David Deutsch's Anna Story

David Deutsch posted this story in January 2000 to the public Taking Children Seriously email list. The subject line was "academics". I later wrote my own Anna story. One criticism of DD's story is that it overvalues school, formal education and academics.

Eliana WestEmmer asked:
After visiting the "Puzzling Parenting" stuff, I went to the TCS site and read Sarah's wonderful article about math(s).

https://web.archive.org/web/20030224180925/http://www.tcs.ac/Articles/SLMathPhobia.html

It got me wondering. I am imagining a kid, no -- a family of three kids. The kids are, um, 10, 12 & 15. The parents have resisted the urge to push academics on them. They have not done any academic math(s). They play video games, chat on the internet, build lego stuff, build tree-houses, etc.

Would somebody write for me a description of life from here on? Tell me a story, that includes the 15 year old becoming a scientist. I am just having trouble picturing them starting math so late... Would somebody help me with this idea?
And later:
The concern is genuine. Without knowledge, how do we come to be who it is we are "meant" to be? And is there not a point, developmentally, where it can be "too late"?
NO. I am sure it can't be "too late."

What I really want is a way to picture life from here for, say, the oldest one (15, was it?). Does she begin with fractions and decimals
Maybe. Probably not.
and work her way up to algebra, then calculus?
Calculus is almost certain to follow, rather than precede, algebra, yes.
Does she start at the local community college
Quite possibly.
in remedial classes?
No, in normal classes.
What does such a life LOOK like?
Well OK, if you really insist on knowing, I'll tell you. I know all the details except her name, so let's call her Anna.

Sometime this year, Anna's previous interest in Lego, treehouse-building, the internet and computer games will all come together and draw her attention to a major TV documentary about how stunts are arranged in movies. She will start building such stunts in the garden, each more ingenious than the last, using all sorts of props and filming them on a video camera. One day, a physics teacher will walk past and see her doing this. Calling to her to give her advice about how to balance a particular arrangement of planks, he will inadvertently cause her to fall fifteen feet onto the grass, fortunately causing only a broken toe.

Anna will have to wait three hours for treatment in the emergency room, which could have been excruciating (because the slightly addled person waiting on her left suffering from chronic whiteboard-marker poisoning will be a mathematics teacher eager to plug the gaps in her home education), but in the event, it will pass quickly because she will get into conversation with the fascinating person waiting on her right, a huge lady called Agnes. Turns out Agnes' ex-husband used to do stunts in Hollywood and she used to help him before she found out about some of the other stunts he pulled -- but that's another story. Anyway, now she owns three successful cafes in town and has just bought two more and wants to go up-market. She's been talking to an advertising agency about making a series of ads for the local TV. She hasn't liked any of their ideas so far, but soon finds that Anna is bubbling with great ideas for how to advertise high-class restaurants using movie-like stunts. Agnes will be surprised and delighted to hear that Anna actually has videos of several stunts she has arranged single-handed (with a little help from her little brothers) and will tell her her to drop by at her office next say.

Next day Anna will hobble along to Agnes' office above one of her restaurants, currently being re-fitted with the new up-market decor. Agnes will love the videos, and will commission Anna to design five stunts for the new series of ads, and execute them for the TV people. Anna will earn three thousand dollars for this, but think no more about it until six months later when the advertising agency will offer her a similar job, albeit for only $500. She will accept, because even though it's a lot of work and the materials alone will cost almost that much, she will enjoy it enormously. The following week, someone will let the agency down and they will phone around in desperation for anyone they know who can do a firework display. Anna will never have done such a thing, and technically it's illegal, but she will agree to step in to help them out. Not only will the display be a great success, but Anna will meet and fall instantly in love with ... the computerised timing device that the agency gave her to time the fireworks. She will ask if she can borrow it, and for the next year it will spend far more time in her garage than at the agency, for she will think of more and more ways to use it to do wonderful stunts, and also special effects. She will also start editing her movies on the agency's professional computerised editing system.

One day in the cutting room, she will meet a pro who is engaged in a science documentary. He will be a mathematics graduate -- who has forgotten all the maths he ever knew and will now be spending all his time filming animals mating. So they won't talk about maths but she will show him how to hide some of the more repulsive aspects of his footage using a difficult timed transition on the editing machine, and in return he will introduce her to his boss, whose next documentary will be about the NASA robots that will one day explore Mars. Anna will be hired as a technical assistant on that documentary, and will dazzle everyone with the exciting stunts she will think of to demonstrate how these robots will behave on Mars. The boss will offer her a permanent job on the team, but she will refuse, because while at NASA, she will also have helped one of the astronomers out with making a promotional movie designed to persuade the government to fund more infra-red satellites. The problem will have been how to display, in an eye-catching and persuasive way, the complex data that demonstrate why such satellites are better than ground-based telescopes. Anna will succeed at this so well that she will have persuaded herself too. She will spend the next two years working for one of NASA'a subcontractors, first in the publicity department, then designing user-interfaces for satellite ground stations, and then even some aspects of the satellites themselves.

All this will involve a lot of interactions between herself and astrophysics graduate students, but slowly the attraction of satellites will wear off, and she will realise that her real love is *theoretical* astronomy. She'll read a book about calculus, do a six-month adult-education course in physics to fill in the gaps in what she's picked up, and then apply to take an undergraduate degree in astronomy, complete it a year ahead of time and then be accepted for a PhD in quasar structure. At that point she will officially become a SCIENTIST.

Meanwhile she will have had two children with the NASA astronomer (who will have left astronomy to become an internet millionaire and failed miserably, but will by that time be blissfully happy again as a home maker), and she will worry that the children won't achieve anything in life unless they have a good grounding in the basics, especially mathematics, but for some unaccountable reason the ungrateful little wretches will be digging their heels in and refusing to listen.

-- David Deutsch
http://www.qubit.org/people/david/David.html

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Mark Cuban Blog Comments

http://blogmaverick.com/2014/04/02/high-frequency-trading-and-proof-that-the-sec-approach-to-insider-trading-is-completely-wrong/

SEC sux

http://blogmaverick.com/2013/10/26/that-awkward-moment-on-the-witness-stand-when-the-sec-asks-me-about-the-lakers-and-i-get-to-quote-randy-galloway/

SEC lawyers harassing billionare and wasting his time by interrogating him in court trying to find out what a blog post is

with serious stakes

jfc :(

and the govt lawyer doesn’t get it. blogs posts too complex.

http://blogmaverick.com/2012/09/17/the-cure-to-our-economic-problems-2/

not bad. says fix for economy is entrepreneurship, not small tax policy adjustments

2012 cuban:
This administration has failed us in terms of transparency. Transparency , IMHO was a key feature of what I hoped for when I voted for Obama in 2008.
being an obama voter does put his “who cares about the tax rate” thing in a scarier light

like i could see Howard Roark not caring what the tax rate is

but when it’s cover for being left-wing then :((((((

and i do disagree with cuban that tax rate has no effect on behavior

it has limited effect on behavior b/c most ppl focus on specific life roles and stick with those, tax rate be damned

they are more interested in their social role than economic efficiency

but it matters for ppl who aren’t just single-mindedly paying huge sacrifices and costs in pursuit of an (often bad) goal

http://blogmaverick.com/2012/10/11/my-opinion-on-the-governor-romney-tax-plan/

i like this one

http://blogmaverick.com/2012/04/18/the-greatest-business-risk-you-dont-know-about-your-business-will-be-sued-over-patents/

begins
Your business is at risk. For a lot of money. No matter what type of business you are in, you are susceptible to a patent infringement lawsuit. The worst part about this risk is that there is nothing you can do to protect yourself.
talks about that a bunch. argues his point. ends with this:
What can you do as a small business person to protect yourself ? Honestly, nothing beyond complaining to your Congressperson. The only option I have found is to buy into companies that aggressively sue over IP. It is a hedge against patent law. Put another way, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Sucks, but there aren’t any other options that I can see.
what do you think of this hedge strategy? :/

http://blogmaverick.com/2011/10/14/my-soapbox-advice-to-the-ows-movement-and-then-some/

oh god Cuban’s understanding of economics is pretty bullshit
Shareholders , whether they own shares directly or through mutual funds or pensions do not live in a corporate vacuum. Their lives are impacted by far more than the share price of a stock. Every layoff in the name of more earnings per share puts a stress on the economy, on the federal, state and local governments which is in turn paid for through taxes or assumption of government debt by….wait for it.. the same shareholders CEOs say they want to benefit.
suppose that firing some people saved a company $1,000 but did harm to the economy of $100,000.

