Open Thread, 08/06/2017

I know that George R. R Martin has stated that the ending to A Song of Ice and Fire is going to be bittersweet. R. Scott Bakker’s conclusion to the Aspect Emperor tetralogy ends with a bittersour ending. Fair warning.

Also, the writing of the last third of The Unholy Consult was good in terms of packing a lot of action and plotting, but it was hard to keep track of all the obscure names.

The new episode of Game of Thrones is very good. Nice for things to actually happen.

I’ve been offline most of the weekend. Several people asked me about the Google Memo. Here’s the weird thing: huge subcultures within the organization aren’t even American. Several friends for example have been token Americans on Chinese teams. Their values and priorities are obviously very different even if they don’t inform the ‘public face’ of the company. It’s all rather strange (yes, whoever wrote that memo will surely be fired).

How Democrats Killed Their Populist Soul. I think Matt Stoller’s anti-monopolist views should appeal to many people on the Right as well as the Left. Google and Facebook are arguably much more powerful than any state government when it comes to shaping our culture.

A. N. Wilson spent five years working on a biography of Charles Darwin that is coming out next year. So he published It’s Time Charles Darwin Was Exposed for the Fraud He Was. I find Darwin idolatry a bit much sometimes personally. And I’m  not deeply versed in his intellectual biography. I’ve read The Origin of Species, and have read several of Peter J. Bowler’s works.

I can only comment on what I know in more detail. At some point Wilson tries to tag Neo-Darwinians with Dawkins’ atheism. But Dawkins is an extreme case. Arguably the god-father of the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis, R. A. Fisher, was an Anglican and a Tory. No offense to Dawkins, but his substantive scientific contribution is dwarfed by Fisher. And yet Wilson is pushing Dawkins to the front as an exemplar of Neo-Darwinism.

Wilson also says that Neo-Darwinians couldn’t therefore revere Gregor Mendel because he was a monk. It’s all rather strange because it’s called “Mendelian Genetics.” Not mention that biographies I’ve read suggested that Mendel himself was not excessively pious. Rather, his monastic vocation freed him from financial worries, allowing him sufficient leisure to engage in studies. But perhaps I’m wrong in this, after all Wilson has studied Darwin for five years!

Finally, there is the utilization of Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldridge to attack Darwinian gradualism. I’m not a big fan of all this macroevolutionary talk, but the late Gould and Eldridge would not be happy to be drafted in this way. Charles Darwin was wrong on a lot of things. That’s because he had a lot of ideas.

The central deep insight from Darwin’s theory was the power of natural selection to shape variation and drive adaptation. One can argue about the importance of this dynamic in evolutionary process, but the fact that it is still being studied shows how fruitful Darwin’s theory was in generating a living program of science.

What the company I work for is working on.

30 thoughts on “Open Thread, 08/06/2017

  1. Reading it about Darwin, I thought about in which way he was a fraud for his “The Power of Movement in Plants”. I remember that I was kinda shocked when I found out that studying of phytohormones was started by him. Yes, definitely a lot of ideas he had.

  2. Not saying they won’t do it, but, assuming reports are accurate, outright firing a Harvard PhD in Biology is going to be pretty costly in terms of PR.

  3. 1. The ending to Unholy Consult brought more of a sigh on my part. Bakker did an AMA on Reddit, and it sounds like he’s winging it on a lot of stuff – it’s probably why there’s some stuff that doesn’t pay out despite being built up over the past 2-3 books.

    Still, I can’t say I wasn’t entertained and intrigued. The setting of the books just gets stranger and stranger (I loved what we learned about the Inchoroi – he did manage to fit the Semantic Apocalypse in there somewhere!).

  4. @Brett

    Or he was faking it when he said TUC would answer all the questions. Before the most recent books he insisted C was dead too.

    Who knows, maybe “the Truth spoke with but one soul” is RSB’s R+L=J.

  5. As a conclusion to a series TUC left a bitter taste in my mouth, not because it ended bittersour, but because it did so in a way that didn’t really advance any of the questions the series opens. In addition TUC left huge plot threads entirely unresolved, Aka and Mim’s arcs end’s up entirely pointless if that was the end.

    Of course it looks like that was not the end which is relief but also a let down.

    I enjoyed most of the book though a great deal, particularly, the arcs of Sorwheel, Serwa, and Monghus.

    The hunger arc was grueling to get through and not in a way that seemed to offer anything interesting to me.

