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?

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Philosophy: What For?

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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.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comment (1)

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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Relationships Lack Error Correction

"How can I attract Jill, so she'll agree to be with me?" is a bad question. It assumes it would be good for Jill to be with me. But how do I know that? I don't know her preferences in detail. Maybe I'm wrong for her. And I don't know her in detail. Maybe she's wrong for me.

"Who should I be with?" is a bad question too. It's just like, "Who should rule?" It focusses on making things a particular way and puts all the attention on figuring out which way to choose. Once made that way, the intent is that things stay that way.

A rational question is, "How should we set up a system of Government to best detect and correct mistakes, efficiently and non-violently?" And a rational question is, "How can I organize my personal relationships to best detect and correct mistakes?"

"Should I date John or Harry?" is a who should rule question. It's asking a question with long-lasting consequences, and trying to find the right answer once and for all. A rational approach is accept that we are fallible, and we make mistakes, and look for a way to proceed so that being mistaken won't do harm, or will do minimal harm, and a way forward so that mistakes can be corrected.

"Will you marry me" is a who should rule question. It's asking to permanently entrench a certain lifestyle. It's about committing to something for better or worse, not committing to seek the truth and correct mistakes whatever they may be. Marriage tries to put some things out of the reach of criticism and reason.

One theme of relationships is that they are on or off. People are dating or broken up. There isn't much middle ground. That conflicts with the gradual creation of relationships. Gradualness is important in all fields because it is best suited to detecting and correcting errors. By going one step at a time, and understanding what you're in for next, one can get a better idea of if the next step is indeed wise.

Another theme of relationships is to hide one's feelings until one is sure and has reached a final decision. Reasons are given for this such as fear of rejection. Whatever the reason, it has harmful effects. Hiding feelings means hiding them from criticism which could expose mistakes in them. Hiding feelings means hiding them from discussion by which one might learn something. Hiding feelings hides information that one's partner would find useful to know. And trying to reach a final decision is irrational because decisions shouldn't have finality; instead we should look to live in a way compatible with error detection and correction.

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Voltaire is Terrible

If you want good laws, burn those you have and make new ones.
In fact, destroying knowledge is not a method of creating knowledge, let alone of creating superior knowledge.

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Popper on Burke and Tradition

_Conjectures and Refutations_ p 162
[Edmund Burke] fought, as you know, against the ideas of the French Revolution, and his most effective weapon was his analysis of that irrational power which we call 'tradition'. I mention Burke because I think he has never been properly answered by rationalists. Instead rationalists tended to ignore his criticism and to persevere in their anti-traditionalists attitude without taking up the challenge. Undoubtedly there is a traditional hostility between rationalism and traditionalism. Rationalists are inclined to adopt the attitude: 'I am not interested in tradition. I want to judge everything on its merits and demerits, and I want to do this quite independently of any tradition. I want to judge it with my own brain, and not with the brains of other people who lived long ago.'

That the matter is not quite so simple as this attitude assumes emerges from the fact that the rationalist who says such things is himself very much bound by a rationalist tradition which traditionally says them. This shows the weakness of certain traditional attitudes towawrds the problem of tradition.
I see confusion here. The right attitude is to judge ideas on their merits and demerits, but to do so with the aid of both reason and traditional knowledge. This is perhaps clearer to see if one renames "traditional knowledge" to "existing knowledge". Existing knowledge is good, and shouldn't be disregarded even by people with a very high opinion of reason and individual judgment.

Existing knowledge should be used whenever doing so seems unproblematic, and improved when it seems problematic. It should be respected as something valuable, but not something beyond criticism. I think this attitude harnesses the good points of both the rationalists and traditionalists and also demonstrates they are not fundamentally in conflict.

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Godwin on Error Correction

Political Justice, book 4, chapter 2, by William Godwin, published 1793
The wise man is not satisfied with his own attainments, or even with his principles and opinions. He is continually detecting errors in them; he suspects more; there is no end to his revisals and enquiries.

