How to Learn Advanced Philosophy (Why to Learn Grammar Trees) [curi Video]


I writing a summary of what was being talked about in the video. Instead of making a point by point summary by going through video in parts I’m gonna write what I remember because that is what got to me the most. If what got to me is a good enough summary then I think I have a workable understanding.


  • I remember it as having multiple parts. The first part was about how trial and error method to get good isn’t gonna work because there will be too many errors to get a handle on anything. Instead it makes sense to focus on an important problem that in Elliot’s experience everyone has - grammar, trees and related stuff. The other part was about having certain skills automatized.
  • Being consciously able to do something and having that skill automated makes a huge difference in being able to use that skill to do more advanced stuff. I am able to relate to this by applying it to chess. You can follow an analysis and make sense of whole sequence of moves and choices by a grandmaster level player but it’s you won’t be able to do same things while your playing yourself because a whole lot of patterns aren’t automated.
  • Other part I remember was about having rational confidence. If you have rational confidence then you’re decently skilled in certain field and can get a sense of why a mistake happened and what you can do about it. If you have rational confidence then you can continue in your current manner and good improvement is possible. If you are able to recognize irrational confidence then it could be a signal for you that you don’t have control in this situation and you should automatize lower level skills.
  • Other part was about organized effort towards a goal. If goal is not clear and effort is not organized then things would be anywhere between somewhat inefficient to massively inefficient. If the goal is hard then you can rest assured that all your effort is pretty much a waste. You can get lucky but failure is the mostly likely outcome.

Now I will aim write explanation of every point. I think this will help as well in improving understanding.

  • First point is that there are two ways to improve at philosophy. First is starting at beginner level philosophy and then you try to improve by using any sort of intuitive process you have. You don’t even know this is what you are deciding. You go down this path without knowing that this is the choice you are making. The chess example analogy would be deciding to keep playing games online again and again to improve. You could gain some improvement this way but it’s not very effective. A lot of mistakes could be categorised into the same category. They occur because of poor understanding of specific areas, for example pawn structure or not developing your pieces. It’s possible to learn about these categories on your own by keeping on playing but it is very inefficient. If you were already good at philosophy then you would actually approach learning and improving in this methodical way. But it doesn’t make sense to expect that your intuitive approach is already that methodical. Only playing can get you to maybe 1800 rating but not to a elite grandmaster level which is around 2700.

  • To get really good at something you have to leverage your subconscious. You have to get your subconscious to do things for you so that your conscious mind is free to do the next level hard thing for you. If your plan is to use your conscious attention to do everything you’re definitely gonna fail. If I leave you in a very complex position against a grandmaster and you think that you’ll use your conscious mind to keep everything in check for example all the tricks/tactics that are possible, how you’re gonna improve your position, how you’re gonna attack the opponent’s weakness then you’re mistaken. Your conscious mind cannot do this much. Elliot mentions a rough example that if your subconscious is 120 IQ then your conscious is at 135. You must’ve had the experience of doing something really complex and thinking that you’re gonna keep track of everything but then you fail, it happens because your conscious is limited. It’s not to say that your conscious cannot find a move which is very impressive. You can see grandmaster playing online and talk about how a certain move will be very hard for a low rated player to find. Even if the low rated player ends up finding the move it doesn’t mean that that low rated player is gonna win the world championship. Being able to find a impressive move sometimes is not the same as being a grandmaster level player

  • Then Elliot comments on the quality of discussion he sees on the forum. He says that people don’t have high quality standards when having discussions. People routinely get off track. Everyone says a bunch of related stuff but they don’t realize they’re not making progress because very rarely the goal is to get the right answer/figure out what’s true. Most of the times the desire is to sound smart or other bad things that one wants when they care about social reality. Chess analogy would be memorizing some moves which look impressive and then go to your chess club and try to get into those similar positions to trap your opponent and feel good about trapping your opponent. These feel good in the moment but that can’t be your long term goal. Also I think it is the case that feeling good about trapping your opponent or feeling bad about losing means your approach to life is wrong in some ways (you have some kind of wrong epistemology or morality if you feel those things) but I’m not sure about this.

