David Deutsch Smears Ayn Rand

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

I admire Ayn Rand, but not as a philosopher.

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

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

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

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

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

As an observer of people,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But she had a strong tendency

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

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

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

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

to make hyperbolic generalisations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Unoriginal and unspectacular” is flaming.

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

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

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

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

As polemic or rhetoric, that's great.

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

As philosophy, it's embarrassing wannabe stuff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rude!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See Also

Final Comment

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


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (7)

Brandon Cropper Is Not an Objectivist

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

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

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

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

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


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (44)

IKEA's Bad Grammar, Capitalism & Learning to Code

https://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/S89129207/

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

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

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

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

No. Here are four issues:

Lack of Capitalism

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

https://www.breitbart.com/tech/2018/04/10/dozens-obama-alumni-now-senior-facebook-employees/

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

Not Enough Supply

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

https://appleinsider.com/articles/19/01/28/a-custom-screw-was-the-bottleneck-in-us-mac-pro-production

A custom screw was the bottleneck in US Mac Pro production

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

Mac Pro production volume is small compared to iPhone volume.

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

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

Delays

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

Knowledge

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

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

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


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Twin Studies Are Frauds

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

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

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

Assumptions of the twin method

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Programming Discussion

Discuss programming here.

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

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

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

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


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Writing Update

(I wrote this for my newsletter.)

I’ve been using a daily writing goal of at least 1000 words for the last several months. This system is more structured than what I’ve used previously and has been working well. I think it’s a good adjustment for a changed situation.

I commonly write between 1000 and 2000 words, sometimes more. I write on weekends too and rarely skip any days. I never count words towards past or future days. Replies don’t count; it has to be a topic I chose myself and wrote about on my own individual initiative. It has to be important – something I think helps make forward progress.

I usually write all the words about one topic. I often write a standalone essay draft. I usually have a few things to say about my topic and finish writing them instead of stopping in the middle.

Writing discussion replies is extra writing, not part of my goal, and I mostly do that after I’ve already finished my writing goal. I generally write in the morning, when fresh, and don’t do much other stuff until I’m done with my main writing for the day. I usually don’t eat until after writing.

I set the 1000 word goal low enough that I can generally do it even if I’m busy for most of the day. It’s just a minimum. The time it takes varies a lot based on how much I’m developing new ideas. And I have flexibility to do other things in the day: read books, podcast, listen to talks, write discussion replies or do non-philosophy. After writing, especially when it went relatively quickly, I try to do at least one more intellectual thing that day. The variety helps avoid burnout. I try to monitor how much I can do without getting too exhausted (getting too exhausted is inefficient). I aim to do near the maximum so that I don’t waste some potential productivity.

Most people can only focus and do good mental work for up to 3 hours a day (the 8 hour workday for knowledge workers or school students is a bad idea). Note that that average includes all days, not just weekdays – you can do a bit more during the week if you take a break on the weekend. I can do more than 3 hours of serious focus per day, but it requires managing what I’m doing, like not trying to write the whole time on most days. I think the 2-3 hour limit is more about methods than anything inherent, and people could increase their limit with skill and knowledge (and that’s why my limit is higher, though still under the 8 hours that many people are supposed to do at knowledge worker jobs).

It helps to have a lot more break time than people get at an office. If you work at home, you can e.g. take a 4 hour break in the middle of your work day. I use non-intellectual activities like showering, eating and exercise as breaks. I intentionally do them in the middle of the day after I’ve already done some writing. If I did them first thing in the morning, I’d be unnecessarily putting two breaks in a row because sleeping already was a break. BTW, naps are the most effective type of break, but I’m often unable to fall asleep during the day because I get enough sleep at night.

I’m currently working on a Critical Fallibilism (epistemology aka philosophy of knowledge) book/website project. I started on this again after finishing my grammar article. I wrote 30,000 words for it last year, and I have over 20,000 new words. Words include notes and outlining, but it’s mostly articles.

The theme I’m working with is error correction. I’m organizing various epistemological ideas around their connection to that theme. I’m also trying to make stuff as clear, practical and approachable as my grammar article. People often read epistemology as abstract stuff for clever discussions, but I want people to actually be able to use it in their lives.

I had planned to write more about liberalism, but I changed my mind. I’m more interested in epistemology. I’m very happy with my article Liberalism: Reason, Peace and Property but less interested (compared to epistemology) in writing followups with more details. The overview article said a lot of what I wanted to write. I do have over 80,000 words written for the liberalism project, mostly from last year. I hope to finish up and share more of it in the future. One particular area I don’t plan to cover in much detail is economics – that’s already covered well by Mises, Hazlitt and Reisman.

