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I read all of Slate Star Codex, here’s the best stuff

with one comment

It took me six months to go through years of a VERY prolific blogger’s work and I only picked the articles that are an 8.5/10 or better on my personal scale, but even if you click none of the links in this post, it will take a while to read. Please understand that this post is the result of several months of work for me and several orders of magnitude that of Scott Alexander’s work.

All images in this post were generated by me with OpenAI’s Dall-E 2 (shortly before it became a paid service) and are purely here to make the post a bit more readable by dividing the categories visually. The images have absolutely no connection to the headings or the content.

Who and what is this about?

Scott Alexander is the author of the blogs Slate Star Codex (2013-2020) (SSC) and Astral Codex Ten (2021-) (ACX). He writes in impressive quantities, often about five posts per week. Scott has many areas of interest and expertise that he writes about. He is a psychiatrist and very comfortable with statistics. He is a rationalist and effective altruist. He is a non-conservative libertarian. He likes predicting things exactly and checking how correct he was. As far as I can tell he is a poly, pretty-straight guy. He is Jewish. He’s interested in already legal and not yet legal Psychopharmaka. All of these topics will become more or less relevant in this post.

My own interests will filter which of these things come more to the fore-front (for example, I’m not that interested in the psychiatry and medication side. My personal filter was „perceived quality and timelessness of post by my own standards“. My personal choices vary quite strongly from Scott’s choices of „Top Posts„, which you are obviously just as, if not more, welcome to read.

First of all, when I say I read the blog, I mean I listened to most of it. There is a very nice podcast version, read by Jeremiah (until march 2020) and Solenoid Entity (current) that fit my use case perfectly. Big props especially to Solenoid Entity, who clearly puts big effort into pronouncing words and names in foreign languages accurately. I also read and re-read a lot for this post, but listening is much easier. If you would prefer articles in listenable form, I included a link wherever available.

When I link to an article, I’ll usually put some quotes from the article right under it – to make it easier to find out what the link is about, and whether you want to read the whole thing.

Also, this isn’t a deep source for a heavily critical analysis of the blog. If I didn’t like something or didn’t find it relevant, it is simply not present in this article. If you are looking for, essentially, peer-review, the comment sections under the articles or external specialist blogs are probably a better spot. I’m just an individual bird who read all the stuff and is now pointing at it and saying „this might be interesting, maybe look at it“. It takes expertise in dozens of fields to give qualitative opinions on some of these things, and where I was hesitant, I checked what the audience thought, and either (in rare cases) excluded an article, or found that they saw no major flaws.

Understanding Scott and the Blog better

Maybe you have vaguely heard of SSC in some context before. This section is about that. If you’re gonna actually read more, you may like to know who this author is, and whether he is secretly a nazi or something, before delving deep.

2019: RIP Culture War Thread (Audio)

The Culture War Thread aimed to be a place where people with all sorts of different views could come together to talk to and learn from one another. I think this mostly succeeded. […] Whatever its biases and whatever its flaws, the Culture War thread was a place where very strange people from all parts of the political spectrum were able to engage with each other, treat each other respectfully, and sometimes even change their minds about some things. […]

This post is called “RIP Culture War Thread”, so you may have already guessed things went south. What happened? The short version is: a bunch of people harassed and threatened me for my role in hosting it, I had a nervous breakdown, and I asked the moderators to get rid of it.

2021: Still Alive (Audio)

I deleted my blog of 1,557 posts. I wanted to protect my privacy, but I ended up with articles about me in New YorkerReason, and The Daily Beast. I wanted to protect my anonymity, but I Streisand-Effected myself, and a bunch of trolls went around posting my real name everywhere they could find. I wanted to avoid losing my day job, but ended up quitting so they wouldn’t be affected by the fallout. […]

I got an email from a former member of the GamerGate movement, offering advice on managing PR. It was very thorough and they had obviously put a lot of effort into it, but it was all premised on this idea that GamerGate was some kind of shining PR success, even though as I remember it they managed to take a complaint about a video game review and mishandle it so badly that they literally got condemned by the UN General Assembly.

Someone who has documented strong opinions on serious topics non-stop for a decade and longer inevitably will have said things that will have made some people unhappy. Despite that, after my read through the blog, I am basically on board with Scott and think he hasn’t said anything terrible. I believe I’ve included the articles discussing his most divisive posts under this header without leaving out any huge blunders on his side.

2021: Grading My Trump Predictions (Audio)

I wrote a post stating that the Trump administration would not feature angry mobs killing minorities with impunity, would not feature state-sanctioned racial violence, would not feature an especially large number of hate crimes, and would not feature the state supporting and refusing to prosecute hate crimes. I said Trump was not an “open” white supremacist [……]

I think time has proven me right here. There was no large-scale state-sponsored violence against minorities during the Trump presidency. Trump’s race-related policies were similar to those of other recent Republican presidents. The three most-discussed Trump supporter hate crimes all turned out to be hoaxes

I’m hammering this in because people were awful to me after I wrote that post. Every time anything bad happened involving race, I would get dozens of angry tweets saying “looks like we finally have proof that Scott Alexander is a pro-Nazi idiot” and a link back to my post. Even when things completely unrelated to race happened, people would do this. When the Capitol riots happened, with basically no links to organized white supremacy and ~15% of the rioters being people of color, after I hadn’t been blogging for six months, I still had people sending me messages about how this destroyed the last shred of my credibility or something. This was the most hate I’ve ever gotten about any post of mine and it was terrible.

