Educational Research in Practice, 2

Educational Research in Practice: Making Sense of Methodology is a collection of papers edited by Joanna Swann and John Pratt.

(Still in chapter 2) p 20 amused me by quoting Popper saying "All life is problem solving" and specifying page 100 in the cite, even though the quote is also found as the book's title.

Some more general comments: so far I'm finding the writing pretty clear and not meant to impress, haven't found appeals to authority, haven't found anti-human sentiments, and have found the statements about Popper's ideas pretty accurate (by contrast, most Popperian books are wildly inaccurate when they talk about Popper's ideas).

For example some of the criticism of induction is good. Swann comments that David Miller is better qualified to defend Popper's philosophy but I think she underestimates herself. So far I like her writing on this topic better than Miller's. I hope Swann hasn't been dazzled by math and logic and a more authoritative writing style.

I'll give two comments on Miller here. One I posted previously (btw if you like my comments on Popperian writing, you'll love this older post with a lot more of the same regarding a bunch of different authors):
David Miller / How Little Uniformity Need an Inductive Inference Presuppose

Discussing induction with formal symbols and a formal style does not suddenly make it interesting. Popper refuted it more than enough times, and this isn't even a refutation. Most of this is tedious analysis of many possible meanings of sentences inductivists have uttered. It also comes to a conclusion about how the more evidence you have, the less strong of an inductive principle is needed. This is a vaguely pro-induction conclusion which Miller follows up by insulting induction for some reason. And anyway it can't be true unless Popper was wrong about induction's non-sequitur status, e.g. this whole argument presupposes you can have positive evidence for statements which actually you can't.
My other comment is about Critical Rationalism by David Miller. On page X, Miller describes Popper's epistemology, as explained in _The Logic of Scientific Discovery_ as "falsificationism". He also explains Popper's epistemology in section 1.2 "Outline of Falsificationism" in which he focuses exclusively on science and speaks of rejecting ideas from science when he means rejecting them as false.

But science isn't the only legitimate field and any good epistemology ought to be general purpose: it ought to reach to all fields. Popper's epistemology does work for all types of knowledge, and presenting it as being specific to only science is a mistake.

Falsificationism is a bad description of Popper's philosophy because it has been repeatedly misunderstood as meaning to justify theories by how well they withstand criticism and their rivals don't.

It's also bad because it is taken to mean empirical falsification to be used only in science -- which it often is used to mean -- but most criticism is not empirical even in science (as David Deutsch has pointed out in his books, e.g. with the example of the idea that eating grass cures the common cold, which we reject without testing). And because of Miller's heavy focus on only science, I don't even know if he meant only empirical falsification or meant criticism in general -- that ambiguity is another flaw.

And, finally, "falsificationism" a bad description because Popper himself explicitly rejected it in print! In Realism and the Aim of Science, p xxxi, Popper says, "... my views on science (sometimes, but not by me, called 'falsificationism') ..."

Back to Swann's book, I was also glad to see Popper's schema included (though I don't like abbreviating the terms, and have expanded them below):
Problem 1 -> Trial Solution -> Error Elimination -> Problem 2
Also I didn't find any anti-Popper stuff like advocacy of justificationism so far. Maybe it's sad that that's even worth mentioning, but it matters and a lot of people don't even manage that much.

The comments on what a problem is on p20 are good. Including:
The educational implication of this alternative view [of problems] is that the teacher's role should be construed in the context of problems that originate with the students (hence the idea of student-initiated curricula, discussed later in the chapter).
p 20
When problem solving involves learning, a greater degree of creativity is involved
But all problem solving involves learning. How can a problem be solved other than creating knowledge of what the solution is? Or in other words we solve problems by learning what would solve the problem (then there's also doing it, which is trivial with sufficient knowledge and only hard when our solutions are inadequate or incomplete).

p 20
Within a process of learning, there are two points at which creativity is entailed: at P, when a mismatch [between expectations and reality] is turned into a problem (as mentioned above), and at TS, when a solution to the problem is devised. [P and TS refer to Popper's schema: Problem and Trial Solution]
But the Error Elimination step in the schema also involves creativity. We must think creatively to come up with good criticisms and find mistakes and also to think of good experimental tests.

p 21
Although the logic of learning applies equally to human learning and to the learning of creatures such as cats, dogs and chimpanzees, the scope of our learning is, of course, considerably greater than that of other creatures.
But cats never learn anything. All their knowledge is biological, they don't create new knowledge. All cat behavior can be explained without attributing learning capability to cats.

We also see here the common view that ability to learn comes in degrees. But it doesn't. How can the method of learning -- guesses and criticism (aka conjectures and refutations) -- come in degrees? Either something does the method or doesn't. And if it does do guesses and criticism, what is to limit learning? The method is powerful enough for all types of learning.

