THUNK – 155. Combinatorial Explosion & Flu Shots

Influenza isn’t complex, but it uses the insane growth rate of f(x) = x! , one of the fastest-growing functions out there. The greatest benefit of the #flushot isn’t keeping *you* healthy, it’s retarding that combinatorial explosion enough to save lives. Get one.

-Links for the Curious-

“Vaccinations & Herd Immunity,” by Health Care Triage –

“Probability & the Birthday Paradox,” by Science Buddies –

Pneumonia and Influenza Mortality Surveillance from the National Center for Health Statistics Mortality Surveillance System –
“Exponential Growth Isn’t Cool. Combinatorial Growth Is,” by Tor Bair –

Varicella in Infants After Implementation of the US Varicella Vaccination Program (Chaves et al, 2011) –

“Combinatorial Explosions Explained,” by Hexawise –

THUNK – 154. The Ethics of Placebo-Controlled Trials

“Good” medical trials are placebo-controlled, but when might it be immoral to even perform such an experiment?

-Links for the Curious-

The Ethics of Placebo-controlled Trials: Methodological Justifications (Millum & Grady, 2013) _

The ethics of the placebo in clinical practice (Lichtenberg et al, 2002) –

The ethics of using placebo in randomised controlled trials: a case study of a Plasmodium vivax antirelapse trial –

“The Morality of A/B Testing” –

“What really helps the poor?” –

THUNK – 153. “The Culture” & Hedonism

Iain M. Banks’s “Culture” is a techno-utopia built on hedonism, a concept much more philosophically complex than sex, drugs, & rock n roll.

-Links for the Curious-

“Hedonism,” by the SEP –

“Hedonism,” by the IEP –

“I Hope This Helps: Hedonism,” by Sam Dresser –

“Hedonism and Pleasure,” by Philosophy Tube –

“How to Live a Happy, Pleasurable Life,” by Philosophy Tube –

“Philosophy – Ethics: Hedonism and the Experience Machine,” by Wireless Philosophy –

THUNK – 152. Prediction Markets & Superforecasting

Prediction markets: put your money where your mouth is. (Just don’t bet against the superforecasters.)

-Links for the Curious-

The Good Judgment Project: A Large Scale Test of Different Methods of Combining Expert Predictions (Ungar et al, 2008) –

Psychological Strategies for Winning a Geopolitical Forecasting Tournament (Mellers et al, 2014) –

The Promise of Prediction Markets (Arrow et al, 2008) –

Philip Tetlock: Ten Commandments for Aspiring Superforecasters –

Forecasting Elections: Comparing Prediction Markets, Polls, and Their Biases (Rothschild, 2009) –

Oct. 23: The Virtues and Vices of Election Prediction Markets

If not polls, then betting markets?

“So You Think You’re Smarter than a CIA Agent?” by Alix Spiegel –

“Putting Crowd Wisdom to Work,” by Bo Cowgill –

THUNK – 151. Systems, Law, & Rules/Standards

Systems (e.g. checklists, plans, & laws) imbue us with positively superhuman capabilities, both for good & ill.

-Links for the Curious-

“How do we heal medicine?” by Atul Gawande –

Retained surgical sponges, needles and instruments (Hariharan & Lobo, 2013) –

Making Hurricane Response More Effective: Lessons from the Private Sector and the Coast Guard during Katrina (Horwitz, 2008) –

“Walmart at Forefront of Hurricane Relief,” by Michael Barbaro and Justin Gillis –

Rule of Law (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy –

Wayte vs. United States, No. 83-1292. –


THUNK – 150. Mutual & Common Knowledge

Mutual & common knowledge: because simulating someone else simulating you is confusing…perhaps usefully so….

-Links for the Curious-

Common Knowledge & Aumann’s Agreement Theorem, by Scott Aaronson –

Common Knowledge (Vanderschraaf & Sillari, 2014) –

The Psychology of Common Knowledge & Coordination (Thomas et al, 2014) –

Bystander “Apathy” (Latane & Darley, 1969) –

The logic of indirect speech (Pinker et al, 2008) –


THUNK – 149. Solution Space & Tiling Trees

Challenge: Examine enough potential solutions to a problem to be confident in one. Answer: Tiling trees!

-Links for the Curious-

Rationally Speaking, Episode 212: Ed Boyden –


“Get Lucky,” by Bob Holmes –

Text available here –

The Philosophy of Problem Space and Solution Space, by Karen Bachmann –

Binary Search Tree (Wikipedia) –


THUNK – 148. Aristotle’s Infinite Regress & Intuition

Aristotle found a problem at the foundations of epistemology: an infinite regress of justification.

