Tag Archives: scepticism

#33 On scepticism


Dear Mat,

Even if we cast aside our ideological, manufactured maps it doesn’t quite mean that we’re mapless. Surely the process of evolution endowed us with a series of inherited maps.  Our heuristics are maps that have been charted by our forebears’ efforts at navigating the world. Can these innate maps be wrong? The extinction of more than 99% of all species that have ever lived is ominous.

I submit that even the doubtful sceptic is really a confident sceptic, whose confidence is based on a good run of relatively stable ancestral environments, but whose inherited map is hard to amend when the environment changes rapidly. I also submit that we have been in an especially rapidly changing environment the last 400 years, meaning our maps are out of date. Continue reading #33 On scepticism

#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

Islamophobic? Maybe

There is a significant overlap between those who criticise Islam and those who have a cultural fear of Middle Eastern Muslim migrants. The latter is surely what people mean when they speak of Islamophobia: a crude, xenophobic attitude towards people who wear Middle Eastern clothes, eat foods containing a lot of cumin, pray facing the same way and often the men have beards and the women wear headscarves! This kind of stupid fear of foreigners is all too familiar in my country, recent examples of which include our disgraceful attitude towards asylum seekers from the Middle East (including from countries we’d invaded), the 2005 race riot in Sydney and hysterical opposition towards the building of mosques. Similar reactions to migrants from North Africa and the Middle East are of course even more familiar to Europeans.

Unfortunately for the pure-hearted critic of religion, it’s very hard to disentangle one’s invective against the obvious inhumanity of certain preachings contained in The Quran, from the ugly dislike that many white Westerners (secular, Christian, or other) have of recent Muslim migrants. Continue reading Islamophobic? Maybe

Jamie’s graduation speech

I was given the chance — surprisingly — to give the student speech at my graduation ceremony on the 20th of December. I submitted a version of my speech for approval but couldn’t miss the opportunity to make some additional remarks on the day. I gave a plug for divesting from fossil fuels and I also thought it was worth mentioning the appalling decision by the ANU to threaten me and some other students with disciplinary action for a satirical piece in Woroni earlier in the year (see my final contribution to Woroni or just Google any combo of: ANU, Islam, censorship, Koran, Woroni, rape fantasies). My themes, were two of my favourites: scepticism and self-reference.

Below is the text of my speech (roughly accurate, I made some off the cuff changes too): Continue reading Jamie’s graduation speech