XVI

Knowing that being open to criticism, and treating rival theories evenhandedly without regard for which is *yours*, are the best, most rational, most effective, most knowledge creating, most problem solving, most truth seeking ways to live is one thing. Living that way is another. Deciding it is best does not automatically mean you will do it.



Probably you have irrational memes that are preventing you. They make you feel bad and ashamed to be wrong, they make you feel attacked by criticism, they make you feel attached to your ideas, and they make you blind to their existence, and sometimes blind to the fact that you are not in fact acting in the rational way described above.



I can say this without knowing who is reading because such memes are ubiquitous in our culture. You are not alone. You are not a rare person with an unfortunate difficulty. It is like that for everyone. That can be hard to accept because it means if people do better *that could have been you* -- there was nothing fundamental to stop you. So it is *your fault* that you are doing worse than they are. But as much as taking responsibility for your failures can be hard, it is worthwhile. It means you recognize you can do better; denying that would be a huge obstacle to improving. And it means taking responsibility for your successes: having pride in what you have achieved, and seeking to do more.



But what exactly should you do tomorrow to start making progress? Here is one approach, which is by no means the only one.



One place to start is by changing your sense of identity. Ideas which you no longer believe *are not part of you*. If you are proven wrong, but change your mind, then suddenly *you are not wrong anymore*. Criticism isn't about making you wrong, which you'd want to deny. It's about giving you the opportunity to not be wrong anymore; to abandon the wrong parts.



Even ideas that are still within you do not necessarily deserve any respect. If you don't like one, but it's hard to change, whatever: screw it. *It's not you*. It's just some nasty intruder who has taken up residence in your mind. Don't let it be part of your identity. Don't feel ashamed of it. Don't defend it. Don't act on it. Just attach your sense of identity and self-worth to only a smaller, better part of your mind over which you have control. (And really, who can fault you for refusing to feel bad about things over which you do not have control? If you don't control it, it isn't your fault. You may have made mistakes in the past, but the current version of you hasn't.)



The most obvious thing that will go wrong with this is your emotions. You'll feel bad anyway, or feel weird, or still feel defensive about parts of you which you don't respect intellectually, or feel guilty. Screw them. Emotions are largely bad. They are the tools of your memes. Just ignore them. They have no power over what actions you take in your life. They don't move your limbs around. They do not control what words you say. And they do not control what you think is true.



Don't repress emotions. You don't want to be in denial about having them. Just disrespect them. They aren't the boss of you. It's like if you are into sports and you feel some physical pain. If it's nothing medically dangerous, then you don't respect it. It's just your body being annoying. It is part of your environment, just like emotions. Not your fault. You just keep playing.



Acknowledge emotions. They exist. Take note of them. But don't act on them. They aren't reasons. And don't take them personally. You didn't choose to have this emotion (just now; maybe it's due to your choices long ago.)



"Don't live life through gritted teeth," is good advice. You don't want to settle into a permanent routine of having this sort of conflict in yourself. But nor do you want to surrender. What you need to do is win. And take pride in your struggle to do so. Don't grit your teeth. Shout your defiance.



Bad emotions won't stop occurring overnight. The easiest cases should take a few days at least. Most cases will take more like six months, and harder cases won't be complete for years. Times can vary tremendously, but I think ballpark estimates are more useful than nothing. One thing you can see is you shouldn't give up quickly. And after two months is giving up quickly.



Success and progress are different. Progress can come fairly soon. But usually after a few attempts there appears to be absolutely no progress. And this is disheartening. But then not too long after you break through and it gets a bit better.



What does an attempt look like? You feel an emotion. You notice it. It can take a while to learn to notice them, and figure out what emotion it is. You look at it dispassionately. You get perspective. You don't act on it. You think about why the emotion is not reasonable, and think you don't want to have it anymore (you can do this while reflecting later at first). You think about what would be a good attitude to have. You think about what the best thing to do is, according to reason, and you do that, even though you don't feel like it. And then you feel proud and good, or at least at first you think you have reason to be proud and to feel good.



In abstract terms, what you are doing is putting your emotions and memes into a very hostile environment, hateful of them even. And in that environment they cannot function properly, and over time they change and evolve. You can't control them directly, but you can take attitudes about what sorts of emotions and memes are acceptable to you, and harass anything that doesn't qualify until your unconscious mind manages to sort out all the details and change it.



You may feel dumb at first having this emotion you don't want and not knowing how to get rid of it. And every time you feel the emotion, you feel dumb or silly. The emotion is dumb. Your lack of control is frustrating and is in part a lack of skill on your part. But trying to accept or reconcile with the emotion is no good life. That makes you a slave to it. This feeling dumb is hard on the meme/emotion too. It has trouble existing in that kind of environment. You know it's dumb. That means it is struggling. You're making progress! Be glad. As things move along the emotion will persist for less time, and eventually it will just be short flashes (stay aware! stay alert! notice these flashes. if you stop noticing and giving them enough thought to keep them in a hostile environment, they'll never go away). as you gain more distance from the feeling, you can laugh at it, or scoff. it's just this evil thing and it's dying. it has less and less power. your blindness is already gone. you can see it for the dumb thing it is. and now it's getting more and more painfully obvious every time it comes up. great! you are stronger than it.



you need to keep a positive attitude, and keep your optimism. memes can be beaten. emotions can be changed. you know this is true intellectually. but also you can develop emotions so that you feel it. if you're going to have emotions, put them to good use. instead of figuring out what causes good feelings and then doing that (ie, being the slave of your emotions) figure out what is worth liking and then start enjoying it. every time you do it, think about how lovely it is. take steps to make it a positive experience. soon you'll look forward to it.



a lot of this can be done in your head. do thought experiments. imagine the situation and then try to question parts of it or imagine acting in ways you'd feel bad about but think are good. if it's too hard feel free to stop for now, not because you are giving up, but just because you have a life to live and you don't need to do everything at once. just make more attempts. even if progress isn't visible every time it's still happening. when there is a breakthrough all those previous attempts with no obvious results did play a role. and you are learning about your own temperament. that's good too. understanding yourself makes everything easier. it makes it easier to be aware of your emotional state. it makes it easier to find the weak points of the emotions. it makes it easier to brainstorm attitudes you could take that would improve matters.



so, thought experiments. they are low risk. low cost. easy to abort. fast. less pressure to hurry. more control over setting up just the right situation. and it's not as personal. you are thinking about how you would feel in a situation instead of being in the situation and feeling it. and you start wondering why, and trying different things to see which cause you to change how you feel for the better. and as you gain skill, you gain control, and then you win.



it is unfortunate that all this should be necessary. I sympathize. I really do. memes are nasty buggers. they hurt you. they are evolved to be good at hurting you, and to be hard to get rid of. but it's worth fighting them. it's the only way to live your own life. it's the only way to control your life and have free choice. and it's the only way not to pass the same memes on to your children (which is done in large part by hurting your children in certain ways).



remember: you are creative, and your memes are not. yeah they contain a lot of knowledge. but they don't have a creative mind like you. if you put them into an environment they don't already have knowledge about they won't be able to adapt. so there is plenty of reason for optimism.



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Static memes are like a hostage situation. They hold your emotions hostage. The options are to meet their demands, or to storm the building and probably lose some of the hostages.



Yeah it sucks. But the damage was done when the memes took over the building and grabbed all the hostages.



The demands memes make include finer control over your emotions (ie, more hostages, more weapons, a larger zone around the building where the police can't come, a new building even with satellite TV, etc)



Don't negotiate with terrorists. Don't succumb to emotional blackmail.



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Do you feel bad about being fat? You shouldn't identify with your body. It isn't your mind. It's not the real you. It's part of your environment. Don't take it so personally. The only good reason to feel bad about being fat (besides increased risk of death) is that it indicates you have made bad choices: you failed to choose ways of eating that would achieve your goals. That lack of skill is an aspect of your mind. (But still, don't feel bad. Acknowledge your defeat and brainstorm an improvement in how you approach eating.)



By the way: just don't eat when you aren't hungry. That's all there is to it. It sounds hard to believe, but hunger evolved to keep humans fit and our body has powerful mechanisms to keep us from being overweight. Getting fat takes a lot of effort. Stop putting in the effort -- stop working hard against yourself -- and you won't be fat for long.



This still sounds hard to believe. Most people think they don't eat except when they are hungry. But those same people eat an entire plate of food at dinner time. All at once. So how could they possibly know if they were full already when they ate the last few bites? You have to wait a while to find out.



People also compulsively finish their plate even if they feel full. All the time. (Just like their parents forced them to do when they were younger. And like they will force their own children to do.) If you always finish your plate you have no idea if you are eating the right amount. You need to try other amounts to compare.



Many people fear "snacking". The real issue here is they aren't very aware of what they eat, so if they eat snacks and don't pay attention (common) they end up eating a lot while not hungry, and then they still eat meals (because people eat those without being aware of whether they are hungry. it's also just a habit.)



people also eat "comfort food". again that is eating when you aren't hungry. it might be worth doing to improve your mood, but don't claim you only eat when hungry if you do that.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

XVII

How do you think so that you come up with good ideas? What's the secret?

In general:

  • keep an open mind
  • examine all sides of an issue
  • don't reject your ideas because they seem bad, try to improve them
  • speak up and ask friends for criticism, suggestions, etc, don't wait until you already have a good idea to have a helpful discussion
  • optimism helps
  • learn good ideas other people have had
  • try to connect different ideas
  • ask lots of questions. asking others is ok but asking yourself questions is the best.
  • seek the truth whatever it is, not what you want it to be
  • don't let your emotions get in the way
  • don't let what seems best for you cloud your judgment of what is true
  • hold your ideas tentatively, not with certainty
  • don't be afraid to discover you are wrong about something, even something you feel strongly about
  • keep trying, you aren't going to have your best ideas in the first five minutes. not on the first day either. think about stuff every day.
  • apply ideas to areas they weren't intended for if they could logically apply and see how it works
  • sometimes a joke idea can work if you change it a bit. dumb ones too.
  • good ideas can come any time, even in the shower. be aware and alert.
Stuff like that. You've probably heard most these before (maybe separately). But doing all of them excellently in real time is harder than just remembering these bullet points.

