"For skeptics, the idea that reason can lead to a cult is absurd.  The characteristics of a cult are 180 degrees out of phase with reason.  But as I will demonstrate, not only can it happen, it has happened, and to a group that would have to be considered the unlikeliest cult in history.  It is a lesson in what happens when the truth becomes more important than the search for truth..."
                 —Michael Shermer, "The Unlikeliest Cult in History"

I think Michael Shermer is over-explaining Objectivism.  I'll get around to amplifying on that.

Ayn Rand's novels glorify technology, capitalism, individual defiance of the System, limited government, private property, selfishness. Her ultimate fictional hero, John Galt, was <SPOILER>a scientist who invented a new form of cheap renewable energy; but then refuses to give it to the world since the profits will only be stolen to prop up corrupt governments.</SPOILER>

And then—somehow—it all turned into a moral and philosophical "closed system" with Ayn Rand at the center.  The term "closed system" is not my own accusation; it's the term the Ayn Rand Institute uses to describe Objectivism.  Objectivism is defined by the works of Ayn Rand.  Now that Rand is dead, Objectivism is closed.  If you disagree with Rand's works in any respect, you cannot be an Objectivist.

Max Gluckman once said:  "A science is any discipline in which the fool of this generation can go beyond the point reached by the genius of the last generation."  Science moves forward by slaying its heroes, as Newton fell to Einstein.  Every young physicist dreams of being the new champion that future physicists will dream of dethroning.

Ayn Rand's philosophical idol was Aristotle.  Now maybe Aristotle was a hot young math talent 2350 years ago, but math has made noticeable progress since his day.  Bayesian probability theory is the quantitative logic of which Aristotle's qualitative logic is a special case; but there's no sign that Ayn Rand knew about Bayesian probability theory when she wrote her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged.  Rand wrote about "rationality", yet failed to familiarize herself with the modern research in heuristics and biases.  How can anyone claim to be a master rationalist, yet know nothing of such elementary subjects?

"Wait a minute," objects the reader, "that's not quite fair!  Atlas Shrugged was published in 1957!  Practically nobody knew about Bayes back then."  Bah.  Next you'll tell me that Ayn Rand died in 1982, and had no chance to read Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases, which was published that same year.

Science isn't fair.  That's sorta the point.  An aspiring rationalist in 2007 starts with a huge advantage over an aspiring rationalist in 1957.  It's how we know that progress has occurred.

To me the thought of voluntarily embracing a system explicitly tied to the beliefs of one human being, who's dead, falls somewhere between the silly and the suicidal.  A computer isn't five years old before it's obsolete.

The vibrance that Rand admired in science, in commerce, in every railroad that replaced a horse-and-buggy route, in every skyscraper built with new architecture—it all comes from the principle of surpassing the ancient masters. How can there be science, if the most knowledgeable scientist there will ever be, has already lived?  Who would raise the New York skyline that Rand admired so, if the tallest building that would ever exist, had already been built?

And yet Ayn Rand acknowledged no superior, in the past, or in the future yet to come.  Rand, who began in admiring reason and individuality, ended by ostracizing anyone who dared contradict her.  Shermer: "[Barbara] Branden recalled an evening when a friend of Rand's remarked that he enjoyed the music of Richard Strauss.  'When he left at the end of the evening, Ayn said, in a reaction becoming increasingly typical, 'Now I understand why he and I can never be real soulmates.  The distance in our sense of life is too great.'  Often she did not wait until a friend had left to make such remarks."

Ayn Rand changed over time, one suspects.

Rand grew up in Russia, and witnessed the Bolshevik revolution firsthand.  She was granted a visa to visit American relatives at the age of 21, and she never returned.  It's easy to hate authoritarianism when you're the victim.  It's easy to champion the freedom of the individual, when you are yourself the oppressed.

It takes a much stronger constitution to fear authority when you have the power.  When people are looking to you for answers, it's harder to say "What the hell do I know about music? I'm a writer, not a composer," or "It's hard to see how liking a piece of music can be untrue."

When you're the one crushing those who dare offend you, the exercise of power somehow seems much more justifiable than when you're the one being crushed.  All sorts of excellent justifications somehow leap to mind.

Michael Shermer goes into detail on how he thinks that Rand's philosophy ended up descending into cultishness.  In particular, Shermer says (it seems) that Objectivism failed because Rand thought that certainty was possible, while science is never certain.  I can't back Shermer on that one.  The atomic theory of chemistry is pretty damned certain.  But chemists haven't become a cult.

Actually, I think Shermer's falling prey to correspondence bias by supposing that there's any particular correlation between Rand's philosophy and the way her followers formed a cult.  Every cause wants to be a cult.

Ayn Rand fled the Soviet Union, wrote a book about individualism that a lot of people liked, got plenty of compliments, and formed a coterie of admirers. Her admirers found nicer and nicer things to say about her (happy death spiral), and she enjoyed it too much to tell them to shut up.  She found herself with the power to crush those of whom she disapproved, and she didn't resist the temptation of power.

Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden carried on a secret extramarital affair.  (With permission from both their spouses, which counts for a lot in my view.  If you want to turn that into a "problem", you have to specify that the spouses were unhappy—and then it's still not a matter for outsiders.)  When Branden was revealed to have "cheated" on Rand with yet another woman, Rand flew into a fury and excommunicated him.  Many Objectivists broke away when news of the affair became public.

Who stayed with Rand, rather than following Branden, or leaving Objectivism altogether?  Her strongest supporters.  Who departed?  The previous voices of moderation.  (Evaporative cooling of group beliefs.)  Ever after, Rand's grip over her remaining coterie was absolute, and no questioning was allowed.

The only extraordinary thing about the whole business, is how ordinary it was.

You might think that a belief system which praised "reason" and "rationality" and "individualism" would have gained some kind of special immunity, somehow...?

Well, it didn't.

It worked around as well as putting a sign saying "Cold" on a refrigerator that wasn't plugged in.

The active effort required to resist the slide into entropy wasn't there, and decay inevitably followed.

And if you call that the "unlikeliest cult in history", you're just calling reality nasty names.

Let that be a lesson to all of us:  Praising "rationality" counts for nothing.  Even saying "You must justify your beliefs through Reason, not by agreeing with the Great Leader" just runs a little automatic program that takes whatever the Great Leader says and generates a justification that your fellow followers will view as Reason-able.

So where is the true art of rationality to be found?  Studying up on the math of probability theory and decision theory.  Absorbing the cognitive sciences like evolutionary psychology, or heuristics and biases.  Reading history books...