I still haven’t, and likely obviously never will, read everything that all people directly or vaguely related to Scott have written. I am vaguely wary of Eliezer Yudkowsky, a founder of the rationalist movement, but I tried to find if there is some deep, terrible thing wrong about him, and I don’t believe so. The man has put a lot of thought into AI becoming hostile, and I think that’s a respectable non-monstrous thing to do. Scott and Yudkowsky quote each other without hesitation, they clearly don’t have the reservations I have.

But, different example: Another member of the Rationalist community is Aella, who I noticed because my cool extension Shinigami Eyes immediately fired: ‚confirmed transphobe!‘ So I did some superficial research. I barely know her work, which is big NSFW, part science. She writes things like this article Aella: What A Woman Is (SFW). I strongly understand how the author of Shinigami Eyes could read this and get big glow eyes. But I also do not see the hate crime here. This is a well-deliberated perspective that considers several layers of reality. I didn’t read further after this article – she might have written worse? My time is limited and expertise is fractal, I can’t go down every mandelbrot-octopus-arm.

Now, how is Aella relevant to Scott? Basically not at all. She will not show up anymore in this post. Scott doesn’t write about her besides a „she also exists“ kind of mention. I wanted to introduce her (and her post) to you so you can experience my attempt at finding sources of doubt at the edges of this months-long project. If you believe in guilt by association, Scott is probably guilty of being associated in some way with many weirdos with weird opinions, likely weirder than what Aella wrote, all over. Some that he maybe is even aware of and has still not chosen to disavow.

I phrased the previous segment intentionally over-aggressively. But again: I don’t know of any wrongdoing on his side or by anyone else who is related to him, and I don’t believe in this type of guilt by association. Maybe this fictionalized text will help you understand how Scott thinks the people around him are:

2022: Every Bay Area House Party (Audio)

“Hi, what’s your name?”

“I’m Sara.”

“What do you do?”

“I quit my job at Google a few months ago to work on effective altruism. I’m studying sn-risks.”

“I can’t remember, which ones are sn-risks?”

“Steppe nomads. Horse archers. The Eurasian hordes.”

“I didn’t think they were still a problem.”

“Oh yeah. You look at history, and once every two hundred, three hundred years they get their act together, form a big confederation, and invade either China, the West, or both. It’s like clockwork. 400 AD, you get the Huns. 700, the Magyars. 1000, the first Turks start moving west. 1200, Genghis Khan, killed 10% of the world population. 1400, Tamerlane, killed another 5%. 1650, the Ming-Qing transition in China, also killed 5%. We’re more than 50 years overdue at this point.”

“But I would think with modern technology – ”

“Exactly! With modern technology, the next time could be so much worse! Usually the steppe nomads are limited to a small fringe around the steppe where they can still graze their horses. But with modern logistics, you can get horse food basically anywhere. There’s no limit to how far the next steppe confederation could get. That’s why I think this is a true existential risk, not just another 5 – 10% of the world’s population like usual.”

I want to mention another group I found along the way who I found very entertaining. Sorry, we haven’t even gotten deep into Scott’s work yet and I’m still telling you about other people I found while exploring, but this just happens. It was a superficial exploration of a subculture for like six months so far, just imagine how much more knowledge I’m hiding from you. Slime Mold Time Mold are mad scientists, whose at time of writing most recent project is a deep exploration of „is it a good idea to eat primarily potatoes?“ Their article is actual, real science instead of shill advice. It’s also filled with memes and incredibly entertaining. They keep exploring positions that others in the field just have opinions about. I hope they would be proud of my only-one-blog diet experiment. (Also they’re on wordpress too, so if time mold somehow notice this through the linkback feature, hi slime mom!)

Slime Mold Time Mold: „LOSE 10.6 POUNDS in FOUR WEEKS with this ONE WEIRD TRICK Discovered by Local Slime Hive Mind! Doctors GRUDGINGLY RESPECT Them, Hope to Become Friends

For those of you who are just joining us, the potato diet is a diet where you try to get most of your calories (>95%) from potatoes. You can have drinks like coffee and tea. You can season the potatoes with salt, spices, and whatever hot sauce you want. You can even cook with oil. The only thing we asked people to entirely avoid was dairy […]

If you feel bad/weird and are like “I can no longer stand potatoes!”, try:

– Eating a potato. Hunger feels different on this diet and you may not realize that you are hungry. Yes, really.

Okay but back to Scott Alexander.