I don’t mind writing things which aren’t for a particular project. Having a project goal is useful to help me focus and to help guide me when I’m not sure what to write about. But I also try to be flexible and to follow inspiration when I have it. I also do some freewrites (similar to journaling). If I don’t have an idea for what to write about, sometimes I will freewrite about what I did recently, what my goals are and what I could write about. Another way I find a writing topic is by rereading material, particularly outlines, from my current project. Outlines are like lists of writing topics I can use. When rereading articles, I often think of more ideas to add or think of other issues which aren’t covered.

I’m flexible with my writing goal when doing activities like editing (in which case reducing the word count is often a positive outcome). The real point is to make daily forward progress, not specifically to write new words.

I write more, and edit less, than most writers. I’ve worked to get good at first drafts. When I find out about writing problems, I mainly try to figure out how to not make those errors in the first place rather than how to fix them in editing passes. If you get good at understanding that error, you should need barely any conscious attention to deal with it – you should be able to autopilot dealing with it instead of needing a separate editing pass. (This is the same as how learning in general works.)

I do lots of exploratory writing. I write several articles on the same topic rather than just writing one and doing a bunch of editing. I usually edit after I already have a version that I mostly like. Editing helps polish the details. Writing about cool ideas is generally more fun and educational than editing details, so it’s better to spend a larger proportion of time on that. And there isn’t much point in going through an article and updating everything to fit a major change you just made when you’re still exploring (you may make more major changes and may undo the major change you just made).

People can use editing to reach a local optimum. Sometimes they fix tons of little details, and polish everything, while the big picture is actually wrong. Exploratory writing lets people try out several big pictures and see how well they work. And then the best ideas from each version can be combined.

When editing, people often go in circles because they keep making changes without clearly knowing whether the change is an improvement or not. Editing works better after you’ve already decided what the article should say.

Writing several versions of an article helps you explore what it should say. And it lets you work with largely-independent parts. It splits the overall project up into smaller, more manageable, separate chunks. That lets one deal with less complexity at once which makes things easier and more productive.

For my grammar article, I wrote several earlier versions (and then made major changes which would have been hard to fix in editing, it was easier to just rewrite while referring to the previous writing to reuse the good ideas that would fit into the new version). Plus I broke it into five mostly-independent parts which I wrote on different days. The parts were edited individually, but I also did a couple full-article editing passes near the end. Each part could be thought about and judged on its own, so that limited how much stuff I had to think about at once.

BTW this writing progress update is 1500 words, and I think it’s productive, so I could count it, but I already wrote a 1750 word article today anyway.

I’ve also written 1000 discussion emails and over 700 web posts so far this year. That’s around 10 pieces of writing per day which aren’t included in my writing goal. If you don’t pay attention to my discussion forums, you’re missing out on many ideas.

Related: I like Brandon Sanderson’s writing updates.

What kind of issues do I write about? Check out my Overview of Fallible Ideas Philosophy video or my Fallible Ideas essays.

If you want to support my work, please donate, buy some of my digital, educational products and/or share my work with people. (And thanks a lot to the people already making recurring, monthly contributions totaling more than my rent.)


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Are rules your ally or your enemy?

A major political controversy is whether legitimizing misbehavior by a group helps that group or harms that group. Is it good or bad for a group if they can get away with some bad things? Never mind if it's good or bad for other groups. The question is e.g. if you relax criminal law for blacks, does that help or harm blacks (we're not discussing the effect of that policy on whites). If you relax immigration law for Mexicans, are you helping or harming Mexicans? If you relax parental or school rules in response to misbehavior (rather than because there is anything wrong with those particular rules, just to let people get away with misbehavior), does that help or harm children? If you lower the test score requirements for blacks to get into elite universities, does that help or harm blacks?

(Related: Laing legitimized mental illness, while Szasz did not. Szasz always said many people labelled mentally ill are in fact misbehaving, but that misbehavior is not illness. Of course, some people labelled mentally ill were not misbehaving, and misbehavior is often defined by those with power instead of being defined objectively.)

These questions allow for general answers on principle, instead of case by case answers. The political left answers that, in general, the group is helped. I'm speaking here in general terms. Most actual people are pretty inconsistent, but I'm presenting the strong versions of the principled views which inform a lot of actual thinking by that political group.

The different answers come from different views about what rules are. The left views rules as arbitrarily imposed by authority. The rules lack objective value. Rules are obstacles to action. They get in the way. Contradictorily, the left is also in favor of a larger government that makes more rules, as long as they are in power – they want to be authorities who give orders. The left sees the main purpose of rules as to benefit the ruler – they help the people who give the orders, at the expense of those who take the orders. The left's mental model is ruler and ruled, slaver and slave, so they think it's beneficial to the slaves to be exempted from rules (that is protecting them from power and limited the effect of power on their lives).

