Author Archive

Eliezer Yudkowsky on Sophistry and the Contagion of Lies

What sounds like an arbitrary truth to one mind—one that could easily be replaced by a plausible lie—might be nailed down by a dozen linkages to the eyes of greater knowledge. To a creationist, the idea that life was shaped by “intelligent design” instead of “natural selection” might sound like a sports team to cheer for. To a biologist, plausibly arguing that an organism was intelligently designed would require lying about almost every facet of the organism. To plausibly argue that “humans” were intelligently designed, you’d have to lie about the design of the human retina, the architecture of the human brain, the proteins bound together by weak van der Waals forces instead of strong covalent bonds…

Or you could just lie about evolutionary theory, which is the path taken by most creationists. Instead of lying about the connected nodes in the network, they lie about the general laws governing the links.

And then to cover that up, they lie about the rules of science—like what it means to call something a “theory”, or what it means for a scientist to say that they are not absolutely certain.

So they pass from lying about specific facts, to lying about general laws, to lying about the rules of reasoning. To lie about whether humans evolved, you must lie about evolution; and then you have to lie about the rules of science that constrain our understanding of evolution.

LINK

I don’t put much truck with Rationalists in the traditional philosophical sense, and there is quite a bit of that variety of wankery on Less Wrong. But there are also some damned fine writers and thinkers there, too. And it’s always good to be reminded that ideas have consequences, even (perhaps especially) bad ones.

Back in the World

Back from a month abroad and finally getting caught up. While I tidy up around here, enjoy the stylings of the masterful Go Yama.

“No commitments, no obligations, no unwanted responsibilities”

“All I can do is wish you well”

RIP, Mr. King

“K, wow fibad difer”

“So what’s it gonna take, silver shadow believer?”

Out Like Pluto, “Le Disko” (Shiny Toy Guns cover)

“Who would do such a thing if not for…love?”

“And now, unfortunately, we’re back to the impression that this book is daunting. Which it isn’t, really. It’s long, but there are pleasures everywhere. There is humor everywhere. There is also a very quiet but very sturdy and constant tragic undercurrent that concerns a people who are completely lost, who are lost within their families and lost within their nation, and lost within their time, and who only want some sort of direction or purpose or sense of community or love. Which is, after all and conveniently enough for the end of this introduction, what an author is seeking when he sets out to write a book– any book, but particularly a book like this, a book that gives so much, that required such sacrifice and dedication. Who would do such a thing if not for want of connection and thus of love?

Last thing: In attempting to persuade you to buy this book, or check it out of your library, it’s useful to tell you that the author is a normal person. Dave Wallace– and he is commonly known as such– keeps big sloppy dogs and has never dressed them in taffeta or made them wear raincoats. He has complained often about sweating too much when he gives public readings, so much so that he wears a bandanna to keep the perspiration from soaking the pages below him. He was once a nationally ranked tennis player, and he cares about good government. He is from the Midwest– east-central Illinois, to be specific, which is an intensely normal part of the country (not far, in fact, from a city, no joke, named Normal). So he is normal, and regular, and ordinary, and this is his extraordinary, and irregular, and not-normal achievement, a thing that will outlast him and you and me, but will help future people understand us– how we felt, how we lived, what we gave to each other and why.” – Dave Eggers’ introduction to the 10th anniversary paper back edition of Infinite Jest

And how horrible a thing it is, that, just nine years after Dave Eggers wrote those words, DFW has already outlived his monumental novel. Eggers’ pathological hatred of sentence breaks aside, I think he does a good job here capturing just what makes Infinite Jest so special: it is an difficult, extraordinary work, told largely in simple, ordinary stories. The characters and scenes of the book themselves are easy to understand, for the most part. Many are even effortlessly entertaining in the way that some of DFW’s more relaxed essays are. But together they create a potent work of longing, loneliness, and existential need that rewards those willing to doing the non-trivial work of figuring out the pieces.

I’m currently reading the book a second time and getting much more out of it than I did my first time around. For one, there are a lot of pieces to the work and it pays to have some remembered familiarity with the characters and the set dressing.

But more importantly, in the years since I’ve read it, I’ve had many more brushes with the darker materials that the book evokes. And while my life in the interviewing seven or so years has been some sort of charmed, it has contained within those years enough terrible times and enough hideous events to give me greater sympathy for the lostness that Eggers mentions. I have had my Harold Incandenza moments and my Don Gately moments. And moments reminiscent of so many other characters from the book. This time around, I think, the work of reading Infinite Jest is easier and more rewarding, in part, because I am a more fit reader.

It is sad that Infinite Jest has already outlived its normal, noble creator, but I think Eggers is right that this is one of those rare books that can help us to understand just what lostness looks like. And if that gives us a little more empathy for one another as fellow lost creatures, maybe it’s also one of those rare books that can actually make us better human beings.

“God knows I’m no Bobby Fischer”

I was just recently hipped to London-based quintet The Tigercats. This track, “Junior Champion”, is off of their recently-released Sophomore album Mysteries

“Dadu dach tach ta”

Nastya Maslova, “D’n’B Song”

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Magic Blue Smoke

House Rules:

1.) Carry out your own dead.
2.) No opium smoking in the elevators.
3.) In Competitions, during gunfire or while bombs are falling, players may take cover without penalty for ceasing play.
4.) A player whose stroke is affected by the simultaneous explosion of a bomb may play another ball from the same place.
4a.) Penalty one stroke.
5.) Pilsner should be in Roman type, and begin with a capital.
6.) Keep Calm and Kill It with Fire.
7.) Spammers will be fed to the Crabipede.