Biases David Deutsch Taught Me

I spent around 10 years learning a lot with David Deutsch (DD), and then the next 10 years not interacting with him much. And he mostly stopped putting out public content, so I moved on to engaging with other thinkers. With distance and with greater familiarity with other thinkers and ideas, I’ve reflected on what biases my mentor had and how they were passed on to me and affected me. This is my retrospective from my point of view.


DD liked politics. He read political news and talked about it a lot. Since I met DD in 2001, the most consistent, organized, serious content creation he ever did was writing around 500 posts for his political blog in around four years. Why didn’t he write articles about philosophy, physics or parenting? Why did he chose politics? I don’t know. I think he was wrong. Being overly interested in current politics is a common error I see with many people who ought to spend more attention and time elsewhere. This error affected me, more in the past, and still a little recently.

Was promoting the Iraq war really a cause DD needed to focus on? If he was just saying everything he thought (which is closer to what I did), that’d be more understandable. But he wasn’t. He was choosing his battles … and he chose the Iraq war as a major one to argue about.

DD didn’t talk about political philosophy or economics much. He wasn’t trying to teach people useful background that would enable them to judge political issues better for themselves. (He did some of that teaching privately with me, and some publicly, but not enough compared to how much he discussed political news.) He frequently spoke about current events and the latest political news. Why? Why is that the best thing to focus on? I think he was wrong. His interests were biased away from stuff with lasting importance or areas where he had the most valuable expertise.

I think being overly focused on current political news generally makes people’s lives worse, and it’s a common problem which I’ve contributed to some. I’ve criticized it, warned people against it, and taken steps to move away from it myself.


DD likes Israel and defends it in political debates. He often blogged about it. He called it a shining beacon of morality, or some words very similar to that. I agree with him. I didn’t initially. He was fighting against the mainstream media and I didn’t know much about it. But he convinced me pretty quickly. And he kept talking about it on a regular basis, year after year. Why? I think he’s basically right about the topic, and it’s a reasonably important issue, but why not spend that energy teaching me more epistemology? Or writing publicly to refute induction in a better, more organized and persuasive way? Or making videos doing commentary on his or Popper’s books?

How big a place Israel occupies in DD’s mind is a bias which he taught to me. He kept bringing Israel up and made it have an outsized role in our conversations (and on his political blog).

Learning a lot about Israel and how the media treats it unfairly had some value for me (e.g. it helped with understanding how biased and dishonest the mainstream media is), but I don’t think it was the most optimal area to spend that much attention on and write blog posts telling others about.

I don’t think I’ve debated or blogged about Israel for years, so maybe I’ve gotten over this bias.


DD likes polyamory as a concept or abstract theory. Why pay so much attention to it when he wasn’t living that kind of life himself? I don’t know. Maybe because Sarah was into it. Regardless, he got me to pay attention to poly, too, and learn about the subject. Was that useful to me? Not especially. It’s OK. There are many interesting things in the world. Poly was an interesting topic to think about. But was it the best place my attention could have gone? I don’t think so.

Even if polyamory is a theoretically good idea – which I have some substantial doubts about – is it the best use of energy? If you are going to go against your culture on 1-5 major issues in your life, should it be on the list, or are there other things which are a higher priority? I’ll grant that romantic relationships could easily be included on a top 5 important areas list. But the main goal that’s worth the effort should be to avoid disaster (since chronic fighting, broken hearts and divorces are common), not to be poly – which is uncommon, risky and hard. Poly generally doesn’t have major benefits even if it works. And if you have a disaster doing poly, you’ll have a harder time than with a conventional disaster because most people will understand your problem less and be less helpful, sympathetic or supportive.

DD’s and Sarah’s Autonomy Respecting Relationships (ARR) said monogamy is the main problem in people’s relationships. They thought coercion causes all the trouble in both parenting and relationships because all irrationality comes from coercion. And they seemed to think that monogamy was the main source of coercion in romantic relationships. They suggested that if you get rid of the rules and restrictions in parenting or relationships, then people will almost automatically be rational and happy. I disagree.

I’ve been concerned that the poly ideas would hurt people – and that it’d be partly my fault – so I’ve written some stuff and done some podcasts to warn people against it.

Part of why poly can hurt people is mixing it with “rationalism”. If you think you’re super rational and right about everything, and you say monogamous people are attacking autonomy, then you can end up pressuring people to be poly or else you’ll judge them as irrational. I didn’t intentionally pressure people, but some people may have taken it that way, and this kind of theme comes up in multiple rationality-oriented poly communities, e.g. at Less Wrong too. The Less Wrong poly stuff has been a huge disaster that hurt people (I was never involved with that at all; I just read about it online). There are other poly communities that are more like “it works for me; I just wanna do my choice and be left alone not stigmatized” and don’t criticize most people for not being poly, which is less pressuring. ARR told people monogamy was irrational and that not being poly was limiting the growth of knowledge as well as basically opposing freedom and trying to be a jealous coercer, so that was really pressuring.


Overrating discussion for learning is a bias DD didn’t have himself (maybe), but passed on to me. I overestimated the availability and value of discussion due to having so much access to valuable discussions with DD. I got used to that and expected it to continue basically forever. I didn’t expect DD to quit discussion. And I expected to find other very smart who were interested in unbounded rational discussion, which is something DD told me was way more realistic than I now think it actually is. Consequently, I overestimated how much emphasis other people should put on discussion in their own lives. And I became overly reliant on discussion myself. Discussion is genuinely important and I’ve given some good reasons and arguments about it, but I also overestimated it.

I also overrated the long term value of discussions with other people who were less awesome than DD. I had lots of discussions that were good at the time, but having more, similar discussions lost value over time as they got more repetitive. I wanted to move on to some more advanced discussions, but it was hard to find discussion partners willing to pursue topics past the more accessible starting points. I didn’t foresee that problem.

I don’t think DD had the same issue as me, but he had some related issues. Most of what he’s written in his life has been discussion replies. He wrote two books in 20+ years and wrote a handful of articles. But he wrote thousands of TCS posts and thousands of other discussion forum posts, and he wrote multiple books worth of private IMs and emails to me. I think he has some perfectionist tendencies that make it hard for him to finish anything for a formal, serious or organized context. It’s easier for him to write for informal, disorganized, incomplete discussion than writing anything for publication or with higher standards or expectations.

DD did write thousands of posts at discussion forums, primarily email lists, but I don’t think he was personally biased in favor of discussion in the same way as me. In most of the posts, he was telling other people his ideas but wasn’t trying to interactively learn from or with them. And he was using the format to excuse imperfections, disorganization and incompleteness, whereas I was treating it more seriously. I actually thought critical discussions were a great way of doing truth seeking.

It was hard, but I’ve put a lot of work into moving away from discussion so that it’s more of an optional bonus for me instead of something central to my philosophy work. Over the last few years, I did a lot of unshared philosophy writing that wasn’t discussion based: it wasn’t prompted by other people’s questions or anything else they said.

Productive discussions require more skill than I realized. My and DD’s communities had a pro-discussion bias because we didn’t recognize how hard it is for people to discuss productively. Interestingly, I think many people also underestimate the skill needed for productive discussion but then reach a different conclusion: an anti-discussion bias. They notice that they don’t get much value from their discussions, so they conclude that discussion isn’t very valuable. They don’t realize how much their discussions could be improved with better discussion methods and skills.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

David Deutsch’s Denial

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 community. I’ve tried to address the problem privately but they refused to attempt any private problem solving.

Justin emailed David Deutsch (DD) to ask him to respond to the Andy B harassment and to write a tweet asking DD’s fans to stop harassing. DD replied and it’s the only thing he’s said about the whole situation, as far as I know, so I’m analyzing it. I already analyzed how DD lied. Now I’m focusing on a different section (source):

I don't know this Andy B he [Elliot] speaks of. I'm not aware of anyone I know sending DDoS attacks or anything else covertly to Elliot. I'm not the chief of anything.

DD’s comments don’t respond to the claims at issue or to what’s being asked of him. What’s going on?

