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Getting Elliot’s Attention

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Elliot Temple on October 30, 2019

Comments (31)

thoughts on divine numbers?

do u type with all 10 fingers?


Anonymous at 5:30 PM on October 30, 2019 | #14023 | reply | quote

Correcting Errors in Debate Policy post

https://elliottemple.com/debate-policy

> My debating and paths forward policies are safety mechanisms in case of incorrect judgment

should read "an incorrect judgement..."

> I’m offering real attention here: meet the requirements, request a debate, and I’m agreeing to spend time and effort on it to reach agreement

should read "an agreement."

> The problem is their lack of publicly documented, structured policies for dealign with debate, criticism and questions.

missing a comma before "and"

> If you’re feeling each other out, and finding out what the other guy thinks, and what you agree and disagree about, that’s a good time for informal discussion.

should read "an informal discussion."

> They should be general policies which are exposed to criticism, not excuses made up to ignore a specific individual

"that are exposed"


A at 11:02 PM on October 30, 2019 | #14024 | reply | quote

Errors from this Post

> I prefer paying attention to people who have a significant writing or discussion history

drop the "a" before "significant"

> I have a lot of knowledge about how to judge discussion statements which has been exposed to a lot of critical commentary and tested extensively.

should read "have been exposed" and "critical commentaries"

> I like when people talk to people other than me

"I like it when..."

> It takes away wiggle room (both honest and dishonest) where you could later say you didn’t actually think what you said was true, or weren’t looking for criticism, or

drop the comma after true

> don’t want to take actions to learn more like

"action"

> come by and provide to me than high quality

"high-quality"


A at 11:12 PM on October 30, 2019 | #14025 | reply | quote

A, FYI most of your corrections are wrong.


curi at 11:54 PM on October 30, 2019 | #14026 | reply | quote

Very few people meet your standards. The fact that you're not well known makes it unlikely that those who do would be interested in talking to you.

I wonder if you're limiting yourself as an indirect way to not engage with diverse ideas that may challenge you past your comfort zone.


Anonymous at 11:29 AM on October 31, 2019 | #14034 | reply | quote

#14034 Do you have any recommendation for something to engage with? I have looked very extensively.

Do you have any example where you believe I have not engaged with something that came to my attention I should have engaged with? Or do you have any specific hypothetical scenario where you believe that would happen?


curi at 11:37 AM on October 31, 2019 | #14035 | reply | quote

You could try starting humbly. Seems like you're looking to engage with top tier without having made a name for yourself.


Anonymous at 12:29 PM on October 31, 2019 | #14038 | reply | quote

#14034

he's only looking for things that fit his exactly defined specifications. if he's wrong he has no way to explore or ever encounter new perspective. it's just a dead-end mindset in a corner of the internet building sandcastles.


Anonymous at 12:34 PM on October 31, 2019 | #14039 | reply | quote

#14039

I can see that potentially being the case.

Do you have any specific examples in mind?


A at 1:00 PM on October 31, 2019 | #14040 | reply | quote

#14038 You don't seem to know anything about my discussion history (or much about my views) even though it's publicly available. I have engaged with many low tier (your terminology) people.


curi at 1:19 PM on October 31, 2019 | #14043 | reply | quote

#14040

more so that there aren't any counter examples. the entire stylistic approach that's been cultivated here is just another mechanism of anti-life. proper language to describe this can't be brought into the frame because it has grown so narrow.


Anonymous at 1:19 PM on October 31, 2019 | #14044 | reply | quote

/watch?v=LdPyYze2NIA


Anonymous at 1:27 PM on October 31, 2019 | #14046 | reply | quote

Is the answer to my question contained within that song or something?

How is his mechanism anti-life? I want to understand what you're talking about but I don't get it.


A at 1:49 PM on October 31, 2019 | #14047 | reply | quote

#14047

have you tried dmt or psilocybin?


Anonymous at 2:17 PM on October 31, 2019 | #14052 | reply | quote

#14052 No. Why do you ask?


