Misquotes by David Deutsch

I’ve discovered that David Deutsch (DD) is an unreliable quoter. His book The Beginning of Infinity (BoI) contains many serious quotation errors, and he has misquoted elsewhere too.

For context, DD and I were close associates for a decade. I helped with BoI for 7 years and wrote over 200 pages of comments, suggestions and edits on drafts of the book. I learned a lot from him but I trusted his scholarship too much. I promoted his books. I was wrong about him and his books in multiple ways. My mistake. I retract my previous endorsements and recommendations of DD’s books. That doesn’t mean the books are awful or shouldn’t be read, but I no longer want to promote them myself. There are good ideas mixed in, but be wary of major problems.

Misquotes in The Beginning of Infinity

Block quotes are from BoI unless otherwise stated.

I think there will certainly not be novelty, say for a thousand years. This thing cannot keep going on so that we are always going to discover more and more new laws. If we do, it will become boring that there are so many levels one underneath the other . . . We are very lucky to live in an age in which we are still making discoveries. It is like the discovery of America – you only discover it once.
The Character of Physical Law (1965)

That’s different than what Feynman wrote. DD changed the words “perpetual novelty” to “novelty”. DD also changed “keep on going” to “keep going on”. (More details.)

Behind it all is surely an idea so simple, so beautiful, that when we grasp it – in a decade, a century, or a millennium – we will all say to each other, how could it have been otherwise?
John Archibald Wheeler, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 480 (1986)

What Wheeler actually wrote was "Behind it all is surely an idea so simple, so beautiful, so compelling that when–in a decade, a century, or a millennium–we grasp it, we will all say to each other, how could it have been otherwise?”. DD deleted “so compelling” and moved “we grasp it” to before the dashed part. (More details.)

As the physicist Richard Feynman said, ‘Science is what we have learned about how to keep from fooling ourselves.’

Feynman didn’t say that. It’s not even a documented quote with some changes. It seems made up with no original source or evidence.

I checked the web and some Feynman books and speeches. It’s likely that the misquote started in 2000 in the article Magical Thinking (my thanks to Justin Mallone for finding that article), which paraphrased Feynman that way without using quote marks or giving a source. Unfortunately, the wording made it sound like it was an actual quote, so I think people started spreading it as a quote. Then DD probably got the misquote from an unreliable webpage and put it in his book without trying to find a primary source or telling his readers which unreliable secondary source he used. There are now two books which give this quote and cite it to as quoted in BoI. There’s also a book which gives the quote with a footnote saying that the author was unable to find a source for the quote (then don’t put it in your book!).

Feynman said some similar ideas in Cargo Cult Science, but the wordings are different. DD didn’t take the quote from there and add one or two errors (like he did with some other quotes, where you can tell that he’s quoting a specific thing incorrectly). It’s too different to have come from that speech.

Popper wrote:

The inductivist or Lamarckian approach operates with the idea of instruction from without, or from the environment. But the critical or Darwinian approach only allows instruction from within – from within the structure itself . . .

I contend that there is no such thing as instruction from without the structure. We do not discover new facts or new effects by copying them, or by inferring them inductively from observation, or by any other method of instruction by the environment. We use, rather, the method of trial and the elimination of error. As Ernst Gombrich says, ‘making comes before matching’: the active production of a new trial structure comes before its exposure to eliminating tests.
The Myth of the Framework

DD ends the first sentence of the second paragraph with “without the structure” and then a period. Instead of a period, Popper had a comma there and continued the sentence. Then, the rest of that paragraph that DD quotes is actually from a different section of the book. DD combined sentences from different places in the book and presented them as one paragraph with no ellipsis or square brackets to indicate a modification.

And DD left out the words “In fact,” before “I contend”. DD also put an ellipsis at the end of the first paragraph when that should be a period. There are no omitted words there. The paragraph ends there and DD continues without skipping a paragraph. DD also left out Popper’s italics.

A similar misquote also appeared on the Taking Children Seriously (TCS) website (mirror). DD co-founded TCS with Sarah Fitz-Claridge and she’s my best guess at the author of that misquote, though it could have been DD. Either way, he has responsibility for what it says on the official website of the movement he co-founded (particularly for pages, like this one, with no author specified).

Judging by the similarities, the misquote in BoI was likely based on the TCS website misquote. Even when a secondary source is accurate, it’s problematic to take a secondary source quote and then edit it without checking the original. When you do that, you’re making edits without knowing the original context and wording, so you aren’t in a good enough position to judge what edits are OK.

(More details about the TCS website version of the misquote.)

Thanks to Dec for telling me that this misquote is also in BoI after I wrote about the version from the TCS website.

As the physicist Stephen Hawking put it, humans are ‘just a chemical scum on the surface of a typical planet that’s in orbit round a typical star on the outskirts of a typical galaxy’.

This quote seems to be made up based on a similar Hawking quote about “chemical scum” from the 1995 TV program (Reality on the Rocks: Beyond Our Ken by Ken Campbell (IMBD, trailer)). Interestingly, DD had quoted it correctly in The Fabric of Reality as “The human race is just a chemical scum on a moderate-sized planet, orbiting round a very average star in the outer suburb of one among a hundred billion galaxies.” I didn’t find the original video, but it’s quoted that way in various places online that aren’t based on DD’s writing. (Some sources have “around” instead of “round”, which is an understandable difference given how similar those words can sound when spoken out loud.)

It seems that DD made up this misquote for his 2005 TED talk and then based the quote in BoI on his talk. Alan Forrester checked the books The large scale structure of space-time, A Brief History of Time, The Grand Design, The Nature of Space and Time and The Universe in a Nutshell, but found that none contain the word “scum”. And I can’t find any online sources for Hawking ever saying the BoI version of the quote (whereas with the The Fabric of Reality version, I easily found other online sources).

This misquote doesn’t seem fully accidental. DD changed the quote to be more elegant and catchy by repeating “typical” three times. I’ve noticed that many of DD’s misquotes involve changing text to sound nicer.

(More details.)

[Horgan believed] that science has the ability to ‘resolve questions’ objectively […]

Horgan actually wrote “Scientists have the ability to pose questions and resolve them in a way that critics, philosophers, historians cannot.” DD changed Horgan’s words “resolve them” to “resolve questions”, which is wrong without using square brackets to indicate an edit. (More details.)

The issue of what exactly needs to be explained in an ‘appearance of design’ was first addressed by the clergyman William Paley, the finest exponent of the argument from design. In 1802, before Darwin was born, he published the following thought experiment in his book Natural Theology.

It’s unclear what, if anything, “appearance of design” is a quote from, but it’d be understandable if a reader believed it was a quote of Paley in Natural Theology. But it’s not in that book.

[Paley wrote:]

The inference we think is inevitable, that the watch must have had a maker . . . There cannot be design without a designer; contrivance without a contriver; order without choice; arrangement without anything capable of arranging; subserviency and relation to a purpose without that which could intend a purpose; means suitable to an end . . . without the end ever having been contemplated or the means accommodated to it. Arrangement, disposition of parts, subserviency of means to an end, relation of instruments to a use imply the presence of intelligence and mind.

DD changed the words “any thing” to the word “anything” and changed “an use” to “a use”. DD also quoted from both chapters 1 and 2, but presented it as single paragraph with ellipses. DD also removed a comma near the end before “imply the presence of intelligence and mind” which helped the reader understand the text. (DD edited other punctuation too, but this punctuation edit stood out to me because it’s significantly worse than the original.) (More details.)

As Hawking once put it, ‘Television sets could come out [of a naked singularity].’

Thanks to Alan Forrester for looking into this quote at my request. He was unable to find Hawking saying this. He searched the web and the following books: The large scale structure of space-time, A Brief History of Time, The Grand Design, The Nature of Space and Time and The Universe in a Nutshell.

As Hofstadter remarked, ‘In retrospect, I am quite amazed at how much genuine intelligence I was willing to accept as somehow having been implanted in the program . . . It is clear that I was willing to accept a huge amount of fluidity as achievable in this day and age simply by putting together a large bag of isolated tricks, kludges and hacks.’

Hofstadter’s actual paragraph ends with “a large bag of isolated tricks-kludges and hacks, as they say.” DD’s punctation edits changed the meaning. Hofstadter said “isolated tricks” and then gave “kludges and hacks” as a rewording of “isolated tricks”. DD changed it to a list of three things, “tricks, kludges and hacks” and made it sound like the modifier “isolated” applies to all three, whereas in the original it applied only to “tricks”. As a list, it means that all three things were put together. In the original, it says they put together tricks, and then provides the additional information that the tricks could be characterized as kludges and hacks as people (informally) say.

Thanks to Dec for bringing up this misquote.

Representative Roger Q. Mills of Texas complained in 1882, ‘I thought . . . that mathematics was a divine science. I thought that mathematics was the only science that spoke to inspiration and was infallible in its utterances [but] here is a new system of mathematics that demonstrates the truth to be false.’

This text is available in the Congressional Record. DD changed the words "by inspiration" to "to inspiration". It’s also misleading that where DD wrote “[but]”, with no ellipsis, he skipped multiple sentences and continued with text from a different paragraph.

DD likely copied this misquote from Fair Representation without telling his readers that he was trusting a secondary source without fact checking it, and without letting readers know which secondary source he was using.

Thanks to Justin Mallone for looking this up at my request.

Before Blackmore and others realized the significance of memes in human evolution, all sorts of root causes had been suggested [...] [T]here is the ‘Machiavellian hypothesis’ that human intelligence evolved in order to predict the behaviour of others, and to fool them. […] Blackmore’s ‘meme machine’ idea, that human brains evolved in order to replicate memes, must be true.

At first I read “Machiavellian hypothesis” as a quote of Blackmore from her book The Meme Machine that DD mentioned earlier and included in his bibliography. If so, it's a misquote. That phrase isn’t in her book.

But maybe “Machiavellian hypothesis” is merely meant to be the name of a hypothesis. If so, it’s the wrong name. The correct name is "Machiavellian Intelligence”, as one can find out from Blackmore’s book or Wikipedia. Blackmore has an index entry for “Machiavellian Intelligence” and cites two books with “Machiavellian Intelligence” in their title. She also writes “An influential version of social theory is the ‘Machiavellian Intelligence’ hypothesis (Byrne and Whiten 1988; Whiten and Byrne 1997).”. It appears that DD read her book, misremembered the name of the hypothesis, didn’t check it, and put quote marks around it. (More details.)

The more important fundamental laws and facts of physical science have all been discovered, and these are now so firmly established that the possibility of their ever being supplanted in consequence of new discoveries is exceedingly remote . . . Our future discoveries must be looked for in the sixth place of decimals.
Albert Michelson, address at the opening of the Ryerson Physical Laboratory, University of Chicago, 1894

The source for this, which DD didn’t specify, is the book Light Waves and Their Uses (1903) by Albert Michelson. The speaker wrote down what he said in his own book. Michelson wrote:

Many other instances might be cited, but these will suffice to justify the statement that "our future discoveries must be looked for in the sixth place of decimals."

DD incorrectly quoted this as Michelson saying “[o]ur future discoveries must be looked for in the sixth place of decimals” himself, when Michelson actually had it in quote marks and talked about that statement. Deleting quote marks within a quote is misquoting. (More details.)

For example, as I wrote in The Fabric of Reality:

Consider one particular copper atom at the tip of the nose of the statue of Sir Winston Churchill that stands in Parliament Square in London. Let me try to explain why that copper atom is there. It is because Churchill served as prime minister in the House of Commons nearby; and because his ideas and leadership contributed to the Allied victory in the Second World War; and because it is customary to honour such people by putting up statues of them; and because bronze, a traditional material for such statues, contains copper, and so on. Thus we explain a low-level physical observation – the presence of a copper atom at a particular location – through extremely high-level theories about emergent phenomena such as ideas, leadership, war and tradition.

There is no reason why there should exist, even in principle, any lower-level explanation of the presence of that copper atom than the one I have just given. Presumably a reductive ‘theory of everything’ would in principle make a low-level prediction of the probability that such a statue will exist, given the condition of (say) the solar system at some earlier date. It would also in principle describe how the statue probably got there. But such descriptions and predictions (wildly infeasible, of course) would explain nothing. They would merely describe the trajectory that each copper atom followed from the copper mine, through the smelter and the sculptor’s studio and so on . . . In fact such a prediction would have to refer to atoms all over the planet, engaged in the complex motion we call the Second World War, among other things. But even if you had the superhuman capacity to follow such lengthy predictions of the copper atom’s being there, you would still not be able to say ‘Ah yes, now I understand why they are there’. [You] would have to inquire into what it was about that configuration of atoms, and those trajectories, that gave them the propensity to deposit a copper atom at this location. Pursuing that inquiry would be a creative task, as discovering new explanations always is. You would have to discover that certain atomic configurations support emergent phenomena such as leadership and war, which are related to one another by high-level explanatory theories. Only when you knew those theories could you understand why that copper atom is where it is.

In addition to checking this using ebooks, I also compared hardback copies of both books. It’s FoR pp. 22-23 and BoI pp. 109-110.

DD quotes “understand why they are there” but the original reads “understand why it is there”. DD changed the words “it is” to “they are”.

DD quotes "Pursuing that inquiry”, but FoR says “this inquiry”. DD changed the word “this” to “that”.

DD quotes “understand why that copper atom is where it is”. DD omitted the word “fully”. The original said “understand fully why”.

DD wrote “[You]” in BoI, which is an incorrect use of square brackets. He skipped two sentences and should have used an ellipsis. And it says “You” in the original, so he shouldn’t put it in square brackets since it isn’t modified. Square brackets can only replace an ellipsis when the text in square brackets replaces/summarizes/paraphrases all the skipped text, but the word “You” doesn’t replace the skipped sentences.

The italics “why” and “what it was” are not italicized in FoR.

The ellipsis DD used in “studio and so on . . . In fact” is incorrect because the original had a period after “so on”. There should be four dots there (one for the period, and three for the ellipsis), not three dots.

DD doesn’t even quote himself accurately.

Other Misquotes

In The Fabric of Reality, DD wrote:

Mystery is part of the very concept of time that we grow up with. St Augustine, for example, said:

What then is time? If no one asks me, I know; if I wish to explain it to one who asks, I know not. (Confessions)

This quote has some word changes compared to the edition of Confessions that I checked. However, there are other English translations, so it could be an accurate quote of one of those. DD didn’t say which translation he used, which is more problematic than usual when quoting a particular translation rather than quoting something with a single, unambiguous wording that could be looked up.

DD wrote in Not Merely the Finest TV Documentary Series Ever Made:

As Karl Popper put it, we humans can “let our ideas die in our place.”

I found Popper saying something similar three times, but he didn’t use that wording. I think DD relies on his memory for this quote, instead of checking a source. He’s quoted it different ways in different places (e.g. with “theories” instead of “ideas” in Why It’s Good To Be Wrong and BoI). DD should get quotes from sources instead of putting quote marks around what he believes he remembers someone writing.

Popper said similar things in The Myth of the Framework (“By criticizing our theories we can let our theories die in our stead.”), In Search of a Better World (“Now we can let our theories die in our place.”), and Natural Selection and the Emergence of Mind (“Let our conjectures, our theories, die in our stead!”).

DD’s associate Chiara Marletto also misquoted Popper as saying "let our ideas die in our place.”.

DD’s associate Sarah Fitz-Claridge misquoted William Godwin and intentionally sanitized a quote about slavery. She gives “The condition of a … slave in the West-Indies, is in many respects preferable to that of the youthful son of a free-born European. The slave is purchased upon a view of mercantile speculation; and, when he has finished his daily portion of labour, his master concerns himself no further about him. But the watchful care of the parent is endless. The youth is never free from the danger of grating interference.”. She misquoted by changing the words "of its grating" to “of grating”. And she sanitized the 1797 quote by changing "negro-slave" into "... slave”. (I think that’s an incorrect use of an ellipsis, too.) Also, the quote is horrible because it downplays how bad slavery was, so it’s disturbing that Fitz-Claridge liked the quote enough to highlight it.

Fitz-Claridge also misquoted The Myth of the Framework. It’s some of the same Popper material misquoted in BoI and on the TCS website, but misquoted differently. This time, Fitz-Claridge changed “that” to “which” and got the page numbers wrong. (More details in the second update.)

Smaller Issues

DD frequently doesn’t give sources for quotes which makes it harder to check their accuracy. By leaving out sources, he’s asking his reader to trust him. But he made many quoting errors, so that trust would be misplaced.

DD repeatedly writes “X … Y” when X and Y are from different paragraphs or even different sections of a book. This is misleading. He also does it when X is a complete sentence, which makes it look like X is not a complete sentence.

DD frequently changes capitalization and punctuation without square brackets to indicate the change. DD capitalizes stuff to make it look like the start of a sentence when it isn’t (both at the start of a quote or after an ellipsis). DD also puts periods inside the quote marks after quoting a partial sentence, which makes it look like that was the end of the sentence when it wasn’t. DD also repeatedly puts a space then an ellipsis after a sentence ends, which should be a period then ellipsis but he changed the period to a space. So he makes stuff look like the start or end of a sentence when it isn’t, and then other times he makes stuff look like it’s not the end of a sentence when it is.