Straw Man

DD’s words look like a straw man reply. The claims at issue include:

  • Andy harassed Elliot Temple (ET) and FI (ET’s community).
  • One or more of DD’s community members DDoSed ET.
  • DD’s associates know Andy (e.g. they follow him on Twitter and publicly talk with him there) and encourage Andy’s harassing actions.
  • Andy and other harassers are DD’s fans, who have said they’re standing up for DD against DD’s enemy (ET).
  • Something as simple as a tweet from DD might actually discourage the harassment.
  • DD has a fan community who listen to him, respect him, and take cues from him and his associates.

But DD didn’t reply to any of those issues. Instead he says:

  • DD doesn’t personally know Andy.
  • As far as DD knows, none of DD’s personal associates covertly DDoSed ET or covertly sent him something else.
  • He’s not a chief (no one said he was).

DD hasn’t actually denied any of the claims at issue. But he’s written it to sound like he’s issuing a denial.

And even if Brett Hall (for example) had covertly sent harassment to ET, including a DDoS, DD still wouldn’t be saying anything wrong as long as Brett never told DD that (and DD didn’t find out some other way). DD spoke about what he’s aware of, not what actually happened nor what the best explanation for the evidence is. (Brett or another of DD’s associates has probably written some anonymous, negative blog comments on, which actually would be sending something (“anything else”) covertly to Elliot. That’s the best explanation but the evidence is circumstantial.)

This apparent straw manning should be explained. What’s going on? I have two explanations: ignorance or word lawyering (carefully using technically true but misleading wordings).


Maybe DD doesn’t know what the issues are because he didn’t read the info he was sent. If he doesn’t know what the claims in the discussion are, it would explain why his replies didn’t address them.

But in that case, why did DD reply like he was answering the issue instead of saying “I’m busy and won’t read this”? He gave the impression he knew what the relevant claims were and was responding to them with relevant denials. It’d be irresponsible and misleading to write DD’s response if he was simply unfamiliar with the claims and evidence.

And if DD was unfamiliar with what’s going on, then he must have gotten lucky. If you make claims about an issue you aren’t familiar with, usually you’ll screw up and say something that’s clearly wrong or is contradicted by facts you don’t know about. DD doesn’t appear ignorant: he seems to have known what statements he could make without fear of being directly refuted by the published evidence.

DD also found out about DDoSing somewhere. The email DD was responding to hadn’t specified DDoSing, so DD must have read or been told something else.

Careful Wording?

Another interpretation is that DD knows what’s going on and carefully wrote misleading statements. He may be intentionally responding to the wrong issues in order to say technically true statements while still making his reply sound negative towards ET. It looks like he was trying to bias his comments against ET without saying something false. (Trying to disown the harassment while being biased in favor of it is kind of contradictory.)

It looks to me like he was hoping people wouldn’t notice the straw manning and rhetorical tricks. It looks designed so people would react like this: “DD denied everything and wouldn’t risk his reputation by making factually false statements regarding crimes, therefore ET is probably lying.”


How does DD know that he doesn’t know Andy? Andy has used 20+ fake names (even his main name, “Andy”, is likely a fake name). DD could be in contact with one of Andy’s fake names without realizing it. Getting DD’s attention and having some association with DD under a fake name is just the sort of thing Andy would love and might try repeatedly with different names.

Did DD even review all publicly known aliases of Andy before declaring that he doesn’t know Andy? Did DD ask his associates who know Andy what other aliases they know about? (I doubt it, considering that DD doesn’t seem to mind when his friends publicly associate with Andy, despite Andy’s involvement in threatening, persistent harassment, and other uses of force. DD doesn’t seem to mind having Andy two steps away on DD’s social graph via multiple routes; DD hasn’t even blocked Andy on Twitter and many of DD’s friends who he follows on Twitter are following Andy.)

“Knowing” Someone

On 2011-03-13, in IMs with DD, I suggested he should try having more discussions with a smart friend of mine. He replied:

[oxfordphysicist] I can't recall her ever addressing me. I don't know her at all.

DD had sent her at least 12 private emails within the previous month before denying knowing her at all. For each of those emails, she was one of only four recipients.

She had started talking in the TCS community in 2003 and written dozens of emails. DD had publicly replied to her, and he generally read most TCS emails.

She’d come up repeatedly over the years, e.g. DD had given her advice two years earlier. It was memorable, high-stakes advice about a child custody court case.

In 2010, I told DD one of her philosophical theories and his response referred to her by name.

I got DD to IM with her in 2006 (I set up a three-person IM chat). In that chat, she did address him and he said “good luck [her first name]” at the end. That wasn’t their only conversation; it’s just the first one I found.

If DD doesn’t know Andy in the same sense that he didn’t know her at all – meaning he only emails Andy privately 12 times in a month and Andy is active in a discussion community he co-founded, reads and replies to – then he does know Andy.

DD seems willing to use poor memory as an excuse (he said he “can’t recall”, which may have been true). Note that he didn’t have any significant incentive to lie then, as he does with Andy.

If DD forgot all about her, his memory can’t be trusted. If he remembered her, his statements can’t be trusted.

Maybe DD doesn’t think his interactions with her count as “knowing” someone at all. If so, DD could know Andy equally well and think that somehow doesn’t count as “knowing” Andy.


It’d be bad if DD denied stuff about harassment while being ignorant of what he was denying. But the ignorance explanation doesn’t work well, so I think something even worse is going on. It looks to me like he was word lawyering to make it look like he was denying my claims while actually denying other issues that weren’t in dispute.

Why would DD respond to harassment of me with word lawyering? Perhaps because he wants the harassment to happen (note that DD has been asked to say he doesn’t want it to happen, but has refused to say that), wants to use words against me, and also wants to carefully avoid responsibility by not getting caught in an error. (But I did catch him lying in a different sentence.) It’s hard to come up with alternatives that make sense, and DD isn’t providing any, nor are his fans.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)

No Contact Request

Due to ongoing harassment, I'm issuing a no contact request to the "Crit Rats". Leave me alone.

People included:

  • Dennis Hackethal
  • Brett Hall
  • Charlie Jungheim
  • Michael Golding
  • Bruce Nielson
  • Aaron Stupple
  • Ella Hoeppner
  • Andy B
  • Dan Elton
  • Sam Kuypers
  • Sarah Fitz-Claridge
  • Kevin Schoedel
  • Logan Chipkin
  • Carlos De la Guardia
  • Christofer Lövgren

Plus anyone else who associates with "Andy B" or who I would consider supportive of the ongoing harassment from him and others in the "Crit Rat" community.

No contact includes: don't talk to me; don't talk about me while in the same room as me; don't respond to what I said while in the same room as me; don't do online equivalents of that; don't use your associates or my associates to talk to me indirectly; you're banned from my forums.

Exception: You may email me regarding ending the harassment or renouncing the harassers. Other contact is a violation of my consent.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (9)

Jason Crawford Letter

(This is also posted on the Letter website, with some minor cuts to get under the 1500 word limit.)

Jason Crawford,

I agree with lots of what you say. I too value progress. And I think educating people on the history of progress, and teaching some general understanding of how modern civilization works, is a good project. And I agree with organizing lots of info around what problems people were trying to solve and what their solutions were.

You invited debate on Letter, and I agree with that too. I think interest in debate is important. So I’ll share a criticism and see how it goes. It relates most to your article: How to end stagnation?

I agree that there is a stagnation problem. And I think what you’re doing is productive and useful. But I don’t think your approach addresses the most important problems. I think there’s a deeper issue which must be addressed. You don’t have to do that personally, but some people do.

Funding, government and cultural attitudes to progress are downstream of philosophy. The root cause of the problems in those areas that you discuss is bad philosophy. So bad philosophy must be addressed.

Which philosophy? Crucial topics include how to think rationally, how to find and correct errors, how to judge ideas effectively, how to rationally resolve disagreements between ideas, and how to create knowledge. Ideas about these issues affect how people deal with ~all other topics. If people get it wrong, their thinking about government, economics, new inventions, etc., can easily go wrong, stay wrong, and be counter-productive.

