Category Archives: Philosophy

How I’m Approaching My Reading List

The way that I have decided to approach my reading list is that I start out listening to a book. I mainly use Audible or Voice Dream Reader for this. During this step I usually make some bookmarks and take some notes in some app.

If I chose to put more effort into learning the ideas from one of these books right now I will go on and read the book as well. During this step I will look extra at the bookmarks taken from the first step (listening) and also take new notes as well as quotes from the book.

Later I intend to share some of my understanding of what I have read for criticism here on the site and probably at FI as well.

Parts from ET’s “How People Get Socially Conditioned”

This is from a FI Email Discussion Group post by Elliot Temple named “How People Get Socially Conditioned” that I liked.

Kate goes to school. Imagine around 1st grade (6-7 years old). People socialize. Kate finds when she behaves in some ways she’s mocked, embarrassed, harassed, disliked, not invited to play, left out, etc. When she behaves in other ways, people tell her secrets, seek her out, want her attention, look up to her, follow her lead, listen to her ideas, and so on. This is *social status* but she doesn’t know the term. She just knows some of her actions get good results and others get bad results. She sees the consequences.

Sometimes it’s pretty hard to connect an action – like wearing a particular piece of clothing – with a result like gaining or losing social status. Over the years, with many examples, Kate gets better at understanding how to behave when dealing with people, both in the more straightforward cases (like don’t say things that get immediate, overt negative reactions) and in much more subtle cases.

Kate forms habits. She doesn’t know, conceptually, what all the social rules are. Her concepts and explanations are vague, incomplete and inaccurate. She keeps trying out different behavior and doing more of what works. She does a lot of learning by trial and error. Lots of her knowledge is fragile: she knows X works and Y doesn’t work, but she doesn’t know why, so trying out Z is risky (it’s hard for her to predict if Z would work or fail). This leads to living conservatively: being risk adverse, being bland and focusing on fitting in. Only a minority are skilled enough, or willing to risk downsides enough, that they can take the lead on new behaviors, innovate and be trend setters. Most people aren’t leaders because they don’t want to risk an error and they are having a hard enough time just trying to do OK and not suffer too much.

Kate doesn’t just learn from her own trials and errors. She spends a lot of her life observing other people and trying to understand what they are doing, and whether it gains or loses social status. It’s safer to be the second person to do something, after seeing if the first person gets viewed positively or negatively. It’s even safer to wait for 25-75% of people to do it before joining in. And note that the vast majority of all possible changes are errors.

So Kate ends up with habits based on rules of thumb and based on partial, vague explanations. And the years go by and she doesn’t remember most of the evidence she used to create her habits. It’s just how she lives now. It feels natural to her. It’s automatic and intuitive.

Her habits are highly adapted and hard to change. They’re social conditioning. They’re static memes. They’re entrenched. They’re irrational. She has very little ability to introspect about them *and doesn’t want to*. Introspecting about her habits is dangerous. During childhood she tried, thousands of times, to introspect and understand herself and improve herself. And she got punished for it most of the time. When she tried to use reason to improve things, the results were painful – over and over and over. She learned it’s better to just accept nonsense, and it’s harder to follow it if you try to rationally analyze it. It’s better if you have intuitive habits instead of second-guessing yourself. It’s better if you only have one voice in your head – the voice of social conditioning – which you follow enthusiastically, rather than if you have a second voice confusing you and giving contrary advice.

To deal with the pain of rejecting reason, child-Kate rationalized her worldview. She came up with excuses to help her feel OK with not questioning her habits and approach to life. This was a defense against suffering which merits sympathy. That’s not the only thing that was going on and she’s wasn’t just an innocent victim, but it’s a substantial part of what happens. Kids do have lots of innocence and are victims in big ways. Now she’s hostile to introspection, examining her life, and so on. She’s attached to her long-held reasons for avoiding that and has convinced herself that *not* thinking is more rational and makes more sense.

Remember, again, that this is the story of approximately everyone. And, btw, scarily, most of the exceptions are now called “autistic” or “diagnosed” with another “mental illness”, and experts (in conformity and conventionality, called psychiatrists and psychologists) are brought in to make them conform. If someone’s parents, peers, priests, teachers and culture (Facebook, TV, magazines, instagram, twitter, etc.) aren’t enough to make a child conform, the war against the individual child will usually be escalated. First the parents usually try to escalate by themselves: they get stricter, read books with advice, etc. If that doesn’t work, a *lot* of parents will now get “experts” involved. (And even if parents don’t want “experts” or drugs involved, often a teacher will push for it, often successfully.) And the support for “expert” meddling in the raising of children has been trending upward. It wasn’t that long ago that parents expected far more control over their children and teachers played a much smaller role, and now government teachers do a massive part of raising most children and psychiatrists and psychologists are doing more and more too.