2022: There’s a Time For Everyone (Audio)

Last week I got married.
[…]
So as I make the sudden transition from advice-consumer to advice-dispenser, my recommendation for those of you in the same place I was ten years ago is: accrue micromarriages. Micromarriages are a one in a million chance of getting married. Maybe going to a party gets you 500 micromarriages, and signing up for a really good dating site gives you 10,000. If there’s a Mt. Everest equivalent, I don’t know about it.

This above post also contains a face-reveal (or face-spoiler, if you would rather think of the author of so much text as a disembodied abstract personality. I assume the chance is low, but if you’re truly reading this, maybe you’re not THAT different from me and you like disembodied abstract internet voices and would prefer not to know what they look like.)

Fiction

Sometimes, Scott just writes fiction. It tends to overlap with his interests. It is also extremely my shit. If you’ve been skipping through some of this post, maybe consider reading these for real, because in terms of content, he’s become one of my favorite writers.

2019: Little known types of Eclipse (Audio)

A terrestrial eclipse occurs when the Earth gets between you and the Sun. Happens once per 24 hours.

A reverse solar eclipse occurs when the Sun gets between the Moon and the Earth. Extremely fatal.

A motivational eclipse occurs when the Moon gets between you and your goals. You can’t let it stop you! Destroy it! Destroy the Moon!

2021: Riddle of the Sphinx II: Sustained Release Riddlin‘ (Audio)

I was driving down to LA when the cops pulled me over. „You have to turn back sir, the Sphinx here eats any traveler who can’t answer her riddle.“

„I’ve trained my whole life for this“ I said, and stepped on the gas.

2018: Sort by Controversial (Audio)

I want to repeat that. At no time in our five hours of arguing did this occur to us. We were too focused on the issue at hand, the Scissor statement itself. We didn’t have the perspective to step back and think about how all this controversy came from a statement designed to be maximally controversial. But at 8:01, when the argument was over and we had won, we stepped back and thought – holy shit.

2019: Samsara (Audio)

„7.5 billion people are waiting on you.”

“What?”

“We all swore not to sit back and enjoy enlightenement until everyone was enlightened. Now everyone is enlightened except you. You’re the only thing holding us all back from ultimate cosmic bliss.”

“Man. I’m sorry.”

“You are forgiven. We would like to offer you a free three-day course with the Head Lama of Golden Lotus to correct the situation. We’ll pick you up at your home and fly you to the Big Island of Hawaii, where the Head Lama will personally…”

“…yeah, no thanks.”

2022: Idol Words (Audio)

I looked up from my crossword. Someone else was here to petition the three omniscient idols, one of which always tells the truth, one of which always lies, and one of which answers randomly. He was a middle-aged man in a nice suit.

“My question is for the center idol: what must I do to succeed in business?”

In a voice like the filling of great chasms, the center idol answered: “Penguin monkey taco!

“Excuse me?” asked the petitioner. “What was that?”

Penguin monkey taco!” said the center idol.

“Sorry,” I said. That must be the idol that always answers randomly. It’s an Internet thing. Someone on the Internet said that ‘penguin monkey taco’ was the most random series of words, and now he keeps answering that.”

“Oh, I thought ‘answers randomly’ meant he was supposed to choose randomly between true and false answers.”

“I thought so too, sir. Honestly I think he’s just trolling us sometimes.”

2018: The Gattaca Trilogy (Audio)

(The joke in this one requires knowledge of the movie Gattaca, which has no sequels)

“Yes, epigenetics. According to studies, stressful experiences – anything from starvation to social marginalization – change the methylation pattern of your genes. And not just your genes. Some people say that these methylation patterns can transfer to your children, and your children’s children, and so on, setting them back in life before they’re even born. […]

„[A]fter the incident with the Gattaca Corporation and that movie they made about the whole thing, public opinion just wasn’t on board, and Congress nixed the whole enterprise. Then we tried epigenetics, but it turned out they made a movie about that one too. Really, our luck in all of this has been terrible. But this time, we’ve really got it! This time, we know how to identify truly superior human beings who deserve to be astronauts, no creepy biology involved. We’re going to base our decision on…what institution you spent four years in during your teens and early twenties!”

2020: Legal systems very different from ours, because I just made them up (Audio)

The Clamzorians are animists. They believe every rock and tree and river has its own spirit. And those spirits are legal people. This on its own is not unusual – even New Zealand gives rivers legal personhood. But in Clamzoria, if a flood destroys your home, you sue the river.

2021: List of Fictional Cryptocurrencies Banned by the SEC (Audio)

A group of Marxist intellectuals took the obvious next step and made it an altcoin. RedCoin is notable for its reverse-proof-of-stake; you get more RedCoin in proportion to how little RedCoin you have right now, ensuring that all wallets naturally tend toward an equal amount.

2019: Proverbial Murder Mystery (Audio)

“Oh yes. Over there is our insect unit. Can you catch more flies with honey or vinegar, can ants really move plants, that kind of thing. Our kitchen is to the right – the chefs were using it today, but it comes in handy all the time. Just don’t go in there if you can’t stand the heat. And down that corridor are our weather unit, our fire unit, and our water unit. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg – ” He pointed to a large room with a spike of ice poking through the floor. We continued on. “And over there is our forge. There are so many proverbs about metal that we hired our own team of blacksmiths. It was going great until they unionized, but now they always strike when the iron is hot.”

