Words, words, words everywhere, and not a thought to be thought

“The individual words in language name objects—sentences are combinations of such names. In this picture of language we find the roots of the following idea: Every word has a meaning. This meaning is correlated with the word. It is the object for which the word stands.” — St. Augustine

I won’t lose much time with the picture theory of language above. It’s wrong. Language, be it words, sentences, or paragraphs are just expression of felt senses. They’re just pointers. Reality is this unitary ‘sum of all things’ it and language just serves as pointers pointing to a particular aspect of reality. Of course this aspect doesn’t exist by itself but exists only because an epistemic agent picks it out from the rest, distinguishes it from the rest, as meaningful for him, and then as meaningful for others, via language.

Ok, cool, so that’s done. The theory above isn’t precisely wrong, it’s just incomplete. It is a good description of technical languages. In technical languages a lot of work is done to make sure that each word or symbol has a matching concept, and no more than one matching concept. Lexical clarity. A lot of work is done to make sure the right, or most useful for the current tasks, concepts are picked out. Conceptual clarity. But the point is that this takes work, to do and to maintain. It is not the default state.

Next, use-mention distinction. Quoting wikipedia:

“The use–mention distinction is a foundational concept of analytic philosophy, according to which it is necessary to make a distinction between using a word (or phrase) and mentioning it, and many philosophical works have been “vitiated by a failure to distinguish use and mention”.

The distinction between use and mention can be illustrated for the word cheese:

Use: Cheese is derived from milk.
Mention: ‘Cheese’ is derived from the Old English word ċēse.

People fuck this up all over. It is hard to read the symbol as merely a meaningless pointer and so people don’t. Call the cake you’re selling ’The Best Cake In The World’ and people will let the meaning slip inside their minds. ‘But is it the best cake in the world?’ The question is there so they won and you lost. It’s the same as if the cake was called ‘sponge cake’ or ‘chocolate cake’ or ‘Anne’ or ‘Joe’. The name of the cake does not necessarily give you any info about the taste, the components, or anything really, about the cake. You can call your pet rose ‘Cake’, and nothing of substance would change. A flower by any other name, except beat this into your head because you’re getting screwed.”

Now, arbitrage. Wikipedia:

“In economics and finance, arbitrage is the practice of taking advantage of a price difference between two or more markets: striking a combination of matching deals that capitalize upon the imbalance, the profit being the difference between the market prices. When used by academics, an arbitrage is a (imagined, hypothetical, thought experiment) transaction that involves no negative cash flow at any probabilistic or temporal state and a positive cash flow in at least one state; in simple terms, it is the possibility of a risk-free profit after transaction costs. For example, an arbitrage opportunity is present when there is the opportunity to instantaneously buy something for a low price and sell it for a higher price.”

Basically if a guy is buying something for 10 quid and another for 5 quid you can get yourself in the middle and make 5 quid. If someone incorrectly thinks that the name of a thing changes the thing you can get yourself in the middle and exploit that.


“A word’s denotation is our conscious definition of it. You can think of this as the set of things in the world with membership in the category defined by that word; or as a set of rules defining such a set. (Logicians call the former the category’s extension into the world.)

A word’s connotation can mean the emotional coloring of the word. AI geeks may think of it as a set of pairs, of other concepts that get activated or inhibited by that word, and the changes to the odds of recalling each of those concepts.”

Ok finally, sorry about all the necessary concepts.

Now that we have those we can see what is happening: arbitrageurs that don’t have your best interest at heart use the use-mention distinction to slide in meaning via connotation.

“Trump is a literal fascist” cannot be read denotatively with a straight face, it is meant to be read as “Trump is a Literal Fascist” or as “Trump is a ‘Literal Fascist’”, where “’Literal Fascist’” here is a name. Like “The Best Cake” or “Joe” or “Anne”.

Autistic nerds will discuss whether he is a literal fascist by looking up the definition of fascism, the history of fascist regimes, and entirely miss the point. The point is that the idea is sitting on your mind and it gives people excuse to coordinate. It’s a coordination-beacon. “Let us tell this literally but passable lie and in doing so together give each other an honest signal that we’re willing to coordinate against this person”.

Of course this gets used all over leading to semantic hyperinflation. A word gets used as a coordination-beacon in more and more cases to send subterranean messages and its meaning inflates to the point of meaninglessness (‘rational’, ‘nazi’).

Nerds get adequately confused.

How long has this been happening for and how long have nerds been confused by this? Well…

“A superior man, in regard to what he does not know, shows a cautious reserve. If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success. When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music do not flourish. When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded. When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot. Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect.” — Confucius, 551 B.C. – 479 B.C





P.S. Not even 2 h after I posted this: here. A UN resolution called “combatting the glorification of Nazism”. US voted against. Does that mean the US is PRO- the glorification of Nazism!?!??!?!??!?! IT’S JUST A NAME, IGNORE THE NAME, SEE THE CONTENT, THIS IS HOW THEY’RE OWNING YOU. No one gets owned this way you say? Then why not call it resolution 4830? Exactly.