Anonymous at 2:23 PM on October 31, 2019 | #14054 | reply | quote

#14054

wondering if it would help get around the hangups and dogmas.


Anonymous at 2:26 PM on October 31, 2019 | #14055 | reply | quote

Why do you assume I am under some form of dogma?

I don't think psychedelics are necessary to understand each other. No doubt there is an importance to the transformative experiences that they facilitate.


A at 2:28 PM on October 31, 2019 | #14056 | reply | quote

#14056

what else makes someone commit to giant sandcastles and makes demands of the outside world to communicate with them through narrowly defined criteria? if it isn't dogma it's certainly something worse. most of the game played today seems about widening the capacity of experience rather than confining it to dead ends. or is the way of the world wrong?


Anonymous at 2:40 PM on October 31, 2019 | #14057 | reply | quote

Giving people two guaranteed options to get my attention – debate and paths forward policies – is not making a demand. It's being especially open *in addition to* already being far more willing to talk with the public than other intellectuals are (even when they're commenting in bad faith like #14057 is).


curi at 2:44 PM on October 31, 2019 | #14058 | reply | quote

#14057 But I am not curi. Nor am I in agreement with curi in most things. I think he is profoundly unkind. He has other qualities though.

What makes you say that *I* am under some form of dogma.

If you can't explain to someone like me and someone like curi, maybe you're the one in the wrong?

Doesn't seem like you've even attempted to explain yourself.


A at 2:50 PM on October 31, 2019 | #14059 | reply | quote

#14058

(」゜ロ゜)」


Anonymous at 2:50 PM on October 31, 2019 | #14060 | reply | quote

this is closer to trying to have a conversation with a math function than a human.


Anonymous at 2:55 PM on October 31, 2019 | #14061 | reply | quote

#14061 I feel like I have gone out of my way to try to understand your perspective. You seem to refuse to want to share it.

I am not putting up any barriers or demands like curi, or requirements, or paths forward or unreasonable requests of never being able to disagree.

Even with none of these barriers in place, you refuse to just tell me about your perspective.

Instead, you accuse me of being a math function instead of a human.


A at 2:59 PM on October 31, 2019 | #14062 | reply | quote

#14062

aren't you a curi clone or mask? doesn't feel genuine at all. like a person sitting on their hands saying they want to help. the barriers are there even if you're incapable of recognizing them. more so if you aren't capable of acknowledging that.


Anonymous at 3:08 PM on October 31, 2019 | #14063 | reply | quote

#14063 I am not a curi clone or a mask I think Rand sucks as a philosopher. She's an okay writer and makes some decent observations. I'd never call her a philosopher much less the best of all time. That title goes to Popper.

That alone should tell you I am not curi nor share his views on most things.

I mean my last response mentions the barriers, so I am even more confused at your response about not recognizing them.


A at 3:14 PM on October 31, 2019 | #14065 | reply | quote

#14065

why do you think i'm incapable of conceiving curi can lie? 「L`ia`R」?


Anonymous at 3:18 PM on October 31, 2019 | #14066 | reply | quote

To what end? A sneaky attempt to get you to defend your argument?

I am beginning to think you're a charlatan.


A at 3:20 PM on October 31, 2019 | #14067 | reply | quote

#14067

when did this become an argument? this hasn't even been a conversation. what am i supposed to defend when nothing has even gotten thru? how does someone turn out like this?


Anonymous at 3:30 PM on October 31, 2019 | #14068 | reply | quote

feels like the oxygen supply to my brain grows weaker the more i spiral down this path


Anonymous at 3:34 PM on October 31, 2019 | #14069 | reply | quote

#14068 Ok Sia. W/e floats your very confused boat. :)


A at 3:34 PM on October 31, 2019 | #14070 | reply | quote

curi, I noticed you're into PUA. So you must have some experience with this, have you ever tried a fleshlight?


B at 3:49 PM on October 31, 2019 | #14071 | reply | quote

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