Read my new article: English Language, Analysis & Grammar.
Discuss it, and grammar in general, below.
I've also released 14 hours of related video for sale.
"Subjective" means "related to the subject". E.g. "subjective thinking" means thinking that would reach a different result with a different subject.
Note: The subject means the person or thing that does the action. The object means the person or thing that receives the action. Subject is actor, object is acted on. Those terms are used in grammar a lot. I wrote this post because I thought applying the grammar ideas to the subjectivity issue is clarifying.
Joe reaches one conclusion, e.g. "I like steak." while Sue reaches another, e.g. "Steak is OK but I prefer shrimp.". The subject in both sentences is "I", but the first time that means Joe and the second time Sue. So the subject changed and the preferred food changed. Preferred food depends on subject.
Objective thinking means thinking that depends on the object. If "steak" is the object of the verb "like", then objective thinking would try to give an answer without even knowing what the subject is. It doesn't matter who is doing the liking (the subject), what matters is what is being liked (the object).
Those are just historical roots. Today, subjective means: arbitrary, whim-worshipping, refusing to deal with reality, illogical, and more. It's associated with people claiming stuff is a matter of personal taste in order to ignore criticism. "You can't judge me negatively, I'm the subject and you don't know enough about me. You only know about the object but not the subject, so shut up. Everyone can live in their own world where they are the subject and they can do no wrong."
Meanwhile, objective has come to mean unbiased thinking that looks at the whole picture and does rational analysis. Instead of pretending you can reach any bullshit conclusion just because you're the subject, objective thinkers try to understand the facts about the object in reality so they can reach a true conclusion. Truth is objective, not subjective. What's true doesn't depend on who is speaking.
Grammatically, you can also talk about verbs with an object but no subject, e.g. "Eating steak is fun." There, the verb "eating" has no subject and is just talking about the general concept of any subject doing eating, rather than connecting the statement to a particular subject. (The grammatical subject of that sentence is "eating steak" itself, which is the subject of the verb "is" and which is.) That's an impersonal statement because it lacks a human subject. That means only objective analysis makes sense.
Yet, for some issues, what is true does depend on who is speaking. E.g. "I like steak." is true for some subjects and not others. Some people like steak and others don't.
This is an aspect of a broader issue: truth is contextual. A statement like "The box on the left is brown." Is that true? Well it depends what box is on the left. That box is the grammatical subject of the sentence, but it's not a person with "subjective" tastes or personal preferences. The situation: time, location, stuff at that location, etc. is the context.
People's tastes are context too. Joe liking steak is context just the same as what boxes are in the room is context.
If people would say "Truth is contextual.", it wouldn't cause problems. "Contextual" doesn't have all the anti-reality and anti-reason associations that the word "subjective" does.
Also, subjects exist in objective reality. Joe exists in the objective world, along with his preference for steak. Just like the box on the left exists in the objective world and has a color. And no one is confused with the box, they get that whether the left box is brown depends on what boxes are present and what their colors are and those are all factual matters about the real world.
It's mostly just when the subject is a human being that people start claiming stuff is "subjective". They know their personal feelings have no control over the reality of boxes and colors, but they believe their personal feelings can mean "What's right for me isn't right for you and no one is wrong." Which is true to some limited extent, e.g. Joe can be a physicist and Sue a chemist and neither person is wrong. But that's not because choice of career is an arbitrary choice. People often pick the wrong career and end up unhappy and unsuccessful. It's just that context matters. If Joe has skills and interests related to physics, then a physics career can fit him well. If Sue is in a totally different situation (context), then a different career may fit her. The actual facts of Sue's situation are relevant for Sue's career and can be evaluated in an unbiased way. Talking about Sue is like talking about the objects in one room, and talking about Joe is like talking about the objects in a different room, so it's no surprise that in one case there could be a brown box on the left and in another case there isn't. None of that is "subjective" in the way people mean it today, although it is "subjective" in the sense of dependent on the subject (actor) or, more broadly, dependent on the context.
race realism and race-related IQ ideas are partially true. a fair amount of what they say is approximately reasonable. certainly not all the claims are correct. and there's one big but.
race and genes do not determine IQ or character traits. culture does. the reason race correlates with IQ is because race correlates with culture which correlates with IQ. people of the same race tend to share more of the same culture than people of different races. so, the actual causes are ideas.
the methods psychologists and geneticists use would identify an infant-smiling gene as an IQ gene if parents are nicer to smiling infants and better-treated infants end up smarter, even though it's really not. their methods would also identify a height gene as a basketball success gene, except they try to be careful not to look like idiots so they won't make that particular claim.
