How to Deny a Question’s Premise in One Easy Invention

Now that the Universe Splitter is out, it might be that a lot more people are going to trip over the word “mu” and wonder about it. Or it might be the word only occurs in the G+ poll about Universe Splitter – I don’t know, I haven’t seen the app (which appears to be a pretty good joke about the many-wolds interpretation of quantum mechanics) itself.

In any case, the most important thing to know about “mu” is that it is usually the correct answer to the question “Have you stopped beating your wife?”. More generally, it is a way of saying “Neither a yes or no would be a correct answer, because your question is incorrect”,

But the history of how it got that meaning is also entertaining.

The word “mu” is originally Chinese, and is one of the ways of saying a simple “no” or “nothing” in that language. It got its special meaning in English because was borrowed by Japanese and appears in translations of a Zen koan titled “Joshu’s Dog” from the collection called Gateless Gate. To some (but not all) interpreters in the Zen school, the word “mu” in that koan is interpreted in a sense of denying the question.

Wikipedia will tell you this much, tracing the special question-denying sense of “mu” in English through Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974) and Douglas Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach (1979).

However, Wikipedia’s account is incomplete in two respects. First, it doesn’t report something I learned from the Japanese translator of The Cathedral and the Bazaar, which is that even educated speakers of modern Japanese are completely unaware of the question-denying use of “mu”. She reported that she had to learn it from me!

Second, Wikipedia is missing one important vector of transmissions: Discordians, for whom “mu” seems to have have had its question-denying sense before 1970 (the date of the 4th edition of Principia Discordia) and from whom Pirsig and Hofstadter may have picked up the word. I suspect most contemporary usage traces through the hacker culture to the Discordians, either directly or through Hofstadter.

Regardless, it’s a useful word which deserves more currency. Sacred Chao says “Mu!” and so should you, early and often!

188 thoughts on “How to Deny a Question’s Premise in One Easy Invention

  1. The GPS in my uncle’s new car warns him whenever he drivers over the speed limit with a cow’s “moo” sound. Needless to say we laughed our butts off during a long drive, especially when he said he cannot figure out from the manual where to change it. So, apparently, the potential answers to “Am I driving too fast?” are Yes, No, Yes and No, Mu, and Moo.

  2. Funny word Mu. I can confirm that from my unscientific survey of one (1) Japanese person (both some years back, and today) that modern Japanese don’t use mu ? in this fashion. In fact the dictionary doesn’t even list this sense.
    But then again, I don’t know that many modern Japanese are followers of Zen Buddhism.

    (On religion: 90% of Japanese are Buddhist, and the other 90% are Shinto. And my unscientific survey suggests that actually probably 50% or so are almost atheistic as well. Which says something about religion in Japan.)

  3. The question-denying sense appears to have come from Pirsig. I do not know of any Chinese or Japanese interpretation under which mu means anything but “no, without, lack of”.

    So Joshu is denying that a dog has the Buddha-nature; but in some versions he previously stated that it did, complicating the issue.

  4. Jeff, I’d refer you to Mumon’s interpretation of Joshu’s response; he clears it up. A big aspect of Zen is that it must be experienced directly as opposed to taught in a book. Arguing over philosophical points in the teachings is counterproductive, go sit until you attain enlightenment. Joshu’s answer is essentially what Eric says it is – denying the question since it’s useless question for someone practicing Zen.

  5. @Shenpen:
    Having only encountered this word in print, I have no practical guide on how this should be pronounced (and checking Wikipedia quickly doesn’t show a IPA “hint”). I’ve always put a very long vowel sound on it — making the same cow-like onomatopoeia — but haven’t ever been sure if this is correct. Either way, I like the surrealistic nature of that answer when I use it (it also provides a convenient excuse for segueing into explaining why the question cannot be answered yes or no).

    • >Having only encountered this word in print, I have no practical guide on how this should be pronounced

      Pronounce it like “moo” but clip the ending – shorten the sound and keep your lips tensed until the word is finished, rather than allowing your lips to relax while the air column is still vibrating. This is how the Japanese word is pronounced natively.

      P.S. It occurs to me that if you pronounce the phrase “kung fu” as you’ve heard Chinese characters in movies do it, the last sound is identical – not “kung foo” but a clipped, more sharply articulated long u.

    • >Is “mu” different than the German word “doch”?

      Yes. IIRC, German “doch” is like French “si” – it is an affirmative reply to a negative question. English doesn’t have an equivalent of this, either, but it’s a different hole in the vocabularity than the one “mu” fills.

  6. @Morgan Greywolf
    Doesn’t exist, except where it does, apparently in some extra pages of the 1st edition, which conflicts with actual usages of it, though you can find also-conflicting examples of it in the 4th edition. The second title page has one at the top, as does the POEE Disorganizational Matrix.

    A breakdown of what is presented in 4e here: http://nmrk2359.wix.com/dolmmm#!blank/chq4

    Or it could all be a Grand Joke by Greg. Mu.

  7. > English doesn’t have an equivalent of [an affirmative reply to a negative question]

    Didn’t ‘we’ use “yea” and “nay” for this once upon a time?

  8. > IIRC, German “doch” is like French “si” – it is an affirmative reply to a negative question.

    That’s partly correct, they both have additional meanings which they don’t share.

    I just got an idea, it might be useful to consider these additional meanings as separate words which just happen to be spoken and written the same.

  9. The scholastics were fond of declaring, “I deny the premise!” I used that in a conversation once and it had the desired effect of breaking the momentum and letting me refocus the discussion.

  10. Wait, so is that ‘universe splitter’ just equivalent to tossing a coin. That app would have made The Dark Knight so much worse.

    • >Eric, there’s a delivery ox here with a package for you…

      Man, that’s a hell of an addressing error. Tell him to try about 1200 miles east by 100 south…

  11. The English language badly needs a word with this meaning. So many “logic” puzzles are actually debates about language rather than the underlying logic.

    The obvious example is the irresistable force vs. the immovable object. In a completely rational language, it would not even be possible to ask the question.

    • >But, more importantly, why does the last paragraph of the present thread’s OP read “The Wikipedia”?

      Editing glitch. Removed.

  12. I agree with Cathy. The root issue is that some people construct questions poorly because of language incompetence or lazy thinking. Others do so for nefarious reasons (e.g. lawyers and propagandists). Either way, the proper response is to call attention to the error and try to dissuade them from reproducing it.

  13. It is really two questions merged into one, with the assumption that the former is answered in the affirmative.

    Nothing really logically or rationally fallacious about the question itself, but only the underlying assumption behind it (provided that the earlier question has not been answered in the affirmative).

  14. >>Eric, there’s a delivery ox here with a package for you…

    >Man, that’s a hell of an addressing error. Tell him to try about 1200 miles east by 100 south…

    Moo.

  15. “Man, that’s a hell of an addressing error. Tell him to try about 1200 miles east by 100 south…”

    Hey, it’s ACME. Whaddya expect?

  16. Is it some pre-alpha Brobdignagian-Goldbergian contraption (some assembly required) addressed to one Eric S. Coyote?

    • >Is it some pre-alpha Brobdignagian-Goldbergian contraption (some assembly required) addressed to one Eric S. Coyote?

      That’s “Eric S. Coyote…super-genius” to you, bub.

  17. I read a different interpretation of this Zen Koan.

    First, the modern Mandarin word for “Not” is [bu] in the forth tone. There is a Mandarin word [mo] in the fourth tone whose meaning comes close to English [nothing]. But it would not surprise me if half of Chinese would pronounce both of them differently. But I read of an interpretation of “mu” that seems to imitate the sound a dog makes, English “woof”. That meaning of [mu] would be particular to this riddle as barking is indicated with a [w] sound in Chinese dialects (and Japanese) too. But dogs make many sounds.

    The riddle was a question whether dogs have the Buddha Nature. The answer “mu” would mean both NO and WOOF.

    The interpretation “No answer” or “Ask the dog” is obvious. This play on words and sounds would latch in well with a Zen Koan.

  18. And thus began a question that would rack the brains of the finest zen philosophers well into the 26th century: Hath the Roadrunner the Bhudda nature?

  19. > That’s “Eric S. Coyote…super-genius” to you, bub.

    My bad.

    Who wants to run book on how long until the package does one or more of the following to Eric S. Coyote, super-genius:

    – Launches him into or through something uncomfortable
    – Delivers unto him a nuclear wedgie
    – Uses sarcasm unto him
    – Initiates in damaging proximity to one or more of E.S.C’s body parts
    – Misfires in some hilarious (to others – leaving E.S.C rather the worse for wear), spectacular but non-initiatory (ie, no craters, mushroom clouds, etc) fashion

  20. > That’s “Eric S. Coyote…super-genius” to you, bub.

    I’ve been wanting to ask you: to the best of your knowledge, does anyone smarter than you exist?
    (This is an honest question, not just another compliment from this crazy fan of yours.)

    • >I’ve been wanting to ask you: to the best of your knowledge, does anyone smarter than you exist?

      OK, you’re not from an English-speaking country. You probably haven’t seen the “Wile E. Coyote…supergenius!” cartoon. I was referencing. Trust me on this, I was actually suggesting something quite other than that I’m the brightest guy in the world.

      Update: Relevant YouTube clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=STeVTzWelns

  21. @Jorge Dujan

    He once mentioned someone having to do the slow-and-dumb-it-down-so-the-mundane-can-understand thing for him, though I can’t remember who it was or what post it is mentioned in.

  22. >to the best of your knowledge, does anyone smarter than you exist?

    Google says yes: http://superscholar.org/smartest-people-alive/

    (I neither confirm nor deny the results of that site.)

    I remember an ESR posting/point about a diminishing return on raw IQ, though. Something to the effect of: once you get too high in IQ, your own intellegence starts to isolate you and make you less effective than you otherwise could be.

    • >I remember an ESR posting/point about a diminishing return on raw IQ, though. Something to the effect of: once you get too high in IQ, your own intellegence starts to isolate you and make you less effective than you otherwise could be.

      Hm. I don’t remember writing that, but there’s some truth to it. Unless you’re in one of a handful of fields where raw IQ is so important that isolation doesn’t matter – notice how many of these people are mathematicians and theoretical physicists?

      To answer Jorge’s question more constructively, though, I think most of the people on that list are way brighter than me. When you’re comparing with someone like Steven Hawking or Terence Tao or Grigori Perelman the only real difference between me and Joe Average is that I have at least some dim, approximate idea of what being that bright might be like.

      I went in expecting all of them would be brighter, but if we go by public record there are about four tiers on the list and I probably fit in tier three. I’d say I’m probably brighter than some of the geniuses manque (Langan, Rosner) and a couple of the overhyped celebrities (Tyson, Chomsky, maybe even vos Savant). I think I’m the rough equal of … hm, Paul Allen or Steven Pinker; I’d put myself within hailing distance of Donald Knuth (who I know very slightly) and Scott Aaronson.

      But the cognitive-power distance between the bottom and even the middle of that list – let alone the top – is vast. When we get to people like Kim Ung-Yong, Chris Hirata, or Alan Guth, I don’t think I could even come close to replicating what goes in in their heads.

  23. Quite fittingly, finnish word “muu”, pronounced very close to that, translates as “other” :)

  24. > OK, you’re not from an English-speaking country. You probably haven’t seen the “Wile E. Coyote…supergenius!” cartoon.

    I don’t think I’d watched that specific episode (the Coyote and Bugs Bunny?), but I assure you those cartoons have been broadcast extensively in Latin America – not just Warner Brothers’, but also MGM’s and Hanna-Barbera’s. :-)
    Surprisingly, you seem to be mismeasuring the reach of American culture. Right now, I’m drinking Coca-Cola (John Pemberton… now THAT was a genius).

    > I was actually suggesting something quite other than that I’m the brightest guy in the world.

    That’s not what I’d thought you meant, but I did take it to mean you’re bright. That didn’t bother me; I have little patience for unwarranted arrogance, but an arrogant remark from you would be more than warranted. ;-)

    > Chomsky

    Ugh. Chomsky’s dishonesty regarding the Khmer Rouge makes me doubt the honesty, and therefore the value, of his work on linguistics. In fact, you once wrote: “…Chomskian ‘universal grammar’ has Indo-European biases and has to be chopped, diced, and bent out of shape to fit languages outside that group, to the point where it becomes vacuous (and effectively unfalsifiable)”.