2017: A Modern Myth (Audio)

“Why does every mortal always figure that gods’ power comes from people believing in them? Like you’re all some kind of god power experts? Do they teach that to baby mortals in their little mortal schools? Stupidest thing I ever heard. You think we ruled the world for a thousand years and didn’t check where our power came from? We figured that out a long time ago. Divine power comes from meat.”

2016-2017: Unsong (Digital Novel/Audiobook)

Around 200 BC the Aramaic language started catching on in Israel and most people switched from Biblical Hebrew to the new tongue. Some people started praying in Aramaic, or trying to translate the Torah. The rabbis, who wanted to protect the sacred language at all costs, waged a passionate campaign against Aramaic penetrating into the liturgy, and in the midst of their zeal, they might have kind of told the populace that they had to pray in Hebrew because the angels don’t understand Aramaic. Some people wrote this down, one thing led to another, and it became part of the Talmud. Have I mentioned that the Talmud is kind of crazy?

Couple of centuries later, the Romans destroy Jerusalem, the Jews are scattered to the seventy nations of the world, and now they’re speaking all of these foreign languages like Yiddish and Arabic and Ladino. They don’t know a word of Hebrew, but they still want to pray. The rabbis want to let them, but there’s this old ruling standing in the way, saying that you should pray in Hebrew because the angels don’t understand Aramaic.

So the rabbis declare that actually, the angels understand every language except Aramaic. This actually happened.

And everyone thought it was a joke, but then the sky shattered and we met the angels, and by golly they spoke every language from Albanian to Zulu, but Aramaic was nonsense to them. They couldn’t learn it no matter how hard they tried. It was some kind of fixed mental blind spot. Why did the rabbis’ weird ad hoc decision so perfectly correspond to reality? I don’t know. Nothing is ever a coincidence.

But perhaps there are things humans were not meant to know. And when people started asking the angels – was Jesus Son of God? Was he the Messiah? – the angels answered – darned if we know. We couldn’t understand a word he was saying.

Unsong deserves its own category. Scott just casually wrote his own book. And here’s the thing: I keep track of how much I like books, movies, games, on a scale of 1 to 10. Things that are interesting, surprising and fresh, that teach me something new, get points, while they get deductions for cost, for humanity harm, for bad influences the work has on consumers and the world as a whole.

I had to re-scale the list, because for a while, Unsong was an 11. And that, obviously, is nonsense. So everything else had to get squished down a bit to make Unsong a 10.

If you have read some of the other fiction posts above and liked them, you should be able to judge by now if you will like this one. I don’t want to tell you too much about its content, because you should be able to go into good things unspoiled. If you would like to know just a bit more? In this one, he flexes his intense knowledge of the old testament and the Talmud. His Pratchett-y style is in full swing.

If the idea of Audio was interesting to you so far, know that this one also has a quite good Podcast Audiobook version by user Matt Arnold and at least one pdf/epub version by github user t3db0t.

While Scott Alexander personally sees some aspects of his own work as flawed and is silently editing it to maybe have it professionally published some day, I think a first time reader of a similar mind as me will be likely to have a fantastic time. I haven’t been as happy and entertained as this in years.

Rationalism etc.

You may have heard of this elsewhere before. Please don’t underestimate the term, I think Scott’s takes on this are interesting and worth my and your time. The first post is the important one that explains the others, in my opinion.

2016: The ideology is not the movement (Audio)

Part of this was resolving a major social fallacy I’d had throughout high school and college, which was that the correct way to make friends was to pick the five most interesting people I knew and try to befriend them. This almost never worked and I thought it meant I had terrible social skills. Then I looked at what everyone else was doing, and I found that instead of isolated surgical strikes of friendship, they were forming groups. The band people. The mock trial people. The football team people. The Three Popular Girls Who Went Everywhere Together. Once I tried “falling in with” a group, friendship became much easier and self-sustaining precisely because of all of the tribal development that happens when a group of similar people all know each other and have a shared interest. Since then I’ve had good luck finding tribes I like and that accept me

2017: Yes, we have noticed the skulls (Audio)

If I were an actor in an improv show, and my prompt was “annoying person who’s never read any [rationalism], criticizing [rationalists]”, I think I could nail it. […]

Look. I’m the last person who’s going to deny that the road we’re on is littered with the skulls of the people who tried to do this before us. But we’ve noticed the skulls. We’ve looked at the creepy skull pyramids and thought “huh, better try to do the opposite of what those guys did”

2020: Socratic Grilling (Audio)

One of the most important rationalist skills is “noticing your confusion”. But that depends on an even more important proto-skill of wanting things to make sense. If you lose that skill – if it stops bothering you and seeming like a problem when things don’t make sense to you – you will never notice your confusion and you will never become a good scientist or a good anything-else-that-requires-independent-thought.

