Taking Children Seriously (TCS) is a philosophy of parenting and education. But it's bad to label it. It isn't one set of opinions that you may or may not agree with. It isn't meant to be a particular school of thought or camp. Other parenting labels advocate specific actions and are tied to those actions. Attachment Parenting wants more parent/child touching, co-sleeping, babies in slings, and things like that. It's a set of ideas you might agree with, and might disagree with. Homeschooling is about taking kids out of school. If your kids go to school you aren't a homeschooler, even if it is morally right that your kids go to school -- perhaps because they want to for a good, thought out reason.

TCS isn't about doing a specific thing and if it's right to do something else you must give up on TCS. It's a different sort of thing. TCS is a set of ideas about what *is* right. If we were to change our mind about what was right, we'd also change our mind about what TCS is. That means it can't turn out to be wrong, at least in the long run, because it will change. No valid criticism of TCS can stay true over time because TCS will change so that is no longer a valid criticism of it.

This all sounds a bit unfair. Like TCS is cheating because it wants to win no matter what. And that gets back to the original point: labeling it is misleading. No one thinks it is unfair that our best ideas of parenting should be continually updated. The only thing that's unfair is calling the best ideas TCS, saying we invented it (or that Sarah did), and trying to take credit for "TCS" even as it changes.

But, there really is a distinct set of good ideas about parenting, which are unpopular or unknown in general, and which are advocated by the TCS movement. The present state of those ideas certainly has flaws and will be superseded. But, at present, it is important, and it's hard to refer to otherwise.

Anyway, this is all about terminology, and a bit dull. The important thing is: what *are* the best ideas of parenting and education that we know of? And we might also wonder why they aren't very popular, and what is the history of the presently dominant parenting ideas, and other fun things like that.

First I want to say that some good parenting ideas are popular. I respect the progress that has been made. We take for granted, today, in the USA, that we should buy things that our children want, and help them to learn, and help them to be happy, and help them to become independent. Each of those has some limits placed on it, but still those are great things. Think of what are goals are *not*. We do not spend all our time teaching conformity and obedience (although parents do expect a certain amount of obedience and discipline, and often encourage conformity, sometimes unintentionally). We do not approve of forcing children to work for our benefit (chores being only a minor exception). We do not, generally, decide what our child should (must) be, and his place in life, independent of his wishes, and force it upon him. We do not foist arranged marriages on our children. We don't mutilate female genitalia.

One thing that is helpful to know about these new and (I claim) better parenting ideas is that many are not full descriptions of how to live. And this also relates back to, above, why TCS does not prescribe particular behaviors and link itself to them. TCS is more about suggested policies of behavior, and it is up to you to decide which particular actions are appropriate within the bounds of the general policies which are right. And it also has many criticisms of present day behaviors, often with no particular alternative given. If this sounds a bit unhelpful, don't worry. There is ample advice about how to think such that you come up with great ideas, and there are explanations of why no alternatives to many parenting practices are needed.

Thanks for bearing with me so long. One of the problems is it is difficult to figure out where to start. There is a big picture, but when you talk about it then it sounds a bit like boasting. But if you talk about the fine details it may not be clear why they are important.

So, let's consider punishment, aka "discipline". Parents generally make some rules, set some limits, some boundaries. And they make requests to their children, and expect certain attitudes like politeness and a degree of obedience. Sometimes this is hidden. Parents often will tell a child it is bad to do a certain thing, and that he must do something else. They expect obedience and become very frustrated if child does not comply. It seems to them child is being intentionally wicked and is a trouble maker. It is good to have reasons for parental commands, such as an appeal to morality, but that doesn't make them any less of commands.

There are two major issues here so let's try to separate them. One is the obedience itself. It's the idea of parental authority -- a legitimate right to command the ignorant child. The other issue is what do parents do if their child is disobedient. They discipline or punish him. Sometimes they plead, or try to make him feel guilty, or other unpleasant things. Those things are designed to control the behavior of the child just as much as a punishment is.

So, authority. Why should a parent have authority? Well, maybe because he knows more. Compared to a young child, a parent is an expert at most stuff. There is really a big difference. Another possible justification is that the parent is bigger and stronger -- he can use force. This is not a good reason, but it's worth mentioning and rejecting because the idea comes up sometimes. Consider a time out. The justification might be that the parent is smarter, wiser, and therefore correct and the child needs to learn to do the thing the parent knows is right. But whatever we might think of that, the form a time out takes is forcing a child to sit in his room or in the corner. So the form of the authority -- force -- does not match the claimed justification very well. If the thing that sets parent and child apart is intelligence then why is the parent using force instead of his mind? Why doesn't he best the disobedience child with rhetoric? With criticism of child's actions? With powerful, undeniable good reasons? People will say it is because the child does not listen. But first, punishing child is a very poor way to make them listen. It turns them against you because it hurts them, which is its purpose. And second, children do listen sometimes, especially when they think you're being helpful. If you're so much smarter and wiser, and especially if you have great knowledge of the issue child is being punished regarding, then that is all the more reason you should be able to talk so child will want to listen, because you have such good things to say.

Authority is never a valid way to argue, you know. Just because I have this fancy blog doesn't make me right. People with college degrees make mistakes. Kings too. Priests too. Experts of all sorts are wrong sometimes. We all know this. If you say you're right because you have authority, so listen to me, you're just being a jerk. You can't say that to people. What you need to do is give a reason you are right -- and one the other person can understand. If you can't give one they can understand -- maybe you say it's too complicated -- then why would they listen to you? A real expert would be so good at his field he could give a summary. It might be missing a lot of details, but it's something.

This is important stuff. If your car mechanic says "I'm a mechanic and I know best" you wouldn't trust him. You don't to find a better mechanic who will treat you like a thinking person and explain his recommendation, and then let you make the final decision if you want the expensive stuff he suggests.

If your college professor makes a claim about a philosopher that you don't agree with, and he says he's right because he's the professor, that's a bad teacher. You shouldn't listen to him. Do your own research and make up your own mind. A good professor with a good point would convince you he was right.

There's one exception. Parents don't have to give reasons. "Because I said so." is an approved sentence. It was even featured in marketing by Apple Computer, which demonstrates that it doesn't offend a significant amount of people. There's a movie by the name now, too.
Because You Said So
More flexible parental controls in Leopard mean you can place restrictions on use of the Internet. You can, say, specify a time of day and duration for your child to play World of Warcraft.
This isn't just rejoicing in taking choices away from children and putting them in the hands of their parents. It isn't just about having power over your child's life. It's also about *not having a reason*. You don't have to give reasons, you just set it up and that's it. You said that's how it will be, so that's how it will be.

That's authority. It's bad. What we should aim for is a life governed by reason. Part of living according to reason -- according to thinking about what is best and why and trying to find the truth of things -- is having reasons for things! And discussing them. If someone disagrees, even a child, you can't just assume you are right. You need to hear their reason and think about it. Maybe it's valid. Maybe not. If you can say why it's wrong that's fine. But then you've given a reason. And if you can't, that doesn't mean you're wrong, but you shouldn't be certain who's right if you can't say what's wrong with the alternative.

Children know a lot less. That doesn't mean they are always wrong though. The times they speak up about something are usually the times they know the most about something! It's not what they know on average that's important but what they know about the specific thing at issue. Say the issue is when they play World of Warcraft. That's actually something they would know a lot about. They know their own schedule pretty well. They know how tired they are and whether they want to go to sleep yet. A parent can have a different opinion about one of these things -- and be right -- but it's no where near guaranteed. If you just block all World of Warcraft after 10pm that's not a very good policy. It's going to make a mistake. One saturday night child is going to be playing with a group of 39 other people completing a major quest and he'll be wide awake, and he'll have no important things to do the next morning, and he'll want to play longer and not abandon those real live people he's playing with. And then the apple software is going to kick him off the internet whether it's right or wrong, and it's not going to give any reason.

Sometimes children think they know enough to have an opinion when they really don't. But that's not so hard to deal with. If you help them figure out how to tell if they know enough -- and how to learn enough -- to have good opinions that is genuinely useful advice and there's every reason they will want to know that and listen (unless they think it's a mean trick to control them more, of course). But besides that, the argument can still proceed rationally even if they are mistaken about how much they know. It's really not a problem. If they don't know enough just ask them some questions about their position and they won't have the answers because they don't know. Problem solved. They'll see their ignorance when they can't answer.

A lot of times children don't want to do as they are told because they think they won't like it. That, again, is absolutely no time for a parent to put his foot down or rely on authority. If child thinks he won't like something out of ignorance just tell him a little about it focussing on the fun and enjoyable parts.

You might think all this explaining things to children is a waste of time. Well, not a total waste because it's educational. But how important is it, really? What if you're tired and don't feel like it right now? If you know you're right, what does it matter if you don't give your child a lesson about the reasons every time?

The answer in very short is that you might be mistaken. Don't take it personally. Everyone is mistaken sometimes. But it's more than that. The process of giving reasons is actually a part of how we can avoid mistakes. The more you know, and the more right you are, the easier it is to give reasons. But the less you know, and if you are wrong, then it's much harder to give reasons or arguments or to persuade anyone. So the times when you most feel like giving reasons is too much trouble are actually hints that those are the times you are most likely to be wrong or at least not to have thought it out carefully.

So part of the concept of authority is obedience. That's what the child is supposed to do. The authority gives a command, and the child obeys. Obedience is kinda mindless. It's not about considering if the command is a good idea. It's just about doing it. That's not a good habit to be in. It won't serve you well in life. And even if it would, is that really the kind of life you want for your children? We rightly value lives of thinking and reason where we make a lot of our own decisions and we can pursue happiness according to our own values. The idea with children is they can do that when they are older. But isn't it strange to live one way and then suddenly change later? If thinking is so great why not start young? Very talented people usually do. It's kind of well known that young kids sometimes learn really fast. Other times people say young kids don't have fully developed brains. But that's a load of crap. English is very complex and they figured that out.

Thinking isn't important just to get in the habit. You learn more when you think things out. And that dispels ignorance. And ignorance is the justification for authority over kids in the first place. By expecting obedience you take away opportunities for them to grow up, essentially. Even making mistakes is important to people's learning process. Most mistakes have no serious lasting harm so don't worry about it so much. Say child stays up late *and it was a mistake*. Who cares? Next time it will be even easier to persuade him to go to bed -- if he doesn't want that on his own! -- because of the bad experience. Being able to try out your own ideas is important. Discussion is great but sometimes people find this or that thing hard to understand just from words and it'd help to experience it.

Obedience also is about not questioning or criticizing authority. But questions are a great thing. They help people to learn and understand better. People don't ask enough questions. And criticism is good too. It's a chance for you to learn your mistake. Or if you think the criticism is wrong it's a chance for you to point out a mistake in the criticism and then the criticizer can learn. In general, criticism helps find good ideas because they stand up to it best. And it helps get rid of bad ones because they can't stand up to it very well. With no criticism you can't really tell the difference between good and bad ideas because you aren't looking to see what's wrong with any of the ideas.

As a reminder, the other major issue we were keeping separate earlier was about what you do to a disobedient child -- how you exercise and enforce your authority. I'm stopping here. I might write about that tomorrow.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)


Should my posts ever seem to contradict each other you have two choices: believe the most recent post, or think about it yourself. You can apply the same options when I seem to be mistaken, if you like. The most recent post then would refer to the one you are reading and think is dumb, since it's the only one in the relevant set.

TCS does have some constant points, which I alluded to in saying there is a present day group of people who are identifiably "TCS". Should they give up the constant points, they'd probably think they should give up the name too.

But the constant points are not, as I also mentioned, the sort of things you'd expect. There are no prescribed behaviors. Common debates on the TCS email list include the merits of TV, ice cream, no bed times, and home schooling. But if we turn out to be wrong and TV really is harmful that won't make TCS wrong. The TV thing is just our best ideas about TV, not a necessary part of TCS.

The more constant things are much more abstract. TCS says that morality is a type of knowledge and that the same laws of epistemology (study of knowledge) which apply to knowledge in general also apply to moral knowledge. It is also committed to parenting according to rational principles and not, say, parochial ageism -- this is part of a general commitment to *living* rationally. TCS is also generally committed to the idea that the laws of epistemology are Popperian (roughly: evolutionary).

None of these things are especially about children or parenting. But TCS is about how they apply to parenting. When we apply them we reach conclusions like TV being good. We might have applied them wrong. Maybe they are true and TV is bad. That'd be our mistake but not any fault of TCS's core ideas.

I'd like here to say something like, "so, for example, if X was true, then TCS could be essentially given up on. the world would not be the way we think it is. it'd be like y." but the problem is there are no rival theories to Popperian epistemology which make even the slightest bit of sense. I don't mean to express any sort of certainty that Popperian epistemology is correct. it's just there aren't any respectable rivals today. i think we're lucky to have one sensible theory -- 100 years ago we had zero (well we had the beginnings).

let's talk about disobedient children now and ways of exercising authority.

hitting people is good for obedience. it has its flaws -- they might disobey when they think you won't find out. but essentially it is effective. people don't like being hit. they will go to a lot of trouble to avoid it.

the standard theme in parenting advice, historically, has been if you hit your kids early they become obedient quickly and you don't have to hit them very many times.

recently hitting has been confined largely to spanking. people say two different things about spanking. one is that it helps improve obedience, even if you only do it once or twice. well they usually don't put it quite like that. they might say it improves behavior. but they are judging the improved behavior in terms of which behaviors the parent finds pleasing. so that means good behavior consists of obedience to the parents wishes. the second thing they say is spanking your kid just a few times isn't cruel. if he's very young he will hardly remember later. it's just a very temporary pain. no big deal. but the behavioral improvements will be lasting.

this is kind of contradictory. how can the behavior improvements last if the fear does not?

i think what happens is the fear becomes less explicit. child isn't thinking to himself all the time "if i better do X or i'll get spanked". he doesn't verbally complain about spankings. but he is in the habit of obedience and has vague fears of doing otherwise. of course parents do many things to encourage this. vague threats are very common. "you better not do X". why not? what, exactly, will parent do if you disobey? almost all parental commands are backed up, implicitly, by some threat of force, but it's vague what it will be, and it frequently does not come to that.

other force parents use is time outs. these are supposed to be more humane than hitting children. as i understand it they originated as a "time out from love and affection" essentially. they are absolutely a tool for controlling and manipulating children. if you notice your kid really values your kindness, affection, warmness, etc, then you just take it away when he doesn't do what you want. sigh.

now let's stop and think a moment. these sorts of use of force are common expressions of authority. we sort of take for granted they actually have something to do with authority. but do they? parents aren't able to hit their kids due to parental wisdom. it's b/c the parent is bigger. how is the authority of a parent's intelligence being shown or used in any sort of punishment of discipline?

maybe a parent could claim that he uses his great wisdom to decide which punishments will be good. ok but good for what? the options are:

- obedience
- education
- other types of good things in the child's life such as not being arrested or killed

as i mentioned punishments are pretty good for causing obedience. but that's bad! obedience isn't a rational way of life. it presupposes the parent is right. it doesn't allow for making mistakes and learning from them. it doesn't allow for discussion, questioning, and criticism.

how does obedience function, really? well say parent wants child to eat more carrots, and child thinks they taste bad. well, then child has to eat them. never do they communicate about how important the reason to eat carrots is and compare that to how important the dislike of carrot flavor is. how can the parent know he's right without such a comparison? he doesn't know how they taste to the child -- he doesn't know what it's like to eat them. the only way to really figure out what's best is to communicate about the issues so one person can understand the points on both sides and compare. i'm not saying if you do that you are guaranteed to find a good answer, i'm just saying if you don't do that you can't possibly find a good answer except by pure dumb luck.

what about education? are punishments educational? parents often say, "go sit over there and *think about what you did*".

well the first thing to consider is if punishments are educational *in general* then shouldn't we use them with adults too? you and I should wish to be punished in educational ways. stop reading this and go have a time out. pretty silly concept, isn't it? adults don't learn by being ordered about and made to suffer. they learn from good explanations and from choosing to reflect on things. also from practice and such.

so if punishments are obviously no educational with adults why should they educate children? what on earth is it that not only makes suffering educational but makes it only educational for young, small, weak people who just happen to have parents who want obedience?

while there may be a good answer to that, it certainly isn't a well known part of modern thought. if we don't have the answer *already* then all that punishing of children can't possibly be justified by a rational expectation of it being educational.

as far as keeping the child from dying and such, that is essentially an attempted justification for making children obedient. then you can order them not to drink sweet sweet draino and they will obey. if we are going to claim making children obedient is good then fine, but let's be clear about what we are doing.

obedient children is not the best way to keep them safe. as i mentioned earlier, they won't obey when they think they won't be caught. and they won't obey any more when they grow up. the only thing, ultimately, that can keep people safe is knowledge of dangers. and the best way to have a child with a lot of knowledge is absolutely not to expect obedience. it is to have an attitude of being open to discussion and debate. people learn far more when they can discuss the merits of things and ask for your reasons and have their own reasons taken seriously and be given criticism of them.

it may be hard to recognize, in modern society, the sort of obedience that is expected of children and is common. many old types are fading. chores are only a remnant of what they once were. fathers no longer choose the husband of their daughter and take it for granted that she will go along with it (and will also obey her husband once married. sigh. stupid past.)

what do parents want today? well they say things like they want a good kid. they probably want good grades, or at least respectable. they probably want to keep him safe, which means to them things like having a curfew and not letting him be friends with bad influences who might do drugs or get drunk or something. some want polite, "respectful" children. parents want their children's love. most want to be called "mom" or something else which is not their first name. most want their child to go to school. and they want him to succeed in a career and "be happy".

all of this sounds sort of pleasant when you say it like this. they are trying to look out for their kids, and help them, aren't they? well, each of these things is a potential for disagreement, and a potential place a parent might want obedience without having to defend his view in debate (which, perhaps, he cannot do).

a good kid -- good natured, fun loving, happy, well rounded, and many more positive traits -- means a child who agrees with certain values. when a child is not "good" there are two possibilities. one is that he's making mistakes while trying to do it. but in that case obedience is useless b/c even if you order him to be good what difference will it make? he's already trying and just doesn't know how. the other possibility is there is something about being "good" that he doesn't like or want, so he's avoiding it on purpose. why would that be? well the conception of a "good" kid people have is very complex and detailed -- there's a lot there. plenty of room for differences of opinion. especially if there are no open discussions to clear up misunderstandings and give reasons which is how you can rationally reduce differences of opinion by coming to agree. so if there is a difference of opinion child might seem "bad" in parents eyes -- he keeps not doing as expected and as parent thinks is best. parent might be frustrated and then think his child isn't listening and then want obedience (he might not even think of it as obedience, but you can see how he could unconsciously want something like that).

what about grades? well we all know a lot of people don't like school and find it unpleasant and aren't learning much. also a lot of teachers aren't very good, and sometimes are arbitrary, capricious, and unfair. getting good grades in every class might not be best. especially if child isn't very interested in what that class is teaching. so again we find room for a parent to want obedience, and to think to himself he's just helping his child, when really he might be fighting to make his child do something which isn't best. the rational thing isn't to assume of the child is right, of course, it is to seek the truth of who is right. and that has to be done without any use of authority. if you're such an expert just say and think wise things and you'll both find the truth faster, whatever it is.

what about keeping kid "safe"? well basic things tend to be easy to agree on. people rarely fight over whether it's ok to tie yourself to a stake and light a bonfire. common issues are more like curfews where it is not at all obvious to child that there is any serious danger of anything more than fun. or maybe "danger" of alcohol -- but to child that isn't a danger b/c no one will force him to drink he will only drink if he chooses to. (yes i know child may be pressured to drink but it is ultimately his decision and he also chose to have those friends b/c he thinks it is best). whether there are safety concerns or not there is easily room for a parent to want obedience here after he finds it hard to persuade his child.

being polite is a specific case of the issue of being conventional. most people are conventional, and don't see how life could be otherwise, and condemn other ways of life. children who haven't had a given convention entrenched in their mind often won't want to obey it. this causes disputes with parents. conventions tend to be short on good reasons, so parents are very tempted to want obedience even if they can't give good reasons.

i may be wrong about politeness. maybe it has more merit than i see. and certainly i don't advocate complete rudeness. i just think a fair amount of politeness is unnecessary waste of time and energy. but anyway the point isn't really whether i'm right or wrong about any particular convention, nor whether it's good or bad. the point is the logic of the situation tempts parents to desire obedience. and the rational thing to do capable of discovering the truth of what is right is not obedience. obedience never ever finds the truth. how could it?

ok enough examples you get the idea. there are lots of temptations for obedience today. so any sort of punishments don't find the truth, and don't seem to be educational with adults. and how could they be educational? sitting in the corner is rather different than reading a math book. while sitting there you might think of a good idea. but the corner isn't going to tell you one. when you are hit again the hitting doesn't tell you any good ideas. it just pressures you to come up with ideas about how to please the people hitting you so they stop -- obedience.

another type of punishment is various types of "consequences". if you get up late you have to walk to school. if you stay up too late playing video games you can't watch TV for a week. if you lie to your parent you can't see your friends for a month.

sometimes they are "natural" consequences which are supposed to be justified by being natural parts of the action, but which in fact can easily be avoided by parenting choosing to avoid them.

these consequences are sort of manipulative. you get child to relate waking up late and having to walk, for example. but those don't really have anything to do with each other. it's a very weird life where these arbitrary things are tied together.

and they are clearly punishments. they are things the child doesn't want, and which the parent just does to him to make him suffer and to make him obedient. how do we know it's for obedience? well parent wants thing 1 so he threatens thing 2. these consequences are never about convincing. they aren't reasons thing 1 is best. they are just threats of the nasty stuff parent will do if child doesn't do what parent wants done.

and they are clearly not educational. say waking up early has merit but child doesn't see this. how is threatening him with walking around going to show him the merit? it isn't an explanation of the merit.

we could claim that child might learn the merits himself by trying it, and the point is just to get him to try it. in fact that must happen sometimes. but is threats the best way to get child to try something? won't he learn more easily if he's going into it with an open mind trying to learn?

of course if child would try it just because he was asked that would probably happen. so issue number one is parent either can't give any reasons it's probably worth trying or he just doesn't want to bother b/c he's used to obedience and finds that easier (it means he has to think less). that's no way to find the truth. maybe the reasons are hard to give because there aren't any. and issue number two is if child doesn't want to try it that is because child sees benefits to something else. if you threaten him and make him obey you are taking away those benefits that he believes the alternative has. you are depriving him of the good things he believes his preferred lifestyle has. and how do you know you are right to do that? the only way to get a good sense is to have an open discussion and communicate the merits of each approach and compare to see which is better. if you try to do that you still might not agree -- which is evidence that either it's hard to see the answer (so you shouldn't be so sure of yourself) or someone is being irrational (which could be you, so again don't be so sure of yourself. i know you're saying it's not you. but imagine if you did have an irrational idea in you. you'd probably still say you didn't, right? because they usually make you blind to their presence.) the bottom line is anything that doesn't communicate the rival ideas and compare them -- such as threats of consequences -- can't possibly be a good way of seeking and finding the truth of the matter of what is best. and if you aren't striving to find what's best, aren't you in a really poor position to be demanding obedience?

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)


TCS says that you should live morally, and you should live rationally, and these are essentially the same thing. Actually, I don't know how clearly that message is said. But who cares? *I* say that. And *you* should evaluate whether it's correct or not. You shouldn't obey TCS, like one follows the tenants of a religion. (You shouldn't *obey* a religion either.)

A lot of people would say it's obvious we should do what's right, and that they, and most people, already try. Partly they are correct, and that's why our society is much better than during the Dark Ages. But if we consider the basic steps required to do what is right we will soon discover they aren't all so common and popular. To do what's right you must have knowledge of what is right. To get that you must seek the truth. To do that you must be open to new ideas, and to criticism of your present ones, and you must be able to have *critical discussions*. You don't absolutely necessarily have to discuss with other people. You could read books at home. But if you do you have to simulate critical discussions in your head: you need to argue both sides of points that come up. If you only argue in favor of your own side, the book isn't going to respond very well. So either you need a lot of intellectual integrity to criticize your own ideas, or you need to enjoy to have other people do that for you. Or better, both.

A lot of people have somewhat different goals. Some want their present idea to be true. Some want to be happy. Some want all their conversations to be polite which includes hiding disagreement and therefore criticism.

If you want to be happy that can be fine. In fact it's very good if it means the right thing. If you have a choice between happy and unhappy, go happy. If you have a chance to seek happiness, or not, then seek it. etc. But if you have a choice between an option that appears to be best for happiness, and another that appears to be better for learning the truth of the matter, you must choose the truth, and many would not.

If you chose happiness over truth you get neither. You may well fool yourself and think you are happy. But that's no life worth living. If we wish to be fooled we may as well do it right: use hard drugs. And in the future use Virtual Reality technology to fool ourselves into believing we have the life we want. The only way to get a good sort of happiness is to know the truth, and to then be able to make an informed judgment about which lifestyles are good, and to enjoy and be happy about having a good one. Knowing more is no guarantee of happiness, but not knowing guarantees you have no way to make good choices so it doesn't even give you a chance.

Ever heard of "constructive criticism"? Of course you have. People all the time say they only want constructive criticism. Partly they have a point. Some criticism is of the form, "that sucks" which is pretty useless. Though I must say I don't see how one can really mind "that sucks" from a stranger -- what on earth do you have to feel bad about? He hasn't bested you in any sort of argument. He hasn't given a reason your work sucks, and therefore hasn't given you any reason to think it sucks. You should just disregard his unsupported assertion. But anyway many people don't want to hear such insults. I'd rather have a truer sense of what sort of people exist and how they react to my work.

But does wanting constructive criticism only rule out unsupported criticism? Not at all. It also rules out anything very harsh -- even if that is the most accurate and reliable way to communicate an important critical idea. It also indicates the author is fragile and that a long list of criticism will not be appreciated no matter how high quality every listed point is. It also means that if the work in question is in fact bad, and should be abandoned, the author doesn't want to learn that truth. The author only wants "constructive" criticism, ie focussed on how to improve it and not focussed only on pointing out flaws, no matter how important they are. Any reader who notices a flaw but doesn't want to take the time to provide the extra help of also finding a way to fix the flaw isn't able to offer "constructive criticism" and therefore must offer no help at all.

Constructive criticism is about hiding from the truth. Not fully hiding. Just partially. But that's what it does.

Why do people do it? One reason is that they take criticism personally. That's very bad. How are you going to find the truth if you are attached to certain ideas, true or not? We should let our ideas die in our place, not attach ourselves to them and die with them. Bad ideas must die. Our ideas might be bad. How should we know they aren't? People make mistakes all the time. If valid criticism comes then the idea is flawed. It must be changed or possibly given up entirely. That is best. We should be pleased. We were going down a dead end by mistake and now we know better and can avoid that fate. We have at least a chance of pursuing something good and being happy now, because we know more.

Taking things personally and being attached to debatable ideas obscures the truth. It makes it harder to understand the "opposing" side (they should not be seen as the opposing side. it's just a different side and you should dispassionately consider if it has a point). getting offended by things which say the idea you are attached to is wrong helps nothing. it doesn't make it easier to figure out objectively which idea is true.

So suppose you like what I say and agree with it in theory. What is needed to actually apply it in your life? Because it's common that people agree with philosophical ideas then thoroughly fail to actually follow through on them. So what are the important things to keep in mind for actually being able to objectively find the truth?

The first and perhaps most important thing to keep in mind is that there is far more to learn about the philosophy than I've said here. Even if you know more than me, you could understand all these things better. Learning more makes applying it easier and more effective.

Next, there is a sort of self-awareness that is very important. Many people assume that they understand themselves and know why they do things and that they choose to do all the things they do. This is very false. Many things people say about why they did actions are guesses, often very bad and thoughtless guesses. And often the reason for that is they did not have a reason when they did it -- they didn't think about it and choose what seemed best to do -- so there is no good answer to why they did it. But that's hard to admit. And hard to notice in the first place. I think it's worth mentioning this is partly caused by static memes, and those are very good at hiding themselves and being hard to criticize, and also causing emotional distress in those who do criticize them. But it's not just memes. Remembering things at all is guesswork. And finding the truth, including the truth about our own personalities, is hard, and requires being open to criticism and not being attached to particular ideas and not taking things personally and so on. People find that hard with their own personality above all!

