Astral Codex Ten Podcast
The official audio version of Astral Codex Ten, with an archive of posts from Slate Star Codex. It's just me reading Scott Alexander's blog posts.
info_outline Links For November 2023 12/04/2023
Links For November 2023 [Remember, I haven’t independently verified each link. On average, commenters will end up spotting evidence that around two or three of the links in each links post are wrong or misleading. I correct these as I see them, and will highlight important corrections later, but I can’t guarantee I will have caught them all by the time you read this.] Links: Cult Report: Chuck Feeney: Doctors' Riot: Sulfur Aerosols: Joke Party: Charlemagne's Descendants: Dark Day in 1780: SAD Light Boxes: Policy Impact Study: Israel-Palestine Map:
info_outline Contra DeBoer On Movement Shell Games 12/04/2023
Contra DeBoer On Movement Shell Games "Lots of alcoholics want to quit in principle, but only some join AA" Followup to: Freddie deBoer says effective altruism : Who could argue with that! But this summary also invites perhaps the most powerful critique: who could argue with that? That is to say, this sounds like so obvious and general a project that it can hardly denote a specific philosophy or project at all. The immediate response to such a definition, if you’re not particularly impressionable or invested in your status within certain obscure internet communities, should be to point out that this is an utterly banal set of goals that are shared by literally everyone who sincerely tries to act charitably . . . Every do-gooder I have ever known has thought of themselves as shining a light on problems that are neglected. So what? Generating the most human good through moral action isn’t a philosophy; it’s an almost tautological statement of what all humans who try to act morally do. This is why I say that effective altruism is a shell game. That which is commendable isn’t particular to EA and that which is particular to EA isn’t commendable. In other words, everyone agrees with doing good, so effective altruism can’t be judged on that. Presumably everyone agrees with supporting charities that cure malaria or whatever, so effective altruism can’t be judged on that. So you have to go to its non-widely-held beliefs to judge it, and those are things like animal suffering, existential risk, and AI. And (Freddie thinks) those beliefs are dumb. Therefore, effective altruism is bad. (as always, I’ve tried to sum up the argument fairly, but .) Here are some of my objections to Freddie’s point (I already posted some of this as comments on his post):
info_outline In Continued Defense Of Effective Altruism 12/01/2023
In Continued Defense Of Effective Altruism "All you do is cause boardroom drama, and maybe some other things I’m forgetting..." I. Search “effective altruism” on social media right now, and it’s pretty grim. Socialists think we’re sociopathic Randroid money-obsessed Silicon Valley hypercapitalists. But Silicon Valley thinks we’re all overregulation-loving authoritarian communist bureaucrats. The right thinks we’re all woke SJW extremists. But the left thinks we’re all fascist white supremacists. The anti-AI people think we’re the PR arm of AI companies, helping hype their products by saying they’re superintelligent at this very moment. But the pro-AI people think we want to ban all AI research forever and nationalize all tech companies.
info_outline God Help Us, Let's Try To Understand AI Monosemanticity 12/01/2023
God Help Us, Let's Try To Understand AI Monosemanticity Inside every AI is a bigger AI, trying to get out You’ve probably heard AI is a “black box”. No one knows how it works. Researchers simulate a weird type of pseudo-neural-tissue, “reward” it a little every time it becomes a little more like the AI they want, and eventually it becomes the AI they want. But God only knows what goes on inside of it. This is bad for safety. For safety, it would be nice to look inside the AI and see whether it’s executing an algorithm like “do the thing” or more like “trick the humans into thinking I’m doing the thing”. But we can’t. Because we can’t look inside an AI at all. Until now! , recently out of big AI company/research lab Anthropic, claims to have gazed inside an AI and seen its soul. It looks like this:
info_outline Book Review: I See Satan Fall Like Lightning 11/23/2023
Book Review: I See Satan Fall Like Lightning The phrase “I see Satan fall like lightning” comes from Luke 10:18. I’d previously encountered it on insane right-wing conspiracy theory websites. You can rephrase it as “I see Satan descend to earth in the form of lightning.” But “lightning” in Hebrew is barak. So the Bible says Satan will descend to Earth in the form of Barak. Seems like a relevant Bible verse for insane right-wing conspiracy theorists! Philosopher / theologian Rene Girard’s famous book isn’t directly about Barack Obama being the Antichrist. It’s an ambitious theory-of-everything for anthropology, mythography, and the Judeo-Christian religion. After solving all of those venerable fields, it will, sort of, loop back to Barack Obama being the Antichrist. But it’ll do it in such an intellectual and polymathic Continental philosophy way that we can’t even get mad.
