Plants vs. Mammals (Energy, Digestion, Broad Conceptual Explanations, and the Lion Diet)

Disclaimer

This is not diet advice. I’m not a diet, nutrition or medical expert. And I’m not saying to stop eating plants. My guess is that a meat-only diet is a bad idea for most people. My article does not reach specific, actionable diet conclusions. These are incomplete, exploratory thoughts based partly on limited, initial research. I’m posting this primarily to allow for criticism or feedback, plus as an example of how to begin looking into an issue. This could also point people to some resources they could read which they might not have found otherwise. People should read resources from multiple sides of the debate, multiple perspectives, etc., before changing their diet. You should not try to use these ideas without doing your own research and forming your own opinions. I advise against making health-related decisions based on this article.

Concepts

Why do we eat (and drink, breathe, and otherwise take external things into our bodies)? The high level answers is to get energy and mass.

Our bodies are made of atoms. We need to get atoms to grow as children. As adults, we need to build new cells, repair damage, and get some nutrients that we use in temporary ways (a bit like how cars need periodic oil changes).

In the abstract, we could eat anything with mass to get mass. Our actual eating is much more limited. We can’t turn stone into blood, bone or muscle. We can’t usefully eat dirt, wood or metal either (except some little bits here and there). To some extent, we need to eat the same atoms and molecules that our body is made with. And we need to eat things that we can digest. (We also get a bunch of mass from drinking water, and I don’t know how much from breathing.)

It’s hard to get a lot more specific, so let’s turn next to energy and see what we can figure out by thinking about energy.

Note that I’m not a scientist (nor historian, nor doctor). If someone knows of good sources of information from experts covering similar issues to what I discuss in this article, please share it. And if I got something wrong, please correct me. Thanks. What I am is a philosopher, so I know something about analyzing issues using conceptual explanations. I also know something about researching and learning about issues. So I’ve used those skills to hopefully figure out some useful explanations from a different perspective than other people bring.

Energy

Where does energy come from? The Big Bang. But that was in the distant past. The main sources of energy now are stars. Energy on Earth comes primarily from the sun that Earth orbits.

If you look at power plants we build, you can trace their energy back to the sun’s light shining on earth (with some exceptions like nuclear or geothermal).

Hydroelectric plants get power from the flow of rivers. That flow has energy. Why do rivers flow? They go down hill and the water is pulled by graviety. If they run down hill, why don’t they run dry? What replenishes them? What gets more water up to the top of the hill? Rain. Rain comes from clouds – a bunch of water in the sky. How does it get there? What makes the water go up into the sky? What lifts it against the force of gravity? The sun heats water (primarily from the oceans which are lower down than rivers) and evaporates it.

When we burn fossil fuels like coal or oil, the energy in them originally came from sunlight. The energy from burning wood or dung also came from the sun.

Solar power panels use sunlight directly.

Wind turbines rely on the sun to heat some air more than other air which leads to a flow of air. If there was no more energy coming from the sun, the air would calm down eventually stop moving around much (and after a very long time, stop entirely). For something to move around, there has to be an energy source.

So how can people get energy? The most obvious or direct answer is to get it from sunlight. That is what plants do. But we aren’t designed that way. We can’t just absorb the sunlight to power our bodies.

Since plants harness sunlight for energy, a second idea is to take energy from them. They can do photosynthesis and then we can eat them. This works, and we do it, but it has some drawbacks.

Plants vs. Animals

There has been an evolutionary battle for millennia between plants and animals (and let’s specifically focus on mammals).

Plants came first. They evolved to absorb energy from the sunlight. That powered them and let them grow. That is a good strategy for life. Plants also get mass from the air (carbon dioxide) and, secondarily, from the ground (water and nutrients). Carbon is one of the main things plants are made of, and many people don’t realize they get the majority of their mass from the air. That’s why you don’t get giant holes in the dirt where big trees grow. All that mass in the tree didn’t come from the dirt; only a little did. The tree got most of its mass from the air and rainwater (water provides hydrogen, and plants both use and excrete oxygen).

So plants replicate all over and use available resources (sunlight, air, water, dirt) to grow. Some plants also take advantage of other resources like wind or fire to help with some aspect of their life cycle (like spreading seeds to other locations).

Then, skipping some steps, along came mammals. What’s special about them? They don’t absorb sunlight directly. They can’t do photosynthesis. And they can move around. And they eat plants for energy.

Also, mammals live on land. The ocean is different because the water currents move things around without them having to move themselves. For everything I talk about, think of it happening on land not in the ocean (though a lot of it does apply in the ocean too).

The basic idea is, instead of getting sun energy, you eat plants. But if you can’t move, then you’d only be able to eat a couple plants before you run out of food. The strategy of eating plants has to be paired with moving around so you can eat plants in many locations.

Why don’t plants eat other plants? There aren’t enough plants to eat without being able to move. Plus growing a mouth and stomach is a lot of work.

Why don’t plants have legs to walk around? Legs take a lot of energy to grow and use. And it’s unnecessary. Plants don’t need to travel to get energy. Energy, in the from of sunlight, comes to them.

Wouldn’t it be nice for grass if it could run away from predators like cows to avoid being eaten? There’s an upside there. But the energy cost would be high. The grass would need legs and muscles. It’d need a brain to figure out when and where to run. It’d need eyes to see predators coming and see where it’s going. At that point, it’s sounding more like a rabbit than a blade of grass. Grass is really cheap and efficient, so it’s OK if some is eaten.

Why don’t rabbits do photosynthesis? They could run away from predators while having green backs and being powered by the sun. The problem is the sun doesn’t provide enough energy for that to work well. To support the rabbit lifestyle, more energy is needed.

The amount of energy you can get from the sun depends primarily on how large a surface you’re absorbing light from. If you harvest sun energy from a square foot, you’ll get way more energy than from a square inch.

Rabbits don’t have large enough backs to get enough energy. They can’t fit enough (organic, biological) solar panels on their backs.

To harvest the sunlight that falls on a larger area of land, rabbits can eat plants from a large area of land. They can use the plants as solar panels covering a whole e.g. square mile, then go around and collect that energy. Importantly, plants are also batteries. Eating a plant doesn’t just get you the sun energy from the last second. Plants still have some energy from sun that shined days ago (perhaps even years ago). So rabbits can get a lot of energy by eating plants covering a much larger surface area than their backs, and by letting the plants grow for a while (charge up their batteries) before eating them (they can eat one plant at a time while letting others grow).

So rabbits use a lot more energy than plants, but they also take in a lot more energy. The key elements of their strategy are being able to move around and being able to eat plants. So they need a way to travel (feet), a way to find plants (senses like sight and touch), their body to be in a portable bundle (skin), a way to take in plants (mouth) and a way to get energy from the plants (digestion – teeth, stomach, intestines).

Other mammals work broadly the same way as rabbits. Except predators. Another possible strategy, besides eating plants, is to eat rabbits. You can eat the things that eat the plants. The advantage is that they gathered a lot of energy in one place. The downside is they can move, so they’re harder to eat than stationary plants. Rabbits and other prey evolved many defense mechanisms including hiding and moving away from predators.

Humans can eat both plants and animals but not sunlight. What should we eat? What’s healthier or better, in broad terms?

People today broadly view eating plants as healthy, particularly fruit and vegetables. People seem somewhat more doubtful about whether meat is actually good for you or not, though most people enjoy eating meat and do eat it.

Plant Defenses

Rabbits don’t want to be eaten. They have defense mechanisms. So do plants. (That’s an approximation. Rabbits actually don’t want things. Their genes evolved under selection pressure to be good at replicating those genes. You can go read Richard Dawkins books if you want to know more about that. I’m not going to worry about being precise about evolution here.)

What do plants do to discourage being eaten?

Trees have armor called bark. I think it has other purposes too, but keeping stuff out of the middle of the tree is one purpose. That’s similar to how turtles and crabs have armor (shells).

Trees are mostly made of wood which is really stiff and hard to eat. Most mammals can’t digest wood, so we mostly leave trees alone. Their defenses work well. A lot of mammals do eat tree leaves, though humans mostly don’t.

Some plants put important or vulnerable parts in difficult to reach places. Trees put leaves high in the air where some animals can’t reach. In response, some animals evolved to climb trees to eat the leaves. Giraffes evolved long necks to eat high leaves. Birds can fly up to tree leaves, but I don’t know if any birds actually eat leaves.

Even putting things (e.g. fruit or berries) a little above the ground, like 12 inches, helps. From a human perspective that’s low, but for a mouse it’s pretty high and hard to reach.

Some plants have thorns to injure animals that try to eat them.

Some plants try to hide, e.g. with camouflage.

Some plants, like carrots, bury a lot of themselves underground. Some mammals can dig in order to eat underground plants, but that’s extra work, and not all mammals can do that.

And one of the big defense mechanisms plants have is being poisonous. Plants can contain toxins so that if you eat them you get sick. They can also be designed to be less nutritious for mammal digestion. The less benefit we can get from a plant, the less we’ll seek it out and eat it.

Caffeine is an insecticide. It evolved to discourage insects from eating coffee beans, cocoa beans, tea leaves, etc.

Some plants will kill humans if we eat them. A lot of plants will give us indigestion or otherwise make us mildly sick.

This issue of plants containing things that are bad to eat, as a defense mechanism, is a key concept for understanding what’s good to eat.

Broadly, plants have evolved for many thousands of years to be bad to eat! There is genetic selection pressure on them to be a bad food.

However, we have evolved to be good at eating plants. We’ve evolved countermeasures to let us digest plants well, to tolerate their toxins, etc.

In this evolutionary battle, we’re doing reasonably well. We can eat plants and survive. We haven’t lost. But it’s nothing like a paradise, utopia or garden of eden. Eating plants is hard. We don’t have a huge margin of error. We’re not winning in a landslide. Plant defenses affect us. They matter to us. Our digestion, immune system, ability to cook with fire, and other traits aren’t powerful enough to make plant toxins negligible. We have to avoid eating some plants entirely. We have to watch what we eat and put effort into choosing plants that work well for us.

Different people have different food sensitivities. In other words, for a lot of plants, the current human gene pool means that 90% of people (or some other amount) can eat that plant without a big problem, but not everyone. Fortunately, people tend to be sensitive to some plants but not others, so pretty much everyone has some plants that work well for them. But this illustrates how the battle against plant defenses, particularly toxins, is not just won and done. It’s not over. It’s ongoing. Plant defenses should still be respected and thought about. (Food sensitivities for some meats, like beef or chicken, are rare. Seafood sensitivity is more common.)

The FDA says 90% of food allergies are for just 8 foods, 4 of which are seeds. The foods are cow milk, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, shellfish, wheat, soy and fish. (How allergies work is unclear, so they may not be from plant defenses.)

Some plant defenses, like caffeine, aren’t targeted at us. But they’re still bad for us. Why? Because we have a lot in common with insects. We share a lot of genetic code with insects. We have evolutionary history in common with them. We can somewhat tolerate caffeine, but it still harms us. (See my article Caffeine Is Bad.)

We have a lot more in common with mammals than insects. Plant defenses aimed at any mammal are more likely to be a larger problem for us.

Plant Parts

Plants have different parts. We can consider some broad categories like roots, stems, leaves, fruit and seeds.

Some plant parts are actually designed to be eaten. Those are fruit and sometimes seeds.

Roots, stems and leaves don’t want to be eaten. There’s no benefit to the plant when those are eaten. (There are probably some exceptions.)

Fruit and seeds are crucial to how plants replicate. Seeds are what can grow into more plants. The seeds need to be distributed to other locations that might be good for more plants to grow. But plants can’t walk so how will that work?

If a plan grows sideways a bit and then drops a seed, a new plant can grow with a different center point than the old plant. If seeds are light, wind or water can move them. Animals can move seeds around.

How can a plant recruit an animal’s help? How can it get animals to distribute its seeds to other locations? That’s what fruit is for. Fruit is meant to be eaten. It attracts animals on purpose.

Inside the fruit are the seeds. Seeds can have two different strategies. They either don’t want to be eaten, or they want to be eaten but not digested. If an animal eats seeds but poops them out whole, that’s a success for the plant. And plants can make a lot of seeds, so if some get chewed up but some other seeds survive, that can be good enough.

How can seeds avoid being eaten when the fruit is eaten? For example, peach pits are really hard to eat. Apple cores are not great to eat either. So we might just eat the apple fruit (flesh), then drop the core with the seeds on the ground.

So, broadly, as a first approximation, fruit is safe and good to eat. Some seeds are safe to swallow whole and don’t digest them, but that isn’t useful (you have to digest stuff to get energy). Many seeds contain toxins if you chew them up. Seeds really need to discourage being digested because if they all get eaten then the plant can’t replicate. And stems, leaves and roots also may contain toxins. But there are many other defense strategies that plants use, so they don’t always have dangerous toxins.