A causal chain is: epistemology -> philosophy of science -> scientific practice -> lab results -> [more steps] -> new products on the market. Errors earlier in the chain cause errors downstream. And rationality actually comes up in every step in that chain, not just at the root.

There’s a lot to discuss about why ideas are important, or what to do about them. One of the major problems, in my view, is that people aren’t very good at resolving disagreements. Most debates are inconclusive. There are lots of errors that some people already know are errors, but that corrective knowledge doesn’t spread well enough. Our society isn’t effective enough at correcting errors even after they’re discovered. So we need something like a better way to organize debates. (I think the issue is primarily about methodology and organization, not the specifics of the issues that people disagree about).

You’ve probably heard something similar before about how big a deal rationality is. Many people talk about critical thinking but don’t know how to do anything effective about it. There’s a disconnect between theory and practice. (I think that means there’s a major problem and that theory should be improved, not that we should give up.) So instead of just discussing principles, I wanted to bring up a concrete example – one of the practical results downstream of my philosophical ideas.

I chose this example because it’s indirectly connected to you, and I thought it might surprise and interest you. You wrote (my bold):

Tyler Cowen has argued that "our regulatory state is failing us" when it comes to covid response (see also his interview in The Atlantic). Alex Tabarrok says that FDA delays have created an "invisible graveyard", which covid has now made painfully visible.

In 1997, Tabarrok did something to harm progress. (I included Cowen in the quote because he’s closely associated with Tabarrok, so it’s relevant to him too.) He wrote a negative review attacking the book Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics by George Reisman (which I consider the best economics textbook, but which is not very popular).

What happened? Was it a disagreement about an economic issue which they’ve been unable to resolve in the last 24 years? That’d be bad. Was it related to one of the schisms which prevent the Austrians from being very unified? If they can’t agree among themselves, how can they expect to persuade others? Inability to resolve internal disagreements is an ongoing problem plaguing many communities that have valuable ideas, but I don’t think it’s the main issue here.

(FYI, in the 90s, Tabarrok wrote four articles in Austrian journals, one of which he called “My most Rothbardian paper.” The blog title “Marginal Revolution” is an Austrian theme and Cowen worked as managing editor of the Austrian Economics Newsletter.)

Details are in my Refutation of Tabarrok’s Criticism of Reisman, which links to the original articles. There are multiple serious issues, some of which Reisman covered in his rebuttal. The most glaring issue is Tabarrok’s position that Capitalism “has surprisingly little to say on entrepreneurship”. After Reisman refuted this, Tabarrok repeated it again anyway.

Here are entries in Capitalism’s table of contents which show that Reisman did cover entrepreneurship (I’ve read the book and judged the matter that way too; this is just a quick indication):

  • The Benefit from Geniuses
  • The General Benefit from Reducing Taxes on the "Rich"
  • The Pyramid-of-Ability Principle
  • Productive Activity and Moneymaking
  • The Productive Role Of Businessmen And Capitalists
    • 1. The Productive Functions of Businessmen and Capitalists
      • Creation of Division of Labor
      • Coordination of the Division of Labor
      • Improvements in the Efficiency of the Division of Labor
    • 2. The Productive Role of Financial Markets and Financial Institutions
    • 3. The Productive Role of Retailing and Wholesaling
    • 4. The Productive Role of Advertising
  • Smith's Failure to See the Productive Role of Businessmen and Capitalists and of the Private Ownership of Land
  • A Rebuttal to Smith and Marx Based on Classical Economics: Profits, Not Wages, as the Original and Primary Form of Income
  • Further Rebuttal: Profits Attributable to the Labor of Businessmen and Capitalists Despite Their Variation With the Size of the Capital Invested
  • The "Macroeconomic" Dependence of the Consumers on Business

I’ve seen this kind of thing before, e.g. a person argued with me rather persistently that David Deutsch’s book The Fabric of Reality doesn’t discuss solipsism (which is actually such a main theme that it has many sub-headings in the index). But that person wasn’t any sort of respected intellectual leader. Reisman’s book has over nine column inches related to entrepreneurship in the index. I know the number of inches because Reisman told Tabarrok in print. Tabarrok then ignored that and claimed again that Reisman had little to say about entrepreneurship.

I don’t think Tabarrok’s review was in good faith. (To connect this to earlier comments: his thinking methodology wasn’t rational.) I’ve tried very hard to be charitable, but I’m unable to find any viable interpretation where it was written in good faith. So I suspect Tabarrok is a social climber posing as an intellectual. A major cause of the problem is the philosophical errors (inadequate critical thinking and rational analysis) by the readers and fans who let people like Tabarrok get away with it and actually reward it. We need better error correction which is better able to sort out good ideas and thinkers (like Reisman) from bad ones (like Tabarrok, who is currently much more influential than Reisman).

A philosophical theory that my analysis relies on is that no data or arguments should ever be arbitrarily ignored without explanation. It’s unacceptable to say “90% of the evidence and arguments favor X, therefore I’ll conclude that X is probably right”. Every criticism, discrepancy, contradiction or problem has a cause in reality which has an explanation. So I would disagree with the attitude that “It’s just two bad articles, so let’s treat it as random noise”. Some errors can be explained as noise, fluctuations or variance but some can’t. Before attributing something to random noise, one should have an explanation of what is causing that random noise (e.g. medical data has noise due to variations in people’s bodies; manufacturing has noise due to imprecision of materials and tools; science has noise due to imperfect measurement; polling or survey data has noise due to people giving lazy, careless or dishonest answers). Also, people can change their minds and improve; they’re not permanently guilty of past errors; but Tabarrok hasn’t retracted this, nor explained what caused the error and how he later fixed that problem.

I do think Tabarrok should be given another chance to explain himself. I’d be grateful for the opportunity to correct my thinking if I’m in error. What I think would dramatically improve world progress (regardless of the truth of this specific case) is more people in his audience (and the audiences of every other intellectual) who would ask him to explain it – more people who question intellectual authority and expect intellectuals to respond rationally to critical arguments, and who know how to tell the difference between reasonable and unreasonable ideas. But without that – without audiences that know how to tell the difference – projects like spreading reasonable ideas about the roots of progress, or writing a great economics textbook, are in a poor position to thrive.

I think that, in a world where the fate of the careers of Tabarrok and Reisman matched their merit, progress wouldn’t be stagnating. But we live in a world where good ideas don’t rise to the top very well. And the problem is related to philosophy: the methods people use to debate, review, judge and spread ideas.

Update 2021-05-08:

I emailed Crawford the following:

Why haven’t you responded to my Letter?

You invited debate. I believe you’ll agree with me that, if the claims in my letter are true, then it’d be worth your time. So not replying seems like you think I’m mistaken about something important but are unwilling to argue your case.

Crawford emailed back to say that he is never going to reply because I'm "quick to make personal attacks" (that comment is a personal attack against me). I take it that he refuses to consider that a public intellectual could be a social climber (at least one that he likes?), and that promoting people who take dishonest actions to harm other people's careers could be bad for progress. My claims were argued using analysis of published writing; Crawford gave no rebuttal and instead made an unargued attack on me. If Crawford is wrong, he's going to stay wrong, because he's blocking any means of error correction.

Also, it's bizarre that Crawford calls my commentary on issues from over 20 years ago "quick". My Letter comes over a year after my previous article on Tabarrok. I'm not rushing.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (14)

New Community Site Planning Update

For new community stuff, my current plan is to have:

  • Critical Fallibilism website with curated articles (likely jekyll, wordpress or ghost)
  • Critical Fallibilism forum, publicly viewable, $20 for an account that can post (Discourse is the leading candidate)
  • Critical Fallibilism youtube channel
  • maybe a new email newsletter setup (or have a way to get email notifications about new articles). or maybe keep using current email newsletter or kill it.

Currently planning to name it Critical Fallibilism b/c that sounds like the name of a philosophy. It has downsides (particularly it could sound too sophisticated and intimidate people). I considered some other names but I think an "ism" that sounds like a philosophy is better overall than something like "Learn, Judge, Act" or "Decisive Arguments" cuz ppl won't immediately know what that is. Those don't really work as a brand name either.

