The weekly link roundup is where I list links for the links that I liked for the week. Remember that I don’t necessarily agree with everything stated in every article. Feel free to comment or ask. Lastly, it may be worth noting that I do try to sort these links in the order that I like them, descending. You can see the other roundups via the category page.
- The Useful Idea of Truth: “Since my expectations sometimes conflict with my subsequent experiences, I need different names for the thingies that determine my experimental predictions and the thingy that determines my experimental results. I call the former thingies ‘beliefs’, and the latter thingy ‘reality’. You won’t get a direct collision between belief and reality – or between someone else’s beliefs and reality – by sitting in your living-room with your eyes closed. But the situation is different if you open your eyes!”
- Why The Future of Neuroscience Will Be Emotionless: “In Phaedrus, Plato likens the mind to a charioteer who commands two horses, one that is irrational and crazed and another that is noble and of good stock. The job of the charioteer is to control the horses to proceed towards Enlightenment and the truth. Plato’s allegory sparked an idea that perpetuated throughout the next several millennia in western thought: emotion gets in the way of reason. [...] Around the 17th and 18th centuries, however, thinkers began to challenge this idea. David Hume turned the tables on Plato: reason, Hume said, was the slave of the passions. Psychological research of the last few decades not only confirms this view, some of it suggests that emotion is better at deciding. We know a lot more about how the brain works compared to the ancient Greeks, but a decade into the 21st century researchers are still debating which of Plato’s horses is in control, and which one we should listen to.”
- On Being A Feminist, A Trans/Queer-Rights Advocate And An Atheist/Skeptic At The Same Time, Or: How To Be Hated By All Your Friends & Allies: “So where does this leave me? If there are trends within feminism that hate trans women and atheists, and trends within the trans community that hate atheists and feminists, and trends within the atheist community that hate feminists and trans women? No matter where I’m locating myself at a given moment, I have to push uphill against some kind of problematic set of biases and viewpoints or another. I can’t win.”
- Utilitarian Jihad: “Two days ago I applied to join Giving What We Can, an organization for people who pledge to donate at least 10% of everything they earn ever to charity. [...] I had kind of avoided joining GWWC until now because I thought it would be sort of presumptuous to join when I didn’t have an income. But in between doing odd jobs for SIAI/CFAR and occasional unexpected windfalls, I seem to be making enough now to not quite be the stereotypical eternally-borrowing student. And I really like their 10% idea. I’ve always been a fan of the utilitarian argument that you should donate everything you have to charity and even wrote up my own version, but of course that will never happen and so the tendency is just to sit around feeling vaguely guilty and not donate anything. Ten percent is a nice round number that makes a good Schelling fence and makes me feel as virtuous as the Jews, Catholics, and Mormons (and better than the Muslims even if not quite as good as the Baha’i. But when I have a steadier job and start making more money and am comfortable, those Baha’i are going down.)”
- Rosie Ruiz Republicans: “Remember Rosie Ruiz? In 1980 she was the first woman to cross the finish line at the Boston Marathon — except it turned out that she hadn’t actually run most of the race, that she sneaked onto the course around a mile from the end. Ever since, she has symbolized a particular kind of fraud, in which people claim credit for achieving things they have not, in fact, achieved. And these days Paul Ryan is the Rosie Ruiz of American politics. This would have been an apt comparison even before the curious story of Mr. Ryan’s own marathon came to light. Still, that’s quite a story, so let’s talk about it first.”
- The Real Reason for Big Government: “A chronicle of government growth over the last 100 years shows that most of the increase in federal programs took place in only two decades: the 1930s and the 1960s. And the last 40 years have seen little significant growth in our national government. In 1970, 2.9 million civilians worked for the federal government; in 2008, that figure was 2.8 million. In 1970, federal bureaucrats made up 3.8 percent of total U.S. workers, while in 2008 they made up a mere 1.9 percent. [...] In this view, we have come to have big government largely because this is what the American public has demanded. Consider this: the two periods that account for most of the growth in federal programs — the 1930s and 1960s — were also times of extraordinary political unrest and citizen activism. People wanted big new government programs to deal with the pressing issues of those times.”
- Five Myths About Campaign Ads: “Political campaigns often spend more on ads than on anything else, and ad spending has risen rapidly in recent years — a trend that has intensified since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision. But do the ads work? Are they as nefarious as their reputation suggests? Two decades of research has exposed several myths about campaign advertising.”
- The Economics of Video Games: “Nowadays, many massively multiplayer online video games have become so complex that game companies are turning to economists for help. Without oversight, the games’ economies can go badly awry — as when a gambling ban triggered a virtual bank run in the online world of Second Life in 2007, with one bank alone costing players $750,000 in real-life money. But there’s a flip side, too. Just as video game designers are in dire need of economic advice, many academic economists are keen on studying video games. A virtual world, after all, allows economists to study concepts that rarely occur in real life, such as full-reserve banking, a popular libertarian alternative to the current banking system that cropped up in Eve Online. The data is richer. And it’s easier to run economy-wide experiments in a video game — experiments that, for obvious reasons, can’t be run on countries. That ability to experiment on a massive scale, academics say, could revolutionize economics.”
- Temporal Acrobatics of Harm: “I’m not sure why some people are so shocked by the idea that we can be harmed by actions that take place before we exist. An event harms us if it causes our life to go worse than it otherwise would have. That is, if the nearest possible world in which the event does not occur, is a world in which our life goes better for us. It is obviously possible for this modal condition to be satisfied by events which precede our existence. (If you’re feeling unimaginative, see the “wooden statue” example below.) But if the issue is so simple, why are others making mistakes about it? Here are a few possible explanations”
- A Non-Random Walk Down Campaign Street: “Political campaigns are commonly understood as random walks, during which, at any point in time, the level of support for any party or candidate is equally likely to go up or down. Each shift in the polls is then interpreted as the result of some combination of news and campaign strategies. A completely different story of campaigns is the mean reversion model in which the elections are determined by fundamental factors of the economy and partisanship; the role of the campaign is to give voters a chance to reach their predetermined positions.”
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