    > I think I’m the rough equal of … hm, Paul Allen

    A co-founder of Microsoft? Well, well… this is getting very interesting! Mwahahahaha!

    > or Steven Pinker

    In the same post I linked to above, you praised The Blank Slate. It sure looks interesting; but since I already oppose those three notions the book attacks, I wonder how much I’d learn from it. What say you?
    Also: have you read The Better Angels of Our Nature? If so, what’s your verdict?

    • >In the same post I linked to above, you praised The Blank Slate. It sure looks interesting; but since I already oppose those three notions the book attacks, I wonder how much I’d learn from it. What say you?

      I already opposed those three ideas, but I learned a lot from the book anyway.

      >Also: have you read The Better Angels of Our Nature? If so, what’s your verdict?

      I have not. I’m suspicious of the thesis in this case; I want to read it, but will take a lot of persuading. There are reasons to suspect Pinker of a kind of wishful thinking he didn’t fall into in The Blank Slate.

      FWIW, Pinker was the person on that list about whom I had the strongest feeling of “this is my peer”, possibly because none of the other 29 except Knuth were software engineers (and I think Knuth is a little brighter than I am).

      This raises an interesting possibility. There’s been some research into the IQ ranges associated with various professions. Many of them have both floors and identifiable ceilings – that is, if your IQ is under the floor you cannot cut it but if it’s above the ceiling you get bored and can’t stay there. My wife figured out years ago that she’s hanging at right at or a little above the IQ ceiling for lawyers; mostly they bore her, and she has hobbies that provide her with more intellectual challenge.

      I don’t think there’s any ceiling for mathematicians or physicists, but the facts known to me are consistent with the theory that software engineering has one at, oh, around IQ 160-165 or so. Might be I’m hanging out near that ceiling, with Knuth a bit above it – perhaps accounting in part for his legendary reclusiveness. This would also account for the absence of other programmers on that top-30 list. Maybe, as a group we simply don’t attract or retain people bright enough that they obviously belong on that list.

      >Chomsky’s dishonesty regarding the Khmer Rouge makes me doubt the honesty, and therefore the value, of his work on linguistics.

      I think that is a fair suspicion, but the main way I evaluate Chomsky is by is having read how he speaks and writes. He’s a master of high-sounding persiflage who cloaks stupid and sometimes vicious ideas in an appearance of profundity. The tricks he uses are obvious to me (which is what makes me think I’m brighter than him) but I would be ashamed to imitate them. Nevertheless he probably technically qualifies as a genius, if a lazy and rather corrupt one who should have stuck to linguistics.

      Neil de Grasse Tyson makes an interesting contrast. I don’t think there’s any intentional deception in him; he’s a gifted, hardworking person who has learned to imitate the behaviors of a genius well enough that he convinces people around him, but there is no evidence that he’s done original work at genius level. Alas, I think he owes his honors and fame mainly to being publicly articulate while black – in a less racially-guilt-ridden society he’d have earned tenure at a solid second-tier university and that would be that. I bet he wakes up feeling like an impostor a lot of days, because he is one. But unlike Chomsky I detect no malice in him, and the social conditions that thrust Tyson to a degree of prominence above his level of natural competence are not his fault.

      He’s often compared to Carl Sagan, but I can certify to an important difference because I met and talked with Sagan in the mid-Seventies. Sagan really was as smart as he looked on TV.

  25. When you’re comparing with someone like Steven Hawking or Terence Tao or Grigori Perelman the only real difference between me and Joe Average is that I have at least some dim, approximate idea of what being that bright might be like.

    Someone once asked his rabbi, “What is the difference between Reb Hillel and the Rebbe?” The rabbi answered, “Compared to Reb Hillel, I and the cat are on the same level; compared to the Rebbe, Reb Hillel, I, and the cat are all on the same level”.

  26. > I already opposed those three ideas, but I learned a lot from [The Blank Slate] anyway.

    I’ll add it to my wishlist, then. Thanks. Incidentally, Nicholas Wade’s A Troublesome Inheritance might complement it nicely, given its nurture-over-nurture angle. But I must admit I may be biased in favor of theses that just happen to be politically incorrect.

    > I want to read [The Better Angels of Our Nature], but will take a lot of persuading. There are reasons to suspect Pinker of a kind of wishful thinking he didn’t fall into in The Blank Slate.

    Yeah, that’s more or less what I thought. Maybe we should read Pinker’s FAQ on the book, as that might give us some insight into whether it’s worth it or not.

    > My wife figured out years ago that she’s hanging at right at or a little above the IQ ceiling for lawyers; mostly they bore her, and she has hobbies that provide her with more intellectual challenge.

    Heh. I love that, despite her evident talents, she describes herself as “just a lawyer, nothing to see here, move along, move along”. She’s so humble. ^_^

    > He’s often compared to Carl Sagan, but I can certify to an important difference because I met and talked with Sagan in the mid-Seventies. Sagan really was as smart as he looked on TV.

    I find it interesting that you mention Sagan. Wikipedia states: “Isaac Asimov described Sagan as one of only two people he ever met whose intellect surpassed his own. The other, he claimed, was the computer scientist and artificial intelligence expert Marvin Minsky”.
    I understand Asimov also specifically praised The Dragons of Eden. Would you recommend it despite its possibly dated content?

  27. Neil de Grasse Tyson makes an interesting contrast. I don’t think there’s any intentional deception in him

    At the very least, he’s a fountain of bullshit (a la Frankfurt); he’s been caught repeatedly inventing quotations from people he’s trying to score political points off of (such as George W. Bush). It’s so consistent in technique and tenor that there’s no way that it’s accidental.

  28. I don’t think there’s any ceiling for mathematicians or physicists, but the facts known to me are consistent with the theory that software engineering has one at, oh, around IQ 160-165 or so. Might be I’m hanging out near that ceiling, with Knuth a bit above it – perhaps accounting in part for his legendary reclusiveness. This would also account for the absence of other programmers on that top-30 list. Maybe, as a group we simply don’t attract or retain people bright enough that they obviously belong on that list.

    Like hell we don’t! It didn’t take me long to come up with a few examples:

    Gerry Sussman, whom I met and who gave me a Master-Foo-grade schooling in whether Lisp is a “high-level language”. Hint: it isn’t — not if you have a CPU whose instruction set is Lisp (an actual thing he co-invented)!

    Oleg Kiselyov — there’s a reason why the standard unit of functional programming studliness is the oleg; browse his site and be amazed.

    Fabrice Bellard, original author of qemu, tcc, and ffmpeg. Comes up with novel pi-computation algorithms and writes software to generate 4G LTE and television signals in his spare time.

    Gerhard Lengeling — physician, musician, and hacker, a real “what the fuck have you done lately?” kind of guy. He wrote Notator on the Atari ST, the predecessor to Apple Logic, pretty much by himself back in the day.

    Our best can hold their own against the pure-math types any day; as Dijkstra said: “Programming is one of the most difficult branches of applied mathematics; the poorer mathematicians had better remain pure mathematicians.”

    There is a ceiling for putting up with the shit sandwich that is the modern SWE/IT office environment.

    He’s often compared to Carl Sagan, but I can certify to an important difference because I met and talked with Sagan in the mid-Seventies. Sagan really was as smart as he looked on TV.

    That’s because both can hold forth about science in a way that’s publicly accessible, doesn’t gloss over important details to the point of accuracy, and conveys the profundity and emotional resonance that comes with an appreciation of physics to a lay audience. That Carl Sagan could do so while doing extraordinary science in his own right makes him a true outlier — up there with Feynman (IQ 127, by the way).

    • >Like hell we don’t! It didn’t take me long to come up with a few examples:

      On the one hand, you managed to list a couple of hackers I have mentally binned as “probably more capable than me”. On the other hand, none of them made anyone’s top 30 brightest least either. So I consider this positive but only very weak evidence for your claim.

  29. Jeff Read:
    “up there with Feynman (IQ 127, by the way)”

    I have trouble believing that Feynman’s IQ was that low. Surely he was north of 160?

    • >I have trouble believing that Feynman’s IQ was that low. Surely he was north of 160?

      I’d have thought so, too. From reading his writings I get an impression of a general IQ around mine – maybe a skooch higher but not so much we couldn’t have hung out together – with a specific monster neurological talent for physics that I can’t duplicate.

      Interestingly, I might have just a little of it. I once ran across a collection of physics puzzles coupled with descriptions of how Feynman solved them that was meant to illustrate the unusual way that he attacked problems by contrasting Feynman’s way with the majority approach (I remember that one of the puzzles involved predicting the movement of a lawn sprinkler placed underwater).

      To my surprise and delight. most of the ones I got right I got right the same way Feynman did. So maybe I have a sort of unreliable, pint-size, low-grade version of his physical intuition. Makes me wonder whether he ever tried programming.

  30. esr:
    “This raises an interesting possibility. There’s been some research into the IQ ranges associated with various professions. Many of them have both floors and identifiable ceilings – that is, if your IQ is under the floor you cannot cut it but if it’s above the ceiling you get bored and can’t stay there.”

    I find this completely plausible. However, you do have to account for different roles within a profession; a person who spends 10 hours a day debugging assembly is using a different set of neural functions than the chief software architect at Google. A person who excels at one of those roles probably would find the other one uninteresting.

    Jeff Read:
    “There is a ceiling for putting up with the shit sandwich that is the modern SWE/IT office environment.”

    Yes, absolutely.

    I eventually gave up on getting promoted to the software architect role that I thought I wanted and bailed on the IT profession. I was the developer who wanted to interact with end-users, figure out and document their requirements, build and iterate prototypes with them, and finally develop the optimum design. By the time the design docs were written and the prototype was running key functionality, I was bored and ready to move to the next project. (Have I mentioned that I hate and despise debugging?) But all the industry seemed to want was people who would endlessly grind out and debug code 8+ hours a day.

    I ended up in market research. I probably am above the normal IQ range for that field (not many people with STEM degrees in the field, unless they have roles like Chief Data Scientist and Ph.D’s in statistics; those do exist, but their roles are very different from mine).

    I work mainly with the marketing teams — yes, the “suits”. And they trust me to know what I’m talking about, and be able to explain it clearly in simple language.

    But I *like* being a big fish in a small pond, smartest gal in the room, etc., so it works for me. Maybe it’s an aftereffect of growing up in a small town and attending a small public high school. You just look for a smaller pond until you find you are the biggest fish there.

  31. @esr

    So what IQ ranges would someone likely be in to understand your writings with {great difficulty / some difficulty / relative ease / effortlessly}?

    • >So what IQ ranges would someone likely be in to understand your writings with {great difficulty / some difficulty / relative ease / effortlessly}?

      The record (NYT bestseller, which see) suggests that I’m pretty good at making myself understood down to about IQ 110. Below that I wouldn’t care to place any bets.

      Also note, however, that in this area I do not think you can generalize from that. I am much, much better at that kind of communication than most STEM geeks with an IQ comparable to or higher than mine … at least, from my perspective, I generally find them inexplicably bad at same.

  32. The Japanese pronounce ? as Mu, Nai or Bu (IIRC) The Mu usages that are most common in my experience are
    ?? (no wires == wireless (wifi)) and
    ?? (muji == no mark, i.e. no fashion brand).

    I’m definitely unaware of any “neither yes nor no” answer.

    FWIW Tamils do a kind of circular headshake when asked this kind of question. It’s absolutely distinctive to them (and possibly neighboring South Indian regions, though I don’t think so) and to be honest while it can be infuriating to receive is highly informative that you need to pose the question better. We could use a similar gesture.

  33. If Richard Feynman had an IQ of 127, I want his.

    So much for the predictive value of IQ then.

    (For those who do not know, he is a model to the best theoretical physicists and all other physicists)

  34. @esr Makes me wonder whether he ever tried programming.

    There’s a bit in “Surely You’re Joking” that suggests that he was well aware of the propensity of a programmer to get buried in the minutae of the individual twigs when he should have been paying attention to the forest.

    [Its all about the guy is charge of the “computers” (i.e. rooms of women with mechanical calculators) at Los Alamos who got wound up in improving the process instead of getting the answer because the calculation was a one off ]

    That suggests he’d probably have been a formidably productive programmer.

  35. @FrancisT
    “@esr Makes me wonder whether he ever tried programming.