Plan is other stuff goes mostly inactive, e.g. Discord, FI google group and I think people misuse chatrooms to try to say stuff that should be on a forum, so I'm inclined to just not have a chatroom in order to better focus all discussion in one place.

Taking suggestions on what website software to use and taking offers of help.

If making suggestions, FYI one of the main requirements for stuff is markdown support.

The purpose of paywalling forum posting is to increase quality and keep out harassers, not to make meaningful amounts of money.

I want somewhere good to discuss long term with good features. I think custom software is too much work and isn't going to happen. (Some coding help offers fell through. I don't want to spend the time to code a lot of features myself. I could code something simple like myself but I think getting modern features is a better plan.)

I plan to have different subforums. Current concept is something like:

  • Unbounded Critical Discussion
    • Main
    • Debate
    • Other
  • Casual, Gentle Learning
    • Main
    • Technical Details
    • Other
  • Elliot's articles
  • Community

That's 2 main areas with 3 subforums in each, and then 2 additional subforums.

"Casual, Gentle Learning" name is to be decided (suggestions welcome). The point is to have a section for more criticism and analysis of what ppl say and do (e.g. social dynamics, memes and dishonesty that they do), where you can't control critical tangents, discussions don't get ignored or forgotten after some time passes. etc. And a section for ppl (or specific topics) who don't want to deal with that and want to just arbitrarily, casually drop discussions, ignore relevant discussion continuations, ask a question and never follow up, not do Paths Forward, act socially normally etc.

A different way to view the distinction is a section limited to socially normal criticism and a section for rational criticism that could seem overly rude or aggressive to ppl. And persistence and criticism of things seen as tangential or irrelevant to the original topic are two of the main ways that comes up. In Gentle, if ppl wanna drop an issue they can just drop it. In Unbounded, you can't just drop a discussion and make a new topic about something else. If you post a new thread, ppl might respond about the pattern of not finishing discussions then creating new threads, but in Gentle they won't do that.

Unbounded is the section where discussions can involve reading a book and then coming back and continuing. It's where people might actually do whatever is effective to seek the truth without putting any arbitrary limits on it.

Part of the point – which I know ppl don't want – is to label who is actually presenting serious ideas in the public square for consideration as the best existing ideas, and who is not making serious claims meant to contribute to human knowledge. People want ambiguity about how good or serious their posts are.

Anyway I'll try to come up with a reasonably tactful but also reasonably clear way to explain the distinction for the forum.

"Technical Details" is meant for stuff that isn't of general interest or isn't accessible to everyone, e.g. posts involving coding or math (that way Main only has stuff for everyone). I'm not sure if having that subforum exist is necessary/worthwhile or not. I don't have that separation in the unbounded forum b/c topics there have no boundaries on what could be included – in other words, whatever topic you bring up, you can't know in advance that replies won't use math.

The "Other" sections will allow off-topic discussion, including politics, food, music and gaming. Main will allow a lot of topics but not everything. You could post about food, music or gaming in Main if your post had explicit philosophical analysis and learning stuff, so it was really obviously relevant to a rationality forum. But if you wanna talk about those things at all normally just put it in Other. I think abstract political philosophy or economics would be OK in Main but no discussions about current political news or events – those have to go in Other (or Debate).

I plan to post less in the Casual section than the Unbounded section. I want to have somewhere I can do share my full critical analysis of stuff. I plan to restrict that criticism to:

  • public figures
  • publications (books, articles, serious blogs)
  • public examples (reddit threads, tweets, casual blogs). i could omit the name and link cuz i don't wanna get them any negative attention but i like sources, context and giving credit, so undecided on the best way to handle this. (suggestions?)
  • stuff posted in the Unbounded section

And I also plan to check with people who are new to that section that they know what they're consenting to and let them back out and be like "nevermind I'll go use the gentle section". I think just "this person posted in this section" isn't enough for nubs and they should be asked too before getting full crit. I'll also have a general recommendation written somewhere that new posters who aren't familiar with the community should use the Gentle section for at least a month.

One awkwardness is people might consent to receive criticism but then want to back out after receiving some criticism, but I don't want to delete analysis that's already written, nor do I want to stop analyzing something if I started posting analysis and thinking it through and still have more to say, nor do I want to stop other people from taking an interest, responding to my analysis, starting their own analysis, etc. after critical analysis has begun. Thoughts on how to handle that? (Note: I hope to disable deleting posts and/or save version history.) Maybe once there is an example of what ppl don't like, we can make ppl say they've read it and are OK with it b4 they can post in Unbounded.

Hopefully the casual/gentle section will provide most of what people wanted from a chatroom while being way better organized.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (38)

FI Basecamp Update

I removed some inactive people from the FI Basecamp in order to revert it to the free plan. Sorry; it’s nothing personal.

There were a few reasons:

I realized I cannot make the Basecamp large, given the ongoing harassment against my community (including vandalizing the Basecamp once), because Basecamp doesn’t have adequate security features. It’s designed for working with trusted co-workers.

People weren’t using the project management features. is a better discussion forum IMO. It has publicly-viewable permalinks and some markdown support. If you want to have a discussion, please use that.

I decided it'd be better to restrict it now, rather than have more people join then restrict it later.

You can download an archive of all the content at:

I’ll share an updated archive in the future with new posts so that everyone can read them.

I'm planning a new, better forum, although currently I'm making videos explaining The Beginning of Infinity. For updates on my new stuff, subscribe to my newsletter:

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (2)

Was David Deutsch Using Me to Help with BoI?

I helped David Deutsch with his book, The Beginning of Infinity, for seven years. Soon after the book was done, he dropped me, and he's now hostile enough to personally take a leading role on harassing me by lying about me in writing.

It has just now occured to me that he may have been using me to get help with his book. Now I'm unsure. I had never thought of this until a couple days ago. But academics getting younger people to do some work for them, which they can take credit for, is a common story. BoI wasn't like getting a younger co-author for a paper who you can actually get to do most of the writing. DD absolutely wrote BoI himself. But I did help a really unusually large amount, as DD requested. I wrote over 200 pages to help DD with BoI, which is an entire book worth of writing. And no one else helped similarly (nor could they have – DD wanted some of my unique skills, abilities, knowledge and perspective).

Part of why this occured to me is that DD got Chiara Marletto to co-author some Constructor Theory writing with him (and also to write multiple other papers, also about DD's ideas, without DD). He's getting a younger postdoctoral researcher to do a lot of work that he isn't doing himself. And when you see two people with significantly different social status as co-authors on a paper, in general that means the lower status person did most of the work. If the higher status person had done most of the work, he wouldn't have given anyone co-author credit. You see this all the time with professors taking too much credit for the work of their grad students (either the grad student helps and gets little credit, or the grad student does most of it and gets his or her name on it and everyone assumes the professor did most of the smart stuff and guided the work, which is often inaccurate).

Note: People often use others without having full conscious knowledge of what they're doing. I think that's much more likely than DD doing using me while having clear, conscious knowledge of exactly what he was doing.

I learned a lot from interacting with DD. But I also had a reasonable expectation of more help from him in the future which never materialized. And my expectations were not just my own reasonable assumptions/guesses; for example, DD told me that one day he would write a forward for my book.

Here's some info about what I did for BoI:

For more info on how I helped with BoI, see also the first few minutes of this video and this praise DD said about me.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (2)

Induction and AZ Vax Blood Clots

waneagony asks on my YouTube video Induction | Analyzing The Beginning of Infinity, part 5:

Could you explain some using the Astra Zeneca COVID vaccine as an example of induction being used (or not) and it being wrong (if so)?

Like more cases of blood clots seem to have been found among ppl that have taken the AZ vaccine.

I think comparing to see if there is an over representation of clots if one suspects reported cases to be high is ok. How one compares in a good way is an issue I think. Don’t know how to think about this well to avoid problems (don’t know if science is good at these things). I guess statistical significance is usually used here in science.

