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David Deutsch Interview Undermines His Philosophy

David Deutsch (DD) did an interview on The Christian Transhumanist Podcast.

What is DD’s audience and what is he trying to say to them?

Typical people will understand very little of what DD says. Way too advanced and based on already understanding FoR/BoI. But for me the interview is pretty basic. It’s not really designed to add on to DD’s books with new info nor to help people learn the books. So who is it for?

I think it’s for impressing people who don’t understand it, not for rational learning. I think that’s a typical kind of guest on interviews of this type. Most of what DD is saying happens to be true, but that won’t stop people from treating it just like the next impressive-sounding set of comments (which are false and which people find entertaining).

Is DD super popular? No. Why not? Well, are DD’s interview comments very good for impressing people who don’t understand? They’re OK at that but not great. DD doesn’t focus on offering memorable sound bytes people can quote to impress their friends. Nor does he focus on making what he says repeatable for lots of audience members without much fear of contradiction. DD says some stuff that your friends would argue with instead of be impressed by. DD also has a handicap compared to other interview guests, like he discusses in BoI about static memes: making his comments true gets in the way of socially optimizing them. E.g. if you can say false things, it’s easier to say stuff that sounds deep/impressive and also which fits with common sense well enough for lots of listeners to think they kinda partly understand it immediately – DD by contrast said lots of true stuff that will make it clearer to listeners that they don’t understand it.

Undermining BoI’s Meaning

The interview as a whole has a tone like: DD is smart and has some sophisticated ideas which could be valuable to some intellectuals.

The interview does not have the following messages coming across:

  • The world is burning and the fate of the world depends on DD’s ideas getting attention. They aren’t getting this attention and this is an urgent the-sky-is-falling problem.
  • DD’s philosophy would make a massive, practical difference in the lives of lay people. People desperately need to learn it, not leave it to the experts.
  • DD is being largely ignored by “intellectuals”, “academics”, and “experts” and there’s a huge problem to solve there. The audience is not safe in thinking smart people are already doing whatever ought to be done about DD’s smart ideas.
  • DD’s philosophy implies people are treating their children immorally and destroying their children’s minds, that most scientists are wasting their careers, that the standard approach to global warming will kill us all, and a lot more.

DD is undermining the implications of his own philosophy by acting as if they don’t exist. A reasonable person hearing the interview would think I’m being ridiculous when I make these claims. Why? Because if that’s what DD’s message was, why didn’t he say it? He chose to talk about other things that matter way less. And he didn’t even protest the lack of attention he’s getting. As a contrasting example, Aubrey de Grey does protest the lack of funding he gets for SENS and does make public claims that he needs lots of money ASAP and it’s a very important life-or-death issue.

Putting On An Act

What’s the structure of the interview? A guy who doesn’t understand much about DD’s work asks DD questions which aren’t chosen very well but which are intended to help bridge the gap between DD and the audience. The host tries to guide DD to say things the audience will care about. DD could do that better without the host existing. DD knows better than the host what to bring up.

The interview also has a dialog/discussion format, but it’s fake because DD is just saying his own stuff and the host isn’t meaningfully contributing ideas.

What determines how the host treats DD? The social expectations of the host role and his deference to DD as someone much smarter than himself. (Whether the host is actually impressed by DD or not, he has to act the part, or else why did he even bring DD on the show?)

It’s somewhat similar to the situation DD would be in teaching a university class. The social situation prevents him from being challenged and organizes the interactions so that he’s deferred to.

And what does DD do? Give the other people roughly what they expect. DD doesn’t rock the boat. He doesn’t have real power. He’s just playing the role of the important person who gets to speak important truths and be listened to, but then actually he's being careful to say innocuous things. So DD is helping with a cultural ritual which pretends that some smart people get the opportunity to say important things, and DD participates in that but pulls his punches. So people can listen to dozens of such interviews and think they are open-minded, truth is being vigorously pursued, etc, and actually, all the while, every interview guest is dishonest (either like DD they try to avoid rocking the boat, or more commonly they’re actually faking being smart and knowledgeable at all).

It’s kinda like our society chooses one smart person per day and says “ok, today you can speak truth to power, we’re listening with open minds and trying to be objective and rational” and then, every day, each smart person says “our society is wonderful” even though they don’t believe it. And so plenty of people eventually hear hundreds or even thousands of times that everything is fine and wonderful and there’s nothing to worry about or fix. And DD participated in that disgraceful ritual and helped lie to the public and keep them complacent.

DD believes, correctly or not, that if he didn’t play along then he wouldn’t be invited back. And he tells himself he’s at least sharing some good ideas and also building up the popularity, reputation and status to enable him to share even more ideas in the future. And he doesn’t reread The Fountainhead and think about Gail Wynand or other ideas from Ayn Rand like this (The Virtue of Selfishness, ch. 7):

The excuse, given in all such cases, is that the “compromise” is only temporary and that one will reclaim one’s integrity at some indeterminate future date. But one cannot correct a husband’s or wife’s irrationality by giving in to it and encouraging it to grow. One cannot achieve the victory of one’s ideas by helping to propagate their opposite. One cannot offer a literary masterpiece, “when one has become rich and famous,” to a following one has acquired by writing trash. If one found it difficult to maintain one’s loyalty to one’s own convictions at the start, a succession of betrayals—which helped to augment the power of the evil one lacked the courage to fight—will not make it easier at a later date, but will make it virtually impossible.


Elliot Temple on August 4, 2017

Comments (40)

Incoherent babble


Anonymous at 4:09 PM on March 31, 2018 | #9727 | reply | quote

#9727 with the self-referential comment, heh. doesn't even say which thing he thinks is incoherent (presumably either what DD said or what ET said, but there's no clues provided about which). that leaves his comment incoherent (we can't read some clear, coherent meaning – not even a particular assertion, let alone some reasoning).


Anonymous at 4:17 PM on March 31, 2018 | #9728 | reply | quote

Extensive criticism, by me, of another DD interview:

https://groups.google.com/d/msg/beginning-of-infinity/dr64n4xlBvc/T0X5_UVYfkgJ


curi at 5:09 PM on January 28, 2020 | #15287 | reply | quote

Your tone

In the criticism linked in #15287, Elliot Temple wrote:

> WHAT THE FUCK DD, DIAF

As I understand it DIAF means "die in a fire". Can you explain why you included this in your criticism?

I would guess you don't literally want David Deutsch to die in a fire (maybe you do) and you used that expression to try to emphasize your opposition to what he said. If that's the case, I think it's a shame you couldn't come up with words that weren't so ambiguous and menacing.

To me, the general tone of the criticism felt supercilious (like you believe you are a better person than David Deutsch) and destructive, rather than constructive.

You make some good points but you require the reader to look past your attitude. I'm not sure why you would write it like that. The fact that you posted a link to this criticism, with no accompanying explanation, suggests to me that you are pleased with it. Please explain.


Anon99 at 3:59 AM on January 29, 2020 | #15289 | reply | quote

You seem to be unfamiliar with other subcultures and styles of expression, and unfamiliar with their value, the audiences that like them, and so on. You have a negativity attitude towards diversity.

curi, as you probably know, receives criticism from all sides. He's called a robot who doesn't tell enough jokes, doesn't use enough memes, always uses the same calm rational academic style, etc. Live a little! Don't be so dull! But any other style is also complained about. There is no style that pleases everyone.


Anonymous at 2:52 PM on January 29, 2020 | #15291 | reply | quote

Anonymous,

Are you implying that if every style is "complained about" all styles are equally good? I don't see how that can be the case.

If you read my question, it's not so much a *complaint* as a request for an explanation. I want to understand the rationale behind adopting this nasty, supercilious, subcultural style. To me, it seems unhelpfully disrespectful and exclusionary. I would love to know the benefits of this style because I'm not seeing them.

Does Elliot think his own status increases when he shit-talks David Deutsch? If so, it definitely didn't work for me. It had the opposite effect.


Anon99 at 3:46 PM on January 29, 2020 | #15292 | reply | quote

diaf is like jfc or wtf. those have purposes like expressing that something is out of the ordinary, a major, notable transgression, not business as usual. making the level of emphasis of language correspond to the thing being discussed is common and broadly good.

re your complaints about the rest https://curi.us/2194-discussion-policy-quotes-or-youre-presumed-wrong and also it's problematic to talk with you when there are no indications you will try to discuss to a conclusion rather than just try a few attacks then disappear.


Anonymous at 3:53 PM on January 29, 2020 | #15293 | reply | quote

Here are some of the comments that I consider to be in a shit-talking, disrespectful, supercilious style:

> DD you suck.

> more boring crap

> he's at the same time managing to be too much of a wordy blowhard and also not including substance. cuz he wastes most of his time on useless status junk.

> jesus fuck this sentence structure.

> WHAT THE FUCK DD, DIAF

> did his minder teach him never to contradict an interviewer?

> this is so pathetic.

> and why does DD say he is "afraid"? that's dumb.

> long ass lecture


Anon99 at 4:15 PM on January 29, 2020 | #15294 | reply | quote

substance > style

#15294 Do you believe that any of the quoted claims are *true*? If so, maybe you could pick one of them, give a better way to phrase it, and explain why your way is better.


Alisa at 3:44 PM on January 30, 2020 | #15304 | reply | quote

Why be sneering?

#15304 I'm not claiming that style is more important than substance. I agree with the substance of nearly all, if not all, the points Elliot raises in that critique. My claim is that the style is sneering and supercilious. *My question is: why is Elliot adopting that style?* I assume he has a rationale and I am interested to understand it. I found it off-putting.

Your question about how *I* would phrase the claims seems designed to move the conversation away from my question, to put the onus on me to explain *my* alternative, rather than leave it on Elliot to explain his choice. I assume, by your question, you agree there are numerous possible styles for writing a criticism. I'm not trying to push a particular style. I'm trying to find out why Elliot chose the style he did.

*Do you agree that Elliot's style is sneering?* I posted numerous quotes (although I would argue that even a single one would be enough to reveal Elliot's attitude).

*If you agree, why haven't you said so explicitly?* The title of your comment was "substance > style" and the fact that you didn't explicitly disagree seems to suggest perhaps you do. Do you feel unable to express an opinion about Elliot's style? Why? (What are you afraid of?) Are you interested in his reasons for adopting the style? If not, why not?


Anon99 at 12:34 AM on January 31, 2020 | #15305 | reply | quote

Do you actually want to discuss to a conclusion? Your posting style has been off-putting to me in several ways but you can use my debate policy if you want to. I don't like having these kinds of discussion halfway with people who leave before stuff gets resolved, which is typical. If you want some partial answers from incomplete discussions about similar issues you can find plenty in the archives (and it'd be a good idea to look at that anyway and find some of what I and others have already said about these things instead of trying to start from scratch unnecessarily).


curi at 12:55 AM on January 31, 2020 | #15306 | reply | quote

If it's such a frequently asked question, why don't you write a separate article explaining your answer? Or refer me to *specific* answers you have given in the archives. Otherwise it appears to be an evasion. You are claiming that this information exists in the archives, but the archives are huge and that response is too vague for me to action.

I have been reading the archives, by the way, and have not found anything like a coherent rationale. The most I found was something that (I think) Alan said along the lines that strongly worded criticisms are good because they themselves provoke criticism.

I think there is an important difference between strongly worded - e.g. using words like "always" - and insultingly worded. I can see how the former would provoke criticism of the substance, but the latter seems only to provoke criticism of the style (as shown by your complaint of "plenty" of similar questions in the archives).


Anon99 at 2:01 AM on January 31, 2020 | #15307 | reply | quote

So that's a "no" about discussing to a conclusion?

I have answers about the archives but they are hard to explain to an unknown person with unknown background knowledge with one foot out the door.


curi at 2:21 AM on January 31, 2020 | #15308 | reply | quote

That's not a "no" or a "yes". I don't have to make a commitment to continue this conversation. I will if I think it's valuable and I won't if I think it's a waste of my time.

If these issues keep coming up and if they are having other negative consequences (e.g. people posting spammy troll comments about you, people not wanting you to join their discussion group) or if they are hard to explain to unknown people with unknown backgrounds, these all sound like problems to be solved. Or excuses.


Anon99 at 3:07 AM on January 31, 2020 | #15309 | reply | quote

It's more than 10 books of material to get from lowest common denominator background knowledge to a one-size-fits-approximately-all answer that would satisfy you. That's why there isn't a 1000 word canonical essay to satisfy you.


curi at 3:10 AM on January 31, 2020 | #15310 | reply | quote

That's fine. State that context is assumed and make the case.


Anon99 at 3:14 AM on January 31, 2020 | #15311 | reply | quote

You want me to assume unlimited context that you don't know and then make a case you don't understand using unlimited shortcuts and controversial assumptions?


curi at 3:16 AM on January 31, 2020 | #15312 | reply | quote

Assume you're writing to someone with your own background knowledge or imagine it is Alan, and not me, asking: "What is your rationale for writing criticisms in a sneering way?" How would you respond to him?


Anon99 at 3:21 AM on January 31, 2020 | #15313 | reply | quote

What for?


curi at 3:21 AM on January 31, 2020 | #15314 | reply | quote

To show that you *have* a rationale, even if we are not knowledgeable enough to follow it. Otherwise my guess (currently unrefuted) is that you do not have a rationale and this is all political bluster to try to evade the question.


Anon99 at 3:28 AM on January 31, 2020 | #15315 | reply | quote

> If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it. -- Albert Einstein (supposedly)


Anonymous at 3:32 AM on January 31, 2020 | #15316 | reply | quote

#15305

>> Do you believe that any of the quoted claims are *true*?

> I agree with the substance of nearly all, if not all, the points Elliot raises...

That doesn't answer my question. I asked about the truth of *the quoted claims*, not about their "substance", a word you seem to have chosen in order to exclude part of their meaning.

The use of terms such as "DIAF" and "pathetic" means, among other things, something like: X is *contemptible*. That type of thing is part of the meaning of the quoted claims of which I was asking you to evaluate the truth.

> Do you agree that Elliot's style is sneering?

No, but several meanings of "sneer" involve contempt, and I would agree that (at least some of) the quoted statements *express contempt*. How's that?

Here's why I disagree with your word choice:

- One common meaning of "sneer" involves facial expressions, which doesn't fit.

- Another common meaning involves "amusement", which also doesn't fit.

- Another meaning involves "an insinuation of scorn or derision by language more or less covert and indirect", but that also doesn't fit, because the text quoted in #15294 is quite direct.


Alisa at 8:15 AM on January 31, 2020 | #15318 | reply | quote

Alisa, thanks for the reply.

>>> Do you believe that any of the quoted claims are *true*?

>> I agree with the substance of nearly all, if not all, the points Elliot raises...

> That doesn't answer my question.

Your quoting makes it appear that was my words were a direct response to your question. That is a misrepresentation. I did not answer your questions. My response argued that your questions were taking the onus away from Elliot to explain his style.

> The use of terms such as "DIAF" and "pathetic" means, among other things, something like: X is *contemptible*. That type of thing is part of the meaning of the quoted claims of which I was asking you to evaluate the truth

Before I criticize the logic, let me check my understanding. It seems like you're implying: (1) Some of what DD said was contemptible; (2) terms like "DIAF" express contempt; therefore, (3) it is appropriate to use terms like DIAF in response to some of what DD said. *Is that a correct summation of your logic?*

So, let's go ahead and do what you asked before and look at an example from Elliot's critique then. Let's look at the one I find most controversial - the one that tells Deutsch to DIAF:

>> Rose: The title of the book, "The Beginning of Infinity", is actually

>> an optimistic... or "optimism" isn't maybe the right word, it's

>> actually an intuition that we may well be on the verge of quite

>> possibly a Golden Age.

>

>then the host just abruptly changes the topic cuz he has nothing to say and the discussion isn't valuable enough to want to keep going with, he'd rather just try something else

>

>also lol this question is so utterly wrong. we're always at the BEGINNING of infinity and the BEGINNING does not constitute a "golden age".

>

>> Deutsch: Yes.

>

>WHAT THE FUCK DD, DIAF

>

>the interviewer said something strongly contrary to BoI, attributed it to BoI, and you said "yes"

Do you think that "WHAT THE FUCK DD, DIAF" is the correct and proportionate response to David Deutsch saying "Yes" to the idea "we may well be on the verge of quite possibly a Golden Age"? Does this deserve such high levels of contempt?

Why not say (for example) "DD should not have replied 'Yes' because we're always at the BEGINNING of infinity and the BEGINNING does not constitute a 'golden age'. Quite the opposite! DD missed an opportunity to clarify that important point. The interviewer said something strongly contrary to BoI, attributed it to BoI, and DD said 'yes'."?

I agree it was a serious mistake for DD to reply 'yes', but we all have lapses of concentration. We are all fallible. I think it's right for Elliot to criticize DD's response, but shouting and swearing at him and telling him to "DIAF" is way out of proportion.


Anon99 at 9:08 AM on January 31, 2020 | #15320 | reply | quote

#15320

> It seems like you're implying: (1) Some of what DD said was contemptible;

No. What statement(s) of mine seemed to you to imply that?

> (2) terms like "DIAF" express contempt;

No -- I didn't "seem []" to "imply[]" that, I *stated it directly*.

> therefore, (3) it is appropriate to use terms like DIAF in response to some of what DD said.

No. Again, what statement(s) of mine seemed to you to imply that?

> *Is that a correct summation of your logic?*

No.

I explained what terms like "DIAF" mean, explained that I regard the meaning of those terms as part of the meaning of the claims, and asked you (again) whether the claims were true. You still haven't answered.


Alisa at 9:26 AM on January 31, 2020 | #15321 | reply | quote

Correction: "seem []" should be "seem[]" (there was an extra space).


Alisa at 9:36 AM on January 31, 2020 | #15322 | reply | quote

> No -- I didn't "seem []" to "imply[]" that, I *stated it directly*.

The "seems" was related to the whole of the logic, rather than each individual statement.

I said "it seems like" because it was not something you said directly, but my guess to fill in the blanks and connect it to the core subject of the conversation - i.e. the rationale behind Elliot writing in a disrespectful style. Why else would you bring up contempt if not to explain the rationale behind writing in that style? My hope was that expressing of your logic might lead you to correct it and give me a better understanding of where you're coming at. It didn't turn out that way. You just told me I was wrong and didn't expand beyond what you said before. Never mind.

I answered your question indirectly in my previous comment, but I can't answer it directly with a "yes" or "no". I understand that the contempt forms part of the meaning of those statements. I do not agree with the contempt part. That part is not true and detracts from the true part. That is not to say I believe there is *no* "truth" in the contempt part. The contempt expresses something that is valuable, but expresses it in a way that is untrue.


Anon99 at 10:13 AM on January 31, 2020 | #15323 | reply | quote

#15323

I brought up contempt because it was part of the meaning of the claims that I asked you to evaluate -- a meaning which you seemed to deliberately exclude in your response, contrary to the intent of my question.

I don't understand why you can't answer "yes" or "no" to my question about the truth of the claims. If a claim says anything false, then it's false, even if it says some other true things. For example, 1 is positive, but "1 is positive and 2 is negative" is false.


Alisa at 10:36 AM on January 31, 2020 | #15324 | reply | quote

> If a claim says anything false, then it's false, even if it says some other true things.

Fine. According to strict logic I believe the claims are false.

In my last post, I was trying to express the idea that though the claims are false, that doesn't mean there is no value in them. That's what I meant by "truth" in quotes.


Anon99 at 10:53 AM on January 31, 2020 | #15325 | reply | quote

#15325

> According to strict logic I believe the claims are false.

Ok. So here's the "WHAT THE FUCK DD, DIAF" claim again.

>> Rose: The title of the book, "The Beginning of Infinity", is actually an optimistic... or "optimism" isn't maybe the right word, it's actually an intuition that we may well be on the verge of quite possibly a Golden Age.

> then the host just abruptly changes the topic cuz he has nothing to say and the discussion isn't valuable enough to want to keep going with, he'd rather just try something else

> also lol this question is so utterly wrong. we're always at the BEGINNING of infinity and the BEGINNING does not constitute a "golden age".

>> Deutsch: Yes.

> WHAT THE FUCK DD, DIAF

> the interviewer said something strongly contrary to BoI, attributed it to BoI, and you said "yes"

IIUC, you regard "WHAT THE FUCK DD, DIAF" as false. If so, what specifically about it do you regard as false? I'm also not clear on whether you agree with Elliot that DD's "Yes" was contemptible.


Alisa at 11:14 AM on January 31, 2020 | #15326 | reply | quote

> I'm also not clear on whether you agree with Elliot that DD's "Yes" was contemptible.

To clarify: this is only my interpretation of what Elliot wrote. I may be misunderstanding it.


Alisa at 11:17 AM on January 31, 2020 | #15327 | reply | quote

> IIUC, you regard "WHAT THE FUCK DD, DIAF" as false.

Yes, to the extent that this emotional outburst is a claim, it's false.

> If so, what specifically about it do you regard as false? I'm also not clear on whether you agree with Elliot that DD's "Yes" was contemptible.

I don't agree that DD's "Yes" was contemptible. It was a mistake and one that I'm sure he would wish to correct in the future or if it were possible to go back in time.


Anon99 at 11:31 AM on January 31, 2020 | #15328 | reply | quote

Sorry I missed this:

> If so, what specifically about it do you regard as false?

Taken at face-value, I cannot parse the sentence as a true/false claim. But, if I go beyond the words to guess at the motivating claims, the following ideas come into my head:

- "DD, you did something seriously wrong here."

- "You should be despised and condemned."

- "I am a better person than DD."

- "I am good."

- "DD is not just bad, but evil."

Some of these are fairly clearly implied and some of them are vaguely implied and drawn from my experience of other people (and myself) having these kinds of emotional outbursts. I consider all of these (imagined) claims to be false.


Anon99 at 12:57 PM on January 31, 2020 | #15329 | reply | quote

#15328

I guess a lot of people would use the term "emotional outburst" to refer to a communication that is *not* a product of reasoned thought. Is that consistent with how you mean it?

> I don't agree that DD's "Yes" was contemptible.

I think disagreements over whether an idea is *true* have priority over disagreements about the *choice of words used to express the idea*. In general, I don't see how you can expect to reach agreement on the latter without reaching agreement on the former.


Alisa at 1:11 PM on January 31, 2020 | #15330 | reply | quote

Anon99 banned?

I saw this on twitter: https://anon99.news.blog/2020/02/01/elliot-temple-is-an-evader/

Anon99 claims in this post that he's been "effectively banned" here. He says that any comments he posts, and any that other people post that are "in any way supportive" of him, are being deleted.

Are his claims true? If so, why was he banned, and why are comments supporting him being deleted?


Anonymous at 1:20 PM on February 2, 2020 | #15339 | reply | quote

Anon99 is one of many false identities of a persistent harasser, doxer, spammer, IRL-threatener, financial fraudster and liar.

I only deleted comments from him, not anyone else. He did write a couple comments supporting himself from different names. I left some of his comments up because people had replied to them.

Computer security isn't perfect. If someone accidentally gets caught in the crossfire, and e.g. I delete a comment I shouldn't have, they can contact me.

Further actions are in progress.


curi at 1:32 PM on February 2, 2020 | #15340 | reply | quote

#15340

> Anon99 is one of many false identities of a persistent harasser, doxer, spammer, IRL-threatener, financial fraudster and liar.

How do you know that Anon99 is the same person as the one who's done all that stuff?


Anonymous at 2:49 PM on February 2, 2020 | #15341 | reply | quote

#15341 I'm a software engineer. He accessed my computer systems giving me information in e.g. server logs. I have security code in place and the help of other professionals.


curi at 2:58 PM on February 2, 2020 | #15342 | reply | quote

#15342 Sure, I understand how computers work, I was asking for something more specific. Like are anon99's comments coming from the same IP as the person who did the harassment/doxing/etc?


Anonymous at 8:17 PM on February 2, 2020 | #15344 | reply | quote

Related to this post, I wrote The History of Taking Children Seriously


curi at 12:10 AM on February 8, 2020 | #15425 | reply | quote

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