Can blog posts nourish the soul? Scott A. (alas, not me) as existence proof

Reading the essays and speculative fiction of Scott Alexander, as they’ve grown in awesomeness even just within the past half-year, has for me been like witnessing the birth of a new Asimov.  (For more Alexandery goodness, check out Universal Love, Said the Cactus Person.)  That this nerd-bard, this spinner of stupid Internet memes into reflections on eternity, came to my attention by way of his brilliantly defending me, is almost immaterial at this point; I don’t think it plays any role in my continuing admiration for his work.  Whatever you do, just keep writing, other Scott A.

36 Responses to “Can blog posts nourish the soul? Scott A. (alas, not me) as existence proof”

  1. Tim Converse Says:

    I think the link to ‘Universal Love …” needs fixing. It’s currently a duplicate of the “defending me” link.

  2. Scott Says:

    Tim #1: Sorry, fixed.

  3. Sniffnoy Says:

    For what it’s worth, here’s the “fiction” tag on Slate Star Codex, and the humor tag.

    And on his old blog, fiction (note: sometimes just about fiction), humor, poetry, and wtf.

    (I could have sworn there was a continuation of the “Little-known…” series over on SSC, but I can’t find it. Is my memory just playing tricks on me?)

  4. Taymon A. Beal Says:

    There was “List of Fictional Drugs Banned by the FDA” and its sequel, which were in much the same spirit.

  5. Jai Says:

    The History Channel’s Most Unrealistic Show

  6. Sniffnoy Says:

    Well, if we’re just listing favorites now, I’m going to have to point out “An ode to the occasion”, “Interview With The Frost Giant”, and “The Witching Hour”. 😀

  7. Chelsea Says:

    I’ll add “The Study of Anglophysics”. 🙂

  8. Scott Says:

    Everyone: Listing Scott Alexander favorites is a great use for this thread, and one I hadn’t anticipated! I hadn’t seen several of the choices above (e.g., the history channel, holiday ode, and anglophysics ones) and enjoyed them immensely.

  9. Shmi Nux Says:

    How was he in person? I’ve heard him described as “extemporaneously funny”.

  10. Daniel Seita Says:

    Can someone please clarify: who *is* Scott Alexander, and how did he became a “well-known” blogger? Thanks.

  11. anon Says:

    > That this nerd-bard, this spinner of stupid Internet memes into reflections on eternity, came to my attention by way of his brilliantly defending me

    Scott, I thought you used to frequent LessWrong? (I seem to remember seeing your posts there.) Scott Alexander went by Yvain back then.

  12. Taymon A. Beal Says:

    In that case, I suppose I’ll be the first to link to his magnum opus (so far, by apparent general consensus): “Meditations on Moloch”.

  13. Dan Says:

    The Girl Who Poked God With A Stick, The Story of Emily and Control, and What Is It Like To Be A Bat?

  14. u-- Says:

    > came to my attention by way of his brilliantly defending me

    Did you know he’s also Yvain on lesswrong? I’d consider his articles there best/most seminal after eliezer’s.

  15. jonathan Says:

    Scott A is good, but I like your blog better.

    He does post more, though.

  16. Scott Says:

    anon #11 and u– #14: Yes, I vaguely remember a Yvain on LessWrong, and I vaguely remember being told at some point that Yvain=Alexander. So if anyone wants to link to great writings by “Yvain” on this thread, please do so!

    Thinking out loud, Eliezer is such a dominant force on LW that it might be necessary for other writers to leave and start their own blogs before their gifts can be fully appreciated. (I did appreciate Stephen Colbert and John Oliver pretty well while they were still on Jon Stewart, but then again, I knew them as names and faces, rather than just “some handle that’s not Eliezer’s.”)

  17. Scott Says:

    Daniel #10:

      Can someone please clarify: who *is* Scott Alexander, and how did he became a “well-known” blogger? Thanks.

    Scott Alexander is a practicing psychiatrist who lives in the Detroit area. “Alexander” isn’t his real last name; he uses a pseudonym to keep his personal and professional identities separate.

    If you want to understand why he’s become such a well-known blogger, the easiest way is probably to read his posts (you could start with the ones linked in this thread)!

  18. Scott Says:

    Shmi #9: Scott Alexander is delightful in person—kind, interesting, and extremely nerdy. I still can’t get over the fact that someone who thinks so much like I do went into psychiatry, rather than throwing up his hands at the red tape and bullshit and lack of intellectual clarity and going for an easier subject like theoretical physics or math! But having done so, I think he’s in a position to do an unbelievable amount of good for the field of psychiatry, including but not only through his blog.

  19. Ben Says:

    Here are a selection from his LW writings (I’m afraid I don’t know how to embed them):

    The most upvoted article on LW:

    Third most upvoted article on LW:

    (If you’re interested, the second most interested was the Givewell founder Holden Karnofsky’s critique of MIRI/SIAI)

    Fifth most upvoted article on LW:
    Some more from those top categories:

  20. Alex Says:

    I recommend this

  21. jonas Says:

    Re Scott #18: yes, I’m still surprised people become doctors, even when they seem to be aware what that entails before they have to commit themselves, despite that my brother is a doctor. However, I’m somewhat more surprised that people become school teachers. This is because doctors (just like STEM nerds) can move abroad easily, and they can always hope that there will always be _some_ country where the medical system isn’t too bad. Teachers usually can’t move abroad easily, they’re tied to a place.

  22. Dave Q Says:

    He doesn’t seem to like math…

  23. Scott Says:

    Dave Q #22: Thanks! After reading that post (which I hadn’t seen before), I revise my statement that Scott A. “thinks so much like I do,” to say that he has an astonishingly-large inner product with me, but the inner product is also bounded away from 1.