[…]

This is everyone’s life and it’s so sad. Most people hide it more than Kate by means of staying away from people capable of seeing what’s going on and analyzing it. Kate has, for whatever unusual reasons, spent years giving more info and examples about her irrationality (by actually doing it, not by sharing examples) without leaving even though she hasn’t been making progress. (She made some progress early on which impressed her, but then she ran into some parts that were hard for her, got stuck, and has stayed stuck and become very dishonest about her situation. BTW it’s somewhat common for people to make some progress initially until they reach some part that is hard for them and then get stuck. That’s the standard pattern for people who make any progress at all. But people usually leave much sooner after getting stuck.)

I recommend reading the comments in the link as well (I am currently reading them).

Cyrano De Bergerac – A Hero in the Romantic Tradition

Naturalism is probably the most prominent literary style today. I find it dull.
I like romanticism far better, for it is concerned with things as they might be and ought to be.

Cyrano is a hero in the romantic (the style) tradition. Another one is Howard Roark.

This is the splendid “No thank you” speech, from Edmund Rostand’s “Cyrano de Bergerac” (the Brian Hooker translation).

Cast:
Cyrano de Bergerac, a poet, swordsman, and man made ugly by a very large nose
De Guiche, a rich dandy, enemy of Cyrano
Le Bret: fellow soldier and close friend of CYRANOS.

DE GUICHE: (recovering his self-control after being insulted by CYRANO)
Have you read Don Quixote?

CYRANO:
I have ~ and found myself the hero.

DE GUICHE:
Be so good as to read once more
The chapter of the windmills.

CYRANO:
Chapter Thirteen.

DE GUICHE:
Windmills, remember, if you fight with them ~

CYRANO:
My enemies change, then, with every wind?

DE GUICHE:
~ may swing round their huge arms and cast you
Down into the mire!

CYRANO:
Or up ~ among the stars!

DE GUICHE goes out. We see him get into his sedan chair. LE BRET joins CYRANO.

Cyrano: (saluting with burlesque politeness those who go out)
Gentlemen. Gentlemen.

LE BRET:
You have done it now! You have made
Your fortune! Hah! A bad enemy, that one.
You made him look a fool!

CYRANO:
There you go again, growling!

LE BRET:
At least this latest pose of yours ~ ruining every chance
That comes your way ~ becomes exaggerated ~

CYRANO:
Very well, then. I exaggerate!
Yes. I exaggerate! On principle. There are things
In this world a man does well to carry to extremes.

LE BRET:
Stop trying to be Three Musketeers in one!
Fortune and glory ~

CYRANO:
What would you have me do?
Seek for the patronage of some great man,
And like a creeping vine on a tall tree
Crawl upward, where I cannot stand alone?
No thank you! Dedicate, as others do,
Poems to pawnbrokers? Be a buffoon
In the vile hope of teasing out a smile
On some cold face? No thank you! East a toad
For breakfast every morning? Make my knees
Callous, and cultivate a supple spine, ~
Wear out my belly groveling in the dust?
No thank you! Scratch the back of any swine
That roots up gold for me? Tickle the horns
Of Mammon with my left hand, while my right
Too proud to know his partners business,
Takes in the fee? No thank you! Use the fire
God gave me to burn incense all day long
No thank you! Publish verses at my own
Expense? No thank you! Be the patron saint
Of a small group of literary souls
Who dine together every Tuesday? No,
I thank you! Shall I labor night and day
To build a reputation on one song,
And never write another? Shall I find
True genius only among Geniuses,
Palpitate over little paragraphs,
And struggle to insinuate my name
In the columns of the Mercury:?
No thank you! Calculate, scheme, be afraid,
Love more to make a visit than a poem,
Seek introductions, favors, influences? ~
No thank you! No, I thank you! And again
I thank you! But
To sing, to laugh, to dream,
To walk in my own way, and be alone,
Free, with an eye to see things as they are,
A voice that means manhood ~ to cock my hat
Where I choose ~ At a word, at a Yes, a No,
To fight ~ or write. To travel any road
Under the sun, under the stars, nor doubt
If fame or fortune lie beyond the bourne ~
Never to make a line I have not heard
In my own heart; yet, with all modesty
To say: My soul, be satisfied with flowers,
With fruit, with weeds even; but gather them
In the one garden you may call your own.
So, when I win some triumph, by some chance,
Render no share to Caesar ~ in a word,
I am too proud to be a parasite,
And if my nature wants the germ that grows
Towering to heaven like the mountain pine,
Or, like the oak, sheltering multitudes ~
I stand, not high it may be ~
But, I stand alone!

LE BRET:
Alone! Yes! But why stand against the world?
What devil has possessed you now, to go
Everywhere making yourself enemies?

CYRANO:
Watching you other people making friends
Everywhere ~ as a dog makes friends! I mark
The manner of these canine courtesies
And think: My friends are of a cleaner breed;
Here comes ~ thank God! ~ another enemy!

When you do see something wrong with an expert view, but not with your own view, it’s irrational to do something you expect not to work, over something you expect to work. Of course if [you] use double standards for criticism of your own ideas, and other people’s, you will go wrong. But the solution to that isn’t deferring to experts, it’s improving your mind.

– Elliot Temple, [comment] “Bayesian Epistemology vs Popper”

Elevator Pitch of Critical Rationalism – Elliot Temple

This is an elevator pitch of Critical Rationalism (CR) by Elliot Temple that I like.

