Self-Help Books

I forgot about this article. I had read it a long time ago. I didn’t remember most of its content. I reread it now. I agree with it. I don’t think it’s precisely relevant to my problem/ what I’m talking about. This thread made me realize that self help is a prerequisite for learning philosophy.

Elliot says that people in all fields are bad at reasoning due to bad philosophy. If you decide to work in the physics field you should expect to not make progress because of bad philosophy. Elliot recommends that the way to deal with this situation is that you should look to become good at philosophy so that you don’t make the errors that people in the physics field are making due to bad philosophy. Then you have a chance to make progress in physics.

Similarly aren’t people in self help field of ideas bad at reasoning as well? Shouldn’t we (edited. forgot to put the word we) be wary of following their ideas. Elliot says that you can follow ideas from self help people and you can deal with the problem of bad ideas in that field due to bad philosophy by using your own capacity to reason. You can try ideas and and try to improve them if you find problems with them or try something other ideas from that field if the idea you’re currently trying doesn’t help you. Isn’t that somewhat contradictory? Why this difference of opinion? I think this difference of opinion exists because physics is more complex field. Elliot said someplace that you don’t need to be (edited. forgot to put the word be) good at philosophy to be a good car mechanic. So maybe that’s why the difference of opinion. If you were somehow magically better at philosophy then yes you would do a better job with applying self help ideas to your life as well but it’s not required. So because self help stuff is perhaps easier and it is required to take on a big challenge like learning philosophy you can follow self help even in your current situation.

And that brings me to my main question. Can going to college be a prerequisite as well? Just like using self help ideas to improve oneself is really useful can college be useful as well? Self help is useful because it can help to get your life figured out decently, including regarding self-help topics like emotions (such as anger, hostility, anxiety, sadness, upsetness, tilt, frustration, not being calm), bias, scheduling, productivity, procrastination, sleep, eating, exercise, habits, practical problem-solving, learning new things, doing new things, and communication. Similarly I think college can be helpful because it gives you a degree and provides you with a network and make it easier for you to get a higher paying job if your degree is in STEM fields. Does it make sense to go to college even if there are some bad things about college including the problems caused due to bad philosophy?

You can learn physics and get a job and do useful tasks without great philosophy. Some people fail at that but plenty succeed.

You need great philosophy if you want to be a physics genius and make breakthroughs. Or you can be really lucky to come up with a particular idea that turns out great. Or you can be like 1 in 100,000,000 people and that could work out too, though as far as I know there are zero top tier physicists currently.

It’s similar with self-help. You can learn about it and do OK with it and have a decent chance at that as a normal person with mediocre philosophy skills. But if you want to innovate in the field, then you need something special such as great philosophy or extraordinary luck or being one of a tiny fraction of people who somehow manage to be really effective in some other way.

Physics is actually kinda easier to learn to a medium level than self help. If you’re pretty good at math (top 10%?) and then do university classes and care enough to put in the work, then you have a good chance to get to medium level at physics (competent to do physics work but not very creative). We have no training with similar reliability for self-help topics.

So are self help books any good when most of the experts are mediocre and bad at innovating? Some are. Why? A few people manage to do above average for some reason. Most attempts at innovation are bad. But a lot of people give pretty unoriginal advice. They copy a lot of the best prior work. So then their advice is OK. So some of the popular books are either from someone particularly good or, more commonly, they borrow/share/repeat a lot of the ideas from such a person. Often they add a bit of spin on previous ideas. This spin often makes things worse without ruining them. Sometimes it makes it a little better in some non-fundamental way, like being better at communicating with modern audiences, or being better at communicating with a particular niche group.

I’d call self help a potential prerequisite for philosophy. It’s more optional than, say, being good at reading.

If you try to learn philosophy and run into some problems – as is to be expected – then you might try to work on them directly for a while and get stuck. Then there are a lot of more indirect issues to look at. Some are strong prerequisites like literacy and some are softer prerequisites like being good at speedrunning (definitely not necessary, but it can be helpful and is a thing one might try).

