For your holiday listening enjoyment I have assembled five stories, nay parables to bring enlightenment and edification during these otherwise dark and gloomy months. You may not always agree with the moral, but you will find some (generally me) doing something dumb in all of them.
Last month wildfires ravaged California, including the inappropriately named Camp Fire which killed 86. Many people want to blame the fires on global warming and the changing climate, while other's think it could be solved to more logging. More likely it's due to fire suppression efforts which have allowed deadwood to accumulate, meaning that when fires do come they are much more destructive.
Suppressing fires is not the only place where we're trying to bend nature to our will, and the question I pose in this episode is whether there are other areas where we're accumulating metaphorical deadwood, and risk stockpiling fuel for a conflagration much greater than we expect.
In "The Coddling of the American Mind" Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt discuss the new culture of safety that has developed on campuses around the country, and argue that children and students need challenges and stress and even suffering in their life to develop properly. If we grant their premise, how do we decide how much suffering to introduce? And how do we convince people to accept more suffering into their life? How do we determine the right level of suffering?
Milan M. Ćirković's book The Great Silence is a fantastic exploration of the philosophy and importance of Fermi's Paradox. I spend the first half of this episode doing a review of the book and the second half discussing how my own explanation of the paradox fits in to Ćirković's framework.
Every time we develop a new technology, we take a risk. Some technologies are dangerous and it may be that sometime in the future we will develop a technology which will mean the end of humanity. In a recent paper Bostrom makes this point by using the analogy of drawing balls from an urn. Progress means drawing balls from the urn, and as a result means running this risk.
This is unfortunate because for many people also think growth and progress are the best ways for creating the world we want. Among them, Tyler Cowen who recently published the book Stubborn Attachments. In this episode I compare and contrast these two views. Perhaps we can have growth and avoid bad technology, but as far as we can tell, no one ever has...
I had a discussion with a friend recently who claimed that I other similarly dispassionate blogs (read rationalists) were providing intellectual cover for bad people, in particular men's rights activists and militant incels. I look into that claim, and ultimately find it to be... Listen to the podcast for the dramatic reveal!
In the 90s there were two theories for the future. Fukuyama's "End of History" and Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations". Now that more than two decades has passed it seems obvious that Huntington was the more prescient. But even Huntington may have insufficiently accounted for the effects of technology on civilizations, particularly it's power to divide civilizations internally, something which is present on everyone's mind as we think about the results of the most recent election. Most people understate the importance of religion, Huntington does not, and this makes things even more complicated.
A recent book asks, "What's Wrong with China?" Well perhaps a lot, but for the purposes of this podcast I'm just looking at how very different China is from the US or the West, far different than most people think. Particularly those people who expect China to smoothly transition to something indistinguishable from a modern western democracy.
On June 1, 2009 Air France Flight 447 crashed into the mid-atlantic killing all 228 people aboard. In this episode I look at how it happened and whether it provides any larger lessons on the limits of privacy and technology and for the political crisis we're currently facing.
There are a lot of ways to spend our time, money and attention, and all three are limited. How do we decide what to spend them on, how do we decide what to worry about? This is the topic I examine on this episode, using global warming/climate change as one of the big examples. I approach this question with several frameworks in mind including the framework of effective altruism.
Age of Em: Work, Love and Life When Robots Rule the Earth is a book about a future where brain emulation becomes commonplace, by Robin Hanson. The future Hanson describes is a mixed bag, and I look at what that says about other transhumanist visions of the future, along with, of course, the very real possibility that none of those visions will come to pass. A position which Hanson’s book also supports though with much less detail. But this position, both because of it’s immediacy and it’s long term downside, is where, I feel, we should be spending the bulk of our attention.
I have long positioned myself as something of a deficit hawk. A few weeks ago I heard a podcast about Modern Monetary Theory, an economics ideology which declares that debts and deficits don't matter. This is not the first time I have heard someone claim that, and my response was always, "But what about inflation?!?" Well it turns out I was wrong. Advocates of MMT aren't ignoring inflation they're arguing that inflation is the only thing you should worry about. This does answer my primary objection, but I think there are still reasons why MMT is a bad idea.
