Sleeping Beauty and Quantum Mechanics

This is a repost of an article I wrote in 2014.  Note that Sean Carroll also wrote about this, and he’s an author of the cited paper.

My newest favorite philosophical dilemma is the Sleeping Beauty problem.  The experiment goes as follows:

1. Sleeping Beauty is put to sleep.
2. We flip a coin.
3. If the coin is tails, then we wake Sleeping Beauty on Monday, and let her go.
4. If the coin is heads, then we wake Sleeping Beauty on Monday.  Then, we put her to sleep and cause her to lose all memory of waking up.  Then we wake her up on Tuesday, and let her go.
5. Now imagine Sleeping Beauty knows this whole setup, and has just been woken up.  What probability should she assign to the claim that the coin was tails?

There are two possible answers.  “Thirders” believe that Sleeping Beauty should assign a probability of 1/3 to tails.  “Halfers” believe that Sleeping Beauty has gained no new relevant information, and therefore should assign a probability of 1/2 to tails.  The thirder answer is most popular among philosophers.

This has deep implications for physics.

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Paper: Asexuality in China’s Sexual Revolution

This is a repost of an article I wrote in 2015, for The Asexual Agenda.  A few small changes were made to incorporate corrections by commenters.

It’s well-known that English asexual communities are dominated by people in the US, UK, Canada, and Australia. [The Asexual Agenda] has made minimal efforts to include voices from other countries, but one of our blind spots is China. You know, that one country that has three times more people than the US, UK, Canada, and Australia combined.

The thing is, between the language barrier and the Great Firewall, hardly anyone in the English-speaking community knows anything. The closest we’ve gotten is our interview with Robin, but Taiwan isn’t the same as Mainland China at all. And given the complete lack of communication, it’s possible that asexuality in China is so different as to be unrecognizable.

That’s why I was interested to see this recent paper: Asexuality in China’s Sexual Revolution: Asexual Marriage as a Coping Strategy. By Day Wong, in Sexualities, February 2015.

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Why are there so few asexual men?

This is a repost of an article I wrote in 2015.  I made a few minor updates, but all the speculation still applies today.

In my analysis of the 2014 AVEN Survey of online asexual communities, I showed that only 12% of aces (aces = people on the asexual spectrum) are men.    According to my numbers, the fraction of asexuals who are men is similar.  [Update: The 2015 Asexual Census finds the same result.]  Someone asked me why that is, and I thought I’d make my answer public.

Extant data

In a community survey of AVEN in 2008, 28% of asexuals were men.  Another community survey in 2011 reported 13% of aces were men.  A Spanish-language community survey in 2013 reports that 36% of asexuals were assigned male at birth.

These are all community surveys conducted online, and they only tell us about people in the various online communities.  They do not tell us about asexuals or asexual-spectrum people in general.

However, there was also an academic study conducted in 2004, based on a national probability sample in the UK in 1994.  In that study 35% of asexuals were men.  In theory, this should tell us about asexuals in general, although there are many reasons to worry about systematic biases.

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One: the universe’s favorite digit

This is a repost of an article I wrote way back in 2011.  I’m still proud of figuring this one out.

Out of all the digits, from zero to nine, one is the most common.  This has to do with the log scale.

The log scale captures an important fact that is true of many quantities in life.  Take money for instance.  If you have one dollar, then earning another dollar is great because you’ve doubled your money!  If you have a million dollars, earning another dollar does not make much of a difference.  Small changes matter less the more you already have.

This is true on a log scale too.  On a log scale, 1 is the same distance from 2 as 100 is from 200.  The higher you go up, the more the numbers all get smooshed together.  What does that mean for the digits from zero to nine?

A picture of a log scale, highlighting the regions that have 1 as their first digit (eg 1-2 and 10-20)

In the above picture, I show a log scale.  And on that scale, I highlighted in blue all the regions where 1 is the first digit of the number.  You should see that the blue regions cover more than one tenth of the log scale.  In fact, they cover about 30%.  And so, if we pick numbers randomly on the log scale, about 30% of those numbers will have 1 as their first digit.

Just for fun, let’s apply this concept on the fundamental constants of nature.  I will compare two hypotheses: [Read more…]

The evil of theodicy

This is a repost of an article I wrote in 2012.  I don’t always agree with stuff I wrote so long ago, but I mostly still agree with this one.

Earlier a commenter told me I should stop bashing religion. This left me wondering, where did they see me bashing religion? I feel like I’ve mostly said neutral things about it lately. I should do more religion bashing!

The problem of evil asks: How can there be a all-powerful and all-good god if there is evil in the world? Obviously this only applies to religions with an all-powerful and all-good god, and I might as well say that I’m thinking of Christianity in particular.

I’m not sure I’ve ever talked about the problem of evil before. I don’t really like it, because there’s no math involved. And the argument is too sprawling, with a multitude of rebuttals. In fact, we even have the word “theodicy”, which means a defense against the problem of evil.

Most theodicies are not very compelling, but that’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about how theodicies, above and beyond being bad arguments, are also evil arguments. That is, many theodicies involve defending evil, or denying the existence of certain kinds of evils.

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Ignoring the dystopia

This is a repost of an article from 2015.  I selected this one because it mentions Never Let Me Go, a book by Kazuo Ishiguro, who is now a Nobel Laureate.  He is a great writer, and I recommend the book–but not the movie.

Instead of committing any words to my own novel, I spent the last month or so reading Pride and Prejudice.  It was research, I say.  Research!

Pride and Prejudice of course takes place in the dystopia that is Georgian England.  True to the dystopian genre, there are multiple fantastical constructs which are slowly introduced to a horrified audience.  For instance, there’s the idea of an “entail”.  I don’t really get the purpose of it, but apparently it’s a restriction on whether an estate can be passed on in your will.  And then there’s “elopement” which just means that a woman runs away with her lover.  It doesn’t sound like there’s anything wrong with that, but within the dystopia it’s a horrible thing to do, and a complete disgrace to the entire family.

There are also many neat world-building details.  I like how the servants are always there, but no one ever thinks about them much, because that’s just how wealthy people in this universe think.  At the same time, rudeness towards servants signals an unsympathetic character, and kindness towards servants signals a noble character.  That’s the only way the lower classes are ever important: in relation to wealthy people.

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From the archives: Dawkins’ way with words

For this month’s repost, I selected an article I wrote in 2008.  Considering how old this is, I don’t necessarily stand by what I said, nor do I vouch for the writing quality.  There were a couple parts that I thought were unclear, so I added footnotes.  But this is interesting from a historical perspective, because it shows a slice of the problems with Richard Dawkins even before “Dear Muslima”.

Richard Dawkins has an irritating habit of using the wrong word, or otherwise saying some very silly things.

Example 1: “Delusion” The number one sign that you’re dealing with an uncareful skeptic is when the skeptic chalks everything up to insanity. People believe weird things not because they’re clinically insane, but because they’re normal. They have normal cognitive biases. Everyone does. Religious beliefs are no different except that they’re even more commonplace than other weird beliefs. Calling it all a delusion is simply sloppy.

Dawkins fans will come to his defense, saying that he carefully defines “delusion” as “a false belief or impression”, eschewing any psychiatric connotations. But that’s not the case. Dawkins is surprisingly ambiguous. He endorses a quote by Robert M. Pirsig: “When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called Religion.” It’s as if Dawkins wants to satisfy both parties. Well, I am not satisfied, because I see too many people claiming that religion really is a delusion, and Dawkins is at least partly to blame for it.

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