What are marriages actually like? What do married people do, once they are all committed and make their vows and so on? What's the meat of the idea, once all the (lots and lots and lots) of meta is relatively complete?

Married people tell each other secrets. Their own secrets. Their friend's secrets. Sometimes military secrets. Sometimes they withhold some, but they are pressured not to.

Similarly, married people are encouraged to have little or no privacy from their spouse. This includes each of them not having a room of her own. Sometimes it includes sharing a computer. Sometimes they share an email account. When they go out they are often supposed to call the other and let him know. Changes of plan must be recorded. If people had any free, unmonitored time they could cheat.

Friendships must be limited, especially with members of the opposite sex. Nothing can be allowed to threaten the marriage. If your spouse wants more time with you that must come first even if you are more interested in doing something else. You are considered wrong to have that interest -- you aren't sufficiently committed, you don't value the marriage enough -- and pressured to change or suppress it. Friendships run the risk of learning and change which could create incompatibilities with your spouse, so that must be controlled and monitored (you do that yourself more than anyone else intruding). Friendships also run the risk of developing feelings for someone else -- why wouldn't you? you believer in marriage, who got crushes on people easily in the past, and who worships the infinite potential of an everlasting union -- and that must be suppressed too.

Married people make each other do some of the chores and dull tasks they don't like. Or perhaps you could say they split them up and each avoid the most hated ones. Gender roles are taken for granted: men do repairs with power tools, not women. (But men sometimes do some of the cooking and cleaning and laundry thanks to feminism. Why don't feminists encourage women to mow the lawn in the name of equality?) Perhaps my objection here is more to people's attitude to such chores in general -- many could be avoided easily enough -- and isn't much to do with marriage. But regardless of whether it is bad, it is a significant part of the interactions of married couples. So it bears mentioning. Further, if someone so mundane takes up a significant bit of a couple's attention then that does not support the previously told story whereby marriage helps create knowledge better and solve hard problems.

There are more tasks than you might realize. House maintenance requires a lot of effort when you have conventional standards of how well kept and presentable things should be. Cooking, cleaning, laundry require a fair amount of effort, and it increases significant with kids. Sometimes married people share a car and spend a lot of effort coordinating who uses the car when, and sometimes giving each other rides. There are errands of all sorts. Groceries, a new chair, a new light bulb, a toy for a child, getting photos developed, and so on. Then there's taking kids to school and back, and to soccer practice, and to their chess tournament, and to their friend's house, and so on. And there's calling other mothers to schedule such things, and to work out carpools. And there's parent/teacher conferences.

When you throw in sleep, work, friends, extended family, and sex, how much time is really left for talking and thinking? How much opportunity is there for the supposed rewards of marriage to be reaped? All these mundane things could just as well be coordinated with a roommate -- and without the marital fights! Not much. And don't forget the 5 hours a day of TV the average adult watches, or whatever it is. Which demonstrates again there *is no special connection* allowing wonderful and mind enhancing conversations filled with learning -- in reality TV is more interesting than a spouse.

The vision of a knowledge-rich marriage seems imaginary. It seems an excuse concocted by people who believe in the value of knowledge in order to feel better, but with little relation to the facts.

This is not to say that spouses never have any valuable knowledge of each other. They often do -- and more than their friendships have. It can be very important to their lives. Many men find their wife helps inspire and encourage them through bad mental states. Many women find their husband helps calm and lead them through bad mental states.

But the comparison is not fair. If they spent so much time and effort with their friends then their friends would get better at doing the same things. Nothing about a marriage makes those specific skills more possible or effective.

You might say that it's too risky to develop that with a friend who is not committed to staying with you for your entire life so that's why this personal knowledge should be developed with a committed spouse. My first reply is that putting all your eggs in one basket -- who is about 50% likely to die before you, and has a significant chance to die many years before you -- is not the conservative, risk-averse strategy that, apparently, it is being implied to be.

But aside from being trivially false, it's also false for a more philosophically interesting reason. It is fundamentally the same point touched on previously about promises being irrational. What does this commitment to stay together really mean? Is it a promise? If so, what use is that? Either it will be right to stay together, or it won't be. Promising to stay when one should not cannot help matters. It is only a promise to do wrong. Promising to stay when one ought to stay is irrelevant -- and possibly harmful: if we stay because we promised without realizing it is right then we, by not understanding the full importance and rational reasons for staying, run the risk of being persuaded to change our minds fairly easily due to our ignorance. What if it's a statement of intent to stay together? So we don't promise, we just try to plan things out so that happens? Well first consider what married couples would be pleased to think of things that way! They are fragile enough about leaving already. Just try telling your girlfriend that you refuse to promise not to leave her. She won't be pleased at your rationality. She will wonder if you are setting up excuses for leaving in advance. She will be fearful. She will think of course you should intend that -- if you don't she will be very angry with you, and feel betrayed -- but look you should care at her enough to do more than try. Any other guy would promise. You must not really love her.

But never mind that married people won't accept statements of intent. Are they actually a good idea? Well, they work well for short term things. But the further into the future the intent goes, the harder the future is to predict. If you are making predictions about a decade hence either your life is very static -- unlikely to have much change -- or your statements of intent are fairly worthless. Sure you intend to. If it works out. But if unforeseen circumstances change things then your statement of intent will be void. If you make long term predictions then the unforeseen circumstances are so overwhelmingly likely that the statement of intent should be considered fairly worthless in the first place because it will almost certainly become void. What it really comes down to is morality. The only thing that should keep people together is that it is good for them to stay together. The fear being discussed is creating valuable, personal knowledge with someone, then they leave without using it and getting the benefits of all that work. (Creating the knowledge itself should be an interesting learning experience one was glad to have had, so this is already a bit confused. It's not work.) So why not just say it this way: you believe it is important for a person with such knowledge to, in most circumstances, stick around and stay in your life. In other words: it would be wrong to leave, because of the knowledge. Fine. That's a perfectly reasonable sort of thing to claim. But then what do you need a promise or commitment or any sort of intent for? It's wrong to leave. There you go. If person wants to leave you can tell them they are making a mistake and it is better for both of you if they change their mind. You can explain why. You can be persuasive. You believe you are right, and have a good case, so you have every reason for optimism in this discussion. And also if person persuades you he is right then again any promise or intent would be irrelevant -- now you would have to say: damn your promise, you are right to leave, that is for the best, so go, the promise was a mistake, but keeping it would be a larger mistake!

Once it's down to morality, not marital vows, commitment, promises, or whatever, then it doesn't really make a bit of difference whether it is your spouse or not. Your friends should give some priority to not leaving, proportional to how much knowledge you've created with each of them. Ditto for your spouse. It's the same. And creating knowledge with someone shouldn't be seen especially as creating risk. It's now more right to stay. (The actual importance of people staying in your life is open to some debate and is off topic. But precisely how important it is has no bearing on the principle.)

The way people choose marriage partners is absurd. It has a lot to do with sexual attraction and physical appearance. What have those to do with knowledge?

Most people never claimed marriage has anything to do with knowledge, of course. It never occurred to them that it is or should be. So why do I keep addressing that issue? Because knowledge *is* important, and the only way to make a plausible defense of marriage is to claim it somehow is about knowledge. What else would matter? (Seriously, email me answers. And yes I know many would mention love, sex, or children. Maybe I'll address those issues later.)

So people choose marriage partners a lot about sex and looks. Also first impressions play a large role. Also courtship plays a large role. That's silly too. How can you learn the suitability of someone for married life by interacting with them in a distinctly different manner? Sure it's possible -- human creativity will not be stopped by such trivialities as doing something unsuitable -- but it's not an especially good way of doing things.

Why should you care so deeply about sharing your life with someone very pretty? Are you really so shallow as that? I have nothing again pretty things. But get a painting. Get a poster. Fill your house with the best things you can find. Have nice rugs. Why should you wish to impose your sense of aesthetics on people and thereby limit which people you consider options? If marriage is so important shouldn't you seek above all to find the best personality/knowledge/worldview/ideas you can? Why should co-parent with someone you like to have sex with? Sexual prowess does not make for good mothers or fathers. They are wholly unrelated.

That brings up another point. This marriage is such a package deal of many unrelated things. Finding one person who is a great match at 20 criteria is worlds harder than finding 10 people who, combined, are good at all those things. Why should the person who is good for snuggling with to watch movies be the same person who you go on hikes with? Or pick any other two things. It's easy.

So, why indeed? Well the only plausible claim that comes to mind is: they should be the same person so you can have ongoing conversations encompassing all those things. So you can make each better with reference to the large common pool of knowledge you've developed. Because an expert at the topic is less important than doing it with someone you trust, someone you aren't embarrassed to make mistakes in front of while learning, someone who is patient with you, someone who understands how to teach you new things, someone who will recognize when you are sad and know how to cheer you up, and so on. The claim would be that such people are hard to find so it makes sense to if you are so lucky as to find a great person for all those things that are useful in general to many fields to take that person and do lots with them.

Notice that when we try to *rationally* defend marriage then knowledge comes up.

If you have a person who is good in those ways then *great*. I congratulate you. That is a good thing. And it really does frequently make sense to prefer to do things with this person you like rather than a subject-specific expert. However, consider that marriages might not generally be like that. For example marital fights are common, as is marital counseling. Why would those take place if there is so much great knowledge?

Further I ask: what does having a person like this have to do with marriage? Why marry them? Couldn't this person quite possibly be a same-sex friend? And if you did marry them, or not, what difference does it make?

You might say the difference is love. But if you have this great thing surely there are very positive and appropriate feelings to accompany it -- call them love if you like -- and whether you have a marriage ceremony shouldn't change those feelings which are based on your shared knowledge and enjoyment of each other's minds.

You might say the difference is parenting together. But you can do that without marrying. Co-parenting is a perfectly good project for a PBR (project-based relationship). So wanting to co-parent is no way to differentiate between a marriage or PBR being right for you.

You might say the difference is living in the same house. Friends could do that. This isn't really a point open to debate. There are many other differences that might be put forward. But, again, friends can do that. What's to stop them? When it comes down to it I think we all know where the line between "just friends" and "something more" is.

The line is sex (including sexual activity like kissing). If you have sex, and you have an important relationship, then like it or not our culture does not consider you to be friends, at least not first and foremost. You are lovers. You are romantically involved. You are on the path to marriage.

What sex has to do with anything is a bit of a mystery. I understand the importance in the era before cheap, reliable birth control, and I also understand that attitudes can be slow to change. But what does sex matter now? It is claimed to do everything from create intimacy, express love, untangle emotional problems, create knowledge, be extraordinarily fun, and even to be so complex as to allow for the application of great skill. And sex "means something". Having sex with someone else is this huge deal, frequently relationship ending. It's "cheating".

Maybe some other time I will attempt to put forward some plausible arguments for the above claims regarding sex, and tackle them rationally. For now it shall suffice for me to say that this stuff is complete lunacy, and any arguments in its defense are ad hoc excuses. It's much worse than arguing with UFO believers. People don't think about these things, they just behave according to their memes, and their memes make them completely blind, far more blind than a paranoid UFO nut.

If you're offended: *good*. At least you noticed I did mean you. You aren't some rare exception. Now try seriously to think about it yourself. Any knowledge you create about sex being silly yourself will serve you far better than what I could tell you, because it will be tuned to fit into your own mind well.

Feel free to email me attempts at logical arguments about the importance of sex. If I feel like it I might address them.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)


Leaving aside claims of what marriage can be like if you choose a very, very good spouse, let's consider what most marriages are like. As people get older they are pressured to find a spouse, especially females to find a husband (because a woman's life, lacking a marriage, has less in it than a man's, because women devote more energy and thought to relationships and less to having personal interests or a career). They are encouraged to stop waiting for someone who isn't coming (ie, a very excellent spouse), and told they aren't getting any younger (a matter prettiness and childbearing age), and they are told to stop having unrealistic expectations. The meaning is to settle for less.

