Taleb Is Wrong: Killing Millions Actually Is Risky

Alan Forrester writes Criticising Taleb’s Precautionary Principle Paper, quoting Taleb (and his co-authors):

The PP states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing severe harm to the public domain (such as general health or the environment), and in the absence of scientific near-certainty about the safety of the action, the burden of proof about absence of harm falls on those proposing the action. It is meant to deal with effects of absence of evidence and the incompleteness of scientific knowledge in some risky domains.

I'm quoting this as context for what I say later. As a side note, I refuted the burden of proof idea in my Yes or No Philosophy.

The purpose of the PP is to avoid a certain class of what, in probability and insurance, is called “ruin” problems [1]. A ruin problem is one where outcomes of risks have a non zero probability of resulting in unrecoverable losses.

Taleb wants us not to use GMOs – genetically modified food like golden rice which helps provide more food and vitamins, especially to poor foreigners.

Forrester summarizes David Deutsch in The Beginning of Infinity (BoI) criticizing the Precautionary Principle (PP):

The PP assumes that new innovations will make the world worse and so that current knowledge is basically okay and not riddled with flaws that might lead to the destruction of civilisation. But our knowledge is riddled with flaws that might destroy civilisation. Human beings are fallible so any piece of knowledge we have might be mistaken. And those mistakes can be arbitrarily large in their consequences because otherwise we would know we were right every time we made a decision above the maximum mistake size. In addition, we can be mistaken about the consequences of a decision so a mistake we think is small might turn out to be a large mistake. The only way to deal with the fact that our knowledge might be wrong is to improve our ability to invent and criticise new ideas so we can solve problems faster. Taleb doesn’t address any of these points in his paper. He doesn’t refer to BoI. Nor do any of the arguments in his paper address Deutsch’s criticisms of the PP.

Taleb's argument is a Pascal’s Wager successor. Pascal's Wager says we should believe in God because the downside of being mistaken about atheism is eternity in hell. Meanwhile the downside of being a Christian, if God doesn't exist, is finite: e.g. some wasted Church visits and prayers. Even if the odds God exists are 0.00001%, given the stakes, one should believe in God and try to get into Heaven.

Pascal's trick is to compare an infinite downside (eternity in hell) with a finite downside (decades of having a worse life). The infinitely important issue will always win unless its probability is 0%. (Ignored is the possibility of a rational, atheistic approach to life helping create life-extension medicine that results in immortality.)

A "ruin" problem is, like eternity in hell, a problem with infinite downside.

With Pascal's Wager, one can argue that God's existence shouldn't be assigned any probability. Small probability is a bad way to deal with bad explanations, bad logic, bad reasoning, unanswered criticisms, losing the argument, etc.

With Taleb's ruin problems, there is risk above 0%. They aren't myths or superstitions like God or ghosts. They are conceivable scenarios.

Taleb uses his argument like Pascal's Wager, e.g. "No matter how increased the probability of benefits, ruin as an absorbing barrier, i.e. causing extinction without further recovery, can more than cancels them out." No matter how large the finite benefits, ruin always matters more.

It's questionable that even the total extinction of humanity, or of all intelligent life in the universe, should be assigned infinite importance rather than just very very large importance. But I'll set that question aside.

There's a simple answer to Taleb. Everything he proposes also risks ruin. There are risks of ruin either way.

Taleb proposes, in short, to slow down industrial and scientific progress. He proposes more poverty for longer. He proposes more people being blind for lack of golden rice – and therefore they will be inferior scientists and inventors. He proposes more people dying for lack of food, or ending up in jail for stealing food – which gets in the way of being a philosopher, businessman, economist, etc.

Delays to industrial and scientific progress are risks of "ruin". They delay the time until we're a two planet species (or two solar systems or two galaxies). Every additional day we spend with a single point of failure (one planet) is a risk. Maybe that's the day a meteor, plague, alien invasion or other risk will ruin our planet. We're in a race against ruin. The clock is ticking before the next big meteor or other ruinous threat. The faster we improve our meteor defenses, and our wealth and technology in general, the better position we're in to deal with that ruin risk or any other ruin risk that may come up. There are some dangers that we don't foresee at all; our best defense against the unknown is to have lots of knowledge, lots of control over physical reality, and other general purpose tools and resources.

Slower progress with more poverty and misery is also a ruin risk for the individuals who go blind, starve, die of aging before a technological solution is available, etc.

And greater poverty and misery in the world, with worse science, increases our risk of ruin from violence. Our ruin could come from resentment from people who want golden rice and feel (reasonably, IMO, but it's a risk even if they're wrong) that we're oppressing them. Civilization may be destroyed by Islam, China, Russia or some other war. The sooner everyone lives in a much nicer world (paradise by current standards), the lower our risk of war.

Civilization may be destroyed by the spread of bad ideas. The more prosperity is brought by the use of reason (e.g. science), the more people will be impressed and value reason. Accomplishments help persuade people. The sooner the safer.

Perhaps Taleb things the destruction of civilization, and another dark ages, doesn't constitute ruin because one day people may reinvent civilization. But the destruction of civilization could result in extinction. It could involve biological warfare which creates a disease capable of killing us all. It could involve nuclear and chemical warfare which kills so many, and renders so much land uninhabitable, that everyone ends up dying. It could involve new weapons technology. If GMOs could ruin us, surely a violent conflict could where people are trying to cause mass destruction on purpose. If nothing else turns out to be more effective (doubtful, IMO), people could try to create harmful GMOs on purpose as a weapon.

Slower progress isn't safe. Nothing provides any guaranteed safety against ruin. In general, rapid progress is the safest option. The status quo isn't sustainable, as Deutsch explains in the "Unsustainable" chapter of BoI.

I wonder if Taleb tried to think of ruin problems affecting his proposal for the death more poor non-white children and many other bad outcomes (even if no such thinking made it into the paper). With Guardian headlines like Block on GM rice ‘has cost millions of lives and led to child blindness’, a reasonable person would give serious consideration to not advocating more of that happening. Does it make sense that denying nutritious food to millions is the safe, no-risk option, while using science to improve their lives is the big risk? That's not impossible, intellectually, but one should make a serious effort to think of counter-arguments. But Taleb (in the full paper) didn't. He briefly suggested maybe the downsides of no GMOs are less than some reports because they have other causes which GMOs don't solve. OK but isn't there a risk that no golden rice has killed and will kill millions? Nothing he said could reasonably be treated as a reason that risk is zero. So then, did he analyze whether there is any way that that really bad stuff could lead to ruin? No, all he did is say:

Most of the discussions on "saving the poor from starvation" via GMOs miss the fundamental asymmetry shown in 7.

But it's only a fundamental asymmetry if there are no ruin risks associated with having governments forcibly malnourish the poor. But Taleb (and co-authors) didn't consider or analyze that.


What do I think of ruin risks? The short term affects our long term prospects, as I've been explaining, so they generally don't involve such a big difference as Taleb believes. In general, I think the right answer will be good in the short and long term, good in the big and small picture. We can make life good now and in the future instead of needing to make big, awful sacrifices to try to create a better future. Our success and prosperity now is what will lead to and create a good future.


Disclaimer: I don’t regard this as productive intellectual discourse. A reader might get the impression that this is the sort of critical debate which is supposed to take place between thinkers. I don't think so. I don’t think Taleb is making a good-faith or productive contribution to discourse. I don’t regard him as a worthy opponent. I think he acted intellectually irresponsibly, he’s not open to discussion or learning new ideas, and the bad philosophy thinking he’s a part of is one of the world’s big ruin risks. I regard my post as similar to debunking a UFO sighting.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Global Warming Debate

This video has a debate about global warming with 6 people including Richard Lindzen (an anti-global warming debater and scientist):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sZsnAdGaxkY

A good way to begin a debate about global warming is to watch this video and say which ideas you think won the debate, what you found convincing.

So e.g. I might talk to one person who says "yeah Lindzen won that debate, his opponents were mediocre, but global warming is right b/c of some other arguments they didn't use". And a different person would say "i thought global warming won that debate". Those are two really different perspectives that are worth separating.

if someone says I'm right to think global warming lost in that particular debate, i'd want to know what they think is convincing. e.g. is there a debate Lindzen lost in video or, even better, writing? or are there some arguments he's never given a response to?

if someone thinks global warming won that debate, I'd want to know how they evaluate some specific statements. analyze some quotes from both side of the debate. show me some mistakes from Lindzen and his allies, and some key points from his opponents that should have been convincing but which he ignored or answered badly.

i think the pro global warming people in the video are irrational clowns who make fools of themselves. i say that not to flame but to express a perspective. i think it's a notable difference whether i evaluate someone as a clown and someone else sees a rational debater or, alternatively, they agree those people are clowns but think there are some much better pro global warming debaters elsewhere.

i too could analyze some specific statements. but i don't want to do it preemptively. it'd be a bad way to proceed with someone who says that particular debate wasn't convincing for global warming but something else is. if you want me to do it, debate me, say you think that video is convincing re global warming (rather than that you'll want to rely on other sources), share some of your analysis, and ask for mine. i find, in general, despite the alleged 97% consensus for global warming, there's a shortage of people who disagree with me and are willing to rationally discuss the matter.

