Blinded by Science


UPDATE: From Overcoming Bias Zombies! Zombies? and Zombie Responses.

We first had the dispute over “zombies” in this post at his blog. It has now continued in this one and this one. HA has said he likes to frame every dispute by asking how to make it an empirical question, and that is what I have done in the last link. Completely coincidentally, in his latest post on reductionism at Overcoming Bias, Eliezer Yudkowsky tangles in the comments with Richard from Philosophy Etc over the conceptual/logical possibility of zombie worlds. I think Daniel Dennet’s position is the same as mine, although I like to phrase it as “Our world is a zombie world”.

Earlier I pointed out some cool bug-on-bug killing. This post is something of a sequel, as Balko points out an even more vicious species.

In the comments, ashen man links to an argument I had come across long ago that the evolution of our ability to digest gluten and lactose was driven not by its nutritional value but by the shift from a free-roaming hunter-gatherer society to one of agricultural civilization that we are not cut out for and need to be drugged in order to fit in. Some of you may not feel like visiting a lycos page with its annoying ads, so by googling the authors I found this duplicate. The paper is entitled “The Origins of Agriculture: a biological perspective and a new hypothesis”, by Greg Wadley and Angus Martin from the June 1993 Australian Biologist.

As long as I’m talking about mind-altering chemicals, Robert Lindsay has a new post on marijuana and brain damage, though he also discusses shrooms and coke. Hopefully Anonymous points out an article on scientists using cognitive-enhancement drugs (or “nootropics”).

Via Hopefully Anonymous, the benefits of one beverage your parents told you to ease up on.

Via Balko, another.

See Gene Expression.

Something for very, very, very foresighted libertarians to keep in mind.

The Bad Medicine blog (not quite as good a name as Bad Astronomy, and I’m not just saying that because I hate Bon Jovi) recently linked to my blog due to a clock-evolution simulation on youtube I linked to in a comment. From that blog I found NeuroLogica which is dedicated to “Neuroscience, Skepticism and Critical Thinking”, all nifty things as far as I’m concerned.

Robert Lindsay says Altruism Does Not Exist. He seems to be taking the position that Eliezer Yudkowsky mocked here, as did Bryan Caplan here, but those always struck me as weak arguments from incredulity. One thing I like about Robin Hanson is that rather than using a typical division of altruism (sometimes of an absurd Kantian kind) from selfishness he shows how sub-optimal actions can result from things evolution has done to benefit us (or our genes) but fooled us into thinking are self-less. Genuinely having an irrational devotion to others helps to signal your loyalty, and so there are ways evolution can select for it while still acting in our “self-interest” in some sense. I can’t improve upon Saint Max, so I will end by linking to what he had so say on the subject.

I was reading [Sic!] (pretty much the only thing that isn’t Gary Brecher I read there) in the exile and came across a final snarky respone linking to this Amazon page. Is it for real? I don’t know. If it is, I’m glad. For all his jokes, “Gary Brecher” is a better commentator than any talking head you’ll find on tv. Online I’d also say he’s better than Tom Barnett, Coming Anarchy, Zenpundit, tdaxp and Chicago Boyz, to name some blogs that discuss similar matters and commonly link to each other.

I was reading the site because my RSS feed brought up this, which was supposed to be about the use of the mentally challenged as suicide bombers, but brought up a blank page. I was really annoyed when they switched to their 2.0 format that doesn’t have a page linking to every War Nerd article and also breaks the individual articles into multiple pages. This may just be another artifact of that stupid change. I think he was off in saying that brains aren’t important for a terrorist. Terrorists tend to be well-educated engineer types rather than the rabble that Mr. Nerd points out made up much of the conscript armies of the past.

In completely unrelated news, Matt McIntosh at GNXP has a good post on how the immuno-suppresants that protect a fetus in the placenta may have been inherited from retroviruses. It reminds me of an earlier post on mother-child conflict in the womb. UPDATE: This post with a video program on wasp vs bee fights is quite excellent as well. I agree that it should be shown in classrooms to get kids interested in science.

I’ve updated the previous post several times, so if you only read it when I first posted it, you might want to check it again.