Another defense strategy plants use is just replicating so much that it’s hard to eat all of them. That strategy is harmless for us. Similarly, a tree might create a lot of leaves, so it’s OK if some are eaten. It’s the same for seeds and roots. Having extra stems is less common, so stems are probably worse to eat on average.

Antinutrients

So plants contain energy and nutrients. They are good to eat. But they also contain toxins and antinutrients (things that have a negative nutritional value for us). They’re also partly bad to eat.

We have a powerful digestion system that’s good at eating plants, but it’s imperfect so we still need to watch out some. Different people have different food sensitivities.

Our ability to tolerate bad things from plants is limited not unlimited, so eating a variety of plants can help. That way we don’t get too much of any one bad thing. Different types of plants tend to have different toxins or antinutrients, though some plants share some of the same ones. Eating a variety of plants also helps us get all the different good things we need from plants. If we only ate one or two plants, we’d probably become deficient in some important nutrients.

The modern, industrial western diet means people average getting around two thirds of their calories (energy) from just four plants: wheat, corn, soy and rice. (I have not fact checked this statistic.)

That’s not enough variety. And all four of those plants are fairly similar to each other. Three are grains and one is a bean. All four are seeds. All of them have some antinutrients. For example, wheat contains lectins, which are bad to eat (everything else being equal). In general, eating seeds always has some downsides.

One way to look at plant variety is color. There is advice to eat a variety of colors of plants. E.g. you can eat some green, red, orange, yellow, blue and white. You might try to have some of each color every week. (Eating a balanced diet on the timespan of a single meal or day is totally unnecessary. There is some bad advance floating around about that. I don’t know the optimal timespan to balance your diet for. Maybe it’s 5 days or 18 days or 42 days. I couldn’t tell you. And actually it’s complicated. It varies by nutrient – you need some more frequently than others. So any single time period will just be an approximation.)

Wheat, corn, soy and rice don’t have good color variety. They’re basically white, yellow and brown. There’s no green, red, orange or blue.

Why do we eat so much of just a few plants? Because we figured out how to mass produce them. We got good at growing a lot of them. They’re cheaper and enable a large number of human beings to be alive and fed. There are major positives. But we didn’t choose to eat so much of these few seeds for health reasons (besides getting enough calories being a health issue). We didn’t think they were especially nutritious. We didn’t think that we’ll have fewer illnesses if we eat this diet.

There are a lot of other diet common modern choices that also weren’t made for optimal health, such as eating lots of cow milk or chicken. I’m not saying cow milk or chicken are unhealthy to eat, but they were not optimized for being healthy, and they do have downsides. There’s also a lot of stuff done with processed foods for reasons other than optimizing health.

We selectively bred animals like dairy cows and chickens to optimize for things like getting a lot of milk or meat. We didn’t breed them to be as nutritious as we could. We tried to avoid obvious downsides but we didn’t do much to avoid subtle downsides.

Eating Animals

So, eating plants have lots of upsides but also downsides. Other than the fruit, they tend to contain some things that are bad for us, which were evolved to discourage animals (sometimes specifically mammals) from eating them.

How else can we get energy? We can’t absorb sunlight for energy. We can’t burn fuels to power our bodies. We can’t eat oil. Besides eating plants, our main alternative is eating animals.

What are animals? Basically big bundles of digested plants. (A few of them ate other animals, so they are more indirectly a bunch of digested plants. Ultimately animal energy and mass basically just comes from plants, air and water. There’s also a little bit of mineral and metal, e.g. salt. The plant part is really important and is where the energy/calories comes from.)

What are the upsides of eating animals? They have different defense mechanisms than plants. They run away. They have teeth and claws. But they don’t generally have a bunch of toxins in their flesh. Animals rely less on being poisonous to eat than plants do.

It’d be hard for animals to contain anti-animal toxins in their bodies because they’d poison themselves. Plants can contain anti-animal toxins more easily because plants are different than animals and are affected by different toxins.

Some animals have poisons in a particular part of their body, e.g. rattlesnakes have some venom. But they don’t just have the venom running through their veins, muscles, organs and whole body. It’s kept in a container. We can eat the other parts of an animal and throw away the poisonous parts.

Animals digest plants for us. Whatever toxins or antinutrients those plants had, the animals may have already dealt with the problem for us by the time we eat the animal.

Some animals may be better at digesting certain things than we are. Cows can eat grass effectively but we can’t. Eating cows lets us indirectly eat grass. Otherwise the grass would go to waste.

Suppose an animal eats some plants and processes antinutrient A in a safe way but ends up with a bunch of antinutrient B in its body because its digestion is bad at handling B. Then we eat the animal and our digestion handles B well. This way of eating will work well for us even if we couldn’t digest A well ourselves.

What animals are the best eaters, which can best digest plants and handle the antinutrients? The short answer is the animals with multiple stomachs. They are better at eating than we our with our one stomach. Their bodies are designed to be more focused on digestion and they put more resources into being good at digestion.

What animals have multiple stomaches? Cows. Also sheep (lamb), goats, bison, deer and some other related animals. These are called the ruminant animals. They’re the super-eaters with the best digestion. They’re good at eating grass and leaves that we aren’t. They’re better than us at extracting nutrient value (and neutralizing antinutrients and toxins) in their food than we are. It’s their speciality.

So beef is a particular good, nutritious, safe meat. Chickens and pigs only have one stomach, so they’re not as good.

Cows are also something humans have domesticated and eaten for thousands of years. Chickens and pigs have worse histories. Pigs were a source of disease which is why Judaism and Islam say not to eat them. Chickens were much smaller than today and hard to feed (they don’t eat grass and leaves; if they eat grain that is taking away food that people could eat). Eating chicken became a lot more prominent after 1900.

Fish are another animal that we’ve eaten successfully for thousands of years, so that’s another promising candidate thing to eat that’s probably especially compatible with our digestion. There are some potential downsides including heavy metals (the more fish you eat, the more of an issue that is, so it could be bad if you designed a diet primarily based on fish). And there are some problems with farmed fish.

Any kind of traditional diet that people in a region ate for thousands of years probably works pretty well. Modern western eating changed how we eat significantly without enough understanding of what we’re doing and how nutrition works, so there have been downsides.

Note that we’ve bred our main plants and animals to be significantly different than the old wild varieties. So the fruit, berries, meat, etc., that’s in our grocery stores is different than what people traditionally ate even if it has the same name like “apple” or “banana”.

As a quick aside, what about foods other than eating plants or animals? Dairy is problematic because over 50% of people alive are lactose intolerant and casein (a milk protein) is hard to digest. Some dairy products like cheese have less lactose (hard cheeses have very little). Butter has very little lactose or milk protein. Dairy is designed for young cows not adult humans. (Human breast milk isn’t available in large quantities for adults to drink, and even if it was it still wouldn’t be designed for adults.) Lactose intolerance started becoming less frequent after we domesticated cows (around 10,000 years ago). And eggs, like dairy, are are a common food sensitivity. So there are some concerns with dairy and eggs, though they could be good foods for people who don’t react poorly to them. As to fungi, I’d expect them to have some of the same defenses as plants, and a lot of mushrooms are poisonous, but maybe some are good for humans to eat. I don’t know much about eating insects except that it hasn’t been a large part of our historical diet.

People with Big but Vague Health Problems

Humans are pretty robust and resilient. Do you have to think a bunch about what you eat? If you’re doing fine, then maybe not. Trying to understand food better and eat in a more healthy way shouldn’t be everyone’s priority. I think it’s interesting though.

What if you have health problems that conventional medicine is failing to help with? Like chronic fatigue, anxiety or “depression”? Changing your diet, even drastically, is probably less risky than taking psychiatric medications.

Your problem might be some antinutrients and toxins from your food.

So you might consider the Lion Diet which focuses on eating ruminant animals (the super-eaters with multiple stomaches), salt and water. It’s meant as a temporary diet to heal you and help you figure out which foods are hurting you. If you can fix your problems, then you can reintroduce foods one at a time to figure out which ones are OK for you and which aren’t.

You may have a leaky gut where some foods harm your gut and then it starts leaking other foods into places they shouldn’t be. Then your immune system sees stuff that shouldn’t be there and tries to fight it. This can cause autoimmune disorders.

If you heal your leaky gut, you may be able to tolerate a lot of foods. It could be that a few foods really hurt your gut and cause it to leak, and then if it’s leaky a lot of foods cause you problems. So after doing the Lion Diet for a while, you may only need to avoid a few foods. But just avoiding those few foods right away might not work, even if you knew which ones they are. You might need to avoid a bunch of extra foods temporarily, then a few foods permanently.

What are some of the main candidate foods that may be hurting you?

Gluten, soy, and dairy. After that, more candidate foods are other grains and seeds, plus sugar (which may lead to too much of the wrong bacteria growing in your gut). The sugar issue makes eating a lot of fruit potentially problematic. After that, what could be cut next is more or all plants, plus animals that are less safe/healthy. The extreme conclusion is the Lion Diet of ruminant animals, salt and water.

So there are some big, broad conceptual reasons why the lion diet, or a milder approximation of it (which is suitable for people without major health problems) makes sense. By contrast, some other diets have no good conceptual explanations behind them (that’s particularly true of most diets aimed at weight loss not health).

Also, vegan and vegetarian diets are motivated primarily by ethical concerns, not health-based reasoning. Basically everything that vegans say about how healthy plants are is said because they want to save animals from being eaten, not because of an unbiased, objective study of nutrition. It’s like how you can’t trust environmentalists, who care a lot about global warming, who then try to tell you about how electric cars are superior to gas cars for transportation. They start with a predetermined conclusion (electric cars are better) with a predetermined reason (to help the environment), and whatever they say about transportation is designed to support their agenda.

A milder approximation of the lion diet could mean cutting gluten, soy and dairy, limiting grains/beans/seeds and sugar, and eating more meat particularly beef and lamb. There are some arguments that gluten and soy are just plain bad for everyone (in a somewhat mild way that doesn’t kill you), but I haven’t researched it enough to say. Another thing that generally helps is eating whole foods instead of parts, juices or extracts.

Modern society has a lot of stuff that’s very good for our health. We don’t starve. We have antibiotics. These huge improvements can mask downsides and problems, and make it less obvious if some major parts of our food supply are actually bad for us.

Also, because I think it’s relevant to my serious fans who intend to learn from me for years to come: I do not have a major health problem. That’s not why I researched and wrote this.

Quotes

The final section of this article is some quotes I found notable when reading about nutrition and downsides of plants:

From Does Meat Rot In Your Colon? No. What Does? Beans, Grains, and Vegetables!:

Most of the edible part of a plant is cellulose, a polysaccharide (i.e. a very long chain of sugars) that is very difficult to break down. In fact, no digestive enzyme, in any animal, is capable of breaking down cellulose!

It turns out that pepsintrypsinchymotrypsin, and our other proteases do a fine job of breaking down meat protein, and bile salts and lipase do a fine job of breaking down animal fat. In other words, meat is digested by enzymes produced by our own bodies. The primary reason we need our gut bacteria is to digest the sugars, starches, and fiber—found in grains, beans, and vegetables—that our digestive enzymes can’t break down.

rabbits run their food through twice: they eat their own poop in order to get more food value out of the plant matter they eat.

But wait! There’s another punchline! Whenever we eat grains, beans, and vegetables, we’re not digesting and absorbing much of the plant matter…we’re actually absorbing bacterial waste products. Rephrased less diplomatically:

You’re not eating plants: you’re eating BACTERIA POOP.

Eating bacteria poop is not as bad as your intuitive reaction says. It might sound awful but it’s actually pretty OK. It’s interesting and relevant to various nutrition stuff.

And from Health Dangers of a Plant-Based Diet:

Plants produce these chemicals to defend themselves. And it’s not just one or two plants that have this super power. It’s all of them.

In fact, 99.99% of all pesticides in our diet are natural chemicals plants produce to deter predators.

They produce toxins to protect themselves from fungi, insects, and animal predators. There are tens of thousands of these natural pesticides. And every species of every plant contains its own set of toxins. Different parts of each plant contain different toxins in different amounts.

Some parts of the plant are more vital for the success of the species than others.

Seeds are critical. Because they are so important plants take extra care to protect them and lace them with potent toxins to deter predators.

Grains, nuts, and beans are all seeds. These are the plant’s babies. And messing with a mother’s offspring often has dire consequences. The parent plant wants to protect them and ensure their offspring’s survival. The plant isn’t concerned about the health, nutrition, or survival of humans. Quite the contrary.

What are seeds?

Of all plant parts, seeds tend to be the most tricky. Grasses, trees, and legumes are plants and have seeds that we call different things.

Grains are the seeds of grasses which include wheat, corn, oats, and rice. Walnuts, hazelnuts, and pecans are all nuts, which are the seeds of trees. And legumes like peas, lentils, soybeans, and chickpeas have seeds called beans.

Some weapons like tannins are bitter. Others like phytates interfere with nutrient absorption aiming to malnourish the predator. Similarly, enzyme inhibitors disrupt a predator’s food processing. From the plant’s perspective, if they are going to get eaten, they are at least going to cause negative consequences for the predator to discourage their consumption in the future.