is that in the best interests of the shareholders?

yes b/c that harm to the economy is divided over a hell of a lot of people, while the benefit to the company is divided over way fewer people. (more than 100x fewer).

if i own 1% of the company, and i'm 1 person out of 300,000,000 in the US economy, then i'm up $10 - $0.03 = $9.97. And look at how little difference the damage to the general economy made to me.

you can try to argue some other factors affect the math a little bit. sure. but the math isn't even close. since it's not a close call at all, small adjustments won't change the result.

running your company to make sacrifices for the general good is not self-interest. it’s altruistic suicide.

and that's even with exaggerated made up numbers that are super favorable to what Cuban is saying.

with real numbers, it’s more like you fire someone to improve your company and that’s a good thing. your company does better so it does more business with other companies and it’s an overall win in addition to being a win for your company individually.

it’s good for the person being fired, too. who the hell wants to work a job where they are creating less value than their salary? who wants to be lied to that they are creating value when actually they are a leeching moocher who is destroying value by going to work everyday? all those hours they spend working, and their boss decided to be “nice” by lying to them that they were being productive, when actually they were spending a large part of their life destroying wealth, and he wanted to be “nice” by having them continue doing that?

for more on this topic read _The Virtue of Selfishness_ by Ayn Rand. Chapter 4, *The “Conflicts” of Men’s Interests*
I have a simple question. Why are profitable companies laying off people ? I can see if a company’s survival is at stake. If payroll can’t be met. If debt can’t be paid. Then layoffs are a necessary evil. Even if companies have created cash flow deficits through their own mistakes, that’s the nature of business. Mistakes are made. What I have a problem with is that discussion of executive pay never includes whether or not the executive has been good enough to pre empt or prevent layoffs.

Executives are not stupid. Usually. They recognize that killing off employees can juice a stock price. Even in this market. Which in turn can juice the value of their options and compensation. At the companies I run, we have cut raises, put a freeze on hiring, done what we need to do, but we have done all we can to avoid layoffs. Why ? Because its the right thing to do. Its the patriotic thing to do. I’m selfish enough and arrogant enough to think that maybe if I pay attention to the big picture that I can impact the big picture.
he wants to sacrifice capitalism for what he thinks is a noble cause.

and no one stands up to him.

but i will.

his vision here is IMMORAL. it’s MEAN. it’s UGLY. it’s BAD. he couldn’t pay me to do things this way. it’s too awful.

what he's talking about, in real terms, is tricking people into wasting their lives. they slave away 8 hours a day trying to produce and be a worthwhile productive part of society. people try so hard to earn their place and feed their family.

how would they feel if they found out they were spending 8 hours a day working but it was all a dirty hoax. really they were moochers on welfare. but people were afraid to hurt their feelings, so no one told them. their boss, instead of telling them about a problem, covered it up so they never had a chance to solve it.

isn’t that fucking awful?

that is the concrete real-world meaning of what Cuban is talking about.

treating people so DISHONESTLY is not kind. it’s mean and rotten as all hell.

the world has plenty of idealists willing to sacrifice things like money to ideals. like Cuban.

what the world needs is people with brains, willing to sacrifice poorly thought out “ideals” to reasoned consideration.

yes there are some short-sighed decisions made which are mistakes. that happens. that isn't the issue here. no one is against trying to think through the long term where there's enough predictability to do so. that's hard and important and everyone tries to do it well. Cuban uses short sighted decision as a false alternative to attack. the fact is short sighted decisions can happen with Cuban's approach or mine, and wise longer term thinking is alos possible with both. time horizon isn't the issue. the issue is when Cuban wants to keep people from being fired whether they are productive or not because he thinks keeping someone in an unproductive job, so they don't switch to a better situation, is somehow a moral imperative (when it's actually a great dishonest evil that prevents better allocation of people where they would be useful and happier being productive. Americans don't want to be turned into charity cases, and have this kept a secret from them.)

remember that math we did above? basically the only thing that will change the result is if the benefit to the shareholders is actually approximately zero or negative. that's it. in those cases, all of what Cuban is saying is irrelevant. if firing someone loses the shareholders money directly, there isn't any debate. yes mistakes get made sometimes, but they are just individual mistakes, not a systematic problem.

Cuban talks about the case where a CEO is shortsighted and is doing something that loses money for the shareholder directly, and tries to use that as his argument to deal with the case where a CEO decision does make the shareholders money in the direct sense but arguably maybe hurts the economy or is bad in some other vague way. and he tries to say, choose altruism over profit, choose other factors over profit. but then a lot of his argument has to do with how sometimes CEOs make mistakes by not accurately forecasting the future well enough and seeing all the angles. but it's uncontroversial to try not to make mistakes that directly lose shareholder money, that's such an easy target. and Cuban tries to use arguing against the easy target to prop up his argument on the controversial topic, which is the case where firing someone does benefit the company individually but (in Cuban's view) harms society/the-economy in a more collective vague way.

what cuban wants, it's clear enough, is to not fire some people who are being unproductive (not even fire them after exhausing some other options like paycuts or retraining – obviously sometimes a person is unproductive today but you can adjust something and fix it, firing isn't your first resort). but a large chunk of his argument isn't about that case that matters, which is dishonest.

I thought I might comment on this post (writing a concise version of my main point here) but then I read at the bottom:
Comments are closed.
Why close the discussion? wtf? lame.

I have tweeted to Cuban asking why he's blocking further discussion. I do not expect a reply but I like to give people a chance and twitter is the contact info he makes available (not email, and not blog comments on this post). I will update this post if he replies.

http://blogmaverick.com/2011/09/20/my-top-10-things-our-federal-government-should-do-and-more/
I can tell you that dealing with the costs of overwhelming bureaucracy was always a far greater problem than taxation [the context here is businesses, not individuals]. Why ? Because taxes come AFTER PROFITS. The price of dealing with bureaucracy, patents, professional fees and of course competition had a far nastier impact on their ability to succeed than tax rates.
Good point. There's some details where this isn't true, like sales taxes on things you buy for the business. And income taxes raise the salary you have to pay people, which costs businesses money before they get into profit. And if you tax profits it has differential impact on different industries and their ability to attract capital and provide adequate return on investment to compete with alternate uses of that capital, so there is an economic inefficiency in how it biases what industries get how much capital. And some other stuff. But yeah this is important and is roughly accurate regarding taxes on the profits of businesses.

http://blogmaverick.com/2010/08/20/the-stock-market-is-still-for-suckers-and-why-you-should-put-your-money-in-the-bank/

remember that issue earlier about whether taxes determine behavior?
But I do know that I have continued to add to my cash balance or sovereign debt from around the world (that I have owned for a while now and has been profitable and is very, very liquid.) The stocks I still own for the most part pay me a nice cash on cash return, or I have owned them for a long, long time and have more in gains than I want to pay taxes on.
he's changing his behavior regarding what stocks to have his money invested in, cuz of tax reasons.

http://blogmaverick.com/2010/08/25/the-best-investment-advice-you-will-ever-get/
3. Cash Creates Transactional Returns. What does this mean ? It means that you should analyze what you spend money on over the course of a year. You will get a better return on your money by being a smart shopper and taking advantage of cash, quantity or other types of discounts than you will in the stock market. Saving 15pct on the $1k dollars worth of items you know you will absolutely spend money on is a better return on your money than making 15pct in a year on a $1k investment because you don’t pay taxes on it.
Here Cuban advocates most people change their behavior due to how taxes work.

http://blogmaverick.com/2011/08/10/an-idea-for-the-economy-that-will-freak-out-a-lot-of-people-but-could-be-fun-to-discuss/

This post is about a scheme where the Government loans money to companies to create jobs.