    I thought Bakker had a chance to right something that challenged Tolkien’s supremacy in the arena, his work is certainly more philosophical dense, but it so far at least to me is ultimately less coherent.

  6. I know that George R. R Martin has stated that the ending to A Song of Ice and Fire is going to be bittersweet.

    Maybe Little Finger IS going to sit on the Iron Throne. And then he’ll marry Sansa, who will murder him on the wedding night and become the Queen of the Andals and the First Men… That is, after fire and ice destroy the Army of the Night King.

    The new episode of Game of Thrones is very good.Some random thoughts. Apparently, it’s all just amateur hour in the realm of armed conflict in Westeros.

    1. Does a certain rich city not have walls? What magic siege weapons does a certain army have that allows it to assault and take the said city so quickly? If it were that easy, why didn’t it happen earlier? Why not go around doing it to every city and town?

    2. Sailing ships and armies move very fast. Mechanized-fast.

    3. How does a set of barren rocky islands make large sailing ships? Viking-style long boats, I could understand, but… Is it nothing but ancient, thick and tall trees on those islands? Where is the fabric for the sails from? What about tar? Rope/rigging?

    4. No one sets watches. Not cities. Not fleets. No scouts. No pickets. It’s just one ambush after another.

    5. No one’s ever heard of combined arms, apparently. You use missile weapons against massed infantry to harass them and break up tight formations. You engage its center with your own infantry. Meanwhile cavalry with its superior mobility should wheel around and attack the flanks and the rear of the said infantry. Unarmored light cavalry charging straight into lots of pointy spears on a shield-wall is not very bright.

    6. Without radar and other advanced tracking/firing solution methods as well as fast-loading, rapid-firing weapons, the fight between air and ground is going to go badly for the latter… unless the air side is stupid in the extreme as portrayed. Again, amateur hour.

    7. What is the effective range of a dragon’s fire breath? And what is its reloading rate?

    8. It’s stupid to bloody one’s own army needlessly. It’s better to use fear to break the enemy. Bodies – of your own men – are expensive and dear.

    9. If I am a lowly spearman, and my comrades get torched from the air by a large dragon, a terrifying mythical creature I had never seen before, what is the likelihood that I would stay put and keep fighting? Does morale exist in TV battles?

    10. What do dragons eat? I know large predators have to eat massive amounts of meat each day to keep healthy. Three large dragons can probably eat through the country side (sheep?) in short order and begin to get really, really hungry. People next?

    11. Fastest. Loading. Ballista. Ever. Especially for one that shoots vertically (which should require massive torsion).

  7. C’mon Twinkie, you’re ruining all the fun! Do we really care what ice wights eat for breakfast?

  8. Spot-on about the Google memo guy getting fired. (You must have good connections inside!)

    My personal opinion is that he grossly overreached in his memo. If he had made a minimalist argument about the lack of gender diversity not being prima facie evidence of (subtle) discrimination and dark thoughts (or whatever it is Google now wants to root out from the company), he might still have the job. And a real debate may have been kindled within the company.

    Regarding the content of the memo itself, has the theory that women are less likely to overachieve in STEM subjects (especially programming) been proven conclusively beyond doubt? I think the jury is still out. Personally, I’d say culture matters a great deal. In India, I see a lot of women in programming. Not 50%, but a substantial fraction. Definitely a much higher fraction than American women. I’ve said on other forums that the H1B visa improves gender diversity, which comes as a surprise to many people, given that India is in every measurable and observable way a far more patriarchal country.

    I can think of two reasons for this: (1) Programming is considered an “office job” in India, and hence respectable enough for women to go into, in contrast to a factory-floor job; and (2) Indian culture does not denigrate geekiness the way American culture does (granted, my knowledge of that comes from TV and Hollywood.) The fact that software is considered an “uncool” field to get into may impact the number of American women who even bother. Perhaps women feel the urge to be more social, or are perhaps prodded by the culture to do so, than men?

  9. @Numinous, computer programming jobs in the U.S. are notorious for not paying well.

    this is bullshit. yes the pay is not as much as other fields some ppl with software minds could go into, but let’s not dismiss a $100-$200K salary at google (normal range of engineers who aren’t senior). that’s at least subsistence in SV for single young people.

  10. a real debate may have been kindled within the company.

    I don’t believe a real debate is desired.

    When people say, “We need a conversation on race,” they do not mean that they want a real discussion.

