Comment by nathan_myers on Where Philosophy Meets Science · 2008-04-14T07:58:28.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I should note for completeness that al-Haytham also lived centuries before Roger Bacon. It's not clear if Roger cribbed, also, but his exhortations to experiment described nothing like the complete system for establishing quantifiable truth found in the Optics.

Comment by nathan_myers on Where Philosophy Meets Science · 2008-04-14T07:47:41.000Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It's typical, in the European tradition, to credit Francis Bacon with inventing Science. However, Bacon was explicitly cribbing from a man who lived centuries earlier in Egypt and Syria, who actually originated the ideas and methods, and who applied them in an enduring work. The man was Al-Haytham, and the work was his book on optics. He was known at the time in Europe as Alhazen or Alhacen.

Make no mistake: Al-Haytham was fully aware of the importance of his ideas. Bacon deserves credit for also recognizing that importance, and for popularizing the ideas among the notoriously insular English. He does not deserve credit for originating anything so profound.

Comment by nathan_myers on Trust in Math · 2008-01-18T00:31:05.000Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you, tcpkac, for your concise and clear exposition. All I have to add is that anarchy also leads directly to dictatorship.

Comment by nathan_myers on Trust in Math · 2008-01-17T12:18:08.000Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW


The mystery of libertarianism being identical, in practice, to fascism is easy to solve. Simply ignore the expressed goals (i.e. wishful thinking), and concentrate on the predictable consequences of the advocated program. Lo and behold, the program is the same as the fascists', and must therefore lead to the same results. QED.

And no, I'm not "left-wing". The wings are for loonies.

Comment by nathan_myers on Trust in Math · 2008-01-15T23:08:04.000Z · score: -3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

The difference between "libertarian" and "right-wing" is a matter of degree. It corresponds precisely to the degree of honesty in the adherent. That is to say, the libertarian program and the right-wing program are identical in consequence, but libertarians pretend otherwise, through a process called "wishful thinking". An honest right-winger plans to hold a position of power in an ironclad dictatorship, where the libertarian hopes (or claims to hope) that the consequences of the policies he espouses won't actually be that ironclad dictatorship.

Comment by nathan_myers on The Fallacy of Gray · 2008-01-08T23:29:21.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

In other words, "numbers matter". But I suppose mentioning numbers eliminates most of your audience.

Comment by nathan_myers on Rational vs. Scientific Ev-Psych · 2008-01-05T10:33:03.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Michael V: I hope you can offer a brief hint by what criterion "dark matter" might be distinguished from "weird physics". (I suspect it will turn out to be very much on-topic, for the site if not the thread.)

Comment by nathan_myers on Rational vs. Scientific Ev-Psych · 2008-01-05T06:39:04.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Michael V: Dark matter exposes another sort of bias common among scientists. A wide variety of anomalous (or once-anomalous) astronomical phenomena are consistent with plasma fluid-dynamic phenomena at various scales ("geysers" on Enceladus, the Aurora Borealis, solar and galactic jets, too-fast galactic rotation). However, the mathematics of plasma fluid dynamics is fiendishly difficult, and effectively intractable. Progress is possible by performing tricky vacuum chamber experiments, and by simulations on very large supercomputers. Astrophysicists, though, are self-selected from among physicists who don't care for laboratory work, and who enjoy clean mathematical derivations.

(N.B.: Plasma fluid dynamics involves no exotic science at all; it's all just time- and space-varying electric and magnetic fields and (sometimes relativistic) particle flows.)

Parsimony demands that electromagnetic effects be shown to be insufficient before trotting out completely new and property-less "dark" particles and forces. Furthermore, anybody invoking exotic forces should still be obliged to account for the asserted lack of effect from the millions or quadrillions of tons of plasma acknowledged to be in motion in the systems observed.

A proper accounting would need astrophysicists to learn a new field, so of course it won't happen. (One who did would never get papers using it accepted.) Instead, astrophysicists give one another a pass. The rest of us, knowing, may chuckle at their press releases. In the meantime, astrophysicists collect huge masses of detailed data from wonderful new instruments, but remain unable to synthesize it into anything even remotely plausible.

