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Her podcast is really good IMHO. She does a singularly good job of challenging guests in a friendly manner, dutifully tracking nuance, steelmanning, etc. It just picked back up after about a yearlong hiatus (presumably due to her book writing).

Unfortunately, I see the lack of notoriety for her podcast to be some evidence against the prospects of the "skilled & likeable performer" strategy. I assume that potential subscribers are more interested in lower-quality podcasts and YouTubers that indulge in bias rather than confronting it. Dunno what to do about that, but I'm glad she's back to podcasting.


Dude this was pretty good, please consider posting more fictions.


Well in practical terms, libraries produce much less reward for creators than movie theaters do. In a movie theater, you pay for one movie and that is the movie you are allowed to watch. The money you pay for a ticket is in part the reason that people dedicate time and effort into creating the movie. What I hope for is an incentive mechanism that causes more good books to be written.


Schelling talks about “the right to be sued” as an important right that businesses need to protect for themselves, not because anyone likes being sued, but because only businesses that can be sued if they slip up have enough credibility to attract customers.

-- Scott Alexander

I think about this every couple of weeks. Seems deep and underappreciated.

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Are you writing your own fiction too? If so, I commend and encourage you. If not, what do you get in exchange for quitting fiction reading?


This is why rationalists so often get accused of reinventing the wheel

I've heard that criticism too, but it's hard for me to come up with specific examples that I agree with. Do any of these count as reinvented wheels?

EDIT: On second thought, whether or not rationalists already do reinvent the wheel, I strongly claim that they should reinvent wheels at least sometimes. Seems like really good practice for inventing novel things.


I did a text-search and found your #56. Good to see some culture in here!

Answer by Pontor50

I didn't follow the rules...but I did walk around the house holding a candle and muttering to myself. Can't wait to see where I converged with others.


insert wick into your mouth (or your anus) for a minute. Pull it out, verify that it is emitting blackbody radiation at human internal body temperature. Declare it to be "lit" in the sense of "nontrivially emitting light"

simply de-identify with any version of yourself living in an everett branch in which the candle does not spontaneously combust. (you can use a similar anthropic trick to win the lottery)

put the candle in the heating chamber of your drip coffee machine

stick some slivers of tin foil into the wick and microwave the candle. or something. man, there's gotta be some household method of abusing microwave ovens to make fire.

bury the candle in Centralia, Pennsylvania.

rub your hands faster and faster and faster until they catch on fire. light candle with finger.

put the candle close but not too close to [contemporary icon of sex appeal]

hallucinate the candle being lit

wait for heat-death

define "lit" to include quark-gluon plasma, whether highly dense or highly sparse. wait for the Big Crunch, or the Big Rip.


don your eye protection and reflective armor and walk around a hall of mirrors while holding out the candle and waving around a high-powered laser

start injecting steroids, grow a mustache, and keep buying merchandise from The Art of Manliness until your grip strength reaches superhuman levels. Replace the wick with a high tensile-strength metamaterial. remove the wax, grip each end of the wick with max strength, and pull apart.

wait for nanotechnology to become commonplace. go out into the neighborhood while parents are still at work but kids are home from school. follow the yelps of teenagers burning themselves on rapidly assembled sex dolls. pick a still-hot assembler array and press the wick against it.

just--idk put it underwater...

finally drop that single you've been incubating for the last five years. place candle in front of speakers. play.

undergo a self-esteem character arc, let go of your self-consciousness, consult a fashion advisor, put your chin up, let your hair down, and flash your best Blue Steel. Yes, YOU :D

forget everything you know about evopsych and find your soulmate. fall in love. show them your special, secret, inner life. bask in their loving acceptance release your emotional restraints, look them in the eyes, and let your chest swell with energy as you give into the heat of the moment. press the wick to your heart. ♡( ◡ ‿ ◡ )

arc flash

disable your fire extinguisher. bump your housemate's hand while they're cooking so that a grease fire starts. tell them to go get the fire extinguisher from the other room. close the door and don't let them back in until the candle has caught fire. divert all blame to another housemate.

wait for lightning to strike the candle

stop waiting and put the candle at the top of a lightning rod.

run a simulation which contains an identical world to our own except the candle is pre-destined for glorious candescence. run the simulation a bunch of times so that your version of events gets more of the magical reality fluid than the version that happens in your own layer of reality.

