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nhaliday : uniqueness   30

How is definiteness expressed in languages with no definite article, clitic or affix? - Linguistics Stack Exchange
All languages, as far as we know, do something to mark information status. Basically this means that when you refer to an X, you have to do something to indicate the answer to questions like:
1. Do you have a specific X in mind?
2. If so, you think your hearer is familiar with the X you're talking about?
3. If so, have you already been discussing that X for a while, or is it new to the conversation?
4. If you've been discussing the X for a while, has it been the main topic of conversation?

Question #2 is more or less what we mean by "definiteness."

But there are lots of other information-status-marking strategies that don't directly involve definiteness marking. For example:
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october 2019 by nhaliday
Measures of cultural distance - Marginal REVOLUTION
A new paper with many authors — most prominently Joseph Henrich — tries to measure the cultural gaps between different countries.  I am reproducing a few of their results (see pp.36-37 for more), noting that higher numbers represent higher gaps:


Overall the numbers show much greater cultural distance of other nations from China than from the United States, a significant and under-discussed problem for China. For instance, the United States is about as culturally close to Hong Kong as China is.

[ed.: Japan is closer to the US than China. Interesting. I'd like to see some data based on something other than self-reported values though.]

the study:
Beyond WEIRD Psychology: Measuring and Mapping Scales of Cultural and Psychological Distance:
We present a new tool that provides a means to measure the psychological and cultural distance between two societies and create a distance scale with any population as the point of comparison. Since psychological data is dominated by samples drawn from the United States or other WEIRD nations, this tool provides a “WEIRD scale” to assist researchers in systematically extending the existing database of psychological phenomena to more diverse and globally representative samples. As the extreme WEIRDness of the literature begins to dissolve, the tool will become more useful for designing, planning, and justifying a wide range of comparative psychological projects. We have made our code available and developed an online application for creating other scales (including the “Sino scale” also presented in this paper). We discuss regional diversity within nations showing the relative homogeneity of the United States. Finally, we use these scales to predict various psychological outcomes.
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september 2019 by nhaliday
"Humankind is unique in its incapacity to learn from experience" | New Humanist
Your new book claims atheism is a “closed system of thought”. Why so?
Because atheists of a certain kind imagine that by rejecting monotheistic beliefs they step out of a monotheistic way of thinking. Actually, they have inherited all of its rigidities and assumptions. Namely, the idea that there is a universal history; that there is something like a collective human agent; or a universal way of life. These are all Christian ideals. Christianity itself is also a much more complex belief system than most contemporary atheists allow for. But then most of these atheists know very little about the history of religion.

Particularly, you argue, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. What is your disagreement with them?
They treat religion as a kind of intellectual error; something only the crudest of Enlightenment thinkers believed. Not every human being has a religious sensibility, but pretty much all human cultures do. Neither Dawkins or Harris are interesting enough to discuss this at length.

Dawkins is really not worth discussing or engaging with at all. He is an ideologue of Darwinism and knows very little about religion, treating it as a kind of a priori notion, rather than the complex social, and anthropological set of ideas which religion usually entails. Harris is partially interesting, in that he talks about how all human values can be derived from science. But I object strongly to that idea.


You are hugely critical of modern liberalism: what is your main problem with the ideology?
That it’s immune to empirical evidence. It’s a form of dogmatic faith. If you are a monotheist it makes sense – I myself am not saying it’s true or right – to say that there is only one way of life for all of humankind. And so you should try and convert the rest of humanity to that faith.

But if you are not a monotheist, and you claim to be an atheist, it makes no sense to claim that there is only one way of life. There may be some good and bad ways of living. And there may be some forms of barbarism, where human societies cannot flourish for very long. But there is no reason for thinking that there is only one way of life: the ones that liberal societies practice.