The article goes into more detail on lectins, how they attack our digestion, and how they can cause leaky gut. Lectins, like gluten, are one of the major defenses of seeds. Then it talks about phytic acid from nuts (which reduces our ability to absorb nutrients like iron from the plants we eat). It also covers soy and more.

Animals like cows and sheep have bacteria in their guts that break down phytates. Their guts are designed for plant-based diets. Humans guts aren’t designed to handle phytic acid.

Soybeans are rich in antinutrients like phytic acid and tannins as well as trypsin inhibitors which deter predation.

The high antinutrient concentrations in soy are a health concern to humans and livestock.

In order to limit their damage, food processors do the best they can to reduce the damaging chemicals. Soybeans are soaked which can reduce tannin levels by about half, but it doesn’t do much to decrease phytic acid or trypsin inhibitors. [r]

Then they are often boiled and/or roasted to try and reduce antinutrients further. Fermenting with fungi and bacteria can help too.

But all this processing also comes at a cost. It can damage essential amino acids making it difficult or impossible to digest and assimilate. [r]

So food manufacturers are tasked with the impossible: cook soybean enough to reduce the antinutrients but not too much. An impossible balancing act.

An interesting perspective is that there is a really high incidence of soy allergy. Many peoples’ bodies go on an all-out attack when consumed.

Not only that, but raw soybeans are toxic to all monogastric animals – and we humans are monogastric.

Evidence suggest that we are not designed to eat soybeans – and enzyme inhibitors, endocrine disruption, and saponins are just a few reasons why.

The human genus transitioned from tree-dwelling herbivore to bipedal meat eater.

isotope studies of fossils [from ~50,000 years ago] reveal a human diet nearly indistinguishable from carnivores.

grains come from wild grasses. Naturally, in the wild, these grains are small with just a few seeds per plant. And they readily fall and disperse. Humans would have basically never eaten these.

our guts had transformed [by evolution] beyond recognition to that of our early herbivore primate ancestors. Our transformed gut was now optimized for the efficient absorption of meat that was dense in energy as was required to fuel our gigantic brains; it was no longer equipped for grazing 7 hours/day and using a microbiome to turn plant fiber into useable energy.

The article says that thanks to the Agricultural Revolution we started eating far more plant toxins and this has had major downsides. And then things got a lot worse, in this regard, with the Industrial Revolution. It concludes that the biggest four dangers are grains, vegetable oils, sugar and soy, and it recommends eating more meat.

The article also talked about how much people eat plants without realizing what they’re eating and how plant-based their diet is. (Hint: If it’s not meat/seafood/dairy/egg, then you’re probably eating plants!) In general, I think people don’t recognize all the different forms of wheat they eat and see them as repetitively eating the same plant over and over. They don’t have a good intuitive or automatic understanding of the ingredients in their foods.

Conclusion

I also wrote a shorter previous article called Understanding Food. And after writing this article, but before publishing, I found the book The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in "Healthy" Foods That Cause Disease and Weight Gain. It warns about toxins and antinutrients in plants, particularly lectins. Chapter 1 is titled “The War Between Plants and Animals” and it covers some of the same themes as this article. (The quotes section above was also based on reading done after writing the prior text.)

My main goal here was to think about plants and mammals using conceptual explanations. I started with mass and energy, then proceeded to the evolutionary war between plants and mammals.

Most mammals are plant predators. Plants have defense mechanisms against mammals, including toxins and antinutrients. There are evolutionary reasons for seeds to be equipped with especially powerful defenses to discourage eating them. Seeds, which include grains, beans and nuts, are like the eggs or babies of plants. We have some scientific understanding of defenses like lectins and phytic acid.

Plants shouldn’t be thought of as an obviously safe, nutritious food. We don’t live in a paradise where the plants are designed for us to eat. Plants have evolved to be bad for us to eat, but our own digestion has evolved to let us eat plants anyway. It’s a battle where we’re doing pretty well overall, but it’s not surprising that many people do poorly when eating at least a few plants. Most people’s digestion is weak against at least a few plant defenses, and some people have problems with many plants. We also using other methods to overcome plant defenses, like cooking, soaking, fermenting and sprouting.

There are broad conceptual reasons to expect, on average, for non-seeds to be safer plant foods than seeds and for fruit to be the safest part of plants. This doesn’t mean to stop eating plants; it’s just bringing up a problem.

Other foods besides plants have potential problems too. The overall safest food, for the most people, may be meat from ruminant animals. Ruminants like cows, sheep and goats primarily eat grass and leaves, not seeds. And they have the most powerful digestion systems, including multiple stomachs, to deal with plant toxins and antinutrients.

If you remember one thing, remember that plants are evolved to be bad food sources. If you’re familiar with evolution, it makes sense when you stop to think about it, yet there’s a widespread misconception that plants naturally grow to be healthy food for us. But evolution favors plants that avoid becoming food.

Disclaimer: This is not diet advice. I’m not a diet, nutrition or medical expert. And I’m not saying to stop eating plants. My guess is that a meat-only diet is a bad idea for most people. My article does not reach specific, actionable diet conclusions. These are incomplete, exploratory thoughts based partly on limited, initial research. I’m posting this primarily to allow for criticism or feedback, plus as an example of how to begin looking into an issue. This could also point people to some resources they could read which they might not have found otherwise. People should read resources from multiple sides of the debate, multiple perspectives, etc., before changing their diet. You should not try to use these ideas without doing your own research and forming your own opinions. I advise against making health-related decisions based on this article.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Discussion and Boundary Based Relationships

Here’s a simplified model of relationships: they can be based on boundaries or discussion. There can be a mix of both, but often a whole relationship, or all interactions about a specific topic, predominantly uses either boundaries or discussion.

Boundaries mean there are rules. There are lines each person doesn’t cross. People get along by avoiding violating the other person’s boundaries. Basically, each person gets to ban some actions or ways of treating them. As long as no one does something prohibited, the relationship works OK. It’s not super optimized, but it’s acceptable.

Discussion means people talk about things and decide what to do. Just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean it’s off limits. If someone has a good reason they can communicate that, and you’ll listen and consider. You’ll give reasons for not wanting things instead of just declaring what your boundaries are, and those reasons can be responded to with criticisms or solutions.

I like discussion-based relationships because they enable rational argument to change outcomes. They allow more problem solving and optimization. However, they’re more effort. And they require people to have decent communication skills and compatible communication styles.

I don’t attempt discussion-based relationships with waiters, cashiers, or strangers in public. I just try not to violate their boundaries and I expect them not to violate my boundaries. I don’t ask what their boundaries are either. I just assume some cultural defaults (e.g. many people don’t want to be touched or insulted). And I err on the side of caution: if something is a boundary for 10% of people, then I shouldn’t violate it with a stranger, since there’s a decent chance they won’t like that. A conservative policy helps avoid people getting hurt.

Online Forums

For rationality-oriented online discussion forums, I want discussion-based interactions. Boundaries are frustrating when rational discussion is one of the main purposes of the forum. This can lead to conflicts with moderators (or admins or whoever is in charge) who want to enforce arbitrary boundaries that they won’t clearly document or explain (which makes the rules hard to follow). And it can prevent improvement of the forum rules since they’re not allowed to be rationally discussed. Rational problem solving involves criticizing downsides of the rules, and suggesting alternatives, but many moderators don’t like that.

Due to the difficulty of finding any forum with rational moderators who are willing to discuss how a forum is run, I run my own forum. I value transparency for moderator actions. I allow questioning, criticizing and discussing forum policies.

I have pretty lenient, minimal forum rules. Mostly I use a subset of the standard rules that people would expect if there weren’t any written rules. However, I do have an additional rule that people aren’t used to everywhere. It is no misquoting allowed. This applies both to the content (e.g. you can’t post quotes with words changed) and the formatting (e.g. you can’t post quotes that have no block quote or inline quote marker, so they read as non-quotes; nor can you post quotes which are formatted incorrectly so that some quoted text is attributed to the wrong author). Inaccurate paraphrases can be unacceptable too. E.g. if you wrote “Earlier in this discussion, Elliot was arguing that abortion is immoral.”, that would be unacceptable (given that, actually, I took a pro-abortion stance). That statement not only gets my position wrong but also treats the inaccuracy like a fact. If you instead said, “Here is my attempt to summarize your position” and then you made some mistakes in the summary, that would be acceptable (unless the mistakes were egregious bad faith).

I’ve had difficulties with some users who persistently do quoting wrong. This was a larger problem in the past on the email groups where some competence was required to send correctly formatted emails. On the Discourse forum now, people quote less, and they do most of their quoting using built-in tools which get it right. It’s still a problem sometimes though.

Some people fix their mistakes after it’s pointed out. That isn’t so bad. It’s still repetitive how many new users make the same mistakes as previous new users. In my experience, no amount of explaining stuff in forum guidelines or FAQs has ever been very effective. New people just come along and either don’t read those canonical documents, read without trying to actually learn how to do it right, or forget. However, canonical documents are still useful because it’s easier to link someone to an existing document than write an explanation of the issue.

Some people give up after their mistakes are pointed out. Learning how to post only accurate quotes seems hard so they go do something else. That’s unfortunate but I’d rather they leave than post misquotes. If they are unwilling or unable to learn how to quote accurately, I doubt they’d write very intelligent posts anyway.

And some people persistently post misquotes. I can point it out many times and they keep doing it. I can explain the problem and they keep doing it. I can link them to documents about the issue and they keep doing it. These people are a pretty small minority but they exist and they’re difficult to deal with.

What’s going on? I think they’re used to boundary-based relationships. But I’m trying to deal with them in a discussion-based way. I try to explain the rules and reason with them. And that doesn’t get through to them. They see discussion of an issue as meaning it’s not a boundary/rule, or at least not a very important one. If it was really important, they assume I would take some action like banning them. If I’m trying to discuss instead of banning them, that proves to them that it’s not a big deal, so they don’t listen. (As an additional factor, I think this only happens with people who have difficulty understanding quoting. If getting it right was easy for them, they’d fix it. But they find the whole thing confusing and would have to put in significant effort to understand it.)

There was one user who was particularly bad and the only thing that ever got him to take the issue seriously, and learn how to quote correctly in a lasting way, was preventing him from posting for a significant period of time. Before that, he would stop doing some mistakes in the short term after they were pointed out, but then he’d forget and start doing them again later. Or he’d change the specific thing he was told to change, but have no conceptual understanding of the issue, so then he’d make the same type of mistake later in a different discussion.

It’s hard for me to determine who should be dealt with in a boundaries-based way. It’s hard to know when to flip the switch and stop trying to rationally discuss with people. I like rational discussion. I don’t like banning people. I also don’t like having their posts go into a moderation queue where I can read and approve (or reject) the posts, because that’s ongoing work for me. It’s important to me that my forum requires a low amount of work to run.

Relationships with Kids and Other People

A lot of parents use a lot of boundaries with their kids. Kids often learn to ignore discussion. They ignore being reasoned with or pleaded with. Either the parent prohibits something (and is willing to punish over it, e.g. by yelling or worse) or else the kid can do it. The kid is non-responsive to discussion and just responds to punishments. Or at least it can kinda look that way; often the kid actually is responsive to some discussion, suggestions, advice, requests, etc., but people focus attention on other cases where the kid “won’t listen” and won’t stop unless there is an actual boundary.

This can be awkward for babysitters who have to deal with a kid who assumes if you won’t punish him then you don’t really mind what he’s doing. But the babysitter doesn’t like punishing kids, but also doesn’t want the kid to do something problematic.

It’s important to have a primarily discussion-based relationship with your spouse and your kids. It’s also good to have with your closest friends. You should be able to do some rational problem solving with some people in your life instead of just working within the limits of the other person’s rules.

Your spouse is someone you choose. You should choose someone you can talk with and share some criticisms and arguments with. Being able to share thoughts like that enables improvements, optimizations and solutions that aren’t available in boundary-based relationships.

Your closest/best friend(s) are also people you choose. In some ways, your spouse should be like your very best friend. Again, you should choose people that you can actually discuss issues with.

Your kids don’t have a choice but to deal with you. And you chose to have kids. So you should be willing to listen to them and talk with them.

With other people, discussion-based relationships can be nice. But they often aren’t really available or won’t work. And that can be OK. You don’t have to have rational discussions with your in-laws, your extended family, or even with your parents once you’re an adult with your own home and income. Although it’s important that there can be some rational discussion at work, you can mostly respect people’s boundaries and limit the rational discussion to impersonal decision making that matters to the business (e.g. how to design a product). A lot of lower level employees at larger companies don’t get to have any input or discuss things – they’re treated in a boundaries-based way and the people above them don’t want to discuss stuff – but that kinda sucks. It’s better if you find a job where your thoughts are valued more instead of ignored.