If these companies could use capital well, why don't they get it from for-profit lenders? Since when is the government good at judging what companies can use capital well? ugh.

http://blogmaverick.com/2012/03/09/am-i-a-homophobe/
I’m the last to be politically correct and the last thing I am trying to be here is politically correct. I honestly don’t give a shit what you think about me. But I think being the person I want to be includes not blurting out throw away jokes about sexuality, race, ethnicity, size, disability or other things people have no say in about themselves.
First, that is kinda politically correct.

More important, this is the usual claim that sexual orientation isn't a choice, it's completely outside of someone's control and responsibility. Where is the argument for that assertion? As always, there is none.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Book Investigation: The Genius of the Beast

So I was watching Capitalism Died for Your Sins on the David Horowitz Youtube channel. it mentioned positively the book The Genius of the Beast.

based on the title, which calls men beasts, i expect it to suck.

so i go to amazon to check out the reviews and see what the book is like. i am of course in the market for good books about capitalism. i like horowitz and friends, and they write good books and articles. so i figure giving it a chance on amazon is a good idea. it won’t take long.

so the first thing i read is:
Is global capitalism on its last legs? Is the era of American leadership over? Has the West begun a decline into a new Dark Age? Does American civilization deserve to survive? These are the unnerving questions raised by the Great Crash of 2009.
jesus fucking christ no.

you know that stupid saying “there are no bad questions”? yeah, it’s stupid. here’s some really bad questions.

and asking them not over something like obama getting elected by millions and millions of fools in the best country on earth. which is scary if you think about how many people are how foolish. he’s a pro-terrorist anti-semitic communist, and millions voted for him, and a lot of that voting is because he’s evil, not in spite of it.

but anyway, no jesus fucking christ some govt-caused economic stumbles are not the last legs of capitalism. no this does not indicate that other countries are somehow better at this stuff (sadly they aren’t). no we don’t deserve to die for giving home loans to poor blacks and stuff like that. no wasting billions of dollars on a bailout and stuff won’t cause a new dark age.

this is so ridiculous. these are not the questions anyone good would be asking and answering. they’re a super bad way to look at the problem situation. they are not designed to set up good answers, they don’t lead into good discussion.
This book presents a radically new answer, insisting that global society has only begun to realize its full potential.
fuck you that isn’t new. see e.g. Ayn Rand. if you’re gonna be a “radical[]” for capitalism, don’t spit in the face of Ayn Rand by pretending she didn’t exist. jfc.

btw how do you do quote edits when ur omitting something? like normally if u wanna change a word ending, like cooked -> cooks, you could write “cook[s]” as a quote of “cooked”. but how do you change cooked -> cook and indicate it? do u just bracket the whole word? see my empty brackets after radical above. not sure best way to handle. thots? so far this aside seems more interesting than the book.
Author Howard Bloom argues that there’s a hidden mandate beneath the surface of capitalism: "It’s struggling to whisper and rumble its message to you and me. That hidden imperative can lift us from economic crisis, can make us a leader in the next-generation economy, and can dramatically upgrade our ability to empower our fellow human beings." Bloom sees crisis as opportunity, opportunity for the whole human race.
the fuck?

and i smell altruism.

and mysticism. and collectivism.

ok let’s skip ahead to user reviews.
I admit I bought this thinking it had been written by Harold Bloom, the Harvard literary don. So I was surprised when I began reading Genius of the Beast and came up against this writer's hyperbolic style, a style which would be familiar to any advertising copywriter.

Bloom is described somewhere in the multiple blurbs all over this book as a marketing genius, and that's what I'll happily take him as. As a revolutionary thinker? His argument boils down to "Technology will save us", nothing I haven't read anywhere before.
oh look, maybe it wasn’t new after all.

this review doesn’t explain the content tho. onward.
As other reviewers have written, Howard Bloom's "The Genius of the Beast" is unorganized and haphazardly written. It is also full of errors, stretched analogies and made up word jumbles (secular genesis machine?!?).
the phrase “secular genesis machine” sounds pretty crap to me too.
As far as errors are concerned, the book has a complete misunderstanding of biology which Bloom claims helps to explain the cycle of boom/bust in a human economy. I'm a biologist, so these errors jump out at me, and I shudder to think about the number of errors in the rest of the book that I didn't pick up because they related to other fields of expertise. For example, Bloom goes on for an entire chapter about the Dictyostelium slime mold, yet continuously calls it a bacterium (which it is not, and is like writing about dogs and calling them snails). He also has no idea about the biological role of microtubules inside the cell, yet uses their inherent dynamic instability (but a small bit of their cellular function) to try and explain worldwide economies. These and his honeybee and evolution analogies show that he has no understanding about these topics besides what he managed to glean from reading one or two magazine articles about them (including references in the back to primary literature doesn't mean he read or understood them).
i’m liking this reviewer! fuck you and your citations-are-scholarship approach, bro.

and reviewer gave what are to all appearances totally legit details about slime mold. that really smells like a correct criticism. and i like his comments about scared of the errors in fields he doesn’t know, that’s a great point to be thinking about. and i like his attitude to citations in the back don’t mean much.
Mr. Bloom may have a modern-day classic in this book. He has managed to perform a work of consilence on the history of man (life, really) and provide insight in the how's, what's, where's, and why's of capitalism and how we treat customers and each other. I must admit as a newcomer to Bloom's work, the first 130 pages left me wondering, "where is he going?”
oh man even the positive review trashed the first 130 pages. (and he writes like a total asshole. perhaps it’s not a coincidence that signs so far were pointing to the book being written like an asshole too). 130’s a lot of pages. and wtf is consilence?

oh dear god it gets a lot worse right after that tho:
Bloom provides an extraordinary grasp of machinations and implications of capitalism, warts and all [...] Strongest recommendation!
fuck you, capitalism has no warts. if you come away from a book on capitalism thinking it has warts and the book agrees it has warts, fuck that book.

i’m convinced now. book sucks. done.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Aubrey de Grey Discussion, 25

I discussed epistemology and cryonics with Aubrey de Grey via email. Click here to find the rest of the discussion.

Aubrey did not reply further.

Note my last email to him began by saying:
If you want to stop talking, or adjust the terms of the conversation (e.g. change the one message at a time back and forth style), please say so directly because silence is ambiguous.
He answered this with silence.

I think that's pretty unreasonable.

I don't really want to write comments on the content of the conversation. It should speak for itself. (And in a fair way with back-and-forth discussion, rather than just me talking.)

But I did want to comment briefly on attitude to discussion.

You can read some of my thoughts on this topic in my Paths Forward essay. I think Aubrey is blocking discussion and preventing there from being paths forward. If he's mistaken, and it's a big deal, how will he find out when he simply leaves various criticisms unresolved and unanswered? If some of the epistemology he doesn't know is true and important, how will he ever find that out while not understanding it, not asking enough questions to understand it, and not having a refutation of it (by himself or anyone else)?

I think it's very important to address rival ideas. Either personally or by outsourcing – it's fine to use someone else's writing in place of your own, as long as you take personal responsibility for its correctness, as if it was your own. If a criticism of your position is not addressed by anyone (in public writing that's exposed to public criticism, comments, question-asking, discussion, etc), then it really ought to be addressed not ignored. Aubrey neither addresses various Popperian ideas (such as the refutation of justificationism), nor does he know of any writing by anyone else which addresses it. Yet he rejects it and stops pursuing it, without having any answer to it. This is not symmetric. The Popperian ideas I'm advocating are exposed to public criticism but are not currently refuted by anything. My ideas meet all challenges; Aubrey's don't; and Aubrey stopped discussing, leaving it like that without changing his mind.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Constructor Theory Paper Comments

Constructor Theory by David Deutsch

The paper omits DD's contact information (i.e. email), which I think is really bad.
The theory of computation was originally intended only as a mathematical technique for studying proof (Turing 1936), not a branch of physics. Then, as now, there was a widespread assumption – which I shall call the mathematicians’ misconception – that what the rules of logical inference are, and hence what constitutes a proof, are a priori logical issues, independent of the laws of physics. This is analogous to Kant’s (1781) misconception that he knew with certainty what the geometry of space is. In fact proof and computation are, like geometry, attributes of the physical world. Different laws of physics would in general make different functions computable and therefore different mathematical assertions provable.
This prestige-seeking reference to Kant isn't useful. Few readers will know what DD's talking about, and he doesn't even try to explain. It doesn't add anything.