Happy New Years to everybody. Around this time many people like creating lists of significant things that happened in the year we wave goodbye too, but the only one of them I find interesting enough to link to is Radley Balko’s Worst Prosecutor of the Year. Though not quite a list, a yearly tradition I enjoy very much is the Edge World Question. The question is “What have you changed your mind about? Why?“. I haven’t gotten very far into it, but I’d be surprised if it wasn’t well worth my time and yours (UPDATE: Couldn’t resist linking to Thomas Metzinger’s: There are no moral facts).

Eliezer Yudkowsky, after irritating people in his previous posts with his fondness for Singularity/cryonics and antipathy for religion, decides to take on politics in the Two-Party Swindle, which is great for anybody but especially libertarians and anti-war types. One area I disagree with it is mentioned the topics; basically Caplan’s theory that the voters are getting what they asked for good and hard. Through my nefarious influence I got Jim Henley at Unqualified Offerings to discuss it, and he quibbles with Eliezer over whether the analogy should be to professional athletes or college ones. I have written earlier about my views on the subject in the post Against Politics, which is why I decided to create a mirror of the site by that name (which I might put off fixing up for a while). In a somewhat relevant old post, Hopefully Anonymous (who still hasn’t updated his blog like he said) rails “against the concept of “both sides” as opposed to n-th possible sides“. mtraven is dismissive of that kind of talk, but wanders near that direction in Which side are you on?

In an unexpected event, IOZ sent me an e-mail saying he would add me to his blogroll. Aside from the unusualness of sending a message rather than just gettin’ ‘er done, I was surprised by the move as I am in some respects, and especially from his perspective, a Bad Person and might taint the blog, as I have on occasion his comments section.

I started reading the thing I was being somewhat vague about in the last post but got distracted, though I intend to finish it tonight and then begin writing. Will you readers get to see the results? I don’t know, you’ll just have to stay tuned!

Yeah, I know Daniel Larison made that claim and then violated it twice. I’m consolidating a bunch of unrelated observations in this one post and there’s only one more day in the year, so I think I’m safe.

I got back yesterday and from the day before through my previous post I did not read, watch, or listen to any news or access the internet. I was surprised on the way home when I saw the headline of a newspaper in an Einstein Bagels (which was playing the worst versions of classic Christmas Carols ever recorded) and exclaimed “Oh shit, Benazhir Bhutto got killed” and was immediately chastised for cursing in front of small children. On that subject, the National Interest has been running a series of online-exclusive articles, with the latest from a favorite realist of mine, Anatol Lieven (see him debate a Wilsonian who comes off looking like a fool here). The unfortunately infrequently updated blog Exit Strategies has yet to say anything about it, nor has The Monkey Cage. Get on it! What are we (not) paying you for! Coming Anarchy has linked to a few news stories but said little themselves, as expected John Robb sees it as confirming his chaotic view of the world. I think Mencius Moldbug came out looking poorly in his response relative to his favorite punching bag Matthew Yglesias here and here. I’ll respond to MM’s post at his blog when I have the time. (UPDATE: Here. I remember being irritated when I first read the post but by the time I wrote my comment that had died down.) Robert Lindsay seems surprisingly knowledgeable on the situation there (how many pundits know what a Mohajir is?) but what makes me unsure of his grasp of the facts is his statement that Karzai’s Pushtun ethnicity is a drawback because Pakistan opposes Pushtun nationalism and therefore supports islamists in Afghanistan. The Taliban’s base of strength is Pushtuns and the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance drew its support form ethnic minorities (it should also be noted that much of the support for the secular left in Pakistan comes from minority Shi’ites). UPDATE: Lindsay responds well to my criticism in his original post and in the comments here.

I am happy to see that Keith Preston did not pop his head up in his last article only to disappear again, as he is in fine form going after Chomsky on Chomsky’s own non-individualist (Preston’s hero, Bakunin, was a collectivist anarchist and Chomsky calls himself an anarcho-syndicalist) left-anarchist terms. I’m surprised someone as radical and open to revolutionary methods as Preston isn’t disinterested in Ron Paul’s candidacy, but I’m glad he wrote it anyway and I hope his output doesn’t decline when Paul’s candidacy inevitably fails. UPDATE: Preston is back again defending Paul from left-libertarians, which oddly enough include contributors to the Austrian Economists blog.

