Objectivism, Certainty, Peikoff, More

This is lightly edited from 2013 emails I wrote to FI list. I was talking about Peikoff's Objective Communication audio lectures.

First Email

Ayn Rand (AR) advocates fallibilism. In a serious, substantive way, in print.

So far from Leonard Peikoff, I've heard a lot of stuff that sounds potentially incompatible with fallibilism, such as advocating certainty, with no effort made to explain how he means something compatible with fallibilism.

I've heard him dismiss some fallibilist arguments, which are true, as ridiculously stupid, without argument.

I've heard him define skepticism as a denial that certainty is possible. Then talk about it as a denial that knowledge is possible. The unstated and unargued premise is that knowledge requires certainty (he didn't mention Justified True Belief, but is that what he has in mind?). How that premise is compatible with fallibilism, he has not informed me.

I have not heard him advocate fallibilism like Rand has.

In addition to certainty, Peikoff has said perfection is possible. He clarified that he meant contextual perfection. Perhaps he also thinks that only contextual certainty is possible. I think this is a misuse of words. He hasn't explained why it isn't. And he keeps talking about "certainty" without any mention of "contextual certainty". If he means something rather different than a typical infallibilist meaning, shouldn't he be clear about it?

Further, when he attacks skeptics for rejecting certainty, it's unclear that those skeptics are all rejecting "contextual certainty" (if that is what he actually means but doesn't say). There are skeptics who (correctly) refute non-contextual certainty (which is infallibilism). If a skeptic refutes non-contextual certainty, and an anti-skeptic like Peikoff advocates contextual certainty, then they haven't necessarily contradicted each other. Peikoff talks about these subjects but doesn't deal with points like this. But he doesn't just omit stuff; he seems to be contradicting points like this -- and therefore be mistaken -- and he fails to explain how he isn't mistaken.

Peikoff focusses his attacks on the worst kinds of skeptics and acts like he has criticized the entire category of all skepticism. He doesn't mention or discuss that there are different types of skeptics (e.g. rejecting all knowledge, or just rejecting non-contextual certainty. He seems to lump fallibilists in with skeptics, though I have no doubt he wouldn't want to lump AR in with skeptics, so his position isn't explained well.)

If you want to exclude people like myself and Karl Popper (and AR) from being skeptics, fine. But then you can't just define skepticism as rejecting certainty! Unless you add a bunch of clarifications and qualifications about what you mean, Popper absolutely does reject certainty! (As do I.) You'd also have to stop presenting it as skeptics and non-skeptics, only two categories, since Popper and Peikoff would be non-skeptics with major differences in views. (I don't normally present it as skeptics and non-skeptics, but Peikoff did.)


These comments above are from his Objective Communication lectures. Epistemology is not the primary topic, but he keeps talking about it. (He's also talked about induction and empiricism a number of times. That material is also problematic.)

I've never seen AR do it like Peikoff. Whenever she talks about these things I have a tiny fraction of the objections. But when it's Peikoff (or Binswanger or I think many other Objectivists) then I see lots of problems.


On another note, Peikoff's comments about how awful school is are worthwhile. They are directed especially at grad school and university. He talks about how much it trashed his mind (despite his best efforts not to let it do that), and how dangerous it is and hard to stay rational, and how much time and effort it took to recover.

In a way, it excuses his other mistakes. He actually read some stuff from a paper he wrote in grad school. He's improved a lot since then!! So that's great. One can respect how far he's come and perhaps sympathize a bit with some of his mistakes.

I for one have the advantage of avoiding a lot of the tortures Peikoff endured at school. It really helps. Yeah, sure, K-12 sucked but I never took it seriously after around 6th grade or maybe earlier. It's so much worse and harder if you take it seriously.

(But I fear he wouldn't appreciate this perspective much. I fear he'd say he's super awesome now and not making mistakes, and I'm wrong about epistemology -- but without wishing to debate it to a conclusion in a serious way, as I am willing to do. If he rejects the attitudes and role of a learner still making progress, then it becomes hard to sympathize with errors. If he also isn't open to answering criticisms, then it's even worse.)


How few philosophers Objectivists find to appreciate is one of the worrisome things that does apply to AR herself (I learned from AR, Popper, Goldratt and others. Peikoff doesn't seem to have gotten much value from people besides AR). Like it's a problem with Peikoff but also with AR. She was aware of Mises and Szasz. But she missed Popper, Burke, Godwin and Feynman, for example. Is there any excuse for that? Godwin is obscure but Szasz was aware of him! Mises was aware of Godwin too, but Mises read a translation and totally got the wrong idea. Szasz and Mises were also aware of Burke. I'm not sure how much Mises knew about Burke, but Szasz had a good understanding. Szasz also knew a lot about Popper, and had some familiarity with Feynman. So if Szasz can find all these philosophers, and learn from them, what is AR's excuse?

And of course I can and did find and study Godwin and others too. I sought out good philosophy with some success. It's not trivial to find, but it's worth the effort.

Second Email

Peikoff's on-topic comments about Objective Communication continue to be good. No monumental breakthrough, but lots of solid points explained well.

Peikoff said certainty is conclusiveness.

If we figure he meant contextual conclusiveness (if he didn't, that's worse!), that's Popper-compatible. Popperians reach what they call "tentative" conclusions which means that they are the current conclusion but could need to be reevaluated if the context changes (e.g. something new is thought of).

But can something called "tentativity" really be what Peikoff has in mind for "certainty"? I don't think so. If you listen to how he talks about it, and his examples, they do not fit this interpretation of the definition. But he doesn't clarify the correct definition or the way to interpret this one.

No comments are made about how his definition is compatible with this other thing he doesn't mean, or what's wrong with this thing. He doesn't address it. I don't think he's thought of it.

Long story short, what's going on is Peikoff is mistaken about the topic so his comments come off confused from the perspective of someone who already understands what he's missing.

Peikoff is targeting his comments against ideas much worse than his own. He's defeating what he sees as his (awful, pathetic) rivals. But why hasn't he engaged with any better rivals?

I don't think it's pure ignorance. For one thing, that would not be excusable: he should have checked for the existence of some better ideas.

But also, Peikoff knows (and endorses) Binswanger, and Binswanger knows of Popper. Binswanger's attitude to Popper is a combination of extreme ignorance and extreme venom (with extras features such as misquoting Popper and then not caring or correcting it). Some other Objectivists also know of Popper but reject him without rational, well-informed arguments or an adequate understanding of his ideas.

I suppose I should look these issues up in OPAR. But he's supposed to be talking to an audience with merely some knowledge of Objectivism. So if you've read everything AR says about this, that ought to be (more than) enough. His comments weren't meant only for audiences that have read OPAR.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Rand, Popper and Fallibility

I wrote this at an Objectivist forum in 2013.


http://rebirthofreason.com/Forum/Dissent/0261.shtml

Popper is by no means perfect. The important thing is the best interpretations (that we can think of) of his best ideas. The comment below about "animals" is a good example. I do not agree with his attitude to animals in general, and I'm uncomfortable with this statement. However, everything he said about animals (not much) can be removed from his epistemology without damaging the important parts.

Popper made some bad statements about epistemology, and some worse ones about politics. I don't think this should get in the way of learning from him. That said, I agree with Popper's main points below.

1) Can you show if Popper ever fully realized that the falsification of a universal positive proposition is a necessary truth? In other words, if a black swan is found, then the proposition "All swans are white" is falsified, but more than that, it is absolutely falsified (which is a form of absolute knowledge/absolute certainty)? Even if you can't, please discuss.

No, Popper denied this. The claim that we have found a black swan is fallible, as is our understanding of its implications.

Fallibility is not a problem in general. We can act on, live with, and use fallible knowledge. However, it does start to contradict you a lot when you start saying things like "absolute certainty".

Rand isn't fully clear about this. Atlas Shrugged:

"Do not say that you're afraid to trust your mind because you know so little. Are you safer in surrendering to mystics and discarding the little that you know? Live and act within the limit of your knowledge and keep expanding it to the limit of your life. Redeem your mind from the hockshops of authority. Accept the fact that you are not omniscient, but playing a zombie will not give you omniscience—that your mind is fallible, but becoming mindless will not make you infallible—that an error made on your own is safer than ten truths accepted on faith, because the first leaves you the means to correct it, but the second destroys your capacity to distinguish truth from error. In place of your dream of an omniscient automaton, accept the fact that any knowledge man acquires is acquired by his own will and effort, and that that is his distinction in the universe, that is his nature, his morality, his glory.

"Discard that unlimited license to evil which consists of claiming that man is imperfect. By what standard do you damn him when you claim it? Accept the fact that in the realm of morality nothing less than perfection will do. But perfection is not to be gauged by mystic commandments to practice the impossible [...]

Here Rand accepts fallibility and only rejects misuses like claiming man is "imperfect" to license evil. Man's imperfection is not an excuse for any evil -- agreed.

Rand has just acknowledged that man and his ideas and achievements are fallible. But then she decides to demand moral "perfection". Which must mean some sort of contextual, achievable perfection -- not the sort of infallible, omniscient perfection Popper rejects and Rand acknowledges as impossible.

It's the same when Rand talks about "certainty" which is really "contextual certainty" which is open to criticism, arguments, improvement, changing our mind, etc... (Only in new contexts, but every time anyone thinks of anything, or any time passed, then the context has changed at least a little. So the new context requirement doesn't cause trouble.)

2) Can you offer something to redeem Popper of seemingly damning quotes such as:

In so far as a scientific statement speaks about reality, it must be falsifiable: and in so far as it is not falsifiable, it does not speak about reality.
... which preemptively denies the possibility of axiomatic concepts (i.e., the possibility of statements that speak about reality, but are not, themselves, falsifiable).

Any statement which speaks about reality is potentially falsifiable (open to the possibility of criticism using empirical evidence) because, if it speaks about reality, then it runs the risk of being contradicted by reality.

Popper does deny axiomatic concepts, meaning infallible statements. Statements that you couldn't even try to argue with, potentially criticize, question, or improve on. All ideas should be open to the possibility of critical questioning and progress.

There is a big difference between open to refutation and refuted. What's wrong with keeping things open to the potential that, if someone has a new idea, we could learn better in the future?

"If realism is true, if we are animals trying to adjust ourselves to our environment, then our knowledge can be only the trial-and-error affair which I have depicted. If realism is true, our belief in the reality of the world, and in physical laws, cannot be demonstrable, or shown to be certain or 'reasonable' by any valid reasoning. In other words, if realism is right, we cannot expect or hope to have more than conjectural knowledge."
... which preemptively denies the possibility of arriving at a necessary truth about the world.

Conjectural knowledge (or trial-and-error knowledge) is Popper's term for fallible knowledge. It's objective, effective, connected to reality, etc, but not infallible. We improve it by identifying and correcting errors, so our knowledge makes progress.

We cannot establish our ideas are infallibly correct, or even that they are good or reasonable. Such claims (that some idea is good) never have authority. Rather, we accept them as long as we don't find any errors with them.

I think this is different than Objectivism, but correct. Well, sort of different. The following passage in ITOE could be read as something kind of like a defense of this Popperian position (and I think that is the correct reading).

One of Rand's themes here, in my words, is that fallibility doesn't invalidate knowledge.

The extent of today’s confusion about the nature of man’s conceptual faculty, is eloquently demonstrated by the following : it is precisely the “open-end” character of concepts, the essence of their cognitive function, that modern philosophers cite in their attempts to demonstrate that concepts have no cognitive validity. “When can we claim that we know what a concept stands for?” they clamor—and offer, as an example of man’s predicament, the fact that one may believe all swans to be white, then discover the existence of a black swan and thus find one’s concept invalidated.

This view implies the unadmitted presupposition that concepts are not a cognitive device of man’s type of consciousness, but a repository of closed, out-of-context omniscience —and that concepts refer, not to the existents of the external world, but to the frozen, arrested state of knowledge inside any given consciousness at any given moment. On such a premise, every advance of knowledge is a setback, a demonstration of man’s ignorance. For example, the savages knew that man possesses a head, a torso, two legs and two arms; when the scientists of the Renaissance began to dissect corpses and discovered the nature of man’s internal organs, they invalidated the savages’ concept “man”; when modern scientists discovered that man possesses internal glands, they invalidated the Renaissance concept “man,” etc.

Like a spoiled, disillusioned child, who had expected predigested capsules of automatic knowledge, a logical positivist stamps his foot at reality and cries that context, integration, mental effort and first-hand inquiry are too much to expect of him, that he rejects so demanding a method of cognition, and that he will manufacture his own “constructs” from now on. (This amounts, in effect, to the declaration: “Since the intrinsic has failed us, the subjective is our only alternative.”) The joke is on his listeners: it is this exponent of a primordial mystic’s craving for an effortless, rigid, automatic omniscience that modern men take for an advocate of a free-flowing, dynamic, progressive science.

One of the things that stands out to me in discussions like this is that all today's Objectivists seem (to me) more at odds with Popper than Rand's own writing is.

I'll close with one more relevant ITOE quote:

Man is neither infallible nor omniscient; if he were, a discipline such as epistemology—the theory of knowledge—would not be necessary nor possible: his knowledge would be automatic, unquestionable and total. But such is not man’s nature. Man is a being of volitional consciousness: beyond the level of percepts—a level inadequate to the cognitive requirements of his survival—man has to acquire knowledge by his own effort, which he may exercise or not, and by a process of reason, which he may apply correctly or not. Nature gives him no automatic guarantee of his mental efficacy; he is capable of error, of evasion, of psychological distortion. He needs a method of cognition, which he himself has to discover: he must discover how to use his rational faculty, how to validate his conclusions, how to distinguish truth from falsehood, how to set the criteria of what he may accept as knowledge. Two questions are involved in his every conclusion, conviction, decision, choice or claim: What do I know?—and: How do I know it?


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Popperian Alternative to Induction

This wrote this on an Objectivist discussion forum in 2013.


http://rebirthofreason.com/Forum/Dissent/0265.shtml

I wrote:

Observe what? There are always many many things you could observe. Real scientific observation is selective.

