Tracking Discussions

Tips for tracking discussions well:

  1. Write down a tree diagram (or, equivalently, a bullet point outline with nesting).
  2. Whenever you write stuff and get a reply, note down anything you’d written which the reply didn’t address. Also note down stuff the other guy said which you didn’t answer. With this method, the open issues are the things on your list plus the stuff in the latest post. (This is simplest in a two person discussion where you take turns writing one message at a time.)
  3. Get better at remembering stuff in discussions.

More on (1) and (3) below.

Trees and Outlines

Here’s an explanation of discussion tree diagrams with an example. And here’s another explanation below (actually written first, even though posted second):

Here’s an example tree diagram:

You can create tree diagrams with pen and paper or with various software options (some are mentioned in my other post on discussion trees).

Trees like this are always equivalent to outlines with nesting. Nesting X under Y in an outline is the same as drawing a line from X to Y in a tree (with Y below or to the right of X, depending on whether it’s a top-to-bottom or left-to-right tree). You can do both trees and outlines to get comfortable with how they’re the same. Both represent parent/child relationships (that’s standard terminology) where some things are attached underneath others. For discussion trees, replies are the children which you put under the thing they reply to. The “parent comment”, like on Reddit, is the thing being replied to.

Example outline which is equivalent to the tree:

  • Family Thanksgiving
    • Plan Meals
      • Pintrest
      • Web Search
      • Old Favorites
        • Mashed Potatoes
        • Stove Top brand stuffing
        • Cranberry sauce
      • Traditions
        • Deep Fried Turkey
    • Go Shopping
      • Food Shopping
        • Turkey
        • Ham
      • Other Shopping
        • Table settings
        • Chairs

To outline well, you need to be able to write short summaries. E.g. take a three paragraph argument and condense it to one sentence for your outline. This is a skill you can practice by itself.

Remembering Stuff

With practice you can remember more stuff without writing it down. This isn’t automatic. It’s something you can work on or not. It helps to try to remember stuff, and to reread the conversation to look up stuff you did not remember. And it helps to consider it important when someone refers to something you’d forgotten, and go reread it and take note of your memory error (try to find patterns and causes for your memory errors).

A related thing to practice is remembering what you say or read in general. You can quiz yourself on this. After reading something, try to write down what it said without looking at it. Start with shorter stuff (or break longer things into parts, like reading one paragraph at a time). If you get good at this and find it easy, do it with longer stuff and/or do it after a delay (can you remember it 5 minutes later without rereading? 20min? 3 hours? 3 days? 3 weeks?). And do it with your own stuff too. After you write something, try to write the same thing again later. See how accurate you can be for longer stuff and after longer wait times. You can do this with spoken words that you hear or speak, but you won’t be able to check your accuracy unless they were recorded.

People often don’t clearly know what they just read, or can’t keep it in their head long enough to write a reply (e.g. if you spend 30min writing a reply, you need to either remember the text you’re replying to that long or reread it at least once to refresh your memory). People often partially forget, partially remember, and don’t realize the accuracy loss happened (and don’t realize they should selectively reread key parts to double check that they remembered those accurately).

It’s also good if you can clearly remember what you said 1-3 days ago, which someone just replied to. You’ll often get replies the next day after you write something. And to the extent you don’t remember, it’s important to realize you don’t remember, recognize you don’t know, and reread. It’s also good if you can remember details from earlier in the conversation, which could be a week or more ago – and if you don’t, you better review relevant parts of the conversation back to the beginning if you want to write high quality comments which build on prior discussion text.

It’s easier to remember, especially for older material, if you have notes. If you keep an outline, tree and/or notes on what was said (including copy/pasting key quotes to your notes file), it’s easier to remember. If you do that for a while, it’ll be easier to remember without the notes. The notes are partly like training wheels that help you learn to remember stuff (it helps you break the remembering down into parts – instead of remembering everything, you partly read your notes and partly remember stuff that isn’t in your notes, so this way you have less to remember, so it’s easier, which makes good practice because you’re working on part of the skill instead of the whole skill at once).