Besides myself, Larison and Preston some other people have made (somewhat) surprising reappearances. Hopefully Anonymous made a comment (which he hasn’t done at Overcoming Bias or his own blog for some time) saying his blog would be back up this weekend, though checking it I don’t see that to be the case thus far. I accidentally outed Chip Smith’s publishing imprint and other things before he wished that to occur, so he’s made the announcement at his blog. He’s also got a new post on Ron Paul, evolution and homos. Smith and Anonymous are great folks to have around to read though they near opposites in many ways. If I didn’t revile Platonic essentialism so much I’d wish I could combine the two in a monster of the internet that kicked away your self-deceptions and entertained you at the same time.

Gene Expression and Steve Sailer have both expressed sympathy for Jared Diamond after reading this terrible article in the NYT (the author discusses it at Bloggingheads here). Though I have criticized Diamond elsewhere (even without having read the book I’m attacking), I think he’s a great writer and in addition to his books he writes short pieces that I find myself constantly linking to because of their broad applicability. Anthropology gets a pretty bad wrap in that post, but GNXP makes nice with the field here, pointing out positive contributions. (UPDATE: At my suggestion Robert Lindsay has a post on the matter, giving an insider’s defense of cultural anthropology) As long as I’m talking science, Chris at Mixing Memory blogs the bestpaperever here and one of his favorite experiments here. Dennis Mangan says that smoking is good for your IQ (cheers from Udolpho, jeers from Ilkka Kokkarinen). It may be the case that apes are descended from what we might call human (it walked upright, and the apes “progressed” to knuckle-walking and brachiation). I can imagine now an ape classroom in which a student exclaims “I wasn’t descended from some stinking human!”. I’ve also abandoned Charles Murray’s “Human Accomplishment” when I was in the middle of reading it for Steve Pinker’s “The Blank Slate”, which so far has been great, though I have some nitpicks. I think I’m more likely to post a review of that before Jeremy Lott’s “In Defense of Hypocrisy” despite what I had claimed earlier.

Someday I’ll get around to writing my thoughts on a libertarian conception of privacy (which I mentioned briefly here), but until then you’ll have to settle for this from the Distributed Republic and this from Volokh.

Everyone should read IOZ, but I think MM could benefit more than most (despite his “I was raised a Brahmin and don’t need to read them anymore” schtick) and some recent ones up (or at least near) his alley are here and here.

Kevin Carson sometimes talks about “vulgar libertarianism” and this article on the Mises blog, regardless of whether the position it advocates is correct or not, certainly seems guilty of it. Carson appears in the comments to kick ass and take names.

Finally, I’m likely to be busy for a bit. I plan on fixing up my mirrored site of Against Politics and also reading something and writing about it, but not in a half-assed manner like usual.

The evolution paper you’ve been hearing about for a while (and if you haven’t, you must not be cool) is out. Authored by the “Murderers Row” of John Hawks, Eric Wang, Greg Cochran, Henry Harpending and Robert Moyzis it states that the rate of evolution has greatly accelerated in the last 40000 years. The rate of mutation has been fairly constant but much larger population sizes mean more beneficial mutations, some of which will inevitably reach fixation. Larger populations also change what is being selected for by introducing things like diseases with many available hosts and cultural evolution (the bow begat the bushman, agriculture begat the lactase enzyme). I haven’t had time to read the paper (I shouldn’t even be writing this post) but Razib gives a good summary and background here. Author John Hawks says in the Telegraph “We are more different genetically from people living 5,000 years ago than they were different from Neanderthals” and has a post on his blog about the paper which promises “I have some pent-up writing to do! Over the next few days, this will be acceleration central” and an FAQ later today.

UPDATE: At GNXP original, p-ter says the theory is fine and the conclusions arrive easily from it, but the evidence presented is weak.

UPDATE 2: John Hawks has an FAQ up, responding to p-ter’s critique.

UPDATE 3: In the comments to p-ter’s post author Henry Harpending says

Isn’t it interesting that the only scientific serious criticism that we have gotten, the kind of criticism that peer review ought to provide, comes from a blog? Seems to me there is food for thought about what the internet is going to do to scientific publishing.

I’m not really any sort of expert on relativity, but occasionally I play one on the internet. Any actual experts are encouraged to point out mistakes made below:

According to Einstein, space and time are really one and distorting space can also distort time. It is for that reason that a vessel could travel “faster than light” in a certain sense by expanding the space on one side of it and compressing it on the other side (although it is believed this would require more energy than exists in the universe). As you wind back time near the big bang space becomes so compressed that normal laws of physics cease to apply. At the very beginning there was no space and hence no time. It is thus meaningless to ask about the time before the Big Bang.

