Thank you, world!

1. This post has no technical content.  As the tag indicates, it’s entirely “Nerd Self-Help”—thoughts I’ve recently found extremely helpful to me, and that I’m hopeful some others might be able to apply to their own life situations.  If that doesn’t interest you, feel free to skip.

2. I’m using the numbered list format simply because I have a large number of interrelated things to say, and getting each one down precisely seems more important than fashioning them into some coherent narrative.

3. For someone who walks around every day wracked by neurosis, social anxiety, tics, and depression, I’m living an unbelievably happy and fulfilling life.  For this I’m profoundly grateful—to “the universe,” but much more so, to the family and friends and colleagues who’ve made it possible.

4. On bad days, I’ve cursed fate for having placed me in a world to which my social skills were so poorly adapted.  On good days, though, I’ve thanked fate for letting me thrive in such a world, despite my social skills being so maladapted to it.  My ability to thrive in this world owes everything to the gifts of modernity, to the stuff Steven Pinker talks about in Enlightenment Now: the decline of violence, the rule of law, the freedom from hunger, disease, and war, but most of all the rise of science.  So I have a personal reason to be grateful for modernity and to care deeply about its preservation—and to detest Trump and all the other would-be autocrats who’d gleefully take an ax to it.  Like hothouse plants, nerds can flourish only in artificially safe environments.  I don’t often enough express my gratitude for having been born into a world that contains such environments, so I’m taking the opportunity to do so today.

5. I got back a few days ago from a wonderful visit to Mexico City—thanks so much to Sergio Rajsbaum, Luis González, and all my other new friends there for helping to organize it.  I gave three talks at UNAM, one of the largest universities on earth.  I ate … well, the best Mexican food I ever tasted.  I saw amazing sights, including the National Museum of Anthropology, which has hall after hall full of Aztec and Maya artifacts of a grandeur one normally associates with ancient Egypt, Greece, or Rome.  Go there if you want a visceral sense for the scale of the tragedy wrought by the conquistadors.  (On the other hand, having seen the decorated ceremonial knives, the skulls of children whose hearts were ripped out while still beating, I do have to count the end of human sacrifice as a net positive.)

6. The trip was surreal: I discussed quantum computing and philosophy and Mexican history over enchiladas and tequila.  I signed copies of my book, lectured, met fans of this blog.  There was lots of good-natured laughter about the tale of my arrest, and stern reminders to be careful when ordering smoothies.  A few people I met shared their own stories of being harassed by US police over trivial mishaps (e.g., “put your hands on the car,” rifle aimed, over a parking violation), exacerbated of course by their being Mexicans.  One colleague opined that he preferred the Mexican system, wherein you and the officer just calmly, politely discussed how many pesos would make the problem go away.  But then, from time to time, I’d check my phone and find fresh comments accusing me of being a thief, a nutcase incapable of functioning in society, a racist who wants to be treated differently from blacks and Latinos (the actual view expressed in my post was precisely the opposite of that), or even a money-grubbing Jew hyperventilating about “anuddah Shoah.”

7. The real world has a lot to be said for it.  Maybe I should spend more time there.

8. Thanks so much to everyone who sent emails or left comments expressing sympathy about my arrest—or even who simply found the story crazy and amusing, like a Seinfeld episode.  Meanwhile, to those who berated me for being unable to function in society: does it bother you, does it present a puzzle for your theory, that rather than starving under a bridge, I’m enjoying a career doing what I love, traveling the world giving lectures, happily married with two kids?  Do I not, if nothing else, illustrate how functional a non-functional person can be?

9. It’s possible that my kids will grow up with none of the anxiety or depression or neuroticism or absentmindedness that I’ve had.  But if they do have those problems … well, I’m thankful that I can provide them at least one example of what it’s possible to do in life in spite of it!

10. On SneerClub, someone opined that not only was I an oblivious idiot at the smoothie counter, I must also be oblivious to how bad the incident makes me look—since otherwise, I would never have blogged about it.  I ask my detractors: can you imagine, for one second, being so drunk on the love of truth that you’d take the experiences that made you look the most pathetic and awkward, and share them with the world in every embarrassing detail—because “that which can be destroyed by the truth should be”?  This drunkenness on truth is scary, it’s destabilizing, it means that every day you run a new risk of looking foolish.  But as far as I can introspect, it’s also barely distinguishable from the impulse that leads to doing good science: asking the questions everyone else knows better than to ask, clarifying the obvious, confessing one’s own doofus mistakes.  So as a scientist, I’m grateful to have this massive advantage, for all its downsides.

11. Of the hundreds of reactions to my arrest, some blamed me, some the police, some both and some neither.  As I mentioned before, there was an extremely strong and surprising national split, with Americans siding with the police and non-Americans siding with me.  But there was also an even deeper split: namely, almost everyone who already liked me found the story funny or endearing or whatever, while almost everyone who already hated me found in it new reasons for their hate.  I’ve observed this to be a general phenomenon: within the range of choices I’d realistically consider, none of them seem to do anything to turn enemies into friends or friends into enemies.  If so, then that’s a profoundly liberating realization.  It means that I might as well just continue being myself, saying and doing what seem reasonable to me, without worrying about either winning over the SneerClubbers or losing the people who like this blog.  For neither of those is likely to happen–even if we ignore all the other reasons to eschew overreliance on external validation.

12. Every week or so I get emails from people wanting to share their spiritual theories with me, and to illustrate them with color diagrams.  Most such emails go straight to my trash folder.  This week, however, I received one that contained a little gem of insight:

I realize you are professionally reluctant to admit that Spirit actually exists. However, it is obvious to me from your blog that you are personally committed to what I might label “spiritual development.” You are continually pushing yourself and others to be more self-aware, reflect on our actions and assumptions, and choose to become our best selves.

I can only imagine how much pain and psychic energy it costs you to do that so publicly and vulnerably. But that is precisely why so many of us love you; and others hate you, because they are understandably terrified of paying that same price.

13. To those who’ve called me a terrible person, based on how they imagine I’d respond in hypothetical scenarios of their own construction, I make one request.  Before passing final judgment, at least exchange emails with me, or meet me, or otherwise give me a chance to differentiate myself from your internal bogeyman.  Ask me for grad school advice, or comments on your CS idea, or whatever—and with nothing in it for me, and swamped with similar requests, see how much time I spend trying to help you.  Or ask me to donate to your favorite charity, and see if I do it.  Or tell me about misconduct by a prominent member of my community, and see how I respond.  See if any of this is noticeably affected by your race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or anything else besides the honesty of your request.

14. None of the above are hypotheticals for me.  Once I was given firsthand reports, which I judged to be extremely credible, about a serial sexual harasser of women in the math and TCS communities.  The victims had already pursued formal complaints, but with an unsatisfactory resolution.  In response, I immediately offered to publish the perpetrator’s name on this blog along with the evidence and accusations, or help in any other way desired.  My offer was declined, but it still stands if the victims were to change their minds.

15. My mom once told me that, having been hippies concerned about overpopulation, she and my dad weren’t planning to have any kids.  When they finally decided to do so, it was in order to “spite Hitler.”  I felt incredibly proud to have that be the reason for my birth.  Every time I think about it, it fills me with a renewed urge to stand up for whatever seems most human and compassionate, regardless of how unpopular.

16. Going forward, if I ever (hypothetically) experience a relapse of the suicidal thoughts that characterized part of my life, I’m going to say to myself: no.  Not only will I remain alive, I’ll continue to enjoy my family and friends and research and teaching, and mentor students, and get involved in issues I care about, and otherwise make the most of life.  And if for no other reason, I’d do this in order that Arthur Chu could remain, as he put it, “unhappy about [my] continued existence”!  Admittedly, spiting Chu and his chorus of SneerClubbers is far from the only reason to continue living, but it’s a perfectly sufficient reason in itself.  And this will be an impenetrable shield against suicidal thoughts.  So thanks, Arthur!

17. Four years ago, I received hundreds of moving responses to comment 171.  But perhaps the most touching were from several female classmates who I’d had crushes on back in the depressed period I wrote about, and who said some variant of: “it’s a shame you never asked me, because I liked you and would’ve gladly said yes.”  One of these classmates, bless her heart, recently asked me to share this information, as an encouragement to young nerdy readers who might find themselves in the same situation I was in.  Four years ago, a few feminists lectured me that the crippling fear I’d suffered was good, a feature rather than a bug: if only every other predatory nerdbro would be paralyzed by the same fear!  (That is, when they weren’t also lecturing me that the fears were ridiculous and existed only in my head.)  But the women who wrote to me are also left-wing feminists.  So if you confess your feelings to someone, know that no one who despises that decision, who considers it ‘problematic’ and ‘entitled’ and ‘privileged’ and all the rest of the modern litany of just-die-already words, can pretend to speak for all feminists.  I love my wife and my children, and wouldn’t go back in time to change my life’s trajectory if I could.  But you, readers, armed with wisdom I lacked, can reach a happy place in your lives a hell of a lot faster than I did.

18. While this has been beneath the surface of a huge number of my posts, it seems worth bringing out explicitly.  On certain blogs and social media sites, I’m regularly described as a “leftist troll,” a “pathetic, mewling feminist,” or a “rabid establishment liberal.”  On others I’m called a “far-right Zionist” or an “anti-feminist men’s rights advocate.”  It’s enough to make even me confused.  But here’s how I choose to define my stance: my party is the Party of Psychological Complexity.  Our party platform consists of Shakespeare’s plays, the movie The Breakfast Club, the novels of Mark Twain and Philip Roth and Rebecca Goldstein, classic Simpsons and Futurama, and anything else that tries to grapple with human nature honestly.  For most of the past few centuries, the Party of Psychological Complexity has been in a coalition with the political left, because both were interested in advancing Enlightenment ideals, ending slavery and female subjugation and other evils, and broadening humankind’s circles of empathy.  But the PoPC and the political left already split once, over the question of Communism, and today they split again over the morality and the wisdom of social justice vigilantism.

19. Here in the PoPC, our emphasis on the staggering complexity of the individual conscience might seem hard to square with utilitarian ethics: with public health campaigns, Effective Altruism, doing the greatest good for the greatest number, etc.  But the two philosophies actually fit beautifully.  In the PoPC, our interest (you might say) is in the psychological prerequisites to utilitarianism: in the “safe spaces” for the weird and nerdy and convention-defying and literal-minded in human nature that need to get established, before discussion about the best ways to fight malaria or global warming or nuclear proliferation or plastic in the oceans can even begin.

20. On leftist forums like SneerClub, whenever I’m brought up, I’m considered a dangerous reactionary—basically Richard Spencer or Alex Jones except with more quantum query complexity.  Yet, while there are differences in emphasis, and while my not being in politics gives me more freedom to venture outside the Overton window, my views on most contemporary American issues are hard to distinguish from those of Barack Obama, who I consider to have been a superb president and a model of thoughtful leadership.  If you want to understand how racist demagogues managed to take over the US—well, there was a perfect storm of horribleness, with no one decisive factor.  But it surely didn’t help that the modern social-justice left so completely disdains coalition-building, so values the purity of the Elect above all else, that it cast even progressive Obama supporters like me into its lowest circle of Hell.

21. Open yourself up to the complicated and the true in human nature.  Don’t be like Donald Trump or Arthur Chu, two men who represent opposite poles of ideology, yet who have in common that they both purposefully killed what was complicated in themselves.  For those two, winning is all that matters—they’ve explicitly said so, and have organized their entire lives around that principle.  But winning is not all that matters.  When I stand before the Lord of Song, even though it all went wrong, the only word on my lips will be “hallelujah”–because while I have many faults, I did make some room in life for beauty and truth, even at the expense of winning.  Though everything temporal turns to dust, I experienced some moments of eternity.

22. I can already predict the tweets: “No, Scott Aaronson, your weird numbered ruminations won’t save you from being the privileged douchebag who you fundamentally are.”  How was that?  Let me try another: “Aaronson embarrasses himself yet again, proves he doesn’t get why nerd culture is totally f-cked up.”  Here in the Party of Psychological Complexity, we’re used to this stuff.  We don’t fare well in social media wars, and we’ll gladly lose rather than become what we detest.  And yet, over the long run—which might be the very long run—we do mean to win, much like heliocentrism and quantum mechanics ultimately triumphed over simpler, more soundbite-friendly rivals.  Complex ideas win not through 140-character flinged excrement but through conversations, long-form essays, discourse, verbal technologies able to transfer large interconnected bundles of thoughts and emotions from one mind to another one that’s ready for such things.

23. Try every hour of every day to extend your sympathetic imagination to those who are unlike you (those who are like you don’t need such a strenuous effort).  And carve this message of universal compassion onto your doorposts, and bind it to your wrists, and put it for a sign on your foreheads.  There is no ideology that relieves us of the need to think and to feel: that’s my ideology.

