🐤 Coercion can’t make you think particular things

[🐤Twitter thread]

Coercion (anti-rational memes) works by setting up blocks that repel you from thinking certain things.

It doesn’t make you think particular things — only creativity can do that.

Creativity boosters (that should be used all the time but get forgotten):

Follow fun. Navigate by “towards”. Try things. Think what’d be awesome, not just ‘un-meh’.

Why does this fit with the critical, problem-solving approach?

If you’re feeling bad, the “towards” approach can unhook you from that block.

Meaning you’re free to use criticism productively/unpainfully. Because you’ve got places to go, instead of only things to avoid.

In science, we need a better rival theory in order to refute anything. If a theory seems faulty, we still have to stick with it until we’ve got something better.

Likewise with personal problems, it’s no use to just criticise and move away. You need something to go towards.

🐤 Discipline is fighting yourself

[🐤 Twitter thread]

‘Self discipline’ is a patch for being conflicted about what you want to do.

Often, productive people are interpreted as ‘having discipline’: able to force themselves to do the work even when it’s unpleasant.

But creative productivity only ever works in spite of that.

“Discipline is remembering what you want.”

When that works, it’s not ‘discipline’; it’s getting less conflicted.

The real answer to productivity and motivation is to resolve the conflicts you have.

Once unconflicted about what to do, even hard work is effortless, motivation-wise.

(And fun. #ReasonIsFun)

It becomes effortful to not do it. It pulls you in and demands you keep working.

Discipline is fighting yourself.

Wasted energy. Wasted creativity.

Put that instead into figuring out what you actually most want.

Solve problems in doing what you want with reason, not force.

It sounds cute and simplistic — like meaningless motivational self-help talk — but the world really does work this way.

Problems really are soluble. What’s stopping you really is conflicting ideas. Force is trying to reach answers/truth using brute authority instead of reason.

“I’ve tried everything! Self-discipline, Beeminder, social media time-outs, Tony Robbins, waking at 5am… Nothing seems to work!”

Cool, have you tried reason?


I was interviewed! And by ‘interviewed’, I mean that I answered a bunch of online quiz questions and pasted them in here. (Written 2017-2018.)

Multiple-choice questions, with my comments in quotes.

Do you believe that people need bad things to happen to them in life in order to truly appreciate the good things?

No: “Suffering is a soluble problem, not an eternal inevitability. Experiencing bad things makes it harder to enjoy good things, not easier.”

Do you find science to be interesting?

Yes – Social Science (Psychology, Sociology): “’Social science’ isn’t science; it’s philosophy. But it is interesting.”

How do you feel about kids?

Kids are precious—they love me and I love them!:Wow these answers are dehumanising. Even the only positive answer has an ‘othering’ air. Conventional parenting attitudes are weird.”

Generally speaking, do you believe that violent revolution is a legitimate method of effecting fundamental social, political, and economic change?

No: “ “You cannot have a rational discussion with a man who prefers shooting you to being convinced by you.”
— Karl Popper

“If he who employs coercion against me could mold me to his purposes by argument, no doubt he would. He pretends to punish me because his argument is strong; but he really punishes me because his argument is weak.”
— William Godwin”

Let’s say you don’t agree with a law, one that won’t change. Which is your responsibility?

Obeying it until it changes: “Generally, it’s good to obey the law, for various reasons. (Notably, because we have an error-correcting legal system which we want to generally work and not be impeded.)

There are some laws where breaking it would be self-correcting. For example, if you park illegally at the wrong time of day, you might be happy to pay the fine, and assuming you’re not obstructing anyone, this is no problem.

Then there are rare cases where the law is immoral. There, it’s complicated. You’d have to think about the harm you’d do to obey the law vs the harm to the fabric of society by disrespecting the law. Break it in secret, to avoid it messing with the generally-functional system as much? Or break it openly, and petition change? Lots of issues to consider.”

Do you get into the spirit during the holiday season?

Yes, I’m obsessed with the holidays: “’Obsessed’ is an exaggeration, but holiday traditions are fun. ^-^ (Needless to say, not all of the traditions associated with holidays are good. I’ll take my memes bespoke, thanks.)”

Do you feel obligated to help your fellow human beings?

No: “Not obligated (with some exceptions), but helping people is often right or good to do.

Exceptions for when one has an obligation to help people:
1. If one has voluntarily or by action taken on that obligation.
2. When doing nothing is equivalent to joining in with evil. (E.g. sheltering a Jew in WWII.)

Another sort-of exception is if there’s a cause one wants to succeed (even if one’s contribution is minimal, it’s still meaningful to stand for something). That’s optional rather than really an ‘obligation’, though.”

Should freedom of speech allow the expression of all viewpoints, even extreme and widely-offensive ones?

Yes: “The exception to this is incitement to violence.”

Which of the following philosophies do you most closely follow?

Treat others as I would like to be treated: “None of these answers reflect my actual philosophy, which is: Treat others as they would like to be treated.”

