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

Thursday, December 29, 2011

“… On Some Dark and Lonely Nights, You Can Still Hear the Howling of the Libertarians”

Cracked on the Kowloon Walled City:

Then, in 1948, the British went to clear the area, but failed so spectacularly that everybody, both English and Chinese alike, issued an official decree of "Screw that place." They agreed to let Kowloon be, but cut it off from all government services, which in communist China was pretty much everything: police, water, electricity, road maintenance, postal services and so on.

They basically Thunderdomed a whole city, and then just walked away.

And to everybody's mutual surprise, Kowloon absolutely thrived on the anarchy.

A counterexample to the theory that civilization requires government.

Does This Mean the Global Warming Crisis Is Over?

According to Energy Self-Reliant States, solar energy will become cheaper than conventional energy in most of the U.S. over the next decade or two. Does this mean, the potential danger from AGW will soon be over?

In particular, does this mean we can ignore Naomi Klein?

Or will this be another case of bait and switch? Will we be told that we don't need nuclear etc. because of cheap solar and then be told that we need to “rethink” capitalism when solar isn't enough?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Brief Note on the War on Christmas

There might be a War on Christmas but the anti-Christmas side isn't even close to winning. It looks like the pro-Christmas side has mistaken the propaganda (“WE ARE THE WAVE OF THE FUTURE” and similar bulshytt) of the anti-Christmas side for reality.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Rating the Ten Plotlines

Io9 has a list of Ten plotlines you'll find in science fiction - over and over again:

  1. Robots
  2. Interstellar Travel
  3. Time Travel
  4. Superpowers
  5. Bodily Transformation
  6. Parallel Universe
  7. Alien Invasion
  8. Immortality
  9. The Post-Apocalyptic World
  10. Godlike Aliens
I would rate the likelihood of the ten tropes (from most likely to least likely) as follows:
  1. Robots
  2. Bodily Transformation
  3. Immortality
  4. Interstellar Travel
  5. The Post-Apocalyptic World
  6. Godlike Aliens
  7. Alien Invasion
  8. Superpowers
  9. Parallel Universe
  10. Time Travel
Parts of the above ordering are trivially obvious. For example, bodily transformation must be more likely than immortality or superpowers because either immortality or superpowers imply bodily transformation. Immortality is almost certainly more likely than interstellar travel because it will probably take longer than a current human lifespan to get from star to star. (This might not apply if it's ETs doing the traveling.) Alien invasion is less likely than interstellar travel, a post-apocalyptic world, or godlike aliens because aliens will need to be godlike to invade at the end of that long a supply line, because anything resembling a successful alien invasion will produce a post-apocalyptic world, and because aliens will need interstellar travel to get here.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Red Carpet Wanted

If the current trend toward anti-Christian lynch mobs in Islamic countries continues, we have the opportunity to get a wave of immigrants who know the Middle East from the inside and loathe the nuttier brands of Islam.

We are missing the opportunity, owing to the fact that immigration controls backed by alleged right-wingers have given the leftists currently in charge the ability to keep potential allies out.

As I have said before, we must remember the most useful question to ask when considering a proposed government activity: Would I trust my worst enemy with the power? We trusted governments with the power to keep people out and right now they're abusing it.

Addendum: This makes more sense than the cartoonist realized.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Will Desalinization Make the Sea Saltier?

According to at least one environmentalist:

Rivers are overdiverted, causing water shortages downstream. Aquifers are being overtapped. Where is the water to come from so as to safeguard the environment. If you say, "the ocean with desalination plants" that is NOT an answer either - not in the long run. Billions and billions of people...that is a lot of water to take from the ocean with the concomittent pile-up of vast salt extracts. What do you do with that? You cannpt add it back to the oceans because at this scale you begin to increase the salinity of the ocean which would devestate the life within it.
What do you think happens to the water you drink? Does it slosh around inside your body? If it doesn't come out, you will explode. Every last ounce of that water will eventually exit and make its way back to the ocean, where it will dilute all that nasty salt.