DD doesn’t appear to have a consistent policy for periods going inside or outside of quotes. E.g. I searched an electronic copy of BoI and found 188 instances of a single close quote followed by a period, and 88 instances of a period followed by a single close quote (and 3 instances of period, single close quote, and period again, which all involved a number, ellipsis, close quote, then period). DD often ends quotes with a period inside the quotation marks when the original sentence doesn’t end there, but other times he puts the period outside the quotation marks, and I don’t know why. DD is also inconsistent about italicizing quotes the same way they are in the original.

There are standard guidelines for how to do quotations, which DD violates, in addition to the larger misquote issues I presented above. For example, Working with Quotations, from Suny Empire State College, says:

Remember that when you do choose to use direct quotations, you need to retain the exact wording, spelling, capitalization, and punctuation of the original source.

DD went to both Oxford and Cambridge. I don’t think they teach lower standards than state colleges, and in any case he hasn’t followed their guidelines. For example, this Guide for authors and editors from the Oxford University Press says:

Quoted matter must reflect the original source exactly in spelling, punctuation, and capitalization. Please double-check all quotations against the sources from which you have taken them to ensure that you have copied accurately.

It must be possible for the reader to identify the work from which a quotation has been taken.

The University Of Oxford Style Guide says “Place any punctuation which does not belong to the quote outside the quotation marks (except closing punctuation if the end of the quote is also the end of the sentence).”

The Cambridge Editorial Style Guide says “A full stop is used outside the quotation mark if the quote is only part of a sentence.” and “Always source quotations”.

Taking Credit from Karl Popper

There’s another scholarship issue in DD’s books. I was horrified to discover that Karl Popper’s name is only in The Fabric of Reality (FoR) chapter 3 two times. That chapter is focused on sharing Popper’s ideas. But it doesn’t give adequate credit. In particular, the diagrams (3.1, 3.2, 3.3) are clearly based on Popper’s diagrams in Objective Knowledge, but DD never tells the reader that they’re modified from Popper. (More details.)

DD has presented himself as very humble and modest. He’s claimed multiple times to be only footnotes to Popper (which comes off as exaggerated modesty, rather than convincing his fans that it’s actually true). But DD has simultaneously misled readers to believe he accomplished much more than he did, e.g. in FoR ch. 3. This is a pattern. For example, in a 2016 paper, The logic of experimental tests, particularly of Everettian quantum theory, DD wrote:

An important consequence of this explanatory conception of science is that experimental results consistent with a theory T do not constitute support for T. That is because they are merely explicanda. A new explicandum may make a theory more problematic, but it can never solve existing problems involving a theory (except by making rival theories problematic – see Section 3). The asymmetry between refutation (tentative) and support (non-existent) in scientific methodology is better understood in this way, by regarding theories as explanations, than through Popper's (op. cit.) own argument from the logic of predictions, appealing to what has been called the ‘arrow of modus ponens’. Scientific theories are only approximately modelled as propositions, but they are precisely explanations.

This passage misleads readers into believing that DD improved on Popper by making a better argument focused on explanations instead of on the logic of predictions. Most readers would be surprised to discover that Popper made both arguments. Popper did make the logic of predictions argument (which is less important but was worth making too) but also made the other argument that DD is implying is his own original work. DD made some original contributions to epistemology, but not this one.

You can search Popper’s Conjectures and Refutations (C&R) for words like "tentative", "explanation", and "support" to see that DD is less original than he implies. Popper also covers these issues in other books. I’ll give one example from C&R:

For a scientific theory—an explanatory theory—is, if anything, an attempt to solve a scientific problem, that is to say, a problem concerned or connected with the discovery of an explanation.[6]

This clearly shows that Popper viewed scientific theories as explanatory theories. DD didn’t come up with the idea that scientific theories are explanations. The footnote at the end of that quote refers readers to more of Popper’s writing. Popper talked about explanation often. Popper also came up with the asymmetry between refutation (tentative) and support (non-existent). Popper emphasized refutation, said it was only tentative, and is also the person who challenged thousands of years of philosophical tradition by arguing that support is non-existent. Popper drew multiple major distinctions between negative and positive approaches to epistemology.

DD also gets other people to praise him while he presents himself as humble. For example, his TCS co-founder Sarah Fitz-Claridge (SFC) wrote that Popper invented a philosophy of science and that David Deutsch and his TCS philosophy had extended Popper’s epistemology to apply outside of science. (SFC probably wrote that. It’s on an official TCS page, but doesn’t specify the author, so it could have been written by DD.) That’s a major misrepresentation. Popper was seeking a general theory of knowledge, and said so, and applied it outside of science. (More details.)

DD has gotten his associates to praise him as e.g. having “the greatest mind ever”. SFC believes that DD made major improvements on Popper, and so do many of DD’s fans. I don’t believe it’s an accident that many people overestimate DD in ways similar to his co-founder who publicly promotes him. It looks like a strategy where DD plays humble while having other people say things that would sound arrogant coming from him. (More details.)

In 2012, SFC wrote to the official Fabric of Reality discussion group (archive of FoR posts) (my italics):

In my view it would be much more accurate to say that David has the greatest mind ever to have existed. His thinking is breathtakingly logical and brilliant. His ideas have changed the world and will do so even more profoundly in the future. I have never met anyone more pure, more truth-seeking and more open to criticism than David.

In 2000, SFC wrote to TCS list (my italics):

So really, people should not speak of Popper, but of Deutsch, because it was David who came up with the link between Popper's ideas and educational theory.

Note that DD has a history of secretly ghostwriting stuff which SFC then claims to be the author of. (Source: DD’s friend. He or she was friends with DD before DD turned 18 and they’re still friends now, over 50 years later. He or she had many discussions about TCS, Popper and more with DD and SFC. DD introduced me to the friend and I had some discussions with him or her.) Full disclosure: In the past, I’ve posted a few things that DD wrote, but under my own name, with his permission and approval. I did this when (as best I remember) I wanted to share something good that he told me, which I thought would benefit the world, but he didn’t want to share it himself and wouldn’t let me post it and attribute it to him or to an anonymous person, but he would let me post it under my name without attributing it to anyone. Here’s an example that I remember (I think it was the most significant, memorable instance). More often, I wrote stuff myself that was based on things DD told me, and he didn’t want credit but was happy for me to say it. At other times, DD helped edit my writing and a sentence or two of his ended up in the final version without credit (he didn’t want credit). DD had substantial influence over some of my early writing, and he also has had substantial influence over some of SFC’s writing that he didn’t fully ghostwrite.


I was mistaken about how good DD’s books are. They’re worse than I thought. I still think there is significant value in those books, but you can’t trust DD’s scholarship. Besides distrusting direct quotes given by DD, you should also distrust paraphrases or summaries of what other people said or thought. You have to check things yourself if you actually want to know. DD is too unreliable. And don’t use DD as a secondary source. Don’t spread quotes that DD quoted; quote directly from the original source or don’t use it. Some people are spreading his misquotes (they’ve even been repeated in books).

FYI, I don’t think DD is especially bad at quoting compared to others. Lots of books and academic articles have major errors related to quotes, paraphrases, cites or facts. But for a book to be considered great, it should do better. In the world today, you shouldn’t trust authors with quotes or facts by default. You should be suspicious by default unless an author earns more trust. Many people believe DD has earned a lot of trust (including me in the past), but they’re mistaken.

I apologize for encouraging people to respect and trust DD more than he merits. I know I played a role in that.

DD’s misquote problem also helps contextualize his recent mistreatment of me. How could a super rational, great person act like that? The answer is that he he’s actually a deeply flawed person with some good traits mixed in as special exceptions.

DD once got very upset with me for questioning a Godwin quote he sent me in a private discussion. He’d sent it without a specific source and I couldn’t find the quote by searching the book. It turned out that he’d quoted an obscure first edition but I was searching the third edition. He should have praised me for looking for errors instead of getting defensive and lashing out at me. Good scholars don’t expect to be trusted and don’t mind being questioned or challenged. Even though he didn’t misquote in that instance, DD’s irrational attitude was a warning sign that DD might be a misquoter. I failed to recognize the full problem and I didn’t go fact check his books at that time (2011).

BoI has an errata page (mirror) which documents a bunch of errors in the book. They are mostly factual errors, and the number and severity should concern readers. Despite all the misquotes in the book, there are currently no misquotes on the errata page, which says something about how little fact checking the book has been getting (there are probably a bunch of other errors that no one has found yet).

I will edit my book recommendation articles to warn people about DD’s misquotes. I will also take down the beginningofinfinity.com website that promotes BoI and put a warning there about DD’s misquotes.

Update, 2021-07-12: In a 1985 physics paper in a prestigious, peer-reviewed journal, David Deustch misquoted Alan Turing.

Update, 2021-07-13: I made two videos related to DD misquotes:

Video about the Feynman misquote: "Science is what we have learned about how to keep from fooling ourselves.". This video goes into more depth.

Video about this blog post about DD's misquotes. This video is more of a broad overview.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (27)

David Deutsch and Lulie Tanett Violated Reasonable Expectations

When the harassment started, I didn’t expect that David Deutsch (DD) or Lulie Tanett (LT) were involved. When I caught Andy B (linked together his many fake identities), I emailed DD and LT about it, and I thought they’d be helpful and reasonable. I expected a very different reaction than I got.

What DD and LT have done has surprised me. That actually made it harder to deal with. If I knew what they were like in the first place, I would have handled the situation differently. I went out of my way to give them lots of chances for private discussion. I responded slowly to the problems to give them many chances and months to see it’s a serious public issue and change their behavior. I didn’t go into this knowing what was actually going on. I shared information as I figured out new things and that’s made my explanations longer and more complex.

Why was I surprised? Well they just left without comment. They didn’t leave in an explicitly negative way. They never said they weren’t speaking to me. We didn’t part ways with a fight. Nothing in particular happened. Our conversation frequency dwindled over time. I initiated some problem solving, but I wasn’t pushy about it and gave them time and space. Months passed and at some point they didn’t come back. That’s all. That didn’t give me much reason to think they hated me or wanted me harmed.

There was no conversation where I had any reason to think it was the last one. By the time I knew things were over, they’d been over for months. (And by the time I knew DD and LT actually weren’t speaking to me – the current situation – I now estimate that they hadn’t been for multiple years. That’s something they did on their own, unilaterally, without informing me, and with no specific or clear cause.) They never even said bye. I thought we were still trying, gradually over time, and eventually I realized that they weren’t.

I thought our old friendships would still mean something when a criminal attacked. And it’s not like I had done anything wrong. I hadn’t wronged DD or LT. I hadn’t done some sort of mean action to hurt them. I hadn’t knowingly violated their consent. And they never complained “Hey wait, that wasn’t OK, you accidentally violated my consent”.

I thought crimes were a serious matter and that people would set aside petty stuff when crime was at stake. I didn’t know that DD and LT were so far gone not to do that and/or were never actually very anti-crime (just anti crimes against their own tribe).

I thought they were doing their own things, separate from me, and that when there was an emergency involving crime that would take precedence over whatever mild grudges or negative feelings had lasted through years of not interacting. Time heals all wounds, right? Why would they still be super mad – mad enough to have a tribalist attitude and side with crime – after years with no negative interactions?

The thing DD lied about is a key point. He lied that he told me several times that he didn’t want to hear from me. But he never told me that and I had no idea he felt that way. That’s key context. He’s lying that I’m violating his requests, when actually he was violating my reasonable expectations (which is misleading to observers) even before he overtly lied about me. I had a reasonable expectation that he would respond appropriately when his fan was committing crimes partially in DD’s name. (One of Andy B’s main complaints, and motivations for harassment, is that he sees me as DD’s enemy.) DD also wouldn’t respond when Dennis Hackethal plagiarized both of us, or when someone impersonated DD and wrote comments literally in DD’s name, or when Andy B created and owned the BoI subreddit (DD wouldn’t disown that or distance himself from it in any way).

I thought I was telling DD and LT about a serious problem in their community that was bad for them. I thought they’d want to ban him from their community and keep their distance from a dangerous person. Instead they embraced Andy B, tweet with him, and continue to have a toxic community culture that does things like lie, libel, and spread hateful gossip.

I thought DD cared about his career and reputation, and would want to stay out of the mud, and would appreciate the warning about the mud getting on him. I thought it was neglect not malice. I was wrong though. After nearly a decade of going our separate ways, DD seems willing to take substantial risks with his public reputation for the purpose of trying to hurt me. He can’t or won’t let anything go, nor specify what exactly he’s so upset about or what he wants or doesn’t want. (I literally don’t know what actions to take to please or appease him so that he’d stop the harassment campaign; he won’t say; maybe there are none.)

DD’s and LT’s behavior, like fully ghosting me about crimes connected with them, and tweeting with Andy B after he was caught, has been really shocking. It completely violated my expectations based on how we left things (as well as my expectations about basic human decency and civilized behavior from them).

I’ve been going back and reading old stuff because I was shocked by their behavior and I wanted to know what happened. Did they change a lot since we last spoke much, or did I miss something in the past? The answer, in short, is that I missed stuff in the past. The old discussions are full of warning signs about their irrationality that I can see now but missed before.

DD and LT are the only people involved in the harassment that I actually knew well. It makes some sense that I’m still on their mind. But I met Sarah a long time ago but never knew her very well, and she really shouldn’t still care about me. Most CritRats I knew less well than Sarah. Why would people I never knew at all, or never knew well, hold multi-year grudges and be super hateful? There’s something really wrong there (I think their community is really toxic). And to the extent I can get any reasons from them, they say stuff like that I’m rude and that I criticized their hero DD. So what? All public figures have rude detractors on the internet, who are mostly ignored or mocked a little bit, but generally no one cares much. Even if that were true about me, why would it even matter? The people who hate and harass me are revealing, by their behavior, that they think I’m super important. They act like my opinions will somehow determine DD’s fate. They treat me like DD’s peer, and like one of the few intellectuals in the world who matters. They seem to see me like a threat to DD, a high status power player with a big following, or else why would they care? If they don’t like me and think I don’t matter, they wouldn’t be so concerned with my opinions.

I’ve posted negative blog posts about (for example) Sam Harris, but none of his fans bother me about it. I don’t even get mild pushback (they don’t seem to notice or care), let alone harassment. If I actually went to Harris’ subreddit and criticized him there, I’d get negative reactions, but all I’d have to do is stop posting on his subreddit and they’d forget about me and leave me alone. Why? Because Harris has many critics and even haters, but most are not influential and most fans don’t regard them as important. If I had 100k YouTube followers and criticized Harris, it’d get more of a reaction, but I don’t have that. Yet DD’s community treats me like I have a few million YouTube followers, or whatever the equivalent is for blog readers.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

David Deutsch Wants to Control Others and His Reputation

This is part of a series of posts explaining the harassment against me which has been going on for years. The aggressors are David Deutsch and his fan community. This post provides context about what type of person Deutsch is (a social climber), with quotes, which helps explain the harassment situation.

In the Introduction to Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand wrote about the right and wrong ways to approach life and other people. The error of wanting to control too much about other people explains a lot about David Deutsch (DD). After the Rand quote, I’ll give quotes from DD showing how he has flaws that Rand was talking about. In the quotes, he talks about managing his reputation and controlling what other people think of him.

Her [Dagny Taggart’s] error—and the cause of her refusal to join the strike—is over-optimism and over-confidence (particularly this last). Over-optimism—in that she thinks men are better than they are, she doesn’t really understand them and is generous about it.

Over-confidence—in that she thinks she can do more than an individual actually can. She thinks she can run a railroad (or the world) single-handed, she can make people do what she wants or needs, what is right, by the sheer force of her own talent; not by forcing them, of course, not by enslaving them and giving orders—but by the sheer over-abundance of her own energy; she will show them how, she can teach them and persuade them, she is so able that they’ll catch it from her. (This is still faith in their rationality, in the omnipotence of reason. The mistake? Reason is not automatic. Those who deny it cannot be conquered by it. Do not count on them. Leave them alone.)

On these two points, Dagny is committing an important (but excusable and understandable) error in thinking, the kind of error individualists and creators often make. It is an error proceeding from the best in their nature and from a proper principle, but this principle is misapplied. . . .

The error is this: it is proper for a creator to be optimistic, in the deepest, most basic sense, since the creator believes in a benevolent universe and functions on that premise. But it is an error to extend that optimism to other specific men. First, it’s not necessary, the creator’s life and the nature of the universe do not require it, his life does not depend on others. Second, man is a being with free will; therefore, each man is potentially good or evil, and it’s up to him and only to him (through his reasoning mind) to decide which he wants to be. The decision will affect only him; it is not (and cannot and should not be) the primary concern of any other human being.

Therefore, while a creator does and must worship Man (which means his own highest potentiality; which is his natural self-reverence), he must not make the mistake of thinking that this means the necessity to worship Mankind (as a collective). These are two entirely different conceptions, with entirely—(immensely and diametrically opposed)—different consequences.

Man, at his highest potentiality, is realized and fulfilled within each creator himself. . . .Whether the creator is alone, or finds only a handful of others like him, or is among the majority of mankind, is of no importance or consequence whatever; numbers have nothing to do with it. He alone or he and a few others like him are mankind, in the proper sense of being the proof of what man actually is, man at his best, the essential man, man at his highest possibility. (The rational being, who acts according to his nature.)

