and unhumble?

According to Yudkowsky's essay on rational virtues, the point of humility is to take concrete steps to deal with your own fallibility. That is the main point of PF!

PF shifts from True to False by sorting everything through contexts in a discrete way.

The binary (true or false) viewpoint is my main modification to Popper and Deutsch. They both have elements of it mixed in, but I make it comprehensive and emphasized. I consider this modification to improve Critical Rationalism (CR) according to CR's own framework. It's a reform within the tradition rather than a rival view. I think it fits the goals and intentions of CR, while fixing some problems.

I made educational material (6 hours of video, 75 pages of writing) explaining this stuff which I sell for $400. Info here:

I also have many relevant, free blog posts gathered at:

Gyrodiot, since I appreciated the thought you put into FI and PF, I'll make you an offer to facilitate further discussion:

If you'd like to come discuss Yes or No Philosophy at the FI forum, and you want to understand more about my thinking, I will give you a 90% discount code for Yes or No Philosophy. Email [email protected] if interested.

Incertitude is lack of knowledge, which is problematic (that's for precision)

The clarity/precision/certitude you need is dependent on the problem (or the context if you don’t bundle all of the context into the problem). What is your goal and what are the appropriate standards for achieving that goal? Good enough may be good enough, depending on what you’re doing.

Extra precision (or something else) is generally bad b/c it takes extra work for no benefit.

Frequently, things like lack of clarity are bad and ruin problem solving (cuz e.g. it’s ambiguous whether the solution means to take action X or action Y). But some limited lack of clarity, lower precision, hesitation, whatever, can be fine if it’s restricted to some bounded areas that don’t need to be better for solving this particular problem.

Also, about the precision virtue, Yudkowsky writes,

The tenth virtue is precision. One comes and says: The quantity is between 1 and 100. Another says: the quantity is between 40 and 50. If the quantity is 42 they are both correct, but the second prediction was more useful and exposed itself to a stricter test.

FI/PF has no issue with this. You can specify required precision (e.g. within plus or minus ten) in the problem. Or you can find you have multiple correct solutions, and then consider some more ambitious problems to help you differentiate between them. (See the decision chart stuff in Yes or No Philosophy.)

PF posits time and again that "if you're not achieving your goals, well first that's because you're not faillibilist". Which is... quite too meta-level a claim (that's for the Void)

Please don't put non-quotes in quote marks. The word "goal" isn't even in the main PF essay.

I'll offer you a kinda similar but different claim: there's no need to be stuck and not make progress in life. That's unnecessary, tragic, and avoidable. Knowing about fallibilism, PF, and some other already-known things is adequate that you don't have to be stuck. That doesn't mean you will achieve any particular goal in any particular timeframe. But what you can do is have a good life: keep learning things, making progress, achieving some goals, acting on non-refuted ideas. And there's no need to suffer.

For more on these topics, see the FI discussion of coercion and the BoI view on unbounded progress:

(David Deutsch, author of BoI, is a Popperian and is a founder of Taking Children Seriously (TCS), a parenting/education philosophy created by applying Critical Rationalism and which is where the the ideas about coercion come from. I developed the specific method of creating a succession of meta problems to help formalize and clarify some TCS ideas.)

I don't see how PF violates the void virtue (aspects of which, btw, relate to Popper's comments on Who Should Rule? cuz part of what Yudkowsky is saying in that section is don't enshrine some criteria of rationality to rule. My perspective is, instead of enshrining a ruler or ruling idea, the most primary thing is error correction itself. Yudkowsky says something that sorta sounds like you need to care about the truth instead of your current conception of the truth – which happily does help keep it possible to correct errors in your current conception.)

(this last line is awkward. The rationalist view may consider that rationalists should win, but not winning isn't necessarily a failure of rationality)

That depends on what you mean by winning. I'm guessing I agree with it the way you mean it. I agree that all kinds of bad things can happen to you, and stuff can go wrong in your life, without it necessarily being your fault.

(this needs unpacking the definition of winning and I'm digging myself deeper I should stop)

Why should you stop?

Justin Mallone replied to Gyrodiot:

hey gyrodiot feel free to join Fallible Ideas list and post your thoughts on PF. also, could i have your permission to share your thoughts with Elliot? (I can delete what other ppl said). note that I imagine elliot would want to reply publicly so keep that in mind.

Gyrodiot replied:

@JUSTINCEO You can share my words (only mine) if you want, with this addition: I'm positive I didn't do justice to FI (particularly in the last part, which isn't clear at all). I'll be happy to read Elliot's comments on this and update in consequence, but I'm not sure I will take time to answer further.

I find we are motivated by the same "burning desire to know" (sounds very corny) and disagree strongly about method. I find, personally, the LW "school" more practically useful, strikes a good balance for me between rigor, ease of use, and ability to coordinate around.

Gyrodiot, I hope you'll reconsider and reply in blog comments, on FI, or on Less Wrong's forum. Also note: if Paths Forward is correct, then the LW way does not work well. Isn't that risk of error worth some serious attention? Plus isn't it fun to take some time to seriously understand a rival philosophy which you see some rational merit in, and see what you can learn from it (even if you end up disagreeing, you could still take away some parts)?

For those interested, here are more sources on the rationality virtues. I think they're interesting and mostly good:

That last one says, of Evenness:

With the previous three in mind, we must all be cautious about our demands.

Maybe. Depends on how "cautious" would be clarified with more precision. This could be interpreted to mean something I agree with, but also there are a lot of ways to interpret it that I disagree with.

I also think Occam's Razor (mentioned in that last link, not explicitly in the Yudkowsky essay), while having some significant correctness to it, is overrated and is open to specifications of details that I disagree with.

And I disagree with the "burden of proof" idea (I cover this in Yes or No Philosophy) which Yudkowsky mentions in Evenness.

The biggest disagreement is empiricism. (See the criticism of that in BoI, and FoR ch1. You may have picked up on this disagreement already from the CR stuff.)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (2)

Open Letter to Machine Intelligence Research Institute

I emailed this to some MIRI people and others related to Less Wrong.

I believe I know some important things you don't, such as that induction is impossible, and that your approach to AGI is incorrect due to epistemological issues which were explained decades ago by Karl Popper. How do you propose to resolve that, if at all?

