Speak in the Positive

September 7, 2020

Statements come in two forms: "$x$ is true" and "$x$ is untrue". Statements of the form "$x$ is untrue" are a waste of words.

On the surface, "$x$ is true" and "$x$ is untrue" appear to contain the same quantity of information. After all, $x$ is untrue iff $\neg x$ is true, right? Wrong.

If $x$ is untrue then $\neg x$ could be true or $x$ could be incoherent. If $x$ is incoherent then $\neg x$ is incoherent too. The statement "$x$ is true" always contains more information than "$x$ is untrue" because "$x$ is true" implies $x$ is coherent.

Even if $\{x,\neg x\}$ are coherent then it is still better to say "$x=y$ is true" than "$x\neq y$ is true". If $x$ is coherent then $x$ equals exactly one thing. There are an infinite number of other things $x$ does not equal. Positive assertions like $x=y$ contains infinitely more information than negative assertions like $x\neq y$.

Speaking in the positive is important because it maximizes generality and therefore maximizes transfer learning. Statements of the form "$x=y$ is untrue" and $x\neq y$ are made obsolete by statements of the form "$x=y$ is true".

Replace Lies with Truth

It can be tempting to refute untrue statements. Refutation is a waste of time[1] because refutations are statements of the form "$x$ is untrue".

All untrue arguments are incoherent but not all incoherent arguments are untrue. Showing an argument to be incoherent does not contradict its conclusion. Refuting the arguments supporting an untrue idea does not falsify the idea.

More importantly, bad arguments are memes. Refuting a meme propagates it because the parity inverse of a meme is the same meme—at a different phase in its lifecycle. The way to kill an meme is to render it obsolete. The fastest way to obsolete an incoherent untruth is to replace it with coherent truth.


Truth comes from coherence. Coherence comes from transparency. Transparency comes from tolerence. Intolerent people tend to be in error. This effect is bidirectional. People attached to their misconceptions protect those misonceptions via intolerence.

It is hard to spot intolerence directly because censorship lives in darkness. It is easy to spot tolerence. Tolerent people have a sense of humor. We enjoy poking fun at our most cherished beliefs.[2]

Refutation is a form of intolerance. Intolerance obstructs truthfinding. If you want to destroy a bad argument then steelman it. Make the argument crystal clear in its coherence. A sufficiently coherent untrue argument will trip over itself and self-destruct.

[1] Refutation is a waste of time when publishing on the Internet. Refutation can be worthwhile in real life.

[2] Incidentally, a sense of humor is closely tied to happiness. Tolerant people tend to be happy and vice versa.