"Study science, not just me!" is probably the most important piece of advice Ayn Rand should've given her followers and didn't.  There's no one human being who ever lived, whose shoulders were broad enough to bear all the weight of a true science with many contributors.

It's noteworthy, I think, that Ayn Rand's fictional heroes were architects and engineers; John Galt, her ultimate, was a physicist; and yet Ayn Rand herself wasn't a great scientist.  As far as I know, she wasn't particularly good at math.  She could not aspire to rival her own heroes.  Maybe that's why she began to lose track of Tsuyoku Naritai.

Now me, y'know, I admire Francis Bacon's audacity, but I retain my ability to bashfully confess, "If I could go back in time, and somehow make Francis Bacon understand the problem I'm currently working on, his eyeballs would pop out of their sockets like champagne corks and explode."

I admire Newton's accomplishments.  But my attitude toward a woman's right to vote, bars me from accepting Newton as a moral paragon. Just as my knowledge of Bayesian probability bars me from viewing Newton as the ultimate unbeatable source of mathematical knowledge. And my knowledge of Special Relativity, paltry and little-used though it may be, bars me from viewing Newton as the ultimate authority on physics.

Newton couldn't realistically have discovered any of the ideas I'm lording over him—but progress isn't fair!  That's the point!

Science has heroes, but no gods.  The great Names are not our superiors, or even our rivals, they are passed milestones on our road; and the most important milestone is the hero yet to come.

To be one more milestone in humanity's road is the best that can be said of anyone; but this seemed too lowly to please Ayn Rand.  And that is how she became a mere Ultimate Prophet.

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Eliezer: "As far as I know, [Rand] wasn't particularly good at math."

A relevant passage from Barbara Branden's biography of Rand:

"The subject [Rand] most enjoyed during her high school years, the one subject of which she never tired, was mathematics. 'My mathematics teacher was delighted with me. When I graduated, he said, "It will be a crime if you don't go into mathematics." I said only, "That's not enough of a career." I felt that it was too abstract, it had nothing to do with real life. I loved it, but I didn't intend to be an engineer or to go into any applied profession, and to study mathematics as such seemed too ivory tower, too purposeless---and I would say so today.' Mathematics, she thought, was a method. Like logic, it was an invaluable tool, but it was a means to an end, not an end in itself. She wanted an activity that, while drawing on her theoretical capacity, would unite theory and its practical application. That desire was an essential element in the continuing appeal that fiction held for her: fiction made possible the integration of wide abstract principles and their direct expression in and application to man's life." (Barbara Branden, The Passion of Ayn Rand, page 35 of my edition)

I would note that high school math isn't really "math". At least I don't think of it that way. Maybe that's because I'm a "rare case": really good at math (though not super good like some people here) - 36 on math ACT, AIME qualifier - and then not at all exceptionally good at college math. It could have been psychological factors: maybe if I studied linear algebra now I'd understand it just fine (in fact, I suspect I would). That's just the justification for my observation is all.


From the impression I get from my acquaintances who grew up in the USSR, high school math over there was considerably more advanced than what passes as 'math' in most of North America's school system, and included linear algebra and calculus. I don't know if this is still the case.

Based on anecdotal reports from my friends in the mathematics community, the fall of the USSR has not been kind to mathematics education.
I don't know if it's still the case, either, but I can confirm from first-hand experience that it definitely used to be as you say.
I attended 2 years of school in Ukraine before my family immigrated. This was in '96/97. I can attest that math was far more advanced there (at least back then. Though this is still post-ussr). Ex: We were learning about functions in grade 2 (didnt touch it until grade 8-9 here in Canada.) I remember my parents being somewhat unhappy when most of the math I did in third Year was two digit addition and subtraction.

And that's why people should follow Saint Max instead.

No fixed ideas! No fixed ideas! No fixed ideas!

Except the Sequences, which are canon.
:) There is a distinction (and I think a good one) between canonicity and fixed ideas. I think it is always good, adding nuance and historical depth to one's thought, to read the Canon in any subject area. My library science hero Peter Briscoe characterizes a subject area's canon saying " in general half the knowledge in any given subject is contained in or two dozen groundbreaking or synthesizing works," (pg. 11). The value of reading these "canonical" works is not that they are the dogmas YOU HAVE TO BELIEVE, but that these are the ideas you have to engage with, these are the people you need to understand, reading x, y, and z is fundamental to your engaging in conversation with this community of scholars. The Sequences, hate some or love some, are part of the Canon around here. Canonicity causes fixed ideas only in so far as it focuses the conversation and methodology. Responses to a certain idea "will naturally tend towards a certain, limited range of positions (like, either bodies can be infinitely divided, or not - and in the latter case one is an atomist)," (Rule 1 for History of Philosophy, Peter Adamson). Briscoe's little book "Reading the Map of Knowledge" is, to me, canonical reading for being a rationalist. If you're interested, it's like 6 bucks.

i really enjoyed this essay. Thank-you!!

Great essay!

But, how can a set of ideas be a closed system? It's ridiculous. If someone were to tell me that Objectivism is closed, I would say, Ha! I just reopened it. Ha! Try and stop me from calling myself an Objectivist if I feel like it! Oh, they can trademark it, I supposed, but if they do, I could rename my system as Reasonablism and explain it as an improved form of what-Ayn-Rand-was-talking-about.

A community of people can close itself off, but ideas are helpless to resist whatever buccaneering minds may prey upon them. This harkens to Buckminster Fuller's cry that "true wealth only increases", because true wealth is knowledge and knowledge is infinitely replicable and shareable.

A set of people can be closed to updates on their ideas.

But what if the source of much of your material in this essay on Ayn Rand's life is itself inaccurate and untrue? Another author--James Valliant--who wrote on Ayn Rand's life studied her private journals (that were unavailable to Barbara Branden and Nathaniel Brandon). According to him, the air of cultishness was initiated and encouraged by Nathaniel Brandon, who monitored all of Rand's guests, visitors, and letters, to ensure that they were not antagonistic to Rand. Apparently, all this was done without Rand's knowledge until much later she found out, including Branden's continued deception of her.

And of course, Eleizer has already quoted the scripture of the prophet Brian, who sayeth:

"Look. You've got it all wrong. You don't need to follow me. You don't need to follow anybody! You've got to think for yourselves. You're all individuals! You're all different! You've all got to work it out for yourselves! Don't let anyone tell you what to do!" (Life of Brian, scene 19)

She's not the Messiah. She's a very naughty girl.

Great essay.

'...Marx wrote a letter to the French workers' leader [...], accusing them of "revolutionary phrase-mongering" and of denying the value of reformist struggles; "if that is Marxism" — paraphrasing what Marx wrote — "then I am not a Marxist".'