What you need is very contextual. It depends on your situation, your knowledge, your interests, your values, etc. There are many paths to great philosophy/rationality that can work. You probably need to acquire some more prerequisites, but I can’t be very specific about which ones. Some are more commonly useful than others. Knowing grammar and dependency trees could help a lot of people, so I’d generally recommend it for people who are open to if. If it sounds good to you, then I think it’s likely to help. If it sounds bad to you, then some other option may be better, though you could reconsider it and look into it more if you struggle to find alternatives or if you get a clearer picture of your blockers and think grammar analysis is especially relevant.

Self help has a bunch of options instead of being one thing. A lot of people could find some self help stuff that works pretty well for them. The field has so many resources aimed at different groups that there’s kinda something for everyone. Some of it is crap, some is reasonably helpful, and sometimes there’s a bit of greatness (but I don’t know anything really great overall, like Rand or Goldratt quality).

You definitely don’t need a 120K+ income job to do philosophy. That is a thing which could help, but it’s a very soft, optional prerequisite. And generally if you’re successful with philosophy, you’ll prefer to get your income from it, so you won’t want the job anymore.

A 120K job has downsides. Those kinds of jobs tend to take up a lot of your life. You may work on some weekends. You may think about work at home. You may choose some hobbies that are adjacent to the job. You may make friends with coworkers who are into the job topic and some adjacent stuff but not philosophy. The job may stress you out or require a lot of mental energy. A lot of those jobs are knowledge work. Or if it’s physical work that pays that well, that’s probably hard and tiring too. Or if it’s a relatively easy, unproductive job at some kind of upper-middle management, say, then it probably requires a lot of attention to office politics since other people will want that job too, fight you for promotions, maneuver to get credit for everything good and blame others for every bad result, etc.

Anyway, the more you set up your life without philosophy, the greater the risk that you make a bunch of mistakes with long term consequences. Getting married before having reasonably stable philosophy views is a risk. So is long term dating. So is choosing a job. So is learning a field.

An undergraduate degree that you finish at 22 has risks but, big picture, it’s not that bad (if you enjoy it; if you hate going to school then it is that bad). You’re still young at 22 and have reasonable flexibility (particularly if you have little to no debt – significant debt is a big problem). A PhD you finish at 27 is considerably riskier. Now you’re a lot older and have done a lot more committal stuff. It’s a much bigger deal to go do something that doesn’t use your PhD than to go do something that doesn’t use your undergrad degree. From age like 18-30 (very roughly; it varies) is a pretty crucial time period when you’re a young adult with some freedom and flexibility. By 30, most people have their life path pretty set (including people who don’t choose a career; they usually don’t seriously start pursuing a career later either; if you’re pretty directionless at 30 you’re likely to still be like that at 40). An undergrad degree uses up like a third of that 18-30 time frame. A PhD uses more like 70%.

People often don’t realize how much they set up their life as they do it. They don’t realize how much they’re structuring their interests, hobbies, friends, and everything else around some lifestyle that makes it hard to change.

College provides you with the opportunity to develop a social/career network. That’s different than providing the network.

If you go to class and do what you’re supposed to do, you’ll get a degree and some skills, but will not get a network. A useful network takes some extra actions on your own initiative.

Networking also involves stuff like choosing who to have in your peer group and who not to. It’s somewhat committal. You’ll tend to be influenced a lot by your peer group. You’ll tend to become and stay more similar to them. It’s part of how you choose your path in life. So if you study stock broker stuff and network with finance bros and get that kind of job, you’re probably going to end up one of them, not a philosopher. You’ll drift away from philosophy the more you fit in with that other stuff. You’ll choose hobbies, interests and many other things in ways that are compatible with the finance life rather than developing and selecting them in philosophy oriented ways. To be really good at stuff, you need to arrange your life so a bunch of stuff indirectly supports and reinforces it, and other stuff doesn’t clash with it (not a 100% hard requirement, but it’s unrealistic to expect greatness otherwise). By far the easiest way to do that is to start doing something early – e.g. by age 20 (though 10 is better) – so it’s already part of your life first when you add a bunch of other stuff to your life. Changing later is hard because there’s so much intertwined stuff to change, much of it only indirectly related, and no one thing is a hard blocker but there are a lot of things and they add up, and you don’t want to change half your life, and even if you did want to that might not work out well.

