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Rational Discussion Tips

Be clear and direct about questions or requests.

When asking a question, ask for the information you want. E.g. don’t ask “why” unless you want to know why. Give some basic, simple thought to what your question is and directly say it.

Saying, “If you do X, I will do Y” is not a request that the person do X. It’s giving them information about their options.

Saying “I want X” is not literally a request, even if X has to do with another person. Sometimes that wording may be clear enough, but other times it won’t be, and it’s hard to tell the difference, so don’t rely on it. A clear request is “Please do X”. Requests are often phrased as questions, e.g. “Will you do X?” When in doubt, say “I request (that you) X”. (The parentheses indicate optional words that fit some scenarios but not others.)

Use question marks for your questions. Do not use question marks on non-questions.

Don’t skip steps. E.g. don’t ask “Why do you think X?” if the person has not said they think X. Instead ask “Do you think X?”

Don’t ask a question which is answered by the words “yes” or “no” unless you want a yes or no answer.

If someone asks a question with a yes or no answer, start your answer with “yes” or “no”. If you want to say something else, say it after giving the direct answer. Don’t leave out the clear, direct answer.

In general with all questions, start your answer with the answer. Your first sentence should clearly and directly answer the question. If you want to explain extra details, put those after the answer. Don’t use “But” for the extra details. Don’t contradict your original answer. Phrase the answer to be correct on its own. You can add minor/tiny exceptions in the details (“unless zombie Hitler shows up and points a gun to my head”), but if your answer requires a major exception, your answer is wrong and you should change it. E.g. say “often” instead of “almost always” in your original answer if there are some major exceptions.

When you use strong words like “always”, “never”, “all”, “none”, consider if they are actually, literally true (don’t say it if it’s false) and consider if you have a reason to make such a strong claim. In general, when you want to make a strong claim like that, you shouldn’t. Instead, remove the qualifier. E.g. instead of saying “All cats have hair” say “Cats have hair”. Adding the “all” is a way of saying “there are absolutely no exceptions” which is false (in this example and in many cases) and is generally an unnecessary/irrelevant claim. Don’t say “Some cats have hair” either, that’s too weak and defensive, there’s no need to limit it to “some”, that doesn’t represent reality well (more than “some” cats have hair, it’s more common than that).

Don’t use intensifiers without a big reason. In general, just delete it every time you write “very”.

Don’t assert things which other people should judge for themselves or which are being debated in the discussion. E.g. don’t call one of your arguments “good” when 1) it’s other people’s job and privilege to decide if it’s good or not 2) you’re debating with someone who you can expect to disagree with your evaluation of how good it is. Instead, simply call it an argument.

Don’t assert things, without giving an argument, which other people will disagree with. In particular this comes up with claims about people. E.g. if Joe claims Sue is angry and gives some reasoning related to what she wrote, Sue saying “I am not angry” is not a counter-argument, it’s an unargued assertion. Sue should not assume her beliefs about herself are true. Sue shouldn’t expect Joe to believe her claims about her emotions, thoughts, motivations, and so on, just because she says so. Further, Sue herself shouldn’t believe her claims about herself unless she has arguments.

Don’t respond to questions with counter-questions. Don’t respond to arguments by raising new topics. Engage with what people say.

Occasionally you may switch to a higher level meta issue with logical priority. E.g. suppose you’re debating politics. If someone asks you a question about your views on government-run healthcare, or makes an argument about that, don’t respond with a question or argument about immigration or border walls. Don’t change the topic to something else about politics. However, it can be appropriate to change the topic to something non-political like “Hold on, the discussion is getting really chaotic. Let’s try to organize it and go one thing at a time. OK?” Or you could say you were losing interest and suggest dropping it or discussing why it’s interesting, important and productive enough to continue. Those tangents make sense because those issues come before and govern the political discussion. But switching from one political issue to another is non-responsive to what the person said and is a way people avoid explaining their position.

To a first approximation, all mistakes matter. Try not to make mistakes. When you do make a mistake, don’t make the excuse of saying you weren’t really trying. Take responsibility for your error and try to fix it and figure out what caused the error.

Be prepared for discussion topics to change from e.g. politics to non-politics like the thought processes behind the mistake you made about politics.

Be prepared to discuss how you think rational discussion works. Be prepared to disagree with people about that and have to explain your thinking. Don’t expect the methods of productive discussion to be something everyone agrees on and which goes without saying.

Be prepared for people to say things you consider rude, impolite, etc. If they do, it means they disagree with you about how to discuss. You can argue your case or be tolerant and broad-minded and not mind.

