Five in one

Here are four five pretty unrelated things that have been on my mind:

Entrepreneurs: sell vs befriend

I, like I am sure millions of other people, keep getting followed by all sorts of dealers who promise to “help small business” and lead to “explosive growth” on social media. Why do these people exist? How have they not been banned by everyone? Or will selling hope always be big business?

It would be nice to have a community of entrepreneurs. But what do entrepreneurs do? They sell and they compete. Trying to have a community of entrepreneurs is like trying to farm spiders. They will eat each other.

A community of this nature could only form based on prior friendship, where social bonds are stronger than the need to sell. But most of these communities offer to put you into a network for a small fee: this doesn’t exactly inspire warm and fuzzy feelings. The circular nature of their business is also worrying. Conferences, seminars, mindset trainings, honestly…

I have, on the other hand, made many friends online, who happen to be entrepreneurs, but never directly in connection with their entrepreneurship. (You know who you are. Perhaps, some of you would like to meet my recently acquired Buddhist friend.)

Nietzsche: is it all lies?

I am quite worried about how things are unfolding in the US.

Nietzsche keeps getting brought up. He has to be the most misunderstood philosopher. Did his relatives doctor his writings too much after he died? Or is he just forever contradicting himself?

Any Nietzsche scholars very welcome to comment on this article of Nietzsche and the alt-right.

Curate or censor?

In other news, Google recently stopped Gab, apparently a sort of Twitter for people who get banned from Twitter, from being able to be downloaded from their Playstore. Apple stopped them a little earlier this year. Also, Instagram’s Kevin Systrom wants to curate the Internet.

Taleb is in a new battle with the establishment.

Vaccinate or die

France is tightening vaccination requirements. I support vaccines, of course. As a society though, are we better off having people die from preventable diseases or limiting their freedoms?

Diabetes is a preventable disease, but I don’t see anyone being confined to a gym by law. Though the herd immunity argument makes vaccines different. In addition, the fact that it is children who are affected makes vaccines different, but then again we can’t stop some people overfeeding their children with junk. I’ve taken enough trips on routes that serve hospitals to know that you don’t have to be above one year of age to be served Coke in your bottle.

Control

There is a philosophy that suggests that taking responsibility for everything that happens to you is the best way to live (e.g. William James).

I think that the world is one giant furnace of entropy and within that we each have a small island we call the self, where we can affect things. I cannot force someone to ask me to come to their party, but there is a myriad of things I can do to try to gently weasel my way into it.

The single most damaging thing I do, my worst bad habit, is fretting about things I cannot control. In other words, I feel responsible for things that are beyond my reach. I sit there and feel like a failure if I am not invited to the metaphorical party.

The question is: does this fretting push me to look for solutions that I wouldn’t have found if I just rested within my boundaries? Or are parts of William James and his followers’ philosophy just soothingly empowering wishful thinking? Or am I even doing damage by fretting and preventing myself from seeing ways to get into the party? Please share your thoughts on this last thing.

P.S. I couldn’t find a picture of a weasel, so here is a nice chilled out otter. I must take some of my own pictures soon.

Can we have both equality and diversity?

About the infamous Google Memo… Here is a review of reactions to the controversial piece.

Facts:

  • A Google engineer, James Damore, wrote a memo entitled Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber. [Read original]
  • It went viral via internal communication means within Google.
  • He got fired because of it.
  • (A less relevant, but curious fact: Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks who is holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, offered him a job and accused Google of censorship.)