People often want to debate the issues directly, from scratch. If your goal is to reach a conclusion about the field (rather than to practice debating or learn some introductory info), it's much more effective to look at what's already know, what smart people who study it have already said, and try to evaluate some of those ideas. Using existing knowledge gives you a head start compared to starting over. Looking at a debate like this helps you start to get a picture of the field, the issues, the relevant arguments, and so on. It's incomplete, it's in voice instead of writing, there are many flaws, but it's more productive to start with existing materials and then point out problems with them and start adding in some other sources rather than to start at zero and say you're own ideas about global warming.


PS here are some other videos with Lindzen that I liked:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2q9BT2LIUAt=277
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Xe5VeMYD7Y
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eRwYZV-hYnA
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJwayalLpYY


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (2)

Discussion Tree: State of Animal Rights Debate

I began organizing the current state of the animal rights debate into a discussion tree diagram. I started with Peter Singer because he's a well known intellectual with pro animal rights writing. I will update the diagram or create additional diagrams if some pro animal rights people point me to literature which addresses my unanswered arguments and questions, or make important arguments in the comments below. I hope they'll do that. I prefer pointers to specific parts of literature unless someone wants to first concede that key arguments for animal rights haven't been written down anywhere (and explain why they haven't been).

The diagram is just an outline. For details about a particular part, ask in comments below. The diagram is meant to show (a piece of) the structure of the debate/discussion. It selectively focuses on points Singer raised and points I consider important. I'm sure other people have written relevant things, but I don't know where to find that and I have different research priorities (such as how to have a rational discussion – this is an experiment for that purpose). My relevant expertise is primarily about epistemology, software and science, not the animal rights literature. I've debated ~25 people on these issues but they usually bring up sources like a YouTube video about how an animal did something that seems intelligent to them.

Click the diagram to expand or view the PDF for selectable text. The source links are clickable in the PDF and are Animal Liberation and Animal Liberation at 30.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (4)

Mind Map Software Review

I wanted to find Mind Mapping software for the primary purpose of making tree diagrams for discussions and the grammar of sentences. I often prefer to write a bullet point outline in markdown then have software convert it to a tree. I generally prefer simple, readable output without customizing individual nodes. There are many options, most bad. I looked at 25.

OK

mindnode: solid UI, import, export. imports markdown with italics. no svg export. has mac and ios versions. curi’s choice

omnigraffle+omnioutliner: have to import and export through outliner. has svg export. many features and plugins. some hassle to get fresh imports usable. mac and ios.

iThoughtsX: import/export looks fine, no svg export, iffy UI, a review says it has some good power user features. has weird extra features like some calendar related stuff. mac, windows and ios versions.

xmind zen: limited customization, good themes and structures global options, ok import, no svg export. mac, windows, linux, ios, android.

graphviz: command line tool. many features. important tool that lots of people use. I would need to write a script to convert from markdown to dot including adding linebreaks cuz there’s no built in word wrap. already have an s-expression to dot script that doesn’t add linebreaks but works for grammar charts with one word per node. editing dot files sucks if you want to customize appearance of individual nodes.

jsSyntaxTree is an s-expression based web app suitable for small diagrams with single word nodes.

markmap converts markdown to a mind map. there's a plugin for using it with the atom text editor. but it has little configuration and doesn't do word wrapping. the results are basically unusuable if you put a paragraph of text in a node. i'm still glad to know it exists. it might be useful sometimes for personally looking at the outline of a document i'm writing.

Fail

GitMind: web. decent UI considering it’s a web app. img, pdf, txt, svg exports. import via paste from markdown list. but no wordwrap. nodes are all on one long line. RIP.

mindjet mindmanager: heavy advertising. UI looked bad in screenshots, wanted personal info including phone number for free trial, the web form had horrible formatting, didn’t try it

lucid chart: heavy advertising. web app. unclear if it can import markdown or tabbed text. trying to import from mindmaps was a premium feature. has pdf and svg export.

simplemind: bad export

Ayoa (bought iMindMap): no import, pdf export only, mac desktop app is a blatant port from web app with no file menu.

mindmeister: web app, iffy UI, no svg export

bubbl.us: web app, don’t see any import feature, no svg or pdf export

freeplane (was freemind): awful UI even for a java app, a million export options but crashed trying to export to svg.

Scapple: doesn’t import

mindmup: web app, publish online feature is auto-deleted after 6 months (not a permalink) and also you can’t delete it yourself. need gold membership to see what import options are. pasted markdown list in and it made every node a child of the untitled root node.

mindomo: mac app looks like web app port, no svg export, opening a txt or md file just opens it in default editor not in mindomo, wtf, RIP. can import with copy/paste (under the root node, need to manually paste your root node text in separately). bad UI and significant delay on zooming. has some tree structure options.

the brain: no png, svg or pdf export. no print. some sorta cloud upload feature. txt import says it had an error and logged the details (don’t know where). bad UI.

Coggle: Web. Imports with copy/paste but doesn’t wordwrap nodes by default. They’ll wordwrap with individual editing. no svg export.

mindmaster: heavy advertising. mac app is an awful port. only 3 weird import options that warn they aren’t 100% compatible. pasting lost all structure, made every node a child of the root node. has a lot of features including svg export.

Canva: art web app. not really for mindmaps.

InfoRapid KnowledgeBase Builder: $12 in mac app store with no free trial (every single other one i tried has a free trial). the name and other marketing look awful.

mapul: web, can’t import markdown data. has svg export. awful web ui.

miro (was: RealTimeBoard): couldn’t import markdown data, confusing UI, seems like a web app port

PDF to SVG Conversion

After reviewing apps and not getting svg export in MindNode, I figured out that pdfs can be converted to svg. Command line pdf2svg and pdftocairo worked but made unselectable text while the Convertio website made selectable text. I didn’t try Inkscape yet for conversion or extraction. ExtractPDF web app said there were no images to extract, so I don't think MindNode is creating an SVG embedded in the PDF. I got a working svg from importing and exporting with Affinity Designer. Affinity and Convertio both lost the hyperlinks though.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Twitter Discussion with patio11

Source

patio11: A thing that keeps me up at night is that there is almost certainly, today, something which might not be shaped like penicillin but has a similar level of impact, and which is really sweating the next thousand dollars. https://twitter.com/jasoncrawford/status/1183833891209019392

patio11: And it’s not sitting in isolation; it is almost indistinguishable from 899 experiments which will go nowhere and 100 outright frauds which, after they lead the nightly news, will have your funding body of choice dutifully make sure that penicillin needs more paper for its grants.

patio11: I don’t know if I have a solution for this at the moment, other than not laughing when someone starts a conversation with “I think I am working on something bigger the penicillin.”

patio11: And, in the maybe 30% of lifetimes where I meet someone doing that, hopefully I immediately say “Good news, I have exactly one relevant professional skill. Here is all the money. Make progress on it and I can find you more.”

curi42: @patio11 I think I'm working on something bigger than penicillin. It's improved methodology for rational discussion and thinking. However, it's hard to monetize, hard to get anyone to listen or use it, and hard to use funding to help the project.

curi42: Also SENS (anti-aging research) is working on things that I think have a good chance to be bigger than penecilin. Their progress is being slowed dramatically by limited research budget. https://www.sens.org

patio11: @curi42 Most successful examples I can think of of popularizing "I simply think better than you" involve using single player mode to dominate valuable competitive environments until the entire world says "Oh eff me that parlour trick actually works." Sometimes this takes decades.

patio11: A corollary to this is that if one cannot dominate valuable competitive environments in single player mode, one should decrease one's estimate that one thinks better than everyone else. Examples from history: statistical process control in Japan, bond & options pricing, etc.

curi42: @patio11 SPC is massively underdeveloped today. Eg https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14783363.2015.1050181?journalCode=ctqm20 "Until now, there has been a lack of a sound, structured review analysing past publications and guiding future research on the implementation of SPC in the food industry context (Dora et al., 2013b; Grigg, 1998)."

curi42: And "The application of continuous improvement methods and techniques in the food industry are not as advanced as other industries and hence there are very few publications on Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma in the food industry"

curi42: SPC is not single player: "Employees’ high resistance and lack of statistical knowledge are the critical barriers faced by the food producers in adopting SPC." And even that review paper ignores Eli Goldratt's report about increasing bread sales 90% in The Choice.

curi42: Major SPC advancements as proof of concept of great thinking was tried by Eli Goldratt. He wanted to teach the world to think. Had charisma to get thru biz consulting social gates. Worked great as career but his SPC ideas, let alone rationality ideas, are neglected.


