Big worlds are hard to keep safe

A recent post by Thomaaas on the EA Forum describes some reasons that the risk of existential catastrophe might not go zero (or down!) in the future. I wanted to mention one other reason, which is that big worlds are hard to keep safe. For example, if catastrophe can be triggere…
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Why don’t I trust Scott Alexander?

In a 2014 email made public in 2021, Scott Alexander wrote to explain why he reads, writes about, and cultivates goodwill among a cluster of online writers then known as neoreactionaries.a a This label is a bit dated. As far as I can tell, these figures have at this point d…
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Repugnant astronomical ruin

Context: I’m not a utilitarian. This isn’t why I’m not a utilitarian—it’s just me playing with some perennial debates reappearing alongside Michael Nielsen’s notes, requests for critical writing on Effective Altruism, and prompts from Open Philanthropy. I do think utilitarians (…
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Hyping the Heat: A note on Steve Koonin’s Unsettled

Steve Koonin in Unsettled notices that presenting the ratio of record daily highs to record lows can be misleading about warming’s effect on extreme heat events. (Chapter 5, “Hyping the Heat”.) That’s true enough, but I find his argument somewhere between nitpicking and weak.

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Progress studies from afar

The web’s big thinkers periodically revisit big questions about modernity. Why is progress slowing down? (Is it?) Why is contemporary culture inferior to past golden ages? (Is it?) Sometimes the questions are more individualistic: Where are all the geniuses? Or, more cautiously a…
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Some things I’m excited about, 2022

I may continue to update this list, since these are just the first few things that came to mind. There’s nothing necessarily specific to 2022 here other than that I’m thinking about them now and there’ll be something to see in the relatively short term.

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Making sense of the opponent process theory of color vision

Ev’ry heart beats true ’neath the magenta white and blue.

Here’s an innocuous scientific controversy. I’ve collected a number of these, imagining that maybe they could serve as practice material for making sense of ambiguity outside one’s areas of expertise. I’m not sure it’ll do any good, but it’s worth a shot. I’ll outline the issue below, and, if you like, you can try your hand at sorting it out.

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Mars on the desktop

I work with multiple monitors in different resolutions. I also organize projects using a handful of desktop workspaces (for example, in Windows). Distinctive wallpapers can contribute to a valuable sense of place when you do all your work in the same real location, but it can be hard to find a large enough set that’s beautiful, diverse, high-resolution, and suitable for ultrawide, 4K, or portrait-mode monitors.

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Inverse crimes

Mathematician Rainer Kress coined a cute name for an insidious kind of triviality: the inverse crime.

1 D. Colton and R. Kress, Inverse Acoustic and Electromagnetic Scattering Theory, 4th ed. Springer Nature, 2019, p. 179.

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Wave mechanics in periodic media

Photonic Crystals: Molding the Flow of Light is one of my favorite undergraduate-level textbooks. (PDF freely available.)

Below I reproduce its appendix tabulating the comparisons between quantum mechanics and electromagnetism that the authors make throughout the book. If you’re familiar with one but not the other, you might find it interesting. If you want something more technical, try “Notes on the algebraic structure of wave equations” from Steven G. Johnson (one of the textbook authors, as it happens, though better known for other work). Otherwise, it’s relevant to a few subjects where I like to collect concrete, real-world cases for study—pedagogy, extended analogy, what is or isn’t weird about quantum mechanics.

(I also wanted to experiment with typesetting for my new site here.)

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