  • Then he mentions some prerequisites and things you need to automatize so that you can use them to do more advanced stuff. One is math and logic stuff and another is grammar and reading and writing.

  • Rand said that instead of being smarter than other people, the difference between her and other people because of which she was able to create such great work was that she had more integrity than other people (I am paraphrasing what Elliot said in the video and Elliot himself was paraphrasing so this isn’t an exact quote). This also reminds me of something Einstein supposed to have said where he attributes his success to the ability of being passionately curious. A chess analogy would be that there would be no move that you could show to me that will make me think that this move doesn’t make sense. There won’t be any move that will make me think that the reasoning behind making this move is beyond my comprehension. So even these genius people don’t think that it was some special talent they had which made them successful. I think this point is a bit of a side track because Elliot wasn’t reading a script. He then connected this aside to the previous point by saying that lack of integrity is a problem but a bigger problem is poor automatization. The problem of poor automatization is easier to solve than lack of integrity problem.

  • Next point is about rational confidence, overreaching and high accuracy. To improve an automatization you need to find a conscious practice where you can tell if you’re getting things right. If you’re not able to tell if your answers are wrong then you’re doing something which is too hard for you at your current level. Doing this practice is not efficient because you don’t know if you’re right or wrong with high confidence.

  • Next thing Elliot says is that he tried to find easier and easier things people could do and he realized that the most common thing people struggle with are reading errors at the level of grammar misunderstanding. Some people can be at a lower or higher level than that also. But the goal is to find the easiest thing one can do and automatize than can help them improve and grammar seems to be that level where a lot of people struggle with. Then he explain what the grammar skill is about. It is about understanding which words modify which other words and how the words are grouped together. The he gives more details about how to proceed further/what the study plan is gonna be. After sentence trees come paragraph trees and after that essay trees and then chapter trees. You can keep on getting higher and higher level of grouping.

  • Grammar trees don’t have many confusing parts so they are much more doable because understanding right and wrong answers is possible. Paragraph trees are harder. Elliot explains the reason why they are harder but I didn’t get it. Then he mentions some other successes and reasons for failure. Scheduling is one. Sometimes people lie about scheduling but sometimes they manage things badly which can be improved. A lot of people also quit because don’t want to be learners. They want to be someone who is formed already with all the views and opinions and answers. But that cannot be the case. How can you have knowledge about something you haven’t put in the effort to learn. The idea of being a student again leads people to quit.

  • Once you’re done with grammar you’ll be able to see what other immediate problems are and that is the next level you have to improve and automatize. The reading problem seems to be the biggest problem for most people. And unless that is resolved it is hard to tell what other problems might be big as well.

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What’s the learning plan? Is it the Tree Diagrams playlist or is it Text Analysis playlist or is the Tutoring Max videos? I guess going through the grammar article is first thing?

How are kids able to do a great job at learning language? I assume that children become really good at grammar as well because becoming really good at grammar is also required to learn language as well as children end up learning. Are children born with better intuitions of when to have rational confidence and are intuitively better at not overreaching? Do they have higher standards for when to accept things? Do they have higher standards of how well they expect to understand things?

Edit: This is a related question so I’m adding it here. Didn’t want to create a new reply. Are children already born with a good philosophy? If yes isn’t that something which requires explanation? Or it could be the case that people are born with no antirational memes so they’re able to improve their philosophy and ideas about how to learn/improve with relative easy and high success.

Babies spend all their time learning stuff like motor skills, a model of reality (learning about different objects along with basic motion physics and 3d space) and language. You put less effort and time into your learning projects.

Babies aren’t self-conscious, defensive, afraid of making mistakes, worried about what other people think, trying to look cool, pandering, etc.