Here are some interesting articles from both sides:

The Economist (sits on the fence)

“This isn’t a question of legality or policy. This is a question of virtue-signalling” [Read]

Bloomberg (argues it was wrong for Google to foreclose the debate so crudely)

“An employee trying to grapple with these problems — clumsily but earnestly — has now been shown the door, thanks mostly to performative online outrage.” [Read]

The Financial Times (denounces the author)

“Responding to the memo is somewhat challenging because it is almost pure drivel, offering up a mix of fallacies, mindless reductions of popular social science and hand-waving at ‘research.'” [Read]

The Atlantic (addressing the error-full coverage of the matter)

“To object to a means of achieving x is not to be anti-x.” [Read]

The Atlantic, again (agrees memo is discriminatory)

“The memo… seemed to dash hopes that much progress has been made in unraveling the systemic conditions that produce and perpetuate inequity in the technology industry. “[Read]

Slate (is pretty enraged)

“The manifesto suggests a culture that is inviting enough for someone who views some of his fellow employees as lesser to share his opinions and be cheered on” [Read]

Business Insider (highlights authors vulnerable legal position in the context of free speech)

The First Amendment to the US Constitution prevents the government from restricting your speech. It doesn’t restrict your employer from controlling your speech when you are at work, citing a Google manager: “freedom of speech is the right to freely express an opinion. It is most assuredly not the right to express an opinion with freedom from the consequences.”

Quillette (has four psychologists sustain points made my memo author)

“Psychological interchangeability makes diversity meaningless. But psychological differences make equal outcomes impossible. Equality or diversity. You can’t have both.” [Read]

Right-wing Twitter is rallying to support the author of the memo:

Google memo right wing twitter commentary

A Linked influencer, Adam Grant (argues that differences between men and women are exaggerated)

“Across 128 domains of the mind and behavior, “78% of gender differences are small or close to zero.” A recent addition to that list is leadership, where men feel more confident but women are rated as more competent.” [Read]

Scott Alexander of Slate Star Codex (refutes Grant’s points)

“Suppose I wanted to convince you that men and women had physically identical bodies. I run studies on things like number of arms, number of kidneys, size of the pancreas, caliber of the aorta, whether the brain is in the head or the chest, et cetera. 90% of these come back identical – in fact, the only ones that don’t are a few outliers like “breast size” or “number of penises”. I conclude that men and women are mostly physically similar. I can even make a statistic like “men and women are physically the same in 78% of traits”.”

Something that occurred to me that I haven’t seen anywhere – and this neither disproves not confirms the memo author’s argument, but it’s something that I feel is important.

Assuming that average men and average women are different in their precise cognitive and emotional strengths, this bears very little significance when it comes to outliers. For its tech roles Google hires from the very top, i.e. from the extreme “end” of the right tail. Outlier men and outlier women don’t behave the same way as average men and women. In fact, outliers are virtually impossible to study with the same confidence that we study average people.

Very curious what you think.

And let’s keep the mood light 🙂

UPD: somebody invited me to Google image “white man and white woman” and “European people history”. What Google shows is below.

Screen Shot 2017-08-09 at 12.58.28Screen Shot 2017-08-09 at 12.58.46

One more point of information: Duck Duck Go search results are virtually the same. Make of it what you will.

UPD 2: Jordan Peterson, who himself was nearly kicked out of Google’s YouTube recently, interviews James Damore [Video]

Rules for picking books to read: optimise for age and readability

how to pick books to read
Arthur Schopenhauer introduces the concept of alternative cost

I have a problem: I really don’t like giving up books I started.

Is the solution to read them to the end?

No, because they are either full of mistakes and fakes or mostly because they are shallow.

Is the solution to not read them?

No, because then I’d start living in an echo chamber and that’s bad.

Is there a solution?

Yes: entertain a point of view and be able to throw it in the bin without succumbing to the slavish “it’s in a book, therefore it’s right”.

Does that mean I should read everything?

Absolutely not. For me, the purpose of reading is to come across ideas that I am not familiar with.

I recently asked the Slate Star Codex reddit thread how they choose their books because modern non-fiction has been getting on my nerves. Some good points came up and I will add some of my own (relating to both fiction and non-fiction):

1. The main criterion to optimise for is the product of age and readability

For example,

Saw The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck on the best sellers book shelf?

Read Moral letters to Lucilius (1st century AD) instead.

Is everyone reading Fifty Shades of Grey? Anna Karenina (1877) is what you need.