From Wiki. It must take a lot of balls to say 'you have strayed from my original Idea, I want none of this', and risk marginalisation. Much easier to just be the idol.

Regarding Shermer on science being uncertain: I listen to a lot of skeptics, and I think he's merely saying that science cannot be literally 100% absolute in its certainty. Sure, a theory can explain all the existing evidence (known cases) and make accurate predictions its scope about unexamined cases. But empirical test of it can only ever approach 100% certainty and can never really achieve it.

Thats just my take on it.

Yes, I think Shermer is making a similar point to "1 is not a probability".

But what if the source of much of your material in this essay on Ayn Rand's life is itself inaccurate and untrue? Another author--James Valliant--who wrote on Ayn Rand's life studied her private journals (that were unavailable to Barbara Branden and Nathaniel Brandon). According to him, the air of cultishness was initiated and encouraged by Nathaniel Brandon, who monitored all of Rand's guests, visitors, and letters, to ensure that they were not antagonistic to Rand.

A single anecdote should throw enough light on Rand's character to disprove this hypothesis. The libertarian economist Murray Rothbard was for a time part of Rand's circle of friends. But when Rand learned that Rothbard's wife was a Christian, she gave Rothbard six months to convert her to atheism, or else divorce her. Rothbard of course did neither, and was, accordingly, excommunicated soon thereafter.

The atomic theory of chemistry is pretty damned certain.

There is a world of difference between "pretty damned" and "completely".

The problem is not being willing to assign confidence values so close to one that our brains can no longer tell the difference. The problem is doing so improperly.

I love the repeated metaphor of milestones, roads, and journeys. Ah, progress! The bliss that comes from the belief that the destination is known and inevitable!

That is one great blog post.

On a lighter note, this sordid affair did give us the excellent term "randroid".

Interesting stuff about Rand, but about Aristotle, just to keep the history honest, although he was perfectly capable of making important contributions to the math of the day (plane geometry; not the logic that he, with characteristic immodesty, informs us he actually invented!)--think of his response to Zeno's paradox--Aristotle didn't view math (again, qua geometry) as being fundamental to the deepest understanding of the universe. That view was well known to him through Plato and the Pythagoreans, but Aristotle explicitly rejected it in favor of a scien... (read more)

Great post. You nailed my main issues with objectivism. I think the material is still worth reading. Rand considered herself a philosopher and seemed to feel there was a lot to be gained from telling her people to read more philosophy and broaden their horizons, but when it came to scientific works she never expresses much awareness of the "state of the art" of her time. In fact, her epistemology makes assumptions about the operation of the brain (in behavioralism and learning) that I'm not sure could be made correctly with the state of neuroscience and related disciplines at the time.

I think a better way of looking at established science is that it is completely certain, barring further information, and being willing/able to consider further, possibly contradictory information.

I don't really think confidence values are useful in the absence of knowledge of how complete your current knowledge of a domain actually is.

I do wonder if Rand was a sort of an evangelist in a sense for a more reasoned-out philosophy than what existed and maybe she thought something like, "Okay, this is good enough for now--now I'm going to go out and spread the word of this particular philosophy." Certainty does have a certain rhetorical use, and if it persuades people away form a less reasonable approach, maybe it's worthwhile. If we all sat around waiting for perfect knowledge before we started talking about our ideas, we'd never speak.

Not to say I necessarily endorse Rand's app... (read more)

I don't think so because analytical philosophy was well established in the fifties, and the idealsim she railed against was out of fashion.

Where is the spoiler warning for those of us in the midst of this epic novel. I'd say more but I stopped reading at John Galt is...


People focus on the messenger more than on the message. Jesus preached individual freedom for which he was executed by the Authorities of the time. Now, dare I say, the majority of people who praise Jesus willingly empower the authority of their time to limit individual freedom, while at the same time preaching it.

We can argue that science proves that nothing is certain, but red and white blood cells keep you alive, and that's unlikely to change. We can't live at our current state of output if we didn't take this for granted. Thus, certainties exist at var... (read more)

I read Atlas this summer. It was hard going, but rewarding in the end. It made every other work of fiction I have read since seem easy. Ayn Rand's ideas are wonderfully different. They refreshed my thinking. However, I carried a 'cult warning' consciously in my head while reading and remembered it every time I had the urge to give up everything I owned and head to Colorado. In short, concerns about the cult of Ayn Rand put me off taking her as seriously as I might have otherwise done. (I'm not saying I would have gone to the gulch had I not had this proviso.)

I fear the word "cult" obscures many difficult issues. I'm no fan of Rand-fandom, but I think it is important to identify as clearly as possible just what signs people within such a group could use to see they have a problem. For example, "ostracizing anyone who dared contradict her" would seemingly apply to a great many, perhaps the majority, of ordinary human organizations.

Ah, but A is still A, no matter what any of you may say... :-).

James Bach, the gates of ijtihad are forever closed with the death of her Randness!

"If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book."

Robin : "For example, "ostracizing anyone who dared contradict her" would seemingly apply to a great many, perhaps the majority, of ordinary human organizations." : Yes, but there is a difference between ostracizing = damning to the nethermost pits of hell with no hope of salvation and ostracizing = delaying your next pay increase by a couple of months. i.e., the cult-dom-ness is contingent on the existential nature of the ostracization.

I really enjoyed reading this. Thank you Eliezer.


Great post.

Sure, let's say we accept that Ayn Rand turned out to be a mega-bitch mad control freak in later life?

Does that mean that 'A is A' is somehow wrong?

Can anyone say 'ad hominem fallacy'?

No one is saying A is not A because Rand was a control freak. What we're saying is that a lot of the superstructure of her philosophy supposedly founded on 'A is A' is rubbish and the most obvious example is her personal life; it's a reductio. 'Rand presumably was the person with the best understanding of Randianism, and these absurd actions & statements reflect her understanding; QED, Randianism is absurd.'

As an acquaintance of mine put it, "No, I'm sorry, Objectivism is not a theorem of the predicate calculus."

Ayn Rand was wrong in many regards - and her epistemology came after the definition for her philosophy, and should certainly be discounted as rationalization and little more - but any half-rational Objectivist will recognize that the philosophy should be regarded objectively, and her quite subjective views of personal values should be taken with a grain of salt.

Incidentally, if you're interested in her as a character, you may want to read We The Living (Which she herself described as a philosophical autobiography) - there are several hints scattered throughout it that she always had a love affair with power, that it was not merely something that she developed later in her life.

But values are Objective, per Objectivists. IMO, also her best novel. Her sense of life, without an Objectivist justification for it.