*Of course this just goes on and on. ‘Racist’ (a person who believes in racism, the doctrine that one’s own racial group is superior or that a particular racial group is inferior to the others) is really a ‘you’re bad and we’re now coordinating against you’ call to coordination. Of course once people get wise to the trick the thing moves. Now racism is ‘experiencing systematic oppresion’. Like a political-language-for-coordination arms race. And of course, this.

War, and why it matters to you

The ideal war is the one your enemy doesn’t know was waged. This statement is clearly true and should give you pause as it is as true to those that hold you for an enemy.

Enemies are hard to think about. War is hard to think about. Imagine for a second your mother stabbing your father — you immediately pull back, viscerally, unsconsiously.

And yet, if you don’t refuse to think about it, if you let the instinctual flinch win over you, you are utterly defenseless. You’ve lost.

This is not a neo-[whatever] post and I’m not saying you are facing actual war or actual enemies. What I am saying is that you get into adversarial or mixed-sum situations, all the time.

And you do so because everyone does. It is not the case that everyone’s best interest always coincides with your best interest. This is the world you live in, buckle up.

With that out of the way, here’s the nugget: assymetric warfare. Not the typical dictionary definition but the idea of attacking along undefendend, unexpected, or surprising vectors. When people think of war they still think of two countries making a declaration that they are going to war and then spitting armies at each other.

No. Proper war is unnanounced. You don’t even know it is happing for sure. You just have a nagging suspicion, or something-is-wrong-but-I-don’t-know-what and ‘Am I going crazy?’. This is the kind of war you fight.

It should be obvious you need to understand what are the current undefended, unknown about vectors. The attacks that matter won’t come via direct words. Words are meaningless because people know they are scrutinized. So they got goodhearted. I promise you your enemy will say he isn’t so loudly and proudly.

The ones waging war against you that matter are not the ones you know are doing so. The ones that are waging war over a vector that makes it unclear it is even happening. There is a set of people that are, that you don’t know about, that you are undefended against. And of course, I can’t talk about the cutting-edge attack vectors, lest I become unable to defend myself.

I don’t want to leave you without nothing, so here is someone that was wise enough to have knowledge and unwise enough to share it, to your benefit: Bryan Caplan’s The Missing Moods is the ideal example of the correct kind of thinking. He found and shared a vector that isn’t good-hearted yet. But it will be, as soon as it becomes common knowledge that it isn’t. This is the nature of the game, it is anti-inductive. As soon as something gets to common knowledge, the signal is broken. You need to keep moving forward.

Good luck.

Read this if you can’t tell what you feel

I track my psychological development pretty closely. I’m not sure when it started but it has been an ongoing process ever since. I decided I wanted to move along on that vector and started tracking it hard.

The way it works is pretty predictable by now: I notice something – either I’m very puzzled about something, something doesn’t add up; or I sense more is possible. It feels like there is something I’m missing, that I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s like the sensation of the fish that is for the first time unclearly, slowly, realizing he has always been living surrounded by water, but he can’t tell yet that that is what is going on. He simply senses something is fishy.

It’s like you wake up and light is coming and it’s blinding and you’re starting to see the shapes of things around you, but they haven’t yet congealed in anything you can clearly identify.

It’s like, you just know, somehow, in the core of your being, that there is a color everyone else sees that you can’t see, you aren’t properly compressing information, you don’t know how you know, but you know it, you just know something is missing. You’re not getting everything, there is something amiss. You feel a hole, the absence of something; you can’t say what is missing, yet, but you know something is missing. Like perceiving a negative space.

And, whatever it is, you “can’t just reach out and take it. You live in three dimensions and it’s calling to you from a 4th or 5th or Nth dimension.”

And the way it usually works is that it is either within range or not. And if I am I will keep vortexing into it, circling it, getting closer and closer, trying to get a better view, until I finally, finally, get it, or it learn it, or it becomes obvious. And if I’m not I will naturally check back in, weeks, months, years(!) out, as the world naturally, automatically, reminds me of it.

K, so that is how my psychological process works.

Let’s talk about emotions now.

I first noticed something was fishy when someone posted on the LW forum about someone that had great insight into their emotions. I didn’t know why at the time but I was very intrigued – I’ve since found that my subconscious (or whatever you wanna call it) throws me bones like this and I better take them. (I have a complicated theory that you are prohibited from directly knowing some facts about yourself which causes blind spots but relevant sub-minds are still acting in your best interest and thus try to give you the necessary information but because they can’t directly does so it comes out in these weird ways – visions, dreams, fantasies, hypnagogia, weird curiosities, intriguing words or media, etc. But that is for another time.)

So I investigated a bit at the time and came to believe I definitely had discernible emotional reactions but not discernible emotional phenomenology: call me stupid and I’ll get big and red, but I won’t notice anything changing on the inside.

And I think this initial diagnosis was correct. I could not distinguish what was happening. I even thought nothing was happening. Maybe, on a good day, I could muster enough self-awareness to be able to articulate ‘I feel bad’ or ‘I feel good’ but to a large extent I was a victim of my emotions and could not say anything more clear than generally hand-waving at valence and intensity.

So I did a bunch of work then and there, wrote a bunch, read a bunch of books – this was 5 years ago – but without too much luck. Luckily this led me to find Focusing. Now focusing was a really important find because I could now articulate very complex, large felt senses that had been sitting with me for years. It also gave me a very visceral sense of how one can absolutely be missing a very important dimension in their experience. Imagine you can’t judge whether or not people are attractive. Now try to understand the world and reach your goals. Yeah.