However, notes and outlines aren’t just like training wheels, they are also good things which you shouldn’t expect to ever entirely stop using. They’re useful for practice but also just useful. With practice, you may learn to use them less but still use them. Or you might use them more with practice as you get better at creating and using them. Remembering everything in your head, instead of using tools, is not necessarily a good thing. Remembering some stuff is useful but there is some stuff you shouldn’t be trying to remember. Remembering basically means temporarily memorizing. The anti-memorization ideas you already know about have some relevance.

Also, notes, trees and outlines are useful for communicating with others. You can use them in the discussion. If the other person gets lost and confused, or there is a disagreement about what happened in the discussion, you can share your outlines/trees/notes to communicate your view of what happened. This can remind the person and help them, or it can be compared with their outlines/trees/notes to figure out specifically where you differ (find somewhere your outline is different than theirs, go reread the original text, find and fix someone’s error).

Sharing discussion trees/outlines is a good way to help figure out what’s going on in difficult discussions that become chaotic. Most people don’t have the tree in their head, didn’t try to keep notes, and also can’t (don’t know how to) go back and create the tree for the current discussion. Sadly, people also commonly don’t want to review a discussion and create a tree. That’s because it’s work and people are lazy and/or think discussion should be much easier than it is. People have incorrect expectations about what it takes to discuss well, so if it’s not working with ease they blame the other person or they blame bad luck and incompatibility, but they don’t usually seem to think the thing to do is increase their skill and put in more effort.

Many people avoid resuming conversations after the first day – they want to talk a bunch at once (e.g. talk for an hour) and then never continue later. This is a really common way trying to discuss issues with people sucks and fails. It’s hard to get anywhere with people like this. A major cause of this problem is their bad memory skill. They don’t want to continue the discussion the next day because they forgot most of what was said. To be good at truth seeking, you need to be able to discuss things over time, which requires both memory and willingness to review some stuff sometimes.

More Complicated Discussions

This section is some more advanced and optional material.

A discussion tree can actually be a directed acyclic graph (DAG), not a tree, because one argument can reply to 2+ parents. In that case, a bullet point style outline won’t represent it. However, you usually can make a good, useful discussion tree without doing that.

Directed means the connections between nodes go in a particular direction (parent and child) instead of being symmetric connections. Nodes are places on the graph that can be connected, they are parents or children – specifically they are discussion statements. E.g. “Go Shopping” and “Cranberry Sauce” are nodes. Acyclic means the graph isn’t allowed to go in circles. You can’t have node A be a child of B which is a child of C which is a child of A.

A DAG can always be put in a topological ordering (linear order, 1-dimensional order, similar to an outline or list) which could maybe be useful. Cycles ruin that ordering but aren’t allowed because no statement in a discussion can be a child of a statement that was made at a later time. A child of node N is a reply to N. Because statements don’t reply into the future (and we can treat all statements as being added one at a time in some order), cycles are avoided.

Statements do reply into the future in a sense. Sometimes we preemptively address arguments. One way to handle this is to add a new argument, C, “A already addressed B preemptively”, as a child of B. This gets into the “last word” problem. Even if you preemptively address stuff, people just ignore you or make tiny changes to try to make a new comment required. The big picture way to deal with this is by criticizing their methodology – they are creating a pattern of errors which need to be addressed as a pattern instead of individually.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (4)

Discussion Trees With Example

When you have a discussion, it’s important to understand what is a reply to what, and what didn’t receive a reply (especially direct questions that aren’t answered).

To track this, draw a tree diagram. Put the initial thing someone said on top, then connect replies below it. Then for the each reply, put replies to it below it and connect them. And so on. It looks like this (real discussion, then tree):

Use abbreviated versions of what was said. Treat this like an overview, outline or notes. Make it condensed so it’s easier to see the whole discussion at once. Notes (text that doesn’t represent what someone said) can be put in square brackets. The tree helps show the structure of the discussion while having only short notes about what was said.