Be prepared to use references and for other people to use them. You don’t have to write out every idea you have. Some have already been written down (or audio or video was recorded), in the past, by you or by someone else. You can link, cite or quote stuff to avoid repeating.

Consider, when you claim something, if you think it’s a new, original idea, an uncommon idea, a reasonably well known idea, or an extremely popular idea. If you don’t know which it is, or where you got it, that’s a problem. That indicates you don’t know much about your own idea. If you do know basic info about the idea’s status in the world, that is relevant in some ways. E.g. if an idea is very popular and widely accepted, then someone should have already written the idea down in a good, high quality way. So quote that instead of writing shoddy, half-assed new arguments. If you can’t or won’t do that, why not? What’s going on? Wanting to practice explaining things yourself is one answer. Another thing that can be going on is that millions of people believed it without ever caring whether anyone ever wrote good arguments explaining the matter, which would be an important and relevant fact about the idea.

If you don’t know the purpose of every word you read, you don’t understand it. Don’t ignore or skip some words. Don’t try to give counter-arguments when you don’t understand it (at least not without a warning that you don’t understand it but you’re going to try to say something anyway, so people know the situation – lots of stuff that’s normally bad to do becomes OK if you clearly state what’s going on so no one will be misled). Try to figure it out and/or ask what the text means.

Rational truth-seeking discussion is about figuring out decisive answers to resolve issues. E.g. criticisms that refute, not weaken, ideas. It’s not about scoring points, it’s about finding (contextually) conclusive answers.

Try to keep track of your discussion so that you know which ideas have been refuted by which arguments, which are not-refuted, which ideas conflict with each other, what questions are open and unanswered, etc.

Discussion is cooperative. Don’t be biased. Don’t argue for “your” side. Contribute arguments, questions and ideas for all sides in an effort to find the truth. And feel free to ask for help from the other guy about anything – he’s your ally, not your enemy.

If something is too hard or confusing or overwhelming, just stop and slow down. State the problem and propose something to do about it or ask for suggestions on what to do about it.

When in doubt, deal with the doubt. Don’t ignore problems. Don’t try to focus on the main topic like physics or immigration. Bring up the problem with the discussion. Ignoring the problem will only break the discussion and confuse the other person who you hid the problem from. Hiding the problem from your discussion partner(s) is dishonest and it sabotages the discussion.

If you’re emotional, take a break from discussing or pause the main topic and communicate about the problem. (Unless the emotions are clearly and significantly positive, that’s OK. But don’t make the excuse that you don’t feel “bad” or it’s not “negative” emotions – if it’s anywhere near neutral plus strong enough that you’re noticing it, it’s a significant concern and you shouldn’t be confident of your understanding of it.) Like other problems, getting emotional during discussions is not something to try to ignore or hide. Do something to solve the problem yourself and take responsibility for it working or ask for help.

Don’t rush. Take as much time as you need. Don’t sit there worrying endlessly for no clear reason either. Take reasonable steps that aren’t careless and which follow your thinking and discussing methods. No more, no less.

It’s easiest to organize and keep track of a discussion, and follow up over time, on the curi forum. That’s easier than FI because you don't have to learn to use and format emails and because it puts the whole discussion on one page. And it’s easier than Discord because it’s easy to find and refer to everything instead of it getting scrolled way up.

Plan to follow up on your discussions over time until they reach a conclusion of some sort. Don’t just end them for no reason because you went to sleep or 24 hours passed or whatever. You can end discussions when you reach answers about the topic or when you have some reason to, e.g. you feel like you learned enough for now. When you end a discussion, explain your reason and be prepared to consider and discuss criticism of your reasoning.

Try to be extremely honest and expect others to be honest too.

Don’t form negative judgments of people until at least one negative claim about them has objectively reached a conclusion in discussion. E.g. you argued your case fully and completely and you think it’s adequate, covered everything, and there are no substantive counter arguments that you haven’t addressed (all the replies are just distractions and bullshit like the person putting effort into misunderstanding what you said, which you covered as a general category but not for each one individually). If you’ve never quoted someone’s error, explained a criticism, and addressed questions and counter-arguments in a way you think is objectively conclusive (should satisfy and persuade any rational person, including the person criticized, who is only resisting the claim due to bias, irrationality, dishonesty, evasion, etc.) then don’t be judgmental. Give people the benefit of the doubt and act with good will and in good faith until there is at least one clearly established reason to do otherwise.

If you don’t like something and don’t say anything about it, you are the one behaving badly, not them. If you just assume it’s bad, you’re dealing with a disagreement (they don’t think what they did is bad) by assuming you’re right, without arguing your case. That’s an irrational, not truth-seeking, way to handle disagreements.

