Archive for Seriously

Are you a rational person? Here’s a checklist to remind you to be

You know, it’s actually really difficult to be rational. I am always conscious of my brain trying to be stupid. I learned that in my first year in art school. It took me a year of yelling at my brain to STOP SEEING THINGS WRONG. Our preconceptions often screw with the way we perceive objects, leading us to distort them when we put pencil to paper. It’s even worse with thoughts, ideas, and concepts.

Your brain is stupid. And this is why this rationality checklist is really useful. In its simplicity, it’s a bit surprising. Go through this list and ask yourself “When did I last use this habit?”

This list is from They provide examples in the link for each item that I did not include in list below for the sake of brevity.

1. When I see something odd – something that doesn’t fit with what I’d ordinarily expect, given my other beliefs – I successfully notice, promote it to conscious attention and think “I notice that I am confused”

2. When somebody says something that isn’t clear, I notice and ask for examples.

3. I notice when my mind is arguing for a side (instead of evaluating which side to choose), and flag this as an error mode.

4. I notice my mind flinching away from a thought; and when I notice, I flag that area as requiring more deliberate exploration.

5. I consciously attempt to welcome bad news, or at least not push it away.

6. I notice when I’m not being curious.

7. I look for the actual, historical causes of my beliefs, emotions, and habits; and when doing so, I can suppress my mind’s search for justifications, or set aside justifications that weren’t the actual, historical causes of my thoughts.

8. I try to think of a concrete example that I can use to follow abstract arguments or proof steps.

9. When I’m trying to distinguish between two (or more) hypotheses using a piece of evidence, I visualize the world where hypothesis #1 holds, and try to consider the prior probability I’d have assigned to the evidence in that world, then visualize the world where hypothesis #2 holds; and see if the evidence seems more likely or more specifically predicted in one world than the other (Historical example: During the Amanda Knox murder case, after many hours of police interrogation, Amanda Knox turned some cartwheels in her cell. The prosecutor argued that she was celebrating the murder. Would you, confronted with this argument, try to come up with a way to make the same evidence fit her innocence? Or would you first try visualizing an innocent detainee, then a guilty detainee, to ask with what frequency you think such people turn cartwheels during detention, to see if the likelihoods were skewed in one direction or the other?)

10. I try to consciously assess prior probabilities and compare them to the apparent strength of evidence.

11. When I encounter evidence that’s insufficient to make me “change my mind” (substantially change beliefs/policies), but is still more likely to occur in world X than world Y, I try to update my probabilities at least a little.

12. Handling inner conflicts; when different parts of you are pulling in different directions, you want different things that seem incompatible; responses to stress.

13. I notice when I and my brain seem to believe different things (a belief-vs-anticipation divergence), and when this happens I pause and ask which of us is right.

14. When facing a difficult decision, I try to reframe it in a way that will reduce, or at least switch around, the biases that might be influencing it.

15. When facing a difficult decision, I check which considerations are consequentialist – which considerations are actually about future consequences.

16. I try to find a concrete prediction that the different beliefs, or different people, definitely disagree about, just to make sure the disagreement is real/empirical.

17. I try to come up with an experimental test, whose possible results would either satisfy me (if it’s an internal argument) or that my friends can agree on (if it’s a group discussion).

18. If I find my thoughts circling around a particular word, I try to taboo the word, i.e., think without using that word or any of its synonyms or equivalent concepts. (E.g. wondering whether you’re “smart enough”, whether your partner is “inconsiderate”, or if you’re “trying to do the right thing”.)

19. I consciously think about information-value when deciding whether to try something new, or investigate something that I’m doubtful about.

20. I quantify consequences—how often, how long, how intense.

21. I notice when something is negatively reinforcing a behavior I want to repeat.

22. I talk to my friends or deliberately use other social commitment mechanisms on myself.

23. To establish a new habit, I reward my inner pigeon for executing the habit.

24. I try not to treat myself as if I have magic free will; I try to set up influences (habits, situations, etc.) on the way I behave, not just rely on my will to make it so.

25. I use the outside view on myself.

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Isaac Asimov on Zionism

Isaac Asimov was born in Russia to an Orthodox Jewish family in 1920.

In his autobiography, he says: “When Israel was founded in 1948 and all my Jewish friends were jubilant, I was the skeleton at the feast. I said, “We are building ourselves a ghetto. We will be surrounded by tens of millions of Muslims who will never forgive, never forget and never go away. I was laughed at, but I was right. I can’t help but feel that the Jews didn’t really have the right to appropriate a territory only because 2000 years ago, people they consider their ancestors, were living there. History moves on and you can’t really turn it back. … But don’t Jews deserve a homeland? Actually, I feel that no human group deserves a “homeland” in the usual sense of the word…. I am not a Zionist, then, because I don’t believe in nations, and Zionism merely sets up one more nation to trouble the world.”

Asimov, Isaac (1994). I, Asimov: A Memoir. New York: Doubleday. p. 380.

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Behind Every Man Alive

Behind every man now alive stand thirty ghosts, for that is the ratio by which the dead outnumber the living. Since the dawn of time, roughly a hundred billion human beings have walked the planet Earth.

Now this is an interesting number, for by a curious coincidence there are approximately a hundred billion stars in our local universe, the Milky Way. So for every man who has ever lived, in this Universe there shines a star.