info_outline Does Anaesthesia Prove Ketamine Placebo? 11/20/2023
Does Anaesthesia Prove Ketamine Placebo? The psychiatric study everyone’s talking about this month is . Ketamine is a dissociative drug - it produces weird drug effects like feelings of bodylessness and ego death. Recent research suggests it’s a powerful antidepressant. Usually we would try to run placebo-controlled trials. But it’s hard to run a placebo controlled trial of a dissociative. Either you feel bodylessness and ego death (in which case you know you’re getting the real drug) or you don’t (in which case you know you’re in the placebo group). Sometimes researchers try to use an “active placebo” like midazolam - a drug that makes you feel weird and floaty. But weird and floaty feels different from bodyless and ego-dead.
info_outline Followup: Quests And Requests 11/20/2023
Followup: Quests And Requests Thanks to everyone who commented on . There was a predictable failure mode: lots of people said “I have relevant expertise and would be willing to help with #X”, and then those comments just sat there. Many fewer people said “I’m going to be team lead on #X and start contacting everyone else who was interested”. In case it’s not clear: I’m not planning on “picking” people to lead each of these projects (though if you email me at [email protected] asking for help, I might give it to you). I’m just putting them out there as things people might want to self-pick for. Another predictable failure mode: many people said they were willing to help, and people should contact them, then didn’t leave any contact details. If you’re a would-be project leader, and want to get in touch with one of the help-offerers who didn’t provide an email, you should probably try responding to their comment and seeing if they get a notification. If not, email me at [email protected], and I’ll find their email in the system, ask them if I have permission to share it with you, and share it with you if they say yes. Here’s the current status of each project, AFAICT:
info_outline Hardball Questions For The Next Debate 11/16/2023
Hardball Questions For The Next Debate [previously in series: , ; expansion of ] MODERATOR: Hello, and welcome to the third Republican primary debate. To shore up declining voter interest, we’ve decided to make things more interesting tonight. In this first round, each candidate will have to avoid using a specific letter of the alphabet in their answer. If they slip up, they forfeit their remaining time, and the next candidate in line gets the floor. Our candidates who have qualified today are Chris Christie, Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis, and Donald Trump. And our first question is: what issue do you think is most important in this election? Chris Christie, let’s start with you.. Your Forbidden Letter is “V”. CHRISTIE: Nobody told me anything about this forbidden letter thing. I don’t think voters - [microphone shuts off] MODERATOR: Sorry Chris, there’s a “V” in voters. Our next candidate is Nikki Haley. Nikki, the question is still which issue is most important, and your Forbidden Letter is “K”.
info_outline Highlights From The Comments On Kidney Donation 11/16/2023
Highlights From The Comments On Kidney Donation [original post: ] 1: Comments From People Who Are Against This Sort Of Thing 2: …From Other People Who Have Donated Kidneys 3: …From People Who Have Received Kidneys 4: …About Opt-Out Organ Donation 5: …On Radiation Risk 6: …About Rejections 7: …On Polls About Who Would Donate 8: …On Artificial Organs 9: Other Comments
info_outline Quests And Requests 11/14/2023
Quests And Requests Projects that need incubating I’ll be starting a new round of ACX Grants sometime soon. I can’t guarantee I’ll fund all these projects - some of them are more like vanity projects than truly effective. But I might fund some of them, and others might be doable without funding. So if you’re feeling left out and want a cause to devote your life to, here are some extras.
info_outline Dictator Book Club: Chavez 11/09/2023
Dictator Book Club: Chavez Review of Rory Carroll's "Comandante" [previously in series: , , , , ] I. All dictators get their start by discovering some loophole in the democratic process. realized that control of corruption investigations let him imprison anyone he wanted. realized that EU accession talks provided the perfect cover to retool Turkish institutions in his own image.