Looking at Sapiens: a Brief History of Humankind?

Pick up The Lessons of History by Will and Ariel Durant.

Old books are free from copyright too, so you will easily find them online.

Readability is tough one. I have suffered through many a Shakespearean play. It’s not him, it’s me. I just find him difficult to understand. It happens to be worth it.

In general, the only disadvantage to old books is that they aren’t always intelligible on a practical level.

2. If the book is recommended by a friend, consider it and if you are stuck, ask a friend for a recommendation

Make sure they themselves have read it.

This is how I got into reading Nassim Taleb.

3. If it is on your favourite subject/sub-genre, older than 50 years and still relevant, it’s worth a read

Like Sherlock Holmes? You will probably like Hercule Poirot

4. If the author is a journalist first and foremost, don’t bother with it

Let’s not get political and mention names, but they usually have a lot of interests to defend

5. Authors who spend a lot of time in your part of the world are generally easier to read

Occasionally, for me, reading modern American authors feels like watching an informercial. I mean I really don’t want the first 3 chapters explaining why I should read the book, it’s already in my hands ffs.

6. Sample three random pages in the book: if a paragraph doesn’t make sense, the whole book it unlikely to make sense

This is what I do in book stores. Style is part of substance. When it comes to reading books by academics, this is especially important.

7. If the book itself promises to change your life, destroy as many copies as you can, so that our grandchildren are saved from the intellectual pollution

I could go on a rant, but I won’t.

how to decide what books to read
Delete, delete, delete

There are obviously exceptions to the above.

In addition,

8. Books by the same author seem like a good idea, but this isn’t a reliable rule

J. R. R. Tolkien, for example.

9. Reviews aren’t very important

Arthur explains it well above.

Case in point: The Da Vinci Code is 4.5/5 on Amazon.

And what if you are too cool for books?

Who do you like to read online?

Maria’s Brain Pickings is excellent

The Brain blog is overly academic in its tone, but still nice

Massimo’s Footnotes to Plato is lots of cool philosophy

Lots of other blogs where I know, or feel like I know, the author.

The French nose triumphed over the Bashkir arrow

“During the course of an exchange of fire, we took prisoner a French lieutenant colonel whose name I have now forgotten. To this officer’s ill-fortune, nature had bestowed on him a nose of extraordinary size, and to make matters worse, this nose had been shot through with an arrow which was embedded to half its length. We helped the lieutenant colonel down from his horse and set him on the ground so that we could free him of this distressing adornment.

A few Bashkirs were among the curious people who gathered around the sufferer. Our medic grabbed a saw and prepared to cut the arrow in two so as to remove it painlessly from either side of the enormous pierced nose, when one of the Bashkirs recognised the weapon as one of his own and seized the medic by both hands.

‘No,’ said he, ‘my good sir, I won’t let you cut my arrow. Don’t offend me, sir. Please don’t. It is my arrow. I’ll take it out myself.’
‘Are you raving?’ we said to the fellow. ‘How will you get it out?’
‘Well, sir, I’ll take one end and pull it out, and the arrow will stay in one piece.’
‘And the nose?’ we inquired.
‘And the nose,’ he answered, ‘the devil take it!’
You can imagine the roar of laughter that greeted his words. Meanwhile, the French officer, not understanding a word of Russian, was trying to guess what was going on. He begged us to chase the Bashkir away, which we did; the affair was settled, and in the end the French nose triumphed over the Bashkir arrow.”

Memoirs of Denis Davidov

Are you good at writing stories, be they fictional or real?

Where do you start?

Photo by Henry Chuy on Unsplash

Abortion: the railway dilemma edition

Not to get political in the sense of trying to change people’s minds, I want to see what people think about the issue of the right to life of the unborn – reframed as a transplant problem.

In Ireland, it’s always a debated issue as Ireland has very conservative legislation on the matter.

The non-religious pro-life argument is:

  1. There is a right to bodily integrity.
  2. There is a right to life.
  3. The right to life overrides the right to bodily integrity, hence, abortion isn’t rightful.

