Storeable, convenient veg*n meal options

Ever since I wrapped up my animal consciousness report, I’ve been working to become a better reducetarian. As such, I’ve been hunting for storeable, convenient veg*n meal options. (Getting restaurants to carry tastier veg*n food is harder, but I’ve been enjoying my Impossible Burgers!)

A spreadsheet of my findings thus far is here. In my area, they’re available locally via Instacart. So far, my tastiest solution is “buy Vegetarian Plus meals.”

Most of these meals don’t satisfy me on their own, so I usually supplement with a banana or whatever.

Books, music, etc. from August-September 2017

Books

  • Tegmark, Life 3.0

Music

Music I most enjoyed discovering this month:

Movies/TV

Ones I “really liked” (no star), or “loved” (star):

  • Spicer: Ingrid Goes West (2017) ★
  • Ross: Captain Fantastic (2016)
  • Shults: It Comes at Night (2017)
  • Young: Hounds of Love (2016)
  • Alvarez: Don’t Breathe (2016)

Three wild speculations from amateur quantitative macrohistory

Note: As usual, these are my personal guesses and opinions, not those of my employer.

In How big a deal was the Industrial Revolution?, I looked for measures (or proxy measures) of human well-being / empowerment for which we have “decent” scholarly estimates of the global average going back thousands of years. For reasons elaborated at some length in the full report, I ended up going with:

  1. Physical health, as measured by life expectancy at birth.
  2. Economic well-being, as measured by GDP per capita (PPP) and percent of people living in extreme poverty.
  3. Energy capture, in kilocalories per person per day.
  4. Technological empowerment, as measured by war-making capacity.
  5. Political freedom to live the kind of life one wants to live, as measured by percent of people living in a democracy.

(I also especially wanted measures of subjective well-being and social well-being, and also of political freedom as measured by global rates of slavery, but these data aren’t available; see the report.)

Anyway, the punchline of the report is that when you chart these six measures over the past few millennia (data; zoomable), you get a chart like this (axes removed for space reasons): [Read more…]

Hillary Clinton on AI risk

From What Happened, p. 241:

Technologists like Elon Musk, Sam Altman, and Bill Gates, and physicists like Stephen Hawking have warned that artificial intelligence could one day pose an existential security threat. Musk has called it “the greatest risk we face as a civilization.” Think about it: Have you ever seen a movie where the machines start thinking for themselves that ends well? Every time I went out to Silicon Valley during the campaign, I came home more alarmed about this. My staff lived in fear that I’d start talking about “the rise of the robots” in some Iowa town hall. Maybe I should have. In any case, policy makers need to keep up with technology as it races ahead, instead of always playing catch-up.

Books, music, etc. from July 2017

Books

  • [none]

Music

Music I most enjoyed discovering this month:

Movies/TV

Ones I “really liked” (no star), or “loved” (star):

  • Nichols: Loving (2016)
  • Gray: The Lost City of Z (2016)
  • Various: Transparent, season 3 (2016)
  • Mangold: Logan (2017)
  • Showalter: The Big Sick (2017)
  • Peele: Get Out (2017) ★
  • Nolan: Dunkirk (2017) ★
  • Arnold: American Honey (2016)

Books, music, etc. from June 2017

Books

  • Allison: Destined for War (2017). Decent, but very one-sided in its arguments. Scary.

Music

Music I most enjoyed discovering this month:

  • [none]

Movies/TV

Ones I “really liked” (no star), or “loved” (star):

  • Various: Stranger Things, season 1 (2016)
  • Campos: Christine (2016)
  • Various: Fargo, season 3 (2017) ★
  • Various: Better Call Saul, season 3 (2017) ★
  • Various: The Handmaid’s Tale, season 1 (2017) ★

Media I’m looking forward to, July 2017 edition

Books

* = added this round
bold = especially excited

[Read more…]

Books, music, etc. from May 2017

Books

  • [none]

Music

Music I most enjoyed discovering this month:

  • Saagara: 2 (2017)
  • Perfume Genius: No Shape (2017)