    [Its all about the guy is charge of the “computers” (i.e. rooms of women with mechanical calculators) at Los Alamos who got wound up in improving the process instead of getting the answer because the calculation was a one off ]”

    Even if not intended, this pun is too good to let pass.

    Yes, Feynman has been known to have studied programming the “computers” of the time very intensely.

    • >Yes, Feynman has been known to have studied programming the “computers” of the time very intensely.

      His autobiography does hint that he was rather a ladies’ man…

  36. Makes me wonder whether he ever tried programming.

    Feynman was an advisor on the design of the inter-processor router of the Connection Machine. He also came up with interesting problems for the people at TM to solve using the new machine. He probably would have made an excellent programmer, then gotten bored and gone back to physics.

  37. >a CPU whose instruction set is Lisp

    Where can I buy one? ;-)

    I hear that some police recruitment tests actually have a ceiling above which it is determined that the applicant would get bored and leave.

  38. I hear that some police recruitment tests actually have a ceiling above which it is determined that the applicant would get bored and leave.

    Must…resist…joke………..

  39. @Jeff Read:

    …whether Lisp is a “high-level language”. Hint: it isn’t …

    I believe there is a severe problem with the “high level” versus “low level” dichotomy— or at least the ways that programmers typically teach, think, and talk about this distinction— and lisp is among the few languages that show that the two categories are not, despite appearances, mutually exclusive. The only other example language which rises to mind is Forth; there programmers are enabled to wield typically “high level” abstractions like polymorphic dispatch or method combinations (a sort of inheritance for function definitions) with otherwise extremely “low level” tools. Furthermore, the architecture design of several virtual machines (the JVM class creation operands, or the .Net CLR internal usage of closures and coroutines) repeatedly show “high level” abstractions inside a “low level” system.

    Having only one or two examples of this “simultaneous high and low level” property would be a curiosity; the fact that it reappears again and again strongly implies there is something amiss or neglected with the distinction.

  40. Those lectures on computation are about programming about as much as astronomy is about telescopes.

  41. Ultimately the problem with answering “mu” is that you are relying on the person who asked the question to know what it means.

    I would submit that the sorts of people who would understand the answer are *least* likely to ask a question that needs that sort of answer, and that to everyone else you will basically be blowing the channel.

    • >Ultimately the problem with answering “mu” is that you are relying on the person who asked the question to know what it means.

      I have occasionally answered “mu”, waited, and then when the questioner said the equivalent of “What the hell kind of answer is that?”, explained.

      It’s a pretty effective derail.

  42. To follow up on Mr. B’Livion’s excellent point…

    Sometimes the best response to “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?” is “When you see your mother, tell her last night was lovely.”

    This is less true in a public forum where the response might be profitably used to enlighten onlookers, though one must confess it has a certain native satisfaction in it in every case.

  43. > I am much, much better at that kind of communication than most STEM geeks with an IQ comparable to or higher than mine … at least, from my perspective, I generally find them inexplicably bad at same.

    My experience, STEM geeks don’t have a high IQ, rather they have an unbalanced IQ. High for math, but low for verbal. Anyone with a high, balanced IQ notices this immediately, particularly in social interactions, where the STEM geek fails to see the human patterns around him (particularly when interacting with non-geeks).

    That is, to someone with a high, balanced IQ, human interaction, is just another puzzle to solve, not some unexplainable mystery.

  44. thsu on 2015-05-13 at 17:55:40 said:

    My experience, STEM geeks don’t have a high IQ, rather they have an unbalanced IQ. High for math, but low for verbal. Anyone with a high, balanced IQ notices this immediately, particularly in social interactions, where the STEM geek fails to see the human patterns around him (particularly when interacting with non-geeks).

    Verbal intelligence != social intelligence.

    I know this from first-hand experience. I have very high proficiency in language. And I have never been been really competent in social interactions. I often have the feeling that I’m missing something, and social-interactive processes that work effortlessly for other people don’t happen for me.

    (I’m also a STEM nerd of sorts.)

  45. @ Foo Quuxman

    > > I hear that some police recruitment tests actually have a ceiling above which it is determined that the applicant would get bored and leave.

    > Must…resist…joke………..

    Why resist it? It’s not obvious to me, so I’d like to hear read it – especially if it’s related to Police Academy.

    @ Paul Brinkley

    > Those lectures on computation are about programming about as much as astronomy is about telescopes.

    Well, I didn’t claim to have read them. I was merely trying to score cheap points. :-P

    @ Eric S. Coyote, super-genius

    May I ask a totally offtopic question? It’s about SF.

  46. @Rich:

    >Verbal intelligence != social intelligence.

    I can second this: I’m quite certain my verbal intelligence is better than my mathematical intelligence (which is quite high), but I’m socially stunted.

  47. I’ll take the opportunity to soapbox a bit about social and intellectual intelligence; in particular, about how I don’t think nerds are really more socially awkward than other people.

    We first need to define our terms. The strongest claim is that there is an inverse correlation between IQ and being sociable. The weaker claim is that the socially awkward people you run into are disproportionately nerds. The circular claim defines nerds to be (for instance) mathematically competent and socially incompetent.

    I think the strongest claim is false, in part because it doesn’t make much sense, in part because of the positive manifold. I think the weaker claim still has some truth to it, and this demands explanation.

    The key to this apparent paradox, I suggest, is a very mundane selection effect. Media focuses on people who are in some or other sense successful. Successful people segregate, not only geographically, but also by hobbies and peers. Colleges and universities are good drivers.

    So it is not necessarily the case, that there is unusually much awkwardness in the whole population of intellectually gifted people. As a very crude model, designate social and intellectual talent to be binary variables, and that success is the inclusive OR of these two. It follows that, as long as success boosts visibility from your point of view, awkward will become correlated with intellect and give rise to the nerd stereotype.

    This is just one of many cases, where a sort of unconscious social filtering skews our understanding. Similarly, one of the drivers behind the famous positive manifold effect, is that truly stupid people are wont to be stupid across the board. The nerd who is good at maths but bad at French is common, but so is the delinquent who fails all of his subjects.

    • >It follows that, as long as success boosts visibility from your point of view, awkward will become correlated with intellect and give rise to the nerd stereotype.

      It also implies that geeks who do not fit the “standard nerd profile” of social ineptness and shadow autism won’t feel quite normal among either the successes or the standard nerds. I think you’re approaching some of the territory I was trying to explore in How do we explain the nonstandard nerd?.

  48. > SF is never off-topic on this blog. :-)

    Heh. Thanks.

    In the beta version of your SF-for-newbies list, you included David Brin’s Startide Rising. Isn’t it necessary to read Sundiver first?

  49. Jorge wrote: “Isn’t it necessary to read Sundiver first [before Startide Rising]?”

    Sundiver is my favorite Brin novel, but it’s definitely not necessary to read it before tackling Startide Rising. Yes, they take place in the same SF universe, but either one will supply the background that you need.

  50. @ Cathy and ESR

    Thanks.

    @ no one in particular

    A couple of self-corrections: I stupidly wrote “nurture-over-nurture” instead of “nature-over-nurture”. And the “hear read” thing was a failed attempt to strike through “hear”. I thought the tag for that was “s” (without the quotation marks, of course)?

  51. > It also implies that geeks who do not fit the “standard nerd profile” of social ineptness and shadow autism won’t feel quite normal among either the successes or the standard nerds.

    As a non-traditional geek, it can get very tiring dealing with standard nerds. It’s like, if you’re so smart, why haven’t you learned …
    … that I’m bored to death by our current conversation
    … that I’ve been trying to change the subject for the last 10 minutes
    … that being fit & athletic improves your life, in nearly every way
    … that good first impressions really a difference
    … how to navigate workplace politics
    … how to make small talk
    … how to get dates on a regular basis
    because either all that came naturally to me or I devoted practice time towards it, as I didn’t see a difference learning any of that vs learning traditional academic subjects.

    • >It’s like, if you’re so smart, why haven’t you learned …

      Now, now. Be kind. There are genuine neurological deficits in play here.

  52. > Now, now. Be kind. There are genuine neurological deficits in play here.

    Yes, but given sufficient intelligence, it’s not always impossible to work around them. It’s not uncommon for, say, people with asperger syndrome or (edge cases of) autism, to actually learn (e.g. by observation, pattern recognition, trial and error,…) how to deal with the situations thsu mentions, at least good enough to get by, some or even most of the time.

  53. It’s not uncommon for, say, people with asperger syndrome or (edge cases of) autism, to actually learn (e.g. by observation, pattern recognition, trial and error,…) how to deal with the situations thsu mentions, at least good enough to get by, some or even most of the time.

    Know of any sites that talk about these solutions at length? Seems like useful knowledge to have.

  54. > Now, now. Be kind. There are genuine neurological deficits in play here.

    Yes, but given sufficient intelligence, it’s not always impossible to work around them. It’s not uncommon for, say, people with asperger syndrome or (edge cases of) autism, to actually learn (e.g. by observation, pattern recognition, trial and error,…) how to deal with the situations thsu mentions, at least good enough to get by, some or even most of the time.

    Yes, but it’s also quite difficult to even start to identify what those situations are, much less take an experimental approach to learning, when the ability to read feedback is impaired. Immersion is highly effective for language acquisition, but I would expect hearing-impaired individuals to have a much more difficult time of it.

    One of the major issues here is that there don’t seem to be any resources for high-intelligence adults on the spectrum; everything is focused on early childhood or on low-intelligence individuals. I’ve even had a regarded neuropsychologist tell me that a high-IQ person per se can’t be autistic; interpersonal skills courses just don’t seem to exist.

  55. > …how to navigate workplace politics

    In this particular case, it’s as much refusal as ineptitude.

  56. >As a non-traditional geek, it can get very tiring dealing with standard nerds.

    [Disclaimer: I will be over-generalizing here, but it’s the best I can do in half a dozen paragraphs.]

    One of the defining features of nerd culture is that it is unusually open to the socially inept, because it places such a high value on objective skills – does your code work, does your proof check out, etc. You are unlikely to find an excellent but extremely awkward car salesman, and even in the domains where social skills aren’t directly useful, it is hard to underestimate the importance and various forms of networking and politicking.

    I already discussed the first order consequence of this – there are more socially awkward people among nerds, often in prestigious positions. But there are also second order effects – perhaps because the hierarchies do not stratify neatly by social competence, or perhaps because the number of awkward people exceeds some sort of critical threshold.

    Whatever the cause, nerd culture shows a famous disregard for traditional social mores, rigid hierarchies and dress code. Wearing a suit just doesn’t carry the same signal, when the highly regarded geniuses are wont to show up in a washed out t-shirts and sandals. In the wrong crowd, you end up looking ridiculous and/or pretentious, as if you’re compensating.

    Nerds sometimes pretend that this marks their culture as scare quotes superior. Outsiders wonder what’s wrong with them. They are both mostly missing the point. The nerd culture is a functional adaptation which accommodates highly competent people with social blind spots. It’s neither all good nor all bad. A lot of good work gets done. Unfortunately, there is a lot of friction at the nerd-outsider interface.

    Finally, in more direct reply to the quoted comment – the nerds who lack social finesse generally don’t mind people being blunt with them. One of the skills of interacting with nerds is to reduce subtlety and indirection to a level your interlocutor understands. This is a burden which falls on the socially competent, but also one which pays off many times over – in my opinion, anyway.

  57. >Wearing a suit

    Do people outside of nerd-dom just look favourably on a random suit, shirt and tie without much thought for aesthetics or do they care about how good the suit actually looks.

  58. @Unique Identifier

    >One of the defining features of nerd culture is that it is unusually open to the socially inept, because it places such a high value on objective skills – does your code work, does your proof check out, etc.

    The issue is here that these words like nerd don’t have really tied down definitions. For example you just used “nerd culture” as a synonym to STEM. I am far more used to the term “nerd” being used with interests like anime and RPG and fantasy novels which don’t have much to do with productivity yet are related to social ineptitude: they offer a fantasy escape from a life made painful by low social status / unpopularity. In my vocab the STEM stuff would be more “geek”.

    However there is no point in arguing over this, the point is not which definition is right but more like pointing out we really lack properly tied down and universally accepted definitions and it really introduces a lot of confusion.