ppl tend to dismiss it as implausible that parents would treat children significantly differently in reaction to minor genetic traits, but i think it's extremely plausible and fits observations of actual parents.
people routinely think their infant has a "personality", which they seem to largely make up, in their imagination, based on small traits that don't mean much. hell, people think their cat has a personality.
people in general are unaware of lots of what they do and why. parents are unaware of lots of how they treat children, e.g. much of the gender-based treatment they do.
parents are also bad at observing children's learning processes and recognizing when the child is learning something, what he's learning, how he's learning it, and what parental actions affect the learning.
if you think parents and teachers are largely clueless about what's going on with young children, it makes sense there could be a ton of cultural transmission that they don't realize. if you think parents and teachers have a pretty complete understanding of what's going on, then it makes sense to think genes play a large role, since you will doubt they would have missed much in the way of cultural transmission.
we can all agree that children grow up with lots of traits that their parents didn't intentionally try to teach them. if you think "It's rare for a child to learn something without a teacher (e.g. parent, book, movie) which is intentionally trying to teach it.", then you're gonna think lots of traits come from genes. Where else would they come from? but if you think lots of teaching happens without conscious intention by the teacher, then you don't need to attribute it to genes.
see also: IQ (3 blog posts by me) and Yet More on the Heritability and Malleability of IQ (explains how the word "heritable" is used misleading. in technical jargon, it just means there's a correlation.)
This topic is for discussing Super Mario Odyssey (for Nintendo Switch).
Speedrunning this game is a good way to learn for people who have a hard time learning (~everyone) and who already like video games.
Single player games are best because you don't have to deal with other people. Other people are complicated and dealing with them is a big issue which distracts from the gameplay.
Single player games are mostly too easy. They don't challenge you enough. Speedrunning solves that problem by giving you a goal to work towards where taking on extra challenges gets you better results.
Mario Odyssey is a popular, modern game (in general and specifically for speedrunning) which is highly accessible (both for regular play and speedrunning). It has video guides for speedrunning, various speedrunners who stream on Twitch, and plenty of walkthroughs for regular play. It can easily be broken up into small parts to learn about one at a time, and you can practice a few minutes at a time and then pause. It's complex enough to have depth without being too complicated. It doesn't have much randomness or AI to deal with. It has some glitches but not a ton, and you don't need to do any until you're a very advanced speedrunner. The any% speedrun is a good length. Those are some reasons it's a good game choice. It's also beneficially if a bunch of philosophy-interested people play the same game so they can discuss it, so don't choose a different game that seems a little more appealing to you, it'd only make sense to play a different game if it was a lot better for you for some reason.
(Mario Odyssey has few downsides. The biggest one is it uses motion controls some. It also takes more work to record videos of console gameplay than Mac or PC gameplay, and you need a Switch.)
By playing Mario Odyssey, you can learn what it's like to get good and something and succeed. You can see how practice works and things that used to be hard become easy. Learn to practice efficiently. Learn to write down notes, to review videos (like other people's speedruns) and get useful help from them, and learn to remember a bunch of information. You can see what correcting errors is like. You can see what getting details right is like and succeed with high quality standards. You can see how to build up your skills. First you learn how to do basic movement. Then you practice until it doesn't take much attention anymore. Then you can learn harder combinations of movement which build on the basic things. Now that the basic things are easy for you, your attention is free to focus on combined sequences.
Speedrunning gives you clear metrics for success and failure, which makes it much easier to learn. Did you reach the location you were trying to jump to or fall down? What does the timer say about what you're doing? One of the main reasons people have trouble learning philosophy, and many other things, is because they don't know when they're doing it right or not. They want to fix their errors, but they don't know which things are errors and which are correct. With speedrunning, you can also compare what you did to videos of what faster runners and figure out specifically how your approach is inferior (so you don't just know that you made an error, you also can get good info about what to do differently).
Overall, doing everything may not be easy, but it's easier than learning philosophy. So if you're having a hard time learning philosophy, like most people, this is an easier place to begin. You can work on your ability to learn, find and fix errors, not get frustrated, be persistent over time, and so on, without the added difficulty of trying to understand hard philosophy ideas at the same time. Practice learning with something easier than philosophy so you aren't doing everything at once. And then, in the future, when you learn philosophy ideas about how to learn, you'll be able apply them to examples from your Mario Odyssey experience. This is something lots of people can do well, it doesn't take a "genius" (philosophy doesn't take a "genius" either but many people think it does).