Perform which action? There are many many actions one could perform. Real scientific action is selective.

Which patterns? There's always many many patterns.

In each case, being selective requires complex (critical) thinking. Ideas come first. Induction is supposed to explain how thinking works, but actually presupposes it.

Merlin Jetton replied:

Okay. Give us your answer to these questions. Please give us simple methods that cover all possible cases. How do we delimit those infinitely many possible conjectures?

(Following Popper.) We don't run into all the same problems because we use different methods in the first place.

We don't start with observation, scientific experiment, or finding patterns. All of those come later, after you already have various ideas. Then you do them according to your ideas. This is not problematic in general. It is a problem when you say stuff is "step 1" that actually presupposes ideas, and then claim your set of steps is a solution in epistemology and is how we get ideas.

We have a different approach that is not like induction and avoids many of induction's problems. By using different methods some problems never come up. We never have the problem of figuring out what to observe before having ideas, for example, because we say ideas come first before observations.

How are ideas learned then? Not from observations. Ideas come first. That's not to say observations are excluded. Observations are very useful. But first you need some ideas. Then you can observe (selectively, according to your ideas about what is important, what is interesting, what is notable, what is relevant to problems of interest, what clashes with your expectations, etc, etc ... and if your way of observing doesn't work out you can improve it with criticism, you can change and adjust it) and use the observations to help with further ideas (in a critical role – they rule things out).

Now this is a hard issue and you haven't read the literature and don't be too ambitious about how much you expect to learn from a summary. But anyway, because it's hard I'm going to split it up. First we'll consider an adult who wants to learn something. Then we could talk about how a child gets started after. I'll save that for later if the adult explanation goes over OK. The child is the harder case. I think it's too much to do the child first, all at once.

So, one of Popper's insights is that starting places aren't so important. I'm guessing this sounds dumb to you, because you're a foundationalist and think you have to start with the right foundations/premises/basis and then build up from there, step by step, making sure not to introduce errors or contradictions as you go. And Popper criticized and rejected that approach and offered a significantly different approach.

So let me try to explain what Popper's approach is like. People make mistakes. People are fallible. Errors are common. People mess up all the time. This isn't skepticism. People also get things right, learn, acquire knowledge, make scientific progress, etc, etc... But it's important to understand how easy it is to make mistakes. Knowledge is possible but hard to come by. To get knowledge you have to put a ton of effort into dealing with the problem of mistakes. I think if you read this the right way, you could agree with it. Objectivism recognizes that lots of philosophies go wrong and using the right methods is important and makes a big difference and some stuff like that.

So, OK, error is common and a big part of epistemology and philosophy is how you deal with error. What are you going to do about it? One school of thought tries to avoid errors. You use the right methods and then you get the right answers. That sounds very plausible but I don't think it's the right approach. I'll try to talk about Popper's approach instead. Popper's approach is you do try to avoid errors but you're never going to avoid all of them in the first place. That's not the primary most important thing. Whatever you do, some errors are going to get through. What you really have to do is set up mechanisms to identify and correct errors.

Popper applied this approach widely. Take politics and political systems. One of Popper's big ideas about politics is that trying to elect the right ruler is the wrong thing to focus on. Electing the right guy is trying to avoid errors. Yes you should put some effort into that but you can't do it perfectly and it's not the most important issue. What is the most important issue? That errors can be identified and corrected. In politics that means if you elect the wrong guy you find out fast, and you can get rid of him fast and you can get rid of him without violence. Popper called the wrong approach the "Who should rule?" problem and said most political philosophy argues about who should rule, when it should be focussing a lot more on how to set up political systems capable of correcting mistakes about who gets to rule.

What about epistemology? "Which ideas should we start with?" is a bit like "Who should rule?" You're never going to get it perfect and it shouldn't be the primary focus of your attention. Instead you want to set things up so if you start with the wrong ideas you can find out about the mistake and fix it quickly, easily, cheaply.

error correction is (a lot) more important than starting in a good place. look at it another way. if you start in a bad place but keep making progress, after a while you'll get to a good place and keep going. but if you start in a good place but aren't correcting errors, there is no progress, things never get better, long term you're doomed. so error correction is the more crucial thing that you really need.

so how can adults be selective? how can they decide what scientific experiments to do or which actions and results to investigate? how can they decide what patterns to look for? answer: they already have ideas about that. they can use the ideas they already have. that's ok! they don't need me to tell them some perfect answer. i could give them some advice and there could be some value in it, but it doesn't matter so much. they should start with the ideas they already have, use those, and then if something goes wrong they can make adjustments to try to do something about it. (and they can also philosophically examine their ideas and try to criticize instead of waiting for something noticeable to go wrong.)

in one sense, we're both advocating the same thing. people can and do use the ideas they already have about how to be selective, what issues to focus on, which patterns are notable, and more. but we Popperians know that is what's going on, and know how to keep making progress from there even if people aren't great at it. inductivists on the other hand think they have this method from first principles that is how people think but actually it smuggles in all sorts of common sense and pre-existing ideas as unexamined, uncriticized premises. and that's a really bad idea. those premises being smuggled in are good enough to start with, but what you really need to do is examine and criticize them!

i have not addressed how children/infants get started. i also haven't explained how thinking works at a lower level. (being able to criticize and correct errors requires thinking. how is that done?). we can get to those next if what i'm saying so far goes over ok. also the very short answer for how thinking works is that evolution is the only known theory for how knowledge can be created from non-knowledge. human thinking, at a low level, uses an evolutionary process to create knowledge. (i mean thinking literally uses evolution, not metaphorically. and no i'm not saying you consciously do that).


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Deutsch Misquoted Turing

David Deutsch (DD) wrote in Quantum theory, the Church-Turing principle and the universal quantum computer (1985), p. 3:

Church (1936) and Turing (1936) conjectured ... This is called the ‘Church-Turing hypothesis’; according to Turing,

Every ‘function which would naturally be regarded as computable’ can be computed by the universal Turing machine. (1.1)

And from Deutsch's references (p. 19):

Turing, A. M. 1936 Proc. Lond. math. Soc. Ser. 2, 442, 230.

Now we'll compare with Turing's paper: On Computable Numbers, With An Application To The Entscheidungsproblem (1936), p. 230:

the computable numbers include all numbers which could naturally be regarded as computable.

Turing wrote "numbers", but DD misquoted that as "function". Turing also wrote "could" which DD misquoted as "would".

I double checked using two other copies of Turing's paper. (One and two.)

There's also a problem because Deutsch uses what appears to be an italicized block quote. You'd expect the whole block quote to be a quote of Turing, but instead it's a paraphrase. Inside the paraphrase are quotation marks surrounding the misquote of Turing that I criticized.

DD's citation is also incorrect. DD cites Turing's paper to volume 442 of the Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society, but it was actually in volume 42 not 442.

To determine what's correct, we can check how Turing himself cites it. In a correction to his paper, Turing cited himself:

Proc. London Math. Soc. (2), 42 (1936-7), 230-265.

You can also get the correct cite, with volume 42, from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy or from Wikipedia.

You can also see that the latest volume of the journal, published in 2021, is volume 122. Volume 442 is unlikely to exist for over 100 more years. And the journal's website has archives showing that the Turing article was in volume 42.

Tangentially, I hope this lowers your opinion of academic peer review. DD's paper was published in Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, a prestigious and peer-reviewed journal that started in around 1830. It has published work from many famous scientists.


Thanks to Dec for finding this misquote.

Note that DD has published a lot of misquotes.


Update 2021-07-15: Dec pointed out that a similar Turing misquote is in DD's book The Fabric of Reality:

He [Turing] conjectured that this repertoire consisted precisely of ‘every function that would naturally be regarded as computable’.

No, Turing wrote "all numbers which could" not "every function that would".

It appears that DD got this misquote from his own paper, and also modified it. There's a recurring pattern where every time DD touches a quote, there's a significant chance that he changes something. Here, he took the word "every" which was outside of quote marks in his paper and moved it inside quote marks for his book.


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Fallible Justificationism

This is adapted from a Feb 2013 email. I explain why I don't think all justificationism is infallibilist. Although I'm discussing directly with Alan, this issue came up because I'm disagreeing with David Deutsch (DD). DD claims in The Beginning of Infinity that the problem with justificationism is infallibilism:

To this day, most courses in the philosophy of knowledge teach that knowledge is some form of justified, true belief, where ‘justified’ means designated as true (or at least ‘probable’) by reference to some authoritative source or touchstone of knowledge. Thus ‘how do we know . . . ?’ is transformed into ‘by what authority do we claim . . . ?’ The latter question is a chimera that may well have wasted more philosophers’ time and effort than any other idea. It converts the quest for truth into a quest for certainty (a feeling) or for endorsement (a social status). This misconception is called justificationism.

The opposing position – namely the recognition that there are no authoritative sources of knowledge, nor any reliable means of justifying ideas as being true or probable – is called fallibilism.

DD says fallibilism is the opposing position to justificationism and that justificationists are seeking a feeling of certainty. And when I criticized this, DD defended this view in discussion emails (rather than saying that's not what he meant or revising his view). DD thinks justificationism necessarily implies infallibilism. I disagree. I believe that some justificationism isn't infallibilist. (Note that DD has a very strong "all" type claim and I have a weak "not all" type claim. If only 99% of justificationism is infallibilist, then I'm right and DD is wrong. The debate isn't about what's common or typical.)

Alan Forrester wrote:

[Justification is] impossible. Knowledge can't be proven to be true since any argument that allegedly proves this has to start with premises and rules of inference that might be wrong. In addition, any alleged foundation for knowledge would be unexplained and arbitrary, so saying that an idea is a foundation is grossly irrational.

I replied:

But "justified" does not mean "proven true".

I agree that knowledge cannot be proven true, but how is that a complete argument that justification is impossible?

And Alan replied:

You're right, it's not a complete explanation.

Justified means shown to be true or probably true. I didn't cover the "probably true" part. The case in which something is claimed to be true is explicitly covered here. Showing that a statement X is probably true either means (1) showing that "statement X is probably true" is true, or it means that (2) X is conjectured to be probably true. (1) has exactly the same problem as the original theory.

In (2) X is admitted to be a conjecture and then the issue is that this conjecture is false, as argued by David in the chapter of BoI on choices. I don't label that as a justificationist position. It is mistaken but it is not exactly the same mistake as thinking that stuff can be proved true or probably true.

In parallel, Alan had also written:

If you kid yourself that your ideas can be guaranteed true or probably true, rather than admitting that any idea you hold could be wrong, then you are fooling yourself and will spend at least some of your time engaged in an empty ritual of "justification" rather than looking for better ideas.

I replied:

The basic theme here is a criticism of infallibilism. It criticizes guarantees and failure to admit one's ideas could be wrong.

I agree with this. But I do not agree that criticizing infallibilism is a good reply to someone advocating justificationism, not infallibilism. Because they are not the same thing. And he didn't say anything glaringly and specifically infallibilist (e.g. he never denied that any idea he has could turn out to be a mistake), but he did advocate justificationism, and the argument is about justification.

And Alan replied:

Justificationism is inherently infallibilist. If you can show that some idea is true or probably true, then when you do that you can't be mistaken about it being true or probably true, and so there's no point in looking for criticism of that idea.

My reply below responds to both of these issues.


Justificationism is not necessarily infallibilist. Justification does not mean guaranteeing ideas are true or probably true. The meaning is closer to: supporting some ideas as better than others with positive arguments.

This thing -- increasing the status of ideas in a positive way -- is what Popper calls justificationism and criticizes in Realism and the Aim of Science.

I'll give a quote from my own email from Jan 2013, which begins with a Popper quote, and then I'll continue my explanation below:

Realism and the Aim of Science, by Karl Popper, page 19:

The central problem of the philosophy of knowledge, at least since the Reformation, has been this. How can we adjudicate or evaluate the far-reaching claims of competing theories and beliefs? I shall call this our first problem. This problem has led, historically, to a second problem: How can we justify our theories or beliefs? And this second problem is, in turn, bound up with a number of other questions: What does a justification consist of? and, more especially: Is it possible to justify our theories or beliefs rationally: that is to say, by giving reasons -- 'positive reasons' (as I shall call them), such as an appeal to observation; reasons, that is, for holding them to be true, or at least 'probable' (in the sense of the probability calculus)? Clearly there is an unstated, and apparently innocuous, assumption which sponsors the transition from the first to the second question: namely, that one adjudicates among competing claims by determining which of them can be justified by positive reasons, and which cannot.

Now Bartley suggests that my approach solves the first problem, yet in doing so changes its structure completely. For I reject the second problem as irrelevant, and the usual answers to it as incorrect. And I also reject as incorrect the assumption that leads from the first to the second problem. I assert (differing, Bartley contends, from all previous rationalists except perhaps those who were driven into scepticism) that we cannot give any positive justification or any positive reason for our theories and our beliefs. That is to say, we cannot give any positive reasons for holding our theories to be true. Moreover, I assert that the belief we can give such reasons, and should seek for them is itself neither a rational nor a true belief, but one that can be shown to be without merit.

(I was just about to write the word 'baseless' where I have written 'without merit'. This provides a good example of just how much our language is influenced by the unconscious assumptions that are attacked within my own approach. It is assumed, without criticism, that only a view that lacks merit must be baseless -- without basis, in the sense of being unfounded, or unjustified, or unsupported. Whereas, on my view, all views -- good and bad -- are in this important sense baseless, unfounded, unjustified, unsupported.)

In so far as my approach involves all this, my solution of the central problem of justification -- as it has always been understood -- is as unambiguously negative as that of any irrationalist or sceptic.

If you want to understand this well, I suggest reading the whole chapter in the book. Please don't think this quote tells all.

Some takeaways:

  • Justificationism has to do with positive reasons.

  • Positive reasons and justification are a mistake. Popper rejects them.

  • The right approach to epistemology is negative, critical. With no compromises.

  • Lots of language is justificationist. It's easy to make such mistakes. What's important is to look
    out for mistakes and try to correct them. ("Solid", as DD recently used, was a similar mistake.)