-Links for the Curious-

Reason & Intuition (Parsons, 1998) –

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Intuition –
Aristotle’s Logic –
Foundationalist Theories of Epistemic Justification –
Coherentist Theories of Epistemic Justification –

“Regress Argument,” on Wikipedia –


THUNK – 147. Grice’s Maxims of Conversation

How exactly does implication work? Philosopher Paul Grice might have had a couple decent ideas.

-Links for the Curious-

Logic & Conversation, lecture by Paul Grice –

“What we say vs what we mean: what is conversational implicature?” by Maria Kasmirli –

Paul Grice, by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy –

The Logical Syntax of Language, by Rudolf Carnap –

THUNK – 146. Mental Illness & Creativity

Everyone knows you have to be a little bit crazy to be a great artist, right? …right?

-Links for the Curious-

Mental illness, suicide and creativity: 40-Year prospective total population study (Kyaga et al, 2013) –

Mental Illness Statistics from the NIH –

“The Madness of Sir Isaac Newton,” by Marina Jones –

“11 Historical Geniuses and Their Possible Mental Disorders,” by Kathy Benjamin –

Wikipedia entry on creativity & mental illness –

“Creativity and Mental Illness,” by Arline Kaplan –

“What Neuroscience Has To Say About The ‘Tortured Genius’,” by Sarah Klein –

THUNK – 145. Tit for Tat & Zero Determinant Strategies

Tit for Tat: the king of Prisoner’s Dilemma strategies. Its simplicity masks its depth…but it *can* be beaten!

-Links for the Curious-

A fantastic interview with Press about his findings –

An overview of the various algorithms pitted against each other in Axelrod & Press/Dyson’s battle royale –

A great summary for PNAS of the ZD strategies & their implications –

A summary of ZD strategy extortion –

Forbes’s (now dated) piece on the Generous Tit for Tat strategy –

THUNK – 144. Thinking Like a Bayesian

Prediction is a lot like playing poker…so why do we treat it like it was a coin toss? Enter the Bayesians!

-Links for the Curious-

Bayes’ Theorem Illustrated (My Way), by komponisto –

Conditional probability explained visually (Bayes’ Theorem), by Khan Academy –

Critical Thinking Fundamentals – Bayes’s Theorem, by Wireless Philosophy –

A visual guide to Bayesian thinking, by Julia Galef –

Newcomb’s Problem: it’s like “Is a hotdog a sandwich?,” but WAY nerdier, with deep implications for rationality.

NOTE: Thanks also to Rob Dufau for his help with this week’s episode!

-Links for the Curious-

Newcomb’s Problem And Two Principles Of Choice (Nozick, 1969) –

“Causal Decision Theory,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2016 –

“Causation in Decision Theory,” by Jim Joyce –

Some Counterexamples to Causal Decision Theory (Egan, 2006) –

“Newcomb’s problem, expected utility, and dominance,” by Jeff Speaks –

Newcomb’s Problem & the tragedy of rationality, by Julia Galef –

“Decision Theory FAQ,” by lukeprog & crazy88 via LessWrong –

Prisoner’s Dilemma is a Newcomb Problem (Lewis, 1979) –

THUNK – 142. “Rogue AI’s” of the Present Day

Many people are worried about rogue AI’s of the future, but what about the ones that already exist?

-Links for the Curious-

“Dude, you broke the future!” by Charlie Stross –

“Artificial Personhood is the Root Cause Why A.I. is Dangerous to Society,” by Carlos E. Perez –

“AI Has Already Taken Over. It’s Called the Corporation,” by Jeremy Lent –

“A Mod for Civilization Makes Rogue AI More Dangerous Than Gandhi’s Nukes,” by Rhett Jones –

Predicting Depression via Social Media (De Choudhury et al, 2013) –

Online Social Networking and Addiction—A Review of the Psychological Literature (Kuss & Griffiths, 2011) –

Algorithmic Entities (LoPucki, 2017) –

“Elon Musk’s Freak-Out Over Killer Robots Distracts From Our Real AI Problems,” by Tom Simonite –

THUNK – 141. Von Neumann Probes

-Links for the Curious-

“Theory of Self-Reproducing Automata,” by John Von Neumann, 1966 –

:Advanced Automation for Space Missions,” edited by Robert A. Freitas, Jr. & William P. Gilbreath, 1980 –

Self-Replicating Robots and Galactic Domination | Space Time | PBS Digital Studios –

Additive Construction using Basalt Regolith Fines (Mueller et al, 2015) –

Michio Kaku: The von Neumann Probe (A Nano Ship to the Stars) –

“Desktop 3D printer presages the future of multi-layer circuit board design,” by Lucas Mearian –


THUNK – 138. Misinformation

What’s the harm in a little white lie? Well, if you tell enough of them, you may be able to steer an electorate.