It should not matter to a creator whether anyone or a million or all the men around him fall short of the ideal of Man; let him live up to that ideal himself; this is all the “optimism” about Man that he needs. But this is a hard and subtle thing to realize—and it would be natural for Dagny always to make the mistake of believing others are better than they really are (or will become better, or she will teach them to become better or, actually, she so desperately wants them to be better)—and to be tied to the world by that hope.

It is proper for a creator to have an unlimited confidence in himself and his ability, to feel certain that he can get anything he wishes out of life, that he can accomplish anything he decides to accomplish, and that it’s up to him to do it. (He feels it because he is a man of reason . . .) [But] here is what he must keep clearly in mind: it is true that a creator can accomplish anything he wishes—if he functions according to the nature of man, the universe and his own proper morality, that is, if he does not place his wish primarily within others and does not attempt or desire anything that is of a collective nature, anything that concerns others primarily or requires primarily the exercise of the will of others. (This would be an immoral desire or attempt, contrary to his nature as a creator.) If he attempts that, he is out of a creator’s province and in that of the collectivist and the second-hander.

Therefore, he must never feel confident that he can do anything whatever to, by or through others. (He can’t—and he shouldn’t even wish to try it—and the mere attempt is improper.) He must not think that he can . . . somehow transfer his energy and his intelligence to them and make them fit for his purposes in that way. He must face other men as they are, recognizing them as essentially independent entities, by nature, and beyond his primary influence; [he must] deal with them only on his own, independent terms, deal with such as he judges can fit his purpose or live up to his standards (by themselves and of their own will, independently of him) and expect nothing from the others. . . .

Now, in Dagny’s case, her desperate desire is to run Taggart Transcontinental. She sees that there are no men suited to her purpose around her, no men of ability, independence and competence. She thinks she can run it with others, with the incompetent and the parasites, either by training them or merely by treating them as robots who will take her orders and function without personal initiative or responsibility; with herself, in effect, being the spark of initiative, the bearer of responsibility for a whole collective. This can’t be done. This is her crucial error.

This is where she fails.

David Deutsch (DD) wants to control his effect on the world and how the world sees him. He wants to have a large number of fans. He wants to do things to, by and through others. He doesn’t want to treat people as fully independent entities. He wants to tell people what to think. That’s too hard a task, which is one of the reasons it took him over a decade to write BoI.

DD has had ideas like teaching people to be better parents – but without them having to learn Critical Rationalism (CR) themselves. Taking Children Seriously (TCS) said parents could just learn DD’s conclusions, based on his understanding of CR, without having to learn much about philosophy themselves. TCS reassured parents that reading even one Popper book was optional. (I give sources for this at the end of this post.) This made DD the bearer of responsibility for the whole collective, since he was the one with knowledge about CR and how to apply CR. But DD and his TCS co-founder, Sarah Fitz-Claridge (SFC), have also denied having responsibility for what happened to those parents and their children, and basically abandoned them.

DD hides what kind of person he is, so I expect people to initially doubt my claims about him. Getting you to doubt he’s a social climber is part of his reputation management. But DD has admitted these things to me privately, e.g. he emailed me on 2010-07-25 (my italics):

I myself do not want the [Taking Children Seriously] archives to be widely read (yet!) because I am strongly of the opinion that it would run a coach and horses through my plans to manage my reputation into the future so that I can have a beneficial effect on the world other than physics etc. It would cause no end of trouble for me in that regard.

DD didn’t think there was anything wrong with his roughly 2000 posts about TCS. He wanted them read later (hence the “yet!” comment). He hadn’t changed his mind about the ideas. He wasn’t even saying they needed to be rewritten or edited. He just wanted to control what effect he had on the world and control his reputation (that is, control what opinions other people had in their minds about him). So he wanted to hide his ideas that he thought were wonderful and important. He wants to be a mastermind manipulating the world for its benefit, just as TCS says a parent should try to not do to his child, and Rand said not to do in the quote above. (DD claimed to be a fan of Ayn Rand and strongly recommended her books to me.)

Similarly, on 2010-09-26:

17:16:00 curidotus: can you explain your reputation management theories a bit more?
17:17:12 oxfordphysicist: One reason I agreed to be in this new Institute is that it will extend the area over which I am regarded as entitled to pontificate in public and to be listened to.
17:17:47 curidotus: rather unFeynmanesque of you
17:18:12 oxfordphysicist: I want to keep extending that area until it covers some aspects of politics and one day even education theory.
17:18:28 curidotus: and since you don't belong to any think tank dedicated to contradicting feynman, you're not allowed to argue with that!
17:18:34 oxfordphysicist: Similarly I want to avoid doing things that reduce the area.

Note that I disagreed with DD and was arguing with him by mentioning how his attitude contradicted Feynman’s.

On 2010-10-01 (my italics):

16:52:37 oxfordphysicist: Today I met the other senior members [including Nick Bostrom] of the proposed new Future Technology Institute.
16:55:35 oxfordphysicist: Mostly we were all trying to impress the sponsor with our cleverness and depth. So nothing has actually happened yet.

That’s social climbing.

And within a few days of 2010-08-20:

[That] Might harm me by diverting discussion away from BoI issues onto TCS and STWTR issues which I am not yet ready to present to the general public.

It’s amazing how DD wants to control his reputation. He wrote hundreds of STWTR posts on a public blog. Then he wants to somehow take it back. He’s not ready to present it to the public!? But he already did present it to the public.

Similarly, TCS was already presented to the public and probably thousands of parents started trying to use it. Many people made some changes to their parenting on DD’s and SFC’s advice. They relied on DD and SFC for the ongoing support and advice that DD and SFC communicated would be available. You can’t (reasonably) withdraw a parenting philosophy that is already in use in many people’s lives that you shared on the public internet, in a bunch of conference speeches, and in a paper journal.

You especially can’t withdraw your parenting philosophy when you tell people they’re basically like evil dictators if they don’t do TCS. They compare non-TCS parents to slave owners and to husbands when beating your wife was legal. They tell parents that TCS is something they can and must do right now, today, to avoid destroying their children’s minds. And tell them they don’t need to learn philosophy and Popper – that’s optional, advanced extra stuff. If they don’t learn Popper themselves, then they are dependent on experts like DD and SFC, so withdrawing that expertise screws people over really badly.

And neither DD nor SFC has publicly admitted to withdrawing anything or quitting the community. They don’t acknowledge anything changed. But behind the scenes they do things like pressure me not to repost archives that became unavailable due to technical/computer/software type problems. It’s dishonest to to hide what’s going on from the community you’re trying to take resources away from. They never even admitted that they stopped making new parenting resources, but they did worse than that by trying to take away existing resources like the original TCS website and recently the second TCS website (that was harder to navigate and incomplete, and they promised more stuff that never came). And when they quit, they never directed anyone to any alternatives to move on to.

It was basically implied that the parenting resources to move on to were me and my community, since DD and SFC left their discussion community to my leadership. But they never directly said that (they just left without explanation and without any clear moment in time when they left). And SFC disliked me and put some effort into preventing TCS parents from finding out that a TCS discussion forum still existed, run by me. And now they’re involved with harassment against me and my community, even though it was the only significant resource left for TCS parents. For many years, I’ve been the only person letting TCS parents come ask questions and providing expert answers, and they seem mad about that because they want to be the expert leaders. They abandoned TCS, but still want the social prestige of being a founder and leader, but without the responsibility or work involved.

SFC has been doing some podcasts and talks about TCS recently with zero acknowledgement or explanation about being gone for over 15 years. It’s confusing because they simultaneously in some ways want to hide and disown TCS, and in other ways want to claim to always have been the experts and leaders like nothing changed. It doesn’t make sense. And it leaves me with no idea what actions I could take to please them so that they would stop the harassment campaign.

As TCS leaders, they’ve (primarily SFC, who played much more of a community manager role than DD, while DD played the wise intellectual role) repeatedly said things like that new wonderful TCS stuff was coming soon. SFC was still selling TCS journal subscriptions long after the last journal was published. When they switched from the tcs.ac website to takingchildrenseriously.com (and unnecessarily got rid of the old domain instead of leaving it alone or redirecting it), they told everyone they’d repost all the articles from the old website, but then they never did. And currently takingchildrenseriously.com has all content deleted, and SFC claims the site will be even better soon. Why couldn’t she leave the existing articles available until the new stuff was ready? Why take them down instead of leaving things alone? She took stuff down on purpose, for a reason she won’t tell the TCS community (she says she disagrees with some old stuff, but doesn’t say what, and maybe just disagrees with the tone). And why delete things at all? Why not just add new additional stuff. And when is the new stuff coming? She took down the existing stuff months ago.

On 2010-08-27, DD wrote (typos in original):

I dodn't mean only FoR List discussion. I mean -- say a TV producer has joined the FoR list as part of sizing me up for a 12 part series. Then he sees that someone regards me as having written thousands of TCS posts so he reads them and decides I;m a crank.

DD wants to control what other people think and do. TV producers must see DD’s resume exactly as he wants it, with no other information. He thinks his TCS posts could cost him a TV series, and therefore wants to prevent any parents – who are in the middle of a TCS parenting – from continuing to use or discuss it.

Also, DD did write around two thousand TCS posts. That’s a fact, not something that some people regard him as having done.

But DD won’t say publicly that he wants to hide the information that TV producers might dislike (which, admittedly, would defeat his goal of tricking the public including the TV producers). He just sabotages parents behind the scenes after founding a parenting movement at around age 38 and putting his intellectual reputation (e.g. as a book author) behind it. I think a lot of TCS parents don’t know what went wrong and probably blame themselves, and don’t know what DD and SFC did that was unreasonable.

You can’t start something well into adulthood, connect it to your career, and then expect to withdraw it. That’s so unreasonable. People listened to DD because he relied on the reputation from his career and book – they thought he was putting his reputation and career on the line and that he would be a strong, lasting advocate of the movement he started. But now he won’t take responsibility for what he said or responsibility for the role of giving radical, life-changing advice to parents that raises new problems that they need ongoing support, articles and discussion to help with.

By the way, despite getting his way about hiding the TCS archives, DD still hasn’t gotten any 12 part TV series in the last 10+ years since he was so pushy with me about it. Not even a 1 part series. (And is he grateful that I did what he wanted regarding the TCS archives? No. He now initiates force against me without saying why.)

In his article Is TCS Revolutionary?, DD had warned other people not to try to manage their reputations like he secretly does:

One thing that one does not do is hesitate to argue against those ideas and in favour of ideas that seem better. Darwin hesitated for twenty years before publishing The Origin of Species, partly out of fear that it would undermine the fabric of society. His fear may have been justified, but his hesitation was not. The reason is the very consideration that I am discussing in this article. Yes, Darwin's theory contributed to the decline of religion and perhaps, thereby, created a vacuum that has been filled by such things as totalitarian ideologies. But on the other hand, it also contributed enormously to scientific and philosophical progress, which has saved countless lives and enriched many more. For Darwin to know which of these effects would be stronger — to know whether postponing publication of his theory of evolution would do net good or harm — would require a supernatural knowledge of all the ideas, explicit and inexplicit, that existed in other minds, followed by a superhuman analysis of the myriad interactions between them that publication would initiate. To imagine that he could make a meaningful judgement in this matter, and that it was his place to second-guess the intellectual development of the entire world on the basis of such a judgement, was not just silly, it was crass utopianism.

When we were still speaking a lot, I asked DD about this passage and how he isn’t following his own advice. His excuse was that he has more than one thing to say and he needs to say them in the right order. He should have thought of that before he said the TCS stuff. He spent nearly 20 years saying TCS stuff and then tried to pretend he didn’t. Except in a weird, ambiguous way. SFC gave a talk on TCS recently, identified DD as a co-founder of TCS, and claims she will soon publish a book on TCS (20 years ago, she also claimed the book would be done soon, so who knows if or when it’ll ever come out). She also recently went on some podcasts to promote TCS. Are they trying to hide TCS or not? What do they actually want? It doesn’t make sense. Some of DD’s fans are still finding TCS and thinking they should do it, and SFC is encouraging that. Some of DD’s fans tell people about TCS in his Twitter topics, too, and put that in DD’s mentions (notifications).

DD told me basically that he wasted many years of his life sharing TCS ideas and participating in discussions because people don’t listen, don’t learn it right, and hate TCS. He broadly thinks people are too dumb (compared to him) to reason with. I think he’s in an awkward position of thinking TCS is true, and having nothing to retract, while also wanting to stop telling it to anyone he doesn’t intellectually respect (so nearly every living person). He thinks people who read about TCS mostly respond by hating him because they’re stupid and irrational, and he doesn’t want to deal with that anymore, but he doesn’t want to retract TCS either. Partly he won’t retract TCS because that would draw more attention to it, and also he doesn’t want to admit to having been wrong about something.

But SFC is promoting TCS in 2021, so what’s going on? Maybe DD doesn’t want her to, but is unwilling to make clear, direct requests to her because she’s an extremely emotional, irrational person who will get really upset and angry over nothing, let alone over a significant request. (My main source on that claim about SFC is talking with her child a lot, though I’ve seen some of it myself too, both in person and online.) SFC might not even know what DD wants. Or maybe DD got old enough that he gave up on doing other stuff. He did promise me that he’d write a book on TCS before he died (but after he finished his physics work). But if he’s decided he’s again ready to be associated with the movement he co-founded and put his reputation behind and hasn’t retracted … he hasn’t said that either. And if SFC is allowed to talk about TCS, what is he so mad at me about that he has his community harassing me? He claimed that he was upset with me for wanting to keep the TCS email discussion archives available for people to read (but not doing it, at his request). (He wanted not just obedience but agreement … but also didn’t want to discuss and debate the matter to change my mind. Much like how conventional parents sometimes treat their children, which TCS objects to.)

DD himself is tweeting about TCS issues in a confusing way that’s bad for social climbing. He isn’t explaining it. It seems like he just doesn’t have a coherent plan. For example (2021):

All compulsory education, "tough" or not, "love" or not, in camps or not, and whether it "traumatises" or not, is a violation of human rights.

That tweet was paired with a link to Troubled US teens left traumatised by tough love camps. DD was downplaying how bad those camps are. He hates all compulsory education so much that he apparently can’t differentiate that some instances are worse than others. When you compare compulsory education to slavery or dictatorship, you don’t leave much room to admit that some things are less bad than others. It’s like saying all compulsory education is all bad, with no shades of gray, and therefore downplaying the evil of compulsory education that’s worse than public schools (like the camps). And there are abusive parents who are worse than regular parents – DD would reply that they’re all abusive parents, but some parents get drunk and beat their children and some don’t, so they aren’t all the same.

But DD isn’t explaining what he’s talking about, nor making available links to articles that explain it. His audience isn’t going to understand. Some people ask what he’s talking about and he mostly ignores them.

DD also tweeted (2021):

Compulsory education is bad.

Again he didn’t explain his position.

And he’s using force – compulsion – against me that pressures me to learn things I don’t want to learn, e.g. to become educated about the dumb tweets he writes. My self-defense has required learning a bunch of information I’d rather not about people like DD and Andy, as well as about things like website security and false identity detection.

And DD tweeted (2021):

A very bad law is about to be enacted. The very term 'junk food' is hate speech. The very term 'obesity' is a signal of scientism.

Defending children eating whatever they want, and saying all sorts of “junk food” are healthy, was a common DD/TCS claim. But why start tweeting it without explaining your position? He stopped admitting to believing this for years and now he wants to put it on his regular Twitter account, to his regular audience, without giving any reasoning? What’s the big reveal after years of silence? That’s his idea of reputation management? The only plan here is to be vague enough that most people won’t understand what he’s talking about and will hopefully ignore it, so he won’t get too much backlash. But where’s the upside? No one is going to learn something useful from tweets like this. If he was willing to alienate most people with strong, unpopular positions, without really even trying to explain it so reasonable people could see his point … then what was he doing for the last decade? What was he hiding this stuff for if he’s going to share it so recklessly?


DD is a reputation-managing social climber who tries to control what other people know and think about him. He screwed up by founding a movement people dislike, connecting it with his book and public intellectual career, using his author status to recruit and impress members, and writing thousands of posts about it over a period of many years. He also screwed up by writing hundreds of right-wing political blog posts, even though the intellectual elites he wants to socially climb with lean pretty strongly left-wing.

He wants to pretend he never said stuff, but he still thinks it’s true, and he has no coherent plan or policy for what to do about this situation. I think this results in frustration which sometimes builds up enough for DD to tweet a few vague things about his actual views (but they have to be vague because he doesn’t actually want to share his opinions clearly and face the public response, which he fears). He failed at his goals to manage his reputation and control the public’s opinions, and has no idea how to fix it, and his actions now don’t make sense.

And DD seems to blame me a significant amount, for no clear reason, but with concrete consequences: severe harassment for multiple years, and DD himself defamed me. Which is terrible strategy. If he would leave me alone, I wouldn’t be writing about his involvement with TCS, his social climbing, his mistreatment of me, and so on. But he absolutely refuses to discuss the matter privately, ask even once for his fans to stop harassing, or clean up his toxic community. The situation remains intolerable for me, and violates my rights, so I’m talking about it.

DD is second-handed. He cares what other people think and what ideas are in their heads – that’s what reputation is. He wants prestige and social status in the minds of others. He ought to reread Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, which addresses second-handedness as a main theme.

I think my negativity towards reputation management and social climbing is one of the major reasons that DD and I parted ways. Reputation management is also one of the reasons DD doesn’t publish very much writing. He wants to control things that are out of his control, and his writing can’t live up to that goal, so it’s never good enough.