I think methodology for how to handle disagreements comes prior to the content of the disagreements. I have writing about my proposed methodology, Paths Forward, and about how Less Wrong doesn't work because of the lack of Paths Forward:

Can anyone tell me that I'm mistaken about any of this? Do you have a criticism of Paths Forward? Will any of you take responsibility for doing Paths Forward?

Have any of you written a serious answer to Karl Popper (the philosopher who refuted induction – )? That's important to address, not ignore, since if he's correct then lots of your research approaches are mistakes.

In general, if someone knows a mistake you're making, what are the mechanisms for telling you and having someone take responsibility for addressing the matter well and addressing followup points? Or if someone has comments/questions/criticism, what are the mechanisms available for getting those addressed? Preferably this should be done in public with permalinks at a venue which supports nested quoting. And whatever your answer to this, is it written down in public somewhere?

Do you have public writing detailing your ideas which anyone is taking responsibility for the correctness of? People at Less Wrong often say "read the sequences" but none of them take responsibility for addressing issues with the sequences, including answering questions or publishing fixes if there are problems. Nor do they want to address existing writing (e.g. by David Deutsch – ) which contains arguments refuting major aspects of the sequences.

Your forum ( ) says it's topic-limited to AGI math, so it's not appropriate for discussing criticism of the philosophical assumptions behind your approach (which, if correct, imply the AGI math you're doing is a mistake). And it states ( ):

It’s important for us to keep the forum focused, though; there are other good places to talk about subjects that are more indirectly related to MIRI’s research, and the moderators here may close down discussions on subjects that aren’t a good fit for this forum.

But you do not link those other good places. Can you tell me any Paths-Forward-compatible other places to use, particularly ones where discussion could reasonably result in MIRI changing?

If you disagree with Paths Forward, will you say why? And do you have some alternative approach written in public?

Also, more broadly, whether you will address these issues or not, do you know of anyone that will?

If the answers to these matters are basically "no", then if you're mistaken, won't you stay that way, despite some better ideas being known and people being willing to tell you?

The (Popperian) Fallible Ideas philosophy community ( ) is set up to facilitate Paths Forward (here is our forum which does this ), and has knowledge of epistemology which implies you're making big mistakes. We address all known criticisms of our positions (which is achievable without using too much resources like time and attention, as Paths Forward explains); do you?

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (161)

Less Wrong Lacks Representatives and Paths Forward

In my understanding, there’s no one who speaks for Less Wrong (LW), as its representative, and is responsible for addressing questions and criticisms. LW, as a school of thought, has no agents, no representatives – or at least none who are open to discussion.

The people I’ve found interested in discussion on the website and slack have diverse views which disagree with LW on various points. None claim LW is true. They all admit it has some weaknesses, some unanswered criticisms. They have their own personal views which aren’t written down, and which they don’t claim to be correct anyway.

This is problematic. Suppose I wrote some criticisms of the sequences, or some Bayesian book. Who will answer me? Who will fix the mistakes I point out, or canonically address my criticisms with counter-arguments? No one. This makes it hard to learn LW’s ideas in addition to making it hard to improve them.

My school of thought (Fallible Ideas – FI) has representatives and claims to be correct as far as is known (like LW, it’s fallibilist, so of course we may discover flaws and improve it in the future). It claims to be the best current knowledge, which is currently non-refuted, and has refutations of its rivals. There are other schools of thought which say the same thing – they actually think they’re right and have people who will address challenges. But LW just has individuals who individually chat about whatever interests them without there being any organized school of thought to engage with. No one is responsible for defining an LW school of thought and dealing with intellectual challenges.

So how is progress to be made? Suppose LW, vaguely defined as it may be, is mistaken on some major points. E.g. Karl Popper refuted induction. How will LW find out about its mistake and change? FI has a forum where its representatives take responsibility for seeing challenges addressed, and have done so continuously for over 20 years (as some representatives stopped being available, others stepped up).

Which challenges are addressed? All of them. You can’t just ignore a challenge because it could be correct. If you misjudge something and then ignore it, you will stay wrong. Silence doesn’t facilitate error correction. For information on this methodology, which I call Paths Forward. BTW if you want to take this challenge seriously, you’ll need to click the link; I don’t repeat all of it. In general, having much knowledge is incompatible with saying all of it (even on one topic) upfront in forum posts without using references.

My criticism of LW as a whole is that it lacks Paths Forward (and lacks some alternative of its own to fulfill the same purpose). In that context, my criticisms regarding specific points don’t really matter (or aren’t yet ready to be discussed) because there’s no mechanism for them to be rationally resolved.

One thing FI has done, which is part of Paths Forward, is it has surveyed and addressed other schools of thought. LW hasn’t done this comparably – LW has no answer to Critical Rationalism (CR). People who chat at LW have individually made some non-canonical arguments on the matter that LW doesn’t take responsibility for (and which often involve conceding LW is wrong on some points). And they have told me that CR has critics – true. But which criticism(s) of CR does LW claim are correct and take responsibility for the correctness of? (Taking responsibility for something involves doing some major rethinking if it’s refuted – addressing criticism of it and fixing your beliefs if you can’t. Which criticisms of CR would LW be shocked to discover are mistaken, and then be eager to reevaluate the whole matter?) There is no answer to this, and there’s no way for it to be answered because LW has no representatives who can speak for it and who are participating in discussion and who consider it their responsibility to see that issues like this are addressed. CR is well known, relevant, and makes some clear LW-contradicting claims like that induction doesn’t work, so if LW had representatives surveying and responding to rival ideas, they would have addressed CR.

BTW I’m not asking for all this stuff to be perfectly organized. I’m just asking for it to exist at all so that progress can be made.

Anecdotally, I’ve found substantial opposition to discussing/considering methodology from LW people so far. I think that’s a mistake because we use methods when discussing or doing other activities. I’ve also found substantial resistance to the use of references (including to my own material) – but why should I rewrite a new version of something that’s already written? Text is text and should be treated the same whether it was written in the past or today, and whether it was written by someone else or by me (either way, I’m taking responsibility. I think that’s something people don’t understand and they’re used to people throwing references around both vaguely and irresponsibly – but they haven’t pointed out any instance where I made that mistake). Ideas should be judged by the idea, not by attributes of the source (reference or non-reference).