How can a very close, trusting, intimate, knowledge-creating, problem-solving relationship be possible if you settle for less? How could you settle for someone who doesn't understand you well? Who doesn't care for learning deeply? Who isn't trustworthy? Who is bad at solving problems (with you, or generally) and does not have the right attitudes and personality to change this? Who lacks curiosity? Who has bad values or bad moral theories?

The advice to settle for less reveals that marriages don't *really* have all the amazing goodness claimed. They aren't about creating a better situation for knowledge creation. If they were, people would advise only to marry when the prerequisites are present. But people don't advise as such. They advise just *as if* marriage is about being less lonely, getting laid, having kids, sharing chores, sharing a house, and other mundane things (except parenting isn't mundane).

How do you avoid being (slightly) old and unmarried, and thus being pressured to finally find someone that you can be happy enough with? (One implication here is you cannot be happy enough alone. Which again speaks to marriage being chosen not because it is amazing. In this case we see people sometimes marry simply because they fear the alternatives.) The most reliable way, by far, to avoid being unmarried for too long, while maintaining high standards, is to delude yourself. Create a fantasy of what people you meet are like. Marry the fantasy that seems so perfect. I don't mean to suggest people consciously set out to do this. That wouldn't be a very good way to delude yourself. But consider love at first sight, crushes on people who have just been met, "young love", being infatuated, and so on. Further helping this along is sexual repression. When young people do start having sex with someone it seems so new and amazing that they can easily mistake this for having a good relationship, special connection, or their partner having some positive attribute.

By the way, marrying because the alternatives seem worse to you might sound logical. OK, strictly, it is logical. But it only seems this way due to irrational memes. There isn't some good reason that "being alone" should be so horrible. The main reasons it is are either that you want to be married, so you interpret unmarried state as lonely and bad. Or you don't know how to live your own life so your life is empty, in which case marriage will not actually solve the problem.

So get married young and deluded (and also frequently low on perspective just from youthful ignorance), or older and pressured. It takes great luck or skill to do better. So, most people do not do better. Their spouse is no one amazing.

You may say: never mind them. My marriage *is* special. My marriage creates lots of knowledge, more than friendships do. It is a shame many people marry who should not. I even advise them not to. When asked for details, you might talk about how in love you are, how well you can talk, how can can be happy when you are just together even without talking, how much your intimacy helps your lives, how happy you are together, how much you enjoy sex together and have no interest in sex with anyone else, how well you understand each other, how well you coordinate routine parts of your lives effectively and efficiently, how well you help each other through hard times and stress, how much you inspire each other to take up new interests (usually together), how often you tell each other interesting things, and so on. Now, here's the thing: *all those average, normal marriages, based on delusion or settling, that simply are not particularly special* ... if you ask them to describe their marriage, many of them will say *all* of the details I just listed of why the good marriage is supposedly good. The self report that people use to say how great their own marriage is, is virtually the same from couple to couple. And you are trying to claim yours is better but are only invoking the same praise everyone else claims to deserve. You have badly failed to set yourself apart: nothing listed is remotely unique. And further, that you match the claims of most marriages so closely is strong evidence you are suffering the same memes and delusions they are.

*   *   *

Three huge benefits of privacy are:

1) helps alleviate problems caused by having flaws and irrationalities (including memes)
2) helps manage flaws other people have and irrationalities (including memes)
3) helps with criticism scheduling

People don't value privacy enough in general. Children frequently play privacy-destroying games such as "Truth or Dare" and "Ten Fingers". In truth or dare people are asked questions and under very strong pressure to tell the truth. The questions are designed to be uncomfortable, to reveal secrets. They often embarrass people who have unusual sexual or drug history, or just unusual preferences. They are a mechanism by which people are pressured to have conventional experiences and preferences. Ten fingers is similar: people ask who has done something and if you have you put down one finger. Everyone can see if you've done it.

Parents don't like to give privacy to their children. That allows children opportunity to disobey. And what do they need it for, anyway? Parents are only there to help. Why hide from your helper? Children especially never have the private use of much money.

Friends pressure each other to reveal secrets, and also to talk about things (especially relationships or upsetting things), even where there is hesitance. Friends "pry". And once they do ask something they don't like not getting an answer. Aren't you friends? Why can't you tell?

Married couples are perhaps the worst destroyers of privacy. They share a room, a bed, financial affairs, their friend's secrets. They are supposed to share their intimate feelings, deepest fears, embarrassing sexual preferences, and anything their partner would feel he has a right to know or would want to know. "Why didn't you tell me sooner?" is a common complaint. "You should have told me." And they do it on purpose. They look down on privacy. "Why would you want to hide things from me?" And "We share everything" comes with bragging rights. That is the ideal.

If marriages are really about knowledge creation, at all, they should care deeply about privacy if only because knowledge creation requires criticism *at the right times* and a good way to get criticism of an idea at the right time is only to tell people at the right time.

That shows you the main idea of what criticism scheduling is about. But it also takes place within one mind. Imagine you are trying to write something, say a blog entry. Criticism is part of the editing process. (It's also part of the thought process of deciding what to write, and indeed the process of having any idea at all.) When you edit you look for flaws and problems in the writing and then figure out how to change them. Most people have separate writing and editing phases. Occasionally they will do both at once (or perhaps they are just switching back and forth very quickly). Anyhow, bad criticism scheduling might look like this: you write one sentence, then edit it a lot and try to make it perfect. And the result is you get kinda stuck and don't get much content written down. And also once you have more sentences which the first one needs to coordinate with the requirements for the first sentence will be different so the initial edits probably will have been a waste. At worst people sometimes get stuck and can't write much at all because they always stop to criticize and edit it, but have trouble doing that part well so early. Criticism scheduling within one mind may seem easy. Subjectively it is. But that's only because we do it without thinking about it intentionally. It is a skill that some people are better or worse at. But it's a skill we all have a fair amount of. A bit like speaking your native language seems very easy, but actually it's complex and you are very skilled.

What about flaw management in self and others? How does privacy come into play there? Well suppose someone is bad at chess, but thinks he is good at it, so you don't like to talk about chess with him or play with him, because of his faulty perspective (and you tried talking to him about it, but he seemed irrational and it went badly). You want to manage this flaw by avoiding it. How do you do that? Well either you can never play chess, or if you like chess then what you need is privacy. If he knows you play actively he'll ask you to play, and you'll be under pressure to lie (better avoided). But if you have privacy you can play chess without it coming up with him.

This brings up a common point: frequently if you don't have privacy you will be tempted to lie. This is essentially a way to try to get some privacy back. If you fool someone then they'll act as if the thing they found out was false, which is a bit like they don't know it happened. Or suppose someone asks one of your opinions that you don't want to say. Then if you can't ask for privacy ("I'd rather not say.") then a way to answer the question without revealing your opinion is to lie. This is true whether you have the flaw (irrationally defensive about your opinion, for example), you just don't want criticism now (scheduling issue), or the other person has a flaw (would react badly to your opinion). In all cases lying gets you out of it, but privacy is better.

Why wouldn't you be able to just ask for privacy? Well, people might assume you would only do that if you don't want to answer, and therefore you have an opinion that is offensive. (And they might be right. Some people behave that way.) More generally, people who don't respect privacy keep trying to get the information out of you, and it isn't pleasant to be poked like that. They won't just ask a variety of question, and perhaps spy on you. They will also make guesses and possibly just assume the guess is correct, or also they might ask you about their guesses and try to judge your reactions. And if you keep refusing to discuss they may well get offended. People who value and respect privacy are nicer to interact with, but also if you set the right tone from the start they are more able to get the right idea (if you seem conventional about privacy at first then abruptly want privacy then you're probably just hiding something and claiming you respect privacy in general to cover up).

When people are irrational it's usually awkward to tell them because they are blind to it and will not appreciate the sentiment. Having privacy in general helps avoid such problems. If you only ask for privacy for the specific issues where you think someone is flawed then the act of choosing which issues to request privacy about is giving away a lot of information. It's a bit like if you gave someone a map of your house, and you blurred out 5 different parts where you have something private. If you then let them look through the house of course they will investigate those 5 spots. You gave it away. But if the entire map is blurred, or you refuse to give out a map, then you're safe. Also safe is to have a distinct public area which is all clear, and the rest all blurred.

When you are irrational you probably don't want to talk about it, at least with most people. Unless they are sympathetic it isn't much fun! And commonly one mechanism irrational memes have is that if you consider doing otherwise then they make you feel bad. So if people manage to persuade you that rationally you should change your mind, a likely result is to find yourself unable to do so and to feel very bad about it.

That's irrationalities other people disagree with. Another scenario is you are making progress in getting rid of your hang up, and it's a conventional hang up, and then you should want privacy from people who have the same hang up, because they would pressure you to see things in the old, normal way, and try to make you feel bad about changing, and also they might be offended that you are trying to be better than them and think their way of life is bad. You could also label this a kind of criticism scheduling. Once you have changed yourself and are solidly the new way you might not mind to get flak from conventional people anymore. You may have finally fully learned how to handle it (perhaps by running test conversations with the conventional voice in your head).

Privacy about age is nice for dealing with ageist people. This is hard in person, but fairly possible online. This is another example of managing a flaw in another person. Also if you were a bit ashamed of your youth, and perhaps felt you were not adult enough to do serious, important things, then again privacy can help because at least other people won't be able to bother you about the shame or encourage it. If you are being hard on yourself that is difficult enough, you don't need the added burden of trying to defend yourself (while not even sure you should be defended in what you are doing!).

Privacy about medical records is a commonly respected type of privacy. It's no one's business but your own and your doctor's, if you have an illness. Unless you have reason to want to tell them. That's a good attitude. You don't need a special reason to have privacy for your records. It is your right. I expect that you approve of medical privacy. So take a moment to think about why you approve of this privacy, and whether that attitude logically should also apply to other types of privacy.

The privacy of one's bedroom is also respected in general, except for laws against sexual deviants (gays, sexually active young people). But that mostly applies to strangers. Your friends very well may ask about your sex life. Be wary. It is important to be free to try your sexual preferences (with consent of partner) and not to repress them. Knowing that your friends will ask, and it will be difficult to avoid telling them, is an extra mechanism by which people are under pressure to keep their sex conventional and repressed.

There is nothing to gain from having little privacy. Tell people things when you want to talk about them (and think it's safe enough). Other than that, what do you have to gain from a policy of not taking seriously and protecting your privacy? Remember that you can always reveal some information later should you find a reason to do so, but you can't take it back, so when in doubt keep it private.

You should take steps not to ask for private information, and not to be told private information. If someone is gossiping about a third party you should interrupt and see if it's OK for you to be told this. If your friend says, "oh, she wouldn't mind" that isn't good enough. You need to take responsibility for yourself, and form your own opinion of whether this would be minded. To do so you'll want to ask for the *reasons* your friend knows the third party wouldn't mind, and see if they are good.

Try to notice when you are getting information out of people. Even if they don't seem angry that doesn't mean it's ok, and it especially doesn't mean it's *best*. Often people tolerate invasive friends without complaint, and will say it's fine if asked, but if they really had control of the situation, and they were under no pressure, they wouldn't tell. Pressuring information out of people is like rape. And it's well known that rape victims often fail to stand up for themselves (and this creates many borderline cases where the person didn't want to have sex but didn't clearly or verbally communicate that fact. but anyway you don't want to be either person in a case like that!). And rape victims often blame themselves. Anyway, mind rape: just don't do it. And after social nights think back on what happened in the conversations: noticing such things after the fact is a lot easier than in real time. A lot of people pressure their friends and don't realize it. So if you're thinking you don't do it, that isn't sufficient. Maybe you, too, don't realize it. You better analyze some situations you were in thoughtfully to make sure.

