After getting lots of feedback and some criticism of my previous episode on superforecasting I decide to make one final attempt to detail the issues I see with it. This episode ended up being pretty long, so while I normally wouldn't ever say this, if you had enough of superforecasting after the last episode, or if you're already in complete agreement with me (also possible I suppose) then you can probably skip this one.
I reluctantly go back to the well of COVID-19 commentary. In particular I wonder what leadership would look like. I conclude that where past instances of leadership emphasized sacrifice, that I'm not sure that this crisis is amenable to calls for that sort of sacrifice, rather our best bet is to be smart, implementing measures that work and easing off those where the evidence is weak. And that if we can't do that we might end up falling Sweden in a de facto and unorganized fashion.
Super Thinking: The Big Book of Mental Models By: Gabriel Weinberg and Lauren McCann
Human Compatible: Artificial Intelligence and the Problem of Control By: Stuart J. Russell
Joseph Smith’s First Vision: Confirming Evidences and Contemporary Accounts By: Milton Vaughn Backman
The Cultural Evolution Inside of Mormonism By: Greg Trimble
The Worth of War By: Benjamin Ginsberg
The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West By: David McCullough
Sex and Culture By: J. D. Unwin
A review of J.D. Unwin's 1934 book Sex and Culture which puts forth the theory that once a culture loosens up restrictions on pre-marital sex that this culture only has about 100 years before it sinks into irrelevance. If we take this prediction seriously and set the sexual revolution as the beginning of this countdown, then we're about halfway through it. What should we do with this possibility?
Recently it's become expected that if you want to be taken seriously as a forecaster that you should not only record your predictions in advance, but assign a confidence level. And that by following this methodology certain people, so called superforecasters, have been found who are significantly better at prediction than average. The problem with this approach is that while these individuals are great at predicting should things continue mostly as they have, they're actually worse at predicting extreme events, which are inevitably the most impactful.
I make some predictions for what the sort of changes COVID-19 will spawn in the world. In particular I think that gatherings of large groups of people will be affected for a very long time, but also I make some predictions for it's affect on preparation, US-China relations and ecoterrorists...
It's a two parter this week which starts with a review of The Decadent Society by Ross Douthat. His contention is that the world, but particularly the US has stagnated. That we have lost the ability to cooperate and do great things, or even to create new works of art. From the perspective of eschatology this is not what most people think of, but it is still an end of the world scenario, and in some respects a very depressing one, where we are forever close to the promised land but never quite able to enter...
Like everyone else I talk about the coronavirus, though hopefully in a way somewhat different from everyone else. In particular I focus on how efficiency ultimately equals fragility. Something this crisis has brought into sharp relief, where for the lack of a few hundred million dollars in precautionary spending we're going to end up spending billions if not trillions of dollars trying to fix the mess.
Once upon a time, in an effort to see if people read these show notes I offered an Amazon gift card for people who saw the message and contacted me. I'm going to do that again $20 to the first person to mention this message, and another $20 to the first person who mentions it in the month of May. Hopefully things will be better by then, but it's possible they'll be a lot worse.
Many years ago I read Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson and thoroughly enjoyed it, enough so that when I made a goal to go back and start re-reading more books it was the first book I chose. In particular out of all the science fiction books I have ever read it may provide the very best defense of the connection between morality and civilization. It does this on top of having delightful characters and an excellent plot (except the ending, I apologize in advance for the ending...)
As I review my older episodes, I notice that some of them are less about being interesting in and of themselves, and more part of building the foundation for this crazy house I’m trying to erect. Some episodes are less paintings on a wall than the wall itself. This is such an episode.
We're going to talk about how Bostrom's Simulation Hypothesis necessary implies a theology. And that once you have a theology it's a natural next step to consider how that might connect to religion, and eschatology.
Now that The Good Place is over I discuss what it had to say about eschatology.
***Warning this episode contains massive The Good Place spoilers. Proceed with caution***
In particular when they eventually arrived at the Good Place there were numerous problems. In part they were included for comedic effect, but in part they reflected real potential issues with a world were all your desires are met. Lest you think this is a pointless discussion, we may be able to create such a world with brain uploading. And even without that, we've developed numerous desire granting technologies.
In 1941 George Orwell said:
Hitler is a criminal lunatic, and [yet] Hitler has an army of millions of men, aeroplanes in thousands, tanks in tens of thousands. For his sake a great nation has been willing to overwork itself for six years and then to fight for two years more, whereas for the common-sense, essentially hedonistic world-view which Mr. Wells puts forward, hardly a human creature is willing to shed a pint of blood
Is this true? Have the number of people with a "common-sense, essentially hedonistic world-view" grown? Is that a problem?
Scott Alexander of SlateStarCodex recently declared that "nobody ever really believed [that Fermi's Paradox] was a problem. I not only believed it was a problem I still believe it's a problem, and I think everyone else should as well. If you're one of those who don't think it is, then this episode is designed to change your mind.
In 1519 Cortés began his invasion of the Aztec empire. By 1520 Montezuma would be dead, and by 1521 the empire would have fallen. Within the next half dozen decades 95% of the Aztecs would be dead of disease. But Montezuma and the Aztecs had almost no warning of the cataclysm that was about to befall them. Is there some cataclysm waiting in our future which we will similarly be completely ignorant of until it is upon us? Probably. If that's the case what measures could we possibly take?
My annual episode where I look back on predictions I've made in the past (particularly my 100 year predictions) and make some predictions for the upcoming year. As you might imagine there would be no point of making 2020 predictions if I didn't cover the upcoming presidential election. I think there's a lot going on there, and while Bloomberg hasn't made a big impact he might still do that. Also Biden looks increasingly shaky as a front runner. Whatever happens it's going to be chaotic, but I take a stab at saying what exactly that chaos will look like.