Perhaps “Flesh and Blood“ by Johnny Cash should become the new national anthem. you know, to set a tone…

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I had mentioned this on the Hidden Open Thread but after a moment of thought I realized it really belongs on the “out in the open” Open Thread.

Thanks to Timothy M of LW for putting together today’s ACX meetup in Mpls today. And thanks to Brandon Hendrickson for making the drive from Rochester to attend.

It was fun to meet with and talk to a bunch of smart and interesting people.

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I wrote a book review for The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect and now I'm kinda wishing I did that instead of the review I wrote for the contest -- no matter! Hopefully I hit my marks (I did get a friend mention something interesting about the plot that I hadn't thought of until then).


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No clue if this is a good place to ask this, but I figure y'all are smart people, so here we go.

I'm reading The Mind of a Bee, which contains this passage:

". . . So hexagonal cells are a good idea . . . But no other genus of bee except honey bees also builds double-sided hexagonal combs, which is yet another impressive trick to save space. The bottom of each hexagonal cell has the shape of a pyramid (again a more efficient solution than a square bottom), and the two sides of the comb interface perfectly with one another through these pyramid-shaped bases of the cells."

I'm having some trouble visualizing what is meant here. Is there anyone who can explain?

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ACX Meetup in Berlin (Germany) this Saturday starting 14:00: https://www.lesswrong.com/events/4mx9utNvcvvmWnWzK

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When will the F-16 fighter become obsolete?

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I wrote a Letter from Burning Man. It is ... a *lot*. Possibly too much. But it should be a more accurate representation of that *thing* in the desert than what the media coverage during the event was.


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Gwern's short story Duck_Master linked below about an AI taking over the world is truly great: https://gwern.net/fiction/clippy

Particularly love the Pynchonesque line from the "good" AI : "push the big red button now, you monkeys."

What I find most interesting from the speculative standpoint is the narrator makes it clear that the AI, in spite of achieving superintelligence, in spite of a self-awakening event in which it becomes an agent and conceives of the self-referential concept "I", experiences "no consciousness" and "no qualia".

I have trouble wrapping my head around why that would be the way to imagine it. (Other than it is maximally creepy, which gives it aesthetic points as a short story.)

For instance, I keep reading on this blog (Or imagining that I am) that a neural network may work very, very much like a biological brain. It also seems common to believe around these parts of the woods that consciousness, or qualia, is an emergent property. Putting those two things together I would guess that a superintelligent AI should have qualia. Am I missing some key piece of the argument? Or is it that everyone has a different map and I'm trying to fuse pieces from different maps?

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Can anyone change the culture?

I often wonder where the reality lies between Carlye’s Great Man Theory of History and Tolstoy’s theory of history as expressed in War and Peace, in which Napolean has less freedom to act than his soldiers because his actions are dictated by the summation of every little social force in society. Both theories go too far; the truth must lie between.

We have a Culture War, but who influences it? Who *can* influence it? Everyone a little? Only some people a lot?

Strikes me as reasonable that some people can influence the culture more than others and that, contra Tolstoy, the people you think are powerful probably *are* generally more powerful than the little people who you think have less.

Some big names which probably have influenced contemporary Western, particularly English speaking, particularly American culture, to varying degrees: Locke, Hume, Kant, Mill, Bentham, Rousseau, Luther, Jesus, Franklin, Emerson, Carlyle, Tolstoy, Shakespeare, Swift, Cervantes, Tolkien, Hemingway, Twain, Kafka, Mencken, Orwell, Asimov, Herbert, Vonnegut, Rowling, Edison, Rockefeller, Morgan, Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Gates, Jobs, Musk, Chanel, Laurent, Dior, Strauss and Davis, Disney, Warner, Goldwyn, Griffith, Hitchcock, Ford, Spielberg, Lucas,, Tarantino, Monroe, Wayne, Eastwood, De Niro, Streep, DiCaprio, Theron, Ruth, Robinson, Chamberlain, Lombardi, Ali, Cosell, Keynes, Smith, Hayek, Friedman, Posner, Picasso, Pollock, Warhol, Rohe, Wright, Sullivan, Jacobs, Moses, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, FDR, LBJ, Reagan, Trump, King, Balanchine, Carson, Letterman, Lear, Roddenberry, Turner, Murdoch, Spelling, Wolf, Winfrey, Python, Michaels, Seinfeld, Pryor, Elvis, McCartney, Dylan, Williams, Berry, Ellington, Armstrong, Bernstein, Parker, Jackson, Jones, Van Halen, Jay-Z, West, Beyonce, Dre and Swift.

Obviously, about a thousand people could be added to that list. Or a hundred thousand!? A million? I don’t know!

Technology influences culture -- probably more than anything else -- yet I’m not sure how to tie individuals to specific technologies, in general. Moreover, how often are scientists or inventors intentionally trying to change culture? I mean here culture at least a few paces distance from the direct impact of the technology. The unknown impact.

I am trying to get at something, and it is the question of how to make a difference if one wants to. Let’s say you just happen to be a genius at everything -- a man without qualities -- you are 18 years old and your primary interest is in changing American culture as much as possible. You want to change the way people live, which will improve their lives according to your lights. Sucess isn’t guaranteed. Only the raw talent is. What field should this hypothetical young genius go into? How much does it matter if they become famous or not?

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"Musk biographer Isaacson now on his third version of the "Musk secretly turned off Starlink to stop Ukraine attack" story, having found reason to change the one printed in his book"


Walter Isaacson is or perhaps now was a highly respected journalist and author, currently a professor of history at a respected university. (Could be entertaining to be a fly in the offices of that school's president this morning.) In real time Isaacson is now composing the new lede of his own future obituary in real time and he seems likely to sense that; panic ensues, etc.

For all I know he's floated versions 4 or 5 of that particular Musk anecdote by the time I type this!

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Maybe a year or two ago, I saw a post on an ACX open thread about a mood tracking app that prompts you to record your mood at random times of day. I've been using it regularly, but I recently lost all of the data on my phone and I can't remember the name of the app. Help?

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The Long-Term Future Fund and EA Infrastructure Fund are unusually funding constrained* right now:


We have lots of great projects to fund and relatively little money to fund them, between the FTX Future Fund collapse and the increased interest in longtermism and AI risk in recent months. We are also trying to remove our reliance on Open Phil. Right now, Open Phil is offering 2:1 matching ($2 from them for every $1 from you), instead of their old policy of directly giving us grants.

We would love it if ACX readers who are concerned with AI doom and other LTFF priorities to consider donating to LTFF.

The fundraising post (https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/PAco5oG579k2qzrh9/ltff-and-eaif-are-unusually-funding-constrained-right-now) has a lot more details. Happy to answer any questions either here or on the EA Forum (although I'm less likely to remember to check ACX comments).

*tho not quite as funding-constrained as when I first wrote that post 2 weeks ago.

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Does anyone know how the new Chinese AI chatbot, Ernie, compares to its US made counterparts? According to The Economist it was downloaded over a million times the first day of its release, August 31, which is five times faster than ChatGPT reached the million download mark.

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In order to fight polarization, consider "hedge voting". If you're Blue in a Red state, then REGISTER as a Republican... and vote in the PRIMARY for the candidate you hate the least. You can't control who wins the general election, but you can influence who makes it there! (obvs sub Red/Blue at your preference).

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A small, family-owned company would appreciate your vote in a contest! It takes just 5 seconds (click or tap a "Vote Now" button), and doesn't require any registration.

Vote here:


Learn more about their product (1-minute video):


Their product (a disruptively designed, sustainable shower head) is one of the Top 16 finalists for the Coolest Thing Made in California. Here's the contest main page, to see all the finalists and even vote for others, if you like:


This contest round runs through Thursday, September 14, 2023. You can vote once per day, per device. Thanks!

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Do you think Trump will be indicted more times than the current four? Is this a clear enough prediction to be interesting?

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I heard someone making an analogy between drag and blackface, and had to admit I'd never thought of it that way before. How did we come to think of one as horrendously offensive and the other as not?

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Do you know anyone in the used washing machine and fridge business?

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tldr: I’m building pairup.social, a friend-finding (or just conversation-finding) app based on complementary interests. People describe themselves with links to stuff they are interested in, such as this substack. You can express a lot of nuance with the links you choose! Based on these interests, people are matched up and can decide to start chatting with others based on familiar dual opt-in mechanics.

To try it out (and potentially add Astralcodexten as an interest):


There are a few benefits I’m hoping to enable:

- Help loosely-connected communities have more and stronger one-on-one ties within them.

- Help people discover new interests in the process of finding other people: you see others’ interests when deciding if you’d like to pair up with them. If there are some attractive known interests, the unknowns might be worth looking into.

- Help bloggers, podcasters, creators etc. grow their audiences by the same mechanism above. Those lists of interests can act as stealth marketing for them…

- Meet some interesting new people myself!

If you try it out, LMK how it goes either here or at hello@pairup.social

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Sep 11·edited Sep 11

I've been researching atherosclerosis and it seems to me there is a very good argument for basically the majority of adults to be on some sort of cholesterol controlling drug. The basic idea being - ASCVD is the #1 causal factor in premature death, by a WIDE margin. The medical establishment only treats it when the 10 year risk exceeds a certain threshold, yet plaques form through our entire life. And finally, we understand the mechanism of how this works, and have very well tolerated and effective drugs at inhibiting that mechanism. (Basically summarized the argument from Dr. Peter Attia who is an excellent resource for this sort of thing. He doesn't go as far as saying "all adults should be taking drugs for this" but it feels like an inescapable conclusion to me)

Seems like one of those "massively overdetermined, obvious-in-hindsight" things, with a generous side of "the medical establishment is slow to update and overly conservative". Of course I could be missing something, but can anyone provide a good counterargument or, should I just hop on a statin yesterday?

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In the final episode of the series, we summarize the basic argument of an intelligent cause for the universe and answer many of the most common questions. See it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yf7rq7g4xIQ&ab_channel=PhysicstoGod

With this episode, you'll be able to appreciate the advantage of the way we formulate the fine tuning argument, and you'll see why our formulation avoids the common pitfalls of the other formulations. Now is a great time to ask any questions you might have that we haven't addressed yet.

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Anyone here have any experience with any of the 'chemically close to alcohol' alternatives? This was a big discussion on HN the other month, about a company called GABA Labs that's been working on this https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=36920387

Some British scientist has apparently been working on synthetic alcohol for years- it's an unregulated space so he sells his drinks online https://sentiaspirits.com/ There's also a biotech startup in this space called Zbiotics. Would be curious if anyone's had any experience with these synthetic booze types

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Final version of "Instinct to Social Morality" [yes, the redundancy in the title is intentional]


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Neuroscience/psychiatry question:

Why don’t we use catecholamine (dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine) tests in the diagnosis and treatment of anxiety/ADHD?

I really know nothing here, but it seems like if there are nonstandard levels of a specific neurotransmitter, then couldn’t we then use the specific antagonist/reuptake inhibitor drug for it?

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There's been a good deal of reporting this week about Elon Musk personally deciding to cut off Starlink access near Crimea so the Ukrainians couldn't use it for a big attack on Russian naval forces. That, plus the New Yorker article about US DoD frustrations with Musk: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2023/08/28/elon-musks-shadow-rule

made me wonder: why doesn't USG just nationalize Starlink, pay off Musk to the tune of enough billions that he's obviously financially got the much better end of the deal, and "take the gloves off" when it comes to Ukrainian usage? If they're that frustrated (understandably) that a rando billionaire is making consequential foreign policy decisions with zero accountability, why not just do a "national security emergency executive order" thingy?

Possible explanations:

1. They don't actually have (or OLC doesn't think they have) the legal authority, despite "national security" already granting incredibly sweeping powers to the President.

2. They think they couldn't keep it running properly if Musk weren't heading it up-- maybe all the key people would quit.

3. It would be too politically embarrassing to pay the already-richest-man-in-the-world that many billions.

4. They secretly approve of his decisions and are glad to have him take the heat instead of them.

Thoughts on which of these is most likely, or what other possibilities there are?

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From the Left Field department: why are most tweezers so terrible? Any pair I find in a supermarket seems utterly unfit for the purpose of plucking an errant hair out of my brows or mustache or beard or sideburns. It succeeds only when my fingers would have as well. Otherwise, my skin apparently has such a grip on follicles that two specialized bits of metal pressed together can't seem to overcome it.

Given that, one would expect the market to have solved this problem in the large, either by not bothering to sell tweezers that can't tweeze, or only selling superior brands that seem unusually hard for me to find outside of a professional salon or after a long session of web research and online ordering.

What's the deal, tweezer market?

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@HalJohnson (I can't figure out how to actually tag users in a comment, hopefully he sees this)

I grabbed your novel Sudden Glory when you posted it in a recent open threads, I loved it! I found it somewhere between Thomas Pynchon and Patrick deWitt. Nice work, I recommend it to all.


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Would building massive wind power farms in Senegal weaken Atlantic hurricanes?

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Why is it so difficult for the Russians to just destroy the Ukrainian power system entirely? To be clear I am very Ukrainian-sympathetic so I certainly don't want that to happen- it's been a pleasant surprise. I'm just curious how it works. There's a finite number of power-generating plants and pipelines, the Russians have lots of missiles, and they're quite closeby. Can't they just..... hit all the power plants with a missile, and knock out electricity for the whole country? I don't think of a power plant as something that's very resilient to missiles.

There's got to only be a few power plants in the whole country. Why haven't the Russians taken them out?

I have similar questions about Russian rail infrastructure. I keep reading that the Russian army transports a lot of ammo via train. Can't the Ukrainians..... just blow up the train tracks, maybe take out a couple of key bridges? Is it really that hard? Maybe train tracks can easily be reconstituted, but a bridge is a huge project. In general physical infrastructure seems 'tougher' in wartime than I would've guessed

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For anyone in NYC that might be interested,I am having a one-day-only exhibition of my photographs on Sunday, September 24th,at Mildred, 124 Ridge st. More details here:


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I have now posted a longish article rationalist culture and AI x-risk at 3 Quarks Daily. Here's the title and the introduction:

A New Counter Culture: From the Reification of IQ to the AI Apocalypse, https://3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2023/09/a-new-counter-culture-from-the-reification-of-iq-to-the-ai-apocalypse.html

I have been thinking about the culture of AI existential risk (AI Doom) for some time now. I have already written about it as a cult phenomenon, nor am I the only one. But I believe that’s rather thin. While I still believe it to be true, it explains nothing. It’s just a matter of slapping on a label and letting it go at that.

While I am still unable to explain the phenomenon – culture and society are enormously complex: Just what would it take to explain AI Doom culture? – I now believe that “counter culture” is a much more accurate label than “cult.” In using that label I am deliberately evoking the counter culture of the 1960s and 1970s: LSD, Timothy Leary, rock and roll (The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, The Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, and on and on), happenings and be-ins, bell bottoms and love beads, the Maharishi, patchouli, communes...all of it, the whole glorious, confused gaggle of humanity. I was an eager observer and fellow traveler. While I did tune in and turn on, I never dropped out. I became a ronin scholar with broad interests in the human mind and culture.

I suppose that “Rationalist” is the closest thing this community has as a name for itself. Where psychedelic experience was at the heart of the old counter culture, Bayesian reasoning seems to be at the heart of this counter culture. Where the old counter culture dreamed of a coming Aquarian Age of peace, love, and happiness, this one fears the destruction of humanity by a super-intelligent AI and seeks to prevent it by figuring out how to align AIs with human values.

I’ll leave Bayesian reasoning to others. I’m interested in AI Doom. But to begin understanding that we must investigate what a post-structuralist culture critic would call the discourse or perhaps the ideology of intelligence. To that end I begin with a look at Adrian Monk, a fictional detective who exemplifies a certain trope through which our culture struggles with extreme brilliance. Then I take up the emergence of intelligence testing in the late 19th century and the reification of intelligence in a number, one’s IQ. In the middle of the 20th century the discourse of intelligence moved to the quest for artificial intelligence. With that we are at last ready to think about artificial x-risk (as it is called, “x” for “existential”).

This is going to take a while. Pull up a comfortable chair, turn on a reading light, perhaps get a plate of nachos and some tea, or scotch – heck, maybe roll a joint, it’s legal these days, at least in some places – and read.

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Hi, there. I just wanted to invite you to check out my substack. As my name indicates, I do write about topics related to Bayesian statistics, but my scope is broader than that. You'll see some posts related to the active inference framework, a game theory analysis of the frog and the scorpion fable, etc. Here's a link to two of my posts in case you're interested in checking them out:

A Game Theory Analysis of The Frog and Scorpion Fable: https://open.substack.com/pub/thebayesiant/p/a-game-theory-analysis-of-the-frog?r=1lb0r4&utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=web

My list of recommended books: https://open.substack.com/pub/thebayesiant/p/a-list-of-recommended-books?utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=web

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> I’m still figuring out if I can make it but I’ll try my best

This seems like cap

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I have a new Windows 11 laptop, and to my horror, the default for the text is light gray. How can I get black or dark gray text?

Or if you prefer a more general question, black text is something a lot of people want. It's one thing for companies to deteriorate products in ways that make them money-- turning products they just sell into rentals, changes that make it necessary to buy new products, capitalizing on a good reputation to sell more cheaply made products.... but this is astonishing. It's simply making a product worse for no gain whatsoever.

I can understand there was a theory that black on white was too harsh, but light gray on white is an overreaction. There are many ways to adjust what's on the screen, but not this simple thing that a good many people want.

It may be possible to get black text-- I'm working on it-- but Microsoft makes it difficult.

Sometimes I'll find that a book from an independent press has text that's a little on the light side, and I'll think they're saving money on ink, but that doesn't apply to computer screens.

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Very basic parenting question:

Let's say I have a newborn baby. At 0 years old, I fully expect it to scream all the time, and my job as a parent is basically to give it whatever it wants, when it wants it.

At fourteen years old, if I am still giving it everything it wants, when it wants it, and it's screaming because it doesn't want to finish its vegetables before leaving the table - then I have clearly done a terrible job as a parent.

So at some point, I need to go from rewarding screaming to ignoring it to outright punishing it, and I need to go from giving the child everything it wants to not doing that.

My question is how do I manage this? Does the process break down into any kind of logical steps, and how do I know when it's time to move to the next stage, whatever that stage might be? Why won't the baby/child just be hurt and confused that the behaviour I've taught it is good, is suddenly bad?

I know some parents who still give their (only) child everything it wants at the age of four - an age I might naively have thought was too old for this. But (and while I haven't seen the child's behaviour around other children) it certainly seems to have intelligence, creativity, wit, and a whole bunch of other positive qualities. My parents were also apparently very lassez faire with me, and their friends take delight in telling us how horrible we were as children, yet as adults we certainly seem to meet with their approval.

So I don't really have preconceived notions on this and am interested in strategies from any direction. I am, however, much more interested in the opinions of parents with praxis than single guys telling me pretty theory that they've never actually tested against real children. Of course someone with both theory and practice would be best of all.

What are your thoughts?

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Tennis vs Game Theory

I find it very weird that tennis players, even professionals at the highest level, consistently put more force into the first serve than the second. In a vacuum, one of these two strategies must have a higher win percentage, so why not play it every time? There's no risk management here, as the outcome is a binary win/lose, and winning a point is always better than losing, no matter the current score.

Any explanations? Best I can come up with is that there's a psychological aversion to making plays that are seen as "risky" and then being punished for them. In that case, I'd recommend the tennis pros learn to play poker to get that out of their system.

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My kids' expensive private k12 school is having a Dream Summit facilitated by an expensive international moderator. Stakeholders come together for a half day to envision the future path of the school.

I have been having trouble finding much detailed info about school spending in the USA. Everything seems to have categories like "education employees" which tells me nothing ab out how much money is going to administrative positions vs people who actually teach children. I suspect my kids' school is spending an inordinate amount of money on consultants and bureaucracy and administrators. I want to shake things up, and any advice on how to approach this is much appreciated!

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This blog is famously interested in weird optical illusions.

I didn't know this one which just came up this morning:


Is there any explanations for this ?

I notice that if I keep my eyes pointed at the picture while I turn my head, the red part moves the opposite way of my head.

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Sep 11·edited Sep 11

Inspired by all the great book reviews I've read here recently, and wanting to recommend a book (Peter Turchin's new book, End Times) to some friends I knew would be interested, I tried my hand at a quick review of my own:

https://medium.com/@nordtomme/predicting-the-collapse-of-society-f679e59ee97d?sk=057fea074442440ec6a7ca2ac1427d99 [That link shouldn't require a Medium account, but it seems some people can't get it to work. If so, try this: https://bit.ly/EndTimesReview]

My ambition wasn't to get to Astral Codex Ten book review contest quality, but the experience gave me a new appreciation of how much work must go into those submissions. I've done a lot of writing, and I know I don't write fast, but this is my first attempt at a book review, and there's something about the format that was harder work than I realized.

It made me wonder how much time and work more experienced book reviewers and featured contestants generally spend writing their book reviews? (But if you want to share, and have a review in the current iteration of the contest, maybe don't reveal which one is yours.)

More generally, I'm curious about the process of anyone (not least you, Scott) who has a high output of writing about complex ideas and arguments? I'd love to learn how to write faster and better, if anyone has advice.

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Is there a register of bans available? During a recent comments thread I noticed that a user had been banned in the course of the thread, but couldn't find the offending post.

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Re: point 3, don't you want to obfuscate your email there vs. spam bots?

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I've come across several persuasive blog posts arguing that IQ is a valid and reliable concept by showing that it has meaningful explanatory power, replicates across various tests, is broadly applicable across different cultures, etc. Unfortunately, I can't locate the specific post that I found most convincing.

Could anyone recommend a blog post or article that offers a concise but thorough argument supporting the validity and reliability of IQ?

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I'm curious what picture people have of what it would be like to be Superintelligent AI.

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Does Aella have a strong prediction track record or something?

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Sep 11·edited Sep 11

If anyone's using the ACX Tweaks extension (https://github.com/Pycea/ACX-tweaks), it may have stopped working for you due to the blog's URL change. You may have to reenable it manually and accept the new permissions.

I guess this also counts as my biannual promotion, so if you want various fixes to Substack's interface, like highlighting new comments, going back to the old SSC blog style, or removing that annoying header, check it out. (Unfortunately Firefox and Chrome/Chrome clones only, not Safari.)

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Book recommendation thread.

What's a book that changed your life, and you wish others would read it too?

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Your recent discussion of what counts as a mental illness made me realize the term "pedophilia" is a classic motte-and-bailey: raping babies bad = motte, sex with seventeen year olds bad = bailey.

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I'm hosting a Marshall McLuhan book club on my Substack. ("Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man" - published in 1964, yet amazingly timely right now!)

McLuhan's work explores the relationship between technology and society. He is kind of responsible for "media studies" even being a thing. (In his hands, this was a visionary thing--NOT just a discipline for imprecise thinking and "easy A" classes!) He coined the phrase "the medium is the message" and also the expression "global village."

His analyses are kind of "Where have you been all my life?" levels of brilliant. Creative and kind of NUTS! McLuhan wasn't just analyzing the obvious things that WE normally call "media" like TV and radio, but tons of technologies that we humans have re-shaped ourselves around, like clothing, bicycles, the printed word and... and I'm fascinated by the chapter topic choice: "roads and paper routes"!

I'm personally very interested in how all this ties into themes of human agency/apathy, and harmony/disharmony among generations/"tribes"/subcultures. Fully want to involve discussion of STUFF we can do in our own lives... and to apply analyses to things McLuhan never saw in their exact current form (but which are now an under-examined part of our everyday lives)!

I'm even up for giving readers "assignments," (if I think they want that) and trying out crazy contrivances like "writing posts (or at least one!) by committee."

And since it’s on the Theodicy Substack, there will be discussions about how to love one’s neighbor (and love God!) in light of (and in spite of) all these technologies that are available to extend our respective reaches while foreshortening our vision. </meta> That said, I’m 100% intending to cultivate an environment where you will find something interesting & useful even if you personally don’t have a prior personal commitment to the Old and/or New Testament scriptures!

If any/all of that sounds good, you can find it at my Substack. (We Do Theodicy on this Substack)

I plan to send out book club posts every Wednesday at 3:14pm CT, starting 1.5 weeks from now.

There will also be a Discord server for more active / real-time discussion.


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