See also these other discussion tips including more in the comments there.

PS This is all related to epistemology because thinking and discussing are largely equivalent. Rational discussion is externalized rational thinking, and rational thinking is internalized rational discussion. For a truth-seeking process that deals with disagreements between ideas, the number of people involved (one, two, more) and the format (text, voice, thoughts in your head) do not fundamentally change what makes it rational and effective.


Elliot Temple on October 18, 2019

Comments (44)

Try to focus on something and resolve it. Don't chaotically keep introducing new topics. If several sub-topics (of the focus topic) get introduced, pick one of those to focus on. Don't do too many things at once. Persist until some stuff actually gets resolved. If you aren't resolving things, you aren't discussing productively.


curi at 1:07 PM on October 18, 2019 | #13829 | reply | quote

This only works if you're looking to discuss present knowledge.

It is terrible as a means of knowledge growth. Trying to build some edifice of knowledge is a mistake as you should well know from reading BOI.

As a means of controlling other people, which I think ultimately is what Temple's goal is, then yes this is a good way to go about it.


Anonymous at 2:40 PM on October 18, 2019 | #13831 | reply | quote

#13831

What does “This” (your first word) refer to? It seems anon is referring to all of curi’s tips in his post. But one of the tips in his post is this: “Try to be extremely honest and expect others to be honest too.” Anon continued with, “It is terrible as a means of knowledge growth.” So anon is saying that being extremely honest and expecting others to be honest is terrible as a means of knowledge growth.

Then anon said “As a means of controlling other people, which I think ultimately is what Temple's goal is, then yes this is a good way to go about it.” This reminds me of a discussion I had a while ago. Somebody had told me that ppl think I’m hard to deal with. I replied, “honest ppl find me easy to deal with. It’s only dishonest ppl that find me hard to deal with, because they find it hard to be dishonest with me. Why? Because I expect honesty and call ppl out for their dishonesty. This is a way that I *control* my environment. I make it very hard for ppl to deceive me.


Anon2224 at 6:57 PM on October 18, 2019 | #13833 | reply | quote

> Don’t use intensifiers without a big reason.

What is a "big reason"?


Anonymous at 11:43 PM on October 18, 2019 | #13835 | reply | quote

> Try to keep track of your discussion so that you know which ideas have been refuted by which arguments, which are not-refuted, which ideas conflict with each other, what questions are open and unanswered, etc.

What is a good method for doing this?


Anonymous at 11:44 PM on October 18, 2019 | #13836 | reply | quote

> If you don’t know the purpose of every word you read, you don’t understand it.

What does "it" refer to?


Anonymous at 11:45 PM on October 18, 2019 | #13837 | reply | quote

#13837 “it” = what you read


Frisco at 12:36 AM on October 19, 2019 | #13838 | reply | quote

#13836

>> Try to keep track of your discussion so that you know which ideas have been refuted by which arguments, which are not-refuted, which ideas conflict with each other, what questions are open and unanswered, etc.

> What is a good method for doing this?

I guess "this" = "keep track of X" rather than "try to Y".

AFIAK, the FI veterans do this in their heads.

I'm guessing that the FI non-veterans don't do it in their heads much or very well compared to the veterans, and also don't keep written notes either.

Keeping written notes of this stuff would help. Suppose you're involved in a discussion where the reply count is 100 (50 by you, 25 by another person, 25 by a 3rd person). You could keep a running list of ideas in a notes file that summarizes the entire 100 replies. You could use a program that allows you to add links to other parts of the document (google docs allows this). You could also add links to the FI emails or curi blog posts/comments.


Anon2224 at 7:31 AM on October 19, 2019 | #13840 | reply | quote

#13835 #13837 These questions are unclear. It's hard to tell if you just don't know and can't guess what the answer is – you want to learn something – or if they are for the purpose of argument or criticism. This makes it hard to know what sort of answer you're looking for.


Anonymous at 12:38 PM on October 19, 2019 | #13841 | reply | quote

#13845 Opening with the "this" pronoun after a bunch of stuff is ambiguous. Giving an example of one possible meaning helps illustrate why it matters to say what you mean and also illustrates that the mean "the whole post" doesn't work in addition to that particular part not working. His comment was reasonable and you failed to find a charitable interpretation where he was not violating the principle of charity – so you violated the principle of charity!? (The principle of charity is a flawed, ambiguous concept.)