2013: Lizardman’s Constant is 4% (Audio)

[A] recent poll on conspiracy theories mostly showed up on my Facebook feed as “Four percent of Americans believe lizardmen are running the Earth”.

(of note, an additional 7% of Americans are “not sure” whether lizardmen are running the Earth or not.)

Imagine the situation. You’re at home, eating dinner. You get a call from someone who says “Hello, this is Public Policy Polling. Would you mind answering some questions for us?” You say “Sure”. An extremely dignified sounding voice says – and this is the exact wording of the question – “Do you believe that shape-shifting reptilian people control our world by taking on human form and gaining political power to manipulate our society, or not?” Then it urges you to press 1 if yes, press 2 if no, press 3 if not sure.

Book Reviews, Adversarial Collaborations, Grants

For almost every year, I found that Scott had done something big with the community that felt very interesting. ‚Adversarial Collaborations‘ are scientific texts written by two+ people who come in with opposing starting positions on the thesis. Which sounds especially interesting but was also very destructive to many of the teams.

In the Grants program, he both gave of his own money and advertised hundreds of scientists and project leaders, linking them with potential other funders. I’m not long-linking to any of the individual contestants or results here because they are always very long and none of them stood out that much to me, compared to everything else I’m putting in here. But the concept itself was very interesting and I read all the entries. These moments made it especially clear that he is a hub for this community. (Honorary mention to the book reviews of The Society of the Spectacle and Viral, both quite interesting, but just below my threshold for long form endorsement here)

2022: So you want to run a microgrants program (Audio)

GiveWell estimates that if you donate to their top charity, Against Malaria Foundation, you can probably save a life for about $5000. ACX Grants raised $1.5 million. Donated to AMF, that’s enough to save 300 lives. I didn’t donate it to AMF. I believed that small-batch artisanal grant-making could potentially outperform the best well-known megacharities – or at least that it was positive value in expectation to see if that was true. But if your thesis is “Instead of saving 300 lives, which I could totally do right now, I’m gonna do this other thing, because if I do a good job it’ll save even more than 300 lives”, then man, you had really better do a good job with the other thing.

Now you may wonder: What’s my take, after having read all this for half a year? I think this is neat. My online name has been Science Bird for almost a decade because of the kind of person I am, and I think this movement could have easily called itself something with Science in the name instead if the dice had fallen a bit differently. The books that „radicalized“ me to my mindset when I was 12 were Terry Pratchett’s science-books. These people arrived on an adjacent field from me.

This movement seems to also be a very American and localized thing. I’ve never been a joiner or someone staring longingly at things I can’t have. This party is happening somewhere else and I’m not going. If I were in reach, this would be the kind of crowd I’d like to at least get to know, to find out what it’s actually like. From afar? Probably not evil.

Predicting the Future

One genuine obsession in the blog is crowd-sourced future prediction. I will spend a moment explaining this in my words in case you have not heard of the idea before, because I had not heard of it before SSC. On the website Metaculus, someone asks a question about a future event that will be clearly measurable, like „Will Russia formally declare war with Ukraine before August 1, 2022?“ or „Will at least 200,000 COVID-19 deaths be reported in any single calendar month in 2020?“. Then, users can give their yes/no-opinion + a certainty degree (or a numerical answer, if the question was about a number). This bets some internet points and gives you a chance to win more, once the question resolves. The more your answer diverges from the average of everyone else, the more extreme your payout/loss at time of reveal.

There has been some back and forth on whether Americans are allowed to bet real money on real world events, but there are apparently still ways. Doesn’t matter, Metaculus is only about internet points with no financial gain. Scott has loved this concept for a while.

2017: Why not more excitement about prediction aggregation? (No audio)

They’re doing good work – online for-cash prediction markets are limited to a couple of bets by the government, and they usually focus on the big-ticket items like who’s going to win elections. Metaculus [on the other hand] is run by a team affiliated with the Foundational Questions Institute, and as their name implies they’re really interested in using the power of prediction aggregators to address some the important questions for the future of humanity – like AI, genetic engineering, and pandemics.

Scott keeps looking for new websites that do basically the same trick, the same way I am looking for new AIs that generate images. (Hey, since I started writing this article, they launched Stable Diffusion, just look at their outputs, that’s crazy!) But imo Metaculus is good enough. It does one thing I really appreciate: It’s better than the news. When I see headlines like „china does military maneuver close to taiwan’s border, tensions rising“ on reddit, comments are filled with anxious people who wobble between „omg war imminent“, „how are we supposed to interpret this, this is high politics“ and „this means nothing, go back to sleep“. Instead, there is probably a question on metaculus that tells me how serious the situation is right now, filled out by people with mostly some expertise and those who listened to them. If that graph suddenly spiked since I published this article, things have gotten way worse. Otherwise, the current prediction is: 40% chance that china annexes at least half of Taiwan in the next 30 years, but not imminent at all (otherwise, the graph would be way steeper). This is a much clearer answer than whatever those useless military maneuver news articles would have given me. Combined with the pretty great track record of the website? Yeah, on topics like this, I would rather listen to them.

