All posts by Mathew McGann

#36 On freedom and equity

Dear Master F,

We should just deal quickly with this notion of “rigidity” but then I think we can move on. If I understand you correctly you call M/F rigid because it has a broadness and simplicity that makes it difficult to change or to cope with the subtleties.* Whereas I take rigid to mean something so precise so as to be either very useful when applied correctly or very unuseful (or damaging) when incorrectly applied. So the fact that the M/F categorisation is so rough and barely adds any information makes it unrigid in my view but rigid in yours. You used the word reliable, that’s more what I meant.

Our earlier letters spent a lot of time on science and physics and I worried about their asymmetry. You’d spend most of your time asking questions and I’d spend my time rattling off opinion. But we’re moving well into your territory, so I look forward to stumbling through with mostly questions. I used to be on the same page as you but Continue reading #36 On freedom and equity

#34 On frameworks around complexity

Dear Jamie

The “innate maps” you talk about are the same toolkit I meant when I said “‘Heuristics, rules of thumbs, feel your way around locally, learn from error.” But I don’t think these have the weaknesses of the other frameworks and so aren’t maps in my analogy. These innate responses can definitely, definitely be wrong. And how. But the point I want to stress is that they in principle don’t exclude any physically possible course of action. While maps can be defined by the course of actions they exclude.

A map is a guide, an explanation, a rule, a representation but what makes it a map is that it is static and predictable. Like a good explanation it is fragile, it’s strength comes from its reproducibility. Innate responses are not consistent, often irrational and maybe even random. Which at least reflects how the world is. Maybe the right way to go is Continue reading #34 On frameworks around complexity

#32 On acting on maps

Dear Jamie

I’m forced to skip over those first few paragraphs based on “economic “modelling because as you said, a little bit of information changes the outcome completely. This is a symptom of a bad model, and bad models do more harm than good. My favourite demonstration of this is the following (originally Taleb’s).

Imagine you find yourself, for no real reason, waking up in the middle of unknown wilderness. Then imagine you stumble upon a map. Should you follow it?

Once I proposed this online in response to an Effective Altruism question about how to act on economic models). Someone took the bait by responding “It depends if the map is reliable or not”. Well that’s a wise application of scepticism, but its missing something as we’ll see. Continue reading #32 On acting on maps

#30 On honesty

Dear Jamie,

I agree about the evil in everyone. As Soljenistsyn wrote, the line cuts the heart of each individual:

Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains … an unuprooted small corner of evil.

It takes real courage to say that you Continue reading #30 On honesty

#28 On wilful blindness

Dear Jamie,

At the moment I’m into Jordan Peterson’s ideas and his theories about morality and how to live so let’s pull that in. He says that we must act in a way so as to win multiple games. One must simultaneously question oneself as to how to play the “will I survive the day?” game, the “can I feed my family?” game, the “is my community stable?” game, the “is my nation going in the right direction?” game and the “is humanity going to survive the next decade?” game. I’ll call it the contribution hierarchy.

Notice that this is a perfect inversion (and I would say perfect alternative) to the despicable Bedouin saying: “I am against Continue reading #28 On wilful blindness

A Satire Manifesto


#26 On snoozeday

Dear Jamie,

I think about it with the following constraints.

  1. I think Doomsday would be the worst thing not in the world, but in the universe, so pretty bad,
  2. We’re most likely to die to a Black Swan, so we’d probably not realise it was coming,
  3. I have the usual cognitive biases and limitations that all humans do, that mainly ignore the above.

Point 1 is something I’d love to rant about, but I’ll keep in on the topic of doomsday as you seem to think it so important, jeez. It basically comes down to Continue reading #26 On snoozeday

#24 On not needing to know

Dear Jamie,

I knew we’d crack it. While you could “judge political systems” according to your rule, let’s consider a system that embraces this rule:

Make decisions according to how great a chance they have of discovering and thereby achieving new goals, in perpetuity.

My logical consistency sense is tingling, so I pause. The structure of your system has kind of a Bertrand Russel ring to it. If we support all goals that achieve new goals, Continue reading #24 On not needing to know