To really do them well in your life what you need is to create certain kinds of *attitudes* and *policies* that feel *natural* and you do "automatically". you need to form good habits so your first reaction is something from the list, not something irrational or emotional or anti-truth-seeking.

one way to do this would be to take them a couple at a time (pick related ones) and pay close attention to how much you do them or not and watch for situations where you should do them. then make sure to do them, even if it doesn't feel normal. after a while you'll get more used to it, and see how well it works which will be encouraging (or you'll see it has a problem and have to reconsider if it's really a good idea -- but that's good to you'll learn something). after a while you will start to predict the situations where you should do these things in advance and you'll be mentally ready before it even happens. with practice/learning it gets faster to figure out what you were going to do, and check if it fits the new things you are trying to do, and if not figuring out what you should do instead. after a while it becomes second nature. that's good. now do it with more things.

to do this successfully you need to be pretty self-aware. and you need to take your time not act (or talk) without thinking. it helps if you can put everything aside, mentally, for a minute, and think about how to proceed. don't get caught in the moment -- then you'll revert to old habits.

it also helps not to question your new policy every time it comes up. if you think some of these things might be good to do, and want to try them, then do so wholeheartedly, even if you aren't sure. that's the only way to see if they really work. decide to try them for a while and if you need to reconsider at some point fine, but don't reconsider every time it comes up, do that separately if you notice some problem. if you're wondering if it's really a good idea every time you're gonna sabotage it (unconsciously) or just make the whole experience unpleasant. it's kinda like if you were trying to read more, but you often don't feel like reading, then every time you pick up a book if you struggle with your feelings about it that is not gonna be much fun or work out well. it'd be better to make a decision, and then try to just do the reading if you think that's best. if there's a problem then reconsider the overall policy, but don't reconsider the individual reading sessions every time. you decided it was best to do this, so just do it, you can always change the policy later if it was a mistake. dealing in terms of entire policies of behavior can be a lot easier than trying to decide everything from first principles every day.

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Socialization is the process of learning to interact appropriately with other members of society. It sounds like a dirty word to me, something bad, but many people think it's good and fear that if they home school their kids will not be socialized well. To me it sounds like breaking people in -- breaking their spirits -- for conformity.

How to interact with people is a type of knowledge. You can learn it like anything else. You don't need to go to school. You could read a book about it. Or in this case a good source is TV where you can see how people treat each other. Or perhaps even better you can go outside, you can meet people, you can observe your parents, etc

Another issue is that this is parent-centric. what's the parent doing deciding if his child needs more socialization? if your child wants to home school (after hearing your advice, which should be in favor) then start home schooling. if you're worried about socialization, let your child know what you think he might be missing. if child finds he has a problem -- say he tries to make some friends but fails -- then *child* can decide what he wants to do about that (taking into account your advice). child can decide he'd like to try school to improve his social skills if he wants to and he values improving them and he thinks school will help. and he can do something else if he prefers that. this is called "freedom" and it's also a more effective way to learn -- people learn better when they are in control and follow their own interests and try their own ideas about how to learn (they also learn better with lots of good suggestions, many of which undoubtedly will be followed).

the real thing you can't get at home is being beaten up by bullies. and teased for being different. and hazed. and that intense pressure to start making progress with the opposite sex and go on dates and go to dances. and the pressure to be cool, and to have friends. you'll also miss out on this culture that expects you to defer to authority and not think independently. a culture where an 18 year old can be expected to ask permission to go to the bathroom -- they aren't free to go where they please. the teachers enforce it by punishing people who displease them. but worse are the other kids who don't want to risk their own status, so when you do group work they pressure you more than any teachers. and you could miss out and tests and grades and that fear of failure that ruin people's minds for life cure inborn laziness.

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When was the last time you weren't sure if you were hungry and thought about it for a while before you made a decision? Probably this is rare at best; you probably are thinking it's too obvious not to know.

If you always seem to know if you are hungry the very likely reality is that you aren't listening to signals from your body much at all (because those aren't perfect and aren't always so obvious and sometimes take some attention and thought to figure out) and you are deciding without thinking. And the result of that would be: you don't eat only when hungry; you don't even know if you are actually hungry most of the time.

When was the last time you were hungry and ignored it for a while? You don't like to do that? That's very strange. Eating promptly isn't that important. You should reasonably often be in the middle of something you prefer to continue. Sometimes you should be so engrossed you completely forget to eat. Not eating for a while is no big deal. So why then is the "eat less" diet so hard? It's not because eating less is hard. Just do something else. Just don't pick up a fork. It's not because hunger prevents you from doing things you are really into and focussed on and enjoying. It's either because you are bored all the time and your hunger is more interesting than the crap you do. Or you are just wildly irrational about food.

Being wildly irrational about food would be no surprise. Our culture is obsessed with food, and with weight, and with appearance, and with sex, and there is huge pressure on people, and people try diets all the time, and think in concepts like whether a calories is "worth it" and attempt self denial all the time. Which all suggests that people's eating habits haven't got much to do with hunger, and have a lot to do with reactions to this huge cultural pressure (going along with it. or rebelling. either way the eating habit probably has more to do with that than hunger. the only way for your eating to really be hunger-based is if you don't much care about pop culture food/weight/sex/appearance attitudes.)

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Are emotions learned or inborn?

They are learned. They are ideas. They are thoughts. That we often don't recognize them as ways of thinking and just ideas is one of the things wrong with them. They aren't a very good way of thinking.

Babies and young children appear to have emotions. It seems a bit improbable they already learned them from people somehow. So what's going on?

Seeing a behavior we associate with an emotion does not mean the person is feeling that emotion. There is an assumption there that he thinks like us, and expresses ideas and emotions just as we would. But the whole idea here is this child does not yet think like us, and doesn't know about emotions. So if you see a behavior you do not know what the thought process behind it is. It isn't like yours. There is, prima facie, no evidence the child is being emotional.

Of course, parents then go and tell them they are being emotional and encourage it. "Oh, you seem angry." Or, "She looks so happy." And it's a classic situation that a parent says his child is upset/angry (and calls it a "tantrum") and the child says he isn't being emotional and he just wants the actual thing in dispute and the parent isn't listening. Notice how the parent interprets something in terms of his emotions, and the child denies he is thinking that way, and the parent then insists really it is emotions and tries to force that interpretation on the child.

Unfortunately teaching of emotions is largely inexplicit. Just avoiding statements like, "and how did you feel after susie did that?" or "i know you're upset about XXX, but..." is not enough. i expect emotions will be passed on pretty much completely normally even if you never say anything like that. we don't know their exact mechanisms and logic.

if we can't suppress the idea of emotions, what should we do? well suppressing it isn't a good idea anyway! that's not truth seeking! if your kid picks up the idea of emotions who cares? just don't coerce him about them, don't hurt him, so he doesn't get irrational entrenchments. the truth seeking approach is freedom of thought and information. just convey the same rational ideas about emotions too, and give some advice, and criticize the emotional way of life, and let the truth win out.

what is a rational approach to emotions? at the least: they aren't necessarily right. emotional choices need to be backed by reasons to be any good. making decisions based at all on how you feel is not the way to find the truth, or to make good choices, or to have a life worth being happy about. and emotions aren't that important. at least if you don't think they are. people make such a big deal about them they create their importance. just don't think about it too much and it's not such a big deal.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (2)

XVIII

How should society and government be organized?

The first thing is that we don't need a revolution. Whatever suggestions I make, I don't want a government 5-year plan to implement them all, or some big movement gaining millions of supporters overnight demanding big changes. When I say something would be better, what I want to see is individual people keeping an eye out in their lives for opportunities to do things a bit more like that. And to make changes one at a time. And if something goes wrong, they should backtrack a little, and then figure out what was going wrong and how to address it. A huge, fast revolution is a recipe for lots of errors. More gradual change intermixed with large doses of error correction is the only thing that works.

Gradual doesn't mean slow, exactly. And knowledge can spread a lot faster now than in the past. A book can sell millions of copies, and if you add in all the bloggers, radio shows, and TV shows talking about it, then a lot of people can become familiar with something quickly. The point of gradual, the way I mean it, is not to skip steps -- to progress by small degrees. It's possible (but hard and unusual) for every step to be done quickly. As long as they are all done properly then that's ok. But the focus needs to be on doing things right not on abrupt change. Not improving our society drastically by next week isn't a huge disaster that we must avoid at all costs. We are doing OK. Yes, the sooner we improve the better. But the most important steps in the spread of new ideas are error correction and creating understanding. It's no good to have a revolution for some idea if most of your supporters don't really understand it as well as they should. That isn't going to work out. You'd be much better off to have discussions and debates for longer until people know what they are supporting a lot more clearly. And error correction means we need a lot of criticism before we put some big change into effect. We need to know all the things that might go wrong and address them. One way to get that is to try things one at a time and get criticism of them that way, so a lot less harm can be done by mistakes. Another good source of criticism is the opposition: the people who disagree. Instead of trying to beat them and get your idea implemented, it's much better to welcome debates with them and to get their ideas on what might go wrong, and also to seriously consider whether their suggestions may have advantages.

F. A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom, page 235 (my emphasis):
There is one aspect of the change in moral values brought about by the advance of collectivism which at the present time provides special food for thought. It is that the virtues of which are held less and less in esteem and which consequently become rarer are precisely those one which Anglo-Saxons justly prided themselves and in which they were generally recognized to excel. The virtues these people possessed--in a higher degree than most other people, excepting only a few of the smaller nations, like the Swiss and the Dutch--were independence and self-reliance, individual initiative and local responsibility, the successful reliance on voluntary activity, noninterference with one's neighbor and tolerance of the different and queer, respect for custom and tradition, and a healthy suspicion of power and authority. Almost all the traditions and institutions in which democratic moral genius has found its most characteristic expression, and which in turn have molded the national character and the whole moral climate of England and America, are those which the progress of collectivism and its inherently centralistic tendencies are progressively destroying.
The virtues are all good, and they all go together. I highlight respect for custom and tradition in particular because some people don't realize it is part of the same set of ideas as the others. Here are some ways they go together. Independent minded people are better at taking initiative themselves. Self-reliant people are better at taking responsibility -- they have to be because they aren't relying on someone else to do it for them. People with suspicion of power prefer to do things voluntarily if they want them done, instead of having some power make them be done. Independent people generally want others to be independent as well and want non-interference to go both ways. Tolerating differences is easier in a culture where everyone takes responsibility for themselves -- if your different idea is a mistake, it's not my problem. Where does respecting tradition fit it? It's because...

Well, why respect tradition anyway? That is because knowledge evolves. There are successive stages with each being a little better (on average). Starting over means losing knowledge. And you don't instantly get something better. It would take a long time to get something better if you throw away what you have. What you have contains lots of subtle and important aspects that you probably don't understand and that you won't instantly replicate.

Consider some old software. If you want to add a new feature it's tempting to do a rewrite so you can do the whole thing in a modern style you like better. But this old software has had years of bug fixes. Those are important. If you start over you'll have to redo all that bug fixing. And there are no guarantees at all the new system will be better. Often rewrites turn out worse. I recently read about some text-and-keyboard based systems replaced with modern graphical interfaces that use the mouse a lot. The result? Takes longer to use the system now (and lots of stuff didn't work).

If you want to have lasting institutions that know more than individual people -- that can improve without limit over the generations -- then you need a culture of people who don't just throw away whatever they don't personally understand and don't always recklessly assume they could do better. Without people like that any good traditions will be destroyed.

What does this have to do with the rest? With individual initiative, voluntary action, and so on? Perhaps nothing directly. But the same sort of people like both, because they are both good things, and they both come from the same kind of thinking: how can we make the world better and seek the truth? Revolutions come from people who certain they are right; forcing your neighbors comes from conviction you know best; individual rights and respect for tradition both come from fallibilism.

And there does seem to be a connection historically. Think of movements, like communism, and the French Revolution, that are very hostile to the status quo, and want to sweep it away and implement their own grand vision. This grand vision is never "individual freedom for all" it has specific things they want for everyone which they believe are best -- it isn't individualistic; it's one single grand vision for everyone. And they'll use force against people who disagree and want something different, including people who want to be left alone.