Anonymous at 4:19 PM on October 19, 2019 | #13846 | reply | quote

correction

> that the mean

mean -> meaning


Anonymous at 4:20 PM on October 19, 2019 | #13847 | reply | quote

#13845

So what does “this” (in the first paragraph of #13831) refer to? If it does not refer to the whole curi blog post, then what does it refer to?

Your reply (#13845) implied that I should have known what you meant. But you did not give enough information in your post for anyone to figure out what you meant.


Anon2224 at 5:10 PM on October 19, 2019 | #13849 | reply | quote

Do you not even know a single thing about gatekeeping? faith? pychedelics? how do you learn anything talking like this? all you're doing is growing a cancerous ego to cut against the tide you haven't even recognized.


Anonymous at 10:22 PM on October 22, 2019 | #13910 | reply | quote

> Do you not even know a single thing about gatekeeping? faith? pychedelics? how do you learn anything talking like this? all you're doing is growing a cancerous ego to cut against the tide you haven't even recognized.

you seem to think that my methods are incompatible with learning about those things, but you don't explain why you think that. care to explain?


Anon2224 at 1:44 AM on October 23, 2019 | #13912 | reply | quote

#13912

walls of text? huge one-side brain domination. problems with a so called 'meta'. how is the manner of speech and attitude not pure egoism? it's not having to explain, it's simply not possible in this style of mind.


Anonymous at 8:37 AM on October 23, 2019 | #13913 | reply | quote

#13913

it seems that you don't value curi and his ideas. you also don't seem to understand his ideas and don't seem open to the possibility that you've misunderstood him.

so why are you here?


Anon2224 at 8:59 AM on October 23, 2019 | #13914 | reply | quote

#13914

so then you don't know anything about these topics and this is all ego?


Anonymous at 9:03 AM on October 23, 2019 | #13915 | reply | quote

#13915

Why troll this blog when you could be doing something better with your time? Or is trolling the best thing you can do with your time?


Anon2224 at 9:19 AM on October 23, 2019 | #13916 | reply | quote

#13916

response gave all the info needed.


Anonymous at 10:14 AM on October 23, 2019 | #13917 | reply | quote

#13916 I don’t think he is trolling. I think you’re too closed minded and intolerant of criticism.


Anon90 at 12:32 PM on October 23, 2019 | #13918 | reply | quote

#13918 and #13915

Do you understand that criticism should be convincing? (Otherwise, whats the point?)

Suppose we’re on the same page about this, do you think that your comments are convincing to curi or me or other ppl reading the comments (I don’t)? If so, which of the comments. Please quote them so we can get on the same page about them.

If you’re not interested in doing this, do you have some other method in mind purposed for getting on the same page?

My guess is that you’re not interested in doing anything like this. If I’m right, then you won’t answer my questions and instead you’ll reply in a way that ignores my attempts to get on the same page with you. In this case, you’re trolling. You’re not making a good faith effort.

Suppose I’m wrong and you want to make a good faith effort to get on the same page. I would be glad to be wrong. Please show me i’m wrong. Otherwise, you’re not welcome here. In which case, please leave.


Anonymous at 1:39 PM on October 23, 2019 | #13920 | reply | quote

I am not #13915

What I said in #13918 stands. I remain unconvinced.


Anon90 at 1:45 PM on October 23, 2019 | #13921 | reply | quote

#13920 Typical curi dodge.


Anonymous at 7:09 PM on October 23, 2019 | #13926 | reply | quote

#13926

> #13920 Typical curi dodge.

So you think curi dodges questions, and you’re not willing to get on the same page with curi about that or anything else (you didn’t do any path forward attempts like we did). So why are you here? What’s in it for you?


Anon2224 at 1:43 AM on October 24, 2019 | #13931 | reply | quote

#13931 I thought you said you weren't curi. You're lying again?


Anonymous at 7:48 AM on October 24, 2019 | #13942 | reply | quote

#13920

it isn't about being on the same page, let alone book. it's like no eyes to even read. the lack of awareness is a compelling mystery and creates a swelling of related pairing associations.


Anonymous at 2:13 PM on October 24, 2019 | #13950 | reply | quote

#13950 I gotta say. I have no idea what you're talking about.


A at 3:59 PM on October 24, 2019 | #13951 | reply | quote

lol


anon at 9:06 AM on October 25, 2019 | #13955 | reply | quote

42-42-564


Anonymous at 7:24 PM on October 25, 2019 | #13958 | reply | quote

> 42-42-564

What?


Anonymous at 5:55 PM on October 27, 2019 | #13980 | reply | quote

DD Twitter thread on "ad hominem/identity-based arguments"

In this comment, I criticize a recent Twitter thread by DD on "ad hominem/identity-based arguments". DD is a better thinker than me, so my criticisms may well be partly or completely wrong. I'm sharing them here so people can point out my mistakes.