It's there as a social convention, both to gain prestige and because just starting by saying "in fact my position" is frowned on. But if you say "Kant was wrong. In fact my position" somehow that's seen as better, even though it's worse. The Kant thing helps disguise the asserting-rather-than-arguing.
But this supposed deficiency is shared by all scientific theories: Tests always depend on background knowledge – assumptions about other laws and about how measuring instruments work (Popper 1963, ch. 10 §4). Logically, should any theory fail a test, one always has the option of retaining it by denying one of those assumptions.
The ideas that make up background knowledge can be assumptions, but don't have to be. They are often pretty good ideas which are argued and explained, rather than being assumed.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Bad Scholarship About Apple

http://stratechery.com/2015/bad-assumptions/
last quarter Apple’s revenue was downright decimated by the strengthening U.S. dollar; currency fluctuations reduced Apple’s revenue by 5% – a cool $3.73 billion dollars. That, though, is more than Google made in profit last quarter ($2.83 billion). Apple lost more money to currency fluctuations than Google makes in a quarter.
Italics in the original.

The sentence in italics uses the word "money" to refer to, at the same time, Apple's revenue and Google's profit.

I emailed the blog author, as well as John Gruber pointing out the error. If either of them corrects it, I will update this post to give them credit. Will anything be fixed or will they be added to the long list of people with bad scholarship? Let's find out!

UpdateBen Thompson of Stratechery replied to my email. He refused to fix anything and expressed that he was unhappy with me for even bringing it up. He said, "my only reason to use the two numbers is to give a sense of scale", and he thought that was obvious and unobjectionable. This is bullshit. It's not OK to call profit and revenue both "money" at the same time and italicize that misleading sentence. And he's lying to me that his "only reason" for choosing Google to compare Apple with was a sense of scale. I hope you learn a double lesson about 1) how terrible Ben Thompson is personally 2) how terrible many people are, you really have to watch out. Lots of people can seem OK if you never challenge them. But if you do challenge them, their awfulness is revealed. Don't go through life blindly assuming the best about people and leaving them untested.

Just before reading that, I saw this other bad scholarship about Apple:

http://daringfireball.net/linked/2015/01/27/zabitsky

Gruber quotes an interview with market analyist who was very negative on Apple stock. I think it's really great how the Daring Fireball blog follows up on disagreements. It's important to look at ideas in retrospect and see who was right and wrong, and why, and learn from mistakes. When predictions are made made on timescales of a few years or less, it's not that hard to hold people accountable, and yet it isn't done nearly enough.
You have a $270 price target. Is that still too pessimistic?

Zabitsky: It’s formally a one-year target, but in 3 to 6 months we’re going to see that play out. The reason I started to make noise was the rise of Samsung. If you say that now, it’s not challenged.
Apple announced spectacular earnings results yesterday. The most profitable quarter of any company ever. Despite that 5% revenue loss to foreign exchange rates mentioned above. So Zabitsky was badly wrong. That's Gruber's point.

I wanted to add that I don't think it's a coincidence that the same guy who is strongly anti-Apple, and wrong, is also very loose with scholarship. He publishes a one-year price target for Apple, then says, "But I don't really mean what I say when I publish formally. That's really my 3-6 month target, and I published it as a 1-year target because I casually lie in formal predictions."

Apple is good. Many people hate Apple because they hate the good. Their immorality has other consequences than being anti-Apple. Dishonesty is unsurprising. (And note this dishonesty is a lot more severe than the one I criticize above from pro-Apple people. The one above I think is bad but fairly normal. This one about doing formal publications and casually not meaning what you say, I think is really fucking bad.)

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Big Hero 6 Comments

Big Hero 6 movie comments. You should watch the movie before reading this.

SPOILERS

starts with main character (hiro) getting arrested for peaceful activities that should be legal. no one objects to this state of affairs, including hiro himself who thinks the illegal activities are good things to do.

within the first 10 minutes the movie is telling HUGE HUGE HUMONGOUS GIGANTIC SUPER BIG lies about what university is like, by presenting a completely fake school lab scene that’s waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay cooler than real ones. Also extremely expensive even after you tone it down from sci-fi to realism.

so then after the utopia-paradise convinces the main character to go to school, he wants to make something awesome to get in. so he ... pulls out a pencil, a pencil sharpener, and paper. umm wait what? this is a sci fi world with advanced robotics technology, this guy is super into technology ... but he doesn’t use an iPad like device or even a computer keyboard for writing, brainstorming, etc? he handwrites?? c’mon. wtf.

so then hiro makes awesome amazing future tech in a short time period, PRIOR TO attending school, in hopes of getting in. note his ability to make this indicates he very much does not need school, even the super awesome fake school.

so then he gets 2 choices: get in to school, or sell out to a capitalist guy criticized for caring about “self-interest”. hiro turns down a fortune at age 14 without really thinking about it or finding out details of his options. which the professor mentor dude and his elder brother both treat as wise.

so after the professor and his brother die, why doesn’t he consider going with the capitalist option at that point?

chasing baymax scene is kinda ridiculous. the SLOW MOVING robot keeps being in sight a little ways away, but hiro is constantly running full speed and just missing him and not catching up.

no, low battery does not make robots act drunk.

Hiro lies to his parent figure when leaving the house to chase Baymax, and lies more when returning. no significant explanation is necessary. plenty of kids watching who understand the necessity of heavily lying to parents...

movie plays a lot on the theme of an outsider (the robot) who doesn’t understand cultural stuff that normal people take for granted. this lack of understanding is supposed to be humorous. one concrete example is when the robot doesn’t understand fist bumping.

the policeman completely ignores his report of major violence and danger. he treats robots like a fantasy story, even though this sci-fi world has significant robotics and Hiro is giving the police report with a very impressive robot standing next to him. that’s really bad. i think it’s a bit unrealistic. i don’t think police are quite that bad. at least for adults. maybe they are when a kid is doing the report. i don’t know. in any case, i think it comes off as identifiable to the children in the audience – the authorities in their lives (parents and teachers primarily) repeatedly won’t believe them, ignore reasonable requests, make them try to deal with stuff on their own. that theme is very realistic for kids.

so why doesn’t Baymax save any photographs or videos from the camera it uses for eyesight? that sure would have been convenient at the police station. also Hiro should have taken a picture or video with his smartphone or something.

the friend group in the movie are all very strong personality archetypes. this isn’t very realistic. most people are more mild, with a bit of some archetypes but also a lot of mild-mannered normalcy, compromises, etc. there’s general pressure on people not to be strong outliers. the strong extremes of the archetypes are a bit rare, but more entertaining and striking for movies.

after the go to the mansion and get upgrades, Hiro does a few grand in property damage while having Baymax show off his new rocket fist. no one takes notice of this.

when Hiro goes flying around on Baymax, he almost dies a few times. people don’t take brushes with death nearly seriously enough. they are too focused on the actual outcome instead of something more like the set of possible outcomes and their probabilities.

they also ignore the issue of acceleration forces acting on Hiro while he rides (and he’s frequently only attached to Baymax at like 2 points on his feet or knees which would put a ton of strain on those points). going high speed then changing direction very abruptly to go high speed another way requires a better setup or you like blackout or die.

also they fly around the city for all to see, which is really stupid given their intent to fight someone using this technology. better if it’s a secret, keep the element of surprise.

now i figure they have enough evidence to get help from the cops or military. like they have Baymax’s medical scan of the badguy. Baymax has some data. and their car got trashed and they got chased through the streets, some stuff must have gotten on camera and had witnesses. but they don’t consider that at all, even though the micro-bot army is VERY VERY dangerous and serious and bringing in the military really is called for, and it’s extremely reckless and stupid for them to go after the guy themselves and also to do it without leaving full data and notes behind in case they die so other the military at least has their info in order to fight if necessary.

the girls in the friend group are real thin.

for the fight after watching the teleporter video, they mostly fight in a sort of one-at-a-time way that is really convenient for showing what’s happening more easily i guess, but pretty damn lame if you think about it.

so Hiro himself, the protagonist a lot of the audience is meant to identify with, becomes kinda murderous pretty abruptly. that’s treated as just how even the best people are.