You might think if someone really didn't want to answer your question, they wouldn't, and that isn't your responsibility. This is the wrong way to look at it. If a computer program tried to get a secret out of you by asking the same 5 questions over and over on an infinite loop then yes it would fail, and people who answered would be people who wanted to answer. That's trying to get the answers *non-creatively*. But when people ask, and then ask again in a different way, and again, what they are doing is using creativity to make each question as hard to answer as possible. And the answerer is using creativity to try to avoid answering each time, but it's hard: the path of least resistance is often just to answer. In this creative battle of wills either side can win. The defender starts with a number of advantages, sure, but they can be overcome. And the aggressor has advantages too. Often numbers. Often social convention.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)


Parenting one child (well) is a very large project. Deciding to do it is a big deal. It creates lots of obligations towards the child. And they are very time-sensitive -- child needs help now, not later. They are hard to reschedule.

Lots of questions and hypotheticals about parenting involve two children (or more). Many of them try to prove painless parenting is impossible by putting forward difficult situations and claiming there is no solution. Fundamentally, these issues are not very interesting. Two kids? Well of course it's easy to craft very difficult situations out of that. You've taken on two, separate, very large, very time sensitive projects, with unpredictable and hard to change schedules. Of course that's probably not going to work very well. Just like one kid + one arctic expedition. Or one arctic expedition + one space expedition (simultaneously). Or trying to raise your young kid attentively while President.

Many people would say, "But I want 2 (or more) children, and I don't want to have the second one when I'm 50." I agree that with present lifespans having multiple children while avoiding overlap is not much of an answer (occasionally people have more kids after their first one or set grow up. it can work. but it isn't like some great idea to recommend to everyone). Also, by the way, there always must be a little overlap unless the first child dies. But when child is mostly independent then it is no longer problematic: you have plenty of time, attention, etc, for a new large project.

Note also that any problems which result from choosing 2+ children were in no way fundamentally inevitable dilemmas! They were avoidable. You chose to face them. And, if they are seriously troubling you, then you chose to face them without being adequately prepared, which again is not at all inevitable. And note also that many common examples of potential problems with 2+ kids, such as them fighting ... well they are common! They are well known! If you have a second kid without thinking about how to solve known difficulties in advance, and being satisfied that it will work out OK, then that is gross negligence. And if you do think you can solve them, but turn out to be mistaken, then you were mistaken, so again there was no inevitability here, just human error.

So, what *is* my answer? It is: wanting 2+ children does not address the issue of what should be wanted, which is what I'd like to know about, and consider most important. Should we want that? If we are prepared to deal with the problems it entails, then it's fine, if we are not, then we should not. This is a very liberal rule. It allows for a wide range of personal taste. It only says that if we aren't prepared to handle it, then we shouldn't want it. Otherwise, it's up to you. Judge based on your values, and I have no particular advice (Well, I guess I do think people should in general move away from large families, and towards paying more attention to less children. In fact that is a trend: more developed nations have less kids per family.)

One kid is a massive responsibility. People wildly underestimate it. Kids take time and money. People know that much, although they actually take more time than is thought if you want to parent really well (and if you don't want that, please don't have kids). They also take more money than people expect, if that money is available. And being budgeted for beer and cigarettes counts as available.

Kids are born in ignorance. Not like your stupid friend. This is serious ignorance like you can't imagine. I can't imagine it either. To properly imagine it we'd need to realize that most of our ways of looking at the world don't exist in such an ignorant person, so they give us inaccurate views. The more we think about it and create knowledge and understanding of what it means to be so ignorant, the more we are *not* seeing through their eyes. Damn hard to imagine what it's like. But understanding, and explaining, is something else. We can do that. One thing we can understand is that children need a lot of help and advice to become knowledgeable members of our culture. Expecting them to figure it all out themselves is lunacy. It is *not* lunacy because children are dumb, or their brains don't work right, or they are lazy, or they are incapable, or anything like that. But consider the past. Think of the dark ages. Think of the static societies. Think of the wars (war is on the decline). Why would past societies live in such ineffective, violent, awful ways, when they perfectly well could have invented all the good ideas we have today like democracy and freedom? Because inventing all these good ideas is hard! So, if you were to not help your kid they'd have the same sort of chance of coming up with good ideas as a neglected kid from the dark ages (with various caveats: other people might help. TV might help. Books might help. Modern appliances create extra leisure time. School would ruin everything. etc). The point is the truth is not manifest. Whole societies failed to find a lot of our good ideas for generation after generation. So it's important to help new people to learn all the great stuff we already know, not to expect them to reinvent it. So, parenting takes a lot of "teaching" (teaching is a loaded word).

School, church, and daycare cannot be expected to educate your children for you. (And if you want them to then you should reconsider why you want to have a child in the first place.)

Daycare hardly tries. I don't think many people would seriously try to argue daycare is the best place for kids. They would only say parents have a right to work and have their own lives, and daycare may be a necessary evil. That doesn't seem logical to me. If you want to "work and have your own life" and not have enough time in it for a kid then don't have a kid! What if you want to parent but only a little? Part time? Well, you could babysit. Or you might consider sharing one child with another couple. If you are thoughtful and live close (or share a house) then that certainly could work out fine for child. Why is it better than daycare? Because then child is around people who care about him personally and want to help him. At daycare there isn't much personal attention: the caretakers are focussed more on avoiding disasters (fights, tantrums, very upset children). You might object that having 4 parents would lead to fights about which values to teach child. I have two things to say about that. The first is that if you care so much about what values child has then shouldn't you be willing (and happy) to spend lots of time with child teaching him those values? The idea that daycare is better than extra parents because they won't teach him values (or much of anything) so he won't be changed when you get him back is essentially praising daycare for *not* being a place of learning, while simultaneously advocating daycare. My second comment is that it's silly to fight over which values to teach child: you should all present your best ideas and then child should make his own decision about what makes sense to him. All parents need to be prepared for the possibility their child will disagree with them about one of their values (or about anything). Complaining about some other adults being in positions of too much influence (that is, as much as you have) really comes down to complaining you have less power to control your child, and fear that he will not be obedient. That is a bad attitude.

What about Church? First, religions are very strong memes. Caution advised. Next, Church's don't claim to teach you everything you need to know. They have only a limited sphere they address. Next, religious philosophy contains errors. Never mind whether it's right *on the whole*, there are individual errors in thinking -- mistakes. It would be irresponsible to send your kids to be taught such things without helping them to understand rational philosophy, critical thinking, and logic, so that they are equipped to evaluate religious claims in the best ways that we know how. One specific example is faith. Religions ask people to have faith. Philosophically, rationally, that is no good. We should think about our beliefs and do our best to choose good ones. Embracing faith means being less thoughtful. So, at most Church can provide an incomplete education while requiring some other education for it to approached with reason.

For what it's worth, I may be not religious, and I believe there is no God, but I do not hate religion. I say this because the mainstream position of atheists today is extreme hostility to religion. Examples include Dawkins and Hitchens (Christopher. His brother is religious!). And even though I believe the largest claims made by religions are false and are magical thinking, I also think a lot of what they have to say is pretty good.

That leaves school. The first thing to consider is that most schools are Government run, and are run much worse than the post office. But that can be dealt with: you can get your kids into a private school, or a particular public school you believe is better, if you care enough. The second thing to consider is that schools expect children to be obedient. This makes them largely unsuitable places to get an education for thinking people. There can be exceptions, but people who expect obedience make very bad helpers for helping you to learn what *you* want and what *you* are interested in. Schools teach the lesson plan, not your interests. And they don't let you pick and choose what to learn according to your interests. They have homework and tests and quizzes about each topic to monitor you. Why do they need to monitor you and invade your privacy? Why can't you decide for yourself how it's going and whether you want extra help? Because they want obedience, and they need to monitor if you are being obedient, so they can punish you if you haven't learned what they want, at the time they want, and agreed with their conclusions about it. So, schools are bad places. Don't expect your children to attend. And if they do attend, don't expect them to receive much education. And if they do attend, much like with religion, it will go much better for them if they learn critical thinking skills first. It will be better if they understand that the people with authority are not necessarily right, and that obedience is bad (and also that disobedience will be punished -- children should be warned of detentions, various types of mental pressure, failing grades, and so on). School is easier to deal with for people with the knowledge to be confident, assertive, and calm in the face of hostility or adversity. Children should understand that their interests *do* matter, and that following the one-size-fits-all lesson plan is *not* the best way to learn, though it is important for avoiding trouble. And so on. Lots of skills help.

So, if school, church, and daycare won't education your kid, that leaves you. You need to be prepared to explain all sorts of things. If you don't like giving explanations then what business do you have wanting to be a parent? You also need to be prepared to learn all sorts of things that your child asks about and you don't already know. And also to sometimes learn with your child, together. And to teach him how to find things out. And so on. Big responsibility. Remember, children are born with huge ignorance.

The theme has been that parenting is a big responsibility. Many parents have a kid and suddenly feel hugely responsible for the child's safety and well being. This is a somewhat strange phenomenon. Didn't they think about this in advance? Why should the child being born be a major learning experience or cause a revelation? But, OK, they are right. They have that responsibility. They need to be careful. Just leaving everyday objects in places a child can reach could be dangerous and requires some thought.

What happens next, often, is that parents are so protective, and are so used to doing things for child's own good, to help him, and help keep him safe, is that when child wants to do something parent considers dangerous then parent tries to thwart child and is frustrated by his lack of obedience. "Why won't you listen to me? I do so much to keep you safe. Why won't you cooperate?" But obedience is not the right way to help people, offering good ideas is the way to help. Obedience is the way to force.

Another thing that happens is parents want to protect their children from *ideas*. And I don't just mean a meme that causes suicide, or an idea designed as a weapon of war, or something out of a sci fi book. I'm talking about mundane, ordinary ideas like about courtship, sex, profanity, drugs, birth, and sometimes TV in general. And sometimes even anything the parent disagrees with he labels a "harmful influence" and wants gone. This is absolutely the wrong approach. The way to fight ideas is not to hide from them, it is to criticize them. This isn't just best because it's most effective. The crucial issue is that it helps test whether you are right or wrong: it's hard to criticize effectively when you are wrong, but much easier when you are right. So using criticism causes *error correction* whereas refusing to think about the other idea has no way of correct errors if you are wrong. And some of the above it isn't even a *wrong* idea the parent wants kept hidden. It is the truth. Parents try to make their children ignorant of sex and birth, for example. What good can come of such a thing? The justifications for this are laughably flimsy. Children "aren't ready" to know such things. But why? There is no reason. People might claim to be scared of pedophiles. But that is all the more reason to make sure children are *not* ignorant about sex. A child who knows nothing of sex and relationships is a much easier target! He won't even understand what the danger is. And also he may be glad to be helped to learn what his parents were keeping from him. Hiding sexual knowledge from children is about as rational as scaring them with the idea that masturbation causes hairy palms. And it's an important part of the process by which people are made wildly irrational about sex, which is why parents are acting this way in the first place: their parents did it to them, and it has evolved to make people do it to their own kids.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)


Brief theory of war: voluntary actions -- those which all involved parties consent to -- are best; disputes should be decided with reason. The justification for war is: the enemy acts in such a way that the outcome will not be voluntary no matter what you do. Because then he makes a voluntary, consensual outcome impossible. Since the issue will not be decided by reason regardless of your decision, you are not wrong to use force. And in fact there is a reason you should use force: better you (who values reason) win the war than the enemy (who does not).