    I regret that, not having read that post, I was previously in the huge class of people that Alexander complains about: namely, people who tell him he must secretly like math and be good at it, and just hasn’t yet found the right kind of instruction. (And Alexander, while demurring, was too polite to point me to that post!)

    I, too, get annoyed when people tell me I must be passionate about music and good at it, since “all math people are”—like it’s a character flaw if I’m not. So I can understand Alexander’s annoyance: no one likes to have something they’re mediocre at constantly rubbed in their faces, as if it were a failure of will rather than just a poor draw in the genetic lottery.

    But maybe it would make Alexander feel better if he knew that the people who made these remarks were more likely expressing praise and astonishment. As in: “the clarity of thought that I normally only ever see in people who are good at math and like it, you have in spades, despite saying that you’re bad at math and don’t like it. As such, you force me to expand my mental model of what it can mean to think clearly. And, for what you’re doing, you clearly don’t need to be good at math to reach accurate conclusions, even though virtually anyone else would need to be.”

    I’m sure there are others I’m missing, but when I try to think of people who can reason with the clarity I associate with math, despite seeming to have no great interest in or aptitude for math, I come up almost empty, except for

    (a) Scott Alexander, and
    (b) some famous evolutionary biologists (Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, Darwin himself).

  24. Alejandro Says:

    The Transhumanist Fables are short and hilarious:

    Of his serious articles, besides the already mentioned Meditations on Moloch (which is connected with your recent post on Malthusian traps), I recommend ” A Thrive/Survive Theory Of The Political Spectrum”:…

  25. BT_Uytya Says:

    Several serious ones:

    * which is about Almost Fully General Counterarguments, applies to many debates and ends with hilarious scene;
    * (somewhat related ones: and which remind you that the world is very complicated and confusing mess)
    * I second Meditations on Moloch, which is very long, but worth it and somewhat scary in a Lovecrafty way. A companion piece to Moloch (you could start with this one if you want to get a general idea): , also there is an earlier

  26. Ajit R. Jadhav Says:

    Scott #23,

    How about lawyers? … No, really. … I mean, think, judges (say SC judges) have to be lawyers first…


  27. wolfgang Says:

    Scott considers this one as (one of) his top post:

    I think it is very important but be warned, it is not “easy reading”.

  28. Shmi Nux Says:

    wolfgang #27 Yet another Scott A had a good job working through the issues:

  29. wolfgang Says:

    @Shmi #28 I don’t want to discuss “physician-assisted suicide” at this point – I just want to know if it is true that most doctors would refuse treatment in hospitals (at a late stage in life) which a majority of other people receive.

    If this is indeed true then I think everybody should be aware of this fact.

  30. John Sidles Says:

    Wolfgang wonders  “I just want to know if it is true that most doctors would refuse treatment in hospitals (at a late stage in life) which a majority of other people receive.”

    It is true. For details, see the recent PLOS 1 survey by Periyakoil et al. “Do unto others: doctors’ personal end-of-life resuscitation preferences and their attitudes toward advance directives” (2014).

    Needless to say, it is neither morally or logically inconsistent for physicians to respect the desire of their patients to receive aggressive-yet-futile end-of-life measures, while declining such care for themselves.

    Rather, medical ethics provide that physicians do not (or at least should not) make choices for their patients, but rather that physicians do (or should) help patients to make informed choices … respecting even patient choices that physicians commonly would not choose for themselves.

    Amusing comic-strip treatments of similar considerations include Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal “Sometimes I think it’s bad for humanity that we’re ruled by machines” (SMBC #3739) and Existential Comics “Philosophy News Network” (EC #83).

    Conclusion  Physicians and comic-strip artists alike appreciate that persistent attempts by robots, philosophers, and libertarian market-fundamentalists to fully rationalize human cognition and human life-choices commonly “just don’t get it.”

  31. Shmi Nux Says:

    Scott A 2020. Any of the 3 will do.

  32. Taymon A. Beal Says:

    John Sidles #30: Of course doctors should generally respect patients’ choices about their lives, but I think the point is that if doctors are generally choosing for themselves something different from what other people choose, then maybe that’s because they know something that other people don’t, and other people would be better off following the example of doctors.

  33. John Sidles Says:

    Taymon A. Beal wonders: “Maybe [doctors] know something [about dying] that other people don’t?”

    Many people (including my wife and me) have the experience that with each loved one we care for at end-of-life, we agree more-and-more with most doctors, that extreme measures to prolong life are unwarranted.

    What is it, exactly, that we learn during these very difficult end-of-life experiences? More than facts, surely!

    Conclusion  Physicians who see/help many patients during the process of dying, learn lessons that are challenging to communicate to families through words and as facts.

  34. jacob Says:

    @Scott #23:

    The best example I can think of is Michael Faraday. Unforunately, and most likely due to his lack of mathematics ability, he is often referred to (in a rather backhanded complimentary way) as “an excellent experimentalist”, and the clarity of his theoretical insights that led him to discovery after groundbreaking discovery are not very widely known.

  35. Aaron Says:

    @Scott #23

    Darwin is an interesting comparison. He has some quotes about math that I’d bet mirror Alexander’s views. Early in life he viewed math as “repugnant”, and later said when talking about people with high math ability: “for men thus endowed seem to have an extra sense”.

    Over at lesswrong there was recently a post that got a lot of attention titled “Is Scott Alexander bad at math?” that talks about math ability.

  36. Rob Bensinger Says:

    To deal with the problem that Scott Alexander has written a ton and it’s hard to find the best posts to start with, I put together an ordered list: Library of Scott Alexandria. Ideas are welcome on ways to further improve the list. It includes a lot of old material from LessWrong and elsewhere.