I like patio11 but I didn't expect him to actually want to discuss the matter. It's sad though. Comment below if you want to discuss it.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Social Metaphysics

This is an open discussion topic for social metaphysics issues. Below is a conversation log which you can use as an optional conversation starter. It'll give you some leads on issues you might want to talk about.

StEmperorAugustine:
This one is Think Club. They look similar. https://youtu.be/bDTp4yg3XTk?t=396

StEmperorAugustine:
I like this retired Fighter Pilot. Seems to value reason more than most ppl I've seen on this.

curi:
is there something you dislike about reading?

StEmperorAugustine:
I like reading. Why did you say I dislike it?

curi:
why watch a debate like that over reading?

StEmperorAugustine:
over reading what specifically? I like reading and watching debates both. Not one over the other. What I like about debates is watching how people come to hold certain opinions and how they engage in trying to convince the other, or defend their reasoning. Reading I do more if I want to really understand a concept better in more detail.

Justin:
https://fallibleideas.com/books

curi:
You could read more. It is a choice you're making. And there are written debates which are better organized, give more info in a clearer way, e.g. the FI archives.

StEmperorAugustine:
Ty Justin. That reading list is what I am working on already plus some others. Starting with that list tho

StEmperorAugustine:
Reading takes more effort

StEmperorAugustine:
sometimes If I feel like relaxing I watch these debates

curi:
So the answer to the question "is there something you dislike about reading?" is "yes"

StEmperorAugustine:
I like it until I am to tired. I don't want to be misleading by saying I dislike it. I really like it. I like playing soccer but eventually I get too tired to continue.

curi:
you're not being very logical

curi:
you're confusing dislike something about reading with disliking reading.

StEmperorAugustine:
oh no. Where did I mess up?

StEmperorAugustine:
aaaah

StEmperorAugustine:
yes

StEmperorAugustine:
Parts of reading that I might dislike

StEmperorAugustine:
but not as a whole

StEmperorAugustine:
hmm. I don't really see getting tired after a while as the same as disliking it

curi:
you see reading as harder (higher effort) which is a downside which is a problem sometimes

curi:
audio books and text to speech allow you to read by listening. would that solve the problem of making it more relaxing like listening to a video?

StEmperorAugustine:
I have tried it, It helps but it still takes effort to think about the concepts being presented, and I do tire eventually too

StEmperorAugustine:
tho I am getting a bit better at sticking with it longer

curi:
doesn't following a debate take effort? those verbal debates are harder to follow than most books, IMO, because they're poorly organized and inconclusive (lots of loose ends to remember like a list of points that weren't answered).

NikLuk:
I do audiobooks the most. It can be combined with another activity. I like walking outdoors - that is easy to combine with audiobooks.

The negative with this combo is sometimes I get distracted and have to rewind some. I do not think audiobooks on new content are as good as actually reading the same thing, as I tend to miss more listening. On the plus side is I can work through the material faster.

curi:
the debates also lack editing. books are edited to take unclear or confusing parts and make them easier to understand.

curi:
with FI debates, you can easily reread context to check things to help you follow it. with YT debates that's hard.

NikLuk:
Re debates I think most of the time people just talk by each-other and avoid addressing the harder questions.

StEmperorAugustine:
What you're saying makes sense. books should be easier to understand due to editing. It still take more effort to me than to just sit back and enjoy a debate.

curi:
the standard reason for that is people watch debates socially. what they like about it is the social interaction, which is easier for them to follow than the intellectual stuff.

StEmperorAugustine:
so possibly what I enjoy about them is not the ideas presented but how they are presented and their interactions with the other guy

curi:
Adam Friended's body language and voice tones tell a story, a narrative, all by themselves without even listening to any of the words.

StEmperorAugustine:
Yes there's a lot of useful knowledge in just facial expression, body language and tone of voice

curi:
i didn't mean it's useful. i think it's an irrational way of bypassing which arguments are good to manipulate audiences.

curi:
voice tones are not arguments and can be done regardless of whether what you're claiming is true or false

curi:
it's not truth seeking

StEmperorAugustine:
What about useful in the sense of learning to be more persuasive when talking to other people

curi:
by persuasive you mean manipulating them b/c they are persuaded by things other than truth?

Justin:
Social persuasion is not rational persuasion

StEmperorAugustine:
not as a replacement for having true arguements but as a supplement

curi:
so e.g. if you get a more fashionable haircut, ppl listen more? that's irrational and it's pandering to their bad ideas.

StEmperorAugustine:
I think presenting yourself in a certain manner matters. Idk if it is manipulation, maybe in the sense that it might make the other person more receptive to what you have to say, and actually listen

Justin:
What about big tits as a supplement to arguments

StEmperorAugustine:
I think those signal something entirely different than what I had in mind

Justin:
Might make ppl listen more tho

StEmperorAugustine:
Honeslty they probably would listen less

curi:
looking smart and being smart are different things. if you try to look smart, you're playing into ppl's prejudices instead of focusing on truth.

StEmperorAugustine:
what about looking and being smart. Though "looking smart" is also not what I have in mind.

curi:
what's the upside there?

NikLuk:
Does the context not matter here? Say you're in advertising. Using more social would be beneficial, no? Was Jobs not good at the extra stuff making the releases more interesting for many people?

curi:
if ppl like non-arguments, they're wrong. if you want the practical result of more fans, it can work. if you want the truth, it's not helping.

curi:
advertising isn't truth seeking.

StEmperorAugustine:
Let's say I am making argument P. I can state argument P while being nervous, and looking messy, and mumbling etc.. Or I can make statement P with a good projected voice, a good sense of style, and clearly and confidently. The truth of P matter but how you deliver it does matter too. Like in a Job interview

Justin:
Matter for what

curi:
whether P or true or false is 100% separate from whether you looked messy when you said it.

NikLuk:

advertising isn't truth seeking.
Ok. Missed it was only about truth seeking. My bad.

StEmperorAugustine:
yes I am not arguing against that

curi:
so if ppl are focusing any attention on those things, it's bad, it's a distraction from the issues

curi:
it means less thought goes into what's true

StEmperorAugustine:
yes they are getting distracted from P which is what matters.

curi:
so it's bad to encourage that kind of thing, or to like that kind of thing, if the truth is what you value.

StEmperorAugustine:
if P is true regardless. Why is it not objectively better to present it properly and confidently?

curi:
who sounds confident or looks fashionable is a contest, a competition. the winners of that competition may have shitty ideas which then spread.

StEmperorAugustine:
not if the idea is the same

StEmperorAugustine:
in that scenario P is the statement that is true

curi:
the ppl who are best at sounding confident are not the ppl with the best ideas.

StEmperorAugustine:
ok but that's a different argument

curi:
if you have a good idea and also participate in that contest, you may be outcompeted at social stuff by someone with a worse idea. happens all the time.

StEmperorAugustine:
yes that can happen

curi:
competing at social stuff takes a ton of effort. it's a huge distraction. b/c that area is very competitive.

StEmperorAugustine:
well I am not arguing for competing at social stuff. Just at learning proper presentation. Only as secondary as presenting a proper idea.

curi:
and if you play that game, audiences spend some of their time not thinking about your argument, so fewer of them understanding what you said.

StEmperorAugustine:
secondary to*

curi:
what is proper and why is that proper?

StEmperorAugustine:
that I don't know

StEmperorAugustine:
being clear is proper vs mumbling

curi:
the way it actually works is there's no limit where you're good enough and you're done

StEmperorAugustine:
looking at your shoes vs at the audience

StEmperorAugustine:
that kind of thing

curi:
you can get to the 50th percentile or the 70th percentile at skill, or the 99th, and you can still climb higher socially

StEmperorAugustine:
I suppose you could but that's not really what I am arguing for.

curi:
there's nowhere to draw the line

StEmperorAugustine:
The line may be arbitrary but reality kind of imposes on you

curi:
there's no principle that says a certain skill at eye contact is important, but a higher skill at eye contact doesn't matter.

curi:
not reality. other people, and specifically the dumber ones, who you don't have to suck up to.

StEmperorAugustine:
there's so much time in the day, and you spend it building your argument. Once it is built then you can improve at presentation,

curi:
time is a scarce resource

StEmperorAugustine:
Indeed.

curi:
you could always put more time into truth seeking. any time on presentation is lost.

StEmperorAugustine:
I suppose it depends on the context too

Justin:
Augustine if you read FH u might have better understanding of FI view on social stuff

StEmperorAugustine:
Wouldn't your argument then depend on everyone having read FH then Justin?

curi:
you're changing topics a lot

StEmperorAugustine:
If I am presenting an idea and show up all disheveled, mumbled nervously through it, look at the shoes. Maybe the people who read FH are like right on. but somehow I doubt it

curi:
if your goal is truth seeking, what to do does not depend on how many audience members understand social dynamics rationally.