On online forums, a lot of people expect to use boundaries for how people treat each other, and only discuss some impersonal topics like philosophy or politics. I don’t like that. I want unbounded discussion so that all problems can be solved, instead of putting some limits on how progress can be made. I think that kind of forum should exist and it’s broadly not available elsewhere. If you want more limited discussion, you can go use some other forum besides mine (there are plenty) or you can make a request about what you want in a specific topic. I did also make an Unbounded forum category and I follow more assumed boundaries in the other categories (e.g. I bring up meta issues less, and might ask for consent first if I do want to bring one up), and that’s been working OK.

Note: I don't generally actually want to discuss people personally. That's not the boundary I typically care about. What I often do want to discuss is discussion methodology and/or learning methodology. I often want to criticize how people organize (or don't try to organize) discussions, or ask about their plans for making progress. Stuff like that, which I think is highly relevant, important and productive – and it also involves philosophical issues (it's some of the same issues I'd write essays about or discuss purely abstractly). I also sometimes want to discuss people being biased or dishonest, or doing social climbing behaviors, when I think those things are relevant and harming a discussion; boundaries which disallow those topics can prevent success at discussion goals.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Beware Jordan Peterson

Quotes are from I was Jordan Peterson’s strongest supporter. Now I think he’s dangerous from 2018 by Bernard Schiff.

Google the title to dodge the paywall.

Schiff was a big Jordan Peterson (JBP) fan but is now a critic. Schiff says he's the main reason Peterson got hired at University of Toronto:

My colleagues on the search committee were skeptical — they felt he was too eccentric — but somehow I prevailed. (Several committee members now remind me that they agreed to hire him because they were “tired of hearing me shout over them.”) I pushed for him because he was a divergent thinker, self-educated in the humanities, intellectually flamboyant, bold, energetic and confident, bordering on arrogant. I thought he would bring a new excitement, along with new ideas, to our department.

He joined us in the summer of 1998. Because I liked him, and also because I had put myself on the line for him, I took him under my wing. I made sure he went up for promotion to associate professor the following year, as the hiring committee had promised, and I went to the dean to get him a raise when the department chairperson would not.

JBP and his family lived with Schiff, on a floor of Schiff's house, for 5 months, while renovating.

I have not paid attention to JBP since before his brain damage from the detox coma in Russia. I did see his Twitter ban recently. His admitted lack of self-control over his own Twitter usage is highly problematic because he claims he can help others get their lives in order but apparently he's bad at managing his own life. A friend sent me this article.

re JBP's university lectures:

... Jordan presented conjecture as statement of fact. I expressed my concern to him about this a number of times, and each time Jordan agreed. He acknowledged the danger of such practices, but then continued to do it again and again, as if he could not control himself.

says JBP is dishonest:

[JBP] made the claim that he could be jailed when, at worst, he could be fined.

In his defence, Jordan told me if he refused to pay the fine he could go to jail.

I don't agree with Schiff about everything:

Calling Marxism, a respectable political and philosophical tradition, “murderous” conflates it with the perversion of those ideas in Stalinist Russia and elsewhere where they were. That is like calling Christianity a murderous ideology because of the blood that was shed in its name during the Inquisition, the Crusades and the great wars of Europe. That is ridiculous.

But some is concerning, including JBP's opposition to any ethical review of his psych research and:

This past March, Pankaj Mishra wrote in The New York Review of Books an informed and thoughtful critique of 12 Rules for Life , provocatively titled “Jordan Peterson and Fascist Mysticism.” Jordan’s immediate response was a flurry of angry, abusive, self-righteous tweets, some in response to Mishra’s questioning Jordan’s induction into an Indigenous tribe by referring to it as a “claim.”

Jordan called Mishra a “sanctimonious prick,” “an arrogant, racist son of a bitch,” “a peddler of nasty, underhanded innuendo,” said “fuck you” and expressed a desire to slap him. (As it turns out Jordan had not been inducted into that tribe, and his publisher removed references to the claim in promotional materials [...])

Jordan is seen here to be emotionally explosive when faced with legitimate criticism

Worse:

Shortly after Jordan’s rise to notoriety back in 2016, I emailed him to express my upset with his dishonesty and lack of intellectual and social integrity. He called in a conciliatory voice the next morning. I was reiterating my disappointment and upset when he interrupted me, saying more or less the following:

“You don’t understand. I am willing to lose everything, my home, my job etc., because I believe in this.” And then he said, with the intensity he is now famous for, “Bernie. Tammy had a dream, and sometimes her dreams are prophetic. She dreamed that it was five minutes to midnight.”

That was our last conversation. He was playing out the ideas that appeared in his first book. The social order is coming apart. We are on the edge of chaos. He is the prophet, and he would be the martyr. Jordan would be our saviour. I think he believes that.

and

He is a biological and Darwinian determinist. Gender, gender roles, dominance hierarchies, parenthood, all firmly entrenched in our biological heritage and not to be toyed with. Years ago when he was living in my house, he said children are little monkeys trying to clamber up the dominance hierarchy and need to be kept in their place. I thought he was being ironic. Apparently, not.

and

“You have an evil heart — like the person next to you,” she quotes him as telling a sold-out crowd. “Kids are not innately good — and neither are you.”

and

Jordan’s inflammatory understanding of male violence for which “the cure ... is enforced monogamy” ... is shocking.

One potential aspect of JBP is that people and companies tend to get worse as they get mass popularity. Why? Most people change to become more like their social group including fans. And they usually only get mass popularity if they are willing to change some to be like their fans. And the masses are worse than the early adopters or niche nerds.

Disclosure: Years ago I watched and liked some of JBP's university lectures, particularly the interpretation of myths/stories including Lion King and Pinocchio. I read some Gulag Archipelago at JBP's recommendation (it's pretty good, though dark). I also noticed and publicly criticized some significant JBP flaws. I disliked 12 Rules for Life.

I'll leave you with a reminder: this was a 2018 article. JPB is worse now.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Caffeine Is Bad

I recently made a forum thread warning people against drugs, especially brain-affecting, addictive drugs, including caffeine.

https://discuss.criticalfallibilism.com/t/caffeine-drugs-food-additives-and-inadequate-civilizations/1390

I've got a few things stuff to say about it:

Do you know what caffeine does to you?

It's not very hard to look up information or read a book.

https://adrenalfatiguesolution.com/caffeine-adrenal-glands/

Each time you drink a cup of coffee, neurons send messages to your pituitary gland which in turn alerts your adrenals to pump out adrenaline and cortisol. In short; caffeine instantly puts you into fight or flight mode. If you’re drinking several cups a day, it’s likely your whole nervous system is on constant red alert without you even knowing it.

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1356551/

Caffeine is the most widely consumed central-nervous-system stimulant. ... decreases ... cerebral blood flow ... Caffeine activates noradrenaline neurons and seems to affect the local release of dopamine. Many of the alerting effects of caffeine may be related to the action of the methylxanthine on serotonin neurons. ... The effects of caffeine on learning, memory, performance and coordination are rather related to the methylxanthine action on arousal, vigilance and fatigue. Caffeine exerts obvious effects on anxiety and sleep ... The central nervous system does not seem to develop a great tolerance to the effects of caffeine although dependence and withdrawal symptoms are reported.

Caffeine screws with your body a lot, including specifically your brain. Why would it be good? What knowledge-creating process would have designed it so those effects were beneficial?

And basically every other drug is problematic and should be avoided without having a compelling reason to use it. Why would caffeine be the exception?

You guys know that all the pain killer drugs are harmful, right? If you're in pain it's fine to take some, but they're bad for you and taking them chronically is dangerous. They have downsides.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK202225/

Caffeine is a psychostimulant with the same central effects as the classical nervous system psychostimulants cocaine and amphetamine

You think cocaine and amphetamine are bad, so why are you taking caffeine?

https://wellbeingpole.com/caffeine/

Among [caffeine's] most frequent adverse effects we can find:

  • Irritability
  • Acidity
  • Nervousness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Palpitations
  • Tremors in the limbs
  • Increased urination
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle pain
  • Insomnia
  • Sleep disorders

But people take lots of it without concern or research?

Caffeine and adenosine have a similar molecular structure. So when caffeine is present in the brain, it competes with adenosine to bind to the same receptors. Normally, adenosine would cause drowsiness and slow neuronal activity, but since caffeine blocks the receptors that generally work with adenosine, the effect is the opposite, causing neurons to be stimulated and more active than usual.

It's a bad idea to disrupt your normal, evolved brain functioning unless you have a really good idea of what you're doing (which you don't) or a huge problem that makes it worth the risk (e.g. brain surgery is worth the risk if the alternative is dying).

According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), approximately 90 percent of the world’s population ingests some form of caffeine.

It's not that hard to look up coffee/caffeine being bad if you ignore the propaganda in favor of it and read what it actually does. I haven't paid much attention to it because I don't drink coffee and don't have a lot of exposure to people who do. Apparently like 80+% of Americans are addicted to caffeine though!? Estimates vary. This estimate says 90% of the world. jeez.

You might claim a lot of caffeine usage is tradition dating back before modern science. Maybe that accounts for a fair amount of that world wide usage. I don't know what caffeine usage is like in China or India today. Some traditional usages might be OK or only mildly bad; I don't know; but I bet they involve a lot less caffeine. I'm pretty confident, with no research, that drinking several cups of coffee a day is not a 1000+ year old tradition. They've been destroying the rain forests to mass produce this coffee. It's a huge, fairly modern industry that has put a ton of work into mass producing this drug and selling it to you in order to make money. Part of the industry is a product of modern wealth. Traditionally, people could not afford Starbucks; that's a post-industrial-revolution thing that has come along with mass-produced factory food in general (which I broadly think has some problems, btw).

Do you think the people running the coffee industry are more ethical than the people making mobile games with predatory monetization? Are they more ethical than the people who run cigarette companies? Don't trust them and their biased, self-serving propaganda aimed at getting people addicted in order to get their money.

Brain-Affecting Drugs and Philosophy

People try to learn philosophy. They get stuck. I try to brainstorm how/why they're stuck and how to help. They sometimes try or pretend to try to brainstorm what's going on too.

Meanwhile they're on drugs and they aren't disclosing that!? Maybe that's why they're stuck!

I know drinking coffee is widespread and normal, so that'd be a reason not to mention it. But brainstorming for why you're struggling with unconventional philosophy should include some conventional, normal things. Part of the idea, which my fans (even stuck ones) are well aware of, is that some normal stuff is actually bad.

Plus I did tell everyone 5 years ago that I think coffee is bad. So not disclosing coffee drinking after that is problematic.

Should I have known how popular coffee is? Partly I'm isolated and not around much coffee drinking by others. I've heard of it but I don't drink coffee, I rarely visit coffee shops, and I don't go to the office in the morning to see most of my coworkers drinking coffee. I talk with people online but many of them seem to hide information about their personal lives as a general policy, which includes their coffee drinking. So it's partly not just an accident – not mentioning coffee can be part of a broader attempt to hide information about what they might be doing wrong. If some would-be students had hours of screencast video of their attempts at learning activities with webcam, or even without cam, it might have revealed a bunch of coffee drinking for at least one person which could have led to the issue being raised more prominently so everyone else noticed and had no excuse to say "I didn't know you think coffee is bad".

But that's not even the main issue regarding it being hard for me to guess who is drinking how much coffee. The main issue is that my fans are self-selected. Even if 90% of the population does something dumb, it's still possible that under 10% of my fans do it. Or at least under 10% of the active posters, who are even more self-selected. For example, being religious is widespread but I'm not aware of any active posters being religious, and I don't think that I should guess posters are religious when they don't specify. If someone was hiding being highly religious from me, I'd think that was bad behavior and a relevant issue to their perspective on philosophy. And I'd consider it unreasonable to say I should have known that maybe they were religious since religion is so common. Similarly, a lot of people believe in superstitions like ghosts or astrology, or believe dumb stuff like UFOs and alien visits, or believe conspiracies like that 9/11 was an inside job. But I don't expect such things from the people on my forums.

I now realize more that a ton of people, even very "rational" type people, think being addicted to brain-affecting drugs is OK. I thought they'd value their brain highly and be more protective of it. And, again, I have brought this up before. And maybe most of the forum posters don't drink coffee (or energy drinks and other caffeine sources)? Not many people actually said. But a few admitted to being caffeine addicts (and defended/rationalized that) and now I'm concerned that a bunch of other people are too.

I think approximately everyone does know not to have drunk conversations with me and act like they are trying to learn while hiding that they're drunk. Same with being high on marijuana.

But they might not disclose that they smoked pot yesterday, had one or two beers earlier today before posting, or used some nicotine today. Those things are bad too. Not disclosing coffee is more like that. Being drunk while posting would be more extreme and more unreasonable. But from a rational/logoical perspective, the difference is quantitative not qualitative. It's less bad by degree to only have one beer instead of being drunk, but it's the same kind of thing. Beer makes it harder for you to think straight. So do coffee, nicotine and pot.