You have to learn the game before you speedrun it. That's step one. Play it normally first and get used to it. If you start getting bored playing normally, or finish everything, then switch to practicing the speedrun.
This post explains a way of organizing a discussion. It’s meant to be useful in some cases, not all the time. It doesn’t require that the other person know it’s being used. This method can be collaborative, or can be used as tips to guide your own actions.
The problem: people debate endlessly without anything being resolved.
The method: instead of having many debates, focus on reaching clear conclusions about three issues.
How? Ask the other person what they think is important or interesting. Get them to say something serious about an important issue (or link something they already wrote). Then focus on that. Instead of discussing whatever they carelessly say mid-discussion, try to get something more substantial that you can reply to. (People shouldn’t say careless things in discussions that they wouldn’t take responsibility for … that’s irresponsible … but they do.). Then clearly point out mistakes. Do one issue at a time, three times.
Tips: Focus criticism on key topics, not tangents or cherrypicked errors. Preferably, the criticisms to will point out important problems, not “this is incomplete” or “this is sloppy” (that doesn’t mean ignoring incompleteness or sloppiness, it means trying to get them to provide material which is more complete and effortful so that you have something good to respond to). If they can’t produce anything good (in your opinion), get them to say they think something they wrote is good (in their opinion), then point out that it’s incomplete or sloppy. That means they’re a poor judge of quality (which is an important criticism, but that should be your backup plan only if you can’t get them to say anything decent about a primary topic of interest like dinosaurs, history, politics, physics, etc.).
People make lots of excuses about their errors. They don’t want to figure out what caused their error (often a bad thinking method or static meme) and what other errors that cause could cause (often lots) and then fix the underlying problem. Focusing on three high quality critical interactions can reduce excuses. Pick things where they’d have few excuses for being wrong.
Does this method assume you’ll be doing all the criticizing, and unfairly have them stick their neck out while you don’t? That depends. People are welcome to criticize any of my important pieces of writing. Their criticism can be two of the three issues discussed, but shouldn’t be all three. If you want to use this method but have no public writing available for anyone to criticize, that’s a problem.
The second problem: People want answers to their questions, and corrections of their errors, one by one. What they should be doing is learning how to think better for themselves – learn better thinking methods, critical thinking skills and philosophy – so that they can answer more of their own questions and correct more of their own errors. Often, people want to ask a bunch of questions while not saying anything substantial themselves, so they minimize the ideas they expose to criticism.
It’s inefficient to outsource your thinking to me or to another wise person. I don’t have time to answer all your questions. I’ll answer a few if I like them, and to see if you learn much, and because people are interesting, and to interest people in learning my thinking methods (by giving examples of my wisdom). But most of your questions have to be answered by creating your own thinking and research skills, not by using mine. It’s the difference between teaching a man to fish and doing the fishing for him then giving him fish. Answering a question is giving someone a fish.
The solution: People should take an interest in learning to be better thinkers so they make fewer errors and can effectively find or create good ideas. I’ve written (and talked) a lot about how to do this and I’m open to questions about it.
Part of what learning involves is changing one’s mindset. It’s one thing to be a peer or equal, who is contributing about as many fish as he receives. It’s another to be unable to fish. (Or maybe you can only catch small fish, but you ask questions and make claims about big fish and are talking to people who know how to catch big fish. Big fish are complicated ideas.) You need to know which situation you’re in and act accordingly. Should you focus on learning more (to catch up to existing knowledge), or should you pursue your directly projects (with critical discussions and learning being secondary)?
The third problem: People view themselves as peers when they should be learners. And they don’t want to change that. They think they already are educated, good thinkers who can catch their own fish. They view their questions (areas of ignorance) and errors as occasional things, not a major pattern.
The solution: Show them their errors using three clear examples. Show them their ability to deal with ideas is less effective than they think it is, or less effective than it could be if they had the thinking skill that you do. Show them that you catch substantially bigger fish than they can, which is a skill they should learn if they want to successfully contribute anything important to human knowledge (or want to fight with their family less, or otherwise have a better life).
The three discussions method serves multiple purposes. It helps clarify the outcomes of discussions, and it helps limit how many different discussions happen before the patterns in the discussions are addressed, and it helps clarify the relative skill and knowledge of the participants, and it helps show people why they should try to learn to think better (because, three out of three times, they missed errors in their ideas – the type of errors that make the difference between success and failure).
The three discussions method can also show when something else is going on. Maybe the other guy will be right on some of the issues. Maybe there won’t be a pattern of error. Maybe he is wise, too. Maybe he can contribute a fair amount. That’s possible. Maybe you’re roughly equals. Maybe he knows far more than you, and you should be trying to learn from him. The three discussions method helps find out what the situation in a time-and-effort-efficient way.