Anyways, so recently I came to think about emotions again. Not sure why. I found out the thing I had had a name: Alexithymia.

This might seem like nothing but it is a huge win. It means you can go into a vortex of scientific studies and try to use their theory or experiments to experiment with yourself.

Unfortunately I didn’t find anything too relevant in the literature. But I did figure something out: I could triangulate how specific emotions felt. I read the emotional thesaurus for physical descriptions of emotions and would try to infer from my body posture. I noticed I could look at my face in a mirror and see which emoji my face looked like most and then see the name of that emoji. I could look at an emotion wheel and see how I felt and say what emotions it definitely wasn’t.

I kept doing this for days and days on end, months.

At the same time, unrelatedly, I was keeping a diary. My entries were telegraphic, describing which things I did in what order. At some point I gained the ability to add smiley faces next to the entries. Then I shifted my intention into diaring extensively about how things felt.

I kept tracking how many unique emotion words I used and how many of those I hadn’t ever used before. This way I could see progress. My concepts were also getting clear: before my only association with terror/horror was that it was a kind of movie; now I could precisely tell how terror felt very distinct from horror.

I still suck. I frequently stay at level 1 of the hierarchy of requests and collapse from emotional exhaustion without knowing why. But now I know I don’t know. Before, I’d just feel worse and worse and then I’d go to sleep. Now I know I’m collapsing from emotional exhaustion which means that there was something I felt or needed I didn’t figure out which means there is a target for my investigation. I went from not knowing I don’t know to knowing I don’t know.

Why am I writing this? Well, part selfish, part selfless. Selfish: I’ve been through such protocols many times now and always adapt to the new set-point. I’m creating this artifact as a way to remember this particular win.

Self-less: In addition sometimes you find a piece that speeds up your research by years, saving you years of trouble. I just found a piece that tells me a huge part of what I found out: how unpacking emotions causes you to perceive distinctions in negative emotions which allow you to self-regulate and devise better strategic paths.

And maybe, just maybe, I can save someone like me a bunch of years.

The Cure.

I haven’t posted in like forever, and so I wanted it to be special. I finally have something special to say, so here we are.

I feel a great deal of affinity for David Chapman. This is because, like him, I see the rationality community for what it is:

Captura de ecrã 2017-08-01, às 23.27.28.png

So close, just nearly perfect… but fucked up in a way that destroys anything good that could come out of it.

Now, granted, this has generated in me intense hate which is… less than ideal if you desire to pontificate. I have finally understood the source of the problem and with that the hate is now vanished. Time to pontificate.

If you’re smart enough and like better writing just go read [sam zdat – antecedents have consequences] and memorize it. You won’t which is why I’m going to have to connect the dots for you.


The problem starts with Eliezer – I don’t hate Eliezer either, not anymore I don’t, shut up, the problem is structural – but it must start with him, he is the community and the community is him. Now, Eliezer is a beautiful man has a beautiful mind and a heart of gold. He realized that he needed to make people better at thinking and tried to do it. This is (1) insane and (2) laudable. Yes, in the process he damaged people a shit ton but that might be fine, counterfactually at least. It might have been the least bad thing for people that would buy into this stuff. I’m unsure, but I do think that he neither intended to have it do what it ended up doing nor that he had predicted it. Hell I think he likely is blind to see it right now.

So it starts with Eliezer. Nominally EY is no tabula rasa-ist. He is well-versed in the heuristics and biases literature – which sucks, by the way, bleach your mind with Gigerenzer and Klein and Gibson – and in evolutionary psychology. And yet, crucially and yet he writes a trillion words – I’m going for bigness here, not accuracy – on how to think well and why you think wrong and he overwhelms you with evidence that (1) your thinking sucks (2) your thinking not sucking is crucial (3) he knows the correct way to think.

Great, this is awesome if everyone is a tabula rasa and if they can just learn things that way. But they aren’t and they can’t. So what happened is that you got a bunch of people that can’t really interact with their minds from an user’s perspective who see how everything their mind is doing is wrong and bad, and, of course, by extension, they are wrong and bad.

Being wrong and bad sucks and being good and right rules so these people did the only reasonable thing: they crushed themselves over and over and over and over into oblivion because their thinking is terrible. Far worse, they created a community. Shit, now your social life depends on you doing that. People that get into rationality are not the most socialized of people, it’s not like they have tons of options. And now the way to have people to hang out with that you sorta identify with is to crush your mind into the correct shape. Fuckin’-A.

If you want to know why the community only has 5 or so people who actually thinks and everyone else just parrots that, this is why.

It’s gonna get worse before it gets better and it won’t get better.


Armed with the belief that they see further than others because they can recite The Correct Things they start seeing mistakes in everything. Remember when you were young and you just started being able to think and question and nothing made sense and you wanted to overthrow everything and make it sensible? Yea, imagine if you actually could.