Nice essay but I think you'd benefit from studying the history of science a bit more. Thomas Kuhn's view of paradigms overturning one another is not supported; since Kepler and Galileo it has been almost wholly cumulative. You get can get Kepler's and Galileo's laws from Newton's and you can get Kepler's and Galileo's and Newton's from Einstein's; the surprises have largely been interpretive. Most of the limitations of Galileo's and Newton's and Einstein's laws were known within the framework of those systems. The sense in which the contemporaries of, say, Newton thought that the Newtonian system was "certain" was as a philosophical extension of his science: they thought the necessary extensions needed to address the problems would be broadly "Newtonian" in nature. Theirs was a failure of speculation and not science.

The "revolutions" have only been from systems of folk belief (sometimes sophisticated derivatives like Aristotelian thought) to modern science. Aristotle was not a mathematician of any sort or an experimentalist of any sort; that is, he was not in any way a scientist. His system was subject to sophisticated extension by the Alexandri... (read more)

Studying up on the math of probability theory and decision theory.

Eliezer or anyone else, which books on these subjects are good for beginners?

I think people have a built-in instinct towards self-preservation. What sometimes happens though, is people love something so much, such as a novel, that it becomes an inseparable part of who they are. And that's when cultish behavior starts, because an attack on that idea becomes an attack on them personally. To find fault with that idea is to find fault with them.

Now one thing (not the only thing) that made Objectivism different from other philosophies was that the founder presented it, not as a dry collection of premises and conclusions in an academic j... (read more)

If you want to object to Objectivism (hah) you should do so by discussing the ideas themselves, perhaps by citing passages that highlight basic ideas of the theory. Details of Rand's personal life are irrelevant. Hug the query.

There is an interesting kernel of an idea here: how can one establish a self-renewing philosophy? How can an intellectual leader construct a set of principles which specifically allow for their own revision? Of course, this is very similar to the question of how one can construct a Friendly AI, and the question of how one can construct a Friendly government.

Some have said this essay is a poor, ad hominem criticism of Objectivism. This isn't a criticism of Objectivism per se at all and isn't meant to be - it is intended to answer the question "how did a belief that ostensibly venerates reason and independent thought give rise to cult-like behaviour?" Thus discussion of the merits of Objectivism itself don't address the question, while an account of Rand's life sheds a lot of light.

Studying Rand's life is unlikely to be particularly useful. Studying the historical development of Objectivism as a group phenomenon is probably the most fruitful strategy.

I have noticed that people's beliefs about the nature of positive traits, either in general or specifically, has a great deal of influence on their behavior. When virtues are something that you are, rather than the result of how you act, people often stop bothering to act in the difficult and expensive ways necessary to maintain that virtue.

When virtues are internalized, and made part... (read more)


You might try Probability Theory: The Logic of Science by ET Jaynes, and Causality: Models, Reasoning, and Inference by Judea Pearl.

The case against those who see Objectivism as a closed system has been mounted within the ranks of Objectivists. Indeed, the very terms “open” and “closed” systems were coined in a published exchange I had with Leonard Peikoff in 1990, and the battle has been raging for years between the orthodox and the independent wings of the Objectivist movement. Fortunately, there are now many of us in the latter wing. Readers following this thread may be interested in my account of the issues, The Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand: Truth and Toleration in the Objectivist Movement (http://www.atlassociety.org/David%20Kelley%20-%20Truth%20and%20Toleration.pdf). Chapter 5 in particular points out the many ways in which the “closed-system” model contradicts the Objectivist epistemology (pp. 73-85 in the PDF file).

David Kelley, founder & senior fellow, The Atlas Society

Ha! I searched for Kelley to see if anyone else had pointed out that not every Objectivist went the closed system route, and Kelley himself had beat me to it. He also wrote The Art of Reasoning, and there is even a web site with interactive tutorials on the book: http://www.wwnorton.com/college/phil/logic3/

The atomic theory of chemistry is pretty damned certain.

Is it fair to point out that they have split the atom? I won't even bother mentioning QM.

David Kelley,

Maybe you were the first to use the terms "open and closed systems" within Objectivist discourse and publications, but to claim that you "coined" them is utter nonsense. They have been in widespread usage within systems theory and related fields for well over a half century in works by such people as von Bertalanffy and Vernadsky, some of this actually going back as far as the 1920s, if not earlier. Please...

Also, they originally came from thermodynamics...

Just an aside, Rothbard and his coterie made fun of the Rand's cultishness (cf 'Mozart was a Red'), then promptly developed his own (big 'a') Austrian cult after splitting with Cato. Which goes to show recognizing the warning signs in others is no protection.

The atomic theory of chemistry is pretty damned certain.

I know I already made a comment about this, but I'm just so baffled by this statement that I am hoping for some clarification. I mean, I'm pretty sure that this entry was not written before 1897, so it is fair to hold you to know that they discovered the electron. I mean you can't really believe atomic theory of chemistry, let alone think it is pretty damned certain. The theory has held in the 19th century before they discovered electrons, protons, quantum mechanics, E=mc2, quarks, and all that.

Or ... (read more)

Do the words "atomic theory" have a single unambiguous meaning in the context you reply to? Or do you know somehow (telepathy?) the precise referent the writer refers to by the words?

Come on, Mellway. Search for a charitable interpretation of the writer's words. Do not stop your search till you have found an interpretation of the words that makes the sentence non-foolish and non-false.

I'm responding to you, rather than to Mellway, because you responded to him and got strongly upvoted for it when his post was downvoted. Granted that I'm responding nearly seven years after the fact, so you probably won't see this, but others might. For your first sentence, you are arguing definitions. The words do not have a single unambiguous meaning in that context, and some of those meanings are incorrect, and therefore the statement by EY is, quite arguably, incorrect. It is not hard to be more of a chemist than I, yet I postulate that for the first three examples of an "atomic theory of chemistry" you define, I can either point out a known counterexample or a point where the error bars are too large to begin to call the result "pretty damn certain". As an example, the claim that "bonds form between atoms, producing molecules, which have consistent chemical effects" runs into issues such as the orientations of the atoms (protein folding being a common real-world example of how differently-configured molecules of exactly the same atoms bound to the same other atoms can produce completely different chemical effects). Even seemingly-obvious statements, combined with the immediately-obvious caveats, can be incorrect: "all matter (which is more massive than an atom, because atoms aren't actually atomic) is composed of atoms" completely fails to account for neutron stars. I thus claim that the expected definition of the term in such a context as this one cannot be a correct one. Do you have a non-trivial definition of "the atomic theory of chemistry" which is "pretty damn certain"? Normally I'd have said EY would be among the first to point out how much we don't know and still have to learn even where we think we know the answer. Absolutely not. That way lies a path toward one of the very things this (in most ways excellent) article warns against: It is not our job to take everything said by EY or anybody else and consider it from all possible meanings and context
I'm not sure what you're getting at. If I say "It's pretty damned certain that the Earth is round", and someone objected because I didn't specify what I meant by round, I'd think they were wasting everyones time trying to sound smart. Atomic theory is a standard phrase. The theory was vigorously debated in the 19th century, when it was not clear that the structure of matter wasn't, for example, continuous and homogeneous. Claiming it's not precise enough to call certain...I don't know, if you were making a subtler point it was lost on me. (I'm just responding to this comment -- I haven't read the post)