Claiming that clots are due to vaccine without an explanation is induction I think. ~pattern finding. There could be many other patterns that develop post vaccine that are highly (e.g. statistically significant) different between these groups too.

I’m not sure how, but I feel confused on this issue. I think we can discover that something bad is more prevalent post the vaccine in a legit way in the group that has taken the vaccine and I think it is valid to take precautions. But how do we know it’s because of the vaccine and not some other reason like just random or whatever? Could you explain a good way of thinking about this issue? Here, on the other yt channel, a post, a podcast, other, whichever would be appreciated.

First you need explanations of what’s going on. Here’s a simplified explanatory model (scientists have better ones):

  • Blood has clotting agents to protect against losing too much blood from cuts
  • When foreign materials are in the blood, they may incorrectly trigger internal clotting, which can do significant harm by blocking veins or arteries
  • Some foreign materials cause clots and some don’t
  • We know some materials are safe, some dangerous, and others unknown
  • AZ vax is in the unknown category and we’re trying to figure out if it causes clots or not

Now imagine some simplified evidence: the blood clot rate with AZ vax goes from 0.01% to 75%.

Our guesses include “AZ vax causes clotting” and “AZ vax doesn’t cause clotting”. We need to try to criticize them.

Why did clotting jump to 75% if AZ vax doesn’t cause clotting? This argument criticizes the “doesn’t cause clotting” guess unless someone can provide some kind of rebuttal.

What if clotting jumped from 0.01% base rate to 1%? Might that be random bad luck? What if it was 5%? 10%? To answer that we need to know some things like the variance for blood clotting in general and the sample size of the trial. And we need to do some math. Statisticians have some ideas about how to do that math. We then take the math and use it in our critical arguments. E.g. “According to standard stats, a 1% clot rate in a trial of 50 people could easily just be bad luck. Therefore, I won’t reject the guess that the AZ vax is safe, unless you have some further criticism.” (My numbers are just made up btw. Not especially realistic.) Instead of “standard stats” you might name a particular model or theory in stats that you’re using, and there might be alternatives that get different results, in which case you’d have to use critical arguments regarding what model should be used or how multiple models should be used (e.g. you might be able to explain why a stats model is bad in general, or doesn’t fit this scenario well).

But if it’s 10% blood clots in the trial, then you say “According to standard stats, there’s only a 0.000001% chance that those blood clots would happen by random bad luck. So we should regard the AZ vax as dangerous.” That argument would be open to criticism and counter-argument. A critic could dispute any of the numbers used (e.g. maybe the measurements of the rate of blood clots in the general population were done incorrectly or are old and contradicted by more recent data and may have changed over time), or dispute the statistical model itself, or dispute some premise/requirement that’s required for the statistical model to apply, or dispute the math calculations and point out an error, or dispute the original explanatory model about how blood clots work, or could propose some other cause of the blood clots besides the AZ vax which could be solved in some way (e.g.: “everyone in the trial was in a room with Dr. Johnson who kept coughing up blood, and I’ve tested his blood and found it has Bozark’s Disease which can easily be passed on in an airborne manner in tiny quantities and then cause blood clots in others. so we should do another trial with a step where we screen everyone for Bozark’s Disease and I’m expecting we’ll see no increase in blood clots compared to the general population”).

PS I did not look up anything about the AZ vax issue for writing the above and was just trying to speak about general principles. My loose impression from Twitter is that the AZ vax is probably safe and that the regulators focus on “risk we allow it and it hurts people” without comparing to or caring about “risk we delay it and the vax delay hurts people”. They want to make sure it’s super safe, which is a bad idea when delaying it is uncontroversially super unsafe.

PPS Scientists knowing more details makes a big difference (here’s an overview, which is not representative of all the technical details scientists know). Like they can consider which materials are in the AZ vax and whether some of those have already been tested previously. The vax has a virus with some DNA in it. Maybe that virus has already been used for other stuff before and we’re confident it wouldn’t cause blood clots. So then we’d have to consider if the DNA is somehow getting out of the virus within the blood stream, or what happens when a white blood cell surrounds the virus and what’s left over or excreted from that process. And we’d want to consider what happens once the virus gets in the cell, whether the DNA could end up in the blood stream, whether the mrna created by the cell due to the DNA instructions could end up in the blood stream, whether something that’s within a cell but not directly in the blood stream can cause clotting just by changing the shape or surface of the cell, etc. And scientists already know a lot about those things, and understand explanations about how they work, and also know which types of materials generally do and don’t cause blood clots, and why, and what specific mechanisms form blood clots (like what chemical reactions happen, what different things in the body are involved, etc.) Often this explanatory knowledge and mental model of how this stuff works gives you a pretty good idea that it won’t cause blood clots – or in the alternative that it might and we need to carefully watch out for clotting – before you have any data at all. Maybe you can imagine how knowing a ton of detail about the stuff in this para would be 1) not data 2) very useful (possibly more useful than having a bunch of data. like imagine you could pick one: look at a bunch of data and stats about the AZ vax trials, or actually know all the kinds of stuff from this paragraph in tons of detail so you know how everything works. i think the second one would be better. the data without really knowing what i’m talking about would be less useful than knowing what i’m talking about. (i know what i’m talking about re the epistemology but not so much re the biology and medicine stuff. ideally a person would know epistemology and biology/medicine and also some stats and would have the full data. then they could judge better.))

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)

Learning Skills Is Non-Linear

Max talked about return on investment for learning. E.g. at 1% improvement per day, you can double your skill in 70 days. It’s around 2 years for 0.1%. If you always spend half your time learning instead of working, then your productivity (stuff accomplished per day) will be ahead once you double your skill.

I want to talk about some problems with that linear skill model. I think it’s misleading and understates the value of learning.

Learning Is Non-Linear

There are non-linear jumps in performance when learning. It’s like jumps to universality. There are discontinuities.

Put another way, some learning crosses an important breakpoint and results in a major jump in performance. And some doesn’t.

If you don’t make some kind of significant breakthrough, Max’s simplified model may overestimate the effectiveness of learning. But a single breakthrough can be worth a ton of effort.


Also, people often fail at things. One of the results of learning is more ability to succeed rather than fail. Learning more can often make the difference between success and failure. There are lots of things you just can’t do successfully unless you learn enough. Learning reduces errors.

Not a Matter of Speed

David Deutsch said:

The thing that people call intelligence in everyday life — like the ability of some people like Einstein or Feynman to see their way through to a solution to a problem while other people can't — simply doesn't take the form that the person you regard as 'unintelligent' would take a year to do something that Einstein could do in a week; it's not a matter of speed. What we really mean is the person can't understand at all what Einstein can understand.

This is related to non-linearity again. You can’t just take 100 people who did less learning and have them do the same work as 1 guy who learned enough to be 100x as effective. Even if you set aside the overhead for coordination between the 100 people, it still doesn’t work. You can’t replace an Einstein or Feynman with even a million ordinary people and get the same work accomplished.

The 100 people have some advantages too. Learning doesn’t give you a big effectiveness gain at all work. The advantages from learning are unequally distributed. This is often mitigated by helpers. A genius can hire help or work at a company with a bunch of other manpower.

But if you imagine the genius alone on a desert island, and then imagine a second desert island with 100 average people, you’ll see some advantages and disadvantages for each island. (The desert island scenario prevents the genius from having any helpers.)


IMO, it’s pretty hard to go wrong investing in learning if:

  • your learning is effective
  • you’re reasonably young
  • you’re learning general purpose stuff

Learning stuff that’s only useful for a few purposes is more risky. You might stop using it later. And failing to learn or getting stuck or learning wrong ideas are common problems. And you probably shouldn’t learn to code and try to switch careers when you’re 90.

Learning effectiveness is the condition that concerns me the most. Lots of times people try to learn stuff and it doesn’t work. This is especially true for more general purpose stuff like philosophy. Learning really specific skills is more reliably successful. But most people aren’t very successful at learning about epistemology. (That’s a problem I’ve been working on.)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (3)

Analyzing BoI Videos

I'm making a video series explaining, discussing, analyzing and teaching David Deutsch's book The Beginning of Infinity (which I helped edit for 7 years).