You think I’m “overstating my case” – who the hell talks like that, hypothetical interlocutor? – so here is a perfect example. I don’t want to shit on anyone in particular but it’s gotta be someone and it’s gonna be aspies this time. Read [this shit]. Now make yourself a cup of tea, something calming, and go browse the aspy responses to that. THIS DOESN’T MAKE SENSE. AND WE ARE THE WEIRD ONES? WHY CAN’T THEY JUST SAY WHAT THEY MEAN?

If something is both (1) clearly insane and (2) absolutely disseminated you should infer that you are wrong and (1) is false. This is Chesterton’s Fence which is in anf of itself more valuable than all of LessWrong. Now [notice this].

Pause. What have we learned? It took one of the top 5 rationalists – you know the ones that are actually thinking – to say something utterly obvious. These people need reasons and they assume that everything is unreasonable until proof in the contrary and proof is one of the top-fivers pontificating.

What if they hadn’t found a reason? What if Scott was occupied with something else? Recall when I talked about you actually having the power to overthrow everything and make it “sensible”? Yea, now imagine a community of people doing that and then ask me why they’re weird.

Let’s recap. We have a bunch of people that have (1) learned to crush their mind so that they can “Be Rational”, (2) have their social goals depending on “Being Rational”, and that, as a social group (3) break things they don’t understand on the basis of them projecting their misunderstanding on to the thing.

Hold on to your seat, it gets worse before it gets better and I told you it doesn’t get better.


The worse part is that these people are smart.

You know, they’re smart, clever, can argue. There is a humility in people that don’t think themselves smart that makes them very easy to save. Give them a thing, they will in good-faith take it and try it. You can’t count on that here. Which means that (1)-(3) are all intensely defended, which means that anyone who is clued in enough to see them also has their time be too valuable to try to fix it. Which is why I’m writing a post – I can’t be arsed to actually try to fix them one by one. A Hail Mary pass, sorta.

Their cleverness allows them to defend their identity, hard. Question it and you question them and they react the way you’d expect. They know all the right answers because that is what they are crushing themselves with. They say all the right things and are trying to do them but for the wrong reasons. Which is where you get the depression, the burn-out, the “should but don’t want to”, the self-attacking, the ennui, the melancholy, the sadness, the emptiness, the loss of purpose.

You rejected my first solution. I have two left to offer and I promise you’ll like them even less.


One is radical and you won’t take it: Cut yourself from the community. Stop identifying as a rationalist. Say bye to your rationalist friends. Hang out with other people. Find the very smartest therapist you can and get to the core of *why* you want to be right/not wrong/less wrong/rational in the first place. The key is that you want to be [something] and the gate is that you don’t want to look and will thank me in 5 years. I know, I know, you’re twenty-ish and 5 years is like REALLY FAR AWAY MAN.

There is another solution and you also won’t like it, but for a different reason: It reveals you as the fool you are and you can’t take that:

Y’all need Jesus.


Jesus would be good in your life, but it’s too far away.

You need Gendlin, which tbh far as I’m concerned rounds out to the same.

It reveals you as a fool because the [very first virtue] is curiosity and yet you thrice failed at it – which in my book is cabal proof. You first ignored the Lithany. Then you read the Lithany and failed to further investigate. Someone else did it for you and thus you got the blessing of Focusing. And then you failed to investigate again. If you already understood the value of Focusing let me tell you this as someone that understood it half a decade ago, focusing is a drop in the ocean of value that Gendlin provides and that ocean is his philosophy.

Why is Gendlin the thing you need? Because you need to (1) be able to think and (2) stop crushing yourself but you can’t do (2) without (1) and you can’t do (1). And Gendlin will teach you to do (1). He will teach you to think from your experience. I know, I know you are so disconnected from that crushing that experience and emotions and interoception are all bad and who cares and you wish you already were a disembodied consciousness on the internet and when will that day finally arrive.

Stop defending. Look [here] – “Rather, for example, one specific concept about apes may require a restructuring of Zoology as a whole.” Do you understand the power of the thinking that produced that sentence? This man viscerally understands that you, already, in your body, without doing anything, have the power to reshape whole swathes of knowledge in accordance to your experience and this sweet sweet old man wants to hold your hand as you learn to do it via attending to your experience instead of crushing it.


And that is why he is your cure.

In defense of not updating in response to arguments

Zeno of Elea was a Greek guy who for some obscure reason really hated motion (1). To have every future Wikipedia reader know how much he hated it, he devised a bunch of paradoxes that proved motion to be an illusion (He was a philosopher on his spare time.). One of them was the Motion Paradox. Said Zeno whilst he sat in a Kumbaya circle with a bunch of his buddies:

“Suppose Homer wishes to walk to the end of a path. Before Homer could reach the end of the path, he must reach half of the distance to it. Before reaching the last half, he must complete the next quarter of the distance. Reaching the next quarter, he must then cover the next eighth of the distance, then the next sixteenth, and so on. There are thus an infinite number of steps that must first be accomplished before he could reach the end of the path. It is impossible for a human to complete an infinite number of steps and Homer is a human, therefore it is impossible for Homer to walk to the end of a path.” (1)

The best philosopher of all time, Diogenes the Cynic, who happened to be sitting at the circle at the time, said nothing. He stood up, walked around the circle, and sat back down in the same place. (Little known fact: Homer too sat at the circle and he was pissed at always being the butt of Zeno’s paradoxes)

I propose that there is still something really right about what Diogenes did- even if Zeno gives an argument, and he does not.