From hanging out at Mises it seems like Walter Block, Stephan Kinsella and Roderick Long are perfectly okay with criticizing Rothbard. I haven't read much from Hoppe so I don't know how he stacks up, but he definitely smacks of right-deviationism. I've heard Agorists claim that they're the only true Rothbardians though.


I suppose you could say that the important truth of atomic chemistry has not been substantively refuted: that there really are objects such as carbon "atoms," nitrogen "atoms," etc. the individual and relational qualities of which determine the natures of the substances they constitute.

In other words, there is no real alternate hypothesis to the above explanation of substances' tendency to combine in small whole-number ratios, only refinements of that hypothesis, or things thought to be physically prior.

I put a lot of weight on Lavoisier's definition of these atoms. As I recall, he wrote something to the effect that whether or not these particles he was talking about are true atoms (in the original greek sense), they were indivisible to Lavoisier. Subsequently, the term "atom" has simply meant those kinds of bodies. If you assume that "atom" must always and only mean particles which are absolutely indivisible, then of course you will disagree, but I do not think the term was used exclusively that way, even among the 18th century chemists who worked out the theory's basics.

But that fails to take into account the many ways we have learned of since then where matter does not "have a tendency to combine in small whole-number ratios". Neutron stars are massive quantities of substance, form naturally, and are composed of things with approximately the mass of a hydrogen atom, but almost none of its other properties. An alpha particle (He-4 nucleus) is similarly reminiscent of a helium atom, but exhibits significantly different properties; a beta particle (free electron) bears no resemblance in mass or behavior to any atom. Despite this, both are naturally occurring "substances" (here "substance" is defined as "quantity of matter"). Heck, even atoms do not exhibit the same properties; a large collection of atoms which have higher-energy electron orbits than their base state will emit photons while they tend back toward that base state, but a large collection of naturally-occurring Hydrogen will include some Deuterium (which is stable and has most of the properties of hydrogen except its mass) and some Tritium which still chemically resembles Hydrogen (despite being about three times its mass) until at some point it spontaneously transmutes into Helium-3 and gains an entirely new set of chemical properties. Modern chemists consider the typical behavior of atoms a useful approximation in many contexts, but that doesn't make it "pretty damn certain".

Is it just me or do others too notice that the quality of comments and dialog here is much higher than on most blogs?

It isn't just you.
The proportion of constructive, intelligent comments on Less Wrong is about 90%. On Facebook it's maybe 30%. On Youtube it's about 5%. Clearly we are doing something right!
Having a self-selecting social group that strongly encourages both posting defensible claims and admitting when you are wrong will do wonders for a community. It requires a strong social consensus that these are desirable characteristics, of course - a sufficiently large group of trolls upvoting their own trolling and downvoting everybody else could pose a threat to the system - but that's where having the group be self-selected is a good thing. On the other hand, I find myself forced to ask: have you any citations or evidence to support those numbers? :-D

Up the thread a piece, Vejay referred to a book called The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics, by James Valliant.

Vejay said:

Another author--James Valliant--who wrote on Ayn Rand's life studied her private journals (that were unavailable to Barbara Branden and Nathaniel Brandon [sic]). According to him, the air of cultishness was initiated and encouraged by Nathaniel Brandon, who monitored all of Rand's guests, visitors, and letters, to ensure that they were not antagonistic to Rand. Apparently, all this was done without Rand's knowledge until much later she found out, including Branden's continued deception of her.

In point of fact, Mr. Valliant's book is an unscholarly mess.

(1) Although his prime objective is to discredit The Passion of Ayn Rand by Barbara Branden, Mr. Valliant frequently misquotes her book or imposes preposterous interpretations on what she said in it. See, for instance, Neil Parille's meticulous dissection at< http://www.objectivistliving.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=4405&st=60>.

(2) Mr. Valliant insults his readers' intelligence by telling them that passages that he has just quoted from Ayn Rand's journals do not mean what anyone with a modicum of sens... (read more)

Is it just me or do others too notice that the quality of comments and dialog here is much higher than on most blogs?

It turns out that all the people who think otherwise have already left... :) But I agree with you! All hail Cultmaster Eliezer!

I know it's in jest, but honestly... let's be especially careful about that. Right now everyone can see you're joking; but human organizations degenerate into cults with astounding regularity. It's a good idea to keep in mind at least one thing you can think of that any given authority figure has gotten wrong. So find at least one thing, preferably something important, but better something trivial than nothing at all, that Eliezer has said, which you believe to be false. I could tell you mine, but then you'd just be taking me on authority.

Passing thought. In another world, Lewis Little is the Lysenko of the Objectivist Party.

It turns out that all the people who think otherwise have already left

Not quite all.

With regard to mathematics, it was only with the intellectual help of Ayn Rand's epistemology that I independently discovered hypercomplex numbers. See the linked press release for more information.

The formal invalidation of the idea that certainty is impossible is that such a statement is a self-contradiction.

I recommend that you read Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology more than once. Struggle to understand each major idea in there, and then try to invalidate them, especially the axioms. Be honest in your arguments, and fight each idea to the bitter end. Eventually, you will start to realize, just as I did, that Rand was a lot smarter than I gave her credit for and knew what she was talking about, and that I wasn't as good and sophisticated as... (read more)

I thought this was all very standard stuff; as I was taught going on half a century ago, the atomic theory of matter simply says you cannot indefinitely divide a sample of something like nitrogen in half. That is, there is a smallest discrete unit of nitrogen that retains all it's chemical properties as opposed to the notion that nitrogen is like an infinitely divisble continuous fluid.

How is it being taught these days?

Having read The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged and Peikoff's OPAR, I've had enough time and material to reflect on Objectivism.

While Rand's contribution to rationalism was mostly admirable, Eliezer's analysis seems very fair. What's interesting, too, is that some of its contents overlaps with the article "The Benefits and Hazards of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand", written by Nathaniel Branden 25 years ago, which can be found in his website.