  11. @Razib, Numinous wasn’t talking about employment at Google or other high-end jobs, but jobs a “substantial” number of Indian women obtain, and he is conjecturing that the U.S. is different culturally in denigrating the work. I think a material explanation is more appropriate, people with the math chops will generally make more in other math-oriented fields.

  12. “the pay is not as much as other fields some ppl with software minds could go into”

    Yeah, but you can go into it much sooner than grinding out a graduate degree in “type safe” language design or some other such nonsense, and once you gain your chops by successfully building systems in the real world you can make as much as a fully credentialed prof. (I’m assuming we’re talkin’ about people with IQs >= 130 BTW.)

  13. I think the best current movement towards a diversity of actual opinions in the public sphere instead of rote, credal progressivism is Heterodox Acadamy. While this is just open to academics, I’m curious if their could be a Heterodox Acadamy like group in some field like business or the media. Obviously their is a strength in numbers that is not available to individual memo writers or bloggers. To actually convince people that a variety of opinions is a necessary thing, in the current Internet echo chamber perhaps more difficult than anytime in recent American history.

    I do think of a number of prominant billionaires like Gates and Buffet and others teaming up to promote charity as an example of power plus a team of people trying to promote a cause. I’m curious if that actually worked. Did that publicity push convince the regular joe to give more? Did it convince other billionaires to give more? Similarly, if say 5 prominant CEOs came out with a plan of promoting a healthy diversity of workplace opinions would that likewise actually matter in within the greater American business climate? You would like to hope so, and I’m sure such people are out there, but whether they would have the courage to do it and if it would have any noticeable affect are open questions.

  14. @PD Shaw,

    “Not paying well” compared to what? Lawyers, doctors?

    Even if your assertion is correct, that pay is low outside of the high-end tech companies like Google, how would that explain gender disparity? Why would a low salary deter women from entering the IT field more than men?

  15. @James Richard, I’m not sure IQ is the best reference point. The interesting thing U.S. computer programming majors is that they are extreme examples of a group with high-math, low-verbal skills. Programmers that make a lot of money may not be typical in this respect, but I think a reasonable interpretation of the situation is that people who aren’t low-verbal, drift into other areas.


  16. @Numinous, I’ve also noticed that women in programming are more likely to be immigrants. Scott Alexander discusses that in the Slate Star Codex link: in more gender-egalitarian countries we find wider divergence between the genders (this has been called “the Swedish paradox”), possibly because people have more options.

  17. @PD Shaw, @TGGP: Thanks, I stumbled onto the Slate Star Codex article myself. It was a good read, and his arguments likely refute my point #2. More options for women in developed countries influencing their choices definitely makes sense.

    Can we interpret the collected evidence narrowly as follows? “Women are much less likely than men to be interested in tech professions, especially those that overemphasize working with machines vs people. But whether or not women have less ability on average than men to do such tasks is an open question.”

  18. “Women are much less likely than men to be interested in tech professions, especially those that overemphasize working with machines vs people. But whether or not women have less ability on average than men to do such tasks is an open question.”

    Isn’t that a direct quote from Jordan Peterson?

  19. Razib,

    Considering the Google fiasco and your past remarks of the “arc of history bending towards justice”, do you still maintain hope that eventually the SJW types will receive their due comeuppance? Or will they actually succeed in completely taking over, and dominating, the Silicon Valley tech industry, as Christians did in the Roman Imperial administration c.400 AD?

  20. But, of course, a person’s interest in certain tech professions will affect their ability to actually do a good job.

    Raw “ability”, aka potential, is developed and used at least partly because of interest.

  21. Razib,

    I believe it was from a tweetstorm in this May or June, where you expressed hope that truth will eventually win out, like light through darkness, over those who attempt to suppress it. I was curious whether you have revised that thought or not in light of the Google fiasco.

  22. dude, don’t use my name as a handle!

    anyway, i meant the truth will win out like how we know that commumism doesn’t work. a lot of unpleasant shit might happen between now and then. i’ve been pretty pessimistic about the prospects of the old gods for the past few years….

  23. Or will they actually succeed in completely taking over, and dominating, the Silicon Valley tech industry, as Christians did in the Roman Imperial administration c.400 AD?

    I object to this mischaracterization and flawed comparison!

    Roman Christians later civilized the onslaught of barbarians and restored stability. SJW will wreck the golden goose if they took over Silicon Valley.

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