@Baymax tests and creation: so the first time it gets past saying Hi, on attempt 84 (a very low number, presented as a very high number), the medical scan works perfectly on the first try of that subsystem. that’s completely ridiculous.

so the capitalist dude doesn’t turn out to be the badguy. also he actually spends huge piles of government money.

the professor guy is pretty dumb. his daughter participated in the test voluntarily. now he wants to be a murderer. he also doesn’t seem to mind doing millions of dollars of property damage that hurts people other than his target, and he doesn’t seem to mind trying to kill Hiro and friends who has has no grudge against.

i don’t think the intended moral of the story is that irrational emotional family attachments are one of the more dangerous forces remaining internal to peaceful Western society. yet that’s kinda there.

Hiro and friends have massively higher tolerance for danger and brushes with death than most people. also they are wrong and it’s bad. and it doesn’t even occasion comment in the movie.

so remember how the acceleration was really unrealistic when flying earlier? it’s a lot worse now. when they are through the portal, Hiro climbs onto the pod thing the girl is in and hangs on to that while Baymax flies around pushing it. so now he doesn’t have the special attachment points between his suit and Baymax that kept him from falling off before. but he doesn’t fall off. cuz ... no reason. he barely even tries to hold on, sometimes letting go with his hands and just kinda crouching on it.

shooting the rocket fist to get them out is pretty stupid. cuz he could just shoot it directly away from them and that’d work too and then Baymax would be saved too. it’s not like there was a big hurry, they waste time saying bye. #physics

don’t they have backup copies of the robot’s memory cards, design schematics, etc, etc???

the news broadcast indicates the heroes don’t get credit. why? and how do they manage anonymity after all the public displays?

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Two Firefight Errors

This post contains large spoilers for the book Firefight by Brandon Sanderson. He is my favorite fantasy author. In this post, I explain two errors I noticed in the book.

1) Is Regalia a High Epic?

“Abigail isn’t a High Epic,” Tia said.

“What?” Exel said. “Of course she is. I’ve never met an Epic as powerful as Regalia. She raised the water level of the entire city to flood it. She moved millions of tons of water, and holds it all here!”

“I didn’t say she wasn’t powerful,” Tia said. “Only that she isn’t a High Epic—which is defined as an Epic whose powers prevent them from being killed in conventional ways.”
That made sense to me, but it's contradicted when David kills Regalia:
“No!” My arms trembled. I shouted, then brought the blade down.

And killed my second High Epic for the day.
The page with the ISBN number also calls Regalia a High Epic:
Summary: “David and the Reckoners continue their fight against the Epics, humans with superhuman powers, except they may have met their match in Regalia, a High Epic who resides in Babylon Restored, the city formerly known as the borough of Manhattan”— Provided by publisher.

2) Geometry



The left diagram shows how they were trying to find Regalia’s base. That part makes sense. Every time she appears, you know she’s in a radius of that point, so you draw a circle. The overlap of all circles is where her base could be. (You can also have circles for places she didn’t appear, which then rule out that circle.)

To narrow it down further, you need any circle which overlaps part of the remaining possible city area, not none or all. As you can see in the right hand diagrams, this new circle could be near an existing circle, or off in a new area. Both work. But the book says:
From what I eventually worked out, my points had helped a lot, but we needed more data from the southeastern side of the city before we could really determine Regalia’s center base.
That doesn’t make sense. The key thing is the distance of data points so they overlap part of the remaining area where the base could be. This can be done from any direction.

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Mindless or Perfect?

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8859974
They're not wrong in that people often rationalize their 'instinctual' choices, but to imply that nobody is cognizant of any of their thoughts or biases and that we're all slaves to our lizard brains is a bit of a stretch.
This is a massive false dichtomy.

On the one hand is people are biased in ways they aren't aware of, and aren't in control of their lives. And therefore are slaves to genes.

On the other hand is, since people aren't animal slaves, people aren't super biased, super unaware of their biases, and so on.

I think the truth is pretty straightfoward here: people are hugely biased, unaware of it, and bad at controlling their lives. But it doesn't mean they are slaves. They could do something about it. But evading and dismissing the issue, or accepting that's how people are, won't fix it.

Control over your life is possible but not automatic. It shouldn't be treated as either both possible and automatic, or neither. That's the false dichtomy again.

What will fix this problem is philosophy. Read Ayn Rand and Karl Popper, among others. Or come discuss this matter at the Fallible Ideas Discussion Group. Learn better ideas and integrate them into your life so you actually live by them.

The problem of bias (and more generally mistakes) is real, but also solvable. You don't have to choose from a false dichotomy of denying the problem exists (or downplaying it heavily) or else accepting the problem as a negative feature of human life. You can recognize the problem exists and then take steps to deal with it. A lot is actually known about how to handle this, but most people don't bother learning it.

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Lying About Poker

http://www.europokerpro.com/games/fixed-limit-holdem-rooms/
5: When you start steaming give up for the day and save your bankroll.
this is super bad advice if you’re trying to make money (rather than looking at it as paying money for fun). which i think is most of the audience (some of the other tips look clearly oriented to people trying to make money, e.g. 2 and 4).

if you’re trying to make money at poker, you cannot be a player who steams. if you’re a steamer, you should expect to be a losing player.

the article tip implies it’s OK to be a steamer and try to make money at poker. this is a dirty and nasty lie, encouraging losing players to lose more money (in the disguise of tips to help them win money).
The edges are really small in all the fixed limit games. For an example you can rarely expect to earn more than 5Big bets/100 hands on average even in the good games
and this is lying about what people can reasonably expect to win. 5 big bets per 100 hands is not “really small”. it sounds pretty great.

http://www.thepokerbank.com/strategy/other/winrate/
• 1 – 4 bb/100 = Great. A solid winrate if you can sustain it.
• 5 – 9 bb/100 = Amazing. This is a very high winrate at any level. Consider moving up.
• 10+ bb/100 = Immense. Very, very few have a winrate like this. You probably have a small sample size though.
i don’t know fixed limit holdem that well, but a big bet in it (they were talking 5 big bets/100 hands) is (always?) double the big blind. so they might have just called 10big blinds/100 as a “really small” edge!?!?

let’s check more info by searching fixed limit info in particular:

http://forumserver.twoplustwo.com/17/small-stakes-limit/current-expected-ceiling-earning-flh-hu-shorthanded-1486606/
I think 3.5 big bets per 100 hands (after rake, but before rakeback and bonuses?) is not even close to attainable online right now. I'm not sure what is, but more HU and shorthanded targeting weaker players would obviously boost your winrate. But the best I seem to hear of is around 1.5 BB/100 if avg players at table was like 4 or something. I'm not even 100% on those figures bc it's all pretty much anecdotal.
and
People that won 3 BB/100 were massive bumhunters and/or constantly buttoning people which is basically cheating. They were not playing regularly and winning 3 BB/100.
http://www.pokerstrategy.com/forum/thread.php?threadid=37634
In Fixed Limit Holdem we know that good player will have average income 1-2 BB (Big Bets) per 100 hands.
so the article was super fucking lying about 5 big bets per 100 hands being “really small”. completely and utterly lying to people about what sort of income poker might offer. to lure in suckers, i guess.

btw who are the suckers who are fooled? they must be dumb. i don't play poker. maybe it'd help if they were better philosophers. i catch lies like this because i have good thinking methods.

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Understanding Objectivism Comments

Comments on excerpts from Understanding Objectivism by Leonard Peikoff.
Q: Ayn Rand once said that the attribute that most distinguished her was not intelligence but honesty. Could she have been referring to a concept that subsumes the virtue of honesty, and the lack of any innocent dishonesty such as rationalism?

A: “Innocent dishonesty” strikes me as a self-contradiction. If a person is dishonest, then he’s guilty; if he’s innocent, he tried his best, then he was honest. So you probably mean the correct method—she was not only honest, but had the correct method of thinking. And was that simply the result of honesty on her part? I have to respectfully disagree with Miss Rand’s self-assessment. I never agreed with that, and I argued with her for decades on that point. I regarded myself as thoroughly honest, and I never came anywhere near coming up with her philosophy on my own. I think that to explain the origination of an actual new philosophy, honesty is a valuable and necessary condition, but does not go the whole way. You cannot get away from the fact that you have to be a genius on top of being honest.
Peikoff regards himself as 100% honest and using that as a premise to reach conclusions about reality (including ones contrary to Ayn Rand). This is an arrogant and ridiculous method. You should not assume your own greatness as the starting point of your arguments, and see what the world is like only on that assumption.