StEmperorAugustine:
that still doesn't tell me why presenting true argument P poorly is preferable than presenting it well. I mean presenting it as stating it in front of someone else or others.

curi:
https://youtu.be/bDTp4yg3XTk?t=3236 there are some examples here within 30s. e.g. Adam says "valuable" in a voice tone, does a shrug and does a voice tone at the end of the section right b4 the other guy talks again. those are just some of the more blatant ones.

curi:
Adam spends more than 50% of his mental effort, during a discussion, on thinking about (mostly subconsciously) what would impress dumb viewers, how to manipulate them, how to pander, etc. This gets more effort than his argument quality.

curi:
This is typical.

StEmperorAugustine:
The first thing people see is neither your personality nor your argument. A good first impression makes a difference. I agree that you should work on making argument P as strong as possible and that should be your focus. Then maybe you can put some effort in presentation. I still don't see the downside, but I do see the upsides. Could even be split 90% argument 10% presentation or move the dials there as needed.

Justin:
Augustine would you disregard someone's argument on some point if they didn't make eye contact etc?

StEmperorAugustine:
Depends on their argument

Justin:
!

curi:
Taking 10% of your effort away from truth is a downside.

curi:
Making eye contact in the socially normal way (an example Aug has given several times) takes a huge amount of effort. This effort is not recognized because the learning time and costs are mostly in early childhood. However, some people don't learn it then, are called "autistic", and are persecuted quite cruelly and extensively. The way people learn it in childhood is by learning to care more about how others think of them than about reality. It's part of a process where they learn not to prioritize truth, that they will be punished for not fitting in and need to prioritize that instead.

StEmperorAugustine:
But what if the truth of argument P is very important. Let's say if people adopted P the world would be a better place. Why would you not want more people to adopt P?

StEmperorAugustine:
Knowing that many do not hold your view on presentation

StEmperorAugustine:
and will judge based on that

curi:
People learn the "proper" way to do eye contact by learning to pay very close attention to the reactions they get from other people and then changing whenever they get negative reactions, and keep making changes until they get it right and get approval. This takes a huge amount of time and effort and the mentality is broadly incompatible with e.g. scientific thinking.

curi:
Aug you keep changing topics, we can't discuss everything at once.

StEmperorAugustine:
I have to go but once again I'd like to continue later.

StEmperorAugustine:
:slight_smile:

StEmperorAugustine:
ttyl

curi:
The things you're saying are everywhere but lots of ppl won't admit or say them in an intellectual context. They lie about how rational they are.

curi:
They're really bad though, but pretending not to think them just makes it harder to change.

curi:
One of the practical effects is ppl spend a lot of time engaging with lower quality material (in terms of ideas and truth seeking) b/c they want to watch ppl compete socially.

curi:
So they learn less.

curi:
ppl seek out material with e.g. facecam b/c they don't even know how to judge what's true, only how to judge social stuff.

StEmperorAugustine:
I've been thinking a bit about our discussion.

It is possible that we may be talking about two different things so I'll try to restate my position.

I agree that truth seeking is important, and that in an ideal world (even then I am not so sure that would be ideal) people would not care about how a message is delivered. But that is not how the world works.

People care about how the message is delivered as much as the message itself. For example, Jordan Peterson sells out large auditoriums in hundreds of cities around the globe. A lot of what he says is quite good, some is okay, other is standard self help stuff that people already know. But he is able to reach a large audience because he is a good speaker.

Another example, Job interviews. Most people get hired based on a 1on1 interview. They already have seen your resume, what they are looking for is how you present yourself. Are you someone they would be okay working with or talking to their customers.

It may be different for you because your job is to write philosophy articles. So you do not need to have charm perhaps. Although, even with philosophy articles you do have to worry about your presentation. Your website has to be readable, easy to navigate. Your sentences need to be clear and follow grammar rules to eliminate confusion.

All in all I think context matters. And as I said yesterday, if statement P is true. I would prefer that statement P is presented in a clear, unambigious, confident manner.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (42)

Discussions Should Use Sources

People think you should debate or explain stuff yourself, not cite books or articles. But the truth doesn’t depend on what ideas are in my head or what I remember. So they aren’t using a truth-seeking approach.

The proper way to deal with complex topics is to look at what’s already been figured out. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Try to research and understand the state of the debate. If you find something missing you can make an original contribution, add something new, but mostly you don’t do that for well-developed topics.

E.g. take economics and political philosophy. That’s a big, hard topic. Even most of what Rand, Mises or Reisman said about it wasn’t new. Partly they organized existing ideas and figured out which ones are important and how they fit together. They did add in some new ideas too. Most people add a lot less than that. And it’s harder today after them. Anyway, the point of debate/discussion isn’t really to add new ideas to the field. If you have a new idea, write it down. Then when you debate someone, your idea is a book or article that you can cite. So it’s just like citing a Mises book, it’s pointing at the existing literature and trying to figure out what the discussion tree looks like, what is answered and unanswered, refuted or not, etc. If you have an original idea and write it down so it’s part of the literature, then the general project of evaluating the literature is going to include evaluating your idea. Nothing changes.

People object to citations in discussion to address some practical problems. They include:

  • Citing stuff you don’t understand or haven’t read.
  • Citing a million things to overwhelm someone.
  • Citing a new thing every time one is refuted.
  • Judging cites by the author’s name or what his conclusion is.

The main problems here are appeals to authority and argument quantity over quality. The proper way to use cites is only to cite your best material on each issue, and if it’s refuted you don’t cite second best then third best, you start reconsidering. If your evaluation of the best material (in your opinion) was incorrect, your evaluation of other material is also suspect. Your way of evaluating needs to be reconsidered.

Discussion should be kind of like a research project where you each help the other guy look through the literature for your side. If I talk with a socialist, he can tell me the key chapters in Marx that, as a Mises-advocate, are relevant to me and he thinks Mises didn’t answer. There’s a ton of socialist literature and a socialist is a good person to help guide me to the best stuff and also, simultaneously, to the key stuff to criticize (or cite criticism of) to change his mind.

This does depend on your goal in discussion. Are you trying to figure out what’s true? Are you acting the part of scholar, researcher, intellectual trying to reach some conclusions? Then don’t do a literature-independent discussion. Alternatively, you might be practicing talking about ideas and practicing debating. If you’re just trying to practice explaining stuff, not actually trying to reach a conclusion in the field, then using little or no literature can make sense.

People routinely mix these two things up. They debate like it’s unserious practice, won’t consider literature, but also think, at the same time, that they are reaching conclusions and this is a reasonable way to form their opinions. They think it’s a serious debate that can figure out the right economics while, at the same time, that they don’t want to read Mises, don’t know of any refutations of Mises by anyone, etc. You can’t figure out the truth of economics in that manner.

Rewriting published material doesn’t make sense in general. Books are carefully written and edited. What I say in a discussion is going to be lower quality (unless it’s about a position lacking good literature).

So for well-developed topics (like economics but not AGI), most of your comments should be about how the literature fits together, how it applies to particular cases that come up, stuff like that. Like if Mises wrote a general principle and a guy has a question that it answers, usually what Mises wrote is not a direct answer to that exact question. So I can write 3 sentences explaining how Mises’ principle relates to the question and then cite what Mises wrote. Those 3 sentences by me help customize the general purpose material to a particular case. Those kinds of sentences are generally missing from the literature, but they’re very important because people have particular questions and don’t always see how the one-size-fits-many general statements in the literature answer their questions. Even if they’re good at that, maybe they figure it out 9 out of 10 times, but it’s still a big deal if I can help relate the literature to the remaining cases.

And there’s a lot of literature, so a socialist might not know which Mises book to look in to get an answer to a particular question, and maybe I can find the answer and find some key quotes a lot faster than him because I’m more familiar with Mises’ writing. So that’s something useful I can contribute to discussion, it’s a way I can be helpful. And similarly, he can help point me at socialist literature that addresses some specific questions I have because he knows where to find that better than I do.

Cites also improve discussion by providing more targets to criticize. If I cite a Mises book, now you have plenty of details about my position that you can point out errors in. In literature-excluding discussions, people will bring up their ideas and never give you enough details about what they mean. They aren’t rigorous enough about explaining, piece by piece, how their claims work. They often change their position mid discussion. Literature is a fixed target that’s suitable for critical analysis.

And how do you get your own position, alone, on a complex topic like economics? You learn some parts of the field and, for other parts, you don’t investigate it beyond a summary level. You don’t have time to go into everything because it’s such a big field. Even professional economists specialize and can’t cover everything. For someone like me who has read a lot of economics but it’s not my specialty, it’s not even close – there are tons of issues where I believe it’s been covered by Austrian economics, and I could look it up if it came up, and I have some kinda summary info about it which makes sense to me and fits with other ideas and principles I have, but I haven’t carefully checked all the details. That’s how it’s gotta be. It takes many people working together and writing books and so on to develop all the complexity and detail that goes into a position in economics. The field’s standards are so high that it’s too much for one person to cover it all. You can understand the main principles as one person, you can think rationally, you can investigate areas you think may be problematic, you can investigate areas that discussion and debate partners bring up, but you can’t just go step by step through every last thing in the field, detail by detail, there’s been too much thinking about economics done. So to get a position I look for a body of work that I think gets stuff right. Ideally I find one I’m 99% happy with and my position can be “Austrian economics + X, Y and Z” and just make a few changes based on my own ideas (as long as the changes are isolated, that’s OK. If I want to change some major economic principle, it’d end up changing hundreds of conclusions, so it’d be a big issue.)