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Libertarian ethics allow a minimum amount of human cooperation including free trade, while avoiding force. that's very good. that line is approximately what the law should be.

it's also good for some people to cooperate more closely (ie, be friends). friends cannot automatically justify their actions by saying libertarian ethics finds those actions permissible. what works well for friends is a restricted subset of what is allowed for business partners. just because something is legal does and peaceful does not make it a good way to treat your friend. it could still be mean, callous, unhelpful, etc

one of the hallmarks of friends is that they sometimes help each other with problems. not because they have to. but because doing so benefits them -- both of them. helping someone is a perfectly interesting learning experience in its own right, but it also means having a better friend in the future which is nice. and later being helped yourself is good too.

if your business partner is annoyed by your hat, who cares (unless he will ruin the business deal over it. in which case you almost certainly don't try to reason with him about hats, or help him form better preferences. you either give up the hat or the business deal.) if an acquaintance is annoyed, you can say "who cares?", or not, your call. but if a good friend is annoyed, then while it's perfectly legal and libertarian not to care, that does not facilitate cooperation or coordination with him. it creates distance if you never resolve the hat thing and can only meet on days you aren't wearing a hat. better, generally, is to ask why he doesn't like the hat and seek a mutually agreeable solution.

even if it's entirely his fault -- an irrationality about hats -- still it is better to be helpful about it if you want to continue cooperation elsewhere. why let this little hat problem get in the way of the mathematics paper you are writing together? or your ski trip? or anything else of importance.

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Most kids are dirt poor. Not because their parents are dirt poor, but because their parents don't give them much money. This is partially and inadequately made up for with gifts, and with the ability of children to ask for parents to buy things. Children should not need parental approval to buy things -- what that really means is that if they disagree then parent gets his way by force (if they agreed it doesn't matter who is in control). Having to go through your parents also compromises your privacy. And also parents generally think kids don't need much, and prefer to keep the money (how self-serving!)

Parents prioritize a lot of things above wealth for their children. Such as lotto tickets, beer, cigarettes, kitchen remodeling, new cars, vacations, and generally whatever else they want.

For now I will make one simple suggestion: is donating to charity really more important than giving your poor kids more money?

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)


Teaching is a loaded word.

One premise is that there is a teacher, and a student, and they have different roles. Teaching does not describe joint truth seeking; it does not describe friends cooperating to create knowledge. This idea of roles assigned to people is harmful. It assumes that at the start the teacher has the good ideas, and the student does not. Assuming someone is right is a very bad way to figure out what is true.

How do you tell if teaching was a success? Simple: did the student learn the lesson, or not? If the student doesn't like the lesson, thinks it is silly, or has some other criticism or disagreement with it, then teaching has failed. Even thought disagreement and criticism and having your own rival ideas are all good things. Teaching can fail even when a good result is reached. So if you are focussed on teaching you will strive to avoid certain positive results in favor of certain negative results (that student believes what he is told to believe -- it's about obedience, really).

One of the ideas behind teaching is that the teacher chooses what is to be learned, for example by making a lesson plan. Then he teaches the things he believes should be known, and the student learns those. This is a bad attitude. It doesn't leave room for following the student's interests. What if you start and the student finds he is not interested? Or that he wants to continue in a different way than the teacher had planned? Well, the teacher might agree the change is good. Or the teacher might think it is bad. Either way the assumption is that it's the teacher's decision about what should be done next. He's the expert. He's the authority. The assumption is not that a teacher is only there to help the student follow his own interests and learn what he wants to learn and only with as much precision as he chooses.

Teachers give grades. They judge and evaluate students (in terms of how closely the student's ideas after the lesson(s) conform to the teacher's ideas about the subject). What would make more sense is for students to give themselves grades: they should judge if they have learned something to their satisfaction or not.

Grades and tests have another use: they can be used for certification to demonstrate to people (like prospective employers) that you have certain skills. But in that case a third party should do the testing. Having a single person give the lessons and the tests -- help the student and also test the student -- is a conflict of interest. Then a teacher has to decide what is "fair" to tell the students about the test material. The teacher knows what will be on the test and has to keep information secret that the students would want to know. When a third party does the test the teacher has no conflict of interest. He can tell students absolutely everything he knows that would help them. He doesn't have to hold back and make judgments about how much is "fair" to keep secret.

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I believe that individuality and freedom are good things.

I also believe that questions have a single true answer, including moral questions.

This belief in single truth does not apply to ambiguous questions. For example, "Is it good to be a banker?" is ambiguous. Any time you can say, "It depends (on something or other the question didn't provide details about)" then the question is ambiguous -- the details could go either way. A proper question which we expect to have a single, true answer must have no ambiguity or it's really a set of different questions (one for each possible interpretation) and that set of many questions certainly might have lots of different answers. A proper question is more like: Is it good for me to choose banking as my career, taking into account my mind, and the entire (relevant) state of the universe? Of course we'd never write out that whole question. But we can still know that is the type of question that has only one answer. The question is still very ambiguous though because the first part isn't clear. What does choosing banking as a career mean? Does it mean taking certain college classes? Committing to it forever? Trying it out in some way, perhaps just by reading some articles? Does it mean avoiding skill at a second type of career? Ultimately the question should either be a factual question, or it should refer specifically to a single choice and ask which option is best (which is actually a type of factual question). We don't know how to write perfect questions. But that's no matter.

It may appear contradictory to believe in single truth, but also in freedom and individuality. What use is individuality if one thing is best? And what use is freedom to do something other than the one truth?

It is not contradictory for two reasons.

First, just because there is a truth does not mean we know what the truth is. Often we have guesses, but we might be mistaken. Having freedom to explore our own guesses at what the truth is, and in general having an open society, contributes to finding a single truth!

Second, what I should do with my life and what you should do with your life are different questions. One truth doesn't mean we should do the same thing with our life. It means for each of us there is a best thing to do.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)


Choice Theory

There is a branch of philosophy which I call *choice theory*. It is about what a choice is, and how to make good choices. It has two major branches which are related but distinct. The first branch is: for a given goal, which choices will achieve it? The second branch is: which goals are best to choose to pursue?

Choice theory is not about personal taste. It's not going to tell you which ice cream to eat, which music to listen to, nor what type of chair to use. It may give hints, and rule out some approaches, but people are different and choice theory is general. On the other hand, you can think about and develop the relevant theories for your own personal situation, and use that to help you make choices.

Which ice cream should you eat? Well, not one you hate. Not one you can't afford. And don't stop to get ice cream when it will make you late to something important. And stuff like that. Otherwise, whichever you like! And which is best to like? Well, I have no idea. There must be some answer to: which ice cream should you like *if* you have the following personality, values, bank accounts, life situation, life history, and live at the following place, and the following ice cream sellers are nearby, and so on (in short: specifying your mind and your complete environment, which is the whole universe). And for all I know whatever person and life you put into the question, the true answer comes out: chocolate (though I seriously doubt it is always the same). But suppose you could work out exactly which ice cream was best. It would be bad to do so. Waste of huge amounts of computing power (including human thought). It'd be much more productive to pick whichever ice cream you feel like, quickly, and then get back to doing something more important. Even in real life it's generally not worth thinking for long about which flavor to get. Just try one, and have another later if you didn't like it, because your time is valuable. So, even if we could tell you exactly what ice cream to eat, we would be foolish to do so.

Achieving Your Goal

What is choice theory good for, then? Suppose you have a goal, then you shouldn't choose things which prevent or sabotage achieving your goal (except by way of causing you to change your mind about whether the goal is good, that sort or prevention is not bad). This sounds really obvious, but bear with me: it has implications. As long as you agree it's true I'll be happy. Suppose the goal is to invent something cool. You have a specific idea in mind, but what I'm going to say applies no matter what it is. Consider for a moment. That's pretty powerful. What we're going to say next applies very broadly: to all inventors. Even if it's a pretty small thing at least it's relevant to many, many people. That's the power of generality. So, we have our inventor. Should he petition to have profane books censored and/or burnt? You may think the answer is: we can't tell from the very limited information. It depends on his personality and his values and what kind of society he lives in and a thousand other things.

But it does not depend on any of that. He should not wish for books to be censored or burnt because they are profane.

This isn't a matter of personal taste, or subjective. I'm not saying this because I love books, or because my society values books, or because I can't imagine having a different way of thinking about the world. The arguments that he should not burn the book come from the laws of physics and epistemology (the study of knowledge) and logic. Those are the most rational, objective things we have.

For precision, I will add that it depends also on the meaning of the words "book", "burning", "profane", and so on. If you imagine a society where burning is a way of taking information in, just like our reading is, then certainly "book burning" is good there, because the words refer to something else entirely. But I don't strictly need to put this caveat. My sentences should be interpreted in terms of what the words mean here if you want to understand the intended meaning.

So what do we know? He wants to invent something. And how do you do that? The details vary, of course, but in general it requires thinking to create knowledge of how to make the new invention, and also knowledge of what the invention should do. Now that we see thinking and knowledge are important issues then it should not be surprising that epistemology has a lot to say.

Creating Knowledge

The prevailing theory of how knowledge is created, which current has no serious rivals, is evolutionary in nature. I'm not going to explain it in great detail here, but I will sketch out some relevant details. The main idea is that knowledge is created through a process of conjecture and criticism. You guess at the truth. You point out problems in your guesses. You reject guesses that you've discovered are flawed. And you make new guesses, including slight variants of old guesses (change them to remove the flaws you found). In this way better ideas are found: knowledge is created. Perfect knowledge is never created, but there is no limit to how good it can get (except as may be imposed by the laws of physics).

Notice that two of the requirements for knowledge creation are to have other guesses, not just one you like, and to have criticism. These other guesses we can call *rival theories*. They are alternative ideas about what might be true. It's important to have an open mind and create any rival theories we can imagine which make sense. This gives a better possibility of finding good ideas. And the type of criticism needed for knowledge creation is: criticism in terms of what is true, or not. Other types, such as disliking something, or being annoyed, or parochial, personal preferences cannot be part of the process of discovering the truth -- of creating better and better knowledge.

If you don't have these things -- rival theories and criticism -- then knowledge will not be created. And that's bad for invention. Further, the more you have of these, and the better they are done (with more devotion to seeking the truth and less personal bias and more of an open mind, and with more effort and creativity), then the more and faster and better knowledge will be created. And that's good for invention.

So what is best for this inventor to do, in terms of the most effective way to invent things? It is absolutely not to try to censor and burn books he considers profane. That is the destruction of rival theories and the suppression of criticism. Better is for those books to be subjected to criticism, and for his own ideas also to be subjected to criticism, and for the truest ideas to win out. Even if that means he discovers he holds mistaken ideas and should change his mind. In fact, such a discovery is a great thing: now he has the opportunity to improve his ideas, thus increasing his capacity to invent things. What the inventor should prefer is an open society.

Inventing is also aided by thoughtful, literate friends to have interesting communication with. You might try to imagine a solitary inventor, but if so what business does he have trying to get books banned? That's not a solitary activity. He could just leave them alone if he's really, truly solitary. And also if they read books and get smarter they will be more able to get good enough to help him in the future. His excuses could be:

1) If other people get too smart they will destroy me before I can finish my invention.
2) If other people learn too much they might discover my invention should not be invented, and persuade me to stop. Or even force me if it's dangerous and I don't listen.
3) If other people read this book, which is bad, they will become worse, and thus be less able to contribute help to the inventing process in the future.

The answer to (1) is that the more they learn, the more reliably they will have good ideas, including about choice theory. And choice theory does not recommend destroying inventors. It argues in favor of creative lifestyles (in the senses both of creating things and creating ideas) -- we will get to this argument later in the section about which goals are best to pursue. The less people know, the more possible it is they will mistakenly think it's a good idea to destroy the inventor (a bit like he mistakenly thinks he should destroy books). So he should want them to become smart.

