Top influences of 2021

Content that changed my life this year, and which also might change yours

December 25, 2021 — December 25, 2021

making things

Assumed audience:

Laypeople and also nerds like me

Figure 1

I read a lot of stuff this year. Some of it was useful in a specialist way, and I do not expect many other people to care about it. But some of it made my life different and I mention it here. Very few of these things do I actually completely agree with, but I think the things I disagree with are still important provocations that deserve response. That is to say, this list does constitute an endorsement of quality but does not constitute an endorsement of content.

Not all of this was written this year. I do not read the whole internet as it happens.

  1. Cassie Kozyrkov’s explanation of decision theory has set off an earthquake in how I think about the world, and truth, and knowledge. I have not yet had time to digest or explain everything I took away from her work but… read and think.

  2. George’s question Why do you need the story:

    I have observed a pattern around the internet:

    1. Someone holds claims the expert/educated/mainstream consensus on some topic is bonk. Some branch of medicine is hogwash, some physics theory is incoherent and useless, the ethical stances of some group is blatantly inconsistent and dangerous.
    2. I cheer them on, you go fellow crazy person! This stuff is bs and more should hear about it.
    3. I keep reading their reply/post/article/book… and get increasingly sad as they finish of their claims with: But I have THE SOLUTION that medics don’t want you to know, but I KNOW the correct interpretation for this realm of physics, but MY ETHICS could be imposed upon that group and they’d be saved.

    I cannot express how much this saddens me. Why must it be that all healthy scepticism always turns into quackery?

  3. Genre speciation research came back to life for me with Glenn McDonald’s Every Noise at Once. This has become notable for inventing new hot genres. See, e.g. Cherie Hu’s What Is “Escape Room” And Why Is It One Of My Top Genres On Spotify?

  4. Peter Clark’s coinage of the “Intrapersonal Collective Action Problem”, which I like because it emphasises that our preferences might be inconsistent across timescales, or even inside ourselves.

  5. Four years late I discovered Open philanthropy on Hits-based Giving.

  6. Rob Carver’s Systematic Trading is a learn-by-doing course in financial trading.

  7. microCOVID Project vastly eased the science communication burden of maanging COVID risk.

  8. Tressie Mcmillan Cottom on context and mockery in the public sphere.

    That means we all now have to be thoughtful. We all have to consider, oh, wait a minute. Is that what we say in this room? We all have to reconsider what the norms are, and that was the promise of like expanding the discourse, and that’s exactly what we’ve gotten. And if that means that I’m not sure about letting it rip on a joke, that’s probably a pretty good thing.

    Possibly contrapuntally, Steven Wittens on Laughing to Transgress:

    [mockery is] also entirely in line with existing LGBT culture. Drag queens in particular have used sass and mockery as a shield, but no mockery is complete without self-mockery.

  9. D. R. MacIver’s models of emotions, e.g.

  10. Bert Hubert on innovation is way more interesting than just saying “from zero to one” a lot and pretending you have read Peter Thiel.

  11. I cannot claim to have given it a thorough reading but I became aware of Wolpert’s theory of inference devices:

  12. Slack and Moloch in evolutionary context? Yes please. Martin Sustrik and Nintil both get in on this. See also Slack in measurement and recruiting.

  13. The modern public sphere as operant conditioning on us all: Not Your Imagination— Society Is Going Insane and I Can Prove It Segmentation faults: how machine learning trains us to appear insane to one another.