Less ideally (it’s more work), I might use the ideas of one school of thought for one big part of the field and another school of thought for another big part. That’s what I do in philosophy. I have Critical Rationalism for the majority of epistemology but not all of it, and I have Objectivism for some other parts of epistemology and for several other major areas of philosophy, and I also have David Deutsch for some other stuff like jumps to universality. To do this, one has to create more supplemental material explaining what’s used for what. It’s more complicated than just agreeing with one school of thought (even with some minor customizations). It’s still far less work than developing all the ideas from scratch.

Developing ideas from scratch is, in general, bad. It’s like rewriting software from scratch. You end up creating a bunch of new bugs. The existing stuff has been exposed to a lot of critical thinking. Many errors/bugs have been fixed. If you start over, you might think you’re fixing all the problems, like now you know what you’re doing and will get everything right, but what actually happens is making tons of mistakes including tons of mistakes that were already made and fixed in the past.

If the existing ideas are inadequate, in general you should help improve them instead of just ignoring them and trying to develop new ideas. This is especially true for complicated, established fields like economics or philosophy. It’s less true for a very new field like AGI, but even then you shouldn’t be e.g. reinventing algorithms, data structures, or programming languages – there’s lots of existing stuff that’s worth using (even an imperfect programming language is generally far better than trying to make a new one).

It’s kinda like existing human knowledge is a million points but has flaws, and if you help get it up to a million and 500 points, you improved things. But if you start over, you aren’t actually helping for the first 999,999 points, you’re still behind, so you have to do so much work before starting over is useful. Yeah maybe if you reinvent 100,000 points from scratch there will be a big chunk there someone could use and combine with some existing knowledge, but if that’s what’s going to happen you might as well do that yourself (develop in, from day 1, as an improvement on some existing knowledge – as something that can be added to some existing knowledge and/or some changes to some existing ideas with problems – rather than ignoring existing knowledge and leaving it to someone else to convert your work to be relevant to other ideas humanity has).

It’s hard enough to work with existing knowledge and improve it. Most attempts actually make it worse. It’s hard to understand how existing knowledge works, what the problems are, and how you can make changes without breaking things. It’s much worse, though, to just take the field itself and try to solve it yourself without all the help and guidance of existing knowledge. Then you’re trying to outcompete thousands or millions of people’s cooperative efforts by yourself.

Most people trying to build up intellectual systems from scratch don’t know much about the literature. It’s related to the cliche that you need to know the rules (e.g. of English) before breaking them. If you don’t understand what’s already known and what’s good about it, you aren’t in a position to do things differently and do a good job. But once you do understand the literature well, and get a good grasp on what’s already known, then you’re in a good position to improve it. A lot of why people want to start over, instead of adding to existing knowledge, is specifically to skip the step of learning much about what’s already known. They’ll never accomplish much.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (3)

Open Discussion 2 (2019)

Discuss whatever.

If you post a link or quote, express an opinion about it, ask a question, say something. Also, if you think something is bad and are posting it for criticism, say so – the default expectation is you agree with, and have a positive opinion of, whatever you post. Or if it seems good to you but you're sharing it because you have doubts and want to find out if people have criticism, say that.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (25)

Written and Unwritten Rules In Discussions

If you don’t have a debate policy, you have an unwritten, biased, inconsistent debate policy. Just like if you don’t have a philosophy, you still do, it just hasn’t been given much study or conscious consideration.

Public intellectuals use unwritten rules for who they talk to (gatekeeping, filtering) and how they talk during a discussion (how they think rational, productive discussion works).

Unwritten rules are confusing to others. They’re not predictable. If an intellectual had written gatekeeping rules, I could know “If I do X, Y and Z, I’ll get a discussion.” With unwritten rules, it’s unclear what’s even relevant (what helps at all), let alone what’s adequate, what’s enough.

Unwritten rules are usually applied inconsistently. They let people be biased and prevent accountability. They let people easily lie about the reasons for decisions (like not discussing with a critic).

Bias and dishonesty are hard problems. Instead of being confident we’re great at them, we should make it easier on ourselves. Written rules help keep us honest and prevent bias from affecting our discussions. We should be happy to find ways to combat bias and dishonesty rather than being so arrogant as to think that’s unnecessary. (Some people seem to think that doing anything about bias is like an admission of weakness, and admission that maybe they aren’t fully rational, so they’d rather take no anti-bias actions in order to deny they have any problem with bias.)

During discussions, people have unwritten rules for what they think should be replied to, what questions should be asked and answered, how much effort to use, whether links should be read or ignored, how conclusions are reached about sub-issues, in what circumstances the overall discussion should end. People who try to have discussions usually disagree about some of these things. Because neither side writes down or explains how they think this stuff works, it’s an ongoing source of conflict and misunderstanding. And then at some point someone gets frustrated and ends the discussion. Or they just end it because they’d rather do something else and that’s that – and then they also claim they’re really open to discussion and interested in ideas (just not that time, apparently, though they often make excuses like saying the other guy’s messages were low quality without providing conclusive specifics).

Going from unwritten, ad hoc, “I know it when I see it” type rules/behavior, to written, documented, policies procedures, methods and rules is a huge upgrade. It’s similar to going from “whatever the dictator says goes” (unwritten rules) to a system of law and order. The way intellectuals behave is really primitive compared even to governments (and I have a lot of criticisms of governments).

This is the unexamined life. People don’t know why they do things. They don’t know how they choose which discussions to have, what to do in the discussions, or when to end them. They don’t understand themselves. Writing down their discussion methods and policies is how they could both discuss better (figure out what their goals are, what they think is good discussion, share the idea with others, and try to do it) and also better examine their life, understand themselves, learn what they actually do (take some of their intuitions and whims and turn them into considered, written statements).


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Claiming You Objectively Won A Debate

When people end debates, they usually don’t even try to make an objective claim that they won (or, impersonally, that particular arguments were adequate to reach particular conclusions). Here’s a standard form for an initial impasse statement which is worth knowing:

Here is my understanding of the situation: My arguments, X, Y and Z, were adequate to objectively establish my conclusion, C. Those arguments were conclusive. I said enough that you should be persuaded. A rational, unbiased observer would agree that those arguments won the debate and would tentatively accept the conclusion C. You gave no substantive replies to X, Y or Z (except for one reply to X, which was refuted by my reply X2, which you did not substantively respond to). You made no substantive arguments about C that I didn’t address. There are currently no open questions left. So you should concede, change your mind, and start learning about C. Or else, say something new to change the situation. But you won’t do any of those, which is an impasse.

Most people end discussions with less than this. Not an abbreviated version of it (which could be fine) but less content. They don’t even claim to have won the debate. If you can’t even make a statement like this, you have no business giving up on the discussion.

To have won a debate, you have to be able to claim to have won the debate. That’s necessary but insufficient. It’s required but it’s not enough. Your claim could be wrong. But if you don’t even have a claim like that, you didn’t win. That means making a claim like “In [quote] and [quote2] I gave compelling arguments. I tried several times to get you to engage with them. You didn’t. They were adequate that they should have persuaded a reasonable person.” Making a claim like that is the bare minimum needed to think you won the debate. Actually checking whether that claim is true is a more advanced step but most people don’t even make the claim. They don’t realize that’s the sort of thing that would indicate you won a debate. They don’t know that’s the goal.

Your goal in a debate is to objectively establish some claims. Make adequate arguments for why those claims are correct. Adequate means they should be persuasive to an intelligent, objective, neutral observer. People can easily be wrong about what’s objective or adequate but they should at least try to do this. But most people, in most debates, won’t even claim to have done it and seem to be unaware they were supposed to. People quit discussions without ever saying something like “I thought my argument X was adequate and your responses were missing the point. You’re not listened, dumb or biased or something so I’m going to move on.” That’s not great but it’s better than what people commonly do.

People usually stop discussing without even any claim to have provided information adequate to change the other person’s mind or help them learn better ideas. That’s irrational.

People usually end discussions without even claiming the other person did something specific wrong, was unreasonable about a particular issue, was irrational in a way they’ve stated (rather than just irrational in general), incorrectly judged any particular argument (with reasons the judgment is incorrect), or anything like that. Pointing out a specific, impersonal flaw with the discussion (rather than the person’s ideas) would also work. If you won’t point out any problem with the discussion or with the person, you’re in no position to end the discussion in your favor. And if you have no rational claim that you won, you should consider that you lost and you’re leaving to avoid facing superior ideas.