24. When people give feedback about this blog’s topics, they seem roughly evenly split between those who beg for more quantum computing and other technical posts that they can actually learn from, and those who beg for more nontechnical posts that they can actually understand!  The truth is that, from the very beginning, this has never been a quantum computing or theoretical computer science blog—or rather it has been, but only incidentally.  If you had to sum it up in one sentence, I suppose this blog has been about surviving and thriving as a quantum complexity theorist in a world that isn’t designed for quantum complexity theorists?

25. But I’ll tell you what: my next post will be a quantum computing one, and I’ll make it worth the wait.  What else could I do by way of thanks to the world, and (more to the point) my family, friends, and readers?

134 Responses to “Thank you, world!”

  1. Satoshi Says:

    Thank you for the post. Maybe you should stop calling the haters by their names. I guess they enjoy when you mention them because they feel like they are still hurting you.

    Is PoPC a new subclass of BQP?

  2. Scott Says:

    Satoshi #1: Thanks! Suggestion taken under advisement. I would study the relationship between PoPC and BQP for only 1% of your bitcoins…

  3. Dan Says:

    If I were you, I would completely stop looking at a certain subreddit (and mentioning it by name, too). When such openly mean-spirited forums exist, the best possible scenario is for everyone to simply forget they exist. Mentioning it by name simply gives them more traffic and more satisfaction in hurling poo.

  4. Tomato Tomahto Says:

    Goddamn thanks so much for writing this. I am also a weird nerd and it gives me hope to see you flourishing. I will never understand why so many people in this world have an impulse to be cruel to people who stray outside norms, but they fucking do, and fuck them. Go Scott!

  5. pku Says:

    There’s an old joke about three Jews who walk along the street and see a pair of gentiles. So one of the Jews says “We’re in trouble guys, there’s two of them and we’re alone”. It applies to a lot of social justice rhetoric (where they talk about universally-held positions like “women are people” as though they’re incredibly controversial and outnumbered). But it might also apply a bit to how you talk about Social Justice people – Sneerclub and their like aren’t really common, and don’t really outnumber your friends/fans. It’s not worth feeling outnumbered by them.

  6. JimV Says:

    In “Horse Under Water”, one of Len Deighton’s characters says, “Problems obey the law of perspective; they look big close to.” We all have problems, and those who have blogs tend to write about theirs. One of the more useless things to do, I have always thought, is to complain about what someone else chooses to write about on their personal blog.

    One of my problems, in getting through the days, is finding enough good things to read. This blog is well and humorously written. My biggest complaint with it (should I choose to express it which of course I don’t) would be that there aren’t three posts a day here.

  7. Steve Says:

    Great post, Scott! I think it should have been titled “The Tao of Nerd”, as i am struck by several parallels between this and Lao Tzu.

  8. Felipe Pait Says:

    I’ll just say that you seem like a decent fellow to someone who only knows you from occasionally reading your posts. I am sure I’m not only speaking for myself in wishing you all the best, and encouraging you not to be too bothered by trolls, in real life or internet ones. Yes I know this is hard advice to follow.

  9. Peter Morgan Says:

    Glorious, but —beware, 99% non-sequitur immediately following— I do wish I could persuade you that the Party of Classical Physics (POCP) considered in its full glory is as complex as the Party of Quantum Physics. Koopman-von Neumann approaches, with their pretty Hilbert spaces and their classical noncommutative coordinate transformation theory, are surely nerdy enough. I think it’s been a few months since I mentioned it here, but I’m gauche enough not to know to stop.

  10. Scott Says:

    Dan #3: Yeah, the suggestion is an excellent one. Tell you what: just like I did years ago with Lubos Motl, how about if I make a public commitment right now not to refer to Chu or SneerClub publicly and by name again for the next 3 years, to be optionally extended if needed. It will surely do wonders for my mental health. (But also: the more everyone else agrees to treat a certain level of gleeful nastiness, no matter who it’s directed at, as beyond the pale of civilized conversation—as they seem to have done with Motl—the easier that makes it for me to keep my commitment!)

  11. Michael Says:

    I have trouble understanding why the incident at PHL airport is such a life-changing event for you. It seems like a misunderstanding which was cleared up pretty quickly. I really don’t think you were ever in any danger of being incarcerated over 4 dollars. I recognize it was disturbing but come on you did grab the money and leave, and they had no way of knowing what happened.

    Not sure what to make of all these points. Clearly you are extremely interested in the idiotic comments people make about you on the internet. You have a blog with a wide readership and sometimes make comments on controversial issues so yeah, that’s going to happen. Every blogger and youtuber it seems freaks out over comments. Calm down, play some quiet music, and chill, bro.

    P.S. Your parents having you to spite Hitler is hilarious. My dad used to joke that he wanted to have 6 kids, one for each million Jews killed in the Holocaust, but my mom wanted 2, so they compromised and had 4 instead.

  12. Romeo Stevens Says:

    I think reifying this (PoPC) is important. I think people intuitively resisting attempts to collapse human value even though they can’t always explain how or why are fighting the good fight. Another slice of the same object: What unites the grey tribe? It seems to include people who have sympathies to a wide variety of other political positions be they liberal, conservative, libertarian, green, or weirder. Complexity is a reasonable take, let me suggest another. What unites us is caring deeply about the modal properties of capability gain. It’s quite easy to see how this could translate to concerns about equality (left), civilizational preservation (right), freedom (libertarian), the environment (green) etc. All of these things are things that are necessary to create the conditions under which the engine of improvement to human lives whether that is perceived as individuals or groups innovating and scaling those capabilities. Through this frame I’ve been able to deeply appreciate a far broader variety of views than I ever have before. Because these differing positions are more a function of which areas of the problem seem most in dire need of help, depending on what the person has encountered in their life.

    Keep fighting the good fight, Scott.


  13. Scott Says:

    Michael #11: It wasn’t a particularly life-changing event. I felt it gave me new insight about certain issues, and it was also at least as weird as (say) the story of the Australian actresses who plagiarized my quantum mechanics lecture to sell printers, so I figured I’d blog about it. Then, maybe predictably, I started getting attacked again by the usual suspects. And having the personality that I do, if at least 5-10 people are attacking me online, it feels to my brain as if the entire planet is arrayed against me, nothing else matters, and my right to continue living my life hinges entirely on my ability to answer whatever criticisms have been made.

  14. Ash Says:

    I was in a similar situation a few years ago when certain very reasonable things I wrote on a certain prominent website led to a completely unwarranted and hysterical response from a handful of people on social media (along with several private emails and one or two public posts strongly supporting me). At that time I thought that the people who reacted so vituperatively were being unfair, reactionary, stupid etc., and maybe they were some of these things.

    But I sincerely stopped feeling bad the day I started thinking of those people as simply ones who were wrong and who had made a mistake in judging me. I found that the levels of resentment I was feeling toward them plummeted when I realized that they were simply in error. This made me feel not so much anger or resentment as pity followed by a shrug, and after that my mental health has been wonderful. We need to realize that sometimes people are genuinely incapable of understanding our positions and will keep on making mistakes in judging us, and for that they need to be pitied more than anything else.

  15. Alyssa Vance Says:

    Seconding comment #1, comment #3, and comment #5.

    I’d recommend that, whenever you find yourself reading any of that crap, stop, drop, roll, think for a minute, and retrace the causal graph of how you found yourself to be reading it. (Was it emailed to you? Posted on Facebook? Subscribed to a related RSS?) Then go back and cross out as many nodes of that graph as you practicably can. Eg. if someone posts it regularly to Facebook, unfollow them. Keep in mind that many websites have a vested interest in showing you content specifically designed by machine learning to outrage you in particular, since that increases your viewing time and their advertising revenue, so they are actively trying to bait you.

  16. Other Michael Says:

    @Scott#13- has it ever occurred to you that what you’re describing IS reassurance seeking? The way that reassurance seeking works is that the more you try to convince yourself you’re a good person, the more you’ll think you’re a bad person. I’m not a psychiatrist- Scott Alexander could explain it better.
    (Incidentally, that’s the real problem with Chu’s “mindkill” post- it might be work for Chu but every study of people with OCD has found that when they try to purge themselves of “dangerous” thoughts, it just makes their condition worse.)

  17. John Sidles Says:

    Bravo, Scott! And hurrah too! … for some forthcoming Shtetl Optimized posts that relate to quantum-this or quantum-that or quantum-anything-at-all.

    Please reflect too, upon the proposition that sites like SneerClub are no more representative of the best of progressive thought, than sites like Vox Popoli are representative of the best of conservative thought.

    This is why, last week, Boaz Barak was entirely right (as it seems to me anyway), when he reminded you (and everyone) that “You have nothing to apologize for or feel bad about.” Sadly, there are all-too-many people in this world who will attack, psychologically and even physically, anyone whom they perceive as vulnerable to attack … and these attack-practicing people are strongly attracted to both the totalizing far-right and the totalizing far-left.

    As peaceful alternatives, there are thoughtful sites like Daniel Spiro’s Empathic Rationalist  (which is a progressive site that includes conservative elements), and the anabaptist blog aggregator MennoNerds   (which is a conservative site that includes progressive elements).

    I will mention too, that Boaz Barak’s own web site is hosting a “Call for comments: “Introduction to Theoretical Computer Science”, which (among other issues) raises the question “What quantum physics/quantum mathematics should an introductory TCS textbook cover?” Now here is a question that has some deliciously meaty substance to it!  🙂

  18. Nilima Nigam Says:

    Holy smokes. I just read about your arrest and this post in quick succession. The circumstances leading up to your smoothie story were bad enough. How airline staff can be so inflexible even with little kids standing in front of the counter beats me…. but it is so much a part of the ethos of a place where cops can go racing to arrest someone without ascertaining if a crime worthy of an arrest was committed. Yes, everyone involved is human. But that doesn’t make what happened OK. It must have scary as heck for your kids, and I’m so sorry they had to experience this.

    For someone to be able to muster the generosity of spirit to write 3, 4, 9 and 23, especially after your awful experience at the airport – that’s plenty special. I hope your kids know that their dad is a very good person.

  19. Scott Says:

    pku #5: I love the “two of them and we three are alone” joke; thanks for reminding!

    Regarding the treatment of “women are people” as a controversial or embattled position: the key, if you can achieve it, is the bundling of obvious and extreme propositions (closely related to motte-and-bailey), like so:

      A: “Feminism is nothing more or less than the belief that women are people.”
      B: “Ah, thanks, so I too am an ardent feminist!”
      A: “Oh man, it’s kind of sick how much joy I get out of being cruel to old white men.”
      B: “That’s a terrible thing to say.”
      A: “So … you’re telling me that you don’t think women are people?” 🙂
  20. Scott Says:

    It occurred to me that a large part of what’s going on is simply this: to think clearly about anything, I often seem to need a foil.

    E.g., in order for me to write a paper about X, it helps immensely if I heard someone actually claim or suggest not(X), and then thought to myself, “no, that’s probably wrong, and here’s why…” (Half my papers probably have some origin story of that kind.)

    Likewise, in order for me to write a blog post explaining some aspect of QC … well, it’s hard to do out of the blue, even to know what to write about. It’s easier if someone goads me into it by, e.g., writing a popular article that gets that aspect egregiously wrong.

    And it’s the same with self-help. In order to articulate good reasons why I should live, it helps immensely if I encounter people who clearly and sincerely believe—even if they won’t say it quite so plainly—that I shouldn’t live. For why shouldn’t I live?

    “Because, if a female student confided to Aaronson that a shy, nerdy male colleague of his grabbed her butt, then he’d obviously tell her to just shut up and accept it.”

    “Aha, no, I definitely wouldn’t do that. So, if that was the opposing side’s strongest argument for why I shouldn’t live, then to life, to life, l’chaim!”

    Which leads me right back to the ironic conclusion that I should be grateful to these people… 🙂

  21. Ahron Maline Says:

    Thank you for #17. I find that deeply moving moving.

    Regarding Chu & co: I’m sure you know this already, but they really, really don’t deserve the amount of headspace you’re giving them. They could disappear from the Internet, and not disappear, without causing decoherence. Hitler has Ultimate Supervillain status; doing stuff “to spite him” can be meaningful. Chu does not.

  22. Edan Maor Says:

    Great post Scott.

    > 7. The real world has a lot to be said for it. Maybe I should spend more time there.
    > […]
    > But there was also an even deeper split: namely, almost everyone who already liked me found the story funny or endearing or whatever, while almost everyone who already hated me found in it new reasons for their hate.

    Interesting insights. And yes, I certainly think this story plays differently depending on context – those of us who know you think of it as a funny-cute-crazy anecdote from a friend.

    I think one of the biggest cultural shifts that is making the world crazy is the elimination of a difference between “private” and “public”. It used to be that if you had a friend or neighbor who you generally liked, but also had some weird (even *wrong*) beliefs, you’d just chock it up to him being human – and you’d probably get along just fine, since you know that he’s a good guy.