I recommend the reading.

As Branden (reasonably) states, some of Rand's major flaws were:

  • Confusing reason with “the reasonable”
  • Encouraging repression of emotions
  • Encouraging moralizing
  • Conflating sacrifice and benevolence
  • Overemphasizing the role of philosophical premises
  • Encouraging dogmatism

It's hip with a lot of people to be snarky about Rand, but I've never seen anyone who does it also demonstrate they have the slightest clue what she had to say. I have my own disagreements with Rand, but I've appreciated her more and more as time as gone on. She's more LessWrong than most.

In the interest of being contrarian, I admit having a fondness for her Romantic Manifesto. I didn't really understand how aesthetics could be a worthwhile philosophical practice until she linked it to -- oh, what was the term? -- a person's sense of life.
It's hard to imagine that anyone who'd read Atlas Shrugged could accuse her of thinking that
Exactly, these critiques fascinate me for this reason: Objectivist epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics are deeply flawed and yet people still create straw-men that are easily recognized as such by even casual dabblers in Objectivism like myself (your's being a good example). What causes people to do that?
I think EY gave the answer in Chapter 83. Harry, the consumate rationalist, was lying to himself and lashing out at Dumbledore because one of his sacred values was questioned, and he couldn't allow that. Are we to suppose that it's only Evangelicals for whom it is a crime to doubt the existence of their God? Rand challenges a number of Gods, and the faithful off all varieties can hardly be expected to listen to the lies of the Devil, can they? To even consider her arguments for a moment is to question the sacred, which mustn't be done. To do so is to travel halfway down the road to heresy.
I had to double-take because that appeared at first to be exactly the message I took away from Atlas Shrugged. Then I realized that, as far as I can tell, the message is more like:
So it's not that they do, it's that they should. Yet even if that is so, why are there so many Objectivists swooning over hedge fund managers? Clearly at least some of them think that everyone who is rich automatically is a wonderful person, or they wouldn't behave this way.
Non sequitur. A lot of people 'swooned' over Steve Jobs, or tech entrepreneurs generally. It does not follow that they think that all CEOs are automatically wonderful people, that all technological changes are automatically good for mankind, or any such strawman. You may wish to consider why they 'swoon' over hedge fund managers as opposed to, say, Russian kleptocrats or UN nomenklatura, the inheritors of great wealth, or indeed executives at the major commercial banks, who are all undoubtedly very rich. I'm not an Objectivist (I've never even read any of Rand's novels), but I certainly think hedge fund managers are far more worthy of praise and emulation than, say, scientists or academics, and that they are unfairly maligned in society.
Can you expand on why you think this? (Both the first and the second claim.)
I don't really know why hedge fund managers are so unfairly maligned. Very likely, part of it is envy and part of it is incomprehension, but there is probably more to it than that. Blaming rootless cosmopolitans and 'international bankers' for all of society's woes has been a favourite demagogic tactic for so long, and across so many different nominal ideologies, that I think it may well speak to deep primal instincts. But it's not something I claim much insight into. As for why they are more worthy of praise and emulation than scientists or academics - basically, on the margin, we have too few hedge fund managers (which is why they earn so much) and too many academics. We have already discussed at length (see e.g. here and here ) my view of why academics and scientists are overpraised and overemulated, so I don't intend to repeat that discussion. But basically, the gains from science and academia are no doubt huge, but they are also infra-marginal. You can't convince me that CERN or academic literary criticism are worthwhile resource allocations, and you can't convince anyone else to spend their own money on these things either. Ironically, if science and academia were less praised, we'd probably have better science and academia, because then these things would have to justify themselves on their own merits rather than a mere patina. Hedge fund managers, by contrast, are playing an important role in global resource allocation. We are in the middle of a huge Factor Price Equalization which is slowly making the world a more prosperous place, by increasing the productive capacity and wages of the Third World. We could do with some more of that.
It's not clear to me that the "why they earn so much" inference is correct. Consider lawyers; we clearly have too many lawyers (as determined by the percentage of law school graduates who are employed in the legal profession and complaints of unemployment and declining wages for the median or mediocre lawyer), but the best lawyers still command significant salaries. This seems to be mostly because law is a competitive field where you hire your champion, they hire their champion, and the champions battle--and in such a field we should expect that the wage of the best champions will always be high because I'm paying for having an edge, and the value of that edge depends on the value of the case times the quality difference, which is insensitive to a worker of non-extreme legal competence deciding whether or not to become a lawyer. The analogy to hedge funds seems clear: how many mediocre money managers there are doesn't matter very much to the price of getting the person with slightly higher (expected) alpha to manage your money. It's also not clear that more hedge fund managers will lead to the FPE happening any faster, as the marginal money manager loses money, just as it's not clear that more scientists will lead to the singularity happening any faster, as the marginal scientist gets no citations. (And, in fact, I think science operates in a very similar situation: the best scientists actually do control sizable resources and have very high 'effective' compensation, once you take into account status and security, but we seem to be graduating more science PhDs than their fields can support.)
I like your comparison to law, but there are multiple margins here. Firstly, suppose that a small change in relative respect or pay for academia and finance convinces some bright maths PhD student to go into finance as opposed to seeking tenure. He's marginal in the sense that he was shifted by that effect, but there's nothing to suppose he'll be a marginal financier in the sense of only just clinging to a job. In fact, my experience was that the prestige of academia (plus status quo bias) meant that the very best and brightest were the ones who tried to become professors, whereas the relative dullards (like myself) tried to get a real job. In other words, I suspect the marginal financier by application might well be an above-average financier by results. Secondly, neither law nor finance are purely champion games. It is possible for the quality of legal advice to go up across the board, and for people to have improved access to legal services, and both these things will improve our quality of life (and the economy) although there are of course costs and diminishing returns. Similarly, it is possible for investment decisions to be more productive across the board, and it is possible for people to have improved access to capital markets. And I say that without denying that there will always be a premium for the very best. I am certainly not saying that we should set up poorly accredited Hedge Fund Schools across the country churning out thousands of barely-trained financiers based on false promises of millions to come (although come to think of it, that does sound like a good scam).
Agreed that there are multiple margins. This certainly was the case 20 to 30 years ago, but I'm not sure it's the case now. Sure- but for these gains to impact wages they need to be captured by workers, and it's not clear that this happens on a large enough scale. (It seems to me that many people try to adjust the status of fields mostly to account for these positive externalities.) I am under the impression that most of the personal finance seminar offerings of the Rich Dad Poor Dad variety are the slightly less formal version of this.
That's not self-evident to me. If the supply of money managers increases under the reasonable assumption that the increase is appropriately distributed along the whole skill spectrum, the supply of high-skill managers will increase as well. Huh? The left tail of the money manager distribution loses money, of course, but that's almost by definition. The average money manager does not lose money. We can argue whether he makes more money than a passive investment in "the market", but that's a complicated discussion that involves different markets, risk, etc.
Sure, but I explicitly mentioned I was varying the supply of mediocre money managers. What would make you think it's reasonable to assume that mediocre managers are appropriately distributed along the whole skill spectrum? I'm specifically poking at the claim that we can tell that we have too few hedge fund managers because they make such high salaries. I think I'm in agreement with Salemicus that some forms of financing are positive sum (and thus provide a valuable social service), that top cognitive talent is heavily influenced by prestige, and that if there were a flatter plateau of extreme competence the salaries would be lower. I'm uncertain whether it's possible to achieve that by shifting more top talent from academia to hedge funds, since I think that will simply shift what counts as 'extreme' competence in that field. I find it remarkable the number of financial concepts you think are complicated that look simple to me and the many experts in economics and finance (who aren't trying to sell a product) that I'm familiar with.
And why do you think this is so?
I very rarely use the word "offensive" to describe something, but I'm going to use it here. You are essentially claiming with your links that people who don't like hedge fund managers are really antisemites. (And please don't pretend that's not what you intended given where your links go.) This is factually inaccurate and attempts to use a heavily emotionally charged historical issues. In the most charitable interpretation, this is due to pattern matching. This is especially irrelevant since no one was asking why you think hedge fund managers are as a group maligned. If I had to make a guess though I do think you are right that parts are due to envy and to incomprehension. I suspect that part of it is also connected to people conflating all the different "Wall Street" activity and don't for example distinguish the genuinely productive work (which some hedge funds do) and things like micro-trading which really isn't productive. This is at best confused. You seem to be assuming that the only or primary cause for why something would be payed a lot is high demand and low supply. This does not follow. Regulatory capture is one of many ways that a market can produce a situation where this doesn't occur. And this fails for similar reasons. One cannot use how much people are paid as a useful judgment for their worth. The primary problems here are positive externalities and public goods. Scientific research is effectively a public good so making people pay a lot for it is intrinsically difficult. Moreover, the people who go into science are not in general people who are heavily interested in being paid a lot. Oh right! I forgot you were that person. Too bad you don't want to continue that. You left a number of sub-issues there hanging where I would have been interested in your responses. That seems like an iffy argument. Yes FPE is important and is a major aspect of what is currently pushing up the economics of the developing world. But hedge funds aren't by and large s
No, that is not my intention. I do think that the language and allegations that people use against 'banksters' are stunningly similar to charges anti-semites made against Jews, but I don't think that means that OWS are anti-semites. Rather, I was suggesting that OWS, anti-semitism, etc, all come from the same place, which is some primal dislike of so-called market dominant minorities. ??? I was specifically responding to your query about why I thought hedge fund managers are so unfairly maligned. This is very true, but hedge funds are lightly regulated, so it doesn't make much sense as an explanation of high salaries for hedge fund managers. In fact, what I think is going on is that regulatory capture and cartelisation of the regular banking and investment markets by huge incumbent players makes it almost impossible for innovation and new entrants to occur. Consequently this activity occurs at the margins, in shadow banking and hedge funds, leading to very high returns for a few innovators, but also lots of risky activity. I found our discussion interesting, but it was long, and I was repeatedly downvoted. I felt I was testing the patience of the community. Capital allocation is vital, but you are right that hedge funds are just a small part of that. I certainly wasn't saying that hedge fund managers are the be-all and end-all. But pnrjulius was claiming that the only reason one could admire them is because one thinks that 'everyone who is rich automatically is a wonderful person.' So it seemed natural to contrast this highly productive, but widely maligned group with a highly praised but (IMO) largely parasitic one.
That has to be one of the most tone-deaf attempts to make that last argument or is completely disingenuous and I can't figure out which. At minimum, the fact that you used links only to examples involving Jews really misses the point, especially given that Jews were hated for many reasons that had nothing to do with economics but were rather religious. You cannot expect people to be telepaths. Ah! Illusion of transparency. Apparently you aren't the only person here who doesn't realize that other people aren't telepaths. My question was regarding the "unfairly" that is that you normatively consider it to be unfair, and I was curious what your reasoning was there. You did give a pretty decent explanation of your reasoning for that question. The problem here is not necessarily the lack of direct regulation of hedge funds but rather the entire regulatory framework for investments as a whole, taken together with things like the capital gains tax. I do think your viewpoint is an unpopular one here, but I don't think you were testing community patience. Most of your posts in that thread range from -1 to +2 which is about normal for any mildly controversial topic. Tangential advice: when one is going to make a comparison to persuade someone of something, using a comparison to something which is itself likely to be controversial.
Yes, but all Salemicus's examples were specifically about economics.
One related observation, I noticed that looking at most ethnic stereotypes (by group X of group Y) they tend to fall into two broad categories: "Group Y are subhuman idiots", and "group Y are evil practitioners of black magic." Possibly substitute "black magic" with equivalent concept from group X's worldview. (Note: if the horns affect goes sufficiently far group X may start throwing out both accusations but one is always primary.) These it seems roughly correspond to whether group X's system one perceives group Y as less or more intelligent then themselves respectively. Come to think of it "magic" isn't a bad description of what intelligence greater than your own looks like from the outside. And unless you have strong reasons to believe that the intelligence's goals are aligned with your own it might as well be black magic.
Is there an implicit premise here along the lines of "If any group of people, collectively, earn very large salaries, that indicates that we need more of them"? If so, I would be interested to know why you apply that principle to hedge fund managers but not to (I deleted "the inheritors of great wealth" because of course their wealth isn't a matter of how well they are paid. I deleted "Russian kleptocrats" because I don't know how much of their wealth comes from being paid as opposed to (e.g.) making investments and then manipulating regulations to make them grow.) (I remark in passing that your use of the term "nomenklatura" may land you in the same mental pigeonhole as US politicians who, honestly or not, purport to think that Barak Obama is a communist and that the UN is some kind of vastly powerful world government that the perfidious Democrats want to hand over control of the US to. I dare say that's a risk you're prepared to put up with.)
There are different reasons why people get paid large salaries. Sometimes it's because they earned the money, sometimes it's because they stole it, and sometimes it's because they are skilled at abusing the political process to shut out their competitors. By default I assume people are in the first category, but sometimes the evidence indicates otherwise. Russian kleptocrats are in the second and third categories. UN insiders (whose salaries are fairly modest, by the way) are in the second. I suspect that executives at major commercial banks are mostly in the first category, but lots of people believe they are in the third, and not without reason. As to your final point - I live in a country where it is uncontroversial to mention that the UN is opaque, massively corrupt, and whose permanent agencies are staffed by a connected group of permanent insiders. I didn't realise I was running up against some strange American taboo.
Not what I said, nor what I meant. I meant: there are a bunch of people around who have some strange and paranoid ideas about the UN and about communism, and if you casually make it clear that you think the leadership of the UN is just like that of the Soviet Union then you are liable to be thought to hold similar views. (As it happens, we live in the same country unless you have moved very recently. I do not have the impression that it's uncontroversial here to say that the UN is just like the USSR. I suppose it might be uncontroversial simply because scarcely anyone here cares enough about the UN to have a strong opinion.)
I do not mean to imply that the UN is just like the USSR, nor do I believe that anything I wrote can reasonably be interpreted in that manner.
There's one part I didn't like, which is where he called Rand "ugly" and explained her theory of relationships on that. She's not even all that unattractive, and the reasons her theory of relationships is wrong run much deeper than she herself not being pretty. (They basically would undermine most of the point of having relationships at all.) Other than that, it's an excellent little dialogue which characterizes quite well what's wrong with typical Objectivists.

