Wanting to Learn Philosophy

This reminds me of the story of Ayn Rand explaining why the government should stop meddling in one industry to someone. They discussed at length. He conceded. And then he said about about [another industry that all the same arguments apply to]? I think one industry was oil and the other was steel, or something kinda like that.

One take on the story is that he’s concrete-bound, not a conceptual or principled thinker.

I forgot the source. Could probably find it if I put in some work, and Justin might know, but idk if it matters.

It’s also related to Feynman’s story about teaching in Brazil and the students having super fragile knowledge. If you ask in the way they’re used to, they will give the answer, but if you explain the question a different way then they can’t answer. They memorized stuff but don’t know what it means.

Happened to know where to find this offhand (I knew it was in VoR and searched for “what about the”.) From Leonard Peikoff’s essay “My Thirty Years With Ayn Rand: An Intellectual Memoir”, published as the epilogue to The Voice of Reason: Essays in Objectivist Thought:

Ayn Rand started thinking in terms of principles, she told me once, at the age of twelve. To her, it was a normal part of the process of growing up, and she never dropped the method thereafter. Nor, I believe, did she ever entirely comprehend the fact that the approach which was second nature to her was not practiced by other people. Much of the time, she was baffled by or indignant at the people she was doomed to talk to, people like the man we heard about in the early 1950s, who was calling for the nationalization of the steel industry. The man was told by an Objectivist why government seizure of the steel industry was immoral and impractical, and he was impressed by the argument. His comeback was: “Okay, I see that. But what about the coal industry?”

I think there might be a longer and more detailed version of the story somewhere but I’m not sure.

Oh. Like how some of them think “rocket scientist” or “elite computer hacker” is something one can just be, separate from the rest of one’s life. There are multiple ways to be those things, but one can’t just have any kind of personality and lifestyle and expect them to work.

TV sometimes presents them as things you can just be. Sometimes those characters are nerdy and it’s part of a broader lifestyle, but other times it’s e.g. the spunky young fashionable girl who is the great hacker, and there’s nothing else in her life or personality that supports her skillz, she just has them because girls can be coders too.

DD/TCS with its anti-foundations and stuff was kinda like “you can start anywhere, and be any kind of person, and learn philosophy”. That’s not fully wrong but it’s misleading. Philosophy fits better with some lifestyles, traits, tastes, interests, etc., than others. Realistically if you want to be a good philosopher you’ll need some other stuff that goes with it well instead of treating it as a fully isolated thing.

Atlas Shrugged (my bold):

“All of you welfare preachers—it’s not unearned money that you’re after. You want handouts, but of a different kind. I’m a gold-digger of the spirit, you said, because I look for value. Then you, the welfare preachers . . . it’s the spirit that you want to loot. I never thought and nobody ever told us how it could be thought of and what it would mean—the unearned in spirit. But that is what you want. You want unearned love. You want unearned admiration. You want unearned greatness. You want to be a man like Hank Rearden without the necessity of being what he is. Without the necessity of being anything. Without . . . the necessity . . . of being.”

I think I do.

This doesn’t make sense to me as well. Why am I not motivated about doing something that can make my life better? I don’t have an answer to this.

I don’t care much about conforming and fitting in. It might be the case that I don’t believe that doing better is realistic or I don’t understand that how better life could be if I got the process of continual improvement going. Maybe I just want to know some smart things that I can show off to other people in my surrounding so that I can feel superior.

Showing off to other people so that you can feel superior is a way to conform and fit in.

If what you are doing is impressive to other people, that means you are conforming and fitting in to what they think is impressive.

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Thanks for pointing this out. I was seeking debates against people in my surrounding about philosophy topics and winning them. The goal of seeking these debates was that when I win these debates against people in my surrounding I wanted people in my surrounding to think that I know superior ideas. I made the assumption that if I am seeking conflict then I can’t be interested in conforming.

Doesn’t static memes explain this? Static memes have control over me and make me do things that will promote their spreading. Isn’t this a correct explanation?

I don’t think that static memes actually control people and make them do things.

People do feel bad in response to their static memes. But that is not the same as being controlled by them.

How does this work? Let’s say that I come up with two ideas for what I can do (a) watch a youtube video or (b) continue FI discussion that might teach me something or provide me with valuable feedback. (a) makes me feel ok and sometimes happy and (b) doesn’t make me feel as good and feels like effort. (b) can sometimes give mind blowing experiences also. If you were to ask me which is the right thing to do I would say (b) but I only feel like doing (b) when motivation strikes. I prefer (a) because I like being passive and also I don’t want to go through bad + hard emotions. I do believe in making choice and free will and that contradicts with the idea that something (like static memes) can control me. Even though someone or something is not controlling me I keep making the wrong choice of being passive and it is difficult to overcome and solve this. I agree with the argument that if government started giving universal basic income then people will just sit on their couch all day and watch Netflix i.e. become even more passive. I think that a lot of people are not completely passive because they have some requirements imposed on them like earning money to live so one way to stop being passive is have external requirements imposed on you but I think that would be irrational and it won’t be a true solution to the problem of being passive. How to deal with this problem of so often making the wrong choice of being passive? Does one need to understand how static memes affect us and promote our passive behavior? Or should one learn how to manage motivation?

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I agree that there’s a serious concern there. A lot of retired people don’t do much, too.

Those issues are not where I’d start.

People often look at this issue in terms of emotions which they lack much direct control over. Trying to directly control it is called using “willpower” and often doesn’t work very well.