And Deutsch's explanations about universality are relevant here.

p 21
Two significant features distinguish us [humans] ... our facility for descriptive and argumentative language ... and ... our creation of and interaction with a world of objective ideas
I'm a little confused now. If only humans have ideas, then what does it mean to say cats learn? How does learning differ from creating good or useful ideas, in Swann's view? If Swann agrees a cat can't create new ideas, then in what sense does it learn and what does that have to do with the usual concept of learning?

Trying to guess what could be meant: sometimes people abuse language and say things like that computer hard disks learn, and try to refer to all information storage as learning. Cats do learn just as much as computer hard disks do: they store information and later retrieve it for use in computations. But that isn't learning in the usual sense that humans do. Swann has not made this mistake and hopefully won't.

Previously Swann tried to explain learning in terms of gaining new expectations. Cats, however, never gain new types of expectations that are not already defined by their biology/genes. Dogs will make a better example here since cats don't do as much. When we teach a dog a command like "sit", "stay" or "fetch" it's easy to confuse that with learning. But it isn't going beyond the dog's biology. But it sort of looks like it is. I'll explain:

When we teach the "sit" command the dog remembers it (stores information) and seems to gain a new skill. And we could try to phrase this in terms of creating a new expectation: the dog now expects that after hearing "sit" it will get rewards for sitting and complaints for walking around.

But the whole thing is scripted by the dog's genes. The "teaching" process for the command, the storage of information, the retrieval of that information, the behavior algorithms that take into account that information when present. Dogs don't actually have expectations in the human sense: they aren't actively thinking and wondering about what will happen and coming up with ideas and predictions and expectations. Rather, dogs don't think, they just run computations like Microsoft Word or Angry Birds. Those computations compute what behavior the dog will perform, taking into account input data from both the dog's senses and memory (information storage).

If you try to teach a dog a trick that doesn't fit with its genetic programming, you will never succeed. If you try to teach a dog to form an expectation that white has a large material advantage in a chess position it can see then white will usually win unless it's an odds game or white is about to get checkmated or something, then the dog will never be able to create that expectation. Dogs can't create expectations in general, they can only store information that is taken into account by the algorithms that control all their behaviors.

p 22 makes some points connecting Popperian epistemology, and a rejection of conventional epistemology, to education. I agree and think this is important. For example it points out that the following list of common ideas about what learning involves are wrong:

  • direct instruction from the physical or social environment
  • direct copying of what we see
  • the exact replication of something we have done previously
  • the accumulation of confirming evidence
However then p 22 says:
The case in support of a Popperian position, and against the common assumptions stated above, is complex.
But it's a non-Popperian mistake to judge issues by how much "support" they have or to believe ideas can be supported at all. That is justificationism!

The book then provides some references and leads for getting further information and moves on to the topic of attempts to apply Popper's ideas to education in the UK. Taking Children Seriously, David Deutsch's Popperian educational philosophy, is not mentioned.

Swann gives a list of things she thinks should be avoided when promoting learning (p 23):

  • restricting autonomous activity
  • discouraging confidence and desire
  • penalizing the discovery of error
  • offering inappropriate and inadequate criticism
  • offering 'unwanted answers to unasked questions' (Popper 1992b[1974], p. 40)
  • using objectives-based (in contrast to problem-based) planning and evaluation
What is inappropriate criticism?

And what is inadequate criticism for that matter? Our ideas, including our criticisms, are never perfect. We always use and learn from flawed criticisms.

I agree with the others.

Swann goes on to talk about "safe" learning environments without explaining what "safe" means. She also, in the same paragraph, praises a "critical attitude towards ideas". So presumably "safe" doesn't mean never being told you're wrong, as some people might mean it. But what does it mean? Does it merely mean that no one should be mean or hurt each other? Does it mean no "inappropriate" criticism, whatever that is?

p 24
A distinctive feature of the approach we have adopted in our own educational practice, and advocate in our publications, is the development of student-initiated curricula, whereby students are responsible, with tutor support, for devising their own learning programmes based on their own self-formulated learning problems.
It's good to allow students to do this. But what if they don't want to? Making them responsible for doing this sounds bad to me. I think they should have the option of using default curricula as much as they want, and using their own as much as they want, too.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)

Educational Research in Practice, 1

Educational Research in Practice: Making Sense of Methodology is a collection of papers edited by Joanna Swann and John Pratt.

I liked the introductory chapter 1 and want to share two criticisms.

p 3
... working [doing research] on the basis of inadequate or false assumptions could result in unnecessary difficulties, delays or even invalid outcomes. [bold mine]
The word "even" here is used to emphasize something surprising or extreme. But it wouldn't be surprising or extreme if one's false assumptions led to false outcomes for one's research. The passage would work better with "even" deleted.

p 3
What people do in the name of research is influenced by their assumptions about knowledge...
Our own assumptions about the growth of knowledge draw on the philosophy of Karl Popper...
The correct word is "ideas" not "assumptions". "Assumption" is a negative label suggesting lack of rational consideration. But our research can be influenced by our well-considered ideas -- which may still be mistaken -- rather than by assumptions. And Swann and Pratt's own views about Popper are not assumptions but things they've thought through.