TCS Says You Don’t Have to Read Popper

This section gives evidence for my earlier claim that TCS said reading Popper is optional, and explains how TCS was selling easy answers and shortcuts.

SFC wrote to TCS list on 2000-03-25 (my italics):

Popper, the man, had no connection with TCS. In fact, he did not discuss educational theory, and indeed, he wrote ghastly, non-TCS things about television. So don't worry if you don't want to read his books

Kevin Schoedel (a close associate of SFC) wrote from an official TCS email address (tcs@fma.com), which SFC announced and posted from herself, on 1996-07-20, to TCS list:

Reading those books [by Popper and Bartley about Popperian epistemology] will not necessarily give you the slightest clue about non-coercive educational theory … On the TCS list, I try to write in such a way that it can be understood without familiarity with Popper, as do others. Furthermore, I am pretty sure there are several individuals on this list who have never read Popper and yet understand what this is all about.

It is not necessary to have read Popper to understand non-coercive educational theory! But if you really want to read Popper ... But I still say reading this list, and asking all the questions thereby raised in your mind, would be more useful [than reading Popper] if the aim is to understand non-coercive educational theory.

Note that this advice came before DD had published a book, so people weren’t going to learn CR by reading DD instead. And after DD published The Fabric of Reality, reading that was considered optional for TCS parents, too.

I’m the person who started telling parents that they had to learn CR and become rational philosophers themselves in order to have a realistic chance of being great, non-coercive parents. But most of them didn’t want to do that; they’d been looking for the easy answers TCS had been selling.

Speaking of easy answers, TCS also told parents that they could be and stay irrational, and still do TCS correctly, as long as they didn’t intentionally hurt their children. TCS talks about shielding your children from your own irrationalities, which you don’t solve, by not coercing your children based on your irrationalities. And TCS said all coercion is intentional, so just don’t coerce on purpose and your own irrationality and ignorance won’t matter much.

SFC wrote to TCS list on 1996-03-18 saying that coercion is “almost invariably” “intentional”:

Acting on one theory while a conflicting theory remains active in one’s mind [which TCS calls “coercion”] is not a state that happens by chance. It is almost invariably a result of intentional coercion on the part of another person, whether at the time, or earlier in the person’s life. That is why we call this state “acting under coercion” and not something less judgemental-sounding.

TCS got popular with the message that your children will grow up fully rational as long as you aren’t mean to them on purpose, and that you don’t have to learn philosophy or read books in order to accomplish this.

TCS also pushed privacy and avoided sharing information about the results for any actual children. But as a longstanding member of the community, who has met or talked with a lot of TCS people, I can confidently say that TCS never worked as advertised for a single parent. Some TCS people did pretty well as parents, and some poorly, but the plan to never be intentionally mean, and thus raise fully rational children, wasn’t even close to working for a single person. It was a bit like a “get rich quick” scheme – it makes big promises that only require low effort, but it doesn’t actually work. A lot of people want easy answers and shortcuts, and David Deutsch put his name and intellectual reputation on this one, and made it sound philosophical to people who’d never read a philosophy book (and were told that they didn’t need to). That (plus SFC’s community organizing) was enough to attract a few thousand followers.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)

CritRats Are Obsessed with Me

This is part of a series of posts explaining the ongoing harassment against me from David Deutsch and his associates and fans, who are called "CritRats" after Karl Popper's philosophy, Critical Rationalism.

KS tweeted, June 2021:

A lot of us assume that brand new accounts are troll accounts made by Elliot Temple. So he [Brett Hall, a CritRat] probably thought you are using a burner account.

I've dealt with dozens of fake accounts from banned people, but the CritRats haven't. My community hasn't been doing that to them. I've received literally zero reports of any problem like that, and I haven't personally made a single troll account. They are lying in public about me. Ugh.

"A lot" of their group ("us") assume that? Who and why? Sounds like they keep gossiping about me and this is a public admission that the gossip is ongoing in their group. And I'm still on their mind – they still keep thinking of me and blaming me for things (that I didn't do) – and it's a public admission of that too. I stay active in their minds because they keep jumping at shadows that have nothing to do with me, even though the harassment campaign has only ever gone in one direction.

What I actually do is write blog posts under my own name (like this one), with arguments and evidence, which they've never been willing to respond to or discuss, publicly or privately. (I tried to discuss stuff privately before writing about it publicly.) I wish they'd do what I do. They won't give any arguments and just snipe at me with lies, mostly in private to prevent rebuttals. This was a case where one of them slipped up and admitted more than he meant to in public (his goal was to attack me and smear my reputation, not to provide evidence about how toxic their community is).

Previously, in 2020, KS admitted on Twitter that he DMs people (private messages them) to flame me:

Hey you [@DorfGinger] have your DM off so I just want to tell you that Elliot Temple (curi 42) is a terrible person. He became super angry with David Deutsch and critical rationalists for no real reason. Basically he thinks he's a genuis and he thinks we should should all worship him.

KS is a CritRat who is hiding his identity and who goes around spreading hatred against me. I don't know why he hates me or what if anything I ever did to him. I don't know if we've ever had a negative conversation. What's going on seems to be that the CritRat community is good at pressuring people to hate me if they want to fit into the tribe, and some of them escalate to spreading that hatred while others actually directly attack me. (A prior piece of evidence regarding the pressure in their community was when the CritRat Dennis wrote "I feel the pressure of agreeing with everyone about how much we all dislike Elliot".)

Also, Sarah Fitz-Claridge removed the Godwin quote that I criticized from her website. That shows they're reading not only my blog posts but the comments section too, and that they're aware of the arguments and evidence against them. I criticized it on June 23, and it was removed on July 1 or earlier. They want people to think I'm paranoid or something, and that they aren't doing anything and forgot that I exist, but that isn't true.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

David Deutsch and My “Talent”

This is part of a series of posts explaining the harassment against me which has been going on for years. The harassment is coming from David Deutsch and his fans and associates. This post provides historical context.

David Deutsch (DD) said I had a “talent” for annoying irrational people. He said I was good at offending them, bringing up key issues that people were sensitive about, and being pushy (rather than conflict-avoiding) about intellectual debates.

I didn’t fully agree with DD about the details of this, but I did and do agree about the broad outline. Something along those lines is a reasonable statement.

DD said several times that he had a talent for not being bothered by my talent. (I’m not certain, from memory, that he used the specific word “talent” to refer to his ability to deal with my “talent”. And comments below about what DD said are paraphrases from memory.)

So it was really unfair of DD to secretly build up resentments, for years, over my “talent”, after assuring me multiple times that he didn’t mind it and he was fine. Yes I offended some people when debating them, but DD repeatedly reassured me that I could speak freely with him and that he was safe. He said it was safe for me to be myself, speak openly, and be maximally critical and argumentative. He said I didn’t need to put effort into being tactful with him, as I often do with others (it’s sometimes inadequate, but I generally do make some effort to be tactful).

DD told me that he was rational enough that I could make all the arguments I wanted, say ten criticisms about a single issue, ask whatever questions I wanted, etc., and it would be fine and never alienate him. He convinced me that this was true. It wasn’t. Maybe it was fine at first, perhaps for the first five years. But at some point it stopped being fine and he was dishonest with me and hid that problem from me (while continuing to talk with me a ton – and during those conversations I’d occasionally say things he didn’t like without knowing it and with no direct, negative feedback).

DD put work into getting me not to follow normal social rules when talking with him. He told me repeatedly to talk to him as much as I wanted and that he would take responsibility for choosing how much to engage with me. He said I didn’t need to throttle or limit my communications or worry about wasting his time. He wanted more messages from me and to have full control, on his end, over how much attention he paid to me.

Context makes it worse. I met DD as a much younger person than him and an immature intellectual. He had a lot of influence on me, and he played the wise expert role. I trusted him a lot, including his statements about how to treat him. But now I’m being criminally harassed because I believed what DD told me about his unbounded ability to hear truth-seeking arguments, criticisms, opinions, questions, requests, analysis, etc. He actually got really upset about my attempts at unbounded truth-seeking, did not point out any errors I was making, hid the problem which prevented me from trying to problem solve about it, and then finally stopped associating with me. But abandoning me and breaking some promises (e.g. to write an introduction for my book) wasn’t enough for him. He held onto a major grudge which is still severe enough, a decade later, to libel me and encourage criminal harassment.

The grudge seems to be largely because he intellectually fears me. I’m one of the only people who can effectively criticize and refute his ideas – including both big picture issues and also poking holes in his logic or wording – and he doesn’t want to look bad in public. He never once requested that I don’t publicly criticize his ideas (in the past, I was extremely willing to go along with his requests, and gave him a ton of leeway and consideration). But, in his mind, I believe he blames fear of my criticism for years of him not blogging or otherwise being productive and sharing ideas with the world. It’s an ongoing issue today. Because if he did write blog posts, I might refute them like this.

(That linked post is about a 2016 email he sent to a stranger who then posted it on Reddit. DD’s email was roughly equivalent to a blog post instead of being tweet-sized – that’s one of most recent substantive things he’s written that is publicly available – and it was actually really bad and I explained in writing how incompetent, biased and error-filled it was. If DD blogged, I’d notice more bad posts, and criticize some of them, and he knows that and doesn’t want that to happen. It threatens his ability to convince people that he’s one of the greatest thinkers ever and that his word is gospel. And he doesn’t want to actually defend that desired reputation by debating, partly because that’s hard and stressful, and partly because he knows he might lose. So not only has he been avoiding saying things that could be criticized, but he’s also been trying to withdraw some things he said in the past like his approximately 2000 TCS emails.)

Anyway, DD assured me that stuff (arguments, analysis and unbounded truth-seeking) was fine, I listened to him, but then it turned out it wasn’t fine. He was vulnerable to my “talent” after all and needed boundaries on criticism. He hid the problem from me for yearsa, tried to deal with it himself, and failed. That’s his fault and responsibility. But now I’m being harassed and smeared by him and his community over his screw up.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Lulie Tanett Defended Me

This is part of a series of posts explaining the harassment against me which has been going on for years. This post provides historical context about how these people already hated me in 2010 and 2015. I’m sharing evidence about what they’ve thought and done in the past, which was a precursor to the more severe harassment that started in 2018.

On 2015-10-02, Lulie Tanett posted on Facebook telling two people (who are part of the group harassing me today) to stop harassing me and her. They had come to Lulie’s wall (her personal space on Facebook) to initiate harassment against us when we were minding our own business. They were harassing because they disliked me, but they actually upset Lulie a lot more than they upset me.

Context: The harassment on Facebook was especially bad because the aggressors were both father-figures to Lulie and they claim to be part of Taking Children Seriously (TCS). Michael is Lulie’s step-father, who is married to her mother, Sarah Fitz-Claridge. Kevin’s home on another continent is where Lulie spent many of her summers growing up (Sarah was divorced and polyamorous until Lulie was around age 18). Sarah’s attitude to the issue was similar to Michael’s and Kevin’s. Lulie’s own allegedly-TCS mother routinely didn’t take Lulie’s side, which was coercive and gaslighting to Lulie. Another time, Lulie told me that Kevin, Michael and Sarah had joked about murdering me. They frequently pressured her not to be friends with me and expressed their hatred for me to her (they didn’t tell her rational reasons and arguments about why I’m bad, though). Contrary to TCS principles, they pressured her to try to control who she was friends with. The Facebook harassment was part of that pressure and was very upsetting and coercive to Lulie.

(BTW, Sarah posted to TCS list on 2006-03-31 telling the public that Lulie is her daughter.)

Lulie’s Facebook post from 2015-10-02:

Kevin Schoedel and Michael Golding: dude stop being assholes. Elliot's not jealous, he's not being mean to me; he's giving helpful and enjoyed criticism, which you guys are interpreting super negatively because you have a personal vendetta against him or something. Stop calling my goddamn friends "minions". Stop trying to speak for me. Stop trying to white knight me, as if you're protecting me from some demon. 1. I can take care of myself. I'm not fragile or gullible. (If you think so, you can explain it to me without dehumanising my friends.) 2. There is no demon. 3. Even if there were a demon, the thing to do would be to explain your criticism, not resort to personal attacks (and literally mocking and laughing at my friends! come on, look at yourselves. Even were you to want to say "he did it first", do onto others as you would have them do onto you). Elliot literally quoted me stating my wishes on the topic, and you ignored them (unlike the person I asked it to directly, btw, who was very nice about the request!) -- presumably because you're so blind with Elliot-hatred that you can't pull your heads out of your arses for long enough to see that it's your comments I find mean, not his. You are not respecting my wishes, he is. You say you'd "rather not [he] be mean to [me] on [my] wall". Why do you not take my explicit words on the matter above your guesses about what's 'good' for me? You say, "You claim to speak for Lulie" -- m8 he quoted me. Maybe at least check with me whether the quote was taken out of context, before you go against a request I made in the quote? (Especially if you're trying to stand up for me! Where it's especially important to use real reference to what I want, rather than your guesses from a distance.) I don't mind criticism (including harsh criticism), nor banter, nor dicking about, nor even trolling and shitposting. But what I do mind are this relentless attacks, dehumanisation, cruelty, claims that you're standing up for me when really you're being dickheads to my friends (for the crime of writing comments which I like and find helpful), and bullying. You snicker amongst yourselves about how clever you are for psychologising someone regarding interactions you know nothing about. You assume he lied or something about having consent? No, far from it: he actually checks with me and discusses what's OK before messing with my FB. He's extremely considerate. If there's doubt he asks, and respects my wishes. (Partly because he's a friend, but partly because he is in fact -- shock horror -- a good person.) So how about being more TCS, respecting my preferences for his critical comments even if you don't understand what I see in them, treating my friends with a bit of courtesy (if not for them or for yourself, then at least for me), and not ignoring my explicit requests (especially if someone quotes them to you). (Also tagging Sarah Fitz-Claridge and Matjaž Leonardis -- Matjaz I liked your comments in this thread but I have reason to think you have a wrong idea of what's going on here.)

So, according to Lulie (who knew them well), they were were already “blind with Elliot-hatred” in 2015. And it’s long term hatred. Michael had expressed interest in having an Elliot-hatred discussion forum around 2010 (source: he brought it up with someone who declined the offer and told me about it when I wrote about the Andy B harassment). And they’re part of the community that’s still harassing me in 2021. Sarah in particular, as the co-founder of TCS with David Deutsch, is a leader in the Deutsch fan community that’s responsible for the harassment.

It’s relevant that, as Lulie explains, I care about consent and check with people privately before doing things. No one ever deserves harassment like I’ve received, but I don’t even partially deserve milder harassment. I’m considerate, listen to what people want, and keep track of and quote their requests. Also, Lulie brings up people assuming I’m lying when she knew I wasn’t lying, which is relevant now too. I have not lied about any of the harassment issues or the historical context. Many people lie a lot but I don’t.

As Lulie explains, CritRats have a ”personal vendetta” against me that involves being so biased that they interpret me as being mean to Lulie when I’m actually being nice and giving “helpful and enjoyed criticism”. And they’re the kind of people who won’t respect her wishes either. They’re mean people who mistreat whoever is currently on their enemies list, including Lulie. They are, as Lulie says, bullies.

Back in 2015, Lulie’s message helped with the harassment. (Actually, they were extremely cruel to her about it privately, but backed off publicly and with me.) Lulie also had success getting other people to stop harassing me when she wanted to. When I posted at the Open Oxford Facebook discussion group where Lulie was an admin, someone there decided to anonymously use a bot to spam my blog comments. Lulie immediately knew who was doing it and what to say to them to get them to stop. I thought there was a good chance she could get a similar result with Andy B (because, as before, the harasser is part of Lulie’s social network), but she never tried, never said she couldn’t do it, and by all appearances doesn’t want to stop him. (Lulie and I stopped being friends in 2016. She has succumbed to the pressure from her family and others to hate me. The campaign to destroy our friendship was itself a type of harassment campaign waged against me (and her), in the shadows, by some of the same people involved with the more public and illegal harassment that I’ve experienced recently.)

Some of the CritRats have hated me for over a decade, and have been working primarily behind the scenes to harass and harm me. I think many people don’t believe this because these people hide what they think and do. They operate mostly in the shadows and aren’t honest about what’s going on. That’s why I now find it necessary to share evidence about it.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)

What Happened with David Deutsch

This is part of a series of posts explaining the harassment against me which has been going on for years now. The harassment is coming from David Deutsch and his community. I’ve tried to address the problem privately but they’ve refused to attempt any problem solving. This post provides more context about the situation. It explains David’s psychology, what he’s upset about, and why he went from being my friend to being hostile to me.

David Deutsch and Lulie Tanett have been abusing my respect for their privacy to mislead people into believing we never had much of a relationship. (They may be saying some other things privately that I don’t know about. Regardless, they’re so publicly cold to me now that people are often skeptical that we ever knew each other well or were friends for many years.)

This needs to be corrected because they gossip and lie about me to damage my reputation and create a toxic hate group which has been harassing the FI community. (Lulie, back when she was more mixed instead of cold, actually confessed to me about violating my privacy and gossiping about me. David was caught lying about me. They both publicly speak with my largest stalker/harasser, Andy B.) Over the years of my patience and assuming good faith, they’ve escalated things so the harassment is severe and breaks laws.

