This is commentary. And this is really good.
What I've been watching and reading in this time:
- Post, "How I am becoming a virtue ethicist," by Xuenay
- Article, "Why Does a Permit to Climb Mount Everest Cost $70,000?", by Remy Melina
- Article, "The heart of the world", Peter Frankopan
Homework for the future:
- Read the posts linked to by "Responses to the Anti-Reactionary FAQ.". Eventually.
- Still on the to-do list: studying the Austrian School of Economics.
- Also on the to-do list: All of those themes that I decide I want to play with, and cool bits that attract me, and things like that? Let's get systematic about that, put them into a single document (might be public, might not) and work with at least one of them every week. Systematic. Systematic. I do it best when I do it systematically.
- Also, don't forget to flesh this section out a bit more with goals in general, and maybe include a section on which of those goals were accomplished since the last update.
"How I am becoming a virtue ethicist"
- "It all started when Michael Vassar was talking about his take on the Twelve Virtues of Rationality. He was basically saying that a lot of the initial virtues (curiosity, relinquishment, lightness, evenness) were variants of the same thing, that is, not being attached to particular states of the world. If you do not have an emotional preference on what the world should be like, then it's also easier to perfectly update your beliefs whenever you encounter new information."
- Michael Vassar: "Pain is not suffering. Pain is just an attention signal. Suffering is when one neural system tells you to pay attention, and another says it doesn't want the state of the world to be like this."
- "He also mentioned that the ideal would be for a person's motivations not to be directly related to states of the world, but rather their own actions. [...] If you tie your feelings to your actions, your feelings are created by something that is always under your control. And once you stop having an emotional attachment to the way the world is, actually changing the world becomes much easier."
- "Suffering is conflict between two neural systems."
- Suggests that "if this hypothesis is correct, then humans have strong inborn desires not to experience pain (which leads to the mistaken impression that pain is suffering). If you break your leg, your brain is flooded with pain signals, and it's built to prefer states of the world where there isn't pain. But it's possible to react indifferently to your own sensation of pain."
- "You can sometimes sustain an injury that doesn't feel very bad until you actually look at it and see how badly it's hurt. Being afraid also makes pain worse, while a feeling of being in control makes pain feel less bad."
- Regarding the book The Happiness Hypothesis: "One of the points the book makes [is] that we're divided beings: to use the book's metaphor, there is an elephant and there is the rider. The rider is the conscious self, while the elephant consists of all the low-level, unconscious processes. Unconscious processes actually carry out most of what we do and the rider trains them and tells them what they should be doing. Think of e.g. walking or typing on the computer, where you don't explicitly think about every footstep or every press of the button, but instead just decide to walk somewhere or type in something."
- "Formal, virtuous theories of ethics are known by the rider, but not by the elephant, which leads to a conflict between what people know to be right and what they actually do."
- "The rider may get what feels like a major revelation, but the elephant is still running the show, and it needs to be trained over an extended period for there to be any lasting change. So since yesterday, I've been doing my best to keep watch over my thoughts and practice detachment from world-states."
- Briefly mentions using meditation to distract from physical discomfort in jogging.
- "On the less physical front, I've been trying to keep an eye on my thoughts and modify them whenever they didn't really suit the new scheme I'm trying to run."
- The list of virtues offered in The Happiness Hypothesis: "Wisdom (Curiosity, Love of learning, Judgment, Ingenuity, Emotional intelligence, Perspective), Courage (Valor, Perseverance, Integrity), Humanity (Kindness, Loving), Justice (Citizenship, Fairness, Leadership), Temperance (Self-control, Prudence, Humility) and Transcendence (Appreciation of beauty and excellence, Gratitude, Hope, Spirituality, Forgiveness, Humor, Zest)."
- Scott Alexander, commenting: "Michael Vassar is starting to sound like he's channeling Sheng-ji Yang. Not sure what to think about that. :)"
- Scott Alexander, commenting: "I'm sure it [virtue ethics] uses the native architecture much better than consequentialist ethics. Maybe it even provides better motivational power than consequentialism. I could see running a virtue ethicist bubble within a consequentialist framework, the same way act utilitarianism is a deontologist bubble within a consequentialist framework, and maybe that's what you're doing. [...] Keep in mind that Aristotle's conception of a perfect transhuman being spent all its time in contemplation of how great it was. We can do better!"