Make a little man out of clay, breathe life into him, and when he asks what you want of him tell him to light the candle.

swallow the candle

replace one arm with a cigar lighter and the other with a spark plug. Ask your friend to light the candle while you are recovering from this unholy cyborg surgery.

chew on it until it catches on fire

just beg the gods to light it

steal fire from the gods, and blame it on prometheus.

pump a bunch of oxygen into the room, wrap both hands in sandpaper, and clap

flint, steel, and a ripped up $100 bill for tinder


potassium and water

stick both ends of the wick into an electrical outlet?

squeeze a ziplock bag of water into a convex lens and focus sunlight onto the wick

rub chocolate onto the underside of a soda can to turn it into a concave mirror and focus sunlight onto the wick

become twitter famous. befriend elon musk. get him to put the candle on a spaceX landing pad "as a joke"

sniff candle to identify chemical composition. get chemistry textbook. find the relevant reaction with the lowest possible reaction energy. light candle really efficiently.

hang out with contrarians who smoke, and smugly announce that your candle is unlightable

stick it into the most chemically unstable layer of your disgusting, caustic laundry pile

use a cattle prod or a branding iron to light the candle. pivot into becoming a rancher. promote minimum-cruelty meat.

make your friend really mad and stick the candle in his ear

get into a fiery car crash while holding the candle (but sign up for cryonics beforehand, obviously)

post a gif of your unlit candle on r/UnnecessaryExplosions

conduct a psyop on world leaders, incite nuclear war, store the candle in or near the highest-risk target

Seduce....Apollo? Yeah, I think he's the right one. God of fire and...some other stuff. Then go ahead seduce his sister. She's purdy.

use one of those super-heated steam guns

put it next to your fireplace and keep poking the logs to make sparks fly out

turn the lights on and off really fast...

cover it in peanut butter

scan the news for grain silo explosions and haul ass over to the next one that happens in your area

build a network of dyson spheres and use them to broadcast "bring it on, weaklings" in english on the hydrogen line along with a corpus of english words. the aliens will probably figure it out. ehhh, but they might not set us on fire... okay, just use one of your dyson spheres to light the candle directly.

move to australia and just wait for a good firestorm (avoiding dropbears and other large, venomous animals in the meantime)

move to somewhere on the pacific rim and continually blaspheme pele-honua-mea until your house is swept away by a lava flow. obviously, you'll need to keep the candle in your house for this to work...

steel wool + battery

fresnel lens

Katon, Goukakyuu No Jutsu!

use your charisma to trick the candle into eating a ghost pepper

invite your friends over for a bbq. flex your status as grillmaster and alpha male by sticking your candle into the coals. Make sure not to be the first to break eye contact or else they become the grillmaster (and more importantly for the task at hand, you'll have to hand over the candle).

buy a set of identical candles and sneak them into your friend's petrov day ritual kit

same as above but for חֲנֻכָּה

discontent and radicalize the candle. convince it to self-immolate in front of parliament or city hall or wherever

take a vow of silence, open your third eye, and unlock combustionbending. combust candle.

pipe all your neighbors' air-conditioning exhaust into a chamber containing your candle. Have one wall of the chamber be a piston. Drop an elephant on the piston.

realize that "Danger: High Voltage" is just italian for "Free Sparks"

rub two candles together until one or both catch fire

shoot an arrow so that it passes through a torch before it hits the candle

ingratiate yourself with elon musk and bro it up with him while on drugs. get him to put the candle in space and drop it back to earth "as a joke"


Alright, I think it'll make me a more responsible intellectual citizen if I try to distinguish these items a bit based on how I expect to view them in a decade or two. Let's do it.

Well overall, I expect that my current attentional foci are substantially influenced by current news, political narratives, and intellectual fads. I look back at what things I was saying and paying attention to in 2010, and I see few major differences and hard reversals, but I do see a lot of noteworthy omissions, changes of emphasis, and different compressions.

I think (34) will be fairly obsolete in 15 years. I dunno how remote learning and telemedicine have impacted things in the wake of covid, but it's plausible to me that the signaling equilibria will change enough that (34) will at least sound like an outdated opinion.

