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February 2021 (Links, NMR)

Minor MLU update is that I updated the category label pictures; no more of that grainy clip-art. I made the new ones myself using Keynote.


General topics:

  • Scott “Alexander” is back. 😀😀😀 I couldn’t be happier. I try to minimize paid subscriptions, but I can’t not support Scott; his work is the most valuable thing I read online bar-none. $100/year is a steal.

  • Scott points to Metaculus as a pretty reliable betting odds site. For now I’m just reading, maybe will participate sometime. (Interesting: even (but falling) odds on 2020 Olympics still happening this year. This despite Japan secretly planning for cancellation (or maybe they aren't?).) (Interesting: 39% odds of Mayer Yang in NYC. Go Yang!)

  • Scott also points to the Qualia Research Institute. I've only started exploring, but seems deeply important.

  • File this one under "great commencement speeches", right next to Wallace's This is Water and Minchin's Nine Life Lessons. "When hit by boredom , let yourself be crushed by it; submerge, hit bottom. In general, with things unpleasant, the rule is: The sooner you hit bottom, the faster you surface." Good advice; I wrote something similar in posts like Let Them In and Push Off of the Bottom.

  • Is your memory poor (like mine) for menial daily tasks, like locking the door or putting away the dishes? Try the Japanese method of 指差呼称 (Shisakoshō), "pointing and calling".

  • Teach kids probability and make money off of them?? Tell me more about making bets with kids! (Really though, sounds like an interesting parenting tool, and I'm collecting far in advance of needing them.)

  • I listened to a few podcasts I would describe as frustrating this month (maybe I just had an angry month for some reason?):

    • 1. Econtalk, Michael Blastland on The Hidden Half. The main point is well-taken: the world is complicated; our best statistics / interventions only predict / succeed at the very best 50% of the time in very special circumstances (it's usually much worse); and randomness plays a much larger role than we like to believe. But the whole conversation felt like a surface-level discussion of a very deep issue; usually EconTalk is better than that. In particular, things that appear to be random at the moment can become part of the model. Russ gives an example of predicting the score of a football game, and says something like: "But you know, maybe the quarterback didn't eat breakfast today, or he fought with his wife last night, and so he'll play much worse today. Your model will never capture something like that!" I kept wanting to scream at both of them: "YOU HAVE IDENTIFIED A FLAW, MAYBE YOU SHOULD JUST ADD THAT TO YOUR MODEL AND THE OUTCOME WON'T APPEAR RANDOM ANYMORE." That, for an hour. More charitably, I think Blastland's point hit me like Freudian psychology hits most modern people: we've already internalized the main point long ago, so all that's left to focus on are his mistakes.

    • 2. Rationally Speaking with Timothy Lee on tech company censorship. To me, a central liberal rule is that you should not set up a system that depends on the people in positions of power being moral angels; one day, someone you don't like will have the control and you'll see that power used against you. Lee makes nice-sounding excuses for why people can be deplatformed online and we shouldn't care. One argument was: kicked off of Facebook? Try something else, the internet is huge! To which I reply: sure, but nobody uses Google Plus or MySpace; the point is to communicate with people, not shit into the wind. When Julia asked a key question (she's good at that), whether Lee's view would change if all the major tech platforms were conservative and they deplatformed atheists or something, and he said his base views wouldn't change but the tone of the conversation seemed to shift. Can you imagine if Twitter banned President Biden from the platform? I would think they were wrong to do so too, but I doubt these same "try other platforms"/"doesn't count as a 'free speech' issue if it's a private company" arguments would be heard from the Left. Complaints aside, I actually do recommend this conversation because I did learn some interesting things. Ok, \end{rant}.

A few about science:

  • Lee Smolin, renowned physicist in a field adjacent to mine, wrote what sounds like a very good "popular-science"-y book. An excerpt here. "There is no arguing with the logic of academic fame, which rewards every scientific success with distractions that make it harder to do more science, while imposing enormous disincentives to putting aside polishing your legacy to take on new challenges.

  • Is science self-correcting? Maybe not. A great story here. "This is a serious problem when even weak explanations like 'I didn’t understand what randomized assignment means' or 'I’m just very bad at statistics' are considered acceptable."

  • A clear and funny write-up about how to go to space using only the ten-hundred most common English words.

Here's some blog stuff:

  • Aella (@Aella_Girl) kept coming up on Twitter and on podcasts I enjoy, so I started following her; really enjoy her content (as a rationalist that is, haven't checked out her OnlyFans yet). She has very interesting and non-PC things to say about sex and gender, which is super interesting even when I sometimes don't agree. This post is a pretty good starting point. She also does fun Twitter polls; many have 1000+ answers and are catalogued here.

  • I like steelmanning conclusions I disagree with, but here are some reasons it might not be as useful as I think. I agree with the basic point that you should not condescend to your interlocutor as though you understand both sides of the argument better than they understand their side. I'll just add that sometimes your steelman is the stronger argument from your point of view, whereas the one of your opponent is stronger from theirs; even still, both are valuable and you should try to understand both.

  • I like "Motte and Bailey", but here is a good and bad way to use it. I agree that the bad way is bad, but to preserve the best parts of SSC terms maybe we can call the good case Motte and Bailey and the bad case a Game of Ethnic Tension; the goals of each are different.

  • This is a well-written article about how to better understand people who think differently from ourselves. I’m a sucker for distinctions like this, but it’s hard for me to read it and not just think "The content-focused people are wrong, the process-focused people are right." Though, maybe that's the point.

  • "Be kind first, be right later."

  • Young blog alert: "How the Hell" has a fun energy to it; I'll be following for a while to see how it develops. I particularly liked this one. (SPOILER: Society is a tower-defense game; you don’t get to win, you only get to last a while before being overrun.) (Is everybody migrating to substack now? Am I “old-school” for having a website of my own?)

Other stuff:

New Month Resolution

Last month's resolutions were:

I'm awarding myself 1 point for body.

  • Mind: I will spend 15-30 minutes either (a) reading a physical book or (b) blogging. I did not read any physical books, but I blogged quite a bit and spent a lot of time reformatting the page. 0.5 points for mind.

  • Spirit: I will sit in meditation practice for at least 10 minutes each day.

I only did this on 9/31 days. No points for spirit, and I will repeat this resolution in a lighter form this month.


In February 2021:

  1. Body: I will drink 4 bottles of water per day, and will weigh in under 180 lbs by the end of the month.

  2. Mind: I will not use my phone in the bathroom or shower.

  3. Spirit: I will sit in meditation practice for at least 10 minutes each day, for at least 14/28 days in February.

Current tally: Body/Mind/Spirit = 1/0.5/0 points.

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