People often make general, non-specific comments about how bad the other person is or how dumb their arguments are. These do not attempt to rationally and objectively establish any particular claims about what happened in the discussion. They don’t provide a case for why they’re right which they could honestly think was conclusive.

When debating, you should try to make an objective case for some conclusions. You should get to a point where you can claim (in your own opinion) that your arguments were objective, rational and conclusive and the debate should now be over. If you don’t do that, don’t claim you conclusively won the debate. There’s a lot more needed, but this is a basic starting point that people often don’t even reach.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (9)

Productive Global Warming Discussion

November 1, 2019 Climate Change Discussion in the Fallible Ideas Discord Chat

Kurapika(Mentally untouchable):
What do you guys think about the tree planting event going around on youtube?

JustinCEO:
No idea what you're referring to @Kurapika(Mentally untouchable)

JustinCEO:
Can u link?

Kurapika(Mentally untouchable):
@JustinCEO https://youtu.be/U7nJBFjKqAY

Kurapika(Mentally untouchable):
This is a trend on youtube.

JustinCEO:
Watched a minute of vid, seemed bad and dumb. Will say more later

JustinCEO:
They didn't explain who MrBeast is or why we should care. Or why this was a good project. Or alternate projects they considered. Or alternate ways of implementing this project they considered. They wasted much of first minute on playing music and showing ppl doing stuff in order to create a certain kind of social vibe and pull on the puppet strings of viewers. They figure their target audience will be more likely to donate if presented with a video with the right sort of vibe instead of leading with some kind of explanations. They're right.

StEmperorAugustine:

Watched a minute of vid, seemed bad and dumb.

Probably why you should not judge a book by its cover :). The video actually has a lot of cool explanations about trees and how to plant trees using drones. I thought it was not bad and not dumb :).

curi:
It’s part of a movement to destroy civilization tho

StEmperorAugustine:
How so?

curi:
Why plant trees?

StEmperorAugustine:
A nice way to reduce co2 and increase o2 :). It is volunteering work which is great for the soul and no coercion.

curi:
Why reduce co2?

StEmperorAugustine:
Save netherlands!

curi:
The narrative you haven’t said is global warming. The goals and meaning of the movement are well known. They want to shut down the modern economy with a scare story.

StEmperorAugustine:
I feel like that's true of some but probably not true of all. However, I haven't looked at it much, not to mention the science seems rather complicated so unless you're a climate science expert what do you do?

I know a lot of it is destructive especially if they intervene in the markets etc... but volunteer tree building seems fine to me. What are the downsides of tree planting?

curi:
They are doing video propaganda not just planting trees

curi:
They are wasting millions of dollars

curi:
The way ppl like volunteer work and charity is anti capitalist

curi:
You even implied that regular work is bad for the soul and coercive

StEmperorAugustine:
ugh it is :(. I think most people hate their jobs. Though coercive? eh Idk you can always leave but many people have limited options.

curi:
Re complicated science: the tree planters didn’t care about that. Didn’t research it or try to educate ppl about it. Just risked being wrong and dragging their fans with them

StEmperorAugustine:
They trust the scientists I suppose.

curi:
Which scientists? There are scientists on both sides

curi:
Seems more like they trust NYT CNN AOC imo

StEmperorAugustine:
Seems very one sided. https://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus/

StEmperorAugustine:
those are not NYT CNN and idk what AOC is.

curi:
That's corruption and the NYT, CNN and AOC are part of the cause of it. AOC is the green new deal person.

curi:
It seems one-sided in part b/c of ongoing suppression of dissent.

curi:
In part because they're dishonest.

curi:
And in part because of the broader context of what the media has said.

curi:
And by one-sided you don't really mean one-sided, you mean that one side is more popular than the other. Popularity isn't truth as any real scientist would tell you.

curi:
These are the kind of people who crusade for minorities ... but not scientific or intellectual minorities, who they try to suppress. They prefer to focus on e.g. skin color.

StEmperorAugustine:
https://skepticalscience.com/97-percent-consensus-robust.htm

curi:
That is propaganda.

StEmperorAugustine:

These are the kind of people who crusade for minorities ... but not scientific or intellectual minorities, who they try to suppress. They prefer to focus on e.g. skin color.

StEmperorAugustine:
this is true

curi:
It's propaganda which isn't even about co2 or warming. It's tangential or meta propaganda.

curi:
It's not even trying to be about science. It should be put out by pollsters not scientists.

curi:
what does NASA know about polling? not their expertise.

StEmperorAugustine:
Isn't this confating two issues though? The science of climate change and the proposed solutions. I agree that there is a lot of non-solutions and opportunism from the left using climate change as an excuse.

JustinCEO:
https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.forbes.com/sites/alexepstein/2015/01/06/97-of-climate-scientists-agree-is-100-wrong/amp/

curi:

Isn't this confating two issues though?

which statement is doing that?

StEmperorAugustine:

That's corruption and the NYT, CNN and AOC are part of the cause of it. AOC is the green new deal person.

StEmperorAugustine:
how do you know that nasa and all these other organizations are the propaganda but Alex Epstein is not?

curi:
how does that comment conflate "The science of climate change and the proposed solutions. " ?

StEmperorAugustine:
Isn't the green new deal a proposed solution? if we can even call it that.

curi:
yes but what's wrong with a statement telling you who she is? you asked.

StEmperorAugustine:
I thought you issue with these people were what they were proposing and their scare mongering and stuff.

curi:
you're losing track of context

StEmperorAugustine:
but anyway, how do you know that Alex Epstein is not the propaganda?

curi:
re how to tell what's right, in short you make a discussion tree and look at what arguments and questions have not been answered. https://curi.us/2229-discussion-trees-with-example

curi:
if you made a discussion tree of this discussion, it'd help you avoid losing track of the purpose and context of statements.

StEmperorAugustine:
I really rather not do that tbh. Seems like a lot of work. I am skeptical of all things related climate change. Too political. I err on the side of trusting the consensus for this one. I don't think a non-expert is in a position to understand this matter. Unless it is cases like with the green new deal or w/e its called in where a lot of the solutions have nothing to do with the climate, then you can call bs on that even as a layman.

curi:
you can't know what consensus exists, or what is a safe conclusion, without any rough approximation of the discussion tree

StEmperorAugustine:
By discussion tree you mean our discussion or you mean the climate science discussion.

curi:
climate sci discussion

StEmperorAugustine:
Yeah that honestly seems like a huge project to undertake, having a hard time seeing the upside.

curi:
if you don't want to undertake it you should, in the mean time, remain neutral

curi:
you should say you don't know and try to avoid doing things that would be evil if either side was right

curi:
that's very hard in this case b/c of the sweeping, clashing claims

StEmperorAugustine:
yea I am pretty neutral about it. Leaning on the side of scientific consensus. Which is why I trust vaccines, the earth is not flath kind of thing.

curi:
that's not neutral, it's believing propaganda. you're being a promoter of certain claims and ideas.

curi:
you are modeling the 97% consensus claim, or a similar claim, as basically true and unanswered in the discussion tree

curi:
this is a very partisan model

curi:
your sense of what's neutral is highly related to what the mainstream media says.

curi:
your positions on vaccines and flat earth are also not neutral.

StEmperorAugustine:
thats true

StEmperorAugustine:
btw is your position that there is no climate change happening? Or that it is not man made? Or that you don't beleive the predictions? or that you disagree with the solutions presented?

curi:
the prediction models are terrible. very unreliable. we don't have exact knowledge but there's presently no reason to be catastrophically worried. and the solutions are so bad they'd be bad ideas even if all the factual claims about the problem were true.

curi:
long range weather forecasts are very hard.

StEmperorAugustine:
I think you're right about the solutions. I hope you're right about the other stuff.

StEmperorAugustine:
Though if you are right, it would be terrible for public trust in our scientific institutions. So part of me hopes you're just really politically biased 😦

curi:

“You know, Dr. Stadler once said that the first word of ‘Free, scientific inquiry’ was redundant. He seems to have forgotten it. Well, I’ll just say that ’Governmental scientific inquiry’ is a contradiction in terms.”

curi:
Atlas Shrugged

curi:
our "scientific institutions" are already horribly broken and should not be trusted.

curi:
after massive intervention in the economy, the government has taken over as the primary funder of science, and the vast majority of scientific work done today is crap.

curi:
and that's part of where the global warming "consensus" comes from, btw: biased funding.

StEmperorAugustine:
That is terrible news. If you got cancer what would you even do, can't trust the scientific instiutions, doctors etc... what options are there? What a disaster 😦

curi:
our current cancer treatments are considerably better than nothing.

curi:
doctors give bad advice about many things

curi:
you should do your own research for anything important

curi:
i would research cancer a lot more if i had it

StEmperorAugustine:
how though. Can't trust the scientists that publish the research

StEmperorAugustine:
can't do your own

curi:
you can read papers

curi:
instead of trusting or not trusting the conclusions

curi:
you can figure out what the arguments about the issues are

curi:
what the data is

curi:
and think about it

StEmperorAugustine:
but you don't have any biomedical training do you?

curi:
you can discuss it and ask for criticism on FI. you can find other forums where some ppl may discuss some.

curi:
most papers can be evaluated with very little field expertise.