The Paths Forward methodology is also what I think individuals should personally do – it works the same for a school of thought or an individual. Figure out what you think is true and take responsibility for it. For parts that are already written down, endorse that and take responsibility for it. If you use something to speak for you, then if it’s mistaken you are mistaken – you need to treat that the same as your own writing being refuted. For stuff that isn’t written down adequately by anyone (in your opinion), it’s your responsibility to write it (either from scratch or using existing material plus your commentary/improvements). This writing needs to be put in public and exposed to criticism, and the criticism needs to actually get addressed (not silently ignored) so there are good Paths Forward. I hoped to find a person using this method, or interested in it, at LW; so far I haven’t. Nor have I found someone who suggested a superior method (or even any alternative method to address the same issues) or pointed out a reason Paths Forward doesn’t work.

Some people I talked with at LW seem to still be developing as intellectuals. For lots of issues, they just haven’t thought about it yet. That’s totally understandable. However I was hoping to find some developed thought which could point out any mistakes in FI or change its mind. I’m seeking primarily peer discussion. (If anyone wants to learn from me, btw, they are welcome to come to my forum. It can also be used to criticize FI.) Some people also indicated they thought it’d be too much effort to learn about and address rival ideas like CR. But if no one has done that (so there’s no answer to CR they can endorse), then how do they know CR is mistaken? If CR is correct, it’s worth the effort to study! If CR is incorrect, someone better write that down in public (so CR people can learn about their errors and reform; and so perhaps they could improve CR to no longer be mistaken or point out errors in the criticism of CR.)

One of the issues related to this dispute is I believe we can always proceed with non-refuted ideas (there is a long answer for how this works, but I don’t know how to give a short answer that I expect LW people to understand – especially in the context of the currently-unresolved methodology dispute about Paths Forward). In contrast, LW people typically seem to accept mistakes as just something to put up with, rather than something to try to always fix. So I disagree with ignoring some known mistakes, whereas LW people seem to take it for granted that they’re mistaken in known ways. Part of the point of Paths Forward is not to be mistaken in known ways.

Paths Forward is a methodology for organizing schools of thought, ideas, discussion, etc, to allow for unbounded error correction (as opposed to typical things people do like putting bounds on discussions, with discussion of the bounds themselves being out of bounds). I believe the lack of Paths Forward at LW is preventing the resolution of other issues like about the correctness of induction, the right approach to AGI, and the solution to the fundamental problem of epistemology (how new knowledge can be created).

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (7)

Criticism of Eliezer Yudkowsky on Karl Popper

I wrote this in Feb 2009. There was no reply.

Dear Eliezer Yudkowsky,

I am writing to criticize some of your statements regarding Karl Popper. I hope this will be of interest.

Previously, the most popular philosophy of science was probably Karl Popper's falsificationism - this is the old philosophy that the Bayesian revolution is currently dethroning. Karl Popper's idea that theories can be definitely falsified, but never definitely confirmed, is yet another special case of the Bayesian rules

That isn't Popper's idea because he doesn't believe in definite falsifications. Falsifications are themselves tentative conjectures which must be held open to criticism and reconsidering.

Popper also doesn't assert that confirmations are never definite, rather he denies there is confirmation at all. The reason is that any given confirming evidence for theory T is logically consistent with T being false.

More generally, Popper's philosophy is not about what we can do definitely. He does not address himself to the traditional philosophical problem of what we can and can't be certain of, or what is and isn't a justified, true belief. While he did comment on those issues, his epistemic philosophy is not an alternative answer to those questions. Rather, his positive contributions focus on a more fruitful issue: conjectural knowledge. How do people acquire conjectural knowledge? What is its nature? And so on.

BTW, conjectural knowledge does not mean the probabilistic knowledge that Bayesians are fond of. Probabilistic knowledge is just as much of an anathema to Popper as certain knowledge, because the same criticisms (for example that attempting justification leads to regress or circularity) apply equally well to each.

Your claim at the end of the quote that Popperian epistemology is a special case of Bayesian epistemology is especially striking. Popper considered the Bayesian approach and told us where he stands on it. On page 141 of Objective Knowledge he states, "I have combated [Bayesian epistemology] for thirty-three years."

To say that something which Popper combatted for over three decades is a more general version of his own work is an extraordinary claim. It should be accompanied with extraordinary substantiation, and some account of where Popper's arguments on the subject go wrong, but it is not.

Popper was a hardworking, academic person who read and thought about philosophy extensively, including ideas he disagreed with. He would often try to present the best possible version of an idea, as well as a history of the problem in question, before offering his criticism of it. I would ask that a similar approach be taken in criticizing Popper. Both as a matter of respect, and because it improves discussion.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (2)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (6)

If I Were President...

If I were president I'd cancel most of the meetings, travel, etc, etc, and make some forums which are publicly readable.

There'd be a forum where all the countries have an account with write access. And one where all US politicians have write access. And one with a lot of media and intellectuals.

I think forum discussions are actually the best thing the US president could do.

Imagine if all the politicians, media personalities, etc., with bad ideas had to actually write about them on the record on a daily basis? Imagine if you just kept following up on discussions. What would they do? What most people do currently with me is just stop responding to things, which they can get away with socially because I have low prestige. But just refusing to answer forever wouldn't be a viable answer to the president's forum, and arguments/questions from the president and his staff. That'd look really bad to the world: Nancy Pelosi has been asked the same question for 5 days in a row and just won't answer at all.

But if they did answer they'd get pinned down.

They'd have to do evasive tactics: missing the point, playing dumb, trying to create confusion, saying unclear things, trying to make the discussion go in circles, etc. All that stuff can be called out, pointed out, and basically made to look as foolish as it is. People get away with that stuff in verbal formats with little followup, and behind closed doors, but not against the best debaters over a period of weeks with every word of it in the record. None of the bad guys have any method of dealing with that level of intellectual scrutiny.

They can lie, but the lies can be documented and the canonical links documenting lies can be repetitively posted every single time a lie is repeated. Staff can be hired to do that. That would cost a hell of a lot less than a wide variety of current, unimportant government departments. It's very easy by government standards.