    Here is a Rationalist method for dealing with it: TABOO all the not too well defined words. This forces people to think more accurately, as in, more in the terms of observable things. Let’s taboo geek and nerd. We don’t need to taboo STEM, that is well defined. Hobbies like RPG, anime, sci-fi don’t need to be tabooed as they are also fairly clear, although I would prefer to taboo “fantasy” in favor of a more well defined term: swords and sorcery type fantasy i.e. heroic (again understood as escapism).

    I would also taboo “social skills”. They are too broad. One set of traits fairly close to nerddom is what lately people call “neckbeard” or “fedora” and they seem to be strongest related to social skills: http://betapedia.tumblr.com/ however it is not like you could just teach smooth talking and then overcome all the problems. There are far, far deeper problems there like deep seated inecurity, self-hatred and so on. Autistic or schizoid personality traits. Look up how well the Guntrip Criteria predict much of nerd- and neckbeardhood’s “social skills” problem: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schizoid_personality_disorder#Guntrip_criteria

    So I would taboo “social skills” in favor of more detailed description of behavioral traits.

    Once this tabooing is done, you can make cases like this more accurately. For example, you can say “STEM fields are more tolerant with people who behave in a withdrawn way or behave from an assumption from being far smarter than their customers, because there are more objective measurements of productivity and also because a layer of frontoffice workers can isolate them from customers and avoid offense”.

  59. @thsu

    >My experience, STEM geeks don’t have a high IQ, rather they have an unbalanced IQ. High for math, but low for verbal. Anyone with a high, balanced IQ notices this immediately, particularly in social interactions, where the STEM geek fails to see the human patterns around him (particularly when interacting with non-geeks).

    Doubtful. High verbal and lower mathemathical intelligence can occur coupled with typical nerd/neckbeard/fedora types of personality / social difficulties. I was not even aware of the STEM and nerd connection for my first 20 or so years, the typical nerds I knew were far more on the humanities side, wanting to become a historian, using computers to play RPGs, loving AD&D, and so on. Although I noticed the connection of above-average computer ability and interest in programming, it is not necessarily a mathemathical as opposed to verbal intelligence, for the typical Nibbles game one writes at 14 in Turbo Pascal in 1992, I would say the programming part is closer to clear writing than to math.

    If we take it seriously that programs are primarily written for humans to read and only secondarily for computers to execute, programming is not a pure STEM field but overlaps with humanities, with essay-writing skills, and a close relative of the more rigorous, such as analytical type of philosophy. Programmers tend to see analytical philosophical questions like if France has no king then is the statement “the king of France is bald” true or false (answer: mu, of course) strangely familiar. And it is considered a humanities field.

    And there are humanities oriented people who can code just right as long as the domain itself is not too technical but more like automatic clerical work.

    Verbal intelligence is still something about _books_. Social behavior is about _nonverbal_ clues like perceiving status ladders.

  60. @Unique Identifier:
    >One of the skills of interacting with nerds is to reduce subtlety and indirection to a level your interlocutor understands.

    It’s not always a matter of nerds not understanding subtlety and indirection. I think it can as often be a lack of understanding for when a switch in the level of indirection is called for, or how to signal indirection. It’s fairly common for me to be mistaken for being humorless and over-literal when someone around me makes an absurd remark in jest and I try to see how far the absurdity can be taken. Everybody thinks that the punchline has already been delivered and mistakes my mock seriousness in trying to escalate the joke for having missed the joke.

  61. >mistakes my mock seriousness in trying to escalate the joke for having missed the joke.

    I get that sometimes. It’s not that I don’t get the point. I get the point, get bored of i and am currently looking for a more interesting one on a completely different (or meta-) level.

  62. @Paul Brinkley
    >Know of any sites that talk about these solutions at length? Seems like useful knowledge to have

    I picked it up at various sites about autism, mainly by institutions that offer counseling and support etc. They often have stuff like “If your child has autism/asperger/… it’s not the end of the world, they can develop coping mechanisms that will allow them to have a life, a job, …”.
    The “given sufficient intelligence” is partly my own experience/interpretation, partly from AS forums where I’ve seen people say similar things.

    I could try to hunt down those sites again for you, but then most of them would be in Dutch.

  63. @Christopher Smith

    I think you mist my point. I was talking about Asperger, HFA, and “edge cases”. Obviously one needs to be able to pick up the fact that something’s not working before one starts thinking about ways to fix it. And I explicitly said “workaround”, not “cure” or “solution”. Mileage may vary, and all that.

    Whether or not autism implies low IQ, that depends on whether your definition of autism includes asperger, PPD-NOS, or other forms of “being on the spectrum”.

  64. > > …how to navigate workplace politics
    > In this particular case, it’s as much refusal as ineptitude.

    This becomes grating when your friend complains about getting passed over for promotions, or got a bad raise, or always gets stuck with the crappy projects. Hello, it’s because you refused to learn office politics.

  65. Hello, it’s because you refused to learn office politics.

    For our kind, office politics and the like are extremely stressful, maybe even painful. It’s like if you had a severe rotator cuff injury and someone asked you to get stuff off a high shelf and you couldn’t, and they were like “geez, learn to reach overhead!” You know how. It just hurts to.

  66. @kn

    I don’t think I misunderstood you; note that I was specifically talking about “on the spectrum” (specifically to avoid the questions of distinction between autism/HFA/Asperger’s). I was speaking to the very difficulty of finding that sort of workaround, because it requires some sort of external feedback to get started, and that’s not readily available to high-functioning adults.

  67. Dealing with office politics sounds like one of those Great Problems that someone with sufficient intelligence could count a great deal of coup by solving.

  68. The thing about office politics is that it is optimized for a particular profile of worker: generally someone of mediocre capability who is interested in status. Such a person often seeks an advantage by kissing up to “the right people” (who gained their lofty position by kissing up to their forebears and so on and so on). Your worth is measured by how many underlings you have and the size of your budget. This is inherently incompatible with someone who fundamentally likes to do things.

    And this makes the recent “learn some social skills, spergtard” type comments particularly insulting. The hidden subtext is “Deny what you are and pretend to be one of us, or you do not deserve our full respect.” Which would generate (legitimate, no sjw) outrage if said to, say, blacks or women. But for us somehow it’s still OK; gays and transgenders, depending on locality, suffer from this problem as well. Most of us have dealt with this for all our lives — from blood relatives even.

    Some companies, such as Valve (videogame company), have ameliorated the politics problem by adopting a relatively flat management hierarchy and allowing workers to easily make lateral moves into projects where they display interest and competence. It’s not particularly scalable and it is prone to its own sorts of problems, but it is a vast improvement over the status quo (Initech and Initrode).

  69. >Do people outside of nerd-dom just look favourably on a random suit, shirt and tie without much thought for aesthetics or do they care about how good the suit actually looks.

    It depends, but that’s a boring answer leading into endless paragraphs of nuance. So I’ll go with -yes- instead.

    Wearing a suit is the opposite of being sloppy. Suits are difficult to clean – you can’t just toss them in the laundromat. The jacket and the pants are supposed to match. Shoes should be shined regularly. They are generally more expensive than casual clothing and can’t take much rough treatment. You can of course put on a suit and not give a damn, but it’ll show.

    If you are familiar with evo-psych explanations for the peacock’s tail – that it is precisely how costly and impractical the tail is, that makes it a great signal for (evolutionary) fitness – wearing a suit hits some of the same buttons. In some subcultures, the dress code specifies the approved brands of suit, which sort of wristwatches are sufficiently classy, etcetera. It makes a bit more sense when you realize that there are people whose work description essentially consists of knowing important people and facilitating contact between them. These people need an alternative to -showing their code-.

    Of course, at the end of the day, it’s just a suit, and it technically doesn’t have to be a suit. Women don’t have the same sharp division between suit / not a suit, when it comes to formal attire, but it still works more or less the same way.

    Finally, do note that suit isn’t always the right answer. With people who take dress codes seriously, there are endless discussions about what’s the right attire for, say, drinks and barbecue near the beach, and whether sunglasses is go or no go. Suit / not a suit is just the first step towards the nine levels of dress code headache.

  70. Hi. I’m a Geek and I like to dress like an adult. If I didn’t ride a motorcycle to work in decent weather I’d wear a sport coat/blazer to work daily. I was explicitly ordered by my manager to wear jeans and t-shirts to work.

    > Do people outside of nerd-dom just look favourably on a random suit, shirt and tie
    > without much thought for aesthetics or do they care about how good the suit
    > actually looks.

    Clothing is a visual language, and speaks to those around us. How you speak it impacts others in much the same way poorly written language will impact communication, or poorly written Perl will f*k up your data.

    With business/formal wear there’s basically three points along a continuum. The left hand of the line is mostly unconscious. Even people with no ideal with the rules are will see and be impacted.

    Mostly people will notice stuff like an ill fitting suit, badly coordinating colors, or colors that don’t match your skin/hair will and apply their cultural/personal biases. Almost everyone will do this, but most won’t realized it. This includes things like the ratio of tie width to exposed shirt/shoulders (Skinny ties look better on skinny people and/or suits that don’t show a lot of shirt. Wide ties, the opposite). A lot of people won’t *consciously* notice this stuff, and might even complement you.

    It is very noticeable when someone wears a tie with a sport shirt. Dress shirts are sold (in the US) by sleeve length and collar size (EU seems to only sell them by neck size). You used to be expected (by the people who made them) to have your tailor adjust the body to fit. Today we have “slim fit”, “regular fit” and “full cut” to compensate for this. Still, you’re better off paying a tailor 20 bucks to fix the body. Sport shirts are sold “S, M, L, XL…” and the necks gap like hell when you put a tie under the collar. DO NOT DO THIS. Looks bad. Looks awful.

    This is where most people who don’t like suits “because they aren’t comfortable” screw up. They either somehow buy shirts that don’t fit around the neck, or put on 20-30 pounds without buying new shirts (I’ve gone up 1/2 an inch since I started doing deadlifts, and it’s possible my neck surgery caused some issues), and then they are uncomfortable as *hell*.

    Almost everyone notices when you don’t have the label removed from the sleeve. This is bad when it’s a well known designer brand, it just looks like you’re showing off. It’s worse when it’s a 4th tier (see below) no name suit, then it just makes you look ignorant to people who know *anything* about business/formal clothing.

    Color is a very powerful manipulator of psyche–for example yellow conveys a sense of confidence, but the wrong shade, tint or hue of yellow can contrast badly with skin and make you look ill. If you don’t understand color theory (art, not physics) then you’re probably best off with basic colors. Goes double if you’re color blind.

    Length of the suit sleeves is another minor point that people don’t consciously (usually) recognize. If then hang to your knuckles (like a military coat) then your coat looks ill fitting. You should have 1/4 to 1/2 inch of sleeve showing (see the image below).

    That is what the hoi polloi are going to notice. Sometimes consciously, sometimes not.

    https://uormenswear.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/suit-diagram1.jpg

    Some people, mostly in the upper levels of the business community outside of Sillycon Valley, will consciously notice things the more minor issues like lapel width and button stance (or gorge) which are most noticeable at the extremes. These things tend to run in cycles and the extremes are “fashion forward”. Don’t be That Guy unless you really know what you’re doing (in which case you’re already nitpicking at my comment ;) ) .

    At the extreme end you’ve got people who “do” clothing as an obsession or hobby (or as a geek studied it in order to understand it) and they’ll notice little things.

    Which is all to say people outside the geek/nerd/STEM world DO NOT look favorably on a “random suit”, for example this is a nice enough sport coat, if you’ve got the color and the confidence to step out of the herd: http://www.sierratradingpost.com/d%E2%80%99avenza-wool-cashmere-suit-for-men~p~8576k/ but if worn as a *suit* (aka matching pants), MOST people are going to think you more than a bit odd and will be put off. Especially in a business environment.

    However, even a cheap suit from J.C. Penny’s in appropriate colors (navy blue, charcoal are the easiest) and properly tailored for a *good* fit, with an appropriately colored shirt and tie, will present you *aesthetically* in your best light. That is what suits are designed and intended to do, smooth out the irregularities, reduce the asymmetries and present the male form as close societal norms as possible.

    None of this is “random”.

  71. William: Screw all that noise. My company’s dress code, right up to the owner (and yes, Barack Obama, he did build that), is a polo shirt or button-down shirt and jeans. I don’t think the owner even wears a suit to meetings with customers who run billion-dollar multinational corporations.