So, self-awareness. If we pay close attention to how we live, how we feel, how we think, then we will be able to spot problems and to try to change them. We can notice we are sometimes thoughtless, which among other things means not carefully considering what's best and not carefully considering what is the truth of the matter, and if we get good at self-awareness we can notice *in real time* and then intervene and do something different.

Some people would find that scary. Notice their flaws? Then they have to admit to having them. Change personalities? Then they have to admit to being messed up so much they need to change. Really that's a harsh way to put it. No one is perfect. Imperfect people should change so they can get better. But people often think of it the harsh way. Regardless, noticing our flaws is the only road to getting rid of them. Knowing the truth is the only way we can move on to better things. While we might seem and feel happy in our ignorance we must remember those flaws are making our lives worse. All sorts of things we care deeply about are not working out as well as they could. Flaws make us less wealthy. They make it harder to get promoted. They make us hurt our children, and fight with our loved ones. They make us less able to help loved ones and friends in need who we want to help. They can make us less successful at everything we do. Now I'm not saying every flaw does all these things to a huge degree. But flaws do things like this. And how do you know what the bad effects are if you won't look honestly to see what your flaws are?

This thing about perfect and imperfect people brings up an interesting point. If we are imperfect do we really need to change? We might just have the tiniest little flaw. I would say every little bit counts. Being the best we can be means caring about even small improvements. But also the smaller the flaw the easier it is to change, so that's no reason to "not bother" or something. When people are scared of facing flaws they aren't thinking of tiny imperfections -- those aren't scary. It's big things that are definitely having a significant effect on their life.

What else can we do to get better at seeking truth? One important thing is asking questions a lot. People often think they understand things when they don't. People also often pretend to understand things to avoid looking ignorant. A friend told me that in Mexico if you ask for directions people will make them up if they don't know just to pretend they aren't ignorant. How can you tell if you understand well? Try to apply the idea to other issues. Or try to explain it to someone else. You don't need an actual person you can just imagine explaining it. And imagine this person asks questions about it. Can you answer them all? If so, fine. But if it's even a little blurry in your mind then you could understand better. You should be asking those questions so you know more about it. Really the only thing that *should* be embarrassing is *not* asking questions: that is just dumb. You have this opportunity to learn something, which you should be proud to do, it's part of a good and admirable lifestyle to try to learn all the time. And instead some would waste it on a different lifestyle: pretending they have nothing to learn.

Question asking isn't just a matter of being willing to ask. It's also sometimes a matter of seeking out people to ask. If you want to know something you can find someone to ask. And of course you can also find books to read, google it, and so on, and that's important too.

It's also a matter of skill. Often people aren't totally clear on a concept but also can't think of a question. They aren't sure what it is they don't understand well. But with enough skill we can quickly create lots of questions. Unfortunately it's hard to explain how to do that. You might try reading my series of dialogs starting with How To Ask Questions which attempts to provide a good example: Caeli asks a lot of questions.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)


Let's discuss discussion. Some people have the idea that discussions are (sometimes/often) long, boring, and unproductive. Not all kinds of discussion. Scientists discussing their work of course can make progress. Discussion of a shared interest that's something fun like a computer game no one minds. But discussion regarding *disagreements* many people consider unpleasant.

People say the three keys to relationships are communication, communication, and communication. We can interpret that as evidence people need reminding and avoid communication. No one seems to take those keys very seriously, especially at first. Like The Rules where you can't call her for 3 days so you don't seem desperate. And people are scared to say how they feel at first rather than eager. Even later people often react to doing something their spouse would not like by *not telling him*. Don't get me wrong. I don't especially blame people for keeping things from their spouse. They are frequently correct that the spouse would react unpleasantly. Though I would recommend that we try to live in a good way, including with open communication -- give it a serious chance -- and if it fails, well what good is a marriage like that? If you have low expectations for your marriage, fine, but I am not impressed by such an attitude.

Anyhow, discussion is important. This is well known. How can you solve problems if you don't explain your preferences to each other? Without understanding where the other is coming from it is very hard to think of a solution that you'd both like. So discussion, while it can't guarantee a good outcome, seems to be a pretty necessary part of a good outcome. So what goes wrong?

One issue is people talk way too long and say lots of irrelevant stuff. This is boring and makes the discussion less effective because the important issues are obscured. I don't think people especially do this on purpose. The largest factor is they don't have much skill at identifying the key points and stating them briefly. But they are not totally innocent. Many people expect to have a long "heart to heart" or something and are not trying to get to the point.

Another issue is people talk incessantly about their feelings. This puts emotional pressure on the other person to acquiesce to any demands. And it's parochial and generally boring. And frequently the feelings being discussed are very irrational. So why listen to them? They don't follow fixed rules so there is no reasonable policy you can use to avoid triggering them. This is generally thought to be especially true of females who are known for being mercurial, and for wanting their boyfriend to support them and sympathize with them whether they are right or wrong. But men do the same sort of thing too, for example they more often get angry, and perceive the target of their anger as having wronged them and the more angry they get, often the more they decide they must have been wronged. And men, as well as women, get sexually jealous easily enough -- perhaps men more so.

What should you do? Well first state the issue and see if you agree about that. "I want to get a dog, but I think you don't." Confirm that! You could have misunderstood, and it helps focus the discussion. Now pause and think for a moment. Don't just start listing all the reasons you want a dog. They might not even be needed. And what good is a big list? You can't be right twice, let alone 10 times. OK so there might be an obvious solution here. Like if you live at different houses and you will take care of the dog then you might only need to say "I won't bring the dog on visits to your house" and that could be that. You're probably thinking I cheated by making the scenario too easy. But seriously stop and think a moment, there are easy solutions sometimes.

OK but say there isn't. You share a house. What now? Well listing the merits of a dog at this point is silly. For all you know you agree about that. You should ask why she doesn't want a dog. Let her say what she thinks would be bad about it. She might be wrong. You might agree with her and change your mind. Or at least you will know which merits of having a dog are actually relevant to her opinions.

So for example now she says that dogs are smelly and hairy. And you say they don't smell if bathed once a week, and that a certain breed doesn't shed much hair and you actually like that breed. There, problem solved. No need to remind her about how you had 3 dogs growing up and really loved them.

Maybe she says she thinks the dog will be neglected and she will have to feed and walk it and she doesn't want to. Well, that would be the time to point out how much you love walking dogs, and to explain why you expect to be reliable about feeding it. See how focussed that is? Still no big list of 500 reasons you want a dog, or 500 feelings you have about dogs. Only relevant things. And really, when you put the problem this way, doesn't it seem pretty simple and easy to evaluate? Yet people really do have fights about getting a pet, and fail to agree and often even fail to have a pleasant conversation about it. If she still thinks you won't be reliable ask her why. She might have a good point. Maybe you aren't reliable! But still there are easy answers. You could borrow a dog and see how you do. Or say her evidence is that you haven't mowed the lawn and bought the groceries on schedule. You could do those well for the next month to dispel her doubts.

There's a secret to why it's been easy so far. Well, there's two main reasons, but one I've been telling you. The one reason is focus: no big lists of irrelevant reasons for things, no wailing about emotions, just stick to very straightforward descriptions of the problem and the major preferences involved. OK the secret, what sets these hypotheticals apart from reality, is not at all that they are chosen to be easy or they are overly simple, or they are unrealistic. It's nothing like that. It is: the people I'm imagining are acting rationally. That makes a huge difference.

Here is what a fight looks like. First she says the dog would smell. When you offer to wash it frequently then she says it'd be too hairy. When you offer to get a breed which is not then she says you'll probably never walk it. When you deal with that issue she says you'll forget to bathe it. After you address that she says she doesn't like the idea of having it around the house all the time. When you explain about building a dog house in the back yard she says if you want a pet so much maybe can we get a cat? And it goes on and on: she changes her story repeatedly. Why is she doing that? Well because she doesn't want a dog, and it isn't for some straightforward reason that she knows of, so she's just guessing what her reason is, but each time you refute a reason she finds she still doesn't want a dog so it must actually be something else so she guesses again. But it isn't any of those things. It's an irrational anti-dog hang up. And so the discussion, when focussed only on a rational exploration of preferences and reasons, goes nowhere, or in circles, or whatever.

By the way you should keep in mind fights are common, but the subject matter varies from couple to couple. As strange as it is to be irrational about dogs, maybe one person in 40 is, which means about one couple in 20 will have the dog thing. But there are many hundreds of things people can be irrational about. So even if the rate for most of them is 2-5% the rate of fighting for each couple is still pretty high. And remember all those things you aren't irrational about are pretty easy and go pretty fast: the fights get a lot more time, attention, and notice.

Also all this stuff applies to friends, parent/child, co-workers, etc, not just couples. A couple is just part of my example.

So, what do we do now? How do we face irrationality?

One thing that helps very much is to limit the irrationality. Having irrational preferences about the dog issue is one thing. But that doesn't mean you have to discuss irrationally. It can be pointed out to you that you are changing reasons and clearly don't know what your real reason is. Or you can notice that yourself. And you can react to this by thinking: hmm, maybe I'm irrational about this. And then you can go back to having a rational discussion about reasons for things but just say your reason is: I seem to have a hang up about dogs. And I don't want to face it. (If you don't mind facing it, then do that, of course. It can be fun to crush memes and irrationalities. Yay human power and spirit.)

So you are irrational. He might say: that's a shame, but I don't want to put you through a hard and potentially painful experience, nor is a dog more important than you having control over what hard things you have to face in your life. And again we're done. Issue resolved. Easily. This can happen.

Another reason people fight is they think life is a zero sum game. Well they might not think all of life is, but they at least think a particular issue is. They think either I get what I want, or you do, or we compromise and boht get part of what we want and part of what we don't want (compromises aren't much fun. and also they are not what anyone thinks is best. (if you thought it was best you'd want it, so you wouldn't regard it as getting only part of what you want.)). That could lead to further problems over the dog. She's irrational? Argh. That means either I can't have what I want (a dog) or she can't have what she wants.

There are still plenty of easy solutions. You might be satisfied with your friend getting a dog and you visiting often and walking it. You might be satisfied with a cow instead, which she might not mind.

But ok, what else is there? Well, one big big thing is you can change your preference. You can decide something else is best and then find you want that. Faking this is no good. Deciding you "should" want something else, when you don't honestly want it, isn't going to turn out well. But genuine changes of opinion can take place. In fact it is common that people change their mind *in general*. It's only rare *in fights*. And partly it seems that way because any time someone does change his mind/preference there is no more fight, so people don't remember it as a fight.

Really, people change their preferences all the time. It's easy. "Let's go to the park tomorrow." "I can't, I promised my grandmother I'd visit her." "OK." See that "OK"? That means he changed his mind about wanting the two of them to go to the park. Easy. "Let's go get icecream." "Nah, I had a big lunch, not hungry." "OK." And now suddenly you don't prefer to go get icecream together. etc

So the real thing people are worried about is: what if we irrationally disagree and we won't change our minds and then we fight? Well the first and most obvious thing is: would you rather change your mind or fight? The second most obvious thing, imo, is that maybe you don't need to agree about this at all. Maybe life can go on without a discussion. I know that isn't much use in the case of the dog for the married couple who share a house. That is one of the downsides of sharing so much of your lives: it puts pressure on you to agree about more things. But if you are just friends then a lot of things you can just say "nevermind" and maybe get what you want with some other friend.

You're probably thinking that if you give in because it's better than fighting that will set a bad precedent and it won't be fun to do that every time. Well first of all you could take turns. Second of all things don't always turn out how you expect. Maybe once you get the dog she will actually like it. Or once you don't have it you will take an interest in something else and forget all about it and not be sad. Third, what is this about a precedent? You are scared your wife, your cherished loved one, will discover that if she refuses to agree she can make you give in even though you'd rather not? Well, suppose she discovers that is possible. She will not want to do that! Right? She better not. If she does what on earth are you doing married? So you shouldn't be scared of that. If you are you have much bigger problems than a dog. Bigger than a cow, even.

But Elliot, I read all this and it's still not working? What can I do? Well, it'd be easier if you were a better person. I'm not insulting you. I'm saying you are capable of improving. It's a compliment, see? Now the point is if you improve in ways that seem to have nothing at all to do with the dog problem you might come back to the dogs and find some of your wisdom actually turns out useful or it just seems easier now. Making progress in other fields often helps out in unforeseeable ways. So clearly if you are really having a hard time you should all take a break to read my blog.

What if we can't gain perspective and treat our irrationality rationally? Well first of all you can. It's possible. You have simply failed to do so, for now. But next, yes that's a common issue. Nasty memes frequently make people believe they are behaving and thinking rationally. And this makes people act willfully blind, misinterpret things, confabulate reasons, and so on. Oh dear! What is to be done?

There is no general answer. General answers only work well for rational problems. Rational problems have patterns and logic to them, so there are often lots of helpful general things. And there is a general approach to rational problem solving that can help. Besides imagine there was a general answer, and it was "Do X." for some X. Well, soon people would be asking, "What if I also have a hang up about X?" So that's not going anywhere fast. What to do depends. THere is a nasty hang up of some sort. Well, what sort? What would make it better? What would get rid of it? Put it in remission? Put it in hiding? There are answers, but they depend on the specific mind of the person in question. Some people would enjoy to go through with things in spite of their hang up. They might be proud to ignore their irrationality and thumb their noses at it. They could find the whole thing fun. But others would hate to do that. They might rather read a lot about the subject and meditate on it and slowly form better views about it more based on facts. Other people don't see what's so wrong about having a hang up -- no one is totally rational -- and don't seriously want to change it, so they aren't going to.

The original topic is having a discussion to solve a problem. I'm going to go back to it now. That could help people who are all caught up worry about their irrationality. Relax. Calm down. Think about the basic steps to discussion and try one of them. They don't hurt.

So, one thing that helps discussions go well is to have a mental model of the other person. This sounds fancy but we all have them at least inexplicitly. If you ever guess what someone would reply if you said something you have a mental model of that person which is helping you to predict what they'd do. Vague mental models usually are full of stereotypes. That's not such a bad thing. Most people are pretty conventional so a lot of stereotypes are *roughly* accurate. It's good to keep in mind they are just stereotypes and you don't know for sure, but they can help and are better than nothing. If you make frequent use of your mental models of each other you can save a lot of talking. You can notice that you already agree about something, or that you think the other person understands a point, and then you don't have to mention it. Or if someone says something with multiple possible meanings (which many many sentences have) then if your mental model is pretty good you might be pretty sure which they meant and can assume that. But keep in mind you made that assumption! If a little later you find you are miscommunicating then you should question if your mental model got that wrong and double check.

Only give one argument at a time. As I said you can't be right twice. You also can't be more right. You are right or you aren't. Just give your best most important reason and discuss that. It's the most likely to settle the issue in either direction. If it's wrong you have the most reason to re-think your position. And it's the most likely to persuade the other person. It's also easier to keep track of things if you focus on one issue at a time and resolve it to your satisfaction.

Another important thing is if something is confusing or unclear or ambiguous then don't be embarrassed not to understand. Communication takes two. Don't feel so bad. Maybe they should have made their statement easier to follow. Or maybe it's something silly like a typo that is causing the confusion. So ask!

If part of this was unclear feel free to email me to ask about it.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)


Parenting is important because it's the biggest factor for what knowledge is transmitted to the next generation. We all know this (though few keep it at actively in their thoughts). But we don't all know what to make of it.

Some people take the importance of parenting as justification for parents to have extreme powers to make absolutely sure nothing goes wrong. This is not a freedom-loving attitude. If power over other people is bad in general, then when things are important is the *worst* time to rely on such power. The higher the stakes, the more critical it is to do things properly! The same issues come up in politics. People say courts and police are too important to leave to the market. (Why don't they say this about groceries?) That only makes sense if the government is better at doing them. If the market is better then we should be saying it's too important to keep letting government do it.

What information transfer to the next generation means to me is that this is where improvements need to happen. For an improvement to be lasting it needs to be appealing to young people. If we raise kids to know exactly what we know, and be just like us, then progress comes to a halt. That isn't what we actually do. But it may be something we do for certain issues. Children are especially supposed to adopt the religion, morality, and values of their parents, but then are given scope to, for example, believe newer scientific ideas. So scientific progress continues, but religious progress barely exists.

It seems plain to me that we should absolutely want our children to question all our ideas and not accept anything uncritically. While that is a good attitude for everyone to have in general, it is most critical for children to have that attitude towards their parents. Children have a fresh perspective. They aren't yet set in their ways. Their life doesn't revolve around any opinions they have -- changing them is still easy. Contrast with a politician or a scientist or a preacher -- if they change their mind it's a big deal. Changing your mind about your spouse is hard. Changing your mind about your hobbies, even, is hard -- you might have a decade of experience with a present hobby, and many friends who share it.

If we have mistaken ideas that we do not improve that is unfortunate. But if our children have the same ones that is much worse. The idea sticks around a lot longer. And if their children are its victim as well, and their children after them, and so on, that is just what we really don't want. So how do you avoid that? Well what absolutely will not work at all is if parents decide which ideas their children should believe according to which they think are good. Then any bad idea they have which they don't realize is bad will be passed on. And we all know we are often blind to our own flaws. Memes can evolve to make their holders blind to them. If children make their own decisions that does not guarantee a better result. It could even turn out worse. But it gives a chance of getting away from bad ideas that make their holders blind to the badness. It also respects human dignity to prefer people choose their own ideas.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)


Marriage is silly. It's especially silly if you marry a cow, but it's always silly.

Marriage is forever. At least the people intend it to be, and take steps to make it so. Sometimes they fail, but that is beside the point. They want it to last forever.

An alternative way of approaching relationships I would call "project-based relationships" (PBR) where people sometimes do projects together and they stay together as the details of the project require, and no more (unless they do more projects).

Some people might claim you could have a marriage, but only for raising a child, and plan to divorce afterwards. And they would say this is wise because the arguments against committing to a marriage forever have some point (we'll get to what those arguments are later), but that most of the details of what married people do are good for at least some purposes, including for parenting (I will argue against that later too). For now let me just say: that is not a marriage. It fits very well into the PBR mold. They are choosing to act in certain ways (which can be summarized as how married people act) because they believe that is functional to the project at hand. They are not intending to continue doing it once the project is complete and therefore the functionality is gone. So in a fundamental way they don't have the attitude behind marriage and can more accurately be said to be in the PBR camp.

The importance of the *forever* part of marriage is not to be underestimated. You can't just ignore it like some surface detail. It plays a huge role in how people treat each other during courtship and in marriage. While this role has many bad effects, it also is an important part of *defenses* of marriage. What's so good about marriage? One might say that the commitment to face life together allows for new and better knowledge creation, but that the commitment to do this forever is necessary to secure such a huge investment -- all the effort to become closer and more intimate and face life together would not have been well spent were one's partner to leave.

Forever throws off how people value things. If something has such huge potential, and is best started as soon as possible, then even a small chance of it is given a lot of value. And so people meet a girl and think "she might be the one" and then make a serious effort with her, even though they have little reason to expect the effort to be well spent. And they know their odds are poor but they want the imagined *eternal* reward so much that they don't care. A bit like wasting money on the lottery.

Forever also changes the dynamics within a relationship. If a friend has an annoying habit, who cares? He's worth visiting anyway. You only spend a limited amount of time with him. He might get a job and move cross country and your problem will disappear. But when your spouse has annoying habit you don't want to settle for less or just live with it because you are trying to have a perfect, ever-lasting relationship. If you really will be together forever then even a tiny annoyance is best fixed immediately. And, by the way, failure to do so proves a lack of commitment to the relationship by your spouse which fuels further fighting over the triviality.

Forever also isn't reality. Lifespans are still short. So perhaps putting in a lot of work now for intended rewards eventually is not wise. People know their lives and marriage only have a limited number of decades but still their philosophy is polluted by forever and imagining plenty of time to reap the benefits of a very good relationship once it is created so that they are overly willing to delay the benefits. This has a further adverse effect because one of the best ways to find out if something is going well, likely to work out, worth doing, etc -- one of the best ways to predict future benefits -- is to see how well something is going now. If it's producing great benefit now that's the best way to judge it's really going to work later as well. (I don't mean literally you can just assume one based on the other. But it's a good type of evidence and when applied using common sense and thought it is a reasonable approximation for good criteria.)

Forever is also a bad idea. People change. People learn. Learning is not predictable -- you can't understand what you don't yet know. Making long term commitments reduces our scope for future choices. It reduces our freedom.

Forever, further, is a sort of promise. People make wedding *vows*. As Godwin taught us, promises are not rational. When it comes time to do as you promised either the action you promised will be right to do, in which case you would do it whether you promised to or not. Or it will be wrong, in which case you have promised to do wrong, and ought to break your promise. So either the promise makes no difference, or it encourages you to do wrong and should be broken.

I know there are a lot of strands of the discussion open. It's somewhat hard for me to remember them all, so it's probably hard for you as well. And I don't have section headings or anything. So to do us both a favor here is a reminder list of the open topics, including some that have not yet been mentioned:

- statements of intent, alternative to promises
- arguments for how long term commitments can sometimes increase freedom, and about counting choices, and then response about specific faults of marriage
- comments on non-forever details of marriage which PBR style "marriage" might emulate and why they are bad
- investing in relationship + requiring commitment/promise/vows silly. why not do w/ friends? what do we do w/ friends instead? compare
- optional comments on marriage specifically related to parenting
- optional comments on what commitment means
- optional comments on love
- optional comments on sex
- optional comments on cohabitation

So if promises are irrational what is to replace them? They seem to serve a useful function. What if you plan to do something in the future and want people to know your plan and perhaps to be able to rely on it? Surely there is a way to arrange this. And indeed promises sort of play that role: if you promise to do something it becomes morally right to do it in a wider variety of circumstances -- you've changed the moral landscape. (All actions change the moral landscape at least a tiny bit. But here we've made a significant, intentional change.) The replacement is very simple: say you intend to do something. Promising pretends to know what will be right in the future. Say you do not know what will be right, but you will try to make the intended action right, and use your planning to try to make it happen. Then people can include reasonable actions by you to make it happen in their personal guesses of how the future will go. They should make their own guesses and take responsibility for said guesses, BTW. In fact that is another reason promises are bad: they invite people to trust you instead of taking responsibility for their own lives. Trust is a very bad thing. Don't put your life in my hands! You are just asking to be a victim if I mess up. And you should be trying to learn how to make your life good yourself instead of counting on me to make it work out. So make your own judgment please instead of trusting me to tell you the future.

My comments on long term commitments reducing the scope for choices and therefore freedom at not at all the whole story. All choices alter the scope for freedom: you cannot choose not to have made that choice. But if you don't do it, you can't choose to have done it (at that time). More concretely, if you buy tickets to a concert now you can't not-go and keep your money (though you have some new options like trying to get a refund or selling the tickets to a third party). Your options are restricted. But if you don't buy the tickets you can't get into the concert (except perhaps by buying from a scalper or somesuch). Again your options are restricted, but in a different way. Which is better? Well first of all it isn't a matter of counting. You can't just count which way provides more options and say that way is more freedom. This is for two reasons. One is it doesn't matter so much how many options you have: you're only going to actually choose one option, and you want that to be the best one. Keeping your options open is only much use if they many options seem *good* and you aren't sure yet *and* you have reason to think you'll be able to make a better choice later *and* you aren't giving up any great options by keeping the other options open. The second reason you can't just count options is that there is no known method of counting them. What, exactly, counts as one option? Don't we always have infinte slightly different options? I could eat the tickets if I have them. Or rip them. Ripping them is not just one option because I could rip them in so many ways. There are a lot of atoms in the ticket -- much more than trillions -- and I could separate them in ... well every atom has multiple bonds to other atoms I guess, and each one I could separate or not. If I don't have great tools I can't be so exacting but there are still a vast number of ways to rip the tickets. Trying to count those and compare them to how many ways I can rip the $20 bill I would have if I don't buy the tickets is completely absurd and pointless. And please don't email me to point out that obviously the $20 bill is larger than a concert ticket and can therefore be ripped up in more ways and therefore having the money provides greater freedom.

So that's why giving up some options does not necessarily reduce freedom. Sure you can't do all the many things unmarried people can do. But how many different things can you do with your spouse that are at least slightly different than doing the same things with a friend? Lots. There is no obvious way to say that the choices available to married people are less than those available to single people.

What's wrong with marriage, then, in this regard? There must be something because I made comments along these lines above while trashing marriage, and I obviously am familiar with the above defense, so I must have meant something this defense misses.

Well, as I said, people change and learn, unpredictably. So for one thing married people might develop different interests. This can lead to them having no active interests in common. Theoretically they could then go many millennia without speaking. More immediately their interests could lead them to live on different continents. Or one could become an astronaut and go on a manned mission to mars that doesn't include a return trip. Does marriage make sense if you don't see each other for a long time, possibly ever again? I don't see how it could. And worse, does *exclusive* marriage make sense? If marriage is good then going without the day-to-day benefits of marriage for so long must be awful. And further, if marriage really is about learning to be close and intimate so you can create knowledge and solve problems together really well, and is thus a big investment in your future, then if you spend so much time apart that is a waste! And if it's not some huge investment requiring huge commitment to be reasonable then why marry? Why not just do this good thing with all your friends? And if some leave it's no big deal b/c, by premise, you have lost little. And you were gaining while friend was still around so it's probably a net benefit. And even if not the policy of acting this way with your friends is because the leaving rate is pretty low so on the whole you win.

That reminds me of a snappy phrase I wrote, "Lovers leave, friends stay." This was inspired by a Buffy plotline where someone has serious problems in her life. Her lover feels betrayed and leaves her -- if she really cared about the relationship she'd stop messing it up with her personal flaws and just fix them already (or something. that's silly of course. she'd fix her personal flaws if she knew how to, committed relationship or no). Meanwhile her friends did not leave her. They did not feel betrayed. They helped her. After she was helped and improved then her lover came back and wanted to try again. That was funny. Before leaving they said things to each other like they'd be there through good times and bad and they were so dedicated to helping each other and so on. And the lover coming back wasn't even apologetic. She still generally thought it was her fault for having a flaw. What meaning can a commitment to stay with someone have if a single flaw voids it? A defender of marriage would of course condemn this action and say a good couple would not be like that. But still that leads to some questions:

1) What *is* grounds for leaving a marriage if your partner turns out to have flaws? Nothing? You stay and help no matter what, forever? The trick is just to pick a perfect person based on imperfect knowledge, and if you mess that up it isn't marriage's fault? But if you try to make the grounds something simple like "you are justified to leave if your partner's flaws really suck and bother you" then you have to admit you can't reasonable claim *your* marriage will last through the next week because your partner could have a flaw you don't yet know about. if that sounds unlikely, besides standard comments about you really don't know how likely it is and you shouldn't underestimate the differences between people I also want to point out a different mechanism by which this could happen: you could *both* have a flaw, and be blind to it, (so far this is very common), and then one of you could learn of the flaw and improve, but fail to convince the other. and there you go. now your partner has a flaw, and quite possibly you really hate that flaw because you have the zeal of the convert. and quite possibly argument and discussion don't solve this problem. so, divorce? and BTW yes I know i've written at length about the power of discussion, and about there being no barriers to human understanding. But there are also no guarantees to understand a given thing soon. if you don't mind to give it a few millennia then probably your partner will eventually learn what you did about this flaw. but learning is not predictable. you can't count on it happening quickly. especially when memes, irrationalities, and blind spots are involved! these things are so strong that many people think if they are involved then changing is impossible!

So we were talking about whether the commitments in a marriage are functional and increase future freedom and provide good options in the future, and I was saying they do not, and worse people do not specifically even try to pay attention to the function of each commitment and to justify each one, they just take marriage as a big bundle -- what could go wrong, anyway? they love each other and "would never hurt each other" so even if some of the agreements are bad or dangerous they have nothing to fear, or so they imagine. the well known fact that consequences of actions are often not what was intended can't override love, or something.

There is ample room for serious discussion of specific details of marriage commitments and which might be reasonable and which are not. and there is room for discussion of how marriage might allow new and better problem solving and knowledge creation. that sounds very fishy, btw, since umm knowledge creation comes through conjecture and criticism as specified by Popper, not through trust or love or intimacy or whatever. But anyway, for today i am going to leave that out.