The same phenomena will occur with water used in irrigation, bathing, or anything else.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

This Explains Mr. Creosote

According to the very latest research (i.e., stuff that will be reversed next year):

The sugar in sweet foods stimulates a reflex that expands your stomach, writes senior researcher Arnold Berstad and assistant doctor Jørgen Valeur from Lovisenberg Diakonale Hospital in the latest issue of The Journal of the Norwegian Medical Association.
And finally, a wafer thin mint

And furthermore: This also explains why there's always room for Jell-O.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

To Newt Gingrich

If you sound too much like the archetypal Democrat, Andrew Jackson, you're doing something wrong.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Brief Note on “Miniver Cheevy”

“Miniver Cheevy” by Edwin Arlington Robinson starts:

Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn,
Grew lean while he assailed the seasons;
He wept that he was ever born,
And he had reasons.
Today, of course, he would be an anti-natalist.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Indbur II

Kim Jong-il has achieved room temperature. It remains to be seen whether he will leave a much-needed gap in world politics.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Financial Regulation via Chronophone

A few years ago, Eliezer Yudkowsky speculated about the effects of a chronophone:

Archimedes of Syracuse was the greatest mathematician and engineer of the ancient world.  Imagine that Archimedes invented a temporal telephone ("chronophone" for short) which lets him talk to you, here in the 21st century. You can make suggestions! For purposes of the thought experiment, ignore the morality of altering history - just assume that it is proper to optimize post-Archimedean history as though it were simply the ordinary future. If so, it would seem that you are in a position to accomplish a great deal of good.

Unfortunately, Archimedes's chronophone comes with certain restrictions upon its use:  It cannot transmit information that is, in a certain sense, "too anachronistic".

You cannot suggest, for example, that women should have the vote.  Maybe you could persuade Archimedes of Syracuse of the issue, and maybe not; but it is a moot point, the chronophone will not transmit the advice.  Or rather, it will transmit the advice, but it will come out as:  "Install a tyrant of great personal virtue, such as Hiero II, under whose rule Syracuse experienced fifty years of peace and prosperity."  That's how the chronophone avoids transmitting overly anachronistic information - it transmits cognitive strategies rather than words.  If you follow the policy of "Check my brain's memory to see what my contemporary culture recommends as a wise form of political organization", what comes out of the chronophone is the result of Archimedes following the same policy of looking up in his brain what his era lauds as a wise form of political organization.

If we sent advice to increase financial regulation to politicians of a mere decade ago via this chronophone, what would it come out as? If we said “Make sure financial institutions only invest in the soundest securities,” it might come out as “Only invest in top-rated mortgage securities and European sovereign debt.” After all, the major worries of most of the naughties were that foreigners would compete with Americans and that a combination of wars and tax cuts would drive America bankrupt. (Clearly, we should only invest in industries that were immune to imports and off-shoring and only invest in sovereign debt from peaceful countries unafraid of taxes.)

A Brief Note on Net Neutrality

If net neutrality laws are passed, they will be written by the same people responsible for SOPA.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

More Brains!

Studying to be a London taxi driver can increase the brain size of at least 39 people.

A few years ago, I would have taken a small study like this more seriously. Now it is, at best, an indication that a real study might be worthwhile.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Amazing News

Robin Hanson has admitted to being human.

As is often the case, a Robin Hanson post reminded me of R. A. Lafferty's SF. This time it wasn't the post, it was the anti-natalist commenters. There are Ouden worshipers out there.
“…and may holy Ouden reign for never and never.”

As for whether we should pay attention, if medical research stagnates the anti-natalists will disappear. On the other hand, if cryonics actually pays off we might have them to kick around forever. At first, they will be outvoted in elections and outbid in decision markets. Later they will be ignored completely as they become an infinitesimal fraction of the population. They won’t, however, disappear. Nonexistence is always for others.

As for whether we should pay attention to their argument … there is no argument. They appear to be basing their theories on the claim that causing pain is always wrong. I disagree with that premise and there is no rational way to establish it. In related news, I put chili powder and horseradish on my lunch and I have a dentist appointment on Wednesday.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Not Every Atheist Is a Darwinist

The subtitle of The Prime Directive is “Do not impose harm. Atheism – Anarchism – Antinatalism”. (The brand of anarchism is question is that which regards property rights as imposed by governments, earlier criticized here.)

