A stats student and aspiring rationalist. Currently following Zvi's advice and putting myself out here.

I write at


Sorted by New


nroman's Shortform

I hadn't considered that angle. Still, that heuristic assumes

a) that the field is one where those differences are salient (I maintain mathematics at least is exempt) and

b) that the people you're inviting have sufficient background to make meaningful contributions, contra the orthodox intersectional considerations you mentioned before.

I'm tempted say that this heuristic (diversity of identity) is strictly less effective than diversity of thought/ideology, but that seems to be what Scott runs against. It would indicate that there are insights not available just through ideology but through (to use an abused phrase) lived experience.

As to how these cross over and whether they're intersectional, that's another can of worms I'm not going to open.

nroman's Shortform

Good points. Perhaps 'intersectionality' isn't the right term. I also considered 'positionality,' trying to refer to ' ideology that emphasizes identity over reasoning.' Or maybe I'm thinking of the 'motte' form, so that [whatever the Scott quote represents] is a weaker form of motte!intersectionality is a weaker form of bailey!intersectionality. 

Though I think the Scott quote represents something stronger than 'paying attention to identity X's perspective'. It looks more like 'identity X may provide information and insights in unpredictable ways.'

This is not compatible with reflexively applying a narrative to an identity group, as so often happens. If identity X's insights line up perfectly with your preexisting beliefs, there's something else going on. 

Perhaps more specifically, I newly endorse the proposal, "Identity has distinct and unpredictable effects on research," but not the more extreme proposals:

"Identity group members are replaceable."

"Identity groups have a 'correct' position."

"Problems must be examined first in relation to identity groups."

I'm personally coming into this with a heavy bias against intersectionality and critical theory, so I'm trying to steelman where possible. 

nroman's Shortform

I found a passage in James C Scott's Seeing Like a State that shifted me a little closer towards agreeing with intersectionality. 

I think that a "woman's eye," for lack of a better term, was essential to Jacobs's frame of reference. A good many men, to be sure, were insightful critics of high-modernist urban planning, and Jacobs refers to many of their writings. Nevertheless, it is difficult to imagine her argument being made in quite the same way by a man ... The eyes with which she sees the street are, by turns, those of shoppers running errands, mothers pushing baby carriages, children playing, friends having coffee or a bite to eat, lovers strolling, people looking from their windows, shopkeepers dealing with customers, old people sitting on park benches ... A concern with public space puts both the interior of the home and the office as factory outside her purview.  The activities that she observes so carefully, from taking a walk to window-shopping, are largely activities that do not have a single purpose or that have no conscious purpose in the narrow sense

-Seeing Like a State (p.138)

This passage, and the book in general, provided some concrete examples of 'different ways of knowing' that I could wrap my head around. Going forward, I will take claims to the importance of researcher identity a bit more seriously in certain fields (ie urban planning and agriculture, but not in mathematics and CS).

This seems to point to a weaker form of intersectionality/identity-focused theories that makes a lot more sense: 'researcher identity has distinct effects on research in complex and/or culturally charged fields' vs the orthodox strong form, 'researcher identity is the primary lens through which research must be judged in all fields.'

I experienced a similar nudge reading David Chapman, who insists on the importance of early postmodern philosophers such as Foucault. I previously dismissed both groups out of hand, now I take a moment to assess individual claims and expect that some have validity.

Has anyone experienced similar nudges, or have particular comments on this subject?

The Scout Mindset - read-along

Looking at the early section on motivational advice, I was reminded of Antifragile (my review, Scott's review). Motivational advice which assures success if one believes hard enough and encourages people to try for things despite long odds doesn't look like it helps those individuals. If this advice is widely spread and followed, who benefits? Possibly society as a whole. If individuals in general overestimate their chances of success, try, and largely fail, then there's a much larger pool to select from, and hopefully the best successes are better than they otherwise would be. Deceptive advice transfers antifragility from individuals to the system. 