Is it possible for something to hurt no one — physically, mentally, or in any other way — and for it still to be morally wrong?

Yes: “If you were on a desert island, you may wonder, “Should I spend my time trying to find a way off the island, or instead put effort into enjoying my time here?”

There is a meaningful answer to this question. It might be that neither of these two answers hurt you (or anyone else), but there is an answer to which is in fact better for you. (Better/should = moral statement = the less-good choice is ‘morally wrong’, i.e. the wrong choice.)”

Does hanging out in an empty field, in the middle of no where, at 2am to watch a meteor shower sound like fun to you?

Heck yeah! I’ll bring the hot cocoa/coffee/tea: “If you answer no, you have no soul. 💫☄✨🔭😍☕️”

How does owning pets compare to raising children?

The two are nothing alike: “Children are people.”

Is evil necessary in the world?

No: “Error is inevitable; evil is not.”

If someone wrongs you do you exact revenge?

No: “Punishment is always bad, and never helps.”

Would it be a good idea to pass a law requiring people to take a course and pass a test before being allowed to have a child?

No: “Why would the government know what makes for good parenting? What would such a course even look like? (How many times would it specify to strike the child for punishments?)”

Do you believe that scientific investigation is the only effective method to gain meaningful knowledge about the universe?

No: “Philosophy is also a thing.”

Should the death penalty be abolished?

Yes: “Except for extreme circumstances.

Death is irreversible. The worse a crime is, the more likely it is that someone will want to study that criminal (to study the psychology of such people, or get information on the crime or other crimes). Death means the possibility of all that knowledge is gone.

Also, in a civilised society, no one should enjoy the job of executioner. A criminal about to be put to death is a criminal at his most harmless.”

Do you believe that morality is completely relative?

No: “Morality is context-depedent but objective.”

Should machines that demonstrate human or higher levels of intelligence be granted legal rights?

Yes: “Yes, and they will be. We’ve known since Turing that those are people.”

Do you think the standard of western morality has declined in the last thirty years?

No, things are better now: “In a two-steps-forward, one-step-back kind of way, but progress is real:
– Beating children is illegal in schools (in the UK and most US states)
– Homosexuals are no longer excluded from mainstream society
– FGM and forced marriage are now illegal
– Smartphones are part of everyday life for everyone, instead of making you a social outcast.”

Should the government require children to be vaccinated for preventable diseases?

No: “With the exception of quarantine laws to prevent epidemics.

Vaccinations are a good idea. But better persuade people (including children) by reason, rather than force.”

A college-level education is…

Unnecessary: “The whole idea of ‘levels’ of education is a bit strange. Real/natural/uninhibited learning shoots out in all directions. Someone who is learning out of their own interest will have some subjects covered quite deep, some barely touched, some grazed, and there’ll be some that aren’t even on any curricula. The more creative and problem-driven learning is, the more incomparable it’ll be to someone else’s creative problem-driven learning.”

Would you prefer good things happened, or interesting things?

Good: “False dichotomy! Bad things are inherently less interesting than good things — there are many more ways to be wrong than right.”

How often do you keep your promises?

Whenever possible: “Either a promise will turn out to be the right thing to do, in which case you’d do it anyway and making the promise is pointless; or it will turn out to be wrong, in which case it would be wrong to keep the promise.

It’s better to avoid making promises in the first place. Instead, talk about what you think is right.”

How important is it to be able to ‘agree to disagree’?

Very important: “It’s part of the Anglosphere traditions of autonomy and freedom.

There’s an urban legend that our Parliament is spaced with the leaders and the opposition seats at two swords-length apart: if things get heated, they won’t be violent. ‘Parliamentary language’ is another such tradition: addressing all questions to the Speaker instead of persons, not swearing, etc. (The point there is to avoid raising the emotional temperature of the argument.)

These are traditions of how to resolve conflicts peacefully, instead of by force.

This “two swords’ length” thing is the epitome of agreeing to disagree: If they don’t agree, that’s the end of it!”

Do you believe there is some unique human quality that separates us from animals?

Yes, but it has nothing to do with God: “Sky scrapers, for instance.”

Which is closest to your reaction to foul language?

It doesn’t bother me at all: “Maximise expressive power of language — have a full range, instead of blocking oneself from using certain words, or using certain words in place of other more accurate ones.”

Is it better to live by your own moral standards and allow others to live by theirs, or is it better to press your moral standards upon other people?

Live and let live: “Both are approximations.

People should be able to do what they want. To do this, people need freedom and protection from those who may forcibly prevent them from doing what they want. “Live and let live” is a shorthand for “pursue your life; don’t meddle in other people’s lives”. But if someone does meddle in your life, you need a policy of what to do (like have laws against murder and other kinds of force); “live and let live” is impossible taken literally.

