Nov 17, 2007
There's a million important things going on in the world and in our lives, but we're really only aware of seven of them. This means that we all have a very narrow and limited understanding of the world and our own lives. The seven things on our mind all seem very important, while everything else is just kind of forgotten....

This seven register limitation also makes people very subject to manipulation. If you can control what is getting loaded into their attention, you can largely control what they think and how they feel. For example, if people keep talking about Iran and how scary they are and debating what to do about them, then pretty soon Iran will seem like the biggest, scariest problem in the world, and no solution will seem too extreme. The truth is that there are probably 100 more important problems, but it won't seem that way because all seven registers are loaded with the same topic. The subject of the debate is more important than the content. - Paul Buchheit (emphasis his)

Scientific Federalism
Nov 13, 2007

There are three great political issue categories: Economic, Social, and Foreign Policy. Today I wish to speak on the Economic issues.

Up to quite recently, I've been describing myself as a little-l libertarian on economic issues. I've considered it a good and proper function of government to internalize externalities and to perform some monopoly busting, but to otherwise let the invisible hand do its efficient thing.

Read the rest (713 words)

Planning Fallacy
Nov 09, 2007
...experiment has shown that the more detailed subjects' visualization, the more optimistic (and less accurate) they become.... A similar finding is that experienced outsiders, who know less of the details, but who have relevant memory to draw upon, are often much less optimistic and much more accurate than the actual planners and implementers.

So there is a fairly reliable way to fix the planning fallacy, if you're doing something broadly similar to a reference class of previous projects. Just ask how long similar projects have taken in the past, without considering any of the special properties of this project. Better yet, ask an experienced outsider how long similar projects have taken.

You'll get back an answer that sounds hideously long, and clearly reflects no understanding of the special reasons why this particular task will take less time. This answer is true. Deal with it. - Overcoming Bias (a blog)

Saved here for my future reference.

I've been working on my estimation abilities for work. I'm getting better. I'm getting closer to a routine 20% overflow, rather than the more standard "wrong by 2x or more", but that last 20% of optimism is proving difficult to overcome. And the only person that likes someone who routinely over-estimates is Captain Kirk, who is, you will note, an entirely fictional construct.

Nov 06, 2007

This is why the studious ignorance of economics by self-proclaimed "environmentalists" is not cute and harmless, but a major threat. Almost everything in that story says one thing: "Market distortion". That's what a market distortion is; not a harmless game played with abstract points called "money", but shortages of vital commodities and overproduction of others.

The artificial demand for biofuels bumps off food production. If normal economic processes were in place, instead of subsidies both monetary and emotional, and if biofuels could only sell in direct proportion to their actual effectiveness, the food displacement problem would be much smaller, and much easier to manage. (It's questionable whether any biofuel can compete at all on a level playing field; if that's true then there would be no significant effect from biofuel at all.)

As I believe I've said, I'd love to call myself an environmentalist, but I find the average environmentalist to be a bigger danger to the environment than asset. Blundering about with analysis that is blind to anything beyond "first-order intentions" (worse still than being stuck with first-order effects, which still wouldn't be adequate) may make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but it's not a path to helping the environment or anything else.

Also, the concrete effects described by that article utterly dwarf the still-theoretical effects of the global-warming the biofuels may partially mitigate.

A New Marriage of Brain and Computer
Nov 05, 2007

Quantum consciousness has attracted a lot of total quacks, running 10 steps ahead of science and using "quantum word salad" to justify whatever beliefs they already had. For so many people, "quantum" reads as "magic", and flick the critical thinking is turned off, and off we go on an adventure of telepathy, auras, out-of-body adventures, and the whole litany of New Age-isms that might as well come from the late 19th century. Only this time with the word quantum in it, for that extra helping of plausibility. That's never a valid use of science.

But that's unfair of me to use that as justification to dismiss the entire idea. There is no idea so right that idiots can't misuse it. "Quantum" itself is the canonical case. Quantum mechanics is now over a hundred years old, but you'd never know it from the public perception. It remains counterintuitive, but it's not fair to call it a mystery any more. A mystery to you and I, perhaps, but it has long ceased to be an anything-box in physics.

If consciousness research has proved anything, it is that all our simple models are inadequate, and the final answer, whatever it may be, is going to be complicated.

A New Marriage of Brain and Computer recently went by on the Google TechTalk feed, and while there's still a little bit of the quantum = magic in there, there is also interesting material to chew over regarding the simple question of "How does the brain really work?" You can consider the consciousness discussion an irrelevancy and still learn some interesting things. The rest of this post assumes you've watched that video. (Google's video interface is superior to the embed version, so I give you the link.)

Read the rest...

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