info_outline Mantic Monday 10/30/23 11/07/2023
Mantic Monday 10/30/23 Manifest || Manifold.Love || Eyeless in Gaza Last month, the Lighthaven convention center in Berkeley hosted Manifest, the first conference for prediction market enthusiasts. By now this has already been covered elsewhere, including , but here are some particular highlights:
info_outline My Left Kidney 10/28/2023
My Left Kidney A person has two kidneys; one advises him to do good and one advises him to do evil. And it stands to reason that the one advising him to do good is to his right and the one that advises him to do evil is to his left. — Talmud (Berakhot 61a) I. As I left the Uber, I saw with horror the growing wet spot around my crotch. “It’s not urine!”, I almost blurted to the driver, before considering that 1) this would just call attention to it and 2) it was urine. “It’s not my urine,” was my brain’s next proposal - but no, that was also false. “It is urine, and it is mine, but just because it’s pooling around my crotch doesn’t mean I peed myself; that’s just a coincidence!” That one would have been true, but by the time I thought of it he had driven away. Like most such situations, it began with a Vox article.
info_outline Impact Market Mini-Grants Results 10/18/2023
Impact Market Mini-Grants Results Last March we (ACX and ) did of an , a novel way of running charitable grants. You can read the details at the links, but it’s basically a VC ecosystem for charity: profit-seeking investors fund promising projects and grantmakers buy credit for successes from the investors. To test it out, we promised at least $20,000 in retroactive grants for forecasting-related projects, and intrepid guinea-pig investors funded they thought we might want to buy. Over the past six months, founders have worked on their projects. Some collapsed, losing their investors all their money. Others flourished, shooting up in value far beyond investor predictions. We got five judges (including me) to assess the final value of each of the 18 projects. Their results mostly determine what I will be offering investors for their impact certificates (see caveats below). They are:
info_outline Pause For Thought: The AI Pause Debate 10/09/2023
Pause For Thought: The AI Pause Debate Last month, Ben West of the Center for Effective Altruism among long-termists, forecasters, and x-risk activists about pausing AI. Everyone involved thought AI was dangerous and might even destroy the world, so you might expect a pause - maybe even a full stop - would be a no-brainer. It wasn’t. Participants couldn’t agree on basics of what they meant by “pause”, whether it was possible, or whether it would make things better or worse. There was at least some agreement on what a successful pause would have to entail. Participating governments would ban “frontier AI models”, for example models using more training compute than GPT-4. Smaller models, or novel uses of new models would be fine, or else face an FDA-like regulatory agency. States would enforce the ban against domestic companies by monitoring high-performance microchips; they would enforce it against non-participating governments by banning export of such chips, plus the usual diplomatic levers for enforcing treaties (eg nuclear nonproliferation). The main disagreements were: Could such a pause possibly work? If yes, would it be good or bad? If good, when should we implement it? When should we lift it? I’ve grouped opinions into five categories:
info_outline How Are The Gay Younger Brothers Doing? 10/09/2023
How Are The Gay Younger Brothers Doing? In the 1990s, Blanchard and Bogaert proposed (FBOE). Men with more older brothers were more likely to be gay. “The odds of having a gay son increase from approximately 2% for the first born son, to 3% for the second, 5% for the third and so on”.
info_outline Links For September 2023 10/05/2023
Links For September 2023 [Remember, I haven’t independently verified each link. On average, commenters will end up spotting evidence that around two or three of the links in each links post are wrong or misleading. I correct these as I see them, and will highlight important corrections later, but I can’t guarantee I will have caught them all by the time you read this.]
info_outline Book Review: The Alexander Romance 09/28/2023
Book Review: The Alexander Romance [if this looks familiar to you, see explanation ] Sometimes scholars go on a search for “the historical Jesus”. They start with the Gospels, then subtract everything that seems magical or implausible, then declare whatever’s left to be the truth. The Alexander Romance is what happens when you spend a thousand years running this process in reverse. Each generation, you make the story of Alexander the Great a little wackier. By the Middle Ages, Alexander is fighting dinosaurs and riding a chariot pulled by griffins up to Heaven. People ate it up. The Romance stayed near the top of the best-seller lists for over a thousand years. Some people claim (without citing sources) that it was the #2 most-read book of antiquity and the Middle Ages, after only the Bible. The Koran endorses it, the Talmud embellishes it, a Mongol Khan gave it rave reviews. While historians and critics tend to use phrases like “contains nothing of historic or literary value”, this was the greatest page-turner of the ancient and medieval worlds.