But every one of those stars is a sun, often far more brilliant and glorious than the small, nearby star we call the Sun. And many–perhaps most–of those alien suns have planets circling them. So almost certainly there is enough land in the sky to give every member of the human species, back to the first ape-man, his own private, world-sized heaven–or hell.

How many of those potential heavens and hells are now inhabited, and by what manner of creatures, we have no way of guessing; the very nearest is a million times farther away than Mars or Venus, those still remote goals of the next generation. But the barriers of distance are crumbling; one day we shall meet our equals, or our masters, among the stars.

Men have been slow to face this prospect; some still hope that it may never become reality. Increasing numbers, however are asking; ‘Why have such meetings not occurred already, since we ourselves are about to venture into space?’

― Qyote from Arthur C. Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey


In Times Like These

Déjà vu.
It’s always déjà vu.
The constant sense of foreboding. The constant drums of war.

The Gulf War: 1990
Sirens outside. The cartoons on TV turning into a red screen with a banshee-like wail. My dad checking the taped windows. My uncle showing my parents gas masks. Sitting in the backseat of the car for hours, watching the desert go by, as my father drove us from Riyadh to Amman, which was safer.
I was five years old. I don’t remember feeling fear. I was too young to understand war, after all. Too young to understand death. The fear translated to adrenaline. I remember the adrenaline.

The Second Intifada: 2000
Dead children on Al-Jazeera. More dead children on Al-Jazeera. More and more dead children on Al-Jazeera.
My dad calling his family in Palestine. The bad news, the bad news, the bad news from everywhere.
I was 15. I think that’s when I started becoming desensitized. That’s when death started feeling like déjà vu.

Riyadh Compound Bombings: 2003
It was my last year in highschool. It was past 11:00PM. I was trying to sleep. My dad receives a call. Bombing in Al-Hamra Compound! Al-Hamra compound, where we know so many people. It isn’t just death on TV anymore. It’s death of people we know.
The Palestinian community in Riyadh grieved. My mother’s face was yellow, when she came back from the funeral. Even the “Americans” in the statistics and in the news were actually Palestinians. Palestinians we knew, or Palestinians who knew someone we knew. The Palestinian community of Riyadh is tight-knit. The Palestinian community of Riyadh grieved.
My highschool was across the street from Al-Hamra compound. The windows of the school were broken. That’s how I finished my last year of highschool. Amidst cracked windows.

America’s Invasion of Iraq: 2003
My highschool graduation was 3 days away. My friends and I were happily planning for what was then the most exciting day of our lives. Then America invaded Iraq, and nothing was happy anymore.
I had Iraqi friends graduating with me, after all. We watched the news with sadness. We watched the news with pain.

Terrorism in Nablus: 2003
My father packed a bag and went to Nablus, and that wasn’t something he did often. A good friend of his was murdered, Baraa Al-Shakaa, in a booty-trapped car targeting his brother the mayor, Ghassan.
My brother was called Ghassan after a Ghassan Al-Shakaa. Not the mayor. His uncle, I believe.
I never saw my father as sad as he was that month.

Terrorism Strikes Amman: 2005
It was horrifying. Amman! Peaceful Amman. My city. My home. Three places, all within three kilometers of my house. Places I’ve been to so many times. In someone’s wedding. Fuck them.
Life changed after that.

Israel’s War on Lebanon: 2006
Misery. So many friends in Beirut. All panicking. All trying to escape. Fear. Misery. Hatred.

Israel’s War on Gaza: 2008
My father was dying in the hospital. I was sitting next to his bed, watching the news of Gaza on Al-Jazeera.
So. Many. Deaths.
I wondered what was easier. Knowing that your dad will be dead from cancer in a few days, or losing him suddenly in a bomb.
My dad died before the massacre was over.

Civil War in Syria: 2011
You know, your heart freezes. I guess it’s self-defense mechanism. But of course no mechanism is fail-proof. Especially when you’re talking about something that is SO CLOSE TO HOME. Too close to home. It’s painful. It rots your heart. Rots your soul.

This list doesn’t even include the revolutions of the Arab Spring, that have also claimed hundreds of innocent lives. Yemen. Bahrain. Egypt. Sudan. Libya. Tunisia. This is just the non-revolutionary list. The list that I witnessed with my own eyes, with my own friends, with my own family, and not the list that was always there on TV, still close to home.

Strange being Arab in these times.

I was a child once. An Arab child.

I was an Arab child who was told that there were Arab children, like me, dying. My Arab brothers and sisters.

I am not a child anymore. I’m still Arab though.

The Arab children still die by the hundreds. Arab children young enough to be my Arab children.

In times like these, I want to be here:

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Gangs of the World

Of course, I think that Latin American countries are awesome for standing up to the big bully that is the USA, but the writing of the piece above is hilarious.

In Snowden going to start World War 3?


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Don’t Condition Your Daughters to Be Princesses Instead of Engineers

Here’s a really awesome ad for a really awesome toystore. They make engineering toys for girls, instead of the regular gross “Ooh, why don’t you be a princess when you grow up” bullshit.

If you have daughters, make sure you don’t condition them to become future housewives with zero intellect and no passions. Women are the future of our backward nation.

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