Using False Theories

C&R by Popper p 306
we are, in many cases, quite well served by theories which are known to be false.
This is a mistake! Consider a theory of motion, say, which we'll call T. We know T is false, but it's also a good approximation to the truth in common and well defined circumstances.

We do not use theory T. We use theory U which consists of what I said in the first paragraph: that theory T is an approximation, and useful in certain circumstances. Theory U contains in it theory T, but also some other ideas including the refutation of T. Theory U is a way of approximating motion in certain circumstances, it's useful, and it's not known to be false. Theory U is just plain better.

If we can't create a true variant of T or any other false theory, like we did with U, then T is not actually useful at all. Refuted theories can only be useful via non-refuted theories that make reference to them, not on their own.

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Critical Preferences and Strong Arguments

The following is intended as a statement of my position but does not attempt to argue for it in detail.

The concept of a critical preference makes the common sense assumption that there are strong and weak arguments, or in other words that arguments or ideas can be evaluated on a continuum based on their merit.

The merit of an idea is often metaphorically stated in terms of its weight (e.g. Popper wrote "weighty though inconclusive arguments", Objective Knowledge p 41). It's also commonly stated in terms of probability or likeliness. And it's also stated in terms of ranking or scoring ideas to see which is best.

Ideas do have merit, and they can be closer or further from the truth (more or less truthlike, if you prefer). However, we never know how much merit an idea has. We can't evaluate ideas that way.

(BTW suppose we could evaluate how much merit ideas have. A second assumption is that doing so would be useful and that it would make sense to prefer the idea with more merit. That should not be assumed uncritically.)

Popper did not give detailed arguments for the idea that we can or should evaluate arguments by their strength or amount of merit. That's why I call it an assumption. I think he uncritically took it for granted without discussion, as have most (all?) other philosophers.

In the strength based approach, an idea could score a 1, or a 2, or a 20. In Popper's view, the numbers don't have an absolute meaning; they can only be compared with the scores of other ideas. Or in other words, we never know how close to the truth we've come on an absolute scale. In this approach, an idea can have infinitely many different evaluations.

In my approach, an idea can only have three possible evaluations. An idea can be unproblematic (non-refuted), problematic (refuted), or we're unsure. Ignoring the possibility of not taking a stance, which isn't very important, an idea gets a boolean evaluation: it's either OK or not OK.

If we see a problem with an idea, then it's no good, it's refuted. We should never accept, or act on, ideas we know are flawed. Or in other words, if we know about an error it's irrational to continue with the error anyway.

On the other hand, if we have two ideas and we can see no problem with either, then we can have no reason to prefer one over the other. This way of assessing ideas does not allow for the middle ground of "weighty though inconclusive arguments".

If an idea is flawed, it may have a close variant which is unproblematic. Whenever we refute an idea, we should look for variants of the idea which have not been refuted. There may be good parts which can be rescued.

My approach is in significant agreement with Popper's epistemology because it does not allow for the possibility of ideas having support. Some people would say we can differentiate non-refuted ideas by how much support each has, but I follow Popper in denying that.

Popper's alternative to support is criticism. I accept the critical approach. Where I differ is in not allowing an idea to be both criticized and non-refuted. I don't think it makes sense to simultaneously accept a criticism of an idea, and accept the idea. We should make up our mind (keeping open the possibility of changing our mind at any time), or say we aren't sure.

As I see it, a criticism either points out a flaw in an idea or it doesn't. And we either have a criticism of the criticism, or we don't. A criticism can't contradict a theory and be itself non-refuted, but also fail to be decisive. On what grounds would it fail to be decisive, given we see no flaw in it?

Let's now consider the situation where we have conflicting non-refuted ideas, which is the problem that critical preferences try to solve. How should we approach such a conflict? We can make progress by criticizing ideas. But it may take us a while to think of a criticism, and we may need to carry on with life in the meantime. In that case, the critical preferences approach attempts to compare the non-refuted ideas, evaluate their merit, and act on the best one.

My approach to solving this problem is to declare the conflict (temporarily) undecided (pending a new idea or criticism) and then to ask the question, "Given the situation, including that conflict being undecided, what should be done?" Answering this new question does not depend on resolving the conflict, so it gets us unstuck.

When approaching this new question we may get stuck again on some other conflict of ideas. Being stuck is always temporary, but temporary can be a long time, so again we'll need to do something about it. What we can do is repeat the same method as before: declare that conflict undecided and consider what to do given that the undecided conflicts are undecided.

A special case of this method is discussed here. It discusses avoiding coercion. Coercion is an active conflict between ideas within one mind with relevance to a choice being made now. But the method can be applied in the general case of any conflict between ideas.

My approach accepts what we do not know, and seeks a good explanation of how to proceed given our situation. It is always possible to find such an explanation. It may sound difficult, but actually you already do it dozens of times per day without realizing it. Just like people must use conjectures and refutations to understand each other in English conversations (and must use them in all their thinking), and when they first hear that idea it sounds bizarre, but they already do it quickly, reliably, and without realizing what they are doing.

