Ep 22: Scott Aaronson on the Hunt for Real Randomness

Scott Aaronson is a leader in the field of Quantum Computation. We discuss the idea that our universe contains “true randomness”, and an experiment which indicates that no matter how well we understand our world, there will always be a level of unpredictability we cannot overcome. We also discuss the simulation hypothesis and our possible role as human dice, and the idea that the field of computer science is built on a foundation of uncertainty that’s unique to the field.

Related links:

Scott Aaronson’s homepage.

Shtetl-Optomized blog.

Pascal and Probability theory.

Types of randomness.

The CHSH game as a Bell test thought experiment. (Highly technical)

 

Ep 21: Sean Rife on the Uses and Abuses of Total Institutions

Sean Rife and I discuss the idea of the Total Institution, as originally described by sociologist Erving Goffman. We examine several Total Institutions in detail, and touch on the connection these have with religion and purity cults. We also discuss Thomas Szasz and his ideas about mental illness and the ways in which entire societies can come to resemble a total institution.

Related links:

Sean Rife’s homepage

Erving Goffman’s book Asylums.

Thomas Szasz: The Myth of Mental Illness.

Statistics Blog: Dumb Arguments by Smart People.

Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundations.

Scite.ai citation analysis.

Ep 20: A.J. Jacobs on Humility, Omniscience, and the Perils of Polygamy

A.J. Jacobs spent a year reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica and published a book about the experience. In this episode of The Filter, we discuss his project generally and touch on cultural complexity, what counts as history, Pascal’s wager, the decay of knowledge over time, polyamory, humility, and why you might want a skull on your desk.

Related links:

A.J. Jacobs homepage.

The Know-it-All (Main book we discussed).

Other books we discussed: The Half-Life of Facts, But What If We’re Wrong?, Beyond Fate, Do Humankind’s Best Days Lie Ahead?

My analysis of the date behind climate change and one skeptical take on the 97% consensus claim.

Other Filter episodes discussed in this one: Jesse Walker, Sandra Tsing Loh, Russ Roberts.

 

Ep 19 Michael Shermer on Giving the Devil his Due

Author and intellectual Michael Shermer talks about his book, Giving the Devil his Due: Reflections of a Scientific Humanist. Shermer was the Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine and a long-time contributor to Scientific American. In our conversation, we discuss enlightenment values in an era of mob rule, cancel culture, the history of human rights, and the limits of social media’s power over us.

Related links:

Erica Chenoweth (Violence in political movements)
Kurt Anderson (How America Lost Its Mind)
Jean Twenge (iGen book)
Hugo Mercier (Not Born Yesterday book)
The Filter episode with Russ Roberts (Behavioral Economics).

Ep 18: Sandra Tsing Loh on a Tour of the American Class System

Sandra Tsing Loh, writer and performer, discusses Paul Fussell’s book “Class: A Guide through the American Status System”. Fussell’s book was first published in 1983, and reviewed by Sandra in in 2009 in The Atlantic, but the ideas from it are as relevant as ever. As Sandra writes, “The experience of reading (and re-reading) Class is akin to wiping goggles one didn’t know were fogged. Fussell’s methodology settles into the brain like a virus; one soon cannot stop nanocategorizing one’s world.” In this highly entertaining, conversational episode, we talk about the constraints of the class structure, the challenges of opting-out, the value of useless degrees, and what your living room furniture says about how likely you are to go on a Carnival Cruise.

Ep 17: Russ Roberts on the Curious Task of Epistemology

Russell Roberts, economist and philosopher of science, talks about his views on marketplaces, religion, and the importance of doubt. We also discuss about behavioral economics, rationality, rough heuristics, and black box problems. I make the case that we may never have consensus about Covid data or the measures taken in the name of stopping the spread of the disease. Russ explains why you might not want to carry empty suitcases across a border for attractive ladies.

Ep 16: Zvi Mowshowitz on Immoral Mazes, Levels of Language, and the Magic of Magic

Zvi Mowshowitz comes on The Filter to discuss a series of blog posts he wrote about “Immoral Mazes”, or pathological institutions that incentive perverse behaviors. We also talk about levels of meaning in language and the arc towards more complex and indirect forms of communication, the many uses and abuses of the college system, and the magic of Magic the Gathering.

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Ep 15: The New Colonists

We are in a new era of colonization: cultural colonists have taken over our institutions, and the result is every bit as dramatic, if not yet as violent, as the colonial expansion into the New World that took place centuries ago. In this solo episode, I develop an extended analogy between the conflict of natives and settlers, and the current fight for ideological, and sometimes literal, dominance.

This episode elaborates on an analogy mentioned at the beginning of the interview with Katie Herzog. See Episode 10 of The Filter for that interview. Much of the material here is based on talk I gave about a year ago. Hope you enjoy.

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The more you do to help, the more you do to annoy

That’s my first law of car infotainment panels, and of car electronics generally. I recently rented a Toyota Highlander, and among other helpful features that weren’t, the main info system decided it should update almost every time the car was started, prompting me with a “Install” or “Later” choice I had to deal with before I could access the stereo. Even worse (much worse!) was the “helpful” feature of adjusting the screen and dash brightness for me, apparently based on ambient light. A great idea (in someone’s mind), in practice whenever you drive in changing light conditions, like most commuting, or, to pick a completely random example that may have happened to me just now, a lovely morning trip for coffee on a windy, tree-lined road is interrupted every couple minutes as the screen and dash abruptly amps up the ambient light to 11, which, let me tell you, is neither a pleasant transition nor an easily ignored one.

Highly unfortunate, and completely pointless, as adjusting dash and screen brightness to ambient light is a solved problem. It can, and has, been done based on turning on headlights. I can also be done with a dial that lets you pick any brightness level you want, whenever you want. My second law of car infotainment systems, and car design in general? “Put the driver in control”. Let them make the decisions, including the decision of when to let the car make decisions for them.

Ep 14: Pete Quiñones on Collapse, Chaos, and Community

Pete Quiñones, host of Free Man Beyond the Wall, talks about the decline of the American empire, whether we should cheer on collapse, and how to prepare for life in the coming dim age. Among other things, we discuss: The pros and cons of collapsitarianism, which failed state will we most closely resemble, and chaos vs uncertainty during the zombie apocalypse.

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