David and Lulie both independently told me what actually happened: at some point, David started feeling bad whenever I wrote criticism related to him.

I didn’t share this before because I’ve been trying to protect David. I finally gave up on protecting him after not only over two years of serious harassment, and David and his entire social network ghosting me and anyone who agrees with me (which prevents problem solving about the harassment), but also specifically after David personally lied about me where I could see the exact text instead of having to speculate about his actions.

Lulie’s Story

Lulie told me about David’s negative feelings in late 2015 and/or early 2016 while visiting me in person. I don’t have exact quotes because we had a lot of discussions in voice. She said that every time I wrote any kind of critical public reply to one of David’s public statements, he’d feel awful and it’d make things much worse and alienate him more. She wanted David and I to be friends again, and she hadn’t turned against me yet at that time.

Note: Lulie resisted David’s anti-Elliot pressure for years before eventually giving in to a father-figure whom she’d known since around age two. David advocates non-coercive parenting but heavily coerced and pressured her to turn against me. That was after previously heavily encouraging her to have an intellectual relationship with me, and strongly encouraging me to have an intellectual relationship with her. David told each of us that we’d benefit a lot from discussing philosophy with the other. It was awful to take that away from her after pushing her into it.

Lulie’s career as an intellectual – which so far hasn’t produced anything significant – has been controlled by David a lot. He has significant responsibility for her ongoing unhappiness, lack of productivity (she can’t regularly write articles, read books or make videos), and inability to make money to support herself.

David told Lulie that conversing with me was one of the best things she could do that could get her unstuck and help her become a productive philosopher. He tried to help her succeed at that. But later he put work into preventing her from conversing with me. But while David was taking me away from her, she still thought I was important to her intellectual progress, and he never gave her convincing reasons why that had changed.

Lulie told me that she was scared that David would dump her like he dumped me, and stop speaking to her, helping her with money, or helping her career (and she has no other career prospects besides trying to be the intellectual that David wants). She told me that David promised not to dump her, and said everything was fine, but that she didn’t trust him and was under extreme duress. She said she was unable to rationally discuss the matter with me due to the pressure from David.

Background Information for David’s Story

David told me about his negative feelings on 2011-10-04. He said he felt bad about my arguments before reading them, regardless of what I said. He didn’t want to deal with criticism and disagreement anymore.

Why did David have negative feelings? David told me that too. It’s a bit of a long story.

Originally, from 2001-2007 or so, David persuaded me about the vast majority of issues that came up. If I had a different view than him, we’d discuss it. I’d think about it a lot, and, using help from his arguments, I’d change my mind.

Eventually, as I learned more, it became harder for David to change my mind. I started winning some arguments. And some arguments weren’t resolved. And there were fewer easy wins to focus our attention on, so the harder topics got more attention. David lost confidence in persuading me with followup discussions. He started thinking that if we discussed it a few more times, I’d probably still disagree with him.

The unresolved disagreements I’m talking about were intellectual issues, not personal problems. Some topics that we had a harder time agreeing about include: the nature of deduction, qualia, mirror neurons, “mental illness”, meta discussion, moral sanction, how anti-capitalist William Godwin was, pandering, and some details about justificationism.

A list of outstanding disagreements built up. David would only talk about them when he had a new idea about how to change my mind. That’s what he said. He didn’t think maybe I was right, as a fallibilist would. He instead tried different ways to change my mind. When one didn’t work, he’d drop the topic for weeks until he had a new idea for how to persuade me.

This violates and contradicts David’s own philosophy, which he wrote about his in books, wrote thousands of forum posts about, and had been teaching me about in private discussions. So it was confusing to me. I expected him to follow his own philosophy, and it was harder to understand because he was hiding information from me about what was going on (the things he told me, which I linked above, came late in our relationship, so I didn’t understand for years before that, and still had a hard time understanding it after he said a few sentences contradicting years of our prior relationship).

David’s philosophy says common preference finding and problem solving always work, and that they are part of how we grow knowledge and make progress. They’re truth seeking activities which are important to rationality and fallibilism, not merely ways to have better interpersonal relationships. It’s problematic and misleading that he teaches that while not even trying to do it. It wasn’t like we had a bunch of conversations attempting to find a common preference together, but failed. He hid some problems from me and, for those issues, he didn’t attempt that sort of open, cooperative problem-solving process. I’d understand more if he’d tried to do his philosophy ideas and it hadn’t worked out successfully, but in major ways he didn’t even attempt to live up to his own ideals.

How could David explain (to himself) his failure to persuade me about the intellectual topics we disagreed about? He started thinking I was irrational about those issues. He belatedly told me that too. But he never pointed out any example of my arguments, reasoning or actions being irrational. He never actually gave arguments about my alleged irrationality. He never e.g. pointed out a mistake I made and then analyzed the cause of the mistake to conclude that the underlying cause was irrationality. He didn’t quote example things I said that he thought were irrational and say why he thought those particular ones were irrational and explain or argue his viewpoint. He wasn’t doing the sort of truth seeking and problem solving that he says everyone should do.

He stopped wanting to deal with my arguments and reasoning because he wasn’t getting his way all the time. He started finding that when he argued with me, his arguments were less effective than before. Gradually, his arguments went from around 100% effective with me in 2001 to more like 25% effective in 2010 (which is still a very high effectiveness compared to what’s typical in the world today). I’d already changed my mind to agree with him about tons of stuff, and he was running out of easy wins.

David likes praise and he likes being a lecturer whom others listen to (he told me both of those things repeatedly, and he acted like they’re correct, too). He was not prepared to learn much from me and, on some issues, some of the time, be my student. He was done being a student a long time before we first met (in 2001, when he was age 48). This is notable because David’s philosophy says everyone should be life-longer learners, and that even beginners sometimes can teach experts something. David viewed me as one of the best philosophers alive – and the best one he could get discussions with – but still didn’t want to learn from me.

So it got to the point that when I wrote arguments, David would feel like he couldn’t win and he was blocked by all my (alleged) irrationalities, so the matter felt really hard to deal with. Each of my thoughts that he didn’t like was a new permanent problem because he didn’t know how to change my mind. My (alleged) irrationalities were undocumented and unexplained. David didn’t quote irrational statements by me and provide analysis. He just thought privately about what they were, in a disorganized way not a rigorous way, and then privately came up with tactics to deal with them. He didn’t want to talk about my (alleged) irrationalities because then I’d question his claims, using quotes and logic, which he started to regard as rhetorical tricks to excuse his failure to persuade me. He never bothered to try to objectively establish my errors in any clear cases, or to explain them to me enough that, if he were right, I could make changes to fix my problems. But simultaneously he still liked me better than other people and kept talking to me for years while pretending things were OK and that he was just stressed out by writing The Beginning of Infinity.

If he were right, why not explain it in three public examples in a way that would satisfy most neutral, unbiased, intelligent readers? That’s not much work considering that he wrote thousands of emails to me and spent literally thousands of hours interacting with me. He thought I was super smart and valued the relationship enough to spend so much time on, so why not try to persuade me? Even if it might not work, it’s worth trying. Plus he could have persuaded others who were in the discussion community at the time, rather than giving no arguments. Due to David not giving reasons, now most of the people from the discussion forums during that time period, who are familiar with events and formed an opinion, formed judgments in my favor not his.

David never wrote any such arguments. He didn’t even try. He left his discussion community, and lost some of his oldest fans, rather than argue his case. For example, David made no attempt to persuade the physicist and philosopher Alan Forrester, who had run the official Fabric of Reality discussion forum, who lives in the UK and met David in person multiple times, and whose name is in the acknowledgments of The Beginning of Infinity. Alan remains a friend of mine, still posts at my discussion forum, and has been a victim of the harassment. Alan emailed David to ask him to help stop the harassment that was affecting Alan too, but David refused to answer. Did Alan do something to deserve to be harassed? Is having philosophy discussions on my public forums enough for David to hate a former friend and want to see them hurt, even though David has never told Alan any reason that he shouldn’t discuss with me?

I think the reason David didn’t argue his case is simply that he couldn’t. He was wrong, didn’t have reasonable arguments to give. And he didn’t want to give bad arguments, get critical feedback, and change his own mind.

But why did David feel the need to blame me as irrational, instead of just agreeing to disagree? Because his philosophy says that all problems are soluble, common preferences can always be found, etc. So if problem solving isn’t working, that must mean one person is blocking it, being irrational, not acting in good faith, or something else awful. So David saw it as him or me. He had to blame me as irrational to avoid the alternative that it was his fault. If I wasn’t irrational, and he wasn’t doing truth seeking with me, then (in his view) that’d make him irrational for rejecting truth seeking and problem solving. Also, he had little respect for most intellectuals, and needed some reason to tell himself about why he was dropping one of his favorites whom he’d chosen to spend so much time on.

Unlike David, I did, eventually, write some things pointing out mistakes David made, which did persuade some people. However, I wasn’t very interested in persuading people about David’s flaws until recently. I could have written a lot more, but didn’t; but now after being a victim of years of harassment from David’s followers, and David smearing me, I want to tell my story and argue my case.

David made major life changes (leaving not only me but the whole TCS/ARR/FoR/BoI/curi/FI community he’d co-founded and then been a part of for two decades) based (I think) on my (alleged) irrationality (that he never tried to write down in a clear, objective way). I was going along with life as normal. I thought about David’s flaws some because it affected my life when he reduced then ended our conversations, and broke some promises and obligations to me. But I didn’t write a lot about it. I would have written more about it had David actually wanted to discuss it, but I knew that, at that point, he didn’t like to read or think about my arguments; he didn’t want them and he didn’t want anyone to read them for fear that people might agree with me. So I tried to mostly just give him space. This is part of why I didn’t make videos explaining BoI sooner.

Many people have felt like they can’t win debates with me. Some blame their own ignorance and incompetence. Some call me an idiot or sophist. Some say debate is hard and it’s understandable if no one is persuaded. David was not in a position to consider me dumb – he couldn’t convince himself of that narrative after spending years believing I was extraordinarily smart, clever, logical, open-minded, active-minded and fast-learning, which was why he was friends with me. Since he couldn’t find any kind of simple or factual errors to blame, and couldn’t plausibly blame me being dumb, he needed to come up with something else to put the blame on me, in his mind, for his inability to win some arguments with me. So he decided that I’m irrational (without ever explaining how or why that happened, since he’d previously thought I was especially rational. BTW, years after David became cold to me, Lulie told me that she thinks I’m more rational than him. She knew both of us personally so was in a position to judge based on personal conduct, not just our writing.).

Also, David put work into getting me not to worry about social cues with him. Sometimes people give social hints that they don’t like something or want to be left alone, and perceive it as aggressive or mean if those social hints/cues aren’t followed. David didn’t want our relationship to work that way.

David wanted me to rely on him making explicit requests, and on me asking for explicit permission for some things (mostly about sharing stuff he told me). He communicated that he didn’t want me to follow social cues from him. He repeatedly said not to worry about potentially annoying him, wasting his time, contacting him too much, bothering him, etc, and that he would choose what to engage with and what to spend time on. He said he’d take care of himself and he didn’t want me making guesses about what would be in his best interest. He didn’t want me to withhold communications based on my ideas about what he wanted; he wanted to manage the situation himself.

The main reason this came up is that I asked about it repeatedly in the first few years I knew him. I asked about it because I met David as a fan of his book not as a peer, and I figured he had important stuff to be doing, like writing his next book, instead of talking with me so much. I didn’t want to overstep. But he wanted me to be comfortable with him, treat him as a friend, and not worry about bothering him or taking up his time. (Also, social cues never count as no contact requests. Lots of people miss social cues, especially online, and at worst missing those cues is kinda rude, not abusive.)

Also David basically taught me that paying attention to social cues is irrational and we should interact based on explicit statements, talking things out, reasoning in words, etc. That’s also one of the things his TCS philosophy taught. TCS got a lot of pushback because it had that attitude even for pre-verbal children, who it sees as merely small adults who are fully capable of long abstract discussions about problem solving. (I don’t agree with that.)

That’s the context. Now here’s my best understanding of the main issue:

David’s Story

After years of feeling bad about what I said and building up an “Elliot is irrational; that’s why my arguments don’t work” narrative in his mind, David started confusing his feelings with facts. He started thinking that, since he felt bad, I was abusing him in some way. This is how he got to the mental state where he lies that I’m a several-no-contact-request violating abuser. It feels like that to him. He felt like he didn’t want things, and then he observed me continuing to do them anyway, despite his unstated (and purposefully hidden from me) feelings (and probably despite some social cues that he’d trained me not to pay attention to). And he felt bad about being asked to clearly state what he didn’t want, so that just added to the perceived abuse. It felt bad to him to try to formulate in words what he didn’t want and why because it was hard for him to come up with reasonable words that didn’t blame himself. He felt abused, so people started picking up on his attitude, and it evolved over time to a harassment campaign and to him getting facts wrong. That’s because the emotion-driven narrative was primary to him. That’s a pattern with David and his close associates like his TCS co-founder Sarah, who did something similar more than once.

By disagreeing with and debating David, I was following his philosophy that he taught me. I wasn’t disrespecting his authority. From the beginning, I hadn’t changed my mind until I was satisfied (by his arguments and/or by what I thought of myself). But when I disagreed with him in the later years, he assumed that meant I was wrong, stubborn or irrational. He tried to talk to me about issues only when he thought of a new way to convince me he was right. So he wasn’t following the philosophy he taught me.

David’s fallibilist philosophy says to consider it equally possible that I could be right instead of him. His philosophy says that “get the lower status person to see why the expert is right” is an irrational way to approach disagreement. He’s often said that Karl Popper taught us that we must not recategorize disagreements as something else (like disobedience, disrespect, a student not knowing their place, dishonesty, bad faith, etc.). I was following what David taught me, not pushing one of my own ideas on him.

David said that, most of the time, children don’t disagree with their parents (people overestimate how disagreeable children are because they focus a lot of attention on the disagreements). Children selectively disagree in cases where the parent’s idea doesn’t make sense to them. So although parents are usually right, if you look at only the cases where children disagree and object, then children are right a significant portion of the time. (Also, often both the parent and child are partly wrong. Neither one has a perfect view, so the parent can be mostly right but still need to make some adjustments to address a problem the child saw.) The same logic applies to e.g. an expert teaching a novice. The expert is usually right, but if you only look at the times the novice listens to the expert first and then still disagrees afterward, then the novice has a decent chance of being right. The cases where you’re wrong are, on average, the hardest ones to teach to others and get them to agree with. But David didn’t take seriously that I might be right about our intellectual disagreements. He wasn’t interested in reconsidering his own ideas in light of my arguments. And that was long after I was no longer a novice, and he’d called me a “colleague” and made a bunch of changes to drafts of his book on my advice. In retrospect, it seems that a lot of his interest in my arguments was about knowing what obstacles to address to persuade me, rather than actually being interested in learning the ideas I was saying. But approaching discussion that way is, according to David’s philosophy, extremely irrational.

David repeatedly and publicly wrote about and advocated this view on rationality (some of the things he said were extreme, unconventional and actually problematic, which I may write about later). And on 2011-03-15, David IMed me “One side-effect of infallibilism is that it redefines misunderstanding as treason.” He believe that basically disagreement (including from young children) should never be delegitimized as something else like treason, misbehavior, disobedience, “being difficult”, bad faith, stupidity, etc. Instead, fallibilists interpret basically all kinds of conflicts or problems between people as disagreements about ideas that can be dealt with using rationality. It’s unclear to me how exactly David decided that we didn’t have a discussable misunderstanding and that, instead, I was a traitor. He didn’t go through some kind of robust, visible, explicable process of determining that with me. It seems like he just believes what’s necessary to protect his feelings.

One of the underlying causes of this whole story is that David was extremely stressed by writing his book, The Beginning of Infinity (BoI). He was especially stressed by the deadline to finish, which he got extended (but he couldn’t keep getting extensions). Although he worked on the book for over a decade, he ran out of time at the end and had to leave out some planned chapters. He often used being busy and stressed by the book as an excuse for things (sometimes quite reasonably, other times less so). And one time he told me that he was acting irrationally due to the stress of trying to finish BoI. He said he expected to recover and treat me more normally again after BoI was published (but instead became colder and more hostile after his book was done). (This info was over multiple years, primarily in IMs.)


I guess I should have shared this years ago but I wanted to protect my former friend. So I suffered through years of abuse without even sharing much of my side of the story.

I wouldn’t talk about this if it was just David being a jerk, a bad friend, or a person who wasn’t personally as good as his philosophical ideals. But I don’t want to be trolled by a bunch of fake identities, be DDOSed, be lied about by a public figure, and suffer other abuse from his community. David is using false narratives about me to encourage ongoing severe harassment that needs to stop. He’s been getting revenge on me for his hurt feelings. I want to be left alone. I don’t want my rights violated.

