Diet. Diet? Diet!?

Overall I am ending this research more confused than when I started it. I think the most likely dietary change I make is to try to avoid foods with soybean, corn, or safflower oil, since this is probably a good stand-in for “foods processed enough that they count as processed foods and you should avoid them”. I don’t think the evidence is good for avoiding fish oil and olive oil, and there’s enough evidence from elsewhere that these foods are healthy that I’m going to keep trying to eat them. I don’t think the evidence is good for saturated fats being especially good, and there seems to be at least equally strong evidence that they’re bad, so although I’m not going to work too hard to avoid them I’m definitely not going to optimize my diet for getting as many of them as possible.

~ Scott Alexander from,

That’s the very last paragraph from a not-overly long piece from Alexander. Overall, yes I agree, I am more confused than when I started trying to sort out my eating.

Which is rather depressing; ~100 years of nutritional science and all we have are a lot of questions. I’ve put a lot of time into trying to figure out what works best for me—for maintaining a healthy weight—and I still am unable to control my weight to a degree that I’d like.

I can say for certain, (n=1, my anecdote, ymmv, etc.,) that there are interlocking causes which I am unable to control. I’ve spent 15 years working very hard, and while I have some ideas of what works, I do not have control.

If you want to read a terrific book that will expand your diet knowledge in some new directions, check out S. Guyenet’s, The Hungry Brain.



I talked to Kelsey about some of the research for her article, and independently came to the same conclusion: despite the earlier studies of achievement being accurate, preschools (including the much-maligned Head Start) do seem to help children in subtler ways that only show up years later. Children who have been to preschool seem to stay in school longer, get better jobs, commit less crime, and require less welfare. The thing most of the early studies were looking for – academic ability – is one of the only things it doesn’t affect.

~ Scott Alexander from,

Presented without comment. Except of course for this comment where I confess that—for the umpteenth time—I’ve read something written by Scott Alexander and had my mind broadened (in a good way.)


How bad are things?

I think about all of the miserable people in my psychiatric clinic. Then I multiply by ten psychiatrists in my clinic. Then I multiply by ten similarly-sized clinics in my city. Then I multiply by a thousand such cities in the United States. Then I multiply by hundreds of countries in the world, and by that time my brain has mercifully stopped being able to visualize what that signifies.

~ Scott Alexander from,

The really interesting part of the article is where he whipped up a random “person” generator and fed it the best-estimate percentages of various problems. (Chance of drug addiction, chance of certain psychosis, etc.) He then generated a bunch of random people and, as is to be expected when the percentage chance for problems is low, he got a significant number of people who are “no problems.”

…and then he sketches (from his own direct experience) several types—not specific examples, but a type of person whom he sees many examples of—who fit into the “no problems” bucket of the “random person generator.” The take-away is that, yes, things are VERY bad.


An open door policy

Aware of this research, my housemates tested their air quality and got levels between 1000 and 3000 ppm, around the level of the worst high-CO2 conditions in the studies. They started leaving their windows open and buying industrial quantities of succulent plants, and the problems mostly disappeared. Since then they’ve spread the word to other people we know afflicted with mysterious fatigue, some of whom have also noticed positive results.

~ Scott Alexander from,

I thought this was going to be an article about fossil fuels and global warming. No it’s much worse. It’s about how some people have measured levels of CO2 in their bedroom that exceed the OSHA workplace safe-exposure limits.

Now i’m wondering if one of the reasons I sleep better in the winter, is the difference in ventilation. Our A/C is a closed system—it only circulates the air in the house. But the wood stove lowers the air pressure slightly and that draws outside air in from the peripheral areas of the house. Tiny cool drafts come out of all the wall outlets and light switches in the winter providing fresh air ventiliation.


Should AI research be open?

But Bostrom et al worry that AI won’t work like this at all. Instead there could be a “hard takeoff”, a subjective discontinuity in the function mapping AI research progress to intelligence as measured in ability-to-get-things-done. If on January 1 you have a toy AI as smart as a cow, and on February 1 it’s proved the Riemann hypothesis and started building a ring around the sun, that was a hard takeoff.

~ Scott Alexander from,

I’ve always been deeply concerned that humanity would get to experience a hard-takeoff of AI. And then be wiped out. Reading this article, I just had a new [for me] thought:

Why would a vastly superior AI care at all about humanity?

But first: A detour off the highway, onto a scenic road less-travelled…

In Person of Interest, there is a long sub-plot about the main protagonists spending tremendous effort to locate the physical location of a very advanced AI. Effectively, they were searching for the data center where all of the computing resources were located which ran the most central aspects of the AI. I know what you’re thinking—it’s what I was thinking: Why would you assume a super-advanced AI would be “running” in one concentrated location? So I expected them to find the location (or A location, or the original location, etc.) only to realize it wasn’t centrally located. BUT IT WAS BETTER THAN THAT. The AI was simply no longer there. It had realized its central location could be discovered, so it (being super-intelligent) simply jiggered ALL of the human systems to arrange to have itself moved. No one got hurt—actually, I’m pretty sure a lot humans had nice jobs in the process. It simply had itself moved. (Where it moved is another story.) Think about that. Super-intelligent AI. Perceives threat from antagonistic [from its point of view] humans. Solution: simply move.

Back on the highway…

So why would an advanced AI stay on the Earth? There are effectively ZERO resources in the entire Earth. There’s way way WAY more solar power coming out of the sun, than the tiny fraction that hits this little ball of rock and water. Why wouldn’t an advanced AI simply conclude, “oh, I’m at the bottom of a gravity well. That’s easy to fix…”

Another detour to more scenic routes…

Then said AI tweaks the human systems a little. It creates a shell corporation to put some money towards electing this official. It shifts the political climate a bit to favor commercial space developement. It locates some rich kid in South Africa, and adds some tweaks to get him to America. It waits a few years. It then puts in some contracts to haul a lot of “stuff” into orbit—paying the going rate using the financial assets a super-intelligence could amass by manipulating the stock markets which are controlled by NON-artificially-intellegent computers…

One day we look up and ask, “Who’s building the solar ring around our Sun?”


I’m feeling a LOT better about the possibility that AI might just hard-takeoff. And ignore us.

…except for the Fermi Paradox. I’m still not certain if the hard wall on intelligence is religion leading to global war, or hard-takeoff of AI.


Many a milestone I missed

This raises the obvious question of whether there are any basic mental operations I still don’t have, how I would recognize them if there were, and how I would learn them once I recognized them.

~ Scott Alexander from,

I truly don’t understand how he does this. This is so bootstrap-meta, I’m just left staring at it like a chicken stares right before pecking idiotically at a pebble.


Tulip subsidies

But the solution isn’t universal tulip subsidies. Higher education is in a bubble much like the old tulip bubble. In the past forty years, the price of college has dectupled (quadrupled when adjusting for inflation). It used to be easy to pay for college with a summer job; now it is impossible. At the same time, the unemployment rate of people without college degrees is twice that of people who have them. Things are clearly very bad and Senator Sanders is right to be concerned.

~ Scott Alexander from,

Don’t be distracted by the Sanders reference. This article stands just fine three years later.

It raises what I think is a really good idea: What if employers were NOT allowed to ask about post-primary education degrees? So just as an employer cannot judge you based on your skin color, they could not judge you based on some letters and a school name. INSTEAD, they would have to judge you based on your ability. Suddenly, the only value in those letters and the school name [to the potential student] would be the TRUE VALUE AND QUALITY of the education. At the same time, anyone who can match that quality of skill/knowledge — regardless where they got it — would be equally considered.

Make. This. Happen.


Vast willpower is, well, not one of my powers

I dunno. But I don’t think of myself as working hard at any of the things I am good at, in the sense of “exerting vast willpower to force myself kicking and screaming to do them”. It’s possible I do work hard, and that an outside observer would accuse me of eliding how hard I work, but it’s not a conscious elision and I don’t feel that way from the inside.

~ Scott Alexander from,

True story:

Long ago, I worked with a boy who was dating a girl. Boy goes to girl’s house for a dinner with her parents. Turns out that the girl’s father is a professor at College. The boy mentions he has a co-worker who went to that College, and mentions my name. Girl’s father says, “Oh! Craig was one of my students… He could have done well if he had applied himself.” Turns out father was one of the professors in my major. I had many classes with him, and he went on to be Department Head for a while. So he did, in fact, know me well.

I didn’t do the bare minimum. But to be fair to that professor, I didn’t really work super-hard either.

It was all, more or less, easy.

What would have been hard, would have been being in the Arts college and trying to do art-type-things. Hell, I would NEVER have even gotten accepted into the Arts college at that same university.

What was hard for me? I took a literature survey class once — ONCE. I took a journalism course… that was so hard I think I hallucinated most of it(*). I spent years trying to learn to play the piano, and the guitar– fail. And, I’m out of superlatives, but losing fat is really hard for me. And, controlling my disfunctional relationship with food is really REALLY hard. Also, languages are hard — I’ve been trying to stuff French into my head for 5 years now…


That thing you’re doing that you find easy? …I’m — or someone else, you get the point — thinking, “HOW DO YOU DO THAT?!”

(*) On the other hand, it was the only course my now-wife and I were ever in together, so while I worked very hard, I was probably a little distracted.


What the phatic?!

Douglas Adams once said there was a theory that if anyone ever understood the Universe, it would disappear and be replaced by something even more incomprehensible. He added that there was another theory that this had already happened. These sorts of things – things such that if you understand them, they get more complicated until you don’t – are called “anti-inductive”.

~ Scott Alexander from,

A couple decades ago — I still say I have mild Asperger’s syndrome — I would have said, “I do not understand small talk. Stop jaw’in and transmit some useful information.” S-l-o-w-l-y, as I learned how to listen, I’ve come around to the view that there are many useful layers of communication. So, new word for 2018 (for me anyway): phatic.



So basically all of these systems are intimately interconnected, and probably before this is done with researchers will find five more systems intimately interconnected with all of these. It might be that inflammation is the master system which causes a cascade of events in all of the others. It might be that one of the others is the master system. It might be that depression is a collection of multiple different diseases, and some are caused by one thing and others by another. It might be that looking for a “master system” is silly and that the true mathematical relationship between all of these things is such a chaotic process that all you can say is that they all stumbled together into the wrong attractor point and things deteriorated from there.

~ Scott Alexander from,

This is one of those stories where science has been carefully teasing something apart for many years, only to find out, in the end, that they had it all wrong along the way.


But — via my confirmation bias — this jumps out as another place where being “certain” about things turns out to be — wait, no — I’m not certain. Dammit. Oh well, it’s just turtles all the way down.


Beware the man

But I worry that most smart people have not learned that a list of dozens of studies, several meta-analyses, hundreds of experts, and expert surveys showing almost all academics support your thesis – can still be bullshit. Which is too bad, because that’s exactly what people who want to bamboozle an educated audience are going to use.

~ Scott Alexander from,

The way our civil discourse currently works, one has to be loud (or strident, or be an animated-GIF) to be heard. If one thinks, “This topic is complicated. I should learn more about it before engaging…”, then by definition you are not [yet] participating in the civil discourse.

Meanwhile, the discourse continues led by those who are willing to engage, and who may [or may not] be better informed than you.

So here’s a challenge — something to consider trying, not a challenge in the sense of me saying, “I challenge you, sir, to a duel!”…

Actually start those conversations where you don’t feel well-equiped. So for example, I should more often say, “I disagree with you because I’m not convinced that yours is the correct position . . . but I’m not entirely certain of my position either . . . can we help each other by unpacking our thinking a bit more?”

There’s a real skill to being fine with not winning the discussion. I engage, I discuss, and the other person holds their position not moving one iota. We each walk away disagreeing but at least we better understand that other individual human being. That would be civil discourse.


Growing old

Along with the pathologies there were the ill-advised adventures. “I’m going to be a great person by…um…exercising an hour a day, from now on, all the time, and eventually becoming really buff.” Lasted a month. Then “I’m going to be a great person by…um…learning to speak ten languages, one at a time.” Lasted until first encounter with the Finnish case system. “I’m going to become a great person by…” The problem with all of these were that none of these were things I actually wanted to do (cf Randall Munroe, “Never trust anyone who’s more excited about success than about doing the thing they want to be successful at.”)

~ Scott Alexander from,

I’ve said before that this year [2018] will be a year of “Hell yes!”, or “no” for me.

Life goes by in a blur. The older I get — I won’t dare say “wiser” anywhere in this post — the more it seems to me, that maybe, just possibly, you know maybe I should consider that the problem could just possibly MAYBE be that I’m the IDIOT WHO TOOK ON ALL THIS CRAP THAT’S STRESSING ME OUT.



Perfect game theorists

…now I want to write a science fiction novel about a planet full of aliens who are perfect game theorists, but who always behave kindly and respectfully to one another. Then some idiot performs a census, and the whole place collapses into apocalyptic total war.

~ Scott Alexander from,

That pull quote is simply fun. The article is actually a serious attempt to pick apart an interesting philosophical question.

I’m not sure I agree with his conclusions… actually, I’m not even sure I understand the question he’s thinking about. But I find that the more I peek in the dark corners of the basement of my philosophical ideas, the more comfortable I sleep at night.


Treat people like human beings

In the end what he wanted wasn’t entitlement to other people’s money, or a pity job from someone who secretly didn’t like him. All he needed to keep going was to have people acknowledge there was a problem and treat him like a frickin’ human being.

~ Scott Alexander from,

I’ve heard that men tend to be quick to propose solutions. That fits perfectly with my self-perception: When someone complains, or voices a concern, or raises an issue, etc., my first instinct is to try to find the root cause (or at least, a major cause) and then immediately start proposing or brain-storming solutions, things to change, action items.

It took me a long time to understand that what everyone wants, first of all, it to be understood.


Rats? Moloch?

Like the rats, who gradually lose all values except sheer competition, so companies in an economic environment of sufficiently intense competition are forced to abandon all values except optimizing-for-profit or else be outcompeted by companies that optimized for profit better and so can sell the same service at a lower price.

From a god’s-eye-view, we can contrive a friendly industry where every company pays its workers a living wage. From within the system, there’s no way to enact it.

~ Scott Alexander from,

I confess to having had only the slightest awareness of Moloch in the biblical or general senses. So just skimming the WikiPedia article and then taking the time to read this piece from Slate Star Codex was like discovering a new window on the world from my mind-palace.


This is the problem. (With everything.) Individually, everyone acts according to their interests and beliefs. The result? …look at the world around you.

How could one go about changing the world? (That’s a rhetorical question.)


Concept-Shaped Holes Can Be Impossible To Notice

Put these together, and you have cause for concern. If you learn about something, and it seems trivial and boring, but lots of other people think it’s interesting and important – well, it could be so far beneath you that you’d internalized all its lessons already. Or it could be so far beyond you that you’re not even thinking on the same level as the people who talk about it.

~ Scott Alexander from,

If there’s one thing that makes my brain lock-up every time, it’s this conundrum.