    I swore, long ago, that I’d never again wear a suit to work, and I haven’t. I own exactly one, and wear it to funerals and weddings and other such formal occasions – and then as seldom as I can get away with.

    No, this doesn’t mean I don’t dress like an adult. It means I refuse to put up with impractical, uncomfortable clothing in my day-to-day life.

  72. > Dealing with office politics sounds like one of those Great Problems that
    > someone with sufficient intelligence could count a great deal of coup by solving.

    Nope. It’s not an engineering issue, it’s a social issue. If you solve it it will just change.

    Jeff has it about 50% right when he says:

    The thing about office politics is that it is optimized for a particular profile of worker: generally someone of mediocre capability who is interested in status. Such a person often seeks an advantage by kissing up to “the right people” (who gained their lofty position by kissing up to their forebears and so on and so on).

    What he misses is that the office is a social setting, and that this isn’t OFFICE politics, it’s just normal social behavior in the office. These sorts of relationships and squabbles exist in all human organizations. You see the same sort of thing at Goth Clubs and in college faculty organizations.

    You even see it among the STEM/Geek set, “we” are just better about it because we base it on ability (that last clause was sarcasm).

    And this makes the recent “learn some social skills, spergtard” type comments particularly insulting. The hidden subtext is “Deny what you are and pretend to be one of us, or you do not deserve our full respect.” Which would generate (legitimate, no sjw) outrage if said to, say, blacks or women.

    I’ve worked in this industry for 20+ years, and frankly there’s a *lot* of STEM/Geeks who use their intellect/abilities as a reason NOT to interact or fit in with someone who is outside their “hard’ fields. This is a tremendous mistake, and at it’s basic levels is EXACTLY like telling a black or woman who hasn’t worked in a business environment how to behave or how to manipulate social signals.

    In my last comment about suits I noted that charcoal (dark grey) or navy suits were “easiest”, because they are the most common business suit color. When was working in Chicago in the mid 90s you’d *routinely* see young black men in things like green sharkskin suits with off color shirts and ties. They were somewhat appropriate to the skin and hair colors, but they were well outside the lexicon of the (mostly white) business community. If you’d asked someone in the business community they couldn’t have immediately put their finger on *why* it was wrong, or even if it was, but they would get a sense of not-quite-rightness when interviewing or first interacting with that person.

    If someone would have explained to these young men that yes, that suit *is* nice looking on them, and will look really good at church or other daytime social events. However, shiny suits (sharkskin has a bit of sheen to it) are not considered appropriate for entry or mid level folks. Suits outside of the blue/grey spectrum need to be carefully considered–even tan/khaki, which is time honored, is somewhat questionable today.

    Do you really think it would be inappropriate for a manager to take a young black person aside and suggest that in the business environment certain words and forms of speech need to be avoided?

    No one should use the phrase “Yo My Nigga, wassup” in the workplace. Black, white, whatever. NOT APPROPRIATE. You might drop it on your buddies at game night, or it might be the way someone talks to *everyone* they know, but in the office there’s a different set of standards.

    People are tribal. We are, they are, and understanding what tribe you need to work in, and how that tribe functions is critical to success, not only of the individual, but of the organization.

    We’re not more focused on “getting stuff done”, we’re focused on a slightly more narrow version of “stuff” than Sales, Marketing and HR, and we have different ideas of “done”.

    Being able to see that other folks exist outside our area of concerns, and being able to work with them, especially in *their* lexicon is a valuable tool. Being able to have lunch with a C level and not look like a gibbons monkey at a pool party helps everyone.

    As for women, go through a bunch of the pictures on Linked In. About 80% of their pictures wouldn’t look out of place on the body of a playboy model. This is the female equivalent of the Green Sharkskin Suit, except that for most males it’s perfectly *fine* if the women put their secondary sexual characteristics on display. Hell, it even sells colo space (or at least it did at one previous job.).

    This is just as cultural/social as “us” having to learn that what *we* think is perfectly appropriate discussion (in my case discussing the terminal effects of a .416 barrett v.s. .50 Browning Machine Gun) might be as offending and disquieting to people on the same level as yelling Yo My Nigga or wearing daisy dukes to work.

  73. > I don’t dress like an adult. It means I refuse to put up with impractical,
    > uncomfortable clothing in my day-to-day life.

    A suit is essentially a long sleeved shirt, trousers, tie and jacket. The tie we’ll leave alone as it’s about the only decoration a most-WWII male was allowed in the work place until the late 80s/early 90s.

    The other three items are things you wear *in some combination* every day half the year. The only two issues then are fit, and your attitude towards them.

    A properly fitting shirt and coat, which is hard to get off the rack–especially if you’re being cheap, will be as comfortable. A poorly fitting one will not.

    I’ve got polo shirts that aren’t comfortable because the sleeve ends are tighter than I would like.

    Very few people (movies aside) sit at their desk with their suit coat on (this is why with some suits you can still get 2 pairs of trousers). However even there for many people (and I’m increasingly one because of neck injuries) you need to find a brand/cut that works for your shoulders and body shape. I need the collar to be a little further back off the neck and some of my older jackets just don’t work any more because of that.

    The trousers, well, wool slacks aren’t inherently any tighter than jeans or dockers.

    So traditional business attire *can* be comfortable if sized properly. What’s left is how *you* feel in it.

    As to “adult” clothes, a polo and dockers qualifies, that is “business casual”. A faded t-shirt with mustard stains worn untucked over shorts and sandals does not.

  74. I should add here that I am currently working as tech support (on Windows, bleagh) for a manufacturer of industrial automation systems. A polo and dockers is overdressed to go out into a fertilizer plant, and that’s part of my job (if an infrequent one).

    But there’s more to practicality than that. A dress shirt and wool pants aren’t things I can take care of at home. I have to take them to a cleaners, and that takes time and money and imposes latency.

    And no, I don’t wear a long sleeve shirt ever, if I can avoid it; I have a button-down shirt my employer gave me that I’ve worn once, because I hate long sleeve shirts. They get into things, and things get on them.

    I wear jackets for practical reasons, not simian status-signaling reasons. They keep me warm and keep rain and snow off of me. If I don’t need those functions, I don’t wear a jacket, either. (Driving my convertible to work this morning was a bit chilly, but that was offset by not having to wear a jacket.)

    It’s not about impressing others. It’s about satisfying and impressing me. It’s the same reason I drive two Mercedes: not as status signals, but rather because I think they’re fine vehicles that meet my mission requirements well.

  75. Actually, I think William O’s comments above are *exactly* what I think nerds / geeks / whatever could find useful. Including me. Especially the style – this is fashion advice for the person who usually thinks in terms of Getting Stuff Done – cuts past the flowery bullcrud and goes to the substance. The one thing I could see to fix:

    me: Dealing with office politics sounds like one of those Great Problems that someone with sufficient intelligence could count a great deal of coup by solving.

    William O: Nope. It’s not an engineering issue, it’s a social issue. If you solve it it will just change.

    I didn’t mean engineering above. I meant solve the problem. If solving it means learning a strategy to apply to each instance, then that’s just what I want, and just what nerds / geeks / whatevers should want. “Fix it once, never touch it again” is optimal, but if it changes continually, “learn a ruleset, apply that everywhere” is the next best thing, and beats the hell out of “guess, or refuse the game”. IMO, the latter is not the Hacker Way.

    Jay: I wear jackets for practical reasons, not simian status-signaling reasons.

    …and I say that’s fine – if that’s the environment you’re in. Not every techie gets to be in such environments, and I suspect it’s often easier to just learn how to signal simians when needed than to insist that simian signalling should never be required. In other words: I think considerably many nerds assign a too-large-negative utility to learning how to dress in a suit and in general, learning how to operate socially with non-nerds.

  76. A suit is essentially a long sleeved shirt, trousers, tie and jacket.

    A high-maintenance long-sleeved shirt, tie, trousers, and jacket. It is the way it is because of the social signals it sends: “I’m fussy enough about my appearance to invest egregiously large amounts of time into choosing, fitting, coordinating, cleaning, pressing, and maintaining the clothes I wear daily”. And because narcissists tend to bubble to the top of corporate hierarchies the people in charge are receptive to that signal and say “you’re one of us! Welcome aboard!”

    The payoff for sending those signals is not worth the time and effort for broad swaths of people.

    I’ve worked in this industry for 20+ years, and frankly there’s a *lot* of STEM/Geeks who use their intellect/abilities as a reason NOT to interact or fit in with someone who is outside their “hard’ fields.

    They should be able to do what they do with as little such interaction as is necessary. It’s better for them and it’s better for the normies. Feynman wrote a hilarious on-point letter to Stephen Wolfram in which he said that Wolfram doesn’t “get” ordinary people and would be best served by doing his research with as little contact with them as possible — “with one exception, fall madly in love!”

    And I think that’s a good policy to take. If someone has real trouble communicating with the marketing department, find a way to let them contribute without ever having to speak directly to a marketer. That’s not what’s done at Initech. At Initech the standard is to enforce marketing’s social norms on everyone and punish those who don’t fall in line with death-by-a-thousand-TPS-report-cuts ostracism.

    (I use Initech here as a stand-in for a more-or-less standard corporate environment, fully cognizant that it’s not representative of all companies everywhere and there’s a spectrum of how Initech-like a company can be.)

    Now if you want to marry a normie, or work closely with them, then it’s good to level up your normie-coping skills a bit. But there should be better universal ways of harvesting value from on-the-spectrum people without forcing lots of stressful normie rituals on them.

    Again, the message we get from neurotypicals is “We can’t relate to you. We won’t even bother trying. Humans are tribal, we’re the dominant tribe, so we shouldn’t need to. So if you get treated as subhuman, it’s because YOU didn’t fulfill your responsibility to US to look and act enough like one of us to where we might recognize you as a ‘person’.”

    And they say we suffer from a lack of “social skills”.

  77. I think considerably many nerds assign a too-large-negative utility to learning how to dress in a suit and in general, learning how to operate socially with non-nerds.

    I think non-nerds assign a too-large negative utility to learning how to operate socially with us. But that’s probably due to a lack of social skills on non-nerds’ part. It was recently discovered that two arbitrarily chosen autistic brains are more wildly different than two arbitrarily chosen NT brains. So with us you have this idea of finding out what our interests are and engaging us on those terms which is a lot of work. With another NT, adopting the right posture and attitude, wearing the right clothes, and talking about your favorite sports team generally suffices at least in the ice breaking stage. NT social interactions are highly rule bound, but no one tells us the rules. We have to reverse engineer them through trial and costly, painful error.

    You have no idea how stressful it can be for those at the more extreme end of the nerd continuum. We’re conditioned to anticipate normies closing ranks and approaching us with subtle, if not overt, hostility. Or worse, pretending to like us and then betraying us just when we’re at the point of trusting them.

    And part of the problem is that once you start monkey-signalling things at a very basic level, the normies reward you a little bit, but in order to stay in their good graces you have to start emitting higher-level monkey signals. Which means more rules to decode, more trial and error, more pain, more real social and economic penalties. So some of us just decide fuck it.

    The Japanese hikikomori problem is an extreme case of this. It is really, unfathomably hard just to be Japanese. You have to do things like use the right case of the verb to be depending on whether you are speaking about yourself or another person and your relationship to the other person. Two businessmen, upon meeting for the first time, do not even speak to one another until they’ve exchanged business cards so they can each see the other’s job title and know their relative social rank. And that’s just the elementary signalling stuff.

    And it’s getting harder, not easier; despite the “Westernization” of Japanese society I think Japanese NTs are closing ranks. Among Japanese strength comes from the group, so it’s likely that Japanese business perceives the path to economic recovery is in forging stronger groups. More homogeneous, more conformist, more hive-mind-y groups. The consequences of THAT are left as an exercise.

  78. I ask because I have recently found that when a suit is the only time I will care about the aesthetics of what I am wearing, as opposed to putting on the first or most practical clothes I see. I think I care on an artistic level, trying to create a visually pleasing effect largely for its own sake.

  79. I recall Alan Watts back in the day (now I’m dating myself) talking about ‘mu’ in some of his lectures. And I really liked the way Pirsig phrased it: “You should unask the question.”

  80. > Know of any sites that talk about these solutions at length? Seems like useful knowledge to have.