Underlying assumption: the unborn has rights.

abortion ethics railway dilemma trolley problem

I was wondering if there is a way to use railway dilemma ethics here. To remind you:

“There is a runaway trolley barreling down the railway tracks. Ahead, on the tracks, there are five people tied up and unable to move. The trolley is headed straight for them. You are standing some distance off in the train yard, next to a lever. If you pull this lever, the trolley will switch to a different set of tracks. However, you notice that there is one person on the side track. You have two options:

  1. Do nothing, and the trolley kills the five people on the main track.
  2. Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the side track where it will kill one person.

Which is the most ethical choice?”

To me, this is identical to the following problem, though some people don’t agree:

“A brilliant transplant surgeon has five patients, each in need of a different organ, each of whom will die without that organ. Unfortunately, there are no organs available to perform any of these five transplant operations. A healthy young traveler, just passing through the city the doctor works in, comes in for a routine checkup. In the course of doing the checkup, the doctor discovers that his organs are compatible with all five of his dying patients. Suppose further that if the young man were to disappear, no one would suspect the doctor. Do you support the morality of the doctor to kill that tourist and provide his healthy organs to those five dying persons and save their lives?”

I really like how the railway dilemma was reframed into a transplant issue. I was just curious, could the pro-life argument be reframed too?

So here is a thought experiment:

A grown person requires a life-saving transplant.

You are the only match in the world.

Does your bodily integrity come below their right to life?

Is it different if they are your child?

abortion eighth amendment ethics philosophy

Differences between the unique match vs pregnancy situations:

  1. Assuming that a woman became pregnant through a consensual act, she was aware of the possibility that her bodily integrity could be compromised by another being. A person living with the exact antigen type required never did anything that implied that they may need to sacrifice their bodily integrity for another person.
  2. The process of child birth is natural. Transplant is an invasive man-made procedure.

Differences between unique match to a child vs pregnancy situations in addition to the above:

The mother never envisaged that her bodily integrity would be compromised in this particular way.

What do you think?

Pareto principle as a consequence of positive feedback loops

“Alexander to Aristotle greeting. You have not done well to publish your books of oral doctrine; for what is there now that we excel others in, if those things which we have been particularly instructed in be laid open to all? For my part, I assure you, I had rather excel others in the knowledge of what is excellent, than in the extent of my power and dominion. Farewell.”

And Aristotle, soothing this passion for preeminence, speaks, in his excuse for himself, of these doctrines, as in fact both published and not published: as indeed, to say the truth, his books on metaphysics are written in a style which makes them useless for ordinary teaching, and instructive only, in the way of memoranda, for those who have been already conversant in that sort of learning.

– The Life of Alexander the Great By Plutarch

Besides the fact that Alexander was a paranoid megalomaniac, this occurred to me:

Learning begets more learning.

As well as:

  • Fitness begets more fitness.
  • Money begets more money.
  • Friendship begets more friendship.
  • Even children – traditionally people tended to either have none at all or a good few.

There is positive feedback (all up to a point of course and then returns diminish).

Why are societal things positive feedback loops whereas biological things are generally negative feedback loops? There are exceptions of course, notably the use it or lose it principle in anything neurological/behavioural as well as in exceptional situations like labour.

Can we think of any examples where there is a negative feedback loop in a sociological context?

It doesn’t have to be limited to humans by the way.

I can think of the following examples of negative feedback in society:

  • Election fatigue or the general situation of chasing after someone who isn’t interested be it in marketing or in interpersonal situations (for clarity, we can phrase it as the more attention they receive, the less attention they return).
  • Obviously, there are lots of theories about how markets self-regulate, but they are filled with problems.
  • Prices vs demand and prices vs supply is another tempting one. However, here the relationship is more genuinely between supply and demand rather than between either of those and price – and that’s not a negative loop.

And if there aren’t very many examples of negative feedback, this explains that so many things in society follow the 80/20 rule rather than the normal distribution.