If it gets too complicated, you can split it into multiple diagrams. Write “subtree [name]” as a reply, then make a second diagram with that name which represents that part of the tree. It’s just the same as if you had one giant diagram except you took a part of it and moved it to a separate piece of paper or computer document. You can make documents that zoom in on specific parts of the overall discussion tree. You can also make an extra-abbreviated summary tree which leaves a lot out, then make some more detailed trees for some parts.

You should do something to indicate who said what, e.g. put their initials or use different colors.

It’s good to mark what didn’t get a reply and non sequiturs (comments that aren’t responsive, don’t engage with what they reply to). You could also mark direct questions, or at least direction questions that weren’t answered.

In my example, a green outline is Jack Dorsey, red is me, and black is an anonymous poster named A. Bold indicates a direct question (I paraphrased some things as questions but only bolded if it was a question in the original text). Dotted lines are non sequiturs. Ovals are statements that were replied to and rectangles are statements that were not replied to.

You can keep a tree in chronological order if you extend the lines between replies. Each row can be a message someone sent. If someone replies to an old point, draw a long line from it down to the current row. You can draw horizontal lines the show the rows. This will help with complicated discussions. Look at how my example tree is organized in rows. You never see claims from the same person in the same row, and every row corresponds to a specific message (I wrote three messages in the discussion and I have three rows, same for A).

Trees help you understand the discussions you have. Practice making trees for many of your discussions until it’s easy. Also practice doing it with other people's discussions. (If other people's discussions are easier because you're less emotionally involved or biased, start there; if it's harder because you understand what's being said less, start with your own.) Mentally keeping track of trees like this is what people who are good at discussions do (except when they actually write notes). If you write them down a bunch of times, you’ll get way better at remembering them.

When you have a difficult discussion with someone, if you both share your tree diagrams, you can compare and see where you view the discussion differently. This helps clear up misunderstandings and other problems.

Tree Analysis

The tree diagram makes it easy to see that A wasn’t responding to most of what I said (look for the red rectangles and the dotted lines). You can also see the two things from A that I didn’t reply to. And you can see what happened with direct questions: first, no real answer, just a vaguely implied answer that doesn’t make sense (I asked the point of what he was saying and he implied no point) and then a non sequitur reply, that does not answer the question, to my followup question trying to ask the same thing again.

It’s hard to perfectly represent discussions as summary trees but you can represent a lot of information this way. It’s useful even if it’s not 100% complete. In this case, the tree leaves out an issue that helps explain why I didn’t reply to the claim that debates are irrational.

I said:

You haven't given reasons nor any way for me to learn that you're right and change my mind.

And A replied criticizing me for mentioning debate, saying:

learning from each other is what matters.

I had just complained about the lack of any opportunity to learn from him, and then he criticized me because, allegedly, I wanted to debate in a non-learning way. That’s unreasonable and it’s part of a pattern where he didn’t engage with any substantive thing I said (look at all the square rectangles, plus what happened with my direct questions).

Discussion trees are literally and technically equivalent to bullet point outlines with nesting (indenting). You nest/indent replies under what they reply to. That represents the identical information as a tree with lines indicating what is a reply to what. If you don’t understand this, practice creating both the tree and the outline until you do understand.

Making Trees

You can make tree diagrams with pencil and paper, art apps (FYI vector art apps like Affinity Designer make more sense than pixel or photo based apps like Photoshop, and more basic tools can work too, and there are mind mapping and diagramming apps), OmniGraffle, or Graphviz. For info on generating tree diagrams from s-expressions, see my email reply to Justin (who found a website which does it), sharing my Ruby script which converts s-expressions to Graphviz files. Here’s the s-expression I used to create the example tree:

("No political ads on Twitter"
    ("social status, favors, friends, pull"
        ("money shouldn't buy influence"
            "no info that could change my mind")
        (disagree
            "no reasons"
            ("debate?"
                "debates are irrational, aren't you a Popperian?")
            ("point?"
                ("[implied] there is no point"
                    ("purpose of contradicting me?"
                        "opinions are allowed here")))))
    "Less upward mobility"
    "Can't put money where mouth is"
    "Read Atlas Shrugged")

It’s worth learning to write trees as s-expressions. s-expressions are a general purpose intellectual tool. They’re a way of representing structured information/data.


