A good person seeks out opportunities to do good with the desperation of a castaway in the desert seeking out water. They will find it or die trying.
Are opportunities to do good in such short supply?
Starting over ten years ago, there were some similar posts about an “irrationality game”, starting here.
This is not what I expected. I thought this article would be about molecular methods of directly altering the genome—CRISPR, artificial chromosomes, etc.
But instead I only see one method mentioned, and it consists of a quasi-darwinian cycle in which lots of eggs are fertilized, allowed to divide a few times, genetically screened for desired traits, and then cells from these early-stage embryos are used to make a new generation of sperm and eggs so as to repeat the cycle.
Darwinian evolution consists of variation followed by selection, and here the engine of variation is the all-natural process of chromosomal recombination that occurs during sexual reproduction. In nature, the fertilized egg then grows into an organism, and the selective filter is how well it survives and reproduces out in the world. But in the described process of accelerated artificial selection, the fertilized eggs don’t grow into organisms. Instead, they are sequenced in order to discover the individual genotypes produced, and evaluated on the basis of a guess as to how they would fare, if they did grow into an organism.
To put it another way, natural selection is a cycle of genotypes that grow into phenotypes that mate and create new genotypes, but this accelerated artificial selection uses virtual phenotypes obtained by combining sequence information with GWAS-based interpretation.
I’ll admit that’s ingenious. And it would be interesting to know if an analogous method has ever been used successfully, on any kind of organism.
I see two opportunities for doubt: the selection criteria, and the safety of repeated artificial fertilization/gametogenesis. Regarding the first, one may doubt GWAS on the grounds of reliability (false positives) and power (not enough variance accounted for). Regarding the second, one would like to know that this process isn’t creating e.g. some cumulative epigenetic artefact.
A few further comments:
This article is headlined as a “review of current and near-future methods”, but it really seems to be about promoting this one particular method (iterated embryo selection). There’s discussion in the comments here about the history of this idea—it was mentioned in a bioethics journal in 2012, under the name “in vitro eugenics”; it was discussed by Carl Shulman at MIRI in 2009; and Gwern found a precursor dating from 1998.
I think a genuine review would have to say more about direct genetic modification. The one instance of human genetic engineering that we know about, performed in China in 2018, of course used CRISPR. I believe this is now illegal in China (see draft item 39 here), as of last month. And CRISPR ends up modifying more than just the targeted gene. Nonetheless, genome editing will surely be part of future human genetic engineering.
Meanwhile, iterated gametogenesis will just as surely have its own safety issues. They say there were 276 failed attempts before the successful cloning of a sheep (Dolly). Cumulative epigenetic modifications, of a kind not occurring in nature, seems an extremely likely risk.
Speaking of epigenetics, I’ve just discovered the existence of another class of methods, epigenome editing… And then there’s the topic of nonheritable (and possibly temporary) genetic modifications made to mature organisms. If what you care about is biological intelligence increase, somatic gene-hacking seems likely to get there before germline gene-hacking, because you don’t have to wait for your first generation to grow up.
The real question is, is there a historical precursor to /r/SneerClub? Perhaps an SF zine run by someone who didn’t like Korzybski and Van Vogt…
You need electrons too (so you can have atoms, and not just atomic nuclei).
my friend made 50M
Is that 50 million dollars? Or is it a crypto abbreviation that means something else?
Some comments informed by Stacy McGaugh’s blog (you may know most of this already):
The rotation curves show a very tight dependence on the amount of baryonic matter alone, something which you might expect from modified gravity sourced by baryonic matter, but not so much, from ordinary gravity sourced by a mixture of baryonic matter and dark matter.
Lensing is a relativistic effect. The leading phenomenological theory of modified gravity here, MOND, is Modified Newtonian Dynamics, i.e. is defined for the nonrelativistic regime (since the rotation curves involve very small accelerations). So lensing predictions will depend on the specific relativistic extension of MOND. Incidentally, a very recent relativistic extension of MOND (“RelMOND”) is supposed to get that third CMB peak right.
McGaugh seems to regard the possibilities of structure formation in MOND as barely studied, at least when compared to Lambda CDM; and points out that the “21 cm anomaly” could be explained by there being no dark matter in the early universe.
In general, McGaugh cautions that the dark matter paradigm contains numerous parameters which keep being adjusted to match the latest data; whereas in the realm of rotation curves, MOND makes successful significant predictions; but people prefer to keep tweaking Lambda CDM, rather than trying to build on MOND’s successes.
