Monday, November 29, 2021

The World of Tomorrow

Imagine that tomorrow, we discovered an world orbiting the Sun directly opposite of the Earth. It has the same inclination and the same size moon. It has an average temperature of 65 degrees Fahrenheit, with oceans covering 73% of the world, and ice covering 7% of the world. It is teaming with life, although there are no humans or similar species.

It would be a miracle, no? We would definitely stop planning to go to Mars, with its average temperature of -81 degrees Fahrenheit. 

The mirror Earth described above is what our world will be under climate change. 

Be honest: wouldn't it be better if there was no more Florida?

Again, I don't mean to imply that climate change is not serious. It is, but not because the world will be "uninhabitable" (1, 2). Climate change will cause a lot of suffering because we have set up our civilizations under the previous climate - living along coasts and river deltas, growing certain crops certain places, suppressing fires that have normally been a part of the ecosystem, etc. If we actually took suffering seriously, we would be hard at work adjusting civilization to the coming new norms. But instead, many of us just keep demanding zero emissions while emissions continue to rise.

Meanwhile, Biden has passed the nation's largest climate investment ever

PS: You want uninhabitable? Check out Snowball Earth.

PPS: Tweeting about “climate emergency” rather than “climate change” makes you seem less credible.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

The Beatles >> The Rolling Stones

I am a big fan of The Rolling Stones, but I find it incredible that there is a debate of them vs The Beatles. It is like debating Charles Barkley vs LeBron. 

The history of music would basically be the same if the Stones had never existed. The Beatles, though, changed everything.

That said, here are the Stones in one of my favorite movies, The Big Chill:

And here is an underrated song, Waiting on a Friend:

Friday, November 26, 2021

Two Bits

Me: The first victim of the best con-man is himself.
(I say this as someone who has been conned.)

Holden Karnofsky (of Open Phil; emphasis added): 

Most of what I believe is mostly based on trusting other people. 

For example: 

• I brush my teeth twice a day, even though I've never read a study on the effects of brushing one's teeth, never tried to see what happens when I don't brush my teeth, and have no idea what's in toothpaste. It seems like most reasonable-seeming people think it's worth brushing your teeth, and that's about the only reason I do it. 

• I believe climate change is real and important, and that official forecasts of it are probably reasonably close to the best one can do. I have read a bunch of arguments and counterarguments about this, but ultimately I couldn't tell you much about how the climatologists' models actually work, or specifically what is wrong with the various skeptical points people raise. Most of my belief in climate change comes from noticing who is on each side of the argument and how they argue, not what they say. So it comes mostly from deciding whom to trust.

I think it's completely reasonable to form the vast majority of one's beliefs based on trust like this. I don't really think there's any alternative.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Get Fuzzy reveals the true Cowspiracy

"Hittin' on your sister at the company do" cracks us up every time.

Click for larger.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Counterpoint: Things Are Good

From here:

"It hasn't even been a year since COVID vaccinations began and worldwide 7.74 billion doses of the vaccine have been given out -- and 3.31 billion people are fully vaccinated. There's a lot of work to be done, but that's a simply astounding number."

It is painful to see the media pine for Cheeto Jeesus

What incredibly lazy, shitty reporting. I know ratings were higher under the former guy, but going out of your way to make things seem worse when they are better is borderline criminal.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Madam Secretary

Most people know we're enormous fans of the first four seasons of The West Wing. Based on that, some people said to watch Madam Secretary. We started it at one point and didn't think much. We were later prompted to revisit it on Netflix, and that time really liked it. (It was also hard for me to get into Fleabag.)

Madam Secretary can be somewhat Hollywood and sometimes simplistic, but overall we highly recommend it. Like Colbert and The Good Fight, it is another of CBS's shows in the Resistance. 

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Harvard Aint All That

The Guardian: Turns out, Harvard students aren’t that smart after all

"A whopping 43% of white students weren’t admitted on merit. One might call it affirmative action for the rich and privileged

"43% of Harvard’s white students are either recruited athletes, legacy students, on the dean’s interest list (meaning their parents have donated to the school) or children of faculty and staff. The kicker? Roughly three-quarters of these applicants would have been rejected if it weren’t for having rich or Harvard-connected parents or being an athlete."

In 2011, EK and their best pal both applied to Stanford. A different kid from their class was the only one who got in, and he had a lower SAT, lower GPA, and much worse extracurriculars than either EK or their pal. (EK was a National Merit Scholar, earned eight varsity sports letters, was state champion at Science Olympiad, etc.) But the kid who got in was a legacy. 

EK went to Pomona, which at the time was Forbes #1 school in the country. It was a great school, as were all the connected schools. But certainly having a Stanford or Harvard degree opens many more doors. It seems to me that the 1% protecting their privilege in this way should be a concern for everyone. 

Thursday, November 18, 2021

What We Should Take Away from Our Cognitive Biases

Ezra Klein on the 80,000 Hours podcast:

This [cognitive biases] research is like staring into the abyss. The more you get into it, the more you realize there is no escape.

The place this literature should leave you in is profound discomfort with yourself.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Un-unshakable Beliefs

What I wrote yesterday was probably not a shock to any long-time reader. What many of you who have read my adult-life-story don't know is that I was a very devout alter-boy Catholic who considered the priesthood (in no small part because I couldn't find a girlfriend most of the time). So changing my mind is not unheard of.

I've never really written about my dismay at spending most of my adult life building a "vegan" group – even as I tried to moderate the message – and advancing people who turned out to be more desirous of adulation, power, and (somewhat) money. But most of that effort made the world a worse place.

I can, of course, imagine that my feelings for people I love could change. I've been betrayed by a person I loved and would have trusted with my life (whoops). I've watched another long-time friend go off the deep-end. It is not beyond the realm of imagining that Anne or I could have a stroke and become a different person. One of Anne's older friends is married to a supporter of F–kface Von Clownstick / the King of Redneckistan / Cheeto Jeesus. This would be intolerable for me (and for Anne, I'm sure). 

Aw baby, don't leave me! I'm all-Biden.

Perhaps more interesting are my changes and doubts in philosophy. I've written a lot about this elsewhere, but to summarize some of the issues:

1.  I question the main premise of much applied philosophy and activism: that the continuation of humanity is the ultimate good. This does not seem obvious to me.

2. There is an asymmetry between pleasure and pain. Pain is "bad" much more than pleasure can be "good." The best pleasure is great, but the worst pain is much worse. It disturbs me when people are worried about future robots when there is so much acute and unnecessary suffering now.

3. I don't believe that you should cause some people to suffer for another group of people's pleasure. (But this doesn't seem like a hard-and-fast rule, or else I wouldn't be willing to have Anne stub her toe so a bunch of other people could have incredible pleasure. Hmmmm.)

This is different than setting policy where you are distributing suffering. But that is related to:

4. I do not believe you can honestly sum across individuals. This is partially discussed more here (one of my most important posts, which interacts with the ideas here).

But in short, there is no entity that is experiencing the summed pleasure or pain in any particular situation. When discussing potential outcomes of a policy, for instance, the universe doesn't experience pleasure level 10 if ten individuals are experiencing pleasure level 1. 

It is, I think, a cognitive bias that we sum things in our mind by default: "Ten people with pleasure level 9 is better than one person with pleasure level 10." We just can't help ourselves. But assuming we're capturing everything*, there are only isolated conscious minds experiencing pain and pleasure. This leads to conclusions that can seem wrong, even offensive, but at this point, I see no way around it.

* One mind's happiness or suffering can influence another's. But I'm assuming we capture that in the "final" numbers. 

I used to think differently – I used to speak in terms of "less suffering in the world." But the only way to think about it correctly would be to think about individuals suffering. (Again: more here.)

I could be wrong.

Saturday, November 13, 2021

The Most Important Question

When EK was in 8th grade, a very subversive teacher asked the kids why they believed their specific religion. The teacher led them through a discussion until the kids realized that they held their beliefs because their parents had taught them. 

One student, though, said, "I think Ellen would be an atheist regardless of what her parents taught her." (EK was already well known as a freethinker, but had not yet discovered that nonbinary was a nameable thing; neither had Anne or I.) "She questions everything."

The teacher had hit upon what I consider to be the most important question: Why do we believe what we believe? If we had been born in a different place (e.g., Central African Republic, Indonesia) and/or different time (e.g., 400 BCE, 536 CE), would we have believed anything close to what we believe now? 

There is, of course, no way to free ourselves entirely from the biases of our upbringing (or our human nature). But I think the best way to minimize this is to regularly ask if anything we believe is not falsifiable. Is there anything we believe that we cannot imagine not believing?

This reminds me of when Bill Nye and creationist Ken Hamm shared a stage and were asked, "Is there anything that would change your mind?" Hamm answered, "No." Nye answered, "Evidence."

I have changed my mind what might be considered a frightening amount, but that is the topic for another day.