View the YouTube Playlist

It's on a new YouTube Channel (Critical Fallibilism) so you'll need to subscribe (and click the bell and select "All") even if you're already subscribed to my curi channel.

Use the comments below to discuss the videos or the book.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (11)

Critical Fallibilism Course Videos Now on Sale

My Critical Fallibilism Course videos are now available. Buy on Gumroad ($880).

These 8 videos (16.5 hours) teach my philosophy, Critical Fallibilism, which builds on Critical Rationalism (by Karl Popper and secondarily David Deutsch), Objectivism (by Ayn Rand and secondarily Leonard Peikoff) and Theory of Constraints (by Eli Goldratt). The course is primarily my original material and focuses on teaching tools for thinking effectively. Topics covered include:

  • IGCs (idea, goal, context triples, and using IGC charts for decision making and judging ideas)
  • Qualitative or quantitative
  • Discrete (often binary) or continuous
  • Breakpoints
  • Sub-goals, combo goals, final goals
  • Criticism (explaining why an idea fails at a goal in a context)
  • Only act on non-refuted IGCs
  • Library of criticism
  • Methods to get one non-refuted IGC
  • Dealing with conflicts of ideas by considering what to do, from neutral perspective, given an unknown
  • High & low attention goals (near or not near a breakpoint)
  • High & low attention ideas (mastery, autopilot)
  • Critical Rationalism (connections to Critical Fallibilism)
  • Evolution
  • Objectivism (connections to Critical Fallibilism)
  • Theory of Constraints (connections to Critical Fallibilism)
  • Focus
  • Excess capacity, buffers, margins of error
  • Variance
  • Bottlenecks, constraints, limiting factors
  • Silver bullets
  • Local & Global Optima (crossing relevant breakpoints)
  • Throughput (does this (local) action cause an improvement at the big picture goal?)

I taught the course live over Zoom video conferencing to five students in November 2020. The format was two 2-hour sessions per week (8 total) with slides. I addressed student questions for each slide as we went along. It's a hybrid between lecture and discussion.

Justin was in the course and said "The ideas in this course - specifically IGCs and breakpoints - helped me think about everyday things like personal purchasing decisions more effectively. This is rational philosophy that you can use in your life!"

Max was in the course and said "the things i've learnt during my tutorials with curi and the CF course have been incredibly valuable."

This product includes 8 videos, 233 slides, and computer-generated subtitles and transcripts. They come as a .zip download with no DRM. I offer a 30-day money back guarantee. Just let me know if you aren't satisfied and I'll give you a full refund.

Buy on Gumroad ($880)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

David Deutsch Lied About Me

This is part of a series of posts explaining the harassment against me which has been going on for years.

Justin Mallone emailed David Deutsch (DD) to bring up the Andy B harassment encouraged by DD’s associates and fan community. DD replied (italics are mine, and you can view a screenshot of the email which includes what Justin said):

As I have told Elliot several times, I don't want to hear from him. That includes indirectly via you and many others. I don't know this Andy B he speaks of. I'm not aware of anyone I know sending DDoS attacks or anything else covertly to Elliot. I'm not the chief of anything. I'm not the leader of any group. Please go away.

David Deutsch

This is a lie about a factual matter. DD did not tell me several times that he didn’t want to hear from me. He never told me that. He hasn’t made a no contact request. I provide evidence below.

Note: I know that accusing someone of lying will bring strong reactions. If you're upset by this article, please try to be objective and look for factual or logical errors rather than assuming it's wrong. And remember that all I want is to be left alone and not have my rights violated. I would address this privately, but DD won’t discuss it with me, and I don’t know who else he lied to.

The lie about no contact requests is what DD says when he’s writing something he knows may be published. It’s also what he says to someone he believes is on my side acting as my proxy. This is DD on his best behavior addressing (for the first time ever that I’ve seen) his involvement in DDOSing, cyberstalking, multi-year harassment, etc. I presume he’s said similar or worse to people he thinks are on his side (there’s circumstantial evidence that he’s been doing that for 5+ years).

DD’s lie is damaging to my reputation. He’s smearing me as a person who violates no contact requests. I never did that.

Justin (another of the harassment victims) asked DD to write a tweet asking his followers to stop harassing. Not only did DD refuse, he also lied to attack the primary victim (me). DD presents me as a person who treats others immorally by violating reasonable and repeated no contact requests. DD turns things around by changing the topic from harassment against me to alleged harassment by me. That makes it sound like he thinks I’m in the wrong and I’m the one who needs to change behaviors. His email implies that he sees me, but not Andy B, as a problem, and that he doesn’t see the harassment against me as having gone too far. And the things DD denied are different than my actual claims, which is a rhetorical trick to make it sound like he’s disputing something when he’s actually avoiding the issue.

DD’s lie echos previous comments by the biggest harasser, Andy B, who claimed that I was ignoring direct requests to leave people alone or stop doing things (but he didn’t specify any requests and was just using it as a tactic to attack me). Andy B may have gotten that idea from DD or one of DD’s associates, but I don’t know specifically because none of them will speak about it.

I challenge DD to provide specifics of the "several times" he (allegedly) told me that he didn’t want to hear from me or made a no contact request. The vast majority of our communication was in writing. I have records of it and I believe DD does too. And I don’t think it’s an innocent mistake to say “several times” when it was zero times; he isn’t just off by a little bit (like saying 4 when it was 5).

Our Most Recent Communications

To see what’s true, let’s take a look at DD’s most recent communications to me. This list of emails is the full story because we stopped using other communication methods like IM before this. I’m going to limit what I share for both of our privacy. I will provide full information if DD disputes my account.

Note: This screenshot only includes personal emails. DD also sent discussion group replies, including Oct 2013 replies to me about impersonal topics on my private discussion group. That seems incompatible with the existence of an active no contact request.

Now let’s go through all the emails in the picture, from oldest to newest. The bulk are DD’s 26 emails in 6 days discussing schizophrenia with me, plus the related emails about Mental illness and szasz (an author who wrote The Myth of Mental Illness). DD initiated the discussion by sharing his comments on an article. He was starting a friendly debate on an issue he knew I partially disagreed about. We ending up discussing political theory. It was a discussion he chose to have for fun or learning, which he was under no pressure or obligation to participate in, so it indicates there wasn’t any no contact request active at that time. If all later emails also lack a no contact request, I think that should be convincing.

Next is the email Remove BOI post. That was sent to DD but meant for me, so he forwarded it. The later email THE BEGINNING OF INFINITY review copy request was the reverse: it was sent to me but meant for DD, so I forwarded it on to him (he replied with “Thanks.”). I created, owned and ran the BoI forum (and website) at DD’s request, so that’s why the email about removing a post (which had been sent by accident) should have gone to me.

The three ramit sethi email emails involved DD helping me edit a draft email to a public figure (Ramit Sethi teaches personal finance). Helping each other edit stuff was typical of our relationship, and isn’t what people do when they have no contact requests outstanding.

In why can popper publish it, but not you?, DD criticizes Popper. It doesn’t say anything about not wanting to hear from me.

demanding respect for one’s moral code is the most negative and complicated, but does not contain a no contact request. I had sent DD a quote from Atlas Shrugged, a book he was a fan of and which had influenced his thinking and philosophy. I commented, in full, “when you appear to be acting against a main theme of Atlas Shrugged, shouldn't you explain yourself?” Due to our many prior conversations, I thought DD would understand what I meant, though I may have been mistaken. DD’s response began:

You are saying that I ought to write you an essay, on the subject of your choice.

More generally, you keep demanding that I work for you. You keep claiming that I have an obligation to do so.

This was (as best I can understand it) a misinterpretation of my question. I meant that if public figures change their mind about ideas and advice they shared with thousands of people, I think they ought to keep their fans updated, e.g. with a retraction. You wouldn’t want people to keep using your ideas that you later discovered were errors. It’s like when a scientist publishes a result, and later discovers it’s false, then he ought to publish updated info.

