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I've always felt the Fisherian runaway hypothesis begs the (second order) question:

The first order question (for the scenario here) is - Why don't the male bird head plumage continue to grow indefinitely longer from generation to generation? This one is easy. At some point the plumage would become so impractical as to make mating impossible. 

The second order question is harder: Why is it that some species get away with remarkably impractical features (the peacock comes quickly to mind), while other species appear to be pretty close to a local maximum in adaptation? 

I suppose that a scarcity of predators and a generous environment ought to be part of the story for the most flamboyantly maladaptive species. But has this been empirically verified? And are their other considerations at work?

I have the same concern as Daniel Kokotajlo, but for a different reason. 

Mr Malmesbury considers the gradual extinction of genders beyond 2, but he never mentions the injection of fertile new genders into the population through mutations. 

In order to make the case convincing case for unique suitability of exactly two genders, we should look for reasons why systems with three or more genders would be unstable. Here is a hint: consider a third gender entering into an established species with two genders: one with a huge gametes, the other with tiny gametes. Where does the gamete size of the new entry fit in?

Roughly speaking, (upward) completeness means that every statement about the system can either be shown to be demonstrable from the axioms of the system or to be in violation with some number of those axioms. 

That is not quite the same thing as your statement, but I think it would be a mistake here to argue which interpretation is right. My reluctance is due to the fact that the upward arc of completeness is incidental to the argument I am making. I mentioned the upward arc because many readers of Less Wrong are familiar with it. I hoped that would capture interest as well as providing orientation. 

Here, I am interested in the question of whether the downward arc can ever be made complete, even in principle, and I deliberately chose a provocative example to emphasise the point that there will be controversy about what requires explicit mention in the axioms. I had been thinking about mathematics, but any sufficiently complex system would suffer the same difficulty - for instance, a utilitarian moral system, or an economy steered by an artificial intelligence. 

I don't exclude the possibility of an extremely threadbare system which is downward completely. But, I suspect such systems would be very boring.

If you are saying that the First Law is unable to stand on its own, then I agree with you. 

If you are saying that NewtonWorld is not just about the first world, then I have to provide a clarification. I, as the founder of NewtonWorld (just for this article) declare by fiat that it encompasses only the first law (plus Kant's synthetic, a priori knowledge). I agree that the name NewtonWorld is misleading and I wish I had chosen a different name. So, sorry for the confusion.

I do not believe the first law was intended to assert the existence of inertial frames of reference, else Newton would have said that explicitly. I think you may be extrapolating from Einstein.

More likely, the first law was intended to correct the then widespread Aristotelian conviction that all terrestrial motion eventually ceases. 

However, as a standalone statement it is vacuous. 

The first law has nothing to say about mass. 

I suppose, you could say that mass is inherent in the notion of a particle. Yet physics has massless particles, such as the photon. On the other hand, it is true that the notion of massless particles only entered physics after Newton. 

In any case, the world of Newton's first law does not have any change in velocity. The possibility of a change of velocity is hinted at, but the first law has nothing to say about the associated circumstances. 

By the way, you do know that ants already do service for people by harvesting seeds for rooibos tea?


Cool topic!
Here are some critiques on part 1 of your presentation: Short Combinatorial Talk

1 Colour coding slides by content is a nifty idea. I hadn't seen this before. Unfortunately, even with as little as five headings it is difficult to recall the correspondence between colours and content. Why not try something else. Maybe a designation in the upper right hand corner of each slide?

2. That looks like an interesting diagram on slide 4. Why didn't you explain it?

3. You tend to introduce succinct definitions first, motivating examples later. This worked all right for the fairly simple concepts on page 4, but you started to lose your audience once you reached factorisations on page 5. (By the you get to the bottom of page 5 your audience is becoming anxious you may never introduce any examples and we are starting to feel lost). So, why not reverse the order? Work through an example (page 6), then formalise the notion into a definition? Then, spend some time illustrating how the definition matches the intuitive concept.

4. Slides 4 and 5 contain too much material. Best split each into two slides.

Thanks a lot for your presentation. I am enjoying it!  

Thanks, betulaster, 

Since you address "how likely meeting a certain politically charged event would be", I assume your question is focussed on what I've called "Polling 2", which concerns itself with predicting future events. These tend to be less politically charged than than "Polling 1", but I agree you are right in pointing out the need to relativise respondents answers. People who identify strongly with a cause, especially if they are not used to dealing with probability, might confuse a question about an event likelihood with the strength of their allegiance. Thus "How likely do you think the Dodgers are to win the World Series?" might be met with "I'd bet my life on it", which is not very helpful for computing statistics :-)

The best way to put the matter into quantitative terms may be to ask the interviewee what odds he would give in a bet on the event occuring. It may seem redundant, but I would also ask the odds they'd give on a non-occurence. (People's grasp on probability is shaky, so overdeterminining their perception helps to reduce error). 

You will notice that for Polling 1 type questions I avoided the natural step of asking people to say how much money it would take to get them to change their mind. For one thing, it would be tasteless to appear to be offering money to get someone to change a vote (for instance). Another reason is that people's perceptions of money vary widely, injecting a confounding variable. The rather convoluted question I came up with to assess an interviewee's resistance to chance of intent has the disadvantage of generating a discreet (non-continuous) answer. and I worry it might also confuse some interviewees, but at least it makes a quantification in terms of a comparable quantity. 

You make a good point, namely that my article would be improved with an example. I don't have one at hand, although I think this behaviour comes up rather frequently in attacks on climate change deniers. I'll see what I can do to find an example.

Perhaps I should write an article about the more general problem of journalists and politicians selectively using specious, (often pseudo-) scientific claims to attack their opponents? This originates mostly from the left. The right has long since accepted the idea that science arguments will always be against them, and whenever they hear "the scientific method.." they know they are about to be knocked in the head, and mentially prepare some ad hominem attack against some straw man figure of a scientist.

I don't doubt the right could summon the intellectual resources to challenge instances of sciencism. Only it would all go over the heads of the average voter. Such is the level of and the motivating forces behind our political discourse.

Sometimes I feel sympathy for Plato's critique of democracy.

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