- Scott Alexander, commenting: "Virtue ethics can't actually solve moral problems [even in the same framework]. If I support abortion, and you oppose abortion, I'm sure we could both come up with virtues that support our own position. I could say that I'm supporting the virtue of compassion, or mercy. You could say you're supporting the virtue of respect, or justice, or whatever." And which one is being used for which? Are you having compassion for the woman, or for the child? Which are you respecting? In what sense are you supporting justice?
- Scott Alexander, commenting: "This may be one of those tragedy of the epistemic commons things like in that recent post, where virtue ethics is more personally useful but consequentialism is more useful for society-running type things."
- Scott Alexander, commenting: "If you are very, very clear-thinking and very, very careful, you can pull it off. Otherwise, the bubble contaminates the worldview in hard-to-predict ways."
- Scott Alexander, commenting: "The whole point with consequentialism is that it's got math in it so different goods can be compared. As long as two people have similar utility functions and similar factual beliefs, in theory they can determine whether an action generally increases or decreases utility. Can you imagine a friendly AI built around virtue ethics? If not, and you can imagine one built around consequentialism, that's what I mean by consequentialism actually having a right answer where the other two don't."
- Ciphergoth, commenting: "The spirit of 'tsuyoku naritai' is that there is no bar - that there's always higher to aim - and that the Way is to grasp this with neither complacency nor despair."
"Why Does a Permit to Climb Mount Everest Cost $70,000?"
- Dennis Broadwell, owner of Mountain Gurus: "The permit is issued per expedition, with about seven to ten people on each permit. That way, the price comes out to $10,000 a person."
- "If a mountaineer wants to buy a permit only for themselves, the price is $25,000."
- The money pays for cleaning operations by Sherpas and "the liaison officers that stand guard at various camp stops along the trek," monitoring communication devices, dispensing weather reports, and making sure that climbing schedules are followed.
- The fee only covers the price of admission. Receiving a permit allows one to get a certificate of completion from the Nepalese government and gives "legal permission to be on Mount Everest, so that in the event of an emergency, Nepalese authorities will rescue the climbers in distress. However, those on the mountain without a permit are out of luck, since they are legally not supposed to be there and therefore won't be acknowledged."
- Round-trip transportation, guides, extra oxygen bottles, tents, and communication devices cost more than $200,000.
- Broadwell: "A bottle of oxygen costs between $300 and $400, and each person should carry about five or six bottles during an expedition. That's about two grand just for oxygen."
- "Last June [June of 2009], the China Tibet Mountaineering Association, which regulates all mountaineering expeditions in China-controlled Tibet, passed a law forbidding anyone under the age of 18 from scaling the treacherous mountain. Climbers must be at least 16 years old to climb the Nepali side."
"The heart of the world"
- The Post Office motto comes from the words of Herodotus, in reference to the Persians.
- "The nations of the Silk Roads are sometimes called 'developing countries', but they are actually some of the world's most highly developed countries, the very crossroads of civilisation, in advanced states of disrepair."
- "These countries lie at the centre of global affairs: they have since the beginning of history. Running across the spine of Asia,they form a web of connections fanning out in every direction, routes along which pilgrims and warriors, nomads and merchants have travelled, goods and produce have been bought and sold, and ideas exchanged, adapted and refined."
- "Understanding central Asia's role helps developments make more sense not only across Asia but in Europe, the Americas and Africa. It allows us to see patterns and links, causes and effects that remain invisible if one looks only at Europe, or North America."
- An unexpected reason for the neglect of this aspect of history may be that Western historians simply don't know the relevant languages.
- "German agronomists [...] divided the USSR into a 'surplus' zone that produced much, and a 'deficit' zone that only consumed--and was to be condemned to starvation."
- "Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Iran, as well as Russia, India, Pakistan, and Iraq, are rich in fossil fuels and minerals, while China dominates the world markets in rare earths--elements such as beryllium and dysprosium, which are essential for the manufacture of everything from laptops and smartphones to solar cells and batteries for hybrid cards. The countries that form part of the 'One Road, One Belt' initiative make up some two-thirds of the world's population. These states are today making ever closer ties--which include massive infrastructure projects, such as new deep-water ports, high-speed rail links, and new super-fast 3G networks, as well as oil and gas pipelines."
- Archie Brown, "We must stop worshipping [sic] the false god of the strong leader": "Whether we are talking about authoritarian regimes or democracies, the idea that the most admirable and successful leader is one who maximises his or her individual power is deeply suspect. [...] Why should we heed calls to strengthen the hand of the prime minister and of 10 Downing Street rather than to strengthen collective leadership within the Cabinet and the political party?"
