Wiki Contributions


Calibration proverbs

For the record, ISO 3103 is in no way optimized for a tasty cup of tea; it's explicitly standardized. Six minutes of brewing with boiling water can "scorch" certain teas by over-extracting tannins and other bitter compounds. If you dislike tea there's a decent chance you would like it better with shorter brews or lower temperature water (I use 90C water for my black teas and 85C for greens, for example).

A review of Steven Pinker's new book on rationality

I find myself concerned. Steven Pinker's past work has been infamously vulnerable to spot-checks of citations, leading me to heavily discount any given factual claims he makes. Is there reason to think he has made an effort here that will be any better constructed?

Covid 6/24: The Spanish Prisoner

I don't necessarily agree with your impression of the McAfee thing. The man was by all accounts a very strange person; it doesn't seem overly credulous to think that he might have been both suicidal and paranoid about being murdered and made to look like a suicide.

Sleep math: red clay blue clay

Your notation is confusing but I achieved a similar result.

Killing the ants

>It seems to me much safer to lay the burden of proof on the moral indulgence--at very least, the burden of proof shouldn't always rest on the demands of conscience. 

I think I disagree. It seems to me that moral claims don't exist in a vacuum, they require a combination of asserted values and contextualizing facts. If the contextualizing facts are not established, the asserted value is irrelevant. For instance, I might claim that we have a moral duty not to brush our hair because it produces static electricity, and static electricity is a painful experience for electrons. The asserted value is preventing suffering, which you might agree with, but my contextualizing facts are highly disputable, so you're unlikely to shave your head and never wear another wool sweater just to be on the safe side. 

It seems to me the burden of proof lies with the side making a claim further away from the socially established starting point, not necessarily either the conscience claimer or the indulgence claimer. In the case of animal welfare, I think most people already believe all the facts they need to conclude that harming chickens is morally bad and thus it makes more sense to ask them to justify the special pleading on behalf of the poultry industry.

Killing the ants

One human's moral arrogance is another human's Occam's razor. The evidence suggests to me, on grounds of both observation (very small organisms demonstrate very simple behaviour not consistent with a high level awareness) and theory (very small organisms have extremely minimal sensory/nervous architecture to contain qualia) that dust-mites are morally irrelevant, and the chance that I am mistaken in my opinion amounts to a Pascal's Mugging.

Killing the ants

From Ozy:

"I recently read an essay by Peter Singer, Ethics Beyond Species and Beyond Instincts, in which he defined the moral as that which is universalizable, in this sense: “We can distinguish the moral from the nonmoral by appeal to the idea that when we think, judge, or act within the realm of the moral, we do so in a manner that we are prepared to apply to all others who are similarly placed.”

I read that, sat back, and said to myself: “I cannot do morality.”

I cannot do it in the same sense that an alcoholic cannot drink, and a person with an eating disorder cannot go on a diet. I am incapable of engaging with universalizable morality in a way that does not cause me severe mental harm. While I can reject a universalizable moral claim on an intellectual level, I am incapable of rejecting them– no matter how absurd or contradictory to other things I accept– on an emotional level. If I fail to live up to such a claim, I will hate myself and curl in a ball and be utterly nonfunctional for a few hours, causing harm to both myself and those who have to put up with me.

So (with much backsliding) I have started to make an effort to weed out the universalizable morality from my brain. I do things I want to do, and I don’t do things I don’t want to do."


You and your girlfriend seem to have adopted a philosophical standard of morals which humans cannot uphold. I happen to believe that the case for the moral weight of organism lacking central nervous systems is extremely weak, but resisting the temptation to dismiss your position on those grounds alone I would say that if your slime civilization was proven real tomorrow, then there would be nothing to do except acknowledge the tragedy and move on with life. It's not like human-dominated environments make up a majority of those that are so theoretically miserable for ants and dust mites and the bugs in Brian Tomasik's compost, so even radical anti-natalism would accomplish a statistical nothing. If the ants suffered as you killed them, then the tragedy is not that you did it but that those ants were born into a world so hostile that if you hadn't killed them because they can't live in your apartment, then they would have been eaten by birds, or at war with other colonies, or frozen/drowned/dehydrated by the millions thanks to the weather.

Thankfully I do believe the case for the moral worth of ants is weak, so I hope you will consider seeking out counselling on how to reduce your/your girlfriend's apparent feelings of shame for the largely hypothetical moral suffering you worry about causing.

