My pre-road-trip COVID test came back negative. I had to break my self-isolation for my regularly scheduled outpatient hospital visit and a couple of curbside pickups at stores, but I’d already arranged a COVID test for five days later, and that came back negative. For our family’s Christmas get together we’re trying to follow the CDC guidelines for indoor gatherings, so we’ll be masking, distancing, and ventilating. I’ll also be self-isolating when I get back. My other travel preparations are rolling along better than I expected.
I listened with satisfaction to Duncan Watts’ Everything Is Obvious (Once You Know the Answer). I’d sum up his message as, social science is hard, but guessing is worse. The book lays out numerous ways common sense backfires (including the cognitive biases everyone brings up) and proposes scientific techniques for finding better answers. Since one of my long-time personal mottos has been “Common sense isn’t,” I found the book valuable, and I’ll be revisiting it when I do my deep dive into rationality.
Samuel Arbesman takes a positive view of our shifting knowledge in The Half-Life of Facts. Replacing old beliefs with new discoveries is a normal part of science, and remarkably these changes happen in regular patterns we can quantify (which I’d call another example of the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics). Studying these patterns gives us another way to manage the errors and gaps in our knowledge.
I was especially intrigued by his discussion of hidden knowledge, discoveries we could make by triangulating from what we already know or simply by noticing studies that have been overlooked. This is the idea behind my project Mining Ancient Thought, and I keep an eye out for AI projects that draw new knowledge from the existing scientific literature. Here’s one that found possible COVID treatments. Two examples from Arbesman that caught my ear were CoPub Discovery and DEVONthink.
I had a video chat with my old college roommate Jason. It’d been quite a while since we’d talked, other than a couple of brief text chats, but we picked up where we left off, it was a good conversation, and I was glad we made the time to connect. It cemented my observation that if I want to socialize, it generally needs to be scheduled. It also reminded me I want to deepen some of my relational skills, since my talks with Jason are rarely superficial, and I’d like to make the most of such conversations.