This chapter doesn’t have that many links to articles and is mostly just my writing, because the the articles would just be about how various websites predict (with pretty good accuracy) the flow of covid-19 and the Ukraine war, to just name two examples that are big and current as I’m writing this. Instead, we’re skipping to a recent point.

In this following article, Scott discusses for a while why he isn’t worried about underpopulation by the year 2100, before near the end dropping this bomb. (You are welcome to skip to this part)

2022: Slightly against underpopulation worries (Audio)

Fine. My real argument is that 2100 is not a real year. You make a mistake by thinking about it at all.

The term “technological singularity” gets overused, but the original definition is “a point where things change so profoundly that it’s not worth speculating about what happens afterwards”.

If we don’t die of something else first, there will probably be a technological singularity before 2100. The way things are looking now, it will probably involve AI somehow. If by some miracle that doesn’t happen, we’ll get one involving human genetic engineering for intelligence. I think there’s maybe a 5-10% chance we somehow manage to miss both of those entirely, but I’m not spending too many of my brain cycles worrying about this weird sliver of probability space.

Metaculus predicts Artificial General Intelligence (by their specific definition) […] in 2029, and superintelligence […] 41 months (ie 3.5 years) after that.

This is why I even though I love predictions, I couldn’t bring myself to participate in the “predict what the world will be like in 2050!” contest that was going around this part of the blogosphere recently. Even 2050 is starting not to seem like a very real year. Don’t get me wrong, I think there’s even odds it happens, I would just feel silly predicting something like “US politics will center around this set of issues” and then 2050 comes along and things are more like “the cloud of microscopic death robots that used to be our solar system has expanded as far as Sirius B”.

Even if these trends don’t reach singularity level, they probably reach “big enough that it’s not worth speculating about underpopulation” level. Like, a 2.5 point decline in IQ could be pretty bad. But if we can’t genetic engineer superbabies with arbitrary IQs by 2100, we have failed so overwhelmingly as a civilization that we deserve whatever kind of terrible discourse our idiot grandchildren inflict on us.

And are we seriously expecting First World countries to be worrying about labor shortages by 2100?

I deliberately made no real effort to convince you of AI risks or anything like that so far so you could find the potential for some excitement in a blog post. If you are unconvinced that Artificial General Intelligence could be a Very Bad Thing, it is probably extremely easy to see why some people would also call the rationalist community cult-like. That’s a pretty huge end of the world claim.

But on the other hand? It’s a measurable, operationalized and extremely clearly defined claim too. The people who made their claims will be there, in 7 years, to eat their hats and pay up if and when there’s absolutely no sign of AGI.

And, just for reference? This graphic depicts how soon various people/institutions think Artificial General Intelligence might come, and whether they think it’s good/bad. It was posted a few months before the article above. I edited it to highlight only the people you are likely to already know, full image here at point 26.

And also, don’t get bogged down in the AI discussion. The core point of Scott’s discussion above is obviously that it’s useless to forecast the year 2100 with vectors from 2022 as if nothing would ever change. And I’m willing to agree. Much more so than it would have been unlikely in the year 1922 to predict the year 2000 accurately without missing some major developments. You can name a bunch of things and in hindsight, there’s going to have been an expert who told you all along that we should have kept an eye out for the bee mutations and why did nobody listen to her?? But there are experts for like 50+ macro-topics that are genuinely threatening to humanity and nation-level stuff, and who is listening?

Honestly? Earlier in this article I told you I am wary of Yudkowsky. Part of that is that he’s a professional AI Alignment expert and gets money for doing that, which sounds a bit sus. But on the other hand? Fund him. What’s the worst he’s gonna do? And find the damn bee expert and fund her too, for gods sakes!

School, Intelligence and Aptitude

2015: Parable of the Talents (Audio)

Quality discussion on whether things like intelligence are mostly heritable and whether that’s maybe a good thing.

On the other hand, I know people who want to get good at writing, and make a mighty resolution to write two hundred words a day every day, and then after the first week they find it’s too annoying and give up. These people think I’m amazing, and why shouldn’t they? I’ve written a few hundred to a few thousand words pretty much every day for the past ten years.

But as I’ve said before, this has taken exactly zero willpower. It’s more that I can’t stop even if I want to. Part of that is probably that when I write, I feel really good about having expressed exactly what it was I meant to say. Lots of people read it, they comment, they praise me, I feel good, I’m encouraged to keep writing, and it’s exactly the same virtuous cycle as my brother got from his piano practice. […]

Every so often an overly kind commenter here praises my intelligence and says they feel intellectually inadequate compared to me, that they wish they could be at my level. But at my level, I spend my time feeling intellectually inadequate compared to Scott Aaronson. Scott Aaronson describes feeling “in awe” of Terence Tao and frequently struggling to understand him. Terence Tao – well, I don’t know if he’s religious, but maybe he feels intellectually inadequate compared to God. And God feels intellectually inadequate compared to John von Neumann.

