October Agenda

What is this blog going to be about?

Well, there are some things I think, and why I think them will take a while to explain. For instance:

  1. The stuff around you affects you way more than you think. Micro: keep a water bottle by your bed, have conversations on walks, and consider turning off more lights in the evening. Macro: most people's notion of 'selfhood' has been warped by bad metaphysics and this does lots of hard-to-quantify harm.
  2. The relationship between money and information is really weird and very important. There's some kind of picture there which spans legibility, fashion, cryptocurrency, status, and political tribalism. Once I connected this to a reasonable notion of arbitrage and exchange costs I started just finding money on the floor.
  3. On a related note, talking about politics is actually useful and important, but easy to mess up. The framing I find most useful is something like 'how to accommodate a scarcity of freedom'. Legibility is an important third axis. Ideological claims should also be much more context-sensitive.
  4. Lists are so great. So, so great. You can genuinely just download more RAM for free and it will make your life better. Other good external memory sources: Journals, Cookbooks, Calendars, Kanbans, and hopefully Blogs^.
  5. There's some cluster of things, of which Diagonalisation is a subset, and wherever you can find those things in a system, you'll get a much better sense of what that system is. Some examples include infinity, computation, set theory, meaning, and truth.
  6. Altruism is real, and people who think that humans are self-interested/essentially selfish/whatever are just wrong. I generally don't like trying to impose my values on other people, but I think this one's just a mistake people make.
  7. Lots of people become Utilitarians for really bad reasons, themed around "I don't know how to be a good person and I'm not sure I could work it out", and end up hurting themselves, feeling wracked with guilt and terrified of the world. I think a better approach to morality is something I'm going to call 'virtue empiricism'.
  8. While art can be good in many different ways, there's a specific cluster of ways that most bad art is bad, and it can be avoided with sufficient thought, effort, and motivation. Basically, don't try to copy other people to fill in the blanks, actually try to make sense of the function of the rules, infer what the underlying goals are, reflect on your own goals, and then pursue them with the aid of your newfound appreciation of the structure.
  9. There are some things that are amazingly powerful in hard-to-explain ways, to do with human interaction. Cooking food for other people, making music with them, team sports, and hugs are but a few examples.
  10. It's hard to go from not being able to cook to being bad at cooking, but actually pretty easy to go from being bad at cooking to being good. If you can make edible pasta, you can make good pasta, you just need to do all the standard things you need to do.
  11. The world would be a better place if only we could redistribute the economic rent derived from the common land. And furthermore, they who understand economic rent will inherit the earth. Again, part of why I'm writing this blog.
  12. Going meta is super valuable, however, there is no one direction of meta. No matter how many times you go up a meta level on one axis, on another, you still haven't left the object level.
  13. There's something a bit like luck, and it's in proportion to surface area, which you can increase in pretty random ways, and which generally makes your life better. The gains are usually nonlinear. Lots of advice that sounds too good to be true is basically 'increase your surface area'.
  14. The Romantic poets did enormous damage to English literature and rhetoric. The downside is that art and culture suffered. The upside is that the truth is out there.
  15. There are some really useful concepts which require a reasonable grasp of linear algebra. Linear algebra is also not that hard. But basically, it lets you play around in higher dimensions. Also, eigenvectors are great.
  16. You don't have to do things that differently to massively reduce the amount of competition. The pareto frontier is closer than you think.
  17. So much maths education is so bad and it's a real shame because the feeling of grasping some maths that's at the limit of your ability is really wonderful. Probably I enjoy it more than most, but I've met so many people who get switched off by bad maths education. (Same with poetry.)
  18. The truth is huge. So vastly, incomprehensibly huge. Yes, you can be deceitful by making claims that aren't true, but also you can use only true claims to construct many very conflicting stories, especially about yourself. This makes politics much harder.
  19. The idea that the fundamental unit of knowledge is a proposition ('I know that Paris is the capital of France, all men are mortal, and 2+2=4') is obviously very silly if you think about it. However, some combination of inflexibility, reverence for Kant and Descartes, and laziness has left us with this basically incorrect starting point that makes epistemology so much harder.
  20. MBTI, Astrology, The Colour Pie, Hogwarts Houses, Alignments... they're all moderately useful. They're not perfect, or even particularly accurate, and you shouldn't build your life around them. But they're not wrong, and you can't opt out, so you should understand how they work. SMK is a great way to get to know people.
  21. I've already listed several 'basic' philosophical puzzle pieces that I think are simply malformed and invite only silly questions. 'The meaning of life' is another one, and there's something with a similar shape which is great, but it alone is basically a harmful concept.
  22. Making music is really fun, and you get better at the things you do, and getting to a level where you can produce stuff that sounds good to you is maybe not so hard if you get the right sequence of nudges.
  23. Consciousness is worth thinking hard about, but in pursuit of making sense of it we have very few leads. One is the arrow of time, another is emotional baselines, and yet another is cross-sensory relations.
  24. It's so easy to mess up a play. The context is really constructed, so the errors are brutal. But also you can (and I did) make a lot of the same mistakes in the grander arena that is life.
  25. Rent-seeking + Regulatory capture = a tendency of all large organisations to produce parasites that slowly eat them. This doesn't mean big things are bad, but it means the natural trajectory of big institutions (including countries) is to rot. Constant vigilance is required.
  26. Regulatory capture + Manufactured consent = a tendency of all large organisations to shift the values of their constituents. This is a hard problem for democracy which, again, puts it on a negative trajectory and necessitates constant vigilance.
  27. Rent-seeking + Manufactured consent = a systemic bias in media and culture in favour of economically inefficient behaviour. The final piece of the Evil Triangle.
  28. Libertarianism is a wonderful theoretical philosophy, and very elegant in its simplicity, but (say it with me) it rests on a poor understanding of the individual and is therefore silly. That's why it can't accommodate, for instance, children.

Well, that sure is a lot of things.

One day, I hope, all of these will be blue links. In the meantime, if you're reading one of these and you find it particularly interesting, feel free to just email and ask me about it. Then I'll be compelled to reply and I can turn it into another precious precious blog post.

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