    But nowadays, someone can have a “semi-private” group online (in that it’s a certain limited audience), which is suddenly broadcast to the whole world, and this presumption that everyone knows each other becomes wrong. Or even worse, you might actually be in private, but have things you do pushed online anyway.

    We just so clearly haven’t evolved norms for dealing with any of this, that it’s ridiculous, and gives people an opportunity to lynch-mob, which is a very fun activity for many people, apparently.

    Also, I hadn’t heard of SneerClub before, and looked at it… and I totally side with the others in this thread in saying that you shouldn’t mention them anymore. It’s just not worth anyone’s time, it really isn’t.

  23. Scott Says:

    Other Michael #16: Thanks! No, I hadn’t known that that’s how “reassurance seeking” works. I never talked to the other Scott A about it, but it sounds like maybe I should.

    As for “mindkilling” yourself (e.g., purging yourself of any nagging doubts about the righteousness of your cause), I agree that one problem is that for many people it simply wouldn’t work. But perhaps the even worse problem is, what if it does work? 😀

    Incidentally (and speaking of “reassurance seeking”): thanks so much to everyone for all the kind words; they make my day!

  24. Rick Says:

    Thank-you for that and for its accidentally excellent timing.

  25. Rob Cooper Says:

    The Dalai Lama has been quoted as saying that his way of dealing with the hate some Chinese have for Tibetans is to think of them abused children. I guess that may be true of some of those who have expressed hate toward you.

    Hang in there Scott. I guess that your supporters outnumber your detractors about 4 to 1, and that may be the best anyone can hope for in this life.

  26. Scott Says:

    Rick #24: accidentally excellent timing?

  27. Anonymous Says:

    Scott, tbh, one of the best things about this blog is in fact the outlook on life 🙂 the right balance between technical posts and humane posts make it an extremely fun and insightful read while the continuous banter on topics like continuity make it hilarious! I only wish you wrote more about your opinions with regards to things you’ve encountered (whether they be obscure fields of math or modern/classical literature)
    As for what people say about you, I only have the title of a book to state, “what do you care what other people think”
    I’d also like to share this letter (I know you’ve probably read it but just to be reminded about it)
    I believe the last few lines provide a guidance towards “surviving and thriving as a quantum complexity theorist in a world that isn’t designed for quantum complexity theorists”

  28. Scott Says:

    Let me share one more piece of wisdom that I think I’ve learned—something that, like most wisdom, is completely obvious once stated, but that might be hard fully to appreciate until you’ve lived it (hearing it from someone else can at most accelerate the process).

    Here it is: when you’re radically honest—e.g., by sharing the most embarrassing details of your life on your blog—it has the effect of preselecting your friends.

    On the negative side, there might be people who hate you never having met you. You’ll never even get an opportunity to prove to such people that their mental models of you are wrong: they’re permanently closed off to you, and might even influence others to avoid you as well.

    On the positive side, when someone does want to be your friend (or your collaborator or whatever else) having read everything you’ve shared, you never need live in fear that they’ll turn on you once they find out the truth. They already know the truth, and incredibly enough they like you anyway.

    And almost by definition, the latter, more pleasant thing is what characterizes your day-to-day real-world experience, since the first category of person only snipes on Reddit—-they don’t even come up and introduce themselves!

  29. The problem with gatekeepers Says:

    Scott #28

    Very true. I am less into publicly sharing everything in my life (in my generation we didn’t have social media growing up or in college so I always found Facebook and the like kind of useless) but it is definitely true that going through hard circumstances in life tends to clarify very fast who your friends are and who never were. And indeed, it is pointless to try to win the love of those who hate you. There will always be haters around and the only way of having no enemies is to do absolutely nothing of significance in your life. This is different, of course, from seeking enemies. The nuance here is that too many people I know recuse themselves from the things they would like to do in life for fear that other people will be offended. These people tend to live miserable lives. So while one should never burn bridges unnecessarily, it is worse to become paralyzed for fear that other people might not like what you have to say.

    So Scott, I like you despite your belief that those of us who support Trump do it as a result of brain malfunction :-).

  30. Jon K. Says:

    Favorite line: “Try every hour of every day to extend your sympathetic imagination to those who are unlike you.”

    Don’t brood over stuff, live in the moment, and to thy own *unself* be true…

    …by the way, Scott, do you have any interesting thoughts on “self”? Philosophical vs Scientific? The role of an observer in QM? Strange Loops? A constant self through a changing physical substrate? The universe observing itself? The notion of “agents” in a deterministic computer program? etc…

  31. Dan T. Says:

    SneerClub is a classic case of “it’s what it says on the tin.” If you go there to find intelligent discourse, you’ll be disappointed; people go there to sneer. Unfortunately they picked you (and, even more, the other Scott A.) as major targets for this; there’s no accounting for taste.

  32. murmur Says:

    I went through all the comments by Arthur Chu in the linked Facebook post. Chu talks a lot about “winning” and being in an “actual war” but if so then which battles have the SJWs been able to win? In no small part due to their antics, the federal government and 2/3 of the states are controlled by the Republicans. Winning requires strategy and tactics, something the social justice left is loath to do. Ideological purity is far more important to them than actually winning.

  33. GASARCH Says:

    I tried to tell your story to a 15-year old relative. Very early into it I said `just read it, he does a far better job of explaining it that I ever could’. Reactions from someone who is NOT normally in our blog world:

    1) Whats a class in civics? I learned about Miranda rights and such from TV.

    2) Why are there any negative comments at all? I am shocked that anybody would not have sympathy for Scott’s plight!

    3) Who is Arthur Chu? Since later on you put in the same group as Donald Trump, is he a Trumpian?

  34. Scott Says:

    GASARCH #33: LOL!

  35. Rhenium Says:

    I would heartily agree with your decision to not gift the various festering pots of hate (left or right side of the aisle) any name recognition.

    “story of the Australian actresses who plagiarized my quantum mechanics lecture to sell printers”
    Do you have a link to this? I’m fascinated.

  36. Scott Says:

    Jon K. #30: If I ever had anything interesting to say about “selfhood,” it’s probably somewhere in The Ghost in the Quantum Turing Machine, but I honestly don’t remember! Presumably because the self that wrote that essay is different than the self I am now… 🙂

  37. Sandro Says:

    (not sure if this is a double post since usually I see my post with a flag “awaiting approval”; I didn’t this time)

    My thoughts as I was reading through:

    On SneerClub, someone opined that not only was I an oblivious idiot at the smoothie counter, I must also be oblivious to how bad the incident makes me look—since otherwise, I would never have blogged about it.

    Accidentally removing a few dollars from an unmarked cup because you’re tired and distracted makes you look bad? What a privileged life these people must lead to have never made a simple mistake.

    But there was also an even deeper split: namely, almost everyone who already liked me found the story funny or endearing or whatever, while almost everyone who already hated me found in it new reasons for their hate.

    A perfect example of confirmation at work.

    Four years ago, a few feminists lectured me that the crippling fear I’d suffered was good, a feature rather than a bug: if only every other predatory nerdbro would be paralyzed by the same fear!

    Strange that a movement pushing for safe spaces and constantly retelling a narrative of the fear women have to live with every day, would be so gung-ho to push such fear on others (a whole gender no less). But then, when you regularly dehumanize a whole gender as oppressors with no room for context or nuance, I suppose that sort of behaviour simply must follow.

    On certain blogs and social media sites, I’m regularly described as a “leftist troll.” a “pathetic, mewling feminist,” or a “rabid establishment liberal.” On others I’m called a “far right-wing Zionist” or an “anti-feminist men’s rights advocate.” It’s enough to make even me confused.

    Haha, nerdy intellectuals have appreciation for complex ethical reasoning that can’t be reduced to simple sound bites, except by those incapable of appreciating the intellectual demands of considering context and nuance. Who’d have guessed?

    If you want to understand how racist demagogues managed to take over the US—well, there was a perfect storm of horribleness, with no one decisive factor. But it surely didn’t help that the modern social-justice left so completely disdains coalition-building

    As per conflict theory, if you’re not with them, you’re the enemy. Your enemy isn’t simply misinformed or making a mistake, they are evil, and you don’t build coalitions or come to agreements with evil. There is no room for forgiveness in this mindset, even for those who repent. Once a sinner, never again a trustworthy ally. That Arthur Chu rant you posted is a perfect example.

    I too used to be more absolutist, on different issues, so I can only hope they too will temper with time and appreciate that evil is a child’s concept, and not a realistic view of the adult world.

    As always, your posts are forthright and insightful. Thanks again!

  38. Scott Says:

    Rhenium #35: Sure, here’s the Australian actresses thing. Enjoy! 🙂

  39. Gary Drescher Says:

    This is much-needed self-help for humanity, not just for nerds.

  40. Scott Says:

    Dan T. #31: I should start honoring my commitment not to refer to that hate club by name! But here’s what I’ve personally found most striking about it:

    Once or twice a week, out of the hundreds or thousands of people who post in the barely-moderated SlateStarCodex subreddit, the hate club does indeed manage to dredge up some nobody who posted something shockingly racist, reactionary, conspiratorial, or just insane. Haha, score! Everybody point and sneer at the secretly-fascist nerds!

    Except then, if you actually click through to the SSC subreddit, you typically find that the racist or outrageous comment was thoroughly and calmly demolished by other people within the SSC subreddit itself—and not only that, but much more cogently and effectively than anyone in the hate club could manage. So the hate club then seems completely superfluous, failing to contribute anything original even to its own narrow bailiwick of criticizing reactionary attitudes within the rationalist community.

    As an analogy, if you wanted to read something serious about the corruption and mendacity and so forth in the current right-wing Israeli government, you’d probably have much better luck with Ha’aretz than you would with some Hamas bulletin filled with caricatures of hook-nosed Jews.

  41. Neil Says:

    As they say, haters are gonna hate. Illegitimi Non Carborundum.

  42. Anonymous Says:

    Any general life advice for those of us stuck with the nerd personality and social awkwardness, but alas, without the nerd technical skills in science and engineering that’s supposed to be part of the package?

  43. Scott Says:

    Anonymous #42: What skills do you have? What do you like to do? Give me something to work with here…

  44. jonathan Says:

    I honestly don’t understand why you care what someone at a place like “Sneerclub” has to say about you. I mean, they’re posting in a forum called “Sneer Club” for crying out loud! It (apparently) exists only to allow its denizens to look down their noses at other people. They’ve essentially hung up a sign saying, “We’re terrible people and you should ignore everything we say.” I encourage you to do so!

    Really, you would do well to ignore anything strangers on the internet say about you, and read as little of it as possible. Fortunately there are still intelligent, thoughtful people saying things online; little breaths of fresh air in a land of darkness. Your blog is one of these places. But the rest is raging noise, confusion, and noxious vapors wafting through tunnels inhabited by trolls and goblins. Better to stick to your own garden, or venture outside the caves into the fresh air.

    The best of cyberspace broadens minds, but most of it merely warps them.

  45. Other Michael Says:

    @Scott#40- I think that Sneer Club is right about the Slate Star Codex reddit. The majority of posters there DO seem to be white supremacists.

  46. jonas Says:

    1. No! I won’t believe some random american mathematician to know about my problems when I’ve payed so much to my psychologist! That would make the entire money seem wasted. This despite that you sometimes read my comments and answer them for free.

    3. I am too, respectively. Only throw in being overweight too.

    4. Well yes. That I don’t have to deal with war or poverity is part of that “universe” thing above, and I wouldn’t be here writing this if I had to scavenge for scraps of food in a war.

    5. Skulls of children, I can believe that, but is the “hearts were ripped out while still beating” actually still believed to be accurate, or is it just a misunderstanding stuck in popular knowledge? Incidentally, I’ll be visiting the Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien this Sunday, and watch all the large collection of ancient Egyptian and Middle-Eastern and Greek and Roman artifacts

    > 6. and stern reminders to be careful when ordering smoothies

    And when discussing algebraic geometry on an airport as per “” , I would guess.

    9. And pay for the best professionals to help them, if it’s necessary, because two parents aren’t always enough for that. And smile during that, even inside, and know that specialization of labour is a good thing, even if it might feel like your children don’t trust you completely. Right?

    10. Yes. In that case you were completely right to share your story. But at the same time be careful not to overdo telling the truth and insult someone if they wouldn’t gain something from the truth. The guideline is summarized by the other Scott A. at “”, although the idea is much older.

    11. It’s not that simple, sadly. Like the other Scott A. explained, you will almost never observe that you change someone’s mind, partly because it’s hard, partly because the people you talk to won’t immediately know or admit that you’ve changed your mind. But if multiple people first gain my trust by saying reasonable things, and later more of them independently say the same thing, then eventually I might start believing them. This is why I started to take the problem of global warming seriously, not because any one big advocate alone convinced me, but because multiple different people who each seemed somewhat reasonable and smart scientists talked about it. It’s also very often how I find new books to read or TV series to watch: only if multiple people, who I already know are like-minded, recommend the same book, then I consider taking the time to read it. Obviously the details are more complicated. So anyway, what you write on your blog does matter and does change the mind of people.