Update:

See the Discussion Trees blog category for more tree examples.

See Mind Map software review for software choices.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (42)

Getting Elliot’s Attention

How do I allocate attention? Here are some things I look for.

I prefer public, asynchronous, unmoderated, text discussion with permanent archives and no editing messages. This is available on my curi website and Fallible Ideas email discussion group. Discord, Twitter, Reddit, Facebook and personal emails don’t qualify. This facilitates discussion over time. I don't want recency biases or discussions that automatically end in a day or two.

I prefer non-parochial discussion. That means I’m writing something of general interest. It’s best if the topic is general interest and what I say about the topic is easy to share, or easy for someone else to read, rather than mixed up in a bunch of back-and-forth discussion. I prefer discussion formats where I can easily link to things I wrote and can easily copy/paste parts of the discussion without the formatting being screwed up.

I prefer productive discussion with people who are making an honest, friendly, serious effort over time (e.g. 2+ months of regularly working on learning something and sharing what they’re doing so I can see the effort for myself and can critically comment on it).

I prefer discussing with high-initiative, independent people who have their own motor. I prefer people who are going to learn whether I help or not, and who will guide themselves. Then my help or comments are an extra bonus. I dislike helpless behaviors.

I prefer people who will brainstorm a bunch of ways of making progress, and try them. I don’t like people who get stuck easily and don’t have any ideas to get unstuck. It’s best if you’re self-sufficient enough that my comments can help you do better at what you’re already doing (and sometimes reconsider it and change projects), rather than my comments needing to somehow get you unstuck. It’s OK if you’re getting low on great ideas about how to proceed and starting to try some more marginal ideas and you want help. It’s bad if you have no ideas for proceeding on your own and gave up.

I prefer paying attention to people who have a significant writing or discussion history, e.g. a blog or dozens of past, reasonable, effortful messages. If you’re posting anonymously and have no past reputation, you should put some extra effort into making your message clearly worthwhile and nice to engage with. I also generally like people with websites, and people who write public things which are meant to still be read years in the future.

If you want to post anonymously, I prefer that you pick a pseudonym and use it for at least an entire conversation, preferably longer.

I prefer people who use quotes effectively (such as including relevant context so that their message is self-contained, while also excluding irrelevant text), format their posts well, respond to what I actually said, don’t talk past me, don’t put words in my mouth, don’t misquote me, don’t respond to something different than what I said, don’t straw man me, and don’t reply with non sequiturs.

I prefer talking with people who don’t do social pressure behaviors. I dislike people who treat discussion as a popularity contest and pander to the non-participating audience.

I prefer good questions which talk about what you already did to solve your own problem and where/how/why you got stuck. I prefer questions which build on something that’s already written (e.g. by me or Rand). I don’t like vague questions. I generally like questions that explain your perspective.

If you don’t ask a question, I can write about a topic without you. I can create my own generic writing prompts and questions without you. Your questions, to be useful, need to have an advantage over that. They need to add some upside for me. There are two main ways to do that. First, you can include information about your perspective, what you tried, how you got stuck and your own experience with the problem. Suppose you have a question about capitalism. You can e.g. tell me which specific sentences you didn’t understand from one of my articles about capitalism, and what’s confusing about them for you. That’s more useful to me than the question “So, how does capitalism work?”, which I already thought of myself and wrote about. Second, you can write a high effort, detailed, organized question. You can e.g. write about the current state of the field, what are the open questions, what is already answered and how, etc. You can do research or think about the best way to approach the issues. In that case, the upside for me is that you put work into the topic. So, to make a good question, give me information I don’t already have – either info related to your personal learning or info from doing some good thinking about the issue.

I don’t like questions which essentially ask me to start over and explain the issue from scratch in cases where I (or someone else like David Deutsch) already wrote a one-size-fits-many, generic explanation addressing the matter from scratch.