The rest of this post is about chapter 2, "A Popperian approach to research on learning and method", which is by Swann.

p 11
Personal and broader social purposes sometimes conflict, as in the seemingly rare cases in which researchers falsify findings in order to further their reputation.
But is falsifying research an effective way to achieve personal success or fulfillment? Not at all. It's a terrible and ineffective approach. The approaches which actually work personally are also good more broadly -- there is no conflict.

Whether or not there are conflicts of this type is an important issue. If there are, they are insoluble problems because there are legitimate interests on both sides, and the meaning of conflict here is that both sides can't get what they want, so at least one side has to lose, and if someone loses that isn't a solution.

But all problems are soluble as explained in The Beginning of Infinity, and this is important to liberal political philosophy. If there must be winners and losers, that implies there will be force. There can't be a way to agree on who will be the losers because no one will agree to lose. Conflicts of interest means persuasion can't be a universal method of conflict resolution -- as liberalism wants it to be -- and therefore opens the door for the use of force.

(Force is something like the opposite of persuasion. And there isn't a neutral, middle ground, similar to how actions can't be partially voluntary.)

Further, the idea of such conflicts contradicts the idea of objective moral truth. Either there is a best thing to do -- which, being the truth, everyone can agree to and which is best for everyone -- or there isn't. To say there isn't an objective moral truth is basically to say that men must struggle for the outcome best for them and bad for others, and fight over who shall win. And that they have no way to resolve their differences by persuasion, because persuasion requires reference to one truth.

The very concept of criticism is about deviation from the truth. If there is no truth, there can be no criticism. If there are multiple truths best for different people, then why should you care if your ideas deviate from my truth? We'll each offer criticism with regard to the truth we care about, and we won't persuade each other.

So it's important to deny that there are any conflicts of interest, even in rare cases. People do sometimes believe there are conflicts of interest, and have conflicting ideas, but that is a mistake and they can get past it by learning better ideas. And if they do get past it, they will be better off and it won't hurt anyone.

A good source for persuasive arguments against the conflicts-of-interest idea is The Virtue of Selfishness by Ayn Rand (chapter 4). Another good philosopher on this topic is William Godwin (who, by the way, did educational philosophy around 1790 that is still ahead of its time today).

pp 14-15 has a good summary of part of Popper's epistemology. Two things I would add are discussion of explanations and that the majority of criticism of scientific theories is arguments not experiments. The approach of criticizing ideas with arguments does not set philosophy apart from science.

p 15 says the word "knowledge" in the education field is often used to mean "true belief". I found this comment a little odd. The usual description of the conventional view of knowledge -- by both its advocates and opponents -- is "justified, true belief". Why omit the "justified"? Do most educational philosophers drop it for some reason?

p 15 follows Popper in using the word "theory" to refer to all sorts of ideas (including things not always considered ideas such as "implicit assumptions and unstated expectations"). I think this is a mistake because the word "idea" is better suited to the task.

p 15-16 attributes the invention of the idea of induction to Francis Bacon. But Popper blames Aristotle and considers it a much older idea. Swann doesn't tell us why she differs from Popper here. I wonder if she's aware of his The World of Parmenides (see e.g. p 265) (there are a lot of Popper books in the bibliography, but not this one).

p 19
Central to understanding a Popperian account of learning is the recognition that learning is often - indeed, mostly - an unconscious activity, implicit in situations
I agree and want to add an example. When we have conversations we have to learn what ideas the other person is trying to communicate. There is no other way to know them but learning what they are. Like all learning, it must be done with trial and error, guesses and criticism, piecemeal refinement and improvement of ideas. We can't simply know what they are talking about, we must think and learn and figure it out.

But we aren't normally aware of all this. Most learning is an unconscious activity.

p 20
What distinguishes a learning organism from a non-learning organism is the ability of the former to acquire new expectations, that is, expectations which are not purely the outcome of genetic inheritance.
I think Swann overuses the concept "expectation". Not all learning is the creation of new expectations. Learning is about creating all types of new ideas, not all of which are expectations. Some are new perspectives on problems, others are new mathematical derivations, others are understanding of what a conversation partner is talking about. Expectations are an important type of idea but not the only important type.

I do not, however, think that Swann's criterion turns out to be wrong. Due to universality (see: The Beginning of Infinity), organisms either can use the method of guesses and criticism to create new ideas of all types, or can't. If it can create new expectations then it's using a universal method and could create other new ideas too. Because it's an all-or-nothing issue, looking at capability in one area turns out to reveal the whole answer.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

The Myth of the Closed Mind, 2

The Myth of the Closed Mind is a book by Ray Scott Percival.

