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"Humankind is unique in its incapacity to learn from experience" | New Humanist
Your new book claims atheism is a “closed system of thought”. Why so?
--
Because atheists of a certain kind imagine that by rejecting monotheistic beliefs they step out of a monotheistic way of thinking. Actually, they have inherited all of its rigidities and assumptions. Namely, the idea that there is a universal history; that there is something like a collective human agent; or a universal way of life. These are all Christian ideals. Christianity itself is also a much more complex belief system than most contemporary atheists allow for. But then most of these atheists know very little about the history of religion.

Particularly, you argue, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. What is your disagreement with them?
--
They treat religion as a kind of intellectual error; something only the crudest of Enlightenment thinkers believed. Not every human being has a religious sensibility, but pretty much all human cultures do. Neither Dawkins or Harris are interesting enough to discuss this at length.

Dawkins is really not worth discussing or engaging with at all. He is an ideologue of Darwinism and knows very little about religion, treating it as a kind of a priori notion, rather than the complex social, and anthropological set of ideas which religion usually entails. Harris is partially interesting, in that he talks about how all human values can be derived from science. But I object strongly to that idea.

...

You are hugely critical of modern liberalism: what is your main problem with the ideology?
--
That it’s immune to empirical evidence. It’s a form of dogmatic faith. If you are a monotheist it makes sense – I myself am not saying it’s true or right – to say that there is only one way of life for all of humankind. And so you should try and convert the rest of humanity to that faith.

But if you are not a monotheist, and you claim to be an atheist, it makes no sense to claim that there is only one way of life. There may be some good and bad ways of living. And there may be some forms of barbarism, where human societies cannot flourish for very long. But there is no reason for thinking that there is only one way of life: the ones that liberal societies practice.
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october 2018 by nhaliday
Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold | Poetry Foundation
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Searching For Ithaca: https://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/searching-for-ithaca/
I have found in revisiting the work for the first time in probably five years that it is, like Laurus, a snapshot of a culture that was decidedly more in tune with the divine. It’s been amazing to read and hear about the daily involvement of the gods in the lives of humans. Whether accurate or not, it’s astonishing to hear men talk about bad luck as a consequence of irritating the gods, or as a recognition that some part of the man/god balance has been altered.

But this leads me to the sadder part of this experience: the fact that I want so badly to believe in the truths of Christianity, but I can’t bring myself to do it. Nor can I bring myself to believe (and I mean truly believe, at the level of the soul’s core) in the gods of Olympus, or in any other form of supernatural thought. The reason I can’t, despite years of effort and regular prayer and Mass attendance, is because I too am a prisoner of Enlightenment thought. I too am a modern, as much as I wish I could truly create a premodern sensibility. I wish I could believe that Adam and Eve existed, that Moses parted the sea, that Noah sailed an ark, that Jesus rode a donkey into town, that the skies darkened as his soul ascended, that the Lord will come again to judge the living and the dead.

...

The two guiding themes of The Odyssey are quo vadis (where are you going?) and amor fati (love/acceptance of fate). When I was still a college professor, I relentlessly drilled these themes into my students’ heads. Where are you going? What end are you aiming for? Accept the fate you are given and you will never be unsatisfied! Place yourself in harmony with events as they happen to you! Control what you can control and leave the rest to the divine! Good notions all, and I would give virtually anything to practice what I preach. I would give anything to be a Catholic who knew where he was going, who accepted God’s plans for him. It kills me that I cannot.

...

That question near the end of The Odyssey gets me every time: “And tell me this: I must be absolutely sure. This place I’ve reached, is it truly Ithaca?” I yearn for Ithaca; I yearn for home. I only wish I knew how to get there.
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august 2018 by nhaliday
Reconsidering epistemological scepticism – Dividuals
I blogged before about how I consider an epistemological scepticism fully compatible with being conservative/reactionary. By epistemological scepticism I mean the worldview where concepts, categories, names, classes aren’t considered real, just useful ways to categorize phenomena, but entirely mental constructs, basically just tools. I think you can call this nominalism as well. The nominalism-realism debate was certainly about this. What follows is the pro-empirical worldview where logic and reasoning is considered highly fallible: hence you don’t think and don’t argue too much, you actually look and check things instead. You rely on experience, not reasoning.

...

Anyhow, the argument is that there are classes, which are indeed artificial, and there are kinds, which are products of natural forces, products of causality.

...

And the deeper – Darwinian – argument, unspoken but obvious, is that any being with a model of reality that does not conform to such real clumps, gets eaten by a grue.