On the same subject, I've long felt a disdain for that sort of motivational rhetoric as trite, but I'm still not sure why. The connection to self deception provided by Galef is one possible explanation. Has anyone else experienced something similar, or have an explanation for why that might be the case?

The Scout Mindset - read-along

Chapter 3: Why Truth Is More Valuable Than We Realize

Early in the chapter, Galef lays out examples of tradeoffs between Soldier and Scout mindset, most vivid for me in the anecdote of the charity president, who convinces himself that the budget is well spent, helping to gain donations but reducing actual effectiveness. 

Two questions which occurred to me reading this: First, is it possible to compartmentalize the Soldier and Scout mindsets to a significant degree, such that one can be used when soliciting donations and the other when deciding which projects to cut?

Second, if it is possible, is it desirable? What consequences might come about from trying to separate these two processes? Maybe doing so requires an extreme psychology or ability to self-deceive, or the effort to separate them is just too tiring to maintain. 

[ACX Linkpost] Prospectus on Próspera

Cowen doesn't seem to have written his own thoughts on the matter, but has reported on it at the links below, and seems excited. Until recently the project has kept relatively quiet, as they were shopping around for big early investors. It's only recently they've opened themselves up to the public, and they're still focused mostly on attracting local Hondurans. I've known about the project for a few years,  but only because I'm close to people who got in on the early stages. If I had to guess, I figure they want to have more built and have a solid local base before advertising to the foreign public. Just a guess though.

Apologies for the redundancy if you've already seen those links. 

Roatan is safer than the mainland, both due to its separation from the bulk of drug crime and the local focus on tourism, which shifts the weight onto petty crimes that target tourist's wallets. But it's still Honduras, and there was the notable murder of a US citizen a couple years ago. Prospera aims to have private security, instead of depending on the local police. 

Prospera also claims to be minimally dependent on the Honduran government, in particular by setting up its own services and courts for most crimes. The deal they negotiated is supposed to be a hands-off affair, where HPI pays them taxes and abides by a portion of Honduras' laws. Whether this can be done successfully is yet to be seen.

Honduras deciding to take over seems unlikely, but future administrations wanting to increase their cut in violation of contract is a very real worry. Prospera is trying to curb that by setting maximum tax revenue as a portion of GDP in their charter and Bill of Rights, but if the Hondurans did try to force their hand, it's not clear what they could do.

That's as much as I can answer for now. I'm going through their materials and intend to ask questions of their CEO. If you have specific questions for him, I may be able to pass them along. 

[ACX Linkpost] Prospectus on Próspera

That's a lot of the appeal. Roatan was known as a scuba destination before this, and so long as Prospera keeps the waters clean, that should only increase. Medical tourism, as well as medical research, including pharma, is also a big selling point with the full reciprocity and choice of regulatory environment. 

One big point I feel should be pointed out is e-residency. Prospera intends to profit not just from activity on-site, but also from people and companies declaring e-residency in Prospera. If the attraction of its regulatory environment works out, it may well have tax revenue disproportionate to physical residents which it actually has to provide services for. 

What weird beliefs do you have?

I think a large number of people would benefit from temporarily adopting a mystic/magical religion. Tantra comes to mind first owing to David Chapman's writing, but Wicca, alchemy, Kabbalah and ritual magic are included as well. 

These are systems utterly at odds with normal and socially acceptable modes of living. Ideally, these could serve as shocks to break people out of major ruts in thinking or belief, or as outlets for resolving emotional hangups and releasing socially unacceptable desires. I also know a good few people who, if nothing else, could really use an injection of weirdness and wonder to break them out of self-imposed boredom. The exact system matters less than the presence of a system at all. 

The key is not to get too caught up in them or start believing they're real. So long as they maintain a playful aspect, you're probably fine. You also want to avoid getting into cults, especially Scientology. They're also weird, and they're also systems of meaning-making, but they take themselves too seriously and in the latter case it's difficult and potentially harmful to leave. 

Distinguishing cults from playful religions may be much more difficult than I'm giving credit for. Keep an exit strategy on hand and don't give out your credit card information.