Maybe some of you have heard of this paradox before, or just came up with the solution to it whilst reading. To not make your suffer the suspense I want to let you know that the apparent paradox does indeed lie on a faulty assumption: The sum of an infinite number of steps can be finite, as demonstrated by Euclid, and modern calculus, and this smoking illustration.

Screen Shot 2016-07-24 at 13.00.07

And so, we, with our modern tools and superior intellect, have an easy way out. We see Zeno’s argument and we immediately turn it into a numbered argument:

  1. For Homer to walk to the end of a path, he must first reach half of the distance.
  2. For Homer to reach half of the distance of the path, he must first reach a quarter of the distance.
  3. For Homer to reach a quarter of the distance of the path, he must first reach an eight of the distance, for homer to reach an eight of the distance, he must first reach 1/16 of the distance, and so on.
  4. For Homer to walk to the end of a path, he must first complete an infinite number of steps [1-3]
  5. Homer cannot complete an infinite number of steps.
  6. Therefore, Homer cannot walk to the end of the path.

We assert that [4] is but a confusion, that [1-3], whilst leading to an infinite series, leads to a finite sum, a finite number of steps and, voilá, we cleanly get ourselves out of the paradox. Check-mate, Zeno. Please try to use your outside voice next time, Diogenes.

I want us to go a wee bit further though – I mean, backwards – and to imagine that we didn’t have our superior intellect and our superior tools. I want us to imagine ourselves as a contemporary of Zeno, hearing this story, back in the Kumbaya circle, 2000 years ago.

So here we are. Sitting, Kumabya circle, Ancient Greece, 2000 years ago. We are roughly the same people, with the same values – we put great value in having the correct beliefs, and in using arguments to get there – and we just saw Diogenes sitting after going around the circle in response to Zeno.

We are used to taking arguments seriously and thus we feel torn, bewildered even. Diogenes seems to be pointing at a clear flaw in the argument, but we can’t articulate it; we can see no false premise, no fallacious step. We start wondering if the rational, the justifiable, almost the honorable,  thing to isn’t to bite the bullet and give up our belief in motion – if nothing else, at a System 2 level – and to revise our beliefs to account for that.

This would, of course, have been a mistake. But how could we have prevented it? Back then, with inferior tools, and inferior intellect?

We recall the night before this one, where, in the same circle, just below the olive tree, the town lunatic-magician Malucus made himself levitate, as evidence that he was a god, He certainly did levitate – we saw it – and certainly no human can do that, and any god could.

And yet we don’t take him to be a god, in fact, we chased him out of the circle. We assume that we have been tricked by his ingenious levers and pulleys, even if we can’t exactly pinpoint how.

We wonder if it isn’t the same with Zeno and his argument against motion.

Before figuring out the flaw in the argument – either as Greeks 2000 years ago, or just earlier at the beginning of the essay – a failure to find a flaw in the argument has 2 possible explanations. First, the failure to find a flaw might be due to the actual flawlessness of the argument: that is, the argument might really be sound. Alternatively, it might be that the argument is in fact flawed, and our failure to find that flaw is due to our own limitations. (A more sophisticated version of us would detect a subtle fallacy or equivocation, a better informed version of us would recognize a premise as false.)

In deciding how to respond to the argument, we are thus performing an inference to the best explanation, where the thing to be explained is our own inability to identify some flaw in the argument. If the better explanation of this fact invokes the actual flawlessness of the argument, then we should adopt the belief that motion is impossible and revise the rest of his beliefs accordingly. If, on the other hand, the better explanation of the failure invokes our own cognitive limitations, then we should retain his belief that motion is possible in the face of the argument. (2)

This idea can also be made into an argument. It usually goes by the name “One Man’s Modus Ponens is another Man’s Modus Tollens” (3)

We were faced with this option:

  1. If Zeno’s argument obtains then motion is impossible.
  2. Zeno’s argument obtains.
  3. Therefore motion is impossible. [1,2]

And decided to respond thus:

  1. If Zeno’s argument obtains then motion is impossible.
  2. Motion is not impossible.
  3. Therefore, Zeno’s argument doesn’t obtain. [1,2]

That is, we affirm that Zeno’s argument harbors some hidden flaw even though we can’t (yet?) say what it is. In the same way we affirm that Malucus is tricking us, even though we can’t say exactly how. We counter-argue by affirming as a premise the belief that the conclusion of the unwanted argument denies.

I agree, I agree! This type of reasoning seems dangerous. The mind immediately jumps to it being used all sorts of wrong ways: the perfect escape route against all unwanted ideas.

  1. If [inconvenient, apparently flawless argument] obtains then I’ll have to do this thing I sorta don’t want to.
  2. I’d rather not this thing I sorta don’t want to.
  3. Therefore, [inconvenient, apparently flawless argument] doesn’t obtain. [1,2]

In this indefensible version you would use your current belief as a premise of whichever argument as to be able to counter all arguments that would cause you to revise a belief you’d rather hold. I agree that this option both exists and is problematic as it leads to dogmatism.