This is impressive. It seems I have to extend my one-variable epistemology to a two-variable epistemology.

My former epistemology was that we generally categorize things according to their uses or dangers for us. So “chair” is – very roughly – defined as “anything we can sit on”. Similarly, we can categorize “predator” as “something that eats us or the animals that are useful for us”.

The unspoken argument against this is that the universe or the biosphere exists neither for us nor against us. A fox can eat your rabbits and a lion can eat you, but they don’t exist just for the sake of making your life difficult.

Hence, if you interpret phenomena only from the viewpoint of their uses or dangers for humans, you get only half the picture right. The other half is what it really is and where it came from.

Copying is everything: https://dividuals.wordpress.com/2015/12/14/copying-is-everything/
Philosophy professor Ruth Millikan’s insight that everything that gets copied from an ancestor has a proper function or teleofunction: it is whatever feature or function that made it and its ancestor selected for copying, in competition with all the other similar copiable things. This would mean Aristotelean teleology is correct within the field of copyable things, replicators, i.e. within biology, although in physics still obviously incorrect.

Darwinian Reactionary drew attention to it two years ago and I still don’t understand why didn’t it generate a bigger buzz. It is an extremely important insight.

I mean, this is what we were waiting for, a proper synthesis of science and philosophy, and a proper way to rescue Aristotelean teleology, which leads to so excellent common-sense predictions that intuitively it cannot be very wrong, yet modern philosophy always denied it.

The result from that is the briding of the fact-value gap and burying the naturalistic fallacy: we CAN derive values from facts: a thing is good if it is well suitable for its natural purpose, teleofunction or proper function, which is the purpose it was selected for and copied for, the purpose and the suitability for the purpose that made the ancestors of this thing selected for copying, instead of all the other potential, similar ancestors.

...

What was humankind selected for? I am afraid, the answer is kind of ugly.

Men were selected to compete between groups, the cooperate within groups largely for coordinating for the sake of this competition, and have a low-key competition inside the groups as well for status and leadership. I am afraid, intelligence is all about organizing elaborate tribal raids: “coalitionary arms races”. The most civilized case, least brutal but still expensive case is arms races in prestige status, not dominance status: when Ancient Athens buildt pretty buildings and modern France built the TGV and America sent a man to the Moon in order to gain “gloire” i.e. the prestige type respect and status amongst the nations, the larger groups of mankind. If you are the type who doesn’t like blood, you should probably focus on these kinds of civilized, prestige-project competitions.

Women were selected for bearing children, for having strong and intelligent sons therefore having these heritable traits themselves (HBD kind of contradicts the more radically anti-woman aspects of RedPillery: marry a weak and stupid but attractive silly-blondie type woman and your son’s won’t be that great either), for pleasuring men and in some rarer but existing cases, to be true companions and helpers of their husbands.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_causes
- Matter: a change or movement's material cause, is the aspect of the change or movement which is determined by the material that composes the moving or changing things. For a table, that might be wood; for a statue, that might be bronze or marble.
- Form: a change or movement's formal cause, is a change or movement caused by the arrangement, shape or appearance of the thing changing or moving. Aristotle says for example that the ratio 2:1, and number in general, is the cause of the octave.
- Agent: a change or movement's efficient or moving cause, consists of things apart from the thing being changed or moved, which interact so as to be an agency of the change or movement. For example, the efficient cause of a table is a carpenter, or a person working as one, and according to Aristotle the efficient cause of a boy is a father.
- End or purpose: a change or movement's final cause, is that for the sake of which a thing is what it is. For a seed, it might be an adult plant. For a sailboat, it might be sailing. For a ball at the top of a ramp, it might be coming to rest at the bottom.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proximate_and_ultimate_causation
A proximate cause is an event which is closest to, or immediately responsible for causing, some observed result. This exists in contrast to a higher-level ultimate cause (or distal cause) which is usually thought of as the "real" reason something occurred.

...

