All posts by Mathew McGann

#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

#22 On knowing what’s best

Most new conjectures are wrong. Yes good. Most old conjectures are wrong. Also fine. This is because new and old are pretty much unbiased subsets of conjectures in general. However the set of ideas in active use are a biased, selected set. Imperfectly selected yes, and quite slow, yes. And can cause a lot of misery, sure. But implemented laws are a selected set and so have a higher percentage of true ideas than the set of new and the set of old.

There’s a lovely power law at work here, a kind of self-similar Sturgeon’s law. Most governments are Continue reading #22 On knowing what’s best

#20 On conserving progressivism

Dear Jamie,

Yes, there is always way too much to talk about. I honestly thought we might not have enough to say to warrant letters, so since the beginning I’ve been storing ideas that don’t fit in the hope that they might come back. A rough calculation tells me for every letter I publish I create 1.8 letters worth of ideas. There aint no plugging that hole.

When Deutsch describes a Dynamic society, what you describe is what I envision. That is a society that Continue reading #20 On conserving progressivism