I decide to add myself to the long list of people talking about the Kavanuagh nomination. But I look at it from the standpoint of what standards a Senator might use to make a decision when it really isn't clear who's telling the truth. Spoiler alert: most of them are self-serving and biased.
Recently I attended the Moral and Ethical Leadership Conference put on by the BYU Management Society, the unofficial theme of which appeared to be civility. I take three speeches from the conference: Senator Jeff Flake, artist Eric Dowdle and columnist McKay Coppins and use them as a jumping off point for a discussion of the current state of civility and why it needs to be defended.
On a recent episode of the Art of Manliness Professor Benjamin Ginsberg discusses his book The Value of War and makes the claim that war has several positive values which have been recently overlooked? Is this the case? If so what might those positives be?
How will people a thousand years from now view this era? Will they see us as visionaries creating utopia or will they see us as hopelessly naive, ignoring obvious risks in favor of selfish short-term cultural gains? As you might imagine, I'm arguing for the latter. Particularly given that we are doing very little to avoid being selfish, or short-term or to identify the risks of changes to the culture. Also it should be noted that I am mostly reframing what Robin Hanson says in this post, so a definite thanks to him.
I just finished reading Conspiracy by Ryan Holiday, which is the story of Gawker being taken down by Peter Thiel. And someone on reddit pointed out that if Gawker was what they claimed to be, they should have been the one's to expose Theranos. But, of course they didn't. What did Gawker prioritize? And what should we be prioritizing in deciding what to publish and what to ban?
There are lots of ways things could go poorly in the future without going catastrophically bad. In this episode I take a recent article by Tyler Cowen where he speaks on this idea and I expand on some of the ideas he mentions in addition to adding one of my own.
A review of the book Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou. I discuss how the many failsafes against this sort of fraud were circumvented by Holmes and her accomplices, and how this parallels my own experience in the start up world.
Slate recently published an article arguing we should not worry about porn. This episode is, in part, an answer to that question, and in it I argue that the unparalleled access to "sex-films", is so unprecedented that taking a firm stand that we shouldn't worry, is unwarranted given the data we have available.
I argue that past moral panics have correctly predicted what will happen, but predicted it happening sooner and more dramatically than it actually did, which causes people to undervalue the points they made.
Rather than covering one big talk I decided to cover several:
1- Some impressions of the Sunstone Symposium I was just at.
2- I discuss irreconcilable value differences, and whether they're a problem.
3- The Putin-Trump summit and whether it increased or decreased the chance of nuclear war.
Nietzsche claimed that "God is dead", and predicted that as this became apparent the world would descend into nihilism. But what if there are god-like extraterrestrials out there? Or what if we can create our own gods using AI? How does that change his prediction of nihilism? The question seems to depend on whether there is some universal system of morality. If not, I argue, the consequences will be every bit as bad as Nietzsche predicted.
The coming fight over who will replace Anthony Kennedy has once again brought up the subject of whether all values should determined at the highest level possible. People are worried that if Kennedy is replaced that Roe v Wade will be overturned. But of course what isn't emphasized is that this will just move the issue back to the states. Are we sure that this and other issues really have to be all the same across the entire nation? Or that doing it this way has not made things worse?
I introduce the idea of "The Mistake of Dramatic Timing" which affects most of the thinking about Fermi's Paradox. I review a particularly egregious example of it in the Bobiverse series. I then go on to discuss my issues with a recent paper which claimed to "Dissolve Fermi's Paradox".
It's the 100th Episode! Okay don't get too excited, mostly I'm using this to question why I even do this. <spoiler alert>Hubris!</spoiler alert> And whether I should change anything going forward. (Probably, but nothing big.) The upshot is I think I have at least 100 more in me so I'll be here for awhile.