Another good thing to consider is an arctic expedition. If you're traveling through the snow you cannot just back out and leave at a moment's notice. But you also would be silly to make detailed and extensive plans in advance for what you will do as soon as you get home. Sure you might plan a party in advance, and some relaxation time. But you won't be planning the second arctic trip yet, nor how often you will meet with other team members to reminisce about the trip. You only plan things in advance when there is a purpose to doing so. So you plan to be on the trip for the entire trip because that is functionally necessary to going on the trip. You plan the coming home party early because you will be tired when you get back and won't want to plan it then. This is all perfectly justified and rational despite the significant commitments and the advanced planning. Marriages though aren't like this. People don't choose to get married to make some new thing possible that they couldn't do before. And people don't choose what to commit to in advance in a marriage based on what has functionality, they choose it based on what a marriage is supposed to include (which they would say is what they personally want. but what they want *is*, ignoring some superficial details, the stereotypical thing because they are infected with memes).

A lot of people would claim the things required of married people *are* functional. Agreeing to stay together long term makes buying a house together better. Sharing money makes parenting together, and having one parent stay home without a job, work better. It's hard to give more example because most things required of married people either have something to do with sex, or are justified as steps that make the marriage/relationship work better and help it last. If you weren't married they wouldn't be necessary. But let's give them the benefit of the doubt and imagine married people do lots of things that non-married people would also do for functional reasons. Then it is still the case that married people are not doing those things one at a time, specifically when they are needed for some function. They are not paying close attention to what steps are needed and why and doing them only when there is reason to. That isn't the attitude at all. The real attitude is: no we are married, and we trust each other, so let's share a house, and share out bank account, and tell each other secrets, and everything else. It's all lumped together to obscure any relation between a particular restriction on married people or unusual action they take and its functional justification. They just want to be together, forever, in body and soul and mind, and merge their lives, or whatever, not think carefully about what steps intended for the good of the relationship and for closeness and intimacy actually have a useful effect.

A friend of mine suggested I might want to rethink mentioning bestiality in the opening paragraph. This amused me because it had not occurred to me to have sex with the cow, even if married. I thought only that cows are ridiculous, being friends with one more so, marriage even more so. And also that the conversations would not work well. This brings up the very real issue of the role of sex in marriage. Many defenses of marriage say they allow better sex, and this is important. Some even go so far as to mention avoiding STDs as an important reason to get married. It might be an argument for sexual exclusivity, but what does that have to do with marriage? Maybe I'll tell you tomorrow. (I do not promise to do so. I may never return to this topic. Do not form expectations except based on your own judgment and for which you take full responsibility.)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)


What are marriages actually like? What do married people do, once they are all committed and make their vows and so on? What's the meat of the idea, once all the (lots and lots and lots) of meta is relatively complete?

Married people tell each other secrets. Their own secrets. Their friend's secrets. Sometimes military secrets. Sometimes they withhold some, but they are pressured not to.

Similarly, married people are encouraged to have little or no privacy from their spouse. This includes each of them not having a room of her own. Sometimes it includes sharing a computer. Sometimes they share an email account. When they go out they are often supposed to call the other and let him know. Changes of plan must be recorded. If people had any free, unmonitored time they could cheat.

Friendships must be limited, especially with members of the opposite sex. Nothing can be allowed to threaten the marriage. If your spouse wants more time with you that must come first even if you are more interested in doing something else. You are considered wrong to have that interest -- you aren't sufficiently committed, you don't value the marriage enough -- and pressured to change or suppress it. Friendships run the risk of learning and change which could create incompatibilities with your spouse, so that must be controlled and monitored (you do that yourself more than anyone else intruding). Friendships also run the risk of developing feelings for someone else -- why wouldn't you? you believer in marriage, who got crushes on people easily in the past, and who worships the infinite potential of an everlasting union -- and that must be suppressed too.

Married people make each other do some of the chores and dull tasks they don't like. Or perhaps you could say they split them up and each avoid the most hated ones. Gender roles are taken for granted: men do repairs with power tools, not women. (But men sometimes do some of the cooking and cleaning and laundry thanks to feminism. Why don't feminists encourage women to mow the lawn in the name of equality?) Perhaps my objection here is more to people's attitude to such chores in general -- many could be avoided easily enough -- and isn't much to do with marriage. But regardless of whether it is bad, it is a significant part of the interactions of married couples. So it bears mentioning. Further, if someone so mundane takes up a significant bit of a couple's attention then that does not support the previously told story whereby marriage helps create knowledge better and solve hard problems.

There are more tasks than you might realize. House maintenance requires a lot of effort when you have conventional standards of how well kept and presentable things should be. Cooking, cleaning, laundry require a fair amount of effort, and it increases significant with kids. Sometimes married people share a car and spend a lot of effort coordinating who uses the car when, and sometimes giving each other rides. There are errands of all sorts. Groceries, a new chair, a new light bulb, a toy for a child, getting photos developed, and so on. Then there's taking kids to school and back, and to soccer practice, and to their chess tournament, and to their friend's house, and so on. And there's calling other mothers to schedule such things, and to work out carpools. And there's parent/teacher conferences.

When you throw in sleep, work, friends, extended family, and sex, how much time is really left for talking and thinking? How much opportunity is there for the supposed rewards of marriage to be reaped? All these mundane things could just as well be coordinated with a roommate -- and without the marital fights! Not much. And don't forget the 5 hours a day of TV the average adult watches, or whatever it is. Which demonstrates again there *is no special connection* allowing wonderful and mind enhancing conversations filled with learning -- in reality TV is more interesting than a spouse.

The vision of a knowledge-rich marriage seems imaginary. It seems an excuse concocted by people who believe in the value of knowledge in order to feel better, but with little relation to the facts.

This is not to say that spouses never have any valuable knowledge of each other. They often do -- and more than their friendships have. It can be very important to their lives. Many men find their wife helps inspire and encourage them through bad mental states. Many women find their husband helps calm and lead them through bad mental states.

But the comparison is not fair. If they spent so much time and effort with their friends then their friends would get better at doing the same things. Nothing about a marriage makes those specific skills more possible or effective.

You might say that it's too risky to develop that with a friend who is not committed to staying with you for your entire life so that's why this personal knowledge should be developed with a committed spouse. My first reply is that putting all your eggs in one basket -- who is about 50% likely to die before you, and has a significant chance to die many years before you -- is not the conservative, risk-averse strategy that, apparently, it is being implied to be.

But aside from being trivially false, it's also false for a more philosophically interesting reason. It is fundamentally the same point touched on previously about promises being irrational. What does this commitment to stay together really mean? Is it a promise? If so, what use is that? Either it will be right to stay together, or it won't be. Promising to stay when one should not cannot help matters. It is only a promise to do wrong. Promising to stay when one ought to stay is irrelevant -- and possibly harmful: if we stay because we promised without realizing it is right then we, by not understanding the full importance and rational reasons for staying, run the risk of being persuaded to change our minds fairly easily due to our ignorance. What if it's a statement of intent to stay together? So we don't promise, we just try to plan things out so that happens? Well first consider what married couples would be pleased to think of things that way! They are fragile enough about leaving already. Just try telling your girlfriend that you refuse to promise not to leave her. She won't be pleased at your rationality. She will wonder if you are setting up excuses for leaving in advance. She will be fearful. She will think of course you should intend that -- if you don't she will be very angry with you, and feel betrayed -- but look you should care at her enough to do more than try. Any other guy would promise. You must not really love her.

But never mind that married people won't accept statements of intent. Are they actually a good idea? Well, they work well for short term things. But the further into the future the intent goes, the harder the future is to predict. If you are making predictions about a decade hence either your life is very static -- unlikely to have much change -- or your statements of intent are fairly worthless. Sure you intend to. If it works out. But if unforeseen circumstances change things then your statement of intent will be void. If you make long term predictions then the unforeseen circumstances are so overwhelmingly likely that the statement of intent should be considered fairly worthless in the first place because it will almost certainly become void. What it really comes down to is morality. The only thing that should keep people together is that it is good for them to stay together. The fear being discussed is creating valuable, personal knowledge with someone, then they leave without using it and getting the benefits of all that work. (Creating the knowledge itself should be an interesting learning experience one was glad to have had, so this is already a bit confused. It's not work.) So why not just say it this way: you believe it is important for a person with such knowledge to, in most circumstances, stick around and stay in your life. In other words: it would be wrong to leave, because of the knowledge. Fine. That's a perfectly reasonable sort of thing to claim. But then what do you need a promise or commitment or any sort of intent for? It's wrong to leave. There you go. If person wants to leave you can tell them they are making a mistake and it is better for both of you if they change their mind. You can explain why. You can be persuasive. You believe you are right, and have a good case, so you have every reason for optimism in this discussion. And also if person persuades you he is right then again any promise or intent would be irrelevant -- now you would have to say: damn your promise, you are right to leave, that is for the best, so go, the promise was a mistake, but keeping it would be a larger mistake!

Once it's down to morality, not marital vows, commitment, promises, or whatever, then it doesn't really make a bit of difference whether it is your spouse or not. Your friends should give some priority to not leaving, proportional to how much knowledge you've created with each of them. Ditto for your spouse. It's the same. And creating knowledge with someone shouldn't be seen especially as creating risk. It's now more right to stay. (The actual importance of people staying in your life is open to some debate and is off topic. But precisely how important it is has no bearing on the principle.)

The way people choose marriage partners is absurd. It has a lot to do with sexual attraction and physical appearance. What have those to do with knowledge?

Most people never claimed marriage has anything to do with knowledge, of course. It never occurred to them that it is or should be. So why do I keep addressing that issue? Because knowledge *is* important, and the only way to make a plausible defense of marriage is to claim it somehow is about knowledge. What else would matter? (Seriously, email me answers. And yes I know many would mention love, sex, or children. Maybe I'll address those issues later.)

So people choose marriage partners a lot about sex and looks. Also first impressions play a large role. Also courtship plays a large role. That's silly too. How can you learn the suitability of someone for married life by interacting with them in a distinctly different manner? Sure it's possible -- human creativity will not be stopped by such trivialities as doing something unsuitable -- but it's not an especially good way of doing things.

Why should you care so deeply about sharing your life with someone very pretty? Are you really so shallow as that? I have nothing again pretty things. But get a painting. Get a poster. Fill your house with the best things you can find. Have nice rugs. Why should you wish to impose your sense of aesthetics on people and thereby limit which people you consider options? If marriage is so important shouldn't you seek above all to find the best personality/knowledge/worldview/ideas you can? Why should co-parent with someone you like to have sex with? Sexual prowess does not make for good mothers or fathers. They are wholly unrelated.

That brings up another point. This marriage is such a package deal of many unrelated things. Finding one person who is a great match at 20 criteria is worlds harder than finding 10 people who, combined, are good at all those things. Why should the person who is good for snuggling with to watch movies be the same person who you go on hikes with? Or pick any other two things. It's easy.

So, why indeed? Well the only plausible claim that comes to mind is: they should be the same person so you can have ongoing conversations encompassing all those things. So you can make each better with reference to the large common pool of knowledge you've developed. Because an expert at the topic is less important than doing it with someone you trust, someone you aren't embarrassed to make mistakes in front of while learning, someone who is patient with you, someone who understands how to teach you new things, someone who will recognize when you are sad and know how to cheer you up, and so on. The claim would be that such people are hard to find so it makes sense to if you are so lucky as to find a great person for all those things that are useful in general to many fields to take that person and do lots with them.

Notice that when we try to *rationally* defend marriage then knowledge comes up.

If you have a person who is good in those ways then *great*. I congratulate you. That is a good thing. And it really does frequently make sense to prefer to do things with this person you like rather than a subject-specific expert. However, consider that marriages might not generally be like that. For example marital fights are common, as is marital counseling. Why would those take place if there is so much great knowledge?

Further I ask: what does having a person like this have to do with marriage? Why marry them? Couldn't this person quite possibly be a same-sex friend? And if you did marry them, or not, what difference does it make?

You might say the difference is love. But if you have this great thing surely there are very positive and appropriate feelings to accompany it -- call them love if you like -- and whether you have a marriage ceremony shouldn't change those feelings which are based on your shared knowledge and enjoyment of each other's minds.

You might say the difference is parenting together. But you can do that without marrying. Co-parenting is a perfectly good project for a PBR (project-based relationship). So wanting to co-parent is no way to differentiate between a marriage or PBR being right for you.

You might say the difference is living in the same house. Friends could do that. This isn't really a point open to debate. There are many other differences that might be put forward. But, again, friends can do that. What's to stop them? When it comes down to it I think we all know where the line between "just friends" and "something more" is.

The line is sex (including sexual activity like kissing). If you have sex, and you have an important relationship, then like it or not our culture does not consider you to be friends, at least not first and foremost. You are lovers. You are romantically involved. You are on the path to marriage.

What sex has to do with anything is a bit of a mystery. I understand the importance in the era before cheap, reliable birth control, and I also understand that attitudes can be slow to change. But what does sex matter now? It is claimed to do everything from create intimacy, express love, untangle emotional problems, create knowledge, be extraordinarily fun, and even to be so complex as to allow for the application of great skill. And sex "means something". Having sex with someone else is this huge deal, frequently relationship ending. It's "cheating".

Maybe some other time I will attempt to put forward some plausible arguments for the above claims regarding sex, and tackle them rationally. For now it shall suffice for me to say that this stuff is complete lunacy, and any arguments in its defense are ad hoc excuses. It's much worse than arguing with UFO believers. People don't think about these things, they just behave according to their memes, and their memes make them completely blind, far more blind than a paranoid UFO nut.

If you're offended: *good*. At least you noticed I did mean you. You aren't some rare exception. Now try seriously to think about it yourself. Any knowledge you create about sex being silly yourself will serve you far better than what I could tell you, because it will be tuned to fit into your own mind well.

Feel free to email me attempts at logical arguments about the importance of sex. If I feel like it I might address them.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)


Leaving aside claims of what marriage can be like if you choose a very, very good spouse, let's consider what most marriages are like. As people get older they are pressured to find a spouse, especially females to find a husband (because a woman's life, lacking a marriage, has less in it than a man's, because women devote more energy and thought to relationships and less to having personal interests or a career). They are encouraged to stop waiting for someone who isn't coming (ie, a very excellent spouse), and told they aren't getting any younger (a matter prettiness and childbearing age), and they are told to stop having unrealistic expectations. The meaning is to settle for less.

How can a very close, trusting, intimate, knowledge-creating, problem-solving relationship be possible if you settle for less? How could you settle for someone who doesn't understand you well? Who doesn't care for learning deeply? Who isn't trustworthy? Who is bad at solving problems (with you, or generally) and does not have the right attitudes and personality to change this? Who lacks curiosity? Who has bad values or bad moral theories?

The advice to settle for less reveals that marriages don't *really* have all the amazing goodness claimed. They aren't about creating a better situation for knowledge creation. If they were, people would advise only to marry when the prerequisites are present. But people don't advise as such. They advise just *as if* marriage is about being less lonely, getting laid, having kids, sharing chores, sharing a house, and other mundane things (except parenting isn't mundane).

How do you avoid being (slightly) old and unmarried, and thus being pressured to finally find someone that you can be happy enough with? (One implication here is you cannot be happy enough alone. Which again speaks to marriage being chosen not because it is amazing. In this case we see people sometimes marry simply because they fear the alternatives.) The most reliable way, by far, to avoid being unmarried for too long, while maintaining high standards, is to delude yourself. Create a fantasy of what people you meet are like. Marry the fantasy that seems so perfect. I don't mean to suggest people consciously set out to do this. That wouldn't be a very good way to delude yourself. But consider love at first sight, crushes on people who have just been met, "young love", being infatuated, and so on. Further helping this along is sexual repression. When young people do start having sex with someone it seems so new and amazing that they can easily mistake this for having a good relationship, special connection, or their partner having some positive attribute.

By the way, marrying because the alternatives seem worse to you might sound logical. OK, strictly, it is logical. But it only seems this way due to irrational memes. There isn't some good reason that "being alone" should be so horrible. The main reasons it is are either that you want to be married, so you interpret unmarried state as lonely and bad. Or you don't know how to live your own life so your life is empty, in which case marriage will not actually solve the problem.

So get married young and deluded (and also frequently low on perspective just from youthful ignorance), or older and pressured. It takes great luck or skill to do better. So, most people do not do better. Their spouse is no one amazing.

You may say: never mind them. My marriage *is* special. My marriage creates lots of knowledge, more than friendships do. It is a shame many people marry who should not. I even advise them not to. When asked for details, you might talk about how in love you are, how well you can talk, how can can be happy when you are just together even without talking, how much your intimacy helps your lives, how happy you are together, how much you enjoy sex together and have no interest in sex with anyone else, how well you understand each other, how well you coordinate routine parts of your lives effectively and efficiently, how well you help each other through hard times and stress, how much you inspire each other to take up new interests (usually together), how often you tell each other interesting things, and so on. Now, here's the thing: *all those average, normal marriages, based on delusion or settling, that simply are not particularly special* ... if you ask them to describe their marriage, many of them will say *all* of the details I just listed of why the good marriage is supposedly good. The self report that people use to say how great their own marriage is, is virtually the same from couple to couple. And you are trying to claim yours is better but are only invoking the same praise everyone else claims to deserve. You have badly failed to set yourself apart: nothing listed is remotely unique. And further, that you match the claims of most marriages so closely is strong evidence you are suffering the same memes and delusions they are.

*   *   *

Three huge benefits of privacy are:

1) helps alleviate problems caused by having flaws and irrationalities (including memes)
2) helps manage flaws other people have and irrationalities (including memes)
3) helps with criticism scheduling

People don't value privacy enough in general. Children frequently play privacy-destroying games such as "Truth or Dare" and "Ten Fingers". In truth or dare people are asked questions and under very strong pressure to tell the truth. The questions are designed to be uncomfortable, to reveal secrets. They often embarrass people who have unusual sexual or drug history, or just unusual preferences. They are a mechanism by which people are pressured to have conventional experiences and preferences. Ten fingers is similar: people ask who has done something and if you have you put down one finger. Everyone can see if you've done it.

Parents don't like to give privacy to their children. That allows children opportunity to disobey. And what do they need it for, anyway? Parents are only there to help. Why hide from your helper? Children especially never have the private use of much money.

Friends pressure each other to reveal secrets, and also to talk about things (especially relationships or upsetting things), even where there is hesitance. Friends "pry". And once they do ask something they don't like not getting an answer. Aren't you friends? Why can't you tell?

Married couples are perhaps the worst destroyers of privacy. They share a room, a bed, financial affairs, their friend's secrets. They are supposed to share their intimate feelings, deepest fears, embarrassing sexual preferences, and anything their partner would feel he has a right to know or would want to know. "Why didn't you tell me sooner?" is a common complaint. "You should have told me." And they do it on purpose. They look down on privacy. "Why would you want to hide things from me?" And "We share everything" comes with bragging rights. That is the ideal.

If marriages are really about knowledge creation, at all, they should care deeply about privacy if only because knowledge creation requires criticism *at the right times* and a good way to get criticism of an idea at the right time is only to tell people at the right time.

That shows you the main idea of what criticism scheduling is about. But it also takes place within one mind. Imagine you are trying to write something, say a blog entry. Criticism is part of the editing process. (It's also part of the thought process of deciding what to write, and indeed the process of having any idea at all.) When you edit you look for flaws and problems in the writing and then figure out how to change them. Most people have separate writing and editing phases. Occasionally they will do both at once (or perhaps they are just switching back and forth very quickly). Anyhow, bad criticism scheduling might look like this: you write one sentence, then edit it a lot and try to make it perfect. And the result is you get kinda stuck and don't get much content written down. And also once you have more sentences which the first one needs to coordinate with the requirements for the first sentence will be different so the initial edits probably will have been a waste. At worst people sometimes get stuck and can't write much at all because they always stop to criticize and edit it, but have trouble doing that part well so early. Criticism scheduling within one mind may seem easy. Subjectively it is. But that's only because we do it without thinking about it intentionally. It is a skill that some people are better or worse at. But it's a skill we all have a fair amount of. A bit like speaking your native language seems very easy, but actually it's complex and you are very skilled.

What about flaw management in self and others? How does privacy come into play there? Well suppose someone is bad at chess, but thinks he is good at it, so you don't like to talk about chess with him or play with him, because of his faulty perspective (and you tried talking to him about it, but he seemed irrational and it went badly). You want to manage this flaw by avoiding it. How do you do that? Well either you can never play chess, or if you like chess then what you need is privacy. If he knows you play actively he'll ask you to play, and you'll be under pressure to lie (better avoided). But if you have privacy you can play chess without it coming up with him.

This brings up a common point: frequently if you don't have privacy you will be tempted to lie. This is essentially a way to try to get some privacy back. If you fool someone then they'll act as if the thing they found out was false, which is a bit like they don't know it happened. Or suppose someone asks one of your opinions that you don't want to say. Then if you can't ask for privacy ("I'd rather not say.") then a way to answer the question without revealing your opinion is to lie. This is true whether you have the flaw (irrationally defensive about your opinion, for example), you just don't want criticism now (scheduling issue), or the other person has a flaw (would react badly to your opinion). In all cases lying gets you out of it, but privacy is better.

Why wouldn't you be able to just ask for privacy? Well, people might assume you would only do that if you don't want to answer, and therefore you have an opinion that is offensive. (And they might be right. Some people behave that way.) More generally, people who don't respect privacy keep trying to get the information out of you, and it isn't pleasant to be poked like that. They won't just ask a variety of question, and perhaps spy on you. They will also make guesses and possibly just assume the guess is correct, or also they might ask you about their guesses and try to judge your reactions. And if you keep refusing to discuss they may well get offended. People who value and respect privacy are nicer to interact with, but also if you set the right tone from the start they are more able to get the right idea (if you seem conventional about privacy at first then abruptly want privacy then you're probably just hiding something and claiming you respect privacy in general to cover up).

When people are irrational it's usually awkward to tell them because they are blind to it and will not appreciate the sentiment. Having privacy in general helps avoid such problems. If you only ask for privacy for the specific issues where you think someone is flawed then the act of choosing which issues to request privacy about is giving away a lot of information. It's a bit like if you gave someone a map of your house, and you blurred out 5 different parts where you have something private. If you then let them look through the house of course they will investigate those 5 spots. You gave it away. But if the entire map is blurred, or you refuse to give out a map, then you're safe. Also safe is to have a distinct public area which is all clear, and the rest all blurred.

When you are irrational you probably don't want to talk about it, at least with most people. Unless they are sympathetic it isn't much fun! And commonly one mechanism irrational memes have is that if you consider doing otherwise then they make you feel bad. So if people manage to persuade you that rationally you should change your mind, a likely result is to find yourself unable to do so and to feel very bad about it.

That's irrationalities other people disagree with. Another scenario is you are making progress in getting rid of your hang up, and it's a conventional hang up, and then you should want privacy from people who have the same hang up, because they would pressure you to see things in the old, normal way, and try to make you feel bad about changing, and also they might be offended that you are trying to be better than them and think their way of life is bad. You could also label this a kind of criticism scheduling. Once you have changed yourself and are solidly the new way you might not mind to get flak from conventional people anymore. You may have finally fully learned how to handle it (perhaps by running test conversations with the conventional voice in your head).

Privacy about age is nice for dealing with ageist people. This is hard in person, but fairly possible online. This is another example of managing a flaw in another person. Also if you were a bit ashamed of your youth, and perhaps felt you were not adult enough to do serious, important things, then again privacy can help because at least other people won't be able to bother you about the shame or encourage it. If you are being hard on yourself that is difficult enough, you don't need the added burden of trying to defend yourself (while not even sure you should be defended in what you are doing!).

Privacy about medical records is a commonly respected type of privacy. It's no one's business but your own and your doctor's, if you have an illness. Unless you have reason to want to tell them. That's a good attitude. You don't need a special reason to have privacy for your records. It is your right. I expect that you approve of medical privacy. So take a moment to think about why you approve of this privacy, and whether that attitude logically should also apply to other types of privacy.

The privacy of one's bedroom is also respected in general, except for laws against sexual deviants (gays, sexually active young people). But that mostly applies to strangers. Your friends very well may ask about your sex life. Be wary. It is important to be free to try your sexual preferences (with consent of partner) and not to repress them. Knowing that your friends will ask, and it will be difficult to avoid telling them, is an extra mechanism by which people are under pressure to keep their sex conventional and repressed.

There is nothing to gain from having little privacy. Tell people things when you want to talk about them (and think it's safe enough). Other than that, what do you have to gain from a policy of not taking seriously and protecting your privacy? Remember that you can always reveal some information later should you find a reason to do so, but you can't take it back, so when in doubt keep it private.

You should take steps not to ask for private information, and not to be told private information. If someone is gossiping about a third party you should interrupt and see if it's OK for you to be told this. If your friend says, "oh, she wouldn't mind" that isn't good enough. You need to take responsibility for yourself, and form your own opinion of whether this would be minded. To do so you'll want to ask for the *reasons* your friend knows the third party wouldn't mind, and see if they are good.

Try to notice when you are getting information out of people. Even if they don't seem angry that doesn't mean it's ok, and it especially doesn't mean it's *best*. Often people tolerate invasive friends without complaint, and will say it's fine if asked, but if they really had control of the situation, and they were under no pressure, they wouldn't tell. Pressuring information out of people is like rape. And it's well known that rape victims often fail to stand up for themselves (and this creates many borderline cases where the person didn't want to have sex but didn't clearly or verbally communicate that fact. but anyway you don't want to be either person in a case like that!). And rape victims often blame themselves. Anyway, mind rape: just don't do it. And after social nights think back on what happened in the conversations: noticing such things after the fact is a lot easier than in real time. A lot of people pressure their friends and don't realize it. So if you're thinking you don't do it, that isn't sufficient. Maybe you, too, don't realize it. You better analyze some situations you were in thoughtfully to make sure.

You might think if someone really didn't want to answer your question, they wouldn't, and that isn't your responsibility. This is the wrong way to look at it. If a computer program tried to get a secret out of you by asking the same 5 questions over and over on an infinite loop then yes it would fail, and people who answered would be people who wanted to answer. That's trying to get the answers *non-creatively*. But when people ask, and then ask again in a different way, and again, what they are doing is using creativity to make each question as hard to answer as possible. And the answerer is using creativity to try to avoid answering each time, but it's hard: the path of least resistance is often just to answer. In this creative battle of wills either side can win. The defender starts with a number of advantages, sure, but they can be overcome. And the aggressor has advantages too. Often numbers. Often social convention.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)


Parenting one child (well) is a very large project. Deciding to do it is a big deal. It creates lots of obligations towards the child. And they are very time-sensitive -- child needs help now, not later. They are hard to reschedule.

Lots of questions and hypotheticals about parenting involve two children (or more). Many of them try to prove painless parenting is impossible by putting forward difficult situations and claiming there is no solution. Fundamentally, these issues are not very interesting. Two kids? Well of course it's easy to craft very difficult situations out of that. You've taken on two, separate, very large, very time sensitive projects, with unpredictable and hard to change schedules. Of course that's probably not going to work very well. Just like one kid + one arctic expedition. Or one arctic expedition + one space expedition (simultaneously). Or trying to raise your young kid attentively while President.

Many people would say, "But I want 2 (or more) children, and I don't want to have the second one when I'm 50." I agree that with present lifespans having multiple children while avoiding overlap is not much of an answer (occasionally people have more kids after their first one or set grow up. it can work. but it isn't like some great idea to recommend to everyone). Also, by the way, there always must be a little overlap unless the first child dies. But when child is mostly independent then it is no longer problematic: you have plenty of time, attention, etc, for a new large project.

Note also that any problems which result from choosing 2+ children were in no way fundamentally inevitable dilemmas! They were avoidable. You chose to face them. And, if they are seriously troubling you, then you chose to face them without being adequately prepared, which again is not at all inevitable. And note also that many common examples of potential problems with 2+ kids, such as them fighting ... well they are common! They are well known! If you have a second kid without thinking about how to solve known difficulties in advance, and being satisfied that it will work out OK, then that is gross negligence. And if you do think you can solve them, but turn out to be mistaken, then you were mistaken, so again there was no inevitability here, just human error.