PS: If you think I’m mistaken, please quote and respond critically to the single thing you’re most confident is an error. (Email curi@curi.us, use my forum, or post on your blog and email me the link. FYI, I will treat your email about this matter as public unless you get my explicit agreement, in advance, to keep something private.) Evidence, details or logical arguments would be appreciated. A calm, objective tone would be great too. If you want to argue with multiple things, that’s OK, but let’s do one at a time. Please start with any factual errors before trying to debate any points that are more in the realm of opinion. I’m under the general impression that some people in David’s community don’t believe me when I say things like this or even when I claim to have been harassed at all, but none of them have told me what they don’t believe or why, which makes it difficult to respond to and provide more convincing information. I have to guess at what people disagree with or doubt and try to address it preemptively, which is hard when I’m also trying to limit what I share for privacy reasons, and it’s also hard because most of the people don’t want to read long things.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

David Deutsch and Sarah Fitz-Claridge Publish Misquotes

This post originally focused primarily on Fitz-Claridge, but I found a bunch of scholarship errors, like misquotes, from Deutsch too. For details, see the two updates at the bottom of this post and the comments below the post which share a bunch more research about misquotes. Deutsch's lack of integrity and rationality when it comes to getting quotes right and making his books accurate also provides background context for our current conflict, which has involved Deutsch lying about me regarding a documented, factual matter. His repeated errors in his books help explain how he could make an error like that, and help clarify what kind of person he actually is. (I added this note at the top, and edited the post title, on 2021-06-23 and 2021-06-25. The original title was "Sarah Fitz-Claridge is a Terrible Intellectual".)

Sarah Fitz-Claridge (SFC) co-founded Taking Children Seriously (TCS) with David Deutsch (DD). I found an egregious misquote of Popper on the TCS website. There's no name on the specific page, but I'm familiar enough with TCS to guess that SFC wrote it. In this article, I assume SFC is the author. Regardless, it's on the official TCS website so SFC and DD are both responsible for this error, since they are the founders and they put their names on TCS.

This (falsified) quote of Popper is from "The TCS FAQ" regarding "TCS and Karl Popper" (sources: archive.org and my mirror):

The inductivist or Lamarkian approach operates with the idea of instruction from without, or from the environment. But the critical or Darwinian approach only allows instruction from within - from within the structure itself.

...I contend that there is no such thing as instruction from without the structure. We do not discover new facts or new effects by copying them, or by inferring them inductively from observation, or by any other method of instruction by the environment. We use, rather, the method of trial and the elimination of error. As Ernst Gombrich says, "making comes before matching": the active production of a new trial structure comes before its exposure to eliminating tests."

- pages 7-9, The Myth of the Framework

This quote is bizarrely falsified. I noticed the issue because it says it's from pages 7-9, but it's too short to span three pages. So I checked what Popper actually wrote.

The first paragraph is OK. For the second paragraph, here's the first sentence Popper actually wrote:

In fact, I contend that there is no such thing as instruction from without the structure, or the passive reception of a flow of information that impresses itself on our sense organs.

SFC's ellipsis removed the two words at the start, which is OK. Then where Popper had a comma, SFC changed it to a period with no indication of an edit, which is completely unacceptable. Worse, she then put additional text in the same paragraph which is not in that paragraph in the book. She took some sentences from page 9, from a different section of the book (V not IV), from partway through a completely different paragraph, and stuck them here after half a sentence from from an earlier paragraph which she quoted as being a full sentence.

This isn't even close to how quotes work. You can't just grab quotes from different places in the book and put them together to make a paragraph.

And it's even worse because she presents it as two paragraphs, so it's not like she was leaving out all paragraph breaks. Including a paragraph break makes it even more unexpected that a different paragraph break would be left out. Similarly, she used an ellipsis, which makes it much more surprising and misleading that one is missing somewhere else.

Misquoting seems to be some sort of pattern with SFC and DD. I'm currently working on a video about a misquote in The Beginning of Infinity that I found. SFC and DD are close associates with lots of similarities, e.g. they are both liars.

Immediately after the misquote, SFC writes something else really problematic:

While Popper almost always made such remarks in the context of original discovery rather than learning, the implications for education are inescapable. I should stress that applying Popper's philosophy of science to the growth of knowledge in children applies only when the children are learning science. Our position is much broader, namely that Popper's general idea of how a human being acquires knowledge – by creating it afresh through criticism and the elimination of error – applies equally to non-scientific types of knowledge such as moral knowledge, and to unconscious and inexplicit forms of knowledge. Thus we see ourselves as trying to extend Popperian epistemology into areas where, by its inner logic, it applies, but where Popper himself resolutely refused to apply it.

Popper didn't resolutely refuse to apply his ideas outside of science, nor did he think his theory of knowledge only applied to science. He made this clear repeatedly in many books. He talked about knowledge in contexts like poetry or courts, not just science. Here's an example in Conjectures and Refutations (my italics) where Popper directly says that his theory works for knowledge in general, not just science:

Although I shall confine my discussion to the growth of knowledge in science, my remarks are applicable without much change, I believe, to the growth of pre-scientific knowledge also—that is to say, to the general way in which men, and even animals, acquire new factual knowledge about the world. The method of learning by trial and error—of learning from our mistakes—seems to be fundamentally the same whether it is practised by lower or by higher animals, by chimpanzees or by men of science. My interest is not merely in the theory of scientific knowledge, but rather in the theory of knowledge in general.

Is SFC a liar who wants to praise DD and give him credit for discovering what Popper already published, or did she never actually read much Popper, or did she read it without understanding it? And what's going on with DD putting his name on egregious errors like these?

Also, in the misquote above, SFC showed Popper talking about "instruction" (education), so claiming he didn't know his ideas applied to education is bizarre. Popper also wrote in Unended Quest a quote that SFC and DD both knew about:

I dreamt of one day founding a school in which young people could learn without boredom, and would be stimulated to pose problems and discuss them; a school in which no unwanted answers to unasked questions would have to be listened to; in which one did not study for the sake of passing examinations.

Conjectures and Refutations also says:

Since there were logical reasons behind this procedure [Popper's theory that we learn by conjectures and refutations], I thought that it would apply in the field of science also

In other words, Popper had a general theory of learning first, and then applied it to science. He thought it should apply to everything including science.

And in the preface of The Logic of Scientific Discovery, Popper wrote (italics in original):

The central problem of epistemology has always been and still is the problem of the growth of knowledge. And the growth of knowledge can be studied best by studying the growth of scientific knowledge.

And later in that preface:

Although I agree that scientific knowledge is merely a development of ordinary knowledge or common-sense knowledge, I contend that the most important and most exciting problems of epistemology must remain completely invisible to those who confine themselves to analysing ordinary or common-sense knowledge or its formulation in ordinary language.

Popper wanted to study scientific knowledge in addition to ordinary knowledge, not instead of ordinary knowledge. He thought science made a great example that shouldn't be ignored. But he wasn't trying to figure out how scientists learn things as a special case. He wanted to understand the general issue of the growth of knowledge, and that's what he was trying to explain, and that's what his epistemology does explain. He didn't accidentally create a general-purpose evolutionary epistemology that says we learn by conjectures and refutations or, equivalently, by trial and error. He knew that you can come up with guesses and criticism whether you're doing science or not.

David Deutsch put his name on these errors. And the bizarre claims about Popper inflated his reputation and gave him undeserved credit. It wasn't a random or neutral error; it was heavily biased in his favor.

Update 2021-06-23: "Dec" pointed out that the same misquote is in BoI too (it's slightly different but has the same main error and is also badly wrong). So DD is even more directly responsible for making this error himself.

While I'm updating, DD wrote in BoI:

As the physicist Richard Feynman said, ‘Science is what we have learned about how to keep from fooling ourselves.’

That's a misquote. And I just found another issue. DD wrote in BoI:

As Popper put it, ‘We can let our theories die in our place.’

That's not a full sentence in the original, so that's bad. DD is making it look like a full sentence. The "we" is lowercase in the original.

"Dec" also suggested that I screwed up by not catching the error when I edited BoI. I agree that I could have done better. I was less suspicious then and BoI didn't have the pages 7-9 clue. But I was not a co-author or co-founder of the book, and it was never my job to check for that kind of issue. I helped with the book but I was not paid, I had no official duties or requirements, and the contents of the book are not my responsibility.

In general, I sent DD suggestions and then he decided what to do. The majority of my suggestions were not discussed, so in most cases I don't even know if DD made a change or not. I never went back and compared versions to see which changes he made. The only changes I know he made due to my suggestions are the ones we actually talked about. So you can imagine that I do not feel responsible for the text of the book. I made lots of suggestions that DD didn't take, and most of my suggestions were either small or non-specific (like making a conceptual point but not suggesting exact wording). I didn't write any substantial sections of text in the book. I'm not sure if even one whole sentence of mine is in the book as I wrote it. I did not choose or control what was done with the book.

And I was not tasked with checking sources or doing this sort of research. And I never edited a copy of the book containing both the misquote and the bibliography. DD sent me draft chapters, and then full book drafts, without a bibliography included. He then sent me a bibliography draft after I was done editing, when the book was almost done. He finalized the bibliography at the last minute. Two days after showing me a draft bibliography, he sent me a version that had already been copy-edited, which I did not edit.

The first bibliography draft I saw did not contain In Search of a Better World, which is where Popper wrote "Now we can let our theories die in our place." DD only added that book to the bibliography after I said it had two great chapters and suggested that he read the table of contents and consider it. I'm confident that he didn't know he needed it as a quote source.

And DD misquoted in an article he wrote: https://nautil.us/issue/7/waste/not-merely-the-finest-tv-documentary-series-ever-made

As Karl Popper put it, we humans can “let our ideas die in our place.”

No, Popper wrote "theories" not "ideas". Does DD try to quote Popper from memory!? Why does he use different wordings at different times for the same quote? Why doesn't he copy/paste it out of a book? Something's really wrong here. I'd suggest that, going forward, DD should give a source when presenting a quote. I think he should stop writing books and articles containing quotes without sources. I suggest that no one should trust any quote DD gives, anywhere, unless he gives a source and you check the source yourself. (Be careful with anyone giving an unsourced quote, but especially with people who have a track record of getting quotes wrong like DD does.)

On a related note, in 2011 DD got upset with me for questioning a Godwin quote he sent me in a private email which I couldn't find when searching the book. It turned out that he was quoting the first edition and I was searching the third edition. He hadn't given a specific source. I was right to question it and DD should have praised my scholarship instead of getting upset about being questioned. I guess it makes sense that the kind of person who gets upset about being challenged about quoting would also be the kind of person to make quoting errors. Negative emotional reactions to critical questioning are really bad for error correction.

Update 2, 2021-06-23:

I found another quoting error. The TCS website quoted Popper as writing "Lamarkian" when he actually wrote "Lamarckian". ("ck" not just "k").

I also found the misspelling posted by SFC, and still up today, on her personal website.

That page quotes differently than the TCS page, but also wrong. SFC quotes Popper as writing "flow of information which impresses itself" but in the book he wrote "that" not "which". She just wrote a different word and called it a quote.

And SFC attributes the quote to "The Myth of the Framework, pp. 8-9", but the quote starts on page 7 just like the TCS website said.

Also, DD's associate, Chiara Marletto, misquoted Popper:


As Karl Popper put it, we can "let our ideas die in our place."

No, he wrote "theories" not "ideas".

These people need to learn how quote exactly instead of changing words and other details. If you don't know how to give an exact quote, don't give a quote. Stick to paraphrases until you learn what a quote is and how to do it. There's something really wrong with these people – DD and his associates – who keep making different quoting errors in different places. They aren't just copy/pasting the same error over and over. They keep separately creating different errors.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (53)

Criticizing Ideas by Source

This posted is adapted from an email I wrote in 2019. I was accused of judging ideas by their author instead of their content and merit. In this post, I explain something a little bit similar to judging ideas by source but which is rational.

The issue isn't judging ideas negatively by source.

The issue is that there are outstanding, unaddressed criticisms of her ideas. And not merely of individual ideas, but of patterns of systematic error. New ideas should be checked against those known errors before being accepted. That isn’t judging ideas by source, it’s judging ideas by whether the criticisms refute them. It’s just adjusting which criticisms are considered by source.

We have default sets of criticisms we consider based on topic and some other contextual info. And we also do freeform criticism – you can try whatever you want, for whatever reason. It’s good to do both (if you leave out the standard criticisms, and only do freeform criticism, you risk missing basic or glaring errors, and the quality of your thinking will be inconsistent). The thing to do with Kate is add a few extra things to the list of criticisms to consider, which aren’t on your default list, because they are things Kate’s gotten wrong repeatedly and never fixed.

This is not judging ideas by source. It's taking the list of 25,000 criticisms I was already going to check (most criticisms are done very quickly, with very little conscious attention) and adding an extra 50 more criticisms to the list based on the source. If Kate actually fixes her mistakes, this won't lead to negative judgments by author. I'm judging by whether I have a criticism of the arguments. What I'm changing is just checking for some specific errors because Kate wrote it, even though they aren't common enough that I'd always check for them with any author.

Source-based error-checking is different than source-based negative judgments.

Taking into account context like this is standard and good. It’s the same principle used with other parts of the context. Like suppose an idea is presented verbally, then I will add extra criticisms to the list because of that contextual info. I treat ideas differently based on the context of being text or audio, which is an aspect of the idea’s source. E.g. when it’s verbal you should critically consider if you misheard someone due to their accent (normally done in under one second and without using conscious attention), but when it’s text you don’t consider that particular issue.

Slogans like “Judge ideas by content, not source”, there’s nothing objectionable or irrational about these general principles.

The right model is: consider some criticisms by default, some by context, some by intuition or creativity or whatever, some because someone else suggested it, and some for whatever other reasons. It’s pretty much the more the merrier as long as people aren’t trying to bulk-add millions of criticisms to the list for consideration (if they try that, you should address the matter, just not by addressing each individually – you should address the broader pattern, the template they are using to generate a million criticisms).

Put another way, the model is: consider criticisms based on broad, non-specific context (defaults). And consider criticisms based on specific contextual details. And consider criticisms based on mediumly-specific context. And so on. There’s a continuum of criticisms at different levels of specificity. There are criticisms that apply enough to consider in 90% of situations in your life, others that apply 60% of the time, others 30%, others 10%, etc.

Different levels of specificity of context examples: “it has to do with ideas and i need to consider what makes sense” (very non-specific context, makes some generic critical thinking stuff relevant like Paths Forward). “it has to do with medicine” (more specific topic, you could brainstorm some things worth considering for medicine that don’t apply for dealing with your lawyer). “it has to do with penicillin” (even more specific, suggests considering e.g. if you’re allergic and if your problem involves bacterial infection). and much more specific (so specific you wouldn’t have pre-existing known criticisms to use for this context, you’d have to think of them when it comes up): “medical test X indicates I have disease Y. it was done twice to double check. the test has the following false positive rate and has been researched in the following ways as explained in the following texts... should i now take drug A? here is what’s known about drug A... and here are alternative drugs..."

And don’t try to suppress criticism. Don’t limit this. Add criticisms to the “to be considered” list in all sorts of ways. Add whatever you want for intuitive reasons that you can’t justify. Add whatever you want for logical reasons. Add “might it kill me?” because the topic is medicine and some medicines can risk killing you and dying is bad. (that doesn’t mean you don’t take a medicine just because it could kill you. it may be worth the risk. but you need to critically consider that rather than fail to notice or think about that issue. that is something which shouldn’t get passed you without you realizing there is an issue there. which means it’s something you’re checking by default. you can’t just think of that only when it’s relevant. to reliably not miss it when it is relevant you have to be checking it in a broad category of situations, e.g. whenever medicine comes up.)

Unfortunately, the specifics of what criticisms should be considered because Kate is the author are things Kate doesn’t want to think about. This issue is coming up because she doesn’t want to talk about her recurring problems. But the same reasoning errors keep recurring in her reasoning, so they're relevant to most of her posts. Her posts and ideas should be judged critically, including by checking for the recurring errors every single time.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Treat Yourself Rationally

You can't tell whether an idea you have is an irrationality or a good idea until you resolve the conflict between it and your other ideas (the conflict is the thing that's making you suspect it's an irrationality).

If you declare something an irrationality, you're saying you already know the answer to the conflict. You're predicting what your answer to the conflict will be. But as DD has explained, the growth of knowledge isn't predictable (if you could predict the answers, then you'd already know them – there's no way to predict something is the right answer without knowing it's the right answer).

Kate asked about this:

what does it mean to resolve the conflict when we are talking about complex inexplicit static memes? is it once the meme is totally gone, then you say the conflict is resolved?

the conflict means: you have some ideas and some other conflicting ideas.

so, a disagreement. a conflict of ideas.

some people label one side of this disagreement the static meme side, then assume from the start that the goal is to make that side lose. they see it as the false bad side.

but you shouldn’t pre-judge disagreements like that. that approach is irrational.

the conflict is resolved when your truth-seeking arbitration process comes up with a win/win outcome which all sides of the disagreement prefer.

the point is: you have to deal with all disagreements by the normal methods of reason. don't assume one side is the static meme side and then treat it like an enemy combatant and start making exceptions to reason.

(I originally wrote this in 2015. I made minor edits.)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

One Criticism Is Decisive

I'm sharing two answers I gave in 2019 explaining why we should reject an idea if we know one criticism of it. In short, a criticism is an explanation of why an idea fails at its purpose. It never makes sense to act on or accept an idea you think won't work.


I will also add that we don't reject a theory just from 1 failed observation. We must also have a better theory in place. One that explains what the previous theory successfully explained, and accounts for the mismatch in observation.