And how do you deal with media questions? Press briefings are so incomplete that it's hard for people to see who's right and why. What if all the bullshit the press kept bugging Trump about was on a forum where some staff members replied with canonical links over and over so everything was getting answered? How would the media continue to ignore the main points, which they currently ignore, if it was being linked in reply to them every time they talked?

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (35)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Jack Murphy on Workplace SJWs

Jack Murphy wrote good tweets about Social Justice Warriors in the workplace:

We read about SJW insanity everywhere but somehow it still doesn't seem real. I began new day job recently which brought it all home to me.

On the first day they gave me the organizational goals for the year. One of them was: "Rid the org of bias through implicit bias training."

They made everyone take the implicit bias test online and then dedicated a required two-day retreat to reprogramming all the employees.

There were working groups which produced new goals such "reduce the number of white people." and "rid org of white supremacy bias."

They circulated pre-work reading materials with such titles as "Finding White Supremacy at work" and "How white culture creates injustice."

Apparently, insisting on promptness for meetings is now considered white supremacy.

What's interesting is that these ideas are bubbling up from the staffer level, + forcing management to respond. It's ground up not top down

Management said they hoped hiring me would help break the org of the mind virus. I'm not sure they know exactly what they're getting w/ me.

Some things which are now white supremacist: Objectivity. Individualism. "Worship of the written word." Sense of urgency. Perfectionism.

I walked into a room that had "too many white people" written on the white board. The culture war seems unreal until you see that at work.

I wouldn't ordinarily subject myself to this stuff, but a) the work itself is fascinating and I'm expert and b) it's like being undercover

I'm getting an inside look at shit I thought only existed in paranoid alt-right delusions. It's intriguing to see the mind virus at work.

I suspect at some point after the book comes out, my two worlds will collide. That'll be something. Maybe I'll get fired for truth.

If I get fired from the job for writing, that'll be good for the book. I'll cause a shit storm and the word will spread farther.

And until then, the pay is good, the work is even better, and I get real world confirmation of the culture war at work. Personal experience.

I'll keep cataloging the SJW craziness. If they fire me, I'll have a comprehensive list of EEO violations and file a civil rights case.

Plus, it's great fodder for the current book and future work. They're paying me to get a valuable dose of culture war reality.

I've resisted accepting the culture war as real. I don't want to think along gender divides or racial ones. But they leave me no choice.

I wrote this months ago and now I'm living it today:

For more content like this, make sure you buy my forthcoming book: #DemocratToDeplorable Sign up here for more!

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

IQ 3

These are replies to Ed Powell discussing IQ. This follows up on my previous posts: IQ and IQ 2.

Thanks for writing a reasonable reply to someone you disagree with. My most important comments are at the bottom and concern a methodology that could be used to make progress in the discussion.

I think we both have the right idea of "heritable." Lots of things are strongly heritable without being genetic.

OK, cool. Is there a single written work – which agrees “heritable” doesn’t imply genetic – which you think adequately expresses the argument today for genetic degrees of intelligence? It’d be fine if it’s a broad piece discussing lots of arguments with research citations that it’s willing to bet its claims on, or if it focuses on one single unanswerable point.

I think you take my analogy of a brain with a computer too far.

It's not an analogy, brains are literally computers. A computer is basically something that performs arbitrary computations, like 2+3 or reversing the letters in a word. That’s not nearly enough for intelligence, but it’s a building block intelligence requires. Computation and information flow are a big part of physics now, and if you try to avoid them you're stuck with alternatives like souls and magic.

I don't pretend to understand your argument above, and so I won't spend time debating it, but you surely realize that human intelligence evolved gradually over the last 5 or so million years (since our progenitors split from the branch that became chimps), and that this evolution did not consist of a mutant ADD Gate gene and another mutant NOT Gate gene.

There are lots of different ways to build computers. I don't think brains are made out of a big pile of NAND gates. But computers with totally different designs can all be universal – able to compute all the same things.

Indeed, if intelligence is properly defined as "the ability to learn", then plenty of animals have some level of intelligence. Certain my cats are pretty smart, and one can, among the thousands of cute cat videos on the internet, find examples of cats reasoning through options to open doors or get from one place to another. Dogs are even more intelligent. Even Peikoff changed his mind on Rand's pronouncement that animals and man are in different distinct classes of beings (animals obey instinct, man has no instinct and thinks) when he got a dog. Who knew that first hand experience with something might illuminate a philosophical issue?

I agree with Rand and I can also reach the same conclusion with independent, Popperian reasons.

I've actually had several dogs and cats. So I'm not disagreeing from lack of first hand experience.

What I would ask if I lacked that experience – and this is relevant anyway – is if you could point out one thing I'm missing (due to lack of experience, or for any other reason). What fact was learned from experience with animals that I don't know, and which contradicts my view?

I think you're not being precise enough about learning, and that with your approach you'd have to conclude that some video game characters also learn and are pretty smart. Whatever examples you provide about animal behaviors, I’ll be happy to provide parallel software examples – which I absolutely don’t think constitute human-like intelligence (maybe you do?).

Rand's belief in the distinct separation between man and animals when it comes to intellect is pretty contrary to the idea that man evolved gradually,

The jump to universality argument provides a way that gradual evolution could create something so distinct.

in the next few years the genetic basis of intelligence will in fact be found and we will no longer have anything to argue about. I don't think there's any real point arguing over this idea.

Rather than argue, would you prefer to bet on whether the genetic basis higher intelligence will be found within the next 5 years? I'd love to bet $10,000 on that issue.

In any case, even if there was such a finding, there’d still be plenty to argue about. It wouldn’t automatically and straightforwardly settle the issues regarding the right epistemology, theory of computation, way to understand universality, etc.

We all know a bunch of really smart people who are in some ways either socially inept or completely nuts.

Yes, but there are cultural explanations for why that would be, and I don't think genes can control social skill (what exactly could the entire mechanism be, in hypothetical-but-rigorous detail?).

I know a number of people smarter than myself who have developed some form of mental illness, and it's fairly clear that these things are not unrelated.

Tangent: I consider the idea of "mental illness" a means of excusing and legitimizing the initiation of force. It's used to subvert the rule of law – both by imprisoning persons without trial and by keeping some criminals out of jail.

Link: Thomas Szasz Manifesto.

The point of IQ tests is to determine (on average) whether an individual will do well in school or work, and the correspondence between test results and success in school and work is too close to dismiss the tests as invalid, even if you don't believe in g or don't believe in intelligence at all.