The answer to (2) is that if the invention is a bad goal then it's best to learn that and choose to have a better goal. One of the ideas of choice theory is that to have and pursue good goals we must not only choose wisely now, but we must also be open to changing our mind later, and happy to learn new things that help us see more clearly which goals are good. Doing anything else is not the most effective way to have the best goals. Also, it is folly to assume we are right and that persuasion is to be feared. The knowledge creation process allows only criticism in terms of which ideas are true, never in terms of who believes which ideas, not even in terms of which ideas we believe. Rejecting ideas because they are not our own is not valid.

The answer to (3) is that we should deal with rival theories by criticizing them, not suppressing them. Because, again, we might be wrong. If we suppress the rival theory we won't find out who was right. If we criticize it, and allow criticism of our own theory, then we have a chance to find out. More knowledge will be created by not suppressing the rival theory (book). So the claim that allowing it to exist will make society dumber and less helpful is wrong: actually free access to ideas -- even those you consider bad ideas -- will help society to improve.

There is one exception to these things: war. If an idea, or book, intends to spread violently, and does not listen to criticism, nor does it care to compete with rival theories on the battleground of reason, then no matter what we do the outcome isn't going to be determined by reason, it is going to be determined by force. In that case, any arguments about how it is best to have an outcome based on reason, and to act to allow one, are void. because that isn't going to happen.


With that established, can we perhaps expand the reach of these arguments without changing any of the logic we can see this line of argument applies to videos as well as books. And to pamphlets. And posters. And even computer files and web pages. Most generally: it applies to censoring or destroying any type of *knowledge* because we consider it profane. And not just profane. Any kind of dislike will do: the only valid reason to reject rival theories is because they are false. And each person should make up their own mind: if one person makes up his mind and forces everyone else that is more prone to error. And force isn't using criticism: people who haven't changed their mind to the correct theory, aside from perhaps being right, must have some false idea, which you could criticize.

And it isn't just inventors who are aided by knowledge creation. It is anyone who wants to know something new, or accomplish something difficult. It is anyone with a creative goal.

We can summarize this as a principle: all people with creative goals should prefer an open society and prefer for rival theories and criticism to be freely expressed.

And that is not trivial! Nor arbitrary. Nor personal opinion.

As an aside, what would justify the intentional destruction of knowledge? First: war. Second: we delete computer files frequently. But it isn't because we dislike them. It's because we want to free up space for new files we consider more important. We also sometimes knock down old buildings. Again not because we have anything against them. It's just they are in the way of things we think are even better. Censorship is not like that. You can write your own book which you think is better and people can make their own choice of which to buy. Existing books are never in the way of yours like a building or computer file physically occupies part of your property that you might wish to use for something else. And even if we imagine running out of space due to all the bad books everywhere, censorship remains bad: you could instead persuade people that they should make room for new things by deleting old ones. And you could offer advice about what is bad, which they would listen to if they considered the advice worth the space.

What does it mean to have an open society? It means having institutions of some sort that facilitate discussion of ideas. It means having people who are open to criticism and to changing their mind. It means having traditions of voluntary interaction so that theories of what to do are never forced on people who disagree with them. It means a society that values persuasion: that believes if your idea really is good you should be able to convince others, and if you cannot, that is evidence not of their unreason but of the weakness of your idea (though it could be neither, and you are free to try again later). It means a society where only the supporters of an idea bear the risk of trying it out. Why, by the way, would true ideas be persuasive? Because people who are seeking the truth will prefer them. And because no one will think of valid criticism of them, but people can think of valid criticism of their rivals (and if no one has thought of that criticism yet, then how do we know which is true?). Why should people seek the truth? Because, like our inventor, they have creative goals, and seeking the truth is part of knowledge creation. (Other goals are addressed later.)

Some Examples

That's all somewhat abstract. What does living in this way look like day to day? How do the institutions of our society compare to the ideal?

Democracy is good. This does not mean there is nothing better which might replace it in the future. But we have a system in which people in power voluntarily step down simply because their ideas did not persuade enough voters. The policies our Government enacts can be changed through criticism. Each politician running for office provides conjectures about how a part of Government should be run, and faces off against rival theories. We have a system that is rational and which creates knowledge.

The free market is good. This does not mean there is nothing better which might replace it in the future. Competition between companies consists of competition between rival theories of how to run companies and what products to make (they compete over making what customers want, which is a helpful thing for people to create knowledge about). And the free market is responsive to criticism: people who believe a criticism of a product can choose not to buy it. The free market is a knowledge creating institution.

Problem solving in personal relationships is good. It means creating knowledge which helps people to have better lives. This is an open society issue because one of the main alternatives, which is in fact the status quo in many parts of the world, is to deal with disagreement in relationships by insisting on obedience (generally to the man, head of household, or elder). Obedience to one set of ideas about how a family should live is not a way of creating knowledge, and it is not an effective way of accomplishing creative goals people in that family have.

Here is another one which isn't really an open society issue: human cooperation is good. There could be an open society in which people generally led solitary lives (though it's somewhat difficult to imagine why that would be best -- other people are a good source of both conjectures and criticism -- and if it is not best why would people in an open society, where knowledge is created, continue to do it for long?) One reason human cooperation is good is that I can trade something that you value more than I do, for something I value more than you do, and we can both benefit. This sort of benefit helps make humans more powerful and and more wealthy -- it means they can better achieve their goals because they now have traded for things that will help achieve their goals more. Human cooperation also helps people who share a goal, because they can work together to achieve it, and share insights into how to achieve it, and share criticism of ineffective ways to achieve it.

Creative or Destructive Goals?

What about the issue of which goals we should choose to pursue? First, they should not contradict, or we won't succeed at achieving them all. And second, they should always allow for error correction in the future -- they should allow for themselves to be changed. Never should our goal be to be completely committed to a certain future and to devote all our efforts to creating that future. Rather, it is better to be strongly committed, but also to continue to think about whether this is for the best, and to reevaluate our goal if we find reason to. We must always include in our goals the idea that they may be an error, and be open to correcting them. Our goals should be held tentatively.

As we've seen, creative goals imply a preference for an open society in which knowledge is created which helps us accomplish those goals. But we have not seen why we should prefer goals of that type. Why should we aim to create and do, rather than to destroy and die?

Here are two reasons. The first is that we only ever have imperfect knowledge of what our goals should be. We, partly, don't know. And thus it is strongly in our interest to become powerful -- to gain the ability to accomplish whatever we want. That way as we learn good things to want we will already be prepared to accomplish them. And as we learn new facts, we will already be prepared to react to them. And as new facts happen (a volcano erupts, a meteor comes) power will give us more available choices to react. The way to become powerful is to have knowledge of how to accomplish a wide variety of things, and also knowledge with general applicability, and also to physically change our world to be more useful to us. The open, creative society is the powerful one which is ready to achieve new goals as we find them.

The second reason is that massively destructive goals, such as destroying the Earth or committing suicide, if accomplished, create a barrier. It is a barrier against error correction. Once the destruction occurs then, if it was a mistake, it is too late. You will never find out you were mistaken, never learn to live better, because now you are dead.

What about minor destructive goals? Well, what good are they? They are perfectly useful as a lead up to massive destruction. But they don't mesh well with our creative goals, including to have enough food to eat, a nice place to live, an interesting and happy life, and to be able to solve our problems.

Also consider that we do not need to justify our preference for creative, not destructive, lifestyles, nor justify that we already have creative goals. Ideas do not need justification. They only need to best their rivals. What are the arguments for a destructive way of life? What is claimed to be good about it? Nothing. Just because it is a logically permissible alternative does not make it an important rival theory. Until an strong argument or explanation is created in favor of destruction then we need not concern ourselves with it.

Creative goals is a very wide range of goals. It gives a lot of freedom for people to differ. That's part of the power of the open society. People with wildly different goals can live together in peace, and even cooperate in mutually beneficial ways.

Which Goals For Me?

But which creative goals are best for me?

Of course it depends on your situation. But here are examples of the sort of thinking that you might do for yourself.

Let's start with something simple: you prefer not to fight with your wife. Then you should want to understand the fights, and you should want to have some understanding of human psychology, and you should want to have fine control of your emotions, and you should want the ability to think clearly and rationally during the beginning stages of a fight. And to get all this, you should want to be good at introspection, and able to take criticism very well (in fact: you should enjoy it and seek it out), and you should, today, enjoy to read (because that gives access to a lot of knowledge), and you should prefer to live in an open society where your ideas about how to prevent fighting will not be suppressed, and where other people with ideas about it will be able to cooperate with you.

Say you want to be rich. Then you better not be scared of failure -- you need to be willing to try out your ideas without any guarantee they will work, and you need to be willing to pay the costs of the trial, or persuade people to help pay. You will be aided by an ability to think quickly and clearly, and to do work efficiently. You will be aided by knowledge of what people want and will pay for. You will be aided by knowledge of techniques for constructing things -- the more general the better -- and to aid in that you could learn about the laws of physics, and about chemistry and engineering and architecture and so on. You would do well to understand economics, and also the law. For many of the previous some math will help. And understanding computers will help a lot: they can automate many tasks, and store information, and they open up new ways of doing things, and new ways of interacting with customers, and new ways of advertising. You can get rich without all of this, but there are other reasons they are good, and certainly if you wish to become rich you should make improving your skill at some of these a goal.

Say you value your time. Then seeking rational attitudes towards your habits and compulsions will help. Questioning some of your strong desires will help. Is acting on romantic love the best use of time? Sex? Bad moods? Smoking? Drinking?

Say you value the truth. Then you should not be a person who lets emotions cloud his judgment. You should not always try to prove you are right: it's better for your goal to be to figure out who is right. You will be more effective if you are not apathetic or lazy in your efforts to find the truth.

Say you are racist. Why? You should want to know, if you want to have good goals. Are racist goals good? If you don't know why you are a racist -- why being a racist is correct -- then you have no reason to think that sort of goal is good. Better not to pursue it. You might think you are a racist because of your upbringing, but that it isn't best. In that case you should try not to pursue racist goals, and should try to pursue self-change.

One thing to keep in mind is that a lot of change in how we live is already recommended, and once that is done, what to do next will be much easier to see.

The Two Branches

The two branches of choice theory are related. This is important to know because we shouldn't first think about what goals to have, and then after we decide that start to work out how to accomplish them. You can learn about which goals are good to have by thinking about how to accomplish them. Suppose the goal you are considering is to sell a billion copies of your book. You might work out that the most effective way to do that is to give speeches explaining why your book is great. Alternatively, you might figure out that won't work because a different book will be more popular, and the only ways to sell that many copies without rewriting are to force people at gunpoint, or to secretly destroy the other book and its author so the ideas can't be recovered. Just by working out what methods of achieving the goal will succeed we can sometimes see whether it's any good or not.


OK, this is it. It's time for the secret, surprise ending! There is something I haven't been telling you. *gasp* It is another name for "choice theory". And the other name is: *moral philosophy*. Morality is about how to live. Or, we might say, which choices to make.

The reason I use the name choice theory is that many people strongly believe morality is not objective, or don't listen closely to moral philosophy, or associate morality strongly with religion, or with sin, or with sexual rules. But choice theory? Many more people are persuaded *that* is objective. Why wouldn't it be? It's largely about epistemology, logic, and physics.

Choice theory faces rivals for being a good theory of morality. Mostly they are religious. None of them are up to the standards of modern philosophy. Unfortunately, some of those rivals are the prevailing moral philosophy right now, and they cast a shadow over the whole subject. Because they have serious flaws, often including: false, logical contradictions, arbitrary or subjective, no particular reasons given why it is right, based on faith, argued for via the weight of authority, full of parochial rules like about sexual conduct and other sins, and trying to tell people what to do instead of help offer them ways to life effectively.