The quote above intentionally contains a link. That article is also worth reading, it contains a lesson on life I still have stuck in my head.

2021: Book Review: The Cult of Smart (Audio)

Admittedly, the main part of this article isn’t that exciting? I’m mostly here for this part and the bits after, because he isn’t done yet after my quoted segment.

I try to review books in an unbiased way, without letting myself succumb to fits of emotion. So be warned: I’m going to fail with this one. I am going to get angry and write whole sentences in capital letters. This is one of the most enraging passages I’ve ever read.

School is child prison. It’s forcing kids to spend their childhood – a happy time! a time of natural curiosity and exploration and wonder – sitting in un-air-conditioned blocky buildings, cramped into identical desks, listening to someone drone on about the difference between alliteration and assonance, desperate to even be able to fidget but knowing that if they do their teacher will yell at them, and maybe they’ll get a detention that extends their sentence even longer without parole. The anti-psychiatric-abuse community has invented the „Burrito Test“ – if a place won’t let you microwave a burrito without asking permission, it’s an institution. Doesn’t matter if the name is „Center For Flourishing“ or whatever and the aides are social workers in street clothes instead of nurses in scrubs – if it doesn’t pass the Burrito Test, it’s an institution. There is no way school will let you microwave a burrito without permission. THEY WILL NOT EVEN LET YOU GO TO THE BATHROOM WITHOUT PERMISSION. YOU HAVE TO RAISE YOUR HAND AND ASK YOUR TEACHER FOR SOMETHING CALLED „THE BATHROOM PASS“ IN FRONT OF YOUR ENTIRE CLASS, AND IF SHE DOESN’T LIKE YOU, SHE CAN JUST SAY NO.

I don’t like actual prisons, the ones for criminals, but I will say this for them – people keep them around because they honestly believe they prevent crime. If someone found proof-positive that prisons didn’t prevent any crimes at all, but still suggested that we should keep sending people there, because it means we’d have „fewer middle-aged people on the streets“ and „fewer adults forced to go home to empty apartments and houses“, then MAYBE YOU WOULD START TO UNDERSTAND HOW I FEEL ABOUT SENDING PEOPLE TO SCHOOL FOR THE SAME REASON.

2021: Kids Can Recover From Missing Even Quite A Lot Of School (Audio)

So my prediction is that an average student could miss a year or two of school without major long-term effects. Their standardized test score would be lower at the end of the two years they missed than some other student who had been in school the whole time. But after a short period they would equalize again. I don’t think you need to burn yourself out working overtime to send your kid to a private school, I don’t think you need to risk your immunocompromised kid’s health to send her to the classroom, I think you can just chill.

If you liked this one, you’ll also enjoy: Highlights from the comments on Missing School. (Audio)

Related reading, not written by Scott but by blog reader HonoreDB
2021: Book Review: How Children Fail (Audio)

Why are all children so bad at learning in school?

Seriously, they’re terrible at it, and nobody ever calls them out as a group. We call out individual children as failing. We call out individual schools and school systems as bad. But the much more dramatic contrast is between learning in school and learning in any other context.

In their first five years, kids learn to understand 25,000 words, even if nobody is actively helping them, at the same time as they’re learning most of what they’ll ever know about physics, psychology, and how to pilot a human body. They then struggle to match this vocabulary acquisition rate over their next ten years, despite expert attention, a wealth of resources, personal encouragement, and even prizes. […]

Through involuntary cultural osmosis, I could probably pass a test on the characters, plot, and setting of Twilight, despite having never read any of the books or watched any of the movies. Yet there are books I read in school (good books, written to be enjoyed!) where I now couldn’t tell you the main character’s name.

(I was a straight-A student, by the way. Everybody fails at least this hard.)

„Cultural Osmosis“ is a term I also use, and I believe I found on my own? But it’s possible that I um… absorbed through cultural osmosis. I think it’s neat and very helpful.

Miscellaneous topics

2022: A Guide to asking robots to design stained glass windows (Audio)

…something is happening here, but I’m not sure I like it.

The first hot air balloon was launched by the Montgolfier brothers in 1783, maybe they can help us:

Quite the improvement! What if we get more specific?

Yeeeeeeaaah! This is the good stuff! Does it keep getting better as I add more and more French names?

Not really, no. But it was worth a try.

Remember when I said the AI art I used for this article was unrelated? I lied. Well, sort of: I didn’t know yet that Scott had written an article about using Dall-e 2 yet when I started writing this. That was just a funny coincidence. By the way if you would like to see more of what I made, it’s all here.

2015: Untitled (No Audio)

So given that real-life nerds are […] sitting around being terrified that they’re disgusting toxic monsters whose wish to have sex is an offense against womankind, what do you think happens when they hear from every news source in the world that they are entitled?

What happens is they think “Oh God! There was that one time when I looked at a woman and almost thought about asking her out! That means I must be feeling entitled to sex! I had temporarily forgotten that as a toxic monster I must never show any sexuality to anybody! Oh God oh God I’m even worse than I thought!”

