Consummate dilettantism!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

There Is No Difference Between "Luck" And "Hard Work"

Cornell Economist Robert Frank says:
Although people are often quick to ascribe their own success to skill and hard work, even those qualities entail heavy elements of luck. Debate continues about the degree to which personal traits are attributable to environmental and genetic factors. But whatever the true weights of each, these factors in combination explain nearly everything. People born with good genes and raised in nurturing families can claim little moral credit for their talent and industriousness. They were just lucky. And they are vastly more likely to succeed than people born without talent and raised in unsupportive environments.
Hard work "entail[s] heavy elements of luck"? Professor Frank, hard work is entirely luck. There is no difference between the source of hard work and talent, which is of course the brain, however affected by external events. In other words, there is no such thing as free will -- it's a wrong idea and always has been. Even if we disregard modern biology for a moment and say there's some soul that is enabled to make decisions, how does this make sense? We make decisions based on our biases and the data we gather from the world; to say that any action is not perfectly predicted by another is magical thinking. (Perhaps even if you're a quantum physicist.)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Dreaming Of Lucid Dreaming

Last night I dreamt that I was having a lucid dream, and in the dream I was actually excited that I was having one. I can't make this stuff up. It was weird, too; something about killing cockroaches and eating at fast food restaurants. And I barely slept -- for some reason I got up at 5:30, not tired at all.

Just another footnote, I guess. No more crack before bedtime from now on.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Western Civ Isn't Bad After All

western science and society [] already contribute[] to the dehumanization of human beings
On the contrary, Western science and society contribute to precisely the reverse: the humanization of human beings. The more we are freed from material cares, the more we can afford to make ethical decisions unencumbered by self-interest. In this vein, Peter Singer likes to talk about the "expanding circle" of moral consideration; increasingly, sentient beings of all sorts are falling under the ethicists's purview. First slaves, then women, then racial minorities; those in the third world and animals are surely next.

Friday, May 15, 2009

One-Way-Hash Arguments

Very smart post here:
Come to think of it, there’s a certain class of rhetoric I’m going to call the “one way hash” argument. Most modern cryptographic systems in wide use are based on a certain mathematical asymmetry: You can multiply a couple of large prime numbers much (much, much, much, much) more quickly than you can factor the product back into primes. A one-way hash is a kind of “fingerprint” for messages based on the same mathematical idea: It’s really easy to run the algorithm in one direction, but much harder and more time consuming to undo. Certain bad arguments work the same way—skim online debates between biologists and earnest ID afficionados armed with talking points if you want a few examples: The talking point on one side is just complex enough that it’s both intelligible—even somewhat intuitive—to the layman and sounds as though it might qualify as some kind of insight. (If it seems too obvious, perhaps paradoxically, we’ll tend to assume everyone on the other side thought of it themselves and had some good reason to reject it.) The rebuttal, by contrast, may require explaining a whole series of preliminary concepts before it’s really possible to explain why the talking point is wrong. So the setup is “snappy, intuitively appealing argument without obvious problems” vs. “rebuttal I probably don’t have time to read, let alone analyze closely.”
Most fallacies aren’t really fallacies when you reinterpret them as Bayesian reasons to give an idea more credence rather than iron-clad syllogisms. Without the “argument from authority” and the “ad hominem fallacy”, you would either never get lunch or you’d give all your money to Nigerian spammers.
That's exactly right. Logically such arguments may be fallacious, but they're so common because they work (produce the right answer) maybe 70% of the time. See, most of the time and in most fields, simple heuristics beat strict logic on a correctness-to-time ratio. Battleship-caliber armor is not necessary (and in fact counterproductive) on the vast majority of ships.

It's what keeps me in business!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Jewe

It is of common opinion, that whensoever a Jewe shall find an object of certain worthe, he shall endeavour posthaste to acquire it; and be that withal, that if it be to his fancy, he shall faster sell than retain it; for there is to the Jewe a spirite of commerce, that by it's singular vyrtue, is unlike that of any race now upon the Earth.

Sorry guys, just practicing my 16th-century English. My goal is to write my whole blog in it one day.

Microsoft Thinks I'm Black

This is the default icon for the Windows 7 RC home folder. If I recall correctly, the comparable icon in Vista had both a white person and a black one. What gives, Microsoft? Political correctness getting you down? I don't even understand why you feel the need to enter this debate; don't even use a person. Do what Apple does, and just use a home. It's as I tell people -- if you want to avoid using the singular they or the generic he, just use a plural noun as your example. Write "if students wish to enroll, they must" rather than "if a student wishes to enroll, he [she, he/she, they] must".

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

What's That Doing There?

Is that a -- gasp! -- simplified character on Gu Kaizhi's famous Orchid Pavilion Preface?!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Justice Or The Law?

"I will seek someone who understands that justice isn't about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a case book. It is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of people's lives," said the president in a surprise appearance in the White House Press Room moments after speaking with Souter by telephone.
This is a straw man. The President is of course correct that justice is not about abstract legal theory, but I know of no legal scholar or philosopher who would claim the reverse. In fact, the argument Obama wishes to criticize is not that "justice is[] about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a case book", but that "law is[] about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a case book". Law certainly is about legal theory, for that is all there is to law; there is quite a difference between the reason why laws are created (justice, we would hope) and how the laws are interpreted (abstract legal theory and footnotes in case books, I would hope).