Yet another weird SF fan

I'm a mathematician, a libertarian, and a science-fiction fan. Common sense? What's that?

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Yet another weird SF fan

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Brief Note on the Dubai Financial Crisis

So Dubai now has its own financial crisis … Didn't Mencius Moldbug cite Dubai as evidence for the superiority of absolute monarchy?

Maybe censorship isn't the road to success after all.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Now They Admit It

According to Peter Watts (seen via BoingBoing):

There’s this myth in wide circulation: rational, emotionless Vulcans in white coats, plumbing the secrets of the universe, their Scientific Methods unsullied by bias or emotionalism. Most people know it’s a myth, of course; they subscribe to a more nuanced view in which scientists are as petty and vain and human as anyone (and as egotistical as any therapist or financier), people who use scientific methodology to tamp down their human imperfections and manage some approximation of objectivity.

But that’s a myth too. The fact is, we are all humans; and humans come with dogma as standard equipment. We can no more shake off our biases than Liz Cheney could pay a compliment to Barack Obama. The best we can do— the best science can do— is make sure that at least, we get to choose among competing biases.

Wasn't that our line?

The reason science works isn't that scientists are free from bias and it isn't because the bias is irrelevant but because we can usually watch the bias at work. Until a few days ago, that wasn't possible for this issue.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Climategate and Newtongate?

Carbon Fixated is comparing the current Climategate scandal with Newtongate, the snail mails that show Isaac Newton (the greatest argumentative nerd in history) was trying to suppress theories and techniques he did not like. That might mean the AGW advocates might be doing something similar to the suppression of Leibniz's calculus notation that set English mathematics back decades. I won't more than mention the suppression of achromatic lenses or the wave theory of light…

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Good Side of Environmentalism Is Not Universal

A few years ago, I said:

The basic metaphysics of environmentalism is rational. Environmentalist statements are of the form “This is true,”not “This is what we want to be true.” Imagine if the metaphysics of the rest of the left were applied to the environment. Could you say “dioxin is poisonous for you but not for me?” Does it make sense to say “nobody really knows whether global warming is dangerous, so we can believe whatever we like?” Unlike most pro-choicers, for example, environmentalists usually assume that there is a real world. Pointing out that they are wrong about many of the details almost seems like quibbling.

More recently, Ruth Edwards of Ottawa wrote a letter to The Globe and Mail saying:

But that ignores the fundamental fact that climate change is a deeply personal issue. It requires us to look inward for answers. Mr. Harper can kill his Copenhagen but he can't kill mine. I say long live Hopenhagen!

This interferes with attempts to use environmentalism to criticize subjectivism in general.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Planetary Boundaries

A few months ago, Nature ran a series of articles purporting to show that human beings were exceeding several “planetary boundaries” and on the verge of exceeding more. On the other hand, the two worst excesses were supposedly in biodiversity loss and nutrient cycles but the associated articles were unable to cite evidence of actual damage instead of wild guesses.

Humans as Pets

At Accelerating Future, Michael Anissimov is criticizing Jamais Cascio's view that humans should be an essential part of post-Singularity civilization:

When it comes to issues that really matter, humans will eventually be viewed as dumb to superintelligences. Keep in mind that superintelligences might derive from humans rather than AIs, but even a superintelligence only smarter than us as we are smarter than Homo habilis would still be a massive difference. I can imagine Jamais busting into a conference room of superintelligences communicating gigabytes per second of information to each other and manipulating concepts more complex than the human mind could ever hope to handle, and shouting, “wait, listen to my input!” Well, sure Jamais, you can give advice to superintelligences, just like a kindergartner can “give advice” to President Obama, but who cares?

It sounds like a superintelligence advised by humans is as absurd as a human advised by dogs … Wait a moment, humans are frequently advised by dogs on such topics as the location of smuggled explosives or the existence of intruders.

To consider a similar topic, there's a common belief among Singularity advocates that a superintelligence will be brighter than us (plausible) and therefore able to understand everything about us (implausible). I'm brighter than my cat but I frequently have no idea of what she's up to.

Friday, November 20, 2009

How to Argue against Right-Wingers

At Austro-Athenian Empire (seen via Fourth Checkraise), we have the following instructions on how to argue against libertarians:

If they advocate the abolition of some government program from which they personally benefit, call them hypocrites.

If they advocate the abolition of some government program from which they don’t personally benefit, call them selfish.

You can apply the same idea to arguments with social conservatives in vice-condemnation mode.

If they have had personal experience with the vice they're condemning, call them hypocrites.

If they have had no personal experience with the vice they're condemning, call them ignorant.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I Can Haz Gigabytes?

Researchers at IBM have claimed to have simulated a cat's cerebral cortex (seen via BoingBoing).