I can’t thank you enough for giving such a detailed and complete analysis with explanations! I guess this would’ve taken me atleast a week to do this analysis. And I’m not even sure whether I would’ve succeeded or not. I most likely would’ve got stuck and stopped.

I don’t find one error with your explanations. It gives me every answer I was looking for. This exhibit of great reasoning convinces me of the importance of getting great at philosophy. To anyone else reading this imagine having this capacity to reason through your problems.

Thanks again!

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I’ll try to explain Elliot’s answers in my own words to check my understanding, get a better understanding and to get feedback.

I have a better perspective of what I was confused about. The thing I was trying to make sense of was when to add philosophy to ones life. Some constraints/ things to think through are:

  1. You need some skills to learn philosophy
  2. Philosophy is super important.
  3. A lot of things are bad in the world are because of bad philosophy.
  4. Bad things include:
  • academic fields like maths, physics, biology, medicine not making progress.
  • Another bad thing is people not making progress in their own lives. People can go into these fields and improve them by removing irrationality from these fields. People can make progress in these fields and advance them further. People can be better at their jobs and thus be able to create more positive value. People can run their businesses better. People can become more competent and thus do their tasks much better and with more ease as compared to their current level.
  • People are bad at raising kids. Humans are born creative but bad parenting destroys their mind.
  • People engage with social reality. To do a good job of dealing with social reality you need to become great at at some skills which harm your rational problem solving faculties.
  • People are bad at marriage and long term dating. Collaborating on long term projects like raising children together requires you being good at problem solving.
  1. Continuing on the constrains list. Getting good at philosophy can be hard and take time.
  2. People are expected to follow the cultural expectations of getting good grades, getting into good colleges, getting good/high status jobs. And they are expected to do these things by a certain age.
  3. You also have to organize other parts of your life outside of your job/work to be somewhat in relation with your job only.
  4. You have to start making your own living. When you’re in school and college or a PhD program you almost always get supported. But if you choose to do philosophy as a career then only support is academia. I don’t think there are any jobs which hire philosophers apart from college professors. Jobs like theoretical physics where you work on interpretation of quantum mechanics is also pretty much a philosophy job. I don’t remember what Elliot criticisms of academic philosophy. I’m gonna read them again soon. If you plan to make a living using philosophy you need to get sufficiently good at it first.

Keeping all this in mind when is the best time to start learning philosophy?

  1. Childhood is the best time. When you’re in school you have enough time. Children are encouraged to read. Spending time with book is seen as a good thing. Developing an interest in childhood and then systematically learning philosophy would be the best. The environment is most conducive during this phase of ones life.
  2. During college. People join drama club, dance club etc. People make time for such activities. You can use this time for learning philosophy instead.

It’s not a clear cut how to rank which is better time to learn philosophy when people are in different phases of their life. One can instead do a pro con analysis. Also note these phases can overlap.

If your goal is to go into an academic field to make important contributions there and you have started your PhD program then one of the major problem is finding time. From what I’ve heard people talk about how little time you get to do anything else other than work. You have the same problem with going for a 120K job. The job I was thinking of was a typical job that you go for after majoring in computer science. I really liked what Elliot said here:

This explains things very well. If you’ve chosen to join a PhD program then you’ve set up one aspect of your life. If you took a 120K job you’ve set up your life in another aspect. Similarly for dating, marriage, having kids. Every setting up that you do is gonna affect how your life will unfold.
Now the thing of importance here is that how you are setting up the a particular aspect of your life. As in were you good enough at philosophy to remove errors while setting up your life in some aspect. If you became good at philosophy before setting up the job aspect of your life then the risk of setting up your jobs with some errors will be low. And if errors occur it will be easier to remove them. And it won’t hinder you in improving further at philosophy and making progress in general. Take the management job example that Elliot gave. If you were bad at philosophy and didn’t know the risks of becoming really good at engaging with social reality then you would’ve set yourself up badly.

I was confusing two different questions: what are the prerequisites for philosophy and when should one start philosophy.