More or less every other drug is problematic too. All the painkillers are problematic to take long term. Hormonal birth control is problematic. All the psych drugs, anxiety drugs, sleep drugs, etc. The big distinction to make is whether it's a mind-affecting drug or not.

Caffeine is mind-affecting. Tylenol may be bad for your body if you take it regularly (and a tiny bit bad to take it even once, but that isn't a serious concern), but to a reasonable approximation it doesn't affect your thinking. It screws with other parts of your body. Whereas caffeine goes into your brain and binds with receptors there (which prevents some normal binding from happening). Caffeine affects and prevents the regular functioning of your brain, rather than just your liver, heart, kidneys or something like that. (Caffeine also has some non-brain effects, but those kinds of effects, whether from caffeine or anything else, are significantly less relevant to philosophy learning.)

Basically, any brain or mind affecting drug is a relevant problem for philosophy learning. If you're getting stuck, that could be part of your problem. Any drug considered calming or anti-calming may be mind-affecting. Any drugs with (or alleged to have) a positive or negative effect on anxiety, or on any emotion or psychological state, could be mind-affecting. (Some stuff is placebo or inaccurate reputation instead.) This is not a perfect distinction, and drugs often have complex effects throughout your body, but you should be somewhat wary of all drugs, and especially wary of brain-affecting drugs. Any drug where affecting your brain is one of the main effects it does is especially concerning.

I feel kinda like I have to police people's entire lives or they'll just massively sabotage their philosophy learning. But that isn't my job, nor my place, and I don't want to do it. Plus they put work into preventing me from policing their lives. They don't regard that as help and don't want it – at least that's how they often act regardless of what they say. If they really seriously wanted help then, among many other things, they'd post hours of raw video of their learning activities and samples of other stuff in their lives. Which is something I've absolutely brought up before repeatedly and everyone just ignores me and doesn't want to do it or talk about it or talk about why they won't do it, etc.

Half-Life

Also, caffeine has a half-life. People sometimes say stuff like it wears off or leaves your system after 12 hours. It doesn't. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7361718/

The half-life of caffeine for healthy people varies. It's commonly in the 3-6 hour range. Suppose it's 5.33 hours for you. You wake up, drink 4 cups of coffee instantaneously, and go to bed 16 hours later. That's the same as drinking half a cup of coffee immediately before bed. Three half lives passed after drinking the coffee, so the amount of coffee in your system is reduced by half three times, going from 4 cups to 2 to 1 to 1/2 a cup of coffee.

There are a lot of people who drink 5+ cups of coffee per day, and some of them keep drinking it in the afternoon or even the evening (e.g. an after-dinner coffee). Some of those people also get caffeine from other sources like tea, soda or chocolate. Some other pepole drink little or no coffee but drink lots of "energy drinks".

Also a "cup" of coffee is misleading and refers to roughly 100mg of caffeine. A lot of coffee drinks have more like 200mg and some have over 300mg. A coke is more like 30mg. Mainstream authorities currently commonly say that over 400mg in a day may be harmful.

The result is a lot of people go to bed with half a "cup" (50mg) or more caffeine still active in their body.

Repetitive Conclusion

Here's some conclusion that I wrote before some of the explanation above so it's kinda repetive now:

If you're trying to be a good thinker and learn stuff, while taking mind-effecting drugs, we don't have full knowledge of all the detailed effects, but you're presumably sabotaging yourself. I now suspect this contributes significantly to the difficulty I have explaining stuff to people or getting reasonable answers from them in debates or discussions. I think people have mistreated me by having low quality discussions and then not disclosing a contributing factor: that they were taking caffeine or other relevant drugs. Being sleep deprived is a similar issue which I fear is another widespread form of philosophical sabotage.

I've been trying to brainstorm why people get stuck and none of them bother to mention to me that they're on drugs.

It's kinda like if people were trying to have conversations with me while drunk and didn't disclose that they were drunk. I think a lot of readers would find that example pretty bad and see my point about how that would be mistreating me. Doing the same thing with caffeine, sleep deprivation, other drugs or smaller doses of alcohol is also unreasonable in a similar way to doing undisclosed drunk conversations. It's the same issue qualitatively, just less bad as a matter of degree, but still bad.

Also, caffeine is surprisingly under-researched scientifically.

Quitting

Fire replied to this article and it sounded like he wants to quit caffeine cold turkey (meaning abruptly, all at once, just immediately start entirely avoiding caffeine). I replied:

Quitting addictive drugs cold turkey is often not the best approach. If it works for you, cool. But don’t stress too much if it doesn’t and don’t try too hard to force it with a ton of will power.

It can be better to taper the dosage down.

It can be better to do non-judgmental introspection, and pay attention to what using the drug is like, so that you understand it better, before trying to quit.

It can help to do research like reading books before quitting (or during a quitting process that takes weeks or months) so you know what you’re doing more and are more sure about your conclusion. You wouldn’t want to try to quit then change your mind when you get a new piece of information, then change your mind again when getting another new piece of information, etc. The Caffeine Blues book looks OK. I like Allen Carr’s Easy Way To Stop Smoking – some of the ideas in it would help (like anti-willpower stuff) but it’s about the wrong drug so some wouldn’t. (EDIT: Carr also has a book on quitting caffeine that I haven't read. He also has books on some other similar topics like alcohol and eating problems.)

It can help to be familiar with other people’s stories and experiences so you know what to expect and can be more confident of your conclusion about how to run your life and your method for achieving that. Talking with other people can help too like Alcoholics Anonymous and other IRL meetups or online forums. Reddit has stuff like https://www.reddit.com/r/decaf/


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Restating Opposing Views; Charity in Debates

Fights, Games, and Debates by Anatol Rapoport (1960), p. 289 (btw I read 285-309 based on a lead from a different, better book):

The reciprocal task has been proposed as the foundation of ethical debate, namely, the task of stating the opponent's case as clearly and eloquently as possible (99).

There are reasons I find this difficult or problematic.

One is my standards of clarity and eloquence (and elegance, simplicity, generality, etc.) are often higher than my opponent. This leads to asking clarifying questions because his own presentation is inadequate and unclear. Or it leads to guessing what he means and making up parts of his position myself. More broadly it leads to me changing things.

And regardless, if I only repeated back his exact words, he wouldn’t think I understood him. So changing things is a necessary part of this task.

But when you change things, people often don’t like it. Even if it’s objectively better, they may think it’s worse. They will feel understood only if they like the changes (and don’t recognize substantive additions, even ones they like). What does that require? Cultural affinity. Rapport. Knowing and pandering to (or genuinely fulfilling) their values. etc. It requires some knowledge of their psychology and values.

Making their position clearer often makes some flaws more apparent. They never say anything that reveals those flaws so clearly and they dislike it when I do. They want me to make statements about their position which are less clear in some ways.

I often find it hard to state people’s positions when those positions are illogical. And they won’t be satisfied if my statement of their position makes the illogic very clear. They want me to give arguments from their perspective about why it is actually logical, rather than give my own opinion. OK but how when none of their arguments make sense?

There is a trick to talking like they do and glossing over certain issues, which is developed by exposure to their subculture. But learning that trick is quite a different thing than merely listening to their reasoning and debating statements and understanding what they said. Being able to satisfactorily pose as one of them, by having or imitating the same blind spots, is a huge and unreasonable burden to ask of debate partners. And no one does ask for that openly. They merely ask you to state their position in a way which is acceptable to them. And then they don’t analyze what that means, in general, or how it’s problematic. It sounds so reasonable to people but I’ve never seen them analyze it further.

Similarly the “principle of charity” and “steelmanning” (opposite of strawmanning) is popular among rationality-oriented people but I never see them do any analysis of the major difficulties with it. If someone says something that you think is wrong in all reasonable interpretations, then what is the charitable interpretation?

Similarly, the Rapoport book seems to think listening and understanding others is great and a big improvement over what people usually do. And that may well be so. But to me it’s basic and I have experience running into more advanced problems like understanding people too well and having too much insight into their flaws and contradictions. Part of the problem is they don’t like it. And part is that they don’t understand it. If you know more about them than they do, then you know stuff that they don’t, so they have to learn new things in order to understand what you’re talking about. This stuff works better when you’re on a similar intellectual level with the other guy, and also you were ignorant so you can just listen and find out some ideas you didn’t know before, and then you state them to show that you now know what they are instead of still not knowing. For simplistic people that’s pretty good and way better than many alternatives. But at a deeper level with more powerful thinking abilities, part of that is just basic stuff that should be taken for granted (of course one understands first and then engages with statements in the discussion rather than not listening) and part actually doesn’t work well.

People have demanded of me that I express their position but those same people are unsympathetic to me saying things like: “I have been unable to find any literature on your side which expresses your position in a reasonable way and I don’t know how to fix it to be reasonable; I think it’s wrong. What literature do you endorse?” In their minds, that doesn’t seem to qualify as properly listening, even though often part of what’s going on is that I’ve read more of their side’s literature than they have, and I know more about their side than they do.

Whenever I talk to inductivists, for example, I always want them to state their position and take a clear position, and I find them very ignorant of what induction is and unable to present any clear epistemological position. And when I try to state their position for them, I can successfully give an inductivist position, but I have no way to give theirs specifically since there is so much variation in inductivist positions, as well as dishonest goal-post moving (they might deny something is their position and adjust their position if my clear explanation starts revealing flaws in it or merely makes it seem vulnerable by being too well defined without enough wiggle room.)

How do you charitably explain someone’s position when part of their position is to dishonestly use ambiguity to sabotage debate? How do you charitably state someone’s position when a major part of their position is irrational strategies for entrenching bad ideas against criticism? They will think it’s very uncharitable to believe that about them, but what is the alternative? To think they are doing it on purpose, maliciously? That’d be more uncharitable. They want me to conclude that they are good and rational, but that position is sometimes not honestly available to me given my best effort at objective analysis. And they hate that and don’t want to talk with me because I’m too insightful and my reasons for my conclusions, that they find threatening, are too compelling, reasonable, objective, logical, detailed, etc.

As I’ve gotten better at debate, at understanding people, etc., I’ve found a lot of dishonesty, evasion, vagueness on key issues, and other problems. And they want me to just ignore that – ignore the reasons I see the discussion failing – and help them keep up pretenses.

They want me to state their position, and make it coherent, and make it not wrong. They don’t want me to clearly nail down their position and then refute it. Even if they agree that I stated their position correctly, they’ll usually try to walk that back after I refute what I stated. They will suddenly realize, when my version is clearly false, that it doesn’t match their position at all… They will start making ad hoc modifications to their position, moving the goal posts, etc.

That doesn’t happen every time. But one of the major factors is their social comfort: having rapport with them, them being in a situation where they feel threatened by potential loss of social status, them not feeling attacked, etc. Getting good reactions depends a lot on that problematic stuff, not just on listening or being logical. But even saying that is kind of an accusation that the other guy is not logical, pursues social status, etc., which they might take as offensive, threatening and uncharitable, even if it’s true.

Similarly, Rapoport talks about stating conditions under which the opponent’s position is correct and I’d agree with it (stating its region of validity). These can be real situations or just hypothetical ones. On what premises would I agree with them? And that makes sense when everyone has flawed compromise positions and you can (or should be able to) see some merits to the other side too. But what about when I think I have decisively correct ideas which are already optimized for all cases? Then any deviation is just bad.

I already aimed to take into account all the standard views and make something strictly better. So compared to one standard view, I can give their other standard view some credit for having some merits. But compared to my more sophisticated view, that already considered and learned what it could from all standard views, I can’t give their standard view any credit – it’s just strictly worse in all ways as far as I know (if that wasn’t my best understanding, I’d have a different position so that it would be the case – I choose positions so it’s the case).

The only premises on which I’d accept their view are (in my opinion) false, and often quite severe/drastic/weird/unintuitive like epistemology would have to be different which could mean changing the laws of physics so information processing is different and then if you do that in the right way – so you can throw out our current logic and concepts like true and false – then one of their ideas would work. It’d have to be a just so story though. That vast majority of large changes to physics would make their view incoherent. But if the change to physics is designed just right, it could make their idea happen to work. You could look through millions of different laws of physics until you find one where their position gets lucky and accidentally works well. They won’t appreciate that kind of charity though (and it isn’t really charitable to think they are “right” in some special cases of that nature – it’s just disagreeing with them and considering them wrong).

Rapoport says debates fail a ton because people won’t listen to each other. And that’s true. But I listen and people often don’t like it. They don’t want me to ask clarifying questions that they can’t answer which reveal they don’t have a clear view of their own position. They don’t want me to understand their position, their motive, their relevant psychological flaws, their errors, their defense mechanisms, etc. And they don’t want to talk about all that either. They get angry and defensive if I point some of that stuff out. Often they have little understanding of themselves, and little ability to reason, so they can’t even tell if I’m right. But they want to keep up a pretense of having great self-knowledge.

