Over at Slate Star Codex, I learned that Eliezer Yudkowsky is writing a book on, as Scott puts it, “low-hanging fruit vs. the argument from humility”. He’s examining the question of when we are, or can be, justified in believing we have spotted something important that the experts have missed. I read Eliezer’s first chapter,… Continue reading Against modesty, and for the Fischer set
There comes from Scott Alexander’s blog news of a new unified theory of neural cognition called the “predictive processing model”. Read his review of the book “Surfing Uncertainty” before proceeding further. This model seems to solve a whole raft of longstanding problems about how the brain does what it does, offer insight into how various… Continue reading The brain is a Peirce engine
One of the things I most enjoy doing is spotting holes in linguistic maps – places where people habitually circumlocute their way around a word – or, more properly, an important bundle of concepts tagged by a word – that they don’t know they’re missing. Sometimes, filling one of these holes can shake up everyone’s… Continue reading Cryptotheories and cognition
Once upon a time, back during the Age of Exploration, there was a marvellous practice called the “silent trade”. It was a solution to a serious coordination problem between groups who had no languages in common, or distrusted each other so much that they refused to come within range of each others’ weapons. What makes… Continue reading The silent trade: universal objective ethics in action
An underappreciated fact about U.S. Constitutional law is that it recognizes sources of authority prior to the U.S. Constitution itself. It is settled law that the Bill of Rights, in particular, does not confer rights, it only recognizes “natural rights” which pre-exist the Bill of Rights and the Constitution and which – this is the… Continue reading What Amending the Constitution Cannot Do
I’ve gotten questions from a couple of different quarters recently about my relationship to the the rationalist community around Less Wrong and related blogs. The one sentence answer is that I consider myself a fellow-traveler and ally of that culture, but not really part of it nor particularly wishing to be. The rest of this… Continue reading Me and Less Wrong
Some weeks ago I was tremendously amused by a report of an exchange in which a self-righteous vegetarian/vegan was attempting to berate somebody else for enjoying Kentucky Fried Chicken. I shall transcribe the exchange here: >There is nothing sweet or savory about the rotting >carcass of a chicken twisted and crushed with cruelty. >There is… Continue reading A bloodmouth carnist theory of animal rights
The Dark Enlightenment is, as I have previously noted, a large and messy phenomenon. It appears to me in part to be a granfalloon invented by Nick Land and certain others to make their own piece of it (the neoreactionaries) look larger and more influential than it actually is. The most detailed critiques of the… Continue reading Premises of the Dark Enlightenment
The Dark Enlightenment is a group of thinkers and blogs that has aroused a fair amount of controversy in the last several years. Most people who write about them from the outside piously dismiss them as a gang of crypto- and not-so-crypto- fascists, or a sort of grunting neanderthalism dressed up in intellectual clothes. The… Continue reading Mapping the Dark Enlightenment
In a response to my previous post, on Acausality and the Scientific Mind, a commenter said: “The computationalist position necessarily entails that subjectivity does not really exist, and what looks like subjectivity is a mere illusion without causal force.” There are, I’m sure, many vulgar and stupid versions of computationalism that have this as a… Continue reading Tackling subjectivity head on
There is enough right about David Gelernter’s essay The Closing of the Scientific Mind to make it important to recognize where he has gone wrong. His willingness to call out certain kinds of widely popular modern errors is admirable, but does not preserve him from having made some rather more traditional errors of his own.
One of my commenters recently speculated in an accusing tone that I might be a natural-rights libertarian. He was wrong, but explaining why is a good excuse for writing an essay I’ve been tooling up to do for a long time. For those of you who aren’t libertarians, this is not a parochial internal dispute… Continue reading Natural rights and wrongs?
In the 1840s, Hindu priests complained to Charles James Napier (then Commander-in-Chief of British forces in India) about the prohibition of suttee by British authorities. Suttee was the custom of burning widows alive on the funeral pyre of their husbands. According to Napier’s brother William, this is how he replied: “Be it so. This burning… Continue reading Napier’s Lesson
A regular, TomA, asks: “If you could replace your organic body (in its entirety) with a machine, would you do it?” This is one of those questions where examining the implied premises is the most interesting thing about answering it…
Community and collectivism are opposites. Community is valuable and powerful; it is individuals freely choosing to cooperate and identify with each other to achieve more than they can individually, as we do in the open-source community. Collectivism is a fraud. It pretends to be about community, but it is actually about the use of force.… Continue reading Community versus collectivism
I’ve recently become aware of an entertaining controversy in the world of mathematics. It seems a dissident faction of mathematicians is advocating the replacement of the mathematical constant π with the related constant τ = 2π. T he self-described ‘Tauists’ are conducting their campaign with a form of ha-ha-only-serious dry humor that gently mocks the… Continue reading Tau versus Pi
Sam Harris’s The Moral Landscape continues a pattern I’ve noted in the last two books of his I’ve read, Letter To A Christian Nation and The End Of Faith (my review here). Harris is a very capable thinker and a fearless, lucid, forceful writer; at his best, he’s the most accessible of the group he… Continue reading The Moral Landscape: a critical review
In a recent comment thread, I wrote that I am revolted by the corruption and politicization of science. After I wrote that, I experienced a moment of introspective surprise during which I realized that my feelings about people who commit scientific fraud for personal or political ends are in tone and intensity very much like… Continue reading Maybe science is my religion, after all
In the you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up department, I learned a few minutes ago that I have been quoted, approvingly, in an article published with the imprimatur of the Vatican. This is from a news report that made Slashdot; I have not seen the article itself, which is apparently print-only and is likely in Italian. OK, yes, I did… Continue reading Imprimatur me!
Earlier today I stumbled over some accusations that atheists are lining up with Islam because their actual enemy is not religion but Christianity. The actual revelation here is that the fever-swamps of the left are capable of generating unlimited amounts of nonsense and putting it on protest signs. And, that conservatives are still prone to… Continue reading Religious toxicity