info_outline Highlights From The Comments On Elon Musk 09/22/2023
Highlights From The Comments On Elon Musk [original post: ] 1: Comments From People With Personal Experience 2: ...Debating Musk's Intelligence 3: ...Debating Musk's Mental Health 4: ...About Tesla 5: ...About The Boring Company 6: ...About X/Twitter 7: ...About Musk's Mars Plan 8: ...Comparing Musk To Other Famous Figures 9: Other Comments 10: Updates
info_outline Book Review Contest 2023 Winners 09/22/2023
Book Review Contest 2023 Winners Thanks to everyone who entered or voted in the book review contest. The winners are: 1st: , reviewed by Brandon Hendrickson. Brandon is the founder of , a sprawling online science course that helps kids fall in love with the world. He’s also re-imagining what education can be at his Substack, The Lost Tools of Learning (). 2nd: , reviewed by Daniel Böttger. Daniel writes the , a huge rationalist poetry/meditation art project, and has . 3rd: , reviewed by Étienne Fortier-Dubois. Étienne is a writer and programmer in Montreal. He blogs at and was also the author of one of last year’s finalists, . First place gets $2,500, second place $1,000, third place gets $500. Please email me at [email protected] to tell me how to send you money; your choices are Paypal, Bitcoin, Ethereum, check in the mail, or donation to your favorite charity. Please contact me by October 1 or you lose your prize.
info_outline Book Review: Elon Musk 09/22/2023
Book Review: Elon Musk Not the new one, sorry This isn’t the new Musk biography everyone’s talking about. This is the 2015 Musk biography by Ashlee Vance. I started reading it in July, before I knew there was a new one. It’s fine: Musk never changes. He’s always been exactly the same person he is now I read the book to try to figure out who that was. Musk is a paradox. He spearheaded the creation of the world’s most advanced rockets, which suggests that he is smart. He’s the richest man on Earth, which suggests that he makes good business decisions. But we constantly see this smart, good-business-decision-making person make seemingly stupid business decisions. He picks unnecessary fights with regulators. Files junk lawsuits he can’t possibly win. Abuses indispensable employees. Renames one of the most recognizable brands ever. Musk creates cognitive dissonance: how can someone be so smart and so dumb at the same time? To reduce the dissonance, people have spawned a whole industry of Musk-bashing, trying to explain away each of his accomplishments: Peter Thiel gets all the credit for PayPal, Martin Eberhard gets all the credit for Tesla, NASA cash keeps SpaceX afloat, something something blood emeralds. Others try to come up with reasons he’s wholly smart - a 4D chessmaster whose apparent drunken stumbles lead inexorably to victory. delights in its refusal to resolve the dissonance. Musk has always been exactly the same person he is now, and exactly what he looks like. He is without deception, without subtlety, without unexpected depths.
info_outline Highlights From The Comments On Last Week's Model Cities Post 09/12/2023
Highlights From The Comments On Last Week's Model Cities Post Comments On The Solano County City Ecorche : The Public's Radio article has a in it that gives a better idea of the location. It looks like most of the land is closer to Rio Vista and does include a good stretch of riverfront. The land close to Travis is probably intended as industrial park rather than residential
info_outline Vote In The 2023 Book Review Contest 09/12/2023
Vote In The 2023 Book Review Contest If you’ve read the finalists of this year’s book review contest, . Voting will stay open until Wednesday. Thanks to a helpful reader who offered to do the hard work, we’re going to try ranked choice voting. You’ll choose your first-, second-, and third-favorite book reviews. If your favorite gets eliminated, we’ll switch your vote to your second favorite, and so on. If for some reason I can’t figure out how to make this work on time, I’ll switch to first-past-the-post, ie only count your #1 vote. Feel free to vote for your own review, as long as you honestly choose your second and third favorites.
info_outline Contra Kirkegaard On Evolutionary Definitions Of Mental Illness 09/12/2023
Contra Kirkegaard On Evolutionary Definitions Of Mental Illness Emil Kirkegaard . He’s partly responding to me, but I think he mangles my position; he seems to think I admit mental illnesses are “just preferences” but that which preferences are valid vs. diseased can be decided by “what benefits my friends”. I mostly don’t think mental illnesses are just preferences! I’ve been on this! But Emil is right that I don’t deny that there can be a few cases where it’s hard to distinguish a mental illness from a preference - the clearest example is pedophilia vs. homosexuality. Both are “preferences” for sex with unusual categories of people. But I would - making a value judgment - call pedophilia a mental illness: it’s bad for patients, bad for their potential victims, and bad for society. Also making a value judgment, I would call homosexuality an unusual but valid preference: it’s not my thing, but seems basically okay for everyone involved. (I wouldn’t describe this as “benefiting my friends” - I’m against children getting raped whether they’re my friends or not. I think this dig was unworthy of Emil, and ask that he correct it.)
