Rational Discussion Tips

Be clear and direct about questions or requests.

When asking a question, ask for the information you want. E.g. don’t ask “why” unless you want to know why. Give some basic, simple thought to what your question is and directly say it.

Saying, “If you do X, I will do Y” is not a request that the person do X. It’s giving them information about their options.

Saying “I want X” is not literally a request, even if X has to do with another person. Sometimes that wording may be clear enough, but other times it won’t be, and it’s hard to tell the difference, so don’t rely on it. A clear request is “Please do X”. Requests are often phrased as questions, e.g. “Will you do X?” When in doubt, say “I request (that you) X”. (The parentheses indicate optional words that fit some scenarios but not others.)

Use question marks for your questions. Do not use question marks on non-questions.

Don’t skip steps. E.g. don’t ask “Why do you think X?” if the person has not said they think X. Instead ask “Do you think X?”

Don’t ask a question which is answered by the words “yes” or “no” unless you want a yes or no answer.

If someone asks a question with a yes or no answer, start your answer with “yes” or “no”. If you want to say something else, say it after giving the direct answer. Don’t leave out the clear, direct answer.

In general with all questions, start your answer with the answer. Your first sentence should clearly and directly answer the question. If you want to explain extra details, put those after the answer. Don’t use “But” for the extra details. Don’t contradict your original answer. Phrase the answer to be correct on its own. You can add minor/tiny exceptions in the details (“unless zombie Hitler shows up and points a gun to my head”), but if your answer requires a major exception, your answer is wrong and you should change it. E.g. say “often” instead of “almost always” in your original answer if there are some major exceptions.

When you use strong words like “always”, “never”, “all”, “none”, consider if they are actually, literally true (don’t say it if it’s false) and consider if you have a reason to make such a strong claim. In general, when you want to make a strong claim like that, you shouldn’t. Instead, remove the qualifier. E.g. instead of saying “All cats have hair” say “Cats have hair”. Adding the “all” is a way of saying “there are absolutely no exceptions” which is false (in this example and in many cases) and is generally an unnecessary/irrelevant claim. Don’t say “Some cats have hair” either, that’s too weak and defensive, there’s no need to limit it to “some”, that doesn’t represent reality well (more than “some” cats have hair, it’s more common than that).

Don’t use intensifiers without a big reason. In general, just delete it every time you write “very”.

Don’t assert things which other people should judge for themselves or which are being debated in the discussion. E.g. don’t call one of your arguments “good” when 1) it’s other people’s job and privilege to decide if it’s good or not 2) you’re debating with someone who you can expect to disagree with your evaluation of how good it is. Instead, simply call it an argument.

Don’t assert things, without giving an argument, which other people will disagree with. In particular this comes up with claims about people. E.g. if Joe claims Sue is angry and gives some reasoning related to what she wrote, Sue saying “I am not angry” is not a counter-argument, it’s an unargued assertion. Sue should not assume her beliefs about herself are true. Sue shouldn’t expect Joe to believe her claims about her emotions, thoughts, motivations, and so on, just because she says so. Further, Sue herself shouldn’t believe her claims about herself unless she has arguments.

Don’t respond to questions with counter-questions. Don’t respond to arguments by raising new topics. Engage with what people say.

Occasionally you may switch to a higher level meta issue with logical priority. E.g. suppose you’re debating politics. If someone asks you a question about your views on government-run healthcare, or makes an argument about that, don’t respond with a question or argument about immigration or border walls. Don’t change the topic to something else about politics. However, it can be appropriate to change the topic to something non-political like “Hold on, the discussion is getting really chaotic. Let’s try to organize it and go one thing at a time. OK?” Or you could say you were losing interest and suggest dropping it or discussing why it’s interesting, important and productive enough to continue. Those tangents make sense because those issues come before and govern the political discussion. But switching from one political issue to another is non-responsive to what the person said and is a way people avoid explaining their position.

To a first approximation, all mistakes matter. Try not to make mistakes. When you do make a mistake, don’t make the excuse of saying you weren’t really trying. Take responsibility for your error and try to fix it and figure out what caused the error.

Be prepared for discussion topics to change from e.g. politics to non-politics like the thought processes behind the mistake you made about politics.

Be prepared to discuss how you think rational discussion works. Be prepared to disagree with people about that and have to explain your thinking. Don’t expect the methods of productive discussion to be something everyone agrees on and which goes without saying.

Be prepared for people to say things you consider rude, impolite, etc. If they do, it means they disagree with you about how to discuss. You can argue your case or be tolerant and broad-minded and not mind.

Be prepared to use references and for other people to use them. You don’t have to write out every idea you have. Some have already been written down (or audio or video was recorded), in the past, by you or by someone else. You can link, cite or quote stuff to avoid repeating.

Consider, when you claim something, if you think it’s a new, original idea, an uncommon idea, a reasonably well known idea, or an extremely popular idea. If you don’t know which it is, or where you got it, that’s a problem. That indicates you don’t know much about your own idea. If you do know basic info about the idea’s status in the world, that is relevant in some ways. E.g. if an idea is very popular and widely accepted, then someone should have already written the idea down in a good, high quality way. So quote that instead of writing shoddy, half-assed new arguments. If you can’t or won’t do that, why not? What’s going on? Wanting to practice explaining things yourself is one answer. Another thing that can be going on is that millions of people believed it without ever caring whether anyone ever wrote good arguments explaining the matter, which would be an important and relevant fact about the idea.

If you don’t know the purpose of every word you read, you don’t understand it. Don’t ignore or skip some words. Don’t try to give counter-arguments when you don’t understand it (at least not without a warning that you don’t understand it but you’re going to try to say something anyway, so people know the situation – lots of stuff that’s normally bad to do becomes OK if you clearly state what’s going on so no one will be misled). Try to figure it out and/or ask what the text means.

Rational truth-seeking discussion is about figuring out decisive answers to resolve issues. E.g. criticisms that refute, not weaken, ideas. It’s not about scoring points, it’s about finding (contextually) conclusive answers.

Try to keep track of your discussion so that you know which ideas have been refuted by which arguments, which are not-refuted, which ideas conflict with each other, what questions are open and unanswered, etc.

Discussion is cooperative. Don’t be biased. Don’t argue for “your” side. Contribute arguments, questions and ideas for all sides in an effort to find the truth. And feel free to ask for help from the other guy about anything – he’s your ally, not your enemy.

If something is too hard or confusing or overwhelming, just stop and slow down. State the problem and propose something to do about it or ask for suggestions on what to do about it.

When in doubt, deal with the doubt. Don’t ignore problems. Don’t try to focus on the main topic like physics or immigration. Bring up the problem with the discussion. Ignoring the problem will only break the discussion and confuse the other person who you hid the problem from. Hiding the problem from your discussion partner(s) is dishonest and it sabotages the discussion.

If you’re emotional, take a break from discussing or pause the main topic and communicate about the problem. (Unless the emotions are clearly and significantly positive, that’s OK. But don’t make the excuse that you don’t feel “bad” or it’s not “negative” emotions – if it’s anywhere near neutral plus strong enough that you’re noticing it, it’s a significant concern and you shouldn’t be confident of your understanding of it.) Like other problems, getting emotional during discussions is not something to try to ignore or hide. Do something to solve the problem yourself and take responsibility for it working or ask for help.

Don’t rush. Take as much time as you need. Don’t sit there worrying endlessly for no clear reason either. Take reasonable steps that aren’t careless and which follow your thinking and discussing methods. No more, no less.

It’s easiest to organize and keep track of a discussion, and follow up over time, on the curi forum. That’s easier than FI because you don't have to learn to use and format emails and because it puts the whole discussion on one page. And it’s easier than Discord because it’s easy to find and refer to everything instead of it getting scrolled way up.

Plan to follow up on your discussions over time until they reach a conclusion of some sort. Don’t just end them for no reason because you went to sleep or 24 hours passed or whatever. You can end discussions when you reach answers about the topic or when you have some reason to, e.g. you feel like you learned enough for now. When you end a discussion, explain your reason and be prepared to consider and discuss criticism of your reasoning.

Try to be extremely honest and expect others to be honest too.

Don’t form negative judgments of people until at least one negative claim about them has objectively reached a conclusion in discussion. E.g. you argued your case fully and completely and you think it’s adequate, covered everything, and there are no substantive counter arguments that you haven’t addressed (all the replies are just distractions and bullshit like the person putting effort into misunderstanding what you said, which you covered as a general category but not for each one individually). If you’ve never quoted someone’s error, explained a criticism, and addressed questions and counter-arguments in a way you think is objectively conclusive (should satisfy and persuade any rational person, including the person criticized, who is only resisting the claim due to bias, irrationality, dishonesty, evasion, etc.) then don’t be judgmental. Give people the benefit of the doubt and act with good will and in good faith until there is at least one clearly established reason to do otherwise.

If you don’t like something and don’t say anything about it, you are the one behaving badly, not them. If you just assume it’s bad, you’re dealing with a disagreement (they don’t think what they did is bad) by assuming you’re right, without arguing your case. That’s an irrational, not truth-seeking, way to handle disagreements.

See also these other discussion tips including more in the comments there.

PS This is all related to epistemology because thinking and discussing are largely equivalent. Rational discussion is externalized rational thinking, and rational thinking is internalized rational discussion. For a truth-seeking process that deals with disagreements between ideas, the number of people involved (one, two, more) and the format (text, voice, thoughts in your head) do not fundamentally change what makes it rational and effective.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (44)

Blizzard's Speech Suppression

Blizzard Gives 6-Month Ban To College Team That Held Up 'Free Hong Kong' Sign

Blizzard banned some US college Hearthstone players from competitions for 6 months after they held up a sign reading "FREE HONG KONG, BOYCOTT BLIZZ”. They did this on purpose, as a statement, after Blizzard banned a Hong Kong Hearthstone player for a year, and made him forfeit like 10k of prize money, for a pro Hong Kong statement, and also fired the two casters involved.

Blizzard wasn’t sure what to do at first and delayed a decision, but has now decided that it does want to punish Americans for their political speech in America that is in agreement with American values in general. It’s not even offensive speech in America, it’s just offensive to foreign communists.

Blizzard’s justification for the bans is:

a general rule that states the company can punish players for “engaging in any act that, in Blizzard’s sole discretion, brings you into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages Blizzard image.”

This is an extremely generic, subjective rule. One can’t predict in advance what will be punished or how much it will be punished. A government with laws like this would be an oppressive tyranny. This is rule of man, not rule of law.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fuck China

Free Hong Kong. Free the Muslim Uighurs from Chinese oppression.

Fuck Apple for removing the HKmap.live app and lying about why. Fuck the NBA's appeasement of China. Fuck Blizzard for banning the Hong Kong Hearthstone player. Fuck Chinese censorship and its Western accomplices.

Fuck the Chinese government. They are tyrannical communists. Mao Zedong was evil. The 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre was evil.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (2)

curi's Progress

This topic is for posting what I write about in the comments. Topic, word count, and maybe date if I'm posting it late. I may also mention other activities.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (51)

Dishonest Thinking About Sex with Minors

In Defense of Richard Stallman is a decent article on recent events. Stallman lost several jobs because the SJW, fake-news media fraudulently misquoted him. Too few people wanted to stand up to the lies, or bothered to think enough to know it was lies.

Stallman said of his friend Marvin Minsky (allegedly) fucking an underage girl on Jeffrey Epstein's pedophile island:

the most plausible scenario is that she presented herself to him as entirely willing. Assuming she was being coerced by Epstein, he would have had every reason to tell her to conceal that from most of his associates.

and then the media lied like:

Stallman wrote that “the most plausible scenario” for Giuffre’s accusations was that she was, in actuality, “entirely willing.”

This is a major evil. It's dangerous. And it's complicated: it involves the activists, the lying media, and also, most of all, the much larger group of people who go along with it, who aren't SJW activists but do choose to accept the media's lies.

While I don't think Stallman should have been fired for this, I don't agree with him either. Here's how I view it (assuming the allegation is true):

Minsky was 73. She was 17. He was in a weird situation on a private island. What did he think her motivation was? Did he think he was physically attractive to her? Did he think she didn't have better options for recreational sex? Did he think she was an educated fan of his work? Was she trying to gold dig and get a relationship, money, even marriage, from the married Minsky? Did she have a fetish for old guys? Was she trying to social climb in Minsky's social circle? Was she going to ask for favors later like a higher grade (she wasn't in his class), a preface to her book by Minsky, or introductions to important people?