The alternative answer, “Press those morals!”, is a worse approximation. It captures part of it — the necessity for dealing with when “live and let live” fails, such as “don’t murder”. But if pressing morals is the fundamental thing, 1) that doesn’t mention pursuing your own values in life (which “Live and let live” does), and 2) it doesn’t distinguish between stopping innocent people from doing innocent things and stopping guilty people from doing guilty things.

Dictatorship is compatible with “Press those morals!” but not “Live and let live”.
On the other hand, pacifism is compatible with “live and let live” and not the other.”

Do you loathe or tremendously dislike most of the people you encounter?

No: “People are good things.”

Can you think of someone that you truly hate, not just severely dislike?

No: “Unless we include historic figures. Like Goya.”

Do you feel a need to own the most up-to-date electronic gadgets?

Sometimes: “’Need’ is a bit derogatory. The world isn’t static. New gadgets arise because people find better ways of doing things. That’s good. Not all upgrades are relevant to my problems, hence not ‘Always’. But normally, I agree with the updates!”

Do you think the basic instinct to survive and reproduce fundamentally drives every decision a person makes?

No: “The mind isn’t organised into ‘fundamental drives’.”

Do you believe reason is more important than emotions in solving problems?

No: “It’s usually as important — you need both:

If your emotions are telling you something different from your reason, and you override them, you’re ignoring a source of criticism. That’s irrational — it’s a dogmatic/authoritarian approach. It’s not interested in the truth of the matter. It’s assuming the emotions are wrong and using force instead of persuasion.

Also, it depends on the problem. Some are more emotions-relevant, some less.”

Is there anything that science will never be able to explain?

Yes: “Yes, non-scientific fields. Like philosophy.”

Do you believe that art and literature courses are important to students, even if they are majoring in other fields?

I like them, but don’t know if they’re important: “People should only learn what they’re interested in. Not stuff other people deem ‘important’.”

Do trees have souls?

No: “No, but feet do have soles.”

Do you get angry when you lose a game?

Never: “Get curious! (Be like Kripp)”

Are you an adventurous eater? Do you like to try new foods and cuisines?

Yes, all the time: “Curiosity + fallibilism + refining aesthetics tastes (in this case literally)”

What is your opinion of sarcasm?

Sarcasm is formulaic and lazy: “Sarcasm is irony with cynicism added and depth removed. Cynicism is boring. Irony is awesome.”

Is intoxication ever an acceptable excuse for acting stupid?

No: “’Stupidity’ just means bad ideas. Dumb chemicals can’t change your ideas. And anyway, your ideas are legitimate and you don’t need an excuse. Act however you want.”

If you had to guess, do you think humans will go extinct in the next 1000 years?

No: “ “We have, as Popper put it, a duty to be optimistic – in general, and about civilization in particular. One can argue that saving civilization will be difficult. That does not mean that there is a low probability of solving the associated problems.” — David Deutsch”

Do you believe in the power of prayer?

No: “Not divinely, no. But it might have a positive role in the lives of the people who do it.”

Which of the following best describes your typical demeanor?

Cheerful! I have a positive outlook: “Problems are soluble!”

Can anything be made the subject of a joke?

Yes, anything can be funny in the right light: “Some subjects/jokes aren’t funny (so I’m doubtful that anything could be funny in the right light). But everything should be open to jokes — the tradition of criticism is important.”

Do you believe morality is universal, or relative?

Universal: “I’d rather say morality is objective — there’s a truth of the matter, choices aren’t arbitrary — but context-dependent.

‘Universal’ can sound like there’s a list of moral duties, which are always right regardless of circumstance. Even if there were such moral laws (abstract truths, like the laws of physics), I don’t think we have a good, exceptions-free understanding of what the universal principles are. But we do have some pretty useful approximations.

In any given circumstance, there will be better and worse choices, which will make your life better or worse. (I don’t think morality is just about how your choices affect other people. Alone on a desert island, you can still screw up your own life or make it awesome. Be a friend to yourself!)”

Which of the following types of intelligence do you value most?

Logical / Mathematical: “Strictly speaking, there aren’t different kinds of intelligences. All knowledge is connected.

Being good at any given thing will help with being good at other stuff, not hinder. Someone sufficiently good at art will also be logical — if they weren’t, that would inhibit their progress in art. Being bad at interpersonal stuff will inhibit progress across the board (since people are major sources of ideas/criticism).

Being able to understand another’s thoughts and feelings is pretty vital. But I think what most people have in mind when they read ‘social’ is something like more ‘conventional’, or having skill in dealing with people when they’re similar to each other. People who are thought to have high social skills often struggle with less social / more individual people.”

Do you often find yourself worrying about things that you have no control over?

No: “When you’re worrying about something you have no control over, what’s really going on is that part of you thinks maybe you do or could have control over it. (Either that, or you’re in some kind of irrational state of mind.)

People don’t normally get annoyed about having to obey the laws of physics. Reality is what it is — it’s pointless to want it to be something that it isn’t.

That said, a lot more things are in one’s control to change/improve than most people think. But that’s still not a worrying thing, that’s a yay thing!”