(I think there is a defensible version of the above argument, differently motivated, that people actually already engage in: When the thing we sorta don’t want to is to be under extreme psychological suffering, there seems to be a reasonable pragmatic consideration about stacking engaging with arguments in an order such as to minimise extreme psychological suffering and thus maximizing our capacity to keep functioning. Us having the expectation of being smarter in the future, we can postpone seriously engaging with some arguments until a later time where we can either demonstrate their flaws or accept them without or with greatly diminished suffering. I can’t pick flaws in the simulation argument, or pascal’s mugging, or justify either Ockham’s razor or induction, and I happily carry on assuming I live in the real world, doing expected utility estimates, preferring more parsimonious explanations and expecting the sun to rise tomorrow.)

Now why does this all matter and why have I driven you through to here? Our community values updating in response to arguments. It is almost heroic to bite the bullet on difficult arguments and come to hold seemingly consistent very far off from the mainstream views (AI destroying the world, the non-existence of selves, …) We are at least thought more highly of if we have arguments for our positions than if we do not. And yet, if my reasoning throughout the essay holds, we can construct any number of arguments to which the appropriate response is not to update, to which the correct response is somewhere between outright dismissal and temporary dismissal with outsourcing to a future smarter self.

This seems like a problem. I don’t have a solution. I don’t know when engagement or dismissal or outsourcing to a future self will each be adequate.

I’m trying to do what I think Diogenes was doing: point at a problem, even if I can’t articulate a solution. Get a conversation started, have people think about this, show me I’m wrong somewhere somehow. I’m much less parsimonious and much less snarky than Diogenes but here we are.

Also, if I outright dismiss the next stupid argument  you show me you now know why.









This is not true. Zeno probably didn’t harbor an irrational hatred for motion. I took creative liberty with this illustration. The paradox Zeno laid out isn’t precisely this one. This circle story probably didn’t happen, etc. These are merely meant to illustrate a point.


A cool consequence of this is that the more cognitively sophisticated one is, the more reasonable it is for one to expect having identified a flaw in an argument should there be a flaw. In this case, a failure to find a flaw is strong evidence that the argument is sound and valid, and thus strong evidence to update. On the other hand, the more unsophisticated one is, the less one should be impressed by the fact that one has tried and failed to find a flaw in a given argument: such a failure is comparatively weak evidence for the argument’s flawlessness. This means that different people might have completely different responses to the same argument, and them both be reasonable. This means that if two people have the same response, one of them might be being quite unreasonable. This also yields that the more unfamiliar one is with arguments and using arguments formally, the more one should discount arguments that lead to hard to believe conclusions, or, put differently, the ability to come to justifiably come to minority conclusions via arguments is an achievement.


Hi less-wrongers 😉


This essay heavily borrow from https://www.princeton.edu/~tkelly/ftawil.pdf. I developed the ideas by myself trying to articulate an itch I’ve had for a long time, then found the essay and took it as aesthetic inspiration. Thanks to M. C. for comments on the initial draft.




Science is politics, politics is war, war is deception, psychology is a lie.

Now, one could say that I was too tough on science yesterday. One would be wrong.

I comprehend that while under the spell of an ideology it is difficult to break out. Fish in water. Small pieces of evidence won’t make it happen – one needs to be slapped in the face with reality, one needs to have something so undeniable that full unrelenting impossible-to-look-back-on conversion is the only way. This is what Zen Koans are for, so let us try and koan you into this.

I will use the field I’m most familiar with: Psychology.

This is the received history of psychology: Psychology begins with Wundt in Germany. Wundt relied on introspection. These were the dark times as introspection cannot be relied upon. Later, Watson, an American, makes psychology a science via turning away from the mind and into behavior. Being unperfect he overcorrected. Chomsky comes along and triggers the cognitive revolution that yields the present cognitive psychology which studies the mind without relying on introspection.

How much of that do you think is a lie and how much of that do you think is politically motivated?

The whole thing is a lie.

The imageless thought debate  – a supposed controversy on whether there was or wasn’t imageless thought – is said to be what led introspectionist psychology against itself. In fact, the actual experiential reports of the introspectionists around “imageless thoughts” agreed with each other substantially. They differed in their interpretation which is a theoretical issue that doesn’t invalidate the method. The debate never called the method into questioning.

Wikipedia quoting a textbook: “Wundt believed that scientific psychology should focus on consciousness and therefore centralizes on structuralism. Wundt analyzes the constituents of the mind by using a method called introspection, which involves the subjective observation of one’s own experience.[7] This became the reason why structuralism gradually faded out, based on the unreliability of this method.”

Wundt was not an introspectionist, or not fully. He wrote against it as a method, he was an experimental psychologist first and foremost.

Cognitive psychology uses introspection. It is built around questionnaires and interviews, thus depending on the subject’s introspection abilities. But while Wund (and Titchener) had a 1600 pages book on how to introspect and wouldn’t accept reports from anyone with less than 10.000 reports made, cognitive psychology accepts everyone’s.

Well, so the whole thing is not a lie. It is true that the center of psychology went from Germany to America. How much of that do you think was politically motivated?

We need to set the stage before. You need to get accustomed toe the idea that countries do various things to yield their power. War is just the most undeniable one. But countries exhaust other options, so much so that eventually financing their own art to gain cultural power becomes the next best application of money.