Did Minsky ask her anything about her motivation? Or did he choose not to consider it, not to ask, and to engage in dishonest, biased, wishful thinking?

Why did Minsky want to engage in statutory rape? Or did he not bother to find out her age, and not care? Or did he figure they weren't in the US, so breaking US laws didn't matter, and he thinks it's a bad law which should be repealed (something he's never said a word about in his life, certainly never advocated, he just wanted it not to exist this one time for him)?

I don't know anything. My analysis is all made up. But I think it's much more plausible than Stallman's suggestion that Minsky was duped. You can't really dupe an honest man like this. They have to go along with it. If they were trying not to be duped, they'd have a bunch of questions and there wouldn't be convincing answers.

Sex and sexual consent are things to be careful with. Sex in unusual situations (like on a private island, in a foreign country, with a large age gap, or with someone outside of one's regular social circle), where your regular intuition may not be appropriate, is something to be extra careful with. Sex with especially young girls, who are generally less experienced and responsible, is something to be extra careful with. Was Minsky extra careful? Doubtful. How could he have been careful and ended up going through with it when there wouldn't actually have been good answers to skeptical questions? If he started expressing a bunch of doubts and concerns, would the girl really have been able to come up with persuasive lies to cover every issue? Was she so much cleverer than Minsky that she could fool him despite the facts being heavily against her?

This is like an extreme version of a guy who believes a bunch of flattery – without really questioning it or thinking critically – from a pretty woman he just met. Except this time, instead of manipulating him to get a favor, she was just offering sex for nothing, for no apparent reason, not even a free drink. At that point, an honest, old, unattractive man is normally wondering things like whether she's a prostitute, because what else could it be? If Minsky did wonder, it would have led to not having sex with her, and if he didn't wonder then he did something badly wrong.

Apparently Stallman and Geoff Greer (who wrote the defense of Stallman article linked above) didn't think of any of this, either. That's bad. And the media, rather than making these reasonable arguments, lied, which suggests to me that, despite their posturing as defenders of women, maybe they don't know this stuff either. (Disclaimer: I didn't read many articles about this. If you can find one which makes arguments similar to mine, especially from the mainstream media, please link it in the comments, I'd like to see it.).

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (16)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comment (1)

Social Rules

Social rules are one of the most powerful enemies of reason.

They aren’t all bad. They have some useful purposes. But, regardless of the upsides, they have huge, irrational downsides.

The useful purposes are helping structure or organize how people interact. This gives people more of an idea of what to expect. People don’t realize what it’d be like dealing with a stranger with no customs to guide the interaction. That’s actually a really hard problem. Our social rules handle it pretty well.

When people are “anti-social”, it’s often only a small portion of social rules which they violate. For example, they say taboo words like “retard” or they say something bluntly (directly and honestly) which you’re supposed to tell “white lies” about or avoid saying anything about.

People who violate those rules still use many social customs such as greetings (“hi”), farewells (“bye”), or understanding and using the conversational dynamic of questions and answers.

The small portion of social rules which are commonly violated are not very important. The really important stuff is pretty uncontroversial. Particularly in intellectual conversations. In those conversations, people may be rude or insulting, but it’s basically nothing like trying to talk with a savage or barbarian who is ignorant of civilized modes of interaction.

Politeness helps reduce violence among semi-civilized people. But we’re so civilized today in America that we really expect people to be able to refrain from violence even if they are insulted. We think it’s barbaric to duel over honor.

Social communication rules limit what you say. This limiting makes it much harder to say certain ideas. Some of those ideas are true. Being able to speak freely lets you better focus on speaking the truth without worrying about other factors.

Some truths are very hard to say politely because, socially, you’re just not supposed to say them. For example, people lie all the time but you’re not supposed to point it out. Thinking people lied is common but saying so is considered an aggressive attack (regardless of whether it’s true). What if you want to point out lies so that people can learn to stop lying? What if the goal is improving in many ways including integrity? Then social rules make that hard.

Social rules cause people to take offense rather than rationally analyze what was said. Social rule following involves a way of evaluating statements as polite or rude, which people do before and often instead of evaluating whether the statement is true. This is contrary to truth-seeking. It causes people not to think about whether a criticism is true or not if they find it personally offensive.

There is an interesting issue about what to blame. Did the social rules teach people to get offended by “insults”? Or were they already offended by insults and the social rules just help avoid triggering that underlying flaw? Regardless, one can group it all together under the general heading “social dynamics” or “social rules related issues” and say there is a problem there.

Many problems occur because social rules are unwritten rules which people treat as an automatic, expected default. They won’t say what offends them or what rules they want to be treated by. Actually they often pretend they are willing to hear any criticism, but still expect social rules prohibiting some criticism to be followed.

If people said “I am fragile and get offended by things I perceive as insults. We need to somehow accommodate this flaw of mine in our discussions.” then they’d be easier to deal with. But people don’t honestly face the reality of their situation.

The main things that offend people are criticisms that imply they are bad in some way. This includes being incompetent at something where the social expectation (the general, default expectation of our society or culture) is that adults are competent at it. It also includes being dishonest, being bad at thinking, having immoral ideas, being dumb, not understanding something that people think only a dumb person wouldn’t understand, making dumb mistakes (dumb according to social perception, not objectively), and being irrational.

But people are irrational, dishonest, dumb or incompetent (because our culture’s expectations about skill are actually unrealistic and high in some ways (and low in other ways, they are not very accurate)). Those are crucially important issues for anyone trying to be a rational thinker. People need criticism of those issues. They need to get better at those things, not avoid discussing them. So social rules block intellectual progress.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (13)

TheWorldOfParmenides Reddit Conversation

TheWorldOfParmenides is a reddit user who liked and posted some of my material. His name is a Karl Popper book title. He was talking with people hostile to Popper. I talked with him briefly, suggesting he might like to discuss on the Fallible Ideas (FI) forum and expose his ideas to criticism. Two weeks later he got back to me about the FI forum. Here is the conversation:

TheWorldOfParmenides: I saw the email discussion group. Decided against participating. Looks like what is discussed is not of interest to me at this time. I appreciate the invitation but grammar, Rand, Apple and image analysis are not interesting to me.

Your email group is not what I am looking for at this time. Good luck to you.

curi: You can start topics.

TheWorldOfParmenides: Looks like you also violate people's privacy and post their emails publicly if they ever leave your little group.

You also attacked David Deutsch in defense of a shoddy Philosopher like Rand.

Lot of downsides, no real upsides. Thanks again but no thanks.

curi: Well, let me know if you develop any counter-arguments to anything I said, or to Objectivism, instead of just ad hominems.

Also I didn't violate anyone's privacy. When you email to a public email group, your email is publicly available to anyone. There are archives of all the emails, whether someone left or not, which include the email addresses that sent every email. People can use an email address that isn't attached to your real name (many people do).

TheWorldOfParmenides: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ad_hominem

You should read what an ad-hominem is before you talk about things you don't understand.

Better yet, spend 2 years as intellectual historian and read actual philosophers and realize that Objectivism stole from some of the best and Rand added her own poorly thought out ideas.

There is a reason that Rand is not taken seriously by professional Philosophers.

The fact that you thought what I said was ad-hom. Typically, (don't feel too bad this is very common) Randians have a very hard time separating ideas from people. If you do embark in an intellectual journey you'll quickly realize this.

Good luck!

I posted this to document what people are like. I want to be able to refer to it as an example later. This kind of stuff is pretty typical. It's a major problem with the world. It's hard to find any halfway rational thinkers. Also I suggest that people try analyzing the discussion in comments.

Update: He messaged me again after I posted this:

You immediately proved my point by you posting a private conversation on your website.

You Randians are so predictable. I say jump and you ask how high.

I don't know why he thinks messaging strangers on Reddit is private conversation. It's not.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (36)

FI Posting Tips

Tips for new people using the Fallible Ideas discussion group:

  • If you think a criticism is irrelevant, say so and give your reasoning. The person who posted it thought it was relevant. You disagree with me. Discuss your disagreement instead of assuming he’s stupid or acting in bad faith.
  • If you think a criticism is unimportant, say so and give your reasoning. For example, you can point out a small change to your idea which solves the criticized problem and which you think your critic should have been able to think of himself. Then ask if he disagrees with that analysis – maybe he sees a problem with that alternative or there was a reason he didn’t want to put words in your mouth by assuming that is the adjustment you’d want to make. (Putting words in your mouth without saying them out loud, just in his own head, is in general worse, not better because it’s more prone to lead to confusion and misunderstanding. It doesn’t have the social problems of attributing his dumb ideas to you, but in terms or having an effective discussion if he thinks you mean something you don’t mean, and he doesn’t say this out loud, it can get really confusing.)
  • If you think a criticism is pointlessly picky, pedantic, or hair splitting, say so and give your reasoning. Don’t think it’s obviously so and the person did it on purpose. They disagree with you. You may be right, but you can’t change their mind without giving some sort of explanation/argument/reason that is new information to them.
  • If you think someone does something mean, rude or bad, say so and give your reasoning. You may have misunderstood something. They may thank you for the critical feedback and apologize. If you don’t communicate about the problem you perceive, you are preventing problem solving, and anything bad that happens (e.g. you holding a grudge or forming a negative opinion of someone) is your fault and your error. Sarcasm or any sort of insulting joke is considered mean -- don’t post it, and do say something if you think someone did it to you.
  • If you have a problem of any kind with FI, say so and give your reasoning. That’s how truth seeking works.
  • Never use quotes when something isn’t an exact quote. Never manually type quotes, only copy/paste. (An exception is you can manually type in quotes from a paper book, but be careful to copy the exact words and review it for typos. Another exception is typing in quotes from a video or audio recording.)
  • Try to answer questions with clear, direct answers.
  • Try hard not to lie. Expect that you will lie anyway. Be open to criticism of your lying which can help you learn about your lying. If someone thinks you’re lying, that is productive criticism, it’s not a personal attack. If you don’t understand their reasoning, ask questions. And read this article about lying.
  • Try to understand things really clearly. Raise your standards for what you regard as actually understanding something. When in doubt, ask questions. If you’re not sure if you should ask a question, ask it.
  • “I don’t understand” is a bad question. Don’t say that. Which part don’t you understand? What issue are you having with it? When asking a question, or asking for help, you have to give some new information. People can’t give you a better answer without some kind of info about what the problem you’re having is. If you don’t give new info to let them customize what they say for you, they are in the same situation they were in originally when they first wrote it for a general audience, and they already wrote their generic answer for that.
  • When you want help, give information about what you tried. What is your problem? And what have you already done to try to solve the problem? And why didn’t those problem solving attempts work? What went wrong with them? Info about how/why/where you got stuck, what’s going wrong, is crucial for people to help you.
  • Keep your posts pretty short and have at most 3 sections (3 different quotes that you respond to). Most of your posts should have only one section – just reply at the bottom to the overall point instead of reply to details like specific sentences. Knowing how and when to reply to small parts is a skill which is hard and you shouldn’t worry about it for months. If your discussion is too complicated to write one reply at the bottom – if you feel like you need to reply to a bunch of details – then ask for help about how to simplify it.
  • Only post when calm. If you’re even a little bit emotional, don’t post. (BTW, your emotionalness can be divided into two categories: the stuff you’re aware of and the stuff you’re not aware of. So you’re basically always more emotional than you realize. For most people, the part they aren’t aware of is the majority.)
  • If you have negative emotions in reaction to a post, that is your choice. That is something you are doing to yourself. It’s about you, not the post. It’s your error. You could learn better and change. Don’t blame the other guy. Even if he was rude, your emotions are your responsibility. And, as above, don’t assume he was rude without a rational discussion where you explain reasoning and so does he.
  • Because you can and should ask for help with any problem at FI, then all your problems are your own fault, unless you actually raised the problem, discussed it calmly and reasonably (including answering clarifying questions), and then explained why you find the help inadequate and explained what you think is the source of the problem (e.g. you think something about FI’s design is bad, and you think it should be changed in a certain way, but people just refuse for no reason – which wouldn’t happen, but that is the sort of thing it takes for your problems to stop being your own fault.)
  • Be really careful with your preconceptions. FI has lots of unconventional ideas. It has something to offend everyone. You have to be tolerant, patient and interested, rather than just assuming that different ideas are bad ideas. Some different ideas are bad, but why? Consider and share your reasoning. We’ve probably heard it before and already written answers.

