Links & misc #1

Right, first post! I won’t write an actual introduction post or anything because I guess that’s what the About page is for, but hi and welcome to my blog et cetera.

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Interesting things I’ve found on the internet recently:

The elements that weren’t: 17 of the countless false discoveries of new elements seen throughout the history of the periodic table. Apparently OUP has published an entire book on the subject.

• In Event of Moon Disaster: the eulogy that was supposed to be read should the Apollo 11 crew end up stuck on the Moon. Although the text was obviously never needed, it remains noteworthy as possibly the only time in history when using the word “epic” was actually justified.

• From the Research Community on Communicating Uncertainty at Princeton University, a book discussing agnotology or the study of ignorance. “– the conscious, unconscious, and structural production of ignorance, its diverse causes and conformations, whether brought about by neglect, forgetfulness, myopia, extinction, secrecy, or suppression. The point is to question the naturalness of ignorance, its causes and its distribution.”

• Ritual and the Consciousness Monoculture suggests that consciousness can be and has been a lot more diverse than we realise: a human brain can produce a subjective structure without e.g. a sense of time or concept of self like ours, obviously resulting in a very different experience than the one we are generally used to. Different traditions and cultural environments have facilitated what could plausibly be a huge diversity of consciousness in prehistoric and historic human populations, but “our type”, being selectively very advantageous, has since swept over and eradicated most of the variation.

• Related: a piece at n+1 on Julian Jaynes, a psychologist who speculated that even reflective consciousness is something that prehistoric humans lacked. I haven’t read his book, but it sounds like one of those works that very rapidly alternate between kind of fascinating and unbearably annoying, so I’m going to be consistent with that and just go back and forth between wanting and not wanting to read it for a while, until I either forget about it or decide to  find a copy.

• [PDF] Counterexamples to Modus Ponens.  no . why this are  :(((

• I found this discussion on ethics in the latest open thread at Slate Star Codex pretty neat (mostly because I like deontology converging with consequentialism!).

• Susan Schneider’s talk to NASA about superintelligent alien minds. It’s pretty short, so for those who have read Bostrom’s book, it contains little new information per se – however, Schneider does introduce the concept of biologically inspired superintelligent agents, or BISAs, which is a pretty useful term to describe those AIs that still carry some important features of whoever their biological creators were. (Maybe even the core aspects of their nature, since obviously no AI is entirely uninfluenced by their makers: even a paperclip maximiser can be said to be inspired by the ghost of a human desire to keep bunches of paper organised.)

• Antinatalists rejoice: David Benatar is going to publish a new book in July. His previous book was a solid introduction to the philosophy, but it was short and relied on pretty simple (although very powerful) arguments, so I really hope he has developed his ideas further.

Interesting things I’ve found outside the internet recently:

• There’s an old observatory an hour away that was previously used for research, has been pretty much obsolete for a couple of decades, and was recently fixed by a few astronomy students at my university to practice in. I tagged along a while ago and the stargazing was so fun! I wish it wasn’t so cloudy all the time.

• It looks like I’ll soon be freelancing as a tour guide at Finland’s oldest zoo. I have recently been looking for a part-time job where I get to improve my social skills and confidence as a speaker and now I get to hang around some old-ass tortoises too, so I’m pretty happy about it.

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