I don’t like being asked questions that I preemptively answered in an article or in a previous discussion message. I understand that you had trouble understanding, but be more specific than “I don’t get it” or “How does X work?”. It’s important to give me some information about what you don’t get – which part of my explanation don’t you get, what’s the problem, what do you think it says in your words, what’s your best guess at what it means, what seems wrong about it to you, what criticism of it do you see no way to deal with, something.

I prefer cooperative discussion. Adversarial debates are overrated. The main benefit of them is that they’re better than no discussion at all.

If you want an adversarial debate, it helps if you communicate your background and why you think you have the skill to keep up and potentially win. Even better, bring up stakes or tests – e.g. if you’re wrong about X (something relatively easy to objectively evaluate the correctness of, e.g. a factual matter), then you’ll do Y (concede some points, read and comment on some books and FI articles, be extremely appreciative, impressed, surprised, pay me money, behave differently in your career, whatever – the more the better). It’s important to have clear criteria for what’d satisfy you in a debate, to have clarity about what it’d take for you to concede, and to have ways to objectively test who is right instead of it all being evaluated with freeform judgment. And it’s important that there be consequences to the debate, something actually happens if a conclusion is reached (it should be something that has value for me if I’m right). It’s also good to say why the issue you want to debate is important, why it matters, why it’s worth debating. And tell me how I would benefit from being corrected about this.

For all discussions, and especially debates, I prefer people who are persistent about reaching a conclusion. And people who will slow down and stop skipping steps or jumping to conclusions, will clarify things, will put effort into making the discussion organized, and will deal with tangents and sub-issues.

Communicate goals you have that I’ll appreciate, e.g. to debate to a conclusion, or to learn philosophy. If your question is the first of 20+ questions you plan to ask over a period of months, that’s a good thing, tell me that. I don’t like the people who ask one question, get their answer, and leave with no comment. I prefer helping people with bigger goals than to get one answer to one thing. (The one thing is almost never very important on its own, it’s just good as a step towards bigger stuff.)

Don’t try to have it both ways with being a beginner who wants leeway and also an expert who is challenging my ideas and expects to win debates with me. You can’t simultaneously be both. And, in general, pick one and say which it is. If you think you’re my peer or intellectual equal, say so, and then I’ll hold you to the same standards I hold my own work to. If you don’t think you’re my peer and don’t want to be held to the standards for my own work, say that. If your thinking and claims are not being held to the same quality standards as mine, and it looks to you like I’m wrong, your default assumption should be that you’re missing something (or, at least, there was a misunderstanding), because your ideas are less rigorous than mine. If you don’t have a comparable amount of learning and studying activity in your past (compared to me), including public writing exposed to criticism, then you shouldn’t expect that the criticism or critical question you just thought of is new to me. It’s not literally impossible, but it’s a bad default assumption because I’ve already heard or thought of so many ideas before.

I like talking to reasonable, smart, knowledgeable people. And honest, especially honest. I dislike talking with people who assume I don’t have enough information to make judgments about them that I’ve made. I have a lot of knowledge about how to judge discussion statements which have been exposed to a lot of critical commentary and tested extensively. Lots of your behavior, which you’re blind to, is expressed in your words and is easy for me to judge as e.g. dishonest.

I like when people talk to people other than me and have discussions that I can comment on. I don’t like being a major participant in 90% of discussions at my forums. Practice discussing with others (both on my forums and elsewhere), try things out, share what happened, and ask for help with problems.

I prefer people who answer my questions or, in the alternative, say why they aren’t answering. It’s hard to deal with people who ignore direct questions. I also dislike ambiguous answers, including giving one answer to three questions (and not even specifying which one is being answered). I also want direct answers like “yes” or “no” when possible – if you want to explain your answer with nuance, you should generally give a direct answer as the first sentence of your answer, then give extra information after.

I also prefer people who ask clear, direct questions. If you say some stuff with no question, I’m less inclined to answer. Tell me what you want. Don’t imply them or hint. Don’t think a key part of your message goes without saying. Even a generic comment like “Does anyone have criticism of this?” or “I’d like criticism of this.” (which is fine despite not being a question or request) is much better than nothing. It takes away wiggle room (both honest and dishonest) where you could later say you didn’t actually think what you said was true, or weren’t looking for criticism, or some other excuse for why you don’t appreciate the criticism you received. Even better is to say something less generic about what you think or want.