Asking a critical, argumentative question is not a demand that DD work for me. It’s intellectual debate. DD could agree, disagree or not reply (he’d used all of those options many times in the past).

DD didn’t want me to demand that he work for me (I don’t think I did, nor do I think I was ever capable of bossing around my mentor who is an award-winning physicist, successful author and Royal Society member). That’s different than a no contact request. And in my judgment, wanting DD to stop lying about me, retract the lie(s) and tell his fans to stop harassing me is not violating his old request. Those are actions that any reasonable person would do. And I’m not trying to get DD to work to provide me with a positive value (such as an essay I’d enjoy); I just want my rights to stop being violated.

The last email to discuss is hello. In it, DD answers my question “are you interested in a solution?” (to whatever reason we weren’t talking much anymore, which wasn’t clearly specified) with “Yes.” I actually read the rest of the email in a negative way, but it didn’t say anything about not wanting to hear from me.


So, reviewing DD's communications, he repeatedly acted like he did want to hear from me, e.g. by conversing with me, and he didn’t request not to hear from me again once, let alone “several” times. My takeaway is that DD has lied to attack the same person that his fans are harassing.

I’ve shared this to try to undo some of the harm to my reputation that DD is doing by lying about me. See also the praise DD wrote about me, which I shared for a similar purpose.

What I want is simple. DD: stop lying about me, retract your lies, and tell your followers to stop harassing. Leave me alone.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (8)

Harassment Summary

I (and other members of the Fallible Ideas community) have been subjected to severe harassment over the last 2.5 years, including illegal actions like DDoSing and threatening IRL harm. The harassment includes hundreds of comments from over 100 IP addresses and over 20 false identities (some maintained for months). It’s coming from the CritRat community led by David Deutsch (DD), who used to be my mentor and colleague. They’ve said they’re harassing because they see me as DD’s enemy. DD left our community (after years of participation) and formed a new community (CritRat) which is harassing his former community which he has a grudge against. When asked to request that his fans stop harassing, DD not only refused but lied to attack me, which encourages further harassment (in my understanding, that lie is illegal: libel and defamation).

I’m writing a series of posts to explain what’s going on, including what harassment happened, what the evidence is, and why I place blame on Deutsch. I’m doing this publicly because Deutsch and his associates have refused to discuss it privately. They’ve also refused to say they are opposed to harassment or that they want the culprits to stop. Many of them are publicly friendly with the biggest harasser, Andy B.

David Deutsch

Andy B

Conceptual Explanations

David Deutsch Background Information & Context


The harassment problem has not ended. Nothing has been fixed so far. DD and others have not made any attempts to improve the situation. Comments on this website remain disabled due to the harassment problem. It's an active issue that is affecting my life on a daily basis.

I hope people who read this will ask DD and other CritRats to answer for this, and will bring up the issue to DD and his community. Please don't harass them, but do raise the issue, ask challenging questions, and share critical opinions.

I've shared a lot of information, but I know I can never completely cover everything people might want to know. I'm open to questions about these issues from people who are making a genuine effort to understand and who already read some of the articles. You can email me at or post at my forum. And if any CritRat is willing to discuss the harassment problem, please email me (CritRats unwilling to discuss the problem should leave me alone).

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (20)

What I Learned from Autonomy Respecting Relationships

Autonomy Respecting Relationships (ARR) was an online discussion group led by Sarah Fitz-Claridge (SFC) and David Deutsch (DD). They eventually left. I owned and ran the group when Verizon bought Yahoo and deleted all Yahoo Groups in 2019 and 2020. The archives are still available on my website.

I wrote a summary of ARR in 2011. Most of the ARR discussions were 5+ years earlier.

ARR was an offshoot of Taking Children Seriously (TCS), a parenting and educational philosophy founded by DD and SFC. It had similar themes like non-coercion, classical liberalism and Critical Rationalism.

The first thing I learned when I joined ARR is that monogamy can be questioned. Previously, like most people, I’d taken monogamous relationships for granted as simply how relationships work. I hadn’t known that any reasonable alternatives might exist.

I learned that romance is dangerous and hurts people. Conventional relationships are a problematic area in need of improvement and reform, not a solved problem. The pain of breakups, divorces and broken hearts is a big deal that should be taken seriously.

I learned that (romantic) love is a vague concept which can be used in bad ways. Love can be pressuring or foolish. And no one seems to be able to put into clear writing what “love” is or what’s good about it.

I learned that there are dangerous anti-rational memes involved with romantic relationships.

I learned that the idea of merging two lives into one shared life is problematic and contradicts individualism. Everyone needs to have their own life and be their own person. No one fully or clearly advocates losing individuality in marriage, but there are lots of ideas about partially doing that. I became skeptical of e.g. fully sharing finances and recognized that significantly sharing of finances is hard to do well and merits more serious attention and consideration than it often gets.

Later, elsewhere, I learned that romantic/passionate/sexual love was called “eros” by the ancient Greeks (our word “erotic” comes from the Greek “eros”). The Greeks invented philosophy and also had warned of the dangers of eros over 2000 years ago. Eros was both a concept and a Greek god. The Roman name for the god Eros is well known today: Cupid. Cupid shot arrows because arrows were the most powerful and feared weapon in the ancient world, and people saw sexual love as dangerous. Arrows only became more cute after we got used to guns. You can read about eros in the book Eros: The Myth Of Ancient Greek Sexuality by Bruce Thornton.


ARR advocated polyamory (which means having romantic/sexual love relationships with multiple people at once). It questioned monogamy and wanted to replace that with more freedom and autonomy. Why should you be shackled by conventional ideas that work poorly? Use your rationality to solve any problems that may come up while being promiscuous and having fun!

Although I partly agreed with this at the time, I had doubts about it early on. What had I learned initially? Monogamy can be questioned. But also, love, romance and sex are dangerous. If romantic relationships work badly and hurt people, why have more of them? Instead of having more of this stuff in our lives, we could try the standard amount or less.

Most posters, including SFC, wanted more love and more sex, despite warnings from SFC and others about dangers. DD was more friendly to the possibility of just not doing romance. But I got a lot of resistance when I pushed back against polyamory. People told me how great sex was, and how sex was uniquely important for learning and communication. I thought that was a rationalization. No way is sex an irreplaceable tool for general education or for sharing your ideas. That was an excuse used by people who wanted lots of sex and also wanted to be rational persons who valued knowledge.


Sex is important because our culture imbues it with meaning (and because of the facts of pregnancy and STDs). The philosopher William Godwin had explained that 200 years earlier, as DD showed me. Although sex is not as inherently, innately important as people think, that doesn’t prevent it from actually having a lot of meaning to people and being a big deal. DD and I knew that was hard to change, and I now recognize it’s even harder to change than I used to think. Also, if you’re going to put significant work into self-improvement to change something, there are a lot of other things that could be a higher priority.

ARR (and myself initially) overestimated how easy it is to go against cultural knowledge. Culture is very powerful. If something is cultural rather than genetic, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to change, nor even easier. Memes can be harder to deal with than genes. Ideas rule the world, as both DD and Ayn Rand say.

DD talked about rational respect for tradition, but never emphasized it enough. I learned more about tradition later when reading Edmund Burke and, after that, when learning about the tradition of western civilization from books like Greek Ways: How the Greeks Created Western Civilization.

Age of Consent

ARR, DD and SFC also criticized age of consent laws. While those laws aren’t perfect, I now think that criticism was unwise. In some ways, I think there should be more or stronger laws about this! E.g., I think all US states should ban child brides (under 18) with a significant age gap (you may be disturbed to find out that most states don’t do that and that there are thousands of child brides involved in US immigration every year – meaning either a child bride is being brought in from another country or an adult is moving to the US to marry an American child). A 2019 Utah law raised the minimum marriage age from 15 to 16 and also banned marriage between minors and adults 7+ years older than them. I think that’s an improvement, not a violation of young people’s human rights.