If it's a universal theory (X), and you (tentatively) accept one failed observation, and accept the arguments about why it's a counter-example, then you must reject the theory, immediately. It is false. You may temporarily accept a replacement, e.g. "X is false but I will keep using it as an approximation in low-risk, low-consequences daily situations for now until I figure out a better replacement. A replacement could be a new theory in the usual sense, but could also e.g. be a new combination of X + additional info which more clearly specifies the boundaries of when X is a good approximation and when it's not."

For a non-universal theory Y which applies to a domain D, then the same reasoning applies for one failed relevant observation – a counter-example within D.


As I understood it before, we don't reject it until we have a better explanation. Like for the theory or relativity, we have "failed observations" at the quantum level right? But we don't reject it because we don't have another better theory yet. What am I missing?

If you know something is false, you should never accept it because it's false.

The theory of relativity is accepted as true by (approximately) no one. Call it R. What people accept is e.g. "R is a good approximation of the truth (in context C)." This meta theory is not known to be false. I call it a meta theory because it contains R within it, plus additional commentary governing the use of R.

This meta theory, which has no known refutation, is better than R, which we consider false.

KP and DD did not make this clear. I have.

If you believe a theory is false, you must find a variant which you don't know to be false. You should never act on known errors. Errors are purely and always bad and known errors are always avoidable and best to avoid. Coming up with a great variant can be hard, but a quick one like "Use theory T for purposes X and Y but not otherwise until we know more." is generally easy to create and defend against criticism (unless the theory actually shouldn't be used at all, in any manner).

This is fundamentally the same issue as fixing small errors in a theory.

If someone points out a criticism C of theory T and you think it's small/minor/unimportant (but not wrong), then the proper thing to do is create a variant of T which is not refuted by C. If the variant barely changes anything and solves the problem, then you were correct that C was minor (and you can see that in retrospect). Sometimes it turns out to be harder to create a viable variant of T than you expected (it's hard to accurately predict how important every criticism is before you've come up with a solution. that can be done only approximately, not reliably).

It's easy to make a variant if you allow arbitrary exceptions. "Use T except in the following cases..." That is in fact better than "Always use T" for a T with known exceptions. It's better to state and accept the exceptions than accept the original theory with no exceptions. (It's a different matter if you are doubtful of the exceptions and want to double check the experiments or something. That's fine. I'm just talking from the premises that you accept the criticism/exception.) You can make exceptions for all kinds of issues, not just experiments. If someone criticizes a writing method for being bad for a purpose, let's say when you want to write something serious, then you can create the variant theory consisting of the writing method plus the exception that it shouldn't be used for serious writing. You can take whatever the criticism is about and add an exception that the theory is for people in situations where they don't care about that issue.

Relativity is in the situation or context that we know it's not universally true but it works great for many purposes so we think there's substantial knowledge in it. No one currently has a refutation of that view of relativity, that meta theory which contains relativity plus that commentary.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Human Problems and Abstract Problems

I originally wrote this in 2012. Single quotes are DD. One nesting level (single black line indenting the quote) is DD's friend Demosthenes who was involved with TCS a lot.

David Deutsch wrote in 2001 on TCS list regarding "Are common preferences always possible?":

Demosthenes wrote on 10/2/01 5:16 am:

On Tue, 16 Jan 2001 11:09:21 +0100, Sarah Lawrence wrote:

On Thu, 6 Feb 1997 at 10:32:03 -0700, Susan Ramirez asked:

Why do you believe that it is always possible to create a common preference?

This question is important because it is the same as

  • Are there some problems which in principle cannot be solved?

Or, when applied to human affairs:

  • Is coercion (or even force, or the threat of force) an objectively inevitable feature of certain situations, or is it always the result of a failure to find the solution which, in principle, exists?

I think that both Sarah and Demosthenes (below) somewhat oversimplify when they identify 'avoiding coercion' with 'problem-solving'. For instance, Sarah says "This question ... Is the same as[:] Are there some problems

Let's watch out for different uses of the word "problem".

which in principle cannot be solved?" Well, in a sense it is the same issue. But due to the imprecision of everyday language, this also gives the impression that avoiding coercion depends on everyone adopting the same theory (the solution, the common preference) about whatever was at issue. In fact, that is seldom literally the case, because the parties' conceptions of what is 'at issue' typically change quite radically during common-preference finding. All that is necessary is that the participants change to states of mind which (1) they prefer to their previous states, and (2) no longer cause them to hurt each other.

In other words, common preferences can often be much narrower than it may first appear. You needn't agree about everything, or even everything relevant, but only enough to proceed without hurting (TCS-coercing) each other (or oneself in the case of self-conflicts).

I agree that this question is important, though I would offer instead the following two elucidating questions:

In the sphere of human affairs:

  1. Are there any problems that would remain unavoidably insoluble even if they could be worked on without any time and resource limits?

  2. Are there any problems that are unavoidably insoluble within the time and resource limits of the real life situations in which they arise?

The word "problem" in both of these is ambiguous.

Problem-1: (we might call it "human problem"): "a matter or situation regarded as unwelcome or harmful and needing to be dealt with and overcome"

Problem-2: (we might call it an "abstract problem"): "a thing that is difficult to achieve or accomplish"

There are problems, notionally, like going to the moon. But no one gets hurt unless a person has the problem of going to the moon. Problem-1 involves preferences, and the possibility of harm and TCS-coercion. And it is the type of problem which is solved by common preferences.

Problem-2, inherently, does not have time or resource limits, because the universe is not in a hurry, only people are.

So, are there any problems which are insoluble with the time and resource limits of real life situations? Not problem-2 type, because those do not arise in people's life situations, and they do not have time or resource limits.

And as for problem-1 type problems, those are always soluble (within time/resource constraints), possibly involving changing preferences. (BTW, as a general rule of thumb, in non-trivial common preference finding, all parties always change their initial preferences.)

An example:

problem-2: adding 2+2 (there is no time limit, no resource limit -- btw time is a type of resource)

problem-1: adding 2+2 within the next hour for this math test (now there are resource issues, preferences are involved)

Another way to make the distinction is:

problem-1: any problem which could TCS-coerce (hurt) someone

problen-2: any problem which could not possibly ever TCS-coerce (hurt) anyone

problem-2s are not bad. Not even potentially. Problem-1s are bad if and only if they TCS-coerce anyone. A problem like 2+2=? cannot TCS-coerce anyone, ever. There's just no way. It takes a different problem like, "A person asked me what 2+2 is, and I wanted to answer" to have the potential for TCS-coercion.

Notice solving this different problem does not necessarily require figuring out what 2+2 is. Solving problem-1s never requires solving any associated problem-2s, though that is often a good approach. But it's not necessary. So the fact that various problem-2s won't be solved this year need not hurt anyone or cause any problem-1s -- with their time limits and potential for harm -- to go unsolved.

I believe that the answer to question (1) is, no -- there are no human problems that are intrinsically insoluble, given unbounded resources.

This repeated proviso "given unbounded resources" indicates a misconception, I think. The answer to (2) is, uncontroversially, yes. Of course there exist disagreements -- both between people and within a person -- that take time to resolve, and many will not be resolved in any of our lifetimes.

I think this unclear about the two types problems. While it agrees with me in substance, it defers to ambiguous terminology that basically uses unsolved problem-2s to say there are insoluble problems and try to imply it's now talking about problem-1s.

There is a mix up regarding failure to solve an abstract problem like figuring out the right theory of physics (which two friends might disagree about) with failure to solve human problems, like the type that make those friends hurt each other.

It's harmless to have some disagreements that you "agree to disagree" about, for example. But if you can't agree to disagree, then the problem is more dangerous and urgent.

It's uncontroversial that people have unsolved abstract problems for long periods of time, e.g. they might be working on a hard math problem and not find the answer for a decade. And their friend might disagree with them about the best area to look for a solution.

But so what?

Human problems are things like, "I want to solve the problem this week" (maybe you should change your preference?) or "I want to work on the math problem and find good states of mind in regard to it, and enjoy making progress" (this human problem can easily be solved while not solving the harmless abstract problem).

But that has nothing to do with the question being discussed here.

Right because of the confusion over different meanings of "problem".

The fact that after 25 years of almost daily attention to the conflict between quantum theory and general relativity I have failed to discover a theory that I prefer to both (or indeed to either), does not indicate that I have "failed to find a common preference"

Right. Common preferences do not even apply to problem-2s, only problem-1s.

either within myself, or with other proponents of those theories, in the sense that interested Susan Ramirez. I have not found a preferred theory of physics, but I have found successively better states of mind in regard to that problem, each the result of successive failures to solve it.

However this view is only available to those of us who believe that for all moral problems there exists, in principle, a unique, objectively right solution. If you are any kind of moral relativist, or a moral pluralist (as many people seem to be) then you can have no grounds for arguing that all human disputes are in principle soluble.

It is only in spheres where the objective truth of the matter exists and is in principle discoverable, that the possibility of converging on the truth guarantees that all problems are, in principle, soluble.

I agree that for all moral problems

No clear statement of which meaning of problem this refers to.

there exists an objectively right solution, and that this is why consensual relationships -- and indeed all liberal institutions of human cooperation, including science -- can work. The mistake is to suppose that if one does not believe this, it will cease to be true. For people to be able to reach agreement, it suffices that, for whatever reason, they seek agreement in a way that conforms to the canons of rationality and are, as a matter of fact, converging on a truth. Admittedly it is a great impediment if they think that agreement is not possible, and very helpful if they think that it is, but that is certainly not essential: many a cease-fire has evolved into a peace without a further shot being fired. It is also helpful if they see themselves as cooperating in discovering an objective truth, and not merely an agreement amongst themselves, but that too is far from essential: plenty of moral relativists have done enormous good, and made enormous moral progress -- for instance towards creating institutions and traditions of tolerance -- without ever seeking an objective truth, or realising that they were finding one. In fact many did not realise that they were creating agreement at all, merely a tolerance of disagreement. And incidentally, they were increasing the number of unsolved problems in society by promoting dissent and diversity.

Increasing the number of unsolved problem-2s, but decreasing the number of unsolved problem-1s.

What we need to avoid, both in society and in our own minds, is not unsolved problems,

Ambiguous between problem-1s and problem-2s.

not even insoluble problems,

Ambiguous between problem-1s and problem-2s.

Also doesn't seem to be counting preference changing as a solution, contrary to the standard TCS attitude which regards preference changing as a normal part of common preference finding, and part of problem solving.

but a state in which our problems are not being solved

But this time it means problem-1s.

-- where thinking is occurring but none of our theories are changing.

I believe that the answer to question (2) is yes -- human problems that cannot be solved even in principle, given the prevailing time and resource constraint, are legion. Albeit, nowhere near as legion as non-TCS believers would have it. My main argument in support of this thesis is based on introspection: Let him or her who is without ongoing inner conflict proffer the first refutation.

This is a bit like saying, at the time of the Renaissance, that science is impossible because "let him who is without superstition proffer the first refutation". The whole point about reason is that it does not require everything to be right before it can work. That is just another version of the "who should rule?" error in politics. The important thing is not to start out right, but to try to set things up in such a way that what is wrong can be altered. The object of the exercise is not to create a chimerical (and highly undesirable!) problem-free state,

A problem-2-free state is bad. As in, not having any problems we might like to work on. This is bad because it creates a very hard problem-1: the problem of boredom (having no problem-2s to work on, while wanting some will cause TCS-coercion).

A problem-1-free state is ... well there is another ambiguity. Problem-1s are fine if one is rationally coping with them. It's not bad to have human problems and deal with them. What's bad is failure to cope with them, i.e. TCS-coercion.

How can we tell which/when problem-1s get bad? When they do harm (TCS-coercion).

To put it another way: problem-1s are bad when one acts on an idea while having a criticism of it. But if it's just the potential for such a thing in the future, that's part of normal life and fine.

but simply to embark upon actually solving problems rather than being stuck not solving any (or not solving one's own, anyway). Happiness is solving one's problems, not 'being without problems'.

"one's problems" refers only to problem-1s, but "being without problems" and "actually solving problems" are ambiguous.

In other words, I suggest that there isn't a person alive whose creativity is not diminished in some significant way by the existence of inner conflict. Or rather dozens, if not hundreds or thousands, of inner conflicts.

Yes. But having diminished creativity (compared to what is maximally possible, presumably) is and always will be the human condition. Minds are fallible. Fortunately, it is not one's distance from the ideal state that makes one unhappy, but an inability to move towards it.

And if you cannot find a common preference for all the problems that arise within your own mind, it is a logical absurdity to expect to be able always to find a common preference with another, equally conflicted, mind.

Just as well, really. If you found a common preference for all the problems within your own mind, you'd be dead. If you found a common preference for all the problems you have with another person with whom you interact closely, you'd be the same person.


However, and it is an important however, to approach this goal we must dare to face the inescapable facts that, in practice, it is by no means always possible to find a common preference; that therefore it is not always possible to avoid coercion;

This does not follow, or at least, not in any useful sense. Demosthenes could just as well have make the identical comments about science:

[Demosthenes could have written:]

In the sphere of science:

  1. Are there any problems that would remain unavoidably insoluble even if they could be worked on without any time and resource limits?

  2. Are there any problems that are unavoidably insoluble within the time and resource limits of the real life situations in which they arise?

I believe that the answer to question (1) is, no -- there are no scientific problems that are intrinsically insoluble, given unbounded resources.

Right. And why should it follow from this that a certain minimum of superstition is unavoidable in any scientific enterprise, and that people who try to reject superstition on principle will undergo "intellectual and moral corrosion" if, as is inevitable, they fail to achieve this perfectly -- or even if they fail completely?

As Bronowski stressed and illustrated in so many ways, doing science depends on adopting a certain morality: a desire for truth, a tolerance, an openness to change, an awareness of one's own fallibility and the fallibility of authority, yet also a respect and understanding for tradition ... (It's the same morality as TCS depends on.) And yes, no scientist has ever been entirely free from irrationality, superstition, dogma and all the things that the canons of rationality say are supposed to be absent from a true scientist's mind. Yet none of that provides the slightest argument that a person entering upon a life of science is likely to become unhappy

Tangent: this is a misuse of probability. Whether that happens depends on human choices not chance.

in their work, is likely to find their enterprise ruined either because they encounter a scientific problem that they never solve, or because they fail to rid their own minds of certain superstitions that prevent them from solving anything.

The thing is, all these sweeping statements about insoluble problems


and unlimited resources, though true (some of them trivially, some because of fallibilism) are irrelevant to the issue here, of whether a lifestyle that rejects coercion is possible and practical in the here and now. A TCS family can and should reject coercion in exactly the same sense, and by the same means, and for the same reason, as a scientist can and should reject superstition. And to the same extent: utterly. In neither case can the objective ever be achieved perfectly, with finite resources. In neither case can any guarantee be given about what the outcome will be. Will they be happier than if they become astrologers instead? Who knows? And certainly good intentions alone can guarantee nothing. In neither case can the enterprise be without setbacks and failures, perhaps disasters. And in neither case is any of this important, because ... well, whatever goes wrong, however badly, superstition is going to make it worse.

-- David Deutsch

And Josh Jordan wrote:

I think it makes sense to proceed according to the best plan you have, even if you know of flaws in it.

What if those flaws are superstition? Or TCS-coercion?

Whatever happens, acting against one's best judgment -- e.g. by disregarding criticisms of flaws one knows -- is only going to make things worse.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)

Reasoning from Problems not Assumptions

Ron Garret (RG) wrote (CR means Critical Rationalism):

All reasoning has to start from assumptions. Assumptions by definition can't be proven or disproven. So how can we evaluate our core assumptions? If we try to use reason, that reasoning must itself be based on some assumptions like, "Reason is the best way to evaluate assumptions." But since that is an assumption, how can we evaluate it without getting into a infinite regression?

And near the end of the post:

The point is: the apparent infinite regress of rationality bottoms out in its effectiveness

And in comments:

BTW, I very much doubt that CR actually claims that reasoning is possible with no assumptions. If Popper (or Deutsch) ever actually said this, it's news to me. It seems self-evident to me that all reasoning has to start with assumptions. Whatever else a reasoning process consists of, there has to be some point in the process at which you assert for the first time the truth of some proposition. That assertion cannot be based on the truth of any previously asserted proposition because, if it were, it would not be the first time you asserted the truth of some proposition. A proposition that is asserted to be true without any prior assertions to support it is by definition an assumption.

(Note that even this argument makes assumptions, e.g. that reasoning has a beginning, that it involves the assertion of propositions, that words like "assert" and "proposition" have coherent meanings, etc. etc. etc.)

The view described by RG is the standard, non-CR view. It is regarded by CR as incorrectly relying on foundations and justification, and as not having the right paradigm. Example quotes about foundations (partly to explain, partly because of RG’s doubts that the CR thinkers Karl Popper (KP) or David Deutsch (DD) disagree with him):

KP in The Logic of Scientific Discovery:

The empirical basis of objective science has thus nothing 'absolute' about it.[4] Science does not rest upon solid bedrock. The bold structure of its theories rises, as it were, above a swamp. It is like a building erected on piles. The piles are driven down from above into the swamp, but not down to any natural or 'given' base; and if we stop driving the piles deeper, it is not because we have reached firm ground. We simply stop when we are satisfied that the piles are firm enough to carry the structure, at least for the time being.