This has pretty much turned into a career discussion. Does it make sense to split this into a separate thread? I have more questions on the career stuff.

Can you talk a bit more about this? How can one use their philosophy skill to earn money? Philosophy consulting? What else? Do people understand how philosophy can help them? Are there enough people who want philosophy consulting?

To me the best answer to the question - how can getting better at philosophy impact your income? - is: You’ll be able to write a piece of software twice as fast so you’ll end up saving half of your time. You can use that time to take another freelance project for example and double your income or use that time for something else that you like doing.

For example: Books, newspaper and magazine articles, speaking fees, think tank salary, awards, grants, teaching, tutoring, ghost writing, online courses, patreon, donations, YouTube ads, sponsored videos, blog ads, Amazon referral links, Substack subscriptions, Twitch subscribers, life coaching, selling forum memberships (I think Harry Binswanger has over 500 people paying over $10/month).

Many of those require over 1000 fans to make much money. Some, like ads, need a lot more popularity. Some can work with just a few wealthy clients. Most can make a lot of money alone, but you can also get income from a bunch of options at once.

This is without mixing philosophy with other stuff like business management.

You could also leverage good ideas on how to get payed more for software and increase how much you earn. See eg Jonathan Stark for how to think differently re pricing.

I read quite a few in high-school. To be more accurate, I read some and primarily listened to a lot of audiobooks of self-help books. I remember vaguely some stuff from them.

  • Unfu*k Yourself: Get Out of Your Head and into Your Life by Gary John Bishop. Currently re-listening to this one. (originally listened to it ~7yrs ago). There’s some stuff in it that I’ve found helpful. I plan to share some of the stuff in it that I thought was good here.

  • Habit Stacking: 127 Small Changes to Improve Your Health, Wealth, and Happiness by S.J. Scott, Jonathan Green. I vaguely remember this one. I read it about ~6yrs ago. I’ll probably revisit it. I liked it. It played a part in how I approach my day with stacking habits on top of another.

  • Find Your Path: A Short Guide for Living with Purpose and Being Your Own Man…No Matter What People Think by Bruce Bryans. ~7 years ago. I vaguely remember this one. The advice was pretty generic but I do remember doing the stuff it told me. I’ll revisit it and see if anything carried to this day.

  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen R. Covey. ~7 years ago. I liked it. I’m pretty sure there’s some stuff from here I’ve taken that I still do to this day.

  • The 5 Second Rule by Mel Robbins (audiobook). ~7 years ago. I really liked this book a lot. This is something I still use today to get stuff done. In fact, I liked it so much that I’d go out of my at times to not do a countdown to keep avoiding doing something (not good I know).

  • Atomic Habits by James Clear (audiobook). No clue when I listened to this. Don’t remember even having this in my audible library. No opinion.

  • The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson. (audiobook) ~7yrs ago, My first audiobook. I remember really liking this one. I’m gonna re-visit it.

Those look generic or habit oriented, which is fine. But you might benefit from trying a book that helps with a specific problem you have. For example, do you have issues with perfectionism or addiction? There are books on those topics.

That’s a good idea. I also have some physical self-help books somewhere in my house, but I do remember that they were all pretty generic/habit oriented.

I do have addiction problems. I don’t have any one particular addiction that I could point out and try and address. (I mean I have quite a few things I could call addictions, I don’t know if its worth addressing each individual one as its own addiction.) Its more like I have an addictive personality? One pattern of bad life stuff I run into is having my life seemingly in order, and then finding a new manga, webnovel, tv show, or whatever and then binging it to my detriment. Stuff I was doing okay for a while becomes secondary until I feel content consuming the stuff. I have seen videos and stuff where this is a common pattern so there should be stuff talking about it.

My focus has always been trying to get my life in order but I never focused on addressing issues related to why I might be struggling with it. I just kind of force myself to get my life together.

I’ll go look into some books. I’ll also look through this thread one more time to see if anything notable was mentioned.

Kinda off topic from self-help books: I started watching HealthyGamerGG. He’s a psychiatrist on YouTuber who talks about mental health issues. So far I’ve liked a lot of his stuff.