    13. Very well. Then there’s one important question I must ask you. You have fantasized in previous comment threads about voting systems where educated people, or people who pass some basic test about understanding the political issues, get more votes on elections. That disturbed me more than anything else you wrote. Suppose a wizard put you in a position in charge where you alone got to decide what the next system of elections in the United States will be, and assures you that you will not directly be harmed (such as shot by a fanatic) based on whatever you choose. But you wouldn’t actually choose a system where educated people, or people passing an exam, get more votes, right? I don’t have to explain to you why we decided to treat every human (over some age limit) as a person with political rights, even if they seem unworthy, and that trying to choose any more restrictive definition (excluding slaves, excluding some skin colors, excluding those of alleged jewish origin) is dangerous and will be abused.

    26. Ok, good. It’s not the advice that I appreciate in this post, but trying to explain your own worldview.

  47. Ashley Says:


    “But perhaps the most touching were from several female classmates who I’d had crushes on back in the depressed period I wrote about, and who said some variant of: “it’s a shame you never asked me, because I liked you and would’ve gladly said yes.””

    Well…..see 🙂

  48. Scott Says:

    jonas #46: I spent some time reading about Aztec human sacrifice on Wikipedia, and ripping out the still-beating hearts of the victims is apparently exactly what they did. They’d then place the hearts in a special bowl and hold the bowl aloft toward the gods, and (after removing the head, I think) would toss the body down the steps of the pyramid. But I’m not exactly an expert in this subject, so if anyone wants to clarify the procedure, or which variations on it were performed for which festival or type of sacrifice, I’m all ears (attached ones).

    And speaking of Wikipedia, observing its success was really the genesis of what you apparently considered the most disturbing thing I ever said. Which forms of social organization, over the past 20 years, have worked better than anyone would’ve had any right to expect? For me, the examples that leap to mind are MathOverflow and Wikipedia (and to a lesser extent, Quora and StackExchange and other sites built around similar principles). And what do all these sites have in common? Firstly, that absolutely anyone, whatever their background, is invited to contribute. But secondly, that there’s a meritocratic hierarchy that forms, where people with more contributions that were recognized or upvoted get more authority to make decisions, or are consulted to resolve difficult cases.

    In some sense, this is already what we try to approximate with the system of representative democracy. We don’t all get an equal say in making decisions; instead we elect legislators who are supposed to be experts who will educate themselves in the issues and make the decisions for us. Unfortunately, as the bitter unintended comedy of that last sentence perhaps already suggested, in the US and many other countries we are currently witnessing this system in the midst of a catastrophic failure, almost entirely overtaken by the proudly ignorant, opportunists and demagogues, and even hostile agents of foreign states. In the US, the plane stayed aloft for 240 years, by historical standards it was an excellent plane, but it’s now spiraling out of control and possibly about to crash and burn.

    If that happens, and if there are still people afterwards to debate what to do next, one option would be to re-launch another plane of the same design and hope it stays aloft for longer, or even just for a similar length of time. But a second option would be to ask ourselves: do the success of Wikipedia, MathOverflow, and other crowdsourcing sites, and the availability of the technology underlying them, point the way to something better than representative democracy? To a system where anyone is welcomed to start acquiring “expertise points,” via tests or an upvote mechanism or a linear-algebraic system like PageRank, let’s say in water resources or trade policy or any other field, and are then immediately solicited for input into decisions similar to what a legislator would currently have, with those with the most acknowledged expertise on a given issue (as judged by these crowdsourced mechanisms) playing the role of the most senior legislators?

    I don’t know the answers, but I submit that the current trainwreck of traditional representative democracy, combined with the runaway success of crowdsourcing mechanisms, prompts us to ask the question.

  49. Andaro Says:

    “within the range of choices I’d realistically consider, none of them seem to do anything to turn enemies into friends or friends into enemies.”

    I can’t speak for your more irrational friends or enemies, but I’d suggest this is as much a function of what choices you’d realistically consider as it is of other people’s irrationality. It’s also probably untrue on the margin.

    Let’s be specific. I think fossil fuel subsidies should be abolished since they waste tax funds, and small disincentives against CO2 emissions are probably good for us by mitigating nearer-term climate damage. But the full near-term costs of preventing long-term climate change are too high in my opinion, especially if we don’t solve the global coordination problem underlying it. Since I’ll be dead in the long term, I don’t want to pay these costs. If you want to force us politically to pay them, you need to find a way to compensate us.

    Secondly, while I applaud your agreement that severely suffering, terminally ill people should have the right to die, I want this right even when I’m not terminally ill. You may consider suicide to be a threat to be protected from, but I consider it a personal choice with costs and benefits like any other to evaluate rationally. And I don’t like people who force blanket-pathologization on me and then suggest I should be banned from buying good suicide methods, as you have done. Your position is better than that of religious conservatives, but it still harms my personal interests severely. I don’t want to die a shittier death than the free market would allow me to die.

    Finally, your opposition to Trump is probably seen as a tribal thing by many, but I applaud it on non-tribal grounds. Trump went on a stage and yelled “Waterboarding is absolutely fine”, which is an open attack on basic human rights such as the torture prohibition. That can not go unanswered. Human rights are not zero-sum, they serve all human beings, which by definition means that those who attack and undermine them are harming literally everyone who will ever make political choices. Even from a conservative POV, Trump occupies an important position of power that could be occupied by a much better conservative. So kudos to you for standing up to him. He is a global problem that needs to be fixed. Not the only one, but a big one.

  50. The problem with gatekeepers Says:

    Scott #48

    On the issue of ending Aztec human sacrifice, I will say only a couple of things. Progressives have never seen a historical narrative that they didn’t like to destroy and distort to adapt to their “we want to control everything” agenda. The issue of the colonization of the Americas is one. Granted, what the colonial powers did was horrible, but guess what, that’s what people at the time (~1500s) did everywhere and the Aztecs and other peoples who lived in North and South America were no exception. Not only the colonization ended human sacrifice, but it brought institutions of higher learning there as well. This is the oldest university in the American continent , founded in 1551 . By contrast, Harvard was established in 1636, 85 years later. Same thing with North America. To call “Indian genocide” -as it is common in progressive circles- what happened here is to adopt a Whig history spin on that period of American history. I haven’t seen any evidence that would convince me that the Native Americans would have evolved, left at their own devices, to become the most prosperous civilization known to mankind as the United States is.

    With respect to the crowdsourcing models like Wikipedia, MathOverflow, count me as a skeptic. What happens in these sites is that those who go up in the knowledge hierarchy tend to be the “knowledge bullies” -as it happens in every social situation where there is alleged equality-, not necessarily those with the higher expertise or the best ideas. For example, I don’t think that the best mathematicians in the world -as measured by traditional awards or the value of their contributions- spent too much time there. They are probably plotting ways to crack problems like the Riemann hypothesis or the P vs NP question rather than trying to establish their reputations in Wikipedia or MathOverflow. This is not to say that Wikipedia or MathOverflow aren’t useful tools or that their crowdsourcing model didn’t make them successful. What I am saying is that this model is hardly a universal model to be extended to other areas, particularly politics. There was a period of my life (when I was in my 20s) when I believed also that there should be some sort of exam or selection in the process of who should be allowed to vote, but going through life taught me that in fact universal ballot associated to some random metric of maturity (like age) is for now the best way to select people eligible to vote. The actions of government affect us all in one way or another. When government is doing things that benefit society at large, most people won’t be interested in politics and those who are will dominate the conversation, creating a “de facto” hierarchy. However, when the political elites become corrupt and pursue policies that first and foremost serve to enrich themselves at the expense of the rest of society, universal suffrage gives the people the tools to defend themselves against said corrupt elite. That’s what happened in 2016. Even Michael Moore -no Trump friend- understood that. Note that this is different from the conversation about the electoral college. Although I like the idea of it forcing support being spread out (as oppose to a direct popular vote that would help a few populous states impose their beliefs on the US as a whole), I still think it should be reformed so that voters who live in states who are notoriously liberal (like New York) or conservative (Texas) don’t feel disenfranchised . A system like that of Maine or Nebraska or that would grant electors in a proportional or way that gives the winner a bonus could be adopted my most states that would be fairer than the current winner take-all system.

  51. The problem with gatekeepers Says:

    And following up with my previous comment about colonization having ended human sacrifice. The reason, in case people don’t know, lies on the doctrine of the Image of God (in Latin Imago Dei ). It asserts that human beings are created in the image of God and therefore, killing a human being gratuitously is a very grave offense to God as apposed to something that will please “the gods”. Both Judaism and Christianity assert it in no uncertain terms. While the most visible manifestations of this doctrine today are issues related to abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide, this doctrine set apart Judaism from other thousand year old faiths and continues to set Judaism and Christianity apart from other contemporary worldviews that see human beings are disposable. This is not to say that people who call themselves Jewish or Christian don’t distort the doctrine from time to time – like with the eugenics movement in the US in the first half of the XX-th century that was supported by most Protestant churches but vehemently opposed by the Roman Catholic Church- but the doctrine is a clear contrast with other forms of religion or worldviews that see human beings as disposable or killing a human being the equivalent of killing an animal.

  52. Jon K. Says:


    haha. And thanks for the link, Scott. I feel like you or someone else mentioned this essay before, but now that I’ve actually seen it and printed it out, I’m actually going to read it.

  53. Job Says:

    The truth is that, from the very beginning, this has never been a quantum computing or theoretical computer science blog—or rather it has been, but only incidentally. If you had to sum it up in one sentence, I suppose this blog has been about surviving and thriving as a quantum complexity theorist in a world that isn’t designed for quantum complexity theorists?

    No way has it been about that, please.

    As i remember it, it was foremost a place to discuss P vs NP.

    Why do you have to make everything about quantum computing? Talk about changing the narrative.

    Lets keep it real.

  54. Other Michael Says:

    @Scott#48- the problem is there’s a difference between an encyclopedia and real life. When writing an encyclopedia, you can have the guy that knows about quantum mechanics write the quantum mechanics article, the guy who knows about comics write the comics articles, the guy who knows about World War II write the World War II articles. In contrast, solving problems in real life involves integrating many different kinds of knowledge. In the case of global warming, you might have one guy who knows the science but is ignorant of the relevant laws, another guy who knows the relevant laws but is ignorant of the effects proposed regulations might have on small countries, etc.
    The other problem is that nobody’s going to make a big deal about not being allowed to write an encyclopedia article. The ignorant are going to be angry that policies that effect them are implemented without their consent- and may revolt.

  55. jonas Says:

    Scott #48: I really don’t think the analogy of Wikipedia or MathOverflow helps here.

    Let me remind you of what top levels fallbacks Wikipedia has. The Wikimedia Foundation has some non-elected officials or bosses who own the Wikipedias and sister projects, and have theoretically absolute power in them. Each project also has a few different groups of elected privilaged users with special powers, some of whom have to accept a legal contract before they can get their powers, mostly because they have access to a large amount of private personal information that they must not abuse. All privilages are generally kept until the user continues to be active, there’s no term limit. In the elections of officials, a uniformly weighted vote is given to every user that has reached a certain small amount of contributions on the wiki, measured automatically only by quantity rather than quality. Some elections use secret ballots, some use public ones.

    When the normal consensus and meritocracy mechanisms produce an obviously bad outcome or lead to a never-ending stall, the elected special users can and often do decide what happens. When even that fails, the non-elected owners step in. There is rarely a need for that, it mostly happens on small projects with too few contributors and not enough officials and ordinary power user dedicating time on fixing problems.

    In addition, basically all data except for the private user information on the Wikimedia projects are licenced freely, and is distributed in convenient backups that anyone can copy if they have enough disk space and internet connection bandwidth. These legal rights and technical solutions make it possible for a very dedicated group to fork a Wikimedia project, and, if the fork proves more popular than the original, effectively replace it. As far as I know, this has not happened yet with any non-tiny Wikimedia project, but it has happened to a few other wiki websites, such as forked from and overtaking it (although the Wikia overlords try to censor all information about this from Wikia because of commercial reasons), and All The Tropes forking from TvTropes but we can’t tell yet which one will win. (The same sort of forking happens often with free software projects: util-linux-ng started as a fork of util-linux, but is now the canonical and only maintained version; GraphicsMagic started as a fork of ImageMagick when people were dissatisfied with the older versions of the latter, although ImageMagick has improved a lot since and will probably take over ImageMagick; EGlibc was a fork of Glibc by people who weren’t satisfied with how Glibc was maintained and it got some serious use for a while, although it never became exclusive, and they eventually reconciled their differences and merged; libav is a fork of ffmpeg by unsatisfied Debian people which was developed seriously for a while but now seems to be waning as ffmpeg improved; libtom got taken over by a project of the same name when the single developer of the original libtom quit.)