I don't know how compatible they are with computer mice.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Real Worst-Case Scenario

The worst-case scenario about U.S. intelligence secrets isn't that what's left of Al Qaeda will get access to them in the KSM trial. The real worst-case scenario is that we have been infiltrated (which wouldn't surprise me one bit) and that the conspirators use secrecy to maintain the infiltration.

It's quite likely that the present administration will leak any secrets we do have over the next three years anyway.

Monday, November 16, 2009


Arnold Kling has a suggestion for Veteran's Day ceremonies:

My proposal for Veterans' Day observances is that they should include a re-telling of the history of World War I along the lines of the Passover re-telling of the Exodus. My goal would be to help innoculate people from believing in the wisdom of the ruling class.
Something along the lines of Dayenu (earlier discused here) might be appropriate:
  • If Austria–Hungary had declared war against Serbia but Russia had not mobilized, it would have been enough to make us mistrust the political class.
  • If Russia had mobilized but Germany had not declared war on Russia, it would have been enough to make us mistrust the political class.
  • If Germany had declared war on Russia but France had not declared war on Germany, it would have been enough to make us mistrust the political class.
  • If France had declared war on Germany but Germany had not invaded Belgium, it would have been enough to make us mistrust the political class.
  • If Germany had invaded Belgium but Great Britain had not declared war on Germany, it would have been enough to make us mistrust the political class.
  • ………
  • If Germany had tried recruiting Mexico but America's worst President had not declared war, it would have been enough to make us mistrust the political class.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Mad Scientists for Life vs. Health-Insurance Reform

One possible way for the Left to evade the future described in the Mad Scientists for Life post is to stop private medical research and make sure public research will not stop abortions. The need to stop private medical research might explain why they are so desperate to extend the public takeover of health care.

All this nonsense fits together …

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Extrapolating the Future

According to an article in New Scientist on how humans are currently evolving (seen via Overcoming Bias):

If these trends continue for 10 generations, Stearns calculates, the average woman in 2409 will be 2 centimetres shorter and 1 kilogram heavier than she is today.
If we extrapolate that and assume the average adult female height today is 160 cm, the average woman of the year 34009 will have a height of 0 cm.

I think I've taken this a little too far …

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Why Do They Hate Us?

Judging by their choice of targets, terrorists claiming to act in the name of Islam really, really hate unarmed infidels.

Maybe we should stop provoking them.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Mad Scientists for Life

According to Half Sigma, abortion will kill the future of the Republican Party. I doubt that very much. The debate is likely to become moot first, not because the anti-anti-abortion side will have a permanent victory but because it will be obsolete. Consider the following possibilities:

  • Infallible contraception. There is reason to believe every menstrual period increases the chances of breast cancer. This provides a sound reason to turn menstruation and ovulation off unless one is trying to get pregnant. This will eliminate the vast majority of abortions. This will even eliminate the possibly mythical “nice girl who didn't use the pill because only tramps use it.”
  • RU-Pentium. This will stop cell division in the fetus temporarily. It can be used by women who want their children but at a later date. An alternate means would be placing the fetuses in cryonic suspension.
  • Raising the age of puberty. If a pair of “up-tight” parents don't want their kids fooling around in a society where adolescent pregnancy is impossible, they don't have to surrender to the liberal fundamentalists. They can raise the age of puberty back to what it was in the Victorian era. (I suspect it was the drop in the age of puberty that set off the “sexual revolution.”)
  • Genetic engineering. If a fetus has a genetic defect, it need not be aborted, it will be possible to inject the genes in utero. Even exposure to a teratogen could be remedied by fetal surgery.
  • Artificial wombs. The remaining unwanted children could always be placed in artificial wombs and adopted later. An alternate method is to transplant them into the bodies of pro-life volunteers.
  • Technical progress in general. We can expect increased resources and increased efficiency in using resources to get rid of the tendency to take Malthus seriously.
When we combine the above methods, the abortion rate will drop down to near zero. There may be an attempt to keep it moderately common by appealing to fetal research. On the other hand, it's hard to see what we can gain from research on human fetuses that we can't gain from animal fetuses. Abortion is generally tolerated only because it is common. Several decades after the last abortion has taken place, there will be a belated and unnecessary ban. (Even an anarcho-capitalist society is likely to be transparent and those old-fashioned enough to still abort will be known and shunned.) A few decades after that, the sort of history student who second guesses historical figures (someone who regards the existence of the United States as hypocritical since many of the Founding Fathers were slave-holders) will turn the high abortion rates of the turn of the century into some kind of a scandal. The next step will be examining the other opinions of both sides in debates that occurred during the abortion epidemic. We can expect the opinions of anti-abortion bloggers will be given more respect and those of anti-anti-abortion bloggers will be given less respect. If geriatric medicine improves rapidly enough, some of us may still be around then.