- Ultimate causation explains traits in terms of evolutionary forces acting on them.
- Proximate causation explains biological function in terms of immediate physiological or environmental factors.
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july 2018 by nhaliday
Ultimate fate of the universe - Wikipedia
The fate of the universe is determined by its density. The preponderance of evidence to date, based on measurements of the rate of expansion and the mass density, favors a universe that will continue to expand indefinitely, resulting in the "Big Freeze" scenario below.[8] However, observations are not conclusive, and alternative models are still possible.[9]

Big Freeze or heat death
Main articles: Future of an expanding universe and Heat death of the universe
The Big Freeze is a scenario under which continued expansion results in a universe that asymptotically approaches absolute zero temperature.[10] This scenario, in combination with the Big Rip scenario, is currently gaining ground as the most important hypothesis.[11] It could, in the absence of dark energy, occur only under a flat or hyperbolic geometry. With a positive cosmological constant, it could also occur in a closed universe. In this scenario, stars are expected to form normally for 1012 to 1014 (1–100 trillion) years, but eventually the supply of gas needed for star formation will be exhausted. As existing stars run out of fuel and cease to shine, the universe will slowly and inexorably grow darker. Eventually black holes will dominate the universe, which themselves will disappear over time as they emit Hawking radiation.[12] Over infinite time, there would be a spontaneous entropy decrease by the Poincaré recurrence theorem, thermal fluctuations,[13][14] and the fluctuation theorem.[15][16]

A related scenario is heat death, which states that the universe goes to a state of maximum entropy in which everything is evenly distributed and there are no gradients—which are needed to sustain information processing, one form of which is life. The heat death scenario is compatible with any of the three spatial models, but requires that the universe reach an eventual temperature minimum.[17]
physics  big-picture  world  space  long-short-run  futurism  singularity  wiki  reference  article  nibble  thermo  temperature  entropy-like  order-disorder  death  nihil  bio  complex-systems  cybernetics  increase-decrease  trends  computation  local-global  prediction  time  spatial  spreading  density  distribution  manifolds  geometry  janus 
april 2018 by nhaliday
Existential Risks: Analyzing Human Extinction Scenarios
https://twitter.com/robinhanson/status/981291048965087232
https://archive.is/dUTD5
Would you endorse choosing policy to max the expected duration of civilization, at least as a good first approximation?
Can anyone suggest a different first approximation that would get more votes?

https://twitter.com/robinhanson/status/981335898502545408
https://archive.is/RpygO
How useful would it be to agree on a relatively-simple first-approximation observable-after-the-fact metric for what we want from the future universe, such as total life years experienced, or civilization duration?

We're Underestimating the Risk of Human Extinction: https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/03/were-underestimating-the-risk-of-human-extinction/253821/
An Oxford philosopher argues that we are not adequately accounting for technology's risks—but his solution to the problem is not for Luddites.

Anderson: You have argued that we underrate existential risks because of a particular kind of bias called observation selection effect. Can you explain a bit more about that?

Bostrom: The idea of an observation selection effect is maybe best explained by first considering the simpler concept of a selection effect. Let's say you're trying to estimate how large the largest fish in a given pond is, and you use a net to catch a hundred fish and the biggest fish you find is three inches long. You might be tempted to infer that the biggest fish in this pond is not much bigger than three inches, because you've caught a hundred of them and none of them are bigger than three inches. But if it turns out that your net could only catch fish up to a certain length, then the measuring instrument that you used would introduce a selection effect: it would only select from a subset of the domain you were trying to sample.

Now that's a kind of standard fact of statistics, and there are methods for trying to correct for it and you obviously have to take that into account when considering the fish distribution in your pond. An observation selection effect is a selection effect introduced not by limitations in our measurement instrument, but rather by the fact that all observations require the existence of an observer. This becomes important, for instance, in evolutionary biology. For instance, we know that intelligent life evolved on Earth. Naively, one might think that this piece of evidence suggests that life is likely to evolve on most Earth-like planets. But that would be to overlook an observation selection effect. For no matter how small the proportion of all Earth-like planets that evolve intelligent life, we will find ourselves on a planet that did. Our data point-that intelligent life arose on our planet-is predicted equally well by the hypothesis that intelligent life is very improbable even on Earth-like planets as by the hypothesis that intelligent life is highly probable on Earth-like planets. When it comes to human extinction and existential risk, there are certain controversial ways that observation selection effects might be relevant.
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march 2018 by nhaliday
Religiosity and Fertility in the United States: The Role of Fertility Intentions
Using data from the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG), we show that women who report that religion is “very important” in their everyday life have both higher fertility and higher intended fertility than those saying religion is “somewhat important” or “not important.” Factors such as unwanted fertility, age at childbearing, or degree of fertility postponement seem not to contribute to religiosity differentials in fertility. This answer prompts more fundamental questions: what is the nature of this greater “religiosity”? And why do the more religious want more children? We show that those saying religion is more important have more traditional gender and family attitudes and that these attitudinal differences account for a substantial part of the fertility differential. We speculate regarding other contributing causes.