    You can probably see why most of these fallbacks are impractical to apply to the United States government. There are no founders and investors of the legal entity who should serve as non-elected overlords with total power. There already are sworn in decision makers elected by a complicated indirect system, but at the bottom level, chosen indirectly by uniformly weighted votes restricted to people who are citizens of the United States. Citizenship is mostly awarded to humans by some mechanical rules based on how much the person actually lives or works or invests in the United States, and mostly not based on education or merit. While in some countries people have sometimes formed alternate governments when they believed the current leaders of the country were illegitimate, this is definitely isn’t a clear analogue of forking a project whose main value is the freely licensed information.

    If there is something you can learn from the Wikimedia projects, it is that arguments based on facts and reason, and listening to what the community of experts say usually helps people choose better decisions. You are already advocating this, and I fully agree. But it doesn’t really help you in creating an election system.

    The situation at Stack Exchange projects, of which the biggest is StackOverflow, is a bit more complicated. There are still non-elected overlords with close to absolute power (called developers and community moderators), only this time they’re chosen by the owners of a for-profit company, not a non-profit foundation. Each Stack Exchange site that is big enough has site moderators elected by people who have contributed a little to that site, which is measured in reputation which at that level mostly depends on up-votes received, and is not a very high bar. (Again, this is analogous to restricting votes in political elections to citizens or residents. Unlike in Wikimedia projects, Stack Exchange has a requirement of at least 13 years of age for all users, but this is often not enforced.) Site moderators only get their power if they sign a legal contract with Stack Exchange, again because they can access a large amount of private information that they must not abuse.

    It would be, in theory, possible to fork a Stack Exchange site with most of the collected knowledge preserved, but in practice this is harder both because of legal and technical reasons.

    Just like Wikipedia, Stack Exchange tries to encourage a public discussion supported by facts and reason as the normal method of decision making, with moderators doing boring housekeeping tasks most of the time, but able to step in when the normal process doesn’t work.

    Alone among Stack Exchange sites, MathOverflow has certain special privilages, which its original owners could secure because it was already a popular and independently owned website before joining the Stack Exchange network. These privilages guarantee that the MathOverflow owners can choose to part the site from the Stack Exchange network if they do not find the network satisfying. A minor privilage is having the domain name pointed to a separate meta forum not controlled by the Stack Exchange overlords, wich gives a convenient place to discuss whether MathOverflow should part the network. You could consider these privilages analogous to certain rights of partly autonomous communities within some countries.

    Obviously I don’t expect you to come up with a perfect election system. You did answer my question at least in part, but the next week I’ll have to carefully re-read what exactly you’re saying, and ponder how much it satisfyingly answers my question and how much it just avoids giving a straight answer.

  56. Rand Says:

    “Ask me for grad school advice, or comments on your CS idea, or whatever—and with nothing in it for me, and swamped with similar requests, see how much time I spend trying to help you.”

    I’m kind of surprised by this.

    A while back, I read this on your website:

    Scott Aaronson’s FAQ

    (please read before emailing me — your question might be here!)

    Q: Most Respected Profeser Sir Dr. Scot Andersen: I wish to join your esteemed research group. I have taken two courses in Signal Processing at the Technical College of Freedonia; thus, it is clear that I would be a perfect fit for your laboratory at MIT. Please respond immediately with a specific date for the commencement of my studies.

    A: For graduate admissions go to

    Q: Scott, did you hear the news yet?? There’s a link on Slashdot about how to solve NP-complete problems in linear time using Peanut M&M’s! There’s also an interview with Dr. Doofus McRoofus where he says quantum computing proves the reality of time travel! Plus, a mathematician at the University of Trivialshire has apparently announced a new number system where you can take not only square roots, but also the square roots of square roots! What do you think about all these developments? Please blog your reaction ASAP!

    A: Usually, I blog about such things only after they’ve gotten so much press that silence on my part would amount to complicity.

    Q: Dr. Aaronson, while your writings are of some interest, you have nevertheless a great deal to learn from my more refined insight and sagacity. In particular, your references to the so-called “theory of evolution” are surprisingly naīve and simplistic. You seem wholly unaware of the profound conundrum of how a system with a low degree of order can obtain progressively higher degrees of order, in direct contradistinction to the Second Law of Thermodynamics… [17 pages omitted] Please let me know when you will be available to enter into a sustained dialogue about the flawed presuppositions underlying empirical positivism.

    A: When I’m finished reviewing papers, writing up old results, etc. (Note: I will never be finished.)

    Q: Hello, I am interested in leaning about computer science !! Please give me some links to get started.


    This read to me (maybe unintentionally) as “I am too busy to respond to emails from non-MIT students / complexity theorists.” That’s something I’ve seen on other researchers blogs, too. As a PhD student at the time, I wasn’t getting any such emails and I figured that if Penn’s renowned PL and verification researchers were swamped, I could handle some of the runoff.

    Nobody took me up on this.

    I didn’t get the sense that anyone at Penn was getting enough of these emails for it to be a problem. But then, few of them are bloggers and they aren’t at MIT. (Which maybe makes a big difference to the Freedonians.)

    My takeaways:

    1) If you can afford not to have these messages on your website, don’t. They won’t discourage spammers but they will discourage people who don’t have the guts to stand up to a leading researcher and say “I didn’t go to the Technical College of Freedonia I went to the University of Illinois at Chicago!” That’s most people.

    2) I’d like to get a sense for how many emails you get and what percentage you respond to. Do you need people to handle the runoff? I’d be happy to, and – if you’d rather people you know better – I bet I could find willing people who you can trust.

    3) A while back you said you’ve stopped taking requests for interviews, which is reasonable coming from “the quantum computing guy”. (It often seems like journalists know at most one person per field, and you might even be “the computer scientist”, excluding security). Are you forwarding such requests to people you trust? If not, both of my offers above stand in this regard too.

    (All three points are addressed to other researchers having these problems as well – we can make this work.)

  57. The problem with gatekeepers Says:

    Jonas #55 ,

    I agree with pretty much everything you said except for this,

    “There are no founders and investors of the legal entity who should serve as non-elected overlords with total power”

    The founders are all dead now, but the investors and overlords are still alive and well: it’s “we the people”.

    This notion that the American government is, to quote Abraham Lincoln, “of the people, by the people, for the people” was revolutionary then and it is revolutionary now. All the different mechanisms that exist to elect and dispose of government officials and for each of the three branches of the US government to check the power of other branches exist precisely to prevent one individual (or a group of individuals) from subverting popular sovereignty.

    In the mind of the bureaucrat who believes to have a God given right to control other people’s lives, the notion of “popular sovereignty” is anathema. Our country’s federal government was conceived by people who were very suspicious of individuals -such as kings- who believed to have such God given right. For those of us who are suspicious of government in general, the American system is as close to perfection as it gets when it comes to political systems conceived throughout human history.

  58. Scott Says:

    Rand #56: Y’know, there are academics who don’t need an FAQ like that, because they pretty much just ignore emails whenever they feel like it! It’s only because I actually try to read and answer the entire flood of stuff—let’s say, at least ~15 “out-of-the-blue” personal emails each day requiring responses (wanting advice, an internship, an interview, comments on a paper or an idea, you name it), not counting all the “professional” emails that I also need to deal with—that I saw fit to put up a tongue-in-cheek FAQ targeting the bottom of the pile. 🙂

  59. Rand Says:

    I know that very well. I don’t like it – I would like academics to be more responsive. Most people didn’t go to MIT, they went to colleges you haven’t heard of. And having gone to a college that you have heard of but that had no active CS researchers, having applied to graduate school twice, once flying blind and the second with advice from some of Johns Hopkins’ top computer scientists (to whom I’m indebted) I can attest to the difference.

    So I’m glad that you try to answer emails. Try not to discourage them, though. Your advice is valuable and worth the time you put into it.

  60. Scott Says:

    Rand #59: I actually have a piece of advice for you or anyone else with the same issue. Try emailing academics who are relevant to your question but not in the public eye so much (e.g., who are more junior, don’t write a blog, and/or don’t typically talk to journalists). They might get an order of magnitude less of this stuff and be able to be much more responsive.

  61. Rand Says:

    Scott 60: That’s good advice! Maybe put it in your FAQ? Even better would be to have a list of younger researchers who are happy to field emails.

    If people are interested in the intersection of quantum computing and formal verification, they can email (which will hopefully forward to my new address once I have one).

  62. Sniffnoy Says:

    Scott #48:

    As I think others have already noted above, the question facing any of these alternate forms of democracy is, what happens once there’s actual stakes? People will press on it hard in a way such systems aren’t necessarily meant to stand up to. And it gets worse when you take politicization into account. If you try to build your system on good results given the inputs, politicization can just corrupt the inputs, causing all sorts of additional damage in the process (beyond what it’s trying to accomplish, I mean, if you don’t mind the anthropomorphism).

    But, I do have to note that what you suggest seems to bear a resemblance to the idea of delegative or “liquid” democracy, which I do think is pretty interesting. The Wikipedia article doesn’t focus on this aspect but it’s generally specified as allowing you to delegate to different people depending on topic (how that’s determined is another question, I guess, but…).

  63. mjgeddes Says:


    Yes, the solution to all our problems might just be found by reading wikipedia! Seriously. For enlightenment, read wikipedia! 🙂

    Here’s my wiki-book on ‘Sociology&Politics’:

    Includes articles on 150 key historical events that pretty much created the modern world as we know it today.

    It’s really surprising just how good wikipedia now is. I remember way back when it first started out, I was really skeptical, but it’s turned into a fantastic resource! Two years ago I began my project to ‘map the structure of all knowledge’, and I used wikipedia article as my corpus. The project topped out at around 10 000 articles carefully hand-selected by myself. There are about 50K very high-quality articles on wikipedia, but I estimate that reading all my selected 10K articles provides about 80% of the understanding. (following the 80/20 Pareto principle).


    One of my key findings appears to be related to Hanson’s Near-Far mode theory. Every subject A has a corresponding subject B which represents the *same* reality but at a *different* level of abstraction. I call the pair (A,B) ‘Low-Level Mode’ and ‘High-Level Mode’.

    For instance, Decision Theory and Game Theory may superficially seem to be two different subjects , but in fact they’re just two different cognitive modes for explaining the same things! (Decision Theory=Low-Level Mode, Game Theory=High-Level Mode). As another example, Computational Complexity Theory is low-level mode, and Automata Theory is the corresponding high-level mode. One can therefore integrate pairs of related subjects A&B into a single knowledge domain, and relate them all via a natural hierarchy.

  64. Martin Sustrik Says:

    When reading about PoPC it occurred to me that you may like Stefan Zweig’s “Triumph and Tragic of Erasmus of Rotterdam,” a portrait of a humanist intellectual trying to navigate between the fanaticism of Catholic church and fanaticism of Martin Luther and preach moderation in the time of a deep religious divide.

  65. Rahul Says:

    Re. #14: “immediately offered to publish the perpetrator’s name on this blog …”

    I often face this dilemma. Do I consider this a service to society or a kangaroo court / trial by media? How is this different, say, from vigilante justice. Agreed you cannot penalize but in today’s world just having your name tarnished on a popular blog like yours may be in itself a huge penalty.

    What’s the right framing to think of this. Isn’t there the risk of damning the innocent? Also, if you were so certain he was guilty are our formal systems of justice so flawed that they dismiss these accusations?

    What are your thoughts on this?

  66. Andrew Krause Says:

    You’re an incredible human Scott. Thank you for being a good example of a flawed person striving for compassion, even when it hasn’t often been shown to you. We could all do more to fight for a nuanced and compassionate understanding of one another.

  67. Scott Says:

    Rahul #65: On this issue, as on many others, I strongly believe that there’s no general rule that can remove the need for human judgment. In the particular case I was talking about, I had excellent reasons to think that

    (1) the women, who described in great detail what happened, were telling the truth,
    (2) the truth was pretty damning for the perpetrator, and
    (3) formal complaints had yielded no meaningful result. (Incidentally, as we’re seeing now with the Avital Ronell affair, the people who do the loudest political posturing about sexual harassment sometimes take a very different attitude when it’s their own friend being accused…) (Update: I wrote the above just one day before the New York Times ran the story that Asia Argento, one of the founders and leaders of the MeToo movement, herself tried to buy silence from a boy who accused her of statutorily raping him.)

    I regret that I can’t share more out of respect for the women’s wishes. In any event, I don’t mean to generalize from this case to others: while there’s some value to looking at base rates and applying Bayes’ rule, ultimately every case needs to be examined individually using reason and judgment and empathy, and not merely collapsed into some wider social phenomenon.

  68. Rahul Says:

    Thanks Scott.