DD tweeted:

> There’s a lot more wrong with ad hominem/identity-based arguments than merely that their premises do not imply their conclusions.

It's *not* valid to say that an idea is *false* because it was produced by a certain process, but it *is* valid to criticize the process that produced an idea, not just the idea itself.

> No one really thinks they're valid arguments.

I find this unclear. I guess many people would defend ad-hominem fallacies and lie to themselves that they're being logical when they do so. I don't know how DD's remark applies to that common scenario.

> They're signals of group loyalty and hence of the principled rejection of argument in regard to the issue in dispute.

Ok, if you interpret "group loyalty" as being loyalty to a group that has some position on the issue in dispute.

> When talking about ideas, talk about their content not their proponents.

I find this unclear. The proponents of ideas are also collections of ideas. So you could be talking about ideas either way.

Even if my criticisms above are correct, I think there's a good idea that is related to what DD wrote -- or maybe it's what he actually meant. I've written it out below in my own words (partially copying DD's words).

The idea I got from DD's tweets: When someone uses ad hominem arguments, that's a signal that they don't care about reason, at least with regard to the issue in question.


Alisa at 3:49 PM on October 28, 2019 | #14004 | reply | quote

#14004 DD was being brief and vague, and using the Twitter medium as an implied excuse. He didn't say much, and what he did say wasn't explained much. He ought to write blog posts.


Dagny at 3:54 PM on October 28, 2019 | #14005 | reply | quote

> I find this unclear.

I find it hard to believe you think this is *actually* unclear.


Anonymous at 4:38 PM on October 28, 2019 | #14006 | reply | quote

#14006 I wrote that twice. Which instance(/s) were you referring to?


Alisa at 4:47 PM on October 28, 2019 | #14007 | reply | quote

#14019 Highlight:

> You must be a treat at dinner parties.

(As an entire post, with the implication/meaning that the person doesn't even claim to be open to discussion at any forum with appropriate features for a serious discussion.)


curi at 4:59 PM on October 30, 2019 | #14021 | reply | quote

Same guy who claims to know all there is to know about capitalism then goes to say irrational shit like this:

https://www.reddit.com/r/IntellectualDarkWeb/comments/dpdwi2/the_economic_policies_that_ruined_venezuela/f5w8nzc?utm_source=share&utm_medium=web2x


A at 10:47 AM on October 31, 2019 | #14030 | reply | quote

#14030 Below he says (3 links omitted):

> And yet, numerous media reports have Amazon employees complaining about horrible working conditions. I'll trust their journalism over your anecdote.

He's a puppet of the lying mainstream media (including shit like Vox, who he linked).


Anonymous at 11:09 AM on October 31, 2019 | #14032 | reply | quote

>> Try to keep track of your discussion so that you know which ideas have been refuted by which arguments, which are not-refuted, which ideas conflict with each other, what questions are open and unanswered, etc.

> What is a good method for doing this?

https://curi.us/2229-discussion-trees-with-example


curi at 6:07 PM on October 31, 2019 | #14073 | reply | quote

>> Try to keep track of your discussion so that you know which ideas have been refuted by which arguments, which are not-refuted, which ideas conflict with each other, what questions are open and unanswered, etc.

> What is a good method for doing this?

https://curi.us/2230-tracking-discussions


curi at 1:38 PM on November 1, 2019 | #14089 | reply | quote

curi would you consider submitting a paper to this:

https://youtu.be/DAXN_5gcApA

Please consider. thanks.


Anon9090 at 2:37 PM on November 1, 2019 | #14095 | reply | quote

#14095 Why?

Some problems: The rules are vague. The nature and purpose of the journal are vague. Look at:

http://unpopular.academy/naturalrights

They'll take submissions. They don't have any page with info about the journal. They don't say if they want copyright or you can also put it on your own website or what. They're very vague about what sort of articles they want or will accept (though not epistemology, apparently). They don't tell me why I should submit to their journal or why journals are good.

The video largely doesn't help. How many articles will they be accepting? Only the best ones as judged behind closed doors by ... who? on what grounds?


curi at 2:50 PM on November 1, 2019 | #14097 | reply | quote

#14097 Think they'll want to publish this, for example? (Given the addition of a 300 word abstract and adding end note citations in the format they demanded.)

http://curi.us/1965-by-any-means-necessary-a-violent-marxist-cult


curi at 4:02 PM on November 1, 2019 | #14098 | reply | quote

(This is an unmoderated discussion forum. Discussion info.)