Why the liberal West is a Christian creation:
Christianity is dismissed as a fairy tale but its assumptions underpin the modern secular world.
- John Gray

Secular liberals dismiss Christianity as a fairy tale, but their values and their view of history remain essentially Christian. The Christian story tells of the son of God being put to death on a cross. In the Roman world, this was the fate of criminals and those who challenged imperial power. Christianity brought with it a moral revolution. The powerless came to be seen as God’s children, and therefore deserving of respect as much as the highest in society. History was a drama of sin and redemption in which God – acting through his son – was on the side of the weak.

Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind
Tom Holland
Little, Brown & Co, 624pp, £25

The Origin of the Secular Species:
Reviewed by Ben Sixsmith

A great strength of Holland’s book is how it takes the reader back to when Christianity was not institutional and traditional but new and revolutionary. “[Corinth] had a long tradition of hosting eccentrics,” Holland writes in one wry passage:

> Back in the time of Alexander, the philosopher Diogenes had notoriously proclaimed his contempt for the norms of society by living in a large jar and masturbating in public. Paul, though, demanded a far more total recalibration of their most basic assumptions.

Christianity came not with a triumphant warrior wielding his sword, but with a traveling carpenter nailed to a cross; it came not with God as a distant and unimaginable force but with God as man, walking among his followers; it came not with promises of tribal dominance but with the hope of salvation across classes and races.


This may sound more pragmatic than liberal but it does reflect a strange, for the time, confidence in the power of education to shape the beliefs of the common man. Holland is keen to emphasize these progressive elements of history that he argues, with some justice, have helped to shape the modern world. Charity became enshrined in legislation, for example, as being able to access the necessities of life became “in a formulation increasingly deployed by canon lawyers” a human “right.”


This is, I think, a simplification of Galatians 3:28 that makes it more subversive than it actually is. Adolescents and octogenarians are equally eligible for salvation, in the Christian faith, but that does not mean that they have equal earthly functions.

Holland’s stylistic talents add a great deal to the book. His portraits of Boniface, Luther, and Calvin are vivid, evocative, and free of romanticization or its opposite. Some of his accounts of episodes in religious history are a little superficial—he could have read Helen Andrews for a more complicated portrait of Bartolomé de las Casas, for example—but a sweeping historical narrative without superficial aspects would be like an orchard with no bruising on the fruit. It is only natural.


We have to look not just at what survives of Christianity but what has been lost. I agree with Holland that the natural sciences can be aligned with Christian belief, but the predominant explanatory power of secular authorities has inarguably weakened the faith. The abandonment of metaphysics, on which Christian scholarship was founded, was another grievous blow. Finally, the elevation of choice to the highest principles of culture indulges worldly desire over religious adherence. Christianity, in Holland’s book, is a genetic relic.

Still, the tension of Dominion is a haunting one: the tension, that is, between the revolutionary and conservative implications of the Christian faith. On the British right, we—and especially those of us who are not believers—sometimes like to think of Christianity in a mild Scrutonian sense, as a source of wonder, beauty, and social cohesion. What hums throughout Dominion, though, is the intense evangelical spirit of the faith. The most impressive person in the book is St. Paul, striding between cities full of spiritual vigor. Why? Because it was God’s will. And because, as Jean Danielou wrote in his striking little book Prayer as a Political Problem:

> Christ has come to save all that has been made. Redemption is concerned with all creation …

This is not to claim that true Christians are fanatical. Paul himself, as Holland writes, was something of a realist. But the desire to spread the faith is essential to it—the animated evidence of its truth.
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october 2018 by nhaliday
Why Sex? And why only in Pairs? - Marginal REVOLUTION
The core conclusion is that mutations continue to rise with the number of sex-participating partners, but in simple Red Queen models the limiting features of the genotypes is the same whether there are two, three, or more partners.