I did not use the blog’s quote funktion. Instead I put the entire quote in quotation marks, because the quotation funktion removes italics and messes with the original quote.

Elevator pitch:

CR solves the fundamental problems of epistemology, like how knowledge can be created, which induction failed to solve. It’s a very hard problem: the only solution ever devised is evolution (literally, not analogously – evolution is about replicators, not just genes). In terms of ideas, evolution takes the form of guesses and criticism. CR develops much better criticisms of induction than came before, which are decisive. CR challenges the conventional, infallibilist conception of knowledge – justified, true belief – and replaces it with a non-skeptical, non-authoritarian conception of knowledge: problem-solving information (information adapted to a purpose). Although we expect to learn better ideas in the future, that doesn’t prevent our knoweldge from having value and solving problems in the current context. This epistemology is fully general purpose – it works with e.g. moral philosophy, aesthetics and explanations, not just science/observation/prediction. The underlying reason CR works to create knowledge is the same reason evolution works – it’s a process of error correction. Rather than trying to positively justify ideas, we must accept they are tentative guesses and work to correct errors to improve them.

This position should not be judged by how nice or strong it sounds; it logically works OK unlike every rival. Decisive issues for why something can’t work at all, like induction faces, have priority over how intuitive you find something or whether it does everything you’d like it to do (for example, CR is difficult to translate into computer code or math, which you may not like, but that doesn’t matter if no rival epistemology works at all).

I expect someone to bring up Solomonoff Induction so I’ll speak briefly to that. It attempts to answer the “infinite general patterns fit the data set” problem of induction (in other words, which idea should you induce from the many contradictory possibilities?) problem with a form of Occam’s Razor: favor the ideas with shorter computer code in some language. This doesn’t solve the problem of figuring out which ideas are good, it just gives an arbitrary answer (shorter doesn’t mean truer). Shorter ideas are often worse because you can get shortness by omitting explanation, reasoning, background knowledge, answers to critics, generality that isn’t necessary to the current issue, etc. This approach also, as with induction in general, ignores critical argument. And it’s focused on prediction and doesn’t address explanation. And, perhaps worst of all: how do you know Occam’s Razor is any good? With epistemology we’re trying to start at the beginning and address the foundations of thinking, so you can’t just assume common sense intuitions in our culture. If we learn by induction, then we have to learn and argue for Occam’s Razor itself by induction. But inductivists never argue with me by induction, they always write standard English explanatory arguments on philosophical topics like induction. So they need some prior epistemology to govern the use of the arguments for their epistemology, and then need to very carefully analyze what the prior epistemology is and how much of the work it’s doing. (Perhaps the prior epistemology is CR and is doing 100% of the work? Or perhaps not, but that needs to be specified instead of ignored.) CR, by contrast, is an epistemology suitable for discussing epistemology, and doesn’t need something else to get off the ground.”

 

Purpose of Laws

Laws are designed to protect the weak, not the strong“, Tucker says at 9:14. I disagree. Laws are designed to protect individual rights (or at least that’s how it should be in a moral society).

Rationality is about methods of thinking which allow for the correction of mistakes. It’s wise because irrational attitudes, if they are mistaken, stay mistaken. Mistakes in rational attitudes can be fixed. Can someone reject the premises of my argument, or refuse to listen to it if they don’t want to, or misunderstand it? Yes. And for all I know they can understand it and reject it — maybe I’m wrong. But none of this is a problem or bad thing. Progress doesn’t come from airtight arguments that force people to accept reason or anything else. It comes from voluntary action, people choosing to think and wanting to gain values by thinking, people having problems they want to improve on, people recognizing their mistakes and wanting a better life. Life presents problems which can inspire people to take some initiative in improving, we don’t have to worry about forcing passive people to live the way we deem correct (and we must not do that, because we might be mistaken; a tolerant society is the only rational society).

– Elliot Temple, [comment on] The Myth of the Closed Mind, 3

[…] no rational argument will have a rational effect on a man who does not want to adopt a rational attitude.

Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies

Young persons who hold that conviction [that ideas matter, that truth matters], do not have to “throw off the leading conformity of the only society they have known.” They do not conform in the first place: they judge and evaluate; if they accept any part of the prevalent social trends, it is through intellectual agreement (which may be mistaken), not through conformity. They do not need to know different types of society in order to discover the evils, falsehoods or contradictions of the one in which they live: intellectual honesty is the only tool required.

Ayn Rand, “The Inexplicable Personal Alchemy,”
Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution

Have You Changed Your Mind?

I care about what is true. This has lead me to change my mind on a lot of different issues over the years. This is what truth seeking is all about.

Here are some of the things that I have changed my mind on:

  • Philosophy (in a broader sense)
  • Economics
  • Epistemology
  • Environmental & energy issues 
  • Morality
  • Intelligence
  • Induction
  • AI
  • Liberalism
  • Mental illness
  • Parenting
  • Altruism

Have you changed your mind about anything important recently? If so, what? If not, why not?