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Comment by alan_gunn on On Not Having an Advance Abyssal Plan · 2009-02-23T22:08:46.000Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

"Why didn't various governments create and publish a plan for what they would do in the event of various forms of financial collapse, before it actually happened?"

Same reason the money that was supposed to go to flood control in New Orleans got spent on more-visible projects. What politicians do is get elected, not solve people's problems. How would devoting energy to this sort of plan win votes? The sort of person who would even consider this sort of thing wouldn't be running for office and wouldn't get campaign contributions if they did.

Comment by alan_gunn on Free to Optimize · 2009-01-02T02:37:41.000Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

One good reason for the doctrine of stare decisis is that if judges know that their decision will bind future judges, they have an incentive to develop good rules, rather than just rules that favor a party to a particular case who may be sympathetic. If a good person driving negligently runs into someone loathsome who was not negligent at the time, rule-of-law notions require that the good person pay. It's very hard for some people to accept that; stare decisis encourages judges to do it. Unfortunately, stare decisis in the US, and especially in the Supreme Court, is pretty much dead.

I think this idea somewhat resembles what I see as the best reason for tenure for academics: it forces those who decide whether to keep someone on to look at the merits more carefully than they might if the issue were only "shall we keep this person (whom we like, and who has cute children) on the payroll for another year even though he hasn't written anything very good." Academics not on the tenure track seem to have even more job security than those who have to go through tenure review.

Comment by alan_gunn on Friedman's "Prediction vs. Explanation" · 2008-09-29T22:51:00.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The short answer is, "it depends." For all we can tell from the statement of the problem, the second "theory" could be "I prayed for divine revelation of the answers and got these 20." Or it could be special relativity in 1905. So I don't think this "puzzle" poses a real question.

Comment by alan_gunn on Words as Mental Paintbrush Handles · 2008-03-03T17:41:13.000Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Zubon: "(The life of a reader is filled with many such traumas. Rendezvous? Epitome?)"

I call your "epitome" and raise you a Yosemite (first encountered in Bugs Bunny comics; I thought for years it was "YOSE-mite"). Furrin words like rendezvous are OK, though.

Comment by alan_gunn on Words as Mental Paintbrush Handles · 2008-03-03T13:34:49.000Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Just a quick response to Michael Vassar: I am a very fast reader--just about the fastest I know. And I very much doubt that I could, at my advanced age, learn to read without hearing. Anyway, why would I want to? Among other things, I suspect that those who don't hear the words they read don't enjoy poetry as much as I do. What interests me about all this is that it seems to me to show that people's mental processes differ a lot more than we usually think--a topic that psychology doesn't seem to have paid a lot of attention to, and if the psychologists don't look into it, who will? (I don't know much about psychology, though; maybe my last point is wrong--hope so.)

Comment by alan_gunn on Words as Mental Paintbrush Handles · 2008-03-02T21:42:29.000Z · score: 3 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I was astonished to learn years ago that some people read without "hearing" the words on the page; even today, though I know that this happens, it strikes me as odd. I even dislike reading the word "quay" because my first reaction is that it should rhyme with "way," and I know that it doesn't. Ditto with names that don't correspond to their spelling (Menzies, for instance--pronounced "mingiss" by Scots). And, perhaps relatedly, I have great difficulty visualizing anything, and never visualize anything clearly. I'm sure that there are genuine differences in visualizing ability--there are people who easily spell words backward by visualizing them and reading them off from right to left; I could no more do that than levitate. Richard Feynman somewhere described people at MIT learning to estimate the passage of time in different ways: some by counting (in their heads), others by picturing a moving tape with numbers on it.

Comment by alan_gunn on Rationality Quotes 4 · 2008-01-20T17:47:47.000Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

A couple of these remind me of an old fighter pilots' motto: "Second place dies; cheat to win."

Comment by alan_gunn on Professing and Cheering · 2007-08-02T12:29:20.000Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

"Belief" is a notion that isn't necessarily tied to literal truth. Aquinas once said that "all statements about God are metaphors," and Niebuhr (sp?) said something to the effect that "religious statements should be taken seriously, but not literally." For a more recent (and accessible) variation, consider Tony Hillerman's novels, in which one of his principal characters, Jim Chee, studies to be a Navaho shaman (not quite the right word, but I forget the Navaho one), taking myths very seriously without for a minute thinking that they are history. (Hillerman himself is Catholic, so he doesn't think the Navaho myths are literal truth either.) Discussions of religious belief on this blog seem to me to assume too readily that they are just like beliefs about science or history. To some people, no doubt, they are. But not to me, and not to a lot of other religious people, either. I think there's a bias about religion here, that needs to be overcome.

The cow thing does seem a stretch, though, even on the most sympathetic possible interpretation.

Comment by alan_gunn on Risk-Free Bonds Aren't · 2007-06-23T23:46:42.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Anyway, risk of default aside, what of interest-rate risk? Isn't Taleb's advice faulty because of that?

Comment by alan_gunn on Think Like Reality · 2007-05-02T17:50:02.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Are there data on how many physicists believe in astrology? I can understand how a few would, but I'd be astonished if the percentage weren't a lot lower than for Americans as a whole. Hey, there are PhD biologists who reject evolution--but not many.

Comment by alan_gunn on Debiasing as Non-Self-Destruction · 2007-04-08T12:30:16.000Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This is in response to Brian's comment, above.

Some years ago, I had the misfortune of being a member of a faculty senate, which gave me regular opportunities to hear highly intelligent people saying stupid things. At the university at which I then taught, some faculty senate members were elected on a university-wide basis, so one had to choose candidates from a group of people one didn't know and couldn't learn much about. One of my colleagues voted strictly according to department affiliation, using this system, which seemed good to me: engineers and business-school people, yes. Scientists, yes, except for physicists. Veterinarians, yes. Economists, yes. Everybody else, no. (We were lawyers, so we didn't have to make a decision about them as a group, as we knew the candidates, and the medical school wasn't part of the process). Looking back on the list, it does boil down roughly to a distinction between fields in which ability and lack of it lead to real-world consequences. I'm not at all sure how that would apply to academic lawyers. Most of us tend to be litigators (I'm not), and that's a profession much of like confidence tricksters.

Comment by alan_gunn on Useless Medical Disclaimers · 2007-03-19T17:45:35.000Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I once had a medical procedure preceded by this oral warning by the doctor: "Are there risks? Sure. But the risk is a lot greater if we don't do it." Concise and helpful; why say more? (Rhetorical question--you have to say more, even if it's less useful, or the lawyers will get you. Someday, somewhere, a lawyer is going to base a case on a warning's being too strong, and so discouraging the plaintiff from doing something that would have helped.)

Comment by alan_gunn on Outside the Laboratory · 2007-01-23T02:08:33.000Z · score: -10 (11 votes) · LW · GW

So how do you account for Newton's faith? And--perhaps--Einstein's?