Men Are Animals:
I agree with all the comments citing motility/sessility.
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january 2018 by nhaliday
Is the speed of light really constant?
So what if the speed of light isn’t the same when moving toward or away from us? Are there any observable consequences? Not to the limits of observation so far. We know, for example, that any one-way speed of light is independent of the motion of the light source to 2 parts in a billion. We know it has no effect on the color of the light emitted to a few parts in 1020. Aspects such as polarization and interference are also indistinguishable from standard relativity. But that’s not surprising, because you don’t need to assume isotropy for relativity to work. In the 1970s, John Winnie and others showed that all the results of relativity could be modeled with anisotropic light so long as the two-way speed was a constant. The “extra” assumption that the speed of light is a uniform constant doesn’t change the physics, but it does make the mathematics much simpler. Since Einstein’s relativity is the simpler of two equivalent models, it’s the model we use. You could argue that it’s the right one citing Occam’s razor, or you could take Newton’s position that anything untestable isn’t worth arguing over.

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november 2017 by nhaliday
The weirdest people in the world?
Abstract: Behavioral scientists routinely publish broad claims about human psychology and behavior in the world’s top journals based on samples drawn entirely from Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) societies. Researchers – often implicitly – assume that either there is little variation across human populations, or that these “standard subjects” are as representative of the species as any other population. Are these assumptions justified? Here, our review of the comparative database from across the behavioral sciences suggests both that there is substantial variability in experimental results across populations and that WEIRD subjects are particularly unusual compared with the rest of the species – frequent outliers. The domains reviewed include visual perception, fairness, cooperation, spatial reasoning, categorization and inferential induction, moral reasoning, reasoning styles, self-concepts and related motivations, and the heritability of IQ. The findings suggest that members of WEIRD societies, including young children, are among the least representative populations one could find for generalizing about humans. Many of these findings involve domains that are associated with fundamental aspects of psychology, motivation, and behavior – hence, there are no obvious a priori grounds for claiming that a particular behavioral phenomenon is universal based on sampling from a single subpopulation. Overall, these empirical patterns suggests that we need to be less cavalier in addressing questions of human nature on the basis of data drawn from this particularly thin, and rather unusual, slice of humanity. We close by proposing ways to structurally re-organize the behavioral sciences to best tackle these challenges.
When I discuss my concern that psychologists and behavioral economists rely on a thin and peculiar slice of humanity in order to understand HUMAN psychology, they often reply with the strong intuition that they (but perhaps not others) are studying “basic processes,” etc.
To assess how difficult it is to identify these “basic process” without both evolutionary theory and serious cross-cultural research, let’s put aside psychology and focus on physiology and anatomy. Surely, those are “basic.” #WEIRDPeopleProblem
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november 2017 by nhaliday
PRRI: America’s Changing Religious Identity
America, that is, the United States of America, has long been a huge exception for the secularization model. Basically as a society develops and modernizes it becomes more secular. At least that’s the model.


Today everyone is talking about the Pew survey which shows the marginalization of the Anglo-Protestant America which I grew up in. This marginalization is due to secularization broadly, and non-Hispanic whites in particular. You don’t need Pew to tell you this.


Note: Robert Putnam’s American Grace is probably the best book which highlights the complex cultural forces which ushered in the second wave of secularization. The short answer is that the culture wars diminished Christianity in the eyes of liberals.

Explaining Why More Americans Have No Religious Preference: Political Backlash and Generational Succession, 1987-2012:
the causal direction in the rise of the “Nones” likely runs from political identity as a liberal or conservative to religious identity

The Persistent and Exceptional Intensity of American Religion: A Response to Recent Research:
But we show that rather than religion fading into irrelevance as the secularization thesis would suggest, intense religion—strong affiliation, very frequent practice, literalism, and evangelicalism—is persistent and, in fact, only moderate religion is on the decline in the United States.
As in the U.K., so now too in America: the left establishment is moving towards an open view that orthodox Christians are unfit for office.
i've had the thought that it's a plausible future where traditional notions of theism become implicitly non-white
Some writers and Christian observers deny the flight of young people altogether, but the growing statistics should alarm us enough as Church leaders to do something about the dilemma. My hope in this post is to simply consolidate some of the research (many of the summaries are directly quoted) so you can decide for yourself. I’m going to organize the recent findings in a way that illuminates the problem:

'Christianity as default is gone': the rise of a non-Christian Europe:
In the UK, only 7% of young adults identify as Anglican, fewer than the 10% who categorise themselves as Catholic. Young Muslims, at 6%, are on the brink of overtaking those who consider themselves part of the country’s established church.
Other scholars have disputed the global decline of Christianity, and instead hypothesized of an evolution of Christianity which allows it to not only survive, but actively expand its influence in contemporary societies.