You may not be sure how objective epistemology is. That is another can of worms which I won't go into detail about. But I will give a brief argument. One of the things very widely held to be objective is science. And the reason it's objective is: the scientific method. It tells scientists to put aside their personal fancy and look dispassionately at the evidence and to seek the best conclusion regardless of what they would like to be true. Or in short it says: seek the objective truth. There is also a philosophical method. It's like the scientific method, but used for matters of non-science (issues determined by argument alone without reference to evidence, measurement, or observation). Both the scientific and philosophical methods are ways of thinking. And they both say roughly the same thing: seek the truth. And if we were to categorize them they are both ... epistemology. Epistemology is the branch of philosophy concerned with how to get knowledge and truth, and these methods are ways of doing that. And epistemologists, of course, use the philosophical method, just like scientists use the scientific method.

You may still think science is different. Well, what's different about it? There's evidence. We can see and touch things to see who's right. It isn't our choice. However, and as many philosophers have pointed out, our sense data is not a certain road to truth. It can be mistaken. Our beliefs about our sense data can be biased. We can delude ourselves unconsciously. Lots of things can go wrong with observational evidence. So how does science work if the evidence is uncertain? By using the scientific method which provides good ways to think about things objectively. That is all the sanction science has, but also it is all that it needs. Epistemology has the same sanction: philosophers of epistemology use the same sort of method in their thinking. None of this provides certainty. But it is persuasive. There are no known alternative ways to think about these things which are better, or even comparably good. (I realize that statement deserves further argument and explanation. Maybe another time.)

In conclusion, call it what you will. Choice theory is essentially a type of logic. It exists objectively. What it says is based on not personal taste but mostly the laws of epistemology (which are governed by the laws of physics). And it can help you answer the ancient moral question, "How should I live?"

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)


The following pop culture references contain no spoilers.

On Felicity. Felicity has a theory that pasta being served on Monday means a bad week. A dog disrupted her activity a few times (the same activity each time) and she thought that was a sign not to do it. When something works out conveniently for starting a relationship with a guy she thinks that is a sign as well.

In Harry Potter, Harry hugs a friend and tries to put unsaid things into the hug, and believes the person understood some of it.

Lovers often speak of fate and destiny, and are pleased by silly coincidences like having the same birthday (or even star sign, which has 1/12 odds). Or having the same favorite color or band or movie. Or having the same phobia, or having lived in the same area in the past. "Was it really a coincidence that we both were at the bar that night? I hadn't been to a bar for months; I don't even really like them!"

This is magical thinking.

Felicity may not mean that there is a wizard casting a spell on her. But she does, undeniably, mean there may be *information* coming from these sources. The laws of physics don't allow for pasta choices to control whether events go well or not for the next week, nor do they give you a surprise dog as a hint not to do an activity. Any thinking that ignores the laws of physics and imagines things happen outside the laws of physics is magical thinking.

Harry's idea that a hug can explain his feelings on a number of complex matters is also magical thinking. A hug has information in it, but only a few bits. You can hug a bit tighter, or a bit longer, but people can't tell the difference very precisely and how that will communicate any sentences is a mystery. You could have a code, but you'll need about five bits per letter; communicating even a single letter that way would be difficult. Just imagine trying to work it out so you and your friend hug and then you figure out which letter of the alphabet he meant based on hug length and tightness, arm position, etc... Back in reality his hug is not communicating all the things he imagines. Hugs do not form magical connections between minds. All he's really communicating is one simple thing: positive feelings. To the extent the other person applies this data point to various outstanding issues within his own mind that is not communication at all, but just him figuring stuff out himself. He will only reach the conclusions Harry hopes if he independently comes up with the same ideas. That's a reality-based way to look at this. But Harry does not; he tries to do magic. (Magic of a sort not allowed in Harry Potter universe.)

Magical thinking is extraordinarily self-centered. It imagines either that the laws of physics are watching over your shoulder like an intelligent being and taking steps to help you out, or that if they are written in stone, timeless, on that stone are laws just about you. The real laws of physics do not say anything specifically about humans, let alone about you personally. They don't have clauses to make information pop into the heads of people you hug. They don't change lunch menus for your edification.

*   *   *

Let's consider rival theories to the idea that there is objective truth, and that we have ways of seeking truth such as the scientific method and reason. What, exactly, do they claim? It's objectively true that there is no objective truth? If we all have our own personal truth then can't I have an objective truth for me, and have it apply to everyone else as I want it to? (And thus I have taken away everyone else's personal truth. Sorry.) The idea of subjective truth is like saying just because there is a door there for me doesn't mean it's in the same place in your world. In other words, we all live in different worlds that aren't necessarily connected. But if that's the case, how is communication possible? How can we understand each other without having any facts in common? Having no facts in common doesn't just include locations of objects, it also includes gestures and speech made by people. The only serious ideas are that we have facts in common between all people (ie, there are some objective truths), or solipsism (ie, other people aren't real, I'm just imagining them).

Solipsism is very silly. The other people have complex, autonomous behavior. Whatever you want to call them, they are outside your mind. So, they act *as if* they are real people. The claim that they somehow aren't is completely arbitrary.

Consider someone who says the scientific method, or reason, is bad or doesn't work well. Well, does he want justification? That's an epistemic error. Does he have a rival theory? Let's hear it! And subject it to criticism. If he doesn't have a rival theory of how to seek the truth, how'd he come to his conclusion that the scientific method or reason are ineffective? Did he do auguries? Did he use reason?

If it's essentially undeniable that some facts, like the location of a large building, have the same truth of the matter for everyone -- they don't depend on our subjective opinions -- then we should consider if there are any things for which this can be denied. Any sort of measurable, physical fact is out. The cafeteria does not serve pasta for Felicity and roast cow for me, and when we each pick up menus they just magically say different things (and they change themselves undetectably if we swap menus), and there are not two different versions of the kitchen, located in the same place, preparing different meals. (By the way, that undetectable menu change is a good example of magical thinking. It requires physics be paying attention to what we are doing and intelligently manipulate affairs.)

That leaves logic, math, philosophy, religion, and morality -- things we cannot measure or observe.

All of these things, essentially, are facts. (Religions contain magical thinking. Never mind them.)

Math is a good example. Math is not a bunch of arbitrary rules that people made up. It derives very closely from physical facts. First there were the counting numbers. These were invented to let people think about who has more cows which is a matter of fact. And it let people think about the fact that if they have eight cows, and two die, they have six left. These concepts, just like any other part of our language, were just words and ways of thinking we developed to correspond to the physical facts.

This story does not just account for the counting numbers. We can cover all the rest of math. Sets, for example, are a way of organizing cows into groups convenient for various types of thinking. Zero is when all your cows die. Negative numbers are for keeping track of how many cows you owe your neighbor, or expressing your change in cows some months. Fractions came about when two brothers inherited three cows. And these fractions allowed them to express lengths with arbitrary accuracy. Which allowed them to notice the fact that the area of a square is the length of a side squared. These things can also be discovered by writing equations. X+3=1 is an equation involving only counting numbers and addition but which reveals the existence of negative numbers and which corresponds to reality. 2*X=3 shows two brothers times their share of the cows makes three cows (again, it corresponds to reality, to facts), and that reveals fractions. Now that we have squaring we run into: X^2=2 and we discover square roots and hence real numbers. And "imaginary numbers" come from X^2=-1 -- they are a way of expressing what X is in that simple equation. Whether you like to consider them real or not, they express what that X is; they are, like the other numbers, terminology and ways of thinking that correspond to reality. And there you go, that's most of the basic concepts of math.

Good philosophy and logic also correspond to reality -- to facts. Computers are built out of logic gates, and they really do work. Evolution is a philosophical theory about a method of creating knowledge, but it also is a fact: if the preconditions are met, evolution takes place, and the results are as stated. The philosophy corresponds to the fact, and if it did not then it would be bad philosophy. And morality -- choice theory -- is about this fact and its consequences, and other related facts like the results of an open society. The results of various choices are also facts, determined by the laws of physics, and how well they correspond to the outcomes we intend is also a matter of fact.

The fact that there has been a lot of faulty thinking, and ideas which do not correspond to reality, shouldn't be taken to mean the quest of finding true ideas -- ones that do correspond to reality -- is hopeless. The Earth is not flat is a good idea we worked out, despite the abstractness of the idea of flat, and also of the idea of categorizing a certain set of molecules as the Earth.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)


Power is good.

Power is the ability for humans to do what we want and accomplish our aims. Power lets us make things happen; power lets us have more control over the future.

Power can be used to accomplish good things, or bad things.

Many fear power. For those who hate power over nature I have little sympathy. Why should we not understand the physics of our world and live effectively? Even walking around, and balancing, are a matter of skillful control over the natural world. Electricity and computers, while considered more unnatural than the power of walking, are also immensely valuable; they transform the world much more to our liking. Some complain that we interfere in the natural order of things. This is magical thinking. There is no natural order. There are just the laws of physics, and the species that happened to evolve here. There is no thought or preference behind it. (It is ironic that people of this sort are frequently atheists who look down on religion.) But never mind that: how best to save as many species as possible, and increase biodiversity? Through skillful manipulation of the natural world for that aim.

Consider five possible worlds:

In one humans commit mass suicide to avoid messing up the natural world. A few millenia later a meteorite wipes out most species, like we suspect happened with the dinosaurs. A few billion years later the sun goes super nova and that's the end. In the mean time, species sometimes die out due to natural variance in climate and other randomness. This future is no good.

In another we continue with somewhat clumsy use of the natural world, and refrain from increasing our power and skill because people fear it will be used badly. We still die to the meteor or at least to the sun. We save some species, but we kill others by accident. This future is no good.

In another we gain great power and control, and we save every species that we want to, deflect meteors, and either change the sun or, perhaps, eventually leave. When we leave we will bring with us any species we wish. Without this gift of space flight they could not survive further. This is paradise.

In another we gain great power and control, but they are used in ways you do not like today. The reason is that your present ideas about what should be done are mistaken. But this is a good future as well. We cannot judge the future by how well it conforms to what we want now. We must judge instead by how rational it is. If it is an open society which favors persuasion then we should be pleased. And if, in the event, we still don't like a policy (in most cases we ourselves would have changed our mind by then) we are free to criticize the mainstream idea and persuade people of our view. And further, in a free society, remember that we can, personally, save all the species we like. The only obstacle is our own personal power. If we have enough control over our world, including the required resources, then we don't need anyone to agree with us. (We may need people to trade with us, and to work for us. But the market allows cooperation without agreement over the proper aims of life, so that is no obstacle.) This, too, is paradise.

In another we have power but people take control of society forcefully and decisions are made by whim not reason. The rulers suppress the power of others. Eventually they start killing people (and they care even less for other species). If you have trouble imagining a suitably dark continuation from there, try reading 1984. This is a disaster by all accounts; this future is no good.

How is this disaster to be avoided? Two main ideas are:

1) Avoiding disaster is a matter of power: skillful control over our lives and our future. With power comes the ability to create safeguards and take steps to prevent disaster. Today we have only limited power to prevent disaster. But if we become more powerful, our power to make the world safe and free will grow.

2) Avoiding disaster is a matter of controlling those who might do ill; the enemy here is freedom. Only people with appropriate, well-liked ideas should be allowed their liberty. Power must be doled out in accordance with who has humanity's best interests are heart.

While certainly there is some danger to (1), it is the only reasonable way to proceed. Yes, we might develop weapons and dangers faster than safety measures. But that is a somewhat strange fear. There is no particular reason that should happen. Meanwhile there are very powerful reasons the opposite should happen: we will develop precautions first because we know to do otherwise is dangerous. Developing dangers we cannot handle is stupid; people will aim to avoid such folly.