Page 4 begins a list of arguments in favor of the closed mind, each with a rebuttal. I don't agree with any of the arguments for the closed mind, but I also don't agree with some of the rebuttals. Some comments and criticisms follow:

#1 Rebuttal relies on evolutionary psychology which is false.

#2 Assumes we have to continue to believe refuted ideas in order to continue considering them. We don't. We can take a more sophisticated view that something is both refuted and worth trying to save (create a related idea that isn't refuted), without actually believing the refuted idea.

#3 Rebuttal is too weak and concedes too much. It concedes that people can get stuck in frameworks but points out that not everyone will. A better answer is Popper's criticism of frameworks in The Myth of the Framework; we don't need to make concessions here.

Also the rebuttal says "the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis has been shown to be false" but doesn't include any source nor enough explanation to judge or criticize this idea well; apparently the reader is intended to believe there is persuasive, unspecified research on the matter and take it on authority.

#4 Agreed.

#5 Agreed.

#6 I'd add that faith doesn't guarantee a closed mind since it's well known that people sometimes lose faith.

#8 This badly misrepresents Dawkins' view and is false. In The Selfish Gene, when introducing memes, Dawkins did not say memes are mind-viruses. He explained a meme as a unit of cultural transmission, and replicator, and gave various examples and explanations making it clear that they can be good or bad, and the concept doesn't have anything built-in about memes exercising control over humans.

#9 The crucial point here is that just because people make mistakes does not imply that can't learn better.

I'm up to page 24 now. I think the book so far mixes up arguments. It argues two different things at different times: 1) all people are not literally 100% closed minded. 2) most people are significantly open minded and can learn things and make progress in real life in practice

(1) is easy to argue for and true, but (2) is what people care about. (2) is a bit vague but would be true if elaborated in a reasonable way. The book states (1) as its thesis and keeps repeating it and arguing for it, but then at other times the argument for (1) is trivial but it spends time arguing for (2), apparently because (1) isn't enough.

Page 24 asserts both Ayn Rand and Marx as examples of people who wanted to spread their ideas without any criticism allowed, like leaders of religious sects. That's insulting, offensive and unargued.

The book generalizes about people too much. Example on p 25:
People prefer to adopt and spread ideologies that: [list of 6 criteria]
Some people use those criteria and some don't. People can and do invent all sorts of criteria. People aren't all the same and don't have all the same preferences, values or ways of thinking.

Page 25 also locks in claims about how evolution shapes our thinking as part of books main point. This is elaborated on p 28 with statements like
Evolutionary psychology shows us that...
Note that this and many related assertions are unsourced.

Page 200 tells us that it would be "impossible" to understand Ayn Rand's ideas about art, morality or metaphysics from her novels, without reading her non-fiction. The novels only explain classical liberal ideas "identical" to those of Herbert Spencer and Ludwig von Mises.

The "impossible" and "identical" claims are silly. While similar, her politics aren't identical to those others. One reason is that you can't completely separate politics from morality and Rand's morality is different. More mundanely I'm not aware of Mises proposing an end to coercive taxation as Ayn Rand did. And according to Wikipedia Spencer opposed land being private property so that's very different!

Regarding "impossible", it's hard, certainly, to understand Objectivism without studying it carefully, but the novels have a lot of information and if you thought about it a lot why couldn't you learn more from them than Percival allows for? What's to stop you and make it *impossible*? Take Rand's morality. She does explain and illustrate a lot about that in her novels. I'd say her novels are the *best* source for learning her morality. Why does Percival -- who apparently dislikes Ayn Rand even though her philosophy has a great deal in common with Popper's -- choose to make such strong and negative comments about her in passing?

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (2)

The Myth of the Closed Mind, 1

The Myth of the Closed Mind is a book by Ray Scott Percival.

I appreciate the conversational style of the writing so far.

EDIT: Note that the early part of the book is introductory in nature and the ideas will be elaborated on more later in the book. And I'm commenting as I go, I did not read the whole book first.

p 1
The myth of the closed mind is the popular theory that some people, or some beliefs, are impervious to argument. Almost everyone today seems to accept the myth of the closed mind.
Not the people I know, e.g. on The Beginning of Infinity email list. It's generally accepted there that such a thing is false.

What people do have is criticism-resistant ideas. But if you know the right thing to say, you can still persuade them. This can be hard. Often the right thing(s) to say isn't the direct approach. Just directly explaining the truth on some subject, in the straightforward way, doesn't reliably work very well with criticism-resistant people/ideas/attitudes.

People do things like argue in circles. Or make a bunch of inconsistent statements to defend some entrenched idea they have, and each time one is refuted they make another, either an old one or an ad hoc new one, and they just keep going forever, not caring that they often contradict themselves and keep being wrong over and over.

Why? Well, one reason is they have some other misconception(s) they aren't communicating which is behind the whole mess. And if you explained better ideas about *that* then you could make progress, but they won't give you much help in figuring out what that is.