    Here’s a follow up point: You mention “I regret that I can’t share more out of respect for the women’s wishes.”

    Fair enough. Yet, you mentioned before that “I immediately offered to publish the perpetrator’s name on this blog”

    Were you planning to ask for permission from the perpetrator before naming him? Or were you going to offer him a private chance to rebut the accusations even?

    Any justification why you regard respecting the women’s wishes stronger than the perpetrator’s (I’m assuming the perpetrator doesn’t wish himself publicly named either)?

    Note, I’m not equating the rights of the perpetrator with the victims. Just that aren’t we ignoring the “innocent until proven guilty” precept?

  69. Scott Says:

    Rahul #68: That’s an interesting moral and strategic question. If, hypothetically, I were to out an accused harasser on this blog, about whom let’s suppose I had extremely strong evidence of guilt, should I first give the accused a chance to respond privately (and thus, perhaps, proactively try to discredit me or the accusers, or otherwise “get out in front of the story”)? What do others think?

  70. Rahul Says:

    Off topic, but whats the latest on the scattershot boson sampling project?

  71. Rahul Says:


    I’m only following certain ideas;

    (a) prior to been proven guilty (even if by argument on your blog) the accused should be accorded equal rights as the accusers

    (b) even if *you* feel you have strong evidence, principles of justice demand, you shouldn’t conclude anything till the accused gets a chance to respond

    (c) The accused should at a minimum enjoy the same rights to privacy that you grant the accusers

    (d) I’d rather let a guilty accused go free than damn an innocent. The weighting of a false positive and a false negative aren’t the same.

  72. Scott Says:

    Rahul #70: The most recent experimental work on scattershot BS that I know about came from the groups of Chaoyang Lu in Hefei, China and of Fabio Sciarrino in Rome. The work is very cool, and I hope it eventually scales up to show quantum supremacy (despite the analysis by Clifford and Clifford suggesting that at least ~60 photons would be needed for this). On the other hand, I think it’s fair to say that the current frontier for quantum supremacy experiments has moved away from BosonSampling and towards random quantum circuit sampling with superconducting qubits (or perhaps trapped ions).

  73. qwertytrewq Says:

    Have you tried making peace with Arthur Chu? If I were him, I’d be aggravated by some of the things you wrote about him.

    My views are the opposite to Satoshi’s — I don’t see how Art could be enjoying this. The fact that he could be, is interesting and counter-intuitive.

  74. Scott Says:

    qwertytrewq #73: LOL, did you see the things he said about me on Twitter (to a larger audience than the readership of this blog), and which prompted my much more moderate responses? Did you bother to check before leaving your comment?

    Yes, I did send him an email trying to discuss and make peace after he’d attacked me, and informing him I’d donated $250 to his favorite charity (Emily’s List). He never responded.

  75. jonas Says:

    Re problem with gatekeepers #57: which founders are dead? Jimbo Wales is the founder of Wikipedia, and he’s alive, and Joel Spolsky is a founder of Stack Overflow and he seems to be alive as well.

  76. Other Michael Says:

    @jonas#75- I think the problem with gatekeepers means the founders of the UNITED STATES are dead, not the founders of Wikipedia and Stack Overflow.

  77. melior Says:

    Shine on, you crazy diamond!

  78. The problem with gatekeepers Says:

    jonas #75

    I was referring to the founders of the American democracy. They are all dead. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t investors or overlords interested in having a functioning government. The government works for the people and the people has a vested interest in having a government that provides basic services like national security or the justice system so people are not worried about being invaded by a foreign power and know that there is a system to address the grievances that inevitably result from having people living close to each other -like somebody trying to steal your car. Those are basic functions of government that even tyrannical regimes like North Korea provide to their citizens. Of course, the US government provides much more, for example a system of individual freedoms setup by the aforementioned dead people, in some cases welfare payments, etc. So what I am saying is that government does have investors even though the people who set it up are all dead. But because the actions of government affect all of us in society -as opposed to a few who, comparatively speaking, are interested in say having an online encyclopedia that provides accurate information- government cannot follow the Wikipedia model. What I said is that the system setup by the Founding Fathers is as close to perfection as it comes among all known systems of government, which is not to say that there couldn’t be a better system. But I am not convinced that the Wikipedia model is the right model. Imagine a society in which all major decisions are made by professors of political science from Harvard and similar institutions and you pretty quickly reach the same conclusion William F. Buckley, Jr. did “I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University”

  79. Rahul Says:

    Scott #11″….there was an extremely strong and surprising national split, with Americans siding with the police and non-Americans siding with me. ….”

    Is this really surprising? My perception is that US officers behave a lot more aggressively when interacting with suspects because they have a higher risk profile with the number of weapons around in society.

    e.g. For 2014, I see that 125 US law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty, with 50 by gunfire alone. Do European officers face similar odds?

    So aren’t the police officer responses conditioned by the environment? And European commentators used to seeing the friendly officer around somehow expect the same in other scenarios?

    But is that fair?

  80. Scott Says:

    Rahul #79: If so, then that’s a reason to favor strong gun control for the US, over and above all the reasons that I knew previously. Since that’s not going to happen, it’s also, on the margin, made me more interested in the possibility of someday moving abroad.

  81. Rahul Says:

    Scott #80:

    Sure. I’m all for gun control!

    All, I’m saying is it’s impractical and unfair (not by you, but perhaps by EU commentators) to judge police response tactics ignoring the environment the operate in and the risks specific to that.

  82. The problem with the gatekeepers Says:

    Scott #80

    Are you sure the grass is greener abroad?

    The data doesn’t seem to support the existence of a Nirvana outside the US borders. Typically, people tend to leave hard places for better ones. The two US borders are a case in point:

    – The US/Canada border is usually referred to as the least guarded border in the world. Whether the qualifier “least in the world” is true, the reality is that the US spends little money patrolling that border. And yet, I don’t see Canada at the receiving end of immigration pressure from Americans who are willing to escape to move there, not even when Donald Trump wins the election, despite all the threats made by liberals unhappy with the result of the 2016 election. Further, this article (a bit dated, but I don’t think the numbers today might be that much off) says “According to a report by Statistics Canada about 167,300 Canadian residents moved to the U.S. between 2001 and 2006*. That’s about 33,000 per year. By comparison about 9,000 Americans move to Canada each year, and the U.S. has nine times as many people.”

    – The US/Mexico border is a political issue of the first order in the US. There is actual immigration pressure from Mexico to the US but not the other way around. So much so, that it’s not only Mexican nationals attempting to cross this border illegally but “According to immigration officials and attorneys, there has been an increase in recent years of Indian nationals crossing into the U.S. through Mexico — although they represent a small percentage of those detained overall. Indian citizens are among thousands of migrants from Haiti, Africa and Asia now trekking across Latin America, taking advantage of travel routes forged by Latino immigrants.”

    And if you think that Western Europe is better, please read this . As one of the people identified as Joseph Guindi explains “Every country sucks one way or another. Every single one. It’s one thing to travel there for two weeks, it’s another to wait 3 months for the Internet to get connected (Germany).”

    Warren Buffet put it best “Buffett says, he and Munger won the real-life version of the ovarian lottery and that helped launch them into their immense success. “I mean, Charlie — when we were born the odds were over 30-to-1 against being born in the United States, you know? Just winning that portion of the lottery, enormous plus,” he says.”

    Be careful of what you wish for!

  83. qwertytrewq Says:

    I wasn’t blaming you, Scott. I was suggesting a way out of your spat, based on a model I have about how people act in these situations. I guess that didn’t work then…

  84. Scott Says:

    qwertytrewq #83: OK, thanks for the clarification!

  85. Sniffnoy Says:

    Is this really surprising? My perception is that US officers behave a lot more aggressively when interacting with suspects because they have a higher risk profile with the number of weapons around in society.

    A higher risk profile, yes, but if the question is if it’s higher enough to justify how the police in the US actually act, I think the answer is no.

  86. jonas Says:

    Ah, those founders. Sorry for the confusion.

  87. fred Says:

    Bringing your arrest incident into the world of QC, in what portion of the Many-Worlds do you recon you ended up getting shot over this?

    (I’m grateful to live in a branch where you are unharmed!)

  88. terebinth Says:

    TPWTG #82:

    “Every country sucks one way or another. Every single one. It’s one thing to travel there for two weeks, it’s another to wait 3 months for the Internet to get connected (Germany).”

    As a Western European, I love visiting the USA regularly for a few days or weeks. But I cannot imagine living in a society with a penal system that would make any rich nation outside China or the Middle East blush. I’ll swap waiting for an Internet contract for avoiding that.

    I also have a problem with the weird US Constitution-and-founders shibboleth (the only equivalent weirdness I regularly see in Western Europe is the UK NHS shibboleth) but I understand that these things tend to be non-negotiable for many people.

  89. Aaron G Says:

    I would have to confess that until I became an (admittedly occasional) read of your blog, I had never heard of either SneerClub or Arthur Chu.

    One way to interpret this is how out of touch I am with social media. The other way is how utterly irrelevant both SneerClub and Arthur Chu are.

    Having taken a (mercifully brief) glance at both, and determining (in the case of SneerClub) how utterly unrepresentative they are of political progressives, you can take a guess which interpretation I follow! 😉

  90. Aaron G Says:

    BTW Scott, if you want a better example of people I consider to be a far better representative of progressive forces in the US, I would recommend going on YouTube and listening to either Kyle Kulinski of Secular Talk, or Cenk Uygur and his team at The Young Turks. While I don’t always agree with all of their views, I have found them to be engaging, and I believe you will as well.

  91. The problem of the gatekeepers Says:

    jonas #86

    No worries. Incidentally, I had a similar incident recently while replying to an email where I understood a particular word to mean something totally different -because of what was going on in my head- from what the writer of the email intended and the response I gave was nonsensical :-). I think that email/forums are very prone to this kind of misunderstandings.

    terebinth #88

    In fact I am not disagreeing with what I see as the gist of your point: each country has its issues and there is no Nirvana country. I happen to like the US a lot, and not because I was born and brainwashed here, but because I too was born and raised in Western Europe (prefer not to say where) and became an American by choice. When you go all the way to acquire a new citizenship -as opposed to merely being a tourist or a visitor- it’s only normal that you understand what makes the your new country different from other countries and particularly different from your country of birth. The feature I like most of the United States is that it really lives by the motto “It doesn’t matter where you are coming from. All that matters is where you are going”. This doesn’t mean it is an easy ride -it isn’t by any stretch of the imagination- but while most European countries that I know are riddled with nepotism -with the elites of the current generation generally being descendants of the elites of the previous generation- here in the US one gets the feeling that the sky is the limit. And it shows in things like for example where you went to school -and what you majored in- as an undergraduate doesn’t determine your future as much as what I have seen in Europe. Or that it is perfectly possible to get an excellent graduate education even if you went to a lousy high school or a lousy college for undergraduate. With enough good working experience, your college degree is irrelevant whereas in countries like the UK one can make a career out of having gone to Cambridge or Oxford as an undergraduate.

    Fundamentally, the US is a much younger country that grew out of people who left Europe seeking a better future away from aristocrats and feudal lords -and who fought an independence war to get out of the political sphere of an absolute king and live by the values of the US declaration of independence. This is the DNA in the United States’ founding. As with any great institution that survives for a long time, the DNA of the founding is still with us. U2’s singer put it best here .

  92. Anon Says:

    Thank you Scott. I’m a graduate student, and regular reader of your blog.

    I really find your QC writing interesting, although I only parse 50% of it at best, but also get very excited when you write about other things.

    For me, your blog is a place where I look for inspiration to survive in this world. I too suffer from lots of anxiety, and find myself admiring Obama in what feels like no-man’s land on the right and left of politics, and occasionally question why I’m so fragile that I cannot function well anywhere but within a nerdy group. I too want to see Enlightenment values advanced.

    This blog post lifts me, it’s like therapy, making me see that one can be kind, caring for the world’s betterment, doing great science, and following and voicing ideas on politics, suffer from depression, all of these together. Yes, you might not win over your haters, but you help your admirers out of hard places. Thank you.

  93. Scott Says:

    Anon #92: No, thank YOU.

  94. Scott Says:

    Fred #87:

      Bringing your arrest incident into the world of QC, in what portion of the Many-Worlds do you recon you ended up getting shot over this?

    I don’t recon it in any of the branches. Reconnaissance between branches would violate the linearity of QM. 😀

  95. fred Says:

    Scott #94,

    (sorry if this is not appropriate for this thread)

    a while back you posted about the so-called “reversal of causality” between high level entities and the low-level ones they’re made of.
    There seems indeed no way around the fact that physics is always going to be bottom-up, i.e. there’s no such thing as “true” emergence – all macro properties can always be broken down into the state evolution of their constituting bottom components.