Further comments from me:
I am agnostic about which paradigm is right—clearly they both have their merits—and a middle ground of “MOND-like DM” (e.g. Khoury’s superfluid DM, postulated to have an interaction with baryonic matter that reproduces the MOND gravitational profile) or “DM-like MOND” (e.g. Bullet Cluster lensing from flux in extra metric degrees of freedom?) is also intriguing. Either way, at the galactic scale, there seems to be a relationship between amount of baryonic matter, and strength of these dark effects, that is not explained by ordinary theories of dark matter.
better explained reasoning
That final link is my first encounter with Mario Alejandro Montano (1997-2020). It seems he could be a Mitchell Heisman for the 2020s.
I don’t believe the cosmology of reincarnation as a Boltzmann brain, etc. I think the self is grounded in substance. But I hope you complete your articulation of the opposite view.
No nanoscale robotic system … should be permitted to store more than a small fraction of the digital file containing the instructions to replicate itself.
Will you outlaw bacteria?
A current hypothesis that China is holding off on vaccinating anyone until it can have sufficient supply for the whole country.
According to the article, they’ve vaccinated 40 million already.
I interpret the Reddit commenter to be saying that whatever the Chinese policy in Xinjiang is, it’s not complete deracination. Possibly it’s a mix of surveillance for the majority, and intense sinification for the minority considered most at risk ideologically.
I do not regard the depiction of events in Xinjiang by US State Department, BBC, etc, as particularly objective or reliable. I believe the moral and factual claims made are made in service of political and geopolitical agendas.
edit: Let me say more about this… The west has been militarily intervening in the Muslim world for over a century. For a generation we’ve been fighting a “war on terror”, in which we kill who knows how many hundreds or thousands of Muslim civilians, outside our own borders, every year.
These are the same societies in which elite politicians, media, and lawyers (or at least a significant faction thereof), are meanwhile shaping western public opinion towards the view that geopolitical rival China is committing genocide, the greatest sin in our holocaust-influenced political ethics. In the case of China, the alleged genocide turns out to be some combination of “cultural genocide” and a decrease in birth rates. But we’ll go on just calling it genocide, with all of that word’s connotations of mass murder.
Westerners think that Muslim governments don’t join the western denunciation because of Chinese money, or anticolonial sentiment. But there’s another dimension too. Many Muslim countries are preoccupied with managing their own radicals. A lot of the post-9/11 war on terror has consisted of western advisors working with Muslim governments, in complex deals whereby weapons and intelligence and other assistance are provided, in return for aligning with the western bloc in other ways. China now offers, not just an alternative model of economic development, but an alternative model of governance and regime security.
I cannot improve on the words of redditor @TurkicWarrior: “I think they’re trying to tame the Uyghur people, break their national aspiration and be loyal to China. I don’t think they will take the Uyghur culture away, it’s impractical.”
Vaccine production, and in particular vaccine production by Pfizer and Moderna, has languished for want of a few billion dollars
Is this actually true? Money is necessary but not sufficient. Concrete problems e.g. of industrial process have to be solved too.
Whether children should be in school is inseparable from the question of how children should live in general, and ultimately, how human life as a whole should proceed.
For the average modern family, school is not just a place where their children go to learn, it’s a place that takes care of the children during the day, while the parents work to earn money.
This has not always been how life works. One may certainly look to the history of humanity for alternative paradigms. But in general, I think the historical alternative to compulsory schooling has not been self-directed education, it’s been child labor.
In several places, this article links to a wiki by an advocate of “educational emancipation”. The wiki has some material that may, for all I know, be an important contribution to the practice of education, e.g. this page interested me.
But when it comes to reforming the educational system, the wiki’s author hopes for “a massive peaceful rebellion from school-aged children”. Greta Thunberg’s climate strike shows us that such a thing is conceivable. But suppose the rebellion against compulsory schooling happened somewhere, and was victorious, how would it turn out?
Perhaps like this: Some would choose to remain in school, and in the existing educational system, and would go on to get the jobs that require grades and degrees. Some would quit school and go straight into the workforce, as in the days before compulsory schooling. A few with the means to do so, would indeed embark on self-directed education, producing a mixture of prodigies and alienated misfits. And some would drop out into a life of sex, drugs, looting, and fighting.
The wiki’s author supports basic income, and the author of this essay talks about “the capitalist beast”, so it seems they’re both hoping to avoid the historical either-or, whereby, if you’re not in the system getting educated, you’ll be staying alive “by the sweat of your brow”, i.e. working in a job.
Society can undoubtedly assume many forms that it has not yet taken; and the computer age increasingly means that humans are not even needed for cognitive labor (just as the machine age provided an alternative to human and animal labor on a material level). But if we’re still talking about a world of human beings not that dissimilar to the present, then if you want to abolish (and not just reform) compulsory schooling, there are a lot of issues to address. Are you happy for a lot of young people to just skip schooling and join the workforce early? Are you dreaming that all the emancipated youth are going to be self-educating computer nerds rather than hollow-eyed street kids? At what age do you think a young person should first have the right to completely reject the tutelage of adults?