So that's a glimpse of what society should be like: respect traditions and individual rights and freedom to be different.

Another major issue is the use of force. Force is bad because issues decided by force are not being decided by reason. Force doesn't find the truth. It doesn't make the best result happen. And even if people were being forced to do the best thing that's very inefficient. They don't understand what choices are good to make, so some authority is having to make their choices for them and do their thinking for them. So their minds are going to waste and the authority has a lot of work to do. (And, by the way, if the authority was so wise and amazing it could actually make better choices for everyone then it'd be even more effective making great inventions than just running our world a bit more efficiently than we do.) And if the authority doesn't notice some fact that people who actually have their own lives do notice? Well, the authority is using force not listening to arguments. It already decided this person is wrong. So it won't listen now. It will just make mistakes that could have easily been avoided.

Our society uses force. For many things it does not. But for some it still does. Taxes are forceful. If you don't pay them you do go to jail against your will. You cannot just say "leave me alone". Nor can you say "why should I owe you money when I trade freely with my business parter? What does that have to do with you?"

I don't want taxes to disappear over night. That'd be a disaster. The institutions of our society have knowledge in them about how to run the most peaceful society that ever existed. That's good. They still use some force because using less is *hard*. But I do want people to look towards using less force. We can make some improvements now, and eventually we can eliminate all force and have a purely voluntarist society.

What does our government really do, fundamentally? They run the post office badly, and ban competition. That's just dumb and should be stopped in the months (perhaps a few years) it takes for some private companies to set up mail services and to deal with the existing postal infrastructure (we don't want to just let it got to waste. we don't want to just pick one company and hand it to them for free, although that might turn out better than nothing.) more usefully they run the military. and also ban competition. banning competition there makes more sense. a new post office is no danger to anyone. a new military could be! but they should relax that restriction a little. don't ban all private armed forces no matter what. (actually that is a little relaxed already: private security companies are allowed). instead only dangerous ones should be banned. start with a conservative notion of which ones are dangerous. but until we have a notion of what dangerous is, even a very strict one, we can't start creating knowledge about where the line should be and improving it. (we can create a little knowledge in thought experiments. but that isn't good enough. we need to actually change our society in order to organize thought about real problems from many people and start using the full problem solving power of our society.)

by problem solving i don't mean we would have created a big problem and now we'll be desperate to find a solution. a problem is just something we don't know the answer to, like a question, or something we can make better. problems are good. they mean we've recognized things worth thinking about. they are opportunities for improvement. and problem solving is just creating knowledge to improve the situation we noticed.

What does our government really do, fundamentally? they run certain services like the post office, the military, and law making and police and fire departments and courts and midnight basketball. these vary from no justification to the reason is that it's hard to run without force. that's the fundamental justification. there's also practical reasons. our government has *legitimacy*. any replacement would need to create that too. for something important like police work that's hard. for courts that's very hard. people don't want arbitrary or unfair legal decisions. our government has long history of doing this work and doing ... it's hard to say how good a job is done. it's better than any other organization in the history of the Earth, but much worse than our imagination allows for, and we all know it could be improved in many ways.

why does the government use force to maintain a monopoly? it isn't b/c it has no competitors. while that is true for, say, law making, that isn't a reason for using force! that just means the monopoly would last a while even without force. sometimes people complain we need the government to do the most important stuff. but that's silly: if it's true the government should immediately take over the grocery stores. but our grocery stores function better than most government services. free market stuff usually does. the more important something is, the more reason we should want to make sure the government *does not* do it if at all possible. (like, medicine. letting government play a bigger role in medical treatment is a very bad idea.)

another reason is people want the government to make them safe and solve their problems (like hurricane relief). when a hurricane happens and the government responds about as well as it usually does, people complain about it being mishandled and blame the leaders currently in power. it's not their fault! governments just aren't very good at anything. too many compromises. too little accountability and responsibility (they are playing with tax payer money, not their own. their is no company owner who really cares how things turn out. and no stockholders.). no market forces to help it to improve either. government has also played around with, for example, flood insurance. they ended up rebuilding people's houses who decided to build on the beach. over and over. often rich people. there's a reason private companies didn't want to provide flood insurance in certain places: building houses there is really risky. but people want the government to bail them out even if they make stupid choices like building on the same beach for the 5th time.

there are practical reasons for our government. it's a big organization that can do a lot of stuff no one else can (yet). partly this is b/c it's got a way bigger budget and private companies would be able to do the same if they had the money. but this isn't a fundamental reason. it just means we can't eliminate certain services until some other companies step up. so those companies should start stepping up now. get bigger! we need you Walmart. maybe not Walmart, they have the wrong area of expertise. someone, though. big companies are good. useful. powerful.

what about law making? if not for our government who would decide? that's the wrong question: it is asking who should rule? the right idea isn't to find the best ruler and entrench him. it's to have a system where bad policies are gotten rid of. which we have! a private company could use just the same sort of system of voting and check and balances to make decisions that our government does. there is nothing connecting our democratic system to forceful tax collection and suppression of other organizations that would do the same functions. American Idol lets people vote; a law making company could too if people thought it was a good idea. (quite possibly it isn't good to let them vote on most laws directly because they won't understand the issues well. but it could work out OK if advocacy groups on each side offer explanations. and badly if they just offer propaganda.) at the heart of the issue our government is made up of people supported by some traditions. companies are made up of the same. so fundamentally companies can be just as wise and fair about choosing laws.

but what about having multiple law making companies? how does that work? what if they contradict each other? won't they fight? well, no they won't fight! that'd be insane. it'd cost a ton of money. it'd get people killed. it'd piss off all their customers. it'd cost them legitimacy in the eyes of the public about whether they are dangerous and or to be trusted -- maybe *one* side of the dispute could save face with a very good reason why they fought but at least one is screwed. there are huge incentives to settle things peacefully. to negotiate and form agreements. to find ways of proceeding that all the major parts of society can live with. which is great. that's just what we want to find. today if people disagree with the government they can talk about it but if no one listens they can't do a damn thing -- they will just be forced to go along with it. these companies would be trying their best subject to huge incentives not to force each other, so that's much better. our government tries not to force citizens subject to tiny incentives and tiny accountability. we could have a better attitude towards government force that would improve matters a bit, but as it is many people approve of using force on their queer neighbors.

a lot of legal issues it doesn't matter if different courts disagree. for all contracts you can just write in the contract which court to use (and maybe backups in case they go out of business. or maybe the company itself could specify the backup when it goes out of business). this is good. it means courts with laws people find fairest will get the most business. courts with the best history of enforcing their laws fairly, clearly, understandably, etc will get the most business. i'm mixing up courts and law makers here. one possibility is they would be the same groups. they choose what laws they think are good and provide judges to make rulings according to those laws. but certainly the two jobs could be separated. a group of judges could make rulings according to whichever set of laws they were asked to. that'd work fine. and some law makers could publish what they think the laws should be for anyone to use without ever doing anything to enforce them.

one thing that will happen is a lot of laws won't be enforceable. that's good. if someone smokes pot what will happen? maybe some people want to prosecute them, but they of course have hired the services of an armed force that thinks pot smoking is fine. so now these two police forces have a dispute. if the pro-pot-smoking people want they can say: screw you. we aren't hurting anyone. leave us alone. or we'll fight. and then the law is not enforceable unless you want to fight over it. that's kind of a good thing. laws should only be to prevent force and fraud -- big important things worth fighting over b/c the crime itself is a kind of fighting already. if other laws weren't enforceable that'd just mean we had more freedom. but as nice as that'd be, i don't think that is what would happen. no one wants to resort to saying they'll fight. they'd much rather agree. so they will need to negotiate an agreeable way of dealing with the issue. so in general groups with extreme positions might both agree to let a more moderate party decide. or, anything. figuring this stuff out takes creativity. it's not obvious what the answer should be. but this scenario is better for finding the truth than what we have now, which is one big unaccountable monopoly that doesn't have to find agreement with anyone b/c we think it's legitimate for our government to just use force on anyone who disagrees with a law, even as stupid a law as banning smoking pot.

another reason people say we need government is to solve public good problems. this is a worse reason than the ones about law making and who gets to use force i've been talking about. in those cases there is a real problem, and it's a hard one, and our government does it better than anything else that has ever existed. and our government traditions are wiser than any single person. so it's pretty understandable people that people are very skeptical about changing these things. they should be. we need to be careful not to mess it up. but, as i've been saying, we can do better, we can make institutions that use less force and find more truth.

so, public goods are things that are hard to get people to pay for because people who don't pay would still benefit from having them around, like a umm public bridge that anyone can use, or a dam that controls floods for a whole valley (so if you live in the valley you get flood control whether you paid or not). there's a lot of detail I could go into. it's kinda tedious. for now let's just try ridicule. this isn't an invalid argument. anything that can be made fun of for having massive, stupid flaws isn't very good!

so that bridge. the only reason it's being made a public good is they won't put a toll booth on it to control who goes over it to make sure only people who paid can go. toll booths are pretty cheap relative to the price of a bridge.

and that valley? you can sell the name of the dam, and the schedule of how much flooding you allow when, and you can sell vacations to the lake you created and sell the water you gather. you can sell tours. there's stuff to sell. just cause you can't force everyone you claim you are helping to pay you as much as you feel like asking for doesn't mean the system is broken and we need government force. use some creativity to figure out a business plan that doesn't involve guns. and how do you know it should be built if no one wants to pay for it? maybe they won't pay because you are wasting money.

and you know what? all goods are public goods. partly. and they are also all private goods, partly (by which i mean: you can sell parts of them and only the buyer gets the benefit). like with the dam you have effects on the world that some people might benefit from but not pay for (a "public good" even if some people don't like it so it's sometimes a public bad that you want them to be forced to pay for) and you also have the stuff you can sell exclusively like the tours and name and schedule of flooding. the policy of how to use the thing built is an important issue that can always be sold. but consider some other goods, like a book. writing and selling a book gives everyone a very useful and free public good: the *option* to buy that book. that's a great option to have. it's free. people who won't pay for it get it anyway. so books are a public good. there are also things about books you can sell. you could sell what the title will be. you could sell an advertisement on one of the pages. you could sell which brand of soft drink the character in the story loves. and you can sell physical copies of the book, or electronic ones, and only the people who pay get those things. mixed public and private. everything is. take the sandwich store down the street. very useful. if i want a sandwich on short notice i can get one. that is a service they provide every day. i never have to worry about whether there will be quick food for me. there will be. that's a public good. if you think it isn't, imagine living somewhere with no food stores! even if you haven't eaten out for a year it's good to have the option in case you want to some day. it's worth something to live near them even if you haven't ever used one if your whole life yet. stores also let you walk in and get out of the rain. many you can stay there a while. oh no, a public good! who cares? they like you to come in. they are happy to help. if they said: oh no! government! come help! people are getting free rain protection and refuse to pay! tax them and give us some money! then they'd just be stupid.