info_outline Model City Monday 9/4/23: California Dreamin' 09/09/2023
Model City Monday 9/4/23: California Dreamin' Tech moguls plan new city in Solano County Guardian: . The specific elites include the Collison brothers, Reid Hoffman, Nat Friedman, Marc Andreessen, and others, led by the mysterious . The specific land is farmland in Solano County, about an hour’s drive northeast of San Francisco. The specific utopian city is going to look like this. The company involved (Flannery Associates aka California Forever) has been in stealth mode for several years, trying to buy land quietly without revealing how rich and desperate they are to anyone in a position to raise prices. Now they’ve released with utopian Norman-Rockwell-esque pictures, lots of talk about creating jobs and building better lives, and few specifics.
info_outline My Presidential Platform 09/09/2023
My Presidential Platform The American people deserve a choice. They deserve a candidate who will reject the failed policies of the past and embrace the failed policies of the future. It is my honor to announce I am throwing my hat into both the Democratic and Republican primaries (to double my chances), with the following platform:
info_outline Your Book Review: Zuozhuan 09/05/2023
Your Book Review: Zuozhuan Finalist #16 in the Book Review Contest To tell the story of the fall of a realm, it’s best to start with its rise. More than three thousand years ago, the Shang dynasty ruled the Chinese heartland. They raised a sprawling capital out of the yellow plains, and cast magnificent ritual vessels from bronze. One of the criteria of civilization is writing, and they had the first Chinese writing, incising questions on turtle shells and ox scapulae, applying a heated rod, and reading the response of the spirits in the pattern of cracks. “This year will Shang receive good harvest?” “Is the sick stomach due to ancestral harm?” “Offer three hundred Qiang prisoners to [the deceased] Father Ding?” The kings of Shang maintained a hegemony over their neighbors through military prowess, and sacrificed war captives from their campaigns totaling in the tens of thousands for the favor of their ancestors. But the Shang faced growing threat from the Zhou, a once-subordinate people from west beyond the mountains. Inspired by a rare conjunction of the planets in 1059 BC, the Zhou declared that there was such a thing as the Mandate of Heaven, a divine right to rule—and while the Shang had once held it, their misrule and immorality had forced the Mandate to pass to the Zhou. Thirteen years later, the Zhou and their allies defeated the Shang in battle, seized their capital, drove their king to suicide, and supplanted them as overlords of the Central Plains. If the Shang were goth jocks, the Zhou were prep nerds...
info_outline Here's Why Automaticity Is Real Actually 09/05/2023
Here's Why Automaticity Is Real Actually “Literal Banana” on Carcinization writes , which they describe as: An explanation of why tricks like priming, nudge, the placebo effect, social contagion, the “emotional inception” model of advertising, most “cognitive biases,” and any field with “behavioral” in its name are not real. My summary (as always, read the real thing to keep me honest): for a lot of the ‘90s and ‘00s, social scientists were engaged in ttthe project of proving “automaticity”, the claim that most human decisions are unconscious/unreasoned/automatic and therefore bad. Cognitive biases, social priming, advertising science, social contagion research, “nudges”, etc, were all part of this grand agenda.
info_outline Highlights From The Comments On Fetishes 09/05/2023
Highlights From The Comments On Fetishes Original post: Table Of Contents: 1: Alternative Theories Of Fetishes 2: Comments Including Testable Predictions 3: Comments That Were Very Angry About My Introductory Paragraph 4: Commenters Describing Their Own Fetishes 5: Other Comments
info_outline Mantic Monday 8/28/23 09/02/2023
Mantic Monday 8/28/23 Superconductor autopsy -- Prediction mutual funds -- Flight delays Sorry guys, . The prediction markets have dropped from highs in the 40s down to 5 - 10. It’s over. What does this tell us about prediction markets? Were they dumb to ever believe at all? Or were they aggregating the evidence effectively, only to update after new evidence came in? I claim they were dumb. Although the media was running with the “maybe there’s a room-temperature superconductor” story, the smartest physicists I knew were all very skeptical. The markets tracked the level of media hype, not the level of expert opinion. Here’s my evidence: