How to Know Whether You are a Real Person or a Simulation

Regular readers of this blog know about philosopher Nick Bostrom’s idea that it is far more likely we are simulations created by an advanced species than we are likely to be the original species itself. The reasoning here is that every sufficiently-advanced species will create multiple simulations in which the simulated creatures believe they are real. So the odds are high that we are one of the many simulations, not the original species that created them.

But how could you tell?

I have a hypothesis. There should be a difference in how a real species and a simulated species views its own history. The real species would have a real history with full details. The simulations would have something closer to history on demand. And by that, I mean the history only comes into existence when current circumstances require that history. If we are software simulations, the simulator presumably has resource constraints. That means the simulation would not create every part of the universe just in case it is needed; it would create what it needed on demand. For example, a simulated universe would not contain details about undiscovered planets. Those details would be rendered by the simulation at the time of discovery. 

To put this in simpler terms, if we are real, the past influences what we do in the present. But if we are simulations, what we do in the present could be creating the past. 

For example, here’s an article describing how quantum physicists have determined that the present creates the past as needed. Freaky, right?

If we are simulations, we should expect to see two additional qualities in the universe as partial confirmation:

1. We should expect that we can’t travel past the boundaries of the simulation.

2. We wouldn’t be able to observe the basic building blocks of our reality.

Sure enough, we meet both criteria.

We can’t travel beyond the edge of the universe without exceeding the speed of light, which is theoretically impossible. That’s what you would expect in a simulation. You would have some sort of rule of physics to keep the simulated people from traveling beyond the edges. Here I’m assuming the universe is expanding at the same rate as the light that is traveling in all directions, so we can never catch up to it.

The hypothetical creators of our simulation would also try to prevent us from discovering that we are not made of anything real. And sure enough, when science looks at our basic building blocks at the quantum level, all we have is probability and strangeness. 

I have viewed the world as having backwards causation (the present creates the past) since I was a young man. In my worldview, an envelope you receive in the mail doesn’t have definite contents until it is observed. Up until the moment someone sees the contents, the envelope can contain anything that known history has not yet ruled out. This model of the world explains my observations every bit as well as the idea that the past determines my future. 

In a simulated reality, we would expect to see lots of confirmation bias and lots of cognitive dissonance. Do you know why?

It keeps the programming simple for the author of our reality.

If we simulations saw our personal experiences accurately, the author of the simulation would have to make your view of history and mine fit together and be consistent on every variable. That would be massively complicated with billions of simulated humans doing things that create their histories on the fly. The solution to that complexity is to allow the simulated humans to hallucinate that whatever they observe, coincidentally fits both their histories and their worldviews. That way the simulation doesn’t need to create accurate histories for all the players. We can imagine our own histories as being accurate until events in the present make that impossible. Then, and only then, does the simulation decide on a definite past. 

Consider the news this week that a recent discovery suggests humans were in North America 100,000 years earlier than scientists believed. That finding is not yet confirmed, but it still works to make my point. Given that this new finding is not yet confirmed, our human history does not need to be rewritten by the simulation. But if new discoveries confirm that humans were in North America that early, our “real” history comes into existence at the moment our observations make it impossible for any other history to be true. Until then, both histories (and more) exist as probabilities, nothing more.

I assume I got some (or all) of the science wrong in this blog post. The only point I want to defend is the idea that a simulated universe would probably need to create its history based on current events, whereas a “real” universe would have an objective history that never changes.

You might enjoy reading my book because the present will cause you to do it in the past.

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President Trump’s First 100 Days

Everyone observing politics seems to agree on two things about a president’s first 100 days in office:

1. 100 days is a meaningless, arbitrary marker for a president’s performance that is likely to be more misleading than useful.


2. Let’s treat it like it is important! Reeeeeeee!

The thing that fascinates me the most about this situation is that the so-called “pro-science” people are giving Trump low grades for his first 100 days.

Allow me to connect some dots.

In science, you don’t have much of an experiment unless you have a control case for comparison. For example, you can’t know if a drug helped with a particular disease unless you study the people who didn’t take the drug at the same time as those who did.

But the pro-science people forget this concept when thinking about politics. Where is the control case for Trump’s first 100 days?

Is it George Washington’s first 100 days?

Is it Jimmy Carter’s first 100 days?

And which prior president came to office in 2017 with identical problems and the most polarized political environment in history?

And just how long is it supposed to take to revise Obamacare? Do we compare it to the time Abe Lincoln repealed and replaced Obamacare? Or how about the time those other presidents repealed and replaced Obamacare in the year 2017? 

I saw an article in Politico that is too dumb to link to, saying it is objectively true that Trump has had a bad first 100 days. This is a perfect example of what I call the “two movies on one screen effect.” I’m almost certain that many Trump supporters would say these facts are objectively true too:

Economic confidence is up.

Trump signed a bunch of executive orders. You might not like them, but that’s more about you, not about his job performance.

China is putting the screws on North Korea (finally)

Trump erased the “puppet of Putin” charge by prudent application of Tomahawk missiles. That’s an accomplishment, even if you don’t like it.

Trump erased the “Trump is Hitler” hallucination that the Clinton side spray-painted onto him during the election. (That’s a big deal.)

Trump got a qualified Supreme Court judge, albeit the hard way.

Healthcare is moving along briskly from the first plan that was terrible to something that is approaching feasible. That’s progress, not failure.

Tax reform will probably be slower than we want, but most observers expect something good to come of it.

International relations look fine. The only awkward relationship is with Putin, and that’s the awkward relationship Trump’s detractors want.

Illegal immigration is way down because of Trump’s persuasion.

Now let’s look at the things President Trump did wrong in his first 100 days:

You can criticize Trump’s actions against women’s reproductive rights, both on the topic of Planned Parenthood funding and his Supreme Court pick. But calling those things failures or successes depends on your political views, not on Trump’s job performance.

I think you could make an objective case against Trump for putting economics above the environment. But you’d have to ignore the fact that a stronger economy almost always puts you in a better position to keep the environment clean. (Trump says that.) You don’t see clean air and water in poor countries. 

President Trump reversed a bunch of campaign statements from impractical positions to more practical ones. Is that failure?

President Trump said a bunch of things that did not pass the fact-checking, surprising literally no one. And as usual, none of it mattered in any way except that it made us focus on whatever topic he wanted us to focus on.

President Trump’s staff and advisors are reportedly doing a lot of in-fighting for influence. But that sounds more like a healthy situation than a Trump-is-dictator situation. It would be worse if there were no differences of opinion in the group.

President Trump has been slow to fill lots of government positions. But has any of that mattered to your life? I haven’t noticed, personally. Was the Secretary of Whatever supposed to come over and mow my lawn?

President Trump did not release his tax returns, so we imagine there are problems there.

President Trump incorrectly claimed that his staff had been “wiretapped.” It turns out that they were only legally surveilled in an indirect way. Which only sounds different to his critics.

Generally speaking, the criticisms of President Trump’s first 100 days (and in general) are based on imaginary stuff:

Imagined problems on his tax returns.

Imagined blackmail by Russia.

Imagined poor performance based on imagining a control case of another imaginary president doing the same job at the same time, but doing it faster.

Imaginary belief that doing things you prefer he not do is similar to not being competent.

Imagined staff problems that are bigger than they are.

Imagined nuclear holocaust that happens because of Trump’s imaginary insanity.

Imagined problems caused by his ignoring of facts that don’t matter.

Imagined future climate calamity. (They could be right, but for now it is imaginary because complex models have a bad track record.)

You might enjoy reading my book because it performed better than all the imaginary books I am comparing it to.

I’m also on…

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WhenHub Hackathon - An Example of Systems over Goals

Regular readers of this blog know that I wrote a book about the benefits of systems versus goals. You also might know that I cofounded a startup (WhenHub) using a systems business model approach. I’ll use this blog to keep you updated on how that works out compared to the traditional goal-oriented business model that almost all startups follow.

A goal-oriented startup would have a specific customer and a specific product in mind. If that doesn’t work out, the startup might have enough cash left over for a pivot, or maybe two, to try again. But in each case, there is a specific goal. And the way startups work, the odds of any particular startup hitting its goal is dismal. That’s why WhenHub was designed from the ground-up to be a systems business model instead of a goal-focused model. The idea is to get something like a portfolio effect to increase the odds of at least one of the things we’re doing becoming a profitable line of business.

What that means in practical terms is that WhenHub has a huge set of features that can be combined in lots of ways to create a vast array of different applications for all sorts of uses, both business and personal. We launched without knowing which types of applications users would find most valuable. We’re in that “discovery” period now, and we’ve already learned a ton.

Now we’re taking it up a notch by running an online hackathon for our WhenHub platform. We’re inviting developers to use our API (the technology that allows external applications to access our platform) to invent their own applications using our technology, and win valuable prizes.

This is a pure systems approach. We have no idea what kinds of applications will come out of the hackathon. But we do know that bringing this much creativity to the platform will greatly increase our odds of finding a profitable application that no one on my team thought of.

But that’s not enough to call what we are doing a “system.” The way you know you have a good system is that you come out ahead even when you fail at whatever you’re doing. In the case of a hackathon, developers all over the world will be exposed to what WhenHub can do. If nothing comes out of the hackathon itself, we have still acquired real estate in the brains of hundreds of developers who are in this space. A year from now, one of them could use our API to create a billion-dollar application. Perhaps one or more developers will want to work for WhenHub in the future. Maybe a developer will mention WhenHub to a friend in an unrelated field, and that will be the connection that matters.

In other words, WhenHub has literally thousands of ways to win with the hackathon and no real way to lose. We’ll raise awareness of the company with exactly the right kind of people no matter what comes out of the hackathon itself, and we will do it at a reasonable cost. That’s a good system – lots of ways to win, no way to lose.

Our ideal future would involve an ecosystem of developers and designers who can extend the WhenHub platform with their own special-purpose visualizations that work on desktop and mobile. Eventually we hope to have something similar to Apple’s App Store for WhenHub apps.

Details of the hackathon can be found here. It runs until May 8th, after which, my esteemed judging partners and I will pick winners. We have awesome prizes in three categories:

Best Visualization (Code) — for developers, 

Best Visualization (Design) — for designers (I don’t know why this font is small)

Best Use of WhenHub API — for developers

Will WhenHub become a billion-dollar company someday? I have no idea. But I do know our odds of success just increased substantially by the hackathon systems-approach. Where it all leads, we’ll find out together.

No need to tell me in the comments that this post is too “commercial,” and that you wish I would blog about other topics. I hear you. But keep in mind that the blog is a system, not a goal. I try out a lot of different topics here. My only criteria is that it be entertaining or useful in some way. I think it is useful to see how a new type of business model performs. I hope you don’t mind that I put a high value on the attention it brings to WhenHub as well.

You might enjoy reading my book because systems are better than goals.

I’m also on…

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How a Systems-Thinking President Can Settle the Climate Science Debate

This idea in today’s Wall Street Journal talks about creating a “Red Team” to dig into the climate science debate and come up with a conclusion for the public. I call that a good system.

Systems are better than goals. A goal, in this case, might be to “Convince the public that climate change is a big problem.” That’s a clear goal, but what if it isn’t the best outcome? That’s where a system (such as forming a Red Team) comes in handy. The system will solve for credibility while informing the public of whatever comes out of the exercise.

You can’t govern better than that. Period.

We have, for the first time, a “Systems-thinking” president. You see it in everything President Trump does. His go-to system involves lots of A-B testing of ideas, lots of negotiating, strict attention to the psychology of the situation, and pushing forward in ways that increase the odds of success. For example, the first vote on healthcare looked like a failure to “goals-thinking” people. But President Trump referred to the process yesterday as a system in which the bill keeps “getting better and better” as time goes by. And he’s right. That is exactly what we see happening.

You also see a Trump system in place to deal with North Korea. Instead of creating a goal, such as “Get rid of your nukes by Tuesday,” President Trump has created a system that links China’s future trade deals, and International standing, with their progress in solving for North Korea. That’s a good system.

You can tell that President Trump is a systems-thinker by looking at what I call his Talent Stack. He amassed an impressive set of complementary skills over his lifetime that would make him successful at almost anything he did, from hosting reality TV shows, to running for president. Notice that he is a good public speaker with a strong understanding of persuasion, politics, business strategy, and more. Add all of that to his sense of humor, his energy, his ability to endure brutal criticism, and his natural intelligence, and you have super-powerful person who can succeed in a lot of different ways.

For more on systems being better than goals, see my book on that topic.

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Big Red Flag for Cognitive Dissonance

When I see an obvious case of cognitive dissonance in the news, I like to point it out so you can see reality through what I call the Persuasion Filter. Today’s example comes from an article in SLATE about climate change.

The author, Tim Requarth, correctly points out that facts and logic have limited value in changing anyone’s mind about climate science, or anything else. He speaks from experience because he teaches workshops on how to better communicate science. I like this guy. He’s on the right path.

But the thing that got my attention was this bit from the article:

“Kahan found that increased scientific literacy actually had a small negative effect: The conservative-leaning respondents who knew the most about science thought climate change posed the least risk. Scientific literacy, it seemed, increased polarization. In a later study, Kahan added a twist: He asked respondents what climate scientists believed. Respondents who knew more about science generally, regardless of political leaning, were better able to identify the scientific consensus—in other words, the polarization disappeared. Yet, when the same people were asked for their own opinions about climate change, the polarization returned. It showed that even when people understand the scientific consensus, they may not accept it.”

Notice how the author slips in his unsupported interpretation of the data: Greater knowledge about science causes more polarization.

Well, maybe. That’s a reasonable hypothesis, but it seems incomplete. Here’s another hypothesis that fits the same observed data: The people who know the most about science don’t think complex climate prediction models are credible science, and they are right.

For my purposes today, we don’t need to know which hypothesis is correct. Maybe knowledge does nothing but make you more confident that your “side” is right. But maybe the people with the most knowledge on the topic of science are – wait for it – good at judging the validity of science in any particular area.

Keep in mind that the entire public argument in favor of climate change alarmism is that the people who know the most (climate scientists) are largely on the same page. But that conflicts with the idea that the conservative-leaning citizens who know the most about science don’t find their ideas entirely credible – at least in terms of the prediction models.

And what would historians say about this situation? I think they would say that the people who don’t understand history are doomed to repeat it. (Because that’s what they always say.) In my opinion, the conservatives who know the most about science are looking at it from an historical perspective, and they see a pattern here: Complicated prediction models rarely work.

That’s how I see it.

In order to change my mind on climate science, you would need to show me that in this one special case, history is not repeating. You’d have to show me that this one time in history is when complicated prediction models got it right. And I’m not sure that argument can be made, even if true.

I would like to add one more hypothesis to the SLATE article. Let’s consider the possibility that the only reason any non-scientist believes climate change is a danger to civilization is because of fear persuasion, not because of facts or logic, and not because of a citizen-level understanding of science. If you fear the world will become uninhabitable in your lifetime, you’re more likely to embrace the experts who say they know what is wrong and they know how to stop it.

Climate scientists probably believe they have convinced about half of the public to their side using their graphs and logic and facts. That’s not the case. They convinced half the public by using fear persuasion disguised as facts and logic. And it probably worked best with the people who have the least knowledge of how often complicated prediction models have failed in the past.

For the purpose of this blog post, you don’t need to know who is right and who is wrong about climate science. My point today is that cognitive dissonance is preventing scientists from seeing what is actually happening here with their messaging. Scientists believe their facts and logic convinced all the smart people to their side already, so now they need a new strategy for the dumb ones. A different version of reality, as seen through the Persuasion Filter, is that citizens who don’t understand history are doomed to believe whatever the experts tell them. Half the country has been persuaded to climate alarmism by fear, not an understanding of the issue. At the same time, those who know the most about both history and science realize that complex climate models are generally not credible, so they are not persuaded by fear.

I remind new readers of this blog that I’m not a climate science denier. The consensus of climate scientists might be totally right, but I have no practical way to know. My point here, and in past posts, is that you can’t sell a truth by packaging it to look exactly like a huge lie. And those complicated climate prediction models look exactly like lies we have seen before, albeit in unrelated fields. 

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You might enjoy reading my book because ice is melting wherever it is warm enough.

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You Don’t Have Free Will -- but You Might Get It Someday

Regular readers know that I don’t believe in the superstition of “free will” because the laws of physics don’t stop at your skull. Whatever is happening in your brain is the result of cause and effect, and perhaps some randomness. But “free will” isn’t a real thing, except in our imaginations.

But it might be a real thing soon.

We’re hearing in the news that someday, perhaps within ten years, humans will be able to implant microchips in their brains to boost performance or fix problems. When that happens, we’ll have our first opportunity for something like genuine “free will.”

With our current fully-organic brains, we do whatever the physics and chemistry of our brains tells us to do. You might want to lose weight, but your brain is telling you to eat that ice cream at midnight anyway, so you do. Your urges are simply stronger than your rational mind. 

But what if the microchip in your brain could reverse that situation? Suppose you programmed the microchip to allow your rational mind to overcome your irrational urges. In that situation, with the help of the chip, and for the first time in your life, your rational mind would control your irrational urges. You could resist the ice cream when the time comes because you hacked your brain in advance to prevent the bad urges from overwhelming the good ones.

Your current human body allows the strongest “urge” to win every time. You later rationalize your actions after the fact as something like “thinking.” But in reality, your so-called thinking is just rationalizing for why your strongest urge won again, for the millionth time in a row. In my simple example, the urge to eat ice cream would normally be larger (in some people) than the urge to lose weight. But the microchip in the brain can turn down one of the urges based on reason. The trick is that you have to anticipate the problem (the ice cream) in advance, and make sure you have programmed the microchip to suppress that specific urge when needed.

Some of you will argue that all I have done in this example is add a new link in the chain of cause-and-effect, and in my example, everything is still predetermined. But the part I added (the microchip) allows your weak sense of reason to best your stronger urges later. That’s new. The old you always went with your strongest urges in any given moment. The microchip in your brain allows you to substitute reason in those situations by manipulating your competing urges.

The Persuasion Filter (my own term) says humans are irrational 90% of the time. We’re only rational during those rare situations where no emotional pull is involved, such as when you do boring routine tasks. But that limited power of reason rarely gets involved with our important decisions because in those situations our urges overwhelm our sense of reason. The microchip could reverse that situation and substitute our calm sense of reason where our urges would normally prevent that from happening. Thus, humans would have something like free will for the first time.

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You might enjoy reading my book because you think you already have free will.

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The Air Comes Out of the Anti-Trump Balloon

In January of this year, President Trump’s critics were marching in the streets because they believed he was about to go full-Hitler. Or maybe he was just crazy, and about to do something dangerously stupid. 

Today their biggest complaint is that President Trump hasn’t shared his tax returns with the public.

How’s everything else looking?

The economy? Looking good.

North Korea? Looks like China is on our side. Good sign.

Syria? Those Tomahawk missiles were downright “Presidential”

Illegal Immigration? Already down 70% from Trump’s persuasion alone.

Supreme Court? Gorsuch is respected and qualified, even if you don’t like his ways.

Healthcare? No one said it would be easy, but the focus and energy are in place to get something done eventually.

Tax reform? Too slow for the country’s taste, but observers expect something good to come out of it. That’s why business optimism is high.

Climate change? Anecdotally, it seems to me that the debate has evolved from mindless bullying of non-believers to a lower confidence in both the climate models and the economic models (which are not science). That seems like a step toward clarity.

Generally speaking, if your critics are reduced to complaining about what might be in your tax returns, you already won.

For more of me:


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You might enjoy reading my book because pandas are furry.

How to Structure a Deal With North Korea

One of the most useful things I learned in business school was that you can usually make a deal whenever the parties involved don’t want full control of the same limited resources. That’s why a peace deal in Israel is impossible – because both sides want the same land. But that’s a rare situation (fortunately).

The more normal situation is the one we see with North Korea and the United States. The United States doesn’t want the same limited resource that North Korea wants. And China has their own interests. That kind of situation almost always means you can reach a deal if you look hard enough.

At the moment, we have about 75% of what we need for a nuclear deal with North Korea. Both the United States and China are putting unprecedented economic and military pressure on North Korea, and that means North Korea will start to get flexible. But without the remaining 25% of what is needed for a deal, no breakthrough is possible. North Korea is unlikely to agree to anything that makes it seem as if it caved to pressure from the United States. You have to solve for that to get a deal. That is the missing 25%.