You also need to accept that this is one thing that was declassified. It is logical that there are many that weren’t and won’t be in our lifetime. It is also logical that intelligence agencies are competent and first exhaust their best options, then their second best options and so on. Financing art for culture must be pretty down the list, so many other things must have happened before.

With that in place, is it that unlikely that countries finance their own science as a way of promoting their cultural hegemony? If this happens then we should know of cases where it did happen and the country doing it lost in some relevant way and thus it came to be generally known. Oh, here is the Soviet Union and their own made agricultural science which they aggressively promoted. They then lost the Cold War, winners wrote history and we know about it. This all means, of course, that if it happened once it might happen more than once, and that we won’t know about it as long as that particular country hasn’t lost.

The proposal spelled out is this: After WW2 there were more and less public attempts to shift culture. Psychology is the science of the mind. It has immense cultural weight – just check the pop psychology section of the bookstore. After WW2 there was a deliberate intention to shift the center of psychology from Germany to the US.  I mean William James is fine, but having him cited in every single paper? Always some colloquial expression and never to build on what he said? And again, don’t take it from me. Chomsky said it first.

Anyways, this is merely an aspect power dynamics. Groups exist. They compete. They game the system to win. Sometimes these groups are countries. When they are countries they usually don’t compete via war. War is just the more undeniable of all competitions. Deception is key in competition. I will not get into the deep end political stuff but take look at distribution of nobel prizes throughout the years (This is the same nobel awarding institution that gave Obama a peace prize when he was 9 months into the White House. The same that gave Kahneman a nobel for prospect theory when it is built on nothing). Take a look at the distribution of olympic medals throughout the years. Note the coincidence between the timing of China’s political rise happens and the rise of Olympic Medals for China (and, of course, them hosting the Olympics ofc). Countries compete for cultural hegemony via art. Via athletic competitions. And via science.

Anyways, this is merely a larger version of the power dynamics phenomenon. Groups exist. They compete. They game the system to win. Sometimes the groups are scientific cliques. Just go over and read Scott Alexander’s on how he is shocked that the history written by the current psychotherapy winners is not sustained by facts but only by them having won and thus having gained history-writing privileges.

Converting to this view explains a lot. It explains why you need field leaders (army leaders) to die for the field to advance. It explains why the Heuristics and Biases paradigm dominates behavioral economics over the Homo Heuristics paradigm which is just patently better (Coincidentally, the leader of the former is American and of the latter German).

Sometimes the groups are scientific disciplines members. Then you get into truly horrid gaming: attempts to build a science with questionnaires, deliberate ignoring 50 years old  methodological criticism.

“[The linked criticism r]enders null-hypothesis testing nearly useless for the purpose of confirming theoretical hypotheses. Yet it is fair to say that this procedure has carried almost the entire burden of theoretical progress in social psychology. These criticisms have been circulating for several decades without having any noticeable effects on the confirmational practices of the field. According to Meehl (1990, p. 230), social psychologists as a whole have reacted with “a mix of defense mechanisms (most predominantly, denial) so that they can proceed as they have in the past with a good scientific conscience.” Meehl continues: I cannot strongly fault a 45-year-old professor for adopting this line of defense, even though I believe it to be intellectually dishonest, because I think that for most faculty in social psychology the full acceptance of my line of thought would involve a painful realization that one has achieved some notoriety, tenure, economic security and the like by engaging, to speak bluntly, in a bunch of nothing.”

Kukla, A. Methods of Theoretical Psychology. P 100

This is Goodhart’s law all over, at all sizes.

You have followed my argumentation carefully and are now a convert. Great! Welcome. I promise the pain is temporary. To that, allow me to cement your newfound belief:.

As a believer you are not surprised that most published findings are false. You are even less surprised that the fake results of psychology cannot be reproduced. And least of all: you predicted how the cliques would react to real results that threaten their power:

“Some fierce infighting in psychology as a Harvard/UVa team including Daniel Gilbert and Gary King denounce the OpenScience project and the replication crisis it highlighted as bogus (paper, popular article). They have two main arguments: first, the “replications” were so different from the original studies that different results are unsurprising; second, that because of the way statistical power and confidence intervals work, OpenScience finding only 40% of studies replicating is consistent with 80-90% of the studies being correct, and in fact another replication attempt that found 85% replication rate would have said only 40% of its studies replicated if they had used the same (incorrect) statistical methods as OpenScience. But the pushback from psychologists and statisticians defending the existence of a replication crisis has been intense and highly convincing. Here’s a 45-author paper published in Science saying that “Gilbert’s very optimistic assessment is limited by statistical misconceptions and by causal inferences from selectively interpreted, correlational data” – but as usual, all the interesting stuff is on random blogs. Brian Nosek on RetractionWatch explains how Gilbert at al seriously exaggerated some of the differences between original studies and replications to the point of absurdity; The 20% Statistician says that “the statistical conclusions in Gilbert et al (2016) are completely invalid”, and The Hardest Science finds that Gilbert’s example of the the 85% replication rate dropping to 40% because of poor methods involves completely inappropriate cherry-picking of metrics. I admit my bias here but AFAICT the Gilbert paper is looking pretty questionable and the replication crisis seems as real as ever.”

