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Things I would do differently: Education

I am a remarkably unreflective person. I go months at a time without thinking about my past, or the people I once knew. And not because my past's fucked up or anything; just because the present and the far, far future crowd it out. I'm pretty happy with this arrangement.

Recently, though, I've realised some easy things I could have done to be a better writer / scholar / researcher as of 2017. (They are hardly tragedies though, just inefficiencies.)


1. Physics

Picking courses as a 17 year old in a country without tuition fees, I latched on to the most obvious sources of meaning: philosophy, music, literature. But I could have gotten into physics or stats or computer science if I'd applied (I did get in for biology). And these would serve my present purposes much more, because I'm aiming at truth, and these latter are our greatest machineries of truth.

I don't regret my MA. (Though I probably would if I were English.) Formal philosophical study - that is,…

notable mental methane vents

SOC (n.): system on a chip. Previously known as a microcontroller. What we now call just 'a computer', but integrated boards were an enormous deal, a revolution within the digital revolution.
UUOC (n.): Useless Use Of Cat (Award). Surprisingly mean retort to StackOverflow answers which use the UNIX tool cat where a pipe would do.
abience (n.): the urge to withdraw. Usually used to mean pathological avoidance, but to me it is also the plain, sacred joy of missing out.
hardtack (n): A very basic cracker, just baked flour and water. Staple of navies and Tudor explorers.
HARKing (v.): Hypothesizing After the Results are Known. A particular problem in social science, where pre-registration of studies is a tiny minority of work.
merchantable (UK legal n.): Good enough to be sold.
technical steer (n.): Input from expert staff, AKA 'knowledge'.
whitespace damage (n.): subtle but breaking changes to source code performed by ordinary text processors, e.g. line wrapping, hidden charact…

machines inside

PSA: It took me many years to internalise the formal methods I know now.*

I use "internalise" as distinct from "learn", because, let's face it: we all "learn" statistics in uni, in the sense of briefly knowing a tiny set of teacher passwords, of knowing what a mode is, and of knowing how to dumbly apply two cannedtests of inference.** But almost no-one with that badge on their resume actually remembers, actually uses, and was actually changed by contact with it, the driest and most nutritious method.

My measure of internalisation is if you use the method, without prompting by school or advisor, in your investigations. Internalisation requires some understanding, but I'm not saying that I have any deep grasp of these things. I just appreciate their power, and use them as well as I can where I can.

First contact with algebra: 2000
Internalised algebra: 2012.
First contact with Analysis: 2003
Internalised Analysis: Not yet.
First contact with forma…

efficient transcendence

Trust is efficient: more trust means less expenditure on vetting and surveillance. "Just give and see".Honesty is efficient: more honesty, less expenditure maintaining a big diff web of lies. "Just say what you think".Empathy is efficient: more perspective means a better comprehension of the actual situation, and so better outcomes for yourself and others. "Just imagine".Keeping promises is efficient: enables future dealing. "Just do as you say".Charity is efficient: able to address market failures, and able to extract the most value from cash. "Just get over yourself".

but also

Gullibility (misplaced trust) is costly. Luridindividual examples are easy to find, but more generally something more than 8% of the entire world economy is consumed by misappropriation. ($1tn corruption, $7tn fraud, $0.12tn shoplifting.)Discoverability is costly: with millions of anonymous people potentially encountering you, the rarity of psychopathy and ideo…

qualitative quantum paradigm disruption

"Qualitative difference": a change so obvious even unaided human perception can spot it.
But what about differences that are only obvious to people in the know? The difference between this
and this
is obscure to my parents, but clear to me, for instance.

A simple and I think honest answer is that knowledge is indeed a perceptual aid. Call qualitative differences which require knowledge to detect, Simonian differences. (This is after Herbert Simon's studies of the excellent acquired intuitions of e.g. firefighters and chess grandmasters.) Thus:

Nas vs Slightly Remastered Nas: quantitativeNas vs Rakim: Simonian qualitativeNas vs Big Pun : qualitative


the dust of life

How much of human psychology could aliens reconstruct from our art?

Let's say they have every work of fiction, but no documentaries, no datasets, nor even any archaeological digs to go on. Nothing uncontrived.

So, postmodern media would be very useful to them: as a proof of our self-consciousness, but also since it gives clear indication of what we regard as markers of fiction. A knowing wink to camera is data about fiction given within fiction. Anything which is spoofed, anything which a loud narrator makes reference to, is a trope and can thus help to file away convention in favour of mimesis.

But I think the answer is "surprisingly little". As Picasso says, "art washes off the dust of everyday life": i.e. it is wilfully unrepresentative and heightened, and not psychologically real. Even if we gave the aliens all good art ever, there would still be large and systematic inaccuracies.

The biggest missing things are repetition, our biological overheads, and…

notable embodied cognitive sewage

lavalier (n. and v.): Pendant necklace. Particularly one with your frat's three-letter name on. Central to an old saccharine ritual in American frats and sorors: you swap lavaliers with your partner as a sort of pre-engagement ritual with your bros and sisters watching.
TINLA (init.): This Is Not Legal Advice. To go with my new fav initialisms of epistemic humility, IANAL and IANAD.
WLOG (init.): Without Loss Of Generality
Taleb's demon (init.): Probabilistic equivalent of Maxwell's demon: a demon fucks with the usual urn metaphor for statistical inference, making you realise that we are never really justified in thinking we understand the sample space, since you can only understand the sample space by sampling. Actually due to Peter Taylor.
rate raiding (n. / adverbial gerund): To systematically hit an API to learn the company's ruleset or regression ("rates"). Elsewhere called a model extraction attack.
to threadshit (v.): to take over someone's discussion w…

me throughout the ages

EraJobMoralsProspectMillenial
(fl. 2015)Data scientist

Effective altruist
TranshumanistBoomer
(fl. 1975)
Computer programmer *
ConsequentialistExtropianVictorian
(fl. 1870)
Logician or Inventor
or compiler of
mathematical tables
UtilitarianPositivist / Fabian
/ Nietzschean
Enlightenment
(fl. 1800)Pamphleteer /
Power loom
mechanic
Hutchesonian /
Late Humean Universal ReasonEarly Modern
(fl. 1650)Law?
Belletrist.Dutchliberalism
/ Leveller / QuakerBaconian optimism ***Renaissance
(fl. 1400)Printer.
Curioso.HumanismRepublican Humanism.Middle ages
(fl. 1200)"gramarien, retoriki,
filofer, geometrer,
logissian" **
Thomist
by defaultMillennialism
by default......
......Middle kingdoms
(fl. 800 CE)Naiyyayika
Śāntideva BuddhistBodhicitta......
......Warring States
(fl. 400 BCE)
Shì-dà-fū
official
MohistSheng (聖) / Junzi (君子)
perfectability



* Maybe "expert system designer".

** More likely lay clergy. If we're going by birth rather than affinity I would be a "turnip herder".

*** The obj…