So, what *is* my answer? It is: wanting 2+ children does not address the issue of what should be wanted, which is what I'd like to know about, and consider most important. Should we want that? If we are prepared to deal with the problems it entails, then it's fine, if we are not, then we should not. This is a very liberal rule. It allows for a wide range of personal taste. It only says that if we aren't prepared to handle it, then we shouldn't want it. Otherwise, it's up to you. Judge based on your values, and I have no particular advice (Well, I guess I do think people should in general move away from large families, and towards paying more attention to less children. In fact that is a trend: more developed nations have less kids per family.)

One kid is a massive responsibility. People wildly underestimate it. Kids take time and money. People know that much, although they actually take more time than is thought if you want to parent really well (and if you don't want that, please don't have kids). They also take more money than people expect, if that money is available. And being budgeted for beer and cigarettes counts as available.

Kids are born in ignorance. Not like your stupid friend. This is serious ignorance like you can't imagine. I can't imagine it either. To properly imagine it we'd need to realize that most of our ways of looking at the world don't exist in such an ignorant person, so they give us inaccurate views. The more we think about it and create knowledge and understanding of what it means to be so ignorant, the more we are *not* seeing through their eyes. Damn hard to imagine what it's like. But understanding, and explaining, is something else. We can do that. One thing we can understand is that children need a lot of help and advice to become knowledgeable members of our culture. Expecting them to figure it all out themselves is lunacy. It is *not* lunacy because children are dumb, or their brains don't work right, or they are lazy, or they are incapable, or anything like that. But consider the past. Think of the dark ages. Think of the static societies. Think of the wars (war is on the decline). Why would past societies live in such ineffective, violent, awful ways, when they perfectly well could have invented all the good ideas we have today like democracy and freedom? Because inventing all these good ideas is hard! So, if you were to not help your kid they'd have the same sort of chance of coming up with good ideas as a neglected kid from the dark ages (with various caveats: other people might help. TV might help. Books might help. Modern appliances create extra leisure time. School would ruin everything. etc). The point is the truth is not manifest. Whole societies failed to find a lot of our good ideas for generation after generation. So it's important to help new people to learn all the great stuff we already know, not to expect them to reinvent it. So, parenting takes a lot of "teaching" (teaching is a loaded word).

School, church, and daycare cannot be expected to educate your children for you. (And if you want them to then you should reconsider why you want to have a child in the first place.)

Daycare hardly tries. I don't think many people would seriously try to argue daycare is the best place for kids. They would only say parents have a right to work and have their own lives, and daycare may be a necessary evil. That doesn't seem logical to me. If you want to "work and have your own life" and not have enough time in it for a kid then don't have a kid! What if you want to parent but only a little? Part time? Well, you could babysit. Or you might consider sharing one child with another couple. If you are thoughtful and live close (or share a house) then that certainly could work out fine for child. Why is it better than daycare? Because then child is around people who care about him personally and want to help him. At daycare there isn't much personal attention: the caretakers are focussed more on avoiding disasters (fights, tantrums, very upset children). You might object that having 4 parents would lead to fights about which values to teach child. I have two things to say about that. The first is that if you care so much about what values child has then shouldn't you be willing (and happy) to spend lots of time with child teaching him those values? The idea that daycare is better than extra parents because they won't teach him values (or much of anything) so he won't be changed when you get him back is essentially praising daycare for *not* being a place of learning, while simultaneously advocating daycare. My second comment is that it's silly to fight over which values to teach child: you should all present your best ideas and then child should make his own decision about what makes sense to him. All parents need to be prepared for the possibility their child will disagree with them about one of their values (or about anything). Complaining about some other adults being in positions of too much influence (that is, as much as you have) really comes down to complaining you have less power to control your child, and fear that he will not be obedient. That is a bad attitude.

What about Church? First, religions are very strong memes. Caution advised. Next, Church's don't claim to teach you everything you need to know. They have only a limited sphere they address. Next, religious philosophy contains errors. Never mind whether it's right *on the whole*, there are individual errors in thinking -- mistakes. It would be irresponsible to send your kids to be taught such things without helping them to understand rational philosophy, critical thinking, and logic, so that they are equipped to evaluate religious claims in the best ways that we know how. One specific example is faith. Religions ask people to have faith. Philosophically, rationally, that is no good. We should think about our beliefs and do our best to choose good ones. Embracing faith means being less thoughtful. So, at most Church can provide an incomplete education while requiring some other education for it to approached with reason.

For what it's worth, I may be not religious, and I believe there is no God, but I do not hate religion. I say this because the mainstream position of atheists today is extreme hostility to religion. Examples include Dawkins and Hitchens (Christopher. His brother is religious!). And even though I believe the largest claims made by religions are false and are magical thinking, I also think a lot of what they have to say is pretty good.

That leaves school. The first thing to consider is that most schools are Government run, and are run much worse than the post office. But that can be dealt with: you can get your kids into a private school, or a particular public school you believe is better, if you care enough. The second thing to consider is that schools expect children to be obedient. This makes them largely unsuitable places to get an education for thinking people. There can be exceptions, but people who expect obedience make very bad helpers for helping you to learn what *you* want and what *you* are interested in. Schools teach the lesson plan, not your interests. And they don't let you pick and choose what to learn according to your interests. They have homework and tests and quizzes about each topic to monitor you. Why do they need to monitor you and invade your privacy? Why can't you decide for yourself how it's going and whether you want extra help? Because they want obedience, and they need to monitor if you are being obedient, so they can punish you if you haven't learned what they want, at the time they want, and agreed with their conclusions about it. So, schools are bad places. Don't expect your children to attend. And if they do attend, don't expect them to receive much education. And if they do attend, much like with religion, it will go much better for them if they learn critical thinking skills first. It will be better if they understand that the people with authority are not necessarily right, and that obedience is bad (and also that disobedience will be punished -- children should be warned of detentions, various types of mental pressure, failing grades, and so on). School is easier to deal with for people with the knowledge to be confident, assertive, and calm in the face of hostility or adversity. Children should understand that their interests *do* matter, and that following the one-size-fits-all lesson plan is *not* the best way to learn, though it is important for avoiding trouble. And so on. Lots of skills help.

So, if school, church, and daycare won't education your kid, that leaves you. You need to be prepared to explain all sorts of things. If you don't like giving explanations then what business do you have wanting to be a parent? You also need to be prepared to learn all sorts of things that your child asks about and you don't already know. And also to sometimes learn with your child, together. And to teach him how to find things out. And so on. Big responsibility. Remember, children are born with huge ignorance.

The theme has been that parenting is a big responsibility. Many parents have a kid and suddenly feel hugely responsible for the child's safety and well being. This is a somewhat strange phenomenon. Didn't they think about this in advance? Why should the child being born be a major learning experience or cause a revelation? But, OK, they are right. They have that responsibility. They need to be careful. Just leaving everyday objects in places a child can reach could be dangerous and requires some thought.

What happens next, often, is that parents are so protective, and are so used to doing things for child's own good, to help him, and help keep him safe, is that when child wants to do something parent considers dangerous then parent tries to thwart child and is frustrated by his lack of obedience. "Why won't you listen to me? I do so much to keep you safe. Why won't you cooperate?" But obedience is not the right way to help people, offering good ideas is the way to help. Obedience is the way to force.

Another thing that happens is parents want to protect their children from *ideas*. And I don't just mean a meme that causes suicide, or an idea designed as a weapon of war, or something out of a sci fi book. I'm talking about mundane, ordinary ideas like about courtship, sex, profanity, drugs, birth, and sometimes TV in general. And sometimes even anything the parent disagrees with he labels a "harmful influence" and wants gone. This is absolutely the wrong approach. The way to fight ideas is not to hide from them, it is to criticize them. This isn't just best because it's most effective. The crucial issue is that it helps test whether you are right or wrong: it's hard to criticize effectively when you are wrong, but much easier when you are right. So using criticism causes *error correction* whereas refusing to think about the other idea has no way of correct errors if you are wrong. And some of the above it isn't even a *wrong* idea the parent wants kept hidden. It is the truth. Parents try to make their children ignorant of sex and birth, for example. What good can come of such a thing? The justifications for this are laughably flimsy. Children "aren't ready" to know such things. But why? There is no reason. People might claim to be scared of pedophiles. But that is all the more reason to make sure children are *not* ignorant about sex. A child who knows nothing of sex and relationships is a much easier target! He won't even understand what the danger is. And also he may be glad to be helped to learn what his parents were keeping from him. Hiding sexual knowledge from children is about as rational as scaring them with the idea that masturbation causes hairy palms. And it's an important part of the process by which people are made wildly irrational about sex, which is why parents are acting this way in the first place: their parents did it to them, and it has evolved to make people do it to their own kids.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)


Brief theory of war: voluntary actions -- those which all involved parties consent to -- are best; disputes should be decided with reason. The justification for war is: the enemy acts in such a way that the outcome will not be voluntary no matter what you do. Because then he makes a voluntary, consensual outcome impossible. Since the issue will not be decided by reason regardless of your decision, you are not wrong to use force. And in fact there is a reason you should use force: better you (who values reason) win the war than the enemy (who does not).

*   *   *

Libertarian ethics allow a minimum amount of human cooperation including free trade, while avoiding force. that's very good. that line is approximately what the law should be.

it's also good for some people to cooperate more closely (ie, be friends). friends cannot automatically justify their actions by saying libertarian ethics finds those actions permissible. what works well for friends is a restricted subset of what is allowed for business partners. just because something is legal does and peaceful does not make it a good way to treat your friend. it could still be mean, callous, unhelpful, etc

one of the hallmarks of friends is that they sometimes help each other with problems. not because they have to. but because doing so benefits them -- both of them. helping someone is a perfectly interesting learning experience in its own right, but it also means having a better friend in the future which is nice. and later being helped yourself is good too.

if your business partner is annoyed by your hat, who cares (unless he will ruin the business deal over it. in which case you almost certainly don't try to reason with him about hats, or help him form better preferences. you either give up the hat or the business deal.) if an acquaintance is annoyed, you can say "who cares?", or not, your call. but if a good friend is annoyed, then while it's perfectly legal and libertarian not to care, that does not facilitate cooperation or coordination with him. it creates distance if you never resolve the hat thing and can only meet on days you aren't wearing a hat. better, generally, is to ask why he doesn't like the hat and seek a mutually agreeable solution.

even if it's entirely his fault -- an irrationality about hats -- still it is better to be helpful about it if you want to continue cooperation elsewhere. why let this little hat problem get in the way of the mathematics paper you are writing together? or your ski trip? or anything else of importance.

*   *   *

Most kids are dirt poor. Not because their parents are dirt poor, but because their parents don't give them much money. This is partially and inadequately made up for with gifts, and with the ability of children to ask for parents to buy things. Children should not need parental approval to buy things -- what that really means is that if they disagree then parent gets his way by force (if they agreed it doesn't matter who is in control). Having to go through your parents also compromises your privacy. And also parents generally think kids don't need much, and prefer to keep the money (how self-serving!)

Parents prioritize a lot of things above wealth for their children. Such as lotto tickets, beer, cigarettes, kitchen remodeling, new cars, vacations, and generally whatever else they want.

For now I will make one simple suggestion: is donating to charity really more important than giving your poor kids more money?

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)


Teaching is a loaded word.

One premise is that there is a teacher, and a student, and they have different roles. Teaching does not describe joint truth seeking; it does not describe friends cooperating to create knowledge. This idea of roles assigned to people is harmful. It assumes that at the start the teacher has the good ideas, and the student does not. Assuming someone is right is a very bad way to figure out what is true.

How do you tell if teaching was a success? Simple: did the student learn the lesson, or not? If the student doesn't like the lesson, thinks it is silly, or has some other criticism or disagreement with it, then teaching has failed. Even thought disagreement and criticism and having your own rival ideas are all good things. Teaching can fail even when a good result is reached. So if you are focussed on teaching you will strive to avoid certain positive results in favor of certain negative results (that student believes what he is told to believe -- it's about obedience, really).

One of the ideas behind teaching is that the teacher chooses what is to be learned, for example by making a lesson plan. Then he teaches the things he believes should be known, and the student learns those. This is a bad attitude. It doesn't leave room for following the student's interests. What if you start and the student finds he is not interested? Or that he wants to continue in a different way than the teacher had planned? Well, the teacher might agree the change is good. Or the teacher might think it is bad. Either way the assumption is that it's the teacher's decision about what should be done next. He's the expert. He's the authority. The assumption is not that a teacher is only there to help the student follow his own interests and learn what he wants to learn and only with as much precision as he chooses.

Teachers give grades. They judge and evaluate students (in terms of how closely the student's ideas after the lesson(s) conform to the teacher's ideas about the subject). What would make more sense is for students to give themselves grades: they should judge if they have learned something to their satisfaction or not.

Grades and tests have another use: they can be used for certification to demonstrate to people (like prospective employers) that you have certain skills. But in that case a third party should do the testing. Having a single person give the lessons and the tests -- help the student and also test the student -- is a conflict of interest. Then a teacher has to decide what is "fair" to tell the students about the test material. The teacher knows what will be on the test and has to keep information secret that the students would want to know. When a third party does the test the teacher has no conflict of interest. He can tell students absolutely everything he knows that would help them. He doesn't have to hold back and make judgments about how much is "fair" to keep secret.

*   *   *

I believe that individuality and freedom are good things.

I also believe that questions have a single true answer, including moral questions.

This belief in single truth does not apply to ambiguous questions. For example, "Is it good to be a banker?" is ambiguous. Any time you can say, "It depends (on something or other the question didn't provide details about)" then the question is ambiguous -- the details could go either way. A proper question which we expect to have a single, true answer must have no ambiguity or it's really a set of different questions (one for each possible interpretation) and that set of many questions certainly might have lots of different answers. A proper question is more like: Is it good for me to choose banking as my career, taking into account my mind, and the entire (relevant) state of the universe? Of course we'd never write out that whole question. But we can still know that is the type of question that has only one answer. The question is still very ambiguous though because the first part isn't clear. What does choosing banking as a career mean? Does it mean taking certain college classes? Committing to it forever? Trying it out in some way, perhaps just by reading some articles? Does it mean avoiding skill at a second type of career? Ultimately the question should either be a factual question, or it should refer specifically to a single choice and ask which option is best (which is actually a type of factual question). We don't know how to write perfect questions. But that's no matter.

It may appear contradictory to believe in single truth, but also in freedom and individuality. What use is individuality if one thing is best? And what use is freedom to do something other than the one truth?

It is not contradictory for two reasons.

First, just because there is a truth does not mean we know what the truth is. Often we have guesses, but we might be mistaken. Having freedom to explore our own guesses at what the truth is, and in general having an open society, contributes to finding a single truth!

Second, what I should do with my life and what you should do with your life are different questions. One truth doesn't mean we should do the same thing with our life. It means for each of us there is a best thing to do.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)


Choice Theory

There is a branch of philosophy which I call *choice theory*. It is about what a choice is, and how to make good choices. It has two major branches which are related but distinct. The first branch is: for a given goal, which choices will achieve it? The second branch is: which goals are best to choose to pursue?

Choice theory is not about personal taste. It's not going to tell you which ice cream to eat, which music to listen to, nor what type of chair to use. It may give hints, and rule out some approaches, but people are different and choice theory is general. On the other hand, you can think about and develop the relevant theories for your own personal situation, and use that to help you make choices.

Which ice cream should you eat? Well, not one you hate. Not one you can't afford. And don't stop to get ice cream when it will make you late to something important. And stuff like that. Otherwise, whichever you like! And which is best to like? Well, I have no idea. There must be some answer to: which ice cream should you like *if* you have the following personality, values, bank accounts, life situation, life history, and live at the following place, and the following ice cream sellers are nearby, and so on (in short: specifying your mind and your complete environment, which is the whole universe). And for all I know whatever person and life you put into the question, the true answer comes out: chocolate (though I seriously doubt it is always the same). But suppose you could work out exactly which ice cream was best. It would be bad to do so. Waste of huge amounts of computing power (including human thought). It'd be much more productive to pick whichever ice cream you feel like, quickly, and then get back to doing something more important. Even in real life it's generally not worth thinking for long about which flavor to get. Just try one, and have another later if you didn't like it, because your time is valuable. So, even if we could tell you exactly what ice cream to eat, we would be foolish to do so.

Achieving Your Goal

What is choice theory good for, then? Suppose you have a goal, then you shouldn't choose things which prevent or sabotage achieving your goal (except by way of causing you to change your mind about whether the goal is good, that sort or prevention is not bad). This sounds really obvious, but bear with me: it has implications. As long as you agree it's true I'll be happy. Suppose the goal is to invent something cool. You have a specific idea in mind, but what I'm going to say applies no matter what it is. Consider for a moment. That's pretty powerful. What we're going to say next applies very broadly: to all inventors. Even if it's a pretty small thing at least it's relevant to many, many people. That's the power of generality. So, we have our inventor. Should he petition to have profane books censored and/or burnt? You may think the answer is: we can't tell from the very limited information. It depends on his personality and his values and what kind of society he lives in and a thousand other things.

But it does not depend on any of that. He should not wish for books to be censored or burnt because they are profane.

This isn't a matter of personal taste, or subjective. I'm not saying this because I love books, or because my society values books, or because I can't imagine having a different way of thinking about the world. The arguments that he should not burn the book come from the laws of physics and epistemology (the study of knowledge) and logic. Those are the most rational, objective things we have.

For precision, I will add that it depends also on the meaning of the words "book", "burning", "profane", and so on. If you imagine a society where burning is a way of taking information in, just like our reading is, then certainly "book burning" is good there, because the words refer to something else entirely. But I don't strictly need to put this caveat. My sentences should be interpreted in terms of what the words mean here if you want to understand the intended meaning.

So what do we know? He wants to invent something. And how do you do that? The details vary, of course, but in general it requires thinking to create knowledge of how to make the new invention, and also knowledge of what the invention should do. Now that we see thinking and knowledge are important issues then it should not be surprising that epistemology has a lot to say.

Creating Knowledge

The prevailing theory of how knowledge is created, which current has no serious rivals, is evolutionary in nature. I'm not going to explain it in great detail here, but I will sketch out some relevant details. The main idea is that knowledge is created through a process of conjecture and criticism. You guess at the truth. You point out problems in your guesses. You reject guesses that you've discovered are flawed. And you make new guesses, including slight variants of old guesses (change them to remove the flaws you found). In this way better ideas are found: knowledge is created. Perfect knowledge is never created, but there is no limit to how good it can get (except as may be imposed by the laws of physics).

Notice that two of the requirements for knowledge creation are to have other guesses, not just one you like, and to have criticism. These other guesses we can call *rival theories*. They are alternative ideas about what might be true. It's important to have an open mind and create any rival theories we can imagine which make sense. This gives a better possibility of finding good ideas. And the type of criticism needed for knowledge creation is: criticism in terms of what is true, or not. Other types, such as disliking something, or being annoyed, or parochial, personal preferences cannot be part of the process of discovering the truth -- of creating better and better knowledge.

If you don't have these things -- rival theories and criticism -- then knowledge will not be created. And that's bad for invention. Further, the more you have of these, and the better they are done (with more devotion to seeking the truth and less personal bias and more of an open mind, and with more effort and creativity), then the more and faster and better knowledge will be created. And that's good for invention.

So what is best for this inventor to do, in terms of the most effective way to invent things? It is absolutely not to try to censor and burn books he considers profane. That is the destruction of rival theories and the suppression of criticism. Better is for those books to be subjected to criticism, and for his own ideas also to be subjected to criticism, and for the truest ideas to win out. Even if that means he discovers he holds mistaken ideas and should change his mind. In fact, such a discovery is a great thing: now he has the opportunity to improve his ideas, thus increasing his capacity to invent things. What the inventor should prefer is an open society.

Inventing is also aided by thoughtful, literate friends to have interesting communication with. You might try to imagine a solitary inventor, but if so what business does he have trying to get books banned? That's not a solitary activity. He could just leave them alone if he's really, truly solitary. And also if they read books and get smarter they will be more able to get good enough to help him in the future. His excuses could be:

1) If other people get too smart they will destroy me before I can finish my invention.
2) If other people learn too much they might discover my invention should not be invented, and persuade me to stop. Or even force me if it's dangerous and I don't listen.
3) If other people read this book, which is bad, they will become worse, and thus be less able to contribute help to the inventing process in the future.

The answer to (1) is that the more they learn, the more reliably they will have good ideas, including about choice theory. And choice theory does not recommend destroying inventors. It argues in favor of creative lifestyles (in the senses both of creating things and creating ideas) -- we will get to this argument later in the section about which goals are best to pursue. The less people know, the more possible it is they will mistakenly think it's a good idea to destroy the inventor (a bit like he mistakenly thinks he should destroy books). So he should want them to become smart.

The answer to (2) is that if the invention is a bad goal then it's best to learn that and choose to have a better goal. One of the ideas of choice theory is that to have and pursue good goals we must not only choose wisely now, but we must also be open to changing our mind later, and happy to learn new things that help us see more clearly which goals are good. Doing anything else is not the most effective way to have the best goals. Also, it is folly to assume we are right and that persuasion is to be feared. The knowledge creation process allows only criticism in terms of which ideas are true, never in terms of who believes which ideas, not even in terms of which ideas we believe. Rejecting ideas because they are not our own is not valid.

The answer to (3) is that we should deal with rival theories by criticizing them, not suppressing them. Because, again, we might be wrong. If we suppress the rival theory we won't find out who was right. If we criticize it, and allow criticism of our own theory, then we have a chance to find out. More knowledge will be created by not suppressing the rival theory (book). So the claim that allowing it to exist will make society dumber and less helpful is wrong: actually free access to ideas -- even those you consider bad ideas -- will help society to improve.

There is one exception to these things: war. If an idea, or book, intends to spread violently, and does not listen to criticism, nor does it care to compete with rival theories on the battleground of reason, then no matter what we do the outcome isn't going to be determined by reason, it is going to be determined by force. In that case, any arguments about how it is best to have an outcome based on reason, and to act to allow one, are void. because that isn't going to happen.


With that established, can we perhaps expand the reach of these arguments without changing any of the logic we can see this line of argument applies to videos as well as books. And to pamphlets. And posters. And even computer files and web pages. Most generally: it applies to censoring or destroying any type of *knowledge* because we consider it profane. And not just profane. Any kind of dislike will do: the only valid reason to reject rival theories is because they are false. And each person should make up their own mind: if one person makes up his mind and forces everyone else that is more prone to error. And force isn't using criticism: people who haven't changed their mind to the correct theory, aside from perhaps being right, must have some false idea, which you could criticize.

And it isn't just inventors who are aided by knowledge creation. It is anyone who wants to know something new, or accomplish something difficult. It is anyone with a creative goal.

We can summarize this as a principle: all people with creative goals should prefer an open society and prefer for rival theories and criticism to be freely expressed.

And that is not trivial! Nor arbitrary. Nor personal opinion.

As an aside, what would justify the intentional destruction of knowledge? First: war. Second: we delete computer files frequently. But it isn't because we dislike them. It's because we want to free up space for new files we consider more important. We also sometimes knock down old buildings. Again not because we have anything against them. It's just they are in the way of things we think are even better. Censorship is not like that. You can write your own book which you think is better and people can make their own choice of which to buy. Existing books are never in the way of yours like a building or computer file physically occupies part of your property that you might wish to use for something else. And even if we imagine running out of space due to all the bad books everywhere, censorship remains bad: you could instead persuade people that they should make room for new things by deleting old ones. And you could offer advice about what is bad, which they would listen to if they considered the advice worth the space.

What does it mean to have an open society? It means having institutions of some sort that facilitate discussion of ideas. It means having people who are open to criticism and to changing their mind. It means having traditions of voluntary interaction so that theories of what to do are never forced on people who disagree with them. It means a society that values persuasion: that believes if your idea really is good you should be able to convince others, and if you cannot, that is evidence not of their unreason but of the weakness of your idea (though it could be neither, and you are free to try again later). It means a society where only the supporters of an idea bear the risk of trying it out. Why, by the way, would true ideas be persuasive? Because people who are seeking the truth will prefer them. And because no one will think of valid criticism of them, but people can think of valid criticism of their rivals (and if no one has thought of that criticism yet, then how do we know which is true?). Why should people seek the truth? Because, like our inventor, they have creative goals, and seeking the truth is part of knowledge creation. (Other goals are addressed later.)

Some Examples

That's all somewhat abstract. What does living in this way look like day to day? How do the institutions of our society compare to the ideal?

Democracy is good. This does not mean there is nothing better which might replace it in the future. But we have a system in which people in power voluntarily step down simply because their ideas did not persuade enough voters. The policies our Government enacts can be changed through criticism. Each politician running for office provides conjectures about how a part of Government should be run, and faces off against rival theories. We have a system that is rational and which creates knowledge.

The free market is good. This does not mean there is nothing better which might replace it in the future. Competition between companies consists of competition between rival theories of how to run companies and what products to make (they compete over making what customers want, which is a helpful thing for people to create knowledge about). And the free market is responsive to criticism: people who believe a criticism of a product can choose not to buy it. The free market is a knowledge creating institution.

Problem solving in personal relationships is good. It means creating knowledge which helps people to have better lives. This is an open society issue because one of the main alternatives, which is in fact the status quo in many parts of the world, is to deal with disagreement in relationships by insisting on obedience (generally to the man, head of household, or elder). Obedience to one set of ideas about how a family should live is not a way of creating knowledge, and it is not an effective way of accomplishing creative goals people in that family have.

Here is another one which isn't really an open society issue: human cooperation is good. There could be an open society in which people generally led solitary lives (though it's somewhat difficult to imagine why that would be best -- other people are a good source of both conjectures and criticism -- and if it is not best why would people in an open society, where knowledge is created, continue to do it for long?) One reason human cooperation is good is that I can trade something that you value more than I do, for something I value more than you do, and we can both benefit. This sort of benefit helps make humans more powerful and and more wealthy -- it means they can better achieve their goals because they now have traded for things that will help achieve their goals more. Human cooperation also helps people who share a goal, because they can work together to achieve it, and share insights into how to achieve it, and share criticism of ineffective ways to achieve it.

Creative or Destructive Goals?

What about the issue of which goals we should choose to pursue? First, they should not contradict, or we won't succeed at achieving them all. And second, they should always allow for error correction in the future -- they should allow for themselves to be changed. Never should our goal be to be completely committed to a certain future and to devote all our efforts to creating that future. Rather, it is better to be strongly committed, but also to continue to think about whether this is for the best, and to reevaluate our goal if we find reason to. We must always include in our goals the idea that they may be an error, and be open to correcting them. Our goals should be held tentatively.

As we've seen, creative goals imply a preference for an open society in which knowledge is created which helps us accomplish those goals. But we have not seen why we should prefer goals of that type. Why should we aim to create and do, rather than to destroy and die?

Here are two reasons. The first is that we only ever have imperfect knowledge of what our goals should be. We, partly, don't know. And thus it is strongly in our interest to become powerful -- to gain the ability to accomplish whatever we want. That way as we learn good things to want we will already be prepared to accomplish them. And as we learn new facts, we will already be prepared to react to them. And as new facts happen (a volcano erupts, a meteor comes) power will give us more available choices to react. The way to become powerful is to have knowledge of how to accomplish a wide variety of things, and also knowledge with general applicability, and also to physically change our world to be more useful to us. The open, creative society is the powerful one which is ready to achieve new goals as we find them.

The second reason is that massively destructive goals, such as destroying the Earth or committing suicide, if accomplished, create a barrier. It is a barrier against error correction. Once the destruction occurs then, if it was a mistake, it is too late. You will never find out you were mistaken, never learn to live better, because now you are dead.

What about minor destructive goals? Well, what good are they? They are perfectly useful as a lead up to massive destruction. But they don't mesh well with our creative goals, including to have enough food to eat, a nice place to live, an interesting and happy life, and to be able to solve our problems.

Also consider that we do not need to justify our preference for creative, not destructive, lifestyles, nor justify that we already have creative goals. Ideas do not need justification. They only need to best their rivals. What are the arguments for a destructive way of life? What is claimed to be good about it? Nothing. Just because it is a logically permissible alternative does not make it an important rival theory. Until an strong argument or explanation is created in favor of destruction then we need not concern ourselves with it.

Creative goals is a very wide range of goals. It gives a lot of freedom for people to differ. That's part of the power of the open society. People with wildly different goals can live together in peace, and even cooperate in mutually beneficial ways.

Which Goals For Me?

But which creative goals are best for me?

Of course it depends on your situation. But here are examples of the sort of thinking that you might do for yourself.

Let's start with something simple: you prefer not to fight with your wife. Then you should want to understand the fights, and you should want to have some understanding of human psychology, and you should want to have fine control of your emotions, and you should want the ability to think clearly and rationally during the beginning stages of a fight. And to get all this, you should want to be good at introspection, and able to take criticism very well (in fact: you should enjoy it and seek it out), and you should, today, enjoy to read (because that gives access to a lot of knowledge), and you should prefer to live in an open society where your ideas about how to prevent fighting will not be suppressed, and where other people with ideas about it will be able to cooperate with you.

Say you want to be rich. Then you better not be scared of failure -- you need to be willing to try out your ideas without any guarantee they will work, and you need to be willing to pay the costs of the trial, or persuade people to help pay. You will be aided by an ability to think quickly and clearly, and to do work efficiently. You will be aided by knowledge of what people want and will pay for. You will be aided by knowledge of techniques for constructing things -- the more general the better -- and to aid in that you could learn about the laws of physics, and about chemistry and engineering and architecture and so on. You would do well to understand economics, and also the law. For many of the previous some math will help. And understanding computers will help a lot: they can automate many tasks, and store information, and they open up new ways of doing things, and new ways of interacting with customers, and new ways of advertising. You can get rich without all of this, but there are other reasons they are good, and certainly if you wish to become rich you should make improving your skill at some of these a goal.

Say you value your time. Then seeking rational attitudes towards your habits and compulsions will help. Questioning some of your strong desires will help. Is acting on romantic love the best use of time? Sex? Bad moods? Smoking? Drinking?

Say you value the truth. Then you should not be a person who lets emotions cloud his judgment. You should not always try to prove you are right: it's better for your goal to be to figure out who is right. You will be more effective if you are not apathetic or lazy in your efforts to find the truth.

Say you are racist. Why? You should want to know, if you want to have good goals. Are racist goals good? If you don't know why you are a racist -- why being a racist is correct -- then you have no reason to think that sort of goal is good. Better not to pursue it. You might think you are a racist because of your upbringing, but that it isn't best. In that case you should try not to pursue racist goals, and should try to pursue self-change.

One thing to keep in mind is that a lot of change in how we live is already recommended, and once that is done, what to do next will be much easier to see.

The Two Branches

The two branches of choice theory are related. This is important to know because we shouldn't first think about what goals to have, and then after we decide that start to work out how to accomplish them. You can learn about which goals are good to have by thinking about how to accomplish them. Suppose the goal you are considering is to sell a billion copies of your book. You might work out that the most effective way to do that is to give speeches explaining why your book is great. Alternatively, you might figure out that won't work because a different book will be more popular, and the only ways to sell that many copies without rewriting are to force people at gunpoint, or to secretly destroy the other book and its author so the ideas can't be recovered. Just by working out what methods of achieving the goal will succeed we can sometimes see whether it's any good or not.


OK, this is it. It's time for the secret, surprise ending! There is something I haven't been telling you. *gasp* It is another name for "choice theory". And the other name is: *moral philosophy*. Morality is about how to live. Or, we might say, which choices to make.

The reason I use the name choice theory is that many people strongly believe morality is not objective, or don't listen closely to moral philosophy, or associate morality strongly with religion, or with sin, or with sexual rules. But choice theory? Many more people are persuaded *that* is objective. Why wouldn't it be? It's largely about epistemology, logic, and physics.

Choice theory faces rivals for being a good theory of morality. Mostly they are religious. None of them are up to the standards of modern philosophy. Unfortunately, some of those rivals are the prevailing moral philosophy right now, and they cast a shadow over the whole subject. Because they have serious flaws, often including: false, logical contradictions, arbitrary or subjective, no particular reasons given why it is right, based on faith, argued for via the weight of authority, full of parochial rules like about sexual conduct and other sins, and trying to tell people what to do instead of help offer them ways to life effectively.

You may not be sure how objective epistemology is. That is another can of worms which I won't go into detail about. But I will give a brief argument. One of the things very widely held to be objective is science. And the reason it's objective is: the scientific method. It tells scientists to put aside their personal fancy and look dispassionately at the evidence and to seek the best conclusion regardless of what they would like to be true. Or in short it says: seek the objective truth. There is also a philosophical method. It's like the scientific method, but used for matters of non-science (issues determined by argument alone without reference to evidence, measurement, or observation). Both the scientific and philosophical methods are ways of thinking. And they both say roughly the same thing: seek the truth. And if we were to categorize them they are both ... epistemology. Epistemology is the branch of philosophy concerned with how to get knowledge and truth, and these methods are ways of doing that. And epistemologists, of course, use the philosophical method, just like scientists use the scientific method.

You may still think science is different. Well, what's different about it? There's evidence. We can see and touch things to see who's right. It isn't our choice. However, and as many philosophers have pointed out, our sense data is not a certain road to truth. It can be mistaken. Our beliefs about our sense data can be biased. We can delude ourselves unconsciously. Lots of things can go wrong with observational evidence. So how does science work if the evidence is uncertain? By using the scientific method which provides good ways to think about things objectively. That is all the sanction science has, but also it is all that it needs. Epistemology has the same sanction: philosophers of epistemology use the same sort of method in their thinking. None of this provides certainty. But it is persuasive. There are no known alternative ways to think about these things which are better, or even comparably good. (I realize that statement deserves further argument and explanation. Maybe another time.)

In conclusion, call it what you will. Choice theory is essentially a type of logic. It exists objectively. What it says is based on not personal taste but mostly the laws of epistemology (which are governed by the laws of physics). And it can help you answer the ancient moral question, "How should I live?"

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)


The following pop culture references contain no spoilers.

On Felicity. Felicity has a theory that pasta being served on Monday means a bad week. A dog disrupted her activity a few times (the same activity each time) and she thought that was a sign not to do it. When something works out conveniently for starting a relationship with a guy she thinks that is a sign as well.

In Harry Potter, Harry hugs a friend and tries to put unsaid things into the hug, and believes the person understood some of it.

Lovers often speak of fate and destiny, and are pleased by silly coincidences like having the same birthday (or even star sign, which has 1/12 odds). Or having the same favorite color or band or movie. Or having the same phobia, or having lived in the same area in the past. "Was it really a coincidence that we both were at the bar that night? I hadn't been to a bar for months; I don't even really like them!"

This is magical thinking.

Felicity may not mean that there is a wizard casting a spell on her. But she does, undeniably, mean there may be *information* coming from these sources. The laws of physics don't allow for pasta choices to control whether events go well or not for the next week, nor do they give you a surprise dog as a hint not to do an activity. Any thinking that ignores the laws of physics and imagines things happen outside the laws of physics is magical thinking.

Harry's idea that a hug can explain his feelings on a number of complex matters is also magical thinking. A hug has information in it, but only a few bits. You can hug a bit tighter, or a bit longer, but people can't tell the difference very precisely and how that will communicate any sentences is a mystery. You could have a code, but you'll need about five bits per letter; communicating even a single letter that way would be difficult. Just imagine trying to work it out so you and your friend hug and then you figure out which letter of the alphabet he meant based on hug length and tightness, arm position, etc... Back in reality his hug is not communicating all the things he imagines. Hugs do not form magical connections between minds. All he's really communicating is one simple thing: positive feelings. To the extent the other person applies this data point to various outstanding issues within his own mind that is not communication at all, but just him figuring stuff out himself. He will only reach the conclusions Harry hopes if he independently comes up with the same ideas. That's a reality-based way to look at this. But Harry does not; he tries to do magic. (Magic of a sort not allowed in Harry Potter universe.)

Magical thinking is extraordinarily self-centered. It imagines either that the laws of physics are watching over your shoulder like an intelligent being and taking steps to help you out, or that if they are written in stone, timeless, on that stone are laws just about you. The real laws of physics do not say anything specifically about humans, let alone about you personally. They don't have clauses to make information pop into the heads of people you hug. They don't change lunch menus for your edification.

*   *   *

Let's consider rival theories to the idea that there is objective truth, and that we have ways of seeking truth such as the scientific method and reason. What, exactly, do they claim? It's objectively true that there is no objective truth? If we all have our own personal truth then can't I have an objective truth for me, and have it apply to everyone else as I want it to? (And thus I have taken away everyone else's personal truth. Sorry.) The idea of subjective truth is like saying just because there is a door there for me doesn't mean it's in the same place in your world. In other words, we all live in different worlds that aren't necessarily connected. But if that's the case, how is communication possible? How can we understand each other without having any facts in common? Having no facts in common doesn't just include locations of objects, it also includes gestures and speech made by people. The only serious ideas are that we have facts in common between all people (ie, there are some objective truths), or solipsism (ie, other people aren't real, I'm just imagining them).

Solipsism is very silly. The other people have complex, autonomous behavior. Whatever you want to call them, they are outside your mind. So, they act *as if* they are real people. The claim that they somehow aren't is completely arbitrary.

Consider someone who says the scientific method, or reason, is bad or doesn't work well. Well, does he want justification? That's an epistemic error. Does he have a rival theory? Let's hear it! And subject it to criticism. If he doesn't have a rival theory of how to seek the truth, how'd he come to his conclusion that the scientific method or reason are ineffective? Did he do auguries? Did he use reason?

If it's essentially undeniable that some facts, like the location of a large building, have the same truth of the matter for everyone -- they don't depend on our subjective opinions -- then we should consider if there are any things for which this can be denied. Any sort of measurable, physical fact is out. The cafeteria does not serve pasta for Felicity and roast cow for me, and when we each pick up menus they just magically say different things (and they change themselves undetectably if we swap menus), and there are not two different versions of the kitchen, located in the same place, preparing different meals. (By the way, that undetectable menu change is a good example of magical thinking. It requires physics be paying attention to what we are doing and intelligently manipulate affairs.)

That leaves logic, math, philosophy, religion, and morality -- things we cannot measure or observe.

All of these things, essentially, are facts. (Religions contain magical thinking. Never mind them.)

Math is a good example. Math is not a bunch of arbitrary rules that people made up. It derives very closely from physical facts. First there were the counting numbers. These were invented to let people think about who has more cows which is a matter of fact. And it let people think about the fact that if they have eight cows, and two die, they have six left. These concepts, just like any other part of our language, were just words and ways of thinking we developed to correspond to the physical facts.

This story does not just account for the counting numbers. We can cover all the rest of math. Sets, for example, are a way of organizing cows into groups convenient for various types of thinking. Zero is when all your cows die. Negative numbers are for keeping track of how many cows you owe your neighbor, or expressing your change in cows some months. Fractions came about when two brothers inherited three cows. And these fractions allowed them to express lengths with arbitrary accuracy. Which allowed them to notice the fact that the area of a square is the length of a side squared. These things can also be discovered by writing equations. X+3=1 is an equation involving only counting numbers and addition but which reveals the existence of negative numbers and which corresponds to reality. 2*X=3 shows two brothers times their share of the cows makes three cows (again, it corresponds to reality, to facts), and that reveals fractions. Now that we have squaring we run into: X^2=2 and we discover square roots and hence real numbers. And "imaginary numbers" come from X^2=-1 -- they are a way of expressing what X is in that simple equation. Whether you like to consider them real or not, they express what that X is; they are, like the other numbers, terminology and ways of thinking that correspond to reality. And there you go, that's most of the basic concepts of math.

Good philosophy and logic also correspond to reality -- to facts. Computers are built out of logic gates, and they really do work. Evolution is a philosophical theory about a method of creating knowledge, but it also is a fact: if the preconditions are met, evolution takes place, and the results are as stated. The philosophy corresponds to the fact, and if it did not then it would be bad philosophy. And morality -- choice theory -- is about this fact and its consequences, and other related facts like the results of an open society. The results of various choices are also facts, determined by the laws of physics, and how well they correspond to the outcomes we intend is also a matter of fact.

The fact that there has been a lot of faulty thinking, and ideas which do not correspond to reality, shouldn't be taken to mean the quest of finding true ideas -- ones that do correspond to reality -- is hopeless. The Earth is not flat is a good idea we worked out, despite the abstractness of the idea of flat, and also of the idea of categorizing a certain set of molecules as the Earth.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)


Power is good.

Power is the ability for humans to do what we want and accomplish our aims. Power lets us make things happen; power lets us have more control over the future.

Power can be used to accomplish good things, or bad things.

Many fear power. For those who hate power over nature I have little sympathy. Why should we not understand the physics of our world and live effectively? Even walking around, and balancing, are a matter of skillful control over the natural world. Electricity and computers, while considered more unnatural than the power of walking, are also immensely valuable; they transform the world much more to our liking. Some complain that we interfere in the natural order of things. This is magical thinking. There is no natural order. There are just the laws of physics, and the species that happened to evolve here. There is no thought or preference behind it. (It is ironic that people of this sort are frequently atheists who look down on religion.) But never mind that: how best to save as many species as possible, and increase biodiversity? Through skillful manipulation of the natural world for that aim.

Consider five possible worlds:

In one humans commit mass suicide to avoid messing up the natural world. A few millenia later a meteorite wipes out most species, like we suspect happened with the dinosaurs. A few billion years later the sun goes super nova and that's the end. In the mean time, species sometimes die out due to natural variance in climate and other randomness. This future is no good.

In another we continue with somewhat clumsy use of the natural world, and refrain from increasing our power and skill because people fear it will be used badly. We still die to the meteor or at least to the sun. We save some species, but we kill others by accident. This future is no good.

In another we gain great power and control, and we save every species that we want to, deflect meteors, and either change the sun or, perhaps, eventually leave. When we leave we will bring with us any species we wish. Without this gift of space flight they could not survive further. This is paradise.

In another we gain great power and control, but they are used in ways you do not like today. The reason is that your present ideas about what should be done are mistaken. But this is a good future as well. We cannot judge the future by how well it conforms to what we want now. We must judge instead by how rational it is. If it is an open society which favors persuasion then we should be pleased. And if, in the event, we still don't like a policy (in most cases we ourselves would have changed our mind by then) we are free to criticize the mainstream idea and persuade people of our view. And further, in a free society, remember that we can, personally, save all the species we like. The only obstacle is our own personal power. If we have enough control over our world, including the required resources, then we don't need anyone to agree with us. (We may need people to trade with us, and to work for us. But the market allows cooperation without agreement over the proper aims of life, so that is no obstacle.) This, too, is paradise.

In another we have power but people take control of society forcefully and decisions are made by whim not reason. The rulers suppress the power of others. Eventually they start killing people (and they care even less for other species). If you have trouble imagining a suitably dark continuation from there, try reading 1984. This is a disaster by all accounts; this future is no good.

How is this disaster to be avoided? Two main ideas are:

1) Avoiding disaster is a matter of power: skillful control over our lives and our future. With power comes the ability to create safeguards and take steps to prevent disaster. Today we have only limited power to prevent disaster. But if we become more powerful, our power to make the world safe and free will grow.

2) Avoiding disaster is a matter of controlling those who might do ill; the enemy here is freedom. Only people with appropriate, well-liked ideas should be allowed their liberty. Power must be doled out in accordance with who has humanity's best interests are heart.

While certainly there is some danger to (1), it is the only reasonable way to proceed. Yes, we might develop weapons and dangers faster than safety measures. But that is a somewhat strange fear. There is no particular reason that should happen. Meanwhile there are very powerful reasons the opposite should happen: we will develop precautions first because we know to do otherwise is dangerous. Developing dangers we cannot handle is stupid; people will aim to avoid such folly.

You may think the history of war contradicts me. I disagree. Developing powerful weapons provides safety from external invasion (a serious threat). It is true that many societies have been war like. But what of it? We now have an open society and we prefer peace. Our development of powerful weapons technology, like nuclear weapons, was an important part of the defense of our society. And now we have voluntarily ceased development of those weapons. We only wish to have that power to the extent we need it and no more.

Now let's look at (2). There is something implicit in this: there are rulers deciding who to dole out power to, and deciding who has humanity's best interests at heart and so on. And these rulers use force. For our benefit, they say. Remember what we are trying to avoid: people who use force to gain rulership, and who then suppress the power of those they disagree with or otherwise dislike. Well, that is exactly what (2) proposes to set up. Why, then, might it sound appealing? If it sounds appealing probably you are thinking of the disaster as the ascent of bad rulers with bad ideas who hate freedom, and the solution as rulers who like freedom. You identify with the second set of rulers. You imagine they would rule as you would rule. They will promote the values you agree with.

This is a mistake. Even if the rulers start with your values, they might change their minds, or you might change your mind, and then you will not be happy as you find force used against you. And even if you continue to agree that does not mean you are right; we need a society that seeks the truth and creates knowledge. That means an open society with freedom of thought and in which no particular view is entrenched in power.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)


Are there hard problems that families face? Hard parts of daily life? Hard parts of relationships? Conversations? Truth seeking?

The answer may seem obvious: yes.

Many people find these things hard. So, they are. You could change the meaning of the word "hard" to "cow-related" and then the answer is no, but that would be silly. Who could argue with this?

*dramatic pause*


Relationship problems, including family problems, can be solved with agreement. This doesn't necessarily solve the fundamental issue, but it lets life go on happily and agreeably. The only thing preventing this is irrationality.

Physics is hard. I mean it's hard to make new discoveries. But that does not mean it's hard to be a physicist. Doing physics can be fun (and if it is not, then the solution is really straightforward: switch professions). All you need to do is find internal agreement and you can go on with life happily and agreeably even if the fundamental issue remains elusive. And the only thing preventing this is irrationality.

Fundamental issues are hard, like figuring out the true laws of motion (but need not be upsetting). And irrationality is hard to deal with. Other than that, life is easy and carefree. There are no problems specific to families that make families unhappy. There are no particular difficulties in relationships that cause fights. The reason people believe there is, is that they are irrational but also blind in such a way they do not attribute the fault to their own irrationality, and instead assume it is a difficult situation and no one's fault. This, unfortunately, encourages them not to seek solutions.

Two of the most common reasons people are unhappy are wanting things they lack the knowledge (including skill) to achieve, and wanting reality to be different than it is (now, without having to bother changing it).

Ever wished your friends were a little kinder? More understanding? Smarter? More fun? Shared more interests with you? Were available more often? Either that is wanting the facts of reality to be magically different, or it is wanting to change your life without learning how to do so. If you wanted to learn how, you'd be thinking "I wish I was more skilled at improving my friends. Maybe I'll make a breakthrough tomorrow." If you were thinking of good goals for what your life could be (yes *your* life. you should want a life with a good environment including the portion of the environment consisting of people) then you'd call them goals not wishes (or you'd, right now, be thinking wishes was the wrong word). (BTW misunderstandings are caused by people being different which is caused by people disagreeing about which way is best to be.)

What is a agreement? It is an idea for how to proceed that everyone involved *prefers*. It's a preference that they have in common. In other words they agree about what to do. If you have that what can go wrong? A hurricane, sure. A fight? No. People only fight when they disagree (including misunderstandings so they think they disagree).

Hurricanes aren't problems. How to prevent damage from one is. But if that upsets you we are looking at the sort of reality denial I mentioned earlier. And there are solutions. Tie down your pigs so they don't fly away, feed your cat until it's too heavy to be blown away, etc...

Finding a agreement is the same thing as finding a common preference. It is the same thing as finding a solution such that no one is hurt. It is the same thing as living non-coercively.

Internal agreement is about getting your own autonomous theories to agree.

What is a theory, and how do we know they are roughly autonomous?

Consider fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. If you ask them whether the movie or TV series is better most will say they TV series. In this way many different people are alike. In other ways, these people are very different. In other respects, the contents of their minds are very different. If you ask them why they prefer the TV show they will give a lot of the same answers. Again, they are *alike*. The more detail you ask about, the more they will think and the more their answers will be different. These people have different minds and think differently, so this is to be expected. But this one part of their minds behaves, roughly, alike. That thing is less than a person and more than a simple fact like the weight of the average hippopotamus. We know it behaves roughly autonomously because it is capable of giving the same answers even in very different environments (that is, in different minds). I call it a theory. I have also called it a part of a personality or a personality strand. And I also call it an idea because I don't want people to think I mean something like Newton's Law of Gravity which they might if I said "theory". Idea, however, has connotations of something less than the type of theory I have just described. (The reason there is no ideal word to use is that our culture/language does not understand this issue very well yet.)

What gets in the way of agreement? Ignorance? Differences? Problems being hard to solve?


Ignorance is no obstacle to agreeing. There is a rational, objective way to think about the situation, including both people in it (or more), and they can both take that view. More concretely, they can agree to put off a decision until the ignorant person learns more. Or they can agree the best thing is for him to do as the more knowledgeable person suggests for now. This can be evaluated without knowing whether the more knowledgeable person is correct or not. You don't have to agree about that and you can still agree about what to do next. If he wants you to do something and you aren't sure if it's good there is a rational way to think about this situation, and you can use reason to decide how to reply (do it, don't do it, decide later, whatever). And if you can make your decision according to reason, he can agree it is correct. Or he can disagree and criticize, and then you can agree with the criticism, or reply to it further. And so on. And then you will agree about what to do because of what you have in common: reason.

You may fear the "and so on" step will take a long time. He will criticize what I said. I won't think that's right and will criticize what he said. That will sound wrong to him and he'll argue back. Then I'll argue more. And so on.

That is not the natural way of things.

When people are rational and are listening to each other and taking each other seriously and are not biased in favor of their own ideas but are really open to whatever view makes most sense, then every step of the way we can expect the likely result is agreement and the rare result is another round of disagreement. (Another likely result is a short break for some questions to clarify things and increase understanding.) What we have on our side here is that good ideas are hard to come by. So usually we won't have a better idea than the one someone tells us. And if we do, they probably won't have a better idea than that. And so on. And if this goes wrong then all that's happening is we have an unusually long string of good ideas. Not particularly scary :)

Long running disagreements are common, and people remaining different is perfectly fine. It can be hard to understand each other and to get a clear view of which lifestyles and personalities are best, and how to have them. But that isn't what we are talking about here. The issue is agreeing about what to do next. We always have the option: go our separate ways. The only reason we are having this discussion is that we both want to do something together (we already agree on the main point). So that's why it should be easy. We will find a way to do it that we both like. If we haven't yet either we will think it's worth continuing to try (and so we will be happy to keep trying) or we will think it's too much trouble (in which case we would not like to keep trying. but we won't, so no matter).

There is perhaps an underlying idea here: that both people will respect the right of the other to go his own way if he prefers to do so. Either person is expected to agree to that without further discussion if the other wishes it. This is perhaps not a matter of reason but simply of liberal principles: we wish people to be free to live their own lives, not obliged to do what we want them to do. This is a principle of open societies, and it is a principle of the Enlightenment, and it is good. Forcing someone to continue to try to find a mutually agreeable way to work together doesn't even make much sense. If you want mutual agreement then you should let him go when he wants to.

Certainly in families and personal relationships we should especially want our loved ones to be free and not to do anything they don't want to, right?

People being different and problems being hard to solve are also not obstacles to agreeing about what to do next. That people are different means they may prefer to go their separate ways; they may not wish to cooperate for a common goal at this time. But in that case they can agree to that; they can both prefer it. And if there is a hard problem to solve, then you can agree to work on it, or agree to avoid it, or agree to a temporary measure that seems best, or whatever. There is no reason that should cause people to fight.

Disagreeing about what to do next is fighting. It means you can't agree to go your separate ways, and can't agree to do something together either. You are failing to cooperate or separate. And this is not rational. If you can't be productive together, go do different things. Fighting won't help anything. A discussion might. But if you want a discussion, and the other person does too, then you agree about that, and you agree about what to do next. For there to be a fight at least one person must be unwilling to have a discussion.

You may think *that* is the problem: that person doesn't want to discuss. He is preventing problem solving. But that isn't obvious at all. Many things aren't worth discussing. Why bother? You could be writing a mathematics paper. Or learning chemistry. Those might be much more valuable things to do than to discuss this problem. He could have plenty of other reasons too. Maybe he'd rather discuss later. If you think he's wrong you might want to discuss that. And he might not want to. He might not want to tell you his reasons, or hear yours. Now do we have him cornered? He's avoiding criticism! Nah. He still might have better things to do. Further, he might think you are acting unpleasantly and he doesn't want to talk about it because he doesn't think you will take him seriously and listen with an open mind. Or maybe he expects mean or unhelpful comments from you. He might be right about that. If he isn't -- if you are sympathetic to him, and want to help -- then why won't you let him alone?

There is one especially good reason to discuss apparent problems. But it is never urgent. It only becomes urgent if people avoid it for a while, which is a sign of irrationality or a mistaken view of how important it is. (But you will get opportunities to correct that mistake if you know better and they are being rational.) The reason is: to prevent *chronic* problems. One time problems don't need discussion. Sure, something went wrong. But if the same situation is unlikely to happen again then who cares? Forget about it and do something valuable. And a lot of problems could be chronic but people figure out (all by themselves) how to do better, so they don't need discussion. You should only think something is chronic after the second time at earliest. Before that don't worry it could be chronic. The third time is a more reliable indicator that there's a repeating problem.

People do chronically avoid fixing chronic problems. (And by problems I mean irrationalities that cause them to fight with people in their lives. And by fight I mean sabotage finding agreement about how to proceed.) They do this out of irrationality. Fixing repeating problems is worthwhile. (Note: in theory the costs of fixing could exceed the costs of all the many repetitions that will happen. In that case it isn't worthwhile.) This supports what I've been saying: people fight due to irrationality, not due to life being hard in some way.

Isn't being rational hard?

No, not really. It's hard to figure out what is the rational way to live. It's hard to create that knowledge. But if you don't know how to be rational very well, so what? Do your best. No one can ask more of you than that.

The real issue is: today we know how to be rational to a certain degree. Many people don't live that way. They live less rationally than we know how to. And it isn't due to ignorance. They say being more rational is hard or unpleasant.

Living according to reason is, of course, actually rather more pleasant, because you accomplish your goals more, learn more, solve more problems, fight with friends less, and so on. (But reason and truth are no guarantee of happiness. And indeed the deluded man often thinks he is happy. That is an issue for another day.)

What is supposed to be hard about it?

- Taking criticism well (let alone enjoying it)
- Not being attached to your own theories or ideas
- Not having a biased perspective
- Not taking discussion personally (or better: applying it personally without getting offended or upset if it implies you have made mistakes and should change)
- Keeping your emotions under control (or better: changing your emotional makeup so you don't have inappropriate ones in the first place)
- Thinking seriously and trying in general (if you don't want to do that, why stay alive?)

Really, being irrational is a lot harder. Then people can make comments wondering why you aren't suicidal, and have a point. Rational people are immune to such things.

Taking criticism badly makes life a lot harder. It means you have bad reactions to criticism. That itself right there is a problem! You get upset. Better if you didn't. And then also it means you stay wrong longer when you have bad ideas. So you spend more of your life making mistakes. These make your life harder than if you'd done something better.

Being attached to your own theories and having a biased perspective also make you stay wrong longer. And they make it harder to come to agreement with your friends. That makes life harder and less agreeable for both you and your friends. Not thinking seriously makes you stay wrong longer too.

Taking discussion personally makes it harder for you to have productive discussions. It makes life harder than if you were more rational.

Acting on emotions not reason means making more mistakes, which makes your life harder. Imagine the man who gets angry, then drunk, then loses a lot of money gambling. Now his life is a lot harder and less pleasant.

Perhaps the hard part is changing these characteristics.

And indeed that is hard.

But not because life is hard.

It is hard because of irrational memes and the accompanying logic of a static society, from which we come.

Life is not hard. Our culture is hard to deal with.

The problems we face which seem hard are either fundamental (and not upsetting), or parochial.

What should you do about this? One thing well worth bearing in mind is: when conversations start to go wrong, slow down. Pause and think. Be much more careful with what you say next. Regain perspective. Arguing the fine details you were discussing isn't really that important. If you fight about it and never speak of it again life will go on anyway. If you *don't* fight about it and never speak of it again, life will go on too, but better. Take your time. Don't imagine pressure to act now. It isn't there.

*   *   *

Reader: You sure seem to know your Roman Numerals. Very fancy. But can you do large numbers?
Elliot: Sure, no problem.
Reader: Can you do 40?
Elliot: Hmm. That's larger than I expected. Too hard. You might even say 40 is XL.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)


Knowing that being open to criticism, and treating rival theories evenhandedly without regard for which is *yours*, are the best, most rational, most effective, most knowledge creating, most problem solving, most truth seeking ways to live is one thing. Living that way is another. Deciding it is best does not automatically mean you will do it.

Probably you have irrational memes that are preventing you. They make you feel bad and ashamed to be wrong, they make you feel attacked by criticism, they make you feel attached to your ideas, and they make you blind to their existence, and sometimes blind to the fact that you are not in fact acting in the rational way described above.

I can say this without knowing who is reading because such memes are ubiquitous in our culture. You are not alone. You are not a rare person with an unfortunate difficulty. It is like that for everyone. That can be hard to accept because it means if people do better *that could have been you* -- there was nothing fundamental to stop you. So it is *your fault* that you are doing worse than they are. But as much as taking responsibility for your failures can be hard, it is worthwhile. It means you recognize you can do better; denying that would be a huge obstacle to improving. And it means taking responsibility for your successes: having pride in what you have achieved, and seeking to do more.

But what exactly should you do tomorrow to start making progress? Here is one approach, which is by no means the only one.

One place to start is by changing your sense of identity. Ideas which you no longer believe *are not part of you*. If you are proven wrong, but change your mind, then suddenly *you are not wrong anymore*. Criticism isn't about making you wrong, which you'd want to deny. It's about giving you the opportunity to not be wrong anymore; to abandon the wrong parts.

Even ideas that are still within you do not necessarily deserve any respect. If you don't like one, but it's hard to change, whatever: screw it. *It's not you*. It's just some nasty intruder who has taken up residence in your mind. Don't let it be part of your identity. Don't feel ashamed of it. Don't defend it. Don't act on it. Just attach your sense of identity and self-worth to only a smaller, better part of your mind over which you have control. (And really, who can fault you for refusing to feel bad about things over which you do not have control? If you don't control it, it isn't your fault. You may have made mistakes in the past, but the current version of you hasn't.)

The most obvious thing that will go wrong with this is your emotions. You'll feel bad anyway, or feel weird, or still feel defensive about parts of you which you don't respect intellectually, or feel guilty. Screw them. Emotions are largely bad. They are the tools of your memes. Just ignore them. They have no power over what actions you take in your life. They don't move your limbs around. They do not control what words you say. And they do not control what you think is true.

Don't repress emotions. You don't want to be in denial about having them. Just disrespect them. They aren't the boss of you. It's like if you are into sports and you feel some physical pain. If it's nothing medically dangerous, then you don't respect it. It's just your body being annoying. It is part of your environment, just like emotions. Not your fault. You just keep playing.

Acknowledge emotions. They exist. Take note of them. But don't act on them. They aren't reasons. And don't take them personally. You didn't choose to have this emotion (just now; maybe it's due to your choices long ago.)

"Don't live life through gritted teeth," is good advice. You don't want to settle into a permanent routine of having this sort of conflict in yourself. But nor do you want to surrender. What you need to do is win. And take pride in your struggle to do so. Don't grit your teeth. Shout your defiance.

Bad emotions won't stop occurring overnight. The easiest cases should take a few days at least. Most cases will take more like six months, and harder cases won't be complete for years. Times can vary tremendously, but I think ballpark estimates are more useful than nothing. One thing you can see is you shouldn't give up quickly. And after two months is giving up quickly.

Success and progress are different. Progress can come fairly soon. But usually after a few attempts there appears to be absolutely no progress. And this is disheartening. But then not too long after you break through and it gets a bit better.

What does an attempt look like? You feel an emotion. You notice it. It can take a while to learn to notice them, and figure out what emotion it is. You look at it dispassionately. You get perspective. You don't act on it. You think about why the emotion is not reasonable, and think you don't want to have it anymore (you can do this while reflecting later at first). You think about what would be a good attitude to have. You think about what the best thing to do is, according to reason, and you do that, even though you don't feel like it. And then you feel proud and good, or at least at first you think you have reason to be proud and to feel good.

In abstract terms, what you are doing is putting your emotions and memes into a very hostile environment, hateful of them even. And in that environment they cannot function properly, and over time they change and evolve. You can't control them directly, but you can take attitudes about what sorts of emotions and memes are acceptable to you, and harass anything that doesn't qualify until your unconscious mind manages to sort out all the details and change it.

You may feel dumb at first having this emotion you don't want and not knowing how to get rid of it. And every time you feel the emotion, you feel dumb or silly. The emotion is dumb. Your lack of control is frustrating and is in part a lack of skill on your part. But trying to accept or reconcile with the emotion is no good life. That makes you a slave to it. This feeling dumb is hard on the meme/emotion too. It has trouble existing in that kind of environment. You know it's dumb. That means it is struggling. You're making progress! Be glad. As things move along the emotion will persist for less time, and eventually it will just be short flashes (stay aware! stay alert! notice these flashes. if you stop noticing and giving them enough thought to keep them in a hostile environment, they'll never go away). as you gain more distance from the feeling, you can laugh at it, or scoff. it's just this evil thing and it's dying. it has less and less power. your blindness is already gone. you can see it for the dumb thing it is. and now it's getting more and more painfully obvious every time it comes up. great! you are stronger than it.

you need to keep a positive attitude, and keep your optimism. memes can be beaten. emotions can be changed. you know this is true intellectually. but also you can develop emotions so that you feel it. if you're going to have emotions, put them to good use. instead of figuring out what causes good feelings and then doing that (ie, being the slave of your emotions) figure out what is worth liking and then start enjoying it. every time you do it, think about how lovely it is. take steps to make it a positive experience. soon you'll look forward to it.

a lot of this can be done in your head. do thought experiments. imagine the situation and then try to question parts of it or imagine acting in ways you'd feel bad about but think are good. if it's too hard feel free to stop for now, not because you are giving up, but just because you have a life to live and you don't need to do everything at once. just make more attempts. even if progress isn't visible every time it's still happening. when there is a breakthrough all those previous attempts with no obvious results did play a role. and you are learning about your own temperament. that's good too. understanding yourself makes everything easier. it makes it easier to be aware of your emotional state. it makes it easier to find the weak points of the emotions. it makes it easier to brainstorm attitudes you could take that would improve matters.

so, thought experiments. they are low risk. low cost. easy to abort. fast. less pressure to hurry. more control over setting up just the right situation. and it's not as personal. you are thinking about how you would feel in a situation instead of being in the situation and feeling it. and you start wondering why, and trying different things to see which cause you to change how you feel for the better. and as you gain skill, you gain control, and then you win.

it is unfortunate that all this should be necessary. I sympathize. I really do. memes are nasty buggers. they hurt you. they are evolved to be good at hurting you, and to be hard to get rid of. but it's worth fighting them. it's the only way to live your own life. it's the only way to control your life and have free choice. and it's the only way not to pass the same memes on to your children (which is done in large part by hurting your children in certain ways).

remember: you are creative, and your memes are not. yeah they contain a lot of knowledge. but they don't have a creative mind like you. if you put them into an environment they don't already have knowledge about they won't be able to adapt. so there is plenty of reason for optimism.

*   *   *

Static memes are like a hostage situation. They hold your emotions hostage. The options are to meet their demands, or to storm the building and probably lose some of the hostages.

Yeah it sucks. But the damage was done when the memes took over the building and grabbed all the hostages.

The demands memes make include finer control over your emotions (ie, more hostages, more weapons, a larger zone around the building where the police can't come, a new building even with satellite TV, etc)

Don't negotiate with terrorists. Don't succumb to emotional blackmail.

*   *   *

Do you feel bad about being fat? You shouldn't identify with your body. It isn't your mind. It's not the real you. It's part of your environment. Don't take it so personally. The only good reason to feel bad about being fat (besides increased risk of death) is that it indicates you have made bad choices: you failed to choose ways of eating that would achieve your goals. That lack of skill is an aspect of your mind. (But still, don't feel bad. Acknowledge your defeat and brainstorm an improvement in how you approach eating.)

By the way: just don't eat when you aren't hungry. That's all there is to it. It sounds hard to believe, but hunger evolved to keep humans fit and our body has powerful mechanisms to keep us from being overweight. Getting fat takes a lot of effort. Stop putting in the effort -- stop working hard against yourself -- and you won't be fat for long.

This still sounds hard to believe. Most people think they don't eat except when they are hungry. But those same people eat an entire plate of food at dinner time. All at once. So how could they possibly know if they were full already when they ate the last few bites? You have to wait a while to find out.

People also compulsively finish their plate even if they feel full. All the time. (Just like their parents forced them to do when they were younger. And like they will force their own children to do.) If you always finish your plate you have no idea if you are eating the right amount. You need to try other amounts to compare.

Many people fear "snacking". The real issue here is they aren't very aware of what they eat, so if they eat snacks and don't pay attention (common) they end up eating a lot while not hungry, and then they still eat meals (because people eat those without being aware of whether they are hungry. it's also just a habit.)

people also eat "comfort food". again that is eating when you aren't hungry. it might be worth doing to improve your mood, but don't claim you only eat when hungry if you do that.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)


How do you think so that you come up with good ideas? What's the secret?

In general:

  • keep an open mind
  • examine all sides of an issue
  • don't reject your ideas because they seem bad, try to improve them
  • speak up and ask friends for criticism, suggestions, etc, don't wait until you already have a good idea to have a helpful discussion
  • optimism helps
  • learn good ideas other people have had
  • try to connect different ideas
  • ask lots of questions. asking others is ok but asking yourself questions is the best.
  • seek the truth whatever it is, not what you want it to be
  • don't let your emotions get in the way
  • don't let what seems best for you cloud your judgment of what is true
  • hold your ideas tentatively, not with certainty
  • don't be afraid to discover you are wrong about something, even something you feel strongly about
  • keep trying, you aren't going to have your best ideas in the first five minutes. not on the first day either. think about stuff every day.
  • apply ideas to areas they weren't intended for if they could logically apply and see how it works
  • sometimes a joke idea can work if you change it a bit. dumb ones too.
  • good ideas can come any time, even in the shower. be aware and alert.
Stuff like that. You've probably heard most these before (maybe separately). But doing all of them excellently in real time is harder than just remembering these bullet points.

To really do them well in your life what you need is to create certain kinds of *attitudes* and *policies* that feel *natural* and you do "automatically". you need to form good habits so your first reaction is something from the list, not something irrational or emotional or anti-truth-seeking.

one way to do this would be to take them a couple at a time (pick related ones) and pay close attention to how much you do them or not and watch for situations where you should do them. then make sure to do them, even if it doesn't feel normal. after a while you'll get more used to it, and see how well it works which will be encouraging (or you'll see it has a problem and have to reconsider if it's really a good idea -- but that's good to you'll learn something). after a while you will start to predict the situations where you should do these things in advance and you'll be mentally ready before it even happens. with practice/learning it gets faster to figure out what you were going to do, and check if it fits the new things you are trying to do, and if not figuring out what you should do instead. after a while it becomes second nature. that's good. now do it with more things.

to do this successfully you need to be pretty self-aware. and you need to take your time not act (or talk) without thinking. it helps if you can put everything aside, mentally, for a minute, and think about how to proceed. don't get caught in the moment -- then you'll revert to old habits.

it also helps not to question your new policy every time it comes up. if you think some of these things might be good to do, and want to try them, then do so wholeheartedly, even if you aren't sure. that's the only way to see if they really work. decide to try them for a while and if you need to reconsider at some point fine, but don't reconsider every time it comes up, do that separately if you notice some problem. if you're wondering if it's really a good idea every time you're gonna sabotage it (unconsciously) or just make the whole experience unpleasant. it's kinda like if you were trying to read more, but you often don't feel like reading, then every time you pick up a book if you struggle with your feelings about it that is not gonna be much fun or work out well. it'd be better to make a decision, and then try to just do the reading if you think that's best. if there's a problem then reconsider the overall policy, but don't reconsider the individual reading sessions every time. you decided it was best to do this, so just do it, you can always change the policy later if it was a mistake. dealing in terms of entire policies of behavior can be a lot easier than trying to decide everything from first principles every day.

*   *   *

Socialization is the process of learning to interact appropriately with other members of society. It sounds like a dirty word to me, something bad, but many people think it's good and fear that if they home school their kids will not be socialized well. To me it sounds like breaking people in -- breaking their spirits -- for conformity.

How to interact with people is a type of knowledge. You can learn it like anything else. You don't need to go to school. You could read a book about it. Or in this case a good source is TV where you can see how people treat each other. Or perhaps even better you can go outside, you can meet people, you can observe your parents, etc

Another issue is that this is parent-centric. what's the parent doing deciding if his child needs more socialization? if your child wants to home school (after hearing your advice, which should be in favor) then start home schooling. if you're worried about socialization, let your child know what you think he might be missing. if child finds he has a problem -- say he tries to make some friends but fails -- then *child* can decide what he wants to do about that (taking into account your advice). child can decide he'd like to try school to improve his social skills if he wants to and he values improving them and he thinks school will help. and he can do something else if he prefers that. this is called "freedom" and it's also a more effective way to learn -- people learn better when they are in control and follow their own interests and try their own ideas about how to learn (they also learn better with lots of good suggestions, many of which undoubtedly will be followed).

the real thing you can't get at home is being beaten up by bullies. and teased for being different. and hazed. and that intense pressure to start making progress with the opposite sex and go on dates and go to dances. and the pressure to be cool, and to have friends. you'll also miss out on this culture that expects you to defer to authority and not think independently. a culture where an 18 year old can be expected to ask permission to go to the bathroom -- they aren't free to go where they please. the teachers enforce it by punishing people who displease them. but worse are the other kids who don't want to risk their own status, so when you do group work they pressure you more than any teachers. and you could miss out and tests and grades and that fear of failure that ruin people's minds for life cure inborn laziness.

*   *   *

When was the last time you weren't sure if you were hungry and thought about it for a while before you made a decision? Probably this is rare at best; you probably are thinking it's too obvious not to know.

If you always seem to know if you are hungry the very likely reality is that you aren't listening to signals from your body much at all (because those aren't perfect and aren't always so obvious and sometimes take some attention and thought to figure out) and you are deciding without thinking. And the result of that would be: you don't eat only when hungry; you don't even know if you are actually hungry most of the time.

When was the last time you were hungry and ignored it for a while? You don't like to do that? That's very strange. Eating promptly isn't that important. You should reasonably often be in the middle of something you prefer to continue. Sometimes you should be so engrossed you completely forget to eat. Not eating for a while is no big deal. So why then is the "eat less" diet so hard? It's not because eating less is hard. Just do something else. Just don't pick up a fork. It's not because hunger prevents you from doing things you are really into and focussed on and enjoying. It's either because you are bored all the time and your hunger is more interesting than the crap you do. Or you are just wildly irrational about food.

Being wildly irrational about food would be no surprise. Our culture is obsessed with food, and with weight, and with appearance, and with sex, and there is huge pressure on people, and people try diets all the time, and think in concepts like whether a calories is "worth it" and attempt self denial all the time. Which all suggests that people's eating habits haven't got much to do with hunger, and have a lot to do with reactions to this huge cultural pressure (going along with it. or rebelling. either way the eating habit probably has more to do with that than hunger. the only way for your eating to really be hunger-based is if you don't much care about pop culture food/weight/sex/appearance attitudes.)

*   *   *

Are emotions learned or inborn?

They are learned. They are ideas. They are thoughts. That we often don't recognize them as ways of thinking and just ideas is one of the things wrong with them. They aren't a very good way of thinking.

Babies and young children appear to have emotions. It seems a bit improbable they already learned them from people somehow. So what's going on?

Seeing a behavior we associate with an emotion does not mean the person is feeling that emotion. There is an assumption there that he thinks like us, and expresses ideas and emotions just as we would. But the whole idea here is this child does not yet think like us, and doesn't know about emotions. So if you see a behavior you do not know what the thought process behind it is. It isn't like yours. There is, prima facie, no evidence the child is being emotional.

Of course, parents then go and tell them they are being emotional and encourage it. "Oh, you seem angry." Or, "She looks so happy." And it's a classic situation that a parent says his child is upset/angry (and calls it a "tantrum") and the child says he isn't being emotional and he just wants the actual thing in dispute and the parent isn't listening. Notice how the parent interprets something in terms of his emotions, and the child denies he is thinking that way, and the parent then insists really it is emotions and tries to force that interpretation on the child.

Unfortunately teaching of emotions is largely inexplicit. Just avoiding statements like, "and how did you feel after susie did that?" or "i know you're upset about XXX, but..." is not enough. i expect emotions will be passed on pretty much completely normally even if you never say anything like that. we don't know their exact mechanisms and logic.

if we can't suppress the idea of emotions, what should we do? well suppressing it isn't a good idea anyway! that's not truth seeking! if your kid picks up the idea of emotions who cares? just don't coerce him about them, don't hurt him, so he doesn't get irrational entrenchments. the truth seeking approach is freedom of thought and information. just convey the same rational ideas about emotions too, and give some advice, and criticize the emotional way of life, and let the truth win out.

what is a rational approach to emotions? at the least: they aren't necessarily right. emotional choices need to be backed by reasons to be any good. making decisions based at all on how you feel is not the way to find the truth, or to make good choices, or to have a life worth being happy about. and emotions aren't that important. at least if you don't think they are. people make such a big deal about them they create their importance. just don't think about it too much and it's not such a big deal.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (2)


How should society and government be organized?

The first thing is that we don't need a revolution. Whatever suggestions I make, I don't want a government 5-year plan to implement them all, or some big movement gaining millions of supporters overnight demanding big changes. When I say something would be better, what I want to see is individual people keeping an eye out in their lives for opportunities to do things a bit more like that. And to make changes one at a time. And if something goes wrong, they should backtrack a little, and then figure out what was going wrong and how to address it. A huge, fast revolution is a recipe for lots of errors. More gradual change intermixed with large doses of error correction is the only thing that works.

Gradual doesn't mean slow, exactly. And knowledge can spread a lot faster now than in the past. A book can sell millions of copies, and if you add in all the bloggers, radio shows, and TV shows talking about it, then a lot of people can become familiar with something quickly. The point of gradual, the way I mean it, is not to skip steps -- to progress by small degrees. It's possible (but hard and unusual) for every step to be done quickly. As long as they are all done properly then that's ok. But the focus needs to be on doing things right not on abrupt change. Not improving our society drastically by next week isn't a huge disaster that we must avoid at all costs. We are doing OK. Yes, the sooner we improve the better. But the most important steps in the spread of new ideas are error correction and creating understanding. It's no good to have a revolution for some idea if most of your supporters don't really understand it as well as they should. That isn't going to work out. You'd be much better off to have discussions and debates for longer until people know what they are supporting a lot more clearly. And error correction means we need a lot of criticism before we put some big change into effect. We need to know all the things that might go wrong and address them. One way to get that is to try things one at a time and get criticism of them that way, so a lot less harm can be done by mistakes. Another good source of criticism is the opposition: the people who disagree. Instead of trying to beat them and get your idea implemented, it's much better to welcome debates with them and to get their ideas on what might go wrong, and also to seriously consider whether their suggestions may have advantages.

F. A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom, page 235 (my emphasis):
There is one aspect of the change in moral values brought about by the advance of collectivism which at the present time provides special food for thought. It is that the virtues of which are held less and less in esteem and which consequently become rarer are precisely those one which Anglo-Saxons justly prided themselves and in which they were generally recognized to excel. The virtues these people possessed--in a higher degree than most other people, excepting only a few of the smaller nations, like the Swiss and the Dutch--were independence and self-reliance, individual initiative and local responsibility, the successful reliance on voluntary activity, noninterference with one's neighbor and tolerance of the different and queer, respect for custom and tradition, and a healthy suspicion of power and authority. Almost all the traditions and institutions in which democratic moral genius has found its most characteristic expression, and which in turn have molded the national character and the whole moral climate of England and America, are those which the progress of collectivism and its inherently centralistic tendencies are progressively destroying.
The virtues are all good, and they all go together. I highlight respect for custom and tradition in particular because some people don't realize it is part of the same set of ideas as the others. Here are some ways they go together. Independent minded people are better at taking initiative themselves. Self-reliant people are better at taking responsibility -- they have to be because they aren't relying on someone else to do it for them. People with suspicion of power prefer to do things voluntarily if they want them done, instead of having some power make them be done. Independent people generally want others to be independent as well and want non-interference to go both ways. Tolerating differences is easier in a culture where everyone takes responsibility for themselves -- if your different idea is a mistake, it's not my problem. Where does respecting tradition fit it? It's because...

Well, why respect tradition anyway? That is because knowledge evolves. There are successive stages with each being a little better (on average). Starting over means losing knowledge. And you don't instantly get something better. It would take a long time to get something better if you throw away what you have. What you have contains lots of subtle and important aspects that you probably don't understand and that you won't instantly replicate.

Consider some old software. If you want to add a new feature it's tempting to do a rewrite so you can do the whole thing in a modern style you like better. But this old software has had years of bug fixes. Those are important. If you start over you'll have to redo all that bug fixing. And there are no guarantees at all the new system will be better. Often rewrites turn out worse. I recently read about some text-and-keyboard based systems replaced with modern graphical interfaces that use the mouse a lot. The result? Takes longer to use the system now (and lots of stuff didn't work).

If you want to have lasting institutions that know more than individual people -- that can improve without limit over the generations -- then you need a culture of people who don't just throw away whatever they don't personally understand and don't always recklessly assume they could do better. Without people like that any good traditions will be destroyed.

What does this have to do with the rest? With individual initiative, voluntary action, and so on? Perhaps nothing directly. But the same sort of people like both, because they are both good things, and they both come from the same kind of thinking: how can we make the world better and seek the truth? Revolutions come from people who certain they are right; forcing your neighbors comes from conviction you know best; individual rights and respect for tradition both come from fallibilism.

And there does seem to be a connection historically. Think of movements, like communism, and the French Revolution, that are very hostile to the status quo, and want to sweep it away and implement their own grand vision. This grand vision is never "individual freedom for all" it has specific things they want for everyone which they believe are best -- it isn't individualistic; it's one single grand vision for everyone. And they'll use force against people who disagree and want something different, including people who want to be left alone.

So that's a glimpse of what society should be like: respect traditions and individual rights and freedom to be different.

Another major issue is the use of force. Force is bad because issues decided by force are not being decided by reason. Force doesn't find the truth. It doesn't make the best result happen. And even if people were being forced to do the best thing that's very inefficient. They don't understand what choices are good to make, so some authority is having to make their choices for them and do their thinking for them. So their minds are going to waste and the authority has a lot of work to do. (And, by the way, if the authority was so wise and amazing it could actually make better choices for everyone then it'd be even more effective making great inventions than just running our world a bit more efficiently than we do.) And if the authority doesn't notice some fact that people who actually have their own lives do notice? Well, the authority is using force not listening to arguments. It already decided this person is wrong. So it won't listen now. It will just make mistakes that could have easily been avoided.

Our society uses force. For many things it does not. But for some it still does. Taxes are forceful. If you don't pay them you do go to jail against your will. You cannot just say "leave me alone". Nor can you say "why should I owe you money when I trade freely with my business parter? What does that have to do with you?"

I don't want taxes to disappear over night. That'd be a disaster. The institutions of our society have knowledge in them about how to run the most peaceful society that ever existed. That's good. They still use some force because using less is *hard*. But I do want people to look towards using less force. We can make some improvements now, and eventually we can eliminate all force and have a purely voluntarist society.

What does our government really do, fundamentally? They run the post office badly, and ban competition. That's just dumb and should be stopped in the months (perhaps a few years) it takes for some private companies to set up mail services and to deal with the existing postal infrastructure (we don't want to just let it got to waste. we don't want to just pick one company and hand it to them for free, although that might turn out better than nothing.) more usefully they run the military. and also ban competition. banning competition there makes more sense. a new post office is no danger to anyone. a new military could be! but they should relax that restriction a little. don't ban all private armed forces no matter what. (actually that is a little relaxed already: private security companies are allowed). instead only dangerous ones should be banned. start with a conservative notion of which ones are dangerous. but until we have a notion of what dangerous is, even a very strict one, we can't start creating knowledge about where the line should be and improving it. (we can create a little knowledge in thought experiments. but that isn't good enough. we need to actually change our society in order to organize thought about real problems from many people and start using the full problem solving power of our society.)

by problem solving i don't mean we would have created a big problem and now we'll be desperate to find a solution. a problem is just something we don't know the answer to, like a question, or something we can make better. problems are good. they mean we've recognized things worth thinking about. they are opportunities for improvement. and problem solving is just creating knowledge to improve the situation we noticed.