(29-32) are fairly timeless, but I wouldn't be surprised if fads in news and politics change enough in 15 years that they seem like a questionable focus.

Gods, I hope (23-25) become less necessary to say in 15 years. How much of this incipient cyberpunk weirdtopia do folks need to experience before they expand their horizons a couple centimeters?

I anticipate (21) being painfully more relevant in only 10 years. Unless we somehow get a lot of lucky breaks in a row.

The toxic status quo around news and (social) media just seems entirely unsustainable to me. I expect (21) to be fully out-of-date in 10 years, for better and/or for worse.

It's hard to imagine changing my mind about (19) any time soon, but it's possible. Perhaps I'll want to change the list to include/exclude different works. Or maybe I'll update hard against the value of mainstream mindshare. I doubt it though. See my response to niplav's comment for the generator behind (19).

(To reiterate the disclaimer: items (1-18) were adopted unmodified from John Nerst's blog post)

I get the feeling that (5-9), (18), and maybe (12) and (16) will feel less relevant in 15 years than they do right now. I think their loading with certain culture-war-related valence makes them feel more relevant right now, which is probably partly why they are on Nerst's mind (and mine).

Okay, so that's the pre-hindsight about what I originally wrote. But what about things I omitted?

I could see a world 15 years from now where it looks utterly ignorant to not include a whole paragraph about privacy.

Developments around self-driving cars triggered a gout of Trolley Problem memes. This hasn't actually been such a big deal, but I could imagine some other technology requiring a deep examination and refactoring of our moral intuitions. I tried to keep it pretty broad, but it's possible this refactoring will make my current list look a little weird.

Maybe China will be culturally ascendant in the next 20 years and I will feel the need to explicitly say something about individualism vs collectivism or something.

I might eventually be compelled to put more focus on lifestyle stuff. For example, I might dedicate several bullet points to the importance of diet, exercise, contemplative practice, work-life balance, and writing.

Some number of my family and friends will perma-die in the next 20 years, after which I may be compelled to push the cryonics stuff harder.

In the age of automation, I may feel the need to express niche opinions about economics and political philosophy. I do not yet know what these niche opinions might be.

Echo-chamber awareness, bad-faith detection, the principle of charity, asymmetrical weapons, and so on may become even more important as tools in my everyday epistemic toolkit. In contrast to the more eternal, abstract epistemic principles.

I hope not, but the need to resist Dark Side Epistemology may become urgent and take up a few bullet points.


For one, maybe the responses to various terrorist attacks might have been different? Any time a terrorist attack happens, I first wonder what the immediate damage was, measured in lives and money. Then I try to see how that stacks up against whatever benchmarks I can think of. If I really want to spend the attention, I might google for more info to help put it into perspective. (I basically endorse these habits--when it comes to sensational news events, perspective is precious and difficult to find.) I dunno, terrorism might be special. Unlike auto fatalities and heart disease, it comes from an enemy that is specifically signalling hostility toward you and trying to make waves in social reality. I think I got this idea when SSC wrote,
“I find it surprising that so many people, including myself, are able to accept the statistics about terrorism so calmly without feeling personally threatened. My guess is that, as per Part VIII here, we don’t primarily identify as Americans, so a threat deliberately framed as wanting to make Americans feel unsafe just bounces off us.”
So put me down for IDK on the effects of terrorism on a highly numerate population.

Surely this wikipedia article would end up looking different? But maybe not. Educated people already fight endlessly over stats like these, so maybe raising the numeracy waterline wouldn’t change much.

Fewer auto injuries/fatalities because people would trade car travel for plane travel? Probably, but I have no idea how big of an effect that would be. When I stop and look for personal anecdata, I can’t actually think of anyone I know who has died in a long-distance car trip.

Maybe wearing helmets in cars would catch on?

Maybe policymaking would host the biggest difference. Presumably, more statistically-informed policies would gain some political currency and be less likely to be defeated by expedient politicians using simplistic rhetoric. Again, I think this effect would be nonzero, but I don’t know if it would be huge. Nonzero, because I think I could find at least a few policies that would have been improved if only the electorate had been able to follow a really simple statistical argument. Not huge, because I think the effects of signalling, rope-pulling, and deal-cutting might each be larger.

Probably people would smoke less tobacco.

...Well, I hope your answers are more interesting than mine!

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