Link: my discussion forums.
The first comment, below, is a second article on this topic with more info.
EA risks falling into a "meta trap". But we can avoid it. (EA is effective altruism. It is favored by people who believe they are into reason and logic, similar to the Less Wrong community. The standard type is an atheist who rejects superstition, loves science, talks about thinking fallacies and biases, and reads non-fiction books.)
While donating to AMF all our lives is great, if we can spend our effort to get two people to donate to AMF instead of us, we’ve doubled our impact.
The author means: instead of person A donating $100 to charity, he can spend $100 on marketing/outreach/persuasion to get persons B and C to each donate $100 to the charity. He claims that, if that works out, then it means person A has doubled his impact.
Is that good? I think it means person A doubled his impact at triple the total cost. Now $300 was spent instead of $100.
This is the same issue as the broken window fallacy, also known as the fallacy of the seen and unseen. (The seen is the window repair guy getting paid and then spending that money at a bakery and then the baker buying shoes and so on. The unseen is that the window owner would have spent the money on something else if he didn't have to buy a window repair, e.g. he would have bought a suit and then the tailor would have bought bread and then the baker would have bought shoes and so on. So breaking the window did not stimulate the economy by creating demand for window repairs and thus make people better off. Breaking windows is bad.) The seen here is persons B and C donating $100 each to the charity. The unseen is what they would have used that money for otherwise. That $200 would have been spent elsewhere, and might have provided more value than an additional $100 for the charity.
(If you don't recognize my explanation of the broken window fallacy, and want to learn more, read Economics in One Lesson. I'm just repeating economists like Bastiat and Hazlitt, not saying anything new. The book description at the link states 'this is the book that made the idea of the "broken window fallacy" so famous'. It's a great introductory book which doesn't require doing math.)
In the author's math, the $200 spent elsewhere has zero impact. It's worthless. That's not a considered opinion, it's because he forgot to count it for anything, he didn't think about it, just like the broken window fallacy forgets to consider what the window repair money could have been spent on instead.
Suppose the $200 was spent quite badly, then maybe it would have $50 of impact (25% effectiveness on a scale where the charity is 100% effective). That's generous and lets his meta strategy come out ahead, but not by double. Let's do the math on how much the person A actually helped anything. If he donates $100, and the other people spend their money badly, the total impact is $150. If person A does marketing and gets B and C to donate, the total impact is $200. The increase in impact in this generous scenario is 33% not 100%. (100% impact means double, that's the claimed impact.)
If B and C would have spent their money at 50% effectiveness, then everything comes out equal. If they would have spent their money at 75% effectiveness, then person A hasn't double his impact, he's made the world worse.
Also, charities can handle their own marketing. If you donate $100, the charity itself can then use that for marketing and bring in $200 of donations. If they don't think more marketing is the best use of that $100, there is a reason.
Some charities seem happy to spend $100 asking for donations in order to bring in $101 of additional donations. This makes the world a worse place! A lot more wealth gets spent on mailing letters and other things that don't help people.
The author thinks spending $100 to bring in $200 of donations is a $100 win. By the same logic, spending $100 to bring in $101 of donations is a $1 win. He'd see it as a positive thing because he forgets that those $101 of additional donations would have been spent on something else that would have been a larger win than the $1 benefit he sees.
Conclusion: The EA community is grossly incompetent. It's not just this one writer (who participates in EA discussions a ton), it's the whole community, or else he would have been corrected (the post was high effort and got significant attention, and there are a bunch of very positive comments). They are literally doing broken-window-fallacy level thinking while believing they are cleverly improving charity, and the whole big community of "smart" people do not see and correct the error.
Understanding people you agree with is difficult. Understanding people you disagree with is even harder. When you comment on someone’s position – especially to disagree – it helps to use an exact quote and then directly engage with their words. The quote should have a source, too, so that people can check the context and accuracy of the quote.
If you specifically attribute an idea to a person, then you should quote it. If you only paraphrase from memory, you may do it wrong, and there’s no reasonable way to refute your mistake. Without a source, no one can point out your misreadings, nor can they see that you’re right and change their mind. All people can say is “uhh i don’t think i said that, i don’t know what you’re talking about”. That’s not productive.
You should use quotes and sources when the person might not be happy to agree that they said something, or when you’re saying something critical or negative.
If the person said something similar to what you remember, the difference may matter. Let’s see the actual quote. Maybe they were precise with their wording in ways you don’t even think about. Or not. We need the quote in order to analyze and decide.