  • Popper writes with too much fancy punctuation which makes it harder to read.

A key part of the issue is the problem situation:

How can we adjudicate or evaluate the far-reaching claims of competing theories and beliefs?

Justificationism is an answer to this problem. It answers: the theories and beliefs with more justification are better. Adjudicate in their favor.

This is not an inherently infallibilist answer. One could believe that his conception of which theories have how much justification is fallible, and still give this answer. One could believe that his adjudications are final, or one could believe that his adjudications could be overturned when new justifications are discovered. Infallibilism is not excluded nor required.


Looking at the big picture, there is the critical approach to evaluating ideas and the justificationist or "positive" approach.

In the Popperian critical approach, we use criticism to reject ideas. Criticism is the method of sorting out good and bad ideas. (Note that because this is the only approach that actually works, everyone does it whenever they think successfully, whether they realize it or not. It isn't optional.) The ideas which survive criticism are the winners.

In the justificationist approach, rather than refuting ideas with negative criticism, we build them up with positive arguments. Ideas are supported with supporting evidence and arguments. The ones we're able to support the most are the winners. (Note: this doesn't work, no successful thinking works this way.)

These two rival approaches are very different and very important. It's important to differentiate between them and to have words for them. This is why Popper named the justificationist approach, which had gone without a name because everyone took it for granted and didn't realize it had any rival or alternative approaches.

Both approaches are compatible with both infallibilism and fallibilism. They are metaphorically orthogonal to the issue of fallibility. In other words, fallibilism and justificationism are separate issues.

Fallibilism is about whether or not our evaluations of ideas should be subjected to revision and re-checking, or whether anything can be established with finality so that we no longer have to consider arguments on the topic, whether they be critical or justifying arguments.

All four combinations are possible:

Infallible critical approach: you believe that once socialist criticisms convince you capitalism is false, no new arguments could ever overturn that.

Infallible justificationist approach: you believe that once socialist arguments establish the greatness of socialism, then no new arguments could ever overturn that.

Fallible critical approach: you believe that although you currently consider socialist criticisms of capitalism compelling, new arguments could change your mind.

Fallible justificationist approach: you believe that although you currently consider socialist justifying arguments compelling (at establishing the greatness and high status of the socialism, and therefore its superiority to less justified rivals), you are open to the possibility that there is a better system which could be argued for even more strongly and justified even more and better than socialism.


BTW, there are some complicating factors.

Although there is an inherent asymmetry between positive and negative arguments (justifying and critical arguments), many arguments can be converted from one type to the other while retaining some of the knowledge.

For example, someone might argue that the single particle two slit experiment supports (justifies) the many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics. This can be converted into criticisms of rivals which are incompatible with the experiment. (You can convert the other way too, but the critical version is better.)

Another complicating factor is that justificationists typically do allow negative arguments. But they use them differently. They think negative arguments lower status. So you might have two strong positive arguments for an idea, but also one mild negative argument against it. This idea would then be evaluated as a little worse than a rival idea with two strong positive arguments but no negative arguments against it. But the idea with two strong positive arguments and one weak criticism would be evaluated above an idea with one weak positive argument and no criticism.

This is easier to express in numbers, but usually isn't. E.g. one argument might add 100 justification and another adds 50, and then a minor criticism subtracts 10 and a more serious criticism subtracts 50, for a final score of 90. Instead, people say things like "strong argument" and "weak argument" and it's ambiguous how many weak arguments add up to the same positive value as a strong argument.

In justification, arguments need strengths. Why? Because simply counting up how many arguments each idea has for it (and possibly subtracting the number of criticisms) is too open to abuse by using lots of unimportant arguments to get a high count. So arguments must be weighted by their importance.

If you try to avoid this entirely, then justificationism stops functioning as a solution to the problem of evaluating competing ideas. You would have many competing ideas, each with one or more argument on their side, and no way to adjudicate. To use justificationism, you have to have a way of deciding which ideas have more justificationism.

The critical approach, properly conceived, works differently than that. Arguments do not have strengths or weights, and nor do we count them up. How can that be? How can we adjudicate between competing ideas with out that? Because one criticism is decisive. What we seek are ideas we don't have any criticisms of. Those receive a good evaluation. Ideas we do have criticisms of receive a bad evaluation. (These evaluations are open to revision as we learn new things.) (Also there are only two possible evaluations in this system. The ideas we do have criticisms of, and the ideas we don't. If you don't do it that way, and you follow the logic of your approach consistently, you end up with all the problems of justificationism. Unless perhaps you have a new third approach.)


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Beginning of Infinity Website Removed in Protest

I took down the website beginningofinfinity.com and replaced it with the below protest message.


This website promoted David Deutsch’s book The Beginning of Infinity (BoI). David was my friend, mentor and colleague. I helped with drafts of BoI for seven years (I wrote over 200 pages of suggestions, comments and edits to help with the book). At David’s request, I made and owned this BoI website and the BoI Google Groups forum.

I’ve taken this site down in protest due to David’s role in harassment against me. I’ve been harassed by his fans and he lied about me. They’ve disrupted my blog, forums, and ability to discuss with other intellectuals online.

I also discovered many misquotes in BoI which, alone, would be enough reason for me to stop actively promoting BoI.

The story in short: David (and his Taking Children Seriously co-founder Sarah) created an online community which I was part of, but then he left after 15 years. Now he has a second fan community, which is harassing the first community. The harassment is primarily targeted at me, presumably because I’m now the leader of the older community. One of the motives some people have communicated is that they see me as David’s enemy.

The harassment has persisted for years, and has included dozens of fake identities (some maintained for months), hundreds of harassing messages from over one hundred IP addresses, stalking me to other websites to disrupt my conversations there, DDoSing, impersonation, threats, spam, plagiarism, libel, fraud and doxxing. Some of that is illegal (I am not a lawyer; I’ve presented evidence; judge for yourself).

David has been unwilling to ask his fans to stop, to discuss the matter privately or publicly, to explain himself, to dispute any of the evidence, to state a grievance he has against me, or to offer any terms for truce. I’d be willing to do conflict resolution through proxies or associates (David’s, mine or both) but he’s been unwilling to do that.

When asked to tell his fans to stop harassing, David not only refused, but turned it around and lied to attack the victim (me) which justified and encouraged additional harassment. His lie is damaging to my reputation and it seems likely that he’s said it to other people privately. Rather than deescalate, he choose to openly join in the harassment himself by smearing me. He hasn’t retracted his lie, nor has he denied circulating it privately so that harassers believed it and were motivated by it. This is despite me posting documentation that he’s lying. (I understand David’s lie to be libel and defamation, but I don’t have the resources to stop it. I am not a lawyer and you can read what he said at the link, along with the actual facts, and judge for yourself.)

I finally gave up and closed the comments on my blog – after 18 years and over 20,000 comments – due to being unable to deal with the harassment there. I’ve also been harassed at Reddit, Less Wrong, Twitter, Facebook, Google Groups, Basecamp, Discord and Slack. They won’t leave me alone.

David hasn’t argued that he isn’t involved or explained why his actions are OK. He hasn’t said which facts or claims he accepts or denies, presented his own account of events, or argued that my account is false. He hasn’t denied gossiping negatively about me, nor said what he’s doing to avoid crossing the line into unacceptable behavior. He hasn’t given an innocent explanation for the links between the harassment and his social circle.

David hasn’t taken steps to distance himself from the problem or to reduce the harm being done. He hasn’t stated that he’s opposed to harassment in general or to any of the harassing actions by his fans against me. He hasn’t blocked the worst harasser on Twitter, and keeps tweeting with him. David won’t do anything to delegitimize the harassment. Many of David’s friends and associates behave similarly or worse. David won’t even pay lip service to saying that I’m not his enemy or that I shouldn’t be harassed.

David also hasn’t disowned the subreddit for The Beginning of Infinity, which was created by the worst harasser. Nor has David disowned a nasty message posted under the name “David Deutsch” (I believe it was impersonation, which is something that ought to concern David). I think some of David’s fans have taken his behavior as a signal that he wants me harassed, and he’s refused to deny wanting me harassed.

I’ve documented the harassment, provided extensive evidence, and explained what’s going on. The response has been a mix of silence and more harassment. David is more powerful and influential than me, and has more support and resources, so there isn’t much I can do besides speak truth to power and hope that reasonable people listen. I’ve tried to put up with things, ignore things for months, privately ask for a peaceful resolution, publicly ask for a peaceful resolution, etc. In the past, David spent thousands of hours discussing with me, but now he’s stonewalling all attempts at deescalation.

I have the right to be left alone, not harassed for years. My rights are being violated, and I think David is the root cause of the problem. David needs to take appropriate steps to reign in his toxic community, and needs to retract his lie about me.

If you’d like to help, please ask David and his community about the problem, criticize them and complain, but don’t harass them in return. Maybe David will stop his bad behavior if people complain. David’s public email address is [email protected] and his Twitter is @DavidDeutschOxf.

For more information, read my articles about the harassment. To contact me, email [email protected].

— Elliot Temple (my philosophy work)


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (2)

David Deutsch Books Unendorsement

I thought that even though David Deutsch (DD) and his fans were harassing me, his books were still good. But I hadn’t reread them for years. On review, The Beginning of Infinity contains lots of misquotes. DD’s books are a lot worse than I realized. I was horrified to discover how frequently and severely DD misquotes. I trusted DD’s ability to quote accurately and handle details reliably and correctly, but I was wrong.

Also, DD explains too little in his books. They’re too hard to learn effectively from because he doesn’t give enough depth or detail. I had trouble seeing this in the past because I had many conversations with DD which filled in the gaps for me. But even when DD’s books say something important, he often doesn’t provide enough information for a reasonable, smart person to understand it well.

DD’s books have some good parts mixed in, but, due to the serious flaws, I retract my recommendation of them. I no longer want to actively promote them.

I’m sorry. I should have caught the misquotes earlier. I was capable of finding those errors years ago. I found and wrote about other similar errors.

I was giving DD space after he left the community. I guessed (I think accurately) that he wanted to be left alone by me and I was trying to respect his wishes. I mostly stayed away from him and his work after he left. I thought continuing to recommend his books was safe, but I was wrong about that.

I only started my video series about BoI after I gave up on DD leaving me alone. I caught the Feynman misquote in chapter 1 when I first reread it for the videos. BoI misquotes Feynman:

As the physicist Richard Feynman said, ‘Science is what we have learned about how to keep from fooling ourselves.’

Then, due to the harassment, I was reviewing old information and found a Popper misquote on an old TCS webpage. Someone (“Dec”) saw my post and told me that the same Popper quote was in BoI too. That made two misquotes in BoI, which was a possible pattern. That led to checking more quotes, which led to discovering that there are tons misquotes in BoI.

It seems that no other readers of BoI have noticed the misquoting problem yet (the errata page has factual errors but no misquotes), which I think is important information about the world. Regardless, I should have done better.

Read about the misquotes.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

David Deutsch Retrospective Thoughts

This is part of a series of posts explaining the ongoing harassment against me from David Deutsch and his associates and fans.


David Deutsch (DD) was never as good as I thought. But he had some great ideas, particularly re physics (as far as I know) and Critical Rationalism (CR). He read Popper and understood a lot – while others fail to understand much Popper. He also understood Dawkins and connected CR with neo-Darwinism, and he understood stuff about computation and information theory. The four strands in The Fabric of Reality (FoR) are good, valuable, etc., though DD overemphasized them. They are just four strands out of over ten, not the top four. Math, logic, (classical) liberalism, (Austrian) economics, moral knowledge (including from Objectivism, Judaism and Christianity), and Theory of Constraints are examples of other major, important, deep areas of human knowledge. DD was overly narrow when I knew him, and wouldn’t reread Rand or Szasz (he knew stuff about their ideas, but also had forgotten or never known a lot of it), and would never learn Mises or Burke for the first time (he knew some Hayek, who was Mises’ student, but Mises was much better). One of the issues is that DD reads fewer books than people think he does. I had to repeatedly recommend some Feynman books to get him to read those (he’d read some long ago, but never read others), and I was unable to get him to read much else.

Aside about DD’s lack of reading: In 2012, DD blatantly contradicted Szasz. I’d read over a dozen Szasz books recently, and I’d discussed them with Szasz himself. Nevertheless, DD didn’t believe me about what Szasz’s view are, and didn’t want to reread Szasz as I urged him to. But DD was confident enough to challenge me (my italics): “If you quote a statement or short passage of mine in this thread, and a statement or short passage of Szasz's that contradicts it, I promise to re-read the whole book in which Szasz's statement or passage appears.” I provided quotes. One of the issues was that DD was unaware of Szasz’s opposition to the medicalization of everyday life, even though Szasz titled a book about this issue. DD thought it’d be “harmless” to call effective anti-Islamism arguments a “cure” or “treatment for Islamism”. After I gave quotes, DD acknowledged that he “wasn't aware that Szasz totally rejects the use of the term 'treatment' in the way I used it, i.e. to describe what psychiatrists do.”, bought the book on Kindle (so he got it immediately), and said he’d read it. But he never actually read it and followed up. This incident disturbed me because it was a clear example of DD lacking integrity. He made a “promise” then broke it.

FoR and The Beginning of Infinity (BoI) are primarily about CR. They build on CR some and connect CR to other areas. Not many people understood enough Popper to start working out implications of CR, and DD succeeded at that and also learned some other important stuff that he could connect CR to. That’s impressive and was a contribution to human knowledge.

I recently discovered that BoI has lots of misquotes. DD is a worse scholar, with less integrity, than I thought.

DD has other notable ideas outside of physics, too. Taking Children Seriously (TCS) has important insight mixed in, but is also too disorganized and has major errors. DD’s static meme idea is good (I don’t think it’s perfect or complete, but it’s a good lead/start/try). He got a lot right about politics and economics, such as advocating capitalism, but he didn’t contribute much there. DD’s idea about the jump to universality is a good start on something important, as is his criticism of weighing explanations. DD’s anti-weighing ideas are some of the inspiration for my Yes or No Philosophy.