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I watched The Wedding Date. Spoilers will be included, but don't worry you're better off skipping this movie. She has to go to her sister's wedding which she doesn't want to. But it's a wedding so she has no choice. (Already we can see how enjoyable weddings are.) At the wedding they drink a lot. And they have to take dance lessons. Why would you schedule activities for your party you don't know how to do and don't want to learn how to do? (Maybe the bride liked the lessons, but pretty much no one else.) She hires a male escort to come pretend to be her boyfriend for $6000 out of her retirement plan. That's so she can face her family and they won't insult her life as much. They already are mean to her because her boyfriend of many years dumped her. (Doesn't make sense to me either.) They want her to get married, so having a boyfriend makes them happier.

As usual there are cold feet over the wedding. first the bride "isn't sure she can go through with it" but then decides to get drunk instead of thinking about it. then the groom reconsiders when she finally tells him (days before the wedding) who she had been sleeping with when they first got together. it's his best friend. the same one who dumped the main character who has the escort now. he gets mad and physically assaults the friend who is now his best man. then he uses the male escort as his new best man (the guy has been making friends with everyone). the groom also reconsidered getting married at the last minute over this but then decided to do it anyway.

meanwhile she (the main character again who has to go to this damn wedding) falls in love with her escort, and he with her. her falling in love makes a tiny bit of sense. he was pretty umm mature/stable like he stayed calm and was friendly to everyone and didn't fight with anyone. but like she didn't know him at all. she even said she didn't know him and asked for information about himself. he said his college degree, that he hates anchovies, and something else so boring i forgot. she was satisfied. people like to fall in love with "mysterious" people anyway, even though all that really means is you have no way to tell if this person is any good for marriage or parenting or living with every day or solving problems with. so he did well socially i could understand if she wanted to get to know him more, but not falling in love already. and the other way 'round? no clue. there was nothing appealing about her. she had a bad family life, got drunk and stupid, was unpleasant, never said a single interesting thing, never displayed skill of any sort.

he told her that if he was going to charge for sex he'd tell her in advance. she said she would never do that. then she got drunk and got lots of money from ATM for sex with him. but he didn't charge her. and she was too drunk to remember it. and then he got offended she'd gotten the money. by the way, if she's that drunk, isn't that a bad time to start their sex life? she's not in her right mind making good judgments.

after the money thing their next fight was because he didn't tell her when he found out her ex-boyfriend was into her about-to-be-married sister. she "trusted him" and felt betrayed. he left. then he came back and said he'd rather fight with her than love someone else, or something like that. well, that's good, because if they had two fights in a few days already then what's it going to be like after the initial infatuation wears of? personally i prefer not to fight.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

XIX

I say this a lot: force is no way to find the truth. Only conjecture and criticism can. One reason I say it a lot is that people don't seem to get it. Parents force their kids over silly things like playing with fire. Teachers force students over studying. Governments force citizens over what projects to fund.

Maybe people don't realize there is a truth to be found for all these issues. Which projects are best to fund is a matter of truth. We want a true answer -- the best answer we can get. An answer that says it's the best, but turns out false, is no good to us. What the right ideas are in an academic field is a matter of truth too. It's not a matter of the teaching deciding. We want the truth not the teacher's opinion that might be false. And which things a student should study is also a matter for truth. We don't want a list that's completely false and will result in disaster. We want a list that has truth regarding the matter of what will work well -- will help the student. And with fire, we should want our kids to have true ideas about fire. That's what's safe -- just like adults are safe around matches because they have true ideas about the properties of matches and fire. But instead of helping child learn the truth, they just use force, and he doesn't learn. They claim it's for safety or something, but really their actions are not at all safe: how many fire-related child injuries are children going behind their parent's back because they are trying to follow their interest and their parent won't help them learn safely? Safety comes from knowledge of how to be safe, not from an ever vigilant parent trying to watch every choice child makes and overrule some -- that never works children will get some time to themselves.

A common mistake people might make when trying to stop using force is they want to meet their friend for a fun day at the park, and their friend declines, and then they say, "Wait, don't just force the answer to be no. Let's find the truth of whether you should go to the park." Actually that's fine so far, but if the friend says no again you better leave him alone or you are using force to make him discuss when he doesn't want to. Involuntary discussion is no way to find the truth he isn't going to come up with great ideas he'll just try to get rid of you. And your trying to force discussion on him is no way to find the truth about whether the discussion should be had or not. If he's not interested probably it's bad to discuss. Even if he's being dumb.

On the flip side, discussion park visits is a pretty good idea if you do it well. And by well I mostly mean briefly. The discussion can be only a few sentences each. You say in one sentence why you want to go or think it's a good idea with 1-2 reasons especially ones you think your friend will appreciate. Then he thinks a little and either agrees or says a criticism or those reasons or says a reason not to go. Then you stop and think for a bit if you didn't predict what he said. And you probably agree with him. If not you give a criticism of what he said or a new reason that now appears more important to say. Then he thinks a little and maybe agrees or replies. And so on. But every step of the way there is a good chance you stop and either agree or just be done with it if it looks like agreeing will be hard. If it's hard to agree about the park thing why bother? We have enough to deal with in our lives, like agreeing about things where it's harder to go our separate ways, or doing scientific research or paintings.

This park thing is a matter for truth, but not a very important one. A more important one is who should be President. This is never discussed as well as it could be. You never see the opposing candidates actually discuss like I outlined above with brief points and answers and come to agree on most of the issues. If they were being rational they could resolve a lot of this stuff. I'm not saying the truth is obvious at all. But even if they don't agree on the absolute truth, they can agree on: given our present knowledge, what is most reasonable to believe? But candidates never have to go through the reasons for their positions in detail and let themselves get "pinned down" in an argument. It's just not expected. Instead they both say talking points that appeal to different groups of people and hope they get more votes. That's not a great way to find the truth. Yes having more appeal is good, but it's not nearly as good as having a rational discussion with the other side. On the upside, in the scheme of things the *change* from one election to the next is the voters who changed their mind during the last 4 years, plus any changes in policies by either side, so the system as a whole is pretty rational.

Here are examples of rational conversations:

Joe: Want to go to the park?
Sue: Not especially.
Joe: We could play frisbee.
Sue: I'd rather watch Avatar at home.
Joe: Cool, can I watch too?
Sue: Sure.

Joe: Want to go to the park?
Sue: If we'll play frisbee.
Joe: No my wrist hurts we'd just walk the dog
Sue: Dogs are boring and the sun burns my skin.
Joe: OK, see you later.

Joe: Want to go to the park?
Sue: What for?
Joe: There's going to be a concert thing.
Sue: What's it like?
Joe: It's a bunch of trance bands I bet you'd like it, and it's free.
Sue: OK, sure.

Joe: Want to go to the park?
Sue: What, like a date?
Joe: No expectations, I just thought it might be fun and I'd like to get to know you more.
Sue: I don't know, what would we do there?
Joe: Play frisbee or taunt the plants. And talk.
Sue: OK, sure.

And here's some ruined by politeness:

Joe: Want to go to the park this afternoon?
Sue: I think I might have band practice then.
Joe: What about in the evening?
Sue: Oh! I promised David we'd work on our science project then.
Joe: What about tomorrow?
Sue: I think I'm pretty busy with homework.
Joe: Maybe some other time.
Sue: Yeah.
(Joe leaves with no idea if Sue wants to go or not. Our best guess is she doesn't want to go, even though she refused to say so and actually said *yes* to maybe another time.)

Joe: Want to go to the park this afternoon?
Sue: I don't know.
Joe: Let's do it. Come on!
Sue: I guess I don't see why not.
Joe: Good, I'll pick you up at 3pm.
(This could happen if Sue does not want to go but is being polite.)

In this next one Sue is at Joe's house and he wants her to leave so he can do some things alone.

Joe: Could you please leave, I'd like to do some stuff without you.
Sue: Well I can see I'm not wanted here. Why'd you even invite me over? Jeez. Fine I'll go. You don't have to be such a jerk about it.

To avoid that, Joe is more likely to say:

Joe: I have a thing I have to do in an hour, OK?
Sue: Sure, I'll leave then.

That's polite. Sigh. Doesn't figure out the truth of when is good to leave at all. Doesn't get what anyone wants. Sue isn't allowed to say anything even if she wants to stay or this might happen:

Joe: I have a thing I have to do in an hour, OK?
Sue: Well, I was hoping I could stay longer so we could watch Avatar on TV together at 8pm.
Joe: Oh, well I guess you can stay then.

Now Sue is staying even though Joe doesn't want her to because she dared give a reason but Joe is too polite to give one himself. The truth of whether she should stay isn't found and she runs a serious risk of Joe "dealing" with this problem by just not inviting her to visit again.

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Here's another movie review for Just Like Heaven, also with spoilers (also there is one vague spoiler for Cruel Intentions). In this romance, she's a ghost and only he can see her. The magical thinking continues throughout and actually since there are already ghosts it's easier for them to get away with magical romantic "fate" stuff like she's a ghost because her unfinished business is him and she just happened to be getting set up on a first date with him the night she got hit by a car. By the way romance movies sell better with a happy ending, so actually she's in a coma and wakes up when he kisses her (funny, right? But people actually like this stuff and find it "sweet" or it wouldn't be in movies meant to have mass appeal.) Cruel Intentions has a sad ending. In the director commentary he said he got in the contract from the very start he wouldn't have to change the ending when it turned out that test audience would prefer a happier ending. So there really is a lot of pressure even to mess with the script to get happy romantic sweet endings, enough so you need a contract to protect you.

One cool thing about the movie is that he had rational reason to believe the ghost was real, and in fact he actually gave good evidence to other people. There was "stuff only she would know" style evidence that wasn't great but OK. But what was cool was she could see things and talk with him, so she was able to see behind someone's back and then he could repeat how many fingers were being held up and prove something weird was going on. He could do this with a blindfold on and it would actually work. He could have won the Randi Prize. He could have persuaded scientists. That would have made a much cooler plot. Instead he only persuaded his friend, but still that was a cool way for it to happen. Usually ghost movies no one bothers to look for ways to actually test if it's real. The friend suggested the idea actually: he's like "if you're telling the truth about this ghost, then she ought to be able to see behind my back". that's a good thing to say! and then he really could! still the most likely thing is a hidden camera and a big elaborate set up. but cool anyway.