DD in The Beginning of Infinity:

The whole motivation for seeking a perfectly secure foundation for mathematics was mistaken. It was a form of justificationism. Mathematics is characterized by its use of proofs in the same way that science is characterized by its use of experimental testing; in neither case is that the object of the exercise. The object of mathematics is to understand – to explain – abstract entities. Proof is primarily a means of ruling out false explanations; and sometimes it also provides mathematical truths that need to be explained. But, like all fields in which progress is possible, mathematics seeks not random truths but good explanations.

DD in The Beginning of Infinity:

there can be no such thing as an ultimate explanation: just as ‘the gods did it’ is always a bad explanation, so any other purported foundation of all explanations must be bad too. It must be easily variable because it cannot answer the question: why that foundation and not another? Nothing can be explained only in terms of itself.

KP in Conjectures and Refutations:

The question about the sources of our knowledge can be replaced in a similar way [to replacing the “Who should rule?” question in politics]. It has always been asked in the spirit of: ‘What are the best sources of our knowledge—the most reliable ones, those which will not lead us into error, and those to which we can and must turn, in case of doubt, as the last court of appeal?’ I propose to assume, instead, that no such ideal sources exist—no more than ideal rulers—and that all ‘sources’ are liable to lead us into error at times. And I propose to replace, therefore, the question of the sources of our knowledge by the entirely different question: ‘How can we hope to detect and eliminate error?

The question of the sources of our knowledge, like so many authoritarian questions, is a genetic one. It asks for the origin of our knowledge, in the belief that knowledge may legitimize itself by its pedigree. The nobility of the racially pure knowledge, the untainted knowledge, the knowledge which derives from the highest authority, if possible from God: these are the (often unconscious) metaphysical ideas behind the question. My modified question, ‘How can we hope to detect error?’ may be said to derive from the view that such pure, untainted and certain sources do not exist, and that questions of origin or of purity should not be confounded with questions of validity, or of truth. This view may be said to be as old as Xenophanes. Xenophanes knew that our knowledge is guesswork, opinion—doxa rather than epistēmē—as shown by his verses (DK, B, 18 and 34):

The gods did not reveal, from the beginning,
All things to us; but in the course of time,
Through seeking we may learn, and know things better.

But as for certain truth, no man has known it,
Nor will he know it; neither of the gods,
Nor yet of all the things of which I speak.
And even if by chance he were to utter
The perfect truth, he would himself not know it;
For all is but a woven web of guesses.

Yet the traditional question of the authoritative sources of knowledge is repeated even today—and very often by positivists and by other philosophers who believe themselves to be in revolt against authority.

The proper answer to my question ‘How can we hope to detect and eliminate error?’ is, I believe, ‘By criticizing the theories or guesses of others and—if we can train ourselves to do so—by criticizing our own theories or guesses.’ (The latter point is highly desirable, but not indispensable; for if we fail to criticize our own theories, there may be others to do it for us.) This answer sums up a position which I propose to call ‘critical rationalism’.


So my answer to the questions ‘How do you know? What is the source or the basis of your assertion? What observations have led you to it?’ would be: ‘I do not know: my assertion was merely a guess. Never mind the source, or the sources, from which it may spring—there are many possible sources, and I may not be aware of half of them; and origins or pedigrees have in any case little bearing upon truth. But if you are interested in the problem which I tried to solve by my tentative assertion, you may help me by criticizing it as severely as you can; and if you can design some experimental test which you think might refute my assertion, I shall gladly, and to the best of my powers, help you to refute it.’

The standard, non-CR view involves problems like a regress because it tries to do things like argue for ideas "based on the truth of any previously asserted proposition” (RG’s words above). RG acknowledges some of the problems with arbitrary foundations or, in the alternative, an infinite regress. He tries to solve them by suggesting an effectiveness criterion for judging ideas. This doesn’t solve the problem: it is an arbitrary foundation or leads to a regressing debate about the effectiveness of the effectiveness criterion, and the effectiveness of whatever arguments are used in that debate, and so on.

The CR view is that we start our reasoning with problems, not assumptions. We proceed to brainstorm guesses about solutions. We do not assert that our guesses are true; we expect our guesses to one day be discarded as obsolete falsehoods because progress is infinite. And then we criticize the guesses. This leads to fixing the errors in some guesses and rejecting other guesses, and generally to progress.

The CR paradigm is not about establishing things on the basis of assumptions or on any other basis or foundation, nor is it about choosing a criterion for what types of theories are best (e.g. effective ones or simple ones). The CR paradigm is about error correction. CR says we learn not by making foundational assumptions and building from them to other ideas, but by making unjustified guesses to try to solve our problems, which we then expose to error correction.

Both CR and the standard view try to deal with the problem of differentiating good and bad ideas. The standard view seeks to find a good starting point, and good methods of thinking, so that bad ideas can never be introduced (or at least are hard to introduce). The CR view accepts there is no way to avoid error or even to make it uncommon, and instead focuses its primary effort on error correction. We can’t make error uncommon because we’re all alike in our infinite ignorance (as KP said) and we’re always at the beginning of infinity (as DD said) with infinite stuff left to learn. (There are also other arguments about fallibilism.)

The CR view on assumptions and foundations is that we can start anywhere. We can start with high level ideas or low level ideas. We can start in the middle. Anything goes because we aren’t trying to solve the problem of avoiding error by limiting where we begin our reasoning. What’s important is that all ideas be held open to error correction. Nothing is beyond question or criticism. There are no limits beyond which we can’t delve further and learn more. No matter where we start, we can always work in any direction. We can flesh out prior or lower level ideas more. We can flesh out later or higher level ideas more. We can go sideways. And things don’t organize neatly into levels anyway, for all is a woven, tangled, chaotic, web of guesses, not a pyramid hierarchy.

What stops the regress of asking “Why?” and “How do you know?” infinitely? Nothing formal. CR isn’t about proving we’re right. A CRist will say, “I’ve explained why I think this, and how I know, in what I think is an adequate level of detail to solve the problem I’m trying to solve. Do you see an error I’ve made?” CR is about searching for and fixing errors, not establishing that our answers are correct. We expect our answers will be improved in the future. We follow our interests in our attempts to live our lives, solve problems, and learn. There are infinite places we may direct our attention and we make judgments about which to prioritize. These interests and judgments, like everything else, are themselves open to criticism.

There is no way to provide infinite detail about one’s reasoning. This is not actually a problem unique to foundations. It applies just as well to the consequences of one’s reasoning (the further implications). But we don’t need infinite detail if we aren’t after a guarantee of correctness. If instead we know we may well be wrong, but we’re doing our best to find and correct errors, then the finite detail is adequate for that purpose. And there are no bounds on where we can go into more detail. Any part that people think could use more questioning can be critically considered more. We never have to stop, we just stop when we think our attention is better used elsewhere (and we don’t know of an error with that).

A criticism is an explanation of why an idea does not solve the problem it’s claiming to solve. The reason we shouldn’t accept (or act on) criticized ideas, even tentatively, is because we have an explanation of why they won’t work. And all criticisms are themselves open to criticism. (What do you do if people keep throw infinitely many dumb criticisms at an idea? In short, criticize infinite categories of idea all at once. Criticize patterns of error. Don’t criticize all the criticisms individually. In general, good will and good faith are helpful and make things better. But if someone wants to throw infinitely many criticisms at an idea, they may try it. It’s easy to do that if you generate the criticisms according to a pattern, but then they can also be criticized as a group because they fit that pattern. To defend against this, we’ll only need one counter-argument for each pattern the critic thinks of to form an infinite set of criticisms from. So we don’t have a greater burden than he does. And actually it’s better than that if we can identify a meta-pattern – a pattern to his patterns – and criticize that. If we use powerful criticisms with high “reach” (DD’s term meaning broad/wide applicability), which deal with the right issues, it becomes harder and harder for a critic to think of anything new to say which isn’t already addressed by our criticisms. And we can write them down and reuse them with all future critics. That is one of the main projects intellectuals should be engaged in.)

Our guesses can be arbitrary non sequiturs. They need not be based on anything – the source or basis is not the important thing. However, it’s hard to make them survive criticism if they don’t use any existing knowledge. It’s hard to start over, without the benefit of any existing knowledge (which has had a bunch of error-correction effort already put into it) and make something good. So we often build on, e.g., the English language. However, just because I use the English language to help me formulate my idea does not mean my idea depends on the English language in some kind of chain of logical implication. The English language is not necessarily assumed or an important basis. My idea may well be approximately autonomous. Maybe we’ll one day find huge flaws in English, and find that Japanese is much better, and then notice that my idea can be easily translated to Japanese because it was never actually tightly coupled to English in the first place. It’s like how the C programming language isn’t based on any particular CPU architecture and code can be recompiled for other architectures (so while my code needs a CPU to run, it’s not based on whatever CPU I’m currently using).

The CR paradigm lacks the solidity sought by the standard view. It doesn’t justify its ideas. It doesn’t provide justified, true belief. It doesn’t offer ways to demonstrate that an idea is true so that we need never worry about it having an error again. It doesn’t offer ways to positively establish ideas. It differentiates good and bad ideas by criticism of the bad ones, not by anything to bestow a good, positive status on the good ideas (which CR views as merely ideas which are not currently known to be wrong). CR is all we can have due to logical problems that the standard view has been unable to deal with century after century. And CR is enough for science to work, among other things.

I suggest rereading the DD and KP quotes (that I gave above) at this point. I think they’ll make more sense after reading the rest (both what they mean and how they are relevant), and they’ll also help clarify my text. See e.g. how KP talks about the sources of our ideas not mattering.

This is all a lot to understand. As far as I’ve been able to determine, DD and probably Feynman are the only people who ever understood CR by reading Popper’s books, without the help of a bunch of discussion with people who already knew CR (like Popper, Popper's students, or DD). We’ve never found a single person who has understood CR well from DD’s books without discussing with DD or DD’s students. I had many large confusions after reading FoR, which took years of discussion, study and DD help to resolve. CR is deeply counterintuitive because it goes against ~2300 years of philosophical tradition, and those ideas have major influence throughout our culture. Supporting people’s CR learning processes, if they’re interested, is one of the important purposes of this forum. Questions are welcome and you shouldn’t expect to fully understand this already or soon.

Note that CR theory explains this (the previous paragraph). Errors are inevitable and common, including when understanding even one sentence[1]. Trying your best to correct your own errors is a good start, but critical discussion has big advantages. People have different strengths and weaknesses, knowledge and ignorance, biases and irrationalities, etc. People differ. External criticism is valuable because other people will catch errors you miss (including errors they made in the past and already fixed). Because error correction is such a big deal, critical discussion is approximately necessary for ambitious people (the alternative plan is to be one of the best thinkers ever who is so much better than ~everyone at ~everything that external criticism doesn’t add much). Critical discussion also lets people share explanations, problems, and other knowledge which isn’t criticism, which is also helpful.

[1] DD in The Beginning of Infinity:

SOCRATES: But wait! What about when knowledge does not come from guesswork – as when a god sends me a dream? What about when I simply hear ideas from other people? They may have guessed them, but I then obtain them merely by listening.
HERMES: You do not. In all those cases, you still have to guess in order to acquire the knowledge.
HERMES: Of course. Have you yourself not often been misunderstood, even by people trying hard to understand you?
HERMES: Have you, in turn, not often misunderstood what someone means, even when he is trying to tell you as clearly as he can?
SOCRATES: Indeed I have. Not least during this conversation!
HERMES: Well, this is not an attribute of philosophical ideas only, but of all ideas. Remember when you all got lost on your way here from the ship? And why?
SOCRATES: It was because – as we realized with hindsight – we completely misunderstood the directions given to us by the captain.
HERMES: So, when you got the wrong idea of what he meant, despite having listened attentively to every word he said, where did that wrong idea come from? Not from him, presumably . . .
SOCRATES: I see. It must come from within ourselves. It must be a guess. Though, until this moment, it had never even remotely occurred to me that I had been guessing.
HERMES: So why would you expect that anything different happens when you do understand someone correctly?
SOCRATES: I see. When we hear something being said, we guess what it means, without realizing what we are doing. That is beginning to make sense to me.

When you read books, you guess. Many guesses are wrong. You fix many of them yourself. Critical discussion helps fix more errors. People routinely overestimate how well they understood moderately difficult books that they read, and it becomes a huge problem with very hard material like CR books. Understanding of books should be tested, and one of the best methods of doing that is to write down your understanding and then share it with people who already understand the book and see if they agree that you have their position right. (You can do this test of understanding whether you agree or disagree with the material).

Summary: According to CR, making assumptions is not the way one solves problems. One solves problems by brainstorming solutions and doing error correction on the solutions. And while doing that, CR holds that it’s important to recognize the fallibility of all of our ideas. We should hold our ideas open to critical questioning and improvement, and expect that they can be improved, not take them to be true. (Here I'm contradicting "All reasoning has to start from assumptions." An "assumption" means a proposition taken to be true). CR holds things like: Don’t assume your ideas are true; keep looking for errors.

I originally wrote this in 2019 and I've made minor edits.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Learning and Unlearning Habits

When people learn a new computer game, what happens? Especially a pretty good gamer and a pretty fast paced game. He forms some habits. He learns to press certain combos of buttons. He learns to react in X way to Y situation. He learns some pattern recognition – for various patterns, start shooting. For various other patterns, start blocking. Stuff like that.

So he’s creating, in a matter of minutes, new habits, new automatic reactions, new intuitions, new things that are now second nature or intuitive and he can do them without much thought. You have to get the basics of the game to be like that so you can think about more advanced strategy. Just as we automate walking around in real life, we also need to automate walking around in video games so we can focus on other parts of the games. (btw sometimes ppl automate video game controls so much that they forget what the controls are. like you ask them how they did that, and they are like “uhhhh i hit the button, idk i didn’t think about it”. sometimes they have to like look at their hand to see what buttons they are pressing, or stop and remember the buttons, or something. it’s so automatic they aren’t thinking about it. it’s a little like asking a person which muscles he uses when walking, except less hard.)

ok so this video game player is creating habits/automazations/etc. and what always happens is: some are mistakes. so he has to unlearn some. he has to change some. some of his first guesses about how to play the game turn out wrong.

and that isn’t that big a deal. that’s just part of learning. you gotta do some unlearning too. video game players do that all the time. it’s so common.

sometimes you have to relearn things even if you didn’t make a mistake, btw. like you learn to beat a boss, then later there is a similar boss with some changes. so you take your old habits for the first boss and you make adjustments so they can work on the second boss. so in some situation, with the new boss, you have to stop yourself from doing Y after X, as you were in the habit of doing. you dismantle the habit that was automating that.

when people can’t dismantle or change automated habits it’s commonly an indication of irrationality, dishonesty, etc. it can also be an indication that the habit is used by a hundred other habits which rely on it, so it’s hard to mess with because of its complex involvement in lots of other stuff you don’t want to break. and ppl forget how habits work that they made long ago, especially in early childhood, which is what’s going on with some sexual orientation stuff (that’s in addition to the other things from earlier in this paragraph, it doesn’t have to be just one).

Mastery typically comes from practicing to the point that encountering new errors is rare, and you figured out solutions to all the errors you’ve seen before (except maybe a few rare ones that you decided to ignore). When nothing is gonna go wrong then you can go faster and it starts getting boring consciously (cuz there’s nothing left for your conscious mind to do, no changes are needed, no additional creativity is needed) and you stop paying conscious attention to it. (people often stop paying conscious attention way too early, btw, which prevents them actually getting good at stuff.)

The above were two sections of a Fallible Ideas email I wrote in 2019. I edited the term "workstation" to "habit" in a few places. I talked about mental workstations in this post, but "habit" is clearer for people who haven't read that. I was answering a question about firing workers at one's mental workstations (aka automatized ideas, aka habits) or dismantling/retiring the workstations. I like the metaphor of the mind as a factory with many workstations (with machines, robots or low-skill workers) and the conscious mind as a manager, inspector or leader who can go around and look at workstations, review what people are doing, make changes, build new workstations, etc., and when the manager isn't present the workstations keep running without him (the unconscious mind). You can only look at one part of your mind at a time (or maybe fewer than ten parts at once), and the only way to get much done is with automation so stuff works without your manager/conscious-attention being there. Your mind is like a powerful factory that's mostly automated and whenever you need to do manual labor (conscious/manager attention) that's really inefficient and slow. Conscious/manager attention is best used for fixing workstations or creating new workstations, not for doing work that could be done by a workstation. (It's OK for the manager to do work a few times when you're new to it, to figure out how to do it, but then he needs to delegate. Practice should involve figuring out how to delegate and set up automated workstations to do something and get those working right, not your conscious mind doing everything itself. Practice should primarily be a process of automating, not a process of your consciousness/manager practicing stuff himself. Once you figure out how to do something initially, then further practice should be kinda like doing job-training for subordinates (the subordinates being cheap, plentiful mental resources that require little to no conscious attention once they're set up). The conscious mind tells them what to do then watches them try doing the work and gives corrections.)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Henry Hazlitt on Practice

In Thinking as a Science (1916), Henry Hazlitt wrote (my emphasis):

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.

I agree and have been advocating this 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 should practice until you can do it cheaply, easily and reliably. E.g. it's important to be able to type using almost zero conscious attention so that I can focus my attention on the ideas I'm writing. It's best to think in an objective – not biased – way pretty much automatically in general so that you can focus on considering a specific topic (like economics); people who need to use a bunch of mental focus to avoid bias are at a big disadvantage 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).

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)