You may think the history of war contradicts me. I disagree. Developing powerful weapons provides safety from external invasion (a serious threat). It is true that many societies have been war like. But what of it? We now have an open society and we prefer peace. Our development of powerful weapons technology, like nuclear weapons, was an important part of the defense of our society. And now we have voluntarily ceased development of those weapons. We only wish to have that power to the extent we need it and no more.

Now let's look at (2). There is something implicit in this: there are rulers deciding who to dole out power to, and deciding who has humanity's best interests at heart and so on. And these rulers use force. For our benefit, they say. Remember what we are trying to avoid: people who use force to gain rulership, and who then suppress the power of those they disagree with or otherwise dislike. Well, that is exactly what (2) proposes to set up. Why, then, might it sound appealing? If it sounds appealing probably you are thinking of the disaster as the ascent of bad rulers with bad ideas who hate freedom, and the solution as rulers who like freedom. You identify with the second set of rulers. You imagine they would rule as you would rule. They will promote the values you agree with.

This is a mistake. Even if the rulers start with your values, they might change their minds, or you might change your mind, and then you will not be happy as you find force used against you. And even if you continue to agree that does not mean you are right; we need a society that seeks the truth and creates knowledge. That means an open society with freedom of thought and in which no particular view is entrenched in power.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

The Enquirer I

The Enquirer: Reflections on Education, Manners and Literature by William Godwin is out of copyright. Download it freely and legally here. It was published in 1797. Though old, it contains good ideas. Old books are often hard to read, but Godwin was a good writer, so it's not too difficult (though certainly you will notice many differences from a modern book). Also it is philosophy and non-fiction, which many people find somewhat harder to read even with modern books. But take heart: good philosophy is far more comprehensible than bad philosophy. And besides, I'll summarize in my words.

Be aware that while I try to summarize pretty precisely, I make some judgments about which details to omit, and often omit parts that make less sense (i.e., bad parts). I also may sometimes improve arguments when changing them into my words. I certainly make them shorter, and that requires adding my own knowledge of which parts are critical. I also may sometimes inadvertently make things worse.

Summary - Part 1 - Essay 1 - Of Awakening the Mind

The purpose of education is individual happiness. If all individuals were happy then the species would be as well. A second purpose is to train men to be useful -- virtuous. That requires wisdom (including both extent of knowledge and energy of pursuit).

Virtue is critical to being truly happy. Only happiness deserved on account of virtue is worthwhile; anything else is unsatisfactory and frigid. Also, men of enlightened understanding have accessible to them more subtle, complex and satisfactory pleasures to create their happiness, and the types of happiness pursued by ignorant men are also available if they wish.

The first thing educators should attempt is to awaken their child's mind. We may not know the precise innate capacity of each child, but whether education can do everything or not, it can do much.

The primary thing children need to attain something is to ardently desire to do so. This is assuming the educator will clearly and skillfully point out how to attain it. So the main issue is to incite desire. The means of this are obvious:
Has the proposed object desirable qualities? Exhibit them. Delineate them with perspicuity and delineate them with ardour. Show your object from time to time under every point of view which is calculated to demonstrate its loveliness. Criticize, commend, exemplify.
If this does not work, that is not due to the impossibility of the task, but the indolence or unskillfulness of the master.

It is a mistake to suppose the object of education should be the present ease and happiness of the child. It is more important to awaken the child's mind, and this cannot start too early; the seeds of bad habits and ill temper can form during the first twelve months.

Many people look down on early instruction as a thing of inferior value. What takes a child a long time to learn could be learned, later, by the same person, with ease. Once we are older we can learn most things with less effort. So why bother to teach very young people when it appears to be so inefficient?

The purpose of early instruction should not be to teach specific skills but to provide against the age of five and twenty a mind well regulated, active, and prepared to learn. It is not generally important to acquire any specific knowledge but instead to acquire habits of intellectual activity. In short: learn to think.


The idea of innate capacity of people is worth questioning. One reason for this is what we've learned about universality and computers (long after Godwin's time). When you build a system to do computations there is a "jump to universality" when you reach a sufficient, very limited amount of power: suddenly you find your system is capable of doing any computation. The jump to universality comes up in epistemology as well. When trying to describe a set of things if there is one thing it's usually simplest to talk about it specifically, but if there are more then it is often easiest to give some general principles and to specify only the differences of each object.

In practice it is generally cheaper to use general purpose tools, components, and computers and then to alter or program them for your specific needs rather than to start making exactly what you need from scratch. You can see this in the lumber industry where boards are sold in standard sizes and are cut from the standard size when people want a different size; they are not cut to the sizes everyone wants directly from the tree.

How does this apply to the idea of innate capacity? If you think of a mind as something like an idea generator, then according to the jump to universality we might expect it to evolve to be able to create any idea, not just a large set of specific ideas that are useful. Then restrictions could have evolved, but why would they? Where is the evolutionary pressure to limit our minds? Further, even if there was such selection pressure, memes would evolve to satisfy it more quickly, so we still wouldn't end up with hardware restrictions. When wondering if our minds are universal idea generators remember that we seem to be able to create a very wide variety of ideas many of which there was not evolutionary incentive to allow for specifically.

I like the section on demonstrating the value of things to incite desire for them. But there is another important possibility for why this might fail: the thing might not actually be very good. The master might be mistaken. And this is another reason why it is crucial the master take the step of persuading the student to be interested in a subject before they learn it, or interested in a skill before he works to obtain it. Having to demonstrate the goodness of something is an extra test to help weed out mistakes by both requiring the master to consider it again and by allowing the child to know the reasons and apply his own judgment. This demonstration of value also has the added bonuses of both teaching the child something (the reasons for why that is valuable) and helping awaken the child's mind: it helps show him how to think about what is good to desire.

Regarding acquiring specific skills it is worth mentioning that while no particular skill is necessary, learning some skills in great detail is almost certainly part of a good education. While we are learning how to learn one of the steps we will take is to try it out: to learn something. In doing so we will encounter field-specific problems that inspire us to consider general versions of them. And we will encounter problems that our general ideas about learning don't seem to apply to well, and so we will know where we should consider more. And by learning a field we will gain a better sense of what it's like to learn seriously, and we will find out which parts of our 'learning to learn' we find are actually very helpful.

Summary - Part 1 - Essay 2 - Of the Utility of Talents

Some have questioned the desirability of talents and said they inspire men to bold action not necessarily best for society. But what parent fears he will raise a child of too much capacity?

The main thing education can do is to impart information. Information helps us select which things to do are best. So the thing people fear must be partial not extensive information. But in that case the cure is more information!
The idea of withholding from me capacity, lest I should abuse it, is just as rational, as it would be to shut me up in prison, lest by going at large I should be led into mischief.
The only protection against being a fool is to know a lot. The self-satisfied, half-witted fellow is the most ridiculous of all things.

The virtues of a weak and ignorant man scarcely deserve the name. Try as he will, he has not the power and talent to accomplish much. People with talent may have the ability to do mischief, but they are the ones with the ability to do anything much at all.

Further, there is no way to be truly virtuous while ignorant. How can a weak, ignorant man know of what things to approve and what things to disapprove?
He wishes me well. But he does not know how to benefit me. He does not know what benefit is. He does not understand the nature of happiness or good. He cannot therefore be very zealous to promote it.
Society is not such a simple thing that weak men can do everything it requires. A good society faces dangers that only men of uncommon virtue and talent can oppose.


I don't think Godwin is aware of the distinction we draw between knowledge and information today. I use "information" to refer to dumb facts, like a computer database full of astronomical data. And "knowledge" refers to understanding: if you just know a list of facts then you don't understand; it is only when you have explanations that you have knowledge.

Summary - Part 1 - Essay 3 - Of the Sources of Genius

Recently there has been debate about whether genius is innate or whether it can be infused. Previously this was thought too obvious for question: it is innate. But this is not obvious.

A child has very little experience before he is born. And habits formed after birth can change, so there is no reason to suppose habits formed before birth cannot change. Therefore the decisive differences between children at the time of their birth must be in the structure of their bodies.

We do not find that men of particular body types are more often geniuses. Nor do we find that men with good senses are generally smarter. Often the common man has excellent senses. And if we dissect a genius who can point to a difference in structure that is the cause of his genius?

Genius appears to signify little more in the first instance than a spirit of prying observation and incessant curiosity. But those are things which incidents in life can create. A bad education reduces these characteristics and a good education helps inspire them. Genius, it should seem, may be produced after this method; have we any sufficient reason to doubt of its always being thus produced? If you gain the motives that excited another man, and his external advantages, then you can achieve an excellence not inferior to his. This view is important to education because previously education was thought to be a lottery where no skill could help.

The indications of genius are often visible as early as five years of age, so we must take care very early. Older people have less flexible minds. Gaining the qualities of genius at a late age is difficult but perhaps never quite impossible. Far more common is the reverse: having the indications of genius then losing them. The children of peasants often show a promise of understanding, a quickness of observation, an ingeniousness of character, and a delicacy of tact, at age seven which, by the age of fourteen, is obliterated by the cares of the world. Speaking still of peasants:
They are brutified by immoderate and unintermitted labour. Their hearts are hardened, and their spirits broken, by all that they see, and all that they feel, and all that they look forward to. This is one of the most interesting points of view in which we can consider the present order of society. It is the great slaughter-house of genius and of mind. It is the unrelenting murderer of hope and gaiety, and of the love of reflection and the love of life.
Genius requires care and good circumstances to be fully realized. Why shouldn't we suppose there are circumstances which destroy it?

To guard against misunderstanding we should further remark that if genius is not innate it does not follow that it is to be credited to educators. A pupil is given many ideas per day from a teacher, and has many more the teacher never concerns himself with. The causes of genius are hard to control and often are not the educator's doing but always are in part the pupil's doing.


A common hedge which Godwin does not address is to say there are innate tendencies that can be overcome with education but it is harder. This is a useful hedge because it is very good at evading criticism while providing a perfect platform to spew hate at good people and deny they are smart and successful because of their goodness. It is a way to point to any thoughtful, careful, industrious person who has through wisdom and curiosity come to be an effective and smart person, and to say: none of his good traits had anything to do with it, it was easy for him, you can tell it was easy because he succeeded, it's hard for me, innately, you can tell because I failed.

Despite the common motivations of such a position, it could still be true.

Consider your modern computer. If it were a little faster, or a little slower, for most of your programs this would make no difference. For most programs, it is plenty fast and that's all there is to it. Similarly, if brains differ in their speed a little it should rarely have much effect. What about memory space? The forgetful person is not the one with 5% less memory capacity. Even if he has less capacity that is not the reason. He is forgetful because he lacks skill at identifying which things are most important to remember and prioritizing them, or because he thinks remembering things is hard and doesn't want to try, or some reason like that.

Even if it is harder (and how should we find out? how do we compare people's subjective experiences of difficulty of different things? and how do we make sure that is not due to their ideas?) what difference does that make? We agree that progress and success are possible. We can improve. So, do that. Don't spend your time wondering if it's easier for others. Live your own life. Don't play the victim; take pride in what you can achieve.

Americans don't do hard labor like the peasant farmers Godwin speaks of. We are very much richer than his society, and very far removed from it. It is difficult to imagine a life like that, and good to be reminded. One reaction I have is: "Thank God for inequality!" Equality would have meant that absolutely everyone was a peasant farmer, albeit with a slightly less backbreaking life. If that was the case, who would have written books? Who would have made scientific progress? How would humanity have moved beyond peasant farming. As unfair as it may seem for one person to be a farmer and another, like Godwin himself, to have greater means and not to do hard labor, it led to a much better future. (By the way, Godwin's life was not a life of ease and luxury. It was hard and and harsh in many ways and I am glad for his amazing strength of character that let him continue on and keep writing.)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)


Are there hard problems that families face? Hard parts of daily life? Hard parts of relationships? Conversations? Truth seeking?