Movies/TV

Ones I “really liked” (no star), or “loved” (star):

  • Birbiglia: Don’t Think Twice (2016)
  • Various: Master of None, season 2 (2017)

Media I’m looking forward to, June 2017 edition

Books

* = added this round
bold = especially excited

[Read more…]

Monkey classification errors

More Wynne & Udell (2013):

Michael D’Amato and Paul van Sant (1988) trained Cebus apella monkeys to discriminate slides containing people from those that did not. The monkeys readily learned to do this. Then the monkeys were presented with novel slides they had never seen before which contained either scenes with people or similar scenes with no people in them. Here also the monkeys spontaneously classified the majority of slides correctly. So far, so good – clear evidence that the monkeys had not just learned the particular slides they had been trained on but had abstracted a person concept from those slides that they then successfully applied to pictures they had never seen before.

Or had they? D’Amato and van Sant did not stop their analysis simply with the observation that the monkeys had successfully transferred their learning to novel slides – rather they went on to look carefully at the kinds of errors the monkeys had made. Although largely successful with the novel slides, the monkeys made some very puzzling mistakes. For example, one of the person slides that the monkeys had failed to recognize as a picture of a human being had been a head and shoulders portrait – which, to another human, is a classic image of a person. One of the slides that the monkeys had incorrectly classified as containing a human had actually been a shot of a jackal carrying a dead flamingo in its mouth; both the jackal and its prey were also reflected in the water beneath them. What person in her right mind could possible confuse a jackal with a flamingo in its mouth with another human being?

The explanation for both these mistakes is the same: the monkeys had generalized on the basis of the particular features contained in the slides they had been trained with rather than learning the more abstract concept that the experimenters had intended. The head and shoulders portrait of a person lacked the head-torso-arms-legs body shape that had been most common among the images that the monkeys had been trained with, and consequently, they had rejected it as not similar enough to the positive image they were looking for. Similarly, during training, the only slides that had contained flashes of red happened to be those of people. Three of the training slides had contained people wearing a piece of red clothing, whereas none of the nonperson slides had contained the color red. Consequently, when the jackal with prey slide came along during testing, it contained the color red, and so the monkeys classified it as a person slide.

Adversarial examples for pigeons

From Wynne & Udell (2013):

Michael Young and colleagues carried out experiments that add to a sense that the pigeon’s perception of pictures of objects is not identical to our own. They trained pigeons to peck in different locations on a computer-controlled touch screen, depending on which of four different objects was presented: an arch, a barrel, a brick, and a triangular wedge (Young et al., 2001). The objects were initially presented to the pigeons as images shaded to suggest light shining on them from one direction. Next, Young and colleagues tested the pigeons with pictures of the same objects, but this time illuminated from a different direction… To the experimenters’ surprise, the pigeons’ ability to recognize the objects was disturbed by changes in lighting that human observers were barely able to perceive… [see below]

pigeons study

Books, music, etc. from April 2017

Books

  • Callahan, The Givers. An interesting quick portrait of contemporary mega-philanthropy. I haven’t bothered to form opinions about the recommendations in the final chapter.
  • Walters, Feminism: A Very Short Introduction. Meh.

Music

Music I most enjoyed discovering this month:

Movies/TV

Ones I “really liked” (no star), or “loved” (star):

  • Ade: Toni Erdmann (2016)
  • Guadagnino: A Bigger Splash (2016)
  • Yeon: Train to Busan (2016)

Media I’m looking forward to, May 2017 edition

Books

* = added this round
bold = especially excited

[Read more…]

Books, music, etc. from March 2017

Books

  • Dormehl, Thinking Machines. This “history” of AI is mostly a quick survey of news stories about AI progress from the past three years.
  • Wood, The Way of the Strangers. Quite good, afaict.
  • Barrett, How Emotions Are Made. The book is a mixed bag, but fwiw I find this general approach more promising than Ekman/Panksepp/etc. Best Cliffs Notes is maybe this interview.