Religion, Religiousness and Fertility in the U.S. and in Europe: https://www.demogr.mpg.de/papers/working/wp-2006-013.pdf
2006

RELIGIONS, FERTILITY, AND GROWTH IN SOUTHEAST ASIA: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/iere.12291
Using Southeast Asian censuses, we show empirically that being Catholic, Buddhist, or Muslim significantly raises fertility, especially for couples with intermediate to high education levels. With these estimates, we identify the parameters of a structural model. Catholicism is strongly pro‐child (increasing total spending on children), followed by Buddhism, whereas Islam is more pro‐birth (redirecting spending from quality to quantity). Pro‐child religions depress growth in its early stages by lowering savings and labor supply. In the later stages of growth, pro‐birth religions impede human capital accumulation.
study  sociology  religion  theos  usa  correlation  fertility  eric-kaufmann  causation  general-survey  demographics  phalanges  intervention  gender  tradition  social-norms  parenting  values  politics  ideology  multi  europe  EU  rot  nihil  data  time-series  distribution  christianity  protestant-catholic  other-xtian  the-great-west-whale  occident  expression-survival  poll  inequality  pro-rata  mediterranean  eastern-europe  wealth  econ-metrics  farmers-and-foragers  buddhism  islam  asia  developing-world  human-capital  investing  developmental  number  quantitative-qualitative  quality  world  natural-experiment  field-study 
february 2018 by nhaliday
Fermi paradox - Wikipedia
Rare Earth hypothesis: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rare_Earth_hypothesis
Fine-tuned Universe: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fine-tuned_Universe
something to keep in mind:
Puddle theory is a term coined by Douglas Adams to satirize arguments that the universe is made for man.[54][55] As stated in Adams' book The Salmon of Doubt:[56]
Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, “This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn't it? In fact, it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!” This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it's still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything's going to be all right, because this World was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for.
article  concept  paradox  wiki  reference  fermi  anthropic  space  xenobio  roots  speculation  ideas  risk  threat-modeling  civilization  nihil  🔬  deep-materialism  new-religion  futurism  frontier  technology  communication  simulation  intelligence  eden  war  nuclear  deterrence  identity  questions  multi  explanans  physics  theos  philosophy  religion  chemistry  bio  hmm  idk  degrees-of-freedom  lol  troll  existence 
january 2018 by nhaliday
Bouncing Off the Bottom | West Hunter
Actually going extinct would seem to be a bad thing, but a close call can, in principle, be a good thing.

Pathogens can be a heavy burden on a species, worse than a 50-lb sack of cement. Lifting that burden can have a big effect: we know that many species flourish madly once they escape their typical parasites. That’s often the case with invasive species. It’s also a major strategy in agriculture: crops often do best in a country far away from their place of origin – where the climate is familiar, but most parasites have been left behind. For example, rubber trees originated in South America, but they’re a lot easier to grow in Liberia or Malaysia.

Consider a situation with a really burdensome pathogen – one that specializes in and depends on a single host species. That pathogen has to find new host individuals every so often in order to survive, and in order for that to happen, the host population has to exceed a certain number, usually called the critical community size. That size depends on the parasite’s persistence and mode of propagation: it can vary over a huge range. CCS is something like a quarter of a million for measles, ~300 for chickenpox, surely smaller than that for Epstein-Barr.

A brush with extinction- say from an asteroid strike – might well take a species below the CCS for a number of its pathogens. If those pathogens were limited to that species, they’d go extinct: no more burden. That alone might be enough to generate a rapid recovery from the population bottleneck. Or a single, highly virulent pathogen might cause a population crash that resulted in the extinction of several of that species’s major pathogens – quite possibly including the virulent pathogen itself. It’s a bottleneck in time, rather than one in space as you often see in colonization.

Such positive effects could last a long time – things need not go back to the old normal. The flea-unbitten species might be able to survive and prosper in ecological niches that it couldn’t before. You might see a range expansion. New evolutionary paths could open up. That brush with extinction could be the making of them.