This one? Yeah I think he’s hit another very accurate one here. Scott sometimes talks about being „Anti-woke“, which doesn’t mean he’s against the goals of woke people. He’s obviously in favor of those. He just opposes the hysteria and intensity – the mandatory participation in protests, the purity tests, the with-us-or-against-us-stuff. I understand that. Maybe you had a moment of hesitation when you read „Anti-woke“? That’s what I mean. „Wait, I thought you had vetted this guy? How far into this am I, and now you’re telling me he is what?“ but no, he is against the hysteria, not against trans people.

I think I feel with Scott Aaronson, quoted at length in the article above. I’m not a man, but the effects of male socialization still fully apply to me. I would rather be alone than have bothered someone with my presence. I don’t want to be someone’s anecdote of a „weird guy“. I can relate to his story.

2022: Forer statements as updates and affirmations (Audio)

The Forer Effect is a trick used by astrologers, psychics, and social psychologists. Given a list of statements like these: [several omitted for brevity]
– You have a tendency to be critical of yourself.
– You pride yourself as an independent thinker and do not accept others‘ statements without satisfactory proof.
– At times you are extroverted, affable, sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, reserved.
…most people will agree that the statements accurately describe them. In fact, most people will feel like they’re unusually accurate descriptions, which is how astrologers get you. […] Can we do better?

This one might be a helpful heuristic for you? I think this is a rare case where I was ahead of Scott and knew this one already (sorry, proof not forthcoming), but it might improve your thinking immensely to make yourself aware of this.

Politics, Money

2021: Contra Hanania On Partisanship (Audio)

Hanania asks how come we have „woke capital“ celebrating Pride Month, instead of unwoke capital celebrating some conservative cause (as might have happened fifty years ago)? [..] He concludes that „liberals win because they care about politics more“. This may come as a surprise to anyone familiar with Fox News, YouTube, Twitter, or the federal government, but he has lots of data in support.

I don’t think it’s the root issue. 

2021: Please don’t give up on having kids because of climate change (Audio)

Climate change will cause worse hurricanes, fires, and other disasters. It will lead to increased spread of invasive species and diseases. It will hit subsistence farmers in poor agricultural countries very hard, and some of them will starve or become refugees. But it won’t cause the collapse of civilization. It won’t kill everyone. [..] One way to think of this is to notice that we’ve already gotten about 25-30% of the global warming we’re likely to see by 2100. […]

If you think privileged modern Americans shouldn’t have children now because of quality-of-life issues, you implicitly believe that nobody in the Third World, or nobody before 1900, should ever have had children. This isn’t necessarily wrong. There’s a group of philosophers called “antinatalists” who believe nobody should ever have kids because life is suffering. These people are at least consistent. If you’re not one of them, I think the quality-of-life argument for not having kids now is pretty weak.

This one actually managed to change my mind on this point. Well, I still won’t have kids, but not for this reason. This kind of argument is probably exactly what rationalism is supposed to be.

2014: Nobody is perfect, everything is commensurable (Audio)

I talk about politics when they interest me or when I enjoy doing so, and I feel an obligation not to actively make things worse. But I don’t feel like I need to talk nonstop about whatever the designated Issue is until it distresses me and my readers both. […]

2017: Considerations on Cost Disease (Audio)

Do you think the average poor or middle-class person would rather:

a) Get modern health care
b) Get the same amount of health care as their parents’ generation, but with modern technology like ACE inhibitors, and also earn $8000 extra a year

[…]

once again, just ask yourself: do you think most poor and middle class people would rather:

1. Rent a modern house/apartment
2. Rent the sort of house/apartment their parents had, for half the cost

This is one of the heavier statistics and numbers articles and it is also rather US-centric. But it’s STILL insightful. Since we are already in „optional reading“, if that one gets you, also consider the Highlights from the Comments on Cost Disease. (No Audio)

Final words

Alright, that’s everything. I’m really glad I am done with this. I gave myself a really huge brain worm there for quite a while, and by finishing this post, I think I can extrude it and put it in my external memory, this blog. I’m sorry to my friends for probably still referencing this thing for a while – I have been reading nothing but this one blog for half a year, but if you’ve read even part of this, now YOU have the brain worm, and therefore I am fine again. YES!

It’s not often that I find someone new who says things I didn’t know or think or believe in that way before anymore. That was mostly an experience of my teenage years. So I enjoyed this. But I’m glad that I can just have normal books and podcasts again and just follow him when new posts come out, at my own pace.

I don’t particularly intend to update this article – I’ll probably keep reading the blog casually from now on, as one of many things. If you’re reading this many years after summer 2022: I’m happy for u. Or sorry that happened. But if new explosive developments about astral codex ten came out since then? They’re probably not on here.

Written by vetaro

14. August 2022 um 2:35 pm

Veröffentlicht in Uncategorized

Eine Antwort

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  1. I just think it’s hilarious to get an article like *this* after four years.
    Thanks for the great recommendation list!

    sirenensang

    27. August 2022 at 12:57 am


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