The specifics here are terrible too. Who is 100% "thoroughly honest"? No one. No one is literally perfect on honesty. Which is great – it means there is room for improvement, there are opportunities to be better (for those who look for them).

Rather than emphasizing self-improvement maximally, Peikoff starts attributing success to vague, inborn(?), magical "genius".
Let me take a different situation. In college, should you let the professor in the class know you disagree every time you do? Is your silence a sanction of evil? If it is, I certainly sanctioned a tremendous amount of evil in my fourteen years as a college student, so I have to come out as the world’s greatest monster, next to Kant. This was my policy: Sometimes I spoke up, and sometimes I didn’t, according to a whole constellation of factors. I realized that I couldn’t speak up every time, because I disagreed with everything. And since it was philosophy, every disagreement was vital, so I would have had to have equal time with the professor and the rest of the class, which would be ludicrous. So I simply had to accept from the outset, “An awful lot is going to go by that is irrational, horrendous, depraved, and I will be completely silent about it. I have no choice about that.”
This has the same kind of issue as the previous quote. Here Peikoff's reasoning starts with the premise that he's pretty good, and doesn't consider that he may be making a big mistake. Rather than argue the substance of the issue, he just kinda treats any criticism of himself as an absurdity to reject.

Peikoff's argument here is careless too. If he sanctioned a lot of evil, it wouldn't make him the second worst person, after Kant. Lots of people have done that, and Kant (and others) did a lot of other stuff wrong too.

As I read this, Peikoff basically confesses to huge sins and flaws, makes a half-hearted defense, and then says it can't be that bad because then life would be too hard and too demanding, and surely morality can't demand anyone be more than Peikoff is.

There's so much wrong here. Peikoff did not have to go to college. He did sanction college by going and then keeping mostly quiet and going along with it. You know Roark got expelled from school? And Roark says he should have quit earlier. Peikoff acts completely unlike Roark, and makes himself fit in enough to pass, but can't conceptualize that he may have done something wrong. Isn't that weird? He isn't taking Roark or Rand seriously. Rand is pretty clear about the moral sanction issue, and Peikoff's attitude is that a particular version of refusing to sanction evil (getting equal speaking time to his professors) is "ludicrous" and anyway he can't be so bad, so let's just start compromising principles.
Now and then I would speak up; much of the time I kept silent. And I do not regard that as a sanction of evil, and I could certainly not have survived fourteen years of university if every moment had to be total war against every utterance.
Why go to fourteen years of evil university? There are alternatives. He did sanction it. He describes himself sanctioning it and his only defenses consist of thinking there were no better alternatives (while hardly considering any) and thinking he can't be too bad.
For instance, once in a very early phase I tried to be a thorough intellectualist—that is, I was going to function exclusively cerebrally, without the aid of emotions (I was young at the time). And I remember very clearly that I went to a movie with the idea of having absolutely no emotions—that is, they would have nothing to do with my assessment of the movie and were just going to be pushed aside. I was going to try to judge purely intellectually as the movie went by. And I had a checklist in advance, certain criteria: I was going to judge the plot, the theme, the characters, the acting, the direction, the scenery, and so on. And my idea was to formulate to myself in words for each point where I thought something was relevant, how it stood on all the points on my checklist. And to my amazement, I was absolutely unable to follow the movie; I did not know what was going on. I needed to sit through it I can’t remember how many times, and I discovered that what you have to do is simply react, let it happen, feel, immerse yourself in it. And what happens is that your emotions give you an automatic sum. You just simply attend to it with no checklist, no intellectualizing, no thought, just watch the movie, like a person.
Peikoff used a bad intellectual method of movie watching, it didn't work, and then he just gives up completely instead of trying other intellectual methods. That's dumb. It's perfectly possible to watch movies a lot better than passively, and to think during them, while still following the plot. His checklist approach sounds pretty bad, but it's not that or nothing. That's a false dichotomy.
Q: What were Ayn Rand’s reasons for not wanting to be a mother?

A: Primarily I would say because she was committed from a very early age to a full-time career as a novelist and writer. She did not want to divert any of her attention to anything else. She wanted to pursue that full-time, and it was simply not worth it to her to divert any time from that goal, by her particular hierarchy of interests and values. Beyond that, she had no interest in teaching. She was very different, for instance, from me in that regard. She was not interested in taking someone and bringing them along step by step, which is essential to being a parent. She wanted a formed mind that she could talk to on the level as an equal. She had more of the scientific motivation, rather than the pedagogical motivation. So it was as simple as that.
I thought this was notable. For one thing, Rand did a lot of teaching, including with Peikoff personally. As Peikoff describes it (in various places), Rand helped him along a great deal, incrementally, over years and years. I think Rand couldn't find enough equals or peers; I think it's interesting Peikoff reports she wanted that.

"So it was as simple as that" is a bad comment to end with. It doesn't add anything. And it's wrong – the issues aren't simple. Maybe Peikoff hasn't noticed there's lots of interesting stuff here?
Sometimes you have to expect to be momentarily overcome with the sheer force of the evil in a given situation. I want to speak for myself, from this point on, from my own experience, because I’m not prepared to make a universal law out of this, so I offer it to you for what it’s worth. There are times and situations where, despite my knowledge of philosophy, I feel overwhelmed by the evil in the world—I feel isolated, alienated, lonely, bitter, malevolent—and this is, to me, inescapable at times in certain contexts. I’ll give you an example. A few weeks ago, I went to a debate at a large university, on the subject of the nuclear freeze. One of the debaters, my friend, was eloquent, but it was a hopeless situation. The audience of college students was closed, irrational, hostile, dishonest by every criterion outlined tonight. They wouldn’t listen for a moment, they were rude—they were real modern hooligans—and when they did speak up, it was utterly without redeeming features—a whole array of out-of-context questions, sarcasm, disintegrated concretes—it was a real modern spectacle in the worst sense of the term. After a couple of hours of this, I was angry, I was resentful, I was hostile. And I felt (and I underscore the word “felt”), “This is the way the world is. What is the point of fighting it? They don’t want to know. I’m going to retire and stop lecturing and let the whole thing blow up, and to hell with it.” I was depressed. And of course, once I was in that mood, I was more negative about everything, so when I saw the headlines in the Times the next day, I felt worse. Even the long lines at the bank were further evidence that the world is rotten.

The point here is that I don’t think that I made a mistake. I think you have to react to concretes.
How is this not a mistake!? Again I read it as Peikoff describing another big mistake he made. But then he doesn't see himself as having done anything wrong. Why? He tells us about why this isn't good, it's clear enough why it'd be better not to handle it this way, and yet somehow this non-ideal isn't a mistake for some unstated reason.

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Leonard Peikoff Betrays Israel

From Understanding Objectivism, the book version, and this is from a student talking:
Now consider three examples, a couple of them historical. One, Adolf Hitler announces that he’s going to take over as much of the world as possible. And in each instance, when his armies march into another country, he is ready with a pretext: that he is only acting in defense of the German people. The second example would be, in 1967, the State of Israel, anticipating, by means of military intelligence, that they were about to be attacked on all sides, attacked first and blew up the opposing air forces, and claimed that they did that in self-defense.
Never mind what he's talking about, it doesn't matter to my point. Just note the Israel example. Then when Leonard Peikoff is commenting, I'll show you this out of order. Second he says:
This was certainly not a rationalistic presentation. He started with some examples—leaving aside the Israel one, which was inappropriate for the reasons we just mentioned—but Hitler is certainly a good example on the topic of force;
OK, now what are the reasons Peikoff says not to use the Israel example?
So the rule here is, do not pick controversial concretes. Pick a nice range of concretes. But when you’re trying to understand, the examples should be simple and straightforward. Then, when you grasp it, you can take up trickier cases. So it is a bad idea to combine concretizing with devil’s advocacy. I learned this teaching elementary logic, and I thought I’d get two birds for the price of one, and in illustrating a certain fallacy, which is a simple fallacy to understand, I threw in an argument for political isolationism, and the example aroused the class, and it became so controversial that they began to challenge the logical point involved, because they disagreed with the political point. And I lost the entire logical issue on the example. I learned from that that examples cannot be controversial; they have to be illuminating.
First, an aside, Peikoff is wrong here. He should have learned the lesson that his class had this big misconception, this big hole in their rationality. When they "began to challenge the logical point involved, because they disagreed with the political point", that was a huge thinking and methodology mistake the students were making. Which Peikoff correctly recognized. But then instead of teaching them how to think better, he thought in the future he should avoid this issue coming up. Instead of teaching the students to be good at this, his plan is to avoid this thing where their flaws come out. :(

Now about Israel, there's a really big problem here. The issue is, the Israel example shouldn't be controversial. By acting as if it's controversial, he is deferring to anti-semites. He's treating their disagreement as a legitimate controversy, and sanctioning it. Instead of Roark's "don't think of them" type approach, he's treating evil as this important thing and saying to change your actions according to the demands of evil. You have to choose different examples because some anti-semites will get offended by the Israel example, you have to think of them and give their anti-semitic concerns due consideration.