There is a widespread belief that people’s statements about their own psychology have strong authority and should be accepted basically without question. It’s also widely believed that knowing things about the psychology of others is very very hard and it’s arrogant to try. So then they think I’m being unreasonable to form an opinion about what’s going on in their head when we debate. Then they make a statement flatly contradicting me and they think that settles it and proves me wrong. But they don’t give an argument and don’t understand how to objectively analyze their mental states or how to provide evidence about their mental states which differs from their conclusions or opinions and is instead more raw and appropriate to analyze.

What do they want me to do? Not form a mental model of them when we talk? Not have any empathy or consider their feelings, motives or unstated reasoning at all? Not say any meta discussion? I’ve tried those things too and I’ve found that people hate it. They want me to make some meta statements and to have some mental model of them including their ideas and interests. A lot of what they are asking for with listening, charity, etc., is that I do pay attention to them, understand their ideas, mentally model them instead of not understanding their perspective, etc. But they want me to do all that and then agree with them.

They think that if I mentally model them and listen then I’ll see they’re right.

If I do that stuff – listen, mentally model them well, be charitable, etc – and reach a different conclusion, like that they’re wrong, that’s extra threatening. The better I listen and be fair and objective, the more insulting it is when I conclude that they’re wrong. Especially if I conclude they’re fully, decisively wrong instead of having some good points that can work with a few modifications. The more rational and high quality my analysis, the more threatening my continued disagreement with them is. The better a listener I am, the worse it is for them if I still think they’re wrong (and it’s even worse if I think it’s a big deal which is harming their life, rather than an irrelevant, minor issue).


Another thing people do is claim it’s boring for you to state their case correctly. Why bother stating obvious truths that they already know? For example, on HBL (an Objectivist group), I wrote some arguments against Popper before advocating CR ideas. No one later said “Since you do see flaws in Popper, we’ll take it seriously when you agree with some of his ideas”. No one praised or appreciated my rationality. Instead they got confrontational. Why bring up Popper? We already hate him. Why talk about him? He’s out-group. They didn’t use those words but they didn’t like my rational criticism of Popper. And I guess rational criticism of Popper is not their position. They never do it… They never point out real flaws in accurate quotes of Popper’s writing. Their real position is that Popper should be flamed and stigmatized, and that one shouldn’t ever listen to what Popper said and engage with it, not even to critique Popper’s errors. They don’t hide their prejudices very well. But they did pretend to agree with and be bored by some of my criticism – not see the point – rather than recognizing it as analysis that they’d never do, which they dislike because it’s not hostile enough towards Popper since it merely refuted some of his errors objectively.


Rapoport talks about an English speaker who helped a Russian with a speech (keep in mind that this book came out in 1960). The Russian said that Russia wants only peace but when he said it he sounded very hostile and aggressive. She coached him to say it in a different tone. Rapoport thinks this is wonderful. I think it’s dangerous to help war-mongering liars fool more people. It’s problematic to tell them how to lie more effectively. She didn’t merely listen to and understand his case. Rapoport thinks she helped him state his case most effectively. But he isn’t analyzing deeply. There are different types of effectiveness. She didn’t help him use logic more effectively. She helped him be more effective at lying.


Helping people use logic and reason more effectively, to help them make their cases better, works in a short term, local way. But if you do it too well, as I strive to, then global optima matter. Ultimately, if they are wrong and take the issues seriously and pursue it with high standards, then they will conclude they are wrong. They may think logic is on their side, but the more extensive the analysis done, the harder it may be for them to keep thinking that. As your logical reasoning is more powerful and developed, and takes into account more issues, you can go from an ally who is helping them be more logical to someone who is challenging their conclusions.

If they’re wrong, helping them reason better ultimately won’t lead to them making the case more effectively but to them changing their mind (or irrationally refusing to). This counters the goal of being on their side (on the side of their current conclusion, which they’re attached to).

I run into this. If I try to share all the logical analysis I know starting from their premises, I end up concluding they are wrong. I can go through the process from their perspective involving rationally changing their mind. But they just interpret that as an especially effective, scary attack, not as something they want to listen to that shows I listened to them. The problem is I used charitable premises and logic, but their real views are irrational, so the process of mind changing I wrote down won’t work for them. They will not change their mind like that. But they should. So it reveals they’re bad and they’re wrong (or lying) about what their premises are, their commitment to rationality, etc. It ends up being a debate about whether they are flawed. But I don’t know how to dumb down my analysis so they’ll reliably like it and keep them consistently liking it even as I progress the discussion to point out some of their errors and ways they should change.

People don’t like it when you’re super reasonable, a super good listener, and you show how their premises and points lead to your conclusions, not theirs. Unless they decide to actually change their mind. But they often don’t. And whether they are willing to change their mind generally depends on things other than what the truth is or how rational or good my analysis is.

I can try really hard to accommodate reasonable requests or concerns and reach a conclusion that doesn’t trample on or compromise anything good. Generally other people have nothing to add to that since their ideas are repetitive with other ideas I’ve encountered before (or sometimes thought of myself). But what I can’t accommodate is them being unreasonable and illogical. And they can’t and won’t just accept rational explanations. So we get stuck in a way that’s damning to them. So these debating techniques don’t work well and don’t fix things.

Broadly, generally, the issue is that the more I do rational things that should work and should get positive responses, the more it pressures people (who care about rationality or say they do) and makes me look better than them. The more I do all the right, rational things, the harder it is for them to come up with any excuses not to listen. So they fall apart. High quality rationality doesn’t leave space for them to keep having dumb views.

People want to be listened to, and interpreted charitably, because they think they will win. They think that the reason their arguments aren’t working is that other people don’t listen, are ignorant, are biased, are uncharitable, etc. If you do all the right things that they ask for, and still disagree with them, they often really, really hate it. It reveals to them what a fraud they are. It forces their rationalizing into overdrive. It gives them a big challenge to cope with when all they wanted was for you to change.


The book gets pretty silly and unrealistic. It says you can ~always find some region of validity for stuff people say. OK so far. And it gives various often-pedantic examples.

For example, if someone says paper is thick, you can agree that it’s thick compared to the sides of a soap bubble.

But the guy saying paper is thick probably never thought about soap bubbles… You’re partly agreeing with him in some technical sense but what you’re really doing is denying that paper is as thick as cardboard, and trying to insist on the usual view of paper, which you’re convinced is true. You aren’t listening to what he disagrees with the usual view about, or why. Rapoport is actually arrogant and a bad listener. He doesn’t take seriously that people get stuff wrong. He wants you to listen by finding some exception where their statement is true so you can grant them something. But that isn’t what they wanted or meant. They weren’t saying it because they know of that one exception while also agreeing that their statement is wrong in general. They made their statement because they like it in some kinda general way.

He gave an extended example with an arithmetic based on rotating dice in order to rescue some mathematical error as having a region of validity. But none of that shows any understanding of the perspective of the guy who is making a basic math error. It’s saying a bunch of stuff he doesn’t understand while also assuming the whole time that the actual thing he meant is false as he meant it. And without even acknowledging that you’re disagreeing with him and think he’s wrong. Instead you bizarrely try to agree with him about something he didn’t say, didn’t mean, and doesn’t understand. So you talk circles around him, and never inquire about what he really meant, and never explain why it’s wrong.

This stuff in the book from 1960 all reminds me of Less Wrong (LW) people. They seem like intellectual descendants of it (they aren’t the only ones, and also maybe there were other similar books that were more influential – I haven’t done any kind of comprehensive review of which books had a leadership role and which just repeated a trend). But LW lacks the intellectual leadership to go read old books to try to understand where their ideas come from. They are a disorganized community that does a poor job of citing its sources and influences, with some specific exceptions that they do credit like Bayes. And there’s no one in particular at LW to talk to about disagreements.

Part of the premise of this book, when it talks about debate, is that there are some people willing to talk. It’s all about what to say in a debate instead of the prior problem that people don’t want to have the conversation in the first place. Often they’d rather go debate someone else who agrees with them more or who they think they can beat. They don’t want to go through an elaborate procedure that requires them to try to understand my detailed and challenging views. Nor do they want to try to clarify their views to my satisfaction.

They don’t want me to ask too many questions about what they think. They don’t want me to show them up by taking their views more seriously than they do. (BTW Gigahurt said he liked that but in fact stopped talking with me.) They don’t want to face a bunch of hard, detailed questions. They want me to adopt their attitude of believing stuff with limited detail. They want me to adopt their low standards, not try to bring my standards to their position. Their low standards are idiosyncratic, inconsistent, illogical, unpredictable, etc., so even if I wanted to I could not adopt them without either a ton of questions they’ll hate or else a bunch of cultural assimilation over time. (Related to cultural assimilation – I remember being mocked at LW for mentioning that I had read HPMOR – a very long work, written by an LW leader, that is highly relevant for understanding and assimilating to LW culture.)

Another Rapoport book example is a man who says “black is white” and you’re supposed to agree regarding photographic negatives. But he wasn’t thinking of negatives, so with that response you aren’t listening and still have no idea what he meant or why he said it. Maybe he did want to shock or be contrarian (as Rapoport wanted to assume he didn’t, in the interests of charity). Maybe he’ll say “all colors are just light so it’s all the same” or “both have high contrast so they’re broadly equivalent – you can use either one and it doesn’t matter” or “both lack any real colors like green or blue. they’re perfectly neutral so they can’t actually be different. seeing them differently is an illusion of our eyes.” People often have dumb or weird ideas that are different than your attempt to rescue their position in some special case while continuing to deny it in general. You can’t know what he thinks without asking more and listening in a different way than Rapoport suggests.

Rapoport says it’s good to steer the discussion to organized analysis of contexts of validity. But that is threatening to people who didn’t take such things into account when forming their views, and who are going to consistently lose arguments when they do that kind of analysis with a clever intellectual. This is all a way to steer the debate to them losing while giving them some fake, pseudo credit/acknowledgment/sympathy but not really listening to what they actually meant. When you try to reinterpret their errors as some special case truths instead, you are not listening to them and are erasing their actual ideas from the conversation. This material is deeply insensitive, arrogant and condescending while presenting itself as being very nice, non-threatening, taking other people seriously and really listening, etc. This stuff is nasty. It helps experts and intellectuals put on a show of rationality and be mean to people and appear to win while seeming to be good listeners and kind people, etc., when they really aren’t.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Roe vs. Wade Overturned

Roe vs Wade was overturned today. I haven't read any articles; I just saw headlines. I don't want to get drawn into politics a bunch, but I do want to share some comments today, including criticism of adoption.

I'm pro-abortion.

Overturning Roe vs. Wade is going to be messy and cause a bunch of suffering. This is going to be bad, not good.

The politicians and judges doing this have the money/resources not to personally worry – they can fly their daughters to other states for abortions if necessary.

Many teens, young adults and poor adults have limited access to travel. Some won't make it to another state. (Some states, like Texas, are quite large, btw. E.g. San Antonio to Alburquerque is a 10 hour drive. That's not the worst case scenario, and New Mexico might make anti-abortion laws too.) Some girls will take risks, like hitch hiking, to travel.

In the 2016 election, I didn't think a Republican winning would result in Roe vs. Wade being overturned. I was wrong.

There are so many political issues where stuff is broken and urgently needs improvement. But instead we get this.

My vague understanding is the Federalist Society has had a lot of influence of Republican judge selection. If you want to figure out who to blame, they're a lead for research.

Adoption Is Trauma

One of the groups that lobbies for anti-abortion laws is the adoption industry. They want more babies to profit off of. And a bunch of couples want more babies for sale, particularly white babies. They are hoping more young white girls will take babies to term and then put them up for adoption so they, the adoptive parents, can have what they want. Most adoptive parents are primarily trying to satisfy their own preferences, not trying to help a kid. They hope and pray for other people to have bad experiences so they can get something they want.

Adoption is trauma. It's trauma for the child and for the mother. Even newborns are familiar with their mother – in the womb they heard her talk, heard sounds from her home, got used to her heartbeat and walking gait, and more. (I give some sources and quotes below.) Babies who come out of the womb don't want to be taken away from the caregiver they're familiar with (older children also predominantly want to stay with their caregivers). Surrogacy is traumatic for the baby too (and usually for the surrogate, I imagine). Purposefully, unnecessarily denying the baby breastfeeding is also bad. Keeping a newborn baby in a hospital bed for a few nights without a compelling medical need is also bad and traumatic (it's still traumatic with a compelling medical need – having a good reason can't make the baby like it better).

Adopted and Foster Kids Have Worse Statistical Outcomes

On an aggregate, societal level, outcomes from adoption are statistically worse than outcomes from parenting one's own child. Parents treat adopted and foster kids worse including sometimes "rehoming" them – deciding not to be their parent anymore and giving them to some other adults. Some "rehoming" is done on unregulated Facebook groups. It seems suspiciously like human trafficking and some of it leads to physical and sexual abuse (which happens to adoptees at higher rates in general).

Some children are only put up for adoption because the parent doesn't have enough money. The adoptive family then spends $25,000 or some other large amount on the adoption. If they'd just donated that money to the parents, then the parents could have kept their kid. If their goal was to help the kid, that would generally be more effective.