So let me tell you how to do that.

I’m about to suggest a somewhat impractical idea just to make the point about how deals get made. This is what I call the “bad idea” that is intended to generate some creativity toward a better idea. 

So here’s the bad-idea form of the deal:

1. North Korea abandons its Nuclear Weapons program and agrees to international inspections.

2. In return, China agrees to provide military protection to ensure the continuation of the current North Korean government.

3. South Korea gives up its side of the Demilitarized Zone and declares it North Korean territory but permanently occupied by Chinese forces.

You don’t need a DMZ buffer zone if China is the military player on the other side of the fence from South Korea. And with this deal structure, the leader of North Korea gets to say he expanded his empire and found a way to keep the country safe from invasion forever.

4. Trade deals and aid would become available to North Korea upon signing the deal.

5. The United States agrees to remove forces from South Korea, as they would be an unnecessary expense once China takes over the DMZ.

I’m guessing there are plenty of reasons why giving South Korea’s side of the DMZ to North Korea, on the condition that it is occupied only by Chinese defensive forces, is a bad idea. But I think you see the deal format.

In my example, South Korea really gives up nothing by gifting its side of the DMZ to North Korea. That land was useless. And once occupied by Chinese forces, tensions should drop to nearly zero. China has no reason to attack South Korea, now or ever.

While South Korea would be giving up nothing of actual value, it would look like a big win for North Korea because they would be gaining territory and permanent Chinese military assistance. And that gives them a story to save face.

In persuasion language, you need to give North Korea a “fake because.” They probably already want peace, but they don’t have a good public excuse for why they would cave to pressure and settle for it. Giving them something that has little value but can be exaggerated to seem like it has great value becomes the “fake because.”

I’m not predicting we’ll see a deal that involves the DMZ land ownership. But any workable deal with North Korea would have a “fake because” in the design. Until you see that, don’t expect much progress.

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You might enjoy reading my book because fake because.

Am I Shadowbanned on Twitter?

Earlier this week, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey contacted me to discuss my ongoing public observations that Twitter appears to be “shadowbanning” me because of my writings about Trump. Jack introduced me via Direct Message to Del Harvey, Twitter’s Head of Trust & Safety, for the official answer.

The official answer is that no one, including me, is shadowbanned on Twitter. It has never happened. 

Regular readers of this blog know that over the past year, hundreds of my Twitter followers have reported that I am being “shadowbanned” on Twitter. The allegation is that Twitter is systematically “hiding” my tweets from a percentage of my followers to limit my influence. A widespread belief on the Internet is that people who write positive things about Trump are being “throttled” back for political reasons.

I’ve also heard dozens of reports from Twitter followers who say they are being automatically switched from following me to not following. Several say they have reproduced this effect several times in a row.

Other Twitter followers say my tweets often show as “not available” even though you can click the link in the tweet and see that it is available.

Anecdotally, the evidence is overwhelming that I am being shadowbanned. A number of other high-profile Twitter users report the same problem. But anecdotal evidence isn’t real evidence because it can look identical to confirmation bias.

So what we have here is a fascinating situation in which there is either a mass delusion about Twitter shadowbanning political speech on one side … or something evil is happening at Twitter. My operating assumption is that there is no way that I could tell the difference. When you are inside a delusion, it looks totally real to you. 

Del asked me to provide some data on this alleged shadowbanning so they can check for any bugs in the system, or perhaps explain to me why it looks like shadowbanning but isn’t. For example, people might not know that Twitter uses an algorithm to decide the order that tweets appear, so my followers might be looking for my tweets in the wrong place. And the “not available” message on some tweets might be nothing but a bug.

To get to the bottom of this mystery, I offered to collect some data on this alleged shadowbanning and provide it to Twitter for analysis. If you can screenshot or otherwise document what you think looks like my tweets being shadowbanned, please put the examples in the comments below or tweet to me at @ScottAdamsSays.

Give me a few weeks to sort things out and I’ll report back to you on whether or not Freedom of Speech is still a functional right in the United States. (Obviously it is still a technical right.)

You might enjoy reading my book because it is not shadowbanned.

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