Sure. As I said, I think IQ tests should be used more.

The tests are excellent predictors, especially in the +/- 3 SD area

Yes. I agree the tests do worse with outliers, but working well for over 99% of people is still useful!

The government has banned IQ tests from being used as discriminators for job fitness;

That's an awful attack on freedom and reason!

Take four or five internet IQ tests. I guarantee you the answers will be in a small range (+/- 5ish), even though they are all different. Clearly they measure something! And that something is correlated with success in school and work (for large enough groups).

I agree.

My one experience with Deutsch was his two interviews on Sam Harris's podcast

For Popper and Deutsch, I'd advise against starting with anything other than Deutsch's two books.

FYI Deutsch is a fan of Ayn Rand, an opponent of global warming, strongly in favor of capitalism, a huge supporter of Israel, and totally opposed to cultural and moral relativism (thinks Western culture is objectively and morally better, etc.).

I have some (basically Objectivist) criticism of Deutsch's interviews which will interest people here. In short, he's recently started sucking up to lefty intellectuals, kinda like ARI. But his flawed approach to dealing with the public doesn't prevent some of his technical ideas about physics, computation and epistemology from being true.

But if one doesn't believe g exists,

I think g is a statistical construct best forgotten.

or that IQ tests measure anything real,

I agree that they do, and that the thing measured is hard to change. Many people equate genetic with hard to change, and non-genetic with easy to change, but I don't. There are actual academic papers in this field which say, more or less, "Even if it's not genetic, we may as well count it as genetic because it's hard to change."

or that IQ test results don't correlate with scholastics or job success across large groups, then there's really nothing to discuss.

I agree that they do. I am in favor of more widespread use of IQ testing.

As I said, I think IQ tests measure a mix of intelligence, culture and background knowledge. I think these are all real, important, and hard to change. (Some types of culture and background knowledge are easy to change, but some other types are very hard to change, and IQ tests focus primarily on measuring the hard to change stuff, which is mostly developed in early childhood.)

Of course intelligence, culture and knowledge all correlate with job and school success.

Finally, I don't think agreement is possible on this issue, because much of your argument depends upon epistemological ideas of Pooper/Deutsch and yourself, and I have read none of the source material. [...] I don't see how a discussion can proceed though on this IQ issue--or really any other issue--with you coming from such an alien (to me) perspective on epistemology that I have absolutely no insight into. I can't argue one way or the other about cultural memes since I have no idea what they are and what scientific basis for them exists. So I won't. I'm not saying you're wrong, I'm just saying I won't argue about something I know nothing about.

I'd be thrilled to find a substantial view on an interesting topic that I didn't already know about, that implied I was wrong about something important. Especially if it had some living representative(s) willing to respond to questions and arguments. I've done this (investigated ideas) many times, and currently have no high priority backlog. E.g. I know of no outstanding arguments against my views on epistemology or computation to address, nor any substantial rivals which aren't already refuted by an existing argument that I know of.

I've written a lot about methods for dealing with rival ideas. I call my approach Paths Forward. The basic idea is that it's rational to act so that:

  1. If I'm mistaken
  2. And someone knows it (and they're willing to share their knowledge)
  3. Then there's some reasonable way that I can find out and correct my mistake.

This way I don't actively prevent fixing my mistakes and making intellectual progress.

There are a variety of methods that can be used to achieve this, and also a variety of common methods which fail to achieve this. I consider the Paths-Forward-compatible methods rational, and the others irrational.

The rational methods vary greatly on how much time they take. There are ways to study things in depth, and also faster methods available when desired. Here's a fairly minimal rational method you could use in this situation:

Read until you find one mistake. Then stop and criticize.

You’ll find the first mistake early on unless the material is actually good. (BTW you're allowed to criticize meta mistakes, such as that the author failing to say why his stuff matters, rather than only criticizing internal or factual errors. You can also stop reading at your first question, instead of criticism.)

Your first criticism (or question) will often be met with dumb replies that you can evaluate using knowledge you already have about argument, logic, etc. Most people with bad ideas will make utter fools of themselves in answer to your first criticism or question. OK, done. Rather than ignore them, you've actually addressed their position, and their position now has an outstanding criticism (or unanswered question), and there is a path forward available (they could, one day, wise up and address the issue).

Sometimes the first criticism will be met with a quality reply which addresses the issue or refers you to a source which addresses it. In that case, you can continue reading until you find one more mistake. Keep repeating this process. If you end up spending a bunch of time learning the whole thing, it's because you can't find any unaddressed mistakes in it (it's actually great)!

A crucial part of this method is actually saying your criticism or question. A lot of people read until the first thing they think is a mistake, then stop with no opportunity for a counter-argument. By staying silent, they're also giving the author (and his fans) no information to use to change their minds. Silence prevents progress regardless of which side is mistaken. Refusing to give even one argument leaves the other guy's position unrefuted, and leaves your position as not part of the public debate.

Another important method is to cite some pre-existing criticism of a work. You must be willing to take responsibility for what you cite, since you're using it to speak for you. It can be your own past arguments, or someone else's. The point is, the same bad idea doesn't need to be refuted twice – one canonical, reusable refutation is adequate. And by intentionally writing reusable material throughout your life, you'll develop a large stockpile which addresses common ideas you disagree with.

Rational methods aren't always fast, even when the other guy is mistaken. The less you know about the issues, the longer it can take. However, learning more about issues you don't know about is worthwhile. And once you learn enough important broad ideas – particularly philosophy – you can use it to argue about most ideas in most fields, even without much field-specific knowledge. Philosophy is that powerful! Especially when combined with a moderate amount of knowledge of the most important other fields.

Given limited time and many things worth learning, there are options about prioritization. One reasonable thing to do, which many people are completely unwilling to do, is to talk about one's interests and priorities, and actually think them through in writing and then expose one's reasoning to public criticism. That way there's a path forward for one's priorities themselves.

To conclude, I think a diversion into methodology could allow us to get the genetic intelligence discussion unstuck. I also believe that such methodology (epistemology) issues are a super important topic in their own right.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (7)

IQ 2

These are replies to Ed Powell discussing IQ. This follows up on my previous post.