Philip Jenkins hypothesized a "Christian Revolution" in the Southern nations, such as Africa, Asia and Latin America, where instead of facing decline, Christianity is actively expanding. The relevance of Christian teachings in the global South will allow the Christian population in these areas to continually increase, and together with the shrinking of the Western Christian population, will form a "new Christendom" in which the majority of the world's Christian population can be found in the South.[9]
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september 2017 by nhaliday
Centers of gravity in non-uniform fields - Wikipedia
In physics, a center of gravity of a material body is a point that may be used for a summary description of gravitational interactions. In a uniform gravitational field, the center of mass serves as the center of gravity. This is a very good approximation for smaller bodies near the surface of Earth, so there is no practical need to distinguish "center of gravity" from "center of mass" in most applications, such as engineering and medicine.

In a non-uniform field, gravitational effects such as potential energy, force, and torque can no longer be calculated using the center of mass alone. In particular, a non-uniform gravitational field can produce a torque on an object, even about an axis through the center of mass. The center of gravity seeks to explain this effect. Formally, a center of gravity is an application point of the resultant gravitational force on the body. Such a point may not exist, and if it exists, it is not unique. One can further define a unique center of gravity by approximating the field as either parallel or spherically symmetric.

The concept of a center of gravity as distinct from the center of mass is rarely used in applications, even in celestial mechanics, where non-uniform fields are important. Since the center of gravity depends on the external field, its motion is harder to determine than the motion of the center of mass. The common method to deal with gravitational torques is a field theory.
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september 2017 by nhaliday
Language Log: French syntax is (in)corruptible
One of the most striking ideologies of linguistic uniqueness is the belief that French exactly mirrors the inner language of logical thought. A few minutes of research led me to the conclusion that the source of this meme, or at least its earliest example, is an essay by Antoine de Rivarol, "L'Universalité de la langue française". In 1783, the Berlin Academy held a competition for essays on the subject of the widespread usage of French, and its prospects for continuing as the lingua franca of European intellectuals. Apparently nine submissions argued that French would continue; nine that it would be replaced by German; and one that Russian would win out. (English got no votes.) Antoine de Rivarol shared the prize with Johann Christoph Schwab.

De Rivarol's essay is the source of the often-quoted phrase Ce qui n'est pas clair n'est pas français ("What is not clear is not French"). My (doubtless faulty) translation of the relevant passage is below the jump.
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july 2017 by nhaliday
co.combinatorics - Classification of Platonic solids - MathOverflow
My question is very basic: where can I find a complete (and hopefully self-contained) proof of the classification of Platonic solids? In all the references that I found, they use Euler's formula v−e+f=2v−e+f=2 to show that there are exactly five possible triples (v,e,f)(v,e,f). But of course this is not a complete proof because it does not rule out the possibility of different configurations or deformations. Has anyone ever written up a complete proof of this statement?!


This is a classical question. Here is my reading of it: Why is there a unique polytope with given combinatorics of faces, which are all regular polygons? Of course, for simple polytopes (tetrahedron, cube, dodecahedron) this is clear, but for the octahedron and icosahedron this is less clear.

The answer lies in the Cauchy's theorem. It was Legendre, while writing his Elements of Geometry and Trigonometry, noticed that Euclid's proof is incomplete in the Elements. Curiously, Euclid finds both radii of inscribed and circumscribed spheres (correctly) without ever explaining why they exist. Cauchy worked out a proof while still a student in 1813, more or less specifically for this purpose. The proof also had a technical gap which was found and patched up by Steinitz in 1920s.