I want to form an organization to be called “Mad Scientists For Life.”

Rehabilitating a Science-Fiction Cliche

Science fiction has a common cliche scenario: Shortly after we get into space we encounter many different sentient aliens all of whom have almost the same degree of technological development. Once you start thinking about it, this is preposterous. The difference between Earth and a typical bunch of science-fictional ETs (Kzinti or Merseians or whatever) is only a few thousand years ahead—a million on the outside. In the course of billions of years, the odds of two species developing space flight that close is thousands or millions to one. It would take a very weird theory to make that believable. That weird theory can be found in an article in the late lamented Extropy magazine (found online here).

Here's the scenario: First, we assume that wormholes are both possible and useful. Next, we assume that these wormholes can be accelerated by a Bussard ramjet (or something equivalent) at a fixed acceleration indefinitely. Finally, we assume that the nearest ETs are less than a googol parsecs away. We take a wormhole and accelerate it at 1 g until it reaches the ETs. This will take less than a century by wormhole time. According to the mathematics of these warp drives, it will also take less than a century at the Earth end of the wormhole. When we reach the ETs, we will probably encounter their advance wormholes which means we will meet them only a few centuries after they start spaceflight. In other words, we will probably meet as near equals:

Barring such hostile aliens we can expect to have contacted and be trading with alien civilisations within a few centuries or millennia of starting our wormhole exploration of the universe. This is a symmetrical situation. Not only will be meeting aliens within historically short period, but they will be meeting us shortly after their expansion begins. Consequently all the species of the universe will be linking up at about the same stage in their development. This gives us all shared interests and hence markets in common. We might expect each civilisation to go through two future phase changes. First phase change is when they develop nanotechnology and start redesigning themselves, speeding up etc. Second phase change occurs when they link up with the rest of the universe and get the benefits of the near- infinite economies of scale this brings.

Another cliche which this scenario can include (but which was not mentioned in the article) is the Elder Race. This is a race of ETs who have been around for billions of years and are very wise and very, very patient. The Elder Race of cliche has “progressed” far beyond the young, greedy, individualistic civilizations. If we assume that there is a race of ETs with the ambition to be an Elder Race they can achieve that ambition by accelerating a bit more slowly than average. Establishing a speed limit even a tiny bit less than the speed of light would make them encounter their first aliens only after a million years. Arranging such a slowdown would require a centralized collectivist organization. (Otherwise the fastest members would set the pace.) We might someday encounter very advanced, very powerful ETs who sound like New-Age loons. (Individualists such as myself should brace ourselves.) Do not insult them. They really do have magical powers and will turn you into a toad.

I have no reason to believe they have arranged for a bird to drop a crust of bread on the LHC.

Friday, November 06, 2009

There Are People with Guns out There, Sir

For some reason the news that Fort Hood was a “gun-free” zone reminds me of Monty Python.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Explaining the Election Results

Maybe the results from New Jersey and Virginia (as well as Westchester and possibly Nassau counties in New York) mean that suburban Republicans are back and the results from upstate New York mean that rural areas might be trending Democratic.

The theory that the discrepancy is about a Civil War in the Republican party doesn't make sense since upstate New York is not exactly a “Metrocon” region.

On the other hand, maybe it's Canadian illegal aliens voting at the Canadian border.

On the gripping hand, it might be a mistake to read too much into a handful of results.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Dubya is a Pointy-Headed Intellectual?

According to an article in New Scientist:

IS GEORGE W. BUSH stupid? It's a question that occupied a good many minds of all political persuasions during his turbulent eight-year presidency. The strict answer is no. Bush's IQ score is estimated to be above 120, which suggests an intelligence in the top 10 per cent of the population. But this, surely, does not tell the whole story. Even those sympathetic to the former president have acknowledged that as a thinker and decision-maker he is not all there. Even his loyal speechwriter David Frum called him glib, incurious and "as a result ill-informed".
What was that? He has book-larnin' but not a lick o' common sense? Does this mean he's on the same side as the Elitist Bastards?

The article goes on to distinguish between IQ and “rational thinking.” I'm not sure if the psychologists researching this can tell the difference between “rational thinking” and “agrees with us.”

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Gold, Oil, and Global Warming

According to the late Thomas Gold, oil and natural gas deposits did not come from fossils but instead came from the materials the Earth was made of (discussed on Classical Values). This is actually the case with Saturn's moon, Titan, so it is not completely absurd … although it is highly speculative.

This theory has important implications for the possible global warming crisis. If all the fossil fuel comes from fossils, there can't be that much of it: We are likely to run out before the CO2 accumulation can be a major problem. If the “fossil fuels” are as abundant as Gold said, it's much more likely for for the greenhouse effect to be a problem.

ObSF: “Wildcat” by Poul Anderson.

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