In fact, you can extrapolate the 80/20 rule. Then you get:

64% of outcomes come from 4% of causes,

51.2% of outcomes come from 0.8% of causes.

I have about 20 GB worth of songs on my phone and I listen to the same 10 tracks. In other words, because there is no negative feedback (up to a pretty high threshold), these 10 songs monopolise my listening “choices”.  I have a whole wardrobe of stuff but I wear the same things all the time. Same with pots and pans. Apps on my phone.

Income inequality doesn’t quite as devilish when you think about it this way.

My thinking is that if we find more examples of macro scale negative feedback loops, we may be able to understand whether there is another way.

Or are we just always going to be in a use it or lose it situation? Are we just one giant self-similar network of walking talking neurons?

Feigenbaumzoom.gif
By BewareircdOwn work, Public Domain, Link

 

“I won’t cry when she dies”

I came across a heart-wrenching story shared by a Russian blogger, here it is translated:

“I had a sister when I was younger. I’m the older of the two. My sister was terminally ill from the age of six. And for our parents, she was everything. They never paid attention to me. There was never any praise for my hard work – and I tried, I wanted them to notice how I hard try.

And thank God I tried, because I was able to go to college and get an education.

There were no gifts. My mother often forgot to ask if I’d eaten.

Aged 10, my sister died of leukaemia. I was scared and felt sorry for her, and one day when I was crying, my mother came to the room and said: if it weren’t for you, she would have got more attention. I was 12 then.

Then it began: if it weren’t for you, we would have taken her abroad, she would at least have see the world. If it weren’t for you, we would have bought a house out the country and would have taken your sister there… and so on. My heart sank every time my mother came into my room.

It lasted about a year, then it died down.

But there was a cult of my sister in the house. I grew up and though that it would have been better if I had been the one that died, not my sister. Thank God, my father treated me much better than did my mother. He kept me from going mad. He helped me while I was studying. But then he died; it was his heart.

As soon as I could, I moved out. And now my mother demands attention from me. If I do not call for 2-3 days, she makes a complaint, she says I’m an ungrateful beast.

When I remind her of my childhood, she says: you are a liar! We loved you both equally! I say: try to remember at least one gift that you gave me. She replies: as if I am bothered reminiscing about dolls.

Now she demands that I take her to live with me, because loneliness kills, and she is already sick. It’s true, she’s really sick and angry at the world. I honestly do not know what to do.

On the one hand, she’s still my mother, although she pushed me away all her life, and on the other – I’m afraid that she will spoil my relationship with my husband if she comes to live with us. Whatever she says now, I know she will be horrible to me. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe life has taught her something. I’m really lost. But I know one thing, I do not like her. When she dies, I will not cry.”

Perhaps the narrator has a skewed view of what happened, but what can you expect from any of us when it comes to childhood memories. It’s so easy to blame our parents.

I didn’t have that level of drama in my life, I think. All the same, some of the feelings in the above entry definitely resonate with me. I am confident they resonate with my mother and how her parents treated her: she was the youngest of three girls and no one ever hid the fact that “she was meant to be a boy” from her. And it would resonate with my father: a man not overly suited to formal academic thinking forced to become an engineer – because to not follow his father’s footsteps is an abomination. And countless other people I know: virtually half the people I know well.

I guess there are good stories too. Everyone’s heard of Magdalene laundries in Ireland. One part that everyone forgets is that in a lot of cases, the woman’s family had to be complicit. Her father had to cave into the local priest, bring the poor expectant woman there and disown her – and not everyone did.

I don’t have a painful sibling story. I’ve countless stories of how my parents stood up – or bent over backwards as the case may be – for me. But I also have a painful divorce story. Every once in a while it rears its head. And I am like that too, still feeling guilty for the untameable destructive craziness of one of the parents, still feeling guilty for not being the perfect daughter though I realise the limiting factor there isn’t set by me.

  1. Are we all this fkd up or do I just have a very bad sample?
  2. What do you do with your crazy relatives?