The complete (corrected) proof can be found in the celebrated Proofs from the Book, or in Marcel Berger's Geometry. My book gives a bit more of historical context and some soft arguments (ch. 19). It's worth comparing this proof with (an erroneous) pre-Steinitz exposition, say in Hadamard's Leçons de Géométrie Elémentaire II, or with an early post-Steinitz correct but tedious proof given in (otherwise, excellent) Alexandrov's monograph (see also ch.26 in my book which compares all the approaches).

P.S. Note that Coxeter in Regular Polytopes can completely avoid this issue but taking a different (modern) definition of the regular polytopes (which are symmetric under group actions). For a modern exposition and the state of art of this approach, see McMullen and Schulte's Abstract Regular Polytopes.
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- quantum supremacy [Scott Aaronson]
- gene drive
- gene editing/CRISPR
- carcinogen may be entropy
- differentiable programming
- quantitative biology
- antisocial punishment of pro-social cooperators
- "strongest prejudice" (politics) [Haidt]
- Europeans' origins [Cochran]
- "Anthropic Capitalism And The New Gimmick Economy" [Eric Weinstein]
There's an underdiscussed contradiction between the idea that our society would make almost all knowledge available freely and instantaneously to almost everyone and that almost everyone would find gainful employment as knowledge workers. Value is in scarcity not abundance.
You’d need to turn reputational-based systems into an income stream
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november 2016 by nhaliday
Hidden Games | West Hunter
Since we are arguably a lot smarter than ants or bees, you might think that most adaptive personality variation in humans would be learned (a response to exterior cues) rather than heritable. Maybe some is, but much variation looks heritable. People don’t seem to learn to be aggressive or meek – they just are, and in those tendencies resemble their biological parents. I wish I (or anyone else) understood better why this is so, but there are some notions floating around that may explain it. One is that jacks of all trades are masters of none: if you play the same role all the time, you’ll be better at it than someone who keep switching personalities. It could be the case that such switching is physiologically difficult and/or expensive. And in at least some cases, being predictable has social value. Someone who is known to be implacably aggressive will win at ‘chicken’. Being known as the sort of guy who would rush into a burning building to save ugly strangers may pay off, even though actually running into that blaze does not.


This kind of game-theoretic genetic variation, driving distinct behavioral strategies, can have some really odd properties. For one thing, there can be more than one possible stable mix of behavioral types even in identical ecological situations. It’s a bit like dropping a marble onto a hilly landscape with many unconnected valleys – it will roll to the bottom of some valley, but initial conditions determine which valley. Small perturbations will not knock the marble out of the valley it lands in. In the same way, two human populations could fall into different states, different stable mixes of behavioral traits, for no reason at all other than chance and then stay there indefinitely. Populations are even more likely to fall into qualitatively different stable states when the ecological situations are significantly different.


What this means, think, is that it is entirely possible that human societies fall into fundamentally different patterns because of genetic influences on behavior that are best understood via evolutionary game theory. Sometimes one population might have a psychological type that doesn’t exist at all in another society, or the distribution could be substantially different. Sometimes these different social patterns will be predictable results of different ecological situations, sometimes the purest kind of chance. Sometimes the internal dynamics of these genetic systems will produce oscillatory (or chaotic!) changes in gene frequencies over time, which means changes in behavior and personality over time. In some cases, these internal genetic dynamics may be the fundamental reason for the rise and fall of empires. Societies in one stable distribution, in a particular psychological/behavioral/life history ESS, may simply be unable to replicate some of the institutions found in peoples in a different ESS.

Evolutionary forces themselves vary according to what ESS you’re in. Which ESS you’re in may be the most fundamental ethnic fact, and explain the most profound ethnic behavioral differences

Look, everyone is always looking for the secret principles that underlie human society and history, some algebra that takes mounds of historical and archaeological data – the stuff that happens – and explains it in some compact way, lets us understand it, just as continental drift made a comprehensible story out of geology. On second thought, ‘everyone’ mean that smallish fraction of researchers that are slaves of curiosity…

This approach isn’t going to explain everything – nothing will. But it might explain a lot, which would make it a hell of a lot more valuable than modern sociology or cultural anthropology. I would hope that an analysis of this sort might help explain fundamental long-term flavor difference between different human societies, differences in life-history strategies especially (dads versus cads, etc). If we get particularly lucky, maybe we’ll have some notions of why the Mayans got bored with civilization, why Chinese kids are passive at birth while European and African kids are feisty. We’ll see.