He's letting anti-semites drag the conversation into a distorted reality where Israel's right to exist is a controversy. That's granting them way too much. There are some issues where you can say it's controversial and respect the other side, but there are other issues where you must not grant them the sanction of being legitimate opponents whose dissent constitutes an intellectual controversy. Anti-semitism hasn't made the issue of Israel's self-defense intellectually or rationally controversial.

Peikoff went out of his way to try to stop a student from acting according to reality – a reality in which Israel's self-defense is a clear cut example similar to the World War II example. Peikoff demanded the student show greater respect to anti-semites, and help them fake reality by pretending there is an intellectual controversy where there isn't one. This is a betrayal of Israel.

PS In fairness, I want to add that I mostly like the book so far, I think it's pretty good, you could learn some things from it.

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Aubrey de Grey Discussion, 24

I discussed epistemology and cryonics with Aubrey de Grey via email. Click here to find the rest of the discussion. Yellow quotes are from Aubrey de Grey, with permission. Bluegreen is me, red is other.
Did you receive my email?
Hi - yes, I got it, but I couldn’t think of anything useful to say.
If you want to stop talking, or adjust the terms of the conversation (e.g. change the one message at a time back and forth style), please say so directly because silence is ambiguous.

But see my comments below. I don't think we're at an impasse. I think what you said here was particularly productive.
We have reached an impasse in which you insist on objecting to my failure to address various of your points, but I object to your failure to address my main point, namely that there is no objective measure of the rebuttability of a position. I am grateful for your persistence, since it has certainly helped me to gain a better understanding of the rationality IN MY OWN TERMS, i.e. the internal consistency, of my position, and in retrospect it is only because of my prior lack of that understanding that I didn’t zero in sooner on that main point as the key issue. But still it is the main point. I don’t see why I should take the time to read things to convince me of something that I’m already conceding for sake of argument, i.e. that Aubreyism is epistemologically inferior to Elliotism. And I also don’t see why I should take the time to work harder to convince you of the value of cryonics when you haven’t given me any reason to believe that your objections (i.e. your claim that Alcor’s arguments are rebuttable in a sense that my arguments for SENS are not, and moreover that that sense is the correct one) are objective.

Also, for a lot of the things I haven’t replied to it’s because I’m bemused by your wording. To take the latest case: when I’ve asked you for examples where science could have gone a lot faster by using CR rather than whatever else was used, and you have cited cases that I think are far more parsimoniously explained by sociological considerations, you’ve now come back with the suggestion that "Lots of the sociological considerations are explained by the philosophical issues I'm talking about”. To me that’s not just a questionable or wrong statement, it’s a nonsensical one. My point has nothing whatever to do with the explanations for the sociological considerations - it is merely that if you accept that other issues than the CR/non-CR question (such as the weight that rationalists give to the views of irrationalists, because they want to sleep with them or whatever) slow things down, you can’t argue that the CR/non-CR question slowed them down.
When I say something you think is nonsense, if you ignore that and try to continue the rest of the conversation, we're going to run into problems. I meant what I said, and it's important to my position, so please treat it seriously. By ignoring those statements, it ends up being mysterious to me why you disagree, because you aren't telling me your biggest objections! They won't go away by themselves because they are what I think, not random accidents.

In this case, there was a misunderstanding. You took "explained" to mean, "make [a situation] clear to someone by describing it in more detail". But I meant, "be the cause of". (Both of those are excerpts from a dictionary.) I consider bad epistemology the cause of the sociological problems, and CR the solution. I wasn't talking about giving abstract explanations with no purpose in reality. I'm saying philosophy is they key issue behind this sociological stuff.

I regard this sort of passing over large disagreements as a methodological error, which must affect your discussions with many people on all topics. And it's just the sort of topic CR offers better ideas about. And I think the outcome here – a misunderstanding that wouldn't have been cleared up if I didn't follow up – is pretty typical. And misunderstandings do happen all the time, whether they are getting noticed and cleared up or not.


I think the sex issue is a great example. Let's focus on that as a representative example of many sociological issues. You think CR has nothing to do with this, but I'll explain how CR has everything to do with it. It's a matter of ideas, and CR is a method of dealing with ideas (an epistemology), and such a method (an epistemology) is necessary to life, and having a better one makes all the difference.

Chart:

Epistemology -> life ideas -> behavior/choices

What does each of those mean?

1) Epistemology is the name of one's **method of dealing with ideas**. That includes evaluating ideas, deciding which ideas to accept, finding and fixing problems with ideas, integrating ideas into one's life so they are actually used (or not), and so on. This is not what you're used to from most explicit epistemologies, but it's the proper meaning, and it's what CR offers.

2) Life ideas determine one's behavior in regard to sex, and everything else. This is stuff like one's values, one's emotional makeup, one's personality, one's goals, one's preferences, and so on. In this case, we're dealing with the person's ideas about sex, courtship and integrity.

3) Behavior/choices is what you think it means. I don't have to explain this part. In this case it deals with the concrete actions taken to pursue the irrational woman.


You see the sex example as separate from epistemology. I see them as linked, one step removed. Epistemology is one's method of dealing with (life) ideas. Then some of those (life) ideas determine sexual behavior/choices.

Concretizing, let's examine some typical details. The guy thinks that sex is a very high value, especially if the woman is very pretty and has high social status. He values the sex independent of having a moral and intellectual connection with her. He's also too passive, puts her on a pedestal, and thinks he'll do better by avoiding conflict. He also thinks he can compromise reason in his social life and keep that separate from his scientific life. (Life) ideas like these cause his sexual behavior/choices. If he had different life ideas, he'd change his behavior/choices.

Where did all these bad (life) ideas come from? Mainly from his culture including parents, teachers, friends, TV, books and websites.

Now here's where CR comes in. Why did he accept these bad ideas, instead of finding or creating some better ideas? That's because of his epistemology – his method of dealing with ideas. His epistemology let him down. It's the underlying cause of the cause of the mistaken sexual behavior/choices. A better epistemology (CR) would have given him the methods to acquire and live by better life ideas, resulting in better behavior/choices.

Concretizing with typical examples: his epistemology may have told him that checking those life ideas for errors was unnecessary because everyone knows they're how life works. Or it told him an ineffective method of checking the ideas for errors. Or it told him the errors he sees don't matter outside of trying to be clever in certain intellectual discussions. Or it told him the errors he sees can be outweighed without addressing them. Or it told him that life is full of compromise, win/lose outcomes are how reason works, and so losing in some ways isn't an error and nothing should be done about it.


If he'd used CR instead, he would have had a method that is effective at finding and dealing with errors, so he'd end up with much better life ideas. Most other epistemologies serve to intellectually disarm their victims and make it harder to resist bad life ideas (as in each of the examples in the previous paragraph). Which leads to the sociological problems that hinder science.


Everyone has an epistemology – a method of dealing with ideas. People deal with ideas on a daily basis. But most people don't know what their epistemology is, and don't use an epistemology that can be found in a book (even if they say they do).

The epistemologies in books, and taught at universities, are mostly floating abstractions, disconnected from reality. People learn them as words to say in certain conversations, but never manage to use them in daily life. CR is not like that, it offers something better.

