shminux

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Why Study Physics?

I'm sure one can train this skill, to some degree at least. I don't think I got better at it, but I did use "the appropriate level of abstraction" to get the numerical part of my thesis done without needing a lot of compute, 

By the way, I agree that finding the appropriate level of abstraction is probably the core of what the OP describes.

The bonds of family and community: Poverty and cruelty among Russian peasants in the late 19th century

The question for me is how much these observations apply to peasant life in other places and at other times. I’m hesitant to generalize, since this is the first book-length work of ethnography I’ve read in the context of this project, but for me it opens questions. Is cruelty towards animals and children, and an almost slave status for women, the norm?

The modern Western notions of classifying certain behaviors as cruelty, dishonesty, abuse and so on emerged from the life of surplus, when you could afford this luxury. Morals emerge from the need to survive, or are tailored to that need, so I expect that most societies at the level of poverty similar to that of Russian peasantry look roughly the same, even in the modern times. Should be easy to look up.

Is it better to fix a problem directly, or start again so the problem never happens?

Rewriting is hard, refactoring is easy and gets you 80% toward the goal that pushes one to rewrite. Also can be done incrementally.

Why Study Physics?

I think the title should be "why study physicists" not "why study physics". Because what you are describing is a gift certain physicists have, and others do not. I had it in high school (often when the teacher would state a problem in class, the only thing that was obvious from the beginning was the answer, not how to get to it), and it saved my bacon in grad school a few times many many years later. Recently it took my friend and me about 5 min of idle chatting to estimate the max feasible velocity of a centrifugal launch system, and where the bottlenecks might be (surprisingly, it is actually not the air resistance, and not the overheating, but the centrifugal g forces before launch which make single-stage-to-orbit impossible). John Wheeler famously said something like "only do a calculation once you know the result." Einstein knew what he wanted out of General Relativity almost from the start, and it took him years and years to make the math work. This pattern applies in general, as well. A physicist has a vague qualitative model that "feels right", and then finds the mathematical tools to make it work quantitatively, whether or not those tools are applied with any rigor. I don't know if this skill can be analyzed or taught, it seems more like artistic talent.

You are way more fallible than you think

It's a good question. If you ever do, say, project estimates at work, and look back at your track record, most of us would give 99% odds of completion to some project within a given time (well padded to make it that high), and still notice that we go over time and/or over budget way more often than that. There are exceptions, but in general we suck at taking into account long tails.

You are way more fallible than you think

That's another way to look at it. The usual implicit assumptions break down on the margins. Though, given the odds of this happening (once in a bush, at best, and the flame was not all that glorious), I would bet on hallucinations as a much likelier explanation. Happens to people quite often.

You are way more fallible than you think

Uh... because belief feels like truth from the inside, and so you cannot trust the inside view unless you are extremely well calibrated on tiny probabilities? So all you are left with is the outside view. If that is what you are asking.

[linkpost] Why Going to the Doctor Sucks (WaitButWhy)

Uncharitable summary: 

The Lanby is building a primary care utopia no one else thought of, even though it's obvious, with focus on prevention, quality care and free unicorns.

Morally underdefined situations can be deadly

Are you talking about bounded consequentialism, where you are hit with unknown unknows? Or about known consequences whose moral status evaluates to "undefined"?

Worst Commonsense Concepts?

I'd go further than "fact vs opinion" and claim that the whole concept of there being one truth out there somewhere is quite harmful, given that the best we can do is have models that heavily rely on personal priors and ways to collect data and adjust said models.

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