My version of the far better pages that could be found on Patrick’s, Alexey’s or Gwern’s sites.


Newton spent large amounts of his time on alchemy and mysticism as well as calculus. In hindsight we see know the two former pursuits didn’t amount to anything but they would have been at least as big as calculus if they had proved true. What are some areas that people are working on today that are huge if true but may turn out to lead to nothing?

What are some things that make moral questions easier to ignore. For example, the fact Neanderthals died out allows us to draw a much more concrete line between us and animals that make some moral issues easier to ignore. A more gradual link between us and them may not make this so easy.

What are some meta questions that would be useful to have in a checklist style format to ask yourself when assessing new information or trying to make a decision?

Why has some tech followed an exponential downwards cost curve (computer processors) but others haven’t (air travel)

The quote ‘the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence’ is well known but in a purely Bayesian sense it doesn’t seem to be true. Every time you don’t see confirming evidence you would have to update towards the hypothesis that the positive event does not exist. When is this not true? And more importantly when is this dangerous? NNT makes a point that in areas prone to black swans this kind of updating can lead to a dangerous overconfidence.

Where do epithets like Alexander the Great come from. How many people get them in their own lifetime and is there a critical mass of usage before they will be maintained throughout the ages?

When you hear people use the phrase once in 100 year flood or something similar does this just mean that the event has a 50% chance in occurring in 100 years or a 95% chance? Is there any commonly used measure for this, if not this can be a very misleading phrase.

Why are taste and smell so much more underdeveloped than the other senses. Natural selection is most likely the answer but what selection pressures exactly, other animals have clearly developed these sense so why not us?

How many modern discoveries are given post hoc rationalisations but where actually intelligent tinkering?

Most people seem to think that poor children are not responsible for the situation they’re in, there is also significant research that being born poor is highly correlated with being poor in later life however it seems like people are much more willing to blame adults that are poor on their circumstances even though they seem to agree with the two previous steps.

How many people have a personal cannon of books or readings that guide their thinking and living. If people do what are they?

How do current systems account for the data we create as an economic asset. It allows many services to be given to us for free and so clearly has some benefit.

  • For specialist in a field e.g neuroscience or a business e.g Google:
  • If one was to read the good popular books on neuroscience what is something one is still not likely to understand?
  • If specialist has older work, what is something they have changed their mind on? 
  • Let’s say I’ve read all the usual magazine articles about Google. What’s the thing I’m least likely to know about its culture that matters or is interesting?

(Related to above) Given that we receive so many services for free (e.g google maps, outlook, youtube) and for all of them we are implicitly paying for them with our data how does the desire to have total control over all of our data change how we will get access to these things. Adverts could still be sent to us even without our data but would almost certainly be less profitable for the advertisers and so this would seem to give them less money to create these products that are critical to our lives.

How much easier are numbers to pick out in group of letters than specific letters. If they are easier to pick out what process leads to this?

You have a row of people standing so they are facing the man in front of them. They have all been given a number one more than the person in front of them (basically the number they are in the line) and they are not allowed to turn around. What protocol is the fastest way to figure out how long the line is if they don’t know how long it could possible be? My idea went something like get people to shout out in a exponentially increasing way but I wasn’t sure on the exact details.

Are there FizzBuzz test like tests for disciplines other than programming that would act as a very quick filter for applicants

Given that hiring is a very uncertain environment would Meehl patterns based on a few key variables do a better job than most current hiring processes. Daniel Kahneman did something like this with the Israeli Air Force.

The Rorschach test seems to be based on the statistical correlation of how your answers match up to other people who have taken the test and not necessarily on what your exact answers were. This seems to give it the advantage of being almost impossible to game, or at least quite difficult. What are some other tests that work on this kind of principle. Could companies quiz their current employees and then quiz new hires on some less than obvious questions and see if the potential hires correlate to productive current employees?

(Based on reading Against the Gods) The Greeks seemed like a civilisation primed to discover the rules of risk and probability. They were highly mathematically curious, they gambled a significant amount and they had no ruling priest class to interfere with the desire to question what the future may hold as it would seem to question the gods. One of the strongest reasons it seems like they didn’t is due to their numbering system. Roman numerals were useful for recording information and accounting but not so much for manipulations of concepts, like expected value. If our gaining of probability theory was halted by well over a millennium may there be future breakthroughs that we are almost primed to discover if only we had more appropriate tools for thought? Might AGI be something that will have a similarly revelatory effect for society?

What will happen things like the Nobel prize when computers are intelligent enough to conduct research. Will the team who created the machine get the prize? The machine?

To what extent should the ethics and morals of a person be taken into consideration when considering someone for public office. Many figures that are often seen as great in history where sexist, racist, alcoholics, adulterers and yet should this matter if they are highly effective?

America seemed very worried about not having their currency pegged to gold in the mid 1900’s and thought that if they weren’t pegged to it people wouldn’t trust their currency enough. This doesn’t seem to have been an issue after the collapse of the gold standard. Why did they think this so strongly and why were they wrong?

Are there any fields at the moment that are like early games of chance or attempts at talking about risk. For example early dice games had sides with different sizes but had the same payoffs, expected value would show that you should always bet on the largest side every time and yet people didn’t do this. They didn’t even look at records of dice throws and see that some sides came up more than others, partially because they didn’t have the concept of probability. Are there things now where we are simply lacking the right framework for but will seem trivial in the future? It seems less likely with the advent of the scientific method but there could still be some.

Why do we get offended? Is it a worry there may be some truth in a claim or could it be anger that someone could believe something so different. Do we get offended as we are scared about the ramifications of a belief?

Many people use an argument along the lines of X is very different to what our hunter gatherer ancestors would have done and so we are not very well equipped to do X. How applicable is this argument really, I feel like it may be overused but have little knowledge if I’m correct.

(Similar vein to PG what we can’t say essay) What ideas are people getting religious about and what may be the opportunities if these are wrong. Zeal tends to over hype something almost necessarily overselling the benefits and so it would seem that there are opportunities to bet against it.

it seems strange to me that much of the fiction we regard as the best in history was written as instalments for magazines or as an old equivalent of soaps. Why is this and am I wrong that this is the correct view. [examples, much of dickens, wilde were written in instalments for magazines, Tolstoy wrote his books in many parts, something that I’m not really aware of happening today, Shakespeare’s plays seem to be old versions of soap operas, I admit to this being my weakest held view as I haven’t dug that far into the claim.]