Sometimes the U.S. government pays a bunch of money to put a kid in foster care. They will pay foster families with monthly checks. But the only reason they were taking the kid away from their family is because of poverty. The parents weren't abusive or anything; they just failed to provide the kid with good enough material circumstances to satisfy social services. If the government gave the same amount of money to the parents and let them keep their kid, that would be clearly better for the kid, let the parents buy the things social services wanted, and cost the same amount. Doing nothing would often be better for the kid, too – poor, non-abusive parents are usually better than foster parents and taking away kids from poor people is a human rights violation. Also, foster parents sometimes are poor or they deprive foster kids of resources that they could afford.

Some kids get sent to many different foster families and live in some kind of group home or orphanage in between. The lack of stability or continuity is awful and being exposed to a bunch of living environments dramatically raises the chance that at least one is abusive.

Information About Newborns

Relinquishment Trauma: The Forgotten Trauma

Research has shown that babies in utero learn their mother’s characteristics. Characteristics include the sound of their mother’s voice and her olfactory signatures from the pregnancy[5][6]. The newborn child may become easily frightened and overwhelmed when the caretaker is not their first mother. The greater discrepancies between the adoptee’s prenatal and early life (sound of the mother’s heartbeat, language, sounds, facial features, smells, the personal gait of walking, level of activity) the greater stress on the child. When a child is not with their first mother day after day, the newborn frequently becomes anxious and confused causing the infant’s body to release stress hormones. Even newborns that are placed with the adoptive parent within days of their birth can feel traumatized.

TED Talk: What we learn before we're born

A study published last year found that from birth, from the moment of birth, babies cry in the accent of their mother's native language. French babies cry on a rising note while German babies end on a falling note, imitating the melodic contours of those languages.

I first saw anti-adoption information on TikTok where the hashtag #adoptiontrauma has 47 million views.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Analyzing Dishonest Ads

I've been paying more attention to marketing messages because Critical Fallibilism (CF) could use better marketing. Keeping things short is really important. Unfortunately, one of the common tactics I've seen for short, snappy marketing is dishonesty.

For example, I saw two ads from Aimchess. They're short and small. They each communicate a feature that a chess video viewer might want. But are they true?

THE ONLY CHESS TRAINER WHERE 10 MINUTES A DAY IS ENOUGH

That sounds nice. But it's kind of vague. Enough for what? Also, is it actually true that every other chess trainer requires more than 10 minutes per day? What makes Aimchess so much faster? (Or just slightly faster? Do some competitors require 11 minutes per day?)

Enough of something means you're satisfied. It means your goals are achieved. The dictionary says "as much or as many of something as required" which leaves open the question: required for what? For some goal. Typically that's either your goal or a goal specified in the sentence. Like "I don't have enough gas to get home" specifies the goal within the sentence. "Enough" is often modified with a prepositional phrase to tell us enough "for" what or enough "to" what.

So what goals is 10 minutes a day with Aimchess trainer claiming to be enough for? Your chess goals. They have to be reasonable, realistic goals. If you want to be the world's best player tomorrow, that isn't Aimchess' problem. But the advertised claim should work for people who are being reasonable.

What is a reasonable chess goal? One reasonable goal is something you could achieve using a different trainer, self-study or playing online practice games. If you can get a result using one of those other methods for an hour a day for a month, you should be able to get a similar result with Aimchess.

How fast should Aimchess deliver the same result? If they could do it in two months instead of one, they're still 3x faster in terms of total time spent. That's pretty good and seems reasonable.

If Aimchess needs six months instead of one, for the same total time spent, then I'd say they failed at their marketing promise. They were implying that you'd save time and reach your goal without waiting unreasonably long.

Where's the cutoff? That's hard to say precisely. If Aimchess needs three months instead of one, and half the total time spent training, that's actually a good product, but the ad would seem misleading to me.

Does Aimchess live up to their promise? No way. Tons of people have reasonable, achievable chess goals that they will not achieve using Aimchess for 10 minutes a day (plus playing chess however much you normally do, but no other training or study, and no extra practice games).

Is Aimchess fundamentally better than other trainers so you learn way faster? No. Is saying so fraud? Probably not. You're allowed to exaggerate in ads, like saying you have the "world's best burger". I'm not saying it's illegal false advertising or anything like that. But it's still somewhat dishonest. Or put another way, it's not maximizing honesty. They could be more honest if they tried.

And I'm not actually sure the ad is or should be legal. If you advertised that you were "the only burger joint with a value menu" you'd probably get sued by McDonalds. If you delete the word "only" from the ad then it'd be more normal exaggeration. With "only" it seems like it's lying about competitors (who do in fact make products that you can use for just 10 minutes a day to improve at chess).

Aimchess isn't being dishonest enough to stand out to most people. It's pretty normal. But I think people ought to improve their skill at noticing dishonesty. I think people would benefit from more critical thinking, more skepticism, more analysis of marketing messages, and more attention to what is honest or not. I wrote an article on lying and this article is also meant to help educate people about honesty.

That sort of exaggeration or relatively mild dishonesty is unsuitable for marketing CF philosophy because CF values getting details right and being extremely honest (much more than is typical). Most companies have no particular connection to honesty, so being mildly dishonest doesn't make them hypocrites. CF strongly advocates honesty so its marketing needs to very honest. CF's marketing shouldn't contradict its ideas.

GET PERSONALIZED LESSONS USING MISTAKES FROM YOUR OWN GAMES

I saw this second ad from Aimchess later in the same video. Is this true? I don't think so. I think I know what feature they're talking about and how it works. If I'm right, it's misleading to call it personalized lessons.

Chess software (called "engines") is significantly better at chess than humans are. After you play a game, you can put it into an engine and find out what better moves you and your opponent missed. You can go to a hard position and find out what you should have done. It's really useful (despite basically being the sort of predictive oracle criticized in The Fabric of Reality – chess engines do not provide conceptual explanations of why moves are good, they only say moves and numeric evaluations of who is winning by how much in a chess position).

This is great but it's readily available without paying for a chess trainer, and I doubt Aimchess is offering something subtantively more personalized than this. They might offer some extra features like finding patterns in your mistakes across multiple games (e.g. you make the most mistakes in the opening), but I wouldn't consider summary statistics a "lesson".

I think they're trying to make it sound similar to getting personal attention from a human teacher who teaches you lessons. But the product is actually just an impersonal algorithm.

Again this is pretty normal but there is some dishonesty here. Or in other words, they could definitely make it more accurate, non-misleading and honest if they tried. There's clearly some room to be more scrupulously honest.


I wrote the above without visiting Aimchess' website. Now I've checked the website. The website confirms that the product works how I thought it did. They're selling software, not attention from coaches. They say their software is better than studying with a chess engine because they have an algorithm that looks at summary statistics over multiple games. Their website has some more statements that are pretty similar to the ads, and some other statements that are clearer, but nothing super clear. They don't come out and directly say things like "you're buying software; no human will review your games" but there is some information that lets me be more confident it's just sofware. They say "we do X" or "Aimchess does Y" but they avoid saying "our software does X". Both "we" and "Aimchess" are terms that sound like they refer to people not software.

I also saw this which particularly stood out to me:

Why isn’t Aimchess Premium free?

Downloading all of your games and analyzing them with a high-depth engine isn’t cheap, so we have to charge you to pay for our costs. You can always use our standard free service to get lower-depth 40-game reports for free.

They're claiming the reason their service isn't free is because the compute power needed for it is expensive. They're trying to sound like they're a non-profit that's just charging enough to break even. They're lying. They look like a typical SaaS website (software as a service) charging a monthly subscription fee that's very high relative to the price of computing power. They're charging this money because they (reasonably) want to get paid for their work. What's expensive isn't the computations. It's having programmers write the software, as well as making the website, marketing the product, and doing customer service.

If they were charging to cover their costs, they wouldn't be able to give you a 40% discount for an annual subscription. Either the annual subscription is too low to cover their costs, or the monthly subscription is way higher than their costs. Realistically, the annual subscription price is way above their computing costs.

Also, if they were just trying to cover their cost from people's actual usage, why would they try to lock you into a year long contract? They're setting this up like gym memberships (and like other SaaSes) to try to make money from people who stop using their product but already paid in advance for many more months of service. In other words, they're trying to get paid by people when their cost of serving those people is zero since those people are not using the service anymore. If their goal was merely to pay for computing costs, they'd charge for actual usage or they'd let you cancel anytime.

I've seen this before where for-profit companies lie and try to sound like non-profits. They're doing it because non-profits and anti-capitalism are trendy. It's ironic because it exemplifies some of the common complaints against for-profit businesses: that they're short-sighted and dishonest. People hate X, so they lie and claim to be Y instead, but they're actually acting even more like X by doing that.


Hopefully this has been helpful for showing people an example of analyzing something from everyday life. I hope to inspire people to learn to notice and think about things like this routinely. I'd like people to go about life more thoughtfully and I try to teach skills to enable that. If you want to learn more from me, check out my Critical Fallibilism articles and videos.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Specialist Creators with Small Audiences

There are two basic ways that creators with small audiences get a larger audience that supports their work and provides significant value in return.

  1. They make stuff that appeals to a lot of people.
  2. They make stuff that super-appeals to a small audience.

For (2) to work, the audience has to care a lot more than for (1). They have to be happy that their niche is being served at all even though it isn’t very popular. It has to mean enough for them to take tangible actions and ignore minor negatives (e.g. typos, less professional audio quality, worse art, smaller community, the articles/videos impress their friends less, and worse marketing). Worse marketing means the audience has to do more work to see the value in stuff themselves instead of being told the value in words that are really easy for them to understand.

Fans in a small niche have to do stuff at much higher rates like:

  • share, promote
  • comment, discuss, engage
  • praise
  • pay money, donate
  • advocate for the creator
  • help with stuff (e.g. volunteer moderators, helping newbies, making a subreddit, making transcripts, making art)
  • ask questions
  • respond to polls, prompts or questions
  • click buttons such as like, favorite, subscribe, thumbs up, upvote
  • finish reading/watching articles/videos instead of stopping in the middle
  • read/watch older content instead of only paying attention to new releases
  • become invested in the creator and/or community
  • feel inspired and motivated without music, art, slogans or facecam

If they don’t do these things at higher rates, then the niche creator never gets a good deal (from other people, from the external world). He isn’t rewarded for serving that niche. He can’t get value from as many people, and he’s also not getting extra value per person. That means the people in that niche didn’t care all that much, even if they said they do.

For all creators, but especially niche creators, these positive behaviors are especially needed from early adopters. Getting started with little audience is hard and is helped by superfans who care a lot. As Ayn Rand put it in The Fountainhead:

Don’t despise the middleman. He’s necessary. Someone had to tell them. It takes two to make every great career: the man who is great, and the man—almost rarer—who is great enough to see greatness and say so.

If the early adopters for a creator serving a small niche don’t care much and don’t take action, then it doesn’t work. The niche can’t be profitably served, or it wants to be served in a different way. When people really highly value something that is not mass-produced and not readily available, then they act like it. If they don’t seem to care much, then they probably don’t really see much difference between the specialized content and some other more mainstream content, and they wouldn’t mind very much if they didn’t have the specialized content at all. Or they just don’t think this content is especially good. People often lie about how much they care because they like having the specialized content for free or very cheap, and they value it more than nothing. If they mislead a creator into thinking he’s more valued and appreciated than he is, so he expects rewards that don’t materialize, it can provide them with more opportunity to be leeches.

To be clear, lurkers are harmless; people who only care a little aren’t a problem; it’s people who lie that they care more than they do, and then take actions in conflict with their words, who are problematic.

As small, early audiences should have high rates of positive behaviors, they should also have have unusually low rates of negative behaviors. Negative behaviors include saying things that make the creator or his fans lose social status, being adversarial/hostile with the creator or with other fans, breaking rules, being toxic, being passive-aggressive, pushing discussion topics away from the creator’s niche, quitting/leaving, and breaking promises (e.g. implying you’ll follow up on a discussion topic, but then not doing it).

Some people don’t understand that content is specialized for a small niche audience, and what that means. Sometimes when they say they really love it, they mean they like it for an unspecialized thing, but they don’t actually like it much by the higher standards of a specialized thing. If you see it as slightly outcompeting mainstream content, that isn’t good enough – you aren’t a super fan or helpful early adopter. Creators for small niches cannot survive off being liked slightly more; that doesn’t make up for the downside of serving a small niche.

If an article or video gets 100k views, then if 99% of people do nothing that’s fine. 1% of people commenting or donating is 1k people. However, if it gets 100 views, it needs an engagement rate far above 1% or else the creator is simply being charitable. Small early-adopter audiences for specialist creators have to do things like share, donate, discuss, praise, help, etc., at much higher rates than audiences of popular creators do. If they don’t, they are signaling there’s no viable niche there, and that they shouldn’t be served.

