Ponder Stibbons


Sorted by New

Wiki Contributions


It is rarely wrong to follow what you are passionate about. Go for it. But do think hard before discarding your placement in industry. Obtaining a diverse set of career relevant experiences early on is valuable. Industrial placements look good on a resumé as well.

I did wonder whether one reason it might be hard to commercialise orexins was because, being peptides, delivery would be difficult.

But, apparently not, nasal spray works just fine …

So the domain I’m most familiar with is early stage drug discovery In industry. This requires multidisciplinary teams of chemists, computational chemists, biochemists, biologists, crystallographers etc. Chemists tend to be associated with one project at a time and I don’t perceive part-time working to be beneficial there. However the other disciplines are often associated with multiple projects.  So there’s a natural way to halve (say) the workload without reducing efficiency.  The part-time scientist should be highly experienced, committed to what they are doing, and have few management responsibilities. If that holds then my experience is they are at least as productive than a full time worker,  hour for hour.

Very interesting points. But some of them are surely specific to the size, workforce make-up and activities of your organisation. I’d  like to put an alternative view on point 14,  at least as it applies to an organisation with longer timelines and a more autonomous working regime (so less opportunity for blocking). My experience is that part-time workers can be more productive hour for hour than full-time workers, in the right work domain. A fully committed part-time worker has a ready-made excuse to avoid those meetings that don’t make them productive. They will use their slack time to be thinking of their work, coming up with ideas at leisure, and creating an effective  plan for their next work period. They can be flexible in their work hours so as to attend the important meetings and one-to-ones and to avoid blocking anyone (Especially if they also WFH some of the time- so can dip into work for an hour in a day they normally don’t work). They can use (E.g computational) resources more effectively so that they are rarely waiting for lengthy production runs (or calculations, say) to finish. Lastly, they are often less stressed through not being overworked  (and hence more effective).

Clearly this will not be true for all work domains. Nevertheless it has been recently reported in the UK press that an international experiment  to test a 4 day (32 hr) work week at 100% salary has resulted in no loss of productivity for many of the companies involved, and many of them are continuing with the scheme.

Adding to my first comment, another basic problem that at least applies to organic chemical assemblies, is that easily constructed useful engineering shapes such as straight lines (acetylenes, polyenes), planes (graphene ) or spherical/ellipsoidal curves (buckminsterfullerene like structures) are always replete with free electrons. This makes them somewhat reactive in oxidative atmospheres. Everybody looked at the spherical buckminsterfullerene molecule and said “wow, a super-lubricant!” Nope, it is too darn reactive to have a useful lifetime. This is actually rather reassuring in the context of grey goo scenarios.

Excessive reactivity in oxidative atmospheres may perhaps be overcome if we use metal-organic frameworks to create useful engineering shapes (I am no expert on these so don’t know for sure). But much basic research is still required.

It’s my opinion that Drexler simply underestimated the basic scientific problems that yet needed to be solved. The discrete nature of atoms and the limited range of geometries that can be utilised for structures at the nanoscale alone make complex molecular machine design extraordinarily challenging. Drug design is challenging enough and all we usually need to do there is create the right shaped static block to fit the working part of the target protein and stop it functioning (OK, I over-simplify, but a drug is a very long way from a molecular machine). Additionally the simulation tools needed to design molecular machines are only now becoming accurate enough, largely because it is only now that we have cheap enough and fast enough compute power to run them in reasonable real time.

It will happen, in time, but there is still a large amount of basic science to be done first IMO. My best guess is that self-assembling biomimetic molecular machines, based on polypeptides, will be the first off the blocks. New tools such as AlphaFold will play an important role in their design.

I think you make a good point, but I also think fear of being attacked is not a good excuse for failing to be altruistic, at least if the altruism is through financial means. After all it is easy ( and very common) to give anonymously.

That’s not to say anonymous altruistic acts are entirely sacrificial. Usually there is some significant payback in terms of well-being (assuagement of guilt for the good fortune of one’s own relative affluence, for instance).

In Advanced Driving courses a key component was (and may still be -it’s been awhile) commentary driving. You sit next to an instructor and listen to them give a commentary on everything they are tracking, for instance other road users, pedestrians, road signs,  bends, obstacles, occluders of vision etc; and how these observations affect their decision making, as they drive.  Then you practice doing the same, out loud, and, ideally, develop the discipline to continue practising this after the course. I found this was a very effective way of learning from an expert, and I’m sure my driving became the safer because of it.

