Michael Cohen 1992-2017 and Vladimir Voevodsky 1966–2017

Gödel's Lost Letter and P=NP

Michael Cohen and Vladimir Voevodsky were in different stages of their careers. Cohen was a graduate student at MIT and was visiting the Simons Institute in Berkeley. He passed away suddenly a week ago Monday on a day he was scheduled to give a talk. Voevodsky won a Fields Medal in 2002 and was a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. He passed away Saturday, also unexpectedly.

Today we join those grieving both losses.

We are writing this amid the greater horror in Las Vegas. Dick and I speak our condolences and more, but the condolences that two of us can give seem to fade—they do not “scale up.” Hence we feel that the best we can do is talk about Cohen’s and Voevodsky’s roles in our scientific communities and some of what they contributed. That is a gesture of peace and serenity. It may not overcome…

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Gavin’s Twitter Trick

Watts Up With That?

Last week, Larry Kummer posted a very thoughtful article here on WUWT:

A climate science milestone: a successful 10-year forecast!

At first glance, this did look like “a successful 10-year forecast:

dklepolx0aa2pm_1 Figure 1. A successful 10-year forecast?

The observations track closer to the model ensemble mean (P50) than most other models and the 2016 El Niño spikes at least a little bit above P50.  Noticing that this was CMIP3 model, Larry and others asked if CMIP5 (the current Climate Model Intercomparison Project) yielded the same results, to which Dr. Schmidt replied:

Figure 2. A failed 10-year forecast.

The CMIP5 model looks a lot like the CMIP3 model… But the observations bounce between the bottom of the 95% band (P97.5) and just below P50… Then spike to P50 during the 2016 El Niño.  When asked…

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Metarationality: a messy introduction

“A messy introduction” … maybe … but a must-read on meta-rationality nonetheless. I especially liked the attention given to people who feel “all of the low-hanging fruit has been plucked” … because I was one of those people.


In the last couple of years, David Chapman’s Meaningness site has reached the point where enough of the structure is there for a bunch of STEM nerds like me to start working out what he’s actually talking about. So there’s been a lot of excited shouting about things like ‘metarationality’ and ‘ethnomethodology’ and ‘postformal reasoning’.

Not everyone is overjoyed by this. There was a Less Wrong comment by Viliam back in January which I thought made the point clearly:

How this all feels to me:

When I look at the Sequences, as the core around which the rationalist community formed, I find many interesting ideas and mental tools. (Randomly listing stuff that comes to my mind: Bayes theorem, Kolmogorov complexity, cognitive biases, planning fallacy, anchoring, politics is the mindkiller, 0 and 1 are not probabilities, cryonics, having your bottom line written first, how an algorithm feels from inside, many-worlds interpretation…

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Whiteheadian commentary on contemporary scientific cosmology: Are the fundamental constants changing?


The following is a lecture from a course I’m currently teaching called Whitehead’s Adventure in Cosmology: Toward a Physics of the World-Soul. Watch the PBS Space Time video first for context.

“The animal body is only the more highly organized and immediate part of the general environment for its dominant actual occasion [i.e., its consciousness], which is the ultimate percipient […] According to this interpretation, the human body is to be conceived as a complex ‘amplifier’ — to use the language of the technology of electromagnetism. The various actual entities, which compose the body, are so coordinated that the experiences of any part ofthe body are transmitted to one or more central occasions to be inherited with enhancements accruing upon the way, or finally added by reason of the final integration. The enduring personality is the historic route of livin goccasions which are severally dominant in the body at successive…

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The Sorcerer’s Apprentice 2.0


Lest there be any doubt, the summer of 2017 was characterized by a string of disasters, tragedies, calamities, and almost apocalyptic events. Against such a grim backdrop of lost lives and destroyed homes it can come off as rather crass, privileged, or even uncaring, to dwell on other occurrences. And yet, one variety of worrisome trends do not cease unfolding merely because even more dangerous trends are unfolding elsewhere. In the wake of the ruin wrought by this summer’s series of climate change exacerbated storms there have been some insisting that such storms should be seen as “man-made disasters,” but there is another variety of “man-made disaster” that is also becoming harder to ignore.

The summer’s storms went by names like Harvey, Irma, and Marie – but there’s another set of calamities that go by names like Equifax and Facebook.

The massive hack of the consumer credit reporting agency Equifax

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When ideology trumps biology

Why Evolution Is True

If I was the late Andy Rooney, I’d say “You know what really bothers me? When science shows some facts about nature, and then someone rejects those facts because they’re inconvenient or uncomfortable for their ideology.”

Indeed, when people ignore such inconvenient truths, it not only makes their cause look bad, but can produce palpable harm. Case in point: the damage that the Russian charlatan-agronomist Lysenko did to Soviet agriculture under Stalin. Rejecting both natural selection and modern genetics, Lysenko made all sorts of wild promises about improving Soviet agriculture based on bogus treatment of plants that would supposedly change their genetics. It not only didn’t work, failing to relieve Russia of its chronic famines, but Lyesnko’s Stalin-supported resistance to modern (“Western”) genetics led to the imprisonment and even the execution of really good geneticists and agronomists like Niklolia Vavilov. The ideological embrace of an unevidenced but politically amenable view of science set back Russian…

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A new critique of Cordelia Fine’s “Testosterone Rex”

Why Evolution Is True

The more I think about it, the more appalled I am that Cordelia Fine’s polemic, Testosterone Rex, won the Royal Society Book Prize for popular science writing. Just two of the five judges (Fortey and Gilbert) are practicing scientists, one is a novelist, and one is a broadcaster. Claudia Hammond, also a broadcaster, has also written popular psychology books and also lectures on health and psychology in London (Wikipedia gives her bona fides as “She was educated at Sussex University in applied psychology, and Surrey University, where she gained a MSc in health psychology, carrying out research into doctor–patient communication in a breast cancer unit”). Gilbert’s defense of the award in light of a negative review of Fine’s book is lame. (Further, several readers pointed out that he and Fine both got PhDs in psychology at University College London within a year of each other, so he may well have known…

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