Most people end up using a muddled epistemology, fairly accidentally, without much control over it. It's full of flaws because one's culture (especially one's parents) has bad ideas about epistemology – about the methods of dealing with ideas. And one is fallible and introduces a bunch of his own errors.

The only defense against error is error-correction – which requires good error-correcting methods of dealing with ideas (epistemology) – which is what CR is about. It's crucial to learn about what one's epistemology is, and improve it. Or else one will – lacking the methods to do better – accept bad ideas on all topics and have huge problems throughout life.

And note those problems in life include problems one isn't aware of. Thinking your life is going well doesn't mean much. The guy with the bad approach to sex typically won't regard that as a huge problem in his life, he'll see it a different way. Or if he regards it as problematic, he may be completely on the wrong track about the solution, e.g. thinking he needs to make more compromises with his integrity so he can have more success with women.


PS This is somewhat simplified. Epistemology has some direct impact, not just indirect. And I don't regard the sociological problems as the only main issue with science, I think bad ideas about how to do science (e.g. induction) matter too. But I think it's a good starting place for understanding my perspective. Philosophy dominates EVERYTHING.

Continue reading the next part of the discussion.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Aubrey de Grey Discussion, 23

I discussed epistemology and cryonics with Aubrey de Grey via email. Click here to find the rest of the discussion. Yellow quotes are from Aubrey de Grey, with permission. Bluegreen is me, red is other.
Elliot, you seem to be missing a very fundamental point here, namely: you seem to be working from the assumption that it’s my job to refute your position to your satisfaction. That is no more my job than it is yours to refute mine to my satisfaction.
If you care about reason, that requires dealing with criticism, to resolution. Reason requires criticisms must not be ignored, they have to be addressed (not by you personally. there must be answers you endorse, whoever writes them). This is crucial to reason so that you don't continue with bad ideas indefinitely even though better ones are known. It allows error correction instead of entrenching errors.

It is your right and privilege to live a different lifestyle than this. But then you wouldn't be a rational intellectual.
If you think that Alcor’s or CI's refutations of concerns about cryonics (the ones you’ve definitely already found, because they are in their FAQs) are less compelling than mine about SENS, you’re entitled to your opinion, but my sincere opinion is that they are every bit as compelling. I put it to you that the evaluation of how compelling an argument is is an EXTREMELY subjective thing, both to you and to me, arising essentially from how immediately a refuttion of it comes to mind. So, it is hopeless to try to agree whether this or that argument is more compelling than the other argument: each of us must make his own judgement on that, and then act on that judgement in the indicated way - by seeking more information, or by accepting a particular conclusion a likely enough to be right that further investigation is not a priority.
I don't know why you're speaking to me at all when you hold the irrationalist position that reaching agreement in truth-seeking discussion is hopeless. (I also don't know why you are sufficiently satisfied with irrationalism that you are unwilling to read the books refuting it and offering a better way.)
Again I repeat my bottom line: you have not given me the slightest reason to believe that people’s failure to adhere to CR (or to Elliotism) is appreciably slowing the progress of science and technology.
I gave you examples and explanations, which you largely didn't reply to. Then you state I gave you no reason. That's unreasonable on your part.
Maybe I can explain what kind of reason I would accept as valid evidence for that. Arguably, when quantum theory and relativity supplanted classical physics, they did so by taking seriously the incompatibility between wave-theoretic and particle-theoretic descriptions of light, and such like, which had been basically swept under the carpet for ages. My impression is that that isn’t actually an item of evidence for your position, because (a) it was a long time ago, when many fewer people were any good at science; (b) it hadn’t really been all that swept under the carpet - it was just that no one had come up with a resolution; and (c) even to the extent that it had been, the key point is that there was clear data that needed to BE so swept, whereas in the case of Copenhagen versus Everett (which I’m not sure is the same as Schrödinger versus Heisenberg, but I don’t think that matters for present purposes) there is no such data, since both theories make the same predictions. If I’m wrong, and the lack of a widespread adoption of a CR-like method of reasoning back then seems likely to have substantially delayed the arrival of modern physics, persuade me.
I have tried to persuade you (in a way in which I could find out I'm mistaken, too), but you are taking steps to prevent persuasion. I cannot persuade you unilaterally. What you have done includes:

- Not replying to many points and questions.

- Not giving appropriate feedback on initial statements so we can iterate to the point of you understanding what I'm saying. Miscommunication and misunderstanding are to be expected and there has to be iteration of an error-correcting process for effective communication of ideas. (Communication being necessary to me persuading you.)

- Not being willing to read things, study issues, put enough effort into learning the topics.

A specific detail: I can't reasonably be expected to persuade you about the history of science first, as you propose. What needs to happen first is you understand what is a CR-like method of reasoning, so you can accurately evaluate which scientists did that and which didn't. But you don't want to read the texts explaining what is a CR-like method of reasoning, or ask the questions to understand it. You aren't finding out from existing material or from a heavy back-and-forth process adequate to cover a large topic.
Or take another example from the past. If you’re right that science is so slowed by this, how can it be so hard to identify an example (one that isn’t far more parsimoniously explained by sociological considerations such as I outlined in my last email)?
Lots of the sociological considerations are explained by the philosophical issues I'm talking about. Because you don't know what CR is, you can't tell what is a consequence of CR or non-CR.

We have, for example, an educational theory. Where does short-term thinking, bias, egos, etc come from? Significantly, from bad educational practices. Education is fairly directly an epistemology issue and CR offers some better ideas about what educational techniques work or not.

Regarding statistics, yes scientists believe they should be done right, and sometimes there are time and money issues. But lots of people don't know what doing them right means. There are philosophical misconceptions about how to use statistics correctly which would be problems even with more time and money. (An example is the inductivist misconception that correlations hint at causation, which isn't a funding issue.)

The underlying problem is you don't understand where I'm coming from and what the world would look like if I'm right. That can't be settled by looking at examples. I gave you initial statements of Elliotism. The rational way to proceed is to iterate on that (you give feedback, ask questions, I reply, etc, understanding is iteratively created) in order to understand what I'm saying.
And remember, what I really mean here is not “science” in the DD sense, i.e. the improved “understanding” (whatever that is) of nature, but technology, i.e. the practical application of science. Computers today rely absolutely on the fact that we no longer adhere to classical physics, but they rely not at all on the fact that most people work with Copenhagen rather than Everett. The passage you quote from BoI totally doesn’t help, because it stops at “understanding”, “knowledge”, “explanations” etc, which in my book are simply smoke and mirrors until and unless they translate into practical consequences for technology. Not even implemented technology - technological proposals, like SENS, would be fine.
You have an anti-philsophical outlook and don't understand the perspective of DD, me, Popper, etc. If you want to understand and address such matters, there are ways you can, which we could focus on. I've tried to indicate how that can happen, e.g. with iterative discussion of how CR works. If you'd rather simply leave critics unanswered, just tell me you don't want to talk.
I read FoR, but I don’t think I ever read BoI. Perhaps part of why is that I found FoR to be fatally flawed on about page 4, as I think I mentioned earlier. DD is a great thinker, whom I hugely admire, but that doesn’t mean I think all his thinking is correct or relevant to my own priorities. And you haven’t given me any new motivation to read BoI.
I don't think you mentioned that. And I just searched the discussion and I'm not finding it.

If you would say your criticism of FoR, that'd be great. When people share criticisms in public, then progress can be made. I know DD wrote the book partly in hopes of receiving such criticism so human knowledge could advance. But you and many others with similar methods withhold criticism and dodge lots of discussion and then human knowledge creation is slowed.

Sharing your FoR criticism could help advance our discussion, too. It's topical and I've been trying to get direct criticisms from you. If you tell me what is unacceptable to you, then I could address it or concede. And if I address ALL issues you have with my view, that's how persuasion would happen. Since you already accepted your view has flaws, if you had NO objections you'd accept mine.

If you're right about FoR being flawed, you have an important insight that others could learn from. If you're mistaken, by sharing your criticism you would expose it to criticism and you could learn about your error from others. If you'd prefer to retreat from rational discussion instead, that is your choice.

Continue reading the next part of the discussion.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)