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July 2020 Review

Some personal highlights from the past month:

  • I decided, after polling friends and family, to move to a place where I've been assured summer never ends - San Diego. Recommendations for things to do, particularly COVID-safe activities, are appreciated!

  • Published (in partnership with Owain Evans) a write up of the Relay Game, an experiment we conducted in late 2018. Each player spent ten minutes on a math problem before passing on their code to a new player who had not seen any of the previous work.

  • I've started to slowly share my working notes. I'm hoping to build a digital garden - all the cool kids are doing it - or at the very least have some motivation to write more permanent notes to my future self.

Excerpts from my July Notes

  • Three laws of behavioral genetics

    • All personality traits are to some degree heritable

    • The effect of being raised in the same family is smaller than the effect of the genes.

    • A substantial portion of the variation in complex human behavioural traits is not accounted for by the effects of genes or families

  • From the Timeless Way of Building:

    Imagine yourself on a winter afternoon with a pot of tea, a book, a reading light, and two or three huge pillows to lean back against. Now, make yourself comfortable. Not in some way you can show to other people and say how much you like it. I mean so that you really like it for yourself.
    You put the tea where you can reach it; but in a place where you can’t possibly knock it over. You pull the light down to shine on the book, but not too brightly, and so that you can’t see the naked bulb. You put the cushions behind you and place them, carefully, one by one, just where you want them, to support your back, your neck, your arm: so that you are supported just comfortably, just as you want to sip your tea, and read, and dream.

    When you take the trouble to do all that, and you do it carefully, with much attention, then it may begin to have the quality with no name.

  • Wu Wei - Natural Effort. Action that does not require excessive effort.
  • Every society, wrote astronomer Carl Sagan, needs a telos to guide it — ‘a long-term goal and a sacred project’.

  • Selected Pixel Art:

Good Content in July

  • Nioono: Beautiful examples of converting an ethos and brand into visual language, a concept I really didn't understand until exploring this and related sites.

  • Argdown: A markdown syntax for creating argument maps.

  • RadVac: DIY Coronavirus Vaccine. Honestly, I'm tempted.

  • Hic Sunt Tyrannis: Society feels like it's collapsing on every dimension. Together it forms what Adam Elkus calls the "omni-crisis".

  • Be Impatient: Ben Kuhn's ode to the value of impatience. Having a constant desire to move faster, to streamline work flows, to execute quickly - is important because it drive improvements to your OODA (observe orient decide act) loop.

  • Polygamy, Human Sacrifice, and Steel - Why the Aztecs were awesome: I never realized how crazy the Aztec empire was until reading this essay, and how insane the conquistadors were, and how - I'm running out of synonyms for "extreme" - extreme the invasion of the new world was. Related, Daniel Kokotajlo on lessons Cortes has for AI takeover scenarios.

  • Against Environmental Pessimism: An essay arguing for a sunnier take on humanities impact on the environment, in particular underscoring how progress leads to people treating the natural world better.

  • Consensus Statement on Morality: A joint statement from several moral philosophers in 2010 on what they believed to be the basic tenants of morality.

  • Constraints and Slackness as a Worldview Generator: A compelling model of how to do scenario planning and forecasting - on the key constraints and how tech developments might introduce slack into those constraints.