Another reason people don't accept ideas we try to persuade them of is that we are mistaken. (They may also be mistaken, too, or not.)

Another common issue is that people are in a mode of trying to lecture and correct you, instead of listening and learning. Or that you are in such a mode and not listening enough. Even if you're mostly right -- and you might not be -- the other guy may have some good points which your view doesn't address well enough. If you improved your view to better address those issues, it'd be more persuasive.

p 2
Our evolution has made us sensitive to the way the world is, given us a degree of general curiosity about the world, a respect for logic, and a respect for effective and efficient means.
Not so. Some cultures, and persons, do not respect logic (really: Percival's conception of logic, which I share, but some people do not share). And biological evolution doesn't have knowledge about logic. These descriptions of our attitudes to life our cultural not biological.

pp 2-3
We can decide not to read or listen to an argument, but we can't decide to remain untouched by a telling argument that we have heard or read.
I agree we can't just arbitrarily decide to ignore it *once we decide it is telling*. But there is a big gap between reading it and understanding why it's telling.

By "we" I mean most people in our culture. There have existed cultures and people that wouldn't care if an argument was telling, and which don't respect reason or logic.

The gap between reading something and understanding it is that you have to *learn the content* which goes beyond the words. One can hear or even memorize sentences without understanding what they are about. To understand, we have to think about them. We have to *guess* the meaning and *improve* and refine our guesses with *criticism*. That's how we learn things.

Whether we take an *active*, learning role -- with guesses and criticism -- or take a *passive* role and don't make the effort to understand -- is a choice that's up to us. Learning is an active process -- requiring activity by the learner himself -- passivity after hearing or reading can sabotage progress.

The book goes on to say we can't decide to be unmoved by arguments that we grasp, and can't knowingly accept error (what we regard as error). I agree there but it's not equivalent to the prior statement and also doesn't elucidate issues about how people must take an active, learning role in order to grasp things. There's a common assumption that if we listen to someone say something in English, and we speak English, then we know what it means automatically. Not so, as Karl Popper's philosophy implies and is covered more in The Beginning of Infinity chapter 10 and here.

p 3
Darwinian evolution has given us rough and ready but robust and irrepressible, specialized brain modules for solving special recurring problems our ancestors faced during the Pleistocene: choosing a mate, detecting cheats, making inferences about the world of people, animals, and objects.
No, as The Beginning of Infinity explains our minds have universality (with regard to creating knowledge), they aren't a collection of special case algorithms.

Even setting that aside, as a matter of logic and some basic facts, nothing from Darwinian evolution is "irrepressible" which means "impossible to repress". Our minds are powerful enough to create technology including technologies for changing human genomes. So at the very least we will be able repress such things using those technologies, when they are a bit more advanced. There's nothing impossible about that kind of technology, and nothing about our genes to absolutely prevent us from taking that kind of action.

Or, similarly, we could upload our minds into computers to escape our genes. I don't think such drastic steps are necessary to be autonomous persons in control of our own lives, but in any case they mean it is possible to repress our genes.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)

Psychiatry iOS app

My Psychiatry app is now on sale for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. It is significantly bigger and better than my previous philosophy oriented apps. It has more content as well as more programming (e.g. I included a quiz).

It is a universal app. I also recently updated my previous apps to be universal.

If you're interested in psychiatry, you'll love it. Also if you haven't read Szasz, you really absolutely must read the app as well as some Szasz -- you are likely to make some major moral blunders in your life if you never learn about this stuff. Some of the prevailing, mainstream views in this area are grossly immoral and harmful, so you really better learn something about the topic before you screw up.

Not trying to do a hard sell, but I'm serious, psychiatry is important and affects at least tens of millions of Americans every year, and the illiberal, anti-freedom ways a lot of "mentally ill" persons are treated are a big deal (e.g. imprisonment without trial), and there's also a whole host of more subtle issues that you better know about before you, say, get couple's therapy, or have a conversation with your friend about the couple's therapy he is considering getting, or go see a shrink, or let a guidance counselor see your kid, and so on...

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

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How To Create Knowledge

So you want to participate in the TCS or ARR projects. How does one do that?

The primary thing to do is knowledge creation: learn the ideas and help improve on them. And learning them enables using them to improve one's own life, while improving them allows one to further improve own's own life.

Secondarily, one can promote the ideas, spread the word, hire people to work on it, publish on the topic, and so on. This will help people as well as creating a bigger community with more people to contribute improvements, which can benefit you.

Let's consider knowledge creation in more detail because there are some misconceptions and confusions about how it works, and because some understanding of Karl Popper's philosophy is helpful to doing it better.

How are ideas like TCS or ARR created? Learned? Further refined and improved?

All knowledge is created by *guesses* and *criticism*. It is a process of trial and error, not one of deriving, induction, abduction, justification or empiricism.