Of course we could be wrong. It’s going to have be tested and checked: it’s not magic. It is based on the realization that the sort of morphs and game-theoretic balances we see in some nonhuman species are if anything more likely to occur in humans, because our societies are so complex, because the effectiveness of a course of action so often depends on the psychologies of other individuals – that and the obvious fact that people are not the same everywhere.
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november 2016 by nhaliday
American Unexceptionalism Comes to the GOP - The American Interest
great Huntington quote:
But American unexceptionalism is not just an anti-ideology that might have a special appeal to secular or pessimistic voters. It is also a coherent ideology of its own, with particular values and assumptions. If America is a “normal country,” then perhaps it shouldn’t build immigration policy around the idea that it is the “first universal nation”—perhaps increasing ethnic diversity will lead to tribalism and distrust. If America is a “normal country,” then perhaps it has no special responsibility to keep order on the world stage—perhaps 19th-century style great power competition and spheres of influence are an adequate alternative. And if America is a “normal country,” then perhaps there is nothing special about its vision for democratic government and human rights. As the political scientist Samuel Huntington wrote, “the West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion but rather by the superiority in applying organized violence.”
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november 2016 by nhaliday
The Third Sex | West Hunter
- eusociality and humans
- chromosome morphs
- green-beards and asabiya
- MHC/HLA and mating
- white-throated sparrows

There is a qualitative difference between being XY and X0 (Turner’s syndrome). Being XY, a guy, is the physical embodiment of an evolutionary strategy: a certain genetic pattern that has a way of making more copies of itself. It’s a complex strategy, but that’s what it is. X0 people are sterile: they don’t generate more X0 individuals. Not every XY individual succeeds in reproducing, any more than every maple seed starts a new maple tree – but on average, it works. An X0 individual is the result of noise, errors in meiosis: Turner’s syndrome isn’t a strategy. In the same way, someone with Down’s syndrome isn’t Nature’s way of producing more people with Down’s syndrome.

Parenthetically, being a guy that tries to reproduce is a strategy. Actually reproducing is a successful outcome of that strategy. Similarly, being an alpha dude in a polygynous species like elephant seals is not a strategy: trying to be an alpha dude is the strategy. I see people confuse those two things all the time.


Natural selection tends to make physical embodiments of a successful reproductive strategy common. So stuff like Down’s syndrome, Turner’s syndrome, androgen insensitivity, etc, are all rare. Successful evolutionary strategies usually involve actually getting things done: so there is a tendency for natural selection to develop and optimize various useful abilities, like walking and talking and thinking. All part of the strategy. Many non-strategies [like Downs or Fragile X] mess up those abilities


Is there any evidence for alternate evolutionary strategies in humans, other than just male and female? Not really, so far. For example, schizophrenia looks more like noise, sand in the gears. Not much of the schiz genetic variance shows up in GWAS samples: it looks like it’s mostly driven by rare variants – genetic load. There may actually be some truth to the notion that happy families are all alike.

So, is sex a spectrum in humans? No: obviously not. Two basic strategies, plus errors.

Why would a geneticist be unable to make the distinction between an evolutionary strategy and an error of development (i.e. caused by replication errors of pathogens)? Well, the average geneticist doesn’t know much evolutionary biology. And being embedded in a university, the current replacement for old-fashioned booby hatches, he’s subject to pressures that reward him for saying stupid things. and of course some people are pre-adapted to saying stupid things.
My whole point was that you can explain the qualitative difference without being in any way teleological. You’d do better to think about positive igon-values than Aristotle.
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october 2016 by nhaliday

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