I believe I understand that you’re fed up with various bad counter-arguments about IQ, and why, and I sympathize with that. I think we can have a friendly and productive discussion, if you’re interested, and if you either already have sophisticated knowledge of the field or you’re willing to learn some of it (and if, perhaps as an additional qualification, you have an IQ over 130). As I emphasized, I think we have some major points of agreement on these issues, including rejecting some PC beliefs. I’m not going to smear you as a racist!

Each of these assertions is contrary to the data.

My claims are contrary to certain interpretations of the data, which is different than contradicting the data itself. I’m contradicting some people regarding some of their arguments, but that’s different than contradicting facts.

Just look around at the people you know: some are a lot smarter than others, some are average smart, and some are utter morons.

I agree. I disagree about the details of the underlying mechanism. I don’t think smart vs. moron is due to a single underlying thing. I think it’s due to multiple underlying things.

This also explains reversion to the mean

Reversion to the mean can also be explained by smarter parents not being much better parents in some crucial ways. (And dumber parents not being much worse parents in some crucial ways.)

Every piece of "circumstantial evidence" points to genes

No piece of evidence that fails to contradict my position can point to genes over my position.

assertion that there exists a thing called g

A quote about g:

To summarize ... the case for g rests on a statistical technique, factor analysis, which works solely on correlations between tests. Factor analysis is handy for summarizing data, but can't tell us where the correlations came from; it always says that there is a general factor whenever there are only positive correlations. The appearance of g is a trivial reflection of that correlation structure. A clear example, known since 1916, shows that factor analysis can give the appearance of a general factor when there are actually many thousands of completely independent and equally strong causes at work. Heritability doesn't distinguish these alternatives either. Exploratory factor analysis being no good at discovering causal structure, it provides no support for the reality of g.

Back to quoting Ed:

I just read an article the other day where researchers have identified a large number of genes thought to influence intelligence.

I’ve read many primary source articles. That kind of correlation research doesn’t refute what I’m saying.

What do you think psychometricians have been doing for the last 100 years?

Remaining ignorant of philosophy, particularly epistemology, as well as the theory of computation.

It is certainly true that one can create culturally biased IQ test questions. This issue has been studied to death, and such questions have been ruthlessly removed from IQ tests.

They haven’t been removed from the version of the Wonderlic IQ test you chose to link, which I took my example from.

I think there’s an important issue here. I think you believe there are other IQ tests which are better. But you also believe the Wonderlic is pretty good and gets the roughly same results as the better tests for lots of people. Why, given the flawed question I pointed out (which had a lot more wrong with it than cultural bias), would the Wonderlic results be similar to the results of some better IQ test? If one is flawed and one isn’t flawed, why would they get similar results?

My opinion is as before: IQ tests don’t have to avoid cultural bias (and some other things) to be useful, because culture matters to things like job performance, university success, and how much crime an immigrant commits.

I don't use the term "genetic" because I don't mean "genetic", I mean "heritable," because the evidence supports the term "heritable."

The word "heritable" is a huge source of confusion. A technical meaning of "heritable" has been defined which is dramatically different than the standard English meaning. E.g. accent is highly "heritable" in the terminology of heritability research.

The technical meaning of “heritable” is basically: “Variance in this trait is correlated with changes in genes, in the environment we did the study in, via some mechanism of some sort. We have no idea how much of the trait is controlled by what, and we have no idea what environmental changes or other interventions would affect the trait in what ways.” When researchers know more than that, it’s knowledge of something other than “heritability”. More on this below.

I have not read the articles you reference on epistemology, but intelligence has nothing to do with epistemology, just as a computer's hardware has nothing to do with what operating system or applications you run on it.

Surely you accept that ideas (software) have some role in who is smart and who is a moron? And so epistemology is relevant. If one uses bad methods of thinking, one will make mistakes and look dumb.

Epistemology also tells us how knowledge can and can’t be created, and knowledge creation is a part of intelligent thinking.

OF COURSE INTELLIGENCE IS BASED ON GENES, because humans are smarter than chimpanzees.

I have a position on this matter which is complicated. I will briefly give you some of the outline. If you are interested, we can discuss more details.

First, one has to know about universality, which is best approached via the theory of computation. Universal classical computers are well understood. The repertoire of a classical computer is the set of all computations it can compute. A universal classical computer can do any computation which any other classical computer can do. For evaluating a computer’s repertoire, it’s allowed unlimited time and data storage.

Examples of universal classical computers are Macs, PCs, iPhones and Android phones (any of them, not just specific models). Human brains are also universal classical computers, and so are the brains of animals like dogs, cows, cats and horses. “Classical” is specified to omit quantum computers, which use aspects of quantum physics to do computations that classical computers can’t do.

Computational universality sounds very fancy and advanced, but it’s actually cheap and easy. It turns out it’s difficult to avoid computational universality while designing a useful classical computer. For example, the binary logic operations NOT and AND (plus some control flow and input/output details) are enough for computational universality. That means they can be used to calculate division, Fibonacci numbers, optimal chess moves, etc.

There’s a jump to universality. Take a very limited thing, and add one new feature, and all of a sudden it gains universality! E.g. our previous computer was trivial with only NOT, and universal when we added AND. The same new feature which allowed it to perform addition also allowed it to perform trigonometry, calculus, and matrix math.

There are different types of universality, e.g. universal number systems (systems capable of representing any number which any other number system can represent) and universal constructors. Some things, such as the jump to universality, apply to multiple types of universality. The jump has to do with universality itself rather than with computation specifically.

Healthy human minds are universal knowledge creators. Animal minds aren’t. This means humans can create any knowledge which is possible to create (they have a universal repertoire). This is the difference between being intelligent or not intelligent. Genes control this difference (with the usual caveats, e.g. that a fetal environment with poison could cause birth defects).

Among humans, there are also degrees of intelligence. E.g. a smart person vs. an idiot. Animals are simply unintelligent and don’t have degrees of intelligence at all. Why do animals appear somewhat intelligent? Because their genes contain evolved knowledge and code for algorithms to control animal behavior. But that’s a fundamentally different thing than human intelligence, which can create new knowledge rather than relying on previously evolved knowledge present in genes.