Alexander, S. Rukling Class.

And at that moment the monk was permanently enlightened.

Science as Force, science as activity

Few things pain more than observing someone asking the right question and then excusing themselves from answering due to their preconceptions.

Andrew Critch writes, talking about EAs/Rationalists:  “This is, of course, an exaggerated description of a problem, but nonetheless, I think a problem exists here to some real degree. At least a good 20 or 30 people I could list view “biases” and “placebo effects” like magical sources of wrongness that can’t be modeled, accounted for, or guarded against, except by somehow by some authoritative group called “experts”. Why is that?”

(I don’t recommend the rest of the essay unless you have a fetish for insipid computation metaphors.)

He then proceeds to ignore the question and attempts to medicate the symptom. I think this is what neoreactionaries feel about Scott Alexander. He asks the right question, but shies from the crucial steps. Let us then be the responsible doctors and let us diagnose the disease instead of medicating the symptoms.

Why? Why in fact are these people thinking this way? To understand that we need to understand the psychodynamics of the mind of a LW rationalist / EA. Or more precisely, we need to understand their ideology.

All protestations to the contrary it is painfully obvious that LW rationalists are fully bought in into a mangled futuristic Bayesian modern Aufklarung ideology. Like fish in water, they don’t see themselves as being bought into an ideology. “It is the way the world is”, they claim. EAs have dropped the futuristic bit – in part – but have kept the modern Aufklarung and added Humanism.

From the wikipedia article on EA we can read: “It is this broad, scientific approach that distinguishes effective altruism from traditional altruism or charity.”

Humanism is in the altruism part. The Aufklarung is in the effectiveness via science.

Two mistakes can be made when attempting to understand science. One is to not distinguish it into two concepts: science – the scientific activity – and Science – the societal force. The second mistake is to not recognise how the latter Science guides the former science.

There is a tendency to equate scientific activity with the scientific method. There is this belief that a single methodology yields scientific progress. Such a thing could only come from the minds of philosophers of science. Philosophers of science are not scientists and due to their professionalisation – their lack of seriousness really -have not inspected their metaphysical or historical commitments. Because of this they act as if they were Essentialist Whig historians.

Once you deny both of these assumptions it becomes clear that the attempt to demarcate science from non-science cannot be separated from a historical analysis of science.

The foremost historical analysis of science is Feyerabend’s Against Method. It is an excellent book and you should go and read it. The conclusion is that, historically, to reach scientific progress “anything goes”. “Anything goes” is “the terrified reaction of a rationalist who takes a closer look at history”.

This much is clear to anyone that has actually tried to do science. Few in the LW or EA community has.

Very well then. So there is no scientific method that is guaranteed to create scientific progress. What then? How does that help explain the problem?

I mentioned above Science qua institution. Science qua institution is a force. It protects itself like a force (Feyerabend was all but expelled from the community of philosophers of science, Scientific American ran an article entitling him “The Worst Enemy of Science”, and so on.), it denies responsibility like a force (Physics has continued business as usual after Hiroshima and Nagasaki), it has professionalised and institutionalised itself like a force, it has taken hold of society like a force (In having a system for the production, regulation, distribution, circulation and operation of its statements; and in having a violent reaction to Feyerabend’s suggestion of separation of science and the state), it can assign status and credibility like a force.

Every force requires sacrifices. Costly signals of the commitment of the subjects, of the ritualistically reinforcing the subject-ruler power dynamic.

Science is no different. It denies everything that might take its power away from it. All other forms of knowing are improper, wrong, mystical, archaic, backwards or primitive. The scientific way of knowing and of conceptualising is the only way. An example: in science the body is no more than a collection of parts – the body-object. In science as force the body is nothing more than a target of power – it matters insofar as it can be manipulated for whatever ends are sought. The body itself, the body-subject, the body-as-sensed could never be a source of scientific knowledge for this would detract from the ability of science as force to legislate over every one – that is, every body. (No wonder Gendlin’s splendid philosophy of the body could never get any traction. The incentives are such that any philosophy which makes oneself as an ultimate authority is an enemy since it detracts from the power of the institution)

This merely illustrates the wider pattern. Science as force denies everything that might take its power away from it. Especially “unscientific” knowledge, that is knowledge not generated via the “scientific method” – even if there is no one “scientific method”. All that is required is for the subjects to imagine that there is and the domination can carry own.

Our answer materialises. Science qua force promotes a vision of science as the guardian of truth. This vision is endemic, so much so that even EA people – the intelligentsia as far as I’m concerned – do not really understand what science (as activity) is, and have been coopted into this ideology.

It is notable that these people do not – as is made clear in this essay – really understand what science is (in any of its versions) or how it works.

That is why they equate being scientific with deferring to experts. That is why the idea of generating scientific progress themselves is unthinkable, for they do not have access to the scientific method.

science is much closer to myth than a scientific philosophy is prepared to admit. It is one of the many forms of thought that have been developed by man, and not necessarily the best. It is conspicuous, noisy, and impudent, but it is inherently superior only for those who have already decided in favour of a certain ideology, or who have accepted it without ever having examined its advantages and its limits (AM, p. 295).