Their relationship was way above average for a romance movie. They spend most of the movie going around together (cause only he can see her, so she's always with him) and they spend the whole time talking pretty much. they don't really talk about personal stuff or philosophical opinions much but they do get used to each other's company and have good reason to want to be around each other more and they both actually have character backgrounds so you can see how each helps the other. his wife died 2 years ago and he's been drinking beer on the couch since and when he's trying to find out what happened to her (at first they don't know she can't remember) he gets out of the house finally and the company helps him too so he gets out of his funk. and she was a doctor who worked 26 hour shifts and had no life apart from that and personally I respect that but she's glad to have a social life now.

in fact at one point she is planning to stay in the hospital with her body and him to go home, and they don't plan to see each other again. and he's hesitant to leave. and to me it's obvious: he's going to miss her. they've been talking all day for days straight and like each other. of course he doesn't want to give that up. but he doesn't figure out to say anything and they part. so in most movies they fall in love and i still can't see why they like each other at all. but here they actually realize they have a relationship *less* than I do, at one point. so that's great! not some crazy instant falling in love for no reason.

to add drama when she wakes up from the coma she forgets him. but he's really good about it and says he doesn't want to scare her and totally backs off and leaves her alone. but he does go make her the garden on her roof she wanted since she moved in (he's a landscape architect). that's nice of him. and he doesn't then get mad when it doesn't cause her to remember, or say she owes him a chance, or anything. actually he was slightly too passive I think. but they touch hands in parting or something and she remembered. I thought he should have said something like, "I know you don't remember, and I know this will sound magical, but when you were in that coma you came to me as a ghost and we fell in love. I know a lot about you, so if you give me a chance you'll be surprised. Can we try spending a little time together? You can also verify this story with your sister and with my friend." That'd be a weird thing to be told, but well it's a movie with ghosts, if we can look past the supernatural a bit it's perfectly reasonable otherwise and she has good reason to give him a chance. nothing to lose anyway.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

XX

One reason we might fail to agree (and thus fail to find a common preference) is because there is a conflict of interest. Both people getting what they want is incompatible; it's contradictory. This would be a problem with no good solution.

While conflicts of interest do exist in a very basic sense, there can still be solutions and agreement, at least sometimes. New resources can be created. Preferences can be changed.

To say that agreement is being prevented requires not just for a conflict of interest to exist at all, it requires something more comprehensive. The conflict-of-interest theory says there is no agreement to be found due to this conflict of interest. By implication there is no way to create new resources to get rid of the conflict. And there is no available possibility of people changing their preferences to no longer conflict and still being happy with the new preferences (if you aren't happy with your preference, it isn't *really* your preference).

This conflict-of-interest theory raises some questions. Why can some problems be solved (agreed upon) and not others? Which ones can't be agreed about and how do we identify those? And what really is preventing agreement? We know it isn't just the conflict of interest because that doesn't *always* prevent agreement, so there must be something more that is sometimes, but not always, present. Anyone seriously advocating for this conflict-of-interest theory of the impossibility of always finding agreement should have answers to all these questions.

There are plenty of other theories about what prevents agreement. If we reject the conflict of interest theory that does not force us to conclude there is always agreement to be found.

The conflict-of-interest theory initially seems pretty convincing when you look at examples. I want to eat this bowl of ice cream, and so do you, and we can't both have it. We can both have half, but then we won't get what we want, which is a full bowl. Ice cream is fungible (two bowls of ice cream, same brand, same temperature, same flavor, same size, same toppings, can be exchanged and it doesn't really matter. Like staples or paper clips are fungible you wouldn't care which one you used even if there are microscopic differences.) So in the context of a family trying to get along, ice cream shouldn't really cause trouble. Just go get some more. If you don't want ice cream enough to visit the store, then it's not really too big a deal who gets this bowl. But not all resources are fungible. Sometimes you can't go get more, and then the conflict-of-interest theory has more power. Also, some things are expensive enough that they might as well be unique for the average family. Many families can't afford an extra bathroom, or an extra plasma TV. And there are things with personal significance. You can buy a new dog, but it just isn't the same as the one who's gone on every family trip for five years. You can buy a new doll or blanket, but that might not feel the same either. And sometimes they stop making things and there's only a new version for sale. And many pieces of art are unique. So what if the family has a nice painting and two siblings both want to take it with them when they move out? And the parents might want to keep it as well? Now it seems plausible that maybe there is no agreement to be found without some sort of sacrifice or compromise where people don't really get what they want.

One way to solve these problems is to find something so much better everyone prefers that. Stop worrying about the painting and go to Disneyland. That is something that perhaps everyone will be happy with and honestly prefer. For a few days the painting problem is solved -- no one is being upset by leaving it where it is. And you could follow Disneyland with Hawaii, and then with a European vacation, and so on, and the problem could be solved indefinitely. This is very expensive, but it illustrates a type of possible solution: find some things you care about more and focus on those. It's important to recognize this is a *genuine* solution. They aren't sad, deep down, about not having the painting yet. This is no compromise. They'd really rather have these awesome vacations than have the painting now. So one thing this proves is that changes of preference are possible. Not because you have to, or any pressure, but because once you see this new option you really do want it more. That doesn't mean you can automatically solve the painting problem by offering something someone wants more. You can have $10,000 instead of the painting, OK? Well, I might like that more, but what I'd like *even more* is both! If I only get the money I'll still be wondering why can't I have the painting? I'll miss it. But with the vacations you could offer the person both and they would say: I don't care. I have no use for the painting until I get home, so it really doesn't matter to me. Probably leaving it at my parent's house is best until I get back. So they really do prefer to have the vacation and *not* have the painting (yet). They have found at least temporary, genuine agreement.

All agreements are temporary. People could always change their mind. I'm not saying you can go back on a contract on a whim, or that you will have any right to undo whatever you agreed to. But you might *want* to, and so if what we care about is people continuing to agree and be happy in a family then it does matter even if you have no legal right to change your mind. You might agree your sister can have the painting, and then five years later you decide you miss it and now you want it again. And now more problem solving is needed for both people to be happy with the result. It should be recognized there are good reasons not to change your mind five years later. Your sister has had it this whole time and has gotten used to it; it might be integrated into her life now. Her friends might be used to it. Her decorating scheme might depend on it. She might be far too busy to want to deal with finding a replacement; she might want that part of her life to remain stable. But on the other hand it's entirely possible a new agreement would now be better. Maybe she's tired of it and would easily agree you should have it. Then you'll both change your minds to this new agreement that you have it. And that, too, might only be temporary. Maybe five more years after that you'll give it back to your parents. If your sister said, "No you can't have it now because you agreed," that would not be rational. That isn't a way to find the truth of who should have it. If she wants it that's important. But your old preference that she can have it isn't important anymore because that is no longer your preference. Maybe you should change to have that preference again -- and maybe you will if she describes how much having this painting is making her life better and you think, "wow, I didn't know! I'd never want to take that much away from you!" -- but that will be a new preference based on the present, and you shouldn't be pressured into keeping your past preference. People make mistakes. And it might not have even been a mistake but maybe your situation changed so you want the painting more now.

Agreements being temporary is just like our theories being temporary. We don't promise to keep the same ideas in the future. Even if we think something is true we should hold that idea *tentatively*. People can make mistakes. One thing that means is you can never be completely certain. How could you justify your certainty if you know you might have made a mistake in your arguments or judgment? You can say being wrong is *unlikely* all you want, but if there is ever new evidence that suggests you might be wrong you need to be willing to reconsider.

So one way to find (temporary) agreement is to find an issue that trumps the one you disagree about. Find something more important. And focus on that. Solving the painting dispute with constant luxurious vacations isn't very practical. But this fundamental approach actually does work quite often. It's very good for solving very small problems. If you disagree about a bowl of ice cream then quite possibly that is not worth thinking about, and there are a hundred things you could think about instead that are more important and better. Sometimes couples fight about just exactly who said what, and what should he have said, and what did he mean, and lots of little details. In the scheme of things those aren't very important. They could probably both be a lot happier to drop it and discuss physics, or whatever their interests are. If that was suggested and they considered it, they could very well both prefer it. They might prefer to leave the "who said what" issue in a state of disagreement (they agree about what to do next, but not about the issue itself in some sense. that's the kind of agreement we need for people to go on with life and cooperate). If they both prefer to leave it alone now then they agree about what's important and the problem is solved, at least for now.

What else is there for resolving conflicts of interest? There's making new resources. Not just making them yourself, but finding them works too, or thinking of ways to get them. Anything that adds them to the possible solutions when they weren't there before. Maybe there is a second painting at your grandparent's house that you both like, and once you think of it you can agree to have one each. You might genuinely prefer that. You might think about it and realize your decorating scheme only needs one painting, and that either one will actually fit in really well, so you'll be happy with either one. You might also realize you'd prefer the second painting instead. (You might even both prefer the second painting once it's mentioned, and then start disagreeing about who gets that one. That this could happen proves again that genuine changes in preference are possible. No one is giving anything up in this case by asking for just the second painting. If they secretly, deep down, wanted the first painting, well all they have to do is ask and they'll have it, But they don't want it. They changed their mind.) You might prefer some posters if they were offered to you. They may not be as artistic, but they have cool dragons. Once you realize this is an option and consider it, you might like it better. Or for the ice cream problem you can go buy some more. Lots of problems are very easy to solve this way. They are so easy people don't even count them as problems, or as conflicts of interest. But if you both like a food and there is a limited amount that is a conflict of interest! It's just easy to solve by buying more. That doesn't mean it wasn't a real conflict of interest. What it means is most conflicts of interest are easy to solve. This should be encouraging.

What else is there? You can change your mind about what you want. Not because there is something new and better, or some more important issue, but just because you are persuaded you were looking at things incorrectly. Your sister could explain how important the painting is to her and then you might think it's best she have it. You might explain why you expected to get the painting for years, and your sister might see that was a reasonable expectation and decide she wants you to have it. You might believe the painting is worth a lot of money, but if you were corrected on the facts you might not want it anymore. Because you planned to sell it after a few years. Or because you planned to impress rich friends with it. The point is your plan of how to use it might not work if you learned a new fact. You might consult some home decorators and find out it actually won't fit in with the latest trend you were hoping to use and decide you don't really want it after all. And it isn't just factual theories you could have been mistaken or ignorant about. You could be persuaded of a moral theory. Maybe you want the painting to take it away from your parents, and you could be persuaded that is a bad way to live and you could come to think that you'd be better off not doing that. Another thing that could happen is you could gain some control over your emotions and perhaps learn how to get rid of an emotional attachment to the painting. This doesn't mean giving something up. Maybe the attachment is an inconvenience, and you're better off not wanting the painting (now you can put up those cool dragon posters), but you didn't know how to get rid of the attachment before. Or maybe some emotion is clouding your judgment and a bit of rational discussion can help you see more clearly.

There is also creating new options. New resources are actually useful because they allow new options. You don't have to prefer to get the painting, or not to get the painting. You can now prefer to get the other painting. You can prefer the new option of getting rid of your emotional attachment *and* not having the painting. That's a different option than only not having the painting and its a lot more appealing. Going on vacation and dealing with the painting later is also a new option. New options are where most solutions come from. Lots of them exist from the start by no one has thought of it yet. So just brainstorming some ideas of how else you could deal with the situation might think of something you both prefer and agree to. Why would you prefer it if you don't get the painting or whatever else? Because it has to be better in some way. Maybe you get the second painting and the joy of knowing how happy your sister is with the first one. Maybe you get to feel good about knowing the painting is being put to its best use, and you could not have that if you got the painting yourself.

What if none of this works? You think about it for a while and you don't have a solution you both prefer. Maybe theoretically there is one to be found eventually but you are getting tired of working on this and don't have all decade.

Then we should think about why it isn't working. The conflict-of-interest theory says it doesn't work because there is a conflict of interest. But is that really the problem? So many conflicts of interest were easy to solve. What is setting this apart and making it hard to solve? A special kind of conflict-of-interest theory? Maybe. But what kind? What are its properties? What causes it?