-Links for the Curious-


“Cognitive Ability and Vulnerability to Fake News” by David Z. Hambrick, Madeline Marquardt –

‘Fake news’: Incorrect, but hard to correct. The role of cognitive ability on the impact of false information on social impressions (Keersmaecker & Roets, 2017) –

Knowing the Truth is not enough: The Resilience of Discredited Information –

Beliefs Don’t Always Persevere: How political figures are punished when positive information about them is discredited (Cobb et al, 2008) –

Frequency and the Conference of Referential Validity (Hasher & Goldstein, 1977) –

“Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion“ by Robert Cialdini –

“Did Russia Affect The 2016 Election? It’s Now Undeniable” by Molly McKew –


THUNK – 137. Embodied Cognition


Is a brain all you need to have a functional mind? Is the body just peripheral to cognition? Many researchers think so, but advocates of embodied cognition have different ideas.

(Quick note: “Altered Carbon” is racy & gory, but also very good. It doesn’t get particularly hung up on the “Is a copy of my mind REALLY MEEEE?!” question, touches on a lot of interesting problems with technological immortality, & actually has a lot of interesting test cases & scenarios for the concept of embodied cognition.)

-Links for the Curious-

The Metaphorical Structure of the Human Conceptual System (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980) –

“A Brief Guide to Embodied Cognition: Why You Are Not Your Brain” by Samuel McNerny –

“Embodied Cognition,” the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy –

“Embodied cognition is not what you think it is” by Andrew D. Wilson* and Sabrina Golonka –

The Poverty of Embodied Cognition (Goldinger et al, 2016) –

“You Think with the World, Not Just Your Brain” by Sam Kriss, a summary of a related phenomenon called “extended cognition” –

A Cognitive Study of Happiness Metaphors in Persian and English (Safarnejad et al, 2014) –

Why You May Want to Stand Like a Superhero”, by Robin S. Rosenberg –

THUNK – 136. Engineering Wisdom: Tolerance & Failing Gracefully

Engineering is a highly technical field, but it makes use of exceedingly useful & straightforward ideas.

-Links for the Curious-

“How To Accept Over-Engineering For What It Really Is” (Fagner Brack, 2016) –

Summary of the ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers) philosophy on engineering tolerances –

A good explanation of Graceful Degradation (aka failing gracefully) vs. Fault Tolerence (aka robustness) –

Boeing 777 Wing Flex Test –

A bigger tank (the Landkreuzer P.1000 Ratte) –

THUNK – 135. Aumann’s Agreement Theorem & Arguing to Learn

Aumann’s Agreement Theorem suggests that rational folk shouldn’t be able to continuously disagree…so why do we?

-Links for the Curious-

Agreeing to Disagree (Aumann, 1976) –
(You might be intimidated to read the original paper, but it’s only 5 pages long!)

Are Disagreements Honest? (Cowen & Hanson, 2004) –

The Influence of Social Interaction on Intuitions of Objectivity and Subjectivity (Fisher et al, 2016) –

Rationally Speaking, Episode 143 – Scott Aaronson on Aumann’s Agreement Theorem (AAT) & its Implications –  

“Political Polarization in the American Public,” by the Pew Research Center –

“Are Toxic Political Conversations Changing How We Feel about Objective Truth?” (Fisher et al, 2018) –

Lesswrong’s entry on the AAT –

THUNK – 134. The Problem of Universals

-Links for the Curious-


The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is invaluable for getting a broad understanding of this topic quickly. Some key pages I found helpful:

Metaphysics Overview –
Platonism in Metaphysics –

Abstract Objects –

Nominalism in Metaphysics –

Tropes –


The n-tuple representation of tropes was from “Tropes: Properties, Objects, & Mental Causation” by Douglas Ehring –


Is This a Sandwich? Teaching the Platonic Dialogues through sandwiches (M Ritchey, 2014) –

A Bro And A Philosopher Debate The True Meaning Of A Sandwich (Scherer, 2015) –