When you add it all up, you begin to wonder if a population crash isn’t just what the doctor ordered. Sure, it wouldn’t be fun to be one of the billions of casualties, but just think how much better off the billions living after the bottleneck will be. Don’t be selfish.
west-hunter  scitariat  ideas  speculation  discussion  parasites-microbiome  spreading  disease  scale  population  density  bio  nature  long-short-run  nihil  equilibrium  death  unintended-consequences  red-queen  tradeoffs  cost-benefit  gedanken 
november 2017 by nhaliday
The Course of Empire (paintings) - Wikipedia
The series of paintings depicts the growth and fall of an imaginary city, situated on the lower end of a river valley, near its meeting with a bay of the sea. The valley is distinctly identifiable in each of the paintings, in part because of an unusual landmark: a large boulder is precariously situated atop a crag overlooking the valley. Some critics believe this is meant to contrast the immutability of the earth with the transience of man.
art  classic  usa  history  early-modern  anglosphere  pre-ww2  wiki  iron-age  mediterranean  the-classics  conquest-empire  gibbon  nihil  civilization  aristos  wisdom 
november 2017 by nhaliday
Measles and immunological amnesia | West Hunter
A new paper in Science , by Michael Mina et al,  strongly suggests that measles messes up your immunological defenses for two or three years. This is the likely explanation for the fact that measles inoculation causes much greater decreases in child morbidity and mortality than you’d expect from preventing the deaths directly due to measles infection. The thought is that measles whacks the cells that carry immunological memory, leaving the kid ripe for reinfections.  I think there can be a similar effect with anti-cancer chemotherapy.

If correct, this means that measles is much nastier than previously thought. It must have played a significant role in the demographic collapse of long-isolated peoples (such as the Amerindians). Its advent may have played a role in the population decrease associated with the decline of the Classical world.  Even though it is relatively new (having split off from rinderpest a couple of thousand years ago) strong selection for resistance may have  favored some fairly expensive genetic defenses (something like sickle-cell) in Eurasian populations.

We already know of quite a few complex side effects of infectious disease, such the different kind of immunosuppression we see with AIDs, Burkitt’s lymphoma hitting kids with severe Epstein-Barr infections followed by malaria, acute dengue fever that requires a previous infection by a different strain of dengue, etc: there may well be other important interactions and side effects, news of which has not yet come to Harvard.
west-hunter  scitariat  discussion  ideas  commentary  study  summary  org:nat  epidemiology  bio  health  immune  disease  parasites-microbiome  unintended-consequences  cancer  medicine  long-short-run  usa  farmers-and-foragers  age-of-discovery  speculation  nihil  history  iron-age  mediterranean  the-classics  demographics  population  gibbon  rot  harvard  elite  low-hanging  info-dynamics  being-right  heterodox 
october 2017 by nhaliday
Atrocity statistics from the Roman Era
Christian Martyrs [make link]
Gibbon, Decline & Fall v.2 ch.XVI: < 2,000 k. under Roman persecution.
Ludwig Hertling ("Die Zahl de Märtyrer bis 313", 1944) estimated 100,000 Christians killed between 30 and 313 CE. (cited -- unfavorably -- by David Henige, Numbers From Nowhere, 1998)
Catholic Encyclopedia, "Martyr": number of Christian martyrs under the Romans unknown, unknowable. Origen says not many. Eusebius says thousands.

...

General population decline during The Fall of Rome: 7,000,000 [make link]
- Colin McEvedy, The New Penguin Atlas of Medieval History (1992)
- From 2nd Century CE to 4th Century CE: Empire's population declined from 45M to 36M [i.e. 9M]
- From 400 CE to 600 CE: Empire's population declined by 20% [i.e. 7.2M]
- Paul Bairoch, Cities and economic development: from the dawn of history to the present, p.111
- "The population of Europe except Russia, then, having apparently reached a high point of some 40-55 million people by the start of the third century [ca.200 C.E.], seems to have fallen by the year 500 to about 30-40 million, bottoming out at about 20-35 million around 600." [i.e. ca.20M]
- Francois Crouzet, A History of the European Economy, 1000-2000 (University Press of Virginia: 2001) p.1.
- "The population of Europe (west of the Urals) in c. AD 200 has been estimated at 36 million; by 600, it had fallen to 26 million; another estimate (excluding ‘Russia’) gives a more drastic fall, from 44 to 22 million." [i.e. 10M or 22M]

also:
The geometric mean of these two extremes would come to 4½ per day, which is a credible daily rate for the really bad years.

why geometric mean? can you get it as the MLE given min{X1, ..., Xn} and max{X1, ..., Xn} for {X_i} iid Poissons? some kinda limit? think it might just be a rule of thumb.

yeah, it's a rule of thumb. found it it his book (epub).
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september 2017 by nhaliday

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