Another reason to fail to find agreement is irrationality. If you both refuse to use reason then of course you are never going to agree. Even if only one person is being irrational that can easily sabotage any agreement. That is a possible explanation that accounts for the continuing disagreement.

Why might we suspect irrationality? Isn't finding agreement hard? Even if conflicts of interest are possible to solve they might still be hard. And there may be other things which also make problems hard to solve, including having only a limited time (before the benefit of a solution isn't worth the effort), or a limited time before it's too late (the bowl of ice cream melts and then no one wants it), or just the difficulty of thinking of good ideas (which really is hard, and when you think of them is unpredictable and might not be soon).

Finding agreement about a philosophical issue, or even a fact, can often be hard. Understanding each other can be hard. Communicating can be hard. Cooperating can be hard. That's all true. But to agree about how to proceed with life does not require that you solve any particular problem, or agree about any particular thing, or learn any particular thing. You can specify all the unsolved problems and even disagreements you want and you can still agree about how to proceed.

You can disagree with your spouse about whether you were right not to tell her something, but still agree about what to do next time a similar situation comes up. That's not strange. It won't be the same situation again. This time you'll know more and you'll have talked about it first. You don't have to ever agree about who was right that one time to agree about what's best to do next time. And you don't need to know the perfectly true morality about telling each other stuff and privacy to agree. You can just share what you each know about the morality of the situation and come to a reasonable conclusion based on the current state of your knowledge. It may be a mistake, but it's the best you know how to do, so you can both agree to it.

There is always a reasonable thing to do given what you know, and even given both of your differing opinions. What should be done if one person thinks X, and one thinks Y, and they have to agree about issue Z? There is an answer to that question. And they can look for it. And they can look at it objectively without worrying about who thinks X and who thinks Y, just take those are premises and consider the whole situation. If they are being rational that shouldn't be any problem at all. There need be no fighting about X or Y no matter how much they disagree. Just establish they don't think they will persuade each other about those issues fast enough to be a good approach, then don't try to. Drop it. And decide what to do despite the disagreement. This can work even for what might appears to be a very major difference. Suppose I'm Christian and you are Jewish and we are discussing what religion to teach our kids. And we try to figure out which of us has the correct religion, but soon we give up on that and decide we'll have to disagree about that. Agreeing about how to proceed is still pretty easy. We can agree to teach our kids about both religions. Or neither. Or we can share with them information about both, and about other religions as well, and atheism, and let them make up their own minds. Or imagine you disagree about which religious holidays to celebrate. Well you might agree to just celebrate all of them from both your religions. And if you try that and find out it's too many holidays and you don't like it, then you might both be happy to pick some not to celebrate since you both see the problem of having too many.

If you are, overall, pretty similar people, then it shouldn't be too hard to come to some sort of agreement that takes into account what you disagree about. There's nothing stopping you. There is always an evenhanded perspective to approach the issue from. If you try that and find you disagree about something else, don't worry, just start over by saying: "imagine we disagree about the first thing, *and* this new second thing, then what would be a good way to approach it?" And you can do that for unlimited disagreements. Every time you get a fresh approach you have a good chance to agree if you are similar people. You'll both be looking at the same scenario and you'll both have (because, by premise, you are pretty similar people) a similar way of looking at it and similar sense of what's fair, so probably you can agree. If you agree most of the time, and you can create an infinite number of different ways to look at this problem and have a chance to agree on each of those, then it usually shouldn't take too many shifts in perspective to find an agreement.

On the other hand, if you are really different people it might not work out so well. It might. Different people often agree about some things. But you might find every time you shift your perspectives to both work on some new thing you look at it wildly differently and find lots of new disagreements and it might be hard even to understand just what the disagreements are. But it's *still* easy to agree! You can agree you shouldn't have kids together, and shouldn't marry, and perhaps shouldn't even be friends. See how extremely easy that was? You can agree you shouldn't put yourselves in any situations where there will be pressure to agree, and you can avoid them, and you can *agree* to take steps to get rid of any such situations you already got into. (By the way, of course, if you do agree about a narrow area, like physics, then it's fine to be in a situation where you need to agree only about physics, like working on the same research project. But do be careful, you will need to agree about slightly more than that like how to write up the results and which journal to publish in.)

But what if you marry someone and find out you hate them later, but already have kids and shared finances? Then you're stuck with a messy divorce! Life sucks. Lots of conflicts of interest about who gets the kids, the house, the dog, etc... Right? Well, that is a good example of irrationality being behind problems and failures to agree on how to proceed, isn't it? Some people divorce amicably. Others divorce hatefully and aren't thinking straight and aren't having rational discussions. And that makes all the difference.

So when it comes down to it, "go your separate ways" is pretty much always an option and if you have so much you disagree about it's best to take that option, you can *agree* to do so. That's the rational thing to do, isn't it? And you can look rationally at how to separate. You might both want that painting, and a list of other items. But you can both consider it this way: suppose two people have a real hard time agreeing about anything, but have to divvy up some stuff, what should they do? And part of the answer, which they can both see, is that they shouldn't expect some detailed discussion of exactly what is best to work well. Neither of them should expect what they consider the perfect outcome to happen. Because they can see the two ideas of the perfect, fair outcome are wildly different, and they both see there is no plausible way to change that, so they can both see the best thing that can happen, the most rational thing, is an outcome that is more simple. They can see there is no good way to satisfy very detailed, delicate preferences they each have, so it's best not to have those at all. And they can see they won't agree about what are good reasons to want items, so they don't need to try to understand each other's preferences very well. They could just auction the stuff off to themselves -- they each get one million points and bid on the items. They can agree to order the items for bidding by alternating picking an item to go next. They can agree to flip a coin to see who picks the first item to bid on. Why shouldn't they agree to that? What can they reasonably prefer? They might reasonably prefer to make lists of which things they most want and negotiate some other way, sure. The auction in particular might not be best. But they can't reasonably prefer to get just what they initially wanted. When they think about it objectively they see there is no good way to make that happen; it's not a rational way to approach the entire situation of two people who disagree to just do what one wants. Even if there is just one item they could just pay money for it. Whoever agrees to pay the other person more money gets it. Or flip a coin. There are plenty of options. There is no reason they can't agree. Unless they are irrational.

The same sort of theory about agreement between different people applies to agreement between different theories (think of it like portions of your personality) within one person. There is a lot of overlap. People's ideas can disagree. A new idea can resolve everything by being better than the others. Something being more important can create temporary agreement about what to do (if your house catches on fire then all sides of the debate about which type of new computer to buy will be happy with the plan of going down the fire escape). There are always shifts in perspective available: if sitting and thinking indefinitely is no good, then you can think: what should a person do who has 20 minutes left to think, then Z event happens, and meanwhile he isn't sure between the ideas X and Y? And there is some rational way to approach that and the answer doesn't have to involve resolving X and Y. And you can think about the answer without invoking the X and Y ideas -- those parts of your brain can be left out. So decide what is best to do and if you are rational then the X and Y theories in your head shouldn't mind being overruled, at least for now, like this. They should be theories that know they might be wrong, and know it's important to live in a truth seeking way and that means sometimes disagreements last a while because you don't know what's true. And if these parts of your personality are at all sane they'll realize you have other things to do so they won't mind being put on hold sometimes. And if you have other very important things they could be on hold for years. And you, your whole personality, can perfectly well agree to that. Unless you are irrational.

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What is an irrationality? It is an area where you are unable to change your views according to criticism or improvements. Where you are stuck with a bad idea or way of thinking that you can't seem to get rid of. So any sort of problem solving, which relies on creating new ideas and finding new options and preferences that people prefer, is sabotaged.

If you have an irrationality or some other part of your personality you don't like then is looking at your past to see where it came from an important part of trying to fix it? No, rethinking events is not a critical part of fixing irrationalities. It is hard to tell what past event caused what facet of your present personality (especially events from your childhood). People are complex! And even if you could figure out the cause that would not automatically lead you to a solution. It could easily be no help at all. Sure now you know who to blame, but knowing who hurt you and how doesn't tell you how to live now, how to construct a fixed person out of yourself.

The idea of "facing" past trauma is also useless. It's true that denial prevents solutions. But acknowledging the problem and finding solutions for it is a different thing than "facing" it which is an unpleasant, scary affair.

Reliving what you think has gone wrong with your life is most often the sign of a victim mentality where you think of yourself as a damaged person, and obsess about your damage and blame people for it. That is not a good way to live. It may be someone else's fault originally, but what you need to do now is improve the life you have, and if you do not that is *your* fault. If you let your past disasters become part of your self-image that is especially bad; they should be kept at a distance because you are trying to get rid of them ("it's not really me! i swear! give me another month and I'll have killed it off").

Looking back is not entirely useless. Sometimes it can give you some ideas, perhaps by thinking about what you could have done differently. But if so it should be fun and interesting, not painful, and there should be no need especially to dwell.

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perhaps belief in spirit is a leap of faith, but for some of us, believing that science and reason have all the answers is a similar leap of faith
This is bad thinking. The entire point of science and reason is they are not leaps of faith: they give reasons which they hope to persuade you with. They do not claim to have all the answers, although they may claim to be capable of finding all answers that are possible to find. But that's only because non-rational, magical thinking cannot find any answers! So reason is what's left, it's the only thing that finds any answers, so of course it finds all possible answers. But you don't even have to believe that. We don't care. The scientific theories we already have are not matters of faith. And we can improve on them. And that makes them a different and better sort of thing that religious faith.

Science is about how to not fool ourselves. Religion is extremely good for fooling ourselves.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)

XXI

There are a number of situations where convention prevents communication, pressures people into doing things they do not want to, and makes it too dangerous to even attempt problem solving (at least that involves the other people).

For example take politeness. The stakes are offending people if you are not polite, and being outcast from doing activities with them. Asking them their ideas about politeness itself and attempting to discuss bears exactly the same risk: being offending people and being outcast. If you don't like a particular thing expected of you, too bad. You can't expect sympathy. If you reveal your interest in acting contrary to politeness you'll be seen as dangerous to decorum and watched and held to an extra high standard. So you're pressured into acting politely to be safe, and reason never gets to play any role in the decision of how everyone should act.

This can happen even if everyone there hates politeness, because no one dares to say so. Few people dare to send off signals that they don't actually like expected decorum. If you do break a social convention then, even if everyone there agrees with you, the likely result is to be condemned. The reason is they still think everyone else prefers politeness, so they all have to ostracize you to avoid taking a risk themselves.

You might try to defend yourself. You might say, "I don't want to do that." At this point you can expect replies like, "So what? Everyone else has to." and, "What makes you so special?" Neither of those replies attempts to address what is the best way to act. They simply are thinking more like the status quo is good enough for everyone else and getting offended you'd imply it isn't good. Do you think you're better, or something horrid like that?