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Real Relationship Problems


Those phrases are things real people want to know about. Real everyday people commonly have a hard time with such basic issues as talking to their partner about whether they want to get married, or talking about what type of sex they like. Real couples do squabble over weightloss, shaving, smoking and drinking. Real couples do hurt each other then deal with that by trying to gain forgiveness or regain trust. Real couples do disagree about how much time to spend together. And so on.

None of this was invented by TV writers; none of it is the biased opinion of a magazine writer. Yet somehow it's very similar to what you see on TV and read in magazines. What a strange coincidence that popular entertainment mirrors what many people think about.

I just tried it myself and typed "how can i get my boyfriend" into a Google search field. It had some different ones:

"how can i get my boyfriends myspace password"

"how can i get my boyfriend back"

Those are sufficiently frequent searches that Google will recommend them. In other words, girls commonly want to hurt their boyfriend or invade his privacy. Boys also search for revenge.

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Greek Symbols

I have released an iPhone app called Greek Symbols. It lists the greek letters and their names. I use it when I encounter them in math books. It's for sale for $1 here:


The app store approval process went very smoothly for me. No pain, no problems, and it only took them a couple days. Some people have bad experiences and complain online. Some other people try to judge the app store based, in part, on the non-random sample of app store experiences people choose to post online. That doesn't work well because many of the people with good experiences don't care to say anything. But I'm saying something: Apple's app store approval process has treated me very well so far.

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I agree!

I understand it well. Not perfectly, but enough I have no questions to ask. Nothing is confusing me and needs clarifying. Basically I get it.

I don't have any criticism of it. That's because it's good. Whether something merits criticism is not an attribute of me.

I don't have anything to add. No new ways to approach the material, no further applications, no new ideas that build on it. This is primarily because it's pretty complete already; the author didn't leave much for me to add. Secondarily, it's because while I do understand it well, I'm not beyond it. It's at my level, not beneath me, so that's why I don't have more advanced stuff to add.

So, there is this narrow no-reply zone. It takes some pretty specific stuff to get into the zone. Most ideas in the world are either advanced or confusing enough I'd have questions, or at a low enough level I'd have criticism or improvements. With all those things I can have a discussion. But there is this little window where I end up not replying at all. I'd like to discuss, but I just can't find anything to say.

It seems like a shame. Material exactly at my level would be good to engage with, right?

Now, there's a couple things about this situation that I've noticed are a little strange.

This no-reply zone is small, but I reply to less than 5% of the philosophical emails which I receive and generally agree with. How can that be?

And second, it's not just me. Most other people seem to have larger-than-expected no-reply zones. And not just that. By some strange coincidence, their zone coincides with my zone. Time after time, I see some post that, unfortunately, is right in the middle of my no-reply zone, so try as I might I can't reply. But it's really interesting and I want there to be discussion of it. And then no one else replies. At first I thought it was just bad luck, but then I started counting and I noticed that happens on around 50% of philosophical posts that I generally agree with.

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This video is in favor of the US Armed Forces.

Some would say it is a bad video because "I like my country" is a symmetrical argument. Other people in other countries use the same kind of argument, but with a different conclusion.

But they are missing something: the US armed forces is good. There are asymmetries, e.g. its exceptionally humane treatment of prisoners, its exceptional skill, and its exceptional efforts to avoid collateral damage.

How can they miss these things? There is no shortage of information about them. To say that someone is using a really bad argument, when no argument is specified and plenty of correct arguments are well known, is dishonest.

The people who enjoy this video knows the USAF is not the same as other militaries. (And they would readily agree that certain specific militaries come close in some ways, and perhaps are even superior in regards to certain specific traits. Meanwhile most militaries are much, much worse.) They aren't blind patriots but rational ones.

Some people might still press on. The video should give those good arguments, they'd insist. It should be more educational. This argument has a certain symmetry to it. It applies equally well to all other kinds of fan videos, e.g. sports fan videos, anime fan videos, and movie fan videos. Why should movie goers be allowed to enjoy a movie without always trying to educate and argue about why it's a good movie? Why are sports fans allowed to hold up signs and cheer for their team without giving any arguments? To say that being a fan of the military is bad because fans are bad, but that being a fan of a sport is not bad in the same way, is a very bad argument.

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