What does our government really do, fundamentally? they run certain services like the post office, the military, and law making and police and fire departments and courts and midnight basketball. these vary from no justification to the reason is that it's hard to run without force. that's the fundamental justification. there's also practical reasons. our government has *legitimacy*. any replacement would need to create that too. for something important like police work that's hard. for courts that's very hard. people don't want arbitrary or unfair legal decisions. our government has long history of doing this work and doing ... it's hard to say how good a job is done. it's better than any other organization in the history of the Earth, but much worse than our imagination allows for, and we all know it could be improved in many ways.

why does the government use force to maintain a monopoly? it isn't b/c it has no competitors. while that is true for, say, law making, that isn't a reason for using force! that just means the monopoly would last a while even without force. sometimes people complain we need the government to do the most important stuff. but that's silly: if it's true the government should immediately take over the grocery stores. but our grocery stores function better than most government services. free market stuff usually does. the more important something is, the more reason we should want to make sure the government *does not* do it if at all possible. (like, medicine. letting government play a bigger role in medical treatment is a very bad idea.)

another reason is people want the government to make them safe and solve their problems (like hurricane relief). when a hurricane happens and the government responds about as well as it usually does, people complain about it being mishandled and blame the leaders currently in power. it's not their fault! governments just aren't very good at anything. too many compromises. too little accountability and responsibility (they are playing with tax payer money, not their own. their is no company owner who really cares how things turn out. and no stockholders.). no market forces to help it to improve either. government has also played around with, for example, flood insurance. they ended up rebuilding people's houses who decided to build on the beach. over and over. often rich people. there's a reason private companies didn't want to provide flood insurance in certain places: building houses there is really risky. but people want the government to bail them out even if they make stupid choices like building on the same beach for the 5th time.

there are practical reasons for our government. it's a big organization that can do a lot of stuff no one else can (yet). partly this is b/c it's got a way bigger budget and private companies would be able to do the same if they had the money. but this isn't a fundamental reason. it just means we can't eliminate certain services until some other companies step up. so those companies should start stepping up now. get bigger! we need you Walmart. maybe not Walmart, they have the wrong area of expertise. someone, though. big companies are good. useful. powerful.

what about law making? if not for our government who would decide? that's the wrong question: it is asking who should rule? the right idea isn't to find the best ruler and entrench him. it's to have a system where bad policies are gotten rid of. which we have! a private company could use just the same sort of system of voting and check and balances to make decisions that our government does. there is nothing connecting our democratic system to forceful tax collection and suppression of other organizations that would do the same functions. American Idol lets people vote; a law making company could too if people thought it was a good idea. (quite possibly it isn't good to let them vote on most laws directly because they won't understand the issues well. but it could work out OK if advocacy groups on each side offer explanations. and badly if they just offer propaganda.) at the heart of the issue our government is made up of people supported by some traditions. companies are made up of the same. so fundamentally companies can be just as wise and fair about choosing laws.

but what about having multiple law making companies? how does that work? what if they contradict each other? won't they fight? well, no they won't fight! that'd be insane. it'd cost a ton of money. it'd get people killed. it'd piss off all their customers. it'd cost them legitimacy in the eyes of the public about whether they are dangerous and or to be trusted -- maybe *one* side of the dispute could save face with a very good reason why they fought but at least one is screwed. there are huge incentives to settle things peacefully. to negotiate and form agreements. to find ways of proceeding that all the major parts of society can live with. which is great. that's just what we want to find. today if people disagree with the government they can talk about it but if no one listens they can't do a damn thing -- they will just be forced to go along with it. these companies would be trying their best subject to huge incentives not to force each other, so that's much better. our government tries not to force citizens subject to tiny incentives and tiny accountability. we could have a better attitude towards government force that would improve matters a bit, but as it is many people approve of using force on their queer neighbors.

a lot of legal issues it doesn't matter if different courts disagree. for all contracts you can just write in the contract which court to use (and maybe backups in case they go out of business. or maybe the company itself could specify the backup when it goes out of business). this is good. it means courts with laws people find fairest will get the most business. courts with the best history of enforcing their laws fairly, clearly, understandably, etc will get the most business. i'm mixing up courts and law makers here. one possibility is they would be the same groups. they choose what laws they think are good and provide judges to make rulings according to those laws. but certainly the two jobs could be separated. a group of judges could make rulings according to whichever set of laws they were asked to. that'd work fine. and some law makers could publish what they think the laws should be for anyone to use without ever doing anything to enforce them.

one thing that will happen is a lot of laws won't be enforceable. that's good. if someone smokes pot what will happen? maybe some people want to prosecute them, but they of course have hired the services of an armed force that thinks pot smoking is fine. so now these two police forces have a dispute. if the pro-pot-smoking people want they can say: screw you. we aren't hurting anyone. leave us alone. or we'll fight. and then the law is not enforceable unless you want to fight over it. that's kind of a good thing. laws should only be to prevent force and fraud -- big important things worth fighting over b/c the crime itself is a kind of fighting already. if other laws weren't enforceable that'd just mean we had more freedom. but as nice as that'd be, i don't think that is what would happen. no one wants to resort to saying they'll fight. they'd much rather agree. so they will need to negotiate an agreeable way of dealing with the issue. so in general groups with extreme positions might both agree to let a more moderate party decide. or, anything. figuring this stuff out takes creativity. it's not obvious what the answer should be. but this scenario is better for finding the truth than what we have now, which is one big unaccountable monopoly that doesn't have to find agreement with anyone b/c we think it's legitimate for our government to just use force on anyone who disagrees with a law, even as stupid a law as banning smoking pot.

another reason people say we need government is to solve public good problems. this is a worse reason than the ones about law making and who gets to use force i've been talking about. in those cases there is a real problem, and it's a hard one, and our government does it better than anything else that has ever existed. and our government traditions are wiser than any single person. so it's pretty understandable people that people are very skeptical about changing these things. they should be. we need to be careful not to mess it up. but, as i've been saying, we can do better, we can make institutions that use less force and find more truth.

so, public goods are things that are hard to get people to pay for because people who don't pay would still benefit from having them around, like a umm public bridge that anyone can use, or a dam that controls floods for a whole valley (so if you live in the valley you get flood control whether you paid or not). there's a lot of detail I could go into. it's kinda tedious. for now let's just try ridicule. this isn't an invalid argument. anything that can be made fun of for having massive, stupid flaws isn't very good!

so that bridge. the only reason it's being made a public good is they won't put a toll booth on it to control who goes over it to make sure only people who paid can go. toll booths are pretty cheap relative to the price of a bridge.

and that valley? you can sell the name of the dam, and the schedule of how much flooding you allow when, and you can sell vacations to the lake you created and sell the water you gather. you can sell tours. there's stuff to sell. just cause you can't force everyone you claim you are helping to pay you as much as you feel like asking for doesn't mean the system is broken and we need government force. use some creativity to figure out a business plan that doesn't involve guns. and how do you know it should be built if no one wants to pay for it? maybe they won't pay because you are wasting money.

and you know what? all goods are public goods. partly. and they are also all private goods, partly (by which i mean: you can sell parts of them and only the buyer gets the benefit). like with the dam you have effects on the world that some people might benefit from but not pay for (a "public good" even if some people don't like it so it's sometimes a public bad that you want them to be forced to pay for) and you also have the stuff you can sell exclusively like the tours and name and schedule of flooding. the policy of how to use the thing built is an important issue that can always be sold. but consider some other goods, like a book. writing and selling a book gives everyone a very useful and free public good: the *option* to buy that book. that's a great option to have. it's free. people who won't pay for it get it anyway. so books are a public good. there are also things about books you can sell. you could sell what the title will be. you could sell an advertisement on one of the pages. you could sell which brand of soft drink the character in the story loves. and you can sell physical copies of the book, or electronic ones, and only the people who pay get those things. mixed public and private. everything is. take the sandwich store down the street. very useful. if i want a sandwich on short notice i can get one. that is a service they provide every day. i never have to worry about whether there will be quick food for me. there will be. that's a public good. if you think it isn't, imagine living somewhere with no food stores! even if you haven't eaten out for a year it's good to have the option in case you want to some day. it's worth something to live near them even if you haven't ever used one if your whole life yet. stores also let you walk in and get out of the rain. many you can stay there a while. oh no, a public good! who cares? they like you to come in. they are happy to help. if they said: oh no! government! come help! people are getting free rain protection and refuse to pay! tax them and give us some money! then they'd just be stupid.

*   *   *

I watched The Wedding Date. Spoilers will be included, but don't worry you're better off skipping this movie. She has to go to her sister's wedding which she doesn't want to. But it's a wedding so she has no choice. (Already we can see how enjoyable weddings are.) At the wedding they drink a lot. And they have to take dance lessons. Why would you schedule activities for your party you don't know how to do and don't want to learn how to do? (Maybe the bride liked the lessons, but pretty much no one else.) She hires a male escort to come pretend to be her boyfriend for $6000 out of her retirement plan. That's so she can face her family and they won't insult her life as much. They already are mean to her because her boyfriend of many years dumped her. (Doesn't make sense to me either.) They want her to get married, so having a boyfriend makes them happier.

As usual there are cold feet over the wedding. first the bride "isn't sure she can go through with it" but then decides to get drunk instead of thinking about it. then the groom reconsiders when she finally tells him (days before the wedding) who she had been sleeping with when they first got together. it's his best friend. the same one who dumped the main character who has the escort now. he gets mad and physically assaults the friend who is now his best man. then he uses the male escort as his new best man (the guy has been making friends with everyone). the groom also reconsidered getting married at the last minute over this but then decided to do it anyway.

meanwhile she (the main character again who has to go to this damn wedding) falls in love with her escort, and he with her. her falling in love makes a tiny bit of sense. he was pretty umm mature/stable like he stayed calm and was friendly to everyone and didn't fight with anyone. but like she didn't know him at all. she even said she didn't know him and asked for information about himself. he said his college degree, that he hates anchovies, and something else so boring i forgot. she was satisfied. people like to fall in love with "mysterious" people anyway, even though all that really means is you have no way to tell if this person is any good for marriage or parenting or living with every day or solving problems with. so he did well socially i could understand if she wanted to get to know him more, but not falling in love already. and the other way 'round? no clue. there was nothing appealing about her. she had a bad family life, got drunk and stupid, was unpleasant, never said a single interesting thing, never displayed skill of any sort.

he told her that if he was going to charge for sex he'd tell her in advance. she said she would never do that. then she got drunk and got lots of money from ATM for sex with him. but he didn't charge her. and she was too drunk to remember it. and then he got offended she'd gotten the money. by the way, if she's that drunk, isn't that a bad time to start their sex life? she's not in her right mind making good judgments.

after the money thing their next fight was because he didn't tell her when he found out her ex-boyfriend was into her about-to-be-married sister. she "trusted him" and felt betrayed. he left. then he came back and said he'd rather fight with her than love someone else, or something like that. well, that's good, because if they had two fights in a few days already then what's it going to be like after the initial infatuation wears of? personally i prefer not to fight.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)


I say this a lot: force is no way to find the truth. Only conjecture and criticism can. One reason I say it a lot is that people don't seem to get it. Parents force their kids over silly things like playing with fire. Teachers force students over studying. Governments force citizens over what projects to fund.

Maybe people don't realize there is a truth to be found for all these issues. Which projects are best to fund is a matter of truth. We want a true answer -- the best answer we can get. An answer that says it's the best, but turns out false, is no good to us. What the right ideas are in an academic field is a matter of truth too. It's not a matter of the teaching deciding. We want the truth not the teacher's opinion that might be false. And which things a student should study is also a matter for truth. We don't want a list that's completely false and will result in disaster. We want a list that has truth regarding the matter of what will work well -- will help the student. And with fire, we should want our kids to have true ideas about fire. That's what's safe -- just like adults are safe around matches because they have true ideas about the properties of matches and fire. But instead of helping child learn the truth, they just use force, and he doesn't learn. They claim it's for safety or something, but really their actions are not at all safe: how many fire-related child injuries are children going behind their parent's back because they are trying to follow their interest and their parent won't help them learn safely? Safety comes from knowledge of how to be safe, not from an ever vigilant parent trying to watch every choice child makes and overrule some -- that never works children will get some time to themselves.

A common mistake people might make when trying to stop using force is they want to meet their friend for a fun day at the park, and their friend declines, and then they say, "Wait, don't just force the answer to be no. Let's find the truth of whether you should go to the park." Actually that's fine so far, but if the friend says no again you better leave him alone or you are using force to make him discuss when he doesn't want to. Involuntary discussion is no way to find the truth he isn't going to come up with great ideas he'll just try to get rid of you. And your trying to force discussion on him is no way to find the truth about whether the discussion should be had or not. If he's not interested probably it's bad to discuss. Even if he's being dumb.

On the flip side, discussion park visits is a pretty good idea if you do it well. And by well I mostly mean briefly. The discussion can be only a few sentences each. You say in one sentence why you want to go or think it's a good idea with 1-2 reasons especially ones you think your friend will appreciate. Then he thinks a little and either agrees or says a criticism or those reasons or says a reason not to go. Then you stop and think for a bit if you didn't predict what he said. And you probably agree with him. If not you give a criticism of what he said or a new reason that now appears more important to say. Then he thinks a little and maybe agrees or replies. And so on. But every step of the way there is a good chance you stop and either agree or just be done with it if it looks like agreeing will be hard. If it's hard to agree about the park thing why bother? We have enough to deal with in our lives, like agreeing about things where it's harder to go our separate ways, or doing scientific research or paintings.

This park thing is a matter for truth, but not a very important one. A more important one is who should be President. This is never discussed as well as it could be. You never see the opposing candidates actually discuss like I outlined above with brief points and answers and come to agree on most of the issues. If they were being rational they could resolve a lot of this stuff. I'm not saying the truth is obvious at all. But even if they don't agree on the absolute truth, they can agree on: given our present knowledge, what is most reasonable to believe? But candidates never have to go through the reasons for their positions in detail and let themselves get "pinned down" in an argument. It's just not expected. Instead they both say talking points that appeal to different groups of people and hope they get more votes. That's not a great way to find the truth. Yes having more appeal is good, but it's not nearly as good as having a rational discussion with the other side. On the upside, in the scheme of things the *change* from one election to the next is the voters who changed their mind during the last 4 years, plus any changes in policies by either side, so the system as a whole is pretty rational.

Here are examples of rational conversations:

Joe: Want to go to the park?
Sue: Not especially.
Joe: We could play frisbee.
Sue: I'd rather watch Avatar at home.
Joe: Cool, can I watch too?
Sue: Sure.

Joe: Want to go to the park?
Sue: If we'll play frisbee.
Joe: No my wrist hurts we'd just walk the dog
Sue: Dogs are boring and the sun burns my skin.
Joe: OK, see you later.

Joe: Want to go to the park?
Sue: What for?
Joe: There's going to be a concert thing.
Sue: What's it like?
Joe: It's a bunch of trance bands I bet you'd like it, and it's free.
Sue: OK, sure.

Joe: Want to go to the park?
Sue: What, like a date?
Joe: No expectations, I just thought it might be fun and I'd like to get to know you more.
Sue: I don't know, what would we do there?
Joe: Play frisbee or taunt the plants. And talk.
Sue: OK, sure.

And here's some ruined by politeness:

Joe: Want to go to the park this afternoon?
Sue: I think I might have band practice then.
Joe: What about in the evening?
Sue: Oh! I promised David we'd work on our science project then.
Joe: What about tomorrow?
Sue: I think I'm pretty busy with homework.
Joe: Maybe some other time.
Sue: Yeah.
(Joe leaves with no idea if Sue wants to go or not. Our best guess is she doesn't want to go, even though she refused to say so and actually said *yes* to maybe another time.)

Joe: Want to go to the park this afternoon?
Sue: I don't know.
Joe: Let's do it. Come on!
Sue: I guess I don't see why not.
Joe: Good, I'll pick you up at 3pm.
(This could happen if Sue does not want to go but is being polite.)

In this next one Sue is at Joe's house and he wants her to leave so he can do some things alone.

Joe: Could you please leave, I'd like to do some stuff without you.
Sue: Well I can see I'm not wanted here. Why'd you even invite me over? Jeez. Fine I'll go. You don't have to be such a jerk about it.

To avoid that, Joe is more likely to say:

Joe: I have a thing I have to do in an hour, OK?
Sue: Sure, I'll leave then.

That's polite. Sigh. Doesn't figure out the truth of when is good to leave at all. Doesn't get what anyone wants. Sue isn't allowed to say anything even if she wants to stay or this might happen:

Joe: I have a thing I have to do in an hour, OK?
Sue: Well, I was hoping I could stay longer so we could watch Avatar on TV together at 8pm.
Joe: Oh, well I guess you can stay then.

Now Sue is staying even though Joe doesn't want her to because she dared give a reason but Joe is too polite to give one himself. The truth of whether she should stay isn't found and she runs a serious risk of Joe "dealing" with this problem by just not inviting her to visit again.

*   *   *

Here's another movie review for Just Like Heaven, also with spoilers (also there is one vague spoiler for Cruel Intentions). In this romance, she's a ghost and only he can see her. The magical thinking continues throughout and actually since there are already ghosts it's easier for them to get away with magical romantic "fate" stuff like she's a ghost because her unfinished business is him and she just happened to be getting set up on a first date with him the night she got hit by a car. By the way romance movies sell better with a happy ending, so actually she's in a coma and wakes up when he kisses her (funny, right? But people actually like this stuff and find it "sweet" or it wouldn't be in movies meant to have mass appeal.) Cruel Intentions has a sad ending. In the director commentary he said he got in the contract from the very start he wouldn't have to change the ending when it turned out that test audience would prefer a happier ending. So there really is a lot of pressure even to mess with the script to get happy romantic sweet endings, enough so you need a contract to protect you.

One cool thing about the movie is that he had rational reason to believe the ghost was real, and in fact he actually gave good evidence to other people. There was "stuff only she would know" style evidence that wasn't great but OK. But what was cool was she could see things and talk with him, so she was able to see behind someone's back and then he could repeat how many fingers were being held up and prove something weird was going on. He could do this with a blindfold on and it would actually work. He could have won the Randi Prize. He could have persuaded scientists. That would have made a much cooler plot. Instead he only persuaded his friend, but still that was a cool way for it to happen. Usually ghost movies no one bothers to look for ways to actually test if it's real. The friend suggested the idea actually: he's like "if you're telling the truth about this ghost, then she ought to be able to see behind my back". that's a good thing to say! and then he really could! still the most likely thing is a hidden camera and a big elaborate set up. but cool anyway.

Their relationship was way above average for a romance movie. They spend most of the movie going around together (cause only he can see her, so she's always with him) and they spend the whole time talking pretty much. they don't really talk about personal stuff or philosophical opinions much but they do get used to each other's company and have good reason to want to be around each other more and they both actually have character backgrounds so you can see how each helps the other. his wife died 2 years ago and he's been drinking beer on the couch since and when he's trying to find out what happened to her (at first they don't know she can't remember) he gets out of the house finally and the company helps him too so he gets out of his funk. and she was a doctor who worked 26 hour shifts and had no life apart from that and personally I respect that but she's glad to have a social life now.

in fact at one point she is planning to stay in the hospital with her body and him to go home, and they don't plan to see each other again. and he's hesitant to leave. and to me it's obvious: he's going to miss her. they've been talking all day for days straight and like each other. of course he doesn't want to give that up. but he doesn't figure out to say anything and they part. so in most movies they fall in love and i still can't see why they like each other at all. but here they actually realize they have a relationship *less* than I do, at one point. so that's great! not some crazy instant falling in love for no reason.

to add drama when she wakes up from the coma she forgets him. but he's really good about it and says he doesn't want to scare her and totally backs off and leaves her alone. but he does go make her the garden on her roof she wanted since she moved in (he's a landscape architect). that's nice of him. and he doesn't then get mad when it doesn't cause her to remember, or say she owes him a chance, or anything. actually he was slightly too passive I think. but they touch hands in parting or something and she remembered. I thought he should have said something like, "I know you don't remember, and I know this will sound magical, but when you were in that coma you came to me as a ghost and we fell in love. I know a lot about you, so if you give me a chance you'll be surprised. Can we try spending a little time together? You can also verify this story with your sister and with my friend." That'd be a weird thing to be told, but well it's a movie with ghosts, if we can look past the supernatural a bit it's perfectly reasonable otherwise and she has good reason to give him a chance. nothing to lose anyway.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)


One reason we might fail to agree (and thus fail to find a common preference) is because there is a conflict of interest. Both people getting what they want is incompatible; it's contradictory. This would be a problem with no good solution.

While conflicts of interest do exist in a very basic sense, there can still be solutions and agreement, at least sometimes. New resources can be created. Preferences can be changed.

To say that agreement is being prevented requires not just for a conflict of interest to exist at all, it requires something more comprehensive. The conflict-of-interest theory says there is no agreement to be found due to this conflict of interest. By implication there is no way to create new resources to get rid of the conflict. And there is no available possibility of people changing their preferences to no longer conflict and still being happy with the new preferences (if you aren't happy with your preference, it isn't *really* your preference).

This conflict-of-interest theory raises some questions. Why can some problems be solved (agreed upon) and not others? Which ones can't be agreed about and how do we identify those? And what really is preventing agreement? We know it isn't just the conflict of interest because that doesn't *always* prevent agreement, so there must be something more that is sometimes, but not always, present. Anyone seriously advocating for this conflict-of-interest theory of the impossibility of always finding agreement should have answers to all these questions.

There are plenty of other theories about what prevents agreement. If we reject the conflict of interest theory that does not force us to conclude there is always agreement to be found.

The conflict-of-interest theory initially seems pretty convincing when you look at examples. I want to eat this bowl of ice cream, and so do you, and we can't both have it. We can both have half, but then we won't get what we want, which is a full bowl. Ice cream is fungible (two bowls of ice cream, same brand, same temperature, same flavor, same size, same toppings, can be exchanged and it doesn't really matter. Like staples or paper clips are fungible you wouldn't care which one you used even if there are microscopic differences.) So in the context of a family trying to get along, ice cream shouldn't really cause trouble. Just go get some more. If you don't want ice cream enough to visit the store, then it's not really too big a deal who gets this bowl. But not all resources are fungible. Sometimes you can't go get more, and then the conflict-of-interest theory has more power. Also, some things are expensive enough that they might as well be unique for the average family. Many families can't afford an extra bathroom, or an extra plasma TV. And there are things with personal significance. You can buy a new dog, but it just isn't the same as the one who's gone on every family trip for five years. You can buy a new doll or blanket, but that might not feel the same either. And sometimes they stop making things and there's only a new version for sale. And many pieces of art are unique. So what if the family has a nice painting and two siblings both want to take it with them when they move out? And the parents might want to keep it as well? Now it seems plausible that maybe there is no agreement to be found without some sort of sacrifice or compromise where people don't really get what they want.

One way to solve these problems is to find something so much better everyone prefers that. Stop worrying about the painting and go to Disneyland. That is something that perhaps everyone will be happy with and honestly prefer. For a few days the painting problem is solved -- no one is being upset by leaving it where it is. And you could follow Disneyland with Hawaii, and then with a European vacation, and so on, and the problem could be solved indefinitely. This is very expensive, but it illustrates a type of possible solution: find some things you care about more and focus on those. It's important to recognize this is a *genuine* solution. They aren't sad, deep down, about not having the painting yet. This is no compromise. They'd really rather have these awesome vacations than have the painting now. So one thing this proves is that changes of preference are possible. Not because you have to, or any pressure, but because once you see this new option you really do want it more. That doesn't mean you can automatically solve the painting problem by offering something someone wants more. You can have $10,000 instead of the painting, OK? Well, I might like that more, but what I'd like *even more* is both! If I only get the money I'll still be wondering why can't I have the painting? I'll miss it. But with the vacations you could offer the person both and they would say: I don't care. I have no use for the painting until I get home, so it really doesn't matter to me. Probably leaving it at my parent's house is best until I get back. So they really do prefer to have the vacation and *not* have the painting (yet). They have found at least temporary, genuine agreement.

All agreements are temporary. People could always change their mind. I'm not saying you can go back on a contract on a whim, or that you will have any right to undo whatever you agreed to. But you might *want* to, and so if what we care about is people continuing to agree and be happy in a family then it does matter even if you have no legal right to change your mind. You might agree your sister can have the painting, and then five years later you decide you miss it and now you want it again. And now more problem solving is needed for both people to be happy with the result. It should be recognized there are good reasons not to change your mind five years later. Your sister has had it this whole time and has gotten used to it; it might be integrated into her life now. Her friends might be used to it. Her decorating scheme might depend on it. She might be far too busy to want to deal with finding a replacement; she might want that part of her life to remain stable. But on the other hand it's entirely possible a new agreement would now be better. Maybe she's tired of it and would easily agree you should have it. Then you'll both change your minds to this new agreement that you have it. And that, too, might only be temporary. Maybe five more years after that you'll give it back to your parents. If your sister said, "No you can't have it now because you agreed," that would not be rational. That isn't a way to find the truth of who should have it. If she wants it that's important. But your old preference that she can have it isn't important anymore because that is no longer your preference. Maybe you should change to have that preference again -- and maybe you will if she describes how much having this painting is making her life better and you think, "wow, I didn't know! I'd never want to take that much away from you!" -- but that will be a new preference based on the present, and you shouldn't be pressured into keeping your past preference. People make mistakes. And it might not have even been a mistake but maybe your situation changed so you want the painting more now.

Agreements being temporary is just like our theories being temporary. We don't promise to keep the same ideas in the future. Even if we think something is true we should hold that idea *tentatively*. People can make mistakes. One thing that means is you can never be completely certain. How could you justify your certainty if you know you might have made a mistake in your arguments or judgment? You can say being wrong is *unlikely* all you want, but if there is ever new evidence that suggests you might be wrong you need to be willing to reconsider.

So one way to find (temporary) agreement is to find an issue that trumps the one you disagree about. Find something more important. And focus on that. Solving the painting dispute with constant luxurious vacations isn't very practical. But this fundamental approach actually does work quite often. It's very good for solving very small problems. If you disagree about a bowl of ice cream then quite possibly that is not worth thinking about, and there are a hundred things you could think about instead that are more important and better. Sometimes couples fight about just exactly who said what, and what should he have said, and what did he mean, and lots of little details. In the scheme of things those aren't very important. They could probably both be a lot happier to drop it and discuss physics, or whatever their interests are. If that was suggested and they considered it, they could very well both prefer it. They might prefer to leave the "who said what" issue in a state of disagreement (they agree about what to do next, but not about the issue itself in some sense. that's the kind of agreement we need for people to go on with life and cooperate). If they both prefer to leave it alone now then they agree about what's important and the problem is solved, at least for now.

What else is there for resolving conflicts of interest? There's making new resources. Not just making them yourself, but finding them works too, or thinking of ways to get them. Anything that adds them to the possible solutions when they weren't there before. Maybe there is a second painting at your grandparent's house that you both like, and once you think of it you can agree to have one each. You might genuinely prefer that. You might think about it and realize your decorating scheme only needs one painting, and that either one will actually fit in really well, so you'll be happy with either one. You might also realize you'd prefer the second painting instead. (You might even both prefer the second painting once it's mentioned, and then start disagreeing about who gets that one. That this could happen proves again that genuine changes in preference are possible. No one is giving anything up in this case by asking for just the second painting. If they secretly, deep down, wanted the first painting, well all they have to do is ask and they'll have it, But they don't want it. They changed their mind.) You might prefer some posters if they were offered to you. They may not be as artistic, but they have cool dragons. Once you realize this is an option and consider it, you might like it better. Or for the ice cream problem you can go buy some more. Lots of problems are very easy to solve this way. They are so easy people don't even count them as problems, or as conflicts of interest. But if you both like a food and there is a limited amount that is a conflict of interest! It's just easy to solve by buying more. That doesn't mean it wasn't a real conflict of interest. What it means is most conflicts of interest are easy to solve. This should be encouraging.

What else is there? You can change your mind about what you want. Not because there is something new and better, or some more important issue, but just because you are persuaded you were looking at things incorrectly. Your sister could explain how important the painting is to her and then you might think it's best she have it. You might explain why you expected to get the painting for years, and your sister might see that was a reasonable expectation and decide she wants you to have it. You might believe the painting is worth a lot of money, but if you were corrected on the facts you might not want it anymore. Because you planned to sell it after a few years. Or because you planned to impress rich friends with it. The point is your plan of how to use it might not work if you learned a new fact. You might consult some home decorators and find out it actually won't fit in with the latest trend you were hoping to use and decide you don't really want it after all. And it isn't just factual theories you could have been mistaken or ignorant about. You could be persuaded of a moral theory. Maybe you want the painting to take it away from your parents, and you could be persuaded that is a bad way to live and you could come to think that you'd be better off not doing that. Another thing that could happen is you could gain some control over your emotions and perhaps learn how to get rid of an emotional attachment to the painting. This doesn't mean giving something up. Maybe the attachment is an inconvenience, and you're better off not wanting the painting (now you can put up those cool dragon posters), but you didn't know how to get rid of the attachment before. Or maybe some emotion is clouding your judgment and a bit of rational discussion can help you see more clearly.

There is also creating new options. New resources are actually useful because they allow new options. You don't have to prefer to get the painting, or not to get the painting. You can now prefer to get the other painting. You can prefer the new option of getting rid of your emotional attachment *and* not having the painting. That's a different option than only not having the painting and its a lot more appealing. Going on vacation and dealing with the painting later is also a new option. New options are where most solutions come from. Lots of them exist from the start by no one has thought of it yet. So just brainstorming some ideas of how else you could deal with the situation might think of something you both prefer and agree to. Why would you prefer it if you don't get the painting or whatever else? Because it has to be better in some way. Maybe you get the second painting and the joy of knowing how happy your sister is with the first one. Maybe you get to feel good about knowing the painting is being put to its best use, and you could not have that if you got the painting yourself.

What if none of this works? You think about it for a while and you don't have a solution you both prefer. Maybe theoretically there is one to be found eventually but you are getting tired of working on this and don't have all decade.

Then we should think about why it isn't working. The conflict-of-interest theory says it doesn't work because there is a conflict of interest. But is that really the problem? So many conflicts of interest were easy to solve. What is setting this apart and making it hard to solve? A special kind of conflict-of-interest theory? Maybe. But what kind? What are its properties? What causes it?

Another reason to fail to find agreement is irrationality. If you both refuse to use reason then of course you are never going to agree. Even if only one person is being irrational that can easily sabotage any agreement. That is a possible explanation that accounts for the continuing disagreement.

Why might we suspect irrationality? Isn't finding agreement hard? Even if conflicts of interest are possible to solve they might still be hard. And there may be other things which also make problems hard to solve, including having only a limited time (before the benefit of a solution isn't worth the effort), or a limited time before it's too late (the bowl of ice cream melts and then no one wants it), or just the difficulty of thinking of good ideas (which really is hard, and when you think of them is unpredictable and might not be soon).

Finding agreement about a philosophical issue, or even a fact, can often be hard. Understanding each other can be hard. Communicating can be hard. Cooperating can be hard. That's all true. But to agree about how to proceed with life does not require that you solve any particular problem, or agree about any particular thing, or learn any particular thing. You can specify all the unsolved problems and even disagreements you want and you can still agree about how to proceed.

