- Epistemology. What do we know, how do we know it, and how certain ought we to be. I come from Epicurus, Locke, Hume, Reid, Bayes, Deming, Hayek, Montessori, Rand, Dennett, and Hanson, and Pirsig. Epicurus and Locke give us radical empiricism. Hume tells us that certainty about the world, as understood by the layperson is impossible. Reid tells us that this radical uncertainty mostly isn't useful for life, and useless philosophy should be ignored. Rand tells us that the proper response to Hume is to re-understand certain so that it means something useful. Montessori teaches us that learning to see via experience is essential. Deming tells us that there's really A LOT of information that isn't available to folks who aren't in the thick of it. Hayek tells us that plans will likely be wrong. Dennett tells us that you can't expect human brains to follow epistemological best practices instead of evolutionary benefits. Pirsig asks if you should. Hanson tells us that opinion-aggregation is more rational than individual concluding.
- Error and Perspective. The absolute #1 MOST important thing that a moderately smart person can walk away from epistemology with is an appreciation of how important and prevalent error is...and especially, how often they should expect themselves to be wrong. Looking for when you're wrong and handling when you're wrong, prototyping, and building systems that expect errors are the things to focus on. 8:1 says that when someone disagrees with you...what you actually disagree on is what is important, not what is true. 3:1 says that what is actually important in the conversation is group-cohesion, not truth.
- Evolution and Economics. Darwin and Smith. If you don't look at systems and brains as evolutionary, competitive, game-theoretic...you think wrong. And it's very easy to think wrong about evolution. Brains are evolved devices, and economics is entirely about competition. If you're not reading HBD stuff and Roissy or Athol Kay, your brain is atrophying. The single fact that is most salient to my understanding of economics is that the return on capital (~5%) has remained roughly constant over 200 years. Labor has captured ALL the value from increased productivity. Fact is...scarcity is the only thing that matters to figuring out where the income flows. Or political power, for that matter.
- Ethics and Politics. Autonomy is a deep psychological need for human beings. Wealth is a measurement of what goods you can buy. Since autonomy isn't the only good, maximizing wealth is preferable to maximizing autonomy. Politics is the question of how should violence be used to attain social goals. 99% percent of actual politics is about taking stuff from one group, and giving it to another, cloaked in fancy words. Obviously, then, most political value goes to the politically connected. The primary path to getting value to the politically connected is to restrict or prohibit competition against them. The only coherent ethical position on politics is that the violence is not ethically justified in 99/100 cases. The only way to get another position is to ask a different question instead. Small states (nations) do better on every measure of goodness than large states. Dictatorships have higher variance than democracies. The question, once you escape from the fact that shooting people (or threatening to do so) to preserve anyone's preferences is morally defunct is how to maximize wealth and autonomy. My answer is that minimizing the power of the state via healthy inter-state competition for citizens like city-states, super-federalism, charter cities or seasteads is the only path. I self-identify as a left-libertarian anarchist.
- Education + Learning. I have a 2-factor model of skill. Ability + Practice. Teaching is effectively inconsequential. Ability in mental tasks consists of at least 4 moderately independent factors: Big 5 personality (esp. Conscientiousness), IQ, Self-Efficacy, and Patience. It is not obvious which factors matter most. Practice also subsumes 4 sub-topics. Quantity of practice...targettedness of practice...quality of practice...and motivation. Simulated practice is known to have almost identical effects to real practice under some conditions. I claim that this is the factor that lets some folks actually learn something by listening...because they're simulating practice in their heads. I think that the killer feature missing from K-16 education is lack of a useful, fast feedback system. Favorite quote ever on education: "Learning, like sex, is one of the most enjoyable activities available to the human being. When you add force to sex, you call it rape...when you add force to learning, you call it school, and we subject everyone to 13 years of it." -- Rob (paraphrased)
- Exercise and Nutrition. Doug McGuff is the smartest guy in exercise. Kurt Harris is the smartest guy in nutrition. Seth Roberts is the most interesting guy for both. 'Nuff said. Different methods give different results, and there is no 1 "healthiest". For weight loss...Ketosis. For long term health? Probably not Ketosis.
The virtue of excellence
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
This blog dances around many topics, but I think I can summarize them in less than 1000 words.