- Sam Keeper, google+ post: "The thing I find most interesting is that this [3D printer] model is possible because the patent on these toys runs out after 20 years. Just 20 years, folks, and look already at what that's enabling through filesharing and remixing. Now, imagine what our culture would be like if copyright still expired after a comparable amount of time, like it did before Disney decided it wanted Steamboat Willy to remain copyrighted for eternity. What kind of cool stuff have we been deprived of in this timeline because of powerful copyright lobbyists?"
- "Why would they [an alien civilization] suppose that this very ordinary star of ours, with its very ordinary solar system is any different than most, in that it harbors a supposedly intelligent civilization? Our solar system does not really stand out in any way that would presuppose they would think it a likely candidate. A far more likely candidate would be a solar system with a Jupiter-like planet orbiting about the same distance from the sun as us, a planet with a large family of moons, one or more of which is likely to be the right size to be earthlike. That lets us out. Our solar system is more unlikely than most--an earth-sized body too close to its star to be habitable (Venus), and another body at just the right distance, but too small to retain an atmosphere that is thick enough to make it hospitable or even habitable (Mars). The planet in the middle between them has a large moon, meaning it has been the object of a collision with a sizeable [sic] planet in the distant past, and that reduces the likelihood of its habitability. Likely to be a desert planet, with a thin atmosphere, bombarded by lots of meteorites, enough to make a civilization unlikely."
- Maleffect - noun. An undesirable effect.
- Tem, commenting in Leftover Soup forum: "Almost all enduring character traits are the resutl of some ongoing feedback loop."
- OrzBrain, commenting in "Are human values stupid and inherently self destructive?" on /r/rational: "Why do people like villains so much? Why does thinking of the Simurgh in Worm give me a chill of pleasure? Why does personifying death, the destroyer, taking all from us, snuffing out a universe of perception and memory with each person it kills, make conquering death feel so much more attractive than just thinking of it as something very bad that happens to everyone? Is one of our values having or imagining strong enemies? Watch the first Terminator movie. Is not Arnold's character attractive for some reason? Something the director realized, which was why he gets added to the hero's party next movie, with another, even worse villain added, who is also attractive as a character for some reason. I'm not criticizing particular values, I'm criticizing human values for being slapdash and self contradictory, rather than designed with intelligence."
- "Star Wars" entry on Fanlore: "SW fandom didn't spring up ready-developed in 1977. There was a short time between the appearance of the movie and the first major fan activities and publications. [This] period between the time when the potential for a fandom exists, but has not yet been realized is known in sf fandom as Eofandom... One of the earliest criticisms of SW fandom I heard was that it never had a chance to develop on its own. SW fandom, critics claimed, was more public relations hype than it was true fandom." [brackets and ellipsis original]
- How to Get Your Own Element Collection: "There are several full-line chemical supply houses that sell virtually every element in any number of different forms (ingots, powders, sheets, rods, you name it). They generally offer a range of purities from 95% to 99.99999+%, at a range of prices. This is a pretty expensive way to get elements: You're paying a premium for guaranteed purity and careful packaging. And they are generaly [sic] not interested in selling to individuals, preferring to deal with companies and research institutions. Chemical companies of this nature used to be the only way to get some of the more exotic elements, but these days eBay surprisingly comprehensive."
- Tailsteak, in the commentary for Leftover Soup, Strip #579: "Her Utopia might not be one you like, but at least she has one. Do you?"
- Max Sinister, in the "Rome 'never fell'" thread on alternatehistory.com: "Well, the early USA were very much into the 'Old Rome' stuff...although in hindsight, with the current debate 'Are the US becoming an empire?', one could say, it was a bad idea to choose a republic that was going to be replaced by an empire..."
- "Universal Races", by Jelaila Starr: "The Reptilians represent the Dark in the Polarity Integration Game while the Human srepresent the Light. Through this game, of the highest order, all souls in this universe have the opportunity to spiritually evolve and rejoin the creative god source."
- Luke, commenting on "Break Cryonics Down" on overcomingbias: "Morally speaking, if you delay the advancement or adoption of a lifesaving technology, you are killing people. If you actually know about it, you are killing people deliberately. So if you think cryonics is possible potentially, but we aren't there yet, you still have a moral obligation on grounds of common decency to support rapid research and adoption of cryonics. So don't give me that 'I'm a skeptic' garbage. This is and always has been about saving lives, not just our own but everybody's."