Original thinkers take risks. They may be wrong some. DD’s attacks on age of consent laws were a mistake. His attack on monogamy had some reasonable points but overall I’d say that was a bad idea that needed to be thought through more. DD doesn’t understand or respect tradition and traditional knowledge enough, but he was willing to make bold claims, some of which were good. It’s a lot better to say something important and also three wrong ideas than to say nothing risky or important.

DD was personally irrational about tidiness, scheduling, food, children and more. And he accepted a bunch of irrationalities as unsolvable problems and didn’t try to fix them.

DD’s extremely biased about ageism. He sees some ageism that most people don’t, but he also sees ageism when it isn’t there. For example, DD once argued to me (in 2004) that a news article mentioning metaphorically taking a politician behind the woodshed shows that violence against children is part of the fabric of our culture. DD claimed people wouldn’t say such awful things in general, and are only willing to do it due to ageism. I said people still talk about hanging, which isn’t due to ageism, it’s just because society does use violent words. (There’s a children’s word game named “hangman” which is used in classrooms.) DD was so biased that he responded: “[The word] Hang doesn't have a connotation of baseness and horror.”. He denied the badness of hanging because it isn’t anti-children and he wanted to claim anti-child stuff is much worse. Hanging kills people, which makes it more base and horrific than beating someone behind a woodshed. Also hanging is public violence, while behind a woodshed means privately (second source).

DD’s arrogant and stopped learning much before I met him in 2001. He’s dishonest with others on purpose, including his friends, for a variety of reasons including conflict avoidance and social climbing. He’s really scared of the world and of conflict with people, and he tries to hide problems (contrary to his philosophical theories about problem solving).

He’s a social climber who cares deeply about his reputation. I’m not sure how much he always was. I think maybe he was less concerned about it when he started TCS, and may have been changed by the negative experience of TCS’s failure to catch on and the hateful reactions it got. He may also have gotten more scared after a negative incident with the government around 2003 (but he kept advising other people not to be scared of the government, and some of that advice was horribly unrealistic and irresponsible, and could have gotten people’s children taken away).

DD’s a two-faced person and extremely biased about Lulie Tanett (LT). He put a lot of work into telling me to be friends/colleagues with LT, and telling LT to be friends/colleagues with me, but he also went behind my back and sabotaged our interactions sometimes. He said negative stuff about me to her while hiding what he was doing from me. One time, he put a lot of work into convincing her that I was threatening her when I told her some conditions she’d have to meet to remain a member of a small, private discussion group I owned (the conditions were basically just being an active poster). DD basically told her that learning from me was her best chance fixing her problems and becoming a rational, productive intellectual, so alienating her from me like that was really bad, though he did much worse later.

After leaving my community, he heavily pressured her to drop me entirely, and finally after around five years of pressure she dropped me. Doing that after convincing her I was crucial to her learning – and after she was very attached to me – was really horrible of him. It’s a little like a coercive parent controlling who their kid is allowed to be friends with. But it’s much worse to belatedly take away a friendship from your kid, over 10 years after it started, that you recommended and convinced them was crucial to their career.

DD really messed with LT’s head and her lack of accomplishments and inability to do productive work or learn much philosophy is significantly his fault. It’s also Sarah Fitz-Claridge’s (SFC) fault and TCS’s fault. SFC publicly posted on 2006-03-31 on TCS list that LT is her daughter, though they all seem to be trying to hide it now. Most people don’t realize that when DD promotes LT, that’s basically nepotism. DD has known LT since she was around age 2, and SFC moved her family to live near DD in Oxford when LT was around 7. DD treats LT partially like a daughter. However, he won’t take responsibility for actually trying to treat her in a TCS parenting way because that’d be too much work for him. In general, DD likes to keep things flexible and avoid having clear responsibilities, even with his closest associates. (E.g. he said that he avoids having anything scheduled at a specific time because having something coming up today or tomorrow often prevents him from working.) He mostly avoided explicit obligations with me, too, though he made exceptions like saying he’d write a forward for my book, saying he’d write a TCS book, and, as I discussed above, promising to read a Szasz book.

TCS parenting worked out badly for LT. TCS, SFC and DD did poorly in practice, but they’re dishonest with the public about TCS’s practical results.

SFC’s post saying LT is her daughter was an announcement of an official TCS event at SFC’s home in the UK. The event involved me, SFC and LT giving speeches about TCS, plus Q&A. The post also said LT “will be taking over the management of the TCS web site”, but then SFC violated TCS principles by breaking her word to her own daughter (LT wanted the TCS website, but SFC refused to hand it over while leaving it inactive – it’s been inactive for 15 years now). After the TCS event, SFC told me and LT that she despised the TCS parents who attended, had met them before, and thought they were hopeless and would never make progress on their problems. She hid her negativity while they were present. SFC also broke her word about letting LT and I have the money we charged for the event, and, after the event was over, she decided instead to simply take a share for herself without discussing the matter. She either took half or a third (I don’t remember). It wasn’t a lot of money and didn’t matter much to me, but I was disturbed that she’d break her word and take money away from her child who had very little money. And it’s ironic to screw over your child for money from a TCS seminar which talked about treating children well.

DD met another mother of young children before SFC, but stopped associating with that family because he didn’t think the mother was a good enough parent. Specifically, he found out that the mother had told the kids to be on their best behavior when visiting DD, so he ended things with them. But SFC was an awful parent and DD put up with it. I’m told she routinely closed her office door while her toddlers fought outside. I don’t know why DD got rid of the first mother but then put up with SFC’s bad parenting. (Source: I’ve been told things by people who were part of the TCS community before me and who knew SFC/LT/DD/etc in person.)

SFC also mistreated DD himself, and he put up with that too, though I observed that after he was already highly invested in TCS, SFC, LT and LT’s sibling. When I visited the UK for three weeks, DD gave me a draft chapter of BoI to read and discuss. SFC was jealous that she didn’t get one. She kept bugging him about it repeatedly and trying to pressure him into giving her one (he refused). She was a bad friend who didn’t respect his control over his writing process.

I found out a lot about DD being two-faced with me because LT told me lots of the private stuff DD said to her (without getting his permission or telling him that she shared it). I don’t think she was wrong to do that, btw. DD was like a father to her (actively involved in her life since she was a toddler) and somewhat of a father-figure to me. It’s reasonable and understandable for kids to share information and discuss strategies for dealing with the irrationalities of their parents. On the other hand, I also think LT learned to be a two-faced gossip from DD and SFC, and there’s a major problem there. She sometimes shared info about me and others with people she didn’t know well (she confessed to doing this). Similarly, DD started badmouthing public figures (particularly ones he’d personally interacted with) to me when he hadn’t known me very long yet, and he kept doing it despite me frequently just literally not responding at all to it. Imagine how much mean gossip he’d tell someone who actually encouraged it…

DD wanted a student. He liked me when he gave partial explanations that almost no one could learn from, and I figured stuff out (often more than he meant or knew). That worked well when his conclusions were correct. But I couldn’t usually come up with convincing reasons for DD’s claims when he was wrong. Over time, I learned most of the stuff he was right about and that put more emphasis on the issues where we disagreed, since there was less other stuff left for him to teach me about. DD was never rational about debate and truth-seeking. I’m not sure that he ever changed his mind about anything major due to my arguments, despite thousands of hours of discussions. I did successfully correct him on many smaller things, including in the seven years I commented on and edited drafts of BoI, but he didn’t post mortem those errors to look for larger errors that could be root causes.

Anyway, DD helped me understand a lot of his ideas. Some were great and some were errors. Overall, engaging with him and his ideas was very intellectually beneficial for me. I wouldn’t regret it just because he left me. But I really do wish he’d leave me alone now. Hating me for no clear reason, and having his fans harass me, is really nasty. I didn’t recognize how irrational and dangerous he was. I don’t know major things that I should done have differently with DD, even in hindsight, though.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Misquotes by David Deutsch

I’ve discovered that David Deutsch (DD) is an unreliable quoter. His book The Beginning of Infinity (BoI) contains many serious quotation errors, and he has misquoted elsewhere too.

For context, DD and I were close associates for a decade. I helped with BoI for 7 years and wrote over 200 pages of comments, suggestions and edits on drafts of the book. I learned a lot from him but I trusted his scholarship too much. I promoted his books. I was wrong about him and his books in multiple ways. My mistake. I retract my previous endorsements and recommendations of DD’s books. That doesn’t mean the books are awful or shouldn’t be read, but I no longer want to promote them myself. There are good ideas mixed in, but be wary of major problems.

Misquotes in The Beginning of Infinity

Block quotes are from BoI unless otherwise stated.

I think there will certainly not be novelty, say for a thousand years. This thing cannot keep going on so that we are always going to discover more and more new laws. If we do, it will become boring that there are so many levels one underneath the other . . . We are very lucky to live in an age in which we are still making discoveries. It is like the discovery of America – you only discover it once.
The Character of Physical Law (1965)

That’s different than what Feynman wrote. DD changed the words “perpetual novelty” to “novelty”. DD also changed “keep on going” to “keep going on”. (More details.)

Behind it all is surely an idea so simple, so beautiful, that when we grasp it – in a decade, a century, or a millennium – we will all say to each other, how could it have been otherwise?
John Archibald Wheeler, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 480 (1986)

What Wheeler actually wrote was "Behind it all is surely an idea so simple, so beautiful, so compelling that when–in a decade, a century, or a millennium–we grasp it, we will all say to each other, how could it have been otherwise?”. DD deleted “so compelling” and moved “we grasp it” to before the dashed part. (More details.)

As the physicist Richard Feynman said, ‘Science is what we have learned about how to keep from fooling ourselves.’

Feynman didn’t say that. It’s not even a documented quote with some changes. It seems made up with no original source or evidence.

I checked the web and some Feynman books and speeches. It’s likely that the misquote started in 2000 in the article Magical Thinking (my thanks to Justin Mallone for finding that article), which paraphrased Feynman that way without using quote marks or giving a source. Unfortunately, the wording made it sound like it was an actual quote, so I think people started spreading it as a quote. Then DD probably got the misquote from an unreliable webpage and put it in his book without trying to find a primary source or telling his readers which unreliable secondary source he used. There are now two books which give this quote and cite it to as quoted in BoI. There’s also a book which gives the quote with a footnote saying that the author was unable to find a source for the quote (then don’t put it in your book!).

Feynman said some similar ideas in Cargo Cult Science, but the wordings are different. DD didn’t take the quote from there and add one or two errors (like he did with some other quotes, where you can tell that he’s quoting a specific thing incorrectly). It’s too different to have come from that speech.

Popper wrote:

The inductivist or Lamarckian approach operates with the idea of instruction from without, or from the environment. But the critical or Darwinian approach only allows instruction from within – from within the structure itself . . .

I contend that there is no such thing as instruction from without the structure. We do not discover new facts or new effects by copying them, or by inferring them inductively from observation, or by any other method of instruction by the environment. We use, rather, the method of trial and the elimination of error. As Ernst Gombrich says, ‘making comes before matching’: the active production of a new trial structure comes before its exposure to eliminating tests.
The Myth of the Framework

DD ends the first sentence of the second paragraph with “without the structure” and then a period. Instead of a period, Popper had a comma there and continued the sentence. Then, the rest of that paragraph that DD quotes is actually from a different section of the book. DD combined sentences from different places in the book and presented them as one paragraph with no ellipsis or square brackets to indicate a modification.

And DD left out the words “In fact,” before “I contend”. DD also put an ellipsis at the end of the first paragraph when that should be a period. There are no omitted words there. The paragraph ends there and DD continues without skipping a paragraph. DD also left out Popper’s italics.

A similar misquote also appeared on the Taking Children Seriously (TCS) website (mirror). DD co-founded TCS with Sarah Fitz-Claridge and she’s my best guess at the author of that misquote, though it could have been DD. Either way, he has responsibility for what it says on the official website of the movement he co-founded (particularly for pages, like this one, with no author specified).

Judging by the similarities, the misquote in BoI was likely based on the TCS website misquote. Even when a secondary source is accurate, it’s problematic to take a secondary source quote and then edit it without checking the original. When you do that, you’re making edits without knowing the original context and wording, so you aren’t in a good enough position to judge what edits are OK.

(More details about the TCS website version of the misquote.)

Thanks to Dec for telling me that this misquote is also in BoI after I wrote about the version from the TCS website.

As the physicist Stephen Hawking put it, humans are ‘just a chemical scum on the surface of a typical planet that’s in orbit round a typical star on the outskirts of a typical galaxy’.

This quote seems to be made up based on a similar Hawking quote about “chemical scum” from the 1995 TV program (Reality on the Rocks: Beyond Our Ken by Ken Campbell (IMBD, trailer)). Interestingly, DD had quoted it correctly in The Fabric of Reality as “The human race is just a chemical scum on a moderate-sized planet, orbiting round a very average star in the outer suburb of one among a hundred billion galaxies.” I didn’t find the original video, but it’s quoted that way in various places online that aren’t based on DD’s writing. (Some sources have “around” instead of “round”, which is an understandable difference given how similar those words can sound when spoken out loud.)

It seems that DD made up this misquote for his 2005 TED talk and then based the quote in BoI on his talk. Alan Forrester checked the books The large scale structure of space-time, A Brief History of Time, The Grand Design, The Nature of Space and Time and The Universe in a Nutshell, but found that none contain the word “scum”. And I can’t find any online sources for Hawking ever saying the BoI version of the quote (whereas with the The Fabric of Reality version, I easily found other online sources).

This misquote doesn’t seem fully accidental. DD changed the quote to be more elegant and catchy by repeating “typical” three times. I’ve noticed that many of DD’s misquotes involve changing text to sound nicer.

(More details.)

[Horgan believed] that science has the ability to ‘resolve questions’ objectively […]

Horgan actually wrote “Scientists have the ability to pose questions and resolve them in a way that critics, philosophers, historians cannot.” DD changed Horgan’s words “resolve them” to “resolve questions”, which is wrong without using square brackets to indicate an edit. (More details.)

