Interesting Stuff 03/12/2017

Eliezer Yudkowsky on whether objects travelling away from you at the speed of light disappear:

“Suppose I transmit a photon out toward infinity, not aimed at any stars, or any galaxies, pointing it toward one of the great voids between superclusters.  Based on standard physics, in other words, I don’t expect this photon to intercept anything on its way out.  The photon is moving at light speed, so I can’t chase after it and capture it again.

If the expansion of the universe is accelerating, as current cosmology holds, there will come a future point where I don’t expect to be able to interact with the photon even in principle—a future time beyond which I don’t expect the photon’s future light cone to intercept my world-line.  Even if an alien species captured the photon and rushed back to tell us, they couldn’t travel fast enough to make up for the accelerating expansion of the universe.

Should I believe that, in the moment where I can no longer interact with it even in principle, the photon disappears?

I remember reading that when it was first proposed that the Milky Way was our galaxy —that the hazy river of light in the night sky was made up of millions (or even billions) of stars—that Occam’s Razor was invoked against the new hypothesis.  Because, you see, the hypothesis vastly multiplied the number of “entities” in the believed universe.  Or maybe it was the suggestion that “nebulae”—those hazy patches seen through a telescope—might be galaxies full of stars, that got the invocation of Occam’s Razor.

Lex parsimoniae:  Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem.

That was Occam’s original formulation, the law of parsimony:  Entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity.

If you postulate billions of stars that no one has ever believed in before, you’re multiplying entities, aren’t you?

No.  There are two Bayesian formalizations of Occam’s Razor:  Solomonoff Induction, and Minimum Message Length.  Neither penalizes galaxies for being big.”


On the continuing fall in US fertility


Sheng Wu on why social contract arguments are almost always wrong:”

  1. Good grief!  So maybe citizens consent to the social contract by receiving government services (welfare, public highways, police protection)?
    1. There are many government services which I cannot opt out of.  (Take, for instance, the benefits of clean air or military defence.)
    2. If the state takes my resources by force (through taxation), and then converts those into services, I may have to consume those services.  That doesn’t imply that I consented to any wider set of rules that the state dreamt up!
    3. Since the state generally exercises a monopoly on the use of violence, it drives other providers out of business, forcing me to consume its services.  I have to rely on the state police, because the state takes steps to make sure that their police force is the only one.  A monopoly that systematically destroys all its competitors does not thereby have consenting customers.”


On the evolutionary causes of homosexuality: “A man who carries a small dose of gay genes in his genome would, according to the theory, improve his success  in the heterosexual mating game. That “certain something” that heightens sex appeal probably consist exactly of those essentials which make homosexuals different from heterosexuals in the first place. According to his theory, the alleged “gay genes” equip men who carry  the heterozygous disposition with an above-average degree of feminine traits such as sensitivity, gentleness and friendliness. Gay genes therefore form a natural antidote against “hypermasculine” genes that turn men into rough machos. They would promote properties that appeal to women and indicate a good suitability as a father and significant other. A lesbian disposition lends women reversed traits that helps their reproductive success. Surveys have already shown that psychologically “masculine” women have more sex contacts. 

Imagine, for example, there were five genes, each of which occurs in duplicate and increases the probability of homosexuality, Miller speculates. Only if a man had all five alleles in duplicate, he would be gay. “That would be an event that occurs with a probability of 1 to 32, meaning in 3 percent of all men.” Such a system would already be evolutionary stable if a hint of homosexual disposition would increase the genetic fitness of heterosexuals by only 2 percent. “


How war turned immigrants into Americans: “Second, military service could also change immigrants’ preferences for assimilation through socialization and intergroup contact. This mechanism lies at the heart of Weber (1976)’s account of the ways in which rural peasants in France gained their French national identity. Essentially, the military can reshape immigrants identity by exposing them to a wide variety of individuals especially natives who they would have otherwise not met or interacted with. Given that most socialization in the military would occur with white, natives, then we should expect immigrants to converge in their identities toward white, natives following standard models of socialization in the economics literature (Bisin and Verdier 2001). Moreover, the military is a ripe setting for intergroup contact to make immigrants feel closer to natives since the vast majority of individuals interact on an equal footing with each other and are required to cooperate with each other given battlefield objectives (Allport 1954; Pettigrew 1998; Wilcox 2011; Jha 2013; Lowe 2017). Again, this mechanism suggests that participation in military service should lead immigrants to identity more as white Americans than non-veteran immigrants as a result of socialization in the military.”


Jonathan Haidt on Racism in University: “

 If in a given class the great majority of the black students are at the bottom of the class, this factor is bound to instill, unconsciously at least, some sense of intellectual superiority among the white students and some sense of intellectual inferiority among the black students. Such a pairing in the same school of the brightest white students in the country with black students of mediocre academic qualifications is social experiment with loaded dice and a stacked deck. The faculty can talk around the clock about disadvantaged background, and it can excuse inferior performance because of poverty, environment, inadequate cultural tradition, lack of educational opportunity, etc. The fact remains that black and white students will be exposed to each other under circumstances in which demonstrated intellectual superiority rests with the whites.

But Judge Fleming went much further. He made specific predictions about what the new policy would do to black students over the years, and how they would react. Here is his prophecy:

No one can be expected to accept an inferior status willingly. The black students, unable to compete on even terms in the study of law, inevitably will seek other means to achieve recognition and self-expression. This is likely to take two forms. First, agitation to change the environment from one in which they are unable to compete to one in which they can. Demands will be made for elimination of competition, reduction in standards of performance, adoption of courses of study which do not require intensive legal analysis, and recognition for academic credit of sociological activities which have only an indirect relationship to legal training. Second, it seems probable that this group will seek personal satisfaction and public recognition by aggressive conduct, which, although ostensibly directed at external injustices and problems, will in fact be primarily motivated by the psychological needs of the members of the group to overcome feelings of inferiority caused by lack of success in their studies. Since the common denominator of the group of students with lower qualifications is one of race this aggressive expression will undoubtedly take the form of racial demands–the employment of faculty on the basis of race, a marking system based on race, the establishment of a black curriculum and a black law journal, an increase in black financial aid, and a rule against expulsion of black students who fail to satisfy minimum academic standards. 

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