On the experience of confusion

I recently discovered something about myself: I have a particularly strong aversion to the experience of confusion. For example, yesterday I was looking into the relationship between common knowledge of rationality and Nash equilibrium in game theory. I had planned to spend just an hour on this, leisurely dipping into the material and perhaps coming out with a clarified understanding. Instead, what happened was that I became monomanically focused on this task. I found some theorems, but there was still this feeling that things were just slightly off, that my understanding was not quite right. I intensely desired to track down the origin of this feeling. And to destroy the feeling. I grew restless, especially because I was making some progress: I wasn’t completely stuck, it felt like I must be on the cusp of clarity. The first symptom of this restlessness was skipping my pomodoro breaks, usually a sure sign that I am losing self-control and will soon collapse into an afternoon nap. The second smyptom was to develop an unhelpful impatience, opening ever more new tabs to search for the answer elsewhere, abandoning trains of thought earlier and earlier. In the end I didn’t have time to do any of the other work I had planned that day!

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Why don't we like arguments from authority?

A tension between bayesiansim and intuition

When considering arguments from authority, there would appear to be a tension between widely shared intuitions about these arguments, and how Bayesianism treats them. Under the Bayesian definition of evidence, the opinion of experts, of people with good track records, even of individuals with a high IQ, is just another source of data. Provided the evidence is equally strong, there is nothing to distinguish it from other forms of inference such as carefully gathering data, conducting experiments, and checking proofs.

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Self-locating beliefs vs loss of discriminating power

sleeping beauty

In Adam Elga’s 2000 paper “Self-locating belief and the Sleeping Beauty problem”, he opens with:

In addition to being uncertain about what the world is like, one can also be uncertain about one’s own spatial or temporal location in the world. My aim is to pose a problem arising from the interaction between these two sorts of uncertainty, solve the problem, and draw two lessons from the solution.

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Comment un individu peut-il faire une différence? Une mauvaise réponse, et deux bonnes

J’entends souvent des dialogues de ce genre quand il s’agit de faire un effort personnel pour aider les autres:

Alice: Face à toute la souffrance dans le monde, je me sens impuissante. Même si je changeais mon comportement, mon action individuelle ne résoudrait pas nos problèmes. Par exemple, même si je faisais un don pour aider un agriculteur pauvre au Kenya, d’autres ne donneront rien, et ce n’est pas grâce à moi que nous allons éliminer la pauvreté. Ce n’est pas à moi, mais aux puissants de ce monde d’agir.

Bernard: Si tout le monde raisonnait comme toi, nous ne ferions jamais rien pour aider les plus vulnérables. Au contraire, si chacun agit à son niveau, nous pouvons éliminer la pauvreté ensemble. Ainsi, en prenant partie à une action sociale, chacun peut changer les choses. Tu n’es donc pas impuissante.

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A better formalism for interpreting confidence intervals

When we take a sample mean, we should think of it as a random variable, and our measured sample mean as a realisation of that random variable. The sample mean is a random variable because it is the result of random sampling. Repeated sampling involves observing repeated realisations of the random variable.

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A Path Appears Book Review

This my book review of Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s ”A Path Appears”. (Also available on scribd here). In 2015, the review won the Sciences Po - Books prize, a book review competition organized by my University and the magazine Books. It was published in French translation in the June 2015 edition of Books, of which I’ve scanned the relevant pages.

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