garethrees

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How can I spend money to improve my life?

Deaths per cyclist per kilometre of road is a crazy unit of measurement. I mean, sometimes you have to report the statistic you've got rather than the statistic you'd like, but I don't see what possible practical significance this has.

The statistic we'd like to know is deaths per kilometre cycled. The average person in the UK cycles about 60 km a year (source: Department for Transport) and the population of London is about 8.5 million (source: Wikipedia), so the 19 deaths in 2006 correspond to about 3.5 deaths per 100 million kilometres cycled.

This is slightly higher than the UK average of 3.1 deaths per 100 million kilometres cycled, and on the high side for Western Europe (compare Netherlands: 1.0; Germany: 1.8; France: 3.1; Italy: 3.4).

The rational way to name rivers

In Japanese, these aren't noun suffixes but number suffixes, known as counters or classifiers. You don't say, "*ninjin ga san" [three carrots], but rather, "ninjin ga sanbon" [three-cylinder-shaped carrots].

Mass nouns behave in a similar way in English: you don't say "*three breads", but rather, "three loaves of bread". Also, "head of cattle", "slices of toast", "sheets of paper", "items of cutlery", etc.

In Navajo, the classifiers are verb stems.

The rational way to name rivers

This proposal seems like it would run aground on the actual complexity and changeability of river systems. The River Great Ouse, to take an example that's local to me, runs in four channels between Earith and its outflow at Kings Lynn (the Old and New Bedford Rivers, the Great Ouse proper, and an unnamed flood relief channel). But this is a relatively recent configuration: the Great Ouse formerly turned west at Littleport (rather than north as at present), reaching a confluence with the River Nene before flowing into the Wash at Wisbech, while the Little Ouse flowed north to Kings Lynn.

Open thread, August 19-25, 2013

Gung cnegvphyne nzovtenz, fher. (Vg'f nyfb qvsvphyg gb svaq zhygvcyr zrffntrf jvgu gur fnzr unfu.) Ohg Qreera Oebja hfrq guvf nzovtenz va uvf 2007 frevrf "Gevpx be Gerng" jvgu ng yrnfg gur nccrnenapr bs fhpprff (gubhtu nf nyjnlf jvgu Oebja, vg'f cbffvoyr ur jnf sbbyvat hf engure guna gur cnegvpvcnag).

Open thread, August 19-25, 2013

Creuncf gur fyvc bs cncre ybbxrq fbzrguvat yvxr guvf. (Qrfvtavat na nzovtenz jbhyq or nanybtbhf gb svaqvat zhygvcyr zrffntrf jvgu gur fnzr unfu.)

What Can We Learn About Human Psychology from Christian Apologetics?

I once attended an apologetical talk given by the Christian Union at my college. (They were offering free food.) The invited speaker presented a version of C. S. Lewis's trilemma: liar, lunatic or lord? (a kind of proof by alliteration).

I spoke to the speaker afterwards and took him to task for presenting such a silly argument, which I said was hardly likely to convince anyone not already a Christian. He freely admitted the logical flaws in the trilemma argument, and said that his own personal justifications for belief were quite different—he appealed, if I recall correctly, to his personal experience and to William Paley's argument from design—but he said that these kinds of justifications didn't go down so well with the members of the Christian Union who had invited him to speak, and that the trilemma was "the kind of thing people expected to hear" at these events. So this one speaker was quite clear about the nature of the audience for an apologetical lecture.

According to Dale Carnegie, You Can't Win an Argument—and He Has a Point

I have never been able to get the Socratic Method to work on the Internet. In theory the Socratic Method is effective because the student has to reason their own way to the conclusion, and so they end up knowing it more deeply and thoroughly than if they were just told the conclusion by the teacher. But somehow it never works for me.

I think part of the problem is that the Socratic Method relies on the participants agreeing to take on the appropriate roles in the discussion. In particular, the "student" has to agree to play the role of the student, so that when the "teacher" asks them to consider such-and-such, they actually do consider it.

Here's an example in which I try to help someone learn how to solve puzzles involving conditional probabilities. But he does not agree that I have any right to teach him, and so nothing is communicated.

The other problem is that the Socratic Method requires a very long interaction, with a lot of back and forth. In person you can keep someone focused on a difficult issue until they resolve it. But conversations on the Internet rarely go on long enough for a difficult point to be resolved, and it is easy for a participant who finds themselves in an uncomfortable position to abandon the discussion.

Rationality Quotes January 2014

I think gwern is teasing us: there is no such quotation in Sluga's Heidegger's Crisis, or at least I cannot find it in the Google Books version. Perhaps gwern has taken the Wittgenstein/Malcolm story and swapped Britain for Germany to make a point about the universal applicability of the philosopher's rebuke.

But for what it's worth:

  • The date in the Heidegger version of the story is very suspicious: in 1939 Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty; he did not become Prime Minister until May 1940 and it is only with hindsight that we see his significance (even in 1940 most political actors seem to have thought that Lord Halifax would be a better choice for Prime Minister than Churchill).

  • The version of the anecdote featuring Wittgenstein and Malcolm is backed up by a citation to Malcolm's Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir where Malcolm quotes the letter from Wittgenstein at length. Also, the 1939 date for the original quarrel about "national character" is a better fit to this story, because in 1939 no-one could doubt the significance of Hitler, and assassination attempts on Hitler were by that point a fairly regular occurrence.

Greg Egan disses stand-ins for Overcoming Bias, SIAI in new book

"Biggest fan" here is hyperbole for "a very big fan".

"Mind reading" - how is this done?

You say that my explanations "aren't valid" because I "have to assume" various facts. Why do I have to make these assumptions? Your argument is that these tricks must be fair puzzles. But Derren is not in the business of making fair puzzles, he is in the business of entertaining television audiences. He is under no obligation to play fair, and he is quite willing to use your belief that he plays fair in order to fool you.

My explanations for tricks two and three don't just explain the effect, but also a number of details of the presentation that would otherwise be mysterious or arbitrary. The technique in trick two (which is well-known among magicians under the name "vafgnag fgbbtr") explains, among other things, the flat affect of the man whose mind is supposedly being read (why doesn't he seem as amazed as the woman?) The technique in trick three explains not only why Derren is dressed like a clown, but also the sequence of camera cuts.

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