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Me on Critical Preferences

Follow up:

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Freedom Is Slavery -- Hume
It will be found, if I mistake not, a true observation in politics, that the two extremes in government, liberty and slavery, commonly approach nearest to each other
Why does anyone respect Hume?

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Edmund Burke on Parenting

In my course I have known and, according to my measure, have co-operated with great men; and I have never yet seen any plan which has not been mended by the observations of those who were much inferior in understanding to the person who took the lead in the business.

Reflections on the revolution in France By Edmund Burke
In other words, criticism of parental ideas by children will frequently be successful.
Time is required to produce that union of minds which alone can produce all the good we aim at.

Reflections on the revolution in France By Edmund Burke
In other words, gradual persuasion is the source of progress. Without creating agreement between people ("union of minds"), no good will come. Therefore parents should focus on coming to agree about ideas with their children.

Both of these quotes are strikingly similar in thinking to William Godwin.

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Force and Charity at CR Blog

I posted about Force and Charity:

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Quicktime Player 7 Lies About Playback Speed

In Quicktime Player 7, under Snow Leopard with Perian, if you open the A/V controls (cmd-K), it has a playback speed slider which you can set from 0.5 to 3.

I like playing videos faster to save time. I noticed that if you play the same video on double speed in Quicktime 7 and in VLC, the audio sounds faster and harder to follow in VLC. At first I thought Quicktime was doing a better job speeding up the sound.

But then I timed it with the stopwatch on my iPod touch.

VLC and the new Quicktime Player (version 10.0 in the about window) both play one minute of video in 30 seconds on my stopwatch. They correctly play at double speed.

But with quicktime 7:

When the slider is set to 1.5 playback speed, it goes at 1.25 speed.

When the slider is set to 2 playback speed, it goes at 1.5 speed.

When the slider is set to 2.5 playback speed, it goes at 2 speed.

When the slider is set to 3 playback speed, it goes at the full 3 speed.

At .5, .75, and 1 speed on the slider, it plays at the correct speed.

Isn't that bizarre? And disturbing. It lied to me! And the slider doesn't even have a linear effect on playback speed.

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CR Blog; Fallible Ideas Update

There is a new critical rationalism blog. I wrote a post for it about liberalism.

I updated Fallible Ideas to work well on iPhone and iPod Touch.

EDIT: I am not associated with the CR blog because the owner misquoted me and refused to change it.

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Fallible Ideas

I have written a new philosophy website:

Fallible Ideas

It's like the stuff here, except better. Go read it!

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Philosophy: What For?

This blog post was made in Keynote. You can view it in your web browser, just click here:

Philosophy: What For?

To advance, you can click the right arrow or the image itself.

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food stamps are completely ridiculous

the food stamp people think thrifty eating is $150 per person per month. actually $200 for the first person, then it scales down to 150 for additional people as family size increases.

a family of 4's thrifty food budget is $668/month. jeez that's so much to be giving out as the minimum standard of living for people who supposedly can't feed themselves.

however, to get food stamps, you have to have $2000 or less in your bank account and they'll count most other assets you have. so basically they will give you a ton of money every month, but only if you make sure to never save any money and become financially stable. you have to live paycheck or paycheck or they won't help you. why are they encouraging poor families to live paycheck to paycheck!?

you also have to have a low income, and they give you less money depending on your income. for example, a family of 4 with $800 rent making $2000/month will be given $256/month rather than the full 668. they are deemed able to pay the difference.

if they take their income after rent, and save/invest half of it each month ($600), then after 3.3 months they'll be disqualified from foodstamps for being too frugal and trying to improve their financial situation. if they save/invest a more modest 1/6 then they'll be getting kicked off in 10 months.

the food stamp program is proud to have 35 million people whose lives it touches. IMO they should be proud when they figure out how to get that figure under one million who need them.

if we assume 2k income, 800 rent, family of 4 is the avg case, then they spend 768 per person on average per year. so the foodstamp program costs tax payers:

$26,880,000,000 per year

Yeah, that's 27 billion a year. And that's before any overhead. It's a government program, so maybe they need 10% overhead costs to run it. That gets it to around 29.5 billion.

Some proportion of the people on food stamps are not unfortunate or unlucky, but just never chose to learn more lucrative job skills which they could have learned if they'd wanted to enough. I wonder what that proportion is. Subsidizing their bad choices is bad. What would make more sense for people like that is subsidizing a job training program if they want to attend one. Or just ignore them and let in a bunch of Mexican immigrants who have work ethics.