StEmperorAugustine:
You said most people in FI are programmers right?

StEmperorAugustine:
Oh I see

curi:
you can usually judge the quality of arguments without knowing the field, e.g. is it a correlation=causation type claim?

curi:
you can also learn some of the field.

curi:
how long does it take to get up to ~half the education they had? a month? their education was mostly wasting time.

curi:
if you're 10x or more better at learning and don't use school, you can catch up a fair amt quite fast.

curi:
maybe not half but u can be selective about which parts are relevant, leave out a bunch of stuff u don't need

curi:
like you can skimp on labwork skills if you wanna understand papers.

curi:
you may miss the occassional error about lab procedure but it's not a huge problem

curi:
i've had no trouble reading papers about neuroscience and serotonin without needing a month or even a day of study first.

StEmperorAugustine:
I think most people don't have the kind of time to do this sort of thing

curi:
you should make the time if you get cancer.

curi:
at least you should if it was just a time issue

curi:
most ppl don't have the skill for it. much bigger problem.

curi:
so, ought to learn philosophy before getting cancer.

StEmperorAugustine:
well yeah but you probably need to work as much as possible just to pay for that cancer treatment

curi:
ummm health insurance

StEmperorAugustine:
thats true

curi:
also if ur breadwinner ur spouse can look into it instead of you.

StEmperorAugustine:
I think the average person really has less choice, they kind of have to trust the experts

curi:
who gets to be labelled an "expert" and why?

curi:
that method sorta half-works for some things but is very bad for others like lots of political issues like whether minimum wage increases are a good idea.

JustinCEO:
http://justinmallone.com/2016/02/paul-krugman-is-terrible/

curi:
global warming is a political issue.

curi:
chemotherapy isn't

StEmperorAugustine:
many years of study and scientific literacy for one. Doctor goes through what, 4 years of Uni, 4-5 med, 7 of specialization. What does a waiter in East Florida do if they get cancer. Trust that Doctor seems like her option.

curi:
however i've researched some medical issues like birth control options and acutane side effects. expert doctor advice on those matters is very bad. they massively downplay risks, dangers and side effects, and play up effectiveness.

curi:
uni credentials are biased and corrupt. they aren't especially biased about cancer treatments but they are about politics. teachers and adminstrators push out students with certain ideas, punish them, falsify grades, deny funding, don't hire them, etc.

curi:
they encourage campus speakers with some ideas while suppressing others

curi:
and they will do this against majority viewpoints.

curi:
many of the positions getting this kind of biased use of power in their favor were minority positions when it started but are majority now due to decades of indoctrination from trusted authority figures.

curi:
in a free market system, which we don't have, if you got cancer you'd speak with several doctors before selecting one. just like you go talk to several lawyers about your case.

curi:
doctors vary quite a bit and blind trust in the first one you run into is unwise.

curi:
you claim doctors have scientific literacy. it appears that even medical researchers (only a fraction of them) create a majority of studies that don't replicate.

StEmperorAugustine:
THERE's NO HOPE 😦

curi:
there's lots of hope but it doesn't come from trust

curi:
gotta use your own mind, learn stuff, etc.

curi:
when you can't get to everything, you can form opinions about who has researched something with good methods already or what areas of our culture are less broken and more reliable.

curi:
for example i read Ending Aging by Aubrey de Grey and judged the argument and explanation quality in the book was good

curi:
so i have a positive opinion about his medical work and research in general, based not on trust but my critical judgment of his reasoning.

curi:
it's not that he has credentials but that i saw him do good thinking

StEmperorAugustine:
I see.

curi:
i'm sure some cancer doctors have good books or articles which are readable by advanced lay ppl, which could impress you, and which (if you had free choice of doctor) would be a much better way to choose a cancer treatment plan (consult that guy) than trusting a random doctor.

StEmperorAugustine:
What about like, before you cross a bridge. Do you trust the engineers that built it or do you have prior critical judgement of bridge builders in your area.

curi:
you, having read some of my articles, could expect me to be right about AdG without even reading his book, and you'd still have some judgment involved.

curi:
our bridge engineering standards aren't corrupt in ways that make our bridges collapse. that part of our culture isn't toooo bad. if anything i imagine they over-engineer. if a bridge was gonna collapse it'd prolly be b/c some shitty city govt hired dishonest contractors to actually build it.

curi:
btw i spoke with AdG about a paper he wrote as part of a debate with some guy about some scientific issue.

curi:
i agreed with him. he had good arguments

curi:
he believed that i was trusting his authority and reputation. he couldn't understand that i could actually evaluate the arguments in the debate myself, personally

curi:
he was unaware that they were actually 80% philosophy and more of what he wrote was in my field than his.

curi:
that kind of thing is common.

curi:
even if it was medical stuff, it's unreasonable for him to think i couldn't possibly have understood it. but it mostly wasn't and he didn't even know.

curi:
philosophy has logical priority for evaluating arguments in general. if the structure is "X implies Y, therefore I conclude Z" it doesn't matter what medical terms are contained in X, Y and Z.

curi:
scientists in all fields are inadequately trained in logic, philosophy, etc., so i can find errors like that throughout their papers.

curi:
they are always straying into my field, which they suck at.

curi:
to be fair, philosophers are, on avg, probably worse than physicists or mathematicians at such things.

StEmperorAugustine:
Interesting.

curi:
philosophy classes and professors are really fucking bad.

curi:
philosophy is the most important and most broken field.

curi:
so basically everyone in every science just wings it, improvises, dabbles in philosophy

curi:
they also trust some philosophy "experts" on some things like induction

curi:
but they also just make a bunch of philosophy claims of their own without thinking they should consult a philosopher for advice first, as they would consult a chemist if they made chemistry claims.

curi:
the situation is so broken ppl frequently don't recognize when they make philosophy claims (as they would recognize chemistry claims)

curi:
so, in short, i'm more qualified to read a paper on global warming than the author is

curi:
i'm missing less crucial expertise.

StEmperorAugustine:
Do you have any example of this?

curi:
i forget if i have one for global warming but there are several on my blog, in email archives. i analyze some serotonin stuff on YT.

curi:
i have a post on a grossly incompetent sam harris brain science paper

curi:
i've written about twin studies

StEmperorAugustine:
When I start reading a research paper. I just give up most of the time, they are written in such boring format and all the cite and numbers and math and graphs. Might as well be written in Chinese to me.

JustinCEO:
curi has read some on YT

JustinCEO:
U could watch and learn better approach

JustinCEO:
🙂

curi:
there's a generic skill of dealing with them which mostly works across fields. they aren't thatttt bad once u learn how to deal with them.

StEmperorAugustine:
awesome

curi:

Nevertheless, the existence of the expert consensus on human-caused global warming is a reality, as is clear from an examination of the full body of evidence. For example, Naomi Oreskes found no rejections of the consensus in a survey of 928 abstracts performed in 2004. Doran & Zimmerman (2009) found a 97% consensus among scientists actively publishing climate research. Anderegg et al. (2010) reviewed publicly signed declarations supporting or rejecting human-caused global warming, and again found over 97% consensus among climate experts. Cook et al. (2013) found the same 97% result through a survey of over 12,000 climate abstracts from peer-reviewed journals, as well as from over 2,000 scientist author self-ratings, among abstracts and papers taking a position on the causes of global warming.

curi:
this grossly ignores the possibility of systematic bias, suppression of speech and publication, etc., which is alleged by the other side. it's non-responsive to the counter arguments

curi:

In addition to these studies, we have the National Academies of Science from 33 different countries all endorsing the consensus.

curi:
you can see the argument quality from a statement like this. if 33 out of 33 academies endorse global warming, is that a good indicator 97% or more of more scientists agree?

curi:
as a first guess, i'd expect they endorse based on majority vote.

curi:
if 90% of scientists believe X, it'd be totally unsurprising for 100% of major, mainstream groups of scientists to have a majority that believe X.

curi:
i didn't read any other text from the page ( https://skepticalscience.com/97-percent-consensus-robust.htm ) and i already have enough info to judge they're dumb.

curi:
most ppl, when they argue, immediately make fools of themselves. doesn't take THAT much skill to see it IMO. you just think through what they say and mean and consider how it connects to their conclusion, and you look at some counter arguments and see how they handle them, and you check for bad logic and shit.

curi:
they link to this which claims earth getting warmer, blah blah

curi:
https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/02/WG1AR5_SPM_FINAL.pdf

curi:
the general context is we're at the tail end of an ice age. so i search the paper for "iceage", "ice age", "plei", "plio" and nada. maybe i have the wrong terms. one could try harder.

curi:
no "holo", one for "medie"

curi:

• Continental-scale surface temperature reconstructions show, with high confidence, multi-decadal periods during the Medieval Climate Anomaly (year 950 to 1250) that were in some regions as warm as in the late 20th century. These regional warm periods did not occur as coherently across regions as the warming in the late 20th century (high confidence). {5.5}

curi:
no "little"

curi:
it looks to me like they are failing to address basic facts. they just ignore them

curi:
no ceno, no Quaternary

curi:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pleistocene

curi:
2.6 million years of winter ended 0.01 million years ago. irrelevant! not worth mentioning!

curi:
how much of a joke they are speaks to how biased the whole system is

curi:
tried age, era and epoch. doesn't help.

curi:
checked every use of "million". done searching.

curi:
the illusion is surface deep. besides the bad logic front and center, i click one source from https://skepticalscience.com/97-percent-consensus-robust.htm and it's got this massive problem with the first issue i check.

curi:
further, near the top

curi:
from the IPCC

curi:

The degree of certainty in key findings in this assessment is based on the author teams’ evaluations of underlying scientific understanding and is expressed as a qualitative level of confidence (from very low to very high) and, when possible, probabilistically with a quantified likelihood (from exceptionally unlikely to virtually certain). Confidence in the validity of a finding is based on the type, amount, quality, and consistency of evidence (e.g., data, mechanistic understanding, theory, models, expert judgment) and the degree of agreement1. Probabilistic estimates of quantified measures of uncertainty in a finding are based on statistical analysis of observations or model results, or both, and expert judgment2. Where appropriate, findings are also formulated as statements of fact without using uncertainty qualifiers. (See Chapter 1 and Box TS.1 for more details about the specific language the IPCC uses to communicate uncertainty).

curi:
this is epistemology. it's philosophy of science. it's my field, not theirs.

curi:
how to evaluate ideas, how to attain certainty, whether certainty comes in degrees, etc. are major epistemology topics.

curi:
my largest original contribution to the field, IMO, is basically an explanation of why their approach is irrational. https://yesornophilosophy.com

curi:
what is the role of evidence? how do you use it correctly? should you use probabilities? this is all the sort of stuff CR addresses. but they don't know anything about CR and don't care.

curi:
are they experts on Bayesian epistemology instead? no not that either.

curi:
they just plain aren't experts, by any measure, on the issues in this paragraph.

curi:
did they consult experts to help them with it? no.

curi:
re learning to read and question scientific papers, you're welcome to post them to curi or FI with questions

curi:
you will find ppl can comment on most papers, in any field, rather than just needing to leave it to the experts.

StEmperorAugustine:
Good idea.

curi:
https://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/

curi:

curi:
this graph does one of the most basic ways of lying with statistics, which i read about in a middle school book report (yes, literally, not joking)

curi:
i went to the "Facts" menu, clicked "Evidence" to try to find out what is supposed to persuade me and get some scientific details, and i see this sort of propaganda instead

curi:
after that graph (anyone see the problem?) and one paragraph of text, their evidence page says:

curi:

curi:
that ain't evidence, it's appeal to authority

curi:

curi:
clicking on cite 4 does not improve things and does not lead to arguments, evidence or science for the claim that the change is driven largely by increased co2 and other human-made emissions.

curi:
this is just a propaganda website. no scientific rigor in sight.

curi:
and no need for climate science expertise to see this.

curi:
if you can find any claim which contradicts my position, and which does require climate science expertise to refute, i would be interested.

curi:
if you can't, perhaps you'll agree that says a lot about the debate.

curi:
i don't know one. i debate a lot of ppl and i've never found any pro-global-warming person who knows one.

curi:
these issues really don't take that long to deal with if u have the general purpose intellectual skills to deal with them at all

curi:
re hopeless: how easy it is to do better is very hopeful. 100 rational ppl could do so much.

StEmperorAugustine:
I am not in a position to know what claim contradicts your position so I likely would not find anything.

curi:
you're saying you're unable to find pro GW material that contradicts my claim their forecast models are unreliable junk

StEmperorAugustine:
Well I don't understand what would constitute reliable, nor understand their papers to tell the difference.

curi:
where did "reliable" come from?

curi:
o nvm

curi:
a good paper presenting a forecast model would say what standards to judge it with. it'd present standards and say how it meets them.

curi:
it'd solve your problem for you.

curi:
either self-contained or using a cite for more info.

curi:
if you can't tell – if you don't have the info to tell – that is their fault. they did it wrong.

curi:
they are supposed to present a persuasive case, not an incomplete, inconclusive case you can't judge.

StEmperorAugustine:
Do you have an example of a paper that meets that standard? could be in any field

curi:
DD's physics papers

curi:
this looks like it'd qualify http://web.gps.caltech.edu/~vijay/Papers/Chemistry/Donovan-Husain-70.pdf

StEmperorAugustine:
Anything easier to understand 😅 ?

curi:

curi:
first one i clicked

curi:
first search i did

StEmperorAugustine:

The marked difference in the chemical behavior exhibited by
the first singlet states of atomic oxygen and sulfur relative to
their ground states has been the subject of a large number of
investigations. However, data on the reactivity of the electronically excited states of other nonmetal atoms, particularly
those atoms that may lead to bond formation following reaction, are relatively limited. Historically, the work on atomic
oxygen and sulfur, principally in the ID2 state, followed extensive and detailed studies on photosensitization by metal
atoms in which the atoms, excited electronically by resonance
radiation, passed on their energy by collisions of the second
kind, thus being deactivated to the ground state or a lower
lying state.

StEmperorAugustine:
first like 3 sentences and my brain checked out already

StEmperorAugustine:
no idea what this is saying lol

curi:
the GW ppl claim, essentially, to have a bunch of papers like that on their side, and none against.

curi:
this is a lie.

curi:
their papers are much easier to read btw

curi:
if it were true, it shouldn't be that hard for you to find some such papers

curi:
they would presumably be shared and promoted

curi:
here's the first sentence of section 2 of the chemistry paper

curi:

Before proceeding with a detailed discussion of individual reactions it is convenient to summarize the general considerations necessary for a qualitative description of potential surfaces and the manner in which these influence the course of reaction.

curi:
in other words: b4 going into the details, we'll tell you how to judge read and think about the details. just the thing i said a good paper would have.

StEmperorAugustine:
oh

curi:
the paper is quite technical. it looks good tho and it doesn't appear to stray into philosophy.

curi:
so i have a positive opinion despite not knowing most of the technical stuff at all

StEmperorAugustine:
so compared to this paper, https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/11/4/048002

StEmperorAugustine:
where it doesn't have a bit in where it tells you how to judge and think about the details

StEmperorAugustine:
that's a bad sign

curi:
that paper is not science

curi:
they are straying into the field of pollsters

curi:
sentence 3:

curi:

A survey of authors of those papers (N = 2412 papers) also supported a 97% consensus.

curi:
the first half of the first sentence is notable

curi:

The consensus that humans are causing recent global warming is shared by 90%–100% of publishing climate scientists

curi:
they added a qualifier before "climate scientists" which you don't normally see

curi:
and there's this:

curi:

based on 11 944 abstracts of research papers, of which 4014 took a position on the cause of recent global warming.

curi:
doesn't mention the abstracts being by different ppl

curi:
anyway this issue is stupid and it's unscientific to be going around claiming popularity instead of truth

curi:
would be better to look at a paper related to climate and warming

curi:

An accurate understanding of scientific consensus, and the ability to recognize attempts to undermine it, are important for public climate literacy. Public perception of the scientific consensus has been found to be a gateway belief, affecting other climate beliefs and attitudes including policy support

curi:
god that's psychology. social science not hard science.

curi:

Consequently, it is important that scientists communicate the overwhelming expert consensus on AGW to the public

curi:
that's a political and moral conclusion, not a scientific one. it relates to values etc

curi:

From a broader perspective, it doesn't matter if the consensus number is 90% or 100%. The level of scientific agreement on AGW is overwhelmingly high because the supporting evidence is overwhelmingly strong.

curi:
that is an unargued assertion

curi:
you can't find out WHY ppl believe X by counting how many abstracts say they believe X.

curi:
as you can see, it's much easier to read this than the chemistry

curi:
they say lots of stuff you can understand without expertise about e.g. gasses

curi:
how many PUBLISHING scientists believe X is a dumb thing to count in an atmosphere where ppl denying X can get fired for it and papers denying X are often rejected or, more often, not funded in the first place.

curi:
ppl aren't even safe wearing MAGA hats

curi:
published papers with belief X says more about the beliefs of the ppl who run the journals than about the (other) scientists. (in this case, not for all journals, fields, issues). essentially they are just assuming, as an unstated premise, there's no bias here.

StEmperorAugustine:
Hmm. These are great points.

I have to go though. 😦 ttyl. Got a ton of HW to do🤢 . We are going on a trip 🤣 so I can't do it tomorrow or Sunday, and I've been procrastinating the heck of out of it.

StEmperorAugustine:
bye!

curi:
cu


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (50)

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.


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)