Also, this article—in its dialogue with “the Enemy”—implies that compulsory schooling was invented for basically malevolent and exploitative reasons. But glance at the actual history of compulsory education and you will find many ways in which it was meant to make a better world. It was supposed to instill moral virtue throughout the populace, end child labor, give better opportunities to the lower social classes, help a country catch up with stronger wealthier nations. If you really want to know your “enemy”, find a manifesto written by some reformer from a few centuries ago, for whom universal education was going to fix everything wrong with the world…
Imagine an airborne “mold” that grows on every surface, and uses up all the atmospheric CO2. You’d need to be hermetically sealed away to escape it, and then the planet would freeze around you anyway.
These replicators would transform all matter on earth into copies of themselves
A replicator doesn’t need the capacity to devour literally all matter (with all the chemical diversity that implies), in order to be a threat. Suppose there was a replicator that just needs CO2 and H2O. Those molecules are abundant in the atmosphere and the ocean. There would be no need for onboard AI.
At this point, I am not trying to show that lockdowns were an overreaction, so much as I am just trying to understand why events unfolded as they did.
How did the idea of a national lockdown enter public health contingency plans all over the world? (the idea existed before Covid, but I think people usually envisaged it as a response to a much deadlier pandemic). What are the attributes of Covid which made people regard it as dangerous enough to warrant national lockdowns? (e.g. a lethal respiratory disease, of a kind for which no vaccines existed). What made national lockdowns the global norm? (e.g. was it because WHO advised it and many countries follow WHO recommendations, or was it more a matter of public health officials in diverse countries independently coming to the same conclusion, because it really was the appropriate response).
So, just seeking the basic cause and effect of how the global pandemic response unfolded.
you still don’t have evidence that lockdowns are benefitting them
I was struck by the case of a political columnist who tweeted an appeal to ordinary people, to just let their businesses fail, rather than risk orphaning their kids; while she herself went about organizing a new online business venture involving dozens of colleagues.
Lockdowns are hardest on those who are already vulnerable, and on people who can’t work from home. But digital society is run by affluent people who spend their working days in front of a computer. It makes sense that they would be much less sensitive to the drawbacks of a stay-at-home policy.
lockdowns are to protect the elderly
Let’s suppose we’re trying to understand why almost every society on Earth engaged in unprecedented society-wide lockdowns, over a virus which is certainly highly lethal e.g. for people in their 80s, but which is mostly harmless for people in the prime of life.
I like the theory above—that the lockdowns are to protect the elderly—because of its simplicity. If it’s true, it should be possible to present an account of what happened in 2020, in which that thought and intention is central.
But to develop that account, further nuances need to be brought out. For example, if we focus just on western countries for a moment, would the more nuanced explanation be, that it was largely about protecting the parents of the progressive managerial class? (is that what PMC stands for?) - in the sense that this is the social stratum whose sensibilities make the difference between one policy and another, in many cases.
But then we would want to explain that countries as different as China, India, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa also engaged in lockdowns. Was the same logic at work in all of them? But in East Asia they also had the experience of the far more lethal 2003 SARS (and, it now occurs to me, Saudi may have had the analogous experience of MERS, to encourage swift severe lockdowns).
With respect to global use of lockdowns, I think WHO and the G20 did a lot to encourage it, so that would be part of the chain of cause and effect… And another aspect of understanding how the year unfolded, would be to think of the public health response in each country, as something constantly in evolution, and also contested.
So maybe my provisional explanation is that there was a convergence of practice between SARS-terrified Asia and the elites of the information-age West, and that this then became a new global norm via bodies like WHO and G-20.
If you want to make the case that with a different ethos, Covid-19 mortality might have been dramatically lower, it would help to exhibit a scenario in which this happens.
Much is being made of the fact that mRNA vaccines were first synthesized, very soon after the virus’s genetic sequence became available. But this just means that a particular molecular construct (a carrier for spike protein mRNA, I guess) could quickly be synthesized.
To go from that to mass vaccination, even if we skip trials for efficacy and safety, requires that you know enough about how the virus and the vaccine behave within the body, to have some idea of where and how to administer the vaccine to a patient. Also, there needs to be infrastructure to mass-produce the vaccine, and a way to distribute it.
Complications known to me, in the case of Covid mRNA vaccines, are that Covid’s interaction with the body and the immune system is intricate and was not immediately understood (this matters in deciding how to introduce a vaccine into the body), and that mRNA vaccines currently require ultracold refrigeration for their distribution, an infrastructure that doesn’t even exist in some countries.
Let’s see a concrete counterfactual scenario for rapid deployment of a Covid mRNA vaccine in 2020, that takes into account these two factors; and then we can start to estimate how many extra lives the HCT ethos might have saved.