Music

Music I most enjoyed discovering this month:

Movies/TV

Ones I “really liked” (no star), or “loved” (star):

  • Birbiglia & Barrish, Sleepwalk with Me (2012)
  • Carloni & Nelson, Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016)
  • Blair, I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (2017)
  • Fukunaga, Beasts of No Nation (2015) ★
  • Audiard, Dheepan (2015)
  • Ferreras, Wrinkles (2011)

A few thoughts for religious believers struggling with doubts about their faith

In various places on my old atheism blog, I mention that I’m willing to engage in a bit of email correspondence with religious believers who are struggling with their faith, or who have recently deconverted, and who are feeling a bit lost, worried about nihilism without religion, and so on.

I noticed recently that my first email reply to most people who contact me about this is roughly the same, so I might as well write it up publicly so I can link to it.

Here, then, is my “FAQ for the sort of person who usually contacts me about how they’re struggling with their faith, or recently deconverted.”

 

Now that I’m losing my faith, I’m worried that nothing really matters, and that’s depressing.

I remember that feeling. I was pretty anxious and depressed when I started to realize I didn’t have good reasons for believing the doctrines of the religion I’d been raised in. But as time passed, things got better, and I emotionally adjusted to my “new normal,” in a way that I thought couldn’t ever happen before I got there.

I’ve collected some recommended reading on these topics here; see also the more recent The Big Picture. It’s up to you to decide what your goals and purposes are, but I think there are plenty of purposes worth getting excited about and invested in. In my case that’s effective altruism, but that’s a personal choice.

But really, my primary piece of advice is to just let more time pass, and spend time socially with non-religious people. Your conscious, deliberative brain (“system 2“) might be able to rationally recognize that of course millions of non-religious people before you have managed to live lives of immense joy and purpose and so on, and therefore you clearly don’t need religion for that. But if you were raised religiously like I was, then it might take some time for your unconscious, intuitive, emotional brain (“system 1“) to also “believe” this. The more time you spend talking with non-religious people who are living fulfilling, purposeful lives, the more you’ll train your system 1 to see that it’s obvious that meaning and purpose are possible without any gods — and getting your system 1 to “change its mind” is probably what matters more.

Where I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, it seems that most people I meet are excitedly trying to “make the world a better place” in some way (as parodied on the show Silicon Valley), and virtually none of them are religious. Depending on where you live, it might not be quite so easy to find non-religious people to hang out with. You could google for atheist or agnostic meetups in your area, or at least in the nearest large city. You could also try attending a UU church, where most people seem to be “spiritual” but not “religious” in the traditional sense.

My spouse and/or kids are religious, and my loss of faith is going to be super hard on them.

Yeah, that’s a tougher situation. I don’t know anything about that. Fortunately there’s a recent book entirely about that subject; I hope it helps!

Thanks, I’ll try those things. But I think I need more help.

I would try normal psychotherapy if you can afford it. Or maybe better, try Tom Clark, who specializes in “worldview counseling.”

Books, music, etc. from February 2017

Books

  • Dennett, From Bacteria to Bach and Back. Generally good, though it’s mostly a “tools for thinking” book like Dennett (2013) or Yudkowsky (2015), not a detailed argument for a specific theory of consciousness like Prinz (2012), Dehaene (2014), or even Dennett (1991).
  • Kranish & Fisher, Trump Revealed. Meh, you know most of it already if you followed the campaign.
  • Harari, Homo Deus. Fun to read, not much else. Surprisingly little of it is about the future.

Music

Music I most enjoyed discovering this month:

Movies/TV

Ones I “really liked” (no star), or “loved” (star):

  • Larraín, Jackie (2016)
  • Craig, The Edge of Seventeen (2016) ★
  • Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea (2016) ★
  • Davis, Lion (2016)
  • Jenkins, Moonlight (2016)
  • Washington, Fences (2016)
  • Scorsese, Silence (2016)
  • Ford, Nocturnal Animals (2016) ★
  • Cresciman, Sun Choke (2016)
  • Bujalski, Results (2015) ★
  • Ergüven, Mustang (2015) ★