I like people who care about errors instead of making excuses about why those errors aren’t important. I find people dramatically underestimate what errors matter and don’t understand how they matter, and mostly don’t ask or want to know, either.

If you value my attention, say so explicitly and act accordingly. Or pay for it (contributions, consulting, digital educational products). Money is good. Money is actually a lot easier to come by and provide to me than high-quality discussion messages are. I don’t mind helping some people who are bad at stuff, and paying customers have priority there (as do friendly, cooperative, honest people who appreciate the help).

It’s good to share your goals, intentions and plans for a discussion or for your learning. And how much do you care? What will you do about it? What resources are you allocating to this project and what will you do with them? What resources do you estimate the project needs to succeed? How hard a project is it? What have you done to build up to being ready to do it by doing a series of easier project successfully and sharing the results publicly on your blog? These are areas you should be interested in critical feedback on. Many learning projects fail because of project planning errors, e.g. people think something is a much smaller project than it is. Many people start discussions and quickly drop out. They weren’t really interested in the topic they asked about, don’t want to think or talk about it much, don’t want to take actions to learn more such as reading an article, and don’t want to discuss and learn from their error either.

I dislike when people ask for my help with a project which is already in progress and they won’t share or revisit the project planning. They want my help with goals they already decided, using an approach they already decided, but they want to exclude me from discussing or criticizing that stuff. Lame!

The more you do the above things, the more attention you’ll get. If you don’t do them, don’t expect much attention.

I wrote this post partly to help people deal with me better and partly to clarify this for myself. I’m trying to change to better follow these guidelines. Expect me to be less responsive than I’ve been in the past if you don’t follow the above advice. I plan to ignore more stuff that I think is low value.

But what if I make a mistake and ignore something important? What if I’m biased? What about Paths Forward? My Paths Forward Policy is still in effect as a backup so that mistakes can be corrected – it can be used if I don’t allocate attention to something that you think I should. And, along with this post, I’ve just written introductory questions people can use, made a How To Discuss blog post category, written an explanation of how debates and impasses work and how to conclude a debate, and written a new debating policy.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (31)

Introductory Questions

Are you looking for one reply, a small discussion, a big discussion, or a series of discussions?

Are you looking for help or to correct me? Are you trying or expecting to learn from me, or to win a debate with me?

Do you believe you’re a beginner, a skilled and knowledgable person, or my equal or peer?

How many relevant online articles have you written? How many words is that? Link your website with them. 5+ articles is preferred for beginners, 20+ is preferred for knowledgeable people, and 20+ is a hard requirement for peers (100+ preferred). I’m flexible if you have a good written substitute for online articles, e.g. a published book. Writing should be on your own website (either your own domain or your own account at something like WordPress, Blogger, or Medium, not Reddit comments, Quora answers, etc.)

What resources have you allocated to this project? The main ones are time (e.g. 1 hour, 20 hours, or 7 hours/week indefinitely) and money. If your allocations of both time and money are low, it’s hard to make much progress.

If you want to debate, are you planning to pursue the matter to a conclusion? And if you lose the debate (in your own opinion) will you thank me, pay me, or do anything else about it? If you want to learn, are you planning to pursue the matter until you’ve succeeded, or will you stop and try something else if it’s not quick and easy?

What have you already done to learn about this matter or develop the skills to deal with it effectively? Read books or articles (about the topic itself or about how to learn, think, discuss, study, etc.)? Studied them? Written notes? Discussed them? (Publicly? Link?) Watched YouTube videos? Read Wikipedia? Listened to podcasts? Asked experts? Gotten a degree? Worked in the field? Do you have much discussion or debate history/practice (link?)?

I ask these questions first because they’re relevant context for the discussion and second because they are areas where people commonly behave/communicate ambiguously or dishonestly.

Generally you can answer these questions just once and it’ll be fine for many discussions. People usually have similar answers for most or all of their discussions. But if the answers change significantly, you should communicate that.