    The first thing you should do, is to get fit & strong, like an olympic swimmer. Look up a good youtube athletic fitness channel, like Athlean-X, Six Pack Shortcuts, or Brandon Carter. Being lean & athletic, all by itself, raises you up the social ladder, enough that everyone (both men and women) gives you the benefit of the doubt, overlooking at least the first few social faux pas you might make.

    Second, you need to talk to strangers, a lot of them, like a new stranger every day. All the theory in the world is useless if you get tongue tied trying to put it into practice. Plus, the biggest problem with introverts is their fear of interaction, particularly with the opposite sex. My one practical conversation tip: digress early and often. Nerds tend to beat dead horses, boring those around him, so change topics preemptively instead.

  81. @ thsu

    > …change topics preemptively instead.

    I’m about to follow this advise of yours, though probably not in the way you intended.

    @ ESR

    As ashamed as I am to drift off-topic again, this may be my last A&D comment ever.

    Looks like everyone puts the rel="nofollow" attribute in their links. I never have… and I’ve been commenting here for more than a year, so I’ve filled your blog with potentially problematic links.
    I don’t know the uses of that attribute, so this may be me worrying too much again; but if not, I’ve fucked your blog. Please believe me that I never meant to disserve you in any way, and that I’m sorry for any damage I may have caused you through my stupidity. I thank you and the other members of this community for all the intellectually stimulating conversations, of which I apparently was unworthy. May you all have good lives.

    • >Looks like everyone puts the rel=”nofollow” attribute in their links.

      The blog software does that, Automatically. It’s an anti-spam measure of some sort.

      >I don’t know the uses of that attribute, so this may be me worrying too much again

      It is. You worrying too much, I mean.

      >I thank you and the other members of this community for all the intellectually stimulating conversations, of which I apparently was unworthy.

      Huh? Whatever gave you that silly idea?

  82. @Christopher Smith
    > I was speaking to the very difficulty of finding that sort of workaround, because it requires some sort of external feedback to get started, and that’s not readily available to high-functioning adults.

    Well, yes, you first need an inkling of something not being exactly right before you can start investigating what’s going on and devise ways to deal with it. I think Jeff Read’s description of “reverse engineer the rules” pretty much fits my own experience. I also think of it as survival skills.
    And as you mention “not readily available to adults” : what I meant is you pick up on on your “lack of social skills” in your teens, then during the following decades you work at it (including but not limited to ” trial and painful error”), and some time during your adult live you may find you’ve learned enough to get by some or most of the time, and that you know when to walk away and know when to run.

  83. @ ESR

    > The blog software does that, Automatically.

    Oops! Had I checked one of my own links, I wouldn’t have made this gaffe. Allow me to make it up to you with this picture. Hope the implied narrative, if any, is to your liking. :-) (I also hope no one takes this as a sign that I objectify women. I just like them, like you do.)

    > It is. You worrying too much, I mean.

    My bad. As you know, I want to change that; but you also know what they say: old habits die hard. :P

    > Huh? Whatever gave you that silly idea?

    Thanks, but I often feel like a parasite for always asking questions and seldom – if ever – contributing anything. Yet you keep implying that I’m welcome here. Could it be that, despite my shortcomings, you see potential in me? But be warned that I recently tried to read Gödel, Escher, Bach (mentioned in the OP, BTW) and gave up by the second chapter.

    @ Foo Quuxman

    > /me sneaks up behind Jorge and stabs him with a hypodermic containing 50cc of self-confidence

    Heh. Thanks, man.

    @ the A&D community in general

    Please ignore this little incident and resume the discussion I interrupted.

  84. Sorry, can’t let this go:

    /me sneaks up behind Jorge and stabs him with a hypodermic containing 50cc of self-confidence

    FFS, Foo, why are you using a hypodermic to administer whiskey shots? You’ve no sense of panache.

  85. Thanks, but I often feel like a parasite for always asking questions and seldom – if ever – contributing anything. Yet you keep implying that I’m welcome here.

    You ask smart questions. One of the best ways to get on his good side.

  86. I hear that once someone was put on a whisky drip as they had methanol poisoning and the hospital was out of medical ethanol.

  87. @ Jeff Read

    > You ask smart questions.

    Thanks. And I haven’t even read “How to Ask Questions the Smart Way”! XD Well, I did read a bit; IIRC, it warned against including content-free phrases such as “Any thoughts?”. I generally follow that rule.

    > One of the best ways to get on his good side.

    So he has a bad side? :O

    @ ESR

    > That’s exactly right.

    I thank you for the confirmation. ^_^ But, to be brutally honest, I’m somewhat disappointed by your laconic response. So you didn’t like the implied narrative? :-(
    (It may be rude to press someone for a remark, but you’ve instructed me to be less scrupulous. Heh, heh…)

    • >So you didn’t like the implied narrative? :-(

      Nah, just busy. I did in fact like the implied narrative. That is a relatively classy cheesecake picture. Has an old-fashioned innocence about it.

      I meant to mention earlier that one reason you are welcome here is your different cultural perspective. I try to keep around people who aren’t, as in your case, native speakers of English.

  88. “FFS, Foo, why are you using a hypodermic to administer whiskey shots? You’ve no sense of panache.”

    Some whisky tastes so much like medicine that this is the appropriate method of administration.

    /me looks at his roommate’s $80 bottle of Lagavulin 16…

  89. > Nah, just busy.

    My old, overly-deferential self would answer something like “Sorry, I tend to forget not everyone is a bum like me”. Instead, I’ll experiment with the personality I want to adopt. Here we go:

    > Nah, just busy.

    Still messing with the fabric of time? Hmmm… think you could arrange me a meeting with Groucho Marx or Peter Sellers? :-)

    > I did in fact like the implied narrative.

    Glad to hear that. Since in that old post you mentioned your fondness for red hair (not surprising ;-)), and since your tastes in women appear to be similar to mine, I want to show you one more picture: hope you like this red-haired bellydancer.

    > I meant to mention earlier that one reason you are welcome here is your different cultural perspective. I try to keep around people who aren’t, as in your case, native speakers of English.

    Yeah, I’m sure you gringos are amused by the monkey sounds made by the loincloth-wearing jungle-dwellers who inhabit all lands this side of Rio Grande. :-)

    • >Yeah, I’m sure you gringos are amused by the monkey sounds made by the loincloth-wearing jungle-dwellers who inhabit all lands this side of Rio Grande. :-

      *snort* I used to make those sounds myself, in Venezuela.

  90. > *snort* I used to make those sounds myself, in Venezuela.

    Looks like one of my jokes has actually worked. Finally! I’m enjoying this sardonic behavior. :D
    BTW, I want to stress I don’t think there’s any narrative to the bellydancer’s photo; it’s just a normal portrait, probably with a professional context in mind. It’s just that I recontextualized it, heh.

  91. >*snort* I used to make those sounds myself, in Venezuela.

    I always thought Spanish-speakers were the ones most harsh regarding the ‘animal noises’ made by other Spanish speakers. And everybody makes fun of Puerto Rican-accented Spanish.

    People are people, they just arrive carrying different baggage. ;)

    I see you like the bottom-heavy types.

    • >I see you like the bottom-heavy types.

      Actually I think I was responding to face rather than figure in both pictures, especially the first.

    • >I always thought Spanish-speakers were the ones most harsh regarding the ‘animal noises’ made by other Spanish speakers.

      South Americans do have strong opinions about this, perhaps in part because the different national accents of Spanish are quite divergent. I can hear the difference between (say) a Mexican, Argentinean, and Santo Domingo accent myself. It isn’t just national patriotism driving these judgments, however; everybody seems to agree that the Venezuelan accent (by coincidence, mine) is very pretty. And everybody in South America thinks the European Spanish accent is both cultured and effete (which is actually reasonable; it’s been distorted by the Bourbon harelip lisp).

      I have been informed that I sound like a Venezuelan with a “good” accent when I pronounce Spanish (my informant was unclear to what extent “good” means educated or upper class versus clear enunciation, and might not have been aware of that distinction herself). This is a little odd, since I would have learned it mainly from lower-class Spanish nannies and domestics. But this was in the early 1960s; it might be that pronunciation and usage have drifted since then. It might also just be that I have a neurological habit of precise diction that extends across languages.

  92. @ Greg

    > I always thought Spanish-speakers were the ones most harsh regarding the ‘animal noises’ made by other Spanish speakers.

    I may be misreading you, but I assure you I wasn’t mocking any accent. I was just exaggerating the cultural differences between Latin America and America proper, for humorous purposes.

    @ ESR

    > Actually I think I was responding to face rather than figure in both pictures, especially the first.

    Do you mean the pictures I linked to? I don’t see any comment from you about the second one, which is a shame given your passion for redheads. WordPress failure?

    And another thing: I don’t know that my cultural perspective differs significantly from yours. My mentality must have been largely shaped by the American cultural products I’ve consumed throughout my life: TV, film, video games, and music – as well as British music. (‘Course I also consume stuff like Coca-Cola and Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes, but I doubt that’s had much of an effect on my personality or worldview. :P)
    Besides, I admire America and Britain and dislike much about Latin America – especially the left-wing populism that pervades it.

    • >Do you mean the pictures I linked to?

      Yes.

      >I don’t see any comment from you about the second one, which is a shame given your passion for redheads. WordPress failure?

      No, I just found little remarkable bout it. Hair looks dyed, and in general her presentation seemed artificial to me.

  93. It was, I think, 4chan that invented a word in the English language that is usable as “mu” insofar as it can mean “I am unable to respond”.

    “wat”.

    :)

  94. > And everybody in South America thinks the European Spanish accent is both cultured and effete

    “Everybody”… that’s not very Korzybskian, is it? ;-) I happen to like the Spaniards’ accent, and I generally like their idioms as well.
    By contrast, I’m not satisfied with the Argentinean accent. Sounds careless.

    > it’s been distorted by the Bourbon harelip lisp

    Didn’t know this. Thanks.

    > No, I just found little remarkable bout it.

    Personally, I find her very beautiful.

    > Hair looks dyed

    I must admit I have no eye for that. And, frankly, it doesn’t bother me.

    > and in general her presentation seemed artificial to me.

    I don’t think that’s an issue for me, either.

    Just for fun, I ask you to please evaluate this picture in three categories: implied narrative (if any), presentation, and the girl’s own beauty. (As for me, I really like her. ñ_ñ)

    • >Just for fun, I ask you to please evaluate this picture in three categories: implied narrative (if any), presentation, and the girl’s own beauty

      Implied narrative: Ooh, look at me, I’m hot.

      Presentation: Full of artifice. Real women (at least, the ones I know) don’t do this unless they’re ironically imitating the way they think a model or hooker behaves.

      Girl: Good-looking though not really my type.

      This is a bad cheesecake picture. The first one looked much less affected.

  95. Thanks for your assessment. Say, the “hooker” part wasn’t intended as an insult to the girl, was it? I know this is your blog; I just want to know what you meant, for I don’t think she’s earned any insult.

    And, going back to a couple of things you’d written earlier:
    1. This one is from the OP. The many-wolds interpretation of quantum mechanics is bogus, isn’t it? Seems to imply new universes are springing up all the time; where does all the matter/energy for that come from? (Disclosure: my knowledge of physics is negligible.)
    2. About your wife: “…she has hobbies that provide her with more intellectual challenge [than the practice of law]”. I know those hobbies include creative anachronism and strategy games. Does she also perform music?

    • >Say, the “hooker” part wasn’t intended as an insult to the girl, was it?

      You missed the irony, apparently.

      >Seems to imply new universes are springing up all the time; where does all the matter/energy for that come from?

      It’s already there. Googling for “superspace” might turn up some illuminating text.

      >Does she also perform music?

      She used to, but has been pretty rusty since her law career became intense.

  96. Many-worlds is a well-respected interpretation. Matter & energy are not ‘appearing’ in any sense, it is more like universes splitting or something. *handwaves furiously*

  97. ” I can hear the difference between (say) a Mexican, Argentinean, and Santo Domingo accent myself.”

    Growing up in Houston, were I to speak Spanish, I’d likely do it with a Mexican/Tejano accent. I had the opportunity to make a few trips to Santo Domingo, and I could easily tell the difference. My local guide explained to me that Dominicans tended to cut off words before the end.