I think it helps to look at non-emotional problems. A lot of negative emotions are responses or consequences of something else. You can solve the something else and then, often, the emotions change naturally.

There are many something elses, many of which are easier to work on than emotions. It can be hard to tell exactly how relevant they are, so a good strategy is to improve a bunch of them and don’t expect big results from any particular one. Also, improving them is often beneficial in other ways.

What sorts of something elses or underlying causes could be relevant? Here are a few but you could brainstorm many others.

  • finding reading hard (many people don’t recognize that they could be better readers who read with greater ease, but they could be. a rough indication is whether reading 5 novels in a month, for fun, would be a major outlier for you or not. another indicator is how much you gravitate towards audio books, podcasts and videos over text, or find them more fun or easy.)
  • not knowing grammar well. e.g. not knowing if you’re using commas correctly when you try to write
  • not having a bunch of good writing policies automated, such as good sentence and paragraph organization (how much content goes in a sentence or paragraph, where do you end it, how long should they be, how do you connect them together, etc).
  • not having a lot of writing experience
  • not having much debating experience, not being confident in debates, not knowing how to stand up for your ideas against arguments
  • not being great at logic (or being slow, inexperienced, having to stop and think things through a bunch)
  • social anxiety (which is partly emotional but there are lot of non-emotional underlying causes)
  • lack of background knowledge (so a lot of stuff to catch up on keeps coming up)

One of the themes is you need a ton of skills and intellectual tools to be mastered/automatized rather than just be things you can do. That lets you focus your attention on the philosophical content itself and have more fun instead of all those skills requiring work to use (or worse, requiring learning them better before you can even use them effectively).


Another issue is people aren’t good enough at keeping in mind their goals, or connecting goals with actions/life on an ongoing intuitive way instead of just as some words and abstractions (which they only care about when they have their thinking cap on, not when e.g. relaxing or drunk). This results in a lot of short-termism (due to inability to integrate longer term goals into life well) and conventionalism (because it’s much easier to remember and act on standard goals from your society rather than custom, personal goals, because there’s ongoing help/reinforcement/reminders/etc for conventional goals).


A problem with this is it requires actually doing stuff. A lot of my plans for how people could make progress require them to do things – preferably lots of things (so if many help little or none, they could still make progress). I’ve tried to suggest easier things to help with the problem of people not doing things or failing. But some of the difficulty seems to be about doing things at all rather than how hard they are.

I guess part of why people want to do big important fancy stuff (that’s too hard so they fail), instead of incremental progress, is they do so few things. Even when I suggest much easier things, they still tend to do few things. They don’t suddenly start getting dozens of things done when the things are easy and short enough.

So they learn to be mean to themselves.

This was a nice advice. Thanks for pointing this out.

Getting stuck and stopping is I think the biggest problem with me right. I don’t know if I’m using this Goldratt idea correctly but getting stuck and stopping is the biggest constraint for me.

You said that one should really want philosophy. That massively increases the chances of succeeding at becoming great at philosophy. If you really want something you will energetically seek it. While seeking that thing if you get stuck somewhere you’ll be driven by your energy to overcome that obstacle. The image of car/object being stuck within a local valley/trough comes to mind. If you are able to generate enough energy then you’ll come out of that local minima/attractor and reach the next crest. Otherwise you’ll stay stuck. Right now I’m feeling very energetic after reading your great posts in self help books. But I’m pretty sure I’ll lose this energy after a while (few days? few weeks? can’t say.).

What to do about it? How to be able to maintain energy levels?

  1. Use self ideas on how to stay motivated
  2. Start doing simple stuff and see them as good achievements instead of considering them as not impressive.
  3. Stay in touch with CF so you keep encountering great thinking and keep seeing the importance of good thinking and how it can make things awesome.
  4. Discuss stuff you get stuck on and get help.

How to connect goals like becoming better at reason with actions/life on an ongoing intuitive way instead of just as some words and abstractions?

Practice and Mastery?

I had a realization that I don’t know why I want to become better at philosophy. Whenever this question came into my mind I settled it down with the answers that you gave in various places at your blog. The answers were - to become better at error correction, to make less mistakes etc. but these were your answers, not mine. I was just parroting them. What I really want is to become better at reason like you. What I understand philosophy to be is the stuff that Popper or Rand or Socrates wrote about. I have no understanding of how these ideas can help me become better at reason. So it’s true that I don’t want philosophy. I didn’t have a clear goal in my mind. I’m gonna change that. I’m gonna find out how philosophy can help one become better at reason then I’d really want philosophy and won’t mind acquiring the prerequisite skills to be able to learn philosophy well. I’m gonna start with Philosophy Introductions

What will your plan of action be with someone who consistently acknowledged and faced that what they want is for you to change them to be rational, help them want good things, etc. Do you have a learning plan for them? How would you help them if they stuck with you and kept going? I’m imagining it is something like a coach or guide type role. Do you take on such roles if the person asking for coaching satisfied your requirements? The two requirements you mentioned here are that they consistently acknowledge and face that what they’re asking of you is to change them to be rational, help them want good things, etc. and the part of them that wanted this keep going and don’t let their other parts sabotage, work against the help, quit, flake, etc. the plan.

If you want to be better at reason like me – if you want to be similar to me – then studying a bunch of the same things that I have would make sense. I have lots of thoughts about CR, Oism, TOC, etc. Connecting stuff to them, referring to them, applying them, using their examples, etc., is a significant part of how I think.