Update: See also my newer post Rational Discussion Tips

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (13)

List of Fallible Ideas Evaders

This is a guest post by Alan Forrester.

This is a list of ppl who had discussion contact with FI and then quit/evaded/lied/etc. It focuses on ppl who claimed some interest in FI, Poppper, reason, etc. It has a short summary of what happened with each person. It would be good to find patterns about what goes wrong. That would help people find out what the common mistakes are and avoid making them, and it'd help with organizing discussion to avoid some of the problems.

Ron Garret

[email protected]

Interest: David Deutsch

Garret had a blog post discussing David Deutsch’s book “The Fabric of Reality” and criticising chapter 2 of the book. https://blog.rongarret.info/2015/03/why-some-assumptions-are-better-than.html

Elliot offered to criticise Garret’s post. Garret posted on FI between 13 and 15 May 2019. During the discussion he posted misquotes. When posters criticised him for misquoting he stopped posting. A quote from Garret’s last post:


You have misquoted people and said you’re careless. These are substantive problems. If you think they’re not substantive problems that in itself is a substantive disagreement. And for reasons pointed out above, these problems would make discussion of other problems more difficult. So fixing your carelessness and misquoting is more important int eh current context than your views on other topics.

I didn’t misquote people, I misquoted myself. And the “misquote” was substituting the word “dispute” for “deny” (or maybe it was the other way around, I don’t recall, and I don’t feel like looking it up). If you think the difference between “dispute” and “deny” is substantive, well, we’ll just have to agree to disagree about that. I intended them to be synonyms.

We’re having a substantive disagreement about the importance of accurate quoting.

No, we are having a stupid disagreement about whether or not “deny” and “dispute” mean the same thing. I neither deny nor dispute that accurate quoting is important in general. I deny and dispute that it matters in this particular instance.

You know what? This is a waste of time. I’m done.

Fred Welf

[email protected]
Interest: David Deutsch

Welf posted to the Beginning of Infinity Group about liberalism between 13 and 15 June 2017 claiming that liberalism led to bad policies. His posts were criticised and he stopped posting.


A quote from Welf’s last post:

These are some of the nonsense consequences which were directly stated in my initial post. I wonder if you decided they were not stated as if you had read carefully or were blinded by your own overreaction to the first few sentences!!

Welf has posted some material about banks on the internet without discussing it with FI or the BoI group, see


David Winslow

[email protected]
Interest: Objectivism

David Winslow can to the Fallible Ideas list from the Harry Binswanger list.

A quote from one of Winslow’s posts:


The combination here of there being a purpose to believing
something exists (explains sightings of apple trees, explains how apples are
produced, etc. and also no criticism of claiming it exists is adequate to say
it exists.

Your consensus methodology has little to do with either a scientific or
philosophical proof.

Existence is covered in more detail in DD's books. http://beginningofinfinity.com/books

I have no interest in hearsay.

Blue Yogin

[email protected]
Interest: behavioural genetics

Blue Yogin posted to the FI list in December 2013 and January 2014. He tried to promote human behavioural genetics. A quote from one of his posts:


Hi. I am the original asker of this question, and I'm new to the list. Happy to be here. Some of the context was lost here - we had been talking about the heritability upper and lower bounds for some common phenotypes, chief among them intelligence. (Or, if you prefer, "the ability to do well on IQ tests"). Whenever I talk about this I try to switch to sports analogies as quickly as possible. I think we have better intuitions about athletic ability than about mental ability, and they have the same basic statistical properties, so it's easy to switch between them.

So your approach to the subject is to stop considering it, and start arguing by analogy, as quickly as possible?


To make this question harder and to avoid sneaking away from the pain I'm trying to inflict, allow me to add another proviso. Suppose that any good idea in football can be quickly copied by other teams.

How will supposing something vague, and seemingly false, get us anywhere?

Thus, though individual coaches might have some good ideas about how to train better or play better, whenever a good idea like that is shown to be successful, it quickly sweeps the entire league, and the game returns to an equilibrium state in which every team employs the best training and playing strategies, so that the only difference between teams are physical differences that can't be easily copied.

So you only want to approach the subject via unrealistic analogy?

It's not unrealistic. Strategies in football are in actual fact routinely copied whenever they work. Major league teams employ scouts whose full-time job is to figure out what training routines and play strategies the other teams are practicing. Trainers and coaches routinely switch from team to team and cross-pollinate their institutional knowledge. Whenever a team loses to a significantly new strategy, everyone in the entire league studies that play on their iPads in the week after the game and either adopts or develops a counter strategy.

One day he just stopped replying to posts.

Tom Robinson

[email protected]

Interest: TCS

Tom Robinson vaguely hung around the TCS/ FI scene for years.

His last post in March 2015 rejected FI without offering any way to make progress on disagreements:


I watched the first 10 seconds and it looks super annoying to watch and really trendy, and screams unseriousness. Which fits with the 2 million views.
If you’re guessing why, instead of him knowing something more than an assertion, I’m not impressed.
it doesn’t matter if he’s the 10th best person in the world, it wouldn’t be good enough.

When I wrote that post I was interested in memes and writing mainly for my own benefit. By comparison, issues about how to make videos, who is impressed and who is the best at philosophy are boring and off-topic. They don't lie at The Beginning of Infinity. To paraphrase Ayn Rand, the proper business of man is the conquest of nature, not the conquest of other men.

Richard Crawley

[email protected]

Richard posted from late May 2018 to September 2018. One of Crawley’s friends informed him of the list cuz Crawley was interested in addiction. He stopped replying to messages without saying why he stopped. A quote from his last message:


Minimum wage laws are a price control on the price of labor. Any comment on those?

I have no problem with a minimum wage. I'm not sure I's call it the
"price of labour" in that way as that sounds like work is a commodity to
be sold, like a tin of beans, whereas in fact the operation is the other
way round.

The minimum wage was introduced to ensure that workers didn't get ripped
off. Unfortunately, the labour market isn't such that if you don't like
one employer you can just go and get another; despite what the
governments tell us, there are not swathes of companies desparate for

King of kings

[email protected]

This person posted two messages and didn’t reply to criticisms at all.

A representative quote from one of his messages:


We become the caretakers and defenders of all life as we know it thus far. We knw life is always at risk on the micro scale here on earth one species to the next. Whether they be plants, animal, or cell life. All life.


[email protected]

Kevin posted twice in September 2013, asking about how to deal with criticism. A representative quote:


When you come up with a new idea, the first thing you would do is consider if this actually solves the problem you have. If your idea doesn't solve the problem, you can always think some more about why it doesn't and make alterations to it until it does.

Suppose you think the idea might solve the problem. Do you then look for external criticisms to the idea? Or do you come up with your own criticisms of the idea to see if it does indeed work?

When you're consciously thinking about an idea, you've already criticized it and rejected many variants. The idea couldn't be any good otherwise. Criticism is necessary to get halfway decent ideas.

People would typically call this "unconscious criticism" or maybe "subconscious criticism". I don't think most thinking on those topics is very good. Maybe a better concept would be: criticism that you weren't paying active attention to. I don't think that's perfect either but it has advantages.

So in this context, the issue is more like: there is a constant stream of internal criticism going on and at what point do you try to add in some external criticism? And at what point do you pay more active "conscious" attention to the internal criticism?

There isn't a one size fits all non-contextual answer to that. But as a rule of thumb, if you're wondering whether to get an idea some external criticism, then the answer is that you should.

What if I want external criticisms a lot? What if I keep thinking my ideas aren't very good, and I should keep looking for more available criticisms?


[email protected]

anurnimuss posted a few messages to the FI group in February 2014 and then stopped. A short sample of his writing:


Is there a rational way of deciding whether someone should be allowed to acquire control of a dangerous object that belongs to a particular class of destructive capability?

I think that as a weapon or object becomes more dangerous to more people, we should become proportionately more critical of who has signaled an interest in taking control of it. This implies that we should scrutinize would-be knife owners less than gun owners, and gun owners less than bomb owners, and bomb owners less than missile owners, etc.

Matjaž Leonardis

[email protected]

Interest: TCS

Leonardis posted on the BoI group from 2011 to 2012. He stopped posting with no explanation. A short sample of his writing:


Universality is when a particular solution solves all of the problems in a given domain. So, for example, the Arabic numeral system is universal for doing addition, subtraction and multiplication with positive integers. By contrast, tally marks are useless for doing those things except for very small numbers.

But you can do multiplication, addition and subtraction between positive integers with tally marks.

When you add you concatenate the two strings together, when you subtract you shorten the first string by the length of the second, and when you multiply you concatenate one copy of the first string for each tally mark in the second.

There is no reason why you can't do this (in principle) with arbitrary large integers.

It is true that the Arabic system is way more efficient but even it becomes useless for sufficiently large integers.

So I'm not 100% clear what exactly is the domain where the Arabic system is universal and the tally mark system isn't.

Leonardis posts on Twitter, including a post about a woman being fascinating based solely on a single photo:


Jude Stull

aspec[email protected]

Jude posted to the FI group in June and July 2013 and stopped posting without any explanation. A sample of Jude’s writing:


2) instead of giving out direct contact info, have some public email list, discussion group, forum, or whatever, which you monitor. you do not have to read everything there. let other people discuss it. then look over the topics that get the most attention, that your allies don't know how to fully answer, that your allies think have merit, and so on.

what are "allies"?

If we are truly in the business of constructing a greater truth by openly proffering and then vetting fallible ideas, why would we need "allies"?

If allies reflexively side with you in the event of a debate with a non-allied outsider, wouldn't this sully the potential of the debate to attain truth?

zyn evam

[email protected]

zynevam posted in the FI group from November 2011 to May 2018. A short sample of his writing:


2017-05-26 22:25 GMT+01:00 Elliot Temple [email protected] [fallible-ideas]
[email protected]:

On May 26, 2017, at 1:59 PM, Zyn Evam [email protected] [fallible-ideas] [email protected] wrote:

2017-05-26 20:29 GMT+01:00 Elliot Temple [email protected] [fallible-ideas]
[email protected]:

On May 26, 2017, at 11:55 AM, Zyn Evam [email protected] wrote:

2017-05-25 23:54 GMT+01:00 Elliot Temple [email protected] wrote:

On May 25, 2017, at 3:45 PM, Zyn Evam [email protected] wrote:

Is FI the best place to make progress in solving AI?

FI is crucial for this, and for critical discussion generally.

for AI to work it'll have to be Popperian.

This is what I would like to implement: popperian epistemology applied
in the context of neural nets.

Then my guess is you should learn way more epistemology.

I guess that is so too.

Also you shouldn't start with a preconceived notion that Popperian epistemology will apply to some existing AI programming paradigm like neural nets.

Yes, that could be so. However in terms of knowledge representation I
think neural nets work really well. The problem is knowledge creation,
which neural nets do not really do at all. In supervised learning
paradigms we feed all the knowledge to the nets, they do not create
new knowledge, just good representations to do the particular tasks we
want them to do. I haven't done much in reinforement learning though.
But still there we specify what we want the neural nets to learn. It
is still us who specify which score the neural nets shall maximize.

i think the really hard problem is criticism. until you figure out how to deal with criticism, you don't know what knowledge representations are good. you need a knowledge representation that facilitates your approach to criticism.

in supervised learning settings humans have to supply the information (criticism) which enables error correction. for instance in image recognition humans have to label images as belonging to different categories. in imagenet (http://image-net.org/challenges/LSVRC/2017/) for instance there are 1000 categories with 1000 examples each. a neural net starts with randomly initialized weights (analogous to synapses which will store knowledge) and receives raw pixel values (e.g. 0s and 1s) as inputs. as activation runs through its weights given an input sample it produces a random guess initially. then we have to tell the network if its guess has been correct or not (hence we need labels). based on this the network changes its weights so that next time its guess will be closer to the correct output. in the end we test it on 150,000 images it has never seen.

all of this requires 0 human knowledge going into the design of the network (we initialize the weights randomly). the only point where human knowledge feeds into it is that we have to tell what is the correct output. the error correction afterward is general and automatic.

the reason I mentioned knowledge representation is solved with neural nets, is that with the exact same method can be applied to any domain, such as speech recognition, text classification, odor classification, or whatever you can think of.

Larry Mason

[email protected]

Larry Mason posted on the BoI list from April to May 2013. He stopped posting with no explanation. A sample of his writing:


In my system when a luxury is bought, the money ceases to exist. The producers of the luxury will receive some money soon (within a month?) for that benefit and may receive more later if other benefits become apparent later.

Adding a month delay to many financial transactions would be an economic catastrophe. (Plus the uncertainty about how much you will be paid.)

In my system, financial transactions are purchases of luxuries. Hardly something that can cause an economic catastrophe. But with physical object money financial transactions are the heart and soul of most economic catastrophes.

In my system, only your luxury income is at risk. With physical object money, how much you will be paid is not only unknown but if huge importance. (Just ask those folks who don't know whether they'll have a job next month or those who have lost their jobs.)

The more you write the more you make the case that physical object money economics is a horror show.

He has a website at https://nopomstuff.info/

Rafe Champion

[email protected]
Interest Karl Popper

Rafe Champion was a critical rationalist who posted on the FI group from June 2013 to October 2014. A sample of his writing:


A problem that is identified becomes a problem that can be worked on. Taking one issue at a time and having the same struggle each time suggests that he was not getting the STRUCTURE of the ideas so that each one he mastered should have made it easier to take the next steps.

An example would be in cooking where you don't understand that the different kinds of cooking - boiling, frying, baking are all based on a similar process to get from a raw product to a cooked product by applying heat in different ways.

Similarly in languages where you try to learn without any grasp of grammar that enables you to take something from one language to the next (in the same linguistic family).

And the problem of getting justificationists to see that the same intractable problems turn up in each situation where they take that approach rather than the alternative.

He left the FI group without giving an explanation. Elliot Temple discussed some of his problems in this email:


His website is here


Damián Gil

[email protected]

Gill was on the BoI list from July to August 2017 arguing against Yes or No Philosophy:


A sample of his writing:


What do you care about "more degree of confidence" or "the more confidence you'll have that the man is cheating and the die is not fair"? (These quotes are from the post included below.) Is it an imprecise statement about what bets you would and wouldn't take?

Remember I'm not a native english speaker. I don't know if "what do you care about" is a slang phrase or something. Talking literally, what I care about is no one's business. The relevant thing is that the degree of confidence can increase or decrease, not if I care much about it or not.

The confidence someone has in a statement can be very imprecise, like in the case of a common man treating a difficult problem; or very precise, like in the case of a bayesian statistician treating a very simple problem, like the hypothetical die. A statistician can state his degree of confidence in a very precise, numerical way. For example, he can assume initially that the die is fair, and the proportion of sixes must be 1/6. Each time the die is rolled, the statistician can give you the exact posterior odds ratio. Say he calculates it after quite a lot of sixes and the result is 5:1. That means that, given his current knowledge (I insist that probability is subjective, it depends of the state of knowledge of the observer, so different observers can precisely calculate different probabilities for the same event) cheating is exactly five times more probable than innocence. But all of this is irrelevant. The degree of confidence in a statement can be vague or precise, but the point is that it exists. It's not illogical to talk about it.

Logan Chipkin

[email protected]

Chipken posted a few times in March 2019 and stopped without giving any reason. A sample of his writing:


A study from Harvard University found that, once contextual factors are taken into account, no racial differences emerged in the data on lethal shootings. As the author notes, “In the end, however, without randomly assigning race, we have no definitive proof of discrimination”.

I don't think one quote from an unnamed study, and a statement of the
conclusion, without a citation, is convincing enough. It's not
presenting them with a bunch of counter evidence.

So I thought the article hyped up data but then didn't have a lot. Too
much setting the stage and conclusions, and too little of what I thought
would be the main course or meat of the article, IMO.

He has a twitter account where he has posted more recently https://twitter.com/chipkinlogan

Abraham Lewis

[email protected]

Lewis posted on the FI list once in 2017. A sample of his writing:


I was using understanding your ideas about marriage as an example and saying that in spite of the fact that it's very important with lots of value to be had, it can still be rational and good that people don't pursue it, because of opportunity cost.

i'm not aware of any actual cases where the opportunity cost makes it not worth it. i'm sure you could invent some with e.g. a married couple who are both 105 years old and about to die of cancer, so there isn't time to make progress and then benefit from that progress. but in normal situations for people with decades ahead of them, i don't see the case that this stuff isn't worth the cost.

But that's from the vantage point of someone who already accepts its
value. Other people are surrounded by people claiming to have ideas or
criticisms that will help them improve their marriage. Depending on
the person, it is highly likely that most wont. The opportunity cost
to pursue all of those avenues, let alone every other area in which
people are claiming to have good ideas that will improve them is very

Bruce Nielson

[email protected]

Nielson posted on the FI list from July to October 2018 and then stopped without explanation. A sample of his writing:


I don't think that e.g. Marxism or environmentalism spread by offering value or by rational persuasion. They're irrational movements which pressure and manipulate people.

Hmmm... I actually said "meaning" not "value." I'm suggesting the Left is very good at creating meaning for people (like religion does). I'm not claiming that the meaning being created is valuable to anyone but (perhaps) the individual it created meaning for.

Meaning is valuable to people. Even if it's only valuable to one person, that's still offering value to that person, from his perspective.

I've rolled this discussion back to before it went off the rails. It took me forever to even find the right spot to jump back in. I tried to respond back in September but couldn't find the right spot to fix the conversation.

Anon, I have a concern here. I'm reading you a certain way and I'm struggling to read you a different way. The problem is that it really seems to me like I said something that makes sense and that your response must somehow misunderstand it. But maybe you really and truly understood me and were appropriately responding back to me.

I'm making the following claims -- very limited claims:
1. There are people that find "Leftism" personally meaningful. And by that I mean very specifically "they get meaning internally over it in a subjective way."
2. I wasn't insisting that we call "meaning" the same as "valuable" since the word "valuable" has a range of meanings that may or may not
include the sort of short term value that one gets out of 'personal meaning.'

Does that make sense?

I'm not claiming anything else here.

I screwed up the quoting really back back when we had this exchange.But let me recreate it here to illustrate my concern with your response:

Bruce: So it's not at all clear why 'the religion of the left' even works in the first place as a way of creating such strong meaning for people as a replacement for traditional religion. Thus this is the mystery I'm trying to solve for myself. Also, I want to know this because I'm convinced once I know how the Left is creating so much meaning for people, I'll know how to counter it without destroying the parts of the Left that I appreciate and like.

Captain Buckwheat

[email protected]

Buckwheat posted on the FI list from August 2013 to March 2014. A sample of his writing:



But there were men who were impressed by the simple fact that Roark had built a place which made money for owners who didn’t want to make money; this was more convincing than abstract artistic discussions. And there was the one-tenth who understood. In the year after Monadnock Valley Roark built two private homes in Connecticut, a movie theater in Chicago, a hotel in Philadelphia.

Why does AR think it's one-tenth? Does she ever argue for that anywhere? Do you think it's one-tenth? If not, what's a more accurate figure?

I don't quite see what she meant there. One-tenth of what? I guess it could mean Roark's ratio of actual clients to potential clients in a given year. This doesn't make sense, though, because it means that one-tenth of people looking to build something in that year preferred to have it built by Roark. Surely more than 40 new buildings were erected that year, so that would mean Roark was turning away clients who "understood". This isn't mentioned in the book.

For comparison, an optimistic guess is that 1/1000 people each year buy a book by Ayn Rand. (*) Buying a book is a lot less of a commitment than buying a house, so we can take that as an upper bound on Roark's ratio of potential clients to actual clients. The actual figure would have been much smaller, maybe 1/10,000 or 1/100,000.

(*) Atlas Shrugged sold 7,000,000 copies in the 56 years since it was first published in 1957, which averages out to 125,000 per year. The US population averaged around 250 million people over that time, so if we optimistically assume all the sales were in the US, that's 1/2000 people each year. If we count all her books, the number of sales each year might double (again being very optimistic), which would work out to 1/1000.

I think Ayn Rand meant 1/10 of 1/4 of those who read the article that Austen Heller wrote about Roark. Just three paragraphs before the quote mentioned above it reads:

”Howard," Mallory said one day, some months later, "you're famous." "Yes," said Roark, "I suppose so."
“Three-quarters of them don't know what it's all about, but they've heard the other one-quarter fighting over your name and so now they feel they must pronounce it with respect. Of the fighting quarter, four-tenths are those who hate you, three-tenths are those who feel they must express an opinion in any controversy, two-tenths are those who play safe and herald any 'discovery,' and one-tenth are those who understand. But they've all found out suddenly that there is a Howard Roark and that he's an architect..."


[email protected]

Interest:critical rationalism

Destructivist posted on the FI list from June 2013 to January 2016 and then stopped without explanation.

A sample of his writing:


God is a bad explanation. If you want to explain some issue X using god, then there are two possibilities. Either X is the way it is just because god says so, in which case we might as well say “shit happens”. Or X is the way it is because god has a reason Y for liking it that way. In that case, any mechanism that respects the principle Y will do just as well as god, so god is not necessary. For example, if god happens to favour the existence of genes that copy themselves in their environment, then natural selection explains the attributes of genes better than god. So god can be rejected since it is no good as an explanation. Since god can be eliminated from any worthwhile explanation, god is a bad explanation and we can do without god. So the objective truth is that god doesn’t exist.

You say "for example", but I don't see how the example conforms to what you talked about before. Let's consider the situation where god has a reason Y for liking X to be a certain way. Your example says that god happens to favor the existence of genes that copy themselves in their environment. So that's the way he likes them. Cool. But where (in your example) do you give his reason for liking them to be that way?

Max Kaye

[email protected]

Max Kaye posted on the FI list from January 2018 to January 2019. A sample of his writing:

when ppl ask questions, usually they barely care. so if i think about
it much, or put much energy into the issue, i get out of sync with
them. they don’t keep up.

they do not label their questions as “barely care”, which is
dishonest of them.

How would people know if they really care? If it's shown by long term
action, research, persistence through indirection, etc, then most people
don't really care about anything.

I agree it's dishonest, but it feels like honesty is a really hard skill
to learn (for an adult in our society). Most ppl think it's just "don't
lie", but it's clear to me (particularly after reading FH) that this is
only the most superficial way to look at it.

If they're not able to be honest more generally, how could they label
their questions accurately or even know if they really do care or not?

My guess is the main thing they're not able or willing to do is estimate
up-front how much time, energy, and indirection they're willing to put
in/tolerate to answer a question. These are hard skills to learn! And
it's much easier to be a little dishonest (this is how it seems to them)
than acknowledge they lack these skills and can't give a good answer.

He stopped discussing without saying why.

Brett Hall

[email protected]

Brett Hall posted on the FI list from June to August 2015. He posted about a variety of topics including AI. A sample of his writing:

Don't you TEACH epistemology – so it's your job to know it better? (That's what your twitter says: https://twitter.com/tokteacher ).

I teach what is called "Theory of Knowledge". Which should be epistemology. It's actually philosophy-lite with lots of lefty relativism and other nonsense. Which you would expect: from a standard curriculum.

So, you teach bad ideas, from a position of authority, to vulnerable students. Fuck you.

Not all schools are alike. The students know what I think of the bad ideas. Typically they come away from discussions about those ideas with better ideas. Better than they would have, if someone else was trying to present that material.

Richard Fine

[email protected]

Interest: TCS

Richard Fine posted on the FI group from July 2013 to June 2016 and he was on the TCS list before that.. A sample of his writing:


How do guns work?

you press the trigger and it swings a piece of metal at the back of the bullet. the back of the bullet is gunpowder which blows up. the explosion pushes the rest of the bullet forward. the bullet is in a metal tube (barrel of gun) which controls what direction the bullet goes. (normally if you just had an explosion it'd be hard to control the direction it makes stuff go.)

BTW the idea of 'explosion' + 'tube to control the direction' is also how car engines work.

Instead of hitting gunpowder with metal to make the explosion, they set gasoline on fire with an electric spark; and instead of the explosion pushing a bullet, it pushes a big chunk of metal (a piston) along a tube. The piston is connected to mechanisms (a crankshaft) that turn the pushing motion into a turning motion for the wheels. Then the piston moves back along the tube to be 'fired' again by another explosion. When the car's going fast, this is happening many times a second.

I think it's pretty cool that the same idea that makes guns work also makes cars work.

Lulie Tanett

[email protected]

Interest: TCS

Lulie posted on the FI list from August 2013 to January 2016 and she was on the TCS list before that.. A short sample of her writing:


If you have unconventional views on relationships/friendships, like that it's good to act on mutual self-interest rather than altruism, how do you manage the clash of different expectations?

Like, it's reasonable to expect people will usually behave according to society standard. Most people don't know of other ways of behaving.

Or they think that you can either agree with them or be a bad person. So if you seem like a good person, people think that you're just doing the conventional thing.

Even if you tell them you believe in selfishness, they typically have no idea what that means (unless they've read Ayn Rand or similar). So they assume you just follow convention but say fancy things which don't make a difference in practice.

Do you have to just be super aware of when they might be doing things contrary to your views -- like self-sacrifice, assuming obligations, etc. -- and avoid or stop the problem interaction?

Sounds like a lot of effort thinking about convention. But how else can you avoid being misleading to people?

Even if you didn't have a responsibility to not be misleading to people, if you're often misleading then problems will come up. (People will be like, hey I've been super selfless, why aren't you repaying me with selflessness?)

The problem is that saying explicitly that you don't believe in obligations, self-sacrifice, etc. won't help because they simply won't understand what you're referring to without learning a lot about the subject.

stop doing tons of conventional social signalling and most of the
problems go away

if you don't signal you are normal, people won't expect you to act
normal so much

What is conventional social signalling and how do you not do it?

Wouldn't acting weird make the problem worse, because then people
won't know what to expect of you and won't like that? Would be accused
of things like "hard to read" or "hard work"?

Lulie still likes to write, but she doesn’t like criticism:


Michael Smithson

[email protected]

Michael Smithson posted from May 2013 to March 2014. A sample of his writing:

On Thu, Feb 13, 2014 at 12:33 AM, Elliot Temple [email protected] wrote:

On Feb 12, 2014, at 9:16 PM, Michael Smithson [email protected] wrote:

On Wed, Feb 12, 2014 at 11:32 PM, Elliot Temple [email protected] wrote:


What scares me is that there are moral fashions too. They're just as arbitrary, and just as invisible to most people. But they're much more dangerous. Fashion is mistaken for good design; moral fashion is mistaken for good. Dressing oddly gets you laughed at. Violating moral fashions can get you fired, ostracized, imprisoned, or even killed.

The man who wrote this is responsible for censoring me today when I criticized a moral fashion. [0]

I refer to the psychiatry discussion here (I'm xenophanes): https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7227820

I suppose one can only be grateful for the fact that "lynch mob" has a
mostly metaphorical use these days.

ya. that makes PG's cowardice all the more damning, btw. sure i got in trouble, got punished, but it's OK, i'm safe. not real physical danger. the dangers are things like feeling bad because people sad bad things about me, and having a worse reputation with bad people.

You know what I think is interesting? I think there's some number of
people who would die to promote their values but won't live for
What I mean is, if say Nazis the Sequel came to rule Europe, they'd
risk their personal safety to hide Jews, but they won't be too
critical with someone at a cocktail party over a mild anti-semitic

What do you think? Do some people act as if the disapproval of randoms
is a fate worse than death? If so, why?

Becky Moon

[email protected]

Interest: TCS


Becky Moon posted to the FI group between June and July 2013 and she was on the TCS list before that.. A sample of her writing:


David once gave me a simple counter-example about what's wrong with induction - something along the lines of a chicken being fed every day by a farmer and expecting to continue being fed but then one day ends up being the farmer's dinner.

That is Bertrand Russell's example. One Russell quote googling turns up is, “The man who has fed the chicken every day throughout its life at last wrings its neck instead, showing that more refined views as to the uniformity of nature would have been useful to the chicken.”

I have read a little Bertrand Russell. I can't remember whether I ran across the example there as well. David may have even mentioned where he got the story. It was 8 or more years ago. :P

While I agree that induction isn't preferable to a good explanatorytheory, I still think it might frequently be useful.

The way I'm thinking of it, though, might have a different term that applies and might not really be what people mean by induction...

I think of it as a sort of pre-theory knowledge - noticing that there is a pattern.

Noticing which pattern(s)?

It was meant generally. There are a lot of patterns - as I see you mention

The sun appears to rise and set daily. The moon appears to rise and set most evenings. The weather tends to get warmer overall and then cooler overall. I've heard in some places there are even distinct seasons - winter, spring, summer, fall. ;) If plants don't receive water, eventually, they dry up and stop growing. Animals (and people) tend to start off small and get bigger over time and then seem to level off. If one lets go of an object in midair, it usually tends to fall although there are a few unusual items that don't fall or fall very very slowly (balloons, feathers). Water when exposed to certain cold enough temperatures seems to become a solid. I could go on indefinitely with examples.

Dan Frank

[email protected]

Dan Frank posted on the FI list from June 2013 to August 2014 and he was on other BoI related lists before that. A sample of his writing:


On Mon, Sep 9, 2013 at 5:46 PM, Elliot Temple [email protected] wrote:

On Sep 9, 2013, at 3:29 PM, Dan Frank [email protected] wrote:

On Mon, Sep 9, 2013 at 11:09 AM, Elliot Temple [email protected] wrote:

On Sep 9, 2013, at 6:15 AM, Anontwo Too [email protected] wrote:

On Mon, Sep 9, 2013 at 12:59 PM, Jordan Talcot [email protected] wrote:

On Sep 9, 2013, at 1:33 AM, Anontwo Too [email protected] wrote:

Won't they [children] be interested at one point [in letters and reading], when they notice that they are
useful to people?

There are a lot of things that are useful to people. Why are you assuming that all children will notice that letters in particular are useful? Do you think that all children will notice ALL useful things? Do you think that there is something in the letters themselves that will make children notice them?

Because letters are very fucking useful. A big deal. Not just a tiny bit useful.

It's like a girl getting a period and not finding tampons or sanitary
towels useful. "Oh, I'm not bothered, I'll just bleed over the place."

Or like most people making philosophical mistakes that massively fuck up most of their lives, and not finding philosophy useful and interesting? "Oh, I'm not bothered, I'll have a string of failures for my life."

Except, that happens... That is what most people actually do.

Just because some knowledge would be extremely valuable to someone, and they have a pressing need of it, and it's available, does NOT mean they will automatically find it, want it, value it, figure out how to learn it, learn it, etc, etc

They need to be persuaded by something that this knowledge is actually
valuable to them. In our culture, though, there is some knowledge
that is much more "obviously" valuable than others. e.g. here is a
good way to deal with a cut on your hand: stop the bleeding with
something like a paper towel or a napkin or gauze, and then maybe
putting some antiseptic and/or bandage on it if it is a large enough
cut. Or doing the first part and then going to an emergency room to
get it stitched if it's even larger. Is this controversial?

It's unclear to me that that that knowledge is particularly valuable to personally, individually have.

First of all, how often do you cut your hand? Big enough to need to do anything?

Second, if you are incompetent about hand cuts, so what? Someone will help you. Maybe you're alone and can't quickly get someone (but still who cares, no problem, google it or phone someone to tell you what to do). But most people most of the time have reasonably quick access to someone IRL who would help them with a cut.

You can be like "omg i cut my hand. omg omg wtf do i do? it hurts it hurts!! please help me" and people will be like "don't worry, just calm down, it'll be fine. here let me wash that off for you and get you a bandaid" or whatever. people are nice and helpful about that kind of thing, so you don't really have to know much yourself.

I do think some knowledge about this is worth having yourself but I could easily see someone disagreeing, and I don't think it makes that much difference either way.

Interesting. I think that our culture makes it pretty easy-to-get
info and the cost of learning it is very low, so it's worth getting
(including getting knowledge like "I don't know much about what is a
bad cut or not, but this is still bleeding a lot after five minutes so
I'm going to go to an expert just in case," which is a form of
knowledge about cuts that I'm talking about).

Even if you don't cut your hand often. Like the way that knowledge
about what to do if someone steals your car is really easy to get in
our culture (call 911.) even though you don't often need it.

(And there's also the issue of when to learn it. I think many people delay learning about how to handle cuts until after having more than one cut. Then they end up learning it cause they go through the process multiple times and remember some stuff or ask questions about what's happening, not because they ever decided that today is the day to go spend 15 minutes studying how to deal with hand cuts)

Agreed. People can begin learning to read the same way, can't they?
Even in mainstream coercive culture isn't this a common way people
learn some reading? e.g. "read this book to me." and then they
remember some stuff and on the fifteenth or hundredth time they ask
some questions about what's happening and then they learn a bit. They
don't have to decide "today is the day" to go spend 15 minutes
learning to read.

Not too long after this they are typically coerced to do just that, of
course. But even in many conventional households the other way of
learning reading often happens first, for a year or two at least.
Maybe not in the really hardcore "you must read by age 4" households
or whatever? But it's not uncommon.

Guilherme Neto

[email protected]

Guilherme Neto posted on the FI group from April 2018 to November 2018. A sample of his writing:



When a child doesn't like school, it certainly never occurs to parents that they are dealing with a person who has a preference and a life, and perhaps should have some control over his life.

Parents do think that kids will eventually have preferences and a
life. Its like kids are only potential people.

Instead, all that exists to them is a ball of clay which has the potential to be an adult with the skill to run its own life, and will get there not by practicing doing that but by molding.

Its interesting how parents expects their kids to be independent and
how the road to it is not only centered on dependency but averse to

People are supposed to became capable of running their own life by
spending their first years ignoring their own judgment and following
the orders of authorities.

The Bitty Guy

[email protected]il.com

The Bitty Guy posted on the FI group from April 2014 to January 2018. The following message by Elliot Temple shows some representative quotes from The Bitty Guy:


On Apr 30, 2014, at 6:49 PM, The Bitty Guy [email protected] wrote:

On Wed, Apr 30, 2014 at 7:24 PM, Elliot Temple [email protected] wrote:

On Apr 30, 2014, at 6:56 AM, The Bitty Guy [email protected] wrote:

Why is it at all necessary to call me, or my ideas, 'left-wing' or 'antisemitic'?

If I showed you a factually accurate map of the Middle east, would you
call that antisemitic as well?


Although the jury is out as to whether your posts qualify as 'high quality', they are still definitely above average; among the best I have yet to find, in the limited time I have to look.

In all events, I do respect the time and discipline devoted to this listserve/blog. For now, at least (until I can find that elusive place in the bloggosphere that categorically discourages all personal attacks, ad hominem and otherwise), I value this one.

Importantly, having my 'talking points' accepted by any of my readers, with or without debate, is not my primary purpose for being here. I am open to changing my opinions, and, with participation in the realm of ideas, hope to learn a thing or two that will improve my philosophy and knowledge of world events.

Furthermore, despite your unfortunate attacks,

i'm not sure what attacks you're referring to.

Are you really, honestly not aware that inserting anti-semite into the
dialogue constitutes an attack? Maybe it would help to remind you if
you used the word "anti-jew bigot" instead.

It is the Anti-Semite Smear. Given the frequency with which you bring
it up, and in keeping with your convention of using acronym for
commonly used terms, how about if I simply call it the "A.S.S.
attack"? Do you honestly not know that it constitutes a personal
smear, that can have social, professional, and even legal consequences
for the victim? In many cases, possibly yours included, this venomous
bite is precisely why the term is used, and how it shapes and silences

Do you believe that

1) some things are anti-semitic and calling them as such is reasonable


2) nothing is anti-semitic, and the term is always and only a smear


If (1), would you agree that therefore some kind of argument or explanation is necessary to differentiate between smears and non-smears, before you can assume it's a smear? And you didn't provide such an differentiating explanation.

And do you believe that

1) using quotes improves discussion


2) refusing to use exact quotes of things you are complaining about is a better approach


if you thought "left-wing talking point" is a personal attack, i disagree. i consider it a factually accurate descriptive statement about the text/ideas you posted (not about you as a person).

Are you serious? The 'left-wing talking point' is irrelevant. Who
really cares about that? No one is fired, sued, or removed from office
over that (quite the opposite)...it's the A.S.S. attack I was
referring to... Don't A.S.S. me, bro!

Yes I seriously, honestly find it hard to tell what you are referring to when you refuse to use quotations or carefully explain. We see the world differently. Your choices are to communicate or not be understood.