Has this bias exhibited by astrophysicists been named yet? Of course its analog is practically universal outside of science: "to do that I would need to learn, um, math".

Comment by nathan_myers on Rational vs. Scientific Ev-Psych · 2008-01-04T07:55:56.000Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Certain observations about scientists' collective behavior long mystified me. Given an established theory that explains old evidence and but not new evidence, and a new hypothesis that also accounts for some new phenomena, scientists routinely demand (and defend demanding!) much more rigorous testing of the new hypothesis than the old theory ever withstood, before they will even accord it parity with the old. Also, when new data actually falsify an old theory, they will go to great lengths to try to rescue it, inventing no end of ad-hoc epicycles. Data that contradicts all known theories is carefully ignored.

My just-so story is that scientists are self-selected as people who Need to Know. To go from one established theory to two alternatives would be to step from knowing to uncertainty. To abandon a falsified theory would be to step from knowing to not knowing. Either of these is intolerable to one who Needs to Know. As a consequence, science is riddled with established, falsified old theories, and routinely ignores both viable new hypotheses and new data that doesn't fit any hypothesis.

If you need concrete examples, consider the quasar (a high-redshift light source) discovered in NGC7319 (an opaque low-redshift galaxy, one of Stephen's Quintet, in Pegasus) a few years back, and since very studiously ignored. Or, consider the standard theory of comet formation, flatly contradicted by every observation, but still trotted out in textbooks and NASA press releases. Each new press release expresses hope that its observations may someday help illuminate dark matter and dark energy, which thus far exist solely to rescue otherwise falsified models of galactic and supergalactic dynamics and cosmology.

Comment by nathan_myers on My Strange Beliefs · 2008-01-02T08:59:31.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Al: Diamond's point is, indeed, that the best approximation to a Singularity we know of is a downfall. He identifies dozens of examples in history and pre-history, from Petra to Yucatan to Easter Island, of exponential development causing collapse. The singular difference between the modern case and his examples that is a cause for hope is that we know the previous examples, and can quantify the process. That knowledge, thus far, is having little effect.

On the flip side, all the previous collapses were local; the Easter Islanders cut down all their own trees, but not everyone else's besides.

Some of Diamond's examples are of collapses consciously averted. New Guinea highlanders evidently noticed, 6000 years after they began doing intensive agriculture, that they were about to eliminate crucial tree species, and instituted woodlots. The Japanese Shogunate did the same a few centuries later. The Shogunate had the authority to enforce its strictures. On New Guinea, perhaps tribes that kept woodlots were able to defeat neighboring tribes that didn't. Neither scenario suggests a method to address modern global crises.

Comment by nathan_myers on My Strange Beliefs · 2008-01-02T06:53:47.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

For an unbiased, science-based model of the Singularity, there is no better source than Jared Diamond, "Collapse" and "The Third Chimpanzee". The Americas and many Pacific islands have faced mini-singularies in the recent past. Among the more poignant is Easter Island, where every last tree was cut down.

Diamond identifies a round dozen worldwide crises, any one of which may cause a corresponding worldwide collapse in the next century. Among them are nuclear-weapon proliferation, water shortages, devastation of fisheries, global warming, elimination of tropical forests, and peak oil. He addresses the prospects of "technically innovating" our way out of all twelve, and the outlook is bleak.

Could a fancy AI help? Only if we followed its advice. We are already getting much better advice than we seem able to follow.

Comment by nathan_myers on My Strange Beliefs · 2007-12-31T20:21:41.000Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Ben Jones: Dead Christian Transhumanists' souls await the Final Day, just like all the rotting Christian corpses' souls. If you thaw out their heads and turn them back on, the souls are right where they were before, to the extent they ever were anywhere, and might as well pick up where they left off. When the head finally gets used up, the soul may be presumed to be where the other corpses' souls are.

The real question is what happens when you scan the frozen head into a non-frozen-head simulator, and start it up: can the simulation exchange packets with the waiting soul? If you start up two (or a million) simulators, can they all use it, or only the first? Or do that have to take turns, as with a time-share condo?