Imagine a 15 year old girl marrying a 40 year old man. That’s a terrible idea. I’ll grant that it doesn’t literally violate the laws of physics for that marriage to be a good idea and that the concept of greater autonomy for 15 year olds has upsides. But we as a society aren’t even close to figuring out how to make that kind of thing work well, and attacking age of consent laws can lead to more girls being victims. It’s not just that it doesn’t work well today; it’s actually very dangerous. Child marriage often means the girl becomes a sex and house slave and is raped repeatedly with no way out. Due to being too young, minors have limited ability to get out of bad situations by getting a job, getting welfare, using a woman’s shelter, or even filing for divorce. Yes, as dumb as it sounds, some married persons in America today are actually told they’re too young to divorce!

If you’re interested in the modern problem child marriage problem in the US and elsewhere, you can do a web search. There are news articles and info sites.

One of the reasons child marriage keeps happening is due to ageist adults who don’t care about the victims. So if SFC and DD wanted a campaign to improve laws to help children against ageism, it would have been better to start with this instead of attacking age of consent laws. But protecting children from being victimized by child marriage didn’t fit with SFC’s and DD’s goals of being edgy and controversial, proving what free thinkers they were, or focusing exclusively on advocating more independence and autonomy for children without admitting that there could be any problems with that.


Due to my involvement with ARR, I want to be clear about what I think so no one does polyamory and thinks they’re following my philosophy. I know SFC changed her mind about some of this stuff but never told people, which I think was bad. I’m not sure what DD’s current views about this are, and whether they changed, which I also think is bad. Thought leaders who change people’s lives with their advice ought to let people know if they change their mind.

I’ve talked about some of this stuff previously, e.g. my Philosophy First article criticizing ARR, my podcast criticizing polyamory, and my podcast about rationalism and convention which also criticized polyamory.

I don’t remember exactly what I’ve said about relationships in the past, but I’m sure there were some errors, and that some people got the impression I favor polyamory. I was never half as friendly to polyamory as SFC and many other ARR group members, and I now have a fairly (but not entirely) negative opinion of it. I think most actual poly communities are pretty awful. (They might all be awful but I haven’t researched it and looked at many.) There were ARR people who were involved in a bunch of promiscuous, poly behaviors, but I was not the leader of any of that, and my impression is it worked out poorly for those involved (but none of them gave any public warnings about the failures of their attempts at ARR).

I thought of writing this particular article after rereading some of SFC’s old arguments against age of consent laws, which I found disturbing. I have other priorities so I’m not focusing much attention on philosophy of relationships currently, but I think it’s something I should share and clarify thoughts about sometimes. Besides my past involvement, it’s a topic that plays a big role in people’s lives.

People are too controlling of their partners in relationships, but there’s no quick fix. Just being less controlling will run into other problems. The control wasn’t random or pointless.

There are many dangers in romantic relationships and there aren’t good enough resources to help navigate them. (For example people think communication and rationality will be sufficient to make their relationship work better than a typical relationship; that isn’t a good enough plan.) I think there are lots of good points in my older writing about this (ARR emails, blog posts, and FI articles) but it’s nothing like a complete, batteries-included, ready-to-use, foolproof system. You can pick up some good-but-incomplete ideas from my old stuff but need to use your own judgment. I’d suggest, when in doubt, err on the side of convention (and when not in doubt, try to make your critical thinking much more vigorous). You’re also welcome to ask questions and start discussions about these topics here.

ARR and TCS had some good ideas mixed in (TCS more so) but a lot of dangerous errors, too. Beware.

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Some Thoughts on Learning Philosophy

You need to know why you’re learning something in order to know when you’re done. What level of perfection does it need to be learned to? Which details should be learned and which skipped? That depends on its purpose.

At first, you can go by intuition or conventional defaults for how well to learn something, but it’s important at some point to start getting some control over this and making it more intentional and chosen.

To get a grasp on the purpose of learning, you need a tree (or graph). Writing it down helps clarify it in your mind. If you think about it without writing it down, there’s still information in your head that is logically equivalent to a tree (or graph) structure. If you have a goal and something you plan to do that’s related to the goal, then that is a tree: the goal is the root node and the relevant action is a descendent.

A tree can indicate some things you’re hoping to build up to. E.g. the root node is “write well” and then “learn grammar” is one of descendants. But those aren’t specific. How will you know when you succeeded?

It’s OK to sketch out trees with blank parts. You have the root node, then don’t specify everything, and then you get to the grammar node. You don’t have to know exactly what’s in between to know there’s a connection there. Figuring it out is useful though. It’s better to have something pretty generic like “learn mechanics of writing” in between instead of leaving it blank.

If you want to be able to write an article sharing your ideas about dinosaurs so that three of your friends can understand it, that’s more specific. That clearer root node gives more meaning to the “learn grammar” node below it. You can learn just the grammar that’s relevant to the goal. It helps you know when to move on. For example, you can write understandably to your three friends without using any colons or semi-colons. But you will need to understand periods, and you’ll probably want to use a few commas and question marks. And you’ll need to understand what a sentence is – not in full detail but at least the basics.

Another descendent node is “learn vocabulary”. Since the goal relates to dinosaurs, you’ll need some uncommon words like "cretaceous”, but you won’t need to know “sporadically” or “perplexity” (which are sometimes called “SAT words” due to showing up on the SAT college-entrance test – if your goal were to get into more prestigious colleges than you need to learn differently vocabulary).

Bottlenecks and breakpoints are important too. Which areas actually deserve much of your attention? Which are important to your goal and should be focused on? Which aren’t? Why? Usually you can get most stuff to a “good enough” level with little attention and then focus most of your attention on a few areas that will make a big difference to the outcome. If you can’t do that – if there are a lot of hard parts – then the project as a whole is too advanced for you and therefore needs to be divided into more manageable sub-projects. The number of sub-projects you end up with gives you a decent indication of project difficulty. If you have to divide it up into 500 parts to get them into manageable chunks, then it’s a big, hard project overall! If it’s 3 chunks then it’s harder than the average project but not too bad.

A bottleneck is a limiting factor, aka a constraint. If you do better in that area, it translates to a better outcome on the final goal. Most things aren’t bottlenecks. E.g. consider a chain. If you reinforce most links, it won’t make the overall chain stronger, because they weren’t the weakest link anyway. Doing better in that area (that link is stronger) doesn’t translate to more success at the goal (chain holds more weight). But if you find the weakest link – the bottleneck – and reinforce that link, then you’ll actually have a positive impact on the goal.

A breakpoint is a significant, distinguishable improvement. It makes some kinda meaningful difference instead of just being 0.003% better (who cares?). For example, I want to buy something that costs $20. Then there’s a breakpoint at $20. If I have $19 or less, I can’t buy it. If I have $20 or more, I can buy it. The incremental change of gaining $1 from $19 to $20 crosses the breakpoint and makes a big difference (buy instead of can’t buy). But any other $1 doesn’t matter so much. If I go from $15 to $16 or $33 to $34 it doesn’t change the outcome. More resources is generally a good thing, and money is generic enough to use on some other project later, but it’s important to figure out what will make important differences and pursue that. If we optimize things that don’t matter much, we can spend our whole lives without achieving much. There are so many details that we could pay attention to that they could consume all our time if we let them.

More specific goals are easier to achieve. More organized approaches are easier to succeed with. Some amount of organized planning – like connecting something to a clearer goal or sub-goal – helps you figure out what’s important and what’s “good enough”.

If you want to learn much philosophy or be much of a general intellectual, you need to be a decent reader and decent writing so you communication to and from you can happen in writing. And you need some ability to organize ideas and organize your life/time. It doesn’t have to be perfect but it has to work OK. And you need some general competence at most of the common knowledge that most people in our society have. And you need some interest in understanding things and some curiosity. And you need some ability to judge stuff for yourself: Does this make sense to you? Are you satisfied? And you need some ability to change and to consider negative things without getting too emotional. Those things are general purpose enough that it doesn’t really matter what specific types of ideas interest you the most, e.g. epistemology, science or economics, they’re going to be useful regardless.

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