The right views (proper) rules as objectively helpful (rules which aren't like this are bad and shouldn't exist). Rules help guide people so people know how to behave better. There certainly exist bad and abusive rules (e.g. slavery), but there also exist good and proper rules (objective rules related to the actual requirements of life). The right does want to eliminate bad rules (e.g. many government rules), while the left basically sees all rules as being in one category (arbitrary) and then accepts them. Knowing how to run one's life is hard and moral rules provide guidance. Obeying moral rules makes a person better off. A rule like "don't murder innocents" doesn't just help others (save them from being murdered), it also helps the person who obeys the rule (saves him from being a murderer – being a murderer is actually bad and self-destructive).

Right wing view: relaxing the rules for college admissions lets in unqualified people. Those rules (admissions requirements) were there for a reason. People who don't obey those rules (get good grades, good test scores, etc.) are not prepared for college (at least not the hardest colleges with the strictest entry requirements). Letting them in, when they aren't qualified, is setting them up to fail.

Left wing view: college benefits people and the rules disproportionately keep out poor people, blacks, latinos, etc., so they are being denied benefits. Letting them in will help them get the benefits of a better education and networking with an elite peer group.

Similarly, the right thinks being a CEO is hard and giving someone the job because they are a black lesbian (rather than because they are actually qualified) is setting them up for failure (as well as hurting all the employees and customers). The left thinks being a CEO is a great privilege (it does indeed have big upsides) and so more blacks, females and lesbians ought to receive that privilege. The left thinks the qualifications for CEO are just rationalizations and excuses for bias, while the right thinks objectively helpful criteria and a person ought to want to meet those qualifications, voluntarily, for his own benefit, before he asks to be CEO. Similarly the left thinks men benefit from nepotism while the right thinks they have worse lives. The left's view encourages people to do nepotism (both give and receive) if they can get away with it, while the right claims that is unwise and self-destructive for those involved.

Overall, I broadly agree with the right. Yes some rules are bad, but it's important to understand and voluntarily follow proper rules. Life needs objective guidance, not arbitrary action. There are, in reality, requirements (aka rules) for accomplishing certain goals, gaining certain values, etc.

Note: Understanding the selfish value of moral rules is necessary to understanding the (classical) liberal idea of the harmony of men's interests, including Ayn Rand's pro-selfish moral philosophy. With the left's view of rules, they can't understand such things because they don't even see, on principle, how basic moral advice like "don't be a robber, even if you wouldn't get caught and punished by the police" could possibly be self-interested and beneficial to the person following the rule. Most right-wing, American Christians would have no problem agreeing with that anti-robbing rule, while most left-wing, American atheists would think clearly you'd benefit (by gaining money from the robbery, while having no downside because you aren't caught). I regard the left as encouraging crime and other misbehavior with such views. The left is basically telling people that robbery is great but you can't do it because the police are mean (implication: if you think you can get away with it, go for it. And also you should hate the police and view them as your enemy). The right views the police as allies who only prevent actions they wouldn't want to do anyway, because they don't want to be robbers and they discourage robbery by telling people why robbing is bad for the robber (rather than only bad for the victim).


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YouTube and Fair Use

YouTube notified me that they blocked my new video in Japan for copyright reasons. However, confusingly, it's actually blocked in the US while available in Japan. The video is fair use and should not be blocked. (Vimeo and YouTube both have reasonable pages with info saying what is fair use.)

The video is Critical Commentary on "Sucker" by the Jonas Brothers. It educates people on what's wrong with popular culture.

After the video was blocked, I uploaded it to BitChute. That worked but the video quality is low (the lyrics text is blurry). So then I uploaded to Vimeo, which allows higher quality. Vimeo doesn't play ads, but you can't upload much data without paying for an account. Vimeo doesn't have speed controls, so you need to use something like the Video Speed Controller Chrome extension. Vimeo lets you sell videos and associate documents with them, so I could potentially use it as a Gumroad alternative. YouTube has the most users and I'd prefer to use it as long as my videos aren't blocked, although users do need to get ad blocking software in order to have a good experience on YouTube.

