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Would you buy or recommend UO in book form?

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softwareNerd
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Would you buy or recommend UO in book form (see post for details)?  

25 members have voted

  1. 1. Would you buy or recommend UO Lectures 1 and 2 in book form (see post for details)?

    • I own it, but would buy Lectures 1 and 2 in book form
      2
    • I own it, would not buy, but would recommend the text version
      2
    • Don't own it; would buy
      16
    • Don't own it; would recommend
      2
    • Would not buy or recommend
      0
    • None of the above
      1


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The "Understanding Objectivism" lectures have always been a personal favorite, because they helped me improve my methods of thinking and to correct my own rationalism. Since listening to them years ago, I've often recommended them to others, but the cost (over $300) is often a sticking point. I think they're definitely worth it, but I've often wondered how to convince others of their value. That's when I had a idea: what if the first two lectures (of eleven) were available in print for a reduced price?

The first lecture is an introduction to the rest; yet it is long enough (two cassettes) to be substantial in itself. In it, Dr. Peikoff goes into the reasons why he is covering the material, speaks about the types of problems in thinking and understanding that people face when they learn Objectivism. He speaks of people learning about Objectivism who see their philosophy as pitting them against their own desires, or against the world. The first lecture has substantial material to get one thinking, and enough to want to listen further.

In the second lecture, Dr. Peikoff walks the audience through a very elaborate demonstration of understanding a single principle of Objectivism (about life as the standard of value). For instance, a helper demonstrates by putting forward an argument that is correct, but too abstract (i.e. not of the correct method). Dr. Peikoff explains why the method is wrong. The helper then demonstrates with a different explanation of the principle, trying to improve on the first one, and so on. The idea is to take a single idea and show -- in great detail -- how one would go about "chewing" on the idea, to get a deeply reality-based understanding of it.

I posted about the UO lecture here. A few of the other mentions are here, here, here and here.

Suppose the first two lectures in book form were to sell for $30, and came with a discount coupon, for $15 off the price of the actual lectures, valid for 2 years. Would that make for a good deal?

Here are my questions: if you have heard the lectures (whether or not you own them now), would you pay $30 for the text version of the first two lectures? If not, would you recommend the text version to someone who is hesitant about buying the full audio lecture-set? If you haven't heard UO, would you seriously consider buying the first two lectures in text version? What if the price were slightly higher or lower than $30 -- say $20 or $40; would that change your decision?

Edited by softwareNerd
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I haven't heard the lectures, but I'd pay $79.99 for a hardcover book with the entire content of all the lectures (even a transcript), a table of contents, and an index. Having just the first two lectures would be like having just the first two chapters of a book.

ARB was having a sale a while back and I bought Induction in Physics and Philosophy (which I've listened to all the way through) and The DIM Hypothesis (which I haven't finished listening to). Although the material itself is excellent, I think I would get a lot more out of it -- or any lecture material -- if it were in book form. My mind tends to wander during lectures....

Dr. Peikoff is already working on book versions of the two lectures I bought, but I suspect they are not going to be mere transcripts!

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Yes, I find books a better way to learn, too. Audio is convenient because one can listen while doing something else, but the mind wanders and one doesn't get all one can from the material. It is a trade-off.

An organized book is better than a transcript, but that takes work by an Objectivist intellectual. Transcripts are easy to produce: most of the effort would require skills that have nothing to do with Objectivism. Someone knowledgeable of Objectivism is only needed to proof the transcript.

As for providing only the first two lectures: the first lecture is different from any other (2 thru 11), because it is introductory and covers the gamut of the course, albeit at a high level of detail. In a way, it's like reading a short summary of "The Objectivist Ethics" instead of reading the whole "Virtue of Selfishness" book.

There's no doubt that a transcript of the whole thing would be of more value, but I wonder two things:

  • would the price-point ($70 - $90) put it outside the reach of a lot of people (students who're a couple of years into Objectivism)?
  • would it cannibalize on the audio-lecture sales, and if so would the increased volume more than make up for the lost volume on the audio

I'd be interested to know if there are others who would pay $80 for the transcript of the whole thing.

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I'd be interested to know if there are others who would pay $80 for the transcript of the whole thing.
I would, certainly. Considering the price of the full audio lecture, which is a format I dislike anyway, $80 would be an incredible deal.
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I find lectures very difficult, because I have to rewind constantly. How do you compare something in paragraph 4 and paragraph 7 when there aren't any paragraphs. I can't listen while doing something else, not even driving (I was brought up badly, so I pay attention to the road when I'm driving, and thus not actually listening to the lecture). Please, please oh please let them start producing more print materials.

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The Ayn Rand Bookstore prices seem very high to me. I bought OPAR on MP3CD for $39.95 elsewhere. I'm sure that the store is a big moneymaker, but if they want to teach more people Objectivism, they should sell popular stuff for a lot less. With good marketing, it might make them more money as well. Also, why don't they convert their old lectures to DVD? It's trivial to do, and many people (like me) don't have a VHS player anymore.

Actually, if I were running the place, I would just make everything produced in-house available for free online. When another organization I worked with did this, both their media traffic and online sales shot through the roof. 90%+ of people willing to listen to a lecture won't pay for it, but they will tell their friends about it.

Sorry, </rant>

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The Ayn Rand Bookstore prices seem very high to me. I bought OPAR on MP3CD for $39.95 elsewhere.
That particular MP3CD is available for that same price at The Ayn Rand Bookstore. I figure that's not what you meant, but I just wanted to make that clear. In general, I'd agree that their pricing can probably re-worked in a way that increases both revenue and audience exposure. My guess is that the store's surplus (i.e. after costs) is not a huge percent of the ARI's in-flows. It probably lags significantly behind large-donors and small-donors.

The important thing is that the author/speaker also has a say in this, as this is part of their livelihood.

Back on topic, though, I figured that lecture transcripts were ideal for trying out a volunteer-plus-profit combo model. The lectures are copyrighted, and the authors must be paid. However, suppose one were to follow a model like this:

  • UO has 11 lectures
  • Each lecture would probably take up about 40 full-sized (A4) pages
  • Suppose 6 people volunteered to type out 80 pages (2 lectures) each
  • In "payment" they would keep the audio-version and end up receiving the full-text version

Something like that could work well for the original author, the volunteers and the consumers, if one assumes that many of the buyers would not otherwise pay the $300 price for the audio-version.

Edited by softwareNerd
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So have you contacted the ARI about your plan yet? I am an excellent typer who would gladly accept the role as a volunteer under those stipulations. In fact, I would probably turn around and give away or sell the lecture version while keeping the transcript. For the same reasons David mentioned (rewinding and lack of cross-reference), unless a lecture is blow-your-mind worth it, I try to find similar information elsewhere, in print-format, or I forget about it altogether.

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So have you contacted the ARI about your plan yet?
No, I've haven't yet. I've had the general idea for a while now, but wanted to validate it with a potential audience first. I already own UO, but I would personally volunteer a couple of lectures, because I have the activist goal of getting as many Ayn Rand fans as possible to understand that particular lecture.
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  • 2 weeks later...
So have you contacted the ARI about your plan yet? I am an excellent typer who would gladly accept the role as a volunteer under those stipulations.

No, I've haven't yet. I've had the general idea for a while now, but wanted to validate it with a potential audience first.

I have a plan that will cost ARI almost nothing, if they could get it going: create a Wiki, so that authorized purchasers -- and only authorized purchasers -- of the lectures can read or edit the transcript. You would get a password to the Wiki along with your purchase. That might make the lectures worth it even at their existing price.

(A moderately high price would serve to deter Wiki vandals, I think.)

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  • 3 weeks later...

Yes, it's definitely possible, but editing requires a different set of knowledge and skills, compared to transcription (to say the least), and that changes the cost of such a project.

Anyhow, the reason I wanted to post again to this thread was this: from public and private comments, I gather than not too many people have listened to the UO lectures. Other than the cost, I wonder if perhaps part of the reason is that people don't know exactly want they contain. I can see that the title "Understanding Objectivism" might lead someone to think it's a survey of Objectivism: Ethics, Politics, Art, etc. So, I wanted to point out that it is not that. It is not like OPAR; it addresses a very different subject area. UO does not try to cover the content of Objectivism in a more structured and comprehensive way. Indeed, such topics are mostly used as illustration, not as the fundamental content that the course seeks to teach.

I suppose one could say that UO is about Epistemology, but it is not ITOE. I would describe it as "applied epistemology". For instance, it explores the epistemological methods of rationalism and empiricism in great detail. As a student, what one gets from this course is not so much a deeper understanding of Objectivism's five "branches"; rather, what one gets is insight in how to go about the process of trying to understand Objectivism, or any other knowledge.

Someone pointed out to me that an Internet-only course is available for $150. Check it out. If planning for an Internet only course, plan to listen to it at least twice, making lots of notes.

If anyone else who has listened to UO can add to this by explaining why they would recommend it, I'd appreciate it.

If all this sounds like I have a mini-mission of getting people to listen to UO, that's exactly correct.

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  • 2 months later...

The following, from Dr. Peikoff's site, is relevant to this thread:

Q: Why do you not have your lectures transcribed and made available in written form?

A: A lecture or course delivered orally cannot simply be transcribed and published as is. Speaking and writing are virtually two different languages; what is clear and eloquent in one, is unclear or redundant in the other. This stems from the need of the ear for relative simplicity, repetition, and a slow pace, as against the need of the eye for brevity and the ability of a reader to grasp complexity, due to his ability to control the pace of the input.

I have had substantial experience overseeing the editing of Ayn Rand's lectures, and the amount of time-consuming work involved is enormous. Of course, if I knew an editor, both qualified and unemployed, who wanted to do this sort of reconstruction of my lectures, I would happily support the project. Unfortunately, to my knowledge, there is no such person.

Edited by softwareNerd
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I own a transcription company and have offered transcription services to the ARI and OCON at heavily discounted prices. They didn't seem too interested, possibly for the same reasons Dr. Peikoff gave. The offer remains open to any serious Objectivist intellectuals who would like to have lectures transcribed.

To give you an idea how much a transcription project costs:

$100 / audio hour is a very good price for high quality transcription (not outsourced to India). My normal charge for non-medical transcription is $150 / audio hour. Peikoff's History of Philosophy lecture series is 12 lectures, each lecture about 2.8 hours long.

2.8 hours/lecture x 12 lectures x $100/audio hour = $3360

This price includes professional proofing but not full editing, which would require a professional editor with sufficient knowledge of philosophy in general and Objectivism in particular. A fully edited document can take 4 editing hours per audio hour in my experience. A very good price for a professional editor is $20 / hour (though you probably would have to pay more to someone with the required qualifications).

33.6 hours x 4 editing hours / audio hour x $20 = $2688

I may be grossly underestimating the cost for editing, so consider this a low estimate.

Total cost with these figures is $6048. Not cheap, even discounted.

At some point I may have transcripts made of lectures I own for personal use (assuming it is legal to do this). It's always nice to have a digital copy to search through. If I do this, I may donate the transcripts to the owners of the lecture series, since the transcription cost alone is significant.

A warning to those who may volunteer to transcribe the audio: transcription is not easy. Even an experienced transcriber can take 4-5 hours to complete one hour of audio. You would also need a foot pedal and transcription software. Someone unaccustomed to using these devices will have a hard time getting all the audio down. Even 6 hours of audio (two lectures) could easily take an untrained transcriber 36 hours to complete. Considering how long it takes to transcribe, it may be better just to pay the $600 to have a professional do it, and then you also get a proofreader to look over everything.

--Dan Edge

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One other thing:

If there are editors out there qualified to convert Objectivist lectures to book-form, let me know. I have the infrastructure (Secure FTP Server, teams of transcribers and proofers) but not the expertise. If someone out there is qualified and could give me a price estimate, then we could write up a formal proposal to send to Dr. Peikoff, the Ayn Rand Bookstore, and others.

--Dan Edge

Edited by dan_edge
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I have a plan that will cost ARI almost nothing, if they could get it going: create a Wiki, so that authorized purchasers -- and only authorized purchasers -- of the lectures can read or edit the transcript. You would get a password to the Wiki along with your purchase. That might make the lectures worth it even at their existing price.

I should emphasize that I conceived of a Wiki that would originally be absolutely blank. In other words, the purchasers would not only read and edit the transcript, but write it, too. That's my basis for saying that it would cost the ARI almost nothing.

Dan Edge points out how demanding it is for a person to transcribe an hour of audio. This is why the Wiki idea would be useful.

The idea is that, if there were no content, a listener can add some, but if he gets tired after transcribing five minutes, he can stop.

If there is content, the listener can read along as he listens. If the content is wrong, he can fix it. If he reaches a point where the content stops, he can add some.

Eventually the listeners would fill in all the gaps and correct the errors. At the end of all this, there would be a word-for-word transcript, and listeners could follow along as they listen.

The Gutenberg Project did something similar with the scanned pages of books for which the copyright had expired. OCR software was unable to convert the books to text files automatically, so the Gutenberg Project invited web site visitors to enter individual pages manually. Visitors could contribute as much or as little as they chose, and thus through the volunteer efforts of many people, many books were entered.

The Gutenberg Project dealt with public-domain works. My requirement that the Ayn Rand Bookstore host the Wiki, and that they limit access to those who had purchased the lectures, was intended not only to prevent vandalism, but also to ensure that only people who had paid for the work could access it, thus protecting copyright.

A transcript of a lecture, in book form, would not be as good as a book that was written as a book, for the reasons Dr. Peikoff noted. However, it would certainly serve to make the lecture more valuable.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hey sNerd,

If this project ever goes through, I would recommend lobbying to get Objectivism Through Induction in book form next, if appropriate. To my understanding, this is the follow up course to Understanding Objectivism at the OAC. It is supposed to be particularly exceptional.

A more detailed course description can be found here.

Edited by DarkWaters
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  • 2 years later...

Objectivist YouTuber qtronman has posted a video where he says that he has spent the last two weeks transcribing this lecture, and that he is now nearly 80% finished!

He has also emailed Dr. Peikoff about it already, but considering Peikoff's stated position, it is unlikely anything will come of it. With the lecture already transcribed, though, who knows.

As an owner of this lecture on CD already, I know that I at least will be requesting a copy from qtronman!

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  • 1 year later...

A final update, I guess!

I have just been informed that Michael Berliner has completed a reorganized book version of Understanding Objectivism. According to its amazon.com page, it will be released on March 6th, 2012, and retail for $18. However, the pre-order price is listed as $12.24! Assuming the material is more or less the same as the lectures, this is an incredible discount from the $310 (CD)/$150 (internet streaming) price tag for the original recordings.

Understanding Objectivism is basically the cure for rationalism. As a recovering rationalist myself, I can't recommend the lectures enough. Buy copies for your rationalist male friends!

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