Also, don’t use controversial examples from past discussions without quotes or references. It’s not much of an example if I can’t look at it! People commonly say things like “Joe was [bad thing] in a discussion 3 months ago” without quotes or details. (Examples of bad things to go in that sentence: mean, rude, dishonest, unreasonable, incorrect, wrong.) Sometimes people don’t even give a paraphrase or summary, they just claim something happened.
Often, people didn’t criticize Joe’s statements at the time they were said. Now they are bringing them up without any details. This avoids analysis, at the time or later, of whether their claim about Joe’s statements is correct or incorrect (that typically seems to be the goal of not using quotes). And it indicates they were holding an unstated grudge, which was hidden from criticism (like correcting a misunderstanding or incorrect logical reasoning). They never gave Joe the opportunity to change his mind, retract his statement, learn from his error, or refute the charges – and yet they remembered it negatively, or else they wouldn’t have brought it up negatively at a later time (especially without a quote, which means they didn’t go look it up to refresh their memory). It’s also especially unfair to expect other people to remember something that you thought was negative but you didn’t complain about at the time – you didn’t draw attention to it, so why would others have picked out that particular thing to remember?
Rational criticism involves explaining why something is a mistake. It has to be possible to learn from the criticism, but Joe won’t learn from being told an unspecified past statement was bad. And it has to be possible to refute the criticism, but there’s no way to give counter-arguments when the details are missing. (All one can do is refute the method of criticism for not using quotes, but that doesn’t actually mean Joe didn’t do the bad thing.)
So, at my forums – and I’d recommend this everywhere – don’t make unsourced accusations.
This is a discussion topic for Anne B. Other people are welcome to make comments. Anne has agreed not to post anonymously in this topic.
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After people make errors, they should do post-mortems. How did that error happen? What caused it? What thinking processes were used and how did they fail? Try to ask “Why?” several times to get to deeper issues than your initial answers.
And then, especially, what other errors would that cause also cause? This gives info about the need to make changes going forward, or not. Is it a one-time error or part of a pattern?
Effective post-mortems are something people generally don’t want to do. What causes errors? Frequently it’s irrationality, including dishonesty.
Lots of things merit post-mortems other than losing a debate. If you have an inconclusive debate, why didn’t you do better? No doubt there were errors in your communication and ideas. If you ask a question, why were you ignorant of the answer? What happened there? Maybe you made a mistake. That should be considered. After you ask a question and get an answer, you should post-mortem whether your understanding is now adequate. People usually don’t discuss thoroughly enough to effectively learn the answers to their questions.
Regarding questions: If you were ignorant of something because you hadn’t yet gotten around to learning about it, and you knew the limits of your knowledge, that can be a quick and easy post-mortem. That’s fine, but you should check if that’s what happened or it’s something else that merits more attention. Another common, quick post-mortem for a question is, “I asked because the other person was unclear, not because of my own ignorance.” But many questions relate to your own confusions and what went wrong should be post-mortemed. And if you hadn’t learned something yet, you should consider if you are organizing your learning priorities in a reasonable way. Why learn this now? Why not earlier or later? Do you have considered reasoning about that?
What if you try to post-mortem something and you don’t know what went wrong? If your post-mortem fails, that is itself something to post-mortem! Consider what you’ve done to learn how to post-mortem effectively in general. Have you studied techniques and practiced them? Did you start with easier cases and succeed many times? Do you have a history of successes and failures which you can compare this current failure to? Do you know what your success rate at post-mortems is in general, on average? And you should consider if you put enough effort into this particular post-mortem or just gave up fast.
You may wonder: We make errors all the time. Should we post-mortem all of them? That sounds like it’d take too much time and effort.
First, you can only post-mortem known errors. You have to find out something is an error. You can’t post-mortem it as an error just because people 500 years from now will know better. This limits the issues to be addressed.
Second, an irrelevant “error” is not an error. Suppose I’m moving to a new home. I’m measuring to see where things will fit. I measure my couch and the measurement is accurate to within a half inch. I measure where I want to put it and find there are 5 inches to spare (if it was really close, I’d re-measure). The fact that my measurement is an eighth of an inch off is not an error. The general principle is that errors are reasons a solution to a problem won’t work. The small measurement “error” doesn’t prevent my from succeeding at the problem I’m working on, so it’s not an error. It would be an error in a different context like doing a science experiment that relies on much more accurate measurements, but I’m not doing that.
Third, yes you should try to post-mortem all your errors that get past the previous two points. If you find this overwhelming, there are two things to do:
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