The issue of what exactly needs to be explained in an ‘appearance of design’ was first addressed by the clergyman William Paley, the finest exponent of the argument from design. In 1802, before Darwin was born, he published the following thought experiment in his book Natural Theology.

It’s unclear what, if anything, “appearance of design” is a quote from, but it’d be understandable if a reader believed it was a quote of Paley in Natural Theology. But it’s not in that book.

[Paley wrote:]

The inference we think is inevitable, that the watch must have had a maker . . . There cannot be design without a designer; contrivance without a contriver; order without choice; arrangement without anything capable of arranging; subserviency and relation to a purpose without that which could intend a purpose; means suitable to an end . . . without the end ever having been contemplated or the means accommodated to it. Arrangement, disposition of parts, subserviency of means to an end, relation of instruments to a use imply the presence of intelligence and mind.

DD changed the words “any thing” to the word “anything” and changed “an use” to “a use”. DD also quoted from both chapters 1 and 2, but presented it as single paragraph with ellipses. DD also removed a comma near the end before “imply the presence of intelligence and mind” which helped the reader understand the text. (DD edited other punctuation too, but this punctuation edit stood out to me because it’s significantly worse than the original.) (More details.)

As Hawking once put it, ‘Television sets could come out [of a naked singularity].’

Thanks to Alan Forrester for looking into this quote at my request. He was unable to find Hawking saying this. He searched the web and the following books: The large scale structure of space-time, A Brief History of Time, The Grand Design, The Nature of Space and Time and The Universe in a Nutshell.

As Hofstadter remarked, ‘In retrospect, I am quite amazed at how much genuine intelligence I was willing to accept as somehow having been implanted in the program . . . It is clear that I was willing to accept a huge amount of fluidity as achievable in this day and age simply by putting together a large bag of isolated tricks, kludges and hacks.’

Hofstadter’s actual paragraph ends with “a large bag of isolated tricks-kludges and hacks, as they say.” DD’s punctation edits changed the meaning. Hofstadter said “isolated tricks” and then gave “kludges and hacks” as a rewording of “isolated tricks”. DD changed it to a list of three things, “tricks, kludges and hacks” and made it sound like the modifier “isolated” applies to all three, whereas in the original it applied only to “tricks”. As a list, it means that all three things were put together. In the original, it says they put together tricks, and then provides the additional information that the tricks could be characterized as kludges and hacks as people (informally) say.

Thanks to Dec for bringing up this misquote.

Representative Roger Q. Mills of Texas complained in 1882, ‘I thought . . . that mathematics was a divine science. I thought that mathematics was the only science that spoke to inspiration and was infallible in its utterances [but] here is a new system of mathematics that demonstrates the truth to be false.’

This text is available in the Congressional Record. DD changed the words "by inspiration" to "to inspiration". It’s also misleading that where DD wrote “[but]”, with no ellipsis, he skipped multiple sentences and continued with text from a different paragraph.

DD likely copied this misquote from Fair Representation without telling his readers that he was trusting a secondary source without fact checking it, and without letting readers know which secondary source he was using.

Thanks to Justin Mallone for looking this up at my request.

Before Blackmore and others realized the significance of memes in human evolution, all sorts of root causes had been suggested [...] [T]here is the ‘Machiavellian hypothesis’ that human intelligence evolved in order to predict the behaviour of others, and to fool them. […] Blackmore’s ‘meme machine’ idea, that human brains evolved in order to replicate memes, must be true.

At first I read “Machiavellian hypothesis” as a quote of Blackmore from her book The Meme Machine that DD mentioned earlier and included in his bibliography. If so, it's a misquote. That phrase isn’t in her book.

But maybe “Machiavellian hypothesis” is merely meant to be the name of a hypothesis. If so, it’s the wrong name. The correct name is "Machiavellian Intelligence”, as one can find out from Blackmore’s book or Wikipedia. Blackmore has an index entry for “Machiavellian Intelligence” and cites two books with “Machiavellian Intelligence” in their title. She also writes “An influential version of social theory is the ‘Machiavellian Intelligence’ hypothesis (Byrne and Whiten 1988; Whiten and Byrne 1997).”. It appears that DD read her book, misremembered the name of the hypothesis, didn’t check it, and put quote marks around it. (More details.)

The more important fundamental laws and facts of physical science have all been discovered, and these are now so firmly established that the possibility of their ever being supplanted in consequence of new discoveries is exceedingly remote . . . Our future discoveries must be looked for in the sixth place of decimals.
Albert Michelson, address at the opening of the Ryerson Physical Laboratory, University of Chicago, 1894

The source for this, which DD didn’t specify, is the book Light Waves and Their Uses (1903) by Albert Michelson. The speaker wrote down what he said in his own book. Michelson wrote:

Many other instances might be cited, but these will suffice to justify the statement that "our future discoveries must be looked for in the sixth place of decimals."

DD incorrectly quoted this as Michelson saying “[o]ur future discoveries must be looked for in the sixth place of decimals” himself, when Michelson actually had it in quote marks and talked about that statement. Deleting quote marks within a quote is misquoting. (More details.)

For example, as I wrote in The Fabric of Reality:

Consider one particular copper atom at the tip of the nose of the statue of Sir Winston Churchill that stands in Parliament Square in London. Let me try to explain why that copper atom is there. It is because Churchill served as prime minister in the House of Commons nearby; and because his ideas and leadership contributed to the Allied victory in the Second World War; and because it is customary to honour such people by putting up statues of them; and because bronze, a traditional material for such statues, contains copper, and so on. Thus we explain a low-level physical observation – the presence of a copper atom at a particular location – through extremely high-level theories about emergent phenomena such as ideas, leadership, war and tradition.

There is no reason why there should exist, even in principle, any lower-level explanation of the presence of that copper atom than the one I have just given. Presumably a reductive ‘theory of everything’ would in principle make a low-level prediction of the probability that such a statue will exist, given the condition of (say) the solar system at some earlier date. It would also in principle describe how the statue probably got there. But such descriptions and predictions (wildly infeasible, of course) would explain nothing. They would merely describe the trajectory that each copper atom followed from the copper mine, through the smelter and the sculptor’s studio and so on . . . In fact such a prediction would have to refer to atoms all over the planet, engaged in the complex motion we call the Second World War, among other things. But even if you had the superhuman capacity to follow such lengthy predictions of the copper atom’s being there, you would still not be able to say ‘Ah yes, now I understand why they are there’. [You] would have to inquire into what it was about that configuration of atoms, and those trajectories, that gave them the propensity to deposit a copper atom at this location. Pursuing that inquiry would be a creative task, as discovering new explanations always is. You would have to discover that certain atomic configurations support emergent phenomena such as leadership and war, which are related to one another by high-level explanatory theories. Only when you knew those theories could you understand why that copper atom is where it is.

In addition to checking this using ebooks, I also compared hardback copies of both books. It’s FoR pp. 22-23 and BoI pp. 109-110.

DD quotes “understand why they are there” but the original reads “understand why it is there”. DD changed the words “it is” to “they are”.

DD quotes "Pursuing that inquiry”, but FoR says “this inquiry”. DD changed the word “this” to “that”.

DD quotes “understand why that copper atom is where it is”. DD omitted the word “fully”. The original said “understand fully why”.

DD wrote “[You]” in BoI, which is an incorrect use of square brackets. He skipped two sentences and should have used an ellipsis. And it says “You” in the original, so he shouldn’t put it in square brackets since it isn’t modified. Square brackets can only replace an ellipsis when the text in square brackets replaces/summarizes/paraphrases all the skipped text, but the word “You” doesn’t replace the skipped sentences.

The italics “why” and “what it was” are not italicized in FoR.

The ellipsis DD used in “studio and so on . . . In fact” is incorrect because the original had a period after “so on”. There should be four dots there (one for the period, and three for the ellipsis), not three dots.

DD doesn’t even quote himself accurately.

Other Misquotes

In The Fabric of Reality, DD wrote:

Mystery is part of the very concept of time that we grow up with. St Augustine, for example, said:

What then is time? If no one asks me, I know; if I wish to explain it to one who asks, I know not. (Confessions)

This quote has some word changes compared to the edition of Confessions that I checked. However, there are other English translations, so it could be an accurate quote of one of those. DD didn’t say which translation he used, which is more problematic than usual when quoting a particular translation rather than quoting something with a single, unambiguous wording that could be looked up.

DD wrote in Not Merely the Finest TV Documentary Series Ever Made:

As Karl Popper put it, we humans can “let our ideas die in our place.”

I found Popper saying something similar three times, but he didn’t use that wording. I think DD relies on his memory for this quote, instead of checking a source. He’s quoted it different ways in different places (e.g. with “theories” instead of “ideas” in Why It’s Good To Be Wrong and BoI). DD should get quotes from sources instead of putting quote marks around what he believes he remembers someone writing.

Popper said similar things in The Myth of the Framework (“By criticizing our theories we can let our theories die in our stead.”), In Search of a Better World (“Now we can let our theories die in our place.”), and Natural Selection and the Emergence of Mind (“Let our conjectures, our theories, die in our stead!”).

DD’s associate Chiara Marletto also misquoted Popper as saying "let our ideas die in our place.”.

DD’s associate Sarah Fitz-Claridge misquoted William Godwin and intentionally sanitized a quote about slavery. She gives “The condition of a … slave in the West-Indies, is in many respects preferable to that of the youthful son of a free-born European. The slave is purchased upon a view of mercantile speculation; and, when he has finished his daily portion of labour, his master concerns himself no further about him. But the watchful care of the parent is endless. The youth is never free from the danger of grating interference.”. She misquoted by changing the words "of its grating" to “of grating”. And she sanitized the 1797 quote by changing "negro-slave" into "... slave”. (I think that’s an incorrect use of an ellipsis, too.) Also, the quote is horrible because it downplays how bad slavery was, so it’s disturbing that Fitz-Claridge liked the quote enough to highlight it.

Fitz-Claridge also misquoted The Myth of the Framework. It’s some of the same Popper material misquoted in BoI and on the TCS website, but misquoted differently. This time, Fitz-Claridge changed “that” to “which” and got the page numbers wrong. (More details in the second update.)

Smaller Issues

DD frequently doesn’t give sources for quotes which makes it harder to check their accuracy. By leaving out sources, he’s asking his reader to trust him. But he made many quoting errors, so that trust would be misplaced.

DD repeatedly writes “X … Y” when X and Y are from different paragraphs or even different sections of a book. This is misleading. He also does it when X is a complete sentence, which makes it look like X is not a complete sentence.

DD frequently changes capitalization and punctuation without square brackets to indicate the change. DD capitalizes stuff to make it look like the start of a sentence when it isn’t (both at the start of a quote or after an ellipsis). DD also puts periods inside the quote marks after quoting a partial sentence, which makes it look like that was the end of the sentence when it wasn’t. DD also repeatedly puts a space then an ellipsis after a sentence ends, which should be a period then ellipsis but he changed the period to a space. So he makes stuff look like the start or end of a sentence when it isn’t, and then other times he makes stuff look like it’s not the end of a sentence when it is.

DD doesn’t appear to have a consistent policy for periods going inside or outside of quotes. E.g. I searched an electronic copy of BoI and found 188 instances of a single close quote followed by a period, and 88 instances of a period followed by a single close quote (and 3 instances of period, single close quote, and period again, which all involved a number, ellipsis, close quote, then period). DD often ends quotes with a period inside the quotation marks when the original sentence doesn’t end there, but other times he puts the period outside the quotation marks, and I don’t know why. DD is also inconsistent about italicizing quotes the same way they are in the original.

There are standard guidelines for how to do quotations, which DD violates, in addition to the larger misquote issues I presented above. For example, Working with Quotations, from Suny Empire State College, says:

Remember that when you do choose to use direct quotations, you need to retain the exact wording, spelling, capitalization, and punctuation of the original source.

DD went to both Oxford and Cambridge. I don’t think they teach lower standards than state colleges, and in any case he hasn’t followed their guidelines. For example, this Guide for authors and editors from the Oxford University Press says:

Quoted matter must reflect the original source exactly in spelling, punctuation, and capitalization. Please double-check all quotations against the sources from which you have taken them to ensure that you have copied accurately.

It must be possible for the reader to identify the work from which a quotation has been taken.

The University Of Oxford Style Guide says “Place any punctuation which does not belong to the quote outside the quotation marks (except closing punctuation if the end of the quote is also the end of the sentence).”

The Cambridge Editorial Style Guide says “A full stop is used outside the quotation mark if the quote is only part of a sentence.” and “Always source quotations”.

Taking Credit from Karl Popper

There’s another scholarship issue in DD’s books. I was horrified to discover that Karl Popper’s name is only in The Fabric of Reality (FoR) chapter 3 two times. That chapter is focused on sharing Popper’s ideas. But it doesn’t give adequate credit. In particular, the diagrams (3.1, 3.2, 3.3) are clearly based on Popper’s diagrams in Objective Knowledge, but DD never tells the reader that they’re modified from Popper. (More details.)

DD has presented himself as very humble and modest. He’s claimed multiple times to be only footnotes to Popper (which comes off as exaggerated modesty, rather than convincing his fans that it’s actually true). But DD has simultaneously misled readers to believe he accomplished much more than he did, e.g. in FoR ch. 3. This is a pattern. For example, in a 2016 paper, The logic of experimental tests, particularly of Everettian quantum theory, DD wrote:

An important consequence of this explanatory conception of science is that experimental results consistent with a theory T do not constitute support for T. That is because they are merely explicanda. A new explicandum may make a theory more problematic, but it can never solve existing problems involving a theory (except by making rival theories problematic – see Section 3). The asymmetry between refutation (tentative) and support (non-existent) in scientific methodology is better understood in this way, by regarding theories as explanations, than through Popper's (op. cit.) own argument from the logic of predictions, appealing to what has been called the ‘arrow of modus ponens’. Scientific theories are only approximately modelled as propositions, but they are precisely explanations.