Of course, we can't let in too many Mexican immigrants because it'd cost us billions of dollars per year in food stamps because many of them would qualify even though they had become richer and more well fed than they were in Mexico. And it'd cost billions of dollars in other wellfare programs. That's right, wellfare makes us reduce immigration quotas harming Mexicans. Wellfare has a nationalist prejudice. (Well of course it does. It consists of giving money to people if and only if they are Americans. I don't think poor Americans are more worthy of wellfare than poor Mexicans. And in fact I'm quite confident there are people in the world who could be helped a lot more, for a lot less money, than an American family of 4 making 24,000/year).

Also food stamps are inefficient. You should give people real money, not restricted money. They will then spend the money on whatever they need most. Anytime they would have spent the money on something other than food, if allowed, they deemed that to be more important. By not allowing that, the food stamp program is forcing them to make spending decisions they consider inefficient. Taking a bunch of poor people (on average, not so good at managing money) and then giving them money but only to spend in ways they consider inefficient, is a bit insane. That or it's authoritarian: the Government thinks they know the details of these people's lives well enough to second guess their spending decisions. But that's a bit insane too: is someone who doesn't want to spend more money on food really going hungry or in need of more food? How can you judge on general principles that what poor people who want to spend money on non-food items need is more food?


Food stamps budget for 2010 is 68.7 billion. Proposed 2011 budget is 80.1 billion.

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Should One Neg Richard Dawkins?

Negs are ambiguous semi-insults invented to get the attention of hot girls, particularly at bars, clubs and parties. They function in part by making the girl a little insecure so she wants to gain your approval. They also show a lack of respect for her, which sets you apart from the people who drool over her; they show her that you are your own person and not trying to please her.

The hotter the girl, the more negs should be used. But you have to be very careful. If you use several on a girl who doesn't have an inflated ego, she will be crushed. And even the most stuck up, pretty girls are fragile and vulnerable underneath their exterior behaviors, so negs must be used sparringly.

If one wants to manipulate girls into having sex with you or dating you, and one intends to meet a fairly large number of girls, and wants to maximize how many of them he attracts, then negs are definitely an effective approach.

What if one wants to attract people who are not shallow into becoming one's friends? Then there is no particular reason to target the hottest girls (or people with status for another reason, e.g. from an old money family). And for people who aren't stuck up or otherwise being highly selective about who they pay attention to, negs aren't needed to gain some attention. Since there is no reason to expect the really hot girls to be smart, just leave them alone (in fact there are reasons to expect them to be dumb: they can go through life gaining approval and money without being smart, so have lessened incentive, and since most people consider thinking hard they won't do it a whole lot without incentive).

But what about people who have status for some substantial reason? Take Richard Dawkins as an example of someone who has achived some fame -- too much to be approachable by just anyone -- but he has achived it by being intelligent and one might want to befriend him due to his intelligence.

So, should one neg Dawkins, or similar other people? This assumes you are very smart and have good reason to believe they would like you, and be glad to know you, once you got to talking much.

Argument in favor of negging Dawkins:

It's an effective way to get attention very quickly, even in what would otherwise be a 60 second encounter (then one gains enough time to bring up intellectual stuff)


- it's manipulative

- it does bypass a some error correction -- it's taking Dawkins' attention without saying something that he would judge intellectually and might or might not actually find worthy

- the person might recognize it as a neg, or as manipulative, and dislike you (without ever hearing you say anything you consider intelligent -- so supposing he *would* want to talk with you if he heard some of your ideas, now you've both missed out)

- where is your optimism? don't you think there are thoroughly good ways to interact with people?

Further arguments in favor:

There exist social customs, like ice breakers, and just because someone is intelligent doesn't mean strangers can just ignore all custom and they won't mind. But if you obey the customs they use up time and give Dawkins no reason to stay longer. (I have no idea how conventionally minded Dawkins is, but no doubt there are some smart people who are.)

The optimism argument is mistaken. Of course it's possible to find a way to say something substantive while obeying all the customs and being extremely charming. But that's hard. It's much harder than negging. Why should one expend a huge amount of effort when negging is effective? There are plenty of good things to do in life; using time solving a problem that already has an effective solution comes at the cost of less effort towards unsolved problems. It could easily be the case that the amount of effort it would take to be both charming and substantive is so much, compared to the benefit of becoming frineds with Dawkins, that one doesn't consider it a worthwhile project to undertake.

Final status:

It reduces error correction but it's effective and saves human effort which is important. Error correction is worth the effort in general, but there's no direct, efficient way to achieve it here, and error correction will still take place just delayed some.

Therefore, it's good to neg Richard Dawkins and others if one has a good enough reason to want their attention. (Yeah, I know this is one of those things where everyone will thoughtlessly think their reason is good enough when it isn't. But the prevelance of that mistake doesn't change the correct conclusion.)

If you're still skeptical, consider this: if he understood these issues, and wanted to be available in more substantive ways so no one would have any reason to neg him, he could do something about it. He could put creativity into creating ways for worthwhile ideas to contact him (and communicating to people that they exist and are genuinely different than the ineffective contact options some famous people use). He hasn't done that.

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