At a birthday party you are expected to bring presents. This is dumb. How should I know what he wants better than he does? And the presents are supposed to be surprises: you can't just ask what he wants you to get him. And you aren't allowed to bring money. Money is the best thing to give because it gives him the power to get what he wants. But convention hates it. You were supposed to think about what he would want and get a "personal" gift. If everyone gives each other money on their birthdays, the total result is everyone ends up with the same amount of money. If you have a group of 8 friends you give money 7 days a year, but one day a year you get money from 7 people. The whole thing is pointless. When it's not money, the total result is you pay money and end up with the things people got you -- mostly stuff you wouldn't have got yourself. So you end up spending your money and receive not what you really wanted. And the same happens to everyone else. What a waste! People should just (optionally) ask for some money from guests to cover the cost of the party, and that should be that.

By the way, gift certificates are good because they allow people some amount of choice of what to get. But they are also considered poor gifts for being too much like money. The whole way of deciding what gifts are best is how little choice they give to the receiver.

Getting lots of new things on one day isn't a very good idea in the first place. It makes for an unstable, inconsistent life. What we should be aiming to do is have a good life every day, with maintainable long term policies. One policy should be to buy new things when there is one that's important to us and we have enough money. To get 8 things on one day -- well they didn't all come out yesterday. Some you wanted a month ago, or longer. But you waited. That's bad to delay this great new thing that could help make your life better. And getting them all at once means you can't start using them all at once. It messes up your schedule. If we pretend they are all good gifts (maybe you told your friends what to buy you) then they are all things you'd be like, "yay! i'm gonna use this right away! i'm so excited!" but now 7 of them have to wait so your scheduling is messed up.

Besides gifts you might be expected to bring, say, food, to a social event. Everyone brings one dish. It's "fair". But it doesn't make any sense. Now all 8 people have to make trips to the grocery store, when it could have been one person buying everything at once. And some of the 8 people don't like cooking, or don't like dealing with what food to bring. And convention scoffs at that. It's really not nice. Everyone else did, you should too. If you say you don't want to, people think you are self-centered. If you offer money people will wonder why you are going to such great lengths as to offer actual money just to avoid doing "your part". (The only reason you would actually offer money is you are *not* self-centered: you're happy to contribute. You just don't want to do the particular task asked of you.) And that's weird because offering money isn't going to great lengths. You are asked to go to some amount of effort, and you consider giving money *less* effort.

If you question or criticize any of this stuff people think you are trying to get out of doing it, so others have to do the work for you. They view it as bad work that should be divided so everyone suffers equally. They don't imagine there is a positive solution where everyone is happy. They just accept there is some amount of pain required and any attempt to find a solution for yourself that doesn't hurt is just trying to cheat everyone else.

A similar sort of thing is illustrated by the game Truth or Dare. People establish arbitrary rules then force everyone in the group to follow them. You have to agree to it or you are excluded. You are pressured to agree. During the game if someone doesn't want to answer something, no one is sympathetic. You don't want to be hurt? Too bad. That's how the game works. Everyone else has to do it too. (It's totally irrelevant that other people have to. If they are being hurt that is no reason you should be too. And if they are, they also should try not to be.) Truth or Dare also destroys privacy, by the way. Nasty game. And you are expected to try to destroy as much privacy as possible and hurt people as much as possible by finding the questions they most don't want to answer, and daring them things they most don't want to do (but just mild and reasonable enough they can't refuse).

Dating has a lot of ways of suppressing communication. Like when you ask a girl out you are supposed to decide where to go. You do this with confidence and self-assuredness. You do not do this through discussion with her of where would be nice. If you say you don't know where you want to take her, you seem like not much of a man, shy and embarrassed, don't know what you want, that kind of thing.

At the end of the date you can't ask if the other person wants to kiss, or have sex. That's taboo. That "ruins the mood", surprises people, and lowers the chance of doing either. You have to figure it out without explicit communication. And also after a certain number of dates you have to have sex -- there is a lot of pressure to. If you don't, the relationship is "not going anywhere" so what's the point? Which reminds me there is always this pressure in romantic relationships to have progress, which sounds good, but what it means is to move towards getting married, and you have to get married by the end of about 2 years or a lot of advice says you never will and you quite possibly break up, quite possibly over the issue of marriage. "If you won't commit to be with me forever and ever, right now, because we're so perfect for each other, then I never want to see you again, it's completely over."

If you want to kiss and she doesn't, that isn't a matter for problem solving. Discussion will be interpreted as pressure. Asking why she doesn't want to and saying reasons you do is trying to force your want in to her pants. You aren't supposed to discuss, criticize, and agree. You just go on a few more dates and see if she changes her mind, and if not stop wasting money on her meals and dump her. (Buying meals for your date is a dumb custom. And yes I know I often write from a male perspective. Writing a gender neutral version is more effort, and for what benefit? Female readers should learn to be able to think about it from both perspectives. It's a good skill.)

During sex people are often too scared/embarrassed to say what they want (other person might very well tell people later, especially after you break up). So they do whatever's normal to protect themselves. Instead of trying to do what they actually want to. Which prevents learning and is part of why people stay so obsessed with sex throughout their lives -- they *still* haven't had much time, even when old, to actually do it freely without feeling pressured and to try whatever they want to. Also the girl (usually, much more pressure on her to be chaste, not slutty, shy, resistant, etc) will abort if you want anything unusual, so if you don't suppress any unusual ideas you are risking having sex at all (possibly even the whole relationship). You might be thinking: ewww, what sort of gross, "unusual" stuff does he mean? But look, the usual thing is narrow and limited, it'd be weird if people didn't have some other ideas about what might be nice (even if most of those are bad they still would like to try it and find out). Any time there is freedom of thought there will be unusual ideas.

At funerals you have to be sad. You can't bring a book of jokes and spend a lot of the time laughing, even if they are really funny. People will get mad. And God forbid you argue this point. Giving reasons it's OK to be happy not somber is "disrespecting the dead". Arguing with that is disrespecting the dead more. Criticizing that is also disrespecting the dead. There's just no way out of it. Respecting the dead means following the convention whether you want to or not, and whether it's fun and enjoyable or not (it isn't). Also funerals waste a lot of money. So do coffins or urns. Why seal away a dead body? It's dead. Who cares? The whole thing reeks of superstition. Oh and if you just stay home that's disrespectful too. If he was your friend you are expected to go. People will hold it against you for years if you'd rather go to your frisbee game or World of Warcraft raid.

Weddings are perhaps worse. You know that part where everyone is asked if they know any reasons these people should not be wed? That's a lie. A dirty lie. It's a trap. They just want to pretend they are doing the right thing. But if you actually say any reasons (and it's easy to think of lots) then everyone will gasp in shock and turn to you angrily. You will have disrespected the whole wedding. You won't be invited to the next one (when they remarry other people after their divorce -- what? it's common.) Everyone will be really offended. Certainly they won't actually discuss your reasons. The only things you can say there are like, "he cheated on her" or "he's a Russian spy". You can't say, "marriage is a bad idea because...". And you can't say that any other time either. People don't want to hear it. Especially not the girl you're dating. She's the person in the world you have the most reason to want to discuss that with and come to agree, and you both have good reason to want to find the truth, yet she really won't want to hear it, she'll be angry you got this far and might not even want to marry her, and the sort of generic response people might give is "I want it, it feels right for me, it makes me happy" or something kind of like that, so if you question it people will say stuff like "fine, don't get married" but if your girlfriend is saying that she'll be pissed that you don't feel the same as her about marriage like she expected. and this whole thing misses the point: what feels right to you does not determine what is true or best.

Political correctness consists in part of a bunch of things you can't say. Like it's hard to say that scientific research shows black people have lower IQs than white people. never mind whether it's true, saying so will get you shouted down as a racist.

In general, like with a group of friends, raising any kind of issue you'd like to improve or do something better is seen as causing a fuss. People are scared of problems so they want you to just go along with whatever is happening. they think that is easiest and having to think about what's best is hard and it's a lot of trouble. and whoever brings it up is blamed, even if they just point out a fact of reality. couldn't you just let it go?

Imagine there is a cake being split between 8 friends. They will probably cut it into 8 pieces. If you say, "I'd like a larger piece" that is just not done. They will say they would too, implying you should keep your desires to yourself like they have. They will think you are trying to take their cake, and deny them what they want, because that's the only possible way you'll get more. they won't see a problem that can be solved in a good way, they'll just see greed and be offended. and the result is you don't say you'd like more. and that means even if 2 or 3 people there would be happy to have a smaller piece because they don't really like it, you won't be able to have that cake from them, even though it'd be better, because you aren't allowed to ask. it's true people are allowed to give up their cake and offer it to everyone else, but they might be more happy to do that, or even be reminded to think about it, if they knew you really wanted more.

Often people offer you things, especially the host. They don't necessarily want to get it for you or give it to you. They might just feel compelled to offer and hope you'll decline. This is very unfortunate because you can't tell if it's OK to accept or not. If you really don't want to cause people to do things they don't want to, you have to always decline. So you never get to have these things even if you'd kinda of like it and the host would actually love to get it that time, because you don't know. Trying to communicate to find out the truth does not work. They will insist over and over it's no trouble at all and completely hide whether it is or not. It's expected. And you, by the way, are generally supposed to decline once or twice to "prove" you are considerate, before you accept. But be careful declining twice, the host might not offer a third time, and it's very awkward to then ask for it. How engaging in a fixed, well-known, ritual can prove anything about you is a mystery. But it's a common phenomenon. Opening doors for girls proves you are a nice guy. There's lots of stuff like that where you do an expected behavior, like buy her flowers, and this supposedly says something about your personality. And that something isn't: you're conventional. Somehow choices at thoughtless as getting her flowers (it takes no thought because it's so well known) are considered really really thoughtful. Actually I can sort of see how it makes sense. You see, a virtuous man is one with a voice in his head constantly ordering him to do what is expected of him. So, good men have to get flowers or they feel bad. So when she gets flowers she knows he is obedient to convention and is reassured.

Guys looking at babes on the street is another place where communication is suppressed. You all say they are hot. If you don't people call you gay. They are just joking. For now. But you better give in. If you persist, they'll get more serious and more mean. This is part of how people come to have the standard sexual preferences. They act as if they did due to pressure, and eventually they get used to acting that way and thinking that way and can't imagine anything else. This can happen even if they don't really like it at first, and don't see how it makes sense.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

XXII

The Golden Age trilogy by John C Wright is excellent science fiction. Also good are the books by Greg Egan. Both authors think about what the future could be like and put interesting technology like virtual reality and nano-tech into their books. They both consider the problems of space colonization over long distances -- even once you get there communication between colonies takes a long time at light speed. They both consider putting human minds into computers instead of flesh bodies, and moral and legal issues with cloning. They both have somewhat libertarian attitudes.

One thing that makes these books especially interesting to read is to see which issues they fall into parochial misconceptions on. And on which they see something that is hard to see and weird today. For example, both authors retain roughly the modern concept of exclusive one-to-one long term marriage (even including personal fighting). But on the other hand they can imagine a world where wanting to have a physical body is just a vestige of the past, or where people converse in different languages automatically translated in real time.