This passage misleads readers into believing that DD improved on Popper by making a better argument focused on explanations instead of on the logic of predictions. Most readers would be surprised to discover that Popper made both arguments. Popper did make the logic of predictions argument (which is less important but was worth making too) but also made the other argument that DD is implying is his own original work. DD made some original contributions to epistemology, but not this one.

You can search Popper’s Conjectures and Refutations (C&R) for words like "tentative", "explanation", and "support" to see that DD is less original than he implies. Popper also covers these issues in other books. I’ll give one example from C&R:

For a scientific theory—an explanatory theory—is, if anything, an attempt to solve a scientific problem, that is to say, a problem concerned or connected with the discovery of an explanation.[6]

This clearly shows that Popper viewed scientific theories as explanatory theories. DD didn’t come up with the idea that scientific theories are explanations. The footnote at the end of that quote refers readers to more of Popper’s writing. Popper talked about explanation often. Popper also came up with the asymmetry between refutation (tentative) and support (non-existent). Popper emphasized refutation, said it was only tentative, and is also the person who challenged thousands of years of philosophical tradition by arguing that support is non-existent. Popper drew multiple major distinctions between negative and positive approaches to epistemology.

DD also gets other people to praise him while he presents himself as humble. For example, his TCS co-founder Sarah Fitz-Claridge (SFC) wrote that Popper invented a philosophy of science and that David Deutsch and his TCS philosophy had extended Popper’s epistemology to apply outside of science. (SFC probably wrote that. It’s on an official TCS page, but doesn’t specify the author, so it could have been written by DD.) That’s a major misrepresentation. Popper was seeking a general theory of knowledge, and said so, and applied it outside of science. (More details.)

DD has gotten his associates to praise him as e.g. having “the greatest mind ever”. SFC believes that DD made major improvements on Popper, and so do many of DD’s fans. I don’t believe it’s an accident that many people overestimate DD in ways similar to his co-founder who publicly promotes him. It looks like a strategy where DD plays humble while having other people say things that would sound arrogant coming from him. (More details.)

In 2012, SFC wrote to the official Fabric of Reality discussion group (archive of FoR posts) (my italics):

In my view it would be much more accurate to say that David has the greatest mind ever to have existed. His thinking is breathtakingly logical and brilliant. His ideas have changed the world and will do so even more profoundly in the future. I have never met anyone more pure, more truth-seeking and more open to criticism than David.

In 2000, SFC wrote to TCS list (my italics):

So really, people should not speak of Popper, but of Deutsch, because it was David who came up with the link between Popper's ideas and educational theory.

Note that DD has a history of secretly ghostwriting stuff which SFC then claims to be the author of. (Source: DD’s friend. He or she was friends with DD before DD turned 18 and they’re still friends now, over 50 years later. He or she had many discussions about TCS, Popper and more with DD and SFC. DD introduced me to the friend and I had some discussions with him or her.) Full disclosure: In the past, I’ve posted a few things that DD wrote, but under my own name, with his permission and approval. I did this when (as best I remember) I wanted to share something good that he told me, which I thought would benefit the world, but he didn’t want to share it himself and wouldn’t let me post it and attribute it to him or to an anonymous person, but he would let me post it under my name without attributing it to anyone. Here’s an example that I remember (I think it was the most significant, memorable instance). More often, I wrote stuff myself that was based on things DD told me, and he didn’t want credit but was happy for me to say it. At other times, DD helped edit my writing and a sentence or two of his ended up in the final version without credit (he didn’t want credit). DD had substantial influence over some of my early writing, and he also has had substantial influence over some of SFC’s writing that he didn’t fully ghostwrite.

Conclusion

I was mistaken about how good DD’s books are. They’re worse than I thought. I still think there is significant value in those books, but you can’t trust DD’s scholarship. Besides distrusting direct quotes given by DD, you should also distrust paraphrases or summaries of what other people said or thought. You have to check things yourself if you actually want to know. DD is too unreliable. And don’t use DD as a secondary source. Don’t spread quotes that DD quoted; quote directly from the original source or don’t use it. Some people are spreading his misquotes (they’ve even been repeated in books).

FYI, I don’t think DD is especially bad at quoting compared to others. Lots of books and academic articles have major errors related to quotes, paraphrases, cites or facts. But for a book to be considered great, it should do better. In the world today, you shouldn’t trust authors with quotes or facts by default. You should be suspicious by default unless an author earns more trust. Many people believe DD has earned a lot of trust (including me in the past), but they’re mistaken.

I apologize for encouraging people to respect and trust DD more than he merits. I know I played a role in that.

DD’s misquote problem also helps contextualize his recent mistreatment of me. How could a super rational, great person act like that? The answer is that he he’s actually a deeply flawed person with some good traits mixed in as special exceptions.

DD once got very upset with me for questioning a Godwin quote he sent me in a private discussion. He’d sent it without a specific source and I couldn’t find the quote by searching the book. It turned out that he’d quoted an obscure first edition but I was searching the third edition. He should have praised me for looking for errors instead of getting defensive and lashing out at me. Good scholars don’t expect to be trusted and don’t mind being questioned or challenged. Even though he didn’t misquote in that instance, DD’s irrational attitude was a warning sign that DD might be a misquoter. I failed to recognize the full problem and I didn’t go fact check his books at that time (2011).

BoI has an errata page (mirror) which documents a bunch of errors in the book. They are mostly factual errors, and the number and severity should concern readers. Despite all the misquotes in the book, there are currently no misquotes on the errata page, which says something about how little fact checking the book has been getting (there are probably a bunch of other errors that no one has found yet).

I will edit my book recommendation articles to warn people about DD’s misquotes. I will also take down the beginningofinfinity.com website that promotes BoI and put a warning there about DD’s misquotes.


Update, 2021-07-12: In a 1985 physics paper in a prestigious, peer-reviewed journal, David Deustch misquoted Alan Turing.

Update, 2021-07-13: I made two videos related to DD misquotes:

Video about the Feynman misquote: "Science is what we have learned about how to keep from fooling ourselves.". This video goes into more depth.

Video about this blog post about DD's misquotes. This video is more of a broad overview.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (25)

David Deutsch and Lulie Tanett Violated Reasonable Expectations

When the harassment started, I didn’t expect that David Deutsch (DD) or Lulie Tanett (LT) were involved. When I caught Andy B (linked together his many fake identities), I emailed DD and LT about it, and I thought they’d be helpful and reasonable. I expected a very different reaction than I got.

What DD and LT have done has surprised me. That actually made it harder to deal with. If I knew what they were like in the first place, I would have handled the situation differently. I went out of my way to give them lots of chances for private discussion. I responded slowly to the problems to give them many chances and months to see it’s a serious public issue and change their behavior. I didn’t go into this knowing what was actually going on. I shared information as I figured out new things and that’s made my explanations longer and more complex.

Why was I surprised? Well they just left without comment. They didn’t leave in an explicitly negative way. They never said they weren’t speaking to me. We didn’t part ways with a fight. Nothing in particular happened. Our conversation frequency dwindled over time. I initiated some problem solving, but I wasn’t pushy about it and gave them time and space. Months passed and at some point they didn’t come back. That’s all. That didn’t give me much reason to think they hated me or wanted me harmed.

There was no conversation where I had any reason to think it was the last one. By the time I knew things were over, they’d been over for months. (And by the time I knew DD and LT actually weren’t speaking to me – the current situation – I now estimate that they hadn’t been for multiple years. That’s something they did on their own, unilaterally, without informing me, and with no specific or clear cause.) They never even said bye. I thought we were still trying, gradually over time, and eventually I realized that they weren’t.

I thought our old friendships would still mean something when a criminal attacked. And it’s not like I had done anything wrong. I hadn’t wronged DD or LT. I hadn’t done some sort of mean action to hurt them. I hadn’t knowingly violated their consent. And they never complained “Hey wait, that wasn’t OK, you accidentally violated my consent”.

I thought crimes were a serious matter and that people would set aside petty stuff when crime was at stake. I didn’t know that DD and LT were so far gone not to do that and/or were never actually very anti-crime (just anti crimes against their own tribe).

I thought they were doing their own things, separate from me, and that when there was an emergency involving crime that would take precedence over whatever mild grudges or negative feelings had lasted through years of not interacting. Time heals all wounds, right? Why would they still be super mad – mad enough to have a tribalist attitude and side with crime – after years with no negative interactions?

The thing DD lied about is a key point. He lied that he told me several times that he didn’t want to hear from me. But he never told me that and I had no idea he felt that way. That’s key context. He’s lying that I’m violating his requests, when actually he was violating my reasonable expectations (which is misleading to observers) even before he overtly lied about me. I had a reasonable expectation that he would respond appropriately when his fan was committing crimes partially in DD’s name. (One of Andy B’s main complaints, and motivations for harassment, is that he sees me as DD’s enemy.) DD also wouldn’t respond when Dennis Hackethal plagiarized both of us, or when someone impersonated DD and wrote comments literally in DD’s name, or when Andy B created and owned the BoI subreddit (DD wouldn’t disown that or distance himself from it in any way).

I thought I was telling DD and LT about a serious problem in their community that was bad for them. I thought they’d want to ban him from their community and keep their distance from a dangerous person. Instead they embraced Andy B, tweet with him, and continue to have a toxic community culture that does things like lie, libel, and spread hateful gossip.

I thought DD cared about his career and reputation, and would want to stay out of the mud, and would appreciate the warning about the mud getting on him. I thought it was neglect not malice. I was wrong though. After nearly a decade of going our separate ways, DD seems willing to take substantial risks with his public reputation for the purpose of trying to hurt me. He can’t or won’t let anything go, nor specify what exactly he’s so upset about or what he wants or doesn’t want. (I literally don’t know what actions to take to please or appease him so that he’d stop the harassment campaign; he won’t say; maybe there are none.)

DD’s and LT’s behavior, like fully ghosting me about crimes connected with them, and tweeting with Andy B after he was caught, has been really shocking. It completely violated my expectations based on how we left things (as well as my expectations about basic human decency and civilized behavior from them).

I’ve been going back and reading old stuff because I was shocked by their behavior and I wanted to know what happened. Did they change a lot since we last spoke much, or did I miss something in the past? The answer, in short, is that I missed stuff in the past. The old discussions are full of warning signs about their irrationality that I can see now but missed before.

DD and LT are the only people involved in the harassment that I actually knew well. It makes some sense that I’m still on their mind. But I met Sarah a long time ago but never knew her very well, and she really shouldn’t still care about me. Most CritRats I knew less well than Sarah. Why would people I never knew at all, or never knew well, hold multi-year grudges and be super hateful? There’s something really wrong there (I think their community is really toxic). And to the extent I can get any reasons from them, they say stuff like that I’m rude and that I criticized their hero DD. So what? All public figures have rude detractors on the internet, who are mostly ignored or mocked a little bit, but generally no one cares much. Even if that were true about me, why would it even matter? The people who hate and harass me are revealing, by their behavior, that they think I’m super important. They act like my opinions will somehow determine DD’s fate. They treat me like DD’s peer, and like one of the few intellectuals in the world who matters. They seem to see me like a threat to DD, a high status power player with a big following, or else why would they care? If they don’t like me and think I don’t matter, they wouldn’t be so concerned with my opinions.

I’ve posted negative blog posts about (for example) Sam Harris, but none of his fans bother me about it. I don’t even get mild pushback (they don’t seem to notice or care), let alone harassment. If I actually went to Harris’ subreddit and criticized him there, I’d get negative reactions, but all I’d have to do is stop posting on his subreddit and they’d forget about me and leave me alone. Why? Because Harris has many critics and even haters, but most are not influential and most fans don’t regard them as important. If I had 100k YouTube followers and criticized Harris, it’d get more of a reaction, but I don’t have that. Yet DD’s community treats me like I have a few million YouTube followers, or whatever the equivalent is for blog readers.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

David Deutsch Wants to Control Others and His Reputation

This is part of a series of posts explaining the harassment against me which has been going on for years. The aggressors are David Deutsch and his fan community. This post provides context about what type of person Deutsch is (a social climber), with quotes, which helps explain the harassment situation.


In the Introduction to Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand wrote about the right and wrong ways to approach life and other people. The error of wanting to control too much about other people explains a lot about David Deutsch (DD). After the Rand quote, I’ll give quotes from DD showing how he has flaws that Rand was talking about. In the quotes, he talks about managing his reputation and controlling what other people think of him.

Her [Dagny Taggart’s] error—and the cause of her refusal to join the strike—is over-optimism and over-confidence (particularly this last). Over-optimism—in that she thinks men are better than they are, she doesn’t really understand them and is generous about it.

Over-confidence—in that she thinks she can do more than an individual actually can. She thinks she can run a railroad (or the world) single-handed, she can make people do what she wants or needs, what is right, by the sheer force of her own talent; not by forcing them, of course, not by enslaving them and giving orders—but by the sheer over-abundance of her own energy; she will show them how, she can teach them and persuade them, she is so able that they’ll catch it from her. (This is still faith in their rationality, in the omnipotence of reason. The mistake? Reason is not automatic. Those who deny it cannot be conquered by it. Do not count on them. Leave them alone.)

On these two points, Dagny is committing an important (but excusable and understandable) error in thinking, the kind of error individualists and creators often make. It is an error proceeding from the best in their nature and from a proper principle, but this principle is misapplied. . . .

The error is this: it is proper for a creator to be optimistic, in the deepest, most basic sense, since the creator believes in a benevolent universe and functions on that premise. But it is an error to extend that optimism to other specific men. First, it’s not necessary, the creator’s life and the nature of the universe do not require it, his life does not depend on others. Second, man is a being with free will; therefore, each man is potentially good or evil, and it’s up to him and only to him (through his reasoning mind) to decide which he wants to be. The decision will affect only him; it is not (and cannot and should not be) the primary concern of any other human being.

Therefore, while a creator does and must worship Man (which means his own highest potentiality; which is his natural self-reverence), he must not make the mistake of thinking that this means the necessity to worship Mankind (as a collective). These are two entirely different conceptions, with entirely—(immensely and diametrically opposed)—different consequences.