  98. >I may be misreading you, but I assure you I wasn’t mocking any accent. I was just exaggerating the cultural differences between Latin America and America proper, for humorous purposes.

    Mainly I was playing around in an ‘Americans don’t care all that much about that stuff’ way. Many of us just think accents in general are interesting, if not outright sexy.

    That and I had something I was genuinely curious about. I grew up in a neighborhood that had a number of immigrants from Puerto Rico, but at the same time I had friends of Peruvian descent. (Some unkind words, women with Puerto Rican accents sound like barnyard fowl, etc.) I’ve also dated Spanish-speaking women, one Tex-Mex, one Venezuelan (but born in LA) and they had some interesting things to say.

  99. >And everybody in South America thinks the European Spanish accent is both cultured and effete (which is actually reasonable; it’s been distorted by the Bourbon harelip lisp).

    Would that be why Penelope Cruz (who is unspeakably hot and nobody cares that her English is weak) sometimes sounds like she has a lisp?

    • >Would that be why Penelope Cruz (who is unspeakably hot and nobody cares that her English is weak) sometimes sounds like she has a lisp?

      Maybe. Sometime after the initial colonization of the New World Continental Spanish underwent a consonent shift that mapped some (but not all) realizations of /s/ to /th/. There’s a widespread story that this was due to one of the Bourbon kings speaking with a lisp (the Habsburgs were inbred and exhibited several genetic defects that could have produced this). According to this account the lisp spread from the king to his courtiers and thence to the Castilian upper class.

      On looking into this, I learn that some linguists consider the lisping king an urban legend, and relate the shift to natural sound changes in medieval Castilian. I don’t have the expertise required to take a side in this argument, except to note that it is possible both explanations are true. That is, possibly the lisping king’s accidental innovation took hold because it was an exaggeration of a phonetic change already underway.

  100. >>I see you like the bottom-heavy types.

    >Actually I think I was responding to face rather than figure in both pictures, especially the first.

    Was meant more for Jorge, and was in response to the first couple of pictures. There were two that seemed to me to be much bonier and less comfortable up above than down below. Sporty types, or something, rather than (to borrow from an earlier discussion) especially mammalian. :)

  101. @ Greg

    > I’ve also dated Spanish-speaking women … one Venezuelan

    Which gives me an excuse for sharing a pic of one Miss Venezuela.

    > Was meant more for Jorge, and was in response to the first couple of pictures. There were two that seemed to me to be much bonier and less comfortable up above than down below. Sporty types, or something, rather than (to borrow from an earlier discussion) especially mammalian. :)

    Oh, I do like big breasts if that’s what you mean; but not abnormally/artificially big ones. Remember that picture of a model named Veronika Zemanova? I sure like hers, but they’re near the size limit of what I find appealing.

    @ ESR

    > You missed the irony, apparently.

    Because of a cultural difference, perhaps? :-P

    > Googling for “superspace” might turn up some illuminating text.

    Such as Wikipedia’s article, no doubt. (I actually used DuckDuckGo, not Google.) I can’t cope with equations*, so I’ll have to trust you on this. But what about Occam’s razor?

    > She used to, but has been pretty rusty since her law career became intense.

    That’s too bad. I bet her voice is nothing short of angelic, just like her smile. ^_^

    * I know, I know: I’m not fully human. ¬_¬ FWIW, my father is good at the hard sciences (as well as chess and the Rubik cube); he’s also a programmer by trade, and a reader of SF (mostly 50s and 60s stuff).

    • >Which gives me an excuse for sharing a pic of one Miss Venezuela

      The high incidence of extremely good-looking women in Venezuela was quite noticeable to this traveler. But some regions of Brazil compete, and so does Korea.

      >I sure like hers, but they’re near the size limit of what I find appealing.

      Zemanova’s breasts could look seriously outsized if she didn’t carry them well. Some women do this much better than others – it’s a combination of physical frame and psychology in which details like posture and assertiveness matter a lot. On her they look … challenging, in an are-you-man-enough-for-these way.

      >That’s too bad. I bet [Cathy’s] voice is nothing short of angelic, just like her smile

      When she’s in practice and feeling confident, yes. She’s a damn sight better singer than I am.

  102. > But some reasons of Brazil compete

    Maybe you meant “regions”? In case I ever visit Brazil, could you please name those regions? =)

    For the record, the bellydancer is Brazilian; and if anyone’s interested, her name – at least professionally – is Aisha Hadarah.

    Concerning the concept of parallel universes: given my physical/cosmological illiteracy, I may be grossly misjudging it; but if we can’t observe those universes even in principle, and if they have no effect on us, why believe in them? It’s like Russell’s teapot, which in turn constituted an argument for atheism – an argument I wholeheartedly accept.

    • >Maybe you meant “regions”? In case I ever visit Brazil, could you please name those regions?

      Typing is not among my better-developed skills. When I visited Porto Alegre in the South I was told that the surrounding region has a reputation for being where the gorgeous girls come from. Looking around me I found this entirely credible.

      >Concerning the concept of parallel universes: given my physical/cosmological illiteracy, I may be grossly misjudging it; but if we can’t observe those universes even in principle, and if they have no effect on us, why believe in them? It’s like Russell’s teapot, which in turn constituted an argument for atheism – an argument I wholeheartedly accept.

      It’s not quite a Russell’s Teapot situation. The Many Worlds hypothesis may be testable if some linearities in QM aren’t actually quite linear.

  103. > Typing is not amomh my better-developed skills.

    You’re great at the things that matter. ;-) Besides, the mistake in question wasn’t a typo; two similar-sounding words just got mixed up in your head. Anyway, I can stop correcting you if it annoys you.

    > When I visited Porto Alegre in the South I was told that the surrounding region has a reputation for being where the gorgeous girls come from. Looking around me I found this entirely cedible.

    Thanks. Not that I’d have any success with the ladies, mind you – suffice to say I never kissed a girl, let alone got laid. There, I said it. Now you guys know why I collect pictures of women. v_v

    > It’s not quite a Russell’s Teapot situation. The Many Worlds hypothesis may be testable if some linearities in QM aren’t actually quite linear.

    Again, I don’t understand shit, so I’ll have to believe you. At least provisionally. I mean, it’s not entirely impossible that I might someday be knowledgeable enough to study your claims… is it? :$ Anyway, does this mean you adhere to the MWI, or you just count it as a valid candidate?

    • >Anyway, does this mean you adhere to the MWI, or you just count it as a valid candidate?

      I count it as a valid candidate.

  104. kn on 2015-05-14 at 17:43:09 said:

    > Now, now. Be kind. There are genuine neurological deficits in play here.

    Yes, but given sufficient intelligence, it’s not always impossible to work around them. It’s not uncommon for, say, people with asperger syndrome or (edge cases of) autism, to actually learn (e.g. by observation, pattern recognition, trial and error,…) how to deal with the situations thsu mentions, at least good enough to get by, some or even most of the time.

    I suspect there are more than a few people who “act sane”. They have serious neurological problems, but have learned how to appear “normal” – that is, how to mimic normal behavior, even though they don’t understand it.

    They get along OK, like a phone service drone working from a script, until something happens that isn’t covered by the script. Then they have no idea what to do and do something grotesque. And everyone says “But he seemed so normal!”

  105. >Anyway, does this mean you adhere to the MWI, or you just count it as a valid candidate?

    If you want to treat the wavefunction as epistemological or information theoretic (ie, a Bayesian probability – a representation of *our limited knowledge* of some underlying particle-like state), then it eventually evaluates into stating things like “atomic orbits are stable because *we* don’t know where the electrons are!”

    At least the MWI is a model of how the universe could actually be! A lot of quantum physics interpretations seem hostile to the very idea of trying to form a model of the world!

  106. @ everyone

    (Facepalm.) I now realize my monkey-sounds joke may have been misunderstood. I wasn’t referring to the Spanish language, but to the content of what we Latin Americans say – i.e. we’re culturally backward.

    @ Foo Quuxman

    > If you are into the geekier side of the coin (very safe for work)
    >
    > http://geekxgirls.com/article.php?ID=4754

    Thanks! Didn’t know that site, and am liking it.

    @ ESR

    > I count it as a valid candidate.

    Thanks. Interestingly, a comment on an Amazon review of Gell-Mann’s The Quark and the Jaguar includes the bold assertion that “parallel worlds … are real and not only testable but also responsible for immense power exhibited by quantum computers (computing in all parallel worlds simutaniously)”. Does that make sense?
    Also, the commenter attributes that claim to David Deutsch. Do you consider that author trustworthy?

    • >“parallel worlds … are real and not only testable but also responsible for immense power exhibited by quantum computers (computing in all parallel worlds simutaniously)”. Does that make sense?

      It does, but to my understanding MWI is not actually necessary to explain quantum computing. However, David Deutsch is an eminent physicist and thus may know something I do not.

  107. I would gess that if MWI had any testable difference to Copenhagen Interpretation and the like, it would be called a theory and someone would have tested it by now.

  108. >There’s a widespread story that this was due to one of the Bourbon kings speaking with a lisp (the Habsburgs were inbred and exhibited several genetic defects that could have produced this).

    Just try sticking your lower law forward simulating this https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prognathism#Mandibular_prognathism_.28progenism.29 and try to speak. I don’t think what you will get is that sort of soft lisp at least I didn’t, it was more like losing most consonants and pronouncing “labor” as “vavor”.

    However a French influence is still a logical assumption – the Burgundian Etiquette thing: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Household_and_Heritage_of_the_Crown_of_Spain#The_Old_Household

  109. @Jorge
    ““parallel worlds … are real and not only testable but also responsible for immense power exhibited by quantum computers (computing in all parallel worlds simutaniously)””

    My understanding was that the parallel worlds were an explanation of quantum uncertainty: How can a deterministic theory result in chance outcomes? The answer would be that every possible outcome is realized in a separate parallel world.

    Quantum computing makes use of entanglement. But that is something entirely different and takes place in our world entirely.

    If you have ample time and want to learn about it, you can start here:
    http://www.ipod.org.uk/reality/reality_quantum_entanglement.asp

    If you are really hardcore (each course contains 10 lectures):
    Leonard Susskind’s Modern Physics course concentrating on Quantum Mechanics
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2h1E3YJMKfA

    Leonard Susskind’s course concentrating on Quantum Entanglements

  110. I found ‘s’ becoming ‘th’, with my lower jaw protruding.
    I remember the weekend after getting braces, I was campng in Frithsden. Not easy to pronounce.

  111. “I would gess that if MWI had any testable difference to Copenhagen Interpretation and the like, it would be called a theory and someone would have tested it by now.”

    Copenhagen doesn’t have any testable predictions over and above MWI, because Copenhagen doesn’t have any stated model of the world over and above MWI. It redefines itself to be “whatever produces the results we see.” If you are talking about single electrons in a double slit or Stern-Gerlach experiment, Copenhagen draws the boundary for the ‘collapse’ at the screen. If you’re talking about a complicated entanglement experiment, Copenhagen will entertain the reality of the entire configuration space of particles up until they hit someone’s detector (or even beyond, if multiple space-like seperated detectors are present). If you are talking about a 100 qbit quantum computer, Copenhagen will do it’s calculations as if the entire 2^100 complex numbers worth of information existed, apply the Born rule (which is asserted as an axiom, never explained) at the end, then coolly deny that any of the state space they were using existed outside your head!

  112. @arms
    The “Copenhagen Interpretation” talks about the collapse of the wave function. This is an interpretation of an unobservable phenomenon. So is the MWI. Proposing unobservable phenomenons in physics is mostly a bad idea.

    What is testable is the prediction that you find interference or entanglement when you perform certain experiments or measurements and not in others. The mathematics are “clear”. Whether you can wrap your head around it using common, non-quantum, concepts is irrelevant to the physics.

    This comes down to the fact that you cannot simulate quantum phenomenons with a computational device based on classical physics. You have to trust the logic and mathematics.

  113. @ Winter

    > The answer would be that every possible outcome is realized in a separate parallel world.

    That strikes me as violating Occam’s razor. N.B.: my disagreement is not with you; after all, you later wrote “Proposing unobservable phenomenons in physics is mostly a bad idea”. :-)

    > If you have ample time

    I do, but I lack intelligence. I still suspect I’m not fit for A&D; but since I like it here, I’ll stay for as long as possible – i.e. until Eric realizes I’m wasting his time and bans me. Something tells me it won’t take much longer.
    Still, it’s good to know those learning resources are there, so thanks.

