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Why Study Physics?

we don’t have a step-by-step checklist to follow in order to use informal mathematical arguments

If we did, the checklist would define a form and the mathematical arguments would become formal.

Terrence Tao uses the term post-rigorous to describe the sort of argument you're talking about.  It's one of three stages.  In the pre-rigorous stage, concepts are fuzzy and expressed inexactly.  In the rigorous stage, concepts are precisely defined in a formal manner.  In the post-rigorous stage, concepts are expressed in a fuzzy and inexact way for the sake of efficiency by people who understand them on a rigorous level; key details can be expressed as rigorously as necessary but the irrelevant details of a full proof are omitted.

Why Study Physics?

the current generation of physicists seems to have lost the way in some important (but hard to pin down) sense

My impression of physics (1) post-1970-or-so is that it's lost the balance between theory and experiment that makes science productive.  Hypotheses like "superstring theory" or "dark matter" are extremely difficult to test by experiment (through no fault of the physicists' own).  Physicists have tried to to make up for it with improvements in theory, but without experiments bringing discipline to the process it doesn't quite work.

In one sense, this is good news.  Physicists have reached the point where it is extremely difficult to observe a physical phenomenon they can't predict, which is very similar to saying the project is almost complete.

(1) Here I'm speaking mostly of particle physics.  Condensed-matter physics has been much more successful over the past 50 years or so.  Other disciplines may vary.

Why I am no longer driven

I think most of this is just aging, and is normal.  I associate that "challenge the world as hard as you can" mentality with testosterone and with teenage boys (who are very high in testosterone).  It's a good mindset to have when you're starting out and need to make a place for yourself in the world.

At 29, you have (hopefully) established yourself a bit but are still young enough to be attractive to women.  Your instincts are probably telling you (through the medium of lowered testosterone) that it's time to settle down and raise some kids.  Circle of life and all that.

Has LessWrong Been Mind-Killed on the Topic of God and Religion?

I should mention that, like many people who were raised religious and lost their faith, I miss it.  It was comforting to believe that the world was in good hands and that it all could work out in the end.  I had friends at church.  Many of them were attractive females.

Losing my religion felt less like an act of will and more like figuring out the answer to a math problem.  It wasn't something I wanted, rather the opposite.  I fought it for a while, but there's no cure for enlightenment.  I've tried to go back to church, but it just doesn't work when you don't believe in it.  I no longer see God there, just some schmuck wearing felt.

Has LessWrong Been Mind-Killed on the Topic of God and Religion?

I guess this can take a pretty nasty and irrational form, but I see this continuous with other benign community bonding rituals and pro-social behavior (like Petrov day or the solstice).

I agree, I just think that community bonding rituals have such a strong tendency to lead to ingroup-vs-outgroup conflicts that I am much more skeptical of the whole idea than you seem to be.  

Part of this is my perception that generally neither group is entirely right about every issue, and therefore no group I pick will have my wholehearted support.  This is acceptable; compromise on less crucial matters is often the price of working toward your most important goals.  Having said that, I think it's important to remember what your important goals are and to periodically ask yourself whether the gains are still worth the compromises.  Durkheimian worship is rather directly contrary to this sort of cost-benefit analysis.

Or it could just be that I'm Aspergian, and my normal modes of thinking are highly anti-correlated with religion

Has LessWrong Been Mind-Killed on the Topic of God and Religion?

I think most people on LW fall into one of two groups:

  • People who were raised in the urban liberal milleu.  Religion simply isn't part of their worldview; their attitude toward it is not even unbelief.  For them going to church is like raising alpacas; they are aware that some people do it but they don't see much value in it, it doesn't fit into their lifestyles, and it would take a rather long intellectual journey to convince them to do it themselves.
  • People who, like me, were raised around religion.  As LWers are generally thoughtful people, we have generally considered religion to our satisfaction many years ago.  Each of us had a particular journey but I suspect my conclusions are, if not typical, then not highly atypical either:
    • My understanding of neuroscience has convinced me that consciousness is fundamentally dependent on the brain.  I don't believe in an afterlife (cryogenics and mind-uploading ideas notwithstanding).
    • Since I do not expect to face divine judgement, I am not greatly concerned about the existence or nonexistence of God.  I think of theology as much like an ant trying to understand presidential politics.  Understanding is highly unlikely and the ant has better things to do.
    • The Durkheimian "society worshiping itself" phenomenon is real, common, and by no means limited to religion as traditionally defined.  It is often wildly irrational and is pretty much the opposite of what LW aspires to.

If you're trying to reach the first group, I would recommend trying to bring them into contact with organized religion via some sort of common interest (probably effective altruism).  The second group is generally going to be much harder to reach.

[Book Review] "The Bell Curve" by Charles Murray

Just for context, I'd like to point out that the SAT has been revised and renormed since 1994 (twice IIRC).  Current test scores are not straightforwardly comparable to the scores discussed in the book and in the post.

Postmodern Warfare

One of the most important decisions in war is when to stop.  Humans evolved fear to solve this problem; there's a point at which soldiers will de-escalate the conflict (i.e. flee the battlefield rather than stay and die).  However, signalling fear makes you a target so people don't discuss it candidly.  I am concerned that military leaders may, in the calm of the office, design AI that has no provisions for de-escalating conflict; this seems very likely to lead to nuclear war.

Lies, Damn Lies, and Fabricated Options

Perhaps.  OTOH, even the Atari 2600 was already a consumer-grade mass-market product; gene sequencing is only now getting there.

To be honest, there are a few other times and places where technological progress has been even faster like Japan between 1865 and 1945 or Shenzhen between 1975 and 2020.  Nevertheless, such meteoric rises are a vanishingly small part of human history.  There are lots of places and industries where the last 40 years have seen only very modest improvements, quite a few where the trend has been to modest decline, and some where the decline has been horrible (e.g. Lebanon, Yemen, Zimbabwe).  In my extremely subjective, non-expert opinion, the rationalist community's expectations for technological progress are reasonable for computer technology (until recently) but are unreasonable compared to recent trends in industries like energy, transportation, agriculture, construction, medicine, and many more.  In other words, it has a strong bias toward optimism.

Lies, Damn Lies, and Fabricated Options

Moore's Law had processing power doubling every 18 months to two years for decades; the Atari 2600 of my youth had 128 bytes of RAM; the comparably-priced machine I'm typing this on has 8 billion.  No other technology has ever improved by seven orders of magnitude in four decades AFAIK.  The economic shifts that came with that made California (and more specifically the Bay Area) what it is today, and my point was that California  is highly atypical.

On the other hand, I totally agree with the view that progress has overall slowed down.  I think the difference is how you measure; measures that favor IT (e.g. information available) will show very different trends than other measures that may more reasonably reflect the impact of technology on human life (e.g. life expectancy, total energy use, inflation-adjusted mean family income).  And even in the tech sector, most places weren't as changed as California.

I don't think we have serious disagreements; we're just describing different parts of the same elephant.

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