Tag Archives: scepticism

#62 On Foundations

Dear Jamie,

Congratulations for drafting the final chapter of your thesis! You’ve already managed the whole thing with much more grace than I did.

I’m writing this bit before I read your letter in order to explain what my original assumption was about your policy. I did say you’re dismissing skyhooks because of “human, political concerns (sic :S)”. To explain it in a way that only you and I are likely to understand, that mainly meant “protecting the dynamic aspect of our society”. This is because, as you’ve always pointed out, belief in phony bad skyhooks causes real bad problems. Indeed they do.

I assume this “no skyhooks” policy, whoever it is held by, is the result of an escape as far as possible from supernatural and religious explanations, while desperately holding on to justified true belief as one runs. I know you’re fuming right now, but honestly I see a strain of it. Let me explain how. Continue reading #62 On Foundations

#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I also submit that we have been in an especially rapidly changing environment the last 400 years, meaning our maps are out of date.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