I think we would have to conclude that the soul (its "stamp", if you like) is encoded in details of the frozen head, and, if the non-frozen-head simulator were precise enough, you'd be running a simulation of the soul in each run, while the real soul sits twiddling its metaphorical thumbs waiting for the End Times. If the non-frozen-head simulator can simulate a non-frozen-head well enough, surely its simulation of the soul ought to be good enough too. After all, what does a soul have to do? Some people would say a cantaloupe provides a perfectly adequate simulation today, but they're probably not Christians.

Comment by nathan_myers on My Strange Beliefs · 2007-12-31T19:54:13.000Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The standards of Brad DeLong, himself, would be something to aspire to. Sometimes they're exceeded here, often not. It's good to have a benchmark, but don't kid yourselves.

Comment by nathan_myers on Guardians of Ayn Rand · 2007-12-19T02:24:13.000Z · score: -4 (20 votes) · LW · GW

Such eloquence on such a trivial subject!

Ayn Rand and her coterie didn't devolve into a cult. They started out that way. Her writing is pure fetishism, from beginning to end. That it happens to fetishize technical topics and people interested in technical topics should make those of us inclined the same way particularly suspicious.

Libertarians should be viewed with the same suspicion, for the same reasons.

Comment by nathan_myers on Guardians of the Gene Pool · 2007-12-17T18:17:10.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Wouldn't that make them "bio-reactionaries" or "bio-romantics"? Or has the equation of "conservatism" (which once denoted an inclination to preserve the status quo) with "reactionism" (desire to re-instate the status quo ante), "romanticism" (promotion of some vanished, idealized past), or raw fascism (power is its own logic) pervaded even these hallowed halls? Do we have a name for what was once called conservatism, or does the concept no longer have any meaningful referent?

Comment by nathan_myers on Misc Meta · 2007-12-12T02:25:52.000Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What disappointed me about the response to that posting was how many (mostly well-spoken, articulate) people obviously learned nothing from the experience. We even have ObL's video in which he patiently explained how the overreaction was the whole point of the operation: he estimated six orders of magnitude of direct cost to the U.S. vs. his organization's own costs, neglecting all the less quantifiable damage to American society resulting from that overreaction (Patriot act, acceptance of torture, etc.). It's clear Americans haven't finished processing the experience, but it seems equally clear that the conclusion will be little better than the initial reaction.

The "Spanish Flu" epidemic early in the last century killed tens of millions of people. It was unusually deadly to young adults with strong immune systems. Most who died were killed by their own immune response.

Comment by nathan_myers on Resist the Happy Death Spiral · 2007-12-05T23:53:56.000Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The value of a mode of inquiry lies as much in the value of the questions it generates as in the answers. Science sets a high threshold for answers, but a good question can be worth much more than any answer.

Comment by nathan_myers on Resist the Happy Death Spiral · 2007-12-05T09:21:50.000Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

I'm afraid Francis Bacon cribbed essentially all of his scientific method from an Iraqi usually called "Ibn al Haytham" (or "Alhacen", or "Alhazen", in different contexts).

Al Haytham invented modern science as an adjunct to studying (i.e., creating the field of) optics, about a thousand years ago. Appealingly, instead of simply advocating the method, he demonstrated using it to investigate natural phenomena, and explained, alongside his results, how the method offered the reader both confidence in his results and a means to correct his errors.

Bacon deserves some credit for bringing al Haytham's insights to the English-speaking public, centuries later. He didn't pretend to originality, but the English at the time weren't very interested in what an Iraqi had done 500 years earlier.

Comment by nathan_myers on Mere Messiahs · 2007-12-05T09:17:06.000Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Sorry, that's 1000 years before science. Cf. Ibn al Haytham.

Comment by nathan_myers on The Affect Heuristic · 2007-11-28T21:34:00.000Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

With 7 beans in a hundred, I can just keep drawing beans until I get $14 worth, where with 1 in ten, the most I can get is $2. Not only that, I get to eat a hundred free jelly beans. This doesn't seem too mysterious to me.