Related to something I learned from a @gwern essay. When you find a chemical that improves performance, you have to ask—why doesn't my body make it already? Evolution is not a moron. Caffeine, nicotine, modafinal, LSD. You can't live your life on them, "or we already would."
Always possible that the only way to synthesize the chemical is through some intermediate and highly toxic process. But evolution is pretty handy with proteins: "it can fold a crane".
Right—"hey, we built a society that involves poisoning yourself". That reminds me of the @PaulSkallas / Neal Stephenson / Kim Stanley Robinson point: we'll never live in space, space sucks and wants you to die.
If I understand your point correctly, "it's always a problem somewhere"; the fixes will be endless because (see above) you can't fold a crane.
Quite the opposite! Augment the environment (airplanes, glasses for poor sight, cochlear implants) rather than your biology.
Genetic load is related to the original point above—a sense that evolution has gotten pretty close to the Pareto frontier.
Possibly. Consider the feeling of awe. It can go on for hours. You don't take a pill to experience that.
Poisons don't have to kill you to be a problem. Television is a poison, in a non-trivial sense. I'm not against LSD, but I don't think it's a good idea to take it many times, and certainly not to microdose it.
The story we're playing with here suggests yes.
Yes—when it comes to biological function—it is! Roughly speaking, hospitals are good for when you get smashed by a car, but much worse at chronic conditions.
He does! I think he draws the wrong conclusions from his argument. I don't want to criticize too much, but part of it is the implicit goal of fitting in to a psychologically toxic environment.
You can adapt to new environments (chemically, right now—e.g., modafinal because your job is boring). The claim would be that these will lead to long term biological harms. Artificial selection: wolves live longer than dogs.
Yes. I'm not a panglossian selectionist. But if you tried to genetically engineer a lizard to make its own heat you would end up with something horrible. Evolution is not pure hill climbing, but it does find solutions in a particular space.
This is dark! It's true that there are more total dog-years than wolf-years, but I think this is related to Parfit's repugnant conclusion. plato.stanford.edu/entries/repugn…
I drink too much tea! :) The argument above suggests that (1) any benefits are fleeting; (2) there are downsides. You can probably survive my level of tea.
Covering some strawman responses... I'm suggesting that evolution is not a moron, and that it's smarter than we are. It's not omnipotent (see above for discussion of lizard example).
Ted swooping in with an implicit dimensionality account yes! We're in a very high dimensional space. The optimal surface is much lower dimensional. We can get lost too easily.
Evolution makes mistakes. The claim is that it makes them at far lower rates than we do.
Indeed. e.g., sleep architecture is a thing.
My favorite counterargument so far. In part because it emphasizes how weird things need to be for this not to be true. We have a few substances, all of which can be abused (or eliminated, e.g., caffeine tolerance).
Two million years, yes! But not the timescale for the next issue of New Scientist.
On long enough timescales, I tend to agree with @DavidDeutschOxf that evolution *can* expand to the frontier of the physical law, but we might have to wait awhile. (And I'm aware that that's a bit arguable...)
See above! Also, the fedora may be hurting your fitness function.
Vaccines are an "on label" use of the immune system :) although I'm aware that that's a bit unsatisfying. I think we'd both agree that trying to improve the immune system *itself* is a terrible idea.
I like this point. The Pareto frontier includes variance.
These are edge cases for me. :) Public hygene counts more as augmented environments, rather than alterations to one's biology.
In the end, perhaps, this is a question about what evolution is doing. (IIRC, vaccines were discovered in part because of natural immunity of milkmaids to smallpox!)
I don't want to ride the Lindy train too hard, but this is a nice example, potentially, of long-term cultural evolution getting it right. (It doesn't always get it right, e.g., @HelenaMiton on bloodletting.)
Strong (contentious) counterargument: evolution doesn't eliminate intentionality, it *explains* it.
(1) Vitamin supplements above natural levels will kill you. (2) microbiome the product of long-timescale evolution. (3) I was also Ceasarian, and you make a good point—evolution may be smart, but it's not necessarily moral.
Science fiction is a dream, not a truth. It requires interpretation. Only adolescents (and maybe Steve Jobs) should take it as a literal account of reality or what might happen.
Super-@sfiscience problem, and I wonder what's been done. Certainly for macronutrients (that's food webs) and I do remember Jen Dunne's work on pollinator networks, which feels related. But micronutrients is interesting.
The criticism is not of the use of intelligence, but of the "right use" of intelligence, and recognizing when you're in the presence of something smarter. In making this deeply wise argument, of course, I am the future of human evolution.
I think I'm OK with the word "smart" here applied to non-human processes. "Smarter than us" means that it explores (some of the) space of possibilities in ways that benefit us more than if we did ourselves.
Maybe it's an alignment problem. The goals are different, but on shorter timescales they may be aligned sufficiently well that "bad" experimentation by humans with more aligned goals is worse. The question is what's the right domain in which this applies?
There could... anything is possible (I'm reminded of the Wayne's World quote). I'm suggesting that there's good reason to believe it's low likelihood in the domains discussed here (chemical and genetic augmentation).
A lot of comments like this. Evolution is not (e.g.) random bit-flipping and asexual hill-climbing. Evolution itself has evolved, for example, and there's a huge spectrum of phenomena in play. You can't just a priori work out what evolution has done.
per above, remarks like this. Evolution cares about you in your post-reproductive years.
Maybe an interesting consequence of where this argument has ended up is that we have better ideas of where interventions might work and be worth it—e.g., rare diseases (but not cancer) that are much less likely to be spotted by evolution.
Also agree here. Taking a "normatively functioning" organism and pushing performance is much less likely to succeed. This is where you expect evolution to have spent the most force.
No! Not true. (I will stop collecting these now...)
The nice thing about Primer's point is that it's very clear: local improvements; another said evolution is "bit flips". Both are wrong—evolution has spent a great deal of time tuning and experimenting with *how* it wanders. Evolution has evolved.