One of the issues of particular interest to me is creating copies of minds. At first glance I love the idea. I could play chess against myself. That'd be awesome. Or better, I could play team games except my whole team is copies of me. We'd be so organized and coordinated. It'd let me really test out how good my strategies are.

Egan and Wright describe characters who think copying is a serious moral issue. And they have a point. At the least it's like being a parent. You are creating a new person -- a new mind. You are responsible for helping that person get started in the world and become independent. Since a copy is already an adult (doesn't need any advice or education) that might just mean giving him enough wealth to adjust to his situation (he is used to having your life and your means of income, but for most situations he'll need to find his own, at least new work doing the same tasks) and finds his place in the world.

But they take things further. Their characters have a strong distaste for copying themselves. They want immortality, so they make *inactive* copies and store them, and only wake them up if they die. They don't want two copies to run at once. They only make exceptions for rare circumstances, like sending copies to many distant planets might qualify. But even so, one of Egan's characters in Diaspora left instructions that once one of her copies arrived at a planet with life, no more should be woken up at other locations. And some people erased their Earth-copy when going to other planets, or later committed suicide once the planet expedition was a success. And another issue is one of the ships was destroyed en route (hit space debris) and people considered this a tragedy -- the 92 awake people were killed. The rest who were inactive though felt validated in their choice not to be awake -- they avoided death.

This way of thinking is wrong.

The important thing -- what people are -- is knowledge. Spreading knowledge is good. That's what we are doing when we tell parenting ideas to new people. And that's what we are doing when we build new computers -- we are putting more knowledge into more places. Having one blueprint in one place isn't good enough. It's important to spread knowledge -- copy it even -- into many locations. This makes more areas of the universe good places -- places that create knowledge, or places at least that aid knowledge creating entities. More computers embodies more knowledge -- it doesn't matter that it's a copy. It's good. Now more people can use it. More planets can have computers if we build more. More locations. More space stations. And it's just the same with minds: having more minds thinking makes the universe a better place, and it makes their particular locations better places. Being a copy isn't a waste at all. Even if you didn't diverge and have different ideas than the original, a copy means more people can have conversations with you/your-knowledge. That's great!

And this fear of death? If the knowledge is destroyed that's equally bad whether you were awake or not. This whole idea of sleeping through long flights is completely wasteful -- completely inhumane. It's horrible to have all these people pretending like they are in comas when they could be alive and awake and thinking. It's like they don't think life is worth living unless they have a planet to play with. Why not spend the time thinking? (And simulating virtual reality worlds -- you can have whatever kind of life you want, all by yourself -- except not by yourself because you can put people into your world -- your children -- but not children in the normal sense, you can make fully formed adult friends, just they are your responsibility). The only bad part of death besides the knowledge destruction -- including the prevention of completion of goals it had (which btw is prevented by not letting it wake up) -- is the suffering. But when you're going near light speed, even a human body wouldn't suffer from a collision -- completely obliterated far too fast to feel pain. And these minds in computers don't have pain nerves anyway. The only way they might suffer is if they got advanced warning of their death and that distressed them. But if that's even possible, and wouldn't allow for dodging the obstacle or solving the problem, then one could still choose not to hear about it. You don't have to watch where you're going. If you choose to be notified about impending death, and you are distressed by it, that's not rational. If you want to know you should be glad to have found out -- it doesn't make sense to want to be notified by then treat the notification as anything other than a gift -- a miracle of science -- you get to know in advance like you wanted, your preferences are more satisfied. It's good. If you don't like knowing then you should be happy not to find out. You might also say you want to know but you're suffering because you got unlucky with having an obstacle in your ship's way. But that's not rational either -- there is no reason to feel bad about luck. You didn't choose wrongly.

There is also confusion about identity. If I copy myself, who is me? And I think this is why, really, people don't like the idea of their copies being destroyed en-route *while awake*. They have very bad ideas about consciousness (the conventional ideas are just plain magical thinking). They see being awake and conscious as critical, and this person as them, and they find the idea a bit like dying themselves. This is absurd. Putting it to sleep is nothing but a disservice that prevents it from thinking. And it's not you in the same way two copies of a book are distinct. It just has the same knowledge as you. Which is destroyed whether it's awake or not.

The whole way of thinking about identity and "me" is bad. Just don't worry about it. If you copy your mind now there is this same knowledge in two places. (And it will become different over time, but no matter, that's just a natural consequence of creating new ideas and changing unpredictably.) So what? There isn't one that's "really" you -- it's the same knowledge. That's the whole point. It's like giving special status to the first book off the printing press for being the "original".

And you know there's a zillion copies of you and your mind already in the multiverse (see The Fabric of Reality). Knowledge is a multiversal structure. Knowledge can be the same over more universes because there is a reason it is that way -- it's not arbitrary. So you get larger structures across the multiverse. People are a major one. Vast regions of the multiverse -- vast numbers of "parallel universes" have very nearly or exactly the same *you*. Because your mind is a matter of knowledge and that gives it stability. If a conclusion is a matter of logic you are going to reach it in most universes so you end up the same in a lot of places. So, lots of copies of "you". Get used to it. What's one more? This one you can meet and talk with. But so what? More of you is good. It means more knowledge in the multiverse. Simple.

Whatever "consciousness" or "self awareness" or also "qualia" is doesn't really matter to any of this. I'm sure it matters for *something* but not to these fundamental issues. It's just a detail -- a property of certain knowledge. The important thing is still that copy yourself is like making more copies of OS X and spreading them around -- a good thing. As long as they can all find happy places in the world -- as long as you take on the responsibility of a parent -- then it's all good. The important thing to think about is in terms of knowledge.

Why is killing a cat not bad? Because it didn't have any important knowledge in it. It did have knowledge, but nothing important or useful. And easy to reproduce. Exact same logic as destroying a stapler. It has knowledge. Destroying them for no reason is a bit of a waste (but a small waste, of miniscule importance beside human preferences). But we can create more staplers no problem, and more cats. The knowledge in them is fungible.

If you destroy a *unique* person that's really bad. They can't be recreated. Knowledge is gone and will have to be completely reinvented. We don't have to think about consciousness or anything like that. If they are asleep it's the same.

And this way of thinking works with a fetus too. A fetus has no unique knowledge, so it's not important. End of story.

Once people have copies, destroying one won't be murder. It will be like destroying a stapler, except that people are more complex and have more knowledge. So it will be more like destroying billions of dollars of information. Except that copying data will be cheap so it might just be a small hassle to recreate it. It's still billions of today's dollars of information, it's just that stuff will be so cheap in the future that a billion dollars of wealth today won't matter at all. The exception will be if the copy diverged from the backup -- if it has new, unique knowledge. Also you will put the person out of action while they are restored -- a bit like forcing them to take a nap. That's bad but it's not murder. (Yes, parents shouldn't do that to their kids. Ever.) If they have some unique knowledge not yet backed up and you destroy it that's bad too -- quite unfortunate -- but it's not murder. Murder is killing a person-sized amount of knowledge. You've destroyed something a lot smaller -- like murdering a couple of someone's ideas. Bad but smaller. Such things happen by accident all the time today -- people get hit on the head and forget an idea. And sometimes it's someone else's fault -- he hit a tennis ball at you by mistake when you weren't looking -- and we don't prosecute him for murder, nor even for the few ideas/neurons he knocked out of our head. We just try to be more careful next time.

Relating to marriage as mentioned earlier, one character had a break up with his partner of many years. He doesn't know why, though, because she asked him to delete his memories of her. Now he only remembers that she made that request and he agreed. That's horrible! That's killing knowledge. It's destroying part of himself. And his "loved one" wanted him to be hurt in this way. His loved one wanted all the good times they had, when they helped each other, to be destroyed. And he agreed to it -- how messed up his he? She has no right! Doesn't she have no right? How much autonomy did he voluntarily give up?

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

New Blogging Script

I wrote a new program for writing to my blog from the command line. I'm pleased. Now i can create, view, edit, and list posts, instead of just writing new ones. Here it is (of course I had to add a new controller to handle these requests and I changed my Post model, but here's the local part):

#!/usr/bin/env ruby

require "optparse"
require "curi"
require 'tempfile'
require 'net/http'

BASE_URL = 'http://curi.us/remote/'
LOCA_BASE_URL = 'http://localhost:3000/remote/'

what = nil
id = nil
$local = false

opts = OptionParser.new
opts.on("-l", "--list") {|val| what=:list}
opts.on("-n", "--new") {|val| what=:new}
opts.on("-L", "--local") {|val| $local = true}
opts.on("-e VAL", "--edit VAL") {|val| what=:edit; id = val}
opts.on("-s VAL", "--show") {|val| what=:show; id = val}

rest = opts.parse(*ARGV)

def http_post(url, post="")
  if $local
    base_url = LOCA_BASE_URL
  else
    base_url = BASE_URL
  end
  res = Net::HTTP.post_form(URI.parse(base_url+url),
  {"user" => blog_username(), "password" => blog_password(), 'post' => post})
  res
end


def textmate(input)
  if input
    tf = Tempfile.new("textmateinput")
    File.open(tf.path, "w") {|f| f.write input.strip}
    result = `mate -w < #{tf.path}`
    File.delete(tf.path)
  else
    result = `mate -w < /dev/null`
  end
  result
end

case what
when :list
  puts http_post("list").body
when :show
  puts http_post("show_pretty/#{id}").body
when :new
  blank = http_post("blank").body
  post = textmate(blank)
  puts http_post("new", post).body
when :edit
  old = http_post("show_plain/#{id}").body
  post = textmate(old)
  puts http_post("edit/#{id}", post).body
end

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Stop Conceding Points To Christianity

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/18/us/18portland.html

A school is offering birth control pills to students without parental notification. Good. But they say something strange about it:
"It has been shown, over and over again, that this does not increase sexual activity," said Pat Patterson, the medical director of School-Based Health Centers.
The meaning is: it isn't bad to offer birth control, because it doesn't increase sexual activity, it only reduces the harm from the sexual activity that was going to happen anyway.

And the implication of that is: even people who lobby for distributing birth control pills in schools with full privacy ... think sexual activity is a bad thing for young people.

The "liberals" are conceding the *conservative, religious position* that sex is sinful and must be kept away from unmarried people.

It's a bit like how they largely won't defend abortion, "I personally don't like abortions". They concede the moral case to the religious right that abortions are a bad thing. They shouldn't. Abortions and sexual freedom are both great things that we should be proud of. They both give people more control over their lives. Opposing them is anti-human.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

romantic blindness

question: what do you wish you knew at 16 before you made various important life choices?

http://news.ycombinator.com/x?fnid=P2aIOK19Df
Not all that much, really. I'm mostly satisfied with the decisions I made up until my 3rd year of college or so. And given that a lot of the problems that began then were related to a relationship, I'm not sure that there was anything I could have known that would have made a difference.
wait, seriously? he had relationship problems and can't think of any possible advice that would have headed them off? in other words, he cannot conceive of any advice that would have persuaded him not to get into the relationship. but, he also cannot conceive of any advice that would have made the relationship turn out more pleasant. he takes it for granted that the best life both 1) has romantic relationships that hurt people and 2) cannot be improved or made safer with knowledge, skill, or good ideas.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)