Because of the jump to universality, there are no people or animals which can create 20%, 50%, 80% or 99% of all knowledge. Nothing exists with that kind of partial knowledge creation repertoire. It’s only 100% (universal) or approximately zero. If you have a conversation with someone and determine they can create a variety of knowledge (a very low bar for human beings, though no animal can meet it), then you can infer they have the capability to do universal knowledge creation.

Universal knowledge creation (intelligence) is a crucial capability our genes give us. From there, it’s up to us to decide what to do with it. The difference between a moron and a genius is how they use their capability.

Differences in degrees of human intelligence, among healthy people (with e.g. adequate food) are due to approximately 100% ideas, not genes. Some of the main factors in early childhood idea development are:

  • Your culture’s anti-rational memes.
  • The behavior of your parents.
  • The behavior of other members of your culture that you interact with.
  • Sources of cultural information such as YouTube.
  • Your own choices, including mental choices about what to think.

The relevant ideas for intelligence are mostly unconscious and involve lots of methodology. They’re very hard for adults in our culture to change.

This is not the only important argument on this topic, but it’s enough for now.

This isn’t refuted in The Bell Curve, which doesn’t discuss universality. The concept of universal knowledge creators was first published in 2011. (FYI this book is by my colleague, and I contributed to the writing process).

Below I provide some comments on The Bell Curve, primarily about how it misunderstands heritability research.

There is a most absurd and audacious Method of reasoning avowed by some Bigots and Enthusiasts, and through Fear assented to by some wiser and better Men; it is this. They argue against a fair Discussion of popular Prejudices, because, say they, tho’ they would be found without any reasonable Support, yet the Discovery might be productive of the most dangerous Consequences. Absurd and blasphemous Notion! As if all Happiness was not connected with the Practice of Virtue, which necessarily depends upon the Knowledge of Truth.
EDMUND BURKE A Vindication of Natural Society

This is a side note, but I don’t think the authors realize Burke was being ironic and was attacking the position stated in this quote. The whole work, called a vindication of natural society (anarchy), is an ironic attack, not actually a vindication.

Heritability, in other words, is a ratio that ranges between 0 and 1 and measures the relative contribution of genes to the variation observed in a trait.

This is incomplete because it omits the simplifying assumptions being made. From Yet More on the Heritability and Malleability of IQ:

To summarize: Heritability is a technical measure of how much of the variance in a quantitative trait (such as IQ) is associated with genetic differences, in a population with a certain distribution of genotypes and environments. Under some very strong simplifying assumptions, quantitative geneticists use it to calculate the changes to be expected from artificial or natural selection in a statistically steady environment. It says nothing about how much the over-all level of the trait is under genetic control, and it says nothing about how much the trait can change under environmental interventions. If, despite this, one does want to find out the heritability of IQ for some human population, the fact that the simplifying assumptions I mentioned are clearly false in this case means that existing estimates are unreliable, and probably too high, maybe much too high.

Note that the word “associated” in the quote refers to correlation, not to causality. Whereas the authors of The Bell Curve use the word “contribution” instead, which doesn’t mean “correlation” and is therefore wrong.

Here’s another source on the same point, Genetics and Reductionism:

high [narrow] heritability, which is routinely taken as indicative of the genetic origin of traits, can occur when genes alone do not provide an explanation of the genesis of that trait. To philosophers, at least, this should come as no paradox: good correlations need not even provide a hint of what is going on. They need not point to what is sometimes called a "common cause". They need not provide any guide to what should be regarded as the best explanation.

You can also read some primary source research in the field (as I have) and see what sort of “heritability” it does and doesn’t study, and what sort of limitations it has. If you disagree, feel free to provide a counter example (primary source research, not meta or summary), which you’ve read, which studies a different sort of IQ “heritability” than my two quotes talk about.

What happens when one understands “heritable” incorrectly?

Then one of us, Richard Herrnstein, an experimental psychologist at Harvard, strayed into forbidden territory with an article in the September 1971 Atlantic Monthly. Herrnstein barely mentioned race, but he did talk about heritability of IQ. His proposition, put in the form of a syllogism, was that because IQ is substantially heritable, because economic success in life depends in part on the talents measured by IQ tests, and because social standing depends in part on economic success, it follows that social standing is bound to be based to some extent on inherited differences.

This is incorrect because it treats “heritable” (as measured in the research) as meaning “inherited”.

How Much Is IQ a Matter Genes?

In fact, IQ is substantially heritable. [...] The most unambiguous direct estimates, based on identical twins raised apart, produce some of the highest estimates of heritability.

This incorrectly suggests that IQ is substantially a matter of genes because it’s “heritable” (as determined by twin studies).

Specialists have come up with dozens of procedures for estimating heritability. Nonspecialists need not concern themselves with nuts and bolts, but they may need to be reassured on a few basic points. First, the heritability of any trait can be estimated as long as its variation in a population can be measured. IQ meets that criterion handily. There are, in fact, no other human traits—physical or psychological—that provide as many good data for the estimation of heritability as the IQ. Second, heritability describes something about a population of people, not an individual. It makes no more sense to talk about the heritability of an individual’s IQ than it does to talk about his birthrate. A given individual’s IQ may have been greatly affected by his special circumstances even though IQ is substantially heritable in the population as a whole. Third, the heritability of a trait may change when the conditions producing variation change. If, one hundred years ago, the variations in exposure to education were greater than they are now (as is no doubt the case), and if education is one source of variation in IQ, then, other things equal, the heritability of IQ was lower then than it is now.


Now for the answer to the question, How much is IQ a matter of genes? Heritability is estimated from data on people with varying amounts of genetic overlap and varying amounts of shared environment. Broadly speaking, the estimates may be characterized as direct or indirect. Direct estimates are based on samples of blood relatives who were raised apart. Their genetic overlap can be estimated from basic genetic considerations. The direct methods assume that the correlations between them are due to the shared genes rather than shared environments because they do not, in fact, share environments, an assumption that is more or less plausible, given the particular conditions of the study. The purest of the direct comparisons is based on identical (monozygotic, MZ) twins reared apart, often not knowing of each other’s existence. Identical twins share all their genes, and if they have been raised apart since birth, then the only environment they shared was that in the womb. Except for the effects on their IQs of the shared uterine environment, their IQ correlation directly estimates heritability. The most modern study of identical twins reared in separate homes suggests a heritability for general intelligence between .75 and .80, a value near the top of the range found in the contemporary technical literature. Other direct estimates use data on ordinary siblings who were raised apart or on parents and their adopted-away children. Usually, the heritability estimates from such data are lower but rarely below .4.

This is largely correct if you read “heritability” with the correct, technical meaning. But the assumption that people raised apart don’t share environment is utterly false. People raised apart – e.g. in different cities in the U.S. – share tons of cultural environment. For example, many ideas about parenting practices are shared between parents in different cities.

Despite my awareness of these huge problems with IQ research, I still agree with some things you’re saying and believe I know how to defend them correctly. In short, genetic inferiority is no good (and contradicts Ayn Rand, btw), but cultural inferiority is a major world issue (and correlates with race, which has led to lots of confusion).

As a concrete reminder of what we’re discussing, I’ll leave you with an IQ test question to ponder:

Read my followup post: IQ 3

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)


This is a reply to Ed Powell writing about IQ.

I believe IQ tests measure a mix of intelligence, culture and background knowledge.

That's useful! Suppose I'm screening employees to hire. Is a smart employee the only thing I care about? No. I also want him to fit in culturally and be knowledgable. Same thing with immigrants.

The culture and background knowledge measured by IQ tests isn't superficial. It's largely learned in early childhood and is hard to change. It is possible to change. I would expect assimilating to raise IQ scores on many IQ tests, just as learning arithmetic raises scores on many IQ tests for people who didn't know it before.

Many IQ test questions are flawed. They have ambiguities. But this doesn't make IQ tests useless. It just makes them less accurate, especially for people who are smarter than the test creators. Besides, task assignments from your teacher or boss contain ambiguities too, and you're routinely expected to know what they mean anyway. So it matters whether you can understand communications in a culturally normal way.

Here's a typical example of a flawed IQ test question. We could discuss the flaws if people are interested in talking about it. And I'm curious what people think the answer is supposed to be.

IQ tests don't give perfect foresight about an individual's future. So what? You don't need perfectly accurate screening for hiring, college admissions or immigration. Generally you want pretty good screening which is cheap. If someone comes up with a better approach, more power to them.

Would it be "unfair" to some individual that they aren't hired for a job they'd be great at because IQ tests aren't perfect? Sure, sorta. That sucks. The world is full of things going wrong. Pick yourself up and keep trying – you can still have a great life. You have no right to be treated "fairly". The business does have a right to decide who to hire or not. There's no way to making hiring perfect. If you know how to do hiring better, sell them the method. But don't get mad at hiring managers for lacking omniscience. (BTW hiring is already unfair and stupid in lots of ways. They should use more work sample tests and less social metaphysics. But the problems are largely due to ignorance and error, not conscious malice.)

Ed Powell writes:

Since between 60% and 80% of IQ is heritable, it means that their kids won't be able to read either. Jordan Peterson in one of his videos claims that studies show there are no jobs at all in the US/Canadian economies for anyone with an IQ below about 83. That means 85% of the Somalian immigrants (and their children!) are essentially unemployable. No immigration policy of the US should ignore this fact.

I've watched most of Jordan Peterson's videos. And I know, e.g., that the first video YouTube sandboxed in their new censorship campaign was about race and IQ.

I agree that it's unrealistic for a bunch of low IQ Somalians to come here and be productive in U.S. jobs. I think we agree on lots of conclusions.

But I don't think IQ is heritable in the normal sense of the word "heritable", meaning that it's controlled by genes passed on by parents. (There's also a technical definition of "heritable", which basically means correlation.) For arguments, see: Yet More on the Heritability and Malleability of IQ.

I don't think intelligence is genetic. The studies claiming it's (partly) genetic basically leave open the possibility that it's a gene-environment interaction of some kind, which leaves open the possibility that intelligence is basically due to memes. Suppose parents in our culture give worse treatment to babies with black skin, and this causes lower intelligence. That's a gene-environment interaction. In this scenario, would you say that the gene for black skin is a gene for low intelligence? Even partly? I wouldn't. I'd say genes aren't controlling intelligence in this scenario, culture is (and, yes, our culture has some opinions about some genetic traits like skin color).

When people claim intelligence (or other things) are due to ideas, they usually mean it's easy to change. Just use some willpower and change your mind! But memetic traits can actually be harder to change than genetic traits. Memes evolve faster than genes, and some old memes are very highly adapted to prevent themselves from being changed. Meanwhile, it's pretty easy to intervene to change your genetic hair color with dye.

I think intelligence is a primarily memetic issue, and the memes are normally entrenched in early childhood, and people largely don't know how to change them later. So while the mechanism is different, the conclusions are still similar to if it were genetic. One difference is that I'm hopeful that dramatically improved parenting practices will make a large difference in the world, including by raising people's intelligence.

Also, if memes are crucial, then current IQ score correlations may fall apart if there's a big cultural shift of the right kind. IQ test research only holds within some range of cultures, not in all imaginable cultures. But so what? It's not as if we're going to wake up in a dramatically different culture tomorrow...

I don't believe that IQ tests measure general intelligence – which I don't think exists as a single, well-defined thing. I have epistemological reasons for this which are complicated and differ from Objectivism on some points. I do think that some people are smarter than others. I do think there are mental skills, which fall under the imprecise term "intelligence", and have significant amounts of generality.

Because of arguments about universality (which we can discuss if there's interest), I think all healthy people are theoretically capable of learning anything that can be learned. But that doesn't mean they will! What stops them isn't their genes, it's their ideas. They have anti-rational memes from early childhood which are very strongly entrenched. (I also think people have free will, but often choose to evade, rationalize, breach their integrity, etc.)

Some people have better ideas and memes than others. So I share a conclusion with you: some people are dumber than others in important very-hard-to-change ways (even if it's not genetic), and IQ test scores do represent some of this (imperfectly, but meaningfully).

For info about memes and universality, see The Beginning of Infinity.

And, btw, of course there are cultural and memetic differences correlated with e.g. race, religion and nationality. For example, on average, if you teach your kids not to "act white" then they're going to turn out dumber.

So, while I disagree about many of the details regarding IQ, I'm fine with a statement like "criminality is mainly concentrated in the 80-90 IQ range". And I think IQ tests could improve immigration screening.

Read my followup post: IQ 2

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)