The answer may seem obvious: yes.

Many people find these things hard. So, they are. You could change the meaning of the word "hard" to "cow-related" and then the answer is no, but that would be silly. Who could argue with this?

*dramatic pause*


Relationship problems, including family problems, can be solved with agreement. This doesn't necessarily solve the fundamental issue, but it lets life go on happily and agreeably. The only thing preventing this is irrationality.

Physics is hard. I mean it's hard to make new discoveries. But that does not mean it's hard to be a physicist. Doing physics can be fun (and if it is not, then the solution is really straightforward: switch professions). All you need to do is find internal agreement and you can go on with life happily and agreeably even if the fundamental issue remains elusive. And the only thing preventing this is irrationality.

Fundamental issues are hard, like figuring out the true laws of motion (but need not be upsetting). And irrationality is hard to deal with. Other than that, life is easy and carefree. There are no problems specific to families that make families unhappy. There are no particular difficulties in relationships that cause fights. The reason people believe there is, is that they are irrational but also blind in such a way they do not attribute the fault to their own irrationality, and instead assume it is a difficult situation and no one's fault. This, unfortunately, encourages them not to seek solutions.

Two of the most common reasons people are unhappy are wanting things they lack the knowledge (including skill) to achieve, and wanting reality to be different than it is (now, without having to bother changing it).

Ever wished your friends were a little kinder? More understanding? Smarter? More fun? Shared more interests with you? Were available more often? Either that is wanting the facts of reality to be magically different, or it is wanting to change your life without learning how to do so. If you wanted to learn how, you'd be thinking "I wish I was more skilled at improving my friends. Maybe I'll make a breakthrough tomorrow." If you were thinking of good goals for what your life could be (yes *your* life. you should want a life with a good environment including the portion of the environment consisting of people) then you'd call them goals not wishes (or you'd, right now, be thinking wishes was the wrong word). (BTW misunderstandings are caused by people being different which is caused by people disagreeing about which way is best to be.)

What is a agreement? It is an idea for how to proceed that everyone involved *prefers*. It's a preference that they have in common. In other words they agree about what to do. If you have that what can go wrong? A hurricane, sure. A fight? No. People only fight when they disagree (including misunderstandings so they think they disagree).

Hurricanes aren't problems. How to prevent damage from one is. But if that upsets you we are looking at the sort of reality denial I mentioned earlier. And there are solutions. Tie down your pigs so they don't fly away, feed your cat until it's too heavy to be blown away, etc...

Finding a agreement is the same thing as finding a common preference. It is the same thing as finding a solution such that no one is hurt. It is the same thing as living non-coercively.

Internal agreement is about getting your own autonomous theories to agree.

What is a theory, and how do we know they are roughly autonomous?

Consider fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. If you ask them whether the movie or TV series is better most will say they TV series. In this way many different people are alike. In other ways, these people are very different. In other respects, the contents of their minds are very different. If you ask them why they prefer the TV show they will give a lot of the same answers. Again, they are *alike*. The more detail you ask about, the more they will think and the more their answers will be different. These people have different minds and think differently, so this is to be expected. But this one part of their minds behaves, roughly, alike. That thing is less than a person and more than a simple fact like the weight of the average hippopotamus. We know it behaves roughly autonomously because it is capable of giving the same answers even in very different environments (that is, in different minds). I call it a theory. I have also called it a part of a personality or a personality strand. And I also call it an idea because I don't want people to think I mean something like Newton's Law of Gravity which they might if I said "theory". Idea, however, has connotations of something less than the type of theory I have just described. (The reason there is no ideal word to use is that our culture/language does not understand this issue very well yet.)

What gets in the way of agreement? Ignorance? Differences? Problems being hard to solve?


Ignorance is no obstacle to agreeing. There is a rational, objective way to think about the situation, including both people in it (or more), and they can both take that view. More concretely, they can agree to put off a decision until the ignorant person learns more. Or they can agree the best thing is for him to do as the more knowledgeable person suggests for now. This can be evaluated without knowing whether the more knowledgeable person is correct or not. You don't have to agree about that and you can still agree about what to do next. If he wants you to do something and you aren't sure if it's good there is a rational way to think about this situation, and you can use reason to decide how to reply (do it, don't do it, decide later, whatever). And if you can make your decision according to reason, he can agree it is correct. Or he can disagree and criticize, and then you can agree with the criticism, or reply to it further. And so on. And then you will agree about what to do because of what you have in common: reason.

You may fear the "and so on" step will take a long time. He will criticize what I said. I won't think that's right and will criticize what he said. That will sound wrong to him and he'll argue back. Then I'll argue more. And so on.

That is not the natural way of things.

When people are rational and are listening to each other and taking each other seriously and are not biased in favor of their own ideas but are really open to whatever view makes most sense, then every step of the way we can expect the likely result is agreement and the rare result is another round of disagreement. (Another likely result is a short break for some questions to clarify things and increase understanding.) What we have on our side here is that good ideas are hard to come by. So usually we won't have a better idea than the one someone tells us. And if we do, they probably won't have a better idea than that. And so on. And if this goes wrong then all that's happening is we have an unusually long string of good ideas. Not particularly scary :)

Long running disagreements are common, and people remaining different is perfectly fine. It can be hard to understand each other and to get a clear view of which lifestyles and personalities are best, and how to have them. But that isn't what we are talking about here. The issue is agreeing about what to do next. We always have the option: go our separate ways. The only reason we are having this discussion is that we both want to do something together (we already agree on the main point). So that's why it should be easy. We will find a way to do it that we both like. If we haven't yet either we will think it's worth continuing to try (and so we will be happy to keep trying) or we will think it's too much trouble (in which case we would not like to keep trying. but we won't, so no matter).

There is perhaps an underlying idea here: that both people will respect the right of the other to go his own way if he prefers to do so. Either person is expected to agree to that without further discussion if the other wishes it. This is perhaps not a matter of reason but simply of liberal principles: we wish people to be free to live their own lives, not obliged to do what we want them to do. This is a principle of open societies, and it is a principle of the Enlightenment, and it is good. Forcing someone to continue to try to find a mutually agreeable way to work together doesn't even make much sense. If you want mutual agreement then you should let him go when he wants to.

Certainly in families and personal relationships we should especially want our loved ones to be free and not to do anything they don't want to, right?

People being different and problems being hard to solve are also not obstacles to agreeing about what to do next. That people are different means they may prefer to go their separate ways; they may not wish to cooperate for a common goal at this time. But in that case they can agree to that; they can both prefer it. And if there is a hard problem to solve, then you can agree to work on it, or agree to avoid it, or agree to a temporary measure that seems best, or whatever. There is no reason that should cause people to fight.

Disagreeing about what to do next is fighting. It means you can't agree to go your separate ways, and can't agree to do something together either. You are failing to cooperate or separate. And this is not rational. If you can't be productive together, go do different things. Fighting won't help anything. A discussion might. But if you want a discussion, and the other person does too, then you agree about that, and you agree about what to do next. For there to be a fight at least one person must be unwilling to have a discussion.

You may think *that* is the problem: that person doesn't want to discuss. He is preventing problem solving. But that isn't obvious at all. Many things aren't worth discussing. Why bother? You could be writing a mathematics paper. Or learning chemistry. Those might be much more valuable things to do than to discuss this problem. He could have plenty of other reasons too. Maybe he'd rather discuss later. If you think he's wrong you might want to discuss that. And he might not want to. He might not want to tell you his reasons, or hear yours. Now do we have him cornered? He's avoiding criticism! Nah. He still might have better things to do. Further, he might think you are acting unpleasantly and he doesn't want to talk about it because he doesn't think you will take him seriously and listen with an open mind. Or maybe he expects mean or unhelpful comments from you. He might be right about that. If he isn't -- if you are sympathetic to him, and want to help -- then why won't you let him alone?

There is one especially good reason to discuss apparent problems. But it is never urgent. It only becomes urgent if people avoid it for a while, which is a sign of irrationality or a mistaken view of how important it is. (But you will get opportunities to correct that mistake if you know better and they are being rational.) The reason is: to prevent *chronic* problems. One time problems don't need discussion. Sure, something went wrong. But if the same situation is unlikely to happen again then who cares? Forget about it and do something valuable. And a lot of problems could be chronic but people figure out (all by themselves) how to do better, so they don't need discussion. You should only think something is chronic after the second time at earliest. Before that don't worry it could be chronic. The third time is a more reliable indicator that there's a repeating problem.

People do chronically avoid fixing chronic problems. (And by problems I mean irrationalities that cause them to fight with people in their lives. And by fight I mean sabotage finding agreement about how to proceed.) They do this out of irrationality. Fixing repeating problems is worthwhile. (Note: in theory the costs of fixing could exceed the costs of all the many repetitions that will happen. In that case it isn't worthwhile.) This supports what I've been saying: people fight due to irrationality, not due to life being hard in some way.

Isn't being rational hard?

No, not really. It's hard to figure out what is the rational way to live. It's hard to create that knowledge. But if you don't know how to be rational very well, so what? Do your best. No one can ask more of you than that.

The real issue is: today we know how to be rational to a certain degree. Many people don't live that way. They live less rationally than we know how to. And it isn't due to ignorance. They say being more rational is hard or unpleasant.

Living according to reason is, of course, actually rather more pleasant, because you accomplish your goals more, learn more, solve more problems, fight with friends less, and so on. (But reason and truth are no guarantee of happiness. And indeed the deluded man often thinks he is happy. That is an issue for another day.)

What is supposed to be hard about it?

- Taking criticism well (let alone enjoying it)
- Not being attached to your own theories or ideas
- Not having a biased perspective
- Not taking discussion personally (or better: applying it personally without getting offended or upset if it implies you have made mistakes and should change)
- Keeping your emotions under control (or better: changing your emotional makeup so you don't have inappropriate ones in the first place)
- Thinking seriously and trying in general (if you don't want to do that, why stay alive?)

Really, being irrational is a lot harder. Then people can make comments wondering why you aren't suicidal, and have a point. Rational people are immune to such things.

Taking criticism badly makes life a lot harder. It means you have bad reactions to criticism. That itself right there is a problem! You get upset. Better if you didn't. And then also it means you stay wrong longer when you have bad ideas. So you spend more of your life making mistakes. These make your life harder than if you'd done something better.

Being attached to your own theories and having a biased perspective also make you stay wrong longer. And they make it harder to come to agreement with your friends. That makes life harder and less agreeable for both you and your friends. Not thinking seriously makes you stay wrong longer too.

Taking discussion personally makes it harder for you to have productive discussions. It makes life harder than if you were more rational.

Acting on emotions not reason means making more mistakes, which makes your life harder. Imagine the man who gets angry, then drunk, then loses a lot of money gambling. Now his life is a lot harder and less pleasant.

Perhaps the hard part is changing these characteristics.

And indeed that is hard.

But not because life is hard.

It is hard because of irrational memes and the accompanying logic of a static society, from which we come.

Life is not hard. Our culture is hard to deal with.

The problems we face which seem hard are either fundamental (and not upsetting), or parochial.

What should you do about this? One thing well worth bearing in mind is: when conversations start to go wrong, slow down. Pause and think. Be much more careful with what you say next. Regain perspective. Arguing the fine details you were discussing isn't really that important. If you fight about it and never speak of it again life will go on anyway. If you *don't* fight about it and never speak of it again, life will go on too, but better. Take your time. Don't imagine pressure to act now. It isn't there.

*   *   *

Reader: You sure seem to know your Roman Numerals. Very fancy. But can you do large numbers?
Elliot: Sure, no problem.
Reader: Can you do 40?
Elliot: Hmm. That's larger than I expected. Too hard. You might even say 40 is XL.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)