You can disagree with your spouse about whether you were right not to tell her something, but still agree about what to do next time a similar situation comes up. That's not strange. It won't be the same situation again. This time you'll know more and you'll have talked about it first. You don't have to ever agree about who was right that one time to agree about what's best to do next time. And you don't need to know the perfectly true morality about telling each other stuff and privacy to agree. You can just share what you each know about the morality of the situation and come to a reasonable conclusion based on the current state of your knowledge. It may be a mistake, but it's the best you know how to do, so you can both agree to it.

There is always a reasonable thing to do given what you know, and even given both of your differing opinions. What should be done if one person thinks X, and one thinks Y, and they have to agree about issue Z? There is an answer to that question. And they can look for it. And they can look at it objectively without worrying about who thinks X and who thinks Y, just take those are premises and consider the whole situation. If they are being rational that shouldn't be any problem at all. There need be no fighting about X or Y no matter how much they disagree. Just establish they don't think they will persuade each other about those issues fast enough to be a good approach, then don't try to. Drop it. And decide what to do despite the disagreement. This can work even for what might appears to be a very major difference. Suppose I'm Christian and you are Jewish and we are discussing what religion to teach our kids. And we try to figure out which of us has the correct religion, but soon we give up on that and decide we'll have to disagree about that. Agreeing about how to proceed is still pretty easy. We can agree to teach our kids about both religions. Or neither. Or we can share with them information about both, and about other religions as well, and atheism, and let them make up their own minds. Or imagine you disagree about which religious holidays to celebrate. Well you might agree to just celebrate all of them from both your religions. And if you try that and find out it's too many holidays and you don't like it, then you might both be happy to pick some not to celebrate since you both see the problem of having too many.

If you are, overall, pretty similar people, then it shouldn't be too hard to come to some sort of agreement that takes into account what you disagree about. There's nothing stopping you. There is always an evenhanded perspective to approach the issue from. If you try that and find you disagree about something else, don't worry, just start over by saying: "imagine we disagree about the first thing, *and* this new second thing, then what would be a good way to approach it?" And you can do that for unlimited disagreements. Every time you get a fresh approach you have a good chance to agree if you are similar people. You'll both be looking at the same scenario and you'll both have (because, by premise, you are pretty similar people) a similar way of looking at it and similar sense of what's fair, so probably you can agree. If you agree most of the time, and you can create an infinite number of different ways to look at this problem and have a chance to agree on each of those, then it usually shouldn't take too many shifts in perspective to find an agreement.

On the other hand, if you are really different people it might not work out so well. It might. Different people often agree about some things. But you might find every time you shift your perspectives to both work on some new thing you look at it wildly differently and find lots of new disagreements and it might be hard even to understand just what the disagreements are. But it's *still* easy to agree! You can agree you shouldn't have kids together, and shouldn't marry, and perhaps shouldn't even be friends. See how extremely easy that was? You can agree you shouldn't put yourselves in any situations where there will be pressure to agree, and you can avoid them, and you can *agree* to take steps to get rid of any such situations you already got into. (By the way, of course, if you do agree about a narrow area, like physics, then it's fine to be in a situation where you need to agree only about physics, like working on the same research project. But do be careful, you will need to agree about slightly more than that like how to write up the results and which journal to publish in.)

But what if you marry someone and find out you hate them later, but already have kids and shared finances? Then you're stuck with a messy divorce! Life sucks. Lots of conflicts of interest about who gets the kids, the house, the dog, etc... Right? Well, that is a good example of irrationality being behind problems and failures to agree on how to proceed, isn't it? Some people divorce amicably. Others divorce hatefully and aren't thinking straight and aren't having rational discussions. And that makes all the difference.

So when it comes down to it, "go your separate ways" is pretty much always an option and if you have so much you disagree about it's best to take that option, you can *agree* to do so. That's the rational thing to do, isn't it? And you can look rationally at how to separate. You might both want that painting, and a list of other items. But you can both consider it this way: suppose two people have a real hard time agreeing about anything, but have to divvy up some stuff, what should they do? And part of the answer, which they can both see, is that they shouldn't expect some detailed discussion of exactly what is best to work well. Neither of them should expect what they consider the perfect outcome to happen. Because they can see the two ideas of the perfect, fair outcome are wildly different, and they both see there is no plausible way to change that, so they can both see the best thing that can happen, the most rational thing, is an outcome that is more simple. They can see there is no good way to satisfy very detailed, delicate preferences they each have, so it's best not to have those at all. And they can see they won't agree about what are good reasons to want items, so they don't need to try to understand each other's preferences very well. They could just auction the stuff off to themselves -- they each get one million points and bid on the items. They can agree to order the items for bidding by alternating picking an item to go next. They can agree to flip a coin to see who picks the first item to bid on. Why shouldn't they agree to that? What can they reasonably prefer? They might reasonably prefer to make lists of which things they most want and negotiate some other way, sure. The auction in particular might not be best. But they can't reasonably prefer to get just what they initially wanted. When they think about it objectively they see there is no good way to make that happen; it's not a rational way to approach the entire situation of two people who disagree to just do what one wants. Even if there is just one item they could just pay money for it. Whoever agrees to pay the other person more money gets it. Or flip a coin. There are plenty of options. There is no reason they can't agree. Unless they are irrational.

The same sort of theory about agreement between different people applies to agreement between different theories (think of it like portions of your personality) within one person. There is a lot of overlap. People's ideas can disagree. A new idea can resolve everything by being better than the others. Something being more important can create temporary agreement about what to do (if your house catches on fire then all sides of the debate about which type of new computer to buy will be happy with the plan of going down the fire escape). There are always shifts in perspective available: if sitting and thinking indefinitely is no good, then you can think: what should a person do who has 20 minutes left to think, then Z event happens, and meanwhile he isn't sure between the ideas X and Y? And there is some rational way to approach that and the answer doesn't have to involve resolving X and Y. And you can think about the answer without invoking the X and Y ideas -- those parts of your brain can be left out. So decide what is best to do and if you are rational then the X and Y theories in your head shouldn't mind being overruled, at least for now, like this. They should be theories that know they might be wrong, and know it's important to live in a truth seeking way and that means sometimes disagreements last a while because you don't know what's true. And if these parts of your personality are at all sane they'll realize you have other things to do so they won't mind being put on hold sometimes. And if you have other very important things they could be on hold for years. And you, your whole personality, can perfectly well agree to that. Unless you are irrational.

*   *   *

What is an irrationality? It is an area where you are unable to change your views according to criticism or improvements. Where you are stuck with a bad idea or way of thinking that you can't seem to get rid of. So any sort of problem solving, which relies on creating new ideas and finding new options and preferences that people prefer, is sabotaged.

If you have an irrationality or some other part of your personality you don't like then is looking at your past to see where it came from an important part of trying to fix it? No, rethinking events is not a critical part of fixing irrationalities. It is hard to tell what past event caused what facet of your present personality (especially events from your childhood). People are complex! And even if you could figure out the cause that would not automatically lead you to a solution. It could easily be no help at all. Sure now you know who to blame, but knowing who hurt you and how doesn't tell you how to live now, how to construct a fixed person out of yourself.

The idea of "facing" past trauma is also useless. It's true that denial prevents solutions. But acknowledging the problem and finding solutions for it is a different thing than "facing" it which is an unpleasant, scary affair.

Reliving what you think has gone wrong with your life is most often the sign of a victim mentality where you think of yourself as a damaged person, and obsess about your damage and blame people for it. That is not a good way to live. It may be someone else's fault originally, but what you need to do now is improve the life you have, and if you do not that is *your* fault. If you let your past disasters become part of your self-image that is especially bad; they should be kept at a distance because you are trying to get rid of them ("it's not really me! i swear! give me another month and I'll have killed it off").

Looking back is not entirely useless. Sometimes it can give you some ideas, perhaps by thinking about what you could have done differently. But if so it should be fun and interesting, not painful, and there should be no need especially to dwell.

*   *   *
perhaps belief in spirit is a leap of faith, but for some of us, believing that science and reason have all the answers is a similar leap of faith
This is bad thinking. The entire point of science and reason is they are not leaps of faith: they give reasons which they hope to persuade you with. They do not claim to have all the answers, although they may claim to be capable of finding all answers that are possible to find. But that's only because non-rational, magical thinking cannot find any answers! So reason is what's left, it's the only thing that finds any answers, so of course it finds all possible answers. But you don't even have to believe that. We don't care. The scientific theories we already have are not matters of faith. And we can improve on them. And that makes them a different and better sort of thing that religious faith.

Science is about how to not fool ourselves. Religion is extremely good for fooling ourselves.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)


There are a number of situations where convention prevents communication, pressures people into doing things they do not want to, and makes it too dangerous to even attempt problem solving (at least that involves the other people).

For example take politeness. The stakes are offending people if you are not polite, and being outcast from doing activities with them. Asking them their ideas about politeness itself and attempting to discuss bears exactly the same risk: being offending people and being outcast. If you don't like a particular thing expected of you, too bad. You can't expect sympathy. If you reveal your interest in acting contrary to politeness you'll be seen as dangerous to decorum and watched and held to an extra high standard. So you're pressured into acting politely to be safe, and reason never gets to play any role in the decision of how everyone should act.

This can happen even if everyone there hates politeness, because no one dares to say so. Few people dare to send off signals that they don't actually like expected decorum. If you do break a social convention then, even if everyone there agrees with you, the likely result is to be condemned. The reason is they still think everyone else prefers politeness, so they all have to ostracize you to avoid taking a risk themselves.

You might try to defend yourself. You might say, "I don't want to do that." At this point you can expect replies like, "So what? Everyone else has to." and, "What makes you so special?" Neither of those replies attempts to address what is the best way to act. They simply are thinking more like the status quo is good enough for everyone else and getting offended you'd imply it isn't good. Do you think you're better, or something horrid like that?

At a birthday party you are expected to bring presents. This is dumb. How should I know what he wants better than he does? And the presents are supposed to be surprises: you can't just ask what he wants you to get him. And you aren't allowed to bring money. Money is the best thing to give because it gives him the power to get what he wants. But convention hates it. You were supposed to think about what he would want and get a "personal" gift. If everyone gives each other money on their birthdays, the total result is everyone ends up with the same amount of money. If you have a group of 8 friends you give money 7 days a year, but one day a year you get money from 7 people. The whole thing is pointless. When it's not money, the total result is you pay money and end up with the things people got you -- mostly stuff you wouldn't have got yourself. So you end up spending your money and receive not what you really wanted. And the same happens to everyone else. What a waste! People should just (optionally) ask for some money from guests to cover the cost of the party, and that should be that.

By the way, gift certificates are good because they allow people some amount of choice of what to get. But they are also considered poor gifts for being too much like money. The whole way of deciding what gifts are best is how little choice they give to the receiver.

Getting lots of new things on one day isn't a very good idea in the first place. It makes for an unstable, inconsistent life. What we should be aiming to do is have a good life every day, with maintainable long term policies. One policy should be to buy new things when there is one that's important to us and we have enough money. To get 8 things on one day -- well they didn't all come out yesterday. Some you wanted a month ago, or longer. But you waited. That's bad to delay this great new thing that could help make your life better. And getting them all at once means you can't start using them all at once. It messes up your schedule. If we pretend they are all good gifts (maybe you told your friends what to buy you) then they are all things you'd be like, "yay! i'm gonna use this right away! i'm so excited!" but now 7 of them have to wait so your scheduling is messed up.

Besides gifts you might be expected to bring, say, food, to a social event. Everyone brings one dish. It's "fair". But it doesn't make any sense. Now all 8 people have to make trips to the grocery store, when it could have been one person buying everything at once. And some of the 8 people don't like cooking, or don't like dealing with what food to bring. And convention scoffs at that. It's really not nice. Everyone else did, you should too. If you say you don't want to, people think you are self-centered. If you offer money people will wonder why you are going to such great lengths as to offer actual money just to avoid doing "your part". (The only reason you would actually offer money is you are *not* self-centered: you're happy to contribute. You just don't want to do the particular task asked of you.) And that's weird because offering money isn't going to great lengths. You are asked to go to some amount of effort, and you consider giving money *less* effort.

If you question or criticize any of this stuff people think you are trying to get out of doing it, so others have to do the work for you. They view it as bad work that should be divided so everyone suffers equally. They don't imagine there is a positive solution where everyone is happy. They just accept there is some amount of pain required and any attempt to find a solution for yourself that doesn't hurt is just trying to cheat everyone else.

A similar sort of thing is illustrated by the game Truth or Dare. People establish arbitrary rules then force everyone in the group to follow them. You have to agree to it or you are excluded. You are pressured to agree. During the game if someone doesn't want to answer something, no one is sympathetic. You don't want to be hurt? Too bad. That's how the game works. Everyone else has to do it too. (It's totally irrelevant that other people have to. If they are being hurt that is no reason you should be too. And if they are, they also should try not to be.) Truth or Dare also destroys privacy, by the way. Nasty game. And you are expected to try to destroy as much privacy as possible and hurt people as much as possible by finding the questions they most don't want to answer, and daring them things they most don't want to do (but just mild and reasonable enough they can't refuse).

Dating has a lot of ways of suppressing communication. Like when you ask a girl out you are supposed to decide where to go. You do this with confidence and self-assuredness. You do not do this through discussion with her of where would be nice. If you say you don't know where you want to take her, you seem like not much of a man, shy and embarrassed, don't know what you want, that kind of thing.

At the end of the date you can't ask if the other person wants to kiss, or have sex. That's taboo. That "ruins the mood", surprises people, and lowers the chance of doing either. You have to figure it out without explicit communication. And also after a certain number of dates you have to have sex -- there is a lot of pressure to. If you don't, the relationship is "not going anywhere" so what's the point? Which reminds me there is always this pressure in romantic relationships to have progress, which sounds good, but what it means is to move towards getting married, and you have to get married by the end of about 2 years or a lot of advice says you never will and you quite possibly break up, quite possibly over the issue of marriage. "If you won't commit to be with me forever and ever, right now, because we're so perfect for each other, then I never want to see you again, it's completely over."

If you want to kiss and she doesn't, that isn't a matter for problem solving. Discussion will be interpreted as pressure. Asking why she doesn't want to and saying reasons you do is trying to force your want in to her pants. You aren't supposed to discuss, criticize, and agree. You just go on a few more dates and see if she changes her mind, and if not stop wasting money on her meals and dump her. (Buying meals for your date is a dumb custom. And yes I know I often write from a male perspective. Writing a gender neutral version is more effort, and for what benefit? Female readers should learn to be able to think about it from both perspectives. It's a good skill.)

During sex people are often too scared/embarrassed to say what they want (other person might very well tell people later, especially after you break up). So they do whatever's normal to protect themselves. Instead of trying to do what they actually want to. Which prevents learning and is part of why people stay so obsessed with sex throughout their lives -- they *still* haven't had much time, even when old, to actually do it freely without feeling pressured and to try whatever they want to. Also the girl (usually, much more pressure on her to be chaste, not slutty, shy, resistant, etc) will abort if you want anything unusual, so if you don't suppress any unusual ideas you are risking having sex at all (possibly even the whole relationship). You might be thinking: ewww, what sort of gross, "unusual" stuff does he mean? But look, the usual thing is narrow and limited, it'd be weird if people didn't have some other ideas about what might be nice (even if most of those are bad they still would like to try it and find out). Any time there is freedom of thought there will be unusual ideas.

At funerals you have to be sad. You can't bring a book of jokes and spend a lot of the time laughing, even if they are really funny. People will get mad. And God forbid you argue this point. Giving reasons it's OK to be happy not somber is "disrespecting the dead". Arguing with that is disrespecting the dead more. Criticizing that is also disrespecting the dead. There's just no way out of it. Respecting the dead means following the convention whether you want to or not, and whether it's fun and enjoyable or not (it isn't). Also funerals waste a lot of money. So do coffins or urns. Why seal away a dead body? It's dead. Who cares? The whole thing reeks of superstition. Oh and if you just stay home that's disrespectful too. If he was your friend you are expected to go. People will hold it against you for years if you'd rather go to your frisbee game or World of Warcraft raid.

Weddings are perhaps worse. You know that part where everyone is asked if they know any reasons these people should not be wed? That's a lie. A dirty lie. It's a trap. They just want to pretend they are doing the right thing. But if you actually say any reasons (and it's easy to think of lots) then everyone will gasp in shock and turn to you angrily. You will have disrespected the whole wedding. You won't be invited to the next one (when they remarry other people after their divorce -- what? it's common.) Everyone will be really offended. Certainly they won't actually discuss your reasons. The only things you can say there are like, "he cheated on her" or "he's a Russian spy". You can't say, "marriage is a bad idea because...". And you can't say that any other time either. People don't want to hear it. Especially not the girl you're dating. She's the person in the world you have the most reason to want to discuss that with and come to agree, and you both have good reason to want to find the truth, yet she really won't want to hear it, she'll be angry you got this far and might not even want to marry her, and the sort of generic response people might give is "I want it, it feels right for me, it makes me happy" or something kind of like that, so if you question it people will say stuff like "fine, don't get married" but if your girlfriend is saying that she'll be pissed that you don't feel the same as her about marriage like she expected. and this whole thing misses the point: what feels right to you does not determine what is true or best.

Political correctness consists in part of a bunch of things you can't say. Like it's hard to say that scientific research shows black people have lower IQs than white people. never mind whether it's true, saying so will get you shouted down as a racist.

In general, like with a group of friends, raising any kind of issue you'd like to improve or do something better is seen as causing a fuss. People are scared of problems so they want you to just go along with whatever is happening. they think that is easiest and having to think about what's best is hard and it's a lot of trouble. and whoever brings it up is blamed, even if they just point out a fact of reality. couldn't you just let it go?

Imagine there is a cake being split between 8 friends. They will probably cut it into 8 pieces. If you say, "I'd like a larger piece" that is just not done. They will say they would too, implying you should keep your desires to yourself like they have. They will think you are trying to take their cake, and deny them what they want, because that's the only possible way you'll get more. they won't see a problem that can be solved in a good way, they'll just see greed and be offended. and the result is you don't say you'd like more. and that means even if 2 or 3 people there would be happy to have a smaller piece because they don't really like it, you won't be able to have that cake from them, even though it'd be better, because you aren't allowed to ask. it's true people are allowed to give up their cake and offer it to everyone else, but they might be more happy to do that, or even be reminded to think about it, if they knew you really wanted more.

Often people offer you things, especially the host. They don't necessarily want to get it for you or give it to you. They might just feel compelled to offer and hope you'll decline. This is very unfortunate because you can't tell if it's OK to accept or not. If you really don't want to cause people to do things they don't want to, you have to always decline. So you never get to have these things even if you'd kinda of like it and the host would actually love to get it that time, because you don't know. Trying to communicate to find out the truth does not work. They will insist over and over it's no trouble at all and completely hide whether it is or not. It's expected. And you, by the way, are generally supposed to decline once or twice to "prove" you are considerate, before you accept. But be careful declining twice, the host might not offer a third time, and it's very awkward to then ask for it. How engaging in a fixed, well-known, ritual can prove anything about you is a mystery. But it's a common phenomenon. Opening doors for girls proves you are a nice guy. There's lots of stuff like that where you do an expected behavior, like buy her flowers, and this supposedly says something about your personality. And that something isn't: you're conventional. Somehow choices at thoughtless as getting her flowers (it takes no thought because it's so well known) are considered really really thoughtful. Actually I can sort of see how it makes sense. You see, a virtuous man is one with a voice in his head constantly ordering him to do what is expected of him. So, good men have to get flowers or they feel bad. So when she gets flowers she knows he is obedient to convention and is reassured.

Guys looking at babes on the street is another place where communication is suppressed. You all say they are hot. If you don't people call you gay. They are just joking. For now. But you better give in. If you persist, they'll get more serious and more mean. This is part of how people come to have the standard sexual preferences. They act as if they did due to pressure, and eventually they get used to acting that way and thinking that way and can't imagine anything else. This can happen even if they don't really like it at first, and don't see how it makes sense.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)


The Golden Age trilogy by John C Wright is excellent science fiction. Also good are the books by Greg Egan. Both authors think about what the future could be like and put interesting technology like virtual reality and nano-tech into their books. They both consider the problems of space colonization over long distances -- even once you get there communication between colonies takes a long time at light speed. They both consider putting human minds into computers instead of flesh bodies, and moral and legal issues with cloning. They both have somewhat libertarian attitudes.

One thing that makes these books especially interesting to read is to see which issues they fall into parochial misconceptions on. And on which they see something that is hard to see and weird today. For example, both authors retain roughly the modern concept of exclusive one-to-one long term marriage (even including personal fighting). But on the other hand they can imagine a world where wanting to have a physical body is just a vestige of the past, or where people converse in different languages automatically translated in real time.

One of the issues of particular interest to me is creating copies of minds. At first glance I love the idea. I could play chess against myself. That'd be awesome. Or better, I could play team games except my whole team is copies of me. We'd be so organized and coordinated. It'd let me really test out how good my strategies are.

Egan and Wright describe characters who think copying is a serious moral issue. And they have a point. At the least it's like being a parent. You are creating a new person -- a new mind. You are responsible for helping that person get started in the world and become independent. Since a copy is already an adult (doesn't need any advice or education) that might just mean giving him enough wealth to adjust to his situation (he is used to having your life and your means of income, but for most situations he'll need to find his own, at least new work doing the same tasks) and finds his place in the world.

But they take things further. Their characters have a strong distaste for copying themselves. They want immortality, so they make *inactive* copies and store them, and only wake them up if they die. They don't want two copies to run at once. They only make exceptions for rare circumstances, like sending copies to many distant planets might qualify. But even so, one of Egan's characters in Diaspora left instructions that once one of her copies arrived at a planet with life, no more should be woken up at other locations. And some people erased their Earth-copy when going to other planets, or later committed suicide once the planet expedition was a success. And another issue is one of the ships was destroyed en route (hit space debris) and people considered this a tragedy -- the 92 awake people were killed. The rest who were inactive though felt validated in their choice not to be awake -- they avoided death.

This way of thinking is wrong.

The important thing -- what people are -- is knowledge. Spreading knowledge is good. That's what we are doing when we tell parenting ideas to new people. And that's what we are doing when we build new computers -- we are putting more knowledge into more places. Having one blueprint in one place isn't good enough. It's important to spread knowledge -- copy it even -- into many locations. This makes more areas of the universe good places -- places that create knowledge, or places at least that aid knowledge creating entities. More computers embodies more knowledge -- it doesn't matter that it's a copy. It's good. Now more people can use it. More planets can have computers if we build more. More locations. More space stations. And it's just the same with minds: having more minds thinking makes the universe a better place, and it makes their particular locations better places. Being a copy isn't a waste at all. Even if you didn't diverge and have different ideas than the original, a copy means more people can have conversations with you/your-knowledge. That's great!

And this fear of death? If the knowledge is destroyed that's equally bad whether you were awake or not. This whole idea of sleeping through long flights is completely wasteful -- completely inhumane. It's horrible to have all these people pretending like they are in comas when they could be alive and awake and thinking. It's like they don't think life is worth living unless they have a planet to play with. Why not spend the time thinking? (And simulating virtual reality worlds -- you can have whatever kind of life you want, all by yourself -- except not by yourself because you can put people into your world -- your children -- but not children in the normal sense, you can make fully formed adult friends, just they are your responsibility). The only bad part of death besides the knowledge destruction -- including the prevention of completion of goals it had (which btw is prevented by not letting it wake up) -- is the suffering. But when you're going near light speed, even a human body wouldn't suffer from a collision -- completely obliterated far too fast to feel pain. And these minds in computers don't have pain nerves anyway. The only way they might suffer is if they got advanced warning of their death and that distressed them. But if that's even possible, and wouldn't allow for dodging the obstacle or solving the problem, then one could still choose not to hear about it. You don't have to watch where you're going. If you choose to be notified about impending death, and you are distressed by it, that's not rational. If you want to know you should be glad to have found out -- it doesn't make sense to want to be notified by then treat the notification as anything other than a gift -- a miracle of science -- you get to know in advance like you wanted, your preferences are more satisfied. It's good. If you don't like knowing then you should be happy not to find out. You might also say you want to know but you're suffering because you got unlucky with having an obstacle in your ship's way. But that's not rational either -- there is no reason to feel bad about luck. You didn't choose wrongly.

There is also confusion about identity. If I copy myself, who is me? And I think this is why, really, people don't like the idea of their copies being destroyed en-route *while awake*. They have very bad ideas about consciousness (the conventional ideas are just plain magical thinking). They see being awake and conscious as critical, and this person as them, and they find the idea a bit like dying themselves. This is absurd. Putting it to sleep is nothing but a disservice that prevents it from thinking. And it's not you in the same way two copies of a book are distinct. It just has the same knowledge as you. Which is destroyed whether it's awake or not.

The whole way of thinking about identity and "me" is bad. Just don't worry about it. If you copy your mind now there is this same knowledge in two places. (And it will become different over time, but no matter, that's just a natural consequence of creating new ideas and changing unpredictably.) So what? There isn't one that's "really" you -- it's the same knowledge. That's the whole point. It's like giving special status to the first book off the printing press for being the "original".

And you know there's a zillion copies of you and your mind already in the multiverse (see The Fabric of Reality). Knowledge is a multiversal structure. Knowledge can be the same over more universes because there is a reason it is that way -- it's not arbitrary. So you get larger structures across the multiverse. People are a major one. Vast regions of the multiverse -- vast numbers of "parallel universes" have very nearly or exactly the same *you*. Because your mind is a matter of knowledge and that gives it stability. If a conclusion is a matter of logic you are going to reach it in most universes so you end up the same in a lot of places. So, lots of copies of "you". Get used to it. What's one more? This one you can meet and talk with. But so what? More of you is good. It means more knowledge in the multiverse. Simple.

Whatever "consciousness" or "self awareness" or also "qualia" is doesn't really matter to any of this. I'm sure it matters for *something* but not to these fundamental issues. It's just a detail -- a property of certain knowledge. The important thing is still that copy yourself is like making more copies of OS X and spreading them around -- a good thing. As long as they can all find happy places in the world -- as long as you take on the responsibility of a parent -- then it's all good. The important thing to think about is in terms of knowledge.

Why is killing a cat not bad? Because it didn't have any important knowledge in it. It did have knowledge, but nothing important or useful. And easy to reproduce. Exact same logic as destroying a stapler. It has knowledge. Destroying them for no reason is a bit of a waste (but a small waste, of miniscule importance beside human preferences). But we can create more staplers no problem, and more cats. The knowledge in them is fungible.

If you destroy a *unique* person that's really bad. They can't be recreated. Knowledge is gone and will have to be completely reinvented. We don't have to think about consciousness or anything like that. If they are asleep it's the same.

And this way of thinking works with a fetus too. A fetus has no unique knowledge, so it's not important. End of story.

Once people have copies, destroying one won't be murder. It will be like destroying a stapler, except that people are more complex and have more knowledge. So it will be more like destroying billions of dollars of information. Except that copying data will be cheap so it might just be a small hassle to recreate it. It's still billions of today's dollars of information, it's just that stuff will be so cheap in the future that a billion dollars of wealth today won't matter at all. The exception will be if the copy diverged from the backup -- if it has new, unique knowledge. Also you will put the person out of action while they are restored -- a bit like forcing them to take a nap. That's bad but it's not murder. (Yes, parents shouldn't do that to their kids. Ever.) If they have some unique knowledge not yet backed up and you destroy it that's bad too -- quite unfortunate -- but it's not murder. Murder is killing a person-sized amount of knowledge. You've destroyed something a lot smaller -- like murdering a couple of someone's ideas. Bad but smaller. Such things happen by accident all the time today -- people get hit on the head and forget an idea. And sometimes it's someone else's fault -- he hit a tennis ball at you by mistake when you weren't looking -- and we don't prosecute him for murder, nor even for the few ideas/neurons he knocked out of our head. We just try to be more careful next time.

Relating to marriage as mentioned earlier, one character had a break up with his partner of many years. He doesn't know why, though, because she asked him to delete his memories of her. Now he only remembers that she made that request and he agreed. That's horrible! That's killing knowledge. It's destroying part of himself. And his "loved one" wanted him to be hurt in this way. His loved one wanted all the good times they had, when they helped each other, to be destroyed. And he agreed to it -- how messed up his he? She has no right! Doesn't she have no right? How much autonomy did he voluntarily give up?

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)