I like long discussions or debates. You’re welcome to ask for that. Just say so. I don’t like e.g. people who try to debate me, anonymously, and they may stop replying at any moment (I have no idea), but before that they always demand I give them more answers or else they call me an irrational evader. Short questions are OK too if they’re clear about what they are, and they’re good, effortful questions. I don’t like people who bring up a topic so that it looks like the start of a substantial discussion but then don’t continue after they get an initial answer. The questions above help me know what to expect from a discussion.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (5)

Chat Highlights

This is a successful philosophy discussion, mostly with StEmperorAugustine. There's a brief discussion about dishonesty, then an extended discussion about whether people's interests are objective or subjective. PDF. (I cropped out some irrelevant parts. Depending on the software you use to view the PDF, you may see whitespace for partial-page removed sections. It's not broken.)

And this is a discussion about eating, calories and fatness. It was kind of a mess between JustinCEO and CallmeBigPopper (it's instructive to see what people do wrong in discussions and consider what you would do differently – and then actually test yourself in discussions), but then I wrote some good explanations at the end which everyone agreed with and which I wanted to share. PDF.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (7)

Kira Peikoff Is a Bad Writer

I read 5 chapters (17%) of No Time to Die by Kira Peikoff (KLP). Her father is Leonard Peikoff the Objectivist philosopher. She was named for Kira from Ayn Rand's novel We The Living.

The novel is unreadably bad. I'm not going to read further. And it has nothing to do with Objectivism. The acknowledgments (accurately, I guess) don't mention Ayn Rand, Objectivism, or Leonard Peikoff. They don't mention her mother either. I looked at KLP's website and also didn't see anything about Rand, Objectivism or her father.

KLP was homeschooled initially but then went to high school and university.

KLP did not read Atlas Shrugged until she was at college. Source:

Book that changed your life:

Atlas Shrugged. I read it in college, when I was living away from home for the first time and deciding whether to embrace the philosophy I was raised with. It was always important to me--and to my parents--that I come to my own independent conclusions. After I finished the book, I finally knew the answer.

How can you be "raised with" Objectivism but not read Atlas Shrugged until age 18+? And I see no signs of Objectivist thought in her novel. And in the same interview, the book she wants to be an evangelist for is Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson, a thriller involving amnesia and trust (and a bunch of sex fantasies, according to a negative Amazon review). She apparently doesn't want to be an evangelist for Objectivism.

What about the book, No Time to Die? The unlikeable main character wants to be normal and fit in, quit university over teasing, has mean parents, has a nice grandfather, and gets stressed or fearful easily. She's second-handed and nothing like Roark. She routinely tells social lies. She has a medical condition which turns out to be she stopped physically aging at age 14 (she's now 20, and the book has some sort of plot about anti-aging science). The scientific rigor level of the book appears to be that if you say that genes did it, that's intelligent science instead of fantasy magic. Meanwhile there is a criminal conspiracy to kidnap scientists for some reason.

The foreshadowing and setting up where the book is going are awful. I can't tell why most of the material in the book is relevant. It seems there will be some anti-aging science stuff but then we get a bunch of seemingly-pointless stuff about the main character personally.

On finding out she's physically (but not mentally) 14, the protagonist starts thinking of herself as 14 in ways that don't make sense. She just wants to grow up normally. Even the genius doctor makes a comment about getting parental consent because she's under 18. My takeaway is that the author of the book is unintelligent. Contrast it with David Deutsch's intelligent comments on a similar scenario in The Final Prejudice.

This post could use some book quotes to illustrate what it's like, but the book is unimportant and bad and I don't want to do that. What interested me most was that KLP was allegedly raised with Objectivist philosophy, but actually didn't read Atlas Shrugged until college ... at which point she claimed to embrace it, but didn't. I looked into it because of reversion to the mean. Leonoard Peikoff (LP) is far worse than his teacher, Ayn Rand, but still exceptional in many ways. And KLP is far worse than LP, she's normal, there are no signs of greatness.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (16)

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 (46)

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 (31)

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.


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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.).


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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 (15)

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 him. 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 (15)