The GameStop Situation: Simplified

I am not a true expert, but there is one major element of this narrative that most coverage leaves out— no matter what happens to the short-sellers, the price of Gamestop and other short squeezed stocks must eventually normalize to a "truer" valuation.

I have seen a truly alarming lack of recognition of this fact, with some people apparently believing the squeezed price is the new normal for GME. Here's why that probably isn't the case:

The value of a stock is tied to two factors. One is (broadly) the cash flows one can expect to receive in the form of dividends and other shareholder benefits, the other is the expectation of the stock's value appreciating. Market manipulation like the current squeeze can cause the price of a stock to inflate based on that second factor. As the archetypal example, we look to the housing crash that caused the '08 recession. Thousands of mortgages were given out because it was thought that home prices would continue to rise indefinitely, meaning the loans were low risk (because even if the home buyer couldn't make their payment, the bank could seize the house and not take a loss). This was fine until it suddenly wasn't anymore; the assets lost perceived value, and the remaining fundamentals, i.e. homeowners' ability to service their debts, was not up to the task of keeping the banks solvent.

For Gamestop, I'm told there is some reason to think their fundamentals are getting better from where they were one year ago, but I have seen no compelling reasons that those fundamentals will deliver the kind of dividends that would traditionally command such share prices.

When the short squeeze passes, some Wall Street firms will have taken a big loss, but many small investors will be left holding a stock that may still nominally bear a $300+ price per share, but will probably not be able to deliver the same cash flows or stability as holding the same amount of a business with stronger fundamentals than GameStop. In the absence of people shorting, you end up deciding whether to keep your money tied up in GME, which will return $X over however long you hold it, or some other stock that could return $2x or $3x. At this point, after the short squeeze is resolved, the price will start to fall again. 

The investors who were able to sell the $300 stocks to firms obligated to meet short contracts will realize a big cash gain, but anyone left holding the stock after that are likely to be in a seriously bad way.

This, of course, is not investment advice. If I knew exactly when the people holding GME were going to get nervous and try to liquidate, I could just take out new shorts and get rich ( and if enough people did that maybe WSB would just try to squeeze those shorts again!). What all of this boils down to is that this is not the new normal, it is a speculation bubble, and bubbles pop.

Covid Canada Jan25: low & slow

Saskatchewanian checking in here. As with your Vancouver Island example, there's a lot of heterogeneity here too. The south of the province, where I grew up, has extremely low numbers of cases even relative to the sparse rural population, while anywhere north of Saskatoon where I currently live is doing fairly badly relative to their sparse rural population. I don't have a strong gears-level understanding of why this should be except some vague notion that the North sees more traffic entering and exiting in the course of resource extraction industries, and close living quarters associated with the same. Plus something something rampant spread in First Nations which I don't even want to get into. 

Public selves

The notion of weirdness points has never spoken to me, personally, because it seems to collapse a lot of social nuance into a singular dichotomy of weird/not weird, and furthermore that weirdness is in some sense measurable and fungible. Neither, I think, is true, and the framework ought to be dissolved. So what's goes into a "weirdness point"?

  • How familiar is the idea? - Vegetarians/vegans are a little weird, but most people probably know a handful and most have a notion that those people care about animal welfare and maybe some even know about nutritional ideas or the effect of meat on the climate. Cryonicists are extremely uncommon and their philosophy is not widely spread so people need to do a bigger intellectual lift to understand them.
  • How appropriate is the sharing? - A vegan has an understandable reason to mention their diet almost any time a meal is shared, but if they never stop talking about it at parties, people will be annoyed and less sympathetic. The appropriate time to bring up cryonics is... During discussions about philosophy of death? Futurism? Maybe you can get away with it if someone just asks you what you're reading lately.
  • How demanding is the idea? - People tend to not be huge fans of being asked to do things they wouldn't normally want to do. This is of course a fundamental obstacle to anyone looking to change the world for the better, but it still bears consideration. More demanding ideas require more compelling evidence and more time to allow people to come around to them, and will often require a lighter touch up front to not be dismissed entirely.

All of these factors and more besides will constitute the weirdness of an idea, but to me none of them suggests the best strategy is to hide your ideas. It seems to me that dissolving a weirdness point just tells us something we could probably have figured out in the first place— weirdness exists only in social contexts and can thus be moderated by just developing better social skills. I can be honest about the vast majority of beliefs I hold by just picking the right moments to share them and choosing the way I frame them based on my understanding of the points above. That's not propaganda papering over a forgettable version of myself, it's just correct gameplay.

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