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More from @SimonDeDeo

7 Apr
.@ycombinator as the apex predator of gifted programs, middle-class testing culture, and "the Stanford Marshmallow Prison Experiment". Pretty killer lede in @ben_r_hoffman's response to Paul Graham's "lessons to unlearn". benjaminrosshoffman.com/approval-extra… Image
Related: @dellsystem's Abolish Silicon Valley, which is in part a bildungsroman about escaping this "final boss" of the meritocracy.
Ben puts together a lot of pieces of the Y Combinator story, which appears to narcissism and splitting on a billion-dollar scale. Gatekeepers like Altman and Graham impose arbitrary, rapid fire demands on applicants—and interpret obedience to their whims as excellence.
Read 7 tweets
5 Apr
Today in cascading discoveries. I cleaned out the MacBook Pro and, because I live on the edge, replaced the thermal paste on the CPU/GPU. All of a sudden, the battery started draining while the system was plugged in. @trishankkarthik was right! I ruined something. BUT...
I thought through the problem a bit. Why would improving heat management lead the battery to drain faster? One thing I noticed is that I was now running my CPU at 3.5 GHz rather than 3 GHz...
Which is presumably because the thermal management is better and the system doesn't have to throttle for heat as much. But this also means that more power is draining. I open the panel where the power strip is, and notice the fault light is on...
Read 7 tweets
25 Mar
So many cognitive science teachable moments in this utterly fascinating and self-aware account of online sex work by @Aella_Girl. e.g., below—“Theory-theory” vs “simulation-theory”. AG will be on @breakth3rules this evening with @giantgio. knowingless.com/2018/11/19/max…
How many layers of recursive thinking are going on when a sex worker who talks about feminism, IQ, and manipulating people online agrees to this debate format? Poll below...
@Aella_Girl arguing the anti-feminist position should be taken at level...
Read 19 tweets
25 Mar
Two ways of thinking about mathematics: as a computational process (Hilbert, Turing) unfolding in time, and as a static object (e.g., our epistemic networks in “explosive proofs” paper)...
The latter style has (in my memory) greater prestige. Consider the definitions of open, closed, and compact sets in point set topology—often in a “static” form that asserts the existence or non-existence of objects with properties, rather than methods for constructing them.
The idea that mathematical claims are process claims, rather than property claims, still feels alien to me. Even the unfolding of a proof feels “at one remove” from the truth being established.
Read 16 tweets
24 Mar
Stunning chart via @PaulSkallas. Current student loan debt to USG *alone* is $1.4 trillion. Total size of US mortgage market is only $10 trillion.

What is the *true* value of the college degree? What happens if employers stop valuing it? What happens if students stop paying?
This, to me, is crazy. IMO college education is extraordinarily misunderstood and mispriced. Much of it is “bubble” value—informally, “the hardest thing about Harvard is getting in”—that could decline precipitously.
e.g., not hard to imagine curriculum and staffing changes that meant CS departments just stopped teaching students how to code. (Something similar has already happened in many classics programs: you don’t need to learn a classical language to get a degree in classics.)
Read 30 tweets
23 Mar
Running financial time-series models all morning. This should be required training in statistics and philosophy of rationality.

Bias pours through every gap—e.g., in your choice of when you give up on a particular method, when you CTRL-C an expensive calculation, etc. Just wild.
If you're good, you can see it in action, because you have two things happening at the same time: (1) your intuition about how good a new method is, (2) the actual metrics that you can't hack post-hoc.
But of course, that's only the intuition that you know is going wrong. The way you're setting up (2), meaning, your intuition that (2) is a legit and solid metric that you're not motivated-reasoning into the black, is completely unknowable.
Read 9 tweets

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