Elliot Temple

Kristen Ely

[email protected]

Kristen Ely posted from May 2013 to March 2017. A sample of her writing:

On Nov 4, 2015, at 10:13 PM, Leonor Gomes [email protected] [fallible-ideas] [email protected] wrote:

2015-11-05 2:43 GMT+00:00 Rami Rustom [email protected]
[fallible-ideas] [email protected]:

On Wed, Nov 4, 2015 at 4:39 AM, Leonor Gomes [email protected]
[fallible-ideas] [email protected] wrote:

2015-11-04 10:23 GMT+00:00 Rami Rustom [email protected]
[fallible-ideas] [email protected]:

On Tue, Nov 3, 2015 at 9:42 AM, Leonor Gomes [email protected]
[fallible-ideas] [email protected] wrote:

but at least tries to have some original ideas of his own.

this isn't a goal. at least it's not a GOOD goal.

one should go after the best ideas, whether he originated them or not.

go after? or learn them? think about them?


caring that one's ideas are original is a status-seeking mistake.

why is it a status seeking mistake?

i thought you meant something to the effect of: ignoring tradition and
doing your own thing for the sake of being ORIGINAL.

Howard Roark did that.

I don’t think he did.

He wasn’t trying to be original for the sake of being original. He wanted to build in ways that make sense, that fit the purpose of the building, using his own standards, his own judgment, to the best of his ability.

He did say:

I inherit nothing. I stand at the end of no tradition.

And that may be a mistaken way of thinking of tradition. But I don’t think he actually did ignore tradition. He looked at traditions in architectural design and criticized them. He didn’t want to do things just because they had always been done that way.

And he didn’t ignore good traditions of structural engineering.

Joao Duarte

[email protected]

Duarte posted on the FI list from February to May 2019. A sample of his writing:

On Fri, May 17, 2019 at 6:57 PM anonymous FI
[email protected] wrote:

On May 17, 2019, at 7:50 AM, João Duarte
[email protected] wrote:

On Thu, May 16, 2019 at 11:44 PM Elliot Temple [email protected] wrote:


I understand not knowing this stuff. But something is going really
wrong when people’s attempt at reading involves making up nonsense
that just isn’t in the paper. He can’t tell what it says, but
instead of realizing he doesn’t understand he just makes wild
guesses. The stuff RG has come up with goes beyond misreadings of the
paper to making stuff up that has nothing to do with the paper. I
think people learn this method in school, where it’s common.

RG wants to hear none of this, which is part of how he stays so wrong
and confused (and is why I’m posting here instead of another reply
on his blog). When I told him a subset of the problems, he said, "I'm
sorry, Elliot, but I just can't deal with your level of nit-pickery.
Good bye.”

I tried to be helpful to him initially by writing a long, serious,
edited explanation of some CR material. His response was to delete
all of it and never engage with any of how CR works, and instead to
alternate between claiming to agree with me and claiming i’m wrong
(while also misquoting and making other errors).

If anyone has any ideas about how to help such a person, or how to
find better people, please share!

I think you could give some caveats when you criticize things that can
be seen as trivial. Or you could say beforehand that you, sometimes,
can be misjudged as someone who is acting in bad-faith. You can be
clear about your intentions before you start a discussion (this could
have helped when he thought you were trying to be intellectually
superior to him). Because you are uncommonly critical, people can have
a bad perception. I had that "feeling" before and now I think you are
really trying to help and learn.

You didn't say what caveats to say or what to say about intentions. You
didn't give any sentences that you think would help, which could be
tried or criticized.

This advice can be tried without giving examples. Just be honest about the intentions you have when having a discussion for the first time if they are often misinterpreted. The caveat is to say why the thing ET is criticizing although may seem irrelevant it isn't. It's difficult sometimes to know when the other person will think that. But it's better to be safe.

Balázs Fehér

[email protected]

Balázs Fehér posted on the FI list from June 2013 to April 2014. A sample of his writing:

2014-04-29 10:25 GMT+02:00 Alan Forrester [email protected]:

On 28 April 2014 22:48, Balázs Fehér [email protected] wrote:

2014-04-28 19:28 GMT+02:00 Alan Forrester [email protected]:

On 28 April 2014 16:12, Balázs Fehér [email protected] wrote:

From BOI chapter one terminology:

"Principle of induction: the idea that 'the future will resemble the past', combined with the misconception that this asserts anything about the future."

I would have a question. I understand that the idea that the future will resemble the past is contradicted, for example, each time a new design of microchip is created. However i don't understand the second part. Why 'the future will resemble the past' does not assert anything about the future? Theories about the future are the same as theories about the past (in case of universal theories, which are time invariant).

A universal theory makes predictions about the past and the future and so says that the past and the future are alike in the sense that they both follow the theory.


This is totally irrelevant to the controversy over induction because induction is not supposed to be about what you can know when you have a theory, it is supposed to be about how theories are created and confirmed.

So the second part of DDs sentence is irrelevant? Or it refers to something else than what I implied?

Inductivism is a variety of justificationism so it is about how to justify stuff. Justifying anything is impossible but the point of the terminology snippet is to explain how the inductivists think about what they're doing. The inductivists think that idea that the future resembles the past would not be enough on its own to show that you can justify universal theories using information about the past. To justify induction they think you would have to add that information about the past somehow justifies the future implications of universal theories we have come up with today, hence the second part of the sentence.

I see, thanks!

But as DD points out in part of that chapter, it doesn't really matter for inductivism that the future resembles the past: such a principle will not save inductivism.

It's a better idea to actually quote and discuss arguments rather than the terminology part of the book which serves at best as a quick reminder of some argument you already understand. If you don't understand an argument the terminology section will not help you and there is no point in discussing it.

Yeah, I guessed the argument was in the chapter, I just did not remember so asking was faster :)

Dennis Hackethal

[email protected]

Interest: critical rationalism

Dennis came to FI with an interest in Popperian epistemology and artificial intelligence. He currently has a podcast about AI:


He posted between December 2018 and April 2019. A sample of his writing:


I was struggling the other day to explain to someone why the growth of knowledge is inherently unpredictable. I think I can explain it in terms of “it’s a generic algorithm, and a genetic algorithm has unpredictable output”, but unless the other party is already familiar with the concept of knowledge being the result of a genetic algorithm, that doesn’t go very far. It also made me think that a genetic algorithm is unpredictable to a degree. If someone runs a genetic algorithm for eg the traveling salesman problem, they know it’s going to return a solution to the problem in terms of distances etc, and not something completely unexpected. So there’s at least some way to constrain the space of possible answers. I don’t think it’s possible to constrain human answers in this way, but I don’t think I understand why. I also don’t know if probabilistic = unpredictable (my guess is “no”).

This post was written by Alan Forrester.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (29)

David Deutsch Smears Ayn Rand

David Deutsch (DD) wrote an email which was posted to reddit. This post critically analyzes it. I comment on small chunks at a time, but everything DD said is included and is kept in order.

I admire Ayn Rand, but not as a philosopher.

Being a philosopher is what Ayn Rand (AR) wanted to be admired for. This is pretending to be partially friendly while being hostile. AR would regard someone saying this as an enemy, not an admirer – and DD knows that.

Fake evenhandedness is a theme through DD’s email. He falsely communicates objectivity. DD mixes in praise in order to pretend that he’s giving credit where it’s due, rather than focusing just on attacking her. That’s a way to attack AR extra. He’s attacking her and manipulating readers into thinking he’s not doing an attack (so they believe what he says more).

The praise DD offers is either basically empty (as in this case) or else understates AR’s virtues (so it’s actually downplaying how good she is). And none of the praise actually explains any non-philosophical reason to like AR (contrary to DD’s alleged non-philosophical admiration).

Also, this is not what DD said about AR to me during our many years of discussions and when he repeatedly recommended her books to me. He was genuinely friendly to AR in the past and was a fan of AR (“fan” is his word that he gave me explicit permission to quote publicly). He’s changed his mind, in a big way, without any public announcement or retraction, and without explaining what changed.

Also, DD can say critical things about any thinker that he wants to. He attacks AR without putting it in context: he thinks that almost every thinker is far worse than AR. (Unless he’s changed his mind even more than I think he has after reading this email.)

As an observer of people,

She was an understander and explainer of people, not a (passive) observer. That involves philosophy skill. And it wasn’t a major focus for AR.

and of some of the pervasive irrationalities and hangups of our culture (especially the ones she somewhat misleadingly called 'altruism'), she was outstanding.

Was she outstanding at that? She was bad at judging her associates. She overestimated Nathaniel Branden, David Kelley and others. She said something about this being hard and one of her weaknesses.

She was good at writing fictional characters to represent and explain certain traits which she’d seen in real people. She was great at some of what DD is talking about. But overall, in this area, she was kinda mixed. (Though have other people actually been better at it? That’s hard to say.)

The comment that AR used the word “altruism” misleadingly is an unargued and unexplained attack which DD sneaks into a parenthetical (it ought to be the topic of at least one paragraph, not an aside). It’s an unreasonable point to attack in passing because AR actually addressed the matter, e.g. in the introduction of The Virtue of Selfishness (which discusses the closely related issue of why she uses the term “selfishness”, and directly addresses her critics).

DD is also writing in his own terminology rather than AR’s. E.g. “hangups” is his word, not hers. He avoids speaking like an Objectivist, even though he knows a lot about how to, in order to distance himself from Objectivism. He doesn’t want to reveal how much he himself learned about Objectivism (which implies that he saw a ton of value in it in the past).

And DD is being vague rather than naming some of AR’s accomplishments like her explanation and criticism of second-handedness. The vagueness makes her accomplishments sound less impressive and avoids bringing them – along with their substance – into the reader’s mind. If DD named them, readers might see him as more of an AR fan and say “Wait, you thought that was good? I disagree with that! You like her more than I do!” But when it’s more like “She got some stuff right but she sucks.” then it sounds more like lip service and like he doesn’t really like her.

As a polemical writer criticising these irrationalities and exposing the harm they do, she was excellent and persuasive. And her optimism and pro-human stances are refreshing and inspiring (and true).

Being refreshing and inspiring were not primary goals of AR. They are secondary points. Saying true things was a primary goal which DD downplays as a parenthetical (as if it’s not that big or unique of an accomplishment).

Calling AR a “polemical writer” is an attempt to distance her from being a philosopher or intellectual. It makes her sound like a good mudslinger who could be a politician who gives speeches and makes short quips to be replayed on TV. It makes it sound like her skill was more about rhetoric than reason. DD suggests she’d be impressive on the debate stage, which is different than being a serious intellectual. None of this is clearly stated, and if the rest of the email was more positive then it might actually be reasonable to view these words as a compliment not an attack. But in the context of the other attacks, it helps pile on by vaguely implying more bad things, and it reinforces some of the themes of the other (clearer) attacks.

But she had a strong tendency

Saying “X tends to Y” is a way to avoid discussing the causal mechanism. It doesn’t say why that happens or in what circumstances it doesn’t happen. It’s a way to make an unargued, unexplained assertion which sounds to people like a reasonable statement.

People also commonly use terms like “likely” and “probably” when they leave out explanations and don’t want their statement to look like a bald assertion. That’s the same issue.

DD knows this. I made literally dozens of comments about these issues when editing his book The Beginning of Infinity. DD himself helped figure out this knowledge, perhaps more than I did. We both played a role in developing this viewpoint and I applied it to an editing pass of his book.

It’s sad to see him getting worse as a thinker. He should know better. Or maybe he does know better and he’s doing this anyway because his goal here is to smear AR. If you want to attack someone good, you have to do something wrong in order to accomplish that. Leaving out explanations of why AR is bad – because they don’t exist – is important to what DD is doing.

to make hyperbolic generalisations

This (the word “hyperbolic”) is flaming, not serious analysis. (Compare it to the analysis you’re reading right now and consider how different it is.)

DD gives one incorrect example for this point. (One example doesn’t tell you anything about her tendencies, but it does help clarify what he means by a hyperbolic generalization.)

and to double down on them with nonsense in order to deflect any potential criticism.

This is triple flaming. He’s saying that she doubles down on bad ideas, she speaks nonsense, and she won’t address criticism.

DD then gives an example which does not involve AR doubling down on anything or deflecting any actual criticism (criticism that she’s aware of and could state). I don’t know how one would preemptively double down to deflect potential criticism (criticism that someone might think of in the future, but today you don’t know what it would criticize or why). I don’t think that makes sense.

Just consider dispassionately, if you can, whether the following statement is true or false:

DD suggests that “if you can” analyze AR’s statement dispassionately, you’re high skill. He suggests the statement isn’t intended (by AR) to be analyzed dispassionately, so if you can do it you’re outcompeting her.

DD is also baiting the person to analyze the way DD wants by challenging them and suggesting that maybe they can’t. DD also implies that his own analysis is dispassionate (which people think means it’s objective, even though a person thinking unemotionally can be biased).

DD is trying to give readers the impression that they have seen for themselves that AR is bad. He wants them to think they thought for themselves. What could shatter their respect for AR more than personally outthinking her!? (People generally don’t have much self-esteem or respect for their own intellectual abilities, even if they say they do. They admire thinkers they see as way above themselves.)

DD is carefully guiding the whole project. DD decides what is analyzed, in what context (out of context...), and what the goals of the analysis are (judge truth or falsity, nothing else). DD picked the book, chapter, paragraph and sentence. DD has an expectation in advance about what conclusion the reader will reach. DD is leading his audience by the nose while pretending to give them space to do their own thinking.

"In no case and in no situation may one permit one’s own values to be attacked or denounced, and keep silent".

This AR quote is taken out of context. It’s the end of a paragraph. I’ll cover this more below.

Here is what DD wants you to think: If a communist points a gun at you and says “Shut up or die.” and then says something to attack your values (e.g. “The USA is an evil empire which should be destroyed with nuclear fire!”), then you should keep silent. But AR said not to keep silent in any situation, including that one. That’s a counterexample, and one counterexample means AR’s statement is false. Also, AR must have been a bad thinker (worse than you) to fail to consider a well known scenario (that you thought of quickly, without difficulty).

Can it really be the case that DD’s audience can predictably think of a counterexample, but a top philosopher would miss it? No! It’d genuinely be damning if AR didn’t think of any scenarios of that type.

But AR’s statement, even taken out of context, is true. Why? Because “permit” means “give authorization for”. (Seriously. Check several dictionaries and its etymology.) Yes there exist definitions of “permit” for which AR’s statement is false, but there also exist definitions for which it’s true. It’s your job as a reader to interpret multi-definition words using the best option. E.g. if I said “Kant is dumb because he thought truth-telling was a universal, categorical moral law, even if it got you killed!”, you wouldn’t respond “How does having a bad idea imply that Kant was unable to speak?” (The word “dumb” can mean “idiotic” or “mute”.) Also, AR wrote it 57 years ago and the definitions that work better for her sentence are the older ones.

AR said that you shouldn’t authorize or sanction people to attack your values. Keeping silent at gunpoint doesn’t give them permission, so it’s OK. (Keeping silent in situations where you are at liberty to speak up can give implicit permission but doesn’t always – it depends on the situation. That’s an important and tricky issue which DD is familiar with from considering e.g. what to do if a parent mistreats his child in your vicinity. What sort of involvement does it take so that you should speak up, and how much should you say?)

DD knows what AR’s view of the matter is. He was picking on a particular wording which he thought people would misread as saying something that he knows is not her position. He’s trying to do a picky logical point instead of engage with her views. If he was right, a slight rewording would fix the problem (there’d be no need for Objectivists to reconsider their philosophical ideas). But even for this small, technical point, where DD chose the discussion topic out of everything AR wrote, and chose the limited terms of the critical consideration, he’s still wrong.

DD has exceptionally good vocabulary knowledge (better than mine!). So, if he wasn’t being biased, I’d expect that he probably knows what “permit” means. Or, if he didn’t know it offhand, he could have looked it up (as I did). He should know better than to think it’s this easy to catch AR being wrong. He should have done some double checking.

AR’s statement also has context. Earlier in the book was the chapter The Ethics of Emergencies which basically says that her claims about moral philosophy are, by default, trying to talk about regular life, not emergency situations. She thinks regular life is more important for moral philosophy to address than lifeboat scenarios or being held at gunpoint.

Now, for context, let’s look at the whole paragraph that DD took the quote from (in The Virtue of Selfishness, ch. 8, which is available online):

This last means that one need not launch into unprovoked moral denunciations or debates, but that one must speak up in situations where silence can objectively be taken to mean agreement with or sanction of evil. When one deals with irrational persons, where argument is futile, a mere “I don’t agree with you” is sufficient to negate any implication of moral sanction. When one deals with better people, a full statement of one’s views may be morally required. But in no case and in no situation may one permit one’s own values to be attacked or denounced, and keep silent.

Here we see AR that was aware of the key qualifier: you must speak up “where silence can objectively be taken to mean agreement with or sanction of evil”. If a gun is pointed at you, no reasonable observer would think your silence means agreement. (If a gun is pointed at you , even saying “I agree! That’s great! That’s the truest thing I’ve heard all year!” couldn’t be reasonably taken as meaning you agree.)

AR’s statement is true as written if you look up what the words mean. But even if it wasn’t, the worst you could reasonably accuse her of is failing to repeat something she had already said earlier in the paragraph, which she could reasonably have thought was implied.

DD made the context harder to check because he left out the source of the quote. In the past, in my experience, DD was great at attributing quotes accurately, and he thought it was important.

The thing is, if literally true, this is a profound discovery in moral philosophy, with dramatic practical implications.

If AR’s sentence meant something like “Always tell the truth, even when people will shoot you for it.” and that was actually true, that would not be a profound discovery in moral philosophy. It’d be unoriginal.

Kant (one of AR’s main enemies) already said that. (I doubt it was original to Kant, but I don’t know the history of the idea. Also I think Kant did allow silence – which is insufficient to save yourself in some scenarios – but never lying. See Kant’s On a supposed right to lie from philanthropy which literally discusses the scenario of a murderer at your door asking if his intended victim is home, and then says “To be truthful (honest) in all declarations is, therefore, a sacred and unconditionally commanding law of reason that admits of no expediency whatsoever.”)

Kant’s position on this matter is well known enough that DD ought to have heard of it. I’d guess that DD knew it at some point but forgot. And that, before making his claim, DD didn’t stop and think (let alone use Google) about whether this “profound discovery” was actually already discovered.

But if it is merely a maxim that is true in a certain vaguely defined set of circumstances,

As mentioned above, the circumstances for not speaking up were defined earlier in the paragraph, and they also got additional elaboration earlier in the book.

and her idea is that people often defer to social convention when they shouldn't,

No, the essay says a lot more than that. DD is stating a dumbed down version of one paragraph (to make Rand sound more basic than she is). But the essay says more, e.g. AR talks about why to defer to social convention less. And if you understood her essay, you wouldn’t think the issue was whether or not to follow social convention – that’s a poor framing of the matter (a better question – suggested by the article title – is how to maintain your own rationality or integrity, and AR’s answer is by making moral judgments).

then it is unoriginal and unspectacular though arguably useful in a self-help-book sort of way.

“Unoriginal and unspectacular” is flaming.

“Self-help-book” is a flame. DD doesn’t respect those books much. And his point is that they don’t have serious philosophy like AR claimed to do (he’s calling her an amateur or non-philosopher).

DD is mixing flaming with praise again. He’s pretending to be fair and unbiased by admitting that, “arguably”, there is some partial merit in AR’s sentence.

She intends the latter meaning but expresses it in terms suggesting the former.

No, AR intended the true meaning. (Or, conceivably, she intended “permit” to be read in the way DD has in mind, but also intended the qualification from earlier in the paragraph to apply to it.) DD is being arrogant and condescending by speaking for AR. He’s implying that he’s so far above her that he can understand and judge her thought process, not just judge her conclusions (as is more standard and easier).

As polemic or rhetoric, that's great.

DD means that polemic is dishonest and AR is dishonest. He dishonestly presents this as praise (“great”) but it’s actually a smear. He’s saying she does social manipulations well (something she and he both oppose) but that she’s bad at truth-seeking and logic (something she and he both value).

As philosophy, it's embarrassing wannabe stuff.

DD’s email has many insults. He’s done a lot of good writing which isn’t like this, e.g. his books and physics papers. He knows how to do better.

She was (ironically) obsessed with attributes of people rather than of ideas.

What AR was obsessed with (if anything) is an attribute of a person (AR). DD has been talking more about various attributes of AR than about her ideas. It’s ironic that DD is criticizing AR (incorrectly) for something he’s doing.

The focus on AR’s attributes contradicts his own philosophy. DD is perfectly capable of writing about ideas rather than people. He’s done a lot of it. But this time he’s behaving differently (it looks to me like bias).

AR wrote a bunch of impersonal non-fiction that was about ideas, not people. In her novels, she uses fictional characters to help present ideas (including, yes, some psychological ideas). She wasn’t writing parochial material about specific individuals. She did so little of that that, e.g., I don’t know of anywhere that she elaborated much on her criticisms of Friedrich Hayek or Milton Friedman.

There’s also another irony. DD views himself as doing serious intellectual work (when writing the email) but he’s unaware of how badly he’s screwing up. Overestimating one’s work is something DD (incorrectly) attacks AR for.

That's why her followers tend to form themselves into groups with insider/outsider ideologies (somewhat unfairly called 'cults' by her detractors).

DD presents himself as not being one of AR’s detractors. He talks about her detractors as a separate group. But, based on my experience, he’s actually flaming her more than a typical AR detractor.

DD pretends to be unbiased by partially defending AR by saying the “cult” charge is “somewhat” unfair. But that implies it’s somewhat fair, so that’s actually another unargued, unexplained attack. DD is (a little bit indirectly) calling AR’s fans somewhat cultish.

In regard to fundamental philosophical theory she was hopelessly incompetent and confused.


There isn’t much to analyze here. DD is just openly flaming AR. Only the part about the quote even tried to be a substantive argument. The rest is basically just assertions of DD’s opinions, but without explaining his reasoning (how he reached those conclusions).

Despite this, her actual conclusions about economics and politics, which don't really follow from these purported foundations, are very good indeed ---

This is more mixed praise and flaming. DD’s saying her conclusions were good (praise) but her reasoning was wrong (flame). Overall, this is a flame, not a neutral comment. It’s kinda like saying “A broken clock is right twice a day.” If your reasoning is wrong but your conclusions are correct, you got lucky. DD, while pretending to be neutral, is accusing AR of getting lucky even to the partial extent that he accepts that she got stuff right.

DD does not argue his case. He doesn’t discuss AR’s arguments about (classical) liberalism, nor what he thinks a better approach is, nor how or why the wrong arguments led to (largely) the right conclusions. (It’s unusual for bad reasoning to reach especially good conclusions.) The one sentence quote was the only part of his email where DD even pretended to go into detail. (And even then he didn’t actually give arguments, he instead led the person to think of the arguments DD intended without being directly told.)

though she underestimated the resilience of American and Anglosphere institutions, and indeed underrated the importance of institutions generally.

DD doesn’t argue or explain this point. Knowing DD and knowing AR’s material, I’d guess that DD’s primarily referring to ch. 1 of The Fountainhead where Roark questions the architecture tradition with the Parthenon and tells the dean that he stands at the end of no tradition and inherits nothing. I won’t analyze that scene because it doesn’t discuss American or Anglosphere institutions.

I think DD is mistaken about AR’s views. In Justin’s analysis of DD’s email, Justin points out an AR quote in which she speaks positively of American institutions and their development over centuries.

Her main -- perhaps her only -- innovation, was to stress much more than anyone before her that free markets are morally superior to socialism, and that defending them in terms of efficiency only is to concede much of (she would say the whole of!) the opponents' case.

Stressing something is like calling attention to it or putting italics around it. While AR did that, that wasn’t the main thing she did there. She argued the issue, and reasoned about moral philosophy, instead of just stressing it. Saying her main innovation was to stress something is basically denying that she had any substantial intellectual accomplishments. This is another flame disguised as praise.

AR would not say that those bad defenses of capitalism concede the “whole of” the opponent’s case. That would be the sort of hyperbolic error which DD accuses her of, but which she was actually skilled at avoiding. To back up his attack, DD had one incorrect example (above) and one made up example here (she didn’t say it, DD just asserted that she would).

DD, AR and I all agree that defending only the efficiency of capitalism concedes a lot that shouldn’t be conceded. But that specific point is fairly simple. It’s not a complex argument that if you only defend one aspect of capitalism, then you’re not defending various other aspects. So this isn’t very impressive. (And DD made it less impressive by simplifying the logic by saying “only” instead of “primarily”, even though AR’s arguments work with “primarily”.) AR said it, and it’s a good point, but by highlighting it this much for praise DD is implying that AR didn’t have a bunch of other more major points (she did, e.g. her explanation and criticism of second-handedness).

Other Comments

All the manipulative stuff DD does is intentional. He’s developed the skill to do it. He has extremely good control over what he writes – better than most people realize is possible. He’s a very precise, careful writer and thinker – even offhand, speaking extemporaneously. He put effort into this email.

It’s possible he’s not consciously thinking about some aspects of what he’s doing while he does them. That wouldn’t diminish his responsibility. He made choices which led to this result. What he’s done in the email wasn’t bad luck.

It’s similar to how Gail Wynand was responsible (in AR’s The Fountainhead) for what the Banner wrote even when he was on vacation:

“I know what you think. You understood that I didn’t know about the Stoddard Temple yesterday. I had forgotten the name of the architect involved. You concluded it wasn’t I who led that campaign against you. You’re right, it wasn’t I, I was away at the time. But you don’t understand that the campaign was in the true and proper spirit of the Banner. It was in strict accordance with the Banner’s function. No one is responsible for it but me. Alvah Scarret was doing only what I taught him. Had I been in town, I would have done the same.”

Part of why DD seems somewhat convincing is that he does know a lot about Objectivism. He used to like it. (Notably, nothing he says here explains why he changed his mind.) DD chose an important essay – that clashes with his current life – as the one to misleadingly quote from and attack. And most AR critics wouldn’t have made the points about defending capitalism that DD did. But DD isn’t the same person he was when he studied and liked AR, so there’s something unfair about using his former self’s knowledge to attack his former self’s own values.

And DD doesn’t acknowledge or address the conflict and explain his reasons for changing. What he ought to do – this is the kind of thing DD normally advocates – is explain what’s wrong with AR in a way that DD’s own former self could agree with and voluntarily change his mind to. The new view offered ought to be strictly better – better in every respect (while that’s unusual, it’s something DD and I both advocate). He’s basically calling his former self (and all AR fans) bad instead of attempting to be helpful by providing strictly better ideas that they would prefer to hold.

Note: This blog post doesn’t attempt to be a complete analysis. I think there are other bad things about DD’s email which I didn’t cover here.

See Also

Final Comment

DD was a great man and was my friend and colleague. He’s done great work in both physics and philosophy. This is the worst thing he’s ever written that I’ve seen. It’s sad.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (7)

Brandon Cropper Is Not an Objectivist

Brandon Cropper has recently gotten attention as an active Objectivist YouTuber. I don't think he's an Objectivist. I've typed in what he said to Rucka Rucka Ali about biological determinism. FYI the Objectivist view is, in short, the blank slate view.

There may be minor transcription errors and I left out some filler words and false starts. Starting at 5:40, Cropper says:

If there is at least a little bit of wiggle room there to say that genes have something to do with it, or are innate something, we can't say innate knowledge, we're not allowed to, somebody will come spank our hand. But as Objectivists we have these certain things we have to not say like "innate knowledge". But what is it? It's an innate tendency for men as opposed to women to be more aggressive? Or is it just in the nature of males as such that physical violence is part of their domain and therefore they have the predisposition for it or something? However we say it, there it is, 97% of murderers are men. How are we going to say it though?

The idea that males are innately or genetically predisposed to violence is incompatible with Ayn Rand's philosophy which clearly and directly states otherwise, and argues its case.

But what stands out to me more is that he's intentionally trying to avoid saying what he thinks. He thinks Objectivism is wrong about this, but he still wants to be an Objectivist anyway – I guess he likes other parts of Objectivism. OK but he believes the way to remain an Objectivist (or at least to avoid complaints from the YouTube audience he's pandering to like Gail Wynand pandered?) is by obeying speech restrictions – just never say anything that Objectivism disapproves of. That is totally contrary to the Objectivist spirit of free thought, inquiry and judgment. Objectivism has never tried to silence people who disagree with it. It's disturbing for a person trying to teach and lead Objectivism to view it like a religion that prohibits profanity rather than as a rational philosophy.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (44)

IKEA's Bad Grammar, Capitalism & Learning to Code


Our beloved EKTORP [couch] seating has a timeless design and wonderfully thick, comfy cushions. The covers are easy to change, so buy an extra cover - or two, and change according to mood or season.

They should have used a second dash, not a comma, after "two". Like parentheses (and some uses of commas), dashes are used in pairs to apply to a group of words. If you just put one dash, what that means is you're dashing off the entire rest of the sentence (which isn't what they meant).

People are hired to write this stuff who don't know basic things about writing. People get through an interview process and get paid to make errors like this. This is a fairly desirable job (pretty easy and low skill, working for a good company, no manual labor, I bet it has good job security, and I bet the pay is way better than a lot of harder jobs like working at McDonalds). There is a shortage of competence in the world (on both ends – writers and management).

Software doesn't have enough competent people either. Some people say that problem would go away with higher pay. That's capitalism right? Pay enough and the market provides what you want?

No. Here are four issues:

Lack of Capitalism

The US is not really a very capitalist country. Here's one little hint about that which relates to tech:


Facebook Has Dozens of Ex-Obama and Ex-Hillary Staffers in Senior Positions

Not Enough Supply

Some things don't exist in sufficient quantities. Not everything is available at any price. Like a cure for cancer. Or Apple had problems with screws in Texas:


A custom screw was the bottleneck in US Mac Pro production

A custom screw easily sourced in China held up the Mac Pro build process in Texas, with the tale highlighting one of the problems Apple faces if it moves iPhone and Mac assembly back to America.

Mac Pro production volume is small compared to iPhone volume.

No doubt US suppliers would have bought new machines ASAP and made the screws for Apple at a million dollars a screw, but not at any reasonable or viable price.

Regionally or globally, goods and services generally exist in finite quantities that could only expand a finite amount at any price. You can't hire 10 billion people anytime soon, nor buy more than the Earth's supply of gold.


Even if something can be available reasonably soon (unlike a Star Trek style spaceship), there can still be major delays. Getting a lot more programmers could take a few years to train them. And maybe a few years before that to set up more training centers. And a few years before that to understand the shortage and start spending large amounts of money on fixing it. Or maybe a whole generation is needed to raise people with different attitudes.


To get more coders, adequate training resources have to be available and have a high enough success rate.

I think the educational resources for learning to code are fundamentally inadequate. It's not just lack of quantity, it's that they do not work to turn an arbitrary person into a good coder with a reasonable success rate.

People learn to code mainly because of their own pre-existing merit, not because of good teachers/books/videos. The current educational resources work OK for people who already have some of the right skills, but the success rate for the wrong kind of person is bad. So you can't just take more people (who aren't already tech-inclined) and then run them through existing tech education and expect it to work.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Twin Studies Are Frauds

Analytic approaches to twin data using structural equation models by Fruhling V. Rijsdijk and Pak C. Sham in 2002:

The classical twin study is the most popular design in behavioural genetics.

After saying how widely used they are, the paper talks about how twin studies work. It's pretty up front about why they don't work. The reasons they don't work are well known (and basically ignored anyway):

Assumptions of the twin method

They know they are making some assumptions. That’s not controversial. That’s interesting because many people who discuss this with me, and favor the power of genes, try to deny those assumptions exist. They will debate that because they are ignorant and the field hasn’t highlighted these assumptions enough in their public-facing material (which is no accident).

• Gene–environment correlations and interactions are minimal for the trait.

This assumption is, broadly, false for interesting or complex traits. Gene-environment interactions are everywhere. That's a key point that ruins ~all the twin studies. (More on this below.) It's not the only big problem though.

• Matings in the population occur at random (no assortment).

This assumption stood out to me because it’s so blatantly false. Mating isn't even random for animals. However, you may be able to get approximate answers anyway, so I’m not going to focus on this.

Gene–environment interaction (or genetic control of sensitivity to the environment) refers to different genotypes responding differently to the same environment or some genotypes being more sensitive to changes in environment than others.

E.g. suppose hypothetically that genes have some control over math ability. That results in the (school) environment responding differently to those genes by e.g. giving more praise and higher test scores for people with the genes that cause better mathematical ability. So if genes were involved in math ability, there would be major gene-environment interactions.

It's the same story with ~everything else. Does height help you win at basketball? Sure. But there are plenty of gene-environment interactions, like coaches who see that you're tall, or see that you hit more shots, and thus encourage you to pursue basketball more than they do for a short person who makes fewer shots. So the environment responds to you differently according to your height genes.

Any times genes have an effect that people notice, then people will respond to it. So the "environment" (which includes other people) is responding differently based on genes. So gene-environment interactions are basically only avoided when genes don't cause any variation that anyone notices. (Non-variation would be a group of people who all have one head. Genes caused them to have one head rather than zero or two. But because there is no variation in the trait, the environment can’t respond in varied ways to that trait.)

And you can't just look at gene-environment interactions which are directly on-topic. E.g. a math anxiety paper can't only look at math and anxiety stuff. You also need to consider e.g. childhood and parenting behaviors. A gene for infant smiling would be noticed by parents and result in different treatment, which could lead to better or worse results in general later on, including regarding math. Or it could be more complicated, e.g. maybe less infant smiling could result in more alienation from the parent which could tend to result in being better at math. Maybe people who have better relationships with their parents tend to end up more social, have more friends, and do, on average, more social climbing and less intellectual stuff.

The methods used by twin studies would claim that infant smiling gene as indicating partial genetic control over mathematical ability, even though it has nothing directly to do with math, and it could have dramatically different consequences, or no consequences, in a different culture. They would then publish about how genes partially control our lives, which they have proven yet again (using the same methods as all the previous studies with the same systematic weakness shared by those studies).

Here is an example of one twin study, of many, which is false and should be retracted because of the gene-environment interaction problem:

Genetic factors underlie the association between anxiety, attitudes and performance in mathematics

This paper is notable for citing a hostile satire (cite 30) as if it were serious research that they got some of their claims from. By “hostile” I mean that the satire article suggests that math anxiety research is a joke which does not merit funding. The paper also uses (as is typical) very-low-quality data (including getting some of their data years apart), e.g. badly designed surveys (even well designed surveys are highly problematic!) and proxies that don’t make sense (e.g. their idea of “number sense” is dot-quantity-estimation accuracy in 0.4 second flashes done 150 times). The paper also has carelessness and imprecision throughout. I discuss that paper, and its many flaws, at length in this video.

The paper authors are aware of the gene-environment problem. Near the end they say:

The current investigation presents some limitations. As well as relying on the methodological assumptions of twin design (see Rijsdijk & Sham, 2002 for a detailed description) (47), the models employed in the current investigation do not specifically account for gene–environment interplay. One possibility is that the observed genetic association between MA, attitudes and performance may operate via environmental effects that are correlated or interact with genetic predisposition. For example, children with a genetic predisposition towards experiencing difficulties with mathematics may develop a greater vulnerability to negative social influences in the context of mathematics, such as negative feedback received from teachers or parents on their effort and performance, which in turn may lead to greater feelings of anxiety towards mathematics (56). This has the potential to generate a negative feedback loop (7) between performance, motivation and anxiety - that is potentially a product of interacting inherited and environmental factors. The present investigation, including one time point for each measure of mathematics anxiety, attitudes and performance does not allow us to establish the direction of causality between the observed associations. Longitudinal genetically informative studies, integrating multiple measures of mathematics attitudes, anxiety and performance are therefore needed.

They know perfectly well that their research is inadequate to reach the conclusions they reached. They published anyway. The whole field acts like that in general. So they conclude:

Our findings of a shared, likely domain-specific, etiology between these mathematics-related traits provide a seminal step for future genetic research aimed at identifying the specific genes implicated in variation in the cognitive and non-cognitive factors of mathematics.

Instead of carefully thinking about the gene-environment interaction problem, and what to do about it, they simply ignore it and call their paper “seminal” anyway. They have no solution to the problem but they want to be scientists who publish papers with important conclusions, so they are dishonestly evading reality and lying to the public.

The field in general is like this. There are no sophisticated analyses of why gene-environment interactions would be minimal nor any counter-arguments to my fairly simple reasoning about why they’d be ever-present. They’re just making big, false claims without serious regard for what’s true. That’s the “social sciences”.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (15)

Programming Discussion

Discuss programming here.

If you want to fully understand programming conceptually, in the long term, I think Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs (SICP) is the best foundation. The 1986 MIT lecture videos by the SICP authors, Hal Abelson and Gerald Sussman, are free on YouTube.

If you find SICP too hard, use Simply Scheme first. It was created by Brian Harvey (of UC Berkeley) for the purpose of helping people get ready for SICP.

I'm familiar with Harvey, not Abelson and Sussman. UC Berkeley took down 20,000 free lectures after 2 deaf people complained that there were no subtitles. You can still find Harvey's SICP lectures on Archive.org or uploaded to YouTube by third parties.

There are many reasonable and effective ways to learn to code. If you prefer other material, that's OK.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (12)