You're Probably Wondering Why I've Called You Here Today
Welcome to Astral Codex Ten! Some of you are probably veterans of my old blog, Slate Star Codex. Others may be newbies wondering what this is all about.
I'm happy to finally be able to give a clear answer: this is a blog about ṛta.
Ṛta is a Sanskrit word, so ancient that it brushes up against the origin of Indo-European languages. It's related to English "rationality" and "arithmetic", but also "art" and "harmony". And "right", both in the senses of "natural rights" and "the right answer". And "order". And "arete" and "aristos" and all those other Greek words about morality. And "artificial", as in eg artificial intelligence. More speculatively "reign" and related words about rulership, and "rich" and related words about money.
(also "arthropod", but insects creep me out so I'll be skipping this one)
The dictionary defines ṛta as "order", "truth", or "rule", but I think of it as the intersection of all these concepts, a sort of hidden node at the center of art and harmony and rationality and the rest. What are the laws of thought? How do they reveal themselves, at every level, from the flow of electricity through the brain to the flow of money through the global economy? How can we cleave to them more closely, for our own good and the good of generations still to come?
In practice, articles (another ṛta relative!) here tend to focus on reasoning, science, psychiatry, medicine, ethics, genetics, AI, economics and politics. The political posts sometimes stray into choppy waters, and I have immense sympathy for people who are sick of that and prefer to pass.
But on the other hand, this picture:
The top and bottom chess sets in this picture are exactly the same color. Download it and check on Paint or Photoshop if you don't believe me. We use "as different as black and white" to mean obviously, undeniably different. But in fact a slightly different context can confuse our brains so completely that we mistake white for black and vice versa. I believe the same laws of thought apply in the frontal lobe as in the visual cortex. The same forces that transform gray chess sets to white or black, outside our conscious control or comprehension, influence how we think about policies, coalitions, and principles, making them appear self-evidently good or viciously evil. I think this is the century where we'll either learn to understand and deal with our cognitive biases, or else all kill each other.
(there will also be the normal kind of politics on here, where I yell at people for being crooks and liars, because I'm only human)
I'm privileged to be at the intersection of a number of communities exploring these concepts. The rationalist community is a group of people, mostly centered around the website Less Wrong, investigating reasoning and probability. The effective altruist community is a group, inspired by philosophers like Will MacAskill and Peter Singer, who work on how best to use charitable resources for the greater good. And I work in psychiatry, which it turns out is pretty relevant to questions about how people end up believing strange things - both as an investigative science and as a terrible warning. These groups aren't always great at reporting their ideas and conclusions to the general public, so I'm here to help. Most of the interesting stuff you see here will be influenced by at least one of them; most of the errors will be mine alone.
And finally, the highlight of my last blog was its loyal and active readership, who constantly corrected my errors, resolved my lingering questions, and inspired most of "my" best ideas. Substack has committed to do everything they can to help keep that community alive. I commit to doing everything I can to keep that community alive. So take a look around, and feel free to comment here, the subreddit, the Discord, or the vintage-style bulletin board.
But for now - welcome to Astral Codex Ten! I am genuinely glad you're here!