Having taken Bloom’s class on Coursera earlier this year, I found this conversation a good recap of some of his arguments, which added to a few new ideas made for a great listen. The discussion about Westworld (a show that I’ve never seen) and how people behave with each other versus how they behave with robots or other beings that they believe to be non-human was super interesting.
Strangely, the week that I read this article there were several pieces where bringing Isaac Newton to the present was used as a thought experiment to exemplify how things have changed. This essay makes the argument that our current push toward political correctness, safe spaces, and restricted speech in academia are curtailing progress. Moreover, the article makes the case that this dispropportionately affects those people who can be categorized as neurodiverse. That much is probably true. The unaddressed question is whether the gains from these policies lead to a net benefit at the expense of those being silenced. That I do not pretend to have an answer for.
Now that I’ve been reading Marx and friends, I kind of want to re-read this one.
An interesting argument against banning/blocking users online. Essentially, Elaine makes an analogy to squatter’s rights, arguing that people’s investment over time in their online presence (say, Alex Jones’ Twitter account) should entitle them to some kind of property rights, and that Twitter, Apple, Cloudflare, or whoever, should not be able to single-mindedly revoke those rights. While in theory this sounds reasonable, it disregards the fact that these companies don’t owe their patrons for the space on the platform, and that the patrons agree to be there under whatever terms of service are presented to them. There is no social contract between the companies and the users, and if the users decide to act in a way that the platform finds harmful to their values (or their bottom line!) they are justified in taking them out.
Everyone thinks of the “useful fiction” meme as something stemming from Yuval Harari these days, but really it is older. Benedict Anderson discusses it in depth in his Imagined Communities, and others before him have made similar arguments. Ultimately, all of these fictions step in for the sources of objective truths, and in doing so, they are useful.
I have never read any Fukuyama, but his end of history hypothesis feels very wrong these days.
A couple of weeks ago I heard Rebecca Solnit at an event at City Lights. There, she commented on how privilege isolates you. In her view, more privilege makes you more disconnected, until you live in a world of one person. Just you. I found it insightful. She said it in the context of the current leaders in the US, but it made me think of the scenes about Stalin in In The First Circle. This essay develops that idea further. There is an interesting contradiction in conservatism, which is so tightly bound to religion and its value of religious communities, contra the individualism pushed by the modern right. Who has written on the reconciliation of these two ideas?
As part of my current Coursera class on Modernism and Postmodernism, I am currently reading Madame Bovary. Given my interest in languages and translation, I ended up doing some research of my own into which translation was worth reading, and it seemed like Lydia Davis’ was the recommended one. During my search, I found this piece by her on the process of translating it.
After months (years?) of hearing Russ Roberts bring up this commencement speech in his podcast, I finally put in the time to read the whole thing. It is an expansion of the kind of train of thought I got in the first time I heard of the word sonder.
Everyone has been talking about Hanson for other reasons recently. Here he makes an interesting argument about modern celebrities and human nature.
People hold all sorts of bizarre unfounded beliefs. People also tend to think that their bizarre beliefs are more valid than others’ bizarre beliefs. When reality fails to agree with our mental models, and we’re pushed to reconcile those gaps, we crash. Rao watched Jake Tapper’s interview with Ted Crockett (the one where Crockett insists that elected officials must be sworn in on a bible) and proceeded to write a whole essay on how hard Crockett crashed, and why.
If there is one thing I love (and also hate) about EconTalk, is that nearly every episode ends up with me adding a book to my list. In this case, its Rasmussen’s book on the Hume and Smith, and their role in the Scottish Englightenment. I keep thinking that I should just go back to the origin, and read the classics first - Hume’s Treatise on Human Nature and The History of England, as well as Smiths’ The Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations - and then go into the modern analysis of their work, but it is nice to have your hand held as you learn these. I always thought it was odd than in 4 years of economics courses I was never asked to read any Smith. As an aside, I found Smith posthumous editorializing of Hume’s work to be fascinating.
I thought I had posted articles from Edge.org before, but apparently this is a first one! If you haven’t visited their website, you definitely should. Every year they post a broad question, and ask people from a wide range of scientific and technical fields to answer it. In 2013, the question was “What should we be worried about?” and Robert Sapolsky answered with “What really worries me is that it is so hard for virtually anyone to truly act as if there is no free will.” Go read his answer, and then more questions on Edge.
I disagree with the author’s position, but thinking of when the problem of evil meets 21st century math and science is fascinating.
Language matters. Names shape how we think. This is as important in computer science as in any other field. We talk about queues and stacks and bugs and patches, not because we like jargon, but because metaphors are the only way we can get complex ideas across quickly. Communication is the hardest thing about software engineering, and pretty much any human endeavor. Picking the right metaphors can ease our job significantly, and shed light on how others have solved the same problems in the past.
I had never thought about how Philosophy is studied in such a different way than pretty much any other discipline. What does this tell us about how we should study science, or how we should teach mathematics?
A dose of historical perspective for these times of economic anxiety and anomie. Unbundling and specialization leads to recondensation and reformation. In cycles, humanity tends towards complexity.
Whether we like it or not, Turing and Gödel proved that there is irreducible uncertainty in the world, and when we build models and explanations, we need to keep that in mind.
The more I read Taleb, the less I like him. The IYI concept is worth sharing, though, because it is pervasive, and we all fall in the trope at times. “The IYI has been wrong, historically, on [a ton of things,] but he is convinced that his current position is right.” The key to ridding one’s self of the YI part is to have an open mind, accept errors as they are revealed, and course-correct accordingly.
Another good one in Albert’s series on uncertainty, easter egg included. “All observation necessarily entails compression of reality,” further compression from our tool’s resolution limits, and even more from measurement error. Regardless of how good your observations are, they will always be uncertain. Moreover, observations themselves can change the underlying state of reality. Not only in the uncertainty principle quantum sense, but also in the user research sense, for example.
Part two was also really good, and I am very much looking forward to the rest of the series.
In this post, Albert defines knowledge from a humanistic perspective. It nicely ties into a recent article I shared about nihilism. Knowledge only matters if it is worth reproducing.
I should make an effort and learn more about history and philosophy. We are solving different immediate problems, but ultimately trying to answer the same basic questions as those that came before us.
Thinking fast and slow, from the angle of Butcher Ding and chinese philosophy. When your conscious mind lets go, the body can take over.
A graph theory approach to the meaning of life, and, by extension, every one of our actions.