Man, at his highest potentiality, is realized and fulfilled within each creator himself. . . .Whether the creator is alone, or finds only a handful of others like him, or is among the majority of mankind, is of no importance or consequence whatever; numbers have nothing to do with it. He alone or he and a few others like him are mankind, in the proper sense of being the proof of what man actually is, man at his best, the essential man, man at his highest possibility. (The rational being, who acts according to his nature.)

It should not matter to a creator whether anyone or a million or all the men around him fall short of the ideal of Man; let him live up to that ideal himself; this is all the “optimism” about Man that he needs. But this is a hard and subtle thing to realize—and it would be natural for Dagny always to make the mistake of believing others are better than they really are (or will become better, or she will teach them to become better or, actually, she so desperately wants them to be better)—and to be tied to the world by that hope.

It is proper for a creator to have an unlimited confidence in himself and his ability, to feel certain that he can get anything he wishes out of life, that he can accomplish anything he decides to accomplish, and that it’s up to him to do it. (He feels it because he is a man of reason . . .) [But] here is what he must keep clearly in mind: it is true that a creator can accomplish anything he wishes—if he functions according to the nature of man, the universe and his own proper morality, that is, if he does not place his wish primarily within others and does not attempt or desire anything that is of a collective nature, anything that concerns others primarily or requires primarily the exercise of the will of others. (This would be an immoral desire or attempt, contrary to his nature as a creator.) If he attempts that, he is out of a creator’s province and in that of the collectivist and the second-hander.

Therefore, he must never feel confident that he can do anything whatever to, by or through others. (He can’t—and he shouldn’t even wish to try it—and the mere attempt is improper.) He must not think that he can . . . somehow transfer his energy and his intelligence to them and make them fit for his purposes in that way. He must face other men as they are, recognizing them as essentially independent entities, by nature, and beyond his primary influence; [he must] deal with them only on his own, independent terms, deal with such as he judges can fit his purpose or live up to his standards (by themselves and of their own will, independently of him) and expect nothing from the others. . . .

Now, in Dagny’s case, her desperate desire is to run Taggart Transcontinental. She sees that there are no men suited to her purpose around her, no men of ability, independence and competence. She thinks she can run it with others, with the incompetent and the parasites, either by training them or merely by treating them as robots who will take her orders and function without personal initiative or responsibility; with herself, in effect, being the spark of initiative, the bearer of responsibility for a whole collective. This can’t be done. This is her crucial error.

This is where she fails.

David Deutsch (DD) wants to control his effect on the world and how the world sees him. He wants to have a large number of fans. He wants to do things to, by and through others. He doesn’t want to treat people as fully independent entities. He wants to tell people what to think. That’s too hard a task, which is one of the reasons it took him over a decade to write BoI.

DD has had ideas like teaching people to be better parents – but without them having to learn Critical Rationalism (CR) themselves. Taking Children Seriously (TCS) said parents could just learn DD’s conclusions, based on his understanding of CR, without having to learn much about philosophy themselves. TCS reassured parents that reading even one Popper book was optional. (I give sources for this at the end of this post.) This made DD the bearer of responsibility for the whole collective, since he was the one with knowledge about CR and how to apply CR. But DD and his TCS co-founder, Sarah Fitz-Claridge (SFC), have also denied having responsibility for what happened to those parents and their children, and basically abandoned them.

DD hides what kind of person he is, so I expect people to initially doubt my claims about him. Getting you to doubt he’s a social climber is part of his reputation management. But DD has admitted these things to me privately, e.g. he emailed me on 2010-07-25 (my italics):

I myself do not want the [Taking Children Seriously] archives to be widely read (yet!) because I am strongly of the opinion that it would run a coach and horses through my plans to manage my reputation into the future so that I can have a beneficial effect on the world other than physics etc. It would cause no end of trouble for me in that regard.

DD didn’t think there was anything wrong with his roughly 2000 posts about TCS. He wanted them read later (hence the “yet!” comment). He hadn’t changed his mind about the ideas. He wasn’t even saying they needed to be rewritten or edited. He just wanted to control what effect he had on the world and control his reputation (that is, control what opinions other people had in their minds about him). So he wanted to hide his ideas that he thought were wonderful and important. He wants to be a mastermind manipulating the world for its benefit, just as TCS says a parent should try to not do to his child, and Rand said not to do in the quote above. (DD claimed to be a fan of Ayn Rand and strongly recommended her books to me.)

Similarly, on 2010-09-26:

17:16:00 curidotus: can you explain your reputation management theories a bit more?
17:17:12 oxfordphysicist: One reason I agreed to be in this new Institute is that it will extend the area over which I am regarded as entitled to pontificate in public and to be listened to.
17:17:47 curidotus: rather unFeynmanesque of you
17:18:12 oxfordphysicist: I want to keep extending that area until it covers some aspects of politics and one day even education theory.
17:18:28 curidotus: and since you don't belong to any think tank dedicated to contradicting feynman, you're not allowed to argue with that!
17:18:34 oxfordphysicist: Similarly I want to avoid doing things that reduce the area.

Note that I disagreed with DD and was arguing with him by mentioning how his attitude contradicted Feynman’s.

On 2010-10-01 (my italics):

16:52:37 oxfordphysicist: Today I met the other senior members [including Nick Bostrom] of the proposed new Future Technology Institute.
[…]
16:55:35 oxfordphysicist: Mostly we were all trying to impress the sponsor with our cleverness and depth. So nothing has actually happened yet.

That’s social climbing.

And within a few days of 2010-08-20:

oxfordphysicist:
[That] Might harm me by diverting discussion away from BoI issues onto TCS and STWTR issues which I am not yet ready to present to the general public.

It’s amazing how DD wants to control his reputation. He wrote hundreds of STWTR posts on a public blog. Then he wants to somehow take it back. He’s not ready to present it to the public!? But he already did present it to the public.

Similarly, TCS was already presented to the public and probably thousands of parents started trying to use it. Many people made some changes to their parenting on DD’s and SFC’s advice. They relied on DD and SFC for the ongoing support and advice that DD and SFC communicated would be available. You can’t (reasonably) withdraw a parenting philosophy that is already in use in many people’s lives that you shared on the public internet, in a bunch of conference speeches, and in a paper journal.

You especially can’t withdraw your parenting philosophy when you tell people they’re basically like evil dictators if they don’t do TCS. They compare non-TCS parents to slave owners and to husbands when beating your wife was legal. They tell parents that TCS is something they can and must do right now, today, to avoid destroying their children’s minds. And tell them they don’t need to learn philosophy and Popper – that’s optional, advanced extra stuff. If they don’t learn Popper themselves, then they are dependent on experts like DD and SFC, so withdrawing that expertise screws people over really badly.

And neither DD nor SFC has publicly admitted to withdrawing anything or quitting the community. They don’t acknowledge anything changed. But behind the scenes they do things like pressure me not to repost archives that became unavailable due to technical/computer/software type problems. It’s dishonest to to hide what’s going on from the community you’re trying to take resources away from. They never even admitted that they stopped making new parenting resources, but they did worse than that by trying to take away existing resources like the original TCS website and recently the second TCS website (that was harder to navigate and incomplete, and they promised more stuff that never came). And when they quit, they never directed anyone to any alternatives to move on to.

It was basically implied that the parenting resources to move on to were me and my community, since DD and SFC left their discussion community to my leadership. But they never directly said that (they just left without explanation and without any clear moment in time when they left). And SFC disliked me and put some effort into preventing TCS parents from finding out that a TCS discussion forum still existed, run by me. And now they’re involved with harassment against me and my community, even though it was the only significant resource left for TCS parents. For many years, I’ve been the only person letting TCS parents come ask questions and providing expert answers, and they seem mad about that because they want to be the expert leaders. They abandoned TCS, but still want the social prestige of being a founder and leader, but without the responsibility or work involved.

SFC has been doing some podcasts and talks about TCS recently with zero acknowledgement or explanation about being gone for over 15 years. It’s confusing because they simultaneously in some ways want to hide and disown TCS, and in other ways want to claim to always have been the experts and leaders like nothing changed. It doesn’t make sense. And it leaves me with no idea what actions I could take to please them so that they would stop the harassment campaign.

As TCS leaders, they’ve (primarily SFC, who played much more of a community manager role than DD, while DD played the wise intellectual role) repeatedly said things like that new wonderful TCS stuff was coming soon. SFC was still selling TCS journal subscriptions long after the last journal was published. When they switched from the tcs.ac website to takingchildrenseriously.com (and unnecessarily got rid of the old domain instead of leaving it alone or redirecting it), they told everyone they’d repost all the articles from the old website, but then they never did. And currently takingchildrenseriously.com has all content deleted, and SFC claims the site will be even better soon. Why couldn’t she leave the existing articles available until the new stuff was ready? Why take them down instead of leaving things alone? She took stuff down on purpose, for a reason she won’t tell the TCS community (she says she disagrees with some old stuff, but doesn’t say what, and maybe just disagrees with the tone). And why delete things at all? Why not just add new additional stuff. And when is the new stuff coming? She took down the existing stuff months ago.

On 2010-08-27, DD wrote (typos in original):

oxfordphysicist:
I dodn't mean only FoR List discussion. I mean -- say a TV producer has joined the FoR list as part of sizing me up for a 12 part series. Then he sees that someone regards me as having written thousands of TCS posts so he reads them and decides I;m a crank.

DD wants to control what other people think and do. TV producers must see DD’s resume exactly as he wants it, with no other information. He thinks his TCS posts could cost him a TV series, and therefore wants to prevent any parents – who are in the middle of a TCS parenting – from continuing to use or discuss it.

Also, DD did write around two thousand TCS posts. That’s a fact, not something that some people regard him as having done.

But DD won’t say publicly that he wants to hide the information that TV producers might dislike (which, admittedly, would defeat his goal of tricking the public including the TV producers). He just sabotages parents behind the scenes after founding a parenting movement at around age 38 and putting his intellectual reputation (e.g. as a book author) behind it. I think a lot of TCS parents don’t know what went wrong and probably blame themselves, and don’t know what DD and SFC did that was unreasonable.

You can’t start something well into adulthood, connect it to your career, and then expect to withdraw it. That’s so unreasonable. People listened to DD because he relied on the reputation from his career and book – they thought he was putting his reputation and career on the line and that he would be a strong, lasting advocate of the movement he started. But now he won’t take responsibility for what he said or responsibility for the role of giving radical, life-changing advice to parents that raises new problems that they need ongoing support, articles and discussion to help with.

By the way, despite getting his way about hiding the TCS archives, DD still hasn’t gotten any 12 part TV series in the last 10+ years since he was so pushy with me about it. Not even a 1 part series. (And is he grateful that I did what he wanted regarding the TCS archives? No. He now initiates force against me without saying why.)

In his article Is TCS Revolutionary?, DD had warned other people not to try to manage their reputations like he secretly does:

One thing that one does not do is hesitate to argue against those ideas and in favour of ideas that seem better. Darwin hesitated for twenty years before publishing The Origin of Species, partly out of fear that it would undermine the fabric of society. His fear may have been justified, but his hesitation was not. The reason is the very consideration that I am discussing in this article. Yes, Darwin's theory contributed to the decline of religion and perhaps, thereby, created a vacuum that has been filled by such things as totalitarian ideologies. But on the other hand, it also contributed enormously to scientific and philosophical progress, which has saved countless lives and enriched many more. For Darwin to know which of these effects would be stronger — to know whether postponing publication of his theory of evolution would do net good or harm — would require a supernatural knowledge of all the ideas, explicit and inexplicit, that existed in other minds, followed by a superhuman analysis of the myriad interactions between them that publication would initiate. To imagine that he could make a meaningful judgement in this matter, and that it was his place to second-guess the intellectual development of the entire world on the basis of such a judgement, was not just silly, it was crass utopianism.

When we were still speaking a lot, I asked DD about this passage and how he isn’t following his own advice. His excuse was that he has more than one thing to say and he needs to say them in the right order. He should have thought of that before he said the TCS stuff. He spent nearly 20 years saying TCS stuff and then tried to pretend he didn’t. Except in a weird, ambiguous way. SFC gave a talk on TCS recently, identified DD as a co-founder of TCS, and claims she will soon publish a book on TCS (20 years ago, she also claimed the book would be done soon, so who knows if or when it’ll ever come out). She also recently went on some podcasts to promote TCS. Are they trying to hide TCS or not? What do they actually want? It doesn’t make sense. Some of DD’s fans are still finding TCS and thinking they should do it, and SFC is encouraging that. Some of DD’s fans tell people about TCS in his Twitter topics, too, and put that in DD’s mentions (notifications).

DD told me basically that he wasted many years of his life sharing TCS ideas and participating in discussions because people don’t listen, don’t learn it right, and hate TCS. He broadly thinks people are too dumb (compared to him) to reason with. I think he’s in an awkward position of thinking TCS is true, and having nothing to retract, while also wanting to stop telling it to anyone he doesn’t intellectually respect (so nearly every living person). He thinks people who read about TCS mostly respond by hating him because they’re stupid and irrational, and he doesn’t want to deal with that anymore, but he doesn’t want to retract TCS either. Partly he won’t retract TCS because that would draw more attention to it, and also he doesn’t want to admit to having been wrong about something.

But SFC is promoting TCS in 2021, so what’s going on? Maybe DD doesn’t want her to, but is unwilling to make clear, direct requests to her because she’s an extremely emotional, irrational person who will get really upset and angry over nothing, let alone over a significant request. (My main source on that claim about SFC is talking with her child a lot, though I’ve seen some of it myself too, both in person and online.) SFC might not even know what DD wants. Or maybe DD got old enough that he gave up on doing other stuff. He did promise me that he’d write a book on TCS before he died (but after he finished his physics work). But if he’s decided he’s again ready to be associated with the movement he co-founded and put his reputation behind and hasn’t retracted … he hasn’t said that either. And if SFC is allowed to talk about TCS, what is he so mad at me about that he has his community harassing me? He claimed that he was upset with me for wanting to keep the TCS email discussion archives available for people to read (but not doing it, at his request). (He wanted not just obedience but agreement … but also didn’t want to discuss and debate the matter to change my mind. Much like how conventional parents sometimes treat their children, which TCS objects to.)

DD himself is tweeting about TCS issues in a confusing way that’s bad for social climbing. He isn’t explaining it. It seems like he just doesn’t have a coherent plan. For example (2021):

All compulsory education, "tough" or not, "love" or not, in camps or not, and whether it "traumatises" or not, is a violation of human rights.

That tweet was paired with a link to Troubled US teens left traumatised by tough love camps. DD was downplaying how bad those camps are. He hates all compulsory education so much that he apparently can’t differentiate that some instances are worse than others. When you compare compulsory education to slavery or dictatorship, you don’t leave much room to admit that some things are less bad than others. It’s like saying all compulsory education is all bad, with no shades of gray, and therefore downplaying the evil of compulsory education that’s worse than public schools (like the camps). And there are abusive parents who are worse than regular parents – DD would reply that they’re all abusive parents, but some parents get drunk and beat their children and some don’t, so they aren’t all the same.

But DD isn’t explaining what he’s talking about, nor making available links to articles that explain it. His audience isn’t going to understand. Some people ask what he’s talking about and he mostly ignores them.

DD also tweeted (2021):

Compulsory education is bad.

Again he didn’t explain his position.

And he’s using force – compulsion – against me that pressures me to learn things I don’t want to learn, e.g. to become educated about the dumb tweets he writes. My self-defense has required learning a bunch of information I’d rather not about people like DD and Andy, as well as about things like website security and false identity detection.

And DD tweeted (2021):

A very bad law is about to be enacted. The very term 'junk food' is hate speech. The very term 'obesity' is a signal of scientism.

Defending children eating whatever they want, and saying all sorts of “junk food” are healthy, was a common DD/TCS claim. But why start tweeting it without explaining your position? He stopped admitting to believing this for years and now he wants to put it on his regular Twitter account, to his regular audience, without giving any reasoning? What’s the big reveal after years of silence? That’s his idea of reputation management? The only plan here is to be vague enough that most people won’t understand what he’s talking about and will hopefully ignore it, so he won’t get too much backlash. But where’s the upside? No one is going to learn something useful from tweets like this. If he was willing to alienate most people with strong, unpopular positions, without really even trying to explain it so reasonable people could see his point … then what was he doing for the last decade? What was he hiding this stuff for if he’s going to share it so recklessly?

Conclusion

DD is a reputation-managing social climber who tries to control what other people know and think about him. He screwed up by founding a movement people dislike, connecting it with his book and public intellectual career, using his author status to recruit and impress members, and writing thousands of posts about it over a period of many years. He also screwed up by writing hundreds of right-wing political blog posts, even though the intellectual elites he wants to socially climb with lean pretty strongly left-wing.

He wants to pretend he never said stuff, but he still thinks it’s true, and he has no coherent plan or policy for what to do about this situation. I think this results in frustration which sometimes builds up enough for DD to tweet a few vague things about his actual views (but they have to be vague because he doesn’t actually want to share his opinions clearly and face the public response, which he fears). He failed at his goals to manage his reputation and control the public’s opinions, and has no idea how to fix it, and his actions now don’t make sense.

And DD seems to blame me a significant amount, for no clear reason, but with concrete consequences: severe harassment for multiple years, and DD himself defamed me. Which is terrible strategy. If he would leave me alone, I wouldn’t be writing about his involvement with TCS, his social climbing, his mistreatment of me, and so on. But he absolutely refuses to discuss the matter privately, ask even once for his fans to stop harassing, or clean up his toxic community. The situation remains intolerable for me, and violates my rights, so I’m talking about it.

DD is second-handed. He cares what other people think and what ideas are in their heads – that’s what reputation is. He wants prestige and social status in the minds of others. He ought to reread Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, which addresses second-handedness as a main theme.

I think my negativity towards reputation management and social climbing is one of the major reasons that DD and I parted ways. Reputation management is also one of the reasons DD doesn’t publish very much writing. He wants to control things that are out of his control, and his writing can’t live up to that goal, so it’s never good enough.

TCS Says You Don’t Have to Read Popper

This section gives evidence for my earlier claim that TCS said reading Popper is optional, and explains how TCS was selling easy answers and shortcuts.

SFC wrote to TCS list on 2000-03-25 (my italics):

Popper, the man, had no connection with TCS. In fact, he did not discuss educational theory, and indeed, he wrote ghastly, non-TCS things about television. So don't worry if you don't want to read his books

Kevin Schoedel (a close associate of SFC) wrote from an official TCS email address ([email protected]), which SFC announced and posted from herself, on 1996-07-20, to TCS list:

Reading those books [by Popper and Bartley about Popperian epistemology] will not necessarily give you the slightest clue about non-coercive educational theory … On the TCS list, I try to write in such a way that it can be understood without familiarity with Popper, as do others. Furthermore, I am pretty sure there are several individuals on this list who have never read Popper and yet understand what this is all about.

It is not necessary to have read Popper to understand non-coercive educational theory! But if you really want to read Popper ... But I still say reading this list, and asking all the questions thereby raised in your mind, would be more useful [than reading Popper] if the aim is to understand non-coercive educational theory.

Note that this advice came before DD had published a book, so people weren’t going to learn CR by reading DD instead. And after DD published The Fabric of Reality, reading that was considered optional for TCS parents, too.

I’m the person who started telling parents that they had to learn CR and become rational philosophers themselves in order to have a realistic chance of being great, non-coercive parents. But most of them didn’t want to do that; they’d been looking for the easy answers TCS had been selling.

Speaking of easy answers, TCS also told parents that they could be and stay irrational, and still do TCS correctly, as long as they didn’t intentionally hurt their children. TCS talks about shielding your children from your own irrationalities, which you don’t solve, by not coercing your children based on your irrationalities. And TCS said all coercion is intentional, so just don’t coerce on purpose and your own irrationality and ignorance won’t matter much.

SFC wrote to TCS list on 1996-03-18 saying that coercion is “almost invariably” “intentional”:

Acting on one theory while a conflicting theory remains active in one’s mind [which TCS calls “coercion”] is not a state that happens by chance. It is almost invariably a result of intentional coercion on the part of another person, whether at the time, or earlier in the person’s life. That is why we call this state “acting under coercion” and not something less judgemental-sounding.

TCS got popular with the message that your children will grow up fully rational as long as you aren’t mean to them on purpose, and that you don’t have to learn philosophy or read books in order to accomplish this.

TCS also pushed privacy and avoided sharing information about the results for any actual children. But as a longstanding member of the community, who has met or talked with a lot of TCS people, I can confidently say that TCS never worked as advertised for a single parent. Some TCS people did pretty well as parents, and some poorly, but the plan to never be intentionally mean, and thus raise fully rational children, wasn’t even close to working for a single person. It was a bit like a “get rich quick” scheme – it makes big promises that only require low effort, but it doesn’t actually work. A lot of people want easy answers and shortcuts, and David Deutsch put his name and intellectual reputation on this one, and made it sound philosophical to people who’d never read a philosophy book (and were told that they didn’t need to). That (plus SFC’s community organizing) was enough to attract a few thousand followers.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)

CritRats Are Obsessed with Me

This is part of a series of posts explaining the ongoing harassment against me from David Deutsch and his associates and fans, who are called "CritRats" after Karl Popper's philosophy, Critical Rationalism.


KS tweeted, June 2021:

A lot of us assume that brand new accounts are troll accounts made by Elliot Temple. So he [Brett Hall, a CritRat] probably thought you are using a burner account.

I've dealt with dozens of fake accounts from banned people, but the CritRats haven't. My community hasn't been doing that to them. I've received literally zero reports of any problem like that, and I haven't personally made a single troll account. They are lying in public about me. Ugh.

"A lot" of their group ("us") assume that? Who and why? Sounds like they keep gossiping about me and this is a public admission that the gossip is ongoing in their group. And I'm still on their mind – they still keep thinking of me and blaming me for things (that I didn't do) – and it's a public admission of that too. I stay active in their minds because they keep jumping at shadows that have nothing to do with me, even though the harassment campaign has only ever gone in one direction.

What I actually do is write blog posts under my own name (like this one), with arguments and evidence, which they've never been willing to respond to or discuss, publicly or privately. (I tried to discuss stuff privately before writing about it publicly.) I wish they'd do what I do. They won't give any arguments and just snipe at me with lies, mostly in private to prevent rebuttals. This was a case where one of them slipped up and admitted more than he meant to in public (his goal was to attack me and smear my reputation, not to provide evidence about how toxic their community is).

Previously, in 2020, KS admitted on Twitter that he DMs people (private messages them) to flame me:

Hey you [@DorfGinger] have your DM off so I just want to tell you that Elliot Temple (curi 42) is a terrible person. He became super angry with David Deutsch and critical rationalists for no real reason. Basically he thinks he's a genuis and he thinks we should should all worship him.

KS is a CritRat who is hiding his identity and who goes around spreading hatred against me. I don't know why he hates me or what if anything I ever did to him. I don't know if we've ever had a negative conversation. What's going on seems to be that the CritRat community is good at pressuring people to hate me if they want to fit into the tribe, and some of them escalate to spreading that hatred while others actually directly attack me. (A prior piece of evidence regarding the pressure in their community was when the CritRat Dennis wrote "I feel the pressure of agreeing with everyone about how much we all dislike Elliot".)


Also, Sarah Fitz-Claridge removed the Godwin quote that I criticized from her website. That shows they're reading not only my blog posts but the comments section too, and that they're aware of the arguments and evidence against them. I criticized it on June 23, and it was removed on July 1 or earlier. They want people to think I'm paranoid or something, and that they aren't doing anything and forgot that I exist, but that isn't true.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

David Deutsch and My “Talent”

This is part of a series of posts explaining the harassment against me which has been going on for years. The harassment is coming from David Deutsch and his fans and associates. This post provides historical context.


David Deutsch (DD) said I had a “talent” for annoying irrational people. He said I was good at offending them, bringing up key issues that people were sensitive about, and being pushy (rather than conflict-avoiding) about intellectual debates.

I didn’t fully agree with DD about the details of this, but I did and do agree about the broad outline. Something along those lines is a reasonable statement.

DD said several times that he had a talent for not being bothered by my talent. (I’m not certain, from memory, that he used the specific word “talent” to refer to his ability to deal with my “talent”. And comments below about what DD said are paraphrases from memory.)

So it was really unfair of DD to secretly build up resentments, for years, over my “talent”, after assuring me multiple times that he didn’t mind it and he was fine. Yes I offended some people when debating them, but DD repeatedly reassured me that I could speak freely with him and that he was safe. He said it was safe for me to be myself, speak openly, and be maximally critical and argumentative. He said I didn’t need to put effort into being tactful with him, as I often do with others (it’s sometimes inadequate, but I generally do make some effort to be tactful).

DD told me that he was rational enough that I could make all the arguments I wanted, say ten criticisms about a single issue, ask whatever questions I wanted, etc., and it would be fine and never alienate him. He convinced me that this was true. It wasn’t. Maybe it was fine at first, perhaps for the first five years. But at some point it stopped being fine and he was dishonest with me and hid that problem from me (while continuing to talk with me a ton – and during those conversations I’d occasionally say things he didn’t like without knowing it and with no direct, negative feedback).

DD put work into getting me not to follow normal social rules when talking with him. He told me repeatedly to talk to him as much as I wanted and that he would take responsibility for choosing how much to engage with me. He said I didn’t need to throttle or limit my communications or worry about wasting his time. He wanted more messages from me and to have full control, on his end, over how much attention he paid to me.

Context makes it worse. I met DD as a much younger person than him and an immature intellectual. He had a lot of influence on me, and he played the wise expert role. I trusted him a lot, including his statements about how to treat him. But now I’m being criminally harassed because I believed what DD told me about his unbounded ability to hear truth-seeking arguments, criticisms, opinions, questions, requests, analysis, etc. He actually got really upset about my attempts at unbounded truth-seeking, did not point out any errors I was making, hid the problem which prevented me from trying to problem solve about it, and then finally stopped associating with me. But abandoning me and breaking some promises (e.g. to write an introduction for my book) wasn’t enough for him. He held onto a major grudge which is still severe enough, a decade later, to libel me and encourage criminal harassment.

The grudge seems to be largely because he intellectually fears me. I’m one of the only people who can effectively criticize and refute his ideas – including both big picture issues and also poking holes in his logic or wording – and he doesn’t want to look bad in public. He never once requested that I don’t publicly criticize his ideas (in the past, I was extremely willing to go along with his requests, and gave him a ton of leeway and consideration). But, in his mind, I believe he blames fear of my criticism for years of him not blogging or otherwise being productive and sharing ideas with the world. It’s an ongoing issue today. Because if he did write blog posts, I might refute them like this.

(That linked post is about a 2016 email he sent to a stranger who then posted it on Reddit. DD’s email was roughly equivalent to a blog post instead of being tweet-sized – that’s one of most recent substantive things he’s written that is publicly available – and it was actually really bad and I explained in writing how incompetent, biased and error-filled it was. If DD blogged, I’d notice more bad posts, and criticize some of them, and he knows that and doesn’t want that to happen. It threatens his ability to convince people that he’s one of the greatest thinkers ever and that his word is gospel. And he doesn’t want to actually defend that desired reputation by debating, partly because that’s hard and stressful, and partly because he knows he might lose. So not only has he been avoiding saying things that could be criticized, but he’s also been trying to withdraw some things he said in the past like his approximately 2000 TCS emails.)

Anyway, DD assured me that stuff (arguments, analysis and unbounded truth-seeking) was fine, I listened to him, but then it turned out it wasn’t fine. He was vulnerable to my “talent” after all and needed boundaries on criticism. He hid the problem from me for yearsa, tried to deal with it himself, and failed. That’s his fault and responsibility. But now I’m being harassed and smeared by him and his community over his screw up.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)