That is something I have often heard from scientists, so I am more confident in its accuracy. The next one gets into weird territory:

It is not merely the case that everything is pre-determined. According to Einstein we only subjectively perceive time to be moving forward from an absolute past to present to future, but in fact no two events can actually be objectively “simultaneous”, and when two different observers disagree over which of two events happened first there is not necessarily a correct answer. Space and time are one and every event is not simply destined to happen but in a sense HAS ALREADY HAPPENED.

I’ve heard fewer people push that line, so I could well be misrepresenting things, and quantum mechanics might also clash with the super-determinism I describe.

There wasn’t much of a resolution to Cato Unbound’s IQ issue (if you can’t get enough Flynn, Gene Expressions has him for their latest ten questions), and now the next one is up. This time transhumanist scientist Aubrey de Grey argues for ditching all that “dying” business, or at least aging (which frequently results in death). It perplexes me that some people think that would be bad, but at the same time I don’t see it as the imperative that others do. I see that Mr. de Grey is a fellow non-cognitivist, which you might be too if you spent as much time arguing with bioethicists about the “wisdom of repugnance”. Eliezer Yudkowsky dumps on those same bioethicists here, but he and I apparently disagree (I am not sure exactly how we differ) on how we regard ethics in general. I am a well-wisher of the immortalists but I don’t know enough to have high confidence that they will be successful (I know from a Bayesian standpoint I should take their confidence as evidence, but they seem to be a small minority even among scientists which is counter-evidence) and I do not place it as high a priority as does my fellow egoist, Hopefully Anonymous (who unfortunately has been too busy to blog lately). Here’s to someday being able to earnestly say “I promise, I will never die“.

Via Marginal Revolution, Robin Marantz Henig writes about the coming of the sexbots in the New York Times. I don’t know much about the plausibility of all this, but I found it disappointing that Henig did not speculate about the social impact this would cause. She really should read the Danimal. Some other recommended readings are another writer I found through Ilkka Kokkarinen and a paper I found through a commenter here.

Via Auster, I find that Michael H. Hart has made Understanding Human History freely downloadable here. Auster’s review is here, Sailer’s is here, Tyler Cowen compares Greg Clark’s Farewell to Alms to it here and Arnold Kling discusses it here.

Just finished the book. Hart is not as good a writer as Diamond, making his book come of as “just a bunch of stuff that happens”. His comparison of the New World to sub-Saharan Africa is an excellent attack on Diamond’s theories though. I was surprised by how little time he spent on his own people, the jews (and more specifically Ashkenazi) given that in the final chapters he declares that his thesis is about peoples with high IQs and jews are at the top of that heap. It is also interesting that jews violate his general rule of higher IQ peoples coming from the north (not only were jews originally just a normal semitic people from the middle east, but they cluster with southern europeans genetically). It is also interesting how little attention he pays to the Industrial Revolution compared to Greg Clark who considers it “the one event that happened in history”, to put it most crudely. There is a lot of information in the book I didn’t know before, some of which is just his conjecture but still interesting conjecture, and if you wanted all of human history in one book you could do worse.

At EconLog Brad DeLong’s comments about IQ not being able to explain why rich parents have rich kids (prompting Fabio Rojas to say DeLong had discovered sociology) sparked the following from commenter Dr. T

DeLong’s argument shows ignorance of biology and statistics. The reason we do not see regression to the mean with IQ is that human procreation is not random. Few high IQ people have children with partners of below average IQ. If a person with a 140 IQ marries a person of 130 IQ, the likelihood that their child will have a 100 IQ is less than 5% (unless there is premature birth or brain damage).

I’m not an expert, but that sounded wrong to me. I said this in reply:

Even with non-random mating, we should still expect regression to the mean. If Andre Agassi marries Venus Williams, their kids are probably not going to be as good at tennis as they were, even though they will likely be better than average. Both people are flukes, statistically unlikely outliers in the field (by that I mean tennis ability in the general population). In the random pairing of genes that will produce their children, it is unlikely lightning will strike yet again (though I admit that did basically happen with both Venus and Serena giving their folks a perfect batting average).

If people reading this are familiar with the concept, have I given an accurate description of how regression to the mean works?

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