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I don’t agree with all my old writing or speaking. But I leave it up instead of hiding past errors or hiding changes.

Why? I want to be transparent and leave my intellectual history visible. I think more people should do that. It’s misleading when people try to show only their best current work. It gives audiences a false impression that experts don’t change their mind or go through processes of learning and growing. It misleads people about how common mistakes are. Even impressive people make lots of mistakes now and made even more in the past.

I’ve also written often about topics I consider important and under-discussed. In my opinion, the world doesn’t have enough total writing about the ideas of e.g. Karl Popper or William Godwin. I wouldn’t want to delete writing on underserved topics (or popular topics approached in a different way) just because I’m a better writer with better ideas today.

I think a lot of my old writing has unique things to say, some of which have value. Even some of the mistakes have value when I get things wrong in interesting ways instead of having more common views.

Even with disclaimers, people may believe stuff that I don’t. Which is fine I guess – it’s up to them what beliefs to hold. And they may believe that their beliefs match mine, which is less fine, but I have only limited influence over that. Specific disclaimers on individual articles have limited effectiveness, even if they include links to counter-arguments or contradictory ideas that I wrote later. A generic disclaimer like this post is less effective than specific disclaimers. So there are downsides to leaving my old stuff available but I’m doing it anyway.

I have major disagreements with TCS and ARR, so I specifically want to warn people about those. I have already posted multiple previous negative things on those topics.

Also, posting old podcasts to YouTube, in order to consolidate material in fewer places, isn’t endorsement. I didn’t review them first.

Overall, I’ve changed my mind more about old political ideas than rationality ideas. Similarly, although my grammar stuff is reasonably recent, and I haven’t changed my mind in any big way about it, there are certainly errors and inaccuracies in it. I’m not a grammarian. It’s not my specialty and I don’t do it perfectly. Although I learned a fair amount about grammar, you shouldn’t expect the same level of expertise when I talk about grammar as when I talk about epistemology.

When talking about areas where I know less, I try to be careful with what claims I make, and match my confidence to my knowledge. But if you just think I’m a genius at everything, and don’t notice when I use qualifiers, or don’t expect me to be fallible, then you could get the wrong idea even for new articles let alone old ones.

I’m willing to write and speak about topics that I have less expertise on. I don’t focus my public communications exclusively on epistemology. Why? I’d like to have critical discussions for many topics. I’d like feedback so I can improve my ideas on many topics. If I didn’t write about them, it’d be harder for me to learn about them.

Covering other topics provides some examples of applying my philosophical methods. For example, I’ve recently looked into food health and I’ve shared some of my research and rough thoughts about it. I don’t wait until I reach conclusions privately and then share only my final, best answers. (Really polished conclusions would actually require more effort than I want to put into food. It’s just a side project not my career. I’m aiming for more like “good enough” knowledge, not the higher standards I’d have for my specialty.)

Another example is that I’ve recently shared some anti-adoption videos from TikTok on my forum and brought the issue up in my post about Roe vs. Wade being overturned. I have reasonable confidence in these ideas. They seem important and worth sharing to me. I could read a dozen books on the subject to find out more, but I haven’t done that, and I don’t think I should be required to do that before saying anything. But there’s a higher risk that I’ll change my mind in 10 years (or be wrong without finding out) compared to the risk for ideas I give more attention to like debate trees or impasse chains.

I think sharing learning and thinking processes, rather than just final answers, has value to rational readers. It gives people a more realistic look at what they should be doing themselves. That’s similar to how keeping old articles available has positive value to rational readers who are able to search for topics of interest and think for themselves about which ideas they agree with or not and why.

I try to be open and honest. You can think of it as the opposite of how many people manage their Facebook and Instagram accounts, where they try to make everything look really good and hide all negative information. I think so many people doing that increases the rates of eating disorders and suicides (because people form incorrect beliefs about how much worse their life is than their friends’ lives), among other things.

If in doubt about whether I currently agree with some old comment I made, feel free to ask. (Please use things like links, quotes or timestamps. I probably don’t remember specifically what I said!)

What if you want a curated experience where I currently agree with and endorse everything you see? The Critical Fallibilism (CF) articles and CF videos provide that. By contrast, I use the curi blog and videos for more informal or off-topic stuff. And the CF site is newer, so it doesn’t have old stuff that I changed my mind about. Also, the CF “Classics” section has links to some of my favorite older work.

The older the post, the more likely that I changed my mind about something. I’ve changed a lot from 10+ years ago. I’ve changed less from 5 years ago. I haven’t changed very much from 1 or 2 years ago.

Rational intellectuals should change. They should keep learning new things. If they can’t come up with any improvements on their ideas from 10 years ago, that’s a bad sign. And if they hide their journey and learning process, and hide their past errors, that misleads audiences about how rational thinking works.

I haven’t changed my mind on some big ideas in my specialty (philosophy, rationality, critical thinking, epistemology) such as induction and justificationism being errors, fallibilism, or knowledge being created by evolution (those are ideas Karl Popper advocated before me). My ideas are more stable in my specialty because I give it more thought and effort. Basically, I already made most of the easier to make changes. Whereas in a topic I don’t spend much time on, I’m more likely to miss something. Changes in philosophy, where I’ve already studied so much, are harder to come by. But I have made ongoing refinements to my philosophy views. I’ve developed ideas like decisive arguments and Paths Forward which build on Critical Rationalism.

And there would be no shame in making larger changes mid-career as long as one had pursued his previous ideas with rationality and integrity. Not everyone can be lucky enough, like me, to start with Popper instead of e.g. one of Popper’s rivals. Or perhaps it will turn out that actually Popper was wrong (rather than just needing refinement and further development, as I currently think) and one day I’ll find that out and change my mind about some of my major principles. People can review many opposing positions before choosing one to study further and they should try to. (I didn’t actually do a lot of that before initially favoring Popper; I did more later.) But even if you read a few books with summaries of ideas from many different thinkers, it’s easy to prefer the wrong school of thought when you’re new and don’t already have a bunch of critical thinking knowledge. Our society doesn’t have good mechanisms for rational debate to help people reach decisive conclusions more quickly and accurately.

In conclusion, just because I don’t delete or edit some old writing or speaking doesn’t mean I agree with it. For big ideas I said repeatedly, I do say new things about them when I change my mind, so if you follow my work you’ll get some updates. For errors in minor comments, I may never say anything to the contrary later. Use critical thinking skills when reading anyone, including me, especially for old posts outside my specialty.

Elliot Temple on August 24, 2022


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