It’s like how successful email newsletters have high rates of being opened and read early on (e.g. when they have 1k subscribers), and that goes down when they get to 100k subs. If you view a new, specialist creator as offering 10% higher value than a popular mainstream creator, then to a very rough approximation you will be 10% more likely to share links, post comments, etc., and 10% less likely to do negative behaviors. That isn’t even close to good enough. A new creator with a relatively small target audience needs positive behavior rates way above 1%. Getting 1.1% (from the average person liking it 10% more) won’t work – instead of 1.1% it needs to be more like 20%. Even a new creator with a huge target audience needs to start out with high positive behavior rates, e.g. 5%.

Good YouTube click through rates (CTR) provide another example:

  • Views below 1000 can have a CTR between 25% and 35%
  • Views between 10,000 to 20,000 can have a CTR between 18% and 25%
  • Views between 100,000 to 200,000 can have a CTR between 10% and 15%
  • Views above one Million can have a CTR between 2% and 5%

In other words, according to this article, videos below 1k views need roughly a 30% positive behavior rate to stand out and be successful. The drops to 22% by 15k views and 12% by 150k views. Past a million views, 2% can be mean things are working well. Those are good numbers that indicate success; average or typical numbers are lower.

These are loose numbers but the point is small/initial audiences should on average be significantly more positive than big audiences, and audiences for specialists should be significantly more positive, and with both at once (small audience and specialist content) there should be a lot more positivity. A fair amount of fans need to see a qualitative difference instead of just an incremental improvement. There need to be super fans and high rates of positive things in the broader audience too (excluding the super fans). If positivity rates are low early, there’s a big problem, because they are only going to get lower as the audience expands (early adopters are the best fit there’s going to be; growing the audience requires expanding to people whose preferences don’t fit the content as well).

Some audience members make excuses to themselves. One excuse is that they are busy – that almost always just means they are prioritizing other things, and don’t care all that much. If they don’t follow any other creators, don’t use social media, don’t play video games, and don’t read the news, maybe they really are busy. That’s rare. Broadly, everyone is pretty busy (even if they are busy watching YouTube rather than doing obligations), and creators have to compete for the attention of busy people. Every creator has audience members who are busy but choose to spend time on his stuff anyway.

Another excuse is people think they don’t know how to help with anything or they aren’t in a position to do anything. That’s not true. Anyone who appreciates stuff could leave positive comments regularly. They could also share stuff (basically everyone has friends and/or could figure out how join some relevant online communities that enable sharing like on Reddit, Facebook or Discord).

People also make excuses about barriers to entry. But if you highly value specialized stuff, then you would find ways to overcome barriers – happily, on your own initiative. If you don’t have initiative for anything then you just aren’t capable of highly valuing things. (Many people who are generally low-initiative suddenly do have some initiative when it’s actually very important to them – e.g. trying to get a spouse or job, or trying to fix some problem in their life that they regard as urgent.)

Another thing people do is: The creator makes X and Y. Some people say they like X a lot but act more like they like Y (e.g. they upvote it more). Often X is a more specialized thing (e.g. epistemology) and Y has broader appeal (e.g. political commentary) and is available elsewhere.

If an initial small audience has a bunch of excuses and isn’t engaged, then a larger audience in the future, if it ever happened, would be less engaged. But engagement wouldn’t have enough room to decline a normal amount with audience growth, and still exist. So basically a larger audience is impossible because if some growth somehow happens (e.g. using paid advertising) engagement would go down to near-zero and be too low for e.g. stuff to get shared enough. The bigger the audience you find, the less good the fit will be with them, and the more engagement and appreciation will drop.


Talking about these issues is unusual. It’s often counter-productive. People interpret it as desperation, as an admission of weakness and failure. And it leads to increased lying from moochers who are willing to pay with a few lies to try to get more “free” ice cream (usually this is done without conscious understanding of what they are doing or why, and without conscious knowledge that they have lied).

Some people exaggerate to try to flatter the creator in order to appease him, but don’t consider that dishonest.

Some people feel pressured and respond negatively (or short term superficially positively) – they don’t think they signed up to be asked to actually do anything so they resent it. But asking a public readership in general for something isn’t pressuring (e.g. if someone makes a GoFundMe, they aren’t pressuring you), and explaining a situation isn’t even asking.

Other people feel overwhelmed by the responsibility of trying to act like they value stuff (many people are bad at valuing anything and are unsuited to being early adopters or active members of a specialized community, but don’t admit that to themselves).

In general, if people highly value stuff, they will act that way naturally, without being asked/prompted. If you’re trying to explain to people what leaving positive comments on articles and videos is, and why to do it, then they just aren’t that into you (but those same people somtimes won’t admit to not being that into you). Having to ask (or bring it up without asking) is a bad sign and asking mostly doesn’t increase how much people genuinely value stuff.

Even though I’m a philosopher and writing about an issue like this is on-topic for me (unlike for most creators) – it’s the kind of thing I might write about even if it had zero relevance to my community – it still will be interpreted by some people (including some who deny it in their own minds) as low status, even though it’s an explanation not an ask (and a brief flurry of activity that dies off without explanation is not something I actually want anyone to do – I’m not asking for that; please don’t). Also a lot of rationalist people are like “I don’t care about status. Why are you even talking about status? Do you care about status? That is a you-problem.” But they do care a lot about status without realizing it, and it determines a lot of their behavior like whether they share links, buy stuff, spend time on stuff, etc.


Regarding my own community, I think a major problem is that most people (even of the relatively small group interested in rational philosophy) don’t actually want to put effort into improving themselves. The more I’ve moved to explaining pathways for progress – actions people can take to improve – the more I’ve seen people are mostly unwilling to actually do the work, practice stuff, and keep at it over time. And I think clarity about that drives people away, because some people liked to pretend to do that stuff, and it’s harder to pretend now.

I also started outclassing people at debate too much and they don’t actually value losing debates in clear, conclusive ways (that’s something I value highly but have nowhere to get).

I’ve also put long term effort into suppressing tribalist political posting and other tribalist behaviors, but lots of people want ingroups and outgroups to be biased about. There are various reasons for this like wanting to feel accepted/sanctioned (whereas I suggest they should actually put effort into learning stuff instead of expecting immediate praise just for joining the group). And having an outgroup gives people a way to write safe comments that won’t be wrong/refuted/unpopular (if they do get attacked, they’re likely to be defended by others, since they’re saying what most of the group thinks). One of the reasons people don’t post much at my forums is they don’t know what they can say without a risk of receiving criticism.

They also are unwilling to say they don’t want criticism and thereby appear irrational. Some people want me to sacrifice my integrity for them – pretend to do unbounded criticism while actually holding back most criticism, so they can appear highly rational. That’s a common mutual arrangement among “intellectuals”, but it’s bad, and I actually want to receive more criticism not less, so both parts of the arrangement are bad for me.

Anyway, a lot of people treat philosophy as entertainment or as a source of clever things to say (usually without giving adequate credit for where they got it), but they don’t really want to examine their life and put work into improving much. Also they see a lot of life in terms of social status without realizing it.

One solution to a bad early audience is to give up and make something else. Serve a niche that there’s more demand for. Another option is to find a different source of initial audience members to use (e.g. go recruit Goldratt fans). Another is to change how the content is presented and communicated (there could be misunderstandings). It’s possible with a small sample size that having a bad audience is bad luck, and things will improve by themselves over time as some new members join, but that’s uncommon.

Another option is just to ignore the audience – get money in a different way and create stuff as a (charitable) hobby (I’ve done a lot of this). Another option is to keep creating the same stuff but don’t share it publicly – just send it to friends or keep it for just yourself (I’ve done a lot of this too, e.g. I wrote a few books worth of material privately before I started posting regularly to the CF website).

I think my basic problem is that people don’t want rationality. There isn’t demand for it. But I’d rather do it anyway than change niches. I don’t think better marketing could fix this. It could bring in more people who claim to want rationality, but I think that would just lead to problems. The more I put effort into communicating clearly and offering practical, accessible actions people could take, the more I’d be in conflict with my own audience that wants to posture about rationality, and gain rationality-related social status, but doesn’t actually want rationality. I think I’m serving a niche that lacks demand but which people are particularly dishonest about.

Is that plausible? Consider the lack of any other creators or communities that are very rational. There’s no one else who has an audience I want if only I could somehow get their attention. No one else is having success at this (though a few pretend to). There’s no forum I can join to interact with other people with interests and values similar to mine. As usual, of course, these claims are open to debate and criticism – but note the non-existence of any website with high quality rational debates happening. While that is a thing many people say they want, there is no company or creator which has been able to serve that niche successfully.

See also Demand For Intellectual Discussion and the lack of productive discussion of Popper, Rand or Goldratt online. Or search the web for terms like debate online – none of the results appear to be both very rational and very successful (usually neither). And I’ve been asking people for leads on this kind of thing for years in case someone else had found something good, and none of my fans (or the groups or non-fans who I’ve asked) have ever shared anything good. It’s uncommon that anyone has even claimed to know of something good except sometimes the venue I’m asking at (e.g. at Less Wrong a lot of people think Less Wrong is good (including associated stuff like EA or SSC) but think everything else online is bad – and Less Wrong is actually bad). When people do claim to know of something good, it’s usually something I’m already familiar with and they (or any other advocate of it) don’t want to discuss or debate the flaws I identified with it.


I think community dynamics is an interesting topic and that these concepts are worth understanding like small early adopter audiences, rates of positive behaviors, and specialized niche content. It’s unintuitive to some people that specialized content require more demand (higher prices and other more positive reactions) to be viable. It doesn’t have to exist and be available at all (if it does exist, either some people value it highly and treat it as special, or its existence is charity). It’s similar to custom, hand-crafted physical products, which people often want at mass-production prices (they don’t seem to understand that that’s impossible – they have to be willing to pay a lot extra or they aren’t actually a viable customer base). The sellers often don’t understand this either, have the prices of mass-produced products anchored in their minds, and set prices too low (and often go out of business). To justify the existence of custom products that can’t be mass-produced and mass-marketed, there has to be enough demand for them at much higher prices than the typical mass-produced, mass-marketed products which people are familiar with. People who (economically) demand custom niche products at mass-market or slightly higher prices, but not at way higher prices, are not actually fans of those products, and are not the sort of customers who can keep the seller in business, though they sometimes don’t know this.

For a simple hypothetical example, if you’d be willing to buy my book for $10 (a normal mass-market price) but not $100 (a perfectly reasonable premium for a niche product) then you aren’t really my fan – you are not providing customer demand for my stuff at relevant price points. You don’t value my stuff enough for it to exist. A good fan would be not just willing but very happy to buy a book from me for $100 – the value to him is much higher than that and he’d be thrilled that the book exists at all.

I find it helpful to think about how I treat people I’m a fan of, and then compare behaviors of my fans to that. I was a superfan of David Deutsch and, at that time, I would have viewed a new book by him (or video courses or other format of his choice) as pretty much priceless. I also shared and promoted his work a huge amount, and gave a huge amount of feedback/replies.

Recently, I’ve promoted much more mainstream and popular creators than myself (like Stark, Stoller, Pueyo, Yglesias and various YouTubers) much more than any of my fans promote me. They aren’t perfect but they make some things that I think are good enough to share. And they do a somewhat reasonable job of not pretending to be something they aren’t; flaws are much more tolerable when they aren’t denied or lied about. Another example: there are plenty of people who know more about politics and economics than Asmongold does, but Asmongold is more tolerable to listen to than many more knowledgeable people because he’s more humble – he’s pretty reasonable and open, instead of dishonest, about his limited knowledge.

I know I’m particularly willing and able to take actions at all. Partly I share more because I’m much more energetic than the average person. Directly comparing myself to fans isn’t perfect. But I’m a person with pretty non-mainstream tastes, and I’m really happy when I find things somewhat suitable to my tastes (despite major imperfections, e.g. I’d prefer philosophy over politics but I read some politics anyway due to the severe shortage of readable/watchable philosophy content). There’s a comparison there to fans who don’t really act very excited to have me. If it’s actually because they do value me but they’re passive in their whole life … that’s not that different than not really liking me … it doesn’t particularly matter. The outcome is the same.

Most people aren’t very good good at valuing things and taking actions. Perhaps that’s an even bigger bottleneck than people wanting specialist content. Popular mainstream stuff has the social status, community frameworks and other resources to get regular, passive people to take some positive actions – whereas a tiny niche community can’t offer all that social/community/institutional support to help address people’s passivity for them.

It’s similar to how a lot of people need school classes because they’re too passive to just go online and learn, even though the internet has better content at lower prices in more convenient formats. “Passive” isn’t the exact issue btw, it’s just an approximation.

To summarize/conclude, you can be pretty passive when you’re a fan of mass-market stuff and it’s fine. But when you’re a fan of a new/unpopular creator serving a small/specialized niche, you need to do more positive behaviors (and fewer negative behaviors) or else you’re relying on other fans to do that and/or relying on the creator’s charity.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)