Years ago, I looked at YouTube's copyright dispute process and didn't like it. As I recall, it didn't talk about fair use and it wanted me to provide information so that, if I was mistaken, it'd be easy to sue me. Today, the process is different, so I submitted an appeal. Here's what I wrote (706 characters out of a limit of 2000), then screenshots of the process:

The video is a critical commentary on a Jonas song. It's transformative, educational and non-profit. 90% is just me talking with the song paused. It's a 37 minute video about a 3 minute song. I play a few seconds of the song at a time and then analyze that section. No one would watch my video in place of the original song because I constantly interrupt the music. My video is not musical in nature, so it doesn't substitute for a song. My video is essentially a podcast or lecture which educates people about the flaws in popular culture. Making my video required using the song because the song is the target of my commentary, and the visuals and tone are relevant in addition to the text of the lyrics.

If this works, maybe I'll tell them that my Bones Song Criticism is also fair use. It was only demonetized, not blocked, so people could still watch it, so I didn't do anything. I could also let them know that The State of YouTube Philosophy (+5 video replies) and Teachers Paddling Children are Violent Abusers are fair use.

The video is unblocked while the fair use appeal is pending.


Update: (2019-06-26)

Universal Music Group submitted a second copyright claim on the same video. The first one was apparently just for the visuals, and the second one is for the audio. This time they're trying to block the video in all countries. I disputed the claim using the same explanation that I already used for the first claim. The video is now blocked in all countries for 48 hours (they get 30 days to respond to the dispute, but only 2 days of blocking the video, so they have to respond quickly if they want to keep it blocked).


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Alisa Discussion

This is a discussion topic for Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum (a pseudonym, Ayn Rand's birth name). Other people are welcome to make comments. Alisa has agreed not to post under other names in this topic.


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Thinking as a Science by Henry Hazlitt

Henry Hazlitt's Thinking as a Science, from 1916, is short and has good, practical advice about how to think. I particularly recommend chapters 1 (advocating thinking), 5 (about prejudice) and 7 (about reading). The book is free. Go read chapter 1 (11 pages) right now and see what you think. And Anonymous posted some great book quotes.

My comments on a few passages (these are not representative of the book; emphasis added):

The secret of practice is to learn thoroughly one thing at a time.

As already stated, we act according to habit. The only way to break an old habit or to form a new one is to give our whole attention to the process. The new action will soon require less and less attention, until finally we shall do it automatically, without thought—in short, we shall have formed another habit. This accomplished we can turn to still others.

This is something I've been advocating heavily for years. People learn to do something correctly, once, and then think they've learned it and they're done. But that's just the first step. For skills you'll use often, you have to practice until you can do it cheaply, easily and reliably. E.g. I need to be able to type using almost zero conscious attention so that I can focus my attention on the ideas I'm writing. I need to think in an objective – not biased – way pretty much automatically so that I can get on to considering the topic; people who need to use a bunch of mental focus just to avoid bias are handicapped because they have less attention left for the actual topic (and what often happens is, at some point, they focus their attention on the topic and then their habitual bias starts happening).

When I look back into the past, I find nations, sects, philosophers, cherishing beliefs in science, morals, politics, and religion, which we decisively reject. Yet they held them with a faith quite as strong as ours; nay—stronger, if their intolerance of dissent is any criterion.

Intolerance of dissent is not a criterion of strong belief in being correct. It's an indicator of the opposite: lack of confidence in the truth of one's claims. Why suppress dissent when you can win the argument?

If you think a heretic won't convince anyone, you laugh at him and don't care much. If you know the heresy is a threat to your claims, then you try to suppress it.

As William Godwin pointed out, this applies to parenting too. Parents persuade their children with reasoning when they can. Parents resort to using force against their children only when their own rational words fail them.

The practice of Gibbon remains to be considered: “After glancing my eye over the design and order of a new book, I suspended the perusal until I had finished the task of self-examination; till I had revolved in a solitary walk all that I knew or believed, or had thought on the subject of the whole work, or of some particular chapter. I was then qualified to discern how much the author added to my original stock, and I was sometimes satisfied by the agreement, sometimes armed by the opposition of our ideas.”[5]

The trouble with this method is that it is not critical enough; that is, critical in the proper sense. It almost amounts to making sure what your prejudices are, and then taking care to use them as spectacles through which to read. We always do judge a book more or less by our previous prejudices and opinions. We cannot help it. But our justification lies in the manner we have obtained these opinions; whether we have infected them from our environment, or have held them because we wanted them to be true, or have arrived at them from substantial evidence and sound reasoning. If Gibbon had taken a critical attitude toward his former knowledge and opinions to make sure they were correct, and had then applied them to his reading, his course would have been more justifiable and profitable.