There is the saying “Genius will out” and it was true for the four individuals you mention. But there are equally, cases where an enlightened teacher in an unpromising school has recognised genius, perhaps emerging from a lowly background, and helped it flourish, when perhaps it otherwise would have withered. Gauss comes to mind as one example. In decent schools today I would be pretty hopeful that genius, even if coupled to unconventionality, would be identified and nurtured. Of course not all schools are decent.

I also disagree strongly with that paragraph, at least as it applies to higher mammals subject to consistent, objective and lengthy study.  If I read it to include that context ( and perhaps I’m mistaken to do so), it appears to be dismissive (trolling even) of the conclusions of,  at the very least, respected animal behaviour researchers such as Lorenz, Goodall and Fossey. 

Instead of appealing to  “empathy with an animal“ as a good guide,  I would rather discuss body language. “Body language“ is called such for good reason. Before homo sapiens (or possibly precursor species) developed verbal communication, body language had evolved as a sophisticated communication mechanism. Even today between humans it remains a very important, if under-recognised, mode of communication (I recall attending a training course on giving presentations. It was claimed body language accounted for about 50% of the impact of the presentation, the facts presented on the slides only 15%). Body language is clearly identifiable in higher mammals. Even if it is not identical to ours in all, or even many, respects, our close evolutionary connection with higher mammals allows us, in my view, to be able to confidently translate their body language into a consistent picture of their mental state, actually pretty easily, without too much training.  We have very similar ‘hardware’ to other higher mammals (including,- and this is important, in regard to regulating the strength and nature of mammalian emotional states- an endocrine system)) and this is key, at least in regard to correctly identifying equivalent mental states.  Reading of body language seems to me to just as valid an informational exchange, as a verbal Turing Test carried out over a terminal,  and our shared genetic heritage does allow a certain amount of anthropomorphic comparison that is not woo, if done with objectivity, IMO.

Equivalence of mental/ emotional states with ours, doesn’t necessarily lead to a strong  inference that higher mammals are sentient, though it is probably good supporting evidence.

I would chose dogs rather than cats as, unlike Vanessa Kosoy, apparently,  (see elsewhere in these threads) I’m a dog person. Domestic dogs are a bit of a special case because they have co-evolved with humans for 30,000-40,000 years. Dogs that were most able to make their needs plain to humans, likely prospered. This would, I think, naturally lead to an even greater convergence of the way the same human and dog mental state is displayed, for some important states-necessary-to-be-communicated-to-humans-for-dog-benefit, because that would naturally gives rise to the most error-free cross-species communication.

The mental states I would have no hesitancy in saying are experienced by myself and a domestic dog in a recognisably similar way (to >90% certainty) are fear, joy, pain, fight or flight response, jealousy/insecurity, impatience and contentment.

I’d be less certain, but certainly not dismissive, of anger, love, companionship ( at least as we understand it), and empathy. I also don’t have a very strong confidence they have a sense of self, though that is not necessary for my preferred model of sentience.

I have never seen my dog display anything I interpret as disgust, superiority, amusement or guilt.

But similarity of emotions and interpretation of body language are not the only signs I interpret as possibly indicating sentience. I also observe that a dog (mostly n=1) is capable of e.g.

  • Self initiated behaviour to improve its own state.
  • Clear and quite nuanced communication of needs ( despite limited ‘speech’)
  • Attention engagement to request a need be met ( a paw on the ankle, a bark of a particular tone and duration)
  • Deduction, at a distance, of likely behaviour of other individuals (mostly other dogs) and choosing a corresponding response
    • Avoidance of aggressive dogs. (Via cues not always obvious to myself)
    • Meet and smell with dogs of similar status
    • Recognition and high tolerance of puppies ( less so with adolescents)
    • Domineering behaviour against socially weak dogs.

 On the basis of an accumulation of such observations (the significance of each of which may be well short of 90%) the model I have of a typical dog is that it has (to >99%  likleyhood) some level of sentience, at least according to my model of sentience.

I have actually had a close encounter with a giant cuttlefish “where I looked into its eyes and thought I detected sentience” but here I‘m more aligned with Rob (to 90% confidence), and that this was a case of over-anthropomorphism - the genetic gap is probably too large (and it was a single short observation). 

I would incidentally put a much lower probability than 10% that any statement of LaMDA that claims ownership of a human emotion, and claims it manifests just like that human emotion, means anything significant at all.

Load More