Thursday, May 23, 2019

How to tell if someone is smarter than you

Great article. Excerpt:
Someone who is hardworking, well-connected, emotionally stable, charismatic, fearless, brave, extroverted, and socially popular may not have high intelligence. These attributes tend to advance people’s careers, but they should not be taken as signs that they are smart. And the biggest decoy of all is confidence. 
...This is one of the reasons why so many incompetent men become leaders. Men aren’t necessarily smarter than women, but we mistake their confidence for competence. We are fooled by people–usually men–who have managed to fool themselves into thinking that they are smarter than they actually are. There is, indeed, a sad truth to faking it till you make it. But any society is better off if the people who succeed are genuinely smart rather than able to fake it.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Status Quo Bias

There are few things that make me angrier than well-off straight white (generally men) insisting that we shouldn't do something because there might be "unforeseen consequences." For example -- arguments that we shouldn't use CRISPR to exterminate disease-carrying mosquitos. Or we better not even talk about geoengineering regarding climate change.

(The latter is particularly absurd, given that people claim global warming is an "existential threat" but heaven forbid we talk about any possible fixes beyond our preferred solution. "Better for everyone to die than even talk about the sky being less blue!" Jeebus.) 

It is amazing that so many people can just assume the status quo is basically fine, when in reality there is so very much unfathomable suffering in the world.

Imagine if the person you loved most had cancer. Would you argue that they shouldn't get treatment because we can't possibly know every possible outcome? "Oh, maybe their compromised immune system will lead to a new infection that will spread to others."

But that is what these Luddites are basically saying: "FU to everyone suffering now and in the future. You can rot because I saw some scary scifi movie once."

Here's a hint: You are not the world.

Monday, May 20, 2019

That Is Saying Something

If I had to do a karaoke song (and I never would), it might be this one.

Herb is everywhere

I've never known a Nobel Laureate, but Anne did - she worked with the late Herb Simon at Carnegie Mellon.

Last night, I was listening to a podcast and Herb Simon came up, which I mentioned to Anne. Not five minutes later, Anne, who is reading Life 3.0, came across a section about Herb.

We talk about this more here, but the most important takeaway from Herb's work is that people don't make optimal decisions. We don't have enough time or rationality to fully and dispassionately analyze every choice that faces us. Rather, people make decisions that match with their gut, then they come up with a rationalization. This is why making the full case for veganism leads to more chickens suffering. Even making the chicken-only case can have a bigger impact on the consumption of red meat. This is why we have to be so strategic in our thinking, and not just give in to what is easiest and most personally emotionally satisfying.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Three Things

Comment read online:
Liberals thought we won the Civil War. Conservatives are still fighting it.

An outstanding article by Robert Wright.

How the world works, by Kevin Drum.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Brilliant song from a brilliant album

I wish I was a christian, knew what to believe
I could learn a lot of rules to put my mind at ease

Maybe not the best song on the album (here's another to try), but gosh do I love that couplet.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

The Epitome of Straight White Male Privilege

Sam Harris on Recode / Decode:

Kara: Although, I have to say, it’s not identity politics to understand why people come to things because of things that have happened to them, right? 
Sam: Yeah. But then those people have to get over those things to have a rational conversation.

He does realize he was being recorded, right? Just get over it? Really?

Read the whole thing. No more need for concern for civil rights, this isn't the 1960s, etc. Amazing.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Less Suffering in the Universe

Every conscious mind is a universe unto itself.

That matter and energy could become subjective experience is shocking and amazing.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Where I part ways with the smartest person I know

Not to distract from Dr. Greger's piece (which is the most important one in this thread), but I'm going to pick up on some questions from my utilitarian piece.

I'm still a consequentialist. That is, I still think the rightness or wrongness of an action is determined by the consequences, not by whether it follows some rule.

One person suggested I'm a negative utilitarian. But I think it is more complicated than that. Despite Parfit, I see a fundamental discontinuity between summing within an individual vs summing across individuals. I would cause myself to suffer some (exercise, not eating a vegan donut) to avoid worse suffering in the future (open heart surgery). But I wouldn't choose to have someone else to suffer so I could avoid worse suffering. (Well, unless that someone else was Mike Pence or Paul Ryan.)

Yes, I understand it is more complicated than that -- e.g., I would choose to have person A turn down a donut over choosing person B having a Crohn's attack. My point is that I see a difference between intra-person choices and inter-person choices.

It is the summing across individuals that really gets me. There is no entity experiencing "all the suffering in the universe." Only individuals suffer -- the universe doesn't suffer. (This also answers Parfit's repugnant conclusion to my satisfaction.)

The smartest person I know disagrees with me on this. They are focused on existential risks because summing up all the future joy from hedonistic robots vastly and absolutely swamps any concerns of the moment.

OK, Data isn't the perfect example, but huzzah for STNG.

But like in my previous post, the math is where I get off the train (in addition to not believing that someone's happiness offsets the suffering of someone else). I understand expected values, but these calculations say that having a fractional chance of lowering existential risk (a small chance of improving the likelihood that quadzillions of happy robots will take over the universe) is more important than, say, stopping something like World War II and the Holocaust and all the accompanying acute suffering.

I don't know that I'm right; as I mentioned, I've changed my mind before. I understand that many smart people think I'm simply mistaken. And I am glad there are people working to build a better long-term future.