    But isn’t it also true that something like a desktop computer is characterized by the fact that some of its macro state (the high level abstract entities within it) is very robust/independent in relation to the low level quantum fluctuations of its atoms. So when running a particular algorithm this PC will output the exact same result across a very large portion of the branches of the Many-worlds in which it exits.
    And if this is also true for the human brain (and anything performing “computations”), it could suggest that human history (at least the part of it depending on human “decisions”) is way less sensitive to quantum fluctuations than we think? (e.g. the allies won WW2 in most of the branches of the MW).
    Isn’t this a subtle but significant alteration of the typical way we view bottom-up causality? (I realize that this is a trivial observation in the context of statistical physics/entropy theory).

    A QC seems a bit paradoxical from that point of view – unlike a classical computer, it relies very much on the precise micro state of some of its atoms, so all copies of it in neighboring MW branches are in a very different state while the computation is going, but once the computation ends, they almost all end up back in the same state (?)

  96. Rage Against Says:

    I don’t really understand what the big deal is about the so-called arrest!?! You weren’t arrested, rather, you were simply cuffed and questioned. I have been arrested before – more than once, and I hate to think how you would react were you to actually be arrested! The intake at any given county jail is nothing short of insane! Officers in intake take pride in becoming physical – and bitch about it too, see what happens! I once spent close to 4 hours in a room, stripped down to shorts – no shirt, no shoes, that must of been hovering around 40 degrees – yeah, air-conditioning. It’s not uncommon for them to pack 100 men into a room designed for 20 and leave you there – without air-conditioning, for tens of hours. Bologna sandwich and peanut butter bar, that’s your squares – eat the peanut butter bar and you won’t shit for a week.

    I think everyone should spend some time locked-up – and some time living under a bridge too: that were the case, this fucked up world we call America would be a whole helluva lot better. I’ve been homeless for 10 years now . . . and let me tell you, Barack Obama – Barry he likes to call himself, is a first-class prick; Bernie Sanders too . . . But neither hold a candle to Bob Mueller or James Comey. Every serious case of fascism in the history of humankind has its root in either socialism or communism. I’m a true warrior; a member of the Fuck em all Party!

  97. middle aged veterinarian Says:

    (sorry for the long comment, it has a compliment, an observation or two, and a citation).

    the compliment – Anybody who reads your (Scott) reflections and does not understand that you are a gifted person at understanding the human heart is not reading closely enough.

    the observations – 20 years from now, to say that there is such a thing as nerds will probably be hate speech. And I am no SJW but I think that is a good thing. There is not a single person who thinks of himself as a nerd who cannot be, tomorrow, that guy (or that young woman) who is really into something that connects him or her to the world – body building, anti-aversion training (that is, focusing intellectual energy on connecting with potential friends), or just simple compassion for the less intelligent, demonstrated by charitable deeds (see Ricoeur for details on why you should never minimize the existence of someone else by labelling them with a generic negative term, such as nerd – such terms are never accurate because no individual is generic).

    now a different observation – like anyone else, I hate it when someone lashes out at me on the internet. People who do not feel bad about being lashed out on the internet (but rather, feel justified that their critics are so obviously cretinous) all understand this – the world is a bad place, there is a percentage of humanity who are sociopathic and want to harm others, and many – billions per year – of the interactions on the internet are the vicious comments of people who are, if not true sociopaths, people who are giving themselves, in a morally bad moment, a little holiday where they can say the most vicious things they can imagine, because their opinions are good, in their own minds. People who do not feel bad about being lashed out on the internet by trolls think of their critics in the way the earlier commenter said the Dalai Lama felt about his Chinese haters (as if they were abused children) or simply as pitiful, non-self-aware troll/people who do not recognize the sociopathy, or just the stupidity, in their hearts.

    The citations – Ricouer is good, but not great, on these subjects. As for people who worry they may be condemned to be a nerd for longer than they think – you are either descended from a few billion carbon-based creatures, not a single one of which was unable to reproduce, so the statistical chances of your being a “nerd” in the true sense, the first “nerd” in a long long line of non-nerds, are vanishingly small (less than one in a billion, if you understand statistics); —or else God created you, and loves you, and wants you to be happy. That is my best guess – if you want to know why I think so, Proverbs 8 is a good start in your Bible reading, I also recommend The Song of Songs and the bravery described in, of all places, the genealogies in the Book of Chronicles (that is where the Prayer of Jabez comes from, but if you read a good Bible with commentary you will see what I am talking about in much greater detail).

  98. fred Says:

    Nowadays cops have pretty much no choice but apply the laws by the book, regardless of the specific circumstances of a situation.
    Just like airport security screening has to put an 80-year-old Swedish granny and 20-year-old bearded Afghan man on equal footing.

    This insures they can’t be accused of profiling but also that common sense and optimum resource allocation are out of the picture.

  99. Denis Says:

    This is a comment on the previous post, really (sorry). I sympathize. I had a similar experience. I was once out strolling along the train tracks as I often did, when two police officers jumped right out of the bushes flashing a flashlight into my eyes (it was twilight). Straight off the bat they began accusing me of being someone who they were (as it turned out) looking for. They also played the good cop – bad cop routine (I wasn’t aware of it being a thing at the time). Since I had some documents on me, they understood fairly quickly that I wasn’t the person they needed, but it was a real and a very unpleasant interrogation, with the bad cop constantly accusing me of lying. Since this happened near the tracks, I at first thought they were after me because I shouldn’t have been there, so my null-assumption was that I was guilty. When they let me go there was no apology or anything, they were just like “uh, okay, nevermind”, and I was really mildly shaking by that point and felt pretty violated. This was about 10 years ago, and ever since I on occasion sink into a fantasy wherein a similar situation plays out, but instead of being taken aback by the rudeness of the bad cop I calmly and firmly ask the officers to stop playing the game, lest I refuse to cooperate. I am still waiting for an opportunity to do that to present itself. It’s good, I think (for you anyway), that you had the experience at about 40 years of age with your family nearby. I had it at 25, alone, in an industrial zone in the Toronto twilight.

  100. Raoul Ohio Says:

    Agree with Satoshi #1:

    Why do you read this crap? Why do you respond? That just eggs them on.

  101. middle aged veterinarian Says:

    I meant Girard, not Ricoeur. Sorry!

  102. Scott Says:

    Raoul #100: I can answer that question. It’s because their confidence baffles me. They’re able to diagnose all my flaws, all the ways I’m an awful human being, while remaining flawless themselves. They might allow, in their most generous moments, that I could still learn—they who have nothing of importance left to learn and are fully “woke.” They’re able to sit in ultimate judgment over me, like God blotting me out from the Book of Life, they who comment on Reddit using handles like “Shitgenstein.” A neutral observer might say that I’m doing … pretty OK compared to most of them, probably, and so for that matter are Julia Galef and Scott Alexander and Paul Graham and Steven Pinker, so maybe we know something they could learn from? But they’re not perturbed for even a nanosecond. What is the source of this beatific confidence, and where can I get some?

    And there’s something else: their fire is almost completely unreturned. Someone coming across them for the first time would find an absurdly lopsided debate: a mountain of attacks against the narcissistic, racist, misogynist nerds with barely any reply from the latter. And I fear: would this person conclude that we don’t respond because we secretly know the attacks are justified (rather than: having actual positive things to do with our lives)? Like, my responses have surely amounted to less than 0.1% of what they’ve said about us, and were all directly provoked by what they’ve said about us. Yet it’s my responses that they marvel at and psychoanalyze, rather than their own bullying hate.

    This post is currently undergoing its own two minutes’ hate at the hate club. The consensus there seems to be: spending much of the day helping anyone who comes along with their CS questions, going to bat for one’s students, donating to charity, etc. etc. are all completely irrelevant, like a Catholic buying indulgences. You can never atone for having the wrong ideology by being a good person. It’s funny, because my credo in life was always the opposite: that you can never atone for being a bad person (in the sense of, taking delight in others’ suffering) by having the right ideology.

  103. Dan T. Says:

    So, the sneer people keep talking about you, and you talk about them talking about you, and they talk about you talking about them talking about you, and it keeps on going to infinite recursion. Nothing will ever be resolved, since you have the home field advantage on your blog and they have the home field advantage on their subreddit, and people with the home field advantage on an online forum have near-unlimited ability to spin things so that they seem in the right and the other side in the wrong.

  104. Scott Says:

    Question: Do people here think that I should, not merely stop referring to the hate club by name, but stop checking it altogether? (Fine to respond just with “yes” or “no.”)

    On the “pro” side, reading their attacks on me and people who matter to me has become one of the central causes of depression in my life. It ruins the rest of my day.

    On the “con” side, they seem to have an unerring instinct for mocking the people who are most interesting and original. I’ll probably miss out on some rationalists and technologists who I should be reading, and who I’d learn about only via others’ hatred for them.

    And also, it absolutely kills me for people to accuse me of things behind my back. My instinct, as soon as I’m aware of it, is to confront the accuser and ask him or her to repeat the charge in front of me and everyone else, so that I can consider it and respond to it.

    Now, though, I feel locked in one of the most unpleasant conversations of my life. I never asked for this conversation — they’re the ones who started it, by repeatedly attacking me (and others who never did anything to them), and then acting shocked and offended when I respond. What makes the conversation so unpleasant is its radically asymmetric nature: the topic is only ever what’s wrong with me (or whoever else they’re attacking), never, ever what’s wrong with them such that they choose to spend their time attacking people online.

  105. Other Michael Says:

    I think you should stop checking not only the hate club but attacks on you or nerds in general. I think that at least part of the reason you keep checking is to confirm to yourself that you’re not a bad person, and as long as you keep checking your “depression” will just get worse.

  106. Dan T. Says:

    Face it, you’re not going to be able to resist it… Somebody Is Wrong On The Internet!

  107. Scott Says:

    Other Michael #105: What I keep thinking is, don’t I have the right to be tried by a jury of my peers? Like, if I’d actually harmed anyone, then let the victim confront me. But if it’s just going to be people sitting around on Reddit discussing my general value as a human being and my worthiness to live, then shouldn’t it be people who either (1) know me, or (2) have taken the trouble to learn the first thing about theoretical computer science? When did I submit to having my existence weighed on the scales of eternity by “queerbees,” “MightyCapybara,” and “completely-ineffable”?

  108. James Gallagher Says:

    For fuck’s sake Aaronson, pull yourself together! You are infinitely more valuable to the world than that stupid reddit sub (one of the most irrelevant and poorly subscribed I’ve seen, and I have visited many stupid subs over the years)

    Ignore that kind of shit man, if you could actually see the people who post, in real life, all lined up in front of you you would laugh at how pathetic they are as failed people in society.

  109. Scott Says:

    James #108: Thank you, I needed that. It’s because of your comment that I can now spend the night doing some actual work!

  110. Douglas Knight Says:

    Definitely stop reading them.

  111. John Baez Says:

    Should you ignore your silly detractors, Scott? Definitely. First, you’re a lot more famous than them and you’re just helping them gain attention by mentioning their existence. You’re probably making very happy and excited, too. Second, you’re probably not making yourself any happier or wiser by reading their stuff. Consign them to oblivion.

  112. pete W Says:


    Your “being arrested” post resonated with me. I am also very absent minded and tend to make un-understandable mistakes in public situations. I also have situations where I simply do not recall my actions as my mind was occupied with something else. I have an additional difficulty – I am nearly deaf and so I miss a lot of clues in human interaction, and opportunities to defuse bad situations quickly. It is a wonder that I have never been shot or at least arrested.
    In your situation, I see no significant wrongdoing on either side. Yet you, understandably, feel bad about it and appear to have spent considerable time worrying about whether your position as a functioning member of our society is in question. You rightly conclude that it isn’t.
    Guided by similar experiences, my take is that because of mental and physical characteristics we are outliers and that suffering is sometimes the result. It’s not really fair but it is not surprising and really cannot be blamed on our fellow humans. When things like this happen, we have to swallow pride and work to diffuse the situation, like you did. And we need to recognize this as something that will sometimes happen, and not worry about it too much.

  113. Zans Mihejevs Says:

    >My instinct, as soon as I’m aware of it, is to confront the accuser and ask him or her to repeat the charge in front of me and everyone else, so that I can consider it and respond to it.

    Oh, by all means, professor, here’s an honest offer: if this stuff bothers you so much, I am happy to meet you for lunch and discuss in person what exactly people are complaining about.

    You’d have to pay for my flight to the US, of course, but I’m happy to take care of my own accommodation for the trip.

    Then you can see for yourself how “pathetic” and “failed in society” the people who criticise you are.

  114. Daniel Says:

    Yes, definitely stop checking. It is poison. It can lead down an obsessive spiral, and the best way to deal with an obsessive behaviour is to not feed it.