In certain subjects, however, Gibbon’s is the only method which can with profit be used. In the study of geography, grammar, a foreign language, or the facts of history, it is well, before reading, simply to review what we already know. Here we cannot be critical because there is really nothing to reason about. Whether George Washington ought to have crossed the Delaware, whether “shall” and “will” ought to be used as they are in English, whether the verb “avoir” ought to be parsed as it is, or whether Hoboken ought to be in New Jersey, are questions which might reasonably be asked, but which would be needless, because for the purposes we would most likely have in mind in reading such facts it would be sufficient to know that these things are so. We might include mathematics among the subjects to be treated in this fashion. Though it is a rational science, there is such unanimity regarding its propositions that the critical attitude is almost a waste of mental energy. In mathematics, to understand is to agree.

The first quoted paragraph is for context. I like the second. But the third is mistaken about math. Mathematicians make plenty of mistakes and have debates and disagreements about what's mistaken. See The Fabric of Reality chapter 10 for arguments on the fallibility of math.

Infinity is an example a contentious mathematical topic. Objectivist philosopher Harry Binswanger denies the existence even of very large integers.

Grammar and history are more controversial topics than math. In my own reading, I've often found rival schools of thought about the interpretation of historical thinkers like Burke or Godwin. The issue arises even for recent history, e.g. there are debates about what Rand's or Popper's personality was like. These debates extend to what certain facts are. Historians debate facts like who wrote a particular book, article or play. They also debate e.g. what information political leaders had at times they made certain decisions, or whether they committed certain crimes or not.

I wrote a recent article on grammar. While researching it, I discovered controversies like whether constituency or dependency is a better way to model grammatical relationships, debates about different ways to interpret words, and even a disagreement about whether verbs are primary in sentences or, alternatively, subject and verb are equally important. And there are a bunch of different lists of standard sentence patterns, most of which are bad because they have a subject+verb+adverb pattern (unlimited adverbs can be added to every pattern, including that one, so it doesn't make sense to have an extra pattern just to include an adverb).


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How Comments Work

The Curiosity website is both a blog and a discussion forum. People have long, serious discussions here (and short or unserious discussions, too).

Every blog post is a discussion topic. There are over 2000. Discuss in any relevant topic, use the generic open discussion topic, or request a new topic. We’re not picky about staying on topic, anyway.

Replying to years-old posts or comments is fine. We don’t have the recency bias found at many forums. Many ideas we discuss have timeless or longterm importance, and continuing old discussions is often better than starting over. The common ways that people find new comments don’t depend on how new the post is.

Comment Rules

I favor free speech and do not moderate comments. Posting anonymously is allowed and commonplace (you can even have multiple identities and/or change identities). Self-promotion is fine. Off-topic or tangential comments are fine. It’s discouraged to be a jerk or do anything to harm rational discussion (and people may complain or ignore you), but there’s no rule about it. Misquoting is discouraged. If something isn’t an exact, literal quote, you're advised not to use quote marks.

The actual rules are: no doxing, spam, illegal activities or initiation of force. An illegal activity would be posting copyrighted material (quoting parts is fine; that’s fair use). Spam means e.g. an automatic bot that advertises viagra or posts links to websites to try to increase their Google rankings. Doxing includes trying to reveal the identity of an anonymous poster, posting about where people live or work, or posting people’s private characteristics (photos, race, age, who they are dating or married to, etc.). And don’t impersonate other people.

You will never be punished, censored or moderated based on your ideas. You can disagree with whatever you want, advocate whatever you want, and even flame people. The most anyone will do to you is write words back or stop listening. Comments are neutral ground where everyone is equal; there are no special privileges.

Formatting Comments

The title and author fields are optional. Some markdown formatting is supported:

*Italic* and **Bold** are written with asterisks.

Links: A link is automatically created from a URL with whitespace before and after it. You can also do: [link text](url)

Images: ![](image url)

> block quote

>> level 2 block quote (add more > for additional levels)

A level 2 block quote is used to quote a quote. A level 3 block quote is used to quote a quote of a quote. And so on. Contrary to markdown, blockquotes apply until the next newline, not the next double newline.

You can refer to other comments like #1234 and it’ll create a link to the comment. Click “reply” at the bottom of a comment to auto-generate a reference. Click “quote” at the bottom of a comment to get the full text with block quotes added (then just delete the parts you don’t want to reply to).

You cannot edit or delete your comments. If you want to change something, reply to yourself stating the correction. I will try to make comment links keep working forever.

New Comment Notifications

Find new comments on the recent comments page. For automatic updates, you can use an RSS feed reader (they’re easy) and the comments RSS feed (you can add the blog post feed too). RSS readers include Vienna (Mac, free), bazqux (website, $19/yr) and many others. You can also use automatic website change notification software (it’s easy) or an auto-refresh browser plugin.


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Subjective and Objective

"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.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (2)

Race and IQ "Realism"

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.)


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (11)