Six Links: Knowledge, Data, Abuse

Here’s the second installment of Six Links! I’ve been neglecting Thought Distiller far too much lately; consulting, unknown to most, is in fact a seasonal business that is light in the summer and heavy in the winter. So with a lot of work in the pipeline for this holiday season, I thought I’d at least carve out some time to post something small. Here we go:

Concept Shaped Holes Can Be Hard to Notice by Scott Alexander:

And there are concept-shaped holes you don’t notice that you have. You can talk to an anosmic person about smell for years on end, and they’re still not going to realize they’ve got a big hole where that concept should be. You can give high-school me an entire class about atomization, and he can ace the relevant test, and he’s still not going to know what atomization is.

Put these together, and you have cause for concern. If you learn about something, and it seems trivial and boring, but lots of other people think it’s interesting and important – well, it could be so far beneath you that you’d internalized all its lessons already. Or it could be so far beyond you that you’re not even thinking on the same level as the people who talk about it.

Alternative Data: The Next Frontier of Quant? by Corey Hoffstein:

Alternative data sources offer the allure of untapped alpha.  However, we believe that extracting signal from noise will continue to prove difficult.  In particular, without a rich history, establishing statistical certainty in a new investment factor will be difficult.  Enhancing systematic decision making with new data may be a faith-based endeavor.

Something is Wrong on the Internet by James Bridle:

What we’re talking about is very young children, effectively from birth, being deliberately targeted with content which will traumatise and disturb them, via networks which are extremely vulnerable to exactly this form of abuse. It’s not about trolls, but about a kind of violence inherent in the combination of digital systems and capitalist incentives. It’s down to that level of the metal. This, I think, is my point: The system is complicit in the abuse.

How College Sets You Up to Fail by Alexander Cortes (tweetstorm):

The gap between “real life” & education has widened, and it handicaps your thinking dramatically. 1-You don’t know how to lead yourself. A degree provides a “done for you plan,” all the steps are laid out. This engrains being a follower. You think you are focused & productive, but if that plan was taken away, and you had to design your own education, you’d be at a total loss.

The Greatest Sales Pitch I’ve Seen All Year by Andy Raskin:

There were many great speakers at OpenView’s Boston headquarters that morning — JetBlue’s VP of marketing, senior execs from OpenView’s portfolio—yet none moved the crowd quite like Drift director of marketing Dave Gerhardt. By the time Gerhardt was finished, the only attendees who weren’t plotting to secure budget for Drift’s platform were the ones humble-bragging about how they’d already implemented it.

The Level Above Mine by Eliezer Yudkowsky:

I’d enjoyed math proofs before I encountered Jaynes. But E.T. Jaynes was the first time I picked up a sense of formidability from mathematical arguments… For whatever reason, the sense I get of Jaynes is one of terrifying swift perfection—something that would arrive at the correct answer by the shortest possible route, tearing all surrounding mistakes to shreds in the same motion. Of course, when you write a book, you get a chance to show only your best side. But still.

It spoke well of Mike Li that he was able to sense the aura of formidability surrounding Jaynes. It’s a general rule, I’ve observed, that you can’t discriminate between levels too far above your own (e.g., someone once earnestly told me that I was really bright, and “ought to go to college”). Maybe anything more than around one standard deviation above you starts to blur together, though that’s just a cool-sounding wild guess.


Also published on Medium.

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