Against modesty, and for the Fischer set

Over at Slate Star Codex, I learned that Eliezer Yudkowsky is writing a book on, as Scott puts it, “low-hanging fruit vs. the argument from humility”. He’s examining the question of when we are, or can be, justified in believing we have spotted something important that the experts have missed. I read Eliezer’s first chapter,… Continue reading Against modesty, and for the Fischer set

The brain is a Peirce engine

There comes from Scott Alexander’s blog news of a new unified theory of neural cognition called the “predictive processing model”. Read his review of the book “Surfing Uncertainty” before proceeding further. This model seems to solve a whole raft of longstanding problems about how the brain does what it does, offer insight into how various… Continue reading The brain is a Peirce engine

Cryptotheories and cognition

One of the things I most enjoy doing is spotting holes in linguistic maps – places where people habitually circumlocute their way around a word – or, more properly, an important bundle of concepts tagged by a word – that they don’t know they’re missing. Sometimes, filling one of these holes can shake up everyone’s… Continue reading Cryptotheories and cognition

The silent trade: universal objective ethics in action

Once upon a time, back during the Age of Exploration, there was a marvellous practice called the “silent trade”. It was a solution to a serious coordination problem between groups who had no languages in common, or distrusted each other so much that they refused to come within range of each others’ weapons. What makes… Continue reading The silent trade: universal objective ethics in action

What Amending the Constitution Cannot Do

An underappreciated fact about U.S. Constitutional law is that it recognizes sources of authority prior to the U.S. Constitution itself. It is settled law that the Bill of Rights, in particular, does not confer rights, it only recognizes “natural rights” which pre-exist the Bill of Rights and the Constitution and which – this is the… Continue reading What Amending the Constitution Cannot Do

Me and Less Wrong

I’ve gotten questions from a couple of different quarters recently about my relationship to the the rationalist community around Less Wrong and related blogs. The one sentence answer is that I consider myself a fellow-traveler and ally of that culture, but not really part of it nor particularly wishing to be. The rest of this… Continue reading Me and Less Wrong

Tackling subjectivity head on

In a response to my previous post, on Acausality and the Scientific Mind, a commenter said: “The computationalist position necessarily entails that subjectivity does not really exist, and what looks like subjectivity is a mere illusion without causal force.” There are, I’m sure, many vulgar and stupid versions of computationalism that have this as a… Continue reading Tackling subjectivity head on

Acausality and the Scientific Mind

There is enough right about David Gelernter’s essay The Closing of the Scientific Mind to make it important to recognize where he has gone wrong. His willingness to call out certain kinds of widely popular modern errors is admirable, but does not preserve him from having made some rather more traditional errors of his own.

Natural rights and wrongs?

One of my commenters recently speculated in an accusing tone that I might be a natural-rights libertarian. He was wrong, but explaining why is a good excuse for writing an essay I’ve been tooling up to do for a long time. For those of you who aren’t libertarians, this is not a parochial internal dispute… Continue reading Natural rights and wrongs?

Napier’s Lesson

In the 1840s, Hindu priests complained to Charles James Napier (then Commander-in-Chief of British forces in India) about the prohibition of suttee by British authorities. Suttee was the custom of burning widows alive on the funeral pyre of their husbands. According to Napier’s brother William, this is how he replied: “Be it so. This burning… Continue reading Napier’s Lesson

On becoming a machine

A regular, TomA, asks: “If you could replace your organic body (in its entirety) with a machine, would you do it?” This is one of those questions where examining the implied premises is the most interesting thing about answering it…

Community versus collectivism

Community and collectivism are opposites. Community is valuable and powerful; it is individuals freely choosing to cooperate and identify with each other to achieve more than they can individually, as we do in the open-source community. Collectivism is a fraud. It pretends to be about community, but it is actually about the use of force.… Continue reading Community versus collectivism

Tau versus Pi

I’ve recently become aware of an entertaining controversy in the world of mathematics. It seems a dissident faction of mathematicians is advocating the replacement of the mathematical constant π with the related constant τ = 2π. T he self-described ‘Tauists’ are conducting their campaign with a form of ha-ha-only-serious dry humor that gently mocks the… Continue reading Tau versus Pi

Imprimatur me!

In the you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up department, I learned a few minutes ago that I have been quoted, approvingly, in an article published with the imprimatur of the Vatican. This is from a news report that made Slashdot; I have not seen the article itself, which is apparently print-only and is likely in Italian. OK, yes, I did… Continue reading Imprimatur me!

Religious toxicity

Earlier today I stumbled over some accusations that atheists are lining up with Islam because their actual enemy is not religion but Christianity. The actual revelation here is that the fever-swamps of the left are capable of generating unlimited amounts of nonsense and putting it on protest signs. And, that conservatives are still prone to… Continue reading Religious toxicity