    @ ESR

    So far, I’ve shared four pics (Zemanova’s doesn’t count, for it had been originally shared by you). The Discordian Law of Fives requires me to post one more, doesn’t it? ;-) I want to delight you by choosing one you’d like, and already have narrowed the candidates to only ten; I now need a bit more info about your requirements. I know it has to be as classy and natural as possible, but I’d like to also know if you’re put off by…

    • full nudity
    • (red) lipstick
    • (red) (toe)nail polish
    • bracelets
    • earrings
    • pantyhose
    • the photo being
    ? in black and white
    ? rather small (the smalles candidate is 300×407)
    ? not about sex or narratives at all – just a lady you’ll hopefully find pretty

    • >want to delight you by choosing one you’d like,

      Thanks, but I think I’ve had enough cheescake photos for a while. Let’s move on to something that engages more brain cells.

  114. Shut up and calculate.
    -Feynman

    Feynman’s interpretation was itself interesting as instead of hypothesizing multiple universes, he proposed instead particles trying out all possible paths, going back in time and interacting with themselves, partially cancelling themselves out until the path integral settled on what Schrödinger’s equation said anyway.

    Thing is, the math had to be correct and in order for path integrals to be of much use, they had to make the math easier (which they did under certain circumstances). How Feynman chose to interpret the results is irrelevant.,

  115. > Thanks, but I think I’ve had enough cheescake photos for a while. Let’s move on to something that engages more brain cells.

    Heh. You’re the boss, Eric. :-)
    I don’t think the pic of Miss Venezula ’08 counts as a cheesecake one, though. I say this not to insist on the topic – which is over -, but merely to set the record straight. If I had a middle name, it would be “Nitpicker”. ;-)

  116. The castellano lisp is a change of ‘c’ and ‘z’ from /s/ to /?/, and is rare outside Spain.

    American Spanish speakers have their own pronunciation peculiarities: La lengua del caribe e epañol. Argentines, at least those over 40, pronounce ‘ll’ (and maybe ‘y’?) as /d?/, though the younger set has adopted /?/ for the ‘ll’. Colombians pronounce it as a very tight /dj/, but it hasn’t quite yet hit /d?/; in Colombia, there is still a distinction between ‘y’ and ‘ll’.

    • >in Colombia, there is still a distinction between ‘y’ and ‘ll’.

      Interesting. That would surprise most non-Hispanic Americans; outside of rare exceptions like me the only accents we’ve heard will be Mexican and (to a much lesser extent) Castillian. I don’t know the Castillan accent well enough to be sure but ‘y’ and ‘ll’ certainly merge in most versions of Mexican.

      Argentine Spanish resembles to me nothing so much as tearing sheet metal – I didn’t know Spanish could sound like that! I concur with the general South American opinions that Venezuelan Spanish is pretty and the Castilian lisp is faintly laughable. And, sorry, Mexicans sound like grungy lowlifes – it’s not that I think they actually are, but comparison to other Spanish accents does not flatter theirs.

      I think I lucked out by internalizing a classy version of Venezuelan pronunciation, though I’m still puzzled about the ‘classy’ part.

      P.S.: Thinking about it, I might have been unfair. It might be that only border-country Mexicans have the lowlife accent – I vaguely recall that the one time I visited Central Mexico (Monterrey) the local accent seemed cleaner, less guttural. Their cooking is a helluva lot better than border-country food, too.

  117. Some IPA isn’t showing up. Using alternate letters: Argentines, at least those over 40, pronounce ‘ll’ (and maybe ‘y’?) as /dž/, though the younger set has adopted /š/ for the ‘ll’.

  118. @ ESR

    > Argentine Spanish resembles to me nothing so much as tearing sheet metal

    Somebody put something in your cocoa, methinks. I suspect the sneaky Zola.

    Now, seriously: I’m not offended (I’ve even criticized my country’s accent myself), but would appreciate clarification on the “tearing sheet metal” part – if only “for teh lulz”. ;-)

    BTW, I don’t exactly like the Venezuelan accent, but maybe that’s because my exposure to it has been mostly limited to Maduro and the late Chávez, both of whom I loathe.

    And speaking of populism: have you heard of a classical-liberal activist from Guatemala called Gloria Álvarez? She travels Hispanic America giving lectures against populism, at least some of which you can find at YouTube. I like listening to her, but dunno if it’s her accent, her voice, her style (she’s rather articulate), her being a libertarian, or some combination thereof.
    I doubt a knowledgeable libertarian like you could learn anything from her, except maybe some specifics of Latin American affairs; but I’d like to know your opinion on her accent, so please listen to her for at least a few seconds and tell us what you think. If you also comment on her expository skills, all the better. :-)

    • >but would appreciate clarification on the “tearing sheet metal” part – if only “for teh lulz”. ;-)

      My reference is a woman I heard speak at a conference in Brazil with a truly weird Spanish accent – tinny, nasalized vowels and every consonant articulated like she was biting them off with her teeth. Startled, I asked where she was from and was told “Argentina”. Nobody behaved like her accent was atypical. It was rather like hearing English spoken in a thick Afrikaans accent.

      >BTW, I don’t exactly like the Venezuelan accent, but maybe that’s because my exposure to it has been mostly limited to Maduro and the late Chávez, both of whom I loathe.

      Yes, difficult to form a good opinion of an accent when you associate it with people who could be comic-book supervillains only without the super part.

      >I’d like to know your opinion on her accent

      Other than definitely being South American (no Castiliano lisp) it doesn’t have any obvious regional markers I can detect. I get a faint impression that she might be hypercorrecting in a dialect-neutralizing direction the way public speakers often do.

  119. Inténtalo Carito is a coupel of young Colombians, who sing Que? difi?cil es hablar el espan?ol, which is all about vocabulary differences. (Visiting Colombia, we had a heck of a time figuring out that Mexican “popote” is Colombian “pitillo”.) Listening to them, the ‘ll’ and ‘y’ are close, but slightly distinct. (I also listened to ex-Presidente Uribe on YouTube, and he’s the same – there’s still a small distinction sometimes.)

  120. Gloria Álvarez does something I hear in Mexicans, too – ‘j’ is pronounced (often) as a fairly hard /x/ instead of /h/. Colombians rarely do that, and I don’t recall hearing it in the tango music from Argentina that I listen to.

  121. >Argentine Spanish resembles to me nothing so much as tearing sheet metal – I didn’t know Spanish could sound like that!

    No proof whatsoever, but I have a theory. :)

    You know that many South American countries, Argentina included, received waves of immigration from different European locations (just like the US) in the 19th and early 20th Centuries… I suspect that Argentina has more than one accent (in Spanish) caused by influences from immigrants native language.

    It was much the same way in the US. We’ve had different accents that resulted from immigrants being native speakers of Italian, or Yiddish, or Swedish, etc.

  122. Oops forgot to add… because I worked with some folks who were from Argentina, and they (to my layman’s ear) sounded Italian. That doesn’t sound like tearing sheet metal to me, anything abrupt in their speech sounded more birdlike.

  123. @ Greg

    There are differences in accent across Argentina, but I don’t hear much variation in my own city (Buenos Aires) apart from immigrants, the lower classes, and – of course – people from other regions of the country.
    As you point out, we’ve been influenced by Italian immigrants, which were indeed numerous. (Without going further, my mother’s surname was Italian.) Such influence even originated a slang, called “Lunfardo”, elements of which have survived and become standard fare in our dialect.

    @ Anthony

    Since you listen to tango, you’re probably familiar with Lunfardo. Personally, I don’t often listen to tango; but I sure like the timeless and peerless Carlos Gardel. :-)

    @ ESR

    Another cosmological question.
    I’ve read at Amazon that Michio Kaku’s Hyperspace includes the conjecture that there used to be a ten-dimensional universe which at some point split into one with four dimensions (ours) and another with six. I suspect this doesn’t make sense, because dimensions are not objects; that is, there can’t be a set of dimensions the same way there can be a set of apples or coins, which can be split. Rather, dimensions form something more akin to a series, where each dimension builds on others. Am I right? (Note that I’m not attacking the concept of higher dimensions itself – only the “splitting” thing.)

    • >Rather, dimensions form something more akin to a series, where each dimension builds on others.

      There are some 11-dimensional cosmologies suggested by string theory in which the “extra” 7 are curled up so tightly that you would have to be at near Planck scale to perceive them. Kaku may be writing about a similar concept.

  124. Makes me wonder whether he ever tried programming.

    His work with the Connection Machine has already been mentioned; Daniel Hillis’ article on it is worth reading:

    http://longnow.org/essays/richard-feynman-connection-machine/

    Also, apropos of his work at Los Alamos, Feynman’s “Los Alamos From Below” is available online:

    http://calteches.library.caltech.edu/34/3/FeynmanLosAlamos.htm

    The story about the computer card decks of different colors in here indicates that, even if he didn’t do programming himself in this case, he certainly understood it very well; otherwise he wouldn’t have had the confidence to leave his team alone when he came in in the middle of them running a complicated computation and saw what looked on the surface like a huge mistake being made (but which actually wasn’t).

  125. @ ESR

    > There are some 11-dimensional cosmologies suggested by string theory in which the “extra” 7 are curled up…

    Yes, I did know that much – whatever “curled” means in a physico-mathematical context.
    I can readily accept a fourth spatial dimension to account for the fact that the Universe is – apparently – finite-yet-boundless. As for additional dimensions, I respect the concept if it’s necessary to make the math work at such small scales, but reserve the right to be skeptical until it proves to be empirically useful.
    Mind you, I’m not saying such dimensions either exist or don’t; IIUC, they’re not territory but map, so the meaningful question is not “Do those things exist?”, but “Do such abstractions possess predictive value?”. Am I succeeding in grasping your epistemological lessons, teacher? ;-)

    > Kaku may be writing about a similar concept.

    So you’d classify Kaku as generally trustworthy? (I promise that, unless this thread gains new life, this question will be the last I ask in it.)

  126. To the guy who said something about his side of the Rio Grande:
    Considering that the headwaters of the Rio Grande are in Gunnisson County, Colorado, To a resident of El Paso, Texas your side could arguably include much of Alaska.

  127. I am trying to figure out if asking an undeniable question is somehow connected with kafkatrapping. On the other hand, I think not, because it is easy to frame honest questions in this manner and it is more about the mechanics of language while kafkatraps are all about the intent of the person doing the trapping.

    • >I am trying to figure out if asking an undeniable question is somehow connected with kafkatrapping.

      In my definition, unfalsifiability is an essential property of kafkatraps. It is unfalsifiability of a special kind: attempting to construct an argument against the trap only proves that you are guilty of wrongthink.

  128. I went back and read your kafkatrap article. I think the two things are unrelated. Unfalsifiable questions are mere language devices which can be overcome by clarification of the question’s premise, while kafkatraps are psychological devices designed to trap somebody to admit “guilt”.

    • >Unfalsifiable questions are mere language devices which can be overcome by clarification of the question’s premise, while kafkatraps are psychological devices designed to trap somebody to admit “guilt”.

      Of course there are unfalsifiable claims that are not kafkatraps, and guilt-inducing manipulations that are not kafkatraps. The defining combination of traits in a kafkatrap is that it is both a guilt-inducer and unfalsifiable.

    • >Googling the word “kafkatrap” shows that many people have caught on it since you wrote about it.

      Thar’s because, alas, kafkatrapping is a more prominent form of abuse now than it was when I described it in 2010. That essay was stimulated by reports of #racefail, which was the first major eruption of the memebot horde now called “social justice warriors”. The term has been picked up mainly by people trying to conceptualize what’s broken about the SJWs.

  129. Chomsky’s politics and linguistics are independent. He has said himself that he would have had exactly the same politics if he had decided to go for algebraic topology instead of linguistics. What is more, there is no problem in agreeing with one and disagreeing with the other: I for one agree with most of his politics, think most of his linguistic stinks, and detest his writing style in both domains.

  130. @ESR:
    I would like to know your response to Mark Rosenfelder’s article on libertarianism. (The bit about gun rights may be safely ignored; he hasn’t as strong, or as long, an argument there as everywhere else, and it contains a direct reference to you.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *