Category Archives: Scott Alexander

Scott Alexander

I think about this every time I hear someone say something like “I lost all respect for Steven Pinker after he said all that stupid stuff about AI”. Your problem was thinking of “respect” as a relevant predicate to apply to Steven Pinker in the first place. Is he your father? Your youth pastor? No? Then why are you worrying about whether or not to “respect” him? Steven Pinker is a black box who occasionally spits out ideas, opinions, and arguments for you to evaluate. If some of them are arguments you wouldn’t have come up with on your own, then he’s doing you a service. If 50% of them are false, then the best-case scenario is that they’re moronically, obviously false, so that you can reject them quickly and get on with your life.

Scott Alexander, ‘Rule Thinkers In, Not Out’, Slate Star Codex, February 26, 2019

Scott Alexander

A boot, stamping on a human face – forever!

No! Wait! Sorry! Wrong future for socialism! This is John Roemer’s A Future for Socialism, a book on how to build a kinder, gentler socialist economy. It argues for – and I believe proves – a bold thesis: a socialist economy is entirely compatible with prosperity, innovation, and consumer satisfaction – just as long as by “socialism”, you mean “capitalism”.

Scott Alexander, ‘Book Review: A Future For Socialism’, Slate Star Codex, October 24, 2014

Scott Alexander

The motto of the Royal Society – Hooke, Boyle, Newton, some of the people who arguably invented modern science – was nullus in verba, “take no one’s word”.

This was a proper battle cry for seventeenth century scientists. Think about the (admittedly kind of mythologized) history of Science. The scholastics saying that matter was this, or that, and justifying themselves by long treatises about how based on A, B, C, the word of the Bible, Aristotle, self-evident first principles, and the Great Chain of Being all clearly proved their point. Then other scholastics would write different long treatises on how D, E, and F, Plato, St. Augustine, and the proper ordering of angels all indicated that clearly matter was something different. Both groups were pretty sure that the other had make a subtle error of reasoning somewhere, and both groups were perfectly happy to spend centuries debating exactly which one of them it was.

And then Galileo said “Wait a second, instead of debating exactly how objects fall, let’s just drop objects off of something really tall and see what happens”, and after that, Science.

Yes, it’s kind of mythologized. But like all myths, it contains a core of truth. People are terrible. If you let people debate things, they will do it forever, come up with horrible ideas, get them entrenched, play politics with them, and finally reach the point where they’re coming up with theories why people who disagree with them are probably secretly in the pay of the Devil.

Imagine having to conduct the global warming debate, except that you couldn’t appeal to scientific consensus and statistics because scientific consensus and statistics hadn’t been invented yet. In a world without science, everything would be like that.

Heck, just look at philosophy.

Scott Alexander, ‘The Control Group Is Out Of Control’, Slate Star Codex, April 28, 2014

Scott Alexander

A blog like this one probably should promote the opinions and advice most likely to be underrepresented in the blog-reading populace (which is totally different from the populace at large). But this might convince “thought leaders”, who then use it to inspire change in the populace at large, which will probably be in the wrong direction. I think most of my friends are too leftist but society as a whole is too rightist—should I spread leftist or rightist memes among my friends?

Scott Alexander, ‘All Debates Are Bravery Debates’, Slate Star Codex, June 9, 2013