  115. Dan T. Says:

    pete W 112:

    Not to get you even more panicky or anything, but here’s an example of how the authorities sometimes treat nearly-deaf people:

  116. Scott Says:

    Zans #113: Email me if you’d like to discuss this. (Before buying a plane ticket for a stranger that could cost thousands of dollars, I’d at least like some idea of what wisdom I could expect to gain!) Certainly I’d be happy to meet if you were ever in the US for another reason, or if I were where you are.

  117. Scott Says:

    fred #95: You ask questions that are probably too big for a blog comment section. 🙂 Yes, there are many macroscopic phenomena (e.g., the path of a thrown baseball) that are extremely insensitive to quantum-level fluctuations. Because of the chemistry of sodium-ion channels, whether a given neuron fires or not seems like a good example of something that probably is sometimes sensitive to quantum fluctuations—although if so, one can then ask separately whether that fact has any broader importance. Yes, a quantum computer would (by definition) be sensitive to fine details of the quantum state of its hardware—although the amazing upshot of the Fault-Tolerance Theorem is that even a QC could be robust to fluctuations involving any small number of atoms, since the quantum state that’s relevant for the computation can be encoded entirely in collectve degrees of freedom.

  118. Scott Says:

    John Baez #111: Thanks so much. It means a lot to me—especially coming from someone who’s been a voice of reason and sanity on the Internet since before most people knew what the Internet was.

  119. Rand Says:

    To whatever extent you possibly can, ignore them and definitely try not to respond to them. The real you shines through on this website: if people want to know your side of the story, it’s here for them to read.

    As for finding brilliant and interesting people: Don’t worry, Scott Alexander will find them – or they’ll find him. (Though I don’t know when the last link round up was…)

  120. Tim May Says:

    Scott, since you asked us for opinions/views:

    — I first advise you spend a lot less on your-self-described guilt as some kind of Jewish nerd/schlemiel/ teen/ horny non-operative/ unsuited person.

    — second, were I you, I would drop whole nerd/geek/dwork/schemiel/geek personna. Attempting to “reclaim” insults words is just like the negro or homosexual attempting to reclaim the words that once insulted them.

    — I graduated from high school in 1970. No special SAT studies, no summer cram schools. I was accepted at Stanford, MIT, and Berkeley. Nobody in high school, that I recall, ever called me a dwork, a dweeb, a nerd, a tool, or any similar insult terms.

    “Werent’ you that nerd who was in my chemistry class? ” is an intended insult.

    — to “valorize,” as the lit-crit, cli-lit, leftist, feminista, queer community now calls it, such terms of denigration is to accept the inital term. “We are reclaming these terms.” As “Nizzaz Wiy

    — I am now wealthy, have some achievements can Google under my real name, and was never anyone’s dweeb, dork, geek, tool, or nerd.

    Scott, you are a brilliant addition to the human race. But you really need to stop with these every-few-months rants about how much of a dork or dweeb you are.

    Enjoy the ride and stop playing the self-deprecating schlemiel stereotypical role that the (apparently) self-hating Jew Wood Allen apparently has lived in Real Life.

    P.S . Ask Dana if having a very successful career, a pretty wife, a couple of young kids is AT ALL consistent your self-trashing yourself as a nerd unsuited to the modern world.

    It’s not realistic, It’s self-insulting, narcisissitic, and it’s very probably borderline neurotic.

    –Tim May, my real, Intel 1974-8, crypto, Cypherpunk since then

  121. Pete W Says:

    Dan T. #115

    “It wasn’t merely her jaywalking that gave rise to Corvello’s outrage. It was her failure to do as he commanded, a cardinal sin.”

    This pretty much sums it up for me. I am afraid that I will find myself unable to do something required by someone who is capable of frequent and spontaneous outrage and tends to act on it. I don’t think it’s super likely though. And there are a lot of people out there who are far more at risk than me.

  122. Scott Says:

    Tim May #120: I had to remove an offensive word from your comment.

    The tricky part is, I’ve found that being open and vulnerable and nerdy and radically honest works very well in real life—well, not for dating, but for everything else (and dating is fortunately no longer relevant for me). As I mentioned in an earlier comment, it means that everywhere you go, you accumulate friends and fans with whom you can let your guard down, because they know what you’re really like and like you anyway.

    And this way of being even worked very well on the Internet until ~5 years ago. It works until and unless there are outrage factories willing to devote a lot of time to weaponizing your openness and vulnerability against you for ideological reasons.

    None of the above would’ve been obvious to me a-priori (“outrage factories? who’d want to start one of those?” 🙂 ). It represents hard-earned wisdom that I can now share, free of charge.

  123. The problem with the gatekeepers Says:

    Tim May #120

    Is this you ? From online sources, it seems it was written in 1992. It was at least 15 years ahead of its time since the massive adoption of online for everything started in 2007 (the year of twitter, the iphone, Hadoop, the spread of facebook outside its niche, etc). I am particularly impressed that you already saw that “The State will of course try to slow or halt the spread of this technology, citing national security concerns, use of the technology by drug dealers and tax evaders, and fears of societal disintegration”.

    Dude, that was awesome!

  124. Scott Says:

    To Tim May: I have some thoughts that I’d be happy to share privately, but I couldn’t find an email address for you that worked. If you’re interested, feel free to shoot me an email.

  125. Jud Says:

    “Every week or so I get emails from people wanting to share their spiritual theories with me….”

    Seems roughly equivalent to:

    “Every week or so I get seeds from people wanting me to plant them here in the Atacama….”

    Weird. Maybe they can’t wait to send their Good News to everyone? Or perhaps you present a challenge.

    Oh, about the folks who dislike you for being yourself: I doubt it’s because you threaten their worldview. I think it’s because they dislike and distrust nearly everyone, with the possible exception of former New York real estate con men on the one hand, or Noam Chomsky on the other (but he’s a guy so I could be wrong).

  126. fred Says:

    Scott #122

    “And this way of being even worked very well on the Internet until ~5 years ago. It works until and unless there are outrage factories willing to devote a lot of time to weaponizing your openness and vulnerability against you for ideological reasons.”

    Do like everyone else who has a online presence:
    if you’ve given up on changing the mind of your detractors, open a Patreon channel so that only devoted followers/donators would get your non-QC posts.

  127. Tim May Says:

    fred #126,

    No, not “everyone else.”

    I am barely aware of this begging channel called “Patreon.” I almost never contribute to beggars. And very rarely even to subscriptions of magazines or newspapers.

    I certainly don’t anticipate contributing to someone’s “Patreon channel” to read their words of shit, er, wit.

    –Tim May, who remembers when mailing lists were essentially censorship-free and yet had hundreds of people conversing with hundreds of other people, all without “Patreon,” moderation, or central blog owners. (Extropians, Hackers-list, Cypherpunks, all circa the early 1990s to late 1990s.)

  128. fred Says:

    Tim May #127

    no, no, not beggars.
    You see, a pay wall, even tiny, is enough to filter out 99% of the trolls.
    And Scott would re-invest the proceeds in your “Make the Internet Great Again” movement…

  129. J.F. Says:

    I’m curious, given that it was the best mexican of your life. Which places did you go to in Mexico City?

  130. Lisa Kesselman Wells aka Ellie Says:

    Dear Scott,
    Perhaps you remember me from the brouhaha to which you were subject by vitriolic feminists a few years ago? I am referring to the raking over the coals that you endured at that lefty blog, Crooked Timber, following the minor media’s defamatory condemnation of you as a testosterone-crazed tech bro! I should link to it, as it is pretentious of me to assume that you recall all the bitter details. There is one that I hold close to my heart: You offered, in the comments on Crooked Timber’s post, to have coffee with me the next time I visited Boston, in response to my referencing of your accomplishments, and your utter lack of predatory exploitation of women. Thank you!

    **Warning: Lengthy but sincere comment follows**
    I am revealing my one true name, Lisa Wells nee Kesselman, because this is important. (I am a childless Jewish widow still sufficiently young to bear progeny for a man of science, technology, academia, the law, or a CPA; Ashkenazi preferred not required, shorter stature is better. I hanker for intelligent Lutherans, and all intelligent men, regardless of age or appearance. They appreciate me, and I appreciate them. But I digress.) As I told you then, and will reiterate, you are a GOOD PERSON! Ignore the vitriol of the misandrist left. Rejoice in the love of your wife and family. Realize that the President of the United States of America placed a medal on your chest for your scientific achievements! Be glad that it was the president of your preference, although Trump is equally capable of recognizing and lauding your achievements as Obama.

    No, I do not believe you are one of the Lamed Vav Tzadikim! Although you could be; these are mysterious matters. But I am a mere woman, what do I know? (For other readers, Judaism is not sexist in this way. My father was a full scholarship student at Yale, majoring in physics, and went through all the tribulations required to become a fully credentialed cardiologist then a professor of biomedical engineering at Harvard, yet he wasn’t deemed sufficiently “enlightened” to ever be inducted into anything involving Kabbalah, to which I alluded above.) I feel free to mention such things, as this is the shtetl-optimized blog of Scott Aaronson.

    Scott, please heed what Tim May and some other commenters said to you. Tim seems like a sensible sort. You do not need to self-flagellate for past sins as perceived by the feminist outrage machine. Like Tim May, and perhaps others, I cringe a bit at Patreon. It does seem like online begging to me! (I am glad to pay to receive periodic content from magazines, newspapers, or nontraditional providers of information under a subscription model, unlike Tim May. Information is valuable. I no longer believe it wants to be free. We aren’t the USSR. People deserve to be paid for their work.)

    Anyway, this is about you, Scott, not me or Tim May or anything else. There is a Twitter image of you, much younger, wearing paisley-patterned trousers. It almost looks like a skirt, but isn’t. You were younger and thinner, with a great haircut. I almost didn’t recognize you, as you looked like an Italian movie star! You were giving a lecture in an academic setting at the time, being silly, and smiling. Be confident! Not many compsci or physics professors of your repute could EVER be mistaken for a handsome Italian star of stage and screen.

    Please, please stop being self-deprecating for your “privilege” and whatever other pseudo sins the bi-coastal leftists (no, more accurately, the identity-political DNC thus dominant media-academic milieu) lob at you, because you are a white man who has accomplished greatly in a scientific field.

    Regardless, post whatever you want. It is YOUR blog. Use it as you see fit, even for self-abnegation. Just remember, we admire you and enjoy your insights in your field of expertise.

    Yours truly, Lisa

  131. Scott Says:

    Lisa #130: What an utterly weird and charming comment! Thank you; it made my day.

    Sadly, Obama never actually put a medal around my neck; I just got to shake his hand when I received the PECASE award. Had it been Trump, I would’ve refused.

    As for the photo of me, I can’t think of what you could be referring to except the photo of me proving the Karp-Lipton Theorem while wearing a sarong, which Daniel Gottesman took in his office for the Sarong Theorem Archive (which, sadly, seems to be defunct now).

    My offer to meet you for coffee most certainly stands! But I no longer live in Boston; I’ve moved to Austin. Where are you, and do your travels ever bring you to the capital of Texas?

    In any case, I wish you the best with all your goals, including the one about a shorter-statured Ashkenazi or Lutheran man of science. 🙂

  132. Lisa Kesselman Says:

    Scott, yes, that is the photograph I was thinking of! So it is a sarong, eh? I had wondered. You do look like a movie star there. I love the sarong pattern, the big blue paisleys. Thanks for the well wishes, by the way.

    I work for USAA Federal Savings Bank in San Antonio, Texas. I work elsewhere, where they keep the mathematical modeling people. Occasionally we are allowed to visit the home office, which is quite close to where you are. I might be able to take you up on that offer of coffee one day after all!

    P.S. Thank you for your patience with me.

  133. srp Says:

    Two points:

    1. Scott’s report that a lot of his best work came from wanting to refute something he heard that seemed wrong is probably pretty common. One thing that the literature on motivated reasoning should teach us is that our brains are amazingly good at pursuing chains of logic when it is in the service of rationalizing some belief. We ought to harness that by using dialectical processes more consciously, trying to put ourselves into the role of someone trying to prove X or disprove Y in the face of a skeptical audience and hostile debaters on the other side. Nothing like a rooting interest, even a synthetic one, to sharpen one’s ability to drill down into a problem. I used to formulate this as “disinterested is uninterested” but alas the drift of usage is making the distinction hard for people to understand.

    2. Wikipedia is emphatically NOT a forum where experts make decisions, at least if you mean experts on the content of Wikipedia articles. Rejecting subject-matter expertise is a cornerstone of the Wikipedia process. What counts there for status and power is expertise in Wikipedia’s own rules, their interpretation, and precedents, much as would occur in a legal system. But it deliberately disempowers people who know about a topic from imposing their knowledge on what gets published. That system has enabled the enterprise not to disintegrate, but it arguably has crippled it in terms of creating new content, improving the quality and structure of articles, etc.

  134. Stuart Armstrong Says:

    I just wanted to say: thanks.

    I enjoyed this, and needed to read it now.

Leave a Reply