Knowledge also addresses problems. Problems aren't necessarily a bad thing but would include any question one has, or anything one wants to get and isn't sure how to get it.

Step one is to identify a problem. Just find anything that one thinks could be better in any way.

In step two, brainstorm ideas which might solve the problem; make guesses. There's no quality standards here, no rules or limitations, anything goes. And don't worry about coming up with enough ideas right away, you'll have unlimited chances to revisit this step later, so just move on as soon as you want.

Step three is to criticize the ideas. If anything at all is wrong with them, that's grounds for criticism. A criticism is an explanation of a flaw in an idea, and we want to be merciless here and find every flaw we can.

Step four is to do a mix of the previous steps in no particular order. You can have a lot of things in progress at once and bounce around between them, or you can be more methodical, either way is fine. Every time you criticize an idea, you have created a new problem: how could that idea be improved not to have the flaw criticized? And you've also created a new idea (the criticism itself) which can be exposed to criticism. So step three naturally feeds back into steps one and three.

So, criticism drives the process. Criticism identifies new problems we can try to solve, must be criticized itself in case it's mistaken, and sends us back to brainstorming as ideas are rejected. Criticism is the reason the initial steps are relaxed and easy: if any mistakes are made, they are supposed to be caught in the criticism step, you don't have to worry about them in the first steps.

The goal is to come up with a single idea which has no criticisms of it which you think will solve the problem best. When you reach that point, you're done. Everything you learned along the way, and this final result, are knowledge you have created.

There's also the possibility of criticizing the problem one is trying to solve, itself. Problems can have flaws too. Maybe there is a better way to frame the issue, or a better goal to try to accomplish instead. If a problem is criticized, one can try to brainstorm better problems or ways to improve it.

Now that we're familiar with the general method of knowledge creation, let's consider some specifics.

This covers how to solve problems, such as trying to improve an idea. How does this apply to learning?

Learning is itself a problem: trying to gain knowledge one didn't have before. This is accomplished by brainstorming what the ideas one is learning are, and how they work, and improving on that with criticism. It is fundamentally the same process. The main difference is that existing material on the topic can provide suggestions for problems to consider, brainstormed ideas to consider, criticisms, and so on. And one can criticize his brainstormed ideas not just by considering if they are good or bad, but also by considering if they are compatible with the existing material on the topic that one is trying to learn.

How much can this be a collaborative process? Or does it work best as an individual process? It works either way. This process is just as valid within one mind as for a group discussion.

People always do some of their thinking in their own mind, even in the midst of a group discussion. That's important and good. And it leads to the question: is collaboration is important too, or can we rely on individual thinking? And does collaboration create too much extra work having to deal with other people?

Collaboration is extremely important and valuable for two reasons. But first let's consider how difficult it is. Actually, people can frequently work together to create knowledge in an efficient and effective way. All they have to do is share what problem(s) they are working on, share any brainstormed ideas for a combined list, and share their criticisms. This is simple to organize since the basic outline of knowledge creation involves two lists associated with each problem, and anyone could add to the list, all they'd need to do is read it first to avoid duplicates.

To collaborate, people also need to explain their ideas clearly enough for others to understand them. This does take some effort but on the other hand clarifying one's ideas is important even if one is doing individual thinking. Making them clear instead of vague improves their quality and addresses the criticism of the vagueness flaw.

The first benefit of collaboration is that if someone else has a good problem, brainstormed idea, or criticism, then I don't have to think of it myself. Instead of having to figure everything out personally, I can benefit from thinking other people do, and they can benefit form thinking I do. This is the same principle as not reinventing the wheel, and learning math from other people instead of trying to figure it all out from scratch by yourself.

A lot of ideas about TCS and ARR have already been figured out, and it's advantageous to learn those instead of trying to think of them all yourself.

The second benefit of collaboration is that we all have weaknesses, blind spots, irrationalities, and hang ups, as well as strengths and areas of expertise. Thus, someone else might be good at what I'm bad at, and vice versa. So that provides an opportunity to help each other.

It's too hard and unrealistic to find all of our own mistakes. We can find a lot, but we're not perfect at everything and will miss some that other people might find. This is one of the reasons that people who don't collaborate enough sometimes get stuck and don't make much progress.

For topics like romance and parenting, virtually everyone has blind spots and irrationalities. Sometimes it's hard enough for one person in a group of a thousand to see an error that everyone else is making without realizing it. Trying to do that all by oneself every time would be folly. Making mistakes where we don't realize anything is wrong is common for everyone, and it's a hard problem, and collaboration helps us better deal with it since only one person has to find a mistake and can share it with thousands of other people to help them get past their blindness or irrationality.

Now we've covered how to create knowledge to help the TCS and ARR projects make progress, and we've seen why collaboration is important. Let's consider a few specifics.

The best medium for collaborative discussion is email lists. That is why TCS and ARR have email lists which you should join here:

Email lists enable people to brainstorm ideas and share them, to explain problems they are interested in solving (such as problems with current TCS or ARR ideas), and to share criticisms. They also enable asking questions people may have.

Some people like to have discussions in person. That's fine, but it's no substitute for an email lists which allows for worldwide collaboration. Worldwide collaboration means that anyone in the world who knows about this stuff can criticize or contribute, and it means that people from different cultures can use the strengths of their differing perspectives to augment weaknesses of other cultures -- the added variety of perspectives is helpful.

Exposing one's ideas to criticism -- from oneself as well as others -- is crucial. Otherwise one's ideas will have lots of mistakes. This includes one's understanding of what TCS or ARR are. It's not just improvement that works by critical discussion but also learning the existing ideas. Learning is not trivial and needs criticism to deal with mistakes.

This means that people who read a lot of stuff, but never write anything which could be criticized by others, almost certainly do not understand the ideas very well (which may be why they never think of anything they want to say). One needs to expose his understanding to criticism to get it to high quality, not just expose his proposals for improvements to criticism.

Besides email lists, online forums are another good tool. Any online collaborative tool can also be valuable such as instant messaging, IRC chat channels, wikis, collaborate document creation websites, and so on. Computers and the internet are amazing technologies which surpass what came before. The various offline options have some use but are more limited.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (2)

Taking Children Seriously

Disclaimer: Taking Children Seriously (TCS) has a lot of bad ideas. Its founders, David Deutsch and Sarah Fitz-Claridge, are bad, dangerous people. Stay away. I still agree with Popperian epistemology and being nicer to children, but I recommend against reading their TCS articles. I think their articles are misleading in both blatant ways and subtle ways, and are good at tricking people into hurting their children. I think my own TCS articles have some good parts and aren't so dangerous, but I've changed my mind about some issues and haven't revised the articles, so read critically and skeptically. Don’t try to follow any ideas you aren’t fully comfortable with and fully persuaded of (meaning your conscious logical/intellectual analysis and intuition/emotions/subconscious both agree with no doubts/hesitations).

All long lived ideas are spread from older persons to younger persons. If that didn't happen, an idea could not outlive the current generation. The future of civilization depends on its knowledge (including traditions, institutions, ideas about a good society, etc...) continuing to exist over time. Consequently, the future depends on which ideas are passed on to younger persons, and in what way. Any civilization which does a bad job of this cannot last but will die off.

For passing on ideas to younger persons, the most important thing is the behavior of parents. Parenting is by far the biggest influence and factor here. Bear in mind that for a child to attend school, his parents choose to send him, and if they behaved otherwise then the child would not attend. (There are exceptions for some countries with laws suppressing that freedom, but they could choose to emigrate instead of comply, so again the behavior of parents is the most important consideration.)

All the major current civilizations do manage to reliably transmit ideas to the next generation. However, there is a second issue: this needs to be done in a way that allows for improvement and progress. Otherwise the civilization will never change for the better and will inevitably die off when some problem comes along that its knowledge cannot handle (like a meteor impact, or even just a tsunami for a civilization stuck with less technology and wealth).

Western civilization is in a mixed state. Improvement and progress are possible, but they are limited and we could do a better job. Better parenting and educational ideas can address this problem, as well as making family life happier.

Imagine a way of life which is perfectly transmitted to the next generation. They will therefore do the same things their parents did, including the same methods of parenting. So they will transmit that same way of life to the next generation, and this will repeat until external circumstances intervene. But no progress will ever happen. This is the nightmare scenario of a static society.

Western society is not static, but most people do parent similar to how their own parents did, in most respects. Unfortunately, that means passing on many mistaken ideas. What would be better is a method of parenting which can pass on good ideas while selectively not passing on any mistaken ideas.

No method can accomplish that perfectly because that would require omniscience. But we can do a better job of it. The most important issue is how disagreements, disputes and conflicts are approached, and whether it is in a rational and truth seeking way or an irrational way that suppresses innovation.

What most parents in the West do is consider what they think is a good or bad idea. If they judge something is bad, they'll try not to teach it to their children. This is a good start which allows for some progress over the generations. However, it has weaknesses. It misses the opportunity for the child to contribute. Parents make mistakes and those will be taught to their children. And, sometimes parents decide an idea is bad but accidentally pass it on to their children anyway.

Parenting and education can be improved by addressing these weaknesses. How can do we that?

Taking Children Seriously (TCS) is an educational and parenting philosophy. Its most distinctive feature is the idea that it is possible and desirable to bring up children entirely without doing things to them against their will, or making them do things against their will, and that they are entitled to the same rights, respect, and control over their lives as adults.

TCS is the only educational philosophy that draws heavily on the correct philosophy of knowledge (explained by Karl Popper). By applying some of the most important existing philosophical knowledge to this area, and finding its implications, TCS provides important insight. TCS is also the only parenting philosophy fully compatible with (classical) liberalism.

TCS has the philosophical answers for addressing the weaknesses.

TCS proposes that family disagreements, disputes and conflicts be approached by finding a common preference -- a way of proceeding which everyone prefers. This is different from a compromise in which the action taken matches no one's preference.

Common preferences are always possible and are a better approach than compromises, sacrifices, or the use of force. A common preference can be thought of as any solution to a problem. Anything else is not a solution but at best a "partial solution" which means some problems are not solved.

Solving problems is good. When they are not solved, people get hurt and suffer.

Let's now return to the issue of passing on ideas to the next generation while correcting mistakes in those ideas, improving them and filtering out bad ideas. Solving problems is one of the elements of how to accomplish this. It is not accomplished by people being hurt or suffering.

It's important that children use their own minds. Children should only accept ideas they are persuaded of, which is the rational approach to thinking. This will help filter out bad ideas.

As long as parent and child agree, life is easy and a wide variety of parenting approaches are in agreement about what to do: do what both the parent and child agree on. It might not be perfect but it's the best option known to them.

What sets people apart more is how they handle disagreement. If the parent and child disagree, what happens next? Does the parent force, pressure or manipulate the child to "listen" (obey, believe) as the parent says to? If so, that is irrational. It is not a truth seeking approach. If the parent is mistaken, his idea is passed on anyway, even though the child initially recognized the potential that this particular idea is a mistake. The child's input is ignored in the cases where it's most important because it could correct a parental mistake.

A rational approach which can do a better job of filtering out bad ideas must, in the face of disagreement, judge ideas based on their merits not their sources. It must not be biased against the child's mind in favor of the parent's mind. When there is a conflict it needs to open mindedly seek the truth. That means that the parent and child each may try to persuade each other and explain themselves. They both have a voice.

So, they discuss it. They explain their understanding of the problem at issue, and how it can be solved, and what they see as flaws in the other proposed solutions. And they explain how their solution can be altered to meet any criticism, or why that criticism is itself mistaken. But they still disagree. What next? They can either agree to disagree and drop the issue for now, or try to come up with better, more persuasive ideas.

Although parents know more than their children in general, that has no bearing on the specific case where the child -- knowing that his parent is knowledgeable -- still thinks he knows something important, or his parenting is missing something, about a specific issue. Because parents know more, children will usually agree with their ideas, but in the case of a disagreement then people must not assume the parent is correct. When a parent says, "Because I said so," or, "I know best, so just listen to me," that is the epitome of irrationality.

Especially crucial is that a parent never coerce his child. And it's in disagreements, disputes and conflicts in particular where parents may be tempted, but must instead rely on voluntary, mutual persuasion (just the same as liberalism's approach to disputes between adults).

All problems have solutions which are best for everyone, and if a parent fails to persuade his child of something -- if the parent is offering something the child does not see as best for himself -- then this indicates a weakness of the parent's thinking, not a character flaw in the child. The child may be ignorant, but if the parent fails to explain the issue to correct the child's ignorance then that is the parent's mistake and he should learn to be a better educator. The child may be mistaken and have bad ideas, but if the parent fails to come up with compelling criticisms of them, that is his own weakness. And if the parent offers something which isn't best for everyone, so the child rejects it, again that is the parent's mistake not to have come up with a better idea that wouldn't compromise the child's well being.

When a parent fails to rationally persuade, this is exactly the sign we need to identify potentially bad ideas being passed on to the next generation. This is the perfect opportunity to stop trying to pass on the idea and reconsider it, and only to pass it on if the parent can improve it to the child's satisfaction.

The issue of parents accidentally passing on bad ideas can also be ameliorated by never making children do anything against their will. If they are in control of their lives, they can resist picking up ideas they don't want to. So at least in some cases we can get a better result.

Although we cannot have perfection, we can recognize disagreements as places where at least one person is mistaken, and therefore as opportunities for learning, progress and improvement. If a child is mistaken, help him understand better instead of becoming frustrated and coercing him. And the more he resists parental explanations, the more unsure the parent should become, and the more the parent should begin to question the quality of his knowledge on this topic which is either mistaken or not good enough to help the child understand.

Normal parenting and educational practices today are routinely irrational. Parents punish and force their children. They coerce and manipulate. Teachers have curriculums and lesson plans and make it their goal that the child learn and agree with the material; they irrationally expect the material to have no mistakes and not to need improvement (despite the evidence that it has plenty of room for improvement: bored and unhappy children getting test questions wrong or, contrary to the irrational assumption, perhaps disagreeing about some test questions the teacher may have gotten wrong).

The irrationality of forcing children to do things applies to brushing their teeth, attending school, having a bedtime, and everything else that parents might want to make an exception for.

Improvement in this area can change lives and change the world. It's a huge opportunity. Join us and help expand and refine TCS. Learn it yourself and explain it to others.

Join the TCS discussion group:

Update: TCS discussion has moved to the Fallible Ideas group.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (11)