That was a really low quality and demeaning article. The author seems to enjoy taking cheap shots. For example zie also makes fun of people who cosplay Harry Potter. The majority of the article was basically name calling. Though the article did at least make a real argument about objectivist philosophy and taxation a (though it didn't engage with Rand's counter arguments).

I am not an objectivist but I found this article terrible and question why someone would enjoy it.

Couldn't tell you, my memories of six years ago are not too sharp.

I found the article funny. That being said, I strongly suspect that most of this perceived funniness stemmed from the fact that it was mocking Objectivism, which I happen to disagree with, and that I would have found it much less funny had its wit been directed toward something I actually do agree with.

For instance, I used to lurk around RationalWiki rather often, and I confess I did appreciate the humor in their articles. Then I saw their article on LessWrong and EY, and the funniness quite dissipated. However, upon closer inspection, it wasn't because there was a shift in the humor itself; quite the opposite, in fact! RW was mocking a cause they perceived as crazy in exactly the same way that they mocked other causes, such as creationism. However, this humor, when directed at LW/EY, suddenly started feeling much less benign and much more like a personal attack. And it was then that I realized exactly how members of other causes might feel upon reading mocking articles about their movement, and why something that had previously seemed like harmless fun to me might not be so harmless.

This is not to say Objectivists, creationists, or the like are correct. It is to say, however, that... (read more)

That was terrible. "like humor, only without the humor"

It seems possible that some with far-out ideas turn to rationalism as a natural part of their defense of them - since if your beliefs are rational, then that makes them OK.

In such cases, the far-out ideas would come first, and the interest in rational thinking would follow along afterwards.

The interest in rational thought should normally be fairly theraputic. However, much depends on how deep it goes. Objectivism may not score too highly there.

Only if combined with an interest in listening to criticism of your own ideas and to ideas other than your own. Otherwise it is rationalisation.

Ha! It is a horrible crime that I read this, and see in it a criticism of any faith who believes that the Bible is the end-all, be-all of God's word to this or any earth?

Doesn't actually seem to be one. Of course an eternal all-knowing entity can beat all future scientists. At most it would cast doubt on Paul's sexist rants; the New Testament says "Paul thinks women should shut up", not "The LORD says women should shut up".

Why do Objectivists so frequently believe that anthropogenic global warming is not real? (It appears to be the consensus opinion on the Objectivism forum.) This belief doesn't seem to have anything to do with Objectivism, and Ayn Rand certainly never mentioned global warming.

It probably gets pattern matched to 'state-ist hysteria being used to crush industry.'

Are there other large-enough-scale-to-justify-collectivist-action phenomena they are more accepting of?
Nations. Wars. The US. If you want to check out something tragic, check out Rands justification for the White Man taking the US from the red: "[The Native Americans] didn't have any rights to the land and there was no reason for anyone to grant them rights which they had not conceived and were not using.... What was it they were fighting for, if they opposed white men on this continent? For their wish to continue a primitive existence, their "right" to keep part of the earth untouched, unused and not even as property, just keep everybody out so that you will live practically like an animal, or maybe a few caves above it. Any white person who brought the element of civilization had the right to take over this continent." * Source: "Q and A session following her Address To The Graduating Class Of The United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, March 6, 1974"

Maths isn't very relevant to Rand's philosophy. What's more relevant about her Aristoteleanism is her attitude to modern science; she was fairly ignorant. and fairly sceptical, of evolution, QM, and relativity.

Rand herself didn't understand emergence (she casting a biologist as the embodiment of scientific corruption, because there is too much complexity in his area of study for any one human brain to be familiar with), and also didn't understand much about cybernetics, etc.

That's hardly the start of it. She opposed relativity and QM, and fence-sat on Evolution.


I don't think "1957" is mcuh of an excuse either, particularly about evolution. For another thing, she never wavered till her death in the 80s. It makes no sense to focus on Bayes, unle... (read more)

ith permission from both their spouses, which counts for a lot in my view. If you want to turn that into a "problem", you have to specify that the spouses were unhappy—and then it's still not a matter for outsiders.

I dare say many a guru or cult leader has similar "permission". It often isn't taken to ecuse their actions, because people recognise that such permission can be browbeaten ot of people by someone who seems to them to be an authority figure.

Atleast Atlas Shrugged is written in a way that suggests cultishness. All good people are good at everything, good looking and always right. Enemies are stupid, wrong and ugly. There are no bad sides in good ideas or good sides in bad ideas.

Enemies are stupid, wrong and ugly.

Except when they aren't, like when Lillean Rearden is beautiful with exceptional social intelligence or when Robert Stadler is the smartest, most accomplished, man of science in the story.


I agree with this essay, but find a more cogent critique of objectivism is here: http://www.atlassociety.org/sites/default/files/The_Contested_Legacy_of_Ayn_Rand.pdf --I also notice Kelley himself linked to it below.

For anyone who enjoys this thread, I also highly recommend the work of a fellow libertarian, here: http://ariwatch.com/ARIvsRonPaul.htm

It's also interesting that before she decided against it, Ayn Rand described her own politics as "libertarian," http://ariwatch.com/AynRandsPoliticalLabel.htm

One of the first things I read on this sit... (read more)

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Technically, the fact that her ultimate fictional hero was John Galt is a spoiler too.