In the other direction, not every Darwinist is an atheist.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Are Intellectuals More Arrogant Than Non-Intellectuals?

According to Arnold Kling:

Cognitive psychologist Daniel Kahneman's new book, Thinking Fast and Slow, is a capstone to a distinguished career spent documenting the systematic flaws in human reasoning. He finds it useful to describe us as having two systems for thinking.

System One, as he calls it, is quick, intuitive, and decisive. It may be described as often wrong but never in doubt. System One is always active and plays a role in every decision that we make because it operates rapidly and unconsciously.

System Two is deliberative and logical. In principle, System Two can detect and correct the errors of System One. However, System Two has limited capacity, and often we do not invoke it before arriving at a conclusion. Even worse, we may deploy System Two to rationalize the conclusions of System One, rather than to question those conclusions and suggest appropriate changes.

Intellectuals are supposed to use System Two. Now let's look at who's arrogant:

Suppose you were to ask yourself how well you understand the world around you. How accurate is your map of reality?

If you interrogate System Two, it might reply, “There are many phenomena about which I know little. In the grand scheme of things, I am just blindly groping through a world that is far too complex for me to possibly understand.”

However, if you were to interrogate System One, it might reply, “My map is terrific. Why, I am very nearly omniscient!”

System One is the more arrogant system here.

On the other hand, intellectuals don't always use System Two. I first noticed this in the course of SDI debates, in which scientists criticizing SDI would almost always say “I say this as a human being, not as a scientist.” I suspect that intellectuals make the least sense when they try using System One and fail.

In other words, I don't think intellectuals should stop trying to be smart. When they stop trying to be smart, they managed to sound even sillier than when they were using System Two.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Seen on a Bumper Sticker

I disagree. That bumper sticker is UNFAIR TO MARTIANS!

Thursday, December 08, 2011

How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Loved You When You Know I've Been a Liar All My Life?

According to the latest research, sugar makes us sleepy and protein wakes us up. According to yesterday's theories, sugar was an energy food and protein contained sleep-inducing tryptophan. Apparently, today's research, based on indirect correlations in a complex field with lots of confounding factors, says that yesterday's similar research was bulshytt.

… and this time it's different.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Another Note on Marmite

I just realized that Marmite is, quite literally, the result of “scraping the bottom of the barrel.”

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

If This Is True, It Is Also False

According to The View from Hell:

The existence of an epistemic peer who holds a contrary belief is more devastating than any argument.
Since most people (and, presumably, most epistemic peers) disagree with this …

Similarly, if the second choice here is true, it is also false.

A Question That Must Be Asked

Did the organization run by the anonymous test taker need a bailout in 2008?

I Speak Nerd Fluently

Yes. The LOTR jokes are funny.

As for a sandwich containing Marmite, I've found that Marmite, mayonnaise, radicchio, and Edam cheese (and, of course, bread) go together. Marmite is also useful in perking up succotash (along with onions, garlic, chili powder, and horseradish).

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Does This Count as Macroscopic?

Quantum entanglement has been found in objects big enough to see. Despite that, I don't think they count as macroscopic. 1016 carbon atoms is less than a Planck mass. Above a Planck mass, gravitational effects are greater than quantum effects. I think that means it's possible to tell where something is by its gravitational field. In other words, above a Planck mass, all objects are observed whether or not somebody is looking.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Are Atheists Trustworthy?

Robin Hanson recently discussed poll results that indicate many people distrust atheists. I saw the following quote in the resulting comment thread:

A growing body of social science research reveals that atheists, and non-religious people in general, are far from the unsavory beings many assume them to be. On basic questions of morality and human decency — issues such as governmental use of torture, the death penalty, punitive hitting of children, racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, environmental degradation or human rights — the irreligious tend to be more ethical than their religious peers, particularly compared with those who describe themselves as very religious.

In other words, we can trust atheists to adhere to atheist standards. (If you want to be really cynical, we can trust atheists to say they adhere to atheist standards.)

My stereotype of atheists, for what little is worth, isn't that they're “wild men.” (Maybe nothingists are “wild men.”) My stereotype of atheists is that they're self-congratulatory people patting themselves on the back for being more rational than anybody else.

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